Let's be honest. After the stirring fightback against Argentina, you always knew the heavy legs and emotional comedown were going to cost the US against a side built to grind out results. While there were significant flaws, the performance was actually better than I expected and, save for a set piece let down and a possible missed PK call by the ref, the song might have been a more satisfying one come the final whistle.
* The US will never be a top-tier team with Jonathan Bornstein in the side. Too excitable on the ball. Poor technique. Miserable in the air. Sure he can run for days, but then he needs to, considering how terrible his positioning is. Ugh to the power of whatever high number you choose to insert here. Fullbacks in the modern game, particularly the international game, need to be solid on the ball as a starting point because so much possession cycles through them with the midfield and center of the pitch normally choked off. This becomes doubly important in games where the US has the majority of possession against a team sitting deep.
* By contrast, Tim Ream should start any game where the US can reasonably expect to control the ball and the tempo. Not every pass or touch was perfect, but his calm on the ball and ability to slot passes through narrow gaps, and over distance to boot, makes him a huge asset in such games. Forget the substantial number of dots connected on the ground — I lost count of the number of times where what looked like a boot clear, and would have been such had Onyewu, DeMerit, or Bocanegra been the hoofee, found the feet or chest of a target upfield. Add in the two sticky situations (a slip with nobody behind him and a Paraguay forward closing in plus Bocanegra's ill-advised ball toward goal along the goal line) that he handled with admirable aplomb, and you've got all the important boxes checked on your technical center back examination card. I'm not saying he's right for every situation. He doesn't dominate physically or aerially, and it didn't look like they were even sending him forward for set pieces. But against most of CONCACAF, I'd be inclined to pencil him into the first XI.
* I said it in the Argentina reaction post, and I'll say it again here. For a team that relies on set pieces as much as we do, the loss of Holden is going to be a major blow to our Gold Cup hopes. Donovan's set pieces are like his play in general: flashes of magic separated by long spells of mediocrity or worse. Holden's balls are consistently dangerous, and the big boys who get on the end of such balls are going to be feeding on scraps this summer.
* Agudelo's feet are incredibly quick. Watch them. Astonishing that he's so strong at fighting off defenders for the ball to hold and distribute as well. Eighteen, huh? I'm trying to hang onto my pessimism and "ware the hype machine!" stance, but...damn.
* I can't decide which one annoys me more, Dempsey's flopping and griping and never seeing a shot he didn't like (while only managing about one in seven or less on frame, though damn if that one isn't usually out of the top drawer) or Donovan's magical disappearing act for massive chunks of the game. Having to take set pieces was sometimes your only reminder he was on the field. I guess Dempsey making sure he's involved, for good or ill, has to put him in better stead, doesn't it? And he's still quality on the ball (even if he holds it far to long at times).
* Speaking of holding too long. Can Jermaine Jones stay well down the depth chart please? I feel like I'm on a one-man crusade against the poor dude, and I'm a touch worried that I don't see more hue and cry about this, but he just doesn't inspire confidence. I don't know if it's his sometimes petulant behavior. Or the times it doesn't seem he cares enough to try...to hold onto the ball, to make the tackle, to bust a gut getting forward. Edu and Junior weren't flawless in the first half. Both squandered possession, often in bad areas, but there was more dynamism in midfield and the front line was linked better to the back. Tired legs were obviously a factor, but so was Jones.
* Chandler keeps impressing. Again, not terrific, but you see the tools and the promise there (and the ability not to shank every cross to the middle of next week...hi Frankie!). Likewise, Lichaj looked good getting forward without sacrificing defensive responsibilities when he came on. They may still be behind Dolo on the depth chart, but I think the future at right back is pretty secure. Now if only one of them could slot in on the left, we might be cooking with gas...
All right. I'm sure something I've forgotten will come to me as I'm drifting off to sleep tonight, but those are my initial impressions coming out of the game. We're a good team, technically and tactically sharp. With the glaring exception of left back, we've got quality throughout the team. The big hole, and it's the one that punishes us time and again in games against tactically disciplined, compact teams with reasonable technical skill, is in creating good chances. We fashioned a few, but nowhere near enough considering the possession we enjoyed. True, much of the finishing was wasteful, and the international game, particularly when evenly-matched opponents play on two days rest, rarely yields many chances. That said, the lack of a cutting edge, of the ability to finish chances or even half-chances, doesn't become a major factor when the hand wielding the blade doesn't put it consistently in positions to hurt the opposition.