U.S. 2-0 Sweden: Our Depth Beat Their Depth

There was a lot to like about this game. Seriously. Fox Soccer Channel commentator Christopher Sullivan griped at the end about a certain lack of artistry, but anyone who tuned in saw a good, fairly even, pretty up-tempo game. And, better still, the U.S. Men’s National Team (Yanquis) flat won; they gave away fewer chances and played the better game. This is Sweden, mind, not elite, but definitely “real Europe,” even if it wasn’t their first team. That doesn’t matter because that wasn’t our first team either. Sweden’s first team might beat our first team 6 or 7 times out of 10, but the gap is closing – at least that’s what I pick up from watching our B-Team out-play, even out-think, the Swedes B-Team.

The Yanquis did well enough that it’s hard to find sincere fault with anyone’s game – though it’s not like I’m not going to try below. As for the Swedes, well, they settled for average; at times, I thought the game looked like a circa-1996 Sweden v. USA, but with the roles reversed. I can recall one tactically inspired move from Sweden, an overlapping cross-field run that totally isolated Ramiro Corrales on the U.S. left. But one move by the U.S. best illustrates the differences in inventiveness: Pat Noonan broke in on the left, dished to Landon Donovan and continued his run; Donovan holds for a bit, then pokes the ball into Noonan, who taps a lay-off that nearly resulted in a shot; it was all fast, short passes, the Americans trying to pick their way through Sweden rather than hoofing toward space and crossing. No, neither move ended with a goal – in fact, both U.S. goals came off something perilously close to slop – but the Swedes never matched the savvy and understanding on display in the U.S. move. Hell, we almost played “street-ball” right there.

In any case, I’ve got the notes to blab, blab, blab. But I’ll spare all y’all from that and bang out some player ratings – e.g. the refuge of a blogger who can’t figure out a structure for his talking points. Enjoy.

The U.S. Starting Eleven (+ Subs)

GK: Brad Guzan

D (R-to-L): Drew Moor, Eddie Robinson, Jimmy Conrad, Ramiro Corrales

M (R-to-L): Landon Donovan, Maurice Edu, Ricardo Clark, Brad Davis

F: Pat Noonan, Taylor Twellman

Subs: Josmer Altidore (for Twellman), Michael Parkhurst (for Robinson (maybe)), Clarence Goodson (for Conrad (maybe)), start of 2nd Half; Chris Rolfe (for Noonan), 64th; Sacha Kljestan (for Davis), 72nd; …and then I lost track of time. Jeremiah White came on for Donovan around the 80th minute, but I didn’t write that one down.

Now the ratings, on a scale of, oh, 1-10, with 5 being a ruthlessly thin baseline balanced on unremarkable average and what I expect from the player. And they do run on:

Guzan-8: We looked great in goal. He stopped as much as he should have, if not more; by that last bit, I mean his positioning was phenomenal. At times, I think he’ll surpass Kasey Keller when all’s done.

Moor-6: Defended well – even had a nifty little turn-out deep in his own end that so flustered a Swede that he picked up a card. But, oh my crap, did his crossing suck at times. Still, he fed the ball to Noonan, who fed the ball to Altidore, who tripped over a Swede and – voila! – we got a goal…more on this later.

Robinson-7: I finally get “E-Rob’s” appeal. When he’s on your team, it’s fun to watch him lay into the opposition. Overall, good game, good goal. I’d happily take him as a back-up for the Yanquis. It’s Oguchi Onyewu I’m really dubious on these days.

Conrad-5: Did fine. Apart from one silly foul, I didn’t notice him.

Corrales-8: My starting left back for the Yanquis. Seriously, the passing was good and pretty dang smart. He stumbled once or twice, but held up very well over the full 90. When I think of the rest of the pool, I think, why have we overlooked this cat?

Landon Donovan-9: I only give him 9 because he’s my man-of-the-match. It wasn’t just the (career/history-making) goal, but that little whiff of sophistication in his game tonight. Let me explain: Set aside the clear indications that, love him or hate him, Landycakes is going to set a shit-stack of records that could very well stand for a long, LONG time. More important than that – much more by my count – Donovan paced the game for the U.S. Hell, he did so well he paced the game for the Swedes. That’s what the U.S. team has been DYING for since Reyna’s 2002 World Cup; I’d give Corrales an assist on this because I saw him doing it too. It’s not often the U.S. doesn’t play offense with an “into-a-brick” directness, but to his credit, Donovan took us out of that tonight. Very cool to see. He just needs to keep it up.

Clark-6: Clark takes a hit on expectations. He played pretty well – even single-handedly broke up a dangerous chance – but it felt like a day at the office for him, nothing remarkable out there.

Edu-7: Kind of the reverse of Clark’s case. Two things most impressed me about Edu: 1) he doesn’t back down from much; 2) he plays good, quick, possession passes and mixes ’em up enough to open the field.

Davis-7: I’ve always liked Davis, but I’d pencil him in behind DaMarcus Beasley. If you don’t need the two-way total-package – and Davis covers well enough. He also adds something Beasley doesn’t have – set-pieces. Still, Beasley is the better overall player. Why? Davis is, at times, too left-footed. But that long-ball…shit, he’s the Unemployed Man’s David Beckham.

Twellman-5: If he didn’t try so damn hard, he’d get a 4. The problem is, Twellman’s just kind of an odd-duck, like Robbie Fowler. If he can’t find space – something he’s relatively adept at by the way – he’s, um, eminently containable (or just on the good side of useless). But he can’t out-muscle many people, he’s not all that fast…he’s just all-effort and lethal (at club level) when given an opening. The question is whether that’s enough.

Noonan-6: Signature glancing header that set up the first goal aside, Noonan didn’t really do much besides show glimpses of being able to pull off the trick-pony shit that could make him truly Yanquis-ready. I think he needs more than glimpses. Oh, and he looks more like a professional tennis player than a professional soccer player. Trust me. I saw some tennis tournament today and there was this guy…dead ringer, I’m telling you.

Altidore-6: Holy shit! This kid is huge and Paul-friggin’-Bunyan strong. And, if you’ll indulge me (and, if you’ve read this far, you already have), I wrote something around the 88th minute that really nails where I am on Altidore:

“Physically and mentally, Altidore is ready. It’s the finesse and, to a (much) lesser degree, his ‘soccer-brain’ that’s lacking. That bears explaining: at this point, Altidore will make the right decision 6.5 times out of 10, while the full pro makes it 7 times out of10, and the real great player 8, or even 9, times out of 10; more significantly, apart from still nailing down the weight of his passes, he’s sometimes this half-second short on timing. The frickin’ awesome thing? He’s that far along at 18 and that’s all teachable. This kid could be seriously good. And he’s a fucking BULL on the ball. It is something like tantalizing, isn’t it?

Parkhurst-4: He defended well – brilliantly once or twice – but his distribution kinda stank. Call it an actually discouraging performance at the wrong time.

Goodson-6: The bean-pole actually seemed physically dominant out there. Cool beans. Sweden: he’s yours. Make him better and we’ll thank ya!

Rolfe-4: A little too anonymous for me. He almost snuck in on a Donovan cross, but that was the only time I saw him.

Kljestan-5: Tempted as I am to credit him for launching a late attack against the Swedes – we’re talking all Sacha – I didn’t really notice him out there.

White-5: I had to think really hard before remembering he came on (OK, in fairness, it’s getting later and the chemicals are kicking in). I do recall him slamming into some Swedish defender when going in for a header, but, after that, I was mainly impressed by the size of his legs…damn…

OK, better stop before this gets more abstract. Good game for us, though. Hope we look this good against Mexico in early February.

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3 Responses

  1. […] US player ratings vs Sweden… (Center Holds It) […]

  2. Jeff,

    Excellent series of takes on the US’ showing. After coming home from being out of town, I finally saw the game today and posted my thoughts on my site. I won’t bother rehashing them here. I’ll only say “I told you so” about Eddie Robinson this one time. The guy is a freaking monster out there. Anyone who came into his zone got punished for the infraction. He had attackers visibly worried about coming into the center all night. I’ll be at the US/Mexico game here in Houston and I sincerely hope I see ER busting some heads in that game too. Could be dangerous, though, as by himself, he could set border relations back 100 years! :>

    In all seriousness, though. To me Eddie Robinson’s main attributes are that he works his ass off and constantly tries to impose his will on the situation. He attacks the defender’s role with gusto and turns reactions into actions if you take my meaning. It’s about time we had some US players playing with a little swagger out there. Eddie gives us that. Like you said, it’s maddening if you’re playing against him, but when he’s on your side, what a weapon.

  3. Mmm…I can’t say last Saturday made E-Rob my first choice – Christ, I’m not that easy – but he definitely didn’t look out of place either. That said, yeah, I get his game.

    And since you’re being coy, I’ll chuck out the link to your post on the Sweden game.

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