Quick thoughts on US v. El Salvador

The U.S. played fairly well and sought to took the game to El Salvador. Altidore, Davies, and Dempsey all looked very dangerous in the box and Donovan played well pulling the strings. Really the game should have been blown open – as it quite easily could have (and should have) been 3-1 or 4-1. Overall the team played well and deserved the three points. Tactically, Bradley got it right – the lineup and the team’s approach – demonstrated that they knew a win was a must and they went for it. However, there were some problems.

1. The central midfield did not impress.
Bradley has a lot of energy, but he at times looked like a headless chicken – he just isn’t in top form right now. Him and Feilhaber didn’t coordinate well. Often both were caught too far forward, leaving El Salvador acres of space to counter. I think this overall reflects a bit of a midfield dilemma with Bradley. He is a very good box to box player and has a good engine, but he is not really a great passer or playmaker, nor is he really disciplined enough to be the lone holding player – particularly against better teams. I am not sure Bradley deserves the start against Trinidad. However, Bradley is not likely to bench Bradley. And I think for Trinidad, Clark should start instead of Feilhaber – this is more a reflection of Bradley’s performance in the holding role than anything Benny did. Benny did not have a bad game – but he wasn’t particularly influential. This also reflects something that was exposed tactically during the game – when we play with essentially 4 forwards on the field (Donovan, Dempsey, Davies, Altidore), it is probably better to balance that with two ball winning-midfielders (ie Bradley + Clark (Edu or Jones). This would enable Donovan and Dempsey to roam a bit more – at times Donovan looked penned in on the left and he should have the freedom to move centrally – think Luka Modric for Spurs – Dempsey the same.

2. Poor in possession.
Keeping possession is not just about having a few midfielders that are good on the ball – the whole team has to be able to possess under pressure and pass well. Against El Salvador the makeshift backline was pretty poor in its distribution. Jonathan Bornstein was particularly atrocious, every time he received the ball he looked particularly panicky, often just clearing it up the field or putting in poor balls to the midfielders. That said the midfielders didn’t do a great job showing for the ball and Feilhaber and Bradley didn’t seem in sync together.

3. Low energy defensively. When the U.S. lost possession, instead of putting high up-tempo pressure on El Salvador, the U.S. contained and sat back. It was clearly somewhat effective since we won, but it also meant that El Salvador created a few more chances than they probably should have. I would have liked to see in general a higher level of intensity and work ethic on the field. No one seemed to really run their but off and as Ives pointed out we looked sort of gassed toward the end of the games. Usually the U.S. is known for its fitness levels but we certainly haven’t looked the fitter team recently. Maybe it was the altitude – but if that’s the case than Salt Lake is not a good destination for home games.

4. Bornstein is just not good enough.
And the worst decision Bradley made was including Bornstein. His clearance into the box – was just poor at any level. He looks nervous in possession and mistake prone defensively. As horrible as the officiating was, El Salvador actually had a legit penalty shout when Bornstein flailed about in the box. He also offered absolutely nothing going forward. A much better option would be Spector on the left and Cherundulo on the right.

5. Officiating continues to be a huge problem for the U.S. The USSF needs to start raising its voice. I wrote after the Italy game in the confederations cup that we need to whine more. To put it bluntly, every game we play – not just in Concacaf – sees big calls go against us and our players get called for phantom fouls. The fact that it was a Honduran crew also raises some real questions. In the game last night it was not worth any of our players risking a yellow arguing, but Bradley should have one of his assistants get tossed. The El Salvador coach even argued at halftime with the ref – what he argued I am not sure – but we need to start working the refs and pointing out the clear anti-American bias that exists in international officiating.

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