Loss to Sweden displays weakness with World Cup qualifying on horizon.
By Robert Wagman
(Thursday, August 22, 2007) -- The United States clearly showed its major weakness as World Cup qualifying approaches next year. In losing 1-0 to host Sweden in a friendly last night at Ullevi Stadium in Goteborg, the U.S. demonstrated it has no experienced forward on the international level and desperately needs to find someone who can finish before qualifying starts next in 2008.
When Josh Wolff pulled out of yesterday's match for personal reasons, Brian Ching was called in from Houston. But he arrived hurt and was scratched from the lineup, which effectively left no striker with any experience whatsoever. So coach Bob Bradley did the only things he could, essentially using four defenders and six midfielders. Nominally, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey were listed as forwards but, as always, they played in a withdrawn position. So until some late replacements came in, the Americans played without someone on top.
The Swedes are not the best team in Europe, but they are experienced, well organized and very physical. Six-foot-6 Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who stars for Inter Milan, is one of the top 10 forwards in the world. As the U.S. found out, with his size and pace, he is a handful and was a problem for the American back-line all evening.
In the opening moments, the U.S. was able to play some possession soccer and string several passes together. This presented DaMarcus Beasley with a close-in chance in the third minute, but his attempt bounced wide left and it was the closest the Red, White and Blue came to scoring all night.
The U.S. back-line was under almost constant pressure and stood up well considering ut got little help from the defensive midfield. Sweden tried to take advantage of Steve Cherundolo's lack of height at right back and attacked down its left flank often. He had a few dicey moments and, except for the play that resulted in Sweden's only goal in the 56th minute, he held up well.
Ironically, the goal resulted from a clear foul that was ignored by Dutch referee Kevin Blom, who allowed both sides to get away with a lot of physical play. Sweden's Christian Wilhelmsson
cut in from the left side with Cherundolo closely marketing him before Wilhelmson shoved the American with two hands to the chest, knocking him backward. The ball rolled to Kim Källström who took full advantage of the space Wilhelmsson's push created and fired a hard 22-yarder into the top left corner of the net with little goalkeeper Tim Howard could do to prevent it.
Howard had a fortunate evening. Most of Sweden's shots were right at him On the one time Ibrahimovic broke through cleanly, Howard went for a kick save and threw out his right arm with the ball hitting him in the top right off his chest before bouncing harmlessly away.
Even though Sweden's goal was somewhat tainted, it clearly outplayed the U.S. from start to finish. "The result was fair," Bradley said.
Last night's setback provided Bradley a clear view of the problems he faces with qualifying beginning in 2008. He needs to find effective strikers and shore up his defensive midfield. Further, he needs Major League Soccer players to step up the tempo when they're competing on the international level and the up-and-coming youngsters need to mature quickly.
U.S. player rating
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 6.0: Certainly cannot be faulted with the goal and otherwise did everything asked of him.
Defender Steve Cherundolo - 5.5: Was picked on all night by the Swedes and generally responded well to the pressure. Could have used some more help from the middle when he was left exposed.
Defender Oguchi Onyewu - 5: His biggest failing is a lack of foot speed and that was evident at crucial times tonight as he sought to keep Ibrahimovic in check. He matched the big Swede in size and strength, but was not as quick. Onyewu also had some positioning problems from time to time.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 5.5: Was forced to cover a lot of ground, providing relief both to his left and his right.
Defender Jonathan Bornstein - 4.5: He is still learning how to play at the international level. He pushes forward with abandon and gets caught up-field too often, needing to recognize when the pace is faster than in MLS. An inconsistent performance.
Midfielder Pablo Mastroeni - 4: He never seemed to get into the match. Was absent at key moments, failing often to support his backs.
Midfielder Benny Feilhaber - 5.5: Continues to improve and might become the key player in the middle in the coming years. He needs to be able to hold the ball better and to see more of the field to better involve this around him.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 4.5: Had some good moments, but often seemed out of position, usually pushing too far forward. Was lucky not to pick up a yellow card or two.
Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley - 6: As is often the case, he took a physical beating. He bounces up and keeps going, but the flow of his play is disrupted.
Forward Clint Dempsey - 6.5: Has become a more technical player since his move to England. Covered a lot of ground tonight, at times falling deep to help on defense. Obviously not a target forward, but was the best American player tonight for long periods of time.
Forward Landon Donovan - 5.5: Looked like he left his "A" game back in California, but had some good early moments. Disappeared at times and then wilted as the match wore on. Far from the level expected of him
Midfielder Bobby Convey (46th minute for Mastroeni) - 4: Looked like a player who has not had a competitive match in eight months and is just coming back from knee surgery.
Defender Jonathan Spector (64th minute for Bornstein) - 5: Seemed never to really get into gear. While he made no glaring errors, he did not step things up either.
Forward Kamani Hill (64th minute for Feilhaber) - 4.5: Should have been able to do more on fresh legs.
Defender Jay DeMerit (76th minute for Bocanegra) - 5.5: Played well in the middle, giving up little after replacing the tiring Bocanegra. An experienced pro used to playing against top-flight competition, he was more than able to hold his own.
Forward Sal Zizzo (76th minute for Beasley) - 4.5: Seemed a bit lost in his first international appearance. Made few obvious errors, but didn't add much to the U.S. attack either.
Forward Charlie Davies (85th minute for Dempsey) - 4: Made no impact.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Clint Dempsey.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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