U.S. about finished in Copa America for lack of scoring touch.
By Robert Wagman
(Tuesday, July 3, 2007) -- Paraguay was able to finish its chances while the United States men could not. That is the simple explanation why Paraguay prevailed 3-1 yesterday to clinch advancement to the Copa America quarterfinals, while leaving the U.S. only a miniscule chance to move on from Group C.
In fact, the Americans created more chances than their opposition, but Paraguay coolly converted its opportunities while the U.S. came up empty time and again, except for a beautiful strike by Ricardo Clark to tie the match late in the first half.
The U.S. played extremely well today at Estadio Agustin Tovar in Barinas, Venezuela, much better than in its 4-1 loss to Argentina in Thursday's opener. The Americans needed at least a draw to have any hope of advancing and still was alive, behind 2-1 but attacking hard and having Paraguay holding on for dear life into the final moments. It wasn't until Salvador Cabanas scored an unassisted goal two minute into stoppage time that the U.S. hopes died.
Given the golden opportunities that presented themselves, the U.S. should have been in the lead, not trying desperately for a late equalizer. An omen of the fate that awaited the Americans came in the 10th minute when Sacha Kljestan found himself completely unmarked four yards out when he received a perfect cross from Bennyy Feilhaber, but Kljestan missed his target badly.
U.S. coach Bob Bradley started young and inexperienced team and it showed with every American player seeming to alternate between very good play and glaring mistakes. About the only consistent American was veteran midfielder Ben Olsen and he was replaced midway through the second half in an attempt to add offense.
U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller was hung out to dry twice by his defense, first when Roque Santa Cruz was allowed to put a pass between two U.S. defenders to an advancing Edgar Barreto, who was allowed in alone for a 1-0 lead after 30 minutes. In the 58th minute, U.S. defender Jonathan Bornstein tried to put a ball back to Keller, but his pass was to weak. Central defender Jimmy Conrad, assuming the ball would make it back to Keller, stood and watched as Oscar Cardozo swooped in, controlled and put a perfectly placed left-footed shot into the far corner of the net as Keller guarded his near post.
Overall, the U.S. probably deserved a B-plus for effort and a D-minus for execution. At the international level, it is imperative to take advantage of opportunities and avoid mistakes. The Americans did neither.
"We played very well. We just gave them a couple of easy chances," Keller said. "And when you give a good team and good players easy chances, they are going to beat you. This is why we are here. We are here to give these (young U.S.) guys this experience. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to make mistakes to learn. Hopefully, now as we go forward in this tournament and into future games, we have learned from this experience and will be better for it."
Given how the U.S. was in tonight's match until the very end, it's interesting to speculate how the American team that won the Gold Cup might have done here.
Even at 0-2, the U.S. still has a slim chance of making it to the quarterfinals. The two third-place teams from the three preliminary groups advance, but the Americans first would have to beat Colombia Thursday and probably by a lot. Currently, the third-place teams from the other groups -- Chile and Uruguay -- are 1-1 with three points with a minus-2 goal differential. The U.S. has a minus-5 differential, the first tiebreaker. Colombia will also be trying hard, though its chances are slimmer given its 0-2 record and minus-7 goal difference.
U.S. player ratings
Goalkeeper Kasey Keller - 5: Possibly the Kasey Keller circa 1995 (in the last U.S. Copa America appearance) might have gotten to one or both of the first two Paraguay goals, or the perfectly placed free kick in stoppage time, but he can not really be faulted for any of them. He came up big several times in a bit of an up-and-down effort.
Defender Drew Moor 4.5: Typified the U.S. inconsistency. At times, the young defender was very good, but made glaring errors at other times. He was able to push up in the offense, but wasted a point-blank header in front of the goal. His performance was not ready for prime time.
Defender Jimmy Conrad - 5: He could have helped prevent the first Paraguay goal and was very much at fault on the second, but he was effective at times.
Defender Jay DeMerit -- 5.5: He was the best U.S. defender again until he had to leave with what appeared to be a pulled stomach muscle.
Defender Jonathan Bornstein - 5.5: He defended well, except for the ill-conceived back-pass that handed Paraguay an easy goal. He was able to go forward often and help create a number of chances.
Midfielder Ricardo Clark - 6.5: In a standout performance, he converted a wonderful goal and was a big part of the attack, while often dropping back to help on defense.
Midfielder Ben Olsen - 6: Once again, he was all over the midfield from deep in defense to pushing into the Paraguayan box. He was again substituted out for more offense in a move that might have been premature.
Midfielder Benny Feilhaber - 5.5: For the second match in a row, he went from extremely good to very bad. At time, he looks like the central midfielder the U.S. needs so badly, but he must overcome his propensity for errors.
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan - 4: Very early, he found himself in a perfect position to score and turn the match around, but he couldn't produce. Had some good moments, but still seems a long way from being ready to step in at this level.
Forward Eddie Johnson - 5.5: Finally, he started to run at defenders and in doing so was able to use his pace to advantage. Still is hesitant to shoot and, at times, clearly does not know whether to shoot or pass. A much-improved effort than against Argentina.
Forward Taylor Twellman - 5.0: Certainly cannot be faulted for his effort, often dropping back deep into the midfield to defend or start the attack, and he worked hard to get himself in position for good chances. But the bottom line remains: he is not an effective finisher at the international level and that showed again.
Defender Dan Califf (65th minute for DeMerit) 5.5: An injury substitution who did quite well. He gave up nothing in the center of the defense and left a positive impression.
Midfielder Justin Mapp (71st minute for Olsen) - 5.5: An odd 20 minutes. Moments after coming on, he stormed into the penalty area in one of the best U.S. chances of the night. Then, he did not see the ball for the next 10 minutes until finally changing from the left to right side. He certainly should have started.
Midfielder Lee Nguyen (80th minute for Kljestan) - 4.5: Made almost no impression on the match in his first international performance.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Ricardo Clark
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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