(Sunday, June 3, 2007) -- A young, inexperienced United States managed a tidy result in defeating an undermanned China 4-1 last night before a good crowd of 20,832 at antiquated Spartan Stadium in San Jose, Calif.
The field's narrow width of 70 yards became a major factor in the match.
Four different Americans scored with midfielders DaMarcus Beasley and Benny Feilhaber giving the U.S. a 2-1 lead at intermission, followed by goals on headers by midfielder Clint Dempsey and defender Oguchi Onyewu in a four-minute span of the second half. It is significant that three of the four American goals came on dead-ball situations with only Feilhaber recording his first international tally from the run of play.
The U.S. intended this match to serve as a tune-up for the Gold Cup which starts for the Americans with a Thursday game against Guatemala at The Home Depot Center. However, when Bob Bradley decided to let most of his Major League Soccer players to remain with their teams for weekend matches, most of his offensive strength was absent. That's why the four-goal outburst was particularly noteworthy.
Bradley did have four players from Chivas USA, which had the MLS weekend off. Among them was veteran Ante Razov, who played as a lone striker in what was described as a 4-3-2-1 set. Razov is not even on the Gold Cup roster, but turned in a strong effort despite not showing up on the score-sheet.
Razov did have Beasley and Dempsey on his flanks as attacking midfielders. As a result, most of the U.S. attack came with players running out of the midfield either after through balls or ones played over the top.
After Zhang Yaokun victimized Sacha Kljestan and then ripped an uncontested shot from 11 yards into the upper left corner for a 1-1 tie in the 15th minute, Bradley immediately shifted to a more standard 4-4-2 formation for better defensive coverage.
Because of the field's lack of width, both sides struggled to find room to attack through the crowded midfield. Beasley's goal came on a penalty kick after he was sent through on a nice pass from midfielder Michael Bradley, only to be taken down in the box by keeper Chen Dong. Dempsey's goal was off a corner kick and Onyewu's from a free kick. Only Feilhaber scored without the benefit of a set piece, chipping a shot over the head on an advancing Chen.
The fact the U.S. was able to score off dead-ball situations is important because, given the rising crop of American front-liners are generally untested in international competition, making the most of set plays will be important in World Cup qualifying.
The U.S. defense was solid, allowing the Chinese few chances. Neither Howard nor Kasey Keller, his second-half replacement, had much to do.
The Chinese, missing up to six starters, did not provide much opposition and never seemed to figure out how to play in the narrow confines of Spartan Stadium. They often tried to power the ball through the crowded middle, a strategy that was doomed from the onset. By dropping Dempsey back, Bradley closed the small hole that China exploited for its goal. From that point, the visitors never figured a way through.
In a subplot, the boisterous crowd gave San Jose fans hope their government will commit funds to a new soccer stadium which could lead to MLS returning to their city.
U.S. player ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 6: Could not be faulted on the goal and otherwise had little to do.
Defender Jonathan Spector - 5.5: Given his experience in England, he still makes some surprising mistakes getting caught upfield when he pushes forward. At times, he is very good, but he must limit errors.
Defender Oguchi Onyewu - 6.5: A solid game in the middle and scored a good goal with a perfectly-placed header.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 6: Almost gave up an early goal after seemingly being surprised by the pace of China's young Manchester United striker Dong Fangzhuo. Then, settled down and played his usual fine match.
Defender Jonathan Bornstein - 5: Plays with abandon pushing up from his left-back position, but still makes mistakes. He has all the necessary physical qualities and will only get better with experience.
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan - 5: Did very well at times, but much less so at other times. He is young and still learning and that showed in his first cap.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 6: Had a solid match. His game is improving and he will be a major contributor in coming years.
Midfielder Benny Feilhaber - 7: Still too early to tell if he's is going to be Claudio Reyna's heir, the one to direct the team out of the midfield., but he did take a step in that direction tonight. He had a solid game at both ends, contributing a good goal and assist.
Midfielder Clint Dempsey - 6.5: When he dropped back further into the midfield after China's goal, he changed the complexion of the match. He was solid offensively and defensively, plus he chipped in a nice header for a goal.
Midfielder-forward DaMarcus Beasley - 6.5: Befuddled China with his speed. He made good runs into space and opened the scoring with a well-taken penalty kick after he was taken down in the box.
Forward Ante Razov - 6.5: A starter because most MLS players were unavailable, he surprised with a strong effort and perhaps made put himself back into consideration for Copa America.
Goalkeeper Kasey Keller (46th minute for Howard) - 6: Still a commanding presence in net, he did not have much to do, but organize his defense and cut off any attempt at goal.
Forward Charlie Davies (66th minute for Razov) - 5.5: In his international debut, the young striker was not able to use his pace to his advantage, but had a few good touches. He might have done better with the limited number of chances he had.
Midfielder Kamani Hill (74th minute for Kljestan) - 6: The U.S. scored twice in the five minutes after he entered the match. In his first international outing, he helped push the pace, resulting in the two dead-ball situations that led to the goals.
Defender Frank Simek (74th minute for Spector) - 5.5: He was not asked to do much,. but helped kill off the match after the U.S. built its three-goal lead.
Forward Lee Nguyen (80th minute for Beasley) - 5.5: The match was pretty much over by the time he entered, but he shows a few flashes of speed. His first cap was not enough to judge how much he has improved since moving to the Netherlands.
Midfielder Jesse Marsch (80th minute for Feilhaber) - 5.5: The veteran is a Bradley favorite and helped close out the match.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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