(Thursday, June 21, 2007) -- For the second CONCACAF Gold Cup match in a row, the United States men built up a two-goal lead, but had trouble putting their opponent away.
As was the case in defeating Panama 2-1 in the quarterfinals Saturday, the Americans wound up clinging to a 2-1 victory over Canada in tonight's semifinals at Soldier Field in Chicago. However, without a misguided offside call, which wrongly disallowed a Canada goal in the dying seconds, the U.S. would have wound up in overtime.
Once again, the U.S. showed it could play a match effectively without a forward. Nominally, Eddie Johnson was the striker, but once again he was entirely ineffective. The other players on top, at times Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, were really midfielders and, as has been the case throughout this Gold Cup, the American attack has come with players running out of the midfield.
As the U.S. has moved through this tournament and the players have worked together more often, the team has become better organized. Tonight, the defensive midfield tandem of Pablo Mastroeni and Michael Bradley worked well together with one covering for the other and with both pushing forward more often than in past matches.
The American defense was usually very good, but also had some really bad moments, Some miscommunication between Oguchi Onyewu and goalkeeper Kasey Keller led to Canada's best chance of the first half. On Canada's goal in the 76th minute, Carlos Bocanegra dropped too deep and gave Iain Hume too much room to operate.
For the first half hour, Canada played five men in the midfield and clogged things up pretty effectively. The U.S. had several early chances with Donovan and Dempsey running out of the midfield, but Canada tightened things up to the point that neither side had much of an advantage until Frankie Hejduk's opportunistic goal in the 39th minute.
That opened things up, leading to midfielder DaMarcus Beasley's breakaway which resulted Donovan's penalty kick for a 2-0 advantage just before halftime.
In the second half, the U.S. kept up the pressure but, despite several chances, could not get a third goal. The Americans began to tire and, as in the Panama game, they allowed an opponent back in the match, giving up a goal and then having to hold on for dear life in the last few minutes, this time a man down after Bradley was sent off in the 89th minute for a vicious tackle from behind.
It might well be interesting to speculate what would have happened in the 30 minutes of overtime had the Canadian goal not been disallowed. Canada would have had a man advantage and the momentum. Would Canada continue to press the issue or become conservative after gaining the tie?
Canada is clearly better than it has been in years past. Julian DeGuzman, who is an emerging star in Spain playing for Deportivo La Coruna, was a handful. Atiba Hutchinson, Wayne DeRosario, Paul Stalteri and Ali Gerba, who plays for Swedish giant IFK Göteborg, are all high quality players. So is Hume, who scored the goal and was once Keller's teammate with Leicester City in England.
Canada will likely argue it was robbed, and that was true. The U.S. players knew that, or will when they look at film. If there was any solace, it was that the Americans were the better team for most of tonight, though not that much better.
So it's on to Sunday's final against Mexico, which promises a large crowd at Soldier Field. A title game between Canada and surprising Guadeloupe (a 1-0 loser to Mexico) would have been met by a yawn in Chicago.
The U.S. will be without Hejduk, its best player tonight, and Bradley, against Mexico. Hejduk will be suspended after receiving his second yellow card of the knockout round and Bradley for his red card.
It would be expected that the Americans will have to improve their offensive performance if they are to retain their Gold Cup crown. Then again, Mexico hasn't been particularly impressive in its route to the final.
U.S. player ratings
Goalkeeper Kasey Keller - 5.5: Seemed uncharacteristically shaky in the early going with communication problems and trouble clearing the ball. He recovered to have a solid second half, but his 100th international appearance did not live up to the excellence expected of him.
Defender Frankie Hejduk - 7.5: Had about as good a match as an outside defender can have. Was a tower of strength defensively and was constantly on the attack, pushing the ball relentlessly forward. His goal put the Americans ahead for good and provided a boost that led to Donovan's successful penalty kick.
Defender Oguchi Onyewu - 5: Generally a good match, but made his fair share of mistakes, especially late in the match. Almost gave away the tying goal in the dying seconds. .
Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 5.5: Was solid all night, except his handling of Hume on Canada's goal, allowing the opponent tome to settle and turn, and then giving him plenty of room to shoot. Other than that big mistake, he was effective in the middle. Otherwise, he was lucky not to have left the U.S. shorthanded in the 28th minute; his reckless tackle should have earned him a red card, but he escaped with a yellow.
Defender Jonathan Bornstein - 5.5: Really did little wrong, but was not a big part of the match. He could have pushed the ball forward with more effect.
Midfielder Pablo Mastroeni - 6: His best effort since his return to the team in the Group B finale. He is starting to work very well with Bradley and covered effectively when Bradley pushed forward. At the same time, he managed to get forward and help the offense on occasion.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 5.5: Until the ghastly red card on a pointless tackle, he was putting together perhaps his best national-team match. Was more effective than in the past going forward and made few defensive errors.
Midfielder Landon Donovan - 7: He looked very much like the star and the leader he is supposed to be. He put out a tremendous effort and was constantly dangerous. He was also very effective in the middle of the field and was especially good working with Beasley.
Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley - 6.5: His pace made a big difference. He was a handful for the Canadian defense and it was his breakthrough that led to the penalty kick that became the second U.S. goal.
Forward Clint Dempsey - 6: Did a lot of the hard work tonight, the unglamorous digging in the midfield both offensively and defensively. He is very effective in that role.
Forward Eddie Johnson - 4 5: For about a 10-minute stretch early in the second half, Johnson was very much n the match and created some chances. Otherwise, he was nowhere to be seen and pretty much ineffective. Another timid performance. .
Midfielder Benny Feilhaber (80th minute for Johnson) - 5.5: Came on in a defensive role and was doing well killing off the match until the last few moments.
Forward Taylor Twellman (88th minute for Dempsey) - no rating: He was inserted for his fresh legs, but did not have any impact in his brief time.
Ricardo Clark (90th minute for Mastroeni) - no rating: Did not make his presence known in the final minutes.
SoccerTimes U.S. Star of the Game: Frankie Hejduk.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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