Despite so-so effort, U.S. defeats South Africa on Cherundolo goal.
By Robert Wagman
(Saturday, November 17, 2007) -- In their final match of 2007, the United States men defeated South Africa 1-0, capturing the Nelson Mandela Challenge Cup at Johannesburg's Ellis Park Stadium despite a performance that probably would be best described as lackadaisical.
During training, the U.S. had some difficulty acclimating to Johannesburg's altitude of 5,751 feet, further above sea level than Denver, but not as high as Mexico City. So it looked through the first half that the Americans were pacing themselves so they would not run out of gas in the second half.
Much to the obvious dismay of South Africa's well traveled coach, Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parreira, the host did not push the issue very hard during the opening 45 minutes. The result was much of the action was confined to the midfield with neither side doing much pressuring. South Africa giving the U.S. plenty of space, but the Americans failed to take full advantage.
Still, the U.S. took a 1-0 lead into intermission when defender Steve Cherundolo, overlapping on the right side, scored. He ran onto a nice pass from midfielder Maurice Edu and put a sharply angled shot high into the net over the head of goalkeeper Rowen Fernandez.
Things changed a bit in the second half. Both Carlos Bocanegra and Cherundolo, who was the victim of a bad tackle, were replaced and the U.S. back-line fell into moments of confusion. At the same time, South Africa began to push the match and had the better of the play territorially through much of the final 45 minutes.
Yet, South Africa was not able to create much in the way of quality chances and the Americans were able to protect their advantage without a great deal of difficulty.
As has been the case in recent matches, the U.S. showed almost no offense. With a pair of natural midfielders -- Clint Dempsey and Freddy Adu -- on top, the Americans were outshot 12-3 and managed only two shots on goal. Cherundolo's goal was one of few times the U.S. created danger for the South African back-line.
U.S. coach Bob Bradley did not have his full complement of players available. Landon Donovan was absent because of a hamstring strain, Derby County asked that Eddie Lewis not be called in, while Taylor Twellman, Brian Ching and possibly others had a previous engagement with tomorrow's MLS Cup final.
Without Twellman, Adu started and showed improvement in his play. Edu has looked good in his first two starts. Otherwise, the squad was about what Bradley has started recently.
South Africa is building toward the African Nations Cup, which starts in January, so it had its full side available. It has several good European-based players, including Blackburn Rovers' Benni McCarthy and Aaron Mokoena, and Everton's Steven Pienaar. From the German Bundesliga come Delron Buckley (Borussia Dortmund), and Sibusiso Zuma and goalkeeper Rowen Fernandez from Arminia Bielefeld. Nasief Morris plays in Greece for Panathinaikos.
However, for whatever reason, the team is not playing as a unit. McCarthy, supposedly the best South African, had an off-day against the U.S. and was seldom a factor. Parreira has his work cut out if his team is to have much of a showing as the World Cup host in 2010.
The U.S. is now off until it meets Sweden January 19 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., and Mexico February 6 at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
U.S. player ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 6: Did not have much to do. Controlled his box well and stopped the only decent South African shot of the day.
Defender Steve Cherundolo - 6: A solid game on the right side of the defense, allowing little to get around him and was rewarded with a goal on a nicely taken shot after he smartly overlapped.
Defender Oguchi Onyewu - 5.5: Played well for the entire 90 minutes, but clearly missed the presence of Bocanegra in the second half, finding himself exposed on several occasions.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 6.5: Is the heart of the U.S. defense. That was never more apparent then when he was not there in the second half.
Defender Heath Pearce - 5.5: Went the distance and while he did little wrong, was unsettled at times. Needs more playing time to work better with this group.
Midfielder Benny Feilhaber - 5: He has not been getting playing minutes in England and it is starting to show. He did little today and at times he seemed a bit lost.
Midfielder Maurice Edu - 5.5: The Major League Soccer "Rookie of the Year" shows a big upside. Played solidly today and at times better than that.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 5.5: At times today was very good, making one good defensive play after another, but did little to help the attack and was sloppy at times.
Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley - 5: Given the amount of room in which he had to work, he might have been expected to do more. Not a big game.
Forward Freddy Adu - 5.5: Is showing development since he signed in Portugal. He pushed the ball well on offense, but did not get much help from his teammates. Showing better on defense and did have a high work rate.
Forward Clint Dempsey - 5: Didn't get much service so his offensive role was not much. Did often drop into the midfield to make good defensive stops.
Defender Dan Califf (46th minute for Cherundolo ) - 4.5: Made several good recoveries and clearances, but clearly was struggling at times and not of the quality of player he replaced.
Defender Jonathan Spector (46th minute for Bocanegra) - 5: Likewise, he did not do nearly as well as Bocanegra, especially when he was put under pressure. Allowed players to get behind him as he would too often drift to the middle, leaving the right flank exposed.
Goalkeeper Brad Guzan (46th minute for Howard) - 5.5: Did fine, though he was not really called on to do much.
Forward Josmer Altidore (65th minute for Dempsey) - 4.5: This could have been a big chance for him to show what he can do, but he displayed almost no offensive instincts and essentially became another defensive midfielder helping to kill off the match
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan (74th minute for Adu) - 5: Made no impression on the match
Defender Jonathan Bornstein (86th minute for Feilhaber) - no rating: A few minutes to earn a cap and a match check after a long trip.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Carlos Bocanegra.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
Do you have a comment on this story or something to say about soccer in general? Send us a letter.