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Despite lackluster effort, U.S. must be satisfied in shutout of Sweden.

Despite so-so effort, U.S. defeats South Africa on Cherundolo goal.

Despite so-so effort, U.S. defeats South Africa on Cherundolo goal.

Youth is served as U.S. kids combine to beat Switzerland.

Bradley's first goal comes late, defeats Switzerland 1-0.

Superiority evident, Brazil still is tested in defeating Americans.

Loss to Sweden displays weakness with World Cup qualifying on horizon.

U.S. reserves fall short, lose to Colombia in Copa América finale.

Young Americans fall 1-0 to Colombia, finish last in Copa América.

Copa América hopes die day before Colombia match.

U.S. about finished in Copa America for lack of scoring touch.

U.S. about finished in Copa America for lack of scoring touch.

U.S. hung tough in Argentina loss, until late collapse.

Late revival allows U.S. to shock Mexico, defend Gold Cup.

U.S. survives late Canadian onslaught with help of faulty offside call.

U.S. survives poor finishing, edges Panama in Gold Cup quarterfinals.

Beasley strikes twice, U.S. beats El Salvador 4-0 for Group B sweep.

Ching, Johnson goals down T&T 2-0, earn quarterfinal berth.

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Analysis

Bradley learns much about his U.S. team in 2-2 draw with Mexico.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

(Thursday, February 7, 2008) -- United States men's coach Bob Bradley says he likes playing tough matches against quality opponents in less than friendly environments so he can identify where his team is lacking and where it needs improvement and work. If that is the case, last night's 2-2 draw with Mexico provided a rather stark view of where the U.S. has problems. At the same time, Bradley might have found a solution for one of his biggest problems.

In a match that had the feel of a World Cup qualifier and not simply a friendly, the U.S. was outplayed, but still remained undefeated (8-0-2) in its last 10 matches against Mexico on American soil. While the U.S. was technically playing a home game, a majority -- possibly a large majority -- of the 70,103 at Reliant Stadium in Houston were wearing Mexican green and rooting vociferously for their team.

The match was played at a very fast pace and was as physical as U.S.-Mexico matches usually are. White Mexico controlled the action for long periods of time, the U.S. twice took the lead and had midfielder Clint Dempsey's well-placed potential winner -- the Americans would have led 3-1 -- waved off because he was correctly ruled slightly offside.

The U.S. problems were many. With the normal starting outside defenders not available, two fill-ins -- Drew Moor of the right and Ramiro Corrales -- got the call and neither was up to the task. To an extent, this match was decided in Hamburg, Germany, Saturday when usual right back Steve Cherundolo came out of Hannover 96's match with SV Hamburg with a sore groin, causing him to be scratched from the U.S. lineup.

If he had been fit and made the trip, Cherundolo would have been the started on the right and it is likely Magallón would not have been in position to score either of his two goals for Mexico. Moor was badly beaten by Magallón on both.

Last night's match demonstrated just how much the U.S. misses the midfield leadership and ball control of Claudio Reyna, the captain who is retired from international competition. Neither of the two U.S. central midfielders -- Michael Bradley or Ricardo Clark -- was able to hold the ball and organize the team. In fact, it was only after Bradley was replaced by Benny Feilhaber over the last half hour that the Americans developed any shape in the midfield.

At times, it looked like most of these players had met each other only hours before the match. There was an utter lack of communication all over the field. Goalkeeper Tim Howard screamed himself hoarse trying to get his defense lined up on dead-ball plays and almost conceded an early goal when backtracking central defender Carlos Bocanegra jarred a ball loose by colliding with his keeper. Fortunately, Howard was able to quickly snare the loose ball, but a simple save became dangerous, not to mention the risk of injury.

Bradley and Clark were not on the same page in the midfield and they did not link up well with the forward line.

"There were some good things that you need to see in a tough environment and in a tough game," Bradley said. "There were some things that you see that you still need to improve on. These kind of games are what the players look forward to and, as coaches, we understand that we need this kind of games in order to look hard at our players and our team to find things that we need to improve."

For all the obvious problems, the U.S. did not lose and it is likely if it had all of its regular starters, a victory might have been possible. On the other hand, Mexico did not seem displeased with the result. This shows how far the Americans have come in this rivalry. Instead of being dissatisfied with a draw, the Mexicans actually seemed to come away with a feeling of relief.

The good news for the U.S. was the performance of 19-year-old striker Jozy Altidore, who not only scored a beautiful goal, but more importantly took on defenders and pushed forward for 90 minutes. He did a lot of hard work up and created space for himself.

The Americans have been searching for true forwards as opposed to the converted midfielders who have been used over the past year. Altidore has been envisioned as filling that role and last night, in his third international appearance and first start, he showed he might be ready to step in.

Another positive can be drawn from the fact that despite being outplayed for long stretches, the U.S. didn't lose. Moreover, despite Mexico having extended possession in vicinity of the U.S. goal, the Americans did not allow many quality scoring chances.

After being badly overmatched through the first half hour, the U.S. took the lead on an odd goal by defender Oguchi Onyewu on a sequence started by his long throw-in in the 30th minute. Mexico quickly responded, but Altidore became the youngest player to score for the U.S. in the modern era when he headed home Drew Moor's right-side cross for a 2-1 advantage in the 40th minute.


U.S. player ratings

Starters

Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 6: Came up big with six saves and could not be faulted on either Mexico goal. Had a very strong match.

Defender Drew Moor - 3.5: On the positive side, he delivered a nice cross that Altidore converted. Other than that, he was simply dreadful on defense, twice getting turned inside out and giving up bad goals to Jonny Magallón. Did block a late Mexico shot, a potential winner.

Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 7: Was everywhere on the backline for the U.S., not just in the middle, but covering for both wings at critical times. The best player U.S. player.

Defender Oguchi Onyewu - 6: Played solidly on defense and scored the first U.S. goal after his long throw-in was eventually returned to him for a header into the far right corner of the net. Played hard all night and worked well with Bocanegra

Defender Ramiro Corrales - 4.5: Was not nearly as good tonight as he was in the last match against Sweden. Made numerous errors and had trouble with the pace. He had to be bailed out by the central defenders too often.

Midfielder Ricardo Clark - 4.5: He had trouble with the pace and did not mesh well either with Bradley next to him or with the forwards in front of him. Had his moments, but too few.

Midfielder Michael Bradley - 5.5: Had some very good moments and clearly is an improved player from his time in the Netherlands. But he did not hold and distribute the ball well and this is what is needed from whoever is playing the central midfield position.

Midfielder Landon Donovan - 5: Regretfully, an all too typical Landon Donovan match. At times, he did wonderful things but then he disappeared in the second half. He was a marked man and his response to the physical play was to drift further and further to the outside until he was no longer much of a factor.

Midfielder Bobby Convey - 4 .5: Left little or no impression on the match. Was simply not a factor.

Forward Clint Dempsey - 5: Aside from the lovely goal that was disallowed, he did little. He has put in a lot of miles for Fulham, his struggling club team in England, and looked plum exhausted from his quick trip to Houston..

Forward Jozy Altidore - 6: Not only scored a good goal, but proved a problem for the Mexican back-line all evening. By the time serious qualifying matches begin next year, he might be the answer for the U.S. on the front line.

Reserves

Midfielder Benny Feilhaber (63rd minute for Bradley) 5.5: His fitness may be an issue since he is essentially a man without a club team right now, but was able to hold and control the ball and helped the U.S. find some shape in the middle after entering.

Forward Freddy Adu (63rd minute for Dempsey) - 5: His fresh legs proved a help on the front line. He had some good moments, but did not really mesh well with Altidore, who might prove his big competition for playing time.

Midfielder Eddie Lewis (70th minute for Convey) 5.5: The strange story of this match. After his club said he needed knee surgery after an injury last week, he instead had a "minor procedure" (a drain and injection) and was pronounced ready to play. Actually provided some stability on the left side and made more defensive contributions than offensive. Given the problems the U.S. was having in back on the outside, that was a significant contribution.

Midfielder Maurice Edu (79th minute for Clark) - 5: The big surprise from the Sweden game last month, he came in rather late to leave much of an impression. He did work well in tandem with Feilhaber, but generated little offensively over the last 10 minutes.

Midfielder Jeremiah White (81st minute for Donovan) -- 5: His fresh legs made him a threat, but by this time he entered, the U.S. was just trying to preserve a tie.

SoccerTimes Player of the Match: Carlos Bocanegra.


Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.

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