(Monday, June 16, 2008) -- What's the difference between playing the No. 1 team in the world and playing No. 121? About eight goals. This the United States men discovered after following a scoreless draw in a friendly with Argentina with a 8-0 crushing of Barbados yesterday in the first leg of a CONCACAF second-round series played in front of disappointingly small crowd of 11,476, less than half of capacity at The Home Depot Center on Carson, Calif.
The 21st-ranked U.S. scored early and often - Clint Dempsey scored the first of his two goals 45 seconds in -- against its badly outmatched Caribbean opponent. The return leg is Sunday at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, a 3 p.m. (ET) match to be televised on ESPN Classic. Dempsey's quick strike laid waste to Barbados strategy to bunker in on defense in hopes of taking a 0-0 score to halftime.
The Barbadians, many of whom are essentially semi-pros, simply dropped too deep with their packed-in defenders and this gave the U.S. all kinds of room to operate in the midfield. The Americans consistently were able to take advantage.
"It's good to get the whole thing underway," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "We spent a lot of time thinking about just getting off on the right foot and a goal early like that certainly is getting off on the right foot. From there, it's just an exercise of staying sharp, trying to play the right ball, the right timing and finish off some of plays so we could have a margin. We were able to do that, so in those ways it was a definite success."
Barbados came with a couple of proven English professionals on the front line - Paul Ifill of Crystal Palace and Mark McCammon of Doncaster Rovers, newly promoted to join Palace in the second-tier League Championship. (Barbados' best player, defender Emerson Boyce of England's Wigan Athletic had personal commitments and was absent). However, the well-organized U.S. back-line completely negated any Barbados chances and limited the visitors to two shots, none on goal while the Americans triggered 22, 14 on frame.
U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan, substituting for Tim Howard who strained his lower back Friday in training, had little to do.
Given the level of competition, this was really not much more than a training exercise for the U.S., yet there were a number of positive things that came from the effort. First and foremost for the Americans was the play of Brian Ching, who started on the front line. He scored a pair of goals and had another two disallowed.
Ching is a different kind of forward compared to Eddie Johnson, who he replaced. Ching is not very fast or very technical, but he lurks in and around the penalty area and causes defenses problems. He has difficulty against high-level opposition, but in a match like yesterday's, he was golden.
An injury to Pablo Mastroeni allowed Freddy Adu to enter the U.S. midfield midway through the first half, which finally was his first "official" match, tying him to the U.S. and finally ending talk about him playing for Ghana. Adu reacted well to the considerable space in which he was allowed to operate.
Also in the midfield, DaMarcus Beasley moved to the right side and played well giving Bradley the option of playing him along with either equally left-footed Adu or Eddie Lewis, the latter whose experience and defensive abilities will come in handy in more competitive situations.
The insurmountable advantage gives Bradley the option of getting a look a some other players, while letting some from yesterday's roster return to Europe and get some rest before their clubs resume training,
U.S. player ratings
Goalkeeper Brad Guzan - 5.5: Had little to do, but was settled and worked well with his defense.
Defender Heath Pearce - 7: Took on striker Paul Ifill and gave him nothing. He also was involved in the offense in another solid performance. Perfectly placed cross led to Johnson's late goal.
Defender Steve Cherundolo - 6.5: Was an offensive weapon, getting forward, but was also able to match pace with some speedy wingers.
Defender Oguchi Onyewu - 6.5: Locked up with McCammon, one of few opponents bigger than him, and won every battle, including one shoving match in a solid performance.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 7: With Ifill and McCammon accounted for, he was able to range widely and fill in holes in the back while also venturing far forward and becoming part of the attack.
Midfielder Pablo Mastroeni - 5.5: Slowed early with an injury and had to come out. Did fine considering.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 6: Given the absence of Barbadian pressure, he was able to get forward more often, as he did with Heerenveen in the Netherlands, and he did better than in the three exhibitions leading to this qualifier. Scored a goal, but should have had two or three others with some better finishing.
Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley - 6.5: Ran the Barbadians ragged playing both in the middle and coming off the right side. Clearly getting sharper and more match fit after his long injury layoff.
Midfielder Clint Dempsey - 6.5: Followed a good performance against Argentina last week with an ever better showing today. Was sharp and his opening goal in the first minute came from the kind of play that made him so valuable to Fulham of England this past season.
Forward Landon Donovan - 7: Showed once again he is the grease that makes the U.S. go. Was active on both ends, serving perfect passes, defending well and scoring off a opportunistic free kick.
Forward Brian Ching - 6.5: Far and away his best showing for the national team as he was able to lurk around the penalty area and cause havoc.
Midfielder Freddy Adu (26th minute for Mastroeni) - 5.5: Long appearance that now ties him to the U.S. He used his speed well, showed a good grasp of the match and demonstrated a growing technical ability.
Midfielder Eddie Lewis (72nd minute for Dempsey) - 5.5: The veteran did quite well over the final 20 minutes or so, delivering some pinpoint crosses, including one that forced the late own goal.
Forward Eddie Johnson (81st minute for Donovan) - 5.5: Came in and immediately tallied with a running header off a perfectly-placed cross. That probably did his psyche some good. Not a long enough appearance to show much more.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Landon Donovan.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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