(Wednesday, March 26, 2008) -- The United States men received solid performances from a number of key players and rolled to a surprising 3-0 victory over host Poland before a sellout of 20,000 at Wisla Stadium in Krakow.
Despite the final score line, the U.S. won this match by getting strong performances from those in the back and in the defensive midfield.
For the most part, the Americans stayed organized all night and rarely lost their shape. When they were pressured in the second half, the U.S. midfield dropped back and was able to effectively counter, once springing Landon Donovan for a long breakaway in which he shot inches wide right.
Poland, under its Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker, is expected to do great things after qualifying for Euro 2008 this summer. In this match, Beenhakker started several younger players because he wanted a look at them. After the interval, he replaced the entire attack, bringing on four players who might have been expected to have started the match.
The result was the Polish attack was faster and more organized after intermission, especially through the first 30 minutes. The Americans, however, were able to step up their game and adjust to the faster pace, conceding Poland hardly anything.
If there is a quibble with the U.S. performance, once again it was the inability to score from the run of play. All three U.S. goals came off free kicks or corners kicks, the first two off headers by defenders -- Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra --- the latter on a perfectly placed free kick from second-half reserve Eddie Lewis. All three goals beat one of the better goalkeepers in Europe -- Celtic of Scotland's Artur Boruc, no small feat.
The U.S. is still in search of a forward line that can create and can finish. Right now, going into the early rounds of World Cup qualifying, the Americans look solid in the back and are getting better in the middle. They still miss the injured DaMarcus Beasley in midfield, but this match, and not just the lopsided result, is a positive step forward.
U.S. player ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 6: Not very busy, but came up big when he had to, especially stopping a drive by Dariusz Dudka midway through the first half.
Defender Heath Pearce - 6: Not playing as a regular in Germany, he had to really step up his game tonight and was generally successful. He was under pressure on defense and responded well while at the same time pushing forward at times and involved in the attack. The only negative was he must do better with his crosses.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 7: A terrific match. Very strong defensively and he was able to score a good goal that got the Americans off to a fine start. One of his best national-team efforts.
Defender Oguchi Onyewu - 7: Showed that he continues to get better as he made few missteps on defense, while using his size to his advantage and maneuvering into the open to notch the second U.S. goal.
Defender Steve Cherundolo - 6.5: Was solid on the outside and often moved into the middle to help out. A very good performance.
Midfielder Ricardo Clark - 5.5: Worked tirelessly for the entire match, covering a huge amount of ground. At times, his play technically left a lot to be desired, but no one can fault his effort.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 6: He is used differently here than in the Netherlands, where he has become a top goal scorer for Heerenveen coming out of the midfield. He was especially valuable defensively tonight as he helped break up Poland attacks, especially in the second half.
Midfielder Landon Donovan - 7.5: After the long plane ride from California, he had the legs to run for an hour, including one late 60-yard sprint on which he missed scoring by inches. His crosses on two goals were textbook.
Midfielder Clint Dempsey - 5.5: He worked very hard and had a few good minutes offensively, but a lot of his work was in the trenches helping clog up the midfield and taking possession from the Poland attackers before they could get up a head of steam.
Forward Brian Ching - 4.5: Big and physical, he really did not get a lot accomplished tonight.
Forward Eddie Johnson - 4.5 : He just seems lost on his final touches. He needs to pick up the speed of his game, work harder off the ball and, when he has the ball on his feet, he needs either to attack or quickly pick out a teammate. He is still very much a work in progress.
Midfielder Eddie Lewis (63rd minute for Donovan) - 6.5: He played a good two-way game, sending in accurate crosses and got back to defend. As a bonus, he scored with pretty free kick. Topped the night off with a few minutes back on defense.
Defender Jay DeMerit (63rd minute for Onyewu) - 6.5: Took a few moments to settle in and after that was a pillar of strength in back, playing as well as the players he replaced. Did much to boost his chances to become a primary substitute in the back.
Forward Josh Wolff (63rd minute for Ching) - 5: Used his pace to advantage and while his offensive contributions were somewhat limited, did a lot of work in the midfield, especially late.
Defender Jonathan Spector (72nd minute for Cherundolo) - 5.5: In a week that saw him go from Nashville to Merseyside in England for a West Ham United, did fine in his somewhat short stint tonight in Krakow, Poland.
Midfielder Benny Feilhaber (85th minute for Pearce) - 5: Was active for the five-plus minutes he was on the field in helping secure the result.
SoccerTimes Player of the Match: Landon Donovan.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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