Qualifying loss to ascendant T&T means little to U.S. men.
By Robert Wagman
(Thursday, October 16, 2008) -- A young and inexperienced version of the United States men, playing a match that meant nothing to them but everything to Trinidad and Tobago, held its own against a veteran opponent before host T&T prevailed 2-1 at Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain last night.
It was the first time Trinidad & Tobago defeated the U.S. in World Cup qualifying.
With the Americans (4-1, 12 points) having already clinched a berth in the six-nation final round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying, T&T (2-1-2, 8 points) went three points ahead of Guatemala (1-2-2, 5) in Group A with one match remaining. The Soca Warriors advance with a tie or victory at home against Cuba November 19. Or if Guatemala, a surprise 2-1 loser to Cuba (1-4, 3) does not win on its visit that night to the U.S., where the Americans will probably again employ a reserve-laden side, it will be finished.
U.S. manager Bob Bradley and Warrior coach Francisco Maturana approached the match from diametrically opposes positions. Bradley replaced eight of his starters from Saturday's 6-1 rout of Cuba with a group that was both young and inexperienced, including central defender Michael Orozco, earning his first cap and midfielder Josť Francisco Torres, making his first start four days after his debut.
Maturana fielded the most veteran squad he could gather, reuniting eight of the players who had represented T&T at the 2006 World Cup, including midfielder Russell Latapy, 40, and striker Dwight Yorke, 36. Neither had played when the full U.S. squad defeated T&T 3-0 last month.
Last night's game was played primarily in the midfield. The U.S. scored on its only shot on goal, meaning goalkeeper Clayton Ince did not make a save. T&T had only four shots of which U.S. keeper Brad Guzan stopped two, neither difficult.
Both T&T goals were scored by their ageless wonders. In the 61st minute, Latapy put his side up 1-0 when he hit the left post and had the shot rebound off Guzan's back into the net. Four minutes after forward Charlie Davies equalized for the Americans in the 75th minute, Yorke put away a penalty kick after U.S. striker Jozy Altidore committed a inexplicably bad foul in the box. He grabbed a handful of Makan Hislop's jersey and yanked him away from reaching a corner kick, right in front of referee Walter Quesada.
"It was a hard-fought match," Bradley said. "I thought both teams went after each other in a way that made it hard. In the second half, I thought we had a good response when we went down 1-0, and unfortunately when the game is 1-1 and everything is to play for, we have a foul (for a penalty kick). Certainly, we have a lot of respect for Trinidad and Tobago. They have a lot of talented players and we knew it was going to be a physical game. It was hard match and a physical match with intensity on both sides."
The U.S. attack was somewhat haphazard and disorganized through most of the match. This should not have been unexpected since this starting 11 had never played as a unit and had only one training session. Numerous passes failed to connect or went directly to an opponent. This was especially true in the final third of the field and resulted in the U.S. creating very few scoring chances.
The Americans were also a bit unlucky, with a goal disallowed for one questionable offside and a breakaway by DaMarcus Beasley stopped by another atrocious offside call.
Even though T&T desperately needed points in its battle with Guatemala, the Warriors played especially defensively and very physically from the start, looking at times like they would be quite satisfied earning a single point from a 0-0 draw. Over the course of the match, T&T had the better chances, but some woeful finishing limited it to converting only once from the run of play.
The U.S. back-line of Heath Pearce, Danny Califf, Michael Orozco and Frankie Hejduk, playing together for the first time, made a few errors and became disorganized on a couple of occasions, but generally acquitted themselves well. In fact, the outside backs, Pearce and Hejduk, were called on to press forward and to generate much of what passed for the U.S. attack for large portions of the match.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Brad Guzan - 5 Did not have much of a night, having the first T&T goal carom off his back, into the net. He was badly victimized on the Soca Warriors' winning penalty kick.
Defender Heath Pearce - 5.5 In the first half, he seemed satisfied to lay back and play defense, while the attack moved up the right flank. In the second half, he began to go forward with some positive results.
Defender Michael Orozco - 5.5: Making his first start in the center of the U.S. defense, he generally did well.
Defender Danny Califf - 5.5: While not a mistake-free performance, was solid and active over the 90 minutes.
Defender Frankie Hejduk - 5.5: In the first half, was left to advance repeatedly and had trouble connecting with his attackers. The forward push meant he had to scramble back on defense too often, chasing the play
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan - 6: Might be the most improved player on the U.S. roster. Played a solid two-way game, making key defensive stops while generating much of what passed for the American attack from the middle of the field. After going 76 minutes on Saturday against Cuba, he seemed to tire as the second half went on.
Midfielder Josť Francisco Torres - 5.5: Making his first start, he seemed to fit well into the middle, but obviously still needs to find his place and his role. He should be more valuable as he gains experience.
Midfielder Maurice Edu - 5: Seemed to get lost for long stretches in the crowded midfield. Made some good defensive plays, but added almost nothing to the attack.
Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley - 6: Started out much as he left off in Saturday's strong effort in the victory over Cuba. Then, he took a knock near halftime and slowed noticeably in the second half. He was still one of the best Americans.
Midfielder Freddy Adu - 5: Yes, he is maturing and yes, he has great skills, but he still tries far to often to go against multiple defenders with predictable results. As is often the case, he took a physical pounding. Bradley seemed frustrated with him when he pulled him in the 69th minute.
Forward Jozy Altidore - 4.5: He some good moments, but committed the completely unnecessary foul that gave T&T its winning penalty kick. Then, he could not convert an unmarked, point-blank header for the equalizer.
Forward Charlie Davies (69th minute for Adu) - 5.5: Scored the U.S. goal by being in the right place at the right time. He is a young player who will bear watching and might yet help the U.S. in the final round of qualifying.
Midfielder Danny Szetela (84th minute for Torres) - 5: Came in when the U.S. needed an offensive lift, but did not provide it. Got lost in the crowded midfield.
Forward Chris Rolfe (88th minute for Pearce) - no rating: Had no impact in a short appearance.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Sacha Kljestan.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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