(Monday, August 11, 2008) -- The United States was seconds away from am electrifying 2-1 victory yesterday over the heavily favored Netherlands and advancement to the quarterfinals from the Men's Olympic Tournament Group B in Tianjin, China when a pair of dreadful mental mistakes allowed a Dutch goal in the final seconds. Instead of taking three points for a victory, the U.S. wound up with only one for a 2-2 draw.
Instead of advancing, the Americans need to win or draw in Wednesday's final group match against Nigeria in Beijing to earn a spot in the quarterfinals. And they will have to play Nigeria without striker Freddy Adu and midfielder Michael Bradley, both of will be suspended for accumulating two yellow cards.
The U.S. started the match as it did in its opening win against Japan Thursday with Stuart Holden, Bradley, Sacha Kljestan and Robbie Rogers in the midfield, Jozy Altidore on the bench and Adu on top. This is a defensive-minded set as opposed to Adu as a midfielder and Altidore with Brian McBride as the forwards.
The first half was very fast paced, too fast for the U.S. midfielders to do much more then hold on. As a result, the U.S. went into halftime down 1-0 after converted midfielder Maurice Edu showed he still lacks the instincts of a central defender. He left Ryan Babel wide open in the box for a header off a cross and then did not react fast enough when goalkeeper Brad Guzan made a fine save. Babel beat Guzan to the rebound for an easy goal.
The U.S. did create chances, but young oalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer came up with three strong saves for Nigeria.
For whatever reason, the Dutch came out and played the second half at a much slower pace, one that favored the Americans. In the 64th minute, Adu threaded a wonderful pass through the legs of a pair of defenders to Kljestan who rifled the ball past Vermeer to level the match at 1-1
The U.S. then brought in Altidore, dropped Adu back into the middle and took over the match. Altidore's pace was too much for the tiring Dutch and he scored in the 72nd minute off a fine short cross from defender Michael Orozco. It looked like the U.S. was on its way to a shocking upset that would have put it through the group and into the quarterfinals.
Despite rushing veteran strikers Gerald Sibon and Roy Makaay into the match -- both of who are carrying injuries -- the Netherlands looked beaten until the U.S. started making terrible mental errors.
First Holden had a breakaway with Kljestan coming up the middle. Rather than passing for what probably would have been an easy goal, he shot himself to no avail.
Then with the match in its final seconds, Holden took as dumb a penalty as imaginable. He wiped out Makaay inches outside the penalty area and then acted surprised when referee Michael Hester awarded a free kick. The kick was taken by Sibon, who rocketed it past Guzan inches off the ground after putting it under Kljestan in the middle of the wall. The game was tied 2-2.
The Americans deserved better today. They were outclassed in the first half, but had the better of things in the second, especially after Altidore entered. They ended up giving back two critically needed points not because of bad luck, but through immature and downright stupid plays.
U.S. player ratings:
Goalkeeper Brad Guzan - 7: Was even better than he was against Japan controlling his area and come up with important saves. Could not be faulted on either goal..
Defender Marvell Wynne - 5: Used his speed very well as he did in the opening 2-0 loss to Norway, but simply could not control Dutch winger Royston Drenthe Did better in the final 45 minutes when the overall pace slowed and was able to contribute on both ends.
Defender Michael Orozco - 5.5: Did better than he did against Japan. Managed to get more into the offense and assisted on the second U.S. goal. Today gave up the ball on fewer occasions.
Defender Maurice Edu - 5: In just his second outing as a central defender, he showed he has not yet developed the instincts of a veteran. Allowed the first Dutch goal with poor marking and then slow reflexes.
Defender Michael Parkhurst - 5.5: The overage defender was solid, especially down the stretch after the Netherlands threw all its offensive might against the U.S..
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 5.5: In the fast-paced first half was simply not in the match offensively as he had to play some frantic defense. Pushed forward much better in the second half, but over the final minutes did not make the big defensive stop when it was needed.
Midfielder Robbie Rogers - 5: He needed to step up better in the first half when he was dominated in the midfield. Had a few good minutes, but only after the Dutch backed off in the second half.
Midfielder Stuart Holden - 3: Negated a sterling performance with a pair of late brain-freeze errors that cost the U.S. a victory.
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan - 6.5: Arguably the best player for the U.S. over the full 93 minutes. Made good plays on both the defense and offense. It's regrettable that the tying goal went under him as he jumped in the defensive wall.
Forward Freddy Adu- 6.5: Again tightly marked, he was able to make some brilliant plays, in one case beating four defenders before being let down by a poor finish. He has to mature more and learn to control his emotions. Another silly foul and yellow card will keep him out of the final group match where he will be desperately needed.
Forward Brian McBride - 5.5: Looks to be getting sharper after his long layoff. He helped to control the flow for the U.S. and would have had a headed goal except for a wonderful reaction save from the Netherlands keeper.
Forward Jozy Altidore (65th minute for Rogers) - 7: Was the dominant player over the final 30 or so minutes. His pace caused huge problems for the Dutch. He will have to be the difference in the upcoming match against Nigeria.
Midfielder Benny Feilhaber (80th minute for Adu) - 6: As he did against Japan, he made several good defensive stops in his short time.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Jozy Altidore.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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