Young, inexperienced lineup allows U.S. to leave South Africa with 1-0 win.
By Robert Wagman
(Wednesday, November 18, 2010) - A makeshift version of the United States men defeated host South Africa 1-0 in front of a sell-out crowd of 52,000 yesterday in Cape Town's Green Point Stadium in the annual Nelson Mandela Challenge. It is the second time in four years the U.S. has won the event.
The last time the U.S. captured the Cup, it was with its best 11 in preparation for the 2010 World Cup. This time the U.S. had far from its best team.
Who would have thought it? Seventeen-year old, Colombian-born Juan Agudelo passes to Norwegian-born Mikkel Diskerud, then runs for the net, takes the ball back from Diskerud and, moving to his left, lifts the ball over South African keeper Itumeleng Khuna to notch the winning goal. In doing so, he became the youngest player ever to score for the senior national team.
The team U.S. coach Bob Bradley assembled was called an "experimental" squad for the match against a South African team that included many of its key World Cup starters. Bradley had to eliminate from consideration any European-based players who are starters or key substitutes for their teams because of games last weekend and next. The 12-hour flights to and from Cape Town were too much. He had to eliminate players whose teams were in the Major League Soccer semifinals. So rather than "experimental," this roster was really composed of 16 warm bodies chosen for the most part probably because they would not embarrass themselves. It was not even a B-team, more of a C-minus team
But Bradley managed to get the side well organized on defense and in the midfield, and playing surprisingly well with one another. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan had to make a couple of early saves, first on Davide Somma, who was born in Johannesburg but raised in the U.S., and then on Anele Ngcongca and Bernard Parker in the 20th minute. Thereafter, the Americans severely limited South African chances. The U.S. showed a little offensive punch, but until the end really created few quality chances.
Then, in the second half, Bradley inserted several youngsters making their national-team debuts. They not only played well, but ended up combining for the winning goal, while continuing to deprive the host of quality chances.
"I thought that both teams were able to pressure and make it difficult for each other, and South Africa put the pressure on us more in the first half," Bradley said. "We weren't able to connect a lot of passes, but we did a solid job of holding together defensively. I thought Brad Guzan played very well. As the game went on, we found a little bit of ability to connect. It was exciting for us to see some of our young players get an opportunity to play for the national team."
In the end, this game may well serve as the start of a new era for U.S. Soccer with young players, such as Agudelo, defenders Gale Agbossoumonde, Eric Lichaj and Tim Ream, midfielder Diskerud representing the future of the national-team program. Long-term, it will be interesting to watch them develop and to see how many will be making the trip to the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, assuming the U.S. qualifies.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Brad Guzan - 7: Made several key early saves, steadying his defense until the youngsters settled in. Thereafter, he controlled his area well. A solid performance from a veteran.
Defender Jonathan Bornstein - 5.5: Had a solid enough first half in which, as the veteran in the starting lineup, helped steady the young defense.
Defender Eric Lichaj - 6.5: In his second national-team game and first start, he was probably the best American back-liner. Made stop after stop and controlled the best South African forwards with very aggressive physical play that he will need to learn to use in moderation.
Defender Clarence Goodson - 5.5: Matched against Everton's Steven Pienaar, he did quite well and he helped control most of the high balls sent into the penalty area.
Defender Tim Ream - 5.5: Played very well, earning his first cap. Was solid in defense and able to get forward on occasion.
Midfielder Logan Pause - 5: Really did not leave much of an impression despite a 90-minute role.
Midfielder Brian Carroll - 5.5: His role was that of a defensive midfielder and, in this role, did well. But he lacked much ability to go forward and when he tried, he generally lost possession.
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya - 6: Probably the best of the midfielders, showing aggressiveness and a willingness not to just lay back and play defense.
Midfielder Eddie Gaven - 5: In the five-midfielder formation, he was depended upon to add offensive muscle as the principle attacking midfielder. He was less than successful in that role, but he added stability and experience and made some fine defensive stops down the stretch.
Midfielder Robbie Rogers - 5: In his hour on the field, he made some very nice plays and more than a few not so good. Tended to lose possession too often, but did give a lot of effort and should be commended for his work rate.
Forward Robbie Findley - 4: Had few positive minutes. Was never really a factor, but then he received little quality service.
Forward Teal Bunbury (46th minute for Findley) - 5: Did not make much of an impression in his first cap, but showed some offensive instincts when taking one of the few U.S. shots on goal.
Defender Jonathan Spector (46th minute for Bornstein) - 4: Maybe its lack of playing time with his club team, but he looks to have regressed substantially from where he was 18 months ago.
Midfielder Juan Agudelo (60th minute for Rodgers) - 7: If a first inter4national appearance gauges his potential, then few could have had a better first half hour.
Defender Nat Borchers (67th minute for Ream) - 5: A player trying to reestablish himself on the national-team level. Made a decent impression in the late going.
Midfielder Mikkel Diskerud (78th minute for Bedoya) - 6.5: Provided the winning pass and then got back deep in the defensive zone to make late stops. He clearly is worthy of a much longer look.
Defender Gale Agbossoumonde (87th minute for Goodson) - no rating: Too short a stint to make a judgment, but another young player to watch over the coming months.
SoccerTimes Player of the Match: Brad Guzan.