Subtle changes allow United States to close 2011 with win over Slovenia.
By Robert Wagman
(Wednesday, November 16, 2011) -- The United States men built a two-goal halftime lead, then held on for a 3-2 victory over host Slovenia last night in cold and foggy Stozice Stadium in Ljubljana before a sparse crowd announced as 8,140.
The small stadium was less than half filled as local fans picketed outside in protest over high ticket prices.
U.S. manager Jürgen Klinsmann made one major change tonight from the side and tactics from Friday night's 1-0 loss to France. He inserted Edson Buddle as a second striker alongside Jozy Altidore instead of playing Altidore as a single forward. Buddle produced a strong effort, while less pressure allowed Altidore to also do so.
Another change was using Michael Bradley into the defense midfield. Bradley can play defense, while at the same time getting forward into the attack and handling all the dead-ball chores. Bradley's first instinct is not pushing ahead, but rather to hold the ball and play it forward. He does this better than any of the Americans.
The U.S. came out aggressively, while it was the home side that seemed to start flat, allowing the Americand to record an early goal, then rebounded for a 3-1 advantage at intermission after Slovenia tied the score.
One continual problem for the new offensive-minded U.S. was it was not able to remain compact and was often quite disorganized in the back. Twice defenders were caught out of position when the back-line failed on attempted offside traps, the result being one Slovenia goal and nearly a second.
At times, the Americans were downright lucky. Slovenia hit the underside of the crossbar and twice was denied by a goal-post. So the question after tonight is whether the U.S. can still play solid defense while pushing forward hard against a good opponent.
"It was an entertaining game," Klinsmann said. "We saw again a lot of interesting things from our players that we wanted to see. As a group we are growing. . . Obviously we are pleased with the result, but also the performance."
The U.S. finished 2011, 2-4-1 since Klinsmann replaced Bob Bradley at the helm. A California training camp is scheduled for January.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 6: He was let down by his defense often through the match, but if his role is to organize those in front of him, he does bear some responsibility. He had four saves, including two good ones, but was saved by the woodwork on three occasions.
Defender Timmy Chandler - 5: If further evidence was needed, he is a player out of position. More comfortable on the right side than his current spot on the left, and more suited to going forward than playing hard-nosed defense. He may well eventually end up in the midfield.
Defender Clarence Goodson - 5: He makes good plays, but then potentially costly errors. Nothing tonight was as glaring as the mistake Friday against France that cost the decisive goal, but he needs to eliminate the problems if he is going to be trusted when it counts.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 6.5: Another very solid performance from an experienced player who has seen about everything, including dense fog. His presence allows Goodson to learn, although he might well end up back on the left wing when Oguchi Onyewu returns tp the middle, if Goodson can be trusted.
Defender Steve Cherundolo - 6: Slovenia played most of the night away from him, so he had generally a quiet time. Went forward a few times, culminating with good crosses.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 7: If it was necessary, he showed why he should be in the starting 11. With a good defensive effort, he went forward effectively often, coupled with good dead-ball work. A fine night.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman - 4: A not-ready-for-prime-time performance. He was called for hand-ball after hand-ball, and was caught ball watching on one Slovenia goal and was out of position on the second. A totally forgettable night.
Midfielder Fabian Johnson - 6.5: In his first start, he was very, very good. Almost scored early and would have likely found net had he not been pulled down, leading to the penalty-kick goal. He had the kind of night which begs the question where should he play when Landon Donovan and Stuart Holden return from injury.
Midfielder Clint Dempsey - 7: He scored one goal and nearly two more. Shut down on Friday by a superior French effort, he roamed free tonight, causing all kinds of havoc. .
Forward Edson Buddle - 6.5: A prime candidate should Altidore be paired with second striker, the question is can Buddle replicate tonight's performance?
Forward Jozy Altidore - 6: A strong effort with a classy PK finish, but, as always, he could not convert on several occasions from the run of play when he should have done better. If he becomes a finisher as he matures, he might finally live up to his promise.
Midfielder Brek Shea (61st minute for Johnson) - 4.5: He had little impact and his two late errors when the U.S. was trying to kill off the match could have spelled disaster.
Midfielder Maurice Edu (78th minute for Buddle) - 5.5: He had a positive impact in the late going when Slovenia was starting to control the midfield. A short, but valuable appearance.
Defender-midfielder Danny Williams (82nd minute for Chandler) - 5: He had little to do, but made one good defensive stop.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones (90th minute for Beckerman) - no rating: Was disruptive in stoppage time, which is why he was inserted.
Midfielder Robbie Rogers (90th minute for Bradley) - no rating: A time-wasting substitution in the dying seconds.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Michael Bradley.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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