The United States defeated Australia by a score of 3-1 today in South Africa in the final friendly for both before the World Cup begins. The score, however, is not the big story. By the game’s very nature and its timing, the more important news is that nobody got hurt and US manager Bob Bradley appears to be set on a sort of depth chart. I’m rather disappointed that he didn’t use more substitutes – in particular, neither Landon Donovan nor Clint Dempsey should have played the full 90 minutes – but I am pleased that Edson Buddle, Robbie Findley, and Herculez Gómez got playing time.
1. Tactics. The US looks like its going with a 4-4-2 base. I imagine that both Donovan and Dempsey will have a little more freedom to roam on the wings as both like to move into central positions. Dempsey looked dangerous whenever he got forward, much like last year’s Confederations Cup (in which he scored 3 goals). The problem remains the back four. As much as I love Jay DeMerit, I think he’s trying too hard. He’s moving too far out of position when he tracks his man out of the box (when the US is on defense). Oguchi Onyewu looked a bit awkward in the 30 minutes he played, though some of that can be attributed to the shoddy pitch. So how can the US protect the back four? It looks like Michael Bradley will have to be more of a defensive mid than usual, though his incredible fitness will allow him to push forward. In general, the midfielders, especially the central midfielders will have to help out and protect the defenders. With Buddle, Findley, and Gómez looking fine, the biggest problem is the defensive line.
2. Fitness. The US played well in the first half but lost steam in the second. That, boys and girls, is a fitness problem. Bradley is going to have to use his substitutes judiciously and I think Gómez is going to be a kind of supersub. The same can be said of José Francisco Torres and Stuart Holden (though both will probably play wide, which means not a lot of playing time since neither Donovan nor Dempsey will come off very often). Ominously, the team’s fitness isn’t likely to get a lot better in the next couple of days.
3. The pitch and environment. The pitch was awful. Players slipped all over the place and the ball jumped around (though some blame the ball). I really hope the other stadiums are better (the friendly was played in a non-World Cup venue, which made sense since only about 7,000 people were there) and last year’s Confederations Cup gives me hope: there were no turf issues then. That said, the environment was really good though the vuvuzelas are insanely annoying. For some odd reason, I don’t remember them being as annoying last year.
Are there any conclusions to be drawn from this match? I think the only safe thing to say is that the US strikeforce is better than I thought. All three strikers that played today played well. Other than that, there were no real surprises and what you see is what you get. I think Bradley will give Donovan and Dempsey a little more freedom against England in an effort to tie up the English wingers and force them to track back but other than that, the die is cast.