USMNT vs. Argentina recap

Landon Donovan plays a nice ball off of a set piece, which was eventually finished by 18-year-old Juan Agudelo for his second international goal.

Argentina came into New Meadowlands Stadium last night as winners of three straight under new coach Sergio Batista, who took over as head man after former Argentinean superstar Diego Maradona’s contract was not renewed following a disappointing World Cup performance.

The Argentineans had been playing well under Batista, defeating Brazil, Spain and Portugal by a combined score of 7-2. After dominating the first half and taking a 1-0 lead into halftime, Argentina did well to hold off the U.S. late and escape with a 1-1 draw.

Even without international superstars Carlos Tevez, Gonzaolo Higuain and Diego Milito, Argentina came out and controlled play in the first half. Lionel Messi, arguably the best player in the world, put on a clinic of close control as he expertly used teammates and shifty moves to slice and dice the USA’s 4-2-3-1 formation.

Desperation defense, most notably from Jonathan Spector, and superb play from goalkeeper Tim Howard kept Argentina off the scoreboard for most of the first half. Messi and Angel Di Maria both had good looks at goal but shot wide; however, even when they got through, Howard was equal to the task.

In the 42nd minute, the left-footed Messi worked a series a one-touch passes in the box before finding Di Maria right in front of goal. Howard sprawled to make the save, but Esteban Cambiasso came through unmarked and put the rebound into the top of the net from the 6-yard box.

U.S. coach Bob Bradley subbed out Jermaine Jones — who had a shaky first half — and Spector at halftime in favor of two up-and-coming players, 18-year-old Juan Agudelo (third international appearance) and 20-year-old Timmy Chandler (first), as the States switched to a 4-4-2 formation out of intermission.

The extra man up front seemed to disrupt to Argentina’s possession play that was so relaxed and controlling in the first half. The Americans had much more success when attacking as a unit, opposed to Jozy Altidore’s get-it-and-go style he tried as the lone striker in the first half.

A foul in the attacking third awarded the U.S. a free kick in the 59th minute. Several red jerseys moved forward as Landon Donovan lined up a set piece, which were so futile for the States in the World Cup.

Donovan lofted a nice ball over the line Argentina defenders held just inside the 18-yard box. Several players went up to win the head ball and a shot was directed on net. Mariano Andujar made the first save, but Agudelo was waiting on the doorstep and knocked the rebound into the goal to level the score at one.

Both teams went back and forth over the final 30 minutes as play really started to open up. The Americans were much more threatening in the 4-4-2, but neither side could capitalize the remainder of the night. The best chance belonged to Argentina when Di Maria got through in the 73rd minute, but Onyewu and Jay DeMerit combined to close off the attack.

Onyewu had another rough night on the back line and frequently looked flustered with the ball at his feet, but his size is almost always an advantage he has over attacking players. He got the better of Messi when the two went up for a head ball in the 24th minute, and Messi stayed on the ground after, holding his head. He went off briefly to be examined, but came back and played the rest of the game.

The next match for the USMNT is this Tuesday, March 29, when the men take on Paraguay in Nashville, Tenn. Game time is 8 p.m. EST (7 CST) and can be seen on Fox Soccer Channel and TeleFutura.

USA (4-2-3-1) — Bob Bradley, coach

Altidore
Dempsey-Edu-Donovan
Bradley-Jones
Bocanegra-Onyewu-DeMerit-Spector
Howard

Substitutions
IN: Agudelo, Chandler (halftime); OUT: Spector, Jones. USA switched to a 4-4-2 in the second half.

Argentina (4-3-3) — Sergio Batista, coach

Lavezzi-Messi-Di Maria
Mascherano-Cambiasso-Banega
Rojo-G. Milito-Burdisso-Zanetti
Andujar

Substitutions
IN: Biglia (73); OUT: Cambiasso.

Shots/on target: ARG 13/6, USA 7/4.
Corners: ARG 6, USA 2.
Fouls: ARG 9, USA 12.
Offside: ARG 1, USA 0.
Yellow cards: ARG none, USA 4 (Edu, 35; Chandler, 48; Donovan, 79; Bocanegra, 90+1).
Referee: Roberto Garcia (MEX).
Attendance: 78,936.

FIFA world rankings: ARG 4, USA 19.

Quick thoughts: USMNT friendlies agianst Colombia and Poland

The U.S. men’s soccer team played twice this week on home soil, against Poland on Saturday in Chicago and against Colombia on Tuesday in Philadelphia.

Both friendlies ended in draws: 2-2 vs. Poland and 0-0 vs. Colombia.

The Poland match was the more exciting of the two, although it was frustrating to see the States give up the lead twice. I know playing while ahead is a new thing for this team (after they held the lead for about two minutes at the World Cup), but once you get up in a soccer game, especially at this level, you really need to be able to lock it down and come out with three points. That’s what separates the Spains and Brazils of the world from the rest of us.

Bob Bradley tried out some different things this week, namely putting new players on the field and trying out different formations.

After suiting up in three exhibitions for Germany, Jermaine Jones took advantage of a FIFA rule change and transferred to the American National Team. Brek Shea and Eric Lichaj (pronunciation sounds kind of like Lee-high; i.e. Av’s goalie Peter Budaj) both earned their first career caps with the national team. Born on 2/28/90, Shea becomes the first American born in the 90’s to suit up for the national team.

As for formations, we learned that Bradley never needs to try the 4-3-3 again. He started with it against Colombia and it was a flop–and it mushed into a 4-4.5-1.5 by the end of the game anyway.

The U.S. used a five midfielder set in the first game against Poland, and had more success with that (U.S. Soccer’s Twitter listed it as a 4-2-3-1). Playing with more midfielders seems to be advantageous for the U.S.; they have success when they play through the middle and let the central midfield players distribute the ball from there (plus, we just have a wealth of midfielders). Playing the 4-3-3 seemed to seriously limit options for the U.S. and led to several breakdowns that nearly resulted in goals.

Starting lineups (no Donovan in either match):

Colombia~ 4-3-3

Shea—Altidore—Holden

Bradley—Edu—Jones

Pearce—Goodsen—Onuewu—Spector

Guzan

Poland~ 4-2-3-1

Altidore

Holden–Dempsey–Feilhaber

Jones–Bradley

Cherundolo–Onyewu–Edu–Bocanegra

Howard

Up, down & even: The stock on three American players

UP- Jermaine Jones
Wasn’t perfect in the games, but can definitely help the American side. Provided a spark for the offense which is lost without Donovan and Dempsey. Jones’ father is African-American and his mother is German, and Jones holds dual citizenship with both nations. He doesn’t speak a word of English, but he plays a nice brand of football.

Honorable mentions- Stuart Holden and Brad Guzan

DOWN-Benny Feilhaber
Didn’t do much against Poland before being removed in the 63rd minute. Played slightly better against Colombia, but we need more. I like the guy, but he had a rough week.

(Dis)honorable mentions-Eddie Johnson, Jozy Altidore, the defense

Even- Michael Bradley
Even is a good word to describe his play. Did some good things, did some bad things. Would have liked to see Bradley build on his performance at the World Cup, but it was not to be. I have faith in the coach’s son, though. I plan on buying a USA soccer jersey (eventually), and Bradley is still my top choice of who to get.

You also may have heard them mention on the telecast the United States’ movement to win the bid to host an upcoming World Cup. More information can be found here: http://www.gousabid.com/city/local/philadelphia-pa/

Random stat I learned during research: Canada qualified for the 1986 World Cup.