USA v. Poland, a closer look

The US tied Poland 2 to 2 at Soldier Field in Chicago this past Saturday. The US had the better of the match, but didn’t finish well and had some defensive lapses. The Polish played with a great deal of intensity and organization and gave the US a tough test. They also did well to capitalize on a couple of US errors.

Jozy Altidore and Oguchi Onyewu scored for the US, but did not have excellent games. Jermaine Jones, who American fans have been waiting to see, sent a lovely ball over the top of the Polish defense in the 13thminute, which Altidore ran onto and put past Artur Boruc, the Polish keeper. In the second half Oguchi Onyewu latched onto a wonderful Stuart Holden corner kick and headed it into the left side of the goal. The US had a number of other clear chances that they couldn’t finish.

The Polish had one great breakaway attempt that Tim Howard did well to block in a one on one situation. The first Polish goal came when Oguchi Onyewu fluffed a clearance with the ball bouncing off his shoulder to a waiting Polish attacker, who quickly passed to another open Polish attacker that blasted the ball under a diving Stuart Holden and past Tim Howard. The second Polish goal came when Jermaine Jones lost the ball near the 18 yard box and a fortunate bounce saw the ball go straight to an open Polish attacker to the right side of the US goal. He one timed it beautifully past Howard into the far side netting. These mistakes aside, there were some good individual performances.

The player that stuck out the most was Jermaine Jones. Besides his error in not clearing the ball properly from the US goal area, he played extremely well. He set up the first goal with a beautiful pass, he showed lots of speed and incredible endurance, he closed down the opposition attackers and midfielders, showed good passing and vision, and displayed a great work ethic. Although he is not going to fundamentally change how the US plays, he is a considerable upgrade in the holding midfielder position.

Soldier Field in Chicago

Stuart Holden had a wonderful game. He showed a great deal of effort and a lot of skill. His time at Bolton has really improved his confidence and it showed. He made a beautiful cross into the Polish penalty area to create the second US goal. It would be nice to see what Holden could do in a playmaker role in the center of the pitch. He might have the creative instincts that many other US players lack.

Bob Bradley experimented with Maurice Edu at the back with mixed results. Edu looked out of place and may have been guilty of not properly tracking the Polish attacker, who broke free in the one-on-one with Tim Howard. Maurice Edu doesn’t play as a center back for Rangers, so he doesn’t get a lot of practice at this position. If he can be trained to play well as a centerback, then he can bring the speed and ball control that has been lacking at the center of the US defense. However, Bradley is taking a serious gamble considering that Edu won’t get weekly practice at that position, and therefore, will find it difficult to improve.

Jozy Altidore started up top and put away a goal, but he missed at least three clear chances. He had another break away that he put off the keeper’s leg, he missed a wide open header, and he banged a shot off the crossbar from close range. Altidore will have to improve his concentration in front of goal if he wants to win games for the US and see more of the field at Villareal. He also didn’t show much effort in the match as he appeared to be walking often.

Oguchi Onyewu also had a mixed night which must be related to his lack of playing time at AC Milan. While Onyewu looked more physically fit, his missed clearance that led to a goal was uncharacteristic and showed his rust. On the other hand he was a menace in the air and was able to dominate the Polish physically.

The rest of the team was solid but unspectacular. As for the overall strategy, Bob Bradley went with a flat four across the back, two defensive midfielders, three attacking midfielders, and one striker, a 4-2-3-1. This formation is fairly defensive, and it would have been nice to see another striker alongside Jozy Altidore. Bob Bradley also didn’t use many of his substitutes, which seems odd given the situation. An international friendly is for experimentation, and Bradley is at the beginning of a World Cup cycle. It would have been nice to see Brad Guzan in goal during the second half, Eric Lichaj getting some time as a defender, and seeing whether Eddie Johnson should be back on the team.

As a team the US looked well organized except at the back, where both Edu and Onyewu had good excuses not to be organized. The main problem was that the US played at a slow tempo and did not switch the ball quickly enough from side to side. This allowed the Polish defense to shift over without losing its shape and exposing weaknesses. The US will need to work on its passing speed and cross field passes to start breaking down well organized teams. Of course the US also needs a truly creative number 10 to really start opening up opposing defenses. If Bradley can find or develop such a player, then the US team will be much more dangerous.

Overall the match was very entertaining. The Polish kept equalising after the US goals, and there were tons of Polish fans in the stands. The fans were lively, and I even saw one fight in the stands near my seats. For the most part though there was just a lot of drinking, singing, and shouting at the referee. I hope you come join the fun tomorrow night in Philadelphia as the US takes on Colombia. See you there!

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