Featured / USMNT

Report: USA 5-1 Scotland

Depending on your perspective, Landon Donovan could represent the best or worst of American men’s soccer. Is he the greatest player of a generation or the last hanger-on from an era when US players couldn’t cut it in Europe?

On Saturday night, he was simply unstoppable. With the American midfield at its dominant best, Donovan provided the finishing that turned a physical match into a laugher. Behind three goals from the Galaxy captain, the US defeated Scotland 5-1 in front of 44,438 fans in Jacksonville, Florida.

Both teams came out in matching 4-3-3 formations, but Scotland looked to spread out going forward while the United States midfield stayed central and worked the ball to its wide players once they were in the opponent’s half. It was an interesting tactical matchup, and one that showed how quick passes through the center can obviate the need for wide midfielders.

Fans of Captain Planet and Power Rangers often wondered why the show’s characters didn’t combine powers to form a superhero as soon as there were signs of trouble. Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu thrust their rings together and formed a three-headed monster that dominated the midfield from the opening whistle. Cartoon writers, take note.

First half

It took four minutes for the American dominance to pay dividends. Hard work from Jose Torres won the ball back deep in the Scotland half. Bradley picked it up and released Jones from the left. The ball was poked away from behind but fell to Donovan in the box. He spun and fired, but Allen McGregor was out to cover.

McGregor and two more defenders were not enough to stop Donovan, however, as he roofed the loose rebound and peeled away to celebrate.

The Americans continued to own the pitch, moving the ball around the Scottish half but offering few real threats. Terrence Boyd’s movement was fantastic, but the nature of the formation required a midfielder or wide player to run in behind. When that didn’t happen, the US spun their gears in the final third.

Or until Michael Bradley cooked sweet, sweet magic.

Bradley blast

For a guy who looks more like a supervillain, Bradley’s story is coming to resemble that of a superhero. He broke through in Holland, upgraded to Germany where he overcame the odds again before being sent to a terrible situation in England. When that debacle, also known as Aston Villa, ended he restarted his career on a mediocre Italian team, and broke through once more. And he did it all while battling unrelenting claims that his spot on the US national team was more nepotism than ability.

His father is gone, and the US is packed with central midfielders. Yet Bradley remains the hub of the American machine.

In the 11th minute, Landon Donovan’s elevated cutback was knocked down by Jermaine Jones. The ball fell nicely for Bradley, who smacked a curling half-volley beyond McGregor from twenty-two yards out. It was the kind of moment that makes international friendlies worth watching.

Scotland was cowed but not undone. In the fifteenth, a ball from the right wing found Kenny Miller as he peeled off of Geoff Cameron at the back post. Miller headed back across, and Cameron could only put a chest out and guide the ball into his own net.

Oddly, the two American goalscorers faded from prominence after their goals. Scotland spent the remainder of the first half pressing, but the US had their opportunities.

Fabian Johnson grabbed the spotlight in the 22nd with a jinking run up the left that opened up space for Boyd, and his shot was deflected wide. Off the ensuing corner kick, Johnson was fouled at the top of the box, and Torres took a quick free kick that caught McGregor out but skimmed off the frame.

Boyd remained active and influential, but in true American-striker-fashion, his touch let him down. In the 38th, Torres freed Donovan up the right, and the resulting cross was trapped and left behind by an onrushing Boyd. Four minutes later, Donovan reversed field from the right corner, and Boyd collected at the top of the box, only to see his left-footed drive deflected wide once more.

Second half

After the first half, Edu, Jones and Bradley looked as strong as any midfield in the world. They pushed forward well, with Bradley and Jones often stepping forward while Edu calmly followed, and they dictated the flow of the half from start to finish.

Jones was the most mercurial of the midfielders in the first half, but he almost earned his team a penalty as the second began. McGregor charged out after a loose ball rolling towards the corner flag and dove without seeing Jones racing in from the top of the box. The goalie caught the midfielder, but no call was made; one imagines that a match with World Cup implications would have seen a spot kick.

Dominant Donovan

Clearly, Landon Donovan needed to resurface to break the match open. In the 50th, he did.

Donovan dinked a pass forward to Torres who did spectacularly well to play the ball back. Driving across the box from the left, Donovan picked up the return and tried to sidefoot back across goal. Only the post kept the match at 2-1.

Ten minutes later, Donovan would get his deserved second. Bradley played Jones into the right corner and he cut back for Donovan who snuck into the box and blasted past McGregor.

A two-goal lead allowed manager Jurgen Klinsmann to cycle in a second wave, and he called on Herculez Gomez, Oguchi Onyewu and Kyle Beckerman to replace Boyd, Bocanegra and Edu.

Before the new blood could get a touch, Bradley had released Donovan through a channel on the right and the winger used the outside of his right boot to beat McGregor and earn a hat trick.

Joe Corona was the next to join the match, giving Jose Torres a rest. Corona and Boyd earned time with the first team after strong performances with the unfortunate U-23 team that missed the 2012 Olympics.

And while they may be the next wave of American offensive talent, the current crop wasn’t quite done.

Jones finishes it off

Jermaine Jones drove hard through the middle of the park and tried to drop the ball off for Gomez. The pass was behind the striker but hard work got the ball wide to Donovan. He tried to curl a cross to Joe Corona, but Jones had continued his run through the middle and powered a header past a very fed up Allen McGregor.

So after 71 minutes, the US was ahead 5-1 and cruising. Fabian Johnson was replaced by Edgar Castillo, which had no consequence on anyone but the two players involved.

Overall, it was a welcome reminder that three-man midfields can still dominate the center of the park, and it emphasized that any success the US has under Jurgen Klinsmann will require a level of tactical intelligence that has rarely been a consistent facet of the American game.

Holding possession and switching the angle of attack looks to be the name of the game when the midfield is ascendant. But Klinsmann was brought in to take American soccer to the next level against top quality competition. This was not a test of that goal, but it was a strong indicator that big things are possible before the current crop of stars heads off into the sunset.

2 Comments

  1. Janes 4-3-3 says:

    This was a wonderful result after finding out my hometown MLS team is the worst team in the league.

  2. the kid union says:

    In related news I heard Nowaks getting a Poland call up

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*

%d bloggers like this: