CHRISTOPHER MCCOLLUM - Wednesday, October 17, 2012
With a convincing win over Guatemala, the stress of this round of qualifying melted away as advancement to the hex was secured.
The U.S. got off to a jittery start but they pulled it back and played well for the rest of the game. Despite some confusion on the backline, it was overall a fine performance.
These are my grades for individual player performances.
Tim Howard - 5.5 - Howard had a bad start to the night when he appeared to be caught between two choices, and ultimately made the wrong one, when Carlos Ruiz ran at him with a head of speed. If he reacted quick off his line, he could have forced Ruiz into a bad decision instead of giving him time to eat dinner on the way to goal. Howard rebounded well during the rest of the game though, coming up big during his rare tests.
Steve Cherundolo - 9 - There is not enough that can be said about Cherundolo's performance. He was tireless on the run, he wreaked havoc on Guatemala's defense, his services were dangerous, and he should pick up an assist for the inch perfect pass he played to Eddie Johnson that turned into Clint Dempsey's first goal. Even with the continuous threat he presented going forward, he was never a defensive liability. With performances in crucial games like this, it's hard to imagine the day when Cherundolo is no longer considered the number one option at right back.
Michael Parkhurst - 5.5 - Parkhurst was mostly solid on defense, and he looked dangerous going forward in the first half. However, his adventures nearly cost the U.S. team in the 33rd minute when he got caught with the ball between his feet, and easily stripped. The resulting Guatemala counter-attack was bungled only by an awful pass into Ruiz near the top of the box, otherwise it could have been way more dangerous. It was not Parkhurst's best game, but it was not a bad game either.
Carlos Bocanegra - 5 - Bocanegra had a nightmare start to the game when his dreadful communication with Geoff Cameron left Ruiz wide open for his breakaway. His recovery speed was slow, and worst of all, he gave up on the play instead of seeing it out until the end. The positional problems in the defense were likely the result of an inexperienced center back tandem and they don't lie personally with Boca or Cameron, but against a better team they could have given up at least two more goals. Boca redeemed himself gloriously by scoring the tying goal after only a few minutes had passed, becoming the National Team's all team leading goal scorer for a defender.
Geoff Cameron - 5 - Cameron had some good moments, some bad moments, but mostly he had average moments. As stated with Bocanegra, it's a harsh choice to personally blame Cameron for a lack of experience between himself and the captain, but he simply seemed out of his depth at times when trying to keep track of the quick and sneaky forwards that Central American teams possess. Too often he was caught ball watching, and Ruiz was able to slip into the awkward spaces without attention. That being said, Cameron did well on the possession side of things, and his passing from the back was effective.
Eddie Johnson - 7 - Johnson has had a dream week with the National Team, capped off by assisting the game winning goal that secured advancement to the Hex. He was a constant aerial threat, getting his head on plenty of services, though not as threateningly as he did against Antigua and Barbuda. Johnson's positional switch with Graham Zusi sent Guatemala's defense into fits and directly resulted in the Dempsey goal. The one knock against Johnson is that as the game went on, he kept trying too hard for highlight reel runs, holding the ball too long and trying to be tricky with it. He was routinely tackled and often dispossessed, though his more successful runs resulted in corner kicks or deep throws that provided a further attacking threat. Johnson should have scored on Herculez Gomez's cross, but he just mistimed it to let the ball glance off of his foot.
Graham Zusi - 7.5 - Zusi has used the past two games as a springboard into regular roster consideration, providing the most consistent services into the box that the National Team has seen in years. The fact that he can do it from both sides of the field and with either foot is a tremendous plus. His corner kicks are dangerous, his services from the run of play are dangerous, and he even showed that he could be effective attacking defenders on the dribble. Zusi needs to work on his endurance, as he started fading away early in the second half.
Danny Williams - 6.5 - It was a bit strange seeing a defensive midfielder not getting a yellow card at some point during the game, but that is what Williams brought the table as he took on Jermaine Jones' usual policing role. Williams was just as effective as Jones while being less dangerous in the process. He did well to stay out of the news, calmly breaking up plays and making sure the ball got back to an American foot. It was not a stand out game to take notice of like against Jamaica last month, but it further showed that Williams is at his best when he plays in the center of the field.
Michael Bradley - 8 - Bradley had his usual workhorse game, covering an obscene amount of ground and doing everything he could to put the U.S. ahead. He was the main conduit of the team's possession game so his pass rating was very high, but he was slightly less effective in sending the ball forward. A few times he released the ball too soon or poorly weighted, resulting in easy turnovers. He was unlucky not to draw a penalty kick late in the second half, and his beautiful run into the box in the first became an assist for Dempsey, though it could have easily been a goal for himself.
Herculez Gomez - 6.5 - As is customary for Gomez, his hard work paid off. It wasn't flashy, but it was gritty, and he seemed to get over whatever demons were haunting him in Antigua as his touch was with him in Kansas City. Not presented with a clear scoring opportunity for himself during the game, he provided several balls that easily could have been goals from Dempsey and Johnson, and the tremendous effort he put into applying pressure to the Guatemala defense resulted in the corner kick that brought Bocanegra's goal. Even when he's not on the score sheet, Gomez makes the team better by doing the extra things.
Clint Dempsey - 8 - For the first time in awhile, Dempsey looked to be back to his old self. While his attitude and facial expressions have always been there, the ball at his feet has been a little lacking recently. Against Guatemala he was being to being a sharp handler of the ball and a constant goal scoring threat. His two goals and an assist were not brilliant technical plays, but they showed great positioning, vision, and off the ball movement. Dempsey is now third on the U.S.'s all time scoring list, and it seems to be right around the corner when he will be passing Eric Wynalda for second. The one big shake of the head about Dempsey's play was his ridiculous dive near the end of the game, trying to force a penalty kick when ahead by two goals and with less than ten minutes to play. His yellow card was deserved, and now he will be suspended for a match if he picks up another in the Hex.
Maurice Edu - 6 - Edu showed well in possession, making crisp, clean passes and doing well to keep the ball moving from side to side. Klinsmann has said that he sees Edu as a defender going forward, but that was not his role last night as he entered for Zusi. Though his playing situation at Stoke City is nebulous, Edu looked sharp and could be presenting signs that with some more club play, he could be the next utility man on the roster.
Sacha Kljestan - 6 - Kljestan came on for Gomez and did well to keep possession going. His linking play with Bradley and Dempsey nearly paid off into scoring opportunities on a couple of occasions, and he did well to sting the palms of Ricardo Jerez with a blistering shot late in the game. Kljestan clearly belongs on the roster, and he should be a regular option going forward.
Joe Corona - N/R - Corona only had a brief cameo, on for Johnson in the 90th minute. Nevertheless, he was inches away from being able to put a shot on goal just after stepping onto the field, but he was a split second too late to the ball. Corona is a player for the near future, and he shouldn't expected to get much playing time with a full roster available until probably after 2014.