AMERICANS FALL SHORT AGAINST DUTCH
In their last game before head coach Bob Bradley names the final roster that will compete in the 2010 World Cup, the US national team fell to Holland 2-1 on a cold night in Amsterdam.
Prior to the game, the Americans knew they were in for a challenge. The Dutch team, who is currently ranked third, is widely considered to be a contender to win the 2010 World Cup. They easily qualified for the 2010 World Cup after posting a remarkable record of 8-0-0 in World Cup qualifying.
The Americans, on the other hand, entered the game ranked 14th and have won only once in their last five games.
The game started off slowly with the Dutch controlling most of the possession. Despite most of the possession, Holland was unable to create many scoring chances during the first half hour. The Americans were also not able to produce when they had the ball.
The game took a turn for the worse in the 30th minute when Bolton Wanders' midfielder Stuart Holden took a pass from Landon Donovan in the middle of the field and was fouled on a harsh late tackle by Holland's Nigel de Jong. Holden was down for nearly two minutes before being helped off the field by US staff. He was replaced minutes later by DaMarcus Beasley.
Immediately after Holden was taken off the field and while playing with only ten men, the US created its best chance of the half when Jose Francisco Torres took a pass in the middle of the field from Jonathan Spector and unleashed a 25 meter shot that narrowly missed the upper left hand corner of Holland's goal.
The Dutch would finally see their patience pay off in the 39th minute when left-back Jonathan Bornstein was caught a step out of position while guarding Wesley Sneijder. When Sneijder made a move towards the goal Bornstein was whistled for taking down the Inter Milan attacking midfielder inside the box with his hands.
One minute later, Dirk Kuyt buried the penalty to the left corner after US goalkeeper Tim Howard guessed the wrong way and the hosts had a deserved 1-0 lead heading into the break.
"The area for me is still moments when we've created a little advantage, moments in the final third [when] there's an opening," Bob Bradley said of the first half. "Can we take advantage of that? And that's the area where I said at halftime I don't think that we were sharp enough in those moments. I don't think in some cases we were confident enough. As the game wears on then we see a little bit more and hopefully that can carry over."
In the second half, the game changed as both sides began to find more of a rhythm and the overall pace picked up.
While Holland was able to continue to maintain the majority of play, the Americans were sharper than they were in the first half.
Despite the improved play on the part of the US team, the Dutch were able to go up a second goal in the 73rd minute when Klaas Jan Huntelaar's shot from 20 yards ricocheted off Bornstein, who had switched from left back to centerback, and found its way into the left hand corner of the goal past a helpless Tim Howard.
Soon after Holland's second goal, Bob Bradley removed Donovan from the game. Despite being without their best player and down two goals, the American's attack came to life. For the first time in the game, the US team was able to generate more opportunities and carry the run of play.
"Landon is such an important player for us" Bradley discussed on the transition with Donovan leaving the game while trailing 2-0. "On a night like tonight, given the number of games that he has played lately, it's good to get him off the field and save a few minutes. You have some other players at that point that are eager, there's a push at the end of the game which is necessary, and you can certainly play with a little more abandon at that point."
Late in the game the midfield of Maurice Edu, Michael Bradley, Beasley, and Alejandro Bedoya, who was making just his second appearance for the USA, consistently linked up with the attack to put pressure on the Dutch defense.
In the 88th minute, the US would pull one back when team captain Carlos Bocanegra was able to convert a Beasley free kick with a header.
"They were all standing and they looked kind of confused," Beasley described. "So I tried to take the [free kick] as quick as I could. Luckily he wasn't offside. But [Bocanegra] is always a great header of the ball."
In the game's final minutes, the Americans would push hard for an equalizer. They several chances but their best was in the second minute of injury time when Jozy Altidore launched a long range drive that forced Dutch keeper Maarten Stekelenburg into making a very difficult diving save.
The final whistle would sound shortly after with the Holland prevailing 2-1.
"We did okay," Donovan said of the game. "We had some moments in the first half that were okay but I don't think we put enough pressure on them. You always know that when you come here and play them they are going to have a lot of the ball. You hope that at the right moments you make some plays going forward and tonight [it was] too long in the second half until we made some real plays."
With the loss, the US fell to 0-4 all-time against Holland but Bocanegra's goal was the first ever American goal in the history between the two teams. Bocanegra would say that this game was far better than the last time the Americans played in Holland when they lost 1-0 on a goal by Arjen Robben.
"I thought it was night and day [compared to] the last time we came here and played them," Bocanegra compared. "I thought we made an effort to get after them a little bit in the beginning."
Since the game was the last time the US would play together before the World Cup roster is announced, it was a very important game for some players on an individual basis.
Beasley entered this game as a player highly questionable to make the final roster. The Rangers' midfielder found himself in a difficult stretch in 2009 and prior to the match, he had not been with the US team since last summer's Confederations Cup.
"Especially as he got into the flow of the game more, he was able to make some good runs forward," Bradley said of Beasley's performance. "You started to see the mobility, a little bit of the quickness, the confidence of being a threat and putting the defenders on their heels. I think those are good things. Hopefully that can be built upon."
While disappointed with the loss, Beasley said that there are positives to take away from the performance.
"Whenver you play a team like Holland it's going to be tough," Beasley analyzed. "I thought we could have gotten something out of the game. Obviously they had most of the ball but I think we created more dangerous chances than they did. In the end of the day we lost. It's still a friendly but we are Americans and we don't want to lose any game."
Bedoya is another player who improved his personal standing in his game against Holland. While having only earned one previous cap, Bedoya was able to create chances against the formidable Dutch defense.
"It's his second game," Bradley assessed of Bedoya. "The nice thing to see is that he comes on the field with a lot of energy. He puts himself into the game in a way to make a difference and try to make plays. I think that's a very good sign."
With being directly at fault for both goals, CD Chivas defender Bornstein will likely have hurt his chances to see meaningful minutes in South Africa. While he will most likely make the roster due to the lack of left backs in the US system, Heath Pearce's continued improvement could see Bornstein with reduced playing time. Bornstein accepted that he was not at his best tonight.
"I don't think I played my best, but [I hope] to learn from it and hopefully bounce back and play better the next game," Bornstein said of his performance.
"We've talked to him a lot about just sharpening up a little with the ball, seeing things a little bit faster," Bradley said on Bornstein. "It's similar to the play in Slovakia. Those are things that now we need to learn from and take care of."
With no more national teams left before he makes his roster decision, Bob Bradley will now take what he has seen in this game and consider it among many other factors. He said that he has a basic idea of who the team will be but there are many factors that will go into the final decisions.
"Obviously we have a little more time where we are sizing up form, we are assessing injuries," Bradley said of the upcoming roster decisions. "But certainly there is a nucleus of guys: 15, 16, sometimes maybe 17 or 18. But there is a nucleus of guys that I think are players that have played big roles throughout qualifying. There is always going to be tough decisions. [They are] decisions that you are going to base in some cases on form, in some cases fitness or versatility, because you've got to put a roster together where you can cover all the different situations."
While most of the US players were very disappointed with the loss, there was some feeling that there are positives that can be taken from this game.
"The guys are a bit frustrated and a bit angry we didn't get out of here with at least a draw," Bocanegra said of the team's expectations. "We don't come here just to play and get a good game. We come to try and get a result."
"Obviously in the second half it was a little bit better," Beasley said of the team's overall performance. "For a whole I thought we did pretty well. Obviously it's disappointing to lose a game. But at the same time we can take the good and the bad from the game and go onto the next one."
The team will take a break before playing again until late May when they'll face off against the Czech Republic at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut.