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Semifinals Post-Game and Player Ratings

June 23, 2011

First things first.  I must address Landon Donovan.  As I was well aware, if Landon played a big role in a win today, I knew my article would look shoddy and ridiculous at best.  I was well aware of that when I wrote it and I’m aware of that now.  And to be honest, I’m ok with that. I’m not going to back down from the general premise that Landon’s role with the US men’s team is very likely on the decline, even not as rapidly as I first hypothesized. His apparent replacement for the future, Alejandro Bedoya, played well once again with a great deal of energy, but with his opportunities didn’t seem as seasoned or decisive as Donovan.  That will come.  The skill is there.  Luckily for me and all of the rest of us, Landon did come to play today and made what can only be described as a pinpoint, delectable pass that allowed Clint Dempsey’s foot to win the game for the USA.  Without Landon on that play, who knows what the result would have been.

The obvious secondary storyline that developed out of tonight’s game is the re-introduction of the American public to FREDDY ADU!!! OMG HES SO CUTE! KTHXBAI!! Well, I can’t say I wasn’t shocked when the announcers first noticed Freddy warming up on the sideline.  While I thought we’d see Freddy, I thought it would occur a few games ago in the group stages when things weren’t so pressure packed.  Instead, he didn’t even make the 18 in any of the group games.  To me, that combined with his recent inclusion and tonight’s playing time suggests one of a few things.  Either Bob Bradley really felt like the US had a chance to get stalled offensively in the past two games and Freddy had the possibility to unlock the opposing defense, or second, that Freddy has improved over the course of the past few weeks of being in training.  In reality, it’s probably a combination of both.  I was amongst the masses joking on twitter early in the game about seeing a Freddy substitution, but I honestly never thought it would happen.  To hear that he was entering the game increased my heart rate and gave me a huge conflict of emotions.  In one sense I was ecstatic to see him get another chance.  In the other sense, we needed to win this game and I wasn’t sure if his substitution would help.  Luckily, Bob Bradley knew what he was doing.  Adu offered up 3 or 4 really bright spots including the pass that sprung Landon and led to Clint’s game winning goal.  For that, he will be covered heavily for the next 3 days leading to the final with Mexico.  Honestly, I don’t know whether Bob will use him again in the final, but whether he does or not, Freddy has shown he still has a future with the national team.

But the night was about the defense.  Panama rarely looked dangerous and I can’t be sure how many of their shots were actually what I would consider dangerous.  The organization, led by Carlos Bocanegra, was more than adequate.  The outside defenders offered up an offensive threat.  There were no huge gaffes.  I’m sure Tim Howard was yawning half of the game.  They were the Men of the Match.  If I had to choose one, I’d go with Bocanegra because of the collective effort.  They will need to be that good against Chicharito and Dos Santos on Saturday if the United States is to win back the Gold Cup.

On to the ratings:

Starters

Tim Howard: 7  Tim is our most consistent player.  He has the most ability to dominate a game of anyone on our team.  Tim is the closest thing we have to a world class player.  While he only had a few balls to deal with tonight, he dealt with them well and quickly put out the fires before the built into something really fearful.

Steve Cherundolo: 7.5 The location of Chewy’s first half pass that landed on Agudelo’s head was, in a word, sublime.  He’s turned into a master at delivering crosses from the right side to the point that, whenever a pass doesn’t land in the dangerous area, it’s a surprise and a disappointment.  Sure, Steve’s not the fastest or most athletic, but overall, he’s our best defender.  He had another effective night, as did the rest of our defense.

Clarence Goodson: 6.5 Clarence has turned out to be a more than effective center back, especially when paired with Bocanegra’s experience and organization.  Still, normally he’s good for a “gaffe and a half” per game that results in either a goal or a magnificent save from Timmy.  Tonight, there were no real noticeable gaffes.  For that alone, he gets a thumbs up.

Carlos Bocanegra: 7 It’s a real credit to El Capitan that the US hasn’t given up a goal since he moved back to the center.  That alone is worthy of praise.

Eric Lichaj: 8 It’s not an overstatement that his presence is literally changing the entire face of United States soccer.  Can you tell me the last time an American left back was an adept defender AND offered adequate to good support on offense? If you can, then you are completely full of shit, because that’s never existed.  He is balancing the field, and his ability to recover(based almost solely on his above average speed) has been more than impressive.  Tonight, his one on one defending stood out for its strength, quickness, and sureness.  He’s becoming a huge asset to our team when a week ago, we weren’t sure if he was good enough to be a substitute.

Michael Bradley: 5.5 Michael didn’t really distinguish himself as he has done recently. His sliding tackles are still among our best, rarely leading to cards and winning the ball more often than not.  Unfortunately, his passing and decision making today looked like his first few appearances for Aston Villa as opposed to the normally sharp leader of our midfield.  It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t his usual self.

Jermaine Jones: 6.5 It wasn’t as good as the past few games, but Jermaine’s game definitely had some very bright spots.  There were a few runs where his pure effort beat out the defenders down the left flank.  In fact, what’s surprising to me is the speed that he has shown in the past few matches.  When he runs, he’s so big, but each stride carries a lot of ground, sort of akin to Vince Young or Terrelle Pryor in the football world.  The only thing that knocked him down today for me were some errant passes.  Offensively, he offers a great deal of vision out of the defensive midfield.  He sees some passes that neither Michael Bradley, Rico Clark, nor Mo Edu have proven capable of seeing in the past few years.  Tonight, however, those passes were either overshot or just off target.  Luckily, he controlled himself well tonight and did not pick up the lethal yellow card that would have kept him out of the final.

Alejandro Bedoya: 5.5 Alejandro Bedoya has a bright future with our national team.  His effort is relentless. He is quick, technical, and, to be completely honest, just a bit out of his league right now.  He is perfect for our team right now, because his energy and movement create space and opportunities, but his finishing is just not up to par.  I think that once his mind settles down a bit, he’ll be much more effective, because the foundation is there for him to contribute for a long time.

Sacha Kljestan: 4 Look, I’ll be completely honest and say I’m not a huge fan of Sacha.  Still, I can admit that over the course of this tournament, he has acquitted himself well.  Just not as well as everyone has made it out to be.  He puts himself in the right positions. He has a creative spark and imaginative vision that can offer a great deal to our offense.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t make it happen in my opinion.  The final pass is always lacking.  He hesitates when a shot is available.  His foot reaction is a second slower than his mind.  And when he gets the ball in a dangerous position, one on one with a defender, he almost always gives up the ball.  He’s the guy that has 9 out of 10 links of the chain, but can never get that 10th chain link to connect.  Plus he has an awful mustache.

Clint Dempsey: 6.5 What can you say about Clint.  He’s our best field player by a mile right now.  He comes through when we need a goal.  He creates dangerous opportunities.  And he’s skilled in a way most Americans aren’t.  Tonight wasn’t his most dangerous, but he came through when it counted.  He is on the verge(if he can take over on Sunday) of taking this team as his own.  And today, he immediately deferred to Landon and subsequently Freddy for setting up his goal.

Juan Agudelo: 6 The kid is gonna break through soon.  I hope it’s Saturday.  He’s a little too aggressive at times when the numbers tell him he should pass, but that audacity is exactly what we need in a forward.  He has energy, he earns free kicks, and he puts a ball or two every game either on target or very close.

Substitutions

Landon Donovan: 6 For the first 10 minutes after he entered, Landon looked exactly the same as he did for the past month.  Listless, unmotivated, and camouflaged.  Then, off of a perfect delivery from Freddy Adu, Landon looked the defender in the eye, the defender backed off, and Landon attacked.  He went straight at the net and put a perfect ball on the foot of Clint Dempsey for the Yanks only goal.  He had a few moments after that as well, but this was his only real shining moment.  It shows that Landon still has a lot of ability to make a huge difference for our team, but I’ll be watching against his favorite opposition, Mexico, for any sort of consistency from Landon.  Is he now the USMNT curveball that is best used off the bench or is he one of our “must play” stars?

Freddy Adu: 6 Hell, Freddy would have gotten a 4 just for getting on the field.  No one really expected this tonight. Instead, Freddy did more than that.  He delivered the FIRST over the top ball of the night for the US team, and it just so happened to be a perfectly placed curling ball that went over the defender and right into the path of a streaking Landon Donovan.  Later, Freddy did a nice job on two separate occasions of controlling the ball and killing some clock.  He struggled a bit in defense, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort. In fact, it was nice to see him tackle a Panamanian on a few separate occasions. He’s not done yet.

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