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Who are these guys? Part 1 March 5, 2010

Posted by Casey in Multi-Sport Preview/Review.
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The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) got to play one of the best teams in the world, the Netherlands, on Wednesday afternoon ( highlights).  Despite being outplayed through 1st half, I felt the US was unfortunate to be a goal down at half time.  The Netherlands’ Wesley Sneijder burst into the box and fell over under the slightest of touches of Jonathan Bornstein (:37 of highlight video).  It was a mind bogglingly stupid decision to reach out and grab Sneijder in that position and any experienced soccer player would go over to try and draw the penalty.  That said, I think it was a soft decision by the referee.  The second Dutch goal came from a deflected Klaus-Jan Huntelaar shot off the unlucky (this time) Bornstein and past a wrong-footed Tim Howard (1:15).   Once the second goal went in, the Americans seemed to have a weight lifted off the shoulders.  The passes connected, the movement off the ball improved and the chances started flowing.  US Captain Carlos Bocanegra headed in a perfectly weighted set piece from DaMarcus Beasley to pull a goal back, and set off a frantic final few minutes.  All in all it was a decent performance against a good team from a depleted US squad.

So what happens now?  The American players will go back to their clubs and the relative anonymity that comes with being a member of the USMNT.  The players will gather again for a training camp after the European season ends in mid-May, before playing tune up games against the Czech Republic (May 25 in East Hartford, tickets) and Turkey (May 29 in Philadelphia, tickets).  Then it’s off to Rustenburg, South Africa for the opening match of the 2010 World Cup against England on June 12.  US coach Bob Bradley will have his hands full keeping track of players plying their trade in both North America and Europe.

Here is a low-down on the stalwarts of the US team: Landon Donovan (M/F, Club: LA Galaxy, MLS, currently on-loan at Everton, ENG) is our all-time record goalscorer and consensus best player.  Donovan is currently on a short-term loan at English Premier League (EPL) club Everton but will be returning to the Galaxy March 15th.  By all accounts Donovan has thrived in England (this miss nonwithstanding) after two failed stints in Germany.  Landon is the perfect player for this US team, he is quick and direct with the ball, perfect for an American team that will struggle to maintain possession and will often look to play on the counter-attack. Tim Howard (G, Everton, ENG) has become one of the EPL’s most consistent goalies, and should revel in his first World Cup opportunity.  Oguchi Onyewu (D, AC Milan, ITA) enjoyed a superb 2008/2009 season with both his club team Standard Liege and the USMNT culminating in a move to Italian giants AC Milan.  However, Onyewu had trouble breaking into the well-established Milan defense and just as he started to get a run of games, he ruptured his patellar tendon in a WC Qualifier against Costa Rica October 14th.  Onyewu has just returned to light training and hopes to make a return to the Milan team sometime in the next 3 weeks.   ‘Gooch’ is a dynamic athelete who is able to dominate opposing forwards with his combination of size and speed, while he can be vulnerable to players with great dribbling ability (who isn’t?).   Carlos Bocanegra (D, Rennes, FRA) is the current American Captain and can play at both left and center back.  Bocanegra partnered Jay Demerit in central defence in Amsterdam on Wednesday but I think his best role in this American team is on the left side of the back four.  Oguchi Onyewu’s return would allow Bocanegra to slide to left back and move Jonathan Bornstein to the bench, where he belongs in my opinion.  The four man defense of Jonathon Spector (RB, West Ham, ENG), Jay Demerit (CB, Watford, ENG), Onyewu, and Bocanegra helped lead the US to the Confederations Cup championship game last summer, with upset wins against Spain and Egypt along the way.  These four players will HAVE to be on their game for the US to advance to the knockout stages.

I had intended to work my way through the entire squad in this post, but due to the length I’ve split it into 2.  Look for the second installment next week!