BRENT LATHAM - Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Here are my thoughts on last night's US-Italy game:
The Initial Line-up
Coach Bradley went with just the lineup I had outlined pregame - and, credit where credit is due, it was working like a charm in the first thirty minutes. The Italians couldn't get to the bottom of it and looked un-energetic, and the Americans should have gone ahead after two cutting passes from Landon Donovan, who took his game to a new level. Unfortunately both Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore scuffed their chances.
Donovan looks like a different player when he is shifted towards the right, like he was last night, with Dempsey on the left. He's also come with confidence, anxious to show he is among the world's elite. He'll have two more chances to do that and he may need to do some of the finishing himself.
The Red Card
From any angle, this was a ridiculous decision by referee Pablo Pozo. Unfortunately in Latin America it seems that refs who want to be the spectacle themselves abound - we have plenty in CONCACAF, and we can add Pozo to that list. These guys always seem to make it to the highest level somehow.
Clark, who had already given away too many balls in dangerous spots, made a ridiculous and ill-advised lunge at Gennaro Gattuso, who fell spectacularly. But even the Italian expressed doubt at the ref's call after the game. In my opinion the penalty for the US was pretty weak as well, since Jozy was kicked, but then decided to flop and Pozo was all too anxious to cover his previous mistake by awarding the spot kick. The Chilean also missed a clear penalty in the waning moments with Italy leading, 2-1, when Donovan was tackled in the area as he awaited a cross. So Pozo was the main protagonist last night, and that's a shame, because no one paid to see him.
I wish I didn't have to harp on this, especially because I think Bradley did an excellent job of putting a lineup and formation on the field that could compete with Italy. But as it will, the red card changed everything, and Bradley failed to leverage appropriately the good fortune of taking a lead into halftime a man down.
If ever there was a time to get defensive that was it. I'm not Monday morning quarterbacking here - those of you following the YA twitter stream know. Bradley needed to make a change for Feilhaber at halftime - and the man to bring in was Paco Torres. The US had no chance of absorbing pressure for 45 minutes, and they needed Torres ball handling combined with his ball winning. Feilhaber's giveaway came as little suprise, nor did the fact that the first two Italian goals came from the open space in front of Gooch and DeMerit left by the lack of another ball winning midfielder alongside Michael Bradley.