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GEORGE MURPHY - Wednesday, March 19, 2008
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Adu impresses early and often
Just a few days after writing my piece on why we at Yanks Abroad think that players based in Europe are better quality than MLS players, the US Under-23s play three games in a week and apparently attempt to prove me wrong.

Three disappointing results: a 1-1 tie to a Cuban team so excited to tie the mighty Yanks that they decided to stick around and defect, a scrappy 1-0 victory over a testy Panama team thanks to a penalty kick, and a 1-0 win over Honduras thanks to another penalty kick, in which the United States couldn't score a goal if they had to, and in which MLS-based players outperformed those based in Europe. Up next: Canada eh?

I'm not sure if Peter Nowak has noticed, but Kamani Hill is not an outside back. Yes the kid can attack, and yes he is quick and athletic. So here's an idea: Play him as an attacker!

He was very clumsy into challenges in the first match against Cuba, and despite his speed, if an opposing team has a chance to counterattack on the United States' right side in a one-on-one situation, chances are that it will likely result in a shot on goal at the least. Put him in front of Jonathan Spector or Marvell Wynne and see how he plays at outside midfield, but just because this is "only Olympic qualifying" doesn't mean it's time to try every player at every position and every possible formation.

Maurice Edu at center back? He played well for the most part against Panama, but I follow University of Maryland's soccer program and I don't recall a time where he was ever lined up on the back line, and if anyone in Toronto has seen it please let me know. And why is Eddie Gaven, who has the first touch and foot speed of brick, being expected to run off of a holding forward? Gaven has had a lot better showing than Copa America, but lets' not get carried away.

Two Europe-based players, Sal Zizzo and Charlie Davies, continued to struggle on Saturday night against Honduras. Zizzo had a hard enough time keeping the ball in bounds let alone making any decent passes, and Davies completely missing the goal on a penalty try didn't help his case either. Davies showed flashes in the second half of the game against Cuba, but had a poor first half and a pretty pedestrian showing against Honduras. He still has to do some proving as does Zizzo, but one thing is for sure, both of them are better than Chad Barrett.

Freddy Adu was obviously one Yank abroad on the team who was the exception. Almost every attacking opportunity came from Adu in the first two games, and the only thing he doesn't have going for him is his goal per shot ratio. Still, Freddy continued his "how am I washed up at only nineteen years old?" campaign, and he and Jozy Altidore will hope to shine in the Olympics this summer should the US qualify.

Stuart Holden was able to use the three matches to show his stuff. Is this kid running on diesel? He doesn't seem to ever get tired. He was up and back for the whole ninety minutes in the last two games, and wore the captain's armband as Edu was rested against Honduras. This team needs someone to step up and take the leadership role, and if it turns out that Edu isn't vocal enough to do so (he probably is, but just in case) than look for Holden to take over. Nowak needs a field general with the absence of Michael Bradley and either will need to keep the rest of the team motivated and focused.

So the question is, what non-U23 players would Nowak choose should the US advance? Some may think that's looking too far ahead, but just remember that Mexico failed to advance despite wiping the floor with Haiti, and Canada just won their first CONCACAF game in five attempts. Maybe the US isn't in such a bad position after all; now that Nowak has experimented with the lineup he can figure out what holes to plug come summer time.

There seems to be a bit of concern on the back line. I've been very impressed with Michael Orozco, Spector is returning and Nathan Sturgis seems to be a good center back, but the whole team could benefit from a proven veteran such as Carlos Bocanegra, Jay DeMerit, or maybe even Jimmy Conrad to bolster the defense.

Bocanegra has been out of favor at Fulham, and DeMerit and Conrad haven't seen much action with the full national team, so maybe the Olympics is a chance to prove their worth to Bob Bradley.

At midfield, a player such as Bobby Convey or Benny Feilhaber who is still working their way back to form would benefit from the exposure. Feilhaber has UCLA ties with Wynne, Barrett, Zizzo, Patrick Ianni, and Hill (they were all there at pretty much the same time, not a bad college team) so I would figure he'd be a choice.

Landon Donovan always seems to be around for meaningless friendlies and second-tier competitions (he's twenty six years old and already has ninety-seven appearances, talk about padding your stats) but the Galaxy will have a hard enough time staying in business let alone competing in MLS this season, so he probably won't get the chance to escape Beckhamania.

Up front, who better for Altidore to learn how to be a big target forward who can also score goals from than Brian McBride? McHead's work ethic could be contagious to the other members of the team, and he could share some knowledge about the game and how to cope with everything that comes with a big-time move overseas (which Altidore might also have to put up with soon, possibly this summer) with the Red Bull manchild. It's true that McBride retired from international competition, but maybe he has an itch to put the red white and blue on for a few more games after missing a good chunk of the season at Fulham.

Whoever Nowak chooses will have to play the veteran roles for the younger guys, but in the meantime he'll be able to hopefully stick with a lineup that produces results. The 4-3-2-1 that he fielded on Saturday night wasn't a horrible idea; it was just the personnel that were involved. The team will have to rely on knowing how each other plays (doesn't hurt that half of them went to college together), and changing the formation every game isn't the way to do that.

Once Edu, Adu (I can't tell if Christian Miles is sneezing or trying to pronounce names with the "Ay-doo Eh-doo" craziness) and Altidore are back for the next game we will hopefully see a set starting eleven moving forward, and everyone will know their roles.

But first, let's hope they can get past the Maple Leafs, which, if they can't score more than one goal in open play against pathetic no-hope teams, might not be a given.

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