GEORGE MURPHY - Sunday, June 8, 2008
United States vs Argentina
Friendly - Sunday June 8, 2008
Landon Donovan became the fourth youngest player in international soccer history to reach one hundred appearances on Sunday night in New Jersey's Giants stadium against Argentina in a hard-earned draw.
Of the 78,682 fans in attendance, the majority were wearing Argentina shirts on a cloudy Sunday night in which Kasey Keller was honored before the game for reaching his one hundred appearance milestone back in June of 2007, but the American fans that were in attendance made themselves heard throughout the night.
In addition to Donovan, Bob Bradley made some changes to the starting lineup that he fielded against Spain, inserting Danny Califf at center back for Carlos Bocanegra who had a family commitment, Pablo Mastroeni at defensive midfield, and DaMarcus Beasley at outside midfield.
Julio Cruz had the first opportunity for the Argentines in the fourth minute after his two consecutive shots were saved by Tim Howard. Two minutes later Cruz found his way into the US box again, but his cross was cleared by Califf, and on the following corner kick Gonzalo Rodriguez's shot was off target.
In the fourteenth minute, Cruz was played in once again by Sergio Aguero, and his case for a penalty was turned down by the referee after he claimed to be fouled by Howard. Next, Lionel Messi crossed a free kick from twenty-five yards which found an open Rodriguez at the back post, but the attempt was off target.
The Argentines continued to press forward. The United States duo of Michael Bradley and Mastroeni had a hard time keeping the Argentine central midfield and forwards under control, and once again Cruz found himself wide open behind the back line but was denied by a point-blank save by Tim Howard in the 27th minute.
Four minutes later, after being fouled by Gago for what seemed to be retaliation for thinking that he dove earlier in the half, Clint Dempsey's shot from the right side of the penalty area was deflected and almost found the back of the net. Not far after, Heath Pearce forced Argentine goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri to make a save after hitting a hard shot from distance.
In first-half injury time, Cruz was once again denied by Tim Howard after the Inter Milan striker seemed to be confused either to how many times he was able to find himself wide open or how many times Howard could deny him in point-blank range.
To start the second half, Bob Bradley substituted Maurice Edu for Bradley as Michael seemed to struggle to adjust to the speed of play.
Oguchi Onyewu's header struck the crossbar to open the second half, and four minutes later, Cruz played in Sergio Aguero, but attempt to earn a penalty against Howard went unnoticed by the referee.
Freddy Adu was introduced to the game, coming on for Dempsey and received a warm welcome from the crowd, while Onyewu was sacrificed for Jay DeMerit.
In the 70th minute, after Edu was cautioned for fouling Gago, Mastroeni earned his second yellow card for dissent and was sent off.
"I've been told that he picked the ball up and threw it to Danny Califf to buy some time," Bob Bradley later said about the dubious red-card. "You never know for sure, but there's part of you that thinks that the referee at that moment didn't realize that he had already given him a yellow card".
Eddie Johnson came off as a combination of a resulting tactical decision and injury from a previous play, and Bradley brought on Sacha Kljestan.
Pearce finished his fine play in the past three games by being substituted for Eddie Lewis in the 78th minute.
Javier Mascherano, who pointed out to the referee earlier that Mastroeni did indeed earn his second yellow card, suffered a case of karma as he shortly thereafter earned his second yellow and a sending off of his own in the 85th minute for bringing own Donovan.
After Beasley was substituted in the 90th minute, Kljestan failed to convert an open opportunity after he was played in by Donovan.
After the game, Bob Bradley and players were very appreciative of Tim Howard's efforts on the evening.
"What can I say?" Adu told YA post-game. "Without Tim in that match, for me, we lose that one. It's great to have him on our team".
"In the first half we had to deal with a lot tactically, Timmy had to make some big saves, and then we had to deal with some resolve in the second half", Bradley commented in the post-game press conference. "We had a red card, and some adjustments tactically at different times, but at the end there's a very good feeling on a night like tonight to get a result".
Bradley also seemed satisfied with his team's efforts after a long three game stretch heading into qualifying.
"I think we're getting stronger. I think we're getting a better understanding on how to play in big games. We're satisfied with the depth that we now have, and are moving in the right direction".
Danny Califf, who had his first chance to start on the back line in a meaningful friendly since head coach Bob Bradley has had the reigns was happy with the team's performance as well.
"I think they were dangerous in the first part of the game with Messi and the other two forwards basically not defending at all, and are very good with the counterattack" said the Aalborg BK defender after the game. "They had some great combinations in the first half but we sorted it out and did a great job with man-to-man marking.”
Califf also seemed enthusiastic about his chance to show Bradley what he's capable of.
"Yeah obviously [Onyewu and Bocanegra] are his guys right now," the Aalborg captain told YA. "But for him to know that me and Jay [DeMerit] can step in at any time is important. We have four very quality guys back there at that position."
Dempsey wasn't particularly impressed with the speed of play against Argentina and thought that maybe Spain and England were tougher opponents and atmospheres.
"It was a good experience playing against them, but I thought it was a little bit slow," the Fulham man said. "Spain are a better passing team throughout the midfield and caused us more problems than Argentina did, but Argentina is a very good team, they just made a lot of substitutes."
The United States will now head into their first qualifying game against Barbados on Sunday, but Bradley insists that they will not be taking the game lightly.
"We have veteran guys who know how important these qualifying matches are, which helps," the head coach said. "Now isn't really the time to talk about our strategies against them, but rest assured that we've already started to do all of our scouting and homework, and will be ready come Sunday."