CZECHS DOUBLE UP US
The US national team fell to the Czech Republic Tuesday night at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut in the first of three friendlies leading up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Head coach Bob Bradley made the decision ahead of time to use the game to evaluate players who were uncertain to make the final World Cup team or to evaluate players who have not seen much playing time recently because of injury.
As a result of this decision, first team regulars such as Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jay Demerit, Carlos Bocanegra, Tim Howard and Jozy Altidore did not dress. Jonathan Spector and Ricardo Clark were unused substitutes despite both being almost certain bets to make the team.
The US was able to control the ball for portions of the match and generate scoring chances but was let down by a series of defensive breakdowns by individual players throughout the match.
The Americans opened the scoring in the 17th minute when Stuart Holden swung a free kick into the box. When Czech Republic goalkeeper Petr Cech was unable to reach the ball, it eventually found its way to US forward Edson Buddle who deflected it towards Maurice Edu who then was able to hammer it into an open net.
"I was definitely excited," Edu said of his first USMNT goal. "I thought we were putting a lot of pressure on them. To get that goal put us in a good position at that point of time."
Buddle was playing in his first national team game since 2003 and first overall under Bradley. For Edu, who missed most of the US' games in 2009 because of an injury, it was his first international goal.
The lead lasted for a little more than 20 minutes as the Czechs were able to equalize after earning a free kick on the left side. The resulting kick was sent to the far post where Tomas Sivok beat US defender Oguchi Onyewu in rising for the ball and sent it into the lower right side of the net.
"The ball was played back. He kind of got got up before me so using his momentum he used his forearm to push me down when I'm jumping up," Onyewu said of the goal. "The only thing I can think of doing differently is jumping earlier. In that situation, I don't know if I can honestly jump earlier because I don't know where the ball is coming from at that point. He did well to get his goal."
Bradley addressed the play of Onyewu and centerback teammate Clarence Goodson at halftime.
"I mentioned to both our centerbacks at halftime that, in that battle for position, their forwards do a good job. So there are times when, even though we have height in the back, they were getting better position and coming away with some headers."
"It's the ability to put yourself in the right spot a little bit before your opponent," Bradley continued. "Those are things you only get from playing in matches. So when you consider seven months [being out], I think there were some positives."
For Onyewu, he was playing in his first game since last October when he suffered a serious left knee injury that required his kneecap to be reattached. While Onyewu was not satisfied with the goal he allowed, he insisted that he is still healthy and ready to contribute.
"I felt great. It's been a long seven months," he discussed. "I am just happy to get this game out of the way. Physically, I could have gone 90 minutes, I felt fine and now I am just moving onto the next game on Saturday."
Overall, Bradley was still happy to have his starting central defender back in action and did feel there were positives that could be taken away from his performance.
Bradley then made several changes to the team at the start of the second half. At forward, he removed a very ineffective Eddie Johnson and average Edson Buddle with Brian Ching and Herculez Gomez.
"Across the boards with the forwards tonight, you're looking to see how they will be able to handle themselves and adjust to international play," Bradley said of his attackers. "The games go faster. One thing I've said to a couple of guys throughout the week is that when you get into an international game, the window for plays is small and the window shuts quickly."
"In so many ways when watch them, you wait to see if there are too many times when a play comes in their direction and the defender is able to just step in front of the attacker and come away with the ball. That's telling you that your attacking player in that moment isn't thinking fast enough."
In the midfield, DaMarcus Beasley departed after a very successful first half as did Jose Francisco Torres. The MLS duo of Sacha Kljestan and Robbie Rogers entered into the match in their place.
"It's been a good camp for DaMarcus," Bradley stated frankly. "I think that he's shown his teammates again that there is a renewed commitment to everything and I think that is what showed on the field tonight."
The only change made to the back line was at left fullback where a struggling Jonathan Bornstein was removed for Heath Pearce of FC Dallas. Unfortunately for the US, Pearce would not fare much better and offered no real evidence that he would be able solve the American's obvious weakness at the position.
The second half started with the US driving most of the attack. Through nifty footwork and aggressive play, they forced Cech into making a series of saves.
Despite the good play, it was the Czechs who scored first in the second half when Jan Polak finished off a cross by easily beating Pearce into the center of the box in the 58th minute.
The US kept up the pressure and equalized eight minutes later when Stuart Holden sent in a corner kick. Goodson headed the ball back across the goal where Gomez headed the ball into the back post for his first international goal.
"It was a special moment. I did my best and it's out of my hands now," Gomez said of his World Cup hopes. "If anything, I am just proud that I think I gave Bob a little headache."
"One of the things I've been trying to do at camp is show that I am much more than a guy who can put the ball in the back of the net. You need to be much more at this level. Hopefully I've done enough. I don't really know if I have. It's been a very, very tight camp."
Gomez, who ended up tied for the scoring title in Mexico this past season, has come out of nowhere this year to put himself into contention for World Cup roster spot.
Prior to tonight's match, Gomez has only been capped twice by Bradley and that was in the 2007 Copa America where the US played mostly a reserve team.
"Herculez played his way into camp with his performance at Puebla," Bradley assessed. "It was based upon goals. When you have him in camp you get to assess him on a lot of things. I saw plays tonight that still, for me, could be better. But obviously he scored a goal which was very, very important in this whole thing."
The goal would invigorate the US attack as they continued to pressure the Czech defense with several good opportunities.
But the wheels would fall off in the 78th minute when Martin Fenin slammed home a scramble in the box that the US failed to clear away. The play opened up for the Czechs after Pearce's inept challenge allowed a wide open attack into the box.
The US attack was deflated after the Czechs scored for the third time against the run of play.
The Czechs were able to add a fourth when they were able to take advantage of Edu's position switch to central defense.
While the Glasgow Rangers man played there for the 2008 US Olympic team, his inexperience showed and Tomas Necid was able to get by him then fire a shot to the near post past goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
For the US, it was a disappointing result but there were positives to be had in the play of some individuals as well as lessons to be learned.
Bradley must now make the necessary cuts for the World Cup team and address the weaknesses that were on display tonight.
"I have so many things flying through my head right now," Bradley said of the game. "We will talk as a staff. We will pull out the DVD. We will look back at certain things. [There was] lot of energy at times. At times we created some things going forward. We didn't always do well at the final side but also in the process of trying to put so much into it at times we left ourselves wide open."
The US must now regroup for their next friendly against Turkey on Saturday in Philadelphia. For the US, it will be their first game with the final 23 man World Cup and the top players are expected to participate.