AMERICANS BATTLE TO SCORELESS DRAW
Following a 2-2 draw with Poland on Saturday, the United States played to a scoreless stalemate against Colombia with a dreadful offensive display in the opening half followed by an improved second half.
The game began with an odd formation with three central midfielders in Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, and Maurice Edu all getting the start.
They were joined in the midfield by Stuart Holden on the right and Brek Shea on the left who was earning his first cap. Altidore started at forward as usual.
The game did not start well for the Americans as Colombia dominated the opening minutes and created their best scoring chance of the night in the fourth minute when an Edu turnover led to a Colombian break.
Brad Guzan made a big save from point blank range in what would be his only true test of the night.
"It was a game where in the first half we changed our formation a little bit," US head coach Bob Bradley said of the initial strategy. "In that way we didn't find a good rhythm in playing out of the back and playing forward fast enough and having good options. In the first half we really felt that we couldn't put passes together that took us anywhere. Even when we put some passes together, it didn't go anywhere."
The US would continue to struggle constantly throughout the half to make things happen offensively.
Fortunately, however, the American defense led by captain Oguchi Onyewu, Clarence Goodson, Jonathan Spector, and Heath Pearce were improving during the half despite the midfield struggles.
It wasn't until the 18th minute when the US would get a decent opportunity to score off a free kick taken by Holden.
The Bolton man's ball into the area found a lunging Onyewu only to see it headed just wide. Onyewu was unaware that Bradley was open behind him and could have had an easier chance.
Once the halftime break had arrived, the US realized that the game plan needed to change.
"The first half there was no flow to the game for us and we gave them too much time and space," Holden said. "I didn't think our movement was good we weren't finding the right spaces. Obviously it just wasn't a good overall half. But in the second half we talked about it and we changed some things in the locker room. From the first whistle [in the second half] we looked like a completely different team."
Bradley elected to make four changes at halftime when he removed Shea, Spector, Gooch and Edu and replaced them with Clint Dempsey, Eric Lichaj, Eddie Johnson and Michael Parkhurst.
The change in players and formation paid dividends for the US team who were able to retain a majority of the possession which led to more goal scoring opportunities.
"In the second half, I thought we got back and we played more in the way that we are accustomed," Bradley said of the change made at the half. "I thought that the flow was much better. I think that there were some good things that took place in the second half."
It was clear that one of the bright spots for the Americans in the second half was Lichaj who was earning his first international cap. Bradley was impressed with what the 21 year old Aston Villa right back had to offer to the team.
"Eric came on in the second half. We've seen in this camp that physically he's got a good burst of speed," Bradley assessed of Lichaj. "He is strong. He came in and I thought competed very well."
For Lichaj, he was happy to earn his first cap but he was not happy with the team's result.
"I think it went well," Lichaj admitted. "We didn't win and we only drew so it could have been better. It doesn't really matter about individual performances because we didn't win. It would have been better if we had played better as a team."
"Bob told me that we needed more energy because nothing was really happening in the first half," he continued. "So that is what I did. There were no nerves, I just enjoyed it."
While the US was dominating the second half, it wasn't until the 86th minute when they would get their best chance to score.
On that play, Lichaj collected the ball on the right side just outside the box. The Chicago native swung in a cross to Altidore who was open.
Altidore got his head on the ball and sent it hard on goal but right at the Colombian keeper Faryd Mondragon who made the save.
For Altidore, it marked yet another quality scoring chance during the past week that was not converted as the Villarreal striker emerged with just a single goal scored in the two matches.
Bradley was agreed that it was not the best game for the 20 year old forward.
"We believe that Jozy is a really important player going forward," Bradley said frankly. "[Against Poland[ it was a game where he should have had more than one goal but I still look at that as being a pretty good performance. Tonight, I didn't think he was as sharp."
The international window also gave Bradley a chance to observe Shea and while he feels the young FC Dallas midfielder can help the team in the future, he still must adapt to the international game.
"I think there were plays in the first half where the game was going fast for Brek," Bradley discussed. "Faster than most games he's used to. So all of a sudden it takes him a little longer to figure out where he needs to go. But that's part of the experience. I think 45 minutes is a good start."
The game did serve as another indication that the addition of Schalke central midfielder Jermaine Jones will prove to be a major bonus for the US this cycle.
The Bundesliga star played every minute of each game this week and he has left his coach pleased with what he brings to the table.
"As far Jermaine is concerned, I thought that his mentality is quite good," Bradley said of Jones. "He's a competitor and I've said all along I thought that would fit well into the way we do things. I think there is a pretty good understanding already between Jermaine and Michael [Bradley]."
The addition of Dempsey in the second half proved to be a key addition to the team's ability to attack. The distribution of the team flowed through Dempsey however the ineffectiveness of Altidore and Johnson were apparent and that is something that Bradley wants to work on at the start of the new 2014 cycle.
"I think in the second half tonight there were a number of times when as we started to flow, Clint had come inside and we were able to play through their team to Clint in a position where now he's running at people," Bradley opined. "But now the next step in this whole thing is what kind of movement happens between the players who are now in front of Clint."
Still, despite weaknesses that were apparent both tonight and against Poland on Saturday, the team did manage to play effective soccer for long periods in each game and that is something Bradley wants to take forward.
"This is the first time since the World Cup that we had a good amount of time to work together," Bradley concluded. "Indentify some things that we want to work on, find a better tempo with the ball. I think we saw some of that in the second half tonight."
The US national team will next play on November 17 when they return to South Africa to play the most recent World Cup hosts in Cape Town.