04 March 2006

US MNT vs Poland: What Does It Mean?

I'm pleased as hell that Arsenal got the 4-1 win over Fulham today. But I didn't spring for the PPV (ran a 10k race instead) so I won't see the game until FSC broadcasts it Monday. So no deep comment for now, except for the obvious points:That said, I'd like to comment on the Wednesday internationals, starting with US 1-0 Poland.

It's dangerous to read too much into international friendlies. But both Poland and the US fielded strong teams so I think the match was a relatively fair test. So if it's a test, how would I grade the US? I'd call it a solid B.

First of all, it's a win, and that's the important part. The match has been called rough and tentative by many, and that's true enough. But, you know what? So are most World Cup matches. Teams spend a lot of time feeling each other out, and get bodies behind the ball. That's exactly what we saw from both teams on Wednesday. Iran 3-2 Costa Rica was a heck of a lot more exciting, but doesn't tell as much about how the teams would react in a WC match.

The second-half play of the US was quite good. I liked the way they were able to maintain the attack without opening themselves to the counter. They held a lot of posession and worked some good chances. The match worsened later, with the weather, but that's to be expected. But the 30 minutes from the half to about 75' were quite well played by the US. And the defense did a very solid job for the whole match; they were organized and disciplined, and Eddie Lewis in particular had some good trips forward too.

So now, the bad. The US midfield was quite disappointing in the first half. They showed no cohesion and lost posession continually. They clearly miss Claudio Reyna, and that makes me nervous given his injury history this year. Bruce Arena blamed it on the hard pitch, but both teams are playing on the same patch of grass, and Poland were much more effective in the first half. The US-based players suffered in fitness and sharpness, while the Europe-based players were obviously not well integrated into the team yet. I would single out a few players for having less than effective games. Beasley, Donovan, Johnson, and Zavagnin were all less effective than I would hope.

But depsite the bad, the performance is bound to offer hope for June. We took on a WC-bound team, playing close to home, in a cup-like game, and got a solid win. That's good... because our group won't be easy. Italy showed their intent with their 4-1 win over Germany, the Czech Republic took a 2-0 lead before drawing 2-2 with Turkey in Istanbul, and Ghana acquitted themselves well in a 1-0 loss to Mexico. I know that Group C (Argentina, Ivory Coast, Netherlands, and Serbia & Montenegro) is considered the "Group of Death", but I think Group E will be plenty tough for us.

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