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USA 1-3 HON: How not to impress

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Kljestan tackles Feilhaber. Sometimes a picture really is worth 1,000 words. (photo by the author)
Kljestan tackles Feilhaber. Sometimes a picture really is worth 1,000 words. (photo by the author)

Let's start with the good news: This isn't the squad that will step on the field against England, Slovenia, Algeria, and at least one more in South Africa in a few months. The list of US players in Europe is growing, so you could argue that this is a much less important January camp than we've seen in past World Cup years. While this USA team was mostly 3rd choice or lower, Honduras sent out a team with plenty of regulars. Ultimately, this game was a fine test in that it told us who definitely isn't ready (which is what tests are for).

The bad news, sadly, cannot be covered in one short paragraph. I guess that's what they give us the jump for.

Since this is a DC United blog, I'll start from that perspective. Troy Perkins and Chris Pontius were both in camp, and I think we were all hoping to see both in action. Unfortunately, we probably saw more of Perkins than we'd have liked, and Party Boy (after having a minor injury in camp) didn't make the matchday squad. For Pontius, this might be a blessing in disguise: Being associated with our national team's play on the night was probably a bad thing, like having "accountant at Enron" on your resume.

Perkins, then, becomes our focus here. I thought he did a good job coming off his line to snuff out Honduran balls over the top, and made a couple good saves (particularly in stoning Ramon Nunez in the 87th minute). He also didn't miss saving Carlos Pavon'ssecond penalty attempt by much. I suppose it would have been nice to see him attempting to get down for the second goal, but realistically we're talking about an unmarked diving header from about 3 yards out; the cross and goal were both things Perkins could do little about. Ultimately, Perkins conceded three goals because of the quality of the chances, rather than the quantity.

As for the performances throughout the US team, I think "sloppy" and "slow" come to mind. Honduras came out to play on the counter, allowing us to control the ball. This strategy works very well when your opponent misplaces its passes and needs too much time to make the right decision. Instead of a tempo that forced the Hondurans to constantly work and fight (which would have been a big problem for them without guys like Wilson Palacios of Spurs), we allowed them plenty of time to form two blocks of four. Playing with two speedsters up top, we never once tried to spring them with an early ball. Considering the fact that Jeff Cunningham functions best on his own up front, this amounted to a near-complete misuse of his talents. We made it incredibly easy for Honduras to keep us in front of them, where they just had to wait for the poor pass or touch and launch a counter.

Defensively, there were too many guys that were along for the ride and not enough people trying to make this a battle. Beckerman and Bornstein were up to the challenge, but were often left to their own devices. As anyone that's played the game knows, beating one individual who gets no help from his teammates is a lot easier than breaking down an organized, in-sync unit. After 3 weeks in camp, I think we all expected a whole lot more cohesion than we saw from this US squad. What made this worse was that no one seemed particularly bothered by what was going on. Roger Espinoza's 53rd minute goal was particularly painful to watch, as the Hondurans simply one-touched their way through a block of 5 US players as if they were training cones. Things like this are as much about heart and passion as they are about training and tactics. The attitude should have been "We need to stomp this fire out right now" but was instead "Well, this will eventually stop." At some point in situations like that, people need to step up and come to grips with the situation, and that made it a microcosm of the entire game.

Overall, Bob Bradley is going to look at this game tape and hope that the recent spate of US injuries is over. Bornstein, Rogers, Perkins, and Beckerman did their hopes no harm, while the rest probably just solidified the hold that our top-choice guys have on their positions.

Ratings:

Troy Perkins - 6 See above.

Marvell Wynne - 3.5 Once again, we see that Wynne has a long road ahead of him in terms of technical play and his positioning. With the ball at his feet, Wynne can't do much of anything without tons of space. More or less, he has to thump the ball up the wing every time, and that's simply not good enough. Positionally, he often takes up bad starting spots. You can cope with that when the other team is looking for the opening, because his speed allows him to close those gaps down. However, when teams have found a gap and are looking to create the actual shot, Wynne is a big liability. Carlos Pavon's awful 29th minute miss highlights this; the Hondurans got some space on our left wing and crossed for Pavon, who had about 5 yards of space because Wynne had pinched way too far in rather than mark up.

Chad Marshall - 4 With Oguchi Onyewu's injury (and the playing time questions that come with it), a lot of people were talking about Marshall's chances of being the 4th center back on the US squad. Those chances took a hit here, since Marshall couldn't really make much of an impact. He was on the hook for the second goal, and lacked the presence to take charge of the US back line after Conrad's sending off. His header just over the bar in the 21st minute was the best moment for the US in the first half, and he also had a decent interception in the 26th minute. However, this game was a poor fit for him. Jerry Palacios and Pavon are fast, shifty forwards, and Marshall's much more at home going up against physical types. The bad news for him is that, to make it as an international center back, forwards like that are what you have to deal with all the time.

Jimmy Conrad - 3.5 There's little you can say about a guy that was only in the game for 17 minutes. His first yellow card was actually something he shouldn't be hassled about. It takes a smart player to see that a) the guy on the ball (former United target Walter Martinez) is much faster than you, b) you don't have anyone that will be in a position to stop him before this becomes a true scoring chance, and c) you're still in their half, so you might be able to get away with the foul without a yellow card. It was worth taking the chance, even if the gamble didn't work out in this instance. However, his second yellow was simply foolish. Pavon hadn't even crossed the ball before Conrad was attempting the futbol version of the horse-collar tackle on Jerry Palacios. If he had waited, Conrad would have seen that Pavon was shooting (and poorly, at that). Instead, we go from a goal kick to losing our most experienced defender and facing a penalty kick. Bob Bradley only just came back around to seeing Conrad as a player he'd be interested in after leaving him in the wilderness for awhile; I thought it was a poor decision on Bradley's part, but facts are facts. After this, you have to wonder if we'll ever see Bradley trust him again.

Jonathan Bornstein - 6 Considering he had to play for large chunks of this game out of position at center back (Preki's bizarre experiment from last season kinda-sorta paying off in a bizarre situation), Bornstein may be one of the few players that went up in Bradley's regard. He managed to get forward and support the attack, and when in emercency center back duty he actually did better than Marshall. It wasn't all positive; on the buildup to the Conrad red/Pavon penalty, Bornstein was well out of position, trying to help triple-team Jerry Palacios (who wisely got the ball off his feet fast enough). Pavon's shot was poor, but Bornstein will face similar situations in the World Cup; it's easy to picture guys like Wayne Rooney and Karim Matmour doing better in the same spot. Still, overall you could probably argue that Bornstein was the best US player on the night.

Sacha Kljestan - 4.5 Cutting in from the right, Kljestan huffed and puffed but never had any surprises for the Hondurans. During the first half (when we played a 432), he and Beckerman often swapped positions. This actually got him into the game a bit more, but ultimately this is more of the guy that struggled mightily over the first 20 games of the MLS season. It seemed like he would wait for the ball to come near him before coming to life; in a game where the Hondurans moved too easily through our midfield, and we were down to 10 men for a long time, you need to be engaged defensively.

Kyle Beckerman - 5.5 The one midfielder who seemed hungry for the defensive fight, and during the early stages he was also trying to keep things slower in possession (since we were obviously playing poorly). Honduras did look pretty comfortable moving through our midfield, but this happened despite Beckerman's efforts. It was proof that you can't do it alone, I suppose. Beckerman got a lot of touches, and any credit for the US creating something resembling a rhythm goes to him.

Benny Feilhaber - 3.5 Of the starters on the night, only Bornstein should have been feeling more secure about making the WC squad. Perhaps that factors into my particularly low rating for him, but Feilhaber needed to do a lot more in all departments. Defensively, he seemed too passive; teams that are down a man need guys that relish winning tackles, and Feilhaber didn't even pretend like that was a big deal for him. Going forward, he didn't create much of a tempo; Honduras ceded possession to the US from opening kickoff, yet you never got the sense that los Catrachos were playing a dangerous game by doing so. Honestly, they didn't even have to work hard to bog us down, and Feilhaber was culprit #1. Long story short, he's got to be better than this.

Robbie Rogers - 5.5 This rating could have gone up if his glorious 49th minute shot had gone in, but it smashed off Donis Escober's (not Escobar, as most US press articles have said) left post instead. Unfortunately, this was one of his only attacking contributions. While I liked his overall effort and what he did in terms of defending space, we're talking about Robbie Rogers here. If my rating for him is about his defensive play, something is very wrong. That's not really his fault, but rather an indictment of the US performance. I still have a hunch that Rogers will be the last man in the squad, and by simply putting in an adequate shift and creating one flash of quality, that has been done no harm.

Jeff Cunningham - 4.5 A virtually silent first half before being taken off for Clarence Goodson. I'm not at all surprised by this, since Cunningham is at his best being the focus of a given attack. With the US squad, that's never going to happen, so even calling him in is kind of pointless (you wouldn't call in, say, an old-style sweeper for the current US team either, would you?). What left me puzzled was that Goodson replaced Cunningham, not Robbie Findley; given Cunningham's ability (or need) to function on his own, why take him out when you're going to a 441 formation?

Robbie Findley - 4.5 Unfortunately, Findley's only real contribution was his fine headed pass to ConorCasey (which should have ended with a goal) in the 95th minute. This was a fine opportunity for Findley to prove that he could function in a role similar to Charlie Davies, and he didn't step up to the plate (good news: Ives Galarcep says that Davies is recovering at an astonishing rate, so there's glimmering hope that we don't actually need to find a replacement). Of course, just like Cunningham, the US misused Findley. There were no early balls into space or over the top for Findley to race onto, which is often how Real Salt Lake puts his speed to good use.

Subs:

Clarence Goodson - 5.5 Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, and Jay DeMerit are undoubtedly Bradley's top three, but spot #4 still seems wide open. Coming on at halftime, Goodson probably helped himself quite a bit by being the best center back in a US jersey on the night. His goal was also a positive, as it showed the kind of desire the Yanks lacked throughout the game. Unfortunately, he was one of the statues Honduras passed around before Espinoza killed the game off. That said, being part of a large group conceding a goal is less upsetting than foolishly inviting a red card or being the main reason a goal wasn't properly defended.

Conor Casey - 4.5 Playing alone up top sometimes suits strong-but-slow guys, but only if they're getting lots of support from midfielders with speed and technique. Casey got little of that, which undermined his strong suits. Any time the US attack is relying on Casey to shake markers on the dribble, we're in trouble. He should have finished off that stoppage time chance after being well set up by Findley.

Heath Pearce - 4.5 To be honest, Pearce barely registered as someone who played in this game. Even on a second viewing (yes, I watched it twice, because I apparently hate myself), Pearce simply didn't get involved in the game enough for me to say much about him. He had a miscommunication with Brad Davis once during a move up the left wing...that was about it, really. It might seem harsh to mark him down, but you don't step on the field to disappear.

Alejandro Bedoya - 5 Most US fans were eager to see Bedoya, since he was something of an unknown quantity before heading to Sweden's Orebro. What we got was someone who clearly works hard, but perhaps suffered from a case of nerves. He did put in a pretty good cross in the 79th minute (that Escober just barely punched away before Casey could get a head to it). I wouldn't hold this quiet showing against him much, though, since he came into a game where the team was playing poorly and was also down a man. It's hard to influence a game in those circumstances as a wide player. I'd like to see him again in different circumstances, but until after the World Cup there isn't such an opportunity.

Brad Davis - 5.5 Goodson's goal came from a Davis corner, something that is a familiar sight to anyone that frequently watches the Houston Dynamo. Davis may be the best American corner kick taker out there. It makes you wish he had a little more speed, or the awareness to play centrally full-time, so that there would be some chance of putting that gift to use in the World Cup. This US team will have to make set piece chances count. Beyond that corner, he didn't make too much of a difference, but one moment of inspiration is more than most US players managed in this game.

Dax McCarty - NR McCarty got into this game too late to really make much of a difference. For those out there that treat his even being in camp as a joke, I'm guessing you didn't see FC Dallas during their white-hot streak over the second half of this past season. Other than Cunningham and David Ferreira, McCarty was the key player on that team. Give the guy credit; on this past season's form, he deserved to make the camp.