The outstanding theme of the USA vs Canada match was how many US players were non-factors for the 90 + minutes. Some by design, some by their own performance. The midfield did not establish a passing game and consequently looked disjointed and rushed. It was low percentage stuff with too much hope, very little reality.
The match should have been Canada’s to win with Nik Ledgerwood’s legitimate score in the 33rd minute turned down as the linesman whistled for a phantom foul by Dwayne De Rosario, easily the best player from both sides. De Rosario had marginal contact as the linesman delayed raising his flag with Ledgerwood collecting the ball wide on the right and drilling his shot from a tight angle past Tim Howard. The Canadians looked rightly bewildered by the call.
This was the Canadian Soccer Association’s centennial match with the USA vs Canada encounters going back to 1925 when the two countries met for the first time at Montreal with the home country winning, 1-0. A win would have halted a 14 match losing streak and gone some ways in eradicating the second best label but this draw was equally creditable.
The match saw two of the USA’s best attacking talents drop deep with Michael Bradley permanently anchored in his own third and Clint Dempsey patrolling centrally much further behind Hercules Gomez to be effective. Dempsey is best when he’s running off the ball confusing defenses with his movement. He is the X -factor in the US side and his effectiveness comes from his unpredictability usually down the flanks. Pigeonholing him in a circumscribed space is not good use of his talent. With Dempsey so far back the chances of his connecting with Landon Donovan dropped dramatically but for one instance which led to an almost goal.
This should have been the link up that should have open up the doors but with such a huge space between Bradley and the attacking third ineffectively filled by Jose Francisco Torres and Jermaine Jones, the Fulham striker had to drop deeper and deeper sometimes into his own half for ball retrieval. Credit should go to the Canadians with De Rosario and to a lesser extent Julian De Guzman and Will Johnson for winning the midfield battle. Their back four also impressed with their resolute defending and impressive tackling with veteran Ante Jazic and Andrew Hainault for nullifying the threat of Donovan and Gomez. The Santos Laguna striker who made such an impression against Brazil was a non-entity in this match.
The attacking highlights were actually provided by the defense with last minute inclusion Edgar Castillo at left back lashing a spectacular looping volley from 35 yards out that almost beat Lars Hirschfeld. In the last minute Clarence Goodson’s goalbound header was saved spectacularly by Hirschfeld. The USA were also let off when Simeon Jackson missed an absolute sitter after De Rosario had done all the spadework down the left.
Such matches carry little meaning ordinarily even though there was an undoubtedly historical context to this particular encounter. However, the USA is beginning its World Cup qualifying campaign this Friday against Antigua and Barbuda. There is little to be taken for granted as the U-23 men USA squad found out when they failed to qualify for the Olympics. The result also proves that the USA is very much a team in transition. For the midfield to have the right balance and give the support it needs to give the strikers, Michael Bradley should be on top of that diamond with Jones to one side and Maurice Edu at the bottom. Torres has shown patches of improvisation but he lacks assertiveness in that playmaking role. During the match he disappeared for long stretches completely and had to be subbed off for Jozy Altidore. Klinsmann also went to Goodson to partner Carlos Bocanegra and he looked the best out of the three center backs tried so far.