A friendly match between El Salvador and a United States squad primarily made up of reserves on a rainy Wednesday night in Tampa had all the makings of a pretty ho-hum evening, but instead turned into a pretty lively affair, as the young American side featured a lot of guys battling for a spot on the plane to South Africa in less than four months. [ad#as2]
The US opened in a true 4-4-2 with Nick Rimando in goal; Heath Pearce, Jonathan Bornstein, Clarence Goodson and Brad Evans in defense; Brad Davis, Kyle Beckerman, Sasha Kljestan and Robbie Rogers in midfield; with Conor Casey and Robbie Findley up front.
The US dominated the match, but after a defensive miscue surrendered a 59th minute goal, needed two late goals to pull out a 2-1 victory, with goals coming from substitute Brian Ching in the 74th minute, and then the winner from Kljestan in the 90th. But, these matches are much more about Bob Bradley seeing what he’s got available to him, in terms of depth for his World Cup squad, and overall I think he has to be happy with what he saw.
Defensively, the US was organized, but really had very little to do all night. A miscommunication between Bornstein and Evans on a desperate high ball by El Salvador led to a poor header by Evans, giving El Salvador an undeserved lead. Pearce showed a good ability going forward from the left back position, and provided a beautiful cross to Ching, who headed home the equalizer. Outside of the one glaring mistake, Evans was solid at right back, while Bornstein and Goodson manned the center of the defense adequately against an underwhelming El Salvador attack. Pearce in particular stood out here as a guy who may have really helped himself.
Midfield and attack are definitely areas with spots up for grabs, and the Americans had several players that acted accordingly. Personally, the two guys I was most interested to see were Rogers and Findley. Findley is the closest thing to Charlie Davies that the Americans have, and if Davies cannot recover from his injuries sustained in his horrific car accident (which, up until a week ago, seemed outside the realm of possibility), the US team is missing a speed man to link up with Altidore in attack.
Unfortunately, Findley was kept fairly quiet before taking a knock to his knee shortly after halftime, and eventually making way for Jeff Cunningham in the 68th minute. Rogers, on the other hand, was outstanding for the US. Rogers is an inconsistent player in MLS, but when on his game as he was tonight, he’s exactly the kind of player you want on your bench when you’re down a goal with 20 minutes left and need to make something happen quickly.
Up front, Conor Casey was fairly underwhelming before being replaced at halftime by Ching, who packed 90 minutes of effort into his 45. He definitely made a major move toward grabbing a seat on the plane. A guy I think could find a place in this team is Beckerman, who was solid in his 78 minutes of action. He brings a definite energy to the pitch, and would be invaluable if anything were to happen to Ricardo Clark or Michael Bradley.
Kljestan, a maddeningly inconsistent player, had a promising outing, outside of some poor finishing before his late winner. For those of you keeping track of his ever-changing appearance, it currently consists of short hair, with a rather disturbing ‘70s-era pornstache. I never know what this guy is going to look like. After arriving late (due to traffic and parking fiascos) to the US-Mexico match last February, I saw a player with a shaved head running around that I didn’t recognize, but played remarkably like Kljestan. It was 5-10 minutes later that I realized he had cut off his trademark long locks. Regardless of appearance, if he can regain the form he had a couple of years ago, he can definitely find a place on this team. Davis, Eddie Gaven and Dax McCarty all had moments, but are probably facing a tough battle trying to make this team.
So what’s your take? Who helped get himself a seat on the plane? Who will be waving to the squad from the security area?
Side Note: Who else noticed that Oliver Stone seems to now be coaching El Salvador?