Wednesday, June 8, 2011

USA 2 - Oh Canada

With the bitter taste of Saturday's dismantling by the Spanish in Chicago still pungent in their mouths and staining their teeth like sour sangria the night after a night spent partying with one's sister's friends, the US Men's National Soccer Team took the patchwork field in Detroit last night with something to prove in it's opening game in the 2011 Gold Cup.

Taking its cue from talismanic, trailer-park raised midfielder Clint Dempsey, whose combination of grit and glitter represents the current best-case for U.S. field players, there was anger and intent in the team's play from the first whistle. Rather assuming that their edge in talent and experience would inevitably tilt the game in their favor, the USMNT came charging downhill at the Canadians.

After starting a depleted line-up against Spain in the nationally televised game just days earlier in which the red uniforms that Nike is so proud of may as well have been white flags flapping in the light breeze, US coach Bob Bradley sent out his best guess at a full-strength roster.

GK: We've Got... Timmy Howard... And you... Can't Score

Defense: Carlos Bocanegra, Tim Ream, Clarence Goodson, Steve Cherundolo

Midfield: Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Jermaine Jones

Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Juan Agudelo

With Red Bulls defender Tim Ream starting at center back and RBNY striker Juan Agudelo up top along with Altidore, it dawned on me how much the New York club's acquisition of Thierry Henry potentially may have a longlasting impact on our national side. I dig it.

The cutting edge of the starting lineup showed just 15 minutes into the game when a Donovan bisected the defense with a pass to Altidore, who made a shockingly adept turn and fired on goal from a tight angle. By taking that shot at all, as opposed to keeping his back to the net and holding the ball up for teammates to arrive, he showed a temerity that has been sorely lacking as of late.

While Altidore's goal was a welcome sight considering his barren form, perhaps no play epitimized the creative verve that the side was playing with than Dempsey's near-miss on a scorpion kick early in the second half.

The mercurial Dempsey seems to have brought his fine form at Fulham - where he scored 13 goals in league play to established a new club record and earned him Fulham Player of the Year honors, as voted by the club's fans. His relentlessness reaped dividends shortly after his audacious scorpion effort.

While a win over Canada on Fox Soccer Channel doesn't generate the same buzz as a nationally televised undressing by the world champs, this game is more important. Whereas that was an exhibition game, this 2-0 result was the first of the 2011 Concacaf Gold Cup and represents the first step in the path toward the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The Gold Cup winner earns a berth in the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil.

By winning the 2007 Gold Cup, the US earned a bid in the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa, which is where we shocked Spain in the semifinals before taking an early (but ultimately overcome) lead against Brazil in the Final. The momentum of that run in South Africa kept the squad (and US soccer fans) flush with confidence during the build up to World Cup. That tournament also established Altidore as a threat. Seemingly a guy who can get hot in a tournament setting (but still struggles over the marathon of a domestic season), Altidore's re-emergence is something to watch going forward in the group stage.

Up next? Panama on Saturday night. In honor of our bested neighbors , the US team should focus on the mantra of Bachman Turner Overdrive in that one: TCOB

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