Monday, January 30, 2006

US trash Norway 5-0; Twellman finally comes to life

This is the type of game you always hope the national team will play. In just about every area of play, they were fantastic. They held possession, they made wonderful one touch passes, they took shots, they shut down the counterattack and controlled the flow of the game for the full 90-minutes. Excellent job all around.

Of course the star of the game was Taylor Twellman (pictured) who finally did in international play what he so often does in domestic play. His first goal showed how far he has come with his international training. He knocked down a pass in the box, but it was not a great first touch. However, he still went for the shot. The Twellman of old would have tried for a second touch in order to get full control before attempting a shot. Had he done this, the keeper would have been in better position and a defender or two would have been on him. Instead, he went for the shot and got net. This is what you need to see from a forward.

Twellman's hat-track was a great accomplishment, but he also showed his other great asset, his ability to take part in the defense. On multiple occasions Twellman was back on the US side stopping any attempt Norway made at a counterattack. With only 23 players going to Germany for the US, you want to show that you can play your position, but you also want to show that you can affect events elsewhere on the field. This is a difficult thing to balance (if you play too much out of position, then you might not be there when you are needed), but Twellman handled it smashingly yesterday.

The Bruce seemed to take notice. "All three goals were great, and he also at one point in the first half made a great play defensively. Taylor's getting used to what we ask of our forwards, and I think he played well. It was a good performance. What can you say, three goals is three goals."

Twellman should be feeling happy today, but he better not rest on this one game. He now has the eye of the coach, but I don't think he has his ticket just yet. He needs to shine against Japan on the 10th and/or Guatemala on the 19th to prove that this was not just a one time showing.

Landon Donovan proved yet again how important he is to the US. The way that he controlled the flow of balls up front and applied full disruption of Norway's offense was nothing short of amazing. He did not get a goal (I think he only had one shot, but I might be wrong with that number), but he setup the goals. He was great at moving the ball around and finding the holes.

However, Donovan was foolish after he was spit upon by Magne Hoset in the 70th. When he went up and poked the ref with his finger, I just about fell over. You NEVER touch a ref. NEVER. Getting spit on is horrible and Donovan was right to be upset about it, but getting a card over it is stupid. Take that anger and use it on the field, not on the official.

If Twellman was making his case for being one of the new guys in Germany then Eddie Pope made his case for being one of the older ones. Yes he got a goal in the 67th, which was a nice present for his 75th US cap, but his real skill was shown on the backline. The handful of times that Norway was able to get the ball in the US half, it was usually Pope that shut them down. This is no surprise for anyone who has watched Pope over the years, but at 32-years of age, there has been a lot of talk about him being too old for the team.

All and all, everyone out on the pitch looked great. I think the person who had the 'worse' night for the US was goalkeeper Kevin Hartman. He was not really tested during the match. There wasn't even one break away by Norway that required a big save. With this lack of action and the fact that he looked just a bit shaky the first couple times the ball came into the area, I think his odds of making it to Germany went from 'not unless about 3 others get hurt' to 'not unless 5 others get hurt.'

Norway did not look good anywhere except for one player. Defender Brede Hangeland was constantly causing disruption to the US attack. I know it is strange to point out a defender for doing a good job in a match where his team lost 5-0, but I think the score would have been even worse if not for Hangeland. The problem for him was he would break something up and try to clear only to have the US get the ball right back and bring another wave of attack. When 75% or so of the game is played in your half, it's hard not to lose big.

So the US made it happen and erased the game against Canada from our memories. They played the whole field for the whole 90. I was concerned that, like so many other games, they would slow down after the first 20-minutes, but that did not happen. Everyone was clicking and that made for some outstanding soccer. Great show all around.

But let's step back from the field for just a moment and talk about ESPN announcer Dave O'Brien. Yesterday's game was his first in the booth. Seeing as he will be the 'voice' of US soccer during the World Cup, I would like to give my thoughts on his inaugural cap.

All and all, it was a good performance. There were only a few moments of long dead time and his knowledge of soccer terms is very good (no more "and he's going deep" type calls is a good thing). He also seems to know a lot about the players. Although very little of what he said is news to hardcore US soccer fans, for those new to the sport, it is very useful. Still, I think his talk about the 'off the pitch' activities of the players got a bit boring at times. It seemed like every third comment was something involving surfing. Great, they do more then just play soccer (Clint Dempsey is a rapper), but maybe explaining their style of play a little more might help out.

Also, it is obvious O'Brien has done a lot of baseball announcing. I say this because the emotion in his voice is very slow to rise (like a homerun ball arching over the field and into the bleachers). I'm not asking for crazy screaming whenever the ball is getting near goal, but the flat monotone is a little anti-climatic. He needs to be quicker with his tempo and go up a few notes when events are taking place in front of goal or when there is a breakaway. This sucks people and gets the heart pounding. Still, it was a very good first effort and I look forward to hearing more.


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