Sunday, March 16, 2008

Olympic Qualifying - US men win their group, look better but still have issues

US 1-0 Honduras

First the good news, the US U23 men were able to bounce back from a dreadful opening match to win their group. In the process players such as Holden, Edu, Kljestan, Orozco, McCarty stood up and showed what they have in them. Although they did not dominate their final two matches, they did control them. However, that leads to the bad thing.

During their 3 group matches, the team had 18 shots on goal and only managed to net 3. Although this doesn't sound that bad, one must remember that 2 of the goals were from penalty kicks. So 1 goal from 16 shots on frame. Even worse is the number of times the team created dangerous situations in front of goal but never got off a shot.

This is an issue that is common across all ages of US soccer. How many times have we seen the national team dominate one of the 'lesser' teams in the confederation only to sneak out with a 1-0 win or a tie (normally thanks to a penalty kick)?

With much of Concacaf playing a pack the back style of game against the US, the solution is having someone that is willing to take the shot. Freddy Adu still has a lot of growth ahead of him, but he already understands the idea of taking the shot. Clint Dempsey gets it and Jozy Altidore seems to have it in him as well, but too many others are not there yet.

But I don't want this post to be all negative, because the team really has looked good the last two games. Yes, they are still giving the ball away too much and there needs to be better communication in front of goal, but compared to were the team was at Tuesday night, things are much better.

Now the question is who will they play next Thursday night. Will Mexico find a way to limp out of their group and setup a 2004 semifinal rematch or will Canada give us another addition of the growing northern neighbor rivalry or will Haiti get at least a point and bring their rough style of soccer to the red, white and blue? Of these three, I think Mexico has looked the worse while Haiti has impressed the most.

Whomever it is, Peter Nowak should have a great understanding of what he can put on the pitch. With the semifinal being the biggest game of the whole tournament (the two winners go to the Olympics), it will be the A-team. Altidore, Adu, Holden, Edu, Orozco, McCarty, Wynne and Seitz plus three more should get ready for the start.

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