For starters, Landon Donovan began the semi-final match against Panama on the bench (as he did in the quarter-final against Jamaica), and stayed there the entire first-half. Donovan is the undisputed face of U.S. soccer, so what gives? Some have wondered if Donovan was being punished for attending his twin sister’s wedding in California the day before that match. (Clint Dempsey was at his own sister’s Texas wedding on the same day.)
When the first half ended 0-0, with the U.S. looking anything but sharp, questions about Donovan’s benching became acute. How far was Bradley willing to take this decision? Isn’t he aware that many U.S. fans wish he were ex-coach Bradley? Of course he is.
Despite all of Mexico’s apparent advantages, and all of the U.S.’s sluggish play lately, the U.S. has a terrific record against Mexico in recent years, especially in the U.S.
Bradley made another head-scratching decision before the Concacaf tournament began: He included Freddy Adu, the one-time savior of American soccer, on the roster. It’s amazing to realize that Adu is only 22. It seems a lifetime ago that he was a 14-year-old appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated and being courted by top Italian teams. But his glorious future never happened, and these days he toils in relative obscurity for a second-division Turkish team. He hadn’t played for the U.S. national team since 2009. Yet here he was on Bradley’s roster.
Happily, both decisions worked out. Adu and Donovan each contributed brilliant passes to set up Clint Dempsey’s winning goal against Panama. Adu should’ve had another assist, as he brilliantly set up Michael Bradley right in front of the Panama goal, but Bradley inexplicably passed rather than shot, and the opportunity came to naught. In short, Adu looked suspiciously like the future of American soccer. Now that’s a story.
And perhaps Bradley was just resting Donovan for the big challenge against Mexico Saturday night at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Because the team wasn’t cruising as expected in early tournament matches, Donovan, along with Dempsey and other veterans, had been forced to play long minutes.
So maybe Donovan will be relatively fresh against Mexico. (He will start, won’t he?) The U.S. will need for him to revisit his Mexico-killer role of earlier years in order for them to beat the high-powered Tri, which has a +16 goal advantage in the tournament. (The U.S. has a +5 goal advantage—but they didn’t get to play Cuba, who lost each of their matches—including one against Mexico--by five goals.)
Led by Javier Hernandez “Chicharito,” Mexico has more firepower than the U.S. midfielder Giovanni dos Santos (the wishful rumors that the Dynamo might pry him away from his England club have sadly died down) is a spectacular open field performer. Both teams play solid defense.
The only clear U.S. advantage enjoys is at goalkeeper, where the sometimes erratic Tim Howard is capable of brilliance. But despite all of Mexico’s apparent advantages, and all of the U.S.’s sluggish play lately, the U.S. has a terrific record against Mexico in recent years, especially in the U.S.—even though the huge and vibrant Mexican crowds in American stadiums ought to take away the home field advantage. But so far they haven’t.
It ought to be quite a game. Maybe Freddy Adu will save the day.