U.S. 2, Russia 2: Michael Bradley Is the Best American Player Right Now

The U.S. got a stoppage-time goal from Mix Diskerud to tie Russia 2-2 in Krasnador today in one of the more undeserved draws in USMNT history.

The Americans struggled to connect passes, were prone to fundamental mistakes (especially coming out of the back), and gave up several golden chances to the hosts.

If not for a few routinely great saves from goalkeeper Tim Howard, they would have lost by several goals.

But there was this from New Jersey-born Roma midfielder Michael Bradley:

Mama mia, what a strike. But over all, this was not the U.S. team’s best work. Here are three thoughts on the game:

• Bradley was fine in the first half, but he simply took over the U.S. effort in the second, making himself available all over the field, winning balls, marshaling possession, and attacking. In addition to his goal, he played in the long ball that led to Diskerud’s late equalizer. He got stronger as the game went on, and, well, see header above.

Fabian Johnson once again confirmed that he’s the solution to the U.S.’s longstanding left-back problem. He’s skilled, he’s athletic, and he doesn’t panic. Several times in the first half he extricated himself from tricky situations where a turnover would have been costly, and he was also a threat going forward. Second-best U.S. field player today.

• It might be a mental issue with Jozy Altidore when it comes to playing for the national team. Either that, or the Dutch league is just not as good as it’s cracked up to be. (Could be a little of both.) He did do a lot of the grunt work that Klinsmann wants his forwards to do, and, in the first half at least, he held the ball up a few times and allowed his teammates to get involved. But his second half was a washout. He gave the ball away too often and way too easily, and he failed to control a terrific pass in the box from Johnson that would have been a great goalscoring chance.

Then Juan Agudelo and Terrence Boyd came in and helped create both goals with athletic knockdowns to teammates. Here’s the second one, from Boyd to Diskerud (and in off a Russian defender):

One final thought: Klinsmann needs more skill in his midfield. Williams had a poor game (and not just because of his blatant error), and Jermaine Jones, while he worked hard, is a blunt instrument in the final third. He initiated several offensive forays but then killed them with poor touches in the box. He should have scored late on a cutback from Altidore but skied his attempt. He’s not an attacking player.

Klinsmann doesn’t need both Williams and Jones in addition to Bradley. One will do, and free him up to add another, more dangerous piece to the U.S. attack.

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U.S. U-23s Roll Past Mexico, 2-0

What a day for U.S. Soccer yesterday: the women’s team routed Denmark 5-0, the men clipped Italy 1-0 for their first win ever over the Azzurri, and the U-23 side thoroughly outplayed their counterparts from Mexico in a 2-0 win.

All that, and Tony Meola and Claudio Reyna were inducted into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame.

The only down note was JoeMax Moore—the fifth leading scorer in USMNT history—not getting into the Hall of Fame. (Though he’s already in the the Name Hall of Fame, so he’ll have to settle for that for now.)

Below are the highlights from the U-23s’ win over Mexico. You should know, though, that they do not reflect the U.S. dominance in the game. The video editor should have included a few passages of the Americans knocking it around skillfully while Mexico chased the game. There were plenty of those to choose from:

The U.S. begins Olympic qualifying on March 22, taking on Cuba in Nashville (9:00 p.m. ET, Universal Sports Network, Telemundo).

Who Should Bradley Start Versus Chile Tomorrow?

For those who follow the U.S. men’s national team closely, tomorrow night’s friendly against Chile at the Home Depot Center (10:00 p.m. EST, TeleFutura, ESPN3.com) is must-see TV.

Of the 24 players Bob Bradley called into camp three weeks ago, 12 have never played for the U.S. before, and six have appeared just once in a U.S. shirt. This game will be all about new blood for the U.S. It’ll be an international test for a new generation of players, and for MLS as well: 20 of the 24 original call-ups are MLS players. (Zenit St. Petersburg striker Eugene Starikov was later added to the roster and Chivas USA’s Justin Braun and FC Dallas’s Ugo Ihemelu left camp with injuries last week.)

So who should take the field for the Red, White and Blue?

Here’s the list of available players:

GOALKEEPERS (4): Dominic Cervi (Celtic), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Matt Pickens (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (9): A.J. DeLaGarza (Los Angeles Galaxy), Sean Franklin (Los Angeles Galaxy), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy), Zach Loyd (FC Dallas), Ryan Miller (Halmstads BK), Tim Ream (New York Red Bulls), Anthony Wallace (Colorado Rapids), Marvell Wynne (Colorado Rapids)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Eric Alexander (FC Dallas), Alejandro Bedoya (Örebro), Sam Cronin (San Jose Earthquakes), Mikkel Diskerud (Stabaek), Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado Rapids), Dax McCarty (D.C. United), Brek Shea (FC Dallas)
FORWARDS (5): Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Teal Bunbury (Sporting Kansas City), Eugene Starikov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Here’s the group we’d like to see at the start:

——————-Rimando———————-

Franklin—-Ream—-Gonzalez—-Wallace

Shea—-Diskerud—-McCarty—-Bedoya

———-Agudelo——Bunbury

Up top, we think you have to keep the momentum going for both Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury. The 18-year-old Agudelo scored in his U.S. debut this past November against South Africa, and Bunbury, 20,  really came on at the end of the MLS season and beyond: after a solid U.S. debut against South Africa, he lit it up in Spain with the Generation adidas team.

In the midfield, we’d like to see the young Norwegian-American Mikkel “Mix” Diskerud get an extended run. He sparkled in a brief appearance in the South Africa game, setting up Agudelo’s goal, and he plays regularly for his club.

Dax McCarty would make a good holding-mid complement to Diskerud—as would Jeff Larentowicz, but we’ll go with the slightly more experienced McCarty (two caps to the Ginger Ninja’s none). Plus it would give the U.S. a ‘Dax’ and a ‘Mix’ in midfield. So they’d have that going for them.

Here’s Diskerrud’s nifty assist on Agudelo’s goal against South Africa (with Bunbury crashing the box as well):

Anthony Wallace gets the nod at left back because he’s the only left-footed defender in the group. Tim Ream and Omar Gonzalez could be the USMNT centerback pairing of the future.

The (likely) substitute we’re most eager to see in action is the 22-year-old Ukraine-born, Florida-raised striker Eugene Starikov (read his story and see clips of him in action here).

They’ve just met this month, and have obviously never played together before, but it would be interesting to see Starikov alongside 2010 MLS leading scorer Chris Wondolowski. It would also match two players whose paths to the USMNT were unorthodox—to say the least. Click here to read about Wondolowski’s journey from Division II Chico State to the pinnacle of U.S. Soccer.

Another player who took a non-traditional route to this camp is defender Ryan Miller, who was drafted by the Columbus Crew in 2008 after a successful college career at Notre Dame. When his MLS career didn’t pan out—he was waived by Columbus and DC United—Miller auditioned for several clubs in Europe, eventually latching on to second division Swedish outfit Ljungskile SK.

He did well enough there to be snapped up by Swedish top-flight side Halmstads BK. After earning a regular spot in the Halmstads lineup last season, making 26 appearances, the Illinois native drew Bradley’s attention. Look for Miller in the seccond half tomorrow night.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Juan Agudelo

Seventeen-year-old Red Bulls rookie Juan Agudelo made his U.S. national team debut today against South Africa, and a memorable one it was.

The teenager bagged the game’s only goal, off a fantastic assist from fellow debutant Mikkel Diskerud, to become the youngest player ever to score for the U.S. in the modern era.

Here it is:

The young striker, who turns 18 in a week, came on for Robbie Rogers in the 65th minute, and scored the winner in the 85th. The victory lifts the U.S.’s record to 5-5-4 for the year (the Nats have not had a sub .500 record since 1997).

In all it was a bright game for the U.S., and one in which five players earned their first cap: In addition to Diskerud and Agudelo, the latter’s Red Bulls teammate Tim Ream debuted, along with Canadian-American striker Teal Bunbury, and 19-year-old defender Gale Agbossoumonde.

Ream started and played well in central defense alongside Clarence Goodson. Other U.S. bright spots included right back Eric Lichaj, earning his second cap, and winger Alejandro Bedoya, who made several dangerous runs on the flank.