The March Friendlies: Player Ratings

While Backpost was away on vacation, the U.S. played two international friendlies, pulling out a flattering 1-1 draw with Argentina on Saturday night, then following that up with a more balanced performance but a 1-0 loss to Paraguay on Tuesday.

These were the last two games for the U.S. before the Gold Cup kicks off in June. The winner of the Gold Cup gets a berth in the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil, a dress rehearsal for the 2014 World Cup.

Here are the highlights from the Paraguay match, followed by the Backpost U.S. player ratings for both games:

Tim Howard, 9—A handful of stops—including a spectacular kick save on Leo Messi—kept the scorline respectable against Argentina. The former MetroStar is just a fantastic goalkeeper.

Marcus Hahnemann, 6—Nothing he could do on Paraguay’s goal, and was solid otherwise, including on a double save late in the first half.

David Yelldell, 5—Not a very hectic 45 minutes of action against Paraguay; claimed a few crosses. Was beaten—as any keeper would have been—by Marcelo Estigarribia’s cannon shot from 30 yards, which banged off the post.

Jonathan Spector, 4—Maybe the recent lack of playing time, and the shift to midfield, at West Ham have hurt him. Looked uncomfortable and was overwhelmed a couple of times before being taken off for Timothy Chandler at halftime vs Argentina. Came on for ten minutes at the end of the Paraguay game.

Timothy Chandler, 7—Along with Juan Agudelo, sparked the U.S. to life in the second half against Argentina, and showed attacking ability in both matches. Was also caught out of position a few times in both games.

Jay DeMerit, 5—His hard work and athleticism boosted the U.S.’s emergency defending in the first half against Argentina, but had a couple of scary giveaways in the back. Came off at halftime of Paraguay game with groin strain.

Tim Ream, 7.5—Excellent positioning and pinpoint passing out of the back. Also showed speed—which some critics say he lacks—chasing down a Paraguayan attacker in the corner. Lost his footing on the corner kick that led to the goal.

Carlos Bocanegra, 5—Rebounded from a very shaky first half against Argentina to help set up U.S. goal with header. Came in for DeMerit vs Paraguay and did no harm.

Jonathan Bornstein, 5—Completely mis-hit a cross against Paraguay after being sent in to the box by Landon Donovan. Beaten in the air early, then shored up his defensive game later.

Eric Lichaj, 6—Brings a lot of energy and some surprising confidence to the U.S. backline. Positioned well defensively and picked his spots to get forward in a second-half appearance vs Paraguay. His long throw nearly created the equalizer when it fell for Donovan at the back post.

Oguchi Onyewu, 3.5—Hard to believe he’s playing outside back for FC Twente. At centerback for the Yanks, seemed too lumbering and clumsy on the ball to deal with speedy wing play. Made a few bad giveaways. Gooch hasn’t been himself since injuring his patella tendon back in Oct 2009. DNP vs Paraguay.

Maurice Edu, 5—Was perhaps the most hampered by the U.S.’s 4-5-1 first-half formation vs Argentina, and the overcrowded central midfield it produced. Did much better when the Yanks went to a 4-4-2, and had a solid showing on both sides of the ball against Paraguay.

Michael Bradley, 5.5—Did some frantic defending against Argentina but was also overwhelmed and out of sync with his central midfield partners, until the U.S. changed it up. Did much better vs Paraguay and nearly hit a late equalizer on a 25-yard crack that produced a highlight-reel save from Paraguay keeper Ricardo Villar.

Jermaine Jones, 5.5—Played a half in each game; looked utterly lost vs Argentina (some day coach Bob Bradley will shelve the idea of playing Edu, M. Bradley, and Jones—nearly identical players—together in the center of the field. We just know it), but pretty sharp vs Paraguay. Nearly tied it at the end with point-blank tracer that Villar stymied.

Landon Donovan, 5—Others disagree, but we thought LD donned his invisibility cloak for much of these two games. Nearly (and should have) scored late against Paraguay but missed the target, and was just not enough The Man for the U.S. in both games.

Clint Dempsey, 7—Savviest U.S. player on the field vs Paraguay. Clever, subtle first touches got him out of midfield traffic, tested Paraguay’s Villar with a long looping shot, and headed Chandler’s cross just over the bar. Not as effective against Argentina but still a calming veteran presence.

Jozy Altidore, 5—Completely stranded up top in the first half against Argentina, and subsequently tried to do too much (like going 1 v 4 on the Albiceleste backline). Did better when Agudelo came on in the second half, but his game dropped vs Paraguay with poor touches and no coordination with teammates in attack.

Juan Agudelo, 8—He has scored two goals and drawn a penalty in four games for the U.S. (also appeared to have drawn one against Paraguay but it was not called). His exciting start papers over some of his errors, like not getting the ball off his feet quickly enough, but he shows a ton of confidence and some welcome ideas in the attacking third. Future’s so bright, he … should open a Sunglasses Hut franchise.

Sacha Kljestan, NR—Thirteen-minute cameo vs Paraguay; we thought young Mix Diskerud would get out there, but it was Sacha and his ’stache, which are settling in fairly well at Anderlecht.

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U.S. 2, Poland 2: Yank Player Ratings

We only caught portions of this game live, and each of those portions was a good one for the U.S., giving us an initially skewed impression of this encounter between a U.S. team starting a new chapter and a Polish team gearing up to host Euro 2012.

We thought the Yanks looked surprisingly good, especially Holden, Jones, Dempsey and Altidore. Then we saw the whole thing on tape, and had our impression rearranged a bit. Those players still stood out, but Altidore should have had three goals instead of one, and Jones’s giveaway led directly to Poland’s second goal. Also, the U.S. did not control the game nearly as well as we first thought.

In any case, here are the BP player ratings (1 = Mattheus in MLS 10 = Schelotto in MLS):

Tim Howard 7: Stopped a breakaway by Lewandowski, and everything else that was stoppable.

Steve Cherundolo 6: The word “steady” will invariably crop up in every description of a Cherundolo performance.

Oguchi Onyewu 5: He scored a goal and almost notched another one in stoppage time. Otherwise his score would be lower. Played like a man who … hasn’t played in a while.

Maurice Edu 5: He plays in midfield for Rangers, but adjusted fairly well to the move to centerback. Solid on the ball as always; shaky in positioning at times.

Carlos Bocanegra 4: Hard to believe we’re typing this, but the speedy Jonathan Bornstein would have been a better option against Poland’s surprisingly fast wingers. We bet Heath Pearce gets the nod here against Colombia on Tuesday.

Stuart Holden 7: Too bad he wasn’t 100% for South Africa. He was dynamic and confident and showed why he’s nailed down a starting spot for Bolton. Killer outswinging corner on Gooch’s goal.

Jermaine Jones 7: Excellent debut, and you have to think he’ll only get better as he gels with his new teammates. Deadly ball to Altidore for U.S.’s first goal (and other great passes) outweighed giveaway that led to Poland’s second.

Michael Bradley 5: Just an average performance for the normally excellent center midfielder. Adjusting to the big presence of Jones? Maybe, and they’ll sort it out with more games together.

Clint Dempsey 6: He’s been playing well for Fulham and it transferred here, as he excelled in a new role as attacking mid behind Altidore. Up-for-it, solid.

Benny Feilhaber 4: Yeah, the second division in Denmark, where he’s been lighting it up lately, is not the same as a full interanational. MIA.

Jozy Altidore 6: Great finish on the goal, but as we said, should have buried two more. But, hey, as long as he’s getting chances….Now he just needs more PT at Villarreal.

SUB

Alejandro Bedoya 4: We keep hoping for more out of the second-year pro based in Sweden. Maybe next time?

Here are the highlights:

U.S.–Netherlands: Player Grades

With a nod to Beavis and Butthead, we’re going with a binary system of grading for this game, much like the two cartoon wastrels used for MTV videos back in the day, only instead of ‘cool’ vs ‘sucks,’ we’re using ‘pass’ vs ‘fail.’

This was, after all, the last test in a U.S. shirt for these guys before coach Bob Bradley selects his final 23 for South Africa. Let’s look at who passed and who failed, and rate each player’s chances of making that squad.

Before we get to it, one piece of news, and it’s not good: That tackle by Nigel DeJonge on Stuart Holden in the 29th minute last night? It broke Holden’s leg, and he’ll be out of action for six weeks. If all goes well, he would still have a chance to get back in form and make the World Cup team, but this is a tough one for him—he just worked his way back from a thigh injury and was carving out a place for himself at Bolton.

Grades:

Tim Howard: No chance on the goals, and made a great save on an upper-90-bound rocket from Rafael van der Vaart in the 82nd minute. Pass.

World Cup chances: 100%. Duh.

Jonathan Spector: Donned the invisibility cloak at times, didn’t get forward too much, and ballooned at least one cross when he did. Had his hands full with Eljero Elia, as anyone would. Pass, just barely.

World Cup chances: 100%. Not his best game last night, but he’s solid, athletic and versatile—can play anywhere on backline.

Jay DeMerit: Good positioning, killed a couple of Dutch attacks in the U.S. box. Distribution suffered at times. Pass.

World Cup chances: 100%. Always up for it, super athletic—a lock for central defense.

Carlos Bocanegra: Scored the goal, but probably could have gotten stuck in a bit more. Pass.

World Cup chances: 100%. Can play on the left if need be.

Jonathan Bornstein: Stupidly pulled down Wesley Sneijder for the penalty. Big-game nerves? If so, not a good sign for the World Cup. Fail.

World Cup chances: 90%. Bornstein’s going, but the starting job at left back is still up for grabs.

Stuart Holden: Had his leg broken 29 minutes in, but looked capable and confident until that point. Pass.

World Cup chances: 75%. Injury puts an obstacle in his road to SA.

Michael Bradley: Rarely lost the ball in midfield, but repeatedly did so in the attacking third. Pass.

World Cup chances: 100%. Best option in central midfield right now.

Jose Torres: Looked a little overmatched by his defensive duties. Decent long-range effort on goal. Needed a big game here, didn’t quite get it. Fail.

World Cup chances: 50%. We haven’t seen Torres truly shine yet, and Ricardo Clark and Benny Feilhaber are probably still in front of him on the depth chart, with Jermaine Jones threatening to enter the picture.

Landon Donovan: Not involved enough. Should have been the leader out there against this tough opponent. Fail.

World Cup chances: 100%. Best player on the team, but not last night.

Robbie Findley: Too tentative. Killed U.S. attacks on several occasions. Fail.

World Cup chances: 10%. The team is thin at forward, but he hasn’t stepped up.

Jozy Altidore: Has improved his ability to hold the ball under pressure and get teammates involved. Sweet move on the baseline to start the second half, laser on goal to end it. Pass.

World Cup chances: 100% Best forward in the pool right now.

SUBS:

DaMarcus Beasley: Two friends of Backpost disagree, strongly, but we thought Beas had a good game. Sparked U.S. attack in second half, assisted on goal. Pass.

World Cup chances: 70%. We could see him coming off the bench to provide a spark this summer.

Maurice Edu: He was poised with the ball at his feet, and broke up several Dutch forays in front of the U.S. defense. Pass.

World Cup chances: 90%. Right now, he and Bradley look like the best center-mid tandem.

Alejandro Bedoya: The youngster turned in a decent 27 minutes. Drew a late free kick at the top of the box. Pass.

World Cup chances: 50%. Other midfielders have injury and playing-time issues, and Bedoya didn’t hurt his cause last night.

Heath Pearce: Steady in a brief appearance, got forward late. Pass.

World Cup chances: 50%. Like Bedoya, he certainly didn’t hurt his cause.

Eddie Johnson: Took way too much time getting the ball off his feet. His giveaway in the 82nd minute led to a Dutch opportunity and a great save by Howard. Fail.

World Cup chances: 10%. See: Findley, Robbie.

Clarence Goodson: Looked like he belonged, and nearly snatched a late equalizer. Pass.

World Cup chances: 80%. We’d bet on Goodson to make the final 23.

U.S. vs El Salvador: Player Grades

With a goal and an assist in 45 minutes of action, Brian Ching is the clear leader here, and probably earned himself a call-up to next Wednesday’s friendly against the Netherlands in Amsterdam.

In a close second was Heath Pearce, who vaulted from World Cup long-shot to contender with an assist and a fine performance on the left side. 

Sacha Kljestan kept his case for South Africa alive with some good attacking play and a last-gasp, game-winning goal.

Here are our grades for the entire team:

Nick Rimando; Not much to do, but did it competently. No chance on the goal. B-

Brad Evans: His attempt at a headed backpass created El Salvador’s goal, but he did well otherwise, both defensively and offensively, getting his head on a few balls in the box. C-

Jonathan Bornstein: Playing centrally, he wasn’t all that busy. His case for South Africa remains pretty solid. B-

Clarence Goodson: Anchored the backline, won tackles, got forward on set pieces. Probably a better-than-even bet to make the World Cup roster. B

Heath Pearce: Excellent cross on Ching’s goal; played a few others, too, and solid defensively. B+

Robbie Rogers: Didn’t quite deliver in what should have been a good opportunity to boost his stock. Hit the woodwork with one long-range effort, but too many miscues in the final third. C

Kyle Beckerman: Spread some decent balls around in the middle of the park; solid but nothing spectacular. B-

Sacha Kljestan: Tested Salvadoran keeper several times; late goal salvaged win, and his World Cup dreams. B

Brad Davis: A handful at times for Los Cuscatlecos in the first half; left with hamstring tightness. C

Robbie Findley: Unable to unleash his blinding speed; haven’t seen him truly do so at the international level yet. C

Conor Casey: He looked lumbering, but surprised with his ability to hold the ball up and find teammates with passes. Still, he lacks Ching’s dynamism. C+

Subs:

Eddie Gaven: Excellent game; sparked the U.S. attack in the second half. Not going to South Africa, but he’s still only 23 (he’s been in MLS since he was 16). Good candidate for the next cycle. B+

Brian Ching: Made his case as the best target forward in the U.S. pool. Goal, assist, and several shots on frame. A-

Jeff Cunningham: Showed fairly well in 22 minutes of action. C+

Dax McCarty: A tidy ten minutes from the FC Dallas midfielder. Incomplete.

Geoff Cameron: Hey, we got our wish, as Cameron entered the game in the late—very late—going. Still, he thumped a shot that just missed the target in stoppage time. Incomplete.