Two words: Tim Howard. One of the world's best goalkeepers made some stand-on-your-head like saves to help lead the US National Team past Canada Tuesday night in the first round of the Gold Cup. Overall, I thought the US played very well, especially coming off the 4-0 stomping courtesy of Spain in Saturday's friendly. The defense played very well, the midfield looked good, and Jozy Altidore netted a goal to quiet his detractors, at least for a day. Follow me after the break for a highlight video and my thoughts on the game.
The USA definitely controlled the run of play in the first 45 minutes. We forced Canada back onto their heals, and created some dangerous chances. Jozy Altidore opened the scoring with a nice goal in the 15th minute. Landon Donovan tallied the assist, as he passed to Jozy who then cut from in front of the goal towards the end line in the corner of the 18 yard box. He showed good ball skills with a defender on his back and his back to the goal. Altidore took one final touch, and fired a solid shot on goal from a tough angle. I couldn't tel if Canada's goalie Lars Hirschfield was screened a bit by the defender or just didn't expect a shot from Altidore, but he let the ball get past him for an early 1-0 US lead. To be honest, the save should have probably been made, but I am glad it wasn't. If I was Hirschfield in that situation, I probably wouldn't have expected a shot either. With Jozy moving away from the goal and with his back to the goal, he was still able to turn and fire off a pretty strong shot. Many times when players try that, they end up scuffing it and not getting any power at all on the shot. Either way, it was a very nice play for an early lead and a confidence booster for Jozy.
I am sure close followers of the USMNT know that there is a strong debate between fans that think Jozy can't cut it and fans that argue to give him more time. I am in the camp of the latter. The kid is 21, people need to lay off him. To say he has hit his ceiling already or that he is garbage is absurd. He plays for Villarreal, although he has gone out on loans to Xerez, Hull City, and currently Bursaspor. You don't play for those types of teams if you are not good and the front offices don't see potential in you. While the US is still really weak in terms of the talent available in the striker pool, I think Jozy will grow and make a good contribution to the National Team for years to come.
The half ended with that 1-0 US lead although Dwayne De Rosario nearly knotted the game at 1a piece in the 33rd minute. He curled a shot just outside of the right post, narrowly missing a beautiful goal from about 30 yards out. Although Howard dove for the shot, I don't think he would have been able to make the save if the ball was just a couple of feet to the left. A majority of the 28,209 fans were loud and vocal, at one point chanting "We Can't Hear You" to the Canuck supporters. Believe me, Sam's Army can be loud. They had some loud and funny (although not repeatable here) chants directed at Poland during the friendly at Soldier Field I attended last year. I should also note that real grass was brought in for the game rather than playing on an artificial surface. I heard it made Sounders fans jealous.
The second half was a bit different as Canada came out and notched up the aggressiveness. The US held their own, and broke through for another score in the 62nd minute. Donovan collected a goal kick from Tim Howard, and brought it down the right side of the 18. He crossed the ball in front of the goal. Juan Agudelo got a very slight touch on the ball, but Clint Dempsey was there on the back post with a beautiful sliding kick to put the ball away for a 2-0 US lead. Clint also had a crazy, mid air back heel flip that didn't go in goal but would have been one of the best goals I had ever seen if it did find the net. You can watch the highlight video to see what I am talking about.
Overall, US fans should be pleased. We played much better than we did against Spain, and beat a rival while we were at it. The defense was strong and the midfielders created. Michael Bradley was all over the place with tons of energy. If he was about 5 inches shorter, had shaggy hair, and was Uruguayan, I would have said he played like Gaston Puerari does. Or maybe I should really be saying that Puerari tries to play like Bradley does. Either way, it was a very strong outing for Bradley and great to see. Donovan was steady, contributing with an assist. Dempsey was rather quiet in the first half but really made some noise and showed why he is a world class player in the second half. The only disappointing thing about Dempsey last night was that he didn't have any black eyes. I see him playing with them so often that I have come to expect it. I know I definitely wouldn't want to meet him in a dark alley (or on a soccer pitch either for that matter).
The forwards played well, with the aforementioned Altidore scoring his first national goal since October 9, 2010 in the friendly against Poland. Juan Agudelo was steady and Chris Wondolowski showed some dangerous flashes when he was subbed on. Although Jozy officially was awarded with man of the match, I have to give it to Tim Howard. The guy was flat out sick last night. At this point, I think he is easily the best US goalkeeper ever produced, and I would go so far as to say he's easily in the top 10 in the world, if not top 5. He made some good saves throughout the match, but really brought us home with some crazy stuff in the second half. The highlights show a man work his true magic. That torrid Canadian attack in the 85th minute was icing on the cake. He makes two saves laying on the ground, stands up, and punches the ball out of play to crush the Canucks spirits. Simply amazing to watch. We could only hope that our very own Sean Johnson will be doing that regularly someday for the USMNT.
Up next for the US team is Panama at 7:00 PM CST this Saturday, June 11. The game will be on TeleFutura and Fox Soccer Channel. Panama will go into the game with their own chance to take full control of Group C. The country famous for the canal got out to an early 3-0 lead against Guadeloupe last night only to give 2 goals late in the game. It was a remarkable comeback for Guadeloupe who had been trimmed down to 10 men after defender Mickaël Tacalfred received a red card in the 38th minute of play. Brice Jovial entered the game as a substitute after halftime and scored both Guadeloupian goals to make it a more respectable 3-2 final score.
It will be important for the US to beat Panama because depending on how the other games in the group go, I would look for them to try to rest some players in their final group game. For now, it's well done boys, let's keep it rolling!