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Jan 20, 2007

Mapp's individual brilliance punctuates win

You can call Saturday's friendly between the United States and Denmark a case of mission accomplished, at least as far as the U.S. team and its interim head coach Bob Bradley are concerned. The Americans prevailed 3-1 and gave some young players their international baptism.

But perhaps the most important aspect of the U.S. victory was the confidence displayed by some of the young upstarts. How else can one explain the electrifying run by Justin Mapp that led to Jonathan Bornstein's game-winning goal. OK, words like "gutsy," "courageous" and "dynamic" would suffice as well, such was the audacity that Mapp showed in the 57th minute when he he picked up the ball in his own half, beat four Danish players as he went to the end line and delivered a pinpoint feed that Bornstein duly hammered home.

Such confidence was also evident on Kenny Cooper's solo goal with 10 minutes left that capped off the afternoon. Despite being put in the clear by Heath Pearce's through ball, Cooper still had plenty of work to do, carrying the ball some 20 yards before slotting the ball past Danish goalkeeper Jesper Christiansen.

These displays were noteworthy for a couple of reasons. One recollection from last summer's World Cup was the general lack of initiative and attacking verve shown by the U.S. By tournament's end, the plea from many fans was that if the team was going to go down, at least go down swinging.

That courage was clearly evident on Saturday. Granted, there is a huge difference between a game at the World Cup finals and a friendly match on home soil, but the performances of Mapp and Cooper at least offer a glimmer of hope that such displays will continue once the stage gets bigger. And it was obvious that the more relaxed circumstances didn't seem to help players such as Landon Donovan.

That's not to say that Donovan was terrible. He saw plenty of the ball and had some good touches while playing a somewhat unfamiliar position on the right side of midfield. But Donovan's lack of confidence was evident when he found himself isolated against Danish defender Chris Sorensen just seconds into the match. Rather than take the defender on, Donovan elected to pass the ball back to Chris Albright, sparking immediate flashbacks to last summer's World Cup. It was late in the match against Ghana that Donovan found himself in a similar situation. On that occasion he did the same thing -- laying the ball off to Ben Olsen rather than take the responsibility of going to the goal himself.

The maddening part of this is that everyone and their mother knows that Donovan has the skill to go at people. The Galaxy attacker even showed this trait later on in the half. But the infrequency of such displays leaves one with the impression that for Donovan, it's not instinctual. As this World Cup cycle progresses, it's clear that one of Bob Bradley's biggest challenges will be to coax this ability out of Donovan on a more consistent basis.

Bradley will certainly have no such worries about Mapp, who it should be noted, performed his heroics while scampering down the right wing (he's left-footed). Mapp's game has always been about creativity and a willingness to take the game to the opposition. Of course this has been tempered by a suspect commitment to defense. One can only hope that his improvement in this area continues, because the idea of Mapp and Clint Dempsey operating on the flanks is a pleasant thought indeed.

The performances of the U.S. team's other newcomers resulted in a mixed bag, one best illustrated by the wild fluctuations in Bornstein's play. For the first 30 minutes, the Chivas USA defender looked completely out of his depth as he struggled to cope with the speed and physicality of the Danish opposition. Of course, he followed this up by being perfectly positioned to finish off Mapp's masterpiece. At which point, the Danes continued to have success delivering crosses into the box from his side of the field.

These kinds of things happen when young players get their first taste of the international game. There will be highs and lows, something that Bradley clearly understands. While there is a tendency to think that Bradley could have started more of his youngsters from the beginning, I believe that the balance between old and new at the start of the game was about right. Saturday's match will not be the last opportunity to break in new players. One can only hope that despite his interim status, Bradley continues along this road.

Player ratings

Matt Reis, 4 -- Reis wasn't asked to do much, but he looked shaky on a couple of occasions, especially in the first half, when his distribution was poor. His failure to communicate with Jimmy Conrad in the 12th minute made a through ball situation more dicey than it needed to be.

Chris Albright, 3 -- The Galaxy defender was apparently suffering from the flu. One can only hope that this was the case, because he was far from impressive. His weak header, combined with his failure to quickly close down Simon Busk Poulsen, contributed directly to Denmark's goal.

Bobby Boswell, 6 -- This was a solid debut for the reigning MLS Defender of the Year. Boswell performed well in all aspects of the game and it seems certain that he will get a chance to build on this performance.

Jimmy Conrad, 5 -- He performed well for the most part, but his marking on Dennis Sorenson was far too loose, allowing the Dane to open the scoring. Fortunately, Conrad's resume is longer than most and he'll likely be in the mix when the U.S. plays Mexico.

Jonathan Bornstein, 4 -- His was a schizophrenic performance. The Chivas USA defender looked outmatched during the first 30 minutes, and struggled to adapt to the speed of play. But adapt he did, and he took his goal well. His slight frame leaves one to wonder if his international future doesn't lie farther up field.

Landon Donovan, 5 -- This was a typical Donovan performance: Not bad, but it left one wanting more. It will be interesting to see if Bradley continues to play Donovan at right midfield, or if the U.S. manager opts for a more traditional central role. His penalty was poorly taken, but it still went in.

Ricardo Clark, 6 -- His passing could have been cleaner in the first half, but he covered acres of space, which has long been his trademark. Clark also won the first-half penalty, although replays showed a free kick should have been given instead. As long as Bradley continues to play with two holding midfielders, Clark should get an extended run in the side.

Pablo Mastroeni, 6 -- He was another player whose distribution was a little off early on, but Mastroeni eventually took over the midfield and delivered solid play by breaking up numerous attacks. Regardless of how Bradley lines his team up, his spot seems assured.

Chris Rolfe, 5 -- The Fire forward had his moments, but most of those came in the second half when he switched from left midfield to forward. With much of the attack going through Donovan in the first half, Rolfe found it tough to find the ball, but a couple of dynamic runs in the second half saw him make more of an impression.

Eddie Johnson, 4 -- He had his moments where he was involved in the attack, but he was rarely dangerous. His pass to a wide-open Bornstein in the 30th minute was a good sequence and he put in some useful work on the defensive end, but he was also guilty of bad giveaways.

Nate Jaqua, 3 -- The new Galaxy acquisition seemed completely out of sync and was deservedly subbed at the half. It's difficult to recall him making a single noteworthy play.

Subs:

Justin Mapp, 7 -- His highlight-reel assist should see him get more playing time. The match against Mexico in a little over two weeks should provide a good indication of his progress.

Kenny Cooper, 6 -- The FC Dallas forward took his goal well and provided the requisite spark that was needed. He sometimes dwelled on the ball too long, but overall had a solid performance.

Brian Namoff, 5 -- He added some consistency to the right side. Namoff might not have Albright's ability to get forward, but a stay-at-home defender was what was needed and the D.C. United defender provided exactly that.

Heath Pearce, 6 -- A brief cameo for the Denmark-based left back saw him assist on Cooper's goal with a perfectly timed pass.

Kyle Beckerman, N/A -- His short stint in midfield gave Beckerman his first cap.

Danny Califf, N/A -- Bradley threw a bone to another player plying his trade in Denmark.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at eljefe1@yahoo.com.