The performance of the U.S. men's Olympic soccer team in its opening game Thursday can be boiled down to two simple truths: It was good enough to defeat Japan 1-0, but a similar performance won't be good enough to beat either of the Americans' next two opponents.
Concerns about the American attack began growing after the U.S. failed to score in either of its warm-up matches at the ING Tournament against Ivory Coast and Cameroon last week. However, when an attack featuring Brian McBride, Freddy Adu, Robbie Rogers and Sacha Kljestan can't muster many chances against the worst team it will face at the Olympics -- and easily the worst defense -- one has to worry.
So who failed to show up in the U.S. team's opening match? You can start with Freddy Adu; entering the tournament, he was regarded as the key to the American offense. His tricks and shifty moves were rendered mostly useless by a quick Japanese defense that swarmed him and gave him little room to operate. There were one or two moments when Adu looked as if he might summon some of the magic he has conjured up in past tournaments on the U-17 and U-20 level, but he never did impose himself on the game and was reduced to complaining to the referee for calls.
Adu can take heart in knowing that the Netherlands should allow him an opportunity to show more. The Dutch aren't known as a high-pressure defensive team, choosing to defend with effective positioning while conserving their energy for a lighting-fast counterattack that can overwhelm an opponent. Adu will be given room to maneuver against the Netherlands, assuming coach Peter Nowak gives him the start.
|U.S. men's schedule|
|U.S. vs. Netherlands
7:45 a.m. ET
U.S. vs. Nigeria
While Adu seems unlikely to wind up on the bench, two other members of the U.S. midfield certainly do. Sacha Kljestan gave a disappointing performance in central midfield, turning the ball over incessantly and contributing little of the attacking prowess that he has shown during what has been his best MLS season. While Nowak may be a fan of Kljestan's skill and work rate, he also knows that the Dutch team will feast on the type of turnovers Kljestan committed against Japan, which could force the coach to go with either Benny Feilhaber or Danny Szetela in his place.
Robbie Rogers also was largely ineffective, as his speedy forays down the left flank were neutralized by his equally fast but more impressive Japanese counterpart, Atsuto Uchida. Rogers' inability to break free and provide service was one of the reasons why Brian McBride was rendered invisible, but just as damning was Rogers' failure to help left back Michael Orozco on the defensive side. Uchida was Japan's most dangerous player for much of the match, in part because Rogers didn't track back much.
That won't be good enough against a Dutch team that could send Ryan Babel or Jonathan De Guzman to work on the right flank. Orozco can't handle either of them on his own, so Nowak may be forced to consider someone like Dax McCarty to play on the left. That said, if Rogers does play against the Dutch, he too should find more room to operate and could find a better matchup than he did against Japan.
One player who didn't play poorly, but whose impact on the game wasn't what you would expect, is Michael Bradley. Deployed in more of a holding role in front of the center backs, Bradley's presence coupled with Japan's strength on the flanks, led to Japan attacking on the wings. Nowak might want to consider letting Bradley get more involved in the attack because on the few occasions he did get forward, Bradley showed a sharp eye and ability to test a defense.
The only problem with that is the fact that in the next match Bradley will likely be matched up against Dutch midfield ace Royston Drenthe, who was the Netherlands' best player against Nigeria. The Real Madrid midfielder is tenacious, fast and a handful of a package that only Bradley may be equipped to try and handle. In fact, you could argue that the Drenthe-Bradley match-up will go a long way in determining who wins on Sunday.
One decision that seems to be the easiest for Nowak to make is including Jozy Altidore in the lineup. Altidore came in late in the second half, but in his short time on the field he proved to be a handful for Japan. While Brian McBride probably isn't worn out from the Japan match, he could come off the bench and thus get some rest for the U.S. team's final group match against Nigeria. It just seems unlikely that we will see McBride and Altidore playing together, unless Nowak decides to bench Adu.
That is just one of several tough decisions Nowak will have to make before Sunday's match against the Netherlands. He knows it will take a much better performance against the Dutch to notch three points. If the Americans play against the Dutch the way they played against Japan, they will be in for a very long day.
The missing USA crest explained
If you were watching the U.S. Olympic team play and felt like something was missing, it's because something was.
The U.S. Soccer crest that is emblazoned on every U.S. national team uniform was not on the U.S. Olympic team jersey of the men's or the women's teams for their opening matches. The reason? According to a U.S. Soccer official, the International Olympic Committee does not allow national governing bodies to include their crests on their uniforms during the Olympics.
If you have seen other teams with crests, such as the Brazilian national team, it is because the national federations for those countries have ignored the IOC mandate and are subject to fines by the IOC.
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He is a writer and columnist for the Herald News (N.J.) and writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.