Last Saturday, a U.S. B-team proved they could dispatch one of the minnows of CONCACAF with relative ease. On Wednesday they'll see how they fare against Honduras, one of the region's bigger fish.
It's a match that should give U.S. manager Bob Bradley far more information than the 4-0 stroll over Grenada did. This is especially true when the biggest complaint that can be leveled is that a player like Freddy Adu -- even while looking lively at times and scoring a well-taken goal -- didn't dominate the game as much was expected.
Against the Spice Boyz, the domination department was left to the midfield quartet of Kyle Beckerman, Logan Pause, Stuart Holden and Robbie Rogers. Beckerman and Pause controlled things in the center of the park for the entire match, with their sharp passing helping to keep the Americans on the front foot.
For Beckerman in particular, it was clear that his combination of skill and grit was several cuts above what Grenada had to offer. Unfortunately, the level of the opponent and the fact that Beckerman plays in what is the deepest position in the U.S. player pool dampens most of the enthusiasm his performance generated. That said, the Real Salt Lake midfielder certainly did what he could to convince Bradley that he deserves to get more playing time during the Gold Cup. And he'll need to maintain the high level of form he displayed Saturday -- even as the games become more competitive -- in order to advance up the U.S. depth chart.
With the center of midfield locked down, it was left to Holden and Rogers to dominate the flanks. Rogers in particular was a near-constant menace throughout the match, scoring a goal and garnering two assists.
But what really caught the eye was the manner in which he set up others. During the Confederations Cup, the service from out wide usually came from a defender like Jonathan Spector pushing forward, while attackers like Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey were tucked inside. Against Grenada, it was good to see Rogers unbalancing defenses by taking players on from wide positions and then getting crosses in.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with either tactic, and the quality of the opposition as well as the flow of the game will often dictate what kinds of attacking opportunities are available in a given match. Rogers was the first to admit that the space afforded him by Grenada's defense was a factor in his success.
"I had a lot of time, and there was a bunch of guys in the box" Rogers said. "When you have numbers, you are just trying to put the ball in the mixer. Our guys did a good job of finishing them."
But Rogers' style at least gives the U.S. a different wrinkle in attack, which could be what allows him to burrow his way onto next year's World Cup roster.
Suffice it to say, the U.S. was rarely threatened against a Grenada team shorn of injured midfielder Shalrie Joseph and absent striker Jason Roberts, with Kithson Bain's 10th-minute header the only anxious moment for goalkeeper Troy Perkins.
That figures to change against Honduras, and just seconds after the final whistle blew Saturday, Bradley and the players were already preparing for what lies ahead
"The result is what we wanted," U.S. defender Steve Cherundolo told CONCACAF.com. "Can we play better? Yes. Do we need to play better? Yes. Honduras is going to bring a very good team on Wednesday and we need to be ready for them and improve on a few things from tonight."
Like the U.S., the Catrachos have also brought an experimental side to the Gold Cup, a fact driven home as they huffed and puffed their way to a 1-0 victory over a Haiti team that probably deserved a draw. But in Carlos Costly, they have a striker capable of turning any match. Honduras' ability to produce young, quality players has also been impressive, with Georgie Welcome, who scored the game-winner against the U.S. in last year's Olympic qualifying final, among those present.
But Bradley will be more concerned about the makeup of his own roster, and given the cross-country travel from Seattle to Washington, D.C., the team endured, as well as the quick turnaround between games, it's expected that the U.S. coach will make significant changes to his lineup.
More experienced players such as Jimmy Conrad and Brian Ching -- as long as they're healthy -- should see some playing time. The same is true for players who have been knocking on Bradley's door for a while now, like Michael Parkhurst and Kenny Cooper, even as Bradley reintroduces such players to the national team environment.
"We understand that the first round is three games, and we need to be able to improve from game to game," Bradley said. "We have to be sure that by the time the quarterfinals are rolling around the team is in good form with a good mentality. We have a sense every time we come together of how we establish things and how we work."
That will be especially on the mind of Adu, assuming he takes the field against the Catrachos. Perhaps it's expecting too much of the 20-year-old to think he'll step in and dominate CONCACAF opposition after spending much of his club season on the bench. But the clock is ticking for Adu to make the kind of impact that will clinch his trip to South Africa next summer, meaning if he's to hook his personal big fish, he'll need to take full advantage of the opportunity in front of him.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes for Center Line soccer and can be reached at email@example.com.
|U.S. men's schedule
|U.S. vs. Honduras
RFK Stadium; Washington, D.C.
9 p.m. ET
U.S. vs. Haiti
Gillette Stadium; Foxborough, Mass.
7 p.m. ET