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Aug 13, 2009

Davies and Holden the two U.S. bright spots from Azteca

In the grand scheme of things, Mexico's 2-1 victory against the United States wasn't an earth-shattering result for the Americans, but the result and performance on Wednesday was still a disappointing one and certainly raises new questions for a team that didn't look very much like the squad that reached the Confederations Cup final. That tournament set the bar high for the U.S., which didn't come close to reaching that new standard on Wednesday. There were a few bright spots for the Americans, but just as many fresh questions and concerns for a U.S. team that will have a month to think about Wednesday's disappointment before returning to national team action against El Salvador on Sept. 5. With that in mind, here are five winners and five losers from the U.S. national team's loss to Mexico: Winners 1. Charlie Davies. The young striker capped an already impressive summer with a historic goal and a memorable performance that has earned him the current title of best American striker. His speed, confidence on the ball, and sharp finishing skills bode well for a U.S. attack that has been looking for a reliable striker since Brian McBride retired. "It's amazing. This is what you live for, especially as a striker, scoring big-time goals," Davies said after the match. "Hopefully, there's more to come." 2. Stuart Holden. Before Wednesday's match, you could have gotten good odds on whether Holden would even dress for the match. Not only did he dress, but he made an instant impact and showed that his Gold Cup successes were neither a fluke nor a product of weaker competition. Stepping up with a strong showing in a game as intense and important as Wednesday's should earn Holden a place for the remainder of qualifying. On a team in dire need of depth on the wings, Holden gave his stock a major boost. "We were pleased with the timing of the subs, with the energy they brought on," Bradley said of second-half subs Holden and Feilhaber."When we made our last sub with Jozy [Altidore], we felt like there was an opportunity to get a goal." 3. Jonathan Spector. No, Spector didn't play, but his exclusion from the lineup was one of the question marks heading into the match, and Steve Cherundolo's subpar performance certainly leaves Spector looking like the better choice at right back going forward. Once qualifying resumes in September, and Spector commences his English Premier League season, he will be a good bet to return to the starting lineup. 4. Oguchi Onyewu. Four years ago, Onyewu was a young and overmatched defender who couldn't handle the pressure of Estadio Azteca. On Wednesday, Onyewu was a confident and imposing figure who helped the U.S. national team withstand a first-half onslaught. He has established himself as the national team's best defender, and with a career in Serie A about to begin, there's no telling just how much better Onyewu will get. 5. Javier Aguirre. There were plenty of winners in the Mexico camp, from Israel Castro to Miguel Sabah to Efrain Juarez, but Aguirre walks away the big winner on Wednesday after recording his second win vs. the United States in less than three weeks. He has Mexico playing with confidence and has given a sorely needed boost to El Tri's World Cup qualifying hopes. Losers 1. Landon Donovan. Donovan had declared before the game that his recent hot form was a new high level of play he would maintain. "This is clearly the best I've ever played, but I want to stress that that's not something that's going to come in a stretch and go away," Donovan said on Tuesday. "This is me now and this is how I play." However, Donovan delivered a largely underwhelming performance. He delivered a world-class pass on Davies' goal but otherwise failed to impose his will on the game. Instead, Donovan played a negative role in both Mexico goals, including the game winner, a role he acknowledged. "[Efrain Juarez] ran by me and I didn't do a good job of keeping him in front of me," Donovan said of the game-winning goal. "Jay and I got there about the same time and tackled the ball and it popped up. [Sabah] took a good touch and a good finish."

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2. Clint Dempsey. One of the biggest heroes of the United States' Confederations Cup run, Dempsey returned to his inconsistent ways and looked to be the American player most affected by the conditions at Estadio Azteca. "It's a difference coming from Europe, coming here with the heat," Dempsey said after the match. "It might only be 80 degrees but it's different from what we're used to in Europe." 3. Bob Bradley. The U.S. coach did put a team on the field that captured an early lead; his team had a chance to win with eight minutes to go, and he also made substitutions that provided a good impact. But he will ultimately face heat for the two changes he made to the starting lineup that made that unforgettable Confederations Cup run. Brian Ching was largely ineffective in place of Jozy Altidore, while Cherundolo left something to be desired in place of Jonathan Spector. 4. Carlos Bocanegra the left back. When he stepped in at left back against Spain in June, Bocanegra provided a capable option at a position that has long been troublesome for the United States. His performances since that game haven't been nearly as promising, including a poor showing on Wednesday. Wingers with speed will always trouble Bocanegra, but the Rennes defender might have to stay put considering how well Jay Demerit has played in his place in central defense, and given the lack of clear alternatives at the position. 5. CONCACAF. Why is the region a loser after this match? Yet another poor performance by a referee in a big match doesn't look good, but for the teams in the region, they are losers because Mexico has regained confidence and look like a good bet to grab its World Cup qualifying berth. With Honduras crushing Costa Rica and Trinidad & Tobago beating El Salvador on Wednesday, the World Cup qualifying race has tightened considerably for everybody, including the United States.

Ives Galarcep covers the U.S. national team and MLS for ESPN Soccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.

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