Americans hold strong against a determined South American attackers.EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - Argentina’s Lionel Messi was the main attraction against the USA on Saturday, but the former World Player of the Year couldn’t beat Tim Howard in the 1-1 friendly between the two countries.
Stopping shot after shot, Howard was brilliant between the sticks in a match that was largely controlled by the South Americans giants. With nearly 80,000 on hand to take in the likes of Messi, Javier Mascherano and Javier Zanetti, the USA proved that they could keep up with a squad full of stars like Argentina.
Goals from Esteban Cambiasso and Juan Agudelo on either side of halftime were the only two scored, though a number of chances came very close to changing the result.
Looking to get an early foothold in a match they were far from favored to win, the USA came out with a bit of spunk and had some nice possession on the ball for the first five minutes or so in the match.
It’d be their best (and only) run of the first half.
Aside for a cheeky little Clint Dempsey effort off of a stolen ball down the left side, Bob Bradley’s men were stifled at every corner in a chilly New Meadowlands Stadium. Argentina though looked to thrive in the cold and passed the ball around blissfully for long spells in the opening stanza.
Despite playing compact and behind the ball, the USA looked more like parking cones than soccer players as the likes of Lionel Messi, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Angel Di Maria danced around them with relative ease.
The passing was nice to watch but few real chances were generated until middway through the first period. As you’d expect it was Barcelona talisman Messi making things happen for the Albiceleste. His zagging runs were proving quite troublesome for the USA defense and in the 23rd minute he nearly made them pay.
Working his way inside along the top of the box, Messi worked a wonderful one-two with Lavezzi who put the ball over the top of the defense with the Barcelona man already waiting in the area. Luckily for the USA, Tim Howard was his usual alert self and was out to claim the ball before Messi could get a toe on it.
The dangerous pair were at it again some five minutes later as this time they were exploiting the corner of the area and seemed to play through the U.S. defense as if they weren’t even there. The ball made it to Messi’s feet after Lavezzi pass but he was only able to sear the face of the goal with a shot that went wide at the far post.
Ensuring that those in attendance would get their money’s worth, Messi continued to press for the opening tally in the 39th minute. This time abandoning his compatriot Lavezzi to go in alone. Working through the middle now, he took on Michael Bradley and disposed of him quickly. His shot though left something to be desired as Howard parried effectively.
Enough was enough, though, and Argentina decided it was time to touch ball to twine. Again Messi was at the middle of everything as he was able to work himself into the area with the ball at his feet on the touchline. Elegantly dancing towards Howard, Messi slid the ball to Di Maria who’s one-time blast was expertly saved by the American keeper. No one in red tracked the run of Esteban Cambiasso, however, and the veteran Inter midfielder bludgeoned the rebound home for the 1-0 advantage.
The goal would put a nice little bow on a first half entirely dominated by Argentina.
Starting the second the way they finished the first, Argentina were all over the USA from the get go. Real Madrid star Di Maria created the first chance as he took the ball in space along the right and beat Carlos Bocanegra to the inside to unleash a curling left-footed shot that went just over.
Moments later, Messi received a lovely ball over the top in the middle of the area and had his chipped shot from the top of the six-yard box deflected away by Howard. If the Barcelona man ends up being the star of this match, Howard has to be a very close second.
The first real chance of the half for the USA came in the 52nd minute when a deep flighted ball was played off the head of the recently brought-on Juan Agudelo. Lurking behind him with no defender in sight was Maurice Edu, who swiped at the ball with his right foot from about 12 yards only to watch it painfully go wide of the near post.
Right before the hour mark, the USA got one back to tie things. It will go down as a goal that couldn’t have been more against the run of play. Winning a free kick about 40 yards out, Landon Donovan placed a lovely swinging ball into the area that Bocanegra put an awkward head to. Unable to handle the ball on his goal line, Argentinian keeper Mariano Andujar was forced to watch as Agudelo pushed the ball over the line from the tightest of angles. Game on.
The visitors responded well to the goal and continued to see the lion’s share of the possession as the clock ticked past the 70 minute mark. Testing the limits of the U.S., Sergio Batista’s squad were a constant threat in and around Howard’s area.
With the match’s remaining moments slipping away, the teams pressed for a winner but it was not to be. Argentina’s dominance was combated by a resilient side of Americans who refused to be beaten. The U.S. will head into their next friendly against Paraguay full of confidence after this spirited display.
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