Man of the match awards are always difficult, but associate editors Shane Evans of The Full English and Fish & Chip Shots and Zac Lee Rigg of Rigg's Replays debate the best performer between Mexico and USA in the recent World Cup qualifier.
Shane Evans: Well after the U.S. somewhat convincingly beat Mexico on Wednesday, it's clear in my mind that midfielder Michael Bradley was player of the game, and not just for his goals.
Zac Lee Rigg: Bradley was crucial, no doubt. But one other player shone a bit brighter. Landon Donovan was at the heart of everything positive from the U.S. and made both those goals. The second one was a clear cut assist, and the first one he headed back across goal so that it eventually fell to the opportunistic Bradley.
Evans: Donovan's impact was evident on the goals, but what impressed me about Bradley was his command of the center of midfield. Mexico had little room for error in their passing as Bradley seemed to scoop up every errant ball that came within five feet of him. He stymied their attacks the entire match, and without him, not only would the US not have scored, but Mexico could have scored on numerous occasions.
Rigg: Ah, here's where we disagree. With the fullbacks Hejduk and Pearce pushing far up the pitch, I expected more from Bradley. He left the central defense exposed several times, and only a handful of times only last ditch tackles from Bocanegra or Gooch saved Howard's goal. Even when Mexico went a man down, they continued to keep possession in the midfield and put pressure on our backline. With more experience, Bradley will learn how to prevent that.
Evans: I'm sorry, but if anyone was at fault for Mexico's spotty pressure, it was the full-backs. Easily the two worst players on the pitch of the U.S., Hejduk and Pearce, left it up to Bradley to track back and make tackles or disrupt the passing lanes. To me, he showed what moving to a choppy, defensive-minded league like the Bundesliga can do for a young player. As I said before, if he was absent from the middle, and say, Maurice Edu was in his place, a much more raw talent, I feel the outcome could have been different.
Rigg: It's too easy to remove him from the equation and say things would have been different. I think we'll both agree that Bradley deserves his place ahead of Edu and the like. What I do know is that if you remove the slick attacking play of Donovan, the game ends up differently. He led every charge, was a crucial outlet, won headers (gasp!), and linked up well to get the U.S. attack rolling. He didn't get on the end of the moves, but sometimes you've got to take the backseat role for the good of the team.
Evans: And kudos to Donovan for doing that. Seriously, I think I could have made that header on Bradley's first goal. He sat there by himself at the far post and had a free header that he in no way directed, just kind of plopped back into the middle. Not to take away from the guy's skill, but he didn't do that much to impress me in this game, not the way Bradley did. Even his pass for Bradley's goal was an obvious one. The Mexican back line gave him space and Bradley couldn't have been any more wide open and asking for the pass.
Rigg: I disagree on the first header. If you watch him, he looks up and sees the flight of the ball even when three Mexican defenders near him can't. In the winds, to be able to judge the ball like that, takes something special. Then the cushioned header back was no simple matter. A greedier player would have gone for goal himself, but he picked out Gooch from the middle of a tangle in the box. The second one was the obvious choice, granted, but he still made the choice. But it was more his overall play that impressed me. He looked hungry and dangerous when no one else on the squad really did, and we were most electric when he was on the ball. He really does kick up his game an extra notch for Mexico (or Chivas USA).
Evans: And now he can kick up against Hamburger SV. That's all well and good, but despite 'setting up' two goals, Donovan did little else. Bradley performed offensively and defensively, something Donovan hasn't done in well, years.
Rigg: Which I'm grateful for. Ching's best attribute is his defense, and it stifles our attack. I'm glad someone is out there creating.
Evans: Creating goals. Two of which were scored by you guessed it - Michael Bradley. Case closed.
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