Question: The USA opened the final round of World Cup qualifying by defeating Mexico 2-0 at home in Crew Stadium. Who was the best performer on the night?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.