By Noah Davis
The United States Men's National
Team finished off a successful 2009 campaign with a 3-1 loss at the
hands of fellow 2010 World Cup qualifiers Denmark in Aarhus' NRGi Park.
As with the match against Slovakia on Saturday, the game offered an
opportunity for some fringe players on the American roster to improve
their standing in the eyes of manager Bob Bradley.
In addition to the opportunistic
goal he scored -- the type of individual effort the Americans will need
if they are to advance out of the group stage next summer -- Major League
Soccer's Golden Boot winner was frequently at the center of what few
chances the U.S. had. His speed troubled Denmark's backline during the
first half, pressuring the European side's defenders into a number of
rushed passes. Cunningham worked a nice one-two with Stuart Holden to
spring the Houston Dynamo midfielder and later just missed Jozy Altidore's
head with a deft cross on the first possession of the second half. Eddie
Johnson replaced the FC Dallas striker at the hour mark, but it was
a day to remember for the man who scored his first international goal.
Playing in front of his home
fans, the young midfielder stayed focused over the entire 90 minutes.
He started strong, tackling a Danish defender and blasting a shot from
20 yards out that forced a diving save from Thomas Sørensen. A nice
flick-on header in the 33rd minute found Cunningham alone in space,
but the striker was correctly ruled offside. Playing on the left of
midfield, Feilhaber looked more comfortable than he has when he's started
in the center of the pitch. Landon Donovan (or occasionally Clint
Dempsey) currently own this position, but with the injury to Charlie
Davies, that could change. The Aarhus' midfielder's cameo out wide can
only help his case for more playing time.
Although he didn't create any
spectacular opportunities against Denmark, he had another solid match
in the center of the pitch. Bradley is learning to time his runs, making
a wonderful one straight up the middle of the field in the 45th minute.
After receiving the ball, he turned brilliantly but was unlucky not
to be able to get off a shot. The benefits of his playing time at Borussia
Monchengladbach are apparent, as Bradley looks calmer with the ball
at his feet than he did this summer. The maturation of his game, both
defensively and offensively, is impressive.
Perhaps a surprise starter,
the two-time World Cup veteran didn't help his case to make a third
team. Jesper Grønkjær slipped behind him on a quick restart and nearly
scored in the third minute. On Denmark's first goal, Hedjuk was caught
watching the play as Johan Absalonsen corralled the ball and scored.
The Columbus Crew fullback arrived a step late to a number of challenges
and was lucky not to see a card from Scottish referee Craig Thomson.
Hedjuk will always be one of the fittest players on the pitch -- he
ran strong for 90 minutes in Aarhus -- but quite simply can no longer
In stark contrast to Cunningham,
the Hull City striker was virtually invisible for the first 35 minutes
of the match. When the ball did come into his general area, Altidore
was reacting to it rather than anticipating. It's possible to blame
a bit of this on a lack of playing time at his club side or an unfamiliarity
with his strike partner's style of play, but he also seemed lost on
Saturday against Slovakia. This trend is a serious concern for an American
team that needs their young striker to improve his game and shoulder
more of the attacking load with Davies absent. Altidore, perhaps more
than anyone, misses the presence of Donovan who understands how to get
the ball to the striker in situations where he can produce. (See: Donovan's
three assists to Altidore's against Trinidad and Tobago.) The U.S. has to hope
the Los Angeles Galaxy talisman's return with spur the 20-year-old to
The West Ham defender's second
attempt at playing centerback didn't go nearly as well as his first.
While Spector -- normally a right back for the U.S. -- shined on Saturday
in Bratislava, he struggled alongside Carlos Bocanegra against Denmark.
He could have done more to track Absalonsen on the first goal -- although
Hedjuk bears the brunt of the blame -- but his missed clearance led
directly to the second strike. On the third tally, Spector was guilty
of ball-watching after Bocanegra left eventual scorer Martin Bernburg
to stop Søren Rieks at the top of the box. (On a related note, Jonathan
Bornstein was nowhere to be found on the second goal and watched as
Rieks scored on the third.) Spector isn't the answer at centerback,
but with DeMerit and Onyewu almost certainly returning before the World
Cup, he doesn't need to be.
Noah Davis covers the United
States Men's National Team for Goal.com.
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