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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bradley, a general, and USA ties in Russia

Photo credit: ESPN

There were several subplots in yesterday's international friendly between the USA and Russia in Krasnodar: Josh Gatt and Joe Gyau were new call-ups, Altidore was returning, an army of youngsters headlined the team, and Timmy Chandler had another chance. In the end, the most important part of Team USA was Michael Bradley and he was instrumental in earning the US a 2-2 tie versus the Russians.

Starting from the back, Tim Howard was superb and once more showed why he's one of the top 10 goalkeepers in the world. The score could easily have ended up 5 or 6 to 2 in favor of the Russians. Pure instinct in positioning and impeccable reflexes mixed with great communication saved Team USA time and time again, especially early in the second half in a scene reminiscent of the Americans' win at the Azteca. Without Timmy, this team would struggle.

The defense was supposed to be closer to the ultimate starting group: Chandler was back and ready to take up the right back spot, Johnson was healthy and the left back position is his, Cameron has continued his rise at center back and paired up well with Bocanegra. The aging Boca, however, saw his game end early with an injury. Clarence Goodson, the next best player, came in. Goodson didn't have a good night, however, including the penalty he was forced to concede. Johnson was exposed several times tonight and Chandler didn't show the flair displayed in earlier matches with the USA.

At midfield things were a bit different, and perhaps confused. Three defensive midfielders were trotted out by Klinsmann: Danny Williams, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley. At times, the three stumbled in figuring out who had which man and who was supposed to attack. Jones was very active in the attack, however, and led to important crosses. Williams had a less stellar night and a mistouch allowed Russia's opening goal.

The 4-3-3 formation had Herculez Gomez and Josh Gatt on the outside and Jozy Altidore as the center forward. Jozy did much better in this game than in recent qualifiers, a cause for him missing out on the final two games in the tournament. He still had some moments of absence and showed trepidation when controlling the ball, perhaps due to his recent form with the national team. 

The brightest new start today was surely newcomer Josh Gatt. A member of Norway's champions, Molde, Gatt has been showing excellent speed and talent in the Tippeligaen. This was enough for Klinsmann to call him up to qualifiers, although he was injured, and ultimately to this game. Gatt showed his speed, but more importantly, he showed that he has passion for the game and an understanding of his position on the pitch. 

As happens in many friendlies, substitutes tend to be difference-makers. Such was the case with Agudelo and Diskerud. Juan Agudelo's headed back pass to Michael Bradley allowed the Roma man to unleash a superb shot that defeated the Russian goalkeeper and tied the score at 1-1. Diskerud would go on to tie the game at 2-2 in stoppage time in similar fashion to Bradley's goal, with Terrence Boyd as the provider.

Michael Bradley controlled this match. When the score was down 0-1 he managed the midfield and stopped the Russian attack. When he needed to come forward, he did so, and it always turned into a dangerous situation. He scored the equalizer in a dramatic, world class manner, from outside the area. He also set up the second goal with a well-placed long ball to Terrence Boyd. As Alexi Lalas argued, it was his economy at positioning that set him apart. Dempsey may be the offensive key for the United States at the moment, but Bradley is undoubtedly the engine at midfield and a general on the field.

Player Ratings:
J. Jones............6
D. Williams.......4.5

Subs: Diskerud (7), Agudelo (7), Edu (5.5), Kljestan (6), Boyd (6), Goodson (4)

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