(Sunday, March 25, 2006) -- This was Landon Donovan's day. Not only did he score three very different goals, powering the United States men past Ecuador 3-1, he put in a solid overall performance and displayed purpose all over the field for the entire 90 minutes of the friendly at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
Donovan scored with an opportunistic put-back of a poor clearance, on a breakaway on a quick counterattack, winning a 50-yard footrace with a speedy defender, before closing his account by targeting the top left corner from 23 yards, a blast that would have been a goal in any match, anywhere.
The pace and tenor of each half differed greatly. In the first 45 minutes, both teams sped up and down the field in a wide-open affair with plenty of space to move. After intermission, the U.S. tightened its defense and the 80-degree temperatures seemed to take more of a toll on the Ecuadorian visitors than the Americans. This allowed the U.S. to dominate in the middle.
"We made some adjustments at halftime and we played better in the second half," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "I told (the U.S. players) it would be to our advantage to tighten things up. We were more disciplined in the second half."
The U.S. started the same back-line as it did against Ghana in the 2-1 loss that copncluded the Americans' three-and-out exit from the World Cup last summer in Germany. The quartet had some unsettling moments early, have considerable trouble handling the speed of forwards Felipe Caicedo and Carlos Tenorio.
The American backs were was not helped by the fact that both Ricardo Clark and Pablo Mastroeni were not available because of injury, leaving the team without a true defensive midfielder. Newcomer Benny Feilhaber, theoretically filling their spot, pushed forward and did little to slow the Ecuadorian attack.
At halftime, midfielder Michael Bradley replaced striker Eddie Johnson, leaving a more coordinated defensive link, while freeing Donovan to move forward into the attack. Ecuador was limited to a couple of dangerous chances after that, both coming in the waning moments when the Americans led by a pair.
While there was a lot for Bradley to be happy about today, there were also some worrisome developments, too. Donovan was terrific, but if he hadn't stepped up, one might wonder where any U.S. goals might come from, especially in light of some poor play on the wings.
While Donovan's excellent afternoon provided a good result for the U.S., but there are several other players who need to step up.
U.S. player ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 5.5: Looked a bit unsettled at times and might have done better on Ecuador's goal, but he did make a couple of nice saves though he was rarely pressured.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 5: Still seems more comfortable playing in the center of defense rather than the left flank, as he did today. Was beaten several times by midfielder Luis Valencia, including once that should have resulted in a goal
Defender Oguchi Onyewu - 5.5: Go off to a rough start and was abused when he was outmuscled by Caidedo. But settled down in the second half and did better.
Defender Jimmy Conrad - 6: Played well, though seemed to have some communication problems with Onyewu at times in the first half and was bothered by the pace. His slide tackle in the 28th minute did save what almost certainly would have been goal. Ecuador would have led 2-1 and the tenor of the game might have changed.
Defender Steve Cherundolo - 6: Produced a steady effort, especially in the second half. He pushed the ball forward at times and was a threat down the right side.
Midfielder Landon Donovan - 8: Not only did he have a hat trick, but he was outstanding in all facets of the game. Now, he must learn to perform consistently at this level and live up to his role as the natural successor to Claudio Reyna as team leader.
Midfielder Benny Feilhaber - 5.5: For a number of reasons, he was much better in the second half than in the opening 45 minutes of his first international appearance. In the first half, he seemed a bit unsure of his role, offensively and defensively. When Michael Bradley was inserted at the break, he helped clog the middle defensively and slow the pace, which helped Feilhaber, a promising 22-year-old, do much better.
Midfielder Clint Dempsey - 5: Except for a few brief minutes, he was never really in the match. Perhaps he is showing the effect of not playing regularly at Fulham in England
Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley - 5: Much like Dempsey, he mostly had little impact and was often pushed off the ball by defenders. He ran freely, but failed to use his pace effectively. He did lay off a nice ball for Donovan's third goal.
Forward Brian Ching - 5.5: Considering he is really still rounding into form following off-season knee surgery, he is looking better. A hard-nosed player, he was in the thick of things all afternoon and worked well with Donovan, his former Major League Soccer teammate in San Jose.
Forward Eddie Johnson - 4.5: Another appearance with little impact. He should have done better given the wide open spaces available to him in the first half.
Midfielder Michael Bradley (46th minute for Johnson) - 5.5: He helped settle down the defense and offered support, allowing Donovan to move forward. Took advantage of the slower play in the second half and did everything asked of him.
Forward Taylor Twellman (72nd minute for Ching) - 5: Made little difference other than occasionally dropping back to give some help on defense.
Defender Jonathan Spector (80th minute for Cherundolo) - 5.5: Showed some speed on the defensive flank. but had some trouble near the end, though no harm done was done.
Midfielder Brian Mullan (80th minute for Dempsey) - 5.5: Helped run tome off the clock.
Midfielder Justin Mapp (83rd minute for Beasley) - 5: made little impact during short stint.
Midfielder Brian Carroll (91st minute for Donovan) - no rating: A token appearance.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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