(Sunday, July 12, 2009) -- An extremely inexperienced version of the United States men managed a last-second goal, good for a 2-2 draw with Haiti to conclude Group B play in the CONCACAF Gold Cup and advance to the quarterfinals in front of 24,137 yesterday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
With midfielder Stuart Holden striking, deep into stoppage time, the U.S. finished 2-0-1, its seven points enough to win Group B and to extended its 25-match unbeaten streak (23-0-2) all-time in Gold Cup group action. The Americans are unbeaten in their last 56 matches at home against CONCACAF opponents -- those from the region of North America, Central America and the Caribbean -- dating back to a 3-2 loss to Honduras September 1, 2001, in a World Cup qualifier at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
With advancement to the quarterfinals already secured, U.S. coach Bob Bradley cleared his bench for Haiti. He used six players making their first career national-team starts, including four who were making their first-ever international appearances -- goalkeeper Luis Robles, defender Jay Heaps, and midfielders Sam Cronin and Colin Clark.
The result was not pretty. The U.S. was disorganized on attack for most of the night and, after a series of defensive gaffes to start the second half, fell behind in a match for just the second time in the last seven Gold Cup tournaments.
After Vaniel Sirin and Mones Chery scored in the 46th and 48th minutes to give Haiti an unexpected 2-1 advantage shortly after intermission, the Haitians bunkered in for the balance of the match. Despite Bradley rushing three more experienced players into the match as the second half wore on, the U.S. had little luck breaking down the Haitians until Holden pounced on a loose ball 28 yards from goal in the third minute of stoppage time. He let loose a blast that found the top right corner of the net on what proved to be the last play of the match.
Holden got things going early for the U.S. when in the sixth minute he threaded a pass between two defenders to striker Davy Arnaud in stride. Arnaud controlled the ball, cut back to his left and put it under charging goalkeeper Jean Zepherin for his first international goal. Holden then came close again in the 24th minute with another long range blast that Zepherin pushed up under the crossbar. The ball rebounded straight down and did not cross the goal-line.
Between the two similar Holden blasts, the Americans did very little.
The Haitians, who are very fast, but not overly skillful, played the U.S. dead even through the first half and had several good chances that were thwarted by some good goalkeeping by Robles. The Americans, meanwhile, could not mount much of a threat offensively, and when they could, were the victims of some poor finishing.
To start the second half, the U.S. defense fell into almost total disarray. Forty-four seconds in, Leonel Saint-Preux turned U.S. left back Jay Heaps in circles and sent a nice cross to the far post over the heads of the ball-watching U.S. central defenders and Robles to unmarked Vaniel Sirin, who easily headed the ball into an open net.
Just two minutes later, Saint-Preux again beat Heaps to the end-line and just as Robles seemed ready to collect the ball, Heaps made a lunging clearance that went directly to Chery 30 yards from goal. Chery took one touch and hit a hard drive that sailed onto the upper left corner of the net before Robles could get back into position.
With the lead, Haiti bunkered in. Despite the insertion of midfielder Kyle Beckerman, and strikers Charlie Davis and Brian Ching the U.S. could do little until stoppage time when Ching pried the ball loose from a Haitian defender. The ball rolled loose allowing Holden to run onto it and strike a bullet that partially redeemed the Americans and clinched first place in the group.
Davies was available because he was able to delay his return to Europe following his transfer from Sweden's Hammarby to French Ligue 1 side Sochaux. He had been due back in Sweden on Friday.
"I think when you look at everything, it is a good experience for these players," Bradley said. "After the fact, you can look at things and understand that it will help them down the road. I think we had some stretches in the game where we were pretty solid. We had a number of guys who made plays where they kept the ball alive, got a cross in, helped regain possession, and all those things led to Stuart scoring a goal to equalize. I think there were some good things, but when you look at the consistency of the whole game, it would fit with the fact that this is a group that hadn't been there before."
The U.S. will play Panama Saturday in the quarterfinals at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field.