France capitalizes on defensive error to send U.S. down to defeat.
By Robert Wagman
(Saturday, November 12, 2011) -- As was the case last month against Belgium in Brussels, the United States men played a strong defensive match, but could not generate any attack and lost, this time 1-0 to powerful France last night in front of 70,018 fans at Stade de France in Saint-Denis, a Paris suburb.
In a way, this match seemed like a throwback to early in Bruce Arena's tenure as U.S. manager and at times his successor, Bob Bradley's, when overmatched Americans played 10 men on defense over 90 minutes and hoped for a lucky break -- a goal off a corner kick or free kick, or some other unexpected good fortune. To successed in that strategy, the underdog must play error-free and have good fortune smile on it.
The U.S. got a break when France hit the crossbar from close range and its players could not finish several good setups. Finally, the Americans made a mistake in back and that goal proved to be the difference.
In the 72nd minute, the U.S. turned the ball over in the midfield and France quickly popped over the top of the defense by Marvin Martin. Physical second-half substitute Loïc Rémy got into a foot race with U.S. defender Clarence Goodson and shoved Goodson off stride. Gaining the ball, Rémy slotted his shot under goalkeeper Tim Howard into the far left corner of the net for a 1-0 lead.
The first half was almost boring. The action was back-and-forth, mainly in the midfield, with neither team coming up with good scoring chances. The French came off at halftime to a scattering of boos and immediately picked up the pace after intermission.
The U.S. was back on its heels immediately, but held on, thanks in part to some stellar goalkeeping Howard, including an outstretched save on Karim Benzema's free kick.
"From a technical perspective, the shape, working and really finding a rhythm was good," U.S. manager Jürgen Klinsmann said. "The real piece that was missing was scoring a goal. I told them at halftime, 'Guys, you can absolutely compete here. You can go for a win.' Obviously, it was difficult after their goal. In these types of games, if you make one or two mistakes, you get punished."
Klinsmann, 1-4-1 since taking over the U.S. team, once again was denied the opportunity of fielding his strongest side. He was supposed to have his 11 best players available, including his two biggest offensive weapons -- Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan. Donovan, however, elected to remain with the Los Angles Galaxy ahead of next weekend's MLS Cup championship. Additionally, central defender Oguchi Onyewu showed up in training camp with a strained groin and was not able to go.
The U.S. closes 2011 with a match Tuesday against host Slovenia from Stozice Stadium in Ljubljana. The 12 noon start will be available on ESPN2 and Spanish-language Galavision.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 8: Kept the U.S. in the match with five saves, including one that was among the best of his career. Cannot be faulted on the France goal.
Defender Timmy Chandler - 5.5: He is playing on the wrong side and really in the wrong position - he is more comfortable as a defensive midfielder and on the right side, not the left -- but he had a good match despite some positioning problems. He was not able to get forward often, but chalk that up to French pressure.
Defender Clarence Goodson - 5: Except for the goal-scoring play, where he allowed himself to be muscled off the ball, he had a very good night, winning almost all the one-on-one battles. He needs to be more physical which is difficult given his slight frame.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 6.5: Was an absolute rock for the first hour-plus, at one point blocking a pair of shots while flat on the ground, but he seemed to fade a bit in the late going and was partially at fault for the play that ended up with France's goal.
Defender Steve Cherundolo - 6.5: Matched up against Franck Ribéry, a world-class, left-sided attacker, he had an exemplary night, allowing Ribéry little space and few opportunities. His experience showed.
Midfielder Maurice Edu - 4: He looked a little lost in a heavy defensive role. He is more of an attacking player, but tonight he was called on to defend and that is not his strength.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman - 4.5: He had a great deal of trouble with the pace of French midfielder Jeremy Menez. He needs much more experience with the kind of explosive pace he faced last night.
Midfielder Danny Williams - 5: He had to be constantly aware of what was happening behind him, so he was unable to pressure forward from his wing position. He worked hard and contributed often defensively. His career has been as a central player and, at times, he did not look comfortable playing what is essentially Donovan's position.
Midfielder Clint Dempsey - 5.5: Marseille's Alou Diarra, an exceptional defensive midfielder, kept Dempsey bottled up for most of the night.
Midfielder Brek Shea - 4: His contributions in recent matches have been on attack, but tonight he was forced to spend much of his time playing defense, which seemed not to be his best way to contribute.
Forward Jozy Altidore - 6.5: Probably the hardest he has worked in a U.S. jersey. He tried and tried, but it was often against two or three defenders. He needs help on top.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones (66th minute for Beckerman) - 6: A physical defensive midfielder, he threw himself into the match and added a great deal to the defensive effort.
Midfielder Fabian Johnson (71st minute for Williams) - 5.5: He seemed more at home in a wide attacking role than Williams was. He tried to push forward and did so with some success.
Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley (71st minute for Shea) - 4: He was brought on to attack. He didn't.
Forward Edson Buddle (77th minute for Edu) - 5: He really didn't have much time to make an impression. His job was to play on top to take pressure off Altidore. He did once or twice, but otherwise was not very effective.
SoccerTimes Player of the Match: Tim Howard.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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