U.S. men play Ecuador well, but are undone by late defensive failure.
By Robert Wagman
(Wednesday, October 12, 2011) - The United States men played a strong opponent almost even over nearly 80 minutes, but then committed a pair of ghastly defensive errors that allowed Ecuador a 1-0 victory in front of a decidedly pro-Ecuador crowd of 20,707 last night at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.
It was yet another setback for the Americans under new coach Jürgen Klinsmann, whose record fell to 1-3-1 since taking over the helm of the U.S. side.
Klinsmann made only one change to the starting lineup that defeated Honduras 1-0 Saturday in rainy Miami, Fla., inserting Oguchi Onyewu in place of Michael Orozco Fiscal in the central defense.
Ecuador, in turn, started a mostly veteran team. Coach Reinaldo Rueda, who probably saved his job by defeating Venezuela 2-0 on Friday in Ecuador's first South American World Cup qualifying game, used five of the starters from that game tonight. But he had a number of others on the bench, including goal-scorer Walter Ayovi, and he inserted them as the night went on. Overall, he had veterans on defense and midfield, and the team's two best offensive threats, Antonio Valencia and Michael Arroyo as starters.
Klinsmann has been trying to install a offensive minded 4-3-3 style of play, but Saturday showed when his midfield pushes forward as a group, it opens space in front of the defense. On Saturday, Honduras was able to take advantage of that with quick counter-attacks. Last night, the Americans used what was effectively a 4-1-3-1 formation with defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman told to stay at home in front of the back four and break up plays before they got to the defense.
It worked well. With Onyewu in the middle of defense with Bocanegra and with Beckerman staying home, Ecuador was limited in the first half to a single shot on goal, easily handled by Tim Howard.
The problems started in the second half when Jonathan Spector was inserted on the right side of defense and then New York Red Bulls defender Tim Ream was given the chance in the 70th minute to play in front of his home fans.
In the 79th minute, Ayovi took the ball down the left side and Spector was unable to prevent his cross. Second-half substitute Jaime Ayovi, usually a starter, beat Ream to the cross and scored giving Ecuador the match's only goal.
Except for those two key errors, the U.S. defense was solid all night. The same cannot be said for a woeful attack. The U.S. has now scored just two goals in the first five games of the Klinsmann era and both were on good individual efforts rather than sharp passing plays.
One statistic stands out. The U.S. earned 10 corner kicks, but none of them resulted in much. The kicks were either off target or Ecuador cleared them with ease.
Last night, the U.S. got off to a fast start. Over the first 20 minutes of so, it attacked and the short- passing offense that Klinsmann wants was in high gear, but it tended to break down the closer to the goal it got. Most of the shots that were taken from distance or were well off target.
As is often the case for the U.S. over the past several years, if Landon Donovan is absent, as he was for the last two matches, or if he plays poorly, the American attack suffers. With Donovan back in California nursing injuries last night and midfielder Clint Dempsey having a decidedly off night, the U.S. was left with almost nothing to offer offensively.
Next up for the U.S. is possibly a meeting with France in Paris in November.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 6.5: Not asked to do much, he was solid in the back and could do little to prevent the Ecuador goal.
Defender Timmy Chandler - 7.5: He was a bright spot on the back-line all night, was not beaten defensively and pushed forward often. Another good performance.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 6.5: A fine performance. Tasked with keeping Valencia under control, no easy task, he was more than up to the job.
Defender Oguchi Onyewu - 7.5: Tonight he looked like the player he was before his serious injury in 2009. What stood out was his mobility, pushing forward to make defensive stops in the midfield and, in the final 10 minutes, playing as an attacking midfielder as the U.S. tried to get level. His play over the past two matches is the big story for the U.S. to come out of the last two matches.
Defender Steve Cherundolo - 6: Despite concerns with his age and speed, he kept step-for-step with a fleet attacker in Arroyo and was not beaten to the outside. A solid game from an experienced professional.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman 6: He stayed home and played solid defense, and was very active in repelling forward thrusts from Ecuador. Needs more experience, but showed much better than on Saturday when he was often out of position.
Midfielder Maurice Edu - 5: He still looks a bit adrift, not sure whether to push forward or lay back on defense. If his job is to orchestrate the U.S. offense from the center of midfield, that is probably not a role for which he is suited.
Midfielder Danny Williams - 5.5: He is still learning his teammates names, but he showed a dogged resolve as he motored up and down the right wing. He is just feeling his way along and needs to better integrate himself into the attack, but is giving every indication that will come with more experience. He probably is more dangerous playing centrally than roaming up and down the flank.
Midfielder Brek Shea - 6: A solid 45-minute performance. He stepped up his game from Saturday and showed he can play at a faster pace.
Forward Clint Dempsey - 4.5: Maybe after going 90 minutes in the rain on Saturday, he had little left in the tank. For whatever reason, he had little impact on the match against Ecuador.
Forward Jozy Altidore - 5.5: He can be applauded for his high work rate, but not for what he accomplished. Too often, once again, he was attacking against multiple defenders and with little effect.
Defender Jonathan Spector (46th minute for Cherundolo) - 4.5: Over the second half, he was very shaky. His clearances were never crisp, he had problems with the pace he was facing and he failed in the critical sequence resulting in the winning goal.
Forward\midfielder DaMarcus Beasley (46th minute for Shea) - 5.5: As one might expect from him, a high-energy performance, but one without positive attributes. He got himself into good positions offensively with little result, but he did make defensive contributions.
Midfielder Michael Bradley (46th minute for Edu) - 6.5: He showed he is the best defensive midfielder the U.S. has. His free kicks almost provided the Americans a goal. He should be starting when important games come.
Forward Juan Agudelo (46th minute for Altidore) - 5.5: He started fast, but then faded. Over the key final stretch, when the U.S. tried to get an equalizer, he was not a factor at all.
Forward Edson Buddle (65th minute for Williams) - 4: Put on as a second forward to play alongside Agudelo, he was simply ineffective. He made almost no impact.
Defender Tim Ream (73rd minute for Bocanegra) - 3: He looked lost on Ecuador's goal and contributed little. He might end up a factor on the U.S. Olympic team, but not on the full squad when qualifying starts.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Oguchi Onyewu.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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