Here are my postgame thoughts from the United States national team's scoreless draw with Colombia at PPL Park last night. We'll get the bad side of the ledger out of the way first.
- The first half was incredibly boring. Bob Bradley's starting lineup produced almost nothing in attack, while Colombia made runs forward every once in a while but couldn't do anything with them. The only true attacking player on the field for the U.S. in the first half was Jozy Altidore, and he appeared stranded up top on numerous occasions.
- Bob Bradley's 4-3-3 formation was too defensive. It's not necessarily bad to play a 4-3-3, and there's certainly no shame in experimenting with different formations in a friendly match at the very start of a new World Cup cycle. But the midfield trio of Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu and Michael Bradley did not work. Stuart Holden contributed some to the attack, but Brek Shea didn't go forward much. Which leads to my next point...
- There was almost no width whatsoever in the first half. This was especially true in the midfield. In addition to the aforementioned lack of spark and creativity, the U.S. midfield had no width whatsoever. Brek Shea's positioning in particular left a big gap in the part of the field you'd expect a player in his position to occupy. As a result, Jozy Altidore had to cover even more ground than he was already assigned as the lone striker.
- The U.S. struggled to possess the ball. That's not news to anyone who's watched this team regularly, but it's still worth noting. Every once in a while, Michael Bradley and the central defensive pairing of Clarence Goodson and Oguchi Oneywu would string a few passes together across the back line. But once the ball started moving forward, it was almost always turned over right away.
- None of the U.S. players seemed willing or able to really take control and dictate the flow of the game. Clint Dempsey came closest, wich was no surprise given his talent. But the game would have been so different if Landon Donovan was on the roster.
That's not to say he should have been, because the U.S. Soccer Federation made a fair deal to allow MLS players to remain with their clubs for the playoff race. It's just a statement about how much Donovan matters to the U.S. team's success, because he is the one player on the squad who can really break through opponents and finish opportunities.
- Jermaine Jones and Eric Lichaj were impressive. I liked Jones' ball control and willingness to make runs with the ball both on the flank and in the center of the field. There were concerns for a while that the German-American wouldn't live up to the great hype that has surrounded him for the last few months, but Jones certainly seems worth a regular place in the U.S. rotation.
The same is true of Lichaj, a right back who got his first ever cap last night. He made good runs forward, but also never seemed to be completely caught out at the back. Lichaj also displayed a bit of gumption, cleaning up a Colombian attack by backheeling the ball onto his head in order to send a legal pass back to U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
- The U.S. back line as a whole played well. Yes, Colombia made a lot of dangerous runs forward, but the more I think about it the more I think that was a result of the space opened up on the flanks by the 4-3-3 formation. Clarence Goodson and Oguchi Oneywu both made strong but clean tackles at key times, and even left back Heath Pearce did a good job at closing down Colombian attackers.
- I thought Jozy Altidore played well despite the limitations he was dealt. Clearly, Altidore plays better when he has a second forward out there with him. Not all strikers can play alone up top, even among the great goal-scorers in the sport. Once Eddie Johnson got out there in the second half, Altidore looked livelier and was able to contribute more to the attack.
- Stuart Holden serves a pretty nice free kick. Holden sent multiple balls into the right places in the box, and it wasn't his fault that none of his teammates could head those chances in the right direction. Look for Holden to continue taking free kicks for the U.S., especially when he can swing the ball into the box from the flanks.
- Despite the poor attendance, the atmosphere was terrific. The attendance was announced as 8,823, and it actually looked the part. The River End was packed with red shirts, and their chants carried plenty loudly throughout the night. Alas, not everything they came up with was all that creative, which led to a lot of grumbling in the press box about the same foul language we've heard at PPL Park all year.
There were also a lot of Colombian fans in the stands, frankly more than I expected there to be. But they also helped liven things up as wide swaths of PPL Park were draped in the red, yellow and blue of the Colombian flag.
It certainly would have helped things if a goal had been scored. To me, a scoreless draw seemed the right result, as both teams were unable to convert their attacks into geniune chances. But it's clear that the U.S. and Colombian teams are works in progress, and they used this game to try new things as a new four-year cycle of international soccer begins.
As you've already noticed, there's a photo gallery from the game above as well as links to coverage from the Inquirer and Daily News as well as other media outlets that were on hand. There's also a video with some analysis from me and postgame interviews.
In the audio player below, you'll hear from U.S. coach Bob Bradley and players Jozy Altidore, Stuart Holden, Eric Lichaj and Brad Guzan. From the Colombian side, Faryd Mondragon gave a postgame interview in English, while coach Hernand Dario Gomez spoke in Spanish.
Union midfielder Roger Torres was also on hand, and he clearly enjoyed having his country's national team at his new home. Torres spoke through an interpreter with local reporters outside the locker rooms, and you'll notice that he's starting to pick up his English a bit.
The last track is a pregame interview I did with ESPN analyst and former U.S. national team midfielder John Harkes. We talked about his experience at the World Cup this summer and the investments that ESPN has made in broadcasting soccer over the past year.