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US goes down in Hartford before World Cup. A harbinger of things to come in South Africa?
BOSTON — The last time the U.S. soccer team faced the Czech Republic was in its opening game of the 2006 World Cup in Germany. The Czechs hammered the Americans 3-0, holding them to just a single shot on goal, and the loss was a harbinger of bad things to come.
It wasn’t nearly as one-sided last night when the two met in a “friendly” in Hartford, the first of three tune-up games for the American team before its June 12 World Cup opener against England. And it is hardly clear if the game will prove to be the harbinger of anything in South Africa. Still, the U.S. side was unlikely to find much, if any, encouragement in a 4-2 loss to a Czech team that failed to even qualify for South Africa.
Admittedly, the Americans were not playing with a full deck. Key players like offensive mainstays Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey were sidelined while coach Bob Bradley gave one last test to some of the squad’s marginal players before he made the final decision today on his 23-man World Cup roster.
Still, the Czechs are a young team trying to regroup after its World Cup qualifying flop. Indeed, one of the teams that booted the Czechs out of South Africa was Slovenia, which beat them in Prague and looms as America’s second Cup opponent.
If an American soccer fan had pulled a Rip Van Winkle for the past four years and had awoken just in time for this game, he would have found the American team very — and distressingly — familiar. The offense didn’t appear to be a threat to score off the run of play. Both American goals came off set plays, the result of well-placed free kicks by Stuart Holden combined with aggressive work by defender Clarence Goodson in front of the opposition goal.
The defense was once again sloppy, letting the opponents run far too free in threatening positions. If it has cured its penchant for recklessness, it appeared to do so by not marking the Czechs closely enough to be tempted into rash fouls. Perhaps the biggest concern was that Oguchi Onyewu, a vital cog in the central defense who was playing for the first time since a knee injury last fall, looked slow and tentative, either unable or unwilling to leap to contest a header that wound up in the U.S. goal.
After the game, U.S. Coach Bob Bradley said his team had demonstrated some “good ideas,” but didn’t bother to enumerate any of them. Since the only easily recognizable positive was the concerted effort of the players, an obvious reflection of the fact that a number of them were auditioning for a job, I am left to conclude that the good idea of the evening was nothing more than “let’s try really hard out there.”