Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010
By Justin O'Neil
The U.S. Men's national team kicked off its post-World Cup campaign with a 2-2 draw against Poland on Saturday night at Soldier Field. Goals from Jozy Altidore and Oguchi Onyewu gave the U.S. the lead twice, but suspect defending allowed Poland to equalize twice. Onyewu nearly got a winning goal in the dying minutes of the game, but his net-bound shot was cleared off the line just before it crossed.
The U.S. roster was composed completely of European players for the first time in history, with MLS players being exempt from call-ups because the league is still in action. Despite star Landon Donovan not being on the roster, the U.S. lineup was near full-strength against Poland. The Polish side is a team in transition that failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup after making the previous two.
The U.S. debuted a 4-2-3-1 formation, deviating from the 4-4-2 head coach Bob Bradley has stuck to throughout his tenure and at the 2009 Confederations Cup and 2010 World Cup. German-born midfielder Jermaine Jones made his first start since declaring for the national team last year.
Jones' impact on the team was almost immediate, as he assisted Altidore's 13th minute goal. Altidore was on the shoulder of the last Polish defender, and Jones lobbed a pass over the defense. Altidore calmly slotted the ball past Polish keeper Artur Boruc for the goal.
The 28-year-old Jones has made a unique journey to U.S. team. Born to a German mother and American father, he grew up in Chicago and Missisippi for the first six years of his life before moving back to Germany. He played three games for Germany, but elected to change his affiliation to the U.S. last year. He missed the World Cup due to injury, but the midfielder looks like he will compete for a starting spot in an already crowded midfield.
"It's good to have him with us. I think he brings some experience, some good qualities," Bradley said.
Onyewu made his first national team appearance since the first game of the World Cup. The defender has been struggling to recover from tearing his meniscus in his knee last October, but he did not look to be ailing physically and played the entire 90 minutes.
The U.S. patchwork defense of Onyewu, Maurice Edu, Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra struggled in the first half. A fantastic save from Tim Howard in a one-on-one with striker Robert Lewandowski in the 21st minute kept the U.S. ahead, but Poland equalized in the 30th minute on a goal from Adam Matuszczyk. A failed clearance by Onyewu, who has been sitting on the bench all season at A.C. Milan, fell to Ludovic Obraniak, who touched it to Matuszczyk, who put it past keeper Tim Howard from just inside the box.
Midfielder Stuart Holden stood out in the first half, putting a free kick just over the bar and playing a dangerous cross that Altidore and Clint Dempsey were not able to put on goal.
Altidore nearly had a second in the 42nd minute, beating Boruc with a powerful right-footed shot that hit the crossbar.
Neither side made any changes at halftime, and Onyewu made up for his earlier mistake by putting home a header in the 52nd minute. Onyewu's injury last year came on a similar play, but this time, the defender showed his trademark aerial ability to score off Holden's corner.
The U.S. defense fell asleep again in the 72nd minute, and Jakub Blaszczykowski smashed a shot past Howard to the far post. Again, the U.S. failed to clear in their area, with Jones the culprit on the second equalizer.
"We didn't do a good job of clearing balls out of our defensive third," Bradley said. "It cost us two goals tonight."
Defensive blunders aside, Altidore regaining his scoring touch, Onyewu looking healthy and Stuart Holden looking like he may have legitimate star potential stood out as bright spots on Saturday. The inclusion of Jones and move of Maurice Edu to centerback showed that Bradley is looking to put his best players on the field, even if it is not in their preferred position.
Dempsey played as a second forward, deeper than Altidore, a role he said he is comfortable with since he often plays there for English club Fulham. Dempsey struggled to get the ball from teammates in that role, but would likely find the position easier once Donovan's passing ability is added back into the team.
The U.S. will play another friendly on Tuesday against Colombia in Philadelphia.
Polish fans flock to Soldier Field
The sizeable Polish community in Chicago made the location for Saturday's friendly a no-brainer, and the Polish crowd was visible and vocal. The 31,696 fans in attendance appeared to be split fairly evenly, something the U.S. has grown accustomed to when playing against Mexico and Central American countries.
Fans were tailgating in the Soldier Field parking lots four hours before the game, and chants of "Polska" rivaled the U.S. supporters' songs at times. Both Polish goals were met with big cheers from the ecstatic Polish crowd.