CHICAGO – The USA’s 2-2 draw against Poland on Saturday night was one of those results that left a lot to be desired. That much was clear in a subdued Bob Bradley, who was visibly disappointed by his side’s ability to take control of the match when it had a lead on two different occasions.
“In the second half, when we went up 2-1, I thought there was an opportunity for us that if we could get sharp and pick the rhythm of the game up, to finish the game off,” the US manager said in the post-game press conference.
“I felt in some ways we were in low gear … Our tempo in that period of time was too slow, a casualness that ended up sort of letting them [Poland] back into it and ultimately they get the goal.”
Bradley may have coined a new term in American soccer lexicon on Saturday night and the truth is that the USA has shown too many episodes of this “casualness.” It’s the same symptom that can be attributed to several of the poor starts at the World Cup. The casual clearances of the US defenders cost their team two goals scored by Poland on Saturday night.
Judging by the look on his face, there is no doubt that Bradley sent a strong message to his squad following the match. It's as if his team let him down in Chicago.
“We probably took our foot off the gas a little bit,” forward Jozy Altidore said. “For a team as experienced as we are, I think we weren’t as sharp as we could have been tonight. These things happen. You have slip-up games like that.”
Isn’t casualness about accepting that slip-up games can happen? Altidore clearly does not share Bradley’s high expectations if the Villarreal forward believes “these things happen.”
Altidore’s fellow forward, Clint Dempsey, was even less alarmed, saying the Poland match was “just a friendly.” He listed a few mitigating factors, like the fact that it’s still early in the season for players based in Europe, and said that “I don’t think it’s the end of the world.”
It may not be the end of the world, but it sure appears there’s a large mountain to climb. And it doesn’t make it any easier that there are more than a few challenges to deal with: players who don’t have the confidence of playing regularly with their clubs (Oguchi Onyewu), a new addition from a foreign country who is not comfortable speaking English with reporters (Jermaine Jones) and another player trying out a relatively new position (Maurice Edu).
The US coaching staff is looking to build a team with personality and belief that can impose its will on others. That status won’t be achieved in one game, but the Soldier Field match is a step backwards. It was Poland that was the team with the mobility, movement and a sense of purpose that Bradley admitted caused problems for the USA.
“There was a part in the game where had we been a little bit sharper, the game was there for the taking,” US midfielder Michael Bradley said. “To be a little sharper, a little bit cleaner with the ball, a little bit more mobile, a little bit more dynamic.”
Another midfielder, Stuart Holden, also realizes that the definition of a good team entails managing the match in a much different way than the US did on Saturday.
“As soon as those goals [for USA] went in, it was almost like the whole level dropped and we were just happy to sit in a little bit and soak up a bit of pressure,” Holden said. “When we get the lead we can’t rest on that. We’ve got to keep pushing and try and get that extra goal to make it 3-1 or 2-0. It’s part of becoming a better team and a team that can finish games … we have to learn how to win games.”
It starts at PPL Park on Tuesday against what is arguably an even tougher opponent in Colombia. In front of the likes of Porto forward Radamel Falcao, casualness will be punished again.
“I thought it was ok,” Altidore said. “But you can tell we’re going to need a lot of work in the next four years.”