Juan Agudelo seemed the likely MVP after his goal capped a second half rally by the U.S. Men’s National Team to tie world’s fourth-ranked team Argentina, 1-1, in an international friendly at New Jersey’s New Meadowlands Stadium Saturday night, but it was national team coach Bob Bradley who probably deserves the most credit for the deserved outcome.
The U.S. failed to maintain possession of the ball for any substantial length of time in the first half and was totally dominated by the more skillful Argentines. The main reason for the Americans’ inability to pose any threat to the opposition was the four-two-three-one formation. With only Jose Altidore as the lone forward and a stacked midfield, the U.S. at least managed to clog the middle with midfielders Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu and prevent Messi and company from scoring more than a goal despite their complete domination of the hosts.
Unfortunately, Messi slipped away in one instance and dribbled down the left side all the way to the goal line and crossed to forward Angel DiMaria, whose initial shot was blocked by U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard in a gallant effort; the rebound spilled toward Esteban Cambiasso, who made no mistake from 12 yards to put Argentina ahead, 1-0, in the 42nd minute for the halftime lead. Cambiasso, who like defender Javier Zanetti was recalled to the national team after previous coach Diego Maradona had dropped them, scored his fifth goal for the national team.
In the second half, Bradley did what a good coach would, make the change to help his team; the U.S. coach reverted to the more familiar four-four-two formation and inserted 18-year-old forward Agudelo to partner Altidore on the two-man frontline and left out Jones, and it worked well for the U.S. The difference between the U.S. first and second halves was as obvious as night and day.
The Americans immediately got more offense as the midfield was simplified and the other second half substitute, right back Tim Chandler came in for Jonathan Spector; Chandler found ways to get forward to send dangerous crosses into the Argentina goal area. One of Chandler’s efforts was knocked out of bounds for a U.S. corner kick taken by midfielder Landon Donovan. Donovan’s corner kick was headed toward the goal by defender Carlos Bocanegra, but Argentine goalkeeper Marino Andujar failed to hold on and Agudelo was there to finish the spill into the back of net in the 59th minute to bring a frenzied record soccer crowd of 78,936 to their feet in a wild roar.
The Argentines clearly were spectacular on the ball and clever with their short inter-passing in tight spaces in front of the goal. Messi, the FIFA Player of the Year the past two years, was in the midst of the magic. He was difficult to contain as the defenders tugged and grabbed him as he managed to maintained balance and possession.
The 19th-ranked U.S. showed poise and the ability to make adjustments in a difficult game; Argentina clearly was the more talented team, but the U.S. held their ground under pressure throughout the entire game and picked their chances to counter attack the clever Argentines. A rear counter attack moment came in the 36th minute when Jones won the ball at midfield and sent Donovan on a run down the left side and sent Clint Dempsey in on goal to complete the counterattack with a shot on goal.
Donovan played his 129th international and edged past Marcelo Balboa as third in U.S. appearances behind Cobi Jones (164) and Jeff Agoos (134). The U. S. was scheduled to play Paraguay on Tuesday, March 29 and Spain on June 4 at Gillette Stadium before kicking off the CONCACAF Gold Cup on June 7 against Canada in Detroit.