Thursday March 4th, 2010

AMSTERDAM -- Less than 30 minutes after the U.S. fell 2-1 here to the Netherlands on Wednesday, defender Jonathan Bornstein breathed a deep sigh on the floor of the Amsterdam ArenA and pondered his night. Although the Dutch had dominated possession for most of the game, it still came down to two moments involving Bornstein -- one within his control and one outside it -- that decided the outcome in the end.

Late in the first half with the game still scoreless, Bornstein grabbed Wesley Sneijder in the box, drawing the same kind of avoidable penalty that Bornstein picked up in the 1-0 loss at Slovakia in November. Sneijder didn't have to fall, but he's a cagey player who knew there had been contact, and Bornstein knew it too.

"I did grab him a little bit," Bornstein acknowledged. "I touched him, and he could have kept going and he fell. But they called it, so I guess it was a penalty."

Dirk Kuyt converted the spot kick for a deserved 1-0 lead, an advantage that doubled in the 73rd minute when Bornstein, now playing at center back, deflected Klaas Jan Huntelaar's 20-yard shot into the U.S. goal. This was one was admittedly unlucky, and there wasn't much that Bornstein could have done about it.

"That's how soccer goes sometimes," Bornstein said. "Maybe another night that hits me and goes away from the goal. What are you going to do? I don't think I played my best, but you learn from it and hopefully bounce back and play better the next game."

Bornstein is only one of the U.S. options at left back, the position that causes the U.S. more concern than any other heading to the World Cup, but he'll have to sharpen his game at this level if he wants to be on the field when the U.S. opens its World Cup campaign against England on June 12.

Once Oguchi Onyewu returns to health, he should be able to retake his position in the central defense alongside Jay DeMerit and push Carlos Bocanegra out to left back, as he did during last summer's Confederations Cup. The other options (besides Bocanegra and Bornstein) would be Jonathan Spector (who normally plays on the right for the U.S., but has played on the left at West Ham) or perhaps Heath Pearce (if he can make a late run onto the team).

But let's say one of the U.S.'s front-line defenders is injured in June; it wouldn't be surprising to see Bornstein out at left back on the big stage. And if that's the case, as U.S. coach Bob Bradley acknowledged, he'll need to get more out of the player he used to coach at MLS' Chivas USA.

"Jonny's always going to compete very well," Bradley said after the game. "He's going to work hard, he's going to do very well in terms of footraces in the game and winning headers. We still talk to him a lot about sharpening up a little bit with the ball, seeing things a little bit faster. The play that leads to the PK, you see that all over, but when you're playing against very good attackers, if you grab a little bit like that and they go down it's going to get called. It's similar to the play in Slovakia. Those are things that we now need to learn from and take care of."

The U.S. was clearly hurt here by its four missing starters -- Clint Dempsey, Onyewu, Charlie Davis and Ricardo Clark -- and if we have learned anything in the last month it's that depth is a real problem for this American team if the top players are out. Yet there was still a small hint of satisfaction afterward among the American players. Bocanegra pointed out that the U.S. competed better against the Dutch this time than it did the last time the two teams played in this building in 2004. And it was true that the U.S. almost stole a tie in the final minutes after Bocanegra's late goal and a couple anxious moments for the hosts.

"That's what we're most disappointed about," said U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard. "OK, we didn't dominate the game, but they beat us on a penalty and a deflection. They don't need any more luck to win these games. That was the unfortunate part for us. "

So, yes, the 2-1 scoreline probably flattered the Americans. Yes, the U.S. let the Netherlands dominate possession. And yet, if it hadn't been for a couple of split-second moments involving Bornstein, these Yanks could have pulled out a result even when they weren't the better team. It's a trait that is typically associated with Germany, a trait that could prove useful in South Africa.

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