Soccer America
Monday September 8th, 2008

HAVANA -- The most impressive performance from the U.S. after Saturday's 1-0 win over Cuba came after the game, when Landon Donovan kept a straight face as he said, "I thought we played very well."

In fact, the unconvincing effort against a soccer minnow was a stark reminder that the U.S. national team isn't making progress. "We created a lot of chances," said Donovan, although Cuban goalkeeper Odelin Molina only had to make one save.

Coach Bob Bradley said, "I thought once again we dealt well with some difficult conditions and came away with a good result."

Perhaps one can't fault Bradley for being pleased that his team has started the semifinal round of qualifying with two road wins. But shouldn't the nation's best players be able to trap balls and hit accurate passes even when the field isn't perfect?

Pointing out that the U.S. has won three World Cup qualifying games on the road for the first time isn't so impressive when reminded that the 1-0 wins came against teams -- Barbados, Guatemala and Cuba -- that haven't reached a World Cup since Cuba made an appearance in 1938.

And so very tiresome has become the refrain from players that these games are "battles" and not meant to be "pretty." All games are battles. Exceptional teams outplay their opponents rather than depending on muscle and the lucky bounce. And were it not for its superior goalkeeping, the U.S. wouldn't have its little win streak.

U.S. vs. Cuba should have been a game of cat and mouse. The problems start at the back. When defenders constantly kick the ball out of bounds and slam hopeful balls upfield, a possession game and clever buildup is off the table.

The central midfield against Cuba comprised Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu. In addition to their frequent misplaying of balls, they failed to bring any rhythm to the game. The vastly talented Donovan deserves a better supporting cast.

Bradley has started the last eight games in the central midfield with a variety of partners. It's time to question whether the team needs a more dynamic player in that role.

Left-sided midfielder DaMarcus Beasley, a player who has shown the ability to bring creativity to the field, was woefully inconsistent and one worries about his injury problems.

For sure, the Americans will cruise into the final round of qualifying, and they'll make it to fifth straight World Cup -- not a great feat from a region that will send as many as four teams to the finals.

What is most troubling about the soccer that coach Bradley has been putting on the field is that it isn't any better than what we saw in eight years under Bruce Arena, or in the previous four years under Steve Sampson.

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