TIANJIN, China -- When you're the U.S. soccer coach, your team hasn't been scoring goals and you leave a $10 million striker (
"I think everybody was surprised," said U.S. forward
And now the U.S. finds itself in an unexpected position: alone in first place atop Group B with three points, ahead of the Netherlands (one), Nigeria (one) and Japan (zero).
My feeling is that Altidore will start games in this tournament, not least because Nowak said he made his decision in part due to Japan's formation. "When we had those two [pre-Olympic exhibition] games we tried to find the way you play versus Japan," Nowak explained afterward. "Because of the way they play with a 4-2-3-1, we want to not only match it with Freddy but also give Freddy a little bit more freedom between those four and those two."
"We tried to drag them out a little bit so you can find the spots for
Rogers was dangerous all night on the left wing, and Holden found the most important open spot of the game, running onto a deflected
For one game, at least, Nowak's decisions were spot on. His three overage picks were solid:
Nowak's move to experiment in the back with Edu (normally a central midfielder for Toronto FC and the U.S. senior team) was another winner. He first tried it during the U.S. under-23 team's two-game tour of China last year, and recent injuries to defenders
For my money Edu was the Man of the Match, snuffing out Japanese attacks, covering loads of space and communicating well with defenders Parkhurst, Wynne and
"I thought [Edu] was one of our best players out there today," Parkhurst said. "I don't think he lost a tackle all game. It just seemed like every time he got in a one-on-one situation he came out on top."
For Nowak, it's Edu's versatility that makes him so valuable. "I'm very happy with the way [Edu] played tonight," Nowak said. "We're looking forward to having this kind of guy with these kinds of qualities not only for the Olympic team but also for the senior team."
The senior team probably won't ever ask Edu to play as a center back, but it's useful to know that he can do it at the international level. "It's growing on me," said Edu, who'd never played as a defender for more than a couple games in college (at Maryland) and in MLS. "I just want to win games, so if that means we're going to win then I'm happy there."
And so an experiment that Nowak tried a year ago in China when nobody was paying attention is paying off here at a time when the soccer world is watching. Anticipating problems, finding solutions, taking smart risks: they're the marks of a good coach, one whose U.S. men are alone in first place.
Not bad, Peter Nowak. Not bad, you young Americans. Not bad at all.