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Three thoughts: U.S.-Argentina


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Three thoughts after the U.S.'s 1-1 tie against Argentina on Saturday night:

1. Juan Agudelo keeps impressing in a U.S. uniform. The New York Red Bulls forward, who just turned 18, scored the equalizing goal against the Argentines, beating defender Marcus Rojo to a rebound off a Carlos Bocanegra set-piece header. Agudelo has played in only three games for the U.S., all as a substitute, and he has scored twice (against Argentina and at South Africa) and drawn a penalty against Chile. That comes off Agudelo's sterling performance in last week's MLS opener, in which he scored his first club goal in New York's victory over Seattle. Everyone wants to avoid an overhype situation a la Freddy Adu/Eddie Johnson, but in his first three U.S. games Agudelo is making it hard for U.S. fans not to get excited. At what point does he get his first U.S. start?

2. A 4-2-3-1 formation puts the best U.S. players on the field, but a 4-4-2 gets better results. U.S. coach Bob Bradley has been experimenting with a five-man midfield for months now, which makes sense considering the U.S.'s midfield depth and few dangerous options up top. But after the U.S. was overmatched in the first half against Argentina, Bradley switched from a 4-2-3-1 to the tried-and-true 4-4-2, inserting Agudelo for Jermaine Jones. Suddenly the U.S. perked up. Debutante right back Timmy Chandler (a second-half sub) got upfield to unspool several good crosses, and Jozy Altidore had some good interplay up front with Agudelo. It's too early to completely dump the five-man midfield -- it would help to have a healthy Stuart Holden in the advanced central-mid role that Edu played in the first half -- but the 4-4-2 continues to be the formation that brings the best U.S. results.

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3. Lionel Messi is a joy to watch in person. It's not often that you get to watch the world's best player in the flesh -- it was my second occasion -- and Messi was worth the price of admission. When you're in the stadium you can see how much freedom Messi has to go anywhere he wants on the field, as well as how he uses that space to his advantage. Under new coach Sergio Batista, Argentina has finally started building completely around Messi, and Carlos Tévez and Sergio Agüero (who weren't called in) may not be the complements that Messi needs. This Argentina (especially the one we saw in the first half) looked like a team that can realistically win the Copa America this summer on home soil.