Grading the U.S.'s performance
The result may have been inferior to the U.S.'s 1-1 draw with Argentina on Saturday, but the Stars and Stripes were a vastly superior team in their 1-0 loss to Paraguay on Tuesday night.
Learning its lesson from the second half against Argentina, the U.S. reverted back to its old 4-4-2 formation, doubtless realizing that without the injured Stu Holden there is nobody to man the top of the triangle in the 4-5-1 setup. It paid off, as the U.S. gained tremendously in fluidity and control over the game. As they had been yearning to, the Americans controlled the tempo and held the bulk of possession throughout the game. Passing was clean from Bob Bradley's side, which also found better solutions to escape pressure.
The scheme also freed up wingers Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey to drift into the less crowded middle or push forward. This allowed forwards Jozy Altidore and Juan Agudelo to drift and gave wing backs Timmy Chandler and Jonathan Bornstein room to push up the flanks, resulting in nice positional interchanges and subsequent problems for the South Americans' defense. This was especially successful on the right, thanks to the splendid Chandler, but less so on the left where Bornstein again -- and again and again -- exposed himself as unfit for the international level.
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That the U.S. didn't create more chances can be blamed on its own shortcomings in the final third as well as on the approach of its opponents, who packed it in entirely after fortuitously going ahead in the 18th minute on a goal on which at least one American was fouled. A big aspect of the U.S. offense is designed on quick transitions wherein Donovan and Dempsey can run at their opponents. This threat was neutralized by a Paraguay side content to sit behind the ball. The U.S., while doing very well to hold on to the ball for long spells, wasn't able to adjust.
The U.S. deserved more from this game because of its initiative against a mirthless opponent, but also undermined its own case by creating just a single serious chance all night.
Player ratings: (1-10)
Marcus Hahnemann, 5 -- He was blameless on Paraguay's goal, thumped in from close range as it was. He had an otherwise uneventful half of work, punctuated by two saved shots in the 43rd minute on which he did fine.
Jay DeMerit, 5.5 -- It's hard to say if he was to blame for Paraguay's goal. He lunged at the ball to get it away, saw it blocked and was on the ground when Oscar Cardozo found himself with the space to slot it home. He played a nice and physical game to counter that of the U.S.'s rough-and-tumble opponents. He paid the price for it by picking up a knock that caused him to come out in the 42nd minute after towering over a defender and nodding in a dangerous header on a free kick.
Tim Ream, 7 -- Belying his mere 23 years and inexperience once more, Ream was his usual cool and composed self, no matter how much pressure he was put under. He was fouled on the first goal and wasn't to blame for it. He was strong positionally and showed that he could keep up with an international-caliber forward, tracking down his broken-out man and pushing him into a corner on one occasion. He distributed well, although it would be nice to see more of his long ball. Ream showed that he is good enough to be a starter for the U.S. as of now.
Timothy Chandler, 8.5 -- Chandler, playing on his 21st birthday, was a revelation. The youngster was reliable in the back and lethal going forward. In 80 minutes of work, he sent in a half-dozen good crosses and was even good after becoming a right winger later on. He was the only American to consistently get past his man.
Jonathan Bornstein, 1.5 -- He let an opponent beat him to a simple header and almost score early. The rest of his "contribution" consisted of two terrible touches that killed off very promising attacks and a misdelivered 10-yard cross in the 60th minute that should have yielded a simple shot on goal for Altidore. If this isn't the last time we see him turn out for the U.S., all conspiracy theories will become credible.
Clint Dempsey, 5.5 -- What few half-chances the U.S. managed to create Dempsey usually had a hand in, getting in a header in the 21st minute and a long dipping volley in the 26th. But he wasn't efficient on the night, shanking several other shots. He took even more of a beating than usual, getting hacked often and knocked down almost as soon as he got on the ball. He didn't get off scot-free on the Paraguay goal, losing his man in the melee.
Michael Bradley, 7.5 -- Bradley was ruthlessly efficient in his distribution, an area of his game that is sometimes sloppy. His connecting the defense with the forwards allowed for a smooth transition of the ball, much to his merit. He almost capped his night with a goal for the ages, when his shot from 20 yards was tipped from the upper 90 by a beautiful save.
Maurice Edu, 6.5 -- He put in a solid half of work. He was strong and clean on the ball and helpful to the back line by dropping back when it needed help to pass out of pressure.
Landon Donovan, 6 -- While he saw much more of the ball than against Argentina, he didn't do as much with it as he could have. Paraguay's tactics precluded running at defenders, as he was invariably outnumbered, but the many set pieces that he took were mostly off-target. In the 75th minute, he had the Yanks' biggest chance of the game when a Lichaj throw-in fell to him at the second post and he slammed it into the side netting.
Juan Agudelo, 7.5 -- On the night, Agudelo was everything U.S. fans had hoped he could be. His splendid little runs caused havoc in the opposing defense. And the 18-year old, making his first start, was strong in the air and held up the ball well. His game continues to show improbable maturity and polish. There should be no more doubt about his readiness. Tonight, he was the best forward the U.S. has had in some time.
Jozy Altidore, 4 -- Aside from having a reasonable claim to a penalty very early on in the game, when he was headlocked in the box but got no call, Altidore had little influence on offense in his 60 minutes of action. A bad pass stifled an early counterattack. Other than that, the only times he was useful were when he dropped back or wide to help circulation of the ball in midfield.
Carlos Bocanegra, 6 -- The veteran Bocanegra came on just before the half and had a steadying influence on the back line. Solid.
David Yelldell, incomplete -- The debutant goalie had virtually nothing to do in the second half. The only action for him came in the form of a dive for a long shot that clattered off the post.
Jermaine Jones, 7 -- In similar fashion to his performance against Poland in October, Jones showed that he is the best passer of the ball in the U.S. player pool by a mile. He added a dimension to his team's game by sprinkling deep balls into the attackers that made the field longer and opened up room for teammates. The only blemish on his night was a poor touch in injury time that sent Paraguay on a run that nearly doubled the score. But then he followed it up with a thunderbolt in the very last second of the game that was well saved.
Eric Lichaj, 6 -- After coming on two-thirds of the way through the game, the young right back made some nice runs up the field and sent in a dangerous cross. He also helped set up the best chance of the night with a long throw-in, which could develop into a real weapon for the U.S.
Sacha Kljestan, 5.5 -- In a short appearance, Kljestan helped ping the ball around in a late spell of true dominance for the U.S., but did nothing out of the ordinary.
Jonathan Spector, incomplete -- Spector, a late entrant into the game, had insufficient touches to merit fair grading.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.