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U.S. under-23s: no time for the mourning after, but time for some to release the hand brake

Mar 25, 2012, 10:14 AM EDT

Bunbury of the United States leaps over an unidentified player from Canada during their CONCACAF Olympic qualifying soccer match in Nashville

There is absolutely no time for rebukes and rehash in the under-23 men’s national camp. They are on the field again in 36 hours, and if they can’t get their Olympic-bound cart out of the ditch, we’ll have all summer for autopsy.

Manager Caleb Porter sure gets it. “We’re all disappointed,” he said after last night’s 2-0 loss to Canada. “The reality is we need to move on. We need to get back to work tomorrow. We can’t dwell on this.”

All of his post-game comments are here.

Meanwhile, we’ll look quickly at three important individuals who simply must find the next level. U.S. international sides have a history of being at their best when things get bumpy; historically, they are better as underdogs, greater when pushing through hard times, lesser when leading the pack.

So, here are three who need to lead the “step-up” charge:

Freddy Adu

Adu loves the playmaker role. He’s OK out on the wing; I truly believe this is a far more mature Freddy Adu these days, one who has been through the professional wringer and knows what’s up in the world. He doesn’t complain about manning the flanks, but his true love is at central playmaker. He said so when I spoke to him during the Dallas training camp in February.

Fair enough. So step up. Be the creator in there – if that’s where Caleb Porter wants to put you.

Listen to what Porter said about the halftime adjustment, the centerpiece of which was moving Adu inside from the right wing. “We didn’t use the width we talked about at halftime,” Porter said. “We put Joe Gyau on and talked about creating 2 versus 1 situations wide. We didn’t do that well enough.”

That’s not all on Adu, of course. But much of it is. The thing with being a playmaker and orchestrator – you have to orchestrate. And it’s not always easy, especially when teams stack the midfield in a Christmas tree (4-3-2-1) formation as Canada did. It is what it is, and Adu has to find a way.

Bill Hamid

Monday’s match will go far in defining the young D.C. United goalkeeper’s career. Right now, he’s a talented work in progress, one who made a huge and costly mistake. That’s over. So now what is he going to do about it?

I say all the time, the problem with young goalkeepers isn’t the “mistake,” per se. It’s how they handle it. Can Hamid jog out onto the field for warm-ups Monday knowing, in his heart of hearts, that he can still manage the job? Does he know, beyond all doubt, that he’s the backstopper Porter needs to get the car back on the road? For there is no other way to play. He cannot hesitate, blink or think about things for a nano-second back there. Big-time goalkeepers are ‘keepers of supreme confidence – the rest just fall in line as good league-level men between the sticks.

(All that is assuming Porter sticks with Hamid; it was always close between he and Sean Johnson.)

Teal Bunbury or Terrence Boyd

Everybody is bummed about Juan Agudelo, and who can blame them? But as they say, he’s not coming off that bench now. So one of the remaining American strikers simply must do more. Bunbury got the start but was only dangerous last night when pressuring and harassing. Boyd got the last half hour and needed to plant the big idea in Porter’s noggin: “I have to start this guy next time.” But Boyd didn’t.

The best U.S. moments Saturday came when Brek Shea was unshackled on the wings, putting something worthwhile into the mixer. That’s just half the recipe. He needs someone finding the vulnerable spots in front of goal, and doing the deed from there.

Note

I didn’t pick center back Ike Opara as one of the “step-uppers” because, in all honesty, I suspect he’s all he can be at the moment. He hasn’t been very good over two matches, confirming what many suspected anyway, that he was slightly in over his head. It’s up to Porter now: stick with Opara and provide the necessary cover when possible or change personnel. That’s about it.

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