Published: January 18, 2012
CARSON, CALIFORNIA – On Tuesday, the U23 and full national team battled to a 1-1 draw at the Home Depot Center. The U23 team was closing off camp from California with the scrimmage as it heads to Costa Rica for two friendlies over the next week.
The 1-1 result was a stark contrast from the 0-4 shellacking that the full national team handed out on Friday when the teams met for the first time.
“First and foremost, we wanted to improve,” U23 head coach Caleb Porter told TopDrawerSoccer.com after the draw. “We wanted to look at the last game and look at the things we didn’t do well. We addressed those things in training and it showed up today.”
One of the ideas that Porter focused on during practice over the last two days was the play inside the 18-yard box – both for the offense and defense.
The U23 MNT held their own on Tuesday.
“We definitely were tighter defensively,” said Porter. “Outside of the first five minutes, we defended really well. We need to be a little more lethal offensively though.”
The U23s conceded the lone goal early in the contest when Benny Feilhaber expertly picked out Graham Zusi for the opening score. The Sporting Kansas City midfielder drifted past U23 left back Jorge Villafana and rifled his shot into the lower corner of the net.
With the goal in the first five minutes, it looked like this contest might turn into another lopsided affair. But the Olympic side showed a newfound mental toughness and settled into the game after those nervous few minutes.
Once again, the U23 held the possession advantage throughout the game, but goal-scoring opportunities were sparse for much of the first half.
Eventually, Porter’s side was rewarded for maintaining control of the game when they generated a corner kick 12 minutes before half time after a cross by Villafana was blocked out over the end line.
Dilly Duka’s corner, which was hit on a rope, went unabated through the defense before Jack McInerney hammered it home on a bounce from eight yards out to level the score.
Porter added that his team spent time in the last few days working on set pieces so he was pleased with the immediate return he saw in the game.
In the second half, neither side broke through despite a couple chances for the younger squad. In the 62nd minute, Joe Corona expertly lifted a ball over the defense for Mikkel Diskerud, but Sean Johnson’s catlike reflexes turned his effort away with a kick save.
Corona missed the scrimmage on Friday due to club commitments and his absence was noticeable in retrospect, as the Club Tijuana midfielder was a lively addition to the left side of the attack in the second half on Tuesday.
The U23 side had another chance to score when it looked like Tony Taylor broke through the defense but Johnson raced out of his box to kick the opportunity away.
Some attribution in the collective improvement in the rematch lies on the shoulders of forward Teal Bunbury and goalkeeper Bill Hamid. After spending the last week with the full team, the U23 eligible duo joined Porter’s side for this scrimmage.
“It is a different dimension having [Bunbury] up there because he is a handful physically,” said Porter. “It was good to get him in there and it was good to get Bill [Hamid] in there as well.”
Porter touched on the presence that Hamid added with his communication and ability to organize the defense in front of him. Comparatively, the decibel level on the field felt like a library when Hamid was on the bench in the second half.
Overall, Porter was pleased with how quickly his team improved from game to game regardless of the result.
“More important than tying the national team is the progress we showed today,” said Porter. “Again, I thought the group overall came to play, but I am most pleased with the transitioning from training to the game.”
The team departs for Costa Rica in the morning with games against two professional clubs on the docket. In between the end of this camp and Qualifying in March, Porter said that there is a training camp scheduled for late February with a ticketed game planned for that period.
First half: Bill Hamid; Kofi Sarkodie, Zarek Valentin, Sebastien Ibeagha, Jorge Villafana; Amobi Okugo, Jared Jeffery, Dilly Duka; Freddy Adu, Teal Bunbury, Jack McInerney
Second half: Zachary MacMath; Michael Stephens, Royal Dominique-Fennell, Andrew Wenger, Sheanon Williams; Sebastian Lletget (Villafana ’72), Mikkel Diskerud, Isaac Acuna; Joe Corona, Tony Taylor, Kelyn Rowe