It wasn't a blowout opening win like some of the Gold Cup's other favorites have delivered, but the U.S. national team's 2-0 win over Canada on Tuesday night was just the kind of performance the Americans needed to start the 2011 Gold Cup.
The United States overwhelmed Canada in the first half, dominating the visitors with air-tight pressure and sharp passing, and even after a valiant push in the second half by Canada, the U.S. national team showed why it still has to be considered one of the favorites in this Gold Cup.
Yes, Tim Howard still had to throw on his Superman cape and make some jaw-dropping saves in the second half, and the play in the final third during that dominating first half could have been crisper, but there were far more positives than negatives for the United States.
Coming into the tournament there were questions about Jozy Altidore, and whether he would get going. He answered those with a goal and he played a key role in Clint Dempsey's goal. There were also concerns about the centerback position, which Clarence Goodson and Tim Ream teamed up to solidify. Then you had questions about who Michael Bradley would partner with in central midfield, and whether it would work. All Bradley and Jermaine Jones did was squeeze the life out of Canada for much of the match, dominating the middle of the field so thoroughly that you feel like it will be just the first of many such performances in tandem.
The game also gave the United States a sorely-needed taste of victory, something that had eluded the team after four matches in 2011 without a win. It was those losses to Paraguay and Spain, particularly the 4-0 drubbing against Spain that had some feeling the Americans were going to be vulnerable against Canada. It took the U.S. team just a few minutes to show that it was ready to boss Canada around the field, and ready to ease fears about the United States not being ready to challenge for this year's Gold Cup title.
The match was supposed to be a close one, and aside from some second-half chances, it wasn't all that close. Canada came in as a team looking to get some revenge for a controversial 2007 loss to the United States, but instead of playing like a team out for revenge, Canada looked every bit like a team that hadn't beaten the United States in a competitive match in three decades.
As much as the United States controlled the match in the first half, the home team just couldn't find an insurance goal to tack onto Jozy Altidore's score. That nearly came back to haunt the Americans when an inspired Canada side emerged in the second half to start strongly and nearly equalize. Howard was up to the task yet again, making a handful of great reaction saves to keep Canada scoreless and set the stage for Dempsey's goal, which came courtesy of an Altidore cross.
As many good games as American players delivered on Tuesday, perhaps none was as important as Altidore's. As much as his struggles on the club level make some feel otherwise, Altidore is the best striker in the U.S. national team pool and if he gets going, the U.S. attack will have no problems scoring goals against anybody in he tournament.
Was Tuesday night's performance good enough to win a Gold Cup? No, but it didn't have to be. The United States have two more group games to work out the kinks and become more familiar with each other as a team before the decisive elimination rounds. Panama will offer a tough test on Saturday in Tampa, and it's attack looked dangerous in posting a 3-2 victory against Guadeloupe. You can rest assured that the Panamanians will be looking for a measure of revenge against a United States side that has eliminated them in each of the past three Gold Cups.
As Canada showed us, it will take more than a team looking for revenge to stop the United States. And if the Americans can improve on their play in the final third and Altidore can build on his opening performance, the United States just might be good enough to win its third Gold Cup in four tries.
Tim Howard (8)
Didn't have much to do in the first half, but when called in the second half he stepped up with some world-class saves that even left Canada head coach Stephen Hart ready to clap. Best goalkeeper in the region and one of the best in the world.
Carlos Bocanegra (7)
Got forward well and steady defensively, showing why there's nobody close to him on the left back depth chart. Benefited from Canada not having a real threat on that wing, but
Steve Cherundolo (8)
Took Canada's best attacking threat, Josh Simpson, and shut him down (with some help from Landon Donovan). He got forward very well and looks like a player who will make things difficult for left wingers throughout the Gold Cup.
Tim Ream (7)
Was composed on the ball as expected, and held up well against Canadian striker SImeon Jackson, though he did get beaten badly on one sequence where he got bailed out. He's still learning, but the poise and passing skill make it clear why Bob Bradley gave him the start.
Clarence Goodson (7)
Steady defender provided the perfect partner for the less-experienced Ream. Played with the confidence you'd expect from someone who enjoyed a great season at Brondby.
Landon Donovan (7)
Delivered a beautiful pass on Altidore's goal, and put in a truly impressive night defensively. He buzzed all around the field, sparking attacks and earning corner kicks. He could have done better taking corners, but otherwise a sparkling effort.
Jozy Altidore (8)
Scored the opening goal with an aggressive move and confident shot, then sealed the game with a dangerous cross that led to Clint Dempsey's goal. Was a handful for Canadian defenders and looks ready for a big tournament.
Michael Bradley (8)
Dominated Canada's midfield with his tenacity, work rate, surges forward and crisp passing. His partnership with Jones was as effective as we've ever seen it, and if they can keep that level through the Gold Cup, the United States can regain its Gold Cup.
Jermaine Jones (7.5)
Excelled at doing the tough work that made him a standout in the German Bundesliga. When he wasn't closing down Canadian midfielders with his freakish athleticism, Jones was pinging perfect passes from deep.
Juan Agudelo (5.5 )
Gets credit for hurling himself toward the net to slightly deflect Altidore's cross on Dempsey's goal, and showed yet again that he's never lacking confidence, but Agudelo faded at times and didn't do well enough during the multiple times the USA was on dangerous counterattacks.
Clint Dempsey (7.5)
Took good advantage of the spaces Canada gave up in midfield, and was a constant threat on the counterattack. He finally saw his hard work pay off with a clutch finish. Canada gave him too much freedom and he made them pay.
Maurice Edu (5)
Came in and put in a good 11 minutes.
Chris Wondolowski (4)
Tried some things but was largely invisible for his 26 minutes.
Sacha Kljestan (5)
Didn't do much in his 16 minutes.