Winners and Losers: Toulon
Fielding a second-choice squad, the United States was clearly outclassed at the Toulon International Tournament. With most of the key players from Olympic qualifying absent, Peter Nowak’s team couldn’t keep up with more talented squads from Turkey, Ivory Coast, and Italy.
Despite not winning a single soccer game in southern France, the United States nevertheless learned a great deal in advance of the Beijing Olympics. Here are the winners and losers from Toulon soccer tournament.
Kamani Hill: Unquestionably, the player of the tournament was Hill. Hill saw action in all three games, earning the captian’s armband for the finale against Italy. Perhaps the best measure of his play wasn’t what he did, but rather what happened when he was on the bench. With Hill out, the link between the strikers and the back line completely disintegrated. Slotting in all along the midfield, the youngster’s ability to hold possession gave the Americans a chance to get forward in an organized fashion. He also positioned himself well defensively.
Chris Seitz: Starting against Italy and Ivory Coast, Seitz held his comrades up as long as he could. Blameless on the two goals against Italy and the victim of a penalty kick against Ivory Coast, Seitz otherwise commanded the area and showed excellent shot-stopping ability. With Seitz replacing Dominic Cervi for the Ivory Coast game, the United States avoided the communication problems that doomed them against Turkey. Third-string goalkeeper Quentin Westberg, who played the second half against Italy, also looked solid in net.
Brek Shea: At only 18 years old, Shea showed himself as the only consistent attacking threat. The lanky blonde reminds some of Peter Crouch. Based on his surprising balance and skill with the ball at his feet, the comparison seems warranted. I can definitely see him earning a roster spot for the Beijing Olympics. Shea changed the complexion of the game when he came on against Turkey and had the best chance to score against Ivory Coast, with his diving header hitting the far post.
Lee Nguyen: For many of us, this tournament offered the first glimpse at Lee Nguyen in three years. Lost in the shuffle during the coaching upheaval at PSV, Nguyen now plays at Randers in the Danish first league. Although he made some positive strides in the last group game against Italy, Nguyen showed little of the flair and ability that made him one the country’s brightest stars just a few years ago.
Benny Feilhaber: Feilhaber was mostly invisible in the half of the game he played against Turkey. Plus, the knee injury he picked up will rule him out of action for 4-6 weeks.
The American Defense: One of Nowak’s goals coming into the tournament was to find defensive cover to bring to China. He didn’t find any in France. Opposing teams repeatedly exposed a patchwork American defense – players were losing their marks inside the penalty box, the clearances were poor, and on a few occasions the center backs were split. It’s always difficult to throw a defense together with little time to prepare, but against more talented opposition none of the defenders played well enough to merit inclusion going forward.
US Soccer: With all the other teams sending their first-choice teams in advance of the Beijing Olympics, the Americans sent a team lacking Michael Bradley, Freddy Adu, Jozy Altidore, and Jonathan Spector, to name a few. I can’t imagine the tournament’s organizers asking the Americans to return anytime soon.
Andrew Winner is a freelance soccer writer based in Seattle, Washington. He can be reached at: email@example.com