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PHILADELPHIA – Charlie Davies' brave bid to make this summer's World Cup fell short, but the spirit of adventure he injected into the United States team flickers on.
Davies' pace, enthusiasm and robust style convinced head coach Bob Bradley about the value of a fleet-footed frontline, a concept that seemed destined to be shelved when Davies failed to recover in time from injuries sustained in a fatal car crash in October.
Yet in the second half of Saturday's pre-World Cup exhibition against Turkey in which the result meant little but the performance carried great significance, Robbie Findley, a speedy striker cut from a similar cloth to Davies, helped turn the game on its head.
The USA's opening 45 minutes offered plenty of cause for gloom with a static, laboring display that stymied Clint Dempsey's effectiveness by sticking him in attack. The second half came with a different lineup including Findley, a fresh mentality and a valuable indicator of how the team should, and now probably will, shape up in South Africa.
Findley, who plies his trade with Real Salt Lake of Major League Soccer, was no certainty to make the 30-man preliminary roster. He was considered a genuine long shot to be named to the final squad of 23 last week. Now, he has a real chance of starting against England in Rustenburg on June 12.
"What Charlie did with this team is a big reason why I am here," Findley said. "If you have pace you can stretch a defense, and that is what I try to do. When I get that opportunity I want to stretch teams out, make them uncomfortable and open up space for my teammates."
Findley's introduction allowed Dempsey to drop back into midfield and, suddenly, the U.S. had a fluidity about them that had been utterly absent in the first half.
Other substitutions also shone, like Jose Francisco Torres and Steve Cherundolo, with both boosting their claims for extra playing time at the tournament. Yet the real message from Saturday is that there is nothing to be gained by the Americans exercising undue caution and adopting a policy of containment.
The threat of pace is one that no opponent in the world can afford to ignore, and the addition of Findley would help prevent the England attacking machine from attacking incessantly.
"Robbie added something different," said striker Jozy Altidore, who scored the equalizing goal before Dempsey grabbed the winner. "He is not the same as Charlie. Charlie is a bit more powerful but Robbie brought a lot of energy, worked hard and changed the game."
USA fans still cringe at the memory of the last time the team faced England. In an exhibition at Wembley Stadium in May of 2008, an American side devoid of speed was steamrolled into submission by the host nation and looked utterly outclassed.
Having options of quickness not only troubles opponents, but it also seems to inject a more vibrant mind-set into the USA camp. Landon Donovan and Dempsey operate better when they are paired on either side of midfield and occasionally crisscross on to alternate flanks.
Their chemistry was perfectly highlighted by the first goal when Findley played a lovely ball to Donovan, who knitted a tight pass through the gap for Altidore to score. The winning goal also showed the benefit in having Dempsey come from a deeper position, as he ran onto Donovan's weighted pass and shrugged off the challenge of a Turkish defender.
From such sleepy early portents, suddenly Lincoln Financial Field was rocking and Bradley's men had a freshness and urgency about them that any potential opponent would have been wary of.
"They were a different team after the break,” said legendary coach Guus Hiddink, now in charge of Turkey. "They had a different approach and we didn't respond to it well."
For the United States, the ugliness of the first half should not be forgotten and it must not be allowed to return. What this final game on American soil before the team departs for South Africa showed is not that the USA will perform to the level required for a successful World Cup campaign, but that it can.
And that in Africa, of all places, adventure is to be commended.
- Charlie Davies
- Robbie Findley
- Clint Dempsey