Thursday 5 December 2019

New boys soar to blow away the Glasgow gloom

Christie and McGoldrick shine as O'Neill's troops prove too slick for understrength visitors

It was a night still sighing with such regret over the lost innocence of Glasgow, that victory almost passed as a rumour.

But it will have been a welcome balm to Martin O'Neill after the wearying volatility of recent days, a gloriously upbeat signature put to the final page of a momentous year.

To mine four goals was beyond all rational hope and, better still, the two debutants proved themselves calm as contemplative monks. David McGoldrick was central to the first two and Cyrus Christie looked effortlessly refined at right-back in a way that Ireland's assistant manager will, presumably, be hoping registers somewhere on Merseyside.

McGoldrick's field of vision is what makes him different and the ball for Anthony Pilkington's seventh minute opener was so sublimely paced, it might have been pre-planned over breakfast. The finish, too, was gorgeous, a languid dink over the advancing goalkeeper that, maybe, spoke of an evening excused the burden of worry..

Context, after all, was everything here. Having fallen short in the crucible of Parkhead, O'Neill essentially spared his front-liners hardship. He made eleven changes in tacit acknowledgement that the US, too, had skeletal staff on duty and itt made for a slightly loose, poorly-stitched game, players struggling to tune into a common frequency.

At full strength, the Americans are certaunly no coconut-shy post and, under Jurgen Klinsmann, they had the kind of World Cup that has been known to send Irish people flocking to the Phoenix Park. Just now, they sit so far above us in the FIFA rankings, we can't even make out the soles of their shoes.

But they play for a public that refuses to become infatuated with the beautiful game.

In this part of the world at least - there is still the sense of Major League Soccer as some kind of lucrative convalescence home for the declining superstars of Europe. Until and unless, America finds a billboard face of its own, that perception will stay stubborn.

Of course, they thought they had that oil-well in Freddy Adu. Remember Freddy?

In November of '03, at the age of fourteen, he became the youngest athlete ever to sign a professional contract in the US. The marketing people flagged him as football's next Pele. Nike signed him up on a contract worth a million dollars. He was presented to the press at Madison Square Garden, charming everyone with his perfect interpretation of the American dream.

Still in High School, the world's best football player of his age faced the TV cameras with an easy smile, delivering a beautiful love-letter to his mother in which he thanked her for rescuing him and his younger brother from an unpromising childhood in Ghana.

Today?

Freddy's currently trying to make his way in the Serbian league with a club called Jagodina. The great slope of his promise just proved a mirage. He signed for Benfica at the age of seventeen but, in four years there, made just 11 first-team appearances. His talent was then hawked, humiliatingly, across Europe. By February of this year, he had pitched up in Blackpool but even the basket-case of the Championship could not find a place for him. So he made his way to Serbia via Norway and the Netherlands. Freddy is 25 now, the youngest player ever to play senior international football for the US (at 16 years and 234 days), but un-wanted by his national team since Klinsmann's appointment in 2011.

He should have been America's Messi or Ronaldo, instead he is their after-thought.

Last night, Klinsmann's team was stocked with fine, athletic specimens, earnest young men who were always going to find a life in sport without ever being mistaken for child proteges. They responded well to McGoldrick's opener too and, worryingly for O'Neill, last week's lapses of concentration when defending corners seemed to have eaten into the shadow crew.

Time and again, they seemed in need of an ordnance survey map to locate the man going short and, from one such incident, Fabian Johnson glanced a shot off the outside of Shay Given's right upright.

You could all but feel an American goal coming and, sure enough, in the 38th minute, a lovely, cushioned header from Chris Wondolowski gave Mix Diskerud a virtual tap-in after David Meyler had spilled possession in midfield. Four minutes later, Jozy Altidore almost snapped Given's crossbar in two as the makeshift Irish became disoriented.

But Ireland were in front again on 56 minutes, McGoldrick's back-flick opening the door for Robbie Brady to beat Bill Hamid at his near post.

Thereafter, O'Neill began emptying his bench of the heavier artillery and Shane Long had already smacked a beauty off the inside of Hamid's post when James McClean's 81st minute drive flew in via a wicked deflection off Geoff Cameron.

Then Robbie Brady swung home a nonchalant fourth to giddy cheers. Football, bloody hell.

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