Bob Bradley’s Americans were outplayed by Argentina for most of their friendly at the New Meadowlands, near Manhattan, on Saturday night. However, the side’s fitness, battling qualities and ability to keep shape and focus in those long spells without the ball, shone through in the end as they were able to grind out a 1-1 draw.

While FIFA Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi and co controlled virtually all of the possession of a first-half mismatch in front of a sell-out crowd of 78,936, the Americans looked simply to be holding on. “There are a lot of challenges when you face a great team [like Argentina],” was coach Bradley’s understated reaction after setting out a defensive stall at the start, with two holding midfielders and just one striker in Jozy Altidore. “Argentina were very good with the ball in the first half and found a great rhythm that made it difficult on us...the goal before halftime changed the thinking,” he added.

The Argentine goal, which came just before the half, was scored by Esteban Cambiasso, who was controversially left out of Diego Maradona’s South Africa 2010 side. In truth, were it not for the inspired play of goalkeeper and Everton stalwart Tim Howard, the score could have been far worse for the spirited, but largely uninspired, Americans when the halftime whistle went.

The second period brought a change for hosts, with Bradley opting to throw on another attacker, creating what he called: “a better rhythm.” Suddenly the Americans were seeing more of the ball, a marked change from a first half defined by trying not to get pulled out of position by Sergio Batista’s impressive skill merchants. “I thought in the second half things opened up a little bit more and we were able to affect them on the counter-attack,” said Fulham’s top scorer Clint Dempsey. “At the end, it was like anybody could have got the game. We’re happy with the result, but we would have liked to have had more possession.”

At the end, it was like anybody could have got the game.

USA's Clint Dempsey

Youth to the fore
The interval's injection, 18-year-old Juan Agudelo, made the quantifiable impact. The New York Red Bulls striker was given a warm reception by his home fans and promptly drew the game level in the 52nd minute. He capitalised from close range on a hopeful Landon Donovan set-piece that was fumbled by Argentina keeper Mariano Andujar. The goal sparked the side and the fans to life, also signalling the continued progress of a new and exciting American strike option.

Agudelo, then just 17, became the youngest scorer in the modern era for the USA when he struck in his first cap last November in South Africa. He is also fast becoming a fan favourite for the Red Bulls and looked, through a second half in which the US’s performance improved considerably, a good link with Altidore. “He puts himself in good positions and when the ball comes [to him] he’s strong and he has something where he’s looking to try things, things that make sense,” said Bradley. “He has a knack for turning up in good spots to get goals.”

The youngster, born in Colombia, but a product of the Red Bulls youth system, agrees with his coach’s assessment of his predatory instincts. “Anybody could have scored that goal, but I thought I was in a good position and I was there for the rebound. I worked hard to get there,” he said of the opportunistic strike. Overall though, the youngster was not pleased with his performance, speaking to an ambition that might serve him well in the caps to come: "I’m not really that happy because I didn’t play that well. I should have held the ball more."

The Americans, who are preparing for the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup on home soil this summer, play South American side Paraguay tomorrow. “The turnaround is quick with the Saturday to Tuesday so we’ll think about some different changes and that certainly includes some of the younger players,” said Bradley as he prepares to meet a team he calls: “organised and talented.”