By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 13, 2010; 12:21 AM
CHESTER, PA. - It's the deadest point on the U.S. national soccer team calendar, the hangover following a World Cup when players are focused almost exclusively on their club endeavors and the next meaningful competition for country seems like an eternity away.
For Bob Bradley, entering his second four-year cycle as head coach, the business of shaping his squad cannot rest. So in a four-day stretch, while relying on many veterans, he also introduced new elements and tested his team against decent competition.
The second trial came Tuesday night, and after a sputtering first half under a new system, the Americans drew comfort from familiar tactics and settled for a 0-0 draw with Colombia in front of 8,823 at PPL Park. They will close their 2010 schedule Nov. 17 against South Africa in Cape Town.
Bradley provided debuts for midfielder Brek Shea, 20, and defender Eric Lichaj, 21. He continued to lay the groundwork for a central midfield partnership comprising Jermaine Jones and his son, Michael Bradley. He introduced a new formation, and although he abandoned it at halftime after sputtering results, it seems likely to resurface in the future.
"It's a learning process, it's early, so if you want to try things out, it's a good time to do it," midfielder Maurice Edu said. Commenting on the first-half system that tucked Edu behind Jones and Michael Bradley in central midfield, he added: "Over time, if we were to work on that system, we could do well with it. Today wasn't the best day for us."
The inclusion of Shea was enthusiastically received by U.S. supporters, who have watched him evolve into a dynamic attacker in his third MLS season. At 6 feet 3 with long blond hair harnessed by a headband, Shea is a conspicuous figure. He lined up on the left side of midfield in a 4-5-1 formation that the Americans hoped would evolve into a 4-3-3 when attacking opportunities emerged. For almost the entire first half, they didn't.
"It felt like we really couldn't put any passes together that took us anywhere," Bob Bradley said.
Colombia, coming off a 1-0 victory over Ecuador on Friday, was far superior in possession and took advantage of poor touches by Michael Bradley and Shea to infiltrate the U.S. defense with swift incisions.
The first American threat didn't arrive until the 20th minute, thanks to Stuart Holden's outstanding free kick toward a stampede of teammates deep in the box. Oguchi Onyewu, who scored off a set piece during Saturday's 2-2 draw with Poland in Chicago, stung a header well wide.
The fulcrum of the attack was Jones, who made an emphatic debut against Poland and will figure prominently heading into the next World Cup cycle. Jones, 29, is a German American who has starred in the Bundesliga for years and represented Germany's national team before petitioning FIFA to change allegiances.
Jones was instinctive, sophisticated and covered a lot of ground but gave away the ball numerous times during the toothless first half. Edu, an experiment in central defense against Poland, returned to the midfield but played so deep behind Jones and Bradley, he might as well have been listed on the back line.
Bradley made four changes at the break, inserting veterans Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson to invigorate the attack and defenders Lichaj and Michael Parkhurst. He also reverted to the U.S. team's traditional 4-4-2 alignment.
Suddenly, there was bite to the attack, sustained possession, even a shot on goal and a corner kick - firsts for the Americans. Colombia absorbed pressure and counterattacked. The Americans found pockets of opportunity but failed to seriously threaten.
"We were confident, got on the ball, went forward," Dempsey said. "We took a few risks. We didn't score, but we're happy with the result in the sense that we got the shutout and continued to build for next year."
U.S. notes: Onyewu wore the captain's armband as a starter for the first time. . . . The last time a home match drew fewer than 10,000 spectators was in January 2009 with a mostly MLS roster against Sweden in Carson, Calif. (9,918).