United States-England Preview
As a freshman at UCSD in 2002, my dorms had a system of monetary fines in place for personal conduct and misbehavior. Despite the loud music, flasks, 24-packs, and hot-boxed rooms that often surrounded me, I managed to last eight months in those circumstances without receiving so much as a verbal warning. And as the school year wound down, I was all but two weeks from freedom without a blemish.
But then something strange and wonderful happened. The World Cup of 2002 began in Japan and South Korea, with game times beginning anytime between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. PDT. In the opening game, the United States came up against the heavily favored Portugal and 45 minutes into the tournament at 3:30 a.m. the U. S. were afraid to pinch themselves having gone up 3-0 by halftime. And in 45 minutes of U.S. World Cup soccer, my perfect personal conduct record had gone up in smoke as my excitement could not be contained and my celebrations had not only awaken my RA, but also earned me $150 in fines that were well worth it.
And as exciting as my 2002 experience was, the 2006 campaign was equally disappointing, as the match with the Czech Republic is still a little too painful to talk about, let alone write about.
As Saturday approaches, and with all the hype and excitement that has been built since the group draw months ago, the question remains for U.S. Soccer fans: Are we in for a 2002 or 2006 opening game experience?
Bob Bradley still has several questions to answer in the most anticipated game of U.S. Soccer to date. Let’s take a look at some of those issues and my suggestions and solutions for Saturday success:
The Line-Up: 4-4-2
What seemed to be the biggest question mark coming into the tournament, has actually looked much stronger than anticipated in the tune-up contests. Edson Buddle’s two-goal outing against Australia and MLS form, along with his ability to hold the ball up top, probably earns him the start as opposed to Robbie Findley’s pace alongside Jozy Altidore.
The only thing certain here is that Michael Bradley will starting in the center. His playing partner is a huge question mark. Ricardo Clark has been the consistent presence throughout qualifying and in the ConFed Cup, but he has been a little off his game. Jose Torres looked great against Turkey in the second half and could be used in that role again if the U.S. starts slow. I have Landon Donovan playing out right based on the way he dominated Ashley Cole in the Chelsea-Everton contest, plus Clint Dempsey has stated publicly his preference on the left side of midfield.
Easily the biggest question mark of the team. Oguchi Onyewu doesn’t look 100 percent, but I’m not sold on Clarence Goodson as a better option. Jonathan Spector has look atrocious in his final games in West Ham and his U.S. friendlies of late, so the Americans will have to go with the pace and experience of Steve Cherundolo on the right.
Keys to Success:
The Training Table:
Several key players are battling nagging injuries or still attempting to regain form after major injuries. The training staff will need to balance treatments and rest for each of the players, while still pushing them to be in enough shape to last 90 minutes at an altitude of over a mile high.
Key Injuries include: Carlos Bocanegra – hernia surgery, Altidore – sprained ankle, Onyewu – patella tendon surgery, and Stuart Holden – broken leg. Others who have missed time in 2009-2010 due to injury, include Clark, Dempsey, Jay Demerit and Beasley.
No Red Cards:
Between World Cup 2006 and Confederations Cup 2009, the United States had four red cards in their six group-play matches, which led to a 1-4-1 record in those games. Three of the four red cards came on needless tackles in the middle third of the pitch. Bradley and Clark like to get in on tackles, but will have to pick their spots and be smarter in order to keep out of the book. Plus, U.S. defenders in general have a lack of pace (except for Jonathan Bornstein and pray he doesn’t see the field for other reasons) and that could lead to a compromising situation.
Hold Your Shape and Pick Your Spots:
In the Confederations Cup of 2009 against Spain and Brazil, the U.S. made a conscious decision to keep eight men behind the ball at all time, and gave up wide runs on the wings. They were confident enough in their aerial defense and ability to get in the passing lanes, which led to a game and a half of tremendous soccer from the U.S.
England is no Spain or Brazil, but a certain amount of discipline will be required, as they cannot be drawn into an up and down game with the Three Lions.
This has been a strong point for the U.S. on offense, but has also been a point of concern in the defensive third. Set pieces could end up being the difference maker.
Getting England early in the tournament could prove to be a blessing, as the Brits will be without their best defensive midfielder, Gareth Barry, and will be playing with a lineup that they have never used before. England could use the first 20-30 minutes to find a rhythm. If the U.S. can keep a body on Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard to keep the pace of place slow, they should see some success. The Americans will need all-hands-on-deck for defensive set pieces and finding a way to keep England in check – particularly John Terry, Peter Crouch, and Rooney – will be necessary.
The never satisfying 1-1 tie, which should put the U.S. in a good position to advance and kick start the hysteria and negativity across the pond.
U.S. fans should be hoping for a tie Sunday morning in the Algeria-Slovenia contest.