Group C: USA on track to qualify but will have to earn it

Green howler gifts US a goal but draw not undeserved result

It was looking as if the Algeria v Slovenia game was going exactly the way the US wanted, a lackluster goalless draw. But then the Algerian keeper did his best Robert Green impersonation and gave Slovenia an undeserved goal and the three points which went with it. Slovenia now tops the group and with the American’s next game against them it leaves much less margin for error. Both the Slovene and Algerian performance, however, reinforces the view that England and the United States are still the strongest teams in the group. The United States is still on course to qualify out of the group stage, but it will have to earn it.

Max’s solid analysis of the US – England game frees me up to focus on what we learned about the four teams after one game and how the rest of the group stage shapes up. The next games on are on Friday, with the US playing Slovenia at 10 am followed at 2:30 with England vs. Algeria. A draw in the Algeria – Slovenia game would have allowed a wobble against Slovenia, but now the Americans need a result with a win setting up the prospect of winning the group. England are in a similar position, needing a win against Algeria to avoid a testy final encounter against Slovenia. Continue reading


USA-England – A Point Earned

All of the focus after the game has been on Robert Green’s shocking error in front of the England goal. In the press, especially in the English press, Green will be depicted as the man that deprived England of a victory. While Green makes an easy scapegoat, and should be criticized for the error, the United States was not gifted a draw. No, they earned it.

It is impossible to know how the game would have ended up without Green’s error, but the US after giving up an absolute nightmare goal in the first 5 minutes responded well and pushed forward. Altidore flicked a header wide after a great cross from Donovan and the US at one point had three corners in a row, through which they looked dangerous. That being said, England were just as likely to score the next goal, as the US was forced to push up. In fact, the first half uncomfortably resembled the US’s first game against the Czech Republic four years ago in the World Cup. Then, like yesterday, the US gave up an early goal and followed it by a solid response in which Claudio Reyna almost leveled after 20 minutes. But instead of pulling level, the US – forced to push forward – was exposed by the Czech’s on two counterattacks, losing 3-0. History, however, doesn’t always repeat itself.

After the US pulled level, they didn’t descend into a defensive shell and the English, while creating some good chances, rarely dominated the game for extended periods. In fact, it was Altidore who came closest in the second half, with a strong pacey run that saw Green deflect the shot off the inside of his post.

In the end, the US kept England in check. Rooney and Lampard were invisible and they failed to effectively to take advantage of their pace on the wings with Lennon and Wright-Phillips. What is most pleasing from a US perspective, is that a draw was earned and they didn’t play their best game.

Some more thoughts:

Wayne Rooney was a zero. Don’t expect the English to cast a critical eye to their golden boy, but Rooney did almost nothing yesterday. Jay Demerit and Oguchi Onyewu did well to contain him, and the game plan of using two holding midfielders in Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark prevented Rooney from getting much service.

The US central defense looked strong. Gooch and Demerit looked very solid and seemed to have sorted out the problems on crosses that was evident against Australia. Rooney was a non factor and save for one or two errors, overall were very solid. The England goal was not either defenders fault and if anything Gerrard needed to be tracked by Ricardo Clark in the midfield. The breakaway from Emile Heskey in the second half was a byproduct of Onyewu actually winning a challenge only to have the ball run away from him to Aaron Lennon who put Heskey in – Bocanegra should have been there to cover.

Landon Donovan was quiet but neutralized Ashley Cole.
When Donovan got on the ball he was fairly influential, but the danger of playing him out wide was exposed, as he wasn’t able to get the ball nearly enough. It also didn’t help Donovan that he was up against one of the best left backs in the world in Ashley Cole. In the end, the Donovan and Cole sort of canceled each other out. Cole rarely made any dangerous forward runs as he was forced to deal with Donovan.

Altidore looked dangerous and overall played well. While he didn’t score, he did create some chances for himself and had a shot off the post in the second half – which was the closest either team came to scoring in the second half. The run that Altidore made on that attempt showed why he is so dangerous. He turned and out muscled Jamie Carragher 40 yards from goal and blew past him.

The central midfield was good defensively.
Clark had a bad moment on the first goal, but throughout he worked hard and essentially helped neutralize Frank Lampard. However, when the US got the ball they really missed a more creative player like Feilhaber and Torres. But overall Michael Bradley played very well and did a good job acting as quarterback.

Jamie Carragher chould (perhaps should) have been sent off. What hasn’t really been talked about was Jamie Carragher’s blatant obstruction on Robbie Findley who was free on goal. Now for the English fan that could have been seen as experienced defending. But it could also have been seen as an obvious obstruction, as there was no attempt to play the ball, as Carragher was clearly beaten for pace. If a foul had been called, it would have had to have been a yellow and Carragher (who had been booked earlier for a reckless challenge on Findley) would have been sent off.

England – Mexico Analysis And What it Means for 6-12

Was that England-Mexico or USA-Mexico? One of the main differences was actually that the US usually has a bit more of the ball against the Mexicans than England did. In fact, the totality of Mexico’s domination in the first half was rather striking. Yet England’s 3-1 victory also had all the hallmarks of a US victory over Mexico. In watching this lackluster game from England US fans should gain some belief – yes we can beat England – however there were also moments to give US fans some pause.

Mexican football specializes in controlling possession, making your opponent chase, and then finding gaps through quick through balls. They often resemble Arsenal or Spanish side in their ability to control the ball. Yet too often Mexico struggles either to create many clear cut chances from their possession and when they do they squander the chances that they create. Against England, Mexico had countless chances, but squandered chance after chance.

England looked genuinely shocked by Mexico’s pace and control. England’s high upfield defensive pressure proved little trouble for the technically gifted Mexicans. And worrisome for England there midfield was frequently cut open and exposed. As the half went on England soon realized that they had little chance of winning back the ball up field and they dropped deeper, putting at times nine players behind the ball. More worrying for England, and something I pointed to the other day, England had tremendous trouble winning the ball back. They lack that natural ball winning midfielder and while Michael Carrick and James Milner – the two who started in the central midfield – can get stuck in, they were frequently overrun.
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England’s World Cup Flaw: A Team Without Ball Winners

Scanning Fabio Capello’s 30 man provisional England World Cup squad there is, buried under all the midfield talent, one major hole in a team filled with stars – there is no defensive force in the midfield. This is a significant flaw and is one that may prevent England from lifting the cup in South Africa.

The English love to talk about their gritty determination and work ethic on the football pitch, but the one position that most exemplifies those traits – the defensive midfielder or the “stopper” as it is often referred to on US soccer fields – the English are bare. The only player in the 30 man squad that is a true defensive midfielder is West Ham’s Scott Parker – a quality player for sure – but would is by no means world class. This weakness is not a new problem for England. In 06 Owen Hargreaves emerged as solid option, but this in itself is revealing, as Hargreaves is actually Canadian (he really is the Canadian Guiseppi Rossi) and he developed his game in Germany with Bayern Munich not in England. Sure, England produce some solid hardmen in the middle of the field, Birmingham’s Lee Boyer, comes to mind and perhaps there are a few up in comers, but in this vital position England have no one world class.
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Beckham’s Injury May Effect Landon Donovan’s Summer Plans

By rupturing his Achilles yesterday playing with AC Milan, David Beckham’s World Cup dreams are over. This, in footballing terms is not that great of a blow to England, as the Guardian’s Rob Smyth dryly notes. But this is a big blow for MLS and to the LA Galaxy who have now likely lost Becks until the very end of the season and possibly for good, due to Beckham’s age.

This is not only a blow to the team’s ability to win, as Beckham despite his age, clearly offered quality to the side and played an important role in the Galaxy’s run to the finals. But this is also a significant blow to the Galaxy’s bottom line. Beckham could still put butts in the seats and create a lot of buzz in Tinsel town, as well as all over the country. When the Galaxy went on the road, every team saw significant boosts in attendance when Beckham played – although that impact declined last year. The league is still losing its most marketable player and noteworthy player.

But this also raises the question Does Beckham injury make selling Landon Donovan after the World Cup less likely? The Galaxy, a fairly big spending club for MLS, would surely not want to lose their two best players and most marketable players even for a decent profit. Additionally, the league, which owns Donovan’s contract under the single ownership structure, will likely be more hesitant to sell, as it will mean losing their two most notable players.
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Injury bug bites England as Beckham ruptures Achilles

Beckham will miss World Cup

England’s injury woes depended today as David Beckham ruptured his Achilles tendon while playing for AC Milan. Beckham hobbled off after he went down without contact and him being officially ruled out of the World Cup is now just a formality. With Aaron Lennon having setback after setback as he attempts to return to fitness, Fabio Capello looked likely to rely on Beckham to come off the bench if not to start against the US on June 12. What could have been a strength for England with either Lennon’s pace or Beckham’s precision seems to be turning into a real question mark for a team that is already struggling at the back and in goal. Its all going Pete Tong for England in the build up to South Africa. Continue reading

Scouting the Enemy: Analysis of England-Egypt

Watching the England-Egypt game there are reasons for the US to both feel good and feel nervous. While the 3-1 scorline against the African champions is certainly impressive, England was on the back foot for much of the first half and the 1-0 lead that Egypt took in at halftime was probably deserved.

However, the quality of England on the ball is undeniable and even when play is running against them they are quite able to slice through an opened up opposition through quick precise passing and intelligent off the ball runs. With a central midfield of Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry, as well as Gerrard on the let, this is an England team designed to create, but not necessarily to defend.

Reasons to feel good:

We can possess the ball against England. A constant weakness of US teams has been the ability to control possession against top sides. We saw this against Holland where a three man central midfield, consisting of two destroyers in De Jong, Van Bommell and an attacking midfielder in Snejder, put tremendous pressure on our central midfielders, forcing turnovers and preventing the US from settling. However, this should not be the case against England, as Egypt demonstrated.

Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard are not ball winning defensive midfielders. While both can put in a challenge, neither are all that fleet of foot, and against Egypt’s quick and crafty attackers they tended to try to contain them as opposed to pressure them aggressively. This meant there was quite a bit of space for Egypt’s midfielders to exploit.
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Britain’s embarrassing xenophobia on “cheaters” holding them back

Steven Gerrard doesn't dive, ever

Its something that every non-British English speaking soccer fan knows all too well: in the eyes of the British, only foreigners cheat. We all remember the uproar surrounding David N’Gog’s blatant dive against Birmingham a few weeks back. Compare that furor to the tidal wave of criticism total silence on Wayne Rooney’s plunge against Villa on Saturday. But it’s not just diving; the British seem to have a peculiar view of who can pressure referees and who can’t. This reflexive xenophobia is part of what is holding the English back in world soccer.

David N’Gog dove. It’s pretty simple. Lee Carsley stuck his leg in and N’Gog theatrically went over it without any contact. He won a penalty that rescued a 2-2 draw for the struggling Reds. All across Britain, N’Gog was castigated – “hung, drawn, and quartered” in the words of one journalist. It shouldn’t have been a penalty and it was a key moment in the game, but it is impossible to think that it would have produced the same reaction if an English player had been the culprit. Continue reading

World Cup 2010: How to beat England

Eight things Bob Bradley can do to outsmart this guy; Photo by Paul Blank

While there are no easy games in the World Cup, unquestionably the most difficult game for the US in Group C will be the opener against England. As I said yesterday, points earned in this game are mostly a bonus as the US has a quite manageable path to the second round even if it gets blown out by the English.

But that said, of all the top level teams, England is a pretty good match up for the United States; a lot of Americans are familiar with the English game because they play in the Premier League, the English are not the most technically gifted teams who would never let the US have a kick, and while they have a few quick players, they are lacking in overall team speed. Below, I break down four defensive, and four offensive tactical options the US team could deploy to beat England. Continue reading

English Press Fail

The English press are certainly not renowned for their accuracy – particularly when it comes to football. So this “exclusive” from the Mirror shouldn’t come as much of a surprise: USA set to steal England’s preferred World Cup training base due to Fabio Capello’s indecision. The BBC Gossip page picked it up as well. The Mirror goes on to say:

England boss Fabio Capello loved the facilities on a visit last week. But he was unhappy with the grass on the training pitches and wants another look in the New Year. His indecision means the FA has failed to complete the £1million deal for the 82-room complex from June 4 to July 12 next year. And now we are in danger of being gazumped by the Yanks, who are also said to be keen on the venue. Bafokeng spokesman Martin Bekker told the Mirror the base – which also offers valuable altitude training at 1,500m above sea level – was a “very attractive option” to other nations in England’s group, especially the USA, for whom money is no object.

Funny – I thought I had read this story on Soccernet last Summer, saying the US already had booked their facility. This would be a great story – if it were true, especially the part of the cash-strapped US soccer federation being money is no object.

The Americans grabbed the coveted training site the Italians are using at this tournament for next year’s World Cup. Southdowns College in Irene is on the outskirts of Pretoria, 30 miles from Johannesburg. The highly rated facility contains three full soccer fields, with six more planned. There is also a gym and pool. “U.S. Soccer followed all of the procedures for securing a base camp as required by FIFA, and based on the time of our request we have our first option and we have FIFA’s confirmation on this,” U.S. Soccer spokesman Michael Kammarman told The Associated Press on Sunday. “Of course, this is subject to qualifying for the World Cup.”

I guess those Brits have never heard of the google which can be used to find stuff located in a series of tubes.

Jason Davis at MatchFit makes the great point in comments that the US has also been talking about how close all the games are to their base camp.