Johnson King Terry ACole
Lennon Gerrard Lampard Milner
Cherundolo DeMerit Onyewu Bocanegra
Donovan Bradley Clark Dempsey
It’s a historic day. The United States national team is all grown up. Pity it’ll be remembered for England’s suicidal goalkeeping instead of the US’ team effort.
Capello got it wrong. Bob Bradley got it right. Let that sink in for a few seconds. Nonetheless, it's still a draw, and both teams are still on pace to qualify. I expect both nations to overreact in different directions, but this result doesn't necessarily mean the US is now super awesome or that England's preternaturally doomed.
It was two 4-4-2s ramming against each other, and neither really gave way. There was little style to go along with the substance, lots of long balls and set plays, and some crucial mistakes. The US did it better, made fewer mistakes, and deserved to come away with a draw. Yes, had Green not decided to commit hara-kiri, it could have been 1-0, but it also could have been 1-2 if Altidore had taken his chance after skating past Carragher.
But the game will be defined by the errors, and errors led to both goals. England’s was obviously more catastrophic. Gerrard’s early strike, easily ghosting behind Clark to slot in Heskey’s throughball, seemed the perfect start for England, but it also aided the US. England started sitting deeper, trying to manage the game. What was more important was controlling possession, and England didn’t, allowing the US to slowly grow into the game. Still, the equalizer was nothing if not fortunate.
Five minutes before halftime, after much huffing and puffing but little output, Dempsey spun Gerrard 25 yards from goal before lining up a low, simple shot. But Green, not fully behind the ball, somehow fumbled the tame effort into his own net. Paul Robinson who? Green’s now synonymous with English howlers. Congrats.
Unsurprisingly, a mistake like that knocked England off its stride, and needing to make two changes before the second half started didn’t help. First, Milner came off for Wright-Phillips barely half an hour in. Then King, looking gimpy as usual, went off for Carragher during the interval. Aside from a 52nd minute chance from Heskey, put through by Lennon but shooting straight at Howard, England offered little until Altidore sent hearts in mouth in the 65th – torching an already-booked Carragher only to see Green push his shot onto the post.
England somewhat responded, finally getting the previously anonymous Rooney – well-marked by DeMerit – more involved. But Rooney couldn’t find the net, Wright-Phillips shot too close to Howard when given an opening, and Heskey couldn’t keep his headers down. The last throw of the dice with Crouch, with 10 minutes to play, was pretty much throwing good money after bad, and it was the US that deservedly finished stronger.
Milner and Green were the questionable starters and they were the goats. Fat lot of good it does now, but I’d again like to reiterate my belief that Joe Cole and Joe Hart should be in the team. I feel for Green – this is his legacy now – and it’s Milner that’s the more unconscionable inclusion. He’s an unlikely starter in the best of circumstances; if he’s ill, he shouldn’t have been anywhere near the first XI. Not a good day for Don Fabio.
For all of the hype, rightfully deserved in a lot of ways, Capello has a bit of explaining to do. This England looked little different than previous World Cup failures. Tactically, it was still old-school 4-4-2, with the same problems because of the Gerrard/Lampard midfield. The uncertainty over the goalkeeper, no matter what Capello says, seemed to sap both Green and the rest of the rearguard’s confidence, and King’s injury only made matters worse as Carragher was clearly exposed by Altidore’s pace. Yes, Capello was hamstrung by injuries, but he bound his own hands substitutions-wise with the team he chose. Other than Johnson getting forward and Gerrard’s early goal, there was little to be pleased about from England’s perspective.
Regardless, the USA looked more of a team than England throughout. Cherundolo was truly awesome, as were Howard and the rest of the defense. Talent-wise, it’s not close, no matter what Alexi Lalas says. But talent is rarely the biggest factor in team sports. England had little to no fluidity after the fourth minute, and it only got worse as the game intensified. That bodes poorly for the rest of England’s tournament, even if this team still looks capable of beating both Slovenia and Algeria.
Today’s is a bigger result than the much-referenced 1-0 from 1950, and everyone involved should be justifiably proud. Despite Green’s humiliation, this didn't seem a fluke. Teams, not individuals, win competitions, especially knockout competitions.
But grown-ups have to prove it again and again. Now the pressure’s on the US – we’re going to hear that this team’s obviously good enough to beat the no-marks that fill out this group and are certain to qualify along with England. It’s the exact opposite of the Confederations Cup.
At least this result ensures the group will remain interesting until the last day.