MANY POSITIVES TO BE HAD
Being in England for the World Cup, I have had the great opportunity to mingle with the England supporters at my university.
On the days leading up to the ‘big' Group C match between one of the World Cup favorites and the US national team, there was an air of confidence among the Three Lions fans who thought they would pick up a win in their first match.
At the opening stages of the match at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium, it seemed like they had every reason to be confident, but this was not the US national team of the past who would have been demoralized after going down 1-0 on a goal from England captain Steven Gerrard.
Bob Bradley's men kept their composure and it all paid off in the end with a goal from Clint Dempsey, with a little help from England goalkeeper Robert Green, and a 1-1 draw.
Utter silence and disappointment from the England supporters and joy from the five or six Americans, with a few honorary US fans from other nations added in, at the end.
Of course most of the papers talked about Green's big mistake during the match and the number of chances that England could have put away to end it. But, let's focus on the high and low spots of the US.
The strongest place on the evening was in goal. A few years back, we might have been talking about mistakes US number one Tim Howard has made not only for country, but also for his club.
However, this night belonged to him. He stood his ground on several occasions when England most certainly could have scored. England forward Emil Heskey's chance and winger Shaun Wright-Phillips' effort were the two that stood out .
Certainly, a well deserved man of the match performance on the part of the New Jersey native.
Defensively, the Yanks were solid. A lot of worries seemed to be focused at the center of defense with Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit both returning from injuries. However, they both seemed to come out of this match well, especially the AC Milan man. Coming back from a knee injury, like the one the former Clemson Tiger had, is nothing to take lightly.
From watching an interview with former US national team player Marcelo Balboa, who also suffered a knee injury himself in the run up to the 1994 World Cup, most of the concern when coming back in just mental.
This match it seemed that the former Standard Liege star showed more confidence and is overcoming any concerns about possibly reinjuring himself.
What was most satisfying was to see Onyewu making challenges in the air on occasion in comparison to what he did against the Czech Republic when he showed a little temerity to jump for high balls. Gooch should be brimming with more confidence later on in matches against Slovenia and Algeria, which will be greatly needed.
As for the right and left sides of the defensive unit, I believe Steve Cherundolo and US captain Carlos Bocanegra played well, but one cause for concern in this match had to be the speed of the England wingers. On a few occasions Wright-Phillips, Aaron Lennon and Glen Johnson were able to use their speed to get by them and put in crosses.
This is something that has to concern Coach Bradley as the national team prepares to take on Slovenia on Friday. Though both Bocanegra and Cherundolo used that experience they have gained over the years of playing in order shutdown the wings a few times and the central defenders were able to clear those crosses, it just takes one of those crosses to change the fortunes of a team favored to come out of the group.
The midfield seemed rather silent in my opinion. Definitely the low point of the midfield's performance was the opening goal by England.
Eintracht Frankfurt's Ricardo Clark gave Gerrard too much space in the final third to get that chance on goal. One of things that hopefully has been worked on during the last few days of training for the US is to keep that midfield compact and not giving so much space to the opposition to take shots from distance.
Players, such as Slovenia's Robert Koren, would relish the chance at challenging Howard from distance.
Meanwhile, it was almost forgotten that Michael Bradley was on field. Though he did not make any mistakes it was rather odd to not have his presence felt on the night. However, it could be a good thing because the Borussia Monchengladbach star walked away without receiving a yellow card.
As for Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, the two were the most active of the group in the midfield. Both showing no fear in attacking the English defense and trying effortlessly to provide service to the forwards.
The biggest concern I saw was on set pieces and corner kicks. Though there were a few opportunities Donovan has got to be more accurate with those passes, especially when he has his big guys in the box.
Also, it probably would have been good to test Green from distance. Although he fumbled the effort by Dempsey in the first half, it certainly was not the first he has done something like that. England's goalkeepers have been their weakest link for some time, so a few more long range shots would have been good call.
Up top it was mixed performance by Jozy Altidore and Robbie Findley. The former Hull City loanee was active throughout and had a couple of opportunities at scoring. We could have possibly been talking about a 2-1 scoreline for the US if Altidore had gotten his head on that pass from Donovan.
As for the Real Salt Lake forward, Robbie Findley, it was just not his night. The England defense did their job in shutting him down. Findley was not able to utilize his speed to open up space, but it should also be mentioned that he was not exactly getting good passes from the midfield.
Perhaps, Bradley will make a change and have Los Angeles Galaxy top scorer Edson Buddle play alongside Altidore in the next match, but that is only a guess. Perhaps Findley will have better luck against Slovenia.
Overall, it was good match for the US. The most important thing to note from this match is the composure of the team after going down a goal. They did not freak out or seemed lost as to what to do. They remained focused and attacked at the right opportunities to get the equalizer.
This composure should have been most evident in the latter stages of the second half when Fabio Capello's men were making wave after wave of attacks in order to get the winner. There was a sense of desperation on the English team and kudos should definitely go out to the Red, White and Blue for not cracking under that pressure.
Even though some may blame the ball for the goal, a goal is a goal. Also, this draw is more of a victory for the US and puts a heap of pressure on the England team to get better results from their next two matches.
So now that the ‘big' match is out of the way it is on to the final two group stage matches against Slovenia and Algeria. The US should not go into these matches with a lot of pressure, but they must be aware of the fact that these are two teams they have never played before, so they should not take them lightly for one minute.
The chances of coming out the group are looking promising, but now there is the added incentive that the US could finish atop of it, thus avoiding Germany in the round of 16, should the Germans finish first in their group. However, that all depends on how they perform against the rest of competition.