The best thing that can be said from an American perspective about the U.S. match against England at the new, improved Wembley Stadium Wednesday is that it's over.
If nothing else, the 2-0 defeat inflicted on a U.S. team lacking Landon Donovan emphasized once again that against good teams, even a traditional power that sensationally squandered its place in the European Championship, workmanlike play and honest effort aren't nearly enough.
A few players carried the day but too many others weren't up to the task, and little creative spark emerged. For one of the few times in the past three years, Eddie Johnson outshone his attacking mates. Paired up top with the invisible Josh Wolff, and trying to link up with a so-so Clint Dempsey, Johnson opened up space a few times, first-timed one shot narrowly wide, and sent another right to keeper David James.
DaMarcus Beasley, who started his first game in nearly six months last Saturday as Glasgow Rangers beat Queen of the South, 3-2, in the Scottish Cup final, buzzed about brightly at left mid only to run aground at the decisive moment. He couldn't get to the byline or behind Wes Brown to deliver crosses, and failed to test James when within shooting range.
Michael Bradley handled the midfield bustle with reasonable poise, but his central partner Ricardo Clark never settled in and often flew about the park in a frenzy. A careless foul by Clark on right back Wes Brown provided David Beckham a classic free-kick opportunity from the right flank, and he swerved a vintage serve that captain John Terry headed firmly just inside Tim Howard's left-hand post.
Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra were the U.S. defenders nearest to Terry but neither had the timing or strength to mount a serious challenge as Beckham's ball found Terry in a cluster of players. The goal deflated an encouraging start by the Americans, who had connected passes several times and defused much of what England sent at them, though containing Jermaine Defoe proved problematic.
Guile and savvy and cohesion aren't needed just at the attacking end, as England's second goal rudely demonstrated. Defoe struck a turnover back to Gareth Barry, and his first-time through ball ran between Onyewu and Heath Pearce for Steven Gerrard to steer into the net past Brad Guzan, who had made two saves after replacing Howard at halftime but could do nothing in this situation.
That ball, played for Gerrard running diagonally from the middle to the right flank, found Onyewu and Pearce stranded too far apart. Neither got close enough to take a whack at Gerrard, never mind block the shot. But spacing in the back line during possession is just as critical as when the other team has the ball, and when no one in midfield could challenge Barry, his incisive ball found Gerrard in stride. Whether Pearce had drifted too wide or Onyewu had slid too far into the middle in the absence of Bocanegra didn't matter.
Pearce had some good moments at left back, getting up the flank in the first minute of the second half to deliver a low cross that Johnson shot wide, and using the ball smartly once he'd dug it out or intercepted it. But twice Defoe outmuscled him to drill shots at goal (one near miss, one save). Yet still Pearce performed better than right back Steve Cherundolo, who botched several first touches, completely misplayed a crossfield ball that allowed the energetic Defoe to launch one of several dangerous runs, and came off at halftime in favor of Frankie Hejduk.
Substitute Eddie Lewis replaced Beasley midway through the second half and supplied a few doses of craftsmanship from the run of play. He glided past a tackler to curl a dangerous ball that James swatted away desperately as Bocanegra rose at the far post. Freddy Adu entered the game at the same time as Lewis to negligible effect.
Next week, it's Spain in Santander. Coach Bob Bradley will make a few changes to his roster to face a Euro 2008 qualifier -- if not one of the favorites -- using this match as a final tune-up.
If anything, in that match more than American grit will be needed more than at Wembley.
May 28 in London, England
England 2 USA 0
Goals: Terry (Beckham) 38, Gerrard (Barry) 59.
England - James, Brown (Johnson, 58), Terry, A.Cole (Bridge, 83), Ferdinand, Beckham (Bentley, 46), Hargreaves, Lampard (Barry, 57), Gerrard, Defoe (Crouch, 68), Rooney (Cole, 79)
Coach: Fabio Capello
USA - Howard (Guzan, 46), Cherundolo (Hejduk, 46), Onyewu, Bocanegra, Pearce, Dempsey, Clark (Edu, 78), Bradley, Beasley (Lewis, 68, Johnson (Jaqua, 89), Wolff (Adu, 68).
Coach: Bob Bradley
Corner Kicks 4/5
Yellow cards: ENG - Rooney 76; USA - Cherundolo 44, Pearce 71.
Referee: Kyros Vassaras (GRE)