[USA-ENGLAND COUNTDOWN] During the Confederations Cup in South Africa last year, Coach Bob Bradley cited the experience of playing in cities and stadiums to be utilized during the World Cup as an important cog in the team’s preparation. He gave up a bit more information about his lineup than normal Friday by divulging that forward Jozy Altidore’s ankle sprain had healed sufficiently that he will start against England Saturday (2:30 p.m. ET, ABC, Univision) in the Group C opener.
“We step on the field believing we can win,” Bradley said. “It is said with no disrespect to our opponent. The preparation has been good. The players are ready.”
If a success at a particular venue counts for anything, the Americans might drive some benefit. The USA rebounded from losses to Italy and Brazil a year ago by beating Egypt at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg, which is where it plays England. Goals by Charlie Davies, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey earned the Americans a place in the semifinals, in which it upset Spain, 2-0.
Of the 14 Americans who played in that match, only Davies and Conor Casey – who replaced Davies in the 82nd minute – didn’t make the World Cup squad. Though the stakes are higher this time, the Americans believe – rightly or wrongly – that those two victories in the Confederations Cup and a 3-2 loss to Brazil in the final instilled belief and confidence that no matter what the opponent or the setting, they can get results.
“Our experience last summer was positive,” says Bradley, “just in the sense that we played against very good teams, we learned from those experiences, we had good moments and at the end we had a big disappointment. So we'll take that all in.”
However, as many as 10,000 English fans could be in attendance, according to figures in English newspapers. Large numbers of fans have been arriving in South Africa since the middle of the week. The listed capacity is 44,530, which is ninth among the 10 stadiums hosting World Cup matches.
There are no injury problems facing the Americans. Midfielder Ricardo Clark, who came off the field walking gingerly last Saturday in stoppage time of a 3-1 win over Australia, did not suffer a hamstring injury, as some outlets reported. According to U.S. Soccer press officer Michael Kammarman, Clark’s hammy cramped up but he is fully recovered and available to play against England.
Following his arrival in Germany last winter to play with Eintracht Frankfurt, he sat out two months with a calf injury but returned in time to play the last three games of the German Bundesliga season. Last month Eintracht offered him a three-year contract. Whether he starts alongside Michael Bradley in central midfield is one topic of great speculation as to which 11 players the coach will choose.
As to players recovering from injuries, Altidore and Oguchi Onyewu (knee) have participated in full training sessions since Tuesday, as have defenders Carlos Bocanegra (recovering from hernia surgery) and Jay DeMerit (abdominal strain). The green light for Altidore sets up at least a few confrontations with centerback and captain John Terry. Hull City's Altidoe and Chelsea's Terry dueled Feb. 2 in a 1-1 tie, one of 16 starts and 28 total league appearances in which Altidore scored just one goal.
“He's a great player and he reads the game well,” said Altidore, whose rights reverted back to Spanish club Villarreal when Hull, relegated to the second-tier League Championship, declined to retain him on loan or buy his contract. “It's going to be tough for whoever is going against him.”
A stomach bug is bothering English midfielder John Milner, though his inclusion in the starting lineup if healthy is far from assured. Chelsea midfielder Joe Cole, who sat on the bench much of the season but played well during a few appearances in May, is under consideration by Coach Fabio Capello to get a start at left mid.
What the USA accomplished in South Africa in 2009 may have laid a foundation, but nothing more.
“Last year was helpful in that it gives us the belief that we can do something special here,” said Landon Donovan. “Aside from that, that’s the past. Now our job is to focus on the now, but we know that we have the ability to be special. Now the focus is on bringing that out of us every time we play.”