Injuries pivotal to U.S. and England tactics

[USA-ENGLAND COUNTDOWN] Once again, a vital member of England’s national team has gone down with an injury on the eve of the World Cup, prompting English pundits and fans to wail in anguish.

Veteran defender Rio Ferdinand, one of very few pro athletes to have flunked a drug test by missing it altogether through forgetfulness, suffered a knee injury last week in training and won’t play in the competition. Though prone to “switching off” (British parlance for “spacing out”) at critical moments, the Manchester United star is one of the few tough, elegant defenders to grace England’s team in the past few decades.

Metatarsal injuries to David Beckham (2002) and Wayne Rooney (2006) affected their performances in those World Cup competitions, but losing Ferdinand entirely is a test of the squad and Coach Fabio Capello. His replacement choices include oft-injured Tottenham veteran Ledley King. The presence of King alongside with John Terry would put the English in much the same situation as the USA, i.e., that of a central defender plagued by fitness worries.

King, who suffered a foot injury shortly before the 2006 competition, twice sat out six-week intervals of the Premier League season with knee problems. Oguchi Onyewu’s recovery-in-progress from a ruptured patellar tendon is one of several fitness issues of concern to U.S. head coach Bob Bradley.

Capello’s other choices are Jamie Carragher and Matt Upson, who played four qualifiers when Carragher and King weren’t available. None have Ferdinand’s agility and quickness; on the other hand, they are less prone to lapses in concentration. King, Spurs’ captain and a one-club player (since 1999), is a reliable defender with good pace, but Ferdinand’s experience of playing in the last three World Cups can't be undervalued.

One countermove to the loss of Ferdinand would be a tightening of central midfield, but here, too Capello’s options are limited. Another injury absentee is Gareth Barry, and without his tackling and tenacity to hold the center, Capello is faced with using Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard together in the middle with the holding and attacking duties to be shared. Or he could use a player like James Miler in a holding role and shift either Lampard or Gerrard out wide.

Writing in the Guardian, English journalist Paul Hayward said, “Another snag is that it shines a light again on the Frank Lampard-Steven Gerrard central midfield double act, and which of them should be burdened with the greater defensive responsibility. That debate still awaits its resolution.” (Ironically, King got some time as a holding mid for England before the last World Cup under former coach Sven-Goran Eriksson.)

If Capello pairs Lampard and Gerrard in the center, this could offer Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey opportunities to veer inside from the flank to find pockets of space between the English midfield and back line. There would also be space on the flanks for teammates, either the outside backs or even Michael Bradley, who doesn’t leave the central channel very often but has shown he can deliver a cross from wide positions. On the other hand, tracking and containing both Gerrard and Lampard would severely test the American center mids and limit their offensive input.

And how does U.S. forward Jozy Altidore fit into all this? After sitting out the final warm-up match against Australia Saturday, Altidore returned to full training on Tuesday. His size and heft are unique among the U.S. attackers, and it’s assumed that Bradley will start him against England.

Yet it’s painfully easy, pun intended, for defenders to jab and kick a forward’s tender ankle, so unless Altidore is as close as can be to 100 percent, a forward pairing of Edson Buddle and Robbie Findley is still a possibility. They are all World Cup rookies, as is Herculez Gomez, so there’s no advantage in that department. Only Altidore played in the Confederations Cup.

Capello still has to resolve, at least publicly, his issues of who to pair up with Rooney and which goalkeeper to play, but the certainty regarding Barry and Ferdinand simplifies his game plan. Bradley must decide if he can trust Altidore’s ankle and Onyewu’s knee sufficiently to start them against a very good team.

10 comments about "Injuries pivotal to U.S. and England tactics ".
  1. Ron R, June 9, 2010 at 9:03 a.m.

    As much as I want to see Onyewu in the back, he didn't look confident in his ability to get off the ground in the last couple of games. I'm not sure he trusts his knee yet. Bornstein looked very calm and had a lot of confidence against Australia in an otherwise forgetable defensive set.

  2. Ron R, June 9, 2010 at 9:05 a.m.

    As for England, I think Terry folds becuase he has to hold the middle together while the team and his country know the back is weak becasue of his back stabbing of Bridge. I don't think he can hold up under the pressure to make up for the damage he caused.

  3. Matthew Reber, June 9, 2010 at 10:12 a.m.

    Oh, to have the sort of problems that Cappello has. Are you kidding me ? England's challenges at the World Cup are mostly the team's ability to think of themselves as viable champions. With Carragher, Upson, and King (who looked very solid in his last outing), Capello DOES NOT have a back line problem. Terry and these lads are equipped with the sort of brutish approach it takes to stop the best strikers in the world. They leave no doubt when they get a ball out of danger. No scraps are left. On the other hand, the US has a HUGE back line problem, not the least of which is Onyewu's health/readiness. I agree with Ron, he is not ready - and that is a big problem. The dropoff in effectiveness in the center is a chasm if he is indeed not ready.

  4. Terence Chu, June 9, 2010 at 12:45 p.m.

    Unfortunately we don't have any defenders o keep up the Rooney and Defoe pairing. I shudder to think what would happen if those two show up together, especially late in a game.

  5. Terence Chu, June 9, 2010 at 12:47 p.m.

    @ Ron I don't think that incident affected his club form at all. He got over it after about 2 games. Remember he is a world class c**k and probably doesn't think he himself did any wrong, hence the clear concience and form.

  6. John Singer, June 9, 2010 at 4:22 p.m.

    Ron, you must be kidding about Bornstein. The kid has an absoulute panic attack when he has the ball. You can see his terror building as he looks around for an option, then turns it over. I prefer an aged, lame Bocanegra on the left.

  7. Frank Cebul, June 9, 2010 at 10:54 p.m.

    Ridge-I like the idea of starting Buddle and Gomez, with Findley as a sub. Altidore's ankle will not improve with him playing in Saturday's game--in fact it is likely to get worse and remain a nagging problem throughout the tournament. I would let him heal completely and save him for the Algeria and Slovenia games, both of which will probably be "must win" games in which you would want a veteran of big games.
    As is well known, the defense is a problem with Onyewu prematurely back in the starting line-up. I suppose MBradley can serve as a defensive midfielder to solidify the center a bit, but his propensity to get cautions and ejections is cause for some concern.
    Perhaps if the US can put enough offensive pressure on England the defense will have time to rest and organize.

  8. Ron R, June 10, 2010 at 8:22 a.m.

    John- Wouldn't disagree normally but how a player plays in the WC is different and in the Australia game, he was very solid. I'd like to see them find a way to get him in the line with Bocanegro. Had the Aussies been able to finish, we would have lost because they got into our 6 at will for headers. Bornstein got more balls out of the box in his 30 minutes than anyone in the game. Of course the Socceroos were pressing more toward the end so there were more to clear... End of day is we played weakly in the back and it scares me against the Rooney shot and the Crouch header.

  9. Ron R, June 10, 2010 at 8:30 a.m.

    Question about England's backs is two fold... What about losing Ferdinand after planning to have him in the middle and what if the WC referees don't allow the EPL style of play? Terry plays right on the line between hard and dirty and he won't be given as much room on this stage. Only one Referee from the EPL in the WC... The rest are used to officiating a more finesse game. Both the US and England will be hurt by the referee style in the WC.

  10. Matthew Reber, June 10, 2010 at 9:29 a.m.

    Ron, good point about the officiating. I guess it is a point of emphasis this year after several horrible incidents (i.e. Eduardo). It will be exciting to see the skilled players protected a bit more, but I hope they don't turn it into a no-contact sport.

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