Lucky goal a product of U.S. resilience

[USA-ENGLAND] The Game of Green’s Godawful Goal might not have been nearly so memorable had the Americans crumbled after falling behind shortly after kickoff, just as they did in the opening minutes of the 2006 World Cup. Instead, they battled back for a 1-1 tie that gave both teams a valuable point in the Group C opener Saturday in Rustenburg.

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Against England, there wasn’t enough possession and poise in midfield, and the forward play needs to be more incisive more often. Yet to shake out the nerves of a World Cup opener against the group heavyweight and a few truly outstanding players while still getting a point is a good start.

Rather than meekly succumbing as it did four years ago to a 3-0 whipping by Czech Republic following Jan Koller’s powerful header in the fifth minute, the U.S. dug itself out of a hole to secure a 1-1 draw.

True, the hands of English keeper Robert Green did much of the shoveling by steering Clint Dempsey’s 25-yard bouncer over the goal line to cancel out a fourth-minute finishing gem by Steven Gerrard, and had Wayne Rooney been anything close to his marauding, predatory self, England could have matched that Czech Republic margin.

Why England failed to seize control is more than the sum of Tim Howard’s saves, Steve Cherundolo’s savvy and Jozy Altidore’s heft. If the Americans were lucky, it’s the same kind of luck that propelled them past Egypt and then Spain a year ago at the Confederations Cup, a luck borne of grit and spirit.

The central defensive pairing of Jay DeMerit and Oguchi Onyewu, a highlight of last summer’s runner-up finish in the Confederations Cup, is still being rebuilt. Twice Onyewu stepped up without cover, and both times England pounced. His physical recovery from a torn patellar tendon in mid-October seems nearly complete; his anticipation and decision-making need sharpening. Yet his strong tackles and aerial challenges were instrumental in breaking up English attacks aside from those gaffes.

HOLES IN THE BACK. On the first occasion, Gerrard zoomed inside Ricardo Clark to take a diagonal ball from Emile Heskey, being marked by DeMerit, and blow through the hole left by Onyewu – who had pushed up the challenge Rooney well outside the penalty area -- to smack a sweet shot low with the outside of his right foot just inside the post. Less than four minutes into the match, the Americans were down, 1-0.

Clark, whose desperate lunge to block the shot fell short, waved his arms in disbelief as he sat on the ground, as if to ask, ‘Uh, isn’t somebody supposed to be there?’ Staying goalside on Gerrard is always a good idea, too.

In the second half, Heskey tore into space vacated by Onyewu to face Howard, who stood his ground and easily handled Heskey’s shot straight at him. The miscommunication was most evident, however, late in the first half when the two central defenders, so close together they could have bumped shoulders, escorted a through ball with neither deciding what to do with it.

Not surprisingly, Howard tore into his team a few times, calling for tighter marking and better defensive shape. Left back Carlos Bocanegra got skinned by the quick and canny force that is right mid Aaron Lennon, and that can happen to anybody, but on other occasions he simply drifted too far inside, or bit on a move that left either Lennon or right back Glen Johnson free down the flank.

Wide mids Landon Donovan and Dempsey switched sides during the match, and both came deep to put in some good, and necessary, defensive work. Dempsey also floated inside with the U.S. in possession, but too often nobody drifted wide to cover that flank, even in transition. Yet it was from a central spot that Dempsey, who’d been knocked an awkward but ultimately vital early ball by Michael Bradley, twisted into space and hit the skipping 25-yard shot that will forever haunt Green, England fans and their coach, who chose him over Joe Hart and David James.

AGITATED CAPELLO. That’s you, Fabio Capello, who while coaching his first World Cup match looked far more agitated and upset than he usually did in the middle of Italy’s back line or on the sidelines with Real Madrid, Juventus, or AC Milan.

Seldom did right back Cherundolo need help or get caught out of position. He tormented James Milner, who had been battling stomach problems in the lead-up to the match, so severely Capello replaced Milner after 30 minutes. Capello also yanked center back Ledley King at halftime; presumably because his tender knees were flaring up. (King has already been ruled out of England's next game against Algeria.) Cherundolo’s tough tackles, confident touches, and intelligent movement grounded the Americans on numerous occasions, something many of his teammates were unable to do.

A disjointed, patchwork feel marred much of England’s play, though Lennon slotted a few balls into the goalmouth that Rooney and Heskey failed to put away. In the second half, he scorched Bocanegra and from the goal line pulled back a diagonal ball that rolled about a yard behind first Rooney, at the near post, and then Heskey. So close, and a clear warning to the Americans that their defending needs upgrading.

Another critical pairing, that of Altidore and Robbie Findley, may not be renewed, but they didn’t get a lot of offensive support from Bradley and Clark for much of the match. Donovan and Dempsey were active and energetic, and maybe Dempsey’s moves into the middle were supposed to form links to the forwards. The Bradley-Clark duo didn’t do much offensively but blotted out Frank Lampard for most of the game and picked up the slack when Rooney dropped into midfield. Gerrard got the goal and threatened a few other times, and also took a caution when he hacked Dempsey on the knee.

Findley did a lot of checking back and drifting wide to find the ball, but seldom did he get a real chance to run at a ball behind the back line that he had a chance of catching up to. When he broke up the left flank with 10 minutes left in the first half, he looked inside to see Altidore surrounded by five or six opponents and no teammate within 25 yards. It was a glaring example of wide gaps that sometimes separated the forwards and center mids.

Altidore, perhaps a bit rusty after missing some time with an ankle sprain, started somewhat uncertain of himself but gained in confidence and decisiveness as the match unfolded. There didn’t seem to be any danger when he took a short ball near the left sideline more than 40 yards from goal, but he turned upfield to power his way past Jamie Carragher and banged a shot Green deflected onto the post.

HEROIC HOWARD. Howard stoned the English several times with critical saves, but only Johnson’s shot tested him to any extent. His toughness and courage carried him through the match after a lunge from Heskey caught him on the wrist and in the ribs. He took a shot of cortisone at halftime to relieve the pain of bruised ribs, and by gutting it out to the final whistle exemplified a team spirit that must be a constant at this World Cup.

(Soccer America readers: What do think of the U.S. performance? What changes should be made for the second game?)

20 comments about "Lucky goal a product of U.S. resilience".
  1. Norm Wilkerson, June 13, 2010 at 2:53 a.m.

    Torres for Clark is a no-brainer. Glaring lack of a target player upfront. Brian Ching would have been helpful to allow midfielders to catch up to play.

  2. Terence Chu, June 13, 2010 at 3:25 a.m.

    Leave behind the consevative play that got us a point vs England. We need to come out of the shell, keep possessing, and build and attack for the next must-win game. Altidore and herc up front. Torres and Bradley in the middle. The rest of the team should stay the same.

  3. Scott O'Connor, June 13, 2010 at 3:42 a.m.

    Torres, Torres, Torres. He'll create some order from midfield and organize an attack that can put some balls in the net and take Slovenia out of the game early.

    Clark is more of a defensive stopper. Hopefully Bob won't be too afraid of Slovenia to feel that he needs two defensive midfielders to compete.

  4. Gus Keri, June 13, 2010 at 7:42 a.m.

    I am so glad that it ended up in a draw.
    If the USA had won, it would have sent a wrong message about the level of the American soccer, similar to what happened after Spain’s win last year, and it might have gotten to some people’s heads. And if they had lost, it would have been a severe blow to the team confidence and it would have damaged their attempt at qualifying to the knock-out round. This result will give the team a lot of self belief without the cockiness that may lead them to relax for the next two games.

  5. karl ortmertl, June 13, 2010 at 9:19 a.m.

    We'll suffer thru Bradley as coach this World Cup (no choice), but we must get a real coach moving forward. The first benefit would be to get his son out of the mid field. The US has a couple of real talents in Donovan and Torres, who would creatively control the midfield and its a crime to have Clark and Bradley in there instead. Not to mention the atrocious defensive coaching. Also, I wouldn't assume the score would have been 1-0 if Green hadn't flubbed. The US deliberately held back on offense after tieing, happy with the draw. I'm sure the US would have pressed forward if it still had been 1-0 in the second half and I wouldn't assume that they wouldn't have scored the equalizer.

  6. Ean Fenty, June 13, 2010 at 10:18 a.m.

    We must be watching a different games. I whole heartily agree with the Torres for Clark switch and would much rather see Buddle or Gomez for Findley, but I can't for the life of me understand why so many of you are down on Michael Bradley. Is it because he's the coaches son? He's 22 and most of the time his game is pretty solid. He's certainly more of a lunch pail kind of player, but every great team needs a CM like that. If we played him under Torres, what a great pairing. Leave Michael Bradley alone. He starts for a Bundesliga team as well, does his dad coach there also?

  7. Charles Stamos, June 13, 2010 at 10:29 a.m.

    Agree with all above regarding Torres and Clark, but I feel Bradley had a very good match, first touches in tight spaces were right on, no glaring give aways in the defensive third, yes, he's not a constant attack threat, but did a good job for ~75 minutes. Almost no midfielder will be able to sustain WC action for 90 minutes without fatigue. I would welcome subs for both middies - Feilhaber and Clark being the subs.

  8. James Froehlich, June 13, 2010 at 12:31 p.m.

    Ridge -- your analysis was spot on but why do you have to make those inane introductory remarks about "US resilience" and "grit and determination". It sounds like the speech a coach gives to his team after their 100th consecutive loss. As a soccer nation I would hope we are beyond that.
    Regarding the team, kudos to Tim Howard and a hearty thank-you to Mr. Green.
    This site seems to be a big fan of Torres and so am I but don't bet on seeing him until Clark breaks a leg or is red-carded. He is BB's boy, all pluck and determination!!!
    Regarding M Bradley I am generally more positive than some of you. However, I think that he is being asked to be a creative mid and he certainly isn't one. Creativity doesn't seem to be a strong point of the Bradley family!!
    Hoping for Torres but not holding my breath. Go USA !!!

  9. Philippe Fontanelli, June 13, 2010 at 12:45 p.m.

    Ean Fenty and Charles Stamos, you guys obviously not following World Football (Soccer)because you are not aware that his German Team coach has had several complaints about him (Bradley). He was often left out of the first eleven, sometimes came in as a sub of a a team that is much too low in the Bundesliga. Secondly I don't think you saw the game or analyzed it. He had lot back passes and more than some intercepted to a almost a goal. He had his own game with not much connectivity to Donovan (and Dempsey). I guess we should leave Donovan out and build the team on Bradley. I agree that Bradley is young but in soccer/football sense he should have been fully matured by now or never. He started well and was better at 19 and 20. A similar scenario to Adu who didn't even made the cut of the "30".

  10. Tom Kondas, June 13, 2010 at 12:56 p.m.

    "Pluck and Determination"??Hell, I've got that and I'm 75 years old, doesn't mean I'm capable of being a starter on the national team. I believe every coach with a world class team (Bradley excluded) starts his best eleven. Bradley and Clark should not be out there when you have a Torres and a Buddle on the bench.

  11. Steven SIegel, June 13, 2010 at 1:57 p.m.

    I don't fully understand all the support for Torres. He did ok at best but was mostly ineffective against Czech and had a very good second half against Turkey in a friendly in which Turkey was already up. Has anyone seen him take on the defensive midfield role? NO! Maybe he's great, but I certainly wouldn't know.

    Michael Bradley had numerous effective touches. The best knock against him is that he himself is unlikely to score, which is a handicap. Not that it made much of a difference vs England.

    The result against Spain did not give anyone the wrong impression about the US. We've never had much depth and the injuries, especially to the backline, have limited our cohesion.

    The key to the US doing well in the WC is getting better while we are there. That means sticking with a lineup as much as we can.

    Slovenia had nothing today. It was a cruel result for Algeria.

  12. Gregory Kowalski, June 13, 2010 at 2:04 p.m.

    I can't agree more with the posts. Why won't Bradley use Torres? Buddle and Gomez would be my choices too.

  13. James Froehlich, June 13, 2010 at 2:21 p.m.

    Steven S. -- I don't think anyone is looking at Torres as a defensive midfielder, rather as the creative conduit. Torres time on the MNT has been problematic. He came to light because of his great play for Pachuca and has been on BB's list of players for some time. However, he has gotten little if any playing time. My son and I saw him for one half against T & T and he was brilliant. BB pulled him at the half. None of the commentators that I have read could figure out why. Since then his playing time has been very sporadic. However every time he has played he as done well but always in short spurts. Mike Sorber, the assistant coach told me that Torres problem was that he was too small!! This was on a plane ride back to St. Louis following the T & T game. If that's the only reason, BB should be fired !!

  14. lloyd hetzer, June 13, 2010 at 2:24 p.m.

    The US made a slow British team look fast. Onyewu should be watching the game from the sideline in the states. When he pushes up it is like adding the 12th man to the other team. If Rooney had not phoned it in, there would have been no tie. I saw Torres was about to come in when the game ended. He should have been about to come in when the first half ended. We desperately need offense.

  15. Charles Stamos, June 13, 2010 at 4:56 p.m.

    Antonio - I know of the German's complaints on Bradley; but he still is a better option than Clark or any other middies because of his aggresive defensive style. I would like Torres playing with him and he would be more offensive minded. I also am of the opinion that Donovan would help our midfield and should play withdrawn and more central. That would force us into a 4-2-3-1 or some similar design. Play Altidore alone on top, Dempsey and Buddle wide and Donovan in the middle, and Bradley and Torres in front of the 4 defenders.

  16. James Madison, June 13, 2010 at 10:11 p.m.

    It's nothing that has not been said already, but, given the Slovenia win over Algeria, the U.S. needs to defeat both to be sure of a place in the knockout round. To accomplish that, Torres and either Buddle or Gomez instead of Clark and Findley is vital.

  17. Alex Lozano, June 13, 2010 at 10:16 p.m.

    I liked the resilience shown by the team, even after allowing yet another early goal. Unlike 2006 v Czech Republic, we didn't buckle. We had some defensive breakdowns, not enough ball pressure on England & poor passing...but, thanks to Dempsey's juking of Gerrard, as much as Green's blunder, and a STELLAR performance by Tim Howard, we got the point! And, deservedly so, in my opinion. I liked the performance by DeMerit & Gooch in central defense and, as far as the Slovenia game, I'd play Maurice Edu or Jose Torres with Michael Bradley and would start Herculez Gomez with Jozy Altidore. I'm not thrilled with Findley's "selfishness"!!

  18. Steven SIegel, June 13, 2010 at 11:22 p.m.

    Thanks for the response, James F. Very interesting and highly unusual!

  19. Bret Newman, June 14, 2010 at 1:56 a.m.

    Since nobody else is, I'm going to remind everybody that Altidore shot could have easily been a goal. The goalie got a piece of it, and it hit the goal post. So to me, that evens things out, with Dempsey's soft goal. Hell, if we were really lucky, we would have won 2-1.

  20. Bill Koeppen, June 15, 2010 at 8:35 p.m.

    There are a lot of great points in these comments. From my perspective, we certainly have more soccer in us than what we showed...but so does England. Our passing was poor overall, but, it has more to do with our movement without the ball than anything else. Clark and Bradley were clearly there to keep Lampard and Gerrard in check...with one exception they did. Keeping in mind that Onyewu isn't match fit, taking a defensive approach against England made sense. The most glaring issue looks to be the forwards ability to receive and hold the ball, or as Altidore displayed by creating the best scoring chance of the game, turn and take the backs on. Overall the result was a positive one, but I think we all agree that both sides played below their quality. How would you like to be England? Each year they are supposed to be the 'Royalty' of Europe and they really aren't that good. They are a above average group but only just. They have forgotten that they must balance adrenaline and energy with intellect and saavy.

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