Well, the game U.S. Soccer has building towards for six months has come and gone, and we have to be happy with the result. A 1-1 score against the favorites, points in the bag, and some strong performances by guys who were question marks a few days ago will have Coach Bob Bradley feeling confident for the next two matches.
Yeah, Slovenia’s gift win over Algeria will put more pressure on next Friday’s game. Sure, Robert Green’s error was terrible and the goal was lucky. On the other hand, Greene got some luck back when he parried Jozy Altidore’s second-half blast off the bar and away from an onrushing Donovan.
And the world witnessed firsthand what many USA fans have known for years – Tim Howard is the Man. Five points in your post-opening World Cup pentagram:
- Tim Howard is the Man. It bears repeating. Give me Timmy over any other keeper in the World, especially in a pressure situation. He makes the routine saves and seems able to consistently grab the game-changer when needed. He made six saves this game, including a couple of break-aways to preserve the point. Now we’ll all be praying he can recover from the bruised/cracked ribs from Heskey’s bad challenge in the first half. Having recently dealt with cracked ribs, I know I could barely move the next day let alone run, jump, or play goalie. But Tim is younger than me, a much better athlete, and he has his country behind him. If anyone can play through the pain, it’s Tim Howard.
- Center Defense stood tall. After all the moaning about whether or not Oguchi Onyewu was up to 90 minutes coming off his injury, Gooch responded with a commanding performance. He wasn’t perfect and mis-timed a few challenges, but all in all he dominated the box against England’s vaunted attack. Standing beside him, Green Bay Jay DeMerit so frustrated Wayne Rooney that he had to retreat to the midfield circle to receive the ball in the second half and only had limited touches. If the center of defense can build on this, we can make some noise in this tournament.
- Midfield play must get better. It was always Bradley’s plan to clog up the midfield and keep Gerrard, Lampard, Rooney, and Lennon on the periphery. And yet Ricardo Clark failed to mark Gerrard on the simplest of diagonal runs, leading to that early goal. Still, the U.S. midfield was largely successful in forcing England wide, giving Gooch and DeMerit cover to clean things up. On offense, we saw some nice build-up at times, but quite a few missed passes and an inability (again by Clark) to maintain possession and relieve pressure. Bradley must give Torres a look in the middle against Slovenia if we are going to attack effectively through the middle.
- You cannot discount the pressure. It’s one of sports oldest cliches, but not everyone steps up on the big stage. Tim Howard, Onyewu, and Dempsey did. Robert Green, Lampard, and Rooney did not. In other matches we’ve seen teams look very nervous and very uncomfortable. Probably why we’ve seen so many dour defensive-minded draws. No one wants to make the mistake. And with billions watching, you have to empathize.
- Bob Bradley had them ready, but needed to react quicker. Once again, Coach Stoneface had a good gameplan to neutralize the England attack, and a good tactical setup. Once again he waited way too long to recognize when changes were needed and players were tiring. Clint Dempsey was absolutely gassed by minute 70 and no longer providing the pressure and support Carlos Bocanegra desperately needed against Aaron Lennon. Robbie Findley and Jozy Altidore were likewise on empty. And we have to criticize the continued reliance on Clark, when other midfielders (Mo Edu and Torres) seem more capable of holding possession.
It will be very interesting to see who gets the call against Slovenia. The Slovenes got their win against Algeria, and you can bet they will park the bus in front of goal and look to hit on the counter. This isn’t ideal for a U.S. team that has struggled to unlock bunkers for years. England will face even more pressure, but Algeria looks poised for a collapse and will probably offer limited resistance. Let’s hope they’re completely out of it by the time we play them in two weeks time.