June 12, 2010


World Cup Group C: England 1 USA 1 (Paul Wilson at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium, 6/12/10, guardian.co.uk

Although Green will inevitably carry the can for this disappointment, in truth it was not a great England performance, just a great start. The American goal may have been a fluke, yet it came about because England were defending too deep and allowing their opponents to take pot shots. Far too little was seen of England's attacking players – Capello even turned to Peter Crouch before the end – to place all the blame on the goalkeeper.

Capello, true to his word, had kept everyone guessing right up to the last minute with his line-up, though there were no real surprises once it was understood that the Italian was not about to mess around with the system and selections that had proved so successful in qualifying on the basis of late claims made in inconsequential friendlies. So Green retained his place as goalkeeper after all, just as Capello had promised. James Milner, who has consistently appeared in competitive games for Capello, was preferred on the left wing to Joe Cole, who has not. And Emile Heskey, on the back of three Premier League goals last season, was invited to resume as Wayne Rooney's gofer.

...but he made a series of unforced errors: (1) starting Green over Joe Hart; (2) starting Heskey over Crouch; (3) worst of all, starting two injured players who couldn't even make it to the 2nd half, King and Milner; and (4) trying to get away with Carragher in central defense, a spot even his club couldn't use him in. There is also though the ongoing problem for England in that their best players are so similar that they end up crowding one another out of the picture.

England always asks why can't Gerrard play with Lampard but to that mix you almost have to add Rooney. They all want to play directly in front of goal but outside the 18 yard box and that obviously can't work (especially with the immobile Heskey a few yards in front of them).

In qualifying Capello made some hay by pulling Lampard back a bit, pushing Gerrard forward a little and Rooney a lot, so that they were stacked rather than packed and Gerrard and Rooney seemed to really enjoy finding each other with passes. And if they got better wide play--from Glen Johnson and Lennon or Wright-Philips (or whoever)--it would at least open enough space in front of goal that they could spread out a little into separate shooting lanes. But you'd barely know that Lampard was in South Africa today and after a lively start Gerrard went fairly quiet, while they didn't start finding Rooney until very late in the game (too late). Rooney did, typically, set up the first goal with a pass from over 20 yards out--not exactly where you expect your striker to matter from. It has to be a problem that even after an entire season of qualifying their coach still hasn't solved the fundamental conundrum of this squad.

For all the individual talent that they field, inept goal tending, weak defense, and awkward attack is a bad recipe for World Cup success.

For the Americans on the other hand, the coaching decisions were a decidedly mixed bag. On the plus side, Bradley got 90 generally good minutes from his central defenders whose fitness was a worry, and Jozy only got tired late and mostly from blowing by Carragher who should have been fouled out trying to cover him. Cherundolo was terrific in place of Spector, who'd been a regular in qualifying, and Bocanegra played as well as anyone was going to in that 4th spot.

But neither Findley nor Clark had much of a game and he was very slow to make any substitutions and made curious ones when he did--Buddle and Holden for Findley and Altidore. Herculez Gomez has been positively talismanic and had he helped cop a winner in this one it would have given the team a sublime confidence when he came on going forward in the tournament. As a general matter Bradley was just too cautious, content with a draw in a game that screamed for us to try and win. One more run at Carragher and he would have gotten his second yellow (he really should have for challenges on both Jozy and Findley). Plus their goalie had just made an epic flub and demanded to be tested as often as possible.

The broader issue for him was the difficulty the defense had keeping a coherent shape in front of goal. We are extremely hard to break down when Onyewu/DeMerit/Bradley/Clark form a kind of box in front of goal, but today we got beat on an easy drive through the middle, with Clark losing Gerrard. That needs to be tightened up by Friday and it would be nice to see if Edu or Torres can do the job defensively since they can both provide better connection from the back to the front on attack than Ricardo Clark can. Michael Bradley deserves mention for being maybe the best all around player on the field today.

One final positive: it remains to be seen if this was just a function of the specific officiating crew and/or letting too physical teams have at, but it was very nearly an accomplishment that we didn't have anyone sent off. That plagued us last year in Africa and if the refs call us tight it takes away a big part of our game.

The crew was very good with one caveat: they somewhat punished our honesty. Had Altidore gone down on the run that ended up with a ball off the framework then Carragher would have been sent off. If you want forwards to stay upright instead of diving then you need to reward them with the calls when they do. Also there were a number of high and spikes up challenges--Gerrard and Carragher again--that would even have been straight red cards if the opposing player had been injured but weren't called that way since there was no serious injury. The standard for fouls ought not be the degree of damage done anymore than it should be whether the opponent shrugs off the challenge and keeps going. That the exact same fouls will likely be punished more harshly against the more conniving sides--wait until you see Cristiano Ronaldo flop and roll--makes the officiating entirely too arbitrary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 12, 2010 5:12 PM
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