I would like to personally thank a long-time family friend, a man I have watched grow up for many years, Andrew Diamond for helping me with some great football (soccer) conversation. It’s World Cup time (in case you didn’t know), and Andrew is one of the most knowledgeable fans I know. So without further delay, Mr. Diamond’s piece on the 1-1 tie between those damn Red Coats, and us Yanks:
The U.S. Finally Stands Up to its Big Brother
The U.S. was very fortunate to get the goal in the way they did. Robert Green’s “Hand of Green” error will forever be remembered as one of the all-time blunders in World Cup history. Although they were gifted that fortuitous break, the U.S. was able to stifle Wayne Rooney, hit England on the counter-attack and was well deserving of their draw. While the English will put all of the blame for the draw onto their keeper’s mistake, the real reason that the United States drew with England was that U.S. manager Bob Bradley won the tactical battle over his England counterpart.
English coach, Fabio Capello made tactical errors that cost his team two points. He played James Milner on the left side of mid-field despite the fact that he was coming back from a virus. Obviously he was not fully recovered because he played poorly for the first 30 minutes, got beaten several times by Steve Cherundolo, and following a yellow card he was replaced with Shaun Wright-Phillips in just the 30th minute. This is a mistake that managers with Capello’s experience should not make. Also, the decision to play Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard in central mid-field together was the wrong option. While they are both very talented offensive-minded midfielders, the reason why they should not be played next to each other is that they play almost the identical role. If both of them are pushing up to help score, then there is going to be no one holding in deep mid-field. This left gaps in front of the England defense that enabled the U.S. to create several scoring chances on the break.
But the worst tactical mistake made by Capello was playing Green in the first place. He had a more experienced option and a younger more talented option he could have gone with. In the end he chose the player that had neither experience at the world stage nor good recent form for his club.
Bradley resisted the temptation to tamper with the formula that has worked for the team in the past and it was the right call against England. The only changes from the line-up that did so well in the Confed Cup was at forward and right back. The more experienced Cherundolo played in defense over the younger-but-less-experienced Jonathon Spectre, and Robbie Findlay filled in for the injured Charlie Davies. The only other big decision for Bradley was whether or not to play Oguchi Onyewu.
Many managers wouldn’t trust playing a center back that had not played for seven months, but Bradley did just that. I was one that felt it was suicide to play Onyewu against the likes of Wayne Rooney. Fortunately, playing Onyewu worked out as his size, strength and steel in defense negated much of Emile Heskey’s physicality. Many questioned if he could go the full 90 minutes, but Onyewu actually played much better in the second half as he shook off some of the accumulated rust and played like we have come to expect from him.
With this opening draw, the U.S. has yet again exceeded expectations under Bob Bradley. This game against England has been the focus of attention for most of us but the next two games will decide if we can progress to the knockout phase of the tournament. Slovenia and Algeria will present an entirely different proposition from England. The U.S. is considered the favorite in both games, not a position they are used to. The real challenge for Bradley will be getting the tactics right to break down and score against two well-drilled and disciplined sides that play a much more cautious style than England.
(This is where Andrew Diamond’s story ends and my addition begins)
One of the giant reasons the United States was able to earn the draw was the cool-head of Keeper Tim Howard. The last-defense on a team is the keeper. He’s the one who gets the blame for a loss (or tie in Green’s case), and Howard was every bit the last defense the U.S. needed. After the early goal by Steven Gerrard in just the third minute, it’s easy to get on-edge and make mistakes. Howard did the exact opposite. He stood tall and kept the U.S. in the match until Clint Dempsey was able to make good on a chance in the 39th minute.
And in the second half, Howard was tested multiple times as both teams started stretching the field. There were three different times in the second half where the English offense bested the American defense, only to be stymied by Howard. He made key save after key save to help the United States earn a 1-1 tie. I just wanted to make sure he got his due in this story.
Thanks again to Andrew for a well-written piece. Look for more work from Mr. Diamond as the World Cup continues throughout the month of June and into early July.