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Posted by Luda Hoe on 06/13/2010

I’m hoarse, exhausted, kind of filthy and, I must reveal, still not entirely sober. This is fault of several Englishmen who were, for whatever reason, convinced that I love Sambuca and enjoy consuming it in vast quantities at regular intervals through the evening. I guess the irrepressible grin that the 1-1 result induced probably suggested that I was enjoying the licorice-flavored devil’s milk. I digress: about the game…

I suppose there’s no other place to start than poor Rob Green. In my interview with England Correspondent Billy Blagg, I compared he and David James to blind sloths. What was then meant to be a tongue in cheek poke at the apparent weak link of the England squad seems prophetic today.

To be that clumsy takes genuine effort. Green could have even settled with his feet—Dempsey’s shot was no more than a firmly hit back pass.

Green’s opposite number, however, was in imperious form. Tim Howard was named man of the match for his night’s work. Not only did he make a string of crucial saves but also expertly managed a backline that was barely afforded the chance to play together in the pre-tournament friendlies. Aside from the fourth minute brain freeze that allowed Gerrard to steal in for the opener, the U.S. afforded only one clear cut chance—though whether it’s an actual chance when the ball is at Emile Heskey’s feet is highly questionable.

How jealous must England fans be? The most obvious replacement for Green has the ignominious moniker of “Calamity” while behind the ever reliable Howard (who hasn’t missed a match for his club in 3 seasons) sits Marcus Hahnemann who had probably the season of his life, keeping Wolves in the Premier League.

But to reduce the match down to a tale of two goalkeepers—as the English media have been keen to do through their white tinted spectacles—would belie the quality of the American performance. England probably shaded the game but the “should have won” that’s appearing ubiquitously in reports from the Isle are a bit of an overstatement. While England had the better of the second half chances, the winner they pushed for never looked like an inevitability.

If anything, England always looked threatened on the counter. They might be ruing Rob Green’s blunder in England, but I’m ruing his second half save.

As lucky as the U.S. were to get their equalizer, they were just as unlucky not to have gone ahead. Altidore exposed second half substitute Jaime Carragher’s age with a searing run only to have Rob Green redeem himself… only just; the U.S. were inches from a famous winner as his shot bounded off Green’s near post.

But, of course, if you would have offered a point to me before the game, I would have bitten your arm off to take it. At the end of the day, 1-1 made Sambuca bearable; the encouraging signs the U.S. displayed made it downright sweet.

Considering that defense was the biggest question mark, Wayne Rooney’s minimal influence was a welcomed surprise. His vision did play in Shaun Wright Phillips for a dangerous opportunity but aside from that, he was limited to a couple of speculative pot shots from distance. Robert Green might have been troubled, but the safe hands of Our Tim means such efforts can barely be considered half chances. Encouragingly, Rooney’s quiet outing can be attributed to Oguchi Onyewu’s return to form. Last night, he was the dominant figure that he was in South Africa a year ago, winning the aerial battles and making sure that Rooney never strayed far from his sizeable shadow. Onyewu’s excellence was summarized by a segment of play late on in which he bullied Crouch off the ball before winning possession with a thundering tackle on Steve Gerrard.

Gerrard’s midfield partner Frank Lampard was restricted mostly to lateral passes. The perennial 20-goal scorer in the Premier League has never quite shined in an England shirt as he does for Chelsea and that continued last night. Lampard connected with John Terry more than he did with any member of the front line. Most of that was down to Michael Bradley, who covered every blade of grass in the Royal Bafokeng stadium. He didn’t offer much going forward, but, as ever, Bradley stuck to his task; if only Ricardo Clark had the same level of concentration.

Clark, who was napping on the wrong side of his Gerrard for the opening goal, was one of the few individual disappointments for the U.S. Too often he allowed Gerrard time and space and his rare touches were sloppy. Bradley seems to prefer Clark to Edu but considering that Clark didn’t even make the field for Eintracht Frankfurt after his winter move, I wonder why. In hindsight (sweet, glorious, never wrong hindsight) the more physically imposing Edu would have been a better fit to blight Gerrard’s influence from the game.

I get the feeling, however, that Bob Bradley will be more offensively minded in Friday’s encounter with Slovenia, meaning we might see Jose Torres instead. The Slovenians were also the recipient of a goalkeeping blunder in their opening match against Algeria. Theirs was good enough for all three points which essentially means the U.S. will be facing a must win.

On last night’s evidence, there’s every reason to believe Bradley’s men are up to the task.

Comments

Posted by Paul on 06/13/2010

Actually, one of Howard's finest moments came off the foot of Frank Lampard. We were fortunate that Capello delayed Crouch's entry into the contest until after the run of 3 England corners near the 70 minute mark.

Posted by Almost a Bears Fan on 06/14/2010

Good opening match. I hope our boys gain momentum from the draw. From all interviews I have seen they appear upbeat. I still worry about defense. Can't afford breakdowns like the one that led to the English goal. Altidore impressed. If he has a breakout game against Slovenia he could be a force to reckon with for the rest of the tournament. We need his raw speed. Altitude did not seem to be an issue. Keep up the good work, both you and the Yanks.

Posted by Ross Musselman on 06/14/2010

Thankfully, you are the first person I have seen to really take issue with Clark. I fail to understand how Bradley can justify his presence on the field in light of the failure on the goal and his complete lack of offensive contribution. But, could you please comment on the substitution timing? Substituting in the 77th and the 86th minute seems like a poor strategic choice. Holden struggled to get in the groove of such an important game at such a late stage because he just didn't have time to do so. Even the last substitution attempt was an obvious time waster (not a bad decision), but any referee worth his salt would recognize it for what it is and award further extra time.

Posted by nathan on 06/16/2010

"Clark didn’t even make the field for Eintracht Frankfurt after his winter move" hmm..play the last three games. he had arrived in frankfurt and was injured for the first couple of weeks..then didnt get a chance to play till the last 3 games (because prior to that, eintracht was still fighting for a eurocup spot).

Posted by luda hoe on 06/16/2010

@ Nathan, fair enough. He did feature in the last three matches. But it doesn't really detract from the fact that he hadn't played enough for his club to regain the sort of form that justified the move to Eintracht. He played poorly in the first two friendlies; I'm surprised that Edu wasn't really granted a reasonable chance to win that spot. Nevertheless, I concede that some of his ineffectiveness in marking Gerrard had to do with how deep he had to sit to negate the Rooney's impact. Regardless of how he played, I think Bradley should (should, but probably won't) line up more offensively with Torres to partner Bradley in midfield against Slovenia.

@ Ross, I would have also liked to have seen Holden get more of a shot—from my perspective Holden for Findley should have been the move and it should have been made far earlier. But all in all, can't have too many

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Luda Hoe will literally be following the beautiful game to South Africa. You can read more on his thoughts and follow his African adventure at LoveSoccer-WillTravel.com.

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