First, for the record, Cork brewer Beamish (R.I.P.) is the Irish stout of choice for The Shin Guardian (though we’ll drink Guinness and Murphys’ in a heartbeat.) Oh, and we couldn’t use Budweiser in the title because that’s now technically from Belgium.
The recent 25-man roster selected by Ireland for their Cup qualifier playoff with France got TSG thinking: What if it were the United States who had to play the Emerald Isle for the right to get mugged in South Africa?
Pound for pound, who’s stronger?
For obvious reasons, I choose not to subject the USMNT to this evaluation vs. France. Jeremy Toulalan, Karim Benzema and even Patrice Evra on a bad day? Pass. On paper, it’s challenging.
Although I will tell you one area where the USMNT would have a “Major Advantage” over France. At the helm. While Bob Bradley may be castigated by the fans and press, the players love him (A friend who played for Bob at Princeton said he would do anything for the guy.) Would Thierry Henry do the same for French skipper Raymond Domenech? Uh, not so much….(Domenech isn’t endearing himself to the Irish squad either.)
Back to the battle at hand.
So let’s call it a single qualifier playoff. We’ll make it at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales and the winner gets a set of Callaways from Craig Bellamy (don’t worry — I know the joke is getting old — last time I use it – promise) and a trip to Jo’burg, Durban and the prize, Capetown.
Here’s the 25-man roster that was just named for Ireland’s death match with Home of the Crepe:
Goal: Shay Given (Manchester City), Keiren Westwood (Coventry City), Joe Murphy (Scunthorpe United)
Defense: John O’Shea (Manchester United), Richard Dunne (Aston Villa), Stephen Kelly (Fulham), Kevin Kilbane (Hull City), Eddie Nolan (Preston North End), Sean St Ledger (Middlesbrough), Paul McShane (Hull City), Darren O’Dea (Reading),
Midfield: Aiden McGeady (Celtic), Damien Duff (Fulham), Darron Gibson (Manchester United), Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), Keith Andrews (Blackburn Rovers), Liam Miller (Hibernian), Stephen Hunt (Hull City), Andy Keogh (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Liam Lawrence (Stoke City)
Striker: Kevin Doyle (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Robbie Keane (Tottenham Hotspur), Shane Long (Reading), Leon Best (Coventry City), Anthony Stokes (Hibernian)
Hypothetical USMNT roster: (Don’t read too much into our selections as being “TSG approved” for the World Cup….we’re going to wait a bit before that column and we’re just having fun here)
Goal: Tim Howard (Everton), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Brad Friedel (Aston Villa)
Defense: Johnny Spector (West Ham), Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes), Oguchi Onyewu (A.C. Milan), Chad Marshall (Columbus), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover ’96), Eric Lichaj (Aston Villa), Jay DeMerit (Watford)
Midfield: Landon Donovan (Los Angeles), Stuart Holden (Houston), Michael Bradley (Bo’…MUNCHEN!), Benny Feilhaber (ARF Arhaus), Ricardo Clark (Houston), Jose Francisco Torres (Pachuco), Robbie Rogers (Columbus), Edgar Castillo (Toluca), Jermaine Jones (Schalke ’04)
Striker: Jozy Altidore (Hull City), Conor Casey (Colorado), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake), Charlie Davies (Sochaux)
(Look, this is my column so I’m putting Chuck Deezy on the squad.)
Here’s how we’ll break down. We’ll choose a starting eleven side from both teams and then weigh the bench (including those that don’t dress in its entirety.)
One note, we’ll do our best to evaluate overall “lines” as the USMNT typically play a 4-4-2 and Ireland plays a 3-5-2.
Goalie: Tim Howard v. Shay Given
The Manchester City goalie is in one word, exceptional. The 6’3” 33-year-old has played every critical game for his national team since 1996.
Indeed Given is 2nd all-time in caps for the Republic of Ireland, sitting on an even 100. On the club stage, Given made his living and his name at recently relegated Newcastle. With a transfer to Manchester City, some are suggesting it is Given, not a supremely talent strike line or a refashioned defense that is the main reason behind the Citizens success this year. Indeed Manchester City is second in clean sheets this year and 3rd in Goals Conceded. Impressive.
On the other end of the pitch stands, Big T for the USMNT. A starter in 2007 and beyond for the national team, Big T got his EPL club start at Manchester United. After failing to wrestle with some jitters, he got shipped southward to Everton where Toffeville has been absolutely thrilled by the pick-up. Dubbed by Davie Moyes and others as a world class keeper, Howard showed his mettle most recently in the Confederations’ Cup in RSA facing the consecutive firing lines of Spain and Brazil.
Verdict: While the stats suggest Given is a given (you knew we’d work that in), we believe Big T’s would be similar or better (see EPL 2008-09) if he had the likes of Lescott (still), Toure and Bridge in front of him instead of the MASH kit defense he has now at the Toffees.
TSG gives the nod to Howard by a bluenose over Given.
Advantage: USA, slight edge
Defense: Jonathan Spector, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, John Bornstein v. John O’Shea, Richard Dunne, Sean St. Ledger (assumes all players are healthy)
Quality English Premier Leaguers on the Irish side of the equation here. John O’Shea is a regular man about the pitch for Sir Alex at Old Trafford. Having started his career with the Red Devils at center back and in the midfield, O’Shea is typically found at rightback now for Manchester United.
O’Shea is able to get ahead in the attack or defend against all but the smaller, quicker strikers of the EPL and Champions League. Let’s leave no doubt, the 28-year-old lifelong United player would be more than welcome in the starting USMNT squad.
Richard Dunne is probably the next best known defender for the Republic. The 30-year-old Dunne was unceremoniously dropped from Manchester City this year after stringing together pairs and triples of games during the 08-09 game where he made some horrific mistakes. Solid in the air on offense and a welcome member to the attack, Dunne outpaces all defenders here in his ability to add offense.
Sean St. Ledger is the least globally known of the players and plys his trade with recently relegated Middlesborough on loan from Preston North End.
For the USMNT, most TSG readers are obviously quite familiar with the quartet above. Spector is now thought to a regular in the backline of West Ham. Gooch was bench bound at Milan before his injury and probably looking at a transfer. Bocanegra is playing in the top French league and Bornstein is currently on display for Chivas in the MLS. As a collective backline, you could say, together, they’ve shown flashes of consistency and steel, but largely are undone by an inability to be mistake-free for a game.
Verdict: While Specs, Bornstein, Boca and Gooch all have their moments of all-star play–their inconsistency is matched by only Dunne on the other side who has a much better offensive capacity. I considered the following here when rendering this verdict: Assuming both countries play a 4-4-2 and JB is cloned for the US and put on the left side of both defenses, which line-up is better: O’Shea, Dunne, St. Ledger, Bornstein or Spector, Gooch, Boca, Bornstein. When I looked at it for an apples to apples, the decision became more apparent.
Advantage: Rep. of Ireland, slight edge
Midfield: Stu Holden, Jermaine Jones, Mike Bradley, Landon Donovan v. Glenn Whelan, Keith Andrews, Liam Lawrence, Kevin Kilbane, Aiden McGeady
Again we are bit hamstrung by this formation thing, but TSG will press on.
Glenn Whelan? Talented Sunderlander. Keith Andrews? Two time League Two POY. Liam Lawrence? Stoke City POY 2007-2008 (and big time goal scorer).
(Brief interlude, Mark just scolded me for using the word “Holler” on our Twitter instead of “Holla” telling me I was showing my age — threw me off here for a good 30 seconds while I looked through some prior pieces to see if I was referencing 80’s pop culture instead of something more relevant — okay, back now.)
Kevin Kilbane? The elder statesman now plies his trade at Hull City after stints at various EPL hops. Once a pretty good PlayStation Fifa player.
Aiden McGeady? Little known to TSG the Irish winger is apparently very good at keepaway at least. (And a note here, after listening to the speakers on this vid, I feel just fine about typing “HOLLER!” insteading of bopping to that tune.)
Now across the pond…
Stu Holden, likely to be changing zips to a premier league in the near future. The Dynamo captain has also carried over club form to the national level and shown some flashes of what lies ahead.
Jermaine Jones? Well, we reserve judgment beyond some YouTube clips, but based on those alone he starts and based on who he was starting for at the club level, he’s one of your better players on the field.
Mike Bradley. Don’t look now, but Sweatpants Jr. is in on a bit of tear. The continuing question with Bradley is two fold: 1) Can he continue to mature on the pitch? 2) Can he develop a better feel for the midfield? The next year will clearly tell.
Landon Donovan needs no defining.
Verdict: While the five of the Republic boast experience at the highest league and the accompanying accolades, in looking at the starters I’m seeing it about even. Beyond McGeady (who I have again only witnessed on YouTube), I consider the other four midfielders for Ireland to be generalists, or “jacks of all trades, masters of none.” Andrews, if anyone, shines. The US squad is surprisingly more dynamic with Holden’s pace and crosses down the right wing, Donovan’s swerving counters from the left and Jones and Bradley clamping down in the middle.
On cumulative talent, you have to give the advantage to Ireland. On dynamic compositional talent, in my opinion, you take the USMNT.
Note if Darron Gibson blows up this year for Man U, I have the right to revise this section.
Striker: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey v. Robbie Keane, Kevin Doyle
Surprise surprise. A match-up of all EPL players. When was the last time the USMNT had two strikers in the EPL at the same time? I know we’re cheating a bit with Dempsey, but he is likely to play there.
The 26-year-old Kevin Doyle is now at Wolverhampton after a spell at Reading. At 5’11 and 180lbs he is a suped up version of Brian Ching with a lot more scoring touch (and actually speed). He’ll be a handful for the US defense…
…alas he is not the main man to fear. Tottenham’s Robbie Keane needs no introduction. The prolific EPL scorer is adored by fans at home (while fans at Tottenham are slowly and begrudgingly forgiving him for a quick hiatus to Liverpool). While Keane has been impressive club side, his national team goal record is astounding 40 goals in just 93 caps (that’s a bit ridiculous).
The USMNT counters with sheep herder extraordinaire Jozy Altidore and Fullham’s man about the pitch Clint Dempsey. While Altidore may one day achieve his Drogba Jr. status, the former Red Bull really needs to start earning more pitch time at Hull City. Filling in behind and around Jozy is the Deuce. More a scrapper and right-place right-time sort-of-guy, Demps’s one-on-one creativity is EPL-approved and will need to be worked better into the US side.
Verdict: No contest at this point.
Advantage: Rep. of Ireland, major advantage
Bench: USA v. Ireland
Rather than go through all the players, I’ll leave it at this.
Beyond Hunt, Jozy’s service man at Hull City, you could argue that the USMNT bench is younger, evenly matched and bring more potential. And yes I know Leon Best is an up-and-comer.
Verdict: We go with youth.
Advantage: USA, very slight advantage
A one game playoff for a cup position between these two would be a fairly even match in our opinion. As always, the ability for the US defense to absorb the punishment from the opposite strike team would be, however if the US gets ahead on the counter attack they would be challenging three defenders who are not the fleetest of feet for the right to shoot on Shay Given.
Ireland’s scores at the end of the first half on a gorgeous turn and volley from Robbie Keane as he beats Gooch. The USMNT finally equalizes coming down the right flank and (finally) executing on cross from Stu Holden to Robbie Findley, who’s just been subbed in for Jozy.
(Bit of a cop out but…) The game goes through to kicks tied at 1-1 and Howard edges Given (4-3). The US go to the World Cup. (I had to choose that for this piece because they are there and Ireland most likely, well, we’ll see.)
Would the US have made it to the World Cup out of the UEFA? What if the US played France instead of Ireland? Okay, not going to dwell on that one for too long.
Oh, one more thing in closing.
HOLLER! You hear me Mark? HOLLLLLLER!