(Note, TSG will be doing multiple reviews of this game)
All week long The Shin Guardian labeled today’s USA vs. England match as “The Rumble In Rustenburg.”
A rumble it wasn’t, this was an all-out up-and-down sprint.
Bob Bradley deployed his speed team early and the Yanks consistently played the ball up the pitch looking to generate a score and relieve pressure on a defensive ship that took hits in the bow and the stern but managed to remain afloat at the final whistle.
The Yanks certainly didn’t make it easy on themselves. Not more than five minutes into the game, an errant pass found its way to England’s Emile Heskey–who had his way for most of the days in post-up plays with Yanks defenders.
Heskey quickly chipped a pass forward to an incising Steven Gerrard who left a flat-footed, ball-watching Ricardo Clark in his wake.
Tim Howard tried to cut the angle, but Gerrard himself chipped a nifty low liner into the right of the goal. A well-taken goal on the States’ first mistake of the day.
Deflation, for the Yanks and their fans with just minutes expired.
Beyond that moment though, the Yanks looked downright ornery in the first frame displaying some of the best offensive movement seen from the team in a first half in quite some time.
Not only were the Yanks able to consistently get open on the right side of the flank, but on multiple occasions, the midfielders and defenders found themselves in the unfamiliar position of linking passes and attempting to dissect a reserved England defense. The United States was imposing their will on the Three Lions.
The continued offensive pressure was rewarded in the 40th minute, not with a moment of brilliance, but with a moment of folly.
As Clint Dempsey danced above the center of the 18-yard box he worked to square a shot on goal. Dempsey lashed what seemed like a harmless ball that skipped dutifully to England goalkeeper Robert Green, playing in his first World Cup game. Green attempted to handle the ball on one knee and….well…he just didn’t as the ball seemed to defy physics and dribble into the goal.
The Yanks were buoyed.
Here’s TSG goalkeeper friend Jon Kart with insight on the critical gaffe.
“Green’s not moving aggressively to his right on the play, he has no reason to spill that shot. The thing is–and I’m not sure how Green plays his net at West Ham–that’s the type of shot that you want to just fall and curl up on in a big game.
This is the World Cup!
If you make an emphatic save gesture of falling and curling on the ball as oppose to going to one knee–it gives your defenders confidence that you’re in the game and focused. That’s the play I thought he should have made.
The way that Green handled it was like he was expecting England would break back on the play–and they were in now way positioned for counter.”
Wow–nice analysis Kart–printing it verbatim here.
To the second 45…
The Yanks opened the 2nd frame as the game swung back to a more even tempo between the teams.
The opportunities were fewer for the Yanks in the 2nd, despite a gorgeous locomotive move by Jozy Altidore passed Jamie Carragher that found Green’s mitts, the post, but not the net.
England had the better of the Yanks in the 2nd frame though as the States backline and midfielders both tired and got stretched. Opportunities for Rooney–who was straight-on muzzled most of the day–and Emile Heskey found a lot of Tim Howard, but no pay dirt.
As the final minutes ticked away both teams seemed content to right out a draw.
We’ll mix up our customary preview this time and go with the following:
• Bob Bradley’s team came out prepared, executed well and outplayed the favored Three Lions in the 1st half. The tactics for Coach Sweatpants were spot-on.
As soon as the starting line-up was announced, you knew that Bob Bradley was going kitchen sink on the Capellos. The Findley-Donovan-Cherundolo trifecta was affixed to the right side of the pitch. With both Findley and Jozy Altidore clearing space, the Yanks consistently challenged the Lions over-the-top and on the through ball.
That England didn’t play Michael Carrick on a holding midfield role only played into Bob Bradley’s game plan and created more space.
More chances should have been converted, but the Yanks had opportunities early on and clearly were the better team in most facets of the game, not named “on-the-ball-defense”- in the opening 45 minutes.
Elsewhere, Bradley left Bocanegra to stymie Aarron Lennon (see below) and compressed Dempsey into the midfield to take advantage of gaps as the game wore on.
Bob Bradley may push his team to play “ugly football” but his game call today was beautiful.
• Steve Cherundolo goes big time.
TSG selected Steve Cherundolo, who touched the ball more than any other player on the field on the day, as a pivotal figure in this match-up. Just how impactful and effective was the diminutive right fullback.
Fabio Capello substituted an overmatched James Milner on England’s left flank early in the first half and Ashley Cole was silent on the day and not a threat for England on the attack.
• The Yanks bent and nearly broke–but didn’t–in their left corner.
I did not expect Carlos Bocanegra being on an island with Aaron Lennon for most of the match, but that’s exactly what happened. Bradley, in true battlefield strategy, elected to play Lennon straight-up with Bocanegra for most of the night and keep the States’ interior protected. Bocanegra would be left, on most plays, to fend for himself against the speedy man from Tottenham Hotspur.
Make no mistake Bocanegra was overmatched and beaten most of the day on that left corner, but rarely egregiously so. And that was the gameplan.
The Yanks decided to clean up on Lennon-created opportunities after the ball left his foot and it worked…. but boy were there some tense moments.
• Wayne Rooney was shackled for most of the day.
Yes, Ricardo Clark will be castigated in the ratings section. That’s unavoidable. But consider this. Wayne Rooney didn’t touch the ball until after seventeen minutes had gone in the game; he didn’t get the ball in the 18-yard box until the 70th minute.
The Yanks always tracked the England striker wherever he went and it was only when they tired that Rooney started getting chances.
• It wasn’t just the left corner that nearly broke–the central defense was shaky but showed resolve.
You can not tell this writer that Oguchi Onyewu is playing at full fitness or “is back to his old self.” Onyewu looked slow, was bewildered on the England score, and was often overmatched in the air….until the end.
Jay DeMerit who won the war, but lost many battles against Emile Heskey and Oguchi Onyewu seemed to improve in positioning and defense as the game went on.
Hell of a gambit there by Bob Bradley to play Onyewu and with the helpful of yeoman work by Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark (and England flat midfield), it worked.
Best Play Of The Game: (Tim Howard)
Twenty-eight minute, low-lined cross into the Yanks’ kitchen. Tim Howard comes out decisively, landing awkwardly and taking a pounding from Emile Heskey to parry away the opportunity. Mettle.
Most Unheralded Play Of The Game: (Robbie Findley)
Somewhere around the 35th minute the Yanks were absorbing pressure on their right flank in the back. As service came in again, Robbie Findley tracking back all the way to his own endline headed the ball away from serious trouble.
Golden Shinguard: (Tim Howard)
Is there anyone else in contention for this one? Maybe Steve Cherundolo, Landon Donovan for the Yanks, and that’s all.
Anyone think that Howard leaves his line too early now? (Sorry couldn’t resist that last question).
The pitches of South Africa seem to be home turf for Tim Howard who wasn’t only the last resort for the Yanks in net today. He was the difference maker coming out before the final ball. Well played today by the New Jersey man.
Tim Howard – 8
Tim Howard was prescient on the day despite playing in obvious pain from the 25th minute on. Howard’s positioning was near impeccable and he “made himself big” all day long.
I’ve been a demoter of Howard’s on-field hollering, but it was needed today to keep the defense tight. One of Howard’s best games in Yankee blue.
Steve Cherundolo – 7.5
The best field player for the Yanks on the day. Cherundolo was a one man wrecking on the right side, clean up most runs coming his ways and pushing forward to create opportunities.
James Milner couldn’t handle him and was subbed. Shaun Wright Phillips came in and save one shot straight to Tim Howard’s paws was non-existent on what could be considered “Cherundolo’s side of the pitch” today.
Oguchi Onyewu – 5.5
Failed to get in the passing lane on the first England goal and shaky on many occasions. However, Gooch came on like a power pitcher in baseball getting stronger as the game wore on. No one can tell me he’s 100%. No one….so to perform for his team in the most critical game of 2010 as he did is a testament not only to Onyewu’s ability, but to his character.
Jay DeMerit – 6
Typical Jay DeMerit game. Challenged in hold-up play and on aerials, downright vacuuming in one-on-one with Wayne Rooney. DeMerit lost the Heskey battle, but won the Wayne Rooney war…and that latter was more important.
Landon Donovan – 7.5
A quiet defensive cog with excellent set pieces on the day…but that’s not all. Was Landon Donovan–17 more goals in international competition than Wayne Rooney–the scariest attacker on the field? Yes. He was.
Can you have a quieter more impressive game than Donovan had today?
Michael Bradley – 7
Bradley was excellent in the 1st half today and better on his linking passes. As the minutes ticked on Bradley fatigued and you could sense the defensive cohesion of the midfield falter in parallel. Got a way with a few missed tackles, but a very strong performance on the day for Bradley who kept pressing.
Ricardo Clark – 4.5
That Clark was out of position on the England goal is not out of character for him or not something Yanks’ fans haven’t seen before.
What’s perhaps more incredulous is that this writer caught Clark ball-watching on a few more occasions during the day. Finally, on contested headers Clark usually lost the battle. Maybe this midfield in it’s entirety functions well together as a group, but individually Clark didn’t do it any favors on the day.
The cries for Maurice Edu will and should get louder now. Clark’s speed was a factor on the day however.
Clint Dempsey – 7
I liked a lot of Dempsey’s game on the day. He, more than Donovan, appeared to be pushing the tempo and opportunities for the Yanks. Dempsey is at home sizing up the attack from the midfield and he did this well today issuing a number of shots and trying to force the issue.
Dempsey also tracked back effectively today and did not get caught out. Well played for the man from Nachodelicious.
Oh and did anyone find it ironic that Clint’s pirouetting on his goal came at the expense of England captain Steven Gerrard who he could possibly be paired with in club ball next year.
Jozy Altidore – 5.5
I didn’t like Altidore’s game on the day. I felt too often he just didn’t want it. Sure there was the stunning run that showcased his potential around the creeky Jamie Carragher, but Altidore was huff-and-puffing early and I wanted more out of the Yanks’ most experienced striker.
Robbie Findley – 6.5
Too high? Findley’s presence on the field in my opinion went beyond some of the chances he should have done better on. Findley was often played to in tight quarters and made the right call of either pushing the ball back or turning and running.
Findley went all out for the 80 minutes he was in there and played back on defense.
When the ball was launched up so frequently to relieve pressure or on a break, I was hoping it was going to Findley’s side not Altidore’s.
Edson Buddle, Stu Holden, Herc… – Inc.
Buddle and Holden entered when Bradley took his foot off the pedal and went for the draw. Herculez Gomez name was about to be called–perhaps just to slow the game further, but he didn’t get in there.
Lingering Questions / Concerns:
• 77th minute for your first sub Bob?
I’m racking my brain and I can’t figure out why. Good thing it worked.
• Um, Bornstein or Beasley please.
I am going to get raked over the coals for this one. This author wanted a Bornstein or Beasley -for-Altidore or Findley sub and the Yanks to regress to a 5-4-1 at the 80th minute.
Aaron Lennon kept jackrabbiting around Bocanegra I’m not sure why the Yanks didn’t man-mark him with a better match-up late in the game.
• Cards for Findley, DeMerit & Cherundolo
Three of the best players on the day for the Yanks leave the game with a stain and concern if they pick up another.