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