Firstly, a quick apology for yesterday’s non-update. I had a bit of a hangover and it was kinda on the warm side and I wrote a few things but they were rubbish and I eventually gave up, ordered a Chinese and watched some Lost. Anyway, with England’s group stage opponents Algeria and Slovenia already given the once-over, it’s onto the USA.
The temptation to just take the piss for 500 words is off the scale. “Soh-chair”. Rage Against The Machine’s Cobi Jones. Bristol nightlife’s Big Jeff. And Tommy Jaysus Begorrah Pot O’Gold Lucky Charms Gobshite Smyth. Americans, eh? Tsk.
Except of course USA are actually pretty good these days. Since telling former manager and human stadium Bruce Arena to do one after the side’s group stage exit at the 2006 World Cup, they’ve been steadily improving. Arena’s replacement is Bob Bradley, who shares a name with someone I went to school with, about whom I remember nothing beyond an annoying voice and his climbing of trees, and sundry structures with tree-like properties appropriate for climbing. Just, you know. FYI.
USA topped their group in qualifying, ahead of Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Trinidad & Tobago. Fans of Ireland, Croatia, Czech Republic and Russia will be delighted to learn that the top three in that group qualified for the World Cup automatically; Honduras’s 16 points from 10 games was enough to secure third. Of course the World Cup isn’t contested between the top 32 teams in the world but the top teams from each FIFA confederation, but still, something’s not quite right there.
There’s no disputing USA are there on merit, though. They turned plenty of heads when they dumped Spain out of the semi-finals of the 2009 Confederations Cup, ending the European Champions’ 35-match unbeaten run with a fine 2-0 win. They were 2-0 up against Brazil in the final but threw it away in the second half, losing 3-2. But their point had been made.
More of their players are now plying their trade at the highest levels of club football and their squad contains more recognisable names than ever before. All three goalkeepers play for English clubs: Brad Guzan at Aston Villa, Marcus Hahnemann at Wolves, Tim Howard at Everton (Brad Friedel retired in 2005). Glasgow Rangers have two players in the squad: Maurice Edu and DaMarcus Beasley. Even Hull City are represented, their 2009/10 loanee Jozy ‘You Sure That’s a Z, Mate?’ Altidore the closest thing they have to a star striker. Only four of the 23-strong squad play in the MLS. There’s no room, unfortunately, for Championship Manager’s Freddy Adu, because everyone is finally realising that he’s good on the PC but utter muck in real life.
Winger Landon Donovan made UK headlines in 2009 with some spectacularly brattish moaning about David Beckham in his autobiography. Donovan questioned Beckham’s commitment, complained that he didn’t pay for everyone’s dinner, and criticised him for the short-term loan deal that saw Beckham move to AC Milan.
Then in January 2010 the man they call Landycakes upped sticks and moved to Everton on loan for three months. Hmmm. Annoyingly, he was brilliant, named Everton’s player of the month for January and outstanding in February’s 2-1 victory over Chelsea: creating the first, winning the penalty for the second and, worryingly, being a thorn in Ashley Cole’s side throughout.
And then there’s Clint Dempsey. Oh man. I LOVE Clint Dempsey. So much has been said and written about Fulham’s amazing UEFA Cup run, and while Roy Hodgson has deservedly taken most of the credit Dempsey had a great season, and was badly missed as injury kept him on the bench in the final loss to Atletico Madrid. There’s a fairly MOR youtube compilation here but I’m going to break with self-imposed tradition and embed a video, for reasons that will become obvious:
I could watch that all day. Outrageous.
USA may be lacking a striker of genuine class, but are so well stocked for talent in midfield that I can’t see them struggling for goals. Defence is an entirely different matter. In two warm up games last week – a 4-2 loss to Czech Republic and a 2-1 win over Turkey – all five goals conceded were the result of slack defending. Captain Carlos Bocanegra is struggling with injury, Milan centre-back Oguchi Onyewu has only played 65 minutes of football all year, and it says a lot that hopes are being pinned on West Ham’s Jonathan Spector and Watford’s Jay Demerit. Yikes.
This looks to be England’s toughest game in the group stage but, without meaning to be disrespectful, that says as much about how lucky we were in the draw as it does about USA’s undoubted improvement. As this is their first match of the group stages England’s main concern will be who plays in defensive midfield in the absence of Gareth Barry. USA like to play on the counter every bit as much as England and, while Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole have enough pace to deal with the wide threat from Dempsey and Donovan, they’ll need cover from the wingers in front of them and central midfield; the mooted Gerrard/Lampard combination just doesn’t look safe enough.
USA have one warmup match to come – a battle of misplaced sporting arrogance against Australia tomorrow – in which they still have a lot to work on. Defensive concerns aside, they should make it out of this relatively easy group without too many problems.