Saturday, June 12, 2010
World Cup 2010 Game 5: England 1, United States 1
In the qualifying matches before the World Cup the United States had a tendency to give up early goals. For months we heard commentators say that they couldn't do that at the next level and get by. In the week before the tournament starts one English pundit claimed that England was more talented than the United States at every position "except goalie."
The pessimists--and oddly most soccer fans are, at heart, pessimists--had to love this game. The USA gave up the early goal, and one good feel the deflation like one had inflated an air mattress with only breath and seen it popped by a pin. Then Clint Dempsey put the shot on goal and well, never has the maxim been truer that the only shot that can't go in is the one you don't take.
The second half was tense for the U.S., particularly the final moments where England was pushing forward and the United States opted for counter attacks rather than possession, giving the ball back.
I think the people who have to love this result the most are the Slovenia rooters, and both Algeria and Slovenia have to feel like if they can get a win against the other that the group is wide open. The United States and England will be favored in both their other pool games, but the United States has always played better as underdogs than favorites.
The trash talking will continue on both sides of the Atlantic with the Brits claiming they were clearly superior and the United States saying, simply, "scoreboard." The United States, for all its collapses in World Cup's past have now been recipients of two of the most memorable "soft" goals in pool play: Green's Buckneresque whiff on Dempsey's grounder and the Colombian "own goal" that allowed the United States to beat the dark horse favorite in 1994. (Though less infamous, don't forget that the US's 1-1 tie with Italy was the result of an own goal as well; clearly if this were the the NBA lottery the conspiracy theorists would be abuzz.)
One other note about the play. In qualifiers, the most notable difference I see between the United States and other teams is precision passing and first touch control. I noticed something else watching England which was how well their offensive players moved without the ball. It's always easier to pass to space than time a pass to the person, and while one sees a little of that from the U.S. (and much more than in year's past), the England side was truly remarkable in how the spacing seems more second nature than instantaneous. England is a dangerous side, but much like a hockey team with a poor goalie (cough, Capitals) or a baseball bombers with poor pitching, one has to think that below average goal keeping will eventually bite you at the wrong moment.