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Drama Queens

England and the United States booked their tickets to the knockout round, and the latter did so in the most dramatic of circumstances.

The Tottenham man wheels away after netting the eventual winner.

England took the lead through Jermain Defoe who was playing in his first start at the World Cup for the Three Lions in the 22nd minute after James Milner whipped in a delicious cross that Defoe tucked away nicely.  England held on for the remainder of the game, as did Slovenia, who were content to let the 3 points go as it looked set that they would advance in the runners up spot.  However, the American Dream was realized with some late drama at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium.

The United States needed a win against Algeria, and it looked as if all their chances would go begging until, in the 92nd minute the talismanic Landon Donovan popped up to tuck in a rebound to seal all three points and a top spot in the next round.

The Yanks looked set to go behind early again after Rafik Djebbour got through 1-on-1 with Tim Howard only to see his superb volley crash off the crossbar.  Rattled, the USA finally found their composure and eased their way into the game after creating some great chances, that, in all fairness, should have been tucked away.

Herculez Gomez tested Rais M’Bohli with a good shot to the near post, and later was put through on goal where could only send his shot into the body of M’Bohli, however he sent a shot/pass to Clint Dempsey who was lurking on the far post.  Dempsey put it in the back of the net, but it was deja vu for the Yanks as it was unjustly called offside.

Dempsey watches his shot rattle the inside of the post and then sky the followup sitter.

The USA backline looked shaky at times, especially early on when Jay Demerit looked suspect, but they all came very much into their own as the game wore on and Demerit put in an outstanding display with captain Carlos Bocanegra have a flyer as well.

Algeria were not without their chances as well, however.  They were looking to play on the counter attack all game, and looked very dangerous nearly every time they came into the final third.  Karim Ziani had one of the chances of the Algerian’s game when, in the 69th minute, he was seemingly in the clear, but from the corner of the box sent his low driven effort wide of the post.

Nadir Belhadj was fairly effective bombing down the left side of the pitch, as his left foot sent in some rasping crosses that the Algerian front line couldn’t make anything of.

Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu looked like the most natural pairing in midfield, and, despite the fact that Edu still gave the ball away here and there, he compensated with his all around solid work in defense and in the build up.  Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley also combined notably on more than a few occasions as they both looked lethal exchanging passes and making clever runs.

Etched onto the players faces is the importance of Donovan's late goal. Seriously...look at Feilhaber's face. You can't find anybody happier on the planet.

Benny Feilhaber replaced Herculez Gomez at half time, and he was an excellent change as he held the ball well, penetrated the back line and played an overall smart game.  Edson Buddle came on for Maurice Edu in the 64th minute and also played a great role as his first touches were crisp and nearly scored with a headed effort five minutes after being introduced.  DeMarcus Beasley was the last substitute to be introduced, but he failed to make any significant impression on the game.  To be fair, he came on in the 81st minute and saw limited time on the ball.

The result means the United States top Group C and England will sit in the runners up spot.  Slovenia were on the brink of sneaking into the knockout round, but Landon Donovan’s goal crushed any hopes they had.  The Algerians played an interesting game, and began looking like they were playing for a draw; a result which would have brought them nothing in terms of reward other than personal satisfaction.

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Grass Green-er for United States

What started out as looking like a long match for the United States, turned into a fighting display to claw back and snatch a point from Group C favorites, England.

After Steven Gerrard had put the Three Lions up in only the 4th minute, all looked like it may be a tough match for the States.  But this didn’t put the United States off, says midfielder Landon Donovan.

The newly crowned English captain nets the opener.

“The Czech Republic game four years ago (in the World Cup), when they scored that goal early, there was this sense of ‘Oh no’,” said Landon Donovan. “Today, I didn’t have that feeling. We just felt like ‘Okay, let’s get back in the game. We don’t have to go get it in the next five minutes. Eventually we’ll get back in the game.  And, sure enough, we got back in the game.’

However, the Yanks weathered the English pressure after allowing the early goal and were rewarded 36 minutes later when Robert Green allowed Clint Dempsey’s shot to trickle through his hands and across the line.

A howler.

The English might have found it hard to rebound from the calamity of Green’s and looked disjointed for the rest of the match.

Tim Howard clutches his ribs after the tackle from Heskey.

That’s not to take credit away from the United States’ defense.  The back line, coupled with Tim Howard performed admirably and stifled out Wayne Rooney & Co. with aplomb.  Oguchi Onyewu is finally showing he has recovered from his knee injury in October and, after the lax defending for the 4th minute opener, Jay DeMerit, Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo all had their hands full with the English but held their own against a talented attack force.

The dark spot on the match is the fitness of Tim Howard.  Howard was bundled into by Emile Heskey in the second half and may have broken some ribs.  If that is the case, we will likely see Wolverhampton Wanderers keeper Marcus Hahnemann or Aston Villa’s Brad Guzan.

Also, as many probably guessed, Ricardo Clark was mediocre at best, and could easily be replaced with the choice of Maurice Edu or Jose Torres.  Though he had some moments against Frank Lampard when he put in some crunching tackles and simple passing.  Regardless, the fact that Bob Bradley stays with Ricardo Clark is a worrying fact.

Robbie Findley made a start alongside Jozy Altidore, which was slightly surprising to the United States fans.  Neither found the net in the match, but Altidore came closest in the 64th minute after he shrugged off Jamie Carragher to fire at Green, who turned the ball onto the inside of the post and out of the goalmouth.  Probably the best chance of the second half.

Clint Dempsey celebrates his gift of a goal with Michael Bradley (R) and Jozy Altidore (L)

Wayne Rooney was fairly quiet given his form at Manchester United and failed to cause the United States defense grave concern.  He was wily enough, but failed to make an impression on the match and live up to the pressure that millions of British have placed on his shoulders.

The result doesn’t do either side much hard, despite the fact that Slovenia picked up a win (albeit a rather lucky one) against Algeria to top Group C.  Slovenia plays the United States in their next game while Algeria will play England.  All to play for in Group C, and the fireworks could still go off there in South Africa.



Buddle’s Show in South Africa

The United States Mens National Team wrapped up its preparations for the World Cup with a 3-1 victory of Australia.  Edson Buddle netted twice (4′, 31′) and Gomez wrapped things up in the 90th minute with Tim Cahill registering a goal in the 19th minute.

The starting line-up saw Edson Buddle paired with Robbie Findley, and the former didn’t fail to disappoint as early on he opted out of slipping Findlay in behind the back line and slotted past Shwarzer.

That is not to say Findley wasn’t impressive.  The pacy striker was making diagonal runs all game and worked himself into some

Buddle celebrates his second with striking partner Robbie Findley.

very good forward positions.  He was incredibly unlucky to see his second half effort hit the crossbar, Clint Dempsey scored the rebound but the goal was flagged for offside as Findley was trying to hit the ball himself from an offside position.  A close call, but it didn’t matter in the end.

Tim Cahill, one of the more potent attacking threats for a relatively toothless Australian side, netted 15 minutes after Buddle’s opener from a corner after he connected at the back to send the ball past Cherundolo, who was on the post.  Both sides were lucky to have not conceded more goals as defensive frailties were evident in both sides.  One man who could have clocked in with possibly two to three goals in Australian striker Joshua Kennedy.  Had he had his shooting boots on today, the Yanks may have endured a much different match.  That said, the score stands, and Joshua Kennedy looked subpar.

Marcus Hahnemann replaced Tim Howard at the break and proved himself an ample replacement with two reaction saves that spared his side some blushes.  Though he was caught in no man’s land on more than one occasion on some crosses, he was very much up to the task of guarding the goalmouth.

Defensive substitutions were Jonathon Bornstein for Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu for Clarence Goodson.  Typically Bornstein replacing Bocanegra would cause some hair to be torn out, however, happily, Bornstein proved his mettle at left back. He was a little cavalier at times, but his defensive work was pleasantly surprising.

Onyewu started the game on the bench, raising eyebrows as to if he was fit enough for the World Cup.  When he came on, he was

How many people did you run over, Gooch?

his usually “Gooch” self, plowing into opposing strikers and posing a force in the box.  However, he did carry himself with a worrying limp from the time he came on, but if he weren’t fit, there is no way Bob Bradley would let him play…would he?

DaMarcus Beasley replaced Buddle in the 79th but didn’t get too many touches before game’s end to show off his stuff.  Clint Dempsey, who was on the receiving end of nearly every harsh tackle by the Socceroos was taken off in the 82′ by the eventual goal scorer Herculez Gomez.  Cross your fingers Yank’s fans, as it looked like he may have been limping slightly on his way out, which wouldn’t be surprising considering his treatment today.  At one point, he and Craig Moore almost lost control after Moore went in hard on the winger.

Gomez put the game to bed after making some space for himself in the box as Donovan expertly drove a cross in to him from outside the area.  Gomez finished one touch with aplomb and has two goals for two games to his name.  Impressive stuff from the front line in South Africa.

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

The Good –

The Front Line – The best part of the United States today has to be Edson Buddle.  All the strikers played today were largely untested in these circumstances but all of them came through with flying colors.  They showed attacking flair, speed and grit in getting under the skin of Lucas Neil & co.

Bradley will be instrumental to the States in South Africa.

Michael Bradley –  He has the composure of a 30 year old veteran holding midfielder.  The casual onlooker would never guess he is only 22 years old and still has two more World Cups in him.  He broke down countless attacks, thwarted the always threatening Tim Cahill and began new attacks with neat and tidy passing.

Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan – Only on here due to formality.  They always put in a good showing and are two of the most consistent national team players we have seen in some time.

Steve Cherundolo – The meandering right back showed quality in defensive duties and foraging forward, providing the killer cross for Buddle’s second goal.  He certainly is staking his claim for the starting RB position against England.  A daunting task, considering his opponent will likely be Steven Gerrard.

The Bad –

Ricardo Clark – I just don’t understand Bradley’s justification for starting Clark.  He is in the same mold as Michael Bradley, only not as effective.  He was near invisible in the first half, save some crunching tackles that usually ended up in a foul, and in the second half was just as ineffective.  He makes passes, but only backwards and sideways.  He generates nothing except a wasted starting spot.

I guess you could add, “Ricardo Clark might have gotten injured” to “The Good” category above…

The Ugly –

Set Pieces – Shocking.  Absolutely shocking.  The United States will be hammered if they do not learn to defend corners and set pieces more effectively.  Was there a single time that a defender met a corner with a header to clear?  I cannot remember a single instance.  Not one.  Every time a corner was conceded, the Yanks faithful held their breath as, once again, the ball hit somebody, hit somebody else, then fell to the floor and was cleared in a scramble.  Marcus Hahnemann made some serious efforts to clear but ended up flapping at nothing two or three times.  It seems as if everybody in the box thinks that somebody else will clear it and get caught ball watching.

If this isn’t remedied in the next 7 days, you can bet that Wayne Rooney will be licking his lips with that newly polished head of his.

Overall –

Not too shabby a result to be taking into the World Cup.  A 3-1 win over a World Cup side will get the confidence flowing, especially in the striking department.  The midfield worked well, despite the fact that they played with only three players in Bradley, Donovan and Dempsey.  The backline needs tinkering, but other than set pieces didn’t look awful.  Onyewu needs to be fit, but looking at his hobble all game, it’s hard to assume he’s 100%.

Cross your fingers and paint your faces.

South Africa waits…



United States v. Turkey

The United States Men’s National Team got a big time send off in Philadelphia as 50,000+ fans cheered the Yanks on to a great victory over a Turkish side not devoid of talent.  Guus Hiddink, Turkish manager to-be, watched as the Turks gave up a lead to lose 2-1 at Lincoln Field.

The United States lined up in a somewhat interesting fashion with Benny Feilhaber on the left wing, Landon Donovan on the right, and Clint Dempsey playing the floating striker role behind Jozy Altidore.  Within seconds, Dempsey combined with Donovan to play a cross into the Turkish area, but it was some of the only attacking for the States all half, as the Turks pressed hard against the US back line that many were asking questions about.  Captain Carlos Bocanegra filled in at left back, Johnathon Spector at right back, while Jay DeMerit and Clarence Goodson were paired in the center.

With the States pushing forward in numbers, the Turks were happy to counter attack with blistering pace through Arda Turan and

The tricky winger proved a handful for the United States back line.

the veteran Tuncay Sanli.  Sanli cut open the US back line on more than one occasion, and it looked to be a long afternoon for the Yanks, especially after Arda Turan broke down the left and slotted past Tim Howard to give his side the lead.

Jozy Altidore provided the lone high point of the first half, as he craftily slipped through three defenders and laid the ball across the face of goal only to have Dempsey fail to connect with it.

The second half brought significant changes as Bob Bradley used 4/6 of his changes allowed. Feilhaber (who was mediocre in the first half) was replaced by the relative unknown at the international level Robbie Findley, Onyewu came on for Goodson, Cherundolo for Spector, and importantly Jose Torres replaced Ricardo Clark.

“Night and day,” was how Bradley described the two halves.  Anybody who watched would be compelled to agree.  Robbie Findley’s work rate was immediately evident as he chased down every ball and made it clear he wants to make his mark in South Africa.  Torres became a key player in the United States game as he pulled the strings on several occasions in attack.

Within a few minutes of the first half, Michael Bradley had a near open goal but his shot was blocked but a towering Servet Cetin.  From then on, the Yanks pressed hard into the final third.  WIth that pressure, the Turks were happy to counterattack and nearly capitalized on more than one occasion.  However, In the 59th minute, Robbie Findley played a lovely chip over the back line to Landon Donovan who danced around the Turkish keeper to set up Jozy Altidore for a tap in and a great goal.

After the goal, the fans at Lincoln Field began to find their voice and encourage their men on forward.  Dempsey came close, hitting the outside of the post after a fantastic run and cutback from Michael Bradley.  Torres hit the same post with a whipped in freekick minutes later.

If you're a United States Soccer fan and don't like Clint Dempsey...that's just absurd.

Finally, in the 75th minute, Steve Cherundolo threw in to Donovan who picked out Dempsey on the left side of the Turkish 18 yard box.  The ball bounced off Dempsey’s hip and into this path, where he kept his composure and slotted under the onrushing Demirel.

After the second goal, the Americans played with a sense of ease that the Turks simply could not cope with in the second half.  What was the difference?

One can’t help but feel that the problem with using Ricardo Clark with Michael Bradley in the center of midfield, is that Clark is the same type of player as Bradley…but worse.  They both are players who can break down an attack and start one of their own.  What helped was replacing him with a playmaker like Torres, who was able to move the ball around much more and was more mobile than Clark.  Torres and Edu should be contending for a starting spot alongside Bradley.

Robbie Findley was a refreshing sight for American fans as his work rate and pace somewhat resembles fallen star Charlie Davies.  Findley’s pace got the better of him a few times and he probably should have gotten a cross in, but instead he ran the ball out to the goal line for a Turkish goal kick.  He’s still young though, and will find that awareness in time.

If you had asked before the game, who would you rather see at left back: Jonathon Spector or Steve Cherundolo, most would probably opt for Spector.  The young right back plays Premier League soccer for West Ham and would seem a more competent pick.  However, Cherundolo quickly proved adept as he stifled winger Arda Turan, who had previously given Spector a serious problem.

Some glaring issues would be Bornstein, Clark and Spector.  Bornstein literally looked like a high schooler and got turned over more times than you could count on one hand.  In no way, shape or form does anybody feel comfortable with him on the pitch.  Clark isn’t a bad player, Bradley is just much better and it is superfluous to have them both on the field.  Spector may just need time to adjust, however, like Bornstein, he struggled significantly with Turan and only triumphed when aided by DeMerit or another player tracking back.

All-in-All, it’s great that the Yanks are carrying a win (albeit a meaningless one) to South Africa.

Projected Line-up for Australia

———————–Howard———————–

Cherundolo—–Onyewu—Demerit—-Bocanegra

Dempsey——Bradley—-Edu/Clark—Donovan

—————-Buddle——-Altidore—————-



American Revolution Revisted – Group C

Group C –

England

United States

Algeria

Slovenia

In Group C, many pundits will be speculating that it should the final standings for the group will look just as they were drawn.  However, injuries, histories, and inspirational performances could see some shock upsets and turn this group on its head.  It is by no means a sure thing, however, this group could be quietly surprising.

Slovenia – The Slovenians qualification campaign should be considered a success in and of itself, however, as they find

Robert Koren will give the Slovenian faithful hope...if there is any to be had.

themselves underdogs in a more experienced group, they will need to rely on the talents of Robert Koren, Miso Brecko and Milivoje Novakovic to carry them through.  Slovenia turned the tables on what was looking bound to be a lackluster qualifying campaign when they beat Czech Republic, Northern Ireland and Poland to take second place which qualified them for the two leg play off against Russia.  A playoff that they surprisingly won and Slovenia became a topic of discussion for football fans everywhere.  One of the biggest bonuses for the Slovenians is their spirit under Matjaz Kek.  The manager has instilled a fighting spirit in his side second to none and could be essential to their success (if any).

Algeria – Similar to Slovenia, Algeria were never given much of a chance to make it to South Africa, yet, they could still have a word in Group C.  After playing in one of the more passionate games football has seen in some time, Algeria ousted Egypt to make it to the World Cup Finals.  Yazid Mansouri, Nadir Belhadj and Madjid Bougherra will be looking to add experience and skill to the starting line up.  If they have more passionate displays like the one against Egypt in them, then they may have a chance at escaping Group C.  Rafik Saïfi has been their go-to in the past, however his age will probably be a factor as they turn their attention towards Siena hitman Abdelkader Ghezzal to bag a couple goals as well.  However, against the stout defense of England that could be a tall order.  That said, the injury hit defense of the United States could prove prime real estate for a striker looking to sneak in and nick a few goals.

United States – The Yanks won’t feel aggrieved with their draw as second place should be fully within their grasp.  Injuries will

The Haitian-American hitman will relish the chance to show off his skills.

hinder their chances as Charlie Davies didn’t even make the squad, and key defensive figures Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra and Jay Demerit are all question marks over fitness.  The United States will bank on veterans Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore (only 20 years old) and Tim Howard.  All have European experience and plenty of international experience between them.  England will obviously be the biggest challenge for the Yanks, but, possibly to their benefit, they will play England first and get them out of the way.  Their front line is now barren after the omission of Charlie Davies and will rest heavily on the shoulders of Jozy Altidore.  Altidore has notched some impressive goals against the likes of opponents such as Spain and has demonstrated his scoring ability in qualifying.  Scoring veteran Dempsey may be moved up alongside Altidore with Holden playing out right, but the question remains…who will replace Dempsey and Altidore when they get tired?

England – The Three Lions will finally have a chance at making a legitimate run in South Africa.  They are loaded in all areas of the pitch and could see themselves in the semifinals or (hold your breath) the final.  Their biggest problem in South Africa should be the striking department.  That is, who partners Wayne Rooney?  They have plenty of able candidates but which will actually perform at the Cup?  With players like Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, James Milner and Jermain Defoe, it’s hard to imagine them not making a good run out of their squad.  Capello has instilled a winning attitude absent the England camp for years after bad stints in management.  All things considered, they should advance out of their group, but their biggest competition in the group should be the Yanks.  Unfortunately for England, that game comes first and there is a small possibility of an upset as the Lions won’t have much of an idea of how much firepower Bob Bradley’s men are packing.  That said, England will be advancing, one way or another.

Prediction – Just like they were drawn…

1. England

2. United States

3. Algeria

4. Slovenia