This feels weird. It’s been so long since I’ve written a match preview for a game that didn’t have the term “friendly” attached to it. I now get to scrap position battle analysis and confidence building run outs in favor of a match where the actual result is the only thing that matters?! Hallelujah!
The match in The World Cup is finally here, so I decided to scrap my old match preview writing method in which I got drunk and roll around in the ripped out pages of the two teams’ media guides, snatching “key matchups” and “position battles” at random. Truthfully it’s a wonder we never ended up with Tim Howard and Bob Bradley fighting over the right-sided midfielder spot.
Moving on from that scientific method, I figured I’d actually have some conversations with fellow writers, respected soccer minds, and Puck before levying my own decrees about what I hear is a pretty important game. After plenty of talk, critical thinking, video game simulations, and injuries/injury scares, here’s what it comes down to.
England’s Wings: Capello may have already set his starting roster, but he’s not Uruguayan so he hasn’t announce it to the media just yet, so there’s a questions as to who’ll be starting at the wing middy spots. Most likely Aaron Lennon will get the starting berth on the right with James Milner also an option in that spot. On the left side we could see Gerrard or possibly Joe Cole if Fabio places the new captain right behind the forward(s) as he’s prone to do. Either way, England will start at least one and probably two speedy side backs that like to push forward. Ashley Cole gets the start on the left with Glen Johnson favorite to occupy the RB position. These offensive minded flanks present the Yanks with a huge challenge, but they also represent an opportunity anytime the American wing players can get the ball in the ample space likely to be available behind the Three Lions’ exterior defenders. Let’s not forget this’ll be Round 2 for Landon Donovan and Ashley Cole, and we all know Ash hit the canvas hard the first time they met.
The Center of the Pitch: Given what Bobbo showed us with his lineup against Australia, it looks like he’ll be starting Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark at the center mid spots in an attempt to take the middle of the park away from England’s attack. In a perfect world one of those two guys can also track back and mark Wayne Rooney when he floats into dangerous positions and takes off on his impeccably timed runs. In real life, this just might set up for the MB90/Wayne Rooney double red card; yeah, the U.S. will take that trade. The problem with this strategy is that England’s CM’s are damn good; from Stevie G, to Lampard, to Milner, they all create. Bobbo better hope Michael Carrick gets a start and replicates his most recent Premier League form by taking a dump on the pitch.
Lampard and Gerrard: Fabio Capello may be the greatest football manager in the world, and as such he’s uses England’s two best midfielders how he sees fit. The only irregularity with this is that he’s reversed their roles. Frank Jr. plays directly behind the strikers for Chelsea, but for crown and country he’s a withdrawn midfielder. Meanwhile, Captain Fantastic plays that exact spot for Liverpool anytime Torres is healthy and in the lineup, seldom getting starts directly behind the forward line. In Capello’s squad Gerrard plays up front in support of the strikers, or as a left sided midfielder. It’ll be very interesting to see which formation Fabio decides to play against The States. I have a hunch he’ll continue his love affair with the complimentary hold-the-ball-up striker and start Heskey or Crouch against the U.S. and while deploying Stevie G on the left side, with Lampard paired with the more defensive minded Carrick in the middle.
Keepers and Set Pieces: The Yanks have the edge in goal whether James or Green starts for the Brits. Howard is world class without a doubt, but the entire English squad will be accustomed to playing against him due to Tim’s years spent in the EPL. Conversely Capello gets to choose between a guy nicknamed Calamity James and a keeper in Green who can look masterful within the run of play but has absolutely no idea where to go or what to do in set piece situations. Speaking of set pieces, every media outlet in England is convinced that the U.S. team takes a break when it’s time to defend a set piece and hangs Timmy out to dry. While this is exaggerated, it’s also a reputation well earned over the course of the latest round of friendlies. Point being, I see both teams scoring off at least one set piece in this match.
Yank Forwards: Altidore is a given, but whether Bob trots out Buddle or Findley to start the game is a mystery. There’s also the possibility that he plays Dempsey up front, but I think the coach realizes he needs Deuce in the midfield to drive the ball up the field. Buddle, Findley, and Gomez may be untested internationals, but England’s never seen them before. Capello’s got less tape on them than most, and that can only play to American advantage. I think Buddle will get the start on Saturday, and as will become commonplace, Herculez is a second half sub.
Prediction: England 3-2 United States
I see this match starting out fairly cagey, like the first couple rounds of a boxing match where both fighters are protecting themselves and trying to get the other guy to tip his hand. That’s right up until one fighter let’s his hands go in the third round and the match is a wide open puncher’s paradise from then on out. Sadly, we’re not equipped to win a game like that, not against England at least. Hopefully Bob Bradley’s halftime tactical changes can slow the game down again and prove this prediction wrong.
Tales of the Uninvited: After being dropped from the 30 man USMNT roster Brian Ching flew home to Houston, packed a couple national team kits and a toothbrush in a bag, and started running towards South Africa. He hasn’t hit water yet, but he’s confident if he tries hard enough he can run on the Atlantic. The Ching you see playing for the Dynamo right now is actually a really hard working cyborg constructed by the real Ching before he took off Gump-style for Pretoria. Chinger’s goal is to be available for the Algeria game; rooting for ya Brian!
Jon Levy is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.