You wanna talk drama? As the minutes ticked down in South Africa, the thunder started to roll in central Pennsylvania. So I'm biting my nails on two fronts: (1) can the US hold on and (2) will the power stay on? Somewhere, there was probably some hidden part of me hoping the power would go so I didn't have an aneurysm for every ball lobbed towards Crouch in the box or white-shirted body flopping in Lampard set-piece territory. Nevertheless, the power held (until a minute and a half after the final whistle!) and so did the US defense.
Talking points? Sure, but it's going to be a bit scattershot, as I've yet to really process anything properly...
* The Gooch Dilemma. So does Bradley win this gamble or lose it? I think you might argue that Gooch wasn't entirely at the races on the England opener. The ball bounces to Heskey, and Gooch is in no-man's land. He hesitates, moving neither to fill the space opening behind him or cut off the angled ball through that Heskey eventually played. A further miscommunication with DeMerit (who reprised his solid outings from last summer in South Africa) on an England break, and I was already getting ready to issue the goat card. But he grew into the game. He started anticipating rather than reacting and made a game saver as Lampard dashed through the box. Towards the end, he was starting to fly into tackles and take the aerial battle to Crouch. Assuming his level of fitness remains, I think you've got to give Bradley the credit for rolling these particular dice.
* Miles Stand-off-ish. Poor pun, I know, but there were times in the second half that I was screaming for somebody to close down the English central midfielders and fullbacks. Way too much time on the ball. Of course, you have to balance that with the fact that the compact defense didn't let very many good chances through. There's always that temptation in the wake of a good result to ignore those little, niggling things that might have swung the balance but didn't. I think we got a little lucky with more than just the Green butter-fingers routine.
* The Kid is All Right. I'll admit it, I thought that Robbie Findley was going to stand out as the one player that didn't belong on the field with the others. I was wrong. No, he didn't really cause too much danger, but his touch and passing were assured for the most part, he worked hard, and he won more headers than I would have imagined him capable off. I'm still struggling to figure out how Carragher's "arm across the neck move" as Findley darted away didn't earn a second yellow for that sucking vortex of craptitude. Then again, I have an unreasoning hatred of Jamie Carragher so deep that even saying his name causes me to sneer. I don't hate England. Don't hate Liverpool. Just Carragher. Oh, and John Terry. I think I might even be tempted to trade in the point from this game for some of the life-long humiliation coming Robert Green's way to have been stuck on those two clowns. Sigh.
* Ya Takes Your Chances. Sometimes, as a team, the US is reluctant to pull the trigger from distance or run at defenders. Dempsey is always (and sometimes frustratingly so) the general exception to this tendency. Thankfully, it seemed to be catching with both Donovan and Altidore. And that's going to be key to imposing ourselves on the next two opponents, against whom we'll probably see more of the ball in non-breakaway positions.
* Wing weakness. I'm still shaking my head that Lennon never made any of his running at Boca count. I counted three times where Boca didn't even challenge for balls on the ground that looked 75-25 in his favor for fear that the little Spurs winger would somehow blow by him. I suppose there's something to that "Theo/Lennon/SWP don't have the soccer brains to take advantage of the lightning in their boots" theory. Thankfully. Because it sure looked like the breakthrough was going to come from Lennon. Phillips on the other flank caused a few moments of panic, but Cherundolo was probably my man of the match. His attacking impetus forced Capello's first sub, and the number of balls and runs he managed to cut out in the second half was impressive, particularly when he maintained possession for the US.
* Pinchy, Pinchy. Donovan and Dempsey both followed their natural tendency to pinch inside from their wide midfield positions. This did make the US attack a bit too narrow given that the fullbacks weren't providing much attacking width (probably wisely, given the speed on the English flanks). But I wonder if it had the added benefit of keeping Lampard and Gerrard a bit more honest in the center of England's midfield. Both had moments going forward, but not with the regularity that you see them barnstorming forward for their clubs. To be honest, when I saw the lineups, I immediately thought that the area in front of the center backs would be one that we could really exploit given that neither Lampard or Gerrard are particularly defensively oriented, and I was disappointed that we didn't do more with it.
So what's the grand overall impression? A bit muddled really, kind of like my talking points. I'm struggling a bit to draw any conclusions or match my expectations to reality, either on the plus side or the negative.
I would have taken a draw going in. I would have taken a one-goal loss to preserve the goal difference after 5 minutes were in the book, and it looked like the usual great unravelling was in progress. But when I look at those clods in central defense and the lack of balance in the English midfield, I wonder if perhaps we were a bit too conservative. I'm not going to dwell on that though. 1-1 against the group favorites is a fantastic result to start, particularly since the confidence could have so easily gone out the window after Gerrard's opener. That sort of resiliency (in El Salvador, home to Costa Rica, the Confed Cup, etc.) has been a feature of the Bradley era, whatever other doubts I may have about his leadership and tactical nous.
And with that, I'm afraid I'm going to leave you for the rest of the group stage. My wife and I are celebrating our 10-year anniversary wandering the back lanes of rural Ireland. I'm sure we'll pop in to pubs to catch the two remaining group stage matches (my calendar is, of course, already populated!), but I'm not sure I'll have the wifi to post match reactions. Here's hoping we see each other come knock-out stage time...
U! S! A!