Title courtesy of my coblogger, Auguste. I doff my hat to you, sir.
As exciting as it was, as proud as I am of the team, as pleased as I am with the result…dang, am I ever glad that’s over with. My nerves were frazzled to the point of a near-dissociative state and I felt like I’d drank a pot of coffee on an empty stomach…coffee mixed with oven cleaner and shards of glass. It’s exhausting being a soccer fan!
BUT! At times it is also rewarding, and while of course I was hoping for a US win today, I will gladly take a 1-1 draw.
Overall, I’m happy to say that the US was the better team for good portions of this match. It didn’t start that way, with England’s goal coming in just the 4th minute after Steven Gerrard easily got away from Ricardo Clark. This was worrisome not just because of the obvious but because the US tends not to recover well when they allow an early goal, whether in the first or second half. But rather than getting deflated and coming apart, the team buckled down and responded very well. The defense, including Oguchi Onyewu in his first full game since his knee injury last October, gave one of the best performances we’ve seen from them in a long time. It wasn’t without blunders here or there of course, but was much stronger and more cohesive than usual. In fact, Capello’s reason for subbing out James Milner in only the 31st minute was that “he was having trouble with [Steve] Cherundolo“. Tim Howard was unsurprisingly great, making several key saves even after taking Emile Heskey’s boot to his ribs. I do not ever want to see this again:
Of course, the US goal came when England’s keeper Robert Green made a bizarre mess of a shot from Clint Dempsey in the 40th. It was a decent effort from Dempsey but not an unstoppable one, especially since it basically went right to Green’s hands down on the pitch. But somehow, it rolled right back out of them and lazily over the goal line. I could swear I saw the ball roll its eyes and sigh exasperatedly at the English side as it drifted into the net. I’m sure some folks will point out that had it not been for the bobble, we’d likely have walked away with nothing today, but as Dempsey said in a quick post-game interview on TV, they all count the same no matter how they get in the net. Plus, the rest of the US attack was putting in a good effort, and it’s not a stretch to say they could have added more. At one point in the second half, Jozy Altidore ran onto a good pass from Landon Donovan and muscled his way around Jamie Carragher, taking a shot a few yards out that was parried by Green and bounced off the post.
England did push forward a bit in the second half, but was unable to make anything happen, thanks to the continued power of the US defense. Wayne Rooney was largely shut down, which in my mind was one of the most impressive elements of the game. Even with his recent injury, Rooney is still generally a very formidable man to mark, as anyone who paid attention to even a third of Manchester United’s games this past season in the Premier League could tell you. As much as I wanted three points from this match, I think the US, and the fans, can walk away from this one feeling good. This was the big one and the guys should take confidence from a job well done into their other group matches. I think this squad was put together well, although considering his performance (and I held this opinion prior to the match, too) I might have preferred to see Jose Francisco Torres in place of Clark. Whether or not Bob Bradley will think the same thing is questionable…although he didn’t put Bornstein out there today, so perhaps he’s learning a bit!
Of course, there were two other games today. I did not wake up at 4-freaking-30 in the morning to watch South Korea take on Greece, though from the match reports, it sounds like quite a lopsided game in favor of the Asian side, who won 2-0. From the ESPN desk jockeys as well as random people on Twitter, I heard the Greece side described as lacking in motivation, incoherent, and embarrassing. Eek.
I did catch Argentina’s 1-0 win over Nigeria, and while it means 3 points for the South Americans it was not a wholly impressive display. They went ahead in the 6th minute when an unmarked Gabriel Heinze got his head to a corner kick from Juan Sebastian Veron, but after that were unable to capitalize despite holding more possession. Lionel Messi was pushing forward from the very beginning, and had a handful of other chances despite being surrounded by green shirts, but Nigerian keeper Vincent Enyeama held him off and was quite remarkable throughout the game. Gonzalo Higuain also had a few opportunities but couldn’t get his finishing in order. The Nigerian team seemed a bit flustered in the first half but looked better in the second half, with the substitutes Obafemi Martins and Peter Odemwingie adding some pace and fire. There were some moments of great play but it never quite came together for them. It’s not such a surprise that Argentina was victorious here, but I did certainly expect more than a 1-0 scoreline.
Tomorrow brings us the other Group C match with Algeria and Slovenia facing off and hopefully, for my fellow US fans, finishing with a nil-nil draw. We’ll also see Group D in action with Serbia taking on Ghana and Australia up against Germany. More wagers to be settled, fewer butterflies in my stomach. Huzzah!