Analysis Of England's Rivals, Part 1: USA
US football has come on leaps and bounds in the last two decades. When the US hosted the World Cup in 1994, most of their squad had never played in a professional league. Fast forward to present day and Major League Soccer is becoming a huge brand with star names such as David Beckham and Freddie Ljungberg playing in the division. Thierry Henry has also been linked with a move to New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference.
The national team is also improving rapidly, as they showed at last year’s Confederations Cup. In the semi-final against Spain, the Americans produced a fairy tale story and won 2-0 with goals from Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey. After beating arguably one of the greatest International sides ever, goals from Dempsey and an astonishing breakaway goal by Landon Donovan gave the US a 2-0 half-time lead against Brazil in the final. Brazil later took advantage of the American’s naivety and won 3-2 to write the final chapter of the fairytale.
World Cup qualification was routine enough for Bob Bradley’s men. The Americans finished the final round of CONCACAF qualifying top of their table with 20 points and just two losses, having defeated feeble opposition in the form of Cuba, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago and Guatemala in previous rounds.
The US look to be formidable opponents for England in their Group C clash on June 12th in Rustenburg. Since their Confederations Cup heroics, the US have also reached the final of the albeit less reputable CONCACAF Gold Cup and beaten Euro 2008 semi-finalists Turkey in a recent friendly. Fabio Capello’s men will know all about the main threats coming from their opponents. Donovan was on loan at Everton last season, and has won an incredible 122 caps, more than any other American. During his time in England, LA Galaxy’s Donovan became a darling of the Merseyside terraces for his unrelenting workrate and creativity on the ball. Donovan scored twice for the Toffees in 10 league games and was named the club’s player of the month for January 2010. Dempsey has also reached the Europa League final with Fulham in a superb domestic season for the former New England Revolution man.
American media and fans have high hopes for 20-year-old striker Altidore. The Villareal man struggled for form whilst on loan in England with Hull City, but his international performances have been outstanding. Altidore scored a hat-trick against Trinidad and Tobago, making him the youngest man to do so for his national side at just 19. A keen Twitter fan, Altidore has always been tipped for glory and represented his side at under 17, under 20 and under 23 levels.
Bradley is likely to organise his troops in a 4-4-2 formation with Donovan or Dempsey as a support striker to Altidore. Donovan will be the danger man who John Terry and Rio Ferdinand will need to keep tabs on. The former Bayern Munich loan man put in a sterling performance against Turkey and set up both of his team’s goals. Expect goals galore when the Americans play, they have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last 7 outings and Jonathan Spector looks a slightly worry at right-back. Should Aaron Lennon travel to South Africa, he would easily have the beating of the slow, flat footed Spector. But despite a shaky defence, goalkeepers Tim Howard and Marcus Hahnemann are both hugely experienced at the highest level and very dependable.
The US have an impressive record of qualifying for every World Cup since 1990 and look to be heading for a battle with Algeria for second place in Group C where they are also joined by Slovenia. They would possibly face Germany in the second round if they finish as runners-up in their group, and Bradley’s men will therefore have a tough task at hand but they have spirit in abundance and a never say die attitude. England will have a tricky test on June 12th and will come up against a team who thrives on driving through open defences and scoring on the counter attack. England and the US have pledged allegiance to each other in many aspects of politics and the war on terror in recent years, but there will be no more favours handed out at the World Cup.