Rob Green: More battle tested than any likely U.S. keeper for the May 28th friendly at Wembley/Daily Mirror

Sunil Gulati responding to critics in this country has scheduled a group of extremely tough friendlies beginning this month against Poland, and culminating potentially against Argentina a week before the U.S. plays its first world cup qualifier in June. From where I sit the United States is a prohibitive underdog in all four upcoming matches and given what we’ve seen from the US National Team lately, American National Team members playing abroad, and the ebbing quality of MLS when facing international sides, the question is not whether the U.S. will lose these matches but how badly.

The worst possible embarrassment would be a decisive loss to England at Wembley on May 28th. Why? England, unlike Poland or Spain did not qualify for the European Championships and England seems to have at varying times more vocal fans in the United States than the U.S. National Team does. So in other words this is like playing Mexico, in Azteca right before you play Spain and Argentina. I’m not sure England is as good right now as Mexico but they are far superior in quality and skill to the United States. The U.S. has no chance to defeat Spain or Poland on European soil. Let’s establish that right now, unless either team chooses to call a “B” squad. But when I look at the match up against England it could be just as one sided. Let’s compare prospective lineups, if we really can.

A perception is that the United States has better goalkeepers than England. This is not entirely true. The United States has a deeper pool of Goalkeepers than England but unless Kasey Keller starts in goal you’ll see Brad Guzan or Tim Howard both of whom are untested at the international level in big matches and in the case of Howard someone who is infamous for major in-game lapses. Furthermore, Rob Green and David James provide Fabio Capello with two outstanding options now that I assume Paul Robinson has been scratched altogether from the England setup. Try fighting relegation and being heroic in almost every match last season as Green was for West Ham. No American keeper has that experience again, save Kasey Keller. I give a slight advantage to England in the goalkeeper situation.

Now when you look at field players, is their a single American player who could actually dawn a three lions kit? Is their anyone who could make a 23 man England squad? I’d say it’s doubtful. The only American I would consider a “lock” to actually make an England squad were he English is the left footed DaMarcus Beasley whose quality isn’t all that impressive by European or Latin standards but his game has something the England national team severally lacks. But Beasley as we all know is injured and won’t be back until August at the earliest. So what about Landon Donovan? Would I choose Landon Donovan over Aaron Lennon or David Bentley on the right side? Yes, for now but perhaps not in 2010. Would I choose him over a healthy David Beckham? Of course not, and I should be laughed at for asking such a foolish question. Other American stalwarts like Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra, Michael Bradley, Eddie Johnson and Steve Cherundolo are simply not of a high enough standard to play for England. I say this while keeping in mind that England wasn’t overall of a good enough standard to make the European Championships. Yes, we hear excuses about Steve McLaren but save Steven Gerrard, David Beckham Frank Lampard and a healthy Michael Owen I find not a single English player that I could rent Alexi Lalas’ helicopter and drop in let’s say Serie A or the Bundesliga and see the sorts of quality and results English Premier League fans expect from England National Team players. In other words despite the bluster of the British media about what players are truly “world class” with some pundits claiming the entire England team is “world class” but have been messed up by a succession of inept managers all of whom seem to be worse than the last, the reality is England has exactly four world class players which is a lot less that France, Italy, Germany, Holland or perhaps even Spain. This is the biggest reason England did not qualify for the European Championships. England simply does not have a Bobby Moore, a Gary Linekar or a Chris Waddle hanging around right now. That may chance if David Bentley proves to be the real deal, Theo Walcott continues to develop and perhaps one or two other guys emerge but right now England is lacking some real punch.

Yet as we discuss England’s talent level being in a dip, the United States is in a bigger dip. Both from a talent standpoint and from a structural standpoint. We have mentioned the few American players who could actually suit up in a three lions kit. This wasn’t the case say eight years ago, when Claudio Reyna would have added a settling and cultured affect to England’s midfield, John O’Brien would have added left footed skill and a ball winning prowess and Brian McBride would have added what Sven Goran Erikkson had hoped Peter Crouch would be: a dominant aerial presence on set pieces. McBride never got the service he deserved on set pieces because the U.S, had such lousy kick takers. Could you have imagined him paired up with David Beckham?

Alas, those days are gone for the U.S. The current generation of American players is as I have pointed out repeatedly for about a year now, a failed one. Failed from a leadership standpoint, failed from a club standpoint and failed from a international results standpoint. The toughness and quality Reyna, O’Brien, McBride and Eddie Pope gave the national team has not been replaced. The future looks somewhat brighter as Freddy Adu, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu all appear to be working their way into the full national team mix, but whether that helps the US in the early stages of World Cup qualifying remains to be seen. Between 1993 and 2003 the United States beat Argentina twice, Germany twice, Brazil, England and South Korea. Since 2003 the US has not defeated a non CONCACAF country of note. 

While England, a nation whose national team failed to qualify for its own continental championship boasts players that play at top clubs, and in many cases spearhead these very clubs, the United States currently features a collection on journeymen players. As we’ve discussed before if you looked at the quality of club play, nations such as Honduras, Jamaica and perhaps even Trinidad and Tobago would rival the United States in CONCACAF. However, the United States boasts a deeper, more skilled player pool than any of these nations but no doubt exists in my mind for example that David Suazo is better than any current American field player and the same could be argued for Marlon King or Kenwyne Jones.

But when comparing the United States with England, it’s difficult to see how the Americans compete let alone get a result. The number of bad giveaways by American midfielders and the poor organization of the defensive line are things we have not seen among the U.S. team since before the Copa America in 1995. The United States in 2008 lacks the midfield engine that Hugo Perez, Tabare Ramos, and Clauido Reyna have provided: the ability to hold the ball and dictate play. No American player on the horizon has the skill set Claudio Reyna so wonderfully exploited to change the image of American field players in Europe.

I could go on and on, but you get the point: My feeling is that the United States has reached a low point in its recent footballing history at least on the national team level. World Cup qualifying while not in doubt, will not be an easy ride for a team so absent of leadership and savvy. England at the same time is going through a metamorphosis of sorts with a new coach with a different, more Southern European perspective. In the long run this will serve the English well:  they will broaden their current narrow world view while the Americans continue to bumble and stumble. With the United States unlikely to get anything from trips to Spain and Poland, England looms as the most likely result in the “Yank Tour of Europe” if you want to call it that. From where I sit a victory in the least challenging game is highly unlikely, so what we are left with are painful demonstrations of how far the United States has to go to be a true footballing power and how opportunity seems to have slipped right through the national teams grasp the past several years.