England will face a stern first-match test at this summer’s World Cup when they play the United States on June 12 in Rustenburg. Despite winning seven of nine all-time meetings with the Americans, outscoring their opponents 35-8 in those games, England will know this is a capable and dangerous US team, one coming off a first-place finish in CONCACAF qualifying and a finals appearance at last summer’s Confederations Cup.
That tournament was marked by the USA’s impressive 2-0 victory over Spain in the semi-finals, ending the European champions’ 15-match winning streak, and by America’s 2-0 halftime lead over Brazil in the final, a game that ended in a 3-2 victory for the South Americans.
In fact, that blown lead was a hallmark of the USA’s recent defeats; they also saw advantages disappear in a Confederations Cup loss to Italy, and in a CONCACAF qualifying match against Mexico.
The biggest story when America announced its preliminary roster this week was the omission of Charlie Davies. The fleet-footed forward, whose pace created problems for opponents at the Confederations Cup, suffered a ruptured bladder, fractured elbow, broken tibia and femur and facial injuries in a car accident last October. His French club, Sochaux, had not given full medical clearance for him to play in South Africa.
Davies was a passenger in that crash, which came one day before a World Cup qualifying match against Costa Rica at Washington’s RFK Stadium, and happened after Davies was out beyond the team curfew on the eve of the match.
Another notable omission was one-time teenage phenom Freddy Adu, now playing in for Greek club Aris Thessaloniki.
With Davies unavailable, the possibility exists that US coach Bob Bradley could select an MLS player, either Houston’s Brian Ching or former TFC player and current LA Galaxy forward Edson Buddle, to join Jozy Altidore in attack. Both lack major international experience: Buddle’s only national team appearance was 11 minutes as a substitute against Venezuela seven years ago, while Ching played in two qualifying matches but has never played at the World Cup
Another option is Herculez Gomez, who tied for the Mexican League lead with 10 goals at first division Puebla this season, making him the first American to lead a foreign league in scoring.
Galaxy midfielder and long-time US national team player Landon Donovan is the other MLS player expected to play a major role.
Several American back line players are recovering from injury-plagued seasons. A.C. Milan defender Oguchi Onyewu is coming back from knee surgery and has not played in seven months. Carlos Bocanegra missed Rennes’ match last weekend with stomach pain and Jay DeMerit last played April 17, dropped from Watford’s final three games because of an abdominal injury.
There are injury woes in midfield, too. Bolton’s Stuart Holden returned on the final weekend of the EPL season after a broken leg and Fulham’s Clint Dempsey missed two months earlier this year with a knee injury.
So, how will Bradley’s squad line up? Everton’s Tim Howard is a lock for the top goalkeeper’s spot, Onyewu and Bocanegra are expected to anchor the central defensive positions and Steve Cherundolo and Jonathan Spector are the leading candidates for right back and left back, respectively.
Bradley is thought to favour versatility in midfield, with Dempsey and Donovan given space to roam forward. Holden can play any midfield position and is a dead ball threat. Michael Bradley, the coach’s son, who plays his club football for Germany’s Monchengladbach, is as comfortable in a holding role as he is in attack. Another Bundesliga player, Ricardo Clark of Eintracht Frankfurt, will share defensive responsibilities with Maurice Edu, who got his professional start in Canada with Toronto FC before being sold to Glasgow Rangers.
They may be strong in goal and capable in attack with Altidore, Dempsey and Donovan, the Americans must be considered inferior to England down the middle of the field, especially at the back. The outcome of this game could be pivotal in determining whether England will be able to top Group C, and should be a cracking start to the tournament for both teams.
The Americans will play three friendlies before the World Cup, two at home and one in South Africa. They will face the Czech Republic in East Hartford, Conn. on May 25, then play Turkey in Philadelphia on May 29. They will complete their tune-up against Australia in a June 5 game in Roodepoort, South Africa.
Canadian fans used to being spurned by native-born players will note with interest that even the United States, which has now qualified for six straight World Cups, is having trouble holding on to some of its talented players. New Jersey-born Giuseppe Rossi was selected for Italy while Neven Subotic, born in Bosnia but raised in Utah, will play for Serbia, where his parents were born.