U.S. Scenarios

What does the U.S. need to do to advance out of the group after today’s two contrasting draws, one thrilling, one as boring as boiled tomatoes.

First, the table:

Team W L D P GD GF GA
Slovenia 1 0 1 4 +1 3 2
United States 0 0 2 2 0 3 3
England 0 0 2 2 0 1 1
Algeria 0 1 1 1 -1 0 1

Now, the tie-breakers:

1. Head-to-head
2. Goal differential
3. Goals scored
4. Goal differential in games featuring tied teams
5. Goals scored in games featuring tied teams
6. Lots (yes, lots are drawn from a hat)

Scenarios:

If the U.S. loses to Algeria:

They will be eliminated.

If the U.S. tie Algeria:

They will advance if Slovenia defeats England.

If England and Slovenia draw, they will advance on the third tie-breaker–goals scored–if England score fewer than two more goals than the U.S. does on Wednesday. For example, if the U.S. draws 1-1, England would need to score at least 3 goals (a 3-3 draw with Slovenia? Unlikely).

They will be eliminated if England beat Slovenia.

If the U.S. wins:

They will advance regardless of the other result and can top the group if Slovenia draw or lose.

Got it? The easiest route would seem to be beating Algeria, who were decent tonight v. England. They have some skill on the ball and crazy pace at left-back, but I didn’t see anything in defense to make the U.S. tremble. Their clean sheet was more a product of England’s poor decision-making and touch, than any outstanding display. Boy, do the Three Lions have issues.

How the U.S. Can Win

We’re 48 hours away from U.S.-England and I’m about ready to shit myself. I haven’t been able to sleep in days, awakened by various nightmares of Aaron Lennon bearing down on Carlos Bocanegra and Clarence Goodson trying to track Wayne Rooney. It is my logical mind breaking through the veneer of fantasy I’ve been trying to construct.

That fantasy is that the U.S. can win this game. By any reasonable analysis, the Three Lions win by two goals. At least.

You didn’t come here for reason though, did you? Good. It’s often been said that one of the strengths of Yanks is their self-belief, even in the face of substantial odds. So let’s go ahead an perpetuate that stereotype. Here’s how the U.S. can win:

1. Pressure

It’s all on England. They are burdened by their history, agitated by their fans, preyed upon by the media. No bit of minutiae is left unexamined and the entire country has been in giddy anticipation since the Group draw was announced. Suffice to say, the pundits don’t see any cause for concern.

easy

The pressure has begun to assert itself. See Rooney’s yellow card against some South African pub team. Or Capello’s rants at both his players and photographers. Perhaps most damning, the England manager has restricted his side’s access to their notorious WAGs, allowing them only to see each other on the day after games, thus hindering a pleasurable way to release some steam (so to speak).

2. Injuries

Rio Ferdinand is out of the tournament and Gareth Barry is not available for the U.S. game, so Capello needs to find some solutions in the Engine Room. Either Ledley King or Jamie Carragher will start in defense for Ferdinand, but the picture is less clear regarding Barry’s replacement and if you’re a U.S. fan, you’re hoping that it’s Steven Gerrard.

Not because Gerrard is a downgrade, but because he’s never formed an effective partnership with Frank Lampard in the middle of the park. Gerrard is much more effective for the national team out wide or in the free position behind a lone striker (see Torres, Fernando at Liverpool). Together, Stevie and Lamps spend to much time staring at each other trying to figure out which is going forward (You? No, please be my guest. No, after you). If Capello prefers an out-of-form Michael Carrick in the destroyer role (or the inexperienced James Milner), the drop-off from Barry will be mitigated by a more fluid attack.

3. Possession

The U.S. most frequently gets into trouble when they are not able to release the pressure on their defense. Look, we all know they’ll play conservatively, will hunker down with eight men behind the ball and hope to counter. But a vital aspect of playing defensively is being able to move the ball out of the back and string a few passes together instead of just hoofing it long and re-setting.

The primary issue with this is Coach Bob Bradley’s insistence on playing two defensive-minded midfielders in the middle (he’d argue he doesn’t, but he’s wrong). Neither Michael Bradley or Rico Clark (the expected starters) are adept at selecting good outlet options (or even delivering a good pass). They will need to step up, get the ball wide to Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan to run into space, space which should be there as England sends Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson forward on the flanks. Aside from giving a breather to the back-line, a few jaunts up the pitch might limit the frequency of runs from the marauding English outside backs.

4. Moment of Brilliance

The U.S., collectively, faces a talent chasm roughly the size of the Mariana Trench. But the side does have individuals capable of world class play (see: Dempsey, Clint v. Juventus or Stoke). One unexpected strike could change the tenor of the game.

5. Calamity James

The one position where the U.S. does have an advantage is in goal. While David James has largely overcome his penchant for the odd howler, he will never truly shed the label. One gaffe can alter a team’s chances (see: Seaman, David v. Ronaldinho). I expect Bradley to insist the U.S. test James from any distance, put a few on frame early and see how he deals with the occasion, and the much-discussed new ball.

6. Underdogs

It’s a role the U.S. relishes and its World Cup history is pock-marked with the corpses of more talented teams. Portugal in ’02, Colombia in ’94, even the man-down draw with Italy four years ago. The club does not lack for fighting spirit or a confidence in each other, both of which will grow the longer the game remains in doubt. The first twenty minutes will be key as England will come out roaring and the Yanks will need some time to settle their nerves. If they can weather that storm, will the game into their kind of rhythm, avoid unnecessary cards and fouls in their defensive third, then it’s game on.

gazza

In the end, a loss by a single goal would be a good result for the U.S. in terms of getting out of the group, which is the primary goal, after all. But dang it’d be sweet to win. They’ve pulled these upsets before.

Maybe then, I could get some sleep.

Essien Out and Other Injuries

Ghana captain Michael Essien has been ruled out of the World Cup as he has not recovered from a knee injury picked up in the African Cup of Nations in January. The absence of the Chelsea midfielder, Ghana’s most accomplished player, is a huge setback to the Black Stars and they must now be considered long-shots to get out of Group D, which includes Germany, Serbia and Australia.

essien

In other injury news, Spain’s Fernando Torres returned to full training with the Euro 2008 champions after six weeks on the sidelines with a knee injury, a certain boost to the co-favorites (with Brazil) and likely also to those clubs hoping to pry the striker away from Anfield later this summer. Torres recently rubbished his agent’s statements alluding to the star staying with Liverpool after a distasterous campaign, raising red flags all over Merseyside, and also at my house.

Closer to home (home, in this case being Group C), England gaffer Fabio Capello is not yet ready to rule out Gareth Barry, who continues to rehab an ankle injury suffered earlier this month. Barry, Capello’s preferred defensive midfielder, had scans on the ankle this week that were inconclusive. Considering the middling performances of James Milner and Michael Carrick against Mexico, it’s clear Capello will consider Barry until the last possible moment.

U.S. players with questionable health include the (many times) aforementioned Oguchi Onyewu. Some pundits claimed he looked about 60-70% against the Czechs, but I’d say that assessment is rather optimistic. Centreback Jay DeMerit, with his new cornea, appears recovered from a strained abdominal muscle, as does captain Carlos Bocanegra, who underwent a recent hernia operation. Though U.S. fans will breathe easier regarding those diagnoses if both take the field Saturday for the U.S. team’s final stateside friendly against Turkey in Philly.

Mexico Impressive in Loss to England

An entertaining little friendly today at Wembley between England and Mexico that should be of considerable interest to U.S fans less than three weeks ahead of the World Cup.

First-round opponent England won 3-1 over our neighbors bitter, much-loathed rivals, but it was the Mexican team that carried the play in the first 45 minutes with a quality display of possession and flair that proved a handful for the Three Lions. It was something of a makeshift back-line deployed by Fabio Capello, as he held out the five Chelsea players on the roster (only 9 days removed from the FA Cup Final), including near-certain starters John Terry, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard. It was their slow-witted replacements, notably Ledley King, whose statuesque (not in the complimentary meaning of the word, but in the fact he appeared to have the range and effectiveness of a statue) performance was hardly saved by his goal off a set-piece.

engmex

Both King and fellow centreback Rio Ferdinand were caught by the lively Mexican duo of Giovani dos Santos and Carlos Vela, the latter going 0-2 on shots where he had only goalkeeper Robert Green to beat. That was the story of the night for El Tri as, despite a possession advantage and sending 23 shots goalward, they managed just to convert the one time.

England were more assertive in the second 45 minutes and a Glen Johnson stunner early in the second half killed off the tie. But there were precious few highlights for the England men, who will hope the return of the Chelsea Five produces a better all-around effort next time out. England head to Austria for pre-Cup training and a friendly on Sunday against Japan, while Mexico get right back at it with a Wednesday tilt against Netherlands.

In other notable friendlies, host South Africa was held 1-1 by Bulgaria and Portugal stumbled to a scoreless draw with Cape Verde. That doesn’t bode well for the Portuguese.

Thirty for England

England Coach Fabio Capello has named his provisional 30-man roster for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. England will line up against the United States in their opening game on June 12 in Rustenberg.

The most surprising inclusion is Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher, who “retired” from international duty in 2007. His recall may confirm that the only reason he ditched the national side is because previous gaffer Steve McClaren is a twit. Or Capello’s desperation–with the brittle nature of Rio Ferdinand and Ledley King–was enough to sway the Reds stalwart.

Tottenham, who finished 4th in the Premier League and grabbed the last Champions League spot, place six players on the list, including Abbey Clancy’s boyfriend. Let’s hope Crouchie goes to SA for the crowd shots alone.

abbey

England 30-Man Preliminary Squad

GOALKEEPERS (3): Joe Hart (Manchester City), David James (Portsmouth), Robert Green (West Ham Utd.)

DEFENDERS (10): Leighton Baines (Everton), Jamie Carragher (Liverpool), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Michael Dawson (Tottenham), Rio Ferdinand (Manchester Utd.), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Ledley King (Tottenham), John Terry (Chelsea), Matthew Upson (West Ham Utd.), Stephen Warnock (Aston Villa)

MIDFIELDERS (12): Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Michael Carrick (Manchester Utd.), Joe Cole (Chelsea), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Tom Huddlestone (Tottenham), Adam Johnson (Manchester City), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Aaron Lennon (Tottenham), James Milner (Aston Villa), Scott Parker (West Ham Utd.), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Shaun Wright-Phillips (Manchester City)

FORWARDS (5): Darren Bent (Sunderland), Peter Crouch (Tottenham), Jermain Defoe (Tottenham), Emile Heskey (Aston Villa), Wayne Rooney (Manchester Utd.)