By Kevin Koczwara
It is almost impossible for me to go anywhere and meet anyone who isn’t at least a little interested in the United States Men’s National Team’s opening game against England in the World Cup this Saturday.
I have taken part in countless arguments, discourses and friendly discussions about the Yanks chances on Saturday — almost always trying to find keys to success for both sides. All of the discussions have allowed me to fine tune my thoughts. I have come up with three keys to the Yanks success against England.
1. Play with confidence — Last summer the Yanks make it to the finals of the Confederations Cup in South Africa. Along the way they beat Spain and Egypt, two very good teams — Spain being an obvious favorite to win this year’s World Cup.
But the Americans got lucky. They lost their first two games, one to Italy and one to Brazil. They lost them not because players got sent off (Ricardo Clark in the 3-1 loss to Italy, and Sach Kljestan in a loss to Brazil, 3-0.), but because they gave in and looked like they lacked the confidence to beat the winners of the last two World Cups (Brazil in 2002, Italy in 2006). But once they got the first goal against Egypt there was no looking back.
They made it into the finals, but were beaten by a better Brazil tam, 3-2.But for much of the game the Yanks were in control because they knew they could play and even beat the Brazilians.
The Americans started attacking, playing in control and being confident on the ball, not just kicking and chasing while hoping for the best. When you play in control and have confidence you don’t have to work as hard, you just play the game and pieces seem to fall into place.
I am not saying the USMNT needs to be cocky, but just the opposite. They need to be aware that they are a solid team with good individual players. If they see England as a far superior team before and on the field, well then the Yanks might as well go home with a loss before ever suiting up. If they play with confidence and in control, then the game will come to them.
2. Stay disciplined and keep their shape in the defensive third — Americans play soccer the way they are told. We are robots at times, listening to coaches, and doing as they say exactly as they say it, lacking variation and creativity at times. It is how we play the game, for the most part.
So, keeping a good defensive shape and containing England’s pace and skill should be easier for the Yanks than most other teams, right? No.
The USMNT has shown that it has its frailties in the defensive third during the warm up games before the World Cup. The U.S. was cut up and exposed by Turkey’s skill and speed — especially on the counter attack. If the Americans can hope to beat England then they will have to stay compact, cut off passing and shooting lanes, and make smart challenges against England. They will have to adopt the mindset of the Great Wall of China and hold the 18 and not let the likes of Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Jermaine Defoe or Frank Lampard get a sniff of the goal.
Michael Bradley in the midfield will have to have one of his best games on the international level as the teams best holding midfielder if the U.S. is going to have success. His father, and the manager of the USMNT, Bob Bradley will have to show some faith in someone other than Ricardo Clark in the middle of the field alongside Bradley because his team will be without a vital passer in the middle if Clark and Bradley play alongside one another. To play a tight defensive game you need a break out player who can create on the counter, keeping the opponent honest.
José Torres would be my pick as Bradley’s partner because of his skill on the ball and his quickness. He showed what he could do against Turkey and I would give him the start as my release man. His ability to pass and create is vital to a counter attack.
3. Take some chances — The World Cup is the best of the best in the world of international soccer. That means everyone the Americans will face earned a spot in the finals in South Africa by being one of the best teams in their region.
So, to win games in the World Cup you need to take chances in the attack when they arise.
Goals come at a premium when you are playing the best in the world, and teams need to finish the few true chances they get, or they will lose.
When the Americans play England they will have to take the chances they get and not be afraid to think outside the box.
Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan will have to be the leaders in the attacking third of the field. They are the Americans most skilled attacking players and they have to show their skill against England’s shaky defense. Yes, I said it, England has a shaky defense and it could be their downfall.
Donovan and Dempsey will need to take on their defenders with their one-on-one skill. Glen Johnson was exposed as a defensive liability at Liverpool this season. Johnson goes forward with great skill, but can be beat when he is put on a one on one situation with a quick and skilled player.
Johnson’s cover in the middle of the England defense has to come into question as well because of its age and the injuries that have come about. John Terry took a knock while practicing with Chelsea for the FA Cup final. Ledley King has trouble staying fit and practicing. Jamie Carragher has surely lost a step or two in the last few years. Matthew Upson has taken a few knocks in training and has missed practice due to a fever. And England is without one of their captains as Rio Ferdinand will miss the World Cup with a knee injury.
So, the Yanks will have to try and expose the England defense when they get a chance and they will have to take some chances in the midfield and in the attack to do so. If the Americans are afraid to do so, then they could be looking back after the match and thinking about what could have been.
Kevin Koczwara is a contributing writer and editor for The Soccer Guys. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.