USA – England Preview

Jun. 07, 2010 - South Africa - Football - Platinum Stars v England World Cup Warm-Up Match - Moruleng Stadium, Moruleng, North West Province, South Africa - 7/6/10..England's Wayne Rooney (R) in action.

Potential USA Starters

The hype for tomorrow’s match (most important US game of all-time, honor the spirit of 1950, England sucks, etc) couldn’t be higher, and though FFG is intrigued by the match’s sociological implications, we’re more excited about the tactical matchup. Both squads look set to field comparable 4-4-2 formations – see Zonal Marking’s England coverage and FFG’s analysis of USA’s system – and the managers even have similar personnel decisions to make prior to kickoff. England gaffer Fabio Capello needs to choose a partner for Frank Lampard (Michael Carrick, James Milner, or Steven Gerrard) and cope with the loss of captain, and starting center back, Rio Ferdinand. Capello’s follicly challenged foil must make a similar choice in the middle of the pitch – Ricardo Clark or José Torres – while deciding whether or not Oguchi Onyewu is healthy enough to combat the illustrious Wayne Rooney and Co.

Potential England Starters

Their decisions will determine the tactical course of the match. Below is FFG’s take on who those starters will be, plus the match-ups at every position.

Center back

Ledley King, partnered with John Terry, will serve as a more than capable replacement for the injured captain. Ferdinand’s absence should scuttle any talk of England fielding a 3-5-2, a relief for Bob Bradley as that formation could have given fits to his 4-4-2.

Their counterparts should be Onyewu and Jay DeMerit, though understudy Clarence Goodson could step in for Gooch. Either combination will have their hands full, even with significant support from the midfield.

Center midfielders

Gerrard in the holding role

Capello prefers entrenched starter Lampard to play in front of Gareth Barry, who holds just in front of the defense, but Barry’s gimpy ankle means he’s not available. Capello has a like-for-like alternative in Michael Carrick, though the Italian manager has been trying to force Steven Gerrard into the holding role, a situation all too familiar for English fans. Lampard and Gerrard are very similar players – they make attacking runs while a midfield teammate stays close to the center backs – and have never quite worked as a pairing.

If Capello elects to combine the attacking midfielders (why he doesn’t just use a 4-3-3 I don’t know), he’ll need to convince one of the pair to shoulder increased defensive responsibilities. In a friendly against Japan, Gerrard seemed to take on that challenge, but he went forward on occasion. The United States needs to take advantage if the two advance at the same time. Coupled with the English fullbacks’ adventurous ways, there could be plenty of space to exploit on the counterattack.

The underdog Americans (don’t you love that phrase?) can either roll out with two defensive midfielders (Bradley and Maurice Edu/Ricardo Clark) or pair Bradley the Younger with the more technically efficient José Torres (Benny Feilhaber probably played his way out of a starting role). In FFG’s opinion, the deep-lying position Bradley played last week would favor a partnership with Torres, but Bradley the Elder has demonstrated a propensity for playing Clark. Regardless of who gets the call, USA center mids will have their hands full dealing with England’s attack.

Gerrard leaving space in front of the center backs

Outside midfielders

Both wing combinations will seek to pin back the opposing fullbacks and limit their offensive contributions. With Gerrard at center midfield, England’s outside midfielders will play a more traditional role. Joe Cole, Gerrard’s likely stand-in, will cut towards the middle of the pitch but he’ll start from a much wider position than the Liverpool and England skipper. On the opposite flank, Aaron Lennon will hug the touchline (thanks Zonal Marking!) to increase the amount of space defenders must cover.

Gringo superstars Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey will continue to have the freedom to roam wherever they like but need to be a bit more circumspect, as their services will be needed in defense as well.


Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole are better fullbacks than anyone on USA’s roster, but the dynamic Dempsey/Donovan duo could force them into a more defensive role than they are accustomed to. Should either USA winger have an off-day, Cole and Johnson will get forward with abandon and cause havoc for the American backline.

In USA’s pre-World Cup friendlies, the poor form of Jonathan Spector allowed Steve Cherundolo a chance to seize the starting right back spot, and Cherundolo looked lively in all three exhibitions, even collecting an assist against Australia. Left back/captain/male model Carlos Bocanegra will pick his forays very carefully, operating as a wide center back for much of the match.


Wayne Rooney, in FFG’s opinion, is the best striker in the world not named Drogba, and any of his potential partners – Jermain Defoe, who is fast, Peter Crouch, who is tall, and Emile Heskey, who is old (err, experienced) – also have the quality to bother Onyewu and DeMerit. And if Onyewu can’t go, or isn’t completely comfortable with his surgically-repaired knee, Crouch could be a nightmare.

In contrast, John Terry and Ledley King will feel pretty confident in their ability to handle USA’s young (Jozy Altidore), untested (Edson Buddle/Herculez Gomez), and inconsistent (Robbie Findley) strike force. The English duo will be wary of Altidore’s combination of speed and power, and while the others could each cause trouble in some fashion (particularly Findley, if he can ever couple his speed with a soft touch), Terry and King line up against more fearsome competition every week of their club seasons.

What could work in USA’s favor are the fullbacks’ attacking runs, which can leave Terry and King stranded. Altidore, Findley, and Gomez have the pace to take advantage of the resulting space.

Additionally, there is still an outside chance that Clint Dempsey will receive a start up top, especially with the speedy DaMarcus Beasley able to provide defensive cover in Dempsey’s midfield spot.


Even though goalkeeper is USA’s greatest (some might say, only) advantage, the incomparable Tim Howard will need a transcendent performance to help USA garner a positive result.

In the other net, David James or Robert Green will get the start. Each presents an experienced, but unspectacular option.

Difference Makers

Perhaps more than any other sport, soccer matches can turn on one particular play. The sport’s low-scoring nature places an emphasis on sublime moments of skill, and if a magical moment occurs tomorrow afternoon, the likely culprit will be one of Rooney, Lampard, Gerrard, Altidore, Dempsey, or Donovan. For the sake of Bob Bradley’s remaining follicles, one of the Americans better come through.

4 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Rupert J Pelfrey says:

    So your prediction is 2-1 England? I think it’ll be 3-0 England, and temper expectations a bit for the gringos.

  2. Rupert J Pelfrey says:

    Sorry for double post, but I saw that EA’s Madden face book page had an interesting question that I wanted your take on:

    If you were to compare World Cup Teams to the NFL; who would be Brazil? US? France? Any other countries to compare to?

    • Blake Owen says:

      Why limit it to the NFL? Here’s a few off the top of my head.

      Brazil – Yankees, titles and famous names galore
      France – Duke, no one likes them
      Italy – Celtics, beloved only in their homeland (and kind of a boring playstyle)
      USA – Missouri Valley basketball team, able to challenge big boys on their day
      Spain – 1990s Atlanta Braves, perennial underachievers
      Ivory Coast – Cavaliers, struggle without their superstar (watch them make me eat those words)

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