England v USA – Overconfidence and Rooney to bring Yanks down?

England v USA
The 2010 World Cup
Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg
Saturday, 12 June 2010
Kickoff: 18:30 GMT, 13:30 EST, 20:30 Local

England v USA Preview

Bob Bradley is notoriously tight-lipped. About everything, really. Injuries, roster selections, press conferences, his past… it’s not a secret at this point. Which is why the Yanks’ recent round table seemed to be such a nice set-up.

What’s not to like? More information is good, right?

“We have players who have played in big games, play in big leagues, and have had success, so you take that confidence with you,” (Dempsey) said.

Midfielder Michael Bradley added, “There’s a lot that goes into winning big games, beating big teams. We’ve done that before, and we’re just concentrating now on doing all of those things in training leading up to the game.”

These quotes are fairly harmless on the surface, but they hint at something more sinister. I’ll call it 2006 Syndrome, or ’06S for short. This particular bacterial strain seems particularly infectious right before big events and following relatively big doings in recent American soccer history. In our case, we’ve got a pair of impressive friendly wins, a top CONCACAF finish, some national (dare I say international) buzz floating, a relatively interested backing country – if only for the next month – a Confederations Cup runners-up finish… going even further back, the ’07 Gold Cup is also garnering attention.

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It’s a pretty nice pedigree. But it’s nowhere near as impressive as those of the tournament favorites’. So what we have, much as we did with the origination of the ’06S, is inappropriate fervor, and it’s reached clubhouse level. Bob Bradley’s insular locker room isn’t as insulated as he likes to think. Remember Mikey’s quote after the 3-0 Egypt victory in SA? No? Here…

“All the f—— experts in America , everybody who thinks they know about soccer, they can all look at the score tonight, and let’s see what they have to say now. Nobody has any respect for what we do, for what goes on on the inside, so let them all talk now.”

That sound like somebody who doesn’t hear the criticism? Or, as we have it now, the hype? Bradley qualified after that he was addressing the media, not the fans. Not that it makes any difference.

So here we are, washed clean of the debacle in 2006, with three years of mostly positive results – some very positive – and we’re back at this place again we were before ’06. I think extreme fans’ expectations are fairly tempered, but this email exchange between ambassadors kind of sets an alarming precedent for the general population at large. Are we expecting to win this game? Who are these people?

I’m not saying confidence is a bad thing, and I’m not saying it will definitively murder the U.S. on Saturday. Playing and defeating No. 1 Spain was a coup, deserving no small measure of praise. The same can be said of the team’s remarkable turnaround in that same tournament. But let’s not forget the 5-0 dusting by Mexico in the ’09 Gold Cup (against our B side, yes, but how do you forget that?), or the first two games of the SA ’09 adventure. Do we think the Spain win was anything more than it was?

These are things that somehow get overlooked, swept away in the fervor that accompanies such a grand stage. Then comes the fall — the ’06S bit particularly hard in 2006 — and all the sudden we’re back to hating Bob Bradley again. With all the personality pieces on the guy in the last two weeks, I can’t imagine hating his personality will be all that difficult. Hating his product on the field will be what matters.

To me, the most important player on the field Saturday is Wayne Rooney… all apologies to any and all Yanks who take offense. Rooney will be the most electric player on the field, and if the mercurial Emile Heskey starts up top for the Three Lions, Rooney’s role as a scorer and supplier becomes doubly important. With the defensive parody the U.S. back line has become, Rooney may run through the U.S. like enchiladas through a spring breaker in Tijuana. Ole’-style defense will get Tim Howard killed, especially if Gerrard’s probing runs finally hit home, something he wasn’t able to do with his typical vigor during Liverpool’s abysmal season.

England will lack James Milner Saturday, a dynamic midfielder who, in his absence, will tweak England’s approach. Lampard will now play more of a holding role with Joe Cole and Aaron Lennon attacking down the flanks, leaving Gerrard free to run forward. Nothing I’ve seen would contradict that, though it could be several different variants of the same theme. It’s a better arrangement for the U.S. than anything else I’ve seen, but the U.S. back four could still suffer, and Rooney is the lynch pin. If he creates, confounds and scores, England wins. If he’s somehow kept in check, it’s a worst-case draw. So, so much easier said than done.

This is all dependent on the U.S. heeding its own ’06S infection from Germany. Coming off a banner 2002 campaign, what reason did the U.S. have to be wary of Ghana? Or the Czechs? Turns out, quite a bit. I’m not asking the Yanks to be scared of England. Just informed.

England v USA Predictions

The solitary previous game between the two sides during World Cups came in 1950 when the USA beat England 1-0. A more relevant indicator of where the two teams stand would their matchup in May 2008, when England beat USA 2-0 at Wembley.

If the USA side has improved since then, so has the England squad, the players having an excellent qualification campaign and despite injuries, still the stronger side on paper.

But the Yanks will be going all-out to unsettle the English, so the game may just be decided by mental strength and experience.

Soccerlens Prediction: England 2-1 USA

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