Stars and Gripes

Occasionally interesting insight (and gripes) about the USMNT

USA-ENG: The Influentials

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Well, the time is here.  I’m going to eschew a traditional “preview.”  Instead, I’ll take a look at the five players from each side who have the potential to influence the match the most–and why.

The United States of America

1. Rico Clark – At this point, it would be a surprise if Clark didn’t get the nod to pair with Michael Bradley in midfield.  More than any other player in the starting XI, Clark has the ability to elate and frustrate in equal measure.  Clark will have one responsibility—stay back and clog up the middle of the field.  He needs to disrupt Rooney when the forward drops back to link up with the midfield; protect against Gerrard and Lampard surging forward; and offer help to Bocanegra and Cherundolo when the wingers cut in.  It’s a big task, but if Clark plays as well as he’s capable of, he’ll give the USA some much needed defensive stability, and a fighting chance at taking full points.

2. Landon Donovan – As goes Donovan, so goes the United States.  While not a playmaker in the traditional sense of the word, the American attack still runs through him.  He’s reached a new level of play over the last eighteen months, and—crucially—no longer waits for the game to come to him.  He played well against Ashley Cole last January, before breaking the left back’s leg with a (clean and fair) tackle.  If Bradley goes with a 4-4-2, he’ll line up on the right wing, but look for him to spend far more time in the middle than hugging the touchline.  The Americans live by the counter-attack, and Donovan is the conductor.

3. Tim Howard – Howard knows the English team better than anyone on the United States roster, and his familiarity and experience will need to pay dividends.  With a shaky back line protecting him, Howard will need to be at the top of his game.  The Americans can expect a barrage of balls into the box, particularly from the right wing.  Howard should expect to be challenged from distance, with Gerrard, Lampard and Rooney taking advantage of the uncertainty that the new ball causes.  If the United States wins in Rustenburg, it’ll be in league part due to Howard reprising Brad Freidel’s epic performances in 2002.

4. Oguchi Onyewu – It’s hard to imagine Onyewu not starting this game, for reasons we detailed earlier.  He needs to stabilize a backline that has looked unsure of itself over the past month.  Along with Jay DeMerit, Onyewu will have a slightly different role than many center backs are used to.  Rather than worry about forwards muscling around in the box, the real cause for concern are the runs being made from the wings and through the middle of the field.  With all the crosses coming in, Gooch will need to be strong in the air.  He needs to force communication amongst the back four, Clark, and Bradley, to stifle Rooney’s creativity and the threats posed by the England midfield.

5. Clint Dempsey – He could well be the key offensively (and it’s indicative of the questions surrounding the United States defense that Dempsey is only fifth on this list).  He must be able to exploit the space behind Glen Johnson, both on the counter-attack and on set-piece runs into the box.  Few players in the world have scored more clutch goals for club and country over the last few years (yes, seriously) and don’t be surprised if he finds the back of the net on Saturday.


1. Steven Gerrard – Saturday will present a paradox for Gerrard.  He will finally—and rather reluctantly—wear the captain’s armband for his country, a position which many had clamored for him to get years ago.  Yet he’ll also be out of the comfort zone he had settled into on the left wing, instead once against paired with Lampard in the middle.  He’ll need to provide the creativity that sparked England throughout qualifying, while avoiding the miscommunications with Lampard that cost them so dearly on the defensive end during Euro 2008 qualifying.  This tournament is Gerrard’s last chance to establish himself as one of England’s all-time greats.  Look for him to seize it.

2. John Terry – Terry’s faced more than his share of turmoil over the last few months, losing the captainship by way of his personal—ahem—indiscretions (with his teammate’s baby’s mama, but I digress).  Terry isn’t the player he was two years ago, but he must keep England’s back four solid.  Communication will be key, as he and King have played together only sparingly, and will now be devoid of true defensive help from the midfield.

3. Wayne Rooney – Rooney has been absent from much of our analysis over the past week, but that’s mostly because there’s simply not a lot you can do to stop him, aside from limiting the effectiveness of the players around him.  While he’s in the discussion for “World’s Second Best Player,” he can only do so much.  He will be deadly if he has the ball in the vicinity of the goal, but the England offense is dependent on many components to make that happen.  For the United States, stopping him comes down to solid communication between Rico Clark, Onyewu, and DeMerit.

4. Glen Johnson – Really a key man for England.  Fantastic going forward, he offers skills you rarely see in a right back (at least one not born in Brazil).  Throughout qualifying, he didn’t just supplement the attack—at many points, he drove it.  Yet it’s a game of balance, and as Johnson moves further up the pitch, space becomes increasingly easy to find behind him.  Lacking a true defensive midfielder, and with an unfamiliar triangle in the middle (Terry, King and Green), Johnson must stay disciplined.  If he doesn’t, Clint Dempsey will have a field day on the left side.

5. Aaron Lennon – For many of the same reasons as Johnson, Lennon must be on form tomorrow.  He provides the only real width to the English attack, as the left-sided midfielder in the formation tends to drift inward.  He must be aggressive with Carlos Bocanegra to create the space Johnson needs.  At the same time, he’ll need to get back on defense to help defend Donovan.


Written by Pete Kavanaugh

June 11, 2010 at 6:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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  1. […] There are eleventy billion different opinions already out there on this game. Stars and Gripes outlines the influentials. A conversation between Brian of MGoBlog and Jerry of WarBlogEagle fame offers an excellent primer […]

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