FC Dallas midfielder Dax McCarty earned his first cap with the U.S. men's soccer team last November. He will provide occasional insight to ESPNDallas.com. during the World Cup.
If you were to ask each player on the U.S. Men's National Team if they would've been okay with a draw in their opening game of the World Cup against England, the answer more times than not would have been "absolutely." The U.S. came out of the opening game of the World Cup with a very important point against one of the favorites to win the whole tournament. Perhaps even more important than the point, though, was the confidence the U.S. can take into its next two games against teams it should beat. I thought the U.S. players looked a little shaky and nervous in the first 15 minutes, but after they settled down, they very much played just as good, if not better, than a team oozing with talent all over the field. The positives you can take from this game certainly outweigh the negatives by a mile.
Looking at some of the negatives, obviously you have to start with England's goal with less than four minutes gone in the game. I mentioned in my earlier post that in order for the U.S. to be successful, they would have to weather the early storm and try to keep England off the scoresheet as long as possible. Following runners out of the midfield is going to be a key for the U.S. defense to be successful, and this play illustrated a clear breakdown in that regard. Another area that the Americans have to improve on is finishing the clear-cut chances that they create.
With teams at the international level so focused on being solid defensively, creating good scoring chances is going to be something that won't happen very often. Jozy Altidore is guilty of missing a few chances that you would expect him to bury more times than not, one on a beautiful cross by Landon Donovan and the other because of a very good save by Robert Green in the second half.
Looking at the other end of things, I think the Americans can take plenty of positives out of a match that certainly looked like they could have stolen all three points. First and foremost, Tim Howard was the man of the match for me. His performance not only showed how tough he is, but it also showed why he should be considered one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Terrific command of his box, steady and sure hands, and tremendous athleticism are all things he brings that are so valuable to this team. His health, which is questionable right now, is vital to the U.S. advancing far in this tournament.
After England's goal, I thought the reaction by the team on the field was superb. As a player, I know it can be an absolute backbreaker when a team as good as England scores so early in the match. To the U.S.'s credit, it never got rattled and kept its composure throughout the rest of the first half.
The thing you have to love about Clint Dempsey is his willingness to take chances and not be afraid to shoot when he sees a sliver of daylight. Sure, it was a catastrophic mistake by Green, but like the old saying goes: You can't score unless you shoot. Evening up the score so close to halftime gave the U.S. some much needed momentum heading into the second half, and it showed. The U.S. was clearly the better team in the second half, and I would not have been surprised to see it steal this game from England.
Oguchi Onyewu was a huge question mark going into this game, and I thought he passed with flying colors. The tandem of Onyewu and Jay DeMerit effectively shut down Wayne Rooney (who I thought had a disappointing match) and won absolutely everything in the air, a very positive sign going into the next few games.
After this showing, I would certainly expect the U.S. to go into its next game with a cool confidence the team seems to have gained throughout its journey to South Africa. I expect nothing less than six points from the rest of the group games, and hopefully the U.S. can beat out England on goal differential to sneak out of the group in first place. I predicted a tie in the first game, so I hope my predictions for the next two are right as well!