Musings on U.S. vs. England

May, 26, 2008
This week sees the U.S. take on England in an intriguing friendly at Wembley (Wednesday, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN Classic). Unlike the last time these two teams met (back in 2005 when England won 2-1 in a game that was more comfortable than the scoreline suggests), both squads will be at more or less full strength. Like it or not, the U.S. has always been seen as somewhat of a poor man's England -- both stylistically and in terms of grassroots development and philosophy, much of which panders to the English ex-pat model. Typically, over the years, the U.S. wouldn't have been given much of a shot to win in a matchup between these two, but with England currently in the doldrums, the gap between the two nations is narrower than it has been in years. It's not out of the question that the U.S. could earn a result or even win this game. Here's some other thoughts on the matchup:

1. Carbon copy formations? Lately both teams have been fielding some variation of the 4-2-3-1 or exotic 4-5-1 favored by teams such as Liverpool, with a lone striker supported on the wings with an attacker in the hole, while deploying two holding/defensive mids. Given both team's playing style, which emphasizes closing down spaces and defensive pressure on the ball, while spreading the ball out wide for crosses by the wings, we'll basically be watching mirror images against each other.

I'm not sure this is going to be the best formation for the U.S. to deploy against England. While the U.S. midfield pair of Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark have proved to be very disruptive to teams in terms of denying and breaking up possession, the two have struggled to maintain ball control of their own, even against teams that haven't had a strong defensive midfield presence. Against England, which is likely to field an equally adept defensive counter combo in Gareth Barry and Owen Hargreaves, Bradley and Clark might find themselves overmatched, especially given Barry and Hargreaves' superior passing skills. How the U.S. pair stack up with them will probably be the key to this encounter.

2. The talent level. While the overall U.S. talent level pool continues to rise, it's still somewhat short of England's. England's stars might indeed be overrated, but the likes of Steve Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand are still a cut above the U.S. squad. Realistically, only three active members of the U.S. squad (Landon Donovan, Tim Howard and DaMarcus Beasley) could break into the English squad right now, but that's not to say England isn't without its own problems. For all its talent, it's difficult to remember the last time the English actually played well. It's a team whose individual talent is greater than the sum of its parts. By contrast, the U.S. team is meshing under coach Bob Bradley -- recent road wins on European soil prove that. There's no doubt that the U.S. has the upper hand in team ethos, intangibles and team spirit entering this game, and that gives the U.S. an advantage.

3. Offensive limitations on both sides. Both teams play the same way. Defensively, very structured and organized; offensively, both are overly reliant on set-piece free kicks or corners for their goals. It's long been a problem for either team to generate much in the way of offense from the run of play. However, the difference between the two is that England has a larger number of potential match winners who could potentially create something out of nothing (Gerrard, Rooney, David Beckham and Joe Cole, et al.) than the U.S., which, outside of Landon Donovan (and possibly Freddy Adu, who has yet to do it on the senior level) is found severely wanting in this department.

It also doesn't help that the most promising (and likely the best) U.S. forward Jozy Altidore isn't present -- instead, the forwards on the roster for the game (Eddie Johnson, Nate Jaqua and Josh Wolff) are unlikely to put much fear into the English back line. Compounding the situation is that the U.S. will find it even harder than usual to score in this game since England is exactly the type of team that negates the U.S. team's strengths (set pieces and aerial crosses from the wing). The marking on set pieces by England is unlikely to be as comedic or shoddy as that displayed by Poland against the U.S. back in March.

4. Shopping window. In such a high-profile game with the eyes of England upon them, don't be surprised if several U.S. players attract the attention of some EPL teams following the game. Michael Bradley has been oft-rumored to be a potential target of Everton, and if he holds his own, that bid is likely to become concrete. The same applies to Landon Donovan, who recently spoke about the possibility of moving to Europe, and could easily draw attention from an English club if he stands out at Wembley.

So, how's it all going to pan out? As I mentioned earlier, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the U.S. wins. However, given that England regards a loss on home soil to the U.S. as a huge embarrassment and setback to new coach Fabio Capello's reign, I'd be shocked if the English team doesn't come out with a degree of intensity and vigor often lacking in its performances as of late. With that being the case, I think it'll be a close game, with England just edging it.

Jen Chang is the U.S. Soccer editor for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes regularly and is a contributer to Soccernet podcasts. He joined ESPN Studio Production in 2004 and earned a Sports Emmy award, before making the move to in 2005.



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