(Reuters) – There were plenty of question marks over Bob Bradley’s United States side heading into Saturday’s game with England but after the 1-1 draw in the Group C opener, most of them were answered in the affirmative.
Bradley is a conservative coach by nature and that was reflected in a formation which followed the principle of “it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”
Throughout most of their qualification campaign, the U.S. have utilized a 4-4-2 line-up with Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey in the wide positions and two holding, central midfielders.
Against England, Bradley might have been tempted to overload the midfield and play just one striker but he stuck with what has worked for his team since the Confederations Cup and it delivered a solid performance which gives the U.S. a good platform for the upcoming games with Slovenia and Algeria.
It was not a fluent or particularly attractive performance from the Americans but it was one which showed their best qualities – ones which can be enough for a creditable run at this tournament.
“That’s how we play. We play scrappy, we play hard, we fight for 90 minutes in a big group effort, and it showed,” said skipper Carlos Bocanegra.
“I thought our center-halves played fantastic, Stevie Cherundolo on the right did very well to shut down their speedy wingers. The forwards did well, the midfielders came in tight and ran over to cover for us — it was a really big team effort. That’s something you need against a big team like England,” he added.
Against England’s much vaunted but frequently incompatible midfield pairing of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, Bradley’s son Michael delivered one of his most commanding performances yet – illustrating all the steel and intelligence he has gained from playing in the German Bundesliga.
Alongside him Ricardo Clark was solid and crucially Landon Donovan showed again that he is no ‘prima donna’ with a grafting display involving plenty of tracking back.
The back four was opened up far too easily for Gerrard’s opener in the fourth minute but gradually grew in composure and coped well with England’s rather blunt attacks in the second half.
To outside observers it seemed something of a gamble to start with Oguchi Onyewu at center-half, given the AC Milan defender had not played a full 90 minutes since his knee operation in October.
Onyewu had not looked back to his solid and assured self in the three warm-up games he featured in but he eased himself into the game and by the final 20 minutes he looked like his old self – powerful in the air and strong in the tackle.
“A lot of times that happens, you read the game better as it goes on,” he said after the game, but his display looked more one of a player who, after more than half a year out of the game, had refound himself.
In attack, the U.S. did not overly concern the England defense but Jozy Altidore showed once again that he is a much smarter player than his performances in a struggling Hull City side in England last year indicated.
Altidore and Robbie Findley both worked hard, covering ground and stretching England – but Bradley will want to see greater penetration in the next two games.
Now comes the next big question for the U.S. – they showed again that they can be effective as scrapping underdogs but how can they handle the different role and expectations of being the favorite in their next two games?
(Writing by Simon Evans; Editing by Nigel Hunt)