What this match means
After months of waiting, the day is finally here. The US kick off their World Cup campaign against England at 2:30 ET, broadcast live on ABC. This is, by far, the most hyped match the that US has ever played in. Its also become one of the most important matches that we have ever played in. Important not in terms just of points or advancement in the tournament. The quarterfinal game against Germany in 2002 was more important in terms of advancement and, although the Confederations Cup is not the World Cup, the games against Spain and Brazil were in further rounds. The truth is that we can still make it out of our round even if we lose badly to England. That becomes harder if Slovenia or Algeria walk away with a win, but it is by no means impossible. No, its important in a lot of other ways.
To me, its most important in terms of respect internationally and with in our own country. Its no new news that the US isn't a world soccer power. We regularly are in the top 25 in FIFA's ranking system, but we don't get the respect that some countries with comparable rankings get. We play in a weak confederation and we would be considered underdogs to teams like Croatia and Russia who didn't even qualify for the World Cup in any encounter we had with them. With in our own country soccer takes a back seat baseball, basketball, football and even hockey for the average sports fan. American soccer takes a backseat to European leagues and many fans have more pride in supporting teams like Brazil, Italy, and England over their own country. Eurosnobs turn up their nose at domestic soccer and, as a result, the players that were spawned by it. I have to have conversations with people who say things like, "I don't know who I would cheer for if the US played Country X." In this way, the game against England is a measuring stick to the rest of the world. Its an undeniable stamp of approval if we can pull off a victory. Fighting to a solid draw even gives us credibility. Its not the Confederations Cup. Its the world's biggest stage and it is where respect is earned.
I think that the US line up is pretty set with two positions still in flux, those being one of the centerbacks and Jozy Altidore's strike partner up top. All reports point to Onyewu being fit and ready to start, but until it actually happens there will be some doubt in my mind. If he doesn't start, then its most likely that Clarence Goodson will play next to DeMerit in central defense. Ideas of Bocanegra trading his new leftback spot for his traditional centerback one seem to have fallen out of favor with Bob Bradley in the warm up friendlies. I'll be incredibly surprised if that happens from the start. I would be less surprised to see Bocanegra moved to centerback if Onyewu starts, but then needs subbed out.
Who starts up top is harder to call. Although Gomez is a definite scoring threat, he is incredibly valuable bringing that threat off the bench late in the game. Buddle and Findley have both made compelling cases for starting. Findley with his speed and effort and ability to help setup goals. Buddle with has actual scoring of goals. I like Bubble's scoring form, but I would go with Findley over Buddle for this game because we desperately need a speed threat up top against England. John Terry and Ledley King are the most likely combination to start for England at centerback and both present opportunities to a striker with the kind of wheels that Findley has. Whether he capitalizes on that by setting up goals or scoring them, its an advantage that we dearly need. Buddle is by no means slow and has enough speed to keep England honest, but I think that we'll benefit more from the ability to beat them in a foot race. Especially if we take the tactic of ceding possession and soaking up pressure with a look to counter quickly. There is a possibility of playing Dempsey up top with Altidore. If this happens, I think it will be late in the game. Dempsey has been much more effective from the start when he's been deployed on the left. If Dempsey is played up top at all, I expect to see Holden if a spot opens up on the right or Beasley if its on the left.
Aside from those things, I think that the line up is pretty set. Clark is my pick to start in midfield after getting the whole 90 against Australia and thinking that Bradley will go with defense and aggression over the creativity that Torres could bring. Comparing the benefits of Cherundolo and Spector was a bit tricky at one point, but Dolo has by far been the better performer in every recent match. I expect to see Donovan on the right where he can recap his performance against Chelsea last year in which he effectively shut down Ashley Cole for his temporary Everton side. That puts Dempsey out on the left where he's consistently looked dangerous.
--------------Altidore -------- Findley-------------
Dempsey ----- Bradley ------ Clark ----- Donovan
Bocanegra --- Onyewu --- DeMerit --- Cherundolo
If you are in Indianapolis and haven't found a place to watch the game yet, I would suggest two different establishments. The Chatham Tap on Mass Ave. is going to be hopping, with a projector outside somewhere. They've drawn standing-room only crowds for big games pretty consistently, so it should be absolutely packed. I'll be parked at Radio Radio in Fountain Square near my house. Its normally a music venue, but the owner is British and is opening it for every game in the tournament. Get out and watch the game where there will be some atmosphere. It should be on in just about every pub you can find. Go somewhere with fans wearing the colors. If we win, then it will be a blast to celebrate together. If we lose, well...misery loves company.