USA - England, A tale of two keepers

Published Thursday, June 10, 2010 8:26 AM by Shane Barrow

In one of the most anticipated games in American Soccer history, the US Men's National Team opened play in the 2010 FIFA World Cup with an intense 1-1 draw with England in South Africa. The match was played in front of a spirited crowd of 38,646 fans at Royal Bafokeng Stadium and featured a fourth minute goal from England’s Steven Gerrard and a 40th minute strike from US midfielder Clint Dempsey.

The US had a number of inspired performances during the match, with goalkeeper Tim Howard leading the way. Appearing in the first World Cup game of his career, the 31-year-old veteran earned ussoccer.com Man of the Match honors by handling every foray into the penalty area with steady decision-making and sure hands, helping to limit England’s chances.

A nervous first few minutes for the U.S. resulted in an early goal for England on the first opportunity of the match. Following a throwin, Frank Lampard played a slight ball into the top of the penalty area that missed its intended target, forward Wayne Rooney, but did find its way into an opening for Emile Heskey to turn on defender Jay DeMerit and play a ball toward Gerrard. Making a diagonal run into the area ahead of Ricardo Clark, Gerrard took one touch and then easily slotted the ball past Howard in the fourth minute.

The US evened the match in the 40th minute as Clint Dempsey took possession of the ball 35 yards from goal, turned twice on Gerrard to create some space, and then unleashed a left-footed shot from 25 yards that England goalkeeper Robert Green bundled across the line despite being in perfect position to smother the threat, getting two hands firmly on the ball in front of his body.

“It’s important for us to still come away with a point. It’s a difficult way to start but I felt the response from the team was strong and there are good things we can take away from the match," said US head coach Bob Bradley. “We’ve had a good focus the whole time. We’ve said it so many times that we understand what the first round is about, but we were still excited to start the World Cup playing against England. It’s a big game and a big night, and overall we take away positive things as we now get ready for Slovenia.”

The shot from distance was one of a handful for the USA in the first half, with Altidore challenging England from outside the penalty area twice, and Landon Donovan coming very close in the 39th minute, also hitting a shot from 25 yards that skated just past the left post. Earlier, Donovan had found the head of Altidore in the area with a dangerous attempt in the 19th minute that the forward could not nod on frame.

The closest chance of the half came from the foot of Altidore, who ran onto a ball played down the left flank from Donovan. Altidore then outmuscled midfielder Jamie Carragher, gaining a step on the second-half substitute and carrying the ball for 35 yards into the area. The 20 year old American forward then squared his hips and hit a right-footed blast from eight yards out that Green parried, only to see the ball ricochet dangerously off the near post and into the air where the US could not collect it and continue the pressure.

During a five-minute stretch beginning in the 70th minute, England challenged Tim Howard with sustained pressure, but a strong defensive performance from the USA’s back line of Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit, Steve Cherundolo and captain Carlos Bocanegra proved flawless in the final 45 minutes. The four defenders were taking the field together for the first time since the team’s 2-1 qualifying loss to Mexico in Mexico City on August 12, 2009.

Cherundolo was particularly strong throughout the game, getting involved from the beginning by getting deep down the right flank to challenge on offense and defensively getting the job done against England’s speedy Shaun Wright-Phillips. For Onyewu, his strong performance in the air in the second half came in just his fourth game back from his patellar tendon injury more than seven months ago. The 90-minute performance from the defender was a key part of the USA’s success.

In the 71st minute, Gerrard almost found Rooney sneaking into the penalty area unmarked, but despite being at full stretch, the forward could only barely get his head on a ball that didn’t challenge Howard. Four minutes later, on a quick restart, Rooney took a couple of touches and hit a shot from 20 yards that slid just past the right post, with Howard stretching and appearing to the have the corner of the goal covered.

Just a moment later, an unmarked Wright-Phillips made an overlapping run into the penalty area and saw his powerful shot on target parried out of play by Howard. And two minutes following that attempt, Heskey headed a dangerous Gerrard cross over the bar.

Including Tim Howard, six players in the USA's starting line-up were making their World Cup debut, including strike partners Altidore and Robbie Findley, as well as midfielders Michael Bradley and Clark. Defender DeMerit also made his World Cup debut as a starter, as did substitutes Edson Buddle and Stuart Holden.

Howard’s heroics came despite taking a boot from forward Heskey to his right side in the 29th minute while making an excellent diving clearance on a dangerous cross from England defender Glen Johnson. Howard stayed down on the play for three minutes, but returned to action to help the USA earn the draw.   The USA's World Cup journey continues on Friday (June 18) against Slovenia at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg.