by Jim Ridley
After the opening match of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the United States remains virtually in the same place it was before: no wins, no losses. If you're not a soccer fan, this result was probably very emotionally confusing. Especially if you watched in the kind of environment I did last Saturday at Dan McGuinness. Fans chanting and singing, England fans taunting U.S. fans for almost the entire first half when they had the lead — it was both entertaining and thrilling. And then it ended in a tie.
Win, loss, or in this case neither, it was a fun match to watch. I may be biased towards paying more attention to the goalkeeping, but I think it's safe to say that both goalkeepers played a big part in the result. Tim Howard proved to be the rock the U.S. defense rests on when he played through injury after being slid into cleats-up by English forward Emile Heskey.
Au contraire, England's goalkeeper Robert Green may be the sole reason that they didn't win. The U.S. caught a very lucky break when a ball shot by Clint Dempsey hit Green in the hands and he bobbled it right into the goal. Sure, everyone says, "Oh, but it had to go through 10 other guys before it even got to him" ... I don't care. That was bad goalkeeping, and it cost England a victory. But hey, I'm not complaining — it kept my team in the tournament.
So what does a tie mean for the U.S.? Actually, it's a very hopeful result. The U.S. and England are the favorable two teams to advance out of Group C, so the fact that the head-to-head match between the two ended in a draw puts the Americans in good position to still make it to the knock-out round.
The American squad continues its FIFA World Cup journey tomorrow morning with a 9 a.m. match against Slovenia, who (surprisingly) leads the group right now. However, that's largely due to the fact that England and the U.S. saw each other in Game 1 and tied. Slovenia is the only team in the group with a win so far.
Against England, the United States' strategy was a more defensive one, and it should have been. The fact that England's superstar striker Wayne Rooney hardly saw the ball the entire match is a testament to the success of that strategy. But against Slovenia, the Americans probably need to play with a bit more of an attacking mindset. Midfielder Michael Bradley had to play a lot of defense against England, but his help will be needed in the attack tomorrow if the U.S. wants to come away with a win.
If tomorrow's match does end in another tie, it's not necessarily over for the U.S. But it does make next week's match against Algeria a must-win. A victory, however, could send the U.S. into the lead in Group C, depending on England's result against Algeria.
Best-case scenario for the American squad is to beat both Slovenia and Algeria, and to beat them by more than England does. If both the U.S. and England beat Slovenia and Algeria, then both teams will definitely go through to the next round. But it would be best to come out as the No. 1 seed, because the No. 2 seed will likely see Germany in the next round as the No. 1 seed from Group D.
The concern is that England will score more goals than the United States against Slovenia and Algeria, putting them on top in the group as one of the FIFA tie breakers in group play in number of goals scored, as well as goal differential. (U.S. and England will be tied with 7 points each if both finish group play with two wins.)
So, in a perfect world, the U.S. needs to score more goals than England and shut out both Slovenia and Algeria, hopefully sending England on to face Germany in the next round (assuming Germany comes out as the Group D leader). RIght now, though, to coin a phrase, we take it a game at a time. The Americans need to defeat Slovenia tomorrow. Without a win, we don't even have a chance of being the Group C leader. We'll be lucky to hold on to second place.