U.S. – England: A Compendium of Trash Talk

The Daily Show’s resident Limey, John Oliver, visited the U.S. World Cup camp the other day for what he told the AP was a “free exchange of opinions as to how the England game would go.”

His report—which of course “degenerated” quickly into taunting—airs tonight. We will certainly be tuning in.

In that light, let’s review a small sampling, a drop in the ocean of s***-talking that has been flying back-and-forth between the U.S. and England in the run-up to Saturday’s hugely-anticipated matchup.

From the The Guardian’s “Treisman Tapes”* World Cup preview feature comes this description of the U.S.:

“Dental hygiene fascists and incorrigible donners of khaki trousers who have to invent abstruse games to call themselves world champions.”

Courtesy of Deadspin commenter Hatey McLife, we have the following proposed starting lineup for England:

Goalkeeper: Pip

Defenders: Some Limey, A Toothless Wanker, That Guy Who Eats Organ Meats, Lord Palmerston

Midfielders: That Closeted Gay Guy That I Roomed With One Semester, The Cockney Rhyming Guy, Prince…You Know, the Ginger

Attacking Midfielders: Elton John, The Other Prince

Striker: A Tea Sipping Crumpet Monkey

That should keep the wickets from sticking to the pitch!

Simon Johnson of the London Evening Standard offers a totally evenhanded assessment of the game, here, in which he states that while Rio Ferdinand’s injury hurts England, 

…it would take the rest of the squad to fall victim to a swine flu epidemic … for the game to start looking like an even contest.”

(Johnson goes on, inventively, to call MLS “Minor League Soccer.”)

And it’s not only the groundlings who are involved in this “exchange of opinions,” to borrow Oliver’s phrase. No, it reaches all the way up to the highest levels of government, as the following exchange between the U.S. and England ambassadors illustrates:

From: Philip Breeden, US Embassy London

To: Martin Longden, British Embassy Washington DC


Subject: World Cup Bet



Mr. Longden,

It has not escaped our attention that a certain sporting event is fast approaching, and that our respective nations will soon be meeting on the fields of South Africa.

My Ambassador has asked me to see if your Ambassador might be interested in a small wager? We will understand if you decline, given the outcome of the last such encounter.



Sincerely,

Philip Breeden, U.S. Embassy, London

••••••••

From: Martin Longden, British Embassy Washington DC



To: Philip Breeden, US Embassy London


Subject: Re: World Cup Bet



Mr. Breeden,



Even for such an exceptionally optimistic nation as the United States, I am struck by the confidence with which your Ambassador proposes this wager. It is testament, I assume, to the generosity of your great nation – since the British Ambassador does not anticipate paying out.

Your email does not specify the exact terms of the wager. May I suggest that, in the event of an England victory, the US Ambassador agrees to entertain the British Ambassador at a steak-house of his choosing in downtown DC? And in the event that the United States is able to engineer a fortuitous win over England, then my man will entertain yours at a London pub of his choosing. Loser pays.

Your reference to a previous sporting encounter between our two countries puzzles me. Since the history of English football is long and extensive, in contradistinction to US soccer, I regret that I cannot immediately recall the encounter to which you refer. No doubt it is remembered fondly on these shores; we have quite forgotten it, however.



Are you sure you want to do this?



Yours sincerely,

Martin Longden, British Embassy, Washington DC

••••••••

From: Philip Breeden, US Embassy London

To: Martin Longden, British Embassy Washington DC



Subject: Re: World Cup Bet



Mr. Longden,



It is with great pleasure, and no small measure of anticipation, that the U.S. Ambassador accepts the terms of the wager. I am surprised, given the well known love of the British for history, that you have forgotten what happened the last time the “special relationship” was tested on the pitch. Of course, given the result, you are to be forgiven for having misplaced that particular episode in your memory banks. I refer of course to the victory of the U.S. over England in the 1950 World Cup.

It is true that our soccer (a fine English word we have kindly preserved for you) history is not as long and illustrious as yours. However, as your generals noted during WWII, we have a unique capability for quickly identifying and advancing talent.



Game on!



Sincerely, Philip Breeden

••••••••

From: Martin Longden, British Embassy Washington DC

To: Philip Breeden, US Embassy London

Subject: Re: World Cup Bet

Mr. Breeden,



Very well; it’s a bet!

Incidentally, you should know that the Ambassador takes his steak like American soccer victories—somewhat rare.



Sincerely,

Martin Longden

Those are some high-level high-jinks right there, and we approve.

As for the outcome of Saturday’s game, Oliver says a U.S. win would let loose “a complex series of emotions, from hug embarrassment to outright humiliation to deep anger…. You can’t even comprehend how bad it would be.”

So much for the stiff upper lip.

*Lord Treisman had been chairman of England’s 2018 World Cup bid until one of English tabloids caught him, in a sting, claiming that rival bidders Spain and Russia were plotting to bribe referees. He resigned and the bid is currently on shaky ground. The Guardian’s “Treisman Tapes” feature, according to our English sources, is kind of a “what we really want to say” description of each nation in the World Cup. Worth a read, here (scroll to bottom of each team capsule).

Who Should Start for the U.S. Against England?

It’s Wednesday, people—just three days out from U.S.-England, and our World Cup Fever is now officially > our Bieber Fever.

Which is saying something, because there is no cure for Bieber Fever—if you doubt it, click here (sorry about the ad at the start).

So who should the U.S. start against the Three Lions on Saturday? Here’s our take:

Goalkeeper:

Tim Howard. Uh, yep.

Defenders:

Steve Cherundolo. In better form than Spector right now; poised veteran.

Jay DeMerit. We actually think he matches up well with Wayne Rooney, on a physical level, anyway. Athletic scrapper.

Oguchi Onyewu. We’re not sure he’s 100% yet, but we don’t want to face England with Clarence Goodson in the heart of the defense.

Carlos Bocanegra. Best left back option.

Outlook: All kinds of problems here. Not a particularly speedy group, and Onyewu is still rounding into form. Could Bradley throw—gulp—Jonathan Bornstein, his fastest defender, out there for more cover against ultra-quick England winger Aaron Lennon?

/Shudders.

Midfielders:

Clint Dempsey. Most reliable big-game player on the team, he will bring it.

Michael Bradley. Ball-winner, attack-squelcher, and he can get forward and score goals. Has a tendency to overheat and draw cards, though.

Maurice Edu. Many of the same qualities as Bradley but more skilled and a better passer.

Landon Donovan. They’ve heard of him in England.

Outlook: We like this group; every player is proven at the highest level. Bradley has shown a preference for the Ricardo Clark-Michael Bradley pairing in the middle, and may well go with that versus England, but we think Edu is a better option: He breaks up attacks just as well, and is a better passer than Clark. But as Soccer America’s Ridge Mahoney argues here, in detail, Clark is not without a number of underappreciated attributes.

Strikers:

Jozy Altidore. Latest reports have him on target to recover in time from his recent ankle sprainHe’s a trial for any defender.

Robbie Findley. We were his biggest doubters two weeks ago, and yet now we think he’s ready. (We are more fickle than a restless sea.) Findley flubbed two clear chances in the tuneup against Australia this past Saturday, but that just means he’ll collect himself and put them away in the next game, right? Right.

Outlook: Charlie Davies will be hugely missed, obviously. The crop of U.S. forwards in South Africa is strikingly inexperienced (and the most blooded of the group, Altidore, is only 20 years old) and facing England in a World Cup opener is a baptism by fire, if not napalm.

On the other hand, Findley and especially Edson Buddle looked like they were playing with the house’s money on Saturday against Australia: Taking guys on, full of confidence, and in Buddle’s case, bagging two goals. They have nothing to lose, and seem fired up to just play loose and go for it.

Here’s another option: Bradley starts the in-form Buddle alongside the speedy Findley, thereby giving him a hot goal-scorer, and a speedster to keep England’s backline on notice—something he might want from the get-go in this high-pressure affair.

Then he has the option of bringing on The Handful that Is Jozy Altidore against a fatigued England backline in the second half. Hmmmm.

Anyway, that’s just us spitballing. What’s your ideal lineup to face England? Let us know in the comments.

Klinsmann on U.S. Chances: A Matter of Nerve

Last week at SI.com, Grant Wahl posted an interesting interview with former German superstar and Southern California resident Jürgen Klinsmann. Klinsmann was a candidate for the U.S. coaching job back in 2006 and Wahl suggests he could be a candidate again in the future. The interview covers that issue and a wide array of nougaty soccer goodness. Go check it out here.

But we’re linking to it because of the following comment regarding Saturday’s U.S.-England game. After praising coach Bob Bradley’s leadership and preparation, Klinsy says:

“It’s down to the players now to prove their point. Are we able to compete with the best in the world? Are we able to keep our nerves under control when a Frank Lampard or a John Terry walk up? It’s different when you’re on the way out to the field and you see those guys in the corridor.”

Notice that he says “we” in reference to the U.S. team. Interesting. And Klinsmann made a similar comment during the 2002 World Cup: After Landon Donovan made that slashing run against Germany in the quarterfinals, only to have his curled shot saved by Oliver Kahn, Klinsmann said that Donovan hadn’t scored because he didn’t have the confidence to finish the play. It wasn’t that Kahn made a great save; it was that Donovan lacked the cojones to bury that chance on the World’s Biggest Stage against big bad Germany. Donovan had another one saved from close range in that game.

Check out the highlights here:

Yeah, that was a handball by Torsten Frings—we havent forgotten, Hugh Dallas.

But as for Klinsmann’s postgame comment, we remember thinking at the time that it was a little harsh—it was a pretty great run, after all—yet true. Having brilliantly created the opportunity, Donovan took something off his shot at the end—tried to place it when he could have driven it.

In any case, we think Klinsmann is on to something: The psychological element may be the most important factor for the U.S. at South Africa 2010, especially in Saturday’s opener. Will they be up for it? Will we get a Portugal 2002 start, or a Czech Republic ’06? The U.S. has the ability to compete with England; can they muster the will to do it come kickoff on Saturday?

We’ll probably find out within the first five minutes.

Injury Bug (and Magazine-Cover Curse?) Sweeping World Cup

The list of stars who will miss the World Cup due to injury is growing by the day. Here’s what it looks like now:

David Beckham, England

Rio Ferdinand, England

Salvador Cabanas*, Paraguay

Jose Boswingas, Portugal

Michael Ballack, Germany

René Adler, Germany

Charlie Davies*, U.S.

Micheal Essien, Ghana

Didier Drogba, Ivory Coast

Carlos Costly, Honduras

*While the other players on the list suffered soccer injuries, Davies was severely injured in an October car wreck, and Cabanas was shot in the head in a Mexico City nightspot in January. Both are healthy and expected to resume their careers.

We further note that Drogba appears, in his drawers, alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, on the cover of this month’s Vanity Fair, and Italy striker Giuseppe Rossi, who will miss the World Cup as a last-minute cut from the Azzurri, was on the cover of ESPN The Magazine on May 17 .

We’re not ready to call this a cover jinx yet, but we are saying that Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan and Tim Howard, all on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated, might want to, oh, we don’t know, light some sage, or call in one of South Africa’s famed witch doctors, before facing Australia tomorrow.

Rossi Cut from Italy World Cup Squad; Subotic Picked for Serbia

Italy coach Marcello Lippi announced his final 23-man roster for South Africa 2010 yesterday, and New Jersey–born Villareal striker Giuseppe Rossi was not on it.

Rossi, who graced the cover of ESPN The Magazine’s May 17 issue (left), under the header, “Meet America’s Best Hope at the World Cup …” (ouch), addressed the news on his Twitter account, writing,

 “Didn’t make it, but I have no regrets…worked hard and showed what I could do. I guess the coach had other plans. Good luck Italy.”

Now, we’re not ones to gloat, and Rossi is only 23, so he’ll have another shot with the Azzurri, but man, this could have been a win-win for everyone involved: The U.S. needs a quality forward, and Rossi, whose Twitter account says “Hometown is always NJ” [!] needs a World Cup team.

This way, nobody wins.

In other what-might-have-been news, former U.S. youth international Neven Subotic did make Serbia’s team, which will battle Germany, Ghana and Australia in a tough Group D.

With the U.S.’s needs at the back starkly exposed in recent friendlies, count Subotic as another player the Yanks could have used. And he was in the U.S. program for some time.

The rangy, sought-after defender has said that a falling out with U.S. under-20 coach Thomas Rongen contributed to his decision to leave U.S. Soccer, but yesterday, he told Ives Galarcep,

“The main point that I based my decision on was my heritage, origin and family. It was a step back to my birthplace. I was always different than the American kids because my parents were from Yugoslavia. I was raised a different way all my life, and even though my family and I learned to love the U.S., we were still Serbs.”

Maybe so, but the fact that Subotic was in the U.S. system for years (he was called up to the senior national team just months after being cut from the 2007 U-20 World Cup team) makes his departure even tougher to take than that of Rossi, who made his intentions to play for Italy clear from the start.

Ten Days and Counting….

They’ve gotten pep talks from hoops legends Bill Russell and Pete Carril (the only thing that could make Bob Bradley smile like that again would be the U.S. winning the World Cup), met former President Bill Clinton and current one Barack Obama, and played tuneup matches against the Czech Republic and Turkey.

On Monday, they touched down in South Africa, and they’ll face fellow World Cup entrants (and potential second-round opponents) Australia in a final tuneup on Saturday. Their tournament opener against England is 10 days away.

Yes, the U.S. World Cup adventure has a full head of steam.

So how does everyone out there feel about the Yanks’ chances? Confident they will advance out of Group C?

We are currently hovering around a 5.5 on a 1-10 confidence scale, with 10 being ‘no doubt about it.’ That’s up from a 3 before the second half against Turkey this past Saturday.

That first half versus Turkey was pretty dreadful, with the U.S. midfield playing butter to Turkey’s attacking knife. But the Americans perked up in the second half when Jose Torres and—that’s rightRobbie Findley came on.

The Real Salt Lake striker took almost no time at all to show why Bob Bradley included him in the final 23. Six minutes into the second half he tracked back with his trademark blazing speed and killed a Turkey counter—which had been embarrassing the U.S. all game to that point. Seven minutes after that he helped create the Nats’ first goal with a perfectly weighted ball over the top to Landon Donovan.

Yep, it was a convincing performance from Findley, and Torres was even better, coming in and settling down the midfield with his skill on the ball and excellent passing. He hit the post on a free kick and was probably the best player on the field for the U.S. in the second half.

But here’s a question: Do you start either of those guys against England?

Do you throw the inexperienced Findley (four caps, total) out there on the huge stage of a World Cup opener? Do you start the 22-year-old Torres in central midfield against Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard?

A couple other thoughts on the Turkey game: Jay DeMerit is a beast. He was excellent and seems like the one guy on the backline U.S. fans don’t have to worry about.

Jonathan Spector had a terrible game, and probably lost his starting spot to the veteran Steve Cherundolo.

Jonathan Bornstein played for 15 minutes and was skinned on at least two occasions. No way he sees the field in South Africa.

People seem to be penciling Oguchi Onyewu back into the starting XI—do his 45 minutes vs Turkey do the trick?

Give us your thoughts, and your U.S. starting XI vs England, in the comments.

Findley! Gomez! Buddle! … Wait, Findley?!

We just made a midday gym run (something that happens with unicorn-like rarity these days) and nearly fell off the treadmill when the ESPN cameras covering the selection of the U.S. World Cup team panned their live shot down from the goalkeepers (the expected three) to the defenders (that Jonny Bornstein is endearingly self-conscious) through the midfielders (no Alejandro Bedoya, huh? No Robbie Rogers, either? hmm) and up to the forwards….

In that group we saw Jozy Altidore (sure), Edson Buddle (good for him), Herculez Gomez (what a story!), and Robbie Findley (wha?), along with a total absence of Brian Ching.

Given the facts that Ching showed very well last night against the Czech Republic while Findley has shown little to nothing in his whopping three appearances for the Nats, and didn’t even play last night, this qualifies as a shocker.

Bradley definitely has a clear idea of how he wants his team to play, so he must have seen elements of Findley’s game that fit into that idea. We just can’t figure out what those elements are. Findley is blessed with breakaway speed; there’s no doubt about that. But he has rarely (never?) put himself in positions to exploit that speed at the international level. He’s not a one-on-one threat, he’s not a target forward, and he’s had one good goal scoring season in MLS—last year, when he hit 12.

His selection over Ching means that the U.S. will go to South Africa without a true target forward. Altidore will have to do in that role. At Hull this past season, Altidore definitely improved his ability to post up and hold the ball with his back to goal, but you wouldn’t call him a true target forward at this point. In a hectic World Cup game, a guy who can possess the ball up top, relieve pressure, and bring others into the play really comes in handy.

This group of forwards also begs the question of where Clint Dempsey will line up. If he’s in midfield, that probably bumps out Stuart Holden, who seems ready for a breakout tournament. If Dempsey will play up top, why choose so many other forwards?

We may have to wait until after the tournament to find out the answers to these questions. Until then, we’ll just have to trust in Bradley’s master plan. Remember, this is the coach who picked the unpopular Conor Casey to start a crucial qualifier at Honduras last October—and got two goals from him en route a qualification-clinching win.

Here’s the group of 23 headed to South Africa:

Goalkeepers (3): Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann

Defenders (7): Jonathan Bornstein, Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector, Carlos Bocanegra, Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Onyewu, Clarence Goodson

Midfielders (9): Landon Donovan, Stuart Holden, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jose Francisco Torres, Maurice Edu, Ricardo Clark, DaMarcus Beasley, Benny Feilhaber

Forwards (4): Jozy Altidore, Edson Buddle, Herculez Gomez, Robbie Findley

Staying home:

Chad Marshall, Heath Pearce, Robbie Rogers, Alejandro Bedoya, Sacha Kljestan, Brian Ching, Eddie Johnson