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U.S. draw: Even better than you think
U.S. draw: Even better than you think
Friday, December 4, 2009 | Print Entry
Posted by Luke Cyphers and Doug McIntyre
NEW YORK -- Landon Donovan's body language -- and his actual language -- said it all as he watched the World Cup draw unfold at New York's ESPNZone. When Mexico was immediately pulled into South Africa's group, he tried to keep a flat affect, but a slight head shake and a roll of the eyes said, "Here we go again." But when it was revealed that El Tri would play South Africa in the tournament's first match, he quickly piped up: "I don't know if I'd want to be in that game."
Things changed when the U.S. drew England for its first match in Group C of World Cup pool play. Amid some groans from the surrounding media and fans, Donovan smiled a broad, "bring-it-on" smile, and actually slapped his knee. "Awesome," he said out loud. "Can't wait."
Let the Beckham-Donovan hype begin. Donovan beamed a little more as it was revealed the Yanks would play the Three Lions in Rustenburg, site of the Confederations Cup-turning 3-0 victory over Egypt. "We played there," he said. "We have an advantage."
As the draw wore on, the American star's mood rose even higher than his towering, Visa-sponsored shirt collar. First, France was drawn into rival Mexico's group -- Donovan laughed out loud at that one -- and then Algeria and Slovenia were drafted onto the American schedule.
His muted smile and respectful comments about his relatively little-known opponents spoke volumes: This was a great day.
5 quick thoughts on the draw:
1. Finally, some luck: Since the end of the Confederations Cup, the U.S. squad has been dealt several unfortunate blows: Donovan's swine flu, which may have altered the outcome of a 2-1 loss to Mexico at Azteca Stadium in August; serious injuries to starting center backs Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit; and, of course, Charlie Davies' terrible car accident.
But now, the Yanks can feel blessed rather than beleaguered. In 2002, they drew Portugal, the host South Koreans, then Poland. The 2006 gauntlet was even worse: Czech Republic, the eventual champion Italy and a rising Ghana.
This time? Well, England is a fine team. The country invented the game, in fact. Ask any Englishman. But the rest of the draw is almost ideal. Instead of a frightening African side like Ivory Coast, America got upstart Algeria. And rather than a marquee Euro squad like France, or a potential alligator like Serbia, they drew happy-to-be-there Slovenia. As Donovan said, trying to hide his glee, "It could have been worse."
2. The scouting advantage: U.S. coach Bob Bradley's approach to preparation, which we documented here, is tailor-made for opponents like Slovenia and Algeria. The American coaches will pore over film for six months, compiling reports for every opposing player with even a remote possibility of stepping on the field. While American fans won't be able to find the country of 2 million on a map, Bradley's staff will know every possible detail about Slovenia's player pool. And in this case, at least, the factors that forced Bradley to constantly alter his lineup in the past year will make the Americans much harder to scout, especially for teams from countries with limited resources.
3. The English experience: When it comes to England, the U.S. barely needs to scout at all. Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore and Jonathan Spector see regular EPL minutes, while Benny Feilhaber, Onyewu and captain Carlos Bocanegra have all spent time in the world's best domestic circuit. "It's not like we don't know who we're playing against," Donovan said. And, of course, a trio of National Team goalkeepers (Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann) are employed in the Premier League. That experience could be particularly valuable since, as a rule, goalies are like coaches on the field. Nobody's better at organizing defenders and analyzing opponents than Howard, one of the world's elite backstops.
4. The media experience: Just as the U.S. figures to benefit from its South African dress rehearsal at last June's Confederations Cup, Donovan now knows the lay of the land when dealing with the relentless British media. The Americans' all-time leading scorer felt the full glare of that spotlight earlier this year after ripping Galaxy teammate -- and now his presumed World Cup foe -- David Beckham in a best-selling book. "I don't know if I'm ready," said Donovan of England's notoriously pesky press, "but I've dealt with it a lot over the last year, unfortunately. It's going to be fun." His agent, Richard Motzkin, agrees, pointing out that the once-icy relationship between Beckham and Donovan is "really good right now."
Still, expect a lot of (good-natured) trash-texting.
5. The home away from home: Bob Bradley noted that all three U.S. matches are within driving distance of their training base. That site selection, at Southdowns College outside Pretoria, looks positively prescient right now. Italy grabbed the desirable digs during the Confederations Cup, but the Yanks aced them out for the big show in 2010. Now, with games in Rustenburg (about a 90 minute drive), Pretoria (about 20 minutes) and Johannesburg (about 45 minutes), and in stadiums they played in during the Confed Cup, the Americans may have a familiarity and comfort with their World Cup surroundings during group play second only to the South African hosts.
And finally, three questions:
• Who wrote Charlize Theron's lines?
• Who designed Matthew Booth's suit?
• How long before Ladbrokes posts odds on the following proposition bet: First red card -- Wayne Rooney, Michael Bradley or Ricardo Clark?
U.S. National Soccer Team: U.S. has many reasons to love its World Cup draw - ESPN
May the odds be ever in your favor.
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