CALAMITY GREEN GIFTS AMERICANS DRAW
England keeper Robert Green botched the simplest of saves, allowing Fulham's Clint Dempsey to notch the tying goal just before halftime as the Americans held favored England in Group C play.
After England took the early lead, the Americans mustered any opportunities they could, eventually being rewarded with an equalizer towards the end of the first half. Tight defending preserved the scoreline for the US in the second half, earning a point in Group C action.
The US found themselves in a hole within four minutes after Steven Gerrard capitalized on a gap in the American defense. At the top of the box Emile Heskey forwarded ahead to Gerrard slicing into the box ahead of a wayward Ricardo Clark and with ample space ahead of him, the Liverpool man coolly slotted home to the right of Howard for the early lead.
"That's been our trademark recently, conceding early," defender Carlos Bocanegra observed after the match. "We kept fighting for ninety minutes after that."
Already on their heels, the US tried to organize an offensive attack, earning a trio of corners on the right side, but failed to create any chances.
Their efforts finally resulted in their first true opportunity in the 19th minute after Landon Donovan lofted in a cross into the box. Jozy Altidore caught up with the delivery but headed just wide left.
English defender Aaron Lennon proved to be a dangerous presence on the right side throughout the first half, and tested the defense with a shot from the edge of the box that required an agile clearance from Steve Cherundolo.
In spite of all of the pregame discussion surrounding him, Wayne Rooney remained largely invisible in the first 20 minutes until a strike at goal that Howard fell upon with ease.
The Americans second opportunity of the first half came after James Milner brought down Cherundolo and received a yellow from referee Carlos Simon. On the ensuing free kick from 35 yards out, Donovan swung in a cross that Onyewu headed just wide of the left post.
Disaster nearly struck in the 29th minute cross from Lennon in from the right that Howard got a hand on, but took a Heskey foot to his chest. Although visibly shaken, the Everton keeper remained in the game.
"It's a scary thing. They're both going for the ball," Bocanegra later admitted. "Heskey lays out and Timmy lays out. Thank God he was able to continue."
While Howard was receiving treatment, James Milner was brought off for Shaun-Wright Phillips, having been abused by the stellar Cherundolo.
After the restart Altidore tried to spark the offense, testing Green with a dribbling strike from 25 yards out before Phillips followed up with his first attempt in the 38th minute, an individual strike that flew wide right.
A minute later Donovan continued to apply pressure with an effort that did not miss the left post by much.
Cherundolo saw his name entered into he referee's book after bringing down Wright-Phillips.
The tide turned for the Americans in the 40th minute when the unimaginable happened. On an improbable attempt, Clint Dempsey did well to elude Gerrard twice in the midfield and deliver a left-footed strike from 25 yards out. On what should have been a routine scoop, Green did not get a full hand on the ball and saw it dribble past him into his net for the equalizer.
"It's never nice to see that," Howard admitted about his crossfield counterpart. "Coming into the tournament I knew there was going to be some crazy goals with that ball."
Glen Johnson tried to answer the howler with an immediate cut in to the box and left-footed strike that Howard pounced upon.
The first half came to a close with a 1-1 scoreline and the Italian tactician Fabio Capello made his second substitution, bringing in Jamie Carragher for an injured Ledley King.
Referee Carlos Simon opened the second half by issuing his third yellow of the match to DeMerit after a handball three minutes after the break.
England missed a golden opportunity to retake the lead in the 52nd minute when Heskey found himself with a one-on-one situation with Howard, but aimed straight at the Everton netminder.
"He comes up with big plays in the game," Bocanegra pointed out of his keeper. "He's a huge part of this."
Carragher was booked at the hour mark for tripping Robbie Findley, and Gerrard followed suit for a foul on Dempsey at the edge of the box. Donovan stepped up for the free kick and connected with Bocanegra in the box, but the Rennes defender's header fell wide.
Frank Lampard attacked in the 64th minute with a strike that Howard lift over the bar. On the ensuing corner, Glen Johnson struck from the back-post but aimed far wide.
Back down the field, Altidore skinned Carragher alive and attempted to near-post Green, but the keeper was just able to deflect the shot off of the post.
England's poured on the pressure culminating with a Gerrard cross in for Rooney that he couldn't get a good head on.
Findley joined the yellow card club after a studs-up tackle on Gerrard in the 74th minute.
Following a Rooney strike that missed inches right of the net, Howard was tested again a minute later with a Wright-Phillips strike in the box on the left side, but the 31-year old swatted away to safety.
"Howard came up with some big saves for us," Dempsey told YA after the match. "We're lucky to have a keeper of his quality on our side."
With just over ten minutes to play, US coach Bob Bradley brought on Edson Buddle for Findley, and Capello relieved Heskey of his duties for Peter Crouch.
Rooney found Crouch within a minute from the left side but the 6' 7" striker nodded nowhere near the goal.
Bradley made his second substitution with four minutes to go, bringing in Stuart Holden for Altidore.
England controlled the ball for much of the remainder of the affair, but were unable to organize any major threats on goal.
Bocanegra gave credit to the team's performance and discredited the result to purely Green's gaffe. "It was obviously a mistake from the keeper, but we fought our way back into this game. That's what this team's all about. We fight for every inch of playing field out there."
The US was also bolstered by the play of the back line and its successful containment of Rooney.
"It was a good team effort defensively," said Bradley of his squad's ability to limit the Manchester United striker. "Rooney is such a mobile player, the way he moves around takes a good level of concentration. I thought in the first half there were still some times when our back line was a little bit out of synch, but I thought that got better in the second half."
Bradley also noted that Gerrard's early goal served as a wake-up call to his players to clamp down on the English attack and force their way back into the match.
"I think that play started with a throw-in, the ball went back to Lampard and we stepped up to close him down," he said of the lead-up to the Liverpool player's goal. "Next thing you know, there's a big hole in our back line. When you use the word manage, the ability to control certain situations and not over-commit, I think England made us pay. But it forced us to get ourselves going into the game very quickly after that because there's no more time to play your way in, you're already down a goal."
In the end, for Dempsey and company, coming back to salvage a point against the Three Lions left the US departing Rustenburg on a positive note.
"To go one goal down to England and fight ourselves back into the game," Dempsey added, "And end with a draw and a point, we'll be happy with that."
The US team returns to Irenen Country Lodge in Pretoria in preparation for Friday's second group stage game against Slovenia in Ellis Park in Johannesburg.