THE MOST INTENSE IS YET TO COME
Game One was pretty intense.
Sure, England looked the better team for much of the match. But there was a lot to admire from the US, beginning with their attitude, at least from minute five through the end.
Going forward, maintaining the same intensity will be the key to getting out of the group stage. That, and improving midfield passing.
Oh, and organizing myself in the minutes leading up to the opening whistle.
Intensity, passing and getting to a television with some time to spare.
Let me explain.
Bradley took a risk in fielding an injury-ravaged defense, even if they had been the unequivocal best back five in 2009. I also took a risk, sitting down for the game without first visiting the bathroom.
In Bradley's defense, he had to find out sometime what kind of shape the team was in, and in mine, I really didn't think I had to go.
The stakes were high for all involved.
Luckily, even as the lack of coordination on Gerrard's goal provided a catalyst for the defense to settle into the game, my need to pee, quite badly, from the seventh minute only enhanced the viewing experience.
As the first half progressed, my powers of concentration heightened; colors were sharper, emotions more vivid. Stoppage time almost upon me, my eyes didn't waiver from the screen, even if tears may have blurred the picture slightly.
Suddenly, a spin left, a spin right, a shot andů Dempsey goal! 1-1!
For millions (yes, actually millions) of US soccer fans, the relief was palpable. For me, it was so much more.
I don't care that it was a goalkeeping blunder. Wasn't the collective lapse in US defense on the England goal every bit as much of a mental error?
The game turned on two mistakes, one by each team. The English can draw the conclusion that their keeper deserves, at a minimum, crucifixion, but on the US-side I prefer to accentuate the positive.
That the only goal for England stemmed from a lapse in concentration by the US defenders early in the game speaks volumes for what Howard and company accomplished the other ninety-plus minutes.
Despite skepticism from some, Onyewu and Demerit were just fine. Cherundolo looked recently emerged from a time machine, and Bocanegra showed leadership and poise.
It may be premature to say, but our Confederations Cup defense looks to be on its way back. There were some promising signs for sure, but more than anything there was focus, sustained over the entire match.
Slovenia and Algeria are sure to have noticed. The coach of every team that lines up against us now has a pair of choices on the left: go with speed and neutralize Cherundolo's attacking options, or entice him forward and hope to exploit the space on the counter. So far as I'm concerned, either option is fine.
In the case of a speedster, Dempsey and Donovan can initiate the attack from the wings and Dolo can sit back and defend.
If instead Slovenia and Algeria allow Cherundolo to make runs up the wing, it looks like he can cause some damage. Just ask Milner. And based on Saturday, Gooch and Demerit can handle the counter. The ability is there.
It will all come down to intensity.
Whatever method Bradley uses to keep the team motivated over the next matches (may I suggest gallons of Gatorade?), life will be easier for everyone involved if the central midfield can tighten up the passing. This was the downside of Game One.
Granted, Bradley defended more than he attacked, and was under constant pressure from Lampard and Gerrard. But regardless of the challenges he faced, his passing was atrocious at key moments in the second half when trying to launch the counter-attack.
So was Clark's, but that wasn't the reason he was in the game.
Before crying nepotism, and barring the possibility of John O'Brien, Claudio Reyna or Tab Ramos being removed from cryogenic capsules and somehow snuck into the lineup, consider the possibility that the US may not have anyone better than Bradley at central midfield.
To his credit, he has completed timely passes to Donovan and Dempsey in the past, and his positioning is tactical and disciplined. He simply needs to have a sharper passing game on Friday if he is going to impact the offense.
Of course, the possibility of Bradley linking more effectively with the attack may be irrelevant, given the defense's clear instructions to bypass him and Clark up the middle with 40-yard passes to Altidore, a move they went to time and again in the opening game.
This is a tactic that Bradley may have broken out just for England. He did claim to have a formula to beat them, and apparently that formula was long-ball.
In fairness, full-field passes aren't a terrible option given that neither Gooch nor Demerit excels at moving the ball forward on the ground.
But repeatedly clearing the ball downfield has an unfortunate side-effect whenever it fails to connect with the center forwards: it keeps Dempsey and Donovan, the two most talented players on the team, out of the action.
Whatever the offensive strategy against Slovenia, it is safe to assume that Bradley will once again get the start, and it should be clear at this point that he needs a partner capable of getting forward and connecting on a few passes so at least some of the offense can flow through the middle.
Is Torres that guy? Edu? Does such a player exist on the current roster?
Hopefully someone other than Clark will get the opportunity to answer that question on Friday. Whoever gets the nod in midfield, if they can just find Dempsey and Donovan with room to run there is no telling how far we might go.
As a closing thought, for those of you lucky enough to watch the match from the stadium, where a beverage-based elevation in intensity can be a frequent pitfall, I had a thought.
It involves the much-discussed Vuvuzelas. And Duct tape, or any other material that might create a leak-proof seal when applied to one end.
I hallucinated, vividly, just such a contraption shortly before Dempsey's goal.
There are those who might consider the mere suggestion of defiling these proud, national symbols as insensitive, disrespectful of a cultural tradition.
Defenders of the world's largest band of large kazoos may have a point, but they have never, I am certain, felt the call of nature during a World Cup match.
I would also like to add, respectfully, that to the outside observer, the noble Vuvuzela might almost be mistaken for little more than a giant plastic novelty horn. Almost.
So if you are heading to the stadium, be sure to amply hydrate, grab a super-kazoo, some duct tape and get ready to hold on as long as you can.