- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 12, 2009

How on earth is the U.S. team going to earn a result against England in its opening game at the World Cup on June 12?

If the Americans want to pull off an upset, here’s how they can do it:

Set pieces

At 3.4 goals a game, England was the highest-scoring team in World Cup qualifying. The Americans can’t count on scratching out a scoreless tie - they will need goals.

Set-piece plays from corner kicks, penalty kicks and even throw-ins will be vital to crease the England net. Goalies hate set pieces, and even the best in the game are vulnerable on free kicks and corners.

Those are the moments when the likes of Clint Dempsey, Jonathan Spector, Jozy Altidore, Jay DeMerit and possibly the injured Oguchi Onyewu - players all familiar with Premier League action and English defenders - must take advantage of Landon Donovan’s curling passes.

The Americans cannot match England’s talent on the field man for man, but all that’s needed to produce a goal on a set piece is a good touch on the ball. And in this game, one goal might be enough.

Former Brazilian coach Mario Zagallo, recalling his team’s 1-0 victory over the Americans at the 1994 World Cup, once said that what he feared most in that game were the U.S. team’s set pieces.

“Every time there was a dead-ball situation, the Americans swarmed our box, and we were worried about [Alexi] Lalas getting a head to the ball,” Zagallo said.

Zagallo, an assistant coach at the time, said the U.S. team’s biggest mistake was to go into a defensive shell.

Shoot on sight

England’s talented defense won’t give the American strikers much room inside the 18-yard box, so coach Bob Bradley should tell his players to shoot, shoot and shoot whenever they get in sight of England’s goal.

England’s major weakness is goalkeeping, so it’s vital that the Americans test the goalie early and take shots from any distance. Gone are the days when England produced some of the world’s best keepers - Gordon Banks, Peter “The Cat” Bonetti, Peter Shilton.

The situation at that spot is a legitimate worry for coach Fabio Capello, who has few appealing options.

David James of Portsmouth is 39 and has earned the nickname “Calamity James” for his notable blunders. West Ham’s Robert Green, 29, was red-carded in England’s final qualifying game. And Manchester United’s young emerging goalie, 26-year-old Ben Foster, looked nervous in the few starts he has gotten for his country.

Capello must envy Bradley the keepers available to the U.S. team. If Capello could take any players off the U.S. roster, you can bet he would grab goalies Tim Howard and Brad Guzan.

Speed

The U.S. team must use Donovan’s speed on counterattacks.

Donovan scored a brilliant goal against Brazil at the Confederations Cup on such a move. If he can do it against Brazil, why not England?

With a Donovan loan deal to Premier League club Everton apparently imminent, the Los Angeles Galaxy striker will get firsthand experience with English defenders in the coming year.

Rattle Rooney

Wayne Rooney is the heart and soul of England’s lineup. He has matured in recent years, but he still gets rattled easily and is liable to act recklessly - his red card against Portugal at the 2006 World Cup provides a memorable case in point.

England’s players will face far more pressure and media scrutiny than the Americans before the game. The whole nation, along with its sometimes ruthless tabloid newspapers, will be expecting the “Three Lions” to win.

Anything less will cause the country some serious angst.

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