English keen to avoid embarrassment against U.S.
English football has known many embarrassments, but one humiliation stands out above all others. Fifty-eight years ago in the World Cup, Joe Gaetjens, the dishwasher from Haiti, scored in Belo Horizonte and the game finished England 0 United States 1. At least one newspaper assumed that couldn't be the case and printed the score as 10-1 to the favorites. Well, they were only 10 goals out. Another, the Daily Mail, reported that England lost to "a team that I never knew played football."
Since then, attitudes have evolved and English football has shed some of its insularity, but there remains something of a blind spot when it comes to Americans. This is one relationship that it is hard to brand special.
The last meeting -- a 2-1 win for England in Chicago back in 2005 -- was dismissed as a "meaningless exercise" by the Sunday Telegraph and called "international football in name only" by the Daily Mail. Such comments were made in part because a host of absentees had effectively rendered Sven-Goran Eriksson, a reserve team.
Nevertheless, transatlantic attitudes were made rather clearer when David Beckham agreed to join the L.A. Galaxy. To recap (briefly) it was viewed by many as a golden balls-up from Goldenballs, with the theme that the MLS was no major league. "We really don't care about Major League Soccer," wrote Martin Samuel in The Times. "Anyone who has watched the goals conceded by the Galaxy will know that the standard is all we expected and less." James Lawton, in The Independent, deemed MLS "a Mickey Mouse league."
In other words, English football has never quite shed its superiority complex. At a time when anti-Americanism is in vogue -- as it has been for much of George W. Bush's presidency -- even U.S. owners of English teams have not been immune. They include the Glazers, pariahs for many Manchester United fans even though the club has become Champions League winners, and Tom Hicks and George Gillett, though they were initially welcomed at Liverpool. Aston Villa's Randy Lerner is the only popular American owner.
By and large, the players who have proved themselves in the Premier League are held in higher esteem. However, though eight English-based players are in Bob Bradley's squad, the two with the highest reputations no longer play international football. Brad Friedel is widely recognized as one of the outstanding goalkeepers in England while Fulham's captain and two-time player of the year Brian McBride is regarded as one of the reasons they surprisingly avoided relegation. Unlike the owners, America's soccer stars have generally steered clear of controversy. Most come under the category of "the good pro," generally showing a maturity and an eloquence that many of their English counterparts lack.
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|U.S. vs. England
Wembley Stadium, London, England
3 p.m. ET, ESPN Classic
U.S. vs. Spain
U.S. vs. Argentina
However, Landon Donovan's achievement in winning his 100th cap at Wembley on Wednesday might not bring too many tributes. It is fair to say that many in England have never understood the plaudits for Donovan -- it does not help that, apart from occasional Beckham-related clips, MLS is not televised in the United Kingdom -- and his standing is rather higher in his native land than over here.
He has a point to prove to an English audience, and collectively so do Bradley's team. There was widespread skepticism in 2005 when the USA leapfrogged Germany to go fourth in the world rankings and little surprise in the U.K. when, a year later, Bruce Arena's side perished in the World Cup's "group of death."
Nonetheless, the greater focus in England will be on the home side for Fabio Capello's third game in charge. Beckham continues to polarize opinion, with some arguing that he forfeited his right to play international football when he moved to L.A. and others insisting Capello does not have 22 finer players at his disposal. Whether or not he plays, some will insist the wrong decision was made.
Expect, too, plenty of people bewailing the fact the country that provided both Champions League finalists failed to qualify for Euro 2008. However, that allows Capello to experiment. With a current shortage of high-class out-and-out strikers, and a number of options in the attacking midfield roles, the Italian has opted to use a 4-2-3-1 formation in his first two matches.
A very experienced side was defeated by France two months ago, but there is a scope to introduce more untried players on Wednesday. The West Ham target man Dean Ashton and the speedy pair of Theo Walcott and Gabriel Agbonlahor are other options in attack while Michael Owen, England's fourth-highest scorer of all time, is likely to miss out with a virus.
There is intrigue, too, in the role of Chelsea's Frank Lampard, who is yet to play for Capello, and also in the choice of captain. The armband has gone to Steven Gerrard and Rio Ferdinand respectively in the new manager's first two games as Capello tries out a variety of skippers before making a permanent choice. John Terry, the former captain, would be an especially interesting alternative for his first match since his penalty miss in Moscow's final.
With seven uncapped players -- goalkeeper Joe Hart, defenders Stephen Warnock, David Wheater and Phil Jagielka, midfielder Tom Huddlestone and forwards Ashton and Agbonlahor -- Capello has the chance to radically reshape his side, but he must be aware of the potential consequences.
With the former Real Madrid manager's reign in its early throes, criticism by the English public would be less severe than had his ridiculed predecessor Steve McClaren been beaten by the Americans. But it would be regarded as a heavy embarrassment nonetheless.
Richard Jolly writes for ESPNsoccernet and covers the English Premiership and UEFA Champions League. He can be reached on email@example.com.