Lalas: USA can compete with the best
In nine meetings with England, USA have emerged victorious on just two occasions, with the last win coming in 1993. The most famous of the two results was the first - when Joe Gaetjens' goal handed the Americans a shock victory at the 1950 World Cup, though it was not widely reported to a disinterested American population, and was reported incorrectly by the English press, who believed the transmitted 1-0 scoreline must have been a mistake.
The reaction to the second and most recent victory, however, was slightly more high-profile. The 1993 US Cup saw USA host England, Brazil and Germany in a four-team tournament just 12 months before the World Cup would arrive on US shores. The competition gave the American public a taste of what was to come in 1994 and helped further increase the popularity of the sport; USA's 2-0 victory over England was sandwiched between a thrilling 4-3 defeat to World Cup holders Germany and a 2-0 loss to Brazil, with all mathces proving entertaining spectacles.
Against an England side containing the likes of Gary Pallister, Paul Ince and Les Ferdinand, USA took the lead through future captain Thomas Dooley before Alexi Lalas doubled the lead three minutes after coming on for the opening goalscorer. It was a result that invoked the memory of the World Cup shock 43 years previous, and also helped banish the demons of embarrassing defeats - including 10-0 and 8-1 drubbings - in the intervening years.
There was no mistaking the result in the English press this time around, with "YANKS 2 PLANKS 0!" among the derogatory headlines aimed at Graham Taylor's team. Before the tournament, Taylor had said of his struggling team: "Whether we like it or not, people expect us to beat America, and there is definitely more intensity about this game because of our performance in the last one." The failure to win was the beginning of the end of Taylor's relationship with the English media, and the seeds had been sown for his resignation five months later.
For Lalas, the game had quite a different effect on his career, helping transform him from regular benchwarmer to starting centre-back for his country come the World Cup in 1994, where his reputation rocketed as he played every minute of USA's four games at the finals.
"Scoring against England was a great feeling - not just for the goal, but it also signalled my arrival on the international scene and I got a whole lot more playing time after that," Lalas tells Soccernet."Growing up in the US, we didn't have the soccer culture, so to see the reaction of the British press and then the sacking of the coach later, I was amazed that even existed. It was a great moment to score a goal and the aftermath was pretty amazing for a wide-eyed 23-year-old."
Since the 1993 US Cup, USA and England have met on three more occasions, with Alan Shearer netting two goals in a 2-0 victory in 1994 to exact some relatively quick revenge for the Three Lions. Sven-Goran Eriksson's makeshift side recorded a 2-1 reverse on American soil in 2005, with debutant Kieran Richardson bagging a brace, and in 2007 Fabio Capello oversaw a 2-0 win courtesy of goals from England captains past and present - John Terry and Steven Gerrard. Despite England's record of winning the recent meetings at somewhat of a canter, Lalas - who played 96 times for his country - believes that using the friendly meetings as a barometer is a pointless exercise.
"It's not that they don't mean anything but we're watching now as teams prepare for the World Cup, and the only thing that really matters is when the tournament starts. I know we try to make correlations with what has happened previously but it really means nothing as far as the players are concerned. You might be able to look at it as a touchstone if things did go well but most of the time the names on the team sheet have changed - the only thing that stays the same is that jersey. I wouldn't put a whole lot of stock into previous meetings and previous results."
Despite Lalas' claims, eight of USA's starting XI from the defeat to England in 2007 were used in Bob Bradley's final warm-up game against Australia, with Heath Pearce, Eddie Johnson and Josh Wolff the only players missing. The side has changed very little and it is a similar story with Capello's line-up - Wes Brown, David Beckham and Owen Hargreaves are the only players from the 2007 vintage not featuring this time around. As such, USA certainly remain the underdogs, as they have done ahead of every other meeting, but Lalas takes heart from impressive performances against tournament favourites Spain and Brazil at the 2009 Confederations Cup, insisting that Bradley has enough quality players at his disposal to spring a surprise in South Africa.
"I think that the world will look at USA beating England as an historic day and an incredible accomplishment, but I think the reality of it is that individually we have players who are playing in the best leagues in the world. I think we have a starting XI that has proved that they can compete with the best in the world. Yes the US are underdogs and England are very well coached and much better than previous teams, but I think they have some deficiencies. They're an older team and they rely heavily on Wayne Rooney.
"The US team have to use the underdog role to their advantage and they've done it well over the years. But they can't sit back and defend the whole game and if they come out with the mentality that they showed against the likes of Brazil and Spain they can put England on their heels right off the bat and that's important for that first game at the World Cup."
Having played in the 1994 finals at home soil, Lalas understands the importance of the World Cup as a platform for garnering support for the sport in the US, and he is urging Team USA's class of 2010 to stand up and be counted in South Africa.
"As American players we recognise very early on in our career that our responsibilities sometime go well beyond the 90 minutes that we play - to be those ambassadors and to put a good face on American soccer. For the most part American players embrace it and recognise that every four years we can hopefully spring to the next level with our performance.
"It doesn't mean that going out completely destroys US soccer but a good performance always helps soccer in the United States. 2006 was a poor performance and certainly didn't help - the players think about that from a competitive standpoint and will want to put that behind them. We need to make sure that the respect we always talk about comes in the form of success. You are ultimately judged by what happens at the World Cup and you don't want to waste the opportunity."