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Friday, June 11, 2010
Full of caffeine, an England-USA preview


Friday, 7 a.m. The Embassy Row Studios in the crap part of Soho. About to interview Liam Neeson (Liverpool/Ireland) for the Off The Ball podcast.

I am sleep-deprived.

I am anxious about Saturday.

I have no idea what to write today.

I have a headache.

I need a haircut.

I haven't been to the gym in weeks.

My house is a building site.

My wife (edited for the sake of my marriage).

I have no celebrities for the "Pyramid" pilot I am taping in Los Angeles in 10 days.

But I don't care, because the World Cup is starting and as my regular readers know -- all three of you -- I kiss football.

Here are my overexcited, overcaffeinated, completely random thoughts about USA versus England.

Team USA's probable starting lineup reads like a variety show playbill from the 1940s.

The juggling acrobats, Buddle and Findley up front, the two-part harmony of Dempsey and Donovan at what they used to call inside left and right, the comedy stylings of Bradley and Clark in the middle of the park (catchy), the Latin Soul rhythms of Bocanegra and Cherundolo at the fullbacks, and the headliner, a ventriloquist who appeared on the "Ed Sullivan Show," DeMerit and the Gooch. And of course, your master of ceremonies: Tim "Timminy" Howard in goal.

England's probable starting lineup is a group in need of psychotherapy with Gabriel Byrne.

A striker with temper issues (Wayne Rooney); a striker with scoring issues (Emile Heskey); a once precocious playmaker who never quite fulfilled his promise and now, deep down, knows he's starting only because his rival on the left wing has had a bad case of the Bafanas Bafanas (Joe Cole); a twinkle-toed winger with a Napoleonic complex (Aaron Lennon); gifted rivals who have never found a way to get along (Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard); a left back who couldn't be faithful to the nicest and best-looking woman in Britain, ever (Ashley Cole); a center back who lost the captaincy of his country for betraying his best friend by sleeping with his recent ex (John Terry); a center back with knees so weak that he can never train and almost quit the game (Ledley King); and a right back who is more comfortable scoring goals than defending them (Glen Johnson). In goal, a 22-year-old who just found out that he was about to play his first 90 minutes for his country in a World Frigging Cup (Joe Hart). And a manager who will have you all whipped for your impudence (Don Fabio).

If it wants to win, the U.S. must play like it's got nothing to lose, even if it might lose by playing that way.

Remember the U.S.'s opening game in 2002 in Suwon, South Korea? I remember watching in the press center at Ibaraki getting ready for the Ireland game against Germany. As the world's press sat there sneering down their Chablis-sniffing noses, the U.S. went at the Portuguese like a pack of attack spaniels and had three goals by halftime. The Yanks were rampant, hungry, horrible at the back but relentless going forward. It was a shootout and they held on for the win. That is how they can beat England. Press the Three Lions early, play 'em high, never let them settle, score early, then hold on. I don't see the U.S. winning 1-0. But if it's 3-2, I think it's a U.S. victory.

If England wants to win, the Brits must play like the cops aren't trailing them.

The English comic Frank Skinner came up with this analogy. He said in an interview with The London Times that "when a player puts on an England shirt, it's like when you are driving and you see a police car in the rear-view mirror. All the natural things are things you have to start thinking about and it all goes staccato and difficult." Many, including Skinner, believe that Don Fabio Capello has worked hard to cure the England team of this uncertainty. But we have rarely seen England lose the cops from its rearview mirror in a major tournament. It will be down to the new captain, Gerrard, to set the tone. At Euro 2000 against Germany, his first major game at his first major tournament, Gerrard tackled his German opponent -- and teammate at Liverpool, Dietmar Hamann -- with such shuddering physical power that Gerrard joyfully reported "he squealed like a girl." It was an assault, no cops in sight. And all of England's thugs -- King, Terry, Lampard, Gerrard, Heskey and Rooney -- must play with that same joyful lawlessness in Rustenburg.

Herculez Gomez's tweet of the day

"Shakira... Yes please. How do I meet her? Am I even worthy? Sch-wing!"

Please, Bob Bradley, don't take away his Twitter.