The scoreboard at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg was inoperative tonight. So was England’s goalkeeping.
English keeper Robert Green handled American midfielder Clint Dempsey’s easily stoppable shot like he was trying to avoid a knife cut. It cruelly exposed England’s biggest weakness—in the nets— and allowed the Americans to recover from their own sputtering defense and tie a game they could have easily lost.
The game was barely four minutes old when the Americans opened up a corridor for Steven Gerrard to collect a pass and cruise through to score a goal that should have put England in command. Instead, the 1-1 draw left the Yanks a lot happier than the English. “It’s a difficult way to start but I felt the response from the team was strong, “ said U.S. coach Bob Bradley, “and there are good things we can take away from the match.”
It’s been 60 years since the U.S. and England played in a World Cup match—that game ending in a shock U.S. upset, 1-0 in 1950. There were no harsh feelings Saturday night though, as American fans decked out in red, white and blue mixed easily with English fans draped in Cross of St. George flags. The only thing missing was the singing you’d normally hear from England’s fans, which was drowned out by the vuvuzela horns that have become standard at all matches here.
The Americans got off to the same dreadful start they had four years ago against the Czech Republic. But there was no collapse this night. Following its early goal, England kept up the pressure, pumping dangerous crosses into the middle toward Emile Heskey and Wayne Rooney, one of which caused a nasty collision between U.S. goalie Tim Howard and Heskey. That strategy also had promise given the difficulties that the U.S. central defenders Jay DeMerit and Onguchi Onyewu were having with clearances.
But at the other end of the pitch, the U.S. was able to apply enough pressure of its own to keep the game from being too tilted, with Landon Donovan feeding in treacherous corner kicks and crosses of his own. Howard saved brilliantly from Heskey in the 53rd minute, but a short time later U.S. striker Jozy Altidore almost stole the game when his near post run past the lead-footed Jamie Carragher resulted in a shot that Green parried off the crossbar. Although England applied more pressure toward as time ran out—again pumping long balls at lanky Peter Crouch, who came on for Heskey—it was a team basically out of ideas.
Royal Bafokeng Stadium is located about 3 hours from Johannesburg, ultimately reached by a two-lane road. It’s in the thriving little city of Rustenburg, which owes its relative prosperity to platinum mining. For the U.S., it was a long way to go for a draw, but any point against England is precious.