Judging by the reactions afterward, one might conclude that the Americans had won the Group C match. While the favored English trudged to the locker room, the U.S. players lingered on the field and saluted their supporters, estimated at more than 8,000 on a starry night in this remote outpost in northern South Africa, before departing with a bounce in their step.
Though the result was a 1-1 tie, "we`ll take more out of it than they will," U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "They are going to feel like they probably should have won the game."
If not for English goalkeeper Robert Green`s blunder on Clint Dempsey`s shot late in the first half -- one of the worst gaffes in World Cup play in recent memory -- England, on the strength of Stephen Gerrard`s early strike, might very well have cast aside the United States.
But the Americans felt better about the outcome because, as they had done so many times during the qualifying stages, they had come from behind to earn a point. They felt better about it because they were the clear underdog, a team that had washed out of the 2006 tournament without a victory and, on paper, was overmatched by England`s collection ofmarquee players.
U.S. defenders Steve Cherundolo, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra and Jay DeMerit exhibited courage and fortitude in the second half against Wayne Rooney, one of the sport`s most dangerous strikers, and Howard overcame a first-half rib injury to make several classy saves.
With the tie, the Americans find themselves in good standing to reach the round of 16, needing a victory against either Slovenia on Friday in Johannesburg or Algeria five days later in Pretoria.
"A big game, a big night," U.S. Coach Bob Bradley said.
The match couldn`t have started any worse for the Americans, who drifted into a slumber in the fourth minute on an innocuous throw-in by Glen Johnson. Frank Lampard touched the ball toward Rooney, who pushed it along to Emile Heskey.
"Next thing you know, there is a big hole in our back line," Bradley said. "England made us pay."
Before DeMerit could close him down, Heskey pushed the ball into space for the hard-charging Gerrard, who had slipped behind Ricardo Clark.
Howard came off his line but to no avail. Gerrard, the Liverpool standout, coolly used his inside foot to direct a 14-yard shot into the lower right corner.
Four years ago in Germany, the Americans found themselves in an equally deflating situation, conceding a fifth-minute goal to the Czech Republic that led to a 3-0 defeat.
"The good thing about us is that we have showed in the past, when that stuff happened to us, we don`t put our heads down and pout," DeMerit said. "We seem to put it into the next gear. ... It`s very easy, after going down so early, to say, 'Aw, here we go; it`s going to be a long day.` This team never seems to do that."
England seemed headed to the half with the lead when disaster struck in the 40th minute. Dempsey, who plays for Fulham in England`s Premier League, turned Gerrard not once but twice before firing from 25 yards.
Though the shot was delivered with pace, it was headed almost directly at Green, who dropped to make a routine save. He didn`t have his body completely behind the ball, however, and when it glanced off his gloves, nothing stood in the way of the equalizer. Green desperately reached back but the ball was gone -- and so was England`s advantage.
"These (new World Cup) balls move so much, if you just hit it on goal, you will have a chance," said Dempsey, who joined Brian McBride as the only U.S. players to score in two World Cups. "It`s one of those goals where you say, 'Why can`t I get one like that?` "
A minute later, Howard repelled Johnson`s bid with a diving save.
After the break, England mounted a ferocious attack, finding acres of space between the U.S. defense and midfield. Rooney was a menacing figure, and in the 52nd minute, Aaron Lennon`s through ball liberated Heskey for a clean run at Howard, who was perfectly positioned to stop and smother the shot.
The Americans began to find traction, and in the 65th, Jozy Altidore stormed the left side before firing an angled shot that Green deflected off the near post.
England regained its stride: Rooney whistled a 28-yarder wide of the far post and set up Shaun Wright-Phillips for a rising shot that Howard blocked.
The Americans were fading, but Onyewu, in his first 90-minute performance since recovering from a serious knee injury, stood up to Rooney`s challenges.
When the final whistle blew, the Americans rejoiced. It wasn`t a victory, but in many ways, it felt like one.
U.S. 1, England 1
Phokeng, South Africa
England 1 0--1
United States 1 0--1
First half -- 1, England, Steven Gerrard 1, 4th minute. 2, United States, Clint Dempsey 1, 40th.
Second half -- None.
Shots -- England 18, United States 12.
Shots On Goal -- England 7, United States 4.
Yellow Cards -- England, James Milner, 26th; Jamie Carragher, 59th; Steven Gerrard, 61st. United States, Steven Cherundolo, 39th; Jay DeMerit, 47th; Robbie Findley, 74th.
Offsides -- England 5, United States 2.
Fouls Committed -- England 12, United States 14.
Fouls Against -- England 11, United States 10.
Corner Kicks -- England 8, United States 4.
Referee -- Carlos Eugenio Simon, Brazil. Linesmen--Altemir Hausmann, Brazil; Roberto Braatz, Brazil.
A -- 38,646.
England: Robert Green; Glen Johnson, John Terry, Ledley King (Jamie Carragher, 46th), Ashley Cole; Aaron Lennon, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, James Milner (Shaun Wright-Phillips, 31st); Wayne Rooney, Emile Heskey (Peter Crouch, 79th).
United States: Tim Howard; Steven Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra; Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark; Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore (Stuart Holden, 86th), Robbie Findley (Edson Buddle, 77th).