Wasted in the USA
With an absentee list that reads like the regular England line-up and a squad that can be only kindly termed 'experimental', just what does Sven-Goran Eriksson hope to achieve during England's current two-match tour of the USA?
According to the FA 'this tour has always been an opportunity for Sven and the coaching staff to look at some new players a year before the World Cup in Germany'.
Well at the risk of labouring a point, may I reiterate once more the suggestion that the England manager, and the FA, attempt to do that during the regular season friendlies that have been so devalued, undermined and misused.
And schedule the rare opportunities to play non-European sides at an appropriate time to further the experience of England's regulars.
No matter how the FA attempts to package this tour, it remains a waste of time. The Premiership managers know it, England's regulars know it and that's why every conceivable excuse for not travelling half-way around the world has been rolled out by the aforementioned parties.
PFA Player of the Year John Terry and Football Writers' Player of the Year Frank Lampard have withdrawn for minor operations; Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson requested his young star Wayne Rooney be allowed to rest; Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand are struggling with minor injuries; Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard are busy winning the UEFA Champions League; Real Madrid duo Michael Owen and David Beckham have another weekend of fixtures in La Liga before they join the tour late on.
Eriksson has continually banged on about the need for his players to rest ahead of major international tournaments and has successfully lobbied for next year's Premiership campaign to terminate early to allow his team the optimum time for recovery ahead of Germany 2006.
Would it not also be beneficial to give his players a rare summer off in 2005? Rather than dragging a barely recognizable England squad to North America to face the USA and Colombia when the European season hasn't even finished.
And of those fringe players the FA suggests Eriksson is so keen to look at, the predominant two, who may actually prove useful to assess, will not be playing. Manchester City star Shaun Wright-Phillips has been unable to travel and Middlesbrough starlet Stewart Downing, who has travelled, is doubtful for both matches with a knee injury.
At least Eriksson's hand will be forced to give the remaining fringe players nearly a full 90 minutes to prove their worth, rather than five minutes in the usual sorry excuse for an international friendly!
Yet with all that said and done there is still a match to be won on Saturday.
England face the United States of America at Soldier Field, Chicago and ex-pats will be hoping they don't have to face a taunting from work colleagues who previously had no interest in football whatsoever. The rest of us will be hoping another embarrassing defeat does not spawn an unlikely hero Stateside - in the mould of Joe 'Larry' Gaetjens or Alexi Lalas.
The USA are responsible for arguably the biggest upset in World Cup history, at England's expense.
At the 1950 finals, in Brazil, Haitian Gaetjens scored a headed goal for the USA's collection of dubiously qualified part-timers that effectively knocked England out of their first World Cup.
The 1-0 result was such a shock scoreline that when the final score came through back home, many thought 'England 0-1 USA' was a misprint and produced newspapers with the score 'England 10-1 USA'.
But in a country were football was relatively unkown Gaetjens was a long way from becoming a national hero and returned to Haiti in 1954 to run a laundry business as a virtual unknown.
Sadly, far worse was to come for the scourge of Belo Horizonte and Gaetjens was jailed in 1964 after members of his family campaigned against Haitian dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier. He was never seen again.
However, in 1972 he was honoured at a New York Cosmos match and enshrined in the US Soccer Hall of Fame in 1976, the same year the Organization of American States condemned Haiti's government for his arrest. In 1997, Haiti authorized the issue of a stamp in his honor.
Post Gaetjens the internationals between the USA and England followed the form book for the next 43 years, with various England teams winning 6-3 and 10-0 in New York and 8-1 and 5-0 in Los Angeles. It was all going swimmingly until Graham Taylor's side met their match in a ginger mopped, grossly goateed rockstar.
While Gaetjens' story is a touching and tragic affair, Lalas' narrative is one of pure embarrassment for England and an endorsement of the ethos that anybody can achieve anything in America.
With England losing 1-0 to the USA at the 1993 US Cup, during Taylor's doomed stewardship, the odd looking Lalas came off the bench to much derision, only to head the winner and rocket himself to stardom.
Not only did this unkown defender's wild appearance rub salt into the wounds, but aside from condemning England to defeat he also had time for a musical career - going on to release three albums and touring with Hootie and the Blowfish.
To be fair to Lalas (and it's difficult, as those images of his goal and Taylor's terrible era as England boss shudder down the spine) he did go on to win 96 caps, become the first American to play in Serie A, with Padova, become general manager of MLS side San Jose Earthquakes and will probably be entered into the Hall of Fame.
These days the USA team can boast many more household names. Eleven of Bruce Arena's 19-man squad play their football in the major European leagues.
The most recognizable to England fans is Fulham's Brian McBride, who is second on the US all-time goalscoring list with 26 in 85 internationals, and will probably lead the line for the USA, with Cottagers team-mate Carlos Bocanegra filling in at the back.
However, the majority of fans won't recognize the USA line-up and with most of England's star performers missing from the line-up the hosts will also barely recognize the Three Lions. But let's hope that this time it is an England unknown that etches himself on our memory.
Goalkeepers - Scott Carson (Liverpool), Robert Green (Norwich City), David James (Manchester City)
Defenders - Wes Brown (Manchester United), Sol Campbell (Arsenal), Ashley Cole (Arsenal), Glen Johnson (Chelsea), Phil Neville (Manchester United), Luke Young (Charlton Athletic), Zat Knight (Fulham)
Midfielders - Michael Carrick (Tottenham), Joe Cole (Chelsea), Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough), Owen Hargreaves (Bayern Munich), Jermaine Jenas (Newcastle), Kieran Richardson (Manchester United)
Forwards - Peter Crouch (Southampton), Jermain Defoe (Tottenham), Andrew Johnson (Crystal Palace), Alan Smith (Manchester United)
Goalkeepers - Marcus Hahnemann (Reading FC), Kasey Keller (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Zach Thornton (Chicago Fire)
Defenders - Gregg Berhalter (Energie Cottbus), Carlos Bocanegra (Fulham FC), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Cory Gibbs (Feyenoord), Oguchi Onyewu (Standard de Liege), Greg Vanney (FC Dallas)
Midfielders - Bobby Convey (Reading FC), Clint Dempsey (New England Revolution), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado Rapids), John O'Brien (ADO Den Haag), Steve Ralston (New England Revolution), Clyde Simms (D.C. United)
Forwards - Conor Casey (FSV Mainz), Eddie Johnson (FC Dallas), Brian McBride (Fulham FC)