Well, if they did things the easy way, they wouldn’t be the U.S. soccer team. Let me clarify: When I wrote yesterday that I love it when the designated patsies don’t follow the script, I didn’t mean the ones playing against us. Team USA recovered from a terrible first half against Slovenia to get a draw, and if the ref hadn’t blown the call on Maurice Edu’s goal, they’d be sitting in first place right now. I mentioned that the refereeing in the first set of matches had been good, but it was inevitable that somebody would get something wrong, and now USA is the unlucky victim of Malian referee Koman Coulibaly and his inexplicable (foul? offside?) call against USA in the 86th minute that ruled out what would have been the game-winner. Everyone had better hope that USA qualify for the next round anyway, so that this mistake doesn’t make the difference.
Their qualification hopes were helped immensely by England’s 0-0 draw with Algeria. It was the type of game that makes you think, “There’s two hours of my life that I’m never getting back,” but it was the best result that could have happened for us. This leaves us ahead of England in the standings, and it means that if we defeat Algeria on Wednesday, we’re in the round of 16 regardless of what happens in the England-Slovenia game.
Why does USA only play their best when their backs are to the wall? The defense let Valter Birsa have way too much space on the first goal, and Oguchi Onyewu’s indecision left Zlatan Ljubijankić free to score the second. For their part, the Slovenes looked wonderfully sharp in the first half, with strikers making intelligent runs and using their superior size to win long balls. The Slovenes threw away their two-goal lead because they simply fell apart in the second half. As the game wore on, their passes stopped sticking and their crosses started drifting out of bounds.
Coach Bradley’s two halftime substitutions were an acknowledgment that he’d made a mistake starting José Francisco Torres and Robbie Findley. Torres was supposed to slow down the Slovenian midfield and make good passes. He failed miserably, though he still almost scored on a well-taken free kick that Samir Handanović made a diving save on. USA’s offense immediately looked better after the two subs, and Donovan’s early goal in the second half (on a fantastic shot from a tight angle) gave them the impetus to come back. In contrast to the Algeria-England game, this one was a great match for the neutral fans, though nerve-wracking for the fans of the two countries involved.
Now USA can dictate what happens next, though the Algerians looked pretty solid against the English and still have hope of advancing to the round of 16 even though they’re currently in last place. Bradley will have to tweak his lineup to accommodate Findley’s suspension (for picking up two yellow cards in the first two games) and to solve that three-man defense that the Algerians have been using.
Looking forward to the weekend and seeing the teams in Groups E and F.