The pink elephant in the room is that the US had a goal taken from them by an absurd call that was one of a handful of absurd calls throughout the US v. Slovenia match. For instance, there is a strong argument that Marko Suler should have received a red card for taking Altidore down just outside the Slovenian 18 yard box, while he was running to latch onto a pass. I also saw a very strong foul on Landon Donovan that could have meant a red card for the Slovenians. However, as the game is over and there is no precedent or mechanism, the result of the game will stand, so we will just have to get over it.
I also need to apologize for how wrong I was about the Slovenian team and to congratulate their team and their coach for their performance in the first half of the match. I thought that the Slovenians would come out with a defensive mentality, then sit back and counterattack because they would have been comfortable with 4 points after 2 games. The Slovenians did the exact opposite and came out firing on all cylinders in attack mode. They were able to get the goal that they needed. After that they did sit back, absorb pressure, and then score against the US on a counterattack. The Slovenian coach deserves a lot of credit for tactically outsmarting Bob Bradley and the US.
That Bradley, like myself and other pundits, must have expected the Slovenians to sit back is demonstrated in his starting Jose Francisco Torres in place of a more defensive midfielder like Clark or Edu. The expectation was that he would be needed to break down a packed Slovenian defense. When the Slovenians started pouring forward from the opening whistle, the US players looked stunned and played as such. The Slovenians executed their coach’s plan to perfection and made one great shot and one excellent pass to score goals.
Obviously the US is still having some problems with the defense. Onyewu should have stepped up on Birsa to close down his shooting opportunity. But, perhaps mindful of how England scored its opening goal against the US, Onyewu hesitated. In that match, if you remember, Onyewu stepped up, which left space for Gerard to sneak in on goal. The Slovenians helped to create this hesitation by having Birsa come centrally in from the wing. This is the tactic the US has been using with Clint Dempsey. The center of the pitch gets overloaded, so the defenders can get confused and space can open up.
The US defense didn’t look bad, they just haven’t gotten to the same place they were during the Confederations Cup, leaving most fans—including myself—disappointed. This looked like more of a case of the Slovenians playing well than the defense performing that poorly. If the US wants to beat a quality opponent, then the US defense will need to step up its game and start performing closer to expectations. I am not sure about Tim Howard, but it seems like on a good day he would have stopped at least one of the two goals that went in. On the first goal, I think Onyewu’s head screened the ball, so that Howard couldn’t see it until it was too late. On the second goal it’s possible that his angle could have been a bit better and that he could have gone to ground earlier. That said, most keepers wouldn’t have saved either shot.
Landon Donovan really showed his maturity and leadership by scoring so early in the second half and leading the US comeback. The US was down and looked out, and his excellent individual play brought them back into the game. He was also the creator on the second goal as his long ball forward found Altidore, who nodded it down into Bradley’s path for the second goal. With this Landon Donovan the US has a much better chance of success than they did at the 2006 World Cup.
Altidore also got going in the second half, and hopefully we will see him like that for 90 minutes against Algeria. Bradley also deserves credit for making the run into the box in anticipation of Altidore’s header. He made an excellent finish. Dempsey didn’t make a major appearance during the game, but hopefully we will see some magic against Algeria. The important point to take away is that we now have at least four players in the starting lineup who can make something happen: Altidore, Dempsey, Bradley, and Donovan. If one or two has a mediocre game, then the others can hopefully step it up. In 2006 it didn’t feel like that.
The US again showed its amazing ability to fight and comeback. This quality makes every USA game interesting to watch no matter what the score. Of course it would be nice to see some consistency. If the US played every entire game like the second half of the Slovenia game, then they would walk away with a lot more wins. Hopefully Bob Bradley can get them motivated to come out against Algeria the way they ended against Slovenia.
What did you think of the US performance? Who should be the center midfield pairing? Why do you think the US keeps starting games poorly?