Whew. Extra time is a great rule, ain’t it?
The Americans needed all 90 minutes and then some to knock off Algeria and secure a spot in the knockout stages of the 2010 World Cup. For most of the match, Algeria’s stout defense smothered the American offense with tough tackling and a threatening counterattack. Herculez Gomez, making his first start of the Cup, came close to breaking the game open early but the angles were tough and the striker struggled to pick out his spots.
A dubious offsides call (replays show it could have gone either way) prevented the US from taking the lead in the first half. Clint Dempsey followed up a deflected shot but was ruled off and had to wheel out of his celebrations. The call looked to be a bad omen for the Americans as they could not find the finishing that England enjoyed through Jermaine Defoe. The swift striker put England on top of Slovenia and made an American win over Algeria imperative for advancement.
In the second half, Bob Bradley threw caution to the wind as he replaced midfielders with strikers and summoned Damarcus Beasley from whatever it is he does while other people play soccer. With Beasley and Edson Buddle supporting Jozy Altidore (although Edson and Jozy were interchangeable most of the half), Bradley was essentially playing with five attacking players and Michael Bradley sitting in the midfield. Donovan and Dempsey pushed through the gaps between the strikers and the Americans showed an attacking tenacity they have rarely exhibited on the international stage.
Algeria wasn’t without their chances though, and it took some last ditch defending from the central pairing of Demerit and Bocanegra to keep the game even. Tim Howard played another mistake-free game and it is undeniably exhilarating to see an American player so regularly intimidate his opponents the way Howard does every match. His confidence inspired the back four to give a commendable effort, even if Algeria did manage to break Cherundolo and Bornstein down much too easily.
But for all the accolades this American team deserves, it has but one true star: Landon Donovan. For all of Howard’s brilliance, Dempsey’s genius and Altidore’s talent, it is clearly Donovan who was made for the big stage and whose heartbeat picks up the slack when the national anthem’s drums halt their staccato sound.
In the 91st minute, Donovan drove the ball through midfield with speed and power. Dempsey cut through the two central defenders while Altidore’s run was wide right. When the defense committed, Donovan poked the ball to Altidore who cut it back to Dempsey in the middle. Dempsey could only tap his shot into the onrushing goalkeeper but Donovan, continuing his sixty yard run, calmly sidefooted the ball into the lower left corner of the net. Then, as Algeria’s defense lay strewn across the six yard box, Donovan peeled off and dove into the corner, where the entire bench met him with energy that the team of scientists working on the Hadron Collider can only dream of seeing on their charts. Soon the entire team, a sweaty mess of day-glo pinnies and all white uniforms was piled on their number ten, their leader and best player.
After the match, Donovan cried as he tried to explain what the goal meant to him, his team, and his country.
What he said doesn’t matter. The tears said it all.