Friday, June 18, 2010

US-Slovenia: an instant classic

Wow. Just when I was absolutely fed up with the World Cup, it lures me back with the most dramatic, exciting, agonizingly heart-wrenching game I've ever seen. I think my friend put it best: what are we supposed to feel right now? Elation? Disappointment? Extreme, unadulterated anger? I certainly feel all three. Over the course of 90 minutes, we felt it all: disappointment at another slow start, disgust at the poor display of the first 30 minutes, hope as we started to get into the game, despair at Slovenia's second goal. And then the comeback began, and what a comeback it was. Donovan's goal was magnificent. Bradley's run before meeting the header from Altidore was genius. Altidore was the man-of-the-match, continuously terrorizing the Slovenian defenders with his strength and power. And if it weren't for the stunningly incompetent Koman Coulibaly, who, according to wikipedia "hates the United States with the burning passion of a white hot sun," we would have completed the first ever comeback win from 2-0 down at half time in World Cup history.

The foul call on the 3rd goal is one of the most inexplicable decisions I've ever seen in a soccer match. Watching the replay, what's remarkable is the lack of normal jostling by US players for position. Meanwhile, at least two clear fouls are being committed by Slovenian players (most notably the player bear-hugging Michael Bradley). What gives? Apparently the ref called the foul on Bocanegra, who in addition to being nowhere near the flight of the ball, was clearly in a six-of-one-half-dozen-of-the-other struggle with his marker. It was the worst decision of the World Cup, seconded by the yellow card given to Findley in the first half, when the ball, catching him completely unawares, struck him squarely in the face.

Luckily, Findley has been pretty invisible in the minutes he has played, and shouldn't be missed much in the Algeria game. Hopefully, Bradley will make some other adjustments to the team that started today. Most importantly, he should keep Onyewu as far from the pitch as possible, as his play has been disastrous. He's been culpable on all three goals conceded, and is absolutely incapable of playing cohesively with Demerit. Over and over, he gets caught drifting too far back, too far forward, out of line with the other three defenders. He leaves huge gaps in the middle and doesn't cover well for Demerit. He is far too slow to step up and pressure the ball when it is finally played into his area, and to recover when it leaves his area. His passing is atrocious. Goodson or Spector should start in his place, pushing Bocanegra to center-back if necessary. Feilhaber should also start in place of Torres, who took no risks at all going forward.

Algeria looked decent against England, and the last game will be a serious challenge. Recent history is not encouraging: we've lost the last group game in every World Cup we've played with a group phase. In the last 5 world cups, we've lost to Austria, Romania, Yugoslavia, Poland, and Ghana respectively. We'll have to do better on Wednesday! A win guarantees that we advance. A draw will be enough if England and Slovenia draw and as long as we have more goals than England (right now, winning that count 3-1). Can't wait.

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