What an incredible game today at Ellis Park in South Africa between Slovenia and the United States. In a match that was a game of two halves for the United States, the Americans looked so poor in the first half but looked so dangerous in the second half. For the sake of US soccer fans, let’s hope they’ll play like they did in the second half for the rest of the tournament.
Going into this game, we knew that the game against Slovenia would be a true test. This would be the opportunity for the United States to make a statement to the world that they need to be taken seriously. But what an awful first half performance it was. Robert Koren’s opening goal for Slovenia showed how unfocused the US team was. The former West Bromwich Albion player had so much time and space on the ball. And Oguchi Onyewu failed to close him down. Koren then rifled in a shot past Onyewu’s head and into the corner past the stunned Tim Howard.
After that goal, Slovenia took total control of this match and seemed satisfied to keep possession, keep their shape and sit back rather than push forward. As a result, the United States couldn’t seem to get hold of the ball much. And when they did, they often lost possession in midfield.
Except for one to two chances, the United States failed to make a serious attempt at scoring in the first half. And by the 30th minute, it was very evident that the United States had run out of ideas and needed to change their tactics. Instead, Bob Bradley let the United States team continue with their pre-game tactics which came back to haunt him when Slovenia scored their second goal. At half time, the US side looked demoralized.
Few US soccer fans among the 200 at Wowies in Boca Raton, where we had the official MLS Talk World Cup viewing party, gave the US much of a chance in the second half. To come back and tie or beat Slovenia would be a miracle. But against all odds, the United States team did exactly that and played one of the best halves in recent memory. Landon Donovan’s goal was the game changer. And in the most important moment of the entire game, Donovan took his forefingers and pointed them to his temples and screamed at his players to remain focused. Why Bocanegra is captain and not Donovan is beyond me, but that’s another debate for another time.
From that moment on, you could see that the US had the confidence boost they needed to push for the second goal. It came, finally, after a brilliant knock-down by Jozy Altidore (can we say Emile Heskey) which went into the path of Michael Bradley (who made an amazing run) and the midfielder struck the ball into the top of the net. The US soccer fans at Wowies went into complete delirium with strangers hugging strangers and “USA” chants threatening to take the roof off the place.
Then the unthinkable happened. The United States scored off a free kick, but goal was disallowed by referee Koman Coulibaly. At first, it looked like it may have been an offside call, but that would have been incorrect because the US players were not offside. Then it seemed the call would have been for a push, which was just as harsh because the Slovenian defenders were man-handling the United States players. As the hours go by, we’ll find out more behind this call, but it’s safe to say it was a horrible decision which could end up costing the United States a place in the next round.
At the end of the day, the US men’s national team should be pleased with a draw in a game where, over the 90 minutes, they were outplayed by a very difficult Slovenia team. All eyes will be on this afternoon’s game between Algeria and England, which will then lead into next Wednesday’s incredible last day of Group C when USA plays Algeria while England beats Slovenia.
For the United States team, Bob Bradley has a lot of decisions to make. Buddle and Gomez need to play up front and Bradley needs to get his defenders being more focused and aware. They’ve been caught ball watching far too often. A clean sheet from his back four would be a welcome relief for US soccer fans.