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USMNT in the World Cup: Don’t Sleep on Slovenia


The United States drew a potentially positive group for next summer’s World Cup on Friday. The group as described by some European papers “is wide open” below the runaway favorite, England.

This group creates more possibilities of going forward for the United States than any of the potential draws that naysayers, so blatantly shouted on about all week. Algeria, is participating in its first World Cup since 1986, and is without debate the worst African qualifier for these finals.

While the Algerians have some quality players featuring at decent European sides, much like the USA they feature a number of journeymen players who do not have the experience internationally, or the organization from the federation to make an impact. From a talent standpoint the two sides are evenly matched, but the US has a better manager, more organization and ultimately more discipline than the Algerians.

The US also lucked out in not facing a sub Saharan side in these finals, the first on the African continent. “African Pride” as it is described doesn’t necessarily apply to the Arab nations of North Africa. Algeria will have no home advantage in South Africa.

While I would not discard Algeria entirely, I do believe the US should fare well against them, should the US remain focused. However, they are the last group game for Bob Bradley’s side, and the first two group matches are far more challenging.

England will beat the United States. Despite the match being played at altitude, I watched these teams face off in person last year from Wembley and do not believe the match will be remotely competitive.

My analysis may change based on the injury situation and the form of the players on both sides, but right now I believe England will have its way with the United States in the opener.

Following likely defeat against England, the US will face tiny Slovenia. The former Yugoslav Republic is the least populated nation to qualify for the World Cup more than once. The wealthiest part of the Balkans, the Slovenes defeated Russia in a two leg tie last month to advance to South Africa.

I saw on Twitter yesterday discussion of Algeria being weak because they lost to Egypt and the US crushed Egypt in the Confederations Cup. Even if this is a valid argument (The Egypt team the US beat had omitted Zaki and Mido), and ignoring Algeria’s two wins over Egypt in qualifying, one must then ask how would the US fare in a two leg tie versus Russia?

Would the US’ advance if matched up with Russia? The answer to this question doesn’t tell us that Slovenia can beat the United States but it tells us that sleeping on Slovenia is a dangerous proposition.

The US’ drawing an Eastern European team in the World Cup group stage is usually bad news. Each of the last five World Cups, the US has drawn a side from Eastern Europe, and each time the US has lost. How bad has it been? The combined score of those five matches has been 13-2. Ouch.

Slovenia’s team is well organized and disciplined. They very rarely lose their shape at the back. Coming through what can only be described as a brutal qualifying group that included two sides that have beaten the US in recent World Cups, and another team that just beat the US in a friendly, the team gelled.

Rene Krhin is a young flair player to keep an eye on for Slovenia. Milivoje Novakovic is an effective striker for Koln in the Bundesliga and has also done a masterful job for Slovenia. Another player, I am familiar with is Real Betis man, Branco Illic who has been playing in Russia this year. He’s a superior man marker that can slide inside and serve as a physical lockdown corner so to speak, in American football terms.

The US typically struggles with physically imposing and organized sides. That’s why every World Cup, with different sets of players, the US struggles against Eastern European teams. While Slovenia lacks the overall quality and depth of the Czech Republic or Romania, previous torturers of the United States, their side is similar in style to Croatia who has been a nuisance in recent World Cups and Euros.

Additionally, the US tends to go through peaks and valleys in major tournaments. Often times bad performances snowball in the following match, or the US makes a miraculous recovery and plays at the highest level. Consistency is something the US has strived for since the mid 1990s, and has still not achieved.

While the US has better players than Slovenia and more depth (the same can be said for Algeria when compared to the Slovenes), the match will be a close affair. The United States will have to be at its best to defeat the tiny nation.

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  1. jacko

    December 8, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    kartik,im from manchester england,to say your anti english comments in the the past have made my blood boil is an understatement,ive actually felt like getting on a plane and sawing your american head off,haaaaaaaaa,but i agree with you,and hope england and usa both go thru.but theres no mug teams when it comes to the world cup sham.good luck bros.

  2. Verdi

    December 6, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    Your comment about Algeria is stupid (Without debate the worst African qualifier!) I saw them several times on Youtube and they are excellent Their ranking is higher than that of Ghana ans South Africa Zidane by the way is of Algerian origin and Madjer is Algerian. They have wonderful players like Ziani who plays with the champions of Germany and Bougherra who plays with the champions of Scotland Those who talk about this team without having seen it are not honest and England in particuliar will pay a huge price for its stupid arroganceYou admit that you saw them only twice how then can you pass such a ridiculous judgement on them?

  3. Charles

    December 6, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    let me recap the beginning of your post…

    “Typical negative drivel from this site.”
    Why ? Because…..
    “A- I have never heard of any of the Slovakian players you mention ”

    I took that to be a good thing. I was learning something by someone that knew more than I….You posted it as if…’I don’t know it, it is not relevant’.

    You can have you opinion and post it. Please do, I love reading them.
    BUT DON’T call someone else’s opinion drivel, because it is over your head. Instead learn from it, please.

  4. Ivan

    December 6, 2009 at 11:18 am

    For once, I agree with Kartik.
    Say, US loses to England 2:0, which they should, at least on paper.
    From the next two games, US needs at least 4 points to go thorugh. All the pressure will be on the Americans. If Slovenia wins against Algeria in their opening game, they will have all the momentum going against the US.
    And, to top it all off, US is expected to go through this time around. Let’s see if the team is strong enough to manage high expectations…Yes, the draw was fairly kind to the US this time around(look at Brazil’s or Germany’s groups), but that doesn’t mean much. We’ll see come June 12th…the England v. US game is on Saturday afternoon, at 2:30 pm EST, which should be a ratings bonanza…

  5. eplnfl

    December 5, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    Point is well made do not take Slovenia lightly like the English media has taken the entire group. Good scouting report by Kartik.

    Lets just say that the group is fair to the US not like the last WC. IF we play up to our potential we will advance, but injury, red cards, and bad luck can all play a negative hand here. Bob Bradley’s teams have tended to be slow starters in tournaments. Meeting the number one seed right off is a tough job in any event and especially in England’s case. The English side is not likely to saving anything in the early games which other favorite teams have seemed to do in the past, ie: Italy or Brazil. However, for Kartik or any other pundit to flat out call for a USA defeat is WRONG! Kartik you could of waited for your podcast with Jamie Trecker to state the impossibility of victory. Ok, I admit you gave yourself some wiggle room about it.

    The USA defense lead by Tim Howard and a hopefully healthy group of defenders can be a rock. Does anyone have any doubt that Dempsey and Donovan can score on anyone and especially England. Thereby the seeds of a US win. Midfield play will be key. As Kartik has sought to do here is to sound the warning that we hope the US team takes note of that the rest of the group is no pushover. The danger to the USA is not a poor performance in game one, but in games two or three.

    BTW, when is the Jamie Trecker podcast scheduled for, I do not want to miss it!

  6. Blag

    December 5, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    Friendlies are nothing to consider anything by. I know that neither side took it completely seriously, I also know the usa did not use some of its current team in that friendly and the next game is a nuetral site, so that may change a few things. Now some of these comparisons are quite pointless. There would be no reason to have to have this group C if these teams were not good enough to be here. To say anyone should win or loose is foolish and arrogant. Yes one team may have more stars or supposedly better coaches, but it is a team sport. It all comes down to who shows up and plays as the best team. I have no right in attempting to compare the teams since I know I do not know nearly enough. But even if I did there is no reason to try to say someone SHOULD win or loose. To do so is like saying there is no point in playing the game.
    Otherwise upsets would not happen. The US would not have beaten england in 1950 and spain this past summer. Slovenia would not have beaten russia and algeria would not have beaten Egypt. A better comparison might be on the consistency of the unit team instead of their stars or supposed coaching abilities. Since I am a usa fan, I would say the usa is unable to have an easy group because their biggest opponent is being consistent which often leads them to being weak in tournaments. The group stage allows them to go through their own little roller coaster ride which you can never tell if that is good enough or not. 1998, 2002, 2006 and the confed cup are perfect examples. Many times they loose one game, then look brilliant in another and then the other one is random.

  7. Rafael

    December 5, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    The U.S. should advance out of this group. If it doesn’t, it comes down to one thing: coaching. I can’t wait to see how Bob Bradley screws up this World Cup. We will see if he gets outcoached by Algeria and Slovenia.

  8. Anton

    December 5, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    Both the US and Slovenia have played friendlies at Wembley recently.

    The US looked terrible as K mentioned, but Slovenia lost 2-1 on a very controversial penalty when Rooney took a dive.

    I think the average England fan respects Slovenia more, a country who beat Russia in a tough playoff and gave England a game than the US.

  9. Jess

    December 5, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    Anyone sleeping on Slovenia or Algeria either knows nothing about soccer around the globe or simply is jingoistic.

    I don’t always agree with Kartik and find some fault with portions of this piece, but overall this is pretty accurate.

    Saadane is a better manager than Bradley by the way, and so is Kek.

    Bradley is the worst manager in the group.

    But I do agree that the dysfunction in Algeria’s federation will hurt as far as securing good training grounds, and keeping the sideshows at a minimum.

  10. hawth_kens

    December 5, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    Kartik, as usaul, is 180 degrees from the truth. Algeria does not have as much quality as the USA, the coaching is probably equivalent, and who the $%&#@ cares how “structured” the soccer federation is?

    WTF? Are you nuts? Is Sunil Gulati going to suit up?

  11. The Gaffer

    December 5, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Guys, I want to share an important point. Slovakia and Slovenia are two completely different countries.

    When Czechoslovakia split, it became two — the Czech Republic and Slovakia. When Yugoslavia split, it split into several different countries including Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro.

    Slovenia is in the US group. Slovakia is in the group with Italy, New Zealand and Paraguay.

    The Gaffer

  12. camdoug1

    December 5, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Otto, frankly if you haven’t heard of any of the Slovakian players then I’m afraid you haven’t been paying attention to world football for the past few years.

    Kartik never said that we would lose to Slovenia, or that Slovenia is a better team. All he’s saying that Slovenia doesn’t exactly suck and is capable of winning the game… which is 100% correct.

  13. Otto the Seal

    December 5, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    Typical negative drivel from this site.

    A- I have never heard of any of the Slovakian players you mention and neither has anyone else that reads this site. You could be making them up for all we know. That tells us how strong Slovenia really is.

    B- As to your question about Russia, yes we’d beat Russia. Where was Russia at the last World Cup? What did they do in the World Cup before that? Same for Croatia. I do not know what Roger refers to about Algeria, but he is right, you are a Euro snob.

    C- All you do is bash the USA. Mexico is better. Italy is better. Denmark is better. Slovenia is better. The Zulu tribe is better. You make assumptions and make statements that are not backed up by fact. Because you get on your high horse and start talking about specific players and managers you feel you cannot be touched in your self riteous and cocky arguments. When we get further in this World Cup then all the teams mentioned just like the Confed Cup what will you say.

    Simply because you spew crap and anti USMNT propaganda out of your mouth doesn’t make it right. Slovenia is a joke.

    The only question is whether we win this group or England does. I think we’ll be so hyped up for the game and they are too buys disrespecting us that we beat them like we did Portugal. It’s funny that you don’t mention that game in your 15-2 stat but obscure games no one remembers or cares about.

    I’m done with this site.

    • The Gaffer

      December 5, 2009 at 1:14 pm

      Otto, try to reserve your judgment until the games are done. Maybe you’re correct. Maybe Kartik is, but what I can tell you is that anything is possible. There’s no guarantee England and the US will advance from this group.

      As for Slovenia, I don’t know much about them but I’m familar with Robert Koren and Branko Ilic.

      The Gaffer

    • Kartik Krishnaiyer

      December 5, 2009 at 4:58 pm

      I think we’ll be so hyped up for the game and they are too buys disrespecting us that we beat them like we did Portugal. It’s funny that you don’t mention that game in your 15-2 stat but obscure games no one remembers or cares about.

      The 13-2 scoreline were not in obscure matches unless you consider the World Cup obscure.

      1990 L Czechoslovakia 5-1
      1994 L Romania 1-0
      1998 L Yugoslavia (Serbia/Montenegro) 1-0
      2001 L Poland 3-1
      2006 L Czech Republic 3-0

      • quakesin2knever

        December 5, 2009 at 6:29 pm

        All those countries are much much larger than Slovenia and have much stronger soccer traditions and had much better players when we played them than Slovenia does now. Did Slovenia ever have any players on the Yugoslav national team before Yugoslavia broke up?

        We will beat Slovenia. Write it down. If they muscle us around then we will draw a penalty kick and some free kicks inside the 18 and put them away. FIFA refs are super tough on muscle players in the world cup as Gooch found out in 2006.

    • Andrew

      December 6, 2009 at 12:02 pm

      What the hell article were you reading? I’m not sure see him USA bashing anywhere. This wasn’t in any way whatsoever a negative article, it was completely objective. Please point out to me where you see him call the USA garbage or worthless anywhere, because I just don’t see it.

  14. camdoug1

    December 5, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    1. while Egypt may have been missing Amr Zaki and Mido, I’d argue that those two are hardly the best players for Egypt, Aboutrika is… and if those two had played, maybe the result would have been 3-1 or 3-2 instead of a 3-0 rout. Also remember that Algeria doesn’t travel very well. I really don’t think the Algerian defense will be able to handle Landy, Dempsey and Altidore.

    2. Frankly, I think the US has the capability of beating Russia in a home and home. Russia’s defense is a lot weaker IMO than originally thought, other than the goalie. Also, the US (and Slovenia) are much more solid as a team than Russia. Slovenia exposed them. Team spirit is very important, I’m a big believer in it… just ask Germany.

    Slovenia reminds me of a mid level Bundesliga side, which isn’t a bad thing at all. They seem to play well together and are very capable of not only upsetting the US, but also England. The US may have trouble trying to out-muscle Slovenia, but I think we will beat them with our speed, especially if Charlie Davies can make it back in time. I predict a close, relatively low scoring US win. Look at it this way… Fulham would probably beat Koln in a neutral site match. Thats what this match reminds me of.

    The Euro press is right, this is a wide open group… but at the end of the day England and the US should move on. If the US doesn’t make it to the second round, then frankly we have not improved much as a soccer nation since ’94.

  15. Roger

    December 5, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    i disagree kartik sorry. you may be right about slovenia but you are dead wrong about algeria. they beat egypt with both mido and zaki. they have really good players. they will run at the us with an unfit gooch and will win.i feel you are scared of being seen as negative and are straddling the fence here attacking those of us that analysed the draw properly before who know the usa isn’t all that this cycle, and so you say slovenia is tough because they are european and you are a eurosnob while writing off algeria because they are north african. you also say england is unbeatable. algeria will give them a game too. i am not optimistic about the usa chances. the only three teams the usa is clearly better than in the world cup are new zealand, north korea and honduras and the us is not in the group with any of them. thumbs down on your post. the slovenians will like it i guess and the eurosnobs also.

    • Kartik Krishnaiyer

      December 5, 2009 at 12:48 pm

      I’ll admit I’ve watched Algeria only twice, both against Egypt, while I have seen Slovenia often. Much like Slovakia and Denmark, whom I correctly projected based on watching them that they would match up well with the USA, I am making the same projection about Slovenia.

      This piece was not about Algeria.

      I am much more knowledgeable about Slovenia and England, than about Algeria. But Arab sides will NOT have any sort of home advantage in South Africa.

  16. Roger

    December 5, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    also do not forget the slovenian manager out thought guss hiddink in the playoffs over two games.

    if he out coached hiddink, can you imagine what he will do to bradley?

    i am not sure algeria is as straight forward as you think. did you watch pompey this morning? the algerian player looked very lively.

    • Kartik Krishnaiyer

      December 5, 2009 at 12:30 pm

      Did not see the game this morning after my late night return from ESPN in Bristol, but I do know Algeria has quality players. Behlaj (sp?)from Pompey is very very good, but again I think Algeria lacks the discipline at the Federation level to be successful at a World Cup. I do not doubt they have quality: they have as much quality as the USA but they don’t have a manager as good as Bradley or a Federation as structured as ours.

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