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UPDATE:  Bob Bradley has really made some significant changes for this game.  Edu starts instead of Clark.  Gomez get’s the nod of upfront.  Bocanegra moves to the middle, Cherundolo to the left, and Bornstein comes in at Right Back.  His mindset seems to be, “I know if we lose it probably means my job,  if this all backfires then so what anyway.”

Maybe not that extreme but he is putting a lot of faith in Bornstein along the back.  Please god keep his defending instincts calm and collected today.

VIVA AMERICA!!

Less than 24 hours remain until the Americans decide their World Cup fate against the Algerians.

To state the obvious, the US is focused on avoiding one of those early goals which have plagued them since qualification.  The trend has been especially disconcerting against teams to which they consider themselves superior; Honduras, El Salvador, Slovenia.

Players have said plenty about respecting Algeria but I think this team thinks things will be easy against teams ranked lower than them.  An absurd mindset, these teams might be ranked lower but they have gone to South Africa with a belief that they can win and a cockiness that comes from being professionals.  They fear few teams, definitely not including the US.  When the US starts slowly and thinks that by just playing 90 minutes they will be rewarded with a victory, they leave themselves wide open for one of those awesome kicks to the teeth.  Of course, then they get in gear, start to play with more abandon, and hit their potential.

The positive going into this game vs Algeria is that their back is already against the wall and this is when the often play best.  My hope is that they will channel that 2nd half from the Slovenia game into a full 90 minute performance.  Of course they must maintain discipline at the same time and not get caught up in frantic, unorganized play..

Algeria will provide a quality test.  They surely feel as if they could very well be on 2+ points right now, with a serious shot at advancing.  As it stands, a win tomorrow could still see them advance if things fall in their favor and they score enough.  Even though it’s a long shot, they will come to play and have shown in the previous two matches that they are a team which can’t be overlooked.

Moving on to what we can expect from the US…

Up Front

Robbie Findley must sit out tomorrow’s game after receiving his 2nd yellow card last week.  None of the replacements (Dempsey, Gomez, Buddle) bring the same kind of speed that Findlay offers but all are legitimate options to start up front.

Clint Dempsey has shown an attraction to goal throughout his career, regardless of club or country or position.  Bob Bradley has moved him upfront before when the team is in need of goals, but I think he is more comfortable with his alternate striker options than his alternate wide midfield options.

Herculez Gomez has shown a preternatural ability to score when inserted into the game.  Twice since his callup to this team he has come on as a substitute and scored.  Last Friday his sheer appearance in the game allowed the space for Bradley Jr. to tie the game.  Put simply, the man is involved in goals.  His finishing ability is among the best on this team and he is probably the most complimentary to Altidore.

Edson Buddle is the third option for Bob Bradley and would form a very tall, physical strike force alongside Jozy Altidore.  He has been finishing effectively this season and two forwards of that size and strength would make things very difficult on the Algerian defense which is not as physical as the Slovenians.

I think Bradley will go with Buddle to start but if the US finds a goal hard to come by, Gomez will be introduced somewhere around minute 60.

There is some news now that Altidore missed training today because he was sick, he is expected to play though.

Midfield

The main question mark still seems to be who will partner with Michael Bradley.  I think Ricardo Clark will get the start as he is the most defensively sound and has been BB’s preference.  He provides excellent cover for his partner’s forward runs.

If the US is finding goals difficult to come by, you could see Maurice Edu get a late entrance.  He has shown the ability to pop up and score very important goals at the club level and was oh so close to replicating for his country.

Benny Feilhaber or Stuart Holden would probably get the start on the flank opposite Donovan if Dempsey were to start as a withdrawn striker.  Holden offers some more pace and width but Feilhaber brings a level of experience which is probably more valuable.  I love Holden but inserting him into a game like this is asking a lot.

Jose Torres probably missed his chance with his uncharacteristically sloppy performance vs Slovenia.  He is young though and should at least be able to learn from this.

Defense

There have been some calls for Oguchi Onyewu to be replaced.  I see where people are coming from as he has been at least somewhat involved in all 3 conceded goals so far.

The first option for Bradley would be to straight swap him for Clarence Goodson.  An interesting prospect as Goodson is excellent on set pieces and the Donovan has been providing great service.  However, being a central defender in a game like this requires a level of calm and composure gained only with experience.  It would take a lot of faith from BB to see this happen.

The other option is to move Bocanegra into the middle where his speed isn’t as big of a liability.  This would mean putting Spector on his unnatural side or starting Jonathan Bornstein.  Spector seems to have been worn out by the long European season while Bornstein has a love for committing bad fouls, and nothing would be worse than giving up a PK tomorrow.

I think Onyewu will once again start, let’s all hope that he has gotten better with each game.

Overall

The US has to like being in a position where they control their own destiny.  A win and they accomplish their first goal, advance to the knockout round.

They must respect Algeria and what they did to get here.  Just being here is a credit to their quality and two good performances have them playing with a level of confidence that will surely make things harder than they think.

The US however is coming off a very positive draw last week and has a lot of confidence in their own ability to score.  They must, however, stay disciplined and use their advantage in fitness and will to build this game in the image they have visualized.

Et al

Apparently a few of the Algerians have packed their bags and brought them to Pretoria so they can leave right after the game.  Obviously the Algerian Federation president is not happy about that.  A good sign for the American’s but they still have to play the game.

John O’Brien (for the NYTimes) gives his own insight into the unique nature of the final group games.

Phil Ball examines to Spain’s in game response to their early loss.

Ben Lyttleton at SI.com on what we have learned up to this point.

An EPLTalk contributor chronicles the English’s penchant for underestimating opponents; can also be applied (at a lesser degree) to the Americans.

Obviously there are some other games tomorow too..

England and Slovenia will be interesting, especially as England needs to win to ensure advancement.  At least if they fail to make the 2nd round they can be assured they will still be overshadowed by the French disaster.  Little consolation though, we all know they will get roundly ripped and push the French out of everyone’s mind if they fail to advance.

The Group D finale in the afternoon is very messy.

Everyone will be looking to win as that is the only way they can hope to advance.  Germany and Ghana specifically know that a win will put them in the round of 16, no questions asked.

Serbia advances with a win or a tie and a Ghana win.

Australia needs a lot of help to advance but must at least get a win.

Essentially, it will be a very interesting afternoon of games.

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Well wasn’t that fun.  If you want to know what this means to the US hopes of advancing, scroll down…

The US once again let up an early goal and then doubled the fun by succumbing to the counter attack just before the half.

The US was outplayed in the first half; Slovenia had more ideas, was stringing passes together better, and overall just looked like the better team.  The American’s one good chance was agonizingly close but then they got caught napping on the break and all of the sudden they were staring likely elimination in the face.

The second half was a totally different tale.  Landon Donovan started things off inside of 3 minutes with a beautiful, composed, and powerful finish.  He was aggressive in getting the ball in his own half and combining well with Bradley to help the US get forward.  His free kicks have been excellent throughout this tournament and it is only a matter of time before they finish one (although they kind of already have).

The Slovenians proceeded to totally fall apart and despite a few combinations along around the box, they seemed to disappear completely from the middle of the field.

Jozy Altidore was really causing problems for the entire defensive unit.  Mimicking his post up of Jamie Carragher on a few occasions and looking kind of like Dwight Howard out there, no one has a prayer of getting around him legally.  Won a few free kicks and looked dangerous throughout.  Being a striker though, you would love to see him get on the score sheet for his confidence alone.

He also did very well to win the ball in the air which set up Bradley’s finish which tied the game.  A finish which deserves al the slurp that is coming, it was absolutely brilliant.  To keep that ball down with the bottom of his shoe, going full speed, with the goalie coming out, is truly incredible.  Landon Donovan was the official Budweiser “Man of the Match” but in my opinion it was Michael Bradley.

The kid was every where in the middle of the field.  He constantly pressured the ball and took back possession.  His distribution was very good.  As I have stated (this is blog, it is self serving)….his runs from the midfield into the box always seem to cause problems for the defense, and today was an excellent example.  He is turning into a great American central midfielder in the mold of a Claudio Reyna, but with the best sense of goal we have seen from that role.  He has also matured very well over the past year and has cut down greatly on bad tackles and his hothead attitude.

There should also be credit given to Bob Bradley and Herculez Gomez for that goal; Bradley inserted the extra striker who occupied all the attention of the other CB during Donovan’s cross.  He didn’t react quick enough after the layoff from Altidore and it created the space which allowed Bradley to come into the box and finish beautifully.

Bradley’s midfield options weren’t nearly as effective as he was.  Jose Torres in the first half seemed to struggle with effective distribution, often giving the ball away and not really connecting with anyone effectively.  Maurice Edu was just as sloppy with the ball, but did do better to help win possession back a few times and was better as he got into the game.  He was quite unlucky to have that goal called back but more on that later.

Clint Dempsey was never really as threatening as he can be.  Not to say he had a bad game but he just never seemed to be really dangerous.  Might have done better on a set piece in early in the 2nd half but that is nit-picking and did get a little more active when moved up front to compliment Altidore prior to Herculez’s intro.  He just didn’t seek nor receive enough of the ball to make the kind of impact he is capable of.

Benny Feilhaber got his first World Cup appearance off the bench and had a fairly positive impact.  He did seem to be lacking in chemistry with his teammates and the knock on him continues to be that he thinks just a little too much on the ball sometimes.  He tracked back very well and was not afraid of his defensive duties at all.  I think he would have been better off starting in place of Torres, he does have the experience at this level.

Jay Demerit was very disciplined in the back, keeping the play in front of him and just being his standard aggressive self.  He also did a very good job on the much taller and clinical Milivoje Novakovic.  He did get caught out a bit on the first goal but it could also be said that his partner Oguchi Onyewu didn’t step up fast enough for the trap to work, and they got burned….not the first defensive pairing to make that mistake.  Gooch also didn’t close out fast enough on that first goal but other than that he was excellent once the game got flowing.  He did play one great long ball to Jozy, which was wasted but the ball in should get some credit.

The first goal though wasn’t all Onyewu’s fault as Tim Howard probably would have screamed and yelled at him if it was.  Howard did seem to get caught flat footed on that.  Other than that he did well to control the area and made a few big saves late on.

Carlos Bocanegra continues to have issues with any sort of speed coming down the wing but was fairly solid overall.  No glaring mistakes which is a good thing for people in his role.  On the other side, Steve Cherundolo continues to be excellent.  Offensively he wasn’t quite as creative or effective as he was against the Brits but defensively he was a stud.

In closing…

it was a fascinating game but truly a tale of two halves.  The habit of not really getting into the game until they give up a goal is scary, especially now that they must beat Algeria.  It is better to go down early  rather than play 0-0 and concede in the 75th minute, at least it gives their adjustments time to make an impact.

Despite what the press might say, Slovenia/Algeria are not bad teams.  This sport means the world to them and that is how they can turn populations that pale in comparison to the US into competitive soccer teams.  The American’s must not just talk about taking these teams seriously but actually come out flying from the beginning.  This is especially important next Wednesday when a win is absolutely necessary.

Referees

As far as the refereeing goes, it ranks right up there with the ball as things I don’t like to discuss.  There are rash examples, ie Byron Moreno from Italy v S Korea in 2002, but this isn’t one of them.  All sports are impacted by human error; the referee or a flubbed chance or a dropped pass in the end zone or letting the ball bounce through your legs.

When it is a refereeing error, it is amplified because it is much easier to rip into him than it is to blast a specific player, especially if he is your teammate.  You would love to let these kind of games unfold with out having to worry about 3rd party influence, but we are human and we can’t govern ourselves so these are evils we must live with.

Maybe I am sympathetic b/c I have some experiencing refereeing 10 year old girls, but I think Koman Coulibaly was out there with the goal of enforcing the laws of the game as accurately as possible.  He probably made an error but this is the game, sometimes they will go in your favor and other times they will not.

USA World Cup Scenarios

Now that Algeria has made things wildly interesting by tying England, we can look at what this means to the US.

Most importantly, they now control their own destiny.  Win and in. Simple.

If England beats Slovenia, the US must beat Algeria.  The winner of the group will be determined by who’s margin of victory next is great next Wednesday.

If England and Slovenia tie, the US can tie Algeria and advance in 2nd place instead of England as long as England doesn’t outscore the US by 2 goals total on Wednesday.  If they outscore the US by exactly 2 goals, it seems that advancement is by coin flip…although that sounds absurd.

If England and Slovenia tie, the US wins the group if they beat Algeria by 2 or more goals.

If Slovenia beats England, the US can advance with a tie.

Algeria can also still advance as well if they beat the US and other things go their way…not really getting into that.  Just means they will also be looking for a victory.

Others

Since things are so neat and tidy when you can put a number next to them….

Alexi Lalas is fucking pissed

If this is your thing; A full rant from FoxSoccer.com on the refereeing

Day 9 aka Tomorrow

Another reason I am stoked the US tied it….I don’t think I could have gotten excited about this weekend of games if the US had lost and been essentially eliminated.  Fine, not eliminated but too reliant on other results to really be positive.

The 2nd and last weekend of 6 games starts tomorrow, make sure you enjoy it as it will be another 4 years until we see this quantity on a weekend again.

Saturday kicks off with the Netherlands v Japan.  An interesting matchup as both teams won their opening round games; one expectedly, the other unexpectedly.  The Netherlands have the attacking prowess to make a deep run while Japan would be happy to get out of the group.

Ghana has an excellent opportunity to take control of Group D after Germany’s loss from earlier today.  Australia didn’t look great against Germany but they will surely come out ready to play, especially after today’s result threw that group into disarray.  Ghana remains the only African team to win and will surely be looking to really generate some momentum and turn into the “home team.”

In a sign of Germany’s WC consistency, that was their first group stage loss since 1986.  They did have a lot more trouble today than they did against Australia last weekend; maybe their new beautiful style was more a result of Australia’s poor performance than their own emergence.  Or the danger with a young team like this, they just got a serious wake up call that this game isn’t as easy as it sometimes looks.

Specifically, Mesut Ozil got all sorts of love after the first game but just never seemed to get into it today, didn’t have much time on the ball and didn’t seem entirely interested in being there.  One good ball did set up one of Lukas Podolski’s 10 chances but he pushed the ball wide.

The final game is a final chance for these two teams to keep their hopes of advancing alive.  Cameroon took some flak after last week’s loss, even drawing rumors of “being on the take.”  Denmark on the other hand was very successful in qualifying but was clearly outclassed against the Dutch.  However, a win tomorrow will make them keepers of their own destiny going into the final game vs Japan.

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