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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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As this blog is nothing if not about the the US National Team, today’s focus is on tomorrow’s matchup with Slovenia. I will touch on today’s results and tomorrow’s other games towards the end.

Most importantly, if you are unable to watch on a TV, Univision.com has live streaming of every game.  Yes, the commentary is Spanish, but soccer sounds better in Spanish anyway. The quality is much better and the site more reliable than the other two, shadier options from earlier in the week.

A tie in the first game was a quality result for the American side. However, whether or not they qualified for the knockout round was always going to depend on the results vs Slovenia and Algeria. Slovenia did make things a little more interesting through their victory vs Algeria last Saturday.

The read on tomorrow’s opposition is that they are content to pack the back, focus on defending, and hope to capitalize on the counter.  The style presents an interesting situation for the Americans; they thrive when they are able to play in that format but have struggled when teams invite them to attack.

They are also a physically imposing team, both CBs measure over 6’1”.  It will be an interesting test for Mr. Altidore who can sometimes succeed on pure physical superiority.  He will need to be smart and not just a man child tomorrow.

A draw wouldn’t rule out progression but it does take their fate out of their own hands. If the US is as good as we like to think, they must beat those teams to which they are clearly superior, especially in the World Cup.  Being competitive with Spain and England and Brazil is fun, but this is where the bread is buttered.

Since the US will need to score, we will start up front…

Strikers

8 guys behind the ball will make it hard for Robbie Findlay to utilize his speed to full effect.  He is most effective in the open spaces and on the break, circumstances which probably won’t arise that often tomorrow.

Personally I would like to see BB employ a more natural striker (read: better finisher) alongside Jozy; preferably Herculez Gomez but Edson Buddle would work too.

He could also push Dempsey up front and bring in Stuart Holden along the right hand side.  Holden is very strong in possession and is full of good offensive ideas, while I maintain that the Texan is at his best when he is close to the goal.

Based on Slovenia’s willingness to sit back, the US will have chances in the area.  It is imperative that they are able to finish when the opportunity presents itself.

Midfield

There has been a lot of talk about Ricardo Clark in both the build up to the tournament and in the time since the England game.  The media seems to think he isn’t the best option but it is clear that Bob has other thoughts.  Clark was burned on the goal last weekend, allowing Steven Gerrard to slip right behind him.  If he starts again, it will either be a sign that he doesn’t trust anyone else out there or has an absurd amount of faith in him.

I think that to start it will be Clark or Edu in the midfield, as they need a strong defensive midfielder to help control counterattacks, especially if they start pushing people forward.  I would imagine the first part of this effort will be Michael Bradley getting  some more offensive freedom, a good thing.

Landon Donovan is the integral piece of the attack though.  He thrives in counterattacking situations and it will be different for him to receive the ball, look up, and see 6/7/8 defenders.  Patience will be key, as will a willingness to make some short passes.  He should find some space on the outside, but needs to capitalize with good crosses.

If the US get’s to halftime with out scoring, the 2nd half could see a more attack minded partner for Bradley Jr; Feilhaber or Torres or possibly Holden.

Defense

I expect this to stay exactly the same.  They will probably position themselves further up the field than usual but I don’t expect them to try to hold around the halfway point or anything crazy.

It will be a different game from what they are used to.  Rather than playing in their own penalty area for long periods, they will probably be cleaning up long balls and feeding the wings.  They must not get impatient early and rely on sending the ball forward and hoping.

As stated, the Slovenians are a physically imposing side and the US has very little chance of a game of long ball like that working.

They must also be wary of the counter attack.  I expect Steve Cherundolo will continue his offensive journeys, a great thing, but it does leave some exposure at the back.  The remaining.

Overall

This is a game the US should win.  That statement alone has caused issues for them in the past and that is why this game is such a measure of how far they have actually come.  The Swiss showed on Tuesday that the US is not alone or extraordinary in their ability to pack the back and score on the counter.  If this team is actually the most talented the US has seen, then they must go out tomorrow and win.

Et al.

Argentina guaranteed themselves passage through to the knockout round early this AM with a convincing win over S Korea.  They definitely established themselves as one of the top teams at this tournament.  Lionel Messi is generally excellent both with and with out the ball, clearly enjoying the reign and responsibility given to him by Maradona.  That goal at the end of the first half did highlight the uncertainity surrounding their defending.

Nigeria seemed to be in good shape until playing with 10 men for 55+ minutes proved too much to bear.  They might say it was a harsh decision but the referees have been punishing any sort of that extra curricular activity harshly throughout the tournament.

South Korea will still advance with a draw in their final group game but you can be sure Nigeria will come out flying.

Mexico’s first goal was a bit lucky not to have been called back for offsides but France cannot go 180 minutes with out scoring and expect to be in good position.  Uruguay and Mexico are now in very good position to advance and France will need to hope one of them loses and they can beat South Africa at least 3-0 to have a hope.  Either way, I think it is clear that this French teams is in bad need of an overhaul.

Tomorrow’s other games are really just the periphery to me.  I fully expect England to come out firing in an attempt to establish their dominance.

I originally had this incorrectly, Germany v Serbia is the early game tomorrow.  Based on a strong backline, many people had Serbia pegged as possibly a surprise winner in Group D.  They were unfortunate to lose to Ghana on a late penalty and will need to come out and try to get a victory vs Germany tomorrow if they want to maintain hope of advancing.  Germany has looked as strong as any team thus far though and it will be a serious test for the Serbians.

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Day 6 saw South Africa get pretty much dominated by Uruguay.  Their hope of advancing is now dependent on beating France and hoping for a result in their favor from Uruguay vs Mexico.  I guess my positive thinking and continued reminders that no host nation had ever failed to make it out of the group stage did no good.

Chile lived up to the hype as a fun to watch, offensive force.  Honduras is probably one of the weakest teams in South Africa and Chile should have scored more than once.  They were always looking up and moving very well with out the ball.  #7 Alexis Sanchez = the real deal.

The huge news of the day was Spain’s upset at the hands of Switzerland; their first ever victory over the Iberian folk.  Similar to the USA’s 2-0 victory last year, the Swiss absorbed the Spanish attack for 90+ minutes and were able to score a scrappy goal on the counter attack.  This result threw Group H into a bit of disarray and puts a lot of weight into the 6/25 Chile v Spain encounter.

It should be noted that the round of 16 pairs the Group H runner up with the Group G winner.  Of course, the Group G winner is widely expected to be Brazil.  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, today proved that can be dangerous, but I just wanted to throw it out there.

Moving onto tomorrow…

Group B – Round 2

There isn’t too much to say about these two games as 2nd place in this group will probably come down to the last set of games on the 22nd.  Argentina is always interesting and they will surely be confident coming off of Saturday’s performance.

Nigeria could lose and still have a chance at advancing.  However, they will know by the time they take the field what is required to keep themselves in the race for the knockout round.

France v Mexico

This might be the most important game of this 2nd set of games.  Uruguay took control of the group with today’s win and both these teams will be looking to match them.

France must be itching to take the field after last week’s disappointing tie.  Negative news continues to surround the camp and whether or not they can somehow use it as as an “us against everyone else” mechanism will determine how far they go.  Florent Malouda looks to set to start after coming off the bench vs Uruguay and will probably supplant Sidney Govou.  Franck Ribery is always dangerous but he has lost some pace recently, he must do a better job combining with his teammates rather than trying to do everything himself; this team is talented enough to make a deep run if they play as a team.

Mexico must feel a level of urgency knowing they would be better off had they taken 3 pts from the South Africans.  Once again a loss would not put advancing out of the question but it would require them to go and beat Uruguay next Tuesday.  They looked dangerous throughout last week’s encounter but were lacking entirely when it came to the final product.

Overall, a Mexico loss would still mean they hold their fate in their own hands while a France loss means that they would need major help to get through.  Unfortunately, a tie isn’t the worst news for either team so we might see both trying not to lose rather than win.

Et al

Their well played, hard fought game vs Brazil yesterday helped the North Koreans garner a ton of underdog support in this country.  Despite what you might think about the country, you can’t deny what playing in this tournament means to these players.

Gawker.com put together a funny list of reasons you should root for them.

ESPN.com’s coach profile page was either compiled by someone with a sense of humor or is an all time great example of unintentional comedy.  My favorite: “…coach himself has claimed he received regular tactical advice during matches, apparently using mobile phones that are not visible to the naked eye. Jong-Il is said to have developed the technology himself.”

Tim Howard apparently wishes he was a midfielder.

Maradona continues to entertain, this time ripping into Pele and Michel Platini.  I like him.

Finally…I heart legos, so this is one of the coolest WC related things I have seen thus far:

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So these daily little looks will come towards the end of the 2:30 games, aka sometime between 4 and 5PM EST.

Today was kind of odd as the one match everyone was thought would be the best, was probably the most negative game thus far.  Both teams clearly didn’t want to lose and if it weren’t for some moments of Ronaldo and Gervinho, the game might have ended with 0 offensive chances created by either side.

Portugal has the advantage of playing Brazil in their last game; they should know exactly what they need to do in order to beat out the Ivory Coast for that elimination spot.

New Zealand showed that maybe they aren’t the worst team in the tournament and saved their chances of advancing with an injury time equalizer.

North Korea played a very organized and efficient style in the late game.  They were able to stay level with Brazil through the first half and even scored late on to make the ending a little exciting.

It was nice to see two excellent goals from Brazil as this run through has been void of any real highlights.  Maicon’s was a mini version of this Roberto Carlos classic and Elano was the beneficiary of a beautiful pass from Robinho (who was probably Brazil’s most dangerous attacker throughout)>

Final Four Teams to Start

Chile vs Honduras kicks things off tomorrow at 7:30 AM EST and could end up being fairly exciting.  The Chileans have been a popular underdog pick due to their attacking nature.  Honduras on the other hand has been written off almost entirely after qualifying based on a late US goal vs Costa Rica.

Chile’s reputation says they will not follow the convention of playing not to lose.  This should result in some entertaining early morning Latin flavored soccer.

The second game places the tournament favorite, Spain, up against the Swiss.  Spain is going to hold possession for like 85% of this game and it would be nice if they could put some away.  The real high quality teams have played one of two ways so far; firing on all cylanders and flowing like Germany/Argentina or play more cautiously like the Italians/French/English/Portuguese.

My boy Phil Ball from ESPN.com says that the mood in camp is excellent and things look almost too rosy for this version of La Roja.

South Africa vs Uruguay

After what has seemed to be a very long 5 2/3 days, we get into the second set of group games.  Now teams with moving into the knockout round have to start making a move towards that.  If someone wins this game it will start to clear up the Group A picture.

Belief seems to be that South Africa blew their load in the first game vs Mexico and can’t replicate the performance tomorrow.  Personally, I think they are lucky to get France in the final game and tomorrow is really a toss up.  Uruguay didn’t look particularly good vs the French and were lucky to escape with a point.

It will at least be interesting and let’s rejoice in the fact that games start to matter a little more now.

US et al

Tim Howard returned to full training today; expected but still a good sign concerning his availability for Friday.

Slovenian midfielder Andrej Komac has guaranteed victory. An interesting tactic but it’s a little nerve wracking that they are so confident.

Paul Gardner at soccer America has an excellent article on the first few games and the quality refereeing thus far. A few days old but definitely worth a read.

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There has been a lot of content lately, so I apologize to anyone who came here looking on Monday and didn’t find anything new.

When the US isn’t playing, I am going to try to provide some insight into what to watch for each day/maybe some reflection on the results.  There is a lot out there, so I am going to keep it short and simple…..in addition to some random US Team bits.

Watching the World Cup on the Internet

First off, there is the issue that most of the games are on during times when the majority of the population is at work.  If you don’t have access to ESPN3.com I prefer the following sites:

www.firstrow.net

www.atdhe.net

Portugal v Ivory Coast

Probably the 2nd biggest game of the opening go-round.  If either team loses, it puts them way out of position to make the elimination round.  In order to advance they would probably need to beat Brazil…unless of course N Korea turns out to be really really good.

Didier Drogba’s status is apparently down to FIFA, they are expected to rule early on Tuesday (US time) whether he can play with his cast or not.

UPDATE: FIFA has given him the all clear to play

If Portugal plays “let’s watch what Cristiano Ronaldo can do” (a style made famous by Mike Brown and the Cavs) then I think Ivory Coast can get a win tomorrow.  However, I do think Portugal could respond well to being essentially an afterthought in this group; tomorrow might be a little reminder to everyone that they are indeed here to play.

Which brings us to…

Brazil

Not really the game itself but being that this is Brazil, it will be interesting to see how they come out.  A lot is expected of this crew; champions last summer in the Confederations Cup and 2nd favorites in Vegas.

It is unlike them to struggle like France or Italy and I doubt they will, can they outdo Germany’s 5 though?

US et al

Tim Howard is expected to start on Friday vs Slovenia; always positive news when you have a #1 and he’s healthy.

Zinedine Zidane is joining the “rip the French” group on Facebook.  Only time will tell if he has a read on them or if he’s having issues b/c he’s no playing.

The US v England game has outperformed the first 4 NBA finals games on TV; excellent news for the sport and affirms ESPN faith in putting so many resources behind it.

On the home front here, there is a ton of unique soccer stuff popping up in NY.  Alex Kotler is putting together what should be a really sweet space starting next week; Play Beautiful NYC on Mulberry St is going to be a World Cup focused soccer-blow out.  Try to stop by for a day-game or stroll by in the evening to check out one of their nightly events.

After FIFA crowns their champion, the 2nd annual Copa NYC hits Pier 40 in Manhattan to crown our own champion of the 5 boroughs.  An Amateur “World cup,” taking advantage of NYCs rich ethnic communities and high level of soccer talent, they have 2 weekends full of games starting on July 24-25.  16 countries represented, 1 champion.

Both efforts are refreshingly non-corporate and all about spreading the good word.  If you are a fan of this game and live in this city, make sure you take advantage of it.

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