When the 2010 World Cup draw was announced last December, most folks who follow international soccer looked at the grouping of USA, England, Slovenia and Algeria and claimed the Americans would have a cakewalk into the 2nd round.
Well, we’re here now.
And it’s not quite a cakewalk, even with a first-game tie last Saturday against England.
It’s not a cakewalk because it only takes one bad bounce, one bad call or one missed chance and you find yourself on the bad end of a result. And that’s what the U.S. is faced with on Friday when they play Slovenia, who already own 3 points by virtue of their 1-0 win over Algeria last Sunday. The U.S. can ill afford to lose on Friday and even a tie wouldn’t be such a great result for Bob Bradley’s team.
Make no mistake about it: The Americans are in need of a victory on Friday.
And how will they get it?
Well, for starters, they’ll need to solve a stingy Slovenian defense and keep their shape in the back. Of particular importance once again will be the flank defensive players, (expected starters) Steve Cherundulo and Carlos Bocanegra, whose job it will be to keep the Slovenia counter attack pressed into the middle of the field where midfielders can help slow down the pace.
Solving that Slovenia defense might necessitate a line-up change or two for Bob Bradley. My guess is Ricardo Clark’s horrid play last Saturday vs. England will cost him his starting role on Friday. Look for someone like Stuart Holden to take over in the midfield, although it would be ideal in my mind to see Jose Torres get the starting nod if Clark does in fact find the bench vs. Slovenia. Up front, I expect Bradley to make a change and insert Edson Buddle to start over Robbie Findley. Experience is critical when facing a solid backline and outstanding goalkeeper, and that means, once again, the duo of Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan will be called upon to create the offensive attack for the Americans.
In a perfect world, the U.S. will claim an early goal on Friday and that will force Slovenia to go more on the offensive and allow the U.S. to use their own counter-attacking abilities. The U.S. needs to avoid a situation where Slovenia gets to the 75th minute in the lead or tied…because they’ll likely pack it in at that point and play for the tie and their all-important 4th point of group play.
Friday’s game will be about goal scoring. The U.S. needs to come out aggressive and willing to take chances to put pressure on the Slovenia defense.
I was right last Friday…I called a tie in the U.S.-England game.
I hope I’m right this time around as well.
U.S. wins, 2-0, on goals from Altidore and Dempsey.