Sunday, June 20, 2010

US v. Slovenia: World Cup Retro Diary

As you know by now, the United States and Slovenia tied 2-2 in a thrilling match of two completely different halves...Slovenia dominated the first half and the United State dominated the second half. Here is my retroactive look at the match:

1': Clint Dempsey elbows Zlatan Ljubijankic for what could have been a red card. At the very least it should have been a yellow card but as you will see throughout the match, this was not the only blown call by referee Koman Coulibaly.

8': Ljubijankic heads the ball straight up into the air. US goalkeeper Tim Howard comes out to snare the ball and as usual yells at his defenders. Howard is a very good keeper but why does he always come out barking at the top of his lungs. Every now and again he could just go about his business. Don't get me wrong, I am all about accountability but Howard's yelling seems like becomes ineffective if you always yell. My advice, pick your spots Timmy.

13' - Valter Birsa scores for Slovenia from 25 yards out to give Slovenia a 1-0 lead: Somehow there was not a US defender within 5 yards of Birsa. After the game Howard intimated that he never saw the ball. I hope that is the case because Howard watched the ball soar into the back of the net without even moving. The US is consistent at one thing, giving up early goal. Just to add insult to injury, that goal marks the 12th straight match that the US will not keep a clean sheet.

15': Landon Donovan's free kick is punched clear by Samir Handanovic. If Handanovic didn't punch that ball clear it looked like Dempsey would have had a great chance to equalize.

37': Bostjan Cesar is shown a yellow card for tripping Altodore. Torres takes the free kick and decides to go for goal instead of swinging it into the box. I like the idea of going for goal in that situation but the execution left more than a little to be desired. When I saw that Bradley inserted Torres instead of Clark I was ecstatic...after 37 minutes not so ecstatic.

40': Findley receives a yellow card for a handball that the replay shows hit him in the face. Since this is Findley's second yellow card in as many games, he will miss the US/Algeria match. I actually see this as the only gift referee Koman Coulibaly gave the US. As a quick tangent, not too sure why Bradley started Findley up top alongside Altidore against England and Slovenia. If I were in charge of the US, I would have started anyone (Buddle or Gomez) instead of Findley up top. Then I would bring Findley on with 20 minutes remaining to make some piercing runs. Findley starting consecutive matches for the US shows how much they miss Charlie Davies.

41': Dempsey's cross is deflected by Miso Brecko, robbing Donovan of an easy equalizer. When Donovan is that close he has to throw his body at the ball. Instead the US misses another close opportunity.

42' - Zlatan Ljubijankic scores for Slovenia to give Slovenia a 2-0 lead: Slovenia had two attempts on goal the entire first half, which lead to two goals. Oguchi Onyewu pulled off a tough double gaffe on the goal by failing to close down the attacker while playing on the goal scorer. A play like this by Gooch shows that Gooch is still not fully fit. What a change of momentum, in less than a few minutes the US goes from being tied 1-1 to being down 2-0.

Halftime: I don't think Ricardo Clark brings anything to the table so I liked that Bradley started Torres in Clark's place, unfortunately Torres was completely ineffective. As a result, Bradley brings in Benny Feilhaber for Jose Torres as well as Maurice Edu for Robbie Findley. Agree with bringing in Edu, I wanted Bradley to start him alongside his son instead of Clark or Torres the entire World Cup. The Feilhaber sub is a little surprising. Since Dempsey is going to move up top I would have brought in DeMarcus Beasley or Stuart Holden to play outside midfield instead of Feilhaner.

48' - Donovan scores for the US to cut Slovenia's lead to 2-1: Steve Cherundolo played Donovan into space. Donovan was looking to cross the ball but for some reason no one on Slovenia closed down Donovan so Donovan went towards goal. Donovan struck an absolute screamer into the only place he could go, the roof of the net, for his 3rd World Cup goal (43rd international) and first World Cup goal since 2002.

51': The US almost capitalized on a Donovan free kick but neither Dempsey or Gooch can bury the equalizer.

59': Altidore does the hard part turning the defender while possessing the ball but is unable to capitalize on his hard work. The way Altidore holds the ball reminds me of Brian McBride but Altidore is no where close to McBride in terms of finishing.

69': Marko Suler drags down Altidore just outside the box. If Suler gets Altidore a quarter second later, the US wins a penalty kick...instead they fail to capitalize on the free kick.

72': Andraz Kirm slides in late on Cherundolo and receives a yellow card.

75': Referee Koman Coulibaly continues to baffle me. Coulibaly is talking to Altidore despite the fact that Altidore was simply playing the ball. Coulibaly is really struggling and we haven't even gotten to his Mona Lisa of horrible decisions yet. Not too sure how reffing in Mali qualifies you to ref the World Cup...just saying Sepp Blatter.

80': Bob Bradley inserts Herculez Gomez for Gooch. I like the strategy, the US had to go for broke at that point. Plus, Edu is a better option than Gooch in central defense at this point. I am sure that it would create an uproar in the small but dedicated US soccer community if Bradley started Carlos Bocanegra or Clarence Goodson in place of Gooch but I would support the decision. Gooch is no doubt an impressive physical specimen, I just question if he can go another 90 minutes against Algeria coming off the major knee injury.

82' - Michael Bradley scores for the US to tie the game 2-2: Donovan played the ball long to Altidore, who perfectly nodded the ball towards an on rushing Bradley. Bradley pulled off one of the classiest toe pokes in World Cup history to tie the match. Can't say enough about how calmly Bradley slotted that shot. If the US advance, Bradley's 1st World Cup goal (8th international goal) will go down as one of the best in US soccer history.

86': Off a Donovan free kick, Maurice Edu bags a goal in the six yard box to put the US up 3-2. Wait...referee Koman Coulibaly continues his horrible performance by waving off the goal for a foul on the US. The replays show that at least four Slovenian defenders were absolutely mauling US players. If there was going to be a call, it should have been a penalty kick for the US instead of a foul against the US. It is hard to put into words how horrible of a decision Coulibaly made. ESPN has its talking point until the US plays again...if the US sputters against Algeria, everyone US fan is going to point to this decision as the turning point of the World Cup. If Edu's goal would have stood, it would have marked the first time in World Cup history that a team won 3-2 after going down 2-0 at halftime.

Final Thoughts: The US became the fifth team in World Cup history (the first since the 2002 World Cup) to tie a match after trailing 2-0 at halftime. The US should be happy with the result considering the US is 6-16-5 in World Cup history and has never won a World Cup game after trailing.

The US continued their futility against European teams in the World Cup running their record to 1-9-4 against European teams in the World Cup since 1990. If you were to tell me at half time that the US would have a chance to tie the game 2-2 and have a legitimate gripe about getting robbed on a third goal I would have called you crazy so US fans should be happy with the result.

Bring on Algeria and hopefully the knockout round!

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