With as much action and hype as the England match received, Friday morning’s contest will be even more vital for the United States’ chances to see through to the next round. Had the US lost last weekend, they still would have had a decent chance at advancing. However, if they lose tomorrow, you can pretty much bury the team right there in Jo’Burg.
There are a lot of similarities, in the way these two teams
come into the contest. Both should be coming into the match with a sense of confidence. The United States for their resilience in battling back for the draw against the England side and for the quality of play the exhibited on their way to the draw. The Slovenians for the fact that they stand alone atop the standings after their 1-0 victory and the excitement that came with a winning goal in the waning minutes of the contest. Both seemed to achieve their results with the help of lady luck and two monumental goalkeeping gaffes.
They have the smallest population of any nation entered into the tournament and are nicknamed the Green Dragon. (I worked hard to come up with a decent, “How to Train Your Dragon” joke, but I’m coming up empty, so we will steer clear of them.)
What they lack in athleticism and creativity, they make up for organization and positioning. They conceded the fewest amount of goals in European qualifying and again put up another shut-out over the weekend against Algeria. The work hard to get eight and nine
men behind the ball and hope for offensive chances on the counter-attack or through set pieces. Lastly, with as much attention as U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard has received this past week for his performance against England, he could be facing a man equal to the task on the other side in Samir Handanovic,
who is relatively unknown but extremely skilled and long between the posts.
The Green Dragons lack the speed and creativity of the other teams that the US has faced in the lead up to this game. They do not have a proven go-to goal scorer. If the US can tempt them into an up and down game, this will be an advantage for the United States. Also, if the United States can get the first goal this will force Slovenia to send more attackers forward and disrupt their shape and structure that has made them so successful. Conversely, if Slovenia gets an early goal, you will see them pack it in and put up a stout wall around their own 18.
Last weekend I predicted the U.S. starting line-up with the exception of Robbie Findley for Edson Buddle, as Coach Bob Bradley wanted extra speed to stretch the England defense and saw Findley as a stronger weapon in the counter-attack. This week I think Coach Bradley will insert Buddle into the attack, as touch and skill will be more vital than stretching speed against the organized Slovenia defense. Ricardo Clark had a good game with the exception the first four minutes. But his strength is seen more as a defensive stopper rather than a distributor and for that reason I see Jose Torres playing alongside Michael Bradley in the middle. The rest of the lineup I see as unchanged from Saturday’s contest.
Other options I see could include pushing Clint Dempsey forward, behind Jozy Altidore, and sending Stuart Holden in along the right side, switching Landon Donovan to the left, or playing Maurice Edu alongside Bradley (but I see that more as a second substitution if the U.S. takes a lead).
Yellow Card Watch: Steve Cherundolo, Jay Demerit, Findley
A draw would not be the end of the world for the United States if their goal is simply to get through to the next round. They would most likely need a win next week against an Algerian team that presumably would be 0-2, both weak in terms of talent and defeated in terms of their attitude and spirit.
But if the United States have larger goals in the tournament, they may want to think about getting six points out of their next two games, and doing so in grand fashion. They may be looking at a situation where seven points in the group would earn them a tie for first place, thus taking them into the tie-breaking world of goal differential. Why is first place in the group so important? It would mean a Round of 16 birth against the likes of Ghana or Serbia as opposed to the world beaters of Germany, who look to be in typical German form.
If the United States can settle down early, move the ball well and earn an early goal against Slovenia, this will force the Green Dragons push forward in ways in which they are unaccustomed to, having only allowed four goals in qualifying. Of course this is easier said than done. But in watching Slovenia last Sunday morning, they looked nervous in a really sloppy performance. Look for Donovan, with his creativity and vision, to find a hole in the normally stout defense in the first half for the United States, forcing Slovenia to come out of their shell and opening the ever so slightly.
After a correct prediction for the England game, I’m looking to go two-for-two and expect to see a 2-0 U.S. victory.