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What will decide Friday's showdown
by Ridge Mahoney, June 18th, 2010 2:37AM

TAGS:  men's national team, world cup


[USA-SLOVENIA] With the USA anticipating a more tactical match against Slovenia in Johannesburg than was the case with England, how might the pieces be moved around on the board?

Regardless of what personnel changes, if any, are taken by U.S. coach Bob Bradley, the Slovenians have shown strengths and weaknesses the Americans will be cognizant of. Here is a breakdown of those elements:

HEIGHT. Striker Milijove Novakovic is 6-foot-3, yet midfielder Andraz Kirm is rather tallish at 6-foot-1. If Kirm is matched up with right back Steve Cherundolo by playing left mid, balls aimed to the back post from the right flank could find Kirm towering over the 5-foot-6 Cherundolo. If so, the American will need to fight his way up the ladder to unbalance Kirm as much as possible before and during contact with the ball.

Balls hit square from the back post are a primary element in Slovenia’s offensive set plays. Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra and Michael Bradley will need to win balls in the air, but just as vital will be the Americans' ability to get to knockdowns and second balls. Slovenia is also aggressive at following up its shots, so the battle to control or clear rebounds, blocks and deflections will be especially important.

CENTER MIX. In the two-leg playoff with Russia last November that Slovenia won on away goals (1-0) in a 2-2 tie on aggregate, Slovenian center backs Marko Suler and Bostjan Cesar were occasionally turned and exploited. Algeria also found slots in losing to the Slovenians, 1-0, while forcing a few good saves from keeper Samir Handanovic.

In addition to the usual diet of flank play and crosses, the Americans should probe for lanes and channels in the center of the field. There will be opportunities to shoot from distance as well as play balls forward if Suler and Cesar step up to challenge.

When defending, central midfielders Valter Birsa and Robert Koren are susceptible to combination play and dribbling runs; if both go up into the attack, Aleksandar Radosavlijevic, one of the outside mids, will provide cover. Thus the timing and angles of runs by Jozy Altidore and his forward partner, as well as Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey cutting inside from the flanks, are vital.

Yet the Americans cannot be sluggish or stupid in their transitions from attack to defense; like many European teams, the Slovenians are quick and crafty going forward when they win the ball, and they’re not afraid to run the ball right up the middle rather than passing it wide.

ATTITUDE. In the aftermath of Slovenian defender Andrej Komac being misquoted about predicting victory, U.S. coach Bob Bradley and his players have said all the right, respectful things about their opponents’ abilities and tactical acumen.

Five rest days separate the England and Slovenia games, so the Americans should have recovered psychologically and physically from Saturday's fierce game.

Several players in the final stages of recovering from injuries should be close to full fitness and sharpness, and getting a full competitive game against England is just what Onyewu may have needed to fine-tune his anticipation and decision-making.

  1. Charles Stamos
    commented on: June 18, 2010 at 12:26 p.m.
    Torres and Bradley weak as a team in the first half. Poor marking on both goals from the all the defense, nice second half from the USA, esp Donovan, He scores, makes the great long pass to Altidore for the assist on Bradley's goal, and assists on Edu's goal. Pathetic calls from the referee constantly throughout the game. The USA will have to beat Algeria by more than England or hope England beats Slovenia and then the USA goes through.

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