Margin for error slim against Slovenia

[USA] Credit to the USA, or at least to English keeper Robert Green, for getting a point after falling behind in the fourth minute, but conceding early goals is a habit the Americans are finding hard to break.

In their postgame comments, the relieved Americans admitted as such without pointing fingers of blame at the huge space that opened up for Steven Gerrard to dart through and score, or the free runs down the flank afforded Aaron Lennon and Glen Johnson throughout the match.

“I was pretty annoyed because the marking was a little too lax, particularly for the beginning of a game when you’re supposed to be really up for it,” said keeper Tim Howard. “But at that point you can’t really dwell on it because you still have 90 some minutes to play. So, it deflated us a little bit but we quickly responded.

“We weren’t particularly sharp early on, as you saw. We weren’t tight, especially on the goal. I don’t know at the start if it was nerves or what have you, but we responded.”

From the first minute, right back Steve Cherundolo and defender Jay DeMerit and a few other players were up to speed. Some of their teammates weren’t, and didn’t respond when Emile Heskey touched a ball into the space vacated by Oguchi Onyewu for Gerrard to collect and stab a shot past Howard.

Falling behind so early forced the Americans into taking more of the attacking initiative, which they will likely need to do in their second game against Slovenia, which downed Algeria, 1-0, to take over first place in Group C. If anything, Slovenia is even tougher defensively than England, which had to replace Rio Ferdinand with Ledley King for the World Cup, and then had to replace King at halftime.

What the U.S. did well against England, tracking and containing Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard, and harassing James Milner out of the game in the 30th minute, is a function of intensity and focus, and not so much about tactics and role assignments.

Though both played well overall, central defensive partners DeMerit and Onyewu were occasionally out of sync. DeMerit chose his moments to step into midfield shrewdly, making sure there was cover, either from Onyewu or another teammate. There were also breakdowns on Carlos Bocanegra’s side, where he needed help to contain two or more opponents, and didn’t always get it.

First-game jitters can be blamed for some of the poor play, and a change or two in personnel will likely be implemented to face Slovenia, which as the pivotal second match has always been the one most likely to determine the U.S. fate. With three points in hand, Slovenia could set out to get at least a point and throw up barriers to shut down the U.S. attack.

Yet if it beats the USA, Slovenia advances, period, full stop, regardless of what happens later in the day when England plays Algeria. The Slovenians will surely have noted the U.S. tendency to start slow and fall behind, so the early minutes Friday might be just as crucial, and potentially damaging, as those during which England scored.

Slovenia could come out strong to get a quick goal, or stalk the Americans before ratcheting up the pressure in a game where one goal might be enough to win. In any case, the match will be a tense, nerve-wracking 90 minutes that not all of the American players seem prepared to handle. Even while battling back to tie England, the U.S. needed seven saves from Howard and a few other key plays to prevent a second goal.

No matter who Bob Bradley selects and where they play, the Americans can’t be distracted. The buildup and hype leading up to the England match roiled around history and cultures and 1950 and Joe Gaetjens and the Premier League; this week is just about one game and the points, and pride, at stake.

10 comments about "Margin for error slim against Slovenia".
  1. Gus Keri, June 13, 2010 at 5:17 p.m.

    Today, Slovenia has shown why the USA will have a huge problem in breaking down their strong defense. They were the second best defense in European qualification. They allowed only 4 goals in 10 games (second only to Netherlands). Also, the USA always have a problem with the East European countries. Most recently, they lost to Slovakia which lost twice to Slovenia in the qualification. We need a very strong performance from the USA. This could be more difficult than England game.

  2. James Guerin, June 13, 2010 at 5:20 p.m.

    The first game is over. They are now behind two points to a team that a tie helps big time and hurts US. A win for Slovenia guarantees them a place out of group Slovenia must be thinking that this is there big chance. They looked vulnerable on the outside to some quick passing. US can have no lapses as this is a quality side which is mentally prepared. Donovan is the man and must step his game up. He can be forgiven for the first game as his work rate and that of Dempsey was tremendous to help pull the upset of England (any point from that game has to be considered an upset).

  3. David Mont, June 13, 2010 at 5:40 p.m.

    As strange as it sounds right now, but a tie would actually be a better result for the US. Such result coupled with a, still likely, loss to England would leave Slovenia with 4 points, which probably won't be enough to advance. The US would most likely advance after a draw with Slovenia and a win over Algeria in the last game (and by then Algeria should have been eliminated).

  4. Eric in DC, June 13, 2010 at 6:15 p.m.

    Slovenia game will be important. Once again, we need a tie or win. A loss might be enough to put us on a return flight home. But despite Slovenia's staunch D, the is a winable game. I differ from many of the people who've commented on the US-England game that US was "lucky". Both sides capitalized off of failures from the other. We could've won yesterday and we can win Friday. But the boys will have to focus!

  5. Dave Schechter, June 13, 2010 at 9:03 p.m.

    I said it after the draw: the Slovenia game would be key. We have to figure England picks up its pace and pastes Algeria, which may have shown its best vs. Slovenia. A draw with Slovenia would not be fatal, but would leave too much to chance even with a win over Algeria in the third game. Slovenia knows that a win over either the U.S. or England advances them to the knockout stage. The U.S. must tighten up on its defensive wings (Bocanegra), DeMerrit and Gooch must play better as a tandem (individual play was better), Donovan needs to assert himself more offensively and, perhaps more important than anything else, a better performance in and around the Slovenian box will be critical.

  6. Bertrand Hamilton, June 13, 2010 at 9:17 p.m.

    We will need to win agaist Slovenia no doubt about that; have to use Torres to find the holes & Buddle to finish.

  7. Charles Stamos, June 14, 2010 at 1:26 a.m.

    A win against Slovenia likely puts us through - a tie likely means we need to beat Algeria and by more than 1 goal if England and Slovenia tie - a loss likely means we're out when England beats Algeria. The Yanks better win.

  8. Charles Stamos, June 14, 2010 at 1:29 a.m.

    The USA, Slovenia, and England can all end up with 5 pts and +1 goal's margin. Coin toss? or tosses?

  9. karl ortmertl, June 14, 2010 at 9:46 a.m.

    The Slovenia match, aside from being critical in the group standings, will give a clearer indication of whether the US is cup-worthy. Slovenia can be shut down and if they score, it will be another indication that the defense isn't up to snuff. With our offensive talent (Donovan, Dempsey, Torres), we should be able to score on these guys. If we don't, chalk it up to our other weakness, bad coaching. Bradley needs to have the offense run thru these three. If Clark and Bradley's son are in the middle of things against Slovenia, we're doomed. I haven't seen Michael Bradley play in the Bundesliga, but I haven't seen anything in his play with the Men's National Team that would indicate to me that he's anything but a liablity with the offense running thru him, especially with the creative and talented Donovan and Torres much better choices for the job.

  10. Corey Zimmerman, June 14, 2010 at 12:31 p.m.

    I agree with Mr. Ortmertl that offense must go thru someone other than Bradley. He has a great work rate and defensive skills, but is not creative enough offensively.
    Also, this comment from the author, "Even while battling back to tie England, the U.S. needed seven saves from Howard and a few other key plays to prevent a second goal" is ridiculous as a supposed measure of the USA's ability as a team. Lets get this straight, England has many great players that play in one of the best leagues in the world. England may have trouble as group, but this game was always about whether the USA could survive, not control the run of play.
    England dominated in parts, as expected, and to think this was not going to occur is foolish. When you are not the better team, you will need your keeper to come up big on numerous occasions. Tim Howard did and USA relies on him to do so. Nothing wrong with that.
    Whether on their heels for parts of the 2nd half or not, USA did well against a superior team, at least in talent, and earned a point. The real test for the USA in the World Cup, as in previous WC's, is to go out and beat the teams they are supposed to beat, namely Slovenia and Algeria. Until they figure out how to win these games, they will not reach into the upper echelons of the world game.

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