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Coin Flip For Saturday

The United States’s victory over Algeria was historic, and, if you are a United States fan, won’t be forgotten if you were watching it.  However, it is time for the Yanks faithful to snap out of it, because very shortly, they face a physical and dangerous Ghana side that would very much like to knock them out of the competition for the second World Cup running.

Bad blood will be flowing when the teams take the field on Saturday.  Their last meeting ended with a 2-1 Ghanian victory won off of a dubious penalty kick “committed” by Oguchi Onyewu.  Clint Dempsey scored the only goal by a United States player in Germany, and will be looking to find the scoresheet again as he typically does in big time games.  However, this time around, we are looking at a different Ghana side as well as a different United States side.

Brian McBride (L), Oguchi Onyweu (C) and Clint Dempsey (R) react to Ghana's penalty in Germany.

Six players from the United States will be present Saturday that were four years ago: Landon Donovan, Oguchi Onyewu, Steve Cherundolo, Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra and DaMarcus Beasley.  If Onyewu is fit, he should be a sure thing to start, despite the fact that the defense played well against Algeria without “Gooch’s” help.  And other than DaMarcus Beasley, every one of them should start on Saturday.

Returning for the Black Stars is Stephen Appiah (the man of the match in ’06), ‘keeper Richard Kingson and John Paintsil.  Kingson is usually very consistent for Ghana, as is Paintsil, and unlocking their defense will be quite the task for the Americans.

So what are the keys for beating Ghana?

1.  Win the midfield – Ghana plays a 4-5-1, which means that the midfield will be crowded for Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu/Jose Torres/Ricardo Clark.  They are physical and technically adept, so it won’t be a walk around for the coach’s son, who, so far, has been many peoples’ player of the tournament for the United States.  Also, Benny Feilhaber put in a good show as a substitute against Algeria and may feature on the left hand side, with Donovan on the right and Dempsey moving up top (but we reckon this will happen later in the game rather than from the get-go).  Bradley is key in snuffing out attacks and starting new ones, if he can find his feet early in the game, impose himself on Kevin Prince-Boateng and Kwadwo Asamoah, it could mean a win for the Yanks.

Asamoah Gyan will likely be a handful for the back line as he has been all tournament.

2. Steady Defense – Oguchi Onyewu may be key to the keeping another clean sheet against Ghana, even though he wasn’t even part of the back line that did against Algeria, don’t be entirely shocked if Bradley keeps the same back four.  However, you can count on “Gooch” wanting blood in this game, as it was he who allegedly fouled Pimpong for the spot kick in 2006.  Surprisingly, Jonathon Bornstein didn’t look too bad in the last game, but, if he plays, he will be faced with more adept opponents in Anthony Annan and Prince Tagoe, both of whom are capable of skinning the haphazard left back.  Jay Demerit was a veritable rock against Algeria, and he will be key to overcoming the threat of Asamoah Gyan, Ghana’s primary hitman.  If he and Onyewu can form a steady partnership, they can neutralize his potent attacking skill.  One option for Bradley, is playing Bocanegra in the middle of the back line, because he knows Gyan better than anybody on the American team, as they are team mates at Rennes.

3. Key Performances From Big Players – Notably Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan.  I know what you’re thinking.  Well, obviously they need to have big games in order to beat Ghana, but they are more key for this game than ever.  Jozy will have a very daunting task sizing up against the physically tough John Mensah, the heart of the Black Stars’ defense.  John Paintsil is no slouch either, as the Fulham man holds his own against most clever wingers and strikers than run at him.  He is fast and defensively resolute.  Clint Dempsey will likely be deployed on the right for the start of the game, and, depending on the situation, could be moved up front.  His opposite number could be Andre Ayew or Kevin Prince-Boateng, depending on how manager Milovan Rajevac chooses to line up.  Donovan is key, as always, as he is part

Clint Dempsey celebrates his equalizer against Ghana in 2006.

of nearly every move towards goal and it will be paramount that he has a great game if the United States wants to get on the score sheet.

It’s a sizable task, but both teams will walk onto the field Saturday confident of a win.  Despite the fact that Ghana is without their talisman Michael Essien, they still have a great deal of menace and will assuredly cause trouble going forward and snuffing out attacks.  The United States have nearly everybody fit, and the lineup on Saturday should include Maurice Edu, but the striker position is still a wild card as Bradley has toyed with his options quite a bit.

Either way, the game will have plenty of chances, drama and history.  This game is a coin flip. Question is: heads or tails?

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Drama Queens

England and the United States booked their tickets to the knockout round, and the latter did so in the most dramatic of circumstances.

The Tottenham man wheels away after netting the eventual winner.

England took the lead through Jermain Defoe who was playing in his first start at the World Cup for the Three Lions in the 22nd minute after James Milner whipped in a delicious cross that Defoe tucked away nicely.  England held on for the remainder of the game, as did Slovenia, who were content to let the 3 points go as it looked set that they would advance in the runners up spot.  However, the American Dream was realized with some late drama at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium.

The United States needed a win against Algeria, and it looked as if all their chances would go begging until, in the 92nd minute the talismanic Landon Donovan popped up to tuck in a rebound to seal all three points and a top spot in the next round.

The Yanks looked set to go behind early again after Rafik Djebbour got through 1-on-1 with Tim Howard only to see his superb volley crash off the crossbar.  Rattled, the USA finally found their composure and eased their way into the game after creating some great chances, that, in all fairness, should have been tucked away.

Herculez Gomez tested Rais M’Bohli with a good shot to the near post, and later was put through on goal where could only send his shot into the body of M’Bohli, however he sent a shot/pass to Clint Dempsey who was lurking on the far post.  Dempsey put it in the back of the net, but it was deja vu for the Yanks as it was unjustly called offside.

Dempsey watches his shot rattle the inside of the post and then sky the followup sitter.

The USA backline looked shaky at times, especially early on when Jay Demerit looked suspect, but they all came very much into their own as the game wore on and Demerit put in an outstanding display with captain Carlos Bocanegra have a flyer as well.

Algeria were not without their chances as well, however.  They were looking to play on the counter attack all game, and looked very dangerous nearly every time they came into the final third.  Karim Ziani had one of the chances of the Algerian’s game when, in the 69th minute, he was seemingly in the clear, but from the corner of the box sent his low driven effort wide of the post.

Nadir Belhadj was fairly effective bombing down the left side of the pitch, as his left foot sent in some rasping crosses that the Algerian front line couldn’t make anything of.

Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu looked like the most natural pairing in midfield, and, despite the fact that Edu still gave the ball away here and there, he compensated with his all around solid work in defense and in the build up.  Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley also combined notably on more than a few occasions as they both looked lethal exchanging passes and making clever runs.

Etched onto the players faces is the importance of Donovan's late goal. Seriously...look at Feilhaber's face. You can't find anybody happier on the planet.

Benny Feilhaber replaced Herculez Gomez at half time, and he was an excellent change as he held the ball well, penetrated the back line and played an overall smart game.  Edson Buddle came on for Maurice Edu in the 64th minute and also played a great role as his first touches were crisp and nearly scored with a headed effort five minutes after being introduced.  DeMarcus Beasley was the last substitute to be introduced, but he failed to make any significant impression on the game.  To be fair, he came on in the 81st minute and saw limited time on the ball.

The result means the United States top Group C and England will sit in the runners up spot.  Slovenia were on the brink of sneaking into the knockout round, but Landon Donovan’s goal crushed any hopes they had.  The Algerians played an interesting game, and began looking like they were playing for a draw; a result which would have brought them nothing in terms of reward other than personal satisfaction.



Daylight Robbery

The United States were denied a game winning goal in the 87th minute by Rangers midfielder Maurice Edu, but was called back to due to offsides…maybe.  Nobody is entirely sure what the call was.  Edu was clearly onsides and, if anything, Michael Bradley was being held down in the box for what should have been a penalty.

However, life isn’t fair, and quite often, neither is football.  Koman Coulibaly in his first officiation of a World Cup game put in a less than admirable display as he frequently missed calls and came up with bizarre bookings for both sides.

Jose Torres replaced Ricardo Clark in midfield after the latter failed to impress in any sense during the England game.  Robbie Findley continued to start alongside Altidore for the second time in as many games.

In one of the most predictable actions, the United States allowed another early goal as Valter Birsa hit a cracker from 25 yards out that left Tim Howard rooted to the spot as it found the corner of the net.  The United States defense left Birsa with far too much space and he let fly with a perfect strike to put the Slovenians in front.

The United States was out of sync for much of the half and only started to find rhythm in the 40th minute or so when Clint Dempsey played a teasing ball into the area and Miso Brecko made a vital interception with Landon Donovan lurking.

It was short lived however as the Slovenians broke on a counter attack and Novakovic slide the ball expertly to Zlatan Ljubijankic who did well to sneak past the offside trap and slip the ball under the onrushing Tim Howard to leave the Americans in a very bad place.

Goal scorer Landon Donovan celebrates with Clint Dempsey.

After the half, Bob Bradley replaced Jose Torres with Maurice Edu and Robbie Findley with Benny Feilhaber.  Edu proved to be a great change, as the Rangers midfielder snuffed out attacks and played well for his time on the pitch.  Feilhaber was decent.  He didn’t play badly but failed to make a serious impression on the game.

The Yanks started the half ideally as Landon Donovan, now in a more advanced position, attacked the goal and ripped a shot near post past Samir Handanovic.  Then the game really begun.

The United States began continually pushing into the Slovenian half, which was dangerous considering how lethal the latter looked on the counter attack.  Bradley made his last sub in the 80th minute by bringing on supersub Herculez Gomez for Oguchi Onyewu.  This meant the States moved to a 3-4-3 and really began to attack.

This type of pressure paid dividends as the coach’s son, Michael Bradley slotted after being played in by Jozy Altidore.  Cherundolo looked long into the box and Altidore rose highest to nod the ball into the path of Bradley who almost put the ball over the goal as he smashed the ball into the net.

After storming back into the game, the Yanks pushed hard, but were constantly kept in check with the breaking Slovenians who constantly found space going forward with only 3 Americans in the back line.

Maurice Edu cannot believe his goal was disallowed.

It was all for nought however, as in the 86th minute, Jozy Altidore won a freekick on the edge of the box after being bundled over.  Landon Donovan swung it in and Maurice Edu finished with aplomb from six yards out.  The goal was quickly called for something, most probably offsides, but replays show that this was clearly not the case.  Furthermore, replays suggest a penalty could have been given for how Bradley and others too were handled in the box during the kick.

The match dragged out with no more drama, but the biggest question will be asked of referee Koman Coulibaly, who was fairly bizarre all game.  Will he face any repercussions?  Time will tell.

The result means that should England beat Algeria today, the United States MUST win against Algeria on Wednesday and hope for a winner from England-Slovenia.  If they draw, it will come down to goal difference and become a matter of how badly the United States could beat Algeria.



United States v. Turkey

The United States Men’s National Team got a big time send off in Philadelphia as 50,000+ fans cheered the Yanks on to a great victory over a Turkish side not devoid of talent.  Guus Hiddink, Turkish manager to-be, watched as the Turks gave up a lead to lose 2-1 at Lincoln Field.

The United States lined up in a somewhat interesting fashion with Benny Feilhaber on the left wing, Landon Donovan on the right, and Clint Dempsey playing the floating striker role behind Jozy Altidore.  Within seconds, Dempsey combined with Donovan to play a cross into the Turkish area, but it was some of the only attacking for the States all half, as the Turks pressed hard against the US back line that many were asking questions about.  Captain Carlos Bocanegra filled in at left back, Johnathon Spector at right back, while Jay DeMerit and Clarence Goodson were paired in the center.

With the States pushing forward in numbers, the Turks were happy to counter attack with blistering pace through Arda Turan and

The tricky winger proved a handful for the United States back line.

the veteran Tuncay Sanli.  Sanli cut open the US back line on more than one occasion, and it looked to be a long afternoon for the Yanks, especially after Arda Turan broke down the left and slotted past Tim Howard to give his side the lead.

Jozy Altidore provided the lone high point of the first half, as he craftily slipped through three defenders and laid the ball across the face of goal only to have Dempsey fail to connect with it.

The second half brought significant changes as Bob Bradley used 4/6 of his changes allowed. Feilhaber (who was mediocre in the first half) was replaced by the relative unknown at the international level Robbie Findley, Onyewu came on for Goodson, Cherundolo for Spector, and importantly Jose Torres replaced Ricardo Clark.

“Night and day,” was how Bradley described the two halves.  Anybody who watched would be compelled to agree.  Robbie Findley’s work rate was immediately evident as he chased down every ball and made it clear he wants to make his mark in South Africa.  Torres became a key player in the United States game as he pulled the strings on several occasions in attack.

Within a few minutes of the first half, Michael Bradley had a near open goal but his shot was blocked but a towering Servet Cetin.  From then on, the Yanks pressed hard into the final third.  WIth that pressure, the Turks were happy to counterattack and nearly capitalized on more than one occasion.  However, In the 59th minute, Robbie Findley played a lovely chip over the back line to Landon Donovan who danced around the Turkish keeper to set up Jozy Altidore for a tap in and a great goal.

After the goal, the fans at Lincoln Field began to find their voice and encourage their men on forward.  Dempsey came close, hitting the outside of the post after a fantastic run and cutback from Michael Bradley.  Torres hit the same post with a whipped in freekick minutes later.

If you're a United States Soccer fan and don't like Clint Dempsey...that's just absurd.

Finally, in the 75th minute, Steve Cherundolo threw in to Donovan who picked out Dempsey on the left side of the Turkish 18 yard box.  The ball bounced off Dempsey’s hip and into this path, where he kept his composure and slotted under the onrushing Demirel.

After the second goal, the Americans played with a sense of ease that the Turks simply could not cope with in the second half.  What was the difference?

One can’t help but feel that the problem with using Ricardo Clark with Michael Bradley in the center of midfield, is that Clark is the same type of player as Bradley…but worse.  They both are players who can break down an attack and start one of their own.  What helped was replacing him with a playmaker like Torres, who was able to move the ball around much more and was more mobile than Clark.  Torres and Edu should be contending for a starting spot alongside Bradley.

Robbie Findley was a refreshing sight for American fans as his work rate and pace somewhat resembles fallen star Charlie Davies.  Findley’s pace got the better of him a few times and he probably should have gotten a cross in, but instead he ran the ball out to the goal line for a Turkish goal kick.  He’s still young though, and will find that awareness in time.

If you had asked before the game, who would you rather see at left back: Jonathon Spector or Steve Cherundolo, most would probably opt for Spector.  The young right back plays Premier League soccer for West Ham and would seem a more competent pick.  However, Cherundolo quickly proved adept as he stifled winger Arda Turan, who had previously given Spector a serious problem.

Some glaring issues would be Bornstein, Clark and Spector.  Bornstein literally looked like a high schooler and got turned over more times than you could count on one hand.  In no way, shape or form does anybody feel comfortable with him on the pitch.  Clark isn’t a bad player, Bradley is just much better and it is superfluous to have them both on the field.  Spector may just need time to adjust, however, like Bornstein, he struggled significantly with Turan and only triumphed when aided by DeMerit or another player tracking back.

All-in-All, it’s great that the Yanks are carrying a win (albeit a meaningless one) to South Africa.

Projected Line-up for Australia

———————–Howard———————–

Cherundolo—–Onyewu—Demerit—-Bocanegra

Dempsey——Bradley—-Edu/Clark—Donovan

—————-Buddle——-Altidore—————-