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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.



United States – Algeria Preview

Three points are there for whoever wants to take them.  Both teams are dying to advance from this group, as the United States has the expectations riding on their back and Algeria would relish the thought of an underdog victory.  Albeit, Algeria would need to defeat the United States by at least 2 goals to make it.  Still though, Algeria are a wounded animal and won’t be giving anything away without a fight.

United States vs. Algeria

Four years of World Cup qualifying comes down to 90 minutes in Pretoria tomorrow.  Every game played in the stadium thus far in the tournament has produced a victor, and both sides will be gunning hard for the spoils.  A victory for the United States sees them through to the next round, but in first or second spot remains to be decided by the England – Slovenia game.  Should the United States draw, only a Slovenian victory will still see them through to the next round.  Should the England game come to a draw, the difference will come to goals scored (which, right now, the United States has the edge in).

Bob Bradley’s team selection shouldn’t be too much of a mystery except for the two toss-up positions.  With Ricardo Clark

Ghezzal (right) will look to get on the scoresheet against the States.

finally being seen as less effective, he may very well be replaced by Maurice Edu who put in a decent show with Slovenia.  Edu would bring more composure and experience on a bigger stage than Torres would and is more of a box-to-box midfielder than Clark.

The other position is alongside Jozy Altidore, who has yet to get on the score sheet in South Africa.  Edson Buddle is tipped as the favorite, as Robbie Findley wasn’t particularly amazing against Slovenia and Buddle is still fresh in the memory with his two goals over Australia.  Buddle should hook up well with Jozy, however, it might be slightly concerning that they play a very similar style of play.  Still, there is no denying that Buddle has talent, and Bradley could well opt for him tomorrow.

However, as Group C has learned, Algeria aren’t the easiest of opponents.  They possess great pace and the technical ability to

Michael Bradley will size up against Karim Ziani tomorrow in what will be a crucial match up.

break on the counter, something which Slovenia exploited very well during their match against the States.  Also, there is the worrying fact that  Abdelkader Ghezzal is back from suspension.  Karim Matmour and Ghezzal are both players love to find the soft pockets between the midfield and back lines, something that was a weak spot for the Yanks against Slovenia.

Nadir Belhadj is an obvious man to mark as his pace and ball skills have been a joy to watch in the Group thus far and he could have his way with slower defenders like those in the United States back line.

Key Match Ups –

Michael Bradley vs. Karim Ziani

Steve Cherundolo vs. Nadir Belhadj

Prediction – The United States has the quality to take the Algerian side, but an early goal from the Desert Foxes could, once again, put the States in a hard place.  The first 20 minutes will be very key to the remainder of the game.

United States 2 – 0 Algeria



Buddle’s Show in South Africa

The United States Mens National Team wrapped up its preparations for the World Cup with a 3-1 victory of Australia.  Edson Buddle netted twice (4′, 31′) and Gomez wrapped things up in the 90th minute with Tim Cahill registering a goal in the 19th minute.

The starting line-up saw Edson Buddle paired with Robbie Findley, and the former didn’t fail to disappoint as early on he opted out of slipping Findlay in behind the back line and slotted past Shwarzer.

That is not to say Findley wasn’t impressive.  The pacy striker was making diagonal runs all game and worked himself into some

Buddle celebrates his second with striking partner Robbie Findley.

very good forward positions.  He was incredibly unlucky to see his second half effort hit the crossbar, Clint Dempsey scored the rebound but the goal was flagged for offside as Findley was trying to hit the ball himself from an offside position.  A close call, but it didn’t matter in the end.

Tim Cahill, one of the more potent attacking threats for a relatively toothless Australian side, netted 15 minutes after Buddle’s opener from a corner after he connected at the back to send the ball past Cherundolo, who was on the post.  Both sides were lucky to have not conceded more goals as defensive frailties were evident in both sides.  One man who could have clocked in with possibly two to three goals in Australian striker Joshua Kennedy.  Had he had his shooting boots on today, the Yanks may have endured a much different match.  That said, the score stands, and Joshua Kennedy looked subpar.

Marcus Hahnemann replaced Tim Howard at the break and proved himself an ample replacement with two reaction saves that spared his side some blushes.  Though he was caught in no man’s land on more than one occasion on some crosses, he was very much up to the task of guarding the goalmouth.

Defensive substitutions were Jonathon Bornstein for Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu for Clarence Goodson.  Typically Bornstein replacing Bocanegra would cause some hair to be torn out, however, happily, Bornstein proved his mettle at left back. He was a little cavalier at times, but his defensive work was pleasantly surprising.

Onyewu started the game on the bench, raising eyebrows as to if he was fit enough for the World Cup.  When he came on, he was

How many people did you run over, Gooch?

his usually “Gooch” self, plowing into opposing strikers and posing a force in the box.  However, he did carry himself with a worrying limp from the time he came on, but if he weren’t fit, there is no way Bob Bradley would let him play…would he?

DaMarcus Beasley replaced Buddle in the 79th but didn’t get too many touches before game’s end to show off his stuff.  Clint Dempsey, who was on the receiving end of nearly every harsh tackle by the Socceroos was taken off in the 82′ by the eventual goal scorer Herculez Gomez.  Cross your fingers Yank’s fans, as it looked like he may have been limping slightly on his way out, which wouldn’t be surprising considering his treatment today.  At one point, he and Craig Moore almost lost control after Moore went in hard on the winger.

Gomez put the game to bed after making some space for himself in the box as Donovan expertly drove a cross in to him from outside the area.  Gomez finished one touch with aplomb and has two goals for two games to his name.  Impressive stuff from the front line in South Africa.

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

The Good –

The Front Line – The best part of the United States today has to be Edson Buddle.  All the strikers played today were largely untested in these circumstances but all of them came through with flying colors.  They showed attacking flair, speed and grit in getting under the skin of Lucas Neil & co.

Bradley will be instrumental to the States in South Africa.

Michael Bradley –  He has the composure of a 30 year old veteran holding midfielder.  The casual onlooker would never guess he is only 22 years old and still has two more World Cups in him.  He broke down countless attacks, thwarted the always threatening Tim Cahill and began new attacks with neat and tidy passing.

Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan – Only on here due to formality.  They always put in a good showing and are two of the most consistent national team players we have seen in some time.

Steve Cherundolo – The meandering right back showed quality in defensive duties and foraging forward, providing the killer cross for Buddle’s second goal.  He certainly is staking his claim for the starting RB position against England.  A daunting task, considering his opponent will likely be Steven Gerrard.

The Bad –

Ricardo Clark – I just don’t understand Bradley’s justification for starting Clark.  He is in the same mold as Michael Bradley, only not as effective.  He was near invisible in the first half, save some crunching tackles that usually ended up in a foul, and in the second half was just as ineffective.  He makes passes, but only backwards and sideways.  He generates nothing except a wasted starting spot.

I guess you could add, “Ricardo Clark might have gotten injured” to “The Good” category above…

The Ugly –

Set Pieces – Shocking.  Absolutely shocking.  The United States will be hammered if they do not learn to defend corners and set pieces more effectively.  Was there a single time that a defender met a corner with a header to clear?  I cannot remember a single instance.  Not one.  Every time a corner was conceded, the Yanks faithful held their breath as, once again, the ball hit somebody, hit somebody else, then fell to the floor and was cleared in a scramble.  Marcus Hahnemann made some serious efforts to clear but ended up flapping at nothing two or three times.  It seems as if everybody in the box thinks that somebody else will clear it and get caught ball watching.

If this isn’t remedied in the next 7 days, you can bet that Wayne Rooney will be licking his lips with that newly polished head of his.

Overall –

Not too shabby a result to be taking into the World Cup.  A 3-1 win over a World Cup side will get the confidence flowing, especially in the striking department.  The midfield worked well, despite the fact that they played with only three players in Bradley, Donovan and Dempsey.  The backline needs tinkering, but other than set pieces didn’t look awful.  Onyewu needs to be fit, but looking at his hobble all game, it’s hard to assume he’s 100%.

Cross your fingers and paint your faces.

South Africa waits…



Alti-Doh!

Jozy Altidore has sprained his ankle during training in South Africa.  The Haitian-American hitman  is certainly one of the

Gomez has been electric in Mexico and marked his first international call-up with a goal.

players Bob Bradley would have a hard time replacing as the striker, though only 20, has been a staple in their run to the World Cup Finals.

Though it is only classified as a mild sprain and he is being evaluated on a day-to-day basis, it is still worrying news for Yanks nationwide.  Odds are, he’ll sit the Australia game and save up for the Brits on the 12th.

However, this may serve as a blessing in disguise.  Altidore has started just about every game in qualifying and leading up to the World Cup.  One of the biggest question marks for the side, is who will partner him up top.  The fans have only gotten sneak peaks at all three other options (Gomez, Buddle, & Findlay) and this could serve as a perfect platform to decide who gets a start.

Bob Bradley will likely rest Jozy for the match, start two of the three stikers remaining, and, whoever has a worse half, gets replaced by the third option.  As it stands right now, all three strikers are desperate to stake their claim, and doing so against a side that will feature in South Africa will be ideal for all three of them.

Question is…who will be the standout?



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—————-