Okay, had a chance to take a deep breath and digest all of this, so let’s begin sorting through the details, shall we?
1) The call
After the game on ESPN, Landon Donovan claimed that the ref wouldn’t tell him what the call was when he disallowed the winning US goal. After seeing the image Auguste posted below, it was clear the only proper call would’ve been any one of 3 penalties for the US… unless, of course, you simply allow play to continue and thus allow the goal.
But as James notes in comments below, this is far from the most egregious mistake in World Cup history, both in terms of impact and quality of fail. England’s loss to Argentina thanks to Diego Maradona’s Hand of God goal in 1986 has always stood out to me as the most painful of losses that can be pinned on a single botched call, and unlike the losers of that game, the USA is still very much alive — a 2 goal win over Algeria will certainly put them through. Now, if England and Slovenia draw, things can get tricky, but we go into our match against Algeria knowing exactly what we have to do to take matters into our own hands. This call was bad, but it hasn’t ruined the dream.
2) Credit to Slovenia
They had a great gameplan, and they executed it to perfection in the first half. They aggressively challenged US players for the ball and turned on a dime to launch counter-attacks. The US clearly had communication problems at the back, and the Slovenians were operating in tons of space, creating alleys for players to burst forward. Sure, their defensive unit had issues like the US, but there was a coherence and unity, not to mention quickness, to the Slovenians that the US could only admire. Perhaps if the Slovenian keeper had showed a bit more mettle against Donovan’s strike for the first goal, we’d be writing the obituary on the US World Cup team today. England will have their hands full.
3) Jozy Altidore
Is he a tease or does he have the makings of a great footballer? Yes. And that’s always going to be the problem. You can’t sit a guy who’s that explosive, but he’ll also waste a maddening amount of attacks by shooting straight at the keeper, or hesitating to shoot, or forgetting he’s not Wesley Sneijder, etc. He’s the total X factor in the US attack, and I don’t know if he’ll ever develop the kind of consistency the team needs. But I also doubt anyone else will come along with a better package of potential, either.
Continues to make history for the US, even if his outstanding free kick for the 3rd goal will never be an official part of that history. The team needed a goal ASAP in the 2nd half, and unlike Jozy (who shied away from a similar angle in the first to waste a possession with a crap pass), Donovan put the team on his back and, as he said, fired at the goalie’s head. Our first modern national soccer talisman.
5) Bob Bradley
Committed fully to attack when down a goal late, going from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 to 3-4-3 as time wound down. His subs were right on the money, and Edu would’ve made him look even more genius if a certain World Cup virgin hadn’t pooped himself at the climax.
This was a roller coaster for the ages. All hope was lost, then there was a half hour of hope and fear swishing around like painful mouthwash, then elation at the tie, then enduring fury at the denial of the win.
Something tells me the galvanizing, community-enhancing effect this game is clearly having on the US fans is happening to the team, too. Adversity brings people together, gives them an injustice to rally around, and I can’t wait to see how the US comes out against Algeria.