USA v Slovenia: Starting 11 thoughts
The most important game for the US is behind us, and tomorrow we have…the most important game for the US. I came to the maddening realization this week that the second game of the group stage, no matter who your opponent may be, is the paramount one. After the opener, whatever the result, it’s still wide open as far as advancement. Ten teams lost their opening match but no one is counted out at that point, at least not mathematically. But when it comes to the second game, while it still may not be definitive for most teams, it can certainly feel so for all intents and purposes. A bad result makes the third game suddenly enormous, while a good result can put a team largely at ease (all of this is depending on what the table looks like after these results, of course).
And thus tomorrow morning’s match between the US and Slovenia is already giving me heart palpitations. I didn’t see Slovenia’s opener against Algeria, but while they did nab three points from it, it sounded generally unremarkable from what I’ve heard. But that doesn’t mean the Yanks should be dialing back, not at all. In fact, I’d say the aim should be to step it up even more from the good showing against England. Slovenia seems to be a well-organized team, so keeping things controlled will be a key – I’m specifically hoping for the passing to be more accurate. But in addition to control, they will also need to be energetic and try to push forward through Slovenia’s compact defense.
I wouldn’t make many changes to the starting 11 that we saw last Saturday, but there are a couple of swaps I’d like to see:
Buddle over Findley is not so much a condemnation of the latter but rather in support of the former. I know Buddle didn’t do much in his substitute role last Saturday, but as shown in the warm-up match against Australia and in many MLS games, he is often strong right out of the gate and seems to relish throwing down an attack while the other side is still getting settled. Additionally, as partners on the L.A. Galaxy, he and Donovan work very well together – he reads Donovan’s intentions clearly, and is often able to get himself into position to be on the fortuitous end of Donovan’s smart play-making. Findley may have more speed, but I feel that Buddle has a better tactical mindset.
Torres over Clark is not an opinion that would put me in the minority, I don’t think. Almost everyone I talked to about it over the past few days has said the same thing. Clark wasn’t completely awful in the opener, but he wasn’t impressive and he did have a big silly lapse that helped lead to England’s early goal. I am just not all that impressed with his abilities and I want to see a different plan of action on Friday. Torres may be less experienced with the national team – he has ten caps to Clark’s thirty – but he is fast and agile and shows a lot more determination, in my opinion. He always seems eager whenever he comes on the pitch to get right in the mix, and is bold and spirited. A favorite memory I have of him is from the final qualifier last October: in the waning minutes of stoppage time while the US was still down 2-1, he chased a Costa Rican player into the corner, knocked him down (fairly), and snagged the ball away and took off back down the pitch, all with a “just another day at the office” air. I watched the highlights from that game (in this awesome video at field level with no commentary, just the sounds of the game and the crowd) a handful of times and that moment makes me smile every time.
Other than those two, it’s the usual suspects of course, and I think it’s a strong lineup. What are your thoughts/hopes/worries/prayers?