JACK ROZIER - Wednesday, June 16, 2010
If you are a patron of the First Church of the Jubilani, feel free to take advantage of this opportunity to exit the article.
When the race to avoid Germany resumes Friday, there will be little need for Rosaries, Hoodoo, or even speculative strikes from distance. Indeed, there are specific tactics the US will employ that can all but guarantee we take poll position in Group C.
Allow me to clarify, my use of "US" and "tactics" in the same sentence was not hyperbole. I'm as serious as Fabio Capello, James Milner and Wayne Rooney's torment after a June evening in Rustenburg.
Media tedium surrounding the Jubilani match ball has largely diverted attention from the tactical clinic the US displayed for eighty minutes.
You have just entered my selective reality.
However, the US can rest assured that the lesson won't be lost on Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek.
Although they will arrive for the game in Johannesburg as the leaders of Group C, the Slovenes will happily consider themselves the underdogs – a psychology that proved fruitful during their qualification for the tournament.
Expect a [gulp] "conservative approach" from the Slovenes.
While normally effective on the counter attack, Kek will know that the US shares this strength. The Slovenes won't be parking the bus, but the priority will surely be to keep their backline organized and compact.
Bradley couldn't ask for better circumstances to be favored. Although pressure will mount if the US is behind or tied after an hour, the battle to dictate play shouldn't be much of a struggle.
It will be strength against strength as Bradley will attempt to imitate Algerian Nadir Belhadj's success against Slovenia, by unleashing the evergreen Steve Cherundolo on the wing.
Slovenia's defense, led by goalkeeper Samir Handanovic has proven to be a tough nut to crack. However, Handanovic's confidence will be his undoing. A healthy mixture of crosses from Cherundolo and shots from range will give Jozy Altidore room to breathe in the box, making for a precarious evening in which Handanovic can commit no errors.
Kek will need drastically improved performances from his midfielders in order to abate the proliferation of chances in the Slovenian defensive third.
All for naught.
Bradley will have surely divorced himself from Ricardo Clark due in part to his dismal string of performances, but also because the US needs to be able to threaten from all points in order to dislodge the Slovenes.
Bradley won't underestimate Slovene captain Robert Koren's presence in the middle, but will feel confident in commanding the midfield after Slovenia's poor technical display against Algeria.
Jose Torres is the natural choice to partner Michael Bradley defensively and provide rhythm in attack. Bob had this scenario in mind when Bradley and Torres featured so prominently against Turkey.
Bob is smart.
Having displayed an ability to settle possession and penetrate the opposition, Torres' greatest asset in this situation is his ability to read play. The Slovenes will be selective when they try to break vertically, bypassing their midfield. Torres will be one step ahead, positioned to intercept the threat or force play wide.
Up top Robbie Findley's speed will be less useful against a reserved defense. Look for Edson Buddle to start with Altidore as the pair fights for space inside the Slovene eighteen yard box. If the Slovene defenders manage to subdue Altidore and Buddle, Findley will be a significant threat in the last thirty minutes.
In defense, there isn't much tinkering to do.
Chances were few and far between for Slovenia's Milivoje Novakovic and Zlatko Dedic against Algeria. Bradley will instruct Jay DeMerit and Oguchi Onyewu to replicate Madjid Bougherra's efficiency in negating the Slovenes ability to isolate and turn towards goal.
That should do nicely.
Three points for the US and the group is deadlocked at four points putting the US in the driver's seat against Algeria while Slovenia and England fight over the scraps.
There is the outside chance that manic-Bob shows up, some people call this, "reality." I try to avoid this place at all costs, but when I'm present I see that there are causes for concern.
It's unlikely that Tim Howard will be peppered with the same gusto as he was against England, but the Slovenes are good for a handful of quality opportunities that will forced a doped up Howard into the spotlight.
There is also the possibility that if the wrong Bob shows up, we may not see Torres feature at all or too late to make an impact. Although this is the perfect moment for Torres to emerge, Bradley's persistence in selecting Clark is alarming.
It doesn't seem possible that Bradley could disregard Benny Feilhaber's poor performance against Turkey. It doesn't seem possible that Bradley could forget Feilhaber's ineffectiveness against Brazil a year ago.
Have I sufficiently set up my cliché? Good, then I'll spare us.
A less depressing alternative would be the selection of Maurice Edu. But we don't need two defensively capable midfielders that like to streak forward and score ugly goals.
Torres or bust!
Bradley's last potential blunder would be to take his foot off the gas pedal. It's quite possible that Slovenia's organization and grit will get them into the 55th minute without conceding. If this is the case, Bradley needs to have his substitution on the field between the 60th and 65th minute so they can settle into the game before it's too late.
The lone exception being prodigious goal-poach, Herculez Gomez. Throw him on in the last thirty seconds of stoppage time and he's good for at least one goal.
Ah, there I go again with that selective reality!
But what kind of masochist anticipates an event for four years only to wallow in logic?