KENYA BROWN - Thursday, June 24, 2010
In ten years time are you going to remember where you were when US National Team midfielder Landon Donovan saved US soccer from yet another elimination in the group stages of the World Cup?
In what was looking like a draw with North African qualifiers Algeria, the LA Galaxy star scored an injury time goal that put the Yanks on top of Group C and into a Round of 16 game against second place finishers Ghana from Group D on Saturday.
This match against the Desert Foxes was one that Coach Bob Bradley could not afford to lose and whatever risks needed to be taken had to be done if they were going to extend their stay in South Africa.
The game plan was obvious even before the first touch of the ball; be aggressive and attack.
However, this was an Algerian team that was well-known for its defensive prowess as they only allowed one goal throughout the tournament up to that point. They also were going into this match trying to win as they had a chance to qualify from the group.
So a pretty open game was expected for this one.
Two questions had to be asked before the start of this encounter. First, could the US find a way to crack the stingy Algerian defense? Second, would we see the US National Team that played flat in the first half against Slovenia or the aggressive squad that came out in the second half and fought their way to a 2-2 draw?
The line-up at the start had one obvious change with another being a surprise as Coach Bradley chose to insert Glasgow Rangers' Maurice Edu in midfield in the place of Pachuca's Jose Francisco Torres. A good move on the part of the coach as the former Toronto FC star seemed to have the better match compared to his previous teammates, Torres and Ricardo Clark.
The surprise start came to newly acquired Pachuca forward Herculez Gomez. Many probably predicted that Edson Buddle would get the nod or there would be another change in midfield in order to have Fulham's Clint Dempsey to partner Villarreal's Jozy Altidore. However, Gomez would play a vital role in a controversial situation later on in the match.
The other change was in the backline with Bradley's favorite left back, Jonathan Borenstein starting and US captain Carlos Bocanegra partnering Jay DeMerit in the center of defense. The Chivas USA man has not been that impressive on the left and the Algerians could have used that to their advantage by pushing their winger on that side to use his speed and get some balls into the area for the forwards.
Questions might have arisen as to why AC Milan's Oguchi Onyewu was omitted from the starting line-up. His fitness could have been a cause for concern as the former Clemson Tiger is still coming back from injury, but reports from the US camp had denied that was not the reason behind his exclusion.
I do not think it's a cause for concern as the big man should return in the second round.
The first four minutes of the match seemed like the Yanks would have to dig themselves out of a hole when slack defending on the part of DeMerit led to a chance by Algerian forward Rafik Djebbour, which luckily crashed against the crossbar. The US got away with that as it would have put their dreams in jeopardy.
If the AEK Athens player had scored that goal who knows how the US would have reacted.
However, just like in the previous matches, the boys did not show any nerves and proceeded to follow their game plan. They pushed the Algerians and tried to get them to open up the game.
Come the 20th minute and another US attack that leads to a goal by Dempsey. A little lucky that the ball popped out of the group of players with Bradley on the ground, but the former Kansas City Wizard, Gomez, was there to cross the ball to the Texas native. It should have been a 1-0 lead.
Unfortunately, like in the match against Slovenia, it was called back for an apparent offside. It's anyone's guess as to what is going on with the officiating at this World Cup. Two clearly good goals by the 14th ranked team in the world taken away by phantom calls.
If the debate against replay in soccer matches has been vehemently shot down in the past then these two matches would certainly be a good reason to bring it back up again at the next FIFA Congress meeting.
How are the referees going to explain themselves in the later rounds of the tournament if they disallow a goal that was good? The 'zebras' need to understand that their calls could affect the outcome of a close match in a negative way.
The US attack was good throughout both halves, but the main problem, once again, was the finishing. Two good opportunities by Altidore, one that went blazing over the bar in the 35th minute and a header that was surprisingly saved by the Algerian goalkeeper Rais Ouheb Mbouli, could have been the goals that sealed this match early on.
In addition to the former Hull loanee's chances, Dempsey must have been the unluckiest guy on the field. A goal called back and another that beat the goalkeeper, but didn't beat the post.
Gomez cannot be left out of this as he also had a good opportunity on goal in the lead to his pass to Dempsey in the 20th minute when his shot was denied by the impressive Mbouli. For some reason I think Gomez has done a better job up top in the limited time he has had compared to the Real Salt Lake man, Robbie Findley.
He seems to be more active and he didn't show any timidness to take chances at goal, if he had the opportunity. He most likely will not start in the next match as Findley seems to be the choice for Bradley, but he will definitely provide a possible spark for the offense if needed from the bench.
The midfield was improved in comparison to its previous outings. Maurice Edu should get the start once again against the Ghanians as he is more of physical play who is not afraid to scrap in the middle, which gives the former Metrostar, Bradley, more room to do his job and not cover for the mistakes of his partner in the center.
Credit must be given to the coach for taking another gamble with his substitutions. The choice of bringing in Benny Feilhaber for Gomez seemed questionable to me at first as the joint top scorer in the Mexican league was doing well. However, the AGF Aarhus midfielder provided another option in the midfield to create openings, which was not a bad choice.
The addition of MLS top scorer Edson Buddle later on seemed to show that Bradley was changing the formation to a 4-3-3, thus adding another scoring option as time dwindled.
Even DaMarcus Beasley saw some action. The former Rangers star's inclusion in the game was rather peculiar, but when you need a goal you need all of the speediest people you have out there on the field.
Let's go back to that goal. Early on it seemed that Donovan would end up having a rather quiet match and the press and US fans would have more ammunition to fire at him for his lack of leadership and winning mentality. However, the former Everton loanee proved to those critics that he is not the same player he was in 2006.
If you can remember from the movie ‘The Replacements' in the dying seconds of the Washington Sentinels' game with the score at 17-14, in favor of their opponents, quarterback Shane Falco tells his coach, Jimmy McGinty, "I want the ball." McGinty looks Falco in the eye with a smile and replies, "Winners always do."
This is the exact mentality that the all-time US National Team goal-scorer has now. He wanted the ball and if he had to do it to win this match all on his own, then that is what he was going to do.
A play that was started by US netminder Tim Howard led to Donovan running almost the entire length of the field leaving most of the Algerian players in the US half. A pass to Altidore which led to a saved effort from Dempsey opened up the opportunity for the much heralded Donovan to slot the ball home.
Sheer ecstasy and jubilation for every US fan in the Loftus Versfeld Stadium and watching wherever they were in the world.
Going into the second round opponents need to be aware of one thing. This assembly of players from the US is not like the teams that were put together in the past.
These band of brothers expect to win. They push and push until the final whistle. If they fall behind, they do not panic. They fight, they claw and put their bodies on the line to get the win at any cost.
The US National Team has certainly made this an exciting World Cup to watch. If they make their games anymore dramatic as they have in the first round I may need to invest in an oxygen tank to keep myself from hyperventilating.