Topic: US National Team
As far as I can tell, tomorrow will be the first time that the US have ever gone into a World Cup match as the favorite. The only possible candidates are vs. Iran in '98, vs. Poland in '02, or vs. Ghana in '06. Fun fact: we lost all three of those matches.
The good news is that Bradley and the players are saying all the right things. It seems that they didn’t get too high after the England match and realize that they have it all to do against Slovenia. I love quotes like this from Donovan:
Asked what it feels like to be, for a change, a favorite in a World Cup match: "Who says we are the favorites? It means nothing to me."
We haven't always done well coming off a good result and continuing that, and so that was part of the feeling in the locker room that, 'Okay, that was a good start but it doesn't mean anything if we don't get through the group.' "
I know that athletes know what they’re supposed to say, but in this instance I think that they mean it. Surely, Bradley has drilled it into them; if nothing else, Bradley has demonstrated a remarkable ability to avoid irrational exuberance.
Now, let’s see if he can get the tactics right (in my snarky opinion). At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I want to see this:
----------------Dempsey------------ Altidore ---------------
I really think this is the right lineup. Torres comes in for his ball possession and passing, which will be important in a game where we should be on the front foot. Also, the Slovenians are kinda big and really slow: Torres is small and quick. I think they’d end up fouling the hell out of him (and Donovan).
Which brings us to Holden: his set pieces are a cut above Donovan’s. He’s also a good possession player, and his defense is underrated. I think he’s ready to step up.
Dempsey is preferred to Findley for three reasons: 1) Dempsey is a much, much better player than Findley; 2) The Slovenians will play back and leave no room to get behind their defense. That takes away Findley’s primary asset. I think any US goals – especially the first goal – will be a scrappy, hockey playoff-type trash goal. Dempsey gets a lot of those. 3) Dempsey is excellent with his head, which is important because a goal off a set piece is also likely.
Of course, Bradley and I rarely see eye-to-eye on lineups, so I doubt we’ll see this. I’ll bet that we see Buddle instead of Holden, with Dempsey sliding to midfield. That would be okay. As long as there’s no Findley.
My impressions of Slovenia (after watching a grand total of two Slovenian matches) are the same as everyone else’s: not especially talented, but they’re organized and play well together. They’ve got some size, but are slow. They sit back and look to counter (which makes me a bit queasy – we’ve had some trouble stopping the counter). They’d be pretty happy with a point here, so I think they’ll REALLY sit back and look to counter. They did a great job against Algeria of keeping a deep line; I don’t think there’s going to be any room in behind their defense. Here’s a telling stat: Slovenia only allowed four goals in their 10 World Cup qualifying matches.
In my World Cup pool, I picked the US to win 3-0. But that’s the fan in me speaking. In reality, I would be thrilled with any win, no matter how scrappy. These games are always more difficult than I think they’ll be.