Stirring U.S. comeback produces draw; Americans denied win when Edu winner is waved off.
By Robert Wagman
(Friday, June 18, 2010) -- The United States men ran the gamut of emotions, falling behind Slovenia by two goals in a disappointing first half, conducting a thrilling comeback to tie 2-2, then ultimately feeling victimized when reserve midfielder Maurice Edu's apparent winning goal was waved off for no apparent reason in the World Cup Group C match before a pro-American crowd of 45,573 today at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
Still, with the draw, the U.S. controls its own destiny in advancing to the Round of 16. Tied with England at 0-0-2 with two points for second place behind Slovenia (1-0-1, 4 points), the Americans will clinch a place in the second round by defeating Algeria (0-1-1, 1) Wednesday. Even a draw might do the job for the U.S. should England and Slovenia tie Wednesday, but then it would go to tiebreakers.
Edu appeared to put the U.S. ahead 3-2 in the 85th minute when he ran into the penalty area and first-timed fellow midfielder Landon Donovan's free kick from the top right of the box into the roof of the net, but referee Koman Coulibaly of Mali waved the goal off, calling a foul on U.S. defender Carlos Bocanegra for holding midfielder Jejc Pecnik, according to Associated Press.
A review of video tape doesn't support the call and in fact the Slovenians were the one committing multiple fouls in the box which, at worst, should have necessitated an American penalty kick. Pecnik appeared to have Bocanegra in a headlock, wrestling him to the ground while U.S. striker Jozy Altidore was clearly being held from approaching the ball and Slovenia forward Aleksandar Radosavljevic had U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley in a bear-hug or he might have put Donovan's ball away before Edu.
"A phantom call," Bocanegra, the U.S. captain, termed it.
As it was, Donovan and Bradley scored stunning goals to salvage the U.S.'s World Cup. A loss would have left the Americans with only the slightest chance of advancing.
Coach Bob Bradley, Michael's father, gave spark to his team when he brought on Edu and another midfielder, Benny Feilhaber, to start the second half, pushing Clint Dempsey forward. More importantly, Donovan displayed a renewed purpose and immediately took control of the match, pumping life into an attack that showed little in the opening 45 minutes.
Just three minutes after the break, Donovan's singular effort started the dramatic U.S. comeback. From the right corner of the center stripe, U.S. defender Steve Cherundolo send a pass down the sideline. Slovenia defender Bostjan Cesar attempted to slide tackle the pass, but missed it completely, leaving Donovan a direct run on goal. Donovan carried straight for the near post and from point-blank range, blasted a shot high into the net with goalkeeper Samir Handanovic shying away from the shot rather than face its ferocity.
In the 82nd minute, Bradley tied matters with an big assist from Altidore, who elevated well above his defender to head a long ball from the right touch-line.down to his right. Bradley came sliding in, right leg extended, to poke the ball with pace directly over the head of the approaching Handanovic. Bradley could have easily have skied the ball over the crossbar, but angled his foot perfectly to register the equalizer at 2-2.
For the second straight World Cup outing, the U.S. defense started disorganized and conceded an early goal. There was no pressure on Slovenia midfielder Valter Birsa when he took a pass in the center of the field, turned, touched once and fired a shot into the right corner of the net from 28 yards away. U.S. keeper Tim Howard did not move on the shot.
Things looked particularly dismal for the U.S. when Zlatan Ljubijankic pushed the Slovenia advantage to 2-0 in the 42nd minute. Ljubijankic was equally unmarked when he took a pass from striker Milivoje Novakovic, touched once into the left side of the box and then fired under the approaching Howard into the net.
Bob Bradley made only one change from the line-up he used in Saturday's 1-1 draw with England. He replaced defensive midfielder Ricardo Clark with much more offensive-minded Jose Torres -- leaving the U.S. with one holding midfielder instead of two - and also using the other central midfielder, Michael Bradley, in a more offense role.
The strategic move largely backfired. There was a clear lack of communication between the U.S. midfield and defenders, which often allowed space to open. Twice, Slovenia took advantage of that space to score its largely unchallenged goals.
For its part, The Americans also were not sharp on attack over the opening 45 minutes, creating few chances and seeming surprised that Slovenians were taking the match to them. The best U.S. chance of the first half came in the 41st minute when Dempsey sent a right-side cross to the left post, but Slovenia cleared it just before Donovan could put it away.
If the U.S. hopes to advance, it can not afford another slow start or to fall behind for the third time in Group C play. Algeria will be highly motivated knowing, with help, it can move to the second round with a victory, so a third American comeback might be asking for too much.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 5.5: Positioning on both Slovenian goals was poor, but had little chance to stop either. Made up for this with several good saves in the second half to aid the U.S. comeback. A mixed result..
Defender Steve Cherundolo - 6.5: Another fine match. Made the tough tackles and pushed forward into the offense, getting an assist on the first U.S. goal.
Defender Jay DeMerit - 5.5: Was rock solid most of the match, especially in the second half, but had a few problems in the first half.
Defender Oguchi Onyewu - 4.5: Was slow to react in key situations and was at least partially at fault on both goals. One must question his level of match sharpness.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 5.5: Was extremely solid on defense, but lagged a bit getting into the attack.
Midfielder Jose Torres - 5: Was involved in the offense, but at critical times was a step slow and a bit out of sync with those in front of him.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 6.5: Certainly his best effort for the U.S. in quite a while and not just because he scored the tying goal. Was very strong defensively, yet was at the center of many offensive thrusts.
Midfielder Landon Donovan - 6.5: Worked tirelessly on both ends and got the Americans back into the match with a world-quality goal.
Midfielder Clint Dempsey - 5.5: Was very tightly marked by physical defenders, but was still able to create a few chances and was always a headache for defenders.
Forward Robbie Findley - 4: Used his pace well to get open at times, but then did little when he got the advantage. Does not work well with the rest of the offense..
Forward Jozy Altidore - 6.5: This well may have been a breakthrough match for him. He added a degree of physicality that has been absent from his recent play and he was a constant threat.
Midfielder Maurice Edu (46th minute for Torres) - 6: Gave the U.S. an added dimension by his ability to hold the ball and make passes. Did solid defensive work and was still able to put the ball in the net for what should have been the game-winner, but was mysteriously disallowed.
Midfielder Benny Feilhaber (46th minute for Findley) - 5: Played solid defense on the wing with Dempsey pushed forward and was able to contribute offensively also.
Forward Herculez Gomez (80th minute for Onyewu) - no rating: Brief appearance did not allow him to contribute much with Slovenia pushing forward for the final 10 minutes.
SoccerTimes Player of the Match: Michael Bradley.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
Do you have a comment on this story or something to say about soccer in general? Send us a letter.