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Wow. What an absolute stunner eh? That was a magnificent win for a team that just won’t be denied this World Cup. I have to admit, however, I had my doubts throughout the game. For starters, Bob Bradley’s choice to start Herculez Gomez is a head scratcher to say the least. Throughout the World Cup, I think coach Bradley has done a great job managing. If nothing else, he’s been active. But I like the decision to rest Onyewu this match. He just didn’t seem fit the last two games, and often times looked sluggish and confused in a defensive backfield that left most people asking serious questions.
For example, during the first ten minutes Algeria had a great opportunity due to a lackluster tackle by the normally aggressive Jay Demerit, which was even more exposed because Steve Cherundolo was jogging back into position! The first half proceeded as many thought it would. Algeria packed tighter than a spitball with the U.S. acting as the aggressor. At times, the U.S. almost played with too much urgency in that they were trying to go right down the middle. Only a few times did they slow the pace down and work the ball along the flanks to try to stretch the Algerian stronghold defense.
Make no mistake about it though, the American’s had their chances in the first half and could have easily gone into the half up 2-0. What was glaring to me in the first half is the severe lack of quality finishing on the American side. Yes, Clint Dempsey can score goals and scored nine in his last Premiership campaign with Fulham. But is he a prolific goal scorer? No. That offsides call was not as misguided as the call against Slovenia. The referee makes that call every time, against any team. Case closed. The bigger concern was Herculez Gomez’ utter ineptitude in front of the net. I said it in May when the roster was announced and I think it showed today. Gomez is not quality. If you look at his goals over the past year, they are very opportunistic in that he was at the right place at the right time. He did very little creating on his own. His volley attempt in the 16th minute was atrocious. Faced with a one-on-one with the keeper a few minutes later, all he had to do was tuck it away. But he kicked it as hard as he could right at the keeper. To me, that shows just a lack of experience and confidence.
People will say Altidore had a great game. I think in terms of his work ethic he did. His size and strength clearly gave the Algerian defense problems all night. But he could have easily tucked that ball away right before the half. And probably a few other times too. Either way, the Americans went into the half clearly controlling the game play and knocking on the doorstep. I’m sure they had to feel like something would give soon.
To start the second half, Bradley got right into tactical moves. Thank god Gomez came off and Feilhaber came on. Feilhaber is a much better ball handler, which would help the U.S. control possession and wait for their spots with a stingy defense, but his introduction also pushed Donovan up higher, thus being able to become more a part of the attack. The second half really opened up as the Algerians became much more attacking. Fluid ball movement, quick passing, and more possession really helped the U.S. settle in and pick their spots. In the 57th minute, Altidore picked off an errant pass around midfield and showed his incendiary speed by cracking off a 35-yard dash, opening up play.
Sadly, his effort was seemingly wasted by giving a weak service right outside the Algerian 18-yard box, directly to a defender! By the grace of the soccer gods, the weak service was followed up by an even weaker clearance and bounced right to Clint Dempsey, who gave a nifty stutter step to beat a defender and go for the goal. Running full speed, Dempsey opened up his body and tried to slide the ball away far post, but, heartbreakingly, smashed the inside of the post. Amazingly, the ball bounced right back to him. With the goalie on the ground, every Algerian defender behind him, Dempsey had nothing but space and opportunity (and an empty net) in front of him; and he booted it side of the net. Lack of quality finishing. So it could be 3-0 for those keeping track at home.
What may go overlooked this game is the outstanding play of Carlos Bocanegra in the back. He worked tirelessly and kept the back organized. Also, if nothing else, he saved a goal in the 63rd when a mid-level service was driven into the box about seven feet in front of the American net. Bocanegra came crashing in, getting in between the service and a waiting Algerian striker, and at the last minute, got a toe in for a clearance. If Bocanegra doesn’t make that play, Algeria probably goes up 1-0 and stabs a dagger into the heart of the American hopes and dreams.
After the 75th minute, you could tell the Algerian team was gassed and the American conditioning really started to show. By my count, there were at least three set pieces caused by lunging, tired Algerian players not being able to get in front of the seemingly tireless American attack. Michael Bradley played a phenomenal game, and at times seemed to have the best vision of all the midfielders on the American side. As I mentioned before, the U.S. team has a tendency to put their head down and run full speed ahead when the pressure is on. Bradley had the patience to collect the ball, lift up his head, and find the teammates anywhere on the field.
In my opinion, Clint Dempsey is the man of the match. He left his heart, soul, blood, and probably some mouth tissue on the pitch. He epitomized American grit. The thing I like about Dempsey is that he never dives. He’s tough as nails. Sure, he’s not the flashiest, but he goes 100% in every challenge. Also, make no mistake about it; that goal is just as much Dempsey’s as it is Donovan’s. It was Dempsey’s run at full pace directly at the keeper that gave Altidore a target to send a service into. If you watch the replay, you’ll notice Dempsey actually gets a touch on that ball and the Algerian keeper makes a tremendous save. Because of Dempsey’s speed his momentum carries him right into the keeper inevitably taking him out of the play. The ball ricocheted off both players and was just sitting there, gift wrapped, for Donovan to lay it in. Bam-o! America wins 1-0. See ya next round.
It was an absolute nail-biter of a game. As a fan, you really couldn’t ask for anything more. I still have questions about the U.S. defense and finishing, but I don’t think anyone can question the American’s work ethic and determination. Saturday’s game against Ghana should be a much more wide-open and free flowing affair. I don’t think the Ghanians are as stout on the defensive end, but the size, strength, and speed of their attack is sure to give problems to the American back four, especially Sulley Muntari. Lets hope Tim Howard’s rib is back in top form; he’ll need it.