Landon Donovan’s stoppage time goal lifted the US to a fully deserved first-place finish in group C ahead of England, Slovenia, and France’s D team, Algeria, where dirty play, frosted hair, and hideous haircuts are all the rage. After a nervy start in which Jay DeMerit and Steve Cherundolo whiffed on clearances, which resulted in good chances for the Algerians, the Americans took over and dominated the match until the final whistle. Perhaps DeMerit was distracted by a gash in his tongue that required five stitches after the match. Who would have guessed? The US kept its doctors busy: Clint Dempsey’s lip required four stitches after being split open by a punch/forearm/elbow from Algerian defender Yahia. The referees didn’t see the punch: if they did, Yahia would’ve been ejected earlier than he was and the US would have gotten a penalty. The missed penalty, ejection, and a blown offside call that disallowed a perfectly valid US goal could have been major talking points if the match ended 0-0. Fortunately for the US and its fans, on this day, Donovan made the petty details irrelevant by scoring a glorious goal.
I love this team. There are so many things to love about it: a never-say-die attitude, a pervasive togetherness, its creativity, its hard-nosed nature, its diversity, and its leadership.
All 14 players who played for the US yesterday gave it their all.
A co-worker I watched the game with said he thought Michael Bradley looked like he was in a Benny Hill movie, in fast-forward. Bradley seemed to be trying to will the team to win with penetrating runs, and tireless running. I don’t like to talk about effort and the amount of running players do because the physical attributes of soccer seem to be overvalued in the US to the detriment of more skillful, technical players. That said, Bradley couples his effort (11.7 km covered) with a sophistication (46/58 passes completed, 3 shots) that makes him a prototypical, modern two-way, box-to-box midfielder. Check out his heatmap from FIFA:
That is what a central, box-to-box midfielder’s heatmap should look like. (If you haven’t, check out FIFA’s stats page on its match cast.) And his discipline is improving. He only committed two fouls yesterday.
Jozy Altidore played with confidence and style. Though he blasted the ball over an open goal from seven yards, he still had an excellent match.
Herculez Gomez was unpredictable and dangerous. He would have gotten the assist if Dempsey’s goal stood. This was only Gomez’s second start for the national team, and he was not intimidated by the occasion.
Dempsey was unlucky to not get a goal. Not just the disallowed goal, but he hit the bar on a chance he buries 9 out of 10 times, then missed a relatively easy follow-up: he had nine shots in total, four on goal. Dempsey covered a lot of ground, making himself available to get the ball and create chances. The big-time player showed up for the big-time game.
Donovan was precise with his passing and dangerous when he had the ball, especially in the first half, but he didn’t see enough of it. He should have finished with two assists, if only Dempsey and Altidore buried their chances. All that matters, however, is that Donovan created and got the goal that clinched first place in group C. He is surely going to be the second American player named to FIFA’s World Cup Best XI. (Howard and Bradley also deserve a place on the team in my biased opinion.)
Maurice Edu played the first 60 minutes as Bradley’s partner in the midfield. He was solid, if unspectacular. I expect Edu to start the rest of the matches he is available for because of his ability to track attacking midfielders and occasionally push forward. He has looked a bit more in-form than Ricardo Clark, who we haven’t seen since the first match.
Cherundolo put in another stellar performance from the right back position. He got forward well, serving dangerous crosses into the area. Beside the one defensive miscue previously mentioned, little Stevie’s defending was excellent.
DeMerit played with a tenacity and determination that I wish we could bottle. He commanded the area around him very well. He is everything we needed in a center back.
Captain Carlos Bocanegra shifted over to the middle of defense and delivered his best performance of the tournament. Solid and steady in the back, Bocanegra kept things organized and made the timely plays that helped the US keep a clean sheet.
Bob Bradley is always good for a surprise and yesterday that surprise was Jonathan Bornstein. The player who looked overmatched against El Salvador, Czech Republic, and Turkey was thrown into the starting lineup to replace Oguchi Onyewu, who Bradley thought might be tired. He also wanted to use Bornstein’s speed to attack down the left side of the field. Bornstein did fine. He delivered an excellent cross early in the second half and defended capably. I still get nervous every time he is defending because he is a penalty waiting to happen. I’ll be anxious to see who Bradley starts Saturday.
Tim Howard didn’t have a lot to do. The crossbar saved him once. Timmy’s shining moment came when he delivered a perfect throw to Donovan on the play that led to the goal. It took 12 seconds for the ball to go from Howard to the Algerian goal. That is efficiency.
Substitute Benny Feilhaber played really well. He came on for Gomez at half-time, pushing Dempsey forward and taking over in midfield. Feilhaber’s calmness on the ball and incisive passing led to a number of excellent opportunities. He is a great option in the midfield for the US when we have a lot of possession.
Edson Buddle came on for Edu in the 64th minute. He was very useful with his ability to hold the ball and combine with the US midfielders. Buddle was unlucky not to score when he powerfully directed a header right at the Algerian goalkeeper Mbohli. If he heads the ball two yards in either direction, it’s a goal.
The final substitution was DaMarcus Beasley. He came on too late (80′) to contribute much, but he did do well to help defend on the left side in the absence of Bornstein, who he subbed on for. Beasley was the victim of a perplexing caution for handling the ball with his chest.
Manager Bob Bradley deserves a lot of credit for making the right moves again. His willingness to attack, to commit numbers forward paid off against Slovenia and against Algeria. He kept faith in Bornstein and Bornstein responded well. The stoic Bradley had what my lovely wife referred to as a Perry/JD moment with Donovan after the match: they hugged tightly and relished the moment. Donovan emerged tearful. Bradley teared up, also, when talking about the wonderful support the team has gotten in South Africa.
With an incredibly good draw, the US plays Ghana Saturday and, if it advances, the winner of Uruguay/South Korea. England, on the other hand, faces Germany, and, if it advances, the winner of Argentina/Mexico! Ha! England doesn’t deserve better. As WaPo writer Steven Goff pointed out in the previously linked to post, England scored as many goals as the US had wrongfully disallowed. Lest anyone get sentimental for Africa’s last hope, Ghana, let’s remember that Ghana was the team of diving, time-wasting losers that got a bogus penalty and knocked us out of the 2006 World Cup. Go USA!