That’s right, we’re going with a 23-word, mildly hyperbolic headline to sum up today’s bats***-crazy game between the U.S. and Slovenia at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
After a first half that had U.S. fans convinced they’d been launched via time machine back to the late-1980s, the heyday of Rick Davis and Steve Trittschuh, the Yanks found themselves down 2-0 and their World Cup adventure looking all but over.
Only four teams in World Cup history had ever rallied from a 2-0 halftime deficit to earn a draw, and no team had ever come back from such a deficit to win.
Neither outcome was looking likely for the U.S., which was simply terrible through the first 45 minutes, getting overrun in midfield, in disarray at the back, and showing no imagination or threat in attack.
Bob Bradley substituted Maurice Edu for Jose Torres (more on him later) and Benny Feilhaber for Robbie Findley, and the U.S. came out blazing in the second half. Just three minutes in Landon Donovan pulled one back.
He got behind the Slovene defense and charged at the near post. Seeing no options to cut the ball back, he simply blasted it into the roof of the net from close range and a tight angle.
The Yanks were energized, but still showed a persistent inability to keep possession, and continued to lose the midfield battle by a small landslide. They did battle on, and eventually scored a stunning equalizer in the 82nd minute after Jozy Altidore knocked it down for an onrushing Michael Bradley to finish spectacularly.
Three minutes later, the U.S. scored again, Edu shoveling in a free kick from Donovan, but the goal was mysteriously disallowed. First we heard ‘offside’ then, apparently, a foul by Edu. Replays showed neither, but they did show three Slovene defenders with U.S. players in firm bearhugs.
The decision by Malian referee Koman Coulibaly remains mysterious, and it denied the Americans a piece of World Cup history.
Here’s Everton manager David Moyes on the call: “I’ve just seen that disallowed goal for the U.S. again—and not only was there no foul by a U.S. player, there are probably two penalty-kick offences being committed by the Slovenian defenders. Shocking decision.”
Aye, Mr. Moyes. Aye.
But having seen its team go down 2-0, U.S. fans will take the draw, and they had to enjoy what was easily the most entertaining game of the tournament so far.
Three final thoughts
• This game went absolutely nothing like most observers figured it would. Slovenia did not sit back as expected, but came out aggressively from the opening whistle and pressured the U.S. all over the field. The game wasn’t just not battened-down, it was weirdly wide open. In the second half the teams were wildly stretched, leaving huge gaps in midfield and producing end-to-end action. The Slovenes also seemed the physical/athletic equals of the Yanks—which is the opposite of the pregame information coming from everywhere, even Slovenia’s camp.
• The Jose Torres Experiment backfired, brutally. We touched on this yesterday, and we were surprised to see him in the starting XI. He shouldn’t have been: Torres had a stinker, looking overawed by the occasion, slow, giving away possession cheaply and, in our view, largely at fault for the first Slovenia goal (he was out of position and left a huge gap behind the pressuring Bradley). He did test the keeper with a bending free kick, but we don’t expect him to be back on the field next Wednesday.
• We’ve said it before; it’s all about nerves and mentality with this U.S. team. How else to explain the difference between the two halves, and the glaringly obvious jitters in the first 20 minutes? Clint Dempsey was so hinky out of the gate he nearly drew a red card in the first minute. The team committed unforced errors all over the place, scuffing simple passes, playing balls to nowhere while not under any pressure, etc. They played well below their level (and yet still won the game, minus the officiating gaffe at the end).
And now they face a must-win, do-or-die game against Algeria next Wednesday. The team shrink may need to call in reinforcements.
Player ratings to follow.