U.S.-Algeria: More Afterglow (Then Bring on Ghana!)

Of the dozens of great articles out there in the aftermath of the U.S.-Algeria white-knuckler, this one right here, by Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal, might be our favorite. 

The second paragraph nails it:

 “If you weren’t completely, utterly, thrilled, exhausted and satisfied by Wednesday’s 1-0 Team USA World Cup thriller over Algeria, you’re a lifeless sports corpse. You are banned from all future U.S. World Cup matches and hereby ordered to spend the rest of the season watching the moribund Baltimore Orioles, eating cold oatmeal in a Slanket.”

The Journal produced some unexpectedly strong coverage of the game, despite Timothy Martin’s saying, in this article, that “Landon Donovan broke a scoreless tie by kicking the winning goal with three minutes to go.”

Excellent piece Mr. Martin, but it wasn’t a field goal.

Hey, baby steps; and we’ll take the mainstream coverage. Click here for another worth-your-while WSJ story on the game.

But Gay’s article points up an interesting thing we experienced in the aftermath of the game—and we don’t think we were alone in this—that is, getting emails and texts from non-soccer-loving friends (we tolerate a few of those) who were genuinely caught up in the outlandishly exciting game.

One of our pals, who is not only not a fan, but also a bit of a hater, wrote:

 “WOW!!!! [All caps and four exclamation points his]

“And it could have been 6-1. We had the goal, the one called back, and at least four near misses, by my count. And, of course, Algeria had that rising drive off the crossbar…. ”

This from a guy who normally would weigh in on soccer only to make snarky comments about a lack of scoring. Here he was jazzed about a 1-0 win.

Yes, this game is a potential corner-turner for the sport in this country.

Here are some more postgame quotes we liked:

“It was like a 40-year-old losing his virginity. The place just exploded.”

 —Annabel Heany, California native visiting Pretoria for the game, describing the stadium response to Donovan’s goal, for a.m. New York.

“I don’t think we’re going to convert the American population overnight, but anybody that watched today’s game and can’t get excited about it, we’re not gonna win them over, I accept that. But I think we’ll win a lot of people over today.” [See Jason Gay article above.]

—USSF President Sunil Gulati.

“We don’t get many moments like this. I think it’s a sign that people are starting to pay attention. We always talk about the water level rising with soccer. Well, today the water rose.”

 —MLS commissioner Don Garber.

“This World Cup is like WWII: England vs. Germany, the French surrender, and the Yanks turn up at the last minute.”

 —Unsourced wit from the Internet 

 “Hi Bianca.”

 —Landon Donovan, in his postgame interview with ESPN, giving a shoutout and blowing a kiss to his ex-wife, actress Bianca Kajlich.

Click here for more on that last one. 

Developing?

U.S. 1, Algeria 0: Hot Damn!

Landon Donovan buried a rebound from a Clint Dempsey shot in stoppage time to give the U.S. a dramatic 1-0 win over Algeria today.

The victory, which came after the U.S. had missed multiple scoring chances and had another goal disallowed by a refereeing error, vaulted the team into the knockout stage of the World Cup just moments before they would have been eliminated by a tie.

When Lando hit net, the venue where Team Backpost was watching exploded, and the woman standing next to us took a shot to the nose in the ensuing melee. She was bleeding—and smiling—for 20 minutes afterward.

We are tracking down video and/or photo evidence of this, but in the meantime, here is a small sampling of the email/text correspondence flying in and out of Backpost HQ before, during, and after the match (all times EST):

Pregame:

RefBaiter: “Gooch is out. I am surprised. Bornstein scares the poop out of me.”

ChaseTheGame: “I don’t get Gomez. Seems better as sub. Why doesn’t Holden get more love?”

Espo: “Is anyone else nervous?”

RefBaiter: “Extremely.”

KEEP: “Going on record: I like the move to sit Gooch.”

First half:

Mr. Law [10:06]: “Crossbar! Nearly the third early goal allowed in a row!”

DoubleD [10:07]: “Can we please keep it tight at the back? Please?”

RefBaiter [10:22]: “Gomez! Cmon.”

Addick [10:22]: “Wow! Another bad call!! Really painful (and Gomez should have buried first chance, too).

Mr. Law [10:25]: “They’re getting us back for eight years of Bush.”

KEEP [10:39]: “I hate soccer.”

SimonSays [10:44; from England]: “You’re just watching the wrong game in this group!”

Second half:

Mr. Law [10:47]: U.S. looks better than Algeria, but Algeria counters quick…could catch us.”

Monkey Man [11:02]: “Get Holden in here for Edu.”

WarrenG [11:04]: “Feilhaber in for Edu.” 

StrikerLiker [11:15] “Snakebit USA.”

RefBaiter [11:16]: “Ready to vomit.”

Monkey Man [11:17]: “Painful.”

StrikerLiker [11:23]: “Cmon Buddle! Do it for New Rochelle, baby!”

Seize-a-Bull [11:50] Y-Y-YES!!! Altidore! Dempsey! DONOVAN!!

HillTopper [11:50]: “WOW!!!”

MacDaddy [11:52]: “Holy S***!”

Mr. Law [11:55; hasn’t taken a drink in three years]: “I’m drinking again!”

KEEP [11:57]: “I love soccer.”

Clearly, this team makes its fans suffer—but maybe the wins are sweeter that way.

Three final thoughts:

Man of the Match

This has to go to Donovan for hitting the winner, but Michael Bradley is a close second, just ahead of Tim Howard.

Much as he was in the second half against Slovenia, Bradley was a beast out there today—clogging passing lanes, making great touches in tight spaces and surging forward through midfield. Quality performance for the coach’s son—again.

Howard was his usual rock-solid anchoring self, and he started the game-winning play with a superb long throw to Donovan on the right wing.

Jozy Altidore also had a good one—pretty good holding the ball up top, and always a handful for the Algerian backline, especially in the second half, when he drew several free kicks in dangerous areas.

Great, Impossibly Dramatic Win, But …

The U.S. is unbeaten in three games, but has yet to put together a solid, sound, 90 minutes of soccer. They nearly conceded a goal in the sixth minute today, when Algerian forward Rafik Djebbour thumped the crossbar, and there were too many gaps and defensive lapses—the kind of mistakes that a better opponent will punish.

Lando On the Verge?

Donovan’s goal against Slovenia was massive—it jumpstarted the U.S. comeback and it was a great, sheer-will-to-win moment—and his goal today was the most dramatic tally in U.S. soccer history, making his team World Cup group winners for the first time since 1930. And yet he, like the team, has yet to produce an excellent overall performance.

If that changes in the knockout stage, the U.S., as Donovan said in his postgame interview, is “not done yet.”

Who Should Partner Altidore Up Top vs Algeria?

Koman Coulibaly may have cost the U.S. a victory with his mysterious foul call on Maurice Edu’s goal last Friday, and he definitely forced a roster change with his phantom hand-ball call and subsequent yellow card on Robbie Findley. The booking—on a play whose replays clearly showed the ball hitting Findley in the face and the chest—got the speedy striker suspended for tomorrow’s game against Algeria.

Findley squandered his touches in the final third against Slovenia, but he did get into dangerous spots several times with his speed and well-timed runs. Those qualities would be very useful against an athletic team like Algeria, which needs a win against the U.S. to have any hope of advancing, and so will likely try to attack the Yanks. Having Findley’s wheels out there would put pressure on the Algerian backline. Since he’s not available, who will Bradley start in his place?

He could go with the lineup that finished the game against Slovenia—Clint Dempsey alongside Jozy Altidore in attack, with Benny Feilhaber wide in midfield—or he could bring in Edson Buddle at striker and keep Dempsey in midfield.

If Bradley has concerns (as we do) about Feilhaber’s athleticism and soft defense against an untethered Algerian side, he could slot Stuart Holden at right midfield, and go with Dempsey up top.

Here’s our bet for the starting XI:

Howard

Cherundolo            Onyewu            DeMerit            Bocanegra

Dempsey            Bradley            Edu            Donovan

Buddle            Altidore

[With Holden and Herculez Gomez ready as the first subs]

Who do you think should start in this win-and-you’re-in game? Let us know in the comments.

World Cup Group C Getting Tougher by the Day

When Algeria began the African Cup of Nations with an embarrassing 3-0 loss to no-hopers Malawi, it confirmed worldwide perception that they were one of the weaker African entrants in South Africa 2010, and that Group C was a favorable draw for England and the United States.

But now, just two weeks later, that perception is being transformed, if not turned on its head: With a dramatic 3-2 win over tournament favorites Ivory Coast, Algeria is in the semifinals of the Cup of Nations, and asking its World Cup Group C brethren, “How ya like us now?”

Following that opening loss to Malawi, Algeria rebounded with a 1-0 win over Mali, then a 0-0 draw with hosts Angola that put them through to the quarterfinals, and yesterday’s riveting clash with Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Kolo Toure and Co.

Check out the highlights below, and get a glimpse of what the U.S. will face next summer:

Algeria will meet Egypt, which it eliminated from World Cup contention this past November, in one semifinal on Thursday; Ghana takes on Nigeria in the other.