Tomorrow (6/23), the United States Men’s National Team faces a must win game. Sure they’ve been in this situation before (the Confederations Cup last year in South Africa, in previous World Cups) but this game seems far more important. With this World Cup causing unprecedented buzz in the US, a win is imperative. If the US is bounced at the group stage again, I would be willing to bet that interest in the tournament will flag. If the US wins and can make a run to even the quarterfinals, this World Cup could help turn the US into a soccer nation.
While most American fans, – hardcore or casual – know that winning the tournament might be a bridge to far, getting out of the group stage is certainly within the team’s grasp. A win over Algeria (ranked 16 places lower than the US) is manageable. If the US can win the game and England beats Slovenia (with a margin that is equal to or lesser than the US’s victory margin), the US would secure top spot in the group. This could allow them to avoid a potential round of 16 match against Germany (assuming Germany defeats Ghana tomorrow). Any of the other potential opponents (Serbia, Ghana or Australia) don’t seem nearly as scary.
The Desert Foxes have acquitted themselves nicely thus far, losing to Slovenia by a goal and drawing against England. Many of Algeria’s players were born in France and several play in top leagues in Europe. Nadir Belhadj, who plays his club soccer for Portsmouth, might be the most well known player for Les Fennecs. The US will also needs to keep tabs on Karim Ziani of Wolfsburg in Germany, and Abdelkader Ghezzal of Siena in Italy. If the US is going to win the game, they will need to break down a stingy Algerian defense. Algeria has something to play for in this game (they can advance with a win and a Slovenia win) and will not role over. A slow start like they had against both England and Slovenia cannot happen again. The US needs to play with the same urgency they played with during the second half of the Slovenia game. The US will need to create space for runs off the ball through the packed Algerian midfield and defense (they are likely to start 5 in the midfield). The US will also need to keep mental lapses and defensive breakdowns to a minimum.
With Robbie Findley suspended due to yellow card accumulation, I’d like to see the US start this line-up against Algeria:
This is similar to the line-up that finished the game against Slovenia, with Holden replacing Benny Feilhaber (though I couldn’t argue with Feilhaber starting at RM), Edu slotting into midfield instead of his temporary CB position (he moved there when Herculez Gomez was brought on in the 80th minute), and a return to the starting defensive alignment. I think this line-up provides the most creativity and uses Dempsey’s talent for goal scoring most effectively. I really feel that Edu is the best option to start next to Bradley, he plays box-to-box and obviously has a nose for goal. Jose Torres didn’t look like he was ready for primetime in the Slovenia game and Rico Clark had too many defensive lapses in the England game. All that being said, I think that Bradley will go with the line-up that started against England (Clark in midfield next to Bradley), with Gomez swapped in for Findley.
By noon tomorrow we will know if the US has taken care of business and later in the day we will find out their potential opponent in the round of 16. Tomorrow should (hopefully) be a fun day for US soccer fans.
UPDATE: Bradley has decided to change things up a bit. Onyewu is out, with Bocanegra slotting in at CB. Jonathan Bornstein will start at LB. Gomez is the starter opposite Altidore and Edu is the starter in midfield next to Michael Bradley (I like the Edu move, and I can’t argue with Gomez, who was top scorer in the Mexican league this past season, starting). I am a tad worried about the choice of Bornstein. Bradley has a mancrush on Bornstein, consistently playing him despite poor showings for the national team. If Bradley felt the need to replace Onyewu, who hasn’t played to his potential after a long injury layoff, I would have been more confident in Jonathan Spector starting at LB. While Spector was less than stellar in the lead up to the World Cup, he starts for an EPL team and was very good during qualifying.