U.S. soccer has long had a big chip on its shoulder and rightly so -- it has been disrespected in international football and as a result the "don't tread on me" slogan has been incredibly apt. But after the Confederations Cup, and Saturday's draw against England, a victory over Slovenia -- a team it should beat -- would force the U.S. to start thinking of a new slogan.
Should the U.S. win, it will not only almost assuredly have punched its ticket to the next round, but U.S. soccer will have also demonstrated to the world its maturation as a soccer power. We know the U.S. can show up in games no one can think it can win, but can it win the games it's supposed to?
I think the Slovenes screwed up big time in the mind wars in the lead up to this game. The U.S. were coming in as favorites in the World Cup -- an uncomfortable position for the U.S. who in big tournaments have historically done well as the underdogs but struggled as the favorites. Because of this, the U.S. players were desperate to note that they weren't the favorites and that any team that qualifies from Europe must be great.
So in comes Slovenian Andrej Komac to guarantee that Slovenia will win tomorrow. While I admire the brashness, this was exactly what the shrink called for in the run up to the game for the U.S. Now the U.S. can play as if they are the underdogs, as if they have something to prove.
But more than that, the U.S. under coach Bob Bradley has shown an impressive resiliency. The Yanks have had a number of great comebacks, but have also had some games when they came out slow and tentative, leading many U.S. fans to fret over a Jekyl and Hyde U.S. team and to question which team will show up. However, despite some uneven performances in qualifying, the U.S. won when it mattered. They beat Honduras in Chicago after losing to Costa Rica, they won away in Trinidad, and vitally clinched their World Cup berth away in Honduras. All of these were games where the U.S. was favored, but where the situation was challenging.
Going into tomorrow the team seems to have a quiet confidence and understands the need to go at Slovenia. A win can almost certainly send them through with one game to spare. And while a loss would be disastrous, a draw still puts the U.S. in a good position against a likely already-eliminated Algeria.
The big question is how coach Bradley approaches the game. Does he put out a more attacking and dynamic midfield that includes the dynamism of Jose Torres or Benny Feilhaber, or does Bradley play it close to the vest and go with a more defensive midfield with Ricardo Clark and Maurice Edu. The former option will signal that the U.S. is going for it, the latter would signal that the U.S. is concerned about conceding and would be content with a draw. In my view, the U.S. should start with a more attacking approach and put Slovenia on the backfoot, and if the game stays tied into the second half Bradley could then pull back and solidify the midfield in order to ensure the U.S. do not concede.
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