Is Landon Donovan's 91st -minute, game-winning goal the biggest goal in US Soccer History? Probably. In order for soccer to be accepted as a legitimate sport here in America, it was vital that the US advance out of Group C. Anything less would have surely been regarded as failure. Good thing, then, that Donovan scored. The US, minutes away from another hasty World Cup exit, are now onto the second round as Group C champions and face Ghana in the Round of 16. With Wednesday's win against Algeria still fresh in the memory and Saturday's match with Ghana looming large, let's take a quick look back at the Algeria game and take a quick look ahead to see what awaits the US down the road.
The Big Win: Perhaps the most surprising element of the US-Algeria game was how determined the Algerians were defensively. Even though The Desert Foxes needed to win the match (even more so than the US did), they looked content to sit back, absorb the US attack and break forward only on counter attacks. Coach Rabah Saadane is perhaps due for some condemnation back home, as Algeria now exit the World Cup stage having scored 0 goals, earning just one point and finishing bottom of their group.
The Big Winner for the US, though, might just be Coach Bob Bradley. He made three gutsy choices to start the game: leaving Oguchi Onyewu, the much-maligned central defender on the bench; playing Maurice Edu in the central midfield alongside mainstay Michael Bradley; and starting Herculez Gomez, more accustomed to super-sub duty, up front with Jozy Altidore. Although the Gomez choice was a bit of a bust, Bradley's other two choices were visionary. Carlos Bocanegro slotted into central defense, where his partnership with Jay DeMerit helped the US keep a clean sheet for the first time at The World Cup. Barring injury, I don't think Onyewu will see much more time on the pitch.
Although they left it late, The Yanks put in their best performance in some time and were unlucky to not have scored two or three goals. Jozy Altidore showed the world what he capable of. Holding the ball brilliantly and putting his teammates into lots of space, Altidore was probably The Man of the Match until Donovan stole the young fellow's thunder with his late winner. Donovan, meanwhile, played an excellent first half before disappearing for much of the second. With the big goal in the bag, it's safe to say that the disappearing act will be forgiven by US fans. The Big Goal, in addition to moving the US onto the knockout rounds, also bailed out Clint Dempsey, who was unlucky to have a goal incorrectly waved off but also failed to take advantage of several gilt-edged goal opportunities later in the match.
Now that the US and England are advancing, you sort of have to pity poor little Slovenia, who thought they had done enough to progress to the Knockout Rounds but were done in by Donovan's last-minute winner. It was a cruel twist of fate for the tiny alpine nation.
Looking forward, the US earned themselves a match against Group D runners-up Ghana. The game, on Saturday at 2PM, should be a classic. The US will be looking for some revenge against Ghana, who knocked the Yanks out of the 2006 World Cup in a close (and controversial) 2-1 game. Ghana has a few world-class talents, but the team lacks the organization and cohesiveness of the US. Whoever lines up in defense for the US will have to keep a close eye on Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan. Gyan has scored twice already at The World Cup, and the pacy striker is capable of breaking free and scoring at any moment.
Looking at the big picture, the draw has been very, very kind to The Yanks, who now have a great opportunity to make a run into the (gasp!) semifinals. If the US gets around Ghana, they will face the winner of the Uruguay-South Korea match. Neither of those teams are pushovers, but it's certainly the best the US could have hoped for. For the first time ever, they'll be viewed as favorites to make the semis. Maybe, just maybe, soccer madness will stick around for a few more days.
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