Coming off their epic 1-1 draw against England (or win, depending on how you look at things), the US has a huge upcoming match against Slovenia. With Slovenia sitting on three points and leading the group, the US must approach the game with a win in mind. A loss would all but knock the US out of the tournament, while a tie would leave them with some work to do in their last group match against Algeria. Knowing then how important the game is, here are a few things to keep an eye on.
Goalkeeper Showdown: In their game against England, the US enjoyed a considerable advantage over the Brits at just one position: Goalkeeper. Fortunately, having the superior netminder was enough to compensate for the Yanks' outfield inferiority. Tim Howard's superlative performance kept the US in the game and they stole a goal (and a crucial point) thanks to Robert Green's historic snafu. Against Slovenia, the US will not enjoy a similar advantage, as Slovenia has a brilliant keeper of its own. Samir Handanovic, who plays for Udinese in Italy, is a fine goalie with considerable experience. Tall, lanky and athletic, Handanovic will force the US to earn their goals this time around. Another concern for the US is Howard's status going into the game. Although the official word is that he is good to go, a less than 100% Tim Howard might give the American defense some anxiety.
The Midfield Battle: Of the many things the US does well, possessing the ball and slowly building attacking opportunities is not one of them. As seen in the game against England, the Yanks were not really able to settle the ball down and methodically attack the English defense. You would like to see the US build up through Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan on the outside, perhaps setting up some crossing opportunities. Ricardo Clark and Michael Bradley, the US central midfielders, were tasked mostly with dropping back and marking English attackers in their first game. Facing Slovenia they might be able to push forward a bit more, especially Bradley, who is more comfortable going forward than Clark. In any case, winning the midfield battle, whether it's in the middle or on the outside, will be a crucial element in Friday's game.
Physicality: Slovenia, like England, plays a physical brand of soccer. That shouldn't be a problem for the US, who are never lacking for brute strength. One thing to watch will be how the central defensive pairing of Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit handles Slovenian forward Mile Novakovic. Novakovic is a tall, ball-holding forward and he just might give the US defense something to think about, especially on set pieces. Judging from how the US handled England's Emile Heskey, another bruiser, they should do ok.
So how will it go? It would be nice to see the US push the pace a little bit, and they just might have to do that against Slovenia. I think they will go on the offensive and grab a goal sometime in the first half. Michael Bradley will control the midfield and win Man of the Match.