This wasn’t a do or die match for the United States, but three points would’ve put the Yanks in much better position to advance out of group play. And like clockwork, the U.S. still started the game looking lethargic and completely flat and paid the price for it. Down 2-0 by halftime, the Yanks looked very much out of the game but not because they were outplayed. It was very evident that the United States suffers from some kind of identity issue. Capable of playing for any result, good or bad, against any team, both good or bad. Thankfully Landon Donovan showed up and put his stamp on the game and cements himself that he should be considered as a world class player.
Just a note, I know there is a lot of controversy regarding the referee and the phantom call disallowing Maurice Edu’s go-ahead goal. While I’m baffled by the calls he made throughout the game, he didn’t cause the Yanks to play the way they did in the first half and I’ll just leave it at that.
Player ratings: (1-10; 10 = best)
Tim Howard, goalkeeper, 5.5 — Couldn’t be faulted for either of the goals as he was left to fend for himself by Onyewu but didn’t rise to the occasion either, making the world class saves that he normally does. He did step it up in the second half and delivered a solid save against Aleksandar Radosavljevic.
Carlos Bocanegra, defense, 4 — His lack of speed was painfully exploited in this match. Any time he was caught in the attack, you could bet on seeing Bocanegra trailing the play to get back.
Jay DeMerit, defense, 5.5 — Solid as usual with the aerial business, but didn’t appear to be in sync with Oguchi Onyewu at critical moments. Picked up his game in the second half, but got a bit lucky to not get called for a second half hand ball in the box. (The shot actually went over the bar, but in desperation to make up loss ground, DeMerit lunged with his hands up. Had the ball went downwards, it surely would’ve struck his hand.)
Oguchi Onyewu, defense, 2.5 — His lack of playing time due to injury for the past 7 months finally showed today. Didn’t step out to Birsa and close the angle on the first goal and surely got an earful from Tim Howard. Why he would give up so much space right in front of the goal is beyond me. Failed yet again to step up when he kept Zlatan Ljubijankic onside for the second goal.
Steve Cherundolo, defense, 6 — Picked his spots well and joined the attack when the opportunity presented itself. His defense was also solid and did well to track back to squelch Slovenia’s counter attacks.
Clint Dempsey, midfield, 5.5 — Was starved for service but even when he did get the ball, we didn’t see any of his trademark plays or willingness to take on defenders. Nearly set up Donovan with a nice assist, but Brecko came up with a strong defensive play.
Jose Torres, midfield, 5 — Showed off his set piece skill with a ferocious, yet tricky free kick near the end of the first half. But looked lost and unsure of his role on the team. Taken out at the half.
Michael Bradley, midfield, 7 — The more I watch this kid, the more I’m impressed with him. Took the second goal well, when he easily could have pushed it over the bar. His ability to go a full 90 minutes, with his exceptionally high work rate makes him an invaluable part of this team.
Landon Donovan, midfield, 7.5 — With the team falling behind and lacking any kind of creativity, Donovan stepped up and put the team on his shoulders as many U.S. fans hoped he would. Made dynamic runs against his defenders in the first half and finally broke through with a blistering shot from an almost impossible angle in the second half. Clearly playing with confidence as the ’06 Donovan would have passed instead in that situation. His set piece delivery was sublime tonight.
Jozy Altidore, forward, 6.5 — Finally came to play in the second half, doing the dirty work of posting up and holding off his defenders. When he finally uses his strength to combine with his skill, he certainly is a very dangerous player. Did well to head down Donovan’s pass to set up Bradley for the equalizer.
Robbie Findley, forward, 3 — Yet again Findley’s pace went missing from this match and so did his confidence. Clearly ran out of ideas when he got close to the goal and was content on giving the ball up rather than take things on himself. Looked very much like Donovan of ’06. Undeservedly received a yellow card for taking the ball off his face, which knocks him out of the last game against Algeria but he shouldn’t be playing that game anyway.
Maurice Edu, midfield, 4.5 — He looked gassed or tentative just 10 minutes in, and as a second half sub you need to play with greater urgency and energy. Couldn’t connect his passes early on but provided good coverage in defense. Unlucky to have his potential game winner called back.
Benny Feilhaber, forward, 5 — Also looked tentative early on, which isn’t what you’re looking for in second half subs. Eventually found some rhythm and got involved in the game, but missed a clear shooting opportunity with indecision.
Herculez Gomez, 6 — I breathed a sigh of relief when he was introduced. Made a good run to occupy Slovenia’s center back on Altidore’s header, which created the room for Bradley to sneak in and score. Small but significant plays like that will help the Yanks go a long way.
**Final thought: I’m starting to believe that the absence of Brian Ching on this team is starting to show. The U.S. desperately needed Altidore to show some hold up/post up play to keep possession, a trait that Ching does better than anyone else in the U.S. pool. And his ability to draw fouls would’ve come in handy with Donovan continuing to deliver quality balls on set pieces.