Thursday, June 17, 2010

World Cup 2010: High Stakes for Team America

Coaches like to say the biggest game on a team's schedule is the next one. That mantra is especially true in the case of Team USA. On the heels of a hard-earned draw in the most anticipated match in American soccer history, the U.S. has put themselves in good shape to make the tournament a memorable one. But as a result of Slovenia's 1-0 win against Algeria, Bob Bradley's men have no room for error against the group leaders. A win and the knockout stages are in sight; another draw isn't ideal, but isn't devastating either. But should the U.S. fall to a team they're widely expected to handle, the Stars and Stripes will likely be heading home early.

The collection of U.S. forwards features names that no one expected to see in South Africa six months ago. If you asked anyone around Christmas, Robbie Findley, Herculez Gomez, and Edson Buddle were as likely to make the roster as Tab Ramos and John Harkes. But not only are they on the squad, they could be the surprise heroes the States need against Slovenia. Top teams get contributions from unexpected sources; anything these men can add to the contributions of Donovan, Dempsey and Altidore would go along way in getting the squad three critical points.

Defensively, America's confidence is high after a stellar performance from Tim Howard against England. While his bruised ribs are cause for concern, his game-saving stops left the Three Lions jealous. Slovenia's offense was far from threatening against Algeria and only a late red card and some horrendous goalkeeping allowed them to score. This has every opportunity to be the States' first World Cup clean sheet since their 2-0 Round of 16 win over Mexico in 2002.

If the U.S. is to claim victory tomorrow, they'll need to avoid one of their disturbing World Cup trends- conceding early goals. In their last four World Cup matches dating back to 2006, the U.S. has surrendered a goal within the first 22 minutes; twice those scores have come in the opening five. If they put the clamps down on Slovenia early and often, three points will be theirs.

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