The referee may have stolen a win, but poor defending was the cause of the tie. FFG breaks down Slovenia’s goals and USA’s second half adjustments.
1st Slovenia Goal (13th)
Jay DeMerit’s failed clearance caused him to follow his man out wide, and his teammates let him down by not filling the space he vacated. Valter Birsa subsequently found just enough room to get off a shot.
The two US defenders who failed to cover Birsa were Oguchi Onyewu and Landon Donovan. Onyewu was trying to mark striker Milivoje Novakovic, but captain Carlos Bocanegra intelligently came over to pick up the forward, theoretically allowing Onyewu to step up to Birsa. And while Onyewu could have down a better job closing down Birsa’s shooting angle, Landon Donovan should not have let him go free in the first place. Donovan either assumed a teammate would step forward or lost sight of Birsa.
2nd Slovenia Goal (42nd)
Michael Bradley, like DeMerit, started the sequence that led to a Slovenia goal. He charged at two Slovenia players after Donovan lost a challenge, and when Bradley didn’t win the ball, José Torres was left facing two attackers. Right back Miso Brecko pushed forward to suck in Torres, and Brecko shuffled the ball to an unmarked Novakovic. Onyewu and DeMerit both stepped forward to take on the large striker, a situation that would have been acceptable had Onyewu been in-line with his teammates, but since Gooch was playing a bit deeper than the other defenders, Zlatan Ljubijankic was able to beat the offside trap and earn a one-on-one with Tim Howard, a challenge the keeper wasn’t up to.
Second Half Adjustments
Knowing that his side needed at least a tie, Bob Bradley made two halftime substitutions (Benny Feilhaber/Robbie Findley and Maurice Edu/Torres) and tweaked the formation. While still a nominal 4-4-2, the midfield became a diamond instead of a flat line (ie Bradley played in front of Edu instead of beside him), and Feilhaber, deployed at left midfield, was farther inward than either Dempsey or Donovan had been during the first half. The physical Edu was a better choice than Torres for the second forty-five, as the fullbacks’ very advanced positions meant one of the center mids needed to stay deep and help DeMerit and Onyewu prevent a counter.
The adjustments, and Slovenia’s unwillingness to push forward in numbers, gave the US some excellent scoring opportunities following Donovan’s golaso, but as the clocked inched upward, the gringos grew more frustrated when they couldn’t grab a second goal.
So with time running out, Bob Bradley threw caution to the wind and brought on a striker (Herculez Gomez) for a defender (Onyewu). USA’s formation then shifted to either a 3-4-3 or a 3-5-2, but before viewers were able to get a good look at the new formation (or the team was even able to settle into it), Michael Bradley scored the equalizer. Bradley the Younger’s goal forced the US back into a 4-4-2 (Edu replaced Onyewu, with Feilhaber dropping to CM and Dempsey returning to outside midfield) since a draw would still give them a decent chance of advancing.
The Long Ball
The substitutes and formation fiddling both had a positive effect (especially M. Bradley’s newfound freedom), but it was that most hated of soccer strategies – the long ball – that paid off in the end. Of course, the US won’t complain about Slovenia’s poor defending either.
On the first US goal, Cherundolo lofted to Donovan on the wing, and when his man slipped, Landon found himself alone in the box. On the second, it was Donovan who sent in a long pass, and when Bradley rushed into the box, none of the Slovenian midfielders went with him (both center backs were tied up with Altidore and Gomez), meaning Bradley was alone with the keeper when Altidore headed into his path.
Preliminary Thoughts for USA-Algeria
Unless US Soccer protests Robbie Findley’s unjust yellow card, the striker will miss the match. Dempsey, Gomez, or Edson Buddle will start alongside Altidore.
Bob Bradley will need to carefully plan his strategy, as Algeria uses an interesting formation. We’ll bring you a full preview on Monday.