Those Americans ready to dismiss the World Cup as everyone else’s shrine to boredom have been given something to tune back in for. What the U.S., Slovenia and a certain Malian provided was the full gamut of human emotion—despair to euphoria to genuine unadulterated rage. It was like going from a funeral to a wedding to a divorce in the space of an hour.
To look at it from a neutral perspective: it was good enough to preemptively redeem the 90 minutes lost to the abject England game, which, even for a lover of soccer in all forms like myself, I might have traded for a live filming of an infomercial or the even the Sex and the City sequel. I’m not sure what makes for more atrocious viewing: Kim Catrall’s cartoonish post-menopausal efforts to exude sex appeal in a designer dress or Frank Lampard’s efforts to find form in an England shirt.
Despite the wasted time (and money) the scoreless draw was precisely what was required from an American perspective after their 2-2 draw against Slovenia in Johannesburg left them on two points. 90 minutes of scoreless boredom in Cape Town puts their fate firmly in their own hands, an entirely acceptable scenario headed into the final game against Algeria.
Your guess is as good as mine, Landon.
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But whether the result should be cherished as a point gained or rued as two points lost is a different question.
As they seem wont to do against former Eastern Block teams in the World Cup, the U.S. started meekly and conceded naively. Akin to the sucker punches they took against the Czech Republic in 2006, Poland in 2002 and Yugoslavia in 1998, the U.S. found themselves trailing inside the first quarter of an hour.
The U.S. defense retreated as Valter Birsa strolled into striking distance and unleashed a curling shot that left Tim Howard a spectator. Questions will be asked of Oguchi Onyewu who only managed to screen his keeper after being too slow to close down the Slovenian playmaker. Dominant against England, Onyewu should be held accountable for both Slovenian goals. This tournament has again shown him to be better siege defender than tactical defender.
In the England game where the English saw most of the ball Onyewu could patrol his area and tackle with impunity given the assurance that he had cover in the midfield. As the Americans pushed forward in search of goals against Slovenia, spaces in front of Onyewu opened up and his decision-making looked decidedly shaky. In the 40th minute, rather than step forward to spring the offside trap, he kept his line, letting Zlatan Ljubljankic steal in to make it 2-0.
The U.S. Eastern Block Curse looked set to continue and with England sure to wallop Algeria later in the night (so we thought) nerves were turning to dejection. An expectant (and sizeable) group of Americans gathered in a corner of the Cape Town Fanzone were looking morose by halftime. Slightly inebriated, sunburned, Stars and Stripes clad zombies ambled from the concessions to the porta-johns much to the amusement of confident England fans who probably thought the group was theirs to lose at this point.
There were signs of life to cling to, however. The American corner spent halftime lamenting Landon Donovan’s reliance on his right foot. Had he slid with his left he surely would have gotten the slight touch required to turn home Clint Dempsey’s smart cross, regardless of Slovenian defender Brecko’s desperate intervention. In a World Cup short on goals 2-0 is a world away from 1-1.
But, as we learned last summer, discount this squad’s powers of recovery at your peril. Donovan restored hope immediately after the break, his near post shot flying past Slovenian keeper Handanovic who looked more interested in securing his smile than his net. The coach’s son, Michael Bradley sent the American corner into a beer tossing, flag waving, stranger hugging frenzy with 8 minutes remaining after Altidore did well to nod the ball into his path. There wasn’t just the euphoria of rescuing something when all seemed lost; there was also the palpable feeling through the crowd that the U.S. were going to go on to win it. At halftime we were coming to terms with the possibility of going home early yet again; in the 83rd minute, we were convinced of going top of the group.
We were right. Unfortunately, one man failed to agree. That man’s name is Koman Coulibaly, who American players, fans and coaches can only hope will be a footnote in a piece of glorious history for U.S. soccer. What he saw or who he saw doing it is still, to this point, a complete mystery. That he blew his whistle just before Maurice Edu finished Landon Donovan’s tantalizing cross is all that matters. The dancing, the jumping, the repeat scenes of strangers hugging (and I swear I saw grown men platonically kissing) were eventually and regrettably halted by the unlucky fools like me who were sadly aware that our winner hadn’t stood. It was like winning the lottery only to have someone tell you that you’re looking at yesterday’s numbers. I’m surprised someone didn’t punch me in the face. I guess that anger had a better outlet.
Confusion quickly turned to vitriol when the jumbotron showed what the American corner were already certain of. We scored. 3-2. We win. We are good. We are amazing. Everyone else: not as good.
The horror is that no matter how many times you view the footage, it never changes. Never do you spot even a slight infringement that might resemble a foul by an American player, something that can temper the vitriol. No grab, no push, no cheeky and barely detectable handball. Nothing. All you see every single time the footage is replayed is an American goal and two or even three Slovenian fouls.
To return to the initial question: 1 point gained or 2 points lost? That’s a question best answered on Wednesday. As for me, I’ll always remember yesterday as the day we beat Slovenia 3-2.