Wednesday, June 23, 2010

USA v. Algeria Preview & One Goal: The Road to South Africa

The United States national soccer team runs during a training session at Pilditch Stadium in Pretoria June 21, 2010. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP)

Today's the day, the day the US National Team finds out if it gets to stay a little longer in South Africa or if it is packing up its bags and coming home. Today's the day that the US National Team has to build on the success it has had in South Africa by picking up its first win of this year's World Cup finals. Today's the day that the US's defense needs to step up and ensure that they do not give up an early goal to Algeria.

With two draws in its past two matches the US holds its destiny in its hands, all it has to do is win today's match with Algeria to advance to the knockout stage. Yes, it is possible for the US to advance even if it picks up another draw, but most of the casual sports fans who have been sucked in by this US team have indicated to me that they really want a win, not another draw. Besides, if the US is serious about getting beyond the knockout stage, it would be a good idea to start winning now.

The good news is that since a win ensures survival, the US will start the match on the attack, and one thing we've seen over the past year or so is that when the US comes out with its attacking game, they tend to do pretty good. They do good because the US's attacking style usual limits the amount of time the ball spends near the US's net. We all know that the US's defense has been suspect, so the more its role is diminished, the better for the US.

Meanwhile, Algeria's odds of advancing are slim, but a win could possibly get them to the knockout stage. This means they'll come out on the attack too. Slovenia came out on the attack last Friday, and that resulted in two first half goals for Slovenia. That being said, the half-asleep US team we saw during the first half of the Slovenia match most likely will not be replicated today.

The 3-5-2 formation employed by Algeria could cause the US some trouble, but it can also be exploited by the US. The key to this match will be control of the midfield. While the US will, technically, be outnumbered in the midfield, it can rely on some help from Edson Buddle who has the speed to assist the top end of the midfield and close the gap with Jozy Altidore. Yes, since Robbie Findley is not available due to yellow card accumulation, I suspect that Buddle will get the start up top today. Meanwhile, Coach Bob Bradley should start Maurice Edu who, in Friday's match with Slovenia, showed he's capable of working in the midfield while assisting the defense when needed. Finally, when it comes to scoring, Altidore and Buddle can throw their size around when facing Algeria's three defenders.

The final key to this match is stamina. On Friday, we saw Slovenia worn down come the second half. The US was able to rely on its superior conditioning to come back from a two goal deficit and almost win that match. That being said, last year we saw the US wear itself down in the first half of the Confederations Cup final against Brazil, giving up a two goal lead. In recent matches it seems that the US has learned to pace themselves in the first half and Algeria isn't Brazil, so the US will likely outlast Algeria. If Algeria is losing pace to the US, the match could get chippy, like the second half against Slovenia did, increasing the potential number of set pieces for the US.

I expect the US to win this match by one goal, but it won't be easy. Algeria is no pushover, look at how they held England to a 0-0 draw last Friday. Of course, England looked to be sleep walking through that entire match, but still, Algeria is a competent team that still has a glimmer of hope at advancing.

To bide your time until the match starts, here's some video to watch, One Goal: The Road to South Africa:

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