Johnson: America's Fate Hangs In The Balance

Johnson: America's Fate Hangs In The Balance
June 22, 2010, 4:54 pm
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By Dave Johnson contributor

Goal scoring is down at the World Cup. It is because Spain does not finish all the wonderful chances it creates and the U.S. had a bad referee last Friday. Yes, that is sarcasm dripping with exaggeration.

Still there is a link between Spain and the U.S. They are two teams that have offered so much at this World Cup. Along with the skill and quality, their games have been full of life and commitment.

Yet both teams have work to do to get to the second round. Spain should already have six points and six goals instead of three points and two goals. Its hard not to get caught up in the rhythm of the Spanish game with its intricate one-touch passing and the precise player movement off the ball.

Lets be clear, the U.S. is not Spain, but doesn't have to be to get by Algeria in Wednesdays finale of Group C. The Americans need to be careful and yet still committed. So far, Bob Bradley's squad has shown the resolve it takes to succeed at this tournament but needs to show that resolve without being reckless.

Soccer is a continuous sport, its changing every minute. A lot of it depends on the opponent; you can never forget the other 11 standing on the other side of the field. That changes the elements of our game continuously, said defender Steve Cherundolo.

But I think when we sharpen up our passing and have a good attitude of attacking guys and putting defenders on their heels, I think thats when were at our best. We can move all of our lines forward and put other teams under pressure. Thats when well create chances, make the other team make mistakes, and we tend to scoop up a lot of those mistakes and reward ourselves.

Thats what makes the yanks so much fun to watch. They are aggressive. They seem to understand the moment and want to seize it. It was that attitude that pulled the team back from the worst of starts against Slovenia and will serve them well on Wednesday.

And about those starts, the end of the group phase may depend on the beginning of the match against Algeria. While we praise the U.S. players for the emotion that drives them, that same emotion must be under control in the matchs early moments when we have seen cards given and goals conceded.

In fact the last time the United State enjoyed a lead in a competitive match was this past September in a 1-0 result over Trinidad and Tobago in World Cup qualifying. Algeria, as England found out in their 0-0 draw, is organized and the Americans can ill afford to stumble and allow the early goal yet again.

In addition, this World Cup has reinforced just how small the world of soccer now is. True we had Portugal's rout of North Korea but one-sided affairs are becoming rare in international play because at this level players are competing with their club teams in the same leagues.

Algerian players are on teams throughout Europe and are very familiar with their American counterparts. Midfielder Karim Matmour, who plays with Michael Bradley at Borussia Moenchengladbach in Germany, and center back Madjid Bougherra, who plays with Maurice Edu at Glasgow Rangers, are two of the 19 Algerian players now earning a living in Europe.

Algeria must win to advance, and this should serve the U.S. well. However, it does mean the Americans have to change their approach. If they are under control, the U.S. is athletic and skilled enough to accomplish what England could not---a win against Algeria.

Edu, who scored the goal that wasnt against Slovenia, worked well with Bradley in midfield and should get the start over Torres in midfield. Edu was an essential part of the second half renaissance against Slovenia and Torres best days are still ahead.

Itll be interesting to see how they approach the game Landon Donovan said, speaking of the Algerians. They have no choice but to win, so their approach to the game would most likely be an aggressive approach to get a goal and win the game.

But theyre a team that, as much as we can watch tape and know about their players, as a team they can be unpredictable. On their day theyre a very good team.

Regardless, the U.S. does not need to be Spain--or anybody else--to advance at this World Cup. They just needs to play the American way, but with calm to match the conviction that has carried them this far.