Overall, a good result that feels strangely empty. The US shouldn't have many problems with an Algeria team that will almost certainly have one foot on the plane. (Note: I'm sure I was saying the same thing about our final match with Poland eight years ago.) It is very unlikely that a win over Algeria will not send the US into the knock-out stage. And with Germany losing and looking vulnerable, the premium for winning the group has gone out the window. I ought to be thrilled with the guts that the US team showed by fighting back from 2-0 down in the second half. (What was it that everyone says about this team being inconsistent?) Still, there's such a feeling of frustration because the winning goal was waved off because Michael Bradley managed to find himself in an "offside" position as a result of being tackled in the box. Swirl that one around in your mouth for a moment.
1. The US looked really good on free kicks. Landon Donovan's deliveries were consistently excellent and we had guys crashing to the right spots time and again. It seemed like it was a matter of time before we scored on one. Also, I was a little surprised that Slovenia - a team with a reputation as an organized, defensive side - was so slack in marking our attackers. England will have a field day on set pieces if they get the opportunities.
2. I'll repeat my gripe from eight years ago: FIFA damages the World Cup by making nice with its broad constituency by having refs from tiny countries calling big matches. In 2002, South Korea advanced to the semifinals because refs from Ecuador and Egypt were intimidated by the Koreans' fantastic crowds. Today, the US was undone because of a crew from Mali. Honestly, does anyone think that a ref from one of the poorest countries in the world is better able to handle the speed of a world class game and the pressure of making calls in front of 80,000 fans with hundreds of millions watching all over the globe? I can't claim to be an expert on the domestic league in Mali, but I'm guessing that your average ref from any one of the major European leagues, not to mention the leagues in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, the US, and Japan, would be better positioned to make a close call in a critical game.
2a. And FIFA's referee selection policies are made worse by its refusal to do anything to make sure that the right call is made. FIFA hasn't gone to two refs, it hasn't put refs behind the goals (yet), and it is totally against video replay. Any one of those fixes would have increased the chances that the right call would have been made on Edu's goal. It is very difficult to be a ref or a linesman. I can think of few calls in sports that are harder to make than offside because the linesman has to see two different places within a split second. Because of the low-scoring nature of the game, refereeing decisions take on out-sized importance in futbol. These are all reasons why FIFA should be doing more to get calls right, as opposed to its current policy of sticking its collective fingers in its ears and singing "Mary had a Little Lamb."
2b. The US has had a dreadful decision go against it in the last three World Cups: the handball on the line by Frings in '02, the penalty that ended our hopes against Ghana in '06, and now the travesty of a call on Edu's winner in '10. Can we think of any notable bad calls that have gone our way? The only one that comes to mind is the penalty that Mexico should have had when they were down 1-0 in the '02 Round of 16.
2c. All that said, in futbol, you just have to accept that calls are going to be missed.
3. Maybe my view is distorted because the US played with more urgency in the second half and Slovenia was sitting on their lead, but I liked the 4-3-3. Bob Bradley moved Maurice Edu into a proper holding role, which we don't have in the 4-4-2, put Michael Bradley into a more offensive midfield spot alongside Benny Feilhaber, and then pushed Donovan and Dempsey into forward positions. That formation makes sense for a couple reasons. First, the strength of this team is clearly in the offensive positions, so why not go with an offensive formation? Play to your strengths instead of compensating for your weaknesses. Second, the 4-3-3 gives more defined roles. Right now, we have two central midfielders, but their roles are mixed between offense and defense. In the 4-3-3, we would have Edu tasked with shielding the back four (which they desperately need) and Bradley in a more advanced position to take advantage of his Gerrard-esque ability to crash the box. The US has given up three goals in this tournament, all right down the middle and all in the space that would be covered by someone playing the classic Makelele role. The downside to a 4-3-3 would be that Dempsey and Donovan would have to run their tails off to provide help for the left and right backs. That said, maybe encouraging opponents to play down the wings and cross would play to the strength of our centerbacks. That certainly worked against Spain last summer, although Spain is a unique case.
4. Demerit and Gooch have played together for ages, but they are not doing a good job of communicating. Also, with Gooch slowed by his knee injury, we have two slow centerbacks and we can only get away with one.
5. Did anyone else notice on Landon's goal that he didn't have a passing option because Feilhaber ran into Dempsey? They both went to the same spot.
6. Boy, this tournament has gotten a lot better after the first set of games. The goals are suddenly coming in a flood. I'm happy to have been wrong.
7. Assuming that England beats Algeria by more than one goal, Slovenia is going to have to play to win against England. Let's see how a naturally defensive team does in that situation. They were in the same spot in their second leg match against Russia and they pulled it off, but it's easier to go for the win at home as opposed to at a neutral site.