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Another tie that feels like a win

June 19, 2010
Hirshey By David Hirshey
Special to ESPN.com
(Archive)

So, let me try to understand this -- does U.S. manager Bob Bradley have some schoolyard strategy when it comes to these World Cup games? We'll spot you one goal in the first 15 minutes and, depending on how confident we feel, possibly two. But then it's on. And no holds barred, especially Clint Dempsey's version of Chief Jay Strongbow's sleeper.

Admittedly, the U.S. got away with that magnanimous game plan Friday, gifting Slovenia a two-goal lead before deciding to slay the Green Dragons. But just when it looked as though the Yanks had pulled off a comeback for the ages, the game winner was wiped out, thanks to a rookie referee's unfathomable call in the box in the 85th minute.

The Americans find themselves staring at a World Cup destiny that is still in their own hands but they'll have to rely on their feet. They'll have to win their next match by two or more goals to advance to the knockout round.

Whatever Bradley said at halftime to Landon Donovan, who finally showed the world why he's the best American player of all time, he needs to say to whole team in the next few days. The message is simple: score first, play physical but clean defense and score again. And again.

The two -- I mean three -- goals that the U.S. scored showed that it's capable of breaking down a tough, well-organized defense with speed, creativity and incisive finishing.

I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that Donovan's goal was Maicon-worthy. It was taken from an angle that even the ancient Greek striker Pythagoras would have had to double-check. It was as if, after a first half of lazy U.S. marking and slipshod passing, Donovan didn't trust anyone else with the ball, so he called his own number.

You could hardly blame him. The first half felt as if the Americans were allowing Slovenia a geological era to decide what to do with the ball. The only thing that the U.S. defense closed down in the first 45 minutes was the U.S. offense. Jose Torres, who Bradley gambled would provide the Steve Nash-like vision that was missing in the midfield against England, looked out of his depth and was nowhere to be found on the two Slovenia goals.

When Bradley pàre wisely replaced him in the second half with Maurice Edu, the move jump-started the stalled U.S. attack and freed Bradley fils to maraud forward. In the 81st minute, when Jozy Altidore outjumped the Slovenian rear guard to knock down the ball into the box, Bradley came steaming in from deep to bury it.

As for The Goal That Got Away, it was a call that even MLB umpire Jim Joyce will be shaking his head at. Not only were there no U.S. players offside, the only crimes being committed in the penalty area were by the Slovenians, who used Balkan wrestling moves that Vince McMahon should seriously consider importing.

So Friday's match was another tie that feels like a win. Unfortunately, the next win has to actually be one.

Plus, the U.S. needs a little help from England. But as "the small people" on the Gulf Coast have learned, Americans can't exactly count on the British these days. So it will take a decisive U.S. victory on Wednesday to put Team USA into the second round. If the team that played the second half Friday shows up for all 90 minutes next week, it'll get that win against Algeria, and not even a referee in need of a seeing-eye dog will be able to take that away.

David Hirshey is the co-author (with Roger Bennett) of "The ESPN World Cup Companion: Everything You Need to Know About the Planet's Biggest Sporting Event."