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5 keys to U.S. victory

June 22, 2010
Carlisle By Jeff Carlisle
ESPN.com
(Archive)

PRETORIA, South Africa -- This is it, the game by which an entire four-year World Cup cycle will be judged. If the United States defeats Algeria on Wednesday at Loftus Versfeld Stadium -- or even if it ties and gets the right result from the England-Slovenia match -- its dream of reaching the second round will be achieved. If not, the team will be branded as a failure.

Is it fair? Probably not, yet it remains the standard by which history will rate this U.S. team against its predecessors.

Of course, coach Bob Bradley and his boys are thinking of nothing but victory, but the last game of the group stage has been historically problematic for the Americans. They've never gained a point in such a match, never mind earned a victory.

Here's what must happen for the U.S. to make the right kind of history.

1. Release the hounds

The U.S., by its own admission, started the last match against Slovenia lacking urgency. Such aggression will be needed this time, but the Americans must also harness that energy so it doesn't morph into recklessness. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan will need to set the tone for this side from the get-go.

2. Stop the Karims

We're talking about Ziani and Matmour, of course. Ziani is Algeria's version of Dempsey, a skillful attacking player who likes to tuck inside. Matmour tends to line up closer to goal, but with Abdelkader Ghezzal back from suspension, Matmour likely will assume more of an attacking midfield spot. Both players love to find the soft pockets between the midfield and back lines, something the U.S. struggled with at times during its 2-2 tie with Slovenia.

3. A consistent performance from Onyewu and the rest of the defense

Central defender Oguchi Onyewu has been at the center of the team's slow starts, making some shaky decisions in the back. In the second halves of games, he's tended to get stronger. On Wednesday, he'll need to start the game at his peak and reprise his form from last year's Confederations Cup, when he was the foundation of the defense.

Onyewu will need the rest of his back-line mates to pitch in, as well. The last time the U.S.'s first-choice lineup kept a clean sheet was back on Sept. 9, 2009, in a 1-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago. That was 10 games ago, not including B Team friendlies.

4. Look out for those set pieces

The Algerians are plenty athletic, with big center backs Antar Yahia and Rafik Halliche providing an enticing pair of targets on set pieces. Nadir Belhadj hits a wicked free kick, as well, so the U.S. will need to channel its aggression in the right way and avoid conceding too many of those types of opportunities.

5. Get Jozy on the score sheet

It's been a long dry spell for U.S. forwards. The last time an American striker scored in the World Cup was in 2002, when Donovan tallied in the Americans' epic 2-0 round-of-16 win against Mexico. Since then, six World Cup games have come and gone without a U.S. forward scoring. Jozy Altidore has vastly improved his hold-up and aerial games, and the U.S. would love nothing better than for him to round out a solid group phase by getting on the scoreboard.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at eljefe1@yahoo.com.