How Koman Coulibaly made 300 million enemies in 15 seconds

Well, if you watched the train wreck this morning, you’ll know why.

The gaping maw of Coulibaly’s face is the last thing Jozy Altidore wanted to see post-match after Edu’s magical run yielded no Slovenian defenders. Edu goal. USA go 3 points up. The end.

Or not.

Of course, this all could have been avoided by the U.S. not playing a bland toro-style defense in the first half, or Gooch not playing his man onside for the second of Slovenia’s shocking goals. Or Jose Torres not vindicating the many snubs he’s received after that fateful night at the Saprissa.

But it wasn’t. And that’s a shame.

It’s hard for me, an American, not to look at this through Uncle Sam-tinted glasses, but it seems I’m not alone. Earlier today, Google Coulibaly’s name and you got a couple hundred hits, generously. A search at this hour turned up 4,044, with hundreds – dare I say thousands – being penned as we speak. Comforting? Yes. It’s nice to know that US fans aren’t shouting into a roaring jet engine while the rest of the world laughs at our lack of know-how on the sport. Edu was onside. Bradley arguably was not, but the unwitting slow dance his defender seemed to be engaging in with little Mikey was blatant miss No. 2 by our erstwhile caught-off-guard referee. If it wasn’t a penalty just feet from the goalmouth, it was certainly not offside, in any country and by any measure. Mr. Coulibaly clearly did not see it that way.

I stuck around to watch the analysis (mostly to see if Alexi Lalas’ head had yet exploded — unfortunately, it’s still very much intact) in an eerie post-match glow. Were we to be excited about this result? All the major headlines seemed to indicate there was some kind of positive draw that took place, a 2-2 game that the US salvaged from the depths of the dumpster to make the third group game matter still. Yet here were all of us fans, still coming down off the high of Michael Bradley’s sensational goal, ruing one of the worst calls in recent memory at one of the most unfortunate times for our beloved Yanks.

Am I to believe that just happened?

It did, of course, and Landon Donovan voiced the befuddlement of a stung nation.

“I’m a little gutted to be honest,” Donovan said. “I don’t know how they stole that last goal from us. … I’m not sure what the call was. He (the referee) wouldn’t tell us what the call was.”

I’ll excuse Donovan for using an English phrase after just three months in the country, because gutted about gets at the heart of it. The US was on the verge of doing to Slovenia what Brazil inflicted on them just a year earlier. To come down off that high and be left with that solitary point is something of a downer. The point is nice. A justifiable three would have been nicer.

Now, can Coulibaly’s call itself do in the Yanks’ chances? Not as it stands, and luckily for him, this didn’t take place on the final day of group matches. The US still has a very real, very live chance of surviving and crawling back into the knockout round, where it’s apparently not a lock that they’ll face Germany in the first round if they finish second in the group. Thank another reffing mishap for that. As we speak, England and Algeria are knotted at 0-0 in the second half. Whatever happens, a win against Algeria next week is a must. Forget all this “what if…” talk. Just beat Algeria. That’s the only concern.

But on to Friday’s match, one I would say was unarguably the most exciting of the Cup thus far. Talk about scintillating. Early goals, late goals, controversial calls, Derek Rae hyperventilating, John Harkes continuing his lineage of hapless commentary… great stuff.

Of course, the first half wasn’t so great for US supporters. In fact, I dare say it couldn’t have been any worse (can we hear again that Slovenia is the size of Houston and the geographic size of New Jersey? Can we hear that one more time, please?) Jose Torres was the lone change in the lineup from the 1-1 England draw, which seemed to indicate Bob Bradley was more interested in creation Friday at the expense of Clark, who’s much more defensively minded and had arguably the worst 90 of any US player last Saturday. The chorus calling for Torres since his last successful appearance against Costa Rica has been deafening, but I suspect it will be significantly quieter now.

With Michael Bradley running himself ragged trying to be a probing midfielder while at the same time tracking back and covering, Torres was adrift. His passes lacked conviction, his creativity was back in the States and he added virtually nothing to an awful half of play. Bradley had to do too much to cover Torres, and that — along with some stretched, woeful defending from Gooch and DeMerit — created both Slovenia goals. The first was made with a thick pocket that developed between midfield and the back line, with nobody closing down. Virtually every time Tim Howard ventured out to chastise his defense, it was for not closing down fast enough. The second goal was what’s commonly referred to as a “scissor” goal, with one center half moving up and the other moving back to create a gap, which Slovenia exploited for a 2-0 lead.

Shock and awe, indeed.

The second half, we can obviously take pride in the bounce-back. I was plenty happy with a 2-2 draw, putting the US on pace to get through with a win against the Algerians, a team that can be knocked out with an England win today. But why take a draw when a win is your destiny.

Not according to a howler from a refereeing crew that shouldn’t see any more games in SA this summer. What a way to make an impression on your first World Cup.

What’s interesting is that, by and large, this had been a well-refereed cup by almost any measure. Then all the sudden, we have two back-to-back games where questionable refereeing gaffes decide a pair of games. Wonder how the Germans feel. Odd to say the least.

This is not Coulibaly’s first controversial decision, not to say anything of a yellow card to Robbie Findley for a “hand ball” in the box that actually careened off his face. Findley must now miss America’s match against Algeria because of it.

A quick search tuns up this dubious call from a few years back:

Officiating Cameroon’s final 2006 World Cup qualifier against Egypt on 8 October 2005,[4] Coulibaly ruled a disputed stoppage-time penalty against Egypt, while tied 1-1.[

You’ve got to hand it to him — he’s got a knack for strange calls at strange moments.

Back to the Findley decision, though. I think it’s actually a positive. Bob Bradley loves jamming his lineup decisions into that 4-4-2 regardless of the fit, meaning a creative player like Torres, or Feilhaber even, gets rammed into the back of that empty bucket, depriving them of at least a piece of their creativity. Findley’s lackluster game against England obviously didn’t deter Bradley from jamming him back into the XI on Friday, but this double yellow forces his hand. Now we’ll have to see Buddle or Gomez, and possibly both, against Algeria. That’s a good thing. Findley was rudderless today, Jozy Altidore nearly so.

In any case, the US tie keeps the Yanks in the cup by considerably more than a fingernail. A 0-0 England-Algeria tie would be nice, but I don’t see the value in Algeria winning. England sweeping both would be good, which means a US win over Algeria next week — by any margin — will send them through. I do hope we don’t rue the call that cost USA two points, but it may indeed be moot. Let’s hope it is.

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