Where were you when Landon Donovan rolled in the goal of his life?
Screaming into a pillow? Chest bumping your buddies? Sobbing like an infant? Or all three, like I was?
However you slice it, this beauty from Donovan — not nearly the prettiest of the amalgam of chances to fall to U.S. boots on the day — saved Bob Bradley’s job, it saved Donovan from disappearing from the world stage again, and it saved my frayed nerves from dissolving into oblivion. As it is, I can barely regain my composure to write this article.
There are a lot of talking points to digest here, most of which will fall short of mere words. Clint Dempsey’s desperation after taking a blood-drawing fist to the lip late on in the second half… Edson Buddle’s straight-on header with time dwindling down… Landon Donovan absolutely disappearing for large swaths of the second half… these illicited backward head rolls, clenched fists and shouts of desperation. There were so many missed goals that even John Harkes, who can’t button his lip if you sewed it shut, was nervously quiet for much of the second half.
Until Tim Howard’s magnificent long toss changed everything.
The US attack was the best it’s been in three World Cup games, a piece of which goes to the Algerian attack, which was woeful. If you watched ESPN, you heard Ian Darke riding the Algerian attack all afternoon, but it wasn’t an isolated incident. The Algerians were rudderless offensively for 270 minutes, which makes you wonder how England drew scoreless. The Algerian back line featured just three men at the start (though it typically looked fewer), and the liquid middle line didn’t seem capable of covering back for Belhadj’s many forward runs, all of which amounted to little.
The chances came hard and heavy for the Yanks. Without Robbie Findley’s anchor pitched down at the front, things finally opened up. This could have easily happened against Slovenia for 90 minutes, a team England filleted today. If you want a peak at the right time, you got it.
Let me also point out that the Yanks have led for a cumulative two minutes in three group matches, and they still won Group C. Not sure how to feel about that, but going from the dumpsters to the rooftops in two minutes is a hell of a way to go.
Sitting Oguchi Onyewu in this game took Balls. With a capital B, from Bob Bradley, who, ironically (or not), has two big B’s in his name. As I’ve noted in the past, Bob and Gooch were hitched from the start, since starting a man without game experience for seven months was always going to be iffy. If Bob started Gooch, it must be because he sees something none of us do, hence, Bob is on the hook. So subbing him out for Jonathan Bornstein — who was TERRIBLE for much of the qualifying cycle — was incredibly ballsy.
Bornstein only went out and played one of the better matches of his life. He was particularly gutsy defending crosses, many of which he batted down with an outstretched leg or a heady dive. In fact, aside from an early chance that hit the crossbar, the US defense enjoyed its best outing of the tournament without Gooch present. Yes, it was against a toothless Algerian attack, but let’s be honest here. Against the US 1st half defense of the Slovenia game, Algeria strikes for at least a goal. At least. Seeing Bocanegra back at center half was seeing a fish back in water. He’s a decent fullback. He’s a very good center back. Unfortunately, the US has plenty of those. Finding fullbacks will be one of Bradley’s tasks before the Round of 16 fires up on Saturday.
To the attack. I’m not sure why Gomez had to come off at half. I’m still not. I’m not particularly irked by the choice, since Feilhaber played competently for most of his 45 and very well in spurts. In particular, his probing run into the box where he challenged the keeper on a ball that nearly squeaked through was nice. And Gomez didn’t enjoy a whole lot of chances in the first half. But he’d had enough to make me believe that Dempsey up top wasn’t necessary. In fact, Dempsey never plays that well as a natural striker. He has a tendency to drift back, as is his wont as an outside mid. He’s much more comfortable having a run at the goalmouth from deep, rather than having to manufacture something up close. You saw that with a few of his brilliant runs in the first half.
Now, when Buddle came in and Dempsey moved back, that’s when you saw the attack at its most potent. Why Bradley continually shies away from this combination still baffles me. I predicted Gomez would start this game. He did, and he was pulled after a half. I dare say Buddle would have lasted much longer than that.
From the midfield, little Bradley was an iron workhorse. Donovan, on the other hand, needed to get much more assertive. He was absent after half until the final minutes. I suppose that’s okay when you’re turning up goals like those, but he can’t afford to dissipate into the background again. Dos a cero in 2002 will look like a distant memory if he does that again in the next knockout round.
I’m still catching my breath, honestly, and that’s to say nothing of the blown call by the ref on Dempsey’s goal in the first half, something on which I won’t go into too much detail because it proved trivial. If the game hinged on that, you’d see another Koman Coulibaly in miniature, I suppose. But alas…
The US moves on. Ghana? Germany? Serbia? For now, I don’t care. Donovan can cry all he wants postmatch over this one. For once, they’re good tears.