Posted by: mdegeorge | June 18, 2010

Slovenia-USA live game blog

11:52- IT’S ALL OVER AT ELLIS PARK!! The US manage a wonderful draw with a strong performance in the second half. A little skirmish mars the end of the game with Altidore having to be separated from Coulibaly at games’ end. Thanks for joining me, and I’ll have more analysis in just a bit…

11:49- Dempsey trips over the ball and takes Pecnik with him, bringing Komac on as the final sub at the death.

11:46- Radosavljevic, whose name I have successfully avoided having to type so far, has a go from 35 yards that Howard punches away and then chastises his defenders for. Eventually, a handball in the box shuts the move down as we enter stoppage time.

11:44- Dedic is on for the goal scorer Birsa, and the Green Dragons celebrate with some sustained pressure. But Novakovic’s header is weak and straight into Howard’s arms.

11:43- EDU SCORES! But it’s called back on an apparent offside, which was marginal for a player who wasn’t even involved in the play. And to top it off, it looked like Bradley was hauled down in the box by a Slovenia defender with both arms wrapped around his waist in a bear hug. Oh boy, they deserve a winner in the next three minutes plus stoppage time.

11:41- Altidore draws a foul on the edge of the box. Donovan to deliver from the right side 26 yards from goal…

11:40- Looks like some of the caution thrown the wing is back into the bag. Edu drops back farther as a sweeper in support of the defense. He’s capable of playing the center back role and is a capable defender. Feilhaber can also play as a full back if needed.

11:38- AND IT PAYS OFF FOR THE AMERICANS!!!!!! Altidore plays Bradley in on an AMAZING overlapping run over Gomez and he roofs in over Handanovic with absolutely pinpoint precision. We are level.

Now, let’s go for the WIN!!! Slovenia has to be deflated and on the back foot, continue to go forward smartly and with confidence.

11:37- A risk from Bradley as he takes Gooch off for Gomez. Bocanegra shifts centrally as they go with three at the back and three  up front. T

11:35- Holes are being blown open in the midfield in both directions, giving teams easy passage into their respective attacking thirds. A silly Altidore cross ends one move before an optimistic ball by Oneywu fall right to Handanovic. Gomez preparing to come on…please be for Altidore!

11:32- Jokic’s name is taken by the Mali referee for a bad challenge on Donovan. He’s the fourth Slovenian to see yellow today and the third member of the backline in that category. Serbia’s entire back four was booked today, so no shocks there.

11:30- Sub: First Slovenian sub comes on with Ljubijankic coming off in favor of Nejc Pencik, the hero of the Russia playoff. It’s a like-for-like switch of strikers.

11:29- Cherundolo is one that has responded well in the second, earning a free kick after a bookable offense by Kirm. Feilhaber flicks a header on but it’s straight into the hands of Handanovic.

11:27- Donovan plays the free kick into the box and it bounces back out to Altidore near the penalty spot who stings one into the chest of Handanovic. Better, but still not there from the US.

11:25- What a turn of events this could be! Cherundolo was brought now on a no-call on the defensive end and the Slovenians missed a 2-0 opportunity briefly down the left wing. Instead, Cherundolo responded to stop the attack and set off an American foray that led to a free kick from 22 yards after Suler took Altidore down again. It’s a yellow for Suler…

11:24- We’re at the halfway point of the second 45 minutes and I’m impressed with both sides. The Americans responded instantly with the goal and a handful of other chances. But the Slovenians have responded not by collapsing into a shell but by continuing to go forward. Their service from the wings has been lacking, but they have maintained an attacking impetus which has, at the very least, kept the match entertaining.

11:19- I hope I don’t live to regret these next two sentences, but Koren has been quite today. A defensive-minded midfielder should go about their business quietly, but he hasn’t taken part in the attack much, though he hasn’t always been needed.

11:16- I know there’s a fine line between cheating and gamesmanship, but the Slovenians are taking an awful long time on the ground each time they go down. Not saying I disapprove. Just observing.

11:15- That’s part and parcel of Altidore’s recent performances. He makes a wonderful turn to get past Suler but then turns right into him for the defender to take the ball. Makes you wonder if “fortunate” is a better modifier for the turn.

11:13- A Donovan miscue sends Novakovic one-v-one against DeMerit, but Cherundolo covers to stop the attack. Much better support for the center backs.

11:11- It’s about 78 degrees in my apartment, but I’m switching to the Team USA hockey jersey anyway. It didn’t do much against Canada, but maybe the Stars and Stripes has a little luck in it yet. Hooray impartiality!

11:09- The Slovenes play the corner short and Koren tries a chip from 23 yards out which misses well high. What an rip-roaring opening seven minutes.

11:08- Slovenia has a free kick from 40 yards out and Howard races out to just punch it out for a corner. His ribs looked ok there.

11:07- Oh so close!!! Dempsey flicks on the free kick in the box which just nearly misses the far post and Oneywu’s feet. Oh my.

11:05-WHAT A GOAL BY LANDON DONOVAN!!!!! Oh, Lando. He gets free down the right side after a pass by Cherundolo. He makes a run to the near post and runs out of options before firing, as Darke says, a “tracer bullet” into the roof of the cage. What a shot! They  might need to replace that netting. It’s 2-1 now and the US has another free kick. Game on…

11:03- Interesting and slightly confusing substitutes to start the second half by Bob Bradley. Benny Feilhaber comes on for Findley and Maurice Edu replaces Torres. Feilhaber will likely be placed out wide with Dempsey coming in as the support striker. Interesting. Slovenia makes no changes.

11:01- Oh, and the US is 1-30-2 all time when trailing at halftime. Hope springs eternal.

11:00- Looking at the halftime stats, both teams have four shots. Two of Slovenia’s have found the back of the net, while only the free kick from Torres has managed to force Handanovic into action. The Americans have won the possession battle 52-48 and have four corners to Slovenia’s one, but have been unable to finish any of the moves. They haven’t really threatened on many of their set pieces, with the big defenders that are supposed to be big targets in the box largely invisible.

10:55- On a personal note, I am floored. And I don’t know where the Americans can make changes. Their wing play has been terrible; Cherundolo and Bocanegra have been unable to move forward out of fear of Slovenia’s counterattack. Bradley has been more active in attack, but Torres has been quiet for most of the match and the defense through the center of midfield has been atrocious.

Altidore’s been drifting up front. Much like many of his performances with Hull, anytime he gets possession in the attacking third, it looks like he just wants to draw a foul. I’d give him 15 minutes to turn things around before he’s subbed for Herculez Gomez or Edson Buddle. Dempsey and Donovan have to be present more consistently, especially to track back in support of an increasingly unsteady defense. This may be a game for Stuart Holden in the center of midfield for Torres, and you might see Jonathan Bornstein inserted on the wing for Bocanegra. Yeah, Bornstein isn’t the best defensively, but neither is anyone else in a blue kit today.

10:47- That’s halftime. The American fans in the stands look stunned by the turn of events. The Slovenians have been granted far too much space in the attacking half and deserve the lead, especially with the Americans’ inability to capitalize on chances. There will be one spirited talk at halftime from Bob Bradley, that’s for sure.

Continue reading for first half play-by-play…10:44- Just to clean things up from before, Cesar was booked for his challenge on Altidore that led to the Torres shot. Findley’s handball, upon further replay, actually went off the right side of his face instead of his right arm as referee Koman Coulibaly contended. Veteran announcer Ian Darke called it “one of the stupidest decisions he has ever seen.” It’s a shame that he’ll miss out on the Algeria match after being a constant threat today.

10:42- OH HEARTBREAK FOR THE U.S.! Ljubijankic slips in behind the defense after a superb ball played in by Novakovic. He just stayed onside and calmly slotted home past a sprawling USA. It’s 2-0 and the Americans must feel like they’ve been punched in the stomach.

10:40-Another foray forward down the right by Dempsey almost finds Donovan at the back post but is cleared out by Brecko at the last possible moment. There close to a breakthrough…

10:38- The Americans are on the attack again. Findley gets some space down the left and crosses just to miss Altidore, but he does earn a corner. The delivery finds Bradley with a shot that gets cleared off the line, but it’s blown dead for a handball on Findley, which earns him a yellow and means he misses out on the next match.

10:36- Torres has a go! Altidore earns a free kick on the right edge of the box which Torres fires short sides just as he did against Turkey. This time he forces Handanovic to parry aside for a corner. The corner bounces around before a powerful header by DeMerit from 15 yards out goes just wide. Better stuff this.

10:34- The opening goal opened the game up, but things have now settled down after a lively first 25 minutes or so. The US has just one shot off target and the possession battle is 50-50. Not the most inspiring of performances so far.

10:30- The over/under on number of times I type “Slovakia” instead of “Slovenia”: five. Take the over.

10:24- Kirm pounces on a loose ball in the box that could have troubled Howard, but he deals with it well. The Americans then answer with a ball into the box that Dempsey and Findley get their heads to, but nothing develops.

10:21- I emphasized the need for Bradley to step up earlier, but this team also needs much more from Donovan and Altidore. Alexei Lalas alluded to it earlier, but Altidore hasn’t done all that much of late, for club or country, to justify his automatic inclusion in the starting lineup match after match. Donovan also needs to be more active and impose his will on the attack. He’s started well, but needs to better link up with the forwards.

10:15- The US has a chance to answer instantly, with Altidore earning a corner that Donovan tantalizingly delivers into the six-yard box. It’s just over Bocanegra’s head and perfectly on line for Dempsey before Handanovic acrobatically intervenes to punch away.

10:13- GOALLLLL Slovenia!!!! What a goal for Birsa, who gets space through the middle and places a shot just over an out-of-position Howard. Questions need to be asked about everyone involved, as Birsa had way too much space on that one and Howard was caught flat footed. It’s another nightmare start for the US.

10:08- Interesting stat courtesy of ESPN: the USA is 0-15-3 in World Cup games in which they have conceded the first goal. They’ve also failed to keep a clean sheet in each of their last 11 matches. It just underscores the importance of what could be a nervy first quarter hour.

10:07– Ljubijanic looks fine, sending a header high over the bar off a set piece from 35 yards out. Interesting start tot his game.

10:05- A nice move by Bradley and Findley down the left side earns a corner, but Donovan’s delivery is poor and it goes out harmlessly for a goal kick. Nice move, poor final execution, but encouraging.

10:01- Well were off to an interesting start. Just 12 seconds in, Dempsey gets his elbow up in a challenge on Ljubijankic, sending the Slovenian striker to the sidelines for treatment. He’s lucky to escape a yellow card there. Looks like it will be a scrappy game.

9:57- Score Prediction

This morning’s Germany-Serbia game is evidence enough just how quickly the forecasted course of things can change. Serbia and Slovenia are similar squads, though the Serbs are more explosive going forward and the Slovenes slightly more defensive-minded. The pressure is squarely on the Americans’ shoulder knowing they need a win. It will be interesting to see how they respond. But, let’s not forget that it took an egregious goaltending miscue for a 10-man team to allow Slovenia to finally overcome Algeria. And this USA team is certainly superior to Algeria. The US will get the win—it might not be that easy—by a 2-1 score.

9:54- Matchup to watch

Bradley vs. Koren. Koren, a veteran of the English Premier League, is the more offensively capable of the pair. He’s a box-to-box midfielder who’s a consistent scoring threat. It was his optimistic go at goal from long range that fooled Algerian keeper Faouzi Chaouchi for the match-winner in their Group C opener. You would imagine he’d be trying his luck early and often knowing Tim Howard is banged up.

In many ways, Koren’s game resembles that of Bradley’s in his younger days (though you’d be hard-pressed to call the 22-year-old “old”). Bradley showed a prolific scoring touch with Heerenveen in the free-flowing, defense-optional Dutch Eredivisie, notching 16 goals in 2007-08. But he’s settled into a more defensive role for survival-threatened Borussia Monchengladbach in the German Bundesliga for whom he’s managed just seven goals over the last two years.

He’s been similarly timid in attack for the national team and was unconvincing against England. Part of the responsibility for his offensive shortcomings lies with his midfield partner. Since he is the Yanks most able defender in the midfield, he is often occupied with tough defensive assignments such as Koren. Midfield partner Jose Torres will have to shoulder some of that defensive lead to free up his creativity.

9:52- Lineups have been announced. Just one change for the Americans with Torres replacing Ricardo Clark after his drifting performance against the English. Everything else remains the same. Tim Howard remains in goal supported by Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Oneywu, Jay DeMerit, and Steve Cherundolo from left to right. Bradley and Torres are the central midfield pairing with Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey on the wings. Jozy Altidore and Robbie Findley remain Bob Bradley’s striking pair of choice.

The Slovenes make just one change from their opening day victory, with Zlatan Ljubijankic entering the fray up top in place of Zlatko Dedic. Samir Handanovic starts in goal again with Cesar, Suler, Bojan Jokic, and Miso Brecko in defense. Aleksandar Radosavljevic and Koren patrol the center of midfield with Valter Birsa and Andraz Kirm on the wings. Ljubijankic pairs with Milivoje Novakovic in attack.

9:45- Today’s match is going to come down to one thing for the U.S.: wing play. Any defensive-minded underdog, which Slovenia certainly is today, is going to bar the center of the opposing team’s attack and force them toward the flanks.

Denmark did it successfully in the first half against the Netherlands and wasn’t truly pried open until Eljero Elia’s introduction wreaked havoc on the Dutch left wing. North Korea closed all the central avenues to their own goal against the Brazilians’ forays forward until Maicon, a winger, notched the opener. (In fact, the Samba Kings insisted on attacking fruitlessly through the middle in what I can only assume was a display of arrogance.)

The one squad who has managed an offensive outburst this week, Germany, did so by maintaining excellent spacing between its three forwards. Both wide men Thomas Muller and Lukas Podolski ended up with goals; central striker Miroslav Klose’s goal was set up by a perfectly-weighted cross by right back Philipp Lahm.

The onus will primarily fall on the fullbacks to provide quality service into the box and stretch a backline that would prefer to maintain compact. The Green Dragons have a notable height advantage over the Red, White and Blue: Slovenia’s central defenders Marko Suler and Bostjan Cesar are 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-3, respectively, matched up against a U.S attack lead by barely 6-foot-1 strikers Jozy Altidore and Edson Buddle. Still, the ability to win corners and maintain possessions will be vital, as will finding less direct ways of attack from the wing. The lack of dangerous attackers to keep Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo occupied defensively should allow them to maraud forward on a regular basis.

The other key will be what the central midfield pair of Michael Bradley and Jose Torres bring to the table offensively. One will most likely be responsible for marking Slovenia’s danger man Robert Koren at all times. But with Slovenia likely to have seven or eight men behind the ball whenever the U.S. has possession in the attacking half, the pair’s ability to support the attack will be crucial to negate the numbers advantage. Torres’ tackling ability and penchant for bridging the gap in possession between the defense and attack will be vital if the Americans are going to effectively stem the tide of Slovenia’s counterattack.

They’ll be especially important in filling in the channels when the fullbacks make their wide runs. If Bradley, for instance, can get involved in a move down one side, that give the U.S. four attackers on one half of the field (assuming that winger, one of the center forwards, and the fullback is also involved). It’s going to force Slovenia to move personnel and open up exploitable gaps.

Good morning, and welcome to the Sports Doctor’s coverage of today’s crucial Group C match between USA and Slovenia. I’ll be back before kickoff with lineups and a full preview….

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