Daily Soccer Fix's Steve Davis gives us this report from South Africa, where he concludes that the lack of World Cup scoring thus far is because of the ball.
JOHANNESBURG - Five quick points to go over from Friday's stirring 2-2 rally:
-- We just keep singing the same ol' song. How painfully predictable was the way this match unfolded? (Well, not a two-goal rally. That's always hard to call.) But how, in the name of Pele himself, does the United States keep falling behind? Six of 10 final-round qualifiers saw the U.S. go down a goal, including twice at home. They collapsed just four minutes in against England.
In Friday's post-game news conference, U.S. manager Bob Bradley seemed far more pleased with the heroic rally than disappointed about yet another sluggish beginning. Still, it's not going to be good enough going forward. Relying on heart and halftime adjustment will eventually catch up to you. Sooner or later, this will crack the Americans. Maybe even next week against Algeria.
-- FIFA really must re-consider its desire to provide smaller, weaker confederations with the opportunity to referee at this level. Koman Coulibaly, from Mali, was easily the worst here so far; he never came close to grabbing hold of this match. (Perhaps thankfully for Clint Dempsey. What was he thinking throwing an elbow in the first minute?)
Speaking of grabbing hold, how many cards should Jozy Altidore probably earned for Slovenia if Coulibaly was more on top of things? As it was, Altidore forced cautions on two Slovenians.
And then, of course, Maurice Edu's goal that wasn't.
Managers see things from one side, and they say things like this all the time. But Bob Bradley's analysis of the goal was spot-on:
"Without seeing it [on replay], from what I heard there were three fouls in the box, all of them against Slovenian players," he said. Indeed.
From Donovan: "To be honest, I don't know how much English he speaks, but we asked several times in a non confrontational manor who the foul was on or what he called and he just ignored us."
-- We've probably seen the last of Jose Torres at World Cup 2010, at least as a starter. It was a big, bold move for Bradley, who doesn't really have room in his system for a fellow who likes to build slow and push the ball around. The coach wants to establish possession, and then look for a route forward. Torres isn't that player - but Bradley took a gamble and threw him out there, believing he needed something extra to unlock the Slovenian defense. Well, there wasn't much unlocking off Torres' boot. I'd have to go back and watch, but I'd be willing to wager he delivered 4-5 lateral or backward passes for every one he moved forward.
At one point, the typically even-handed Donovan let Torres know about it, giving him a little "Hey! Let's get going!" shove. What did Donovan say?
"I think I wanted him to give me the ball, and I let him know," Donovan said.
-- Oguchi Onyewu is not getting it done. I kept hearing how big, bad and fierce Onyewu was against England. But I saw things differently. Yes, the man is 6-4 and built like an NFL linebacker, so of course he's going to be fierce in the tackle. But playing center back at this level is about so much more, and I keep seeing an Onyewu who is rusty, unsure of his whereabouts, vulnerable to being caught out of position. I see a man who just isn't up the job at this level. Seriously, did anyone expect him to be outstanding, wading into the deep end of a World Cup without the benefit of so much as a full match over eight months?
The United States has conceded three goals at World Cup 2010, and Onyewu has been partially responsible for all three. He got sucked out of position against England. He was painfully slow to close the shooter Friday on Slovenia's first and he was at least five yards out of position on the Eastern European's second goal. Either that, or he was correctly positioned and three teammates weren't.
If the United States doesn't make it out of group play, everyone can point to Bradley's decision to gamble on Onyewu as one main reason. His thinking and reaction just isn't where it needs to be.
-- I sometimes wear myself out saying so, but Landon Donovan haters just need to get over it. Where would this team be without him? Because Clint Dempsey was quiet, again, and I just never saw him doing what Donovan did: providing the United States with the initiative and belief in minor miracles with that crackerjack opening goal.
Yes, there was some serendipity involved, as a ball sneaked through Slovenian left back Bojan Jokic. But Donovan seized the moment, aggressively directing his first touch toward goal, whereas so many might have pushed it first to the byline. Then, when neither Benny Feilhaber nor Clint Dempsey could lose their marks, Donovan's shot was heavy-weapons grade. He aimed for goalkeeper Samir Handanovic's head. "I don't think he wanted to get in the way of that one," Donovan said afterward. Watch the replays. Donovan was right.
Later, it was Donovan's entry pass that Altidore worked so supremely over to Michael Bradley.
And his set-piece delivery continues to bother opposition. His pinpoint ball into Edu should have been for the game-winner.
Others who had a good night? Steve Cherundolo is a rock at right back. Playing with a yellow card from the opener and needed to exercise caution, he was nonetheless a cop on the beat.
Jay DeMerit is never elegant, but he certainly was effective Friday. And Jozy Altidore had a breakout performance. His hold-up play was outstanding, and his ability to battle Slovenia's center backs certainly created a wearing effect on the Eastern Europeans.