U.S. at the World Cup: It's Do Or Die Versus Algeria

↵…but "do" includes certain ties. ↵

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↵Yes, the U.S. can get through with yet another tie thanks to the three goals they've scored so far, but in that case they're really hoping England is as punchless as they've shown in the first two games. The situation: ↵

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↵THE U.S. IS IN IF ↵

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↵They win, or ↵
↵They tie and England does not win against Slovenia.* ↵

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↵THE U.S. IS OUT IF ↵

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↵They lose, or ↵
↵They tie and England beats Slovenia. ↵

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↵ ↵

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↵So root for the U.S. and Slovenia when both games kick off at 10 tomorrow. Meanwhile, Algeria's draw against England gives them a shot at advancing if they win, but they absolutely must win. This will likely see them attack much more freely than they did against England, when they didn't play any out-and-out strikers. ↵

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↵Five key areas for the U.S. going into their most important game in eight years: ↵

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Deal With Your Right Flank

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↵Algerian left-back Nadir Belhadj is the Desert Foxes' best player, but he's a left back in name only, as he bombs down the edge of the field into the attacking third more regularly than anyone else on the team. This fancy graph from Stars and Gripes demonstrates. ↵

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↵The Algerian goal is on the right, England's on the left. Though Belhadj will drop back to defend as demanded by the situation, he's more attacking than even bombing full-backs like Ashley Cole or Brazil's Maicon. Though it might look like Algeria is playing a 4-man backline on paper, in reality Algeria is playing with three central defenders. Dealing with Belhadj and his frequent linkups with Karim Ziani, the team's most dangerous attacking player, is the main task the U.S. has on defense. ↵

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↵With a bunch of attacking midfield-type players and no truly threatening striker, the U.S. will want to clog the area in front of its net—hello Ricardo Clark—and launch withering counter-attacks after one of the midfield folk has won the ball. Bradley might consider giving Clark man-marking responsibilities on Ziani similar to those that saw Wayne Rooney erased in the opener against England. ↵

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Adapt To The Three Man Back Line

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↵Three-man central defenses work very well against formations with two forwards because they can aggressively mark the two main scoring threats while maintaining cover in event of a mistake. Putting five in the midfield helps control the rest of the match, giving you an advantage elsewhere. They don't work well against single-striker formations because you've got three guys against one, giving you a disadvantage elsewhere on the field. This is usually on the wings, where advance players can get in behind the advanced wing-backs, or in the middle of the field just in front of the central defenders. ↵

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↵With Robbie Findley out, this seems like a situation in which it makes sense to move Clint Dempsey up top. Dempsey is not a wing player who is likely to punish Algeria with a quick response up the middle. He's game defensively but struggles against quick players, which Algeria has in quantity. If the U.S. is not finding success in its usual formation, Dempsey can drop back into an attacking midfield position that can drag Algeria's burly but not particularly mobile defense out of position. ↵

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↵Replacing Findley in the lineup should be Stuart Holden or DaMarcus Beasley, the only player on the roster who have the speed and crossing ability to do that whole exploit-the-wings thing. Which one gets the call will depend more on where Bradley wants Donovan to play than Holden or Beasley. ↵

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Counter Witheringly

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↵The longer Algeria is kept off the board the more they'll have to get forward and the more they'll expose themselves to the sort of counter-attacks that Mexico, Brazil, and Spain have fallen prey to over the last year. Whoever's on the wing opposite Donovan should go into the game expecting to get pulled early in the second half and spend the first rampaging up and down the field, playing defense and offense at an unsustainable level. ↵

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↵This also means that Michael Bradley's patented runs into the box will be one of the best opportunities for the U.S. to get a goal. Getting four or five guys into the attack after winning the ball back, exploiting the wings, and making the relatively slow Algerian defense play in space is one of the ways in which the U.S. is likely to score. The other… ↵

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Make The Keepers Matter With Set Pieces

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↵Algeria deployed their backup against England after the primary guy let in a goal almost as bad as Robert Green's to lose the Slovenia game. He was making his first international start and looked nervous, whiffing on a number of balls into the area and fumbling a couple shots. Meanwhile, Tim Howard is rock solid. ↵

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↵The U.S. can do this by bombing from long range, picking up lots of free kicks and corners, and getting a ref who is not from Mali. Picking up set pieces will be major. Landon Donovan's service in this World Cup has been superior to just about anyone else in the tournament (possibly because the ball complaints are real) ↵

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Don't Concede A Goal In The First Fifteen Minutes

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↵This is a pro tip worthy of Marcelo Balboa, but… yeah. ↵

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↵*(That is very slightly untrue. If the US game ends up 0-0 and the England game ends up 3-3, the US will be out. If the England games ends up 2-2, they'll actually draw lots for the spot in the second round. The chance of four goals getting scored in the England-Slovenia game are so tiny that they can be safely ignored except in footnotes.) ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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