Game day at Loftus Versfeld: United States vs. Algeria

Will we see more of this from the U.S. Soccer team tonight in Pretoria?

PRETORIA, South Africa Picture the most glorious college football fall Saturday, where you can hang with your besties in a t-shirt so long as you’re in the sun – but where you damn sure need your hat and mittens handy once the sun gives way to the night.

Now you have a pretty good picture of the at Loftus Versfeld, which sits right in middle of South Africa’s administrative capital. The stadium, in fact, is about four blocks from the very tightly secured U.S. embassy compound.

Bill Clinton is in da house. So are thousands of fantastic American soccer fans, who get a little better each World Cup at dressing in their Starred-and-Striped best. Good stuff, guys. Now let's see if your team has the reach, the resolve and the right stuff.

So, what’s going to happen against the Northern Africans today? Anybody who says they know is just guessing.

I have a feeling we’ll see Clint Dempsey at striker, connecting with Jozy Altidore’s target work. On the left, where Dempsey had been starting, my guess is Benny Feilhaber, although it could be a wildcard, like DaMarcus Beasley.

What about the big picture? Click forth for the bottom line:

We still don’t have a true picture of the entire body of work, the four-year cycle on which national teams are judged.

We haven’t known much about Bob Bradley and his version since he took over the shop and re-arranged some of the furniture late in 2006. We went into the World Cup with our cup of knowledge still only half full. Now, 180 minutes in … and we still don’t know. The team has heart; that can’t be argued. The collective resolve and will to battle is ferocious, and that means a lot. But otherwise, there are holes and cracks that simply were not (could not?) be properly sealed. The spirit and esprit de corps may be sufficient to overcome the holes – or it may not.

We’ll know for sure in a few hours. If the United States can’t beat Algeria, it means a second consecutive World Cup has come and gone without one win in the tournament, and that’s a major setback, a big ol’ damaging flood through U.S. Soccer Valley. The entire four-year cycle will have been something of a bust, and the hunt for Bradley’s replacement will commence immediately.

If Landon Donovan and Co. can produce three points, the route from there is starting to open up sweetly. It may be possible to dodge Argentina and Germany until the semis, and this could be another magical moment for U.S. Soccer, a la 2002.

Is it fair that so much depends on one match? Maybe yes, maybe no. But that’s big boy soccer. That’s the margin in a World Cup.

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