When Aerosmith wrote “Livin On The Edge” I don’t think they had the U.S. Soccer team in mind 20 years in the future. Yet here we are in 2010 watching the United Stated toe the line between heartbreaking defeat and thrilling victory this time in a 2-2 draw against Slovenia.
(quick note here I bet if I gave you twenty minutes none of you could locate Slovenia on a map… hell 40 minutes. I dare you to find it)
The United States continues to play with the same flaws that doomed its 2006 World Cup chances by falling behind early in matches. It happened against England on Saturday just 4 minutes in when Steven Gerrard found a hole in the U.S. defense and put one past Tim Howard and it happened again this afternoon as Valter Birsa scored in the thirteenth minute. Only today’s game featured a new twist for the Americans, after Zlatan Ljubijankic scored just before halftime to put Slovenia up 2-0 it put the U.S. in a position that it has never been in. no U.S. had ever come back from a 2-0 lead at the half… EVER! Not the World Cup, Friendlys, Canada Cups nothing. What at first seemed like an easy run to the round of sixteen was beginning to look bleak.
Then once again luck swung in the direction of the United States. Early in the second half Slovenian defender Bostjan Cesar misplayed a Steve Cherundolo pass and it landed right in Landon Donovan’s lap for an easy score. Then a Jozy Altidore header off of a free kick fell in front of Michael Bradley who was in the right place at the right time to tie the score. It’s like the futbol gods are smiling down on the U.S., first Robert Green’s gaff led to a Clint Dempsey goal against England, then the two goals off a bad play by a defender and the ball plopping down in front of a charging forward. Good luck is a beautiful thing.
However there is a thing called bad luck as well which also found the U.S. today. Maurice Edu seemed to put the U.S. up for good when he scored off of a free kick in the 86th minute. However African referee Koman Coulibaly called Edu for what seemed to be a phantom foul, even more curious is that the replays showed the American forwards being mugged near the net. It was a call that cost the U.S. 3 points and first place in their group, but still leaves them in control of their own destiny.
The main point isn’t the blown call and the ramifications of it, it’s the fact that if the U.S. wants to be a player in the next round and challenge for a shot at the cup they need to wake up early in these matches. It’s twice in two games thankfully against a sleepwalking English squad and a mistake prone Slovenia. You can only play the cardiac cats game for so long before it finally catches up with you, and in a tournament that has so far produced 2 monumental upsets of Spain, Germany and France on the verge of elimination the U.S has just as good a shot as anyone to walk into the final four.
The defense has to come out more focused in their final tune up game against Algeria. The Algerians themselves are still in the hunt to move on after tying England 0-0. A win against the U.S. puts them on firm ground in moving into round two, so for both teams next Wednesday’s match is as important as it gets.
The U.S. is still alive and kicking and kicking, but living on the edge and relying on luck can only last for so long.