PRETORIA, South Africa -- Once more, the US just couldn’t do it the easy way. It took more than 90 minutes of near misses, blown chances, controversial calls and great escapes, but the Americans got the win over Algeria. Yet again, the US simply refused to lose.
And they’re glad this one’s over. Just six minutes in, things started to look all too familiar. A defensive breakdown between Jay DeMerit and Steve Cherundolo saw Rafik Djebbour free on goal. With fans holding their breath, the Algerian striker aimed, fired and ... clanked it off the crossbar.
Suddenly, the US weren’t looking at a third straight game in which they fell behind in the opening 15 minutes. They had a new lease on life.
“To give them that chance early on and to have it hit off the crossbar definitely was a bit of a lucky situation on our end,” DeMerit said after the game. “Finally.”
That miss gave the US time to settle in and begin to organize their own attack. The team knew that a draw likely wouldn’t cut it, and they started looking for goals—perhaps a little too hard. Time and again, they blew easy chance after chance and, after awhile, it started to look like it just wasn’t the US’ day.
First, Clint Dempsey’s tap-in was called for offside in the 21st minute. Then, Landon Donovan couldn’t finish his chance in the 33rd. Four minutes later, Jozy Altidore muffed a sitter in front of an empty net. In the 57th minute, Dempsey shanked his own shot off the upright, then sent his own rebound wide.
Chance after chance, the US had opportunities to put the dagger into Algeria, and over and over again, they just couldn’t finish.
“There are times when that just happens and you just say, ‘Hey, it’s not our night,’” said Bob Bradley in the postmatch press conference. “As a coach, you just try to think about what’s going on in the game. Are we still creating chances? How many [substitutions] do we still have left? What else can we do to keep giving ourselves the chance to get the goal?"
Bradley began to gamble as he subbed in new attacking options in a desperate search for an opener. After halftime, he put in Benny Feilhaber for Herculez Gomez, pushing Clint Dempsey up top next to Altidore. In the 64th, he inserted Edson Buddle for midfielder Maurice Edu. Neither move generated a goal, however,and time looked like it was running out on the Americans.
“Right around the 70th minute, I just thought, we’ve been so focused for six weeks now,” said keeper Tim Howard, “we could be on a plane tomorrow. It hit me at the end of the game and I was just like, I just don’t want to go home.”
The rest of the team obviously shared Howard’s view. If the US only had a few minutes left, they were going to use them come hell or high water.
As the minutes ticked away, the Americans looked harder and harder and kept pressing.
“You just can’t quit,” explained Cherundolo. “Eventually teams break down. Eventually they’ll give up a good chance, or the ball will bounce your way or not hit the inside of the post and go out, maybe hit the inside of the post and go in. That’s soccer. You do create your own luck, and if you don’t stop pushing forward, you won’t get a goal.”
It was fitting that Donovan’s goal came in stoppage time—if we’ve learned anything about this US team in this World Cup, it’s that they can’t do anything easy. But they definitely do it with flair. In the end, they just refused to be knocked down. Ghana, you’re now officially on notice.
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