JOHANNESBURG – Michael Bradley scored a dramatic equalizer in the 82nd minute as the US rallied from a two-goal deficit to draw a tough Slovenia side 2-2 at Ellis Park on Friday night, effectively rescuing the Americans from early elimination at the World Cup.
The US were eight minutes from a loss, which would have put Slovenia atop the group with six points and the Americans at the mercy of the England-Algeria result later on Friday.
And disaster was nearly in the cards. Bob Bradley elected to give possession-oriented midfielder José Francisco Torres the start in central midfield alongside his son Michael, a move aimed at trying to control the pace of the game and create a goal.
But the lack of physicality in the midfield left a gaping hole, and Milivoje Novakovic took immediate advantage of the size mismatch. Bradley had warned all week about the creativity and mobility of the 6-foot-3 striker, and the US quickly learned why.
Thirteen minutes in, Novakovic made the sloppy US defense pay, surging into the area right at Jay DeMerit and slotting the ball across to Valter Birsa. With time and space, the Auxerre winger set and calmly chipped it over a flat-footed Tim Howard, putting the US at an early deficit for a second straight match.
The US looked dazed and spent most of the rest of the half trying to regain their composure. They finally pushed forward in the 36th minute, and Torres tested Samir Handandovic with a free kick. Minutes later, Landon Donovan came close to equalizing, but right back Miso Brecko cleared his effort off the goalmouth.
Just when the Americans seemed to find some rhythm, Slovenia struck again. The US back line again lost its composure in the 42nd minute. Winger Andraz Kirm made a nice pass to Aleksandar Radosavljevic, who beat Oguchi Onyewu and put the ball underneath a diving Howard.
Bradley yanked the ineffective Torres at the half and replaced him with the more physical Maurice Edu. Control specialist Benny Feilhaber replaced Findley, pushing Clint Dempsey up top alongside Jozy Altidore.
That may have been the spark the US needed, as they responded right after the restart. In the 48th, Steve Cherundolo’s long lead pass found Donovan up the right side as Slovenian defender Marko Suler slipped. The LA Galaxy captain advanced down the byline and roofed a shot to the far post past Handanovic to open the Americans’ account.
The US threatened several times in the second half but couldn’t finish. In the 50th, Onyewu narrowly missed getting on the end of a Donovan free kick. Twenty minutes later, Altidore hammered a rebound off another Donovan free kick right at Handanovic.
Herculez Gomez came off the bench in the 80th minute for Onyewu as Bradley added attackers to press for a late equalizer. It paid off almost immediately. Two minutes later, Altidore headed down a long ball by Donovan into the path of a streaking Michael Bradley, who smashed it past Handanovic for the equalizer.
The US thought they had scored a winner three minutes later when Edu buried another Donovan free kick, but the ref blew for a foul against the US.
With a second consecutive draw, the US now have two points through two matches, making their group-stage finale on June 23 against Algeria hugely important. Slovenia sit atop the group with four points, and England can tie them with a win over the Algerians later Friday.
SVN – Birsa, 13’
SVN – Ljubijankic, 42’
USA – Donovan, 48’
USA - Bradley, 82'
USA -- Howard, Cherundolo, DeMerit, Onyewu (Gomez, 80’), Bocanegra, Torres (Edu, 45’), Bradley, Dempsey, Donovan, Altidore, Findley (Feilhaber, 45’).
Slovenia -- Handanovic, Brecko, Suler, Cesar, Jokic, Koren (Pecnik, 74’, Komac, 90’), Radosavljevic, Kirm, Birsa (Dedic, 87’), Novakovic, Ljubijankic.
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