The USA’s first two games of the 2010 World Cup have been best viewed with a shoulder harness and hands waived above the head in manic delight or despair.
If the USA has a World Cup M.O., it is this: It plays seat-of-the-pants soccer, provides edge-of-the-seat entertainment.
Make no mistake, in least one minute of the 90 – and perhaps several – the USA defense will tear like week-old tissue paper, and this overlooked Algeria team will have a chance to remind America that they are not 11 paperweights in tube socks.
The USA has not recorded a World Cup shutout since 1950. The Italians, they are not.
And yet, whether that moment happens in the first minute or the 85th, the Americans will keep coming. Beside the Italians’ impenetrable catenaccio defense, the Spaniards’ tiki-taka one-touch soccer, and the samba silkiness of Brazil, America’s soccer style could be most aptly described as kitchen sink – athletic, impassioned, and often undisciplined.
At times, as in the second half against Slovenia, it approaches the sublime – a medieval siege on 120 yards of soccer pitch. At others, it is a study in frustration as impatient forays forward end in aimless passes to no one in particular.
History is not on the USA’s side.
The third game of the opening round of the World Cup has been its bogey match: six games played, six games lost. Nor has the USA ever finished group play undefeated.
To advance, both streaks must end.
The USA will want to summon the spirit from the third game of last year’s Confederations Cup, when it similarly needed a win to advance – and got it with a 3-0 drubbing of Algeria’s North African cousins, Egypt.
To repeat that result, the USA will likely have to play with significantly more craft than it did against Slovenia. When the USA was most dangerous against Slovenia, forward Jozy Altidore was the American sledgehammer, smashing the Slovenian defense until it buckled.
Algeria, with the solidity of Majid Bougherra at their defensive core, is less likely to be unsettled by such frontal assaults. Rather, the USA will be seeking to peg back Algeria on the wings and confuse it in the middle, drawing Bougherra and his fellow defenders out of position.
That is the likely game plan, anyway.
Then again, with the USA’s penchant for gifting early goals, game plans tend to go out the window before half time.
American players speak of their frustration at apparently needing to be “punched in the mouth” to wake up and start playing their game – an allusion to the fact that they went 1-0 down to England and 2-0 down to Slovenia before rallying for draws in this World Cup.
Yet there is no small bit of the brawler in this USA. They want to get punched. They want to be counted out. They want to be the underdogs. That is when the soccer starts flowing.
It is soccer the way it ought not to be played – a high-risk proposition in a sport that can often seem the ultimate athletic exercise in risk aversion.
But it makes for great entertainment.
World Cup 101:
- World Cup 101: How does the tournament work?
- World Cup 101: Why is the World Cup such a big deal?
- World Cup 101: Why is the World Cup in South Africa?
- World Cup 101: Is South Africa really prepared to host the World Cup?
- World Cup 101: Who’s favored to win it all?
What you think makes the World Cup special?