JACK ROZIER - Monday, June 21, 2010
There are a million clever devices I could use to get us in the proper frame of mind to discuss Wednesday's penultimate Group C clash between Algeria and the US.
With the possibility of elimination staring the collective US soccer conscience menacingly in the face, one cannot help but do a little soul-searching.
Alas, I find myself torn between personal anecdotes about learning being a process of unlearning (nothing wrong with a well executed intellectual gimmick) and a Jurassic Park reference.
Being the scholar and trained professional that I am:
"Hold on to your butts..."
Yes, more so than usual, our butts need holding.
In this regard, FIFA's conciliatory gesture of appointing experienced Belgian referee Frank De Bleeckere to the decisive game in Pretoria, may offer some level of comfort to US fans in the wake of the absurd mangling of a historic US comeback against Slovenia.
But not quite.
All rage aside, the fact remains, the capitulation of early goals is the greatest enemy to US success in this tournament, not Koman Coulibaly.
Surely we will all be lifted by the capacity the US has shown to fight back into a match and earn a favorable result. Surely this trait will be a deciding factor if we advance to the knockout stage of the tournament. But surely, surely we can figure out how to avoid needing this strength.
Rest assured, Bob has a plan.
The Algerians will first and foremost look for defender Nadir Belhadj to continue streaking up the wing in order to deliver cross after cross into the eighteen yard box. To Belhadj's credit, he is surely the first name mentioned in a film session, but continues to make an impact on the game.
A more considerable threat for the US is the emergence of Sochaux midfielder Ryad Boudebouz who starred in Algeria's match against England.
Coupled with Wolverhampton's Adlane Guedioura, Boudebouz has afforded Algeria an added dimension in attack. Boudebouz is a calming influence in possession and along with Guedioura, forced England's defense to apply pressure immediately in order to block shots from distance.
Bradley will be confident that defenders Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo will be able to minimize the threat from Belhadj on the wing.
However, Bradley's need for Jay DeMerit and Oguchi Onyewu to muscle crosses away from the center will leave the duo exposed to Boudebouz and Guedioura's presence at the top of the box.
To the chagrin of the general viewing public, expect the US to play a cagey game for the first thirty minutes. Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu will we be given strict instructions to break up play in the center of the field.
In order to prevent allowing an early goal, priority must be given to disrupting Algerian possession and fortifying the space between midfield and defense.
Without time on the ball to settle, pass, and move, Algeria will be reduced to an erratic and technically poor display, much like their opening match against Slovenia.
That's not to say the US won't look to take the upper hand.
England's Aaron Lennon was successful attacking the space Belhadj left empty after the defender's forays into attack. Meanwhile, Emile Heskey in the center forced poor clearances that fell to the feet of on-rushing midfielders, twelve yards from goal.
This is a tried-and-true tactic for the US.
Once Algerian possession has been sufficiently dismantled, the US can focus on dictating play in attack.
If the score is tied after thirty minutes, look for the US to shift towards sustaining pressure and possession in the Algerian half of the field. With one eye on DeMerit and Onyewu, Edu will sit back and cycle the ball into attack while Bradley contemplates joining the fray.
At this juncture the mantra must be, "Shoot first. Ask questions later."
In two matches, Algeria started two different goalkeepers. Faouzi Chaouchi was to blame for a gifted goal against Slovenia, a blunder only rivaled by England's Rob Green. In Algeria's second match against England, Rais Bolhi was able to secure a shutout, but was less than convincing the few times he was tested.
Expect Edson Buddle to start for suspended Robbie Findley. Requirements for Buddle are fairly simple:
Work the keeper.
Jozy Altidore is certain to have his hands full with beefy Algerian defender Madjid Bougherra. With Altidore occupied, Buddle must carry his share of the burden and draw pressure away from the rest of the attack.
While this scenario is all well and good, it would be prudent to pose a few permutations in the increasing likelihood that the Dino-guano hits the fan. So…
What do we do if we give up an early goal?
Nothing. Isn't that great?
What do we do if we're still down a goal late in the game?
I know for a fact I'm not the only one that was adjusting his invisible spectacles as Bob Bradley substituted DEFENDER Oguchi Onyewu for ATTACKER Herculez Gomez towards the end of the game against Slovenia.
I was still recounting how many defenders the US had on the field when Gomez created the lane for Michael Bradley to stroll into and flick a famous goal over the head of helpless Samir Handanovic.
In fact, the most dangerous potential scenario for the US would be for us to hold a convincing lead at halftime.
Although the Algerians showed a drastic improvement in discipline against England, Bradley will encourage Altidore and Clint Dempsey to press the issue.
Both players, with their physicality and cunning respectively, are more than capable of provoking the Algerians into a heated decision that could cost both sides dearly.
If the US makes a point of goading the Algerians into meaty challenges there is both the danger of potential injury and retaliation resulting in a suspension.
Thus far the US has displayed an exceptional level of discipline and mental strength when faced with adversity. As elimination draws closer for both nations, the ability to maintain perspective will decide who lives to play another day.
Now, I may be utilizing a completely arbitrary and obscure parallel here, but there was no sequel to The Battle of Algiers.