U.S. adjusts to role of favorite
| June 16, 2010 9:00 PM
IRENE, South Africa - The Americans returned to the practice field Tuesday, not only to prepare for their upcoming match with Slovenia, but the new role they've been cast in at this World Cup. Favorites.
Yes, that's right. The good, ol' underdog Yanks are favored for a change - and therein lies the problem.
"In all likelihood, if we lose we're out of the tournament," Landon Donovan said. "That's the reality of the situation.
"A tie means we're still in the tournament. You have to be aware of that. That being said, we understand very clearly that if we win the game, we've got a very, very good chance of getting through. So that will be our focus," he said.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the Americans don't want to be in the position of having only one point through two matches while Slovenia has six and England may have four.
"Going into a game as possible favorites will be different for us," defender Jay DeMerit said, "to know you're under pressure to get three points or to get a good result instead of saying, 'Let's go out and try our best and make sure we work well together and see what happens."'
Coming off an opening 1-1 draw against the Three Lions, a victory against Slovenia on Friday would put the U.S. in prime position to advance going into its Group C finale against Algeria on June 23. Slovenia beat Algeria 1-0 in its opener.
And even though the U.S. is a 2-1 favorite, according to betcris.com., players don't see it as much of an advantage.
"They're going to be a tough team," said Clint Dempsey, who scored the tying 1-1 goal against England in the opener. "They keep the ball well. They have players who can cause you problems. So we're just going to have to play our best game to get something out of it."
There was some new gear at training in Pretoria, with many players wearing navy ski caps, most wearing sweat pants and some putting on gloves as a biting 22 mph southern wind ripped across Pilditch Stadium, where the temperature was just 46 before the sunset at 5:24 p.m.
It will be a different type of game, too, against Slovenia, which won its opener on Robert Koren's 79th-minute goal when it bounced in off the arm of goalkeeper Fawzi Chaouchi.
Central midfielders Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark were pinned in defensive positions against the English, while Donovan and Dempsey were pinched in, forcing attacking wingers to go wide.
Slovenia, which qualified by defeating Russia in a home-and-home playoff last November, likely will rely on counterattacks. For that reason, there has been speculation U.S. coach Bob Bradley might consider starting Jose Torres in place of Clark in an effort in improve possession.
Ever since the draw last December, the focus was on the opener.
"Everyone was expecting England to wipe the floor with us, basically," backup goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann said,
That, of course, didn't happen. In the most-watched U.S. national team game in 16 years - viewed by 12.96 million on U.S. English-language television - Dempsey's 40th minute goal, a 25-yard shot that bounced twice and rolled through the arms of goalkeeper Robert Green, offset Steven Gerrard's fourth-minute strike for the English.
While the United States is ranked 14th in the world, Slovenia is 25th. Still, Eastern European defenses have been difficult for the Americans to infiltrate. Czechoslovakia won 5-1 at the 1990 World Cup, Romania won 1-0 four years later and Yugoslavia by the same score in 1998,
Even after the Americans started with a win against Portugal and a draw with host South Korea in 2002, Poland beat the U.S. 3-1. Four years ago, the United States opened with a 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic.
DeMerit expects Slovenia to be "very organized, very willing to work together to try to make our day difficult.
"Teams like that can be very dangerous because you don't have the major superstars that you can really get yourself up for, to say, 'Well, if I stop him and I do that job, then I'll have success.' It's a collective when it comes to teams like that," he said.
Players understand the stakes.
"When you're playing England, you understand that they're one of the best teams in the world and you don't sort of just roll the ball out just to see who's better, because they have better players," Donovan said. "This game, we'll probably be a little more aggressive and assertive."