Featured / World Cup


The U.S. were robbed.

In the books, it will go down as a 2-2 draw to Slovenia, but we know better.

A Malian referee named Koman Coulibaly has stolen the greatest comeback in U.S. soccer history.

No team had ever come back from a 2-0 halftime deficit to win a World Cup match, but the U.S. sought to do just that. Landon Donovan scored quickly, in the 48th minute. Michael Bradley netted in the 82nd.

Then, in the 86th minute, Donovan curled in a beautiful free kick. Maurice Edu broke free and drilled it into the top of the net.

Game-winning goal!

Not so fast. Coulibaly waved the goal off.

A Slovenian defender wraps both arms around Michael Bradley on the climactic free kick.

Why? We still don’t know. What was the call? It couldn’t have been offsides, because the replay shows nobody was even close. Was it a foul? If so, maybe on Slovenia, for Aleksander Radosavljevic wrapping both arms around Bradley on the play. (Watch ESPN break down the play here.)

In all of professional sports, there is no circumstance, no set of rules, no situation more inexplicable than the fact that a ref can make such a game-altering call and not be required to explain it to anyone on the field. There is no accountability whatsoever. He simply blows a whistle. He doesn’t say whether it’s a foul, who it’s on, nothing. Nothing!

It’s a damn travesty.

This was hands down the most exciting match of the World Cup so far, and it’s a disgrace that it ended the way it did. Whether you root for the U.S. or not, the match was a thrill to watch. You had goals, attacking soccer, and a fiery comeback.

My friends in South Africa say everyone there is shocked by what happened. We’re shocked here. It’s like being kicked in the groin.

Yes, the U.S. never should have gone down 2-0. Defensive breakdowns marred their first half. No one filled in when Jay DeMerit got pulled out wide before the first goal, leaving Valter Birsa wide open at the top of the box to take his shot. Center back Oguchi Onyewu had a miserable game and clearly isn’t even close to top form after recovering from knee surgery. Midfielder Jose Francisco Torres didn’t meet the hefty expectations some of us put on him. Goalkeeper Tim Howard was less than superhuman.

But the comeback was sheer brilliance.

Donovan started it in the 48th minute with his great run and blistering shot into the top of the net. He, Bradley and Jozy Altidore had phenomenal second halves, with each playing aggressively and seemingly willing their team to victory.

Another man who had a great second half — and halftime — was U.S. coach Bob Bradley. He made two switches that appeared to have worked, bringing Edu and Benny Feilhaber in for Robbie Findley and Torres, then shifting Dempsey up to forward. Findley had a yellow card and wasn’t playing great, and the one thing the U.S. couldn’t afford was to go a man down if Findley drew another card.

Later, in the 80th minute, the coach pulled Onyewu and sent in forward Herculez Gomez in a brilliant tactical gamble. The U.S. went to a 3-4-3 formation, something Feilhaber said they’d never done before, even in practice. It paid off two minutes later when Donovan lofted a nice ball into the box and Altidore, who was dominant throughout the second half, sent a perfect header bouncing downward toward goal. Gomez cleared a defender with a run on goal, and Bradley cut into the gap to drill the ball home.

Then came the highway robbery.

Thankfully, the England – Algeria scoreless draw means a U.S. win Wednesday against Algeria puts the U.S. into the knockout rounds. If the U.S. can’t beat Algeria, they probably don’t deserve to go through anyway.

But with the refs seemingly playing against the U.S., much as many felt they did in the last World Cup, would it surprise anyone to see another questionable call kill the U.S. next week? Even before Edu’s disallowed goal, there were sketchy calls. Findley was given a yellow card for a ball that hit him in the face because the ref thought it hit him in the hand. He’s now suspended for the Algeria match (which could be a blessing in disguise for the U.S.). Altidore was taken down at the edge of the box on a potential goal-scoring run, but Coulibaly deemed it only worthy of a yellow card when he easily could have given a red. (Coulibaly is lucky this wasn’t against a team like Serbia, because their fans might have found and killed him by now.)

The anticlimactic nature of the game left many spent and empty.

But there is one silver lining.

The U.S. will come out hungry against Algeria. They’ll come out with a collective chip on their shoulders. They’ll be angry, focused, and playing for the win.

The last time they had to do that, it began a miraculous run to the Confederations Cup final.

Could they do it again, only this time on the grander stage?


  1. Jeremy L. says:

    I also find it amusing that some are trying to say Carlos Bocanegra was committing a foul on the Slovenian defender when clearly, if you watch the replay, he tries to get by the man, is held down with an arm over the shoulder, tries to get away, and is shoved to the ground by the weight of the larger man, the Slovenian.

    For once, I feel like all the complaints are justified. This ref took our win away. No one else, and certainly not our own players. Thank goodness the English are apparently complete shit at soccer. (That’s mean, but really, how many times have their expectations been dashed at the World Cup? Every time since 1966? Pretty much.)

  2. Interesting side note: FIFA is stepping up its monitoring of potential match-fixing for the final games of the group stage. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/soccer/world-cup-2010/06/18/fifa.match.fixing.ap/index.html

  3. Andrew Huff says:

    I looked at replays, and I really tried to figure out what the referee called. I could only find fouls against US players. No one was offside. The referee didn’t even explain his call. Fifa needs to investigate betting irregularities because it appears that the referee was paid off to help make sure that the US did not walk away with a victory. He also made a couple of other crazy calls.

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