Featured / USMNT / World Cup

We’re Through!!!!

It was nail-biting the whole way through, with the anxiety escalating with each tick of the clock beyond the 70th minute mark. Surely we’d progress, all USA fans felt after we played our best first half of the tournament, wherein we were once again robbed by poor officiating: on replay it was clear that Dempsey was indeed level with the last defender before tapping it in by the far post.

An uncertain back four gave us nervous jitters at the start with two misplays, including one where the ball was poorly handled in the air, resulting in a wicked shot off striker Rafik Djjebour’s foot that luckily found the crossbar. Coach Bob Bradley’s unfamiliar configuration in the back—absent was Oguchi Onyewu, while Carlos Bocanegra switched to central defense, with newcomer Jonathan Bornstein getting the start at left back—soon calmed, however, with Jay Demerit’s numerous aerial victories setting the tone.

For the remainder of the first half, the Algerians were only troubling when the USA once again allowed a gap between their midfield and their defense, leading to fury from Tim Howard after unchecked shots by Hassan Yebda, Djjebour, and, in the 38th minute, Karim Matmour. The defense, greatly aided by the fierce checking back of Michael Bradley, remained otherwise firm, with the Algerians only coming close to getting behind our guard through the air.

The insertion of Hercules Gomez up top almost payed dividends. Early on he met a brilliantly played right side cross from Steve Cherundolo with a scissor-kick that looked dangerous coming from the top left of the box but that sailed wide. Things looked promising for the attack, as Landon Donovan quickly followed this effort with a powerful shot that sailed low over the bar from decent range.

And then we revisited injustice.

Following a strong play by Bradley into the area, the ball wound up with Gomez, whose disappearance in the winding down of the first 45 minutes should be a footnote. After an initial shot, Gomez pushed the ball through to Dempsey, who roofed it into the upper tier. The cheers of US supporters rang hollow once again when the goal was disallowed following another vexing call.

To up the urgency, England soon thereafter went up 1–0 when Jermain Defoe struck from close range. Surely any weakling thoughts of holding out for the tie and hoping for the best couldn’t even begin to creep in.

But for the flurry of chances that ensued, we came away with only more frustration. Dempsey and Gomez seemed to impede rather than help each other in the 33rd minute following another brilliant cross by Cherundolo. Jose Altidore then seemed ready to pounce on an effort furthered by Dempsey a minute later, though he couldn’t get a decent shot away over the charging keeper.

If that wasn’t enough of a Charlie Brown moment, Altidore soon followed by handling a rebound off a defender—on a play to Donovan set up expertly by the highly active Bradley—by the near post like an NFL field goal kicker. ARGHH, GOOD GRIEF! indeed given all he had to do was pass it in with the inside of his foot.

Things opened up much more in the second half. Certainly there were hopes that the US, a proven second half threat through two matches, could exploit the back three of Algeria on the counter. At times, though, it was the US who looked exposed as they were too heavily weighted up top as they pressed for a goal.

And while The Desert Foxes were lucky to go without a red until extra time, Demerit should be much more thankful that his shirt pulling antics in the 50th minute during a corner didn’t serve up a PK or draw a card.

And where there was sheer luck, there was also more frustration: after nailing the right post in the 56th, Dempsey sent the rebound well wide and over.

Edson Buddle, subbed in at the 64th minute for midfielder Maurice Edu, signified Coach Bradley’s push for goal. Buddle showed strong effort right away, pushing the Algerians on the flank, and nearly putting away a header, before, in the closing minutes, confounding us all by his inability to find Altidore across the area.

The insertion of Benny Feilhaber at the half—on for Gomez, which led to Dempsey pushing up—combined with Bradley’s play, led to more creativity through midfield. The Brazilian born Feilhaber came close with a goal line run that unfortunately bounced the wrong way off the keepers calf, though a goal seemed certain if an attempt to cross had been made.

Bradley continued to make his presence felt with a powerful shot on Rais M’Bolhi that might have paid dividends if only he his delivery had the slightest bit of curve.  Instead, he kicked it straight at the keeper and so equaled Dempsey, who put his on chance well over goal.

The late addition of Demarcus Beasley for Bornstein further signaled the will to win at all costs. The ebb and flow produced some nervy moments, but the US shook everything off, be it the attacks of charged newcomer Abdelkader Ghezzal or an uncalled blow to the face of Clint Dempsey.

It soon appeared the clock was going to be the worst enemy of the US. If things remained unchanged then the myriad of chances  would soon be met by tears, the team out of the World Cup after not losing a single match, while also unable to take control of one either.

Landon Donovan, however, would have none of that. Carried equally by demons and angels, he strove into the area in extra time to emphatically send home a rebound resulting from a mad rush, a momentum seemingly born of the unified American will.

The result? Elation as the sun shines brighter and the Americans go charging into the round of 16, on forwards into the tournament knowing that now, anything can happen.

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