Five things learned about USA chances in Group C

JOHANNESBURG
– The first matchday of Group C is in the books, and we now have a bit better
idea of what the US need to do to advance. Here are five things we learned:

1.
The Americans have their heads screwed on straight.
One of the biggest
questions marks coming into this World Cup was how the US would respond to the
pressure. Would they open play as they did four years ago, folding early
against the Czech Republic? Or would they be the composed unit that made it to
the Confederations Cup final?

The
draw with England showed the latter – at least to a degree. The US conceded
first again and still need to figure out a way to finish their chances, but all
in all, you couldn’t ask for much more against a team like England.

The
Americans played superb defense, did better in possession than many thought and
created a few chances of their own. Despite giving up the early goal, this
performance is what we needed to see.

2.
Oguchi Onyewu looks better than we thought.
Gooch was a huge question mark
heading into this World Cup, recovering from that awful knee injury that had
kept him out of action since last October. But he looked mostly solid against
England, stepping for several key stops.

No,
he didn’t play flawlessly – he was beaten a couple times and was bailed out by
both Jay DeMerit and Michael Bradley, who tracked back repeatedly – but to see
Onyewu play a full 90 is encouraging. His toughest challenge in the group stage
is probably out of the way. The US will need a fully fit Gooch if they face
Germany or Ghana in the round of 16.

3.
Landon Donovan backed up his promise.
The US’ biggest star has promised
repeatedly that he would bring it for this World Cup and that he learned from
his mistakes of ’06. Based on one performance, he wasn’t lying.

Donovan
played much deeper against England than he has in any game in recent memory,
with more defensive responsibilities. But he did get forward enough to provide
Jozy Altidore with the US’ two best chances.

If
Donovan keeps playing this selflessly, and still effectively, the Americans
should be in good shape.

BUY: DONOVAN JERSEY

4.
Slovenia and Algeria are asking to be beaten.
Neither team showed particularly
much in their opener on Sunday. But Slovenia in particular will step up their
game to face the US, and the Americans need to take them seriously.

Still,
providing they can mark Valter Birsa – who looks like Slovenia’s biggest threat
– and avoid any mental lapses, Friday’s game is there for the taking.

Algeria,
on the other hand, look disastrous. Les Fennecs are their own worst enemy, as
they have shown again and again that their own mental mistakes cost them
dearly. As long as the US aren’t baited by Algeria’s gamesmanship (I’m looking
at you, Michael Bradley), this is another game to be won.

5.
The Rustenburg Revival lives.
The US is still holding up that Confed Cup run as
their inspiration in their return trip to South Africa. They’ve said all week
that their comfort level here has helped them acclimate. But more so, that they
learned a great deal about themselves last summer – starting with their turnaround
match against Egypt at Royal Bafokeng Stadium.

“The
first two games we played against Italy and Brazil, we really weren’t happy
with the way we had played,” Clint Dempsey told MLSsoccer.com
on Saturday after the England match. “So we came out against Egypt with a
mentality that, hey, we're going to take a few risks – calculated risks – and I
think that’s kind of how we play now.”


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