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.”