FOX Soccer Exclusive
U.S. expects to see itself in World Cup battle vs. Slovenia
PRETORIA, South Africa
When the United States lines up against Slovenia on Friday in Johannesburg, the Americans will find themselves in a much different match than their World Cup-opening tie against England. They won’t be facing world superstars, or one of the tournament’s leading attacks. What they will be facing is a team very similar to them.
In fact, when hearing Landon Donovan describe Slovenia, it sounds very much like how many observers describe the U.S. national team.
“There is nothing flashy about (Slovenia),” Donovan said. “There’s not a few players, like with England, where you go, 'We need to 100 percent to stop that player or else we’re in trouble,' but they seem to be a very good team overall.
“They seem like they have good chemistry and they know each other well. They've obviously played a lot of games together. They’ve played difficult European qualifying and come out of it.
“They are just going to be solid. They’re not going to be spectacular, but they’re going to be a very solid team and they’re going to be difficult to beat."
Slovenia will be the underdog in Friday’s match at Ellis Park, but to overlook them is to ignore the fact they were impressive in European World Cup qualifying, with a playoff series victory against Russia under their belts. The Slovenians head into the second set of Group C matches atop the group after beating Algeria, and will pose much different challenges for the Americans than England did.
“Obviously England were very aggressive and like to dictate the tempo and the way the game goes so you have to match that,” Donovan said. “It’ll be interesting to see how this game shakes out because, with a win, Slovenia are qualified, so it’s hard to know whether they’re going to go all out and try to win, or if they’re going to be happy trying to get a point.”
“It’s probably going to be more of a tactical battle and a bit of a chess match,” said goalkeeper Tim Howard. “Both teams defending in a compact manner, letting the other team come on to them and probably breaking once the turns over.
“I think both are teams are very good at that, staying compact, defending well. They are. They get after the ball really well and in the attack they have some dangerous players as well.”
Slovenia boasts target striker Milevoje Novakovic and midfielder Robert Koren, who showed in the win against Algeria that he can be a scoring threat from central midfield.
The Slovenian attack didn’t show much against Algeria, choosing instead to absorb pressure as it looked to catch the North Africans on the counter. Algeria found some success attacking on the flanks, which could bode well for Donovan and Clint Dempsey as they and the United States are likely to attack much more against Slovenia than they did against England.
“I would assume so,” Donovan said of the likelihood the United States will attack more against Slovenia. “It’s not always easy. If they decide to come and sit back then it’s going to be tough to find space, but we’re going to have to try and make advantages and punish them when we get chances.”
If the Americans plan on taking the attack to Slovenia, we could see some lineup changes to boost the offense. Jose Torres is a candidate to see playing time, while Edson Buddle and Herculez Gomez are both candidates to replace Robbie Findley, though Findley’s speed and ability to put pressure on defenders could merit him another start.
Slovenia’s willingness to sit back and wait for chances should create space for players such as Michael Bradley and fullbacks Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra to join the attack, particularly with much lesser attacking threats to worry about than they faced against England.
“When a team is organized like that you, at some point, have to take some risks if you want to score,” Donovan said. “Certainly part of that is getting our outside backs involved.
“Another big part of the game will be set pieces, and how we do with our deliveries and how we are in front of goal when we get chances.”
While it appears like a much easier proposition than tying England was, beating the Slovenians won’t come easy — regardless of the tiny nation’s lack of star power.
“In theory, it seems like it’s easier because they don’t have a Rooney or a Lampard or a Gerrard,” Donovan said. “But the reality is when you’ve got a team that plays well together, it becomes very difficult to beat a team like that and it usually comes down to one or two plays.”