FOX Soccer Exclusive
U.S. must take attack to Algeria
When the U.S. men’s national team went into the locker room down two goals against Slovenia last Friday, you would have thought the Americans were the victims of an attacking onslaught, or hadn’t tried to attack themselves.
The reality is the United States did try to push their offense, and did create chances, but ultimately it was defensive breakdowns that put them in a first-half hole they had to desperately fight to overcome.
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Now, after securing that point against Slovenia, the United States heads into a virtual must-win match against Algeria on Wednesday and, while memories of those defensive mistakes may linger, the fact is the Americans have no choice but to once again mount an offensive against an African opponent that has yet to score during this World Cup.
This doesn’t mean trotting out the 3-4-3 formation the United States used late in its stirring comeback against Slovenia, but it does mean pushing numbers forward and testing an Algerian defense that could be exposed as the Desert Foxes press for a win they must have to advance.
Bob Bradley has long been considered a defensive-minded coach, going back to his days with the Chicago Fire, but the reality is that when he has had the attacking weapons, and has seen the opportunity, he has gone after opponents. He saw that opportunity against Slovenia, and that chance exists against an Algeria team that will need to play for the win, and won’t have the luxury of keeping numbers back.
Don’t let Algeria’s 0-0 defensive battle with England fool you. The North Africans will take the field in Pretoria on Wednesday intent on attacking and trying to pounce on the kind of American mistakes that Slovenia exploited. Algeria coach Rabah Saadane has already signaled his intent to use three forwards and take the fight to the United States.
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Rather than sitting back and absorbing pressure, the United States must push the pace, but must do so while fulfilling the defensive responsibilities that will come against a quick Algerian attack. The biggest first half failings against Slovenia weren’t the missed chances, but instead the blown defensive assignments that put the Americans in an early hole.
The plan starts with Maurice Edu getting the nod in central midfield. He had a few turnovers in his 45 minutes of action against Slovenia, but didn’t put the defense into bad positions and he helped the USA keep the ball and get it to the attackers during the furious comeback. Edu also showed his penchant for scoring on the disgracefully disallowed goal.
Edu provides a stabilizing force in the middle that allows Michael Bradley more freedom to get forward. Edu is also capable of helping keep tabs on dangerous Algerian playmaker Karim Ziani. Ricardo Clark can do the same, but he’s not as much of a contributor to the offense as Edu.
The next step is replacing Robbie Findley, who is suspended for the Algeria match. Bob Bradley has a variety of options, but he should turn to the most in-form striker on his team.
Edson Buddle dominated MLS before the World Cup, and his two goals in the team’s friendly victory against Australia showed us a player who wasn’t going to be overcome by the opportunity. He offers the strength and finishing ability to trouble Algeria, and while he hasn’t seen much time alongside Jozy Altidore, the pairing could pose some physical challenges for Algeria and free up more room for Donovan and Dempsey.
Attacking Algeria isn’t just about getting numbers forward, it is also about capitalizing when Algeria extends itself. Defenders Madjij Bougherra and Nadir Belhaj love getting into the attack, but they also tend to over-extend the Algerian formation when they do get forward. England failed to capitalize on this, but the United States has the passing ability to effectively punish Algeria in these situations.
Just how much of an attacking mentality the United States adopts for Wednesday’s clash won’t matter if the defense cannot deal with Algeria’s three-forward attack, which will feature speedy forwards Rafik Djebbour and tricky striker Karim Matmour. Oguchi Onyewu struggled in the first half against Slovenia, and he will be seriously tested by the short turnaround time. He’ll be playing his third match in 12 days, the most strenuous stretch he will have endured since his eight-month layoff after knee surgery.
If Onyewu can recapture his England form, and if Jay DeMerit and Steve Cherundolo can maintain their high levels, the United States defense has the strength to deal with Algeria’s unpredictable and fast attack. With that in place, the Americans have the attacking weapons to get off to a fast start rather than their customary slow start.
The United States showed us against Slovenia that when they need to, they can attack effectively and break down even the toughest defense. The Americans will need more of that type of offense against Slovenia, because without it, their World Cup will end on Wednesday.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the U.S. national team and Major League Soccer.