(ESPN/Jeff Mitchell/FIFA/Getty Images)
What can you say about this game? Heart stopping, nail biting, hair-puller-outing, jumping, screaming, complaining. Yelling at the post. Yelling at the linesman. Yelling at flopped headers. Yelling at players sending balls into the upper deck. Yelling at missed open goals. Yelling at Jay Demerit (twice).
I was preparing to lambaste Bob Bradley prior to this game. The time for experiments was over. It seemed like he still didn't know his starting 11. He still didn't know who to pair with Bradley in the middle, who to pair with Altidore up front, and whether or not Gooch was worth it. It also appeared to me that he couldn't manage his "tough talks" efficiently. We hadn't seen a full 90 minutes of American potential, only 45 - the second half of both England and Slovenia. Well Mr. Bradley, I'm couldn't be happier to say that you proved me wrong. You proved ALL of us wrong, and sent a team out there that could have shredded apart anyone in this tournament.
We all witnessed the effect of Maurice Edu in the midfield during the second half of Slovenia. Whenever open space was available in the middle, he or Bradley filled in and received. There is a good understanding between the two that when one pushes up, the other stays back. The same thing happened today - both on the same wavelength the entire match. They absolutely DOMINATED that midfield, and provided endless supplies to the men up front or the wings. As for Gooch, he should have hitched a ride with France. He didn't deserve a spot in this squad from the beginning and his form in the first two games showed. So, Bradley throws Bornstein out right and moved Bocanegra into the middle. Flawless! Early on a diagonal ball fell over Demerit's head but for the most part the middle defended valiantly. Bocanegra very well had the challenge of the match in the 62nd minute on a low cross which he dove and cleared handily. Bornstein, who got plenty of flack beforehand for his sub-par performances, stepped up to the plate and delivered. A constant threat going down the right and sending balls in. However, he still managed to get back and defend when needed.
And up front, maybe Hercules Gomez was a bit quiet. To be honest I don't think that really worked. Neither did his replacement in Benny Feilhaber at the start of the second half. But it didn't matter as the midfield poured into the Algerian territory over and over again. Buddle's introduction for Edu though added more attack (as if we even needed it) and his presence was immediately felt.
Amidst all these changes, Bradley, and all of us for that matter, will rue the missed chances... Shall we? Gomez in the 7th minute from about 25 yards out - parried away for a corner. Gomez again in the 19th (should have scored) - parried back at him and his pass to Dempsey is drilled in the back of the net...ANOTHER robbery as the goal is called back for offsides. 37th minute - Altidore from point blank range 6 yards out sends it to the moon. 40th minute Dempsey barely smacks an uncontested shot that is gathered up by the keeper. 56th minute - Dempsey tries to finesse a shot into an open net...hits the post...and completely misses an open net on the rebound. 70th minute almost an own goal for Algeria. 2 close range, menacing free kicks in the last 10 minutes. Endless services into the box grazing off American heads or just behind on-rushing attackers. Countless odd man rushes originating from counter attacks or victorious challenges in the midfield.
Let's just say we deserved what we got. But our finishing must be more clinical moving forward, as we can no longer rely on the outcomes of other games.
A big lunch, a few celebratory drinks, and some tasty street meat later, in addition to watching highlights of today's game a number of times, I can only smile and look ahead. I've never given Coach Bradley any credit up to this point, but I will now. Coach you have FINALLY figured it out. The midfield is stellar. Your son is the MVP of this team so far. You dropped that hobbling bum Onyewu and took a chance...and you look ever more the genius for it. And up front, you instilled enough confidence in Altidore to make him be the dominant force on his own without the most effective pairing striker.
More important than anything else, we got our first win of the tournament taking loads of confidence into our next match. C'mon Yanks! Let's see how far we can take it.