Once again the Yanks are looking at a mismatch with regard to quality, but this time the scales are tipped towards the Americans. Slovenia is a plucky and well organized team who approaches each game with organization and determination. What they lack in individual quality they make up for in heart. You can see where the comparisons to former friendly opponent Turkey come into play. You can probably also see some similarities to the way the USMNT was described in the Brit press before the England match.
But, rhetoric aside, what should Bobbo’s men be wary of when they face the former Yugoslavians?
Milivoje Novakovi? – Number one with a bullet. If this man isn’t accounted for he will make the U.S. pay. Novakovi? has netted 16 goals in 38 appearances for Slovenia; no one else on the team has netted more than five goals for country. More importantly Novakovi? scores them in every way. He poaches; he can strike with quality, and in Slovenia’s recent warm up friendly against New Zealand he bagged two free kick goals from straight on and about 25 yards out. Oh and the dude plays his club ball for Cologne in the Bundesliga where his teammates include Podolski and Maniche. Milivoje Novakovi? is no joke, center backs will be briefed.
Samir Handanovi? – To fans of the USMNT, Handanovi? is the second best keeper in Group C. To fans of Italy’s Serie A, and Udinese in particular, Handanovi? is the absolute class of the group. While my belief is that our boy Tim is a better keeper, especially after his latest performance, Handanovi? has the resume, even at age 25, to warrant the argument. He’s long, he’s smart, athletic, and seasoned. He’s the type of player who can put a decent team on his back and carry them deep into a tournament. Thankfully the Yanks should be good enough to create a couple chances that even the best keeper would have no chance at saving, but if they don’t… I certainly wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Handanovi? doing to us exactly what Tim Howard did to the English.
Team Trust – This is the reason the Slovenians are in the World Cup. You look at teams like Ukraine and Bulgaria and they’ve got one or two outstanding players, but one or two outstanding players don’t usually get it done, and Slovenia have that figured out. The Turkey comparisons hold firm with respect to the type of team game the Slovenians play. They’re not running some really innovative formation or system, they’re just all completely committed and they trust each other. This can lead to the team generating better looks at goal rather than just kicking and hoping from low percentage positions (though you wouldn’t know it from the goal they scored in the Algeria game).
What to look for from The States:
Jose Francisco Torres – This has been probably the most hotly debated topic all week, with many feeling that Torres should replace Ricardo Clark to give the team more in the way of possession and a greater central midfield threat going forward. The way he tracked back and almost dominated the whole second half of the Turkey friendly a couple weeks ago seems to indicate that the Yanks wouldn’t be losing much in the way of defense while adding accurate creative long passes to the usual safe short ones on the offensive end.
Striker Change – Robbie Findley was not good against England, so I would expect Edson Buddle to start up front with Altidore. Other options of course include handing Herculez Gomez a start or moving Dempsey up to forward and giving Holden his wing middy spot. But Findley’s speed could actually be more of a factor against Slovenia than the English, so don’t be surprised if Robbie gets a second shot in this game despite his bad performance.
All Quiet At The Back – The England game saw the U.S. back four and goalkeeper all put in outstanding individual efforts. But the defenders didn’t have it together as a unit in the first half, and that’s the name of the game isn’t it? England had chances left and right, and it took those great one-on-one performances from DeMerit, Gooch, Dolo, Boca, and Howard to prevent the Brits from scoring multiple goals. The only way to breed the cohesiveness that’s needed is to work in practice and play these guys together. No changes expected for this match. Watch for Timmy to show that he’s fully fit despite the rib pain and for Jay DeMerit to somehow play 90 minutes without picking up another yellow; we’ll need him against Algeria.
Prediction – USA 3 – 0 Slovenia
The U.S. simply cannot afford to lose this game, and I expect Landon Donovan to create multiple chances for himself and others. Jozy Altidore will also get on the scoresheet, he’s just too physical and fast for the Slovenians. The defense should be good enough at this point to put up a clean sheet, and without the goalkeeper having to catch 80 mph point blank bullet shots.
Tales of the Uninvited: Though he wasn’t selected for the U.S. team due to his advanced age, Frankie Hejduk is enjoying his midseason MLS break by surfing everyday out in San Diego and drinking a ton of beers (word has he really enjoyed the USA/England TYAC Drinking Game! Sacha Kljestan recently asked Hejduk for surfing lessons, but sticking to his guns, Frankie responded that he’d be happy to oblige just as soon as Sacha grows his savage long hair back.
Jon Levy is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.