The Miracle on Grass

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The U.S. continued its flair for the dramatic by scoring a stoppage-time goal to defeat Algeria 1-0 and advance to the Round of 16. The late goal from Landon Donovan not only advanced the U.S. but also got them first place in the group.

England defeated Slovenia 1-0 in the other game to finish second in the group.

This was easily one of the most tense soccer matches I’ve ever watched and probably the most nerve-wracking yet in terms of its personal effect on me. The U.S. should’ve probably had at least four goals by the time they finally made the breakthrough in the 91st minute on Donovan’s strike. My miracle on ice comparison isn’t so much about this being an upset, which it certainly wasn’t, as much as it is about scoring such a late goal when it just looked like
today wasn’t the Americans’ day.

It was a match that saw the U.S. miss boatloads of chances and have another good goal disallowed.

Simply put, you need to watch this match if you haven’t already. You can catch it on ESPN3 anytime, and it’s also going to be replayed on ESPN Classic tonight at 6. The drama just kept building throughout the match, and there was also the sneaky, background tension of the England-Slovenia game creeping into the minds of U.S. supporters.

I’m going to go through this game with good old fashioned player rankings.

Keeper-Tim Howard- 8
An 8 might seem a little high for Howard, considering he didn’t have to do much, but his distribution was absolutely superb, particularly on the sequence that led to the game winner. Howard’s awareness and execution on his throw to Donovan started everything on that play.

Defender-Steve Cherundolo-7
Not a bad day for Cherundolo, overall. Like Demerit, he had a shaky moment early on when he missed a volleyed clearance, but he settled down into his normal role of patrolling the right flank and helping the U.S. out offensively. Always looks composed, as well.

Defender-Jay Demerit-5
Demerit was just plain bad early on in the game, setting up Algeria’s best chance of the game by whiffing a clearance. He was out of position a few other times as well, but he gained some steam as the match continued and started winning a lot of key headers

Defender-Carlos Bocanegra-6
A steady game from the captain. We didn’t hear his name that often, which is normally a good thing for defender. He also had a nice sliding volley to clear a dangerous Algerian cross in the second half.

Defender-Jonathan Bornstein-7
When American fans saw Bornstein’s name on the pre-match lineup, it was probably akin to waiting out a hurricane. You know the damage is coming, and you just hope that you can weather the storm. Fortunately, Bornstein looked quite strong today, his speed (which is mainly why he was in the lineup) serving him well in dealing with attacks and also permitting him to make some overlapping runs into Algerian territory.

Midfielder-Maurice Edu-7
Despite one or two turnovers in the first half, I really liked what I saw from Edu. It wasn’t just his steady play and solid defense, it was his body language. Edu looked calm and composed on the ball from the start of the game in a way that Ricard Clark, Jose Francisco Torres, and Edu himself haven’t thus far in this tournament. I expect to see Edu again in the next match on Saturday.

Midfielder-Michael Bradley-8
Building on his strong second half performance against Slovenia, the coach’s son again showed what he’s capable of in a strong game. Most importantly, he and Edu looked comfortable working together. He did well to link up with the strikers and not launch too many wasted long balls, and he set a great example for Edu by showing for the ball and controlling the center of the pitch.

Midfielder-Landon Donovan-8
I’m very mixed on Donovan. He had his moments, but he was also disappointing at various points of the match. In the end, though, he was involved in almost every meaningful U.S. attack and should’ve had at least one assist (Dempsey’s early miss) in addition to scoring the game winner. Bottom line: put the U.S. through to the group stage with a stoppage time game winner and there’s no way you get less than an 8.

Midfielder-Clint Dempsey-8
Dempsey showed his willingness to attack from the start of the match, and created plenty of chances for himself. Yes, he missed a ton of these chances, but he should’ve had a goal in the first half when his perfectly good tap-in was wrongly disallowed for offsides. His run into the center of the box led to Donovan’s goal on the rebound. No matter how many chances he missed, this is the Clint Dempsey we’ve been waiting to see.

Forward-Herculez Gomez-6
I wasn’t extremely impressed with Gomez, and I also wasn’t overly disappointed. He gets knocked down a couple for not burying his close range effort in the first half, but he also sent the rebound to Dempsey for what should’ve been a goal. I’m still not sure what Gomez’ place is with this team, and I tend to think I might like him better as a substitute than a starter. He didn’t really detract from the attack but neither did he seem to add much.

Forward-Jozy Altidore-8
I loved Jozy’s play today, and I was very tempted to give him a 9. He did extremely well to show for the ball and allow the U.S. attack to move forward without sending hopeful long balls toward the box. His touch was nice and when given space he was consistently dangerous. It reached the point where he was getting fouled nearly every time he touched the ball towards the end of the second half, and he also got the Algerians at least 3 yellow cards (maybe more?) for tripping him up and hacking him from behind. Like with Dempsey, this was the kind of game we were all hoping to see. I think Jozy was the Man of the Match, despite Donovan’s goal.

Substitutes.

Benny Feilhaber-7
Feilhaber looked a little better in his substitute role than he did agains Slovenia. Most importantly, he appeared to pick up momentum as the match went on, and I think he’ll only improve with the more playing time he gets. He picked his passes well and made the Algerians pay attention whenever he touched the ball.

Edson Buddle-6
Somewhat similar to Gomez, but I’d like to see Buddle get more playing time. We may see Robbie Findley starting again on Saturday, which is okay, but I’m still wondering what Buddle can do with a little time to build chemistry with Altidore. Anyway, didn’t really detract or add all that much to the match in his limited time.

DaMarcus-Beasley-5
I had been wondering when we’d see Beasley in this tournament. He had a pretty quiet few minutes and perhaps didn’t get involved in the attack as much as he should have. He was inserted as a speed option that could attack and still get back if Algeria counterattacked.

Coach Bob Bradley-7
He knew what he was doing by giving Maurice Edu the start, but, to be honest, he didn’t have much choice at this point. Starting Gomez didn’t really work out, but I credit Bob for realizing (like he did against Slovenia) that he needed to make a change and not being afraid to do it. Feilhaber was an effective sub as well, and Bornstein finally repaid Bradley’s faith in him.

UPDATE: Following this afternoon's Group D results, the U.S. will now face Ghana at 2 PM Saturday afternoon in a rematch of America's last match in the 2006 World Cup. England will face Germany on Sunday morning at 9:30 AM in a clash of two traditional European titans.

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