It’s never easy with the United States National Team.
Trailing 2-0 at half, the Americans rallied and drew with Group C leaders Slovenia, 2-2, in Ellis Park to keep Slovenia from qualifying. A 48th minute rocket from Landon Donovan and a brilliantly taken goal from Michael Bradley in the 82nd ensured the US took a vital point.
Coupled with England’s dour 0-0 draw with Algeria, the US now has their destiny in their own hands. A win over the Algerians Wednesday in Pretoria would put the US into the knockout round of the tournament regardless of what happens with England and Slovenia.
It didn’t appear that would be the case, however, when the Americans left Ellis Park. Despite getting the draw, the US will feel hard done by to not have taken the full three. In the 86th minute, substitute Maurice Edu looked to have given the US the lead, scoring a beautiful goal on a free kick delivery from Landon Donovan. However, a mysterious foul was spotted in the box by referee Koman Coulibaly, disallowing the goal in a controversial day for the Mali official. Unquestionably, a historic day was stolen from the Americans in a day that would have marked the first time any World Cup nation would have climbed out of a 2-0 hole and won. Alas, it was only the fifth time a team has come back from 2-0 to earn a draw.
It almost never happened as Slovenia – the smallest nation in the tournament with a population of just 2 million – ran rampant in the first half. Clint Dempsey could have received a red card in the opening 20 seconds for an elbow on an aerial ball but received nothing. 13 minutes later, Valter Birsa put Slovenia ahead, rooting Tim Howard to the top of the six-yard box with a brilliantly taken shot from outside the box. No one closed Birsa out, and he curled his shot into the back of the net. It’s the 12th-straight match in which the US has failed to keep a clean sheet, a streak that must end if the Americans have any wish of moving deep into the tournament.
The US responded with some nice play, most notably a free kick chance for youngster Jose Torres – who started in central midfield over Ricardo Clark – and an ensuing chance in the box when Landon Donovan nearly tied the match had it not been for a timely tackle, but the US was largely absent from the first half, with the Slovenians pouring forward as they smelled an appearance in the knockout round, which a win would’ve guaranteed.
Slovenia wasn’t done. Following the Donovan scramble, Zlatan Ljubljankic ran down the middle, took a pass and broke the US trap, sliding his shot under Howard for a 2-0 lead. Just as the US looked like they would equalize, they fell behind 2-0.
The US brought on Maurice Edu and Benny Feilhaber for Torres and Findley – who received a dubious second yellow card when Coulibaly thought a ball had struck Findley’s hand when it had actually struck his face – and the US immediately found their way. Donovan, usually the inspiration for the Americans, proved to be just that in the 48th minute. A brilliant ball over the top from Steve Cherundolo was missed by center back Bostjan Cesar and found Donovan. The winger advanced unimpeded toward goal down the end line. He riffled his shot into the roof of the net, nearly hitting Slovenian goalkeeper Samir Handanovic in the face on its way into the net.
A lifeline in front of them and the pro-US crowd behind them, the US continued to pile forward. A dangerous free kick for the US fell to Jozy Altidore, but his turning effort went straight into Handanovic.
With the US running out of time, Bob Bradley went to a 3-4-3 in search of the equalizer. They got it in the 82nd from Bradley. Donovan’s deep ball found Altidore, who nodded his header down into the ground. It hopped to Bradley, and he poked it into the roof of the net of the second bounce for a clinical finish.
Smelling blood, the US should have had their first-ever come-from-behind victory in a World Cup match, but they were denied by the phantom foul as Edu pounded the ball into the net.