But Oh, Slovenia: A Preview

Submitted by Brian on June 17th, 2010 at 3:13 PM


The Situation

There are varying opinions on whether the Slovenia game is a must-win or must-tie; I'm in the tie camp. If the US ties and England beats Algeria as expected, the final matchday will see Slovenia and England enter with four points and the US two. The US would go through if they win against Algeria and…

  • England wins
  • Slovenia wins
  • there's a draw and the US wins by two
  • there's a draw and either Slovenia or England scores fewer total goals than the US.

That is almost all possibilities that include a win over Algeria. So they can't lose. But a tie is far from tragic.

On the other hand, a win gives them more leeway against Algeria and could see them escape the knockout game against Germany everyone would dearly like to after the machine mistook Australia for Austria and acquired plenty of lebensraum. Winning is good.

Unfortunately, the US is not going to have a couple of pieces of key information before they go into Friday's matchup against Slovenia: what happened in the England-Algeria game, and if Germany as terrifying as it seemed or if Australia just a team that can give up four goals to anyone. If they knew these key bits of information they would know whether they should attempt to win by a lot or just win.

Without that information and given the situation in the group, the right answer appears to be "just win." This, I'm sad to say, may see Ricardo Clark start again.

The Opponent

walter-birsaWalter Birsa is Slovenia's Dempsey

Slovenia, as you might expect given their population is approximately equivalent to Iowa, is a boring defensive team. They do have a few talented attacking players but their overall lack of talent sees them play a traditional 4-4-2 that you could call a 4-4-1-1- if you wanted, or a 4-2-2-2, or… well, a lot of different things. A 4-4-1-1 plays pretty similarly to what England does with Rooney and Heskey—Rooney comes deep for the ball, Heskey presses up the pitch—and so you could see some situations similar to the ugly breakdown that led to the England goal, hopefully minus the ugly breakdowns.

Here's my Torres pitch: I think this actually is an argument for Dollar Store Xavi. Torres operates best as a deep-lying playmaker who does not get dragged up the pitch much. Though he's not exactly spectacular in the tackle, the Slovenia attack is not athletic enough to punish him the way he would have been against England and his presence at the back will be more consistent than Clark—who tends to get dragged out of position—and Bradley—who also tends to get dragged out of position, but at least with him there's usually a point. The US defense is less likely to get pulled out of shape when he's around and more likely to spring quick attacks that bypass the Slovenian's compact discipline as much as that is possible. Clark's positioning has been erratic at best over the last month.

SI's Jonathan Wilson describes the Slovenes as essentially identical to the US, with their best and most creative players operating as tucked-in wingers:

Slovenia's only real creativity comes from the wide midfielders, Valter Birsa and Andraz Kirm. Both tend to tuck in when Slovenia is out of possession, pulling wider when the ball is won, while still looking to cut in on the diagonal -- just as Donovan and Dempsey do. They also tend to switch during games, occasionally playing as orthodox wide men and looking to swing in crosses, but more usually playing as inside-out wingers.

The back four and the two central midfielders are defensive players first, and the central defenders are good but not great. With Slovenia set to sit back and look for the counter themselves, opportunities to break will be minimal and this might be a game for Edson Buddle and his recent run of finishing instead of a Robbie Findley more likely to waste possession and biff open nets. Buddle's also a much greater threat in the air. With a lot of the USA's offense likely to come from overlapping fullback crosses, aerial power seems preferable to speed. Also, if you're bringing in Torres you might want a little more size elsewhere for set pieces for and against.

Slovenia's goalie, unfortunately, is damn good.

The Us

I've already brought this up in the previous sections: if I was Bob Bradley I'd swap Torres for Clark and Buddle for Findley, expecting that Torres would be sufficient defensively against a side lacking the sort of middle-of-the-park power England has and more likely to hold possession and unlock the Slovenian defense. Buddle, meanwhile, is more likely to get on the end of a cross or set piece and more likely to finish any opportunity that happens to come his way.

Will Bradley actually do this? I don't know. I think you might see Clark or Edu in the first half with Torres a halftime sub if the US needs a goal. Findley… well, I reviewed the England game and he was a much better hold-up forward than Altidore, consistently bringing down long balls and getting the midfield involved in pressure situations. That more than his speed was his contribution. Against a very different opponent I'd rather have a guy to get on the end of things.

The other option is bringing on Holden, which would probably see Dempsey move up top. That's an attractive option too since Slovenia is set up to give up space on the wings and Holden is probably the USA's best winger. The USA as set up against England is exceptionally unlikely to get in a good cross. This game seems to call for more width, and Holden's about the only guy who provides that unless you want to pretend it's 2006 and DaMarcus Beasley is a good option.

Everyone except Clark and Findley is a sure starter. Those nine plus tactical whateva should be enough to get a result, but Spain-Switzerland and whatnot, and we are not Spain.


I recommend the above-linked SI article. The Shin Guardian and Stars And Gripes have also embarked on multi-part previews with more detail than this one.


grand river fi…

June 17th, 2010 at 3:28 PM ^

The teams and tactics are similar enough that this game looks certain to be a dull nil-nil.  Hopefully England wins and the US ends up playing an already buried Algeria in the final game. 


June 17th, 2010 at 3:29 PM ^

Insofar as we are not Spain, we are still one of only two teams to beat them in the last like 5 years (or however long it took them to play 50 games).

I think Torres tackles plenty well given the opposition. He was a rock of a tackling machine against Turkey and, despite his slight stature, was not to be to be messed with.

As long as Howard is at (cortisone assissted) full steam I am not worried.


June 17th, 2010 at 3:35 PM ^

...stuff to peruse.

WaPo Gooch fluff.

Slovenia's Andrej Komac talks smack.

We are going to win this match. We took three points in the first game. No one looks at us as small anymore. Now we can only go forward like this, because we are leading the group.

The Yanks respond to the smack.

Tim Howard: Talk is cheap. He has got to stand toe to toe and they have got to stand toe to toe with us for 90 minutes. If he is still standing, I will take my hat off to him. A lot of boxers talk too and they're looking up at the lights, and next thing you know, they are trying to figure out how they got there. That means nothing to us. We know they are probably feeling confident after getting three points, and rightfully so.

DeMarcus Beasley: It just gives us ammunition to go out there and win the game. It really doesn't bother us though. if that's his opinion and if that's what he wants to say, that's fine. We're just trying to go out there and win the game on Friday and advance to the next round.

Oguchi Onyewu: It's definitely a premature comment to make. We will have to wait and see how it plays out. They are in a good position. They are confident. It is our job to neutralize that.


June 17th, 2010 at 3:43 PM ^

I agree that the normal tactics for each side could lead to a nil-all draw ... but one of these sides is notorious for screwing around early in the match until they concede a goal, and I am deathly afraid of this.

I think Torres is less likely to imitate an inanimate carbon rod while Slovenia execute a counterattack, plus he might actually be able to contribute in other ways, such as passing to the other flank when there is clearly no space where the ball is.

I have complete faith that Howard can stop anything he can reach, I just don't yet trust the back four to prevent a situation where there is a shot Howard cannot reach.

I would like to see Altidore's partner at forward be someone who can keep the ball down. Time and time again we've seen players on all sides take perfectly good chances and aim them at the upper deck. Another fear I have is that Donovan will serve a beautiful ball to an unmarked man who will promptly place it about 10 feet above the crossbar, and we'll end up with 1 point instead of 3.

I am in the must-win camp because I also fear the US struggling in a match they must win, particularly if England thrash Algeria. The only thing in that scenario in our favor is that Slovenia are not likely to score more than one goal in any match.


June 17th, 2010 at 5:51 PM ^

4-0 USA. Dempsey starts us off with a header on a corner. Jozy nets the next 2. Landycakes finishes it off on a counter when Slovenians are pressing forward.


Edit:  The only time my predictions are correct are when we play Mexico.  Dos a Cero, bitches.

Kilgore Trout

June 17th, 2010 at 5:05 PM ^

So looking at the bracket after seeing France go down to Mexico, it's pretty obvious that we should do everything humanly possible to win the group (not that we wouldn't anyway...)  With France having essentially no chance to win their group, the US would be in a quadrant where the highest ranked team possible would be Greece at 13 who hasn't looked good.  Contrast that with the quadrant that the runner up in our group ends up in (Germany in round 1, Argentina looming) and it's pretty obvious we need to win this to have a shot at making much noise in the knockout.  I don't love soccer necessarily, but I love brackets....


June 17th, 2010 at 5:21 PM ^

Please Brian, let's not report on this nonsense any longer.  I mean, this may be a sport elsewhere, but here in the good 'ole USA.... Nope.  I would rather watch womans water polo (especially if swimsuit models are on the teams)...


June 17th, 2010 at 11:07 PM ^

let's not report on this nonsense any longer. I mean, this may be a sport elsewhere, but here in the good 'ole USA.... Nope.

So your argument is that Brian shouldn't report on USA's soccer team, because it's not a sport in the USA?

Big Boutros

June 18th, 2010 at 1:33 AM ^

Here in the 'ole USA, we don't play soccer. See, here, women have tits, and we manly men like to ogle them. We can't touch them because of the restraining orders, and we don't have Inspector Gadget arms. But we look, because soccer is for queers. Sometimes we have to keep a spare set of briefs on hand for when we spew our hot American jizz all over ourselves because we bought those expensive binoculars, and the detail is just so durned crisp, I mean you can see the aureole and everything. Like a real patriot.

Other countries might like soccer. Countries with black people and Mexicans and fags who don't dip. But not us. We're not fags. We are America. We're better at everything than anyone else, including Michigan football, but not soccer, because we don't play it. The team that's playing Slovenia tomorrow is just a faggy apparition conjured by some homo magician. The University of Michigan certainly doesn't field a soccer team, no sir. There's no such soccer faggotry in Ann Arbor.


June 18th, 2010 at 1:25 AM ^

fuck you


fuck you.

brian brings you what, about a billion POSTAS a year about mich football that are better than any coverage anywhere else, but noooooooooooooo

that's not enough

because, you, THESE COLORS DONT RUN IM AN AMUUUURICAN shithead motherfucker doesn't feel like soccer is important

so you can't fucking handle a few posts in the middle of summer about a sport that's fucking awesome if you take the time to watch it instead of being all OH MY GOD IM SO HARDCORE IM SO STRAIGHT IM SO AWESOME I HATE SOCCER LOL 

tell me some airplane food jokes next, fuckwad.

ohhhh but the customer is always right and you, of course, are brian's customer.

well fuck you, the customer buy nickelback CDs and two and a half men men DVDs and the customer is fucking retarded.

if you don't like the soccer posts, then don't fucking read them, you goat fucking idiot. i must have missed the part where someone put a gun to your head and made you pledge allegiance to jozy altidore. 

god DAMN you soccer haters piss me off, and i only watch it every four years, fucking assholes. 


June 17th, 2010 at 6:09 PM ^

After watching the england game, my first thought for Slovenia was bring on Torres and Buddle.  I was very unimpressed with Clark, and Findley was about exactly what we expected.  I'm a little worried about us giving up some dangerous counters, but our talent level should win out.

So excited for tomorrow....


June 17th, 2010 at 7:10 PM ^

I can assure everyone that Algeria will hump the English 3-0.

He's 6 foot 3, he's got a tan, he doesn't eat at Ramadan!
Madjid Bougherra, Algeria's center half!

'Mon the north Africans!

Also, those that have a problem with these posts on the front page are more than welcome to get fucked.


June 17th, 2010 at 8:03 PM ^

Here are the rules of International Soccer...

1. There is a pecking order, there is no parity.

2. Any team can win any game 1-0.

3. But, the better teams usually wins (tie at a minimum). 


The US is higher in the pecking order, and though Slovenia could win this game 1-0. This is the first time the US is at a World Cup with two games verse teams they are expected to be ahead of in the pecking order, and win (tie at the minimum). 

If we want to play with the big name teams, be one of the big teams, then we have to win these games. Thats when you arrive. 

Go Nats!


June 17th, 2010 at 8:15 PM ^

I don't know if the US is higher on the pecking order.  Slovenia did knock out both the Czech Republic (pool) and Russia (playoff) in qualificaiton (and, yeah, that fucking hurt).  Both of those opponents (especially Russia) would be tournament darkhorses and at least on par in talent with Mexico (and better than the rest of CONblahblah).  I know that Slovenia did not blow either of those teams out of the water, but I would think that they would be considered same peg in the pecking order with the US.

That said, avenge me USMNT!


June 17th, 2010 at 10:00 PM ^

Czech Republic was in a generational changeover (and, it should be noted, Slovenia failed to score even once on them; Slovenia advanced mostly because they somehow managed to sweep Slovakia, who went undefeated against the rest of the group). It's hard to imagine a weaker qualifying path out of Europe, when Northern Ireland isn't even the second-worst team in your group and you draw the weakest of the seeded teams for the playoff round.

Slovenia should not be overlooked, but they're probably closer to Honduras or Costa Rica in quality than Mexico.


June 18th, 2010 at 3:45 AM ^

This guy is the best soccer player of all time!  I can't wait to watch him during the rest of the world cup!!!!!!!!  I just wanna play this music every time I watch him compete so hard!!! The world cup so EXCITING!!!!!!  In fact, this tournament reminds me of the Notre Dame, Illinois, and Ohio State games during the 1992 Michigan Rose Bowl Championship Football Season.


June 18th, 2010 at 7:36 AM ^

Good stuff Brian.

For more reading I cajoled some e-friends to do a Group C second leg roundtable at the JCB. I'd be obliged if my fellow MGoReaders would go check it out.

I personally am more worried than everyone else. One, I guess I'm not used to expectations for US Soccer. The role of chalk? Does not compute. Makes me worried

Mostly, though Slovenia plays an intense D. They're fine with a scoreless draw and they're going to play it that way. They have just the goalie in Handanovic to pull the feat. He wont be a Green. He's a very good and underrated keeper.

All that said, I have the US to win on a parlay card. Twice over really. One teamed with a Germany win at 2/1, the other with a Germany Draw at 7/1.