Top United States players do not consider their FIFA World Cup™ matchup with Slovenia a must-win game, but Friday's clash is most definitely one they know they cannot afford to lose. "If we lose we're pretty much done," US midfielder Clint Dempsey said. "We can't lose this next game. We have to get something from it."
The Americans opened with a 1-1 draw, thanks to England goalkeeper Robert Green's now-infamous fumble, while Slovenia edged Algeria 1-0 to seize the Group C lead and can advance to the second round by beating the Americans. "It's a good start but it doesn't mean anything if you don't follow it up," US midfielder Landon Donovan said. "In all likelihood, if we lose we are out of the tournament."
England and Algeria also meet Friday, five days before concluding matches that could leave the US out in the cold if they cannot at least draw against a Slovenian team that defeated Russia and the Czech Republic in qualifying. "A draw means we're still in the tournament. We have to be aware of that," Donovan said. "That said, if we win, there's a very good chance we're going to get through and we are aware of that."
Donovan and his teammates expect a controling defence from Slovenia, which could push for a victory to clinch a second-round berth or become a very cautious and difficult team for the USA attack to crack. "There's nothing flashy about them," Donovan said.
"They are not going to be spectacular but they are going to be solid and they are going to be very hard to beat. With a win, Slovenia qualify. It's hard to know if they are going to go all out to win or be happy to get a point. We will have to adapt to how they play."
That means being smart about when and how to press the attack, lest the Americans leave themselves vulnerable, US captain Carlos Bocanegra said. "We need to push the game, try to get a win," he said. "We have to have an intelligent performance and not leave ourselves open on the counter. If they do decide to play for a draw, we have to be clever."
That's what Dempsey expects, but he admits the United States team is far from satisfied with how they are doing. "We're not going to chase goals and leave ourselves open," Demspsey said. "We've still got some things to work on, just keeping the ball better, getting more chances, scoring more goals. We're not where we want to be."
US defender Jay DeMerit sees tense tactical matches as the true deciders of who advances and who goes home. "Games like this are going to determine it, not games like England," DeMerit said. "It becomes tactical. Then it becomes mental. Then it becomes who can do it longer. When you get into battles like that it's a hard 90 minutes. Mental prowess comes in and we're going to need that."