CARSON, Calif. — The last time the US national team won a World Cup game, Gregg Berhalter and Eddie Lewis played critical roles in the team’s success. As the two veterans watch from afar, they feel success—and victory—are once again within reach for the US.
The LA Galaxy standouts each said the United States could get a victory over Slovenia but doing so won’t be simple or straightforward.
“If anyone would have said you could get a point out of the first game, would you feel confident in the group and I think definitely we would have given ourselves a chance,” Lewis said. “But… executing is a different story.”
The United States tied England in the Group C opener and sit on one point heading into the match versus Slovenia. While the Eastern Europeans are the tournament’s smallest nation in terms of population—around 2 million people live in Slovenia—the upstarts are nothing to feel overconfident about. After all, Slovenia knocked out Russia, and finished ahead of Czech Republic and Poland in qualifying.
“This is going to set up now to either advance to the next round or be knocked out of the tournament,” Berhalter said. “If we know that, if we go into the game with that mentality and say ‘Listen, we have to win this game’ and we go in with the right tactics I think we can win this game. But it’s not going to be easy. We should not take them lightly. They’re a good team and they are at the top of the group right now. So we have to knock off the group leaders and that’s not going to be easy.”
While the formation likely will remain a secret until one hour before kickoff, Berhalter said teammate Edson Buddle would offer a lot to the Americans and their chances of toppling Slovenia.
“He brings a physical presence to the game,” Berhalter said about Buddle. “If you talk about a game where we’re going to need to get crosses in and need to be battling with their defenders, he’s a big physical presence and he can do that. He obviously has a good chemistry with Landon (Donovan) and he’s proven to be a finisher and so I think all those qualities make him valuable to be on the field.”
But whether it’s Buddle or Robbie Findley or Herculez Gomez who gets the start alongside presumed starter Jozy Altidore, the team will have to work to get their scoring chances. Slovenia allowed just four goals in qualifying.
Now that the first game is in the books and the team is a bit more settled, Lewis said he was happy with how the match against England turned out.
“The first game can be a little bit tricky so I was just really pleased with the result and hopefully the U.S. will just kind of use that little confidence boost to carry us through,” he said. “We’re now in a pretty strong position to try and advance out of the group. This next game is crucial so hopefully we start well, certainly better than last game.”
As for counting on another misfortune on the part of the opponent to help the Americans, Lewis said he wouldn’t hold his breath.
“We probably got our luck for the group out of the way,” Lewis said. “So we’re going to have to make our own luck from here.”