It was an uneven performance in many ways, but the US managed to pull one out of the fire on Friday afternoon by rallying from two down at halftime for a 2-2 draw with Group C foe Slovenia.
The cardiac kids didn't seem to want to do it the easy way. They fell behind early thanks to laziness in team defense and a caught-naked Tim Howard.
Things didn't get better from the conceded goal, either. The 'Nats were outrun, bested in the air, light on ball pressure and seemingly mainlining pointless punts to heal a possession allergy.
Then came intermission, and things drastically changed. The Americans relaxed, made the right changes, dug in deep and chased down the point they needed to look like advancing to the second round with one group game—likely the easiest one—to play.
Having seen their World Cup run flash before their eyes, let's hope the U.S. opt to do it the easy way on Wednesday.
US PLAYER RATINGS
Tim Howard (6.5) - To be blunt, he was left statuesque at the six as Birsa's opener sailed by - I'll assume he'd do something differently given the chance. After that, he was your typical Howard. Though he had no highlight reel stops to make, the late punch away of a slightly deflected Aleksander Radosavljevič drive from distance was comforting.
Steve Cherundolo (6) - It was a quiet day going forward, but the right back kept things tidy on his defensive flank and avoided a caution that would have seen him banned against Algeria.
Jay DeMerit (5) - The pride of Wisconsin again had a far superior second period, but it was more extreme in difference. DeMerit was openly wretched in the first half, then sturdy as can be after the break.
Oguchi Onyewu (6.5) - Yes, he was left hung out to dry on the second goal, but Gooch was generally very solid in the back and clean with the ball.
Carlos Bocanegra (5.5) - The captain played quite conservatively. He made some defensive plays, as expected, but didn't help the team forward much.
Michael Bradley (8) - Through two games, the park ranger has been the best US player. Against Slovenia, he was the best player on the field. I won't waste space going on about his usual traffic direction positives, all on display Friday. What I will do is impress how tricky that equalizer finish was; he got up to it and he hit it just right. That's an easy one to miss, let alone under World Cup lights, and he buried it to rescue advancement hopes.
José Francisco Torres (4) - I was among those who was against starting the Pachuca ace in this game, but there was no gloating as his defensive weaknesses were exposed time and again. Most notably, his utter neglect of Birsa led directly to the opener. What's more, Torres' entire attack contribution consisted of a forced save from a nice free kick.
Landon Donovan (7) - As always, the biggest US star ran his tail off. He wasted a couple of corner kicks, but his biggest restart serve was spot on for the scratched winner. Not everything he tried in attack worked, but like Bradley, he made sure his big chance went into the net. It was authoritative bad-angle finish, to say the least.
Clint Dempsey (5) - It was disappointing enough that he flubbed his line in nearly every attack scene, but there was a troubling lack of defensive hustle on occasion. His off-the-ball runs were helpful, though.
Robbie Findley (5.5) - It wasn't his fault the attack sputtered before the break, but again Findley seemed to lack the needed confidence.
Jozy Altidore (7) - Central defenders simply cannot enjoy playing him. Slovenia's looked like rodeo clowns getting the horns. And after he tired them out, Altidore served up the tourney run-saving equalizer with a clinical knockdown.
Coach Bob Bradley (5) - I'm not going to mince words: Torres had no business starting this game at that position in this formation. The error of it was glaring—and duly punished. He also must take responsibility for the team’s flat demeanor in the first half. But he also engineered the comeback with the proper alteration and halftime motivation. You got away with one, coach. Congrats for that.
Maurice Edu (6.5) - After an initial error, the Rangers champ enjoyed 45 minutes of defensive pressure at two positions. Edu also deserved a famous game winner, but a bewildering whistle took care of that for Slovenia.
Benny Feilhaber (6) - The halftime sub offered more and smarter running, as well as better ball movement. I'm still wondering what would have happened if Feilhaber's restart volley had cleared the defender's back cleanly.
Herculez Gomez (n/a) - Only a couple of touches in his cameo World Cup debut.