Before we get into the nasty task of grading the U.S. national team for their heart-stopping 1-0 victory over Algeria that granted passage into the World Cup 2010 knockouts as Group C winners, I have just one question: How's the old ticker, 'Nats fans?
Leave it to our very own live performance art drama troupe to leave it late, but in the end it was the U.S. leading men that combined to finish the vital goal.
Before the match, I watched the Americans lined up and singing the national anthem—well, all but two of them. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan were tight-lipped and looking oh so serious.
For 90 minutes, the two kept plugging away, even when bloodied by backhand punches (as was Dempsey). The Fulham man saw a good goal waved off early and troubled Algeria all day. Donovan was rather quiet for long stretches, but would speak up in time.
Finally, with the deadline scarily looming for the U.S. to punch their second round ticket, Dempsey jammed an uncollectable shot into the Algeria keeper and Donovan swooped in after to usher the ball home.
For a short spell, I pondered all the reasoning to come if the U.S. couldn't find their goal. We'd talk about being too conservative, bad luck and perhaps some unintelligible cursing rants.
With help from their friends, Dempsey and Donovan spared us that bit of nastiness—which in turn makes my nasty job a lot easier.
USA Player Ratings
Tim Howard (6.5) - He had so little to do, but he did it all well. Most notably, he was laser-targeted to the ball all the way from cross to save just before his side got the goal.
Steve Cherundolo (8) - It was another monster outing from the veteran, who was wrong-footed defensively exactly once. Conversely, Nadir Belhadj barely got forward. He also got forward with abandon and sent several dangerous balls into the area.
Jay DeMerit (6.5) - The center back got away with three early misplays, including the horror show that allowed Rafik Djebbour to ping the bar. From there, everything was extra-tidy from DeMerit.
Carlos Bocanegra (6.5) - The captain was generally solid, but had a couple of first half hiccups. After the break, he was mentally sharp and made a huge play on a dangerous Algeria cross just past the hour.
Jonathan Bornstein (5.5) - It wasn't a great show from the left back, but he had a couple of nice moments on the flank. To his credit, Karim Ziani didn't make much noise after switching to get away from Cherundolo's muffler.
Michael Bradley (8) - He was more troublesome going forward before the break, then allowed Benny Feilhaber to take the attack lead after. He perhaps could have done better on a second half restart header and was bested in the middle a couple of times, but overall Bradley continued to raise his rep with this outing.
Maurice Edu (5) - Making his first World Cup start, Edu began brightly, applying ball pressure and altering Algerian flight paths. However, his impact waned as the half wore on and there were a few poor turnovers.
Landon Donovan (7) - The poster boy went missing for about 30 middle-of-the-match minutes and probably should have backed off to let Jozy Altidore apply the finish when they clanged shooting feet, but he made the difference in the end. His restart serves caused great stress for Algeria and he served two vitally important functions on the winner: he hurried the ball forward and made no mistake on the sitter.
Clint Dempsey (8) - One could gripe about his post-and-miss on the first half golden chance, but MC Deuce rarely hit the wrong note. He was threatening all game long, got back for help defense and literally took one for the team in the nose. Then, dog tired, he hustled into position to force the rebound that Donovan scooped up.
Herculez Gomez (5) - It wasn't necessarily a bad 45-minute shift, but I can't help but think placement would have been better than power when he was presented with a glorious scoring chance.
Jozy Altidore (7) - Can we just call him "the Tractor" now? Altidore again plowed the road fiercely and won a couple of very shrewd danger free kicks as the U.S. became desperate for chances. On the winner, he provided Dempsey's service from the right.
Coach Bob Bradley (6) - I will admit this grade would have been somewhat lower had the U.S. not advanced. I was all ready to write about neglecting to lay it all on the line tactically, but his boys followed orders to come through in the end. The orders came from here, thus he's off the hook. Fair warning, though: the same old hammer over and over and over again might not be enough for the round of 16 nail.
Benny Feilhaber (7) - Aside from failing to setting up a goal (and he nearly did that), the halftime alteration made just about every play one could ask him to make. He even made two very strong defensive hustle plays to squash danger.
Edson Buddle (5.5) - His running again loosened up the opposing defense, but he got more than a little tight when presented with opportunities near goal.
DaMarcus Beasley (-) His World Cup 2010 debut was a mere cameo.
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