In some ways, you would think that would make what happened to the U.S. soccer team today easier to swallow. When you’re dealing with the bloated emotional units that come from being a diehard, unfortunately, it never gets easier. The U.S. was on the brink of one of the greatest wins in U.S. soccer history. After leaving the field at halftime down 2-0 to Slovenia, it came back to play a brilliant second half that was as exciting as the best college football showdown you will ever see. The U.S. played so flawlessly that the announcers were optimistically discussing a U.S. victory even when it still trailed 2-1. In retrospect, the U.S. tying the game was inevitable. Once that happened, it seemed very realistic that the U.S. would net the game-winner as it peppered the field with scoring chances. The scoresheet has no record of it but in the same way Armando Galarraga pitched a perfect game, the U.S. scored the game-winning goal. All it lacked was the proper referee to count it.
The U.S. was wrongfully denied a victory but the fact that it still managed a tie does offset the injustice at least somewhat. That’s because the U.S. is not only very much alive in the World Cup, it controls its own path to the knockout stage. If the U.S. defeats Algeria on Wednesday, it will advance to the World Cup’s sweet sixteen (it can also advance with a tie and a little bit of help). I don’t think there’s a player on the U.S. roster who wouldn’t have gladly taken a scenario in which the U.S.’s fate rested entirely on beating Algeria. Having said that, how good is Algeria?
For starters, here is how Algeria has fared in its last 20 games…
Upon further review, the world may want to reconsider the allocation of the “Group of Death” to Group G. Group C—the U.S.’s group—is more stacked than anyone thought it would be. In retrospect, however, this shouldn’t be much of a shock. Algeria and Slovenia—Group C’s perceived weak teams—earned their way into the World Cup by knocking off Egypt and Russia, respectively. Egypt and Russia—rated #11 and #12 in FIFA’s World Soccer Rankings—are perhaps the top two teams in the world not in the World Cup. Algeria and Slovenia were not supposed to even be in the 2010 World Cup field but earned their way to South Africa by outlasting two world soccer powers. The U.S. saw just how good Slovenia can be in the first half on Friday. Much like Slovenia, Algeria is no stranger to playing teams of the U.S.’s caliber either. It has played Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, and Uruguay—all three are in the World Cup field—as well as four contests against Egypt just in the last year. Of course, that is on top of earning a tie against England on Friday. This team is battle-tested and will not be in awe of the U.S. squad.
The U.S. will likely come in as the favorite against Algeria much like it did against Slovenia. However, those who were not too distracted by the vast difference in population sizes between the U.S. and Slovenia, understood that if the U.S. was a favorite, it was by miniscule proportions. The same can be said of Algeria. If there’s one positive to look towards from a U.S. perspective, it’s that Algeria hasn’t played nearly as well of late as it did during World Cup Qualifying. In fact, the Algerians are just 1-4-1 in their last six games with the only victory coming against a UAE team on the outside of the world top 100. If we dig a little deeper, the news gets even better for the U.S. In those six contests, Algeria scored just one goal—total. Nonetheless, Algeria will be a strong opponent for a U.S. team that desperately needs to buck its trend of starting games slowly and falling behind early. Hopefully, the U.S.’s inspired second half play against Slovenia is a sign that it is about to do just that. With just one game remaining for each team in Group C, all four countries are still alive. That either makes Croup C the “Group of Death” or the “Group of Apathy.” As long as U.S. beats Algeria, I don’t really care which one it is.