June 16, 2010
By Michael Lewis
THRIVING UNDER PRESSURE
Having their backs to the wall brings out the best in the U.S.
JOHANNESBURG -- The tougher the opponent and the more pressure, the better the U.S. National Team plays.
|Carlos Bocanegra: "I donít know why, but itís like we have nothing to lose. I wish we could play like that when weíre not down a goal."
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
A desperate U.S. side needed a win in its final group-round match to reach the semifinals of the FIFA Confederations Cup and it earned one, a 3-0 win over Egypt.
Against then top-ranked Spain in the semis, the Americans produced the upset of the tournament, 2-0.
Against heavily favored England in the Group C opener Saturday, the U.S. overcame an early one-goal deficit to battle to a 1-1 draw.
You get the picture.
ďI think itís one of those things," U.S. midfielder Clint Dempsey said. "I donít know why, but itís like we have nothing to lose. I wish we could play like that when weíre not down a goal actually, but at the same time we did a good job in the Confederations Cup against Egypt and Spain, and we didnít need to go down in those games to figure it out. We did a good job managing those games well so hopefully we can play like that.Ē
On Friday, the U.S. takes on Slovenia in a must not-lose game. The Americans can draw and still be alive, but they would have to defeat Algeria in their final group match and need England to help by overcoming the Slovenians.
Entering Friday's confrontation, the Americans are considered the favorites, which hasn't happened very many times in World Cup history, recent or ancient.
ďItís a challenge," central defender Jay DeMerit said. "Preparation is key, I think mindset as a team is key. Going into a game as possible favorites would be different for us, especially in this World Cup, and that does pose a challenge on the pressure side of things, to know that youíre under pressure to get three points, or get a good result.
"But I also think we need to use that as a positive to say that we should expect more as a team. Thereís no reason to come to tournaments like this, and get results like we did on Saturday to not put in a good performance against Slovenia because that completely takes it all away. That makes all the hard work and fight and the whole performance that we put in against England not worth while. Itís games like this that are going to get you to the next round, not the game against England.Ē
After playing such an emotionally and physically taxing game against England, the U.S. has to fear against losing its edge against Slovenia.
ďThatís a normal thing in sports, especially with all the hype around the England game," Carlos Bocanegra said. "I think what helps us in this is that Slovenia won, and we know we canít lose this game or it will be very difficult to qualify for the second round. Weíre going in with the mindset that if we lose, weíre out. Thatís a big factor for our team, but as far as the leadership roles we have to keep everybody going and put England behind us. As it gets closer and closer to the Slovenia game, itís still in the World Cup and our team does a pretty good job of staying mentally prepared.Ē