June 21, 2010
By Michael Lewis
CHASING THE GAME
The U.S. must find a way to stop giving up the first goal or face consequences
JOHANNESBURG -- For years, the U.S. soccer purists have bemoaned the fact there is no national playing style.
|Tim Howard: "It's not something we enjoy. No one likes going behind in a game. For whatever reason we seem to be very, very resilient. We start to play more to our strengths when we get desperate."
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Well, one has emerged, which has been puncutated at this World Cup: give the opposition an early lead and battle back furiously to either tie or win the game.
The Americans have followed the same path both teams in their Group C ties -- with England, 1-1, and Slovenia, 2-2.
In 17 matches over the past two years, which includes 10 World Cup qualifiers, five FIFA Confederations Cup matches and two WC games here in South Africa, the Americans have allowed their foes to score first seven times.
It's even worse in their last five matches, which includes two warm-up matches in the United States, an international friendly in South Africa and two World Cup encounters. The U.S. has surrendered the first goal in three of those five games en route to a 1-0-2 record.
That is an alarming rate, particularly at the international level. For example, teams that score first at the World Cup win 77 percent of the time.
The Americans (0-0-2, two points) hope to rectify that situation in their third and final Group C match against the Algerians (0-1-1, one).
Sooner or later it has to catch up the Americans, who will fail in a comeback bid in a key game.
On one hand, there certainly has to be concern by the U.S. On the other, it shows how well the Americans can bounce back from adversity.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard admits he has been confounded by the problem.
"It's not something we enjoy," he said. "No one likes going behind in a game. For whatever reason we seem to be very, very resilient. We start to play more to our strengths when we get desperate. . . . For the lack of term [a bettter] we started to hit it long and let the big boys up front hit those guys in the mouth and get forward and push around and wrestle them."
The U.S. wound up chasing the game with Slovenia Friday, using the long-ball game more than they wanted to.
Howard said playing long ball certainly isn't the team's mind set when the game kicks off.
"You want it to be a little more pretty, a little bit more flashy," he said. "God, I don't know the answer to it. We can all go around and say, 'Let's get an early lead' but that doesn't translate on the field. It's a little bit more hard work and concentration and a little bit of luck."
Midfielder-forward Clint Dempsey said the team's goal is not to allow an early goal, but that has been easier said than done.
"Before the games we talk about having a good start and not conceding early," he said. "That doesn't always mean that it's going to happen, no matter what.
"It's happened two times. The first goal against England maybe we could have done a little bit better. The second one, we still could have made it a little more difficult for him. That was a great strike. Goals are coming from outside the 18 and putting it in the top corner, you have to put your hands up sometimes and say its a good goal."
U.S. central defender Jay DeMerit said the U.S. does nothing different prior to matches.
"Ultimately, we prepare the same way every game, so it's hard to put your finger on one certain thing," he said. "Warm-ups have been fine. Attitude going out before the tunnel has been fine."