Incredibly, despite falling behind by two goals in the first half against Slovenia on Friday afternoon, the Americans were one lousy call away from a stunning victory thanks to another stirring comeback. Instead, it will have to settle for a 2-2 draw that, at least, maintains its hopes of advancing to the second round until next week's first round finale.
Video: Michael Bradley's Equalizer | Koman Coulibaly's Wikipedia Page Defaced
The Key Plays: Slovenia simply was better at the basics of soccer than the U.S., especially in the first half. Their passes were more accurate, their trapping was more sound and they were far smarter with their movement off the ball. That difference in quality resulted in two goals.
The first was a 25-yard blast from midfielder Valter Birsa, who found loads of space behind the U.S. midfield and in front of the defense in just the 13th minute. The second came in the 42nd, when some quick passing freed Zlatan Ljubijankic down the left. He slid a smart shot past a charging Tim Howard.
U.S. coach Bob Bradley replaced the struggling Jose Torres and forward Robbie Findley for the start of the second half, inserting Benny Feilhaber in midfield and pushing Clint Dempsey up front. Maurice Edu filled in in central midfield. Within minutes, the motivated Americans resurrected their hopes and pulled to within one. Steve Cherundolo hit a long ball down the right that Landon Donovan collected in the corner. Rather than cut the ball back, he charged toward the near post and lifted a perfect blast into the roof of the net.
The Americans continued their onslaught, and drew level in the 82nd minute on a beautiful play finished by Michael Bradley. A long pass from Donovan was headed down against the defense's shift by Jozy Altidore. Bradley stormed through and poked it over the goalkeeper, running toward the corner flag in a mad celebration that was joined by the entire U.S. team, including those on the bench.
The controversy: The Americans scored a third goal as well, but it was inexplicably ruled out by Malian referee Koman Coulibaly. He'd had a decent game until the 86th minute (a few missed calls, but maintained the flow and let the players play), when Donovan's curling free kick from the right was slammed home by Edu. Bradley was ruled offside on the play. Not only was he on, according to TV replays, but a Slovenian defender had him in a bear hug. Certainly the U.S. has no one to blame but themselves for the way they opened the game, but this call will linger if they come a point short of advancing to the second round.
"I'm a little gutted to be honest," Donovan said. "I don't know how they stole that last goal from us. I'm not sure what the call was. He (the referee) wouldn't tell us what the call was."
What it means: The U.S. remains in the hunt at 0-0-2, with two points in Group C. Slovenia has four at 1-0-1, with England and Algeria playing tonight. Should England win, as expected, it'll have four points and Algeria zero. Slovenia and England play each other next week, and unless they tie, a U.S. win over Algeria will put the Americans through.
Men of the Match: Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan. Bradley was a beast in the second half, covering enormous amounts of ground and scoring the tying goal. He also did an enormous amount of work in the first compensating for the overmatched Torres, and took several shots from long range that forced saves from Slovenian goalkeeper Samir Handanovic. Donovan brought the U.S. back off life support with his brilliant goal, then launched the pass that set Bradley free for the equalizer.