World Cup: How U.S. Speed Can Defeat Slovenia

SLOVENIA (25th) Best Result: First Round (2002) Strong defensively, they won't get blown out by anybody. Can they score enough?Slovenia squad pose ahead of their friendly soccer match in Maribor, Slovenia, Friday, June 4, 2010.
AP Photo/Darko Bandic
U.S. World Cup soccer squad member Landon Donovan bounces a ball on his head after practice.
Matt Slocum

I once had dinner in Slovenia's capital, Ljubljana, with a local businessman.

After several glasses of excellent Slovenian wine, he suddenly brought up the subject of suicide.

Slovenia, he told me, has one of the highest per capita suicide rates in the world.

When I asked him why this was, he said: "Because no one knows we exist. And if they do, no one cares."

Slovenians have made considerable sporting progress in recent years, especially in skiing and basketball (oh, yes, the Los Angeles Lakers' very lovable Sasha Vujacic is a Slovenian).

However, somehow one can imagine just how this country of 2 million feels playing against one of the largest, most influential and, until recently, least popular countries in the world.

A win against the U.S. doesn't just bring the Slovenians to the knockout stage of the World Cup. It also secures a peculiarly powerful form of bragging right.

Perhaps, therefore, it was just the sensitivity of a minnow's skin that caused Slovenia's midfielder, Andrej Komac to declare: "We are going to win the match."

The U.S. team offers a very cultured contrast to the Slovenians.

The Americans have more pace, especially on the flanks. And it's not just Landon Donovan the Slovenians must worry about.

The brilliantly industrious Steve Cherudolo forced England coach Fabio Capello on Saturday to remove James Milner, who would have surely earned a red card before he'd ever actually caught up with America's Hanover 96 defender.

The Americans are also enormously self-possessed.

Where the joke is Europe is that you know an American is in your restaurant two minutes before they walk in the door, the U.S World Cup team has generally shown itself to be a model of class and restraint.

Center-back Oguchi Onyewu described the Americans' attitude perfectly when asked to respond to Komac's braggadocio.

He smiled and said: "It's definitely a premature comment to make. I don't think a U.S. player would make a comment like that."

In contrast to so many American sporting teams, the World Cup squad tries to make its performance talk far more than its mouth.

Before the game against England, and even after it, the players didn't crow.

Even though they knew that England was not one of the world's best and hasn't been for a very long time. They spoke of luck, not of sticking it to the Limeys.

The Slovenia soccer team will face off against the U.S. in the World Cup.
AP Photo/Darko Bandic

It would be hard to expect Slovenia to change its style after its dull and fortunate victory over Algeria. A style that might be described as safety first, safety second, shots on goal maybe third or fourth.

Which leaves the U.S. with a dilemma. The fear some teams might experience playing against the Slovenian way is that they will attack too much and be caught with all their chess pieces too far down the board.

However, the great advantage inherent in attacking the Slovenians is that, should the U.S score, their opponents will be forced to play a game entirely unnatural to them.

Purely defensive football is often played by the insecure. The insecure might attack when hurt, but that attack is likely to be undisciplined. (We've all had arguments with people like that.)

So a steady U.S. drive to get an early goal just might be decisive.

The U.S knows it should win and that it shouldn't underestimate a team that has gone further than it believed possible.

The Slovenian Prime Minister was so moved by his team's success in the qualifying rounds of the World Cup that he promised he would personally clean their boots if they won their playoff against Russia.

It came to pass. And he came to polish.

What the U.S must show Friday is the kind of polish it expects to show against the better teams, should it qualify for the knockout stages.

It won't be easy. But nothing has ever come easy to American soccer players.

Chris Matyszczyk is an award-winning creative director who advises major corporations on content creation and marketing, and an avid sports fan. He is also the author of the popular CNET blog Technically Incorrect.

See also:

Full Coverage: World Cup

Pictures: Opening rounds of the World Cup

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Paraguay Tries to Be Italy, Almost Beats Italy

World Cup: Germany and Ghana Buzz the U.S. team

World Cup: U.S. Lets England Put Egg on Its Own Face

South Africa Shows the World How Soccer Is Celebrated

Guess Who Will Win the World Cup

  • Chris Matyszczyk

    Chris has been a multi award-winning executive creative director with some of the most celebrated advertising agencies in the world. His creative work has been recognized at the Cannes Advertising Festival, the New York Festivals, Clio, the One Show, as well as many other festivals around the world. His writing has appeared in such publications as the Financial Times, the European, the Sacramento Bee and The Singapore Press Holdings Group.

    He currently advises major global companies about content creation and marketing, through his company Howard Raucous LLC.

    He brings an irreverent, sarcastic, and sometimes ironic voice to the tech world.