JOHANNESBURG -- So much went right for the United States after intermission in Friday's 2-2 tie with Slovenia in terms of reaching deep, playing with real purpose and refusing to go meekly when things looked so bleak. The reward for a memorable comeback is continued relevancy in the tournament, for a loss at the buzzing Ellis Park would surely have spelled knockout-round doom.
But how did it get to that point? Again? How does the United States manage, time and again, to put itself behind the 8 ball?
At one point, even the reasonable Donovan appeared to get frustrated with Torres. The U.S. veteran gave Torres a little attention-getting shove, later explaining what he said:
"I think I wanted him to give me the ball, and I let him know," Donovan said.
Torres was less than a non-factor. Not only did he fail to make a single penetrating pass, but he also was overly guilty of choosing the lateral or backward option with the ball and at least partially at fault on the first Slovenian goal. Bradley said afterward that Donovan or Torres (or both) probably should have stepped into the hole as
Bradley said all along that the early minutes would be a tactical face-off, with teams holding their lines and keeping everything reliably compact. So what happened there?
One explanation is
Bradley's halftime adjustments proved far more prescient.
Bradley's choice to deploy
"They had four forwards and we had a lot of space open at the very front, and of course, my players were losing a lot of energy," he said. He mentioned more than once the American players' speed and physical presence as other reasons his team became drained.
Tactically, Bradley's 4-4-2 became a 3-3-1-3, with
"We were tentative at first, we sat too deep, which caused us problems," Donovan said. "At that point we had no choice but to push the game. It's easy in hindsight to say, 'Why didn't we start like that?' "
Going forward, Bradley and his staff will need to sort out why, exactly, the U.S. keeps dragging its feet to begin matches. He'll have to replace Findley and, presumably, Torres. And he may even step beyond the usual Bradley M.O., which is to keep everything as predictable as possible, including game-day routines. He was asked if he might think about altering the routine, just to try something different.
"I'm not sure there's anything to change in the pregame or that kind of thing," he said, clearly more pleased about the stirring comeback than disappointed over another sluggish opening.
"Maybe we'll try it, I don't know."