The United States come into Friday's match in an unfamiliar position- as favorites.
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In 2002, the United States was the talk of the World Cup. As announcer Jack Edwards put it, the Yanks "stopped traffic all over Europe" when they took down a Portugal team dubbed the "golden generation," 3-2, in its opening match in group play.
That U.S. team, headlined by Claudio Reyna and Clint Mathis (remember the mohawk?), would go on to beat arch-rival Mexico before falling victim to Germany 1-0 in the quarterfinals, a match the U.S. might have won if it weren't for the play of German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn and Torsten Frings' handball on the goal line.
After its showing in '02, hopes were high for the U.S. four years later in Germany, but when the Yanks flamed out with a pair of losses and only a single point, respect for U.S. soccer was thrown into the wastebasket.
Since then, the United States has finished first in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying group, beaten top-ranked Spain, and reached the finals of the 2009 Confederations Cup.
Flash-forward to this year's edition and the U.S. team has something it has never had going into a World Cup - high expectations.
Believe it or not, the United States comes into its match against Slovenia on Friday as the favorite. The temptation might be for the Yanks to dismiss the Slovenians considering their 1-1 tie with England to open play, but the Green Dragons are hardly a team to overlook considering the situation in Group C.
While the U.S. was content to sit behind the ball against the Three Lions, the same won't fly against Slovenia. Equipped with only a point compared with Slovenia's three points, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore will be required to take the play to the Slovenians- a task that may prove difficult considering the unproven pedigree of the U.S. attack.
"So now [the U.S.] turns to a situation where it is the higher ranked team. It is the team that should win this game," said UCSB head men's soccer coach Tim Vom Steeg. "But this is the World Cup."
Slovenia will be content to sit back and wait for a counter attack, which will put a microscope on the Americans' ability to possess the ball. The Green Dragons are willing to pack it in, so the U.S. midfield- Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, even a Jose Torres- must be precise delivering the ball between a tight defense. An inept pass in the middle of the field by the Americans would be to Slovenia's delight.
A loss would spell doom for the Americans on Friday, as it would give Slovenia six points while England most likely will have four points after its clash with Algeria. That would mean the United States would need to beat Algeria in its last match of group play and get help from both England and Slovenia if they were to make it through to the next round. Even then, the United States would have to take on Group D favorite Germany, a daunting task considering how the Germans looked in their 4-0 stomping of Australia.
It seems easy enough for the Americans. Beat Slovenia. Beat Algeria. Avoid Germany.
But, can the Americans win when expected? We will find out Friday.
The UCSB soccer program is preparing for the 2010 College Cup, being hosted by UCSB on Dec. 10-12 at Meredith Field at Harder Stadium. Season tickets start at just $75 and include one ticket to all home men and women's regular season games and one College Cup All Session ticket. UCSB staff and faculty can purchase their season tickets for a reduced rate of $50.
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