JOHANNESBURG, June 18 – Four years of work for the United States to prepare for the World Cup has come down to a pivotal 90-minute Group C showdown with Slovenia on Friday at Ellis Park.The Americans, who opened with a 1-1 draw against England, would be all-but eliminated with a loss to the Slovenians, who can clinch a spot in the round of 16 with a victory after defeating Algeria 1-0 in their opener.
"Obviously a loss putting us out is something that’s going to be in the back of our minds," US captain Carlos Bocanera said Thursday.
"We have to approach the game in an intelligent fashion. We need to be smart and not open ourselves up going for a win just because a loss would put us out."
A defence-minded Slovenia squad could cause troubles for the American attack. Eastern Europe rivals are 6-0 against US teams in World Cup matches dating to 1990 with a 15-3 scoring edge.
Robert Koren, a midfielder who helped West Bromich Albion reach the English Premier League for the coming season, is the top threat for Slovenia, whose teamwork makes an unheralded squad of individuals into a dangerous unit.
"We’re not going into it taking anybody lightly just because maybe the rest of the world doesn’t know their names," Bocanegra said.
US coach Bob Bradley knows enough to keep him cautious enough that he would not disclose his lineuop or formation ahead of the match.
"They are a very good team. They are well organized and tactically they are very smart," Bradley said.
Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek vowed his team will not be awestruck by a squad from a nation with 150 times the two million-person population of Slovenia.
"This match can solidify Slovenia in the global map of football," Kek said. "I know that Slovenia is the smallest population in this World Cup but we have not come here to be tourists.
"Slovenia has not come to the World Cup just because of luck but because of a lot of endeavors we have put in. I don’t know why we should stand in awe of anyone.
"We’re thinking about reaching the knockout stage in our second match so a great step has been taken and our squad has achieved a great evolution. We want to go a step further now."
A Slovenia defeat will diminish their chances to advance with England up next Wednesday in the final group match at the same time the US will face Algeria.