RALEIGH, N.C. — Landon Donovan's late-game heroics propelled the United States to the World Cup round of 16. But Saturday, when the U.S. takes on Ghana, former Davidson College coach Charlie Slagle, will have a good feel for who will advance after just 15 minutes of play.
"If the U.S. is ahead or tied after the first 15 minutes, we are in very, very good shape," said Slagle, who is now the chief executive officer of Capital Area Soccer League.
Though a couple of days have passed, Slagle said, the U.S. will keep Ghana off the board early because it will be pumped up and feeling good about itself after its dramatic win Wednesday, when Donovan scored in injury time to give the U.S. a 1-0 win over Algeria.
As long as the Americans take charge and do not give up any quick goals, something that plagued them through the first two games, Slagle likes their chances. He predicts a 2-1 U.S. win and from there, anything is possible.
"Any one of the four teams in this group can make it to the final four," said Slagle, referring to the United States, Ghana, Uruguay and South Korea. "But we have a really good opportunity. It is not like we have Spain or Brazil in our group."
But first the U.S. must take care of Ghana. And that is no easy task, Slagle said. Ghana's team has speed and is very good with the ball. That could hurt the U.S., Slagle said, because the American defense is a weakness. While goalkeeper Tim Howard is one of the best in the world, the defense has struggled at times through the first three games, Slagle said.
The key for the U.S. back-line is to stay in front of the Ghana players and have help ready. Team defense will be necessary, Slagle said.
"We can't go for the individual moves," Slagle said. "We have to try to avoid one-on-one situations."
While America was able to survive early breakdowns against England and Slovenia, early deficits will be too hard to overcome at this stage of the World Cup, Slagle said. The competition is tougher, more is on the line and because of the bracket, the U.S. has a great chance to advance.
"Free open shots cannot happen now because the players are just too good," Slagle said. "The opportunity to get to the final four is right there. If they can come out and do what they did against Algeria, it is all good."