The U.S. passed all manner of exams against England this past weekend. But to prevail against Slovenia on Friday will require the U.S. to ace World Cup Psychology 101.
The mental challenges are numerous, but the first hurdle facing the U.S. is putting Saturday's memorable 1-1 tie with England in its proper perspective. Although the Americans did garner a valuable point, the result didn't do that much to change the dynamics of Group C. For the U.S., progressing to the second round always required taking points off Slovenia and Algeria, and that means letting go of any giddiness that the England result created. Fortunately for the U.S. team, that appears to have already taken place.
"It's not like we were popping champagne after the [England] game," midfielder Landon Donovan said Tuesday. "Guys were satisfied with the point, but nobody was ecstatic. We've got a lot of guys now who understand what is going on. As much as was made of the England game, we knew that was just the start of the tournament, so we understand what Friday is all about."
The obstacles only grow from there. For perhaps the first time in its World Cup history, the U.S. finds itself tagged as a favorite. Anyone who witnessed the team's long, hard slog through qualifying would agree that this is a label the U.S. rarely has worn well. On Saturday against England, the Americans had nothing to lose. The pressure will be ratcheted up considerably against Slovenia.
"Instead of saying, 'Let's go out and try our best and make sure we work well together and see what happens,' as far as England was concerned … now [people] are going to expect more," defender Jay DeMerit said. "But I also think we need to use that as a positive to say we should expect more as a team, as well."
Meeting those expectations could prove difficult against a Slovenia side for which the term "ambush" was invented. The Green Dragons have made a living by taking down higher-rated opponents despite having a roster without star players. Contrast this with the star-studded lineup fielded by England, and it's easy to see how complacency can begin to set in among the U.S. players.