Slovenia-U.S.: Winners and losers

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

Follow Martin Rogers on Twitter at @mrogersyahoo

JOHANNESBURG – Don't be fooled by the protestations and anti-referee sentiment and the heartbreaking end to a thrilling contest.

However much the United States oozed disappointment at the end of their 2-2 draw with Algeria, the final outcome could realistically be seen as a small triumph considering the dismal position the Americans were in for much of the evening.

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Not every member of Bob Bradley's team stepped up when it counted, but enough key performers came to the party to ensure a share of the spoils at Ellis Park.

Let's look at who boosted their stock and who came up short on a night when the USA bounced back to keep their World Cup dream alive.

Winner: Bob Bradley

Forty minutes into the game and the knives were already being sharpened for Bradley, a man whom U.S. fans are never slow to criticize. A two-goal deficit looked set to hasten the team's exit from the tournament and Bradley's departure from his head coaching position.

However, the coach produced two courageous and enterprising substitutions at halftime, hauling off Jose Torres and Robbie Findley and bringing on Maurice Edu and Benny Feilhaber. The result was a much more solid midfield. The Americans began to dominate possession and Slovenia crumbled.

Loser: Jose Francisco Torres

Torres was given the start ahead of Ricardo Clark in the hope that he would be able to provide some creative spark in the center of midfield.

Instead, he was unable to keep hold of possession and missed his defensive assignment on too many occasions. It was no surprise when he was replaced at halftime; his future involvement will surely only be as a sub.

Winner: Michael Bradley

The coach's son had a poor game in the opener against England and looked in awe at facing Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, two of the world's best midfielders. There was no holding back on Friday, though, as Bradley got stuck into midfield opponents Robert Koren and Aleksander Radosavljevic and steadied American nerves after the break.

Then there was his tying goal when Bradley ran into the box and lashed the ball home from Jozy Altidore's downward header for one of the most important goals he will ever score.

Loser: Marko Suler

Suler has been a rugged defender for Slovenia during European qualifying but he found Altidore tough to handle. He styles himself as the ultimate enforcer but complained about Altidore's "physical" tactics and was often caught out of position.

The big Slovenian was also lucky to stay on the field for a brutal foul in which he threw Altidore to the ground.

Winner: Landon Donovan

Donovan's dismal performance in the 2006 World Cup led to his heart, commitment and big-game mentality being called into question. Those question marks were raised again after a decent, but unspectacular performance against England.

But on Friday, Donovan carried the U.S. on his shoulders at the start of the second half and provided the spark that turned the game around. His long run and ferocious strike past Slovenia keeper Samir Handanovic set the tone for the rest of the game and kept his side in the tournament.

Loser: Koman Coulibaly

Coulibaly, from Mali, doesn't appear to have much to offer this World Cup apart from a second name that rhymes with his nation. He was very poor and lost control of the game quickly – and things got very rough.

Then, Coulibaly asserted himself at just the wrong time and in the wrong way by disallowing the Edu's go-ahead goal for the USA and changing the result of the game.

Winner: Valter Birsa

Birsa was the standout performer for Slovenia. His stunning early strike put the European side in the early lead, and his clever play on the wing meant the American defense could never take their eyes off him.

Furthermore, he was perhaps the only Slovenian to refrain from the kind of cynical, roughhouse tactics that turned the game nasty.

Loser: Maurice Edu

Edu had a chance to seal his place in American soccer with a perfectly timed late strike. But his moment of glory was ruined when the referee called a foul in the area to cancel out his goal.

For the Glasgow Rangers man, another chance may not come soon. Bob Bradley is likely to put Ricardo Clark back in the starting lineup.

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