By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 20, 2010; D08
IRENE, SOUTH AFRICA -- To the thousands of U.S. supporters at Ellis Park and the millions back home watching Friday's World Cup match between the United States and Slovenia, a clear injustice had been perpetrated. With no explanation as to why referee Koman Coulibaly had nullified Maurice Edu's apparent go-ahead goal against Slovenia, rage rang out like a vuvuzela blaring inside a tollbooth.
Like everyone else, the U.S. team was incredulous and incensed. However, in the murky culture of soccer, where officiating decisions are rarely clarified during or after a match, Coach Bob Bradley took the mysterious call almost in stride.
"We're all accustomed to the fact that, if it is an NFL playoff game and there is a call of some question, there will be a statement by the league from the referees. But FIFA operates differently," Bradley, a New Jersey native, said of the sport's international governing body on Saturday.
"Soccer is a different game. There are some aspects of it that are not made 100 percent clear, that seem to add to the discussion about the games. On our end, we get used to that. That's just how it is sometimes, and then you move on and you get ready for the next game."
Make no mistake: The U.S. delegation was grumbling after the final whistle of the 2-2 draw and, like many fans around the world, watched replays of the sequence dozens of times in search of answers. But because Coulibaly made a judgment call, FIFA guidelines do not offer a process to formally protest rulings made on the field.
As such, the Americans (0-0-2) have tried to put the matter behind them and focus on the congested race for Group C's two round-of-16 berths. A victory in Wednesday's finale against Algeria (0-1-1) in Pretoria would secure passage, while a tie might be enough. Slovenia (1-0-1) will face England (0-0-2) in the other group match on Wednesday.
One day after the controversy, Bradley reiterated his belief that Edu's goal should have stood and suggested that Coulibaly might have been compensating for an earlier call.
"This isn't something that referees would talk about a lot, but there are times when a referee, for whatever reason, blows a foul and now thinks he either didn't make the correct call on the foul from a previous play, and then literally as soon as the free kick is taken, he blows his whistle," Bradley said.
"So you can speculate all you want about which guy [was called for a foul as Landon Donovan's free kick reached the penalty area]; I think it's a waste of time. There was nothing there. It's a good goal, and that's that."
FIFA does not allow game officials to be interviewed after a match. However, in an event arranged prior to the U.S. dust-up, most of the World Cup referees will be available for comment Monday at their training site near Pretoria. Coulibaly is expected to attend; whether he will discuss the call against the United States is another matter.
Meantime, the Americans have turned their attention to solving early-match problems. For the second consecutive game, they conceded an early goal: England scored in the fourth minute, Slovenia in the 13th.
In the final round of World Cup qualifying, the United States yielded a goal in the first 19 minutes in five of its 10 matches.
"We have certainly shown a great ability to respond when we have needed to push things," Bradley said. "Without a doubt, we are frustrated at the fact that we have fallen behind too often. It's not always easy to put together that kind of comeback."
On Wednesday, Bradley will be without forward Robbie Findley (yellow-card suspension), who might not have started anyway after exhibiting a faulty touch against Slovenia. In his absence, Clint Dempsey, who started in midfield both matches and moved to the front line in the second half Friday, is an option, as are Edson Buddle and Herculez Gomez.
Bradley also seems likely to drop midfielder Jose Torres from the lineup and insert Edu, Ricardo Clark or Benny Feilhaber.
Algeria has yet to score in the tournament but has allowed just one goal. On Friday, the Desert Foxes kept alive their hopes of advancement by holding England to a scoreless draw.
"This group has proved that there isn't an easy game," U.S. defender Jay DeMerit said. "There isn't anyone that you can take for granted. There isn't anyone that says, 'Well, they have Algeria in the final game, they have a better chance.' It's going to be an interesting last day."