South Africa to Santa Barbara Day 8: U.S. Comeback Leaves Sour Taste

Referee's dubious call puts damper on United States' two goal comeback against Slovenia.

Follow the 2010 World Cup with the men's and women's UCSB soccer programs all tournament long on "South Africa to Santa Barbara: The Cup is Coming" will provide daily commentary on the day's biggest storylines, featuring video interviews with Gaucho soccer players and men's head coach, Tim Vom Steeg.

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A month ago, umpire Jim Joyce became America's goat when his missed call at first base cost Detroit pitcher Armando Gallaraga a perfect game.

Now, the American public has a new official to wag its finger at: Koman Coulibaly.

United States midfielder Maurice Edu kicked in a would-be game winner, but a dubious whistle by Coulibaly called it back, erasing what would have been a dream victory by the Yanks after trailing Slovenia by a pair of goals at halftime.

U.S. fans would have been satisfied with the 2-2 draw after Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley battled to net goals in the second half, but it will be Coulibaly's gaffe which most will remember.

"[Coulibaly] seemed to be blowing his whistle early every time there was contact in the box," said UC Santa Barbara men's head soccer coach Tim Vom Steeg. "It happened two or three times in the match. Unfortunately this time, it cost us a goal on what was a beautiful finish."

It could have gone down as the greatest comeback in U.S. soccer history if it weren't for the whistle. Donovan whipped in a free kick from the edge of the penalty area as players wrestled for position at the goalmouth. While Aleksandar Radosavlkjevic held Bradley in a bear hug, Edu spun away from his defender, stepping into the six before placing the ball past the keeper with his left foot.

But it was all for naught.

The U.S. was grateful to be in position to win in the final moments considering the way it started out.

Valter Birsa found space behind the U.S. midfielders in the 13th minute, casually slotting home Slovenia's first goal in front of a flat-footed defense. When Zlatan Ljubijankic put the Green Dragons up by a pair just minutes before halftime, the U.S. seemed to be in dire straights.

"It was shocking how we started," said Vom Steeg, "it was very surprising to see that we didn't have the energy."

The U.S. has already been forced to come back twice in this tournament, securing the goals required to salvage a point in each match. If they are to advance to the next stage, however, falling behind to Algeria early is not ideal.

The U.S. (2 points) can advance automatically with a win after the Desert Foxes (1 point) forced a 0-0 tie with England (2 points), but Americans must be on heightened alert considering how they have played as the favorite. The fact that Algeria has the possibility of moving on with a win over the Americans, U.S. coach Bob Bradley must create a starting lineup that will not accept complacency in the early going.

The Yanks can also move on with a tie if Slovenia (4 points) and England were to draw, as long as the Three Lions do not outscore the U.S. by two or more goals.

With one match remaining in Group C, no team has secured its spot in the Round of 16.

And there's one person to thank: Koman Coulibaly.

Group C Standings

Slovenia 1-1-0, 4 pts

United States 0-2-0, 2 pts

England 0-2-0, 2 pts

Algeria 0-1-1, 1 pt

Vom Steeg will have plenty of time to asses the referees during the UCSB soccer program's run towards the 2010 College Cup, being hosted by UCSB on Dec. 10-12 at Meredith Field at Harder Stadium. Season tickets start at just $75 and include one ticket to all home men and women's regular season games and one College Cup All Session ticket. UCSB staff and faculty can purchase their season tickets for a reduced rate of $50.

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