IRENE, South Africa (AP) — Clint Dempsey says the referee who disallowed a late American go-ahead goal against Slovenia encouraged rough play in the penalty area by failing to whistle infractions early in the game.
"Before the tournament, they told us that any type of holding on corners is a penalty, any type of grabbing around a player is a penalty. So when we get to the game, that's not what's going on," he said Sunday. "So you have to adapt."
After the U.S. rallied from a two-goal halftime deficit Friday night to tie the score, Maurice Edu appeared to put the Americans ahead in the 85th minute when he volleyed in Landon Donovan's free kick. But referee Koman Coulibaly of Mali called it off for reasons he didn't explain, and the game finished 2-2.
Some speculated the whistle was because Dempsey pushed Andraz Kirm as Donovan took the kick.
"That's the one set piece where I'm probably not mixing it up with somebody," Dempsey said. "I acted like I was going to go in. I came back, and went around to the far post, and if Mo had missed the ball, I would have had the goal. So if you freeze-frame that play, three of our guys are in a head lock. So to single me out, that that's a play that I caused trouble on, I don't think you're really watching the game. But saying that, probably there were plays where I did mix up it during the game, on other plays. But on that one, for sure not."
Dempsey thought Coulibaly's inaction led to increased pushing and shoving.
"The ref in this game was letting things go in the box, so you've got to be physical," he said. "If someone has your arms around you, I'm not going to sit there and be like, 'OK, this is fine.' I'm going to try to bust out of it and get in position to score a goal. So if the ref is letting that type of play go on, that's how you're going to play. If the ref is calling it tight, well then you're not going to do that. So you going to have to gauge how the ref is calling it and what you can do and what you can't do, and you have to adapt."
Coulibaly worked as the fourth official in Italy's 1-1 draw with New Zealand on Sunday.
Dempsey is prepared for rough games off what he faces during the season with Fulham.
"That's something you get used to playing in the Premiership, playing against teams like Stoke, Blackburn, Bolton," he said. "Just typical teams that have strong players in the back."
The Americans (0-0-2) are second in Group C with two points, trailing Slovenia (1-0-1) and ahead of England (0-0-2) on goals scored going into Wednesday's first-round finale against Algeria (0-1-1). The U.S. would advance with a win and possibly with a draw.
Goalkeeper Tom Howard believes the Americans have kept their emotions in check but are prepared for physical play.
"If tackles start flying in and we need to stand up for ourselves, you best believe we will," he said. "We always have, and that's not something that this team takes lightly. We stand up for each other. We stand up for ourselves."