We dream of football and the world is full of dreams

Monday, June 28, 2010

Concacaf still lags behind

The World Cup belongs to UEFA and CONMEBOL...always. Not once has a team from Asia, Africa or North and Central America won the cup. Further, no African or Concacaf team has made it to a final. Only South Korea has made it to the semifinal in the modern era, and their participation at that stage may be due to favorable officiating. Oh, USA did make it to the semifinal, but in 1930. It's safe to say that 99.9% of Americans even knew that soccer existed. Everyone was watching baseball anyway.

So let's revise history a bit. If we look at Mexico, their best results were reaching the quarterfinals in 1970 and 1986. Are those familiar dates? They should be, they were the tournaments hosted by Mexico. And the United States? They have also stopped short at the quarterfinals...in 2002. This after first coming back to the world stage in 1990, with a round of 16 appearance when they hosted the World Cup in 1994.

Can we blame USA and Mexico's exits from the World Cup on battling stronger, legendary foes? Partly. For Mexico, starting with 1986, Germany defeated them on penalties (1-4). They were absent in 1990 due to disciplinary reasons. In 1994 it was eventual-semifinalists Bulgaria that ousted them in the round of 16. Was that a top competition? At the time, no. They lost on penalties, again, after Hristo Stoichkov scored a beautiful tying goal on Jorge Campos. After that it was Germany in 1998, USA in 2002, and Argentina in 2006 and 2010. You can make a case for top competition in 3 out of 4 of those tournaments. The match against the USA was a toss-up, especially since the two teams know each other well. However, in this match they were beaten 2-0 and not in penalties.

What about USA? If we discount the times they failed to make it out of group play (1990, 1998, 2006), they also faced top competition in 2 our of 3 of the corresponding games (Brazil in 1994 and Germany in 2002). Brazil won the cup in 1994 and Germany reached the final in 2002. Yes, that penalty against the USA shouldn't have counted on that fateful quarterfinal against the three-time world champs. And in the current World Cup? We can say that Ghana isn't top competition but they were in Africa and level in strength.

Let's look at South Africa a bit closer. In the words of the great Mauro Velasquez Villacis, neither Mexico or USA beat anybody. What about France? We can all agree that France was in shambles due to internal strife. Mexico couldn't defeat the host nation and fell to Uruguay, which set up a match against Argentina. USA also didn't beat anyone; Algeria isn't really considered a world power.

Mexicans and Americans may both make reference to non-World Cup tournaments such as the Confederations Cup or U-17 and U-20 tournaments. Mexico may have won the Confederations Cup in 1999 (they were hosts) and the USA may have reached the final in 2009, but let's face it, these do not compare to the World Cup. And when you throw in Mexico's U-17 championship in 2005 and USA may have reached the semifinals in 1999 I say this: youth tournaments almost never reflect the senior team. As an example, USA defeated Brazil in 2007 by the score of 2-1. The senior team has defeated them once in the last 20 years, and on home soil on a non-World Cup match.

There is still plenty of room for evolution of the Concacaf region. The Mexican Primera is a quality league and MLS is catching up to the world. Players from the region are also beginning to populate European leagues. If Ghana were to reach the semifinal in 2010, it will be a victory for the continent. It may not be long before USA or Mexico reach the semifinals and it may also take a hosting of the tournament by one of the two countries. If USA hosts in 2018 or 2022 things may go their way, especially since Mexico is essentially at home in this country. Until then, however, Concacaf will continue to lag behind.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

FIFA referees and technology

Grow up, please. FIFA, as much as we love you and the tournaments you provide, it can be quite unbearable at times to watch our teams (or even our foes) lose out due to bad officiating. As ESPN commentators put it today, bad officiating can be quite costly for football business. A bad call on a disallowed goal at a major tournament may mean losses in broadcast and merchandising, public interest and less respect for the game. This last part I'd like to throw in since it's the more American viewpoint from passive soccer-watchers. "Soccer needs to change or people won't accept it here." I agree with the first part.

Aside from two non-calls that may have favored the US versus Slovenia and Algeria (no fouls or offsides in the disallowed goals by Edu and Dempsey respectively), there have been major faults in the system. Two major faults, both today, both with quarterfinal repercussions. First, in the England-Germany game, came a blatantly legitimate goal by Frank Lampard that bounced of the horizontal bar and a good yard behind the goal line before bouncing back out. We all saw it except for the officiating crew. England would have tied the score. There is goal-line technology now in other sports (and has also been tried in soccer). How can we not go forward with this at least?

The other event was the goal by Tevez that opened the score in the Argentina-Mexico match. Tevez was offside by several yards. If that wasn't offside then Edu scored from his own half, right?

Okay, so FIFA wants to maintain control and pace of the game. True, yes, but when 99.9% of the press, players, coaches, world ask for change, you have to give in. If replay and/or goal line technology aren't enough, then please please please put another referee behind the goals. At least they would be able to tell us if 1) Tevez was offside, 2) Lampard goal counts, 3) Henry/Maradona uses his hand to score.

So FIFA, hear us out. We want some change to have our sport back. Soccer belongs to the world, not to a board room playing God.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

End of a dream: USA eliminated by Ghana

We watched it together. We cheered together. We laughed and cried together. This time there was no happy Hollywood ending, however. But the United States national team did show one thing: courage. They never let themselves down even after being scored on. They always knew there would be a way back. Sometimes, though, heart just isn't enough to win games.

It started with a miss-call by Bradley: Clark would slip back into the central midfield role alongside Michael Bradley. It had worked great in qualifying and in friendlies, but we can argue that Edu had worked better. Edu was a first-teamer with Glasgow Rangers, he had been robbed a goal versus Slovenia and had played a great game against Algeria. Why not keep him in the role? He's as imposing a central mid as Clark is. Questions for the future, no doubt.

Going down early in the game has been the USA's weak spot throughout this tournament and even in qualifiers. Boateng scored in the 5th minute after Ricardo Clark coughed up the ball in the midfield. The first half had few chances for the Americans and they seemed lost. Would there be second half heroics?

There were. The US pushed up the field and maintained possession. A foul on Dempsey in the area made way for Donovan's equalizer. But Bradley's men seemed content. A few half chances, maybe one Altidore should have done better on, and regular time ended. On to extra time. And there it came again. An early lapse in concentration by DeMerrit and Bocanegra and Gyan, Ghana's top scorer, scored a sublime goal. There would be no comeback. There was no gas. Bradley subbed Clark early in the first half (deservedly so) but this meant less choices going forward. The 120th minute came and went and even Howard's intrusion into the opposing goal was negated by the West African side.

Disappointment? Yes. Should the coach continue? That is to be determined, but just because he had a good run doesn't necessarily mean he will continue to. Players need new environments, new encouragement, new ideas and new goals. Bruce Arena was also a great coach but his ideas ran dry when 2006 came around. We don't want to see the same in 2014. We should rebuild this team and aim higher. Landon Donovan (28) still has another World Cup cycle in him. Zidane did it before. Charlie Davies will return and we have up-and-coming players like Bedoya, McInierney, Luis Gil, Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzales, all waiting for their chance. US Soccer needs to seize this opportunity and make a great team even better.

The national team already made fans at home and abroad. Can we keep the energy going? We certainly hope so.

Player Ratings
  • Howard-----------6
  • Bornstein---------6
  • DeMerrit---------5
  • Bocanegra--------5
  • Cherundolo-------5.5
  • Dempsey---------6.5
  • Clark-------------3
  • Bradley----------5.5
  • Donovan---------7
  • Findley----------4
  • Altidore----------5
Subs: Edu (6.5), Gomez (5), Feilhaber (6)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

World Cup revolution: Italy and France crash out

There are critics out there that prefer Italy out of the tournament because of their overly defensive tactics. France was also downright sad to watch. Where was Ribery, Malouda, Henry, Toulalan? They were there in body but not in spirit. Perhaps the Raymond Dommenech situation or the recent underage prstitution scandal involving Benzema, Govou and Ribery overshadowed any semblance of a chance the Gauls may have had in South Africa. And Italy? Let's just say they were never young enough to get too far, not when a third of their players are over 30 and their star player (Cannavaro) is 36. Maybe they should have called Maldini?

Conmebol certainly has impressed. Barring a possible change in fortunes tomorrow with Chile, all South American representatives are already through. Concacaf also has its two major powers, USA and Mexico, through to the next round and in style. Mexico defeated 2006 finalist France and USA went unbeaten in group play and won their group thanks to goals scored. Let's not forget Asia. Their more storied sides, South Korea and Japan, also went through to the next round after overcoming opposition from mid-level European teams (Greece and Denmark, respectively) as well as African teams (Nigeria and Cameroon, respectively). Japan did it in style today in a dominating 3-1 decision over Denmark. They managed to score two goals from direct free kicks (what's wrong with Jabulani?). Oh, don't forget Australia (4 points, lost passage to next round to Ghana by goal differential) and New Zealand (unbeaten, three ties).

So what else is happening in this World Cup? One special thing location. Aside from Africa's failure, the different conferences have enjoyed the neutral location. Indeed, Americans are reported to have bought more tickets than any other country except for South Africa. They may not all be supporting team USA, but the various groups living in this country probably took up a large portion of the tickets.

One other aspect corroborating in this revolution is this: teams like Italy, England, and even Germany have leagues in which the majority of players in the dominant teams are not domestic. Inter, for example had only one Italian-born player on the pitch at the Champions League semifinal. Add to that the fact that the back line is made up of mostly Juventus players. Juve didn't have the best of seasons either. Oh, and England... why is Heskey starting? He hardly saw time on the field this past season. Germany's squad also relies heavily on Bayern Munich. You could argue that these players are tired from a very long season that included the Champions League final.

We can rest assured that there may yet be one or two or three more surprising scores in this tournament.. but how's this: Slovakia 3 - Italy 2, Switzerland 1 - Spain 0, Mexico 2 - France 0, USA 1 - England 1, New Zealand 1 - Italy 1... we can go on. And yes, that's why we love soccer.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Justice triumphs: USA defeats Algeria and advances to round of 16

What a game. What a goal. What a feeling. Need we say more? Yes, the US defeated Algeria today and are now poised for a knock-out stage match against the sole African representative left in the tournament--Ghana. Yes, Landon Donovan lit it up once more and made millions of voices scream in unison "gooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaal!" You were probably doing the same. I admit I was also.

The match started with miscommunication between DeMerrit and Bocanegra that nearly marked a goal for Algeria. Alas, the post saved Howard and the national team. As the first half wore on, Bradley's men pushed farther and farther into Algerian territory. Missed opportunities abounded: Gomez, Dempsey, Altidore. There was even a non-existent offsides call on Dempsey that the replay showed to be onside. Robbed again, but this time justice would prevail.

This match had some gutsy calls by Bradley, as he inserted Bornstein for Onyewu and Gomez for the suspended Findley. Bocanegra shifted back into his prefered central position and Bornstein slid into left back. This was a surprising call given Bornstein's inconsistencies and downright liability in that spot sometimes. He has moments of brilliance (stoppage time score versus Costa Rica) but also costly mistakes (El Salvador's first strike in Sandy last year). Granted, Onyewu has shown some lack of awareness in the first two games and could be consider partly-culpable for the Slovenian and English scores. Gomez's inclusion was a bit more perplexing since he is usually more of a supersub. At this point, though, it doesn't matter because the boys got the job done.

The winning goal came in typical American fashion: we had all resigned ourselves to the fact that USA would be knocked out of the tournament even though we hadn't lost. Howard thought different. In the 92nd minute of play (4 minutes added time) he threw the ball quarterback-like to a sprinting Donovan. It was 4 against 2 sprinting towards the Algerian 'keeper. Donovan played the ball right to Altidore, who centered the ball for Dempsey. Dempsey's strike was saved by the Algerian but the rebound was left floating near the penalty spot. Donovan calmly struck it home with placement and control. The US was now up 1-0 and the game would end shortly after.

The simultaneous match between England and Slovenia made for extra nail-biting by USA supporters. A Jermaine Defoe strike during the first half meant England had 5 points and were through to the next round. The USA could not settle for a draw. The score on that game would remain 1-0, and this also meant team USA would win the group thanks to greater amount of goals scored. Oh, they are also undefeated.

Team USA will face Ghana in the round of 16. Not at all an easy match. Remember that this side beat "dark horse contenders" Serbia and nearly tied the heavily-favored Germans. Also, in the only previous meeting between USA and Ghana, the Gold Coast side won the last match of group play in 2006. Ghana went on to the knock-out stage. USA went home. This is a difficult game to decipher. USA has not played a true African team (Sub-Saharan) for some time now. I believe the last one was against South Africa in 2007. Ghana will also have the full support of the continent, city and, likely, the stadium. They are even on paper, however. I can see this going into extra time. After that, we leave the game to our dreams.

We believe.

Player ratings:
  • Howard--------7
  • Bornstein------6
  • DeMerrit------8
  • Bocanegra-----6.5
  • Cherundolo----6.6
  • Dempsey------8
  • Donovan------9
  • Bradley-------8
  • Edu-----------6
  • Gomez--------5.5
  • Altidore------7.5
Subs: Feilhaber (6), Buddle (5.5), Beasley (N/A)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Two to Tango: Argentina and Brazil rule South Africa

Okay, make that three to Tango if we count Holland. Unless you have decided to watch baseball or the NBA or the Gulf spill, you probably already know that there have been upsets galore in South Africa 2010. Starting from the top: France ties 0-0 Uruguay and falls 0-2 to Mexico, England ties 1-1 versus USA and 0-0 versus Algeria, Italy ties 1-1 versus Paraguay and New Zealand, Germany loses 0-1 to Serbia, Spain loses 0-1 to Switzerland. Discounting non-traditional outliers (Mexico, Paraguay, Slovenia, etc), we are left with only Brazil, Argentina and the Netherlands. If we go, strictly speaking, with history, then Holland is taken out of the equation and we are left again with just Argentina and Brazil.

Perhaps this "disarray" is due to a non-traditional location for the event: Africa. Perhaps the game is much more competitive now and teams from powerhouse leagues like England and Spain don't really match up with international success. Maybe the players are too tired from so many competitions. Wait, nearly all players tend to see each other once or twice if they play in such prestigious leagues (Drogba, Rooney, Dempsey, Vela, etc.). Clearly, this isn't the way to explain it since it would be a worldwide phenomenon of lowered quality in the game. No one wants to slump at the World Cup, right?

Then there is the African nations. With so much power and a "home field advantage," shouldn't they be tearing through teams like Australia, Japan and Slovenia? What's going on with Eto'o, Drogba, Gyan? Nothing. It's just that the teams as a whole just aren't quite there yet. More discipline is needed, perhaps, but haven't we been saying this all along? Aren't we always looking for a breakthrough African team that reaches the semifinal or, why not, the final? Cameroon (1990) and Senegal (2002) left us wanting more. Maybe South Africa can still pull off of a miracle entry to the round of 16 (still possible) and evade the title of first host nation to be eliminated in group play.

So we come back to a natural conclusion, one that is supported by historical evidence. It's as simple as this: a team that is meant to win it all does not lose a game. Never in World Cup history has a winner lost a game during the competition. Ties, yes (Brazil-Sweden in 1994, Italy-USA in 2006, etc.). With that in mind we can also argue for Italy to have a shot still. But, we are left with two teams that have thoroughly defeated their opposition: Brazil and Argentina. Historically, it takes Argentina or France to knock out the Brazilians (this goes back to 1986 for perspective). Argentina, on the other hand, can go out any number of ways: Germany, Romania, England, Netherlands.

This has to be the most competitive World Cup to date. Most teams (excluding Cameroon and perhaps one or two others after tomorrow) still have a chance to advance. Most "contender" teams could be sent packing. This could also be a World Cup of firsts: the host nation eliminated in group phase is a first. Maybe wounded nations such as Spain and Germany can break the curse and lift the trophy. If that is the case, then they have mountains of history to climb as well as two formidable gatekeepers: Argentina and Brazil.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Robbed: US ties Slovenia

It started like any other US match: USA starts slow, timid and uncreative. Opposing squad scores an early goal by way of Birsa. It wasn't doom and gloom yet and Donovan, Torres, Findley and Altidore attacked. That's when it hit home... a second Slovenian goal courtesy of Ljubijankic. Why? Torres wasn't tracking back to the defensive mid position required when given the chance in substitute of Ricardo Clark. His understanding with Bradley was missing and didn't echo what was gained from the Turkey friendly in Philadelphia. Onyewu also showed signs that he may not be fully fit yet.

But Bradley fought back as he always does. He switched Edu for Torres (I wish Edu had been there from the start versus England also) and inserted Feilhaber for Findley. Yes, we lost a pure forward. Not so fast... Dempsey can slide into that position (same as against Egypt last summer). There, he can provide a creative spark and a moment of brilliance or two. The response was immediate: Donovan slipped past a sliding defender for a run on the right wing and delivered a shocker of a goal from an impossible angle that the goalkeeper shied away from as if spooked by a mouse.

Gritty American soccer followed Donovan's goal. And by gritty, we also mean attacking football. Altidore sparked into life and used his size to win balls and draw fouls. A masterful center from Donovan almost from midfield was headed down cleverly by Altidore and met a one-time strike from Michael Bradley. The score was tied.

America was back and it might just be a win for the Stars and Stripes. Donovan took a perfect free kick that lobbed into the 6 yard box, where Maurice Edu buried it in the back of the net. But the referee disagreed. A phantom call. Was it offsides? Who? Only Edu touched the ball and he was several yards behind the last defender. A foul? Hustle and tussle from both teams as with any free kick into the area... and Edu barely made contact with his marking man. A robbery indeed. America lost two points today and it wasn't because Slovenia was better. It was because of amateur refereeing. When will FIFA allow for goal line refs at least?

It's sad to admit it, but the US always looks better when coming from behind. Just remember important matches like the 2007 Gold Cup final (down 0-1 to Mexico, final score 2-1), World Cup qualifiers against El Salvador (twice and one time from being 0-2 down), Honduras (at home and away from 0-1) and Costa Rica (0-2). Oh, a little game against England last Saturday. Why can't we have more of the 2-0 versus Spain (Confederations Cup) or 3-1 versus Australia (friendly). It is a continuous disappointment, followed by exhilaration and then a continuous heart attack as we pray the match can end in a favorable draw or an improbable win.

Today we watched most of the game but settled for a half hour of radio coverage. We still screamed in joy as our team scored. Other American fans were celebrating in pubs from Chicago to Seattle and living rooms from Cleveland to Phoenix. And better yet, the majority of fans at the stadium were cheering for the USA. That's the real win today. Welcome, soccer. America is ready for you.

Wednesday's test will be stiff. Algeria tied a top-ranked English team and is still alive for a spot in the round of 16. The USA needs to win, plain and simple. Hopefully Bradley will have learned his lesson and we will take over the field to book a spot in the next round. The team deserves it. The country deserves it.

Player ratings:
  • Howard-----------6
  • Bocanegra--------6.5
  • DeMerrit---------5
  • Onyewu----------4.5
  • Cherundolo-------7
  • Dempsey---------5.5
  • Bradley-----------7
  • Torres------------4
  • Donovan----------7.5
  • Altidore-----------6
  • Findley-----------3.5
Subs: Feilhaber (6), Edu (6.5), Gomez (N/A)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Too much hype: USA vs Slovenia

It may not be as hyped-up as the US-England match, but tomorrow's contest against Slovenia is generating plenty of hype in the soccer world and the US media. Most alarming, perhaps, is the overconfidence shown by soccer outlets inside the US. It is claimed that the national team is favored to win the match and have too much firepower to be denied. The response to that statement may, unfortunately, be no.

Tying the match against England was a great achievement given the European squad's star power, history and role as a contender for the title. The match was about defending against some of the best in the world. The US did it with discipline after the first goal and with an injured goalkeeper. Making a claim that they are the favorites for the Slovenia contest based on the first game is stretching it a bit too much. Slovenia is a highly-defensive squad. They allowed the fewest goals than any other team in Europe during qualifying and eliminated Andrei Arshavin's Russia (semifinalists at Euro 2008).

We would all rather see a comprehensive win for the United States. A tie is a more likely outcome with the Algeria match being more accessible. But, as Landon Donovan said: "if we can't beat Slovenia then we don't belong in the next round." Wise words indeed. Have fun tomorrow. Enjoy the match and the World Cup stage. Being considered the favorites may seem like a burden, but the very fact that they are and that US fans outnumber Slovenians in the stadium is the real triumph for team USA.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

South Africa: Low scoring and ties ties ties

Yes, we all waited four long years for the greatest spectacle on earth, but we're missing the special guest--the goal. Should we blame Jabulani? Defensive-mindedness during the opening game? Anxious speculation? Loss of creative midfielders? We can argue for all these variables but the truth is this tournament has been a tad boring. Six ties out of fourteen games. Two groups are level at 1 point for each team. Really? I thought the enhancements to the game ball were to increase the number of goals, no?

We hear it over and over again. A tie here and a tie there. Teams don't want to lose their first game so they settle for a tie at the 75th minute. This, you can argue for Cote d'Ivoire-Portugal, Italy-Paraguay, Mexico-South Africa, shall we go on?

Also, all 23 goals have been scored by 23 different players. Who's going to be this tournament's pichichi? So far, only Germany has shown enough tenacity to obliterate an opposing squad. Not even Brazil could muster a 3+ game. Weren't North Korea and New Zealand supposed to be the punching bags of the tournament? Perhaps Spain (favorites and prolific scorers) and Chile (also a high-scoring squad) can score more than 3 goals. Perhaps someone will get a brace? A hat trick?

Also, enough about the vuvuzelas and Jabulani. Noise is a part of the sport. You get accustomed to it. And the ball? Goalies mishandle, midfielders can't distribute and strikers lob it over the goal. Yes, there is a pattern. But consider this: Germany has had it for 6 months and have learned to use it quite well (4 goals over Australia). If they win the whole thing, you may make the case for extended "training" with the ball that no one else had and FIFA may want to look into it. Otherwise, it's just a new aspect of the game. No one is ever good at something the first time. We learn from our mistakes and adapt.

I think we are likely to see higher scores in the second round. The fear of the first game is over. Everyone has a chance to cement their place in the next round. This means winning games 99% of the time. Please, fellas, have fun with the ball. Enjoy yourselves and give the world a better spectacle than what has been shown so far.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Weezer + USA at South Africa

Feeling like you need some inspiration before Friday's match versus Slovenia? How about Weezer helps you out? River Cuomo (lead singer/songwriter) is quite a fan of the game and the national team. Check out the new video/song by Weezer:

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Blame Jabulani: USA ties England 1-1

Fate? Destiny? Defense? The ball? Robert Green? How about all of the above? This was the gritty, physical, disciplined match we had hoped the US would play. A bit of ball-watching by Clark allowed for Gerrard's early strike. I missed the goal and thought the worst when I arrived at my destination. Tim Howard was dealt a blow to the ribs and is questionable for the match against Slovenia. More tests are expected.

Rooney, Heskey, Lampard and Gerrard were relentless against the US defense, but Onyewu, Cherundolo, Bocanegra and DeMerrit made their presence known. England would not score again.

Then there was Dempsey's shot. A weak rolling strike to the right of the English goalkeeper. It should have been a routine save for West Ham's #1, Robert Green. Unfortunately for him, the Jabulani's trajectory didn't include his scooping arms. Green failed to get a hold of it and it rolled off his hands and trickled into the net. Green took his eyes off the ball. Not a good move. Was Capello right in starting him instead of Hart or James? Will Green play against Algeria?

The rest of the game offered more from the Americans as Altidore nearly scored a goal in an acute near-post shot that Green promptly saved (not enough to make up for his blunder). Rooney and Heskey had some clear shots that Howard and Onyewu saved. Onyewu was particularly impressive in this match. Given a good showing in the rest of the games, we can definitely see a starting spot for Milan or another top team (if on loan). He's only 28, so he's got another World Cup cycle still.

As I had stated in my previous post, this game was about dreaming and cellebrating Team USA. I watched it with 20-or so other US fans. Our screams filled the small confiments of a standard living room and the house errupted in cellebration as Dempsey's shot crossed the goal line. We had a collective, continuous heart attack that went through the entire 45 minutes of the second half. After that it was U-S-A chants, hugs and a feeling that we indeed have a quality squad. Slovenia is next. A win is a must, but we should be careful, this Balkan side eliminated Russia and they are capable of doing some damage. A tie wouldn't knock the US out but a loss would put us in serious jeopardy going into our final match.

Player ratings:
  • Howard---------8.5
  • DeMerrit--------7
  • Onyewu---------8
  • Cherundolo------6
  • Bocanegra-------6
  • Clark------------5
  • Bradley----------6
  • Dempsey--------7.5
  • Donovan--------7
  • Findley----------4.5
  • Altidore---------6.5
Subs: not enough time on the pitch


England v United States

Mike | MySpace Video

Saturday, June 12, 2010

To be or not to be: USA vs England

To win or not to win. That is the question. A tie or a blowout. In soccer, always a possibility. I will not dwell on pessimism and I will not build this up as the most important match the US will play in this tournament. Instead, let's celebrate the game for what it is: another chance to dream.

For some of us, this game represents another triumph for US soccer. Consider the amount of media resources covering this game. Consider the fact that major teams study US tactics to not experience the same as Portugal (2002), Mexico (2007), Egypt and Spain (2009). Consider that MLS is becoming a major force in Concacaf and that it provides quality players that work in important leagues (EPL, Calcio). Consider that Altidore went to Spain for $10 million. Consider how the British media is covering the likes of Donovan, Dempsey and Howard. Consider that the US bought the second largest number of tickets for South Africa.

We are a nation of dreamers and heroes. We lose battles and we win battles. We have a hard working team and we're confident that, win or lose, they will play the 90 minutes with the same intensity. It may be England that wins today, but US soccer has already won in the minds of fans. It will not be long before the US becomes a soccer power in the world.

We believe.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

World Cup Memories: Denmark

Denmark has always proven to be a hard-working, intensely-physical team with plenty of talent and a bit of flair. Aside from their win of the 1992 Euro, Denmark is a relatively light-weight team when it comes to the World Cup. Their best result was a berth in the quarterfinals of 1998. Their first appearance in the finals was in 1986.

France '98 is where our story starts. This was the team of Michael Laudrup, arguably the best Danish player in history, along with his brother Brian and the imposing Peter Schmeichel as the net-minder. Denmark was placed in the group with host-nation France, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. After defeating the Saudis, they went on to tie South Africa before losing to France. They would meet the Nigerian Supereagles in the round of 16. Although the African side was heavily favored, the Danish put on an impressive performance reminiscent of their '92 Euro run. They would defeat Nigeria by 4-1. Brazil would be their next opponent. After going up on the scoreboard twice, Rivaldo showed his magic and booted them off the tournament. It was quite a match with up-and-downs and plenty of cheers for the Europeans. Brazil were still favored to win it all at that point.

Denmark would once again qualify for the World Cup in 2002, reaching the round of 16. This was quite a tournament for them since they would play a part in the early elimination of then-champions France. A win versus Uruguay and a tie against Senegal meant they had 4 points ahead of their game with the French. Zidane had been absent until this game due to injury. His late arrival would not amount to much, as goals by Rommedahl and Tommasson were enough to win the group. Their joy would be short-lived, as they would face David Beckham's England. The "three lions" quickly demolished them by 3-0.

What's next for Denmark? Holland, Japan and Cameroon. Aside from the Netherlands, Denmark is equally matched with the Asian and African sides. Indeed, seeing recent results makes us believe that Japan is the weaker side here and that Cameroon isn't the indomitable team it once was. Look out for stars like Sorensen (Stoke City), Jacobsen (Blackburn), Poulsen (Juventus), and Bendtner (Arsenal).

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

World Cup Memories: The Netherlands

For such a small country, the Netherlands sure packs a superb punch. Maybe this is why their nickname is the "Clockwork Orange" or "Naranja Mecanica." Twice runners up in the 1970s with losses to Gerd Muller's West Germany in Germany 1974 and to Mario Kempes' Argentina in Argentina 1978.

Indeed, the 1970s marked the start of "total football," first pioneered by Ajax's Johan Cruyff and head coach Rinus Michaels. Out of that came a fast-paced, box-to-box style that overwhelmed opposing sides when the entire team surged forward in attack. Out of this controlled madness came players like Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Ronald Koeman, Frank Rijkaard, Denis Bergkamp, Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids and Clarence Seedorf.

Our story here begins with Italia 1990. Those were the days of Ruud Gullit, Van Basten and Ronald Koeman. Having won the 1988 Euros, Holland was riding high and ready to win its first World Cup. To my untrained eyes, Gullit was the Dutch sensation. "Did you know he scored a goal with his chest?" someone uttered once in a lunch break soccer scrimmage. We watched the team stumble into the round of 16 after tying three games (England, Ireland, Egypt), and without a single goal from maestro van Basten. There, they met eventual-champions West Germany. The game was gritty, dirty Euro-style football. Germany won thanks to Klinsmann and Brehme. Koeman would score a consolation penalty in the 89th. This match also had a bit of controversy with a spitting incident between Rijkaard and Voller.

In USA 1994, The Netherlands was considered a contender once more. They would have to do without Gullit (on strike) and van Basten (injury). Bergkamp would step up and deliver a masterful performance with 3 goals that took them all the way to the quarterfinals. They would first face an interesting group stage: Belgium, Saudi Arabia, Morocco. This was quite an interesting group. Belgium, Holland and Saudi Arabia all got 6 points (2 wins) and same goal differential. The Dutch would defeat both the Saudis and Morrocans but would fall short against Belgium. Bergkamp and Jonk would both score versus Ireland in the second round. Their final match in 1994 came against eventual-champions Brazil. It was probably the best match of the tournament. Twice Brazil scored through Romario and Bebeto, only to be followed by strikes from Bergkamp and Winter. A long-range free kick from Branco sealed he 3-2 scoreline in favor of the Amazonians.

France 1998 came around and Holland was again a contender. Now they had players like the De Boer brothers, Cocu and Overmars. They faced Belgium in the opening match (0-0 draw). Their second game was a scintillating performance against a limited South Korean team (5-0). Feisty Mexico put up a fight and "El Matador" Hernandez tied the game 2-2 in extra time. A match against Yugoslavia awaited them in the round of 16. It would take an injury time goal from Edgar Davids to defeat the Balkan squad. What followed was perhaps one of the best matches of '98: Netherlands - Argentina. Kluivert opened the score and the Argentineans would tie the game thanks to "El Piojo" Lopez. An ill-timed ejection of Ortega, coupled with a wonder goal from Bergkamp, sent the Dutch to the semifinals. A re-match of the '94 quarterfinal versus Brazil would follow. Scores by Ronaldo and Kluivert meant the game would go to penalties. Brazil would win it once again thanks to misses by Cocu and Ronald de Boer. Holland would settle for 4th place after a loss to Davor Suker's Croatia.

Much to the surprise of the entire footballing world, Netherlands failed to qualify for 2002. The Dutch were placed in the group of death in Germany '06: Argentina, Cote D'Ivoire and Serbia & Montenegro were the opponents. They defeated Serbia in the first game. The second game, against fellow orange-wearing Ivory Coast was a memorable experience for me. I happened to be in Amsterdam for the match and saw a sea of orange everywhere I walked. That evening, I got me a cheap knock-off van Nistelroy shirt and wore it to a packed restaurant to watch the match. Holland would prevail 2-1. They would subsequently tie Argentina 0-0. The Netherlands were eventually booted off the tournament by Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal in the round of 16.

What's next for the Netherlands? Familiar foes Denmark, dangerous Cameroon and tricky Japan. Expect them to breeze through the group stage. Some stars to watch include Heitinga (Everton), van Bronckhorst (Feyenoord), Sneijder (Inter), van der Vaart (Real Madrid), Kuyt (Liverpool), van Persie (Arsenal), Robben (Bayern Munich).

Bergkamp's wonder goal:

MLS 2010 Attendance stats week 12

Attendance graphics have been updated for week 12. Note that Dallas has recovered slightly after having a 14K attendance day. DCU also saw a slight rebound with attendance at 15K. Finally, TFC saw its stadium full once more. New York (18K) and LA (20K) also had important gains (not shown, counted for week 13). We can expect fuller stadiums after the world cup.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Final Exam: US vs Australia

It's for real from here on out. But the US Men's National Team got the win they had been looking for. A game at a neutral location and against a worthy foe--Australia. The Socceroos had previously defeated Denmark so they weren't going to be push-overs today. Then again, China beat France and Mexico defeated Italy, the two finalists in 2006. A sign of things to come?

Today was a lineup that could potentially start if there are one or two unforeseen injuries. Altidore, for example, had a mild ankle sprain and did not take part in the game. Buddle took his place alongside Findley. The two forwards performed admirably. Findley missed a couple of clear chances but he was dangerous with the ball. Buddle made the most of every opportunity and scored a brace. His second goal was a textbook header. Gomez, true to his nature, stepped in late in the second half and scored the last tally.

In the midfield, Dempsey and Donovan were coherent and quick in the attack. Donovan was a bit less prevalent today but Dempsey made up for him. Donovan also did provide the assist for Gomez's final strike late in the game. Bradley performed well in his usual back-and-forth, attack-and-defend. Clark was largely quiet, but that's a good sign. He wasn't subbed today so it makes you wonder who will actually start versus England... will it be Torres or Edu or Clark?

The back line was also quite efficient except for the goal, which was a strange strike that went between everyone's legs. By efficient I mean the last ball was taken care of. DeMerrit and Goodson did scare us a bit, however, losing a few battles in the air. Thankfully, they didn't amount to much. Hahnemann got caught in no-man's land on at least three occasions. He didn't get scored on, however, so the number 2 may still be his.

Next is England. The mother country versus the former colony. It's World Cup time, everyone.

Friday, June 4, 2010

World Cup Memories: Ghana

Enter the black stars. Long-regarded as one of Africa's best sources of soccer players, Ghana went largely unnoticed until 1992, when the Olympic team won its first medal. The senior team would have to wait until 2006 to enter the world soccer scene. Ghana did, however, win the Africa cup of Nations on four different occasions (1963, 1965, 1978, 1982).

As far as memories, they are few and far between. I remember liking their style in 2006, especially when it came to their game against the Czech Republic. They would erase the Czech's 3-goal advantage won over the USA and bring it to just 1. Ghana had lost to eventual-champions Italy in the first game. The last group game was against the United States...and what a game that was. Unluckily, however, I was in Venice at the moment and none of the channels carried the game. If I had gone looking for a place to watch it outside of my hotel I would have probably missed most of it anyway. I resorted to looking at scorelines while I watched other games. The Americans had been down 1-0 before Dempsey scored the tying goal. Ghana would score again to see them through to the round of 16. There, they met Brazil and were quickly dispatched in a goleada thanks to Adriano, Ronaldo and Ze Roberto.

What's next for the Black Stars? Serbia, Australia and Germany. This group is more evenly matched than you might think. Germany's loss of Ballack brings them down a notch. Serbia is a contender but haven't been as dominant for a few tournaments now. Australia is just as dangerous, having players like Cahill and Schwarzer. This group flirts with soccer common sense and we just can't say for sure who will be victorious. This Ghana side, however, is diminished compared to 2006. There will be no Michael Essien--but never fear... you still have Muntari (Inter), Gyan (Rennes), Derek Boateng (Getafe), Mensah (Lyon). Curiously, Kevin-Prince Boateng has a brother Jerome plays for Germany, but will not be in the tournament. Kevin-Prince has dual citizenship but after not seeing action with the German squad, decided to switch back to Ghana. Oh, he's also the reason Ballack will not play in South Africa.

This is a tough group for them and, as a Ghanean colleague of mine said, "this team can't go far." We shall see.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

MLS 2009 Attendance stats week 11

I will be short on this one. Please also be aware that MLS 2010 attendance graphics are likely to come less often for the next 3 months due to the World Cup and other commitments. It's fascinating material, however, so this by no way means that no more graphics will be available.

Most interesting this past week was the great attendance for the Columbus versus Galaxy match... and rightly so since they are the hottest teams in the league. Colorado also sold out a game against Seattle. Decent attendance for RSL at 80% for their last match. Tonight's match at the Red Bull Arena had poor attendance... about 11k, much more like the days of the Meadowlands. But, Henry is (hopefully) on his way, as are one or two other big stars after the World Cup. Expect attendance to rise after the tournament is over. Sometimes Americans can't get enough of a good thing.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

One US player who will not win the World Cup

It's Jersey-born, Italian-American Giuseppe Rossi. The US media (ESPN) had written a piece about America's "Best hope at the World Cup." Little did they know that head coach Lippi would drop the American from the final 23 players. The ESPN piece was written weeks ago and Rossi had been included in the preliminary 28-man squad.

Rossi (23, plays for Villareal) is a name familiar with die-hard US soccer fans, especially after last summer's 3-1 pounding by Italy at the Confederations Cup. There was much outrage at his flagrant celebration after scoring two goals on his home country. He had decided to turn down being in Bruce Arena's preliminary squad for World Cup 2006. We must admit that he would probably start alongside Altidore for the US. Rossi instead decided to play for Italy and did so at every youth level before graduating to the senior team. There, he scored three goals last year.

Perhaps Lippi thought that Rossi hadn't contributed much to Italy lately. Perhaps Fabio Quagliarella was a better option in Lippi's scheme. As much as US fans can gloat about "karma," we have to admit that it would have been nice to have an American win the Cup, even if playing for another country. It's also sad for him given the recent death of his father. In any case, there is still another player with an outside chance at going deep into the tournament: Neven Subotic. Subotic opted to play for Serbia even though the US approached him repeatedly. Before your anger grows towards "defectors," remember that Jose Francisco Torres chose USA over Mexico. He showed glimpses of growth as a player against Turkey and is in strong contention to start next to Michael Bradley in the midfield.