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Monday, August 27, 2012

Stoked: The Rise of Geoff Cameron

 Photo credit: NBC Sports

Geoff Cameron has had a swift change in his career during the past year. Once a defensive midfielder for the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer, he was switched to center back when his teammate experienced an injury. After that, his poise, versatility and style quickly caught the attention of Juergen Klinsmann and he cemented himself as an option at the center back position.

Klinsman's choice of Cameron as a center back was key in the development of the national team since the top choices Bocanegra, Onyewu and Goodson aren't getting any younger and Tim Ream was relegated to the League Championship in England. Orozco Fiscal also hasn't shown to be a reliable option and George John and Omar Gonzalez have seen their form drop due to injury or other distractions. In any case, Cameron's recent games since his first start versus Venezuela earlier this year haven proven that he's exactly the type of player that can succeed internationally.

One key match that finally sealed Cameron's appeal to US national team fans and his new employer, Stoke City, was the game against Mexico two weeks ago. There, Cameron paired up with soon-to-be-teammate Maurice Edu at center back and helped win the game for the United States in a location the had never been conquered in the past. Cameron denied Chicharito Hernandez on several occasions and had a superb saving header that could have ended as an own goal. It was a true Kodak moment. 

Both Cameron and Edu have similar qualities as versatile defensive midfielders that can also play in the defense. In the case of Cameron, he is a more withdrawn defender than Edu, which can be advantageous for a mid-table team like Stoke City.

Today, Cameron debuted for Stoke City in a game versus legendary Arsenal. And he succeeded. Not only did Cameron keep his poise, he also looked in control at all times, was never intimidated by the lights of the Premier League and had great tackles, passing and his trademark offensive throw-ins. Stoke City have won a valuable asset in this player and his being with the "Potters" at the world's best league can only further cement his position as a starter for the national team in the coming years.

Good luck, Geoff. We are cheering for you.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Azteca falls and USA defeats Mexico

Photo credit: Getty Images

Today the soccer world witnessed history: the USA defeated Mexico on Mexican soil for the first time in history. The Estadio Azteca will never be the same again for American players or fans of the game. Once a mythical and almost indestructible fortress, now the belief that Team USA can beat anyone anywhere is palpable.

There are some basic things to understand about this game. First, neither team was at "full strength," although Mexico fielded most of its starters except for Dos Santos and Salcido. The US, on the other hand, did not have Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore or anyone from its classic defense: no Bocanegra, Onyewu, Goodson, Cherundolo, Bornstein or Lichaj. Instead today we were treated to the Geoff Cameron show and an unlikely partnership with Maurice Edu. Fabian Johnson, the new left back option, shifted from left to right and allowed for Edgar Castillo to slide in at left.

The defense worked. Maybe it was luck on several chances, maybe Cameron really truly is the real deal, and maybe Chicharito has lost his step. Any way you look at this, it wasn't exactly a game that the Mexicans were looking to lose at any point, not after winning the Olympics and having been unbeaten against the US in 24 tries. No, today the back four held their line well and hustled for every play. And when Cameron didn't get there Howard kept us in the game.

We should also recognize that the offense had its ups and downs and didn't quite work with Torres as the playmaker and an ailing Donovan fresh from a Superclasico win by the Galaxy over Chivas USA. When Beasley and Boyd were inserted into the game, things clicked better but an enabler was still needed. Enter  Brek Shea, and just as he did in last year's game versus Mexico, one play from the flank allowed for a nifty pass from Boyd to an unlikely hero: Michael Orozco Fiscal.

Orozco's goal said it all for the US. This was a team win and it didn't matter who scored the goal. It didn't have to be Donovan or Shea or Gomez or even Boyd, it didn't need to be flashy and over the top. All it had to do was cross the goal line and inflate the net behind Gillermo Ochoa. This was a true American win, a win about team work, about strength and athleticism, about belief in yourself and your companions, about a dream that can be reached.

Mexico will claim that Dos Santos (both of them) along with Oribe Peralta and Corona at goal will make the difference next time these rivals meet. Perhaps, yes, but consider that the USA will also have Altidore, Dempsey and Michael Bradley along for the ride. Hopefully the teams will meet again, twice, if they qualify for the Hexagonal in World Cup Qualifying with a chance to prove it all over again in a competitive match. All of us on both sides of the border can't wait.

Player ratings:


Subs: Boyd (7), Beasley (6.5), Zusi (6.5), Shea (7), Orozco (7), Corona (N/A)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

MLS Attendance Statistics 2012 Week 24

A short update. This time of the year brings a lot of outside teams in preseason matches versus MLS sides. It's also a time of unbearable heat for most of the country. This even includes Portland, where the mercury was in the 100s for their game on August 4th. Unlike places with higher moisture like in the east coast, every single seat was taken at the game.

The numbers:

Team Average Relative Median
DC 14178 73 14287
KC 19382 105 19600
NE 12980 65 12857
CLB 14858 73 16024
TOR 19089 83 18944
CHI 15563 78 15757
NYRB 17351 69 16464
PHI 18416 100 18412
HOU 21287 97 22039
MON 23620 116 18435
LA 22729 84 22143
CHV 13559 72 13822
DAL 13335 65 11702
SJ 14464 138 10525
COL 15074 83 14987
RSL 18680 93 18702
SEA 41418 108 38709
POR 20438 100 20438
VAN 19442 93 19727

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Gold Medal: The Ascent of Mexico

Photo credit: AP

The Mexican U-23 Olympic team won what no other Mexican team had one before: a gold medal at the Olympics. This occurs on the trail of two impressive wins in the U-17 and U-20 World Cups. This is a well of talent rising over the competition and right now they are poised for even greater achievements.

There are a few particulars with this win, if we're to play devil's advocate. It can be argued that the Aztecas won only one game of consequence against a competitive team: Brazil. Getting through a group consisting of South Korea, Switzerland and Gabon would not be difficult for a talented Mexican U-23 squad. The quarterfinals against Senegal and semifinal against Japan also didn't put them into contact with more experienced teams like Great Britain, Spain, Uruguay. And yes, all three of those didn't quite make it far either. And yet, as we know now more than ever, in the Olympics all bets are off.

Tena's Mexico team did what it needed to do. It got an impressive 29-second goal to get the match started in the first minute, continued to pressure and held a strong line against the likes of Rafael, Neymar and Hulk, and wasn't shy in their counters. Oribe Peralta showed why he's a rising star and he buried Brazil with the second goal late in the game. 

If the United States had a breakout tournament and game against Spain in the 2009 Confederations Cup, then today Mexico proved they have the talent to make history in world soccer. And although this may have been a junior squad, the fact that their developmental teams have won the recent major tournaments is sure to be turning a few heads. The senior team can now capitalize on players like Peralta, Dos Santos, and add Chicharito Hernandez and Barrera to the mix. Suddenly Mexico looks like a team that can reach the semifinals at the World Cup, or maybe even the final. Mexico have proven that they are now the contenders that this soccer nation has always wanted to be and always knew it could become.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Redeem team too: US Women win Gold at London 2012

Photo credit: US Presswire

Redemption. Not because the US Women's national soccer team did anything wrong at last summer's Women's World Cup, but because they were the better team but were cruelly defeated by penalties. Redemption because today's win wrapped up a perfect tournament in which they defeated every team and outscored them 16-6, where at the World Cup they lost twice. Redemption because they were booted by Brazil in 2007 only to redeem themselves with the Gold Medal in 2008. Redemption because the American style of soccer was upheld and showed why this country sets the trend in the women's game as countries like Brazil do for men.

And today we had the usual suspects clinch the tournament: Alex Morgan with her nifty pass for the first goal and opening lanes for Rapinoe and Lloyd, Wambach for her presence, Solo for her reflexes, Rapinoe for her tireless work on the flanks, Buehler, LePeilbet, O'Hara and Rampone for holding a tough line and pressing forward when needed, Shannon Boxx for her spirit, Tobin Heath for her speed, and Carli Lloyd for being a number 10.

Yes, Carli Lloyd made the difference today by scoring the two goals that won the game 2-1. It wasn't the youthful energy of Alex Morgan, the commanding experience of Abby Wambach or the darting runs of Rapinoe. It was the number 10, the Pele, Zidane, Landon Donovan of this group. She made the difference in the final like all great midfielders do. Zidane scored twice against Brazil in 1998, Pele delivered 1958 to Brazil, and Donovan saved the US Men in 2010 twice. Always in the background working and always there at the time of need. Carli Lloyd may not be as flashy as Morgan or Wambach, but she knew how to win this game and redeem her team.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Alex Morgan Rises and US advances to Gold Medal Final

Photo credit: Stanley Chou/Getty Images

Somehow the US Women's national team always find a way to make things dramatic, amazing and magical. If last year's last gasp Abby Wambach goal versus Brazil was breathtaking, today's overtime game-clincher by Alex Morgan was pure fantasy. 

The high-scoring Olympic semifinal versus Canada was a far cry from the match we saw in Portland last year. Canada took the initiative and Christine Sinclair scored a hat trick to bring her team within reach of the Gold Medal final. But Megan Rapinoe, Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan answered back every time Canada went ahead on the scoreboard and sealed it with the fourth goal in the 123rd minute.

If Megan Rapinoe is the new engine in the midfield for the Women's team, then Alex Morgan is its new weapon. Her savvy treatment of the ball, scavenging positioning and uncanny nose for goal settles her as a perfect number 9 player and a great complement to Wambach. Let's face it, this will soon be Morgan's team as Wambach, 32, eases her foot from the soccer pedal.

Alex Morgan's clinching goal is a testament to a different kind of player: less power than Wambach or Mia Hamm but a lot more finesse. Her header cradled the ball and gave it enough speed and traveling arc to ease over the Canadian goalkeeper. She put it exactly in the one place it needed to be. That is how you win tournaments.