Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Round of 16 Wrapup

Uruguay 2 - Korea 1
Korea got the first goal vs Uruguay this WC but Uruguay's bending winner off the post was most memorable.

USA 1- Ghana 2

Germany 4 - England 1
I had thought that there was a chance that a different England would show up for this match.  For all the starpower they had, all the odds were against them.  They were playing Germany.  They were mediocre in the group stage.  Rooney hadn't scored.  So if we expect the unexpected, then England could very well silence all their critics with a dominating performance over a young and inexperienced German squad.  After all, Serbia had shut them out already.
Then they played the game.  As Lalas and McManaman said, England just isn't as good as everyone likes to think.  Their central defense was slow.  Their midfield showed no creativity.  And Rooney, one of the best in the world, was uninvolved.  Capello, whom I thought would be the difference-maker this time, found out what his predecessor had: the EPL stars were not effective as a team and there weren't talented youngsters rising up either. Perhaps the success of the EPL teams in Champions League has more to do with the influx of foreign players due to the EPL's ridiculous wealth, more than the homegrown English stars.
The disallowed Lampard goal was utterly ridiculous.  Technology in tennis matches can tell whether its in or out, why can't it be used for goals?  I agree that replays should not interrupt the flow of a match but it should definitely stop for goals.  Either have a challenge system where a coach can communicate exactly what he is challenging (and that is the only reviewable action), have an additional ref behind each goal (which might not be enough as human error is especially prevalent in soccer), or use technology that automatically signal goals.  This is not that difficult.  I was hoping that the game would end 2-1 so that England, maybe the most powerful soccer nation in the world, would perhaps be able to finally force Fifa's hand.

Argentina 3 - Mexico 1
Love it.  Love that they got spanked.  Can't believe that punk Marquez hacked his own teammate Messi.  what a jerk.
Argentina's crazy coach, awesome team routine seems to be working.  Messi & Co haven't had issues scoring as they did in qualifying and seem to be a dangerous contender.  However, their defense hasn't really been tested yet.  The match vs Germany will be one to watch.

Netherlands 2 - Slovenia 1
Sneijder is a breakout star this year.  His incisive passes are one of my favorite things to watch in soccer.  It will be interesting to see their offense vs Dunga's D.  What I don't get is why most of Netherlands' elite players are all primadonnas - Sneijder, Van Persie, Robben - perhaps the Dutch youth system machine makes them great players but ignores helping them become good people.

Brazil 3 - Chile 0
Though most critics hate Dunga's style of play, I honestly don't see anything ugly about it at all.  3 goals in a knockout round is nothing to sniff at.  Plus, their 2nd and 3rd goal were beautiful - Kaka's touch to Fabiano, Robinho's bending goal from Ramires' run - just what are Brazil fans complaining about?

Paraguay 0 - Japan 0
PKs.  Not sure why Japan sent a non-scoring defender up in their first 5 PKs.  Also not sure why S Nakamura didn't play this WC.  Paraguay seem difficult to score on so it will be interesting to see how Spain dices them up.

Spain 1 - Portugal 0
Espana's goal was representative of their tiki-taka play.  Just outside the box, there were about 4 passes, including a clever backheel by Xavi, which finally allowed a wide open Villa to finish it off.  If I was Spain, I'd just be worried about Torres, who hasn't been in form this season and is still recovering from recent surgery.

Forget the predictions, this is what I want to see.

Brazil over Netherlands - I hope its a great game but I like Kaka more than Sneijder.
Ghana over Uruguay - Go Africa!
Argentina over Germany - Only, and I mean only because I want to see Messi vs Spain.
Spain over Paraguay - paraguay, go away.

Brazil over Ghana - Ghana is gone-a.  (sorry)
Spain over Argentina - Is Messi better than the Barcelona contingent?

Brazil over Spain - I'd like to see the best country to have never won finally prevail over the only 5 time WC champions.  I'd like to see the team with the most beautiful style win it all.  I'd like to see Casillas, Ramos and all those representing Real lift the trophy.   But, I like Kaka more than Xavi, or Iniesta, or Villa, or Fabregas or Torres, or any other ridiculously talented Spaniard.  Either way, this is the true heavyweight matchup of #1 vs #2 that everyone wants to see.

US v Ghana

It was a massive disappointment, a momentous letdown.  We knew that by winning our group we would be in a relatively easy bracket, one without Germany and Argentina.  It might be the easiest path to the semis that we may ever see again.  After failing to beat Ghana in 2006, we had a 2nd chance at them and this time Essien wasn't even fit.  This time, we we came with a better team, a bigger heart and a stronger fighting spirit.  And the opportunity was wasted.

It was disappointing because a ref screwed us out of a win over Slovenia that would've taken the pressure off qualifying in the 3rd game.  It was disappointing because we spent all our energy vs Algeria trying to score, even though Dempsey did early on which would've enabled us to conserve effort in the 2nd half.

It was disappointing because, just as I feared, after such a physically and emotionally draining win over Algeria and subsequent celebration, we were only scheduled for 2 days rest, not nearly enough to fully recuperate from a 90 minute WC match by any logic.

It was disappointing because we gave up the first goal for the 3rd time in 4 games (all within 15 minutes) and the 2nd time it happened within the first 5 minutes.  How could we not come focused and ready to play?

It was disappointing that after giving up an early goal in regulation, we gave up another early goal in extra time.  We didn't learn our lesson.  This time, we had used up all our nine lives.

It was disappointing that Ghana, as Bradley said, only had 3 good opportunities, and scored on two of them.

It was disappointing because Ricardo Clark was clearly less effective than Maurice Edu throughout the tournament and yet Bob Bradley started him the Ghana game anyway.  Both early goals are mostly attributable to Clark's mistakes.  Credit to Bob for pulling him right away but the damage was done.  I've never rated Clark highly and would've left him off the WC squad if I could.  Edu and Feilhaber were enough to hold down the center alongside Bradley.

It was disappointing that Gooch was not in great form for this tournament.  His speed might've prevented one or both of those Ghana goals since DeMerit and Bocanegra were a step too slow to stop those efforts.  Boca actually shouldered Gyan pretty forcefully but couldn't take him off the ball.  Boca then seemed to ease off, perhaps because he thought the ball popped up in the air.

It was disappointing that Tim Howard couldn't stop one or both of those Ghana goals, even if neither were his fault.  A great goalkeeper will keep his team in the game when they need him most.  He seemed to slightly hesitate on the first goal.  Okay, yes, it wasn't really his fault.

It was disappointing that we couldn't get that 2nd goal after Donovan's PK to avoid extra time, though we tried.

It was disappointing that no goals came from our 4 strikers this tournament, including Robbie Findley who received most of the playing time next to Jozy.  His speed meant nothing since he showed no touch, no ability to link with Jozy and was no threat to score.  If it were up to me, I would've started Dempsey up top and used the depth of our midfield to our advantage.  Feilhaber contributed more on the field than Findley did.  Though its disappointing that Jozy should've have taken more shots on goal, at least he contributed to the two biggest goals we scored at the end of the last two group games.

It was disappointing that they captured a country's hearts with their admirable and tireless comeback ability but let all momentum slip away by losing to a beatable team.

Its disappointing and embarrassing that we were the only group winner out of 8 who didn't advance to the quarterfinals.

It was disappointing that Landon Donovan, now clearly the greatest US player in history, with his records of 12 WC caps and 5 goals, couldn't advance past Rd 16 in the last WC he'll have in his prime.

It was disappointing because of all the drama and epic moments we had in this WC, we only came away with 1 win.  (Yes, I know we actually won twice.)

Its disappointing that all the buildup and anticipation of the last 4 years, the Gold Cup, the qualifying, the Confed Cup, this entire cycle ended with a anticlimactic loss to a beatable team.  It would have been better to lose to Germany.  It would have been more acceptable to lose in the next round, even against a beatable Uruguay.  There should have been more to this story.

However, I think the fact that there is such disappointment with merely advancing to the knockout stage is really a testament to the fact that good is no longer good enough.  We want to be great.

Friday, June 25, 2010

US Roster Look

Pre-World Cup, I thought the starting lineup would be:


1st Defender off bench: Spector
1st Midfielders off bench: Feilhaber, Clark
1st Forward off bench: Gomez

Now after 3 group games, its clear Bob Bradley would prefer starting Findley up top for speed and Dempsey on the right mid.  The other central position beside Michael is a rotating door with 3 different starters:


Against England, he went with his preferred lineup, then started Clark next to Mike, and later brought in Buddle and Holden as subs for Findley and Jozy.

Against Slovenia, he started Torres instead of Clark and brought in Feilhaber and Edu at half for Torres and Findley.  Gomez came in the 80th minute for Gooch when Bob went to a 3-4-3 to push for a goal.  (Dempsey-Jozy-Gomez up top).

Against Algeria, he started Gomez instead of a red-carded Findley and Edu instead of Torres/Clark.  Bornstein started on the left and Boca moved to the center in place of the benched Gooch.  At half, Feilhaber again came in, this time for Gomez as Dempsey moved up top.  Later Buddle came in for Edu as Dempsey dropped back to the attacking midfield.  Beasley eventually saw some time for Bornstein as Bob again went to a 3-4-3.

Bob Bradley has again really shown some tactical aggression as he switches to a risky 3-4-3 when goals are needed.  The moves were well timed and paid off with scores at the end of the last two games.

The players that have yet to play are our 2 backup keepers - Hahnemann and Guzan, and defenders Spector and Goodson.  I'm a little surprised that Spector hasn't played yet even though he didn't have the greatest season because he was a big contributor to our Confederations Cup success last summer.  Clearly its merely a result of Cherundolo's outstanding play.

Guys who've started every game: Donovan, Dempsey, Howard, Boca, DeMerit, Cherundolo, Bradley, Altidore.

Guys who've played in 2 games (or part of): Feilhaber, Edu, Buddle, Gomez, Findley and Gooch.

Guys who've only played one game (or part of): Holden, Clark, Torres, Beasley and Bornstein.

I would say that Bob has made great use of his 23 man roster.  Hopefully our depth comes in handy with this crazy 2 day rest before our first knockout match.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

DeMarcus Cousins is a King

Initially, I did not want Cousins.  He acted like a primadonna in his one year at Kentucky.  But the experts said that this was a 4 player draft: Wall, Turner, Favors and Cousins.  The Kings had the 5th pick.  So we should take any of the 4 that fall to us.  And that was Cousins.  He's definitely got an NBA body and a NBA game.  And he already has a NBA attitude.  ugh.  Now we just need to hire Artest's psychiatrist.  And maybe Calipari, to run the Evans-Cousins show.

With Dalembert in the fold, we've suddenly become a very big team.  Cousins, Thompson, Landry, Greene, Casspi - we should be able to grab some boards this year.  Playoffs!


Group Stage Wrapup & Knockout Predictions

Big Boys Going Home

France - How does a terrible player manager and game tactician keep his job after France's Euro 2008 performance?  (I thought he was terrible in WC 2006 and only got saved by Zidane's brilliance.)  How does the French Federation decide that they're firing him but wait to do it until after the World Cup?  What makes them think that players who already don't like him would respond any better after he becomes a lame duck coach?  And what makes them think that his game tactics would improve on the biggest stage?  Okay, I also blame the players.  The prostitute scandal involving Ribery and other stars didn't help.  The team strike led by Evra was immature and lacked forethought.  The whole thing was a catastrophe.  I can't believe they don't understand that this only happens once every 4 years.  Some players only get 1 or 2 shots at it in their career.  Just stupid.  I'm seriously just mad that they couldn't take Mexico out first round.  France sucks.  Bring back Zidane.

Italy - I knew they were old but they had one of the easier groups out there.  To not beat New Zealand or Slovakia was inexcusable.  Many will blame Lippi for not selecting younger players but I think it could be that Italy's golden generation is over the hill and there hasn't been new players to take their place.  (Or maybe Lippi selected the wrong players - where's Totti?)  Gullit brought up an interesting point - the English and Spanish leagues are starting to dominate on the world stage and even though Inter won the Champions League, they don't play any Italian players.  The soccer landscape has changed, and maybe Italy isn't a major player anymore.

Surprising Group Winners
Uruguay - One of the best teams so far.  They haven't allowed a goal and Forlan is truly in form.  I love that they beat Mexico and dropped them into the Argentina bracket.
Paraguay - The last team standing in a mediocre group.  South American countries all won the group they're in, except Chile who took 2nd behind Brazil.  A SoAm final four is possible.
USA! - They threw offense at us (Rooney), they threw defense (Slovs), then they tried neither (Algeria).  Donovan - MVP of Group C.

Interesting Round of 16 Matchups
USA-Ghana - rematch of 2006 game which decided who would play sacrificial lamb to Brazil.
Argentina-Mexico - rematch of 2006 knockout match.  Last time, Maxi Rodriguez scored the goal of the tourney.  actually, nevermind, nothing with Mexico is great.  Lets just hope that punk Marquez doesn't play dirty.
Germany-England - Gary Lineker said after losing a WC semi to Germany in a shootout: "Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win".
Spain-Portugal - okay, I know Spain hasn't won their group yet but you don't really want to see Spain-Brazil now, do you?


Round of 16
Uruguay beats Korea
USA beats Ghana
Argentina crushes Mexico
England beats Germany - close, but Germany is upset
Netherlands beats Slovakia
Brazil beats Chile
Paraguay beats Japan
Spain beats Portugal

USA beats Uruguay - Donovan > Forlan
Argentina beats England - England goes down on PKs.
Brazil beats Netherlands - Kaka comes through, Robben and Van Persie get hurt.
Spain beats Paraguay

Brazil beats USA
Spain beats Argentina - Heinze, Samuel and company are too slow to stop Torres/Villa.

Brazil beats Spain - I'm starting to think that Spain's loss to Bradley's defensive tactics (as displayed by Switzerland again) will be exploited by Dunga's Brazil.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

US v Algeria!

This was one of the great moments in US Soccer history.

Certainly the biggest since WC 2002.  Bigger than the over-hyped England draw.  Bigger than Bradley's goal vs Slovenia because that was marred by the Mali ref (and because that merely kept us alive).  Bigger even than beating Spain in the Confed Cup (which I state hesitantly) simply because this was in the WC.  This allowed the joyous release of emotion and indignation that pent up across the country since the disallowed goal from the last match.  In many ways, the injustice of that call brought more attention to the team than they would've received had they won.  Yes an epic comeback would have been celebrated, but nothing outrages Americans more than being cheated out of what we rightfully earned by sweat and blood.  Subsequently, the Algerian match brought 90 minutes of close calls and more injustice, which only added to the emotion of the moment.  So Landon's goal instantly became the most memorable moment of our generation.  (2 friends told me minutes after the game that they became US soccer fans.  Instantly.  Not casual fans either - when these two become a fan, they become A FAN.)

For the first 85 minutes, I was confident that we would score on one of those chances and win.  How unlucky could we get?  Herculez all by himself, missing with only the keeper to beat.  A Dempsey goal called back.  Landon and Jozy both swinging at the ball and skying it (Landon should've let Jozy take it).  DeMerit's header over the top.  Dempsey's shot off the inside of the post and subsequent rebound miss on a open net.  Buddle's header right at the keeper.  Bradley's ferocious free kick, again at the keeper.  Feilhaber's faulty pass to the keeper.  By the 86th minute, I began pacing uncontrollably.  How could this happen?  How could the last 4 years of anticipation die a painful death as this?  Winning this game was supposed to be destiny.  A place in the knockout round BELONGED to us.  It was OWED to us.  The last few minutes of regulation, we had a mini lull and couldn't mount much of an attack.  It really was the first time all game that I started to worry.

I looked at my friend (the only US fan friend that I've really had for the last 8 years and seen all the games with, the one I went to Deutschland '06 with, the one I would've gone to SA with had we not both recently become fathers) and we wondered how incredible an injury time goal would be.  I must admit it wasn't confidence.  It was just wishful thinking.  My mind had already started to go numb in horror.  Even as we spoke of it, there's no way we could have conceived how big that moment would be. 

How insane is the World Cup?  Had we not scored, the past 4 year cycle would have been deemed a failure.  Yes, we could argue that we were robbed, twice, but the facts would remain that we didn't win a game in the group stage again.  Again, we couldn't deliver when the chips were down in the do or die last game.  There would probably be wholesale coaching changes again and perhaps even a philosophy shift in US Soccer.  The victory over Spain last year would be viewed a fluke.  We would sink into the abyss of a soccer wannabe nation for another 4 years.  We would've lost much of the US support we've earned since last summer.  Landon Donovan and our other stars would be viewed as players who were once again unable to perform and deliver on the biggest stage.  It would have been doomsday.

With just one goal, everything changes.  We won the group, which we have never done before in the modern age.  Instead of not being able to win a game, we can now say that didn't lose match in the group stage for the first time ever, and should have won twice.  Bob Bradley's tenure is deemed a huge success and our players' dedication and hard work is venerated across the country.  Our players will likely receive worldwide attention and perhaps transfer opportunities to better clubs, bigger stages.  Also, instead of playing Germany and Argentina should we advance, we now face Ghana and the winner of Uruguay/Korea, should we advance.

Our WC has been perfect so far.  We thought we had a great chance to advance.  It was expected.  But no one expected the drama that would ensue to get there.  A dramatic howler/goal vs England.  A massive 2nd half comeback and then THAT call.  Then a nail-biting, heart-stopping match capped by an injury-time game-winner, group-winner, career-saver, program-turner, nation-enthraller and international stage moment- grabber.  What really manifested itself through this groups stage was our team's heart.

Why do I love this team?  Because we're not a team of egos.  Because we know we're not one of the elites in the world and before this month, our team wasn't even respected in our own country.  Because we still play like underdogs.  Because we have a never say die attitude.  Because we're not the most technically skilled but we run and work for 90 minutes.  Because we're not dirty and we don't dive.  We play the right way, the American way.  And now, because we win.

Players - everyone gets as 10 on this one.

Donovan - Biggest moment of his life.  He finally delivered on the biggest stage with the pressure (and blame) on his shoulders.

Howard - Clean sheet.  Grabbed that dangerous Algerian header in extra time and threw it 50 yards to Landon's streaking feet.  His throw was as big a factor to our goal as any other.

Dempsey - fought and battled all game.  Unlucky to score several times but he was huge factor in our goal.

Altidore - Most beat up 20 year old in soccer right now as he is a foul-drawing machine.  Now he just needs to score.

Bradley - Slowly becoming one of my favorite players.  Hard-nosed, run-all-day and intelligent on the ball.

Edu - subbed at half after solid effort.  Still, Clark didn't play so he could see 90 minutes vs Ghana.

Cherundolo - 3rd straight GREAT game.

DeMerit - After a shaky start including a whiff that led to a dangerous chance for Algeria, he settled down.

Bocanegra - Didn't notice any mistakes in Gooch's place.

Bornstein - As US fans everywhere hoped there wouldn't be a Bornstein gaffe to cost us, he acquitted himself well.  As a fellow Bruin, I'm glad he had a good showing.  Gooch was the surprise omission but since he had a hand in all 3 allowed goals, it made sense.  Perhaps he'll be rested for Sat.

Gomez - Solid half.  Missed good chances but should've had an assist.


Feilhaber - I wish he shot instead of trying to pass it in front of the keeper.  Didn't he see Maicon's goal?

Buddle - Looked to me to be a little slow in decision making, but he did get a header on goal.

Beasley - yellow-carded for handball.  I'm just glad he got on the field this WC.

Bob Bradley has become a major story as well.  For about 10 minutes vs Slovenia, he threw caution to the wind and only played 3 defenders in the back, essentially a 3-4-3 until Bradley scored.  He had brought Gooch out and subbed in Gomez.  Same thing vs Algeria, he brought out Bornstein and Beasley played on the left wing.  As much as the critics slam Bradley on his conservative philosophy, he got his tactics right in both games.  We pressed, got the goals, and returned to our 4-4-2.

I admit that I'm worried about the match vs Ghana.  The US is physically and emotionally spent after that match and they only have 2 days rest.  They even had a party after returning to home base.  Ghana lost to Germany their last match so they are naturally going to find it easier to be more locked in, more focused than us.  In many ways, our biggest goal was to get out of the group.  Unlike the world powers like Brazil, anything we accomplish from here on out is gravy.  I think its dangerous to have that mindset in addition to not having enough time to recuperate.  Ultimately, it could really hurt us as fatigue could hit us in the 70th minute or so.  That said, I think that no one is as fit as us.  Also, we are much deeper than Ghana who started the same 9 players in all 3 matches - Gooch, Clark, Findley, Holden, Gomez and Torres are all capable starters that will be fresh for Sat.  We also have Beasley, Buddle, Spector and Goodson if necessary as well.

Lastly, there's a redemption factor here.  We needed a victory over Essien's Black Stars in 2006 and came up painfully short.  They scored 2 goals, first off a freak accident to Reyna and then a bad call on Gooch which resulted in a penalty right before half.  Unable to score the 2 goals needed to advance in the 2nd half, we went home disappointed.  I'm sure Donovan, Dempsey, Gooch, Boca and others will use that memory as motivation for Saturday.

Monday, June 21, 2010

2nd Group Game Wrapup

Argentina - Messi might not have scored yet but he is now the engine to that team, a role he hasn't been previously.
Netherlands - 6 points, rounding into form.
Brazil - Ivory Coast injured Elano and dove to get Kaka red carded, but at least both can take a breather and come back for the knockout round.

Cameroon - also belongs in embarrassing category.  1 of 3 teams to earn 0 points so far (N Korea, Nigeria)
N Korea - I hope no one gets sent to labor camps.

Just about Eliminated:
South Africa - their thrashing at the hands of Forlan was embarrassing and put them in a GD hole.
Ivory Coast - At least Drogba scored.  Portugal's 9 goal lead makes it nearly impossible for IC to advance.
Algeria - they need to beat the US and hope England loses to Slovenia.  Yeah, its possible.  Not likely.
Greece - basically, they need a result from Argentina and help.
Australia - need to win, need Ghana to beat Germany.
Slovakia - need to beat Italia.
New Zealand - need to beat Paraguay by more than Italy beats Slovakia.
Honduras - they need to win, Spain to lose and goal differential.  stick a fork in em.

Africa - All 6 countries are likely to be eliminated after group stage.  4 are all but done, and if favored Germany beats Ghana and favored Serbia beat Australia, Ghana's out too.  Nigeria needs to beat S Korea.
France - This chaos was predictable.  A non-cohesive side losing to Mexico (ugh), Anelka's profane mouth getting him kicked off the team, the team refusing to practice as a result, team trainer and team director quitting, and Domenech doing NOTHING.  Though his stupidity is not an excuse for the players' off the field behavior, Domenech's incompetence on and off the field is the reason they have yet to win.  He should've been fired 4 years ago, much less 4 weeks ago since he was the lame duck coach anyway.  I would install the new guy in now.  Today.  They can still advance.  Ireland is happy at least.
England - 2 draws in 2 games with the group leader left to play is not the most desirable position, but they control their own destiny.  Man, English media are impossible to deal with.
Italy - Should've lost vs New Zealand since that penalty was the result of a Italian dive (De Rossi) but the media's obsession with NZ as the cinderella was a little over the top.  Italy will still qualify.

Ticked off:
Germany - after thrashing the Aussies by 4, the Germans were the victim of a horrible refereeing job that saw too many yellows for ticky tack fouls and the 1st half ejection of Klose in their 1-0 loss to Serbia.

Win and they're in:
Uruguay, Mexico, S Korea, Slovenia, England, USA, Germany, Ghana, Serbia, Japan, Denmark, Paraguay, Italy, NZ (whoa), Portugal, Chile, Nigeria (and Argentina beats Greece)

Quite a Predicament:
Group H - Spain, Chile, Switzerland could all end up with 6 points after the group stage.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

US v Slovakia!

Wow.  To come back from being down 2 goals at half and secure a valuable point is so difficult to do in a World Cup match.  The Edu goal/wrong call will probably end up being more memorable (especially if the US is unable to advance), but the Bradley goal is actually one of the great moments in US World Cup history.  They even showed a US fan sobbing with joy, which echoed the sentiments of US fans across the nation.  His goal capped a wild and frantic comeback in the 2nd half that will be remembered for years to come.  Too bad the referee robbed the US of an even greater moment.  More on that later.

Going into this game, I really believed that we would win by perhaps a 2 goal margin.  Though Slovenia's defense was lauded as their strength, I thought that our athleticism and attacking speed was far more dangerous than we were given credit for.  Torres' place in the starting lineup was a sign that Bob Bradley thought we could dominate possession from the beginning.  I, for one, was happy that Bob was not playing it safe with Clark again.  However, surprisingly, Torres was unable to control the flow of the midfield and it was almost as if he was swallowed up by the moment.  I can't say that we didn't have decent chances but I was surprised to see Slovenia attack as much as they did.

In rewatching their first goal, my opinion still hasn't changed.  I think Gooch hesitated and didn't close down Birsa in space.  Then at the moment of the shot, Gooch ducked down below it.  Had he stayed upright, he might have been able to deflect it.  On replays, you can see the trajectory of the ball go right over a falling Gooch.  Landon also let Slovenia's right wing drift into the center freely and wasn't anywhere near him to do anything about it.  As for Howard, he clearly lost the ball and probably wouldn't have been able to stop it had he saw it anyway.  Ugh.  It's just disheartening to go down a goal again.

The 2nd goal was what I thought to be our deathblow.  A perfectly executed counterattack, a gap between DeMerit and Gooch, a clinical finish.  I was shocked.  In disbelief.  It was like a cold assassination.  Out of nowhere.  I've waited four years to get the bad taste of losses to the Czech Rep and Ghana out of my mouth and it happens again.

Fortunately, this team didn't give up.  Fortunately, Landon is a better player, with a different attitude.  2 minutes after half was one of my favorite moments as a US fan.  Landon in space with all of US soccer nation knowing that he had to shoot, and this time he did.  As hard as he could.  Right at the keeper's head.  And he roofed it.  (The keeper could have at least tried to interfere with it by closing down the angle and making himself big.  What he actually did was keep his arms low and duck backwards.  Can't see Timmy ever doing that.)  As I've said before, 4 years ago in the dying moments vs Ghana, Landon should have shot but he laid it off to Olsen.  For me, it was precisely that enduring image that he smashed in the 48th minute vs Slovenia.

So this time it would be different.  We wouldn't lay down after going down early like we did vs Czech Rep.  The rest of the 2nd half, we played possessed.  Jozy was a manchild up top, showing his strength in bringing down passes and holding possession.  His 80th minute header into space perfectly let Bradley run onto it, who then kung fu kicked it home.  (Notice I said Kung Fu, not karate.  If the movie is set in China, then its Kung Fu Kid, not Karate Kid, idiots.  Now we're even, heh.)  Incidentally, Bradley also hit the ball right at the keeper's head, who was useless again.

I really respect Bradley's desire which compelled him to make that difficult 50 yard sprint at the end of the game.  It resulted in a breathtaking moment.  More than that, it was the moment that made the entirety of the last 4 years relevant.  The hiring of a new coach, the 2007 Gold Cup, the Confed Cup, the 1st place in Concacaf qualifying - all of that would have been all for naught had Bradley not made that run.

Now we're in the same position as we were 4 years ago.  Beat an African team in the last match of the group stage and we're through.  This time we play a less talented side than Essien's Black Stars.  This time we have a great chance of winning the group.  Lets see if we've really learned anything since 2006.

Player Ratings

6 Howard - 2 goals allowed in a crucial match.  Neither were his fault but it would have been great to have made an awesome save on one of them.

6 Bocanegra - No one is calling for Bornstein or Spector yet.  I can ignore that he doesn't contribute offensively.  And I'm still waiting for a classic Bocanegra goal, you know, corner kick, off his hip or calf or abdomen, into the net.

4 Onyewu - 1st goal as due to his hesitation and then his decision to fall to the ground.  I'm not calling for his benching though.  Also, I was impressed by one pass that put Jozy in a great position, which Jozy wasted.

7 DeMerit - I love Jay's tenacity.  I'm just afraid that one of these plays, he's going to be slightly late and get called for a penalty.  Also, he doesn't seem to get off the ground that well or make up ground when needed.  But, I love his tenacity.

8 Cherundolo - The best player on defense for the 2nd game in a row.  He and Landon really create problems on the right and his positioning and speed are critical to us on defense.

8 Bradley - One of my favorite moments in US Soccer history.

4 Torres - Probably better as a 2nd half sub.  But his powerful, swerving free kick almost got home.

5 Dempsey - His flying elbow in the first minute could have been a red card on another day.  But he covered a lot of ground.

9 Donovan - While Dempsey scores against the likes of England, this is the sort of match that I actually expected Landon to dominate.  He was dangerous all game and played a part in all 3 goals.

4 Findley - Hasn't shown that he's dangerous at all with the ball at his feet.  But his yellow card was ridiculous.

7 Altidore - Strong, held up balls, drew fouls.  All that's missing is a goal, which hopefully will come vs Algeria.  Otherwise, he's a younger Brian Ching.  Setup 2nd goal.


5 Feilhaber -  with the attack coming from Landon on the right, he wasn't that involved.

6 Edu - On 2nd viewing, he wasn't the huge upgrade over Torres that I thought.  Still, he covered a lot of ground and even played CB after our equalizer.  His called back goal was one of the worst travesties in WC history.

6 Gomez - He should be the replacement for Findley vs Algeria.  His off the ball movements helped create opportunities in our attack.

The Ref

WE WERE ROBBED.  And the worst part of this was that the referee refused to explain his reasons.  Bob Bradley thinks it was a make-up call for something earlier, which would explain the early whistle.  But the fact remains that you wouldn't need a make-up call if you called it correctly to begin with.  I just hope that Bob is right and there isn't a deeper seeded motive for corruption underneath.  Either way, FIFA needs to investigate instead of always covering for their refs.

Its egregious that FIFA still does not have an effective way to safeguard their game vs corruption and bad calls.  A game with 22 moving parts only has 1 ref on the field?  It doesn't review and penalize players after the match if the referee doesn't see the infraction?  It doesn't do anything to overturn its mistakes?  FIFA seems to think that soccer fans embrace the idea of human error.  If anything, we've become so used to horrible mistakes that we no longer feel the outrage that we should.  I was angry but then just about over it once I saw England's scoreless draw give us new life at winning the group.  I knew that it was pointless to get worked up.  FIFA was going to do nothing.

This is what I would do:

1) The referee should be made to explain his decisions.  After every game, he should be forced to sit down and write a report on every single decision he made.  He can acknowledge his errors or justify his decisions.  Either way, it needs to be reviewed by FIFA and the referee needs to be held accountable.

2) Secondly, every goal should have instant replay.  I am not calling for every play to be reviewed, but every goal should be looked at.  Since there is already a stoppage in play (and don't get me started on stopping the clock - how hard is it to stop the clock on goals, substitutions, injuries or other major stoppages in action?  Its freakin 2010, we have stopwatches), it couldn't hurt for a referee on the sidelines to review it.  And only the play or players in question can be reviewed.  It must be stated by the ref beforehand what exactly is being reviewed.  So a referee cannot call a penalty after the fact, for instance, on a player grabbing another when they were completely unrelated to the play in review.

3) Issue or withdraw cards retroactively, postgame.  This is not difficult.  If you review it, you will see that Findley did not handle the ball, and should not miss the 3rd game.  If Ronaldo dives for a foul, you can punish retroactively.  If someone pretends to get elbowed by Kaka in the face, yellow card him.  This is beyond obvious.

4) Refs behind the goals.  Because of the severe consequence of plays near the goal (or fouls in the penalty box), it is obvious that there should be an additional referee stationed behind each goal.  More eyes are better than less - especially when a tired referee is running up and down the field for about 8 miles each game.  There is no excuse why this is not already in place.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

After the first round of group games...

- Germany - clearly the most impressive so far with 4 effortless goals.  The German machine is at work again.  Ballack who?
- Brazil - took over a half to breakdown N Korea's 7 man defense but their 2 goals are among the best so far.  Maicon had no angle for his goal and Robinho's pass threaded the entire defense over 30 yards to reach Elano in stride.
- Argentina only scored 1 but hey, a win's a win. Still waiting for a Messi golazo to really get the tourney going.  (Or today's 4 goal outburst will do as well).
- Netherlands didn't impress, didn't depress.

- France and Uruguay played a drab draw.  Domenech show again that he's the most imbecilic manager ever for not starting Malouda.
- England was forced into an ugly game by US.
- Italy's draw reveals the need for some offensive imagination.
-Portugal will only go as far as Ronaldo can take them.  And all he's doing is diving.  Its embarrassing.

- Spain - Villa and Torres need to get it going.  Midfield is giving them plenty of chances.
-African teams: Cameroon didn't show up.  Algeria gifted Slovenia a win.  Ivory Coast couldn't muster an attack.  Only Ghana managed to win. And host country...
- South Africa should've had a win vs Mexico with the eyes on the world watching.  2 mistakes stood out, the stupidity of their CB to hold 4 Mexicans onside cost them a win.  They also had an injury time shot that clanged off the post.
- Serbia was a favorite to advance but hurt their chances with a handball of the most daft kind.
- N Korea was surprisingly resilient defensively.  Also, they weren't emaciated and playing in rags.  A note to the emotional north korean - dude, your homeland is dominated by a totalitarian and paranoid maniac who thinks he's a god.  Wait, maybe that's why Tae was crying.

- Switzerland - Swiss coach revealed that he studied Bradley's tactics to upset favorite Spain on the biggest stage.
- S Korea outplayed an overrated Greek team by showing their industry, speed and fitness.
- Japan won for the first time outside of Asia over a favored African side (Cameroon).

- USA - happily take a draw against England any day of the week.
- Uruguay - Forlan looked primed and ready to explode, as we found out yesterday.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

US v England!

I had to find the time to re-watch our match vs England before forming a final opinion since the first viewing was really all about the party.  A friend of mine threw a birthday/gameday bash and packed in 30 plus fans into his (sizable) living room.  Most in attendance could be classified somewhere in the range from casual fans to interested spectators in this whole "soccerball world series", as the Sun so eloquently put it.

There is of course always the one guy, whom US fans would call a eurosnob, who randomly follows an EPL team, though he's never seen them in person, learns all their songs, and refuses to support the US (or MLS), labeling it as inferior.  Now, I don't have a lot of love for the MLS either, but I can't discount the impact its had on the progression of our national side.  Though only 4 members of our WC squad are currently in the MLS, the majority spent formative years of their careers there.  But to support France or England over the US?!?!  That's freakin ridiculous.  I can't stand those who think of the US team like its some kind of club team.  No, they represent you whether you like it or not.  France doesn't claim you.  They don't represent you.  They don't want you.  I don't understand why eurosnobs don't get that.

Its also not about the quality of soccer.  Anyway, we're really only 20 years young as a soccer nation since we were essentially dead from 1950 - 1990.  To have achieved what we've achieved already is phenomenal.  And we're only getting better.  I love US Soccer because we're still underdogs.  But we work hard and we play as a team.  And there are no egos bigger than the team.  We might be short (quickly developing) on technical skill but we're long on heart.  That's as simply as I can put it.  Back to the game.  Fortunately, my eurosnob friend came not wanting to be the pooper, and credit to him, wanted to see us win.  He couldn't keep from disparaging our players periodically, but hey, baby steps.

As much as ESPN was hyping this matchup, a true fan knew the matches vs Slovenia and Algeria were actually more important in terms of advancing.  England was likely to go through so we're actually battling the other two for the one spot left.  I also thought that we'd have a hard time getting points off England anyway because I felt we were similar stylistically while they were superior individually.  Obviously only Howard could be in England's starting 11 (as could Hahnemann, Guzan and Friedel) and perhaps only Donovan and Dempsey would have a shot at the 23 man squad.

But for the visibility of the game in the US, this match was the biggie.  ESPN knew it and pushed it unrelentlessly for 6 months.  I think the fact that they put their considerable weight behind it does more for the growth of the game in the US as any one match can do.  Losing on Saturday would have definitely been a step back, but the hype leading up to it was beneficial longterm anyway.  Surprisingly, our game was the 5th most viewed WC game IN HISTORY. It was definitely the highest rated group game of all time.  And I don't think the numbers adequately reflect the fact that most fans, like us, watched in large groups settings, some even gathering by the hundreds or thousands across the country.

Before the match, it was a little awkward watching the two teams in the tunnel.  Besides Tim Howard briefly greeting Robert Green, interesting in itself - as if it say "I'm the only one good enough to belong" and "I'm about to show you the American art of goalkeeping" - I didn't observe any US player even looking over at the English side, including captain Bocanegra who even turned his back on Gerrard to keep from having to acknowledge him.  I wish we wore our blue track jackets since England opted for no jackets.  It was too much white.  I also thought of the fact that last time we played England at Wembley in a friendly, English players noticed that some of on our squad were visibly shaking from nervousness.  I didn't see that this time.  Another plus for Bob's scheduling of difficult friendlies.

The English sing "My country tis of Thee" all jacked up.  What?  "save the Queen"?  seriously?  Its 2010!  We have a black president and you're still summoning up imagery about knights saving the queen.  just sayin.  But I think there is no better national anthem than ours.  Especially when it starts with the roll of the snare.  Then "flag was still there" & "land of the free and the home of the brave".  sniff.  perfect.  Most countries' players pose and look poignant when the camera is on them.  I think our players, with hands over hearts, actually know that they represent the greatest country in the world.

As for the starting lineup, I would have preferred Edu over Clark.  To me, Clark is a red card waiting to happen and he lacks the ability to contribute to the offense.  His passing is almost always backwards or sideways.  Edu is a better 2 way player.  Unlike many though, I didn't want to see Torres or Feilhaber vs England simply because I knew this was going to have to be a defensive game, especially with Lampard and Gerrard in the center.  Findley was a mild surprise, but the strategy is clearly to use speed to threaten Terry and King, who lack Rio's presence.

For the 3 Lions, I can't believe someone like Joe Cole doesn't start.  Especially over Milner.  Also, I don't mind Heskey as long as Gerrard and Lamps are free to go forward at anytime.  But with the duo forced to alternately stay back in place of Barry, I would've rather started a more potent offensive option alongside Rooney instead of Heskey.

I liked the prolonged pregame huddle.  (Who spoke?  Boca?)  I didn't like that England scored in the 4th minute.  It was just .... deflating.  We waited 4 long years for this game, unable to forget how dejected we were after getting robbed (crap pk call vs Gooch) vs Ghana in 2006.  In the waning moments of that game, Landon had the ball right outside the penalty box and instead of shooting, he laid it off to BEN OLSEN, possibly the least threatening player in US WC history.

The 2nd worst feeling from that Cup was the goal in the 3rd minute by Jan Koller in the first group game vs Czech Rep.  After we traveled all the way to Germany, couldn't they wait a half or two before raining on our parade?  Now, 4 long years later, we were again in the hole 4 minutes into the first game.  Unbelievable.

The difference from the Czech Rep game when LB Eddie Lewis was badly caught out of position and this time, is that this was sort of a fluke.  A pass meant for Rooney scooted instead to Heskey.  Gooch ran to pressure Rooney and was caught too far out.  Meanwhile Gerrard lost Clark on a diagonal run and Heskey made a Brian Ching-like pass which Gerrard easily scored on.  Clark was at fault.  Gooch was caught in no man's land.  DeMerit and Boca could've both reacted better.  So basically, it wasn't Cherundolo's fault.

The 2nd viewing, I watched carefully to see how we would react to a potentially devastating moment.  On Saturday, I thought it took about 10 minutes to mentally recover.  2nd time, I actually thought we didn't break in form at all.  It shows strength in our resolve.  Or perhaps it was overwhelming belief in Bradley's game plan.  Or something else lofty-sounding like that.

Jozy had the best US chance in the box in the 1st half from a great Donovan pass which just glanced off his head.  Dolo also seemed ultra active and forced Capello to make a tactical change 30 minutes into the game.  It was surprising to say the least.  When's the last time a manager made a non-injury sub while they're winning 1-0 before the half?  Great teams impose their will, not adjust personnel to match upstarts.

Tim Howard's injury looks to me to be broken ribs.  They haven't done scans yet since there isn't much they can do about it anyway.  Hopefully a shot of painkiller and natural adrenalin will do the trick on Friday.

I'm not sure anything can cure what will now plague Robert Green for the rest of his life.  Perhaps he can finally move on if he ever decides to live in the US.  Then again, record numbers here did see his gaffe.  Dempsey will forever be credited for the goal but most in England probably think it was an own goal.  I liked how Dempsey turned Gerrard twice on the same play and decided to give it a go.  However, while most think the shot was extremely manageable, I thought it deserved much more caution than Green gave it.

Howard would have had his hands and body behind that ball and cradled around it on the ground after.  Green almost looked like he was trying to pick it up.  That sort of error in technique is just shocking at this level and it is beyond me how Capello would allow a keeper with the sort of errors that Green has had this past year on the field.  Then again, clearly Capello is limited in his choices.  I hope Green gets another start and proves himself the next 2 games.  At least his mistake, unlike Beckham's in 98, or Seaman's in 02 or Rooney's in 06 didn't come in a game that they lost (or a knockout game).

The living room erupted when the ball trickled over the line.  I can't remember the last time we were on the fortunate side of such a play.  As the underdog who looks to play fair, we seem to always be on the wrong side of unexpected moments like that.  But for once, it happened for us on the biggest stage.

Jozy's sprint around Carragher was a glimpse of our future, even though it was the slow-footed Carragher, and had the ball hit the post a few inches to the right, it would have bounded into the goal instead of across the face of it.  That was the best scoring chance of the game, in my opinion.  One who didn't have good chances was Rooney.  After watching both times, I realized that he was pretty much taken out of the game by Gooch and DeMerit.  In fact, I can remember 2 times that he actually worried Howard - the first was a free header that Lampard placed half a foot above Rooney's reach and the second was a searing shot from distance which thankfully drifted right of goal.

With the CBs attention on Rooney, Dolo and Boca were left manning the wings and the speed of SWP and Lennon pretty much by themselves.  My biggest concern besides Rooney before this game was the speed of Lennon on the right vs Bocanegra.  While Lennon did threaten a few times from the wing, it never became the tactical story of the game that I thought it could be.

Some of those in attendance at the bash were let down or frustrated that we didn't press hard enough or possess the ball enough in the last 15 minutes of the game to try and win it.  Yes, I was hoping we could muster enough energy down the stretch for another fastbreak.  And yes, I would have preferred to pass the ball around a little instead of hoofing it downfield whenever we won possession.  Obviously winning would have been incredible.  But, to draw vs England on the biggest stage?  Coming back after a 4th minute deficit?  That is a great result.  It most likely means that we have a one point advantage over our opponents to start with, especially with Gareth Barry coming back to the English side.  We've also got to remember that in England, everyone is treating this as a loss.  So we have to see it as a win.

As for our players, I first thought that Clark and Findley both particularly had bad nights.  I thought our entire defense minus Dolo were also mediocre.  But on the 2nd viewing, I realized that no one played that poorly.  Everyone was pressuring the ball and doing their part to keep England from scoring again.  The very fact that Rooney, Gerrard and Lampard were very quiet this game after the 4th minute is a testament to a solid team effort.

1-10 Player Ratings

8.5 Howard: Man of the Match.  Cements his legacy in the tradition of great US keepers.

8.5 Cherundolo: best US defender on the night.  forced Milner off the field in just 30 min.

8 Bradley: tirelessly worked to minimize the effect Lampard and Gerrard had on the game.

7.5 Dempsey: likes to try .... stuff.  goal.

7 Donovan: I didn't notice Cole the whole game.  liked that he also took a couple long shots but I want to see more influence in the attack.

7 DeMerit: his resolve won over his lack of talent.  Marked Rooney ruthlessly out of the game.

6.5 Altidore: a few threatening chances.  Has to finish one.

6 Onyewu: not bad for his first full 90 since October.  Got caught jogging a few times.

6 Findley: Played hard.  Got fouled (uncalled) on dangerous breakaway.

6 Bocanegra: best LB option so I can't complain since Lennon didn't influence the game.

5.5 Clark: reacted too slow to Gerrard's run/goal.  But fiercely defended without fouling for most of the game.

NA Buddle / Holden: interesting that Buddle was brought in for Findley instead of Gomez.  Also interesting that Holden came in before Beasley.

Oh, and Gomez got screwed out of a 10 second cap by the ref.


Next up, Slovenia.  Since they won vs Algeria, (on an absolutely putrid keeper error), a win over the US would seal their spot in the next round, and essentially end our dreams to advance.  They would have 6 points after 2 games, while the best we could do is finish with 4 after all 3 games.  I think England, at worst, will win and draw in the next 2 games, which gives them 5 points.  So, this game is a must win.

I can't believe that their midfielder, Komac, is guaranteeing victory.  Gooch said it best when he said that no American would ever say anything like that.  Howard added that talk is cheap.  we'll see.

Slovenia is a defense and counter team so its time to bring in Torres or Feilhaber to possess the ball and unlock this defense.  I expect Donovan to have a huge game.  Can't wait.

I remember a buzz, a nonstop surge of excitement after the 1-1 draw vs Italy in 2006 ("9 men, we only had 9 men.  But we still forced a draw with the Ita-lians").  It was a feeling of great hope knowing that we only needed a win vs Ghana to advance.  Obviously staying home this time dampens the euphoria a bit.  But honestly, I feel the same investment this time.  We're in the same position now, only needing a win over a supposedly inferior opponent.  The main thing is to score first this time.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

2010 World Cup - My Preview

With the 2010 World Cup starting tomorrow, here's my take, and my predictions.  There is little chance of actually getting it right, but that's what makes it fun.

 The Favorites: Brazil, Spain

-Brazil and their un-Brazilian style of play: defense (2 holding midfielders - very Bradley-like) and counterattack (very American) instilled by Dunga is a vast contrast to the 2006 joga bonito edition featuring Ronaldinho.  But Dunga has them playing not to entertain, but to win.  And its working.  Led by Kaka and a trio of the world's best at their respective positions (all having won the CL for Inter last month) Cesar, Maicon and Lucio, Brazil is the favorite to raise the cup on July 11th.

-Espana's style is in direct contrast to Brazil.  They play a beautiful style of short-passing (tiki-taka) possession offense.  They believe that the best defense is a good offense.  Loaded with talent from Barcelona and Real Madrid, who can blame them?  I want to pick them to win but knowing that Spain always finds a way to lose, and no European team has ever won a cup not staged on European soil, and the fact the US played the Dunga style with inferior players and still beat them last year, I think Brazil may have the slight edge.

The Contenders: England, Netherlands, Argentina

I think these 3 teams have the best chance of winning after the two heavyweights above.  The Three Lions are marching into this tournament under another foreign coach, Italian Fabio Capello, and are tempting history since no foreign coach has ever guided a team to a Cup championship.  However, I think he's the best man for the job since he's not affected by the limelight or English media pressure.  Its for Capello alone that I've admitted England into this tier of true contenders.  In direct contrast to England, Argentina would join Brazil and Spain above if it were not for Maradona.  Personally I think he will find a way to cost this extremely talented Argentina side the title.  The Dutch have big time players as well but always underachieve on the big time stage.  Still, as long as they remain healthy, they are a threat.

The Pretenders: Germany, Italy, France

I'm treading on dangerous ground here, I know.  All three have won the trophy before and they all have what it takes to easily make the final.  But for one reason or another, I just don't see it happening for them this time.  Germany lacks starpower, especially with Ballack out, but usually makes up for it with great teamwork and fundamental play.  Not this year.  France is just the opposite - they might be more talented than anyone but their team play is severely lacking.  They also have the dumbest national team coach I have ever seen, Domenech.  Italy should probably be included in the group above but they just seem too old.  Plus, they won it last time, what's the chances they'll repeat?

Long shot: Portugal, Serbia, Ivory Coast

Long long shot: Cameroon, Chile, Greece, Mexico, Uruguay, USA


Group A
Uruguay - Forlan!
France - a big team always goes home early.
South Africa - first host nation to not win a game.

Group B
Argentina - Tevez-Higuain-Messi too much to handle.
South Korea

Group C

Group D
Serbia - Upsets Deutchland to win group of death.

Group E
Netherlands - don't need Robben in group stage.

Group F
Italy - Experience and Buffon too much for weak group.
New Zealand

Group G
Ivory Coast - advances b/c of win over Portugal
N Korea

Group H
Spain - runs up score in all 3 games.

Round of 16

1A Uruguay over 2B Nigeria
1C England over 2D Germany
1E Netherlands over 2F Paraguay
1G Brazil over 2H Chile
1B Argentina over 2A Mexico
2C USA over 1D Serbia
2E Cameroon over 1F Italy
1H Spain over 2G Ivory Coast

1C England over 1A Uruguay
1G Brazil over 1E Netherlands
1B Argentina over 2C USA
1H Spain over 2E Cameroon

1C England over 1G Brazil
1H Spain over 1B Argentina

1H Spain over 1C England

Yes, I did list all those reasons why Spain wouldn't win the World Cup.  Which is exactly why they will.  I think (for now at least).

$C puni$hed finally for cheating

This is a good day.  I fully expected nothing more than a slap on the hand but it looks like the NCAA had the guts to stand up to corruption.  Finally, the bad guys don't get away with it.

2 year postseason ban.  30 scholarships lost over the next 3 years.  Vacate every game reggie bushleague played in from Dec 2004 (UCLA) through 2005 season, including 2005 Orange Bowl.

Hopefully BCS vacates that 2004 BCS Championship and the Downtown Athletic Club takes back the 2005 Heisman.

a great day indeed.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Bob Bradley's successful tenure

Coach Bradley's critics need to shut up.  The picture above is from his first game as interim coach in Jan 2007 vs Denmark.  I still remember him striding out of the tunnel and to the bench (and wanting to buy that track jacket - its sweet).  As he walked past our section, I recall wondering if he would be up to the task of leading us not only to the World Cup 2010, but into the future as a better soccer nation.  US fans were still reeling from not getting Klinsmann, a much more popular pick.

Yes, he won that first match vs Denmark (which marked Bornstein's breakout game, unfortunately).  He also won the next important friendly vs Mexico, 2-0.  What else has he accomplished?  He won the region's championship, the Gold Cup in 2007 (in a final vs Mexico) which secured our spot in the Confederations Cup in 2009 held in South Africa, an important trial run for the WC.  He beat Mexico again 2-0 in Feb of 2009 and finished first place in CONCACAF to qualify for the World Cup.  He lead us to a momentous and signature victory vs Spain.

And he did this all while introducing new critical players to the fold.  From the 2006 squad to this year's roster, Bradley has brought in 15 new players (of the 23) and 5 of which will likely be starters (DeMerit, Bradley, Edu, Altidore and one of Findley/Buddle/Holden/Feilhaber).  It is no easy task to start anew with new players in both central midfield spots.  No wonder Michael Bradley was essentially entrenched at CM very early on (2007) so as to be ready for SA.  Another interesting stat: in 2007, 61 players earned their first cap in 18 total games.  Bradley was willing to risk his interim title to do the job right.

Another reason I respect Bradley's tenure at the helm is his willingness to schedule difficult matches vs world class teams.  He tested the squad in 2007 vs Brazil (in Chicago which I attended), then England, Spain and Argentina in summer of 2008 (within a 2 week span), and Netherlands earlier this year.  (Of course in 2009, we played Italy, Spain and Brazil twice in the Confed Cup.  Had we played Germany, we would've hit all the major giants in this cycle.)  While we didn't win most of these games, there is no doubt that playing the best can only help us get better.  You better believe that it helped us win vs Spain last year.  And the experience of playing England then can only help us prepare for our WC matchup.

Other smart scheduling included playing as often as possible in Europe where we've always had difficulty winning including in Switzerland in 2007, in Poland 2008, and in Slovakia and Denmark in 2009.  And for the WC warm-up matches, instead of playing the likes of Morocco, Venezuela and Latvia as we did in 2006, we played the Czech Rep, Turkey and WC bound Australia.

All in all, Bradley has done everything asked of him and more.  He's done his best to take advantage of what we do well and continually presented numerous opportunities in difficult circumstances to grow the team.  His tenure must be considered a success.  Still, we all know that the real evaluation will be based on what will happen this next month.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Top 10 Moments in US Soccer since WC 2006

1) Spain - beating Espana 2-0 in the semis of the 2009 Confederations Cup sent shock waves around the world.  It was one of the greatest moments in US Soccer history, period.

2) Bornstein's header vs Costa Rica - His improbable score with seconds left not only helped the US avoid losing at home, but secured Honduras' qualification over Costa Rica and most importantly, sealed the US' top spot in Concacaf qualification over Mexico.  It also lifted US soccer's spirits after Charlie Davies' accident horrific accident.  The emotional celebration after this game was unforgettable.

3) Gold Cup 2007 Final - Benny Feilhaber's golazo secured a 2-1 victory over hated rivals, Mexico and won the region's tournament.  This critical win secured a place in the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa.

4) 2-0 vs Mexico Feb 2009 - Not only did we beat Mexico, we beat them dos a cero, the seemingly preferred score vs el tri this decade.  Also, Michael Bradley's brace officially shut up all of his critics, who could no longer justify their cries of nepotism.  Bradley would be the force at CM to replace Reyna.

5) Brazil first half - Scores in the Confed Cup final by Dempsey and Donovan launched US soccer nation into a 1st half euphoria.  They believed they could win a FIFA tournament final for the first time.  Too bad the momentum could not be carried into the 2nd half.

6) WC Qualification! - a 3-2 hard fought victory in Honduras secured US' place in the World Cup 2010 with just 1 game left.  While of the utmost importance, qualification was already a near certainty.

7) US 3-0 over Egypt, Brazil 3-0 over Italy - After 2 brutally disheartening losses vs Italy and Brazil, we needed those 2 exact scorelines in order to advance from our group.  Dempsey scored the final goal to put us into the semis vs Spain.

8) Leading 1-0 at Azteca - Charlie Davies' blazing speed and great touch helped the US go ahead at Azteca, where the US hardly scores, much less expects to win.  If Donovan had not been stricken by the swine flu, the US might indeed have won.

9) Jozy Altidore emerges - Hat trick vs Trinidad & Tobago announced the arrival of a long-awaited new young force at striker.

10) 2-0 vs Mexico in Feb 2007.  While Bradley made his debut (which I personally attended) a month earlier, this victory went a long way in securing his place as permanent coach in leading the US to WC 2010.  Also, it continued our dominance over el tri once again.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Aussie Oy!

The US prevailed 3-1 in the last warm-up game before England.  I think the offense showed that it is ready but the defense is still a cause for concern.  The Aussies had plenty of good opportunities that England will finish.  The fact that neither Bocanegra and Onyewu went the full 90 means that Bradley is still concerned about their fitness.


Buddle - First goal proved that he belonged here instead of Ching.  Second goal was a result of doing what good strikers do: be in the right position to score should the chance come.

Dempsey - Threatening the whole game.  Seems to be in good form.  Had a goal called back and his assist to Findley was blatantly missed.

Donovan - While Dempsey was more influential, Landon still seems to be on his game.  Did provide Gomez' assist.

Cherundolo - pretty much sealed his starting spot.  Also provided excellent cross of Buddle.

Bradley - Helped control midfield flow and did the dirty defensive work well.

Howard - thankful for Timmy.  I'd really rather have Friedel as a backup over Guzan or Hahnemann.

Bocanegra - solid, no-nonsense.  can't be too critical with Bornstein behind him.

Goodson - Played solidly again and has injected himself into race for possible starting spot if Gooch can't go.

Gomez - Good goal after Landon's hard cross to close out game.


Findley - missed 2 relatively easy goals.  A striker needs to finish.

Hahnemann - tried to hand the backup role back to Guzan today.  While he was a strong shot-stopper, he was a heart attack waiting to happen everytime a cross was sent in.

DeMerit - seemed to be outplayed and shaky.  Gap narrowing between him and Goodson.

Clark - can't remember anything he did today.  Is Bradley really thinking of starting him over Edu?

Got a run out:

Onyewu - another warmup for that knee.

Bornstein - no huge gaffes today.

Beasley - looked better than summer of 09.

Guys who didn't play: Guzan, Holden, Edu, Torres, Feilhaber, Altidore, Spector

I thought Holden would have a bigger role to play than this.  I wonder if Beasley has supplanted him as first wide mid off the bench.  Edu needs to play over Clark, please.  Torres should perhaps play against Algeria and Slovenia, where we might have opportunity to possess the ball more.  Ditto for Feilhaber.  Spector seems to be having a bad year.  Whatever happened to those beautiful crosses from the Confed Cup?  Jozy's ankle needs to get better in a hurry.  I don't care how many goals Buddle can score against the Aussies, Jozy still has the experience on the big stage.

I like Dempsey's head to head man-up confrontations.  It reminds me of two elk going at it on planet earth.

Friday, June 4, 2010

John Wooden 1910 - 2010

Sports Illustrated US Men's Soccer Covers

I thought I'd post SI's covers of US Men through the years.  Its not much, but its something.  Props to them for doing their part to showcase the US squad before or during the Cups.

1994 Earnie Stewart (vs Columbia)

2002 World Cup Preview

 2002 Landon Donovan (vs Mexico)

2006 World Cup Preview

2010 World Cup Preview

It makes sense that the USMNT didn't get on the cover before WC 1994 since the real story was the fact that this country was hosting the greatest sporting event in the world for the first time.  It also makes sense that SI was too busy covering Jordan's 6th championship in May and June of 1998 to pay attention to the US (even though a small mention on the corner of one week would've been nice).  But 2 covers in a month's span in 2002 makes up for it.  If we do well this year, I'm sure the US will get some more love again.

I would have done the same thing for ESPN mag but they thoroughly ticked me off with that ridiculous Rossi cover last month, which I will not post here cause it doesn't deserve to be seen ever again anywhere.  The punk kid posed with a ball painted with the US flag with the headline - "Meet America's Best Hope at the World Cup".  Oops.  Any soccer expert, including their recently departed columnist Jen Chang, could've told them months ago that Rossi probably wasn't going to make Italy's WC squad, which he didn't.

Hey ESPN, put Donovan, Dempsey or Howard on the cover, you morons.  And no, a separate WC preview edition doesn't count.  In fact, Rossi has as many ESPN covers as Donovan does (which he shared back in 2002 with Mathis and Beaz). ONE.  And only having 2 mags a month (another reason I'd never subscribe to espn mag) instead of SI's four isn't an excuse this year especially since you put Rossi and Eto'o on back to back covers.  This really calls for a boycott.  At least your web content is fine.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Imperfect Game of Baseball

Baseball's unwillingness to sacrifice tradition for doing the right thing is archaic and pathetic.  It also cost the Tigers' Galarraga a perfect game yesterday.  With just 1 out away from perfection in the 9th, a grounder was fielded and the subsequent throw to first beat the runner by half a step - a call that umpires see correctly probably, what, at least 95% of the time?  However, umpire Joyce called it incorrectly and to his credit, admitted and apologized for it after seeing the replay.  Thus, Galarragga incredulously lost his perfect game - a phenomenon that has only happened 20 times in history.

I have to reiterate what I've said for years.  Why is there not instant replay in baseball?  There is no game clock.  There is about 30 seconds between each pitch.  Every viewer on TV sees a replay 5 seconds after it happens.  Why can't there be an umpire upstairs who reviews each play and signals down when something should be reviewed?  Or why can't each manager be given something like 5 challenges per game?  I am not talking about balls and strikes, but every single play in the field can easily be reviewed.  Baseball is the only sport where you can be just about 100% correct.  To me it is inexcusable that they don't treasure accuracy.  Its laughable that a sport so concerned about exact stats embraces human error in their umpires.  Galarraga was robbed but it wasn't really the ump's fault.  Its baseball's fault.

With word this morning that Selig won't overturn the call, its clear that the commissioner is as impotent now as he was during the steroid era.  This is not about precedent.  This is about doing the right thing.  Baseball clearly has no interest in that.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

NBA thoughts in the midst of a World Cup season

-This has been the most boring playoffs in a long time.  I think only one series even went 7 games.  Both conference finals were clearly over after 2 games.

-Lebron tanked a series for no apparent reason.  It was almost as if someone was blackmailing him or something.  A no show in a pivotal Game 5 AT HOME?  Shocking.  Now we'll be forced to sit through a whole summer of free agent talk.  Personally, I hope he goes back to Cleveland and finishes what he couldn't, or wouldn't, do this postseason.

-Nash is just unbelievable at 36.  He is blowing away every stereotype that a white, foreign NBA player can't win.  He's also one of the best 3 point shooters to ever play PG.  Phil Jackson pointed out that he pass the ball with either hand every possible way and manage to get it to a shooter's "pocket".  I think the two time MVP (Kobe's only got 1, haha) is a top 5 PG of all time.

-Dwight Howard needs to step his game up.  He's being exposed as a mediocre playoff center with limited offensive game.

-How did the Kings end up with the 5th pick when the worst they could've done is 6th?

-Kobe's 4 or 5 jumpers in the 4th quarter vs the Suns were incredible.  They played great defense on him on every single J but he buried them anyway.

-Celtics are only team that could stop the Lakers because of the length of Perkins and Garnett up front and the athleticism of Rondo at PG.

-Still, I think the Lakers will win it all because they have the home court in Game 7.  I can't believe #2 Dallas and last year's western conf finalist, Denver, both went down 1st round.  I can't believe that dwarf teams, Jazz and Suns, were the only obstacles in the Lakers' way.  And I can't believe that the Cavs and Magic, both of whom have home court advantage over the Lakers didn't even make the Finals.  ugh.

-Even if Kobe wins another ring this year, it will still only be his 2nd championship as the #1 guy.  Its important to remember that Shaq was the Finals MVP those years.  But honestly, another ring should place him as a top 10 player of all time.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Immigrant influence on US' team

Giuseppi Rossi, after brazenly posing for ESPN magazine with a ball painted with the US flag earlier this month, was cut from the final Italy squad today.  While I know that he never intended nor ever said that he would play for the US, his celebrations after scoring against the US in the Confederations Cup was entirely disrespectful and deserved the criticism he received from US fans.  After all, he was born and raised here.  In my opinion, if he wants to play for Italy, that's his prerogative, but to disrespect the country of his birth is an entirely different offense.  Also, he continues to say things such as feeling American off the field, but being Italian on the field.  Huh?  I know that he will probably make the WC in 2014 (if not this year as an injury sub) but for at least the next 4 years, I am happy that justice has been served.

Neven Subotic is a different case altogether.  Though he was born in Yugoslavia to Serbian parents, he also spent some time in Germany before moving to the US.  Here, he played for the US in the U-17 FIFA World Championship but was controversially not selected for the U-20 squad.  This likely led to him turning his back on the US and deciding instead to play for Serbia.  I don't have nearly the same feelings toward Subotic as I do against Rossi.  Subotic was not born in the US and only spent his teenage years here.  His parents are not from here.  And unfortunately, he was rejected from upward mobility in the US ranks.  He should be, in every way, free to choose.  Unlike Rossi, Subotic will be playing in the World Cup this year and it could be especially interesting if Serbia and the US happen to meet in the 2nd round.

Personally, I think that a player should only play for his country of birth.  If he chooses to play for another (and FIFA's current rules apply), then he must give up citizenship first in the country of his birth.  Dual citizenships is a ridiculous idea to begin with.  You must be loyal to one and only one.  (If there was a war, who do you fight for anyway?)  Rossi should be made to give up the privilege of his US citizenship.  Should he do that, I would no longer have any problem with him.

One thing I love about the US is the fact that we are a blend of different cultures.  In most other countries, one's ethnicity and one's nationality are the same.  To be Mexican is to be one in race and nationality.  In America, we are free from such narrow-minded thinking.  We are ethnically whatever our parents are, but we are American in our nationality.  It is not race that bonds us together but instead it is the freedom of opportunity that this great country represents.  Our loyalties should never be about what we are born as, it should be what we believe in.  In essence, we are better than that.

Our national soccer team represents this blend so well.  Look at the immigrant parents of so many of our players.  Most came here for a better life.

Landon Donovan - father from Canada.

Tim Howard - mother from Hungary.

Oguchi Onyewu - parents from Nigeria.

Stuart Holden - born in Scotland, moved here at age of 10.

Ricardo Clark - father from Trinidad & Tobago.

Benny Feilhaber - born in Brazil to Brazilian mother and Jewish-Austrian Brazilian father. Moved here at age of 6.

Jose Francisco Torres - father from Mexico.

Jozy Altidore - parents from Haiti.

Edson Buddle - father from Jamaica.

Robbie Findley - parents from Trinidad & Tobago.

Carlos Bocanegra - father possibly from Mexico?

Jonathan Bornstein - Jewish and Mexican heritage.

Herculez Gomez - Mexican-American parents.