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Saturday, June 26, 2010

England and Mexico can question the calls but not the outcome

*****Monday Update*****
Three of the top four teams in the world will be on display Monday as the Dutch, Brazilians, and Spanish will all enter the knockout round. Holland should handle Slovakia but look for them to try and get out quick in order to put the pressure on. Kaka returns from suspension and Brazil are unbeaten in their last 32 matches with him in the lineup. Lastly, Spain will have to look much better than they have thus far in the Cup if they hope to get by a potent Portuguese side.

Rest assured you have not heard the last about this topic but at the end of this World Cup there will be an equal amount of banter about the controversial calls as there will be about actual play on the pitch. In both matches this morning there were horrific calls made that possibly changed the course of the outcome. In the case of the Brits the offside call that was made cost them what would have been a tie at 2 and a chance to ‘mulligan’ their inauspicious start. In Mexico’s case it was a missed offside call that cost them a goal that clearly changed their strategy and forced them to move forward opening them up to two more scores, 0-3 deficit, and bringing Argentina’s 28-0-4 record in World Cup play when scoring first, thus signaling the end to their Cup chances. However, at the end of the day, terrible calls and human error should be nothing new to any of the participants as it has become commonplace and perhaps the players, coaches, and fans should be more cognizant on how they will adapt if/when it happens to their side. Now, I do understand the entire complexity of the game changes when you have to score just to equalize but both teams simply could not regroup following the travesty of justice. Also in both cases the goal differential of the game was more than two so although a factor (major) there was ample time to gather mentally and find a way to get back in the match.

US story reads the same but no Hollywood ending

The four matches the USA has played in this World Cup have pretty much followed true to the same script, give up a very early goal thus adding to already intense pressure, struggle to get even, then pull off the miracle ending and try to make it dramatic enough to get a “first look” deal in the future. For the first three matches it seemed to work each time the US snatching victory from the jaws of defeat but their first taste of the knockout round in eight years was re-written before going to post-production as Ghana scored a very cheaply earned goal in the 30-minute extra time period and hold on for a 2-1 win. Ironically the same score they ousted the US by in the previous World Cup. The most disappointing thing for the US was that they did not take advantage of a favorable draw as this was a very winnable game and seemed to be there for the taking. Those daring enough to look ahead also viewed a matchup with Uruguay as within their grasp as well. In the end the US just ran out of gas and didn’t kept getting beat to the ball and had way too many turnovers when fatigue set in, a poignant example of how as a nation we’re not quite ready for prime time. Soccer in this US will simply never reach the level of importance as it has around the globe, or if it does it won’t come in our lifetime, but perhaps that is one of the things that needs to change for us to compete consistently, as we simply set the bar for ourselves too low and getting out of the group stage is way to big of a moral victory. Similar to the way some schools are happy just to make the NCAA tournament and others will call anything short of a Final Four a disappointment. Once again, I understand true fans of the sport loathe it when correlations with other sports are used to explain soccer/football/fussball, but that’s exactly my point. We need to start bleeding it like others do or when it comes down to critical situations like the match with Ghana and both sides are digging deep to find a way to finish after 2 hours on the pitch, its that motivation that separates the countries moving on and the ones trying to find answers whey they’re not. Are you content with the US showing in this world cup? Let us know here and in any of the quick links.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Underdog role is nice, but if soccer wants to be a major, it’s time to set up

The US need not be satisfied with just advancing to the ‘knockout phase’ of the World Cup as that’s what was expected of them. An overabundance of drama that was bestowed on them from overcoming early deficits, horrible refereeing, and getting the country to turn off the NBA Finals and Inter-league baseball long enough to give a toss, is now in the rearview mirror and they now have earned a spot in the sweet-16 of world soccer. At the milepost where they have arguably had their greatest win (2-0 over Mexico to advance to the final 8) the US has another winnable game and as much as I hate to play fortune teller, if someone would have come the US and told them that in one game you can actually WIN Group C by simply beating Algeria and for good measure we’ll throw in a trip to the final 8 if you can knock off Ghana, anyone and everyone associated with the representation of this country over the past 4 years would have accepted those stipulations with pleasure and anticipation. Now that the terms have been accepted it’s time to step up and become a major sport in the country like you’ve always wanted to become, but that only comes with winning. One advantage the US Soccer team has to accomplish this goal is that a sure way (other than winning a championship) to get the neutrals off the fence and on the band wagon is to feel like the US is being cheated or to play the underdog role, both those scenarios have come into play. The opportunity is there for this specific US team to take the sport from the junior college football fields to the stadiums and not to rest on the laurels of an unbeaten group stage record. So let’s create another major sport to follow and battle baseball in the summer the way the NBA, NHL, and NFL do in fall and winter, and what better way to kick it off then having another National Team have an impact in a world competition. The Basketball and Hockey players answered the call in the last Olympics and it’s time for soccer to follow suit as they will not have such a golden opportunity for another four years. Does the US have enough talent to go deep into the field or has it reached it's limit? Let us know here and in any of the quick links.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Did anyone really want to win this thing?

For a tournament that is hailed as our National Championship it sure wasn’t very impressive. It’s not so much that none the American top players were on top of the leader board at the end, or even because we let someone come into our house and take our National Championship trophy back with them on a plane, but because the play was so poor for a tournament of such high prestige. I understand the Pebble Beach as been revised to be the equivalent of the Green Monster with water hazards, but no course can or should make the winning score an even par. None of the top 5 players had cards with red ink on them in the final round with the best coming from Frenchman Greg Havret and even that was still +1 for round. The best player in the world still can not seem to regain his prior form although he gave us a tease with a 3rd round 66, but it’s clear that Tiger is not the dominating force that he once was and it will take more than criticizing his caddy and changing swing coaches to get him back to form. The old Tiger would have taken this tournament bull by the horns in the last round and immediately crushed any dreams of an underdog coming on to his turf and walking out with his hardware. Not anymore. The stigma of TW being within striking distance on day 4 is all but folklore now. And where was Lefty with his chance to wear the national crown for the first time in his career in addition to taking over the world’s top spot? He also got the better of the course for one round of 66 but paid it back with interest over the other three, including a choke filled final round of +2. I’ll tell ya, this year began with some of the best sporting climaxes American sports has to offer (Super Bowl, NCAA Championship, even the Masters) but this was a major. A major disappointment. What was your take on the final round of the 2010 US Open? Let us know here and in any of the quick links.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

USA presented with a gift after having one stolen away

No matter how many angles you view or what rule you might try to apply there is no way a foul could reasonably be called on the tie-breaking score from Adu via Donovan in the 85th minute of the USA’s second round World Cup match. What should have been the culmination of a miraculous comeback after a very inauspicious start was taken away without justification or reason. Later on in the day the US was given a gift by Algeria (England) as they drew the Brits providing the US with some much needed breathing room and a solid chance to move forward to the knockout round. The US came out in typical fashion giving up an early goal and having to come from behind. This has been their MO for quite some time and would have to change if/when they advance. What they need to do is come out with a purpose and a killer instinct and let Algeria know they have no chance to win the match, and perhaps be the administer of the early goal and pressure rather than the recipient. Meanwhile there is simply shock and awe across the pond as England still can not put together 90 quality minutes of quality football and chalk up 3 points to move on. Amazing how things have turned around in the last 186 minutes of play, four minutes into the world cup they had a 1-0 lead over the US and were already making reservations for the finals but they have not scored since then, let alone won a match and now find themselves in a must win situation. On the final day of group play both the favorites in the Group still control their own destiny as a win gets them both in but who will be the 1 or 2 is one of many questions still up in the air. It will come down to goal differential which the us holds a two goal lead. It makes for nice drama and fodder but rest assured both teams will sort out their issues, come correct with their best game of the tournament and move on to the next round, but the questions will still remain. For the US, do they have the mental game to withstand the pressure of a real quality side like the ones they’ll face in the knockout phase? For England the question might be a little more poignant, are they as good as everyone (including their #7 ranking) thinks they are? Right now they look like a collection of great talent, and even better names, but a side that has no cohesiveness or unity. The positive both countries can take with them is there is still time to right the ship and then there will be no more blame to find a home for. Will both teams move on and how far will they go? Let us know here and in any of the quick links.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Perhaps it was England who were lucky to escape with a draw?

For the last 180 days since the groups for the 2010 World Cup groups were announced the headline match on two continents was the first game between the US and England and the hype machine was in full swing. The miracle of 1950, the disparity in win/loss, goals, and cup championships made a great storyline for that whole David vs. Goliath thing. However in reality, England wasn’t all that and a bag of chips, at least they didn’t play that way. Yea, for any soccer fan their line-up was full of household names but (and sorry to soccer fans for drawing a correlation to another sport) but I have to preface this by stating that this is the same scrutiny the US Olympic Basketball team gets for every game, and when you break out the best champagne you had better give fans a reason to celebrate and upon review, that was hardly the performance of a dominating side let alone the 7th ranked country on the planet. Ok, gift goal aside the US still had chances and Jozy sneaks that shot in near post 7 out of 10 times so it easily could have been 2-1 and then England really would have be facing a nation-wide suicide watch. True England did control possession (54%-46%) and outshot the US 18-13, but US exposed kinks in England’s armor, which is how slow they are in the defensive backfield and their lack of experience playing together, but all I’ve been reading is how Green GAVE the US the tie which is not the case, and keep in mind that the US didn’t play it’s best game either. So note to both sides, the US needs to get of their “underdog” horse and realize they are supposed to win these next two games, and England needs to recognize that the matches aren’t played on paper and they don’t look like best team in the group let alone the world so far. What are your thoughts on the first round of games so far? Let us know here and in any of the chat rooms and quick links.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Can the US pull off a miracle on grass?

They’ve come 30 years apart as the first came in 1950 as the US beat England to shock the world at the time. It would be 30 years later for the next one as the USA upset Russia in Olympic Hockey. So now after another 30 years the nation is wondering if we have another miracle coming on schedule. Well, let’s not look at this from a divine intervention standpoint but what realistic chance does the US have against the seventh ranked team in the world, who has won the head-to-head battle 7-2, and outscored the US 35-8 throughout their history? The US certainly has a “punchers chance” but that puncher had better have strikers that can finish the job and that is one of the big questions for the US is the health on Jozy Altidore and how quickly Edson Buddle adjust to the pace and the magnitude of the moment. Even before that comes the task of getting them the ball in a position to do some damage, which is daunting at the least with the 'dreamteamesque' midfield of Lampard, Gerrard, Cole, and Lennon, all household names among soccer fans around the world. All of which are known to come up and create quite a strikeforce of their own behind the frontline warheads of Rooney and Crouch. But everyone can be beaten, so where are the kinks? Firstly, the English could run into a similar problem that the 04’ USA Dreamteam did in Olympic hoops, where they are a collection of stars but not a cohesive unit. If this is the case then drawing them in the first game before they have a chance to gel may play to the US advantage. Also, if you can get over the great English midfield they not quite as strong defensively and once again with little game experience between them there will be opportunities, the US just has to try and score early and then hold them off. Lastly, as often comes with a big name, is a lot of experience, and one unvarying component of experience is age. That Midfield is not getting in younger and the young guns of the US should have a decisive speed advantage which they should look to exploit early and try to get that all important early lead. Lastly, one would have to admit the US is better athletically and in a draw situation my wear the English down come the 80th minute in that climate. So, on paper it may be a mismatch, and some things have to fall into place but stranger things have happened. They just seem to come 30 years apart.

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