Quick thoughts: USMNT friendlies agianst Colombia and Poland

The U.S. men’s soccer team played twice this week on home soil, against Poland on Saturday in Chicago and against Colombia on Tuesday in Philadelphia.

Both friendlies ended in draws: 2-2 vs. Poland and 0-0 vs. Colombia.

The Poland match was the more exciting of the two, although it was frustrating to see the States give up the lead twice. I know playing while ahead is a new thing for this team (after they held the lead for about two minutes at the World Cup), but once you get up in a soccer game, especially at this level, you really need to be able to lock it down and come out with three points. That’s what separates the Spains and Brazils of the world from the rest of us.

Bob Bradley tried out some different things this week, namely putting new players on the field and trying out different formations.

After suiting up in three exhibitions for Germany, Jermaine Jones took advantage of a FIFA rule change and transferred to the American National Team. Brek Shea and Eric Lichaj (pronunciation sounds kind of like Lee-high; i.e. Av’s goalie Peter Budaj) both earned their first career caps with the national team. Born on 2/28/90, Shea becomes the first American born in the 90’s to suit up for the national team.

As for formations, we learned that Bradley never needs to try the 4-3-3 again. He started with it against Colombia and it was a flop–and it mushed into a 4-4.5-1.5 by the end of the game anyway.

The U.S. used a five midfielder set in the first game against Poland, and had more success with that (U.S. Soccer’s Twitter listed it as a 4-2-3-1). Playing with more midfielders seems to be advantageous for the U.S.; they have success when they play through the middle and let the central midfield players distribute the ball from there (plus, we just have a wealth of midfielders). Playing the 4-3-3 seemed to seriously limit options for the U.S. and led to several breakdowns that nearly resulted in goals.

Starting lineups (no Donovan in either match):

Colombia~ 4-3-3

Shea—Altidore—Holden

Bradley—Edu—Jones

Pearce—Goodsen—Onuewu—Spector

Guzan

Poland~ 4-2-3-1

Altidore

Holden–Dempsey–Feilhaber

Jones–Bradley

Cherundolo–Onyewu–Edu–Bocanegra

Howard

Up, down & even: The stock on three American players

UP- Jermaine Jones
Wasn’t perfect in the games, but can definitely help the American side. Provided a spark for the offense which is lost without Donovan and Dempsey. Jones’ father is African-American and his mother is German, and Jones holds dual citizenship with both nations. He doesn’t speak a word of English, but he plays a nice brand of football.

Honorable mentions- Stuart Holden and Brad Guzan

DOWN-Benny Feilhaber
Didn’t do much against Poland before being removed in the 63rd minute. Played slightly better against Colombia, but we need more. I like the guy, but he had a rough week.

(Dis)honorable mentions-Eddie Johnson, Jozy Altidore, the defense

Even- Michael Bradley
Even is a good word to describe his play. Did some good things, did some bad things. Would have liked to see Bradley build on his performance at the World Cup, but it was not to be. I have faith in the coach’s son, though. I plan on buying a USA soccer jersey (eventually), and Bradley is still my top choice of who to get.

You also may have heard them mention on the telecast the United States’ movement to win the bid to host an upcoming World Cup. More information can be found here: http://www.gousabid.com/city/local/philadelphia-pa/

Random stat I learned during research: Canada qualified for the 1986 World Cup.

Reactions following Spain’s World Cup victory

Spain defeated the Netherlands, 1-0 in extra time, to capture their first ever World Cup. It’s a great day for Spain, South Africa, and soccer fans everywhere. Well, except in the Netherlands.

Quick thoughts following the game:

  • It’s THE NETHERLANDS. Not Holland. Period.
  • The dives were ridiculous, as were the number of cards. The ref got too caught up in the game, and started handing out cards for every foul. There were only three Netherlands starters who weren’t booked, one of which being the goalie.
  • The Netherlands really should have won the game in regulation. Robben had numerous chances that he didn’t finish, and the Dutch collectively had poor execution on odd-man chances and breakaways.
  • I know soccer commentators during the tournament weren’t exactly known for their energy, but the ones during the game were reallllyy boring. Given the magnitude of the game, I would have liked them to be more animated and made the chances seem like bigger deals. It’s the World Cup final, wake up.
  • I am glad though that someone scored and the game didn’t have to be decided by penalty kicks. Yes, they’re exciting, but that’s not the way to lose the World Cup. I’d be in favor of, for the semifinals and championships, adding an additional 20 minute session (two 10 minute halves) and giving each team one more sub.
  • I’m glad ESPN and ABC gave full coverage to the tournament. It did a lot for soccer here, and I’m sure it had similar impact for many other parts of the country, too. It’s a beautiful game, all it needs here is more exposure. (Side note– Thierry Henry looked past his prime for France this year, but I like bringing him to the MLS. We want our players playing in their leagues, but having some of theirs in ours couldn’t hurt either.)
  • Coming into this World Cup, only seven countries had won the tournament. I found this graphic online, which illustrates the number of cups per country. If you asked me, I could have named all of them, but seeing them laid out like this was an eye-opener. For those of you who are geographically challenged, it’s Brazil, Italy, Germany, Argentina, Uruguay, France, and England (and now Spain).
  • There will be people who complain how low scoring the game is, but I always argue back that it should be fun to watch because there is constant action. People say they like watching hockey but not baseball because of the difference in game speed, but really, soccer should be the easiest to watch. Constant gameplay, no timeouts, no commercials, no coaches challenges, no measuring for first downs, no pucks out of play, and definitely no switching pitchers after one batter. Just action, action, action.
  • After this showing from Team USA, they really need to go at least as far as they did this time for the next one to be considered a success. As mentioned before, soccer in this country can not afford to have the States eliminated in the group stage.

That’s all she wrote, folks. Congratulations to Spain for winning their first ever World Cup, and for becoming the first team to lose their opening match and then go on to win it all. Soccer doesn’t stop for four years, though. You can tune into the Fox Soccer Channel for some English soccer, or check out the MLS for America’s pro league. Locally, you can get out to watch FC Buffalo play (or catch their final home game in about 90 minutes at All-High Stadium). Knock the ball around with friends or get a game of World Cup together with the guys. This may be my last soccer post for a while, but that doesn’t mean the sport stops until the world reconvenes in Brazil, just over 1400 days away.

The U.S. Men play Brazil in New Jersey, Tuesday August 10 at 8pm. It’ll be live on ESPN2, or catch the game.

Go States. Go Soccer.

So near, but yet so far

For a second, everything was perfect. It seemed like Ghana, who made it through by way of two penalty kicks, were going to get a taste of their own medicine. We were about to avenge a defeat at the hands of Ghana during the last World Cup. Landon Donovan had netted a PK to tie it for the USA, and we were pressing for more. But shortly during the first period of extra time, disaster struck. And then before we knew it, it was over.

First, there was disbelief. The entire room was stunned. It was a hands-on-your-head, blank stare, “that didn’t just happen” kind of moment as everyone looked up at the TV in silence. For some, glazed eyes turned to tears. Others too proud to cry found a chair and sulked for what seemed like an eternity. Head shaking replaced verbal communication, as if the dejection itself was enough to overburden a voice box. It is by no stretch of the imagination to say heartbreak had set it.

Anger soon followed, and for myself it was a widespread anger at that. I was mad at Ghana for winning. I was mad at Africa for owning Ghana. I was mad at Ghana’s players for wasting so much time and pretending to be injured, and I was mad at the referee for not doing anything about it. It’s depressing that we can’t even hope for next year, and who knows what I’ll be doing four years down the road. Olympic soccer is two years away, but it isn’t the same.

I was irate with Jozy Altidore for playing such a miserable game. I was mad at our defense for letting 80 minutes of decent soccer go to waste because of the first 10, for the third time in four games. I was livid that no one showed any killer instinct in the final third, and I will never understand the reasoning behind the short corner kick.

Another reason I’m furious with Ghana is that they are a great example of why people hate soccer. They showed that diving, wasting time and pretending you’re hurt are all successful tactics that can be used to help you win soccer games. The one guy on Ghana was down late holding his ankle in his own box, doing his best to look like he was on his deathbed. They brought the stretcher out for him, and the second they put it down on the sideline he hopped back up and started walking. It’s a miracle! It’s… exactly why soccer players catch a bad rap.

I guess the most upsetting thing of all was understanding where the anger was really coming from. Despite the waiting and suffering endured as a U.S. soccer fan, we still aren’t there yet. Ghana was the better team on the pitch. In what was arguably the most important game of their lives thus far for the majority of our roster, how many players can you name who really played well? For all 120 minutes? Tim Howard’s wife can count them on her Y chromosomes.

If being outplayed isn’t enough, it’s insult to injury to remember Ghana did so without their best player, Michael Essien. How many teams are the USA beating without Donovan? Realizing just how much work is still left to be done is another deep gash into the sides of American supporters.

Back at the bar, I started to find the strength to make my way back to the car. I unlocked the door, and then just sat in my seat and thought. I didn’t feel like driving just yet. As the time passed, a new thought came to mind. As depressed as I was about the elimination, something else was nagging me. It wasn’t just that we lost, but how we lost it. Not that it was in extra time, but the vague familiarity of it all. Watching Team USA today felt an awful lot like watching the Sabres in the playoffs.

You wanted so badly for your team to pull through, but somewhere in the back of your head there was that doubt that wouldn’t go away. Being dumbfounded as to why your team can’t get their butts in gear until the very last second definitely felt like being a Sabres fan, as did wondering where that extra effort was. How many times have we complained of a lack of desperation? The Sabres and Team USA look similar during the first 40 minutes. Pouring it on late and hoping it’s enough? That’s definitely a Buffalo thing.

How about a Tim Howard-Ryan Miller comparison? I’m sick of the goalie being the only one who wants to win during the first 90% of the game. If you wanted to be corny you could say Ghana was a “head” better, because we couldn’t win a head ball to save our lives, but this picture may be the most telling of all. There’s five Americans in the shot, and who wants it most? The only guy who doesn’t belong in the box for a corner kick. I’m sure Miller would park himself in front of the net on the power play if they’d let him.

So yes, I’m mad that we lost, I’m mad we’re not good enough, and I’m crushed that the dream is over. I’m extremely bothered by the fact that I have to be surrounded by teams like this, and I refuse to accept my team turning in half a performance and thinking it’s good enough.

So maybe my girl friend will never understand why I buried my head in my food at Tully’s to avoid seeing replays from the game, or why I can’t sleep at 6 a.m. after the night following the loss. But through all the tears and heartbreak, the stunned silences and minutes spent with your hands over your face, somewhere in there will all become true Buffalo sports fans. You can tell me I’m in the bargaining stage of grief right now if you want, but I wouldn’t trade that for anything. There are times like these where we stare at our computer screens at a complete loss for words, wishing we could just go to sleep and wake up from this nightmare; but at the same time, we know the suffering will make winning the big one that much sweeter when it finally happens.

There’s a lot of work to be done, but that’s the great part about sports, there’s always next time. Go States.


Couldn’t fit this in, but more thoughts on something I mentioned earlier, Ghana showing that diving equals wins. Perhaps America will always be behind the eight ball in soccer for one reason–pride. Think about it, if somebody hits you in the face, as an American, whats your reaction? You find the mother f—er who hit you and get him back twice as hard. But for the rest of the world, apparently the proper reaction to getting hit–or cleated, or pushed–is to lay on the ground like you just got shot. No shame. Can it be that Americans are too proud for that?

The day Landon Donovan saved U.S. soccer

The game has been over for almost 12 hours now and I’m still pumped up about it. And if you knew how important today was for soccer in this country, you would be too.

Donovan’s goal is more than just an exciting goal at the end of a game. Way more. This year was the year for the United States. We had the right players and a great draw for our pool. There was no reason for us not to advance. For the sake of soccer in the United States, this was a must have.

For Donovan himself to get the goal, that was special too. He has arguably done more to advance the game in the States than any other American player before him, and this was huge for his place in world soccer, as well as the legacy he will leave behind.

But let’s think of this from the other way. What if a defender clears the ball and Donovan doesn’t score. The USA and Algeria play to a scoreless draw and we finish with three points in the group, behind both England and Slovenia.

For passionate soccer fans, their spirits are demoralized once again. It’s yet another year where our country watches the rest of the world, from the outside looking in. In most basic terms, losing is simply un-American. It’s not something we’re used to experiencing, and it’s certainly not a trait we want to become accustomed to.  But when it happens repeatedly… people don’t know what to believe.

For the casual fans, it drives them away from something we’ve been trying so long to promote, the idea of soccer becoming popular in America. Nobody likes a loser, especially one that breaks your heart. “We were supposed to do well this year,” they’d say. “But forget this team and their losing ways. Football… American football… now there’s a sport we’re can win at.”

Last, but certainly least, this would affect the soccer haters too. “See, what a stupid game. We can’t even beat countries that I’ve never heard of. Slovenia, who? Those foot fairies and worthless sport.” The worst part is, that criticism would be directed at passionate soccer fans, who have the purist motives of all. It’d be four more years of abuse and name calling, which can be enough to drive some people away from the beautiful game.

Years—perhaps even decades—of soccer clawing its way into mainstream America would have been ruined without Donovan’s strike. It’s one thing to be consistently bad (the Pirates still bring people out to the ballpark), but it’s the heartbreak that drives people away (say, the Mets, anyone?).  And this World Cup, one we should have had success in, would do just that. Had the U.S. not advanced, it would have been detrimental to soccer and soccer fans across the country.

It’s safe to say that what Donovan has built up over the years, he saved today with his already famous finish.

So the question has to be asked, is Donovan’s extra time goal the most famous goal in all of U.S. history? I certainly don’t know all there is to know about U.S. soccer, but at the same time, I don’t think it’s that long of a list. Off the top of my head, other famous goals might be:

  • USA over England, 1-0, in 1950. Such an upset that English papers thought it had to be a misprint and ran scores of 10-1, England
  • USA over Mexico, 2-0, in the round of 16, 2002. Always good to beat a geographical rival, and Mexico is best competition in North America
  • USA over Spain in the Confederations Cup, 2009. Not the World Cup, but a huge win for the States over a world-wide superpower

Of course, I’m sure I’m missing some. If you have one I forgot, comment below.

Other thoughts on the game:

Donovan saved Clint Dempsey’s butt. Dempsey did not play well and missed some open looks. The dives were on the soft side too. I know it’s Clint, but I was considering subbing him for Edson Buddle early in the second half.

Did the USA get the ref job again? Didn’t look offside to me… and if it was that’s an awful ballsy call from the side ref. But come on, Jozy Altidore’s yellow card was the softest call I’ve ever seen. The guy took two steps and then fell.

Michael Bradley had another solid game, but my new man crush has to be for his dad, Bob Bradley. I love the guy. He’s not sitting there all arrogant like Slovenia’s coach Matjaz Kek, and he gets visibly excited an angry with the rest of us. He has both the feistiness of Ozzie Guillen and the cool, collectedness of Joe Torre all in one. The shot of him after the goal called back today was priceless… and who doesn’t love when coaches get mad.

But on the other side of the spectrum, I can’t stand Algeria’s Hassan Yebda. I think they used his picture on UrbanDictionary next to “that guy.” I think the hair alone does it for me.

I do feel bad for Slovenia, not advancing after leading for so long, but if we would have missed advancing because of Edu’s called back goal (I’m thinking there’s a problem if I have to specify which one) I would have been seriously pissed at their country. We should have fought them.  I mean if we were in a war, we could fight their entire country 2-on-1 with the state of Kentucky…

And finally… wow! Look what happens when we have a clean sheet. Tim Howard finally had a shutout, and the team finally won a game. Coincidence? I think not.

Soccer fans, we’ve waited a long time for this day. I haven’t been this proud of U.S. Soccer since we were up 2-0 on Brazil last year, but this is way better than that. Before you go to bed tonight, I want to you smile—your team is undefeated.

Lack of killer instinct and nightmare officiating hurt USA

Something wasn’t right.       

There sat the ball in the back of the net, but the looks on the faces of the American players didn’t match the exuberant levels we were expecting. Then they showed a close shot of Maurice Edu, and his expression alone was gut-wrenching.       

The goal had been disallowed, and no one knew why. Not the broadcasters, not the coaches, or the players from either team. After watching the replay, it’s hard to believe the ref even knew why.       

After the game, Landon Donovan said that they repeatedly asked the official what the call was, and that he simply ignored them and walked away. He also noted that the ref hardly spoke English and may not have understood what the Americans were asking.       

“I don’t know how much English he speaks but we asked him numerous times in a non-confrontational manner to explain his call, but he just ignored us,” Donovan said. “Or maybe he just didn’t understand.”       

However, what I have found is a site (which I believe is Egyptian) that had a piece about the referees for the Africa Cup of Nations Tournament. Translated through Google Translate, the site says Koman Coulibaly, the referee in question, “Speaks French and English as well as local language of the country.”       

A bloodied Brian McBride in 2006 vs. Italy

No matter what happens in the final match, this game will be remembered in a number of different ways. For some, Coulibaly’s name will go alongside Jorge Larrionda’s in the annals of history and this will be marked as the second consecutive World Cup in which the U.S. was plagued by poor officiating.       

For others, it was a second half to remember. Slovenia was faced with an onslaught of attacks for the better part of 45 minutes and were lucky to escape with one point still in their pockets. As controlling as they looked in the first half, the United States were the enforcers in the second half and imposed their will on the European side. The desperation and intensity shown in the second half from the Americans is what we have been waiting for all along; the only downside is that we had to be scored on twice to wake up.      

What the USA needs to do in our final match with Algeria is come out with that same energy and reckless abandon that we had in the second half last Friday. We need to stop playing like this is some throw away game up in Rochester and realize where we are. We are competing in the world’s largest sporting event and, with a win, we will advance to be one of the top 16 teams. We weren’t playing bad soccer before we were scored on in the first half–passing well and didn’t look nervous–but there was no desperation. No forward runs, no defenders pushing up. We seemed almost content to knock the ball around long enough for the other team to screw up and then we would take advantage of it.      

This is the World Cup! Nobody is giving our freebies. The lack of killer instinct was maddening… similar to the Sabres power play against Boston. I’ve liked Bob Bradley as a coach so far, and the changes he got out of his team after the break really make it seem like he has a handle on his squad. All that’s left now is simple: win and we’re in.      

Other thoughts:      

I was very impressed with the play of Bob Bradley’s son, Michael. Even before he scored, he got himself involved and was committed to make a difference in the game. He was also the most vocal American in the moments after the disallowed goal and after the final whistle blew. Much like Tyler Myers sticking up for Ryan Miller, you gotta love a young guy with that kind of spunk.     

It was one heck of a strike by Donovan for our first goal, but honestly, what was their goalie doing? Instead of coming out to cut down the angle or at least make himself look big in the net, he got out of the way and hid in the goal. Not saying I would have wanted to get in front of that shot either, but… come on. Weak effort.    

With one game to play for each team in group C, all four teams are still alive, and three can clinch a spot with a win. For the downers who want to point out that we only have two of a possible six points, think about how some other fans have it; fans whose teams are normally a lot better than ours. England is a traditional soccer powerhouse, and they could be knocked out even if they tie their final game. And how about France? The runner-ups four years ago now look to be in complete dismay as they have earned only one point through two matches and dismissed arguably their top player, Nicolas Anelka. The day after he was released from the team, but rest of the players refused to practice in protest of his departure, and that led to France’s team director straight up quitting and going back to Paris. (More info here.) Not even last World Cup’s champion Italy is doing well, drawing both of their matches against much lower quality teams.    

Coulibaly was back on the field today as a fourth official, so it doesn’t look like FIFA will be banning him from other games. 

Vuvuzelas are awesome, and you too can own one for just $7.99. If you overhear someone talking about soccer and you want to know if they are a legitimate fan or not, the vuvuzela proves to be a good litmus test. If they don’t like the horn, well then they just aren’t a real fan. Simple as that.    

*******     

In a completely unrelated note, Mets’ pitcher John Maine made a rehab start Friday for the Bisons. He gave up only one hit in 4.1 innings of work with four strikeouts and three walks.  Never looked comfortable on the mound but got results; had a no-hitter through four. 50 strikes out of 88 pitches is a good ratio for a rehab start, but that’s too many pitches to throw over that few innings. Should make at least one more start with Buffalo.