Monday, July 12, 2010

South Africa World Cup remembered

What a month! What started with 32 nations hopes of a World Cup championship comes down to only 1 victor. A congrats to Spain, a worthy World Cup champion. I am amazed at the composure it takes from a whole team to win that many games 1 - 0. Often, that goal came very late in the game. At any time one player could lose his concentration and make a mistake that leads to conceding a goal. Not Spain. I give tons of credit to captain Iker Casillas. Way to skipper the ship.

One more note on the Final: if that was the USA playing, there would have been 2-3 red cards coming our way. I keep hounding on the word respect. This is the example:

Only a yellow. WHAT!!! In 2006 the US got red cards for much less. And I'm not even arguing that we didn't deserve them, I'm just saying that perceived soccer ability and respect gives you calls that others won't get. Hopefully those days our over with our performance in this year's Cup.

So although I didn't want a European team to win, I am glad a team hoisted the trophy for the first time. Here are my other Break Out Moments.

Diego Forlan - Uruguay.

Even before winning the Golden Ball (player of the tournament) I was saying "He stood out above all others." (David Villa is my number 2 player). Where would Uruguay be without him? Above all others he made goals out of nothing. He will receive a huge payday, and personally I would love to see him at Arsenal.


I admit, I never have given Germany the respect they deserve. But following 2 third place finishes and a runners up finish, I am starting to believe. I am probably going to follow a German team in the fall (Schalke) that's how much they impressed. They played solid team defense, held possession of the ball, made solid passes and (most importantly) they put the ball in the net with precision. That is a rare combination. I credit the Bundesliga for their success, they really know how to develop talent and they how to play the game. The MLS could learn a lot from them.

Top 3 games of the World Cup:

Spain v The Netherlands: The Final
It was ugly. It was choppy. But in the end, it was exciting. All the chances in extra time were amazing, especially with any goal almost securing a WORLD TITLE! And then to have the latest World Cup winning goal in history? Amazing. Also, why didn't Spain start Cesc Fabregas? He was a creative beast when he entered the game.

Ghana v Uruguay: The Handball.
I was rooting hard for the last African hope. The game was exciting. The goals were exquisite. Then, with penalties looming the Ghananians threw a barage of shots at the goal. With time running out they gave one last effort only the have it batted off the line.

Listen, this is the truth. 90% of players would have done it too. I really thought "Nice effort, but Ghana wins." The rest is African history. Hitting that crossbar demoralized the whole team. Uruguay advanced, but not without some of the best drama I've ever seen.

USA v Algeria: The Goal.
Both teams could advance with a win. Yet, with England comfortably ahead of Slovenia, Algeria starts playing for a heartless draw. Do they know where they are and what's at stake??? Still the US carries on, creating chance after chance.

Then came the goal.

I admit, I ran around the house. Ran. My kids joined me. It was incredible. Overjoyed. And I wasn't alone. Anyone who witnessed that goal Live knows what I'm talking about. The tension up to that point was unbearable. The release.....will be remembered for generations.

This my favorite game not only because the US won. It is how we won. This is why I love soccer. Sure, you're never really sure the goal is coming. But when it does come.....

I seriously doubt anyone makes fun of how soccer players celebrate goals anymore. Because we've all been there ourselves.

Friday, July 2, 2010

"They can take our goals, but they can never take our freedom!"

I've had a week to think over the US performance in the World Cup. I wanted an African Nation to make a run in the World Cup, I just didn't want it to be at our expense! It took a great individual effort to take us down, and I applaud that. (I don't blame Bocanegra, he just got beat.) I consider our World Cup effort a success as we made the knock out round and fared better than France, Italy, Mexico and England. And while it was a thrilling run that ended in heartbreak, I think I'm ready for the positives and negatives.

Negatives: The first point is we lack depth at defender. Onyewu and Clark were directly responsible for 3 goals at my count, and we all saw how Clark made the mistake against Ghana. Demerit and Bocanegra played strong in the middle, they just got out run in extra time. More experience and depth could have allowed Bradley more options for replacements. What's more I expect that none of our starting defenders in this World Cup will start in 2014, with no specific replacements on the horizon.

Also, lack of depth at striker was huge. Ideally we would have put Dempsey and Donovan at wide midfield with Altidore and Davies at forward. Well, Davies was injured and Altidore was leveled ineffective without him. We had no answer to either create goals or allow Altidore more space. Hopefully we find some actual goal scorers in the near future.

Positives: Our midfield rocked my world. Michael Bradley was a stud. The ball seemed to be tethered to his foot and he always made timely runs to create chances. Donovan and Dempsey were amazing and the stars of our team. Edu showed great quality, and Feilhaber resurrected his career in spectacular fashion. What's more, I expect all of these players to appear in 2014.

Tim Howard proved he is a top 5 keeper in the World. He had one slight mistake on the early Ghana goal, but still that was a silly position to have to be in.

Finally, the US put on a show. After the first half of the Slovenia game we played great soccer as a team. I was watching a quality football team, not just a squad I hoped would scrap a victory together. I also felt with our performances against Slovenia and Algeria we really gave the World something to cheer about. Imagine that, we were actually gaining support around the world. This translates into an important quality.


I think the World saw us as a quality team, and that will translate into future respect. No more cheap fouls because it must be the American's fault. No more tough draws in the World Cup because Mexico undeserving received a number 1 seed. More Americans will get playing time in Europe. It will have an effect.

Soccer also gained respect in the US itself. Landon Donovan gave us a moment we will not soon forget. The goal and reactions across the nation gives us a talking point for not just this World Cup, but for the next 4 years and possibly the 4 after that.

A new nation of fans: How can this one moment change a nation? Well, it was a World Cup that turned me into a soccer fan. In 2002 I watched a young Donovan and company defeat Mexico and controversially lose a chance at the semi-finals at the hands of the Germans. But they had captured my spirit. I started following US players in the MLS. I started watching Champions League and English Premier League games. I was hooked. I bought a FIFA video game. I picked a favorite team. (Arsenal) And I started watching every USA match played. I followed our players on their club teams.

Soccer is now a part of my sports world just like baseball, football and basketball. In 2002 I knew very little about world soccer. 8 years later I own 3 jerseys, countless soccer shirts and I have soccer regularly set on my DVR.

In 2018 the World Cup will probably be in Europe, but the US is trying to land it. Where will your game be in 8 years?