Sunday, June 13, 2010

Recap on USA-England and other matches

The atmosphere was electric. All across the country, millions of fans gathered in homes, bars, and even Dupont Circle for the most anticipated soccer match in American history, as the U.S. took on England. A 4th minute goal by Steven Gerrard quieted the crowd briefly and had many thinking the worst. But then, in the 40th minute, Clint Dempsey took a shot that bounced off English goalkeeper Robert Green and rolled into the net. It was a howler, but it was a goal nonetheless and the score was tied 1-1. In the 2nd half, both teams had their chances, but none better than in the 65th minute when Jozy Altidore took a shot that Green got a piece of but hit the post and out. In the end, the match ended in a 1-1 draw, which the U.S. will take. All eyes now are on Tim Howard, who got cleated in the ribs by Emilie Heskey in the 25th minute and had a remarkable game despite being in pain. They will evaluate his health to make sure he doesn't have any broken ribs, but as of now all signs point to him being in net on Friday against Slovenia.

In other action on Saturday, South Korea exposed Greece 2-0 with two great goals by Lee Jung-Soo and Park Ji-Sung. Greece was on its heels the entire match, and South Korea dictated the pace of play throughout. Also, Argentina faced off against Nigeria, and these two have a long history of great matches against each other in the World Cup and the Olympics. Gabriel Heinze kicked off the scoring early with a vicious header in the 6th minute, and despite Argentina's 3-headed monster of Messi, Tevez and Higuain throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Nigeria, their keeper was unflappable after Heinze's goal. Unfortunately, Nigeria couldn't put the ball in the net, and Argentina won 1-0.

Today saw 3 matches, Slovenia-Algeria, Ghana-Serbia and Germany-Australia. Slovenia beat Algeria 1-0 on another soft goal allowed by a GK in this World Cup, to the benefit of Robert Koren. It took a Ghana penalty on a Serbian handball in the box to get the win, as Asamoah Gyan sent home the winner to make Ghana the first African team to ever win a World Cup on African soil. Finally, Germany put on the best scoring display thus far in the tournament, taking Australia to the woodshed with a 4-0 shellacking. Goals by Podolski, Klose, Muller and Cacau were easy and demoralized the Socceroos.

So, the first half of the groups have played their first match. Now, we look at Groups E-H as they get ready to walk out onto the pitch for their opening matches over the next few days.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The World Cup!

Finally, it's here. After 4 years of waiting, the biggest tournament on earth opened earlier this morning to great fanfare and a highly anticipated match, the first World Cup match on African soil. In the opening match, hosts South Africa took on Mexico in Group A action. Bafana Bafana (as the South African team is affectionately called) kicked off the World Cup scoring with a fabulous goal early in the 2nd half. Mexico equalized in the 79th minute, and while South Africa had a brilliant chance in stoppage time hit the post, they managed to pull off the 1-1 draw against El Tri. South Africa, with its draw, extended the record of World Cup host countries to 14-0-6 in the opening match. Now, it will try to continue the momentum it certainly received from this match to try and extend the other World Cup record of each host country making it at least to the 2nd round.

In the 2nd match of the day, it was more Group A action as Uruguay tiptoed with France to a sluggish 0-0 draw. Uruguay saw Nicolas Lodeiro, who came on as a substitute in the 63rd minute, receive 2 yellow cards and get sent off in the 81st minute. Regardless, France couldn't muster much offense and neither could Uruguay as both teams couldn't put the ball in the back of the net.

The 2nd day of World Cup action sees what is easily the most anticipated soccer match in American history, as the U.S. takes on England in Group C action. This match has been talked about for months and anticipation has reached fever pitch long long ago. It certainly has this nation excited and it will surely be an electric atmosphere in Rustenberg. Other action on Saturday sees South Korea take on Greece and Argentina against Nigeria. Wherever you are, there is a great slate of action scheduled for tomorrow. I suggest you tune in to watch!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Final 23

Ladies and Gentlemen, your U.S. World Cup Team:

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann, Brad Guzan

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit, Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector, Clarence Goodson, Jonathan Bornstein

Midfielders: Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Stuart Holden, Maurice Edu, Ricardo Clark, DaMarcus Beasley, Benny Feilhaber, Jose Francisco Torres

Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Herculez Gomez, Edson Buddle, Robbie Findley

My thoughts? I was only incorrect on 2 selections (I had Alejandro Bedoya and Brian Ching over Bornstein and Buddle), but the rest was pretty straight forward. The most shocking omission is that of Brian Ching, a veteran who has been a stalwart in Bradley's USMNT lineups the past few years. It's also clear that Bedoya and Buddle were fighting for the last spot, with Buddle edging out Bedoya. Bornstein making it isn't too surprising, although I predicted he played his way off the roster last night. Findley making it is probably the biggest surprise, even though I predicted it. He didn't play last night, but Bradley clearly views him as the speed complement that we can bring on late in the game to stretch tired defenses. I thought that only one of Gomez or Buddle would make the team, but I'm happy that both made the team. They have worked hard and weren't even on the radar a few short months ago. Now, they're on the plane to South Africa.

We will see the 23-man team one more time in the States, this weekend in Philadelphia for a friendly against Turkey. What do you think about the roster?

Thoughts on USA-Czech Republic; Prediction on Final 23

The USA took on the Czech Republic this evening in their first of 2 sendoff matches before the 23-man roster heads on to South Africa. After a hard-fought game where many of our normal starters weren't in uniform, the Czechs took it 4-2, with goals by Maurice Edu and Herculez Gomez among the USMNT highlights. Here are some thoughts on the match:

-Clarence Goodson played excellent. So did Stu Holden. They both were really involved and created tons of chances to score, including Goodson's header to assist on Gomez's goal and Holden's cross that set up Edu's goal.

-Gooch is not 100%. He just isn't. However, I think he's closer than the early exit would indicate. He's probably at 75-80%. The question is, will that be enough for Bob Bradley to put him on the plane?

-Eddie Johnson, Johnathan Bornstein, Robbie Rogers, Heath Pearce and Sacha Kljestan didn't have great games at all...and definitely waited until the worst possible time to do it. When your place in the World Cup is on the line, you cannot play like these guys did. You need to step it up a level and play better than your best.

What this game definitely played out was who was fighting for some spots on the plane to South Africa (and apparently, to meet the President on Thursday. However, the final roster will be announced Wednesday on ESPN, and it will be interesting to see what Bradley has in store. So, here are my predictions for the final 23-man roster:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Howard, Guzan, Hahnemann. I think BB is pretty set with Guzan at #2, although we will see if Guzan trots out to goal on Saturday against Turkey. Howard is our undisputed #1.

DEFENDERS (6): Bocanegra, Onyewu, Cherundolo, DeMerit, Goodson, Spector. I think Bornstein played his way off the plane tonight, and I don't think Pearce did himself any favors. Goodson played like he could start if Gooch can't go for some reason. He was excellent, and he's a great guy for set pieces in the box, something we'll need in South Africa.

MIDFIELDERS (10): Beasley, Bedoya, Bradley, Clark, Dempsey, Donovan, Edu, Feilhaber, Holden, Torres. We take 10 midfielders to South Africa mostly because of the ability of many of our midfielders to assume other roles. Beasley or Edu could be called upon to play defense, while Dempsey or Donovan could be pushed up as strikers to allow Holden and/or Torres to come in and provide tons of speed on the flanks. Bedoya, while having some limited minutes in appearances, has shown me enough to get on the plane. While initially I thought that Bedoya was in a race with Beasley for a spot, I think both actually make the team. The rest of the choices, in my opinion, were very easy to make, and the cuts (Kljestan and Rogers) were even easier to make.

FORWARDS (4): Altidore, Ching, Gomez, Findley. I think that due to some midfielders like Dempsey or Donovan being able to slide up front if necessary, we only take 4 strikers. Gomez played his way onto the plane and proved he belonged. Buddle didn't do anything to lose a spot, just got beat by Gomez in my mind. Johnson wasn't making it to begin with. Call me crazy, but I think that Findley makes the team, even though I don't think he should. Bradley seems to love him, and he is the speedy complement that we could bring in like we did Charlie Davies (although Findley needs to learn how to finish).

Those are my predictions, but we will find out the true final roster tomorrow. I'm even going to predict the numerical roster (while most are easy to determine, some could be tricky). Who do you think will make the final roster?


Thursday, May 20, 2010

World Cup Schedule

For those of you who need the schedule for this year's World Cup, AODC member Chris Pavlakos took the liberty of putting one into Google Calendar. Here it is:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The USMNT Preliminary 30-Man World Cup Roster

Today, USMNT coach Bob Bradley announced the 30 men that were selected to the preliminary World Cup roster. There were some surprise additions and some surprise omissions. First, the roster:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Marcus Hahnemann (Wolverhampton)

DEFENDERS (9): Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover), Jay DeMerit (Watford), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew), Oguchi Onyewu (AC Milan), Heath Pearce (FC Dallas), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United)

MIDFIELDERS (12): DaMarcus Beasley (Rangers), Alejandro Bedoya (Örebro), Michael Bradley (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Ricardo Clark (Houston Dynamo), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Benny Feilhaber (Aarhus), Stuart Holden (Bolton), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew), José Torres (Pachuca)

FORWARDS (6): Jozy Altidore (Villarreal), Edson Buddle (Los Angeles Galaxy), Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake), Herculez Gomez (Puebla), Eddie Johnson (Aris Thessaloniki)

First thought: No Charlie Davies. Davies has made an incredible comeback so far from his extensive injuries sustained during his car accident back in October. He has fought hard to get back...unfortunately he just ran out of time. As much as I and many other fans wanted to see him in the camp to be able to prove his fitness, I understand leaving him off. It's devastating for him, but he is our future just as much as he is our present. He will be back, stronger than ever, I'm sure of it.

Surprise additions: Rogers, Marshall, Kljestan. Rogers has not been good for club or country over the past year. It was quite a surprise for me to see him on the roster. Marshall has had terrible form lately also. Kljestan had a bad spell of play, but has turned it around so far this season for Chivas USA...still I found his addition mildly surprising.

Forward situation: With no Davies, most were wondering which of the hot strikers in the U.S. player pool would be called up. Edson Buddle has been on fire so far in MLS with 9 goals in 8 games, leading the league. Herculez Gomez tied for first in the Mexican Primera in goals with 10 in the season for Puebla. Also, Eddie Johnson has been tearing up the Greek League as of late, with 3 goals in as many games for Aris. Bob Bradley called up all 3, so we shall see which of those guys will join Jozy Altidore up front.

Other than that, not a whole lot of surprises. Our main stars will be there, and it will be interesting to see who our 23 World Cup players will be. For now, our 30 will take it to Princeton, New Jersey next week for training camp and with only 2 send-off matches before Bradley has to name his 23, it's now time for those 30 to show and prove.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

MLS Season Kicks Off On Time

On Thursday night, the MLS season got off to a rocking start when the expansion Philadelphia Union played their first-ever game against last year’s newbie Seattle Sounders FC at Qwest Field. Seattle picked up where it left off last year by posting a 2-0 victory over a Union team that tackled hard and even had a player sent off in the 40th minute but otherwise looked like they are in for a long season. But, while the story is the league’s 15th season starting this season with a loaded slate of games, the real story is that last night’s game almost wasn’t to be. Late last weekend, the MLS Players Union and the owners, after months of hard deliberation and threats to strike coming from the players, agreed to a new 5-year collective bargaining agreement. While the players didn’t get everything they were looking for (reports were that the players were fully prepared to strike on the 22nd and the owners were already lining up replacement players), a shock deal was agreed to in the afternoon of March 21st.

It was a great thing for MLS and soccer in this country for a collective bargaining agreement to be hammered out, avoiding a strike. In this, a World Cup year where more eyes than ever are tuning into the game of soccer in preparation for the world’s biggest tournament, it would have been a dagger in the heart of the league to have a strike dominate a season when they should be playing in front of raucous crowds in Seattle, Philadelphia, Toronto, DC and the rest of MLS. The agreement gives players more freedom to move between clubs (although there is no straight free agency that you see in other American sports leagues), increased salary caps and salaries, and guaranteed contracts for players over the age of 24 or who have 3 years of service. Kudos to the players and the owners for strapping on their helmets and striving to get the best deal done for their particular sides, but for having the courage and wisdom to strike a compromise that will benefit both sides and this great league.