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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

2010: South African Odyssey

A fellow Jewish soccer fan asked me today if there were any Jewish players on the 2006 team. Unlike 2002, there are none (no Agoos), and only one whose name sounds Jewish (Wolff, no Friedel). I did mention that by 2010, we might see young Benny Feilhaber.

Got me thinking a little, that while I have no idea if 2010 will be the US's BEST World Cup team, that it will undoubtedly be our most anticipated team, from the obsessed fan POV.

In goal, TIM HOWARD will be 30, with a few more years of EPL experience, and be the US's number 1 keeper.

ONYEWU will be 27, and have more European seasoning. CHERUNDOLO will be 30, and presumedly still a capable defender. More than likely, we'll see JON SPECTOR, CHAD MARSHALL, MARVELL WYNNE and possibly ZAK WHITBREAD or FRANKIE SIMEK. CORY GIBBS will be 30 then, and a few more years of Europe, as well.

In the midfield, DONOVAN and BEASLEY will only be 28 (!) and CONVEY will be 27. We might see the afforementioned FEILHABER, EDDIE GAVEN, young Dutchmen LEE NYUGEN and MICHAEL BRADLEY, and a kid named ADU.

EDDIE JOHNSON will be all of 25 (or 26), and might be joined by CHRIS ROLFE, PRESTON ZIMMERMAN or even potential Yank/potential-Italian GIUSEPPE ROSSI, who still might be deciding come May, 2010. In the looking glass, we see DAVID AVIZVU (sp?).

Have I missed anybody here ?
Of course I have.. some MLS players between now and then will kick it up a notch, and some mainstays will find a place on the US radar. Time to brush up on your Afrikaans.

Places, Everyone

I think these are the players whose position in the US starting line-up are solid: Kasey Keller, Steve Cherundolo, Oguchi Onyewu, Eddie Pope, Eddie Lewis, Landon Donovan, Pablo Mastroeni, and Brian McBride. That makes 8, and it includes the entire backline, 1 forward and 2 midfielders. The remaining 3 will come from a group that includes: Eddie Johnson, Josh Wolff, Claudio Reyna, DaMarcus Beasley, Clint Dempsey and Bobby Convey. Kinda hard to imagine a starting lineup without Reyna, but his health is a concern. Ditto O'Brien. Beasley isn't injured, but his play has lacked a little bit. Convey has looked great, but lacks some of Beas's defensive tenacity. GAM looked dangerous on Sunday; had he converted one of his chances, his inclusion into the starting lineup would have been more solid.

Much of it depends on the opponent's size, speed and offensive strengths. Injecting Beasley and/or Convey gives more speed and flank play, while using Reyna and O'Brien gives better ball control. Dempsey is always a threat, and we do need a right-sided mid.

As we saw from the friendlies, players like Lewis and Cherundolo were able to get into the offense and make some crisp crosses. Inserting Eddie Johnson would give us 2 guys with aerial skills to receive, and you do get the sense from the Latvia game that GAM has a little fire in his play.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Vinaigrette on the Side

Did I spell vinaigrette correctly ? Hmm.. Anyways, I've been a busy reader this past weekend. I bought the ESPN the Magazine and World Soccer World Cup previews. Not to be outdone, National Geographic has an article about soccer's worldwide passions and even a pull-out section - something for the egghead set amongst us.

I noticed a few very interesting things looking at some team photos. If I were a better writer, I could better espouse this kind of stuff. Anyways, the French team consists of only 5 'white' players. The rest are from African, or Middle-Eastern roots. This is a profoundly cool fact, despite who your parents were. As with all European nations, France had their unfortunate share of colonizations and on the brighter side, immigration - the former and the latter from Algeria, Martinique, Senegal, Morocco, etc. Now, those players are now representing France at the higest sporting level, and little kids of many hues from Paris, Marseille, Lyon and Nantes look up to them. The Trinidad & Tobago Soca Warriors have one white player on their team, and even Germany boasts one player with African roots. All over these guides are Croatians with Dutch history, Japanese players born in Brazil, Aussies with Middle-Eastern blood. Granted, some of these guys took a chance to represent a country b/c they wanted to play in a W/C. America has had some of these 'passport' players like Wegerle, Earnie Stewart and Tom Dooley. Does it mean the same thing to Louis Saha to represent France as it did to Michel Platini ? Maybe not to some traditional French people, but to Saha, I bet it does.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Wing and a Prayer

The US removed the formerly bad taste from their mouths with a convincing 2-0 victory over Venezuela Friday night. Bobby Convey was clearly MOTM, assisting on the game-winning goal, and basically being a terror/inspiration on the left flank. He made a very convincing argument for his inclusion in the starting 11 come June 12. I gotta think that with some of the less-than-stellar recent performances by Eddie Johnson, Josh Wolff and others, Bruce needs all of the offensive spark he can get, and Convey certainly provides that. Unforunately, DaMarcus Beasley has been a sure thing as left-sided midfielder, so it'll be interesting to see in which direction Il Bruce goes.

I've been scowering local Border's and Barnes and Noble locations, trying to locate a copy of 4-4-2's World Cup Preview issue. I have one from 2002, and I've really enjoyed it - yes, I still check it out occasionally. I found and purchased World Soccer and ESPN's preview issue, but 4-4-2 is the real find. The places I've gone to do have the May issue, but no luck with the June offering. 2 weeks to go.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Good, bad and indifferent....

I try not to be fickle with things, but I realized earlier that I get fickle with regards to the USMNT.

We win a big game, I think we're on a path towards greatness. We lose a friendly to Morocco, and I fear that it's 3 and out in Germany. Of course, that all could change by the time I see 2 more friendlies between tomorrow night and Sunday night.
And, speaking of that.. isn't that delicious ? Two World Cup prep matches within 48 hours... Bliss. (Not Brian)

Looking objectively, it's one thing for our Europe-based players to beat a Mexican team of mostly Mexican-based players, but it's quite another for our team of European-based and some MLS players to beat teams like CZE and ITA whose players mostly play in upper European leagues. Of course, I thought that 4 years ago against the Portugese, and look what happened. See how tough this is ? Just when I arrive at a POV about this team, something changes it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Apologies to Peter Noone

The kind of hush all over the US soccer-fan world has been calmed.
Reports indicate that US midfield captain Claudio Reyna is OK.
Claudio is on the downside of his career, but his abilities are important to the US attack, because he allows players like Convey, McBride, Donovan et al to get open, while he takes ball duties.

People get on Claudio for not having the guts of players like Armas or DMB. I've been guilty of saying that. Claudio knows too many doctor's offices intimately, but when he's healthy, he can play a big role.

Sadly, other teams know that the US lineup will include 2 important players - Claudio and John O'Brien, both one rough contact away from being subbed off.
Someone call Mr. Miyagi.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


That's all I can say to those of you looking for some manner of silver lining in tonight's 1-0 loss to Morocco.
Reyna gets hurt; O'Brien is a little off. Donovan passes when he should shoot.
Yeah, I know.. it's only one game, but if you're going to go up against Italy and the Czechs at full strength, you need to handle Morocco's B+ team at home.

The Non Soccer Playing US World Cup Team
(I wrote this a few years ago, but it's still somewhat relevant)

Coach - Bill Cowher
Not interested in the flashiness or snobbery of the South American or
European game, Cowher champions the tough, dog-eat-dog style, which
has come to symbolize the current US game.

Assistant Coach - Phil Jackson
Yes, the ZenMaster himself. Call him odd, call him Buddha, but his
results speak for themselves.

Forwards--

Randy Moss
"Still learning the game" as he is described, but nobody can deny the
flashiness of the 6'4 target. True, he needs to mature, and might not
be a part of every transition, but when he's on, he's lethal. Replays
of his give-and-gos with Real teammate David Beckham are legendary.

Kobe Bryant
Kobe shook up the MLS when he came out of 10th grade into the draft,
but there's no denying that he's the best scoring threat that the US
possesses. The Mallorca striker is lethal from inside, outside,
downtown, uptown, and across town.

Shawn Green
"The Kosher Kid" had a breakout season at White Hall Lane, cementing
his position on the US squad.

Brian Giles
Yes, we know he's plying his trade for Bundesliga doormats Rostock,
but that hasn't deterred Giles from endearing himself to local and US
fans alike.

Tracy McGrady
Like teammate Bryant, McGrady's early arrival in MLS was seen as a
negative trend in the world sport. 5 years later, Deportiva is glad to
have the trendsetter.

Ken Griffey Jr
Son of the former Cincinnati MF, Griffey was the US squad's 'Player of
the 90s'. After a few off seasons, Griffey seems poised to make the
2006 World Cup HIS World Cup.

Midfielders --

Alex Rodriguez
Dont let the salary fool you. The Rangers MF is perhaps the best
5-tool player on the American team. Shoot, pass, score, dribble and
defense.

Derek Jeter
Yes, he still packs them in at Ajax, with his aw-shucks worth ethic
and All-American charm. His statistics might be dwarfed by teammates
Garciaparra and Rodriguez, but nobody is more clutch in big matches.

Michael Vick
RAW as sushi, but there is a reason why Everton shelled out the money
they did for this explosive MF prospect.

Nomar Garciaparra
This former NE Rev star made a successful transition to Perugia this
season, welcomed by the Serie A standouts. Hampered by injuries, his
engagement to US star Mia Hamm, and a health qualifying campaign have
put him back on track.

Craig Biggio
Often overlooked because of his size, "Biggio is our hidden MVP" quips
co-manager Jackson. His speed, and ability to do the 'little things'
have impressed his coaches at Udinese.

Allen Iverson (Defensive Midfielder)
Generously listed at 5'11, Iverson personifies the "fight in the dog"
so beloved by Cowher. 'The goalie's best friend' says netminder
Keller.

Fullbacks --

John Lynch
"Tough as they come" offers his Munich coach. And, a family man, to
boot. Don't let his genteel nature fool you. When youre in the US half
of the field, you're in HIS half of the field.

Charles Woodson
For those who remember the hey-day of American football, and the
Oakland Raiders, Woodson would have fit in perfectly. His nickname,
"Black Saturday" is well-deserved.

Mike Piazza
Did someone dial 10-10-220 ? Liverpool is sure glad they did.

Ben Wallace
"Sometimes, I feel I want to guard the whole other team at once".
Enough said.

Jeff Kent
Dont worry about his motorcycling, "Easy Rider"esque lifestyle. The
6'1 "terminator" for AS Roma comes to play.. and play and play.

Torii Hunter
A surprise inclusion on this year's staff, but having formerly played
at Madrid's reserves under coach Jackson, the US squad is well-aware
of his speed, size and "gut" for finding the ball.

Goalies--

Kasey Keller, Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann
(Here are 3 guys who made the right choice) ;)

Passing Thoughts

Tonight, the US scrimmages Morocco in Nashville.
I used to think that I was heavily looking forward to the US
March friendly with Poland. Well, I'm immensely heavily looking forward to this game... dripping with sentiment. Like... this is the team! These are the players! How great are WC warm-up games ? Granted, Morocco aren't world-beaters, but they're not a bad club. Plus, I like Morocco in that they're a secular Muslim country. If Morocco and Turkey ever played, I don't know who I'd root for.

Questions to be answered:
Who will start alongside McBride? Wolff? Johnson? Ching?
How does Deuce look in midfield?
How will the backline look?
And, what's the deal with John O'Brien's hair ? This is the US soccer equivalent of concerns over Tom Hanks's hair in DaVinci Code.

Hello, Larry
ESPN are running some early World Cup promos.. the first features Bono's voice extolling the worldwide passion and attention played to the tournament. I saw the second one this morning with U2's drummer, Larry Mullen, talking about the Scottish fans - the "Tartan Army". The idea of the ad was that the Scots aren't in the tourney, but their fans would be there.
Excuse me, but who picks U2's drummer for this voiceover? Bono's speaking voice is great, and he's well-known, but nobody knows Mullen's voice...was there a U2 2-for-1 ? Also, why discuss Scotland ? And, couldn't they get another famous person to do this ? Kofi Annan, or another foreign voice that Americans might know ? I hope there are more ads tonight.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

All the way Jay

Jay DeMerit is an American defender with Watford. On Sunday, he scored the winning goal off of a header to lead his club into the English Premier league, beating Leeds United, whose squad includes American midfielder/defender Eddie Lewis.

Jay is 26 and has never played for the USMNT; I don't even know if he's been looked at by the US high command. He's been so off the radar, it's not surprising to me. It's not like he came up through MLS or a big college. He went to school in Wisconsin, and when he didn't make an MLS roster, he moved to England, and performed well enough at their lower ranks, to get a contract with Watford. (tidbit - Elton John is a part-owner). This is curious to many people - the guy is good enough to suit up for a club that will be in England's highest rank next year, yet he's never been at a US camp. 26 is late to start an international career, but I hope it's not too late. Go Jay !

Forward to This

The US scrimmages against Morocco this coming Tuesday night. The last game I looked forward to as much as this game, was the friendly against Poland in March. The next game I'll look forward to this much will be the Friday night game, and then the Sunday game, and then June 12th versus the Czechs. Get it ? World Cup warm-ups are really great fun. I was fortunate enough to see their send-off games at RFK in DC in years past, versus Scotland and Uruguay, but because RFK is also used for baseball, it no longer houses the USMNT, which is unfortunate. It's all about optimism, ain't it ? We've never seen this group of US players play together, and that's what makes it so much fun. Up to now, it's all been about speculation and guessing. Now, we can see what some of these guys look like in the new kits. How does Gooch look back there ? Is Dempsey ready to loom large ? Is Convey still wowing them ? Can't wait...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Lucky Than Good


In the 2002 World Cup, the US defense was a rotation of Eddie Pope, Jeff Agoos, Tony Sanneh, Frankie Hedjuk, Gregg Berhalter and Carlos Llamosa, who basically saw time as end-of-game insurance. This group gave up 1 goal to Portugal, 1 to South Korea, 3 to Poland, none to Mexico and 1 to Germany. This is a great example of preferring to be lucky than good.
Tony Sanneh is a good soccer player. Nothing great. Same goes for Frankie Hedjuk. Yet, both played above their heads during this run. Frankie's limitations aren't hard to see. He doesn't cross very well, and is often beat off the dribble. Yet, he's fast enough and tenacious that his abilities occasionally show up, as well. He's outperformed, but never outhustled, or outworked. He's probably got the best endurance of any US player.
Tony Sanneh doesn't have Frankie's speed or tenacity, but he doesn't have some of his weaknesses, either. He was able to shut down Figo, and used his athletic abilities to come up way big for the US squad. When I first saw him for DC, I would never have believed he'd start for a World Cup Quarterfinal team.

Jeff Agoos was neither lucky nor good. I love Goose, but you can't build a defense around him. I remember before the Portugal game, Ty Keough said that it was Agoos's job to keep the game close. When Agoos had the own-goal, a friend remarked that he was just 'doing his job'. Hysterical.

Gregg Berhalter has good size, and good seasoning, but he's never really established himself as a 'must have' on the US side. He seems to be a little bit of an odd guy - moody, and maybe a little distant. Not that those are bad things, but I can't see him being a defensive captain kind of guy.

In 2006, the only luck we can ask for amongst our defense is that Pope, Bocanegra and Gibbs are healthy. World Cup debutantes Gooch, Cherundolo and the others already have the good part down-pat.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Too few to mention...

If I wasn't getting married this year, I would have gone to the World Cup. I even had a ticket. Not that this was a difficult decision. After I got engaged, I realized that I wouldn't be able to both plan and afford a wedding and a trip to Germany in the same year, not to mention a honeymoon, time away from work, etc. I know that I'll miss not being there, but I do have certain priorities, I hope :) Someday, perhaps in 2014 when it's held in Brazil, I'll get there. I'll be 45 then, but I'll still be passionate about the team. I have a friend fluent in Brasilian culture, despite growing up in the Virgin Islands, and England (?). Another friend with an eye towards soccer and spectacle has also expressed interest, and if the US team keeps in improving, 2014 might be a good trip to see them. I did harbor many excited bits of anticipation about going to THIS summer's fest, tho. The ability to party, meet and drink with like-minded fans from the world over, the chance to see Germany, and feel a part of something. Not to mention, watching the games, which sometimes seems like an after-thought when these things are concerned. And, to top if off, I would have brought an Elvis costume, and worn it to the games and the bars. I'm 100% serious. People would have loved taking pics with an American dressed as Elvis, and I woulda probably got on TV. But, there will be other chances. I'll get there eventually.

Monday, May 15, 2006

It Won't Be Long Now.. Yeah !

Four weeks from today, the USA plays their first match of the World Cup, against the favored Czechs. If we can somehow manage a win, it might be one of the most enjoyable sports days of my life.

In 1994, I remember going to a bar in downtown Baltimore to watch the US-Switzerland game. But, I didn't know the team much then; I was excited about going, but I didn't have the history with the team that I now possess.

In 1998, my friend Vadim and I went to my friend Jeff's house to watch the US's inaugural game versus Germany. Again, a fun viewing, but on a small TV, and not much atmosphere.

2002 was a little more fun - waking up at 5am EST to see us beat Portugal. In all honesty, didn't matter where I was that day, the result was the main thing.

Now, it's 2006, and boy, do I have a history with this club. And, I'll be taking my first ever day off from work to basically watch TV. I'm not sure where I'll be going, but I know what I'll be wearing, and I know what I'll be doing - watching all 3 of the matches that day.


Wow.. a month to go. I can't hardly believe it.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Cuffs, Mr. Bocanegra ?


So, in addition to being named to a World Cup squad, training with your team, facing the world's best, creating life-long memories and everything that comes with it, defender Carlos Bocanegra and his teammates get a closet full of Nike clothing. Non-soccer, as you can see. I love how he's on the beverage cooler and the tailor is adjusting his trousers. Like THIS doesn't get his teammates, and pretty much everyone on the team laughing.

My guess at the top 3 clothing-related comments heard at the US Soccer Nike clothing measurement event.

  • "That's not how they do pants!"
  • "Something in a low-rise brief - mesh if possible".
  • "Can I cough now?"


    I know the third one is a little weak. Anybody have anything to add ?

  • Friday, May 12, 2006

    By any other name..

    Yesterday, the monitor of soccerblogs.net told me that I should change the name of my blog to something a bit snappier than 'USA World Cup Blog', which is 100% true. I was trying to come up with something that was equal parts funny, unique and historically relevant - something a US soccer fan would identify. There is a soccer blog called Logan's Revenge, which always makes me laugh. So, I'm now posting under the title "In the 4th Minute", to honor John O'Brien's 4th minute goal versus Portugal in June of 2002. Happened at 5 minutes after 5am, EST - my friend Jeff hadn't even arrived to watch the game, and we were already up a goal - great memory.

    Thursday, May 11, 2006

    A tip of the hat to the folks (or folk) over at Triangle Soccer Fanatics, who posted THIS LINK with some comments and great pics from today's first day of practice. I occasionally ask my friends this question - "Other than your life and your job, what subjects do you know the most about ?" For me, it's probably this team. It's a little strange when I can look at the group running pics, and identify EVERY player, when neither my wife, nor ANY of my friends could identify any of them.. they'd probably ask where Freddy Adu, or the red-headed guy with the goatee is. Still, there is a unique combination of sunshine, bright photos and the fact that these are the 23 best soccer players in the country, stretching before something which will last 5-7 weeks, and will be one of the most enjoyable experiences they ever have. For some, their last. For some, their first.

    Job Security

    There are probably 4 statements that 90% of US Soccer fans would agree with

    1. Kasey Keller is a deity

    2. DaMarcus Beasley is tougher than most international players twice his size

    3. Landon Donovan, while a star, isn't as ambitious as we'd like him to be

    4. Bruce Area REALLY knows what he's doing.


    If Bruce were coaching the Lions of England, the Tri-Colores of Mexico, or the Azurri of Italy, he'd be criticized daily. Reporters would be listing his successors, and offering him daily advice on his to do his job.

    This has much to do with the importance of soccer in those countries, much to do with the traditional relationship between national soccer coach and the media, and mostly to do with the fact that America is still a developing soccer country. When your historical competition is Bob Gansler, Bora, Steve Sampson and a bunch of guys that nobody can name, it's not hard to look pretty good. Still, Bruce has an almost untouchable quality about him. He's like the Whitey Herzog of baseball, unconcerned with being liked, and supremely confident in his mental acumen. When asked about up-and-comer Bobby Convey, Bruce praised him, but added that he still needs to prove himself. About former scoring phenom Eddie Johnson, Bruce reminded that his scoring prowess was mostly media-created, and came against lower competition. While both statements are true, this isn't a guy trying to earn his players trust and respect. I once stood next to him in an elevator at RFK Stadium. Nothing flashy about him; he doesn't carry the air of celebrity - he's just a guy who knows how to do what he needs to, and is no-frills about getting there. In short, exactly the kind of guy whom I would want as national team coach.

    Tom Petty was Wrong

    A few weeks ago, a friend asked me about the months leading up to the World Cup. "Must be pretty boring, just waiting" he said.

    For any of you reading, you know that this pretty much IDs him NOT as a soccer fan. If your country is in the World Cup, the months leading up to it are GREAT....second only to the anxiety/anticipation the morning of gameday, and the elation of evening after, should your team win.
  • First, you watch the World Cup graw and hope your team gets a good draw.
  • Then, you analyze your team versus your first-round opponents, and look for potential knockout round match-ups, if your team gets that far.
  • The big apparel manufacturers like Nike and Adidas introduce their shirts early in 2006, so you need to order one of those.
  • In April and May, your team's roster comes together. You obsess over potential inclusions and exclusions.
  • If your boss is cool, you ask for the days off when your team plays. If not, you figure out your sickness for those days.
  • Of course, you have to figure out which local 'pub', or which friend with a great TV will be blessed with your viewing presence.
  • Link your favorite World Cup sites, blogs and information portals.
  • Am I missing anything ?


    Whew.. maybe it's good this thing only comes up ever 4 years.

  • Wednesday, May 10, 2006

    Steven Goff, the Washington Post's soccer reporter hosted this chat this afternoon online. Goff is one of the better US soccer reporters, not that there are many. Pay special attention to the question from Pikesville about the ethnic makeup of the US team.
    I wonder where that would rank on a list of best possible jobs - soccer reporter for a big newspaper.
    Travel, access to players, respect, and not much stress. It's not like many people would be second-guessing my comments. Gotta rank up there.

    Tuesday, May 09, 2006

    F in FIFA

    FIFA, which is soccer's governing body, is allowing Iranian PM
    Ahmadinejad to attend the world party this summer. To repeat, I have absolutely no opinion about this kind of lunacy. Iran is one of the 32 countries represented. My thoughts are that if you deny the Holocaust and call for the destruction of another country, it's probably worse than having confusion over who packed your bags for you before you left home.

    This isn't the only misstep that they've made.
  • It's been publicized that the Taliban has used halftime at soccer games to dole out their brand of justice.
  • During Saddam's reign in Iraq, the national team players would be injured following losses.
  • Iran doesn't allow women to attend games.

    .. For all of these, there was silence from Zurich.

    A few months ago, Israeli intelligence learnt that some terrorists were training on a soccer field in Palestine. Hoping to keep them from killing innocents, Israel had no choice but to attack them.

    This, however, awoke FIFA, who made their first-ever political statement condemning Israel for attacking a soccer field. Of course, when Israeli fields were bombed, FIFA was surprising silent.

    I don't necessarily think that FIFA is any more or less anti-Israel or pro-Palestine than anyone else in Switzerland...(pause)... but, I didn't feel right not including my .02 on this one in my World Cup-related blog.

  • On the Move..


    Two of the American World Cup players - Tim Howard and Cory Gibbs will be wearing new uniforms next year, joining Everton and Charlton, respectively, of the English top division. For the athletic but occasionally erratic Howard, it's a chance to recapture former glory and for the promising Gibbs, a chance to continue his European dream. These moves really have no World Cup impact, other than changing the bios of both of these players. Plus, the British announcers will be able to say things like "... the Charlton signee clears the ball well..." when Gibbs makes a play.

    Needless to say, I like both moves. Whenever an American signs to play in a top European league, it's nothing but good news. Gibbs with potentially 4 years of EPL seasoning before the 2010 World Cup, and Howard getting the starting nod with a good club.

    Monday, May 08, 2006

    Bobby

    I mentioned earlier that Bobby Convey is one of my favorite players on this team. He's also the only one whom I've ever talked to in person. Since 2004, I've been doing freelance (emphasis on free) reporting on the DC United for a company called TSV Media, and I've had access to the team's clubhouse. Some of my stories have appeared online, including the soccer area of espn.com, which might be one of the coolest experiences I've had without being naked. I talked to Bobby in April of 2004, and he seemed to be pretty decent. He was only 20 at the time, but he wasn't shy, wasn't silly or cocky; gave me some good answers and seemed respectful. He started playing professionally at age 16, and moved to an English club called Reading in 2005. He didn't have an easy go of it, but he persevered, and now he's a starter, and on a World Cup squad. Go Bobby.

    How to follow the World Cup.

    People talk about the Super Bowl being the world's biggest sporting event; it's not. It's kind of funny, really. How many people watch the Super Bowl ? Maybe 180 million. They always talk about how it's being BROADCAST to 2 billion people, or so.
    Well, they can broadcast it to the moons of Mars (which are Delos and Phebos, by the way).. doesn't mean people watch it.
    Well, the World Cup final will be watched by perhaps 2.5 or 3 BILLION people - that's 20 times the people who watch the Super Bowl. Soccer is the only true worldwide language. Remote ice stations in the arctic, desert huts in the Sahara, European bars, South American houses, and New Zealand farmers will all be doing the same thing on July 9th - trying to figure out why the Brazilians have such odd names. "Mary, what the hell is a Kaka ?"
    Besides that, there are things that Americans can do to follow and support their and other teams.

    1. Watch the games - ESPN will show each and every game, and it won't be hard to find them.

    2. Go to a bar during a game. You think people who tailgate are fans ? Try checking out a bar on a World Cup viewing day.

    3. If your town has unique ethnic neighborhoods - Little Italy, neighborhoods with hispanic immigrants, Germans, Carribeans, Poles, etc.. try to visit them when their countries are playing. It's a wonderful visceral experience of ethnic pride.

    4. Find your team. No matter where you live now, someone's grandparents or great-grandparents or Uncle came from a country represented. Learn about your roots.

    5. If you like rooting for the powerful teams, follow Brazil. If you like tragic loss (ie the Red Sox), Spain is your side. You say you like passion and flair ? Meet Italy. Fan of the underdog, are you ? Choose any of the 4-time African teams, or perhaps Ukraine, Australia or the great tin drums of Trinidad and Tobago.

    Sunday, May 07, 2006

    Everywhere signs...

    Nike unveiled THIS billboard recently in Times Square, with the tagline "The World No Longer Wants to Play With Us', featuring Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, and someone I can't identify on the left. It's similar to the ESPN cover of the US team in 2002, which featured Landon, DaMarcus and then cover-boy Clint Mathis (How the mighty have fallen). Well, 'the world' sees a match against the US as less of a 'sure win', but they hardly "No Longer Want to Play Us". But, Nike are the masters of this kind of sports advertising. There's also a great Gatorade ad on TV right now to the tune of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game", showing the surroundings that our players find themselves in when they play in Central America.

    If..

    I posted something at BigSoccer yesterday, which was picked up on the granddaddy of all World Cup Blogs, at this URL. Yes, I do a fair amount of posting at 'BS', and was just curious how our 'bench' looked should someone go down with an injury. Sadly, someone will get injured.. happens every cup. Whether the players can come back is the question.
    And sadly, the US bench isn't very deep. Granted, nobody wants to have to go to their bench, but ours isn't in great shape if we do.

    Saturday, May 06, 2006

    Is that one 'r' or two ?

    One of my favorite baseball writers, Bill James, once opined that people who think that Babe Ruth isn't the best baseball player of all time are trying to make a point. In other words, Ruth's evidence to that title is so overwhelming that people who champion Cobb, Mantle, Mays or Bonds are trying to prove that their reading of the statistics highlights something different. I feel the same way about Brazil's chances this summer. The Italians, English and Argentinians bring strong teams to Germany, but I see no reason why Brazil won't win. Their players are young, embarrassingly talented. They're able to do things with the ball and in certain situations that words can't describe. Imagine a major league baseball team figuring out how to hit home runs by swinging the bat ABOVE your head. Most important to the Brazilians is that they're very motivated. Their coach knows that his team tends to be overly cocky and wilt when they're 'supposed' to win, and he for sure doesn't want Brazil to underperform under his watch. Now, simply because he's guarding against complacency doesn't mean it automatically transfers onto his team. Every coach in every sport guards against over-confidence, but if Ronaldinho's very strange teeth aren't smiling come July 9th, I'll be surprised.

    Drew

    Drew Carey is the only outwardly verbal celebrity fan of the US World Cup team that comes to mind. I wrote about it a year ago, after seeing him on the Late Show with Craig Ferguson (Is that show still on ?). He was on ESPN last week, and it seems every time I see him on TV, he's wearing a US kit. Is there a more unlikely US soccer fan ? It would be like finding out that Kanye West really likes "Trading Spaces" or that Bob Dole really likes Good Charlotte. Even before I found this out, I always liked Drew, and now even more so. Rock on.

    The 23-man US squad this summer includes 5 African-American players - DaMarcus Beasley, Eddie Johnson, Eddie Pope, Cory Gibbs, Oguchi Onyewu and Tim Howard has an African-American father. I doubt there are any major league baseball teams with as many African-Americans on their roster. That sounds bad. I'm not trying to make too much of the racial content of this team, but it's interesting to me, and I hope it's something that the mainstream US press reports. The visual that most people have of American soccer is that it's a sport played by suburban white kids and those of Hispanic origin, and one that generally is missed by African-Americans. Definitely not so. At a time when major league baseball has its' lowest percentage of African-Americans since soon after integration, and the NBA is seeing an increased number of European, South American and Asian players, it's a nice sidebar that the US soccer team is reflecting more of the country, as well. One of the US players of the future is 18-year old Lee Nyugen (thanks for the correction, Wolf), born of Vietnamese parents, who is playing for the developmental side of Dutch powerhouse PSV Einhoven.

    And, starting...

    One of the battles on this summer's US team is that for the "other" centerback position (assuming that Onyewu has the other).
    It's between Eddie Pope and Cory Gibbs. At their best, both are solid players; but I doubt either will be peaking come mid-June. Eddie was one of the US's best players in 2002, but he's gotten a step slower, and has had some recent troubles. Gibbs got injured last summer, and is still playing himself back into health. It's the eternal battle between smarts and experience (Pope) versus youth and athleticism (Giibs). I don't even think Bruce knows who he'll pick - might depend on their performances in training camp, and who the opponent is.

    Friday, May 05, 2006

    373 Words about Marcus Hahnemann

    Marcus Hahnemann is one of my favorites on the 2006 US squad. Maybe I’m partial to goalies, because I used to be one. Maybe I’m partial to premature balding goalies who aren’t thin, b/c I also used to be one of those. “Bald Yank” as he’s known is one of those pseudo-Walter Mittyish sports stories that people love because he’s the eternal underdog who succeeds. He went to a college called Seattle Pacific to play soccer. I’ve never heard of ol’ SPU, and I doubt many people outside of their local Pizza Hut have either. I’m assuming that some well-intentioned college coaches saw him play in High School and thought he wasn’t tall enough or didn’t jump high enough, so he ended up at a lower-level college. Anyway, after his college career, he joins the Seattle Sounders of the A-League (the US soccer version of AAA baseball), and plays well enough to get added to the Colorado Rapids of MLS, leading them to the Championship Game in 1997. He parlays that into a job with an English team called Fulham, but mostly stays on the bench. Then, he gets interest from a club in the First Division called Reading. In England, the second level of soccer used to be called the ‘First Division’, now it’s called the ‘Coca Cola Championship’. Go figure. But, he hits his stride at Reading, and the fans love him. He’s like one of those big mid-western white guys who play tight end in the NFL– fun-loving, irreverent, a fan favorite.. you know the type, like Jeremy Shockey. This year, Reading played lights-out in the ‘Championship’, which is really the second level (?) and got promoted to the Premiership of English Soccer, which is really their highest level (honest), and it’s a great story, really. Marcus brings his fun-loving American act to the big stadiums in England.
    Most likely, Marcus will be the #3 keeper for the US, which is one less than he should be. Given his performance and sharpness, he should be #2, but Bruce Arena didn’t take my advice and probably put ManU backup Tim Howard as #2.
    But, it’s not like either of them will see serious minutes, so they’re just there for the ride

    On the Spot

    One of the great things about the World Cup are the commercial tie-ins. Some hit, some miss and some REALLY hit. Nike, in particular, does some absolutely great ads, using their stable of current greats. 1998 saw the Brazilian team running playfully through an airport before leaving for France. 2002 had Cantona hosting a secret 3-on-3 tournament backed with Elvis's "A Little Less Conversation". So far, I'm a little unimpressed with this year's ads featuring former France and ManU badboy Eric Cantona, imploring his peers to play soccer from the heart (jago bonita). But, I have a feeling more ads are coming. I really can't wait. Here is a good link where they can be downlaoded. Incidentally, two of my favorites aired in non-World Cup years: Devils vs. soccer players and the Portugal-Brazil friendly that erupts into a keep-away in the stadium hallways.

    Stepping Out

    In case you're curious, the US plays three first-round games in the World Cup.
  • June 12 - Czech Republic*
  • June 17 - Italian Republic
  • June 22 - Ghanian Republic
    If we're able to get into the second round of the tournament, we'll play either Brazil, Brazil, Brazil, Japan, Croatia or the Aussies, if you get the idea. Of course, South Korea won their group last time around, so you really never know. In 2002, we ended up playing the easier opponent (Mexico instead of Italy) by finishing second, but there's no real chance Brazil will finish second.
    * - On the same night, one of my faves, Joe Jackson, will be playing in DC. I don't know if I can handle seeing the US play a big soccer game and Joe Jackson in the same day. I'd be exhausted.

  • Names

    Brazilian soccer players have great one-word names like Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Robinho, Bebeto, Adriano, Kaku, Cafu, Emerson, Denilson, etc. One of their former players was named Socrates. They're kind of like the Ramones of soccer. I used to think the one name thing was done to honor Pele, but my friend Dino (whom I call Dininho) told me that it's because Brazilians have really long names, so they shorten them. One of their former stars, Romario's real name was Romario de Suze Fario, or something like that. I think it's more of a rite of passage. If I played for the Brazilians, I'd call myself Gazpachio

    About Gooch

    I mentioned above that Oguchi Onyewu is one of my favorites on this team.
    He's 6'4, about 200 pounds, and he's just a monster out there. Honestly. If he played in New York, they'd name a candy bar after him, or maybe a side of beef. Well, maybe not really.. if he played in New York, he'd play for the MetroStars, and nobody would know about him, but you get the idea.
    I think his parents are Nigerian; he grew up in Maryland, went to college at Clemson, and left early to play in Europe. After a lack of success with a French club called Metz, he moved to Belgian side La Louviere, and settled in on a team in Belgium called Standard Liege, which is where he blossomed. (Ever notice how bizarre that some European soccer team names are ?)
    His size and playing ability is what makes him unique for the US. Since soccer is an after-thought to most US athletes, the brightest prospects are tagged early for basketball, football and/or baseball, so we don't see many guys his size playing for us. When you see the teams lined up for anthems, it often looks like a Varsity-JV scrimmage.

    While most of our players are fast, we have mostly finesse players on our team, and not many guys who are just pure force out there, but Gooch is. He plays centerback on defense, which means he's responsible for going one-on-one with the other team's main offensive players, and shutting down their attack, which is something he does well. Most people expect that after this tournament, a richer club in a more established league - perhaps Germany or England, will make a play for his services. That kind of thing happens often after World Cups. Bye-bye Brussels, Hello Everton.

    Hello, USA Soccer Fans across Gaia.With the World Cup approaching, I wanted some outlet for my fandom of the USA World Cup team, so I decided to create a blog. I apologize for the name not being more creative.
    The US team roster was announced Wednesday. Like most fans, I felt that there were 2 confusing choices - Defender Jimmy Conrad and Forward Brian Ching being named instead of Gregg Berhalter and Taylor Twellman, respectively.

    Other that that, no real surprises.
    My favorites on this team are Bobby Convey, Oguchi Onyewu, Kasey Keller, Steve Cherundolo and Marcus Hahnemann.