mk

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Icing

About 10 years ago, I briefly dated a gal whose initials were CR. We met at a party, and hung out for about a month and a half. We had great phone chemistry, and I can say without fear of being wrong that she was the most attractive woman I've been involved with. I remember before I went out with her for the first time, I told a friend of mine that thought. I also mentioned that no matter what happened, or didn't happen between her and I that it would be icing on the cake - house money. Because she was so attractive, I didn't have any particular expectations, and no matter how it ended, I would be happy b/c I had nothing to lose.

I've basically adopted a similar mindset for the US soccer team. We have good but not great international experience. Our domestic league is fun, but doesn't turn out world class players. We get the athletes in this country who are good athletes, but perhaps not good enough for our other domestic leagues. Outside of a few of them, I can't see Convey playing football or DMB playing basketball, etc. So, if I don't expect great results from them, it's more fun to see them evolve. Don't get me wrong here - I bleed for the USMNT, but I don't get down when they lose to better and more efficient clubs.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Progress

I've noticed that there are US soccer fans who seem to have a mindset (and I know this because I'm one of them) that because we're a developing soccer country, that each successive 'generation' of players will be better than the previous. While I think this is potentially correct overall, it doesn't work when reduced to specific players.

In other words, the thinking goes that the players whose last gasp was WC 98 - Ramos, Harkes, Wynalda, Lalas, Meola weren't as good as those who bowed out in WC 06 - McBride, Keller, Pope, Reyna. I don't want to get into a player v player scenario, other than to say that Ramos, Reyna, Wynalda and Keller were all great in their time. Obviously, as more Americans play in Europe and we're getting a deeper player pool, our overall team will improve, but it doesn't mean that we're definitely creating players with better individual skills.

I honestly believe that we're seeing the closing of the first American 'golden generation' in McBride, Reyna, Keller, Pope and Friedel. These are guys, some of whom used MLS as their springboard, and some who didn't. Nevertheless, they all had great careers both on their club and national teams, and won't be easily replaced.

Begging to Differ

There are 2 things often written or said about this World Cup:

1. The Refereeing is Bad
2. Brazil isn't playing well


While the Refs are showing a lot of yellows and reds, I have no reason to think that collectively, they're doing a bad job. Every soccer game ever played comes with the requisite controversial calls.. that's nothing new. Every team in every sport in every game has grounds to complain about something with how their games are officiated. And, on top of that, FIFA mentioned they were going to crack down on rough play; so, the giving of additional cards is something we could have expected. In 2002, South Korea got breaks in their Round of 16 and Quarterfinal games.

Brazil have given up 1 goal in 4 games. Granted, their competition wasn't top-notch, but whose was. When some entity is at the top, people always expect the world. Brazil has oddles of all-universe players, and when their interplay is anything less than watching ballet, they're accused of underperforming. Nike shows clips of Ronaldinho and his cronies dancing with the ball, and we expect that their competition is going to be the Washington Generals, to their Harlem Globetrotters.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

France's victory over its' southern neighbor is the upset of the Round of 16.
Other than that, the POR-NED and SUI-UKR games were the only ones seen as evenly matched. I think from this point on, I'll root for Argentina and England. I doubt they'll be rooting for each other.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Ask what you can do for your country


I was wondering what US team supporters as fans can do to help the team as we move forward. The obvious answer is to support the club. But, what does this mean, in real terms?

First, we need to put our muscle behind the team. Buy US or MLS shirts. Buy from their sponsors and let them know you're buying because of their support of US soccer. I used to buy the store brand of sports drink, but b/c of Gatorade's soccer ads, I buy their stuff. Watch ESPN or ESPN2 game telecasts. Visit soccer-related websites and participate in them. Go to local international matches. Closer to home, support an MLS club. And, let people know you're a fan. Spread the gospel a little bit. Buy a soccer ball and kick it around. The idea is that we need to get the sport of soccer some visibility in this country.

The Amen Corner.

Blog HarazQuack reports that the Argentine captain, Juan Sorin and coach are both Jewish. I thought Pekerman might be, and I knew one of their players was, but I thought it was Walter Samuel, who isn't on the club.

Where do we go from here ?


Another World Cup has gone for American fans, and we're all upset. Even though we knew that our players weren't world class, and that we were placed in a very tough group, it doesn't ease the malaise.

After the 2002 result, there was reason for optimism...until the draw, that is.
We had a great run in South Korea and played the eventual second place team very tough.

Truth be told, the intervening 4 years were fun. In 2003, US soccer fans got to watch some of the giants of European soccer play on our soil. I was lucky enough to be at the Manchester - Juventus game in August of 2003 when Tim Howard impressed his teammates enough to become their starter. Beasley, Convey, Gibbs and Bocanegra also became starters on good European clubs while Cherundolo, Johnson, Onyewu and Dempsey made us glad representating the next wave of American soccer. Landon Donovan went back to Germany, until he came bacl to LA.

Well, we're back to Earth now, replete with the understanding that a quadrennial tournament can break your spirit. There's no tomorrow and no 'next season'.. it's a long wait and there are no guarantees. Four years ago, I hadn't met my wife yet. In 4 years, I hope to be a father and living in a house. Will I even have time to watch the games? Will my son need feeding during the US-Chile match?

And, it's different for US fans. European, African and South American fans have their regional tournaments, so Juan, Pascual and Ejay are never more than 2 years away from a big game.

Until the next match in anger, we can root for our MLS teams and their continued development of good talent. We can follow the current "Yanks Abroad" and look towards the next group to make there way over there. There are more US national players in Europe than ever before and that's an exciting thing. Soon, Freddy Adu will be one of them.

We should play more overseas and domestic friendlies against big teams - France, Spain, Holland, England. We should be in the next Copa America. We should reinstitute the US Cup, although it is a drag on MLS. OK, so we'll make it a winter tournament.

We don't need a sea change of ideas, basically because there's nothing we can do that would represent an overhaul. We just need to promote the game, and train our players best as we can.

No One Ever is to Blame

Apologies to Howard Jones....

I was in Tampa over the wknd, at the in-laws. No internet access, so I couldn't update my postings. Remind me to get a laptop one of these days, if only b/c the idea of adding things from a remote location has a certain romanticism to it. It's probably good I didn't post Thursday afternoon or Friday, b/c I had so much on my mind about the Ghana game and the US performance in general.

That being said, I don't think any particular person or persons are to blame for the US not making it out of Group E. We all knew going in that it would be tough, that we'd need some breaks and great health from our players. Well, we got a few breaks/missed out on a few others, some key players like Gibbs and O'Brien were hurt, and we still had a chance to make it to the 2nd round with a win over Ghana.

But, I digress..

People talk about Blaming the Refs, but I don't think anybody is really doing it. The Refs have been quick to show yellows and reds, but that's how FIFA wanted it. Basically, if you want to blame a referee for your team losing, no matter what sport.. get in line, pal.

Bruce Arena said some things after the Czech game that I didn't think were typical of him, but it's not his fault that his team couldn't muster much offense. We were outplayed. Beasley wasn't in form; Donovan was guarded well, and McBride got headers, but couldn't do much with them. I think the whole tournament was shaped by the 3-0 loss to the Czechs, but that's not really Arena's fault. People are saying that he didn't prepare his team well enough for that game, but if you're a pro athlete, nobody should have to prepare you to play a big game.

So, I really think it comes down to talent. When we needed more offense after the first game, what were the US choices - Eddie Johnson, who hadn't done much, ditto for Brian Ching and Josh Wolff. If you're in a World Cup, and you're offensive choices when you need goals are those 3, you're in trouble. We have good players, but no great ones. Many of our players have certain skills - speed, crosses, dribbling, but not enough of them. Maybe these games verify for some of us what we've thought all along - that as much as we love this team, we're still a ways away from where we need to be.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Throwing the first (Rob) Stone

OK, I mentioned before about soccer being mentioned by non-soccer people. Mostly, it's good.
But, I'm getting a little annoyed by the people are just using it for reference sake and for their own advantage. Colin Quinn was on NBC this morning, and he mentioned the World Cup. I like Colin Quinn, so I'll cut him some slack.

What I'm getting at are writers and other media people who say things like "so and so happens as often as the US scores in a World Cup game", or "such and such has less interest than America in the World Cup"

And so, tongue-in-cheek, here is my checklist for people who wish to use the World Cup as a reference/humor point.

1. You must be able to identify what a 4-4-2 is
2. You must know that Freddy Adu is not playing for the US during this tournament.
3. You must be able to name at least one US roster player, and "that guy with the red beard" isn't an acceptable answer.

That's it.. 3 simple points.

Popping up all over

I've seen more references to the World Cup from non-soccer sources than ever, which is a really nice thing to see. Makes me feel that more people are getting into this tournament than ever before. I realize that it won't carry over, but you gotta start somewhere.

Today, I read a story about how web browsers are getting smarter and it mentioned that the next wave will be able to do things like check for updates, or soccer scores. Granted, that was from an Opera spokesman, which is European, but it's something. Also, sex columnnist Dan Savage mentioned that something was as common as "Laura Bush's orgasms or US goals at the World Cup". Personally, I don't doubt that GW can bring it, but the fact that the World Cup gets mentioned in a sex column is Burell's points waiting to happen.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Discredit where Discredit is due

With each World Cup comes American sports journalists who pay varying degrees of interest to the world's biggest sporting event.

On the rarified level are the guys who know soccer and can report on it well. This includes George Vecsey of the NY Times, Filip Bondy of the NY Daily News, William Gildea of the Washington Post, and a few others.

Below them are writers who don't necessarily know soccer, but respect it, and are follow the games. This list includes John Eisenberg of the Baltimore Sun, Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe, and Steve Rushin of SI.

Ok.. the final level on the ladder is reserved for a special kind. Now, it's OK to hate soccer. Nobody is forcing them to like anything. The reason why this group bugs me is that they write quadrennial stories bashing the World Cup. There are writers who write about how Americans don't follow it, which is true. Nothing wrong with that. But, they don't write anti-Olympics stories. They don't write anti-WNBA stories, or anti-Iditarod stories. I wish they could find a ghost-writing intern who could write something with a little creativity. Sitting at this table are Mike Lupica, JC Whitlock, Norman Chad and Tony Kornheiser, and I adore TK otherwise.

Polls and Poles

ESPN.com had an online poll Sunday afternoon asking people which item more interested them - US Open golf, the World Cup, or the NBA playoffs. The World Cup won, and although that officially means nothing, it's pretty cool. Also, the US-Italy game got the highest rankings of a first-round soccer game since 1994, which sounds good, but it's like comparing apples to oranges. A Saturday afternoon 3pm start game against a big-time opponent is going to draw more people than a 5am game or one against a lesser-known foe. Still, those are pretty good indicators that this World Cup is reaching more people than ever, which is something I enjoy seeing. I've had friends who don't know what offsides is, asking me about things, and coming to games with me. Most newspapers are at least dedicating a few inches to the American and overseas games. In Sunday's Baltimore Sun, the Len Bias story was top of the sports page, followed by the US Open, and the Italy game was on the left column. On the far bottom of the page was a report of the previous day's Orioles game.
Many papers ran the bloody McBride pic, and my favorite show, PTI, is finding a way to include daily soccer updates. Of course, this is all predicated on the fact that the US is still alive. Once we're eliminated, whenever that is, I'm curious how much coverage knock-out round games are going to get.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Our Friends in Ghana

Any catch this ? After scoring a goal against the Czechs, a Ghanian player pulled out an Israeli flag and waived it. The player plays for the Israeli side Hapoel Tel-Aviv, as do a few other Ghanian players. I thought it was great - the guy probably likes playing in Israel and has some friends he knew would be watching the game.

Of course, the Egyptian response is pretty much what we'd expect.
Sadly.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Beckenbauer ?

I'm getting bored of the ad with the 2 young Spanish boys who choose players and then play on the dirt lot.

Firstly, I know Nike has all the Brazilian players, so that's why they can't choose Ronaldinho, but they choose Kaka.. maybe he's with Nike. Also, if you're creating a worldwide team.. you wouldn't choose Cissi first. The Beckenbauer thing is cool, but it's been done in other ads. And, there's like 47 different varieties of the commercial.

On the other hand, the one that I LOVE is the extended spot of the Brazilian team in their lockerroom before the game, just playing around with the Samba song in the b/g. The regular length one is cool, but the longer version is amazing. I downloaded it, and I've probably watched it like 10 times. Each time I do, I'm inspired to go outside and do amazing things with a ball, until I realize I can't.

Scenarios

OK, if we win on Thursday versus Ghana, and the Italians bet the Czechs, we're in.
Beating Ghana won't be easy, but that's OK. It's not supposed to be. I gotta think that Italy plays to win on Thursday. They want to win the group, not finish second and face Brazil. And, you can't really play for a tie, if they other team is trying to win. I hope I got that right. FORZA!

Exhausting

I watched yesterday's game at a place along Connecticut Avenue in DC called The Big Hunt. Knowing I would be in DC, I originally figured I'd go to the Lucky Bar, where I had seen some games before, but they actually had a line outside (!) leading up to the 2:55 kick-off.
Great atmosphere.. simply amazing. Pretty much filled with US soccer fans and a few Italians. We all had the same jokes, the same knowledge and we all met each Italian dive/feigned injury with the same sarcastic "awww...". Great location to watch such a big game.

As for the game itself ??? I was exhausted watching it. I probably yelled/screamed/hit the bar and made more noise than the combined NFL games I watched last season. Of course, I wish the US woulda won, but we're going into a must-win game on Thursday with a chance to go onto the round of 16. Isn't that the idea ? This is so much fun. During the game, I emailed or text messaged Joe, Jeff, Susan, Vadim, and Bill. We were all watching, all passionate for the US, all enraged at the refs.. who wasn't ?

Friday, June 16, 2006

I just got an email from a friend in Germany for the Cup. He's loving as much as I am enjoying watching it. I just got back from watching the first 70 minutes of the Holland-Ivory Coast game. Some really good soccer.. crisp passing, chances, good possession.. that's what it's all about, and why the US pissed me off so much; I can accept them losing, I get angry when they don't atleast play well.
The Sweden-Paraguay game had a great ending, as did the England-Trinidad game.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Busy..

2 interesting things have happened since the Cup started last Friday. I haven't been posting as much as I thought I would, and I've been watching more games that I thought I would. Infact, I don't recall when I've ever watched this many first-round games. It helps that there is a bar down the street from my office. I saw the first half of FRA-SUI there yesterday, and I'll see the beginning of NED-SER there this coming Friday. So far, I've loved it. Watching it on HDTV doesn't hurt, either.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Why I Do What I Do...

Today, I took the day off of work. I left for the bar at about 9am, brandishing US shirt and scarf. I was the only person watching the JAP-AUS game, which was actually pretty cool. Why do I do this silliness ?

There's a line from the Woody Allen movie 'Hannah and her Sisters' where he's complaining (imagine that) to his assistant. I don't remember it 100%, but it's something like:
Woody - "I wish I were back at (former job)".
Assistant - "You were miserable there"
Woody - "No, I was happy, I just didn't know it"
I remember thinking it funny at the time, but in retrospect I know exactly what the character was getting at.
It's very easy to look back in our lives to times when our current problems didn't exist, and think how much better we had it. Of course, we had our own set of seemingly insurmountable problems then and the turned out to be easily navigable. We just didn't know it.
As you know, it's the World Cup, when the world convenes for a month every four years to remind each other how much hostility still exists and why we're divided in the first place.
That aside, I have some nice memories of doing things and watching games for the 94, 98 and 02 games. Nothing lavish, but places I went to watch the games, the anticipation, the surroundings, and other things during that month. At the time, they were enjoyable, but 12, 8, 4 years down the road, they're nice memories. That's important - because we never think of making memories when we do - we just try to have a fun time when we're there. Only in retrospect do the good times seem increased.
I realized that when life provides you with the potential for passion and memories, I make the. So, I wear the shirt, I surf the sites, and I collect the magazines.
And, it's free, easy and all yours :)

Not Much to Say...

Well, what can I say ? The US lost 3-0 to a clearly more impressive and more prepared Czech Republic team. Keller looked mortal, and the rest of the team needed someone to search for a heartbeat.
On the plus side were Mastroeni, Reyna and that's about it. Eddie Johnson showed that he should have been a starter, and when we're gambling on underwhelming Josh Wolff and gimpy John O'Brien .. well, that pretty much says it all.
Still, this is my team, this is my country and I did have a fun time watching the games. More to come..

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Final Countdown

Well, this is it. I mean, really, this is it. This is the game we've waited for since the quarterfinal game with Germany ended in June of 2002. This is the game we've waited for since Bocanegra, Howard, Convey, Beasley and Onyewu went overseas. We've had this day in our minds since the first qualifiers against Grenada, since the hexagonal games against T&T and Panama... since the final CONCACAF matches with Mexico, Costa Rica, and Jamaica.. since we clinched a spot in the final 32 last Septemeber and the draw last Decemmber.

The bottom line is... This Is It. This is the reason I started this blog. This is the reason I bought the shirt and the scarf and took out my US flag. This is the reason I took the day off work, and called Jeff, Vadim and Joe and told them to meet me at the James Joyce Pub.

The 2006 Men's US National Soccer Team begins their tournament tomorrow against the favored Czech Republic and I couldn't be more excited.

Friday, June 09, 2006

This Won't Fit into my Schedule Well

Tomorrow morning, instead of sleeping in with my wife, I'll be going to see England play Paraguay with my good friend, Jeff.

Sunday morning, instead of sleeping in with my wife, I'll be going to see Holland play the Serbs and Montenegrans.

Monday, instead of going to work, I'll be watching the Japan-Australia game, the US-Czech game, and the afternoon Italy-Ghana game.

So, over the next few days, weeks and month, I'll be watching many games when I might be doing other things. When I was explaining to my wife about the early morning games, she told me that she'd see me in a few weeks and said she wished she had met me before the 2002 World Cup, and not after.

So, inasmuch as I hate not sleeping in, and not being with Amy, our agreement is that I can watch some games, but still see her and feel connected, which is fine in my book.

Well, this is it.
The one we've been waiting for :)
4 years, hundreds of countries, and thousands of games in the making.
I'm seeing Germany-Costa Rica at a bar down the street from my office.
Tomorrow morning, I'm seeing the early England-Paraguy game, and Sunday, the Holland - Ivory Coast game.
I'm not sure whom to root for in the Germany game.
But, that doesn't matter.
HD, Plasma, LED TVs, Worldwide audience, naive fellow Americans.
Bring it on !

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Grains of Salt

The AP is reporting that US captain Claudio Reyna is "fully fit" for the Monday opener. I'm sorry, but Reyna is never fully fit for anything. I love what a healthy Claudio to the side, but this is like saying that
Michael Jackson has been cleared to visit DisneyLand, or that Donald Trump's ego was in check during a visit to Nobu. Some people have core things about them, and Claudio's injuries are one of them. He missed the 94 WC because of them, was hampered in 98, missed the 2002 opener. This isn't a player that can ever be listed as "fully fit". Something tells me that on blackboards in the Czech dressing room come Monday, their coach and all of the consonants in his last name will be telling his team to pressure Reyna, in hopes that his leg acts up again.

In other news, I'm now swimming in World Cup preview magazines; in the past 4 days, I've purchased the Sports Illustrated edition, and the 4-4-2 edition, which is their regular June edition, plus a separate glossy World Cup preview magazine. Nice job, on both. I suppose it tells you something about the respect that US soccer is getting around the globe that the US publication has us 3rd in our group, and 4-4-2 has us getting out.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Gooch to Boro.

SkySports is reporting that EPL side Middleborough are dealing for US defender Oguchi Onyewu, whom they refer to as
an "American Ace".

My online thesaurus gives the following synonyms for the word monster: Frankenstein, abnormality, barbarian, beast, behemoth, bogeyman, brute, centaur, colossus, demon, devil, dragon, fiend, freak, giant, hellcat, hellhound, hellion, horror, leviathan, little devil, lusus naturae, mammoth, miscreation, monstrosity, mutant, ogre, phoenix, savage, titan, villain, whale.

I vote for 'lusus naturae'

8 DAYS TO GO!

I can't think of anything more I could write that says it better than that.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Checklist

Heres' my list of what I need to do before the tournament gets underway.

Request days off during US games - Done
Buy 2006 US kit - Done
4-4-2 Preview Issue - Need it
World Soccer Preview Issue - Got It
ESPN the Magazine Preview Issue - Got It
Sports Illustrated Preview Issue - Need it
Washington Post Preview Issue - Need It
NY Times Preview Issue - Need It
Find where to watch the games - There are options, I need to decide
Set TIVO for US games - Not yet
Set TIVO for other related programming - Not yet
Explain to my wife what this is all about - Not yet
Determine which Non-US games to Tivo - Not yet
Determine which Non-US games to see live - Not yet
Wear my US kit(s) around town leading up to tournament - Ongoing