Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hi, excuse me, could you help me up? Give me a hand? My foot is firmly on the wheel I just need one last pull onto the US Soccer bandwagon.

I wrote and have told many people how much I dislike US Soccer. I grew up loving the Irish Team, the team whose players I loved, like Roy Keane. The US Soccer team was the opposite. Kobe Jones, Alexi Lalas, and John Harkes. Yuck. I hated how great they thought they were. I hated how they played, frantic and undisciplined.
Just look at that uniform...

I once brought an Irish cousin of mine to an MLS game. We went to see the Revolution, it was embarrassing. I found myself trying to explain why the standard was so poor.

On the day of maybe the biggest match in US Soccer history (until the next game in this tournament if they pull out a win) I find myself excited. I find myself watching the clock, wanting it to be 2:30 so I can watch the game. So I can watch US Soccer.

This is the biggest game in the history of US Soccer for this reason. They have the country by the balls right now. They won an incredible game against Algeria. Numerous Youtube clips have been flying around of bars bemoning Dempsey's miss then exploding at Donovan's finish (every single youth soccer player should watch Donovan throughout the whole sequence. Outstanding. He finished his run and was rewarded with a goal). The entire country is behind this team. Will this make soccer mainstream? No. Will it improve the popularity? Yes. Will it attract European clubs teams to some new US players? Probably. Will all those things raise the level os US Soccer. Absolutely.
Was anyone else shocked they didnt call Dempsey offside when Donovan scored?
He was in the net...

As you watch the game today, remember what Ghana did to the US 4 years ago. They knocked them out of the round robin stage on two very weak goals to beat the US 2-1. The revenge factor will be high. The US has 7 starters from that game on this squad. Ghana has 9 of their own returning for the rematch.

But what will happen today? The US will win 2-1. I cannot see the US shuting out Ghana. Their defense is a bit weak, which I had talked about in my last post. With Oguchi Onyewu out of the Algeria game the US earned their first clean sheet. I dont think that was a coincidence.

Don't underestimate the fact that Ghana is the only African country remaining. The US will not have most of the crowd on their side, I don't think. Could have a big effect on the game.

Some thoughts about the last past two weeks of the World Cup and the knockout stage too..

FIFA needs to do something about the ball. Introducing a new piece of equipment to the best players in the world four weeks before the sport's showcase event is silly. What is wrong with the balls they use the other four years? It creates controversy immediately. There will never be a ball the players like. Keep the players happy, use a familiar ball. FIFA is finally realizing this...

What is up with the goalies? These are the 32 top teams in the world and they cannot find decent goalies. My God. I just watched the South Korean goalie misplay a ball that Uruguay turned into a goal.

I LOVE that Italy and the French are at home watching teams like Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, United States, and South Korea. Teams that don't use hand balls to score or flop around like fish after being looked at by a defender are still playing. Karma is a bitch...

The South American teams in the First Round were 10-1-6. That is unreal, it goes along with the Hemisphere fact that only Brazil has won outside of their Hemisphere. Which also makes the departure of France and Italy and the struggle of England more palatable for the fans of those countries.
He went scoreless in Euro 2008, until he scored the winner in the final...Just sayin'.

Looking at the bracket one side is LOADED. Portugal, Spain, Germany, England, and Argentina are all on one side. Meaning we wont see any of those teams playing each other in the final. On the other side is the US. A win against Ghana will put them up against South Korea or Uruguay. A run to the semi finals could pit the US against the Netherlands or Brazil. No game is easy in the World Cup, however, this path to the Semis is the easiest compared to the other teams in other sections of the bracket.

Here are my picks for the round of 16:

South Korea-Uruguay... Watching it right now. Wouldn't be right to predict...

US-Ghana: US wins 2-1

Germany-England: A rematch of 1966 Final. Germany wins 2-1. Game will be tied 1-1 after 90 mins. Either a goal or PKs will settle this one...

Argentina-Mexico: Argentina is on a roll. Argentina wins 3-1. Messi dominates yet again and manages this time to score a goal.

Netherlands-Slovakia: When the World Cup was in the US I went to see Germany play Bulgaria. It seemed like a sure thing that Germany would win and advance. It was not. Bulgaria won, and went to the Semi-Finals that year. Netherlands have been disappointing when they are challenged. They possess the ball very well, will the final ball be good enough to score though? The return of Robben could bolster the attack. Netherlands win 1-0. However, this could be a place for a shocking upset...

Brazil-Chile: A South American team will have to lose. Brazil defends and counters. Chile simply attacks relentlessly. This could be a wide open game. Brazil wins 3-1 as their class outshines the pesky Chilians.

Paraguay-Japan: Can an Asian Country win a knockout stage game away from the Asian continent. Not this year. Paraguay has proven their ability to defend and attack. I do like this Japanese team. They are fiesty and play a good brand of soccer. But, I am going with the Hemisphere rule. Paraguay wins 2-0.

Spain-Portugal: The dessert to this Second Round slate. The Iberian Rivalry will prove to be the best game of this round. The Spanish need a good game, Fernando Torres, who shrinks from the lime-light will need to be more productive than he was in the First Round. He impresses with Liverpool, but in the Spanish Red he is soft and goes down easy. David Silva, stole the show against Chile, scoring a great goal. The Spanish will possess the ball, frustrating Ronaldo, whose touches will be few and fa between, making him chase the game. Taking him out of position to be effective. Spain wins 3-2 in overtime. Can't wait for this one...

Is this video supposed to be funny? German language makes it hard to know for sure. Worth a watch...

Crazy Maradona...

It's always better in Spanish...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The World Cup! It's Here!

The World Cup starts soon, and I cannot wait. This is my favorite tournament/sporting event in the world. The Ryder Cup is a close second, but the fact that it is only every four years makes it fantastic.

Here are some things to groups of threes...

Things that will not step on the field and still have a massive effect on the tournament...

1) Maradona
This guy is absolutely crazy. Most people know Maradona as the soccer star of the 1980's, leading Argentina with his Hand of God play to a World Cup Championship in 1986. Since then he has been in trouble for tax evasion, had a heart attack, and has also battled a cocaine addiction. This would be the equivalent of Darryl Strawberry and Corey Feldman teaming up to manage the New York Mets. He is blessed with the best player in the world in Lionel Messi. The key is will Maradona utilize Messi the right way. Messi typically plays better for his club team Baralona because his talents fit their system better. This could be the biggest story of the World Cup. Will Messi finally play well for Argentina...
This man is in charge of Argentina...Yikes...

2) The English Media
This group of "people" have already deemed the US irrelevent, and they have set themselves up, as usual, for major disappointment. England has won one World Cup, and that was in 1966. This might be the most talented English team ever. However, the media pressure, even once they escape to South Africa will be suffocating. One slip and the fatalistic media wil jump down their throat and create more pressure for this English team.

3) The Climate
It may be summer in the US. But in South Africa it is winter, and this means it will open up play. The heat will not slow the play, teams that play fast paced soccer might go deeper. A team like Italy that plays a "rope-a-dope" type system where they sit back and let teams run at them might be surprised. Scores could be higher and faster paced, making for a very exciting World Cup...

Three teams to watch that you might not otherwise...

This team could sneak up and surprise a lot of people. They are tough and qualified by beating Russia in a two game playoff. This team could get through Group C, which also has the US and England.

2) Chile
The Chile soccer team is in a group with the Swiss, Spain, and Honduras. This bodes well for them. Their Argentinian manager has sparked a winning attitude, and I look for them to get through to the second round after the group stage.

3) Greece
A potentially great story with the disaster that is going on in the Greek economy right now. Greece won the 2004 European Championship, a complete shock. They play tough soccer and are in a group with Argentina, South Korea, and Nigeria.
The Greeks. A potentially very cool story...

Bonus Team:
This team plays awesome defense. Vidic in the back is a tested player with Manchester United. There are strong and methodical.

Three unknown players you should make sure you watch...

1) Miroslav Klose
This guy has been outstanding in the last two World Cups. Scoring five goals in each tournament. He is great in the air and simply has a nose for the net. The Germans are young, and his experience will be very important.
Klose has his eyes on Ronaldo's WC scoring record...

2) Yoann Gourcuff
A young star in the making. This guy was terrible against Ireland in the playoff for the last World Cup place (yes I am still bitter...). However, his talent is outstanding. The 23 year old will play a big part if France pushes past the group stage.

3) Yaya Toure
As soon as Didier Drogba's arm broke, a nation's eyes turned to this man. An outstanding midfielder who plays for Barcalona, his talent will have to drive the Ivory Coast to the heights the country is hoping for. This may be the most talented African team to ever go to a World Cup.

Three teams that could win it.

1) Brazil
This team is hated by their country, well by a lot of their country. They do not play "the beautiful game." They play tough minded defense and then counter-attack. Their manager was the defensive midfielder of the 1994 team that had a similar relationship with the country. They were not popular but they won, beating Italy after Roberto Baggio missed his penalty kick.

2) Spain
For me, I am not crazy but the Spanish. They play "the beautiful game." Moving the ball around the field on the groud, not kicking and chasing it. They are the defending European Champions from 2008. This team is reknowned for choking on the national stage, most recently against the US last summer in the Confederations Cup. It will take a great performance to pull of the victory.
The most talented team. Will they be holding another trophy up on July 11?

3) England
This team is loaded. Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney are all outstanding players. Missing Rio Ferdinand could be a huge loss, and Ledley King will have to step in and have a great tournament. England always manages to disappoint. But this team may change that thought.

Three interesting facts I learned this month about the World Cup...

Only one team has ever won a World Cup outside of their own Hemisphere (North or South). That team is Brazil, who has won in Sweden in 1958 and in the USA in 1994. People believe this is because of the travel and the grass. Yes the grass. The grass in the Southern Hemisphere is usually thicker and longer. Slowing the game down. The grass in the Northern Hemisphere is usually shorter and thinner, lending itself to a fast game. The grass in South Africa is being grown and treated like Northern Hemisphere.

2) 11 of the last 13 World Cup Finals have had either Germany of Brazil in them. Pretty amazing...

Enjoy the games and enjoy the atmosphere. Find a good bar to watch a few games. And if you are in Boston, go to the North End for one Italian game...