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2014 World Cup Draw Set

6 Dec

Yeah, I know, it’s been forever and a day since I actually posted anything, but the World Cup makes a person want to blog again, if only to complain about how rough the US has it.  Anyway, the ridiculously drawn out official draw was today and while yeah, the US has it rough, spare a thought for the Aussies, who have an even tougher go.  And while almost everyone can complain about the groups right now, in the end it’s all about what happens on the field.  Anything can happen on any given day and that’s one of the things that makes the World Cup (and sports in general) so awesome.

Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon

Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia

Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan

Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy

Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras

Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria

Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA

Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea

I’ll admit that my initial thoughts were that the USA was on the receiving end of a brutal draw (In fact I think my exact words were ‘holy shit’).  But after thinking about it a little bit, I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as it could’ve been.  I think it’s great that the US will open against Ghana.  It’s going to be huge for the Yanks to start the tournament well and if they can do so against a team that’s knocked them out of the last two World Cups, so much the better.  There’s no doubt they’ll have the motivation to take down Ghana.  Portugal is tough, even if they only qualified through the strength of one Mr. Ronaldo, but I do think they are beatable if the US can play an entire 90 minutes.  I believe that Germany is the top team in the group and probably one of the favorites for the tournament.  That will be interesting if only for the storyline of Klinsmann taking on his home country.  I’ll chalk that one up for a German victory.

As I’ve said in the past, the key to US success on the big stage is putting together a solid 90 minutes. They can’t afford to have lapses and give up early goals like they did against England, Slovenia, Ghana x2 last time around.  Coming from behind to win/draw is not a sustainable model for success. The US has been playing well in the past year and I think Klinsmann’s system is finally starting to click.  It’s just a matter of whether they can show up when it really counts and play consistent football.

Now for the extremely premature predictions.  Of course a team’s chances could go to hell in a handbasket pretty quick with a couple key injuries and we all know that there is a lot of football to be played before we get to Brazil.  But based on how things stand currently, this is what my gut says:

Advance to second round (1st, 2nd)

Group A: Brazil, Croatia

Group B: Spain, Chile

Group C: Colombia, Japan

Group D: Italy, England

Group E: France, Honduras

Group F: Argentina, Nigeria

Group G: Germany, USA

Group H: Belgium, South Korea

Knockout

A1 vs. B2: Brazil vs. Chile – Brazil

A2 vs. B1: Spain vs. Croatia – Spain

C1 vs. D2: Colombia vs. England – Colombia

C2 vs. D1: Japan vs. Italy – Italy

E1 vs. F2: France vs. Nigeria – France

E2 vs. F1: Honduras vs. Argentina – Argentina

G1 vs. H2: Germany vs. South Korea – Germany

G2 vs. H1: USA vs. Belgium – Belgium

Round of 8

Brazil vs. Colombia – Brazil

France vs. Germany – Germany

Spain vs. Italy – Spain

Argentina vs. Belgium – Argentina

Semifinals

Brazil vs. Germany – Brazil

Spain vs. Argentina – Spain

Final

Brazil vs. Spain – Brazil

Going with the home country in this one.  France was the last team to lift the World Cup in their home country, but I think Brazil has the talent to get it done.  Spain’s got the experience though and Brazil will be under mountains of pressure, so I anticipate this final going down to the last minutes.

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US needs to be better

15 Jun

So the U.S. advanced to the quarterfinals of the Gold Cup with a 1-0 win over the powerful French region of Guadaloupe. Woo freakin hoo.  Jozy Altidore scored on a rocket shot in the ninth minute and the U.S. basically coasted from that point on.  That is not good enough.

This was a team the U.S. should have beat by four or five goals, not one.  Who cares that it’s not Mexico?  Why can’t the U.S. get up for games against mid-level opponents?  There was no reason to take the foot off the gas against Guadaloupe and no reason to let them think they had a chance at earning a draw.  Why let a team hang around like that?

The epitome of the particularly lackadaisical second half effort was Clint Dempsey’s mind-boggling bungle of a wide-open tap-in late in the second half.  Check it out for yourself here:

That’s all laziness/showboating/being a jackass.  The U.S. can’t afford to play with an attitude like that.  Chances like that have to be buried in the back of the net.  Yeah, it didn’t matter for the end result in this one, but what happens when you do that against Jamaica Saturday?  The U.S. will get eliminated, that’s what.

It all stems from the team’s inability to play an entire 90 minutes of soccer, which has been an issue for what feels like forever.  The U.S. couldn’t play an entire game against Brazil in the Confederations Cup final or against England, Algeria, Slovenia or Ghana in the World Cup.  Same goes for all three group games in the Gold Cup.

Is that lack of intensity and preparation on the players or on Bob Bradley? The blame isn’t 100% on either party, but one has to look very strongly at Bradley as the main perpetrator.  He led the U.S. to the round of 16 at the World Cup, but I still say that’s not good enough when the team clearly had the ability to do better.  The players seem to have regressed even from last year’s so-so World Cup form.  There’s always a risk of things getting stale with the same coach for two World Cup cycles and it really looks like we are already there with Bradley.  But Bradley’s not the one on the field either and the players need to step it up too.

Will he be fired?  I doubt it unless there’s a completely abysmal performance (and elimination) against Jamaica Saturday.  But something’s got to change if the U.S. is ever consistently going to perform at a high level.  What do you think it needs to be?

Euro qualifiers continue

8 Oct

Yes people, it’s time for another international break, which means it’s time for Euro qualifiers and a few friendlies scattered around the globe.  In Europe, France, the Czech Republic and Portugal are off to a rough start and would be helped greatly by wins this weekend. However, Denmark is no pushover for Portugal and Scotland can be dangerous for the Czechs. Germany and Turkey also play today in a rematch of the Euro semifinal in 2008 and it should be one of the day’s more intriguing match-ups. The day’s first result was a surprise as Armenia took out Slovakia, 3-1.

Elsewhere around the globe, the U.S. is playing Poland in a friendly on Saturday (since Poland automatically qualified as the host nation of Euro).  The U.S. has 13 players from the World Cup squad and is made up primarily of overseas players.  Brek Shea and Heath Pearce of FC Dallas are the exception.  Saturday’s game will be a chance for U.S. fans to finally see the first appearance of midfielder Jermaine Jones after many delays.

Euro qualifiers
October 8

Armenia 3:1 Slovakia (B)
Kazakhstan vs. Belgium (A)
Hungary vs. San Marino (E)
Andorra vs. Macedonia (B)
Georgia vs. Malta (F)
Cyprus vs. Norway (H)
Luxembourg vs. Belarus (D)
Czech Republic vs. Scotland (I)
Moldova vs. Netherlands (E)
Albania vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina (D)
Austria vs. Azerbaijan (A)
Serbia vs. Estonia (C)
Wales vs. Bulgaria (G)
Montenegro vs. Switzerland (G)
Germany vs. Turkey (A)
Northern Ireland vs. Italy (C)
Slovenia vs. Faroe Islands (C)
Ireland vs. Russia (B)
Greece vs. Latvia (F)
Portugal vs. Denmark (H)
Spain vs. Lithuania (I)

October 9
France vs. Romania (D)
Israel vs. Croatia (F)

McBride to retire at season’s end

3 Sep

Brian McBride, my favorite U.S. soccer player and true class act, has decided to call it quits at the end of this MLS season.  McBride got his start in MLS, racking up 62 goals for the Columbus Crew before making the move to Fulham and the Premier League. He’ll see out his final season in a Chicago Fire uniform.

McBride was named Fulham’s Player of the Year in both the 2006-07 season and the 2007-08 season.  He was the team’s top scorer in 2006-07 with twelve goals and helped keep Fulham in the Premier League.  After leaving the club in 2008, Fulham named a pub at Craven Cottage McBride’s.  His success at the highest level in England helped pave the way for other Americans overseas.  McBride has to be considered one of the best U.S. field players to ever play in England.

Of course, McBride was a stalwart on the U.S. national team as well.  He amassed 96 caps and scored 30 goals for the red, white and blue.  He played on three World Cup squads (1998, 2002, 2006) and tallied three goals in the competition.  One of the most recognizable pictures of McBride has to be his bloodied face after getting elbowed by Italy’s Daniele De Rossi in a group stage game in 2006.  Of course, he’s not going to let a little thing like blood keep him down, he was back in the game minutes later.  I mean, hell, the guy’s got steel plates in his face after all the ‘bows that got thrown his way.  He’s the freakin’ Terminator.

McBride’s always been a strong, tough player; the kind of guy any coach would want on their team.  He’s one of the good guys too, donating money and equipment to charities and youth programs.  I still remember going to see him play when I was 12 years old.  I hung around after the game between the Crew and DC United, hoping against hope to get his autograph. And lo and behold, he hung around after the game and signed a bunch of autographs, including the DC United shirt I was wearing. Awesome. I still have it hanging in my closet and really should find a spot for it on my wall.

Here’s to a fantastic career for one of the true legends of U.S. soccer.

Why rehiring Bob Bradley was a bad idea

31 Aug

I first heard the news that Bob Bradley had been rehired as the coach of team USA via Twitter.  I hoped this was merely inaccurate, but alas, twas true.  Bob Bradley, the man with the mind-boggling lineup decisions in the World freakin’ Cup, is set to be the coach through the next World Cup in Brazil. Sigh. It was disappointing to see U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati stick with the familiar for this appointment.

Now I don’t think Bradley is a bad coach, but I also don’t think he’s the type of coach that can build the U.S. program into a team that can consistently compete on a high level.

He has achieved a certain level of success with the team, taking them into the second round of the World Cup and winning the group.  Even with that experience though, are expectations going to be any higher for the next go-round?  Not for me.  I’ll be impressed if the team even makes it into the second round now.

The failings of Bradley’s preparations came out in the World Cup.  In three of the four games, the U.S. gave up a goal within the first 10 minutes.  It happened in prior matches too.  If giving up early goals is an issue, why not tinker with the formation to start with a super-strong defensive front and then gradually work out of it?

Now you can’t attribute everything that happens on the field to the coach, but a coach has got to implement some form of consistency in a team.  The only thing you know you will get out of a U.S. team is that they will go hard, but they’ve always done that.  Will you actually see them string together passes? Who knows.  Will they be able to put a shot on target? Who knows.  There was not enough improvement in Bradley’s team from beginning to end.

His World Cup squad selection also left something to be desired.  Robbie Findley? Really?  The guy is fast but couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with his shot and last time I checked, strikers are supposed to score goals.  The World Cup is not the place to see if a player works out.

I realize that there’s a lot of politics involved in the job as well, but at some point, Gulati’s got to grow some balls and buck the system in making this hire.  Or just fire himself for making dumb decisions, that would work too.

So congratulations U.S. soccer on sticking with the status quo.  Way to aim high.

P.S. There’s way too many members of the soccer media saying this was a good decision.  Boundaries must be pushed for the U.S. to improve on the world stage and that just ain’t happening right now.

Brazil dominates USA, 2-0

10 Aug

I know this was just a friendly, but holy crap, I haven’t seen the U.S. play that poorly in a long time.  And yes, the score could have been much, much worse.

I’ll start with the positives because there’s hardly any.

  • Brad Guzan posted a second half shutout.  (Timmy Howard played the first.)  Guzan made some pretty awesome saves, including off a clear shot from about five yards out.  He’s a solid player, it’s too bad he can’t get more playing time.
  • No one got hurt.

And….yep, that’s all I got for the positives.  Now, onto the negatives.

  • The defense.  Where do I start?  I’ll go with too slow.  The Brazilians could beat the U.S. defenders seemingly at will. Boom, one move and they were gone. I can’t fault the guy for trying, but you are telling me that Jonathan Bornstein is seriously one of the best left backs in the United States?  That is not a pleasant thought. Brazil had way too much time and space to operate.  There should never be three open players in the box.
  • Craptastic passing. The U.S. couldn’t get anything going offensively because they couldn’t string together more than two passes.
  • Terrible first touch.  Honestly, I think I could have handled the ball better than some of the U.S. players tonight.  At the international level, you should be able to control the ball 99% of the time.  If not, you don’t deserve to be out there. (Cough, Robbie Findley, cough)
  • World Cup letdown.  Nine of the eleven U.S. starters were on the World Cup squad.  You wouldn’t have known it tonight.  All I can say is thank goodness the Yanks didn’t play this poorly at the World Cup or they would’ve been laughed off the field.

Since it’s just a friendly, I’m not going to get much more involved in the negatives of this game.  I just know that I dropped the f-bomb a lot, mostly in the sentence “What the f*** are you thinking/doing?”  Sigh.  Bob Bradley’s contract is up in December and I think U.S. Soccer needs to look at bringing a new face in as manager.  They haven’t progressed nearly as much or as well as they should have under Bradley, but that’s a post for a different day.

Thoughts on the USA’s 2-1 win over Turkey

30 May

Team USA finished their send-off series on a positive note yesterday, defeating Turkey 2-1 behind second half goals from Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey. The team leaves for South Africa today and plays Australia in a friendly on June 5.

  • The U.S. defense looks very susceptible in the first half.  Turkey had several chances on the counter attack and probably should’ve scored two or three goals.  The most notable flaw was after right back Jonathan Spector made a good run into Turkey’s penalty box, Turkey ended up with the ball and had a ton of space to operate and scored their first goal.  Spector ended up being one of two defenders to track back to get to the player, but it was too late.  There’s just no reason that should happen.  There’s got to be more coverage from the rest of the defense as well as the midfielders.
  • Along the same lines, the U.S. played a 3-5-2 and I don’t think it worked very well.  The team was very open to the counterattack and Turkey always seemed to have an advantage going forward.  The central midfielders especially didn’t do a good enough job of playing defense.
  • Despite the first half issues, the team looked much more dynamic in the second half.  The additions of Robbie Findley and Jose Torres definitely played a part in this.
  • Findley showed why he deserved to be on the squad, making several good runs and of course, delivering that lofted ball to Landon Donovan that Altidore was able to finish.  He still has to work on figuring out when to get rid of the ball because he ran out of real estate a couple times, but his speed will definitely help the team.
  • Joses Torres made a good case for more playing time.  It’s already surprising that he doesn’t play more just because he’s so good on the ball.  He played a very solid half yesterday and almost added a goal of his own, striking the outside of the post off a free kick from the right side.
  • The U.S. showed the ability to come back from a goal down.  This is huge.  For once, the team actually looked stronger as the match went on instead of losing steam.