Monday, June 22, 2009

USA v. Egypt Afterthoughts

Uhhh... what the heck just happened? USA beats Egypt 3-0, Brazil beats Italy 3-0, and somehow the USMNT is moving into the next round of the Confederations Cup? I am still giddy, and it's a full day after the monumental win. It took a perfect storm to get these results. First off, USA and Brazil both had to win in order to get 3 teams (Italy, USA, and Egypt) to a 1-2 record for the first round of the tournament. Brazil was already going to move on before they even kicked the ball to start their game since they'd won both of their previous matchups against the US and Egypt. So with all three teams tied with a 1-2 record, the next tie breaker was goal differential. USA needed to score 3 goals and Italy needed to score 0 goals and give up 3 to put the US and Italy tied at a -2 goal differential in the tournament. If Egypt scored 0 goals in their game against the US, they would be out of the running with a -3 goal differential. So in that scenario, the US would advance to the second round of the tournament on total goals scored, which is the third tiebreaker. See how intricate and precise this all had to be for the US to advance? And that's exactly what happened... it's mind-numbing really.

USA coach Bob Bradley decided at the beginning of the game to stick with the guys he felt most comfortable with, except there were two notable changes. He decided to put Brad Guzan in goal instead of Tim Howard. I still have no idea why he did that... Howard is unequivocally the best US goalkeeper right now, but the move paid off in the end as Guzan had a fantastic game. Bradley also opted to start Charlie Davies at forward in a pairing with regular starter Jozy Altidore. That move also paid off as Davies scored the first goal for the US about 25 minutes into the game. Davies brings a dangerous speed and athleticism that had been lacking in the US attack.

Also contributing to the "perfect storm" was the fact that Egypt's two best strikers, Mohamed Zidan and Amr Zaki, were both out for the game with injuries. Egypt's attacking prowess was dealt a mighty blow with the loss of both of those players. They didn't look terribly dangerous except for maybe two possessions in the game. One was a shot from about 25 yards out that hit the top of the crossbar as it whizzed over. The other was very late in the game where an Egyptian player crossed the ball to Gomaa, their tallest defender, but his header was put too high.

On the other hand, the US was threatening the Egyptian goal all game long. Davies drilled some shots that were parried away by the keeper, Landon Donovan was making runs through and around defenders, Clint Dempsey was attempting to keep the keeper busy, and Michael Bradley was taking some dangerous efforts from both inside and outside of the 18 yard box.

The first goal was "scrappy", but it wasn't pretty. Jozy Altidore tried to cross the ball from near the end line, but it was picked out of the air by Egyptian goalkeeper El Hadary. However, his own player knocked the ball out of his hands, which allowed Charlie Davies the chance to pounce. Davies touched the ball away from the keeper, shielded off another Egyptian player, passed back to his right foot and slotted the ball home off of the face of the goalkeeper. I was very impressed with Davies' efforts to keep three Egyptian players away from the ball long enough to put it home.

The second goal came from precision passing. Michael Bradley made a nice through-pass to Landon Donovan, who dribbled into the box and made a perfect centering pass back to Michael Bradley who slotted the ball into the lower right hand corner of the goal as he was sliding down. I watched Bradley's face after the goal as he approached Landon Donovan, and you could see Bradley mouthing "Good f#*!ing ball" as he came up for a hug. It was hilarious at the time, I can assure you of that.

The third goal seemed to come from nowhere. The US was moving players forward towards the goal which is where the ball came to the feet of Jonathan Spector, who looked around a little while from his wide-right position and decided to cross the ball in to his players. The cross was picture perfect, put in a place where only Clint Dempsey could get to the ball, and for once in this tournament, Dempsey did not disappoint. He headed the ball into the inside of the side-netting, and just like that, the United States was in a position to celebrate.

There also should have been a fourth goal, or at least a penalty kick and a red card, earlier in the second half before the second goal was scored. Jozy Altidore took a shot at goal from near the 18 yard line, which hit an Egyptian defender who was standing on the goal line, and the ball kicked back out. Replays showed that the shot nicked the defender's leg, but then bounced up into the defender's arm, which is what ultimately kept the shot out of goal. The standard ruling there is that the Egyptian player would receive a red card and a penalty kick would be given to the US, but the referee completely blew the call and didn't award anything to the US. The final score could have and should have been 4-0.

This game gives me some hope for our next game against Spain. Spain is currently enjoying a ridiculous international unbeaten streak (26 games I think?), but they are not exactly invincible. They only managed to beat Iraq 1-0, and they beat the US 1-0 last year in a friendly where Spain had their best players, but the US was missing Landon Donovan (and the team also did not include Jozy Altidore or Jonathan Spector). I am not going to say anything crazy like that I think the US will win or even that I think the game will be close... if I had to make a guess, I would say Spain wins this one easily 3-0 or so, but I know that if the US comes to play, they have a shot to tie or even win. Stranger things have happened. I am going to watch the game this Wednesday with an open mind.

Friday, June 19, 2009

USA v. Brazil Afterthoughts...

Barf. That game didn't just make me want to throw up, I actually threw up. The US came into this game against powerhouse Brazil needing a result... either a tie or if luck would have it, a win. Within the first 20 minutes, the USMNT was down 2-0 and looked like they didn't really even want to be on the field. They couldn't string a series of 3 or more passes together to save their lives. Bob Bradley opted to start DaMarcus Beasley on the left wing, where he turned in his worst performance ever for the national team. Beasley was a train wreck. His touch was poor, his speed was reduced from what it was last year, he couldn't complete passes, and his defensive decisions were appalling. For a guy who is not currently in form and is receiving no playing time at the club level, it was an absolute headscratcher for Bob Bradley to start him against Brazil. Things got better when Bob subbed out Beasley for Conor Casey in the second half, but then an old friend showed up for an uninvited visit.

Another red card. Sacha Klejstan picked up a straight red card for a hard challenge early in the second half. It was another BS red card from a Confederations Cup officiating crew, and my mind is really starting to think about conspiracy theories here. Do people just hate USA that much? Klejstan definitely fouled the Brazilian, Ramires, and it was probably even a yellow card because of the voracity of the challenge, but Klejstan came sliding in from the front of the opposing player (spikes down) and really just missed the ball by a split second. To show him a straight red card is a joke, and I wouldn't have blamed Klejstan if he thought that was the case and headed back out to his position to play some more. "Ha Ha! Funny joke sir! I've never seen anyone get tossed from a game for a tackle like that, so I'm just going to head over here to mark this Brazilian dude." What a shameful display from that referee.

At that point, Bradley made a smart move to get a player in with some skill on the ball and brought in Benny Feilhaber. From that point on, the US looked much more dangerous than they had at any point prior to the substitution. It's a shame that it took another bogus red card to get the team fired up. A nice display of one touch passing between Landon Donovan and Jonathan Spector led to a nice leave for Feilhaber, who hit a shot against the bottom half of the crossbar that wouldn't go in. The US hit the crossbar again a few minutes later on a free kick from Donovan to Conor Casey. In the end though, the final score was 3-0 Brazil, and it easily could have been worse than that.

The personnel decisions by Bob Bradley were a total mystery to me. My brilliant powers of deduction fail to see why either Beasley or Klejstan would earn the start over in-form and offensively talented players like Jose Francisco Torres and Benny Feilhaber. With a meaningless game against Egypt still left on our slate, I'd love to see Bob Bradley give Torres and Freddy Adu a chance to show what they can do against an excellent national team in Egypt. It should also be noted that Jay DeMerit is no Carlos Bocanegra and the fact that the US did not have Boca for its games against Italy and Brazil cannot be disregarded. Boca is the captain of our US team and our most stable defender, and his presence was sorely missed.

Honestly though, the good that I can take away from these two games is that I think we have a new right back in Jonathan Spector, who has made good runs and has defended solidly (on just about every play except letting his man beat him to the goal on a free kick for Brazil's first tally). Spector's size, crossing ability, and speed make him an optimal upgrade over guys like Steve Cherundolo and Frankie Hejduk. I also think the US has a decent (not great, just okay) option at left back in Jonathan Bornstein. He's fast and has good ability, but I'd just like to see him make fewer mental errors.

As for the World Cup in 2010... I think we'd need to get into a poor group in order to have any luck in getting out of the first round. That's the biggest thing I have learned from these past two games.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

More on the USMNT Players... Part 1

Since there aren't really any VT happenings right now (and no, I'm not going to comment on the fact that a recruit lifted 350 lbs or anything minor and boring like that), I thought I would talk more about the US Men's National Soccer Team. Specifically, I wanted to run a little bio and talk about what's going on with the different players on the team.

Landon Donovan - Left Midfield/Forward - He's the most heralded player for the US both here in the States and abroad (at least he's the most heralded non-goalkeeper), and that's mostly because he holds the record for the most career goals scored for the USMNT. Personally, I think that statistic is a little misleading because the vast majority of those goals came from penalty kicks, and most of the time he was not the one who earned the penalty in the box. But I also feel like Donovan takes way too much criticism from most of the avid USMNT fans. They expect him to be this high-octane goal-scorer like he is in MLS for the LA Galaxy, but the fact is that in the international game where players are taller and faster, Landon is a much better playmaker and distributor. Of all the players on the team, Landon has the best short passing skills, the best ability to cross the ball, and he has excellent vision and speed. I'm happy to see that coach Bob Bradley has realized that Landon is not a target forward in the international game and has largely been using Landon on the left wing, where he can run at players and use his speed and crossing as a huge advantage.

Jozy Altidore - Forward - Altidore is the closest thing the US has to a target striker, a role that he has accepted and excelled at in limited appearances. The best thing about Altidore, though, is that as good as he is... he's only 19 years old, and he'll continue to get better. When Jozy is in-form, he has the ability to dribble past opponents and take shots from tight angles, and he's got the speed, size, and ability to hold the ball up that you want in a target forward. The only problem is that right now, Jozy is not in great form. He was injured for a little while, but mostly his mediocre form is due to the fact that he isn't receiving ANY playing time with his club team. He started the Fall playing for Villareal in La Liga, the Spanish Premier League, and even scored a goal for them in a substitute appearance. However, during the Spring as Villareal's injured forwards became healthy again, there was no room for Altidore and he was loaned out to Xeres in the second division, where the coach refused to even assign Altidore a number, let alone let him into the game-day roster. So right now Jozy is having a difficult time running hard for the whole 90 minutes, and his decision-making, let alone his shot, seems very rusty.

Clint Dempsey - Right Midfield/Forward - Dempsey is the resident badass on the USMNT, mostly by his own admission, and has even put out a rap album in the past. Dempsey is extremely cocky, but if anyone has earned that right, it's Clint. He had an extremely good season starting for Fulham in the English Premier League where he tied for the co-lead in goals with 7. That'd be a pretty crappy number if he were Fulham's main striker, but as a midfielder that tally is very good. Typically, Clint shows more of a nose for the goal than any other player on the USMNT, but currently he has lost his edge. Clint's intelligent runs have ended with poor finishing on his part, and in the midfield he has been somewhat of a disaster, trying to juke other players and dribble past them rather than looking for the smart pass. Granted, Dempsey is the best dribbler on the team, and 1 v 1 is a great time to try some fancy dribbling around a player. 1 v 3 gets the ball stolen from you with a legit counter-attack headed towards your own goal. For whatever reason, Clint's recent demeanor with the national team has been grumpy and disinterested, and the only way I can reason that would be if he's just tired from a long season. I sure hope he comes around against Brazil tomorrow.

Michael Bradley - Central Midfielder - As that coach's son, you might think that Bradley would just slack off and realize that he doesn't need to do much to earn his spot on the team, but contrary to that belief, the 21-year-old has shown that he wants to legitimately claim that spot. Michael is a decent option as an attacking central mid, but his best position is as a holding/defensive central mid which is where his precise/electric tackling ability comes into play. Bradley is fast enough to run just about any player down, and once he gets there, he's hard to get the ball around. He does a very good job of linking up the defense with the offense. His only negative that I can think of is a slight penchant for picking up yellow cards with late tackles, but I can live with that. Like Altidore, he will only get better as he gets older and more experienced. Bradley plays for Borussia Monchengladbach in the German Bundesliga (Germany's premier league), and helped his team to narrowly escape being relegated to the second division. I wouldn't be surprised to see a better team snatch Bradley up for next season.

Ricardo Clark - Central Midfielder - Ricardo is another central midfielder who is better in a holding/defensive role. He plays for the Houston Dynamo in the MLS where he is a decent attacking player, but on the international scene, his abilities only seem to translate against the smaller but quicker CONCACAF opponents. Personally, I'd like to see Bob Bradley use Clark against CONCACAF opponents only... against European teams, Clark gets pushed around he can't seem to find enough space to dribble. He's not a great passer, so European teams will play the passing lanes and pick him off. What you do get from Clark is hustle, tackling, and flat-out speed, but he should be left on the bench for the Confederations Cup.

Benny Feilhaber - Central Midfielder - Feilhaber is currently the best option for the US as an attacking central mid. He has the technical proficiency and footwork to make plays for the forwards/wings. He also has a wicked shot from distance. Defensively, you get a mixed bag from Feilhaber as he's inclined to give up on a play once he's been dispossessed, and he is not particularly apt at getting into the passing lanes as a defender. He's sort of a Clint Dempsey Lite, except that Dempsey has improved his defense over the last 2 years. Feilhaber could turn himself into a similar player except with better playmaking ability than Dempsey. Right now Feilhaber is playing for AGF Aarhus in the overrated Danish Premier League. Feilhaber's attitude has gotten him into trouble in the past, and I'm hoping he has a handle on that now because as far as pure talent, he's got it in spades. At 24 years old, he just hasn't quite put it together yet.

More to come...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

USA v. Italy Afterthoughts

If you know me... and since you're one of the few people who reads my blog, I'm going to guess that you do... you would know that I love USA soccer. In particular, I like to follow the men's national team. The reasons why are many and fantastic. For one, I used to play goalkeeper for my high school's team (the first ever soccer team at Turner Ashby High School in the Spring of '98... holler!), and I have continued to play in rec leagues even at the ripe old age of 28. That reason by itself wouldn't be enough because you might say to yourself, "Well, wouldn't you rather watch a GOOD team play soccer rather than watch the US Men's National Team stumble all over themselves before kicking each other in the crotch?" To which I would reply, well I also love rooting for my country. So there. Suck on that.

The USMNT (as people in the know often call them), are currently competing in the FIFA Confederations Cup. Each country on the globe fits within a certain FIFA region and within each region is a biannual tournament. USA competes in the CONCACAF region (which somehow stands for North & Central America and the Caribbean, although I don't remember how), and the biannual tournament is called the Gold Cup. The USMNT won that tournament in 2007, so they get the right to play in this FIFA world tournament that is basically a ramp-up to the World Cup since it is held the year before the World Cup, and it's held in the same country as the big event. The group stage (i.e. the first stage of the tournament) consists of 2 groups, but the US definitely got the short end of the straw when it comes to the teams that we're drawn to compete against. Our group consists of Italy (World Cup 2006 champs), Brazil (World Cup 2002 champs and COPA America winners), and Egypt (African region's champs... a consistent and solid team). The other group consists of Spain (European Cup 2008 winners and probably the best team in the tournament), South Africa (subpar tournament hosts who might make it out of their group by default... looks fishy to me), Iraq (craptacular Asian region winner), and New Zealand (super craptacular Oceania region winner).

Okay, enough of the setup, now onto the USMNT's first game which was against Italy. Pure Bull$hit. Can I cuss on this website? I hope so because other words will not do it justice. In the first half of the game, the US was really putting pressure on Italy and doing a decent job of diffusing their timely passing and technical proficiency. Jozy Altidore was holding the ball up pretty well at the striker position, and the speed and tackling of the US was giving Italy fits. Then it happened... the worst call that I have seen in years. A mere 33 minutes into the game, Ricardo Clark comes sliding in on a hard challenge, but he is late and completely misses the ball nailing an Italian player just below the knee. Clark was not extremely late as he obviously left his feet before the ball left the Italian player's foot, but it was an obvious foul and probably even a yellow card. However, the referee incredulously produces a straight red card, causing Clark to get ejected from the game and forcing the US to play a man down for the entire 60 minutes remaining in the game. It was a complete sham and was making me think that some Italian fan paid off this ref to make up for the red card De Rossi received in the 2006 World Cup match where the US ended up tying Italy (making us the only team who was not beaten by Italy in the 2006 World Cup).

The remaining 10 players played admirably for the rest of the game, and even took the lead in the 41st minute on a penalty kick goal by Landon Donovan. Jozy Altidore had controlled a long pass and while moving into the box, put a nifty move on the ball causing his Italian defender to grab hold and foul him before he could hit a sure goal. Donovan stepped up and calmly slotted the penalty kick home to make the score 1-0 at halftime. However, in the second half the US ran out of gas from having to chase the ball around the field due to their 10 v. 11 disadvantage, and the Italians gobbled up their chances hitting difficult strikes from distance on their first two goals, and abusing a tired Jay Demerit on the final goal (a minute before the game ended when the US had pushed forward to try to get a desperation goal). You could certainly blame this loss at least partially on the defending because it was not good in the second half, but I can't help but think that we might have tacked on another goal or two with a full squad, and we were screwed out of that option by the referee. Let 'em play sir... let 'em play.

The next match is on Thursday against Brazil, and offensively they are just scary. Kaka is a magnificent offensive threat with good size and strength, and the man has an uncanny nose for the goal, not to mention the soft touch and passing of a midfielder. Brazil also boasts the best right back in the tournament, Danny Alves, who is equally proficient getting forward on offense as he is defending. I watched Brazil's first match against Egypt and can say that if the US is going to hurt Brazil, they need to attack their left back, central defenders, and defensive midfielder who are all decent but not all-star caliber like the rest of the team. Getting a point or three against Brazil would be an extremely tough task for the US, but it's not impossible, so I think you know that I'll be DVRing that action.

Go Landycakes! Go Jozy! Go other US players who don't do very much! Let's get a win!!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Little MLB

I was just checking my fantasy baseball team's lineup for today when I noticed this note next to Jimmy Rollins...

"SS Jimmy Rollins' average is .222, the lowest it has been this late in a season in his nine full seasons in the majors. Yet Rollins is leading NL shortstops in All-Star votes, according to results released Monday. Rollins (936,377 votes) leads Florida SS Hanley Ramirez (871,917)."

And that, my friends, is why the MLB All-Star game is a complete joke. The fans get to pick the starters, and the fans just vote for their favorite players. Rollins is in no way, shape, or form an All-Star this year. He's more like a festering pile of dogcrap, or at least a blight on the Philadelphia Phillies' community. The guy probably shouldn't even be allowed to come and watch the All-Star game. He should be forced to sit in a corner with his face towards the wall during that time so he can think about what he did this season. Shame on you, Jimmy!

The same thing happened last year... Jason Varitek was hugging the Mendoza Line, barely hitting over .200, when out of nowhere, he is given the right to trot out and represent the American League in the annual Junior v. Senior Circuit Classic. I guess people just don't care about picking the best players to be All-Stars anymore... they'd rather hand that right to any jackass who plays for their favorite team. Take me for example... I absolutely despise the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Rox. I hate them with the white-hot passion of 10,000 Chicago Fires. However, that's not going to stop me from voting for Kevin Youkilis or Mark Teixeira for the All-Star game... those guys have earned it, in spite of the craptastic uniforms that they put on every day. It'd be an absolute farce to not vote these two guys into the All-Star game, but you never have to worry about that with a Yankee or a Red Sock... the fans will always vote them in. But a guy like Hanley Ramirez who plays in Florida? Nobody but fantasy baseball players and the 17 Florida Marlins fans know who he is. The casual fan saw Jimmy Rollins playing in the World Series last year though, and so they assume he is a good choice for the AS game.

Like I said before... the MLB All-Star game is a joke, so what I would love to see is a committee of baseball people who can overrule fan votes if they're for obviously undeserving players. Tha way we would always get to see the players who were most deserving of the spots, and guys who have worked hard all season would be rewarded. That'd be swell.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Cam Martin is ready... are his knees ready?

In a recent interview with, the Hokies' Cam Martin had this to say about Frank Beamer:

"I'd recommend that he continue to push the discipline. He really dropped the hammer and that's the best thing he could have done.
I'm not saying that things got away from him, but, he has complete control of this program and they respect him. It's not like they're scared of him, and I know he doesn't want that, but they know he means business. They know if they screw up, if they don't hold up their end of the bargain, he'll send them down the road. I'd tell him to keep that up because it's working. And, as a player, you respect it because you know that the guys who stay in the program, you know that they care about it just like you do and they don't want guys in the program who don't take it seriously and it only makes you want to play that much harder for your teammates. You know that it's important to them just like it is to you and you respect that."

My thought? A freaking football player said that, and I love it. Cam pointed out exactly what helped drive this Virginia Tech football team towards the end of last season to their first ever BCS bowl victory. Frank Beamer decided that he was finally going to put on the man pants and dish out some tough love to his players, and what happened? THE PLAYERS RESPECTED HIM FOR IT. You hear all the time that troubled kids just need boundaries, but I always used to think it was a load of crap. I thought that kids wouldn't respond well to boundaries because why would they give into rules that they never had to follow before? I think the answer is that they all want to be football players more than they want to have free control over their decisions. The glorious possibility of the NFL and the roars of the Thursday night crowd are enough to make them obey.

I was proud of Cam Martin in this interview. You can tell when an athlete is saying something just because it's the right thing to say, and it's quite obvious that Cam was saying these things about Frank Beamer and the new discipline because he believes in it. If a senior who has started since his sophomore year can get fired up about the the new order, then he's going to lead other players to the same conclusion. Now, am I saying that all of this good stuff will lead to the Hokies fulfilling the lofty expectations that have been put on the team by the media and the other coaches? Absolutely not... this coach and this school have let me down far too many times for me to immediately back up a statement like that. But I have hope... and I think that can tide me over until the team gets a chance to prove it on the field.