US falls to Mexico – Again

•August 13, 2009 • Leave a Comment
Miguel Sabah Scores the Winner

Miguel Sabah Scores the Winner

The result was the same as it ever was – Mexico 2 USA 1. The storyline of how it unfolded is the bigger story.

For the first time on Mexican soil, the US took the lead on a Charlie Davies goal. Landon Donovan making his biggest contribution of the day sent Davies through on a perfect pass and Davies calmly hooked the ball just inside the far post.

Ten minutes later, Donovan lost the ball trying to dribble deep in US territory. After a quick one-two, Israel Castro found himself alone at the top of the box and unleahed a blistering shot that dipped ever so slightly over the outstreatched arms of Tim Howard and clipped the crossbar falling into the goal.

Mexico dominated posession but ten minutes from time, the Americans looked on their way to a well deserved draw. The end came when Efrain Juarez split Carlos Bocanegra and Landon Donovan and took the ball to the end line. Donovan gave a half hearted attempt to chase Juarez down giving him the opportunity to cross the ball. Jay DeMerit blocked the cross but the ball fell to Miguel Sabah who blasted the ball past Tim Howard for the game winner.

The loss won’t damage US hopes to qualify for World Cup 2010 but it was a lost opportunity to gain FIFA’s attention and possibly get seeded in December’s World Cup Draw.

It was a disappointing result for US fans who could point to a number of villians. Bob Bradley always a lightning rod for criticism put aging vets Bring Ching and Steve Cherundolo in the starting lineup in place of Jozy Altidore and Jonathan Spector.

Ching struggled to hold the ball on long clearances and was slow to anticipate some decent passes that came his way. Age and injury have robbed him of what little speed he had and Ching now simply lacks the pace to play at the international level. Steve Cherundolo has been a solid choice at right back but it seems he either hasn’t recovered from his injury problems or time has passed him by.

Its debatable if either Altidore or Spector would have produced better results but Bradley’s tendency to stick with his trusted vets too long has become perhaps too predictable.

Two players that had the game of their lives in the win against Spain, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey failed to show up against Mexico. Both are in the argument as the most skilled players this country has ever produced. Both are enigmas, disappearing for long stretches of time in critical games. They present a no-win situation for Bob Bradley or any coach that might come along. Donovan and Dempsey aren’t the offensive weapons they imagine. Neither can realistically attack opposing offenses with enough consistancy to draw double coverage discouraging counterattacks down their flanks in fact the reverse is true. They are serious defensive liabilities that track back half heatedly and provide little if any cover for the defenders behind them. Donovan was the primary culprit in both goals Mexico scored by losing the ball and not fighting to win it back on the first and not shutting down the cross on the second.  

The midfield performance was a source of concern. The defense did a good job of clearing balls away from danger but after winning the ball, none of the midfielders gave the defenders targets to play simple balls that would have broken up Mexico’s momentum. Adding to the problem was the group failed to put enough pressure on the ball to prevent penetrating passes that put the defense in bad positions. Jay DeMerit and Oguchi Onyewu cleared numerous balls from danger that could have been prevented with a little more effort fromt he midfield.

None of the above mentioned problems alone were sufficient to deny the US a draw. What sealed the deal was the horrific performance of referee Ricardo Moreno of Panama. The 105,000 screaming Mexican fans clearly swayed Moreno who handed out a bushel of yellow cards to US players while ignoring the hacking and diving tactics of the Mexican players. Moreno’s crew didn’t decide the outcome of the game but they gave home field advantage new meaning.

Mexican Players Run Amok as Referee Ricardo Moreno Watches

Mexican Players Run Amok as Referee Ricardo Moreno Watches

The fans at Azteca Stadium have become legendary for their passion and their vile behavior. This game was no exception with Mexico fans throwing urine filled cups, beer, and other objects at US players. Security raised riot shields late in the game to protect Landon Donovan from flying missiles late in the game but no one ever seemed to do anything to deal with the fans. For reasons that can’t be explained here, FIFA and the media turn a blind eye to Mexico’s horrendous fan behavior. It would be an international scandal if either the US or England held games where its fans hurled body fluids at opposing players. If Mexico can’t control its fans, then maybe its time for the Mexican National Team to face some serious consequences. A World Cup Qualifier in an empty stadium or at least the threat of one could bring Mexican soccer fans into the modern era. Alexis Lalas in a pregame interview on ESPN compared playing at Azteca to Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome. His analogy is sadly on target. Its a shame, Mexico has the quality to play winning soccer but the lack of class by its fans shows their massive sense of inferiority.

Mission Possible US Soccer visits Mexico in big World Cup Qualifier

•August 12, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The stats have been discussed ad nauseum. The US has never beaten Mexico at Azteca Stadium. Azteca Stadium rests over 7,000 feet above sea level in smog so thick it would gag Los Angeles finest. Over 100,000 rabid Mexican fans will hurl the most vile insults, beer, coins and possibly body fluids at the US players.

The odds are against the US but sooner or later, the 0-22-1 streak is bound to end. The pressure is squarely on the backs of Mexico at 6 points trailing Costa Rico 12 points, the US 10 points and Honduras 7 points with only four games remaining to qualify for World Cup 2010 after tomorrows clash. Only the top three teams automatically qualify for South Africa.

Beating Mexico would be a tremendous outcome not only putting the US a step closer to winning the group but dropping Mexico into a desperate situation. However, the main objective needs to be playing hard and playing smart. The US beat Spain in the Confederations Cup and came close against Brazil by playing tight defense and counterattacking. The same tactics will work against Mexico especially with the pressure from 100,000  fans who will turn on their heroes if they fail to score against the US.

Bob Bradley took some flak by fielding a group of inexperienced players in the Gold Cup, losing to Mexico 5-0 in the finals. That decision could prove to be a stroke of genius as the US will have their full complement of players healthy, and rested to face Mexico. The back four returns intact with Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit and Jonathan Spector the likely starters. Right back Steve Cherrundolo also returns from injury to provide depth.

Landon Donovan v Mexico 2007

Landon Donovan v Mexico 2007

The midfield will probably be similar the the Confederations Cup lineup with Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark locking down the center while Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey out wide. Donovan and Dempsey need to reclaim the energy and determination they sowed against Spain to keep Mexico off the scoring sheet.

The tough choice for Bob Bradley will be deciding if he wants to go with a single forward or leave two up top. The likely choice in a single forward set would be the slow but steady Brian Ching. 

The pairing of Jozy Altidore and

Jozy Altidore (l) and Charlie Davies(r)

Jozy Altidore (l) and Charlie Davies(r)

Charlie Davies worked wonders in South Africa and both are returning from Europe after signing with Hull City in England and FC Sochaux in France respectively. 

 

 

 

 Mexico will be without defender Rafael Marquez out with a calf injury sustained during Barcelona’s tour of America. The danger from Mexico comes from the speed and skill of Giovani do Santos, Carlos Vela, and Nery Castillo. Holding them down is a formidable task but not as much of a challenge as either Spain of Brazil.

The US should ride a wave of confidence into this match knowing that a draw would damage Mexico almost as much a s a loss. If they play with the intensity and determination that kept them in the game against the world’s two best teams, they can steal a point fom Mexico. A bit of luck and the entire three points is there for the taking. A loss would be a disappointment but not disaterous unless it followed the lines of the 5-o Gold Cup demolition.

Freddy’s Dead?

•July 13, 2009 • Leave a Comment

 

Curtis Mayfield’s song “Freddy’s Dead” popped into my head as I watched Bob Bradley sub Freddy Adu out in the 64th minute of the US 2-0 win over Honduras in their Gold Cup game. Adu played up front with Brian Ching and looked completely lost making no significant contribution to the game while his replacement Charlie Davies sparked the US rally with his energetic play.

Shortly after the game, Bradley contradicted earlier statements about Adu getting a chance to prove himself telling reporters that Adu was headed back to Portugal for preseason training with his club Benfica.

Why then did Bradley practically label the Gold Cup as Freddy’s coming out party after sitting him on the bench for the entire Confederations Cup? Adu did manage to score a goal against a Grenada team that a dozen college teams could have beaten. Adu’s return to Portugal prevented him from getting the real test of playing against better teams in the knockout rounds and the final. Getting a couple of goals against Mexico to win the Gold Cup would have done wonders for Adu’s confidence. Instead Adu sleepwalked through his time on the field and disappeared like he went into witness protection.

Adu presents a major problem for Bob Bradley. He’s far too skillful to be ignored but he doesn’t really have a clear cut role.

Adu’s natural position is attacking central midfielder but he can’t handle the responsibilities of the position for that to be a realistic option.  Even with his ball control and dribbling skills Adu seldom  beats defenders and too often turns the ball over. The idea of using a playmaker midfielder sounds good in theory however, Adu lacks the vision and passing skills to be the focus of the US attack.

Adu as a wide midfielder? Nope, way too slow to beat defenders and get crosses in and still the issue of over dribbling aimlessly.

In the Gold Cup Bradley opted to put Freddy in the only remaining spot available and that is as a  forward complimenting either Jozy Altidore or Brian Ching. Again the lack of pace is a killer as Adu struggles to create space for himself and others. The lack of speed isn’t the only problem with Adu as a striker. Its his inability to see the game and be a step ahead of defenders. Strikers like Gerd Mueller and Gary Lineker were no speed merchants but they compensated with superb timing and exceptional quickness over short distances. They magically appeared out of nowhere to find a hole in the defense to tap a ball into the goal. Adu never anticipates those plays and make the 10-15 yard run to be in finishing position. 

It doesn’t help that Freddy rots on the bench of Benfica or Monaco where he was trasferred last season. From that perspective it made sense for him to return to Portugal to have any chance of breaking into the regular rotation.

 So how is Freddy Adu’s abrupt exit from the Gold Cup to be interpreted? Was Bob Bradley so unimpressed by the game and a half effort that he sent Adu packing? Or was it just a practical consideration that wasn’t communicated to the media and public effectively?

Its still not too late for  Adu to get his act together and become at least half the player he was hyped to be as a 14 year old prodigy. The first step should be to go out and hire the best strength and conditioning coach he can afford to maximize his fitness and quickness. The second is to get a transfer to a place where he can play on a regular basis between now and next March when the final selections for the World Cup 2010 roster are announced. The last thing is to embrace the fact that few players are as gifted as he is and it would be a crime to waste such talent. People love to blame the American soccer system and coaches for the sad state of Freddy Adu’s lack of career progress. Somewhere down the line, Freddy needs to realize he is the only one who can save his career from an early death and do something about it.

Robert Woodard is the author of Black People Don’t Play Soccer?: Unlocking American Soccer’s Secret Weapon, a visionary look at the future of American soccer. BPDPSis a compelling analysis of African-Americans and soccer with the bonus of historical accounts of soccer’s development in the US and an encyclopedia of players of African descent around the world. Take a look inside the book at www.blackpeopledontplaysoccer.com

Why going to South Africa for the World Cup terrifies me | Louise Taylor | Football | guardian.co.uk

•July 12, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Why going to South Africa for the World Cup terrifies me | Louise Taylor | Football | guardian.co.uk.

Going to the World Cup means so much more than just going to games. The ticket allocation process and travel limits the average fan to a fraction of the 64 game tournament leaving tons of time to kill. Maybe thats a bad phrase to use considering South Africa’s world record in murder rate.

South Africa is a beautiful country with world class tourist accomodations masking incredible poverty, crime, and violence.

World Cup crowds love to wander around the host country between games trying to maximize the experience. World Cup Germany 2006 was a huge success because fans could combine their game experience with public view parties and side trips around the German countryside without fear.

The World Cup is a non-stop party where public drunkeness is standard with typically minor consequences like bad hangovers and temporary detention for the most unruly fans being the worst possible result. Crime is dominated to pickpockets and the prostitutes that follow the World Cup in the same way as the Super Bowl; part of the scene but not a major factor in crime. 

World Cup South Africa 2010 will be radically different. It isn’t a place to rent a car and wander through South Africa with the same degree of safety as in most of Europe and North America. The best bet for fans is to stick with heavily supervised official tourist locations. Safe but not quite the feeling of freedom and unity so evident in Germany.  A few fans won’t exercise common sense and good judgement  and will suffer as a result. For those who understand the rules of engagement and follow them, they’ll have the experience of a lifetime.

World Cup South Africa 2010 still has unresolved issues primarily stadium construction and transportation but the smart money is on the organizers to pull off a successful tournament.

Robert Woodard is the author of Black People Don’t Play Soccer?: Unlocking American Soccer’s Secret Weapon, a visionary look at the future of American soccer. BPDPS is a compelling analysis of African-Americans and soccer with the bonus of historical accounts of soccer’s development in the US and an encyclopedia of players of African descent around the world. Take a look inside the book at www.blackpeopledontplaysoccer.com

AC Milan signs Gooch to historic deal

•July 9, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Oguchi Onyewu signed with AC Milan making him the highest profile field player in American soccer history. The 27 year old defender stands a good chance of holding down a regular spot in an aging defense.

Onyewu joined Milan on a free transfer from Standard Liege following a strong showing against Spain and Brazil in the Confederations Cup.
Milan hasn’t won the league title since 2004 and a porous defense has been a big factor. The 6’4″ Gooch fits AC Milan’s need for a steady stay at home defender to win the aerial battles against taller attackers. He’ll have an opportunity to contribute immediately with AC Milan’s congested schedule.

Milan qualified for Champions League play automatically creating schedule congestion so Onyewu should see regular time if not getting an outright starters role. He will also benefit from training and playing alongside greats like Alessandro Nesta, once one of the world’s best defenders. The experience comes at a perfect time to prepare Onyewu for the World Cup.

The move came as a surprise since so few Americans have ever played in Italy. Its been over 13 years since Alexi Lalas played for Padova in the Serie A, Italy’s top professional soccer league. Although most sources credit Lalas as the first American to play in Serie A, he was actually the third.

The significance of this move is that it positions Onyewu to be on a far bigger international stage than any other American field player. Padova during the Lalas years was a bottom third team struggling to avoid relegation. If AC Milan rebounds from losing Kaka to Real Madrid it could become a factor in Italy and Europe and Gooch could emerge as our first global star.

Robert Woodard is the author of Black People Don’t Play Soccer?: Unlocking American Soccer’s Secret Weapon, a visionary look at the future of American soccer. BPDPS is a compelling analysis of African-Americans and soccer with the bonus of historical accounts of soccer’s development in the US and an encyclopedia of players of African descent around the world. Take a look inside the book at www.blackpeopledontplaysoccer.com

Historical note:

The first American born player to play in Serie A was in fact Alfonso Negro who was born in New York City on June 27, 1915. Negro broke into the top flight of Italian soccer with Fiorentina in the 1934-35 season and remained with the Florentine club until the end of the 1938 season, appearing in 51 games and scoring five goals. At the start of the 1938-39 season, he moved to Napoli where he played in 22 games and scored 3 goals. Negro played for Satanzarese in Serie B in 1933-34 before joining Fiorentina.

The second American born player to play in Serie A was Armando Frigo who was born in Clinton, New Jersey on August 5, 1917. Like Negro he first appeared for Fiorentina this time in the 1939-1940 season. He stayed in Florence for three wartime seasons appearing in 43 games and scoring six goals. Before joining Fiorentina, he played four seasons with Vicenza in Serie C in 1935-1936.

Source:  Colin Jose US Soccer History Archives

US “B” Team Opens Gold Cup against Grenada

•July 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The US hopes to pick up where it left off after a thrilling run in the Confederations Cup when it faces off against Grenada at Seattle’s QWest Field in the 2009 Gold Cup. Players like Freddy Adu, Kenny Cooper, Robbie Rogers, and Charlie Davies are looking forward to impress Coach Bob Bradley to prove they belong in the 23 man squad heading to South Africa for next summer’s World Cup. 

Freddy's Big Chance?

Freddy's Big Chance?

The US rose to 12th in the FIFA rankings after upsetting previously number one ranked Spain and taking Brazil, Spain’s successor as top dog to the brink in a tight game. The Gold Cup represents an opportunity to maintain the momentum gained during the Confederations Cup and build on the global perception of the US as a respectable side. Mexico will be the team with the best chance of taking the Gold Cup away from the Americans but Honduras is a solid dark horse choice.

On the flip side, the US doesn’t stand to gain much from this competition outside finding players that step up for next summer’s World Cup. A bad performance will result in falling back in prestige and be an excuse for the Bob Bradley haters to regroup and call for as yet unnamed coach from abroad to take over.

Neither result should be that meaningful. This competition should be looked upon as a pleasant summer’s entertainment for those soccer/sports fans waiting for the kickoff of European leagues and the NFL.  I’m hoping Freddy Adu and Jozy Altidore put on a show like they did in the Under 20 World Cup a couple of years ago when they beat Brazil and nearly made it to the finals. That would give Bob Bradley a lot more confidence in the depth of his squad with critical World Cup qualifiers on deck for August.

Visit the official site of US Soccer for more information on the Gold Cup at:

The Official Site of U.S. Soccer – Mens National Team.

Robert Woodard is the author of Black People Don’t Play Soccer?: Unlocking American Soccer’s Secret Weapon, a visionary look at the future of American soccer. BPDPS is a compelling analysis of African-Americans and soccer with the bonus of historical accounts of soccer’s development in the US and an encyclopedia of players of African descent around the world. Take a look inside the book at www.blackpeopledontplaysoccer.com

Brazil rally delays US ‘Field of Dreams’

•June 30, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Each time the US Men’s National Team goes into a major tournament, the media paints it as a seminal moment for the sport knowing full well how much the odds are against the Red, White, and Blue.

The soccer hating media and their dutiful army of Everyman clones wait in giddy anticipation for the inevitable demise of the US team. There is a wave of cynicism, glee, and dare I say, relief each time the US falters. Soccer doesn’t get the patriotic love and support seen for Olympic teams and the Ryder Cup.

The great fear for the haters is that one day, the US Men will climb that mountain and the common man and woman will decide for themselves that liking soccer is cool and a patriotic thing to do leaving haters with the choice of being seen as uncool or joining the party. This past week was a roller coaster of emotions for soccer lovers and haters alike.

The US trip to the 2009 Confederations Cup started out true to form with brutal losses to Italy and Brazil giving up six goals and scoring one.  People who didn’t know an offside trap from a indirect free kick suddenly called for Bob Bradley’s head. This looked hopeless until the dual miracle of a 3-0 US win over African Champions Egypt and a three goal loss by Italy to Brazil got the US into the semifinals.

The reward for the US was a date with the European Champions Spain, a team in the midst of an international record 15 game win streak and 35 game unbeaten streak. The US shocked Spain and a world wide audience with a pair of goals and survived heavy Spanish pressure in the second half for one of the most impressive wins in American soccer’s history. That result set up the showdown against Brazil in the final.

The power of Brazilian soccer’s status is such that even the most jaded soccer haters understand what it represents. The five time World Cup winners define the essence of the game with a flair and purety that often defies description. Surely a Brazil team that humilated the US 3-0 in the group stage would have no problems in the title match. 

The game defied every lie about soccer being low scoring and boring. The US took a 2-0 lead on goals by Clint Dempsey in the 10th minute and Landon  

Tim Howard 2009 Confederations Cup Golden Glove Winner

Tim Howard 2009 Confederations Cup Golden Glove Winner

 

Donovan in the 27th minute. But Brazil served notice the game was far from over with waves of attacks that only the heroics of Tim Howard with at least a half dozen spectacular saves and the US defense that frustrated their more celebrated opponents. 

Luis Fabiano brought Brazil back into the game right after halftime turning an uncontested feed into a 360° spin and shot that eluded Jay DeMerit and Tim Howard to cut the lead to one.  Fabiano scored the equalizer in the 74th minute on a feed from Kaka on a counterattack from deep in Brazilian territory.

The end came in the 84th minute when Lucio climbed over Clint Dempsey and headed home the winner. Exhausted, the US could not mount an effective comeback and Brazil held the ball in the final minutes.

In less than a week, the US team went from looking shaky and uncertain to having a bit of swagger showing it could play against the best the world has to offer.  A major part of the improvement was the insertion of Carlos Bocanegra at left back made possible by the emergence of Jay Demerit as a center back. Landon Donovan played some of the best soccer of his career against big teams as did Clint Dempsey. Still missing in action is Freddy Adu unable to find a way off the substitutes bench onto the field.   

The challenge for the US is to follow up the success of the Confederations Cup with another Gold Cup title. While it is a tournament soccer purist love to decry, momentum is momentum and key to impressing FIFA for the seeding teams for next summer’s World Cup.

Then on August 12th the US goes to Mexico City for a critical World Cup qualifier where they have never won. Mexico currently sits fourth in CONCACAF qualifying and a loss to the US could bury them.

Coming in second place in the Confederations Cup that pits the champions of soccer’s regional federations is a huge accomplishment for the US.  The underwhelming reaction from the mainstream media was predictable. They couldn’t focus on the games, the players and the competition. There were even a few borderline comments about the South African crowds that have the potential to spark a firestorm of controversy next summer.

Many media personalities diverted the story into same old tired referendum about whether or not this was the moment that elevated soccer as an American spectator sport. The question was loaded since few if any soccer fans are delusional enough to believe a single game alone can silence those committed to ridicule soccer and its fans.

Of course the answer was a resounding no, it will never happen. But never is an awfully long time and things change.  Hispanics will represent a huge percentage of the population in less than 20 years and the old guard media that expends so much energy explaining why Americans don’t like soccer are an endangered species in the new order of things media related. So never is a pretty strong statement.

Soccer fans in America know the drill well by now. The media tosses out the same old tired stereotypes and jokes about soccer hoping no one will notice. As long as the US fails to inspire with a team that struggles to compete on a world stage, there is no danger of soccer being much more than it is now. But this was a sign of things to come.

The US Under 17’s and Under 20’s have beaten Brazil in the past couple of years and it is not so far fetched that the big boys could soon duplicate the feat. Developing players to compete with Brazil, stride for stride and touch for touch is a frustrating process but to not believe it attainable would be – well, unAmerican.

Call it American arrogance or simply acknowledging we are a country of bandwaggoners, winning ultimately solves the problem with the American public and media. When the US Men routinely beating the Italians, Spaniards and Brazilians, the fans will come and the soccer hating media will follow.