footy musings from a (relative) newbie

Archive for the ‘World Cup’ Category

Thank you, USMNT

There will be time in the coming days and weeks and months to criticize and second guess, but right now, I want to thank my team for giving me more wonderful World Cup memories.

Thank you, Jermaine Jones for everything you did in this tournament, but especially for that goal against Portugal. Thank you Kyle Beckerman for your gritty performances and for your dreads. Thank you Matt Besler for your heart and maturity. Thank you Julian Green for letting us leave this tournament on a note of hope by scoring that beautiful goal. Thank you Tim Howard for those 16 saves and the many, many more you made throughout this tournament. Thank you DaMarcus Beasley for your years of service to this team.

Thanks to all 23 of you for representing us so well, and for showing the rest of the world that we – yes, the Yanks – belong.


Farewell Group Stage

And what a thrilling Group Stage it was. Colombia, Chile and Costa Rica surprised. Luis Suarez showed both the positive and negative sides of himself. Team USA survived the Group of Death (thanks again, CR7!) And Algeria made history.

Among the things that stood out for me

John Brooks’ game winning header vs. Ghana: I’ll never forget the look of shock/disbelief on the 21-year-old American defender’s face. Priceless.

Concacaf REPRESENTIN’: The red-headed stepchild of confederations has three teams in the knockout round. We Concacafians have to stick together!

Mark Geiger: The New Jersey native has refereed two games at this World Cup. Go Jersey!

Knockout stages here we come!

Love. Hate. Football.

For the past four days, I have hated Cristiano Ronaldo. I generally like CR7, both for his talent and skill and for the hypocritical pearl-clutching he induces in fans and pundits alike.

But last Sunday evening, he and Silvestre Varela combined to break my heart. With the U.S. a mere 30 seconds away from victory and advancement out of the Group of Death, Ronaldo – who’d done nothing all game – chose that moment to loft an excruciatingly beautiful cross onto Varela’s head. “Damn that Ronaldo” was the contents of a text I sent to my sister who was traveling but eagerly awaiting game updates. For the past few days, I’ve cursed the reigning World Player of the Year for putting that particular hurt on my team.

Today, I could kiss CR7 – even with the 12 layers of bronzer he’s no doubt wearing. His 81st minute goal against Ghana helped My USMNT move on to the round of 16. We survived the Group of Death, even though we lost 1-0 to Germany.

This Tweet from me summed up my feelings at the end of this wild group stage.

Welcome World Cup

You strange, frightening, nauseating, crazy-making, thrilling thing.

And thank you for not waiting more than a match to give us our first controversy.

Back home, I’m all ready for Ghana vs. USA.


Favorite Moments from World Cup Qualifying

It’s true that I usually roll my eyes and get annoyed when World Cup qualifying matches come around. But now that the tournament’s almost here, I can reflect on my favorite moments from the qualifiers.

Mexico advancing…thanks to the United States. Spare a thought for Panama; they were just minutes away from qualifying for the World Cup when the U.S. equalized thanks to Graham Zusi and saved the World Cup hopes of arch rivals, Mexico. That split screen of Mexico falling 2-1 to Costa Rica, and the U.S. defeating Panama very late in their game, is my most surreal – and most memorable – moment from this cycle of World Cup qualifying.

Cristiano Ronaldo 4, Sweden 2. I was following the second leg of the Sweden-Portugal playoff while at work, and periodically checking the score on my phone. Needless to say, my jaw dropped when I saw that CR7 had scored a hat-trick in Stockholm.

Return of Les Bleus: Down 0-2 against Ukraine after the first leg of their playoff, France staged a big comeback to book their spot in Brazil – almost erasing the memory of their awful 2010 World Cup.

On Landon Donovan

The omission of Landon Donovan from this year’s USMNT World Cup Squad is both surprising and not.

Donovan’s performances in recent months – for club and country – have been below his usual standard. He’s not the player he once was, but fair or not, he’s set such a high standard that we still hold him to it.

Moreover, he himself has said he is not as fit as in previous years and even has trouble getting motivated to continue playing. From where I’m sitting, I can see how a player like him, who’s given a lot of himself to his country and his sport, might just be burned out.

That said, it was always going to be surprising to see a player of his stature excluded from the WC squad. I think that’s testament both to his talent and accomplishments and to how much we as US fans had invested in him.

But as much as I appreciate the memories LD has given his country’s supporters, I’m fine with him being left out of the squad.

I am not one of those who believe that Donovan should be included on the World Cup squad solely on the basis of past performance. It’s completely reasonable for Jurgen Klinsmann to have looked at Donovan’s performances for his club and in recent training camps and said “Not good enough.” (Yes, even great players have times when they play badly. This is not news)

And yet I don’t think that this exclusion should be used as an opportunity to heap scorn on the player for its own sake or in pursuit of some faux objectivity. (I was one of those who had zero problem with Donovan taking his much-talked about sabbatical)* Donovan’s been a superb player for the USMNT, given 14 years to the team and been clutch in countless situations. If anyone earned a mental health break, it was him.

Nor do I think everyone should be second guessing Jurgen Klinsmann** As some of have noted, Klinsmann has a history of shaking up team selection – i.e., dropping big stars in favor of younger players. This situation isn’t particularly unique (though you’d certainly think so based on all the weeping and gnashing of teeth that’s greeted this announcement).

As noted – in this space and elsewhere – the US has been drawn into group that will be almost impossible to get out of. I’m not convinced that Landon Donovan’s presence would have significantly improved our ability to advance to the round of 16, especially given the inconsistent form he’s shown recently.

That said, if the US has an especially poor showing at the tournament, the second guessing of this decision will be ratcheted up. Significantly.

*I know we think it’s an athlete’s job to run himself into the ground until he can no longer play, at which time he can fade into obscurity and we can stop giving fucks about him, but I disagree. We as fans are, in fact, not entitled to an athlete’s whole life and person.

**This is coming from someone who’s not entirely sold on Klinsmann as USMNT manager.

Meaningless Friendlies?

This round of international friendlies had some meaning – not least the one played between the US and Ukraine in Cyprus. Of course the match was slated to be played in Kharkiv, Ukraine, but was moved to Cyprus due to the current crisis in Ukraine. (I don’t feel comfortable speculating on what the Ukrainian players felt before or during the match, though.)

Ukraine just missed going to the World Cup, losing to France in a playoff. But they were good enough today to beat the U.S. (though NOT, as ESPN’s commentators kept saying, the best side to miss out on the World Cup. That’s Sweden).

All of the World Cup-bound sides were in action today. For me, the two highlights were Ivory Coast and Belgium drawing 2-2 (with Romelu Lukaku fanboying hard over Didier Drogba) and Switzerland and Croatia also drawing 2-2.

Happy that internationals are done (for now), and club football can return.

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