Archive for February, 2012

Saturday Commentary: Landon’s Last Stand

We’re back and so is Landon, to LA that is.

Paul Simon-esque - "Homeward Bound"

On a Night of Tragedy & Triumph

From afar, Matthew Acconciamessa (of US Soccer Daily) is taken by the African Cup of Nations Final

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The Stade d’Angondje fell silent for an instant. Pulsing with support throughout the evening, fans grew quiet, drawing the shortest of breaths as Didier Drogba approached the penalty spot in the 70th minute.

A second later, half of the crowd erupted in euphoric celebration and half howled in disbelief, combining for a cacophonous sforzando as the attempt sailed into the Gabonese night. And on an island stood Drogba, the picture of anguish and, for a split second, quiet resignation. His body looked to finally be buckling under the weight of a nation, with old demons racing back into focus.

Would this be 2006 all over again, where a Drogba penalty miss in the final helped seal another empty-handed exit from the Africa Cup of Nations? Would this Drogba-led squad ever win an international trophy, or were they doomed to become one of the most talented also-rans of their time? Why, Didi must have wondered in true Balotelli fashion, why always me?

All the Chelsea striker could do was wince and look painfully down at the patch of turf that helped author another mishap in the spotlight, as if the grass itself was conspiring against him and his teammates in their seemingly endless journey for international hardware.

Zambian goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene, meanwhile, was the microcosm of his side in that moment, bursting out of goal with an exuberantly cruel celebration right in front of his distraught opponent’s eyes. But he quickly gathered himself, comically (and, once again, cruelly) tried to shake Drogba’s hand, and then went to get the ball to set up for a goal kick. That was Zambia in a nutshell: a team managing emotions in the biggest game of their careers and in their nation’s history, rising to the occasion and befuddling their superstar opposition.

That was also the Ivory Coast in a nutshell: a golden generation of players on the cusp of long-awaited glory, pressing in vain to bring joy to a country that has suffered through much.

The subplots read like a script, an elaborate and seemingly implausible amalgam of storylines that served as grand exposition for the final. Zambia were returning to the scene of their greatest tragedy, the 1993 plane crash outside Libreville that claimed 30 lives and essentially wiped out their national team. That accomplishment alone was thought highly unlikely just weeks prior, as it required Zambia to reach the final simply to get the opportunity to play in Gabon (their first five matches took place in co-host Equatorial Guinea). Yet here they were, the plucky underdogs that managed to top the likes of Ghana and Senegal en route to the final, a run of form that belied their FIFA ranking. Chipolopolo (the Copper Bullets) sought from the start to honor those victims, and against the odds they managed to reach the point where they properly could.

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Steel, Nationality & Competing for the U.S. Open Cup

John Nyen on the U.S. Open Cup.

Ninety-two

years ago there was some big news in association football.

World War I was finally finished and in England, official competitive football was allowed to resume (between 1914 to 1919 the FA Cup and League Cup were suspended due to the war with regional competitions taking place in their stead). In England, Aston Villa took the 1920 FA cup, winning 1-0 in the 100th minute over Huddersfield Town in front of 50,018 people at Stamford Bridge.

However, what was also quite surprising was that over in the United States, Bethlehem Steel F.C. had failed to progress to the National Challenge Soccer finals (now known as the US Open Cup) for the first time since the first year of the competition in 1914.

The champions of the Lehigh Valley roared through the previous competitions subduing all in their wake as they won 4 of the 5 previous Cup titles, only finishing second in 1917 to the deadly Fall River Rovers. However, in the 1920 US Open Cup playoffs, they were unable to get by Robins Dry Dock of Brooklyn, NY who themselves eventually fell to the 2nd place finishers that year, Fore River of Quincy, Massachusetts. Of course many people suspect that some of Bethlehem’s struggles may have come from the team’s 1919 trip to Scandinavia in which they toured around playing the best teams they could find and racking up 5 wins 2 losses and 4 ties in the process.

Steel...

As the dispatch said,

“A soccer victory garnered before a king was the fortune of the Bethlehem Steel soccer players, champions of the United States, in a contest staged in Stockholm yesterday afternoon. This pleasing information is conveyed in an Associated Press report stating that the American champions lowered the colors of the Stockholm Tigers before King Gustave and a crowd of enthusiasts that shattered all previous attendance records in that country. The final score was one goal to nothing.”

August 15, 1919 – The Globe – Bethlehem

The news reports indicate that Bethlehem lost the 1920 game in a fantastic contest:

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Storybook: Zambia Wins Africa Cup of Nations. Oh My!

Underdogs like Hickory High, Zambia pulled off the unthinkable on Sunday, overrunning the Ivory Coast for an unbelievable penalty shootout victory and a right to hold the African Cup of Nations to the sky.

Zambia was charged and Ivory Coast’s Prem duo of Gervinho and Didier Drogba couldn’t find the netting against the stout side. It was Drogba who could have sealed in regulation, but his penalty was off-target. Gervinho’s miss during kicks opened up Zambia’s chance and subsequent conversion to win it.

It is a tearjerking final for Zambia who returned to host country Gabon almost 20 years after the plane crash which claimed the lives of their coach and 18 members of their squad.

Graphic: Who The Global Rich Are

Interesting...

Fabio Capello Resigns As England Skipper

Wasn’t it always going to end this way? Ironically.

Enough!

With Fabio Capello’s rumored brush-up with John Terry–again John Terry!–at World Cup 2010 in mind here at TSG, Capello resigned his England post today, taking umbrage with the English FA for usurping his power and “de-captaining” John Terry last week.

It seems an easy out for all parties.

England (players, fans, the FA) was never quite comfortable with Capello calling the shots and Capello was never quite comfortable with challenging the players and the FA.

By “forcing” a resignation through a power play move like this, the FA has Capello resign (they probably lose less money in severance that way) and they use the move as both galvanizing and level setting for Euros 2012.

Now the question is, who takes over?

TSG back Gareth Southgate as a dark horse candidate.

Other candidates mentioned: Alan Pardew (the flavor du jour, but for good reason), Stuart Pearce (obviously), ‘Arry Rednapp (don’t see it) among others.

Jose Mourinho? Not happening.

 

Hypothetically, Why Didn’t Dempsey & Donovan Become The Stockton & Malone Of The USMNT?

John Nyen spurs a more interesting relationship between Donovan and Dempsey than “foil.”

….or did they?

10 goals in the Barclay’s Premier League and 16 in all competitions: Clint Dempsey

5 assists in 7 games in the Barclay’s Premier League: Landon Donovan

No animosity (photo credit: MLSSoccer.com)

Somehow the scribes write about a rivalry, contrived though it may be.

With Donovan in the BPL temporarily, the recent clash between Fulham and Everton was the first time Donovan had played against Dempsey since the Galaxy played the New England Revolution in 2006 (at which time the Revolution dominated the Galaxy…my how times have changed).

This time, Donovan’s team came out ahead with the winning goal assisted by Landon. However, the rivalry (as a matter of player against player) is really a non-starter for most fans of the US team. There is no animosity between the players any more than there seems to be a passionate friendship. They are simply colleagues, and national team players who are both typically the lightening rod for whatever team they don the uniform.

However, in light of the recent success of the two, a friend asked me…

Dempsey, a high-flier for the US....

“Can your next Shin Guardian article be about why Landon to Clint never became the Stockton to Malone of our national team based on the way Deuce is scoring & Donovan is dropping dimes right now?”

This raised the question…

“Are Donovan and Dempsey good together?”

If the answer to that question is yes, than how good? What metric can be employed to analyze the data? I should note that this article is about perception, and the question of what fans see for the national team versus what the players do for their clubs.

Clint Dempsey has scored 24 goals for the USMNT squad since scoring his first goal in a 2- 1 loss to England in May of 2005.

Meanwhile, Landon has been steadily chugging along since his October 25th, 2000 debut against Mexico where he had his first assist and first goal. (Worth noting in the goal totals and games played between the two that Landon made his USA senior team debut five years before Dempsey even though Landon is just one year older).

The 24 goals scored by Dempsey have come in 23 games (*this is not total number of games Clint has played, just the total number he has scored in) with only one multiple goal game ( the 8 – 0 demolition of Barbados where he scored two). Of those 23 games played that Dempsey scored, Clint and Landon played together 20 times, although in the infamous Gold Cup game against Cuba in 2005, Donovan didn’t come into the game until late in the second half after Dempsey had already scored to tie the game at 1-1.

So out of these 20 games played together, in which Clint Dempsey scored, Landon had a hand in nine of his goals, or roughly 45% of the time Dempsey scores… Donovan is involved.

Now the qualification for assists here differs from your natural “Donovan passed to Dempsey and he scored” routine that FIFA would use to assign them. I’ve re-watched every single one of the nine incidents that I think Donovan assisted directly and indirectly to view exactly what happened.

Here is the review:

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