Archive for the ‘Soccer in America’ Category

The Most Important Win?

A great player whose life was tragically cut short

 

A couple of months ago, I watched “The Two Escobars,”  ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary on the lives of Colombian soccer player Andres Escobar and drug cartel leader Pablo Escobar. It was recommend to me by a non-soccer fan as one of the best documentaries he has ever seen. It is excellent.

The film follows the rise and fall of both Colombian soccer (national and domestic teams), the Medellin Cartel, and the subsequent deaths of the two Escobars.

One tends to forget how good the national Colombian team was. They dominated their 1994 CONMEBOL qualification group winning four games and drawing two, including a 5-0 thrashing in Buenos Aires of favorites Argentina. It was an incredible collection of very exciting players including Carlos Valderrama, Faustino Asprilla, Freddy Rincon, Adolfo Valencia and of course, Andres Escobar.

Obviously with such an emphatic win over Argentina and brimming with confidence, Colombia were certainly 1994 pre-Cup favorites. Sadly they went three and out, beating Switzerland in a meaningless third game, to finish last in the group.

The game that knocked them out was their second against the hosts, USA. After losing their opening game to Romania, Colombia had planned on righting their ship by destroying a well supported, but inferior U.S. side. The U.S. played brilliantly and with Colombia’s attacks rendered moot, some defensive luck, and the fatal own goal, were eventual 2-1 winners.

All this, as well as the subsequent murder of Andres Escobar (a few days later in Medellin), was talked about and discussed as part of pre-match commentary for Tuesday’s USA versus Colombia game. Both Harkes and Lalas were interviewed and asked to give their accounts of the emotions they went through back then. Sidenote: I honestly thought it was the best commentary either one of them has ever done.

So the question that came to my mind: Was this the USMNT’s greatest ever win?

A great last second goal, but this game should have been a lot easier.

Obviously in 1950 they beat England 1-0, but aside from being a phenomenal upset, U.S. Soccer did nothing of note for almost 40 years following.

Another notable game could possibly include their recent thrilling win over Algeria, to propel the USMNT to winning the group in the past World Cup. Really? Group C was certainly one of the weakest groups in South Africa and whereas they did win, that game should have been a cakewalk, and the USMNT were 90 seconds from going home early. They also failed to beat Ghana, and have not been that impressive in the three subsequent matches since the summer.

One could also point to the U.S.’s excellent win over Spain at the 2009 Confederations Cup. That win would certainly have been their second greatest had they held on to beat Brazil in the final, but in the end it was a very good win that told the rest of the world, “Watch out: the USMNT cannot be underestimated.” Sadly, since that win in Bloemfontein, the USMNT haven’t taken their game to the next level.

Donovan scores the second in an epic win against traditional rivals in South Korea

My close second would be U.S.’s win over Mexico in the second round of the 2002 World Cup that took them into the quarterfinals (which they controversially lost to Germany). Their run in this cup, and victory over traditional rivals, gripped the nation and got the USA excited about their prospects for the 2006 World Cup.

The won their 2006 qualification group and headed to Germany in high spirits brimming with confidence. Maybe too much, as they underestimated the Czech Republic and Ghana and went home early.

No – I believe the 1994 USMNT’s win against pre-Cup favorites Colombia on home soil at the Rose Bowl was the biggest win in U.S. Soccer’s history.

It came about after an opening game draw against Switzerland, and though they lost in their final group match to Romania, they progressed for the first time to the knockout stages. They lost to Brazil in a close 1-0 game, but a previously skeptical nation embraced their soccer team, and with the MLS playing its first game two years later, the stage was now set for the U.S. to be a dominant force in CONCACAF.

Lalas takes on Valenciano sporting a hall of fame ugly kit!

It was also the starting point for foreign clubs to wake up and notice that cheap, but good talent could be found in the northern lands across the pond. Claudio Reyna, Alexi Lalas, Joe Max-Moore and Brad Friedel all moved to European clubs after the 1994 World Cup. Some current overseas players moved to bigger clubs and some got bigger contracts to come back and play in the inaugural MLS season in 1996.

I remember that it was at this point that the media also began to notice that soccer was indeed a popular sport outside the U.S. borders, and that the U.S. could compete against the world’s best (after all, they did lose to the eventual winners). Sadly, some of it had to do with Escobar’s death, but the word “soccer” was often on non-fans’ lips. Newspapers started printing European league tables, sports magazines started doing soccer related features, and people started to pay attention to the qualification process as the U.S. qualified for France ’98. Sadly they crashed and burned and finished last, but four years later they were a different team.

This was a special victory. The USMNT realized that they were for real as they had beaten one of the world’s best (whilst wearing the ugliest uniforms ever created to boot). Everyone began to take notice, and though it would be many years until they created another such upset, it was this win that made it all possible.

DISCLAIMER: I came up with this list before I did any research. In perusing old games, the 1989 final qualification game against Trinidad and Tobago, in which the USMNT won 1-0 to book their place at the 1990 World Cup certainly could be the USMNT’s finest victory. Not only was it their first away victory in 2 years, and it qualified them for their first World Cup in 40 years, but it justified to the world that they deserved to host the 1994 World Cup.

FIFA had previously come up against a lot of scrutiny for awarding the prestigious event  to a nation with no professional league, and at the time were slim hopes to legitimately qualify for the world tournament. This win changed that and was the birth of the 1994 team that beat Colombia.

I think this list that is entirely open to interpretation. This is just my opinion and I would love to hear your opinions. One thing I’m sure we can all agree on…that the USMNT’s biggest win is sure to come…hopefully soon!

What Is American Brand Soccer?

What brand is this?

I was reading The Shin Guardian comment section yesterday and a hockey game broke out.

Sorry, terrible joke. I’m just trying to give a little bit of love to the 2010 Winter Olympics. Did they start yet?

The Winter Games have been somewhat of a financial disaster for Vancouver, a fine city, coupled with off (warm) weather that has them trucking in water, ice, and snow for the events. Yuck.

Somewhere there is an analysis for how much NBC spent on the Olympics vs. their ROI from advertisers and increased viewership. I have a “Broadcasting” piece coming up but it looks at the non-Olympic sport of bowling.

Apologies for the digression, a debate–not a fight–began yesterday surrounding the level of American soccer players versus their counterparts in other countries as the central theme. (Apologies for the active participants, I think the discussion was so good it warrants framing it within a post and starting a new comment thread.)

TSG Commenter “Charles” wondered if it were better to focus on American contributions to soccer when TSG began discussing mentors. His thoughts on how soccer was experienced in America coagulated on the following thesis:

“Football is seen as an extension of culture by the rest of the world. Here it sometimes seems the general feeling is that it’s a game people play.”

The 1930 United States World Cup Team

Charles went on to ponder whether biased adoption of greats from other nations somehow marginalized the game in the United States, retarded it’s growth here in the States, or somehow devalued American soccer history?

It is a fair and valid question even if you don’t agree with Charles because a similar situation is occuring in England right now with their belowed Premiership league.

I countered Charles with some questions and an example:

My questions:

How good is American soccer and its players and how do they, the players, reach elite global status? and…

What are the many or proper paths to showing the world all about American soccer?

I weaved those questions around the notion that English greats have asked for quotas on foreign players, lamented the influx of outside talent and generally feel their own soccer culture is currently under assault. The attack on soccer in their country will stymie the development of future players; this is the thinking of most who subscribe to the need for quotas.

At the time I wrote the following:

Arsenal: No Brits in their starting squad.

Chelsea: 3 Brits in their starting squad.

Manchester United: 2 Brits in their starting squad (I’ve got Johnny Evans in the middle on this one).

Only one of these three is a product of England....

It is a common theme in Britiain these days (and I think Soccernomics may have written on this accord) to be xenophobic as a means of the home soceity having more opportunity and developing more footballers.

But I think as survival of the fittest (in the phrase’s broadest measure) teaches is that intense competition is a rising tide that lifts all ships.

Arsenal/Man U don’t employ Brits unless they are the best in the business.

Now here’s the parallel.

The U.S. Soccer game is not one of elegant passing a la Argentina or Spain. It’s not one of precision crosses like Germany. American soccer for it’s most part has been built on stout defense and a mindset of invincibility (which the States has certainly not earned yet).

If the U.S.–like added above with my Ruud-Crouch-Cooper analagy–can gain experience and skills across the board it will only make them stronger and it will only make the game stronger as those skills are transferred.

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Late Night Ponderings: We Need Answers

Late night at TSG headquarters.

Due to TSG’s full-time employment that takes a good chunk of our waking hours, writing tends to take place late at night. This often leads Matthew and I to engage in Gmail chat that starts with a point, but then meanders its way through the soccer world.

Recently, we’ve been ending up with more questions then answers and we’re hoping our readers could help us out.

Any chance the NFL and MLB conspired to send Glazer and Hicks over to the EPL to eliminate future competition? American-run Manchester United and Liverpool are mired in debt…do Americans hate soccer that much that they will go to such great lengths to destroy it? (please note sarcasm.)

Any chance the boys on the other side of the pond will agree to start Premiership matches later in the day for us sunshine-soaked folks on the left coast? Jozy and the Tigers taking on City at 7:00am?…okay. But the Howard-Donovan Bowl at 4:45am?!?…c’mon.

Any chance we’ll see Jozy Altidore blast one in the back of the net versus City? The Altidore Goal Watch will stand at 154 days when he takes the pitch on Saturday. (I’ve got a feeling…I think.)

Any chance US Soccer will to stop pimping the USMNT’s 14th spot in the world rankings? The US has beaten exactly two non-CONCACAF team in the past year.

Any chance the World Cup will not sell-out? Ticket sales are said to be struggling amid cost and security concerns. FIFA will probably get there, but chances of going back-to-back England ’18 and USA ’22 are probably a little better as a result of the “learning experience.”

Any chance the soccer community (and FIFA) will be as outraged over the CAF decision to ban Togo for two Africa Cup of Nations tournaments as it was over the Henry handball? How can the “rebels-shooting-up-the-team-bus” principle not trump the “government-interference” principle? Disgusting.

Any chance the soccer media will abandon their best TMZ impersonation and return to their regularly-scheduled programming of actually covering the game? Sure, Terrygate may have an impact on the World Cup, but Wynalda and Harkes aren’t in the player pool according to US Soccer.

Any chance we’ll see Bob Bradley fill the two coaching vacancies on the USMNT sideline? FYI, Bob-O…it’s a World Cup year…might be a good idea to have the help.

Any chance each MLS franchise will team-up with a local micro / craft brewer to spread the word about the link between the beautiful game and the beautiful beverage? This beer-and-soccer thing is starting to catch on.

Thanks, Drew!

Any chance, speaking of promotional opportunities, that soccer can get more high-profile celebrity fans in the US? Drew Carey has done a great job, but he can’t do it all. Shouldn’t Galaxy be choppering-in Megan Fox or Matt Damon for the home opener?

Any chance the USMNT will mandate that injured players must rehab with Charlie Davies to get a understanding of the power of human will and determination?

The Supporter Series: Tony Danza Army

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The Supporter Series on TSG celebrates supporters clubs across the US.

Supporters groups aren’t just for big clubs and national teams. In a tiny, but beautiful corner of Los Angeles, a light blue clad army exists, the Tony Danza Army.

Before you ask if Galaxy or Chivas USA has changed their colors let me introduce you to, arguably, the most successful soccer club in Los Angeles, the Pali Blues. The W-USL is the second division of women’s professional soccer in the United States and the Pali Blues have won two championships in as many seasons behind the support of the Tony Danza Army (TDA).

TSG first learned of the Tony Danza Army following some research (i.e. we clicked on a link) when Max Goldman, founder of TDA, put together this video to pump of USMNT fans after the World Cup draw in December. However, opposing teams and Pali Blues management are well aware of the vocal group of supporters. Said, Pali Blues General Manager Jason Lemire:

[TDA is] one of the best things about our organization. In a league that generally struggles for genuine stadium atmosphere, The Tony Danza Army brings entertainment and credibility to our gameday. They personally motivate me [as General Manager] to match their enthusiasm. The coaches and players love having them at the stadium and say that they are the type of fans any organization would want.

Max Goldman answered some questions for TSG about the Tony Danza Army and Pali Blues and, along with the folks TSG met at the US-HON match, helped inspire The Supporter Series.

TSG: Why did a bunch of dudes take an interest in women’s soccer and, in particular, second division women’s soccer?

I would attribute this to the very nature of the Tony Danza Army, which resonates with people on a variety of levels.  On one level, we’re all good ol’-fashioned sports fans, the guys who love to attend games and be the most enthusiastic fans in the house.

On another level, a lot of us are passionate soccer folks, the types who would watch any game, anywhere, and follow our team to the bitter end.

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The Supporters Series: Celebrating What’s Right

Support for soccer in America is still about quality over quantity.

Supporters under the flag after Goodson's goal.

No place was this more evident than the opening match of 2010 for the USMNT when a small, but raucous group of American supporters where outnumbered by the Honduran counterparts by a wide (wide) margin at a friendly in Los Angeles.

The TSG community spent time last week discussing what is lacking in the landscape of American soccer touching on marketing, partnerships, location and the USSF itself, among other things. While there are many reasons why soccer in America hasn’t progressed at the pace diehards (and sponsoring organizations) would like, there are probably an equal number of reasons why soccer has managed to get as far as it has since 1990.

One of the reasons soccer has finally achieved a sustainable foothold in the American sports consciousness is the dedicated, loud and, at times, irreverent supporters clubs creating a unique fan experience at each contest.

So today, TSG is announcing a new article series, The Supporter Series, to celebrate what is right about soccer in America and the effort of individuals and organizations across the country doing more than their fair share to elevate the sport in the US.

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San Pedro Sula North?…Not In Section 137

The match (and referee) were a disappointment on Saturday evening at the Home Depot Center, but even more disconcerting, though not shocking, was the continued lack of support for the USMNT on their home soil. Regardless of the validity of the overall attendance figures, the crowd was approaching 70 / 30 split between Honduran supporters and US supporters.

While no one expected a packed house awash in red singing God Bless America, the paltry support for the USMNT makes one wonder if the soccer hype and hipness generated by the Confederations Cup last summer expired when the calendar flipped to 2010.

The view from the American section.

US Soccer may point out that the January friendly saw an attendance increase of nearly 100% from a reported 9,918 for the match versus Sweden in 2009 to a reported 18,626 on Saturday night, but how much of that boost can be attributed to a blue-and-white opponent instead of a blue-and-yellow one?

With US Soccer spending a month on the ground, two MLS teams in residence and a population approaching 10,000,000 in Los Angeles the USMNT should have garnered better support. Of course one can contend the game was meaningless and featured the “B” team, but on-the-other-hand the US is kicking off a World Cup year after finishing first in CONCACAF qualifying and playing for the first time on the “home” turf since October.

No amount of lamenting in words is going to change the landscape overnight, but a group of people banding together in support of the USMNT has got this moving in the right direction. The enthusiasm of the US supporters in attendance on Saturday night should be commended. If you were in or around section 137 you saw what could be, and should be encouraged.

So, good folks of the American Outlaws, Sam’s Army and the US Soccer Supports Club keep fighting the good fight, think of creative ways to get people to the game and continue to forge the American soccer identity. (Any chance these groups can sit next to each other in a “super-section” of peace, harmony and raucous support?)

After a rough performance on Saturday night, US supporters need a little pick-me-up. Thankfully, Max of the Tony Danza Army has come to the rescue with another video for the people.

Home of the brave…indeed.

Added note from Matthew here:

I had the occasion to finally catch up personally with Justin Brunken, a founder of the American Outlaws USMNT support group. I have to apologize for not knowing the full history of the group at the time–I’ll claim that my writing fully envelops me completely and blindingly.

I was absolutely astounded by a few things that I wanted to add to Mark’s column here:

» Justin architected and now manages the American Outlaws (with his fellow founders) for free. I felt certain that a group as organized and as fervent as the American Outlaws certainly commanded at least one person fulltime on them. Not the case I learned; amazing. Even more amazing considering they only began in 2007.

» The chapter phenomenon is one that AO initiated and has served the American Outlaws well…..so much so that legacy fan support group Sam’s Army has decided to adopt the same approach through “brigades.”

» I had one member tell me, “These guys are great. I joined just this year and when I needed a place to stay for the Haiti game in Boston, a number of guys said I could crash at their pad.”

Can you imagine this parallel happening in other sports? I can imagine the conversation would go something like this on a message board.

“Hey I’m Matt. I’m a huge New York Giants fan and I’m going to be at the game this weekend in Kansas City. Anybody have an empty couch that they wouldn’t mind sharing for a big fan?”

“Freak!”

“Freeloader.”

“Do you have a criminal record?”

Nice work AO.

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