Archive for the ‘World Cup Qualifying’ Category

An Audience With King Jonathan Of Honduras

Since the US faces Honduras on January 23rd, TSG spent a few minutes with international hero Jonathan Bornstein at USMNT training camp yesterday. It was Johnny B’s header in the dying moments versus Costa Rica in the final World Cup qualifier that stunned the Ticos, capped an emotional come-from-behind draw for the US and propelled Honduras into the World Cup finals.

TSG was curious whether Bornstein thought he would get any special treatment from the Hondurans should he take the field versus Los Catrachos. Say, might they let him walk one into the goal at the start for all he did for their country?

After a chuckle the US defender said, “I don’t think so. There will be a positive reception but they are not going to give anything away in terms of on-the-field stuff. It will be more positive off-the-field.”

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Memory Lane: USA Clubs Honduras

To conclude the year, a look back at one of my favorite columns I’ve ever written for any publication.

I hardly remember what I wrote without re-reading and re-reading the piece, but I remember making mental note after mental note as I watched USA vs. Honduras on October 10th unfold at Danny Coyles in San Francisco.

Arriving home at 2am, I was committed to recounting this moment and sharing it with the TSG community. I published the typo-riddled piece (I don’t believe I’ve even edited since) at 5:04am PST the morning of October 11th without getting in a snooze….and then had some oatmeal and too much coffee and headed to a soccer game at 7am. That game was played drunk on adrenalin and perhaps some Guinness as well.

USMNT fans will remember where they were for this one….

So closes the decade….I’ve scheduled this piece to re-publish at 5:04am this morning…..a mere 82 days later.

Tomorrow TSG’s first salvo on the USMNT roster for South Africa.

———-

In a game that media outlets could have used to springboard soccer to new heights in the U.S., perhaps it was best that the diehard fans watched and appreciated clustered together in 37 packed bars across the nation.

Who cares if ESPN and half of America doesn’t recognize? (P.S. As I write this, ESPN.com on their home page and their soccer page has still not acknowledged one of the greatest qualifier games of this decade if not longer. [Update: it finally garnered a mention on their homepage.])

It’s 3am in the morning and I am attempting to put some words to describe the U.S.’s emphatic, seize-the-day announcement that they will be present in South Africa. I wish my mobile phone wouldn’t have died so I could present you with a simple picture, a portrait. It would be the ear-to-ear grin of Michael, a USMNT fan from Tracy, CA (nearly 2 hours from San Francisco) who shook my hand on the way out of Danny Coyles and had the most satisfied expression I’ve seen on a Yanks’ fan’s face in a long time.

Michael, I know the elation probably carried you long past your drive home. The USMNT is Cup bound.

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Thierry Henry Doing Whatever It Takes

FRIDAY UPDATE: Said Thierry Henry today, “Of course the fairest solution would be to replay the game but it is not in my control.”

Not surprisingly, the soccer world sits transfixed this morning on Thierry Henry’s helping hand rather than the USMNT’s poor showing in Aarhus.


The play that propelled France to a World Cup finals over Ireland is being almost universally seen as a deliberate handball. In fact, Henry himself even admitted he used his left paw to bat the ball down towards his feet and left his fate at the mercy of the referee.

The game shouldn’t and won’t be replayed, but what about Henry’s confession? Is this one time we wish a player wasn’t honest? Would the injustice be a little more palatable if Henry had said, “The ball bounced up towards me and I did my best to control and pass to William.” Perhaps.

What Henry did on the pitch was wrong, but no matter which way he went with his comments after the game, he wasn’t going to be right. You might as well have asked Henry whether he wanted to be known as a “cheater” or “admitted cheater” at that point.

Not a classy move for someone who is reprenting a pretty good World Cup cause nonetheless off the pitch.

Grant Wahl wondered aloud last night (via Twitter) whether “fair play still mattered” in reference to Henry suggesting it was the official, not he that was at fault. Calls for “fair play” with the inference that Henry should somehow have red-carded himself for the infraction are easy when the fate of a proud footballing nation isn’t resting on your shoulders and you haven’t been taught to do everything it takes to win. And when was the last time the scoring team approached the referee asking him to disallow the goal?

Those who support Ireland as well as those who wanted to see France lose are justifiably outraged at the official, Henry and to an extent FIFA,  but let’s not forget that Ireland had 180 other minutes to ensure that one moment of shenanigans wouldn’t derail their World Cup bid.

And You Thought USA vs. MEX Was Contentious

french_ireland

This upcoming Henry trip is nothing compared to what is going on off the pitch

Courtesy of my SF Black Sox teammate Chris Hanson (and brewer of the “Dax McCarty” beer), comes an absolute great link showing just how, well, hostile the French-Irish qualifier this weekend is getting.

First, you had French coach Raymond Domenech call Ireland “England’s B team.”

Then, you had Richard Dunne absolutely lambast Domenech for doing oh-so-little with oh-so-much talent.

(Note to TSG readers, take everything after this point with a grain of salt….if that didn’t occur already.)

Now, today’s letter-writing fisticuffs between the two “governments” over seats to the match.

This is the first time on TSG that I have labeled something a must read.

Thanks Chris.

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Congrats to the Galaxy’s D & Home of the Hobbit!

In a fitting combination that put the Galaxy through to the championship, Omar Gonzalez knocked a cross into traffic that fell to Gregg Berhalter for a righty touch and score. The tally was the difference in the 2-0 Galaxy win over the Dynamo to knock the away team out of the playoffs.

gonzalez

Persistence personified.

TSG’s late night comments:

♦ Just horribly embarrassing moments for the MLS as the lights went out twice at Home Depot Center. You would have thought it was a Park & Rec league game and someone had to wake up the groundskeeper. We’ll allow the MLS this one reprieve and hope they have a prevention strategy going into 2010.

♦ This game belonged to the Galaxy defense who were airtight against a relatively weak Dynamo attack. Rook AJ Delagarza (a phenomenal performance by the youngster) and last year’s rook of the year Sean Franklin on the wings continually shut down the feeble runs of the Dynamo on the outside while sprinting up to join the attack. Gregg Berhalter recovered from a tough Chivas series and Omar Gonzalez dismissed his weak playoff record-to-date and returned to the form that made him this year’s rookie of the year.

The strength, quality and consistency of the defense kept the Galaxy in the game until their one-dimensional attack prospered.

♦ While the announcers commended Berhalter on the score, big guy Omar Gonzalez’s effort to get to the cross, keep it alive and redirect the nugget was “the” play of the game in TSG’s eyes. OG, unfortunate initials for a defender, would not be denied. When coaches talk about wanting it more, they just need to pop in the DVD of Gonzales’ disregard for his health as he went above, around and through players to get to David Beckham’s service.

Heart.

No doubt, this was a tremendous effort by the Maryland grad.

♦ While the Dynamo attack was inadequate to say the least, I was surprised by the Galaxy’s lack of creativity in getting the ball to Landon Donovan. The offense for Arena’s squad seemed to continually defer to Beckham and forgot that LD was on the pitch. Odd. If the Galaxy fail to score the free kick and the Dynamo somehow squeak in a shot and eek out a victory in this one, you can be sure that TSG would have been all over the Galaxy’s lack of creativity.

♦ Conversely, it’s the Galaxy’s ability to build tempo that creates the flow of their offense and usually crescendos with a score that didn’t make it happen either. While ESPN announcer Alexei Lalas thought that the play stoppages benefited Los Angeles, I think any sane person would have clearly recognized this disrupted the Galaxy’s rhythm and ability to build the offense; just what benefits the defensive strategy of the Dynamo.

♦ Houston lacked everything on offense. Brian Ching couldn’t unshackle himself from LA’s backline and Dominc Oduro, who TSG thought in our preview might expose the elder Berhalter, was lost…and that’s a compliment. While the service to Oduro was itself lost, Oduro seemed to have slept through the lead-up to this one and have no idea how to attack the defense. A horrid performance.

That being said, through a share of crosses and scrums in the middle, Houston had a full 14 shots versus LA’s 7.

♦ We’ll say it right now, Stu Holden is a winger. While Holden presented himself more on offense tonight than in the Seattle series, the Dynamo’s young captain has trouble navigating the middle of the pitch. While Holden maintained possession, he lacked the ability to attack and threaten through the middle. After viewing Stu here and in the Seattle series, TSG thinks he’s better when there is the threat of space in front of him.

The Iceman navigated to pockets in the opening minutes to create some chances, but once LA adjusted, Holden’s offensive touch failed him and he acted merely as a hub, receiving and redirecting the ball from one side of the pitch to the other; not a bad skill, but not attacking football either. Anytime Stu operated the wing, not only was he more confident on the ball, but he seemed to have a plan of attack. Might we credit Bob Bradley again here?

♦ Ricardo Clark’s belligerence cost the Dynamo tonight. Clark who steadily fed and fed more guff to the refs was booked for an open field tackle in his half (free kick and score #1) and nonchalant trip in the box (penalty kick and score #2). Not a sterling performance for the USMNT hopeful.

♦ David Beckham was solid, but not spectacular today…but it was enough.

♦ With the loss, the Dynamo’s Stu Holden, Brian Ching, Ricardo Clark and Brad Davis are all available for Denmark recall tomorrow. TSG thinks we may see Holden round the globe, but that’s about it. Brad Davis deserves at least a trip to Camp Cupcake in January, don’t you think?

In other news, the Kiwis are through! Congratulations to the All Whites who qualified for their first World Cup finals in 28 years. Having watched the first match earlier this year against Bahrain, this one was a near mirror image with numerous mistakes and abundant USMNTitis. New Zealand was stouter on defense and that was the difference as a technical symphony this game was not.

By the way, nothing more comical than the raucous celebration by Bahrain when they earned a 2nd half penalty kick juxtaposed against the horrible excuse for a penalty take that grounded almost directly at the All Whites’ keeper thereafter.

In other news, no beer in New Zealand is allowed to exceed more than 4% alcohol, so hopefully the Zealanders started knocking them back after Rory Fallon’s goal winner header at 44 minutes in the first half.

Questions Up The Center For The USMNT

After Charlie Davies injury another possibility no one wants to consider is that the USMNT could be without defensive stalwart Oguchi Onyewu when the World Cup kicks-off next June. In fact, the US is facing question marks all the way up the middle with the exception of Timmy Howard between the sticks.

Might this be Gooch's "uniform" come June?

Might this be Gooch's "uniform" come June?

ESPN had a story today entitled “Onyewu plans a speedy recovery from knee injury” in which Gooch stated,

I know my body and I know how hard I work to recover and how my body heals. I think I can be back in four months, realistically.

Well, USMNT doesn’t need Gooch back, the team needs him better. With the official recovery time-line at 6 months, that seems out almost out of the question. So the best case scenario is Gooch at the WC in summer of 2008 form which is good, but not great. And let’s not forget that the recent knee injuries in the USMNT player pool (Jones and Edu), though different, haven’t resulted in textbook recoveries.

Moving up the pitch, Jay DeMerit continues to be out with an eye injury. His recovery time is slated for a much shorter duration, but we are talking about an eye here. It’d be very surprising if he didn’t make it to South Africa, but he is most likely in the midst of about a six month layoff right now.

In the central mid-field the US could be perceived as down its two most able holding mid-fielders in Twitter-fiend Maurice Edu and International Man of Mystery Jermaine Jones. And third on depth chart, Rico Clark (with a minor knock of his own), has been nothing more than serviceable as a starter in the WC qualifiers.

Can Jozy earn the #1 Striker moniker he's been given before he flies to SA?

Junior seems cemented in whatever position he is supposed to be playing at the other midfield spot, but has struggled to develop any consistency with a mid-field mate and disappears for large stretches to the point that the defense just starts bypassing him.

Perhaps the biggest (and most obvious) hole sits at striker with CD9 being out, however, TSG discussed that already. But what about Altidore?

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