Archive for the ‘World Cup Qualifying’ Category

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

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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.

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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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We’re Getting Excited: USMNT One Week Notice

Wow, we are about one week away from more USMNT action. No doubt as we get closer to the Slovakia and Denmark friendlies, the questions of

alti

A look back...

rosters (which I believe we should learn shortly on the US side, maybe Monday after (the) MLS playoff round closes?), line-ups and tactics will abound.

For now, goto US Soccer and take a look at the behind the scenes view of the October 14 RFK game. Once again, we have to give a pat on the back to USSF for making video available to the fans.

Cost of a camera to shoot the video: @$8,000

Cost of the camera man to shoot the piece and the editing: @$5,000

Total cost: $13K or so…(and remember that’s a one-time camera purchase)

Which begs the question? ESPN, what are you doing with your production coverage? TSG alerted you to the 9th minute salute and we got all of 5 seconds of it memorialized on the telecast.

I would look at the video first, but here are some TSG comments on it:

• Some very candid shots of Jozy Altidore clearly externally exhibiting his inner monologue going on about CD9.

• Some great camera work on the focused expression of Stu Holden in the locker room and during the line-up picture

• An absolutely splendid job in capturing the feeling, especially with audio, of the CD9 salute. Bravo.

• Again great work in showing Landon Donovan’s patience under fire in the box to trap the ball and create a shot rather than just throw it back on frame.

• Perhaps in the best, though heartbreaking, image of all: Oguchi Onyewu’s look of shear anguish as he goes down in the box. In one moment, you saw his pain and then his immediate realization of what it meant for his season and his challenges in making it back for World Cup 2010.

• And to balance that last image out, Jozy Altidore egging on the crowd after the final goal by Jonathan Bornstein, lifting his jersey and screaming in jubilation, “That’s my boy” while chest thumping his “Davies 9″ undershirt. Cherishable.

TSG is going to send a note to USSF today commending them on the piece. If you add comments below, we’ll send these along as well.

In other USMNT news:

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Portugal-bound?

• U-20 defender Gale Agbossoumonde who hails from Syracuse, NY (Cuse!) is rumored headed to Portugese top league side Sporting Braga. Here’s hoping that deal gets done (as Agbossoumonde is a little in limbo at a USL player) and Braga gets to suit up for the first team Arsenalists (another great nickname) shortly. Gale will find himself going up against a host of Brazilian defenders for minutes (nearly the entire defense for Braga is Brazilian born) and on the same pitch as Manchester United prospect Rodrigo Possebon, on loan from the home squad.

• And, we almost goofed, our Eric Lichaj Report: The young defender was unfortunately issued a 3-game ban for his red card last week in Lincoln City’s 3-1 loss to Morecambe. There’s a bright side here though, Lichaj will go back to Villa to train during his ban. Read these sterling comments on Lichaj from his Lincoln City manager Chris Sutton.

• And a piece of housekeeping for reader Antonio. I finally got a chance to watch the Italy-USA U-17 match. Yes, I know the US lost, but when was the last time you saw the U.S. play a truly even game with runs up and down the pitch. Still greatly impressed with Cabrera. I liked that he brought the backline up a little more in this game, in effect saying to Italy, “We respect your possession and we want to clutter in the midfield so we’ll take our chances with you playing it over the top.” Absolutely loved the almost reckless abandon the US attacked at the end. Tough loss, but well-played.

Guinness vs. Sam Adams for South Africa

beamish

The Beamish & Crawford original brewery in Cork shut its doors late last year...TSG had the pleasure of having a beer there prior.

First, for the record, Cork brewer Beamish (R.I.P.) is the Irish stout of choice for The Shin Guardian (though we’ll drink Guinness and Murphys’ in a heartbeat.) Oh, and we couldn’t use Budweiser in the title because that’s now technically from Belgium.

The recent 25-man roster selected by Ireland for their Cup qualifier playoff with France got TSG thinking: What if it were the United States who had to play the Emerald Isle for the right to get mugged in South Africa?

Pound for pound, who’s stronger?

For obvious reasons, I choose not to subject the USMNT to this evaluation vs. France. Jeremy Toulalan, Karim Benzema and even Patrice Evra on a bad day? Pass. On paper, it’s challenging.

Although I will tell you one area where the USMNT would have a “Major Advantage” over France. At the helm. While Bob Bradley may be castigated by the fans and press, the players love him (A friend who played for Bob at Princeton said he would do anything for the guy.)  Would Thierry Henry do the same for French skipper Raymond Domenech? Uh, not so much….(Domenech isn’t endearing himself to the Irish squad either.)

IrishTeamLogo_1

One game for all the marbles....what's with TSG and pictures of shields lately?

Back to the battle at hand.

So let’s call it a single qualifier playoff. We’ll make it at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales and the winner gets a set of Callaways from Craig Bellamy (don’t worry — I know the joke is getting old — last time I use it – promise) and a trip to Jo’burg, Durban and the prize, Capetown.

Here’s the 25-man roster that was just named for Ireland’s death match with Home of the Crepe:

Goal:  Shay Given (Manchester City), Keiren Westwood (Coventry City), Joe Murphy (Scunthorpe United)

Defense: John O’Shea (Manchester United), Richard Dunne (Aston Villa), Stephen Kelly (Fulham), Kevin Kilbane (Hull City), Eddie Nolan (Preston North End), Sean St Ledger (Middlesbrough), Paul McShane (Hull City), Darren O’Dea (Reading),

Midfield: Aiden McGeady (Celtic), Damien Duff (Fulham), Darron Gibson (Manchester United), Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), Keith Andrews (Blackburn Rovers), Liam Miller (Hibernian), Stephen Hunt (Hull City), Andy Keogh (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Liam Lawrence (Stoke City)

Striker: Kevin Doyle (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Robbie Keane (Tottenham Hotspur), Shane Long (Reading), Leon Best (Coventry City), Anthony Stokes (Hibernian)

Hypothetical USMNT roster: (Don’t read too much into our selections as being “TSG approved” for the World Cup….we’re going to wait a bit before that column and we’re just having fun here)

Goal:  Tim Howard (Everton), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Brad Friedel (Aston Villa)

Defense: Johnny Spector (West Ham), Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes), Oguchi Onyewu (A.C. Milan), Chad Marshall (Columbus), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover ’96), Eric Lichaj (Aston Villa), Jay DeMerit (Watford)

Midfield: Landon Donovan (Los Angeles), Stuart Holden (Houston), Michael Bradley (Bo’…MUNCHEN!), Benny Feilhaber (ARF Arhaus), Ricardo Clark (Houston), Jose Francisco Torres (Pachuco), Robbie Rogers (Columbus), Edgar Castillo (Toluca), Jermaine Jones (Schalke ’04)

Striker: Jozy Altidore (Hull City), Conor Casey (Colorado), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake), Charlie Davies (Sochaux)

(Look, this is my column so I’m putting Chuck Deezy on the squad.)

Here’s how we’ll break down. We’ll choose a starting eleven side from both teams and then weigh the bench (including those that don’t dress in its entirety.)

One note, we’ll do our best to evaluate overall “lines” as the USMNT typically play a 4-4-2 and Ireland plays a 3-5-2.

Goalie: Tim Howard v. Shay Given

The Manchester City goalie is in one word, exceptional. The 6’3” 33-year-old has played every critical game for his national team since 1996.

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Given in his Tyneside days

Indeed Given is 2nd all-time in caps for the Republic of Ireland, sitting on an even 100. On the club stage, Given made his living and his name at recently relegated Newcastle. With a transfer to Manchester City, some are suggesting it is Given, not a supremely talent strike line or a refashioned defense that is the main reason behind the Citizens success this year. Indeed Manchester City is second in clean sheets this year and 3rd in Goals Conceded. Impressive.

On the other end of the pitch stands, Big T for the USMNT. A starter in 2007 and beyond for the national team, Big T got his EPL club start at Manchester United. After failing to wrestle with some jitters, he got shipped southward to Everton where Toffeville has been absolutely thrilled by the pick-up. Dubbed by Davie Moyes and others as a world class keeper, Howard showed his mettle most recently in the Confederations’ Cup in RSA facing the consecutive firing lines of Spain and Brazil.

Verdict: While the stats suggest Given is a given (you knew we’d work that in), we believe Big T’s would be similar or better (see EPL 2008-09) if he had the likes of Lescott (still), Toure and Bridge in front of him instead of the MASH kit defense he has now at the Toffees.

TSG gives the nod to Howard by a bluenose over Given.

Advantage: USA, slight edge

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