Friday, June 18, 2010

A Tale of Two Halves...

First Half:
Four friggin' years to patch things up and Team USA brings this kind of intensity to the World Cup? What a joke. I couldn't tell what was worse, our offense or our defense. And our defense gave up two first half goals to a team ranked 11 spots below us in the FIFA World Rankings. Landon Donovan said, "If we can't beat Slovenia, we don't belong in the World Cup". It doesn't look like we belong.

I watched almost every game so far (because until next week I've been employed this summer as a couch potato), and I like to think I've gotten a grasp on how the game is supposed to be played. My soccer background includes 8 years at the recreational level after one year on the Kinder Kickers circuit. It also includes an attendance to five high school soccer games (2 boys, 3 girls), years of watching the World Cup, Champions League, and the UEFA Tournament, four MLS game viewings (because my roommate makes me), roughly 62 matches or "caps", as they refer to them throughout the World Cup, in the FIFA video game series, and most notably, I've been to almost every home game for Quinnipiac University over the last four years, cheering on the likes of Freddy, Pierre, Graciano, DJ, Fudd, and Kevin Nunes, the greatest Portuguese red-head this side of the equator and in the Western hemisphere (as long as the Western hemisphere doesn't include the country of Portugal, which I think it might).

Quick side note: My friend Joe wanted me to mention that in our last FIFA bout, it came down to penalty kicks, where he disobeyed the cardinal, unspoken rule of: "You can't kick it down the middle, be a man and pick a side", defeating me on the last kick. Yet he still gloats about it and wants everyone to know. Also, Ian Scollins is the greatest FIFA player I've ever played, and one day he will prove that to Joe Scapps. But back to the article...

So ya, I'd like to think I have a good eye for the things going on during the game. One of the things I noticed about Brazil, was their swarming defense. They put so much pressure on their opponents. At this level, that seems hard to do, but they've mastered it with the right combination of aggression and anticipation. The US doesn't have that swarming defense. They don't have that aggression. Instead, they have a lazy back four that leaves a lot of holes for open shots and key passing lanes. On a fortunate note, they have a phenomenal goalie - one of the world's best. He "saved" them against England (get it?) and was a big help today as well. If you pay attention, Howard (the goalie) spends more time yelling at his defenders than praising them. They've given opposing teams far too many open looks, far too much space, and far too many fast breaks with their lack of hustle and questionable effort on defense. Their early let downs have been so costly to our success.

Then there's the offense. For some reason we love ripping 45-yard shots at the net. Newsflash guys: A 45-yard shot off the foot of an American not named Landon isn't going into the net. It's pretty much just a pass to the other team. "Here guys, ya got us on this one. We'll forfeit this possession". Cherundolo, Bradley, I'm talking about you.

We also love starting forwards that can't seem to score. Findley looked lost every time he touched the ball. He completely drew a blank when it came time to set up a run for someone else. His bag of tricks included not challenging the defenders, creating zero passing lanes for himself, not finishing, and passing it behind teammates to Slovenia. I actually thought it was a good thing when his second yellow card, although unwarranted, suspended him from the next match. My friend thought the same thing.

My last note of the first half. Team USA created great energy and momentum in the last five minutes. The announcers felt Slovenia was praying for halftime. And then we gave up a quick counter for a late goal to put them up 2-0 at half. Nice. My thoughts: "I can't believe I have to wait another four years to see this team try and make a statement again".

Second half:
New lineups, a surge of energy mixed with desperation, and in turn, we saw an exciting half of futbol. Donovan basically realized he was playing alongside MLS players again, and said "Okay, I need to carry this team on my shoulders". And he did, with a goal from a nearly impossible angle, over the head of the goalie he made look foolish, just three minutes into the second half. For the next thirty minutes, Team USA turned up the heat. I really respected their effort. They had some great chances, nearly scored on a few occasions, and just looked like the better team. Then, in the 82nd minute, after a great post-up and header by Altidore, Michael Bradley came sliding in for the equalizer. This caused me to double fist-pump in jubilation. A rare occurrence in my lifetime. I think America and freedom overcame me into that particular reaction.

Then the ref that apparently hates America happened. See 1:44 on the video.

USA's game-winning goal was erased when Koman Coulibaly decided to wave it off for a reason he decided not to specify. Apparently the U.S. was either offsides or committed a foul, when the only player active in the play was onsides by 8 yards, scored a game-winning goal in US soccer's greatest comeback ever, while three of his teammates were molested by Slovenians. Just because were making your sport look good and hope to one day dominate that sport like we do every other sport in the world, doesn't mean you can call phantom fouls or maybe offsides on us when were putting on a second half clinic for Slovenia. And when you do anyways, could you at least specify what the call was? I mean make something up. Come on. Don't just blow your whistle and point. Look I referree'd a third grade basketball game once and had kids tackling each other. I know it gets hectic and out-of-hand at times and it's tough to make the right call every time. But I would've made the right call there. And even if I didn't, I could've at least bs'd the coach with a foul I saw or something. Stop hating America! England is the one ruining the ecosystem with their oil spills.

Oh, and I'm gonna choose not to talk about how badly officiated the game was overall. I will point out one more thing though. Dempsey was pile-drived by a Slovenian in the box during a corner at one point. It looked like I was watching this kid at the 1:35 mark. And yet they called a foul on Dempsey. We were robbed.

It looks like we're going to need some help from England. The aforementioned Joe said at work today 30 Englishmen crowded into a conference room to watch the game and adamantly root against the U.S.

We're screwed. Come on Algeria!

Image taken from

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