U.S. 2-2 Mexico: Losing a Tie

I’ll start with the usual caveats: I watched this with a 3-year-old distracting me throughout with puzzles, demands to play with balloons, gigantic playground balls, etc.

That said, that was one lucky tie. The U.S. squandered possession, our midfield got slaughtered, our flanks overrun, and the chances we deliberately created could be counted on one hand – and Josmer Altidore got on the end of most of them. Fortunately, Mexico continued their tradition of mentally seizing up every time they got within 30 yards of the U.S. goal…so not all was lost.

It has been sometime since the temptation struck to say we simply don’t know how to play the game. But that’s not fair. Over a few, brief spells the evolution of U.S. soccer showed, but these fleeting moments came and went too often near the center stripe and, more often still, they played out in a kind of ragged, random vibe. Worse, our composed moments featured too many long balls forward and those came to players who appeared ill-suited to cope – again, Altidore and Clint Dempsey.

Against that, the Mexicans displayed – to borrow a “John Harkesism” – good “characteristics”on the ball’: between better movement and sharper passing, they simply outplayed the U.S. in every meaningful aspect of outfield play (thank god for goalkeeping, right?) The most striking sequence came in the second half when four Mexican players set up an impromptu game of keep-away in the U.S. half against up to eight U.S. players. But the Mexicans’ better moments came with the simplest stuff – finding the open man in space, too often just in front of the U.S. defense. This approximates the time when my heart shrunk into my stomach and my balls lifted toward my stomach…a kind of “Oh Shit” pinch designed, perhaps, with the intention of holding the crucial pieces together until the bad stuff passed. Continue reading

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U.S. v Mexico: Some Links + Another Game in Town

Is it just me or does the soccer world seem to be holding its collective breath for Wednesday? There are the usual rumors, of course (see MLS Rumors; I’ll catch up once a week and when they come together), and talk of Major League Soccer (MLS) releasing the 2008 regular season schedule on Thursday…at which time we can determine the precise size of the barrel over which Superliga and the CONCACAF Champions put MLS clubs. See what I mean? Waiting for Wednesday, waiting for Thursday…except on the scheduling stuff; I’ll putz around that issue a little more in a bit.

Before getting to the body of this post, here’s a theory: perhaps dragging players on the league’s best teams through those two late summer tournaments is just an indirect measure for enforcing parity. Think about it.

But, no, this post is all about my continuing effort to get up for tomorrow’s friendly pitting the U.S. Men’s National Team (Yanquis) against Mexico (ESPN2, 6 p.m. with plenty of soccer-porn included). With appearances pointing toward the Yanquis fielding an A-Team (otherwise, why bring them? Exactly! Don’t bring them.) – not what I had hoped to see after all – I’m still plenty excited about this game on at least one level: what else is there between tomorrow and the Pan-Pacific Tournament? A couple Mexican Primera games, a little of the Fulham survival saga, an ongoing quest to find when the UEFA Cup resumes (NOTE: I know where to find this, but, for whatever reason, I keep checking soccertv.com) – e.g. several convenient, emotionally-disengaged relationships I’ll kick the curb without remorse or even a box of chocolates come March 29. That ain’t love, people. It’s just sex….sex…sex…hmm…where am I now? Continue reading

US v. Mexico: Of Jugglers, Knights..and amending earlier statements

As the hype builds around next Wednesday’s U.S./Mexico friendly (that’s February 6 on ESPN2), the underlying frustrations that produced the over-bold statement of a couple days ago comes into clearer focus. And, mea culpa, the wrong verb came to me in that one: it’s not so much that I “hope” the U.S. loses as I’m finding little value in playing what amounts to the same game – and one with less importance than most recent editions.

How to explain…what tortured analogy to employ? Ah! Think of a juggler. Imagine that, after getting the basic art down – e.g. juggling three balls of equal size and weight – she improves to where she can juggle, say, wet cats without picking up a scratch. A cool trick, yes, but imagine she then masters this act, finds a venue she likes working, a place that pays well enough without demanding anything more of her, and…that’s it. She keeps doing the same act, one everyone has seen an ever-growing number of times; even the cats would find a comfort zone after a while.

This is what yet another U.S./Mexico friendly feels like. A couple pieces out today try to breath some life into this latest edition by connecting this to past games: Soccer America’s Mike Woitalla talks about the power of wins over Mexico for establishing the reputations of past (and current) U.S. coaches; elsewhere, Jeff Bradley inverts his First XI into a “Last XI” by recapping the recent, lopsided history of the series. Both pieces come up short on sustaining the hype, at least for me. Last year’s win over Mexico established U.S. coach Bob Bradley coaching bona fides; pulled a little outside his thesis, Woitalla calls this the last serious test before upcoming World Cup qualifying. But, by listing the many games we’ve won, as well as the several on-field permutations U.S. coaches fielded to earn them, Bradley’s piece provides an inadvertent answer to that theory.

That we need a win on Wednesday to keep the Mexicans squirming under our “inferior soccer” and, therefore, our psychological thumb, doesn’t really compute. The fact that the U.S. can beat Mexico has been established…well, almost. And both authors, without making it central, point to what really should come next: Continue reading

The Yanquis Got Poland…The Yanquis Need More.

So, I see we picked up an international friendly against Poland on March 26 – and that’s good so far as it goes. It wasn’t till I read My Soccer Blog’s post on the U.S. Men’s National Team’s (Yanquis) schedule for 2008 that I got to thinking we really need another couple games. At time of writing, the Yanquis have three friendlies scheduled this year before we begin World Cup qualifying. And that ain’t enough.

Part of it grows from my late (over-wrought) anxiety about the Yanquis stumbling at the first Caribbean hurdle. Intellectually, I understand that just about any plausible U.S. team will beat either Dominica (think I’ll pull for these guys) or Barbados – and probably like a gong at that. But that reality hardly makes a case for approaching this thing casually.

An article posted by “the editor” on USSoccerplayers.com gets at why, if only indirectly. Lamenting the practice of calling in long-shot players for the Yanquis current January training camp, “editor” (I think this is probably J Hutcherson, but I’m having fun) questions the value of mixing these players with more regular candidates – after all, how often will they take the field together again? I subscribe to the urgency of “editor’s” beef – e.g. the clock is ticking, people – but see value in ongoing experimentation. As “editor” ticks down the list of invitees, I see him taking some eye-catching things for granted. For example:

Tim Howard and Kasey Keller should feel little threat from the keepers currently in Carson.”

“Eddie Robinson, meanwhile, may not be contending with Carlos Bocanegra or Oguchi Onyewu for a regular starting spot, but he’s a fringe candidate to fill in when the going gets tough in World Cup qualifying.”

“Ed Johnson has proven he can score in meaningful games and should be in the conversation for the first choice strike partnership atop a 442 or 352.”

My first question is why I can’t make the bold font from the original article go away?

But other, more relevant questions (and answers) follow: Is Kasey Keller really still in the goalkeepers’ pool? (A: He mentions Brad Guzan for ‘keeper, and that’s a start, but I’m inclined to look to the future for ‘keeper. I’d keep looking.) Has the combination of Onyewu and Bocanegra inspired confidence? (A: Frankly, no. Too often, they’ve left me feeling more jittery than a wet cat hooked up to a 9-volt battery. I’d keep experimenting through April, then name the best available pair.) Johnson has shown he can score in the past, but how often? (A: Given our, um, situation at forward and given Johnson’s erratic form, I think the best you can say is he’s an option; that means keep looking.)

It should be pretty clear where I’m going with all this. I agree with “editor” that we’re to a point where we should cut out fringe players. But, for the plausible candidates – e.g. Michael Parkhurst, Eddie Robinson, anyone at forward – we need more games, preferably early in 2008, to gauge their abilities or, if nothing else, to push the guys we do have. We’re simply not strong enough in too many positions to call an end to Bradley’s experiments. That time is coming, but the bigger issue as I see it is getting these players games. Sterner tests would be nice, but I’d cast a wide net for friendlies….hell, the Caribbean seems a great place to start. What’s Grenada doing this year?

Upset Galore: Euro 2008 eff-ups and a big Mexican letdown

Complete Standings

Russia 2, England 1 

England’s Euro 2008 fate is now firmly out of their control. McLaren’s squad need help from other teams now to secure a spot in next summer’s tournament. Russia looked on the up and up with Roman Pavluchenko scoring the goals that Alexandr Kerzakhov wanted to. The La Liga striker called for an upset and they got it, without much of a contest. Rooney scored early, but it was the Russians who set the tone – putting 10 on frame and scoring a double salvo at the 70 minute mark to dent England’s qualification chances. The English FA is still saying they back McLaren but you can bet that if they don’t book a ticket to Austria/Switzerland this summer, he’ll be gone…and Mourinho in???? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The match wasn’t without its controversy as the penalty call was questionable but shit happens, and although the PK swayed the momentum and equalized the game, England had their fair share of chances. Is this another example of Guus Hiddink’s mastery or are the Russians starting to put together the pieces to consistently compete with the best?

Georgia 2, Scotland 0

If this was last year, I probably wouldn’t call this an upset – but with Scotland’s form as of late, this should have been a Scotland win. The Scots dominated the game – possession, shots, all things statistical-ish but it wasn’t to be. A goal from 17-year old Levan McHedlidze (Scottish-Georgian maybe?) in the 16th minute put the Scots in the hole from the get-go. That was enough to throw them off their game as the three M’s (Miller, McFadden, and Maloney) were effectively dealt with by Georgia’s backline.  A six game win streak allows Italy to move ahead of them as the Italians have one game in tow. All it takes is one let down and this might have been it for the Scots.

Liechtenstein 3, Iceland 0

What?!!? I understand that Iceland is somewhat small and that half of Leichtenstein’s population was at the game, but a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of perennial door-mats? No one expected this – especially with Eidur Gudjohnsen in the mix and the Reading boys – Gunnarsson and Ingimarsson in the heart of the line-up. It was Mario Frick and Thomas Beck who led the team – Frick with the early 27th minute goal and Beck with the blow of a brace in the waning moments. Not that Iceland was in contention anyway…but Liechtenstein has had one of their best showings ever in Euro Qualifying registering two wins (Latvia, Iceland).

Guatemala 3, Mexico 2
International Friendly

Yea, it was a young squad with crap-loads of potential but El Tri overcame an early 5th minute Guatamalan goal to score two and go up before giving way to Marvin Avila and a resounding second half brace. At that point in the game, things were getting out of hand. The head ref had already ejected two players from each team as well as Guatemala’s coach and assistant. Would you be surprised if I said one of those ejected was Carlos Ruiz? I doubt it. For Mexico, gone was one of the goalscorers and upcoming stars Cesar Villaluz and Gonzalo Pineda. It was only Guatemala’s 4th win in 29 attempts against Mexico and along with the recent tie to Nigeria, Hugo Sanchez can’t be too happy about the “depth” of his national team pool so far.

An Initial 21 for Switzerland

Bradley released his initial roster to train in Europe for the October 17th friendly coming up against Switzerland. As expected, we get to see some new faces – whether or not they actually dress for the game is a different story.

Goalkeepers: Marcus Hahnemann (Reading [ENG]), Tally Hall (Esbjerg [NOR]), Chris Seitz (Real Salt Lake)

Even Hahnemann’s recent 7 goal drubbing (in his defense, several of those goals were deflections and/or ridiculous) couldn’t keep him out. Despite his age, he deserves his shot and even though it might not have staying power, I am happy he’ll be in Switzerland. Expect him to be your number one with Seitz in back up. The 22 year old Tally Hall has yet to play at the senior level in Norway, but his inclusion doesn’t really surprise me. My question: if you’re going for youth, why not throw in Quentin Westberg who has shone in his chances with Troyes.

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra (Fulham [ENG]), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover [GER]), Dan Califf (Aalborg [DEN]), Jay Demerit (Watford [ENG]), Oguchi Onyewu (Standard Liege [BEL]), Heath Pearce (Hansa Rostock [GER]), Steve Purdy (1860 Munich [GER])

Heath Pearce is enjoying learning the hard way in the Bundesliga but has shown real well to have a good chance to get into this line up. You’ll probably still see ‘Dolo, Boca, Gooch, and Demerit start. Steve Purdy has been lining up for 1860 Munich’s second team and is a big defender (6’4″, 190) that most likely won’t see time, but his first training camp will be an eye opener.

Midfielders: Freddy Adu (Benfica [POR]), DaMarcus Beasley (Glasgow Rangers [SCO]), Michael Bradley (Heerenveen [HOL]), Maurice Edu (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Hamburg SV [GER]), Eddie Lewis (Derby [ENG]), Danny Szetela (Racing Santander [ESP])

Eddie Lewis is back in there after making the jump from Leeds United to Derby County in the EPL with renewed vigor. Between Kenny Miller and Lewis, they’ve been Derby’s only lifelines. Feilhaber has found his way into the first team, playing in the 1-0 loss to Reading this past weekend. Maurice Edu’s presence in this roster has been a long-time coming as his play – though erratic at times – has NOT been typical of a rookie. I look forward to seeing him get a chance.

Forwards: Clint Dempsey (Fulham [ENG]), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake), Preston Zimmerman (Hamburg SV [GER]), Sal Zizzo (Hannover [GER]).

Clint Dempsey has become a fan favorite at Craven Cottage and not given back his starting position since Hamuer Bouazza’s busted shoulder a month and a half ago. Zimmerman keeps scoring goals for HSV’s second team and is hoping to eventually get his chance, but for those scared of a Kamani Hill-like outcome it seems like this kid is ready for a couple sub appearances. Zizzo has yet to break into the first team at Hannover, but ‘Dolo says his progress is coming along. Findley is everyone’s question-mark, but his speed could complement Dempsey up top – although I think you’ll find Adu in that position. Many wanted to see Altidore but Bradley was right to leave him off for MLS Playoff duties (which you’ll notice that every MLS player included is part of team already statistically eliminated from the playoff race).

Overall, it’ll be an interesting look at the breadth of American talent. See how far it runs deep. Biggest surprises? Possible line-ups?

UEFA Champions League: Turkish Delight

Group standings. 

Group A

FC Porto 1, Liverpool 1

Jermaine Pennant was sent off with 30 minutes to go, but Liverpool survived finding the equalizer well before Pennant’s ejection and hanging on from there. Lucho Gonzalez converted an 8th minute penalty to put Porto up early.

Marseille 2, Besiktas 0

Having trouble finding domestic success again, but Les Bleus found a way past Besiktas with two late goals from trusty Julien Rodriguez and Liverpool outcast Djibril Cisse.

Group B

Chelsea 1, Rosenborg 1

Mourinho’s last game was a dud and the real question of the day was did he know he was walking out before the game or was his exit brought on by the result? Abrahamovich’s man Sheva saved the Blues’ tail by scoring on a header in the 53rd minute.

Valencia 1, Schalke 04 0

Not a great overall week for Bundesliga clubs, but it was David Villa’s class in the 63rd minute that propelled Los Ches by the blue-clad Germans. Otherwise, it looked like everybody else was content to settle for a draw.

Group C

Olympiakos 1, Lazio 1

Luciano Galletti put the Greek champions up 10 minutes into the second half and Lazio struggled to find someone to do their bidding as both Rocchi and Pandev were being shut down. With 10 minutes to, Luciano Zauri found the equalizer and Lazio accepted a tie – but the real question is, was he offside?

Real Madrid 2, Werder Bremen 1

There is still long way to go before we can fully evaluate this year’s Madrid squad, but they have shown more heart and dominance then in recent season’s past. Raul scored in the 16th minute but Boubacar Sanogo cancelled that out a minute later. We all know, however, that if you’re going to shut down Real – you must not give Ruud van Nistelrooy ANY – and I mean ANY – room. Well, Bremen did. Ruud replied – scoring with 15 minutes to go.

Group D

AC Milan 2, Benfica 1

Benfica never really threatened and for us American fans, all we really want to know is why no Freddy Adu? Anywhere? Andrea Pirlo exercised his ‘I’m better than you’ card and put Milan up within 10 minutes of the start. Pippo Inzaghi caught the bug and scored not long after effectively digging Benfica a nice grave to lay down in.

Shakhtar Donetsk 2, Celtic 0

I don’t get it. Rangers can rally against the likes of VfB Stuttgart while Celtic gets out-classed by Shakhtar, but when it comes to domestic play, Rangers loses 4-2 to Hearts of Midlothian while Celtic goes their first 5 unbeaten. Hmmm. A real nice crop of Brazilians have come out of Shakhtar (Elano to Manchester City, Matuzalem, etc.) and Brandao will surely be the next one to grab Western Europe’s eye. Especially after his performance against Celtic, scoring in the 6th minute. Claudio Lucarelli added his own 2 minutes later. The Brazilians really dominated this game, however, with Brandao, Fernandinho, and Jadson all having respectable games.

Group E

Barcelona 3, Lyon 0

Thierry Henry opened his account with Barca, while Lyon fought themselves mostly for the first 20 minutes but when Barca’s class kicked in – there was no fighting. Lionel Messi and Henry scored within the last 10 minutes of the game to put it out of reach.

Rangers 2, VfB Stuttgart 1

Stuttgart struck early thanks to the revelation of last year’s Bundesliga champion, Mario Gomez. Rangers evened it up not long after through the efforts of Charlie Adam, who since his terrible play against FK Zeta has seen little time. Adam came through, but Fernando Meira silver-plattered the lead with a foul on Alan Hutton. Hutton scored making it 2-1, giving the Gers 3 vital points, and taking the unofficial MVP of the match as he had his hand in both goals.

Group F

Manchester United 1, Sporting Lisbon 0

Cristiano Ronaldo’s homecoming was a good one – except for the whole destroying the lives and dreams of every Sporting Lisbon fan out there sort of thing. Okay, a little excessive – as it’s just the first match of the group round but Ronaldo scored the goal (on a diving header no less) that gave the Devils the win.

Roma 2, Dynamo Kiev 0

An out-classing – much of which had to do with the goalscorers Simone Perrotta and Francesco Totti. Trying to rack up points and goal difference before they meet Manchester United for a revenge-filled rematch?

Group G

Fenerbahce 1, Inter Milan 0

Brazilian Deivid supplied the goal just before the half-time whistle and Inter couldn’t respond at all. Could it really be that the presence of Roberto Carlos could push a team over the top? Either way, the key to the Turkish Champion’s victory was the efficient shut-down of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as he saw very little in the way of chances.

PSV Eindhoven 2, CSKA Moscow 1

Vagner Love’s late 89th minute goal couldn’t counter the firepower of Danko Lazovic and former AZ/Ajax striker Kenneth Perez who struck in the 59th and 80th minute respectively.

Group H

Arsenal 3, FC Sevilla 0

Yikes. Arsene Wenger has created a monster or else a little bit of confidence goes a long way. Cesc and Van Persie put the game out of reach but Eduardo grabbed another goal in injury time to drive the point home. The Gunners have started strong in both their Premiership and European campaigns, but are they pacing themselves?

Slavia Prague 2, Steaua Bucharest 1

An entertaining Eastern European battle that involved a showcasing of some burgeoning talent that you could see in the EPL/La Liga/Bundesliga/etc. sometime real soon. Marek Suchy showed why he’s considered one of the brightest prospects since Niko Kranjcar. Goals were scored for Slavia by Zdenek Senkerik and Tijani Belaid and for Bucharest, Dorin Goian.