Poland 0-3 U.S. – Um, wow.

Here’s the funny thing about last night: we won the game. By that I mean, we have won games in the past – e.g. by the means of scoring at least one more goal than the other team – but the remarkable thing about last night was that we won. And this was in Europe and against a decent team and we looked better, collectively, certainly, but also, in some places, on an individual level. Well, all right.

As you’ll gather below, I’m just in love with the U.S. Men’s National Team right now – or the Yanquis, as I like to call them. Rather than bore you with a blow-by-blow run-down, I’ll bore you with several quick, hopefully interesting observations:

– Was Landon Donovan man of the match? Tempting thought. If nothing else, the man actually delivered solid set-pieces, several of them – a “holy shit” kind of thing all by itself. And I don’t care what anyone says or thinks, he did damn well on that breakaway in spite of missing the goal.

– Speaking of set-pieces, I would be freakin’ the frank out if I was Polish, or just supported their national team; they were all over the place on set-pieces. And against the U.S.

– If you’re wondering about the odd use of the word “frank” above, that was inspired by the show about the ghost hunters from Rhode Island that broadcasts on the Sci Fi Channel. Freaked out and unable to say “fuck,” one of the guys said something like “that is so frankin’ weird.” I just liked the sound of it. Back to the game… Continue reading

One Last Plug for the Pan-Pacific

I finally made my way over to MLSnet.com’s official propaganda page for the Pan-Pacific Tournament (kicks off tonight; check ESPN’s listings for times and channel…it’s in there…and all times are, helpfully, GMT). Can’t say I regretted avoiding it until now: even the news/headline section overflows with the usual airy features and quote-filled pap about how seriously all involved will take proceedings. This, for instance, is not a preview, but a series of throw-away quotes held together by a bit of context.

Tragically, the mainstream media isn’t doing much better. I have seen about two dozen variations on this story since Monday; only subtle differences in the completeness of the quotes and changes to word order separate this one from all the rest. But, here and there, one comes across actual news – e.g. the fact all games will be played on turf (to Ruud Gullit’s clear chagrin…he’ll get his back by playing rookies) and allusions to future expansion of the tournament should it prove a hot ticket. And, in defense of the general shortcomings, word that Landon Donovan will miss tonight’s semi first came my way through the official site.

As they sometimes do, blogs led the way on the Pan-Pacific Challenge. For instance, I liked Dan Loney’s pre-tourney musings almost as much as the one I posted yesterday (tee hee hee). But I owe most my current knowledge of how LA looks going in to 100 Percent Soccer, who identified the 27 players the Galaxy flew to Hawaii, as well as posting a situation review from training camp (for the curious, it’s about what one would expect: the attack looks all right, while the defense looks a little green). Can’t say how they’ll stack up against Japan’s Gamba Osaka, but the latter has issues of its own in the form of key players missing through injury and (if memory serves) national-team commitments (sorry to stiff you on links). Will it be a good game? Hope so. Failing that, though, I’ll take funny.

Credit Nutmegged for doing something clever for “the other game” – e.g. the late tilt of the Houston Dynamo v. Sydney FC. Nutmegged’s Martek compared notes with an Australian fella who runs a site called The Football Tragic, each telling the other what to look for from the oppostion. Enjoy The Football Tragic’s take on Sydney here and Nutmegged’s evaluation of their home-team Dynamo here.

As for me, I’ll try to do some jottings on the games between tonight and tomorrow. Expect the usual rambling, if not a little more of it, as I’m trying to get away from anything that resembles a typical match report. This being pre-season – for at least three of the teams – there’s not a lot to read into this anyway.

BONUS Continue reading

U.S. v. Mexico: Parting Shot

UNDERRATED: Tequila shots for every goal.”

That came from a clever over/under feature from Goal.com and my only response to that is, “Sir, yes sir! What brand, sir?!”

The same piece included the following, which I appreciate:

OVERRATED: Refusing to call this game a ‘friendly.'”

Tee, hee, hee…

Now, I know I’ve spent the past week doing my level, if unconscious, best to deflate the hype on tonight’s U.S. Mexico game (see: LINK, LINK, and LINK). Happily, the hype machine carried on over all that. In my defense, however, I’m not totally obtuse. I mean, I understand why U.S. soccer fans – simple partisanship/nationalism aside – get up for games against Mexico. And this was framed very nicely by that cat, Landon Donovan (at the bottom of the WaPo’s preview: Continue reading

U.S. 2-0 Sweden: Our Depth Beat Their Depth

There was a lot to like about this game. Seriously. Fox Soccer Channel commentator Christopher Sullivan griped at the end about a certain lack of artistry, but anyone who tuned in saw a good, fairly even, pretty up-tempo game. And, better still, the U.S. Men’s National Team (Yanquis) flat won; they gave away fewer chances and played the better game. This is Sweden, mind, not elite, but definitely “real Europe,” even if it wasn’t their first team. That doesn’t matter because that wasn’t our first team either. Sweden’s first team might beat our first team 6 or 7 times out of 10, but the gap is closing – at least that’s what I pick up from watching our B-Team out-play, even out-think, the Swedes B-Team.

The Yanquis did well enough that it’s hard to find sincere fault with anyone’s game – though it’s not like I’m not going to try below. As for the Swedes, well, they settled for average; at times, I thought the game looked like a circa-1996 Sweden v. USA, but with the roles reversed. I can recall one tactically inspired move from Sweden, an overlapping cross-field run that totally isolated Ramiro Corrales on the U.S. left. But one move by the U.S. best illustrates the differences in inventiveness: Pat Noonan broke in on the left, dished to Landon Donovan and continued his run; Donovan holds for a bit, then pokes the ball into Noonan, who taps a lay-off that nearly resulted in a shot; it was all fast, short passes, the Americans trying to pick their way through Sweden rather than hoofing toward space and crossing. No, neither move ended with a goal – in fact, both U.S. goals came off something perilously close to slop – but the Swedes never matched the savvy and understanding on display in the U.S. move. Hell, we almost played “street-ball” right there.

In any case, I’ve got the notes to blab, blab, blab. But I’ll spare all y’all from that and bang out some player ratings – e.g. the refuge of a blogger who can’t figure out a structure for his talking points. Enjoy. Continue reading

Donovan’s Year…or, Possibly, His Last World Cup Cycle?

Andrew Dixon – aka One Grown Man – has a good piece up on USSoccerplayas.com. It’s not just that he starts with a second to yesterday’s somewhat over-alarmed post about United States’ World Cup qualifying campaign (OK, it’s subtle; just squint) and ends with an entirely reasonable plea that someone televise the African Nations Cup. It’s the middle number of Dixon’s three wishes for 2008 that hits on an issue I’ve been mulling for about a week, namely, Landon Donovan’s game. Because I’ve been thinking about this on a different track than Dixon, perhaps it’s not surprising I end up in a different place…say, six years down the road.

Long story short, Dixon’s wish is for Donovan to “dominate American soccer” ran headlong into some thinking I’ve been doing about Donovan’s game – and its potential limitations.

Love him or hate him, Donovan is the most lethal attacking player this country has ever produced and he’s got the numbers – assists, goals, and caps – to back it up. And the damnedest thing is Donovan has all those caps, has tied Wynalda’s goal-scoring record and, if I’m not mistaken, he holds the records on assists at twenty-frickin’-five (as shown at the bottom of this; OK, except the assists, but I’m pretty sure he has that one). But the deeper question involves what makes Donovan’s game work? If I had to pick a controlling factor, something that separates him from the pack, I’d go with speed – e.g. he can take players on because he’s a quick little shit, especially on the first several steps. After that, he passes well, but not brilliantly, and I’ve never seen anything over-remarkable in his touch/dribbling. Bottom line: Donovan possesses the basic skills, he has good vision, and a good brain. Take away that speed, however, and one has to wonder what he’d be.

And that’s kind of the point: age will take away that speed one day. A look at his player bio tells me Donovan will be 32 in June of 2014. True, he might hold onto his pace, but will it still be international class? A lot can happen to a body over 6 years – especially among professional players and especially among players for the ever-barnstorming, Beckham-hawking LA Galaxy…I think their seasons work like “dog season’s” or something, y’know, one of theirs is two for everyone else. Will Donovan learn more tricks by then? More to the point, will he have the motivation to learn more tricks by then? Maybe the downside to Donovan sticking States-side comes over the long haul. Barring injury, he’s virtually automatic on any MLS roster and I doubt that will change by the time World Cup 2014 rolls around. It’s also unlikely he’ll need to do much with his game by then, especially if all the fears about expansion diluting the MLS talent pool come true; his current game works well enough in an undiluted league.

I’m not ripping him for this – it’s his life, after all – but the decision to stick with a comfortable set-up has consequences. Maybe the current World Cup cycle really is his time. Any thoughts?

Daily Sweeper, 12.7: Who Is This Owen Perkins*? (+ Meat Cyborgs)

(* I want to begin by noting that I’m only having fun with Owen Perkins’ work for MLSnet.com; he’s the guy who wrote their “5 Questions” piece about the Colorado Rapids. In all honesty, I just don’t get angry enough about soccer to shit all over someone’s opinion. Make fun of it? Good Lord, yes. But shit on? Not sincerely, no. In any case, the ire in this piece are directed at the Rapids’ organization and not at Mr. Perkins.)

– Who the hell is this Owen Perkins? I’ve been staring at his name trying to find the anagram for “Fernando Clavijo” that I know is lurking in there, but no luck so far. As many of you no doubt know, MLSnet.com are getting into their season reviews (and why read theirs when you can ride mine; look at the sidebar) and the “5 Big Questions” pieces heading into 2008. Having read Perkins’ piece (of poop), I can find no explanation for such a thoroughly chirpy look ahead unless Perkins is Fernando Clavijo freelancing under a pen-name. So, by way of public service, I’m re-writing Clavi…er, Perkins 5 Questions piece, but with the proper answers to replace his gibberish:

What do the Rapids need to do to reach the MLS Cup final in ’08?

Wrong question, doofus. The Rapids missed the playoffs this year. This should read, “What the hell do the Rapids need to do to reach the playoffs in ’08…and to stop insulting their supporters, who lapped Job in the suffering stakes some time in July.

What was the team’s best moment in 2007?

They had good moments? Try the final whistle to the final game of 2007.

Who made the most improvement over the course of the season?

OK, he got this one right. Colin Clark.

What reserves are most ready to move into the team?

These are the guys who won their second consecutive reserve division title? OK, make those guys the new starting eleven. Can’t hurt, right?

What area of the team needs the most improvement?

Just the soccer part. The rest is going swell.

And then I read rumors about the team mulling a trade for Pablo Mastroeni. Yeah, why the hell not? I mean, it’s not like Kyle Beckerman’s gone or anything.

In a semi-related note, this kind of thing has inspired a major shift in editorial policy…more on that later… Continue reading

Los Angeles Galaxy 2007 Review: The Cubic Zirconia of MLS

I hope everyone had a good Turkey Day and watched lots of futbol Americano (it’s what God wants you to do on Thanksgiving…trust me). It’s good to be back.

Los Angeles Galaxy
Record (W-L-T): 9-14-7; 38 GF, 48 GA
Source Material: Schedule/match reports

Overview

The simple presence of the David Beckham Singularity means only the rankest of Major League Soccer (MLS) neophytes doesn’t know the sorry tale of the Los Angeles Galaxy’s 2007. Once everyone, the Galaxy players included, digested the fact that league officials had abused LA’s schedule to the point of cruelty, winning the early games seemed important to the team’s success. When that didn’t pan out – to the tune of going 1-3-3 through April and May – “panic” items of all sorts were punched, pulled, yanked, prayed to, etc. Out went names from the familiar – Tyrone Marshall, Shavar Thomas, and Nate “Damned Lucky” Jaqua – to the promising and obscure – Robbie Findley and Nate Sturgis – and in came a stable of familiar, perhaps underwhelming names like Edson Buddle, Chris Klein, Kelly Gray, and Carlos Pavon. They picked up a more impressive name/trade with Portuguese defender Abel Xavier, but he stands as a near-exception in a season of head-scratching trades.

The upshot of all that horse-trading – based, for the record, on the assumption that these were players of “character” up to handling Life with Beckham – was a 3-5-4 record in league play heading into the All-Star break and a long layoff from league play. Then came Beckham…and that’s when things really started sucking.

The yo-yo tale of Beckham’s pair of injuries, the fans burned by semi-coercive ticket packages built around seeing Beckham, and, most significantly, the distraction of too many friendlies, too many games (league plus Superliga, etc.) – all these familiar talking points – coincided with/caused a downright horrifying August and September, when the Galaxy set a standard for incompetence that had many viewing them as the worst team in MLS. It seemed LA GM’ Alexi Lalas’ “gem” was a cubic zirconia. Continue reading