Power of the Cup

“Who would win?” my son asked me.  “Michael Bradley and Graham Zusi vs. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan.  It’s two-on-two.”

“No goalkeepers?” I replied.

“Zusi and Bradley get Tim Howard.  The other guys get Brad Guzan.  Three-on-three.”

“Why Landon?” I asked him.

“Well, you keep saying he should be there with the team…”

That’s my boy!   For the record, I took Dempsey, Donovan, and Guzan.

This discussion took place out of the blue last week.  Before the World Cup, my eight-year-old son barely knew the U.S. Soccer team.  He knew a few of them, but now he knows the entire roster.  He’s interested, engaged.  He and his sister sat and watched nearly all of each group stage match – two of them out at sports bars/restaurants, one in town.  He can’t get enough World Cup.

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USA 2, Ghana 1 – Pentagram

What a game!  What a weird, wonderful, and at times frightening game!  Some will claim the USA turned back the clock about 30 years with a gritty, ugly, gut-check win.  Some will note that Juergen’s tactics and substitutions pretty much worked to a T.  And down at the Dublin Pub, with most of our YMCA U8 Soccer Team looking on (occasionally), we were starting to get a very bad feeling when Ghana continued to whip in crosses and come closer with their outside blasts.  The tying goal seemed inevitable…   And then Graham Zusi to John Brooks…


Juergen’s success with his subs continues…  With Germany’s pasting of Portugal, the Group of Death suddenly seems navigable – even with the injuries.  So on to five points about this opening World Cup Win…

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World Cup Couch Weekend

The big day is Monday – USA v. Ghana at 5:00 CST.  But today and this weekend (just in time for Father’s Day) we have World Cup Viewus Maximus.   Four games today, three games tomorrow.  No overlap, all available to watch on ABC and ESPN.  It’s like Sweet Sixteen weekend – all the games are on, all of them are important – only with higher stakes and it only occurs every four years.  Have a seat on the couch or head out to your favorite sports bar.

So far we’ve seen some bad refereeing decisions (Brazil penalty, Mexico disallowed goals) and a shocking dismantlement of the Spaniards by the Dutch.  The games this weekend all have some intrigue and reasons to watch.

  • Colombia v. Greece – 11:00 Sat:  Without Falcao, Colombia aren’t as fun, but they’re still pretty fun.  Will the Greeks come to play or will they bunker down?
  • Uruguay v. Costa Rica2:00 Sat:  Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani are worth a look.  Let’s hope Suarez’s knee is really OK.  The Ticos of Costa Rica are from our region and feature exciting players like Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz.  They’re definitely the underdogs in this group.
  • England v. Italy – 5:00 Sat:  Euro Old Guard powers square off.  The winner has the inside track on this group; the loser blames the weather and gets scorched by their home country’s media.  A lot to like here Ballotelli and Pirlo against Gerrard and Rooney.  This is one to watch.
  • Japan v. Ivory Coast – 8:00 Sat:  Which Japan shows up?  The technical swashbuckling samurai or the overmatched, over-pressured team of last summer?  Ivory Coast features big names like Drogba and the two Toures (Yaya and Kolo).  This is a potentially great match-up and we could see either of these teams winning the group or completely bombing out of the tournament.
  • Switzerland v. Ecuador – 11:00 Sun:  Can the Swiss take the heat?  The weather and Ecuadorians will oblige them.  Is Ecuador for real or are they just the beneficiary of playing all their qualifiers at a very altitude?
  • France v. Honduras – 2:00 Sun:  Hondo, our other regional cousins (we don’t claim Mexico) are big underdogs here.  Many of their players are MLS guys.  France has star power, skill, and talent, but you don’t know if they’ll show up to play or end up on strike.
  • Argentina v. Bosnia-Herzegovina – 5:00 Sun:  Messi, Higuain, Aguero for Argentina.  How will they play together?  Will Messi exert some leadership and lead this team like he can?  Bosnia will certainly try to bunker and counter but they do have Dzeko and Pjanic in the attack.

Here’s hoping for some great play, plenty of goals, and fewer bad calls this weekend.

23 For Brazil – May

Next week Jurgen Klinsmann will name the 30 man Camp Cali roster, from which (presumably) the final 23 will emerge.  That makes this the final ’23 for Brazil’ post before the World Cup.  We are just over a month before that opening game against Ghana in Natal, so get your vacation days requested and your viewing plans made.

Some of the guys are scoring goals and playing well lately (Dempsey, Boyd, Besler, Wondo); some guys are not.  Fortunately, (knock on digi-wood) the team is pretty healthy at this point.  Big questions remain about the defense and the last few forward-line spots, with only the midfield looking solid.

So we bring you the final Beemsville 23:  Our picks (not who we think Jurgen will take) to the World Cup.  As a bonus, we’ll also include the other seven guys we’d invite to our training camp.  Kind of beside the point since we’re naming the roster, but here we go… Continue reading

23 for Brazil – April

The Mexico friendly is behind us.  A tale of two halves, with some impressive midfield play and alarming defending,  and surprise!  Jurgen unveils a diamond midfield.  Mostly, guys who’ve already booked tickets to the World Cup confirmed why they’re going, and a couple of guys made strong cases for inclusion.  Among those not staking claims were the injured (Brad Evans), the not-allowed-to-participate-because-Mexico (Beasley, Herculez, Joe Corona) and the very wet behind the ears (Julian Green).  While we wouldn’t be surprised to see Green brought along for seasoning, it’s getting might late for debutantes.

So it’s time for another Beemsville 23:  our picks (not who we think Jurgen Klinsmann will take) for the World Cup.  It’s t-minus two months until the USA kicks off against Ghana in Brazil, and only a couple of weeks before the coaching staff names its preliminary 30-man roster for training camp.

Check out the cool graphical setup for the 23 at American Soccer Now. Continue reading

23 For Brazil – March

Bring Back Jay!

Earlier this month, Jurgen rolled out a mostly European-based squad in Cyprus, who were pretty roundly outplayed by a motivated Ukrainian side that’s just about the best team not to make the World Cup.  It was an opportunity to confirm who probably shouldn’t be on the 23 man roster for Brazil, and that’s the best we can say about that game.  Guys like Oguchi Onyewu, John Brooks, Edgar Castillo, and Sascha Klejistan showed very little.

So here’s our Ides of March Beemsville 23:  our picks (not who we think Jurgen will take) for the World Cup, based on numerous factors.  We will know more next month, with the Mexico friendly played and MLS a month or so into the schedule.

Goalkeepers (3):  Tim Howard (Everton), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake).   Timmy remains the #1.

Defenders (7): Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Matt Besler (Kansas City), Omar Gonzalez (L.A. Galaxy), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Timothy Chandler (FC Nurenburg), DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Jay DeMerit (Vancouver), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin).  The more I think about, the more this group needs some veteran leadership.  DeMerit, if healthy, can provide that in spades and is still one of the best pure defenders in the pool.  He’s the perfect late game, settle-it-down defensive sub.  Yeah, I know, Jurgen’s never called him in.  If Tim Chandler can get back on the field by late April, he goes, due to lack of other viable outside back options. Continue reading

23 for Brazil – Feb Edition

The USA’s January camp is behind us, this World Cup year begun with training in Sao Paulo  and an unconvincing victory over South Korea last weekend.  Coach Jurgen has begun his stretch run of evaluation, giving looks to the MLS-based contingent in camp while continuing to watch and track the European and Mexico-based players.

Interesting about Jurgen:  he espouses a lot of new-age philosophy, talks about mindset, attitude, leaving the door open for players.  But when it’s come down to it, he’s been very regimented about bringing players in, having them earn their spots over time.  He’s looked at a lot, but you get the sense he’s much less likely to drop a surprise on us than his predecessors.

That said, we have significant questions about the team’s back-line, the attacking midfield spots, as well as how many forwards should make the roster.  Guys are hurt, guys aren’t playing (or aren’t playing well), and MLS is still a month from kicking off.  We’ll know a lot more when the March 5 friendly in Ukraine rolls around.

For now, though, it’s time to roll out the Beemsville 23:  our picks (not who we think Jurgen will take) for the World Cup, based on numerous scientific factors like watching the players on TV (some more than others), FIFA 2014-PS3 edition, the opinions of soccer writers and podcasters, and the proverbial gut feeling.

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Lessons from Fake Tourney

Starters v. Brazil

If you’re a die hard US Soccer Fan, the last two weeks, with three friendlies and roller-coaster results, provided must-see viewing and grist for the soccer-analytic-mill in a big way.  We saw the debut of the ‘Where’s Waldo’ jerseys, the A-Team pretty much in place, and Donovan and Dempsey on the field for the same time since Juergen Klinsmann took over.

Coach Klinsi wanted to treat this three game stretch leading up to the two World Cup Qualifiers (June 8 against Antigua and Barbuda, June 12 at Guatemala) as a tournament.  If so the U.S. might have made it out of the first round on goal differential, beating a disinterested Scotland 5-1, losing to Brazil 4-1, and drawing Canada 0-0.

More important was the way the US played (at times) pressuring high, carrying the ball forward quickly, and working the quick combos to generate scoring chances.  The team showed a capability to play the positive attack-minded soccer Klinsmann has been talking about since he took over.

Unfortunately, they also showed long stretches of passing and possession futility, lack of depth at key positions, and problems getting Donovan and Dempsey involved simultaneously.

Depth the key:  Most of us really like the style of play we’re starting to see.  It was on display against the Scots and throughout the second half against Brazil.  But three games over 12 days – a schedule similar to any FIFA tournament – exposed a lack of depth while seeming to exhaust key players.  Have a look at the team photo above.  Six of those ten field players will be 30 or above when the World Cup kicks of in 2014.  Seven players if you add Dempsey.  Sure, players in their lower 30s often operate in their prime, but you can’t expect them to do so again and again on short rest.  In a tourney like the World Cup, you need to be able to rotate guys in and out – not only to change tactics but to keep them fit enough to contribute. Continue reading