Summer Illini Post

With oppressive heat comes the doldrums of the MLS season, with teams slogging through the humid air and attempting to stay playoff eligible.  Baseball is just not on the Beemsville menu, but the Illini are always on our minds.  After a crazy-active off-season in which the three major sports all replaced their head coaches, it’s mostly quiet on the orange & blue front.  But, hey, look!  A blue helmet!

Block I on Blue

Yes, Coach Beckman has been implementing his changes, including COMPETING! for everything and anything.  And, hey, if teams like Oregon and Boise State and Oklahoma State can have multiple uniform-helmet combos and score lots and lots of points, why not Illinois?

This design will look good with the orange or white shirts.  It’s pretty basic, pretty similar to the Bears helmet, and also signals a logo/branding shift Illini fans are just going to have to accept.  Athletic Director Mike Thomas has spoken about the importance of marketing/branding in college sports, how it builds familiarity, opens doors, sells shirts, etc.  And since the Chief was taken from us (and even before that as they moved away from that symbol), the Block I has pretty much become the symbol and logo.  Thomas has stated he wants to reinvigorate from a marketing/branding standpoint, so we should expect some kind of new variation on the Block I as an official logo.  How much can you really do with a Block I?  You don’t want it in italics.  You can’t add a bunch of bling.  They’re probably afraid to add any flourishes like feathers that might offend sensitivities of the anti-Illini crowd.  At least we’re pretty much the only ‘I’ team in orange and blue.

Football has been picking up steam in recruiting, no doubt about it.  Coach Beckman went out to COMPETE! and landed Bolingbrook Quarterback, Aaron Bailey, who will be great in the spread and is considered one of the nation’s top dual-threat QBs.  The Illini have also added a number of defensive lineman and defensive backs, some O-lineman, and running backs.  It’s a nice turn-around from the flailing about that marked then end of the Zook tenure, and people who know recruiting seem encouraged. Continue reading

London Not Calling

This one hurts.  This is the soccer equivalent of getting beat on a half-court shot by a much lower seed.  This wasn’t supposed to happen.

El Salvador’s final push in the waning seconds of stoppage time, after the US had already come back from being a goal down to take a 3-2 lead and ensure passage to the semi-finals, should not have happened.  One of the players could have booted the ball into the stands to deny them possession.  That final build-up by El Salvador could have been squashed if the rest of the team only hustled back and defended a final time.  Why didn’t someone close out the guy with ball?  Why even give him a shot?  And Sean Johnson – a fine young keeper for the Chicago Fire – certainly should have punched that ball away to avoid spilling the save.  He did not.

El Sal 3, USA 3, and we’re out of contention for the Olympics.

I’ll admit it – I bought into the hype of this team.  Lauded as our first truly professional Olympic aged team, these guys boast a number of players who’ve been capped on the full National Team.  Players for European leagues, Mexico, and mostly MLS.  Caleb Porter, renowned coach at Akron, who’s won multiple NCAA titles and put numerous players through his system into the pros.  Attackers to spare.  The heirs to Tim Howards goal-keeping mantle… Continue reading

Positive Week for US Soccer

This past Wednesday was a very good day for American soccer.  Start with the historic 1-0 win by the senior Men’s side in Genoa – the first every victory over Italy, and on European soil no less.  At the same time, the Women’s team thrashed Denmark 5-0 as they continue to prepare for the Olympics.  Then, a few hours later in Dallas, the Under-23 (Olympic) Men’s team dominated Mexico en route to a 2-0 win.

What stood out in the Italy game was the play of Michael Bradley in midfield.  He looks to have taken a step forward – especially in terms of his vision up the field and ability to play out of pressure.  It’s ironic, really, that having his father fired as the US coach and his inability to catch on in England spurred him to improve.  Many players can’t or don’t accept adversity and learn from it.  MB was a very good player before; it was great to see an added sophistication in this match against Italy and really bodes well for World Cup qualifying. Continue reading

Why No JV?

We want Corona

While the US Soccer team was stumbling to another pair of losses in last week’s international window, young attacking mid Joe Benny Corona suited up for Mexico’s Under-22 team in a friendly.  Would Corona, who is also eligible to play for the USA and El Salvador, have had a tougher decision if the USA was also playing a U-22 game last week?   This begs the question – why doesn’t the US field a Junior Varsity (U22 or U23) team and schedule some friendlies?  And what would such a team look like right now?

Rather than rehash and analyze the losses to Costa Rica and Belgium (is it hypocritical to admit that you sorta miss the empty bucket?), we thought we’d look at some hypotheticals.  After all, the Olympics are next summer, and that is the official Under 23* tournament.  US Soccer will be fielding some kind of qualifying roster soon.  So realizing that some of the Olympic-age players are already firmly established on the full national team, realizing that the Fed has not yet named their Olympic Coach (or U20 for that matter), and admitting that I have not seen some of these players (other than highlights and on FIFA 11), here’s a stab at our current JV roster, with help from Wikipedia

Goalkeepers:  Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Samir Badr (FC Porto)

Defenders:  Timothy Chandler** (FC Nuremberg), Ike Opara (SJ Earthquakes), Perry Kitchen (D.C. United), Daniel Williams (SC Frieburg), Sheanon Williams (Philly Union), Sean Cunningham (Molde), John Anthony Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Zarek Valentin (Chivas USA)

Midfielders: The Freddy Adu** (Philly Union), Brek Shea** (FC Dallas), Josh Gatt (Molde), Fabian Hurzeler (Bayern Munich), Joe Gyau (Hoffenheim), Mixx Diskerud** (Stabaek), Michael Stephens (LA Galaxy), Danny Cruz (Houston Dynamo), Sebastian Lletget (West Ham), Joe Corona (Tijuana)

Forwards:  Juan Agudelo** (NY Red Bulls), Teal Bunbury** (KC Sporks), Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo), Adrian Ruelas (Jaguares de Chiapas), Bobby Wood (1860 Munich), Terrence Boyd (Dortmund), Villyan Bijev (Liverpool)

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Sometimes, when you have to travel you end up in nice hotels that like to charge you for everything.  Including wifi.  Including access to their ‘courtesy’ business center computers.  It continues to baffle me that you can get free internet in a Motel 6 but in higher end joints they gouge you mercilessly.  So I missed a few days, including…

  • Reminiscing on the 30th anniversary of U.S. Hockey’s Miracle on Ice.  NBC and ESPN had plenty of retrospective programming, which (despite the inherent cheese factor) still manages to give me goosebumps when Al Michaels makes his famous call.  The 80 Olympics were the first games I was old enough to pay attention to and, I remember how excited my Mom and Dad were with the hockey team, explaining how unlikely and difficult it all was.  Those Olympics were also when I started to get interested in geography and history.  All the maps and flags and the human interest stories detailing life in Finland or Switzerland for those athletes really piqued my interest and made me a lifelong Olympics fan.

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Chicago Olympic Smackdown

Chalkie (unofficial Chi-town Bid Masot)

In the end, not even the bedazzling glow of an appeal by beloved President Barack Obama could sway the International Olympic Committee.  Chicago is out, Rio is in.  So much for all those ‘Chalkie’ t-shirt sales.  So much for a new corruption fiasco revenue stream for Chi-town.  In a fitting bit of irony, the Chicago bid appears to have been out-politicked by the international community within the IOC.   Too bad we still don’t have Blago heading up our fine state; with him (and his hair) given free rein to implement the Chicago Way and work all the bid-angles along with Mayor Daley, who can doubt the IOC would’ve eventually been persuaded.

From where I’m sitting, south of I-80, this failure is a good thing.  Sure the Olympics would’ve brought jobs, cash, and publicity to Chicago, but at what price?  Veteran Tribune Columnist John Kass knows the score.  He was ready to invest heavily in T-shirt sales along these lines: ‘Chicago 2016’ on the front, ‘Terra Haute 2020’ on the back.  Why, you ask?  Because, as he so eloquently puts it:

As every Chicago politician knows, Terre Haute, Ind., is home to a federal prison. That’s where a few would be tossed after boodling their way to Olympic fortunes. And why 2020? That’s how long it would take for grand juries to do their work.

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Deserve’s Got Nothing To Do With It

Yeah, that’s what ol’ Clint as Will Munny told the nefarious Hackman before he blew him away in Unforgiven.

That’s what the U.S. Olympic Soccer team is telling themselves right now as they return to the states.

Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.

The U.S. didn’t really deserve to beat Japan.  They certainly did deserve to beat the Dutch in the second game but had to settle for the tie.  We can argue the merits of Michael Orozco’s red card in the third minute against Nigeria (the softest straight red I’ve ever seen), which pretty much led to defeat an elimination early Wednesday morning.  And the Dutch definitely did not, by God, deserve to beat Japan on a weak, weak penalty kick, thus ensuring the U.S.’s elimination.  But as Clint has told us…

So this Olympic soccer team was somewhat snakebitten.  Jon Spector out with injury, Jozy Altidore hampered by a sore ankle, Coach Nowak’s insistence on playing guys out of position.  Still there were a few bright spots: some good stretches by Holden, Kleijstan, Edu, Wynne, Parkhurst, Adu…  The way the midfield was able to dominate for long periods.

Now the question becomes how quickly some of these guys can be integrated with the full national team to prepare for the World Cup.  Unfortunately, with ultra-conservative Bob Bradley still at the helm, and judging by his most recent call-ups, we’ll have to wait awhile longer.

Steppin’ to the AM

Who gets up at 2:00 in the AM to watch Olympic Soccer?


Yeah, our boys were in action early (or late) Thursday for the preliminary rounds of Soccer’s run for the gold before the opening ceremonies began.  It was somewhat reminiscent of World Cup 2002, getting up early to watch the action from Asia.  And the first result was similar.  USA 1, Japan 0.

Stuart Holden with the game winning goal.

For this first match, the U.S. showed some patience and toughness and were a little lucky Japan choked in front of goal.  Man of the Match: Marvell Wynne at right back.  Next up, an early AM matchup with the Netherlands on Sunday. We’ll need more scoring punch and a few more breaks to beat the Orange.  Jozy and Freddy need to show up.  Join me, won’t you, in yelling goooooooooaalll!!! at 6:45 AM CST (I’ll be suffering at 4:45 Pacific).

RFK Trip

So there I am at RFK for the Superliga Match between D.C. United and Atlante (of the Mexican League).  This was the full 90 soccer experience, complete with pregame tailgate courtesy of Barra Brava, plenty of drums, beer, singing, and chanting.  Unfortunately D.C. lost 3-2. 

(photo from the new phone)

This game was so much more fun than the last baseball game I attended it wasn’t even funny.  A completely different experience.  When you go into the supporters section for a soccer match, it’s all about participation.  The guys welcomed me in, fed me some chips and beer, and didn’t even give me too much smack for being a Fire supporter every other day of the year.  Sort of reminded me of a really good college basketball or football game when you’re up and yelling the whole time. Continue reading

Olympic Qualies Update

The U.S. bumbled around in three group stage games, only managing three goals (two on penalty kicks) and generally looked bad. This being CONCACAF, though, we still won the group. Oh well could’ve been worse. Ask Mexico.

The boys didn’t look sharp or confident. They sure didn’t look organized. You have to wonder what Coach Peter Nowak is thinking playing the 4-5-1. A lot of us were hoping for the 4-3-3, but Jozy Altidore found himself stranded alone far too often. A 4-4-2 with Freddy Adu at attacking midfield would be nice too; unfortunately Nowak just had so many guys out of position and there was so much bad passing, we just weren’t going to see any sexy football.

Speaking of which, the highlight of the group stage for the U.S. was clearly the pseudo-streaker. What–you didn’t see? Check her out after the bump…

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