Fail Sportscenter

With Sportscenter on in the background this morning, and we’re waiting for some MLS Cup coverage.  Never heard it; never saw it..  ESPN – you fail.  Again.

Plenty of analysis on mediocre NFL Quarterbacks, reactions to the College Football playoffs.  Plenty of noise about QBs who aren’t even playing – Manzeil and RGIII.  But three good minutes on the championship of Major League Soccer?  Not saying it wasn’t in there somewhere, but I sure didn’t see it.

And it’s not like they were lacking stories…  Back and forth match, extra time heroics from Keane, and Landon’s final game! Continue reading

Looking at the footsballs

TV executives know we’re home and watching, and they oblige us…  Lots of sports programming available for consumption, and in Beemsville that meant Fighting Illini basketball the last two evenings.  Nice wins over Indiana State and Baylor to take the Las Vegas Invitational tourney.  This hoops team is Aggressive with a big ‘A’, allowing them to win even when shooting poorly.  Very fun to watch, and we’ll break them down later.

This morning we have some English Premier League.  No games really stand out this weekend, but hey, it’s on.  Then we have Illinois vs. Northwestern at 11:00.  Two 5-6 teams battling for a low-level bowl…  Battling for the Abe Lincoln LOL Hat…  Battling for state supremacy (not really, because NIU is better than either)…   It’s the Illinois Pension-Reform Bowl.  Whoever wins, the citizenry come out a little poorer…  And yes, most likely, Tim Beckman’s job hangs in the balance.  Like any true Illini fan, I’ll be rooting hard to beat Fitzee and the ‘Cats, but as an objective watcher of the program, I won’t be too sad if a loss initiates a coaching change.

This afternoon we have the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference Playoffs:  New England vs. New York in Foxborough.  The Red Bulls are down 2-1, needing some goals, and their top scorer is out with yellow cards.  Can the old warhorses, Henry and Cahill summon forth the magic again?  Tomorrow we get Seattle vs. LA from Century Link Field in the Western Conference.  The Galaxy hold the 1-0 advantage here and looked much the better team in the first leg, but Seattle are so tough at home.  LA will have to score to close this out because the Sounders are going to get some goals.  Should be a fun one:  Dempsey, Martins, and Yedlin v. Donovan, Keane, and Gonzalez.

Once More, LD

Tonight at 6:00 CST on ESPN, Landon Donovan will suit up for the US Men’s National Team a final time.  This match against Ecuador in Hartford, CT, will feature mostly younger, fringe-type players due to MLS’s proximity to the play-offs.  But Landon will be there, for about 30 minutes or so, according to the media.

Don’t be surprised if he scores or assists in that time.  He may be about to retire, but at 32 he still has a lot to offer – among the MLS leaders for assists this season – still capable of that burst of speed or game-changing play.  And as the USA’s career goal scoring and assists leader, as the face of the sport in this country as MLS has grown to legitimacy and more Americans have embrace soccer, you’re going to hear a lot of gushing on the broadcast, ESPN, and elsewhere.

For a lot of folks in my peer group, Landon’s career has coincided with our fandom.  He was the up-and-comer after the 1998 World Cup, on the big stage in Korea, and the guy at the top of the other team’s clipboard for the next twelve years.  We wanted him in Brazil this summer, and I still believe we could have done better down there with LD in the 10 shirt. Continue reading

Coaching Class E License – Prep Work

A friend and I have been coaching rec league soccer at the YMCA for our boys the last two years.  This summer we decided to try and take some of our players and form a competitive team to play in local soccer tournaments in our area.  We have a good central group of kids, and the the thought is we can find a handful of other good players from the Y teams in our age group to fill out our roster.

So far so good.  We decided to sign up for the Illinois Class E Coaching License – a two day course focused on ages 9-12, sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation.  We figure this will help us improve our training sessions and overall coaching.  This weekend we’ll be at the course, but prior to that we had prep work to complete.

The prep work consists of three main assignments:  Rules of the Game/Referee Introduction, Concussion Awareness, and Coaching Philosophy/Team Management.

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USA World Cup Scrub

Yedlin = the Future

A couple of days since the USA Soccer team exited the World Cup – beat by a better team in Belgium, but defiant and unbroken in the end.  Everyone has acknowledged the brilliance of Tim Howard, the heart and drive of the field players, as well as their lack of possession and  finishing.  As much as the Team America was outplayed on the ball by Beligum, had Wondolowski and Dempsey scored on a couple of key chances, we could well be talking about one more game against Messi and Argentina.  SI.com’s Grant Wahl summed up the match very nicely (as usual).

Meanwhile, as mass attention begins to drift away from the team, the die hard American fans have begun the debate on strategy and tactics.  We made it out of the Group of Death – unexpected by most.  But we did so playing typically gritty, defensive-minded and opportunistic soccer.  This is not how Jurgen Klinsmann said we would play.  Did we make it to the knock-out rounds because of the coaching staff’s approach and preparations, or in spite of their tactics and roster selections?   Continue reading

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.

Five Points from the Send-off Series

Less than a week from today, the U.S. Soccer team will take the field for their first World Cup match against Ghana.  That will be at 5 pm CST on Monday, so plan to leave work early.  Juergen Klinsmann has had his team together for three-plus weeks, he’s controversially cut Landon Donovan, and he’s  led the team to three wins in the send-off series against progressively more difficult opponents. The 2-0 win against Azerbaijan was a snoozer.   The back line didn’t have much to do, the offense looked rough amidst tired legs, and Mix Diskerud and Aron Johannsson  go the goals.  The next game, against Turkey, was more instructive.  Here the back line looked a little disorganized and loose, while Jermaine Jones had too much to do at the base of the diamond midfield.  But the offense looked better, more fluid, and the Bradley-to-Johnson goal was as good as you’ll see:

2-1, USA, with more for the coaches to think about.  This past Saturday, the team took on Nigeria, who will also be in Brazil and are easily the best opponent of the three.  This 2-1 win was pretty convincing, and should have us all feeling a lot more positive.  The defense looked stout, the attacking movements were there, and Jozy Altidore scored twice to break out of his slump.  If you had asked what we wanted out of the Nigeria game, those preceding three points are it.

So now it’s on to the grand stage.  The wait is nearly over.  It’s gut-check time.  Insert additional cliche here.  Ghana, Portugal, and Germany are on the horizon.  Here’s your U.S. Soccer Send-off Series Pentagram, with five points to consider…

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