De Nada, Neighbor

If you aren’t lucky or obsessive enough to have BeIN Sports or Galavision, you missed a unique bit of sports drama that only rolls around every four years or so.  Tuesday night, the final games of Concacaf World Cup Qualifying occurred – all games starting at the same time to avoid any shenanigans.  The USA qualified a month ago and were only playing for the shirt and microscopic hopes of being seed in Brazil next summer.  Costa Rica – already qualified; but for Honduras, Panama, and Mexico, these matches were win or go home.

Honduras dispatched Jamaica without much trouble, leaving Mexico (playing at Costa Rica) and Panama (playing  at home against the US) left to duke it out for the chance to play New Zealand in a home and home series for the final slot in the World Cup.  Panama and Mexico were only a point apart in the standings, meaning all Mexico needed to do was tie or win.  Panama, playing a US team made up almost entirely of younger, B-squad players, needed to win and hope El Tri lost.

The USA didn’t play all that well for most of the match, and Panama took the lead in the first half.  Minutes later, the stadium erupted as news came across that Costa Rica had taken the lead over Mexico.  Not long after, Mexico equalized, and the stadium was eerily quiet.  The US played better in the second half and looked likely to score. Sure enough, Michael Orozco scored on a set piece and the Mexicans were celebrating.  They were double safe with the U.S. tying Panama and themselves tied with Costa Rica.  Ah, but Costa Rica scored again about 10 minutes later.  Again, in Panama, you could feel the electricity, and sure enough Luis Tejada jumped on a loose ball in the box and slammed it home in the 83rd minute.  Unbelievable scene.  Panama was ahead again, 2-1, and through. Continue reading

Dos a Cero – again

It’s like a ritual – one the Mexican Soccer team could just as soon do without.  Every four years El Tri heads north to take on their rivals in the US for a World Cup qualifier in Columbus, OH.  And the USA wins 2-0.  Once again last night, Team America took a few early punches before striking back with authority to score two goals.  This is the fourth straight time for this scoreline in Crew Stadium in the Hex – going back to 2001.  And it should have been 3-0, but Clint Dempsey missed a penalty in the dying moments:

“It’s this mystical thing. It’s like this ghost.  Clint missed that penalty and I feel like there was something that’s haunting (for) that to happen on purpose because just to keep that Dos a Cero.  What is that, four straight now? That’s crazy, it’s unbelievable, it’s such a weird thing, but we’ll take it any day, all day.” – US Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya


Continue reading

Drama in C-bus

Forget the Red Sox-Yankees, Michigan-Notre Dame, or any of the pre-packaged NFL rivalries.  The biggest most intense rivalry of the season is on display tomorrow night (Tuesday, 7 pm CST, ESPN2).  That’s right it’s USA v. Mexico with a World Cup entry on the line.

This was the game we were supposed to attend in person; however, tickets sold out in record time and our name did not come up on the lottery.  So we will have to be content with watching on TV.  Join us, and you won’t be disappointed.

For Jurgen Klinsmann and Co., it’s time to solidify a trip to Brazil with time to spare and stick it to El Tri.  For Mexico, this is a chance to kick-start a late surge towards the World Cup now that ineffective coach Chepo De La Torre finally got the axe.  Several interesting sub-plots on the line…

Columbus Mystique:  Since that faithful snow-bound day over 12 years ago, Columbus has been the designated home site for US wins over Mexico in World Cup Qualifying.  Crew Stadium – the original MLS soccer-specific venue, will feature a rabid pro-American crowd, even if the weather is likely to be downright sub-tropical.  Thanks to recent success by both MLS and the National Team, Columbus is no longer one of the only places to feature a heavily pro-US fan atmosphere.  Ohio was the original, though, and we’re hoping the winning vibe can continue this round. Continue reading

Pentagram: Utility Wins for the USA

US Soccer can see Brazil on the horizon.  Thanks to two wins in the last week, last Friday’s 2-1 victory in Jamaica and Tuesday night’s 2-0 defeat of Panama in Seattle, Jurgen Klinsmann and co. are top of the Hex in World Cup Qualifying.  The team has 10 points from five games over this first stretch that included three road games.  16 points has guaranteed qualification in past cycles, and with a majority of home games remaining, a win next Tues. over Honduras and the team can shift emphasis a bit.  It will be more about building the team and less worrying about getting to Brazil next summer.

The team also looks much, much better.  A number of factors contribute here:  time together, diminished quality of opponents, and a likely change in some coaching/communication methods.  The key component has been the emergence of important utility players, who have stepped into new or less familiar roles.  This can be a tricky proposition; oftentimes when you play guys outside their natural or familiar club position, they’re tentative or ineffective.  But Jurgen seems to have pushed the right buttons in this case, and his plug-and-play lineups have succeeded – at least against these regional opponents.

Five points for your two World Cup Qualifier utility wins…  Continue reading

Point Made, Jurgen

Jurgen can’t dance

USA Soccer enters a busy summer with a late May – early June stretch that includes three World Cup Qualifiers and a couple of high profile (money grab) friendlies.  Those vital qualifiers feature matches at Jamaica (June 7), then a pair of home games against Panama (June 11) and Honduras (June 18).  Team America should be angling toward a couple of wins and a tie in June, which would essentially qualify the team for next summer’s World Cup in Brazil.  If they stumble badly, though, qualification could be in doubt.

Seems like a pretty important stretch.  Seems like you’d want your full-strength squad.  So why has head coach Jurgen Klinsmann left Landon Donovan off the roster?

Here’s the squad:

GOALKEEPERS (6) : Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tally Hall (Houston Dynamo), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Tim Howard (Everton), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (8) : DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Michael Parkhurst (Augsburg)
MIDFIELDERS (10) : Michael Bradley (Roma), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Maurice Edu (Bursaspor), Stuart Holden (Bolton), Jermaine Jones (Schalke), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Brek Shea (Stoke City), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FORWARDS (5) : Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Clint Dempsey (Tottenham Hotspur), Herculez Gomez (Santos), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC)

No room for the greatest American men’s soccer player?  You mean to tell us, Jurgen, you believe these 15 forwards and midfielders in camp are better than Landon Donovan?   Continue reading

The Hex – @ Azteca

The 0-0 draw in Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca felt like a win for the U.S. Soccer team last week.  Excellent performances by Omar Gonzalez, DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley, and Brad Guzan, as well as a non-PK call that goes the other way nine times out of ten on the road…

And just like that, World Cup Qualification and the great Klinsmann Project seem a whole lot less precarious.  Especially considering how many key U.S. players were out with injuries; especially considering the way the back-end of the Hex schedule falls with home games.

But we’d like to give a special shout-out to the 500 or so fans who braved the vitriol in the Azteca to support the team.  As documented by the excellent KickTV series, ‘The Hex’, this looks like something I might have tried ten or so years ago…

But for now, looks like we will have to satisfy ourselves with the home match against Mexico, which will be September 10 in Columbus.  Wouldn’t miss it.

clap-clap, Sport!

Yesterday was a big day for sports in Beemsville.  The two teams we the care the most about, the two teams we follow with rabid devotion, both had vital matches yesterday.  When does that happen?  Both won and both won ugly.  When does that happen?

Illinois basketball, 57-49 over Colorado in the 2nd round of the NCAAs.

USA Soccer, 1-0 over Costa Rica in the final round of World Cup Qualifying.  In a freaking blizzard!

This strange confluence of sporting events is sort of like the visit of a comet or a particularly obscure distant relative.  It can only occur every few years, if the Illini are in the tournament on the same day the USA is trying to make the World Cup… Continue reading

Pentagram: 3 points from Jah-mon

A year and-a-half into the Juergen Klinsmann experience and and we’re starting to have the same criticism of him as we often leveled on his predecessor, Bob Bradley.  He’s over-reliant on certain of his guys.  He gets the tactics wrong or can’t get the team to adjust.  He plays too many friggin’ defensive midfielders!

Where we are now as a result:  tied atop the standings of our World Cup Qualifying group with one round of two games to play.  Tied with Jamaica and Guatemala, but not looking all that convincing, with lots of questions on the horizon.

Last Friday’s 2-1 loss in Kingston followed by Tuesday’s 1-0 win in Columbus split both the points and the goals evenly with the Jamaicans.  As a pragmatist, this is just fine – especially when factoring in the lack of Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan due to injury.  But when considering how the USA played and how Klinsmann coached, well…  Next year’s hexagonal round of qualifying (assuming we handle tiny Antigua on the road and Guatemala at home next month) looks a whole lot rougher.

Five points in a double-Jamaican rum shot pentagram… Continue reading

Pentagram: Four Points Earned

Herc is now your #9

The US Soccer Team took its first steps on the road to the World Cup Finals in Brazil.  And they’re tired already.  Last Friday’s 3-1 win over Antigua and Barbuda, followed by Tuesday’s 1-1 draw in Guatemala, served the reminder that qualifying, while mandatory, ain’t easy.  It’s the same old mantra for qualifying out of our region:  win at home, draw on the road.

Juergen Klinsmann will take the results.  He will also have to take some of the criticism, because the team looked pretty underwhelming and was actually pretty fortunate not to lose that last game.  The players were obviously tired, from Juergen’s demanding fitness schedule following long club seasons.  Roster/player selections were an issue, as were some of the deployments and tactics.  While we applaud the overall strategy and philosophy the coach is trying to implement, a year in and we’re still wary…

But the team is off until September, when it will play Jamaica twice in five days.  Win at home, draw on the road, get to the next round.  Still, we need to improve depth and the offensive gameplan to win the Hex and arrive at Brazil in position to make some noise.

Five points in the pentagram…

Continue reading

Soccer Sunday and Such

MLS Cup kicks off in about two hours, featuring the back-from-the-dead L.A. Galaxy, last year’s dysfunctional laughing stock, vs. hot-at-the-right-time Real Salt Lake – they of the many merry midfielders.  The news from Seattle is the locals have embraced the championship with nearly as much vigor as they took to their Sounders this year, and 40,000 are expected despite the crap weather.  Good news for MLS.  Even better news if the Galaxy pulls it off – what a fitting final chapter to this whole Beckham Experiment thing.  But Salt Lake has only beat two of the supposedly best/most talented teams in Columbus and Chicago to get here, and anyone who’s watched them the past month knows they are fully capable of controlling play and scoring goals.

 Of course Beckham is carrying an injury (say this for the man – he knows drama) and could be fairly limited.  He’s likely one crunching Kyle Beckerman tackle from being out.  The real key to this match of course is league MVP Landon Donovan.  Salt Lake will be completely fixated on denying him the ball, but that might not be enough.  And maybe it opens the way for someone like Mike Magee or Alan Gordon to be the hero.  I’ve been predicting L.A. would win it all for months (just thought they’d be playing the Fire) so I won’t change my pick now.

In other  news, FIFA denied Ireland’s request for a reply against France after now-infamous Hand-of-Frog, featuring Thierry Henry (video after the bump).  Of course what else are FIFA going to do?  Admit that it’s time to employ instant-replay and other technology to prevent these kinds of mistakes?  Yeah, right.  It’s going to take something like this at the actual World Cup before they move forward. Continue reading