A disappointing weekend for Team USA. Another early defensive breakdown put the team behind early. They rallied after halftime and controlled the second half, but could only manage a Landon Donovan penalty to tie. Then, in overtime, another quick breakdown and Ghana was able to weather the storm and prevail 2–1 in 120+ minutes.
There were quick charges that coach Bob Bradley should not return, as the early defensive errors are easiest to explain by blaming the coach. It’s good to see the American sports press has learned something from the world soccer press, who greet every loss with immediate questions about the coach’s future.
I tend to like Bradley, and think he deserves a chance to take this team, which is loaded with young talent, through at least the next two years before World Cup qualifying begins again. But if someone better is out there, perhaps it is time to give him a chance and have two years to implement his system and get to know the pool of players he’ll begin qualifying for Brazil ‘14 with.
That bit of unpleasantness aside, this was a fun US team to watch. They were very strong in the middle of the field, which balanced their weakness in the back and failure to produce in the front. But even at their weak points, this was finally a US team that was both talented and experienced enough to compete with anyone in the world. The tide is turning in US soccer, and I think going forward, we should always expect to get out of the group stage and be a threat to go deep into the knockout phase. We’re finally seeing the classic great American athlete make an impact on the national team. There aren’t many teams as fast and physical as the US. We just need some more technical skill and we’ll be a team that is a threat to win each time they take the field.
Props to Ghana, a fun team to watch, for giving Africa someone to cheer for in this World Cup.
Sunday’s games were fantastic. The Germany-England game had everything. The Germans dominated early, and you could sense hearts breaking all over England when the Germans went up 2–0. But the English quickly got a goal back, and moments later Frank Lampard appeared to score on a gorgeous volley from outside the box. Only the referee and sideline official missed it and were faked out by the German goalie who played the rebound of the crossbar as if it had never crossed the goal line. No matter, England controlled the next 10 minutes of the game, pressing forward and putting the German defense on its toes. It seemed like a matter of time before they equalized.
Then came halftime, the Germans regrouped, and got back to their ass-kicking ways in the second half, going on to win 4–1. It was a terrific game of attacking soccer by both teams, a welcome event in a tournament that has seen too many teams satisfied with laying back and hoping for a 1–0 win. Germany announced that they are a contender this year, despite their youth. And England showed, once again, that despite having a wonderful collection of talent, they still struggle to turn that talent into a national side that can win at the World Cup or European championships.
I bet I was not the only viewer who both found some irony in the German roster and was a bit taken aback by it. Germany features two players that were born in Poland. A player of African descent. A son of Turkish immigrants. A dark-skinned Brazilian. And another player named Mario Gomez. The Germans! The country that started the most destructive war in world history with racial superiority as one of its motivating causes. Kind of weird. There is perhaps no greater sign of how small a world we live in as a German national soccer team that comes no where near being 100% Aryan. Good on the Germans! I hope Hitler is rolling over in his grave.
The second game featured Argentina, a pre-tournament favorite, and Mexico, my dark horse to go deep. I watched most of the first half from the gym, so I missed some of the details, but again we were treated to terrific, attacking soccer by both teams. And, again, the officiating played a major role in the game. While the missed England goal was defensible – it came on a long shot with both officials away from the goal – some of the errors in the ARG-MEX game were awful, most notably Argentina’s first goal. Carlos Tevez was clearly offside, behind every Mexican defender and the goalie, yet his goal stood.
Whatever chance the Mexicans had to hang with Argentina went up in flames when they spent five minutes chasing and screaming at the officials. They might have the talent to play with Argentina, but it takes a perfect mental game to knock off a favorite. Argentina added a second soon after the first, and cruised to a 3–1 win. The Germany-Argentina quarterfinal game should be something else.
Sunday’s games could bode well for what we’ll see the next two days. Perhaps we’ll finally see the Netherlands break a game open. The other three games – Brazil-Chile, Paraguay-Japan, and Spain-Portugal – all have the potential to be wide-open affairs. Hopefully those teams and their coaches will be willing to open things up and go for the win, rather than play typical safe Word Cup soccer.