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In the most ironic twist in the history of the U.S.-Mexico rivalry, the Americans kept the Mexicans’ World Cup hopes alive by scoring two goals in added-on time to beat host Panama on the final night of the CONCACAF hexagonal. The USA’s dramatic 3-2 victory eliminated the Panamanians and sent Mexico into a home-and-home playoff with Oceania winner New Zealand next month.
With Mexico playing out the final moments of its 2-1 defeat at Costa Rica, midfielder Graham Zusi scored in the 92nd minute and substitute forward Aron Johannsson produced the winner a minute later to stun the crowd at Panama City’s Estadio Rommel Fernandez.
Had Panama, which was attempting to qualify for its first-ever World Cup, held on for the win, it would have finished fourth and earned the meeting with New Zealand. Mexico would have finished tied with Panama on points (11-11), tied on goal difference (-2) but eliminated because Panama would have held a 10-7 edge in total goals scored.
The U.S., which qualified two games ago, finished the final round of the regional qualifiers in first place (7-2-1, 22 points), followed by fellow qualifiers Costa Rica (5-2-3, 18 points) and Honduras (4-3-3, 15 points), then Mexico (2-3-5, 11 points), Panama (1-4-5, 8 points) and Jamaica (0-5-5, 5 points). [October 15]
Comment: Turning on its own national team in hard times has long been a tradition in Mexico, so when it comes to the bitter running battle between El Tri and the United States, there’s really no reason for Americans to bother hurling the barbs and insults at Mexico–let the Mexicans do it themselves.
The most recent and perhaps best example came during the TV Azteca broadcast of the Costa Rica-Mexico match, which at the end went to a split screen so viewers could see the end of the Panama-U.S. game and perhaps say their prayers.
First listen to the delirious Mexican announcers, one even breaking into English at one point . . .
And now read a transcript of the call . . .
“GOOOOOOAAAAAL!!! GOOOOOOAAAAAL BY THE U.S.!!!
“We love you! We love you forever and ever! God bless America! The USA puts us in the playoffs!
“It is because of the USA that we are being placed in the playoff . . . because of them, not due to you! Not any of you in the green shirts. It was them–not you! They did it, not you!
“Remember this forever. Keep this clearly in mind for the rest of your lives. You do nothing for the shirt, you do not put any effort for the team, you have not placed us in the World Cup, you would not have kept us alive.
“It was the U.S., not you! Not you and your arrogance, not you and your infamy, not you and your punks.
“It is a failure . . . and undeserved. We had no arguments to earn the playoffs. The USA, with subs, and many subs as the visiting team, shows us once again what the USA is all about . . . how to play this game with dignity, how to approach the sport.
“Mexico is a horror, just terrible. A failure.
“GOOOOOOAAAAAL [as Johannsson scores to put the U.S. ahead]!!! GOOOOOOAAAAAL by the U.S.!!! We are in the playoffs! The U.S. did it so we can keep criticizing [Mexico]!
“So we can say that the U.S. has surpassed us. They are better than Mexico in soccer. They even have the luxury of playing their subs and keeping us alive. I hope our coach wears the pants and resigns. He has failed as a coach of the national team.”
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Defending world champion Spain, Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Belgium and Switzerland will join host Brazil as the seeded nations for the 32-team World Cup next year.
FIFA announced earlier in the month that the top teams in its October rankings–along with Brazil–would be placed at the head of each of the first round groups for the draw, which will be conducted December 6 in Bahia. The only twist involves No. 6-rated Uruguay, which must defeat Jordan in a home-and-home playoff to qualify. If the Uruguayans fail, then No. 8 Holland gets the seed. Italy is officially tied for No. 8, but it trails the Dutch by decimal points.
The previous World Cup seeding formula took into account a nation’s performance in previous World Cups as well as its ranking. [October 17]
Comment: U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann created a stir on September 22 when, in an interview with NBC Sports Network during halftime of an MLS match between Seattle and Los Angeles, he seemingly did his best to lower expectations for his team at Brasil ’14. Asked whether the U.S., which would go on to finish first in CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifying competition, could win it all, Klinsmann replied, “No, you’ve got to be realistic. I mean, I think we have the potential, obviously like in the past, to get out of the group stage–it depends, obviously, on who you have in your group, and then it’s all down to 50-50 games. Then you give the real battles in the knockout stage.”
An affront to the sensibilities of Americans, who have a history of playing to win all the time regardless of the odds? A lowering of the bar to the point where a quarterfinal appearance would appear to be a spectacular triumph? Even the American Outlaws with the most rose-colored of glasses know the U.S. won’t be lifting the FIFA World Cup trophy July 13. However, the October FIFA rankings added some weight to Klinsmann’s remarks. The U.S., ranked 13th, had a half-dozen nations between it and what would’ve been only its third seeding in World Cup history (the first World Cup, in 1930, and 1994, when it was host). And when it comes to the World Cup, getting a seeding is at least fine silver, if not gold. In the 19 previous World Cups, only two unseeded nations have gone on to become the champion: West Germany, in what remains the biggest upset ever, in 1954, and Argentina in 1986, thanks to the play of the greatest player of his time, Diego Maradona.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: AC Milan, American Outlaws, Argentina, Brazilian National Team, Chile, EA Sport, Electronic Arts Inc., FIFA Soccer 12, FIFA Soccer 13, FIFA Soccer 14, George Weah, La Barra Brava, Liverpool, Marco Van Basten, North America, Paolo Maldini, Pele, Ruud Gullit, The Simplest Game
Electronic Arts Inc. has announced that its FIFA Soccer 14 video game, set for release in North America on September 24, will for the first time feature all-time greats such as Pele, Ruud Gullit, Paolo Maldini, Marco van Basten and George Weah, as well as the Brazilian National Team. In all, the 2014 version will draw on 33 officially licensed leagues and more than 600 clubs and 16,000 players. Among the newcomers are the Argentine and Chilean first divisions.
The 2013 version of EA Sport’s FIFA Soccer video game sold 353,000 copies the day of its launch in the U.S. last September, a 42-percent increase from the 2012 edition. By January, EA reported that its FIFA Soccer 13 had sold 12 million units, up 23 percent from the same period for FIFA Soccer 12. [August 20]
Comment: It was called “The Simplest Game” during its beginnings as an organized sport in the 19th century, but it took high tech to lift soccer in this country to its current standing.
Without soccer news and league and club sites available via the worldwide web, American fans trying (and usually failing) to follow soccer would still be at the mercy of hidebound sports editors and sportscasters here who were indifferent or even hostile toward the game.
Without the cable TV explosion, American viewers would still be limited to the occasional match with Spanish language commentary–live or perhaps delayed by as many as two weeks.
Without social media, there would be no way for huge groups of fans to assemble, organize, and call themselves things like “American Outlaws” or “La Barra Brava.” Throwing a viewing party at the local soccer-friendly bar for a big match would be a word-of-mouth proposition.
Consider EA Sports’ FIFA Soccer franchise, then, gravy, but a vital gravy.
EA’s soccer video game, introduced in 1993, has become a sensation among the U.S. college crowd–the kids who have played soccer, understand it and, after they graduate and somehow find gainful employment, can buy tickets behind a goal to support the local MLS club or, more likely, keep the local barkeep happy while cheering on televised heroes many time zones away.
But EA and their competitors are also converting the previously unconverted, the young adults who’ve never played soccer–or were turned off back when they tried. Soccer can be very, very off-putting to anyone who has never played it. The fitness required is daunting to the outsider, and the skills required are beyond daunting. So imagine the enormous gulf bridged when a college sophomore with two left feet but two healthy thumbs can control the destiny of Liverpool or AC Milan. Suddenly, electronically, while burning up at least two calories a minute, he’s in the middle of a high-profile match, surrounded by a passionate crowd, and–somewhat–in control.
The American youth soccer boom has been generating an increasing number of adult passengers since it got underway in the 1970s. Credit things like video games with picking up even the stragglers. If you live in a country with a true soccer culture, you can easily become a fan–even a rabid fan–without having to have played the game; in a country like the United States, you have to. Thanks to high tech, everyone, from the college’s star midfielder to the couch potato in the dorm room next door who can’t juggle a ball beyond one touch, can look you in the eye and say, “You kidding? Of course I play soccer.”
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Atlanta, Chivas USA, Deep South, Detroit, Don Garber, English Premier League, German Bundesliga, Icarus, Italian Serie A, Kansas City, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, Minneapolis, NBA, New York City FC, NFL, NHL, North American Soccer League, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Sacramento, Spanish La Liga, Toronto FC
Major League Soccer will expand to 24 teams by 2020.
League Commissioner Don Garber made that announcement during a TV interview at halftime of his league’s all-star game in Kansas City. It comes on the heels of the addition of New York City FC for the 2015 season, which was believed to cap the number of MLS teams at 20. The goal of two dozen teams opens the door for hopefuls such as Orlando, Detroit, Atlanta, Sacramento, Oklahoma City and Minneapolis, whose representatives have been trying to woo MLS in recent months.
“As MLS enters a period of accelerated growth, the addition of new teams will allow us to expand our geographic coverage, grow our fan base and help us achieve our vision of being among the best leagues in the world by 2022,” said Garber. [July 31]
Comment: Sheer folly.
Without promotion/relegation–and there will never be promotion/relegation involving MLS–even the idea of 20 teams, let alone 24, is ridiculous.
Twenty-four teams would make MLS the world’s biggest top-flight soccer circuit. Impressive distinction. But there are reasons why leagues with pro/rel in soccer-mad countries–the Italian Serie A, Spain’s La Liga, the English Premier League, the German Bundesliga 1, the Brasileiro Serie A, etc.–limit membership to 18 or 20 clubs.
Never mind the questionable potential or track records of the possible MLS markets being discussed. Just go with the numbers. Twenty-four teams? That means that if each team magically takes turns winning an MLS Cup, the fans in an exemplary market like Portland, where the Timbers are on a 45-game home sellout streak, will have to wait more than a generation between league championships. Throw in a mini-dynasty by a team from a glamorous market like (gulp) Oklahoma City or Sacramento and the wait is even longer. Meanwhile, without promotion/relegation, troubled teams like Chivas USA and Toronto FC, with 10 or more opponents ahead of them in the conference standings, can continue to stink up the bottom of the league into perpetuity while their dwindling, hopeless fan bases look on.
So how does Garber adequately cover two enormous countries while keeping fans of losing teams engaged? He can’t continue to expand the playoffs–he already throws around playoff berths like penny candy. He should leave things, then, at an already bloated 20. And if he must restore MLS’s presence in the Deep South, he should convince the league’s biggest problem child, Chivas USA, to arrange a move to Atlanta or even Orlando (even though Florida has proven to be the black hole of pro soccer over the past three decades). Moving a team may be seen as a sign of weakness, but it’s the magic formula used for ages by Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA and NHL whenever there’s a need to leverage a new stadium or favorable ownership change–or simply scare former fans into showing up again.
It is hoped that Garber and the MLS Board of Governors come to the realization that their league doesn’t have to be anywhere close to the NFL (32 teams), Major League Baseball (30), the NBA (30) or the NHL (30) in membership to be considered major league. Heck, the NHL was considered major league back in the mid-1960s when it had six teams; it earned that distinction by presenting a major league product. But if Garber is hell-bent on expanding to two dozen teams, he should have one last look at the U.S. soccer history books. The last soccer league here to grow to 24 was another without promotion/relegation, the North American Soccer League, in 1978. Within two years, three weak sisters went belly up, and the panic was on. Within six years, there were seven left.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Alzheimer's disease, America, Aston Villa, Atlanta Chiefs, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Caribous of Colorado, Chicago Sting, Clive Toye, Cosmos, Dunwoody, English First Division, English Third Division, Franz Beckenbauer, Ga., George Best, Giorgio Chinaglia, Ian Woosnam, Johan Cruyff, Julio Cesar Romero, Leyton Orient, London, Los Angeles Aztecs, Major League Soccer, Miami Toros, Minnesota Kicks, National Professional Soccer League, North American Soccer League, Pele, Peter Beardsley, Phil Woosnam, prostate cancer, Soccer Bowl, Team America, Teofilo Cubillas, Total Soccer, Trans-Atlantic Challenge Cup, Trevor Francis, Vancouver Whitecaps, Wales, Welsh National Team, West Ham United, WorldCupUSA94, www.DaveBrett.com
Phil Woosnam, commissioner of the North American Soccer League during most of its 18-year run, died at age 80 in Dunwoody, Ga., of complications related to prostate cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, on July 19. The death was made public two days later.
Woosnam represented Wales on the schoolboy, youth and amateur levels before making 17 appearances for the full Welsh National Team from 1958 to 1963. A forward, he began his professional career with Leyton Orient–while doubling as a physics and mathematics teacher in London–and later played in the English First Division with West Ham United and Aston Villa.
Woosnam moved to America in 1966 and played in the pirate National Professional Soccer League before becoming player/coach/general manager of the Atlanta Chiefs of the new 17-team NASL in 1968. The league withered to five clubs in ’69, but under Woosnam, who was appointed commissioner two years later, the NASL mushroomed to 24 clubs in the U.S. and Canada, thanks in part to the acquisition of such international stars as Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff and George Best. The hard-charging Woosnam, perhaps best known here for his proclamation, “Soccer is the sport of the ’80s,” was dismissed as league boss in 1983, a year before the NASL’s final season. [July 21]
Comment: There can be no doubt that without Phil Woosnam, the evolution of soccer in this country would have been stalled for years. At one point, the NASL’s very survival came down to Woosnam and the man who later signed Pele, Clive Toye, hunkered down in the basement of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, trying to figure out their next move. Without the crowds of 60,000 and 70,000 the league occasionally drew, without the generation of promising young American players the league inspired, WorldCupUSA 94 might have become WorldCupUSA 06 and Major League Soccer’s debut might have been delayed to, well, a handful of years ago.
Mistakes were made, of course–mistakes MLS, to its credit, certainly learned from. But what raised the hackles of Woosnam and continues to get a rise out of the NASL’s former players and coaches is the suggestion that the league’s level of play was poor, that the NASL was a comfortable landing spot for aging superstars, a second chance for anonymous English Third Division players, a version of the sport degraded by transcontinental travel, summertime heat and humidity and artificial turf unfamiliar to its many imported players.
Though the NASL is long gone, you can judge for yourself. Go to http://www.DaveBrett.com Historic Soccer Videos and DVDs, which offers a treasure trove of soccer telecasts, including more than 300 NASL matches dating back to 1969. The recordings are for sale or trade, and trades are preferred. Contact Dave at DaveBrett@austin.rr.com
The long list of offerings includes the marathon 1974 championship game between the Los Angeles Aztecs and Miami Toros, the Minnesota Kicks’ crowd of 50,000 to see Pele and the Cosmos in 1976, the classic 1979 playoff semifinal between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Cosmos, the grand experiment that was Team America, and a game between the Chicago Sting and the team with the most wonderfully awful uniforms in the history of sports, the Caribous of Colorado. Of course, there’s plenty of Beckenbauer, Cruyff, Best, Teofilo Cubillas, Giorgio Chinaglia, Trevor Francis, and even a young Julio Cesar Romero and Peter Beardsley. There’s also Soccer Bowls, Trans-Atlantic Challenge Cup games and various friendlies against other clubs from abroad, and NASL highlight shows, plus matches with Spanish and French commentary. (For those so inclined, there are indoor, college and MLS games as well.)
The sport, as presented by Phil Woosnam, was indeed a different game, one that was adjusting to the advent of Total Soccer and other changes. But have a look. Those who experienced the NASL in person will get a pleasant reminder of how good and entertaining the league could be. And as for the MLS generation, it should be an eye opener.
Comment 2: Phil Woosnam was a cousin of golfer Ian Woosnam. Phil Woosnam was 4-4-1 as U.S. National Team coach in 1968. And in Phil Woosnam, has any other U.S. sports league had a commissioner who had more first-hand knowledge of his sport?
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup, Arlington Texas, Baltimore, Brasil '14, Cowboys Stadium, David Beckham, David Ginola, Eddie Johnson, El Salvador, Eric Cantona, Honduras, Juergen Klinsmann, Landon Donovan, Los Angeles Galaxy, M&T Bank Stadium, Mexico, MLS, MLS Cup, Panama, U.S. National Team, World Cup
The U.S. National Team advanced to the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals with a rousing 5-1 dismantling of El Salvador before a sellout crowd of more than 70,000 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
Attacking midfielder Landon Donovan scored once and set up three goals to lead the way. It gave the USA’s all-time scoring leader three goals and seven assists for the tournament and 54 goals and 55 assists for his career.
Donovan’s second assist came at the hour mark on a cross after a short corner kick, which substitute forward Eddie Johnson headed into the net with his very first touch.
The U.S., riding a record nine-game winning streak, will face Honduras on July 24 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Tex., as part of a semifinal doubleheader. The opener will feature Mexico against Panama. [July 21]
Comment: Possibly, just possibly, we’ll see Landon Donovan in a U.S. uniform in a World Cup qualifier later this year. Heck, maybe we’ll even see him at Brasil ’14, playing in his fourth World Cup.
That’s been the guarded view of many in the U.S. media of the best player ever produced by this country. He went on a very necessary months-long sabbatical from soccer after the Los Angeles Galaxy won last year’s MLS Cup, thus turning his back on the U.S. National Team and its first matches of the final round of CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifiers, as well as the first few weeks of the Galaxy’s 2013 season. Donovan returned in March, and after several MLS games, he was given a call-up by coach Juergen Klinsmann to play for the U.S.–essentially a “B” team–in the Gold Cup, a move seen by too many as something of an audition for a return to the full national team in time for the World Cup qualifying stretch drive.
An audition? Ridiculous.
This “story” goes in the same circular file as the attempts to pass judgement on David Beckham’s American adventure a couple of years into his five-year contract and the report months ago that the national team was in complete disarray and Klinsmann’s head belonged on the chopping block.
Donovan’s relationship with Klinsmann has been frosty since Klimsmann was hired in mid-2011, and this is nothing more than the prodigal son’s genuflection before the boss and the kissing of his ring. If Klinsmann can’t temporarily humble his biggest player for not being a good soldier, he’s not in charge. Barring injury or a complete crash and burn by the 31-year-old Donovan this summer, there has been no doubt in Klinsmann’s mind that the fleet-footed imp with 149 career international appearances will be part of the USA’s plans for 2013-14. This is America, after all. France can spit on Eric Cantona and David Ginola in putting together what would become its 1998 World Cup-winning squad in the interest of esprit de corps; the U.S. is not and never has been so deep.
To put it another way, if Donovan has been performing in some sort of tryout before Klinsmann during the Gold Cup, go all the way back to 1969 and the Beatles’ famous concert on the roof of Abby Road Studios in London. As John Lennon cheekily announced at the end, “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we passed the audition.” The audience of two dozen or so way up there that day laughed. Right now, Donovan is suppressing a laugh. So is a privately giddy Klinsmann.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 1996 Atlanta Games, Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Ali Daei, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, David Beckham, Denmark, England, Europe, Far East, Ferenc Puskas, FIFA Women's World Cup, FIFA Women's World Player of the Year, France, Gatorade, Germany, Harrison NJ, Holland, Italy, Japan, Johan Cruyff, Kristine Lilly, Lauren Cheney, Marco Van Basten, Megan Rapinoe, Mia Hamm, New Zealand, Nigeria, Nike, North Korea, Norway, Pele, Red Bull Arena, Scandinavia, South Korea, Sweden, U.S. National Women's Team, World Cup
Abby Wambach became the most prolific goal-scorer–male or female–in international soccer history when she scored four goals against South Korea in a friendly at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, as the U.S. rolled to a 5-0 victory.
All of Wambach’s goals were scored in the first half. Her third, which came in the 29th minute, gave her 159 for her career and put her past former U.S. teammate Mia Hamm.
The 33-year old scored the record-setter with a trademark diving header off a corner kick by midfielder Megan Rapinoe. A bench-clearing celebration followed as the crowd of 18,961 roared. She exited the match to another long ovation 13 minutes into the second half.
Wambach also passed Hamm in another category: The two had been tied at 38 career multi-goal games.
Wambach got even with Hamm with goals in the 10th and 19th minutes, both set up by Lauren Cheney. She capped her historic evening in first-half added-on time on a selfless pass by Alex Morgan.
At the moment, Wambach stands alone at 160 career international goals, followed by Hamm at 158. Among the men, Ali Daei of Iran (1993-2006) is on top with 109 goals in 149 appearances. Among European/South American males, Hungary’s Ferenc Puskas (1945-56) remains No. 1 with 84 in 85 matches, nearly a goal-per-game average. [June 20]
Comment: So who’s better, Abby Wambach or Mia Hamm, who retired in 2004 after 275 international appearances?
Hamm, of course, was an attacking midfielder, not a pure striker with the 5-foot-11 Wambach’s aerial ability in the penalty area. Hamm probably passed up several more goals, as her career assist total–144–suggests. (Wambach has 62; second on the U.S. list is the retired Kristine Lilly, 105). And while Wambach’s sheer drive, power and talent with her back to the goal are tremendous, Hamm could do it all in the attacking half, embarrassing a generation of would-be defenders in the process. In another country, Holland, among men, this would be a comparison between strike master Marco Van Basten and one of the most complete players of all time, Johan Cruyff. (For the record, Van Basten scored 37 goals in 73 games for the Dutch, Cruyff, 33 goals in 48 before his premature international retirement.)
And from a cultural standpoint, Hamm, thanks to her considerable skills, her two World Cup winner’s medals, her two Olympic gold medals, her two FIFA World Women’s Player of the Year awards and the marketing geniuses at Nike and Gatorade, remains the best-known American female soccer player in the U.S.–despite Wambach having won a FIFA World Women’s Player of the Year award of her own last year. Heck, among this country’s millions of non-soccer fans, Hamm may be the best-known soccer player, period, with all due respect to David Beckham and Pele.
On the other hand, perhaps it’s a wash. When Hamm made her U.S. debut in 1987, she was 15, and the women’s game was only beginning to be taken seriously in the U.S., Scandinavia, pockets of western Europe and the Far East–while it was frowned upon in macho Latin America, Africa and most of Asia. The first FIFA Women’s World Cup, won by the U.S., was four years away. The first women’s Olympic tournament, won by the U.S. at the Atlanta Games, was another five years away. It all seems like ages ago, and with the women’s game evolving at breakneck speed, the threats to U.S. hegemony aren’t just China, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Japan of Hamm’s day but Brazil, France, England, Canada, Australia and North Korea, while early powers like Italy and Denmark and Nigeria and New Zealand have faded into the second tier. Wambach’s is a different world, one a whole lot more crowded–crowded with better teams with better defenders.