Soccerstoriesbook's Blog


SIMPLIFY LIFE: EVENSIDE SHOULD BE ONSIDE

The U.S. won the first half and Mexico the second as the two bitter border rivals played to a 2-2 tie in a World Cup warm-up before 59,066 at University of Phoenix Stadium.

A vintage Michael Bradley half-volleyed home a cross by Graham Zusi in the 15th minute, then set up a toe-poke goal by Chris Wondolowski in the 28th with a head flick at the left post.

Mexico, determined not to suffer yet another Dos a Zero defeat on American soil, began its comeback four minutes after halftime when veteran captain Rafael Marquez scored on a free header off a corner kick by Marco Fabian.  The equalizer came in the 67th minute as Alan Pulido tucked the ball past U.S. goalkeeper Nick Rimando and into the net after substitute Paul Aguilar’s shot rang the left post.

The U.S. had an apparent game-winner in the 85th minute, but striker Eddie Johnson, who replaced Wondolowski 19 minutes earlier, saw his goal flagged for offside after a deft pass from 30 yards out by Clint Dempsey sent him into the penalty area unmolested.  [April 2]

Comment:  Johnson’s non-goal generated plenty of talk after the match, although it wasn’t a clear miss by Panamanian linesman Daniel Williamson and referee Roberto Moreno.  Have a look:

http://ftw.usatoday.com/2014/04/usa-mexico-usmnt-offside-referees/

The key is the photo at the end, which shows Johnson leaning ahead of Mexico’s second-to-last man when Dempsey plays the ball forward.

U.S. fans can blame–and Mexico fans can thank–soccer’s official rules-making body, the International Football Association Board.

In 1990, the IFAB made life oh-so-simple with this decision:  “A player who is level with the second-last opponent or with the last two opponents is not in an offside position.”  In plain English, even is on.

In 2005, however, the board decided to make life hell for linesmen and defenders and opposing attackers with this:  “In the definition of offside position, ‘nearer to his opponents’ goal line’ means that any part of his head, body or feet is nearer to his opponents’ goal-line than both the ball and the second last opponent.  The arms are not included in this definition.”

Since then, linesmen, who have been forced to determine the involvement or possible obstruction of an attacking player, have been handed the additional responsibility of serving as master surveyor.  The 1990 decision seemed to give the benefit of the doubt to the attacker in a new world in which a comfortable, relatively reasonable gray line was created.  The 2005 ruling brought back the concept of splitting hairs.

And when it comes to splitting hairs, there will continue to be situations in which the attacker–moving forward–leans too far beyond a second-to-last opponent who is either upright or leaning back upfield.  That’s what attackers and defenders do, though their feet may be directly level.

If it’s any solace to American fans, Eddie Johnson was onside in Phoenix … two dozen years ago.

 

 



THE AMERICAN-GERMAN-AMERICANS

Bayern Munich forward Julian Green has applied to FIFA to change his national team association from Germany to the United States.

The highly touted 18-year-old, who was born in Tampa, FL, will become the latest German-American to join the U.S. National Team pool under the USA’s German coach, Juergen Klinsmann, following in the footsteps of dual-nationalists Jermaine Jones (Besiktas, Turkey), Timmy Chandler (FC Nurnberg), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Daniel Williams (Reading, England), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Austria) and Alfredo Morales (FC Ingolstadt).

The son of an American father and German mother, Green moved with his family to Germany when he was 2.  He played for Germany’s under-16 and under-17 teams, then represented the U.S. in an U-18 friendly against Holland.  He later played for Germany in a qualifier for this year’s UEFA Under-19 Championship.

“We are absolutely thrilled,” said Klinsmann, who first attempted to call up Green for U.S. friendlies in November.  “He is a very special talent.”

The teen winger has made just one appearance for Bayern Munich, a brief stint in November at the end of a UEFA Champions League match against CSKA Moscow.  Green has been a regular with Bayern’s Regionalliga team, scoring 15 goals in 19 games.  [March 18]

Comment:  Green is unlikely to play a role in the USA’s adventure at Brasil ’14, but this June we will finally learn whether the German way is the American way when it comes to soccer.

Back in the mid-1970s, when the growth of the North American Soccer League was forcing a spotlight on the American game in general and the national team in particular, the U.S. Soccer Federation took the tack that the style that best suited its team was German.  It hired Dettmar Cramer, an assistant to Helmet Schoen on West Germany’s 1966 World Cup runner-up team, as coach in August 1974.  Cramer was in charge long enough to lose two games to Mexico, throw up his hands at the lack of talent, money and organization at his disposal and, 5 1/2 months into his tenure, returned home, where he would guide a Bayern Munich starring Franz Beckenbauer to consecutive European Cup titles.  Less than a decade later, the USSF tried again with the appointment of former FC Cologne coach Karl-Heinz Heddergott as national coaching director, but Heddergott ran into the same frustrating constraints.  All the while, critics of this Teutonic shift claimed that the national team program–if “program” was the right word–was ignoring the coming USA wave of Latin players, eventually led by hyphenated Americans Hugo Perez, Tab Ramos, and Claudio Reyna, that would transform the national team and carry it to glory.

The U.S. has had a link with German soccer that dates to 1923 with the founding of the powerful semipro German-American Soccer League (later renamed the Cosmopolitan Soccer League) in New York, a circuit whose best players helped make up the roster of the original New York Cosmos in 1971.  Paul Caliguiri made a major–and unlikely–breakthrough when he leaped from UCLA to Hamburger SV in the late 1980s.  He later played for SV Meppen, Hansa Rostock, SC Freiburg and FC St. Pauli, paving the way in the Bundesliga for players like Eric Wynalda, Kasey Keller and Steve Cherundolo.  U.S. coach Bora Milutinovic’s decision to bring FC Kaiserslautern midfielder Tom Dooley–son of an American serviceman and a German mother–into the national team fold established a two-way street whose inbound lane has only increased in traffic by plenty under Klinsmann.

But it’s not just personnel.  Klinsmann has tapped into characteristics common between the two cultures.  Despite shortcomings that continue to keep the U.S. out of the top 10 in the FIFA rankings, the Americans’ compulsion, like the Germans, is to attack.  On a good day, Klinsmann has his players pressing forward–some would say recklessly–at speed with six and seven players, followed, at speed, by a similar commitment on defense.  High tempo, hard work.  They expect to win every challenge.  They count on wearing down the opposition long before the final whistle.  And like the West German teams Klinsmann grew up watching and then playing for, they now consider no deficit insurmountable.  The U.S. demonstrated that resolve by tying host Russia, 2-2, in late 2012 on two late strikes.   The following June, in a World Cup qualifier,  it squandered a 1-0 lead late in Jamaica and emerged with a 2-1 victory.

Above all, for those who remember Steve Sampson’s team of complacent U.S. veterans who crashed at the 1998 World Cup, Klinsmann has called out his established players, introduced interesting outsiders and created a player pool that may not be deep but is certainly competitive as the 30 players with a realistic chance to make the trip to Brazil are whittled to the final 23.

The critics from long ago must feel permanently slighted at this point:  Klinsmann has turned his back on any possibility that Latin flair is the USA’s recipe for success.  It’ll be grit, not beauty, heading into Brazil this year.  Some of the players may have names like Omar Gonzalez,  Michael Orozco Fiscal, Joe Corona or Juan Agudelo, but it’s not the name, it’s the mentality and the approach.  After all, when Klinsmann’s looked over his shoulder two years ago at the German National Team he once coached, the joint scoring leader of the European Championship was a German named … Mario Gomez.



THE USA’S INDISPENSABLE MAN

A highly motivated Ukraine turned a friendly into a mini-clinic as it defeated the World Cup-bound U.S. National Team, 2-0, in Larnaca, Cyprus.

Andriy Yarmolenko scored 12 minutes into the game and Marko Devic iced the victory with a 68th-minute goal.  On each strike, the Ukrainians took advantage of a shaky American defense anchored by center backs Anthony Brooks and Oguchi Onyewu.

The match, originally scheduled for Kharkiv, was moved 600 miles to Cyprus’ Papadopoulos Stadium days after the Russian military intervention in Crimea.  Only 1,573 spectators were on hand for the hastily relocated game, many of them Ukrainian expatriates who broke into chants of “No war in Ukraine!” after the final whistle.  [March 5]

Comment I:  Clint Dempsey did not score against Ukraine, nor did a slumping Jozy Altidore; Landon Donovan, preparing for the Los Angeles Galaxy’s MLS opener three days later, wasn’t even there, nor was playmaker Michael Bradley, who recently moved from AS Roma to Toronto FC.  Nevertheless, after the USA’s shutout loss, the most indispensable man of the night proved to be another no-show, right fullback Steve Cherundolo.

Coach Juergen Klinsmann’s back four figures to be Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron–or Brad Evans of the Seattle Sounders–plus the Galaxy’s Omar Gonzales and Matt Besler of Sporting Kansas City and the veteran DaMarcus Beasley of Puebla, who has revived his international career as a left back.  But despite Beasley’s 114 caps, the back line will sorely miss the experience and steadying influence of the 34-year-old Cherundolo, whose ongoing knee problems make his appearance at a third World Cup a long-shot.  Cherundolo has 87 caps to the combined 30 of Gonzalez and Besler, but he brings much more than just a wise old head.

Without the feisty, reliable, attack-minded Cherundolo, Klinsmann is without the player who’d most closely resemble the right back at his disposal if he was still coach of Germany–Philipp Lahm.  Cherundolo, of course, is not quite in Lahm’s league, figuratively speaking, although both play in the German Bundesliga.  While Cherundolo usually captains perennial also-ran Hannover 96, Lahm, a member of the 2006 and 2010 All-World Cup teams, captains both European champion Bayern Munich and the German National Team.  Nevertheless, Cherundolo is as important to his team as Lahm is to his.  At 5-foot-7, Lahm is known as “The Magic Dwarf.”  Without the 5-6 Cherundolo, Klinsmann will be missing his own magic dwarf.

Comment II:  The Ukraine-U.S. match and several other friendlies–many of them World Cup tune-ups for one or both sides–were played March 5, which marked the 100-day countdown to the kickoff of Brasil ’14.  What ESPN2 viewers of that game and the Italy-Spain game that followed were not subjected to was what they would’ve seen four years ago at the same point ahead of South Africa ’10:  promos touting ABC/ESPN/ESPN2′s upcoming World Cup coverage featuring the play-by-play talents of Martin Tyler.

Ian Darke, whose call of Donovan’s last-gasp goal for the U.S. against Algeria four years ago is now part of American soccer lore, has replaced Tyler as the lead commentator for ABC/ESPN’s coverage in Brazil.  Darke will be the play-by-play man for the June 12 Brazil-Croatia tournament opener, all U.S. matches, the final July 13, and other games.

British viewers in this country might miss Tyler, who we are given to believe is to soccer across the Pond what Al Michaels is to major sports here.  But American viewers will find Darke a significant upgrade–if they haven’t already over the last four years with his TV calls here of MLS, U.S. National Team and English Premier League games.  Tyler has proven to be urbane, witty, knowledegable, and–unlike Darke–understated to a fault.  Unfortunately, the end result is play-by-play that is very easy to tune out if the game Tyler is calling isn’t exactly, well, scintillating.  Tyler describing “a thoughtful, probing ball down the left flank,” is not unlike a visit to the doctor’s office, where Dr. Tyler, the proctologist, is carrying on a pleasant, soothing, benign conversation with his patient while the patient isn’t really concentrating on this pleasant, soothing, benign chat.

“So, how are we today?  Any complaints?”

“Well, actually, I ….”

“Yes, of course.   Now, shall we try to breath normally?  This portion will take but a minute ….”

Comment III:  At the Ukraine match, the U.S. sported Nike’s newest stab at designing a national team jersey.  Gone were the welcomed horizontal red-and-white striped shirts that all but shouted “USA,” replaced by something straight out of the bleach bucket:  a white shirt with single red pinstripes on the sleeves and collar, plus the U.S. Soccer logo, not the classic, old-fashioned stars-and-stripes shield the players sported during the 2013 USSF centennial season.

http://www.ussoccer.com/news/mens-national-team/2014/03/140303-new-kit.aspx

The collar is quite alright–a soccer jersey without a collar looks more like a glorified T-shirt.  But Nike’s end result is a boring jersey more suited for playing golf or tennis or lounging about.  And maybe that’s what the marketing geniuses at Nike had in mind all along when it comes to replica jersey sales.



WORLD CUP TICKETS SOLD TO THE U.S.: 125,000 AND COUNTING

With nearly four months remaining before kickoff, the United States has the highest number of allocated tickets among visiting countries for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. 

A total of 125,465 tickets were distributed to the U.S., according to FIFA.

Through all sales channels, a total of 2.3 million tickets have been assigned to the nations attending the World Cup. After Brazil, which was allocated 906,433 tickets as the host, and the U.S., the following nations round out the top 10:  Colombia (60,231), Germany (55,666), Argentina (53,809), England (51,222), Australia (40,446), France (34,971), Chile (32,189) and Mexico (30,238).

“We have seen the interest in the World Cup increase every four years and are excited to see the large number of tickets purchased for the games in Brazil,” said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. “There were more ticket requests than available tickets for all three of our first-round matches by a large margin, and we are once again expecting incredible fan support for the team during the 2014 FIFA World Cup.”

U.S. Soccer Supporters Club members who applied for tickets to the specific U.S. matches will be notified soon whether they were selected in the lottery.

The remaining tickets (approximately 160,000) will be available to the public through FIFA.com in the next window of the sales phase on March 12.

The 2014 FIFA World Cup runs from June 12 through July 13 across 12 venues in Brazil. The U.S. National Team was drawn into Group “G” and will open the tournament Monday, June 16, at 6 p.m. EDT against Ghana in Natal. The USA then faces Portugal on Sunday, June 22, at 6 p.m. EDT in Manaus, and Germany on Thursday, June 26, at 12 p.m. EDT in Recife.  [February 21]

Comment:  International soccer’s outlier has become a World Cup insider.

Only seven other countries that will compete at Brasil ’14 can match the USA’s record of appearing in the last six World Cups:  host Brazil–which has never missed one–Spain, Italy, France, Argentina, Germany and South Korea.  The U.S., which finished first in CONCACAF qualifiers for the second straight World Cup cycle, is No. 14 in the latest FIFA rankings and came close to becoming the region’s first nation to be seeded for the first round without hosting a World Cup.  Fox/Telemundo has paid $1 billion for the U.S. rights to televise the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, topping a $600 million bid by ESPN/ABC, which, along with Univision, paid a combined $425 million to air the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, 2007 and 2011 Women’s World Cups and 2009 and 2013 FIFA Confederations Cups.  Now this.

Obviously, while those 125,465 ticket orders may have come from America, many of those ticket holders will be scattered throughout Brazil this summer, following other national teams.  This is, after all, a land of immigrants.  (At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, of the 2.8 million available tickets, sales to U.S. residents–more than 130,000–trailed only the host nation, although the American allotment for the U.S.-England opener at the 44,530-seat Royal Bafokeng Stadium was just 5,200.)   Moreover, this is a wealthy nation with plenty of folks who can afford the trip to an exotic, alluring destination like Brazil.  

Though its odds of getting out of the so-called “Group of Death” and winning Brasil ’14 are a daunting 100-to-1, the United States, on every level, has become a significant part of the planet’s most-watched sporting event.  That’s a far cry from the beginning of its World Cup run at Italia ’90, when a U.S. team of current and former college standouts needed a miracle to qualify for the first time in four decades, then crashed out in three games, supported by a smattering of American fans, many of whom were already in Italy on vacation and decided, on a whim, to have a look.



ADIOS, CHIVAS USA

Major League Soccer has purchased the troubled Chivas USA from Jorge Vergara and Angelica Fuentes and will operate the team until an owner is found who will build a new stadium for it in the Los Angeles area.

Sale price was a reported $70 million.  The original bill Vergara, wife Fuentes, and Antonio and Lorenzo Cue paid MLS to create Chivas USA 10 years ago was $10 million; Vergara and Fuentes bought out the Cues 15 months ago for $40 million.

New owners figure to re-brand the team with a new name and logo.

“Certainly, it hasn’t worked out as well as anybody expected,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber.  “I don’t think this is the fault of ownership, per se.  There’s a lot of issues that we, the league, take responsibility for.  Now we are just very focused on a new beginning.”

Chivas USA will begin its 2014 season next month under new coach Wilmer Cabrera, the club’s 11th field boss, a list that includes Thomas Rongen, Preki, future U.S. National Team coach Bob Bradley and current national team assistant Martin Vasquez.  Chivas’ best season was its third, when it topped the Western Conference with a 15-7-8 record but fell in the conference semifinals.

In 2013, the Goats finished last in the West at 6-20-8, the second-worst mark in the 19-team league.  Its attendance for 17 regular-season games at the Stub Hub Center was an abysmal 8,366, a nearly 36 percent drop in the gate from 2012.  That was the worst in MLS, which averaged 18,608, the second best in league history.  No other MLS club was below five figures in average attendance.  Chivas’ co-tenant at Stub Hub, the Los Angeles Galaxy, averaged 22,152, a drop of 4.25 percent in its first David Beckham-less campaign in seven years.  The Seattle Sounders led all at 44,038 a match.  [February 20]

Comment:  About time, and farewell to a failed experiment and a drag on Major League Soccer.

Despite its good intentions to lure Southern California’s thousands and thousands of transplants from Jalisco state, Chivas USA was neither Chivas nor USA.  Or maybe it was too USA to be a second Chivas–the 2014 roster shows 18 Americans and just two Mexicans, one fewer than the number of Argentines on the list.

It all looked good on paper, but league rules prevented Chivas USA from fielding the predominantly Mexican side ownership sought, and it was all downhill from there.  This secondary version of Chivas Guadalajara quickly became an afterthought and a team damned to stand in the shadow of the older and much more successful Galaxy.

Although the league’s efforts to get to this point were months in the making, it was long overdue nonetheless.  Garber adds expansion teams to MLS like a desperately spawning salmon, while he should have been devoting his attention to this weak sister.  The concept of a two-team rivalry in a major market remains an enticing concept.  MLS will add New York City FC and Orlando SC in 2015, swelling its ranks to an unwieldy 21 teams.  It will be interesting to see if New York Red Bulls versus the new NYCFC ignites local passion.  In the meantime, MLS is left with the lesson out of Los Angeles that it takes two to make a rivalry.



SOCCER STORIES–THIS TIME IT’S ’30 FOR ’30′

ESPN Films has announced that in April it will premiere “30 for 30: Soccer Stories,” a series of documentaries as part of the lead-in to its coverage of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil in June.

“Soccer Stories” will “include a mix of stand-alone feature-length and 30-minutes-long documentary films from an award-winning group of filmmakers telling compelling narratives from around the international soccer landscape.  In addition, a collection of 10 vignettes about Brazil’s rich culture will be featured throughout ESPN’s FIFA World Cup programming,” according to ESPN Films, creators of the critically acclaimed “30 for 30″ film series.  Among its works in that series was “The Two Escobars,” which explored the murder of 1994 World Cup goat Andres Escobar of Colombia and drug king Pablo Escobar’s involvement in soccer in that country.

Said Connor Schell, vice president of ESPN Films and Original Content, “With ESPN being the home of the 2014 World Cup, we know that sports fans will be looking forward to high-quality content focused on what is perhaps the world’s most revered sport.  We feel this is the perfect time to expand upon the success of our “30 for 30″ series by focusing this collection on some of the incredible stories of soccer’s legendary past.”  [January 11]

Comment:  “Soccer Stories: Anecdotes, Oddities, Lore and Amazing Feats” hereby grants ESPN permission to use the title “Soccer Stories” for its series of pre-Brasil ’14 documentaries.

Indeed, soccer is a treasure trove of compelling, ironic, tragic and humorous tales.  Some are even true, others apocryphal.  Many beg to be told.  The Hillsborough Stadium disaster is part of the ESPN series–one of its two feature-length films–and it’s part of “Soccer Stories: Anecdotes, Oddities. Lore and Amazing Feats” the book, as well.  So is a profile of the tragic life of Brazilian great Garrincha, entitled “Garrincha, Crippled Angel” in the ESPN series.  And “Barbosa–The Man Who Made All of Brazil Cry.”  And “The Opposition” (about the 1973 military coup that led to Chile’s national stadium being turned into a concentration camp/execution ground).  And “Mysteries of The Jules Rimet Trophy.”  And “Maradona ’86.”

The ESPN series is rounded out by “White, Blue and White,” a feature-length exploration of Osvaldo Ardiles’ and Ricardo Villa’s stardom in England with Tottenham Hotspur on the eve of the Falkland Islands War, and “Ceasefire Massacre,” about the terrorist murder of six men at a small pub outside Belfast who were watching Ireland play in the ’94 World Cup.  Neither made the “Soccer Stories: Anecdotes, Oddities, Lore and Amazing Feats” cut.

Perhaps ESPN’s “Soccer Stories” will prove to be an effective scene-setter for its World Cup coverage.  Not that a World Cup needs much in the way of an hors d’oeuvre, but soccer people in this country are a funny lot.  Many play but will not watch televised soccer on a regular basis or follow it through the press or Internet.  Some will watch only their kid or a favorite club.  Some are ex-patriates who’ll wake up and make like a fan only if the homeland is playing in a World Cup; some are Americans who, Olympic-like, pay attention only in World Cup years.   They’re all missing the soul of their sport, the incredible worldwide kaleidoscope that is soccer.

Look for ESPN’s “30 for 30: Soccer Stories.”  Soccer is alluring, exciting, exhilarating; by turns, it makes dreams come true and crushes hopes.  But you have to take the trouble to meet it halfway.  If you’re only playing, if you’re only coaching, if you’re only officiating, if you’re only watching, you’re missing out.



THE REFEREE AS SOCCER’S ‘SUGGESTOR’

World soccer’s rules-making body will have a look at the controversial issue of video replays.

The International Football Association Board will discuss “Video Replays for Match Officials,” the final item listed among “any other business” on the agenda for its next annual meeting, scheduled for March 1 in Zurich.   It is not clear who placed the topic on the agenda.  The possibility of video replay has been vigorously opposed by FIFA leadership in recent years.

Other matters to be discussed are the idea of ice hockey-style penalty boxes for recreational soccer, protective headwear for male players, and a ban on players who reveal personal statements on their undershirt.

The IFAB is made up of four members representing FIFA and one each from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  [February 4]

Comment:  So the group that green-lighted goal-line technology has decided to take another peek under the lid of Pandora’s Box.

Chances are this discussion next month will be nothing more than just talk, but it leaves the impression that video replays in soccer are inevitable.

That would be a victory for those who want the referee and his assistants to get it right all the time, whatever the cost.  And who, really, wants to see a match decided by officiating mistakes?  But video replay isn’t going to produce perfection–camera angles lie and sometimes everyone in the stadium misses a reason to request a video review.

Above all, video replay would be a severe blow to the authority of the officials.  Suddenly, the referee goes from being The Final Word on the field to The Suggestor.  He or she would be looked upon differently by players, coaches, spectators and the media once an incorrect call is not only fully exposed but officially goes into the books as a blunder that has to be reversed.

The referee is ridiculed, reviled, even despised, as it is, but his authority, when wielded appropriately, puts him on a par with a schoolteacher adequately keeping an unruly classroom under control.  Diminish that authority, and the overall player-referee dynamic flies out of control.  And, obviously, video replay would be used only at the game’s highest levels; thus, the top officials would be the ones falling the farthest.  Once the public sees a decision by Howard Webb or Viktor Kassai overturned, on the field, before a filled stadium and a national or worldwide TV audience, the standing of every referee below is indeed diminished.




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