Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 2008 Beijing Olympics, 2012 London Olympics, American Outlaws, Andres Flores, Athens, Bill Hamid, Brian McBride, Canada, Chile, Clint Dempsey, CONCACAF Gold Cup, CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers, El Salvador, FIFA Women's World Cup, FIFA World Youth Championship, Freddy Adu, Honduras, Jaime Alas, Joe Corona, Kansas City, Landon Donovan, Lester Blanco, Los Angeles Times, Major League Soccer, Mexico, Nashville, Rose Bowl, Sam's Army, Sean Johnson, Spain, Sydney, Terrence Boyd, Tim Howard, U.S. National Team, U.S. National Under-20 Team, U.S. National Women's Team, Will Kuhn
The United States surrendered a goal by Jaime Alas four minutes into added-on time, giving El Salvador a 3-3 tie in Nashville that knocked the Americans out of contention for the 2012 London Olympics. The Salvadorans finished atop their first-round group and advanced along with Canada to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers in Kansas City, where they will face Mexico and Honduras with two berths in London on the line. The U.S., at 1-1-1, landed in third place.
After taking a lead on a goal by Terrence Boyd in the first minute, the U.S. was sent reeling by goals by El Salvador’s Lester Blanco and Andres Flores in the 35th and 37th minutes. Boyd scored an equalizer in the 65th minute and Joe Corona, whose mother is Salvadoran, put the U.S. ahead, 3-2, three minutes later with a header off a cross by captain Freddy Adu, who had also set up Boyd’s second strike.
The Americans, however, couldn’t hold off the relentless Salvadorans. On a quick counterattack, Alas’ seemingly harmless 25-yard shot squeezed under U.S. goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who had replaced the injured Bill Hamid (ankle) in the 39th minute. [March 26]
Comment: A disturbing setback, coming as it does on the heels of three other American stumbles in regional or world championship competition over the past 12 months. A year ago, the U.S. National Under-20 Team gives up a second-half goal against the run of play and is eliminated by host Guatemala, 2-1, in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF qualifiers for the FIFA World Youth Championship. In June, the U.S. National Team scores twice early, only to give up four unanswered goals to Mexico in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final at the Rose Bowl. The following month, the U.S. National Women’s Team is unable to protect a one-goal lead in regulation and again late in overtime and loses to underdog Japan on penalty kicks in the FIFA Women’s World Cup title match in Germany. And now this.
It’s no time for Sam’s Army and the American Outlaws and their brethren to panic, of course. The U.S. women, despite their confounding defeat at the hands of Japan last summer, are still No. 1 in the FIFA World Rankings. And with CONCACAF’s 3 1/2 berths up for grabs, the U.S. men head into 2014 World Cup qualifying this summer with perhaps the two most accomplished attacking players in their history, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, still in their prime. For the U.S. men, however, it would have to be concluded that, given the U-23s’ disappointing loss to Canada and tie with El Salvador in Nashville, there are no wholesale reinforcements on the horizon.
On the eve of the Olympic qualifiers, MLS spokesman Will Kuhn was on message, telling the Los Angeles Times, “It’s a strong statement about our league and the development of young players that the Olympic tournament–a reflection of the strongest young players in each country–includes so many that are on our clubs. It draws a lot of attention to the natural progression of our league. The level of play keeps advancing each year. The Olympics gives an opportunity for lots more people to see that progress.” We’ve heard that sort of thing from MLS for several years now, but it might be time for the league to tone down the rhetoric.
If there’s been progress, it hasn’t be reflected in the play of recent U.S. U-23 teams. The 2000 U.S. men’s Olympic team qualified for Sydney, where it went 1-0-2 in the first round, defeated Japan on PKs in the quarterfinals, lost to Spain, 3-1, in the semifinals and bowed to Chile, 2-0, in the bronze-medal game–their best showing in an Olympic soccer history that goes back to 1924. In 2004, the U.S. failed to make it to Athens, the decisive blow a humiliating 4-0 loss to host Mexico in the CONCACAF semifinals as the locals taunted the Americans with chants of “O-sa-ma, O-sa-ma.” Four years later, the U.S. reached the Beijing Games, where it went 1-1-1 and failed to advance to the quarterfinals.
No one wants to see a return of the 1980s and ’90s, when young American players had two hopes: star in college, then head to Europe, where there might be an opening with a Scandinavian club or a German regional division side. And there’s no denying that since 1996 MLS has become an international springboard for several top native sons, from Brian McBride to Tim Howard and Donovan and Dempsey. Nevertheless, if the Olympics are some kind of reflection on the improvement of MLS, that progress has been decidedly uneven.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Alexi Lalas, Algeria, American Soccer League, Archie Stark, Babe Ruth of Soccer, Billy Gonsalves, Cantona, Claudio Reyna, Clint Dempsey, Cobi Jones, Ed Sullivan, Eric Wynalda, Everton, Futbol de Primera, Hannover 96, Honda, Hugo Perez, Kasey Keller, Kyle Rote Jr., Landon Donovan, Los Angeles Galaxy, Los Angeles Times, Maldini, Michael Bradley, MLS, New York Cosmos, Rick Davis, Steve Cherundolo, Tab Ramos, U.S. Player of the Year, World Cup, Xavi, Zidane
Landon Donovan won an unprecedented seventh U.S. Player of the Year award in a landslide over runner-up Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey in balloting involving nearly 200 journalists nationwide.
Donovan, who first won the honor in 2002, attracted 403 points based on three for a first-place vote, two for second and one for third. Bradley picked up 169 points and Dempsey 157. The only other multiple winners in the 20-year history of the award– organized by the national radio show Futbol de Primera and until recently sponsored by Honda–are goalkeeper Kasey Keller (1999 and 2005) and striker Eric Wynalda (1992 and 1996).
The speedy attacking midfielder-withdrawn forward probably became a favorite for the 2010 award with his stellar play early in the year for Everton, but he cinched it by scoring in three of the USA’s four games at the World Cup, including the dramatic winner against Algeria in added-on time that put the Americans into the second round. He then returned home and helped the Los Angeles Galaxy finish the MLS regular season with the league’s best record. [January 5]
Comment: Once dismissed by the Los Angeles Times as ”the overrated Landon Donovan” following the first of his two attempts to make an impact in Europe with Bayer Leverkusen, later criticized for disappearing in this match and that, the USA’s all-time scoring leader in 2010 cemented his status as not only the face of the sport in this country but a face that some average Americans actually recognize.
This country’s first notable soccer player was, probably, Archie Stark, a Scottish-born center forward who dominated the original American Soccer League in the 1920s and was dubbed “The Babe Ruth of Soccer” by a young newspaper columnist named Ed Sullivan. From the early ’30s, oldtimers fondly recall a ball artiste named Billy Gonsalves. Fast-forward to the 1970s, when the NASL tried but failed to make league scoring leader Kyle Rote Jr. its All-American Boy, and the 1980s, when it succeeded, somewhat, in planting that title on New York Cosmos midfielder Rick Davis. Since then, the country has produced several outstanding players, like Hugo Perez, Tab Ramos and Claudio Reyna, as well as personalities like bohemian gladfly defender Alexi Lalas, the fiery goal-scorer Wynalda and teen-idol Cobi Jones.
It has been said repeatedly that what American soccer needs is a superstar–whatever that means. It is doubtful, however, that the general American public would appreciate the subtle skills of a Xavi, a Zidane, a Cantona, a Maldini. An incisive pass, a simple swerve, a change of direction, an immaculate take-away: all would be lost on a viewership peering in on soccer only occasionally. Donovan, however, does what Americans understand, has a track record of doing so, and is comfortable before cameras and facing a horde of reporters in front of his locker.
Donovan has asked for a respite after several months of play, so it’s unlikely that he will return to Europe any time soon and add to his credentials this winter. As such, enjoy his reign as “That American Soccer Player.” Certainly, no successor is on the horizon, and that puts the sport’s longterm future on the fickle U.S. pop culture front in doubt.
[Full disclosure: One ballot went to Donovan, Bradley and Steve Cherundolo, who served the role of grown-up on the USA back line in South Africa. At 31 and playing for the obscure Hannover 96, it's doubtful that the smart, energenic Cherundolo will ever get the credit he deserves.]