Filed under: Lionel Messi, Uncategorized | Tags: 1986 World Cup, 2005 FIFA U-20 World Championship, 2007 Copa America, 2008 Beijing Olympics, 2014 World Cup, 2015 Copa America, Alfredo Di Stefano, Argentina, Bobby Wood, Chile, Clint Dempsey, CONCACAF, Copa America Centenario, Cristiano Ronaldo, DeAndre Yedlin, Diego Maradona, El Pibe de Oro, FC Barcelona, FIFA World Player of the Year, Gabriel Batistuta, Geoff Cameron, Giants Stadium, Gold Cup, Gyasi Zardes, Italy, John Brooks, Jozy Altidore, Juergen Klinsmann, La Albiceleste, La Liga, Landon Donovan, Lionel Messi, Michael Bradley, Napoli, Panama, UEFA Champions League, Venezuela
Five-time FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi announced his international retirement immediately after Argentina fell in the Copa America Centenario to Chile on penalty kicks, 4-2, following a scoreless draw at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, before 82,076.
The defeat capped a string of Argentina disappointments for the 29-year-old, including losses in the 2014 World Cup final and the 2007 and 2015 Copa America finals. Although he led La Albiceleste to an under-20 world championship in 2005 and a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he has never claimed a winners’ medal with the senior team.
A back injury caused Messi to miss Argentina’s Copa opener against Chile, but he came off the bench in the second group game, against Panama, and notched a hat trick in just 19 minutes. He scored against Venezuela in the quarterfinals to equal Gabriel Batistuta’s Argentine scoring record of 54, then surpassed it with a brilliant free-kick strike against the U.S. in the semifinals.
However, in the final he was hounded by multiple Chilean defenders for 120 minutes, and he capped a frustrating night by blasting his attempt over the crossbar on Argentina’s first shot in the tiebreaker.
“For me, the national team is over,” the distraught superstar told reporters. “I’ve done all I can. I’ve been in four finals and it hurts not to be a champion. It’s a hard moment for me and the team, and it’s difficult to say, but it’s over with the Argentina team.” [June 26]
Comment I: Perhaps the frustration got the best of him. Maybe his tax problems back in Spain were weighing heavily. Perhaps Messi will take a deep breath and reconsider. (After all, he didn’t quit last year when Argentina lost on a tiebreaker to Chile–and Messi made his PK that day.) But if he doesn’t change his mind, he’ll rue the day.
Messi has never been embraced by his fellow Argentines the way they adore Diego Maradona. Messi left home as a 13-year-old prodigy for FC Barcelona, where he grew as an academy player and went on to win four UEFA Champions League titles and eight Spanish La Liga crowns. In Argentina, he’s been more closely associated with Barca than the sky blue and white, and while Maradona also played for Barcelona (and later became a hero in Italy with Napoli), El Pibe de Oro was the one who delivered the goods, singlehandedly lifting Argentina to the 1986 World Cup championship. Messi has no such clout.
If Messi does not change his mind, he will have forfeited any chance to change how he will go down in soccer history. As things stand, he will be recorded as probably the greatest player of his generation, better even than Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo. He’ll be regarded as a the third member of Argentina’s holy trinity along with Maradona and Alfredo Di Stefano. But, in a world in which kids still look up to their sports heroes, he’ll also be regarded as a quitter. Worse, a coward.
And this with the next World Cup, in Russia, and possible redemption, just two years away.
Comment II: The question concerning the U.S. National Team was whether its Copa America Centenario performance had represented any progress.
Well, a year ago the Americans lost the third-place match at the Gold Cup, making it the fourth-best team in CONCACAF. Now it’s lost the third-place game at the Copa America, technically making it the fourth-best team in South America. What fourth-place mantle would you rather wear?
On a practical front, the mad scientist, coach Juergen Klinsmann, stopped with the tinkering and would’ve trotted out the same lineup throughout the tournament were it not for suspensions and injuries. Young center back John Brooks grew into a genuine partnership with Geoff Cameron and was rewarded with a spot on the Copa America Centenario Best XI team, the only player from the U.S.–or Mexico–so honored. Bobby Wood graduated from minor pest up front to major concern and will challenge Jozy Altidore for playing time in the future.
But then there were the questions raised over the course of the tournament. Such as, will young right back DeAndre Yedlin couple his scintillating runs forward with some reliable defense? Will Gyasi Zardes continue to have the first touch of a block of cement? Will Michael Bradley’s skills as midfield maestro continue to erode? Will 33-year-old Clint Dempsey, who scored three goals at the Copa to close to within five goals of Landon Donovan’s U.S. career record of 57, continue to defy Father Time?
Those are the questions that matter. They were raised at the Copa, not answered, but perhaps they’ll be answered where it really counts, when the U.S. resumes World Cup qualifying for Russia ’18, in September.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 2011 Gold Cup, Arlington Texas, Bank of America Stadium, Benny Feilhaber, Canada, Charlotte NC, Chicago, CONCACAF, Copa Centroamericana, Cuba, Dallas Cowboys Stadium, Detroit, East Rutherford NJ, FIU Stadium, Ford Field, Giants Stadium, Greneda, Guadeloupe, Harrison NJ, Home Depot Center, Houston, Jamaica, Kansas City, KC Soccer Stadium, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Mexico, Miami, New Meadowlands Stadium, Panama, Raymond James Stadium, Red Bull Arena, Reliant Stadium, RFK Stadium, Rose Bowl, Soldier Field, South Africa '10, Tampa FL, U.S., U.S. National Team, Washington DC
CONCACAF unveiled its schedule for the 12-nation 2011 Gold Cup, which will be staged in an unprecedented 11 metro U.S. areas beginning June 5. The regional championship, which was first held 20 years ago with eight nations in two stadiums (the Rose Bowl and Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum), will be played at Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX; Ford Field in Detroit; Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC; Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL; Soldier Field in Chicago; KC Soccer Stadium in Kansas City; RFK Stadium in Washington, DC; Reliant Stadium in Houston; FIU Stadium in Miami; Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ, and New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ; and, outside Los Angeles, the Home Depot Center and Rose Bowl, site of the June 25 final.
Defending champion Mexico, host U.S. and Canada qualify automatically and will be joined by Caribbean champion Jamaica and area rivals Greneda, Cuba and Guadeloupe. The remaining five teams will be determined next month at the Copa Centroamericana in Panama. [December 16]
Comment: If America’s interest in its World Cup team has any legs, we will find out during this Gold Cup. This tournament marks the U.S. National Team’s first appearance on a major stage since it drew record television ratings for its four matches at South Africa ’10. Will a significant number of those same Americans who crowded around TVs last June vote with their feet this June and buy tickets to see some old favorites and new faces playing against lesser teams for lesser stakes?
We’ll see. Provided the U.S. reaches the final and faces the auld enemy, Mexico, perhaps the support for the home team will be better than in 2007, when the Americans beat the Mexicans on a Benny Feilhaber golasso. That was witnessed by a loud pro-Mexico crowd of 60,000 at Soldier Field. Or last year, when Mexico humiliated an experimental U.S. side, 5-0, at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, in front of an overwhelmingly partisan Mexico crowd of 79,156.
Will a corner be turned in ’11, or will the U.S. players continue to find that an American stadium is just a home away from home?
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Argentine Primera Division, BMO Field, Brazilian Campeonato Serie A, Colorado Rapids, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Denver, Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Dutch Eredivise, Earthquakes, English Premier League, FC Dallas, French Ligue 1, German Bundesliga, Giants Stadium, Italian Serie A, J-League, Kansas City, Lockhart Stadium, Major League Baseball, Mexican Primera Division, Miami Fusion, MLS, MLS Cup final, National Hockey League, NBA, New York Red Bulls, NFL, Pizza Hut Park, Qwest Field, Red Bull Arena, San Jose, Seattle Sounders, Spanish La Liga, Tampa Bay Mutiny
Two clubs that have never won a league championship, the Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas, will meet Sunday, November 21, at Toronto’s BMO Field in the MLS Cup final. [November 20]
Comment: The MLS report card came in last month and the results were mixed as TV ratings remained flat while attendance improved by 7.7 percent.
Average league attendance was 16,675, thanks in part to the Seattle Sounders, who increased Qwest Field capacity and saw its attendance jump from last season’s 30,897 to 36,173 in ’10. The New York Red Bulls, who moved from the cavernous, lifeless Giants Stadium (12,490 average last season) to the sparkling Red Bull Arena (18,441 this year), also helped get MLS above its overall average of 16,037 in 2009. In all, the 2010 numbers were the third-best in the league’s 15-year history, behind the novelty-inspired 17,406 of 1996 and 2007’s 16,770.
Where does this place MLS as a gate attraction? It’s far behind the world’s best-attended soccer league, Germany’s Bundesliga (42,790), but as soccer leagues go, it’s not far down the list. Next is the vaunted English Premier League (34,088), followed by Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A, Mexico’s Primera Division, Argentina’s Primera Division, France’s Ligue 1, Holland’s Eredivise, the J-League, the Campeonato Serie A of soccer-crazed Brazil, and MLS. And in the U.S., the NFL, whose teams play eight home games a year, leads at 67,508 in 2009, followed by Major League Baseball (81 home games per team, 30,213 average in 2010). The battle for third is tight, with the NBA (41 home games per team, 17,110 in 2009-10) ahead of the National Hockey League (41 home games, 17,004 in 2009-10) and MLS. (You could pick nits, regarding number of games and stadium/arena capacity, but it would have to start with baseball’s total attendance of nearly 80 million compared to pro football’s 17.4).
Not bad for a league that nearly shuttered its doors after the 2001 season, when its winningest team, the late, unlamented Miami Fusion, averaged an abysmal 11, 177 at Ft. Lauderdale’s Lockhart Stadium, a converted high school football stadium. MLS contracted that winter, killing off the Fusion and its other poorly supported Florida cousin, the Tampa Bay Mutiny.
It is hoped, then, that a win by Colorado or Dallas inspires a spin at the turnstiles in 2011 for at least one of the finalists. Despite each being blessed with new, soccer-specific stadiums, only 13,329 a game turned out for Colorado at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park this season–12th-worst in the 16-team league–and just 10,815 supported Dallas at its Pizza Hut Park. After Sunday night, soccer fans in Dallas-Ft. Worth or Denver can’t use a lack of a champion as an excuse not to support the home town team.
[A note regarding MLS’s bottom-feeders: Kansas City (10,287), which played its home matches in a minor league baseball park, and San Jose (9,659), confined to a small college football stadium, brought up the rear. K.C. (2000) and the original Earthquakes (2001, 2003) have each won the MLS Cup, so a title isn’t a cure-all at the ticket window.]