Filed under: Bruce Arena, Juergen Klinsmann, Uncategorized | Tags: 2002 World Cup, 2018 World Cup, Apollo XI moon landing, Bob Bradley, Brasil '14, Bruce Arena, CONCACAF Champions Cup, CONCACAF Gold Cup, Copa America Centenario, Costa Rica, DaMarcus Beasley, Dan Flynn, DC United, Germany, Hertha Berlin, Honduras, Interamerica Cup, John Brooks, Juergen Klinsmann, Landon Donovan, Los Angeles Galaxy, Mexico, Montreal '76, Moscow '80, NCAA, New Zealand, Panama, Panama City, Paraguay, Portugal, Project 2010, Rafael Marquez, Russia, Salt Lake City, Sunil Gulati, U.S. Open Cup, Under-17 World Cup, University of Virginia
Bruce Arena was named coach of the U.S. National Team, replacing Juergen Klinsmann, who was fired a day earlier.
It will be Arena’s second stint as U.S. coach. From 1998 to 2006 he compiled a 71-30-29 record, the most successful stretch in American history. A two-time winner of the CONCACAF Gold Cup (2002, 2005), he guided the Americans to an historic quarterfinal finish at the 2002 World Cup, beating Portugal in their opening match before advancing out of the group and earning a 2-0 victory over Mexico in the Round of 16. The run ended with a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to eventual finalist Germany in the last eight.
“When we considered the possible candidates to take over the Men’s National Team at this time, Bruce was at the top of the list,” said USSF President Sunil Gulati of Arena, who also led the U.S. to a three-and-out finish at the 2006 World Cup. “His experience at the international level, understanding of the requirements needed to lead a team through World Cup qualifying, and proven ability to build a successful team were all aspects we felt were vital for the next coach. We all know Bruce will be fully committed to preparing the players for the next eight qualifying games and earning a berth to an eighth straight FIFA World Cup in Russia.”
Since his first tour as U.S. boss, Arena served as general manager and coach of the Los Angeles Galaxy from 2008 through this past season, winning Major League Soccer titles in 2011, 2012 and 2014. He rose to prominence by winning five NCAA championships as coach of the University of Virginia, then led DC United to the first two MLS titles, in 1996 and ’97, as well as the ’96 U.S. Open Cup. He also helped United become the first-ever U.S. team to lift the CONCACAF Champions Cup and the now-defunct Interamerican Cup, winning each in 1998.
“Any time you get the opportunity to coach the national team, it’s an honor,” said Arena. “I’m looking forward to working with a strong group of players that understand the challenge in front of them after the first two games of the Hex. Working as a team, I’m confident that we’ll take the right steps forward to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.”
The U.S. in early November opened the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 World Cup with losses to Mexico, 2-1, at home, and at Costa Rica, 4-0. The Mexico defeat was the first home loss in a World Cup qualifier in 15 years. Those results left the Americans in last place, four points off the pace for the last direct qualifying berth with eight games remaining on the schedule. [November 22]
Comment I: The timing for the change was obvious for more than one reason.
The next U.S. qualifiers, against Honduras in Salt Lake City and Panama in Panama City, aren’t until March 24 and March 28, respectively. Roughly four months. Preceded by a low-key camp in January that traditionally includes a couple of friendlies where hopefuls from MLS and youngsters get a look. There isn’t as big a window for the rest of the Hexagonal. Plenty of time for Klinsmann’s replacement to pull together a staff and execute a smooth transition. It’s the American way. The USSF doesn’t fire its coaches on airport tarmacs after a big loss.
Then there was Arena himself. On a personal level, he was the obvious choice, like him or not. Arena is not the coach he was a decade ago. He’s now 65, and a doting grandfather. He signed a two-year contract with the USSF, and this obviously is his final hurrah. He has an ego, and he’d like to go out with a signature accomplishment, like a successful World Cup run, which wasn’t going to happen if he stayed in Los Angeles. What’s one more MLS Cup to Arena at this point?
Comment II: Juergen Klinsmann made the fatal mistake of over-promising.
He was hired to replace Bob Bradley in 2011 on the promise that he would not only lead the U.S. to victory but remake American soccer culture from the top down. Gulati doubled down on that promise in 2013, on the heels of a U.S.-record 12-game winning streak and Gold Cup title, by extending Klinsmann’s contract (a reported $3.2 million a year, through 2018) and crowning him men’s technical director to boot, placing the fates of the Olympic and national youth teams in his hands.
But the ups and downs of the Klinsmann era turned mostly to downs by 2015. That year the national team failed to finish in the top three in the Gold Cup for the first time since 2000, part of a slide in which the Americans lost four consecutive games on U.S. soil for the first time in a half-century. Meanwhile, on his watch as technical director, the U.S. failed to qualify for consecutive Olympic tournaments, something that hadn’t happened since Montreal ’76-Moscow ’80. As for the U.S. youth teams, the kids haven’t been alright. The U.S. under-20 team is winless in its last eight games against European nations by a combined score of 27-7, including a humiliating 8-1 pounding by Germany. The U.S. went winless at the 2015 Under-17 World Cup, four years after failing to qualify for the first time ever. Remember how the U-17s reached the semifinals of the 1999 world championship in New Zealand and teens Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley were named the tournament’s top two players?
Klinsmann, 52, departs having compiled a fine 55-27-16 record. There have been two World Cups, including one in which his team won a so-called “Group of Death,” in 2014. There was the fourth-place finish at last summer’s Copa America Centenario. And startling friendly victories: 1-0 at Italy in 2012; 4-3 at home over Germany in 2013; 4-3 at Holland and 2-1 at Germany in 2015. But he also exits with the cupboard bare: the Klinsmann national team pool is overly reliant on German players with U.S. passports and his youth teams–based on results–are a shambles. Little was built, and the fallout is the minor chaos that’s now Arena’s problem.
Comment III: So who’s to blame? Sunil Gulati.
He was one of the driving forces behind the ill-fated Project 2010, a laughably optimistic $50 million development surge launched by the USSF that was supposed to make America a legitimate contender for a World Cup title. The title of the 1998 report that introduced the project, “Winning the World Cup by 2010: Soccer’s Equivalent to the Apollo XI Moon Landing,” is best forgotten.
Gulati’s first major decision as federation president, in the weeks after the 2006 World Cup, was to allow Arena’s contract to expire, saying the team needed to go in a “fresh direction.” He hired Arena’s assistant, Bradley, as new national team coach, then found him wanting in 2011 and hired Klinsmann, ultimately giving the German, as noted above, an extension and adding technical director to his titles. Now it’s Arena, back to direct the U.S. in a presumably fresh direction.
As he completes the final two years of his third four-year term as U.S. Soccer supremo, Gulati’s legacy, and that of USSF Chief Executive Dan Flynn, will be one of continued success on the part of the U.S. women and utter mediocrity–even retreat–by the U.S. men at all levels.
Comment IV: Had Klinsmann lost his team?
One can only wonder. But there’s Klinsmann’s track record of rarely owning up to a mistake, of throwing players under the bus. The latest victim was young Hertha Berlin center back John Brooks who, as Klinsmann pointed out, lost his mark, Rafael Marquez, on Marquez’s late winner off a corner kick in the 2-1 loss to Mexico. Four nights later down in San Jose, a demoralized Brooks turned in a disastrous performance against Costa Rica. This same 23-year-old came close to earning a near-perfect player rating in the USA’s 1-0 victory over Paraguay at last summer’s Copa America Centenario.
You don’t have to be embedded in the U.S. dressing room to draw the conclusion that Klinsmann, with his insistence on getting his players out of their “comfort zone,” his thinly veiled disdain for MLS players, his willingness to take chances on any and all European-based players, his infamous dropping of longtime U.S. captain Donovan on the eve of Brasil ’14 . . . was not a players’ coach. And players’ coaches tend to have some support among the people in uniform when they get into trouble. There was barely a peep from those wearing U.S. uniforms after Gulati dropped the hammer.
Comment V: Is Arena Mr. Fix-it?
His first stab at professional coaching, with DC United in 1996, was, initially, a disaster. A month into Major League Soccer’s first season, the team representing the nation’s capital was a laughingstock. Arena quickly fired several players and United went on to win the league championship. A year later, it won another.
Can Arena fix this with eight CONCACAF qualifiers remaining? Odds remain good that the U.S. will qualify for the 2018 World Cup regardless of who is coach. The top three finishers earn berths in Russia, and the fourth-place team remains alive through a home-and-home playoff with Asia’s fifth-place finisher.
But at this point, U.S. Soccer is in the position of merely hoping for an eighth straight World Cup appearance. Should the team reach Russia ’18, the U.S. will be back in the familiar position of hoping for little more than surviving its first-round group and a trip to the second round of a World Cup. Klinsmann’s promise of genuine progress remains a luxury . . . and an unfulfilled dream.
Filed under: Gianni Infantino, Uncategorized | Tags: 2018 World Cup, 2022 World Cup, Andorra, Arab Spring, Asian Football Confederation, Australia, Bahrain, Brazil '14, Brig, Cameroon, Dutch East Indies, European Championship, FIFA, FIFA Council, FIFA Executive Committee, France, France '98, Gianni Infantino, Honduras, Jerome Champagne, Joao Havelange, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Michel Platini, NCAA basketball tournament, Prince Ali, Qatar, Russia, San Marino, Sepp Blatter, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim, South Korea, UEFA, UEFA general secretary, Visp, World Cup, Zaire, Zurich
A dark horse candidate–Michel Platini’s lieutenant at the UEFA–emerged as the victor in a tense, six-hour FIFA presidential election in Zurich as member nations sought to put behind them years of scandal that cost Sepp Blatter his job as world soccer boss and led to the indictment of 41 soccer officials and marketing agencies.
Gianni Infantino, an Italian-Swiss attorney who grew up in the Alpine Village of Brig–just seven miles from Blatter’s hometown of Visp–surprisingly finished first in the initial balloting, attracting 88 votes to 85 for the favorite, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim of Bahrain, 27 for Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan and seven for Jerome Champagne of France. With no one having won a two-thirds majority, that set up a second ballot for the first time in 42 years, and with a simple majority of the 104 votes needed, Infantino out-polled Salman, 115 to 88. Ali received four votes and Champagne none.
Salman, the head of the Asian Football Confederation, was the front-runner during the four-month campaign, but he apparently was undone by concerns over his actions during the Arab Spring riots of 2011. Infantino only entered the race in October to hold a place for Platini, who was under investigation for financial wrongdoing and ultimately was banned from soccer activities by FIFA for six years.
Infantino, 45, will be president until May 2019, completing Blatter’s term. Blatter resigned under pressure last May, four days after winning a fifth four-year term as FIFA chief. He subsequently was banned for eight years–later reduced to six–for financial mismanagement related to his dealings with Platini.
Before the election the member federations approved a wide-ranging slate of reforms intended to increase transparency, foster greater inclusion and restore the confidence of sponsors. Among them, FIFA presidents will be limited to three four-year teams, and the FIFA Executive Committee will be expanded from 24 to 36 members (six of whom must be women) and renamed the FIFA Council. [February 26]
Comment: Best of luck to Infantino in righting the FIFA ship. But beware of another Swiss bearing gifts.
Just as Blatter before him and Brazilian Joao Havelange before him, Infantino assumes the world soccer throne having made offers to please the have-nots among the membership, including more funding steered in their direction from the $5 billion taken in by the 2014 World Cup. But for those who consider the World Cup the greatest of all sporting events, what’s troubling is Infantino’s stance that the tournament be expanded from 32 finalists to 40.
It doesn’t seem like much: eight extra nations, probably 10 groups of four teams instead of the eight groups of four at Brazil ’14 and every World Cup since France ’98. But does international soccer’s biggest stage really need an additional eight no-hopers, eight teams that under today’s format wouldn’t have even been strong enough to earn the opportunity to finish last in a World Cup first-round group?
World Cups have had contenders who hadn’t a prayer of even surviving the opening round of a 16-nation tournament, from Dutch East Indies in 1938 and South Korea (0 goals for, 16 against, in two matches) in 1954 to Zaire (a 9-0 loser to Yugoslavia) in 1974. But while the balance of power around the world has improved, FIFA has maintained the World Cup gap between the strongest nations and the rest by expanding the tournament, first to 24 nations in 1982, then the present 32 in ’98. As a result, the finals remains diluted, and we get performances like those of Cameroon, Australia and Honduras two years ago, which went a combined 0-9-0 with five goals scored and 26 conceded. That amounted to matches not worth watching on what is the sport’s grand stage.
The parameters for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and ’22 in Qatar have already been set, so the first time Infantino could spring a 40-nation tournament on the world wouldn’t be possible until 2026, whose host–the U.S., perhaps–has yet to be determined. But Americans already have seen how these things get out of control. The NCAA basketball tournament started modestly enough in 1939 as an eight-school affair. Within a dozen years it had been expanded to 16, then doubled again in 1975. Four years after that it was 40, and the year after that 48. It has since grown by degrees to 68 schools, and for the past five years there has been pressure to expand it to 128. And the driving force behind this amazing expansion has been–no surprise here–television money.
Infantino has to lead the reform of FIFA while his organization deals with a current deficit of $108 million. A tall order. Should he win a term in his own right, he’d have the opportunity to make a 40-nation World Cup a reality in 2026. And he would know how to get it done. In his previous post, as UEFA general secretary, Infantino oversaw the expansion of the European Championship from 16 teams to 24. If that seems bloated, it is: That’s nearly half the UEFA’s membership of 54 nations. Ridiculous, but countries like San Marino, Liechtenstein and Andorra can dream, now, can’t they? And soccer fans who want to watch a competition like the Euro Championship that offers the highest possible quality can hope that no-hopers like that continue to be able to do nothing more than dream.
Filed under: 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, Uncategorized | Tags: 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, 2018 World Cup, Andres Guardado, Aston Villa, Blackburn, Brad Friedel, Brazil '14, Brondby IF, Canada, Canaleros, Catrachos, Chester, Columbus Crew, Costa Rica, Cuba, Darren Mattocks, Denmark, El-Tri, England, Fox Sports, Galatasaray, Honduras, Ian Darke, Jamaica, Jesus Corona, John Harkes, Lincoln Financial Field, Liverpool, Major League Soccer, Marcelo Balboa, Mexico, Michael Bradley, Michael Hector, New Zealand, Newcastle United, Oribe Peralta, Panama, Pasadena, Paul Aguilar, Philadelphia, PPL Park, Reggae Boyz, Rose Bowl, Russia, Soca Warriors, Taylor Trellman, Ticos, Timmy Chandler, Tottenham, Trinidad & Tobago, Turkey, U.S., UCLA
Mexico shook off its funk and stormed to its seventh CONCACAF Gold Cup title, defeating upstart Jamaica, 3-1, in the final before a partisan sellout crowd of 68,930 at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field.
Andres Guardado opened the scoring in the 31st minute with a spectacular left-footed volley off a cross by Paul Aguilar. That ended a frustrating 272-minute stretch in which the Mexicans had failed to score from anywhere but the penalty spot. Jesus Corona, voted the Gold Cup’s top young player, increased the lead to 2-0 two minutes into the second half after stealing a ball from Michael Hector, and in the 61st minute Oribe Peralta capitalized on another blunder by Hector to put the match out of reach. Darren Mattocks got the Reggae Boyz a consolation goal in the 81st.
The triumph earned El Tri a playoff with the U.S. on October 10 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., with a berth in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup at stake.
The U.S. won the 2013 Gold Cup and could have secured a trip outright to the Confederations Cup in Russia by winning the ’15 tournament, but the Americans were defeated by Jamaica, 2-1, in the semifinals and then sagged to a loss to Panama in the third-place game at PPL Park in Chester, Penn., bowing on penalty kicks, 3-2, after a 1-1 draw. [July 26]
Comment I: An aberration? No climactic meeting of the U.S. and Mexico in the final, as the tournament promoters had hoped? Perhaps. Maybe we’ll know as early as the autumn of 2017, when the CONCACAF qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup conclude. But the balance of power in CONCACAF continues to shift, and the hold of Mexico and the U.S. on the top two rungs continues to erode, by degrees.
The Mexicans needed all of three late penalty-kick calls in the quarterfinals and semifinals to reach the championship match (thanks to Guardado, they converted them all). The Americans failed to impress in group play, buried a Cuban team decimated by defections in the second round, then went back to failing to impress thereafter and were rewarded with a deserved fourth-place finish.
Are Jamaica and Panama that good? Of course not. Neither is Costa Rica, Honduras or Trinidad & Tobago. The most recent FIFA World Rankings placed the Reggae Boyz at No. 55, the Canaleros at No. 65, the Ticos at No. 38, the Catrachos at No. 81, and the Soca Warriors at No. 56.
Fortunately for the U.S. (29th) and Mexico (26th), while CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifiers remain a challenge–with road matches ranging from headaches to nightmares–the outcome has been similar over the past five campaigns: The Americans and El Tri qualify and are joined by . . . who? For 1998, it was Jamaica, in its World Cup debut. For ’02, Costa Rica. For ’06, it was the Costa Ricans and, for the first time, Trinidad & Tobago. For 2010, Honduras qualified, and for Brazil ’14 it was Costa Rica and Honduras. It’s like a game of Whack a Mole, as first one CONCACAF contender pops out of its hole, then ducks back down and a different one pops up.
And so the battle for the region’s 3 1/2 berths at the 2018 World Cup heats up this fall, and everyone has the U.S. and Mexico with boarding passes to Russia. Many in the media describe the October playoff between the two at the Rose Bowl as being very important because the winner goes on to the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia, “something of a dress rehearsal for the next World Cup.” But the U.S. or Mexico might–just might–go to Russia dress rehearsing for nothing.
Because if there was any proof that there’s no longer a sure thing in CONCACAF, it came in late 2013, when Mexico shockingly finished fourth in the World Cup qualifiers and had to sweat out a playoff with New Zealand to punch its ticket to Brazil. (Were it not for two U.S. stoppage-time goals at Panama in the region’s final round, Mexico would have been eliminated for the first time since 1934–when the eliminators happened to be the Americans.) And as CONCACAF nations evolve, there’s nothing to say that Costa Rica, a surprise World Cup quarterfinalist in ’14; Honduras, a semifinalist in the previous two Gold Cups; Panama and Jamaica; and even Trinidad & Tobago; don’t all pop out of their mole holes during a single World Cup cycle, leaving the U.S. and/or Mexico on the outside looking in. Heck, don’t count out Canada (No. 101), which won the 2000 Gold Cup, finished third in ’02 and now has a generation of players developing in Major League Soccer.
Comment II: The USA’s breakout star during the tournament was a recent retiree. Timmy Chandler was a disaster, Michael Bradley disappointed, but former U.S. goalkeeper Brad Friedel, as a television color commentator, proved to be a find for Fox Sports during its Gold Cup coverage as it gears up for much bigger assignments, from CONCACAF World Cup qualifying beginning late this year to Russia 2018 itself.
Friedel gives you the whole field, as a goalkeeper should, but he also gives you the whole picture and speaks with the authority of a player who’s gone from the top collegiate level (UCLA) to MLS (Columbus Crew) to national team (82 caps, two World Cups) to international clubs (Brondby IF of Denmark, Newcastle United of England, Galatasaray of Turkey, and Liverpool, Blackburn, Aston Villa and Tottenham, all of England). He’s quick, articulate, witty and enthusiastic about the U.S. without losing his credibility–no easy task during this transitory period in soccer’s history in this country. And unlike most of his predecessors, he compliments his play-by-play partner, instead of making him work.
Friedel is far better than a long line of ex-U.S. internationals who’d hoped to be the second banana in a national soccer broadcast booth for the next couple of decades. Friedel is better than John Harkes, he’s better than Marcelo Balboa, and he’s better than the insufferable Taylor Trellman, whose partner, the outstanding play-by-play man Ian Darke, must dread going to work. Friedel’s, literally, a keeper.
Filed under: Klinsmann, Uncategorized | Tags: 2014 World Cup, Boca Raton, Clint Dempsey, commissioner, Don Garber, Florida, Honduras, Juergen Klinsmann, Landon Donovan, Major Soccer League, Michael Bradley, national team coach, national technical director, Sunil Gulati, Toronto FC, U.S. National Team, U.S. Soccer
Major League Soccer Commissioner Dan Garber fired a broadside at U.S. National Team coach Juergen Klinsmann, accusing him of comments damaging to his league and the sport in this country.
Garber summoned the media to rip Klinsmann for comments made two days earlier in which he said Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley hurt their international careers by returning from Europe to play for MLS clubs. The commissioner also said Klinsmann’s decision to leave Landon Donovan, the face of MLS, off his 2014 World Cup squad was “inexcusable.”
Said Klinsmann on Monday, the day before the USA’s friendly with Honduras in Boca Raton: “I made clear with Clint’s move back and Michael’s move back that it’s going to be very difficult to keep the same level that they experienced at the places where they were. It’s just reality. It’s just being honest.”
Garber fired back the day after the 1-1 draw in Florida: “Juergen’s comments are very, very detrimental to the league, to the sport of soccer in North America, detrimental to everything we’re trying to do. Not only that, I think they’re wrong.
“To have a national team coach saying that signing with our league is not going to be good for their careers, and not good for their prospects with the national team, is incredibly damaging to our league.
“I will do anything and everything to defend our league, our players and our owners. I don’t believe anyone is above the sport, and I believe everyone has to be accountable for their behavior.” [October 15]
Comment: They both need to shut up.
But, of course, they can’t. Klinsmann will continue to be asked point-blank about this player and that, and Garber has to protect his product.
Klinsmann was only telling the truth. To grow, anyone in the U.S. player pool needs to play for a club at the highest level possible, and that’s in Europe, not MLS, provided it’s in the top division of a top soccer-playing nation. Garber’s reaction–writing angry letters to Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati and publicly blasting the national team coach/national technical director in a hastily arranged press teleconference–made him look peevish and unprofessional.
However, Klinsmann has to face the fact that any U.S. player, no matter how talented, is taking a risk in signing with a European club. A player has to play, and if he’s shelved by injury or a drop in performance or a coach who thinks little of American players (there’s plenty of those), he’s regressing and probably should have remained in MLS, where he’d be considered a star. (That description fits a player like Bradley, who left Roma for Toronto FC and a healthy pay increase after the Italian club brought in several new players, threatening the midfielder’s playing time.) These guys have to think of their career as a whole, and they’re not on the level of Klinsmann, who in his day would have started, and starred, for any powerhouse club in Europe.
Garber needs to rein it in, skate past this ongoing issue and resume talking up MLS’s strengths, which are a tremendous fan experience unique to American sports and a level of talent that will entertain all but the Euro-snobs. If he continues to have a beef with Klinsmann, Garber sits on the U.S. Soccer board, the body that serves as Klinsmann’s boss, and he can air his disagreements behind closed doors with the people who matter when it comes to the fellow at the helm of the men’s national teams program. As for Klinsmann, he needs to become a better diplomat without losing his credibility with a press and public that is growing increasingly sophisticated and demanding. Either that or hope that MLS both improves on the field and stops making itself an increasingly attractive choice for top American players faced with a difficult career decision.
Filed under: Bright start for CONCACAF, Uncategorized | Tags: Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Cameroon, Colombia, CONCACAF, Costa Rica, Croatia, Diego Forlan, FIFA, Fortaleza, France, Ghana, Greece, Group "A", Group "C", Group "D", Honduras, Japan, Joel Campbell, Luis Suarez, Marcos Urena, Mark Geiger, Mexico, New Jersey, Oscar Duarte, Sean Hurd, South Africa '10, Ticos, U.S., Uruguay, Wilmar Roldan, World Cup, Yuichi Nishimura
Costa Rica pulled off the first major upset of the World Cup, surprising Uruguay, 3-1, in Fortaleza in a Group “D” game.
Joel Campbell, Oscar Duarte and substitute Marcos Urena all scored in the second half to shock the Uruguayans, who reached the semifinals four years ago. Two of Uruguay’s heroes at South Africa ’10 were non-factors; Diego Forlan, still recovering from the flu, was substituted in the 60th minute, and Luis Suarez, 23 days removed from knee surgery, did not play. [June 14]
Comment I: The Ticos’ victory came 24 hours after Mexico defeated Cameroon, 1-0, to join Brazil–a 3-1 winner over Croatia in the tournament opener June 12–atop Group “A”.
The U.S. opens play Monday against Ghana and Honduras will face France on Sunday. But at the moment, it’s a bright start for CONCACAF. The Confederacion Norte-Centroamericana y del Caribe de Futbol has never had much respect from the rest of the world, which can point to the region’s thin World Cup record: the USA’s semifinal adventure at the very first cup in 1930, then three quarterfinal appearances by Mexico and one by the Americans since. At South Africa, Mexico, Honduras and the U.S. combined to win two games, lose five and tie four, with the Mexicans and Americans tumbling in the round of 16.
The victories by Costa Rica and Mexico may not mean much at a time when the combined FIFA rankings of CONCACAF’s four current World Cup finalists is a ponderous 94, but it’s temporary progress for a region still in search of a World Cup group seeding that doesn’t come by way of being a host (Mexico ’70 and ’86, USA ’94).
Comment II: Earlier in the day, Colombia, a dark horse favorite, pounded Greece, 3-0, in Belo Horizonte. The Group “C” game was played at breakneck speed, but it ended without incident.
That bodes well for the referee, Mark Geiger of New Jersey, who was assisted by linesman and fellow countryman Sean Hurd. With a dreadful penalty-kick call by Yuichi Nishimura of Japan in the Brazil-Croatia match and two Mexican goals erroneously called offside by Wilmar Roldan of Colombia the next day, another solid performance by Geiger could get him into the middle for the knockout rounds–a first for an American referee.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 2016 European Championship, 2016 Summer Olympics, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, CONCACAF Gold Cup, Confederacion Sudamericana de Futbol, CONMEBOL, Copa America, Costa Rica, Honduras, Major League Soccer, Mexico, Miami, Rio de Janeiro, South America, Sunil Gulati, U.S. National Team, United States, Venezuela
The long-rumored centennial Copa America in America became a reality when CONMEBOL announced in Miami that it would play its 2016 championship in the United States.
The tournament, to be held outside South America for the first time, is scheduled for June 3 through 26. In addition to CONMEBOL’s 10 members, the host U.S., Mexico and four other CONCACAF nations will round out a field of 16 teams.
Many questions remain, among them the cities that will host matches.
“One benefit we have in a country like the U.S. is that we have many, many venues that can host this,” said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. “A number of venues have been in contact with us in the last 48 hours that want to host it. Some [candidates] in person here in Miami have talked to us, and a number by e-mail.”
Also at issue is the timing of the tournament, which would be a special edition wedged between the regularly scheduled 2015 Copa America in Chile and 2019 Copa in Brazil. It would overlap with the 2016 European Championship, which kicks off June 10, and conflict with the same season as the 2016 Summer Olympics soccer tournament in Rio de Janeiro. It would mean the cancellation of that year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, and CONCACAF clubs are not obligated to release players to play in an event that is a South American tournament. For the U.S., that issue becomes problematic because Major League Soccer will be in mid-season.
The Copa America is the world’s oldest continental soccer competition, first held in Argentina in 1916 to commemorate that nation’s founding as an independent nation; midway through the tournament, the four participants announced the formation of the first-ever continental soccer confederation, the Confederacion Sudamericana de Futbol. It’s 14 years older than the World Cup and 44 years older than the European Championship. [May 1]
Comment: For those who see this as a way for South American soccer to milk the U.S. of many millions of dollars, keep in mind that clubs and national teams from South America, CONCACAF and, especially, Mexico, have been coming here to feed at the trough not for years but for decades.
Of course, there are always the dollars. But when it comes to sense, the big winner here is the U.S. National Team.
The U.S., like Mexico, cannot progress living on a steady diet of regional competition–regardless of how hard it is to win a World Cup qualifier at Costa Rica or Honduras. Playing competitive, non-World Cup games against European opposition is an impossibility, which is unfortunate considering that U.S. internationals play for European, not South American, clubs. South America and its Copa America, then, makes perfect sense.
Unlike Mexico, a regular guest over the past 20 years at the Copa America and twice a finalist, the USA’s participation has been spotty. It crashed in the group stage in 1993, surprised all by reaching the semifinals against Brazil in 1995 and predictably crashed again in the first round after sending an experimental team to the 2007 Copa in Venezuela.
It is hoped that the Centennial Copa America is a rousing success and a good U.S. performance inspires–compels–the U.S. Soccer Federation to find a way to make its national team a regular guest participant in future South American championships. Otherwise, it’s a continuation of a dull treadmill involving the Gold Cup and friendlies against international opponents who, depending on the circumstances, may be under strength and/or under inspired.
Filed under: 2014 World Cup draw, USA's Group of Death | Tags: 2014 World Cup draw, Amazon, Argentina, Asia, Australia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cameroon, Chile, Clint Dempsey, CONCACAF, Costa do Sauipe, Costa Rica, Cristiano Ronaldo, Cuiaba, DeMarcus Beasley, Eddie Johnson, England, FIFA Player of the Year, Fortaleza, Germany, Ghana, Golden Generation, Group "B", Group "D", Group "F", Group "G", Group of Death, Guadalajara, Holland, Honduras, Iran, Italy, Japan, Jogi Loew, Juergen Klinsmann, Landon Donovan, Lionel Messi, Luis Figo, Luxembourg, Major League Soccer, Manaus, Maracana, Mexico, Michael Bradley, Natal, Nigeria, Paris, Portugal, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Sao Paulo, South America, South Korea, Spain, Steve Cherundolo, Sunil Gulati, Sweden, Tim Howard, Torsten Frings, Ulsan, United States, Uruguay, Washington DC
The 2014 World Cup draw, as expected, produced multiple “Groups of Death” as the 32 finalists were sorted into eight groups of four nations each for the 64-match tournament, which will begin June 12 scattered over a dozen Brazilian cities.
The United States got the worst of it, being drawn into Group “G” with three-time champion Germany, the Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal and Ghana, the nation that knocked the Americans out of the last two World Cups. Not far behind in terms of difficulty were Group “B” (defending champion Spain, 2010 runner-up Holland, Chile, plus Australia) and Group “D” (2010 third-place finisher Uruguay, four-time champ Italy, England and Costa Rica).
Conducted at the beachfront resort of Costa do Sauipe before an international television audience, the draw also produced a first-round cakewalk for Argentina, which was joined in Group “F” by the tournament’s only World Cup newcomer, Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as Iran and Nigeria. [December 6]
Comment I: In a repeat of the Brazilian nightmare of 1950, Brazil will tumble in its own World Cup. Argentina will defeat host Brazil on Sunday, July 13, before a stunned, heartbroken crowd of 73,531 at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, and lift the World Cup trophy for the third time.
Argentina, unlike host Brazil, has been steeled by 16 World Cup qualifiers in the ultra-tough South American region–and finished first. It went into the draw at 6-1 odds, just behind Brazil and Germany. It will be playing virtually at home, without all the pressure that comes with hosting a World Cup. It will have the motivation of the opportunity to humiliate its neighbor and historic arch-rival. Its only question mark is its defense, while its absolute certainty is up front, four-time FIFA Player of the Year Lionel Messi, who will turn 27 the day before his team meets its final group-stage opponent, Nigeria. And the draw produced brackets that make a Brazil-Argentina final possible.
Comment II: To distraught fans of the U.S. National Team: Enough with the hand-wringing.