Soccerstoriesbook's Blog


IN SEARCH OF NASTY BOYS

Brazil, led by playmaker Neymar, defeated the U.S., 4-1, in a friendly before a crowd of 67,619 at FedEx Field in Landover, MD, in the second-to-last tune-up before the Americans open qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

The 20-year-old Neymar converted a penalty kick to open the scoring and set up two other goals as the Brazilians improved to 16-1-0 against the   U.S., which was coming off a 5-1 rout of Scotland four days earlier in Jacksonville.  Neymar’s Santos teammate, goalkeeper Rafael, made three spectacular saves to frustrate the Americans.

Despite some bright spots–including the play of forward Herculez Gomez, who scored the lone American goal just before halftime to cut Brazil’s lead to 2-1–U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann was upset not only with the officiating of Costa Rican referee Jeffrey Calderon but the overall play of his side.

“I think we need to get an edge–more nastier,” he said after the match.  “Maybe we’re a little bit too naive.  Maybe we don’t want to hurt people.  But that’s what you’ve got to do.  You’ve got to do that at the end of the day.  We’ve got to step on their toes more and get them more frustrated and make a case with the referee maybe that’s wrong for us, not only the opponents.  There was a clear penalty on Herculez Gomez in the second half not given.  But it is what it is.”

Klinsmann also took exception with the penalty kick, awarded in the 12th minute for a handball in the box by defender Oguchi Onyewu, and Brazil’s fourth goal, scored in the 87th by Pato, whom the U.S. believed was offside.

Comment I:  Klinsmann was criticized in some quarters for his “nasty” remarks.  The U.S. wins clean, y’know, or it doesn’t win at all.

Probably a poor choice of words despite his command of the English language.  Most American coaches probably would have put it this way:  The U.S., for most of the first half, showed Brazil far too much respect and deserved to be down by two goals after 26 minutes.

(Obviously, one player he need not convert is midfielder Jermaine Jones, who could be described as a latter-day Chris Armas with real judgement/anger management issues.  His tackle from behind on Neymar–in front of the Brazil bench–was the latest addition to a long list of nasty incidents.)

Comment II:  After five years of faithfully giving us the Bob Bradley Bunker, the U.S., under Klinsmann, is attempting to become an attacking, risk-taking side.  It’s a work in progress, but some of the pieces don’t fit any longer.  Center backs Onyewu and captain Carlos Bocanegra, who was honored before the game for earning his 100th cap, now find themselves without a host of friendly midfielders directly in front of them when they retreat to the top of their own penalty area.  Klinsmann’s challenge in the coming months is to identify those fast, skillful players–converted midfielders, if need be–who may lack in defensive instincts but make up for it in smoothly getting the ball out of the back.

Comment III:  The early handball call against Onyewu that left the U.S. swimming upstream was correct.

There was a question of whether Onyewu was fully in the penalty area when he handled Leandro Damiao’s shot.  He was.

There was a question of whether the ball played Onyewu or Onyewu played the ball.  The shot struck the U.S. defender in the left arm, but he twisted in such a fashion–his right arm reaching across his body–that it appeared that he could have caught the ball instead of just knocking it down.

Referee Calderon got it right.



SHOOTIN’ HOOPS
The U.S. National Men’s and Women’s teams will have a new look when they play their next domestic matches in late May.  For the first time since Nike took over as the USA’s uniform supplier, both teams will feature the same design and concept.  In this case, the jersey will feature horizontal red and white stripes with a blue crew neck collar; the shorts are solid blue and the socks white with a blue band at the top.  The men will debut their uniforms May 26 when they play host to Scotland in a friendly at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, FL.  The women will sport the new look the following day in a friendly against China at PPL Park in Chester, PA.  [April 16]
Comment:  For Nike, which has been getting it wrong for so long, perhaps the tinkering can end for the next 10 or 15 years.  he U.S. jersey has always cried out for horizontal red and white stripes.  Given the most prominent feature of our flag, what could be more distinctively American?  The closest the team has ever come to that, however, was at the 1994 World Cup, when adidas, the supplier at the time, gave the team vertical red and white stripes.  (The shorts, in a weird nod to Levi Strauss, were denim blue.)  Worse, the jersey stripes were wavy, as if adidas didn’t want the U.S. National Team to be confused with Chivas Guadalajara or the Paraguayan National Team.  (Paraguay failed to qualify for  the ’94 World Cup, and neither, for obvious reasons, did Chivas).  American soccer apparently has had an aversion to horizontal red and white stripes–call them hoops– since January 1992 with the introduction of the World Cup USA ’94 mascot, a Warner Brothers’ creation called Striker, the World Cup Pup.  Striker was probably the most easily forgotten feature of the World Cup once the tournament began, but at the time, his first appearance was attacked, chiefly by Soccer America columnist Paul Gardner, because of the horizontal stripes on his jersey.  Typically American, wrote Gardner:  Given a World Cup, their mascot trots out wearing a rugby jersey.
Some, but not many, pointed out that such storied sides as Glasgow Celtic and Queens Park Rangers–Brits like Gardner–have proudly worn horizontal stripes for decades.  Didn’t matter at the time.  The first-time hosts were desperate to be politically soccer correct, and so Striker’s design was quickly altered, giving him red sleeves and a white trunk–no stripes at all.  A silly over-reaction.
Nearly two decades later, it is hoped that the U.S. can take the field May 26 in red and white hoops and no one will mistake them for ruggers.  Given time, and a few victories, they’ll be unmistakably Americans.

Clint Dempsey, in the USA's new garb

Striker, in his previous life as a rugby player

The reformed Striker