Filed under: 2015 Algarve Cup, Uncategorized | Tags: Abby Wambach, Africa, Alex Morgan, Algarve Cup, Amy Rodriguez, Argentina, Asia, BC Place, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, CONCACAF, Copa America, Denmark, Estadio Algarve, Estadio Municipal, European Championship, Faro, FIFA Women's World Cup, Fox Sports, France, Germany, Holland, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Lagos, Mexico, NCAA Division I, Norway, Parchal, Portugal, Spain, Stadium Bela Vista, Sweden, Switzerland, U.S., U.S. National Women's Team, Uruguay, Vancouver, Vila Real de Santo Antonio
The U.S. National Women’s Team awoke in the second half to score three goals and cruise past Switzerland, 3-0, in an Algarve Cup match at Vila Real de Santo Antonio and take over first place in Group “B” with a 2-0-0 record. Alex Morgan opened the scoring in the 54th minute, Amy Rodriguez doubled the lead with a brilliant finish off a goalmouth scramble in the 72nd and Abby Wambach, aided by a poor Swiss back pass, sealed the victory nine minutes from time.
The Americans will play Iceland three days later in Lagos their its final group match. The two best group winners will meet in the first-place game; Brazil leads Group “A” (1-0-1) and France tops Group “C” (2-0-0). [March 6]
Comment: This 22nd Algarve Cup underscores how far women’s soccer has come . . . and how far it has to go in comparison to the men’s game.
Held in the tourist-friendly southernmost region of Portugal, it’s the biggest annual tournament in women’s soccer. Nine of this year’s 12 national teams have qualified for this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada. With the exception of host Portugal (No. 42), every team is in the top 20 in FIFA’s latest Women’s World Rankings. How tough is the competition? The U.S. won two Women’s World Cups before it won the first of its nine Algarve Cups. And Fox Sports is televising it live.
Yet despite the prestige and world-class quality of this event, attendance puts the Algarve Cup on a par with a decent NCAA Division I women’s match. The U.S.-Switzerland game at Vila Real de Santo Antonio’s Estadio Municipal drew a crowd generously listed as 500; the USA’s 2-1 win over Norway at the same site two days earlier also attracted “500.” Not all five of the Algarve Cup venues have bothered to report turnstile counts, but through the first two rounds of group play the biggest turnout was 769 for Sweden’s 4-2 upset of top-ranked Germany. Denmark appears to be a particularly hard sell: 133 patrons watched the Danes lose to Japan, 2-1, at Stadium Bela Vista in Parchal, and another 45 returned to see them get thumped by France, 4-1. How seriously are the Portuguese organizers taking all this? The U.S.-Iceland match cannot be televised due to inadequate lighting at Municipal Stadium in Lagos.
This is not unusual. The local Portuguese have a history of being completely indifferent to this showcase of women’s international soccer. Most matches have been played before crowds in the dozens–a stark reminder that outstanding women’s soccer doesn’t always draw. A women’s Olympic soccer gold-medal match? Sure. And the 2015 Women’s World Cup final on July 5 in Vancouver will fill the 55,000-seat BC Place. As for last year’s Algarve Cup final at Estadio Algarve in Faro, 600 bothered to show up for Germany’s 3-0 rout of defending world champion Japan.
Imagine, then, a men’s Algarve Cup, an annual tournament involving the world’s 12 best national teams–virtually a combination of the European Championship and Copa America. To the critics of the expansion of the men’s World Cup over the years, this would be a Hyper-World Cup with none of the long-shots and no-hopers from Africa, Asia and CONCACAF (apologies to the U.S. and Mexico) that those critics dismiss as mere fodder. Play it in Portugal, where the national team is currently ranked seventh worldwide, and you’ve got No. 1 Germany, No. 2 Argentina, No. 3 Colombia, No. 4 Belgium, No. 5 Holland, No. 6 Brazil, No. 8 France, No. 9 Uruguay, No. 10 Spain, No. 11 Switzerland and No. 12 Italy. Not bad. And chances are it would out-draw the Algarve Cup.
Filed under: U.S. 1, Uncategorized | Tags: Alamo, Andres Iniesta, Argentina, Belgium, Brad Guzan, Brazil, Chile, Chris Wondolowski, Clint Dempsey, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czechoslovakia, DaMarcus Beasley, Dino Zoff, France '98, Geoff Cameron, Ghana, Golden Generation, Group of Death, Holland, Hungary, Juergen Klinsmann, Julian Green, Kevin De Bruyne, Korea/Japan '02, Matt Besler, Mexico, Michael Bradley, Norway, Omar Gonzalez, Paraguay, Pele Generation, Portugal, Romania, Romelu Lukaku, Russia 2018, Salvador, Soviet Union, Spain, Sweden, Thibaut Courtois, Tim Howard, U.S., Uruguay, World Cup, Xavi
In a match that looked like a re-enactment of the siege of the Alamo, Belgium pounded away at the U.S. defense for 93 minutes before breaking through and ultimately winning, 2-1, in overtime to earn a World Cup quarterfinal showdown with Argentina.
Midfield dynamo Kevin De Bruyne and substitute striker Romelu Lukaku combined on both Belgian goals, beating an exhausted U.S. defense that was bombarded with 38 shots. Three minutes into extra time, Lukaku beat U.S. defender Matt Besler down the right wing to set up De Bruyne for the first goal, then a pass by De Bruyne allowed Lukaku to score on a powerful short-range shot. The desperate Americans staged a furious comeback and were rewarded in the 107th minute when 18-year-old substitute Julian Green volleyed home a chipped pass into the box by Michael Bradley, but the rally fell short.
The game was played in Salvador, and fittingly the man of the match was the USA’s savior, Tim Howard, who put on a two-hour goalkeeping clinic. He made 16 saves, many of them spectacular, in sparing his side an embarrassingly lopsided defeat. It was the most saves in a World Cup game since the statistic was first kept in 1966.
Remarkably, the Americans nearly won the game in the final seconds of regulation added-on time. Substitute Chris Wondolowski, a natural poacher, latched onto the ball in a goalmouth scramble but put his shot over the bar in an effort to lift it over sprawling Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. [July 1]
Comment: Now, following the handwringing, the postmortems start. Americans caught World Cup fever in a big way for the first time. But the Belgian police banged on the door and broke up their party, and they want the next party to last beyond midnight.
How can the U.S. get better and go farther at Russia 2018 (the team’s qualification being a given)? A stronger Major League Soccer? An expanded U.S. academy program developing more and more young talent? The U.S. goal will soon be in the capable hands of Brad Guzan–unless the unpredictable Juergen Klinsmann tries to make Howard, now 35, the USA’s answer to Dino Zoff. DaMarcus Beasley isn’t likely to play in a fifth World Cup, so there is a need for a left back, and forward Clint Dempsey will be 35 in four years. Whether it’s Besler or Omar Gonzalez or Geoff Cameron or a newcomer in the central defense, Klinsmann needs to find the right duo and stick with it. And the midfield must somehow get better without a Xavi or Andres Iniesta on the horizon.
Who knows if a “Group of Death” awaits the U.S. if it reaches Russia. And if it reaches the second round there, will its opponent be Belgium, or a side like Ghana (2010), or Mexico (2002) … or Brazil (1994). But it is a sure thing that the U.S. will be better–by how much is unknown, but it will be better.
The U.S. is nowhere near reaching its considerable potential. Participation figures that exceed 20 million and our soccer infrastructure say so. There’s also that intangible, the slowly continuing evolution of the soccer culture here. Since the Pele Generation of the 1970s, the sport has improved on the grassroots level by leaps and bounds–and, admittedly, sometimes by small increments–but it has improved, and that improvement goes on uninterrupted . Compare that, then, with countries where soccer is well-established and yet the fortunes of the national team waxes and wanes, like Belgium. Or Chile, or Portugal, or Uruguay, or Romania, or Holland, or Norway, or Colombia, or Costa Rica, or Paraguay, or Sweden, or the remnants of the former Soviet Union or former Czechoslovakia. Most are left awaiting the emergence of its next “golden generation,” which may require several generations of waiting. A nation like Spain played in the first World Cup in 1930 and didn’t win one for 80 years. Hungary peaked in the early 1950s with one of the greatest teams ever and has been mostly an international soccer afterthought since.
The U.S. isn’t any of those nations. Plot the national team’s progress on a graph and the red line continues upward, sometimes sharply (Korea/Japan ’02), sometimes not (France ’98). It’s why many of the countries in the soccer-playing world would trade their past and present for the USA’s future in a heartbeat.
Filed under: Landon Donovan, Uncategorized | Tags: 1994 World Cup, 2014 World Cup, 2018 World Cup in Russia, Alejandro Bedoya, Aron Johannsson, Aston Villa, AZ Alkmaar, Azerbaijan, Bayern Munich, Besiktas, Bob Gansler, Brad Davis, Brad Evans, Brad Guzan, Chris Wondolowski, Clarence Goodson, Clint Dempsey, DaMarcus Beasley, DeAndre Yedlin, England, Eric Cantona, Everton, Fabian Johnson, FC Nurnberg, France, Geoff Cameron, Germany, Ghana, Graham Zusi, Group of Death, Hertha Berlin, Hoffenheim, Holland, Houston Dynamo, Jermaine Jones, Joe Corona, John Brooks, Jozy Altidore, Juergen Klinsmann, Julian Green, Kyle Beckerman, Landon Donovan, Landycakes, Los Angeles Galaxy, Major League Soccer, Mat Besler, Maurice Edu, Mexico, Michael Bradley, Michael Parkhurst, Mix Diskerud, Nantes, Nick Rimando, Nigeria, Norway, Omar Gonzalez, Portugal, Puebla, Real Salt Lake, Rosenborg, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders, Sporting Kansas City, Stanford University, Stoke City, Sunderland, Terence Boyd, Tim Howard, Timmy Chandler, Toronto FC, Turkey, U.S. National Team
Juergen Klinsmann, the coach hired to shake up the U.S. National Team, dropped the biggest bombshell of his controversial tenure by announcing a 23-man World Cup squad that does not include all-time U.S. scoring leader Landon Donovan, a player considered the best ever produced by this country.
Klinsmann had until June 2 to reveal his final roster, but with his preliminary squad still training at Stanford University ahead of final World Cup tune-ups against Azerbaijan (May 27), Turkey (June 1) and Nigeria (June 7), he pulled the trigger, sending home Brad Evans, Clarence Goodson, Maurice Edu, Michael Parkhurst, Joe Corona, Terence Boyd, and the man considered the face of American soccer.
The final 23 headed to Brasil ’14:
Goalkeepers — Brad Guzan (Aston Villa, England), Tim Howard (Everton, England), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake, MLS);
Defenders — DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla, Mexico), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City, MLS), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin, Germany), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City, England), Timmy Chandler (FC Nurnberg, Germany), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim, Germany), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders, MLS);
Midfielders — Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake, MLS), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes, France), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC, MLS), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo, MLS), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg, Norway), Julian Green (Bayern Munich, Germany), Jermaine Jones (Besiktas, Turkey), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City);
Forwards — Jozy Altidore (Sunderland, England), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders, MLS), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar, Holland), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes, MLS). [May 22]
Comment: This isn’t on a par with the decision to leave Eric Cantona off the roster of what would become 1998 World Cup champion France, but by American standards, it’s close. And, on the face of it, a completely unnecessary gamble.
In a perfect world, Klinsy’s grateful selection of players melds in Brazil and beats Ghana, upsets Portugal and walks arm-in-arm with Group “G” favorite Germany into the round of 16.
But in this imperfect world of Klinsmann’s own making, the U.S. could be tied late with Ghana or trailing Portugal or Germany by a goal, and standing at the halfway line, ready to ride to the rescue, will be Wondolowski or the 18-year-old Green (total international experience: one half hour), not the guy who’s scored 57 career goals, including five in his 12 World Cup matches (all U.S. records). In short, by omitting Donovan and assembling a team that includes Yedlin, Brooks, Gonzalez and 15 other players with no World Cup experience, Klinsmann, the coach whose aim is to motivate his players by making them uncomfortable, has succeeded in leaving everyone unsettled, including fans who, over the years, have derided Donovan with the nickname “Landycakes.”
Klinsmann described the decision as a matter of 23 players being better than the 32-year-old forward/midfielder: “… I just think the other guys right now are a little bit ahead of him.” Perhaps it’s true. But in soccer, player selection can be a very subjective thing. Perhaps the coach is still holding a grudge against Donovan for his well-publicized sabbatical in late 2012 and early 2013 that caused him to miss the USA’s first matches of the final round of World Cup qualifiers.
Whatever the reason, Klinsmann has created a potential nightmare for himself. Some have speculated that he has concluded that getting out of the so-called “Group of Death” is impossible and it’s best to blood young players like Yedlin (total U.S. minutes played: 34) in Brazil in preparation for the 2018 World Cup. But this isn’t the 1990 World Cup all over again, where then-coach Bob Gansler, looking to the ’94 World Cup the U.S. would host, threw a team averaging 23 years of age to the wolves. Three and out is no longer acceptable under any circumstances.
If the U.S. somehow advances out of Group “G” next month, Klinsmann is a bloody genius. But if the U.S. crashes, Klinsmann will be hounded by the spectre of Donovan and what might have been. And that will cast doubt on every decision he makes–whether risky or mundane–from now through Russia ’18.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 1996 Atlanta Games, Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Ali Daei, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, David Beckham, Denmark, England, Europe, Far East, Ferenc Puskas, FIFA Women's World Cup, FIFA Women's World Player of the Year, France, Gatorade, Germany, Harrison NJ, Holland, Italy, Japan, Johan Cruyff, Kristine Lilly, Lauren Cheney, Marco Van Basten, Megan Rapinoe, Mia Hamm, New Zealand, Nigeria, Nike, North Korea, Norway, Pele, Red Bull Arena, Scandinavia, South Korea, Sweden, U.S. National Women's Team, World Cup
Abby Wambach became the most prolific goal-scorer–male or female–in international soccer history when she scored four goals against South Korea in a friendly at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, as the U.S. rolled to a 5-0 victory.
All of Wambach’s goals were scored in the first half. Her third, which came in the 29th minute, gave her 159 for her career and put her past former U.S. teammate Mia Hamm.
The 33-year old scored the record-setter with a trademark diving header off a corner kick by midfielder Megan Rapinoe. A bench-clearing celebration followed as the crowd of 18,961 roared. She exited the match to another long ovation 13 minutes into the second half.
Wambach also passed Hamm in another category: The two had been tied at 38 career multi-goal games.
Wambach got even with Hamm with goals in the 10th and 19th minutes, both set up by Lauren Cheney. She capped her historic evening in first-half added-on time on a selfless pass by Alex Morgan.
At the moment, Wambach stands alone at 160 career international goals, followed by Hamm at 158. Among the men, Ali Daei of Iran (1993-2006) is on top with 109 goals in 149 appearances. Among European/South American males, Hungary’s Ferenc Puskas (1945-56) remains No. 1 with 84 in 85 matches, nearly a goal-per-game average. [June 20]
Comment: So who’s better, Abby Wambach or Mia Hamm, who retired in 2004 after 275 international appearances?
Hamm, of course, was an attacking midfielder, not a pure striker with the 5-foot-11 Wambach’s aerial ability in the penalty area. Hamm probably passed up several more goals, as her career assist total–144–suggests. (Wambach has 62; second on the U.S. list is the retired Kristine Lilly, 105). And while Wambach’s sheer drive, power and talent with her back to the goal are tremendous, Hamm could do it all in the attacking half, embarrassing a generation of would-be defenders in the process. In another country, Holland, among men, this would be a comparison between strike master Marco Van Basten and one of the most complete players of all time, Johan Cruyff. (For the record, Van Basten scored 37 goals in 73 games for the Dutch, Cruyff, 33 goals in 48 before his premature international retirement.)
And from a cultural standpoint, Hamm, thanks to her considerable skills, her two World Cup winner’s medals, her two Olympic gold medals, her two FIFA World Women’s Player of the Year awards and the marketing geniuses at Nike and Gatorade, remains the best-known American female soccer player in the U.S.–despite Wambach having won a FIFA World Women’s Player of the Year award of her own last year. Heck, among this country’s millions of non-soccer fans, Hamm may be the best-known soccer player, period, with all due respect to David Beckham and Pele.
On the other hand, perhaps it’s a wash. When Hamm made her U.S. debut in 1987, she was 15, and the women’s game was only beginning to be taken seriously in the U.S., Scandinavia, pockets of western Europe and the Far East–while it was frowned upon in macho Latin America, Africa and most of Asia. The first FIFA Women’s World Cup, won by the U.S., was four years away. The first women’s Olympic tournament, won by the U.S. at the Atlanta Games, was another five years away. It all seems like ages ago, and with the women’s game evolving at breakneck speed, the threats to U.S. hegemony aren’t just China, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Japan of Hamm’s day but Brazil, France, England, Canada, Australia and North Korea, while early powers like Italy and Denmark and Nigeria and New Zealand have faded into the second tier. Wambach’s is a different world, one a whole lot more crowded–crowded with better teams with better defenders.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 1980 Moscow Games, 1980 Winter Olympics, 2010 World Cup, 2014 World Cup, ABC, Aleksandr Kerzhakov, Argentina, Bear, Brent Goulet, Cold War, Commonwealth of Independent States, CONCACAF, Costa Rica, Czechoslovakia, Detroit, Eagle, East Germany, Egypt, England, European Championship, European Group "F", Fabio Capello, FIFA, FIFA World Rankings, Frank Klopas, Huntington Sheraton Hotel, Iran, Italy, John Doyle, John Harkes, Joseph Blatter, Juergen Klinsmann, Kevin Crow, Krasnodar, Kuban Stadium, Lake Placid, Libya, Los Angeles Olympics, Miami, Miracle on Grass, Miracle on Ice, Moscow, North American Soccer League, Norway, Orlando, Palo Alto, Pasadena, Paul Caligiuri, Peter Vermes, Port of Spain, Rick Davis, Roman Shirokov, Rose Bowl, Russia, San Francisco, Seattle, Seoul Olympic Games, Stanford Stadium, Tab Ramos, Taegu, Trinidad & Tobago, U.S. National Team, USSR, Victor Faizulin, West Germany, Zenit Saint Petersburg
The U.S. National Team will close out 2012 with a Wednesday, November 14, friendly against Russia at Kuban Stadium in Krasnodar.
The Russians, No. 9 in the current FIFA World Rankings, are coming off a frustrating first-round exit at this year’s European Championship, while the Americans, ranked 27th, are 9-2-2 in 2012 and a tie away from posting their best single-year record in their history. [November 12]
Comment: This could be a useful exercise for both sides. Russia, led by the Zenit Saint Petersburg trio of Victor Faizulin, Roman Shirokov and Aleksandr Kerzhakov, leads European Group “F” in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup and has gone 4-0-0–all by shutout–under coach Fabio Capello, who last faced the U.S. at the 2010 World Cup as England boss. As for the U.S., coach Juergen Klinsmann will use the opportunity to tinker yet again before his side begins the final round of CONCACAF qualifiers for Brasil ’14 in February.
But this game will hardly go down as historic. The Cold War is a distant memory, and the two countries now keep one another at arm’s length, a frozen smile on their faces. There have been meetings, but nothing of consequence:
o February 3, 1979, U.S. 1, USSR 3, in Seattle
o February 11, 1979, U.S. 1, USSR 4, in San Francisco
o February 24, 1990, U.S. 1, USSR 3, in Palo Alto, CA
o November 21, 1990, U.S. 0, USSR 0, in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago
o January 25, 1992, U.S. 0, Commonwealth of Independent States 1, in Miami
o February 2, 1992, U.S. 2, Commonwealth of Independent States 1, in Detroit
o February 13, 1993, U.S. 0, Russia 1, in Orlando
o February 21, 1993, U.S. 0, Russia 0, in Palo Alto, CA
o January 29, 1994, U.S. 1, Russia 1, in Seattle
o April 26, 2000, Russia 2, U.S. 0, in Moscow
All friendlies, of course, with the Soviets/CIS’ers/Russians holding a solid 6-1-3 advantage. The only competitive match between the Eagle and Bear was played September 22, 1988, in Taegu during the Seoul Olympic Games. The U.S., featuring North American Soccer League old-timers Rick Davis and Kevin Crow and up-and-comers like Paul Caligiuri, Tab Ramos, John Harkes, Frank Klopas and Peter Vermes, had played Argentina and host South Korea to ties but needed at least a high-scoring draw against the Soviets to advance to the knockout round for the first time in its Olympic history. Despite goals by John Doyle and substitute Brent Goulet, the USA lost, 4-2.
There might have been a game of real significance, however–a real Cold War potboiler–had the stars not mis-aligned four years earlier.
In 1984, the U.S., as host, held an automatic berth in the Los Angeles Olympic soccer tournament. At the draw conducted that spring by FIFA at the plush Huntington Sheraton Hotel in Pasadena, CA–a stone’s throw from the Rose Bowl, site of the final–media members and guests gasped when it was revealed that the USA had been drawn into the same first-round group with the Soviet Union. Visions of a Miracle on Grass, a redux of the Americans’ titanic upset of the USSR in ice hockey at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY, immediately danced through many a head.
When the media questioned draw emcee Joseph Blatter, then general secretary of a FIFA even less transparent than the one he heads today as president, the shifty Swiss was characteristically oblique. The U.S. and USSR landing in the same group didn’t happen by sheer chance, he allowed. On occasion, said Blatter, FIFA will honor a host nation’s “request.”
In the end, the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that set up the American-Soviet clash were all for naught. On May 8, the Soviet Union, still smarting from the U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games, announced that it was boycotting the Los Angeles Games. Thirteen other communist bloc nations followed suit, plus Iran and Libya. As for the ’84 soccer tournament, it meant that all three medalists from Moscow ’80–Czechoslovakia (gold medal), East Germany (silver) and USSR (bronze)–would be no-shows. They were replaced by three nations that fell short in Europe’s Olympic qualifiers: Italy, West Germany and Norway.
That summer, the U.S. thumped Costa Rica, 3-0, in its opener at Stanford Stadium, then lost to Italy, 1-0, at the Rose Bowl and missed the quarterfinals with a 1-1 tie with Egypt back at Stanford. It appeared to be a golden chance lost, because for this tournament FIFA had changed the rules to allow players, regardless of amateur/professional status, to take part if they hadn’t played in a World Cup for a European or South American country. Thus, this American team was loaded with NASL players, not raw amateurs. And the absence of a marquee match like U.S.-USSR allowed ABC, the Olympic broadcaster, to choose to limit its coverage of the 16-nation, 32-game tournament to all of five minutes.
The ’84 Olympic soccer tournament drew a record 1.4 spectators to lead all sports–track and field included–and enable the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee to turn a $40 million surplus. And that turnout prompted FIFA, four years later, to award the 1994 World Cup to the United States.