Soccerstoriesbook's Blog


ARE WE NOT RUBES?

Manchester United, looking to recover quickly from its worst showing in the English Premier League era, rallied to defeat EPL rival Liverpool, 3-1, at Miami’s Sun Life Stadium to win the 2014 Guinness International Champions Cup.  A 14th-minute penalty kick goal by Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard was cancelled out by strikes by United’s Wayne Rooney (55th minute), Juan Mata (57th) and Jesse Lingard (88th).

The tournament, held in 12 U.S. cities and Toronto as a warm-up to the European season, kicked off July 24 with eight European clubs, two of them defending champions of their respective national leagues, plus UEFA Champions League winner Real Madrid.  Manchester United (2-0-1) won its group over Inter Milan of Italy (1-0-2), AS Roma of Italy (1-2-0) and Spanish giant Real Madrid (0-2-1).  Liverpool topped a group that included Greek champion Olympiakos (1-1-1), English champion Manchester City (1-2-0) and Italy’s AC Milan (0-3-0).

Attendance for the 13 games totaled 642,134, for an average of 49,395.  Topping the list was the throng of 109,318 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., to see Manchester United defeat Real Madrid, 3-1.  That crowd was the largest in U.S. soccer history, eclipsing the 101,799 on hand for the 1984 Olympic gold-medal match at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.   A more modest 51,014 were on hand for the Manchester United-Liverpool finale.  [August 4]

Comment I:  Proof positive that World Cup fever not only hit America full-force early this summer but that it lingers.  Throw in the 84,362 who witnessed Manchester United’s 7-0 demolition of the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Rose Bowl, a Bayern Munich-Chivas Guadalajara friendly at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey and a dozen other exhibitions involving Major League Soccer teams and foreign opposition ranging from Spanish champion Atletico Madrid to EPL tail-ender Aston Villa, and about a million fans in the U.S. paid top dollar to say they saw in person some of the finest players from some of Europe’s most storied clubs.

Comment II:  Are we not rubes?

Sure, there are plenty of expatriates here who’ve just got to see the old hometown club.  And then there are the so-called Eurosnobs, young Americans who’ll get up at dawn from August to May to watch their adopted club–usually from the English Premier League–on a television at the local pub, er, sports bar, but wouldn’t cross the street to watch an MLS game for free.

But to the folks in Europe, a million people over here just shelled out big bucks to watch some clubs with fresh hardware and others living on their good name.  The spectators wore their replica jerseys and cheered and chanted as their favorite players went through the motions during cameo appearances while plenty of the playing time was taken up by fine fellows fighting to win a place on the roster, if not into the starting 11.  Wholesale substitutions disrupted the flow of the games, players weren’t exactly keen on the extensive travel, and coaches considered these moneymaking adventures an intrusion on serious pre-season preparations.  In the end, fans here saw moments of brilliance, mis-timed tackles, remarkable goals, and shots that actually resulted in throw-ins.  And at the final whistle of each match, a result that meant absolutely nothing.

There are many benchmarks that will indicate that the U.S. is developing into a soccer nation.  Like criticism of the U.S. National Team for its shortcomings in a World Cup instead of praising its goalkeeper for repeatedly bailing it out.  Or the prompt emergence of a genuine successor to the soon-to-retire Landon Donovan.  Or, in this case, attendance at meaningless midsummer friendlies involving European clubs in numbers that aren’t an embarrassment to MLS.

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U.S. 1, HONDURAS 0

Clint Dempsey scored an impressive first-half goal to lift the U.S. to a 1-0 victory over Honduras on a rainy, breezy night at Miami’s Sun Life Stadium, giving new coach Juergen Klinsmann his first win in four tries.

The opportunistic Hondurans out-shot the Americans, 13-11.  U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard took care of the on-target shots with a series of spectacular saves.

Dempsey struck in the 36th minute.  Midfielder Brek Shea sent a sharp grounded cross from the right through traffic for the Fulham standout, who pulled the ball back to his left, then wheeled to beat defender Mauricio Sabillon and curl a left-footed shot high into the Honduran net from 15 yards.

Among Klinsmann’s choices was German-born Danny Williams, a midfielder from Bundesliga upstart Hoffenheim who days earlier obtained his U.S. passport.  [October 8]

Comment:  Amazing but true:  The U.S. did not give up an early goal in the match.  In fact, the U.S. scored first.  Does this mean–four games into the Klinsmann era–that the Bob Bradley curse has been broken?

Comment II:  Three nights later at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey, U.S. 0, Ecuador 1, in another friendly.  The goal came 11 minutes from time, as substitute Jaime Ayovi ducked in front of young Red Bulls defender Tim Ream to nod Walter Ayovi’s left-side cross past Howard from close range. 

Apparently the Bradley curse has been replaced by a Bradley-Klinsmann curse, one that has damned the U.S. to 21 goals scored in its last 23 matches.  Klinsmann can’t get out there and score for his American charges–the sticking point is more his German citizenship than his age.  But as the opportunities to experiment wind down and the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers loom, it’s becoming increasingly unsettling to know that the best goal-scorer on the U.S. bench is the old guy in the white dress shirt.  [October 11]