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2014: WORLD CUP MAKES IT TO No. 2 ON THE INTERNET

Google has released its 2014 list of most-searched subjects in America and abroad:

Global:

1.  Robin Williams

2.  World Cup

3.  Ebola

4.  Malaysia Airlines

5.  ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

6.  Flappy Bird

7.  Conchita Wurst

8.  ISIS

9.  Frozen

10.  Sochi Winter Olympics

 

United States:

1.  Robin Williams

2.  World Cup

3.  Ebola

4.  Malaysia Airlines

5.  Flappy Bird

6.  ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

7.  ISIS

8.  Ferguson

9.  Frozen

10.  Ukraine

[December 16]

 

Comment:  The World Cup in Brazil generated record television ratings in America–a cumulative viewership of 391.65 million.   Record activity on social media throughout the tournament, including 3-plus billion Facebook posts and 672-plus million tweets.  And now the No. 2 spot among the most-Googled subjects in America for the year.  Meanwhile, on the cover of Time magazine’s special issue, “The Year in Review,” along with photos of Pope Francis, Robin Williams, and those tending Ebola victims, was a shot of U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard and Belgium’s Kevin Miralles doing battle at the World Cup.  Inside, the headline, “The Whole World is Watching,” above the subhead, “Move Over, Winter Olympics–Americans Join the Rest of the Planet in Making Soccer’s World Cup the Year’s Premier Sporting Event.”  (Interesting that the Winter Olympics didn’t make Google’s U.S. Top 10.)

Some dismissed the inroads made by the sport here in 2014 with, “Sure, a lot of Americans paid attention to soccer, but it’s only every four years, during a World Cup.”  Indeed, a lot paid attention last summer.  But those numbers dwarfed those for 2010, and 2010 dwarfed those for 2006, and those for 2002, when the U.S. nearly made it to the semifinals.

In this country, as usual, the Super Bowl back in early February was our TV behemoth, with a biggest-ever 111.5 million viewers and a 46.4 rating.  It impacted about one-third of America for one primetime evening, for at least those who were actually watching the Seattle Seahawks’ 43-8 blowout of the Denver Broncos, not those who were in the vicinity, zeroing in on the commercials between bites of Doritos with guacamole, handfuls of cheese doodles and chugs of Bud Light, or, at other Super Bowl parties, pate de fois gras canapés and sips of Chardonnay.   But the 2014 World Cup was a party that saturated an entire month, captivating viewers over 64 matches, 90 minutes at a time.

So, how big a leap forward was this year’s World Cup in the eyes of those who help determine what you see and hear?  Here’s what, in an Associate Press vote of 94 U.S. editors and news directors, were the top 10 sports stories of the year:

Associated Press:

1.  NFL Domestic Violence

2.  Clippers’ Sterling Banned

3.  LeBron Goes Home

4.  Firsts for Gay Athletes

5.  Giants Win World Series

6.  College Football Playoff Pays Off

7.  Tony Stewart

8.  World Cup

9.  Seahawks Win Super Bowl

10.  Sochi Olympics

 

The answer, obviously, is somewhat.



THE USA’S INDISPENSABLE MAN

A highly motivated Ukraine turned a friendly into a mini-clinic as it defeated the World Cup-bound U.S. National Team, 2-0, in Larnaca, Cyprus.

Andriy Yarmolenko scored 12 minutes into the game and Marko Devic iced the victory with a 68th-minute goal.  On each strike, the Ukrainians took advantage of a shaky American defense anchored by center backs Anthony Brooks and Oguchi Onyewu.

The match, originally scheduled for Kharkiv, was moved 600 miles to Cyprus’ Papadopoulos Stadium days after the Russian military intervention in Crimea.  Only 1,573 spectators were on hand for the hastily relocated game, many of them Ukrainian expatriates who broke into chants of “No war in Ukraine!” after the final whistle.  [March 5]

Comment I:  Clint Dempsey did not score against Ukraine, nor did a slumping Jozy Altidore; Landon Donovan, preparing for the Los Angeles Galaxy’s MLS opener three days later, wasn’t even there, nor was playmaker Michael Bradley, who recently moved from AS Roma to Toronto FC.  Nevertheless, after the USA’s shutout loss, the most indispensable man of the night proved to be another no-show, right fullback Steve Cherundolo.

Coach Juergen Klinsmann’s back four figures to be Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron–or Brad Evans of the Seattle Sounders–plus the Galaxy’s Omar Gonzales and Matt Besler of Sporting Kansas City and the veteran DaMarcus Beasley of Puebla, who has revived his international career as a left back.  But despite Beasley’s 114 caps, the back line will sorely miss the experience and steadying influence of the 34-year-old Cherundolo, whose ongoing knee problems make his appearance at a third World Cup a long-shot.  Cherundolo has 87 caps to the combined 30 of Gonzalez and Besler, but he brings much more than just a wise old head.

Without the feisty, reliable, attack-minded Cherundolo, Klinsmann is without the player who’d most closely resemble the right back at his disposal if he was still coach of Germany–Philipp Lahm.  Cherundolo, of course, is not quite in Lahm’s league, figuratively speaking, although both play in the German Bundesliga.  While Cherundolo usually captains perennial also-ran Hannover 96, Lahm, a member of the 2006 and 2010 All-World Cup teams, captains both European champion Bayern Munich and the German National Team.  Nevertheless, Cherundolo is as important to his team as Lahm is to his.  At 5-foot-7, Lahm is known as “The Magic Dwarf.”  Without the 5-6 Cherundolo, Klinsmann will be missing his own magic dwarf.

Comment II:  The Ukraine-U.S. match and several other friendlies–many of them World Cup tune-ups for one or both sides–were played March 5, which marked the 100-day countdown to the kickoff of Brasil ’14.  What ESPN2 viewers of that game and the Italy-Spain game that followed were not subjected to was what they would’ve seen four years ago at the same point ahead of South Africa ’10:  promos touting ABC/ESPN/ESPN2’s upcoming World Cup coverage featuring the play-by-play talents of Martin Tyler.

Ian Darke, whose call of Donovan’s last-gasp goal for the U.S. against Algeria four years ago is now part of American soccer lore, has replaced Tyler as the lead commentator for ABC/ESPN’s coverage in Brazil.  Darke will be the play-by-play man for the June 12 Brazil-Croatia tournament opener, all U.S. matches, the final July 13, and other games.

British viewers in this country might miss Tyler, who we are given to believe is to soccer across the Pond what Al Michaels is to major sports here.  But American viewers will find Darke a significant upgrade–if they haven’t already over the last four years with his TV calls here of MLS, U.S. National Team and English Premier League games.  Tyler has proven to be urbane, witty, knowledegable, and–unlike Darke–understated to a fault.  Unfortunately, the end result is play-by-play that is very easy to tune out if the game Tyler is calling isn’t exactly, well, scintillating.  Tyler describing “a thoughtful, probing ball down the left flank,” is not unlike a visit to the doctor’s office, where Dr. Tyler, the proctologist, is carrying on a pleasant, soothing, benign conversation with his patient while the patient isn’t really concentrating on this pleasant, soothing, benign chat.

“So, how are we today?  Any complaints?”

“Well, actually, I ….”

“Yes, of course.   Now, shall we try to breath normally?  This portion will take but a minute ….”

Comment III:  At the Ukraine match, the U.S. sported Nike’s newest stab at designing a national team jersey.  Gone were the welcomed horizontal red-and-white striped shirts that all but shouted “USA,” replaced by something straight out of the bleach bucket:  a white shirt with single red pinstripes on the sleeves and collar, plus the U.S. Soccer logo, not the classic, old-fashioned stars-and-stripes shield the players sported during the 2013 USSF centennial season.

http://www.ussoccer.com/news/mens-national-team/2014/03/140303-new-kit.aspx

The collar is quite alright–a soccer jersey without a collar looks more like a glorified T-shirt.  But Nike’s end result is a boring jersey more suited for playing golf or tennis or lounging about.  And maybe that’s what the marketing geniuses at Nike had in mind all along when it comes to replica jersey sales.



BRAVE NEW WORLD: HYBRID OFFICIATING

Soccer’s rule-making body, the International Football Association Board, has approved the use of technology to confirm whether a ball has crossed the goal line inside the goal.

The technology will be introduced at the FIFA Club World Championship in Japan in December and will be in place for the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup and 2014 World Cup, both to be hosted by Brazil.

Also OK’d was the use of five-man officiating teams.  That concept, which involves a goal-line judge on each end of the field, was tested during last season’s UEFA Champions League and the 2012 European Championship.

Two different technology systems–Hawk-Eye and GoalRef–were unanimously approved by the Board during its special meeting in Zurich.

According to FIFA, Hawk-Eye, a British system already in use in cricket and tennis, employs six to eight high-speed cameras set up at different angles at each end to calculate the exact position of the ball.  The data is then transferred to video software.  From this data, the system generates a 3D image of the ball’s trajectory.  The officials are informed whether a goal has been scored within a second.

GoalRef, a Danish-German system, creates the radio equivalent of a light curtain.  Low magnetic fields are produced around the goal, and as soon as the ball, fitted with a compact electronic device, fully crosses the line, a minor change in the magnetic field is detected, thus allowing the exact position of the ball to be established.  If a goal has been scored, an alert is transmitted to the officials via a radio signal within a second, with a message displayed on their watches and by vibration.

The English Premier League, which is expected to employ one of the systems, estimates the cost at between $200,000 and $250,000 per stadium.  [July 5]

Comment:  There are two soccer worlds:  one in which hidebound traditionalists live and one populated by progressives who welcome things like goal-line technology.  The only common ground is that everyone wants the officials to get it right, especially because the final score is likely to be 2-1 rather than 115-98.  No room for error.

It has been said that soccer already uses technology:  the headphones that connect the referee, assistant referees and fourth official at major matches.  But this latest move by the International Football Association Board doesn’t just crack open Pandora’s Box, it rips the lid off its hinges.

What the introduction of the Hawk-Eye and GoalRef systems does is give us hybrid officiating.  In a sport played by humans and officiated by humans, one aspect has been turned over to machine–and why, in the pursuit of perfection, stop there?

The infamous not-allowed goal by Ukraine at Euro 2012 aside, the incident that created the biggest hue and cry for goal-line technology was the shot by England’s Frank Lampard in the 2010 World Cup round of 16 that was clearly in the goal to everyone looking on–except the referee and his linesman.  Egregious and inexcusable and, for FIFA, embarrassing.   It is highly questionable that the correct call–something Hawk-Eye and GoalRef would not have missed–would have changed what was ultimately a comfortable 4-1 victory for Germany over the English.  But what of all the hundreds and thousands of calls and non-calls made during a 32-team, 64-game tournament that lasted more than 100 hours?

Get Lampard’s goal right, but what of the fouls that should have resulted in a yellow card, the yellow card that should have been a red, the red that shouldn’t have been anything at all, the dive in the box that went unpunished and, especially, all those offside calls.  Why invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in an effort to get one kind of decision right when a game turns on so many other decisions that rest in the hands of the referee and his assistants?

So expand technology.  It can be done.  Go to Soccer Stories: Anecdotes, Oddities, Lore and Amazing Feats and read about some of the other gizmos at the ready, including the Belgian system that can detect offside through sensors embedded in the players’ shinguards.  It’s all never-ending, and thanks to the International Football Association Board’s ruling in this case, it won’t be.