Soccerstoriesbook's Blog


TWO HAPPY BIRTHDAYS

A young, experimental U.S. National Team, defeated South Africa, 1-0, on a goal by substitute Juan Agudelo five minutes from time in a friendly at Green Point Stadium in Cape Town.

The U.S. starting lineup averaged only 10 1/2 caps, and four of coach Bob Bradley’s halftime substitutes were 20 years old or younger and making their international debut.  [November 18]

Comment:  No doubt Agudelo will still be celebrating his goal six days hence, when he marks his 18th birthday.  After all, the Colombian-born striker, set up brilliantly in the box by the Norwegian-born Mikkel Diskerud, is the youngest scorer in U.S. history, eclipsing Jozy Altidore.

A more impressive birthday boy, however, was U.S. right back Eric Lichaj, who turned 22 the day of the South Africa match.  Lichaj, whose parents were born in Poland and reared in America, earned his first cap as a sub in last month’s scoreless draw with Colombia, and he played a key role, along with goalkeeper Brad Guzan, in keeping the American net clean.

Lichaj turned in the kind of performance–smart, strong, creative and utterly cool–that was sorely missing at times on the U.S. back line during the Americans’ last stay in South Africa.  All this despite playing the last hour with a yellow card.  Best of all, he covered ground like a young Thomas Dooley, popping up deep in the South African end on a regular basis.

It was only one match, but Lichaj (pronounced “LEE-hi”) showed off the qualities that inspired Aston Villa to sign him when he was a University of North Carolina freshman.  He’s just now breaking into the Villains’ starting lineup, but with the venerable Steve Cherundolo due to turn 35 when the next World Cup rolls around, it is hoped that Lichaj will be doing same for the U.S. over the next couple of years.



THIS LILLY DOESN’T WILT

The U.S. will kick off its bid to reach the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany tonight when it takes on Haiti at Estadio Quintana Roo in Cancun in the second game of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament.  The finalists of the eight-nation competition earn trips to Germany while the third-place finisher advances to a playoff against Europe’s fifth-place team.  [October 28]

Comment:  No. 1 in the latest FIFA World Rankings, the U.S. figures to breeze to a berth in Germany, although the steadily improving Canada and host Mexico might make things interesting.  The only real question is, when will Kristine Lilly appear, extending her world record in career caps to an astounding 350.

It would be easier to understand if the 39-year-old Lilly was a goalkeeper, or even a defender, relying on positioning and experience to compensate for diminishing foot speed.  But the 5-foot-4 Lilly is what’s she’s always been:  a midfield dynamo doing the heavy lifting, something appreciated by her teammates, some of whom are now a little more than half her age.

Lilly earned her first cap in 1987, four years before FIFA staged its first Women’s World Cup, a competition hosted by China that America would win.  Another world championship and two Olympic gold medals have followed.

It should be acknowledged that elite women’s soccer doesn’t revolve around powerful clubs and national leagues, so the emphasis is on international play (think Bora Milutinovic’s  U.S. National Men’s Team, which played 52 matches in the 18 months leading up to the 1994 World Cup).  Of all women’s national teams, the U.S. has a whopping 25 players, current or retired, who have played in 100 matches or more; Germany and China, at 15 and 13, respectively, are next.   Nevertheless, Lilly’s numbers are a testament to her extraordinary talent, drive and durability.

Among men, the leader is Mohamed Al Deayea of Saudi Arabia at 181, followed by Mexico’s Claudio Suarez (177) and Ahmed Hassan of Egypt (169).  Topping the U.S. list is Cobi Jones, whose 164 caps are less than half of Lilly’s.  The average number of caps on the current U.S. women’s squad is 73; without Lilly, it’s 58.  She’s the only player to appear in all five Women’s World Cups.  And, oh yes, on a team known over the years for the scoring exploits of Carin Gabarra, Michelle Akers, Tiffeny Milbrett, Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach, the little engine from Wilton, Connecticut, and the University of North Carolina has scored 130 times for the United States.