Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


My 58 Nation Blog

Good morning, everyone. Let the World Cup withdrawal begin. It’s been a wild month of action, one that will go down as a truly great World Cup, and now we all have to go back to whatever it was we were doing before we began watching 6 hours of soccer a day.  But fear not. For the club season is just around the corner. And as much as I love the World Cup, I must say that I prefer watching Arsenal. If you liked the action in Brazil and think you might want to watch more soccer, make sure to check out the Premier League. I absolutely love it.

However, before we move on from the World Cup, there is reflection to be done. I have a post lined up for later this afternoon about my team of the competition, with a 23-man squad complete with a best XI and a second-best XI. That should be up soon. And then at some point later this week, I’ll have a piece about what my lasting memories will be about this last month. Today, however, I would like to reflect about how the World Cup inspired this blog.

A little more than a month ago, I wanted to start a blog for a few reasons. I wanted to improve my writing, with the idea that doing more of it would be helpful. And I wanted to see how I liked writing about sports on a daily basis – with an eye towards figuring out if sports journalism is a legitimate career option. Writing this blog was also an excuse to watch as many games as I physically could. I thought I would write a post a day, likely more for myself than for any readers, and that I’d probably shut the blog down at the end of the summer.

But as I started writing every day, I quickly developed an affinity for writing these posts. I challenged myself to get as much quality content as I could up on the site, with the faint hope of developing a readership, even at the expense of many hours spent on my computer each day. At the beginning, my viewership was quite small. But slowly but surely, more visitors have started coming to the site. Yesterday was the third straight day I hit triple-digits with visitors, a significant rise from only two or three weeks ago. And I hit 3,000 views overall after the Final.

I received some scorn from my friends for how specific my prediction section was, but I had a lot of fun writing vivid descriptions of games before they happened. And by the end, I was doing pretty well, even with getting final scores and goalscorers right. My predictions didn’t start off so well in the group stage, but I ended up correctly predicting 15 of the 16 winners in the knockout round. I think that’s a pretty decent percentage if I may say so myself.

But aside from my success with predictions, the coolest part about this last month has been watching where my viewers come from. I never dreamed of writing for an international audience, but as of now, people in 58 different countries have looked at this blog. For me, the greatest part about the World Cup is that it’s a truly global event. And I got to experience that firsthand. Whoever has read my stuff in Namibia, Vietnam, Cyprus, Qatar, Colombia and in so many other nations, I say thank you.

As I said yesterday, Wild American Gooner is not ending anytime soon. My dream of becoming a sports journalist is alive and well, and I will continue writing on here as much as I can. For the time being, I’ll try to have daily posts in the mornings, with the occasional afternoon or evening post on anything significant that’s happened that day. There will be a lot of Arsenal content – I plan on outlining my expectations for each player in the squad in the coming weeks, doing two or three at a time. But I’ll probably also have more writing about the Red Sox. So despite the end of the World Cup, the site is alive and well.

Now, as we move on to the next chapter of the sports world, I want to stop and say thank you. I’m loving every second of this. Keep checking back for more content, share the link with anyone you think might be interested, and please give me any feedback you think might help improve the site. Thanks for reading.


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Ein Großes Deutschfest – Deutschland Sind Weltmeister! – Germany Are Deserving Champions

Germany are the 2014 World Cup Champions. Das war wirklich wunderbar. A splendid finish by substitute Mario Götze from an Andre Schürrle cross late in extra-time gave Deutschland the much deserved title. A thoroughly defensive tie found its match winner against all odds after both defenses had held strong all match. At the end of a thoroughly entertaining World Cup, we got a deserving final goal to wrap it all up. It was a phenomenal end to a wonderful tournament.

Germany found it nearly impossible to break down the Argentine defense today, but any time they lost the ball, everybody was tracking back, making sure to mark Lionel Messi. The few times that Argentina found some space, Jerome Boateng was usually there to clear the ball. Bastian Schweinsteiger played an excellent game in the middle of the park, with impressive physicality marking his complete transformation to a hard tackling midfielder over the years. He was the complete midfielder today. The image of Schweinsteiger with blood dripping down his face should be the lasting image of this World Cup. And when Manuel Neuer was needed in the back, either as a shot-stopper or as a sweeper, he was always in the right spot, completing a most impressive World Cup in style. I don’t think anybody will dispute his award as this competition’s best goalkeeper.

It has to be said that Argentina played a great game defensively. Javier Mascherano was again immense in his deep-lying midfield position, making interception after interception. And the back four held Germany to only a handful of chances all match. But they did all that at the expense of their offense. Rodrigo Palacio and Gonzalo Higuain miserably failed to convert the big chances that fell their way. And they, along with Sergio Agüero, provided little help for Messi up front.

Messi will be left frustrated at the lack of service he got in this match, as he simply didn’t get on the ball enough to make the impact he needed to. Some will criticize him for not stepping up to the occasion, but the truth is that he didn’t have enough help. Many would have expected him to convert the big chance that he had early in the second half, but Neuer did well to close off the angle. When Messi was on the ball in the first half, he generally did quite well. This match won’t see him overtake Diego Maradona in popularity in Argentina, but it was too big an ask for Messi to win this match on his own today. While his defense played the match of their lives, his fellow attackers were not good enough today, with Angel di Maria sorely missed. I disagree with Messi winning the Golden Ball however, as I think any of the German midfielders were more deserving.

The match started about as brightly as we could have hoped, with a fairly open first half. While Argentina had their midfielders line up only a few yards ahead of the defenders, they sent men forward without restriction on the break. Their tactics weren’t completely negative, and we were all better for it. The chances that fell on both ends were ones that we would normally expect players to take, but the nerves were clearly felt today. Mesut Özil started brightly, redeeming himself with a wonderful game, and he and Thomas Müller were Germany’s biggest threats in the early going, creating a number of decent chances for their teammates. Messi was dangerous when he got on the ball, but he had very few touches overall. Mistakes from Higuain, and excellent last-ditch defending from Jerome Boateng kept Argentina off the board.

The second half was played with much more caution however, as both teams quickly realized a single mistake would cost them the game. For Germany, with one exception early in the half that saw Messi alone on goal, Boateng and Schweinsteiger cleaned everything up with aggressive tackling. Offensively, they dearly missed Sami Khedira’s energy and drive in the midfield, as they were lacking a bigger body to go through the middle. Argentina’s defense hardly put a foot wrong, but Messi and his fellow strikers didn’t get many chances after the midpoint of the half.

There wasn’t much to extra-time after Schürrle’s shot went straight at Sergio Romero in the opening moments. The play became rather fragmented as injuries began to pile up. Players on both sides were looking rather weary. But Germany proved to have the lighter legs, with Özil, Müller and Schürrle putting in a ton of work in the midfield. That it was the hard-working Schürrle who sent in the cross that set up the winner was fitting. Götze didn’t have much of an impact until his goal, but his group stage woes will be certainly be forgotten after that one moment of brilliance. It was a goal worthy of a World Cup winner, one that will be remembered forever.

As far as the referee, he had a good game overall even if he missed a couple minor calls here and there. I liked that Nicola Rizzoli wasn’t afraid to get out his yellow cards in the first half. Too often this World Cup, things got out of control because the referee didn’t want to impact the match. However today, I felt Rizzoli had control from the start. While he could have shown a red to Benedikt Höwedes late in the first half, I felt he was wise to only give him a yellow. It was a reckless challenge, but there didn’t seem to be intent. And while he showed a few yellows in the second half, he maintained his control on the match and let the play be the story. He might have showed Agüero a second yellow for smacking Schweinsteiger in the head with his fist, but I agreed with the decision to leave it as merely a foul. Nobody will talk about Rizzoli after today, and that means he did his job.

Philipp Lahm has lifted the trophy, and Germany are champions. A terrific month of soccer is now over, but we won’t soon forget the events in Brazil. I want to say thank you to any of you who have followed my blog over the last month. It’s been tremendously fun writing about all the action. However, I want to say that the blog is just getting started, and I will have much more content to come. There will be some thoughts wrapping up the World Cup in the next few days, but after that it’ll nearly be time for the club season to begin.

Huge congratulations to Germany for a much deserved World Cup. The best team doesn’t always win, but they did today. Vielen Dank für einen wunderschönen Monat.


Wird Die Mannschaft Gewinnen? Ja, voll! – My World Cup Final Preview and Prediction

The day has finally come. It’s the World Cup Final. Everything has led up to this – all of the story lines, all of the struggles, all of the success. But in a few hours, none of that will matter. It will all be about the 90 (or 120) minutes played in the Maracana. The world will be stopped in admiration of the beautiful game’s finest hour. It’s Messi and the Argentines against the Germans. And we’re in for a treat.

The final has the makings of a fascinating encounter. All the Argentine story lines revolve around Lionel Messi in the lead up to the match, but the rest of his teammates bear the bulk of the task. Shutting down Germany’s rampant attack will be a challenge for an Argentine defense seen as the weak link coming into the tournament. Four years ago, in a World Cup quarterfinal, Germany beat Argentina 4-0 in a very one-sided encounter. Germany scored an early goal from a set piece, and then struck three more times in the second half. They picked Argentina’s defense apart, and were particularly dangerous on the counter. Today’s German team isn’t drastically different from the one they fielded four years ago, so it will be up to Argentina’s defense to make sure things are different today.

For Argentina, the best way to go about this game might be to sit back like they did against the Dutch, hoping that Lionel Messi will create one instance of magic at some point on the counter. Alejandro Sabella should be worried about his midfield getting outnumbered, so he will likely have to counter that by making sure he always has men behind the ball. Lucas Biglia and Javier Mascherano will have a gargantuan task in stopping the German midfield, but given their recent performances defensively, those two might be up for the task. Marcos Rojo will need to be the disciplined left back he was against Netherlands rather than the marauding one he was earlier in the tournament to minimize Thomas Müller’s effect. Germany attacked mostly from the right against Brazil, so Rojo will have to at his best today.

While the game plan might revolve around stopping Germany from scoring, Argentina will likely have to score themselves if they hope to win. Another scoreless 90 or 120 minutes might be possible, but Sabella shouldn’t count on his team’s ability to keep another clean sheet. At some point, he’ll need the best player in the world to leave his mark on the match. While there aren’t many obvious holes in Germany’s lineup, one is at left back. Should Messi be allowed one-on-one situations with Benedikt Höwedes, he should be able to blow by him. Creating as many of those opportunities for Messi as possible should be Argentina’s strategy going forward, especially with Angel di Maria looking unlikely to play. Gonzalo Higuain might be called upon to convert a half-chance or two, but his main work will likely come in the hold-up department, relieving some of the relentless German pressure. A late appearance from Sergio Agüero should provide a boost with a burst of pace up front, especially if Mats Hummels’s injury has slowed the German defender at all.

Germany’s tactics should be similar to those they used against Brazil. With a huge advantage in quality and numbers in the middle of the park, they should be looking to create little triangles to open up space in the final third. Biglia and Mascherano can only be in one place at a time, so lots of quick passing will leave Argentina vulnerable as they get spread out. Testing Sergio Romero early should be a priority, as the keeper is way out of his element in a World Cup Final. Sending in crosses might not be the ideal way to win, but the Germans should allow Romero to make a mistake. Every set piece they get will be dangerous, as the quality of Toni Kroos’s free kicks and the aerial prowess of the entire lineup will cause a lot of problems for Romero.

Defensively, Germany should be careful not to leave Höwedes isolated against Messi. If too many men are forward in attack, a single counter attack from the little man could prove fatal. Bastian Schweinsteiger was excellent against Brazil like many others were, but today his role should be a more defensive one. If he can keep an eye on Messi, Germany shouldn’t be too worried. Whether or not Hummels is able to play due to his injury is unknown, but regardless, the Germans should be alright in defense. With Philipp Lahm restored to the back line, they’ve looked much more solid. And last but not least, there is the safety net that is Manuel Neuer. It’s no small task to beat the big German keeper, and Argentina might need more than a few chances if one is to get by him.

I predict the match will start brightly for Germany, with Mesut Özil forcing an early save from Romero. While Argentina settles into the game, the German front line will be hard at work, creating a number of dangerous looking opportunities. Messi won’t see much of the ball in the early going, and Higuain will look rather isolated up top. The opening goal will come thirty minutes into the half, with Jerome Boateng nodding home a Kroos corner. It will be 1-0 Germany at half. Argentina will send on Agüero early on in the second half, knowing they need to be more offensive minded. And his impact will be felt quickly, with Argentina’s best chance falling to Higuain, who will hit his effort straight at Neuer. Once Argentina begin to look dangerous, Germany will settle quickly, with Schweinsteiger and Khedira moving deeper. With fifteen minutes to play, the Germans will all but seal the match with a brilliantly worked counter. Andre Schürrle will start the move, finding Özil on the left, played into the space behind Pablo Zabaleta. Özil will draw Romero out before squaring the ball for Müller, who will convert. The final minutes will tick off the clock without too much drama, und Deutschland wird gewinnen. Messi won’t get the chances he needs, and Philipp Lahm will lift the cup for Germany. The game will finish Germany 2 Argentina 0.

Today, I’ll celebrate my Faustian roots, my small amount of German heritage, and my German nickname, by rooting for Germany as hard as I can. Whoever wins though, I hope we’re in for an entertaining end to a wonderful World Cup. May the best team win.

Check back for post-match analysis later tonight, and I’ll have my post-World Cup thoughts spread among the next few days. Enjoy the final.


Ah, How I Love the Third Place Game

Good morning, everyone. I’d imagine I’m unique in this way, but today is one of my favorite random sporting events. It’s the third place game at the World Cup. And I can’t be more excited. I fear we may not get many more of these once FIFA begins to realize how much the players hate them, so make sure to tune in this afternoon for Brazil-Netherlands. It’s sure to be fascinating in a way only third place games can be.

This game doesn’t matter much, and I’ll be the first to admit that. With the club season coming up rapidly, I completely understand why players wouldn’t want to risk getting hurt in an extra game like this one. As Arjen Robben pointed out, the whole World Cup is played so that teams can win a trophy. So why should they care about the only game that doesn’t matter in that competition for the trophy? It makes sense to have a third place game in the Olympics with there being a bronze medal, but why have one when there’s no extra incentive? Entertainment, that’s why.

There are a few interesting subplots in today’s game and most of them revolve around Brazil. For starters, both coaches will likely be coaching their last games. While Louis van Gaal will obviously leave for Manchester United with a great deal of dignity, his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Felipe Scolari could be ridden out on a rail. Van Gaal might not care too much if he loses his final game in charge of the Dutch team, but Scolari will certainly be coaching for a semblance of pride. He should feel a huge amount of pressure to win this game, if only to avoid further embarrassment.

The team sheets won’t have many familiar names on them, but for vastly different reasons. Van Gaal’s stars won’t want to play, and why should they? We’ll likely see as many as 9 or 10 changes I’d imagine, with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar leading the line. For some, this may be their final chance to put on their country’s uniform, and players like Dirk Kuyt might relish their last opportunity to wear the Dutch shirt. Brazil’s players might also fear it could be their final opportunity, but because of Tuesday’s embarrassment rather than becaause of old age. Fred, Jo, Fernandinho and Dani Alves, to name a few, all could be playing their last game for Brazil. If they have any self-pride, you have to think they’d want to give their all.

On that note, this game should be interesting to watch to see how Brazilian players react to the 7-1 shellacking by Germany. Will they be out to redeem themselves, or will they try and hide after the humiliation? I’d imagine it will be some of both. If there are usual starters in the starting 11, it will likely be because they want to restore some pride and I expect those players in particular to be energized. Whether or not they channel that energy in a positive way rather remains to be seen, but their could be serious passion on the field. If Brazil don’t score quickly, play could get chippy, and we might see a straight red card.

Nearly everybody on this roster might never play for their country again, with a few obvious exceptions, if Brazil goes out looking disinterested. A two or three goal loss would be devastating in so many ways. However, should they come out fighting, showing more passion and commitment on the field than they did Tuesday, and should they win convincingly, the players might be able to reframe this narrative. A goal or two from Fred, a disciplined performance from Paulinho, or any such strong exhibitions and some of the pain might be lessened.

With the Netherlands likely starting a lot of inexperienced defenders, Brazil could find spaces in the attacking third. And with the Dutch probably not caring too much, the game could open up early due to a lack of defensive tactics. As such, there is certainly room for Brazil to begin their atonement for Tuesday. However, I’m not entirely convinced they will be up for the task. Any harsh treatment from fans in the early going could rattle the Brazilians, and they themselves might leak goals.

Predicting this game is nearly impossible given the uncertainty in team selection and the degree to which these players will actually try, but regardless, I expect this game to be full of goals like most third place games are. I expect Willian to be particularly active today for Brazil, and he will score the opener so early, that it will leave many wondering where the Dutch’s motivation lies. However, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar will score a first half brace on two poorly defended set pieces to give Netherlands the lead at halftime. When Brazil get booed off the field at half, Thiago Silva will give an impassioned speech to inspire his teammates. And Fred will score the equalizer near the 60th minute. However, against the run of play, Huntelaar will complete his hat trick late on and Brazil will leave losers, having been beaten by a side who don’t want to be there. It will end up Netherlands 3 Brazil 2.

But regardless of what Brazilian team shows up, this game should be fun for the neutral. If you like goals, this will be the match for you. Check back later for analysis, and enjoy watching the World Cup while you still can. Only two days left.

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And Now We Can Go Back To Appreciating LeBron the Basketball Player

An otherwise dull sports day will now be remembered forever after the news that a superstar is coming home. No, I’m not talking about Luis Suarez’s transfer from Liverpool to Barcelona, the home of his wife’s family. Frankly, I can’t be bothered to care too much about the carnivorous forward during his four month suspension. I’m talking about LeBron James, the best basketball player on the face of the earth, and his decision to return to Cleveland.

In a nicely written article posted on Sports Illustrated earlier today, LeBron James announced that he was returning home to his roots, signing a max deal with the Cavaliers. In one instant, the outlook of an entire city changed completely. Cleveland suddenly forgot about their history of sporting letdowns, and were able to celebrate the homecoming of the century. If only ashes could be turned back into jerseys.

What made this day great was that LeBron did not have another “Decision.” He didn’t even title his article in Sports Illustrated “The Return.” He learned from his mistake this go around, and tried to make this news as much about the city of Cleveland as it was about himself. The tone of his article was also a lot less self-centered. Instead of talking about what was best for him, he talked about what was best for all the kids in Cleveland that would be growing up in the coming years. This was a much more mature way to announce the huge news, even if a big event to announce this would have made many Cavaliers fans happy in the end.

Basketball wise, LeBron has a lot of work to do to make the Cavaliers a contender again. Even if a trade is made for Kevin Love, there isn’t much in the way of depth on the team – they weren’t particularly close to the postseason last season, after all. They are hugely inexperienced in the playoffs, including their new coach David Blatt, and while Kyrie Irving may be a superstar in a year or two, he’s not quite there now. It isn’t like LeBron is joining another dream team. However, LeBron’s arrival does bring that championship or bust mentality to the team. The expectations will be huge, but if anyone is equipped to deal with that now, it’s Mr. James.

As a fan of basketball, this could not be better news. Having a star choose his small-market hometown team over the allure of Los Angeles and Miami will be good for the game, restoring parity to a league that was losing much of the equality it was establishing. It’ll also be much nice to see real sports fans get to appreciate LeBron rather than those in Miami. And won’t it be much more bearable to watch LeBron lead his Cavaliers to a title than it would have been had he won 4 or 5 with the Heat? In addition to Cleveland residents, all NBA fans are winners today.

I’m not ready to forgive LeBron entirely for “The Decision” as a basketball fan and human being. However, while I’ll never forget that hour of television, I can put those feelings aside now, focusing on the basketball player we are all so lucky to watch. He did everything right this time, and for that, he deserves our respect. LeBron’s decision to be the better man and accept whatever apology Dan Gilbert offered for his letter says a lot about his increased maturity level.

LeBron shouldn’t suddenly become revered for his character on account of today’s news, but hopefully the image of him as a villain will disappear. Being able to watch LeBron without vehemently rooting against him will be nice for a change. I applaud him for his decision today, and now we wait for all of the other NBA dominoes to fall. This should be an exciting year in the NBA.