Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


1 Comment

Lasting World Cup Memories

In every World Cup, there are moments that stand the test of time, moments that leave their mark on all who watched. This was the third World Cup I can remember paying attention to. When I think back to my early soccer fandom at the 2006 tournament in Germany, I instantly think about Philipp Lahm’s screamer against Costa Rica in the opener, the Portugal-Netherlands round of 16 match with 4 red cards and 16 yellows, Maxi Rodriguez’s incredible stoppage time winner against Mexico, and of course Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt in the final. Had I been a better fan back then, the semifinal between Germany and Italy probably also would have been a standout game. The Portugal match for years was my favorite game I’d ever watched. Clearly, I didn’t know much back then.

When I think back to South Africa in 2010, the first image that comes to mind is Luis Suarez’s handball to save the quarterfinal match against Ghana. After that, I think about his teammate Diego Forlan and his free kicks, Michael Bradley’s equalizer against Slovenia, Landon Donovan’s winner against Algeria and Germany’s dismantling of England and Argentina in the knockout round. And of course I think about Spain and the brutal final against Netherlands. The images of Iker Casillas’s save against Arjen Robben, the karate kick from Nigel de Jong and Andres Iniesta’s winner will never leave me.

So now as this World Cup ends, it’s time to think about what the lasting memories will be from Brazil. When I think about this last month, a ton of images flood into my mind. I see Fred flopping in the opener, Casillas being made a fool of by Robben and Robin van Persie, John Brooks scoring the late winner for the U.S., Lionel Messi taking over against Bosnia and Iran, and of course I see Luis Suarez’s bite. And that’s just in the group stage.

In the knockout round, I think about Chile hitting the bar in the dying moments of extra-time against Brazil, Manuel Neuer playing the best game in goal I will ever see against Algeria, Wesley Sneijder tying the game against Mexico late on and James Rodriguez scoring a stunner against Uruguay. I think about Neymar getting his back broken and Tim Krul coming in to save the day in PK’s against Costa Rica. And then there was Germany 7, Brazil 1 – the most unforgettable 90 minutes many of us will ever see. Lastly, there was the bloody Bastian Schweinsteiger and the brilliantly taken Mario Götze extra-time winner in the final.

It’s hard to know which of those moments will stand out a number of years from now. But there is no doubt I’ll never forget Germany’s semifinal win over Brazil. And few will forget Suarez’s bite. In this country, we’ll probably also remember John Brooks and Julian Green, but will that be at the expense of recalling other special players in Brazil such as Costa Rican goalie Keylor Navas?

But regardless, there was plenty worth remembering from Brazil. It was a great four weeks. And now we have to wait another four years.

What will you remember from this tournament? Please comment below


2 Comments

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.


2 Comments

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.


2 Comments

Achtzehn Minuten – 18 Minutes That Changed World Football

In the course of 18 minutes, world football might have changed forever. The World Cup that Brazil had long dreamed about, the one they had billed as the chance to redeem the 1950 loss to Uruguay on home soil, suddenly became a national embarrassment. Few expected Brazil to beat Germany today in the semifinal without Neymar and Thiago Silva, but I don’t think anybody saw the complete demolition coming. In just 18 minutes, Germany destroyed Brazil’s World Cup.

It’s hard to examine the play on the field in a game like this behind a certain point. Germany were incredible offensively, but after the second or third goal, as much of that was down to Brazil giving up as it was their own brilliance. That being said though, Germany played out of their minds in the first half and for much of the second. It seems wrong to single out any individual above any other, because really, they were all at their best in the 18 minutes that mattered. The midfield was given ample space and time on the ball in dangerous areas, and they picked Brazil apart with every single pass. The finishing was lethal, and there isn’t much more to say other than that die Mannschaft were simply a delight to watch.

Manuel Neuer was once again outstanding in between the posts, and even when Brazil threatened early in the second half, Neuer kept his composure and made all the necessary saves. Another performance like this one will put fear in Germany’s next opponents, as frankly, Neuer doesn’t look like he’s letting anything get by him in the final. As fluid as the German attack was today, Germany’s biggest strength is their keeper.

But the story won’t be about Germany hardly at all. It’s about a Brazil side that gave up without it’s star. When things went wrong, there was no fight – no desire to do anything about it. They were resigned to defeat the moment the game began. It’s one thing not to believe. But it’s another entirely to lose the will to compete in a World Cup semifinal on home soil. Watching so many players fail to close down German opposition – jogging instead of sprinting – should make every Brazilian sick. This Brazil team should be embarrassed beyond any reprieve. There is no excuse for giving up.

You wonder if this team will be given a free pass of sort because of Neymar’s injury. Yes, he was their superstar, their inspiration and the reason for their success, but Neymar is only one player in a squad of 23. He wouldn’t have been the one defending Germany today, and even if he had played, Brazil would have leaked goals. Neymar’s broken back may have caused the lack of fight, but the real cause of today’s embarrassment was the absence of Thiago Silva in defense. Without the Brazilian captain in the heart of defense, David Luiz, Dante and everybody else had no idea what they were doing. It was like they had never played together. There were spaces everywhere, and the disorganization was rather pathetic. Luiz and Dante are two of the best defenders in the world, but today they looked like high schoolers. Julio Cesar had no chance in net, and he has every right to be angry about the lack of defending in front of him.

There will be much written about Luiz Felipe Scolari and his inability to have his team prepared for life without Neymar and Silva. Much of the blame should rightly fall on him. However, the players themselves – Marcelo, Fernandinho, Luiz, Dante, Maicon, Hulk, etc. – deserve the brunt of the criticism. This embarrassment won’t soon be forgotten in Brazil, and the players have no excuses. People still talk about the Maracanazo in 1950, but this was much worse than even that. The lack of fight in this squad will be remembered forever.

For Germany, today was just about perfect. But in the grand scheme of things, this rout will mean nothing if they don’t carry over their form into the final. Should they fail to lift the trophy, the seven goals today won’t matter much more than any other game for the Germans. However, for Brazil, this result did matter. And everyone involved should be ashamed.


1 Comment

Ein Deutscher Tag Für Alles

Guten Morgen! The World Cup is finally back today. And I couldn’t be more happy about it, as my brief journey back to baseball quickly made me question the decision. Last night, I went to the Red Sox-White Sox game at Fenway Park. Granted, I’ve learned to expect next to nothing from the Red Sox these days. But I was thoroughly impressed with how unimpressive the reigning champions are right now. You watch them hit and wonder how this team will ever score a single run, let alone win a game that Clay Buchholz starts. How many sub .240 hitters can you start and legitimately hope to put runs on the board? When a 29-year-old rookie pitcher with a plus-five ERA throws six and two thirds innings of one hit baseball, and nobody in the park is surprised, something is wrong. We all know these players are capable of being better. But it’s just not happening this year.

Had the Red Sox not won the championship a year ago, this team would be getting slammed in Boston right now. Imagine the talk radio hosts going off on John Farrell and his group of players that more closely resemble the September of 2006 Red Sox than they do the 2013 team. But instead, we are in this wonderful grace period, a time when anything could go horribly wrong and nobody could get angry. Because we love these guys. The same players that helped rebuild this city last fall won’t ever be capable of breaking our spirits.

So I believe Ben Cherington must use this grace period to his advantage and shop his players while Boston fans will allow it. In my view, hardly anyone on the roster should be untouchable right now, with the possible exceptions of Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. Despite their poor seasons, many players will have relatively high market values, and Cherington would do well to restock his offensive talent in return. He needs to be making a lot of phone calls this month.

But enough of that. It’s time to get back to soccer. Here’s my first semifinal pick.

Germany 2 Brazil 0

This dream semifinal will lack flare at times, but the Germans will be ruthlessly efficient once again, hardly troubled by the weakened Brazilian defense. For Brazil to have a shot, I would like to see Oscar occupy the number 10 role in Neymar’s absence. He has the ability to press higher up the pitch than Neymar ever wanted to, and pressing Bastian Schweinsteiger any time he receives the ball in his own half would lead to a drop in the German’s play, as he does much better with more time and space on the ball. Oscar will also have to pick up his offensive game, as he will need to bring his wingers into the match. Hulk will need to provide the creativity and Luiz Gustavo and Fernandinho or Paulinho will have to be willing to make the late run into the box should Brazil hope to score without their star man. However, the bigger loss might be in defense, where Thiago Silva will be sorely missed. I hope Dante gets the start, as his knowledge of the Bavarians could prove a huge help.

On the German side, it will be quite interesting to see how the front four line up, especially if Miroslav Klose doesn’t get another start. I would like to see Mesut Özil pushed wider than normal, occupying the space behind the attacking fullbacks and away from Luiz Gustavo. If Toni Kroos can keep Gustavo busy, spaces will open up for Özil and Thomas Müller to receive the ball in front of the back four. From there, they should have more success with their final ball, finding openings in between the inexperienced tandem of David Luiz and Dante. In defense, I would like to see Per Mertesacker come back in, either for Jerome Boateng or Benedikt Höwedes, with Boateng shifting to the left. Defending set pieces will be crucial against a depleted Brazilian attack that will be dying for a cheap goal. Fred’s lack of pace shouldn’t worry Mertesacker, so it would be wise to bring his experience back into the side.

I predict Manuel Neuer will not let in a goal, playing more of his sweeper role than of his goalie role. He’ll be able to beat Fred to any ball played in over the top, and when called upon to deny Hulk or Ramires from distance, he’ll be up to the task. Germany will be patient in the first half, allowing Brazil some unthreatening possession, but they will manage to keep the crowd silent and out of the match. Late in the first half, Özil will unlock the defense, threading a through ball in to Müller after a lengthy build-up. Müller’s cool finish will give Germany the lead at half. As Brazil throw on more attacking threats in the second half, Lukas Podolski will come on for Deutschland and will score the clinching goal on the break, beating Julio Cesar near-post. Neymar and Thiago Silva will be sorely missed and it will be a German day in Brazil. The streak will finally come to an end, as Brazil will lose at home. That is, unless the referee decides to help the hosts out. Let’s hope Marco Rodriguez is up to the task.

I hope you all have a great day, and I’ll be back later today with some analysis of the semifinal after the match. Hoffentlich kann ich in Deutsch das schreiben mit einem Sieg. (And hopefully that bit of German was correct.)