Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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Arsenal Get Their Dream Man – Welcome Alexis Sanchez

Today is a landmark day for Arsenal Football Club, as Arsene Wenger has won a worldwide battle for a dream transfer target, getting Alexis Sanchez in a compelling move from Barcelona. Alexis Sanchez was a true star at the World Cup for Chile this summer, and coming off of a very successful third season at Barcelona, one in which he scored 19 league goals along with 10 assists, he was a valuable commodity. Seen by new Barcelona coach Luis Enrique as surplus to requirements, Sanchez had his pick of places to go, among them Liverpool and Juventus. Once other teams got involved, many Arsenal fans feared his transfer story would go the way of Gonzalo Higuain’s. But in recent days, it became clear that this time was different. And this afternoon, Arsenal confirmed that Sanchez is a Gunner.

As many people saw at the World Cup, Sanchez is a useful player indeed. He isn’t your typical striker, but his movement and pace are smart enough that he can more than hold his own up top when called upon. However, his best positions or Arsenal will likely be on the left or right side of attack. He has the speed to get in behind the full-backs, and having successfully played a similar role for Barcelona, he has learned how to make the diagonal runs in between the defenders. He has a rocket of a shot, but has also scored a lot of clever goals with finessed efforts and chips.

The player who will benefit most from this transfer is Mesut Özil. With Real Madrid, the German superstar was at his best alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and other pacey players who could continuously make intelligent runs from the flanks. Özil could sit deeper, finding the perfect ball to thread in between the defenders. With Theo Walcott out for much of the year, Arsenal’s record signing had nobody to play those type of balls to, and had a tougher time creating chances. Olivier Giroud certainly wasn’t making those runs, and neither were Lukas Podolski or Santi Cazorla from the left. But now Sanchez will be there to run in behind, and with Walcott soon returning to fitness, defenders will be downright scared of leaving any space behind them. Sanchez is an ideal signing to bring out the best in Özil.

The other area that Sanchez can help tactically is that he’ll be another head to aim at in the box when Arsenal look to cross. Sanchez has showcased his ability to get to the back post in recent years, which is something Arsenal have been without. And with more bodies to cover in the box, Aaron Ramsey might find more space to make his late runs forward. Podolski and Cazorla certainly possess great abilities in the attacking third, but neither player was eager to get in behind. As such, the midfield got overcrowded at times, with no options beside Giroud at which to aim crosses. Sanchez’s abilities to be both the creative force in midfield and the hard-working finisher should make Arsenal’s attack significantly less predictable.

Sanchez’s arrival may not be the only signing up front this summer, but his versatility could allow Wenger to focus the rest of his transfer energy on other areas. Behind Olivier Giroud, Arsenal now can play Sanchez, Yaya Sanogo and Joel Campbell in addition to Walcott and Podolski on occasion. And with an abundance of attacking midfield talent, Arsenal possess an incredible front 5. The lineup of Giroud, Sanchez, Walcott, Özil and Ramsey should scare everyone. That Cazorla, Podolski, Tomas Rosicky, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere won’t all be good enough to even make the bench if everyone’s healthy shows that Arsenal’s depth in this area is tremendous. Everyone will need to work harder for places in the side, and that can’t be a bad thing.

There are still moves to be made to shore up the defense, with the potential Mathieu Debuchy arrival looking likely, but today’s signing of Alexis Sanchez sends a message to the rest of the Premiership that Arsenal will be a force in the attacking third this year. And as none of Sanchez, Özil, Walcott or Ramsey are older than 25, this will be a potent side for years to come. I can not believe Arsenal got this deal done so quickly, and with a nearly full preseason to get acquainted with his teammates, Sanchez should be firing in no time. This is a great day to be a Gooner.


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Why I Hate Penalty Shootouts

Back when I didn’t know much about soccer, a penalty shootout was about the most exciting thing there was. But I’ve grown to hate spot-kicks since, and today’s Brazilian victory over Chile on penalties only served to confirm my disdain. It’s not that I don’t think penalties are objectively exciting, or that I believe there’s a better way for games to end, I just hate how penalty kicks affect how games are played and how they affect the individuals that take them.

After Chile’s equalizer in the first half, the Chileans looked the much more dangerous side. Brazil’s fluidity was gone, and they were feeling the growing anxiety in the stands. Chile weren’t creating many first-rate chances at that point, but Brazil was beating themselves, and could have combusted at any moment. Had Chile kept their pressure up, a mistake was likely to come. But around the 75th minute. Chile stopped attacking with regularity, instead deciding they would take their chances in penalties. For the last 45 minutes, including extra-time, Chile played with a high level of caution, not capitalizing on Brazil’s fragile mental state. Had they not been waiting for penalties, I think a goal would have come.

Brazil should not have won that game, but because Chile played for penalties, a lifeline was offered to the hosts. In penalties, any team can win. In theory, that favors the underdog Chile, but today, it favored Brazil. All of a sudden, there was a clean slate for the hosts, and a chance to forget how underwhelming their performance was. The pressure was as high as it could be, but it had been high all game. For Neymar, the added pressure of penalties hardly mattered. But for Chile, a team that had little pressure on them from the start, penalties proved too much, as they missed three of the five.

Beyond what penalties did to Chile’s tactics, and the fact that a lifeline was offered to an undeserving Brazil, I also dislike watching spot-kicks on a personal level, even when I don’t have a team I’m rooting for. Seeing the crushed face of a player who has just missed a penalty is horrible – for they all feel like they’ve singularly let their country down. That one person carries the weight of an entire country doesn’t seem right to me, even if it makes sense soccer-wise. I hate watching people wilt under pressure. It’s not fun. And that’s not even taking into effect the feelings of a fan, and how agonizing penalties are. They are a brutal experience for all.

But through all that, Brazil has advanced to the quarterfinals. There are certainly a lot of questions to answer though, and they will face a tougher task in their quarterfinal. The Luiz Gustavo suspension for the upcoming game is no small matter, as he has been a rock in front of the back four. But aside from that, many other individuals need to step up. Oscar in particular for me was noticeably invisible going forward today. And for a team that is having such trouble creating chances without Neymar involved, Brazil needs Oscar to show off his creative potential. If he can be first choice for Jose Mourinho at Chelsea in the number 10 role, he shouldn’t be having as much trouble as he is now making an impact for his country.

I feel for Chile going out the way they did, but as I said above, I think they brought the suffering upon themselves with their tactics in the latter parts of the game. It would have been wonderful to see Mauricio Pinilla score that late screamer, but you can hardly say Chile deserved a goal at that stage. The true shame for the Chileans is that Arturo Vidal was never fit enough to make much of an impact on the field in Brazil. As one of the world’s best players, he could have been the difference today. But instead, he was quietly substituted and had to watch his country lose from the sidelines. I hope he gets another chance in Russia.

Lastly, I thought Howard Webb and his refereeing crew were excellent today. From the start he commanded the fiery game with authority, never falling prey to Neymar’s acting or Chile’s late attempts at time wasting. His decision on the Hulk handball needed to be perfect, and I felt it was. Big games need referees who aren’t afraid to make the tough call, and Webb did that today. I would like to see more of him in the coming weeks.

Despite my disdain for penalties, we were treated to an exciting first half and a level of intensity we hadn’t yet seen at the World Cup this year. Brazil will move on, and the neutrals will all be better for it in the end. Getting more chances to watch Neymar play for his country can never be a bad thing. Let’s hope there are many more games like this to come.


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Spain’s Legacy Is One To Be Celebrated

In every story, there is an end. Some are happy. Some are sad. Some ends are sudden. And some are a long time coming. If last week’s loss to the Netherlands was the beginning of the end for Spanish football, today’s defeat to Chile was the final period. Spain will go on playing soccer. In fact, they even get to play another game in Brazil. But things will never quite be the same for Vicente del Bosque’s historic Spanish side of the last six years.

Maybe it was arrogance, or maybe it was simply having played too many games over the last few years, but Spain was not ready to take punches from the Netherlands and from Chile. Everything went wrong. Stars so long admired for their ability to win at all costs seemed to give up. Gone was the ability to create chances. Gone was the determination to overcome the adversity. And gone were the Spaniards. As ESPN analyst Steve McManaman said in the immediate aftermath of Spain’s exit, “They deserve to be going home.”

It’s hard to believe that tiki-taka is done. But it seems the world has figured out how to defend it. Barcelona struggled all year with it, and now this. Will this signal a return to more barbarian styles of play? Or will a young manager come up with a new world-beating tactic? On this day, Chile’s decision to press high up the field looked ingenious. They allowed Spain time on the ball, but held firm when they needed to. When they got on the ball, they immediately countered, and sent runners into the box. Alexis Sanchez looked twice the player he often is at Barcelona among the inspired Chileans today.

Many people, including me, called for changes to be made in the Spanish side before today’s game. Somebody had to provide a spark. But del Bosque only made two changes. The tactics largely stayed the same, and the result was much the same. It was as if he wanted to go down with his boat. The ship was sinking, and instead of jumping on a lifeboat and fighting for survival, he stuck with his men and watched it go down. A 0-0 draw could have kept the Spanish alive, but they never would have played for that. They are too proud to abandon what has marked them over the years, and in many ways, that is admirable.

It will be healthy for these players to get some rest now. Finally, they will be able to have a summer off. Barcelona could be back to their best next year with a rested Spanish contingent. But you can bet that Spain will look to the younger generation to fill many of the old guard’s spaces after this summer. The Spanish side that begins Euro 2016 qualifying might be entirely unrecognizable.

But like all stories, the overall message is about so much more than just the ending. Is How I Met Your Mother a bad show just because the ending was terribly disappointing? Absolutely not. Ultimately, it’s the highs that should be remembered. And this Spanish team had some unbelievable highs. They should go down as one of the best national team sides of all team. They changed the way soccer was played, ushering in an exciting era of tiki-taka unlike anything seen before.

As they depart Brazil, they leave behind that legacy of tiki-taka. It may have diminishing returns now, but for many years, the revolutionary style was almost unbeatable. Xavi, Iniesta, Villa and company should hold their heads high. Their story with Spain has come to an end. But the incredible story of how this side changed the way the game is played is one to be celebrated.

 


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Imagine Kangaroos Playing Soccer

Good morning, everyone. Yesterday was a busy one for me, but fortunately I was able to see all of the Brazil-Mexico game. Having attended the Mexico-Portugal friendly, Mexico’s last before the World Cup, I have to say I am absolutely stunned at how well they are playing in Brazil. Guillermo Ochoa was the hero in goal, but for long periods of time yesterday, Mexico was the more impressive side. Should they advance, they will prove a tough out in the round of 16. I never would have guessed that after their uninspiring performance against Portugal. Brazil was unlucky not to win this game though, as Thiago Silva should have placed his free header anywhere but right at Ochoa. They will be fine, even with the draw, but they certainly do not look unbeatable on home soil, despite what the media keeps telling us.

I was at the Red Sox last night and saw another wonderful game by Brock Holt. Playing in center field for the first time, Holt made one of the more unbelievable plays I’ve seen at Fenway, coming out of nowhere to dive behind a lost Jonny Gomes in left field. Check out the video on the bottom of this article for the best look at this catch. Holt also scored both runs, and showed once again that he needs to be on the field every day. Were it not for Holt, the Red Sox would be borderline unwatchable right now, but the kid is playing out of his mind, keeping this team afloat. I should have a Red Sox themed post later today for you so stay tuned.

Now, after getting rather unlucky with my picks yesterday, I’ll try to rebound today.

Netherlands 3 Australia 0

The name Socceroos is perfect. Every time I watch Australia play, I can’t help but try and picture kangaroos playing soccer (I’ve looked on Youtube and can’t find a video of it). Wouldn’t that just be amazing? I don’t care if this Australian team isn’t as good as prior ones. They are exciting merely because of their name. But unfortunately, the Socceroos don’t have the talent to beat the Dutch today. As the tournament’s new it-team, the Netherlands are rolling. And they will face little adversity seeing off the Aussies. Robin van Persie will score two and Wesley Sneijder will add the third for the Dutch. The Netherlands will all but seal their place in the round of 16 with this win.

Chile 2 Spain 2

In what might be the tournament’s most important group stage game, Chile and Spain will battle it out in a hotly contested affair. Whether or not Vicente del Bosque rings in the changes, Spain will be fired up to prove to themselves that last week’s embarrassment was not an accurate representation of the state of Spanish soccer. However, things will not start brightly for the reigning champions. The defense will be left suspect once again, as Alexis Sanchez, who will be playing many of his Barcelona teammates, will find the net within twenty minutes. A second goal from Chile before the half, this one a brilliant effort from Arturo Vidal, will send the world into a frenzy. But the Spain we all know will be back in a big way in the second half, as a series of substitutions will turn the game around. Jordi Alba will set up Spain’s first goal for Cesc Fabregas. And with time running out on Spain’s World Cup hopes, Sergio Ramos will tie the game, scoring yet another huge goal. The lone point will barely keep Spain in the running for Group B’s second spot in the round of 16, but it will feel like a win after being down and out at halftime.

Croatia 2 Cameroon 0

With Croatia still steaming from last week’s controversial loss to Brazil, Mexico’s draw yesterday will only serve to add more fuel to the fire. Knowing a win is a must against Cameroon, Croatia will be ruthless, relentlessly attacking the Cameroonian defense. Likely without star striker Samuel Eto’o due to injury, the Indomitable Lions won’t be able to relieve any pressure up top, and Croatia will have their way. Luka Modric will deservedly get the opener midway through the first half. Without his long hair that marked his Tottenham days, he is a much more likeable player in my eyes. He will be excellent today. Their second goal will be set up nicely by Ivan Rakitic, who will feed Ivica Olic on the break for a beautiful goal. More pressure will be piled on in the second half, but no further goals will come for the impressive Croatians. This game should be very one-sided.

Enjoy the soccer today and continue spreading the word about this blog. Check back later for the Red Sox piece and for more World Cup coverage. Thanks for reading.