Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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Die Beste Halbe von Fußball Bisher (The Best Half of Soccer So Far)

Hoffentlich Die Mannschaft spielt viele mehr Spielen in Brazil weil mehr Deutsch muss ich schreiben! After a full twenty-three hours without watching a World Cup match (it felt strange, believe me), I was able to tune in to the Germay-Ghana game, hoping to see some German delight. But instead, I was treated to one the most enthralling half of soccer the World Cup has offered thus far. As a U.S. supporter first and foremost, this game was agonizing to watch at times, not to mention that Germany would be my obvious team given my familial roots and second language choice. ESPN’s Jon Champion called the scoreless first half a “game for the purists,” but the second half was for everyone.

Before I get to everything else, I have to question Jogi Löw’s decision to bring on the inexperienced Shkodran Mustafi at right back at half for Jerome Boateng. While Philipp Lahm may be his ideal holding midfielder at this point in the German captain’s career, there comes a come when the best right back in the world should be playing right back. I am fine with Boateng on the right, because he is sound defensively and certainly capable of sending in the odd cross. But when Boateng is not on the field, Lahm needs to shift to defense. Germany’s options for holding midfielders off the bench are far better than their secondary options in the back. Mustafi messed up today, allowing Andrew Ayew to get in front of him for a game-tying header. Another mistake could cost the Germans tremendously down the line.

Aside from that, I felt like Germany were a step slow tonight. They were adventurous going forward for much of the match, but remain a few causes for concern. With all the fluid movement up top, they leave their defenders very exposed at times. The backline is more than capable of holding down the fort, but Löw’s tactics put a lot of pressure on his back four. Should there be a giveaway in midfield, like there was on Asomoah Gyan’s goal, there’s not much the defense can do without cover from any wide areas.

The highlight of this game for me was Miroslav Klose’s goal. That it came so soon after his arrival on the pitch provided a further testament to his goalscoring prowess at the World Cup. While the public might be in love with posterboy Mario Götze, Klose is simply ruthless. When Germany needs a goal, he needs to be on the field. Götze should start in my opinion, but don’t forget about Klose. He’s got a little more left.

For me, Mesut Özil had another decent game, but again a keener desire to score himself could have been the difference. Many might be dissatisfied again with his perceived lack of interest, but I feel it’s wrong to judge him for his resting facial expression, though you can fault him for not sprinting back after giving the ball way. Özil made a lot of intelligent runs to get into wonderful spaces, and two or three times you had to wonder if he had a shot in him. Maybe it’s a lost cause to want him to shoot more, but he has a strong shot in him when he decides to let one go. But alas, you know what you’re going to get from Özil these days. He certainly has more to give, but we’re only going to see it if we allow him to be himself. Germany needs him badly, and would be unwise to give up on him right now.

Lastly, Ghana is a heck of a team. In most every group, they would likely be going through. They were woefully unlucky against the U.S., and today they certainly were on par with the Germans. While they will probably be going home, it would be wrong to say they underperformed. Some teams just get unlucky. And no, I don’t mean England.

It sounds like I missed a good one in Argentina and Iran earlier today. But it looks as if we might see a lot more of Lionel Messi.

 

 


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What a Day To Be an American

Who isn’t proud to be American after that match? Wow. To anyone out there who doesn’t watch much soccer and tuned in to be patriotic, I hope this game convinced you that the beautiful game can be pretty damn exciting. Much will be written about John Brooks being the new American hero. But there were thirteen other heroes playing beside him tonight. It was mostly ugly, but at times, it was beautiful.

Dempsey’s opening goal was beyond huge for the U.S. Simply looking at Jürgen Klinsmann’s reaction will tell you how unexpected that was. Played in by the excellent Jermaine Jones, Clint Dempsey showed everyone why he is America’s captain and talisman with his three gorgeous touches and finish. It was a dream start that no one could have predicted.

For the next twenty or so minutes, the U.S. looked comfortable allowing Ghana possession and looking to counter. But Jozy Altidore’s injury changed the match dramatically, as it forced the U.S. to abandon any hope of holding up an attack. From that point on, there was very little offered going forward, and the Black Stars were free to attack at will.

The core of the United States defense was immense, as Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron looked like they’d finally formed a formidable pair in central defense. But injury woes struck again, and the inexperienced John Brooks was sent on for Besler. In front of the back four were Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman, who hardly put a foot wrong. Those two were my personal men of the match, as there tackling was near perfect, halting many Ghanaian attacks when they were on the verge of crisis. Not many would have expected this pairing to be the main performers in midfield, but they outshone Michael Bradley on this day.

As well as the defense was holding up, Andre Ayew’s goal was a long-time coming for Ghana, as they had dominated play since Altidore’s injury. After the goal, I would have taken the draw. But the substitutes made Klinsmann a genius on this day, with Graham Zusi’s corner driven in for Brooks’s winner minutes after Ghana had tied it. In many ways, the U.S. didn’t deserve this goal, as they hadn’t attacked in any serious fashion for what felt like years. But Brooks made his chance count, and he will forever be an American hero for it.

The U.S. now finds themselves in a great position in Group G. But as we all knew going in, a win over Ghana won’t be enough in this group. While this win boosts the American spirit, there is much work left to do. Ghana was supposed to be our easiest game, so the challenge will only increase. Cristiano Ronaldo will be an entirely new challenge. The thought of him running at this defense remains terrifying, even after tonight. Earning a point against Portugal is doable, but certainly not easy.

If the U.S. hopes to advance, a few things will need to improve from tonight’s game. Most importantly, the training staff will need to find a way to keep the players on the field. With Altidore likely out for the considerable future, the U.S. can’t afford to lose anyone else. With more cramping a possibility due to Manaus’s jungle climate, keeping everyone healthy might be the biggest challenge of all. Klismann was able to survive tonight with only one second half substitution, but he will need all three in the later half of the game in the Amazon.

Personnel wise, I want to see more from Michael Bradley. He was solid today, but he was not the player the Americans will be counting on to lead this team past Portugal. And in extra time, he made a strange decision to send in a cross when he could have brought the ball to the corner. It was a rookie mistake that could have been costly, one he can’t make again. The German attacking midfielders found success against Portugal, so it will be up to Bradley to up his game on Sunday. Another player that needs to be better is DeMarcus Beasley. He looked suspect way too many times tonight, and will be picked on more and more by more ruthless teams. Lastly, whoever fills Altidore’s boots, be it Johannsson or Wondolowski, will need to be strong on the ball, if not a goalscoring threat. The more pressure that can be relieved away from the defense, the better.

After all that, we can all take a breath. Today is a great day to be American. We are on cloud nine. But when we wake up tomorrow, all will not be perfect. Today’s performance was gutsy. But against Portugal, the U.S. will need more than heart and guts. We have the potential to do great things in this World Cup. Now, we must continue to find ways to win. What a day to be an American.


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How the USA Beats Ghana and the Inspiring Ibišević

While I was watching the entertaining Argentina and Bosnia & Herzegovina game, I couldn’t help but root for Vedad Ibišević as he came onto the pitch. His story of escaping the war and finding refuge in St. Louis is nothing short of incredible. But what I also find appealing about his story is his time in high school and collegiate soccer in the US. If the rule is that college soccer in the United States hurts our prospects of developing soccer stars, Ibišević is the exception. Although he isn’t playing for the red, white and blue, his story should inspire young Americans everywhere, both on a personal level and on the soccer field. Even though Bosnia ended up losing, his goal, Bosnia’s first ever at a World Cup, surely sent both sides of fans home relatively happy.

Speaking of USA, there is a big game today against old nemesis Ghana. I haven’t written much on this blog yet about this U.S. team, but I am one of their biggest fans. One day, I plan on joining the American Outlaws. But for now, I’ll have to settle for nervously watching the opening match with some of my high school friends. I can’t wait any longer. This particular mixture of hope, dread, and excitement I am feeling is one I haven’t felt often. Now let’s get to my assessment of how we can win and my predictions for today’s games.

Robbie Findley. Ricardo Clark. Jonathan Bornstein. Jay DeMerit. Those are the names of four players who started the match against Ghana four years ago. Since then, our national team has dramatically improved, and now has dangerous players everywhere on the pitch. The depth of the squad now versus then might be the biggest indicator about how much the program has developed. Regardless of whether or or not Klinsmann can lead this team out of the group stage, there has been tremendous improvements over these four years.

Against Ghana, Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman should start in front of the defense. Their play will be vital, as an early Ghana goal would suck all the life out of everyone involved with the United States. If they don’t venture forward as often as they normally do, more of the attacking burden will fall on the fullbacks, Fabian Johnson and DeMarcus Beasley. I believe Johnson could be the key to this match, as he has looked particularly impressive recently. If he is able to link up with Bradley and Dempsey going forward on the right, that might open up space for late runs into the box. If Jozy Altidore can occupy a defender or two then, the U.S.’s best chances will fall to runners from the midfield. Whoever earns the last starting spot, be it Alejandro Bedoya or Graham Zusi, needs to take their chances if the U.S. hopes to win.

Defensively, the U.S. needs to careful not to get out of position, always communicating each others’ whereabouts to one another. There will be mistakes made, and it will be up to Tim Howard to save them at times. This first game will be an eye opener for Matt Besler, and one can only hope he doesn’t let the pressure get to him.

I see Michael Bradley scoring an opener late in the first half from a Fabian Johnson-led attack down the right. The defense will be solid, if not spectacular, in the first half, with Ghana not converting their only major chance of the half. The second half will see the United States put more men behind the ball with the lead, but a momentary lapse in concentration by Besler will see Ghana earn a penalty. Howard will go the wrong way, and the game will be tied. Withdrawing Beckerman knowing a win is a near-must, Klinsmann will put on Aron Johannsson for the last quarter of an hour, and he will see an effort saved off the line. Chances will come in bunches for both teams as the game opens up in the final minutes, but Howard heroics will deny Ghana a winner.

My prediction for the final score is United States 1 Ghana 1

Germany 2 Portugal 1

This game will be one of the opening round’s best. The Germans have an abundance of world-class talent, but the Portuguese have Cristiano Ronaldo. Take your pick. I see 2010 World Cup hero Thomas Müller opening the scoring for Germany, converting a rebound from a Lukas Podolski left-footed bullet. Mesut Özil will grow in confidence as the match goes on, and he will send a perfectly weighted pass in to Mario Götze for Germany to double their lead. Struggling to find his usual match-winning form, Ronaldo will be quiet until a late free kick. His swerving effort will beat Neuer and Portugal will only be one goal behind despite being thoroughly outplayed. But Germany will hold firm in the final minutes of the game, not giving Ronaldo another chance.

Nigeria 0 – Iran 0

The World Cup has been so exciting thus far that we are bound to have a boring 0-0 game sooner or later. This game will be just that, as Iran’s defense will hold strong against the Nigerian attack. The man of the match will be Vincent Enyeama in goal for Nigeria, who will have one or two noteworthy saves to deny Iran on the counter. The singular point for both sides will severely damage their chances of advancing out of the group, having their toughest matches against the impressive Argentina and Bosnia & Herzegovina ahead.

Have a great day, everyone. Go USA!