Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports

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One Kick Away From a Near Perfect Performance

We were so damn close… Everything was perfect. And then it wasn’t. Since the fifth minute, nearly everything had gone the Americans’ way. Jürgen Klinsmann made all the right substitutions, and I have to say, his tactics were just about spot on. But then Ronaldo sent in the perfect ball. And all of it seems for naught. That was a match we’ll all remember. But let’s hope we can remember the middle 88 minutes and not the last kick. Thursday will be the death of us all.

The talk going into this match centered on two things – replacing Jozy Altidore and stopping Cristiano Ronaldo. I was skeptical when I saw Klinsmann’s lineup, but Clint Dempsey played superbly up top in the first half, intelligently making runs behind Portugal’s high line. Even without the extra forward, chances were still created. And with the added man in midfield, Ronaldo had little space to operate, with somebody sent at him anytime Portugal looked to be on the break. Even when Ronaldo got a half-chance, he was noticeably off tonight, sending his efforts either above the bar or well wide. That is until the last one.

My man of the match was Jermaine Jones. In the first half, he and Bradley got forward well, and played a lot of intelligent balls. But when Jones ventured forward, he always made sure he had the cover behind him. Defensively, he was excellent at times, with a plethora of vital tackles. In the closing minutes, he blocked a couple of shots well. Even when he gave the ball away, he was quick to earn it back. He also scored an absolute beauty to tie the game, connecting on a curling long-range effort that will be a candidate for goal of the tournament. The goal was well-deserved for Jones, who put in a quality shift.

There were a number of other impressive players in this match for the United States, something you can’t say about many Portuguese players. Matt Besler had an outstanding game in the back, surely his best in a USA shirt. Fabian Johnson too was excellent for much of the game down the right. That Portugal ended up with two goals should not cloud how good the U.S. were defensively, as many players put in impressively disciplined performances. Tim Howard didn’t have his best game, but his save of Eder’s rebounded effort late in the first half was incredible. Not many humans possess the balance necessary to stay on their feet long enough to tip the ball away like Howard did.

In addition to getting everything right tactically, Klinsmann made the right substitutions. DeAndre Yedlin made an outstanding cameo, which not many would have expected. His decision to bring in Chris Wondolowski late on was also excellent, as Wondolowski’s veteran decision to bring the ball to the corner was in stark contrast to Bradley’s play at the end of the Ghana game. Omar Gonzalez might have been better positioned on Varela’s goal, but he was the obvious man to bring in at the end too.

But after all that, Cristiano Ronaldo had just a little too much space and sent in the perfect ball for Varela’s equalizer. At that point, all you can do is tip your cap, and take the positives from this match. As close as the Americans were to qualifying for the next round, they cannot let themselves have a let down with the all-important game against Germany coming up after only three days of rest. They must regroup, treat injuries and keep their heads up. They were the better team tonight and they need to know that.

Germany is good, but the U.S. can’t be intimated. Sitting back and hoping for a point won’t work against the Germans. They have too much talent. The Americans shouldn’t be afraid to attack, knowing that even a close defeat could be all that is needed in that match. Klinsmann’s biggest task before Thursday might be getting his players’ minds ready once again.

I still don’t really know what to feel. You can’t fault the Americans for how they played. The showed the American spirit we all love them these players for, and were the better team today. But damn, that was disappointing in the end. At least we got a point. From 1-0 down at half, a point is still a good result against one of the best teams in the world.

What are your thoughts on the match? Are we going to be able to recover from the disappointment? Comment below.



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How the U.S. Beats Portugal

Good morning, everyone. Luckily for you, I’ve gotten over Bosnia’s tragic loss last night and elected not to write about how sad I was. For the record, I don’t think Nigeria’s goal was preceded by a foul. In the EPL, that would never be called. But I digress. Now to today’s main event – I don’t know how I’m going to wait. I’ll probably end up working out this morning to get the nerves out. The Belgium-Russia game at noon will keep me occupied and happy after, but the South Korea-Algeria game won’t be one that can keep the negative thoughts away. I’ll end up thinking about how scary Cristiano Ronaldo is for roughly four hours straight before kickoff. That can’t be healthy.

Despite how scary Cristiano Ronaldo is, the USA has a good chance of winning this game and sealing a place in the knockout round before having to face Germany, something that going in, none of us expected would be a possibility. With Germany not yet safe, I won’t want to go into the game with the Germans needing anything from it, and I would guess Jürgen Klinsmann would agree. The USA’s chance to advance is now. A tie or a loss today wouldn’t be fatal, but we need to play for the win. Thursday would be awfully nervy if we were to drop points in this game. However, the notion that I would be saying that anything but three points would be considered dropped points shows how high American hopes are. We believe.

The most important aspect of tonight’s game is stopping Cristiano Ronaldo. It seems obvious, but he cannot be the one to beat the U.S. We are smarter than that. Follow the model that Germany laid out and make everyone else beat you. If Ronaldo gets even a yard of space, the U.S. could regret it instantly, but with everyone else on that team lacking confidence right now, they might be vulnerable on the big stage. We all know Ronaldo will show up, but will his teammates be able to keep their cool in front of the net if a chance arises? Recent play suggests not.

As far as stopping Ronaldo, I would give Kyle Beckerman the task of essentially man-marking Ronaldo anytime the ball is in Portugal’s attacking half. Klinsmann should tell him to leave the rest of the defensive midfield duties to Jermaine Jones, so that he can prevent Ronaldo from receiving the ball easily. Second, Fabian Johnson can never be left alone against Ronaldo. Alejandro Bedoya will have to be especially disciplined. He might be the key to this match. If he doesn’t get caught too far upfield, he should be able to provide cover for Johnson, who quite simply cannot defend Ronaldo on his own. Someone always has to be watching him, communicating his runs to the rest of the back four. Shutting him down entirely won’t be possible, but bottling him up is.

With so much defensive discipline needed to stop Ronaldo, the U.S. might find it hard to send extra runners into the box when we are on the front foot. As a result, I would not like to see Clint Dempsey up top alone as some people are suggesting. I’d start Chris Wondolowski and prepare Aaron Johannsson to come on late in the second half to run at defenders with tired legs. While Wondolowski is no Jozy Altidore, he does a lot of things well, and will be able to hold up play more effectively than Johannsson would. He also has better instincts inside the six, and might have a better shot at grabbing an ugly goal in a scrum in front of the net.

The biggest challenge offensively will be creating chances without many men upfield. Michael Bradley will need to be at his best if the U.S. hopes to score, as he is one of very few players on this team that can take on defenders on his own and find the perfect ball. He was pretty quiet against Ghana, so I expect him to bounce back nicely today. If the U.S. scores, the goal will be set up by Bradley. But while the U.S. might be tempted to bring a lot of men forward for set pieces to snag another goal like John Brooks’s, they’ll need at least three men back as opposed to the normal one or two when they take them. Counter attacks off set pieces might be when Ronaldo beats us.

My final point before my prediction is this: Portugal’s defense without Pepe and Fabio Coentrao isn’t as bad as American fans are believing it is. Bruno Alves is a beast in the middle, and his fellow defenders are no slouches. Underestimating the Portuguese after seeing only the Germans play them would not be smart. Allow yourself to believe, but don’t think for one second that this match will be easy even if Ronaldo is somehow contained.

I think the final score will be United States 1 Portugal 1. If Klinsmann stresses defensive discipline, there won’t be many chances for the Americans. But I think Chris Wondolowski converts one if he starts. It will be a particularly ugly goal scored by a body part other than his feet or his head, but it will be worth its weight in gold. However, I think Ronaldo has a moment of brilliance in the second half to put his team on his back. There will be nothing the U.S. can do. Tim Howard will make a few spectacular saves, but won’t have quite enough to deny Ronaldo a goal in the end. It will be a valuable point, but we’ll still have a long way to go to qualify for the knockout stage after this game.

Belgium 2 Russia 0

After struggling for much of the match against Algeria, Belgium found their stride in a big way towards the end of that game. Today will be more like that. I like Eden Hazard to dazzle in this one after a relatively quiet first match. I don’t think he’ll score, but he’ll be the best player on the pitch. Romelu Lukaku will redeem himself as well against Russia, heading in a first half corner. The second goal will come from Kevin De Bruyne on a break. Russia won’t have much going for them and Fabio Capello will be left looking for answers.

South Korea 1 Algeria 1

Algeria will be the better team for most of the match, but South Korea will score first through Park Chu-Young. He’s been an Arsenal striker for three years now and I’ve never watched him score. So he has to do it today. His goal will be well taken too, confusing every Gooner around the world. Sofiane Feghouli scored from the spot for Algeria against Russia, and this time he’ll score from open play. Both goalies will be called into action a lot today. But ultimately, neither side will be able to find the winner, and Group H will remain a mess going into the final day.

Despite my pick of a draw for the U.S., I’m quietly optimistic. I do believe. Let’s do this.


Ein Perfekter Anfang (A Perfect Start)

Hopefully that title is correct. Please let me know if it isn’t. I’ve been learning German for only a year, so cut me some slack for not writing this entire article in German. Despite my German last name and German nickname (my friends call me Klaus), I’m not all that Deutsch. But I was rooting for Germany in this game for a number of reasons. And they didn’t disappoint.

Germany ran rampant against Portugal, dominating from the opening minutes. The 4-0 undressing of Portugal should provide a little more hope for the U.S., who will now face a Portugal team without its usual mojo and likely without two of their star defenders. Portugal looked lost against Die Mannschaft most of the game. Everyone tried to defer to to Cristiano Ronaldo, with experienced players making unnecessary passes to their star when they had the better position. Given that Germany hardly needed to mark anyone else due to this deference, they bottled up Ronaldo well, limiting his chances, as once they sensed that every single pass was heading to Ronaldo, defending counter attacks became simpler.

This German team might have possessed 8 of the best 11 players on the field (the three Real Madrid Portuguese players being the exceptions), but not many of the Germans played in positions they normally man for their clubs. This game goes to show that talent wins out in the end, regardless of where of the field the players are operating. Germany’s two converted fullbacks might be exposed against more dynamic offensive teams, but Portugal’s singular threat did not trouble them. Going forward, the Germans looked incredible at times. The continuos movement of Özil, Götze, Müller and Kroos kept the Portuguese defense guessing during the first half, as they could pop up anywhere in the final third. Müller’s hat-trick was well-deserved, and once again displayed his knack for being in the right position.

It’s easy to watch Germany today and marvel at their offensive talent, but a few times in the early going they lost the ball too easily in their own half, leaving themselves susceptible to counter-attacks. While Portugal didn’t convert those chances, Jogi Löw needs to address that going forward, because with so many players forward, Philipp Lahm can’t be losing the ball cheaply. The other worry for Germany will be the injury to Mats Hummels, as his absence could force Lahm into defense so that Boateng can shift next to Mertesacker.

Having seen Germany tear Portugal apart, the U.S. should go into their game with Ghana tonight confident that they can survive this group. They shouldn’t play for a draw by any means, but a tie with the Black Stars won’t completely derail the American campaign as it seemed it would have before this result. With big injury worries for Fabio Coentrao and Hugo Almeida as well as the Pepe suspension, the U.S. certainly has a chance against Portugal later this week.

From an Arsenal standpoint, Mesut Özil looks to be getting back to his best. Given the freedom to operate both on the flanks and through the middle, he was making a lot of intelligent runs and picked out a number of good passes. I would have liked to have seen him convert the chance that fell to him early in the second half, but I’ll take his overall performance any day. Hopefully, his hour-long performance will see him keep his place going forward, allowing him to earn back his confidence. Per Metesacker was hardly involved, but he defended appropriately when called upon. His leadership at the back of this makeshift defense cannot be underestimated. In his short time on the field, Lukas Podolski looked alright too.

Lastly, I want to say a word about all the penalties that are being called at this World Cup. Such a high percentage of them have been more American football like than European. It has got me wondering why referees are so much more likely to award a penalty for a shove or a tug than for a kick to the shin. There is always a certain amount of shirt-tugging and upper body jostling that goes on, so why are so many more of those penalties being called now than in years past? There have been a number of potential penalties from sliding tackles that haven’t being called, but referees have had no hesitation blowing the whistle for a tug.

What were your thoughts on Germany’s performance? Should the U.S. feel more confident of advancing? Please leave your thoughts below.