Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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Life After Death for the United States und Deutschland

When the draw came out in December, I don’t think many of us expected to be here at this moment, still standing after the Group of Death had run its course. It was hardly pretty, and not entirely convincing, but the U.S. deserves to be moving on. Who would have thought that the last few minutes of today’s game would have been so comfortable? Once Ronaldo scored to put Portugal in the lead over Ghana, you could almost feel a few million Americans release six months’ worth of built of stress. We did it. We made it out of the Group of Death.

I ended up watching pretty much the whole game at camp today save for the opening couple minutes. While watching with a bunch of fifth graders who knew little about soccer was hardly my preferred scene, at least I was able to watch. Maybe it was because I didn’t have much time to worry about this match, but I was a lot less nervous than I was before the last two. Germany was going to beat us, I knew. And there was nothing we could do beyond hoping that the Portuguese took care of business in their game. But as scared as I was about Ghana yesterday, the recently-announced suspensions of Kevin Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari made me confident this morning.

There wasn’t a whole lot to the game itself. Germany dominated, but they had little reason to push forward for more goals. They look about the most settled side in Brazil right now, completely confident in their own ability. Even their weakness – the four center backs and their lack of pace and width in the back – is a strength on set pieces. With Thomas Müller in such fine goalscoring form, and the rest of the attackers finding their footing, the Germans are my favorite for the title at this point.

Despite the obvious strength of the Germans, the U.S. didn’t look out of place on the same field. A lot of Americans had strong performances today, including standout ones from Tim Howard, Kyle Beckerman and Matt Besler. Along with Jermaine Jones and Fabian Johnson, Besler has been the Americans’ standout performer so far in my eyes. I would really like to see him get a chance to play in Europe soon. Beside him in defense, Omar Gonzalez was solid, as Jürgen Klinsmann played all the right cards once again. His coaching decisions have been terrific I must say.

There are three major worries for this team going forward for me. The obvious one is Michael Bradley. Once again, he looked lost in the final third, acting like a shadow of the player he was in the warm-up games and prior to that. It feels like I’m beating a dead horse, but Bradley needs to be at his best if the U.S. hopes to advance another round. Nobody else on the team is capable of playing the vital number 10 role as well as he can, and his teammates need him to play up to his own high standards. His lack of a first touch was astounding.

The other major worry has to be the team’s fitness. For much of this game today, the Americans looked worn out, beaten by the harsh travel schedule and weather. Getting everybody’s legs back under them before the game against Belgium will be a big task for Klinsmann. And there’s no guarantee Jozy Altidore will be back anytime soon.

The final worry of mine is Graham Zusi’s set pieces. What was supposed to be a strength has turned into a bit of a problem, as aside from his ball to John Brooks in the Ghana games, his corners have been terrible, not being anywhere close to where they need to be. If the U.S. isn’t creating many chances from open play, set pieces must be taken advantage of if we are going to score. Zusi’s balls were certainly not going to produce any goals today.

But we are through to the knockout round and that is all that matters for now. We can focus on Belgium tomorrow. There is life after the Group of Death after all. Thank you, Portugal. Thank you, Kevin Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari. But more importantly, thank you Jürgen Klinsmann. He is the true American hero from the group stage.

On another note, I think the Luis Suarez suspension is spot on. Four months away from soccer will hopefully teach that man a lesson. It a serious punishment, but also a reasonable one. A lifetime ban would have been incredibly harsh, so at least Liverpool fans can be happy he didn’t get that. But he should have no further place in this World Cup after giving the game of soccer such a bad name. And while Liverpool might feel harshly treated, a lengthy club suspension was also necessary. Let’s all agree that biting people is not okay.

What were your thoughts on all the soccer stories today? Please comment below.


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How The U.S. Beats Germany (Or At Least Ties Them)

I wasn’t able to catch any soccer yesterday, so I’ve been doing nothing but going through all potential scenarios about today in my head. I’m confident about our chances. But I’m scared. Germany is much better than Portugal. I’m hoping for a draw in the Portugal-Ghana game, but I don’t know how likely that is. So what does the U.S. have to do to get the all-important win?

To start, the U.S. must not sit back and hope for a scoreless draw. Playing ninety minutes of perfect defense isn’t something this current squad is capable of. At some point, there will be a mistake, and the Germans have the talent to capitalize. The U.S. will need to offer something going forward if only to prevent Germany from attacking with both fullbacks the whole game. A threat of a counter-attack will force Philipp Lahm to be more disciplined in midfield, and the U.S. will certainly be better off without him in possession in the attacking third.

While Portugal was a one-man threat, Germany offers the opposite – all players on the field can score. I think the U.S. might have success roughing up Mesut Özil and Mario Götze, two smaller players who don’t like a lot of contact. I hate to suggest we might have to play a more aggressive style of defense, but a few fouls here and there could prove helpful. If we can get Özil frustrated, Germany’s attack will become much less fluid.

Michael Bradley has to be better. His first half was decent against Portugal, but his play took a nosedive as the game went on. He should relish the chance to prove himself against some of the world’s best midfielders. I think he needs to be directly involved in a goal if the U.S. wants a result. Big players need to step up in big games and now is Bradley’s time. His balls over the top to Dempsey might be the way to unlock Germany’s defense, as Per Mertesacker’s speed remains a weakness of his. A late cameo from Aron Johannsson could terrorize Arsenal’s big German.

Should the U.S. attack a little bit, and if Fabian Johnson and Michael Bradley are at the top of their game, the Americans could create some chances. Germany has looked vulnerable at the back, and the only way to get a point off of them is to exploit that weakness. Simply trying to defend from the opening minute won’t get the job done.

I think the U.S. gives up another early goal, with Thomas Müller converting a penalty off a clumsy DeMarcus Beasley tackle. Mats Hummels will score a second German goal before halftime off of a set-piece. As the Americans send more men forward, a late counter-attack from Germany will see Andre Schürrle make it 3-0. It will be a convincing thumping, one that will leave American. fans in shock. Clint Dempsey will score a consolation goal in the waning moments though, which could be crucial in the goal-differential battle.  My final prediction is Germany 3 USA 1.

Ghana 2 Portugal 2

While everybody around this country will be watching the other game, this one will be a thriller. Portugal will score two first half goals, Cristiano Ronaldo on the end of both. The Portuguese will be flying, looking to overturn goal-differential problems from the loss to Germany. João Moutinho will pick apart the Ghanaian defense on the counter. But just when things are looking good for Portugal, Ghana will fight back, getting their first from Andre Ayew. Minutes later, Christian Atsu will open his World Cup account, tying the game. With the U.S. losing big, Ghana will go for it all in the closing minutes, sending everyone forward looking for the winner. But it won’t come. Portugal’s maligned defense will end up becoming American heroes.

Algeria 1 Russia 1

Algeria will continue to impress, taking Group H’s final spot from the grips of the Russians. Russia will jump on top early, getting a goal against the run of play from Alan Dzagoev, who I tip to start today. From there, Russia will sit back and hope to cling on to their slim lead. However, a deserved goal will come from Sofiane Feghouli for Algeria midway through the second half. The final twenty minutes or so will be incredibly tense, with the Russians throwing men forward in search of the winning goal. Unfortunately for Fabio Capello, Russia will lack the necessary quality to break down the crowded Algerian defense, and Algeria will be a surprise inclusion in the knockout stage.

Belgium 2 South Korea 0

Belgium will once again fail to impress. They’ll look tired and disinterested for much of the match. But when they feel like it, a goal will come from Kevin De Bruyne. Belgium’s second will be scored by Daniel Van Buyten on a towering header. South Korea won’t have much fight in them after Belgium’s first goal, and after an impressive start, will fail in the important moments. Like Argentina, Belgium will finish with all nine points having played nowhere near their best.

I hope everyone has plans to watch the game this afternoon, doing whatever it takes to watch. Apparently, my camp is watching the game for our afternoon activity, so hopefully that happens. Let’s pray for a tie in the Ghana-Portugal game. That might be our best hope. Ideally, I’ll also have a piece on the NBA Draft at some point this evening. I believe that we can win.

 

 


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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.


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How Do We Top That?

Well good morning, everyone. I hope you’ve recovered from last night’s elation because I sure haven’t. How do we top that? Group H might be the least exciting group of all, but at least we get to start it all again with Group A. This second set of games probably won’t top the first set, which have been tremendous, but they will give us a much better idea of how things are going to settle.

I’m going to Fenway again tonight for the Red Sox-Twins game. Not much new to say about the Red Sox other than that they need a winning streak soon. But back to the soccer. Here are my predictions for today’s games. I’ve been doing much better with my picks lately, so that’s good. But anyway, here we go.

Belgium 3 Algeria 0

I’ll admit, I don’t know much about this Algeria team other than what they did four years ago. But I don’t expect Belgium to be troubled today. There is simply too much of a talent gap between the two sides for Belgium not to win. For Premier League fans, Belgium should be your team, as their lineup is full of the stars you watch every weekend. I expect Kevin De Bruyne to open up the scoring, with his pace combining well with Eden Hazard for the opener. Romelu Lukaku will score the second on a header. And the third and final goal will come from Vincent Kompany, also via the head. This side will be a fun one to watch.

Brazil 2 Mexico 1

While on paper these sides don’t look all that even, Brazil will find themselves a tough opponent in Miguel Herrera’s Mexico. The first half will be exciting, back-and-forth play, but the teams will head to the locker room scoreless. Brazil captain Thiago Silva will score the opener on a set piece early in the second half to send the Brazilian crowd into a friendly. But Mexico will push hard for the equalizer. A Brazilian counter will see Neymar convert a short-range effort, doubling the lead. However, Mexico will bring one back through substitute Javier Hernandez, who will finally find the net. Mexico will impress on the day, but their effort won’t quite be enough against the hosts. The second round of Group A action will kick off with a bang.

Russia 1 South Korea 0

As little as I know about Algeria, I might know less about South Korea for whatever reason. I don’t think I’ve seen them play since 2010 either, and that won’t change today, as I’ll have to miss the match. But I think they’ll struggle, much like the reset of the Asian teams have in Brazil. The goal won’t be pretty, but Russia will turn in a loose ball in the box through Aleksandr Kerzhakov. I played this fixture many times in FIFA (the 2011 version for old time’s sake) against my South Korean friend last year because I found Kerzhakov’s pace suited my style of play. I thus expect him to be Russia’s man of the match tonight. But I’ll be rooting for South Korea so that I can get an excited phone call from Jota, whose past celebrations have included him shattering his phone while celebrating Ronaldo’s third goal against Sweden last fall.

I should have a piece on the Belgium-Algeria game after the match, but with the Red Sox tonight, I might not be able to write much about the second and third games. Enjoy your day and as always, thanks for reading. Now that I’m almost ten days in, I can honestly say that writing this blog has been a joy. Seeing that my readers are coming from all over the world is beyond cool. Thank you so much for checking out what I have to say. If you like it, keep coming back, and please tell your friends.