Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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.



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.

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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!