US-Denmark Rewind

Well that didn’t feel good. 3-1 defeats never do. The US had a decent first half and went in with a one-nil lead. Feilhaber was all over the place and Jeff Cunningham had a great goal, putting him in contention for a World Cup spot. But Denmark outplayed the US, did a good job of controlling the midfield, and took advantage of some shambolic defending. The US just didn’t play all that well and some mental errors and positioning break downs ultimately led to their downfall.

So what to make of the results?

1. Depth is an issue for the US. The US B and C team players are simply not at the level where they can just step in. Soccer really is a team game and when one or two of the players on the field are really not good enough it affects the whole team. Too often against Denmark players were caught out of position or lost possession, leaving the backline totally exposed.

2. We are very dependent on Donovan and Dempsey. Frankly both players just have class and are very dangerous when they have the ball. When they are not there we are definitely missing a spark.
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The Hand of Gaul: Henry cheats Ireland out of World Cup

There are some hand ball decisions that are hard on the player because the ball simply deflects off their hand or arm and they couldn’t really do much about it. Then there are the times when a player moves his hand and opens his palm to play the ball. Thierry Henry did the latter for France in extra time to put Ireland out of the World Cup.

AF has confirmation on US jerseys

Association Football can say with great confidence that these are the USMNT Nike jersey’s for the 2010 World Cup.

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USA v Denmark preview: Edgar Castillo edition

Is Edgar Castillo the solution to US left back woes?

The US men’s national team finishes its 2009 schedule with a friendly against Denmark, another European team that has already qualified for the World Cup Finals. But like the matchup with Slovakia last Saturday, of far more importance than the final result will be the debut in the US team of left back Edgar Castillo.

Born and raised in New Mexico, the 23-year-old Mexican-American Castillo has played his entire professional career in the Mexican leagues, even appearing three times in friendlies for the Mexican national team. But a FIFA rule change allows players a one-time switch in national team allegiance if they have never played a competitive international (like Castillo and Jermaine Jones). Many US fans are hoping that Castillo will finally provide the answer to the most troublesome position in the American starting XI. Continue reading

Egypt v Algeria: An eye for a… World Cup berth

You know there is a problem when a match is played in Sudan to avoid violence. But that’s what will happen Wednesday when Egypt face Algeria in a playoff for the last African berth to the first World Cup played on African soil. These two neighboring North African nations have a deep, and at times violent, rivalry on and off the soccer field. The last time these two countries squared off with a World Cup Finals place on the line, it ended with an unlikely Egyptian victory and melee that cost the team doctor an eye. Everyone is hoping that the riots that preceded Saturday’s group stage finale in Cairo can be avoided and the focus can return to the pitch, because it should be a cracking game.

While most Americans associate soccer violence with mindless hooligans, it’s more often based in international and domestic politics than simple anti-social behavior. Soccer is a genuinely global game and unique among sports in that it often mixes athletic competition and international relations. The El Salvador-Honduras Soccer War (a real war between the two nations fought after violence during a World Cup qualifying match in 1969) gets the most attention, but Egypt and Algeria have had their share of intense soccer-political rivalry. Continue reading

European WC Playoff Preview Round 2

After rigging the draw by suddenly ranking teams following the completion of the group stages – thereby ensuring that none of the top sides would play each other – the first round went according to plan for Fifa and UEFA but barely. Here is a review of the four first round games and some predictions for tomorrow’s games.

Ireland vs. France (first match 0-1 to France in Dublin). In the first match the luck was definitely not with the Irish on Saturday. Ireland in blood and guts performance gave France fits but ultimately weren’t able to convert there few opportunities. The Irish striker Kevin Doyle put in an excellent shift and the Irish central midfield was everywhere and effectively neutered the French attack. That said, and as was recognized by the Irish announcers France’s athleticism and skill began to win out and while Nikolas Anelka’s goal was a fluke deflection, France, and especially Anelka were looking more and more dangerous. Anelka was the best player on the pitch, playing as a right wing/midfielder. He tracked back defensively with a purpose and was constantly a threat on the ball.

Ireland is definitely up against it and it seems doubtful that they can go to Paris and get a win. But a lackadaisical performance from France would not be a huge surprise and if Ireland play with the same intensity that they did in Dublin, an Irish upset is not out of the question. That being said Ireland really misses the creative midfield presence that Stephen Ireland provided. With Stephen Ireland this would be a much more dangerous team. In the end Ireland give it their all and get a goal, but France scores as well and a draw puts France in the world cup.

Portugal vs. Bosnia (1-0 to Portugal in Lisbon).
Really, Bosnia is not just up against Portugal they are also up against the crossbar and the left post. In the dying minutes Bosnia hit the crossbar on a header and saw the ball fall kindly to them only to see a shot that looked in hit the inside of the left post. Portugal was well Portugal. They created a lot of chances, played beautiful football but failed to convert on many of their chances. Bosnia led by American striker Ibisevic of the Bundesliga created a lot of chances and posed a real threat to Portugal. Going into this match up I thought Bosnia was a potential sleeper. I still think that’s the case. I think Bosnia goes through in an inspired performance.

Russia vs. Slovenia (2-1 to Russia in Moscow). The Soviets, err Russians (did you see those new uniforms), were absolutely cruising – it looked like they were going to get 3 or 4. But a late push from Slovenia got the crucial away goal and almost leveled the game. One has to think that Russia will advance on the backs of Arshavin, Zhirkov, Pavlyuchenko and Bilyaletdinov, but Slovenia has to have confidence after the way they finished the game. This could be a very interesting game, but I think the Russians pull through.

Greece vs. Ukraine (0-0 in Athens). After watching this game, is it possible that we can make it so neither of these teams make the World Cup? If you had no rooting interest, this game was an absolute snoozer. I mean I am not the only one to think this, the Olympic stadium in Athens was 2/3rds empty. How a country that enthusiastically supports their club teams and won the European championships in 2004 has an empty stadium for a World Cup qualifier is beyond me. Prediction: after another snoozer 0-0 draw, game goals to penalties in which a Shevchenko miss puts Greece through.

As Van Persie goes down – so does Arsenal?

van persieRobin Van Persie went down in the Dutch friendly this weekend with torn ankle ligaments. He will be out for at least six weeks but likely a couple months. This is just simply a huge blow for Arsenal.

I wrote earlier that Van Persie, not Fabregas, was the key to Arsenal’s season. We shall see if that pans out. But ever since Henry left Arsenal have lacked that striker that just scores goals out of nothing. Yes Adebayor is class, but he squandered many chances and required his teammates to put him in position to score. To put it another way, Adebayor rarely was able to score out of nothing or against the run of play. Van Persie this year was really emerging as a world class striker. He has the speed and technique of a winger, but is big and strong enough to play upfront with his back to goal. And he was showing that rare knack for scoring goals. Against Spurs and Fulham this year Van Persie got goals out of nothing, forcing the opposition to push forward and allowing Arsenal’s counterattacking game to flourish.

To make matters worse for Arsenal, the logical back up for the center striker position, Nikolas Bendtner, is also injured and will be out for a while. Eduardo is the next one in line, but he is pretty slender to lead the line. Arsenal have plenty of pacy attacking wingers, in Arshavin, Walcott, Nasri, Walcott, Vela, Rosciky, but none of those players can really replace Van Persie. This is also coming at a time in the season when Arsenal is entering the cold wintery months – a period where they have at times struggled, especially playing away at the Blackburns and Wigans.

After looking as if they could make a legitimate challenge for the title, I think this comes close to eliminating that possibility. A worst case scenario for Arsenal fans is that this could put their top four status in danger. The table is still very tight among the top 6 and 7 and a few draws and losses and Arsenal could find themselves in real trouble.

Positives and Negatives from USA-Slovakia

USA winter_FansFlag
I already gave my generally upbeat take on the game here. Yes the US failed to break through but overall they controlled the game and created some good chances. But the game did tell us a number of things about the US squad.

1. The Bradley-Feilhaber pairing bossed the game and should be the top central midfield tandem until proven otherwise. Both played well defensively, sprayed the ball around the filed, and controlled the pace of the game. With Feilhaber on the field the US is just a lot calmer in possession and tends to avoid those cheap give aways. The biggest weakness of this pairing is that there are times in the game when both Bradley and Feilhaber are caught behind the ball, leaving the backline exposed. Furthermore, while Bradley can play the holding role well, he isn’t necessarily your prototypical ball winning holding midfielder.

2. None of the second striker candidates have yet to show themselves as good enough – certainly not Casey or EJ.
Casey was a black hole throughout the game. His lack of pace is very problematic and he was not even effective at holding up the ball. The lack of threat posed by Casey allowed the Slovak defense to key more on Altidore. EJ was an improvement over Casey, but showed a weakness with his back to the goal and was frequently muscled off the ball. Jeff Cunningham didn’t get enough time, but looked more promising than the other two. I would have really liked to see Robbie Findley, but RSL made the finals. He seems to me the only one that has similar attributes as Davies. Continue reading

US-Slovakia: Forget the Scoreline, the US Impressed

p1_us_0908In the blogoshpere, the US team has often been compared to Slovakia when trying to assess America’s international soccer. Optimists argued the US was far superior to Slovakia, while critics of the UMNT often argued that the U.S. wasn’t even close to the Slovaks. Slovakia is exactly the type of second tier squad that the US will have to get a result against in the World Cup. So this friendly with Slovakia therefore was a very good yard marker for assessing the progress of the US squad.

The scoreline – a 1-0 win for Slovakia – would seem to poor cold water on the optimists and raise the cred of the pessimists. I think that would be wrong. In assessing a game it can be hard to get past the scoreline. This is a results driven business after all. But friendlies are not always about results and the US fans can take away a lot of positives from this performance and should feel good about the team.

The US completely dominated possession in this game and controlled the central midfield. Despite the compact and defensive play from the Slovaks, the US did create chances and put them under pressure throughout the match. The US was also very solid defensively, giving the Slovaks few chances until the end. Furthermore the penalty was a dive or at the very least a very very soft penalty that should never have been given. While the US wasn’t able to recover and tie the game, one wonders if the squad wasn’t so reshuffled in the second half if that would have been the case. Also if it weren’t for Altidore blocking Steve Cherendolo’s scrambled shot off a corner in the 2nd minute – a shot that was going in the back of the net – the US would have been ahead.
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Algerian Team attacked: WWFD?

The Algerian national team arrived in Cairo to play the final game of qualification. Algeria leads the group over Egypt by three points so everything is online the line for Saturday’s game. This led a bunch of Egyptian hooligans to attack the Algerian national team’s bus as it made its way from the airport to the hotel. One had to be taken to the hospital and others were injured. FIFA said they will review the incident. In my mind this is unacceptable and the Egyptian federation should be punished for not providing the appropriate security. But will Fifa do more than just fine them? They could deduct points from Egypt effectively eliminating them from the competition. That would be harsh on the players who had nothing to do with the incident. But this sort of thing really can’t stand.