Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Yanks Going to South Africa

Bob Bradley has just announced the 23-man USA roster for the World Cup:

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann, Tim Howard.

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein, Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit, Clarence Goodson, Oguchi Onyewu, Jonathan Spector.

Midfielders: DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Stuart Holden, Jose Torres.

Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Edson Buddle, Robbie Findley, Herculez Gomez.

I don't think there are any surprises in the back.  Guzan showed last night that he is the number three goalie behind Hahnemann, and Bradley was forced to choose at least one natural left back, meaning Bornstein obviously gets the nod over slightly more horrible Heath Pearce. 

That said, is anyone else not horrified by our defense at the moment?  Gooch just looks off, which shouldn't be surprising, seeing as he hasn't played a single match in seven months!  The US has depth at center back, until you realize that Bocanegra just had surgery for a hernia and he also probably needs to play left back if only because playing Bornstein would be like inviting the apocolypse upon the team's hopes of advancing.  Imagine Aaron Lennon or Theo Walcott racing past a hapless Bornstein as he either falls to the turf or concedes another penalty.  Yikes.  Once again I'll clamor for Spector to play at left back, even though he's stated that he's more comfortable on the right, and Bradley has never seemed inclined to play him there.  I don't know if Gooch can get up to full speed in time, and I'm a little worried.

The midfield brings practically no surprises.  Bedoya and Rogers made late pushes for inclusion, and I thought they looked alright last night, but Beasley has also looked better recently and his experience won out.  He did well last night, cementing his place.  I won't really argue with anything here.  Holden looked good last night and can argue for a starting spot if Dempsey goes up top. Remains to be seen.

One slight disappointment I had was with Edu.  Yes he scored, but I just wasn't as impressed with his control of the defensive midfield area as I was hoping.  Was I the only one?  There were times where he just didn't seem as engaged and was too passive in the middle when the Czech's had the ball and were attacking.  This is when it would help to have no life to be able to re-watch the game for such things.  Still, I think he's better all-around to Rico Clark and should start with Michael Bradley, but we'll learn more with the Turkey match.

Finally, the forwards are the one area where Bradley shook things up.  The big surprise, causing outrage amongst some, is Findley over Brian Ching.  Personally I thought Ching had a roster spot all but guaranteed, especially after another good showing last night where it was clear that his hold up play and ability to link with other attackers is head and shoulders better than the rest of the US forwards, even if that's not saying much.

Findley clearly won out because he has speed and will be replacing Charlie Davies.  In an ESPN chat recently Bocanegra revealed that he was impressed with Findley in training and was hoping he could make an impact, so maybe there were signs behind the scenes we just didn't see.  I could even see taking Findley, but at the expense of either Buddle or Gomez.  Gomez looked more dangerous and scored last night, all but sealing his spot on the roster, so in my opinion Buddle should have been cut.  Again, it would be nice to be able to go back and watch the game and analyze how Buddle played, but from my viewing last night I just didn't see anything from him that lends me to believe he'll make any impact against world class calibre defenders.

I'm trying to stay positive because all the key players except Gooch were in the stands last night.  Hopefully the Turkey match will provide more answers, because I think last night raised a few more questions.  16 days until June 12...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Nike World Cup Commercial

Nike's up to it again, with another sick football commercial with all the stars (what's that, that Brazilian guy isn't going to the World Cup??), following up on the Take It to the Next Level commercial, their classic first person point of view commercial that showed you going through the ranks from pub team to Arsenal to playing against Brazil and Ronaldinho (there's that man again) playing for the Dutch. Neat concept this time with the looks into the future depending on how the play could go, particularly the Rooney parts. Take a look:

Monday, May 17, 2010

Oguchi to Play for Free

A very interesting bit of news today is that USA central defender Oguchi Onyewu has signed a one-year extension at AC Milan, keeping him at the San Siro through the 2012-13 season.  That's not the really interesting part.

Oguchi offered, and Milan duly accepted, to play that final season for free.  Noble gesture, in light of his injury-missed season?  Or stupidity, because why play for free when one of the best teams in the world will pay you handsomely? 

It's a clever move by Gooch, convincing Milan to give him another year that maybe they would have otherwise questioned in light of his injury and lack of games with the team. Certainly if Gooch gets on the field and holds down a starting position, he'll get rewarded once he needs to re-sign again.  Hopefully Gooch is healthy enough to play well in the World Cup and carry that over into next season.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

European Glory for Madrid

After a long, excruciating wait for a return to European glory, Madrid has found itself back among Europe's elite champions, thanks to their ex-Manchester United goal-scoring hero.

What's that you say, Real Madrid were knocked out of the Champions League way  back in the first knockout round?

But of course, I meant those cross-town losers, Atlético Madrid.

Early in the season, back in October, we wrote about the sorry state of football at the Vincent Calderon. Los rojiblancos were at the bottom of the La Liga table, and things did not look good.

However, the arrival of coach Quique Sanchez Flores has changed Atlético's fortunes, propelling them up to 9th in the table, bringing home the Europa League championship yesterday against a valiant Fulham, and a Copa del Rey final still to come.

Key to this resurgence has been the partnership between Sergio "Kun" Aguero and Diego Forlan. Forlan of course is the aforementioned goalscorer cast aside by Man U after a comical two years that saw him take eight months to score his first goal, yet he still endeared himself to the Man U faithful for his tireless work and a brace led the Red Devils to victory over Liverpool at Anfield in 2002. He's no Dimitar Berbatov, despite having actually scored fewer goals than Berbatov has for Man U.  Still, I'm not sure many people who followed his work believed he would become so  prolific once leaving England, but I guess the talent was always there.

Aguero was the danger man all game against Fulham, and it was only a matter of time before Atlético's pressure led to goals, and Forlan showed a goalscorer's instinct to win the match in extra time. It was a disappointing ending for Fulham, who had a magical run getting here with upsets and epic victories along the way over the likes of Roma, Juventus, Wolfsburg, and Hamburg. I was hoping for an American victory in the final, and though Clint Dempsey played a massive part in Fulham's run, in particular his stunning winner against Juve, but luck ran out for Dempsey and the Cottagers and Atlético's superior attacking class prevailed.

Pending the La Liga finish and Copa del Rey final, it could quite something if Real's new galactico's finish without hardware and the "other" Madrid side brings back a double.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

US 30-man Preliminary Roster

The 30-man provisional World Cup roster for the US was announced today:

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann, Brad Guzan

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector, Jay DeMerit, Clarence Goodson, Jonathan Bornstein, Heath Pearce, Chad Marshall

Midfielders: Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Stuart Holden, Ricardo Clark, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Jose Francisco Torres, Alejandro Bedoya, DaMarcus Beasley, Sacha Kljestan, Robbie Rogers

Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Robbie Findley, Brian Ching, Edson Buddle, Eddie Johnson, Herculez Gomez

Really, there is nothing there that I see as a "surprise."  The big story of course is Charlie Davies failing to make even the preliminary roster, while most people were hoping for him to make the final 23.  Not being able to make the 30 allowed the only half-surprise to me, which was Robbie Findley getting called in.  I thought Davies would at least get a look in camp in that spot, but it became clear in recent days that Bob Bradley was downplaying expectations for Davies and ultimately Sochaux never cleared Davies as medically fit to be released.

Not having Davies is a blow to team morale, as he was a favorite among teammates and proved to be a strong motivator for Jozy Altidore to raise his game, to say nothing of his on-the-field abilities when healthy.

So the question now becomes who will be the final seven players dropped for the final roster.

Marshall is out, and everyone assumes only one of Pearce and Bornstein will make it.  Only seven defensemen are going since Edu can cover in the back and there's a lot of versatility between Spector and Bocanegra.

In midfield, I can't see Sacha Kljestan making it, and Beasley is also probably off due to a lack of playing time.  Because Dempsey may play up top some, there's an extra spot in the midfield, and maybe that goes to Robbie Rogers, who's picking it up lately, though by no means great, in MLS, and showed well in the close of qualifying. Keep in mind that Bradley played Rogers on the right wing where Dempsey usually plays. The spot would go to Stuart Holden if Dempsey is up top, leaving options thin on the wing with Donovan on one side, and the other choices being Bedoya and central midfielders Torres and Feilhaber. But if Rogers is taken, ten midfielders would be an awful lot. I would do it because...

...Look at the forward options.  With poor play in MLS and in recent friendlies, I don't think Findley should make it, even if he is the "speed replacement" for Davies. Altidore is the only lock, though Ching is the next closest thing if healthy.  Do you trust anyone other than those two?  Also, given Ching's injury problems, you'd probably need two more forwards, even with Donovan and Dempsey on the roster.  So, that means saying bye to Rogers, and hello to two of Buddle, Gomez, and Johnson.  Now that's what Bill Simmons would call the poo poo platter of forwards.

Can't we borrow someone from Brazil?  Dunga left home Pato, Adriano, and Ronaldinho, not to mention Diego and Neymar.  France left home Karim Benzema, the Dutch have no place for Ruud van Nistelroy, the Azzuri didn't include Francisco Totti (granted he's retired from the international football), Luca Toni, or Alessandro Del Piero (Italians everywhere are outraged!), and the Germans said no to Kevin Kuranyi.  Furthermore, all these countries, Brazil aside, will be trimming further fat from their rosters by June 1.  Meanwhile, the US has to see Giuseppe Rossi and Neven Subotic on the Italian and Serbian rosters respectively, while the aforementioned poo poo platter will be playing for a spot at camp in Princeton . 

Now, maybe I'm being too harsh on Gomez in particular, but does anyone think Buddle is up to playing against Rio Ferdinand and John Terry?  I long ago lost patience in Eddie Johnson, only to watch in horror as he scored a few times in the Greek playoffs, forcing his way back into the discussion.  Honestly, I'm not sure if I'd rather have EJ or Buddle, so maybe Findley is a legit choice after all?  Ahh.  In this case I do think it should come down to whoever shows the best form and on-field chemistry during the pre-World Cup exhibitions. I hope someone can stake a firm claim to the spot.  Until then, 30 days until the party in South Africa kicks off...

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Ray Husdon Is Fabulous

Need more proof of who is the best color man in sports?  After Leo Messi struck again today against Seville to give Barcelona the early lead, loyal watchers of GolTV were blessed with the following:

"He plays like he has Woody Woodpecker down his shorts all the time." 

No further explanation followed.  Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Ray Hudson!  That is all.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Rooting Against the Hosts

Is there are group with more villains in it than Group A?  It's like the Anti-Super Best Friends.  It's like the Legion of Doom.  It's like a team of Fox News personalities.

What made Group A interesting when first announced what how balanced it was. This year's World Cup groupings seem especially balanced, and while a few groups are harder than others and some have a clear cut favorite, there's really only a small handful of teams that realistically don't have a chance of advancing even in second place.

Now, what's really interesting about Group A is actually finding a team to root for (if you care to find a team to root for out of each group).  Wanting the Mexicans to fail is a given.  They are the Lex Luthor or Bill O'Reilly of the group.

France is also easy to hate for multiple reasons, whether it's because you think they cheated their way in with Henry's handball, or because you can't stand capitulators or women who don't shave and general snobbishness.

Uruguay I can't say you have a reason to hate them, though they are historically known for a brutish, thuggish style of football that's not particularly endearing.

Naturally, the South Africans were left as the sentimental favorite as the home side.  Mind you they might be, well, are the worst team in the group.  But home sides tend to do well in the World Cup, and that boost makes Group A all the more competitive and intriguing.

Then the South Africans had to go and say this: "Our famous prayer is that the Americans don't make the second round. (That) they get eliminated and they go home."

This according to South African General Bheki Cele. The concern is that if the US advances, President Obama may be likely to make a visit to take in the World Cup, presenting the hosts with a large security problem they may not be able to handle.  Apparently the 43 heads of state confirmed to visit South Africa during the tournament combined would equal the effort it would take to provide the security needed for Obama.

Anyway, gracious hosts or not, once you pray that the Americans lose and fail to advance, you get put on the enemies list.  Your vuvuzelas were already annoying, and now you've forced me to root for the stadium to collapse against Mexico. Ok, not really, but you get the idea.  By the way, the World Cup is only 34 days away.  Just over a month away!  Already excited and there's so much more to come.  Vamos Estados Unidos!