Shame on US Soccer

July 13, 2010

The World Cup is now over, and the buzz over our national team effectively ended when Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan rocket in extra time sank the Americans.  The United States Soccer Federation was intent on trying to parlay the World Cup buzz into something more here in the U.S., and what better way to bring in football’s most famed national team, Brazil.  On August 10th, at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the U.S. will face “The Samba Kings”, in our first game post-World Cup.

Sounds like a great idea, right?

From a marketing perspective, there is no denying this was a great move by U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati.  In fact, PRIOR to the World Cup there were already over 30,000 seats sold for the event.  It’s a safe assumption that those numbers have little to do with Ricardo Clark’s “triumphant” return to the NYC area, in which his professional career started.  That might have changed post-World Cup given the amount of U.S. fans who would now like to heckle the bum into oblivion.

But, with the likes of Clark preparing for their club seasons in Europe, it will be most interesting to see who Bob Bradley, Jurgen Klinnsman (fingers crossed), or whomever might be at the helm will have at their disposal.  And just as important, who will be out there for the Brazilian side?  We don’t know, and won’t know until that time comes.  It’s a safe assumption that these players who make their trade in Europe, particularly those in England (EPL starts four days later) will not be there August 10th.  These factors, combined with outrageous ticket prices definitely sour this contest.

Face value ticket prices for the public are as expensive as $375, for a friendly.  Ticket prices for official supporters are jacked up from the norm, and they cost $70.  This is hardly a reward for fans who have traveled the country to support this team, and help will the squad reach South Africa.  Supporters tickets for World Cup qualifiers and competitions like the Gold Cup are typically $25.  These are competitive, all-important games, but a friendly with no guarantee of stars will cost supporters three times as much (not to mention the all-encompassing expense of traveling to NYC). 

Frankly, it’s an injustice. 

 The sad truth about the event is that a vast majority of the fans there will be there only for the Brazilian product, which carries massive weight everywhere (even in the U.S.).  Essentially, fans here are willing to pay outrageous prices to see a meaningless game, but won’t pay rather pedestrian prices for games that truly matter for the U.S. 

I realize Gulati is trying to expand the product, and reach new fans.  The idea, once again, is great from a marketing perspective both financially and for potential new fans.  That’s fine, but the very least the USSF could have done would be to reward the loyal fans.  $70 a ticket, to see a squad that will likely be MLS-exclusive because of our better players European interests, is not exactly enticing.

I’m all for the expansion of the game here, but not at the expense of the loyal fans.

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80 Years’ War, 90 Minutes: Our WC Final Predictions

July 10, 2010

After 80 years of competition, both on the battlefield and pitch, Spain and the Netherlands will have 90 minutes to claim their first World Cup title and cement their country’s spot in the world football history books. We weigh in on will hoist the trophy as the eighth ever World Champion.

Rob – Netherlands 2 – 1 Spain

Who’d have known it? Spain and Holland. While I’ve been pulling for the Oranje and relentlessly bantering on and on for the past few months about the outcome of their performance and how well they’d do – I’ll be honest: I knew the odds were against the Dutch genius.

This tournament has been one of upsets, enjoyment and some disappointment – like any. However, the one thing that can be taken for sure is the relative devolution of the Dutch, among others’, game. I’m not discounting the team I support for reaching the final,  but, as I said in my post-game analysis of their semi-final game, things haven’t been the prettiest. Things haven’t been total.

Spain, on the other hand, have had the most up-and-down sequence of performances over the past month. And, needless to say, tomorrow could go either way. Their start against Switzerland could be taken as one of the most off-hand ‘gimme’ games in the history of the World Cup. All, clearly thrown away. However, each performance saw them improve and come closer and closer to perfection in possession and attack – defense and counter. To be honest, a game of Total Football.

So, with this game tomorrow being so historic and providing the World with a NEW winner – one that has never before had the honor of lifting the trophy – things are up in the air.

Julian –  Spain 2 – 1 Netherlands

At the beginning of the tournament, I not-so boldly picked Spain to win it.  After they lost to Switzerland, I still said La Furia Roja would win it. After we knew who made it to the Round of 16, I said Spain would beat Netherlands in the finals. Why change my mind now?

I don’t know either.

Neither team has produced a caliber of football even close to what they’re capable of (except maybe Spain’s possession-based dominance over Germany), but the Spanish will finally get it right with their best performance of the Cup.

Even producing lackluster performances, they’ve still managed to make it to the semifinals, and while I think the Dutch wholly deserve to be playing in the final, there have been some lucky moments to get them there.

Spain’s offensive flourish always steals the attention, but their backline has been immense. How many goals have they conceded this tournament again? That’s right. Two.

Sneijder’s run of lucky goals will finally run out against the Spanish.  I want to emphasive my confidence with a 2-0 scoreline, but after four straight wins by a lone-goal margin, I’ll stick with a 2-1 scoreline. And who finds the net for the Spanish  in that crucial, final time? Fernando Torres.

Jon – Spain 3 – 1 Netherlands

It’s fitting that tomorrow when the Dutch are singing their national anthem, “Het Wilhelmus,” much of their anthem will speak of their opponent. The fact that many World Cup games have their own slice of history between them, makes these already important contests more special. The 10th stanza speaks explicitly of Spanish atrocities, most notably the line, “Oh that the Spaniards rape thee.”  Ouch, love lost?Though my heart will be Oranje tomorrow, by heads tells me otherwise. Through much deliberation, I picked Spain over Brazil from the get go. Even after some less than convincing performances, I’ll stand by them. The Dutch have not been that convincing themselves, and to be fair, probably would not be here if not for a colossal Brazilian meltdown once the Netherlands equalized in that quarterfinals contest (see Felipe Melo).

I’ve been waiting for the Heitenga-Mathjson partnership for the Netherlands to go up in flames, and I think it happens tomorrow. In front of them, Mark Van Bommel had better keep his cool. He’s gotten away with more than a few questionable challenges to this point, and English referee Howard Webb will not stand for it.

On the other side, Spanish left back Joan Capdevilla is probably Spain’s weakest link. He’ll have his hands full with Arjen Robben, and this matchup could be the most important to watch on the pitch. In attack, it will be interesting to see if Liverpool’s No. 9 gets the start. Fernando Torres should start, if for no other season, Pedro didn’t exactly cement his place when he got the chance against Germany.

History will be made tomorrow. One of these two countries will win their first World Cup. A European country will win the World Cup for the first time outside of European soil.

Brilliant Oranje…Sort of

July 6, 2010

Hup Holland. Let’s get it clear, right off the bat: Of course I’m happy that Holland’s advancing. I’m even happier that Diego Forlan’s night/week/tournament/year’s been ruined. Which, I know Julian Kersh is happy about that, as well. What I’m not so happy about? The manner in which it’s been done. This was Oranje: From Concentrate.

After 30 minutes and periodic poking, Giovanni van Bronckhorst put the Dutch up with an absolutely brilliant strike. As the Dutch moved the ball up the field, the Uruguayan midfield rushed to pressure in a flat line of three across the middle, leaving space for a very out of position van Bronckhorst to take a touch and have a strike – one of the best of the tournament.

That, for the Dutch, was the only spot of brilliance in the first half – and arguably, for the game. For a team to make it to the Final of this year’s cup and do it in such an unattractive fashion, is simply ridiculous. For those who question the existence of luck – simply look at this half of the table en route to the Final in Cape Town. Both the Dutch and Uruguay made it through – not based on skill, but based on the ball being in the right place at the right time, and the opposition, not.

I know that this sounds like I’m superbly critical of the Dutch and am throwing out some serious hate. The latter, simply not true. The formative part – you better believe it. For a parallel – it’s the exact same way with a player that is constantly under-performing: there’s a reason to question his ability, desire and overall performance. So, the National Team that I throw all my support behind when I’m not barking like a stark-crave American lunatic, what the hell is the matter?

You’ve had opportunity after opportunity to play at a level that is consistent with your best, and you haven’t done it. The question arises: how do you beat the Dutch? Simple: frustrate them.

Clearly the Uruguayans were able to do it tonight. In the bit sandwiched in between van Bronckhorst’s and Forlan’s goals – the Dutch were continually frustrated to the point of resembling the Azzuri with regard to ability, or lack there of, to conceded foul after foul and then flail around on the ground in effort to receive the call their way. STOP IT!

Only in the latter stages of the second half did there seem to be any calmness or composure about the Dutch side. Was it because of the cushion from Sneijder’s goal? Most likely. If that’s the answer, then, as silly as it sounds, score some more goals. Rather, I don’t expect you to finish every chance on goals Robin, Wesley, Arjen and Dirk: but let’s get some good service on our final balls and actually show the world what Total Football is.

In conclusion, in an effort of shameless self-promotion, to explain my absence from the site for the past 3 weeks – I’ve been away in Belfast working on my UEFA B License. If you care to read about it – or are simply looking for proof that I wasn’t held up hiding from my bookie – then check it out here.


Kop Talk: Yeah, Royyyyy!

July 5, 2010

(Pardon my absence,  folks: I’ve been mourning the heart-stomping defeat of Ghana. But, I’m back now. You can step away from the ledge.)

Like the lot of you, the World Cup has consumed most of my being since June 11. After a slow start to the tournament, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that it hasn’t turned into one of the most exhilarating World Cups in a while. That said, it’s been easy to get wrapped up in all the drama in South Africa and forget about the non-World Cup side of football.

But despite all the international excitement, it’s hard to ignore the headline, “Roy Hodgson takes over at Anfield,” which is why it’s more than necessary I squeeze a Kop Talk in amidst all the World Cup fever.

When the rumors were swirling around that Mr. Hodgson may replace Rafa Benitez at the helm of Liverpool, I was skeptical. Even when it became official I still wasn’t sure he was the right man for the job, and here’s why.

I was afraid the signing was largely based on Hodgson’s dream run with Fulham this past year to the Europa League finals. While I’d never shake a stick at a run to a European final, I was of the opinion that Fulham’s journey there seemed so spectacular in light of their own expectations.

When Liverpool were in the semi-finals of the same tournament, most of the Reds’ faithful were shrugging and saying, “We’ll win this thing – though, we should still be in the Champions League.” That’s because a mammoth club like Liverpool expects that much. It seemed that Fulham, inversely, were stoked to to be there because, no disrespect, they’re a much less prestigious club that doesn’t find themselves in European football too often.

I was afraid that Europa League run wasn’t at all expected, so it seemed dazzling in the eyes of the Fulham faithful and the managerial staff at Liverpool alike. I was afraid the run was being overrated and thus too was Hodgson.

However, after hearing his initial interview as front man at the club, I’ve not only calmed down quite a bit, I’m actually excited to have Roy at the reins. One of the most admirable things about Hodgson is he brings no smoke and mirrors with him. He can always be counted to save the excuses and deliver his honest opinion. Surely this approach can help address some of the teams more pressing problems and get ‘Pool back to their deserved pedestal.

When interviewed, he didn’t showcase some forced, phony abundance of excitement to be appointed Liverpool boss. Not that he isn’t thrilled to be there, but it’s Roy Hodgson – he’s been around the game for a couple years and knows he has a lot of work ahead of him. Instead, he focused on being up front. He called upon the fans to support him in a harmonious effort to get their Reds back to the top of English football.

Maybe most importantly, King Roy (too early?) proclaimed the first item on his long agenda is to keep two guys around you may have heard of – Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. If that doesn’t get the Liverpool masses behind the man, I’m not sure what will. Granted, a lot of work will have to be done to keep the two superstars, but it’s nice to see where his priorities lie.

He’s also already started glancing his way around the transfer market to shore up some holes in the squad that may have been responsible for the team’s seventh place finish last year.

The most calming thing about appointing Hodgson may be his resume. He’s been in the managing business for years and brings an abundance of experience with him to Anfield. While at Fulham, he rescued the Cottagers from certain relegation. The following year he brought them to seventh position on the table and into European competition. And this past year coached them through to the Europa League finals in a season that was highlighted with some high-profile wins including a 3-1 victory of his now very own Liverpool (and 4-1 over Juventus and 3-0 over United, anyone?).

If nothing else, I foresee Hodgson’s experience will provide a stabilizing force at Liverpool, which is something the club needs. Even if the current of the transfer market doesn’t flow our way this summer, I still can’t see Hodgson doing any worse than Benitez last year. I’m not shooting for a “on par with Rafa” year – I think few are – but I think things will only go up with the seasoned Hodgson.

As I put it, I’m completely swept away with World Cup fever; however, I can’t wait for that first kick of the ball in August to not only see how Roy Hodgson fairs as a Liverpool man, but to see what familiar faces are left in the squad.

Until next time, You’ll Never Walk Alone.