The US Bandwagon

USABandwagon*honk! honk!* Move over, where comes the US Soccer bandwagon. I make no apologies over my anti-American sentiment as it relates to the US Men’s National Team. Even with their 1-1-1 record in Group G of the 2014 World Cup, losing to Germany 1-0 in the final group stage match, the US backed into the second round. The US didn’t play very well against Germany, but went into the game knowing the pressure was on Portugal to win their match versus Ghana and overcome a 4 goal differential. So even with Portugal defeating Ghana, 2-1 and the US losing, goal difference favored the US, who end up facing the winner of Group H, Belgium.

Portugal sealed their own fate in the previous two games versus Germany losing big, 4-0. This put Portugal in a must win situation for games against the US and Ghana. More importantly they would need to score and score some more. As it played out, Portugal didn’t take the US serious enough and came up short on a few big opportunities in front of the net and the US went on to grab a 3-2 victory on a late header.

So while fans across the United States took the day off and suddenly “BELIEVE,” the fact remains this hype will subside before the end of the World Cup on July 13. Much like I have seen while living in the Bay Area, the number of people who suddenly become “fans” when the team is winning is short lived. No stronger case than that of the NoCal Battery Chuck (Jim Rome reset from back in the day, see Battery Chuck) a.k.a. San Francisco Giants. It was amazing, like Muslims pilgrimage to Mecca, suddenly AT&T Park is selling out and EVERYONE is a Giants fan (not to insult a few of my friends who are Giants fans, I have a few specific individuals in mind).

In 2012 over 3 million kids were involved in youth soccer in the US, granted that figure has been on the decline since 2008, but soccer is still one of the most popular youth sports. Yet in a county of nearly 314 million, the sport can’t hold the interest of individuals based on a Harris Poll taken in January, 2014. It comes as no surprise that the NFL dominates America, which is has for the past 30 years. “One in ten Americans (10%) says soccer (men’s and/or women’s) is a sport they follow, putting it on the same ground as men’s tennis (with 10% following that as well). This is relatively small when compared to the half of Americans who follow pro football (51%), the nearly four in ten following baseball (37%) or the three in ten who follow men’s college football (30%)” (source).

Yet every 4 years when the World Cup rolls around a combined third of those polled (34%) pointed to at least one of a variety of social influences (such as friends or a significant other wanting to watch), putting it on even footing with supporting Team USA (35%)” (source). That screams bandwagon in my opinion, while others will say it’s patriotism.

I choose not to watch American soccer, because it’s not good caliber of soccer (others will argue with that point). I prefer professional league in England, Spain and Italy, where talent is superior and the games/leagues are more competitive. Sure, the US has a few stars; Tim Howard of Everton and to some degree Clint Dempsey, formerly of Fulham and Tottenham. Beyond that, I don’t put much into the make up of the national team. I had a chance to watch Michael Bradley for parts of 2 years at AS Roma and his play was not on par with players in his position; Daniele De Rossi, Miralem Pjanić, Radja Nainggolan, Kevan Strootman and Alessandro Florenzi.

So America, enjoy your run in the 2014 World Cup! It, like the competition will come to an end. Luckily it only rolls around every 4 years. Thankfully for many it’s a slow time for sports. No NBA. No NHL. No NFL. Only the MLB and NASCAR to fill the void left by your favorite American sports. For true football fans, we just need to wait until early August before English football returns to the pitch, but Serie A is getting a late start this year. Football will return to the world stage in Russia for 2018, by that time I don’t believe much will change in the US. No one will pay attention the qualification, the US will make the tournament and sentiment towards the team will increase again for 30 days.

The 6th Thought: Laughable Landon

“And as someone who has been in that locker room and has sat next to the players, we agree with the supporter group American Outlaws: We believe that we will win.”

-Landon Donovan (source)

Wow! What happens when you get cut and don’t get to travel to Brazil to participate in the 2014 World Cup? You speak up and disagree with the manager who believe they can’t win the World Cup because they are not at that level. I have never been a Landon Donovan supporter, in fact never saw him as a very prolific footballer, outside of the US. I am sure he, like the US Men’s Soccer Team have fans, but I am not one of them. Yet for him to take a position with ESPN on the eve of kickoff for the World Cup is laughable.

How many times are we going to have to hear about his sob story about he should be on the pitch with teammates instead of “breaking it down” as most former US (men and women) end up doing in the studio when the World Cup rolls around.

Even as an American, I don’t believe in the US winning ANY games. Yet Donovan says, “We believe that we will win…I think that’s the way Americans think and I think that’s the sentiment.” No, I disagree it’s not how I think. Taking a realistic approach, how does the US have the talent or skill to compete on the world stage? They don’t and history has proved this, as prior to 1986 the last time the US qualified for the World Cup was 1950. Since 1986 the US has only progressed to the quarterfinals once, in 2002. Based on past results, the US won’t move out of the group stage and have never won a World Cup, but many teams can claim that.

So Landon, have a slice of humble pie and keep your biased opinions off my World Cup broadcast. It’s the American “has-beens” who attempt to provide insight to the world game that cause a lot of head shaking when it comes to their opinions of how the world game is played. At age 32, your best playing days are behind you, time to face up to that fact. Oh and by the way, the US won’t win the World Cup this year in Brazil. Let’s set the record straight before kickoff.

2014 FIFA World Cup – Brazil

FIFA-world-cup-2014Four years of waiting is over and it all begins today as Brazil host Croatia in the opening game of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The beautiful game returns to the heart of football, as São Paulo takes center stage today kicking off 30 days of football bliss. In a true world competition, it’s great to see 32 nations come together with the goal of winning the FIFA World Cup Trophy.

Much has been made of the draw and group selections, from the team who surprisingly made it and those who did not qualify. Looking over the 32 teams, it can quickly be reduced to a small, handful of teams who have a chance to win the competition this year.

Top of the bunch, EURO 2012 and World Cup 2010 winners, Spain top the list. Arguably, one of the best countries that have dominated the sport and major competitions the last few years. This country has one of the best starting XI and a very deep bench. Yet repeating as World Cup Champions is never an easy task, as host country Brazil has repeated 1958 and 1962 and Italy back in 1930 and 1934. Spain starts their quest on Friday against their 2010 World Cup final opponent, Holland. Talk about a game setting the tone for the rest of the cup, this is it.

My heart continues to scream “ITALIA!” but realistically I am not thrilled at their prospects past the group stage. Yet, they were a dark horse in the in the EURO 2012, when they made the finals after an amazing 2-1 victory over a stronger Germany team, but ended up burnt out dropping a 4-0 decision to Spain. Italy will go the way of Mario Balotelli. If Cesare Prandelli can keep the big man involved and happy, Italy could make it to the quarterfinals. A great mix of young and old in the midfield led my Andrea Pirlo and Danielle DeRossi with a stalwart, Gigi Buffon between the posts.

This year I am picking Argentina, La Albiceleste, to win the 2014 FIFA World Cup in neighboring Brazil. Argentina should cruise through the group stage with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria. Their ticket out of Group F should be punched to the semifinals, where they could end up playing defending champions, Spain. Not an easy task, but the offense that La Albiceleste brings is going to be tough to stop. Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero and Gonzalo Higuain lead the attack with Angel DeMaria, Maxi Rodriguez, Fernando Gago and Javier Mascherano anchoring a good midfield. Their weakness could be on defense, but if their offense can find the back of the net 3-4 times games, Argentina will be set.

Brazil will carry the weight of their countrymen on their shoulder as the host nation this year. You can never count these skilled footballers out, but could their inexperience be their downfall? Neymar is being put in the spotlight up front to do the damage for Brazil, with Jô, Fred and Hulk. The midfield stacks up nicely with Ramires and playmaker, Oscar. The defense is very potent on offense with Dani Alves, Marcelo and David Luiz. Good to see AS Roma defender Maicon part of the squad in could be his final World Cup at age 32.

I do think highly of Germany and Uruguay, but both teams have been struck with injury that could affect their run at the World Cup. The Germans lost their goal scoring threat in Marco Reus and will most likely be replaced by Chelsea star, André Schürrle. Four Germans have 100+ caps, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lukas Poldolski and Miraslov Klose, they have the experience, which could play a major role in Brazil, as long as they can find some goals.

Uruguay looks to be competitive, but Luiz Suarez’s status is still in doubt for the first game. He put up some excellent numbers this year for Liverpool scoring 31 times. If he can’t go, then it will be the experience of Diego Forlan to take over the striker duties. Edison Cavani would need to step up his play to make up for the loss of Suarez. However I think La Celeste comes up just a bit short this World Cup.

While not really sleepers or dark horses, I do like Chile and Belgium both having great showings in Brazil. Belgium has been on everyone’s radar for some time with talent and experience and a game changer in Eden Hazard. Without doubht Thibaut Courtois is the best goalkeeper in the world as World Cup play starts. Pele has already tipped Chile as a favorite this year in Brazil. With a high tempo offense led by Alexi Sanchez and anchored by Autro Vidal, manager Jorge Sampaoli has his work cut out for him.

Beyond this group, I don’t see any other surprises in the tournament. You already know what little I think of US Soccer, Jurgen Klinsmann has similar thoughts. They MIGHT win one game in their group, but will be going home early. Portugal might be the only team some would see as a surprise not to progress. You can’t replace the FIFA Ballon d’Or winner, Christiano Ronaldo, if he can’t go Portugal will struggle. Even if he plays, I don’t see Portugal advancing past the second round. France is the other team, after quitting on Raymond Domenech in South Africa 4 years ago, Les Bleus was stuck with an injury to Franck Ribery, which is the heart of their offense. While they should advance out of Group E, their run will end in the second round.

Can’t wait for a month full of world class football from one of the greatest footballing countries in the world, Brazil. Hopefully the protests don’t interfere and the stadiums are ready and safe. Football is here, get ready to enjoy the 2014 FIFA World Cup!

The 6th Thought: Can’t Compete

We cannot win the World Cup because we are not at that level yet.

-Jurgen Klinsmann, US Mens Soccer Coach (source)

Gotta love these brutal assessments, but he’s got it spot on. The US will be lucky to secure a single win in the group stage, partnered with Germany, Portugal and Ghama in Group G. The US will never be at the level to truly compete on the international stage, especially if homegrown talent plays in the MLS. Unfortunately many US players who play abroad, either play in the lower divisions or lac the necessary talent to secure a starting XI spot. So enjoy Brazil for 30 days and see how the beautiful game is really played.

World Cup 2014 Draw

brazil2014The die has been cast and the 2014 World Cup Draw is complete. It will be another year the Men’s US Soccer Team will be eliminated before the World Cup kicks off in Brazil in 2014.  It’s no secret, I am not a fan of American “soccer” but the US has been dealt into the “Group of Death” (Group G) with Germany, Ghana and Portugal. Germany eliminated the US in 2002 and Ghana got them back to back in 2006 and 2010. Germany is currently ranked #2 and Portugal, #5 in the FIFA World Rankings. Ghana, currently ranked #24 took third place in the 2013 African Cup of Nations.

Many eyes and commentary will come from Group G because of 3 quality teams that could come out of this group. I believe it will be Germany and Portugal coming out of the group and moving on. A case could be made for Group D as the Group of Death with Uruguay, Costa Rica, England and Italy. 2010 World Cup and Euro 2010 and 2012 Champions, Spain will be looking to retain their title and the #1 ranking as they are grouped with Netherlands, Chile and Australia.

The host nation, Brazil has a golden path to the knockout stage facing Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon. I am not fooled by their #10 ranking, as they have been playing some great football, most recently defeating Chile 2-1 in November. Another South American powerhouse, Argentina (#3 in the world) probably have the easiest of all groups with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria.

Group C has #4 Columbia with Côte d’Ivoire, Greece and Japan. Columbia most recently defeated Belgium, 2-0 and drew against Netherlands. Côte d’Ivoire brings the last hurrah for Didier Drogba, now 35, but CIV is loaded with talent. France celebrated when they shocked the football world by making it out of qualifying and now the fooball gods give them a favorable draw in Group E with Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras.

While I like the draw for the Azzurri, I still believe they don’t have enough talent to make it to the finals. Much like Euro 2012, Italy advanced defeated England, then Germany in the semi-finals (2-1), but had nothing left for the finals versus Spain, losing 4-0. Speaking of Spain, I like them to repeat as World Cup Champions. They play on level above most every other team with some of the best players in the world at their core. I do like Brazil, but as the host nations, they have the weight of the county on their shoulders. Brazil at home will be tough to stop. My dark horse this year, Belgium. Although some will argue they are a contender, they have a loads of young talent ready to take the world stage.

Matches begin June 12, 2014 as host, Brazil take on Croatia in Arena de São Paulo, São Paulo.