Germany and Brazil, Unscripted

What can you say about a game like that? You could say that Germany beat Brazil 7-1, but can numbers possibly tell the story? Brazil capitulated, at the sport they love, on the world’s stage, in front of their own fans. To describe it as shocking would be a criminal understatement. I was reminded of the devastation felt when Liverpool gave up a 3-0 lead at Crystal Palace. But yesterday was on a wholly different magnitude. There is no adequate comparison.

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Klinsmann’s Gamble

What makes a man become a manager? We all aspire to play the game, but who dreams of becoming a manager? When you play, you have teammates and friends; when you are manager, you have nothing but enemies. The fans are demanding, the media hounds your every decision, and patient owners are a thing of the past. The failures of others will land on your neck. Why would you seek out the profession of manager?

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Ode to les Éléphants

FIF_NewCrestI didn’t want it to be a penalty. It took about 10 views before I allowed myself to see that yes, Giovanni Sio committed a foul on Georgios Samaras in the box. Greece beat the Ivory Coast fair and square, but I so deeply wish they hadn’t. Les Éléphants were a lively presence in this World Cup, showcasing the skills of Gervinho and Yaya Touré and the percussion talents of their supporters. This sport can be horribly cruel sometimes, and it’s been sadistic for the better part of the past decade to the Ivorians. Blessed with more individual talent than any African side in history, fate and circumstances seem to have conspired against them.

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The Michael Bradley “Problem”

photo credit: proforged via photopin cc

photo credit: proforged via photopin cc

No one will deny that Michael Bradley had a dreadful game against Ghana. When the USMNT desperately needed to maintain possession upfield, Bradley gave the ball away with an alarming regularity. That’s not like him, and he’d be the first to say that he needed to be much better against Portugal. He was, but a late mistake has largely overshadowed that performance.

It is a perverse sign of progress that the US is looking for a scapegoat after a draw against Portugal, but some fans are blaming Bradley for the result. Yes, it was Bradley who lost possession in the build-up to Portugal’s stunning equalizer, but the criticism he’s facing is largely an overreaction. Calls for him to be benched are silly.

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Hope

It was coming, and somewhere deep inside we all knew it. Ghana was going to score, even if we deluded ourselves into thinking that it wouldn’t happen until after the final whistle. When Andre Ayew scored, at the end of an admittedly beautiful move, it sucked the hope out of me. It seemed at the time that the only question was whether the U.S. would hang on for a draw or concede a second. Even Taylor Twellman, in the commentary booth, was of the opinion that the U.S. should try to cling to what it had. But Jurgen Klinsmann does not think the way you, Taylor Twellman, or I think.

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A Joyous World Cup

For all the drama, pageantry, and excitement that surrounds the build-up to the World Cup, we had no right to expect such fun. The dirty secret of international soccer is that it’s generally disjointed, slower and less entertaining than the club game. The theory goes that attacking tactics require a bit more time together than international teams have, and that the format and massive stage of these tournaments leads to cautious managers. And so in 2010 Spain was coronated following a series of 1-0 victories. Despite complaints from goalkeepers about the dip and swerve of the Jabulani, the tournament averaged fewer than 2.3 goals per game.

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The King Stay the King

photo credit: thesportreview via photopin cc

photo credit: thesportreview via photopin cc

In the third episode of The Wire, D’Angelo explains chess to the younger members of the Barksdale drug gang. This being The Wire, it’s understood that when he says “the king stay the king,” he is talking about not just chess, but the drug trade, America, and perhaps the world. FIFA is a lot like Baltimore inThe Wire: everything is fucked up, everyone knows it’s fucked up, but despite that it will remain fucked up. And Sepp Blatter stay the king.

He has been called, at various times, out-of-touch, reptilian, and bumbling.  At 78, he has some outdated thoughts on issues such as race and sex. The organization he presides over is notoriously corrupt and incompetent. But Sepp Blatter damn good at this game. There’s a reason he has been President of FIFA since 1998. And there’s a reason he’ll be getting a fifth term.

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Der Junge: Jurgen Klinsmann’s USMNT

Photo credit - NathanF on Flickr

Jurgen Klinsmann has built a young USMNT heading into Brazil | Photo credit – NathanF on Flickr

In theory, the announcement of a World Cup squad should be a fairly joyous occasion for the 23 players selected. But in practice, and especially when a 30-man roster is released before, the focus goes to those left out. They are fewer in number, and the inherent conflict of their exlcusion is easier to write about. When one of those so-called snubs scored the most important goal in your country’s history just four years earlier, well… But there are American soccer players not named Landon Donovan. And they are important too.

Seven of the 23 players on the World Cup Squad are younger than 25. Almost a third. For comparison, hosts Brazil feature just three such players. The same holds true for Argentina.  Defending champions Spain have just five. The US squad is fairly young, in other words. And youth brings with it surprise and suspense.

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The Donovan Goal

Over the course of your life, you’ll see hundreds, maybe thousands of goals. But some goals are more than just goals. Mas que un gol, if you will. Sometimes, you need to do no more than mention the player’s name, and everyone knows the goal you’re talking about. These are the goals that stick out in your memory forever. This is one of those goals. 

“Howard, gratefully claims it.” 

The sequence starts with a free header for Algeria. No, it starts with the goal ruled offside earlier in the game. No, it starts five days earlier, when Maurice Edu’s potential winner was disallowed against Slovenia. Without that, none of this happens. If the U.S. had defeated Slovenia,  a draw in their last game would have seen them through to the second round. Little did we know at the time that the ref was doing U.S. soccer a favor.

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The Gus Johnson Dilemma

gus2American soccer culture is a queer blend of habits aped from Europe and Latin America that, somehow, wants nothing more than to be considered authentic. There’s a team in Utah with a name ripped from Spain, and supporters’ groups across the country singing the same English songs. Leagues in other countries have better television ratings than our own. Little of it is uniquely American; we even borrow British grammatical practices when talking about the sport.  

In that context, enter Gus Johnson.

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