As the US Soccer Attacks clock on my sidebar appropriately sits at 00:00:00:00, I'm realizing my biggest fear from last week's initial T.W.I.S., and that's having to eulogize the 2006 US World Cup squad. After doing what a proper soccer fan would - smashing in a few store fronts, over-turning and igniting cars, and clashing with riot police - I'm now ready to focus my rage into a blog.
The final nail in the Good Ship Tread Upon's coffin was, of course, shoddy officiating. Believe it or not, I can't quibble too much with Jorge Larrionda, the official from the Italy match. His red card on Pablo Mastroeni was not as rash as some may think. I've watched enough international matches to know that lunging into an opposing player with the bottom of both your cleats exposed can, and will, lead to a red card. It was not a wise play by Mastroeni.
It's also probably not one he makes if he is exposed to pressure cooker situations more often, as opposed to playing in front of lukewarm support at cavernous Invesco Field every other week. The Eddie Pope sending off was also not as dubious either since Pope was aware of the fact that he already had one yellow card, and thus should not attempt to tackle anyone from behind. He did not appear up to snuff at this World Cup anyway, so the wisest decision would have likely been for Bruce Arena to take him off at the half for Jimmy Conrad...who played much better than Pope in his 1 1/2 matches. He also keeps an amusing journal on Soccernet, which I linked to him.
Ironically, my biggest issues are with the decisions of the 2-time FIFA World Referee of the Year, Marcus Merk, who essentially gift wrapped both Ghanaian goals in the US' swan song. While Haminu Draman's disposessing of Claudio Reyna in the brief lead-up to his opening goal may not have been a foul in other games, it was by the standards Merk had applied earlier in the match - and would later. Those same hyper-sensitive standards (which were absent in Draman's reverse dead-legging of Reyna) conveniently reappeared when Razak Pimpong took a dive in the American penalty box - leading to the subsequent, damning, Ghana penalty kick. The only way Merk could have enraged me more, is if he adopted this style of officiating:
Okay, that actually might have made it easier to take, because that's pretty damn funny. Obviously, being down 2 questionable goals to your 1 legitimate tally, is a hard pill to swallow. That alone, however, cannot be blamed for this forgettable 3 game stretch.
In my preview, I predicted the US would find a way out of this group before capitulating to Brazil. I can't say I really believed that. Ever the optimist, though, I had to say it in hopes that it would come true. In all honesty, I never really felt that good about this team. There were just too many holes, and the promising players from '02 who should have been much better by now, really weren't. I'm speaking primarily of Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley. While Beasley initially appeared to have benefitted greatly from his move to PSV Eindhoven, he seemed to regress this year under the weight of heightened expectations.
As for Donovan - this may be picking at low hanging fruit - It's so frustrating to watch someone who could potentially be a star in a World Class league be perfectly content to be the big fish in the small pond that is Major League Soccer. He claims to want what is best for soccer in America. I he really meant that, he would sack-up and head to Europe for 4-6 years. The fact that casual fans only quadrenially pay attention to soccer in this country seems lost on him. No amount of winning MLS Cups, or scoring goals domestically, will cause Joe Six Pack to take notice. Helping your team to the World Cup Semi-finals, or beyond, will. There are dozens of teams in Europe's top leagues who could use his services. Time for him to find one.
As for Bruce Arena - I think this should be the last time we see him on the sideline for US Soccer, barring resurfacing after a successful stint in Europe. While he's definitely been valuable in this period of US Soccer, he was a little out of his depth in this World Cup. Despite all the rosy memories of '02, we still were a goal post away from suffering this same fate after failing to show up against Poland. What this team now needs is a proven winner on the international level. Someone who can mesh our propensity to be unselfish, entirely to a fault, with some attacking juice. Who that man is remains a question mark. I'm guessing he'll come from Northern Europe (but not Sweden), and is currently preparing for his next match in Germany.
As was our format from last week (By the way, ESPN still sucks at broadcasting soccer), some individual plaudits from the last 7 Days:
Best Managerial Moves: Spain's Luis Aragones, while unhappy with his team's performance against Saudi Arabia, effectively turned a tenuous game against Tunisia on it's ear by inserting Raul, Cesc Fabregas, and Joaquin very early in the 2nd Half (something Arena could learn to do). 3 goals later, Spain was on their way to the 2nd round.
Interestingly, as it stands right now, they could possibly face South Korea. I'm sure the Spanish would relish the opportunity to avenge their 2002 ouster, which came thanks to the requisite shady World Cup officiating.
Best Forward: It's a tough pick, but we'll go with the current tournament leader, Germany's Miroslav Klose. He seems to score in 2's notching a pair against Costa Rica, and again in Der Nationalen Mannschaft victory over Ecuador. Nonetheless, he seems to show up for Group play, scoring all 5 of his '02 goals in this stage. For Germany to advance into the latter stages of this Cup, he'll need to finally get some braces in the Knock-out Stage.
Best Midfielder:: He's here, he's there, he's every f$#*in' where, Joey Cole!! Joey Cole!!. He seemed destined to waste away on Chelsea's bench behind all the high-priced talent pouring in. Now, he seems indespensable to Club and Country. His opening cracker against Sweden, and his deft chip - leading to Steven Gerrard's goal - propelled England to the top of their group...even if they still can't beat the Swedes.
Best Defender: Okay, my last chance to be a homer in this World Cup. I'm going to be lazy and give it to Oguchi Onyewu. Despite a rough start against the Czechs, Gooch played out of his mind against Italy. He neutralized the scoring machine that is Luca Toni (he was eventually subbed out), and played very well against Ghana, even though he'll most be remembered for being the victim of Marcus Merk's sense of self-importance. If he had another center back of comparable quality back there with him from the beginning, this could have been a very different trip for the Americans.
Forgot to do this one last week, Best Keeper: Gianluigi Buffon - while dealing with his name being soiled in the Italian media, came through with a strong effort against the Czechs. He held off a rasping strike from club teammate Pavel Nedved, and several other Czech attacks, before his fellow Azzuris finally got on the board and clinched their advancement. I give it to him not only for his solid play, but for doing so on a day he could have potentially been indicted in the Italian soccer scandal. It turned out to be a doubly great day for him, as he was spared that ignominy.
By the way, I had meant to give this award last week to Trinidad and Tobago's Shaka Hislop for his stunning display against Sweden. I am sure he was fuming after my snub.
That's all for now, stay tuned for next week's Yank-free addition of ThisssWeeek Innn Soccer!