Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Round of 16 & MLS

So Brazil beat Ghana 3-0 and France beat Spain 3-1. I was rooting for Ghana against Brazil (can we say "underdog?"), but I was fulling expecting Brazil to win by 3-4 goals if Ghana played normally, and by 2 goals if Ghana played exceptionally well. Having just watched the highlights for the game, I was surprised by how easy Brazil's goals seemed. Granted, it is Brazil and that's what they do, but don't even try to tell me that their third goal was a hard shot! Hmm...Brazil beat Ghana. Ghana beat the US (and yes, I say Ghana still would have won, regardless of that insane PK call). The numbers don't speak too well for the quality of the USMNT's play. Just sayin'.

I was rooting for France against Spain, and was naturally thrilled when they won. It reminded me of the exuberance I felt back when they won the Cup in '98. Today's match was an exciting game, despite my initial ambivalence after seeing Spain's PK put the first goal on the board. I remember thinking that this game had better not be decided by PKs. (I really want to see the stats on the number of PKs called and cards given this year, in comparsion to previous Cups.) Thankfully, it wasn't. France scored three beautiful goals in a close, hard-fought game. This is what World Cup matches are supposed to look like - hard-fought games between two evenly matched teams that are not decided by dubious calls. Beautiful.

Now as for the quarterfinal and semifinal results, I'm seeing a Germany-England or an '02 Germany-Brazil rematch as highly likely.

The quality of MLS seems to have gone up over the past decade. I remember my first post-World Cup sabbatical MLS game I watched back in '98. I could not believe the huge disparity between the level of play in the Cup and the level of play in MLS. 4 years ago wasn't so bad, although I certainly did notice the difference. This year has been a bit different. Not only have I not taken a complete World Cup sabbatical from MLS (yep, I've followed the scores and actually watched a game), but the level of play in MLS seems to be a lot closer to that of the world. Now it certainly is not on the same level as, say, the Premiership or Serie A, but it has gotten a lot better.

Edited for typos

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Sunday, June 25, 2006


Well, England beat Ecuador 1-0 (at least two of my teams remember how to play, the other being Germany), bringing my soccer-betting record to 1-1-1. (A friend and I bet on who would win, with the loser having to switch to the winning country's Firefox skin. Nothing big or humiliating, but good fun anyways.) Beckham's shot was pretty sweet - you can check it out in the highlights if you have a good enough Internet connection.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Pre-Cup prediction accuracy

It is now time to see how accurate my pre-Cup predictions are. Here are the teams I predicted to advance (bold type if they advanced, italics in parenthesis they advanced, despite the fact that I did not predict they would):

Group A: Germany and Ecuador
Group B: England and Trinidad (Sweden)
Group C: Argentina and the Netherlands
Group D: Mexico and Portugal
Group E: USA and Italy (Ghana)
Group F: Brazil and Croatia (Australia)
Group G: France and Korea (Switzerland)
Group H: Spain and Tunisia (Ukraine)

Out of the 16 I predicted, 11 advanced, giving me a 68.75% accuracy. Of the 4 teams I was rooting for (US, Ivory Coast, England, and Germany), the two former have gone home, and the two latter ones are still in Cup play. Now that Ghana is is no longer a threat to the USMNT, I'm rooting for them when they play Brazil.

Friday, June 23, 2006

My $.02 worth: US-Ghana

I actually had this post ready to go last night, until my wonderful Internet connection suddenly went down on me:

Most of the time I love being right. However, when I predict my team's failure to advance, as I did during halftime of the US-Czech game, I actually prefer being wrong.

My first thought after watching the game tonight, was a shocked, "We lost to a PK. We lost to a stinking PK!" But then when I thought about it, that PK was not what lost the match for the US. What lost the game was when the USMNT failed to show up to play. They chased too much. They gave up the ball too much, on passes and when dribbling. They failed to shoot, and when they actually shot, they failed to get the ball inside the 8 by 24 foot box that we fondly refer to as the goal. Arena had a defensive lineup, when what the USMNT needed was goals. What went right?

I find it ironic that the #2 ranked Czech Republic and the #5 ranked US did not advance, but the #13 ranked Italy and #48 ranked Ghana have. Yes, number 48. I'm beginning to put less stock in the rankings. (Then again, I tend to trust them when the USMNT moves up in the rankings, and less when they move down, so I guess I'm a tad biased there.)

The question now becomes: how many more days does Arena have left as coach? I find it funny that just a few weeks ago, USMNT fans were singing Arena's praises. And although all still admit that he has done more for the USMNT than any other coach, the consensus now is that his time is up.

Good thoughts to cheer you up:

1. Ghana advanced. From what I understand, this is huge for them. From what I've seen, they've played the past three games well, and deserve to advance. I applaud them for showing up and playing with heart. They deserve to advance, even though it means being pitted against Brazil. If they win or at least put in a decent showing accompanied by a goal or two, my respect for Ghana will skyrocket.

2. The Women's World Cup is next year. The USWNT has always proven themselves worthy at the highest level of play. The numbers speak for themselves: out of 4 WWCs, the USWNT has won 2. The 2 times they did not win, they placed 3rd. They have never lost a final. Unlike the USMNT, the USWNT consistently shows the world that they know how to do things like dribble, pass, shoot, score - you know, the things that we refer to when we talk about playing soccer.

3. After their horrible performance in Germany, the USMNT just may have regained their element of surprise. So that was their master plan: lose, so that in four years, no one will expect them to win. I see it now.

4. Did I mention that we have only one year to the WWC, when we will have the opportunity to watch a USNT that knows how to play?

I thought the WC Matchtracker was good, but then I read Maradagwa's liveblog of the game. Stinking awesome, especially the comments scattered throughout.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

US-Ghana: Final result

I was unable to follow the second half at all, not even on MatchTracker. Ghana 2 : USA 1. When I was forced to stop following it, about a minute into stoppage, the US was tied, and Italy was ahead. I was happy. The next time I was able to check the scores, right after the end of both games, Italy had won and the US had lost. Ouch. That leaves the USMNT only slightly ahead of where they were 8 years ago. In '98, they had 0 points and only one goal (and a messy one at that). This year, they had 1 point and only two goals (and one of them an own goal at that). What does this mean for Arena's job and the future of US soccer? My $.02 worth will have to wait until later tonight, when I am finally able to see the game and figure out where we went wrong.


Goooaaaaaalllllll!!!!!! The USMNT actually scored, after the other team scored first!


At least Italy scored. There's still a glimmer of hope, if the USMNT is able to tighten their defense and start scoring.


Call me a pessimist, but we're out of the Cup. The USMNT has already given up a goal. So much for advancing.


So the US-Ghana match begins, and I'm stuck somewhere away from a TV. Thank God for MatchTracker - and as I said before, the WC MatchTracker is pretty doggone good. It's also preventing me from being as productive as I should be, but oh well. The US must win with several goals, and the Czechs must not win. If my math is right, Italy must win or tie (preferably a scoreless draw), for the USMNT to have a chance of advancing. This may very well be the last chance for 4 years, for the USMNT to show the world they know how to play futbol. Go USA!

Edit: I stand corrected. Both Italy and the USMNT must win. If Italy ties, then the US must score a lot of goals.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

MLS and Italy-US

Maybe MLS has made it into the big time. The currently gracing the official World Cup site (the English version, anyways) shows Harkes and the DCU celebrating one of their MLS Cup wins.

Harkes: Unrealistic expectations on US

Big improvement required, say US stars Uh, you think? I think this statement qualifies as a candidate for the Biggest Understatement of the Year Award.

US must step up a gear This one, too.

I personally was more worried about the US-Italy game than the US-Czech one. I still don't see the US advancing, but I'm still holding out a faint hope that they will.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Firefox World Cup extension

Check this out. If you use Firefox, you can download a World Cup extension. You can choose a skin based on the country you're rooting for and see all the latest results on a sidebar. It's definitely worth checking out.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

WC Matchtracker

Has anyone else used the World Cup Matchtracker? I find it is updated more frequently and is much more informative than the MLS version. (All of that to say that it provides a nice distraction from my "real work", and that the MLS matchtracker people should take lessons from the WC matchtracker people). My vote for the Most Unthanked Man/Woman of the Cup goes to the men and women who serve as the Matchtrackers.

World Cup hopes crushed?

(I was going to use a more creative title like "the US hopes are kept in Czech, but just about every other American blogger has already done that, so I'll spare you yet another pun.) I'm sure that by now, you are aware of the that the US was slaughtered by the Czech Republic Monday. If you're curious, you can see what the players have to say about what went wrong.

Thanks to summer classes and the day job, I was unable to watch the game live. I was able to briefly follow the match on Matchtracker while scarfing down a very quick lunch during a 5-minute break (the very beginning of the 2nd half), and the second that I saw that the US was down 2 goals, my first thoughts were, "We're done." For someone who is normally very optimistic, as soon as I saw the result, my first thought was that the US was out of the Cup. Statisically speaking, if you lose your first match, your chances of advancing are very slim. Several hours later, I happened to run into a guy wearing a shirt with the USMNT shield on it. Naturally, I asked him the outcome of the game, pessimistically expecting the worse, while simultaneously hoping that the US would for once find the nerve to get their act together. No such luck. I inquired if the loss was because the Czechs were that good or the US was that bad; after a couple seconds' reflection, he responded that it was both.

Glutton for punishment dedicated fan that I am, I decided to watch bits of the game after I got home. What happened to the team that surprised the world by beating Portugal, and was prevented only by a stroke of bad luck from beating Germany? (Yes, I still believe that the US played better than Germany did in that game.) What I saw was far more reminisceint of France '98. Even though I am a firm believer that most Americans should get more exereicse, Keller was far more active than he should have been. Where was the defense? Heck, where was the offense? Two weeks ago while lamenting the Crew's crushing loss to DCU, I made the comment that I had better NOT see the USMNT play a game like that in Germany. Unfortunately, my worst fears were realized. To reiterate what I've thought for years, once the USMNT is down a goal, they completey fall apart. Oh sure, there have been exceptions. There have been times when they still managed to pull together and win. However, those times are few and far between.

On much happier news, Germany and England, two of the other teams I've picked as favorites, have done quite well so far. From what I've seen of their games so far, they're doing quite well. Too bad I can't say that of the USMNT.

On a side note, if you want somewhere to watch World Cup games - other than than your own living room, that is - and if you happen to live close to a soccer store, and also just happen to "have" to buy something - anything - soccer related, it wouldn't hurt to pop in for a nice leisurely "look". I guarantee you that they will have the World Cup playing on a TV (or two), and there's nothing quite like watching a soccer game while being surrounded by everything soccer. Talk about a great enviroment. Just a hint.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

World Cup predictions

For the record, I had this post ready to go Friday morning, before any of the matches kicked off. (You know, Blogger always seems to have issues with publishing at really bad times.) That is to say, that all my predictions were made pre-Cup play. (And C - you know who you are - I really did make that prediction about your team advancing, and after seeing the results and clips from their first match, I still stand by it even more.)

I know this is an MLS blog, but you have got to be kidding if you think I am going to ignore the greatest soccer event on the planet. In fact, I normally ignore MLS during the Cup (regardless of whether any of my teams make it far), and this year is the first year that I plan to at least follow the MLS scores and standings during the duration of the Cup.

I have to keep reminding myself why I decided to register for summer classes and ask for more hours at work - during World Cup year. I keep having to remind myself that I want to a) graduate with and b) pay for my MA. I keep telling myself it's worth it.

If you haven't yet played around the official FIFA World Cup site, you really should. You can check out the standings, match schedule, video highlights after each game, down load all sorts of screensavers and wallpapers to dress up your desktop, etc. If my memory serves me right, in '02 they added new wallpapers after each round, so it wouldn't hurt to keep checking back to see if they've uploaded anything else.

My predictions for the teams to make it out of group play:
Group A: Germany and Ecuador
Group B: England and Trinidad
Group C: Argentina and the Netherlands
Group D: Mexico and Portugal
Group E: USA (yes, I'm biased) and Italy
Group F: Brazil and Croatia
Group G: France and Korea
Group H: Spain and Tunisia

I see Germany as being a very serious contendor. I expect them to make it to the final, or if they play badly, to the third place match. They have the home country and continent advantage. (Only once has a South American team won in Europe, or vice versa, and that was decades ago when Pele played for Brazil). I do see Brazil easily making it to the final, though history is against them winning it. The last time the Cup was in Europe (France '98), Brazil made it to the final and lost to the host country. I wouldn't be surprised to see a repeat of that performance.

The US has made significant progress since the '98 debacle. They placed 8th four years ago, and I expect them to make it that far again this year. Then again, coming out of their horrible performance in France, they had the element of suprise in '02. That element has diminished, though I argue that it's still there. After all, few people expect the US to make it to the top four. Here's to hoping they don't screw up.

All of that said, the World Cup has been known to surprise us. Few people expected the USMNT to beat Portugal and place 8th four years ago. Few people expected to see Croatia place 3rd 8 years ago. Suprises do happen, and I'm excited to see what surprises are in store for us this year.

Every World Cup (from '94 to the present), I pick 3 or 4 countries to closely follow and cheer on. The USMNT is a given. The other countries I'm plugging for this year are England, Germany, and the Ivory Coast. Yes, I really am cheering on a team that I don't expect to make it out of group play. Remember what I said about surprises? I always pick a team that I consider to be an underdog, and my usual pick didn't qualify this year, so the Ivory Coast is my next best choice. I'm going for England, simply because I always have. Now mind you that if any one of these three end up playing the USMNT at any point, my loyalties to the USMNT are far stronger. If two of the three (England, Germany, and the Ivory Coast) end up playing each other, then I'll be happy regardless of the outcome. It'll be even more interesting if it happens in the final. In '98, two of my teams happened to be France and Brazil, and so that was definitely an interesting final for me to watch.

A few final words: Go USA!