Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mexico-Argentina broadcast smashes records

Sunday afternoon's broadcast of the Mexico-Argentina match was the most-watched program ever on Spanish-language television. Almost 9.4 million viewers watched the game on Univision.

Coverage of the game was the No. 1 program of the week in any language in such key markets as Los Angeles, Miami, Houston and Dallas among total viewers 2+, adults 18-49, adults 18-34 and persons 12-34.

Saturday's USA-Ghana game on Univision attracted more than 4.5 million viewers 2+, making the top 10 among the network's most-watched soccer matches in Univision's history.

The combined audiences for the two games:

-- USA-Ghana (19.4 million).
-- Mexico-Argentina (14.9 million)

USA-Ghana draws World Series-like numbers

The combined 19.4 million viewers for Saturday's USA-Ghana game were comparable to the average for the six games for last year's baseball World Series on Fox. The difference: USA-Ghana was aired in the morning, and the World Series was broadcast in prime time.

“That’s phenomenal,” said Stephen Master, the vice president for sports at the Nielsen Company. “If the U.S. had kept going, to the quarters and semifinal, you would have gotten really big numbers.”

John Skipper, ESPN’s executive vice president for content, says the World Cup viewership exceeded expectations and will only grow. “This is a good, sound financial proposition for us,” he said. “We have the 2014 rights in Brazil, at a favorable time that gives us a favorable financial opportunity.”

The high cost of sacking Capello

Firing Coach Fabio Capello would cost the English FA about $15 million in compensation to the 64-year-old Italian who has a $9 million a year contract through 2012. Capello, who has won Champions League, Italian Serie A and Spanish La Liga titles, exited with England with a 4-1 round-of-16 loss to Germany after finishing second to the USA in group play.

Capello says he wants to stay on and with possible replacement Roy Hodgson on the verge of joining Liverpool, the chances of Capello remaining at England's helm have increased.

England national team program chairman Dave Richards said a decision on Capello's future will be made in two weeks at the earliest.

Phil Gartside, a member of the FA's main board and a close ally of Richards, said: "We've got the best man for the job. It's not his fault. I hope he stays and I think he will stay. He has done a good job and he needs to be able to get on with it. It's not about the money, we have to be strong."

Monday, June 28, 2010

U.S. soccer may take home public, despite Cup loss

From the Evansville Courier Press, June 27, 2010

I sat in a restaurant packed with people watching and cheering for the USA soccer team, and as the final seconds ticked away in the 2-1 loss to Ghana my first thought was "Where do we go from here?"

Reflecting back on the World Cup for the U.S. national team, I think I will look back on this event as the year the casual sports fan became interested in soccer.

There are some genuine factors from the World Cup that will be hard to replicate — the idea of watching our country compete against the world's best gives fans a sense of patriotism that is difficult to manufacture through Major League Soccer.

We also saw last summer during the exhibitions of world club powers like Chelsea, Inter Milan, Barcelona and Real Madrid that fans will come out in droves to see the best players and teams in the world. TV ratings have reflected that during the World Cup as well. Just like we have with football and basketball, fans will come out or tune in to watch the very best.

We have proven as a nation that we can compete with the best soccer nations in the world. Our next challenge is to be able to replicate that at the domestic level.

I am a big fan of Major League Soccer, and while I understand that the standard falls below what fans see when watching the English Premier League on ESPN or Fox Soccer Channel, we as a nation need to support MLS more. We also need to accept that this is our league, and that complaining about what's wrong with it won't make it better.

Everyone is welcome to their own opinion, but I am amazed at how many armchair quarterbacks there are watching youth, high school, college and professional soccer in our country. If you are a fan, you should appreciate the game for what it is and for the level it is being played at. I can tell you that I don't go to youth or high school games to critique players and coaches. I am out there because I genuinely enjoy watching the game of soccer, and take the level that I am watching for what it is. We have a lot of new soccer fans who will hopefully continue to watch the game at the local, regional, national and international levels and appreciate the games for what they offer.

As for MLS, the next challenge is two-fold and dependent on money: MLS needs to be able to bring in more of the top players from around the world, and it needs to find a way to pay our top American players to stay here. Our professional league right now is much the same as basketball in other countries. Most young European or South American basketball players dream of coming to the NBA. We need to keep our top young players in the MLS while providing them top competition. That also would go a long way toward increasing attendance and TV ratings in the MLS.

As for our national team, it seems like only yesterday that we were playing in the 1990 World Cup with a team made up of college All-Americans. Twenty years later, we have a team comprised of professional players who compete in the top leagues in the world.

As for youth soccer, we need to continue to raise the standards of our top young players. U.S. Soccer has developed the U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy, which is a "Champions League" for the top youth clubs around the country. The state of Indiana only has one team — Indiana United in Indianapolis — and we need to find a way to offer that same opportunity to more players and teams.

As for college soccer, the season needs to be longer to allow our top amateur players to play more competitive matches. College soccer develops more professional and national team players than any other setting.

We have made great strides as a soccer nation during this World Cup, and if we can continue to buy into soccer as a major sports entity, we will continue to see soccer grow and thrive in our country.

Ever since the days of the North American Soccer League — with Pele playing for the New York Cosmos — soccer fans have talked about 'the soccer boom' in our country. Casual sports fans, whether you like it or not, soccer is here to stay.

n Mike Jacobs is the men's soccer coach at the University of Evansville.

Project 2010 - Were we close?

Project 2010 was launched by the U.S. Soccer Federation in 1999 and was based at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. It was intended to bring together the best under-17 players in America to develop under the guidance of coach John Ellinger.

The ultimate goal was to win the 2010 World Cup. Landon Donovan, Oguchi Onyewu and DaMarcus Beasley were part of the program's first class. But in the decade to follow, players of their caliber have been few and far between.

Mike Foss of the USA Today comments on whether Project 2010 was close to fruition, or if it came up significantly short.

Jamie Watson, a forward who joined the residency program in 2002, says there's a drawback for young players trying to break into the professional ranks. "You have to play in games," he said. "You can't just be on the team; you have to play."

After playing at the University of North Carolina, Watson signed with Real Salt Lake at 19. He was with the team for three years. "It wasn't until I left MLS that I started developing," said Watson, who plays for the Austin Aztex, in a division below MLS. "I think it's like that for a lot of residency guys."

The residency program has had success. The USA reached the semifinals of the U-17 World Cup in 1999 and the quarterfinals in 2003 and '05.

Players like Howard, who was not in the program, see its benefits. "I think (Project 2010) was a pipe dream. Are we better off? Definitely. Are we favorites to win the World Cup? I don't think so."

Ellinger says the role of Project 2010 was never to win the World Cup. "Not that many countries have actually won a World Cup," he said. "I always believed the role was to make us competitive and in a position to win a World Cup. If you look at it in those terms, I would say it was a huge success."

Sunday, June 27, 2010

College Soccer Helps Develop US team

It is en vogue in soccer circles to bash college soccer, but when you look at the US roster for this World Cup, it is obvious that college soccer is the route that has helped develop most of our team.

Ben Cohen of the Wall Street Journal writes about the debate of college soccer's role in developing players for our US national team.

To get to the World Cup, most American players are forced to endure an experience that soccer aficionados consider unnecessary, if not cruel: They go to college.

In England, where promising teenagers are scooped up by professional teams and paid professional salaries, the idea that it takes a beautiful mind to play the beautiful game comes across as a bit of a howler.

In England, superstar striker Wayne Rooney became a national celebrity in 2002 when he scored a goal in injury time in his debut for Everton of the English Premier League—at the precocious age of 16.

But guess what? After two games, the Americans—let's call it Team NCAA—are entering Wednesday's final group match in the same position as England's boys, despite the fact that 15 of its 23 members played the game in college. In simultaneous matches Wednesday, the U.S. and England each must defeat its respective opponent (Algeria and Slovenia) to ensure a spot in the knockout round.

Sasho Cirovski, the head coach of the University of Maryland's powerhouse soccer team, calls the current state of affairs "a small victory for college soccer," which he said is "still a vital part in the development process in this country."

Barrieu is key component to US success

The only member of the U.S. national team coaching staff to have worked at the last three World Cups is Frenchman Pierre Barrieu. The U.S. fitness coach credits the team's physical and psychological preparation for its never-say-die attitude.

On the winning goal against Algeria, the Americans had a four-on-two counterattack. "Four players [Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Edson Buddle] ran 80 meters in the 90th minute. Fortunately, on Altidore's cross, Dempsey's shot was blocked but Donovan, who was following up the play, was there for the rebound. I believe the win was merited because this team never gives up."

Herbert is most under-paid manager at World Cup

New Zealand national team coach Ricki Herbert was one of the big winners in South Africa for his team's tremendous results, but is earning small change compared to his counterparts in the World Cup.

Herbert is reportedly earning $50,000 for coaching the All Whites and an estimated salary of $200,000 for coaching the Wellington Phoenix.

After leading the All Whites to draw 1-1 with Italy on June 20 he has gained attention from clubs around the world. Herbert has confirmed discussions about other opportunities which could lead to a considerable pay rise.

The highest paid manager in the World Cup is 64-year-old England coach Fabio Capello who earns a $10.5 million salary. From 1962 to 1980 Capello represented Italian clubs Spal Ferrara, Roma, Juventus and AC Milan as a midfielder. He stepped into coaching in the early 90s leading Real Madrid, Juventus and AC Milan before taking the reins of England in 2008.

Fellow Italian 62-year-old Marcello Lippi earns the second largest salary as a World Cup coach at $5.3 million.

Unlike Capello, Lippi has spent his entire playing and coaching career in Italy. It was reported that after Italy drew to New Zealand Lippi blamed his team for not following his orders .

South African coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, of Brazil, has caused outrage in South Africa for earning $4 million annually. Parreira has an international coaching record dating back to 1967 and has led teams to the World Cup six times. Despite this, retired South African goalkeeper Roger De Sa said Parreira's salary was obscene.

Regarded as the most popular German coach of all time, Joachim Loew earns $3.2 million. He has coached throughout Turkey, Germany and Austria for over 10 years.

Australian coach Pim Verbeek, originally from the Netherlands, is earning a $3 million salary while Football Federation Australia search for a $6 million replacement after Verbeek announced he would be moving to Morocco after the World Cup.

Herbert's team have shone on the field, but his pay cheque is off the pace.


* England: Fabio Capello, $10,525,200

* Italy: Marcello Lippi, $5.3 million

* Germany: Joachim Loew, $3,228,062

* South Africa: Carlos Alberto Parreira, $3,916,352

* Spain: Vicente Del Bosque, $3,466,473

* Australia: Pim Verbeek, $3,072,437

* Switzerland: Ottmar Hitzfeld, $3,031,778

* Brazil: Dunga, $1,753,877.10

* USA: Bob Bradley, $842,353.80

* New Zealand: Ricki Herbert, $50,000

* Salaries in NZ dollars

An increasing number of reports are linking Herbert with a high-profile move to an English club side, and the opportunity - and pay raise - is certainly well-deserved.

American fans embrace 'the beautiful game'

Soccer fans continue to rise up across the United States, and as we continue to see great strides for our sport on the national sports landscape, Michael Mathes writes of how our nation embraces soccer-

As they prepare to watch the United States compete in the next round of the planet's biggest sporting event, Americans are asking: has the country finally embraced soccer?

Some see the US performance at the World Cup as a new make-or-break moment for soccer in the United States and its competence in the beautiful game.

Don Garber, commissioner of Major League Soccer, said a "great wave of passion" was sweeping the United States as the team raced into the second round, carried by Landon Donovan's now-famous goal against Algeria.

"I think he raised the hopes and dreams of our entire country, leading up to this game on Saturday," Garber said Friday on ESPN.

But many experts and observers argue that soccer had been steadily gaining a fan base long before Donovan scored the stoppage time goal that secured a 1-0 victory over Algeria and a place in the round of 16.

"It was a big day for football in the US," said Martin Vasquez, a Mexican-American who played in the inaugural Major League Soccer season in 1996, and who now is head coach for MLS team Chivas USA.

"The coverage that the US national team has got here has been incredible," he told AFP.

An average of 11.1 million Americans watched English and Spanish broadcasts of the first-round matches -- 68 percent more than in 2006 -- including 17.1 million who tuned in for United States-England, according to the Nielsen television ratings firm. By comparison the NBA basketball finals earlier this month averaged 18.1 million, Nielson said.

Experts say coverage of the tournament by US sports broadcast giant ESPN has gone from amateurish in 2006 to top-rate this year. "They are treating this like the Olympics," said soccer blogger Max Bergmann.

Americans are used to seeing their teams and athletes win big, so a stale performance such as the one that saw USA crash out in the opening round in 2006 could have soured Americans on the sport.

But Bergmann, who blogs for Association Football, thinks the game is flourishing as a result of a "demographic reality" decades in the making.

More US kids play soccer than any other sport -- including American football, baseball and basketball -- thanks to youth leagues that took off in the 1980s, he pointed out in a phone call Thursday from South Africa, where he is blogging about the World Cup.

"The older generation that grew up without any interaction with soccer, they are moving offstage, and younger kids are now into it," Bergmann said.

An opportunity lost?

It was hard to put my arms around the idea that the World Cup was over for the United States after a 2-1 overtime defeat to Ghana in the round of 16.

Paul Kennedy of Soccer America reports on the lost opportunity for the United States, and about the future for the US team.

The overwhelming sense you got after the USA fell to Ghana Saturday was that it was an opportunity lost. A chance to, as even Bob Bradley said right after the game, "go deep in the tournament." But the USA's dramatic advancement to the round of 16 and its favorable bracket created expectations that were far greater than reality.

This wasn't the first time the USA lost an opportunity to do something big. In 2002, it reached the quarterfinals, where it outplayed Germany but lost, 1-0. Your immediate reaction then was that the USA could go years and never get close to the final four again.

How fragile a World Cup campaign can be was proved four years later when the USA went out after three games with what was a more experienced team.

A lot of factors go into a successful World Cup -- player personnel, of course, but also team chemistry, preparation, coaching, the draw and luck. If any one of them is missing, a World Cup can be doomed.

This was a World Cup where everything seemed to be working. You could see it in the body language of the U.S. players. How they prepared for the games. How they celebrated together. It was a lot like 2002 in South Korea, where Bruce Arena had arranged for the players to stay in the heart of Seoul with their families.

Then as now, the USA was one big happy family. Problem is, that only gets you so far. The USA simply wasn't good enough.

The difference between the 2002 and 2010 World Cups, of course, was the interest level.

The games eight years ago were played in the middle of the night. In 2002, ESPN broadcast the games in an arrangement brokered by MLS. In 2010, ESPN had paid heavily for the rights and took a big interest in promoting its coverage.

Soccer is eight years on, and it's that much more entrenched in our sports culture, particularly among those in their 20s and 30s.

I know that there are a lot of fans who are disappointed that our team has been eliminated, but one of the great signs of how far we have come as a soccer nation is how the expectations for our team has risen - sports fans now expect our team to do well in the World Cup, as we will all have to wait until 2014.

Despite WCup loss, US soccer team scores a goal: making mainstream America care

World Cup fever swept the country on Saturday. When the USA-Ghana game ended, there was silence at the Globe Pub in Chicago and then a cheer for the defeated Americans. It was a scene repeated at bars across the country.

At the Highbury Pub in Milwaukee, Chris Engel, who recently helped start a Milwaukee chapter of the American Outlaws, said he was proud of how the Americans played and hoped fans would stick behind the team. "If you stop supporting your country just because you lose," he said, "this doesn't mean anything."

Baseball stops for the World Cup

Perhaps the most telling example of the impact the USA's run at the World Cup had was the reaction at Major League Baseball parks.

Fans at the Kansas City Royals' Kauffman Stadium broke into chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!"when Landon Donovan scored on a penalty kick. Royals infielders stood together behind the mound and watched the USA-Ghana game on a giant screen as a pitching change was made in the ninth inning. Chicago White Sox players waiting the take batting practice let out out audible groans. Asamoah Gyan had just scored to put Ghana ahead in overtime.

Fans in Kansas City for the I-70 interleague series between Kansas City and St. Louis had to decide whether to watch the baseball or soccer game. The Royals accommodated them by showing the soccer game on their CrownVision.

"I actually emailed the Royals ticket office when I found out there was going to be a conflict with the games and asked them what they were going to do," said Cardinals fan Brian Dopplick. "My friends were coming in town for the game and we debated selling our tickets so we could watch the World Cup. But when the Royals said they were going to have the game on TVs, we decided to do both."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Kiwis Grind Out Results

New Zealand Coach Ricki Herbert admitted he put an amateur on the field in Sunday's 1-1 tie with Italy to prove a point. Herbert confessed to a New Zealand reporter that he substituted Andy Barron, a 29-year-old bank officer, into the game in the final minutes to show that you don't have to be a highly paid professional to succeed at soccer's highest level.

"We have got a couple of stars," Herbert said. "But we are made up of hard workers, and we grind out results. That's how it is in New Zealand. That's how we are raised, and that's what our spirit is all about."

Italy, the defending World Cup champion, has 4.9-million soccer players, including 3,541 professionals, according to Tony Smith of New Zealand's Dominion Post. That's more than the total population of New Zealand, which has only 25 full-fledged professionals among its 200,000 soccer players.

Mexico camp in disarray?

"We cannot coach by congress. When it comes to setting up the national team, it's my responsibility and we'll see how far we can take it."

- Mexico coach Javier Aguirre replies to criticism by fans and media, and some players refuse to speak to reporters after loss to Uruguay.

What's Next For Bradley?

Where does Bob Bradley go from here? His success could potentially open the door to a move o Europe, and he continues to legitimize American coaches all over the world.

Further World Cup wins might land him the ultimate prize: A job in the big leagues of Europe.

No American has ever held a high-profile coaching job overseas. Even after leading the U.S. to a surprise appearance in the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals, Bruce Arena didn’t attract any alluring offers.

He returned to MLS to coach the Red Bulls, then the L.A. Galaxy.

But U.S. soccer is in a different place these days. Landon Donovan, Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey are accepted talents in England. Jozy Altidore commanded an eight-figure transfer fee. The Americans reached the Confederations Cup final last year by toppling Spain, the world’s No. 1 team at the time.

If a run to the final eight doesn’t land Bradley a European offer, perhaps the conspiracy theorists were right all along: American coaches get no respect.

On the flip side, Bradley likely will lose his job should the U.S. fail to advance. U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati has hinted at the consequences by citing World Cup games as "a large part" of future considerations.

"This is a four-year cycle. A lot of measurement comes down to the three games we play in the first round and hopefully some games we play in the second round. [Bradley] knows that, he accepts that, he agrees with that," Gulati told USA Today from South Africa.

"Would I like Bob to continue? Sure. And I’d like to win seven games."

Three years as America’s coach culminates with Bradley’s final exam today — accounting for 75 percent of the grade, or thereabouts — and we’ll see if the Americans can fulfill the expectations of advancing to the next round, or if they’ll repeat the failures and changeovers of 2006.

Any second-round games are Bradley’s extra credit, and perhaps his ticket to the English Premier League.

More Proof That Soccer Is Here To Stay

Remember June 23, 2010: the day the lame old "Soccer is Boring" argument finally died in the U.S.

If you weren't completely, utterly thrilled, exhausted and satisfied by Wednesday's 1-0 Team USA World Cup thriller over Algeria, you're a lifeless sports corpse. You are banned from all future U.S. World Cup matches and hereby ordered to spend the rest of the season watching the moribund Baltimore Orioles, eating cold oatmeal in a Slanket.

But if you watched the U.S.-Algeria throwdown, you're surely a convert. Did you not loudly slap your desk in triumph, hug or kiss a stranger, down a beer (or three) with your boss? Did you flee your desk entirely for the bar, and if you did, do you remember where you work—or your last name? Or are you at the airport without a suitcase, trying to wiggle onto a flight to South Africa?

U.S. Soccer Win Is Halfway Mark in Bigger Plan

On the TV ratings and interest -

...this isn’t a once-every-four-year argument over whether soccer can, at long last, succeed in the U.S. There is no argument. Not anymore. Not after this.

Not when you consider the U.S. ranked 23rd globally in World Cup viewing in 1998. Four years later the U.S. was 13th, and in 2006 it climbed to eighth. You can bet the pattern will continue this year as Donovan gave all those kids watching on TV a reason to dream.

The interest is there. Only the most oblivious among us could have missed the outrage and outcry directed at referee Koman Coulibaly, who incorrectly disallowed a likely game- winning goal for the U.S. against Slovenia. Soccer became the lead item at the water cooler. The officials disallowed another U.S. goal against Algeria. Questionable call. Doesn’t matter now.

So much of soccer’s future in the U.S. depends on the national team, which has a number of reasons for optimism.

On the American public associating with the athletes on the US team-

It’s beginning to happen. Look, say, at Oguchi Onyewu, or “Gooch” as the defender is known to teammates.

Surely Dabo Swinney, the football coach at Clemson University, where Onyewu played soccer, could find a helmet for this fellow.

“When you see a guy like that, at 6-4 and 220 pounds, you think he could be a great outside linebacker,” Swinney said.

That was precisely the thought held by Pat Cilento, the football coach at Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring, Maryland, Onyewu’s alma mater.

“He is a specimen,” said Cilento, noting that he’s got about two dozen players in shoulder pads right now that would make excellent soccer players.

The key is to persuade the best athletes to pursue soccer.

The kids watching the World Cup will get more than a few glimpses of Onyewu, 28, Altidore, 20, and Dempsey, 27.

Gone are the days when the best American players disappeared until the next time around. The U.S. players are securing positions in the best leagues in the world, including Italy’s Serie A, England’s Premier League and Germany’s Bundesliga.

Onyewu last year signed as a free agent with AC Milan. Altidore, meantime, last season could be seen with Hull City of the EPL while Dempsey works for Fulham.

“American youngsters see they can achieve that kind of glory,” says Jay Emmett, an executive at Warner Communications Inc. when it owned the defunct New York Cosmos. “It’s a long process.”

On the future and plan for soccer in the United States-

No one anytime soon is going to confuse the U.S.’s top domestic league, Major League Soccer, with the EPL. The long- term goal, shared by FIFA, soccer’s governing body, is for MLS to attract the world’s top talent by paying top dollar.

Those who love to hate soccer are fond of pointing out that they have been hearing about a boom for decades. They’re right. It has been years -- 25 or so.

Those who inhabit an instant-gratification society are under the impression that, somehow, a sporting overhaul should occur right away.

Doesn’t work that way. U.S. Soccer’s plan, hatched in 1984, spans 50 years, which means it’s only halfway done. Goals like Donovan’s help.

The Day Soccer Became Cool

Was Wednesday the day? Was Wednesday the watershed moment U.S. Soccer has been waiting for all these years, the day American sports fans were finally infected with World Cup fever, to the point that they skipped work, packed bars, screamed at the screen, texted and e-mailed friends about the game, and spilled onto the streets in jubilation when Landon Donovan scored his dramatic 91st-minute goal to send the U.S. to the Round of 16?

Was Wednesday the day it officially became uncool to suggest soccer is boring?

From Pretoria, Michelle Kaufman described a scene unlike any at past World Cups on foreign soil: Tens of thousands of U.S. fans making their way to Loftus Versfeld Stadium, most of them head to toe in red, white and blue, waving flags and blowing vuvuzelas. She also got wind of the enthusiasm for the U.S. team back home.

U.S. defender Jay DeMerit said when he got back to the locker room his cell phone was overloaded with texts and messages. "I had calls from friends watching in bars in Chicago, LA, New York, you name it," he said. "Growing up in Wisconsin, I usually don’t have 100 soccer-related e-mails a day from people. I do now. These are people who probably never watched a soccer game in their lives."

"We don’t get many moments like this," said MLS commissioner Don Garber, who admitted getting choked up when Landon Donovan scored. "I think it’s a sign that people are starting to pay attention. We always talk about the water level rising with soccer. Well, today the water rose."

Kaufman attributes this World Cup's popularity in the USA to the masterful marketing of ESPN, which for most mainstream sports fans in America is the seal of approval: If ESPN says it’s cool, then it’s cool.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


“It was one of those games when the ball just didn’t want to go in.” That familiar lament is one the USA players were probably preparing to utter as their must-win match with Algeria went into injury time. Fortunately for the North Americans it did not turn out to be one of those games, with Landon Donovan prodding home from close range to send Bob Bradley’s men through to the Round of 16 of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.

“You do have days where you think it’s never going to go over the line, no matter how hard you try. Today, luckily it did,” the goal hero said afterwards, fresh from the team receiving a congratulatory visit from former US President Bill Clinton. “In fact I always felt as if we would score sooner or later.”

The Americans sent in no fewer than 21 shots on the Algerian goal and finally broke through one minute into stoppage time when Jozy Altidore’s low shot was pushed into the path of the onrushing Donovan by Desert Fox keeper Rais M’Bolhi. All the Los Angeles Galaxy man had to do was stroke the ball over the line.

“I don’t know how the ball even came to me to tell you the truth,” admitted the match-winning attacking midfielder. “It all happened so quickly, which was just as well because I didn’t have time to think at all. It was a spontaneous reaction and I just did what anyone else would do.”

Too much to bear
Though the 1-0 scoreline might suggest otherwise, this was one of the more entertaining encounters of the competition so far, with a succession of chances being created at both ends, most of them being carved out by the Stars and Stripes. And there was a very good reason for that urgency in attack. With England leading Slovenia 1-0 in Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth, a goalless draw would have sent both sides out of the competition.

“There was pressure on both sides,” US goalkeeper Tim Howard told following his side’s great escape. “The second half didn’t seem like a football match at all. Everyone was running and fighting as hard as they could to get the goal. In a game like this it’s always good to get the first goal, because caution had already been thrown well and truly to the wind.”

The pressure was especially intense on the USA forwards, with so many chances coming their way. “Tell me about it,” a relieved Jozy Altidore said with a smile. “I can’t even imagine how I would have felt [had we not won], though I tried not to think about it because I knew we’d end up scoring. I just didn’t want to feel responsible for us missing out on a place in the next round.”

In the end the drama only added to the USA’s elation at squeezing through, a feeling that Donovan will clearly never forget: “Make no mistake, it’s the biggest moment of my career.”

LANDON DONOVAN - An American Household Name

If there’s anything American soccer needed badly, it's an American superstar. He has arrived and his name is, of course, Landon Donovan.

Mike Woitalla of Soccer America writes of how America finally received its soccer superstar.

In stoppage time of the USA’s must-win clash with Algeria, Donovan sparked an attack at the halfway line, passed off to Jozy Altidore, and followed up to bury a rebound to send the USA to the second round of the World Cup.

It was Donovan’s second clutch goal at this World Cup and its replays will be shown endlessly over the next few days. His name will be known to all Americans.

While Mia Hamm, who retired six years ago, captured the imagination of American girls as no other female athlete ever had, the men’s side had never produced a true soccer hero.

Alexi Lalas attained some mainstream fame during the 1994 World Cup, but that was due more to his off-field charisma. The goateed defender could barely fill a short highlight reel.

Cobi Jones, who also played in his prime in the 1990s, made a connection to youngsters and did play exciting soccer, but his achievements pale in comparison to Donovan’s.

Neither Jones nor Lalas were near world-class, and while Claudio Reyna may have been the most accomplished American of that generation, his greatest achievements went unnoticed outside the small circle of fans who followed the careers of Americans abroad.

Of the three World Cups Reyna played, he and his team shone at just one, in 2002, when a 20-year-old Donovan started every game and played a key role in the quarterfinal run.

Donovan’s brilliance has been on display for years within our shores, as he led teams to three MLS titles. He entered this tournament, his third World Cup, as the USA’s all-time leading scorer, with 42 goals.

But Donovan came short of yielding adulation outside the soccer community and he even had his critics within it: The Eurosnobs who don’t consider a player successful unless he stars on the other side of the Atlantic.

Donovan silenced those detractors somewhat with an impressive loan stint at Everton earlier in the year. But I never believed that Donovan needed a European address to become a world-class player. And certainly he has proved that in South Africa.

No bonuses for French players

France's players, who revolted against Coach Raymond Domenech and then exited in the first round of the World Cup, will not be accepting cash from lucrative marketing revenues generated by the squad. "We will not accept a single cent from sponsors. We will refuse all the bonuses," said France captain Patrice Evra.

Evra, whom Domenech dropped from the team for its 2-1 loss to South Africa, said he will not hold back on revealing the inside secrets of how team fell apart. "I share the pain of all France," he said. "Tonight is the time for apologies. It's an apology that could have been made yesterday, but I was banned from doing so by the coach."

Evra was one of the ringleaders of the players' strike on Sunday called to protest the expulsion of teammate Nicolas Anelka. "Now is not the time to settle scores," Evra said. "All of France will have the time to have explanations for this disaster. I will give them. I will talk about what has happened. I will tell the truth. I have nothing to hide."

France, which won the 1998 title and was runner-up in 2006, finished last in Group A woth losses to Mexico and South Africa and a scoreless tie with Uruguay. Evra defended the revolt: "Our pain wasn't exaggerated. We communicated our reasons for what happened. Tonight I was dropped from the team without a valid reason. These are difficult times."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Africa Hosts World Cup, But Imports Coaches

South Africa has done a great job hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup, from the quality of their venues to their fan support.

Foreign managers are at the helm of most of the African nations, and Christopher Clarey of the New York Times reports on the imported coaches.

This is supposed to be Africa’s World Cup, but Africa’s teams, many on the verge of elimination, are still not entirely Africa’s teams.

Not with Sven-Goran Eriksson, the Swede who spawned a thousand tabloid headlines in England, coaching Ivory Coast despite not speaking French or any of the country’s indigenous languages.

Not with Lars Lagerback, another late recruit from Sweden, coaching Nigeria. Not with the French former star Paul Le Guen coaching Cameroon, and not with Carlos Alberto Parreira, the classy Brazilian, back in charge of South Africa.

Foreign coaches have been a fixture in African soccer since the beginning at the World Cup. In 1934, when Egypt became the first African nation to participate in the tournament, James McRae of Scotland was the manager. It took 36 years for another African team to participate, and when Morocco managed it, in 1970, the coach was Blagoje Vidinic of Yugoslavia.

But this is a deeply symbolic year and occasion, one that was supposed to underscore the possibilities of Africa and its present-day qualities. How inconvenient, then, that of the six African teams in the tournament, only Algeria is coached by one of its own: the 64-year-old Rabah Saadane.

“For my country, it’s symbolic, because Mr. Saadane is the man who qualified us for the World Cup,” said Madjid Bougherra, an Algerian defender. “It’s been 24 years since we qualified, and Mr. Saadane was the coach then, too. He is very respected in Algeria, and I think it gives a good image, the right image for Algeria to have an Algerian coach.”

For the other five African teams, it looks very much like a missed opportunity, and the situation, although more nuanced than it first appears and hardly new, remains a wellspring of continental angst.

“Let me put it this way,” Simaata Simaata, general secretary of the Zambia Football Coaches Association, told the BBC this year, “it’s like saying David Livingstone discovered the Victoria Falls. No, David Livingstone was the first European to see the Victoria Falls. There were already local people who knew where the mighty wonder of the world existed, and they were the local scouts who knew the terrain. That’s the way we view the contribution of foreign coaches.”

Capello - "It's Not A Revolution"

England coach Fabio Capello said defender John Terry -- deposed as captain before the World Cup because of off-field behavior -- had let down his teammates by effectively implicating them in a perceived coup that was due to take place at a meeting on Sunday evening. Fellow players reacted in dismay when becoming aware of his comments leaving Terry, who has since apologized, exposed.

Capello was asked whether England was headed to player revolt such as erupted in the France camp, where players walked out on a training session. The Italian said, "No, it's not a revolution. It's one mistake from one player, no more. I read yesterday that John Terry said this. I don't understand why he doesn't speak with me every time."

Terry had said that Joe Cole should start against Slovenia. "I think he's more disappointed some players because, when you speak, you have to speak privately, not with the media," Capello said. "This is the big mistake. This is very big mistake. I know sometimes some players want to speak more with the media than with the other players. The mistake is you have to speak with the players, with me, with the dressing room.

"I spoke with some players, and only John Terry said this. No one spoke with me about problems. My door is open always if they want to speak with me. They can. Every time we have a meeting I ask the captain: '[Are there any] problems? You want to say something?' Never. But I hope that from the big mistake comes out a big performance."

U.S. team's effort could produce another 'miracle'

From the Evansville Courier Press, June 20, 2010

Most sports fans who are old enough can remember where they were when the United States hockey team defeated the Russians in the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.

That team had special characteristics that made it easy to fall in love with leading up to that semifinal match versus Russia and eventually winning the gold medal. The more you watch this U.S. National team in the FIFA World Cup, the more you feel it might share those same qualities.

The competitive spirit of this team has been tremendous, and you have to credit their comebacks in group stage to a resiliency instilled by head coach Bob Bradley. His players have a never say die mentality to their game, which is a key component in special teams in any sport.

Conceding early goals to England and Slovenia would have put most teams back on their heels, but in both cases, the U.S. roared back to even the score and gain valuable points. Sloppy starts defensively created question marks — Ricardo Clark lost his mark on Steven Gerrard for England's early goal, and Oguchi Onyewu he;d Zlatan Ljubijankic onside for his 42nd minute goal to put Slovenia up 2-0. Yet the team has recovered to play stingy defense as the games went on.

Stars are starting to evolve. Tim Howard was the difference against England, making save after save to keep the Americans in the game. Onyewu and Jay DeMerit looked a little disorganized in the early stage of the match, but settled in to put together an outstanding effort in shutting down Wayne Rooney. Michael Bradley put in a virtuoso performance in shutting down English playmaker Frank Lampard in midfield, and Clint Dempsey's goal gained the opening tie.

Against Slovenia, it was Landon Donovan who had taken the game by the scruff of its neck— his goal three minutes into the second half allowed the U.S. to roar back. Michael Bradley's goal in the 82nd minute tied it and put the U.S. in a position to gain three points before Maurice Edu's goal was mysteriously called back.

If the Americans can continue their resilient play while tightening up things defensively, and if U.S. stars can continue to evolve, we could be witnessing our own "Miracle on Grass."

* Fans all over the world are scratching their heads as they try to make sense of the goal that was disallowed at the late stages of the Slovenia game. Donovan's free kick was served into the congested Slovenia goalmouth, and Edu's 85th minute volley was disallowed.

Referee Koman Coulibaly ruled out the goal, and we are left to wonder who the foul was called against. With all of the pulling and tugging in the box, there was a better chance to have a penalty kick called on a Slovenian defender than on Edu — the only players in the box that weren't tied up in an arm-lock were Edu and his defender. It appeared to be a phantom foul, and with FIFA not mandating officials to comment, we are left to wonder what the call was that prevented Edu's goal.

The official box score had Edu committing two fouls in the match, but you would be hard-pressed to find a foul on him in that game-ending sequence.

* Based on where the points are after the first two matches in the group stages, Wednesday's Group C games between the United States-Algeria and England-Slovenia will determine who will advance to the next round.

The games will be played at the same time in different venues, so fans will be left on the edge of their seats to see who will go through.

Slovenia has 4 points, the U.S. and England 2 each. and Algeria 1 to this stage.

If the U.S. and England win, both advance. Goal differential is the first tiebreaker, so the score lines in those games would determine who would finish first and who would finish second. Goals scored are the second tiebreaker, so that could be a factor as well.

Long story short, the scenario is simple — a win on Wednesday versus Algeria sends the Americans into the second round.

Mike Jacobs is soccer coach at the University of Evansville.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The French Meltdown

Paul Kennedy of Soccer America reports on the total team meltdown by France.

The French national team was thrown intro disarray on Sunday when it players boycotted a public training session at its base in Knysna in support of Nicolas Anelka, who had been sent home after he insulted Coach Raymond Domenech and refused to apologize.

The move followed a dispute between captain Patrice Evra and fitness coach Robert Duverne.

Evra had earlier blamed the problems on a "traitor" who leaked what Anelka said to Domenech to the French newspaper L'Equipe.

That person has not been identified.

France team director Jean-Louis Valentin left the field in tears, saying he was not the traitor and announcing he was quitting.

“It’s a scandal for French people, for the youngsters who came here to watch them train," said Valentin. "I’m resigning, I’m leaving the Federation. I have nothing more to do here. I’m going back to Paris.”

France lost to Mexico, 2-0, on Thursday and has little chance of advancing to the second round. The Bleus play host South Africa on Tuesday in Bloemfontein.

Team Turmoil & Rebellion Spells Disaster

Disharmony in a locker room spells disaster for any team, and in a month-long tournament like the World Cup, team turmoil could assist in sending teams home early.

France has been marred by poor performance in the early stages of the tournament, and after a sending home of striker Nicolas Anelka and a training boycott by the team the following day, it appears that France has imploded on and off the field.

England is starting to see team turmoil behind the scenes as well - the Mirror reports that some of the senior players in the England team gave manager Fabio Capello a list of demands to be met.

Nine stars, including John Terry, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and David James met the Italian for showdown talks amid rumours of dressing room unrest and claims that boredom at the team’s HQ was affecting their performance on the pitch.

They planned to ask him for three changes – switch Emile Heskey with Joe Cole in a changed formation for ­Wednesday’s vital Slovenia clash, ways to relieve the tedium of his strict regime and more time to study opponents in the wake of the dreary draws against the USA and Algeria.

But the no nonsense boss stopped the gang of nine dead in their tracks by refusing to discuss any of their demands.

Hardliner Capello sternly told the stunned stars that he picked the team and would only discuss overall performance.

In the first sign of rebellion in the ­manager’s reign, former captain Terry spoke earlier about how they would push for their demands to be met. He also begged fans to get behind the team on Wednesday in the wake of Wayne Rooney’s outburst at those who booed the team after the Algeria debacle.

Terry, 29, said: “The players can say how they feel and if it upsets him then I’m on the verge of just saying: ‘You know what? So what? I’m here to win it for England.’

“He’s feeling the same, the players are feeling the same and if we can’t be honest with each other then there’s no point in being here. We have a responsibility to ourselves, to the manager and everyone else to voice that opinion.

“We hope he takes it on board but it’s him who has the final decision.”

You would think John Terry would have 'led' this England team for the final time - after his controversy that saw him lose his captain's band for an affair with a teammate's significant other, you would think someone would silence him before he damages his team's chances for success even more...

Friday, June 18, 2010

"Failing to Prepare is Preparing to Fail"

That quote certainly applies to US national team manager Bob Bradley, as Kelly Whiteside of the USA Today reports.

Since arriving in South Africa, Bob awakes at 6 a.m. and usually is the first one at breakfast. The DVD player sits on the table next to his plate so he can watch while he eats. He does the same for lunch and dinner.

"He's very detailed, watches a lot of tape, very organized in the way he goes about everything. That's the way he coaches," says midfielder DaMarcus Beasley, who played for Bradley 10 years ago with the Chicago Fire. "Every player knows what they're supposed to do."

Forward Herculez Gomez has only played for Bradley for about a month, but he received a scouting report in advance.

"Someone once told me Bob will be evaluating you the moment you get into the hotel and it's true," Gomez says. "He pays attention to everything."

Bradley has had six months to prepare for his first three World Cup opponents. After an exhibition against the Netherlands in March, he stayed in Europe, visiting seven countries to see his players and to study clubs with players from first-round foes.

"There's no stone left unturned," says midfielder Landon Donovan. "He's thought everything through a hundred times. He's very bright. He works really hard. And he cares. Those are four attributes that usually equal success."

Father's Day gift for Bob Bradley

Two of the biggest stars of the US National team on the World's biggest stage today were head coach Bob Bradley and midfielder/son Michael Bradley.

Bob made key adjustments at halftime to lead the US back to a 2-2 tie after going down 0-2 in the first half.

Michael scored the tying goal by banging in a great goal in the 82nd minute.

Michael Bradley of the New York Daily News wrote a great column recently about the 'Bradley Boys', and about the great father's day gift that Michael has given his dad.

If there was a time for any man to be boastful about his son, this was it. After all, it isn't every day that your son scores twice in a World Cup qualifying game, let alone against archrival Mexico. But this is much more complicated than just a father saying how proud he is about his son.

The father was Bob Bradley, coach of the U.S. National Team. The son, Michael, a midfielder on the team that defeated the Mexicans for the third consecutive time in this city by a 2-0 score in Columbus, Ohio on February 11th, 2009.

Beyond Michael becoming only the fourth American to score two goals against Mexico in qualifiers dating back to 1934, the junior Bradley played a fine all-around game as defensive or holding midfielder, helping key a midfield that dominated Mexico. But when he was asked whether he was proud of his son's performance, Bob did his best to downplay the question.

“Right now I’m the coach, it’s about the team," he said at Columbus Crew Soccer Stadium. "When you coach at a professional level there’s a way that you want to do the work. There is an environment that you create and you want to establish a high level of being a pro in terms of what the right mentality is. The one thing that happens with Michael is that he gets a steady dose of that, not only when he’s in with the team but in terms of the father-son relationship that we’ve had."

“I have three children," Bradley continued, "and I have to say that I’m proud of all my kids. I have a great family and I’m a lucky man.”

This Sunday being Father's Day, what better than to celebrate with the leading father-son combination of US Soccer and US soccer.

"Everything I do, the way I talk about soccer and the way I look at it and they way I play, it's come from him," Michael said.

In fact, it many ways, it's like father, like son.

"He and his dad are just alike," US forward Jozy Altidore said. "Bob's just a bit older than him. On the soccer they're both very intense. They have so much passion for the game. They really just eat, breath and sleep soccer. Michael loves the game. He loves talking about it. He loves talking about new ideas. The subject for them never gets old. And it's really refreshing to see that in American players and coaches. I think he's a great kid, has a great head on his shoulders and loves to work hard. What more can you ask?"

Growing up in an athletic family, it was only natural that Michael picked up the game at an early age. One of Michael's uncles, Scott Bradley, played pro baseball for teams such as the New York Yankees. His other uncle, Jeff Bradley, is a sportswriter and writes for ESPN The Magazine.

Due to his responsibilities as head coach at Princeton University in New Jersey, assistant coach with DC United or head coach with the Chicago Fire, Bob could not coach Michael at the youth level, like many fathers have done with their sons and daughters.

"He was always around," Michael said. "He would always come and join in training sessions. He would come watch all the games. He would play a lot of times. The different clubs I played for, everybody loved that."

But the 22-year-old Michael had the ultimate personal coach - his father. No one influenced Michael more as a player.

"The way I look at the game, the way I play, it's all been influenced through things that we experienced together," he said. "I speak to him every day and I always have. I speak to him about training, about the game. Some people ask, 'Do you ever get tired talking about soccer?' No. No. Soccer for us is what we love to do. When I was little, we'd go out and play together, he'd work on things with me. He was always coming to watch my practices, the games. Even now when I'm not physically close to him, he and my mom watch the games on the internet when they can. They watch the highlights. I'll speak to him and we'll talk about the game as though we were sitting next to each other."

Michael has had other influences in his life, including Seton Hall coach Manfred Schellscheidt, also a long-time respected youth coach. There's former US international and ex-Chicago Fire midfielder Chris Armas, former Chivas USA midfielder Jesse Marsch, now a US assistant coach, and ex-Polish international midfielder Peter Nowak, now coach of the Philadelphia Union, among others, Bob said.

"Since Michael's young, he's been around the game," he said. "He's been around good soccer people and good soccer environments. For a young kid growing up in the United States, he has had the experience of being around the game and being around good people."

Bob Bradley doesn't like to single out or talk about his son. He has been walking a tightrope about the subject since 2004, when as coach of the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, he selected 16-year-old Michael 36th overall in the MLS SuperDraft. Michael had just completed his time at the US Under-17 residency camp in Bradenton, Florida. He was ready for the next challenge - professional soccer.

Michael was hampered by an injury in 2004, but became the starting defensive midfielder the next season. Ironically, he did not score his first professional until after Bob was dismissed as coach, in a playoff-clinching victory over Chivas USA in the regular-season finale.

Some MetroStars fans felt there was nepotism involved. The same thing happened when Michael started to play for his father on the National Team in 2007. Hence, Bob not trying to boost or boast about his son. However, none of Bradley's teammates felt Michael was being singled out.

"That never happened with the MetroStars," former teammate Mark Lisi said. "No one ever felt he was getting special treatment."

A few years ago, this writer was fortunate to get a comment about how proud Bob was of Michael after he joined Heerenveen of the Dutch First Division (Michael currently plays for Borussia Moenchengladbach in the Bundesliga).

"I am happy for him," Bob said. "To go to a club in Europe and to establish yourself very quickly, earn the respect of the coaches and your teammates, so that you're playing and starting in the most important games of the season, that says a lot."

"For me, it's just with what we saw the last two years, especially last year. He's got a strong mentality, understands the game. He plays well beyond his years. I really felt that last year as the season moved along that he got stronger and stronger. And that's not something you see that often with young players in MLS, especially with ones who are asked to cover that much ground and be a factor in the center of the field, where things are really hard."

"There are good starting points, good mentality, good understanding of the game," he said. "A true sense of trying to be a guy to help his team. From there... it's trying to make steady progress in every situation you're in. Trying to make sure you're called in, you earn the respect of the guys you play with every day. When you get the chances to play, you try to do the things on the field to help your team. That's how it is for all young players."

They did not say how they were going to celebrate this Father's Day together at the World Cup. True to their nature, it's the perfect setting.

US vs Slovenia - recap

Paul Kennedy of Soccer America writes of who were the stars in today's exciting US-Slovenia match-

Who says soccer isn't exciting? The USA stayed alive at the World Cup with a 2-2 tie against Slovenia after going two goals down in the first half. There was a lot to like and not like about the U.S. performance in an incident-filled game ...

What we liked ...

-- How many times have we seen Michael Bradley come out of nowhere and charge into the penalty area to steal a goal? Bradley ran from a deep-lying position on to Jozy Altidore's knockdown and blasted it past Slovenia keeper Samir Handanovic for the equalizer. -- No U.S. player has ever been under more pressure to produce at the World Cup than Landon Donovan, and he responded with the key early goal in the second half to get the Americans back in the game.

-- On a day when the USA had few ideas, Altidore was a force in the American attack. The Slovenian defenders struggled to handle the 20-year-old Altidore throughout the game.

-- The U.S. comeback marked only the fifth time in World Cup history a team has come back from two goals down at the half and earned a tie. The USA would have been the first team to come back from 2-0 down at the break and win if Malian referee
Koman Coulibaly had not disallowed Maurice Edu's goal.

What we didn't like ...

-- All the defensive problems the USA displayed in its 4-2 loss to the Czech Republic last month were again on display against Slovenia. Its marking was nonexistent on the two Slovenian goals, but the fact of the matter is that it could been worse. Time and again, the Americans left Slovenia acres of space or turned the ball over in dangerous situations.

-- Coulibaly's calls throughout the USA-Slovenia game were, to say the least, interesting. From beginning to end, Coulibaly had his hands full with an incident-filled game, and he didn't handle it well. A yellow card to
Robbie Findley that will keep him out of the Algeria game? A foul on Edu's apparent winning goal? Only Coulibaly knows what happened. (In the interest of equal time, the Slovenians also had issue with Coulibaly's work.)

-- So much had been expected of
Jose Francisco Torres after his solid second half against Turkey in the final game of the U.S. send-off series, but his insertion in the starting lineup against Slovenia -- the lone change from the England match -- simply didn't work out. His free kick stopped at the near post was his lone contribution in a disappointing first half.

-- Against a predictable England team and with the support of an organized backline,
Oguchi Onyewu had a solid game against the English but was exposed badly against Slovenia, looking slow and tentative.

Bradley completes US amazing comeback

USA fought back from two goals down to earn a battling 2-2 draw with Slovenia and keep their FIFA World Cup™ hopes alive in an exciting Group C clash at Ellis Park.

Matjaz Kek's men looked on course for a second straight win in the section when they took a 2-0 lead into the break through Valter Birsa and Zlatan Ljubijankic but the Americans hit back as Landon Donovan narrowed the deficit before Michael Bradley equalised eight minutes from time. The result left Slovenia top of Group C with four points ahead of England's meeting with Algeria later in the day, and ensured the Americans remain undefeated with two draws ahead of their third game against the Algerians.

An exciting contest opened with Birsa blasting Slovenia into an early lead. There were just 13 minutes on the clock when the midfielder collected the ball some 25 yards from goal and left Tim Howard rooted to the spot with an expertly-guided strike to the goalkeeper's left. Bradley's men sought a response and came close when midfielder Francisco Torres fired in an inswinging free-kick from out wide that drew a fingertip save from Samir Handanovic. Donovan then looked set to tap in Clint Dempsey's low cross only for defender Miso Brecko to get a decisive touch to clear the ball.

Slovenia looked to be in dreamland in the 42nd minute when Ljubijankic doubled their lead. Milivoje Novakovic played a defence-splitting pass through to Ljubijankic who, with the Americans appealing in vain for offside, slipped the ball coolly past Howard. Yet Donovan threw the Americans a lifeline three minutes after the restart when Bostjan Cesar failed to deal with a ball down the right touchline, allowing the LA Galaxy man a free run into the box. Cutting in from the right, Donovan lashed a superb shot high above Handanovic at the near post.

With the Slovenia defence struggling to cope with the power and aerial strength of the imposing Jozy Altidore, Bradley's men kept the pressure on and the coach's son grabbed the US the point their efforts deserved – a father-and-son first in the FIFA World Cup. Altidore nodded a high ball down into the path of the onrushing Borussia Moenchengladbach midfielder and he fired emphatically into the roof of the net. The Americans might even have won the game only for referee Koman Coulibaly to rule out a goal from Maurice Edu, who volleyed home Donovan's free-kick from the right. There was still time for Novakovic to threaten with a header at the other end but his effort was held comfortably by Howard.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rating the Top Seeds

Now that we've completed the first set of group stage matches, Paul Kennedy of Soccer America rates the performances of the top seeded teams (other than host South Africa)-

The seven seeds other than host South Africa were considered the favorites to win the World Cup. How did they do in their openers? They ranged from Germany, magnificent in its 4-0 win over Australia, to Spain, upset by Switzerland, and Italy and England, both lackluster at best in opening ties. Here's how we rate the big seven, taking into account their form in their opening game and how they project out throughout the rest of the tournament ...

1. Germany. Germany was the only emphatic winner of its opening game -- and the only team that really looked like it was enjoying itself. Well, if you go up two goals in the first half hour, you should be happy. Who needs Michael Ballack when you have Mesut Ozil? The 21-year-old Werder Bremen midfielder was excellent in Germany's 4-0 win over Australia, only one of several youngsters to have strong games. Bayern Munich's Thomas Mueller was also superb. World Cup veterans Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski also played well against the Socceroos, but the key player for the Germans may be midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, still only 25. Germany was the best of the former World Cup champions on Day 1 but faces a tough bracket if it wins the group and form holds: the Group C runner-up (perhaps the USA or England?) in the second round and the Group B winner (Argentina?) in the quarterfinals.

2. Argentina. How Lionel Messi goes so goes Argentina. That was the conventional wisdom before the tournament started, yet the Albiceleste disposed of Nigeria, 1-0, without getting a goal from Messi. The Barcelona star played well but couldn't put away any of his chances. He was mortal, like all the other big stars who impressed even less: Cristiano Ronaldo for Portugal, Kaka for Brazil, Wayne Rooney for England and Didier Drogba, albeit injured, for Ivory Coast. Argentina is deep enough that Coach Diego Maradona could afford not to start Diego Milito, Inter Milan's UEFA Champions League, in the opener. Milito will probably need to come through if Argentina is to go far. What hurts is the loss of Juan Sebastian Veron, out for the Japan game with a calf injury.

3. Brazil. Who would have figured it would take Brazil almost an hour to score against North Korea? Or that the Koreans would manage to score against Brazil? Kaka, coming off injury, had a subpar game against North Korea. Defender Lucio looked ordinary on the goal scored by Ji Yun Nam in the 89th minute. Still, Brazil is just too deep at too many positions to imagine it having trouble before the quarterfinals. What could change things is the possibility of a Brazil-Spain meeting in the second round. Both were expected to win their groups rather easily, but neither is assured of finishing first. If one finishes first and the other second, they meet in the second round.

4. Netherlands. The Oranje was the only contender besides Germany to win its first game by more than one goal, so its 2-0 win over Denmark wasn't a bad start. But it was hardly like two years ago when the Dutch opened Euro 2008 with a 3-0 win over Italy. They clearly missed the injured Arjen Robben, though 23-year-old winger Eljero Elia impressed when he came in late in the game against Denmark. With a fit Robben in the attack, the Dutch would be legitimate contenders but it's doubtful that Robben, who is recovering from a hamstring injury, will be 100 percent before the end of the tournament.

5. Spain. Switzerland learned a thing or two from the U.S. playbook and shut down the Spanish attacks down the middle. Just as Ricardo Clark and Michael Bradley had outstanding games in the USA's 2-0 win at the 2009 Confederations Cup, Benjamin Huggel and Gokhan Inler were excellent for the Swiss in their 1-0 victory on Wednesday. For all their possession, Spain simply was unable to break Switzerland down on the wings. Can Spain still the World Cup? History says no. No team has won the tournament after losing its opening game. Even if it gets out of the group, it faces the possibility of having to meet Brazil in the second round.

6. Italy. Of the big seven, the Azzurri have declined the most from their form of four years ago when they won their fourth World Cup. Coach Marcello Lippi insists he has the right mix of old and young players, but the Italians were average on Monday against Paraguay. Holdovers like captain Fabio Cannavaro and fellow defender Gianluca Zambrotta are past their prime, while goalie Gianluigi Buffon is injured and probably lost for the rest of the tournament. Italy should still reach the knockout stage but it's unimaginable that it will advance more than a game or two.

7. England. Of all the contenders, none promised so much and produced so little as did England, which had to settle for a 1-1 tie with the USA. No less an authority than Franz Beckenbauer, who won World Cup titles as the captain and coach of West Germany, blasted the English. "It looked to me as if the English have gone backward into the bad old days of kick and rush." Like Italy, England didn't show anything in its first game to make it a World Cup contender.