Archive for June, 2008

Blatter: Plan B for 2010 World Cup?

June 30, 2008

As many suspected, FIFA president Sepp Blatter, admitted yesterday that while he still believed in South Africa as the 2010 World Cup host, he does have a “Plan B.”

Blatter told Austrian state broadcaster ORF that there were some concerns about infrastructure and security and stated that the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa will be the test run. If it is not satisfactory, it would be time to look at alternatives.

“But at the moment an earthquake would have to occur to prevent the World Cup from being held in South Africa. However, I would be a negligent Fifa boss if there was no plan B in the cupboard,” Blatter said.

Moving the World Cup from South Africa (which would be the first ever held on the continent) could be politically impossible unless it was to another African nation(s). But where? Egypt (not enought stadia), Nigeria (similar security concerns), or a combination of two countries? If FIFA must hold the 2010 World Cup outside of Africa, a few options do exist:

1) See if Brazil (the 2014 host) is ready to go early, perhaps swapping dates with South Africa.

2) Look elsewhere.

Could this perhaps be an option for England to throw their hat in the ring instead of facing a strong US bid for 2018. For that matter, could the US be sniffing around to be the backup plan for 2018?

Brescia: Probably Won’t Pick Up Option on Danny Szetela?

June 29, 2008

As most fans may recall, American midfielder Danny Szetela signed for Spanish Primera side Racing Santander in 2007 and was loaned to Brescia of Italy’s Serie B last year. Part of the loan deal was that Brescia has the opportunity to buy Szetela provided they pick up that option by June 30th. Current indications out of Brescia, where Szetela made 9 decent appearances this past spring, are that the club will send him back to Spain.

For my money, this is good news for Szetela since Brescia seem to be the eternal Serie B team and he may find better options to get quality playing time in 2008-2009. At the same time, he should not feel too bad about Brescia not wanting to keep him since they have their eyes on (among others) Fenherbance’s Stephen Appiah, a Ghana international US fans probably remember well from Nuernberg in the summer of 2006.

Of course, if other deals fall through, Szetela could find himself at Brescia a bit longer. Such are the rules of the silly season.

Freddy Adu to Bologna?

June 28, 2008

According to Friday’s edition of La Gazzetta Dello Sport, Bologna (Serie A) is targetting Freddy Adu for acquisition. The other attacking midfielder/striker they are looking at is “El Matador” Edison Cavani, a rising Uruguayan national team player (with Italian roots) currently at Palermo. All things being equal, Adu will cost Bologna less to acquire since Cavani already has over 40 appearances for Palermo (and 7 goals).

Howard’s Heroic Hands Hold Of Argentina for 0-0 Draw

June 10, 2008

What a difference a week makes! The US Soccer team showed well this weekend after two sub-par performances against England and Spain the previous week.

Sunday Tim Howard put in one of the best performances by a US goalkeeper since Kasey Keller’s 1998 effort against Brazil or Brad Friedel’s run in the 2002 World Cup. His stunning seven saves against Argentina in a 0-0 international result this week have taken him from the ranks of the aspiring to the those of the arrived.

And what about Heath Pearce? He was everywhere the Argentines did not want him while his touch and work rate seem to be just what the team needs. He looks like a completely different player since coming under the tutelage of Frank Pagelsdorf at Hansa Rostock. Coach, I think you’ve found your left back.

There were some other fine performamces from Landon Donovan (who had too much responsibility to carry) and right back Steve Cherundolo for his great job marking Maxi Lopez and Leo Messi (this guy never gets a week off eh?). DaMarcus Beasley looks like he his finding his stride again after his long injury layoff – it was fun to see Messi fouling him in frustration after losing a challenge (and not wanting “Jitterbug” to get away). Others, such as Clint Dempey and Oguchi Oneywu looked effective but tired after their long European seasons.

Euro 2008: The Dutch Finally Show Up

June 10, 2008

In last night’s 3-0 drubbing of Italy (which could have been 4-0 or 5-0), the Dutch showed what kinds of magic they could have produced at the 2006 World Cup, had they not been so poorly mismanaged. Luckily, coach Marco Van Basten has learned from his mistakes and this time around, he let his strong midfield thrust forward at will – causing many problems for the Italians. Even through playing without star central defender and captain Fabio Cannavaro, the Italian defense would still have had problems since they were beaten as often inside as outside. OK, so Ruud Van Nistelroy’s opening goal was probably not kosher but given how many similar gifts fate had given the Italians (and how few to the Dutch), how could they complain?

Those magnificeent Dutch, who only seem to sparkle for a brief bit every four years during the European chqampionships (but seldom at the World Cup) reminded us again that they are not to be overlooked. Sure, they’ve always had great players but there is always some personality conflict which gets in the way of achieving what they are capable of – winning it all. This year their collective talent looks good enough to overcome whatever teamgeist malady they may have. So, far, they look better than any team to take the field at this year’s tournament.

USA Soccer Team…Still Rebuilding

June 8, 2008

OK, so the US men managed to earn back a bit of respect in a 1-0 losing effort to Spain but huge holes remain if the team hopes to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, let alone get out of the first round.

It was nice to see coach Bob Bradley rolling the dice and giving the start to Freddy Adu who managed to be the only player to give the Spanish any problems up front. Eddie Johnson proved again that he is not a finisher while the rest of the team looked pretty average (save for a decent defensive effort by Carlos Bocanegra) and they still lack in depth in all positions except at goalkeeper. Sure, the presence of Jozy Altidore, Landon Donovan, and pulling McBride out of retirement would have helped but this still only shows that the US men’s team is a deep as a soapdish. The USA without Donovan is too often like AS Roma without Francesco Totti – the others seem lost without one dominant player consistently calling for the ball. Also, the lack of an instinctive, predatory striker means our opponents can mark just a bit softer in the middle and keep their defensive shape much easier.

The technically superior Spanish side never really appeared troubled by their visitors as they played a conservative style to keep possession, prevent injuries, and test a few combinations before their first Euro 2008 match. Xavi’s sublime run through the lead-footed US defense to score the winning goal was not just a testament to the Barcelona star’s skills, but to how unorganized the US defense really is (and how much we miss players like Eddie Pope).

Despite the lofty goals of Project 2010 and the various efforts to produce larger numbers of quality players, it seems that the best we can hope for now is to restock the level and depth of quality we had over the past 10 years because increasing quality or depth appears to be a bridge too far. Maybe its because the US Soccer Federation (USSF) reached its goals, only to find that the rest of the world had moved on. Maybe its because American players, after years of coming up through highly structured programs, have had their killer instinct coached out of them – something you would never say about our basketball players. And maybe (just maybe) it is because the seeds the USSF planted won’t bear fruit until 2014 or 2018. Such long-term projects are always at risk of failing to reach expectations but I’d rather have the USSF aiming for such high goals rather than aiming for mediocrity and succeeding.

Regardless of how today’s match against Argentina goes, I’ve got to give the USSF credit for scheduling matches against such tough opponents (England, Spain, and Argentina) so the players and coaches can see how much work remains.

The State of US Soccer

June 2, 2008

Anyone watching the US team’s 2-0 loss to England this week probably had the same sick feeling some of us had during the 1998 World Cup – that the US team looks (and is) not even second rate.

Frankly the US was quite lucky not to fall 4-0 last week in London as the home team spent the last 20 minutes toying with our team the way a cat plays with a mouse it has caught (before eating it). They managed to snuff out the two most dangerous US players (Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey) and sliced through the US defense all too easily and showed US fans why Oguchi Onyewu was not offered a contract at New Castle after his cameo tour of the Toon (and to think he passed up a three year deal at Marseilles).

Gooch holds his own in Belgium but he is still too easily turned by the game’s best. In international matches, he goes to ground for the tackle when he stay with his man and he always seems one sloppy foul away from ejection. Word has it that FC Cologne coach Christoph Daum is looking at Gooch now that they are being promoted to the First Bundesliga and Gooch should take any deal they offer. Daum is a good coach (who gave Frankie Hejduk his first chance at Leverkusen) and is just the type to help Onyewu work out the kinks in his game.

Enough picking on Gooch, the team as a whole looked off kilter and stroked the ball around like they were playing Barbados, not England. Instead of purposeful quick traps, touches, and runs, they looked like a team warming up before practice, not one trying to crack one of the best back lines in the world. They did manage to get the ball forward a few times to the target forward but he seldom found anyone to spray the ball to. And did anyone see Michael Bradley running with the ball at his feet (something a Donovan-less team would need)?

Lest anyone think the early US possession was a sign of strength, don’t fool yourself. England coach Fabio Capello approached the match like a butcher who checks out the meat, bones, and gristle before taking out his tools and going to work. He let his team absorb and observe what the US brought to the table and once they found out what they needed to know –that the midfield is anemic, the strikers unsupported, and back line often hung out to dry– his team methodically sliced off what they wanted. Terry and Gerard’s strikes were textbook perfect and England’s barrage of the US goal in the second half was painful to watch.

The USA were outclassed – pure and simple. The loss so many key players since 2004-6 has left a huge unfilled gap in the US lineup. We don’t have any predatory, self-sacrificing strikers like Brian McBride, no one as technical and tough as Claudio Reyna or John O’Brien, and few speedy and versatile defenders like Tony Sanneh. Looking back even further, we lack players with the skills, swagger, and moxie of Eric Wynalda or John Harkes who refused to be awed by their competition.

Against England it seemed the only one still carrying the torch from those days is Frankie Hejduk who proved once again his enduring value to the Stars and Stripes. Also, Steve Cherundolo gave his all in marking Gerrard while Eddie Lewis played well to his strengths and showed why he deserves to be in the lineup.

I shudder to think what awaits this team when they play Spain on Wednesday, a team with a good chance to win the upcoming Euro 2008. Seeing the trouble the US team had with the English midfield, I can only imagine how they do against the faster, craftier Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas, Xavi, and Iniesta, not to mention Liverpool hitman Fernando Torres.