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World Cup: US Proved They Can Play

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Twenty minutes before today's game between the U.S. and England, a friend of mine, a SoCal resident, wrote to me and said, "Sorry, Earl. I can't cheer for the U.S."

I replied to my born-and-bred-in-the-US friend, "Makes sense. After all, you were born in England, you were raised there, went to school there, lived most of your formative years there, paid your taxes there…Oh, wait, maybe I'm confused…"

"Alright," she wrote back.

The US National Soccer Team falls into an uneasy and unearned culture lightning rod with "Soccer Moms" being used as a negative term and middle-class anti-US-imperialism critiques being bundled into hope that the national team doesn't develop into a world power.

I can't speak to US imperialism in the sporting context. I'm against it — even as a Persian Gulf vet — when it comes to other countries, but when it comes to sport, specifically soccer, I love the game and want to see it do well in the states for the very selfish reason that I want to see the highest-level soccer within an hour's drive of my house.

Call me selfish.

Today's game, a 1-1 draw against England, showed the U.S. has developed a high standard of play and understanding.

Game-wise, the U.S. back four need to work out their communication which is understandable given the changes and was also evidenced by the goal by England in the fourth minute.

Many a team would've been completely psyched out at that point but the US showed a lot of maturity and mental strength to maintain formation to the very end and the resiliency to fight for another goal — FUBAR goal that it was, it's all scoreboard.

Several second half US exchanges showed quality, both in touch and understanding, which made me — a fan of good football — applaud.

And while the US midfield sank back far too often in an attempt to not lose, and the US defense seemed out of synch at times, Rooney, one of the top three strikers in the world, was shut down by a team effort. Tim Howard, the US goalie, was a monster between the sticks. 

England, who will see this tie as a loss of two points, needs to regroup if it's serious about bringing home a trophy it hasn't lifted since 1966. The US will take a lot of confidence from today's game as it heads into first-round games against Slovenia on Friday and Algeria on June 23.

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About Earl G. Lundquist

  • Michael

    I was surprised by the result between England and The USA. They have proved they can play or either England has really sucked big time. They should prove themselves in their next match. Cant wait to watch the match between Germany and Australia (another rags to riches story in soccer). Go the underdogs. Nice write up by the way.

  • http://www.RoseDigitalMarketing.com Christopher Rose

    Do all Americans have an inferiority complex about their football team?

    The US is 14th in the world rankings, so why use the chosen headline?

    The big shock in this match was the incredibly subdued performance of Wayne Rooney.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    Do all Americans have an inferiority complex about their football team?

    nope. i’d say that 3.7% of americans care about their football team, and maybe half of them have an inferiority complex.

    the other 96.3% don’t give a rat’s ass about soccer.

  • http://www.RoseDigitalMarketing.com Christopher Rose

    I’d say you made that up, Mark, but we’ve already learned that words aren’t so important to you!

    ;-)

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    true. ok. make that 4.6%.

  • Earl

    Coach Bob’s midfield strategy seems to have been to play it safe – never really taking it to England but never giving up the counter – and to hold its shape. Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark had games equal to their counter-parts, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, who showed the same problems of old: getting pushed deep and leaving their strikers isolated. The US midfield cut off the supply, leaving Rooney isolated. Smart coaching, physical training, and mental toughness led the US to a deserved tie with a team that many have picked to win it all.

  • http://www.RoseDigitalMarketing.com Christopher Rose

    Hmm, 4.6% of 300 million people would be some 13,800,000 people, considerably more than like the old music you like, Mark.

    So your point would be what..?

    :-))

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    ah, the “old music” ploy again. not worth commenting on.

    and my point is that there aren’t a whole lot of americans, percentage wise, who care about the sport. this isn’t to denigrate the sport. heck, i don’t watch any sports at all!

    i wish i knew the percentage of american who actually even know what the world cup is. i bet it’s shockingly high.

  • http://www.RoseDigitalMarketing.com Christopher Rose

    I think the old music argument is pretty valid, Mark, especially when you are using numbers to make your point.

    I’d bet you £5 that there are more people in the USA that are aware of and enjoy football than there are that enjoy or are aware of most of the music you champion.

    and I still reckon you’re making up those numbers anyway!

  • zingzing

    chris: “Do all Americans have an inferiority complex about their football team?”

    of course we do. (so does england at times–it’s the nature of being a fan). we’re shocked when they get it done, because they’re such massive fuckups. and yesterday, they pretty much did. i’ve never been so happy with a tie. but there you go.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Shoot, zing. Tried to listen to the Germany-Australia match on BBC 5 but the suckers block it for all outside the UK.

    It’s a bummer.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    I would have commented earlier about yesterday’s game, but every time I tried to pick up my computer it somehow slipped through my hands.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Rog, I may be wrong, but I believe you should be able to watch some or most of the games on ESPN’s website.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    I’ll give it a shot, Dreadful, but I surely would have thought that BBC broadcasts wouldn’t be restricted.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    In fact, during the second half of the Germany-Australia game, the BBC-5 live stream (for US audience) was about major football league rather than the World Cup.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    It’s all to do with TV rights. The contracts that the various football governing bodies sign with broadcasters are very strict regarding who can show what, when and how – even showing brief goal highlights on the evening news is a no-no if you haven’t paid for the rights.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    The ratings for US-England have shown that Americans do know what the World Cup is, and that they care about it. Similar numbers also show that this is pretty much the only time Americans watch soccer. One month every four years.

    Chris, I know the ranking for the USA is high, and they beat Spain (and almost Brazil) last year, but after the ’06 Cup which was a disappointing finish, this really was a statement game for them.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Well, since Team USA finally started making a habit of qualifying for World Cup finals, they’ve alternately been diabolically awful (1990, 1998, 2006) and exceeded expectations (1994, 2002). So by that reckoning, 2010 is their time.

    The difference this time, though, is that they have the status of favourites. I’m confident that they’ll qualify from the group, but, as well as they played against England (who admittedly were dismal), I think they’re going to struggle against the better teams unless they can step things up rather drastically.

  • zingzing

    i agree, doc. that second half of holding back and protecting the draw may have been necessary against england (god knows what would have happened if we had pushed forward more), but against the rest of the group, we have to be putting in the first goal. we also need to be putting in a lot of other goals if we want to avoid germany, which looked pretty fucking unbeatable today.

    here’s to rooney losing his shit and becoming the fucking thug he is. get the red, rooney. you twat.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    Rooney was anonymous for most of the USA game, but not everything a world-class striker like him does is obvious to the untrained eye. Late in the game he was making some penetrating runs designed to tire out the US defenders and force them into a few mistakes. Another five minutes on the clock and he might have helped create something.

    I’m hoping he was just finding his range in that game, and will henceforth explode into a goalscoring frenzy.

  • zingzing

    he did get dangerous late in the game. but i think our defenders did a great job against him. and he had all sorts of opportunity to do evil shit to us. but if he was trying to tire out our defenders, then he waited a little long. he only really started getting through in the last 10-15 minutes. fumes are known to last at least 20.

    i was shocked–SHOCKED–to learn that the u.s. actually controlled possession in the first half. 53-47, supposedly. didn’t look like that to me. the second half was an endurance test for my heart.

    still, i do hope rooney’s old, petulant little bitch mood swings come up and he gets booted. just so he doesn’t turn into a goalscoring frenzy. i don’t want to see germany. i think england should.

  • zingzing

    also, what of spain, eh? that was a lot like the us-eng game. dominated by spain, but they just couldn’t get through. that goaltender had the game of his life. (actually, any goaltender worth his snot could stop most of those shots, but it must have been nerve-wracking. i guess the defense just did a good job making all those shots relatively harmless.)

    it was a nice game. almost like watching a siege. good job switzerland.

  • STM

    The Hand of Clod.

  • STM

    Mark: “i wish i knew the percentage of americans who actually even know what the world cup is”.

    Probably not many, and not many would know where it is. But they wouldn’t be alone.

    The woman who was running for the vice-presidency at the last election didn’t even know South Africa was a country.

    It was only the country on the lips of the whole world for 30 years, but she wondered whether it was an actual country or part of a continent.

    Lucky that McCain didn’t make it, although I’m sure he would have made a decent prez.

  • zingzing

    do not judge our intelligence by that of mrs. palin.

    and i thought she thought that africa was a country, not a continent. but whatever. she’s dumb.

    and the us has been in the world cup for decades now. most people who pay attention to sport know what it is. and i’d say a high percentage of those people could identify south africa on a map. although, if you can identify africa, and you know which direction south is… well, it’s pretty easy. but, you know, 90% of americans are illogical.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    Switzerland are responsible for some of the most excruciatingly tedious games of football I’ve ever had the misfortune to sit through at World Cups and European Championships. They defend so deep it’s as if they’re afraid of the opposition’s strikers even finding out what colour their goalie’s hair is, and are utterly without ambition going forward. I tend to make a point of not watching them now.

    Stan, there’s actually a lot more interest in football (the real version) in the US than is immediately apparent, which surprised me a bit when I moved here.

    It gets nowhere near the interest and media coverage of the ‘big four’ US sports, of course, but there is a quiet yet significant band of enthusiastic and knowledgeable followers.

    That’s especially true here in the West, where a large chunk of the population has roots in football-mad Mexico and Central America.

    The main Spanish-language TV channel, Univision, regularly screens games from the major Latin American leagues, and their World Cup coverage is superior to (and more entertaining than) ESPN’s.

  • STM

    Doc: People thought the game would make big inroads here too, but the A League has had to be played as a summer sport, with most of the games at night, because it competes with Australian Rules, rugby league and rugby and just wouldn’t get the TV coverage in winter.

    The thing is, a lot of mums don’t want little johnny playing “those rough sports” and getting a broken nose so they get them into soccer young. So it has a very high participation level at a certain age, and a lot of adults go back to it for kick and giggle competitions on the weekend.

    But a lot of kids leave the game for good and move into playing the other winter sports when they get to high school, thus breaking the hearts of their mums – as well as their noses.

    Before the A-league, a lot of the good players used to go to the UK to play. The really good ones still do, so anyone with real talent is often lost to overseas competitions.

    People have also tried calling soccer football … but football here is the three oval-ball sports I’ve named above, so soccer it remains for most people.

    If you told someone here you were playing football on Saturday, they wouldn’t think you were talking about soccer.

    However, because we love sport, everyone’s into the world cup at the moment. But losing 4-0 to Germany in the opener and Tim Cahill being sent off has put a dampener on it.

    I’d say one more loss, and the interest factor will, for the majority here, be zero.

  • zingzing

    i went to the bar down the street for the us match. it was packed to the point of overflowing. granted, it was a saturday, but it was in the middle of the afternoon. i didn’t want to drink, but it’s not like i could have gotten to the bar if i tried. there was a man with his baby right in front of me. i was cursing up a storm at that point and felt bad.

    i spoke with a friend of mine on the phone (after the fucking england goal) and he said he was watching at a bar that was completely empty. so i went over there. it’s only 10 blocks away, but by the time i got there, it was packed. hundreds of people in a space no bigger than my apartment. people sitting on the pool tables. i was seated in a booth with my friend and the line to the bathroom had to kneel down in front of me in order to not be in the way, but every time we (or they) got close, i had to stand on the bench in order to see.

    when the us goal happened, the place went mad. absolutely berserk. i was in a group hug of 5 people i didn’t know. one of them stank. interest rides high amongst a certain set of americans. although i must admit that they are a) white, b) usually male (and a surprising amount of lesbians), c) young (20s, 30s, mostly), d) loud.

    it was a marvelous day. can’t wait til friday morning. 10 am! bring it, slovenia.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    Stan,

    When I was younger, back in the late Middle Ages, a lot of people took an intense interest in Australian soccer… back in the Old Dart.

    You may remember that the football pools companies would use the scores from the various Aussie leagues during the summer when the English and Scottish leagues were on their off-season.

    Nobody actually knew a damn thing about the Australian teams, so they would just make their draw selections blindly based on form.

    Don’t know if that still goes on, not only because there’s the A-League now but also because the popularity of the pools took a big hit when the National Lottery started.

  • zingzing

    roger, if you’re around, watch this. politics and soccer may intersect, but they don’t interfere. shit made me get teary-eyed a couple times.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    I get you. It’s as good an expression of nationalism as can be hoped for.

  • STM

    I do remember people doing the pools on the Aussie results. None of us knew anything about them either. Are the pools still a big thing in the UK??

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    I don’t think so. They’re still going, and there’s still a “Pools Panel” which decides what the results would have been when there’s been bad winter weather and most of the games have been called off.

    But like I said, they suffered a lot when the National Lottery started up. Which is odd: granted that the potential jackpot isn’t quite as big, but you’ve got a much better chance at winning on the pools than on the lottery. There is at least some skill involved, rather than just blind luck.

    But of course the Lottery comes with its own glitz and glamour and primetime TV show. Rather different than some poor sod reading out the footie scores on Sports Report at 5 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    Talk about leaving it till the last minute… unfortunately Landon Donovan just made it a tad likelier that England will have to play Germany in the next round. Which means, alas, that England’s tournament is over, since we never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever beat the Germans at the World Cup. It’s just one of those immutable laws of the universe.

    So I’m hoping against hope that Ghana can hold out for a draw against Germany, and also that the Serbia-Australia game produces a decisive result one way or the other, because I am still cheering for the USA too and I’d rather they didn’t have to face the Germans either if it’s all the same to them.

  • zingzing

    england can have germany. although this “last minute” thing is ridiculous. those refs… ugh. rightfully, we ran away with this group. the refs cost us two crucial goals, although the best revenge is getting through despite their best efforts.

  • zingzing

    and despite the fact that we were the better team on the field for approximately an hour during our games. nyah.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    although this “last minute” thing is ridiculous.

    And will be fatal in the next phase if the US attack doesn’t pull its collective socks up. Better teams than Slovenia and Algeria are not going to give you the abundance of chances you squandered in both games, so Donovan and co. are going to have to learn to make the most of the few that do come their way.

    those refs… ugh.

    FIFA likes to be a bit cosmopolitan with their refereeing staff, but hopefully the incompetent/inexperienced ones will get sent home once the first round concludes. That doesn’t rule out any more bizarre decisions, but there should be fewer of them.

    Too bad Pierluigi Collina has retired. The best ref of his generation, and quite the character. No player wanted to see that bald head and bulging stare coming towards them.

  • zingzing

    true. also true is that we scored early in today’s game.

    and it looks like we have ghana next. REVENGE! (say hello to germany to germany for us on your way home, k?) i was hoping australia would go nuts so we could have them, but then again, who’d want to see a team that’s clicking that well?

    anyway, if we beat ghana, our next opponent is either uruguay or s korea, if i’ve got it figured right… we could easily be in the semis before running into a true powerhouse. not thinking ahead. not thinking ahead.

    i remember pierluigi well… creepy guy.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    Yes, you’re correct, zing: Uruguay or South Korea (neither of them teams to be sniffed at) in the quarters if you can make it past Ghana. (Ghana seem to be able to score only from penalty kicks, though, so as long as Bocanegra and co behave themselves in the box…!)

    After that (if I, too, am figuring it right), you’re likely to be in the same half of the draw as Brazil and Spain. Lucky you.

    I will certainly give your regards to Berlin. Should England by some miracle manage to defy nature and beat Germany, our quarter-final opponents are likely to be… Argentina. Lovely. A team that plays like eleven robots up against the two teams playing the best football of the tournament so far.

    Capello seems confident. I hope he’s got something up his sleeve. Up till now I think whatever it is has been tangled up in his armpit hair.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    BTW, just saw a photo of the best fan sign of the tournament so far: Aussie fans holding up a banner reading “Superman wears Tim Cahill pyjamas”. Nice one. :-)

  • zingzing

    yep, you’re right, doc. IF we make it past ghana, it’ll be either uruguay or s korea. uruguay is certainly nothing to sniff at (no team that makes it out of the group stage is…), and i fear them more than i do ghana or s korea (unless s korea beats uruguay).

    that said, it probably will be spain or brazil (or the netherlands, but i don’t want to think about them…) in the semis, both teams with whom we’ve proven we can stay on the field (at least for a half). in my ridiculously flowering optimism, i can see us through to the final.

    actually, funny thing… i filled out some brackets on espn. on my serious bracket it, i’m in the bottom 3%. but on my bracket that has the us winning it all (just had to make one, just to see how it could be done), i’m in the top 2%. (of course, i had spain winning their group and meeting us in the final… we’ll see what happens.)

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    that said, it probably will be spain or brazil […] in the semis

    In that case, something to think about:

    Brazil is the only nation ever to have won the World Cup outside their own continent.

    And they’ve done it four times.

    I’m not betting against them this time round either.

  • zingzing

    oh, i wouldn’t bet money. but i’d have a semi-reasonable hope that we might actually possibly could beat them. and brazil has gone down in flames before. nothing’s impossible.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    I feel I must post a slight correction to my previous statement, which is only true if one overlooks the fact that Argentina won the World Cup in Mexico in 1986. Mexico is, of course, geographically considered to be part of North America, although politically, culturally and footballingly it’s aligned more with Latin America than with its Anglophone neighbours to the north.

    For World Cup purposes, therefore, it should really be considered a South American country. Even though it’s a member of CONCACAF, the Caribbean, Central and North American federation. Aieee. Brain it hurts. Best stop now.

    If one allows that, it means of course that Brazil have achieved not four but three extracontinental World Cup triumphs. Still impressive in anyone’s book.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    zing, I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that the USA has actually reached the World Cup semi-final once before. Admittedly it was the first-ever tournament in 1930, and admittedly only 2½ teams entered, and admittedly the US lost the game 6-1 to Argentina, but still. Not a shabby achievement at all.

  • zingzing

    first time we’ve won our group since that time as well. and if we’re looking for a better path towards getting back to the semis-to the final-to the goddamn cup, we’ll never see such as this again. we have an opportunity to go far.

    10 years ago, while living in england, i told an english friend of mine that he’d be shocked by the us’ progress in 10 years. i hope he remembers, and i hope he sees that we won the group with england in it, and i hope that there’s plenty of more to come. saturday is going to be crazy.

  • John Wilson

    I don’t know much about soccer, but the US goal against Algeria looked like a classic 3-on-2 passing break, as in basketball. Is that right?

    Seems to me the USA team had plenty other goal opportunities and should have converted more, especially if they hope to win against tougher teams.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    Yeah, pretty much, John. Team USA was taking a big risk by committing so many men forward, but by that point it was a sound gamble: they were facing elimination anyway, draw or lose, so they figured they might as well go for it.

    They have fantastic team spirit – the best in the tournament with the possible exception of Argentina – and that’s pretty much what kept them going so late in that game: plenty of other teams would have despaired of ever scoring and given up.

    They’ll always go looking for goals, but better opponents than Algeria will find it easier to shut them down and they will have to, have to, take the chances that do come their way. The defence is vulnerable to the sucker punch as well, as shown in the England and Slovenia games, and better teams will exploit that to much greater effect if the US isn’t careful.

    That said, they’re looking good – that team spirit I talked about is almost like having a twelfth man on the field – and have every chance of making it at least to the quarters.