Tuesday, June 13, 2006

"Disgraceful"

Kasey Keller hangs his head after his defense let him down again (Getty Images)

The headline is Bruce Arena's words, not mine.

The World Cup has increasingly become a stage where aggressive and creative soccer play is rewarded. The increase in points from a win from 2 to 3 in 1994 and the expansion of the field to 32 in 1998 have created this situation. No longer can you sneak into the Round of 16 with a 3rd place finish and 3 draws. So in order to advance in group play, you must play aggressive.

So the United States team, touted as our most talented, had no excuse for the 3-0 "performance," if you can call it that, which they put up in their first World Cup outing. For all their skill, they should have played more aggressive. Instead, they came out flat. They showed no emotion. They never pushed the attack.

Bottom line: The players never played to win.

For all the players' talk about wanting to win, about how anything less than a World Cup win would be a disappointment, they never showed that attitude on the field.

Landon Donovan? Not a factor. DaMarcus Beasley? Absent. Eddie Pope? Flat-Footed. Bobby Convey? On the back of a milk carton. Claudio Reyna? Off-target.

About the best player on the field was Oguchi Onyewu because he kept the high crosses out of the box and forced Jan Koller to use his feet instead of his head, and even he had critical defensive mistakes that led to goals.

ESPN's Wayne Drehs put it best:
All week long, he and his players had revealed the utmost confidence going into their match with the Czechs. "If we play to our abilities, I think we can play with anyone," Keller and teammates kept repeating.

Boy was that a big if. Yes, the Americans are at a point in their soccer evolution that if everyone shows up, they have the potential to beat anyone. On the flip side, though, if a few key players fail to show up, they can lose to anyone, too. Especially the second-ranked country in the world.
Hopefully, the U.S. has learned it's lesson. They have 2 must-win games ahead of them against very tough teams. Draws and losses aren't going to cut it.

The pre-game speech from coach Arena better include a line about how the players need to put their money where their mouth is.

Other World Cup action

Italy 2, Ghana 0
So much for gambling controversy killing the Italian side. I think we can also dispel the notion that Italy is the New Jersey Devils of international soccer. They blitzed Ghana into submission and never let up on Africa's best team in this competition. If the Italians can play aggressive and win, other teams should take note.

(For any international readers, the Devils are a NHL hockey club who won 3 Stanley Cups by playing nothing but defense, which was boring to watch and killed the NHL as a spectator sport long before the NHL strike)

Australia 3, Japan 1
Another game where aggressive offensive play was rewarded. Yes, they got 4 yellow cards for rough stuff, but Australia kept pushing Japan further and further back as the game progressed, and they got 3 late goals.

Brazil 1, Croatia 0
As we've mentioned before, since 1994, aggressive, creative, offensive soccer has been rewarded thanks to changing the format from 2 points for a victory to 3. Not surprisingly, Brazil, the most creative soccer team in the world, has been to the final every time since 1994 and won 2 of the 3.
And while a 1-0 victory may not seem like much, consider: Brazil outshot Croatia 19-8 and won the time of possession battle.

South Korea 2, Togo 1
This is a game where South Korea had to get 3 points. And they played like those 3 points were the most important thing on Earth. And once again, the more aggressive team was rewarded as South Korea had 21 shots to Togo's 11.

France 0, Switzerland 0
Not sure if this is a case of Switzerland having figured out France or France just taking a day off, but this really should have been a French victory. Now it puts France in a must-win situation against South Korea because Switzerland is facing Togo and will probably get 3 points out of that game.

College Baseball: Oklahoma eliminated

Rice's Josh Rodriguez put the final nail in Oklahoma's coffin in the 6th inning as he drove a 2-RBI single with the bases loaded to take the lead from the Sooners. Then Joe Savery hit a 3-run homer the very next at bat, and that was it for OU.

Final score: 8-5 Rice

Final Score for the Big 12: 7 teams in the tournament, none made it to Omaha.
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