Tuesday, June 8, 2010

World Cup preview: USA v. England

The hype surrounding the US National team in the 2010 FIFA World Cup is reaching new heights. The rise of MLS and its gaining popularity among viewers is spilling in to the mainstream, creating a buzz, and consequently many have predicted a deep run for the red, white, and blue. With the United States v. England opening round game looming, I decided to take a preview at Saturday’s 12:30 ET kickoff on ESPN.

Every great team needs its poster boy, its Gladiator, their go-to guy during the crunch time. Looks like the national team has found their man. That man is Landon Donovan and the US is pimping him hardcore. That is who they’re telling us to expect great things from. It seems no matter what I’m watching, regardless of the channel, the forward and captain of Team USA is featured in some 30 second spot, either telling me to drink Gatorade so I can soccer better for America or buy a Flo-TV so I can watch every game of the Word Cup live. Of course at the end, they tell me to specifically watch Donovan and the rest of the squad square off against England this weekend. These constant reminders of ‘Donovan and the US’ are… working.

I’m riled up, fired up, and ready to go. Soccer is awesome and I’ve never had a problem sitting down to watch a match from start to finish. Never needed that extra push to stay up on who is the latest and greatest in the world, the up and coming and so forth. Maybe that is why I appreciate the effort they’re putting forth for this cup and game. My hope is that it is working for the rest of you. Plus any time you have a chance to shout USA! USA! USA! is always good time.

Quick list of things that I love about soccer:

1) There are no stupid TV timeouts or commercial breaks. You get 45 uninterrupted minutes of freak-of-nature athletics. One 15-20 minute half, followed by another 45 uninterrupted minutes. Plus stoppage time.

2) The aforementioned freak of nature athletics. Reminds me of a scene from one of my favorite movies Dogma. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck play two angels, Loki and Bartleby, who have been kicked out of heaven, are trying to get back in to heaven through a wacky Catholic Church loop-hole.

Bartleby (Affleck): Well, then, you know, don’t use a gun. Just lay the place to waste.

Loki (Damon): Easy for you to say. You get off light in razing. You got to stand there and read at Sodom and Gomorrah; I had to do all the work.

Bartleby: What work did you do? You lit a few fires.

Loki: I rained down sulphur, man, there’s a subtle difference.

Bartleby: Oh, yeah, I’m sure.

Loki: Hey you know,*bleep* you man. Any moron with a pack of matches can set a fire. Raining down sulfur is like an endurance trail man. Mass genocide is the most exhausting activity one can engage, outside of soccer.

I love it. Kills me every time.

3) The sudden eruption of 90,000 people at the drop of hat. You can be sitting quietly in your seat and 4 seconds later you’re going absolutely bananas hugging and high-fiving a complete stranger.

4) The flops. You may hate them, but not me. The best ones are when they bring the trainers onto the field with the stretcher while the player is writhing in pain. They ask him if he can go on and he’s not sure, but then they bust out this can of spray. Nobody knows what is in this can besides aerosol and magic. Trainer will spray some on his shin, he’ll adjust his shin guards and by an act of God: the player is totally fine. Only in soccer.

5) Color commentator Ray Hudson.

I especially love the fluff pieces that have been featuring Donovan too. It was on Outside the Lines or E:60 and it talked about his loan to Everton and how excited he has been playing in the Premiere League. “Playing in that league,” Donovan said, “puts you against the best of the best.” This is true. Preforming well at that level has boosted his confidence for how he will play against England. Good. I appreciate the swagger. We’ll need it. The only thing that hasn’t changed is his delivery in interviews. He conducts every one with the same monotone, robot; I might not be a human sort of way. Listening to him speak has the candor of someone describing a live feed of paint drying. He could have had his legs amputated ten minutes earlier and still you couldn’t phase how boring the response is going to sound. Although I have noticed that he has stepped them up somewhat to an Evan Lysacek level, but still.

Luckily his game doesn’t play the way his interviews do. Perhaps it is because he has been playing so long and has so many appearances or maybe it just the receding hairline (I am not one to talk) but in my mind Landon Donovan is 45 years old. In all actuality he is 28. I know, right? You thought he was way older too didn’t you? I don’t know why but that makes me feel better about Saturday. I know it’s weird but it does. It’s the simple surprises I suppose.
What will be surprising is if Donovan plays like he is 45. In order to do well the US needs to unleash the beast and more importantly finish. No more of this roaring in like a lion and going out like a lamb. If this year’s World Cup turns in to the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup all over again, I’m going to throw the most heavy laden soccer item I possess through my TV; which – if that happens –would be my fallen spirits. I happen to like my TV very much, so if we botch things up again, at the very least, expect some serious sulking and a grumpy follow up article. I just don’t know if I could handle that kind of rejection. And don’t think for a second that our national team has forgotten that. It was only a year ago. That loss is fuel for the fire baby!

On the soccer power index (SPI) England is currently ranked 3rd, behind Italy in second and not surprisingly Brazil holding the top spot. The United States respectively weighs in at #15 on the list. As it stands now the United States men’s national soccer team has an overall World Cup record of 6-3-11 (wins-decisions-losses). No bueno. I’m tired of that record looking so awful. It’s time we win some games and make that thing look more respectable. We haven’t done much of anything since this thing tournament started. In 1930, the Cup’s inaugural year, they finished in third place but in modern times the deepest they’ve ever gone is the quarter finals in 2002. England, despite having won the 1966 tournament, and having one of the deepest rosters in the last three tournaments, has fared only slightly better by making it to the quarter finals 5 times. When it comes to crucial knockout matches against the top teams, it has been tough for them to close out. One could only assume that this is why the matchup is creating such a rumble with both teams having so much to prove. Anything to make the match more intense between these two power houses.

Keys to the game for United States:

● England is going to be relentless on the offensive, so limit the number of looks forwards Peter Crouch and Wayne Rooney get.

● Stopping every decent shot on goal will be impossible, requiring strong play from keeper Tim Howard. Howard has been playing in the English Premiere League for Everton since 2003 and should be up to the test of these English strikers

● Donovan. He’s our guy right? With the most caps from any other active player on the team at 123, look for our offense to feed through him with his assists or adding to his already all-time leading 42 goals

Keys to the game for England:

● Wayne Rooney is clearly their best player. Any bumps and bruises he received over the last couple of months playing for Manchester United are a non-factor. What needs to be kept in check is his known temper. Look for the US to try and exploit that to get calls in their favor. If Rooney can keep it dialed back, look out.

● A man with so much to prove is defender John Terry. After having been stripped of his captaincy with the reports of an affair between him and a former player’s wife leaking earlier this year, expect an extra zealous Terry trying to win back the hearts of his nation and stopping the United States attacking schemes

● Again the goal keeper. David James will play brilliant but has been known to show the occasional lapse in judgment. Look for the US to try and exploit that

Expect a nail biter in this game. For a country that just spent over a billion dollars on new stadiums and renovations to older ones, the players won’t be the only ones to sparkle. I’m so sold on the United States right now that I see them winning 2-1, scoring the go ahead gold in the 81st minute, giving England more than ten minutes to give 300 million Americans (obviously we’re all going to watch it right?) more heart attacks than McDonalds. What more to say other than: USA! USA! USA!


  1. Good work Fish, sounds like our old sports talks from back in the day. USA! USA! USA!