Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Impressions from Nashville

May 24, 2006
Nashville, TN

All the elements were in place. The soccer gods turned the weather dial to a clear blue 78 degrees. Kids donning Donovan jerseys used SUVs as goals while Reckless Abandon drank beer in the parking lot. Fair-weather American soccer fans, youth soccer organization parents, and their kids flowed past, each wearing their only soccer jersey, since apparently it is cool to wear any soccer jersey to any soccer game: "AC Milan; Brazil; Manchester United; 1998 Southern Regional Soccer Championship, Edmond, OK; Bob Jones Soccer; Brentwood Soccer Club; The Dave Mathews Band Soccer." Still, despite its poor taste, suburbia was out in earnest to support our team. Fifteen minutes into the game, there was still a steady influx of people coming in the lower bowl of the Coliseum. The crowd was salivating for the US team to do something big, but unfortunately they couldn’t deliver.

We got off to a slow start. Reyna went down early, it seemed as a precaution to protect a tight hamstring. O’ Brien looked anemic at first—like an out-of-shape high school player—but by the end of the second half, he settled in and reminded us why he should be on the field with some cunning, laser-accurate passes. In one particularly deft play, he threaded the ball precisely through three Moroccan’s at an impeccable pace to, I think, Josh Wolff cutting in from the sideline.

Morocco's defense worked with the efficiency of an ant farm to get numbers behind the ball all night, and though we controlled possession throughout most of the first half, we went into halftime with nothing resolved.

For the second half we switched formations. That's something American fans will see a lot of from Arena in Germany as we tailor our tactics to exploit opponents. Convey came in on the outside midfield. Mastroeni began playing a more defensive Midfield role, and Gooch moved to the outside. Of course, Cherundolo's mistake conceded the only goal in the 90th minute, but he didn’t look that bad the rest of the night.

Convey brought the energy level up in the attack, and late in the second half we started creating some decent chances on goal. When the crowd finally had something to get excited about, they were eager to make some noise. If this had been an exciting game it could have gotten rowdy. (Check out the video podcasts at US Soccer's website. There is some good footage of the crowd response.)

All in all, the result of this game doesn’t matter. As far as PR for US soccer goes in Nashville and TN, we needed a win. Reckless Abandon overheard some guys in front us say, "I can't believe we lost to Morocco; the only thing it's good for is being a place to send hippies away from here."

But, as far as getting the team ready for the Czech Republic goes, we’re right on track. I think Bruce was able to do some much needed evaluation, and a few players emerged as solid-as-a-rock.

Gooch was the most consistent player on the field, making virtually no mistakes all night. His mass and strength nicely complement Pope's cool. These two together will be an asset for the US in Germany. US fans should feel good about the prospect of Gooch anchoring our back line for the next 10-12 years. And, Eddie Pope was solid and kept us organized well (except on the goal). Reckless can't wait to see Gooch, Pope, McBride, and Johnson all in the box on a set piece in Germany. This will be dangerous; it will be reckless.

Donovan looked solid, as did McBride, although they were not getting any service. Mastroeni played well too.

Dempsey came in on the outside right at the end of the game and he looked like silk. He will definitely be playing in Germany when we need to attack. At times he is the most creative attacker and was smooth on the ball last night. He and Reyna have the best touch on our team.

The rest remains to be seen. We’ve still got time, but everything looks like we’ll be ready to play on June 12. Never mind this loss; no one will remember it three weeks from now.

—Lee McAlilly
Reckless Abandon Soccer


At 1:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

O'Brien looks wild and unpredictable with his new 'do. I like it. In 2002 he looked smallish and pale. He'll help us intimidate the oafish Czechs.

Crazy Legs Reed


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