Monday, June 12, 2006

Now's the Time: USA vs. Czech Republic

The day of reckoning for US soccer has come. This morning we put all the misdirected media questions, the newfound commercial hype and the shaky FIFA rankings aside. Bruce Arena has coaxed and massaged the egos of our men quite enough. If US soccer has moved into a higher stratosphere of international soccer, today will be the litmus test.

If the weekend taught Reckless Abandon anything, it was that the hopes of a team and a nation rest in the first five minutes. Our club coach drilled into us his theory on goals: goals are scored in the first and last five minutes of every half, and five minutes after every goal. If you watched Germany, Portugal, Holland, or England play, you know the importance of swift starts. The US game will be no different.

Keys factors in today’s game:

Gooch vs. Koller. This is an obvious matchup, and Gooch has got to win this battle. We think he will.

Tracking Nedved in the midfield. Nedved plays out wide in name only. He will be slashing through into the middle of the field and tends to pop up in unexpected places. Our ability to track both he, Rosicky, and Koller is crucial.

Set Pieces. In the 2002 World Cup, 5 of the 7 goals the US gave up came on set pieces, or restarts. Remember Ballack floating over Tony Sanneh in the semifinals? Gooch and Pope should prove to be a dominant center back duo during the flow of play, but if we fail to defend set pieces, we will not advance. On the flip side, our World Cup will go much smoother if we make the most of our own set pieces in dangerous areas of the field.

First five minutes. If you found yourself in the locker room before the game, you would repeatedly hear these words. First touch. First tackle. First header. First foul. First shot. First throw in. First goal! If Americans can be said to have any style of play, it is certainly infused with reckless abandon. We don’t have the technical ability yet to clinically beat a team with our brilliance on the ball and our world-class possession. But, our players bring heart, determination, relentless counter attacks, defensive pressure to each match. Today is no different. The first five minutes will tell us if we are ready for the next international step, or if American soccer needs four more years of grooming.

The Eddie Johnson Factor. If your introduction to Eddie Johnson was the World Cup send-off series, then you are probably a little nervous that Bruce stubbornly left him on the field even though he seems unproductive. From one perspective, Eddie Johnson is our key to success. Every successful championship team gets an unexpected boost from some unknown source. The US has a few players who might fit this role—if Reckless Abandon had to choose we would pick the raw, slick talent of Clint Dempsey to be the Clint Mathis of 2002. But the most logical untapped difference maker for us is Eddie Johnson. He has scored goals on every level. For the MNT he has 15 caps and 9 goals. During World Cup qualifying, Johnson played in 7 games and led the team with 7 goals. Granted those qualifying goals came against CONCACAF, minnows in an international sea of defenders. Reckless Abandon thinks Arena will give Eddie a chance to prove himself early. The hopes of the US might ride on the maturation of our young forward.

Here's our predicted lineup for the game.

Defense: Lewis, Gooch, Pope, Cherundolo,

Midfield: Convey, Reyna, Donovan, Beasley
Forwards: McBride, Johnson

Substitutions: Dempsey for Convey; Mastroeni for Johnson (pushing Donovan forward).

Also, check out this podcast of a pre-game phone call that President Bush made to the team. Some highlight's include President Bush saying to Arena, "alright big guy" and "I hope you play hard, keep your head up and give 'em hell."


At 5:28 PM, Blogger Soccer Nut said...

Surely now the U.S. are finished. There's no way they will get a result against the Italians. The Ghanaians looked tough against the Italians today. Is it possible the U.S. could lose all three group matches?

Soccer Nut (


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