Saturday, June 17, 2006

Wanted: Dead or Alive

This Bud's for you Mr. Red-Card-Happy- I-Wish-I-Were-A-Better-Player-Growing-Up-Man

New Life

If you did yourself a blessing and watched the game today between Italy and the United States, you saw the worst and the best game of the World Cup thus far all in one match.

The US have a chance to do what was inconceivable a day ago: win against Ghana (with a little help from an Italy win over the Czechs) and make it out of their group for the second straight World Cup, remember this game. This is the kind of performance that transforms ordinary players, coaches and teams into something more.

What can you say? It's emotional. As a fan you were looking for that unifying untangible this American team that came so easily four years ago when they found themselves up 3 goals against Portugal at the half and were transformed from a mix of MLS and B class European club players to a world-class international squad who won over a nation four years ago.

We knew it going into the World Cup: we would have to play over our ability to succeed. Against the Czechs, we played like mortals. Today, against Italy the US team played like they had something to prove and they wouldn't be denied, even by if the had to do it with ten men, or nine men.

Unity, confidence, playing over our heads, Landon Donovan playing with reckless abandon: these were the intangibles that led to success in 2002, thank the gods we have them back today.

"This team is alive," said Kasey Keller after the 1-1 tie with Italy. Life. And a chance to go through to the semifinals, that's all we can ask for.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Come to Jesus

A few months ago the anticipation was all we could stand. The "next-step" World Cup was on the horizon. And the USSF organizers were patting each other on the back. After 1994, we decided we liked this game a little and maybe we wanted a taste of what Italy and Brazil had in the '94 finals. We'll implement a national program and position ourselves to win a World Cup by 2010 the visionaries were saying. We knew we were improving, but no one could have predicted 2002. The future looked brighter than it ever had for US soccer. Within five minutes all of that changed. We could feel it sitting in our living room watching an abnormally large Eastern European creature pummel a goal through the shell of our visionary development plan and the fragile embryo of a US soccer ego.

Doubt slipped in where only confidence had lived since the 25th minute of the Portugal game four years ago. The golden plan has taken a set back and maybe US soccer coaches, players, organizers and fans will begin to realize you only get what you earn and history is nothing. In the arena of world class football, success followed by devestating failure is part of the contract. Just ask the 1998 World Cup Champions France who haven't scored a goal in a World Cup game since 1998.

Our guys are saying all the right things after getting embarassed and humbled by the Czechs. But the acid test for how good or bad we TRULY are in 2006 is yet to be seen. Italy tomorrow on ABC at 2:00 in the prime time. Here's to screwing tactics, forgeting how good we might be and finding out how good we are. And playing with a little reckless abandon for heaven's sake! We already lost our ego.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Coverage

(Caption: This is a rare image of Eric Wynalda and Marcelo Balboa in mid-air chest bump. This is EXACTLY the kind of enthusiasm we are not getting from our guys in Germany. If only we could get Balboa back on the field!)

OK. We admit it. It’s a lot more fun to bash American soccer media than it is to praise it. But we must confess, outside of Marcelo Balboa’s hair and painfully obvious color commentary, ESPN, ABC and the Disney Corporation are doing a brilliant job covering this Cup. And I don’t think my assessment is skewed by the fact that I am watching every game on my roommate’s 51-inch mammoth TV in pristine, high-quality HD. If you still can’t see every blade of grass and inside Ronaldinho’s nostrils, you’re living in the 20th century and I am sorry for you. This is the way to watch soccer and select Discovery Channel rainforest documentaries.

It’s nice to see ESPN treat the World Cup with the respect they would use covering the Olympics or some other major sporting event. Those of us who are accustomed to watching the Arsenal-Barcelona Champions League final on ESPN 2 change abruptly to the tape-delayed World Ice Dancing Championships, without seeing a replay of any goals, are pleasantly surprised by the insightful and entertaining “World Cup Live” segment ESPN is using for pre-game and post-game analysis. Julie Foudy trumps 90% of American male soccer analysts and Eric Wynalda is impressive and engaging. Why is he not in Marcelo Balboa’s broadcast booth and Balboa sporting the old denim-looking USA jersey somewhere in southern California, far, far away from a microphone or the World Cup.

So, we have conceded a little praise. Thank the soccer gods that ESPN is finally figuring it out. But, on a more serious note, how about the 1994 USA World Cup-ers popping up all over the place like first season Real World cast members talking about the glory days?

Why didn't we get TIVO?

If the Korea-Japan World Cup in 2002 was rough because we in the US had to wake up at 3 and 4 o'clock in the morning to watch games, the Germany World Cup is tougher because all the games are during peak work hours. Why did we not buy a pre-Cup TIVO plan? IDIOTS.

But no worries. Reckless Abandon has, out of necessity, embraced a new development in sports journalism: game blogs. To blog the game is to sit in front of your computer, typing with nonchalance every random thought or quibble that comes to mind whether or not your reader might give a damn. As you would expect, it's easy to have a bad game blog. Most are bland, devoid of anything witty, poetic, colorful or humorous. Sounds a lot like someone else we know (muffled cough...M. Balboa...cough, cough).

One guy who got it right is Michael Davies who's keeping a diary of the World Cup over at ESPN's Page 2. Check out Davies' minute by minute blog of the USA-Czech game. Sports fans out there will know Page 2 as Bill Simmons' stomping grounds. Davies is British, charming and witty, working in New York but with soccer loyalties clearly in England. He writes in the same clever, funny, unpretentious, fanatical tone that makes Simmon's great and Page 2 of ESPN different from Page 1.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

So What. Now what?

Okay, so Reckless Abandon needed a little time to put that loss behind us before we could move on and write a new post. And, that is what USA has got to do now—move on, completely put that loss behind them, and write a new post. Or better yet, win two games in a row.

Soccer is a team sport and everyone in the US organization has some responsibility for that loss. Now we're in a must-win situation.

All that happened is that we got our ass handed to us by a world-class team. That Czech performance is what international soccer is about, and it proved that the US is not yet good enough to not bring their A-game all the time. It's okay, but it is something that can't be denied. The World Cup is not CONCACAF. ESPN's Andrea Canales wrote a great article about how all of the secrecy and Arena mind tricks are bullshit because when it came down to it, the team didn't perform.

The only bright spots in that game were Reyna, Johnson, O' Brien, and Convey. Johnson was an exceptionally bright note, because after the Send-off series we were extremely worried that he could not rise to the challenge of European opponents and a World Cup. But, we think that he really did. He played confidently, he attacked, and he was one of the few dangerous players on the field for the US—one of the few that we are honestly proud of.

We don't care who Beasley was in 2002; he has been terrible in 2006. Reckless Abandon was worried about him in the Send-Off Series friendlies, but we thought he would rise to the challenge and the bigger stage when he got to Germany. In fact, this was what we hoped to happen with the entire team. The same team that showed up and lost to Morocco in Nashville stepped on the field in Gelsenkirchen.

So, now what? Honestly, we played so poorly and with so little reckless abandon in attack that we don't even need to think too much about planning our tactical chess match against Italy. That would be too much of the same bullshit that went into the Czech game. We need to get ourselves together before tactical subtleties will even be a factor.

So what Reckless Abandon now proposes is that the US says, "Fuck it, we're going to attack, we're gonna play with passion, and we have nothing to lose so we're gonna play like wild men." This is what must happen. Reckless Abandon prays that the following is Saturday's lineup, and that these players play in a way that makes us think they actually want to win the game.

We think the US should go in a 3-5-2 like this:

----------McBride--------- Johnson----------
Convey ----------Donovan---------Dempsey
---------O' Brien----------- Reyna--------------

Who cares what Italy is gonna try and do to us? If we can't even play well, and if we can get some sort of attack going, it doesn't matter if we try and anticipate what they're gonna attempt to do us because they'll have their way with us anyways.

Monday, June 12, 2006


damn it..........

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."