Sunday, June 27, 2010

The end of the road

Today's beating of England by Germany was not unexpected. As I watched the England v. Slovenia game, I knew that as they were failing to get back into the group lead, Germany was going to make an example of them. There are quite a few factors here that led to this fall out of yet another World Cup.

The most obvious starting point after this game is the goal by Lampard which was not given. I could easily launch in to an indictment of FIFA and their refusal to even consider things such as goal line technology, but I think that there were bigger issues. First, it would have obviously tied the game at two, which would have brought spirts back up after going two down to a young and skillful German side. But I felt that the reaction of Lampard said it all. He was shocked and had the look of a child who was about to throw a hissy fit because he didn't get ehat he wanted. This is a talented team that can't afford to let things like this get to them. It seemed that the team did not recover from that disappointment and the offensive display they were starting to mount seemed to fizzle out as the half ended.

The next big problem is Capello. I don't really think he was ever the right manager for England. The most telling moment for him as manager was when he couldn't keep the qualification campaign focused and lost against Ukraine in fairly meek fashion. There were obviously divisions in the camp and it just was never going to work in the end as Capello wanted to exert his power and rather than listen to his team, felt it was more important to follow a more fascist direction and quash the uprising. I also look at Capello's stubbornness as a major problem as he refused to give uncapped players proper chances and relied on the 'old guard' much like another defeated Italian coach in this World Cup. As it goes for the manager situation, I believe there is only one person who could manage this nation to the next level, but I don't believe Sir Alex Ferguson would do it.

Another problem which I have mentioned here is the poor selection of the team. I say this not only referring to the selection of the starting 11, but also of the squad as a whole. There was a clear lack of width in this squad. You may say, "but Brian, he brought a bunch of wingers like Lennon and Wright Phillips and Joe Cole!" And I will simply tell you that you have named two RIGHT wingers and an attacking midfielder. There is no left side to this team. You may try again and say, "but what about Gerrard? He has been playing on the left." And I have to retort, he plays on the left for about 5 of 90 minutes. There is no width through Gerrard. Beyond the width problem, there is too much reliance on experience over class and form. I start with the most obvious example on the field. The Defense. I will say that Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson were the only choices for the fullback positions as they are by far the best English players in those spots. The central defenders are a different story. Rio Ferdinand and John Terry have had abysmal seasons. Rio played in less matches than Ledley King which I think says it all. John Terry was fortunate to have a good Partner at Chelsea and a great offense in front of him. I am biased, but I thought the winning formula was going to be King and Dawson. They are an experienced partnership with great chemistry, but in Capello's mind, Dawson was uncapped and thus too inexperienced. Jaime Carragher was a blunder as well, as he is obviously too old and slow to keep up with modern players like we saw in his performances at Liverpool, before Jozy Altidore made him his bitch in the first group game. Capello said that he would take players who are in good form and playing for their club side, but that was obviously not true as he brought Emile Heskey. And I will simply spare you from yet another rant about how poorly i think of Heskey.

England is also a weak team mentally. Surprising considering that the team is full of club captains. The team is shouldered with the most pressure to win of any team because they are considered the founders and history makers of the game as well as England having arguably the best league in the world. The team showed a great deal of inability to not only get up for games but to stay up if they have problems. They lost all of their motivation, it seemed, when Lampard's goal was not given in the dying moments of the first half. The added pressure of meeting the old enemy in Germany was too much to bear for this team and I felt that they never had a chance to win this match today.

The performance in this years cup emphasized the reason why England's bid to host the cup in 2018 is so important to the nation. Their only victory was in 1966 in England. Having the home crowd would probably actually help in England. But there are so many issues to address before the bid is even voted on at FIFA.

England Have so many great players, but now a real focus on the team is the next step. As they go into the qualifying for the European championship, I think a major overhaul needs to be made.

My squad for the future:
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, David James, Joe Lewis
Defense: Michael Dawson, Gary Cahill, Ashley Cole, Glen Johnson, Leighton Baines, Nedem Onouha, Micah Richards, Ryan Shawcross
Midfield: Aaron Lennon, Ashley Young, James Milner, Tom Huddlestone, Adam Johnson, Joe Cole, Lee Cattermole, David Bentley
Strikers: Jermaine Defoe, Peter Crouch, Wayne Rooney(Captain), Gabriel Agbonlahor

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What the Hell Are You So Happy About?

WOO! LANDY! Hey, no disrespect with the name. I'm not calling you, "Mandon" lest you sound like a gay porn star. You've definitely graduated from "Landycakes," although I may throw that one in affectionately every now-and-then. And not so affectionately if you come to D.C. in a Galaxy uniform. If the Germans can call Schweinsteiger, "Schweini," you can be "Landy."

Okay, I am euphoria-ed out. No, really, I was happy yesterday, giddy even. The result is fantastic, 1st in the group ahead of England with a chance for revenge against Ghana, who knocked us out of the tournament in Germany (Honestly, we lost that game more than Ghana "won" it). Moreover, the U.S., under a lot of pressure and giant spotlight, came through. I suppose the "end" justifies the "means," since there are no points for style and sports are results-based in the end. I just don't think the "means" that the U.S. has shown will get them as far as they can go.

Here's the crux of it: I think the U.S. still choked a good bit. That England game should have been a loss, if not for a goal-keeping error. Holding England 1-0 still wouldn't have been bad, except that England barely made it out of the group (that Slovenian keeper is awful at close range shots - I know he's "highly-rated," but I think a good keeper (Howard) saves both Donovan's and Defoe's strikes). England played really, really poorly. Not as poorly as, say, France or Italy (laughter ensues), but poorly enough. Maybe England is ranked too highly in general, but they should have been able to defeat Algeria and probably should have handled Slovenia more easily. Gave up an early goal against England, TWO first half goals to Slovenia (Algeria held them to one), and took until 90+ to score on Algeria. Sure, Algeria had a decent defense, but how many chances did the U.S. miss? We were fortunate that this tournament is crazy and that we had a weak group. I predicted that we wouldn't make it out of the group, true. I'm glad I was wrong. However, I don't believe that the U.S. can continue as it has. It has to show the team we saw at the end of the Confederations Cup. Make no mistake - we have not seen that team yet. We've seen the team the won the group in qualifying, but this has been far from the U.S. at their best.

Drawing England with a soft goal, coming back to draw Slovenia, squeaking out a win against Algeria - it's good that the U.S. got results while playing somewhere between good and mediocre. But they did so against weak teams, that's hardly convincing that we're ready for the big kids on the block. . Maybe Ghana will bring it out of them. However, that is another game that, by most analysis, the U.S. should win. I hope for a win. More than that, I hope for something to give me hope for an upset when we play a team that should be better than us.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Do we expect too much as fans?

I wonder. Are we expecting too much?

Is it too much to expect good teams to play atleast decently? Is it too much to expect referees to call a good match? Is it too much to expect FIFA to look at video technology? Is it too much to expect Fabio Capello to pick his team by form rather than by names like he promised? Am I asking too many questions?

Today has seen three games with horrible results. Germany was robbed first thing this morning by a referee who was card happy and sent off Miroslav Klose in the first half. In the second game, the USA was robbed of three points by a ref who disallowed a goal wrongly and didn't see the Slovenian players hugging several Americans to the ground. In the third game the ref was not the problem. The players for England can't seem to get over themselves to actually try and Capello can't be bothered to make tactical changes when for the England v. USA game it was apparent that Heskey was useless. Gerrard gave up around the 65th minute today. Even Rooney gave up. Capello was just lucky that David James didn't manage to lose the game for him.

So we now stand at an interesting point. It is no longer a question of whether England or the US would finish first in the group, but more likely who of those two might actually get out of the group, but I'd even argue if either can get out of the group. Both England and the US could easily lose next week. I actually feel bad for US fans such as my partner in this blog, and English fans.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Who the hell is Branko Boskovic?

D.C. United has picked up a designated player - Branko Boskovic, a 29 year-old former Montenegrin national team player. He won club titles and national cups with Red Star Belgrade and Rapid Wien (Vienna). He also had a stint with Paris Saint-Germain, but failed to lock down a first team spot at PSG.

Worried analysis:
I am not so great a soccer enthusiast that I follow the Austrian Bundesliga, so what I know only what I have read (Highlight reels can be taken with a grain of salt). First of all, it looks like Kasper and Co. went with what the fans have been clamoring and what many have interpreted as D.C. United's "tradition," a strong attacking center-mid. Which is good, provided that it was what Coach Onalfo wanted. Someone who knows Curt can ask him, I can't say for certain, but he has, in the beginning of the season, indicated a willingness to play without one. Boskovic sure looks like a pretty decent attacking mid, he scored more than his fair share of goals. That said, I'm not certain that he alone can be the answer. This team has the need of a prolific goal scorer - Boskovic is only prolific for a midfielder (30 in four years at Red Star Belgrade). It is possible that he will make D.C.'s strikers more effective and that has to be the hope, because a player with less than ten goals average per season is not going to drag this team out of it's funk.

Additionally, playing Boskovic as an attacking midfielder pulls a player away from D.C.'s leaky defense. Currently, some combination of Simms, Morsink, or King have been pitching in to the defense. James' form in his last game gives some hope that he can help shore up the back and the return of Jakovic helps a great deal, but that by no means gives D.C. one of the better defenses in the league. I assume that even if Bryan Namoff does recover (and we wish him the very best and do really want him back) tomorrow, I have to assume he will need time to get match fit and recover his form from last year.

Finally, Boskovic is not a high profile acquisition - not to be a total jerk, but Montenegro is a team that loses to the Caucasian powerhouses (read: UEFA jokes) of both Armenia and Azerbaijan. Jakovic has been a stellar acquisition from Red Star Belgrade, I make no bones about it. But Boskovic is older than Jakovic and no longer plays for Red Star (but hey, do we have some sort of burgeoning relationship with Red Star Belgrade? Because I would be more than okay with that).

I have always said that I will give anyone a chance on the field. Team and league dynamics can alter a player's performance and a nobody in a lower league can be a key player in a better league if his team matches better his talents. I was hesitant to even write this post because I feel that most speculation at this point is useless, predictions made that come true are fortune rather than skilled analysis. There is reason to be hopeful for Boskovic, it seems like a good acquisition and, considering that he is a relatively low-priced designated player, he may be an intelligent acquisition in that other players can still be acquired. However, it think it is probably too much to hope for that he is an instant fix for DC's stagnant attack.

Here's the highlight reel provided by D.C. United. I'd apologize for the music, but I didn't make the video. Seriously, I know he's coming from Rapid Wien, but did we need the playlist from a Viennese disco?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The delusion is over

The first thing I said to my co-conspirator on this blog when we were watching the game was "Capello's starting Green?!? Mistake." And all day long I was saying I saw a draw, 1-1 or 0-0, but I was leaning to the score draw. And as I saw the starting lineup I got more confident with my prediction.

There were huge errors in the starting lineup. I have been saying for weeks that I thought Crouch should start rather than Heskey. Capello has no left winger on the squad, and starting an unfit Milner was stupid. We all know that Gerrard and Lampard can't play together. And Robert Green should never been the number 1.

First let's start with the Defense. I thought the starting back four was rather decent. King and Terry seemed to work well together, and the full backs were nothing special but I felt like they didn't make any major mistakes. When Carragher came on in the second half, I just knew it would be ugly, and he was terrorized by the stronger and faster Jozy Altidore.

In the midfield, it was anarchy.I think it was clear that James Milner had not gotten over the 'bug' he had this week and was not fit to play. He was slow and out of position and all together, he never had a chance to show his quality. On the right, Lennon kept being double teamed as the US midfield and defense forced play to the left side where Shaun Wright-Phillips came on for Milner and was rather poor. Lennon never had a chance to play his game and as usual, England forced alot of play up the left because the US shut off the space for Lennon and Capello couldn't be bothered to bring a left-footed winger(like Adam Johnson) or play Joe Cole who can be quite handy over there. In the middle, I think there was a clear hole where there should have been a holding midfielder. Though I still argue bringing Gareth Barry was a mistake, I think that he would have been a big help. And as I mentioned already, Lampard and Gerrard should not play in the middle together. They are both playmakers and seemed to get in each other's way quite a few times. before the game I would have argued for benching Gerrard, but Isomeone brought up a good point that Lampard's record for England is poor while Gerrard's is very good. But in the end, Capello needs to grow some balls and bench one of the two and play a balanced team.

Up front, it was a similar story. Capello started Rooney and Heskey. I don't think there is anyone that wouldn't start Heskey, but in my opinion, Heskey should have not even made the final squad for the World Cup. Heskey did little to make me believe that I was wrong about him. He brought down a few balls and lost them, put out a poor pass which was lost, or put a horrid shot right into Tim Howard's Chest, and that was after putting his boot into Howard's chest which he must have thought would make him drop those shots. I thought when Crouch finally came on, the possession was cleaner and Crouch sharpened the attack again after the lovely build to the early goal. Rooney was not up to his game, which was surprising. Rooney could not get things going and he got frustrated and once that happened, he was never going to doing anything and Defoe should have been put on to try to sneak that winner that never came.

Finally, what can I say about the keeper? A simple "I told ya so." Or maybe a "DUH!" Or maybe to use some tact, "Bad Capello! Bad!" Of the 3 keepers he brought we have a relegated keeper (who has been amazing for the final few weeks for Pompey), a nearly relegated keeper(who was responsible for many of the goals given up by West Ham), and a midtable keeper(who was consistent all season long and was a huge factor in the team being as good as it was). Based on those kind of statements there should be two obvious conclusions. First, Robert Green is absolutely no better than third. Secondly, Joe Hart is probably first due to his consistency. And this is before we even consider that David James is known as Calamity James. I think it was a mistake to start Robert Green. Fact! But it also now makes more problems as He either has to put the arm around his shoulder and start Green again, or bench him at which point he might as well be sent home. So it's either put the team in danger for the final two group games or leave yourself with two keepers. I think unfortunately, it's time for Green to go home and Hart to begin his national team Career as he is the future for England.

So there are two more group games. Algeria and then Slovenia. I think considering that the Group D winner plays the runner up in group C, it is going to be important to win this group especially after seeing the Germans dismantle the Aussies. I think both England and the U.S. are in the same position and both know this. It is going to come down to goal difference as I think both teams will step up their games. I think considering this, i would have to conclude that the team that could score more goals is England considering the scorers that the team has. England has so much talent that the nation should be severely disappointed in the draw, although I told Skippy that I didn't think either team deserved a point from that game. The U.S. was poor but should have won with the vastly improved second half performance and England Should have scored 5 times in the first half hour. In the end, the group is wide open with Slovenia taking three points against Algeria. Time to be positive again...

Karma can bite us

At the end of the match yesterday, Dupont Circle was filled with cheers like "U.S.A. ain't nothin' to %$#& with!" That's right, we will straight draw you, hard. But this tournament is far from over.

While the U.S. was fortunate to tie with a goalkeeping howler from Robert Green, I feel that the U.S. did enough to have earned that draw, especially with the English performing poorly. However, karma can be a real bitch sometimes - Algeria gifted Slovenia a 1-0 win this morning with a goalkeeping error of their own. That leaves Slovenia in good position in the group. Two draws, or possibly even just one, and they could make it through on tie-breakers, which makes the U.S. - Slovenia game very, very important. The U.S. did not play well enough against England to raise my confidence that they will not drop at least two of the remaining six points in the group.

The Good

The U.S. played to win. They did not fold after conceding early and, although there was a significant amount of bunkering in the second half, the U.S. still countered strongly on occasion and went for a second - nearly got it with a strong run from Jozy. Dempsey, Donovan, Gooch and Jozy all showed up in good form for this first highest-scrutiny, if not highest-pressure, game. None of them had an absolutely outstanding game, but there was no sign of nerves, poor decision-making, or under-performance. This is good from the U.S. "stars," as they are the ones with the most to "prove" and the most damaging should they choke.

The Bad

The back four were caught out of position a number of times. I'm not sure if Bob Bradley told them to concede wide areas, confident in our central defense to clear out crosses, but it was happening far too often and I shouldn't think "wide" includes inside the penalty area. Too often, overlapping or wide runs were left unchecked and the English were able to exploit this vulnerability, although never able to make a goal out of it (see: Heskey, Emile).
Additionally, the U.S. counter-attack looked predictable and both Donovan and Dempsey's propensity to come central left the U.S. attack narrow during long stretches of the game. Findley was only ineffective and he didn't get particularly good service - he certainly didn't look as outclassed as he did against Holland. I wouldn't want him as the second striker, but I half-expected worse.

The Ugly

My hope for Ricardo Clark was to see a solid performance without expecting any greatness. My hope was disappointed. Clark lost Gerrard on the first goal and continued to lose the men he was marking all night. His passing was adequate, but often telegraphed - I feel his lack of vision may have stunted the U.S. counter, but it was really only his defending that was pretty awful. Still, with both Edu and Torres on the roster, I think it might be time to replace Rico.

Slovenia and Algeria

Obviously, I wouldn't start Clark, but I wouldn't be shocked if he still makes the starting XI. After all, it's not like Torres and Edu have never disappointed in their own right. I would like to see more of Stu Holden or Torres if the attack is stagnant in either game; I feel that both those players inject a breath of fresh air and a different style to the U.S. attack. Fortunately for the U.S., both Slovenia and Algeria looked very sloppy in defense. Both Algeria and Slovenia may spend significant portions of the game attacking the U.S. because they are more likely to get a result against us than the English and that may provide some scoring chances. That said, the U.S. will probably still have to break down some defensive bunkering. The U.S. really needs to beat Slovenia on Friday to have their destiny in their own hands, a draw might not be sufficient, and a loss ends the U.S. run all but mathematically.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ubiquitous World Cup predictions

Apparently, every good blogger needs to make his or her predictions for the tournament and far be it from me to buck the trend. I assume his Truthiness doesn't want to get involved in something so pedestrian. But me? Hell, I ain't proud.


Group A: Mexico, France - I know, right? France? Really? The funny thing is that a lot of good teams (see: Italy 2006) are forged in the fires of adversity. I think France will be one of them, if they can keep Ribery off the teen girls and Henry's hands in his pockets.

Group B: Argentina, South Korea - S. Korea by virtue of Nigeria and Greece imploding. I don't know why, neither team fills me with confidence.

Group C: England, Slovenia - The U.S. will not make it from this group. They could, but after losing to England, I think there will be a surprise defeat to Slovenia. Because that's how we roll.

Group D: Germany, Australia - Australia over Serbia by virtue of tenacity. Australia won't play pretty, but they'll win.

Group E: Holland, Cameroon - I don't think the Danes or Japanese have it in them to pull an upset.

Group F: Italy, Slovakia - It's a toss up for second between Paraguay and Slovakia, but I think Slovakia will get a draw where Paraguay gets a loss.

Group G: Brazil, Cote d'Ivoire - Portugal and Ivory Coast can duke this one out, but I think African support puts Ivory Coast over the top.

Group H: Spain, Honduras - No, not really Honduras, but second is up in the air in this group, so why not Honduras? It doesn't matter, none of them are beating Brazil next round.


Mexico over South Korea - Yeah, I hate Mexico winning too, but that's what I see happening.

Argentina over France - Which team was more screwed up coming into the finals? That's debatable, but I think Argentina is a better team on the field.

England over Australia - Because the English are so distraught to be playing in a former colony that they have to take it out on their former colonies.

Germany over Slovenia - No real upsets so far and I don't think this one is the first.

Slovakia over Holland - There's the first upset. I just think the Dutch will trip over themselves.

Cameroon over Italy - Italy's overall age gets to them playing so many games in such succession.

Brazil over Honduras/Whomever - You're shocked, I know.

Spain over Cote d'Ivoire - Or over Portugal. Portugal might actually give them more a game, but Spain will triumph in any case.


England over Mexico - Closer than their friendly meeting, but I think England prevails.

Argentina over Germany - These are getting tougher to call, but I don't think Germany has performed well against strong opposition.

Brazil over Slovakia - Not even close, Slovakia will have nothing left after defeating the Dutch.

Spain over Cameroon - Sorry, gotta go with the odds on this one.


Brazil over England - England will play a game that they should win, but manage to blow it.

Spain over Argentina - This is where Maradona fails as a coach. Spain is an equal, if not superior, team and Maradona can't cope with that.


Spain over Brazil - Spain scares the crap out of me. Spain has enough star power to light Johannesburg for a century, but what's really horrifying is that they play like a club team and combine exceptionally well. Brazil plays well as a team, but not with the attacking lethality of the Spanish.


So those are my predictions. I don't know that they really are, to be honest. Take this as my take on the most interesting of the plausible scenarios in my brain. If I actually thought this game was close to predictable, I wouldn't bother watching.

A Shot Fired in Anger

Ich liebe Deutschlands. Nicht wie so den USA, aber ich liebe noch Deutschlands. Yeah, depending on the breaks in the World Cup and should the U.S. go out earlier than I hope, Germany may well gain my support. I have also been a Michael Ballack fan for sometime and it is a pity that he is not playing in this World Cup. However, I now never want to see him in Black-and-Red or even in playing MLS.

Now, I never thought that Herr Ballack was suddenly going to show up stateside after being dropped by Chelsea; I assumed he'd be picked up by another top-flight European club or, at worst, a Bundesliga side. This has nothing to do with sour grapes. However, regarding his future, Ballack decided to let us all know that he thinks he still has a few good years left in him and he is "not yet ready to 'retire' by going to the United States or Dubai." Hey, Michael, I know my swearing in German isn't what it should be, but "verpiss dich." If that doesn't translate properly, you've been in England long enough that you should be familiar with the phrase, "get knotted." Sorry to be redundant, but I want to get my point across.

I know MLS isn't a top tier league. I know that players like Michael Ballack would never come to the U.S. in their prime. But the last thing I want is player who views it as retiring. That's a lie; the last thing I want is players who so unabashedly view it as retiring as to say it and not think it is burning bridges. If he wants to retire, he can buy a house in Dubrovnik or pretend to play in Dubai. If he wants to the come to the U.S., he needs to view it as "a new challenge," "the twilight of his career," or have an interest in "elevating the play of the game in the U.S." Something like that. If he wants to come here, half-ass it and collect an enormous paycheck, sorry, I'll take the considerably less-skilled Stephen King. At least he wants it.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The England Squad... For better or worse.

I start by pointing out that while some good choices were made, I still don't think this is the right squad. I've been struggling to make assessments for the English team from the Japan game, but I just was so disgusted by that game that I had nothing to say, beyond "that was rubbish."

Let's start by looking at who ended up getting the phone calls telling them to unpack and get comfortable with the idea of watching the games on their couch. Capello sent home Dawson, Baines, Bent, Walcott, Adam Johnson, Huddlestone and Scotty Parker. When the 30 man squad was announced I made my picks for who should go home and I have gotten two right. I said Walcott and Huddlestone shouldn't make it, but I missed the other five. In the end, I still think Johnson, Bent, Baines and Dawson should be there. Huddlestone and Johnson are part of the next group you will be seeing in next few years at the Euros and in 2014.

Watching the England v. Japan game, I felt it was clear that Capello doesn't actually plan to play his reserves. He played Rio, JT, Lamps, Stevie G, and Rooney so much that it is hard to imagine seeing any of them missing any minutes in the tournament. It is sad to see that these players, several of whom are in bad form, are guaranteed. Rooney, and Lampard have been fantastic this season and will be keys to this years run to end 44 years of disappointment but I'd argue that run will not likely be ending this time around.

My biggest annoyance with this squad is that Gareth Barry has been given the opportunity to go even though we are all well aware that he will not be fit for the first game. You have to play seven games to win it, and if you know you don't have a player for atleast one and maybe more games, he isn't really worth bringing as I think it sets a bad precedent.

All this being said, this is the England squad... for better or worse.