Archive for the ‘WC Prep’ Category

Preview might be a bit of an overstatement but to try and get myself some search engine loved I have moved on from the “WTWF” in the title.  The post is really just some things to watch for from the tournament as a whole; full previews can be found at SI.com, The Guardian, and ESPN.   I would have loved to break down each group but let’s be realistic here.

Soccer Weather: For the first time since Argentina in 1978, the World Cup will be played in what is essentially winter.   Being below the equator and all means that this is actually South Africa’s winter season; not really winter by northeast standards, more like fall, but nonetheless still not summer.

Ideally this milder weather will result in better soccer. Games should be faster paced and more entertaining than “summer” editions of the tournament where games can seem to plod along at times, with players more focused on not dying than on actually playing.

Of course, a majority of these games will be played at altitude which could cancel out the mild weather altogether, but at least it’s not Mexico City in August.

Argentina: because of this man and much moreso, this man.  No team in the tournament is more of a mystery but with a strike force which is absurdly talented they should score, a lot.  Defense wasn’t Diego’s strong suit and he picked a unit that is still fairly suspect.  This gap between in quality should provide some cardiac moments for La Albiceleste but from a neutral point of view, what could be more exciting.

Back to the second “this man,” as my slurping of him is no secret.  Lionel Messi established himself as the best player in the world this past season.  This World Cup is his for the taking, and while pressure never makes anything easier, it will be up to him to authenticate his standing.  A victory for the Argentinians will push him to another level and whether or not he gets there, it will be fascinating to watch him try.

Spain is the squad if you want to see pretty football & Brazil if you want a true team experience, but no team is going to be more exciting to watch than Argentina.

This is an excellent piece from SI on the National team within Argentinian culture, Diego Maradona, and Lionel Messi.

The Africans: while this is all actually happening in South Africa, the whole continent feels that this is their World Cup.  Each of the 6 teams (Ghana, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Algeria, Nigeria, and South Africa) feel a level of pride in participating in Africa’s first ever world cup, and they will surely feel more at home than they did in Germany.

The Ivory Coast is the popular choice to advance the farthest, even if they do have to make it out of that group. However, the hisorically great African teams, 1990 Cameroon and 2002 Senegal (the only two to make a quarter-final run) were probably on few experts’ lists of the final 8.

Don’t rule out the hosts as well; the power of performing at home, in front of the World has carried all 18 previous hosts.  None have failed to make it out of their group and that alone throws Group A even further into the unknown.  The US was fortunate on some bounces in ’94 and South Korea got the calls in ’02; don’t say nobody warned you when the Soccer gods smile upon Bafana Bafana this month.

I have no idea how it will unfold and I try to stay away from making predictions (except of course if I like the odds) but I believe one of those 6 teams will make a serious run this year; like Shakira says “Waka Waka, it’s time for Africa.”

Goals: Adidas’s Jabulani Ball has been the source of despise from many of the best keepers in SA. The difference this year is that it seems they are afraid because of the unpredictability of the ball in the air.

In my opinion it sounds like whining and preemptive excuses, so I have tended to ignore it.  Just make sure you keep your eyes out for the piped goals that are sure to come from it.

Champions: the fact is that no European team has ever won the World Cup outside of a European country.  History is not on their side, and while this works in favor of the already favored Brazilians, they are still only one of 19 non-European sides.  This is bound to change at some point, but you can bet it will be harped upon endlessly if Spain/Holland/England etc make it to July 11th.

What bodes poorly for the two favorites (Spain and Brazil) is that Pele has tipped them for success.  Interestingly enough, Pele predictions aren’t just wrong but often spectacularly wrong.

Video Fun:

Now some more fun video to get you all excited….which you should be anyway.

Top 10 World Cup goals, courtesy of the BBC:

and now this again, in case you didn’t catch it the first time around:

What about you all out there in the internets?  What are you pumped for over the next month?!

That is all for today, tomorrow we dive into the fun with a US v England WTWF.  O boy, o boy!

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So this is it.  It has been 1400+ days since Italy triumphed in Germany and now we are on the precipice of the 19th edition of this, the most watched sporting event in the world.  Here in America the rumblings are audible but you can be sure that the rest of the World will come to a standstill starting this Friday.

If you can’t tell, I love embedding videos, especially cheesy ones designed to build hype.  None have got me more excited (seriously, I have watched it like 25x in the last 2 weeks) than this apparently anonymously created homage to the game…

Random Bits

Didier Drogba has returned to the Ivory Coast camp.  Still not sure if he will be fit to play but this is at least encouraging.  His ability to “turn it on” when he cares is maddening to Chelsea fans but would be a huge boost to the Ivory Coast squad, especially in a very difficult group.

Arjen Robben will stay on the Dutch squad.  Some more positive injury news.  While not the source of all attack for the Dutch, Arjen is one of the most exciting players on the planet when healthy.  If the Dutch squad can overcome their internal soap operas is a whole other story.

ESPN.com Soccer minds answer some pressing questions heading into the tournament.  Personally I like this style as it offers some good conflicting points of view on the same questions.

Spain coach Vincente del Bosque and midfielder Andres Iniesta offer some thoughts on where their team stands heading into their final warm-up; vs Poland on Thursday.  Not surprised that they don’t include themselves amongst the favorites as this team has been good at deflecting praise and keeping their eye on the prize for the past few years.

Grant Wahl provides his bullet pointed preview here.  Not a huge fan but worth a brief look.  His point on 3 man back lines is interesting and one which you will certainly hear more about as the tournament progresses.

England won their final warm-up game against a South African club team, but apparently it was in unconvincing fashion.  The US still must respect the talent level here and, once again, that pre-tournament form is not always a sign of tournament performance.  Additionally, Garreth Barry has been ruled out of this Saturday’s game.

US News

After an open session yesterday which attracted a boat load of local kids, the team is enjoying a day off today.

The good news is that Jozy Altidore participated yesterday and looked to be in great shape.

A full report from the NYTimes here.

Ives Galarcep presented a very cohesive report on the questions which remain after the Australia match.

Tune in throughout the week for my own preview-esque articles….Tomorrow = Players to Watch. Wednesday = US specific WTWF. Thursday = Overall WTWF. Friday = It starts!

Now…Part 5 of the US “Road to South Africa” documentary:

How about everyone out there?  Excited? Could you care less?  Any plans for how to watch while you are at work?

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Overall a solid performance, always nice to get a victory and the 3-1 scoreline was quite convincing.

They seemed to chase possession for long periods but I think this team is built to be comfortable playing like this.  Often when the got the ball they were able to break  into attack very quickly and get the ball into dangerous positions.  I would love to see them try to be more patient with the ball and concentrate on playing through the midfield but this is the system that they are going to employ, so let’s embrace it.

A brief half by half breakdown.

First Half

2 first half goals will get anyone noticed, so it is only fair to lead off with some credit to Edson Buddle.  His first goal was an excellent finish, and probably a look at what we can expect from this controversial ball as it seemed to explode by Mark Schwarzer.  Findley should get some credit as his work rate caused that turnover which he capitalized on.

The LA Galaxy forward then did a great job to get behind the defense and finish the 2nd as well, although you could immediately see the responsible defender recognize his error and bury his head in his  hands.

Between him and Robbie Findley, they are each very different players.   Buddle is a more natural goal scorer and target striker, he does seem to be lacking in control and vision though.  Findley offers more speed, one on one ability, and creativity with the ball.  It is an interesting pairing up top if Altidore does end up missing out on next weekend.

Overall though I think Martin Tyler summed it up best in about the 41st minutes with this gem, “with the ball the US have a fair amount to offer, with out the ball it hasn’t been quite so good”.

The US seemed to chase for long periods and were content to let Australia play with the ball in the middle of the park.  This often led to them getting the ball in more dangerous areas eventually.  The Australians showed excellent patience in build up and it was only really the final product which was lacking.

Second Half

A rough afternoon continued for Robbie Findley, missing another sitter which can’t bode well for his confidence.  To state the obvious, the US needs their strikers to finish and if he’s not doing that, can BB really afford to give him a chance in a meaningful game?

Of course right after the miss, he does excellent along the wing to turn defending into attacking in a split second.  Maybe his real role is on the wing.

I am surprised that Ricardo Clark saw all 90 minutes, it is amazing to me how someone who is playing a central midfield role can disappear for such long stretches of time.  Being that him and Maurice Edu are so similar, you would think that BB would like to get a good look at each one last time.

Maybe he wanted to try to establish some more chemistry but looks like he might have paid for it as Clark limped off at the end.  Never want to see anyone limp off the field in a friendly, especially one this close to the World Cup.

One of the major issues was the number of balls that just seemed to meander through the box.  Whether it’s defenders not wanting to take a chance or the tentativeness that comes with returning from injury, it was very unnerving to see corners and crosses continually just bounce through very dangerous areas.  Stronger strikers salivate over things like that….aka Wayne Rooney.

Herculez Gomez scoring at the end was very positive.  The ball from Donovan was very dangerous and Herculez’s finish was calm and clinical.  Between him and Buddle, this team will have the ability to score off the bench.

Cherundolo should also get credit for an excellent game.  He combines very well with Donovan along the right side, did very well to create space and provided an excellent ball for Buddle’s second.

It was interesting to see Donovan stay on the right and Dempsey on the left the whole time.  Donovan shed some light on this after the game, mentioning that it will probably depend on the opponent.  Continues with BB’s theme of versatility, personally a huge fan.

On the Jozy Altidore front, he did do some running today as was reported prior to the game.  He will do some light training again tomorrow, followed by a day off for everyone on Monday.  Tuesday will probably be the one remaining maximum session and that should provide some more insight into Jozy’s status for next Saturday.

Other Stuff

Two new injury updates on other squads.

Arjen Robben hurt his hamstring in the Netherlands final warm up and did not travel to SA with the Dutch team. A huge blow to them; although they are not lacking offensive talent, Robben has been in impeccable form lately and I was really looking forward to watching him.  Hopefully he can come back for at least some of the games.

John Obi Mikel has removed himsel from the Nigerian squad due to a knee injury. English speakers might call this a blow as Mikel’s name is known due to his time at Chelsea.  I don’t know enough to shed light on how Nigeria might respond to this setback.

Finally, Part 4 of the “Road to South Africa” documentary on the US National Team…take a look…

Look for a mix of US and non US related content coming this week.  Under a week!

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The US finishes their in-game preparation for the 2010 World Cup tomorrow at 8:30 AM EST time vs Australia in Roodepoort, SA (apparently right here).  ESPN2 for anyone up in time.  Martin Tyler will pair with John Harkes to make his ESPN debut as well.  Hopefully he can control Harkes.

I will get to some things to watch for a little further below but a few other random cup updates first.  Including some major injury news:

Didier Drogba broke his arm in a warmup match today in Sion, Switzerland vs Japan.  (Now it is being reported as a fractured elbow, the news around this has been changing throughout the day)

Another update from the Ivorian FA states that the time frame is still TBD but he has not been ruled out of the tournament.

This is a really unfortunate turn of events as Drogba is in excellent form coming into the tournament and Ivory Coast was a popular underdog pick to make some noise.  They still have quality across the field but the loss of a striker of his quality is a major blow.

The US’s first opponent has also been dealt a serious blow. Captain Rio Ferdinand has been ruled out with a knee injury sustained in practice today.  England isn’t that deep at center back and personally I think this is cause for concern heading into the tournament.  Steven Gerrard has assumed the captaincy role.  While you never like to see anyone injured, this could shift the balance of power in Group C.  Although not everyone agrees.

Andrea Pirlo picked up an ankle knock in Italy’s final friendly vs Mexico and will likely miss all of Italy’s group games.  A major knock to an Italian team with a lot of question marks heading into the tournament.  His experience will be missed but luckily the Italians have drawn a pretty simple group.

Two vastly different but equally brilliant internet finds; The Onion rips into America’s only soccer fan and the Spanish newspaper Marca shows off an awesome World Cup interactive graphic.  The graphic really is the simplest guide for who plays, when they play, and where they play; favorite it.

In US news, Jozy Altidore was held out of training today.  He is still listed as day to day.  I doubt he plays tomorrow but there is no major worry (yet) about his health for June 12th, including from members of the team.

Check out the new SI cover as well…believe in the jinx?

Onto the real purpose of this post…

USA v Australia


With Altidore probably sitting out you have to assume that BB will give a chance to some of his other choices.  Robbie Findley could get the start after last weekend’s performance and whether or not he can maintain that level will be interesting.  As stated, his previous USMNT exploits were nothing worthy of note but if he can continue to get the ball in dangerous places and get the ball to dangerous places, he can cement his status as the first choice striking substitute.

Will Bradley give chances to Herculez and/or Buddle?  Herculez impressed against the Czech Republic but didn’t appear vs Turkey.  Buddle is more physical but hasn’t done much to impress in either of the previous warmups.  I think Herculez and his knack for scoring is the more dangerous option and it would be nice to see him get some time on the field in SA prior to the start of the tournament.

If the staff is feeling creative, they could pair Donovan and Dempsey up top to start and see how that works out.  They have shown a tendency to shift players around the field in both previous exhibitions and this is an excellent way to keep the offense fresh and moving with out making any major changes; overall an excellent addition to Bradley’s coaching repertoire.


After Jose Torres’s revelation last weekend, BB now has some serious midfield options.  I think he his most effective in the middle of the field rather than on the wings, where Holden and Beasley are more effective.  Bradley Jr and Torres seem to work well together, although there is a slight loss in defensive quality with out Clark or Edu.

Speaking of these two, Clark was fairly underwhelming in the first half vs Turkey and gives the ball away too easily in my opinion.  Maurice Edu, while maybe not quite as physical, is a better with the ball and a steadier presence.  Whether Edu or Clark is BB’s preference tomorrow probably holds the upper hand heading into the melee.

The pairing of either of these two with Bradley is more defensive, while bringing Torres in alongside Bradley represents a more offensive mindset and I think the staff will experiment with both ideas.

The injuries upfront have kind of set off this chain reaction in the midfield, filling it with more uncertainty than in the past.  The depth is there to compensate, it is just up to individual players (Holden, Beasley, Clark, Edu, Torres) to step up and claim the playing time.

If Donovan and Dempsey do in fact start up front, I think you would see one of Clark/Edu/Torres, Bradley Jr, Holden, and Beasley in the midfield.


As this is the unit where cohesiveness and understanding is most important, you have to think that BB will go with his preferred lineup to start the game.  It will be an interesting look at the perceived fitness level of all the top choices (from left to right); Bocanegra, Onyewu, Demerit, Cherundolo.

You could say that Spector still has a shot at the RB role but I think Bradley will play it safe and go with the experienced/solid Cherundolo in lieu of the more offensively adept but raw Spector.

How long Onyewu and Bocanegra last will be interesting as neither has yet to play 90 minutes since returning from injury.  Bocanegra looked comfortable last week and Onyewu did improve; it would be incredibly encouraging to see them each last 75+ minutes.  Demerit lasted 90 last weekend and I would imagine he does so again tomorrow.


Australia is a team that the US should beat.  Being that this is a true warm up game and everyone will be very cautious out there, some tentativeness is expected.  A draw would be nothing to stress about about but if the American’s have trouble getting on the board or holding the ball, then there is some reason to worry.  However, no one should ever confuse pre-tournament form with tournament performance (see Celtics, Boston, 2010 NBA playoffs).

Having played their last two exhibitions against European opponents who are comfortable in possession was good experience for this team and they really seemed to gain an understanding in the 2nd half vs Turkey.  The Australians lack that quality and will be much more likely to sit back, defend solidly, and try to take the chances that come their way.  Therefore, the US should be able to hold possession and dictate this game for long stretches, they have reached that level of play.

Once again, 8:30 AM EST, ESPN2.  Anyone getting up to watch?

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Overall the United States’ 2-1 come from behind victory this afternoon was a positive step and should definitely build confidence as they prepare for their departure for South Africa.  To come back with composure and the level of calm which they did is very impressive and should serve as a quality lesson on playing from behind.

The first half saw them maintain a very low level of possession and they weren’t doing great when they did get it.  However, it was the first time BB trotted out a top lineup like this in a while and it was going  to take some time for them to gel.    Turkey was running  them around holding possession and the US was relying on deep balls, too often giving the ball right back to the opposition.  Some key substitutions at the half saw the dynamic change entirely and they looked much more dangerous and cohesive for the 2nd 45 minutes.

It should be noted that  even though the US is on the way to South Africa while Turkey is just finishing a long European season and will be home for the tournament, this is a quality win.  Europe is the toughest region to qualify from and based on the  nature of the tournament and the cycle of talent, good teams will watch from home.  Turkey is one of them.

I thought it might be interesting to comment on individuals in a pass fail style… Cool?  Cool.  Nature of the game says that most of them passed.

From back to the front.


Tim Howard – maybe could have done a little better on the goal but at least he didn’t get hurt.  Would rarely fail.

Carlos Bocanegra – Probably should have fouled the man in possession directly prior to the goal.  Other than that he looked good coming forward, confident in possession and never exposed at the back.  Overall a good return which definitely eased some of the defensive concerns.

Jonathan Bornstein – More of a precautionary sub, he did fine but is clearly the #2 option at LB.  That being said I wouldn’t be surprised to see him if the US is protecting a lead and wanted to bring an additional defensive presence.

Clarence Goodson – Not overly present but never grossly exposed.  Definitely the fourth option at CB and could provide a little offensive help if the US finds themselves in that type of position.

Jay Demerit – Can sometimes get caught heading one direction but overall read the game well and provides excellent coverage.  Speedy enough to be the final man and a good compliment to Onyewu.

Oguchi Onyewu – Only a half this afternoon but a quality one.  Looked more confident in winning the ball and not afraid to get himself dirty.  A more complete performance next Saturday would make a lot of people feel better.

Steve Cherundolo – Not as athletic as Spector but more experience, especially at the International level should make him the right sided defensive starter.  Smart coming forward and more positionally sound.

Ricardo Clark – Fairly solid if not unspectacular but that is a good thing for your defensive midfielder.  I think his time in Germany is helping him mature.  Will be interesting to see if Bradley gives him another chance next weekend or if Edu gets the call.

Michael Bradley – Really solidifying himself as the core of this team; solid defensively, very good distribution, and dangerous going forward.  He has shown a strikers sense which made it surprising to see him lay back for Dempsey towards the end.  Has kept his cool lately and if he has moved out of that short tempered phase it would be a very big step in his maturity.  Should be a big part of how this team fares in SA.

Jose Torres – Harkes called him the Man of the Match and while I don’t agree, he did bring a level of energy and creativity which changed things.  His combination with Bradley was effective and definitely made the whole team more offensive.  It would be a surprise to see Bradley forgo a traditional defensive midfielder but this is an intriguing option.

Stuart Holden – Not a lot of time out there but did provide a nice ball on Bradley Jr’s run into the box.  Similar to Torres he enjoys having the ball and is collected with it at his feet.  The US definitely has some options when it comes to attacking minded midfielders.

Clint Dempsey – He admitted to some rust in the first half which probably led to his ineffectiveness in the early going.  Did real well to take down the ball and finish the winner.  Obviously a key cog to this team.

Landon Donovan – A positive performance.  He is a key creator and did well to set up Jozy Altidore’s tying goal.  Not always the most effective in possession but this isn’t his role.

Jozy Altidore – Always looks dangerous and did well to create space for himself.  You would like to see him make some more darting runs and try to get himself in behind the defense but he knows how to use his big/physical nature to keep the ball and be dangerous.  Good positioning to get the  goal.

Robbie Findley –  Everyone else looks kind of dumb after the reaction to BB’s decision to take him along.  He played a gorgeous ball over the top to Donovan which led to the equalizing goal.  Continuously made the runs he was brought along and got himself in dangerous positions with possession.  Seems to always think forward, he needs  to read the pass back on occasion instead of just trying to run by guys.


Jonathan Spector – Not really at fault for the goal as someone should have been providing cover after his good run.  However, he did get beat a few other times.  Doesn’t seem to be entirely comfortable at this level yet.

Benny Feilhaber – Nothing great from him.  Looked a little more comfortable when he switched over the right hand side but still seems a little disinterested or unenergized or something, I am not really sure.  Every now and then provides an visionary ball but not the top option for his role right now.

I am much more confident now than I was prior to this game.  This team is in good shape and should look to build off this as they shift their concentration to acclimatize to South Africa.

Anyone out there in the ether have any thoughts?  How do you feel about this team now compared to prior to this game?

Check back for various fun World Cup stuff prior the final warm up game next Saturday AM…


Excellent analysis on the match from Leander  Schaerlaeckens at ESPN.com

Player ratings from Mr. Schaerlaeckens as well

Jose Torres on some of the influences on his recent development into a more complete midfielder

Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey on the striking options

Goal.com weighs in with their own player ratings

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