Germany Above All

July 13, 2014 8 comments

This is the first World Cup since 1998 that I have not won the “office and friend pool” World Cup Predictor Bracket.

 

I just want to throw that out there.

I won the last 3 – and although not a large group – it’s still a streak I was proud of. Back in early June I picked Germany to meet Argentina in the final — but I thought the Germans would struggle and lose. Remember, this is a national team that – until today – had lost more finals than they had won. And I figured that they would struggle to win a world cup final in Brazil. Boy am I glad I was wrong!

The streak I didn’t think would end has finally become a thing of the past: A European soccer team has traveled to the Western Hemisphere and won the World Cup trophy.

First European team to travel to Western Hemisphere and win the World Cup

Congratulations to the first European team to travel to the Western Hemisphere and win the World Cup – Germany 2014

 

It was a nerve-racking final game. Argentina was missing one of their best attackers (Di Maria) and Germany was missing the midfield excellence of Sami Khedira. Honestly, I thought that both teams struggled for long periods of the game due to these missing players who have played such an important part in the other games.

So let’s rank the final 4 teams of the tournament and see where they stack up:

brazilLogo

I thought Brazil was a bit lucky to get this far. In my opinion they made a terrible team selection from the outset. Their coach chose poor strikers. Fred and Jo were abysmal. I’m betting that almost anyone could have been as dangerous as Jo was on the pitch, and I’m sure we all could have fallen over as many times as Fred did in the penalty box. The team was missing a wise head in midfield. While they had Neymar they were dangerous – yes – but he was mostly dangerous due to his dribbling skills and speed. He was more of a dribbling-to-be-dangerous player, only combining with others when forced to. In the early rounds he often chose to “go it alone” rather than combining with teammates to create a simpler path to goal. They needed someone like Kaká to keep possession in attack better, and they should have played Willian a whole lot more.

And their defenders — what is there to say? David Luis heading a ball back onto his 12 yard line for the Dutch to hammer home instead of just hitting it out of bounds? Seriously!? Even young American defenders know not to do that! Maicón was guilty of some of the worst defending a World Cup has ever seen. Cafú – the legendary Brazilian right back – was probably dying watching Maicón struggle out there. The Brazilians seemed content to let their defenders smash 60-yard balls down the field “Chelsea-style” to pick out their forwards. No Brazilian team of the past has played this way. It was both parts hilarious and sad to behold.

 

 

hollandLogo

Holland gave us one of the treats of the World Cup, dispatching a woeful Spanish side in the early rounds. But as the competition became more difficult, they struggled to score goals. They got a bit lucky to score 2 against Mexico. But then they went two full games plus two extra times and couldn’t score a goal against Costa Rica or Argentina. This is not the usual behavior of a World Cup winning team.

Of course once Holland faced Brazil’s porous defense, they re-discovered their goal-scoring form, winning 3-0. Which just goes to show how bad Brazil’s defense was.

Overall – Holland’s defense was great. They did a great job shutting down Messi in the semi final. The great Lionel Messi was hardly noticeable on the pitch. Ron Vlaar especially had some great tackles taking the ball away from Messi in multiple one-vs-one situations. After the opening round, Holland only gave up one goal over 3 games.

Offensively they relied too much on Arjen Robben’s dribbling. Sneidjer wanted to combine with people — and when they did combine thru the middle — they did create chances. But more often than not, in the knock-out rounds, they would pass the ball to Robben and rely on his dribbling to break down the opponents. Honestly – how much combination play does Robben do? Hello…. total football anyone?

The “dribbling plan” almost worked. (And it did save them against Mexico.) There were two times against Argentina when Robben beat the defense and could have passed the ball to another player to score. But no! The curse of Robben and his desire to take his extra touches doomed the Dutch again! Against Argentina, Huntelaar was twice left waiting for a pass in front of an open goal to win the semi-final. But Robben took an extra touch, Mascherano made the game-saving tackle, and the chance was lost.

And finally, it’s difficult to fault a ‘keeper about losing a penalty shootout – but didn’t it look like some of those Argentinian penalties were saveable? Tim Krul made some big saves against Costa Rica — where was he when they needed him?

 

 

ArgentinaLogo

Argentina never looked like hitting the highs of their 1986 triumph. To me they were mostly a one-man team in terms of creating anything on offense. In the knock-out round, Argentina needed extra time against the Swiss — the same Swiss team that the French put 5 goals past. Messi juked through some defenders and laid off a slide-rule pass to Di Maria to win the game. In the quarterfinal an accidental deflection put the ball onto Higuaín’s foot for a nice first-time finish, but it’s not like Argentina broke down Belgium’s defense. In the semifinal Messi was shut down by Holland’s excellently strong and fast defenders, and — tellingly — Argentina again struggled to create scoring chances. Argentina’s best chances to re-discover their goal scoring came against a slow (Howedes) and injured (Hummels) German defense in the Final — and even though they were gifted with multiple one-vs-one chances, they could hardly put a shot on goal.

Overall, they were a very organized team defensively. They were difficult to break down and the goal keeper made some great saves. Offensively, Lionel Messi wasn’t nearly as dangerous as I had feared he would be. He scored some great goals in the early rounds, but unlike Diego Maradona, he didn’t deliver much as the competition wore on. In 1986, Maradona scored or assisted 5 of their last 7 goals in the quarters, semis and final game. On the other hand, Lionel Messi didn’t score after the opening group games, and notched one solitary assist.

You would think that with the fearsome attacking talent of Gonzalo Higuaín, Sergio Aguero, Di Maria and Messi they would have scored more goals, but I believe they didn’t because they focused their play too much through one player rather than interchangeable combination play.

 

 

GermanyLogo

What is there more to say than the best team won? Germany survived Algeria and realized that their defenders were too slow. So they subbed out Mertesacker (finally!) and took care of France in the quarterfinals in a snooze-fest. I’m not sure how many dangerous attacks France created after going down 1-0, but it wasn’t many. The semi-final against Brazil was over even before Neymar’s injury and Thiago Silva’s suspension. I predicted Germany’s disciplined attack would be too much for the free-wheeling Brazilians over a month ago. I just didn’t realize how bad it would be! And it could have been worse!! Some say Mezut Ozil purposefully shanked his shot wide towards the end of the game because as he approached — he saw the Brazilian goalkeeper crying and he felt bad. Some say….

The same problem affected the Germans that often does — they are missing a true goal scoring threat. The fact that the Germans won the World Cup with a 36 year old striker leading the line, missing their (possibly?) most influential central midfielder (Sami Kehdira), and had an injured center-back (Hummels) that played despite a knee injury shows how much of a team they truly had. 

I believe the Germans were victorious because of the way they focused on playing combination football, with lots of diagonal runs, triangles and intelligent attacking movement off the ball to break down their opponents. They didn’t have their best attacking player in Brazil, so they had to rely on true team attacking football. Germany’s best striker, Marco Reus, tore ankle ligaments in a warm up right before the world cup and was unable to attend. If Reus had come to the World Cup, I can only imagine what would have happened to Brazil that night!

The final wasn’t the best game for Germany – they struggled to break down an organized and motivated Argentinian defense. And they were lucky that Argentina couldn’t score goals. Argentina were lucky that Germany hit a post and missed multiple open shots on goal from inside the penalty box. Argentina had multiple one-vs.-one with the German goalkeeper, but quailed each time at the crucial moment.

In the end, the difference was that German striker Mario Goetze took his chance where the Argentinian strikers did not.

And what a goal it was!!

Super Mario's Super Moment

Super Mario’s Super Moment

 

What are your thoughts? Was FIFA right in giving Messi the “best player in the tournament” award although he scored no goals after the opening round and registered one single assist?

If not, who was better?

 

 

 

 

Bravery goes unrewarded

July 13, 2014 3 comments

Round of 16 games — some very brave teams went unrewarded. Soccer can be such a cruel game sometimes.

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Chile had a huge chance to make history. A crossbar and some bad luck did them in. Yes Brazil was a better side and had more dangerous chances, but Chile’s bravery went unrewarded.

He was this close to knocking out Brazil with 15 seconds left

Pinilla of Chile was this close to knocking out Brazil with 15 seconds left

Switzerland almost pulled a great upset against Argentina. No one gave them a chance (me included) but they took Argentina to the wire. Only a very inspired run from Lionel Messi separated them from a possible spot in the Quarterfinals.

Switzerland came this close against heavily favored Argentina

Switzerland came this close against heavily favored Argentina

Algeria were very brave against Germany, almost catching the sleeping giant for the second time in their world cup history. Manuel Neuer had to make many saving tackles to keep Germany in the game. In the end Algeria put up a good fight, but not good enough.

Mexico were one of the biggest surprises in the tournament. They barely qualified, and then almost beat Brazil — and almost beat the Netherlands in the round of 16. Mexico was very brave, but defended too deeply for too long in the second half. I hope that’s the last we see Rafael Marquez and his brand of “tackling” in the world cup. Good riddance.

The USA gave Belgium a scare too. I wouldn’t say that the USA put up such a brave display as Chile or Switzerland  — they hardly troubled Belgium for almost the entire game — but they did end with a flourish. And they could have stolen the game away from Belgium except for some poor finishing in the 90+ minute of regular time. See here.

The USA had this chance to win the game with 1 minute left, but we missed the goal completely

The USA had this chance to win the game with 1 minute left, but we missed the goal completely

 

Except for Costa Rica, all of the brave underdog teams with a chance to advance to the World Cup Quarterfinals failed at the last. For some teams it would have been their first quarterfinal appearance, and for others it was a chance to upset the status quo of quarterfinals full of European and South American giants. In the end, normal service was resumed.

 

Thoughts? What was your favorite “non-favored” team in World Cup 2014?

 

Landon Donovan missed versus Belgium

July 1, 2014 3 comments

**********************

Sehr geehrter Herr Jurgen Klinsmann,

We sure missed Landon Donovan today against Belgium.

Here’s what we want to know:

Who would be a better late-game substitute – Landon or Wondolowski?

Remember Landon scoring this wonderful injury time winner to help us win our group stage in 2010?

You know, our nation’s record world cup goal scorer?

Still in his prime and scoring plenty of goals?

************

And in 2014, we had the ball at our foot,

6 yards out,

unmarked,

61 seconds left in regulation…

(only the goal keeper to beat)

…and we couldn’t get the shot on frame.

WondoMiss2014

We missed the goal completely.

Landon, where were you when we needed you most?

Just thought you might like to know what our entire nation is thinking right now.

landonD

Good job getting out of the group stage with a win.

But you blew it on your decision to leave Landon Donovan behind.

************

Kind regards,

American soccer fans

She doesn’t know what she’s talking about

June 25, 2014 8 comments

No one has Ann Coulter as their favorite media person. It’s highly unlikely, anyway. Every once in a while she has something interesting to say, but the instances are too few and far between for most people to listen very closely.

Today she wrote an article about America Hating Soccer. During the World Cup. So I thought I’d check it out.

It was immediately obvious that she is trying to use a current and highly popular event to further her own agenda and maintain some relevance. The details she has chosen to complain about soccer will make you realize just how little she understands what she’s talking about.

Welcome to the game

Welcome to the game

Ann says there’s no individual achievement in soccer. Let’s just stop right there. Are there any people who follow sports that actually believe the #1 point in her article? Go ask Messrs. Rooney, Ronaldo, Messi, Gerard, Dempsey, Gyan — etc — if there are heroes and accountability to your whole nation in soccer. It’s too ridiculous to spend time on.

She says she doesn’t know if there are any MVPs in soccer. Well, there are, Ann. They award MVPs at an international level. Domestic leagues (just like the NBA or NFL in America) also have an award for ‘best player of the year’. I imagine she didn’t know this because she didn’t take the time to research her topic.

She says girls play soccer with boys when they are kids, so it must not be a serious sport.  I’m not sure if you have noticed — but girls also compete against the boys playing American Helmet Football when they are children — and they do quite well — take a LOOK.

So, does this mean American Football is not a sport Ann?

And hey Ann, why is it that American Helmet Football is the only sport at the NCAA level that has college women playing with the men? It’s Here. And Here. Is it because they feel comfortable in pads (wink!) and like the shiny helmets?

Have you seen any of the world cup games, Ann, before you wrote that you’re not sure if there are any fights or battles going on out on the field? Here’s some pics in case you missed them.

Thomas-Muller-bloody

Clint Dempsey broken nose

 

Italy's Mario Balotelli jumps on top of Uruguay's Alvaro Pereira during their 2014 World Cup Group D soccer match at the Dunas arena in Natal

 

Elbows to faces (without helmets, gasp!), black eyes, cleats to legs and abdomens, knees to the head, bloody faces, broken noses. I’m sure you aren’t aware of these things because you haven’t taken the time to learn about it before writing your dismal article. The last time I checked, American Football players can get juice boxes in between each 3 – 5 second play if they waddle over to the side line, and American baseball players sometimes eat complete meals during the course of a baseball game. And I’m not talking about the kids sports like you were – with the juice boxes and ribbons for everyone.

(Why do you keep comparing children’s soccer to the adult versions of other American sports? If this is an example of your journalistic nous, I’m going to have to pay much closer attention to examples you give in any other articles that happen to get forwarded my way.)

The most hilarious part about Ann is that she doesn’t like soccer because “it’s foreign” and “it’s like the metric system”. I have another possibility Ann. You don’t like it because you don’t understand it. Some say you are not open minded (as if that’s a news flash…) and you are just hitting out because you don’t get it. Some say.

The dark side of Ann’s article is when she writes, “If more “Americans” are watching soccer today, it’s only because of the demographic switch effected by Teddy Kennedy’s 1965 immigration law. I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer.”

Wow. How xenophobic of you Ann. Are you an idiot? Do you even know who your audience is?

Look at the hordes of Chicago world cup fans in this picture:

Raise your hands if your grandparents were born in America

Raise your hand if your great grandparents were born in America

I am betting that ALL OF THEIR GREAT GRANDPARENTS were born in America.

Here’s another tidbit I’d like to share: I work at a software company with engineers that don’t know or care anything about soccer. (By the way, their grandparents were born in America.) Five of them have talked to me about soccer this past week. They have said how they normally don’t pay much attention to sports in general, but they are really enjoying the World Cup. I was stunned. They actually took time away from World of Warcraft to check out some of the games. Twice!

A couple of days ago I ran into 2 huge guys doing work in the company parking lot. They were about 6 feet tall, maybe 250 – 275 pounds. Big boys doing hard work. When I got to my car, they were right by it. One of them had noticed a hat in my car (Portland Timbers) and he said to me, “based on your hat, you must be enjoying this time of year.”

I said “because of the World Cup…?”

He said “of course.”

I looked at him right in the eyes and said, “I imagine American football is your favorite sport…?”

He said “yeah, of course”.

So I said, “…And you’re following the world cup?”

He said, ” yeah, it’s interesting. I’m actually enjoying the games. It’s cool to see your country out there fighting away.”

Huh. Who woulda thunk it, right Ann? Certainly not you.

Just get your facts right and stick to topics you understand. And trust me — it isn’t soccer in America.

Sometimes row Z is best

June 25, 2014 2 comments

Michael Bradley and the US had a nightmare against Ghana in the opening game for USMNT in World Cup 2014.

We gave the ball away again and again, and seemed too scared to hold onto the ball. Hey. It happens. I was a little worried that this World Cup was picking up where 2010 left off for us, but was also hopeful it was just a one-off. We certainly had been playing some good soccer leading up the World Cup Finals.

Cameron slices to Nani

Cameron slices to Nani

The game against Portugal started well for the US. Except for the early screw-up, we actually started playing soccer. Bradley’s combinations with Dempsey in the first half were particularly impressive. As the game wore on, Bradley’s influence waned. Jermaine Jones stepped forward as the heart and soul of the USMNT — the one whose performance the team could rally around.

As the US applied pressure trying to equalize, there were multiple times our midfield received the ball from one side of the pitch, that, if we had realized we were not under pressure, could have easily switched play. Instead, we almost always one-touched the ball back to the same side of the pitch where it came from, back into traffic. I felt that Bradley, as one of our leaders and top players, was too guilty of this.

Tellingly, it was Jones that took the shot for the equalizing goal. It was also Jones that made the defense-splitting pass that sprung Yedlin that led to the USMNT’s second goal. Thank goodness the Portuguese haven’t heard of keeping up with the Joneses.

And what of the end of the game? We had the ball at our feet with 58 seconds to play. Yedlin had it in the corner. Klinsmann was pleading with the team to move back and get in a defensive position with less than a minute to go. But instead, with 45 seconds to play, we have three players, including one of our central midfielders, applying pressure near the Portuguese penalty area. Why?

We had the ball again, at Michael Bradley’s feet, with 37 seconds left to play. Can someone let me know what he was thinking when he tried to dribble out of trouble? Was he trying to beat all three of those Portuguese midfielders at once? A coach of mine once yelled, when I tried to dribble out of trouble and lost the ball, “what, does everyone think they are Beckenbauer?”  That’s what went through my mind when Bradley tried to take that ball down and dribble out of trouble. Bad decision.

Geoff Cameron wasn’t ready at the beginning of the game to make a simple clearance that led to Portugal’s opening goal. And at the end of the game, after Bradley lost the ball with 35 seconds to play, you can watch Cameron make his way back to goal. He looks back up the field at the Portuguese players, but he doesn’t look behind him. Not. Once. There was a Portuguese forward lurking behind his shoulder, but he was unaware — he didn’t look around to see where everyone was. Ever. Bad decision.

You can see, as Ronaldo’s cross comes in, Cameron doesn’t know that Portugal’s Varela is behind him. He is surprised as their forward beats him to the ball for the game tying goal. Cameron actually kicks Varela (accidentally) as he is scoring because he didn’t know Varela was there.

Sometimes in soccer it’s your first touch that counts. And sometimes it’s your decision making.

And sometimes “row Z” is the appropriate place to play the ball.

Bradley did it in the waning minutes vs. Ghana. He made the decision to dribble the ball into the midfield rather than the corner flag, and he gave the ball away. Ghana was able to launch one more attack while we were hanging on for dear life. The British announcer was stunned. He said any experienced player would have taken it to the corner flag to salt away the game.

Bradley with ball 35 seconds to play

Bradley with ball, 39 seconds to play

 

 

And now today. Ball at our feet with less than a minute to play and a decision to make: do I bring it down in traffic and try to dribble out of trouble, or should I just kick the ball out of bounds to row Z and get our defense organized for the final 30 seconds of the game?

 

 

 

Well, the decisions to trap and dribble the ball out of trouble in the midfield in the dying moments have failed in both of our group games so far. (Ahem, Michael.)

To all young American soccer players everywhere: Sometimes Row Z is the best option! You might not look the best doing it, but you also have to think: what is going to get us the win?

 

 

A colleague of mine was just fired

June 25, 2014 1 comment

A colleague of mine was just fired, and I’m hurting. I feel awful. I believe it happened because of petty personal differences, and the other leaders went along with it because they don’t understand the value of some of their employees – and at this time – one in particular.

Let’s call him “B” as in “The Bird.” He came to us a broken man 3 years ago. His wife had just left. She was cheating on him – and once she got caught – she served him divorce papers. Right afterwards, he lost his job of 20 years at a Fortune 500 company. Divorced. Unemployed. Really down on himself. Borderline depressed. (That’s my non-clinical diagnosis – I’m good at those.)

What did the 3 years at our company do for him? He re-learned that he has a ton to offer.

He and I designed a product from scratch – working with doctors – and it has been purchased and is in use by some of the leading medical institutions in North America. From nothing we learned a market, created prototypes and suggested solutions, designed the interfaces and worked with programmers to develop the product … and after some alpha and beta releases, it has been adopted by multiple top tier organizations around the US.

He trained multiple co-worker(s) in the art of requirements gathering, specification writing, and many of the skills needed to develop products … so much so that one particular colleague has developed the skills and experience to have a completely new career path.

He developed the training curriculum and performed online training for our customers.

He did a lot of the research and documentation that a company that broke off from us is utilizing as the basis for their product … and he wrote a ton of the use cases and requirement specifications that are the basis for their flagship product.

In short, even though he was never valued very highly by the leadership within our organization, he came to realize his value intrinsically. When they needed a new concept developed, who did they come to for requirements and specs to get the process started? The Bird. And every time a customer would comment “Oooh, it’s so easy to use” or “I really love how simple it is” or “Boy you guys sure got that right”, he would absolutely beam. He knows that we nailed it. And the fact that he could cobble-together a way to support the product from his office – using his own cell phone – without the requested diagnostic tool sets or adequate logs to help understand what was happening whenever there was a problem also showed him how innovative, creative, customer-oriented and problem-solving he really could be.

I’m proud of him. I don’t imagine he’ll stay unemployed for long.

Update: He was unemployed for about 4 weeks. He landed on his feet at a job paying him almost double what he was making with us. Oh – and the new company delivered his stock options the week he started.

What’s wrong with sorry England?

June 25, 2014 Leave a comment

England is out of the world cup having lost their first two games. Why are they so bad as a national team on the world stage? The British love to tell us that the Premier League is the best league in the world, but it must be due to all the foreign transplants.

Wonderful London Restaurant

Wonderful London Restaurant

 

I guess the foodies in London figured out the same thing regarding the London restaurant scene long ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The English squad doesn’t have the midfield play to compete with the world’s best teams. Watching Costa Rica (a nation with the population of Northumbria) vs Italy was amazing to behold when compared to how England played Italy. Costa Rica’s midfield was dynamic and tricky, combining to great effect – something England could never conjure.

There were so many times in the first half of the England v Uruguay game that 6 field players were behind the half-line in a sort of double defensive line, Gerard with the ball at his feet, wondering which wing to pass it to. Of the other four outfield players — two were up front being marked by five defenders, and there was one on each wing. The midfield was completely bereft of English jerseys.

When England did get the ball rolling through midfield, their play was straight forward and predictable. Can anyone cite a time when an English midfielder feinted one way, spun, and switched the field of play? Or a time there was one ounce of trickiness or guise in their play? Other than Sterling, what did England have? Once Lallana and Barkley came on in the second half things started to pick up for England a wee bit, and it was instantly obvious that Lallana had come to play, but it was a case of too little too late.

In today’s game against Costa Rica, it was a case of the “same old boring England.” There were multiple opportunities that Sterling created going forward. Sturridge showed neatly from the center forward position, and then… what? All of Costa Rica knew what was coming next. Everyone in the stadium and homes around the globe knew that Sturridge would try a one-two pass with Sterling.

The only reason I didn’t get there first from my couch was because I was crowded out by the 5 Costa Rican defenders who beat me to the ball.

Do you know what a Uruguayan or Costa Rican midfielder would have done receiving the ball that Sturridge got? He would have feinted the pass to Sterling, and switched play to the completely wide open midfielder on the other side of the pitch. There was no one within 20 yards of the player. This happened over and over and over for the English. England’s play — even when their passes were clicking and connecting — were so straight forward that the other teams’ defense had plenty of time to read and adjust. Remember Pirlo’s dummy that set up Italy’s first goal? All of England was fooled. When did England’s midfield fool anyone?

When Costa Rica played Italy their midfielders twisted, feinted, turned and passed their way through the Italian midfield time and time again. They would flood an area with 3 or more “middies” and then make triangles through the Azzuri in ways England couldn’t hope to do.

Yes, England created chances. And truly, I believe they were a bit unlucky to lose to Uruguay. Rooney had one against the crossbar and an open look at the ‘keeper from 8 yards that he couldn’t convert. They were a bit unlucky. But their true problem is that they struggle to control games and impose their will without better midfield play.

And what of the goals they conceded? Balotelli getting a header at the far post? On a cross like that? Isn’t defending crosses England’s bread and butter? Do we need to bring in some Scottish consultants from Rangers or Celtic? You know, people who see crosses all day, every day? How is this possible, England?

And I love/hate the goal worked by the Suarez / Cavani combination.suarezGoal It was a 2 vs. 6. As in 2 strikers against 6 defenders. And a goalie. Who do you think should win? How is Glen Johnson standing so far off Cavani when there were literally 3 layers of defenders behind him? Go. Put. In. A. Tackle. Forgoodnesssake! Make him pull it back. Put him under pressure, suffocate him. Even if you miss, there are 3 more of your mates behind you. Do something other than give him time to pick out a perfectly weighted chip onto Suarez’s head.

 

If I’m an English coach, I’m going to take that video clip to practice tomorrow. I’m going to show my team how 2 strikers with feints (Cavani) and clever running (Suarez) can beat 6 defenders. And start training them now so that this doesn’t happen to them in 2022.

Sorry England.

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