Archive for the ‘soccer’ Category

Life is getting weirder all the time.

I know this because I did something Friday evening that I once would have laughed at if it were suggested by someone.

I wrote a preview about an MLS game.

Wait, did everyone just collapse in bewilderment?

Let me repeat myself, I previewed an MLS game between the Philadelphia Union and New York City FC.

Making it doubly weirder is Saturday’s game will be played in Yankee Stadium.

So I guess it isn’t the House that Ruth Built after all. Is it the House that Pele Built?

Go ahead, read the preview — it can be found lots of places. I personally like that it somehow landed on Yahoo! Sports and gives credit to an organization that I didn’t write it for. (My first ever MLS preview … OMG).

Yeah, the Internet keeps getting weirder too.

The best thing is I never heard of any of those players or coaches I mentioned in the preview. Nope, not even David Villa, the MLS’ leading goal scorer.

It’s true, never heard of David Villa.

Guess he must be kind of good.

It’s not that I am against soccer – I watch the World Cup games every four years and I once covered the U.S. team for a couple weeks while it was training in San Diego. Oh yeah, I covered future World Cup stalwarts Marcelo Balboa and Eric Wynalda for two seasons as a student beat reporter at San Diego State.

I even attended indoor soccer games when the San Diego Sockers were winning titles faster than Donald Trump ships out immigrants.

But I typically rake in the big dough by writing about NFL, NBA and MLB teams and college football and basketball programs.

This is definitely a whole new world to be paid to write about soccer.

Geez, what’s next? Writing about WNBA teams?

Uh oh, I hear that might happen next.

Stay tuned.

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Something tells me there will be a lot of teenagers named Carli about 15 years from now.

And that’s fine after Carli Lloyd stenciled herself into United States athletics lore with an epic performance on the biggest stage in women’s soccer.

Lloyd scored three goals to lead the United States women’s national team to an easy 5-2 victory over Japan in Sunday’s championship match. The World Cup title is the first for the Americans since Brandi Chastain’s famous penalty-kick goal decided the 1999 finale.

Talk about a big-time performance in a pressure-packed situation in Vancouver. Lloyd scored all three of her goals in the first 16 minutes, including an epic blast from just inside the center line.

There are a couple NFL teams that could use a kicker like that.

The 32-year-old Lloyd scored six goals in the World Cup and strongly shut down the criticism that former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage recently tossed her way in an interview with the New York Times.

“Carli Lloyd was a challenge to coach,” Sundhage told the publication. “When she felt that we had faith in her, she could be one of the best players. But if she began to question that faith, she could be one of the worst.”

The comments made Lloyd sound like a mentally weak head case who might fold under the pressure.

Seems like that scouting report didn’t hold up in the World Cup — hmmm, maybe coach Sundhage was part of the problem.

Those critical comments will quickly be forgotten after Lloyd’s fabulous finale and now her star will be rising as one of the top female athletic role models.

It is always a win-win when young girls find more heroes to emulate in the male-dominated sports field. They see NFL and NBA stars in commercials all the time but have to look hard to find someone of their own gender.

Two of my nieces have become starstruck over U.S. standout Alex Morgan and were among the thousands of little girls mesmerized by the “Share a Coke with Alex Morgan” promotion. The winner of the grand prize earns a training session for themselves and a friend with Morgan.

Carli Lloyd became the hero of numerous young girls on Sunday. Something tells me she won’t be overwhelmed by this new gig.

Anyone who can score three goals in the World Cup final can easily juggle having three million new fans.

As well as having chance encounters down the line with young girls who say “I was named after you!”

The United States women’s soccer team is back on the pitch Monday night and is hoping it will have enough punch to defeat Colombia and move one step closer to reaching the World Cup final on July 5.

Oh yeah, Hope Solo is on the squad. Clearly, the Americans definitely have enough PUNCH.

Solo might be a star goalkeeper but she is also a controversial figure after a domestic assault incident with two relatives last summer. The details in the police report make her sound like the female Floyd Mayweather and let’s just say that is no compliment.

There’s something about repeatedly smashing your 17-year-old nephew’s head into the concrete floor that doesn’t sit right. Obviously, it was a bad draw to land a strong soccer player as an aunt.

Solo tried to paint herself as the victim on a national television morning show but ESPN’s investigative team unearthed details of the way she acted in jail, and that marked the end of any sympathy points. A male athlete who acted that unsavory would be scorched in the media.

Hmmm, maybe Solo was suffering from roid rage. Any media outlets investigating that angle?

At least we know the USA women will win the postgame boxing match.

The story was close to flying under the radar for much of 2015 — just as the U.S. soccer federation was hoping — until ESPN timed its report for the beginning of the World Cup.

That put the lack of action against Solo and the lackluster investigation into the spotlight. Little hard to sweep it under the rug now despite coach Jill Ellis acting like it is something that happened decades ago.

Ellis, of course, needs Solo on the squad as she otherwise has no chance at coaching the Americans to a World Cup title. Apparently, Hope Solo is the only woman in this entire country who knows how to play goalie.

And now Ellis doesn’t want to deal with the situation and the players get stuck in the middle. They are sick of being asked questions about Solo but the goalie hasn’t faced the media in two weeks.

This isn’t going away ladies. Just because some of you wear dresses in your free time doesn’t make it acceptable for one of your teammates — a woman — to beat the tar out of two people.

Remember how everyone ripped the NFL for not penalizing Ray Rice severely enough before finally getting it right? Women’s soccer has gone the opposite route.

The organization figured it could do nothing because people don’t pay attention to the sport most of the time. They were gambling that it eventually would go away. The out of sight, out of mind phenomenon.

Unfortunately for them, the women’s World Cup is one of the few times we do care about soccer and that put the lack of punishment into the spotlight.

Too bad there isn’t a video of Solo pounding her nephew’s head into the ground floating around the Internet. That would change things real quick.

Solo apparently isn’t done with spin control. She recently had People Magazine over to her house and the publication printed a story over the weekend with Solo once again playing the victim.

“It’s been painful,” she said to the publication. “I almost lost my career. It’s been traumatic and embarrassing.”

Well, she should be embarrassed. Her own actions put herself in this situation and she deserves all the derisive comments people make on social-media sites.

Look, the women’s national team has had a number of solid role models over the years, ranging from the great Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy to current member Alex Morgan. Young girls look up to these women because they seldom see women professional athletes on television.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t any bad eggs mixed it. Look no further than Solo, who might not be Tonya Harding bad but she’s up there when we talk about unsavory female athletes.

And if the Americans need Solo’s “punch” to win, that’s pretty shameful. Perhaps it would be fitting if Solo makes a rare mistake and the United States loses on Monday.

I’m sure not flying solo when it comes to that opinion.

How nice it was for Mario Gotze of Germany to score late in extra time to make sure the World Cup final wasn’t decided by penalty kicks.

Gotze controlled a cross from Andre Schurrle with his chest before smacking a close-range, left-foot blast past Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero in the 114th minute to give Germany a dramatic 1-0 victory in Sunday’s championship match in Rio de Janeiro.

I’m sure there were many people like me fearing the solid match would be decided by penalty kicks – one of the dumbest ways to ever decide a title.

Can you imagine an NBA Finals game going two overtime periods and then everybody stopping and deciding it by making – or missing – free throws? Or the Super Bowl reaching a point in which the action is halted and the outcome is determined by kicking extra points?

Obviously, Dwight Howard wouldn’t be needed to participate in the free-throw shooting and could just depart the premises. And, um, how confused would Donovan McNabb get over the extra-point twist?

Thankfully, the soccer match was decided before we had to endure those shenanigans as Germany celebrates its first World Cup title since 1990 and its fourth overall.

Manuel Neuer played superbly in goal and the Germany defensive tactics made it difficult for Argentina star Lionel Messi to operate. Messi came up empty on his few opportunities, including a wide shot when the game was scoreless.

In fact, Messi had two late chances but headed the first attempt high and then his late free kick was so high over the goal that it undoubtedly landed somewhere near Panama.

Then again, I’m glad Messi didn’t sneak in a late goal. Then we would have gone to penalty kicks and we just can’t have that.

Because that would be like halting a World Series game after 12 innings and deciding it with stolen-base attempts.

Ummmmmm, thank you very much Mario Gotze.

Wasn’t sure if I would see another World Cup match this summer after the United States was eliminated from the festivities.

Figured I’d seen enough 1-0 games and I hate the fact an event of his stature has matches decided by these silly shootouts. That would be like the NFL allowing a Super Bowl to be decided via extra points?

But there I was watching the semifinal match on Tuesday and I witnessed something that I figured was pretty much impossible considering this elite level of soccer.

I saw this: Germany 7, Brazil 1.

I’m no soccer expert but I do know this – that is way more of a beat down than what the Seattle Seahawks put on the Denver Broncos in February’s Super Bowl.

I can’t figure out exactly how much more – 50 times more? Perhaps 100 times more?

Wait, this was BRAZIL getting torched like an elementary school team would if it played the Seattle Sounders.

This might be 1,000 times the beat down that Seattle put on Peyton Manning while silencing all signs of “O-MA-HA!”

Maybe the most accurate way to put it this: Germany’s stunning performance might be the best in history, regardless of sport. And Brazil’s showing – use whatever adjective for awful you prefer.

So many times, a team scores a goal 10 minutes into the game and the pressure ratchets on the other squad even though there is still nearly 80 minutes to play. You know, it is kind of hard to score in this sport.

But the goal by Thomas Muller in the 11th minute was just the beginning of a historic onslaught in which Germany scored five times in an 18-minute span.

Miroslav Klose scored in the 23rd minute, Toni Kroos tallied in both the 24th and 26th minutes and Sami Khedira made it 5-0 in the 29th minute. This was kind of like an NBA team losing by 100 early in the second quarter and you wouldn’t have been surprised if the Brazilians just walked off the pitch at halftime.

Andre Schurrle added goals for Germany in the 69th and 79th minutes to make it a 7-0 edge and you could just feel the embarrassment level soaring higher and higher. Oscar scored for Brazil in the 90th minute and that tally reminded you of the feeling of watching a match between six-year-old girls – when the losing team scores just before the end of an 11-1 loss because it was allowed to use more players than the other squad.

In other words, this one was historic flop for Brazil.

So glad I was tuned in – because this result will be recalled for ages as you just don’t see these types of shellackings in soccer. Especially at the World Cup level.

Suddenly Seahawks 43, Broncos 8 doesn’t sound so lopsided. At least not compared to Germany versus Brazil.

The first day of July was that rare afternoon where an American soccer player was the talk of the day.

United States goalkeeper Tim Howard had a game for the ages with 16 saves – the most ever by a U.S. goalie – and the 35-year-old tried to single-handedly boost the Americans past Belguim in the Round of 16 at the World Cup.

Howard used his ultra-strong legs, his machine-like hands and every other part of his body but a goal in the 93rd minute by Belguim’s Kevin De Bruyne was the icebreaker and Romelu Lukaku added another one 12 minutes later as the U.S. fell 2-1 in extra time.

Julian Green – all of 19 years old – got the USA on the board in the 107th minute and Clint Dempsey broke in close in the 114th minute but was stymied by Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois as the Americans had their World Cup run halted.

Belguim advances to face Argentina in the quarterfinals and it remains to be seen whether I watch another soccer match prior to the 2018 World Cup.

But what we saw on Tuesday was a classic sporting event. Nobody anywhere should find fault with the effort of Howard. His performance was epic and certainly one of the best ever in the history of USA soccer.

In case it hasn’t quite sunk in … you may have just witnessed the most remarkable effort from an American soccer player.

Belguim seemingly possessed the ball in front of the goal all game long and the U.S. defense was suspect way too often. It was almost like a game of college athletes against kindergartens, that’s how one-sided it was for most of the match.

In fact, I hope Howard’s postgame routine involved kicking every defender in the shins with his cleats. And then maybe using a hammer for two more swipes.

If Howard hadn’t been so stellar, Belguim wins 6-1. Heck, maybe 8-1.

When De Bruyne scored early in the extra 30-minute session, you could feel the air coming out of the sails.

The goal by Lukaku made it seem like a 30-point basketball margin in the fourth quarter but Green’s goal renewed hope and led to a suspenseful final push and Dempsey came so-oh-close to tying it off an indirect kick when he slipped through the Belguim wall but Courtois made the close-range save.

The Belgians ended up with 39 shots as Howard was peppered with shot after shot.

He made a huge save in the opening minute that set the tone for the performance. Big saves in the 57th, 71st, 76th, 85th and 90th minutes kept it scoreless and the USA had a chance to steal the win but Chris Wondolowski couldn’t finish from in close just before regulation time ended.

Asked by ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap in a postgame interview about being constantly under siege, Howard said simply: “It’s my job. That’s what I signed up to do.”

Somehow that comment wasn’t surprising. Howard was humble in defeat and didn’t point fingers. So much different than so many of the me-first athletes of this generation.

The Americans may have lost but Tim Howard is a winner.

Not just for one day either. He will be viewed that way forever.

It takes a lot to get me to pay attention to soccer as most of you know.

But something happened Sunday night that sure caught my attention – Landon Donovan scored two goals to become the leading goal scorer in MLS history.

Donovan has kind of been in the news a bit lately after we learned that he is somehow no longer one of the best 23 soccer players in the United States and was passed over for the World Cup team.

Let that sink in – the guy who scored one of the biggest goals in U.S. national team history to beat Algeria and get the Americans out of pool play in the 2010 World Cup and the guy known as the most prolific scorer in U.S. history, suddenly isn’t one of the top 23 players in this country.

Donovan found out earlier this week that he didn’t make the cut when the national team roster was revealed so it certainly is kind of fitting he scored twice to help the Los Angeles Galaxy to a 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Union on Sunday.

The 32-year-old Donovan was the face of the U.S. team in the last three World Cups and it is hard to believe he won’t be representing the team in Brazil next month.

Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has only four forwards on the roster and the omission of an offensive-minded midfielder like Donovan also might be due to a rift between the two. Certainly seems a bit odd that Klinsmann’s son – a guy named Jonathan Klinsmann – mocked Donovan on a social-media site when his omission was announced.

And then the younger Klinsmann pulled the cowardly act of deleting his account after introducing himself to the world as a first-rate buffoon. That smells bad and reflects on the elder Klinsmann and definitely casts doubt on whether his public comment can be accepted as a honest explanation for cutting Donovan.

“The ones we chose are just that inch ahead of ones we didn’t choose in performance terms,” Klinsmann told reporters.

I’ve heard of forwards Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore but am unfamiliar with the names – and skills – of Aron Johannsson and Chris Wondolowski.

Perhaps either Johannsson or Wondolowski is about to emerge as a big-time talent and be a difference-maker in the World Cup. I’m not going to bash those two guys – I can’t even tell you who they play for most of the time – and will keep this narrative focused on Donovan and how there has to be a way for him to be on a 23-man roster for the biggest soccer event in four years.

I see there are eight midfielders on the roster. Something sounds a little fishy for Donovan to not be one of the top eight.

Klinsmann says the players who were chosen were an inch ahead. Shouldn’t they have to be four or five inches ahead to knock a proven World Cup talent off the team? Maybe even a foot ahead should be the measure.

We’ve seen how valuable experience is in these World Cup games and I can picture a scenario occurring in which the U.S. offense has been stagnant and unable to get shots on goals and there is just 20 minutes to go and a tying goal is badly needed.

Sure would think signaling Donovan to go into the contest 70 minutes into the game when the opponent’s defenders and midfielders are tiring in the South America heat would be a soothing preference than calling on someone without a World Cup goal when you’re down one-nil.

After failing to make the national team roster, Donovan asserted he felt he was “at least as good as everybody else in camp.”

I have a hard time believing that isn’t true. To me, the face of U.S. soccer should have the opportunity to show the world whether he is still on top of his game.

We’re supposed to take the word of the coach that he’s no longer all that good.

But what I see are two goals and an assist in his first game since we were told he is no longer a World Cup quality player.

Simply put, Landon Donovan should be on the World Cup team.

For him to be at home watching on television like the rest of us clowns is just unacceptable.

Figured I should chime in a bit about the women’s World Cup title game since I made sure my Sunday revolved around it:

–I have no problem with Japan winning the match. Japan didn’t have as many goal-scoring opportunities as the United States but took advantage of the chances it did have and certainly looked more comfortable taking penalty kicks. The USA failed to take advantage of several strong first-half opportunities and it came back to cost the Americans the match.

–Abby Wambach etched her name in women’s soccer annals with another terrific goal and 22-year-old Alex Morgan displayed why she is the future of American soccer with a standout performance that included the goal that gave the United States a 1-0 lead.

–The game-tying goal off a corner kick by Japan’s Homare Sawa in the 116th minute was a goal for the ages. That was the type of clutch performance LeBron James (King With No Rings) could learn from.

–The Americans only made one of their penalty kicks while Japan placed three balls past goalkeeper Hope Solo. To me, Solo just didn’t look up to the task after injuring a knee late in the match. You could sense endorsement dollars trickling away as the one shot went off her hand en route to finding the back of the net.

–It was a fun soccer match to watch – something you don’t often hear from my mouth. Both teams competed hard and in a classy manner and represented their sport well.

–The Americans didn’t have killer instinct on their side and twice blew one-goal leads. There is only one direction to point the fingers when that occurs.

–It was the first soccer match I watched from start to finish in 13 months. Have no idea whether I will watch another one in its entirety between now and the 2014 men’s World Cup.

–One thought that hit me – I have no idea how people watch Major League Soccer games on a regular basis. The average pro soccer game doesn’t appeal to me.

–Again, I enjoyed the game immensely and have no problem with the outcome – Japan deserved the victory.

After the United States was ousted from the 2010 men’s World Cup 13 months ago, I pondered when I would next watch a soccer match.

I now have the answer – Sunday. And it will involve women playing the game, not men.

The United States meet Japan in the 2011 women’s World Cup in Germany and the match has definitely reached must-watch viewing status.

The U.S. women have gone 12 years since winning the World Cup. You probably recall that 1999 final for Brandi Chastain’s postmatch celebration after she scored the decisive penalty kick against China. That’s the much-replayed scene of Chastain ripping off her jersey top and celebrating in her sports bra.

This year’s squad doesn’t have the star power of the 1999 team, a roster that included legends Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Michelle Akers and Kristine Lilly as well as other standouts like Joy Fawcett, Tiffeny Milbrett and San Pasqual High graduate Shannon MacMillan.

However, the current USA team does possess the same will to win. The Americans have put together back-to-back courageous victories, defeating Brazil in penalty kicks and scoring two late goals in a 3-1 victory over France last Wednesday to reach the title match.

Abby Wambach’s late goal on a header kept the United States alive in the previous match against Brazil to send the match into penalty kicks. Wambach followed up on that accomplishment by scoring the go-ahead goal against France.

Wambach and goalkeeper Hope Solo have become households name this month and it’s always nice to see hard-working women athletes receive deserved notoriety.

A World Cup title will give those two athletes – and whoever emerges as a star in the finale – a chance to cash in like U.S. Olympic medalists do. Lindsey Vonn was ready to cash in after the 2010 Winter Olympics and hopefully some of these women will get a chance as well.

In case you aren’t aware, women’s soccer player isn’t a high-paying occupation in the United States.

These women play the game because they have a passion for it. Soccer is a hard sport to play at its highest level and there is no bigger stage than the one the United States will play on Sunday.

Beat Japan in the title match and some of these women will be remembered for a long time – just the way Chastain and some of her 1999 teammates are now.

The Americans get Torrey Pines High graduate Rachel Buehler back for the title game after she missed the France match due to a red card. You figure Buehler will be well-rested as she plays her typical feisty match.

Another player easy to root for is Ali Krieger, who had to fight for her life in 2005 after blood clots in her lungs nearly killed her. Krieger scored the decisive penalty kick in the quarterfinal victory over Brazil.

Coach Pia Sundhage has done a great job with this squad but we know how the nation will feel if the United States comes up one victory short. They will feel the job didn’t get done.

But guess what? There are people all over the nation planning to tune in to see what transpires.

People tuning in to watch soccer … women playing soccer.

Going 13 months between watching a full soccer match is better than going four years without one of significant interest.

Yeah, I’m glad I’ll be watching a full soccer game on Sunday.

Now that the United States has been ousted from the 2010 World Cup, it’s time to ponder the question that comes to my mind once every four years: Will I watch another soccer game prior to the next World Cup?

It’s not an important enough subject for Las Vegas oddsmakers to lay down a betting line so I’ll rate the chances myself.

I’ll say it’s better than 50-50 – we’ll set the line as a 60 percent chance – that I will watch a soccer match before the 2014 World Cup.

For the record, I did watch the 2009 Confederations Cup title match last summer when the United States lost to Brazil. That was the one and only soccer game I watched during the four years between World Cups.

I was glad I saw that game. Goalkeeper Tim Howard was beyond impressive in a game in which Brazil tallied four goals. Two weeks before this year’s World Cup started, I checked the U.S. roster to see if Howard was on it and instantly knew the Americans would be in good hands with Howard in goal.

So it might be a good idea to check in occasionally and see if there are signs of progress. This year’s team advanced out of pool play before the disappointment of being eliminated by Ghana 2-1 on Saturday.

Tuning it might provide an answer on whether the U.S. is developing any top-level forwards. That was a severe weakness with this year’s squad. Guys like Jozy Altidore and Herculez Gomez don’t put fear in opponents.

However, they do scare me – particularly if that’s the best the United States can do at forward. If only 1990s star Eric Wynalda could be reattached to a 20-year-old’s legs.

Discovering a rock solid defender along the lines of a Marcelo Balboa would be another good development. Both goals Ghana scored could have been prevented.

Ghana’s first goal was set up by Ricardo Clark’s misplay with the ball and the winning goal came after a long volley in which Carlos Bocanegra wasn’t up to the task of marking Asamoah Gyan.

The scary thing is Bocanegra is the captain of this U.S. squad. Yeah, the defense definitely needs to be upgraded for the U.S. to ever become a top World Cup contender.

Midfielder Landon Donovan might have elevated himself from soccer star to American hero during this World Cup, but he needs some help. Donovan is 28 years old so the next World Cup – which will be his fourth – could be his last.

Seems there is speculation that U.S. coach Bob Bradley might be in danger of losing his job. Sure enough, there is even a Web site similar to what frequently happens with football coaches under fire — www.firebobbradleynow.com

I don’t follow soccer closely enough to offer a complete analysis regarding Bradley’s body of work over the past four years (Yes, I realize that doesn’t stop millions of fans from calling for people to be fired) but I will say any decision shouldn’t be based solely on the 2010 World Cup.

I like the heart these guys showed when they kept falling behind. The impression I have is players like playing for Bradley.

You know, the 2006 U.S. team also was eliminated by Ghana. Perhaps Ghana is just better at soccer than the United States.

Ever think of that?

Regardless, the U.S. is done in this year’s World Cup and I figure I am too.

Sunday’s match between powers Germany and England wasn’t enough for me to reschedule my day. Add the fact that I found watching the San Diego Padres and Florida Marlins play baseball far more intriguing than watching Argentina and Mexico play soccer, and the odds of me watching another World Cup game this summer aren’t good.

But the real question remains: Will I watch a soccer game prior to the United States’ opening match of the 2014 World Cup?