wherein DF travels to Deutschland for the 2006 world cup to follow the US men's national soccer team

Friday, May 26, 2006

Two worthy blogroll additions

The latest additions to the blogroll are well worth reading. Both Who Ate All the Bratwurst? and The Daily Header offer WC commentary leavened with a healthy dose of satire--a much needed angle in the tension-filled days leading up to the mundial itself. Check 'em out y'all.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Berhalter to replace injured Gibbs on US WC roster

Come down off that ledge, USMNT fans. This isn't great news (okay, it's really bad news). But ultimately, I think this will work out OK. We've lost Cory Gibbs to a right knee injury, and now Gregg Berhalter is coming in to replace him. Let's sort through the issues one by one:

First, is the loss of Gibbs at left back devastating? Probably not. I think Bruce was planning on going with Pope and Gooch as CBs, and then possibly using Cory or Eddie Lewis at left back. However, now it's much more likely that if we break out a flat back four we'll see Eddie Lewis on the left flank. That's a bit risky, because he's not a natural defender, and he lacks size, but he is faster and better offensively than Gibbs, so that's a plus.

The real concern would be if we were looking to use a three-man backline. I think the Pope/Gooch/Gibbs combination would have been great there. Now that will look like Pope/Gooch/Berhalter (or Conrad), which I'm less thrilled with. But it's not a disaster, because

Second, Berhalter is a very solid defender. He played poorly against Germany in the 4-1 loss, and he's had more than his share of gaffes (I bet he got a really nice thank you note from Adriano for that gift of a goal he gave the Brazilian back in the 2003 Confeds Cup). He also captained his 2.Bundesliga side to promotion and scored the promotion-clinching goal in the process. So having him in there is no disaster. It does mean we're more likely to see Jimmy Conrad, though, since Bruce was clearly more enthused about him.

But finally, this is just awful news for Gibbs. According to ussoccer.com, he injured the knee at some unspecified time during the Morocco match, which may be good news, since the knock wasn't drastic enough to put him right out of the game. But while we don't know how serious the injury is, knee injuries are never great, and now Gibbs is looking injury-prone, which makes him less attractive to clubs. Of course, he's already signed for Charlton, so that's not an immediate concern, but still, it's a real disappointment. I hope the injury is minor and that he gets over it as soon as possible.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Good news about Reyna injury?

The early reports are that Reyna suffered no significant muscle damage in his right hamstring last night against Morocco. A recent scan on Claudio's hammy showed "no serious damage" and US officials report that the prognosis is good. Reyna seems happy about the situation as well, calling the result "very good news."

But is it? Mooch Myernick doesn't seem so positive about the situation, stating flatly that Reyna "will be out for an extended period of time." That sounds WC-threatening to me, and also inconsistent with the other, more sanguine reports.

Moreover, while Captain America is, well, our captain, I've never been convinced that we're necessarily that much better off with him in the lineup. This is true, at least, when Mastroeni can step in and give us a performance like he did last night. I don't think we lost much if anything with Pablo in there that we would have had with Claudio in the same position. I'm no Reyna-hater and I'd slot him in at D-mid if healthy, but there are other players who I think are a lot more irreplaceable.

Props to Nashville

Sometimes it's great to be wrong. I thought this game would be an attendance disaster: midweek date in a mid-size town not known for its love for soccer at the same time as some country music awards. But despite that, over 26k showed up, filling the lower bowl, and most importantly represented big-time for the US with a loud, boisterous, and colorful atmosphere. (By contrast, the first SOS game in 2002 was in DC on a Sunday afternoon and drew about 30k, most of whom supported Uruguay.) I only wish the team had rewarded the fans for their great presence with a better result.

This makes me rethink my original criticism of the Send-Off Series locations. If it turns out that Cleveland and Hartford get as much of a draw as Nashville, then perhaps it's better to spread these games around the country to let everyone get a chance to see the team. At the end of the day, what I'm rooting for is for US soccer to grow as much as possible, so if that means I can't attend a game but on-balance it's good for the team to get visibility in the southeast or the rust belt, then so be it. We'll see how many people show for the game against Valenzuela on Friday night.

US 0-1 Morocco

Some disjointed thoughts on the USMNT's first loss on home soil in four years (US 0:2 Netherlands, SOS for WC02).

--We didn't get outplayed so much as out-thought. Morocco had a game plan that underdogs everywhere employ: mass the D, absorb the attacks, and strike on the counter. It worked for them, just like it worked for Ali in Kinshasa. We got rope a dope'd.

--Credit to Maroc for executing their game plan well, including tenacious D and taking the chance that fell to them late. They played some nice, highly technical ball throughout that got us frustrated and ended up leaving us too tired to defend well at the end.

--At about minute 65, I noted that the second half was looking frantic. The US was playing fast and making some inroads, but was ultimately disorganized. The final ball just wasn't there. Flashbacks to the awful 2-3 loss to Hondo in WCQ 01, where Bruce famously compared the MNT to chickens with their heads cut off. Not quite that bad, but the lack of coherence in attack wasn't encouraging.

--The "step slow" award has to go to McBride. He kept mistiming headers, he couldn't get his shots on goal, and he gave the ball away when he needed to hold it. I'm concerned that his age combined with his grueling season with Fulham has left him too slow and tired for World Cup play; and Bruce is married to the idea of starting him at forward (not a terrible idea in the absence of compelling options).

--The other player who's expected to come up big but didn't impress was Gooch. He did a solid job on defense, but had nothing like the monster game he's capable of. Plus, he (along with McB) lost a Moroccan in the box to gift them the kind of chance that Jan Koller or Luca Toni or Michael Essien will definitely put away. And I wasn't thrilled that he clumsily fouled in the second half to set up a very dangerous FK--the kind that Del Piero or Nedved will score on a good percentage of the time.

--I was encouraged though by JOB. He played damn well, got into some defensive tackles without getting hurt (fingers crossed, as always), and had three or so genius passes (that our forwards kept missing, dammit). He's doing about as well as can be expected given his injuries.

--As far as second-half subs go, Convey as always provided spark, though he was sloppy with the ball at times. Dempsey did not impress, though he didn't really have that much time to get into the game. EJ didn't have much to work with EXCEPT a free header in the box that he has to put away. You can't leave that kind of chance on the table in the WC. That was our best opportunity and probably the most frustrating point of the game for me.

--The LD-led offensive buildup was pretty good, at times very good, but LD tends to get caught between passing and shooting much of the time when he should just do the latter. Several times there were too many passes in the box when I wish LD or whoever else would just have pulled the trigger. Dinking the ball around for the perfect opening always gives the opponent enough time to get back and kick it into touch.

--For all the talk about Reyna's injury as a horrible thing (though its scale is as yet unclear I think), did anyone think we got any weaker as a unit with Pablo in there? I don't think it looked like we were missing Claudio at all.

--All this said, I don't think the game was a disaster. It's clear we still have much to work on, especially offensively, but if it's merely coherence as a unit that we seek, that can come together in the next three weeks. A couple good results against Valenzuela and the Lats and we'll be right back on track.

Monday, May 22, 2006

All signs positive for US

If you're at all interested in the US men's national soccer team, you owe it to yourself to read this excellent article from Soccernet reporter Ives Galarcep. It's not only a key source of information into the otherwise-opaque haps in the just-concluded Cary, NC camp, but it's also cause for serious optimism if Galarcep's take is to be trusted (though I've been skeptical of his reporting in the past--remember his unsubstantiated assertion that EJ was released by Dallas because he was poisonous in the locker room?).

According to Galarcep, "Arena's squad is as healthy as he could ever have dreamed of it being," and Arena "couldn't have asked for a better two weeks of training." Want more? Well, it looks like O'Brien is playing as well as we could have hoped; he's uninjured (fingers crossed to avoid jinx) and slated to start against Morocco. Dempsey apparently had an "impressive" training camp and appears to have clinched at least super-sub, perhaps even starter status. Hell, even our forward position is looking hopeful, with Johnson apparently "every bit as impressive" as he was before the 2005 turf-toe debacle, while Ching is reportedly the most in-form striker on the roster (though not sure if this is news for rejoicing or sorrow). It doesn't appear that there are any great developments at positions where we're already strong (primarily defense), but there no news is good news.

Now let's not get carried away. After all, a good training camp gets you exactly zero points in the World Cup, and we've yet to see how the team will play against our three Send-Off Series foes. But every stage must be judged on its own terms, and by all accounts the pre-Germany camp was a great success.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The most amazing display of soccer skill ever?

If you haven't seen this video of Ronaldinho juggling a ball while smacking off the crossbar four times--and never letting it touch the ground--you owe it to yourself to do so. I'm still not convinced it's real.

The myth of Morocco

Yesterday during the Fire-Dynamo match Waldo was pimping the Send-Off Series, and in so doing repeated one of the most irritating misconceptions about Morocco as an opponent. The Morocco game would be useful, he claimed, because playing an African opponent would help us prepare for Ghana.

I've heard this more than once, and I can't believe people continue to try to sell this line. The mere fact of Morocco's location on the same continent at Ghana doesn't mean squat about their similarities in playing style. Historically and culturally, the two nations have very little in common with one another since they're separated by the Sahara desert. Perhaps if our opponent were Cameroon Waldo's claim would have made more sense, but even then it's not at all clear that teams from proximate countries have similar soccer styles. Can you imagine how lame it would sound if someone said "We're playing a warm-up against France to prepare us for our game against Holland"?

The truth about the Send-Off Series is that these were the best opponents the USSF could come up with under the circumstances. One can safely assume that there wasn't much choice, since most of the top teams are in the WC and it's a rough time for a friendly now that the club season has just ended. Nor are we the only country with a tough time lining up opponents. To take one example, Portugal's pre-World Cup friendlies are against the Cape Verde Islands and Luxembourg. Our SOS looks positively all-star by comparison.

So at the end of the day, the Morocco/Venezuela/Latvia trio may not seem that impressive, but it's not bad either, it'll be good practice, and I'm basically OK with it (except for the choice of venues--still baffled by that). But let's not pull a Waldo and try to make anything more out of the opponents than necessary.

Gatorade Commercial

I realize that the Gatorade commercial featuring the USMNT has been out for a few weeks now, so this post is somewhat stale. But I just saw the commercial for the first time, and I think it's brilliant. In just thirty seconds, it really manages to capture international soccer fans' passionate intensity, the truly hostile atmosphere that the nats often face when they play abroad (particularly in Latin America), and the courage it must take for our players to travel to and play in such venues. The rivalries and nationalism that pervade international soccer are, in my mind, a large part of what makes the sport so much fun to follow.

One of the things I most enjoyed about the Gatorade commercial is how it shows not only the hostility of opposing teams' fans toward the U.S., but also the U.S. players' reactions to the hostility. You see EJ, Deuce, and Donovan with looks of focused determination on their faces while listening to music, trying to tune it all out. And the look on Quaranta's face as he's sitting in the lockerroom and the fans are making so much noise that the ceiling tiles are bouncing up and down is priceless.

Finally, the goals and goal celebrations at the end are awesome in the way they capture the joy and exuberance of a critical goal. The rhythm of a soccer game, where both teams can struggle for an hour or more to score while the tension builds, only to be finally released when a goal is ultimately scored, is another part of what makes the game truly the beautiful game.

So hats off to Gatorade, for a terrific commercial. I hope they show it early and often in the WC.

Friday, May 19, 2006

FIFA World Cup Fantasy Game

There are some things I avoid not because I don't like them but because I know I'd enjoy them so much that they'd eat up all my time. A prime example is (was) the video game FIFA World Cup 2002. After acquiring this game in early 02, I spent most of my free time that year engaging in furious soccer telecompetition. It really did eat up huge portions of my life. Worst of all, it's not clear that I had better options. But knowing that I needed to escape the clutches of my video game addiction/obsession, I ditched my PS1 in October and have never purchased another.

Related issue: fantasy sports leagues. These are right up my alley: they're for the sports obsessive who thinks he's smart enough to outwit other sports obsessives. And these I've made a practice of avoiding for just that reason: I can so easily see myself spending all my free time analyzing players, selecting lineups, and obsessing over results.

But that doesn't mean that others who are not equally incontinent (in the Aristotelian sense) should make the same choice. And if you're so inclined, I just got tipped off about a just-released WC fantasy game that looks to be the shizz for this go-round of the mundial.

Part of the reason I'm particularly enthused about this game is that I advised one of its developers about how to make the standard fantasy-game model track onto a stat-poor sport like soccer. The result seems promising: rather than previous versions that toted up goals, this one operates on the principle that the whole lineup is relevant, so it's a better test of whole-team performance and requires that you understand what defenders are quality (rather than just strikers, whose performance is more easily measured). It's got the DFinD seal of approval, so what else do you need to know? Y'all check it out now, y'hear?

USMNT 5-0 Charleston Battery

As we all know, there's an iron-clad rule of transitivity in soccer. If team A beats team B, and team B has beaten team C, then team A is necessarily better than team C. This operates along various dimensions, one of which was happily illustrated today when the US trounced the A-league Charleston Battery 5-0 in a Cary, NC scrimmage, thanks to goals from Donovan (2), Beasely, EJ, and O'Brien (from a free kick!).

How is transitivity relevant here? You may recall that in 2002, the MNT played the A-league Richmond Kickers at exactly the same stage of their WC camp and needed a late, questionably onside Earnie Stewart goal to salvage a 2-2 draw. Despite that dire portent, the US went on to enjoy great success in the Cup, reaching the quarters.

So if a 2-2 draw against an A-league team presaged our getting to the quarters, then by the transitive property a 5-0 destruction of an A-league team means we'll get to the finals at least, if not win the whole thing. You heard it here first.

(OK, I'm basically joking about this last point, but the result seems positive, especially with LD looking sharp, EJ getting a goal, and O'Brien playing and even scoring.)

UPDATE: Photo and video highlights available on ussoccer.com.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Reservation consternation

Train travel in Europe is a breed apart, as I was reminded this last week when I belatedly finalized my plans to see the US play in Kaiserslautern and Nuernberg. Getting a Germany railpass was no problem, but as anyone who's traveled around the continent on trains knows, the trick is not whether you have a ticket for a given train but whether you have a seat.

Case in point: in 2002, I sought to travel to Paris from Barcelona using my Eurail pass, which seemed uncontroversial. Problem was that every other backpacker wanted to travel on the same train at the same time, so there were no reservations. After a heated conversation with a sweaty, angry Catalonian ticketing agent, I finally got to understand that I could go on the train but there was no guarantee of seating.

But I had no other option, so off I went. The first part of the trip was fine, and I even had a seat. But when we got to the French border, all hell broke loose. The train dropped us off and backed out of the station, leaving an enormous crowd of stank-ass travelers on the platform unsure of what was coming next. I was starving and fortunately ran into a couple American girls who gave me some cookies. We decided to band together for the rest of the trip.

Finally the train rolled in and opened its doors, causing several hundred backpackers to shove in at once. The girls and I were at the front and I essentially shoveled them into the door ahead of the crowd and we raced through the train looking for unreserved seats--there weren't any. Finally, we staked out a spot in some luggage racks and the train left. There were bodies everywhere--in the aisle, in all the seats, in the luggage racks, crowding the cafe car. At one point I stretched out in the aisle to sleep (it was a night train), and kept waking to find people's feet stepping inches from my face. The only good part was that the train was so crowded that no one checked my Eurail pass, meaning that it was a free trip.

After this trip I learned a lot, and since then have made a point of always getting reservations if at all necessary. This is especially true at peak travel times, such as, oh I don't know, the world's biggest sporting event. Which leads me to my efforts of earlier this week: finding space on the best trains for my trips to Germany (Berlin-Ktown, Berlin-Nuernberg). It was too late, unfortunately, to get reservations together with my traveling companions, but the good news is that we both managed to get separately booked on all the trips we wanted.

The lesson of this tale: reserve early, reserve often, unless you have some affection for sleeping in the aisle of Eurotrains. It was a great adventure but at this point I'm too old for that shite. Next up: the actual reservations and why I got them.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

WC travel: Weltmeister-pass v. German railpass

Yesterday, I was just about to purchase a "Weltmeister-pass" for traveling around by train at the WC. But given the exorbitant price tag (349 euros for a second-class pass), I decided to shop around a bit for alternatives. Voila, there is one: a good old German railpass, the kind that has been around for ages, still exists and is as valid as ever. More importantly, it's far less expensive by almost any measure.

Take my example: I'll be based in Berlin and plan to take three round trips by train to visit other cities, either for games or to see friends. That will cost a mere $250 using the Germany railpass ($200 base price for four one-way trips, plus $25 for each of two additional trips). By contrast, the Weltmeister-pass would be valid for the same trips but would run a hefty $450 (using the current euro/dollar exchange rate). The moral of the story: the DB is crafty, and it pays to shop around.

Of course, the WM-pass is good for travel throughout the WC, so if you're going to be doing a lot of traveling, then it may work for you. But the threshold for this is pretty high. The point at which the WM-pass becomes a good or better value than the Germany railpass is where you're going to be traveling on each of fourteen days. Considering that the WC is about a month long, this would mean traveling every other day to make it worth your dime (and that presumes hefty voyages that cost more than $25 per as well--otherwise you'd be better off buying individual train tickets).

Friday, May 12, 2006

25,000 maniacs

How many US fans are expected in Germany this summer? I'd estimate something like five, maybe eight thousand, but the Arizona Republic predicts that the numbers will be much larger, along the lines of 20-25,000. I'm not sure what the basis for their prediction is, but if true it's fantastic news from the perspective of the growth of support for the beautiful game in this country.

One of the strongest indicators of increased support is ticket sales. While the USSF had plenty of leftover seats for both France and Korea, this time around the US was a hot and difficult to get ticket. The USSF had 10,000 tix available but received 40,000 requests. The AZ Republic reports that tix are going for over $300 on the "black market" (scare word that seems to refer to secondary markets like eBay), which is even higher than the ridiculously high rates that resellers quoted me when I was still in the market for a ticket to the Ghana game.

As for my personal trip to Germany, things are looking better all the time. I just received the great news that a good friend of mine (and mirarchi's) will be joining up with us for about a week. While this is fantastic news in many senses, I fear that his presence may create beer shortages in Berlin and throughout the local area. But I still need to get on accommodations in both Ktown and Nburg, as well as get a Weltmeister pass.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

FIFA concerned about World Cup ticketing disaster

The AP reports that FIFA has finally expressed concern about Germany's insistence that all tickets have the names of the holders, something I've long thought was a problem. Imagine having to tell some fan drunk on booze and nationalism that they're not getting into the game because they can't produce an ID in addition to their ticket.

Part of the problem is that this could create massive backups when entering the stadium. If every fan has to produce ID, that adds a step that makes ticket taking even slower than it already is, thus entry lines crawl more slowly than they already do. And even if only one fan in a hundred has a problem proving their identity that requires sorting out, then you've got the equivalent of the intersection of the 405 and 10 freeways at rush hour (yeah, I'm from Los Angeles).

Another more ominious problem is that it could create violence. A lot of these fans will be drunk and aggressive upon entering the stadium, and if they're told they can't enter because they don't have proof of identity that could be a problem either at the turnstile or outside the stadiums as angry fans get together and trash stuff to let out their frustration. Also, who enforces the ticket taker's decision not to admit a fan? Does the German FA really think that if some skinny 20-year-old dude or nice 50-ish matron says to a drunken thug "you have no ID, you'll have to skip the game you came all the way across the globe to attend" that's just going to happen? There will need to be security guards at every gate.

Finally, let's say it all goes smoothly but the result of the policy is swaths of empty seats from fans who lack ID or people who couldn't attend but also couldn't give tickets to friends or family, well that sucks too in terms of spectacle and atmosphere.

Hopefully the German FA will key in to their national sense of organization and sort this all out. But given this concern, DFinD's tip to the broad readership is to get into those games early and often. Start the tailgate a good four or five hours before kickoff, make a dent in all that delicious Deutschebrau you brought, and head into the stadium a solid hour early to avoid the aforementioned snafus and see all of the action. In 2002, can you imagine if your answer to "Where were you when John O'Brien scored against Portugal?" was "Standing in line haggling with a ticket taker?"

Monday, May 08, 2006

LD: enough with the playa-hate


Sign #432 that the US has arrived at a soccer nation: the on-going obsessiveness over trivial details of star players' lives. Case in point: WCIS calls LD a pussy because he likes massages. Then Soccer Thoughts rebuts the notion. DF in Deutschland feels compelled to weigh in with our opinion: this debate is ridiculous.

OK, one thing I do think warrants discussing is the LD and Bayer Leverkusen issue. Donovan's failure to succeed over there and his quick return have long been taken as indications that he's a pathetic weakling, and that he gave up a brighter future for the comforts of home. The truth is, as ST points out, that we just don't know what LD would have been like had he played over there. It's possible that he would have been even better than he is now, but it's also very conceivable that he would have been worse if he didn't get playing time (which happens even when deserved at times if you don't fit the coach's system), or was just plain miserable. And consider DMB: he was having the best year of his life at PSV, but wasn't by any stretch of the imagination the best player for the US during 2004-05. I think that was clearly LD, who led the team with assists over that span, and both assists and goals during the final round of WCQ. In other words, club success in Europe by no means guarantees good form for your country. LD improved for the US after leaving Leverkusen.

But perhaps more to the point, why do people feel compelled to hate on our star player so much? I think it's another sign the US is moving up in the world--now we can take for granted and even disparage one of our star players, much the way that stars in other countries fall out of favor with the media and supporters despite enormous talent and contribution (e.g., Del Piero in Italy, Becks off and on in England). Andrea Canales' ambivalent Soccernet profile of Donovan (which spurred the aforementioned debate in the soccer blogosphere) illustrates the point.

So I guess I do have more of an opinion on all this than I let on initially? Do I think it matters that Landon had a teddy bear that his girlfriend gave to him when he was 16? Hell no. If you can win the Golden Ball at the FIFA U-17s and you play for the US, I don't care if you surround yourself with My Little Ponies and listen to the Backstreet Boys while painting your toenails with pink glitter. (Hm, having written that, I think I would have a problem with that, but it's not what we're dealing with here so let's move on.) Do I think LD's devotion to his family and girlfriend (who is, by the way, a starlet who is likely hotter than anyone who posts or writes about soccer on the internet will ever date, even self included) is a sign of weakness? Just the contrary. I think it proves that his priorities are in the right place (people before career), even if that's not what pleases USMNT fans (again, self included).

But more than anything else, I just don't care that much. This guy is an insane soccer talent and has contributed more to the USMNT in big games than any other player on the roster. He's the all-time assists leader for the US and the third-leading goalscorer at the age of only 24. Moreover, he's shown an unstinting degree of commitment to the US cause, consistently turning up to play in friendlies and WCQs alike, logging more minutes than any other player every year since 2002. I say let's put aside the weird, useless obsession with meaningless trivia about his personal life and support the leader of the US Men's National Team and one of the best players (if not the best, as measured by on-field performance) that has ever played for the Nats.

US-Czech Republic ticket giveaway has concluded

Just a quick note to say that mirarchi's ticket giveaway is over, having garnered a lot of compelling emails from true fans who weren't able to secure a ticket to the game. Ultimately the ticket went to the first such person who wrote in, a serious USMNT supporter who will really appreciate the chance to attend the game.

This reminded me, though, that there are a lot of people who are just going to Germany ticketless, hoping to scalp or planning just to hang out near the stadium where the US is playing. I was actually in the latter category with respect to US-Ghana until very recently. And while it would be great if everyone could get tix, this reminded me in turn that one of the things that will be great about Germany will be the scene in and around the games, not just the games themselves. Meeting other supporters (US and non-US alike), chilling and grilling at the tailgate, and of course chugging many many German beers--all this will be as good and as memorable (if not moreso) than the 90 minutes played during each game.

So while it really had nothing to do with me, mirarchi's ticket giveaway was a good way to begin to get into the WC spirit. The Black Eyed Peas once asked "Where is the love?" but now I think I know the answer--it's right here at DFinD, baby.

USMNT runs afoul of the fashion police

This soccer site can't hope to compete with the snark that one sees on the truly great gossip/celebutard/fashion websites like Pink Is the New Blog and The Superficial (female friends told me about them, I swear!), but I had a Joan Rivers gag-me moment when I saw this sartorial note about the USMNT. The AP reports that the Yanks will roll out in their blue kits for the first two games of the Cup, then revert to white for the final group game against Ghana (unis for the second round, if necessary, are TBD).

My bad reaction to this news had nothing to do with how the kits look. I'm pretty indifferent to white versus blue, though I think the latter is preferable (and certainly better than the disastrous shirts the US wore for the 1994 WC, which looked like Jackson Pollock took acid and tried to paint an American flag).

The problem is that our record in the blue shirts in World Cup play is abysmal. Last time around we wore blue for two games, and white for three, with very consistent results. When wearing white, we were 2-1-0, including our two great wins against Mexico and Portugal and that gritty tie against South Korea. By contrast, when wearing blue we went 0-0-2, with the embarrassing 3-1 loss to Poland and the hard-fought but ultimately disappointing 1-0 loss to Germany in the quarters. The pattern is not hard to spot.

I realize that choice of jersey is determined to an extent by the need to avoid color clashes, and that this is all the product of irrational superstition. Still, I can't ignore the cold hard facts of our relatively poor performances in blue, and the ominousness of the choice to wear blue against our two most formidable first-round foes.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

FREE Ticket to U.S.-Czech Republic

I've been planning a World Cup trip this summer with my wife, son, and stepfather, and have two tickets to each of the U.S. first round games -- one for myself, and one for my stepfather. It turns out that my stepfather will not be arriving in Germany until after the U.S.-Czech Republic game, so I am left with an extra ticket to that game.

I grew up a die-hard New York Yankees fan, and when I was in college, I spent a couple summers in New York City. A seat in the right-field bleachers of Yankee Stadium at that time ran $6, and I'd often go up to the Bronx after work and catch a game from the bleachers. Once I was standing in line at the bleacher seats ticket window, and a guy walked by asking if anyone was by themselves. I tentatively raised my hand, and the guy walked over to me, handed me a ticket, and said "enjoy." It turns out it was a ticket to a box seat a few rows behind the first-base dugout (I can't remember what the face value of the ticket was, but it was at least ten, if not twenty times, as much as the $6 bleacher seat I was planning to buy).

Having been a beneficiary of a stranger's random act of kindness in bestowing on me a free ticket to a sporting event, I have decided to do the same, and am offering my extra ticket to the Czech Republic game to a deserving reader of this blog. In doing this, I have two concerns. First, I want the ticket to end up in the hands of a U.S. fan. Second, I don't want whoever I give the ticket to to turn around and scalp it.

So, broad readership, here's the deal: If you are planning a trip to Germany this summer, and would like my extra ticket, post a comment to this post. In your comment, leave your email address, and write up something that will assure me that you are a die-hard fan of the USMNT and that you are not planning to scalp the ticket. I will get back to the lucky winner of the ticket by tomorrow, as I purchased the tickets through the USSF, and the deadline for transferring a ticket from one person's name to another's is 5:00 p.m. on Monday. So if you'd like the ticket and post your email address here, please check your email by tomorrow (Monday) morning, as I will need your full name, date of birth, and passport number for the transfer form, which I need to fax to the USSF by 5:00 p.m tomorrow.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Rostermania

With the US roster announcement in the books, all the hand-wringing over who will be on the team can be replaced by hand-wringing over who is on the team. I have to admit that I was floored by the choice of Ching/Conrad over Twellman/Albright. In a sense it was cool that there was some surprise in an event that's suspenseful only in the sense that the Academy Awards are (where everyone in the know pretty much knows how it will turn out).

But do these selections make sense? The Albright versus Conrad question has become largely moot in light of Hejduk's subtraction from the roster in light of Frankie's knee issue. Of more concern in my view is Ching over Twellman. True that TT did not start well with the USMNT, but it's hard to imagine a player doing more than he did in the runup to the WC. Three goals against Norway, a goal and two assists against Japan, and an assist against Poland. Ching had one goal against Guatemala. They both looked pretty overmatched against Germany, which indicates larger problems but doesn't really help to distinguish the players.

So that data set weighs in favor of TT, but then MLS early season form suggests Ching is hotter now. Brian is on five goals in four games (though none in recent contests), while Taylor has been a bit cold, with one or so goals and generally not looking sharp. This weighs in favor of Brian, but I really don't think scoring four on the Rapids suggests similar success against any team in the World Cup. (Then again, TT's hat trick against a Norway U23 side must be taken with a grain of salt.)

At the end of the day, though, I think Bruce wasn't thrilled with either player, but erred on the side of size and chose the player who can compete better against physical defenses like the ones we'll be facing in the first round (and, we hope, thereafter). And if we're going to be really dependent on a target forward in a single-striker formation, then it makes sense to have a backup to McBride in the likely event that he can't go 90 in any given match. I'm skeptical, but on the other hand, if Bruce thinks Ching is a better choice than Twellman, I'll go with that. If there's one thing Il Bruce has earned over the past eight or so years, it's the confidence of all USMNT fans. In Bruce We Trust. Onward to Germany.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Roster eve knowledge: Olsen scoop and the (collective) wisdom of pundits

Roster Eve! It's one of my favorite eves, after Christmas Eve and Halloween (the full name of which is All Hallow's Eve, the night before All Saints' Day). So much has been said, so what can DFinD offer? Two tidbits caught my eye when I scanned the US soccer blogosphere this AM:

First, the Washington Post is reporting that Ben Olsen will be on the final roster. After Ben scored the last couple times he was under the Arenascope (against Jamaica in Cary, NC and against FCD this past weekend), this hardly seems like earth-shattering news. I'm not sure this is a great choice, not because Ben doesn't deserve it (he does) and not because I'm not a huge Olsen fan (I am), but rather because I'm not sure we need depth at the D-mid spot with players like Reyna, Mastro, and (maybe) O'Brien who are locks to be on the roster and who can do the job there. Of course, Olsen can also slot in at right mid, where we're weak. All told, I'm happy for Ben (assuming the Post got it right), and for DCU having a representative on the USMNT WC side.

There's also a great article in MatchNight collecting the predictions of various soccer writers about who'll make the team. The most variance among the pundits concerns who will be our forwards (and how many Bruce will take). More interestingly, the article collates the various opinions and adds up how many votes of confidence each player got. If James Surowiecki's ideas about distributed information markets have any purchase here, they suggest that this latter grouping should predict with a high degree of accuracy Bruce's final roster. When Arena reveals the 23, I'll compare and contrast his picks with the pundit's consensus to see how well this worked.

 
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