July 13, 2010
Well, after bashing vuvuzuelas, the French, the Canadians and questioning the allegiances of white South Africans I figured I’d try to take it easy this time around. Also, with all the negativity, you might be surprised to know that I actually enjoyed this World Cup… immensely. Cape Town is a city on par with almost any other I’ve ever been to, the carnival atmosphere of the opening days surpassed even what the Germans had to offer and the games—aside from the opening round—lived up to the hype. But, as with most over-obsessed fans of the game, the pain is always as fresh in our minds as the joy. I’ll try to dispense more joy today, I promise.
And, again, I apologize for selfishly eulogizing on my experiences. If you have a memory of your own you’d like to share, I’ll be sure to post it as soon as internet in Africa will allow… so maybe a day, maybe at the end of the month when I’m finally home. Consider this my parting shot. Thanks so much for reading, commenting, debating, etc. Cheers…
July 9, 2010
I was going to title this piece “10 moments American fans will remember” but a couple of things occurred to me while writing:
a) I tend to remember things in unusual ways, ways that other Americans may not agree with. You have my preemptive apologies for anything that might offend.
b) My experiences here in South Africa won’t exactly echo that of other U.S. fans. South Africa is an enormous place, not just in size but also in terms of cultural and geographic diversity. There is no singular South African experience or singular pool of memories that will sum up the World Cup.
My cushy setup in the trendy, Californiaesque Camps Bay (just over the hill from Cape Town) has made for a much different World Cup than friends who chose to backpack their way around the whole of the country or others who stationed themselves in the urban chaos of Johannesburg for the benefit of following their teams.
None of these approaches to exploring South Africa are necessarily better or worse, just different. They say it’s the soil and not the grape that makes the wine; so too it does the World Cup, I would argue.
So, in the end, I decided to simply be selfish and focus on the events that have been, for one reason or another, tattooed in my brain rather than trying to summarize a collective experience. I’m sure everyone will have their own, but in the interminable wait for Brazil 2014, these are the moments I’ll turn to first for comfort:
June 29, 2010
I meant to write this yesterday but couldn’t bring myself to it. Handling trauma isn’t really my forte. I’m like an ostrich—when something bad happens I stick my head in the sand. I went to a game park instead. No internet. No newspaper. No TV. No banter. No World Cup. (Well, okay, I eventually watched England capitulate against Germany, but still, almost an entire day sans Cup is unchartered territory for me this summer.)
Rather than stew in my misery, I watched elephants eating and pooping (simultaneously, at times), which is all they really seem to do. Did you know that an adult elephant produces over 220 pounds of excrement in a day? That’s just under 1.5 Ricardo Clark’s, in case you were wondering.
I also witnessed kudus in sprint. They’re remarkably fast animals but there never really seems to be a point to all their running. The end product would be the exact same if they just stood in one place, which reminds me of a certain American striker, first name starts with an ‘R,’ ends in ‘obbie.’
Okay, so I guess I didn’t do a very good job of pushing Saturday’s loss into the back of my mind. It’s not that I’m bitter. I don’t think any American fan can call a round of 16 exit (in overtime, no less) a genuine disappointment. It’s just that hope had so nearly blossomed into expectation. We were playing well. Landon Donovan was scoring goals. Morale was high. The road wasn’t necessarily easy but it wasn’t Germany then Argentina as it would have been had we failed to win our group. A spot in the semifinals was there for the taking.
June 25, 2010
It's finally settling in now. The 92nd minute goal, the ensuing madness, the realization that we won our group, all of it. Before I will even be able to really fully appreciate it, the anxiety will begin again. In a little over 24 hours, the U.S. will face off against Ghana with a place in the quarterfinals at stake. If you’re the U.S. National Team, now is not the time to bask in self-satisfaction. As fans, however, we better indulge while we can. As this team has shown time and again, there is no such thing as comfortable viewing once the ball is kicked off.
With that in mind, let me take this day of relative peace to revel in their achievements, which are considerable. Savor these facts, American fans:
-World Cup first time we've won our group.
-5 points is our best return from the group stage. This is also the first time we've ever gone undefeated through the group stage and will be the first time we leave the World Cup without having more losses than wins.
-The 1-0 win against Algeria was the first clean sheet since 1950. Clean sheet, by the way, is soccer speak for shutout. Our sheets have previously been soiled.
-Donovan’s last-gasp goal against Algeria was the first ever injury time goal scored by the U.S. at the World Cup.
-The United States have led for a total of 2 minutes and 29 seconds so far in this World Cup and still won their group.
-Though our defense failed to keep our linens tidy in the first two matches, they still haven't conceded in the second half of any game.
June 24, 2010
This has been a summer unlike any other.
It started with what I personally labeled the biggest game in the history of U.S. soccer—the most hyped, the most publicized, the primetime feature of the opening Saturday of the World Cup, the culmination of months and years of anticipation. It was our moment in the radiant sunlight of the American sports world.
Days later there was the greatest crime in the history of U.S. soccer: Koman Coubilaly’s inexplicable whistle broke our hearts. The shadow of that call blighted a courageous fight back that should have seen us in a comfortable position heading into last night.
As it was, I was penning our obituary in my head as the minutes ebbed away against a stubborn Algeria side. Those around me were beginning to come to terms with another goal stolen from us, another early exit and, surely, the recriminations from both. (Could we blame the official yet again when we were guilty of so many missed chances?)
“Cometh the hour, cometh the man” as they say. We were still in the midst of the world’s largest collective sigh of relief after a back post header landed into the grateful hands of Tim Howard when Donovan was released by a throw that harkens to that “other football.” Five touches and 120 yards later, the greatest single moment in the history of U.S. soccer delivered by the greatest player in its pubescent history.
June 22, 2010
American Dream still well and alive
Let the bitterness not consume you, there is still hope. Despite the feeling that my soul had been leeched out through my skin last Friday, the U.S. still stand every chance of not just qualifying for the knockout stages, but winning their group. Sure, a referee’s error cost Bob Bradley’s men two points but if they can’t win games under pressure like the one against Algeria, they simply aren’t one of the 16 best teams in the world, regardless of previous transgressions against them or superior talent (hear that England?). Good teams win games like this. Period. It can’t be any simpler than that.
That being said, here are the scenarios for the U.S.:
Loss: Pack your bags, we’re headed home. In the meantime, Mr. Koman Coulibaly should go ahead and cancel any American vacation plans he has for next decade or so.
June 19, 2010
Those Americans ready to dismiss the World Cup as everyone else’s shrine to boredom have been given something to tune back in for. What the U.S., Slovenia and a certain Malian provided was the full gamut of human emotion—despair to euphoria to genuine unadulterated rage. It was like going from a funeral to a wedding to a divorce in the space of an hour.
To look at it from a neutral perspective: it was good enough to preemptively redeem the 90 minutes lost to the abject England game, which, even for a lover of soccer in all forms like myself, I might have traded for a live filming of an infomercial or the even the Sex and the City sequel. I’m not sure what makes for more atrocious viewing: Kim Catrall’s cartoonish post-menopausal efforts to exude sex appeal in a designer dress or Frank Lampard’s efforts to find form in an England shirt.
Despite the wasted time (and money) the scoreless draw was precisely what was required from an American perspective after their 2-2 draw against Slovenia in Johannesburg left them on two points. 90 minutes of scoreless boredom in Cape Town puts their fate firmly in their own hands, an entirely acceptable scenario headed into the final game against Algeria.
Your guess is as good as mine, Landon.
© Getty Images
But whether the result should be cherished as a point gained or rued as two points lost is a different question.
June 18, 2010
Americans should be wary
There's no shortage of positives Bob Bradley can take away from their opening game against England: the form of Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo, the work rate of Michael Bradley, the reliability of Tim Howard, his Herculean threshold for pain, the collective ability to dictate tempo and so on. Confidence should be high heading in to this afternoon's all important Slovenia match, but before we get ahead ourselves and start looking to the 2nd round, a few disconcerting statistics to be mindful of:
-The U.S. have played an Eastern European team in every World Cup since 1990. Their record: 0 wins - 0 draws - 5 losses - 2 goals for - 13 against. The rundown on our ugly Eastern Block history: 1990 Czechoslovakia 1-5, 1994 Romania 0-1, 1998 Yugoslavia 0-1, 2002 Poland 1-3, 2006 Czech Republic 0-3. Let me use a highly technical term to summarize: ewwww.
-The U.S. have only kept one clean sheet in 20 World Cup matches, that coming against hated rivals and well known opponents Mexico. A clean sheet isn't as crucial as a win (or at the very least a draw) but consider the number of games in which the U.S. has scored more than 1 goal in the modern World Cup: 3. If we give up one, we can't exactly rely on offensive fireworks to get us the required result.
-Slovenia have won 7 of their last 8. Though that should be tempered with the fact that they've beaten the likes of New Zealand and Qatar.
As ever, nothing should be taken for granted when it comes to the U.S. National Team.
June 17, 2010
American soccer now has two poster children. Since signing for Bayer Leverkusen as a 16 year old, Landon Donovan has been its centerpiece. Some of his luster was momentarily stolen by Freddy Adu, but seeing as the latter is now washing cars somewhere off the D.C. beltway (or sitting on the bench in Greece, whatever) Donovan’s stay at the top has otherwise gone uninterrupted for nearly a decade.
2010 has officially signaled the arrival of a man to share that mantle: Clint Dempsey. He’s been one of the leading men for the U.S. National Team for some time, but after his blistering form for club and country in the last year, “Deuce” has firmly placed himself in the spotlight this summer.
What Donovan and Dempsey define and how they arrived at the center of the U.S. soccer world are completely different stories. Donovan is the squeaky clean golden boy; Dempsey, the grizzled anti-hero.
As divergent as their paths are, that they will ultimately mean to U.S. soccer will be determined by the same thing: where they take us in the next two weeks.
If the U.S. go far this summer, these men will have everything to do with it.
© Getty Images
June 13, 2010
I’m hoarse, exhausted, kind of filthy and, I must reveal, still not entirely sober. This is fault of several Englishmen who were, for whatever reason, convinced that I love Sambuca and enjoy consuming it in vast quantities at regular intervals through the evening. I guess the irrepressible grin that the 1-1 result induced probably suggested that I was enjoying the licorice-flavored devil’s milk. I digress: about the game…
I suppose there’s no other place to start than poor Rob Green. In my interview with England Correspondent Billy Blagg, I compared he and David James to blind sloths. What was then meant to be a tongue in cheek poke at the apparent weak link of the England squad seems prophetic today.