The following post was written by my youngest brother Jared. He is a recent high school graduate who is heading to the University of Pittsburgh this fall. Jared is a better soccer player than I ever was but I beat him in tennis 6-0, 6-3 last week. He has a unique, hilarious perspective on US soccer, its fans and naysayers, and its upcoming match against his adopted homeland, Spain, in tomorrow’s Confederations Cup semifinal.
USA……. 24 June 2008, 2:30 PM E ……. ESP
On Wednesday my two favorite countries and my two favorite teams will be playing each other in the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup; USA vs Spain. Born and raised in America, do not mistake me for anything close to a Judas Rossi who would jump across to the old world if Spain called (technically speaking I am not of Spanish descent), nor am I one of those obnoxious people who doesn’t think US soccer is good enough so I only watch EPL or Champions League games and talk trash about MLS, without ever attending a live match standing in the middle of the Screaming Eagles, and even less am I one of those immigrants who are so grateful to live and work and eat and sleep in the United States that show up to American qualifiers to support the opposing country. Allow me to explain:
In the summer before I entered my junior year of high school (that is 2 summers ago), I had the pleasure of touring and living in Spain for 3 weeks with a group from my school. To be succinct, I had a blast. I stayed in Madrid, saw the Bernabeu, bought a Real Madrid jersey, and have supported them since (I had always liked Raul). On top of this, for two weeks I lived on the southern coast with a Spanish mother, or mama, if you will, in her apartment about a mile from the, yes, topless beach — although I think that everyone would appreciate it if there were some sort of screening process for who was allowed to exercise this privilege. Ever since, I have been very fond of Spain. It remains the only other country I have visited with the exception of San Francisco, and so last summer I watched every minute of, and supported them all through Euro 2008. When they won, and my favorite player (not named Michael Bradley) Fernando Torres scored the winning goal, I was very happy. But I am an American all the way through. I can put away hot dogs with the best of them, and when it comes to apple pie, let’s just say I know how to punish one.
However, I do not possess any Spanish blood. I believe I have something like German and English, and judging by my love of waffles, I’m guessing there’s some Belgian in there as well. So I can’t be like one of those Italian families who stay ‘loyal’ to their country and support the Italians. The only reasonable explanation I have for this is that the mafia keeps people in check like the Majority Whip in the House, but any other explanation is unsatisfactory. If you are born and raised in America, repeat after me, “I pledge allegiance, to the flag, of the …….United States of America.” Also, I am not a soccer snob (I read an article about this probably on si.com, so it is not entirely my original idea), as in I am not an American who believes that American soccer is not good enough so I only watch and “support” Manchester United or Chelsea, while I complain that MLS is a joke. <violent sentence removed by ahelms.com editor> I have more to say about these people, but I’m guessing not much more of my strong language would make it through the ahelms.com big brother filter. True, real life story, after the US pulled the win off on Sunday, I sent a text to one such snob that said “Haters can kiss my ‘butt.’ USA ALL THE WAY.” The text that I received in response from Mr. Snob was, “Well, I mean, there’s a pretty good chance they’re gonna get ripped a new one against Spain.” My response was this, and it goes to all haters, “Well, theres a 100 percent chance that Giuseppi Rossi can watch from his couch in New Jersey, or better yet with his boys Cannavaro and Pirlo in Rome.”
As for the last type of person, the people who show up in Columbus wearing Green, or show up wearing blue in Chicago, it’s just obnoxious. This is more of a political science than soccer debate, so I’ll leave it at that, it’s obnoxious.
So for the breakdown of my favorite teams, and some of the ‘what to watch for’s’, here it is:
The Matchup I’m most excited about is Fernando Torres versus Oguchi Onyewu; one of my favorite players and best strikers in the world, against one of the most athletic and imposing defenders anywhere (who I have a coach in common with). Andrew commented that Landon got in the box a couple times and opted to pass instead of shoot; you’re not going to see Fernando pass up a chance to score. He will rip if he gets a sniff of goal and an inch of space. Gooch is looking to make a jump to the EPL, and what a chance to display his skills playing against one of the Premierships premier strikers. I honestly like Gooch in this matchup, and not just because we both played center back for the same guy. Six foot four defenders with the athleticism of Gooch are not something that strikers see every day, and certainly not one that Fernando will have seen in Spain. He’s handled well in the EPL playing against some monsters like Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, but Gooch is a monster with something to prove, and must be a leader for the US in this game.
(Side note: what is up with the annoying pre-game mid-warmup interviews? I wish Rece Davis and his Jon and Kate fetish and Alexi Lalas would chill out and let the players focus on the game coming up. I’ve never noticed Gooch to be one of the more vocal guys on the team, and they’re trying to grill him while he’s getting ready for the critical match. I have more to say on this, but I’ll get back on track).
Comparing goalkeepers, I’d say it’s either way. Iker Casillas has been consistently one of the worlds best for Spain and Real Madrid, and Tim Howard is a world class goalie. Incidentally, both backups played in the last group match, but neither Pepe Reina nor Brad Guzan are anything to be disappointed about.
After this, I don’t see many bright spots for the US. The matchup I’m most worried about is Johnny Bornstein and Sergio Ramos. What? A left back against a right back? I honestly have watched matches where Sergio Ramos, lined up at Right back, has assumed as much or less defensive duty/ responsibility than Clint Dempsey playing center ring (as in the center ring of the three ring circus, which he seemed to have stepped into at the end of the Brazil game). It seems Sergio takes the responsibility a little more seriously with Spain in the big games (in the Euro 08 semis against Italy, he was responsible for hanging back and taking care of Luca Toni’s aerial threat, due to Carlos Puyol being vertically challenged). However, the US isn’t Italy and so I doubt Sergio will give Altidore or Demspsey, or (can you imagine) Conor Baldy Casey much respect, or enough to stop him from spending more time on the attack. Bornstein seems like he’s going through puberty at left back — the nicest way to put it I guess is that he’s unstable; he does try hard which I commend, but most of the time I just feel like he’s a JV player trying to play with the faster pace of the Varsity, and just hanging on thread by thread, play by play. I would not be surprised if one of Spain’s dribblers got around Bornstein and he made a bad, late tackle from behind to bring out Red Card number 3 for the Americans this tournament. Sergio will live in the attacking half, and the best thing I can say is that hopefully Johnny B will pick up some tips as he watches Sergio serve balls in or watches Sergio get around behind him. (In the off chance that Carlos Bocanegra is able to play, I would think it a great idea to play him at left back to put some more size, skill, experience, and confidence at the left back spot to handle Sergio).
The midfield is just not good news for the US. Even if the US was able to play Michael Bradley, Claudio Reyna 02 and Pablo Mastroeni from a few years ago, it’d still be bad news. Even with Andres Iniesta out, a midfield featuring Xabi Alonso, Xavi Hernandez, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, is just bad news for anyone. It seems like Clark is the pick to partner with MB, but there’s not a lot to be done. I will say the physicality, athleticism, and toughness is the best way the US can hope of handling the Spanish midfield. Just like the English sank the Spanish Armada using fewer, but smaller and swifter boats, maybe the US can sink the Spanish midfield using hustle and effort, because it’s going to seem like there are a lot of Spanish players coming through the midfield (Sergio Ramos pushing up and David Villa coming in behind Torres, for example, bouncing in and out).
If the US does manage to get hold of the ball from Spain, and are able to keep Johnny Bornstein from blasting the ball into Kenya, the main hope going forward has to be Landon Donovan. His skills were on full display against Egypt and I hope to see more of it. Landon’s slicing dribble-runs would be a big contrast to Spain’s quick passing game, and let’s be honest, the US isn’t going to out-Spain Spain (as in, they aren’t going to get the ball, keep it, and knock it around for minutes at a time like Spain will do). I would be very happy if Spector could get up in the attack and serve some balls into Jozy or Dempsey on the counter-attack, but I feel like he will be tied down defensively, and if he goes up, both outside backs will be very vulnerable, leaving Bradley-Clark-Demerit-Onyewu too vulnerable, and Villa/ Torres will find their spot and go at it (I really have little faith in Bornstein).
All in all, Spain is a tough match up for anyone. The grit and the athleticism of the US lineup may provide a challenge. No one is going to keep the ball better than Spain, and so if the US accepts this and looks to attack aggressively going at people on counter attacks (Freddy Adu comes to mind here), maybe the ball will bounce their way and they can get a goal or two and play some defense. A lot of defense. I expect Spain to keep the ball, as they always do, the majority of the time, and you can’t expect Spain’s stars not to find the back of the net, but even those Soviets lost in Hockey in Salt Lake City, so why not those Spaniards in South Africa?
And I will be cheering the US all the way through, until the last whistle, unless ‘Turnover DMB’ somehow squeezes his way into the lineup.