Saturday, June 19

Long Soccer Saturday

Well, three World Cup games and a W-League match were the highlights of the day. More on the World Cup later, but here is a recap of a dramatic showdown between first and second in the Atlantic Division as Atlanta visited Tampa Bay...

Friday, June 18

Thank You England - Part II

Well, sometimes they say you need a little luck. If that is the case I don't know how much more the US can get. In one of the most lackluster performances of the tournament to that point, the US came out extremely flat, and of course gave up yet another early goal in the first 15 minutes. Down 2-0 at the interval, it looked like the US was out, Slovenia was going to clinch and England would have clear sailing. Then a miracle happened, they woke up. Sure, the controversial call at the close of the match left many disappointed, but given the US in 33 previous two-goal deficit situations had only produced one win and two draws, a tie and continued life was a blessing in itself.

England continued to provide more fortune for the Americans when they took the field and played a full 90 minutes similar to the US first-half effort - flat and emotionless. I was shocked to see Algeria play better against the English than the US had just six days prior, which is somewhat worrisome, considering they are now still alive and will be playing with utmost urgency come next week's match against the US. The sad thing about this game is that the Brits I was watching the game with were 10 times more entertaining than what the English showed on the field.

This time, the gift from the English came indirectly, but with the BP oil endlessly spewing into the Gulf of Mexico just a few hundred miles from here in Tampa, I guess they owe us a little something.


Despite its dominance as the CONCACAF power before the rise of the United States to join them, Mexico still had barriers in World Cup play. On Thursday, one of them fell as they finally registered a tournament victory against a World Cup champion after 16 previous attempts, knocking off the French with an impressive display of counters in a 2-0 win. France's first-ever loss to a CONCACAF opponent may not be the end of their woes as the quality of play leaves doubts on whether they can defeat the South Africans in the group finales, leaving them in danger of finishing without a win. By the way, Mexico... you are welcome for the US preparing you for the cold weather conditions from our qualifiers.

Thursday, June 17

No one left in the Northwest

They are all gone. I was sad to here that Abbotsford GM Barry Crocker was planning to retire. Then I saw the story about it being official. He’s absolutely deserving of a nice retirement, it’s just difficult to see it come as he is the last of what I consider the original gang of Northwest PDL administrators from my days working with the Spokane Shadow.

Barry was kind of the lovable grandfather of the group. The English-Canadian is one of the nicest and most genuine gentlemen you will meet in the sport, which is perhaps why his efforts to grow the sport in Abbotsford, a lovely city just outside of Vancouver, over the course of three decades were successful. In a day and age when you meet so many coaches and soccer administrators who continue to work in the sport out of ego or money, Barry was one of the few who was truly devoted to the youth and helping them improve their game.

Barry was not alone. The others included my mentor at the Shadow, Jeff Robbins, along with Teresa Vega (Yakima Reds) and Dave Irby (Cascade Surge). I missed seeing all of them on a regular basis when I moved to Tampa to work for USL, but always enjoyed the chats each year at the Annual General Meeting or championship events. Unfortunately, as the group got smaller each year, the feel of the division, at least in my own personal world, changed.

But although the faces have changed, at least the division is still strong with new blood creating a new dynamic in the Northwest. Today though, my best wishes go out to Barry as he makes his trek to Mexico. I hope he has a wonderful retirement, because he surely deserves it.

Not quite enough

The final member of CONCACAF, Honduras, at the World Cup did not have a great showing in their opener as they were dominated by the Chileans. It was not exactly surprising though as the confederation has really become a twosome of the Americans and Mexicans with whomever the third side is needing a fortunate draw and some luck to really compete at the world’s highest level.

The game of the day though for me, and many others was Spain-Switzerland. Not only was it a thriller to watch, but it reminded me of watching the Montreal Impact CONCACAF Champions League run of two years ago as they played much like the Swiss did against a possession-oriented Latin style attack. They absorbed the pressure continually throughout the match and did well to cut off passes in the box, poke the ball of the feet of the attackers and make last-second blocks.

But like the Swiss, and arguably as South Africa should have done later that evening, the Impact had the skill and abilities to provide more pressure offensively in their matches. In the end, it cost Montreal as they sat back in a shell that finally gave way. Switzerland got a little lucky that Spain never found the back of the net, although the woodwork was another matter, and South Africa gave Uruguay too many opportunities.

I understand some teams have to play a bunker style because they can’t get into a shootout due to a lack of quality in their own attack, but if that is the plan why even bother with fielding one or two strikers. Why not just field 10 defensively skilled players and prey that someone manages a breakaway that results in a penalty, free kick or corner that sets up a decisive goal.

Sunday, June 13

Good and Bad news

The news for the other half of the North American contingent at the World Cup was good and bad as the United States earned a ‘1-1 win’ as some English tabloids dubbed it versus England Saturday. The English brilliantly stretched out the American defense early in the match on a play that looks more like a rugby sequence as a throw-in deep in the American zone was played directly across the top of the area with a lengthy sequence of parallel passes that spread the defenders out, allowing Steven Gerrard to make a swooping angled run behind the sequence, cutting across the grain for a direct, open path to goal for the early strike.

The good news was that individually, the Americans played above expectations, Jay DeMerit in particular in shutting down superstar Wayne Rooney as the US rallied for the draw on the gaff that will no doubt be the most famous blooper of the tournament when everything is all said and done.

More bad news came the next morning for the US when Slovenia took advantage of an Algerian red card by scoring late in the contest to take control of the group with a 1-0 victory. The good news, though, is that neither team looked particularly strong, and Slovenia even struggled defensively against a 10-man Algerian side after gaining the man advantage.