Scotland v United States
Scotland v United States
— Kurt Austin (@kaustin01)
Judging by the headlines across Mexico, El Tri know exactly who is responsible for keeping their World Cup hopes alive by a whisker.
After a disappointing 2-1 loss to Costa Rica, Mexico’s World Cup lives were at the mercy of the Americans — their greatest, most bitter rivals — who themselves had fallen behind Panama midway through the second half. Had the result held up, Mexico would be eliminated from next year’s summer classic, but a pair of stoppage time goals by Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson marked an incredible comeback that kept Mexico ahead of Panama in fourth place of the qualifying group, good for a two-legged playoff tie with New Zealand to determine one of the last World Cup berths.
As it happened, Mexican commentator Christian Martinoli encapsulated the incredible night while covering both games side-by-side for Azteca TV, screaming:
“We love you for ever and ever! God bless America!
The USA puts us in the playoffs!
It is because of the USA that we are being placed in the playoff … because of them, not due to you! Not any of you in the green shirts. It was them! Not you! They did it, not you!
Remember this forever. Keep this clearly in mind for the rest of your lives. You do nothing for the shirt, you do not put any effort for the team, you have not placed us in the World Cup, you would not have kept us alive.
Mexico is a horror, just terrible. A failure.”
His words, not ours.
DC United entered Tuesday’s night Lamar Hunt US Open Cup final at Real Salt Lake with a clear and concise game plan honed by heavy underdogs the world over.
Keep it tight. Prevent the opposition from playing. Wait for the right time to snatch the winner.
United — holder of three meager wins in MLS play this season and pursuer of a fourth in Open Cup competition on this night — executed Ben Olsen’s instructions doggedly and produced a resolute performance worthy of its 1-0 victory to complete the 100th edition of this competition.
Lewis Neal scored the winning goal shortly before the interval with a first-time effort, but the difference between failure and triumph on this evening hinged with United’s commitment to its defiant and organized work inside its own half.
Real Salt Lake enjoyed plenty of possession without testing United nearly often enough before the frantic late stages. United’s ability to retain its 4-4-2 shape against RSL’s extensive, if somewhat lackluster, work on the ball heaped pressure on the home side to engineer a breakthrough. RSL mined its preferred route between the center backs and the fullbacks — all in a bid to either create numbers out wide to play behind the fullbacks or use the fissures to slot players directly through the line — often enough in a bid to crack apart the United rearguard.
Olsen trusted his central core – defenders Dejan Jakovic and Ethan White, midfielders Perry Kitchen and John Thorrington — prevent RSL from combining deftly in the final third and producing chances in more dangerous areas. Those four players justified that faith and stymied RSL in the process. Their success in the middle of United’s two banks of four forced RSL’s fullbacks forward (they often join in support anyways) to provide hopeful service from the wide areas and left room for United to counter on those rare forays into opposition territory.
It only takes one goal to validate the thought process behind such a display. Neal (an astute selection in midfield in place of Luis Silva due to his considerable work rate) supplied the winner moments before the break after good work from Thorrington down the left created modest chaos inside the RSL penalty area. RSL couldn’t hack clear after shifting somewhat aggressively to halt Thorrington’s run and watched Neal slot home first time for the only goal of the game.
United conceded most of the play on the night and soaked up a furious late siege from RSL with help from Bill Hamid and the goal frame, but the final whistle made the toil worthwhile. United has endured a wretched season in league play. This achievement — fueled by grit and organization — at least provides some tangible relief ahead of the extensive rebuilding project ahead during the winter.
Images: Jim Urquhart / USA Today Sports
(Image: Zac Kenworthy / FOX Soccer)
The party started days ago, as United States men’s national team fans began trickling and then pouring into town. By Monday night, a critical mass had been reached as hundreds passed through the American Outlaws party a few blocks from Columbus Crew Stadium, the USA’s emotional home.
By Tuesday, those who would be filling the largest-ever 9,000-man (and certainly woman too) dedicated supporters section behind the north goal, would be number so many that parties broke out all over. Downtown, you literally couldn’t turn anywhere without seeing a USA jersey. When mid-afternoon rolled around, two different fan get-togethers had gotten started while others tailgated in the parking lot.
That it was scorching hot — almost 100 degrees, in fact — bothered absolutely nobody. A qualifier with Mexico was on the docket, the biggest game outside of the World Cup itself. They were here, and they would bloody well be loud too. Warnings from the federation to be cautious with alcohol-intake, given the risk of dehydration, were ignored.
In falling to Costa Rica for the seventh consecutive time on the Ticos’ home ground, the Americans added yet more gravitas to the already-loaded build-up for their World Cup qualifier against Mexico here on Tuesday. So, having allowed some time and space for hindsight, here are the relevant lessons drawn from the 3-1 loss as they relate to yet another crucial bout:
1. Michael Bradley is indispensable
Folding over his ankle in the final movements of the warm-up and ruling the central midfielder out of the game plainly unsettled the team. He is their emotional leader, after all, the man leading by his combative example and, from the looks of it, verbally too. But when he fell away, they lost more than that. What Bradley brings to the table, nobody else can replicate. Shuttling between boxes, he sets the pace, tone and rhythm of the run of play. He covers much ground defensively, distributes from deep and gets counterattacks started. Geoff Cameron, the late replacement for Bradley, tried to fill that role but he hasn’t the range and simply isn’t as tidy with the ball. Bradley’s absence against Mexico will have to be compensated for; his many roles filled by a combination of others.
CBC Radio program This is That caused a stir over the weekend with a segment that claimed an Ontario athletic association removed the ball from youth soccer games, thus ensuring everybody wins.
The This is That piece hit the blogosphere, and the pallbearers for athletic integrity readied themselves to lower the proverbial casket. There’s only one problem: This is That is a satirical program, comparable to a Canadian version of The Onion.
To be fair, the hoax included some totally believable quotes, such as:
"We want our children to grow up learning that sport is not about competition, rather it’s about using your imagination. If you imagine you’re good at soccer, then, you are."
In the same vein, we guess if you imagine a completely ridiculous story is true, then, it is.
(Image: Joe Corrigan/Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA
On Friday, the United States men’s national team plays its seventh of ten games in the final stage of World Cup qualifying against Costa Rica.
Here are five urgent questions heading into the game:
Is Jozy Altidore ready to go?
The young target man, newly of Sunderland, is recovering from a hamstring injury. After getting an MRI in Miami upon joining the team, he was given the go-ahead by the medical staff. But how effective he will be, and how durable, remains to be seen.
His importance can hardly be overstated. There is no other striker available who is so proficient at holding up the ball and getting the adjoining attackers involved. And Altidore has scored in his last five USA games, a record, tallying seven goals in all.
Image courtesy of AP Images
Who will play right back?
Steve Cherundolo is still out with an injury. Timmy Chandler is unavailable too. And Brad Evans, who has played in the spot most recently, was a late scratch from the team because of a calf injury. He was replaced on the roster by Michael Parkhurst, but he, like fellow candidate Geoff Cameron isn’t a natural at the right back position.
Both have their limitations going forward. And both are fourth-stringers at best.
When the United States men’s national team squared off against Costa Rica last March, a snow storm hit Colorado making the game one of the most memorable contests in sports history.
Costa Rica wasn’t happy the game was allowed to continue. Maybe that’s because Costa Rica lost. Needless to say, the Ticos certainly haven’t forgotten about the incident.
A crowd of Costa Rican fans are heard chanting “No fair play!” as members of Team USA deplane and board the team bus on Tuesday. You can see exactly how much the perceived injustice earlier this year still sticks in their craw.
One might assume the confines of a bus would bring an end to the pestering. Wrong. According to the Tico Times, eggs were also launched in the salvo against the United States.
Costa Ricans chanted “U-S-A. No fair play” and tossed eggs during the arrival of the #USMNT this evening.— The Tico Times (@TheTicoTimes) September 4, 2013
Perhaps they just thought the Americans needed a late breakfast after their flight? That’s a stretch. Either way, it should shape up for an even more interesting match come Friday.