30 June 2006

Screw Portugal

Okay, I know that I am a homer for Dutch football, so much so that I actually had Helen tape the Netherlands v. Portugal game since I thought I might not be able to see it live. It is now five days later, and I still can't believe the game.

Now, to hedge my position, let me say up front that the Dutch squad didn't play particularly well. Van Bommel turned selfish in the second half, Kuijt looked pathetic as a target man, and no one seemed interested in running into space or making accurate passes. I cannot fathom why Marco van Basten would choose to play Jan Vennegoor van Hesselink instead of van Nistelrooy.

That said, no one, not even an Argentine player, can flop like Louis Figo. The fact that he didn't get a red card for his head butt (and yes, that is what should have been given because a head butt is red cardable) is sad. But his blatent attempt to get Khalid Boulahrouz sent off suggests that a once brilliant player has been reduced to a pathetic asshole.

Likewise, Cristiano Ronaldo isn't fit to bear the name Ronaldo. I get that he didn't like the challenge, as he doesn't like anybody playing defense in his vacinity. The tackle was certainly late, but there's no way that is a yellow card. And suggesting that Boulahrouz wanted to put him out of the game is a sure sign of his mental deficiencies.

So, let me announce today that, while I don't usually pull for England, I hope that England kicks Portugal back to the peninsula. I hope that the EPL players who know what physical play really feels like use their skills to show Figo and Cristiano what it actually means to be fouled. Flop this f*&%ers!

28 June 2006

Live from Mesa Grande

Since last Saturday I have been in Southern California, well outside of San Diego, working on a CUWiN installation for Tribal Digital Village. Our hotel is in Temecula (north of San Diego on I-15), but the network is in Black Canyon, on the Mesa Grande Reservation. I would put the picture here, but it just doesn't give you the full effect unless I send you to this link. If you go there, you will see the road that comes down from the north. It is a one-lane, dirt road, lightly sprinkled with gravel, and complete with a drop-off of several hundred feet. That's not to mention the fact that the road takes you from the top of the canyon to the bottom of the canyon. There is a stream to the left of the road, and while it may look like a gentle slope down to the stream, if you go over the edge you don't stop until you hit the boulders that line the stream.

Yesterday I drove that road down to the reservation (I had ridden down the canyon for three days already). I had nightmares the night before about taking everybody in the truck over the edge. And that was before I realized that we didn't have four-wheel drive. It's just an amazing landscape with people who are also amazing for various reasons, which I will not go into here.

I knew that it would be hot. San Diego has beautiful temperatures year-round, but I knew that once you move inland one if facing desert conditions. But, it's dry heat, right. Much better than what I am used to in Illinois. Well, it would be, except that even in this vast semi-arid terain there are record temperatures. It turns out, we have been here while those recorded temperatures are being shattered by 10 degrees. On Monday the thermometer tapped out at 126 degrees. And while 100 isn't too bad if you aren't standing in the sun, 126 is bad no matter where you are.

Ironically, I have managed to avoid sunburn until yesterday, when I didn't put on sun screen because I thought I would be inside most of the day. Even now, it's just a healthy reddish glow, not a beet-red glare.

As a result of being on the reservation, I haven't watched much of the World Cup, which is a little bit depressing, especially as today I could actually watch but thre is not a game until Friday. However, I feel like I need to provide some predictions for the quarterfinals. I did terribly in the round of 16, botching about the same number of games as the referees, apparently.

Germany v. Argentina
A week ago no one would have picked the Argentine side to lose. The Germans have a solid twelfth man advantage and a ton of confidence. The Argentines, despite their bravado and unending arrogance, struggled against Mexico. I expect them to lose to the German side, 2-1.

England v. Portugal
Portugal will be missing Deco and Costinha. England will be missing a striker. I expect Portugal to flop around, but the difference between the way the English play and the Dutch play is this: when you go down against the Dutch, it's because you think you can get away with acting; when you go down against the English, it's because the English player decided just attempted to end your career. Look for the Brits to pick up some cards but to advance 1-0.

Ukraine v. Italy
Expect the Italians to be handed the victory again by the referee, either by a penalty kick or by simply not calling the falls the Italian players commit.

Brazil v. France
The French go lucky to advance, but the Brazilians weathered the storm Ghana put on them with brilliant counters. Look for Brazil to get revenge for the 1998 finals loss to France, 3-0.

Okay, now that I'm awake, I think I'll go find some breakfast and some coffee.

24 June 2006

Day 15: France and Swiss Surprise, Ukraine and Spain Remain on the Plain

France 2 Togo 0
Well, I'll admit my surprise. I thought France was going to be self-defeating again, but it turns out that Patrick Viera and Thierry Henry still have the heart of lions. I only watched the second half, but it was pretty clear to me who looked more threatening.

Switzerland 2 South Korea 0
The second goal was complete shite (because Alexander Frei was clearly offside), but the Swiss looked like they deserved the win (at least, from what I watched of the second half).

Spain 1 Saudi Arabia 0
I didn't see any part of this game, but if Saudi Arabia held even Spain's B team to one goal, they deserve some level of credit for at least trying.

Ukraine 1 Tunisia 0
I was rather distracted during this game, but it seemed like the Ukraine really hasn't gotten their act together. They were fighting amongst themselves and making a right royal mess of their chances. Their play in this game is going to force me to rethink my picks for the round of 16.

Rethinking Round of 16 Picks
I am taking the liberty to reassess the two matches that are changed as a result of two assumptions turning out incorrect. I had assumed that South Korea and Switzerland would hold things even in a classic speed versus height scenario. I had also assumed that Les Bleus were going to push to hard and fail. I was obviously wrong, and it changes the match-ups quite dramatically.

Spain v. France
It's tempting to pick France after an emotional win, but I'm still not convinced that the French team is hungry enough to beat a very talented Spanish side. On the other hand, Spain are perennial underachievers. But I think this Spanish squad, which is actually fairly young, is hungry enough to neutralize Spain's history of self-implosion for this round. Spain moves on 2-1.

Switzerland v. Ukraine
This is a substantially different match than South Korea versus Ukraine. With the injury to Philippe Senderos, the Swiss will be challenged early and often by Schevchenko. That said, Frei has shown remarkable ability to partner with teammates and create dangerous opportunities for the Swiss. Despite being highly dubious of Switzerland coming into the tournament, I am picking them to move on 1-0 and the Ukraine points fingers at each other all the way back to Kiev.

22 June 2006

Day 14: Tchuß! and Round 2 Predictions

Ghana 2 US 1
This was not the US's World Cup. Screwed in two games with poor officiating decisions, the US team could not overcome a 12-man advantage. I only have a couple things to say about this. First, this is a morality tale about why the first game of the World Cup is so important. If the US had done well against the Czechs, they would have received better treatment from the officials and they would have had more confidence when finishing. Second, it is time for the US to say goodbye to reactionary football. The US is most dangerous when it is attacking, winning balls, pushing forward. The marsupial offense is never going to play to the American's strengths.

Both of these point to one thing: the coaching staff. Bruce Arena brought this team a long way from the days of Steve Sampson, but it is time for him to take on something new. So, who next? Eric Wynalda threw around names from MLS. Please help us if US Soccer goes that direction. I have an alternative suggestion: let's look at a coach who has international success. I would love to see the job offered to Guus Hiddink, but his commitment to Russia precludes that. If Germany doesn't retain Jurgen Klinsmann, the US should hire him directly. If none of these are available, let me suggest that while Leo Beenhaker did well with Trinidad and Tobago he would do wonders for the US attack.

Italy 2 Czech Republic 0
What can I say? No surprise on this.

Brazil 4 Japan 1
Can the Ronaldo haters shut up? Does Brazil look good yet? Ghana beware!

Australia 2 Croatia 2
Does anyone not think that Guus Hiddink is a great coach? I admit that I completely underestimated Australia. They are steady in defense and Mark Viduka is an excellent target on offense.

Tomorrow's Predictions
Togo 1 France 0
Swiss 1 South Korea 1
Spain 3 Saudi Arabia 0
Ukraine 2 Tunisia 1

Round of Sixteen Predictions
Because I'm leaving for a week-long stint outside of San Diego, I suspect that I won't be able to watch very many matches, including the ones tomorrow. Perhaps they will make me alter these picks (especially Group G results).

Germany v. Sweden
Germany is playing so well that it is virtually impossible to pick against the home side in this match. In addition, Sweden has been anything but convincing on the offensive side. I think Germany wins this 2-0.

Argentina v. Mexico
Mexico looked good in the last game, despite losing. I acknowledge that Ricardo La Volpe may have a trick up his sleave against his countrymen, but I fully expect Argentina to move past Mexico. Their skill and attack has looked spectacular, and their defense has looked stellar in every game except against the Ivory Coast. Argentina 2-0.

England v. Ecuador
England has yet to look really strong, and Owen is a bigger loss than anyone in the England camp will admit. Without him, Peter (Don't Call Me Crotch) Crouch starts up front and brings height with little skill. Ecuador will come back from being trounced by Germany with an strong performance, knocking England out 2-1.

Portugal v. Netherlands
This is a hard game for me to call. The Dutch side has had particular problems with Portugal, but this is a different squad than the one the Dutch fielded in qualification for the 2002 World Cup. What is particularly interesting in this game is that neither team has played really well after the twentieth minute. And of course my heart is pure orange. So, I'm goin' homer and picking the Dutch to win 2-1, with Arjen Robben scoring a goal in the second half to put the game away.

Italy v. Australia
Italy 2-0. Australia just lacks the quality to stay with the Italian side.

South Korea v. Ukraine
South Korea has demonstrated their technical skill, but can they win against a dangerous offensive side? I'm not sure. Similarly, can the Ukraine defense stop a technical and fast Korean side? My best guess is this: Andriy Schevchenko comes up big and scores the late winner. Ukraine 2-1.

Brazil v. Ghana
Brazil improved their quality in each game of this tournament so far. The Ghanan side is strong and very capable in midfield, but their youth may catch up to them in this match. I look for the Brazilian side to give up goals, but to outscore the Black Stars 3-2. The good news for Ghana? Ghana will be the first African to win the cup in 2010, assuming that there are no career threatening injuries to the squad.

Spain v. Switzerland
The Swiss demonstrated their ability to hold attacking teams in check against France. The Spanish have not played a methodical and tactical squad to date. I expect them to struggle against a fierce defense. In fact, I think the Swiss might just be able to counter attack their way to a 1-0 victory against the traditional underachievers.

21 June 2006

Day 13: Mexico Demonstrates Spirit and the Dutch Defend

Portugal 2 Mexico 1
Portugal looked sharp early but, as per usual, they relaxed after about ten minutes and didn't really look dangerous again. Sure, there were some runs, but nothing worthy of real excitement. Mexico, on the otherhand, did a wonderful job of staying in the game after going down two goals. Unfortunately for Mexico, Omar Bravo missed a penalty kick in the 58th minute, which would have leveled the score at 2-2.

Angola 1 Iran 1
Mexico advances to the second round because of their gutsy performance and because Angola failed to capitalize on the opportunity. From all accounts, Iran controlled the run of play despite Angola taking the lead early in the second half. Iran equalized late. I feel sorry for Angola because, although they clearly have a midfield and defense to put them in contention, their offense lacked a quality player up front. Mr. Akwa, I wouldn't wait on your agent to be calling.

Netherlands 0 Argentina 0
I consider this to be a virtual victory for the Dutch side. I fully expected Argentina to run this game, and while they controlled much of the flow of play and looked more dangerous than the Dutch side, the Dutch defense (which had only one regular starter) maintained the clean sheet. The Dutch rarely looked dangerous, with a possible exception of Ruud van Nistelrooy's early push into the box (in which he was taken out by the Argetine defender in the box without a foul being called).

That said, I'm still very concerned about the Dutch side. I appreciate the work that Phillip Cocu does on defense, but he lacks the offensive power to make him useful as the central midfielder. He selfishly took a couple of balls and did nothing with them, neutralizing at least one good scoring chance. I'm not saying it can't work, but I am suggesting that Cocu needs to stick to his role as a distributor. My friend Jason commented that while van Nistelrooy was in the game he practically disappeared. I chalk this up to the lack of a midfield. I would also suggest that today we saw why Arjen Robben is so important to the Dutch side.

Tomorrow's Picks
I'm about to be very unpopular in the US.
Italy 2 Czech Republic 0
US 1 Ghana 1
Brazil 3 Japan 0
Croatia 1 Australia 1

Here's how I see it: The Czechs are old and will face substantial problems without Jan Koller and Tomas Ujfalusi, their best defender. The Italian side should be able to feed on the Czech defensive weekness. That leaves the opportunity available for the Americans. However, I've heard nothing that convinces me that Bruce Arena understands how to get offensive production out of this squad. Here's the line-up I expect (right to left side):
G Kasey Keller
D: Steve Cherundolo, Jimmie Conrad, Oguchi Onyewu, Eddie Lewis
M: Clint Dempsey, Claudio Reyna, Landon Donovan, John O'Brien, DaMarcus Beasley
F: Brian McBride

Arena has already said that he will put Conrad in for Eddie Pope. He is unlikely to use Carlos Bocanegra at left back because Carlos is really too slow to keep up with the Ghanan attackers. He could use either Beasley or Bobby Convey at left midfield, but Beasley will provide better defensive help. The problem is that once again there is just no fire power in the line-up. Here's my preferred starting eleven:
G Keller
D: Cherundolo, Conrad, Onyewu, Lewis
M: Dempsey, Donovan, O'Brien, Convey
F: McBride, Eddie Johnson

What I like about this arrangement is that O'Brien can fill in for Reyna in terms of distribution, but he can also help cover Convey and Lewis. Most importantly, it allows Reyna and Beasley to come off the bench late to hold the ball, which will be crucial to secure a victory.

Look for the US to lack possession and get a late equalizer when Eddie Johnson is finally in the game, but that isn't enough to push them through to the next round.

Day 12: Germans Delight and the Swedes Advance

Because of the way ESPN is broadcasting the matches, I don't watch every match. I make a choice before the matches begin, just as you do. So, my apologies to the fans of Paraguay, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Poland. I didn't watch these games and these teams will mostly avoid comment here.

Germany 3 Ecuador 0
Wow was I wrong about this one. Jurgen Klinsmann has his team excited and punishing teams for their mistakes. The first goal was a nice three-part exchange, the second a fabulous pass (with some awful defense) from Michael Ballack, and the third a beautiful cross and finish from Bernd Schneider to Lukas Podolski. Sweden beware!

As for Ecuador, they clearly lacked their top-flight strikers in todays match. No one held the ball for them up top or created nice passing angles. That should change when Agustin Delgado and Carlos Tenorio are back in the line-up against England.

England 2 Sweden 2
There were moments of brilliance in this game. Joe Cole's lofted shot was perfectly placed. His cross to Steven Gerrard was pristine as well. Likewise, the flick-on from Marcus Allback was top notch. Still, this game droned along without much intensity, which is surprising given that England has not beaten Sweden in 38 years.

I do feel sorry for Michael Owen. After a brilliant entry onto the World Cup stage in 1998 (have you forgotten his unbelievable runs against Argentina?), Owen's World Cups are over. In the first minute of the game, he crumpled after his knee clearly gave out on a cut back. After missing 2002 with injuries, this bright star has now faded and is unlikely to be in South Africa due to age and injury.

Today's Predictions
Argentina 2 Netherlands 1
Ivory Coast 2 Serbia and Montenegro 0
Portugal 2 Mexico 0
Angola 1 Iran 0

Other Issues
With the possibility of several groups being decided by drawing lots (it's the tie breaker after goal differntial and goals scored), I have been trying to think of better ways to resolve the tie to determine who advances. As I see it, there are two ways to do this.

Option A: Penalty Kicks
In this option, the teams must meet the following day and choose players who were on the field when the whistle blew in their last match. This puts the onus on the players themselves, not on the luck of the draw or players from other teams. I favor this option.

Option B: Extended Time
This option is complex. If the two teams are facing each other in the third match, they play for an extra thirty minutes to see who advances based on goals scored (no team is actually at home, so away goals are not an issue). If the teams are not playing each other, all teams are held accountable for what happens in the group. Both games are put into extra time in an effort to change the goal differential or the goals scored. I think this is an interesting solution, but it does not definitively solve the problem as Option A clearly does.

What do you think about drawing lots to decide who advances?

20 June 2006

Day 11: Switzerland Soars, Ukraine Rocks, and Spain Survives

Switzerland 2 Togo 0
Yet again, the Swiss team played wonderfully. They were tactical in their play, getting the quick goal and then absorbing the runs from Togo and counter-attacking. That said, the team from Togo should have gotten a penalty kick that probably would have tied the game at 1-1. In the 34th minute, Emmanuel Adabayor was taken down in the box by Patrick Müller. Carlos Amarilla waved play on. There has to be something that can be done to even out the calls between the European/South American giants and the rest of the world! Unfortunately, I don't know what that is.

Ukraine 4 Saudi Arabia 0
Clearly unhappy with their result against Spain, Ukraine came out swinging against Saudi Arabia. The Saudi side clearly struggled with the soggy conditions, especially when goalkeeper Mabrouk Zaid slipped, allowing Serhiy Rebrov to score a goal from 35 meters out. Even Rebrov couldn't believe his luck. Ukraine is now clearly poised to advance, needing only a tie from Tunisia to advance.

Spain 3 Tunisia 1
When Tunisia went ahead 1-0 in the 8th minute, I was stunned. And happy! This is part of why the game of soccer is so great. And then Tunisia turned defensive and tried to absorb the Spanish attack. At that moment, I think we all knew that the game was over. The Spanish side is particularly vulnerable to frustration, which they demonstrated through most of the second half as attack after attack was thwarted by the stout Tunisian back line. Spain pressed everything into their offensive third, holding the ball in that end for most of the second half. And in the 72nd minute, the Tunisian levy broke, letting in a flood of Spanish goals. It was an exciting game, but I continue to be puzzled by teams that score a goal and pack it in. Even the Swiss, who had employed a similar strategy, understood that some possession is required to let the defense regroup and rest. To be honest, I hate the bunker strategy, because it sucks the life out of one's own offense, rendering it completely ineffective for the remainder of the match.

Today's Picks
Germany 1 Ecuador 1
I don't know that either side will be able to keep the other out of the net. Both offenses have looked very potent so far, and neither back line has been stunning. That said, I think Germany is doing themselves a disservice by avoiding England. The English side is weak and meeting them before they regain their confidence seems like a better strategy.

Poland 2 Costa Rica 1

England 1 Sweden 0
I will be curious to see Sweden score a goal again. When trying to score they looked like someone suffering from constupation, celebrating the pebble that provides such a small amount of relief. I'm not convinced that they have taken the laxative that will loosen their play. England won't look great, partly because Crouch will still be more disruptive than the combination of Owen and Rooney would be, but they will advance.

Trinidad and Tobago 1 Paraguay 0
Leo Beenhakker (who as far as I know has the best name of all the coaches in the tournament; it means leg crusher) will have his team up and ready to win this game, but they won't have enough to score two goals. If I'm correct, Sweden and TnT will draw lots to advance. Unfortunately, FIFA doesn't really like the underdog and God doesn't care about football, so Sweden will play on. Oh, and Paraguay will suck, just like it did in its previous two games.

19 June 2006

Day 10: A Sleepy Sunday

Croatia 0 Japan 0
Yawn! The only thing that was interesting in this game was Darijo Srna providing a wimpy penalty kick that Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi saved. I understand putting the ball on the ground for a pk. Wait, no I don't. Keeping it on the ground is something they teach kids so that they don't put it over the goal. However, any penalty taker worth his salt puts the ball in the upper ninety on one of the two sides. They also hesitate just slightly just before striking the ball. Srna did neither.

Also, why is everyone complaining about the heat? Isn't this summer in the northern hemisphere? Hasn't it been a complaint in every world cup I can remember (back to 1994, incidentally). If your team complains about the heat, your team didn't prepare properly.

Brazil 2 Australia 0
Two things I will note about this game. First, I like Markus Merk, but he really screwed with this game. The yellow on Ronaldo was ridiculous, he nullified almost every corner kick for Australia, and Australia couldn't get a single break. He wasn't like that in the first game, which leads me to believe that FIFA got to him. Bastards!

The other note is an open apology to Ronaldo. He looked better this game, no matter what the announcers said. He ran for the ball at critical moments and two really good opportunities (one for Kaka and one for Adriano). Adriano put the second away. I was wrong and everyone should shut up about Ronaldo's fitness.

France 1 South Korea 1
Yawn! The most exciting part of this match was the few minutes when each team scored. Les Bleus finally scored, but they also gave up a stumbling goal to Ji-Sung Park. The build up to that goal was frenzied, but the cross and header back to Park were well taken.

One thing I did want to say is this: I'm glad Zinedine Zidane got a yellow card. He took down the South Korean defender from behind. The announcers were up in arms that he got a yellow card, eliminating him from the game against Togo. They were upset that Zidane might not be seen on the international scene. But here's my take: I don't care if you are the best player in the world, if you take somebody down from behind, especially when the ball is being controlled by the keeper at the time, you are an asshole and deserve at least a yellow card. I hope Zidane enjoys sitting on the bench. It will be too ironic if all the games in group G tie, which would put France out of the tournament. Maybe more stars will realize that they aren't allowed to be prats anymore than any other player.

Tomorrow's Predictions
Togo 1 Switzerland 0
Ukraine 3 Saudi Arabia 0
Spain 2 Tunisia 0

17 June 2006

Day 9: Portugal Moves On, Racism in Stripes, and US Gets Screwed

Portugal 2 Iran 0
Portugal again looked weak. Cristiano Ronaldo acted like a gigantic baby, practically crying when he didn't get a call at the end of the first half. He's very talented, but somebody needs to give him a swift kick to the backside, or perhaps the referee could just give him yellow cards when he whines about calls. It is allowed, after all. Iran played well, looking dangerous until they reached the 18-yard box. They played hard against a talented team.

Ghana 2 Czech Republic 0
I'm calling out Horacio Elizondo. Granted that he called the penalty kick for Ghana in the 66th minute, but as far as I am concerned, his calls in the first clearly demonstrated a tendency. In the 18th minute, Otto Addo (who I remember from when he lead Hannover 96 to promotion from the German third division) was given a yellow card for a perfectly clean tackle. From Elizondo's perspective, I understand that he didn't know it was perfectly clean. In the 20th minute, Karel Poborsky makes a two-footed studs-up tackle on Michael Essien. Studs-up means automatic card, but no card was given to the Czech player. Similarly, when Czech players put their boots high in the air to control balls, and the Ghanan players played the ball, the foul was on the Ghanan player. When Ghanan players put their boots in the air to play the ball, foul on the Ghanan players. While this trend diminished after the second goal, that's no excuse. If FIFA is ever going to get serious about eliminating racism in the beautiful game, it should start with the referees. Shame on Mr. Elizondo.

As for the game itself, Ghana looked really impressive and deserved this win. However, several of the players picked up their second yellow card, which may jeopardize their ability to win the US match.

US 1 Italy 1
Well, I'm ready to concede that Bruce Arena's lineup played much better than I thought. Clearly they were prepared for the Italian squad and really controlled the run of play until the referee blew a gasket. All credit is due to him for getting this team up off the mat.

That said, let's delve into the game a little bit. Clearly, Daniele De Rossi deserved to be sent off by Jorge Larrionda. You can't throw an elbow like that and expect to not be thrown out of the game. So, at this point here's my thought: I would have taken out Eddie Pope (who already had a yellow card), moved Carlos Bocanegra to the center of defense, where his lack of speed is not such a liability, and brought in Eddie Lewis. From the 28th minute to the 45th minute, the US controlled the flanks. Eddie Lewis's crossing ability would have helped cut the defense to pieces. But that didn't happen.

Then Larrionda sent off Pablo Mastroeni in the 45th minute. Larrionda should have given a yellow card. A red card was simply stupid, as was the tackle that allowed it. I admire Mastroeni's hard-nose style of play, especially behind Claudio Reyna and Landon Donovan, but he has to know that this tackle is not important and that risking even a yellow card was silly. That said, Larrionda was clearly a gigantic dumbass and should never be allowed to referee another international match.

At half time I thought, "Okay, the field is now open and speed is the crucial element to open up their defense. Either Eddie Johnson or DeMarcus Beasley will come in to add speed up front." I still would have substituted Pope, just as a precautionary measure. I'm sure that my readers are thinking, "Yeah, sure, that's what you thought. Nice to say in hindsight." But actually, that is really what I thought.

And of course none of my ideas were adopted by Bruce Arena. So Pope gets sent off in the 47th minute. It's a horrible call, because Pope actually got the ball, but I understand why Larrionda sent him off. He wasn't in a position to see Pope make contact with the ball. Again, it is a massively stupid call, but Pope should have known better. Now it's nine on ten and the US will have to put speed up top, because the only person Brian McBride beats in a foot race is me, and I'm a fat bastard. Instead, Bobby Convey leaves the game for Jimmie Conrad. I agree with bringing on Conrad to shore up the defense, but Arena just took off more speed.

Then DeMarcus Beasley replaced Clint Dempsey. I don't fault Arena for bringing on Beasley, who was easily the fastest player on the field, but I have to wonder about taking off Dempsey, who was having a pretty good game. No, this one is clearly on Beasley himself, who did track back for defense, but didn't push forward every time he got the ball. Conserving energy makes sense if you are playing for 60 or 90 minutes, but when you are only going to play for 30 minutes, you better be prepared to run. And when you don't do that, you should expect to ride the pine for the remainder of the tournament. Maybe there is something wrong with Beasley, but in either case he should not play another minute of the tournament.

I applaud the US team's effort to pull out the draw, especially when Arena didn't bother to use his last sub. Marcello Balboa mentioned it, but I thought he mentioned it far too late. Reyna and McBride were gassed. I don't care if he puts in Johnson or John O'Brien, but to not use your third substitute in that game is to strongly tempt fate to give you a swift kick in the rear. The result was that in the last ten minutes, every time Keller, who played very well, got the ball, he had to just give it back to the Italians, who were also gassed. A substitute who could have challenged the banged-up defense could have gotten the US the points it needs.

So, where are we now? Technically, the US can still advance, but it would require a miracle. Namely, the Italians must beat the Czechs, and the US must beat Ghana, who looked very good. The team that has to be very happy at the moment is the Ghanan squad, who are in an excellent position to advance, even if they will miss Sulley Muntari and Asamoah Gyan, their two goal scorers. It will truely be a miracle if the US can advance and only score 1 or 2 goals (they didn't score one today, after all.)

Tomorrow's Picks
Croatia 1 Japan 1
Brazil 2 Australia 0
South Korea 1 France 1

Final Thought
I know that there are some people who would make the argument that if Mastroeni had not been sent off, Pope would not have picked up the red card. I don't buy the teleological argument, but it is tempting to wonder if the US would have scored one or more goals if the Italians were forced to play for 65+ minutes eleven on ten.

16 June 2006

Day 8: A Number of Unknowns

Some people know that I have ties to Serbia and Montenegro (which, if anyone is wondering should be abbreviated as SCG, not SMT) and the Netherlands. Now that I've put my biases out front, let me approach today's games.

Argentina 6 Serbia and Montenegro 0
First, Argentina deserves to be congratulated on the most beautiful play of the tournament to date. The goal scored by Esteban Cambiasso exemplifies the best of the beautiful game. That said, I'm not sure how to understand this Serbia and Montenegro team. The only player I understand is Mateja Kežman, who took a red card in the 65th minute. Kežman's card was stupid, even if was at least attempting to show some sort of fight. I understand that they were downtrodden, that they were probably done, but I don't understand them laying down. And as the game wore on and Argentina continued to press into the offensive third for three more goals, I am shocked that Serbia and Montenegro's players didn't get seriously violent. I am surprised that they didn't take out one of Argentina's forwards, the forwards that kept pushing the ball. Every time they brought the ball forward, I expected another player to be taken down. It's not about playing dirty; it is about a team running up the score and another team retaliating. I want to be clear: I'm not advocating this kind of activity. I'm just surprised that it didn't happen when Argentina clearly ran up the score.

Netherlands 2 Cote d'Ivoire 1
Okay, then there was the Netherlands against Ivory Coast. I like the way Ivory Coast plays, but of course I could only support one team in this match. Frankly the Dutch team played horribly in the second half. They should have probably lost the game to a more inspired Ivory Coast team. I don't understand trying to shut down the match with 45 minutes left to play and only a one goal lead. The opening of the match held lots of promise for the Dutch squad. Van Persie's free kick was stunning, and it appears that Robben found the passing touch. That said, after the 30th minute, the Dutch seemed to just sit back and absorb. I have the feeling that the Netherlands is going to lose rather badly to Argentina. The defense just looks too slow to deal with Argentina's quick playmakers. I should also say that Raphael van der Vaart, who is billed as a maestro for the Dutch, didn't provide the ball control that the Dutch team needs from him. If Mark van Bommel, Joris Mathijsen, and Johnny Heitinga continue to be beaten so consistently, the Dutch will go down before the semi-finals.

Mexico 0 Angola 0
In the Mexico-Angola match, Angola would have won that match if they had had a decent striker, but Fabrice Akwa doesn't have a club because he hasn't shown the world a drop of talent in two games. The Mexican side looked excited early, but they looked lost as the game wore on. Guillermo Franco did a good job early in the match of providing a target up front, but after the first diluge of attacking play, Mexico's short passing game couldn't connect enough to look particularly dangerous. With four points and a final game against Portugal remaining, Mexico is in trouble. If Portugal plays like they did against Angola (and it wasn't fabulous, but it got the job done, Portugal will likely beat Mexico. That leaves Mexico hoping that Angola doesn't suddenly find a lethal attack.

One more rant
Okay, I admit that I am hard on the announcers. I don't represent their demographic, because apparently I know more than their target audience. However, a couple of things really hack me off. First, when Tommy Smythe goes off on Johnny Heitinga (whose name he also can't pronounce, see Day 3 entry), and it turns out that the guilty party is Mathijsen, I expect Smythe to acknowledge that he blew the call. Let me tell you, he never realized that he completely ragged on the wrong guy! Step up, be a man, admit you're a moron, Tommy!

And then there is Rob Stone. This guy drives me nuts. In the past, I have even written to ESPN to request his dismissal. He throws in so much crap that is completely irrelevant, like trying to sell shite that isn't even a sponsor for the World Cup or ESPN broadcasts. Or talking incessantly about the US squad while watching Mexico and Angola. Now, I know I'm not alone because there are several other people who hate Stone (just do a google search), so here's my suggestion. the reason that Stone has a job is because sponsors think that we will put up with him. But if we turn off the sound, there are two benefits. First, we don't have to listen to an excitable jackass. Second, we send a clear message that he can't sell us anything. Of course, this second thing also requires that we publicize these decisions. So, I'm publicizing my decision not to listen to Rob "I understand football at a fourth grade level" Stone. I'm a consumer, here me roar!

Tomorrow's Predictions
Portugal 4 Iran 0
Ghana 1 Czech Republic 0
US 2 Italy 1

UPDATE: The US just announced its lineup. Beasley is out. Johnson is out. Lewis is out. Two out of three isn't bad. But how in the hell can Arena expect to win this game without Eddie Johnson. And again, the stupid 4-5-1 formation. Clint Dempsey is a good addition on the right, I can no longer expect the US to get any kind of result from this game. I expect Italy to win 2-1. I also expect Arena's resignation at the end of the tournament. Lots of people will say that this is harsh, and I hope I'm completely wrong, but the Italian counter attack will run the US squad into the ground.

15 June 2006

Day 7: Educador Excites, Glen Gets Overexcited, Sweden Surprises

What can you say about Ecuador? They are through, and if they play their cards right against Germany (yes, play for a tie and counterattack for the win), they may avoid playing England in the round of 16. Costa Rica looked every bit the loser for every minute of this World Cup. We can only hope that the US teams represents CONCACAF a bit better.

If you look at the England vs. Trinidad and Tobago, I would have given TnT the game up until the 73rd minute. It was at that point that Cornell Glen drove through the English defense. Had he been a little more collected, he might have noticed Stern John streaking to his right completely unmarked. There were certainly a few more moments when they looked somewhat dangerous, but that moment was the moment for TnT to seize. It would have been revolutionary, even if England had come back. But Glen failed to notice John's run, his shot was blocked, and the Imperial masters outlasted the TnT defense, with Peter Crouch putting away a header in the 83rd minute.

In the final game of the day, I fell asleep, but I woke up in time to see Sweden throw everything they had at the Paraguayan goal. The Swedes pulled off the winning goal, but now find themselves in a bit of a predicament. The English need a tie to win the group. The Swedes need a tie to advance. But the English should use this match to try to get its offense into gear, which makes it unlikely that they will settle for the tie early. The Swedes will need to hold off the English early to advance. TnT will have to go all out, scoring at least two goals and hoping for a Swedish loss. Can they do it, the Paraguayans have nothing to play for except pride, but you can bet they have enough of that to not roll over.

Tomorrow's Predictions
Argentina 1 Serbia & Montenegro 0
Netherlands 2 Ivory Coast 0
Mexico 2 Angola 0

Other story to watch: Will Ozzie Guillen get a fine for sending a pitcher out to plunk a batter? Ozzie says he didn't do that, but every piece of evidence suggests otherwise.

14 June 2006

Day 6: WWCD?

I knew this would happen eventually. I generally try to refrain from complaining about officiating, but after today's matches any commentary worth its salt must take a position. Here's mine: I have seen too many games refereed by Pierluigi Collina to not know how the game should be officiated. So, when I think about how to rate officiating, I ask myself this simple question: What would Collina do? Announcers are fond of saying stupid things like, "A good referee is a referee you don't see." Unfortunately, when the stakes are this high, a referee you don't see is likely to be officiating rugby. Sometimes, the referee just has to be present.

Let me be upfront: I'm going to piss off German and Spanish fans. I don't care because I'm convinced I'm right about this. I'm going to start with the Germany-Poland match. In the 63rd minute, referee Luis Medina Cantelejo gave Radoslaw Sobolewsky a yellow card because he challenged the German golden boy, Michael Ballack. If you look at the play, both went for the ball. The justification for the card was that Sobolewsky had his studs up. He did, because to control a ball that coming over your shoulder, the studs must be up ever so slightly. Ballack, going for the ball, put his foot below Sobolewsky's. Was it a foul? Yes, without a doubt, because Sobolewsky missed the ball. Was it the letter of the rule? Yes. But WWCD? Called a foul, let it go. That's what he would have done. Ten minutes later, Sobolewsky was ejected from the game for running into Miroslav Klose, who had cut back in front of Sobolewsky. Again, yes it is a foul. No, there's no way in hell that he should be ejected for it. Cantelejo gave Germany the game, despite Poland's awesome effort. I salute them and regret their early departure from the tournament. I want to be clear, I don't hate Germany, but that win was a gift against a Polish squad that matched them eleven for eleven for 73 minutes.

Then there is the Spain-Ukraine match. Here, the referee didn't cost anyone the game, but he may have caused them a space in the second round. Massimo Busacca sent off Vladislav Vashchuk for a non-tackle and gave Spain a penalty kick in the 47th minute. Ukraine, who was already down 2-0, had come out in the second half looking much more aggressive and composed. From there on out, it was pretty much hopeless. So, Busacca biffed it, but here's my beef. Fernando Torres, the Spanish forward, knew that the call was complete horse pucky. I understand why they don't do it, but does any else wish they would kick the ball out bounds? I mean, you can't bring the player back from that crock of shit call, but you can at least recognize that it is uncool to benefit directly from such shiite! That said, Spain looks really dangerous!

As for the Islamic despot bowl, I tip my hat to the overmatched and undertalented Saudi team. No way they should have won, or even tied, but they bucked up in the second half and made the Tunisian players look lazy.

Tomorrow's Picks
Ecuador 2 Costa Rica 2
England 0 Trinidad and Tobago 0
Sweden 1 Paraguay 0

Finally, congratulations to the Edminton Oilers, who staved off defeat in the Stanley Cup playoffs in overtime.

13 June 2006

Day 5: Togo Teases, France Toast, and Brazil Gets What It Needs

Today's heartache was surely Togo's. The unfortunate dismissal of Jean-Paul Abalo in the 53rd minute. I agree that it was a bookable foul, a foul which he actually didn't need to commit. And it cost Togo a point. However, look for Togo to present a significant challenge to Switzerland and France, especially with the cannon legs they have up front.

The Swiss played an inspired match (I should have known it after giving my best friend who is half Swiss a bad time about the team.), but it was the lack of French attach that was truely remarkable. It's no surprise that they haven't scored since the 1998 final with that kind of uninspired play. Again, the Swiss played well and had the better of the opportunities, but the French squad is so talented that it shouldn't have been a question. After all the praise of the Swiss squad, I also am giving Alexander Frei the first D'OH award. In the 90th minute, Ludovic Magnin sent a beautiful free kick screaming toward the left post. Frei thought he had the hand of God, and rightfully received a yellow card. If Frei had let the ball go, Johan Djourou would have put the Swiss up 1-0. The ball was heading right for Djourou's chest; Djourou was already less than a foot from the goal when Frei handed the ball and Djourou ended up in the goal. D'OH!

Croatia looked quite good in their loss to Brazil. Brazil had several chances but failed to convert all but one. As it turned out, one was enough. However, I expect Croatia and Brazil to advance from the group, despite the splendid play of the Australian team. One thing I do have to note is how poorly Ronaldo played. He had one significant touch, which he sent just over the cross bar. Still, can we expect Ronaldo to make compelling runs as he did in the last two world cups? Yes, actually that is exactly what we expect, and it is what Carlos Alberto Parreira should expect. And if he can't do that for at least sixty minutes in the match, he should be used as a sub.

Tomorrow's Predictions
Spain 1 Ukraine 1
Tunisia 1 Saudi Arabia 0
Germany 2 Poland 0

Last note: I rarely take in the Chappelle Show, but tonight he had a brilliant comment. Something to the effect of: "How did Bush know that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction? Well, he had the receipt."

Have a brilliant day!

UPDATE: I forgot to mention the follow-up on the comments from Robin van Persie about Arjen Robben. Some interesting stuff to report. On Sunday, ESPN correspondents originally said that Ruud van Nistelrooy called Robben a ball hog. On Monday, the comments apparently had come from van Persie and the head coach, Marco van Basten. If this sounds fishy to you, it should. Apparently, the story came out of the German press. According to my source in the Netherlands, everyone has denied making this claim and they refuse to comment on it further. Hmmm. If the original report came from the German press, how much should we really trust the report? This is a press group who have been pissed with the Dutch since a Dutch comedian made light of the resort where the Dutch team is staying. The mayor of Titisee, where the Adler hotel is located, has demanded an official apology. The Dutch reaction is pretty typical: it's called humor. Get over it. Okay, enough with this.

12 June 2006

Day 4: Back to Reality

In their 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic the US national team got a nasty wake up call. Hopefully, they won't just hit the snooze button and roll over. After all, they have already played dead. There were two bright spots for the US today: Eddie Johnson looked like he could be great again, and Claudio Reyna looked like the player we know he can be. Where to begin with the worst...?

We can start with Bruce Arena. 4-5-1 sucks. It's a bad idea and it gives you no attack. If you do attack in that formation, it is by sending players into the box for crosses or counter-attacking. The Czech back line is 6-0, 6-1, 6-3, and 6-0. Relying on crosses to beat that formation is fool's play. When the Czechs came out in a 4-5-1, the counter-attack was all but dead.

Then there is the defense. Kasey Keller made a bad distribution which lead to the first goal, but he's not to blame for the other two. The corner backs were too slow to keep up with the Czechs, Eddie Pope got out maneuvered by Jan Koller, and Oguchi Onyewu looked slow. The midfield produced very little, especially at the wings. Frankly, DeMarcus Beasley doesn't play the right as well as he plays the left. And I don't buy that Bobby Convey is better than Beasley (although Beasley's first touches were as horrible in the three warm-up matches as they were today). Finally, without service from the wings, Brian McBride is useless.

So, what to do now? Play balls to the wall. That's it. There's no other thing to do. While I'm at it, I should give a shout out to Tomas Rosicky, who, along with Pavel Nedved, played wonderfully.

I also want to give a shout out to Guus (Don't call the man Gus) Hiddink. He's a coaching genius who has done well with the Australia squad. All three of the Socceroos' goals were scored by substitutes.

Finally, I confess that I only saw the first thirty minutes of the Ghana-Italy match. The US is going to have its work cut out for it to beat either of these teams. I set the VCR, and it worked wonderfully until the tape ended up being only two hours long. Stupid tape!

Tomorrow's Predicitions
Brazil 2 Croatia 0
South Korea 2 Togo 0
France 1 Switzerland 0

Bonus prediction: Arena will leave after the conclusion of this World Cup.

11 June 2006

Day 3: Hup!

Hup Holland! If you didn't know, I'm happy today about Holland's victory, although I'm also critical about their play. Clearly, Arjen Robben is going to pose problems for everyone they play, including Argentina. The US commentators spoke about several Dutch players, including van Nistelrooy, voiced frustration by what they viewed as Robben's selfish play. I didn't find anything about that in de Volkskrant, a trustworthy Dutch daily. That said, it wouldn't surprise me if there was some resentment. Frankly there are bigger problems: the Dutch back line looked slow (which is a MAJOR concern against Cote d'Ivore) and Robin van Persie isn't filling in the right flank. On the other side, Serbia and Montenegro looked good after Ongjen Koroman took the field for Nenad Djordjevic. I'm looking forward to their next match against Argentina and hoping that they come up big!

In other action, Mexico beat Iran. I agree with Iran's coach when he said that his players suffered from a lack of fitness. I would also say that a couple of Mexico's players played very well, and others played well enough to get out of the group. In the last match of the day, Portugal opened up their match against Angola looking very dangerous. While they continued to look dangerous at moments after Pedro Pauleta scored, they were anything but impressive. Angola looked dangerous, although I don't know if they can take Mexico, which they will need to do to advance.

Okay, I've got one more comment. I've listened to three days of ESPN/ABC commentators. Sören, my neighbor and a German who knows what football is all about, and I have commented in each match that the commentators are not particularly good, but we give them some slack because we understand that, unlike in other countries, football commentators in the US are asked to educate in addition to calling the game. But, today I finally lost my cool. It's one thing to offer shoddy commentary, but at least figure out how to pronounce the names of players. Don't get me wrong. I understand that there are names that are extremely difficult to say. And there are sounds that are extremely difficult to make. For example, I don't expect American commentators to be able to distinguish between the Slavic ć and the č. That said, three of the thirty-two teams use the latin "dj" to produce the same sound that English speakers create with the letter "g". So, when a player is named "Djordjević", it is pronounced like "Georgavich". Also, I expect announcers to get the syllables right. For example, Heitinga is pronounced "HI-ting-a", not "hi-TINGA". It doesn't take that much effort to figure out how to pronounce the names. All the other world's commentators figure it out! Okay, rant over.

Tomorrow's Predictions
US 2 Czech Republic 1
Italy 1 Ghana 1
Australia 1 Japan 0

UPDATE: I just saw the starting line-up for the US. I hate to second guess, but I'm going to change my prediction: 1-1 draw. The Czechs will draw first blood.

10 June 2006

Day 2: England Escapes, T&T survives, Argentina gets the calls

Today started out with a mediocre performance from an England squad that should have dominated play. Paraguay suffered an unfortunate injury to the goalkeeper and an unfortunate own goal. While England came out looking great, their aggressive play dwindled as first half closed. They never looked particularly threatening in the second.

Unlike England's uninspired play, Trinidad and Tobago are my team of the day. Despite playing the second half with 10 men (on a bogus second yellow card to Avery John), T&T answered every challenge. Player of the Day award would go to the T&T net minder, Shaka Hislop. He was a last minute substitution and he made a couple of great saves to keep them in the match. Also notable was T&T's Dwight York, who has moved from the striker position he held at Manchester United to play defensive midfield.

And then there is Argentina. I have all the respect in the world for classy players like Hernan Crespo and Juan Riquelme. I hate the Argetine squad! They throw elbows, complaining that the referee didn't call the other player for throwing an elbow, and flop like fish on dry land. Sure, they were clearly the better team at times, but they were also the weaker team at times. Unfortunately, they also escaped with the game when Didier Drogba was taken down in the box without a call. (It was 2-0 a the time, but I believe the game would have been dramatically different.) Yes, I know this isn't completely logical, but the dictatorship of logic is over, just ask Republicans. So, from here on out, I'm supporting anyone in this tournament who takes the field opposite the Argentine squad.

I haven't been doing very well on picking games, but that doesn't mean that I won't keep trying.

Netherlands 2 Serbia and Montenegro 0
Mexico 2 Iran 0
Angola 1 Portugal 1

09 June 2006

Day 1: Germany Victorious and Ecuador Rising

Rather than recap, I'm just going to offer a couple of observations. Let me start with the Germany-Costa Rico game. I was surprised to see Germany come out aggressively. I knew that was Jurgen Klinnsmann's inention, but I admit being surprised that it was so effective. But what was really surprising was the pouressness of the defense. It looked like the German backline could neither keep themselves together nor catch up to the speedy Costa Rican strikers. That's going to be something to watch for the remainder of German matches.

UPDATE: I realized shortly after posting this thta I forgot to mention the two outstanding strikes from Torsten Frings and Philip Lahm. While Marcello Balboa and Dave O'Brien marvelled at the goal from Frings (a brilliant cracker from 30 meters out), I was more astonished by Lahm's perfect line drive from the left corner of the box into the opposite upper ninety degrees of the goal. It's one thing to bend that ball into that corner, which I have done a couple of times in the park, but it's completely different to rocket the ball past everyone into that corner from across the field.

As for the Ecuador-Poland match, Poland looked like a bunch of amateurs. End of story. Ecuador wasn't impressive (although their defense was better than expected in the air), but against a Poland squad that looked like it couldn't control the ball (much less strike a cross of any quality) they didn't need to look anything more than competent.

Today's Matches
England 0 Paraguay 0
Trinidad & Tobago 1 Sweden 2
Argentina 1 Cote d'Ivore 2

Tournament predictions

Okay, it's a little less than an hour before the games begin and I am writing frantically to provide my predictions before the games start. However, since I'm limited by time, I'll simply make group predictions, tournament champion, and today's matches. Making daily predictions will keep people coming back, I hope.

Tournament Champion: the Netherlands. The popular (and logical) pick is Brazil. I love the way they play, but South American squads almost never win in Europe. The Italians are the other European squad I can see pulling it off. Germany, although bolstered by being the host country, is just too weak to pull it off unless Jens Lehmann can be better than Oliver Khan in 2002. I don't know that this is even possible because Khan was so amazing then. France just hasn't been impressive. Spain, Portugal and England are perennial disappointments. The Czechs are too injured to pull this off.

So, why the Dutch? I'll give you three reasons. One: RUUD. I expect Ruud van Nistelrooy to step up to the world's largest stage. Two: Marco van Basten has done what Frank Rijkhaard could not: he got rid of the egos. The big names (or at least most of them) are gone from the team, which has provided a great deal of collegiality on the team. The veterans that remain (Cocu, van der Saar, van Nistelrooy, van Bronckhorst) are professionals who understand that playing as a team is essential to winning the cup. Three: youth will be served. Look for Arjen Robben and Dirk Kuyt to have good runs and excellent feeds for Ruud to finish. The Dutch team will be fast and will recover quickly from matches. Endurance is essential if a team wants to hoist the cup.

Player of the Tournament: Ruud van Nistelrooy. Okay, I know I'm being a bit of a homer, but if the Dutch win the tournament it will be because Alex Ferguson did the Dutch a favor and rested Ruud. He hasn't gotten playing time at Man U, so he should be hungry and in top form. He is also the kind of player who performs exceptionally on the big stage, as his performance at Euro 2004 demonstrated.

Group Predictions (winner and runner-up)
Group A: Germany and Costa Rica advance
Group B: Sweden and England advance
Group C: Netherlands and Ivory Coast advance
Group D: Portugal and Mexico advance
Group E: Italy and USA advance
Group F: Brazil and Australia advance
Group G: France and South Korea
Group H: Spain and Ukraine

Today's Predictions
Germany 1 Costa Rica 0
Ecuador 2 Poland 1

Fifteen minutes to spare! Gotta do all the necessary prep (restroom, space clearing so as not to destroy anything, and perhaps some sort of food preparation). See you in a few hours!

01 June 2006

US v. Latvia

After being on the road yesterday and trying to tie up loose ends (a completely hopeless process) at work on Tuesday, I've tried to distill my thoughts about the US match versus Latvia.

To my mind, this was really a game of two halves. In the first half, the US looked potent, ready to attack the slower (although sturdier) Latvian back line. John O'Brien, who played at left midfield, had a couple of real moments where he looked like the player the US needs him to be. Eddie Johnson, playing opposite Brian McBride, failed to time his runs correctly, but looked like the player the US needs up front to compliment McBride's aerial game. Beasley took a while to get his bearings on the right side of midfield, but his ability to push the ball from the wing to the middle allowed right back Steve Cherundulo to get down the side for two dangerous crosses, one of which McBride put in the back of the net. Given the dependence of the US attack against Morocco on the left side, seeing Beasley and Cherundulo on the right was great news for a US attack that has been unimpressive thus far.

The second half saw the left side dry up, as O'Brien lost steam. The right side continued to produce, but everyone on the team seemed to lose a step, while the Latvians decided to push their advantage. A couple of key saves by Casey Keller maintained the clean sheet, but if the US fades like that against the Czechs or the Azzurri (the Italian squad), the US will go home early.

So, were any of the questions I asked previously answered? Eddie Lewis seemed relatively solid in defense. I'm not dissing on Jimmie Conrad, but Lewis will be helped by having Oguchi Onyewu starting next to him, as I suspect he will thoughout the tournament.

The right side, in my opinion, is a closed question. Moving Beasley to the right, where he plays for his club team (PSV Eindhoven [Booooo! Hup AZ en Ajax!]), balances the US attack and makes it possible for Cherundulo and Lewis to use their deadly crosses to maximum advantage. This creates a question: who plays left? I think the question depends on what Bruce Arena wants out of the left side. If he wants an anchor who tracks back for defense and can help control the game, O'Brien clearly starts. If he wants a player who will make runs, much like Donovan and Beasley make runs, Bobby Convey has earned himself the nod with an impressive game against Venezuela. My pick would be to start the game with the stability of O'Brien and bring Convey off the bench early. His speed will be magnified against a defense that has already spent half their legs.

Landon Donovan is more effective and lethal in midfield than up front. His slight build and passing ability make him a more natural fit there. As Ives Galarcep has argued on ESPN Soccernet, Eddie Johnson may be the key to this World Cup run. If Johnson can continue to show this kind of improvement, he should start in order to provide a dynamic force up front for the US squad, especially against the Czechs. This, of course, raises a new question: who loses his spot when Claudio Reyna starts? Unfortunately, I think the answer to this question is Pablo Mastroeni. I love the way Pablo fights for balls and brings a physicality that the US midfield otherwise lacks. Unfortunately, Mastroeni hasn't demonstrated an ability to pass the ball and provide any leadership on the offensive side of the ball. At least two teams in Group E will pack their defense with at least nine players. If the US is only going to bring five effective offensively-minded players into the attack, the US will be back to its old trick of playing opossum. Personally, I don't like the Marsupial Offense.

Okay, that's it from the waves of grain.