Dear Billy, Here’s A Reason To Believe

Thanks for reaching out to me Billy. I’m certainly no soccer expert, nor am I particularly great at understanding the game considering my playing days ended in 6th grade after a failed attempt to make the Trevian Soccer travel squad. I loved the game as a kid because my Dad played it in high school and I wanted to have a shared interest. Unfortunately his genetics did not carry on to the next generation. Or the more likely case that the competition was inferior in the mid-70s and therefore it was easier to make teams. Despite loving the sport as a kid, I let my failures dictate my attitude and I stopped caring about it. There were a few times I thought about attempting a comeback in high school, but fear got in the way and I never bothered to try. I re-discovered my love in college as I happened to be friends with a lot of high school soccer players. I also consider myself a master of cocktail conversation, knowing just enough about a variety of subjects to fake my way through a conversation at a party. I believe this skill allows me to answer your questions and give my two cents on why Americans should care about this global game.

 

1.) Why the hell isn’t Landon Donovan on the USMNT for this World Cup? 

This is a good question and certainly the hot topic of conversation heading into the Cup. Donovan was by far the biggest household name, in fact the only recognizable name in most households, involved with the Men’s National team. Mainly for doing things like this…

It is certainly not ridiculous to hypothesis Klinsmann left Donovan off the team as part of a personal vendetta. As you brought up in your question, he has appeared to be offended by Landon leaving the team to get his head right. It is possible the German was offended and/or found this behavior embarrassing. However, I’m going to give hime the benefit of the doubt and talk about the legitimate reasons to leave him off the team. One, he is 32 years old, which is pretty ancient in soccer years considering the distance a midfielder like Donovan has covered over his career. His tank was running low. Klinsmann has noted America’s obsession with aging stars and choosing loyalty over youth. There is something to be said for that, despite all the great things Derek Jeter has done for the Yankees, his current .254 avg with 1 HR and 12 RBIs is not doing much to help them win games now.

This brings us to our second point, Klinsmann is playing the long game, Donovan might still be one of the best 23 Americans this year, but in 2018 when he is 36 years old there is no chance he even tries to make it to Russia. By leaving him off it leaves room for a player like the 18 year old Julian Green, whom possesses the potential to be a star player for the next two World Cups, to gain some valuable experience.

Thirdly, Donovan would not have made the starting 11. He isn’t quick enough to play 90 minutes in the midfield anymore and Clint Dempsey is a better pure Forward in better current form. This would’ve left Donovan in the role of super sub, something that the US leader in goals scored, 57, and assists, 56, could thrive. But there are plenty of options to play that role and all, again, whom are younger than Donovan. Such as the 23 year old Aron Johannson who has been on a goal scoring tear this spring both for the US team and his club team AZ Alkmaar of the Netherlands.  It is certainly hard to justify leaving someone with Donovan’s goal scoring and creating pedigree off the final roster, especially when this team may need as many goals as they can muster, but by playing the long game Klinsmann is hoping he can turn this team into something more than one that is happy getting out of the Group stage.

2. Can you still call it soccer? 

Absolutely. Do not let futbol or football snobs shame you into not calling it soccer.

 

 

As the map below indicates, while the majority of the world refers to the game with some form of the word foot in it, we are not alone in calling it soccer or some translation close to it. Obviously Canada calls it the same, South Africa and Australia, as well as Islands in South Asia, and most importantly Ireland calls it soccer too since they also have their own sport they refer to as Football. Therefore, next time someone bullies you for calling it soccer, grab a pint of Guiness and tell ’em to fuck off.

soccer1

3. Where can you find a last minute cheap American Jersey? 

I’m afraid I cannot help you there. I did see a store on Wilshire, just north of Sonny McLeans that labeled itself Santa Monica’s Official World Cup store. Perhaps they have something cheap there, but I’m not sure. Unfortunately when you’re dealing with Fifa, nothing comes cheap, except for human life.

4. So fullbacks are important, does that mean we will see Mike Alstott? 

Alstott would fit in nicely with a bruising team like Bosnia, Switzerland, or Greece. But I’m afraid you would not see him for long cause something tells me big old Mikey would be shown a Red Card early.

Yes, fullbacks are extremely important in the modern game. They play on the outside of the back line and move up to the outside on the attacks, typically to flood crosses into the box to set up easy shots, but the best ones in the world have the ability to put it in the back of the net themselves. A good fullback must have a great feel for the game, when to attack and when to sit back. A fullback that constantly moves forward puts his team in a dangerous, vulnerable position for any counter attack. While fullbacks that sit back all game make it harder for their team to score goals. It is a bit like a running back needing to have a good feel for when to stay home and block or go out an act as a receiver. The wrong read could result in his Quarterback lying flat on his back.

The US has two pretty solid fullbacks in Fabian Johnson at right back and Demarcus Beasley at left back. The big thing is that Beasley is left footed and Johnson right. You always want a fullback to be on his strong foot if you can help it. Both Johnson and Beasley have great speed and are competent on the offensive end. Take a look at this beautiful finish from Fabian against Turkey.

Notice how he came from the back of the formation to link up with Michael Bradley, our best passer, then was unafraid to continue his run all the way into the box, which resulted in an absolutely beautiful goal. The concern with Beasley and Johnson is that they can be a little too aggressive at times. They rely heavily on their closing speed to make up for getting to far up field. This is a dangerous strategy against teams like Germany and Portugal that have world class talent moving forward against what is a very vulnerable central defense. Johnson and Beasley’s strong play is essential to US hopes in Brazil.

5.) You’re not alone in your hate of Christiano Ronaldo. 

He is basically Lebron on a global scale. By far the most physically gifted player in the world, but like Lebron causes a lot of resentment. Some feel that he should accomplish even more than he has because of his talent. Like Lebron, many think that he is not clutch or afraid of the big moment. While others hate him because he behaves like a Diva that seems to care more about his looks than anything else. No matter your feelings toward him, like Lebron, he must be awed at for his incredible skills. He is simply unstoppable at times. Luckily, you’ll get your chance to hate him in this World Cup as his Portugal side takes on the US on Sunday June 22, at 3pm PT. Let’s find ourselves a good soccer bar and get ready to hurl a lot of obscenities his way. Also, let’s hope we’re coming into that game with 3 points in hand cause if we don’t beat Ghana on Monday we’re in trouble.

6.) Flopping. 

Flopping is despised in America as the cowards way out. While it is seen as a tactical weapon in soccer. Look, we do not have to like it, but the fact is that the advantages of flopping are too great compared to the risks. It sets your team up with a free kick, giving you a chance at a set piece play towards the net, it could result in at least a Yellow Card for your opponent, two yellows equals a red and a red sends a player off. It is extremely hard to score in soccer, so gaining a man advantage is huge and unlike hockey it lasts for the rest of the game. I completely agree that this needs to be addressed in order to clean up the game a bit and make it more entertaining, But are great American past time, baseball, coined the phrase, “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.” And is filled with a history of cheaters. Technically flopping isn’t even cheating, but it is following this same mantra, do whatever it takes to win. In some ways that is admirable.

7.) Is that an actual soccer pregame? 

While I can’t confirm if he listens to X Ambassadors & Jamie N Commons “Jungle,” I do know for a fact that Neymar, the Brazilian futbol star of this commercial, does call his father before every match he plays and receives a pep talk. By far one of the coolest things to do before a game and one of many reasons why he has become the golden boy of Brazilian soccer. I believe all of the other traditions are all real. While us Americans have not quite caught the bug, for the other 31 nations each World Cup game is like Easter and Christmas combined with the day that Jesus Christ returns to this Earth. Nothing will get done for those two hours, all eyes will be glued to the TV.

8.) Do the Americans have a chance of advancing out of the group? 

Yes, absolutely. And I do not even have to lie. There are few things the US has going for it, the biggest being the schedule. The Germans are going to run away with our group, easily winning all three games, luckily for us we play them last. There is a chance that they could have the Group wrapped up by then or at the very least just need to tie. Goal differential is the first tiebreaker and if the Germans have things wrapped up they may not play their full starting 11 in order to rest up for the Knockout stages.

Michael Bradley, our nation needs you to bring this intensity for 90 minutes against Portugal.

Michael Bradley, our nation needs you to bring this intensity for 90 minutes against Portugal.

It also helps that we play Ghana first. Ghana has eliminated us from the last two World Cups. This makes both our players and Klinsmann highly motivated to win this game and get the monkey off our back. All of our energy and motivation is focused on Ghana. The other two games are the future. Now, I’m confident that we will finally get over the Ghana hurdle, but that does not get us through the Group, or at least doesn’t put our fate into our own hands. Only a result against Portugal can potentially do that. This is certainly not out of the question. We’ve beaten Portugal before in the World Cup and despite having the best player in the world, they are very suspect on Defense. The issue is, so are we, which could result in us getting wide open who can score the most contest against Ronaldo and that may not end well. The key to offsetting this is Michael Bradley. Our best player, and a world class box-to-box midfielder. If he has the game of his life, help slow down the Portugal attack, while still getting up in the attack to deliver the deft passes that only he is capable of on our team, then we’ve got a good shot. Go ahead, Bill, believe away.

As for whether or not this is the World Cup that finally gets Americans into soccer? I have my doubts. See part of the reason the rest of the world loves the game so much is that it rose to popularity during the time of Nationalization. The sports is younger than many people would think. Fifa and the World Cup are not even 100 years old. But the reason it grew so rapidly was that these nations were finally getting out of colonization. They were becoming independent nations in search of an identity and soccer became the bond that brought them together. This was doubly important in Europe on the heels of the First Great War as those people needed a release from the pain and devastation they just suffered.

America chose the Jazz age, while the World chose soccer. It is not really surprising since our identity as a nation was already well established. And despite being an immigrant nation, the steady flow of people coming to Ellis Island slowed down as soccer took off around the world, so they did not have a connection with the game like they do now. Perhaps the new wave of hispanic immigrants will start to turn the tide, but honestly I’m not sure if Americans will ever get on board with the soccer movement. It will just never be as rooted in something meaningful like it is for the rest of the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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