your duty as an american soccer fan

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Much has been made of the incredible interest in the World Cup here in the United States.

The tournament on the whole averaged 4.5 million viewers over all 64 matches, a 36% increase from the 2010 World Cup four years ago. We also saw records smashed for single game viewership several times: the first was with the US-Portugal group match with 24.7 million, while the second was the Germany-Argentina Final with a total of 26.5 million viewers.

Easily at an all-time high, the continuing upward trend in interest in the tournament and the sport in general has prompted many to ask questions like “Has soccer’s time come in the US?” and “What needs to be done for the sport to continue to grow?”. They’re pertinent questions, and ones that certainly need answering.

And to answer that question, I’ll turn to one of our greatest ever American’s:

“Ask not what soccer can do for you — ask what you can do for soccer.”  
- John F. Kennedy

Okay, so maybe I distorted that statement a little bit. But JFK’s most famous quote is incredibly relevant point when modified to address soccer’s situation in this country.

If we — and I’m talking about the existing fans of soccer in this country — want to continue to see our favorite sport climb in popularity and gain the respect and recognition in the US, it’s on us to make that happen.

Yup, soccer’s eventual success in this country comes down to you and me.

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get off his back

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US midfielder Michael Bradley

Like most US soccer fans, I can still feel the sting of yesterday’s 2-1 knockout round loss to Belgium.

Despite clearly being the inferior side in a technical sense, the match was there for the taking. Tim Howard’s incredible performance in goal and a clever tactical plan laid out by coach Jurgen Klinsmann made that possible. Though when I close my eyes, I can still see Chris Wondolowski skying the ball over Thibaut Courtois’s gaping goal from the edge of the goal box in the dying seconds of regular time. And while it was a valiant performance from our boys, that result was inevitable if we were going to concede so many chances to an extremely talented Belgian side.

And in the disappointment, we’ve been subjected to a glut of articles raining criticism down on the players, the manager and the US soccer federation from both professionals and armchair pundits alike. Some complaints have merit. But quite a few are downright absurd.

One of the most common — and accurate — critiques levied against the US team deals with what this side was really capable of in the first place: were we even deserving of the quarterfinal spot that was denied to us?

From a technical standpoint: hardly.

It’s clear that the US national team still has a long way to go when it comes to producing the talent to compete at the next level. Our opponents yesterday featured a side rich with world-class talent. We might have two players that can be classified in that way. When Belgian manager Marc Wilmots decided Belgium needed to make a change up front, he was able to bring on the $37-million-rated, 21-year-old Romelu Lukaku – a player coveted by many of the top sides in Europe. However, when Klinsmann decided he needed to make a similar change, he had to make do with $2-million-rated, 31-year-old Chris Wondolowski — a man coveted at best by a few MLS clubs.

But there’s another popular theory about the US’s performances during the World Cup that doesn’t make any sense yet seems to be pouring out of every corner of the internet. That theory: Michael Bradley had a bad World Cup.

And I’m here to pour cold water all over that claim.

Before I get started, I’ll first concede that Bradley was not at his best offensively. For a guy that we’ve seen dominate in the Bundesliga, Serie A and at the international level, he didn’t exactly dictate produce in the way we all hoped he might. And against Ghana and Portugal in the first two Group G matches, he certainly made some critical mistakes.

But even in those first matches, it wasn’t as if he had bad games. They just weren’t what we’ve come to expect of him.

That said, there are quite a few important factors to keep in mind when evaluating his performances that many lambasting Michael are either ignoring or aren’t considering.

First and foremost, he’s being played out of position. While playing in the hole behind the single striker is something he’s capable of, Bradley is much better playing a deeper role. When he was at his best in Italy and Germany, he was deployed as a deep lying playmaker. Instead, he was stationed in an offensive midfield position that — while potentially beneficial to the US — didn’t exactly play to his strengths.

On that same point, he was posted up behind a player for a majority of the tournament that was himself being played out of position. Clint Dempsey, like Bradley, is capable of playing up top by himself, but is actually much better in the role that Michael was forced to play. And as such, he wasn’t as used to playing it the way that someone like Jozy Altidore would be more used to working. As such, it left Bradley to try and hold up play a bit more than someone would be asked to do when playing in the apex of the three-man midfield. Bob’s kid was left with few outlets to play to, with Bedoya and Zusi often pinched in and expected to track back on the opposing wingers.

Secondly, for an offensive midfielder, Bradley was expected to and needed to put in a lot of defensive effort. While he might have been sloppier in his distribution than we’re used to, he was expending a lot more of his energy covering ground defensively than should be expected of an offensive center mid. In fact, no player in the tournament has run as far as he has. And that will absolutely take its toll on his ability to make decisions and play precise passes..

As for those who needs stats to lean on, why not compare other players who have played similar roles. I’ve picked four players below who that have not only made it as far as the US did this World Cup, but have actually helped their teams reach the next round too. Influential players, much like Bradley. What you’ll find might actually surprise you.

Statistic Michael Bradley Oscar (BRA) Juan Cuadrado (COL) Eden Hazard (BEL)
Minutes 390 367 306 293
Passes (Accuracy) 252 (86.1%) 137 (73.3%) 97 (87.4%) 142 (83.8%)
% Pass Forward 34.9% 31.4% 18.0% 19.7%
% Pass Back/Side 65.1% 68.6% 82.0% 80.3%
Pass % Opp Half  76.6% 70.6% 87.5% 83.9%
Pass % Def Half 96.6% 82.9% 87.0% 83.3%
Chances Created 4 6 7 12
Tackles Won (%) 6 (75%) 16 (76.2%) 4 (66.7%) 3 (100%)
Interceptions 3 5 5 0
Distance Covered 54.7 km 40.4 km 33.8 km 33.9 km

The two stats that really stand out here are distance covered and passes/pass accuracy. Despite being burdened with the need to run more, he still managed to complete more passes than all of his counterparts. Not only that, but Bradley completed his passes at a better rate and more passes forward than the rest of them as well.

When you consider that Bradley was one of two players that opposing sides absolutely prepared for ahead of facing us – alongside Dempsey — those stats become even more impressive. The Toronto FC midfielder nearly always had two men pressuring him when he received the ball, meaning he had to be precise if he didn’t want to cough it up.

Now, I know he did cough it up at times when we hoped he might not. But I’m not going to skewer a guy for a few mistakes. While he wasn’t the second coming of Andrea Pirlo, Michael was far from being the next Jermaine Jenas.

But we do need to all consider what kind of expectations we placed on him. If you expected to see Bradley lift the trophy this summer, you’re probably on the wrong bandwagon.

The he helped us get out of the Group of Death should be enough for everyone, but many still aren’t satisfied. And they never will be.

But I am, Michael. You’ve done more than enough for me.

 

color me surprised

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Cincinnati Celebrates Brooks' GoalI have to give it to you, Cincinnati: you really surprised me yesterday.

We’re a city that’s often forced to divide our attention and pick a side. East or west side. Gold Star or Skyline. Xavier or UC. Cincinnati Saints or that other team that we won’t speak of. And when it comes to the watching the US team during the World Cup, things have been no different.

The American Outlaws Cincinnati Chapter were back at their usual stomping grounds at Molly Malone’s in Covington, with those who attended saying the place was jammed full of American supporters like sardines in a can. My favorite soccer pub, Rhinehaus in OTR, was packed in a way that only Lil Jon could appreciate. There were some who chose to stay further out in Hyde Park, with events being held at Cock & Bull, Hap’s, and The Pub at Rookwood. And those are just the soccer hangouts: numerous other establishments around town also have spoken of larger influxes of patrons in to watch the game.

And as such, I was a little concerned that the watch party I was helping to plan — the Cincinnati Saints and Hoists’ Big Game on the Square at Fountain Square — would suffer a lower than expected turnout due to litany of choices available to the city’s soccer fans. If I’m being totally honest, I thought we would be lucky to get 500 people out to the city center to watch the US’ opening game against Ghana.

Boy, was I wrong… and happily so.

The Cincinnati downtown commission, 3CDC, estimated that there were upwards of 5000 fans in attendance. Five thousand! Even if that was a little generous, that’s ten times the amount I had hoped for. Considering this match took place on Monday night on a day where the local meteorologists were warning of pop-up storms in a place that had never hosted a soccer event before, that is freaking incredible.

Too, the atmosphere was absolutely incredible. I’d fielded some concerns that it wouldn’t “be as good as at a pub” and that the AO party “would blow it out of the water”. Those concerns, much like my own earlier, proved unwarranted.

Flags, ridiculous outfits, painted faces, a bounty of bomb pop and Waldo jerseys. There were chants of “I believe that we can win” and “I Love Ya”. The energy and noise after the goals, particularly Brook’s equalizer, was a deafening madhouse. I’m pretty sure I saw someone jump in the fountain in jubilation. There’s a zero percent chance the AO party provided anything better. And the reaction around town, even from non-soccer types, has been nothing short of astounding.

I feel incredibly privileged to have been a part of the experience and to help put on the event. WSOTP Podcast co-host Jeremy Lance and I kept turning to one another and wide-eyed saying to one another, “I can’t believe this is happening in Cincinnati!” Never mind the 30 followers I’ve picked up on Twitter and 20 new Facebook likes since then… it was an honor even without the windfall of new exposure for this site.

We’ll of course be doing this all again on Sunday, and fully expect that the crowd will grow as word gets out that Fountain Square will be the place to watch. So if you didn’t join us yesterday, give us a try this weekend. And for those of you who did, thank you for making this such an awe-inspiring experience.

Here’s hoping we’ll catch you out there again, Cincinnati.

Also, be sure to check out this awesome video of the event from local Ricky Fairrow. It really captured the vibe of the crowd.

All pictures courtesy of the Cincinnati Saints. See the full album here.

cincinnati enquirer world cup preview

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WSOTP x Enquirer

I am excited to share this short excerpt from my first ever printed article. To read it in its entirety, pick up a copy of the Monday, June 9, 2014, edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer, my hometown newspaper. Or you can read it online by clicking here or the link at the end of the excerpt.

Summer: Everyone’s favorite season is finally upon us.

It’s a time when many look forward to taking a break from their normal lives. Reds baseball, time away from work, a chance to travel, warmer weather, summer vacation from school, barbecues, pool parties … everyone has their own reason.

But for a sizable contingent of the world’s population – with estimates reaching in excess of 1 billion people – this summer will be planned around one event in particular.

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Stretching June 12-July 13, soccer’s world championship is arguably the planet’s most popular sporting event. And after long being a fringe event in our neck of the woods, the World Cup’s popularity is finally starting to catch on in the United States

You might call me an “early adopter”: my obsession with the World Cup stretches back to my earliest days. I was born in the middle of the tournament in Spain in 1982. Attending the 1994 World Cup finals here in the U.S. was probably the most seminal moment of my childhood. My loving wife even allowed me to plan our wedding around the last World Cup, ensuring neither I nor any of my guests would miss the action.

So why is the World Cup such a big deal to me and a billion others? Like summer, everyone has their own reasons.

WSOTP in the Cincinnati Enquirer

a shot of my world cup preview on the front page of the sports section in today’s print edition of the cincinnati enquirer.

Many are in it for the spectacle. For some, it’s the coming together of people from all four corners of the globe. And for others still, it’s a way of life that’s been ingrained in their country’s culture for decades.

If you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, no hard feelings. But if you’re letting the old preconceived notions of the game keep you from watching this summer – it’s boring, it’s full of cheaters, and the U.S. isn’t any good – you’re doing yourself a disservice. Though soccer isn’t without faults, its greatest spectacle is packed full of enough drama and action to convince even the most hardened critics. So long as you give it a chance.

Still need convincing to give the World Cup some of your attention this summer?

Continue reading “Why the World Cup is such a big deal” on Cincinnati.com →

an interview with professional goal guardian kofi sarkodie

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Kofi Sarkodie Career ProgressionWhen it comes to interviews, if you look at my track record, it’s pretty clear that I’ll talk to just about anyone from the game of football.

And while I’m more than happy to talk to any player from the professional ranks about their experiences, I have a soft spot in particular for players who hail from the state of Ohio. After all, I’m from Ohio myself. And on top of that, a substantial number of my readers and followers call Ohio home, too. So helping to shed some more light on the lives of those who come from my own backyard seems as much a duty as it does a privilege.

Luckily, Ohio has a pretty deep pool of players that populate MLS rosters. And one of the brightest among those that call the Buckeye state home is Houston Dynamo right back, Kofi Sarkodie. A product of Huber Heights — a suburb of Dayton — Kofi has represented the US at the youth level, won a national championship with the Akron Zips and established himself as one of the league’s best up and coming young defenders.

So with the Dynamo off to a blazing start to the 2014 season, this seemed like the perfect time to talk with Kofi to talk about his younger days here in Ohio, the importance of his close relationships with his soccer-playing brothers, and his career to this point.

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ten words or less #93

DC United's RFK Stadium

after taking a week off for vacation, i’m diving back into the blog with the latest stop on the WSOTP stadium guide tour: DC’s RFK stadium.

Ah vacation… you were much needed. After a month of World Cup to digest, my brain and Twitter feed certainly needed the rest. So after spending a week with my family on an isolated lake in South Carolina, I’m now back and ready to dip my foot into the pools of world football once again.

But instead of just easing back into things, I’m kicking things off with a bang. Tonight I’ll be making my next WSOTP MLS Stadium Guide stop by the above pictured RFK stadium in our nation’s capital to watch the Eastern Conference leading DC United take on a surprise Chivas USA side that’s punching well above expectations. You can expect a full detailed write-up to visiting the league’s oldest — and possibly most historic — stadium later this week.

In the mean time, here are a collection of some of my favorite links from the last few weeks to tide you over.

The greatest match of soccer you’ve never heard of. – medium.com

MLS All-Stars to face Bayern is very USMNT-heavy. – mlssoccer.com

Things are getting pretty bad in Ukraine. – mirror.co.uk

When no space for a pitch… make one. – theoriginalwinger.com

Brazil won’t be winning any fans back with this choice. – espnfc.com

RSL adding a new affiliate — and stadium — in Salt Lake? - sltrib.com

If it ain’t broke… – estaticos.sport.es

Wonder who Klinsmann will take to Russia? Start here. – sbnation.com

Everybody hates Jack Wilshire. – sportsmole.co.uk

This pub played the odds during Brazil-Germany… and lost. – bbc.com

WSOTP world cup 2014 XI

WSOTP World Cup XI.fwWithout a doubt, this was the best World Cup I had the privilege of watching.

An impetus for attacking was shared by nearly every team at the tournament, with a record-tying 171 goals tallied in Brazil. The biggest stars of the game all turned up, notching important goals and providing key moments. Goalkeepers were in fine form as well, producing spectacular save after spectacular save. And there was ample drama, from the refereeing to player theatrics on the pitch.

Honestly, it’s hard to accept that it’s now over.

But now that I’ve had ample time to reflect back on the tournament — like everyone else in the world — I think it’s high time I get down to selecting my team of the tournament.

While there were some shoe-ins in there that just about everyone selected, I may as well dump out one spoiler at this point: I didn’t select Messi. That may seem a little unfair given that how influential he was in Argentina’s run to the final in Rio, there was such stiff competition in the areas of the pitch he could be deployed, I just couldn’t find room in my eleven for arguably the world’s best player. Crucify me in the comments for the decision if you like.

So who did make the WSOTP World Cup Best XI and bumped the Argentine Flea from contention? Read on to find out.

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in review: campo retro’s brasil ’14 collection

the germany brasil ’14 shirt by campo.

World Cups have an uncanny tendency to bring out the patriot in us all.

Predictably, that has a knock on effect, impelling many of us to open our wallets to outfit (word choice?) ourselves in the latest team gear to show our allegiance. We wear them to show our patriotism, that we belong and that we’re united in the cause of supporting our boys.

But picking up the latest kit isn’t the only way to show that we care. Many pull out their old kits, too. For some, the old kits represent a hipster-ish desire to show how long they’ve been devoted to the cause. For others, and old shirt can represent a good luck charm, hearkening back to earlier moments of glory. And yet for others still, an old shirt might be their favorite look for their favorite team. Fashion, of course, is in play for many of us too… myself included.

Yet for those who want to rock a retro kit as a fashion statement — but lack one — options are often limited. Acquiring old shirts can be an expensive endeavor, not to mention the pickings are slim. So for those who want to go the retro route for representing their team, but don’t want to spend a fortune to do so, where should they look?

My good friends at Campo have come to the rescue once again, and they’ve done so this summer with an extra special line of retro shirts specifically for the World Cup.

The Brasil ’14 collection. Continue reading

cause and effect

Brazil's Neymar lies injured during the World Cup quarterfinal against Colombia

neymar’s injury can be blamed on more than just one colombian.

For a tournament that has arguably been the most entertaining World Cup in recent memory, this should be a time of celebration.

Four international heavy weights — Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands and Argentina — compose the semifinalists. Together they’ve already made 18 appearances in the final, and 30 appearances at this stage in total if you include this year’s tournament. A mind-boggling ten world championships have been hoisted between them, twice as many as the 2010 edition offered. To me at least, we haven’t seen a final foursome this sexy since Italia ’90.

But because the host nation have been robbed of their greatest talent, the dynamic Neymar Junior, it feels as if a bit of the air has been let out of the closing stages of this World Cup’s balloon.

Without a doubt, Neymar’s loss is a tragedy as far as the tournament is concerned. It’s a particularly devastating absence for Brazil given the lack of bite the rest of their attack has offered so far. And the manner in which it occurred was wholeheartedly brutal; just how Juan Zuñiga’s flying knee to the back went unpunished is a complete a head scratcher.

But I want to make sure of something important here: if Brazil crash out in the semis or don’t manage to lift the Cup on Sunday, don’t go blaming the entire failure on Colombia’s Zuñiga.  Continue reading

WSOTP pod: live world cup special #3

we recorded our third and final live podcast on fountain before, during and after the usa v belgium game.

we recorded our third and final live podcast on fountain before, during and after the usa v belgium game.

Well, it wasn’t the result we had all hoped for, but the US loss to Belgium in the Round of 16 of the 2014 World Cup still managed to provide a great backdrop for our third and final live podcast recorded down on Cincinnati’s Fountain Square. Jeremy returned to rejoin D.J. after being out of action the last time out, and he also takes the reigns for the in-studio portions of the pod answering questions and talking about how fans new to the game can pick a team to follow for the upcoming Premier League season. On the live portion, we also get to hear Cincinnati Saints president and CEO David Satterwhite rejoin us on the podcast to talk about the events on the Square. And two other added bonuses: the audio this time around is at least marginally better and there were no hecklers this time either… hooray!

On a personal note, it was an absolute thrill to get to talk soccer in front of crowds of 4000 to 8000 at each of the events down on Fountain Square. Many thanks to the Cincinnati Saints, Hoist and 3CDC for allowing us the opportunity to MC the events and spread the word about the podcast.

If you’re new to the podcast, we’ll be back again weekly in just a few weeks’ time before the European seasons get rolling. So be sure to hit the links below to subscribe to the podcast on your computer or mobile device to listen in when we return on a regular basis.

Subscribe to the WSOTP Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher, or search for “Wrong Side of the Pond” in your favorite podcasting app to listen to us on your mobile device!

WSOTP pod: live world cup special #2

WSOTP Podcast - Live World Cup Special #1

better late than never: our second live podcast on fountain square before and during the US-portugal game.

Our second “World Cup Special” podcast was recorded way back before and during the US v Portugal match. I know, nearly a week ago, and another match has transpired since then. So what gives? Well, my computer crashed and I thought the file had been lost into the abyss. Luckily, I had a back up that I’d forgotten about. Furthermore, we weren’t able to record during the Germany game, so the layoff doubled in length. We’re sorry — but better late than never right?

As with last time, our audio situation wasn’t the greatest. But the plus side to that: you won’t be able to hear the hecklers. I’m also joined by Jeremy Lance-lookalike, Eddie Driver, as my normal recording partner was indisposed this time around. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a pod worth listening to. Eddie and I dished not only on the Portugal game, but also talked over some of the World Cup’s highlights, and we had a chance to chat with some of the lovely Lady Saints to get their outlooks on the game. You’ll find some crowd reactions to the goals, and my post match analysis — including thoughts on the Germany match and the lead up to the Belgium round of 16 thriller that awaits us today.

For those who have asked: yes, we will be recording another podcast before and during today’s pivotal knockout match. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get it before next week.

Subscribe to the WSOTP Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher, or search for “Wrong Side of the Pond” in your favorite podcasting app to listen to us on your mobile device!

this ain’t no cake walk

USMNT players celebrate John Anthony Brooks' winner against Ghana

it wasn’t pretty, but the win against ghana was played out nearly exactly as the US had planned it to.

Monday was an emotional roller coaster ride. The US men’s national team win over Ghana had more ups and downs than is probably healthy.

We barely had time to sit down and watch the action before Captain Deuce dropped a bomb on us. Then Jozy went down, clutching his hamstring. Boots to the face followed, as did an hour of gut wrenching and nail-biting as the US seemingly allowed Ghana to shoot at will. When André Ayew scored in the 84th minute, it seemed like the inevitable had happened. But substitute John Anthony Brooks — a man few had expected or wanted to make the roster just weeks before — nodded home a goal that will forever be etched into our memories. Six minutes of added time and more nail biting later, we survived. Somehow with three points.

But after the euphoria ended, a weird narrative seemed to sweep over the national media coverage: the US are a bad side that were incredibly lucky to come out of that match winners.

If Ghana, a team ranked 37th in the world, were capable of manhandling the US like they did, there’s no way we would ever be able to stand up to the mighty Portuguese ranked 4th or the demigod Germans ranked 2nd. We were out shot by the “measly” Africans 21 to 8, and surrendered 60% of the possession. If we give Cristiano Ronaldo that many chances, there’s no way he won’t put at least three past a hapless Tim Howard. Should we really expect anything better from a side that has ten players from the lowly MLS? And that Klinsmann guy: he’s in way over his head.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the first to admit it wasn’t a pretty win. But last time I checked, playing pretty wasn’t a prerequisite for achieving success. Furthermore, most of those shouting from the rooftops about our inferiority have a pretty poor understanding of what actually happened that game.

The last two times the US played Ghana in the World Cup, we actually outplayed them. We saw more of the ball and had more scoring opportunities. But in both matches, they waited for us to break our shape as we continued to push forward, then countered us and were able to nip victories on their very limited chances.

 

There was no way Jurgen was going to let that happen again.  Continue reading

WSOTP pod: world cup special #1

WSOTP Podcast - Live World Cup Special #1

listen in to our first ever live podcast before the US-ghana game!

Welcome back listeners! After taking a few weeks off this summer to rest our voices so Jeremy and D.J. can commentate matches for the Cincinnati Saints on LiveStream and local TV, we figured it was high time to bring the podcast back for that big tournament that’s going on in Brazil. And thanks to our previously mentioned employers, we got to do record our first ever live session and “World Cup Special” in a special spot: Cincinnati’s famed Fountain Square. Not only that, but we got to do so in front of nearly five thousand rabid US soccer fans that were there to watch the boys in the bomb pops.

Fair warning: our audio equipment didn’t quite work as expected, so the recording quality isn’t the greatest. But you can’t definitely make out our ramblings on the World Cup action thus far. You’ll also be treated to some commentary from Saints players, a listen in to the reaction to John Anthony Brooks’ electric game winner against Ghana and more.

And as further reminder, be sure to join us for the next “Big Game on the Square” this Sunday at 5pm for the next edition of the podcast and the USA’s match against Portugal!

Subscribe to the WSOTP Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher, or search for “Wrong Side of the Pond” in your favorite podcasting app to listen to us on your mobile device!