Monthly Archives: June 2010

Vacation, back Thursday

I am on vacation for the next few days. Glad Argentina won, sad about England. I am planning a longer post for later in the knockout rounds. Predictions and analysis. Good times.

Deja Vu and What Might Have Been…

There is something oddly familiar to the sensation I am feeling. I am trying to recover from a US loss at the World Cup to a team that they should have beaten. This has happened in the past two World Cups and it’s been against the same team, the score line was even the same!

Ghana’s 2-1 victory over the US was an example of what has become a typical US game. An early defensive lapse allows their opponent to take the lead, the US storms back to tie it, but just can’t seem to finish the game. Today, the game took a unique turn, as the US was able to push the game into extra time (since we are in the knockout stages, no draws), but they fell asleep on defense to allow the winner. The United States is, perhaps, its own worst enemy. Ghana didn’t be the US today, the US beat the US.

I had a conversation with a coworker on Friday about the US’s chances. I thought they US had a great shot of making it to the semifinal due to match ups against teams that I thought they could beat. I was concerned, however, that the US might make a mistake(s) that would cost them their best shot to advance deep into the World Cup. Consistently in this tournament, during qualifying and during the friendlies leading up to the World Cup, the US has allowed soft early goals (mostly due to defensive lapses, Tim Howard has rarely been the problem) that dictated the way they played the rest of the game. Is this the players? The coaching? Ultimately, I think it is a combination of the two. The players come out flat (who knows why?) and should be more prepared for the game. That preparation falls to the coaching staff.

The coaching staff (read Bob Bradley) is also responsible for putting the best team out on the field to start the game. Bob Bradley did not do that today. Why was Ricardo Clark starting? Why was Robbie Findley back in the line-up? Why mess with the success that was the Algeria win? Maurice Edu played well in the Algeria game, and deserved the chance to start. What did Bradley get for his decision? A brutal appearance by Clark. Clark was directly responsible for Kevin Prince-Boateng’s goal in the 6′.  He turned the ball over near the center circle, which sprung Boateng on the break. Boateng slotted the ball into the net at the near post.  Shortly thereafter, Clark was yellow carded to add to his misery. Bradley said he started Clark because he wanted to put in some fresh legs after the short turn-around between Wednesday’s dramatic win and today’s game. That is faulty logic. First, these players are professionals, they train for this type of situation. They are used to short turn-arounds during their club season, many weeks they play multiple games. In addition, Edu didn’t play the full 90 against Algeria. If he tired down the stretch, then make the switch to Clark. Bradley seemingly acknowledge his mistake, replacing Clark with Edu at the 31′ mark. There is no doubt in my mind that the first goal would not have been scored if Edu had been on the field.  After the game, Bradley said he made the switch entirely due to the yellow card. What else was he going to say – I made the switch because Clark played poorly; I made the switch because I made the wrong line-up call? Clearly the latter would have been the gutsy thing to say, but Bradley hid behind the yellow card.

As for the Findley start, I understand the thinking, but it wasn’t the right call. Bradley likes to pair a speedy forward with Jozy Altidore, a sort of Thunder and Lightening pairing. Charlie Davies, who is absent due to his recovery from an October car accident, is the perfect tag-team partner for Altidore. Davies has pace, finishing ability and plays well with Altidore. Findley is, at best, a poor facsimile of Davies.  While Findley is pacey, his finishing isn’t as polished as Davies’ and that was on display today, as he missed a clear opportunity to tie the game.  Bradley has been searching for Davies’ replacement since his accident, and hasn’t found it.  But maybe he is looking in the wrong place, the answer is already on the roster.   Instead of starting Findley, start Dempsey up top with Benny Feilhaber taking Dempsey’s place in the midfield.  Bradley made this change in the Slovenia game and when the US needed a goal in this game.  If this is a crunch time tactic, why not start the game that way?  Dempsey has a nose for goal.  He’s unpredictable and loves to run at defenders.  Why not place him closer to goal to make use of these talents?  This switch would have also helped to minimize mistakes like the one that lead to the first goal.  Playing Dempsey up top gets Feilhaber, one of the US players most composed when in possession, onto the field.

Not all the blame can be laid at Bradley’s feet.  The finishing for the entire team was poor.  Richard Kingson, the Ghanaian goalkeeper, isn’t likely to win any awards for his goalkeeping prowess yet the US continually put their shots directly at him, barely working him.  Altidore and Michael Bradley are the two most glaring examples of chances wasted, but there were several more throughout the game.  Beyond the poor finishing, the US defense made two key mistakes that lead to Ghana’s goals.  Asamoah Gyan’s goal in extra time should not have happened, but the US defense failed to communicate allowing Gyan to get past them and put a shot past Tim Howard.

Once Gyan scored, the US never looked like they were going to level the game.  Ghana was content to sit back and defend their lead.  In doing so, Ghana was disgraceful in the way they dove to the ground, faked injuries and wasted time.  There is a certain amount of gamesmanship that takes place in any game of soccer when you are protecting a late lead, but the Ghanaians went too far and the referee did nothing to stop it.  When Ghana made their last substitution, just minutes before the end of the game, the player took his time crossing the field, high-fiving his teammates as he exited.  The referee should have expedited his exit and if he refused to speed up, give the player a yellow card.  Soccer writers lit up the twittersphere with comments on the Ghanaians’s unsportsmanlike conduct.

In the end, though, the United States has nobody to blame but itself for being knocked out in the round of 16.  They played against a beatable opponent and committed too many errors to win.  Had they won the game, they would have taken on Uruguay, a 2-1 winner of South Korea.  That potential match-up would have been a tough test, but one I think the US could have passed.  Instead, the US will watching the next round on television, wondering what might have been and if they are having déjà vu.

Soccer’s Sweet Sixteen

Soccer is much maligned in the Untied States for being too boring or too European.  Well, I have one sure-fire way to get American fans interested in soccer.  Combine a team that is poised for a run in the biggest tournament in the sport with a little bracketology.  Perhaps the American fan will understand this.  Below is the bracket for the knockout rounds of the World Cup, we have reached the Sweet Sixteen.  It’s worked for NCAA basketball, why not soccer.  Think of teams like Brazil, the Netherlands, Spain and Argentina as 1 seeds.  Think of the United States, South Korea, Slovakia and Japan as mid-major Cinderellas.

Download and have fun with July Jubilation (lame attempt at alliteration)

My Predictions for Soccer’s Sweet Sixteen:

Uruguay
USA
The Netherlands
Brazil
England
Argentina
Japan
Spain

Thoughts on the NBA Draft

Evan Turner - Is this the man that will return the Sixers to the promised land?

As usual, the NBA draft had its share of surprise picks, trades and drama.  The beginning of the draft started the way many mock drafts had predicted, with John Wall going 1st to the Wizards, followed by Evan Turner to the Sixers, and Derrick Favors to the Nets.  First, I must say that I am glad the Sixers took my advice and drafted Evan Turner (quite possibly the only Ohio State Buckeye I will ever like).  I think he has the potential to be a star in the league and gives them a player to truly build around for the future.  He seems to be a stand up guy and plays well on both ends of the floor.  The Sixers have struck gold with this pick.  Given that his was the Sixers’ only pick in the draft, they made a splash.  I know that it will create some over-crowding at the wing and guard positions, but this pick was the best for the franchise.  Hopefully, Ed Stefanski isn’t done trading and can clear out some of that over-crowding while bringing in some new talent.  As, I stated in a previous post, the gutsy move is to trade Andre Iguodala, who would likely fetch some good pieces (picks or players) in return.

Some other moves that I liked:

Oklahoma City Thunder – The Thunder were active in this draft.  I liked what I saw from them.  They had a total of 4 picks in the draft, but didn’t keep any of them.  They spun their picks into: Daequan Cook, a young shooting guard who will give them depth in the back court; Cole Aldrich, a good, young big who will add depth to the front court, Morris Peterson (who will provide veteran leadership off the bench) and a future 1st round pick (lottery protected).   The Thunder made these trades both for the future and in order to win now.  They had 4 picks in the draft and already are loaded with young talent.  They did their best to not overload themselves with players that are too young and not ready to contribute.  This team can win now, they already have a talented core and gave the Lakers a run for their money in the playoffs.  With their moves, I think they can push the elite in the Western Conference.

Miami Heat – The Heat made some shrewd moves in this draft.  The first, As John Hollinger of ESPN wrote about their trade of Cook to OKC, “Miami is in the process of buying out James Jones, whose deal is only partially guaranteed next year, and if in addition the Heat can find a taker for Michael Beasley they’ll have enough cap space for three max contracts — allowing them to potentially unite the holy trinity of LeBron, Wade and Bosh on one roster.”  Can you believe that?  How crazy would it be if Miami had Bosh, King James and Flash on the same team?  They would be unstoppable.  In addition, the Heat made 4 picks in the 2nd round and like several of them.  Getting Jarvis Varnado, the all-time NCAA leader in blocked shots, in the middle of the 2nd round is great value.  He will be great off the bench as a defender/rebounder.  The Heat also drafted one of my favorite players from the NCAA tournament, Da’Sean Butler.  He injured his knee against Duke in the national semifinal, but will provide the Heath with good value when he recovers.

Utah Jazz – The Jazz picked Gordon Hayward, the unlikely star of this past NCAA tournament.  I love what Hayward can do.  He can shoot, play D and has a good motor and feel for the game.  I think he fits in with this team perfectly.

Washington Wizards – Obviously, John Wall was a great pick.  He allows them to move Gilbert Arenas to the SG position, which makes both the PG and SG positions better.  I also liked their pick of Trevor Booker from Clemson.  He adds size and toughness in the paint.  Include their trade with the Bulls, where they got Kirk Hinrich (who can act as a mentor to Wall and provides a solid backup in the back court), and I think the Wizards have gone a long way to getting themselves back to respectability.

One move that I did not like was Portland’s firing of GM Kevin Pritchard.  The way they fired him and the fact that they fired him at all is just ridiculous.  Paul Allen, the Blazers’ owner, fired Pritchard just hours before the draft.  Pritchard conducted the draft admirably, making a trade that makes the Blazers a better team.  He was able to acquire Ryan Gomes and the rights to Luke Babbitt from the Timberwolves for Martell Webster.  I like this trade because I am a fan of Gomes.  I like him when he played for the Celtics and I think he is a great addition to the Blazers.  I also like Babbitt, who played college ball at Nevada.  Pritchard also drafted Elliot Williams, who will add depth to the Portland back court.  Pritchard should be able to find work elsewhere as he was responsible for rehabilitating the Blazers’ image and rebuilding the franchise on the court.  He did an excellent job in both departments and to see him go out like this is just pitiful.  Could this be the start of the Pritchard Curse?  It would serve Paul Allen right if it were, but the Blazer fans deserve better.

Putting Things in Perspective

Joe Gaetjens scored the game winner in the US upset of England at the 1950 World Cup

The US pulled off an amazing victory yesterday that has been covered in this space.  In the last day, I’ve read a lot of reaction to the win and many people are classifying the win over Algeria as the biggest or most important win in US soccer history.  I just don’t think that is true.  While the win goes a long way to create new soccer fans and gave the US their first group win since 1930 (the US finished third that year), it wasn’t the biggest or most important victory.  I would argue the 2-0 victory over Mexico in the 2002 World Cup was more important and a bigger win.  The win propelled the US to the quarterfinals for the first time since 1930 and was a win over out most bitter rival on the world’s largest stage.  One could also argue that the 2-0 victory over Spain (then ranked #1 in the world) was a bigger victory, as it propelled the US to its first international tournament final outside of its region.  Some argument can also be made the the shocking 1-0 victory over England in 1950 was bigger.  All that being said, I think yesterday’s win could move up in the rankings depending on what the US does in the rest of the tournament.  The match-ups are actually favorable to the US.  They play Ghana on Saturday and if they are victorious would play either Uruguay or South Korea.  Neither team scares me.  If the US could beat the Uruguay-South Korea winner, they would advance to the semifinals for the first time since 1930.  At that stage things get trickier (a likely match-up against the Dutch, Brazil, or Spain could be in the cards depending on outcomes from the rest of group play), but a trip to the semifinals would be considered a huge success.

In other World Cup news, Italy lost its final group game to Slovakia, knocking the defending champions out of the tournament.  The last champion to lose before the knockout rounds was France in 2002.  As written before, it is the first time both teams from the previous final have failed to advance out of the group stage.  Paraguay drew with New Zealand, in a listless showing, but secured top spot in the group.  Slovakia, by virtue of its victory, also advances.  Slovakia is likely to play The Netherlands in the round of 16, while Paraguay looks set to face Portugal (mea culpa, misread the bracket) Japan.

Musings on Baseball, Basketball and the Longest Tennis Match in History

So many sporting events during the last day, and so little time to blog about them.  I’ve decided one post to cover the most interesting non-World Cup sporting events of the last day was the way to go.

Baseball – Good night for one of my teams, not so good for the other.  The Phillies were able to pull off a late game rally to defeat the Indians 7-6. Maybe Jimmy Rollins‘ absence meant more the Phillies than I thought.  His walk-off homer secured the victory.  Coupled with a sterling pitching performance from Jamie Moyer on Tuesday the Phillies are on a modest 2 game win streak.  Maybe the Phillies need to play the AL Central more often.  Hopefully, the Phillies can use this to propel themselves into a good stretch before the All-Star break.  If the Phillies can play well going into the Break, I think they have an excellent shot of catching Atlanta and winning the division.  In the past several years, the Phillies have been excellent after the All-Star Break, posting a .599 winning percentage over the last 5 seasons.  If the Phillies can go into the Break within striking distance, I believe they will heat up after the break and catch the Braves.

On the other side of a walk-off were my 2nd team, the Red Sox.  They were facing Ubaldo Jimenez, who has been historically good this season, so who could have blamed them for losing.  The funny thing is that the Sox actually got to Jimenez, chasing him after 5 2/3 innings in which they scored 6 runs.  To put this in perspective, Jimenez had only given up 13 runs total in his previous 14 games!  In the month of May, Jimenez pitched 6 times and gave up 4 runs in the whole month!  The 5 2/3 inning outing was also the shortest of the season for Jimenez.  John Lackey put in a valiant effort on the mound and at the plate (he had 2 hits) and deserved better.  The Sox rallied from an early 4 run deficit to take a 6-5 lead into the 9th.  Jonathan Papelbon came on, so the game should have been over.  Instead, Papelbon gave up two home runs and the Rockies walked off with the victory.

Tennis – The longest tennis match in the history of the sport is finally over.  I couldn’t go without mentioning that John Isner finally won his match against Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon.  The match started on Tuesday.  Tuesday night the match was suspended and play was resumed on Wednesday.  The players played for the entire day Wednesday only to have the match again suspended due to darkness.  Isner was finally able to break Mahut’s serve in the 138th game of the 5th set.  The match is truly an epic, taking more than 11 hours over 3 days to complete.  The match was so compelling that it even got me to stop watching soccer yesterday afternoon.  The Ghana-Germany and Serbia-Australia matches took a backseat to history in the making.  Like Isner said “This will never ever happen again”.  Both men deserved better than for the loser to be knocked out of Wimbledon.  Bravo to both men.

NBA – The lead up to the NBA draft continues with the top of the draft coming more into focus.  John Wall is a lock to go at #1 to the Wizards.  It appears the Sixers are going to take my advice and draft Evan Turner.  The Nets are now leaning toward Derrick Favors.   After that things get fuzzy, as there could be a lot of movement due to trades.  It should be an interesting night.

Note to the Sixers Before the Draft: Please Use Some Sense!

I know that most of my posts have been about soccer.  What is a sports fan to do when it’s World Cup time?  The event comes once every four years.  Lost in all the soccer madness is the fact that the NBA Draft is tomorrow night.  I love the NBA Draft because it represents the time of year when every fan has hope.  Hope that your team will get its next franchise player and return to respectability (I’m talking about you New Jersey Nets).  Hope that your team will draft the missing piece that will propel them to the playoffs and beyond.  Hope that your team might make a blockbuster trade.  I better stop with the hope bit (otherwise I might sound like an Obama campaign commercial).

My team, the Sixers, fall into the category of team looking for a franchise player and respectability.  The Sixers have been mediocre, at best, for most of the decade and haven’t posted a winning record since 2004-2005.  In the 9 seasons since the Sixers played in the NBA Finals following the 2000-2001 season, they’ve compiled an overall record of 348-390.  On the face of it, that doesn’t sound that bad.  Over nine seasons they are only 42 games under .500.  But when you stop to think about the fact that they have had just 3 winning seasons and 1 .500 season in that time span things get a little more depressing.  Thanks to playing in the generally weak Eastern Conference, the Sixers have actually made the playoffs in over half the seasons since 2000-2001.

In an effort to address this mediocrity, the Sixers splashed out some major cash to sign Elton Brand following the 2007-2008 season (a season in which the Sixers finished just 2 games under .500).   What the Sixers got in return for their investment was 1 more win the following season.  Not exactly what you pay $82 million over 5 years for.  Brand played in just 29 games his first season in Philadelphia and was a shadow of his former self this past season.  This is clearly not what the Sixers were expecting and the contract has hurt the Sixers’ ability to make moves in the future as Brand is owed $51 million over the next 3 seasons.

In an effort to shed some salary, but I also think make the team better, the Sixers traded Samuel Dalembert to the Kings for Andres Nocioni and Spencer Hawes.  The trade gives the Sixers a good forward to come off the bench in Nocioni and replaces Dalembert with Hawes.  The Sixers give up something on the defensive end with this switch, but Hawes is younger, cheaper and has room the develop.  Besides, Dalambert was unhappy in Philly.  Who really wants an unhappy player on the team anyway?  The problem with this trade is that it gives the Sixers another small forward.  They already have two starting quality small forwards in Andre Ig0udala and Thaddeus Young.  I know that Iguodala plays shooting guard for the Sixers, but his best position is SF.  The Sixers lack a starting quality center and power forward for that matter (unless Brand has a bounce back season).  I like Jrue Holiday at the point.  If the season were to start right now the Sixers starting line-up would probably look like this:

PG – Holiday
SG – Iguodala
SF – Young
PF – Marreese Speights/Brand (Brand gets the nod if healthy)
C – Hawes

They would have Lou Williams, Nocioni, and Jason Smith and assorted other players on the bench.  This line-up isn’t bad, but it certainly isn’t good.

I believe the Sixers have a chance to make an impact with this draft.  I know that a lot of people think the Sixers should draft for need, but I think the Sixers need to take the best available player with the #2 pick.  I know this analogy crosses sports, but the Vikings took the best available player on the board when they drafted Adrian Peterson and I think they are happy with that decision.  Unless you are a playoff team already, I think you have to take the best player on the board over drafting for a specific need.  Clearly, if you have the #2 pick you don’t exactly have and amazing team, how can it hurt to pick the best player?  Finally, after nearly 700 words, I get to who I think the Sixers should draft: Evan Turner.

Evan Turner is, after John Wall, the best player in the draft.  He is long, athletic, can play both guard positions and a good defender.  Chad Ford of ESPN says that this pick is a near lock after some of the other prospects (Derrick Favors, DeMarcus Cousins) the Sixers were looking at failed to impress in workouts.  If the Sixers draft Turner, I could see them trying to move a player to make room in a crowded backcourt/small forward rotation.  I think the gutsy move would be to trade Iguodala.  He clearly cannot carry the team.  The Sixers could get back a some decent players and maybe some picks in exchange to Iggy.  I know that it is tough to trade away the guy you started to build a team around, but clearly Iggy is more Scottie Pippen than Michael Jordan.  This would allow the Sixers to start Holiday at PG, Turner at SG, and Young at SF.  They would still have some decent options off the bench and whomever they received in return for Iggy. However, instead of trading somebody, I think the Sixers will slot Turner in a PG and use Holiday as a sparkplug off the bench.  I could also see the Sixers look for another trade (perhaps to unload Brand’s contract if anyone will take it).

If the Sixers don’t draft Turner, a player that will bring immediate help to the team and provide a star for the future, they will regret their decision.  Clearly Brand and even Iguodala are not the future of the franchise and the Sixers have lacked an identity since Allen Iverson was traded.  Evan Turner can provide that identity and make the team better, what’s not to love?

One Game Changes Everything…

That’s the slogan that ESPN has been using to promote the World Cup and it couldn’t have been more true today.  The United States may have finally staked a claim to being a soccer nation with a dramatic victory over Algeria.  The game was easily one of the most exciting and tense soccer matches I have ever watched.  I watched the game via ESPN3 in my office with no sound, but the game still held an incredible amount of emotion.  I had a knot in my stomach for most of the game, especially after England scored against Slovenia.  The US waited until the last possible moment to score the winner.  When Landon Donovan pounced on the loose ball in the box and drove it into the net, I jumped out of my chair and ran around the office.  As one of my friends tweeted, “Quick. Someone tell me again what a boring-ass, low-scoring, good-for-nothing sport that soccer is.”  He couldn’t be more correct.

The win secured the Americans’ place in the round of 16 and top spot in Group C.  With their victory, and England’s 1-0 victory over Slovenia both pre-Cup favorites advanced, though both had a bit more trouble than most people would have guessed.  Based on the reaction on Twitter to the Clint Dempsey’s disallowed goal and the response when Landon Donovan finally scored the game winner, America has gone soccer crazy.  Each game the US wins will only add to this phenomenon.

The US don’t know their round of 16 opponent yet, but they do know where and when they will play.  Their round of 16 match, against the 2nd place team in Group D, will be played at Rustenberg’s Royal Bafokeng Stadium at 2:30pm Eastern.  Royal Bafokeng Stadium has been kind to the US, it was the site of their 3-0 victory over Egypt in last year’s Confederations Cup and the site of their 1-1 draw with England on June 11.  Their opponent could be any team from the Group depending on how the games play out later this afternoon.  I think most US soccer fans would like to see Australia beat Serbia and Ghana beat Germany because that would set up a US-Australia game.  The US defeated Australia 3-1 in a friendly played on June 5 in South Africa and would likely prove an easier match than Ghana, Germany or Serbia.  Group D plays at 2:30 this afternoon and should provide some fun soccer, though nothing will top the US victory.  In parting, good luck Socceroos (who doesn’t love Australia’s team nickname), hope to see you in Rustenberg on Saturday.

USA! USA! USA!

US and the Game of Destiny

Tomorrow (6/23), the United States Men’s National Team faces a must win game.  Sure they’ve been in this situation before (the Confederations Cup last year in South Africa, in previous World Cups) but this game seems far more important.  With this World Cup causing unprecedented buzz in the US, a win is imperative.  If the US is bounced at the group stage again, I would be willing to bet that interest in the tournament will flag.  If the US wins and can make a run to even the quarterfinals, this World Cup could help turn the US into a soccer nation.

While most American fans, – hardcore or casual – know that winning the tournament might be a bridge to far, getting out of the group stage is certainly within the team’s grasp.  A win over Algeria (ranked 16 places lower than the US) is manageable.  If the US can win the game and England beats Slovenia (with a margin that is equal to or lesser than the US’s victory margin), the US would secure top spot in the group.  This could allow them to avoid a potential round of 16 match against Germany (assuming Germany defeats Ghana tomorrow).  Any of the other potential opponents (Serbia, Ghana or Australia) don’t seem nearly as scary.

The Desert Foxes have acquitted themselves nicely thus far, losing to Slovenia by a goal and drawing against England.  Many of Algeria’s players were born in France and several play in top leagues in Europe.  Nadir Belhadj, who plays his club soccer for Portsmouth, might be the most well known player for Les Fennecs.  The US will also needs to keep tabs on Karim Ziani of Wolfsburg in Germany, and Abdelkader Ghezzal of Siena in Italy. If the US is going to win the game, they will need to break down a stingy Algerian defense.  Algeria has something to play for in this game (they can advance with a win and a Slovenia win) and will not role over.  A slow start like they had against both England and Slovenia cannot happen again.  The US needs to play with the same urgency they played with during the second half of the Slovenia game.  The US will need to create space for runs off the ball through the packed Algerian midfield and defense (they are likely to start 5 in the midfield).  The US will also need to keep mental lapses and defensive breakdowns to a minimum.

With Robbie Findley suspended due to yellow card accumulation, I’d like to see the US start this line-up against Algeria:

Altidore—–Demspey

Donovan—–Bradley—–Edu—–Holden

Bocanegra—–Onyewu—–DeMerit—–Cherundolo

Howard

This is similar to the line-up that finished the game against Slovenia, with Holden replacing Benny Feilhaber (though I couldn’t argue with Feilhaber starting at RM), Edu slotting into midfield instead of his temporary CB position (he moved there when Herculez Gomez was brought on in the 80th minute), and a return to the starting defensive alignment.  I think this line-up provides the most creativity and uses Dempsey’s talent for goal scoring most effectively.  I really feel that Edu is the best option to start next to Bradley, he plays box-to-box and obviously has a nose for goal.  Jose Torres didn’t look like he was ready for primetime in the Slovenia game and Rico Clark had too many defensive lapses in the England game.  All that being said, I think that Bradley will go with the line-up that started against England (Clark in midfield next to Bradley), with Gomez swapped in for Findley.

By noon tomorrow we will know if the US has taken care of business and later in the day we will find out their potential opponent in the round of 16.  Tomorrow should (hopefully) be a fun day for US soccer fans.

UPDATE: Bradley has decided to change things up a bit.  Onyewu is out, with Bocanegra slotting in at CB.  Jonathan Bornstein will start at LB.  Gomez is the starter opposite Altidore and Edu is the starter in midfield next to Michael Bradley (I like the Edu move, and I can’t argue with Gomez, who was top scorer in the Mexican league this past season, starting).  I am a tad worried about the choice of Bornstein.  Bradley has a mancrush on Bornstein, consistently playing him despite poor showings for the national team.  If Bradley felt the need to replace Onyewu, who hasn’t played to his potential after a long injury layoff, I would have been more confident in Jonathan Spector starting at LB.  While Spector was less than stellar in the lead up to the World Cup, he starts for an EPL team and was very good during qualifying.

France’s Flame Out and Other Musings

Siphiwe Tshabalala (L) has been South Africa's danger man

Wow!  Just wow!  When France goes down, they do it with panache.  Their 2010 World Cup campaign is eerily similar to their 2002 flame out.   During that World Cup. France lost to an African team (Senegal), drew with Uruguay and lost to Denmark.  The only wrinkle this time is instead of losing to a European team, they lost to a North American team.  Unfortunately for the continent of Africa and the host nation, South Africa was not able to duplicate Senegal’s improbable qualification for the knockout round.  On their way to a 2-1 loss, Sidney Govou, Florent Malouda, Patrice Evra and Eric Abidal were all dropped from the starting line-up.  This sends a signal that these players must have been the main troublemakers in the French camp.   Raymond Domenech continued with his odd line-up choices starting Djibril Cisse over Thierry Henry (if you happen to click the link and look at Henry’s bio, he looks a bit forlorn in the picture, perhaps he knew what was coming for France).  I understand that Henry is getting a little old in terms of international soccer (he’s 32), but doesn’t he present a better option up top than Djibril Cisse?  It will be interesting to see how France rebounds under the leadership of Laurent Blanc with Euro 2012 qualifying starting in September.

In other news from the France-South Africa game – Siphiwe Tshabalala, who plays in South Africa with Kaizer Chiefs, had another great game.  He assisted on South Africa’s first goal with a great corner and was consistently dangerous from his midfield spot.  Steven Pienaar received most of the attention in the lead up to the World Cup, and rightfully so.  Pienaar plays for Everton in the EPL (4 goals and 3 assists this past season) and was much more of a known commodity.   Tshabalala (who has my favorite name at the World Cup) was a relative unknown outside of South Africa.  After his performance a European team will come calling for his services.  He was South Africa’s most dangerous player all tournament and ultimately the star of the tournament for Bafana Bafana.  It’s a shame that South Africa didn’t advance from their group, becoming the first host country ever to not advance.

As of now, we know that Mexico and Uruguay have advanced.  Uruguay finished first in group A and will likely avoid a round of 16 match with Argentina.  Mexico will likely play Argentina, who should finish atop group B.  This would be the 2nd consecutive World Cup that Argentina and Mexico have met in the round of 16.  The next set of matches starts soon, off to enjoy more soccer.

World Cup Scenarios

For those of you wondering who will advance in the World Cup, look no further.  The good folks over at ESPN have posted all of the convoluted scenarios in one easy space.  As it stand, only Cameroon and North Korea have been definitively eliminated.  Some teams, like Ivory Coast are all but eliminated.  I just don’t see how they would be able to make up a goal difference of 9 goals (Portugal stands at +7, Ivory Coast at -2).  This would take an immense win by Ivory Coast and a huge loss by Portugal.  Both are possible, but to make up 9 goals seems unlikely to happen.

The most disconcerting bit of news is this: If the U.S. draws with Algeria and England draws with Slovenia, and England scores exactly two more goals than the U.S., the U.S. and England would be even on all tiebreakers for second place. The tie would be broken by drawing lots … aka, a coin flip.  Really!?  FIFA is going to decide who advances with a coin flip?  There isn’t some other tie-breaker they could use?  Couldn’t they use the extra tiebreakers that the Asian Champions’ League uses (fair play points (score based on number of cards earned, lower is better or PKs if the two teams that would be tied are playing against each other.) ?  Don’t those two choices make slightly more sense, as they are actually based on the games that were played?  Are you kidding me?  (For confirmation of this seemingly idiotic method of determining who advances see page 20.)

For further explanation of how various leagues/organizations break ties see this post by The Offside.

2.43 ERA and an 8-6 Record

Yes, those stats are correct.  Roy Halladay has compiled a 2.43 ERA and still his record is 8-6.  How is this possible?  The Phillies almost seem to relax, offensively and defensively (they have committed some atrocious errors behind Halladay), when Halladay pitches and it is coming back to bite them.  An interesting stat, via an ESPN text message, is that the Phillies have scored 9 runs in Halladay’s 6 loses.  That is a measly  1.5 runs per game.  Even for an offense that has been sputtering for the better part of a month, 1.5 runs per game is ludicrous.  The MLB average is 4.48 runs per game according to Baseball-Reference.com.  So the Phillies are scoring roughly 3 runs per game fewer than the league average.  For the season, even after the poor performance over the last month, the Phillies average 4.65 runs per game, slightly higher than the league average.  Halladay is receiving a total of 4 runs per game in run support, over half a run fewer than the Phillies’ average.  That number is skewed by a couple of really big wins by the Phillies in Halladay’s first 7 starts.  The Phillies have scored 11, 10, 8 and 7 runs for Doc, but every other game (10 in total) they have failed to score more than 4 runs.

Halladay has been as advertised this season, giving the Phillies quality starts almost every time he takes the mound.  When the Phillies traded for him, I thought this would be a perfect match.  Halladay dominating on the mound, backed up by an offense that was 4th in the majors last year in runs per game.  Instead, the Phillies offense has been lost,  especially so when Halladay takes the mound.  It’s a shame to see a pitcher put up such good numbers and continually lose games.  Here’s hoping the Phillies can figure out what the problem is and give Halladay the run support he deserves.