USA-Mexico Rosters Announced

USA head coach Bob Bradley announced his traveling party to the Azteca this afternoon. No real surprises at all, possibly other than Brian Ching and Conor Casey both being on it. That’s interesting as those two seem like pretty similar players- hold-up/work-rate forwards in the vein of Emile Heskey. Since only 18 of the 20 players called up can be on the game-day roster, one of those two will likely be dropped. Otherwise, it’s the A-team, with Chad Marshall and Stuart Holden added on the strength of their performances in the recent Gold Cup.

ESPN and Ives Galarcep give their thoughts here and here. I like Ives’ lineup suggestion, but I think Bob Bradley will probably start Jozy Altidore over Charlie Davies, assuming Ching is a near lock in order to win balls near the goal. Altidore has been starting for a while, so that’s one of the main reasons for this opinion. Also, I think Steve Cherundolo may start over Jonathan Spector if he’s fully fit. Veteran over youth in a cauldron-like environment.

Mexico’s team was revealed last week. The big surprise is no Pavel Pardo, whom Mexico coach Javier Aguirre apparently doesn’t rate at this level. Also, captain Rafael Marquez is injured and will definitely miss the game. Of course, that also means he won’t get himself sent off as he did in the reverse qualifier back in February with a petulant kick at Tim Howard. But ageless veteran Cuauhtemoc Blanco does get the call. It’s certainly a team that can score goals. Where they seem to be vulnerable against the U.S. is on set pieces (free kicks and corners), so watch out for that during the game.

So, can this be the first American team, and only the second overall, to win at the Azteca come Wednesday afternoon? My honest guess is no, but stay tuned. Mexico just has to win this game to feel comfortable about their chances of getting to South Africa for the World Cup via an automatic qualifying spot (CONCACAF’s top-3 make it, fourth place has to win a two-leg playoff against South America’s fifth place team), while the U.S. should pretty much book their ticket by winning their two remaining home games. Plus, if they don’t, the crowd and media down there are known to put big-time heat on the Mexican players and coaching staff after any poor performance. Against their biggest rivals? Dial it up times 100.


USA-Brazil First Half Blog

The FIFA Confederations Cup Final is today, and after several days of hype across the nation, the U.S. gets a rematch with Brazil and the chance to show that beating Spain wasn’t a fluke. It won’t make America a favorite for next year’s World Cup, but it would likely give the players loads of confidence to carry over the next 12 months, and make other countries pause before playing us.

2:08- U.S. players have said in the build-up that all the pressure will be on Brazil. To a certain degree, they are right, Brazil rightly should be considered the favorites to win. Nonetheless, I can’t believe they will take the U.S. quite as lightly as Spain did, even knowing how easily they won the group stage meeting.

2:17- Team sheets in, courtesy of the BBC and their always entertaining live text. But don’t stay there the whole time! Pretty please?

USA- Tim Howard (GK)
D- Jonathan Spector, Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra
M- Clint Dempsey, Ricardo Clark, Benny Feilhaber, Landon Donovan
F- Charlie Davies, Jozy Altidore

So, 4-4-2 again from Bob Bradley, with Davies and Altidore paired up front. Feilhaber, a native of Brazil, replaces the suspended Michael Bradley.

Brazil- Julio Cesar (GK)
D- Maicon, Lucio, Luisao, Andre Santos
M- Ramires, Felipe Melo, Gilberto Silva, Kaka
F- Luis Fabiano, Robinho (who will probably be in more of a supporting role)

2:20- By the way, shocking news today as noted product pitchman Billy Mays died this morning in Florida. First, Farrah Fawcett, then Michael Jackson, now Billy Mays?

2:21- Teams come out onto the field with the trophy right in front of them. Dignitaries and national anthems to follow. South African president Jacob Zuma is among those greeting the players.

2:25- Beautiful recordings of the anthems, and it’s almost time to get going!

2:27- FIFA’s world feed graphic suggests Altidore will play in support of Davies at the start, just as Brazil will lineup Robinho a bit off of Luis Fabiano.

2:29- Moment of silence for Marc-Vivien Foe, who tragically died during the 2003 Confederations Cup. His son comes onto the field to speak. Very classy of FIFA.

1st Minute- Here we go!

3rd Minute- Vuvuzelas (horns) blaring as loud as ever in Johannesburg’s Ellis Park. Both teams feeling each other out, but Dempsey does take a shot from distance. A few yards wide.

6th Minute- Onyewu knocks the ball away from Kaka. Off the resulting throw-in, a defender sweeps it behind for a corner. Altidore heads Maicon’s service away but it eventually comes back to Maicon. His third try finally is deflected for another corner.

7th Minute- Kaka is at the near post but heads Robinho’s corner out of play.

9th Minute- Luis Fabiano gets a little bit of space but his shot is well over the crossbar.

10th Minute- GOAL, and it’s Clint Dempsey for the third straight match. Spector crosses from distance and Dempsey hits a half-volley into the ground but it takes a friendly hop and bounds past Julio Cesar’s dive. 1-0 U.S. Another shocker?

12th Minute- This is the first time Brazil has trailed in the tournament. Surely they will respond fiercely at some point, but when?

13th Minute- Quickly, in fact. Robinho cuts in and shoots. Howard knocks it away for a corner. Not too difficult a save though for someone like him. Brazil loses the ball off the corner and Donovan sends it to Davies who streaks up the field. Two Brazilian defenders finally clear it out for a U.S. corner near the edge of the box.

15th Minute- Header deflected for another U.S. corner. This time, Onyewu heads it down but neither he nor Dempsey can get a shot on target.

16th Minute- Ricardo Clark blocks an effort from Kaka and Spector clears. Well done defensively.

18th Minute- Donovan fires in a free-kick. Lucio couldn’t clear it, but a teammate eventually does. Brazil breaks out, and Bocanegra is the first player booked after grabbing hold of Kaka.

22nd Minute- Robinho crosses into the box but it’s headed away.

23rd Minute- A couple of nice tackles by Feilhaber to slow down Brazil. Robinho and Kaka then try a give and go which doesn’t fool either defender whom they took on.

24th Minute- Good idea from Felipe Melo. He gets the ball in midfield and tries to find Robinho on the wing. Hits it too hard though.

25th Minute- Hard low shot from Melo is saved by Howard. Smart, as the defenders were sticking to Robinho and Luis Fabiano like glue. Melo is then booked for protesting about an offside decision.

27th Minute- GOAL, what a 2-on-1 break out by the U.S. They break up a corner, Brazil turns it over, and then Davies feeds for Landon Donovan, who takes one-touch, turns Ramires, and fires to Julio Cesar’s lower-left. No chance of stopping it, and it’s 2-0 U.S. Unbelievable.

30th Minute- Andre Santos couldn’t handle a lateral pass, and it’s a U.S. throw-in. Cross whipped in and it narrowly missed Dempsey, a forward, and Julio Cesar. Wow, Brazil has as much talent as anyone in the world, but they look on edge right now.

32nd Minute- Kaka tries to build some play after a teammate clears the ball from a minor U.S. surge to the box. He eventually gets it again, plays give and go with Andre Santos, passes to Robinho, whose pass is half-cleared by Dempsey. Donovan then finishes the job and wins a throw-in to boot after it deflects off a Brazilian body.

35th Minute- Best chance for Brazil so far. Robinho makes a perfect pass to Andre Santos, whose shot from point-blank range is stopped by Howard at the near post. Robinho’s subsequent corner goes right to Luis Fabiano, but he heads over the bar.

37th Minute- Altidore breaks away from Andre Santos near the box. The Brazilian fullback has to foul him, and it results in a booking. Not to mention a free kick for Donovan. It’s cleared away firmly by Gilberto Silva.

38th Minute- Free kick opportunity for Brazil. 30 meters from goal and Felipe Melo passes to Maicon. His service into the box is tipped away by Onyewu and Davies clears to midfield.

42nd Minute- Howard gets his fingertip to a Robinho shot. Nice job getting Spector to give him some space for the shot. Subsequent corner is basically wasted.

43rd Minute- Maicon tries to catch Tim Howard napping, but his shot is just wide of the post.

45th Minute- Felipe Melo shoots from distance, which is deflected wide for a corner. This leads to a header straight into the air, which Howard catches. One minute of stoppage time. Bocanegra just deflects a cross from Maicon that was just begging to be slammed home.

Half-time– Brazil actually had more of the possession, but few quality scoring chances. The U.S. defended Kaka and Robinho extremely well, and they will have to do it again in the second half if they want to hold on. But they do have a two goal lead. Who’d have thunk it?

USA vs. Brazil Second Half

11:01- Landon Donovan moves to the wing. Conor Casey on for Beasley. Game restarts.

11:04- Best chance from the U.S. so far. Good interplay between Casey and Jozy Altidore leads to a shot which Altidore blazes over. Bornstein then tries to whip in a ball but doesn’t connect.

11:09- Nice passing from Brazil gives Robinho a scoring chance. He tries to lob Tim Howard, which probably wasn’t the best idea- Howard is definitely a good athlete and easily catches the effort.

11:11- Kaka makes space and fires a stinging volley from the edge of the box, but Howard palms it away. Sacha Kljestan takes down Ramires with a late challenge on the ankle after losing the ball and Dunga is fuming.

11:15- Red Card. Massimo Busacca thinks about Kljestan’s challenge for a bit, and decides that the U.S. midfielder has to go. Bad challenge to be sure, and another red for the Americans after Ricardo Clark was dismissed against Italy- this sending-off was hardly debatable, unlike Clark’s. Once again down to 10 players on the field. Benny Feilhaber, a native of Brazil, is getting ready for a possible appearance. Kaka shouts for a penalty after he goes down, but nothing given.

11:17- Feilhaber on for Altidore. Some American fans may not like this, but the one forward set-up has worked for the U.S. in the past. Either Feilhaber or Bradley could link to Casey up-front, as can Donovan or Dempsey.

11:20- Goal for Brazil. Maicon storms in to the box and scores from a tight angle, which undoubtedly will irk Tim Howard a bit. 3-0 and how many could it be for Brazil with 25 minutes still to play?

11:26- Kaka leaves to a standing ovation, replaced by Julio “The Beast” Baptista. Luis Fabiano goes as well, with Nilmar coming on. Not exactly calling off the dogs- Brazil’s team is usually far too deep for that. Decent free-kick from Donovan narrowly misses Bradley and Dempsey, who were ready to pounce. Brazil ends up making their final change now too, as Luisao replaces Lucio.

11:31- Game starting to peter out with 15 minutes left.

11:38- U.S. nearly scores, but Spector hits the underside of the bar. No protests from the Yanks. Baptista leads a counterattack and his shot is saved by Howard.

11:41- Bradley blocks a Robinho cross.

11:45- A few final thrusts from Brazil, but the U.S. defenders keep them at bay. Three minutes to be added on.

11:49- One last free-kick for Dempsey. He blazes it over the bar. That should do it.

11:50- Full-time. Brazil gets to six points with a 3-0 win, and is definitely in the semis. A win over Italy in the group finale would guarantee them first place in the group. A draw or win for Italy in today’s late game against Egypt would officially eliminate the U.S.; a win would also knock out Egypt.

11:52- Not the worst American performance we’ve ever seen, but arguably a step down from how they played Brazil, especially in the first-half, where they could’ve been 3 or 4 down before the break. That will undoubtedly alarm Bob Bradley, who knows his team should ultimately make it to the World Cup, but really has to step it up (or pray for a lucky group stage draw) if they are going to make any noise.

11:55- That’s it for this morning. If time allows, some deeper reactions on this one later.

U.S.A.-Trinidad & Tobago Instant Reaction

Photo Source: U.S. Soccer/isiphotos
A 3-0 butt-kicking by the Americans in Nashville, headlined by that man, Jozy Altidore. Given a start after a strong appearance off the substitutes bench against El Salvador, he bagged a hat trick this time (and he’s the youngest USMNT’er to get one). Landon Donovan assisted on all three goals (extending his national team record in that category), and it wasn’t just the two of them who destroyed the Soca Warriors’ defense. Others like DaMarcus Beasley and Brian Ching were good, and this game could easily have been 4 or 5-0. Frankly, T&T knew it was lucky to be down only 1-0 at halftime. But they really didn’t improve in the second half, and the U.S. finally got its deserved second and third goals to make sure of victory and a continued hold on first place in the group heading into June’s pair of qualifiers.

The result wasn’t a huge surprise, given that the U.S. beat T&T 3-0 in Denver last year during the previous phase of World Cup qualifying, and that the Soca Warriors were missing several players, most notably suspended leader Dwight Yorke. Of course, most of us thought the U.S. would win comfortably in El Salvador last Saturday because even though road games in CONCACAF can be really tough (lots of noisy and tightly-packed stadiums, some of them with poorly conditioned fields), America certainly has the most talent in the region(at the very least they’re Mexico’s equal). That they had to fight desperately for a 2-2 tie just goes to show how unpredictable international soccer can be “on the day.” Tonight, full credit should go to the U.S. team and coaching staff, which came out with several lineup changes, altered tactics and on-field attitude, and put together they nailed it.

Costa Rica (away) and Honduras (in Chicago) are the two chores facing the U.S. in June before it plays in the Confederations Cup (in a “Group of Death” against Brazil, Italy, and Egypt), and then the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Even four points from those games should put them really close to wrapping up a top-3 finish in the group and the accompanying World Cup ticket.

Other Way Around

North Carolina didn’t completely hold down Willie Warren, as the previous entry suggested would be important. They did virtually silence Tony Crocker and nobody else could buy a basket. Ergo, game, set, and match.

Didn’t see the other game as I was at a party for my parents’ 25th anniversary. It actually falls on April 1st, and that’s no lie– although we’ll have to see whether the same can be said for the conficker virus. Things went pretty well, the food was good, and just as planned, we surprised them with my brother coming over from college in the midwest. But when I found at what Michigan State did to Louisville, all I could say is whoa. Good defensive team? Yes, like a few others in the Big Ten this season? Hold the Cardinals to 52 points and win by double digits? Maybe five people saw that one coming.

So now we get a killer Final Four. Michigan State and UConn, two teams that have played each other twice before in their histories. They split those meetings, and went on to win the national title in the same seasons. This time, the winner obviously gets to play for it on Monday. Beyond the aforementioned display against Louisville, Michigan State is a team nobody wanted in Detroit simply because in addition to the playoffs, the Huskies will face maybe 50,000 Spartan fans. Don’t be fooled by the limited ticket distribution (plus those given to students). The likes of StubHub will make it a very unpleasant environment for UConn. On the 30th anniversary of Magic and Co. In a city/state badly damaged by the Big Three’s uselessness and desperate for something good (besides the Wings, whose success is practically expected).

Source: Deseret News

North Carolina gets Villanova, and while they’re a better all-around team, they might have a tough time with the Wildcats D, Desire, and Determination. The bookies still apparently love the Tar Heels, and I do have them winning in my Beer Lodge bracket, but I think 10-11 odds are a little too overwhelming for a team that’s definitely human. Speaking of that bracket, I could possibly still move up from 4th into the top-3, but not sure about winning (even though I’m a point behind) because I only have Villanova and UNC left in play. Facebook bracket percentile is still nice, but probably even less potential to move up…

I’ll give my thoughts on the games later this week, but for now, some external previews. ESPN has thumbnails for each team if you subscribe to Insider, while Andy Katz has a longer preview for everyone. Dan Wetzel focuses on the very different angles each team has going into the weekend.

Saw most of the U.S.A.’s draw against El Salvador. Ugly first hour, nice comeback to save a point led by Frankie Hejduk and Jozy Altidore, and it could’ve been all three but for a goal-line clearance on Brian Ching’s late bicycle kick. Hejduk might be getting better with age, and he says going surfing has a lot to do with it. Altidore, of course, is probably America’s bright hope for the future, though he needs to get some more playing time at club level before he can expect to start, much less live up to the hype on a consistent basis.

Frankie Hejduk heading home the equalizer.

Frankie Hejduk heading home the equalizer.

Thanks to for the picture.

Oh, and as noted in the Tribune article and a press release, Henry Kissinger is now helping to lobby for the 2018 or 2022 World Cup to be held in America. I’d love to see us host it, not least because we might be ready to win by then!

This image was found on the U.S. Soccer Federation website.

The U.S. plays Trinidad & Tobago next in Nashville on Wednesday, and I’d expect an American win from this one.