Lukaku is GONE: Reaction

Note: I’ll have a more “proper” post tomorrow, on MLS no less, but for now I need to write about Lukaku, because THIS IS STUPID!!! In case you haven’t seen my “about” page, I’m a Chelsea fan. That is important context.

Jose Mourinho is a great manager. Let me preface with that qualifier. He does lots of things really well, and he’s very entertaining. Some people find him annoying, but to me, any league that he is managing in is automatically 25% more fun, and no other manager does that (Ferguson was maybe 10%, and he’s probably second. Van Gaal is probably around that territory, too; he seems endearingly grumpy. Throw in Klopp and Rodgers, as well. But none of them approach the Special One).

Mourinho is great, BUT SELLING LUKAKU IS STUPID!!!!! TOO STUPID FOR ME TO HIT THE “ITALICS” BUTTON, SO I INSTEAD DO ALL CAPS, WHICH MAKES ME LOOK UNCIVILISED; AND I’M PROBABLY MISSPELLING WORDS BECAUSE SPELLCHECK DOESN’T WORK UP HERE BECAUSE THEY THINK I MIGHT BE DOING ACRONYMS!!!!!

Anyway, I’m not sure if Mourinho is even the one to blame. I haven’t gathered much real information because I’M ANGRY!!!!

The point is this: Romelu Lukaku is 21 years old. He has already scored 32 Premier League goals. When Didier Drogba, one of Chelsea’s best ever who was recently re-signed to the club, was 21, he was playing in the French second division. THE FRENCH SECOND DIVISION!!! This means that Lukaku has the potential to be better than Drogba!

But he won’t do it for Chelsea. In case you haven’t gathered, Lukaku was PERMANENTLY transferred to Everton today. He will continue to do good for them (he was on loan at the Liverpool-based side last season), and eventually get bought by Manchester City, and win the title with them over Chelsea, who have Diego “I like to start fights and go down with no contact” Costa, Fernando “I used to be really good but now I’m totally not” Torres, and Patrick “I was never really good and I probably never will be because that’s not how the world works” Bamford.

Lukaku isn’t just a player for the future. No, he’s already very good. I think that he’s the best player off the bench in the world. He’s a world class super-sub. With Diego Costa being the starter, what would Lukaku’s role be, for at least this season? SUPER-SUB!!!! That isn’t to say that he wouldn’t have started, but he would’ve played most games for only the last 20 minutes.

There has been lots of talk about Lukaku having “attitude problems.” I think it’s mainly lies, because the media wants to take the top players away from big, bad Chelsea and send them to plucky little good guys, Everton.

But I think that Lukaku does want to start. Can you blame him? Is there anything wrong with wanting to start? Him trying to force a move away doesn’t mean that he hates Chelsea or that he wants to insult the club, just that he wants to play.

Why couldn’t they at least send him on loan? As I said, I think that having him as a super-sub would be great, but why not at least have him on loan again so they don’t lose him forever? I know that that wouldn’t work because his contract was coming up next year, but why couldn’t they extend his contract? Even if they overpay him, I think he’s worth it. Selling him just seems stupid. As I alluded to earlier, he’s the best young striker in the world.

Who should I blame?

-Lukaku, for not being willing to have a little time on the bench and learn under his alleged idol, Drogba?

-Mourinho, for not being willing to compromise and keep him around?

-Chelsea owner Roman Abromovich, for paying Torres so much that he’s unsellable?

-Everton manager Roberto Martinez, for being such a warm and friendly person that it’s impossible to not want to play for him?

I really have no idea. Looking at it, I’m not sure if I should blame any of these people. It’s just one of those things that happen, I guess. AND IT’S STUPID!!!!!

Soccer is like life in many ways. In life, feelings happen. In soccer, feelings happen. Feelings just happened all over your computer screen.

I’m not sure what to say right now. This is the part in the phone call when you want to hang up, but you aren’t sure 1) if there wasn’t something else to say or 2) what the proper way to hang up even is. It’s made even more awkward by the fact that this isn’t a phone call, and is instead some guy making a blog very few people read.

I’ll go play silly computer games or something like that, and maybe later I’ll finish my MLS post. Good night, everyone.

As It Happened: World Cup Final: Germany vs. Argentina

First of all, I want to say that I’m sorry for not doing anything at all for the last 36 years (rough estimate). I really try to do more, but it’s not as easy as it looks, especially for me.

Second of all, I want to apologize for apologizing at the beginning of almost every one of these. It’s annoying, so I’ll give the stock explanation right now, and hope that you remember this for later: I’m not a professional journalist. I’m an amateur writer (not even really a “sports writer,” just a “writer”) and soccer fan, who likes to analyze soccer and put the best of his analysis on his blog. Sometimes I pretend I’m a journalist, intentionally or more likely unintentionally, but I am not a journalist. I’m supplemental. I’m here to give an extra opinion after you’ve already read/watched/heard the opinions of people who get paid to do this.

Also, this is all free of charge to everyone. You aren’t paying any money to see this (you never will have to), and I’m not receiving any money to make this (as of yet). If you’ve came in with expectations of a long article a day, that’s (switch to Jürgen Klinsmann voice) unrealistic. I’m not at that next level. It’s a working progress.

(Switch back to American voice.)

IT’S THE WORLD CUP FINAL!!! So I kind of have to do something. Despite the combination of my laziness and the fact that I have a violent case of writer’s block, the World Cup Final is a special occasion. Not only will I do an “As It Happened” for this, but I’ll do one for the Seattle-Portland game later today (10 eastern, on ESPN2 nationally here in the US). Oh, and shortly I’m going to do a good bit of “World Cup Review” stuff, plus I will begin my weekly MLS article, and my European previews won’t be long as well, plus I will have some special features as well that will be good to see. That’s a lot of stuff.

 

Enough talk. Let’s do this!

The Argentine national anthem may or may not have words. Earlier they made a list of the 4 countries that have national anthems without lyrics, and Argentina wasn’t on the list. The point is, they never sing the words. The Argentine fans just say “oooo” as if about to engage in Mexican profanity, except they’re doing it to the music, and they’re about to engage in a World Cup final. This might just be me, but it just seems like a scenario to slip away into a daydream. I wonder what Messi is daydreaming about.

1’ – The game has begun.

4’ – Free kick for Germany. Half the German population gathers around the free kick. They do their prepared routine, and it doesn’t really work out. Argentina send a shot narrowly wide on the counter-attack.

7’ – Germany seem to clearly be the better team, but that means little in this sport. Especially when the weaker team has Messi.

9’ – Argentina seem to be fine letting Germany pass around, and then pressuring in the final third, and then going on the counter-attack, as they did just then. Messi made Hummels look as slow as me, but Germany defend as a team; Schweinsteiger with the clearance.

16’ – The Argentines have identified that Germany’s left side is their weakness. Their left-midfielder is Mesut Özil, who isn’t quite fond of defending, while their left-back is Benedikt Höwedes, who is out of position; he’s really a center-back.

18’ – Cristoph Kramer, who came on as an injury replacement himself for Sami Khedira, just went down with a head injury. They will obviously disregard things like “player safety” and bring him back on, because FIFA.

21’ – That is a horrific defensive header by Toni Kroos, Higuaín ALL ALONE!!! WHAT A MISS!!!!! He was one-on-one with the goalkeeper! This proves that even the best miss sometimes, people-who-have-overly-criticized-Chris-Wondolowski.

29’ – Yellow card for Bastian Schweinsteiger. He took down Lavezzi. This means that he’ll have to be careful, which is worrying considering that as a defensive midfielder he patrols a well-trafficked area.

30’ – Messi, to Lavezzi out wide in space, TO HIGUAÍN, GOOOAAALLL!!! NO! Gonzalo Higuaín makes the perfect finish, but he’s unnecessarily offside! Still scoreless in Rio.

31’ – Kramer is coming off with that head injury. They should’ve never let him back on.

33’ – Höwedes yellow. That might should’ve been a red!

36’ – Messi with the ball, and he tries to thread it through for Higuaín in space, but Schweinsteiger with the clearance!

37’ – Schürrle with the shot, incredible save from Sergio Romero!

40’ – Messi goes forward and Argentina almost score, but Jerome Boateng clears the ball away. Germany just stuffs the attack.

43’ – Nifty move by Özil to keep the ball and set up Toni Kroos, but Kroos sends the shot right to Romero.

45+2’ – Corner by Kroos, Höwedes GETS IT, G–NO?!? How does he miss that? It goes off the crossbar. He’ll be thinking about that at half-time.

45+2’ – End of the first half. That was a quality half. Both teams looked fairly close to scoring on multiple occasions. I have less idea of who will win, and I had no idea beforehand. I’m not sure how that’s possible; which is fitting, because this World Cup has been about impossible-type things.

46’ – The second half has begun! Argentina have added Sergio Aguero for Lavezzi. Aguero is great when healthy, although is he healthy? Either way, it’s an attacking sub and if it works it will open up space for Messi, and it will add another player near the goal for rebounds and crosses and such.

47’ – Messi with the ball! Shoots! Just wide!

50’ – Aguero heads it down for Higuaín, but the Napoli man couldn’t make good enough contact on the volley.

51’ – Jerome Boateng has done well. Huh, he’s in the World Cup final, doing great, while his brother Kevin-Prince, who chose to play for Ghana instead of Germany, got exiled by a team that finished last in their group.

56’ – Neuer comes in to punch the ball, and Higuaín, who comes to get the ball as well, gets knocked down in the process. I don’t think it’s a foul by either, but it’s certainly not a foul by Higuaín. They call it a foul by Higuaín. Now, Higuaín looks hurt. Oh, it’s another head injury. And of course they let him play on, because FIFA.

61’ – Someone is about to win the World Cup.

62’ – Ian Darke: “If you’ve been enjoying the World Cup, you’ll like MLS” unless you’re a shameless Eurosnob. MLS on DSE. If you’re American, read it, or I will eliminate your US citizenship.

62’ – Back to the game, a promising attack for Germany becomes nothing due to a somewhat poor choice of pass by Andre Schürrle.

65’ – I think that’s what you call a “forward’s tackle.” Yellow to Aguero.

70’ – Not sure what Höwedes was trying to do with that cross. Benedikt Höwedes: the German Space Program.

72’ – I’m sitting on my sofa, with my laptop literally on my lap. It almost fell down. That means someone is going to score in the next 5 minutes.

75’ – Nifty build-up play by Argentina and Messi. Messi couldn’t get the shot on target.

78’ – Rodrigo Palacio comes on for Higuaín. Apparently I was wrong about the “scoring in the next 5 minutes” thing.

80’ – Benedikt Höwedes can’t get the shot off in the box. He’s read the script; he knows that him scoring the winner wouldn’t be as good of a story. (This will look really stupid if Höwedes ends up scoring the winner…yeah, I think I’m willing to take that risk.)

86’ – Fernando Gago comes on for Perez. This is Argentina’s final sub.

88’ – Here comes Mario Götze for Miroslav Klose. The 36-year-old Klose has scored more goals in the World Cup than anyone else. This most likely marks the end of one of the best World Cup careers ever. Germany has one substitution left. Götze should be able to mix it up a bit as Die Mannschaft goes for the winner.

90’ – The board announces 3 minutes of added time. Either we go to extra time, or someone becomes a legend.

90+3’ – End of full time! 0-0! We go to extra time! 30 more minutes of the World Cup final! Will someone get the winner? Will we go to…penalties?

91’ – Well, that’s amazing how extra time started. Andre Schürrle almost scored! Nice save by Romero. They go on the counter, but Jerome Boateng stops the attack.

97’ – Palacio receives the ball with his chest, and attempts to chip it over Neuer, but it’s off target.

104’ – Javier Mascherano is indeed doing well in this World Cup.

105’ – Intermission. 15 minutes to make history. Or more, if it goes to…penalties.

106’ – Second period of extra time has started.

112’ – Aguero collides with Schweinsteiger, and Schweinsteiger begins to bleed. He’s back on now.

113’ – Schürrle, the cross, chest control by Mario Götze, SHOT, GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAALLLLL!!!!!!!!! MARIO GÖTZE, THE 22-YEAR-OLD SUBSTITUTE FROM BAYERN MUNICH, WITH THE BIGGEST GOAL OF HIS LIFE!!!!

116’ – That was a horrific pass by Biglia to Messi. It didn’t even stay in play. You can’t blame Argentina’s failure to win on Messi. He’s by far Argentina’s best midfielder and best forward, and he certainly can’t do both against Germany’s defense. Especially when his teammates are mostly terrible. Messi hasn’t been at Maradona-level this tournament, but his attacking teammates have been mediocre at best the entire tournament.

120+2’ – Messi taken down by Schweinsteiger. Free kick for Argentina. Messi to take it, it seems. He takes it, and misses. Not even Maradona can be expected to make a free kick from that range. Remember my picture earlier that depicted Messi’s teammates as 6-year-olds? That is so accurate.

120+4’ – The Germans want them to blow the whistle…THEY’VE BLOWN THE WHISTLE! GERMANY HAVE WON THE 2014 WORLD CUP!!!

 

More to come in the following days, here on Daniel’s Soccer Emporium.

Who Will Win the World Cup?

Note: click here for my informal USA-Belgium review.

Someone will win the World Cup. It’s a fact. Someone will have to win it. You probably knew that. But in case you didn’t, it’s a fact. Though the soccer-haters criticize the sport for being communist where there is almost never a winner and winning is punished by having to spend time cleaning bird waste off the statue of Karl Marx that sits outside Wembley Stadium, none of that is actually true. Soccer is a sport like any other (only better) and someone will lift the trophy in less than two weeks’ time.

Let’s analyze the eight countries still alive in the competition, and why they will or won’t win the World Cup:

Brazil

Why they will win: they’re at home…they have Neymar…they have some other fairly good players.

Why they won’t win: they’re not as good, talent-wise, as other teams…there’s too much pressure…they’re one-dimensional (it’s Neymar or Fred nothing).

Colombia

Why they will win: James…confidence…local fan support without nearly the pressure of Brazil and the like.

Why they won’t win: they play Brazil next…they lack quality outside of James and a few others…this is as far as the nation as ever gotten in a World Cup; they’re probably getting a nosebleed.

France

Why they will win: they’ve looked great in their games so far…they’ve made the final in every other World Cup for my entire life.

Why they won’t win: it’s in the Americas…they play Germany next…remember 2010?

Germany

Why they will win: they’re probably the best team in the world…they’re due winning something…Lahm was forced to play at full-back last game; move him to left-back and it’s a team with no weaknesses.

Why they won’t win: it’s in the Americas…after France they have Brazil or Colombia…someone will figure out that 4-3-3-0 at some point.

Netherlands

Why they will win: they have good players…Van Gaal is leaving, he wants to do good for them, they want to do good for him (Ray Lewis Effect).

Why they won’t win: they never do.

Costa Rica

Why they will win: they have momentum…they have no pressure whatsoever…CONCACAF goalkeepers have done great in this World Cup; Keylor Navas is the last one standing.

Why they won’t win: not enough talent to compete with the big boys; all of their wins have either came against a team lacking their best player, a team that just played in Manaus, or Greece.

Argentina

Why they will win: Messi…Messi…Messi.

Why they won’t win: very, very one-dimensional…no defense.

Belgium

Why they will win: loads of super-talented players who have never yet lost a World Cup game.

Why they won’t win: it’s in the Americas…very little World Cup experience.

 

I will genuinely be surprised to see anyone win this World Cup. I mean, I know that someone has to, but it seems so unlikely for any of these teams to win.

I mean, if Brazil wins it they’ll totally revise history and say “from start to finish we all knew they would win; they dominated; oh, how boring!” and if Germany wins they’ll say “yeah, we knew that they were the best. Brazil? Ha!” and if Argentina wins they’ll say “of course; the team with the best player wins, especially with that talent around him.” But we’ll know the truth. Don’t you all just love parity? MLS has more parity than any other sports league that I know of. And I’ll talk a lot about MLS here after the World Cup (actually, I might start on it next week).

Predictions for today:

France 0-2 Germany

Brazil 1-2 Colombia

 

Any thoughts? Questions? Requests? Threats? Predictions of your own? Respectfully add them in the comments below. Hopefully I’ll get back with a report tonight.

USA-Belgium Thoughts

Here is what I think about the loss of the United States to Belgium (I wrote this up shortly after the game, but a combination of me procrastinating and me preferring to listen to other people’s opinions and then form my own, it hasn’t gotten up until now):

-It was a good World Cup for the US. The team just doesn’t yet have the talented players that many other countries have, and those countries more talented than the US include Germany, Portugal, Ghana, and Belgium. Beating one, coming tantalizingly close to beating two others, and narrowly losing to the fourth, especially when all four are better, is a nice achievement. This is the only time in all of history that the US has gotten out of the group in two straight World Cups. Not only was it a group, it was the Group of Death. Klinsmann earned his contract extension, even though they already signed it last year.

-But it wasn’t a great World Cup for the US. They were one of the better teams, team-work wise, while Portugal and Ghana basically imploded. Portugal had a nightmare against Germany (as I’ve said before, they’re captain is Cristiano Ronaldo and one of their best players is Pepe; that explains their team mentality), while Ghana had a nightmare of their own; two players were kicked out of the team for disputes with the Ghanaian FA and with the coach, while they also had a conflict over money. The US caught both Ghana and Portugal on off years, and they only made it through on goal difference. Am I sounding too harsh? My nice paragraph was the last one. This is my harsh paragraph. They have a better squad than 2010 and they got the same final result: out 2-1 in extra time in the Round of 16.

-Obviously there is a middle ground. Klinsmann did well overall (I still take issue with a lot of his decisions) but he could’ve done better. I’ll detail this more in the coming weeks.

-What about Julian Green, the player who I’ve criticized so much yet who scored? Do I apologize for my opinion on him? No. See, logically, it made no sense to bring in a German 4th Division player. He’s a great prospect, but he did terrible in the friendlies. And Klinsmann seemed to agree; he played less minutes in the warm-up games than everyone but Nick Rimando, the third-string goalkeeper. All indications said that Green wouldn’t play a single minute, much less score. And the minutes he did play were at the end of a game that at the time the US looked very unlikely to win. Although he did score, and there was no way to predict that.

-Anyway, good for him, and I hope he has a great career, but is it so wrong for me to still think that Landon Donovan would’ve been better? It isn’t.

-Here is something that I know that Klinsmann got wrong: WHERE WAS KYLE BECKERMAN?!? Howard, Besler, Gonzalez, and Howard (I meant to mention him twice; one of the best goalkeeping performances ever) were great in the back, but they wouldn’t have been tested so much if Kyle Beckerman would’ve been there.

-Now to players who didn’t do quite as well. Did I curse Wondo? I hope not. However you look at it, coming from Division II college soccer to MLS reserve league to league MVP to the World Cup, he’s had a career worthy of a made-for-TV movie (if he would’ve scored on that goal it would’ve been for theatres. But hey, considering that most people have never even played for their national teams, much less played in a World Cup, he’s done very well in his career.)

-We were so close to Wondokota being real. And if you don’t know what that means I suggest you read my USA-Belgium preview.

-So, should we blame Wondolowski? No. We shouldn’t blame any individual player. This is how sports work: you win as a team, and lose as a team. Of course some players play better than others, and we should recognize that, but putting all the blame on a player for the team not making it to the quarterfinals is ridiculous, especially when that player was only on the field for less than a third of the time the team played.

-Overall, I just feel sad for Wondo. He makes that chance 9 out of 10 times (Landon Donovan said that, and I agree) but for some reason this was the 1 time he missed it. It’s not nearly as easy as it looks, especially when Thibaut Courtois, the most terrifying goalkeeper in the world, is right there trying to stop you.

-Also, we shouldn’t be getting so upset about the US getting knocked out in the Round of 16. Talent-wise, do you think that the US is even top 10 in the World? No, I don’t. When you consider the fact that the team plays well together (as opposed to Portugal, England, and most African teams) it gives the US a boost, but I still think that top-10 is unrealistic. Not to say that Quarterfinals shouldn’t be an expectation. Or am I? I’m not sure. My point is that it isn’t a crime for the team to be knocked out in the Round of 16, and thus the team shouldn’t be punished as if it was a crime.

-And I’ll reiterate it: don’t pile all the blame on just a few players. That’s just silly. Be happy about the things the team did right, and learn from the things the team did wrong.

 

I will have a lot more about the World Cup and the USMNT in the coming weeks. Yes, even after the World Cup is over. Stay tuned.

Belgium vs. USA Preview

(Note: click on “World Cup 2014” above to find more great fairly good articles by yours truly.)

The US has advanced out of the Group of Certain Death, but that doesn’t mean that the job is done. Actually, by definition, it means that the job isn’t done. This is my preview.

Contents:

Background – basic facts to know.

How will Belgium play? – tactics and lineup questions.

How will the US play? – tactics and lineup questions.

Prediction – totally unbiased prediction by me. GO USA!!!

Background

These teams have played on 5 occasions, with Belgium winning 4. They won the last 2 games; a 1-0 win in Brussels (Nicolas Lombaerts was the goalscorer) and a 4-2 win in Cleveland (Kevin Mirallas, Marouane Fellaini, and a Christian Benteke brace powered the team past goals by Clint Dempsey and Geoff Cameron). The US’s lone win against Belgium came in 1930 (3-0, goals scored by Bart McGhee, Bert Patenuade, and Tom Florie).

How will Belgium play?

A little like this:

Belgium vs. USA Probable

There are a few lineup questions. Namely: is Vincent Kompany healthy? Kompany is the team’s captain, and the captain of the Manchester City team that just won the English Premier League, and he’s their best defender. Lombaerts, his probable replacement, is okay, I guess, but I’m not sure that he can match Kompany.

Another position battle is striker. With Christian Benteke injured, Romelu Lukaku is the obvious replacement, and he’s been the one playing. But see, Lukaku is inconsistent. I may be the only one to notice this, but he is. He’s a great player, and he’s really young (I will start rioting if Mourinho sells him) but as of now he’s inconsistent as a starter. Divock Origi, who is even younger than Lukaku (man, this Belgium team will be really good in future tournaments) has performed better than Lukaku in less time playing, although you could definitely make the argument that Origi has been doing good off the bench because Lukaku has tired out the defenders.

One of the biggest talking points about Belgium is their fullbacks: they have none. Similar to Germany, they play center-backs as full-backs. Toby Alderweireld is the incumbent at right-back, while at left-back it’s more of a question between Jan Vertonghen (center-back for Tottenham) and Thomas Vermaelen (center-back for Arsenal). I guessed that it would be Vermaelen, because I’ve heard that Vertonghen has injury issues. I think Vermaelen might have some injury concerns as well, but I’m not sure. If both are healthy and Kompany is injured I’d advise playing one at left-back and the other at center-back. But coaches rarely follow my advice.

I would say that both Vertonghen and Vermaelen are solid defenders, but neither are close to perfect. Error-prone more than the average defender.

In midfield they have Marouane Fellaini, formally of Everton, currently of Manchester United, and notable for the fact that his hair is large enough to make a sizable home for the entire Spain attacking midfield. He can play a destroyer role or play the role of withdrawn forward. Belgium would like him to maintain control in midfield while being an aerial threat on attacks.

They also have Axel Witsel, a defensive midfielder with similar hair to Fellaini’s, Kevin De Bruyne, a creative attacking midfielder who always looks like he’s about to cry (in a way that makes me genuinely feel sad for the poor boy), and Dries Mertens, the skilled Napoli winger.

Oh, and at goalkeeper they have Thibaut Courtois. He’s really good. And young. And, like Lukaku, spent the last season on loan from Chelsea. And he can yell in slow motion really well.

This team has a lot of really good players. It’s crazy.

And I haven’t mentioned their best player, the man featured in the title picture. Chelsea’s Eden Hazard.

He’s really good. Not always consistently good, but if one player has the ability to change games for Belgium, it’s Hazard. He plays on the left wing, and normally cuts inside to his preferred right foot. He’s great at dribbling, he likes to engage in tricky build-up play, and he can score goals himself as well. He’s been called one of the best players in the world by many. This is basically how he plays on attack:

Hazardous Space

He cuts in from the left and wreaks havoc. Whether it’s a pass to a teammate or a direct shot, when he gets the ball it’s very…dangerous. You thought I was going to say “hazardous” again, right?

Anyway, that zone (shaded in light gray) is where he does his damage. He slips in and creates chances.

As I said, he’s not consistent. He’s only 23, so he hasn’t developed into the player he probably will develop into. But even if he’s ineffective for 89 minutes he has the quality to win a game almost single-handedly in the other minute. The US need to watch Hazard for the entire game and not let him wreak havoc in that space that I highlighted.

It’s not just him, it’s the entire Belgium team. They’re very, very talented, and while they haven’t been all that convincing (while winning Group H they had 3 narrow wins in one of the easiest groups) they’re the favorites to advance to the quarterfinals.

How will the US play?

Probably kind of like this:

USA vs. Belgium Probable

That was the same formation they played against Germany, with Bradley and Jones together in the 4-1-4-1. They could revert back to the 4-2-3-1 (doubtful) or some type of 4-4-2, be it diamond or flat (slightly less doubtful, but still doubtful nonetheless).

Let’s analyze this team once more, shall we? We shall.

Jozy’s back! Well, he won’t start, but he’s “available” according to US Soccer. Jozy Altidore is one of the most useful players on the team: he can score goals, but what he’s most useful for is hold-up play. Give him the ball, and he can hold off the defenders and lay the ball off to a teammate, probably Dempsey. He’s the only player on the roster who can do that, as Terrence Boyd and Eddie Johnson were both left off the team. Again, he won’t start. He may not even play, and if he does, it will be limited. But he’s “available.”

Clint Dempsey will probably get the start at striker, and if they play a 4-4-2 of some kind he will be paired with either Chris Wondolowski (simply a lethal goal-scorer) or Aron Jóhannsson (shifty, and natural goal-scorer, but a bit raw). Dempsey, the captain, works better playing just behind the main striker, where he can move around and make runs into the box, although with Altidore out he’s the lone player up top.

On the wings we probably won’t see Davis start again, and as I’ve said multiple times before we won’t see Julian Green. We’re likely to see Alejandro Bedoya and Graham Zusi, although perhaps, if Klinsmann really wants to surprise, we could see the fast, young DeAndre Yedlin get the nod from the beginning. I doubt it, although Klinsmann has surprised me many times before.

In the middle we have Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones as the engine of this team. Bradley, as I detailed in the USA-Germany preview, isn’t playing at his best. He’s not doing as bad as some people make him out to be (people like to make the facts fit simple narratives) but he’s done much better. I’m not sure if he’s hurt (in the group stage he ran more than any World Cup player, so probably not that) or if he’s low on confidence, or if he’s too high on confidence, but something is wrong with him. However, he played much better against Germany. He’s improving, and hopefully he can continue doing so.

Jermaine Jones has been the best player of the US team, hence me placing him in the title picture. He’s ran around crushing opposing attacks, and that goal against Portugal was immense.

And it’s all made possible because of Kyle Beckerman. He stays in that #6 position, allowing Jones and Bradley to roam free in front of him. He does the dirty work that people don’t notice so that Jones and Bradley don’t have to. It’s funny how someone with hair so unstable is the stabilizing force in the midfield.

DeMarcus Beasley is likely to again play at left-back. Beasley is playing in his 4th World Cup (only American to play in that many) and while his work at his new position isn’t too flashy, he’s been quite solid.

And at right-back we have Fabian Johnson. He’s a little bit shaky in defense, yet he’s quite good in attack and in both categories he’s the best the US has at that position. Belgium will need to be wary of his attacks. He’s very good with both feet, and he uses them to great effect going forward.

Center-back is a trickier one. Matt Besler, the steady SKC captain, is a lock to start at left-center-back, but who he’s paired with is a mystery. Will it be Geoff Cameron, who has gotten most of the playing time in the last 6 games? Or will it be Omar Gonzalez, who was playing poorly for a while but then shined when inserted into the lineup last game? Only Jürgen Klinsmann knows the answer to that question.

Prediction

Warning: I’m a US fan.

Belgium 1-2 USA

Dempsey scores early (off a nifty Bradley through-ball) and then the US guards the lead until the 77th minute, not all too long after Belgium wakes up. Eden Hazard slides into space, and then plays a nice pass for Lukaku, who beats his teammate Tim Howard (10+ saves in total) to tie it up. In the fifth minute of added time, with Belgium getting tired, substitute Chris Wondolowski scores the winner. All of the Wondo-Doubters shut up. The day is celebrated as Wondo Day. They even re-name a Dakota after him.

Wondokota

Good night everyone, and Merry Christmas. May your team win, unless you’re Belgian.

 

 

 

Round of 16 Thoughts

First of all, I want to apologize for slacking off the last few days. See, I mentioned before that I have something that makes writer’s block look like eating a cookie. That hasn’t changed. It’s like a combination of writer’s block and depression. There’s also guilt, and anger; anger mainly because none of it makes sense whatsoever.

But this is a soccer blog. I think that I’m ready to talk about soccer now. So I’ll do that.

They’ve done three-quarters of the Round of 16 of the World Cup. So I’ll talk about that. Let’s go:

-The first game was a nice one. In case you don’t remember, Brazil and Chile drew 1-1, and then the host nation won on penalties. We were very, very close to seeing Brazil be knocked out of this World Cup before the quarterfinals–the same World Cup that they have enormous pressure to win. Normally anything less than a tournament win is considered a failure for the five-time champs, but due to being at home the pressure is magnified.

-Chile did very well. In other parts of the draw Chile would’ve made the Semifinals.

-My thoughts on Brazil? I have one. They aren’t that great of a team. I kind of noticed this before, but it would’ve been weird to say “this isn’t really a good team” after they thrash Spain 3-0 in the Confederations Cup final. But you know what? Thrashing Spain is apparently easy, now. And Brazil haven’t yet beaten a team that has made the knockout stage in regulation. They beat Cameroon, they dubiously beat Croatia, they drew Mexico, and they narrowly drew Chile in regulation, and beat them in penalties. They’re fair game to criticize right now.

-Let’s compare this team, player-by-player, to Germany:

ST: Müller vs. Fred – are you kidding? Germany 1-0.

AM: Götze vs. Neymar – at club level it’s probably even if not in favor of Götze, but Neymar is very good for Brazil and this is the World Cup. 1-1.

AM: Özil vs. Hulk – huh, both of these players have been booed by their own fans. Which teams’ fans only booed the guy because they’re pessimistic Europeans? Germany 2-1.

AM: Schweinsteiger vs. Oscar – it’s kind of hard to compare teams like this with different formations, but it’s what I’m doing. Oscar is probably Brazil’s 2nd best midfield/attacking player. But still, Schweini. Germany 3-1.

CM: Kroos vs. Paulinho – one of them plays for Bayern, the other plays for Spurs. Do I need to elaborate? Germany 4-1.

DM: Lahm vs. Luiz Gustavo – yeah, even out of position I’m taking Lahm over Gustavo. You can say that Lahm took Gustavo’s place at Bayern Munich, and it’s obvious why. Germany 5-1.

LB: Höwedes vs. Marcelo – this is Germany’s weakness, which could be fixed if they move Lahm to LB. But Marcelo isn’t the crème de la crème either. I’m in a generous mood, however. Germany 5-2.

RB: Boateng vs. Dani Alves – Boateng is better defensively, while Alves is better in the attack. This is a tricky one. Germany 5.5-2.5. Yeah, I did that.

CB: Hummels vs. Thiago Silva – Hummels is great, but I still say that Thiago Silva is probably the best defender in the world. Germany 5.5-3.5.

CB: Mertesacker vs. David Luiz – Mertesacker isn’t likely to pick up any “defender of the year” awards, but David Luiz is always a costly error waiting to happen. Germany 6.5-3.5.

GK: Neuer vs. Julio Cesar – yeah, Cesar plays in MLS (well, he did last half season–he’ll probably re-join QPR for next season) and he was the hero last game, but Neuer is probably the best goalkeeper in the world. Germany 7.5-3.5.

So…best team in the world? Not Brazil. Then how come they are still the logical favorites? Because at home, for the national team, they seem to perform. Neymar, David Luiz, and many of the other players do much better for the national team than their club. This is very rare (think Messi, Ronaldo, Rooney; all better for club than country).

Also, homefield advantage plays a role. If the Brazil-Chile game would’ve been played anywhere other than Brazil, I’m pretty sure that Chile would’ve won.

-Another note: in the national anthems, they made a mistake to cut the sound on the Chile one. Yeah, against any other nation we heard the sound of the Chile fans belting their national anthem, but against Brazil, with a majority Brazilian crowd, it was drowned out by boos. You can question the merits of booing another country’s national anthem, but still, FIFA messed up (what? No way!) by cutting the sound on Chile’s.

-Let’s talk about Colombia. JAMES!!!! Or, phonetically, HA-MEZ!!!! This guy is crazy good. I’ll talk about him more later, but this guy would win the Golden Ball for best player in the tournament if it was to end today. He’s done better than Neymar, better than Messi, and better than everyone else as well.

-You could certainly say that Uruguay would’ve had a much better chance if Luis Suarez was still there. And you’d be right. But I’m not sure if even with Suarez Colombia would have been beatable. I mean, Colombia are arguably the best team of the tournament so far.

-Before I continue talking about actual soccer stuff, I want to say this: I’ve had at least one page view from every continent except Antarctica (should I have more penguin-themed articles? Hmmm…). I haven’t had one from every Confederation though; I’m still missing an OFC view. New Zealanders? Tahitians? Fijians? I won’t bite.

-My thoughts on Netherlands vs. Mexico? Well, Mexico played very well. The Dutch are Colombia’s competition for best in the tournament, and Mexico looked like the better team for 87 minutes. The Netherlands attempted to play a possession style, because someone had to. Both teams have played a counter-attacking style for most of the tournament. Mexico stayed back and responsibly defended, and then hit hard on the counter attack.

-My thoughts on the penalty? It was probably the right call. Yeah, Robben looked quite floppy, but Marquez stepped on his foot. You can’t do that. And you know what? Earlier in the game there was a clear PK on Robben that wasn’t called. So complaining that the referees were biased is just whining for no reason.

-Watching Mexico is like a win-win situation for me as a US fan. If they lose I play the arch-rival card, and if they win I play the CONCACAF card.

-Costa Rica vs. Greece? The interesting thing in this one is that either way it’s a feel-good story. Yeah, Greece play defensively, but smart tactics is no reason for me to hate a team. Costa Rica play defensively, too (the Dutch will be forced into possessing the ball again in the Quarters). Costa Rica won on penalty-kicks, by the way. See, both teams already had a good World Cup by just making it out of the group stage. They’re playing with house money. And now Costa Rica will face the Netherlands in the Quarterfinals; while Spain, Italy, England, and Portugal were all eliminated in the group stage. The World Cup of unpredictability.

-Now, how about today’s first game: France vs. Nigeria. The Nigerians did well, although France forced two mistakes out of them which became goals. Watching Paul Pogba is like listening to a great song and then realizing that they haven’t recorded all of the parts. He’s only 21! He’s said that his weakness is heading. He just scored on a header in the World Cup. This guy is legit.

-Germany struggled against Algeria, needing to take it to penalties, but they came through in the end with Andre Schürrle and Mesut Özil goals. Algeria got one back, but it wasn’t enough to keep us from seeing Germany-France, an intriguing quarterfinals battle of Western European nations.

 

That’s all I’ve got. I’ll have a US-Belgium preview up fairly soon. And I’ll do other stuff as well.