At kickoff, the little man was not in the building. As his Argentina teammates lined up to battle Ecuador at MetLife Stadium on Friday night, Lionel Messi and his otherworldly talent were in Barcelona recovering from a hamstring tear that will sideline him for the rest of the calendar year. But the game must go on, especially when the game is part of the Gillette International Soccer Series, a number of friendlies between talented international squads like Brazil, Chile, and Honduras hoping to make a quick buck in the United States.
Even without their talisman, La Albiceleste brought a powerful side to New Jersey, featuring Messi's Barca teammate Javier Mascherano, Real Madrid's Angel Di Maria, and the Manchester City duo Pablo Zabaleta and Sergio Aguero, among others. It was the evening's second team, however, that was the focus of the fans. The New York City area boasts a high percentage of Ecuador expats — here's more than you could ever want to know about Little Ecuador in Corona — and their yellow jersey–clad fans made up the majority of the crowd in place at the beginning of the match. (MetLife's first sellout was a 2010 friendly between Ecuador and Mexico.) In defense of the rest of the world, it was 49 degrees at kickoff, the temperature was dropping, and, we'll state this again, Messi wasn't in the building.
In January 2006, Freddy Adu was 16 years old and training with the United States senior team for the first time. Head coach Bruce Arena called the starlet into the team's January camp, a three-week training stint that played a massive role in determining who would make the roster for the upcoming summer's World Cup in Germany. Adu's youth and inexperience made him a long shot to earn a spot, but he had a chance to impress.
If there was a Year 1 winner when the Nets moved to Brooklyn, it was the Modell's on Flatbush Avenue that sits across the street from the Barclays Center. What was formerly a rundown sporting goods store with little on the shelves transformed itself into a bright beacon of fluorescent light featuring row upon row of apparel sporting the logo of the borough's newest franchise.
Ninety minutes before Brooklyn opened its 2013-14 home schedule against the Miami Heat, a few dozen people milled about Modell's. I asked a casher if Nets stuff was selling fast. "Of course. It's the first day of the season. They are going to buy it all," she told me in an optimistic tone that sounded like the party line. I looked around. They were not buying it all. One guy inquired about two Nets hats; almost everyone else seemed more interested in purchasing soccer balls or asking about the length of the crew socks. An employee stocking the shelves said it wasn't nearly as busy as the season opener last year. His take: The jerseys were too expensive and no one had any money. If the Nets won, however, the fans would come back after the game to buy something.
In retrospect, I should have seen the warning signs. The mission didn't seem difficult: Watch Belgium play among a mass of cheering, flag-waving, jersey-clad Belgians. I was going to be in Belgium, after all, which is in Europe, which means — rash generalization — people love soccer. But I saw more Los Angeles Lakers hats than pieces of Red Devils apparel during the three hours I spent wandering around downtown Brussels on Tuesday morning. There were more Brooklyn Nets logos, too. Which is to say I didn't see a single Belgian wearing anything even remotely resembling soccer paraphernalia. That was surprising, seeing as they had a game in less than 12 hours in the very same city.
Why, hello there. The United States men's national team qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil thanks to a 2-0 victory over Mexico in Columbus, Ohio. The win means that the American fan base can stop panicking about whether the Stars and Stripes will reach the world's richest soccer tournament (which, let's be honest, was never really in doubt), not worry about Friday's game with Jamaica, and start concerning themselves with the picking of the 23-man roster. Far be it from us to miss out on the prediction game. Without further ado, we present Jurgen Klinsmann's 2014 World Cup roster.
Crew Stadium just north of Columbus, Ohio, is something out of a bygone era in American soccer. When it opened in 1999, no one knew if Major League Soccer would survive. As a result, Corna Kokosing Construction Company built the country's first pro soccer–specific stadium for just $28.5 million. Fourteen years later, the aging venue with faded yellow backs on its bench seats holds just more than 20,000 people and a healthy amount of American soccer's limited history.
Steve Cherundolo, Tim Howard, Stuart Holden, Maurice Edu, Brek Shea, Herculez Gomez, and Josh Gatt. These are members of the United States men's national team who missed time recently because of injury. Some of the afflictions are serious, requiring surgery and months of rehab, while some are less dire, but these are all players who have been unavailable at a time when Jurgen Klinsmann would have called.
One of the main reasons Klinsmann used 26 different lineups in his first 26 games as manager was because someone from the first team was almost always hurt. So, is the American squad particularly injury-prone?
The National Football League is big business, which is a stunningly obvious, relatively unhelpful thing to write, unless you're talking about the NFL in the United Kingdom, where Roger Goodell and the owners are making a conscious effort to expand the game. There are the matches at Wembley Stadium, the talk of a team based in London, and other initiatives. Across the pond, the game is growing.
On August 28, the sport gets its own publication there. Matthew Sherry, a journalist for the Press Association (the British AP), is launching Gridiron, a digital magazine focused on the NFL and targeted to the U.K. audience. The debut issue, which costs £3 (roughly $4.70), features interviews with Adrian Peterson, Andrew Luck, and John Harbaugh, and columns from Sky Sports' Neil Reynolds and freelancer Paolo Bandini. Although only one issue of Gridiron is currently planned, Sherry hopes to make the publication a full-time job if it gains enough traction.
We e-mailed with the editor — who coincidentally shares a name with a Cincinnati Bengals tight end — about the state of the game abroad, the decision to launch a magazine, and why football in the U.K. is like soccer in America.
On November 17, 2010, 17-year-old Juan Agudelo made his debut with the United States men's national team, wearing the no. 17 shirt and scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win over South Africa. Four months later, the teenager found the back of the net in a 1-1 draw against Argentina, and U.S. fans were buzzing about his impressive potential. Was Agudelo the forward they had been waiting for? Had the phenom finally arrived?
The United States men's national team played 11 games in June and July, winning all of them. Along the way, the squad took home its first Gold Cup since 2007, had 15 players score a combined 35 goals, posted five shutouts, and conceded more than one goal only once. While Jurgen Klinsmann's side had some stretches of shaky play (set pieces, set pieces, set pieces) with long periods of dominance, it was always good enough to win.
The question is whether the last two months indicate some sort of American soccer sea change, a tipping point in the Klinsmann-ification of the U.S. team, or merely a temporary new high-water mark in the never-ending struggle to raise the level.
This is a cop-out, but the correct answer is a little of both.
Jurgen Klinsmann drew criticism for using 26 different starting lineups in his first 26 matches as head coach of the United States men's national team. But let's talk about more important matters, namely that he sported just as many outfits while smiling and scowling on the sideline. Whereas his predecessor Bob Bradley favored casual tracksuits or sweats, Klinsmann possesses some sartorial imagination, showing a bit of the flair and creativity that allowed him to score 47 goals for the German side between 1987 and 1998.
His wardrobe decisions are tracked and chronicled by fans, and there's even an infrequently updated blog dedicated to his choices. Klinsmann’s wardrobe choices inspired us to track down a few of our favorite fashion folks, give them some pictures of Klinsmann, and let them loose. Welcome to the first — and, let's be honest here, hopefully last — edition of Jurgen Wore It Best. (If you're so inspired, many of the items are for sale in the U.S. Soccer shop. Synergy!)
The United States men's national team only needed a tie against Costa Rica at East Hartford's Rentschler Field, but did one better as a late goal by second-half substitute Brek Shea gave the Americans a 1-0 victory in their third and final group stage game of the 2013 Gold Cup. The win was the squad's eighth in a row, which broke the all-time mark set in 2007. Coincidentally, the team to set the mark was the last Stars and Stripes side to finish the group stage with a perfect record and, perhaps more importantly, the last one to prevail over Mexico and win the regional championship.
Tuesday night's match, played in extreme heat, was a rematch of the infamous blizzard game and, in the words of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the true beginning of the Gold Cup. "Players understand they need to step it up and that the whole tournament really starts for us with Costa Rica," he said Monday.
The match started slowly as the Ticos packed nine players behind the ball and dared the Americans to break them down. While Belize and Cuba, the U.S.'s previous opponents, didn't possess the organization, the talent, or the will to stay compact, Jorge Luis Pinto's squad was up to the task. For 82 minutes, that is. The U.S. goal came on a rapid counterattack, with Joe Corona finding a streaking Landon Donovan, who subsequently hit a perfect one-timer to a flying Shea. The Stoke City midfielder beat Patrick Pemberton, and the Americans held on for the victory.
The reward? A Sunday-afternoon matchup against Group B third-place finisher El Salvador at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium. (Costa Rica plays Honduras in the other quarterfinal. If the Ticos and the U.S. win, the two teams will play in the semifinal because the goal of the Gold Cup is to keep the Americans and Mexico apart until the finals at all costs.)
For this team, this tournament is only partially about the results. It represents a chance to impress the coach on an individual level. After three games, who has and who has not?
Three times, the United States men's national team has faced Ghana with a chance to advance in a World Cup. Three times, it has failed.
The Black Stars bounced the Americans from Germany in 2006 and from South Africa in 2010, while the Black Satellites — the nickname given to the country's Under-20 side — saw off the Stars and Stripes from the youth tournament on Thursday. Ghana won, 4-1, in Kayseri, Turkey, a 5,000-year-old city of roughly one million located exactly in the middle of the country.
As with the senior-side matches, Ghana’s U-20 team was a little stronger, a little quicker, and a little more organized than the U.S. anticipated, and overall it was just the better side on the day. Ghana opened up a two-goal lead on tallies from Frank Acheampong and Ebenezer Assifuah. American Shane O'Neill briefly made it 2-1 in the 69th minute, but the U.S., which needed a victory to have a chance of moving on to the knockout round, conceded another to Assifuah and one to Kennedy Ashia. Head coach Tab Ramos's squad finished the tournament in last place in Group A, a disappointing result but perhaps always the most realistic one after it was paired in a foursome with Spain, France, and the 2009 champions.
And really, these tournaments aren't so much about the results on the field as they are about being on it at all. The American youth failed to qualify both in 2011 and for the 2012 Olympics, and although the red, white, and blue didn't succeed on the field in Turkey — losing 4-1 to La Rojita before posting a relatively impressive 1-1 draw with high-powered Les Bleus — in many ways they had already won just by getting there.
In the end, the quietest man on the field made the loudest statement. Jozy Altidore, who has stopped speaking to the media, scored in the 73rd minute to give the United States men's national team a 1-0 victory over Honduras in Sandy, Utah's Rio Tinto Stadium. The win, which leaves the Americans on top of the final "Hexagonal" round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying with 13 points after six of 10 games, exacts a measure of revenge for February's loss in San Pedro Sula and virtually assures the team a place in Brazil.
If an international soccer team is measured by results — which it is — Tuesday night was nothing other than a success. Combine the victory with a friendly win over Germany and two qualifying triumphs against Jamaica and Panama, and Jurgen Klinsmann's squad has had a damn fine month. It is, after all, impossible to earn more than nine points in three World Cup qualifiers. Sixteen points will almost certainly be enough for one of CONCACAF's automatic slots and 19 points definitely will. Qualification could easily come at home in September against Mexico, which would be sweet indeed.
If an international soccer team is measured by one game — which it also is — the match in Utah was less successful. The Stars and Stripes did not play as sharply in Real Salt Lake's home as they did a week ago in front of 40,000 Seattle Sounders faithful. The team created a number of chances, especially in the second half, and was unlucky not to score earlier, but it also looked out of sorts against a personnel-depleted yet stout opponent. Whereas Panama came out and attempted to take the game to the U.S., the Catrachos forced the Americans to try to break them down. The first half turned into a war with failed crosses minimizing any scoring opportunities.
Before Friday night, the United States men's national team had never won a World Cup qualifier in Kingston, Jamaica, posting an 0-1-4 record that included a painful, troubling loss last September. Nor had Jurgen Klinsmann, the squad's head coach, used the same starting lineup more than once in his first 27 games.
Both of those surprising streaks ended when Brad Evans, the most unlikely repeat starter from the previous weekend’s 4-3 win against Germany, scored a dramatic game-winning goal in the 92nd minute. Three minutes earlier, the Americans had conceded a potentially crushing equalizer to the Reggae Boyz's Jermaine Beckford, but Michael Bradley found the 28-year-old Evans, who turned and found the back of the net for his first national team tally.