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World Cup Archives

FBM’s Person of the Year 2014

 

By Dan Wiersema / Founder, FBM

2014 was massive year for soccer in America. Millions of newbies "believed" in a men's national team in Brazil, Men "blazed" a new trail to NBC Sports, and a "LegenD" ended his career in a winning fashion. Along the way Major League Soccer continued to grow to new heights (through attendance, ratings, and expansion bumps), the women's national team learned its path to more (hopefully) World Cup glory, and, well, Dom Dwyer and Sydney Leroux happened

So who do you get to represent all that is good in the American soccer world in 2014? What person or group represents a year where soccer surged ahead, again, to continue its meteoric rise worming its way into the American sporting landscape?

The American soccer fan. 

And who better to carry the banner for them?

Teddy in Manaus. Photo Credit: FBM

Teddy Goalsevelt.

Goalsevelt, aka Mike D'Amico of Chicago, rose to fame when his screaming Presidential mug appeared on ESPN's broadcast during the US-Portugal match. By the time the advertising agency man returned to his hotel room in Natal (and wifi) he had become the "face of American soccer". Between Manaus and Recife interviews piled up as did an invite from U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati to rally the crowd (alongside Will Ferrell) the night before the USMNT's final group match against Germany. 

Teddy and me in Recife

But what makes Teddy the Free Beer Movement's "Person of the Year" for 2014 is more than just a face; he represents the evolution of the American soccer fan. I interviewed Mr. Goalsevelt at the height of his 15 minutes of fame and what struck me was how friendly, articulate, and humble D'Amico was. He came to Brazil as just another of the 500-plus American Outlaws traveling en masse to support the national team. He wasn't the first to don a costume or even the first to represent one of our nation's Presidents; he wasn't looking for a patriotic frat party or place to be a jingoistic nationalist. 

D'Amico represents the American soccer fan at the peak of the team's and the sport's popularity this summer and that the love affair with soccer in this country isn't just a every-four-years thing. As Major League Soccer moves into its second decade and our national teams complete regularly on the global stage our fans too have evolved and garnered national and international respect. The outpouring of support for the national team this summer was larger than ever before, but not spontaneous as outsiders would like to imagine.

The foundation was being laid in the four years between our dismissal from South Africa by Ghana and Clint Dempsey's revenge inside Arena Das Dunas.

In stadiums and bars from coast to coast the American soccer fan grew in the last four years. The packed watch parties in parks and pubs were the results of supporters from all walks of life building American soccer for this summer's mainstream moment. 

A belief in this sport that everything has led to here where American soccer no longer has to answer the question "when will soccer make it in the U.S.?" to a confident statement, "soccer has made it".

Photo Credit: USA Today

The American soccer fan is no longer something for others to scoff at. They talk tactics. I'd put up our fans soccer smarts alongside any others' around the world. Their tifo game is on point. Places like Portland, Seattle, New England, Kansas City, and New York are looking more and more like Dortmund, Milan, Barcelona, and beyond. Most importantly is that the American soccer fan is more open, more gracious that their worldly counterparts. Rivals share a beer together rather than a beef. They honor each others fallen members. The only knife fights are the hilariously digital ones on Reddit/MLS' "TRASH TALK THREAD" before the weekend.

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From newbie to fan to fanatic D'Amico's journey isn't unique. Or at least it isn't that unique anymore. More and more often Teddy Goalsevelt's journey is becoming the standard for many. While Teddy stood out this summer he was surrounded by the like-minded passion of hundreds of other American Outlaws and thousands of fellow U.S. fans in Brazil and millions more back home. 

In June Goalsevelt told me, "The fact that this many people are sharing and tweeting and posting my stupid face just means all of those people were watching U.S. soccer.

Which is incredible. How big this has gotten… it couldn’t have happened if there wasn’t a critical mass of eyeballs on the match. So the fact that so many people were watching the ability to turn my dumb face with this hat, glasses, and mustache into a viral hit is fantastic.

Not for me, but for the game."

Even as the memories and the pain of Brazil 2014 fades the excitement for soccer in American has not. This year's MLS Cup saw a 91% jump on ESPN from last year, 83% increase on WatchESPN, and nearly doubles on Spanish-broadcast channels. It was the third highest MLS Cup TV ratings since the beginning of the league

And it doesn't have to stop there. What Goalsevelt and all of the fans that burst onto the scene this summer need to do is keep up the momentum. 

We're lucky that 2015 has plenty of opportunities to continue the soccer explosion on the American sporting scene from 2014. The 20th season of MLS, the Women's World Cup in Canada, and the men's Gold Cup (with a spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup up for grabs) are all on the docket. 

In 2014 there was "Teddy Goalsevelt", but in 2015 we can all be our own version of the 26th Presidential super fan: involved, passionate, and spreading good cheer. Maybe even with a beer.

American soccer needs you.

Tags: FBM In Action, USMNT, Who We're Buying A Beer For, World Cup

VIDEO: The History and Power of “I Believe” (ESPN)

2014 FIFA World Cup - "I Believe" - ESPN from Nick Aquilino on Vimeo.

It's evolved into American soccer's most iconic chant during this World Cup, but the origins of "I Believe" are incredibly humble. 

Our founder, Dan Wiersema, had the pleasure of speaking with ESPN about the power of positivity of this chant that the U.S. soccer supporters group, the American Outlaws has made a national rallyng cry. 

This originally aired on Monday, June 30th on "World Cup Tonight" and was also featured on SportsCenter.

Tags: American Outlaws, Supporters Groups, USMNT, Video, World Cup

An American in Brazil: Meet Teddy Goalsevelt

Teddy conquering the Amazon in Manaus. 

Mild-mannered Chicago advertising man by day. Legendary former American President Teddy Roosevelt by game day.

Meet Mike D’Amico.

Since his first appearance with Jimmy Conrad and KICK TV post-Natal and then in millions of home around the world during the broadcast celebrating during the USMNT-Portugal match D’Amico is currently the “face of American soccer”.

What started out as just a silly idea to enjoy his time as a fan supporting the national team in Brazil has grown into a viral journey few, especially D’Amico, could imagine.

Below is the story, in his own words, of how one man took Brazil by storm and channeled his inner 26th President, Teddy Goalsevelt.

Idea

The first part is the boring and lame part. Since October I had been letting my beard grow. I had a beard that maybe came down to my chest. It was a massive beard. I knew that I was going to want that beard. It’s like a face scarf. It’s too hot for that.

That was so much work. Like nine months. There’s got to be something I can do with this. Can I dye it? Can I shave it into USA? Into a statue? Can I carve it?

I travel a lot for U.S. Soccer and I always love the guys that no matter the temperature or what the conditions are they’re always dressed up. There’s the guy in the colonial outfit; the tri-corner hat and the wig. There’s always the guy with the World War II general helmet with the pipe and the aviator sunglasses. Those guys get people psyched. It gets people excited.

If I’m going to Brazil, if I’m spending all of this money… why not try and do something like that?

So I started brainstorming. I had the facial hair thing in my head. I had Brazil on my mind.  It all of a sudden it came to me: Teddy Roosevelt.

Who better to be that than Teddy Roosevelt in Brazil, in the Amazon? The mustache and the Rough Riders.

With that much beard growth is was pretty easy to turn it into his mustache.  In fact I had to trim it a bit.

I mentioned it casually to a few people, just to test the waters and the were like, “YES!”

I started to put it together in like March or April. Looking around and piecing things together. Ironically almost the entire costume was assembled from Amazon.com.

Tapping a rich cultural history

I was talking to a bunch of fans at the hotel before the Natal match and this was the first dabble into American soccer culture. They were looking around and there was me and General (George S.) Patton, and Duff Man, people with the face paint and the wigs. All the different kinds of people dressed up.

So a U.S. soccer match is kind of like the Super Bowl meets ComicCon.

The cool thing about being an U.S. soccer fan is the breadth of culture that we have access to that can immediately represent America. Some other countries don’t have that.

There are so many cultural things. There’s so much history.

Teddy Roosevelt is like you took American culture, rung it out, and made a cartoon character of it. Like he’s not real. This is a guy who born and raised in New York, he was a cowboy, a Rough Rider, a politician, a President, and all of the expeditions. The story of this man is almost fictional.

I think that’s part of the reason everyone loves the costume so much.  There are lots of President that could claim to be the “most American President”, but I think you’d have a hard time making a better case  than you can for Teddy Roosevelt.

An Unexpected Reception

I thought I was just going to be another guy. “Ohh… look it’s a super hero that’s cool. Ohh… look it’s George Washington. Ohh… look it’s Teddy Roosevelt.”

But it’s been like, “Superhero. George Washington. TEDDY ROOSEVELT!”

Then there’s like a line to take photos and people want to sign songs. It’s just been over-the-top craziness since day one.

I had absolutely no idea that is had gotten so big back home. Buzzfeed. I was on the homepage of ESPN.com. They were talking about intense fans of the World Cup and that’s not something that’s been apart of our vernacular.

Will Teddy ride again after the World Cup?

That is a question that I don’t feel like I get to answer. I feel like everyone else has already made that choice for me. One of the first emails, after returning from Manaus, I got was from a co-worker was, “You’re wearing that on Monday to work, right?”

All of the guys back home at American Outlaws: Chicago were like, “I don’t care what it takes you’re wearing the ‘Teddy Goalsevelt’ costume to the first game back. It doesn’t matter how many free beers it takes… you’re doing it.”

I think Teddy will live on. I think he has to.

Perspective

The fact that this many people are sharing and tweeting and posting my stupid face just means all of those people were watching U.S. soccer.

Which is incredible. How big this has gotten… it couldn’t have happened if there wasn’t a critical mass of eyeballs on the match. So the fact that so many people were watching the ability to turn my dumb face with this hat, glasses, and mustache into a viral hit is fantastic.

Not for me, but for the game.

Tags: American Outlaws, Major League Soccer, USMNT, World Cup

An American in Brazil: Rainy day in Recife

I had only been asleep for about 30 minutes when the alarm went off at 12:45am. My head wouldn’t meet a pillow for another 24 hours. I can tell you at the beginning of this story it would be all worth it.

When it comes to getting enough rest it’s never been something I’ve been particularly good at. I actually tend to thrive in low-sleep situations.

Which is good because this day is going to be one of those types of days.

By 2am we’re on the road to Recife from Natal; twelve busloads of American Outlaws including a spare bus just in case one breaks down. The rain is falling steadily. We’re anticipating a wet day, but certainly not the conditions we’ll push through in about five hours.

The thirteen buses are cruising down BR-101 courtesy of a Federal Police escort between the two World Cup host cities. Our bus “tour guide” cracks a joke about the Brazilian highway system saying that if the same people that were charge of paving these roads had built the Great Wall of China they’d still be at it today.

As dawn breaks it’s become increasingly obvious that this isn’t just a steady, tropical rain but full-on flood conditions. As we transition from rural Brazil to urban Recife the roads turn to rivers. Our bus caravan plunges, literally, on. I swear there would come a point where, like in Oregon Trail, we’d have to make a decision of whether or not to caulk our wagon and ford our way to the stadium.

Arena Pernambuco is located outside of the city proper and thankfully somewhat distant from what would later be reported as nearly thigh-high water in Recife. The exterior the pre-game party hosted by the American Outlaws is flanked by two ridiculous large inflatables on the outside, one of the World Cup mascot and the other, for some reason, a goat. On the inside both Good Morning America and the TODAY Show have staked out the entrance and frantic producers are fighting to grab the most unique dressed and loudest American fans for backdrops to their live-on-location reports.

Given our personal struggles to make it to the previous two matches on time this is the first pre-game party that myself and my traveling companions have made it to. We’re not disappointed.

The never-ending rain has added a special extra element to the festivities, forcing everyone into closer quarters since the risk of drowning outside it quite real. The sound of every chant of “USA” or “I Believe” sounds that much louder and feels that much more intense.

Teddy Goalesvelt and I at the AO tailgate. 

I haven’t tailgated this early since college and thinking about the time and space in those ten years is a brief and slightly depressing thought that is pushed out of my head as quickly as the next beer is pushed into my hand.

By the time we begin to march to the stadium everyone’s red, white, and blue is tinted by a translucent poncho or a new, darker shade compliments of the pouring rain. The perpetual showers don’t dampen the enthusiasm of the Outlaws on their trek to the stadium; many stopping occassionally to match the quantity of liquids going inside their bodies to that of the flow of rainwater cascading off them.

To be honest Pernambuco is the least impressive of the three World Cup venues the U.S. plays in. It’s boxy and impersonal. It doesn’t look like sand dunes or a woven basket. Perhaps it’s the drenched, grey sky or it’s missing the mystique of being in the middle of the rainforest or I didn’t just “Amazing Race” to this one.

Inside and situated back far enough to be under the arena’s protective cover the crowd’s energy has a much different feel to it that the other two matches. Ghana was outright intense; America and her fans making their boisterous debut on the World Cup stage. Portugal’s crowd was confident, surging until silenced in the last seconds. The chants and cheers are the same as their preceding games, but the spaces between each are more distant, spaced out by fans rubbernecking to the few people with working data plans keeping sections updated on the action in Brasília.

On the field the U.S. has shown well. Thomas Müller’s goal, the lone tally wasn’t the result of some disastrous defense just a well-taken shot. The USMNT is giving Germany a game. Alejandro Bedoya’s cleared shot, reminiscent of Michael Bradley’s in the previous game, jolts the crowd who collectively remove their fingers from their nail-nibbling mouths to give some last-minute encouragement.

As the final whistle blows there’s about two minutes where we waited on our compatriots with the cell phones to give us a final Ghana-Portugal update. The U.S. players and coaching staff clearly have better service in the stadium than we do. They’re celebrations trigger ours as devices confirm what we’re witness in front of us.

We’ve gone through.

There’s a peculiar thing about the World Cup to celebrate advancing to the knockout rounds when you’ve just lost a game. It’s a tough feeling to reconcile. For me I haven’t seen the national team lose a game in over a dozen games over the past two years (all home games) so I’m standing there thinking about that. But then the result is insignificant because you’re through and it’s the elimination games that we have to prepare for.

Again I think the weather, the depressing drizzle, has affected my thinking because I’m focused more about the loss than moving forward. Ultimate my head will clear over the next five hours on the bus and by the time we return to Natal I’m fully over the day’s loss and eager to began our next World Cup challenge.

While the team and large chunk of American supporters will proceed onto Salvador I, unfortunately, will return to a bar stool in Austin, Texas. Several thorough loads of laundry between today and Tuesday will return my sun/sweat/rain-soaked jerseys to their former glory.

Travelling to Brazil with American Outlaws feels a lot summer camp. At the Houston airport where we’ve all landed, before departing to our own corners of the country, new friends exchange contact information and promises of dinner, drinks, and a couch or bed to sleep on if they should ever pass through each other’s city. Old friends, veterans of this soccer supporter dance of hello-game-goodbye, shake hands and hug until next time.

My journey to the World Cup, as an American in Brazil, was one amazing adventure; filled with more twists and turns that I ever could’ve imagined. It was both one of the most stressful and wonderful experience of my entire time and I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything.

Until next time.

Tags: American Outlaws, Major League Soccer, USMNT, World Cup

An American in Brazil: Thousands of MLS supporters come together for USMNT

NOTE: This article originally appeared on MLSSoccer.com.

RECIFE, Brazil -- They’ve come from all over the country clad in red, white, and blue. But they have other colors with them. 

The burgundy of the Colorado Rapids. The rave green of the Seattle Sounders. The red of Toronto FC. And so on. All the colors of Major League Soccer teams are here in full force.

For them, this trip to Brazil is about club and country.

Finding an MLS jersey inside the stadiums of Natal, Manaus, and Recife isn't easy. But on non-game days, they are everywhere. Fans are eager to rep their local side: Sporting KC t-shirts in the hotel lobby, New York Red Bulls jerseys at a Brazil watch party, a LA Galaxy cap for protection from the Brazilian sun, or a pair of Portland Timbers shorts for lounging poolside.

A few years after the Dynamo arrived in Texas and Houston native Rick Worley returned to his hometown from Washington D.C., he picked up season tickets as both a matter of civic pride and the natural evolution for his passion for soccer

“I definitely grew up loving the U.S. national team. I can’t imagine anything better than the U.S. winning a World Cup,” said Worley. “But BBVA Stadium is amazing and such a great atmosphere. The city has really embraced this team.”

Jake Beard, a director of the Iron Lion Firm, an Orlando City Soccer Club supporters group, echoed a similar sentiment.

“I think it’s different for everybody. Some take club over country. For me I was a fan of the national team before I ever had a club to root for,” he said. “So for me I’ll always be here to support the U.S. It’s been a two year journey to be here now and all the obstacles along the way. It’s been a dream come true to go to the matches.”

With the World Cup in full swing the club rivalries take a back seat to supporting the national team.

“No matter what we’re here for the team,” said Peg Manning, a Seattle Sounders season ticket holder since their MLS debut. “The players become our own even if they play for other teams.”

“Our joke all this year has been 'It's not June yet',” Manning’s husband, Tim Blanchard, interjected with a laugh.

“Now it’s June: Go Kyle (Beckerman)!” Manning added.

MATCHCENTER: 7 MLS players in starting lineup against Germany
For the teams that sent MLS players to represent their country, there’s an extra special amount of pride for their fans.

“What’s not to like about that (having club players on the national team)?” Blanchard asked rhetorically.

Worley was excited to see Dynamo players past and present on the USMNT squad.

“I was really lucky for the first game against Ghana I was in the front row right behind the U.S. bench and to see when the guys stood up and started clapping the first one I was congratulating was Brad Davis. To see (former Dynamo) Geoff Cameron out there too was cool. To see those two guys out there representing the orange was pretty great.”

During the Portugal match, Manning and Blanchard were represented by not one, but two Sounders’ players on the field.

“I was screaming for DeAndre (Yedlin) so hard,” said Manning.

“It was tremendously exciting to see Dempsey and DeAndre on the field together,” added Blanchard.

MLS’ connection to Brazil gets stronger when Beard’s OCSC joins the league in 2015. The team’s majority owner Flavio Augusto da Silva is a native of Rio de Janeiro. Beard said his purple jersey has caught a few eyes down here in Brazil because of his club’s owner. And his future fellow MLS fans are quite welcoming as well.

“I’ve met so many cool people here on the trip and everyone has been so receptive of Orlando.”

Even in faraway places like Manaus MLS fans are discovering each other.

“We’re walking from the stadium back to the buses for the airport," Blanchard recounts. "About halfway back we stopped in this crammed spot. There were just two seats in this tiny place. We asked the folks if we could sit down and started talking to them. Turns out they sit in section 109 (of CenturyLink Field) and we sit in section 209. She’s Brazilian and lives in the Seattle now.”

They exchanged information and plan on meeting up back in Seattle before a game.

“It really is such a small world,” Manning added.

Tags: American Outlaws, Major League Soccer, USMNT, World Cup

An American in Brazil: Madness in Manaus

The U.S. fan’s World Cup is defined, so far, by 30 seconds. Thirty seconds in versus Ghana Clint Dempsey send us into a frenzy onto three points. Thirty seconds left and Portugal knocks the wind out of us and we settle for a draw in Manaus.

Thus is the roller coaster ride that is the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. If you told most American fans that we’d leave the Amazon rainforest with four points I think most of us would take that in a heartbeat. But standing in the stadium at full time on Sunday night I couldn’t feel anything but cheated.

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The trip itself to Manaus was another intriguing story. We finally found ourselves with a spot the charter flight, but delay after delay departing from Natal meant that we would miss the American Outlaws/U.S. Soccer pregame party.  Another straight-to-the-stadium sprint. We were getting pretty good at this.

On the plus side we were able to march, briskly, with other American fans on their way to Arena Amazonia. While it probably wasn’t as epic as what we heard about the Natal march, the experience of being surrounded by hundreds of U.S. fans in foreign country on their way to a World Cup game was incredible.

Arena Amazonia is a gorgeous stadium. Designed to look like a woven basket sold in the local markets it is a crowning achievement of architecture on par with Teatro Amazonas, Manaus’ historic opera house, built in 1896.

As the lineups were announced the largest cheer/squeal was reserved for Portugal’s Ronaldo and his first touch was met with a roar of approval I’d never heard in my life. But as the match wore on and he faded from the match (minus the his last cross, of course) the crowd turned against him, fueled by the growing confidence of the American side and the American fans.

I was situated right behind the Portugal goal the U.S. was attacking in the second half. When Jermaine Jones ripped his shot… that curve… I swear I saw a blinker on the ball it was turning so dramatically.  And Dempsey’s… err… ball into the back of net; at that point of the match anything was possible. Top the group? Sure. Win the World Cup? Why not us.

I thought the United States had the corner on late-game-drama magic, but Portugal had different ideas.

This U.S. team was dominant. Despite two defensive breakdowns at both ends of the game we were the better team on the night. I can take solace, in the long view, that standing up to the likes of Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo on this night in Manaus is a huge step in the right direction for American soccer.

Those will have to be the thoughts that carry me forward to Germany when we face our next “greatest World Cup test ever” ™.

Now there’s just one number to focus on: 90. Ninety minutes of greatness needed on Thursday and we’re through.

Tags: American Outlaws, Major League Soccer, USMNT, World Cup

An American in Brazil: Beach soccer in pictures

NOTE: This article originally appeared on MLSSoccer.com.

NATAL, Brazil - Having finallly arrived in Brazil and settled down it was time for some much needed relaxation. Our insane sprint to the Ghana game was in the rear-view mirror and a couple days of full of fun and sun lay ahead. 

Our host city for the first World Cup match; our triumph over the Black Stars, Natal, sits in the North-East of Brazil. Natal, meaning "Christmas" in Portugese was founded on its saint's feast day in 1599. 

The city has rapidily grown into an popular beachside destination as Brazilians look to escape from the hustle and bustle of some of the country's major metropolitian areas like Rio and Sao Paulo.

With great beaches, of course, comes great beach soccer. Cruise up and down the coastline of Natal and you're guaranteed to see game after game after game cutting across the sand.

Beach soccer, or beasal, as its called here, started in Brazil back in 1992. Wth so many people kicking about in Natal and elsewhere -- not to mention the number of beaches -- it's no wonder that Brazil have won the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 13 of the 15 times it's been held. 

The beauty of beach soccer, much like soccer in general, is its simplicity. Just a few warm bodies, a ball, and something -- anything! -- to mark off goals. 

Here are just a few sights from Natal's beach soccer scene:

1) The first thing you need is a ball.

2) And a few friends.

3) Set up a goal.

4) Any goal will do.

5) Really.... any goal will do.

6) Even if your goal is still being used for it's original purpose. 

7) Maybe just a game of keepy-uppy instead.

8) Perhaps a kick-about with a difficult defender.

9) The games can sometimes be a bit casual.

10) Or they can be as intense as the real thing (American Outlaws play against Ghanaian fans at their hotel). 

11) But with always one GOOOOOOOL in mind. 

Tags: Major League Soccer, photography, World Cup

An American in Brazil: We’re Ghana (get it?) make it to this game?

It took just 29 seconds to erase almost 48 hours of terrible traveling.

When Clint Dempsey slashed through the Ghanaian defense and buried that ball in the back of the net the stress, the madness, the lack of sleep… it was all worth it. We made it to the World Cup.

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Just two hours earlier our personal 767 landed on the tarmac in Natal. The charter company, after several false starts, finally made amends. We were picked up in Georgetown, Guyana, and after a heartfelt apology from the captain on behalf of the company, we settled into the first-class seats.

Just "the AO 14," as we called ourselves, on a plane designed to carry over 200. Weird.

We landed in Natal and sprinted through immigration and customs, opened specifically for us as we were the only international flight landing that day. Obviously the rest of the American (and Ghanaian) fans had already arrived comfortably early for the day’s game.

We piled into a small bus and took off for Arena das Dunas. Less than three hours to go before the match.

Traffic was awful, so we were biting our nails the whole way. Several times we asked the driver if we should get out and run. How far is it? Our driver insisted he continue with us, but when he got us as far as he thought possible, we all jumped out and began rushing toward the stadium. As we got closer, we noticed that we were not alone. More and more people were joining us on our walk – fans from everywhere -- like a snowball rolling down a hill.

Then the stadium emerged. For the better part of the last 24 hours, it had been unknown as to whether or not we would be at the game. So I admit: I teared up.

First stop after getting our tickets scanned and entering the stadium? A nice, cold beer of course. We barely had a moment to drink in the moment (or drink our beer) when Dempsey scored.

Pandemonium. More tears. Lots of hugs. My wife, Anah, Landon (my best friend since high school), and I in euphoric embrace.

The next 80 minutes were sheer terror as the US team held on to that tentative lead. When André Ayew scored Ghana’s equalizer it was a gut punch. How could this happen? We had come so far? We had endured so much? How could Ayew do this? To us?

And when Graham Zusi lines up for that corner in the 86th minute, I closed my eyes and whispered to myself (I swear I did), “I know we, the team, don’t deserve to win, but I think WE deserve this win.”

John Brooks plowed that ball into the goal and I lost it. I just lost it. This was what it was all for. This made up for all the rebooked flights, the airport waiting lounges, Guyanese customs hall, the taxi ride from the airport, sweating through my Waldo hat. This was everything.

I don’t even remember hearing the final whistle.

Tags: American Outlaws, Major League Soccer, USMNT, World Cup

An American in Brazil: The USMNT’s patriotic packing guide to Brazil

Editor's Note: This column originally appeared on MLSSoccer.com.

"If it's not red, white, or blue... it's not going in the suitcase.”

Meet my wife everybody.

Anah held herself pretty accountable to that rule while I strayed just a little bit after some of my shorts were not of the American flag variety. Note I said “some”; there ARE several pairs of American flag shorts in my luggage.

Packing to watch the World Cup in Brazil for two weeks was a lot easier than I expected. I’ve done long trips abroad before where packing for all the possible weather permutations and every other thing but the kitchen sink was the bare minimum. But this wasn’t preparing for a week in the Canadian wilderness or living in one of the most dangerous countries on earth (Honduras, if you were wondering).

This was for beach life. Natal, for two weeks, with a day’s excursion to Manaus and Recife sprinkled in. To follow our national team, Anah’s patriotic declaration was proving to be pretty on point and leaving loads more room in our luggage that we first thought.

When traveling to a tropical country like Brazil there were two considerations we kept front and center in our mind: sun and rain. So we have plenty of items to deal with them, like USA sunscreen, USA toothpaste, USA toothbrush, USA bug spray, USA malaria pills…

You seeing a trend here?

Well, here are a few more musts for traveling to the World Cup:

1) Waldo hat. The national team may have adopted the world wanderer’s look as a shirt in 2012, but I’ve been repping my doppelganger since college. If you’re wondering, yes, it is hot, very hot, and yes, I will wear it to the games. So if you see it during some fan cutaway on ESPN, you'll know it's me.

2) Multiple US jerseys. Because being an American soccer fan has no off-days.

3) American Outlaws gear. I’ve been a member since 2008, the year after they were founded, and their shirts are some of the best gear, design and comfort-wise to wear when I’m not pulling a jersey over my Waldo hat. In case your wondering, yes, I put the hat on first.

4) Assorted other soccer shirts. Because why would I wear anything other than soccer shirts? Some of my favorite soccer brands include adidas, Live Breathe Futbol and Bumpy Pitch.

5) Patriotic bottoms. Very important. I’ll be rocking the “bomb pop” and American-flag-themed shorts. Because red, white, and blue shouldn’t be reserved for just your top half.

6) Reading material:

- Howler’s latest issue is the single most amazing and comprehensive World Cup preview I’ve seen; plus beautifully designed and well-written.
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s auto-biography. Somehow this player needs to make it to Brazil even if it’s just in book form.
- The 10 Shirt: How the United States National Soccer Team (might have) Won the 1982 World Cup. Hey, a boy can dream.
- Party Brasil Phrasebook. Apparently there are all sorts of helpful phrases in Portuguese about the ref’s mother and/or how he’s a thief. Given the calls already in this World Cup -- except by the American! -- this book might be the most useful. And how to order multiple beers. Indispensible.
- Instant City, a new book about Karachi, Pakistan, by National Public Radio’s Steve Inskeep. No, I’m not kidding. This is the book I’m actually looking forward to the most. What can I say: I'm a history teacher.

There you have it. The American fan’s super patriotic packing guide.

There’s a passport, visa, and tickets squished somewhere in there, too. I’ll find them before take off.

Tags: American Outlaws, Major League Soccer, USMNT, World Cup

An American in Brazil: Allow Myself to Introduce Myself

Editor's Note: FBM's founder, Dan Wiersema, is traveling to Brazil as a part of the American Outlaws travel package along with his wife, Anah, and best friend and soccer teammate from high school, Landon. Along the may he'll be documenting the American soccer's fan experience in Brazil on MLSSoccer.com. His travelogue will be posted here as well. 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

My name is Dan Wiersema and I am an American soccer fan.

That statement is not some quiet confession or a shameful admission to others sitting around in a circle in a community center basement. I say it proudly. Because I believe it should be shouted from the rooftops and declared unconditionally for the rest of the world to hear.

Or perhaps typed on a keyboard for publishing on a website. Which is why I'm here. Over the next two weeks (and, fingers crossed, maybe more), I will document the American fan's experience in Brazil, from Natal to Manaus to Recife, from the bars to the beaches to the back row of a raucous bus.

Who am I?

I am the founder of the Free Beer Movement, a grassroots organization dedicated to “Building American Soccer One Beer at a Time.” Since 2009 the FBM has used the power of the pint to convince newbies that soccer, as Men In Blazers describe it, is the “sport of the future.” Have a friend, family member, or co-worker that doesn’t know much about the sport? Buy ‘em a beer and educate them. Beer is the medium… soccer is the message.

I’ve been a fan of Major League Soccer since I pasted a USA Today ad with Lalas, Harkes, Balboa, Wynalda, and Co. on my bedroom closet door to support them as they launched the league back in 1996. I suffered through the 1998 World Cup in Europe defending the Yanks despite their disastrous finish. My faith was restored during the USWNT’s World Cup victory in 1999 and celebrated in euphoric silence at 3 a.m. from my best friend’s parent’s basement as we shocked Portugal in 2002. From Germany to South Africa, Kansas City to Salt Lake City, I’ve seen this sport grow to unbelievable heights.

So, yeah, I’m a pretty big fan. Or supporter or enthusiast or whatever semantical rules you play by. Certainly there are bigger fans than I am, and smaller ones, but who cares. Regardless of the level of fandom, we’re all fans of the same country and the same team.

Right now, I’m sitting between two dogs on a couch in Texas. But tomorrow, I’ll be sitting between two palm trees. Or maybe two beach chairs. Or two Caipirinhas. Or all of the above.

I'll be one of thousands wearing red, white, and blue, chanting "I believe that we will win," and representing our nation as a member of the American Outlaws, the vibrant US national team supporter group. We all have our stories, some of which I will tell as our journey goes, some of which are yet to be written.

My name is Dan Wiersema and I am an American soccer fan.

Tags: American Outlaws, Major League Soccer, USMNT, World Cup

Today’s The Day…

Editor's Note: This is our "get fired up" post for US international matches. We re-post it for every US match. Share it with your friends.

Today's the day the U.S. Men's National Team takes the field in a World Cup Qualifier on the road to Brazil.

Today's the day they face Mexico in Estadio Azteca.

Today's the day we take the win and move on to the next match.

Today's the day that Guzan will shine, Dempsey will lead, goals will be scored, and timely tackles will be made.

Today's the day we sit down with friends and fellow soccer fans and cheer on the home team.

Today's the day we invite someone new to come along and experience the power of a soccer match.

Today's the day they'll get a free cold one to enjoy while watching the sport we so desperately love and the team we'd follow to the ends of the earth (or Brazil!).

Today's the day we ask a non-soccer fan to join our footballing family.

The Free Beer Movement is about spreading the love of American soccer to all corners of the nation and no day is better than today. Today, the pride and joy of our nation's game takes the field in order to continue its push towards the greatest sporting spectacle of all-time, the World Cup.

The past, present, and future of American soccer all take the field today to join in one cause, to win, and to move on to the next level.

It is days like this we, as American soccer fans embrace, as our national team fights for our country's continued respect on the international stage and to stake a claim as the best team in North and Central America.

Games like today are bigger than any game; bigger than any MLS game, and bigger than your son or daughter's kick around in the park.

Our local colors blend. There are no more yellow and black of the Columbus Crew or orange and white of the Houston Dynamo or the black and red of DC United; today there is only RED, WHITE, and BLUE.

These are the days that our nation's best and brightest shine on the field for 90 minutes. For themselves, for soccer, but mostly for you... the American fan and their country... the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

These are the days that you have to get up as a soccer fan in America.

So grab you friends, grab those soccer fans, grab those ones you want to become soccer fans, and most importantly grab some really cold beers because today's the day we support our National Team and our national game we love so much.

Tags: USMNT, World Cup

That’s On Point - USMNT vs. Costa Rica Preview



"It's just like pulling off a Band Aid." -- Cop with a Mustache, There's Something About Mary



***

Everybody got their pitchforks and torches on standby?

This could get ugly ... for Jurgen Klinsmann, anyways.

Safe to say based his Klinsmann's roster selection for Friday's vital CONCACAF 2014 World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica it hasn't been the best week of all-time for the German. Then when you throw in some articles that have painted a picture of the German-born coach, to quote the English terraces -- YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING -- the level of rancor from the usually staid American soccer media (and fans) is growing increasingly toxic.

It's not Rafa Benetiz at Chelsea level, yet, but if the U.S. doesn't beat Costa Rica and gets embarrassed at the Azteca on Tuesday by Mexico people aren't going to be too happy, regardless of how many cool stories about Klinsmann flying helicopters are leaked by the Pravda department of the U.S. Soccer House in Chicago.

There's a lot swirling around at the moment so let's access some facts, first:

* The U.S. lost it's first of 10 "Hex" games last month at Honduras.
* Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, Steve Cherundolo, Jose Torres, Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler, Danny Williams, Jonathan Spector (anyone else?) were all unavailable for these two matches, through injury, sickness or personal wanderlust.
* Former U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra was dropped entirely by Klinsmann, opting for a defense with a combined 12 World Cup qualifying caps.
* In 23 games in charge of the U.S. Klinsmann has never used the same starting XI in consecutive games.

Skewing all this are the lingering doubts -- despite high-profile results in friendlies -- that the U.S. hasn't taken the strides forward everyone expected when Sunil Gulati axed Bob Bradley in the summer of 2011 and hired Klinsmann.
 

Get to the choppa!

Let's first start with the Bocanegra issue, which was almost a Catch-22 for Klinsmann.

For one, let's pretend Bocanegra wasn't pinned to the bench for a team in the relegation zone in the Spanish second division and was playing regularly at Racing Santander. It's not like over the last year or so Bocanegra hasn't lost a step -- this is common knowledge for U.S. fans. We've all seen this. We all knew it would be beyond risky to try to coax another World Cup campaign around a 33 year old defender -- two years ago. This isn't a new revelation.

So if Klinsmann picks Bocanegra and he shows the form and declining speed we've seen and gets torched in either game, we all get pissed off. ... Why would you play Bocanegra? I can see the fork sticking out of his back from space!!! Per Mertesacker could beat him in a foot race!!!

For whatever "leadership" Bocanegra would bring to the table, let's not try to build him up into Fabio Cannavaro at the 2006 World Cup or something on that par. Bocanegra was an excellent player for nearly a decade for the U.S., but his time is up.

The real issue here is Klinsmann's done a lousy overall job -- especially in the defense -- of transitioning the squad from the team that's been almost unchanged at the core at both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups (Donovan, Dempsey, Onyewu, Bocanegra, Howard, Cherundolo) to something new. Coaxing all these international games for over a decade with almost all the same key players isn't exactly a recipe for success, is it?

Playing Devil's Advocate, suppose Gulati never hires Klinsmann. Bob Bradley likely leads the U.S. into Brazil -- with ease -- using the same core team who all know their roles. Once the team gets to Brazil, we're facing the same questions if the U.S. has made progress, if it can compete with the elite of the world, can it get past the Round of 16? It's not very exciting. There's not likely any qualifying drama, but the payoff is minimal. We're all probably be bored, too.

Part of this whole transitional mess isn't entirely Klinsmann's fault, considering Omar Gonzalez was out injured with a torn knee for nearly a year, but a lack of preparation leaves the situation where Tony Beltran, Matt Besler and Justin Morrow -- journeymen in MLS -- are the only viable alternatives in defense thanks to a plethora of injuries.

Still, had Klinsmann started the process transitioning into a new-look squad a year ago full-bore, instead of in earnest, we might not be where we are today. It's hard to cook up a scenario, bar every U.S. defensive regular visiting the Springfield Mystery Spot at the same time, where we're in the boat we are now with Goodson being the elder defensive statesman for an American defensive unit.
 

I'm burned out, bros.

It's hard to entirely blame Klinsmann, too, for Donovan's existential spirit quest. Donovan might be past the age of 30, but he was still figured to be a key figure in the run toward what would be his fourth World Cup. For whatever pressures and burnout Donovan has felt (and it's understandable to a degree) he's not the all-time leading scorer for Germany or Argentina or even a place like Norway. It's doubtful in any other soccer country the international leading scorer deciding -- in his prime -- to blow off crucial qualifiers for a holiday in Cambodia would go down too smoothly. It might be taxing being "face of American soccer" for a decade, but let's be honest in the general sports consciousnesses, Donovan has gotten a huge pass. Chances are people will tune into ESPN2 on Friday and Tuesday and have no idea he won't be there, or more importantly why he isn't.

Donovan staring into the sporting abyss and deciding what looks back at him would've been an issue for Klinsmann or anyone on the U.S. touchline.

Maybe it all boils down to this: very few American fans want to think about or admit, the U.S. might be in a down cycle for players. As said before, you can't keep trotting out the same guys year after year at the international level and expect it to maintain. Think about it this way, beyond Michael Bradley which American player can you feel truly comfortable about as a key player who was new to the roster at the 2010 World Cup moving forward toward the 2014 cycle?

You can go down all the usual roads: MLS, youth development, college soccer, guys in Europe, guys not playing in the Champions League, etc., but the hard truth is the old guard of U.S. players has gotten older, more injury prone and haven't been replaced adequately.

Yes, Fabian Johnson and others have shown some promise in spots, but it's not like a brand-new, no doubt Starting XI has emerged from the American player pool. By the same token Klinsmann could have picked a team and stuck with it, supplementing here-and-there instead of the radical adjustments we've seen match-to-match, but we've watched these games. Who would you pick from the player pool, as it sits, with regularity. It's easy for the players to condemn the tactics when they don't work, but at some point the players have to take their share of the accountability for floundering for long stretches in matches, which usually result in the U.S. digging themselves a big hole.

And it's not all the manager's fault -- something anyone reading this knows I've been harping on for years -- America has't produced a decent wide player or winger in years, if ever. Brek Shea? That's a bit of a reach given his consistency  Klinsman, again has compounded the issue, playing a weird system in recent matches where Dempsey and Eddie Johnson (yes, remember we've had to bring him back into the fold which isn't clearly not a sign of how desperate things are) in modified wide-forward spots.

This sort sort of bad feelings happened once before in recent memory at the 1998 World Cup when the U.S. bottomed out as Steve Sampson tried to use the bulk of players from the 1990 and 1994 squads, billowed by a few promising players like Brian McBride and some completely forgettable scrubs like Chad Deering. There was a lot else going on with the 1998 squad, namely a 3-6-1 formation and the extracurricular going on between John Harkes and Eric Wynalda.

It's not the best comparison  but it's the closest I can recall when there seemed to be this much internal turmoil simmering in the USMNT camp. The upside of finishing last at France 1998 was the Federation hired Bruce Arena, who used some young blossoming talent in MLS to propel the team to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals.

We're not there, yet, but without a win vs. Costa Rica on Friday and a representative performance (even in a loss) at Mexico, the rancor among the fans -- and sadly the players themselves -- is only going to mount for Klinsmann and Gulati (a package deal at this point).

Above all, with all his tinkering, baffling tactical decisions, blind spots for Jermaine Jones, etc. Klinsmann certainly hasn't helped himself. He's been dealt a tough hand with the injuries, transitional roster, Donovan situation, etc., which most can understand, only the German seems to make matters worse either thorough his cavalier attitude, strange formations or most damning: the lingering sense that the "Emperor Has No Clothes." By now you can clearly question that Germany's success (and only a third place finish) in 2006 was a product of assistant Jogi Low and the more representative Klinsmann was his ill-fated spell in charge of Bayern Munich.

When he was hired Klinsmann tried to promise the U.S. the moon: a change in philosophy, a fun, attack-first team. Instead we've gotten a team that, for the first time in a while, looks like it's going to qualify for a World Cup by the skin of its teeth -- if that.

The worry here, too, is over the years the U.S. -- certainly under Bob Bradley -- provided it's best results when everybody had written it off. One of these days, that backs against the wall, us against the world, ethos is going to wear off. That's not to say it'll happen Friday night in Denver vs. Costa Rica, but it's hard to remember a time there were so many dark clouds and red flags handing over the heads of everyone associated with the team.

As fans, we were mostly ready for a transition back in July 2011. Except instead of tearing away the Band Aid right away, we've found ourselves in a fine mess -- much like zipping up our privates into our prom pants, like Ben Stiller in "There's Something About Mary." The U.S. roster issues and Klinsmann's decisions -- the bean and franks, if you will -- have left us all in a position fraught with peril.

We all knew this might be coming down the road. Nobody expecting getting out of this position, however, to be this painful.

Miscellany:

* Good news: Both the Costa Rica match on Friday and the Mexico match are on channels almost all Americans already have: ESPN2! (Way it's going, let's take the positives wherever they exist.)

* The way everything's shaken out, Brad Guzan (likely) starting in goal is the least of the U.S.'s concerns. Who'd have thought that?

* Still there's there's a place for Sacha Kljestan to make an impact for the U.S., but much like a lot of guys in this lineup puzzle, there doesn't seem to be a ready-made spot for him the way Klinsmann sets things up. Either him or Zusi at the tip of a midfield trio, backed by Bradley and Jones seems like a solid idea. Somebody needs to be an offensive catalyst.

* Wrote earlier in the month about Jozy Altidore's goal-scoring form for AZ and how it may or may not apply to the U.S. So read that.

* File this away: Terrance Boyd will make an impact coming off the bench as a second-half substitute.

* Costa Rica is unbeaten in nine matches, dating back to a loss to Mexico at the Azteca in September.

* Based on his continual mental lapses for the Red Bulls, the U.S. gameplan should be to attack wherever the Ticos line Roy Miller up in their defense.

* Will Arsenal on-loan youngster Joel Campbell be in the mix for Costa Rica? Alvaro Saborio and Bryan Ruiz are both dangerous players, but aren't exactly speed-merchants. Something to keep an eye on.

* Costa Rica has a midfielder named Yeltsin Tejeda in the mix. Wonder if he enjoys Borscht?

Lineup Guess:

If you can figure out Klinsmann's methodology, buy lotto tickets, too. This isn't what I'd pick, but more in line with what Klinsmann's done lately.

GK -- Guzan

DEF -- Cameron -- Edu -- Gonzalez -- Beasley

MID -- Bradley -- Jones -- Zusi

FOR -- Dempsey -- Gomez -- Johnson

Closing Thought:

For whatever doom-and-gloom scenarios that might go through people's heads over the next 90 minutes, it's hard to come up with a situation where the U.S. -- with four more home games -- can't at least coax a way to finish fourth in CONCACAF, which means a playoff with New Zealand. Remember, unless it's going poorly, few people dwell on what happens in the qualifiers.

Tags: That's On Point, USMNT, World Cup

That’s On Point - USMNT vs Honduras Review

USMNT: What. The. Frick?!?!

Honduras 2, U.S. 1 (FT)

As the dude in the American Outlaws t-shirt at the bar (non-official or @ussoccer-approved) where I watched Wednesday's game said as time expired in San Pedro Sula, "Well, that sucked."

Not exactly the greatest way to kick off the final round of CONCACAF 2014 World Cup Qualifying, was it?

There's a tendency to freak out and overreact after a result like this. I get that. In the grand scheme of things, losing on the road to an improved Honduras -- a team expert-at-life Nate Silver's numerology said would win -- isn't necessarily reason to panic. If the U.S. wins its home games, beats Jamaica away and gets some points vs. Costa Rica and Panama it's going to go to Brazil, regardless of the results vs. Mexico.

If the U.S. walked away from the Honduran heat with a draw, or protected Clint Dempsey's very nice goal which put them ahead in the first half, great. We would all have forgotten this match and moved on.

However, the way the U.S. played was ... well ... reason to freak out in earnest. You'd think, for whatever the numbers say, the U.S. is still better than Honduras.

Here's what I know, without slipping into hyperbole:

1. In the second half the U.S. created one solid chance to score, a shot by Dempsey deflected out for a corner.

2. Jozy Altidore, not to single him out, didn't distinguish himself given the starting spot as a lone forward by Jurgen Klinsman. (His PR firm in the U.S. media likely won't mention is name today, just a hunch)

3. Klinsmann's open, attack-minded 4-3-3 with Altidore up top and Eddie Johnson and Dempsey in support, created few chances throughout the match.

4. The greenhorn U.S. defense, including the competitive debuts for all intents and purposes for Timmy Chandler and Omar Gonzalez didn't pay off.

5. Tim Howard made a debatable decision to come off his line (due to a complete team defensive lapse, mind) and got burnt by Jerry Bentgson for the game-winner in the 79th minute.

6. Both teams played on the same grass in the same heat. Hard to use that as an excuse, though the Bundesliga winter break didn't exactly benefit the U.S. today in seamy Central America.

Here's what I don't know:

1. If Carlos Bocanegra had started, the U.S. defense would've been an air-tight, lock-down unit.

2. If Klinsmann played a more conservative gameplan, started Herculez Gomez or others, the result would have been different.

3. (And here's the scary thing) I don't, for the life of me, know if Klinsmann knows what he's doing.

That's the scary prospect here. For all that Klinsmann has talked about, changing the U.S. culture, not much is different. Sure the U.S. now has a win under its belt at the Azteca and Chandler is now cap-tied to the American cause, but beyond that?

Other coaches have gone to Central America and lost, but Klinsmann's run of excuses for the team's inability to put together a tight, tidy and complete 90 minutes of soccer has all but run out.

Ultimately the bare minimum anyone who cares about the U.S. National Team cares about is making the World Cup. It's the standard and it's pass fail. Right now, judging by the last round, too, Klinsmann is in danger of failing. There's justified lack of confidence in the team, calling into question his checkered managerial history despite what he did with Germany in 2006.

There's no need to go overboard, here, since Klinsmann is the coach for the U.S. through this cycle no matter what, considering his ties to Sunil Gulati.

Is this result the end of the world? No. Hardly.

Does it instill much reason to believe anything is going to change going forward? Nope.

Does it make the home game in Denver in March vs. Costa Rica a "must-win"? You bet.

Hard to figure any player walking off the field today will be too proud of their performance, either.

It all seemed to be setting up on a plate for a patented U.S. smash-and-grab, do nothing for the bulk of the match, only to grab a late result. Except today Howard had a shaky moment of indecision and wasn't able to bail out the lackluster defense. It's okay, I guess, Howard has bailed the U.S. defense out more times than we can all count. It underlines the slim margin the Americans play with each time out.

The U.S. wasn't good Wednesday, nor was it god-awful. It's not like Honduras played exceedingly great and ran them off the field. The heat was likely some cause of this for both sides. Given a chance to make a play late, Oscar Boniek Garcia and Bentgson did so and made the Americans pay, not unlike they've done to numerous opponents throughout the years.

Again, this isn't writing off the team. Come the end of the year, people will be looking for ways to book flights to Brazil, perhaps finding a room with Karl Pilkington's drag queen friend.

The sky isn't falling.

Yet.

Other stuff:




* Impossible to gauge this, but would the "experience" of Bocanegra made a difference on either Honduras goal? There's a chance, maybe, a player with Bocanegra's track record wouldn't switch off completely on the first Honduran goal (which lets face it was a hell of a bicycle kick by Juan Carlos Garcia). Perhaps. There's just as good a chance he'd have gotten skinned on the second goal like Geoff Cameron and Omar Gonzalez.

* Juan Carlos Garcia, take a bow. Hell of a goal.


* Overall the U.S. defense was, if you're into the numbers thing, in the 4.0 or lower match rating . Cameron looked like a guy who's played the entire season in the midfield for Stoke City. Who's the alternative? Matt Besler? Thawing out Oguchi Onyewu? Hard to argument the high-risk, high-reward gamble Klinsmann tried with his defense didn't come up completely bust, particularly with Chandler and Fabian Johnson ineffective on the flanks.

* Not to pick on them but the Bundesliga guys (Jones, Danny Williams, Chandler, F. Johnson) didn't look sharp. Again Klinsmann rolled the dice playing all of them in an important game when their league only just resumed its play from a few weeks off. Going from the cold of Northern Europe to the tropics of Honduras is going to be a shock to the system for anyone.

* U.S. surprisingly got a break on a call, with the first would-be Honduras go-ahead goal properly waved off for offsides. Go figure.

* Few things are as inexcusable as giving up the equalizer like the U.S. did in the 40th, barely four minutes after Dempsey's strike. Hold the lead up halftime and it's a different match for the final 45. Would the U.S. have bunkered down and held it? The way the defenders played, probably not. Still, it's deflating to give up the tying goal that soon after you go ahead.

* Complaining about Jermaine Jones is like complaining about the weather at this point. Klinsmann has a blind eye for him and will keep using him, for better or for worse. He was pretty good Wednesday, with a great visionary pass to set up Dempsey's goal. Jones only made it through about 60 minutes until Maurice Edu had to come on.

* There's another time for this, yet it's a bit ridiculous fans in America could watch: England, Germany, France, Brazil and Mexico play with ease, but many had to result to McGyver-like means to watch the U.S. play.

* Ray Hudson, everyone's favorite Geordie announcer, is remarkably subdued when Lionel Messi isn't around.

In Closing

This song seems oddly appropriate tonight as we sob ourselves to sleep, crying into our red scarves:


Tags: That's On Point, USMNT, World Cup

A Brew For You… And You…. And You….

Editor's Note: We're continuing our contributions over at the SB Nation U.S. soccer blog, Stars and Stripes FC with this same piece. Check 'em out as they've got other great stuff than just FBM contributing.

Our USMNT - Honduras Game Day Beer Recommendations

Today the United States men’s national team travels down to steamy San Pedro Sula, Honduras for the first match of their Hexagonal round of World Cup Qualifying.

For anyone that’s ever been to San Pedro Sula or Honduras… it’s quite the place. I lived there for a while and experienced life, love, and libations.
Wait? What was I even talking about?

Oh yeah… libations.

If you’re ever in Honduras chances are it will be on the beautiful Bay Islands. Roatan, Utila, or less likely, La Guanaja. Wherever you are in Honduras you’ll find three beers: Barena, Port Royal, or Imperial (not the Imperial from Costa Rica that’s wildly available in the U.S.). Each one is a relatively light beer. Barena a Bud or Coruna knock-off; Port Royal similar to Heinekin right down to the green bottle; and Imperial is a bit darker like a Negra Modelo. Each one delightful on a white sandy beach in front of clear, blue water far away for the throat-clogging pollution surroundings of Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano.

But you probably didn’t come here to read about a bunch of tropical beers that are hard to find here. You want your good ol’ American craft beer fix for this afternoon’s game.
If it’s a lighter lager fare you’re looking for on par with today’s USMNT location then we’ve got a few well-crafted pilsner lagers to sip on during the afternoon.  Plus, they’re not too heavy on the ABV for you to get back to your desk after that “doctor’s appointment” you had.

The light lager has typically been a category of beer that craft brewers have left well alone to the domain of the macro-brewers. Times are changing though. In order to bridge the “craft gap” 

between macro drinkers and those who love their double-triple-IPA-cherry-barrel-aged-stouts (note: not a real style... yet) craft brewers are now using their talents to take on this typically tame beer style.

Our game day recommendations for best craft pilsners:

New Belgium Brewing Co. “Shift” Pale Lager (Fort Collins, CO)

Victory Brewing Co. “Prima Pils” (Downington, PA)

Lagunitas Brewing Co. “Pils” (Petaluma, CA)

Oskar Blues Brewing Co. “Mama’s Little Yella Pils” (Longmont, CO)

Each of these is sure to be a “refreshing” change of pace from any macro-pilsners or crazy craft concoctions you might normally imbibe. And leave you somewhat ready for getting back to the desk or not falling asleep at the dinner table tonight.


What are you drinking for today’s USMNT game?

 

Tags: A Brew For You, Beer, The Best of Both Worlds, USMNT, World Cup

Today’s The Day…

Remember these two? Yeah... it's been a long four years since the last "Hex". (Photo Credit: Soccer By Ives)

Editor's Note: This is our "get fired up" post for US international matches. We re-post it for every US match. Share it with your friends.

Today's the day the U.S. Men's National Team takes the field in their first "Hexagonal" World Cup qualifier on their road to Brazil 2014.

Today's the day they face Honduras in San Pedro Sula.

Today's the day we take the win and move on to the next match.

Today's the day that Howard will shine, Dempsey will lead, goals will be scored, and timely tackles will be made.

Today's the day we sit down with friends and fellow soccer fans and cheer on our team.

Today's the day we invite someone new to come along and experience the power of a soccer match.

Today's the day they'll get a free cold one to enjoy while watching the sport we so desperately love and the team we'd follow to the ends of the earth (or Brazil!).

Today's the day we ask a non-soccer fan to join our footballing family.

The Free Beer Movement is about spreading the love of American soccer to all corners of the nation and no day is better than today. Today, the pride and joy of our nation's game takes the field in order to continue its push towards the greatest sporting spectacle of all-time, the World Cup.

The past, present, and future of American soccer all take the field today to join in one cause, to win, and to move on to the next level.

It is days like this we, as American soccer fans embrace, as our national team fights for our country's continued respect on the international stage and to stake a claim as the best team in North and Central America.

Games like today are bigger than any game; bigger than any MLS game, and bigger than your son or daughter's kick around in the park.

Our local colors blend. There are no more yellow and black of the Columbus Crew or orange and white of the Houston Dynamo or the black and red of DC United; today there is only RED, WHITE, and BLUE.

These are the days that our nation's best and brightest shine on the field for 90 minutes. For themselves, for soccer, but mostly for you... the American fan and their country... the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

These are the days that you have to get up as a soccer fan in America.

So grab you friends, grab those soccer fans, grab those ones you want to become soccer fans, and most importantly grab some really cold beers because today's the day we support our National Team and our national game we love so much.

Tags: USMNT, World Cup

That’s On Point - The Hondurans are Coming! (USMNT - Honduras Preview)

Roger "Danger" Espinoza

By Mike Cardillo / That's On Point

Ho-lee crap.

If you're like me, your sleep pattern over the last week  has been flushed straight down the toilet. You're twisting. You're turning. You're having bad dreams -- nightmares in fact.

All because of one man: Roger Espinoza.

Goodness gracious, did you see the Honduran midfielder's debut for Wigan Athletic in the Barclay's Premier League vs. Stoke City last week? To call his move from Sporting Kansas City to the world's BEST league seamless would be an understatement. This was like Bruce Dickinson sliding in for Paul Di'Anno as frontman of Iron Maiden, albeit without the codpiece.

Let's put it this way, who needs RedTube.com, when you've got Espinoza's heat maps from that match.

This was a performance on par with Ferenc Puskas for Real Madrid vs. Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1960 European Cup final, a masterclass.

Truthfully, when the U.S. National Team heads to Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula on Wednesday (3 p.m., CST, beIN Sports) for the first match of the final round of CONCACAF World Cup 2014 Qualification (aka the Hex) I'm not sure how the Americans can even dream of winning all three points. Even a draw seems far-flung, considering the U.S. couldn't do much of anything in its friendly last week with Canada, drawing 0-0 in Houston.

If U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann is ever going to play his dream lineup of Tim Howard protected outfield by 10 clones of Jermaine Jones, this is the match. Bunker down. Dump and run. Pray for a point.

Honduras is that damn good.

***

Look, I trust anyone still reading this little old blog to pick up on the sarcasm. Pretty sure I laid it on there thicker than an bottle of Mrs. Butterworth left out in the January snow.

For whatever the reason, this" fear of our shadow" seems to be a overwhelming tone percolating around the U.S. these days. Qualification to the seventh straight World Cup is going to be nigh on impossible.

Klinsmann doesn't know what he's doing.

The U.S. doesn't have anyone -- specifically forwards -- who can score.

Playing on the road in CONCACAF is tougher than when Eric Cantona had to play that match against 11 demons in the bowels of Hell itself.

Realistically there are two concrete, irrefutable issues to worry about with the U.S. under Klinsmann's watchful, forward-thinking, motivational rah-rah eye.

1. The slow starts. 

Why the U.S. falls behind early due to mental lapses in the defense, or only plays well when it's right up against the gun is baffling. It's a bit of a double-edged sword, too.

Sup, Fräuleins
 

The same mentality that allows the team to slip up, conceding sloppy goals is, to some degree, the same one that lets to pull something from nothing, as seen in the win at Mexico, the late draw vs. Russia and throughout the previous round of qualification.

Perhaps the immediate equalizer vs. Antigua (in a 3-1 win) or allowing a goal to Guatemala in the fifth minute in a must-win match isn't huge trend, but it's definitely something and strange why it takes something bad to happen for Klinsmann's teams to get into gear -- even as he stands with a wry smile on his face on the touchline.

2. Three Defensive Midfielders Don't Work. 

In 2012 Klinsmann fielded five lineups that started with some combination of Jones, Michael Bradley (not really a "defensive midfielder," in truth but you know what we mean), Maurice Edu, Kyle Beckerman or Danny Williams together in a midfield trio/triangle/thee headed Cerberus with a penchant for yellow cards.  The U.S. went 2-2-1, including 1-1-1 in qualifiers, including the nadir of the year -- the loss at Jamaica.

Following that defeat, when every U.S. fan was in full-on panic mode, Klinsmann went back to the tried-and-true 4-4-2 formation, relying on Herculez Gomez and Clint Dempsey up top. It produced two wins.

The 4-4-2, soccer's missionary position, will never win many plaudits from Internet know-it-alls like Zonal Marking (who should probably go into coaching because he's that wise and seemingly never once been wrong when it comes to filling out his starting XI), but it seems to be effective for the U.S. Is it the rapturous, swashbuckling play of a mid-table Portuguese League team, no. I'll have to grant you that.

That's what probably needs to be drilled into people who have the masochistic tenancy to actually want to watch the U.S. throughout the next 10 months. It's not going to be fun. It's not going to be fluid. If you want that, watch Barcelona (#morethanaclub) every week and laugh along with Ray Hudson ever so retweetable commentary. Sadly, our pal Jermaine Jones is never going to tap dance atop a champagne bubble and into the stratosphere like Lionel Messi -- few are.

Realistically if you want aesthetically pleasing soccer, there's no shortage of it on American television these days unlike the late 1990s when pretty much the only exposure we had to the game were U.S. matches, international tournaments or MLS. (RIP Tampa Bay Mutiny. #neverforget)  Nor are qualifiers aren't going to have the feel of Chelsea scoring eight goals in a Premier League match in September

Qualifying for the World Cup is enjoyable in the sense the games are full of meaning, but -- by golly -- has the U.S. proven it's not exactly best to pay that close attention to how the Brazilian 2014 sausage is made.

Something else to keep an eye on, is for some reason the U.S. struggles when it's supposed to win. Throw that out against the mini Caribbean nations, although Antigua and Barbuda proved not to be pushovers last round, but when the U.S. goes into a game as a favorite, with the onus on them to carry the run of play through attacking, it never seems to go off smoothly. Conversely, when America plays a team it's supposed to get creamed by, it usually surprises and does well.

Why this happens goes back to the whole idea that the U.S. is better when it can use it's athleticism to play on the counter-attack as opposed to having to play in possession since American players aren't strong with their first-touches or creative passing.

And for all the talk of how hard it is to play on the road in CONCACAF, which it surely is, how many disasters has the U.S. had in the last two decades save for trips to the Azteca? Off the top of my head, there was the game Jose Torres got undressed on the plastic pitch of the Saprissa in Costa Rica and the loss at Jamaica last October. Otherwise the U.S. usually does enough to get a draw or sometimes win, which equals a smooth qualification process.

Still, there's no reason for the U.S. to go into qualification lacking confidence. Yes, the teams in CONCACAF are improved, but the U.S. -- look up and down its roster -- is still better (not counting Mexico) and has better resources within its federation. Let's not undersell the U.S., as we seem to have. For all the caveats and asterisks that come with it, how many other teams in the final six of CONCACAF boast a player who's the top scorer (now second) in a European league like Jozy Altidore is in the Dutch Eredivisie?

Yes, the U.S. roster is unbalanced and isn't blessed with players in the Champions League, barring everybody's favorite midfield enforcer, Jones. By CONCACAF standards, it's still very good.

Qualification for the U.S. isn't going to be easy.

But it's not as impossible as some people are making it sound, either.

It just won't be all that pretty or fun to digest.

Other Stuff:

* The biggest thing to watch in this game is the likely midfield partnership between Jones and Bradley. Let's hope Bradley takes the front foot here, leading the way. It's baffling why in 2012 the U.S. seems to differ and take all it's cues from Jones -- a bit player at Schalke 04 only recently back from suspension. To Jones' credit, at least, he was the one guy seemingly willing to step up and try to carry some of the play, for better or worse.

Bradley only gets better and should be the rock the team is built on the next few seasons.

* Kind of a big deal (buried in the final line of the USSF's release on Monday about the 23-man roster) is that Bradley, Dempsey, F. Johnson, Zusi and Edu are a yellow card away from a one-match ban since CONCACAF in its infinite wisdom doesn't reset discipline from the previous rounds. So at least two massively important players (Bradley, Dempsey) are a whistle away from missing the next game, in Denver on March 22 vs. Costa Rica or the March 26th trip to the Azteca. This seems important.

* Poor Timmy Chandler, about to get cap-tied by the U.S. since he'll likely start at right back with Steve Cherundolo injured. Hard to think of anything worse that could happen to anyone in the realm of soccer, bar sharing a hotel room with Nemanja Vidic. Let's all pour out a Bitburger to mourn his career as a German international. Auf Wiedersehen.

* At the expense of writing 1,000 words about Altidore, which probably could be done with ease, few Americans are going to care he's scored 15 goals for AZ in the Dutch Eredivisie this campaign (second to Vitesse's Wilfried Bony) if he puts in another fruitless, low work-rate shift for the U.S. Altidore should start at forward, but another U.S. paradox existed in 2012 that the less pedigreed Herculez Gomez continually outshone him on the international stage.

It's worth noting at AZ this season Altidore has played exclusively as a loan center forward/striker in a classic Dutch 4-3-3, with steady service from the wingers, scoring many goals on headers. By the same token, Altidore's best days as a U.S. player probably came during his brief partnership up top with Charlie Davies.

If Altidore is as talented as we've been lead to believe by some U.S. journalists, do we really need to make excuses for which formation he plays in?

* Landon Donovan doesn't want to play soccer as his spiritual quest of surfing the coasts of all seven continents continues. He doesn't want to play? Let's move on. Donovan isn't going to play forever and if he eventually wants to get back in the fold, it can only be considered a good thing down the road. Until Donovan's "head is right," let's not worry about him. Next man up, as the saying goes.

* It's confusing Klinsmann seems so in love with Maurice Edu, who the German coach still wishes he could convert into a center back. Since he transfer to Stoke City from Rangers in late August and subsequent loan to Bursaspor in Turkey, the Maryland product has played in two games.

* Geoff Cameron, for what I've seen of Stoke City (a treat to the eyes and ears), hasn't lined up at center back, playing on the right of defense or the midfield. Even so, this doesn't seem a concern since he's played well as a defender while wearing the U.S. shirt.

* I've always enjoyed Brad Davis, if only for set piece delivery.

* Good that Sacha Kljestan is in the mix, if only for cheap jokes about him being a hipster I can make on Twitter. (He's the only laughing. His wife, wowee, zowee.)  Could he form a partnership with Bradley? Would that midfield tandem work, at least at home?

* For what it's worth, Carlos Bocanegra's Racing Santander is currently in last-place in the Spanish second division. This is likely due to the club's league-low 19 goals scored and not necessarily its defense. Hard to say, as I don't watch the Segunda. Please do not throw rotten fruit at me for revealing this to a world audience. I should be more cultured than I am. Unclean. UNCLEAN!!!

* Genuinely terrific development, all Mexico 2014 Qualifiers will be on ESPN in English (although they're much more enjoyable on Univision with Pablo Ramirez) whereas most U.S. fans will have to scramble to find a way to access to road qualifiers for the Americans via the lack of cable operators carrying beIN Sport. Please DO NOT revert to accessing an illegal internet stream. You'd be better served burning down 10 acres of Brazilian rain forest if you're going to be that big of a monster.

Lineup Guess:

A safe, simple 4-4-2 on the road. If Klinsmann tries to get too cute with his preference for wingers (on a team with very few at its disposal) its a recipe for peril. The 4-4-2 is about as "sexy" Jemaine Clement singing on "Business Time," but it's effective -- socks on or off.

GK -- Howard

DEF -- Chandler -- Cameron -- Bocanegra -- Johnson

MID -- Zusi -- Bradley -- Jones -- B. Davis

FOR -- Dempsey -- Altidore

Final Thought:

A win would be great, a draw okay and a loss wouldn't be the end of the world. That's the quality, first-class analysis you come to this site to read, right?

About Mike

Mike Cardillo writes a blog. Follow him on Twitter @thatsonpoint.

Tags: That's On Point, USMNT, World Cup

That’s On Point - Arrested Development

Can he play in Europe? Can he start for the USMNT?
Can Fiji Water hydrate me properly after a grueling day signing autographs?

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

By Mike Cardillo / That's On Point

Remember paper?

 

You know, that stuff we used to read stuff on. You might remember it referred to as "papyrus." It was made out of wood pulp, or something. It's hard to really say. This "paper" was invented by the ancient Egyptians and, presumably, the manufacturing process was taught to them by the same aliens who built the pyramids. My memory of all this is a little fuzzy. Forgive me.

Anyways, ancient man used to use paper and often bound these pages into volumes called, "books." Which were read to gain knowledge and or entertain you before television was invented.

One day I stumbled across one of these "books" in my daily adventures and took it home with me. "The Rough Guide to Cult Football" it was titled. Something told me this would find a perfect home resting comfortably atop the lid on my toilet for reading material, as the fear of dropping an iPhone and or iPad into the bowl would be worse than having your pinky finger lopped off.

This book was full of fun tidbits, profiles, charts, pictures, anecdotes  etc. about football, or what we uncouth Americans call, "soccer." (A sport played with your feet.) Basically fun stuff from the Time Before, aka when soccer was available on television 24/7/365 to Americans -- so roughly 2001.

Throughout this tome, there are numerous shots by the British writers at America's attempt to play the sport. In fact, here's one in list form, including a dig at ESPN analyst and ginger extraordinaire, Alexi Lalas. There are swipes, too, at the defunct NASL. If you lived in a cave and had no knowledge of the outside world (but somehow had this book) you'd get the picture Americans attempting to play the sport of soccer would be akin to chimpanzee's hammering away at a typewriter -- albeit less hilarious. (It's unlikely someone living in isolation in the woods would draw parallels to something based off a Simpsons joke, but you never know.)

Reading all this -- and knowing a little bit how the Brits think -- there's a definite fearful tone in the writing. Why would British hacks take so much pleasure in perpetuating the myth Americans don't know a thing about soccer unless, deep down, they were afraid of the Colonies one day conquering the sports like we Yanks have done nearly all other team sports, well the ones we care about anyway. Let Denmark have Team Handball.

Why don't the English crack wise about China's inability to raise its soccer profile?

China has a robust economy, over a billion citizens and a communist government pushing excellence in sports -- see the Beijing Olympics -- yet soccer in the country languishes in the backwaters. China has played in one World Cup -- 2002. It's current national team is comprised entirely of players from it's own domestic league, the Chinese Super League which in the last two days saw high-profile players Didier Drogba and Niclas Anelka jump ship barely a year into their contracts.

Remember Dong Faagzhuo? Allegedly this nascent Chinese superstar, signed to Manchester United last decade?

Yeah, me neither.

And yet, here we are as we hit the main course of 2014 CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying. Seemingly not a day goes by where somebody hatches an idea why the United States lags behind the world soccer powers like Brazil and Spain nearly 25 years since the "modern era" since the 1990 World Cup. Monday it was ESPN's Roger Bennett writing a long story theorizing why the United States hasn't produced a star player like Lionel Messi. Read it if you haven't, if only to stir the juices in your brain.

Everybody who's ever watched an American soccer game or considers his or herself a fan has probably spent plenty of time speculating on the subject.

It's flawed youth development that only cares about trophies.

It's MLS's closed system where the clubs can't directly train their own youth academies like the rest of the world.

It's the broken college/pro idea all other American sports use.

It's because American players want to get an education.

It's because the USSF hasn't figured out how to integrate America's growing Hispanic population.

It's because not enough players are in Europe.

It's because we lost Giuseppe Rossi to Italy.

It's because MLS doesn't have promotion and relegation.

It's because there aren't enough Americans on Champions League clubs.

The USSF doesn't have enough oversight.

The USSF has too much oversight.

American kids play other sports.

The United States is too big geographically.

It's because LeBron James decided to play basketball instead of soccer.

It's because of something Bob Bradley did, so it's likely his fault.

Or it's because of the Mayans.

That about covers about all the arguments.

In short, it's probably some of these and all of these or none of these. Maybe we're all wasting too much thinking about all this, losing focus on the other details, or beyond that even enjoying the games at hand, such as Tuesday night's all-important traditional end of January friendly, this time against Canada in Houston. (9 p.m., ESPN2)

Sometimes it feels like the amount of time we (myself included) have poured into figuring out why America hasn't conquered the world of soccer, is staggering. Never-mind these facts:

1. the U.S. is almost an automatic World Cup qualifier, reaching the knockout rounds two of the last three competitions (and... The U.S. is one of only seven nations to reach the last six World Cups -- along with Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Italy, South Korea and Spain)
2. Out of the 200-plus nations in FIFA, eight have won a World Cup. Eight, is simply astounding.

Could the U.S. be further along? Should we as fans expect a little more than a place in the Round of 16 in the World Cup? Definitely.

By the same token, can we all of a sudden transplant Barcelona's La Masia training ground, bottle up whatever magical water flows there and plop it into the fields of America and replicate the results? Obviously not. You could observe what a Barcelona does for months, or the German youth system, but applying it to America and simply snapping your fingers and expecting results is asinine.

If there is one thing I'll say is a definite factor in the hindrance of U.S. soccer development is the difference where most American parents wouldn't want their children, at say, 13 training with a pro club with maybe the outside shot of a pro contract by the time he's 18. In Europe or around the world this isn't balked at, yet for so many American parents the driving force is the almighty college scholarship, so nearly all decisions for their soccer-playing children are made with that in mind, not the greater development of the sport in the country. Call it a sense of entitlement. "My little Hunter plays U12 on Rockingham United. He's a shoo-in for a spot on Stanford's college team."

Right.

Take a big country like Brazil. There's thousands upon thousands of kids playing against each other around the clock. It produces better players and weeds out the weaker ones, much like what we have with basketball in America. If you go to a playground, maybe you'll see some talent kids playing hoops, yet only the best of the best are going to a Division I school and even less to the NBA.

In the more abstract sense, let's keep looking at basketball.

European basketball clubs and academies continually produce players, fundamentally sound players. You know all the stereotypes. Guys who can pass, shoot, make free throws, etc. Solid all-around basketball players. You can take that player, stick in at an American college and chances are he'll do fairly well even if ... HE'S SOFT! (because every single European to play basketball is softer than a wedge of brie.)

As fundamentally capable as that player is, line him up against a guy like LeBron James who is physically unlike nearly 99.99999999999999999999999999 percent of the human population and there's going to be a gap. There is something inherently special about LeBron on the basketball court, something that no matter if you took someone with a base level of skill, trained him for eight hours a day for years, he'll never be able to replicate.

Or even take a basketball player like J.J. Redick. Not an overwhelming physical player. There's no shortage of 6-foot-4 shooting guards. Redick, for whatever reason, has that knack for the 3-point shot and has carved out an NBA career from it. He's able to to that one thing on the court very, very well.

This might apply to soccer even more, but in a different way. It goes back to my long-held theory that of all the sports, soccer is art. It can be played so many different ways to create beauty. It's not purely physical. If it were, 6-foot-7 Peter Crouch would theoretically a better player than the 5-foot-7 Lionel Messi. If Everton left back Leighton Baines walked past you on the street, you'd never think he's a borderline world class player.

There probably isn't a magic formula for what makes a world-class soccer player, though some would argue that Messi has the ideal height. There are so many little different skill sets in the game, and with the proper coaching can be used and molded into a successful team. There's yet to be a team of 11 Franz Beckenbauers, who at his pomp could conceivably play anywhere on the field.

No matter where you stand on the U.S. soccer development paradigm, we can agree the America has produced a steady string of solid, physically fit, capable soccer players with high stamina. Where the U.S. lags far behind the world is finding creative, soccer-minds. There aren't many Americans who we think of as crafty and cagey. When we do have an example of a highly intelligent American player, it's Claudio Reyna. To wit, granted these are the top examples, but the U.S. hasn't produced guys like Xavi or Andrea Pirlo -- or even their non-union Mexican equivalents. (Note, that's another Simpsons reference.) Instead the definitive players of the brief Jurgen Klinsmann era are gritty grinders like Jermaine Jones.

Here's the thing, in soccer you can win with a guy like Jones.

No, seriously, stop laughing.

Goal by MLS, still counts as one on the scoreboard.

It's not easy, but international soccer isn't always about cramming the most individual talent possibly in the starting XI. It's finding a system that works and limiting mistakes. As the U.S. under Bradley (and Klinsmann) proved, sometimes all it takes is one fortunate moment over the span of 90 minutes to produce a result, ie. vs. Spain, Italy, Mexico etc.

When the U.S. takes on Canada Tuesday, or plays at Honduras in a qualifier next Wednesday, do you think when the ball touches the feet of Graham Zusi do you think he's worrying about the fact he played at Maryland or was only a second-round MLS pick? Or when Mixx Diskerud collects a pass he's remembering how he came up through the Stabaek youth system in Norway and played briefly in Belgium before he could legally buy a can of Budweiser in the United States?

We as fans worry about this stuff a lot more than the players, or even Klinsmann, although his comments to the Wall Street Journal might say otherwise. On the eve of qualification, it doesn't seem the German-born coach is too worried about pedigrees or which club pays your wages, he wants guys with hunger who are driven to consistently be the best they can be -- sounds decidedly American, doesn't it?

It speaks to that insecurity we as American soccer fans are ingrained to feel. That the rest of the world scoffs at us, while the mainstream media in our country laughs behind our backs about the sport.

In the words of the great Dr. Steve Brule, "Who cares?"

If, next week vs. Honduras, (a game that's fairly important) are we going to care if a goal is scored by Terrance Boyd who came up in the Hertha Berlin youth set-up in Germany or if it's Chris Wondolowski, who played with something called the Chico State Wildcats as a kid? Probably not.

Look, this isn't something people are going to like to hear, but we've been talking about U.S. soccer player development for years and it has moved at a glacial pace. Everyone who cares about soccer has an opinion on it, but enacting something that's comprehensive and works seems a bridge too far -- if for the immediate future. There are so  many forces at play, things unique to America compared to the rest of the world trying to copy or emulate another system will take years to take root. Instead whomever is the U.S. coach or in a position or power with the USSF is going to have to accept the situation and make it work the best for him.

There isn't a magic bullet. And to think a wealthy country of 310 million people needs one to compete is a defeatism mentality, a fall-back excuse for when the United States -- at all levels, especially the youth -- comes up short. The player pool is deep enough to find 23 solid international players at any given time.

Realistically, whatever success the U.S. has on the soccer field is going to be wrought the "American Way." For better or for worse ... and whatever that ultimately means.

Look it up in a book. Maybe it'll have a definition.

About Mike

Mike Cardillo writes a blog. Follow him on Twitter @thatsonpoint.

Tags: Jurgen Klinsmann, That's On Point, USMNT, World Cup

VIDEO - USMNT 2012 Year in Review

The United States Men's National team posted a 9-2-3 record for 2012 (their best winning percentage ever), notched important international friendly wins away to in Italy and Mexico, and saw Michael Bradley emerge as the "general" of this team. Yet, for all their success Landon Donovan was mostly absent and the Nats backed their way into the final round of World Cup Qualifying (not including the U-23 disaster).

What will 2013 bring? Hopefully qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and a foundation for success there.

Look back on all the goals (seven from Clint Dempsey) for 2012 with this video from U.S. Soccer.

 

Tags: USMNT, Video, World Cup

That’s On Point - “Three Points, Mon” (US/Jamaica Review)

By Mike Cardillo / That's On Point

U.S. 1, Jamaica 0

There's probably a very rote way to discuss Tuesday night's 2014 CONCACAF World Cup qualifier from Columbus, Ohio, including two massive, mandatory points which must be discussed.

1. The U.S. took care of business and got three points, erasing the memory of the ugly defeat in Kingston three days ago.

1a. Jurgen Klinsmann's five lineup changes, notably taking big gambles on Graham Zusi and Jose Torres in the midfield, among the most prominent, paying dividends.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I'll try to make this a little more unique that what you can probably read in 502 other places. As you may or may not know by now I've probably watched the majority of U.S. National Team games over the years on the couch next to my dad. Needing to do laundry -- and get home-cooked meal from mom -- I went to my parents place to kill a couple of birds with one stone.

As soon as I walked in, my dad already said he was nervous about the result and proceeded to grill me on all the what-if scenarios should the U.S. fail to beat Jamaica later that night. Fun stuff.

Hours passed and the game began. Usually my dad will talk throughout, while I'll bury my head into my phone and fall into the Twitter wormhole. Tonight, dad didn't talk. He was locked in from the start, with his leg slowly, steadily starting to twitch and tap as the clock ticked toward 90 at Crew Stadium.

By the time the whistle sounded, like many others, my dad let out a massive sigh of relief.

Thank you Herculez Gomez for your free kick goal in the 55th minute that saved me a trip to the emergency walk-in clinic. (As Nate from ohyoubeauty pointed out on Twitter, we could have lived without Ian Darke's strained 'No. 9 shirt scoring on 9/11' remark.)

Perhaps in 2012 the U.S. should be beyond sweating out nervy 1-0 results vs. a team like Jamaica -- on homesoil -- yet it beats the alternative.

The most important part of Tuesday's win is it puts destiny to advance (hard to think we're thinking like this) to the final Hexagonal back in the Americans hands with a trip to Antigua and Barbuda followed by a home game with Guatemala in October. Six points very ready for the taking, with the U.S., Jamaica and Guatemala now all even on seven points with two matches to play.

Now that the dust has settled after 180 minutes of soccer against the Reggae Boyz not all that much has changed in the grand scheme of U.S. soccer.

* Klinsmann still loves his rugged midfield hardman Jermaine Jones while the public doesn't.

* We still don't quite know what the U.S. "style" of play under the German coach is going to develop into.

* Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan still haven't found a way to get on the field in a U.S. shirt at the same time.

* The U.S. hasn't morphed into Brazil 1970 or Holland 1974, either.

If there's any one takeaway, it's that Geoff Cameron's emergence in a central defensive role eases some consternation of having to rely on 30-somethings like Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu in Brazil two years from now. That's a definite plus. Small sample size, yes, but an encouraging one nonetheless.

With any luck Klinsmann realized that that a midfield comprised of three hard-tacklers with limited passing vision isn't going to take the U.S. to the next level. It might be nice to get some hard tackles vs. Brazil in a friendly, but with a packed in opposing defense -- not so much.

What struck me as odd about the two Jamaica games, despite a total of four goals being scored, is how few chances either side produced.(*) That's going to happen when three of the four goals are from free kicks. Friday, in the U.S. loss, it had two shots on goal, whereas Jamaica had four. Tuesday each side had one apiece.

(*) We tend to never think about it as fans, but the condition of the pitch makes such a difference in how a game is played. The immaculate surface in Columbus certainly aided the U.S. possession game in the first half.

That's a little misleading since the U.S. caught Liverpool-syndrome in the first half, hitting the post numerous times as well as being denied by keeper Dwayne Miller on some excellent saves. Credit, though, to Danny Williams (at home in a defensive/shield role) and Zusi for taking some shots from distance.

Through it all, yes, the U.S. probably should have been ahead comfortably at the half, but that's soccer. How many times have the Americans been kept in games but for the one-man heroics of Tim Howard in goal? Even with it still 0-0  it was an encouraging half with Torres and Zusi looking assured on the ball, plus Gomez -- on top of his later goal -- was much more active coming back to get involved in the attack, same with Clint Dempsey although his misguided backheels at the center line weren't necessarily the best idea of the night. (His GIF-face notwitstanding, it was not Dempsey's best showing -- seemed out-of-sync. Strange he played the full 90, too.)

This will sound odd, but Jones -- despite his unloved status -- was effective Tuesday, even as he was clearly targeted again by the Jamaicans. His game is a lot like Michael Bradley, running box-to-box and playing a high-incident, blood-and-guts style. On a weekly basis at Schalke this is very useful, a little less in the international game. He might be a "defensive" minded player, or at least that's what we think of him, but he's not quite that holding guy who starts attacks or relieves pressure.  Realistically the best we've seen from Jones is when he makes runs forward into the box, not breaking up attacks or shielding the defense.

Put it this way, we think of every European player as the almost magical combination of first touch goodness and tactical nous. While the technique of the average Euro player is probably better than elsewhere, players like Jones show there is more than one side to the beautiful game.

But back to the game itself, as we've seen on a nearly weekly basis with Arsene Wenger's Arsenal, it's no fun to play when the opponent sticks 10 guys behind the ball. The U.S. didn't dip their heads or get frustrated and the Gomez goal came at the right time before the Americans lost direction and started throwing the kitchen sink at the Jamaicans, hoping to get lucky. (See Mexico's offensive vs. the U.S. at the Azteca last month.)

The final 20 minutes were nervy.

The idea of "defensive" guys like Maurice Edu coming on seems good on paper, but lest we forget possession is a weapon and an effective way to play defense -- look at Spain. Dropping both Zusi and Torres left the U.S. midfield much less composed. Jones-Edu-Williams together, yes, can break up plays but the game didn't exactly call for that. Then again, killing off a game is never the U.S. forte -- look at the loss to Guatemala in June where an 83rd minute goal turned a 1-0 win into a 1-1 draw that basically put the U.S. in this do-or-die game Tuesday night as much as the loss to Jamaica did.

This is nitpicking, yet it seemed like Klinsmann was tinkering with something that was working.

The U.S. can take a bow, if it wants, for doing the business required. The great, loud and supportive fans in Columbus did deserve that, at least.

Otherwise, there's still a lot of work for Klinsmann left to do. Realistically, bar the fluke goal in the first minute for Dempsey Friday, the U.S. created only a handful of scoring chances in the run of play vs. Jamaica.

Michael Bradley and Donovan returning, if healthy, next month should help sort a lot of this out, especially if Klinsmann decides to keep the effective 4-1-3-2 formation from Tuesday and slot Bradley and Donovan into these roles rather than reverting to the 4-3-3 Klinsmann likes to use despite the fact the U.S. isn't blessed with very many wide forward options. Donovan for either Zusi or Torres and Bradley for Jones, on paper, would seem like a no-brainer.

Hell if we want to unravel the orange peel even further, the U.S. -- bar a total collapse -- is going to make it to Brazil in 2014, but we're still almost at square one about what it's going to do once it gets there.

In any event, it was a nice night for Gomez, who deserves a moment to shine.

He's never going to play in the UEFA Champions League or set the world alight, but he fits that classic American mold that's won a lot of matches over the years -- he works his ass off and tries his best. Gomez was one of the guys who, after the loss to Jamaica was frank about the team's play and said it needed to improve.

Tuesday night in Columbus the U.S. did just that ... barely.

Sometimes barely is more than enough, in the end.

As the saying goes, "three points are three points."

Tags: That's On Point, USMNT, World Cup

Today’s The Day….

Dempsey gets the tally against Jamaica in 2011. (Photo Credit:  Alex Brandon, AP)

Editor's Note: This is our "get fired up" post for US international matches. We re-post it for every US match. Share it with your friends.

Today's the day the U.S. Men's National Team takes the field in a World Cup qualifier on their road to Brazil 2014.

Today's the day they face Jamaica in Kingston.

Today's the day we take the win and move on to the next match.

Today's the day that Howard will shine, Dempsey will lead, goals will be scored, and timely tackles will be made.

Today's the day we sit down with friends and fellow soccer fans and cheer on the home team.

Today's the day we invite someone new to come along and experience the power of a soccer match.

Today's the day they'll get a free cold one to enjoy while watching the sport we so desperately love and the team we'd follow to the ends of the earth (or Brazil!).

Today's the day we ask a non-soccer fan to join our footballing family.

The Free Beer Movement is about spreading the love of American soccer to all corners of the nation and no day is better than today. Today, the pride and joy of our nation's game takes the field in order to continue its push towards the greatest sporting spectacle of all-time, the World Cup.

The past, present, and future of American soccer all take the field today to join in one cause, to win, and to move on to the next level.

It is days like this we, as American soccer fans embrace, as our national team fights for our country's continued respect on the international stage and to stake a claim as the best team in North and Central America.

Games like today are bigger than any game; bigger than any MLS game, and bigger than your son or daughter's kick around in the park.

Our local colors blend. There are no more yellow and black of the Columbus Crew or orange and white of the Houston Dynamo or the black and red of DC United; today there is only RED, WHITE, and BLUE.

These are the days that our nation's best and brightest shine on the field for 90 minutes. For themselves, for soccer, but mostly for you... the American fan and their country... the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

These are the days that you have to get up as a soccer fan in America.

So grab you friends, grab those soccer fans, grab those ones you want to become soccer fans, and most importantly grab some really cold beers because today's the day we support our National Team and our national game we love so much.

Tags: American Outlaws, News, USMNT, World Cup

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