Contact Me

About RightWing NutHouse

Site Stats

blog radio

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More


(Romeo St. Martin of Politics Watch-Canada)

"The epitome of a blogging orgasm"
(Cao of Cao's Blog)

"Rick Moran is one of the finest essayists in the blogosphere. ‘Nuff said. "
(Dave Schuler of The Glittering Eye)

October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004



Blacksmiths of Lebanon
Blogs of War
Classical Values
Cold Fury
Diggers Realm
Neocon News
Ravenwood’s Universe
Six Meat Buffet
The Conservative Cat






















‘Unleash’ Palin? Get Real






"24" (96)
Bird Flu (5)
Blogging (198)
Books (10)
Caucasus (1)
Cindy Sheehan (13)
Decision '08 (288)
Election '06 (7)
Ethics (172)
Financial Crisis (8)
FRED! (28)
General (378)
GOP Reform (22)
Government (123)
History (166)
Homeland Security (8)
Iran (81)
Katrina Timeline (4)
Lebanon (8)
Marvin Moonbat (14)
Media (184)
Middle East (134)
Moonbats (80)
Obama-Rezko (14)
Olympics (5)
Open House (1)
Palin (5)
PJ Media (37)
Politics (649)
Presidential Debates (7)
RNC (1)
S-CHIP (1)
Sarah Palin (1)
Science (45)
Space (21)
Sports (2)
Supreme Court (24)
Technology (1)
The Caucasus (1)
The Law (14)
The Long War (7)
The Rick Moran Show (127)
War on Terror (330)
Who is Mr. Hsu? (7)
Wide Awakes Radio (8)


Admin Login


Design by:

Hosted by:

Powered by:

This article originally appears in The American Thinker

Since his election to the papacy in April of 2005, Pope Benedict has bent over backwards in an effort to assuage the concerns of Muslims over issues that place them in conflict with the west. It is therefore something of a surprise that he would knowingly challenge radical Islamists by quoting a long dead 13th century Byzantine vassal Emperor on the “evil and inhuman” practice of forced conversion to Islam.

The fact that both his words and intent were twisted by the fanatics in order to gin up the emotions of their ignorant followers should not have come as a surprise to the Pontiff given similar reactions to other faux “outrages” like the Muhammed cartoons and the fake story about the desecration of the Koran by US soldiers at Guantanamo. This makes one wonder if indeed the challenge was deliberate and designed to augment his main thesis regarding radical Isam; that violence and reason are incompatible and therefore, ungodly.

What is surprising about Benedict’s challenge is that he had given no inkling up to now that he was interested in rocking the boat when it came to relations between Rome and the Muslim faith. He had actually condemned the publication of the Muhammed cartoons saying:

“In the international context we are living at present, the Catholic Church continues convinced that, to foster peace and understanding between peoples and men, it is necessary and urgent that religions and their symbols be respected”.

Benedict added that “believers should not be the object of provocations that wound their lives and religious sentiments.” While many free speech advocates criticized this stance as appeasement, the statements made by Benedict were fully in line with Vatican policy regarding respect for the symbols and beliefs of other religions.

It was thought when the Pope ascended to the throne of St. Peter that he would perhaps offer more of a challenge to radical Islam than his predecessor. In fact, Benedict seemed to go out of his way to avoid this kind of confrontation with Islam. His entreaties to fellow Europeans for interreligious dialogue with Muslims as well as a call for tolerance and understanding of Muslim practices and traditions was felt by some to undercut any effort at Muslim assimilation into European civilization. This may have been unfair given the Catholic Church’s careful nurturing of their relations with mainstream Muslim groups, especially in Europe.

As recently as July the Pope condemned Israel in their war with Hez’ballah, criticizing their attack on a “free and sovereign nation” while telling the people of Lebanon that the Vatican “assures its closeness to these people who already have suffered so much to defend their independence.” The Vatican has also long advocated a separate Palestinian state and Bendict’s recent criticism of Israel regarding the war in Gaza and the West Bank was placed in the context of resuming peace negotiations with Hamas.

The Pope’s solidarity with Muslims doesn’t stop with his condemnation of armed conflicts in Lebanon and Gaza. He has also severely criticized the United States for its invasion and occupation of Iraq. In short, wherever Muslim sensibilities have been touched by Western challenges, the Pope has addressed their concerns in a sensitive and conciliatory manner.

Why then did the Pontiff break with the past and throw down the gauntlet at radical Isamists? The dilemma for the Pope as well as the West has always been a question of whether or not to engage the fanatics by challenging them or try and address their grievances and appease them. Has the Pope finally decided to cast his lot with those who seek to challenge the extremists? It would appear that the Pope has done so and on a plane that he seems uniquely suited to occupy; bringing his considerable intellectual gifts and moral authority to bear in an effort to encourage moderates to step forward and work with him to marginalize the terrorists.

Risk attends both the engagement and appeasement strategies. Engagement, we are told, plays into the radicals hands and strengthens the terrorists. By challenging the fanatics, we create more terrorists and make it more difficult for moderate Muslims to support us. On the other hand, getting to terrorism’s “root causes” appears to be an exercise in futility while agreeing with the extremists critiques of the western response to terrorism only seems to embolden them.

The Pope seeks a higher plane in the conflict. By risking offense, he goes beyond the superficial dialogue between Christian and Muslims of the past and begins a conversation where it should have been all along; on the nature and practice of Islam in the modern world and how that religion can co-exist with a west infused with Christian values.

In this, the Pope’s recent critique of western materialism and secularism which drew plaudits from several moderate Muslim groups in Europe can be seen as a starting point in that it lays out common ground between pious followers of both faiths. And his lecture condemning violence in the name of God also contained several well aimed swipes at those in the west who abandon faith in the name of reason. Both the Pope’s criticisms can be echoed by Muslims opposed to violence in that what even moderates fear the most is that modernity necessarily means the secularization of their culture. They have seen what has happened to Christianity in Europe and are adamantly opposed to the abandonment of Islamic values.

Perhaps the violent reaction to the Pope’s words was anticipated by the Vatican. Even if it wasn’t, the extremists tend to prove the Pope’s point. Unfortunately, even so-called moderate Muslims have been forced to either echo the ignorant criticism of the extremists or keep a low profile.

But once the smoke clears from this episode, there may in fact be a second look by moderates at what the Pope said. This Op-Ed by Souheila Al-Jaada in The Daily Star of Lebanon is encouraging in that regard:

At the same time, rather than lash out at provocative statements, Muslims should welcome such criticisms of the faith because they offer religious leaders an opportunity to explain Islam through dialogue and by example. Muslim leaders should respond by emphasizing the commonalities that bind Christians and Muslims together. They should stress the fact that the two faiths believe in the Ten Commandments. Both revere the Prophets Abraham, Jesus, Noah, Isaac, Jacob and many others. Both religions place the Virgin Mary in high esteem and the Koran includes an entire sura, or chapter, entitled “Maryam,” or “Mary” in Arabic.

But the most important similarity that we must remember is that both religions hold firm to the Golden rule: “Do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

It is those “commonalities” that Benedict can build upon in order to bring moderate Muslims to the task of confronting the violence perpetrated in the name of the Prophet. He has expressed his solidarity in the past with many issues that confront Muslims in their efforts to co-exist peacefully with the west. One hopes that both sides take the opportunity afforded by the controversy to dig deeper than ever before into the complex relationship that has existed between two of the world’s great religions. At stake may be the difference between a world at peace and a world at war. In that sense, they couldn’t be any higher.

By: Rick Moran at 8:59 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (10)

Soccer Dad linked with Watchers of weasels 10/04/06
Soccer Dad linked with Watchers of weasels 9/27/06
Watcher of Weasels linked with The Council Has Spoken!
Watcher of Weasels linked with Submitted for Your Approval

In the end, Team USA showed that despite an increase in the talent and skill of its roster, it still has a long way to go to compete on the world stage.

The individual skills of US players by and large are inferior to not only the very best players, but the rest of the world in general. This lack of skill is hidden when we play against the relatively week Caribbean and Central American teams during World Cup qualifying rounds. But when playing against sides that play disciplined, close defense, the individual weaknesses of the US team are exposed and exploited much to our detriment.

The 2-1 loss to Ghana is illustrative of both this lack of skill and the inferiority of our coaching. Most observers think that Bruce Arena was badly outcoached against the Czechs. And the curious lethargy of Team USA on offense during most of the tournament can be directly traced to his insistence on playing Brian McBride alone up top where he forces the mediocre striker to make plays all by himself while dropping his best skilled player, Landon Donovan, into a roaming midfielder role who then must depend on crisp, accurate entry passes that simply were not there the entire tournament. Known as a great motivator, Arena’s boys never had the sense of urgency that may have made them competitive in either the Czech or Ghana losses. It looked like they were playing at altitude so slow a foot they appeared.

Perhaps there is no US player who disappointed more than Donovan. He was invisible for long stretches. But the same could be said for Beasley and McBride as well. In Donovan’s case, so much was expected of him that one could fairly say that his effort and performance was far below world class standards. He has eschewed playing in Europe for the last few years. Now it would be an open question whether or not any decent European club would want him.

Nothing should be detracted from the play of Ghana. The Black Stars flew around the field playing with an energy and abandon that made the US side look for all the world like they were stuck in the mud by comparison. But their next opponent is Brazil, a match that should be entertaining but one where the Stars will be huge underdogs. By any stretch, the Ghanaians are the surprise of the tournament.

I will continue to write occasionally about the Cup over the next fortnight. And I plan on doing a report card this weekend, grading the individual American players and reflecting on the future of Team USA as well as soccer in America.

By: Rick Moran at 11:29 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2)


Free Image Hosting at

Having partially recovered from my shock and horror evinced by the crushing defeat of Team USA on Monday by a very good Czech side, I feel that I can once again write about the World Cup without weeping uncontrollably into my Balmenach.

Waiting 4 years to watch an American side that could finally compete on the world’s biggest sports stage with the cream of European football only to see Team USA play little better than a bunch of drunk frat rats who wandered on to the pitch by mistake was the greatest sports shock I’ve had since watching the American hockey team upset the Russians in the 1980 Olympics. I expected defeat. I did not expect annihilation. And the timidity, the hesitation, and most of all, the curious and unconscionable lack of urgency and fire in the American attack made the defeat all the more disheartening.

I don’t hold any hope for a win against Italy. The Azzurri looked awesome against Ghana, toying with the Africans like a bored cat playing with a doomed mouse. Their smothering defense handled the vaunted Black Star’s attacking midfielders while putting enormous pressure on the African’s back line with long, deadly accurate crosses and gorgeous runs.

For the US to stay in the game and make a respectable showing (losing 2-1 or 1-0), there’s nothing for it but to challenge every single ball at midfield, winning enough of them to maintain some kind of offensive momentum. Otherwise, the match will be a brutal replay of the USA-Czech disaster that saw Rosicky and Nedved consistently being allowed to run wild without much in the way of opposition from their American counterparts.

Coach Bruce Arena singled out several players for harsh criticism following the loss, most notably DeMarcus Beasley (who, in turn, criticized Arena for underutilizing him in the second half) and Landon Donovan, In truth, Arena could have dressed down every player on the field who started the game, so lackadaisical was the play by the Americans. But the coach’s criticisms aside, one wonders who he will start in the game this afternoon against the Italians?

As has been shown time and again during the tournament, it only takes one or two defensive breakdowns for the best teams in the world to beat you. With that in mind, does Arena power up his defense by starting 3 defensemen and a defensive-minded midfield? If that were going to be the case, look for Beasley and perhaps Convey to be benched in favor of Carlos Bocanegra and John O’Brien who played reasonably well as a second half sub against the Czechs.

However, from what we’ve seen of Bruce Arena over the last 8 years, I fully expect him to put his best offensive side on the field, slotting Eddie Johnson along side Brian McBride up front, benching Beasley in favor of sparkplug Clint Dempsey, and moving Landon Donovan to an attacking midfielder position. Monday’s starter Pablo Mastroeni would be replaced by John O’Brien as well. But O’Brien, despite all the positive talk before the tournament, does not really appear to be match fit and would be unable to go a full 90 minutes – especially in the kind of game that I expect the Americans to play.

It will be a chippy, foul-laden contest with the Americans contesting every ball. The problem with that strategy is the probability that a rash of yellow cards will result thus blunting the effectiveness of our best defensive players (two yellow cards in a match gets you tossed). There could be nothing worse for the Americans than to go down a player for any length of time in the match.

But the USA has very little choice. They must find a way to slow down the Azzuri’s attack. And if that means tackling hard and often, they will do so.

For Team USA, they must find a way to improve their first touch. They must realize they are not playing in the MLS where the marking is sometimes less than professional and where defenders are not as big or possessing the skills of the world class players on the top teams in Germany. Time and again against the Czechs, the Americans would receive decent passes only to lose possession because of a sloppy or indifferent first touch. If that aspect of their game doesn’t change, expect a Czech repeat.

Given the strength of the Italian defense, I expect the Americans to get no more than 2 or three decent chances to score during the match. And if the Italians get a lead, watch them sit back 8 in the box daring the Americans to try and beat them by breaking them down. That won’t happen.

Is there any way the Americans can win? Only if the Americans score first and play a possession game that would frustrate the Azzurri causing them to lose focus. That won’t happen either given the immense talent and experience on the Italian side. But it could keep the score close and partially redeem the American side from their historically embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Czechs.


Final score: Ghana 2 – Czechs 0.

Team USA must be kicking itself right about now. Ghana played the kind of game that the US is capable of playing but didn’t. They attacked beautifully on the wings while pressuring the ball at midfield. The two saves made by the Ghanaian keeper at the end of the game was the kind of goalkeeping the US expected out of Keller. And the Black Star’s midfield (by tackling hard and painfully) kept Rosicky and Nedved from getting too comfortable.

Perhaps the Czechs were looking past the Ghanaians to their match against the Italians. Perhaps they missed their 6’8” striker Koller. Perhaps the Czechs simply took the Africans too lightly. Whatever the reason, because of the Ghanaian victory, the US will not be eliminated today even if they lose to the Italians.

One fascinating result of the upset is goal differential. The Czechs are at +1 while the Ghanaians are even. If the US can get a result against the Italians – assuming they win by one goal – that would put the Italians also at +1 setting up all four teams for a final preliminary match tied in the won-loss column at 1-1 while the probability of both the European sides moving on to the second round almost nil.

While the US would not technically be eliminated with a loss today, they may as well pack it up given their potential goal differential. So the US side must have been heartened by the Ghanaians shocking victory.

As I surmised, it looks like Coach Arena will be going with a 3-5-1, starting Bocanegra on the back line and Dempsey in the midfield. It also appears that he will hold O’Brien out for the first half again. Beasely and Eddie Lewis will apparently sit.

Watch Dempsey. His energy and intelligence on offense will probably provide a spark but his defense is quite suspect. So it looks like Arena split the difference between having a more offensive side by starting the third defenseman, a sound move that won’t mean anything unless Reyna and Donovan get it in gear.

UPDATE II: USA -1 – Azzurri -1

Wonder where these guys have been.

It’s almost as if the team that was on the field against the Czech’s on Monday was from a totally different universe. The side that is flying around midfield, challenging ferociously, outmanning and outplaying the Italians at every turn (even before the Azzurri went down a man thanks to a red card issued for a vicious elbow thrown by De Rossi that opened a gash on McBride’s face) can’t be the same team that lay down and died against the Czechs, can it?

The red card given Mastroeni was a joke. And Eddie Pope, playing with a yellow card himself, better be aware the the referee has decided it is he who will determine the outcome of the game. One more yellow and Eddie sits too, giving the Italians what they need most – an advantage against a team that made them look like they were sleepwalking that first half.

The overlapping by our half backs is working beautifully, although now that we’re playing a man down, look for Bocanegra and Cherundolo to choose their spots to jump into the play carefully. Dempsey is a tiger in the midfield, winning almost every ball that comes his way while Reyna looks much more in charge, sending several beautiful balls into Donovan at the top of the box.

The Americans look dangerous. And if they can keep up the intensity for another half, they may surprise. But the Italians are far from through. Even if the Italians win, the Americans have redeemed themselves as far as I’m concerned.


Team USA played a courageous game. As I warned above, Eddie Pope got his second yellow less than 3 minutes into the second half taking the US side down to 8 men. Arena substituted intelligently, especially his bringing DeMarcus Beasley into the game. Beasley put the ball in the net but interference from McBride negated his splendid shot. Otherwise he played passably well.

The result was disappointing because the American’s were clearly outplaying the Azzurri for the first 20 minutes of the game. In fact, most of the first half, the US side had much the better play – that is, until the referee decided to insert himself into the game and decide the outcome.

As Andy points out in the comments, thus Uruguayan ref was suspended from the 2002 World Cup for “irregularities” in his calls. I wonder if anyone will make a connection between the Italian match-fixing scandal and this game? It would be tempting to ascribe the abysmal performance of the ref to some kind of crookedness. But such things don’t happen in the World Cup, do they? Besides, the scandal involved players, not refs. Let’s just put the ref’s calls down to pure incompetence and leave it at that.

I thought that Donovan and Reyna both had an outstanding game as did Bocanegra and Cherundolo who continuously jumped into the play giving the US some outstanding chances. There was vast improvement in all areas for Team USA but I particularly liked their ferociousness in going for the ball in the midfield. They consistently had two men on the ball (before the ref tossed two of their players) flummoxing the vaunted Italian playmakers. Unlike the Czech game, Reyna played the entire first half on the offensive side of the center line, receiving the ball and driving forward consistently, dishing to the wings and at times finding Donovan open in the middle of the field.

Defense was tough and relentless. Onyewu was a bulldog for the entire game, being extraordinarily aggressive, causing the Italian forwards to look where he was before receiving the ball. And at the end of the game, I thought the Americans looked a lot fresher as the Italians couldn’t get the ball into the middle thanks to Team USA’s great play.

There are two ways the US can now advance, both requiring a win against Ghana on Thursday and both depend on the outcome of the Italian-Czech game played at the same time as USA-Ghana to prevent the advantage of a team knowing the outcome of the other game. If the Italians and USA win, they advance. And if the Italians and Czech’s tie, the US would have to score 4 more goals than Ghana in order to move on. Clearly, we’re rooting for an Italian victory, a real possibility given that the Italians were probably stung by this tie with the lowly Americans.

It should be a wild early afternoon on Thursday.

By: Rick Moran at 8:22 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (7)


Free Image Hosting at

It was 16 years ago that the Americans faced a Czech team in the World Cup finals. Coach Bruce Arena was sitting in the stands watching as the US team of eager college kids and international knock-abouts were thrashed 5-1. Arena says he saw at that point just how far the US was behind the rest of the world.

Four years later, many of those same kids shocked the world when they advanced past the preliminary round by beating a powerful Columbian team thanks to an own goal by Columbia’s stellar defender Andrés Escobar (who was gunned down a few days later outside a bar in a suburb of Medillion) and then giving eventual Cup champions Brazil all they could handle for 90 minutes, losing 1-0.

Entering the 1998 competition with high hopes, the US team was embarrassed, losing to not only powerhouse Germany but also a solid team from Yugoslavia and suffering a humiliating shutout by the Iranians.

Enter Coach Arena and a brand new philosophy that emphasized speed and defense, a recipe for success in 2002 as Team USA moved on to the quarterfinals losing to a fine Germany team 1-0. But Arena’s primary contribution to America’s success was in creating an attitude; it was no longer good enough simply to be “competitive.” From here on out, American soccer players expected to win against any team anywhere. Gone were the days when a 1-0 loss to Brazil would be seen as a “moral victory.” In Arena’s vocabulary, there was no such term. A win was a win and a loss was a loss and by God, if you want to play for the United States of America, you damn well better expect to be victorious.

This philosophy will be tested as never before during the 2006 Cup run. Drawing two of the best European teams in the preliminary rounds – Italy and the Czech Republic – Team USA has forced the world to judge them by international standards of excellence by announcing to one and all that they expect to beat the best that the world has to offer each and every time they take the pitch.

Most observers believe that they cannot accomplish this task, that both the Azzurri and the Czechs will make hash of the American’s bold statements. One suspects that most of the world wishes this devoutly as the Americans cockiness has rubbed some of the stuffed shirts at FIFA and in Europe the wrong way. So be it, say the Americans. If this be the price for gaining full and final respect for American soccer, they are willing to pay it.

And the bill starts coming due today. The USA-Czech matchup features several intriguing elements that will make this game perhaps the most important in the history of American soccer. While the Czechs are not considered a frontrunner for Cup glory, they are certainly in the mix of those teams who are capable of making a run for the gold. In that respect, the US will try to derail the Czech hopes by pressuring a slightly aging but still formidable defense with their tremendous speed while keeping the world class Czech offense from getting organized by putting constant pressure on the ball.

In order to accomplish this feat, Coach Arena must decide on a starting lineup that will allow the Americans to accomplish these goals.


Arena will not name his starting lineup nor his formation until he absolutely has to – probably about an hour before game time. But since he is blessed with a myriad of options thanks to the tremendous talent he has assembled, we can make some intelligent speculation based on past experience.

The back line appears set with Eddie Pope and potential breakout star Oguchi Onyewu anchoring a defense that must stop one of the most intimidating forwards in the world, 6’8” Jan Koller. Another probable is Steve Cherundolo at right half, a sold if unspectacular performer.

Left half is open to question but it appears that Arena will give the nod to veteran Eddie Lewis. Possessed with speed and toughness, Lewis lacks size which may spell trouble as the fleet footed Czech winger Karel Poborsky is known for being able to muscle his way into the box against smaller defenders.

The center midfield also appears to be set with team Captain Claudio Reyna and John O’Brien spearheading the attack. And one forward will definitely be Brian McBride who will need to play well with his back to the goal as well as demonstrating his usual spectacular aerial ability.

But the other three positions (Kasey Keller will be a fixture at keeper) are up in the air and will probably depend on what kind of formation Arena will employ.

Will he want to maximize his strengths on offense by starting speedy wingers Steve Convey and DeMarcus Beasley? Or will he go for toughness and start a veteran Clint Dempsey while playing versatile swingman Pablo Mastroeni on the shoulder of the defense in order to slow down the dazzling Czech midfield duo of Nedved and Rosicky? Perhaps he will even go so far as start a third man on the back line in which case expect Carlos Bocanegra to perhaps get the nod. And where to put his most versatile offensive player Landon Donovan. Common sense would have Donovan playing alongside McBride but Arena has used the young man everywhere at midfield including the wings in order to free his talented goal scorer and utilize his speed and skills.

My personal feeling is that Arena will go with a modified 3-5-2, playing Josh Wolff up front with McBride and starting both Dempsey and Mastroeni at midfield.

If all of this has your head spinning think of what it’s doing to veteran coach Karel Bruckner. The canny old tactician, a veteran of the European Cup wars, will have some aces up his own sleeve I’m sure. Look for the wandering Czechs Nedved and Rosicky to end up on the flanks more than usual due to US pressuring the middle of the field effectively. And look for Bruckner to employ a 4-5-1, depending on his backs to start their deadly counter-attacking offense and constantly overlapping to pressure the American backline.


With both teams depending on the counterattack to create chances, look for a tough, physical defensive game that will be won or lost at midfield. This is entirely to the Czechs advantage. Nedved and Rosicky are too good, too capable of offensive explosion for our small but talented midfield to effectively counter.

That said, the longer that Team USA can keep the score nil-nil, the more pressure devolves to the Czech side. One of the biggest intangibles in this tournament for the Americans is that no one expects them to get a result against the Czechs or Italians. The longer the game goes on without a score, the more the Czechs will feel the weight of expectations clamp down on their shoulders. In such cases, teams have been known to make mistakes.

I think the best the US can hope for against this talented Czech team is a tie. That will keep them alive going into their match against the Azzurri on June 17th.


Out of their league.

Despite the best team we’ve been able to field in American history, the Czechs are proving too much so far.

The Czech’s midfield play is dazzling, moving through effortlessly and placing a lot of pressure on Lewis and Cherundolo.

In contrast, our midfield play is tentative, sloppy, and leading to turnovers that have given the Czechs some quick counters.

Starting Mastroeni was the right move but Pablo hasn’t contributed jack. And Donovan may have touched the ball three times in the entire half.

In short, the Americans look flat, uninspired, and slow as molasses. Their one decent chance was a shot from the top of the box by Reyna that hit the post flush. But Beasley is playing a horrible game. His first touches are getting away from him (something that could be said for our entire midfield with the exception of Reyna). McBride hasn’t seen the ball either.

Hard to see how they can come back. Maybe subbing O’Brien for Mastroeni and Dempsey for Convey will light a fire under our guys and at least make the second half competitive. As it is, they looked like our “98 squad out there.

By: Rick Moran at 8:29 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (10)


Free Image Hosting at

Can anyone beat Brazil?

For the half dozen or so teams that have a chance to make it to the finals of this year’s World Cup Soccer tournament, the answer to that question will be found in how fit their players can stay during their run for gold as well as how some of their key stars perform under the enormous pressure of playing the game at the highest levels of competition in the world.

But most of all, the answer to the question can anyone beat Brazil rests, as it usually does, with the Brazilians themselves and whether their phenomenally talented team of international superstars can play together as a team while the minor controversies and stratospheric media hype swirls around them. They carry the hopes of 175 million of their fellow countrymen who eat, breathe, live, and die Brazilian football. And anything and everything that impacts the games, even tangentially, is blown up, analyzed, discussed, fretted over, and becomes part of the weight placed upon the team as they struggle to perform up to expectations.

For the nation of Brazil, those expectations include nothing less than a World Cup championship. The people feel they own the Cup, that it is Brazilian state property. An enormously proud people, the Cup is a part of their national identity. And while they can be fiercely loyal to the “Seleção Canarinha” , they are unremitting task masters, demanding perfection at all times.

Alas, the players are but human beings and therefore incapable of perfection. But given the level of talent belonging to this year’s group of Brazilian immortals, they may get closer to it than anyone imagines.

There are legends like Cafu who anchors a stifling defense. And Ronaldo who Americans may remember from the 1994 World Cup played here. Just a teenager then, Ronaldo went on to become FIFA Player of the Year 3 times (1996, 97, 2002).

And then there is simply Ronaldinho. English language adjectives fail to do justice to the speed, skills, and instincts of a man considered by many to be the greatest player in the history of the game. Do yourself a favor, even if you are not a soccer fan; watch every game Ronaldinho plays in during this Cup run. At 26 years old, he is at the peak of his powers. And the chances of you seeing his likes again in your lifetime are pretty close to nil.

For the next month, the Brazilian gross domestic product will suffer enormously as the nation stops everything it’s doing and holds its breath every time their beloveds take to the pitch in Germany. No matter what time of day, it won’t matter to the Brazilian people. Who, despite poverty, violence, and the growing pains associated with a third world nation struggling to rise above its past, will unite for one glorious month and revel in the knowledge that the eyes of the world are upon them.

If Brazil stumbles, it will probably be in the finals match set for July 9th in Berlin. Chasing the opportunity to play the Brazilians will be a small group of nations whose own World Cup aspirations are just as high and whose fans will also be living the dream for the next month.


Many feel that the English are the strongest side in the world next to Brazil. But that is with a healthy Wayne Rooney, the dynamic striker from Manchester United who, at 21, is the future of world soccer. Strong, speedy, and possessed of enormous talent and courage, Rooney is as tough as they come and will prove it in Germany coming off a broken metatarsal bone in his foot barely 6 weeks ago. He will probably be held out of the preliminary round games unless England finds itself facing elimination in game 3, an unlikely event given their relatively weak draw of Sweden, Paraguay, and T & T.

In addition to Rooney, the English midfield will also shine with international heartthrob David Beckham trying to shake the ghosts of past disappointing Cup performances and the all-world talent of Frank Lampard set to take up some of the scoring burden caused by Rooney’s absence.

A potential roadblock may occur on the road to the finals because England is expected to win Group B. This would place them on a collision course with Brazil in the semi finals.

Much will depend on Rooney’s match fitness. But it appears that coach Goran Eriksson’s huge gamble in naming Rooney to the team 3 weeks ago will pay off handsomely.


Next to the Brazilians, the Italians might take home the second place honors for most rabid and demanding fans. The Azzuri will be sorely tested in the preliminary round, having to play a slightly aging but still formidable Czech squad and the young, speedy, up and coming Americans.

But in some ways, what is going on off the pitch could be more distracting than anything that takes place while the team is playing. An ever widening match fixing scandal has roiled the Italian’s number one soccer league perhaps involving dozens of players around the world and at least 2 of its top club teams. The scandal almost cost coach Marcello Lippi his job – along with the usual complaints about some stars left off the final roster which had some players calling for Lippi’s head – but through it all, the Azzurri endure.

The name of the game in Italy is defense and if there is a side capable of shutting down the Brazilians, it’s the men in blue. However, in order to avoid Brazil until the finals, the Italians will have to win Group E outright as the second place finisher in that Group will face Ronaldinho & Co. in the second round. The Italians will rely on defensive stalwart Gianluca Zambrotta and his mates to keep the high powered offense of the Czechs and speedy Americans from upsetting their hopes while superstar Fracesco Totti sets up a potent group of strikers led by Luca Toni.

Italy will try its best to win Group E in order to avoid a second round match up with the Brazilians. Their match against the Czechs set for June 22 will probably decide their fate in that regard.

Deep, experienced, and relentless on defense. If the Azzurri can ignore the swirling controversy, they very well may win through to challenge for Cup gold.


The French are flying under the radar so far this tournament which is just how they like it. Few observers are giving them a chance of advancing past the second round because they appear to be limping a bit coming into the Cup, having lost their stellar striker Djibril Cisse just prior to the competition to a broken leg.

But the 1998 World Champions were stung to the quick in 2002, failing to score a goal or win a game in the preliminary round. To say that their poor showing in Korea has motivated them this time around is an understatement. The players and the nation are salivating at the chance for redemption.

Any team that features Arsenal’s Thierry Henry, who many consider one of the top three strikers in the world, has to be in the mix for championship consideration. Add 1998 hero Zinedine Zidane as well as an elegant and perfectly positioned defense and you may have a recipe for Les Bleus to make a legitimate run

There are few other teams given much of a chance. The Germans and Dutch appear to have fielded inferior teams this time around compared to previous squads. And the Spanish, whose Primera Liga is perennially considered one of the top leagues in Europe never seem to be able to make a run despite excellent talent. Argentina, long a rival to Brazil, are in the so-called “Group of Death” and will be hard-pressed in the preliminary rounds against the Netherlands and Serbia. While most expect the Albiceleste to emerge victorious in Group C, history has shown that a tough prelim schedule is not conducive to success in the later rounds.

And the Americans? I think that the United States is one or two Cups away from making a run for glory. It would be a huge upset if Team USA makes it to the second round, probably needing a result against both the Czechs and Italians in order to advance. That’s a lot to ask of this group of talented Americans who, I think, will give the two European soccer powers all they can handle and then some.

By: Rick Moran at 7:47 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (3)

¥¯¥ì¥¸¥Ã¥È¥«¡¼¥É¤òºî¤ë¤Ê¤é¡÷ÆÀ¡¹¾ðÊó linked with ¥é¥¤¥ÕMasterCard2006 FIFA World Cupµ­Ç°¥«¡¼¥É

Free Image Hosting at

This from ESPN

In the heart of this city’s bustling shopping district, where locals and tourists move at a pace only New Yorkers would appreciate, flocks of uniformed Polizei stand amid metal barricades, blocking the cobblestone road in front of the Park Hyatt Hotel. Inside, a metal detector and x-ray machine greet lobby visitors. Beyond that, suit-wearing secret-service-esque officials demand passports and World Cup credentials.

Welcome to life on the road for the U.S. men’s soccer team. Here, Kasey Keller, Landon Donovan and the rest of the American team ride in the only World Cup team bus without a flag on its side. Here, streets are closed and traffic rerouted as 20 police vehicles deliver the team bus to and from practice. And here, everyone from team security members to state department officials keep a wary eye on interview sessions.


Try playing with chants of “Osama bin Laden! Osama bin Laden!” raining down, the Americans say. Try getting ready for kickoff with uniformed militia guarding the field holding ready-to-fire machine guns. Try scoring a goal with rocks, batteries and bottles flying toward you. And try falling asleep the night before a match while fans drive by your team hotel, honking horns, setting off cherry bombs and blasting music.

A little extra security for the World Cup in Germany? C’mon. Try being a visiting U.S. soccer player in Central America during World Cup qualifying.

Indeed, the rabid anti-Americanism in many of the World Cup qualifying venues was sometimes frightening to see. There were 115,000 screaming fans in Azteca Stadium last March to watch the USA-Mexico match, during which the chants of “Osama” and “9-1-1” could be heard clearly above raucous din. Although the US was outplayed in a 2-1 loss, the noise didn’t seem to affect the team. In fact, the bitter feelings against the United States may serve to bring the team closer together:

Several players say they thrive on such an “us against the world” mentality. In fact, the team is confident that overcoming the trials and tribulations of qualifying—with a giant red, white and blue target on its back—has helped prepare it for soccer’s grandest stage.

“Anytime you face adversity like that, it’s going to help you grow as a team,” Howard said. “For that 24-hour period, the only thing you can rely on is yourselves and each other. And you have to get points. No matter what is going on around you, you have to steady the ship and make sure everything is right. And that takes a strong mind.”

Said defender Carlos Bocanegra: “When you’re in a situation like that, you stick together all the time. You feel a unity with the guys who go through that with you. And that can only help us.”

Back in the early 90’s when Phil Jackson was coaching the great Michael Jordan-led Bulls teams, the squad was forced out of Chicago Stadium early in the season for a fortnight due to the arrival of the Ringling Brothers Circus in town. Jackson cannily used that 10 game stretch of away games to cement the bonds of team chemistry by emphasizing the “Us versus the world” motif, successfully molding his highly paid and talented professional athletes into a band of brothers. The strategy would payoff in a big way at playoff time as the team ended up winning 6 championships in 8 years.

But Jordan and Company never had to put up with this:

Over the last decade, at matches in Latin American countries such as Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica, U.S. players have been pelted with everything from batteries and coins to screws and saliva. In one match, former coach Steve Sampson said his players were bombed with bags of urine and animal blood. In the mid-90s, defender Paul Caligiuri was treated for welts on his back after being sprayed with a chemical substance, presumably acid.

The unwritten and unspoken motto is to expect the unexpected. Lost luggage. Fire alarms at 2 a.m. Bus drivers getting lost. And no running water at the stadium, making postgame showers nothing fancier than pouring a couple bottles of water down your back.

“It’s an experience, to say the least,” said defender Oguchi Onyewu. “Just going into an environment where you are genuinely, passionately hated. It takes a bit of getting used to.”

Will Germany be any different?

Of course, security is tight due to the real threat of a terrorist attack on the team and, by extension, the event itself. No doubt al Qaeda would dearly love to disrupt this event, seeing that it takes place only once every four years and that the eyes of the entire planet are on Germany. Beyond that, if they were able to stop the games, the financial loss to Germany as host country would be huge. And of course, they would prove that although hunted relentlessly over the past 5 years, they can still wreak havoc on the west.

Al Qaeda isn’t the only threat and the United States isn’t the only country at risk during the month long event. Long known as home to the rowdiest fans in the world, it is estimated that 40,000 English football fans will descend on cities where their team’s matches are going to be played, clogging the streets with drunken fans who proudly refer to themselves as “hooligans.” The English themselves have been quick to crack down on the rowdies ever since English club teams were banned from competing in the European Championships from 1986-91 due to riots in the stands and outside of the stadium. And the Germans are going to limit alcohol sales on gameday just to make sure that things don’t get out of hand.

Another potential target would be the Saudi Arabian team. The Saudis have security arrangements almost as stringent as the Americans. And South Korea fears protests from dissidents who live in Europe will target the team’s venues so extra security will be in place for them as well.

Some authorities are most worried about Iran. Given the Iranian President’s statements denying the holocaust, it is feared that protesters could disrupt matches played by the Iranians as well as the real possibility that the re-incarnation of the Nazi party – the NDP - would seek to try and horn in on publicity with their own protests supporting Ahmadinejad’s warped views of history. Up to 6,000 NDP protesters are expected to be at World Cup match venues, plying their hatred. The police are assuring the public that they are ready for them but given the volatile mix of Neo-Nazis and sympathizers with the victims of the Holocaust, anything is possible.

More than 280 security experts from 40 countries are working to make the games a safe and enjoyable experience for the hundreds of thousands of soccer fans who are in Germany for the Cup. Let’s hope they end up being bored out their minds.


The Commissar has a short history lesson on Brazil and the Cup favorites. They include the usual suspects:

After Brazil, there are three other football powerhouses: Argentina, Italy, and Germany. These four countries have won 13 of 17 World Cups (Brazil 5 times). At least one of these four countries has played in all 17 final matches.

The next basic fact is that Europe and South America dominate. Actually, after Brazil and Argentina, the powerful teams are Western European. In rough order, the countries to look out for, after the Big Four are: France, England, Netherlands, and Spain. Beyond that, one could name the Czech Republic (which is in the US’ group), Portugal, Poland, Sweden, or Croatia.

Coach Goran Erikssonn of England says that superstar forward Wayne Rooney is almost ready to go for the Cup which has to put England in the upper tier of favorites to win it all. The youngster has a world of talent but much will depend on his match fitness.

My real “darkhorse” favorite are the French. Blessed with the best striker in the world (in my opinion) Thierry Henry and a stellar defense, the French are also lucky to be in Group G along with Togo, South Korea, and Switzerland. They should hardly have to break a sweat to get out of that Group, perhaps even clinching after two games which would allow them to rest some of their key players in their final prelim match.

I’ll have a Cup preview of my own tomorrow.

By: Rick Moran at 10:42 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (4)

Ninth State linked with Urine Hurlers and Other International Soccer Fans

Free Image Hosting at

Watching an all-world striker like Brazil’s Ronaldo or the French superstar Thierry Henry, you begin to truly appreciate the fine art involved in putting the ball in the back of the net on a consistent basis. Creativity, guile, a mystical ability to will the ball to beat the keeper along with the instincts of an assassin makes the true striker such a rarity. These qualities are what separates the great goal scorers from the merely gifted and is a factor that will determine which teams advance and which will watch succeeding rounds of the Cup on television.

For Team USA, there is enormous talent and potential but to date, none of our strikers have stepped forward and proven that they belong in that elite class of “finishers” whose mere presence on the field strikes terror into the hearts of defenders. And in order for the US team to advance, we must find a “goto” guy, someone who can put the game on his foot and take the team to the next level.

To be sure, the team has talent galore. At 33, striker Brian McBride has plenty of international experience, this being his third run at the Cup for the US national team. He is an accomplished scorer for Fulham of the English Premier League and is the second leading scorer in US national team history behind Eric Wynalda.

He is considered the best American player ever in the air. At 6’0, McBride’s leaping ability and an uncanny sense of timing allows him to make contact with the ball at the height of his jump, flicking the ball expertly toward the goal with a nod of his head. It is an ability the US team will need during their Cup run because many if not most goals will be scored off set piece plays like free kicks and corners. Having a player with McBride’s ability will come in handy once the tournament starts.

But McBride has not shown that he has that extra level of ability that allows him to maneuver in the extraordinarily tight spaces inside the box in order to beat that last defender and send the ball past the keeper. Of course, few players have it which is why the genuine striker is such a huge weapon. For that kind of other-worldly ability, the US must turn to a babe in the woods with all the talent in the world but whose consistency and experience is lacking.

Eddie Johnson is the future of US soccer. He has shown jaw dropping potential, scoring 7 goals in his first 7 international matches in 2004-05. Then, the injury bug bit and the 22 year old youngster seemed to lose confidence – both his own and that of coach Bruce Arena. Recently, he has shown flashes of his former brilliance and there’s a good chance that Arena will gamble and start him against the Czechs.

Johnson’s speed and athleticism places him talent wise in the rarefied upper atmosphere of world class strikers. But as in any sport, potential doesn’t mean much unless you produce. And while it may be unfair to place such a burden on the young man, it is clear that for the US to advance, Eddie must grow up in a hurry and become a goal scoring machine for the US side. The likelihood of a nil-nil result against either the Czechs or Italians is very remote. Both of those European powerhouses can score goals in bunches and for the US to have a chance, they must be able to put the ball in the net.

Other Team USA strikers who will see action are also gifted athletes but unproven finishers as well. Brian Ching has some experience and, like McBride, is very good in the air. And Josh Wolff is another experienced hand who may get the call to provide some offensive spark if the team finds itself down in the second half to either the Czechs or Italians.

Overall, they’re the best that the US has ever had at the position. But all the talent in the world won’t help if you haven’t demonstrated the knack of putting the ball past the keeper. And if there is a weakness to be found on the US side, it is up front.

What the US lacks in bona fide strikers, it makes up for with several high-powered offensive midfielders whose speed and passing ability will go a long way toward giving our forwards chances to score.

Team USA Captain Claudio Reyna is an established international star, having played with the famed Glasgow Rangers of the Scottish Premier League and currently with Manchester United. Considered the best American field player ever, Reyna has been hobbled by injury and is just now getting back to match fitness. In the 2002 Cup where the Americans made it to the quarters, his brilliant, composed play helped the US side to withstand the tremendous defensive pressure of both Mexico, a second round win, and Germany, a close loss of 1-0 where some observers believed that the US played well enough to win. His crisp, accurate passes will allow the US to maneuver through the midfield, where the marking will be very tight and his long balls, feeding the American’s speedy wingers will open the field to some decent scoring chances.

But the heart of the midfield belongs to 24 year old Landon Donovan. Possessing the best offensive skills on the club, Donovan will be relied upon to make that final, crucial pass that can send the forward alone in on goal. Much depends on where Coach Arena decides to play the youngster. He may decide to pair him off with McBride at forward. Or, he could use the speedy Donavon as a right winger, exploiting what some observers see as a weakness on the part of the Czechs. The kid’s versatility notwithstanding, what Arena wants out of Donavon is to create scoring chances no matter where he plays. In that, Donavon will probably not disappoint.

Next time, I will deal with Coach Arena’s huge dilemma on what kind of formation to use against the Czechs and how that will affect Team USA’s starting lineup.


Paul Mirengoff has a decidedly more sober and realistic look at Team USA than my rather amatuerish and enthusiastic take. He’s making a good case for a more conservative lineup against the Czechs playing what sounds more like a 4-5-1; a formation that Arena used against Mexico in Mexico City and which generated virtually no offense whatsoever.

That said, the US side didn’t have Reyna or O’Brien for that match which led to enormous difficulties in our offense trying to get through midfield with any kind of momentum. Coach Arena walked into that venue – one of the toughest in the world – hoping for the result. What he got was Mexico swarming all over the US for 90 minutes and a 2-0 loss.

Paul also points out that the Czechs are getting a little long in the tooth (especially in the back) and that the Italians sometimes have trouble in the big tourneys due to enormously high expecations. He still doesn’t give the US much chance getting out of Group E and reluctantly, I am forced to agree with him.

NOTE: Actually, Paul appears to be advocating a more traditional 4-4-2 with Donovan paired up front with McBride and Mastroeni playing on the shoulder of the back line rather than a true winger position. That may help slow down Rosicky a bit and give some support to Eddie Lewis who has the speed and toughness but not much experience at left half.

And by the way, for all of you who think that soccer is a wussy Euro-weenie sport…The motto of Team USA is “DON”T TREAD ON ME.”

Sound familiar?

By: Rick Moran at 7:10 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2)

In Training linked with U.S. Soccer Baby, 7 Days

Free Image Hosting at

The team that America is sending to Germany for the World Cup is the most talented, the most experienced group ever to represent the United States. That said, it would be an upset if they made it out of the preliminary round thanks to our horrible luck in drawing 2 of the top 12 teams in the world as opponents in the first three games.

Ranked 5th in the tournament, Team USA boasts several players who have distinguished themselves on the international pitch as well as a couple of bona fide stars who have made a name for themselves in Europe. Coach Bruce Arena – the longest serving international coach in the competition – has also assembled a strong cast of supporting characters drawn largely from MLS (Major League Soccer) clubs here in the United States.

Gone are the days when the US team was composed mainly of naturalized citizens and college kids. America is now recognized as a legitimate soccer power in the world and the European club teams line up at the doors of our best players, hoping to sign them to contracts that rival those of any professional athlete in the United States.

And things are only going to get better. The jaw dropping skills of several of our younger players – some of whom didn’t make this year’s team – promises that the future of soccer in America is bright indeed and that the center of gravity of the sport may be shifting slowly from overseas toward the United States as far as the talent pool is concerned.

But for this team, the future is now. Featuring an offense with blazing speed and proven scorers, Team USA will be able to outrun almost any opponent they are likely to face. A solid, if unspectacular defense is anchored by one of the finest keepers in the world. And with a mixture of youth and experience, the chemistry of the team may help in overcoming a brutal draw that features games against the 2nd ranked Czechs and 11th ranked Italians as well as the relatively unknown team from Ghana.

In order to advance, America must be able to steal a win from either the Czechs or Italy and a tie with one of those two powerhouses. A win against 48th ranked Ghana should be a given but not much is known of them save their stellar midfielder Michael Essien who helped propel Chelsea to a Premiere League title.. A loss to any of these teams would more than likely finish the American’s chances.

The Americans will be sorely tried in their first match of the tournament against the Czechs who feature a punishing defense along with arguably one of the top 5 players in the world, midfielder Tomas Rosicky. It would have been worth the price of plane fare just to see Rosicky in action whose ball handling and passing skills are mind-boggling. But the Czechs are also limping a bit as they go into action with both their talented strikers nursing injuries and Rosicky himself recently suffering a slight thigh injury in the last 10 days. Even with some of their stars on the mend, the Czechs will give Team USA all they can handle and then some.

The Italians are a different kettle of fish altogether. Unpredictable, emotional, and prone to breakdowns on defense, the Italians nevertheless have to be taken seriously as a contender to take it all. Their high powered offense features a world class playmaker in Francesco Totti who plays for AC Milan AS Roma, one of the great European club teams and a potent pair of strikers in Alessandro Del Piero and Luca Toni.

I actually think that Team USA has a great chance to score a huge upset against the Italians. Even though America is ranked higher, against the better European teams, the USA gets absolutely no respect. It’s been a long time since the USA has beaten a great European side and the Italians are ripe for a fall. Not only are their fans the most rabid in all of Europe with a sports press that makes New York media look like pussycats, but a scandal involving their best league almost cost coach Marcello Lippi his job. Couple that with the usual angst over some talented players that were left off the roster for one reason or another and you have a team that may be in some turmoil as well as having to endure the enormous pressure of sky-high expectations. If the Americans can get a lead and hold it for awhile, we may see the Italians disintegrate (they’ve done it before).

Still, despite some very talented players, the US may be on the outside looking in when the tournament moves to the round of 16. Only two teams will advance from each of the 8 groups and most observers fully expect Italy and the Czechs to move on from Group E. That said, here’s an overview of the US side and their various strengths and weaknesses.


The 1994 World Cup team where Tony Meola virtually carried the US squad against a powerhouse team from Columbia in the second round, giving the US it’s biggest World Cup victory in 50 years, proves how important a good keeper can be in advancing to the later rounds of the tournament. Fortunately for the US, Kasey Keller is every bit as good as Meola and at 36, has the experience so necessary when playing in such pressure packed games. Simply put, he is one of the finest goalkeepers on this or any other planet.


Team USA boasts a rock solid defense anchored by “Steady Eddie” Pope and newcomer Oguchi Onyewu, a huge, intimidating presence on the backline. Some observers believe Onyewu will emerge as an international star in the tournament and he has the physical gifts to do it. At 6’4”, 205 pounds, the 24 year old is lightening fast and very good in the air, able to head out the dangerous crosses on set piece plays where much of the scoring in the tournament will originate. Also watch for the youngster to overlap on offense, streaking down the wings to get in on the play.

At halfback, the US features two more solid and experienced players in Eddie Lewis and Steve Cherundolo. Both have plenty of international experience and Lewis especially is capable of jumping into the play if necessary.

If there is a weakness to the team’s defense, it isn’t on the back line. Coach Arena may surprise us and start an additional defenseman with Pope and Onyewu against either the Czechs or Italy, especially if team Captain Claudio Reyna is unable to go due to injury. But as it stands, the USA backline will be one of its strong points.


Arena has an embarrassment of riches at midfield with 4 world class speedsters possessing superior offensive skills and two reserves almost equally as gifted. The aforementioned Reyna has been a star in Europe for several years while playmaker John O’Brien has made a name for himself in the MLS. Both players are deadly accurate passers, vitally necessary in these matches as the marking gets incredibly tight against the top teams. On the wings, we’re likely to see two fellows with eye popping speed. DaMarcus Beasley has some serious skills and will pressure defenses the entire game with his exciting runs down the right wing. On the left, Bobby Convey proved in the recent World Cup warm up games that he can blow by any defender on the planet.

Waiting in the wings are two more talented players in Pablo Mastroeni and Clint Dempsey. In fact, Arena may start one or both of those men in place of Beasley and/or Convey. Much will depend on what formation the US team will go with. If Arena decides to go with the extra midfielder or a slightly more defensive minded side, Mastroneni may get the nod over Convey. Then if the US falls behind, he can bring Bobby’s fresh legs to bear in the second half.

This is the strength of the US team: Tremendous speed with the endurance of youth to have defender’s tongues hanging out by the end of the match. But along with that speed comes a downside. Both Beasley and Convey need to elevate their defense. They have been known to run themselves out the play to the point that a good counterattacking side like the Czechs could race down the field in odd-man breaks. And against an experienced, talented team like the Czechs, that is just asking for trouble.


Brian McBride and Landon Donovan will most likely see action up front, although Arena has been known to go with 5 midfielders in which case Landon will slip back to the midfield. The US has never had such talented strikers if you include the gifted but youthful Eddie Johnson in the mix as well as another speed demon, Brian Ching. That said, McBride, while spectacular in the air, is not known for being a good finisher. And Donovan usually does much better as a playmaker, roving the midfield looking for space and then driving on goal using his superior one-on-one skills to create chances.

This is a youthful, talented American side who will be tested as no other of our national teams been challenged in the opening round. And it doesn’t get any easier. If they win through to the round of 16, the all-world Brazilian team awaits them.

If it comes to that, a Brazil-USA match up would be the most important soccer game in the history of this country. And man, I just might fly to Germany to be able to tell my grandchildren that I saw it in person.



Paul Mirengoff has a decidedly more sober and realistic look at Team USA than my rather amatuerish and enthusiastic take. He’s making a good case for a more conservative lineup against the Czechs playing what sounds more like a 4-5-1; a formation that Arena used against Mexico in Mexico City and which generated virtually no offense whatsoever.

That said, the US side didn’t have Reyna or O’Brien for that match which led to enormous difficulties in our offense trying to get through midfield with any kind of momentum. Coach Arena walked into that venue – one of the toughest in the world – hoping for the result. What he got was Mexico swarming all over the US for 90 minutes and a 2-0 loss.

Paul also points out that the Czechs are getting a little long in the tooth (especially in the back) and that the Italians sometimes have trouble in the big tourneys due to enormously high expecations. He still doesn’t give the US much chance getting out of Group E and reluctantly, I am forced to agree with him.

NOTE: Actually, Paul appears to be advocating a more traditional 4-4-2 with Donovan paired up front with McBride and Mastroeni playing on the shoulder of the back line rather than a true winger position. That may help slow down Rosicky a bit and give some support to Eddie Lewis who has the speed and toughness but not much experience at left half.

And by the way, for all of you who think that soccer is a wussy Euro-weenie sport…The motto of Team USA is “DON”T TREAD ON ME.”

Sound familiar?

By: Rick Moran at 3:58 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (21)


Free Image Hosting at

So you hate the very mention of soccer and will let me know in no uncertain terms in the comments that you are disgusted with me for being so much in love with a game that most Americans find dull, boring, and so…so…EUROPEAN!

Color me unfazed. Soccer is about to take center stage in the sports world and like it or not, our country has a chance – a minuscule one to be sure – to win the World Cup in Germany that starts next week.

Before giving an overview of the team and our opponents for the first round, let me tell you why I love soccer and why even if you’re a casual observer, you too can enjoy the matches.

Like many of you, prior to 1980, I hated soccer. I saw nothing exciting about a game that featured players apparently running around aimlessly, kicking and heading the ball to no obvious effect save killing time. Low or non-existent scoring meant that the game held no attraction for us Americans who were used to high scoring basketball or football games (although when you think about it, a 17-14 football game translates to a soccer score of 3-2).

All that changed with the arrival in Washington D.C. of Johann Cruyff.

Cruyff was named “European Player of the Century” in 1999 and was Player of the Year in Europe 3 times during the 1970’s. By the late 1970’s and early 80’s, the North American Soccer League (NASL) was searching for established stars to fill out its rosters of also-rans and American college kids. They ended up importing Cruyff (Washington Diplomats) along with the great German striker Franz Beckenbauer (New York Cosmos), and the legendary Irish winger George Best (San Jose Earthquakes) in order to put some fannies in the seats as well as teach the Americans what the game was really all about.

The trio didn’t disappoint. Displaying jaw dropping skills (even though all three were fading toward the end of Hall of Fame careers), they electrified crowds across America. Alas, they could not manage the herculean task of breaking through the American sports muddle in order to elevate soccer to major league status. Many would argue that this has yet to happen, although interest in the game itself has never been higher.

Of the three European stars, Cruyff stood out by virtue of his all-around skills on both offense and defense. And watching the aging legend, you began to appreciate that soccer is much more complicated than it might appear at first blush. There is beauty in its intricacies. What fans refer to as “the build up” can be exciting in and of itself as the offense works the ball around the midfield area looking for an opening. The pinpoint passing and footwork of players as they seek to control the ball and keep it from defenders can be a sublime exercise. And then, the long ball delivered right on the foot of a speeding winger or flashing striker, the ball traveling 30, 40, even 50 yards perfectly leading the player and perhaps resulting in “a chance.”

Cruyff was pure magic. He could do things with a soccer ball that I didn’t think possible. Time and again the crowd would “ooh” and “ahhh” as the star’s lithe body would deceive some poor schmuck of a defenseman and Cruyff would speed past the poor lad is if he wasn’t there. Featuring the ability to change speeds and direction while working the ball with his feet or “dribbling,” Cruyff had the best vision of any player I’ve ever seen. He knew instinctively where his teammates were on the field and would inevitably deliver a perfect pass that would send the player in on goal for a chance. Not blessed with a particularly strong leg, his shots nevertheless would be placed on goal exactly where he wanted them. What the ball lacked in speed coming off his foot, it made up for with an uncanny knack of finding the back of the net.

Attending a Washington Diplomats game out of boredom, I was almost instantly hooked. And therein lies the challenge for American soccer in that like hockey (in which it resembles in other ways as well), soccer is a game best seen in person – or, failing that, in high definition. Being able to see the total field gives one an appreciation for the nuances of the offense as well as the teamwork of the defense.

I don’t expect any of this to change anyone’s mind about soccer. But if you’re an agnostic about the game, I would strongly suggest you tune in to the World Cup matches on ESPN and ESPN 2. Watching the finest players in the world playing against each other, you just may walk away with a new appreciation of the game and its ability to both entertain and enthrall you.

Not surprisingly the national teams reflect the basic characters of their country in some ways. One of the favorites, host country Germany, is methodical in its offensive approach while featuring players who are brilliant technical students of the game. Another contender is Great Britain. The Brits play a scrappy, up tempo game that features some of the most pugnacious characters in Europe.

The French (my long shot favorite to win it all), are stylishly aggressive and feature some of the most skilled players in the world. And yes, they tend to be haughty bastards on the field.

Spanish club soccer is probably the most exciting in the world thanks to many outstanding players imported from South America and Africa. And their national team isn’t half bad either as they play a rollicking kind of up tempo game that features extraordinarily skilled one-on-one players.

And always in the front of the world soccer pack is Brazil. Blessed with players of enormous skill, speed, and technique, the Brazilians are simply awesome to watch. When they play as a team, they cannot be beat. But with so many international stars and so many gigantic egos, they also can disintegrate right before your eyes. Even then, they can beat all but a handful of the best teams in the world.

Tomorrow, I will profile the American team and analyze US opponents in the first round, assessing our chances to advance to the round of 16.

By: Rick Moran at 11:30 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (11)

In Training linked with U.S.A.! U.S.A!