My World Cup – Recap

14 07 2014

GermanyLast month I wrote about my excitement for the pending World Cup, and I made some predictions. Now that it’s all over, here are some thoughts, observations and realizations about the big event.

Overall, the World Cup competition was fantastic. I’m glad that the matches were completed with minimal controversy, and that everyone in Brazil was safe and peaceful. I was especially pleased by the excellent coverage by ESPN. Their commentary, analysis and special features enhanced what was already a tremendous event.

I made what I thought were a few bold predictions, and some were realized. This World Cup was full of surprises in the group stage, then everything settled down and the best teams went through to the finals. Germany won, and they were the best team… without question. But let’s see how I did on those predictions:

For the USA…

jonesPREDICTION: Jermaine Jones will do something that will cost the team. A red card, or a bad foul resulting in a dangerous free kick. I couldn’t have been more wrong… Jones was consistently the best field player for the USA (Tim Howard was team MVP, no doubt). My worry about Jones was that he had a history of cheap fouls and his temper getting the better of him. But after playing every minute and performing fantastic in every game – he made me a believer. His goal against Portugal was one of the best of the tournament, for any team.

PREDICTION: The USA will score in each match. Almost happened, but because they scored against everyone except the eventual champion Germany… I’ll give myself half credit.

PREDICTION: Julian Green will get in the Ghana match, but not see the field for the rest of the tournament. I had that one backwards. Green didn’t get in until late in the last match, and scored a nice goal.

PREDICTION: Tim Howard will stop a penalty. That didn’t happen because we didn’t concede any. Nevertheless, Howard was incredible… best performance on the USA squad.

PREDICTION: Klinsmann will park the bus against Germany, but try to run with Portugal. I think I got this one right. The situation of the group standings was that the U.S. only needed a tie versus Germany, and they played conservatively for that result. The 1-0 loss got them through. But they outplayed Portugal, and should have won.  

PREDICTION: The United States WILL get out of the group, then upset Belgium in the first knockout round. Argentina will knock us out, but that will be deemed a successful showing for Team Klinsmann. Spot on again, well… mostly. The group stage went exactly how I thought … Beat Ghana, a result against Portugal, and close match against Germany. I had counted on Belgium not being as good a TEAM as the U.S. even though they had so many stars. Still, we fought until the end and almost pulled it out.

The rest of the world…

PREDICTION: Lionel Messi will win the Golden Boot. Correct!! But I do think James Rodriguez of Columbia would have been the better choice.

PREDICTION: Some not so big names that will have a big impact: André Schürrle (Germany) and Hulk (Brazil)… “Puny humans!” Schürrle was fantastic, consistently bringing energy and pace off the bench… plus he scored three goals. Don’t forget the fantastic cross on the final winning goal. Hulk was probably one of the better players for Brazil, but they were such a disappointment that it’s hard to give any of them credit.

PREDICTION: England will not win a game. Spot on with this one too. The Three Lions have no bite (pun), and need to completely retool how they plan to compete internationally. The Premier League is the best in the world, and produced more World Cup players than any other. But there are too many foreign star players there restricting the development of English players. The FA has a problem, and no solution.

PREDICTION: Bosnia-Herzegovina will beat France in the first knockout round. Ouch! Lost the first two group matches, and were never a factor.

PREDICTION: Brazil will be a big disappointment, losing in the semifinals to Germany. Holy shit, I’ll never be so right about something again!! Truthfully, at the time of the prediction I thought that the pressure of winning at home would be too much for them. But I never thought it possible they would be humiliated like that. That match got its own post.

PREDICTION: Germany and Spain in the final. So I was half right!

PREDICTION: Spain will win the World Cup. If it wasn’t for Brazil’s epic collapse, this would have been one of the biggest stories of the World Cup. No one thought that some of the top teams in the world (Spain, Portugal, England, Italy) would be heading home after three matches. Wild results… great World Cup.

*At this point it should be noted that I tied for first place in my World Cup pool… no small feat! Yes, there were only four of us in the pool, and I didn’t predict everything right – but I was better than most. I guess I know some stuff…

photoLast thoughts… I observed a lot of soccer in the past 39 days. I watched at least one full match in the group stage each day, and fast forwarded through each goal in the others (love my DVR!). I saw almost every minute of the knockout stage matches. And I reveled in sharing the USA matches with hundreds of new friends and fellow American Outlaws at a few local watering holes. The crowds who gathered across the nation for these matches were incredible, and I hope that US Soccer keeps the momentum going. I know it’s only sports… but in those communal situations you realize that there is nothing more gleeful than a shared joy, and there is also nothing more soothing than commiseration.

But I think my favorite memory was yesterday. I went to my local bar to watch the final with family and friends. Not a traditional soccer bar, but a great place to watch sports. It was a good crowd, but not as many people for a USA match. I got a prime seat directly in front of the 15 foot screen, and seated to my left was a regular who knew nothing about soccer. Most soccer fans would shudder, but I spent the next two plus hours explaining some of the finer points of my beautiful game to an admitted non-fan.

I’m not sure if I turned him from the dark side, but answering his questions reminded me why I love this game so much. The past six weeks have shown how exciting, raw, unexpected, excruciating, and inspiring the game truly is.

And it’s beautiful.

Thanks for reading so many of my soccer posts. We now resume our regular programming…

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Waxing Brazil

9 07 2014

87974_dd88989776b9a29af4f36e15f8582658_b7074e5727d16f90dc8ef2d33f893536This post originally began as a Facebook status. But as I thought about it there was more to say. It’s been close to 24 hours since the Germany/Brazil semifinal “mis”match in the World Cup, and certainly one of the big sports stories of the year.

The result was not a surprise but the margin of victory was a shock. Brazil did not impress in any of their previous games, but no one expected a slaughter. They finished atop what was arguably the weakest group in the tournament, and if it wasn’t for a phantom penalty call late in the first match versus Croatia they would have been on the couch a lot earlier. 

Brazil was the odds on favorite to win the World Cup, with more talent than any other team in the field. Their players are the best in the world, commanding the highest salaries at the top clubs. One would think that they could just show up and win.

That’s exactly what they didn’t do. The reason soccer is called the “beautiful game” is because of how the Brazilians always played it. A World Cup being contested in their own country… should be an easy win. (Ironically, the Croatia players and coaches asserted the same thoughts after their controversial loss… “Just give them the trophy now!”)

So what happened? Not to take anything away from a fantastic German side, it’s clear that Brazil was not ready to play against the best competition. As the host country, they do not have to go through qualifying like everyone else. With that edge lost, complacency took over with a predictable result. What we saw is a precise interpretation of an old axiom, that talent isn’t enough… you have to work hard to succeed.

I’m very interested to see how Brazil plays in the third place match. My thought… if they play neighborhood rival Argentina it will be a hotly contested match. If the play Holland, the Brazilians will roll over and die. Again…

After the match I saw a lot of comments about how the U.S. only lost to Germany by a 1-0 score, so accordingly we are better than Brazil. Sports doesn’t work that way. It’s a ridiculous notion, but can you imagine what a team with Brazil’s talent and America’s heart and determination would look like? Wow…

AR-140709193One last thought… ESPN’s coverage of the World Cup has been tremendous so far, with great pre and post game analysis and first-rate commentary during the match. Ian Darke and Steve McManama were terrific in, what had to be, a tough match to call. So I was disappointed that they spent so much time monitoring the streets of Rio de Janeiro waiting for a riot to start. I know that would be a ratings bonanza, but get a grip! I guess the Brazilians were too shocked to muster up the energy to flip over a car or two.

I’d like to give the fans credit. They stayed and cheered their team until the end, and showed appreciation for the German side that had just humiliated them. Well done… Brazilians!

So hoping the other semifinal is a better game.





My World Cup

9 06 2014

World-Cup-20143

This is a huge week for me, my friends. The 2014 World Cup kicks off in just three days and I couldn’t be more excited!

Besides my family and friends, nothing is more satisfying and enjoying to me than the beautiful game. Soccer is my religion. I’ve been combing through my employee handbook to see if the USA matches qualify as religious holidays, but I don’t think I’m that good a salesman. But that’s what vacation days are for…

I’ve waxed many times about my love of the sport, so this isn’t new territory. After two years of qualifying and months of anticipation and hype, the opening games are at hand. My bracket pools are filled out. My DVR is prepared to work overtime starting Thursday. And my red, white and blue scarves, t-shirts and hats are out. Waiting…

I can’t wait to see some of the best players in the world, on the best teams in the world battling for the ultimate dream (and possibly the ugliest trophy ever created). My hope is that the matches are all competitive, free of controversy and full of sportsmanship… PLAY FAIR! I’m looking forward to the personality, insights and technology that ESPN will bring to the coverage. Most of all, I sincerely hope that the entire tournament is safe for all of the players, fans and the Brazilian people. Now… some predictions, if you please.

For the USA…

  1. Jermaine Jones will do something that will cost the team. A red card, or a bad foul resulting in a dangerous free kick.
  2. The USA will score in each match.
  3. Julian Green will get in the Ghana match, but not see the field for the rest of the tournament.
  4. Tim Howard will stop a penalty.
  5. Klinsmann will park the bus against Germany, but try to run with Portugal.
  6. The United States WILL get out of the group, then upset Belgium in the first knockout round. Argentina will knock us out, but that will be deemed a successful showing for Team Klinsmann.

The rest of the world…

  1. Lionel Messi will win the Golden Boot.
  2. Some not so big names that will have a big impact: André Schürrle (Germany) and Hulk (Brazil)… “Puny humans!”
  3. England will not win a game.
  4. Bosnia-Herzegovina will beat France in the first knockout round.
  5. Brazil will be a big disappointment, losing in the semifinals to Germany.
  6. Germany and Spain in the final.
  7. Spain will win the World Cup.

So, again I exercise my blog post powers and put it out there! Call me out on any of these somewhat bold predictions… what do you think?

Scarf





Investment Advice

1 07 2013

17 - 2002 NFC - Buccaneers @ Eagles“If you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down.” ~ Gin Blossoms

Simply put, I’m a big sports fan.   Soccer is my passion, but I still love all of my Philly teams – Iggles, Flyboys, Phightins, and even the Sixers.  Well… Maybe not the Sixers.

I’m no expert, but I have a very good knowledge and understanding of major American sports, plus a working ESPN grasp of the not-so-major sports as well.  For example, when the mood strikes I…

  • … sometimes stay up late and watch Australian Rules Football. G’Day!!
  • … had a great time at Parx Derby Day in 2012.
  • … watch college baseball.  Mostly because I like to hear the aluminum bats pinging.
  • … want to learn about cricket.  I see it on Sky Sports (English SportsCenter), and would love to understand the rules.  It’s one of those sports where I say, “Shit… I could do that!”

I still love my Philly teams, but I don’t have that all-consuming fire anymore.  Not so many years ago I was living and dying by game results and playoff wins and losses.  Success gave me satisfaction, but defeats made me moody.  As the years went by, the ups and downs became too extreme.  Everything changed on Sunday, January 19, 2003, when Ronde Barber intercepted Donovan McNabb pass, and ran it back for a 92-yard touchdown interception return to clinch a Super Bowl trip for the Buccaneers.  That precise moment… over 66,000 people at Veterans Stadium and millions of fans watching at home had their hearts broken.  Including me, in my living room, decked out in my Eagles green.

This was definitely our year.  The best Eagles team, destined to win the Super Bowl.  It was a given.  Hmmm… not so much.  I was down for weeks.  F#%&in’ Ronde Barber!!  To this day, I still shudder when I see the video of that play.  But after a few weeks of surliness, I had a realization.  This consuming investment in my beloved sports teams had to stop.  It wasn’t going to get any better, because my team was not going to win every game every year.  I decided then that I couldn’t, and wouldn’t do it anymore.

A similar epiphany happened about 15 years earlier, when I realized that I was not going to be a great golfer.  After a particularly sad chip shot, I threw my club into a tree.  Because obviously, the club was faulty!!  When It came down to earth in two pieces I realized that I might be missing the better part of the golf experience… fun.  I gave up my ambitions of the PGA Tour after that incident.

Today, there are just too many games in sports to sustain meaningful fan support.  NFL owners want the expand the schedule, the Stanley Cup playoffs make the regular season meaningless, and don’t even get me started about the close to 200 hundred games World Series participants could play in one year.  Soccer isn’t immune, with plenty of extra tournaments for club and country.

In soccer, any team can beat any other team, on any day. Whatever the level, top tier versus semipro. That was never more evident than this year, with a giant killing in the FA Cup final. If the unthinkable happens the supporters may cry and curse, but recover quickly… because there is another game coming up fast, and the team needs them.

I love soccer, and regret that I discovered it so late in life.  One of the reasons I’ve embraced the beautiful game is the supporters culture.  I can hear you haters out there, revving up your hooligan stories.  I’ll stipulate that these idiots do exist, but in no greater percentage than in any other sport.

sons-of-benI’m a member of the Sons of Ben, the organization that supports the Philadelphia Union.  I take pride in what the group stands for… support the team.  No matter what.  From the SoB Code of Conduct… “Sons of Ben are in the stadium to support the Union. If you’re here to support the team, you’re welcome in the Sons of Ben. If you’re here to make trouble for yourself or for the fans around you, you aren’t welcome.”  And obey the four rules… Don’t be a Racist.  Don’t Be a Thug.  Don’t Be an Idiot.  DO Support the Team.  Simple as that.  I like it.

Sure, I’m gutted if the Union lose a match.  Or if Manchester United loses.  Or if the USA National team loses.  Or the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies… even the Sixers.  I’m bitching and booing loud, because it’s my right.  But the next day I’m over it.  I’m up and ready, and psyched for the next opportunity to support MY team.  For them, not against them.  It’s my thing.

Because I’m a sports fan.

**** Sons of Ben photo courtesy of SonsofBenMovie.com.  Click on the picture to see a larger version… I’m in the back right corner!  Ronde Barber photo courtesy of Satan and his minions.