Sunday, June 27, 2010

US World Cup Dreams Shattered

The United States men's national team won its group in the World Cup for the first time since 1930.

They received a favorable match-up to reach the semifinals, beginning with a chance for revenge against Ghana in the Round of Sixteen. It was the Black Stars who eliminated the US in the group stage four years ago.

The team had not lost a match and had momentum following Landon Donovan's stoppage time goal against Algeria to send them through.

So why did the Yanks' run end prematurely?

The first major reason lies with coach Bob Bradley's decision-making for the starting lineup.

After sitting out against Algeria for two yellow cards, Robbie Findley was granted a start once again. But why? Findley has zero international goals and can't finish around the net. Edson Buddle and Hercules Gomez were better options to go along with Jozy Altidore up top, since both had proven they could score in the friendlies leading up to the tournament.

And why was Benny Feilhaber not a fixture in the starting lineup? He proved to be the most creative midfielder as a substitute in each game and instantly sparked the team's offense. Feilhaber drastically affected the second half against Ghana and created opportunities to equalize and take the lead. Plus, that move would allow Clint Dempsey to play up top with Altidore and have two proven goal scorers.

As much as Feilhaber deserved to start, that's how much Ricardo Clark did not. Clark plays a defensive midfield position and was at fault for the two earliest goals allowed in this tournament. He failed to mark Steven Gerrard in the opening match against England. Then against Ghana on Saturday, he lost the possession which led to the goal by Kevin Prince Boateng. Clark responded by picking up a yellow card just two minutes later. Also, Maurice Edu proved to be a much better option in the previous two matches. He was solid defensively and more of a scoring threat (Had a goal disallowed against Slovenia).

Even though the squad was slightly mismanaged by Bradley, there's another obvious reason the United States failed to advance: the players are just not that good.

Many Americans became soccer fans during the 2009 Confederations Cup, in which the US defeated the world's top-ranked team at the time, Spain, 2-0 to reach the final of a FIFA tournament for the first time. The Yanks then took a 2-0 lead into halftime against the current No. 1 team, Brazil, before allowing three second-half goals in an epic meltdown.

The US team showed moderate success by competing with the top two teams, but what's rarely talked about is how they lost three out of five matches at that Confederations Cup. That included a 3-1 loss to Italy and 3-0 loss to Brazil in group play. Then in the final, Brazil was denied a goal on a Kak√° header that clearly made it over the line, which would have made it a 4-2 loss.

The US does have a few world-class players in Donovan, Dempsey, and goalkeeper Tim Howard, but others have proven little on the world stage.

So while the loss was heart-breaking since the path to the semis was favorable, it's not that surprising. As repeatedly mentioned by ESPN soccer analyst Alexi Lalas, the US plays better as the underdog. The Yanks were the clear favorite against Ghana, nearly 20 positions ahead in the FIFA world rankings, yet came up short.

So while the US men's national team is good, it has proven once again that it isn't ready to join the elite.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

World Cup Predictions

Group Stage (First Team Listed--Group Winner)

Group A
France and Mexico advance

Group B
Argentina and Nigeria advance

Group C
England and the United States advance

Group D
Germany and Serbia advance

Group E
Netherlands and Cameroon advance

Group F
Italy and Paraguay advance

Group G
Brazil and Portugal advance

Group H

Spain and Chile advance


Knockout Stage


Round of Sixteen


Nigeria over France
England over Serbia
Netherlands over Paraguay
Brazil over Chile
Argentina over Mexico
United States over Germany
Italy over Cameroon
Spain over Portugal

Quarterfinals

England over Nigeria
Brazil over Netherlands
Argentina over United States
Spain over Italy

Semifinals

Brazil over England
Spain over Argentina

Championship

Spain 2-1 over Brazil

These two teams are by far the most talented in the world. I'm giving the edge to Spain (2008 Euro Champions) because of the depth from top to bottom. In the title game, I think Fernando Torres and David Villa will score on perfect passes from Xavi in the midfield.


Hope For The United States?

Anything can happen. The proof is the 2-0 win over the world's top-ranked team, Spain, in last summer's Confederations Cup. It goes to show that in a single elimination scenario, the US has a fighting chance. But assuming England takes Group C, the Yanks will need positive results against Algeria and Slovenia in the group stage. Then in the knockout stage, they will most likely have to defeat (in order) Germany, Argentina, Spain and then Brazil in the final.

Is there hope to win it all?

Very little. I say it's one in a million.

But I'm saying there's a chance.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Movie Review: Get Him To The Greek

This is exactly what I expect in an R-rated comedy from producer Judd Apatow: sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, and most importantly, big laughs.

The film reunites "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" director Nicholas Stoller with stars Russell Brand and Jonah Hill, with Brand reprising his role as rock star Aldous Snow.

Watching this movie, I came across one main realization--Russell Brand is a superstar. "Greek" starts out a bit slow, but then Brand really comes into play. He is easily one of the funniest men on the planet and shines in his first leading role. His character, Snow, relapses into the drug world after a break-up with model/singer girlfriend Jackie Q. The way Brand mixes outlandish comedic behavior with subtle sensitivity proves he is a major talent and one of the most charismatic stars in Hollywood.

The subplot between Hill's character, Aaron Green, and his girlfriend, Daphne (played by Elisabeth Moss of "Mad Men") is fairly sweet. Moss does a nice job in her supporting role and makes us believe Jonah Hill could actually find a girlfriend. But once again, the best scene involving these two also contains Brand...in bed.

One of the movie's letdowns was Sean "Diddy" Combs as music mogul Sergio. He was not funny...until he was on drugs. Then he was fantastic. So it wasn't a bad performance, but most of his early jokes misfired.

This is a very funny movie, highlighted by the chemistry between Hill and Brand. But Brand really takes over the screen.

"Greek" will definitely be considered one of the year's best comedies, if not the best.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Federer's Incredible Streak Over

For the first time in his last 24 Grand Slam appearances, Roger Federer failed to reach the semifinals.

Robin Soderling defeated the world's top player in the quarterfinals at the French Open, snapping one of the most impressive and overlooked streaks in all of sports.

It was just one year ago at Roland Garros that Federer edged Andy Roddick for his record-breaking 15th Grand Slam title. This year, he is forced to watch the rest of the tournament as a spectator.

But that doesn't do anything to tarnish the career of the 28-year-old Swiss tennis legend. He's still the best player to ever play.

Federer made 23 straight semifinals in major tournaments for several reasons, the most astonishing being durability. Former top-ranked and current No. 2 Rafael Nadal may be a stronger player at this point in their careers, but he does not possess the same qualities as Federer. He is brilliant when on the court. But Federer has managed to stay healthy for such a long period of time. The way he has reigned over the rest in this sport without his body breaking down is one of the most underrated aspects of his game.

The other major factor in this unbelievable run is his versatility as a player. The way he consistently makes it deep in majors even with the different playing surfaces is phenomenal. Nadal finally captured a hard court championship at the Australian Open last year but that aspect of his game is still somewhat questionable. Federer's worst surface is clay. However, had the best clay-court player the tennis world has ever seen (Nadal) not burst onto the scene, he may have won the past five French Opens.

Tuesday's early exit isn't that shocking. The level of competition has increased significantly in the past few years.

I don't think anyone will accomplish this type of streak in tennis again.

And it definitely belongs near the top of the list with great records of the other major sports.