116street Soccer

Footballing from a lesser authority...

Location: New York, New York

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Catching Up

Watching the legends of years gone by return to the forefront has been a treat. Ronaldo's dazzler against Ghana, Zizou's lesson in skill to the Spaniards, Patrick Vieira's sudden return to form, they have all been fantastic! Too bad Raul couldn't get in on any of that action. Now, we get to take a deep breath, in anticipation of two classics (Argentina v. Germany, France v. Brazil), with two other worthwhile games on tap as well, as we head towards the flourish of the final.
But what the eff happened to the Dutch? Where was the imagination, the selflessness, the flair and personality? When did the Netherlands suddenly turn into England? Patrick Kluivert, Marc Overmars, Dennis Bergkamp, Edgar Davids and Clarence Seedorf can still suit up, can't they? It is '98 all over again, after all. Portugal, meanwhile, will have to play their quarterfinal without Deco, recipient of the most dubious second yellow of the World Cup (a pretty admirable accomplishment, considering some of the second yellows we've seen thus far). They also lose Cristiano Ronaldo to injury, but that just means more PT for Simao, which is a plus in my book.
What can be said about Brazil? Are they overrated slouches or uber-scary? They played like dogshite yesterday, and still won, THREE-NIL. Any other team that plays like that in this tournament ends up getting vicitmized by Zidane (I'm looking at you, Aragones), but Brazil actually still managed to hit three, and give up zero. What happens when they actually play well?
By the way, has anyone seen Ronaldinho? He seems to have been replaced by an indifferent doppelganger. How in the world has he been outshined by Miroslav Klose? And how come Francesc Fabregas gets to have a one-word name now? Nobody calls him just plain "Cesc." It's not even a cool name, like when van Bronckhorst wears "Gio" for Barcelona.
I guess I'd better talk about a few of the calls thus far. First of all, the penalty against Australia, dive though it may have been, was legit. Grosso fought through the first tackle, then set up Lucas Neill perfectly by cutting back right. That Neill lost his ground, and obstructed Grosso, is completely his own fault. Did Grosso embellish? Sure he did, but he was also clearly in an attacking position, and Neill got none of the ball; therefore, it's a penalty. Anyone who says otherwise is just hating.
Yeah, Portugal-Netherlands was a farce, but it was fun nonetheless. Luis Figo is gangsta. There should have been more cards, too, the way Dutch players were clearly trying to injure Cristiano Ronaldo every time he got the ball. Sure, the ref lost control of the game, but the players weren't exactly class acts, either; van Basten should have put my man Ruud in the game, though. As for Spain, that's the best you can do? The Spaniards are whining about Henry's flop, the one that led to France's second goal off the resulting free-kick. Maybe you have a point, Espana, but what about the other two goals you conceded? No wonder you never win in this tournament. Enjoy your racism.
Oh, and congrats to Ronaldo, who has proved you can become a legend through hard work, training, imagination, skill, and all-you-can-eat at Bob's Big Boy. One thing I noticed though, while watching ESPN, is that Ronaldo has 15 goals over three World Cups (he didn't play in '94), Gerd Muller has 14 over four, Pele has 12 over four. But Just Fontaine of France scored 13 goals in one World Cup (1958)? Was he on steroids? Sheesh!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Wonder Goal!

This is why we love the game, why we keep watching, even though it's hard to stomach Jared Borgetti's whining and play-acting, despite the refs consistently getting offside calls wrong, in spite of Marcelo Balboa's continued employment as a commentator. It's the spontaneous thing that occurs after you've been awaiting the logical; just when you think Lionel Messi will split the defense and set Carlos Tevez up for an easy finish, or when you expect Zinha to put a cross onto Borgetti's head, something inexplicable happens. We here on 116th street will be talking about this one for a very long time.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Time To Start Over

Alecko Eskandarian; Eddie Johnson; Freddy Adu; Brian Ching; Sasha Kljestan; Bobby Convey; Lee Nguyen; Clint Dempsey; Michael Bradley; Oguchi Onyewu; Chris Rolfe; Tim Howard; Ricardo Clark; Justin Mapp; Marvell Wynne; Brad Guzan; Jonathan Spector; Heath Pearce: these are the names that figure to carry U.S. soccer beyond its present down point. It is time to drop the under-performers. It's time to grow up as a soccer program, and do what the teams who play this game for real do: bring in younger, in-form players, and lose the dead weight. Incidentally, we have some pretty heavy dead weight on our squad. It's true that MLS has provided a forum in which the American player can improve, but for our team to truly progress internationally, each of the previously mentioned names needs to get some serious run in Europe. The Landon Donovan "I'm happy here in the USA" mantra has done some serious harm. It is also time for new leadership at the top; where once we were unafraid to play the young and untested, we have now fallen into the trap of playing out-of-form favorites. Thus, we have one goal and four shots on net to show for our entire World Cup outing. That's all I'll say about the U.S. disaster, other than to give a big shout-out to Sam's Army, which is ever growing.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

All I Want To Say Is...

Marcelo Balboa makes me want to kill myself. No wonder the '98 USA team came in last; they probably were so distracted by his total buffoonery that they forgot they were playing a soccer game. Eff that, listening to his total buffoonery makes me forget that I'm watching a soccer game. I'd like to knock him around. Mofo.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Where You At?

So much has been said about Ronaldo at this point that there's no reason for us to even throw our two cents into that whole Brazilian mess, but we here on 116th street have been watching the matches, and have found the Selecao to be a pretty disappointing set. And while we, like everyone else, now eagerly await the ascension of Robinho (who looks like's he's been lifting some serious weights since he moved to Madrid), we also feel the need to address a potentially serious problem for the Samba Boys.
What the eff is Ronaldinho doing out there? For two matches thus far, he's been wandering the pitch in an aimless malaise, not trying to lose his marker, or run at anyone, or do anything that remotely justifies his worldwide esteem. Here is a typical Brazilian possession: Ze Roberto or Emerson turn upfield to assess their options; Kaka runs around like a madman, all over the pitch, to the point where one can't even tell what position he is actually playing; Adriano works his way into space; Roberto Carlos and Cafu make a beeline for the endline, hoping to get a low cross into play; Ronaldo eats a calzone; Ronaldinho walks in a circle, hoping to get the ball so he can boot it 15 yards, directly to a defender.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter much, because Brazil is good enough to win, even when they're only playing a 40% of capacity. It still probably doesn't matter ultimately, because Ronaldinho is otherworldly enough to suddenly turn it on and become the alpha figure of this World Cup. As a fan though, it's pretty effing disappointing to watch him go through the motions, waiting for an Argentina or Netherlands to justify the raising of his game. If this World Cup ends with more people talking about Kaka than the Gaucho, don't be surprised; it will all be Ronnie's fault.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Spittin' Nails

"We've got a chance now, and we're excited about that. You betcha come four or five days we're gonna be spittin' nails again." - Kasey Keller, fired up (as he should be) following the USA's 1-1 draw with Italy.

Today is a great day to be a U.S. soccer fan. Sure, they didn't play a perfect match, and their lack of discipline nearly led to their demise, but in toughing out a 1-1 draw, with nine men, against an Italy side that had solved our defense by the 70th minute, they achieved quite the spiritual victory. The spirit that was so lacking on Monday was abundant in spades against the Azzuri, and our national pride, as well as belief in our players, was restored. Now we face another do-or-die situation, facing Ghana on Thursday, with our heads held high, and with the ability to talk $#!+ to every Italian we meet for at least four years, knowing that they couldn't beat us with nine men.
Clint Dempsey and Oguchi Onyewu get the game balls. Deuce gave the Americans the kind of swagger Landon Donovan can only talk about, and his confidence on the ball really set the tone early, making the USA an attacking force from the beginning. Gooch came up huge, fouling, shoving, knocking and generally beating up Luca Toni (aka "The Juggernaut, Bitch!"), reducing him to a complete non-factor. Beyond singling those two players out, the entire team effort in the face of two red cards was fairly spectacular. Watching the U.S. Men throw themselves about the field provided the most inspirational performance I have seen in this Copa Mundial, and Kasey Keller, your save on Alessandro Del Piero was the stuff of legend. What a fantastic match! Even if the U.S. ultimately fails to move out of the group stage, perhaps this will be the World Cup in which the U.S. soccer team captured the hearts of the nation, simply by standing up for each other.

Friday, June 16, 2006

One Other Thing...

It's a bad day to be Serbian (or Montenegran, for that matter).

World Cup BS

Everyone is a critic these days. When I first read Eddie Johnson's ill-advised and insensitive comparison of the World Cup to war, I kind of laughed and shook my head, recognizing full well that EJ is often given to that sort of hyperbole. Then the press corps ran with the "story," and the next thing I know, Vincenzo Iaquinta (does he even start for Italy?) is all indignant about it, promising to give "war" right back to the Americans. Alberto Gilardino, to his credit, seemed willing to downplay the "controversy," probably because it was the first time he had ever even heard the name Eddie Johnson in his life. The mainstream outlets seem to have enough reserved indignation about this whole thing, but I wonder why no one is on record praising EJ for his comments?
Has everyone already forgotten the USA-Czech game? I, for one, welcome a little ill-advised war comparison, if it instills any kind of aggressive mentality in the neutered U.S. team. Geopolitical sensitivity never won anyone a soccer game, but some old-fashioned aggression never hurt anyone. Since the USA lacks a Roy Keane figure (when, oh when, will we find our own Keano?), we'll have to make do with what we can, which, in this case, has to be Eddie Johnson saying stupid $#!+.
The real issue, as I see it, is that we have now entered into the dog days of the World Cup, the second week of games, by which time the new-car shine of the opening of the tournament has worn off. The groups have already become less interesting, there haven't been enough true upsets to sustain the momentum of the openers, the groups are already being decided as I type this, and the spectacle of the knockout rounds has yet to begin, leaving the press corps with little to do but bitch and moan. Ronaldo is too fat (we knew that going in), Michael Owen is not fit (ditto), England is winning boring (you thought Frank Lampard and Diego Maradona were one and the same?), Jurgen Klinsmann thinks he's American (and the Americans suck!), Zizou and Henry can't play together (but how do you split them up?). The problem isn't with Eddie Johnson, it's that the press is just as bad when it comes to extreme commenary. But nevermind that; the game is just as beautiful and unpredictable as always, and we'd all do better to enjoy this World Cup, because it has been outstanding. So next time you hear some pundit going on and on about how stupid Sven Goran Eriksson is, for whatever he did this time, do what we here on 116th street do; laugh, give a shake of the head, and know full well that columnists are given to that sort of hyperbole.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Let Us Test Ourselves

As I was processing the U.S. defeat to the Czechs yesterday, I stumbled across an idea, one that I think would do well to carry the U.S. team further in its endeavors to become actual contenders. Since we seem to do well staging exhibitions for the world's top clubs here, and since we have the stadiums and marketing, why not have a mini-tournament every two years, and call it the U.S. Invitational Cup?

Here's the idea:

1. Invite 3 world-class international teams, two of which are continental rivals (Brazil-Argentina, England-Germany) and one from a different continent, to play the U.S. National Team.

2. Play the first round as a doubleheader, the first match between the two rivals, and the second match between the other country and the USA. For example, Game One would be Brazil-Argentina, while Game Two would be Netherlands-USA.

3. Three days later, play the final to determine the champion.

Pretty simple, right? The whole tournament could be done over a holiday weekend, such as Labor Day or Memorial Day, and televised on ESPN 2 or an equivalent channel. The host city could change every two years, particularly rewarding cities with soccer-specific stadiums, which would be ideal for this kind of thing, anyway. It wouldn't need to be a massive event, but it would be a fun thing for American soccer fans to witness, the continental rivalries would provide incentive for other nations to make the trip, and the quality of international teams would make the tournament somewhat legit.
The true benefit for us, however, would be the chance to test ourselves against true top-notch talent every two years, rather than going against the Latvias of the world, or undermanned Norwegian sides. Even if a team like Brazil were to only bring its B-team, it would still be a real challenge for the U.S. team, and worthwhile. Honestly, if we can get Real Madrid to play Real Salt Lake in freaking Utah, couldn't we pull a few strings and get USA vs. Spain at the Home Depot Center?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Freedom Fried

Making the 6 train trek to Nevada Smith's is always a worthwhile endeavor, so thus I set out this morning on my quest to root the U.S. Men to victory. Funny, isn't it, how "rooting" and "victory" don't always go hand in hand? As I sat outside the bar, heat-exhausted, in the 85th minute, I found myself being interviewed for something (newspaper? magazine?) by an acne-faced young man even skinnier than myself, saying ridiculous things like, "hopefully we'll do better next time. Every game is different." I'm sure I'll find my way into some Northern Ireland newspaper under the headline, "U.S. Fans Still Optimistic."
And so it was, and how it will always be, I suppose, we USA fans being turned into lab mice for some cruel experiment, trudging out of our favorite soccer bar, only to have reporters from a Brazilian TV station shove microphones in our faces and ask if Americans care about the World Cup. Not that our team was helping matters today. Yes, it's true that we were up against clearly superior opposition, but our showing was embarrassing, and devoid of imagination, technical proficieny or tactical ideology. Anyone who peruses BigSoccer.com's USA board is aware that the Czechs had been scouting us extensively for months, but their preparation was so thorough, and our inability to adjust so severe, that the end result was laughable. Our insistence upon playing long balls and our failure to utilize our speed hampered our attack, but it's time to be painfully truthful here; our team is just not that skilled.
DaMarcus Beasley, you get called out first. Your persistently awful first touch and generally passive attitude should have gotten you a halftime substitution, but on you soldiered in your ineptitude. They constantly chastise Eddie Johnson for lack of effort, but what of one of our so-called leaders? Speaking of so-called leaders, apparently Landon Donovan didn't get the memo that the Send-Off Series had ended. Watching him vanish from this match was about as unentertaining as whatever David Blaine's next stunt will be.
Also in the department of poor first touches is Eddie Lewis, who compounds matters by being an inaugural member of the 116th Street Horrible Crossing Club as well. Brian McBride was even more invisible than Donovan up front. I suppose I could go on, but I won't, other than to say that Bruce Arena was fully outcoached by Karel Bruckner in this game as well, and he should have used Clint Dempsey at some point, too. In general, the Yanks' general passivity is mostly to blame for their poor performance, although not necessarily the loss. We still have to give credit where due, and Tomas Rosicky was a nightmare today. The Czechs played about as well as one team can, and we would not have beaten them today, even at our best. But did we really have to show up with our worst?
Incidentally, there were a few positives out there; Bobby Convey seemed to be the only American willing to challenge a defender one on one, and while he met with mixed results, his willingness to attack makes him deserving of a place against Italy on Saturday. Claudio Reyna played a decent match, and if his long, first half shot doesn't careen off the post, maybe the whole flavor of the game changes. Eddie Johnson did well as a second-half sub, and created a few decent chances; let's see more of him as the tournament progresses. Pablo Mastroeni held up well defensively, but didn't do enough at the other end, ultimately.
So maybe, in the end, it's not the end of the world, and maybe the next game really will be different; from here on 116th street, though, it seems the U.S. still has a lot of catching up to do.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Oranje Unrest

Watching eight matches in three days was enough to give us here on 116th street a headache (okay, it's more likely that our Friday flip-cup marathon in Queens did that, but let's not get into semantics). Of course, we're not done, as we have a date with Nevada Smith's and the USA-Czech game tomorrow. Of course, no matter how scrambled our brain is, we have to admit our happiness at not being on whatever ganja Robin van Persie was blazing after today's Netherlands victory over Serbia & Montenegro. After Arjen Robben torched the Serbians for a full 90 minutes, with very little help from his teammates, van Persie actually said this about Robben: "He must take into account his teammates. Sometimes he makes decisions for himself and not the team." As usual, we here on 116th street are lesser authorities on matters of this type, but it doesn't seem far-fetched to declare that for the majority of the match, Arjen Robben was the team. Nobody else stepped up to get on the end of his crosses, nobody else bothered to take on a Serbian defender one on one, and very few even bothered even taking a shot.
Van Persie had an OK game, but if he's gonna call anyone out, it shouldn't be Robben; maybe he should grow a pair and call out Ruud van Nistelrooy, who was invisible, and eventually had to be substituted. Anyway, if I'm Robin van Persie, I don't know I'd find coach Marco van Basten's post-match statements very comforting:
"Our game was too concentrated on the left-hand side because Arjen was in form but that was to the detriment of van Persie on the right wing. This imbalance must be addressed." Sounds like maybe Marco van Basten has a nice spot on the bench for you, Robin van Persie; you're not the only Dutch winger, after all.

ESPN/ABC's presentation has been surprisingly well-done, a few mistakes notwithstanding; they've effectively walked the thin line between a dumbed-down broadcast for new viewers and an informative broadcast for the serious fan. Even Marcelo Balboa has been tolerable, and he has actually been able to provide analysis beyond a simple, "they've got to knock it around." Let's hope he can keep it up a little while longer. On the flip side, Shep Messing's constant, nonsensical analogies to other American sports during the Argentina/Cote d'Ivoire game made me want to stab myself in the ears. Shep, we're not that stupid, and no, the Ivory Coast is not playing a "box and one" on Juan Riquelme. Anyway, you can see that the network has worked hard to get up to speed with their knowledge of the tournament, and I haven't heard any more "Kasey Keller is the best goalkeeper in the world" proclamations, so ESPN/ABC gets a pretty good mark so far.

Finally, props to Trinidad & Tobago, for pulling off the most exciting 0-0 draw I have ever seen. The power of context is amazing; I have never seen a 0-0 match that had a clear winner and loser, but I suppose that's the beauty of an event like this. No matter the score, each team's post-game reaction clearly outlined who the victor and the vanquished were. That T & T did it with 10 men in the second half made it that much more amazing. Also, isn't it funny that both T & T and Angola have token white guys?

Know Your Yanks: Josh Wolff

The long wait is over, the U.S. Men take the field tomorrow, versus the Czech Republic. Here, at the end of the "Know Your Yanks" series, is striker Josh Wolff.

Josh Wolff is an MLS veteran, and one of the premier strikers in the league. Coming into the league in 1998, he led all rookies in goals (8) and helped the Chicago Fire capture the MLS Cup championship. He made his U.S. debut in 1999, and has been a regular member of the team since. In 2003, after four productive seasons with the Fire, he was traded to the Kansas City Wizards, with whom he has starred ever since.
Wolff was a member of the historic U.S. team that reached the World Cup quarterfinals in 2002, and will feature in the squad once again this year. He is a very fast forward, with good ball control and passing skills, but he has struggled to find the net for the U.S. in recent matches. He has been a situational starter for the squad, and will probably find himself a role player once again in Germany.

Career Highlights:

1998: Makes pro debut with the Chicago Fire (USA, Major League Soccer). Wins MLS Cup title with Chicago. Wins U.S. Open Cup with Chicago.

1999: Makes U.S. Men's National Team debut.

2000: Wins U.S. Open Cup with Chicago.

2002: Wins Gold Cup with USA. Advances to World Cup quarterfinals with USA, before elimination against Germany.

2003: Joins the Kansas City Wizards (USA, Major League Soccer) via trade with Chicago.

2005: Wins Gold Cup with USA.

Know Your Yanks: Claudio Reyna

We're almost done, just in time for tomorrow's opener! Let's get acquainted with the USA captain, Claudio Reyna.

Having captained the U.S. team since 1999, Claudio Reyna is an integral part of the team's success. Reyna was a Bruce Arena player at the University of Virginia, before moving abroad to Germany to play for Bayer Leverkusen, but it was his move to Vfl Wolfsburg in 1997 that truly signaled his arrival. In 1998, he became the first American to captain a European side, when he was named Wolfsburg captain.
Reyna's profile grew, and he eventually transferred to Scottish powerhouse Rangers in 1999, where he became a regular. His 2000 season saw him become a Scottish Premier League champion, and he saw Champions League action in all three of his seasons with Rangers. Reyna's stellar play for Rangers brought about a $5.7 million transfer to English Premier League side Sunderland, the highest transfer fee ever paid for an American. Reyna once again wore the captain's armband in 2002 for Sunderland, but injury cut his season short, and when Sunderland was relegated in 2003, Reyna moved on to Manchester City, where he remains to this day.
Reyna made his U.S. debut in 1994, and was named to the World Cup Best XI in 2002. This will be his fourth World Cup. He is a versatile and talented central midfielder, capable of performing both in attack and defensively. His passing, tackling and vision make him a vital member of the USA squad. His ability to maintain possession and control tempo have often led to him being referred to as the "engine" of the U.S. team. If he can stay healthy, Reyna will surely play every match for the USA, and will captain the squad throughout.

Career Highlights:

1994: Makes U.S. Men's National Team debut.

1995: Makes pro debut with Bayer Leverkusen (Germany, 1. Bundesliga).

1997: Joins Vfl Wolfsburg (Germany, 1. Bundesliga) on loan from Bayer.

1998: Named Wolfsburg captain.

1999: Joins Rangers FC (Scotland, Premier League) from Wolfsburg on a $2.8 million transfer. Named captain of U.S. Men's National Team.

2000: Wins Scottish Premier League title with Rangers.

2001: Joins Sunderland AFC (England, Premier League) from Rangers on a $5.7 million transfer.

2002: Advances to World Cup quarterfinals with USA, before elimination against Germany. Named to World Cup Best XI.

2003: Joins Manchester City (England, Premier League) from Sunderland on a $3.9 million transfer.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Know Your Yanks: Eddie Pope

Back to form after a bout with injuries, Eddie Pope looks ready to reclaim his place as the preeminent American defender. Does he have one last, good World Cup run in him?

Eddie Pope has been synonymous with U.S. Soccer for nearly ten years. An original member of Bruce Arena's D.C. United dynasty, Pope came into MLS in 1996 and made an immediate impact, scoring the golden goal to give D.C. United the first-ever MLS Cup championship. He also made his U.S. debut that same year. In 1997, he arrived on the scene fully, being named to the MLS Best XI, receiving the MLS Defender of the Year award, and winning a second straight MLS Cup title. 1998 brought a Champions Cup title for D.C., and a berth on the U.S.' disappointing World Cup team for Pope.
The following seasons would bring even more honors to Pope; four straight All-Star appearances (1996-2000), another MLS Cup (1999) and even an MLS Humanitarian of the Year award (2000). In 2002, he started every game for the U.S. in their run to the World Cup quarterfinals, but later that year he found himself traded to the MetroStars (now the New York Red Bulls), ending his illustrious D.C. United career.
From 2002 to 2004 Pope was a defensive anchor for the MetroStars, nailing down two more MLS Best XI selections, before being traded to Real Salt Lake for the 2005 season. In 2005, he was named to the MLS All Time Best XI.
Pope is a quick defender with decent size, and is a very strong tackler. He is also good in the air, and very rarely makes mental mistakes. His distinguished career has led many to believe him to be the greatest defender in U.S. history. A recent bout with injuries, as well as advancing age, led to a drop in form, and to many observers he appeared washed up; a return to health, however has led to a return to form, and Pope should be a starter when the U.S. takes the field on Monday.

Career Highlights:

1996: Makes pro debut with D.C. United (USA, Major League Soccer). Wins MLS Cup with D.C. Wins U.S. Open Cup with D.C. Makes U.S. Men's National Team debut.

1997: Wins MLS Cup with D.C. Named MLS Defender of the Year. Named to MLS Best XI.

1998: Wins Champions Cup with D.C. Wins Interamerican Cup with D.C. Named to MLS Best XI.

1999: Wins MLS Cup with D.C.

2000: Named MLS Humanitarian of the Year.

2002: Advances to World Cup quarterfinals with USA, before elimination against Germany. Joins MetroStars (USA, Major League Soccer) from D.C. via trade.

2003: Named to MLS Best XI.

2004: Named to MLS Best XI.

2005: Joins Real Salt Lake (USA, Major League Soccer) from MetroStars via trade. Named to MLS All Time Best XI.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Know Your Yanks: Oguchi Onyewu

Having apparently outgrown his former occupation (taking Arnold Drummond's lunch money), the Gooch now spends his time intimidating opposing strikers. The newest American sensation, and a soon-to-be-rich young man, Oguchi Onyewu is ready to take the world by storm in Germany.

A 6-4, 210 lb. tower of strength, Oguchi Onyewu has become an integral part of the USA soccer program. The 24-year-old Onyewu was a member of the same U.S. Under-17 team that produced Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and Bobby Convey, but has only come into the national team picture relatively recently, mostly because he started his pro career much later than the others. He signed with French side FC Metz in 2002, and was loaned to Belgian team La Louviere in '03. Another loan, to Standard Liege in 2004, eventually led to a permanent move. "Gooch" has thrived at Liege, making the league's Best XI twice, and being named Foreign Player of the Year in 2005. Amid rumors that other European squads are bidding for his signature, it appears as though he will sign with English team Middlesbrough FC next season.
Onyewu earned his first USA cap in 2004, and has quickly ascended to first-team status with the Yanks since. He is presently most well known for his domination, and "stare-down" of Mexico forward Jared Borgetti in a 2006 World Cup qualifier. He was also named to the Best XI of the 2005 Gold Cup, in which the USA took home the continental title. Onyewu is fast, tall and exceptionally built, overpowering defenders and consistently winning aerial battles. He will play every minute of the World Cup for the USA.

Career Highlights:

2002: Makes pro debut with FC Metz (France, Ligue 1).

2003: Joins La Louviere (Belgium, First Division) from Metz on loan.

2004: Joins Standard Liege (Belgium, First Division) from Metz on loan, then on a free transfer). Makes U.S. Men's National Team debut.

2005: Named to Belgian First Division Best XI. Named Belgian First Division Best Foreign Player. Wins Gold Cup with USA. Named to Gold Cup Best XI.

2006: Named to Belgian First Division Best XI.

Know Your Yanks: Ben Olsen

Once the next rising star in U.S. Soccer, now a role player for the Yanks; Ben Olsen is a story of heartbreak and perseverance.

Ben Olsen has long been associated with USA Coach Bruce Arena, yet this will be his first World Cup. An Arena recruit at the University of Virginia, Olsen actually moved in with Arena during his MLS rookie season in 1998, when both were with D.C. United. Olsen was an immediate success with D.C., winning MLS Rookie of the Year as a right midfielder, and appearing to be set for sure stardom. 1999 was an even better season, as D.C. won the MLS Cup, with Olsen being named MLS Cup MVP. His performances for D.C. United garnered overseas attention, as English First Division side Nottingham Forest came calling. Olsen went to Forest on loan, and turned in some impressive performances, before a serious ankle injury would nearly end his career. Olsen wouldn't play for another 18 months.
Olsen, who had made his U.S. debut in 1998, seemed set to play as the squad's right wing midfielder for many years to come before his injury setback. He missed the entire 2001 season and much of 2002 rehabbing his ankle, and when he finally returned to D.C. United, he no longer had the necessary speed to play a wide position. Fortunately, due to his intelligence, he was able to adapt to a central position in midfield, becoming a tough defensive presence while still adding offensive support. His leadership skills eventually put him back into the USA national picture, where he is often used as a reserve central midfielder. Olsen remains a fixture with D.C. to this day, starting every match in their march to the MLS Cup title in 2004.
Olsen contributes as a holding midfielder, using his ability to possess the ball and win the ball from defenders to control the game's tempo. He still has a powerful shot, and can pass well, although his footspeed is lacking for the international level. He won't start at all for the U.S., and may not even play in the tournament, but his positive attitude and leadership will help strengthen the squad.

Career Highlights:
1998: Makes pro debut with D.C. United (USA, Major League Soccer). Named MLS Rookie of the Year. Makes U.S. Men's National Team debut.

1999: Wins MLS Cup with D.C. Named MLS Cup MVP.

2000: Joins Nottingham Forest (England, First Division) on loan from MLS.

2002: Returns to D.C. United and U.S. National Team, after 18-month injury layoff.

2004: Wins MLS Cup with D.C.

2005: Wins Gold Cup with USA

Know Your Yanks: John O'Brien

Is he the best American soccer player? Will he ever play enough for anyone to actually find out? When was the last time he cut his hair? The questions concerning John O'Brien won't go away until the World Cup is over.

John O'Brien, a hero of the USA's 2002 run, has long been a highly regarded member of the USA soccer program, and has often been looked upon as a trailblazer for U.S. soccer players overseas. In 1996, at age 17, he signed an amateur contract with storied Dutch team Ajax Amsterdam, becoming the first American to come through the legendary Ajax academy. After a loan spell at FC Utrecht, O'Brien made his Ajax debut in 1999, eventually becoming a regular starter for the squad, as well as a two-time Dutch champion (2002, 2004). In between, O'Brien also became a fixture for the USA, making his international debut in 1998 and scoring the first goal for the U.S. in the 2002 World Cup.
Unfortunately for O'Brien, his promising career was derailed by a two-year spell of chronic injuries, which began in 2004. Unable to get healthy, he lost his place at Ajax, and soon left the squad to join lesser-light Dutch team ADO Den Haag in 2005. His injuries persisted, however, and he soon came back to the States to rehab. After spending time in California, trying to get back to fitness, O'Brien was able to work out a transfer deal to MLS, where he signed with Chivas USA in 2006. Despite only getting into one match for Chivas this season, O'Brien's obvious talent and national team reputation caused Bruce Arena to choose him for the 2006 World Cup squad.
O'Brien's skill set has often led USA teammates to refer to him as the best American soccer player, when healthy. He is a gifted passer with good speed, a strong tackler, and possesses outstanding ball control. He can play in multiple positions, but for the U.S., he will play in the center of midfield. If he is ready to go, he will be a starter for the squad, but his race to match fitness remains unclear. Nevertheless, there is no question that the U.S. squad is much improved when he is in the lineup.

Career Highlights:

1998: Makes pro debut with FC Utrecht (Netherlands, Eredivisie) on loan from Ajax Amsterdam (Netherlands, Eredivisie). Makes U.S. Men's National Team debut.

1999: Joins Ajax on loan return.

2002: Wins Eredivisie title with Ajax. Advances to quarterfinals of World Cup with USA, before elimination against Germany.

2004: Wins Eredivisie title with Ajax.

2005: Joins ADO Den Haag (Netherlands, Eredivisie) from Ajax on a free transfer. Wins Gold Cup with USA.

2006: Joins Chivas USA (USA, Major League Soccer) from ADO on a free transfer.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Know Your Yanks: Brian McBride

You can't talk about American soccer without talking about this guy. Another accomplished, internationally-respected American player, and a true leader of the U.S. team, Brian McBride will be a major key to the Yanks' success at the World Cup.

Brian McBride's significance to American soccer cannot be overstated. He was the first-ever MLS draft pick, he scored game-winners in the 2002 World Cup against both Portugal and Mexico, and he presently carries the flag for American success in the English Premier League. McBride spent his pre-MLS years in the A-League and the Bundesliga, where he saw no action with Vfl Wolfsburg. The formation of MLS in 1996 facilitated a move back to the States, where McBride became the league's inaugural draft selection, going number 1 overall to the Columbus Crew. He played seven years with the Crew, becoming a fan-favorite as well as one of the team's all-time best players.
In the meantime, he went on loan to England twice, first with Preston North End in 2000, and then for a fairly celebrated run with Everton in 2002. Despite Everton's attempts to secure his signature, McBride returned to Columbus for one final season in 2002-03, before finally making a premanent move to the Premiership, signing with Fulham FC in 2004. McBride received two high honors from MLS in 2005, being named to the league's All-Time Best XI, as well as being the recipient of a testimonial match between Columbus and Fulham. McBride has hardly disappointed in England; he has been a consistent starter for Fulham, and was named the team's Player of the Year in 2006.
The six-foot McBride is an excellent target man; his heading ability is on par with many of the world's best. In addition, he is strong and skilled, willing to sacrifice his body to create scoring chances for teammates. His dribbling ability is not particularly strong, but he is able to use his size and positioning skills to maintain control of the ball. He often doubles back to possess the ball, before making a run towards goal. McBride made his U.S. debut in 1993, and scored the team's only goal in the forgettable 1998 World Cup. His 2002 tournament was much more memorable, as he scored two winners during the U.S.' run to the quarterfinals. He will start every match for the USA in 2006, his third World Cup.

Career Highlights:

1993: Makes U.S. Men's National Team debut.

1994: Makes pro debut with the Milwaukee Rampage (USA, A-League). Signs with Vfl Wolfsburg (Germany, 1. Bundesliga).

1996: Joins the Columbus Crew (USA, Major League Soccer) as first overall pick in MLS Inaugural Draft.

1998: Scores only USA goal in World Cup.

2000: Joins Preston North End (England, Division One) on loan from MLS.

2002: Joins Everton FC (England, Premier League) on loan from MLS. Wins Gold Cup with USA. Advances to World Cup quarterfinals with USA, before elimination against Germany.

2004: Joins Fulham FC (England, Premier League) from MLS on a $1 million transfer.

2005: Named to MLS All-Time Best XI. Participates in testimonial match between Columbus and Fulham.

2006: Named Fulham FC Player of the Year.

Know Your Yanks: Pablo Mastroeni

Sorry about things being light the past few days, we here on 116th street had some stuff going on. Anyway, looks like we've gotta come fast and furious, with the World Cup only two days away. Here's Pablo Mastroeni.

Remember the days when we had overrated immigrants on our national team? Well, if you're getting to "know your Yanks" for the first time, you probably don't. Anyway, we did, and they were, trust me. Pablo Mastroeni is no David Regis (thankfully), but having moved to the States from Argentina at age four, he is the only non-U.S.-born player on the roster. Mastroeni came up through the collegiate ranks and debuted with the Miami Fusion in 1998. His versatility and defensive play enabled him to get into the National Team picture in 2001, and make the MLS Best XI that same year. When the Fusion were disbanded following the 2001 season, Mastroeni caught on with the Colorado Rapids, for whom he has been a fixture (and eventual captain) ever since. In 2002, named as an injury replacement for the U.S. World Cup team, he found himself a surprise starter, and played a key role in helping the U.S. reach the quarterfinals.
Mastroeni can play in either a central midfield role, or as a central defender. His strength is his ability to win the ball from attacking players, and his ability to start counterattacks is underrated. He has been known to be foul-prone, and while he's not very much of an offensive player, but his defensive capabilities may allow him to take a starting role once again in Germany.

Career Highlights:

1998: Makes pro debut with the Miami Fusion FC (USA, Major League Soccer).

2001: Named to MLS Best XI. Makes U.S. Men's National Team debut.

2002: Joins Colorado Rapids (USA, Major League Soccer) on an MLS allocation. Wins Gold Cup with USA. Advances to World Cup quarterfinals with USA, before elimination against Germany.

2004: Named Rapids captain.

2005: Wins Gold Cup with USA.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Know Your Yanks: Eddie Lewis

Some have referred to him as the "American Beckham," which is probably stretching things about as far as one's cosmic powers will allow. Nevertheless, Eddie Lewis is a solid contributor, and will be a key factor for the U.S. in Germany.

Eddie Lewis is a veteran of U.S. Soccer, having made his international debut in 1996. A former member of the San Jose Clash, Lewis spent three years in MLS, finishing his San Jose chapter by making the MLS Best XI in 1999. Lewis then made a move overseas, signing with Fulham FC in 2000. At Fulham, he saw very little playing time, and in his final season there (2001-02) he only played in one match, the season finale. Lewis made another move in 2002, this time to Preston North End, where he became a regular starter, before transferring to Leeds United in 2005. At Leeds, Lewis has become a key player, and he helped them get within one game of promotion to the Premiership in 2006.
Lewis is a natural left-wing midfielder, with deceptive speed, ball-control and dribbling skills. He is the U.S.' most gifted crosser and free-kick taker, leading some fans to refer to him as the "American Beckham." After playing in midfield for most of his USA career, the emergence of DaMarcus Beasley in 2002 caused Lewis to go first to the bench, but later to the left-back position, which he has claimed a starting role in. His ability to get forward and provide quality crosses has made him a valued player in that role, and enables Beasley (or Bobby Convey) to get further forward. He has made great strides defensively, and will not be seen as a liability against the world's best wingers and forwards.

Career Highlights:

1996: Makes pro debut with the San Jose Clash (USA, Major League Soccer). Makes U.S. Men's National Team debut.

1999: Named to MLS Best XI.

2000: Joins Fulham FC, (England, Division One) from MLS on a $2 million transfer.

2001: Gains promotion to Premier League with Fulham.

2002: Joins Preston North End (England, League Championship) from Fulham on an $800,000 transfer. Wins Gold Cup with USA. Advances to World Cup quarterfinals with USA, before elimination against Germany.

2005: Joins Leeds United (England, League Championship) from Preston on a free transfer.