The Worst Mistake of the Cup

The main reason the United States won’t advance to the 2nd Round has nothing to do with Landon Donovan nor The Group of Death.  No, the mistake was made before the draw took place last December.  For some reason coach/GM/Emperor of US Soccer Jurgen Klinsmann decided to base his team in São Paulo, never mind the fact that they will play nowhere near that southern city.

When I arrive to Brazil, I will fly from São Paulo to Natal, the city of our first match against Ghana.  That flight is 3 hours and 25 minutes.  The US will make that same flight, presumably a day or two before the match and then reverse it.  This should not prove terribly difficult for our boys, the European players often fly across the Atlantic and the MLS based players routinely fly cross country for league matches.

The US’ 2nd match is in Manaus, the heart of the Amazon jungle, certainly a challenge for all teams playing there.  The US is fortunate that that second match is six days after the first.  That flight is four hours long.  This is where the problem will really kick in.  First Manaus is the hottest, most humid of all the host cities.  Second, the match is at 6:00pm, meaning the team won’t get to the airport until at least 10:00pm.  This means at the best they will get back to Sao Paulo at 2:30am.  Have I mentioned the team’s hotel is about 50 minutes from the airport?  Assuming almost no time at either airport or loading into buses or traffic, the team will pull into the hotel at 3:30 in the morning–and this is very best case!  So much for recovery, and recovery they will need.

The final group match with mighty Germany is four days after the Portugal match.  And it’s another 3 1/2 hour flight away in Recife.  So, if that first day back from Manaus is spent in the hot tube and in meetings and if the team flies to Recife the day before the Germany match, that would give them all of one whole day of practice.  When I consider this I would really hope the team either stays in Manaus or, better yet, heads directly to Recife after the Portugal match.  Perhaps this is the plan, but if so, I have yet to hear of it.

Again, with only three days between Portugal and Germany, the US will spend about 10 hours in transit.  Even the most seasoned traveler cannot help but feel the effects of this. Add to that the heat of Manuas as well as the pressure of these matches and I fail to see how the US will be anywhere close to fully fit.  And this for what may end up being a match against a world class opponent where we must have a result. Will we see a radically different lineup or will we play with players not at 100%?

Why was the decision made to be based in Sao Paulo?  Why after the draw did we not relocate up north, somewhere near Recife and Natal, which are only about 150 miles apart?  Our odyssey is somewhat like playing in Boston, New York City, and Denver but basing ourselves in Miami.  Why?

I fear this shortsighted decision will doom us to exiting after the group stage.  In short, we’re out before we even start.



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Playing with Fire

Some thoughts from the match.  And remember, I’m a fan so you won’t be getting tactical breakdowns here.

  • We better hope Dempsey is alright. It seems he is, but would Klinsmann tell us if it were otherwise?
  • We should quit hoping for an injury, Donovan will not be the one recalled.
  • It is time to move on from Donovan.  Our team is set and they need our support.
  • If these are our World Cup numbers make no sense.  Yedlin, who should not play, # 2? Altidore, our main scoring threat, # 17?  Zusi, nearly a certain starter, # 19?
  • Could the American Outlaws not hear the music for the National Anthem?  They were so far off in their singing. Did ESPN shut off the sound of the actual music? My wife thought the stadium turned it off, but clearly the players were listening to it and not the Outlaws as they stood down with over a verse of singing left.
  • If Altidore would get in the same positions as Wondo, he would have no trouble scoring for anyone.
  • I’ve said for awhile that Klinsmann likes Bedoya. I think he’ll be a regular starter in Brazil.
  • If our three best defenders are Besler, Gonzalez, and Cameron, can’t we get them on the field at the same time, like in much of qualifying?
  • As someone who has wanted a red jersey for years, I probably shouldn’t complain, but it would look so much better with different color shorts and socks–say white.  And why is the blue not a navy blue (like our flag?)
  • Back in the early AOL Chatrooms, a term that was used often to describe our hopes for the team was “Flow On.”  This team does look to have a flow about it.  They play together and for one another.
  • Why didn’t Atletico Madrid sponsor Azerbaijan’s uniforms?
  • Diskerud and Johannsson are great options off the bench.
  • Jon Champion is a fantastic announcer.
  • People love to criticize Alexi Lalas and to a lesser extent Taylor Twellman, but they bring their opinions with authority.  I love that.
  • I’ve always loved DeMarcus Beasley, but his is not the first name that comes to mind when I think of veteran leadership.
  • If this is our lineup against Ghana (with Dempsey in for Wondolowski), I am fine with it.

World Cup 2006 John's Pics 088

Stay tuned for my next post when I will tell you if the US will advance or not.

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My Credentials as a Fan

If you’re taking time to read my blog, you may want to know a bit about me and my fandom.  Then again, you may not, but as most blogs serve to boost the ego of said blogger, and this is certainly one of those cases, I’m going to share my US Soccer Fan CV with you.

I am a fan of US Soccer.  While that in no way defines me, it is a good chunk of me.  I attended my first US match in 1992, a thrilling 3-1 win over Ireland.  It was raining and the atmosphere was outstanding.  Actually I saw a Ft Lauderdale Strikers vs Team USA match in the 80’s, but I am told that doesn’t really count.  I have 43 Caps (not counting Olympics, 3; Women’s matches, a decent number; and scrimmages, a couple) and, yes, my friends and I do call them Caps.  We even have a spreadsheet keeping track of all of them and I am nerdy enough to admit that I think that’s pretty cool.  I was at all of the US matches at the World Cups in Korea and Germany as well as the 2003 Confederations Cup in France.  I have also been to every US vs Mexico home qualifier since 1997 (5 in all, including all 4 Dos a Cero’s in Columbus.)  Oh, and I attended the Olympic qualifying matches in Hershey PA leading up to the 2000 Sydney Games.

In the late 90’s and early 00’s, I did a bit of journalism, mostly as an unpaid hobby, for the love of it.  I helped a good friend of mine, Mark Bushman, with his TV show, This Week in Soccer. I was featured on John Dyson’s radio show, The Soccer Show. I also wrote for a few different sites and publications, namely Jimmy LaRue’s On the Sidelines, Andy Mead’s Emerald City Gazette, as well as for Sam’s Army’s website.  At the time I lived in Northern Virginia and attended, with a press pass, nearly all DC United matches and most US matches anywhere in the area.

I wrote the book, 23 Days in Korea:  An American at the World Cup, in which I chronicled my amazing trip to that Cup.  It was there, in Korea, where I met a number of fellow US fans who have become great friends of mine.  My time in Brazil will be spent with many of them.  I am grateful for their friendship, they are like another family to me.  Though I don’t see them very often, we share many memories and hope for more to come.  I am proud of my book, at the time I wrote it I said that doing so was the hardest thing I had ever done.  Looking back at it, there are parts I regret–parts where my writing is awful, there are also some horrible typos, and for some unknown reason, I completely left out a good friend.  However, there are parts of it I really love and when I look back, I am surprised that I wrote certain things, turned some cool phrases.  I am honored when people tell me they have read it.  Once, on a train in France, a guy seated across the aisle from my wife and I stared at me for a few minutes, then reached into his bag and pulled out my book!  Just before the 2006 Cup in Germany, someone I had never met got in touch with me and said he had an extra ticket for an England match and because of the book he wanted me to take me with him (of course I took him up on it!)

I recently was able to scratch an item off the old bucket list as Maxim Magazine featured me in an article about US Fans and the American Outlaws.  In the story the paid me an unbelievable compliment, one that I may have some difficulty living up to.

At the end of the day though, my being a fan isn’t about me, it’s about the team.  I love supporting them during a match.  I honestly believe that in soccer, such a physically demanding sport, that the fans can lift the players.  They do make extra runs and go into tackles harder when they have the support of their fans.  The way I see it, if they are out there busting their ass, it’s the least I can do to stand and sing/shout the whole time.

So that’s what I’m hoping to do in Brazil, lend my voice to that of my countrymen.  To give our all, to leave the stadium as exhausted as the players.  One team, one goal.  And now for me, and hopefully you, one blog.

World Cup 2006 John's Pics 288

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Some Quick Donovan Thoughts

As this is a fan blog and all that fans are talking about is Landon Donovan, I will take a quick moment to share my thoughts, though as I have not spoken with either Landon or Jurgen Klinsmann in a number of years, well, I am just being a fan.

  • I tend to trust my coaches.  They are building a team after all.  And they know their squad and tactics.  Addition by subtraction can work.
  • That said, I am in no way happy about this.  Donovan has been our leader for so long now and while we have shown we can win without him, well, he is one of our best players.
  • Donovan is very un-German.  He is not an order follower.  He is a free thinker.  He is not 100% focused 100% of the time (I don’t mean on the field or in training, but when he is off the field, he has other interests.)  I don’t think Klinsmann (not a typical German himself) can reconcile this.  When Donovan took those months off, I’ll bet Klinsmann’s head nearly exploded.
  • Due to the above, it is my belief that Klinsmann neither understood not trusted Donovan.  He was just too different a person from everyone Klinsmann has ever encountered.
  • This move does not doom us.  Back in 2002 I was certain that we could not win without Claudia Reyna on the field, but there we were, in the opening match against mighty Portugal without our captain. . .  As mentioned above, we have recently played and won a number of matches without Donovan.
  • A huge thanks to Donovan for all the wonderful memories he has provided over the years.
  • A huge congratulations to Donovan for scoring 2 goals LAST NIGHT to become the all-time leading MLS goalscorer!  He now has 136 regular season goals.
  • I was also stunned that Clarence Goodson did not make it.  He was great during qualifying and I thought he had a chance to start.


The above beautiful work of art is from a wonderful fan, Prairie, and is available on the amazing Futbol Artist Network.

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We Are Going to Brazil

I thought I was going to sit this one out.  I had not gone to South Africa four years ago as my daughter had been born a few months before.  Well, that and the cost, the hassle of getting around such a large country, and the security.  Certainly I missed one of the great moments in US Soccer history when Landon Donovan scored that goal in injury time against Algeria to advance us to the 2nd Round.

When I think about Brazil, those same issues come up–it’s expensive to get there–I paid $1,600 for flights.  It’s not easy to get around–I mean it’s not like South Korea or Germany where a train can get you pretty much anywhere in a few hours.  For our 2nd match, we must fly to Manaus as there are no roads to the middle of the rainforest where two large rivers come together to form the mighty Amazon. That cost?  $745 for me.  Is Brazil safe?  In a word I would have to say no, particularly with much of the population upset about how the government has spent for these games, namely stadiums have been built or improved, but the promised and needed infrastructure has not taken shape.

With all this it would have been easy to pass on this one as well.  In addition, I have seen us play each of the teams we will face in our difficult group.  I danced into the night in Suwon as we stunned Portugal and their player of the year Luis Figo in 2002.  I cursed referee Hugh Dallas and handler of balls Torsten Frings in Ulsan as the Germans eliminated us in the quarterfinals. Finally, I was pretty depressed (as well as, again, shaking my head at the referee) as I left the stadium in Nurnburg after Ghana beat us to send us home in 2006.

Despite all of this, I will be there.  A World Cup in Brazil is too big a deal to pass on.  I truly believe life is a collection of experiences and this is one I don’t want to miss.  We may go home early or we may create more wonderful memories by advancing from this stacked group.  Either way, I will be there for the boys.  And that is what it’s all about, supporting my countrymen as they play in the world’s greatest sporting event.

So, I sold a stock that I had wanted to keep and booked my flights, applied and got a visa, have had three shots (Hepatitis A, Typhoid, and Yellow Fever) and have filled a prescription for malaria pills that I will begin taking a couple days before leaving and some sort of diuretic that I hope I won’t need.  With friends, I have places to stay, for the most part.

In 2002 I wrote a book, 23 Days in Korea: An American at the World Cup.  Nothing makes me happier that having people tell me they read and enjoyed it.  There will be no book this time, but I will be documenting this journey as much as I possibly can.  I am writing it for those of you who are not making the trip.  I hope to share the tastes, the smells, the scenery, the atmosphere, the emotions; all that comes with meeting the world for her biggest party.  I do hope you will follow along with me.


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