Defense is our team’s biggest liability

If you hear a passing remark at the World Cup this summer from someone saying the U.S. has no offense, smack ‘em on the head for me. Then point ‘em to this proven analysis, in which a really smart dude ranks the U.S. as a top 10 scoring team in the world (9th to be exact). Believe it.

No, our team’s real worry is our defense. Our back line. Our onion bag stoppers. Even if everyone is healthy (I’m looking at you “Gooch” and DeMerit), our defense is still the weakest link. In fact, the only player I expect to start on defense is team captain Carlos Bocanegra.

When in form and recovered from injury, Oguchi Onyewu is a no brainer alongside Boca. But Gooch still seems rusty. And it could take a few more weeks before he’s match fit. Unfortunately for the U.S. team, we don’t have a few more weeks. The tournament starts in nine days.

As for the full back opposite of Boca, I normally favor the taller Jonathon Spector over the smaller Steve Cherundolo. I think I still do, but I’ll let coach Bradley pick the starter. I wouldn’t be bothered one way or the other, really.

As for center backs, I think the young, hungry, and capable Clarence Goodson should get the start. Without out a doubt. He’s a bit of a liability, but what healthy veteran on our defense isn’t? What’s more, Goodson has more fire when compared to the alternatives. And I think he’s more of a playmaker than DeMerit.

In the case Gooch still isn’t fit to start the opener on June 12 against England, I’d be okay pairing DeMerit with Goodson in the center. But I think I’d be more excited to see Goodson paired with Boca (normally a full back) in the center, then position Cherundolo and Spector on the sides.

The one saving grace when considering our disadvantaged back line is our last straw: goalie Tim Howard. He’s probably a top 5 goalie in the world. Definitely a top 10 one. So if he plays above himself this summer, any mistakes on defense could be offset by his mastery. And we’ll still get our top 10 offense in to score goals (crosses fingers).

Go USA!

Team USA: Memorize these jersey numbers before June 12

U.S. Soccer has cataloged and numbered the 23 Americans playing in the World Cup this summer. They are as follows (projected starting 11 in bold):

1 Tim Howard
2 Jonathan Spector
3 Carlos Bocanegra
4 Michael Bradley
5 Oguchi Onyewu
6 Steve Cherundolo
7 DaMarcus Beasley
8 Clint Dempsey
9 Herculez Gomez
10 Landon Donovan
11 Stuart Holden
12 Jonathan Bornstein
13 Ricardo Clark
14 Edson Buddle
15 Jay DeMerit
16 Jose Torres
17 Jozy Altidore
18 Brad Guzan
19 Maurice Edu
20 Robbie Findley
21 Clarence Goodson
22 Benny Feilhaber
23 Marcus Hahnemann

Like it or not, “faux sash” trying to become signature look of U.S. national soccer team

Robert Bradford/USA Soccer Stud

NEW YORK—When you picture Brazil at the World Cup, you expect them in yellow. When you envision Italy, you know they’ll be wearing royal blue. England wears red. Argentina wears baby blue stripes. And Holland dons solid orange.

The United States? They don’t have a signature look, something U.S. Soccer and Nike are hoping to change with the release of new home and away “sash” jerseys. Yes, they look like something a beauty pageant contestant might wear. But there’s a meaningful reason behind the diagonal stripe.

If you’ll remember, the United States beat heavily favored England at the 1950 World Cup. It’s widely considered one of the most shocking upsets the sport has ever seen—definitely team USA’s first great achievement—and it was realized while wearing a faux sash.

Robert Bradford/USA Soccer Stud

Now, after 60 years, it’s back.

“England played in blue in 1950,” recalls then U.S. captain Walter Bahr. “Since that loss, they have never played in blue again. So uniforms can mean something.”

Obviously the sash stripe didn’t score the winning goal. (You can thank Joe Gaetjens for that.) But for a team that has struggled with consistency, both in terms of competitiveness and appearance, the sash embraces a visible winning tradition, however ephemeral.

“We’re trying to instill a sense of history,” U.S. coach Bob Bradley says of the jersey. “Reinforcing the things that happened along the way.”

As the jersey’s principle designer, Nike’s Phil Dickinson adds, “It’s our responsibility to build that tradition in U.S. Soccer.” When asked by Soccer Stud if the sash would become a permanent fixture on future jerseys, Dickenson said, “Yeah, I think we’re going to stick with that. When you consider the history, it’s very iconic.”

Not everyone agrees with him. After Nike unveiled the away jersey in February, and the home jersey today, online conversations lit up with ridicule. “What’s with the presidential sash?” and “Nice beauty pageant!” were two popular ones. At the same time, the sash was well-received by many, including yours truly.

Still, the old-fashioned look is undoubtedly polarizing.

Courtesy of Nike

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing for a team hoping to get noticed. And at least the sash has more identity than anything else the Americans have worn previously.

Having qualified for every World Cup since 1990, the men’s national team has exhibited everything from denim stars and stripes to meaningless black jerseys.

Which raises the question: Shouldn’t a uniform be uniform? And like already established soccer nations, shouldn’t it stand out when players take the field?

Current officials think so. And if they have their way, the little sash that could might have a bright future. ”On the world soccer stage, it’s pretty unique,” says Dickenson. “So we plan to use it for future generations.”

Special correspondent Robert Bradford contributed to this report.

Additional photos

Eric Wynalda, Bob Bradly, and Walter Bahr at today’s unveiling (Robert Bradford/USA Soccer Stud)

All lined up and ready to play (Robert/Bradford/USA Soccer Stud)

Socks still look ugly (Robert Bradford/USA Soccer Stud)

Book mark this compete list of World Cup game times

Here is the complete schedule for the 2010 World Cup, courtesy World Cup Buzz. All times Eastern Daylight Time. Go USA!

Friday, June 11
Group A – (Johannesburg) South Africa vs. Mexico, 10 a.m.
Group A – (Cape Town) Uruguay vs. France, 2:30 p.m.

Saturday, June 12
Group B – (Johannesburg) Korea Republic vs. Greece, 7:30 a.m.
Group B – (Port Elizabeth) Argentina vs. Nigeria, 10 a.m.
Group C – (Rustenburg) United States vs. England, 2:30 p.m.

Sunday, June 13
Group C – (Polokwane) Algeria vs. Slovenia, 7:30 a.m.
Group D – (Pretoria) Serbia vs. Ghana, 10 a.m.
Group D – (Durban) Germany vs. Australia, 2:30 p.m.

Monday, June 14
Group E – (Johannesburg) Netherlands vs. Denmark, 7:30 a.m.
Group E – (Bloemfontein) Japan vs. Cameroon, 10 a.m.
Group F – (Durban) Italy vs. Paraguay, 2:30 p.m.

Tuesday, June 15
Group F – (Rustenburg) New Zealand vs. Slovakia, 7:30 a.m.
Group G – (Port Elizabeth) Ivory Coast vs. Portugal, 10 a.m.
Group G – (Johannesburg) Brazil vs. Korea DPR, 2:30 p.m.

Wednesday, June 16
Group H – (Nelspruit) Honduras vs. Chile, 7:30 a.m.
Group H – (Port Elizabeth) Spain vs. Switzerland, 10 a.m.
Group A – (Pretoria) South Africa vs. Uruguay, 2:30 p.m.

Thursday, June 17
Group B – (Johannesburg) Argentina vs. Korea Republic, 7:30 a.m.
Group B – (Bloemfontein) Greece vs. Nigeria, 10 a.m.
Group A – (Polokwane) Mexico vs. France, 2:30 p.m.

Friday, June 18
Group D – (Port Elizabeth) Germany vs. Serbia, 7:30 a.m.
Group C – (Johannesburg) Slovenia vs. United States, 10 a.m.
Group C – (Cape Town) England vs. Algeria, 2:30 p.m.

Saturday, June 19
Group E – (Durban) Netherlands vs. Japan, 7:30 a.m.
Group D – (Rustenburg) Ghana vs. Australia, 10 a.m.
Group E – (Pretoria) Cameroon vs. Denmark, 2:30 p.m.

Sunday, June 20
Group F – (Bloemfontein) Slovakia vs. Paraguay, 7:30 a.m.
Group F – (Nelspruit) Italy vs. New Zealand, 10 a.m.
Group G – (Johannesburg) Brazil vs. Ivory Coast, 2:30 p.m.

Monday, June 21
Group G – (Cape Town) Portugal vs. Korea DPR, 7:30 a.m.
Group H – (Port Elizabeth) Chile vs. Switzerland, 10 a.m.
Group H – (Johannesburg) Spain vs. Honduras, 2:30 p.m.

Tuesday, June 22
Group A – (Rustenburg) Mexico vs. Uruguay, 10 a.m.
Group A – (Bloemfontein) France vs. South Africa, 10 a.m.
Group B – (Durban) Nigeria vs. Korea Republic, 2:30 p.m.
Group B – (Polokwane) Greece vs. Argentina, 2:30 p.m.

Wednesday, June 23
Group C – (Port Elizabeth) Slovenia vs. England, 10 a.m.
Group C – (Pretoria) United States vs. Algeria, 10 a.m.
Group D – (Johannesburg) Ghana vs. Germany, 2:30 p.m.
Group D – (Nelspruit) Australia vs. Serbia, 2:30 p.m.

Thursday, June 24
Group F – (Johannesburg) Slovakia vs. Italy, 10 a.m.
Group F – (Polokwane) Paraguay vs. New Zealand, 10 a.m.
Group E – (Rustenburg) Denmark vs. Japan, 2:30 p.m.
Group E – (Cape Town) Cameroon vs. Netherlands, 2:30 p.m.

Friday, June 25
Group G – (Durban) Portugal vs. Brazil, 10 a.m.
Group G – (Nelspruit) Korea DPR vs. Ivory Coast, 10 a.m.
Group H – (Pretoria) Chile vs. Spain, 2:30 p.m.
Group H – (Bloemfontein) Switzerland vs. Honduras, 2:30 p.m.

Saturday, June 26
Round of 16 – (Port Elizabeth) Group A Winner vs. Group B Runner-Up, 10 a.m.
Round of 16 – (Rustenburg) Group C Winner vs. Group D Runner-Up, 2:30 p.m.

Sunday, June 27
Round of 16 – (Bloemfontein) Group D Winner vs. Group C Runner-Up, 10 a.m.
Round of 16 – (Johannesburg) Group B Winner vs. Group A Runner-Up, 2:30 p.m.

Monday, June 28
Round of 16 – (Durban) Group E Winner vs. Group F Runner-Up, 10 a.m.
Round of 16 – (Johannesburg) Group G Winner vs. Group H Runner-Up, 2:30 p.m.

Tuesday, June 29
Round of 16 – (Pretoria) Group F Winner vs. Group E Runner-Up, 10 a.m.
Round of 16 – (Cape Town) Group H Winner vs. Group G Runner-Up, 2:30 p.m.

Friday, July 2
Quarterfinal, Game 57 – (Port Elizabeth) E1/F2 Winner vs. G1/H2 Winner, 10 a.m.
Quarterfinal, Game 58 – (Johannesburg) A1/B2 Winner vs. C1/D2, 2:30 p.m.

Saturday, July 3
Quarterfinal, Game 59 – (Cape Town) B1/A2 Winner vs. D1/C2 Winner, 10 a.m.
Quarterfinal, Game 60 – (Johannesburg) F1/E2 Winner vs. H1/G2, 2:30 p.m.

Tuesday, July 6
Semifinal, Game 61 – (Cape Town) Game 57 Winner vs. Game 58 Winner, 2:30 p.m.

Wednesday, July 7
Semifinal, Game 62 – (Durban) Game 59 Winner vs. Game 60 Winner, 2:30 p.m.

Saturday, July 10
Third-Place Game – (Port Elizabeth) Game 61 Loser vs. Game 62 Loser, 2:30 p.m.

Sunday, July 11
Final – (Johannesburg) Game 61 Winner vs. Game 62 Winner, 2:30 p.m.

Diving in soccer is un-American

It may be called “the beautiful game,” but soccer is full of bad acting.

If fans want their sport to be taken seriously by fellow Americans—in other words, thrive here—they need to shun diving from the game at all levels. Otherwise, tough-loving American sports fans will never embrace the sport. And soccer fans in general will continue to get an inferior product.

Anyone who has watched a single match of international soccer recently is more than familiar with diving, an act where the player with the ball dramatically falls to the ground and fakes injury in an effort to draw a foul, almost always after being challenged by a defender.

The unsportsmanlike conduct has increasingly plagued the sport over the last decade, as FIFA has been unable (or unwilling) to regulate the exploit. Admittedly, FIFA officials have started yellow carding offenders, but so far it’s been too little too late.

Then you have guys like former-American defender Alexi Lalas—not to mention a slew of international players—defend and celebrate diving as a “skill.” In a recent video discussion of diving, Lalas said there’s “no dishonor” in diving, so long as it’s done with “intelligence, guile, and purpose.” (At one point, he even calls aggressive defense a “lapse of judgment.”)

In other words, don’t get caught. Don’t be flamboyant when diving. And don’t be too aggressive on defense. What a feeble response for shameless behavior. Lalas’s reasoning: “Americans often call [diving] part of the problem, but the rest of the world calls it part of the game,” he says. “And guess what, we’re playing their game. We can ignore [diving] at our own peril.”

As Lalas sees it, Americans shouldn’t try to craft our own unique brand of soccer, nor should we try to improve it. We should simply play by international convention, like gentlemen, and hope our friends across the pond noddingly approve. If Lalas had his way, there would be no game-changing strategies in sports. Everyone would just play along.

Worse still, Lalas describes diving as a “desirable quality in a player.” Instead of someone who fights through a tackle to create an offensive opportunity (some people call that “guts”), Lalas, an ambassador of American soccer, wants American players to pull double duty as actors and stunt men to “sell the moment for maximum effect.”

Granted, so-called flopping exists in basketball. And drawing a foul, baiting an opponent, or embellishing for effect occurs in other sports—something Lalas is quick to bring up. But said instances are no where near as notorious (or as laughable) as diving in soccer. Even so, it’s no excuse for tolerance (aka “But everyone else is doing it”).

In criticizing diving for ruining soccer, Reuters’ Erik Kirschbaum recently wrote, “When I go to the theater, I wouldn’t expect to see a soccer match break out on stage. And so when I’m watching a soccer match I don’t want to see theatrics.” Kirschbaum is right, but not everyone sees it that way.

Some say diving significantly increases the chances of winning, and so players will continue to dive for the edge. That may be the case, but I won’t believe it until someone backs it up with stats. For every blatant diver, there’s a player who wins the good old fashioned way: with boldness.

Unfortunately, even star American players are feeling pressure to conform when competing abroad. In February, leading U.S. goal scorer Landon Donovan employed a cheap parlor stumble in the box to draw a penalty kick against Chelsea. The soccer press called it a “smart run” instead of stating the obvious: a European-sanctioned dive.

Donovan’s team converted the penalty for a goal and won the game 2-1. But it was a short term gain for his club, and long-term loss for both the sport and American youngsters hoping to play their own way. Sadly, in diving for Everton, our best player ever told aspiring U.S. players that you need to play by international conventions if you want to compete, even though Donovan himself played by his own more sportsmanlike rules until recently (hopefully temporarily).

Say what you will to defend diving. Call me arrogant for suggesting America play soccer differently or that the sport needs improving. Just know that diving makes the game uglier. And how can we call it the beautiful game if stunts like the below happen regularly?

Why we call it soccer

Since most of the world still doesn’t know the story, here’s why:

“Soccer’s etymology is not American but British,” explains Partha Mazumdar of the U.S. Embassy in London. “It comes from an abbreviation for Association Football, the official name of the sport (for those of you who have never heard the team “Association Football” before, it was named after the Football Association, which still governs English soccer, to differentiate itself from the other major type of football, Rugby Football, which was named after the Rugby School. FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, is French for the International Federation of Association Football… F-I-F-A).”

He continues, “For obvious reasons, in the 1880s and 1890s, English newspapers couldn’t use the first three letters of Association as an abbreviation in their pages, so they took the next syllable, S-O-C. With the British penchant for adding “-er” at the end of words: punter, footballer, copper, and, of course, nicknaming rugby, “rugger,” the word “soccer” was soon born, over a hundred years ago, here in England, the home of soccer. We adopted it and kept using it because we have our own indigenous sport that we call football.”

Still don’t like the word soccer? Blame the British, not us Yanks.

It’s official: Nike unveils new USA soccer uniforms; socks look ugly

After leaking onto the internet, Nike today unveiled the new U.S. soccer kits to be worn at the World Cup. The polyester, made from recycled plastic bottles found in rotting Japanese and Taiwanese landfills, are said to be 15 percent lighter and 100 percent more “green.”

The reused materials won’t save you any money though when the jersey’s go on sale tomorrow; they cost just as much as they always have ($70). Other teams wearing the new national team jerseys in South Africa include Brazil, The Netherlands, Portugal, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Serbia, and Slovenia.

As for the U.S. kit, I like the throw back stripe in honor of the 1950 team. But the socks are fugly. Maybe they’ll look better with the alternate white and red jerseys. Maybe not.

U.S. World Cup TV coverage: ABC, ESPN, Univision to show it all

Live in America and want to watch the World Cup this summer? Good news: all 64 games will be aired in HD by either ABC or ESPN/ESPN360.com in English, or Univision and Telefutura in Spanish (also in HD). That’s right, all games can be watched in high-definition without cable television even.

According to U.S. Soccer, ABC will air the U.S. opener against England on Saturday, June 12 at 2 pm Eastern. In addition to the final, semi-finals, and other key games, the network will broadcast nine more matches, with ESPN/ESPN360.com splitting the remaining games. NOTE: ESPN360.com is free for Comcast subscribers.

Provided you don’t have cable and don’t mind hearing “Goooooooaaaaaaaallllllll!” yelled in Spanish, all 64 World Cup games will also be aired on Univision or Telefutura, both of which are over the air channels. Yay! Full U.S. group stage listings are as follows:

Date         Opponent     Kickoff/TV
June 12    England        2 p.m. ET/ABC HD/Univision
June 18    Slovenia       9:30 a.m. ET/ ESPN/ESPN360.com/Univision
June 23    Algeria         9:30 a.m. ET/ ESPN/ESPN360.com/Univision

U.S. national team: The red, white… and black?

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Last year, the United States national soccer team began wearing red, white, and (mostly) black uniforms during away games. Sure, they look attractive. But the black kits make it easy to forget you’re watching the U.S. national team, as opposed to some unidentified club team. To be fair, other national selections, such as The Netherlands, wear unpatriotic unflag-ly colors while playing soccer. But I don’t have to like it. Hopefully U.S. soccer returns to red, white, and blue for next year’s World Cup.