I write this with a bit of a broken heart. Okay maybe not genuinely a broken heart but certainly a place of disappointment. The 2014 FIFA World Cup has definitely not disappointed in its suspense, drama and at times, over-acting. I’d like to share a few thoughts on the matter if you don’t mind.
I played the beautiful game, aka football (fútbol), aka soccer, for about 13 years. I realize that my time playing doesn’t make me an expert. It doesn’t mean I’m qualified to give certain commentary but I do still think it’s fair for me to provide my perspective on it.
I suppose I’d like to start with my own team, the U.S. Men’s National Team. Clearly, a very disappointing result today, and yet, they weren’t even supposed to get that far so can it really be that heartbreaking? It can be but mostly from the standpoint that once they got that far, there was hope that they’d go further. It was not to be this time but I certainly see potential in our young players. I’m not interested in beating a dead horse, but personally, I felt our play in the midfield revealed how much we missed Landon Donovan. To me, not including him was a mistake on multiple levels – his leadership ability and other intangibles that he brought to the team, but also how great he is in the midfield and ability to direct traffic (fi you will) was sorely missed, I thought. That said, would his presence been enough to get us past Belgium? I don’t know.
Despite all of that, other players did step up at times and make plays. Tim Howard is truly the hero in the game against Belgium. The number of saves and the types of saves were beyond impressive. I know many would want to harass Chris Wondolowski for having missed that shot near the end of regulation and to be quite frank, would have meant the end of the game, but I can’t bring myself to feel that way. Was it disappointing he missed it? Sure. Was he the reason we lost the game? No. It takes a full team to win or lose this game. End of story. Our lack of possession as a team is what lost us that game. He did, however, provide that much needed upfront umph that helped Clint Dempsey and helped provide that missed chance. I hardly see a loss in that. Julian Green is barely 19 years old and didn’t see much time in the World Cup but the little bit he did see, meant giving us new life in that game. I see a bright future for him. I loved Kyle Beckerman in this tournament also. He was solid defensively in the midfield. It was a shame that we didn’t see more Jozy Altidore in this tournament. I have a feeling that would have helped with out lack of offense, particularly in the Belgium game.
That said, I did find it curious that as much as Jurgen Klinsmann discussed conditioning, we didn’t seem well conditioned at all. I can’t for the life of me figure out how come hamstrings were such an issue for our team. We also seemed slower than other teams and simply like we were outran most of the time. I think that also played a big part in our demise. Despite whatever criticism I’ve laid out here, I’m actually really happy with our performance and with Klinsmann. I haven’t totally agreed with his decisions, but I can also see some of where he’s coming from at this point and I’m looking forward to seeing what else he can do with this team.
As for the tournament itself, it’s been astonishing! The goalkeeping in this tournament has been stellar! Memo Ochoa, the Mexican goalkeeper, has a new fan in me! He hardly allowed anything past him. The Costa Rican goalkeeper is similar along with the Nigerian keeper (I’m sorry I can’t remember all the names). I always tend to root for the “little guy” but this tournament has seen many of them go up against the Goliaths and have done well! The number of underdogs that made it to the Round of 16 was impressive, almost unprecedented – Belgium, Nigeria, Algeria, Costa Rica, Columbia, Switzerland and even the U.S. all made it and none were supposed to have. Despite not winning a single game, the Socceroos (the Australians) played a fabulous tournament! They, too, were an underdog but they certainly gave their opponents something to think about.
I also find that I’m enjoying this tournament much more than 2010. I loved that it was in South Africa and that Bufana Bufana (the South African team) did well, but the officiating left little to be desired. This tournament the officiating has been significantly improved. There has been one or two games that didn’t go well, but overall, it’s been enjoyable.
I also find there has been a significant increase in the number of handballs. I’m not sure what to make of that exactly. The amount of offside calls has also been almost astronomical, at least in comparison to other tournaments, but what I like about that is the amount of offense being produced. There have been many more goals and a lot more excitement in the games. Many of the Round of 16 games were decided in at least the second half if not overtime or even penalty kicks. I hate seeing a team lose in penalty kicks, but to get to that point makes for an exciting game. The one pitfall, of course, is there is still a lot of diving going on and I hate how that takes away from the beauty of the game. I hope the referees take note when players like Robben of the Netherlands, admits to taking a dive and watch him more closely. That kind of thing shouldn’t ever be tolerated. It’s a form of cheating.
That said, since my team is out let it be known I’m rooting for Columbia, Costa Rica and Belgium – basically – the underdogs. I don’t believe any of them have ever won before and most haven’t gotten this far before so best of luck to all of them!
I don’t know that any of this will matter much to any of you but I love this game. I love how this tournament has been going, mostly, and I’m having a really good time with all of it. Maybe I just need to get back in shape and start playing again? Hmm.