Skip to comments.U.S. enters World Cup with newfound swagger
Posted on 06/04/2006 12:02:58 PM PDT by freedom44
HAMBURG, Germany American soccer players finally are larger than life.
A 70 1/2 -foot billboard in New York this spring showed Eddie Johnson, Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley, proclaiming in huge yellow letters: THE WORLD NO LONGER WANTS TO PLAY US. In May, a new sign was put up with American players and the inscription: BEWARE, an ad that also overlooked San Franciscos Union Square.
Faster, fearless and filled with desire to earn respect, the U.S. team is confident it will advance from a difficult first-round World Cup group that includes the Czech Republic, Italy and Ghana.
Beas and I always have this confidence, Donovan said. Were pretty fearless when we play. I think we both really believe that when were playing, were better than the other people on the other team, and were going to beat the other team.
Four years ago, Donovan and Beasley, a Fort Wayne native, were brash 20-year-olds who ignited the United States to a surprising run to the quarterfinals, when the Americans lost 1-0 to Germany. Theyre back along with veterans Claudio Reyna, Kasey Keller, Brian McBride and Eddie Pope, mixed in with talented newcomers such as Oguchi Onyewu, Eddie Johnson, Bobby Convey and Clint Dempsey.
This time, a whole lot more people will be watching in the United States, where games are on in the middle of the day, not the middle of the night. Expectations have soared boys replica jerseys were sold out at the Niketown store in New York more than a month before the tournament.
The success of the team at the last World Cup has given people more hope, optimism, new U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said. I think well have more fans that are cheering for the U.S. at these games, having traveled from the U.S. ... than weve had essentially combined in the history of the World Cup, leaving aside 1994.
After qualifying for the first time in 40 years, the Americans were routed 5-1 by Czechoslovakia in their 1990 opener, looking like the post-college all-star team that they were. Then they lost 1-0 to Italy and 2-1 to Austria, and headed home knowing they had a lot to learn.
Four years later, when the tournament was played in the United States for the first time, the Americans were knocked out with a 1-0 defeat against Brazil in the second round.
In 1998, the United States went 0-3 and finished last in the 32-nation field. Bruce Arena took over from Steve Sampson as coach after that debacle and hes still in charge, the longest-tenured coach at the tournament. His team enters ranked fifth in the world by FIFA, trailing only defending champion Brazil, the Czechs, the Netherlands and Mexico. But rankings in soccer mean as much as they do in a park pickup game.
Weve played about I guess 60 games since the last World Cup, and thats no indication of where you are on the world stage, Arena said last weekend.
The only indication is a World Cup. So were really going to find out where we are in the World Cup. Thats the only way you can analyze any country in the world. The true test comes June 12, 17 and 22.
Twelve of this years players are holdovers from the 2002 roster, and the squad is evenly split between players based in the United States and Europe, with 11 from Major League Soccer and the rest from clubs in England (seven), Germany (three), Belgium (one) and the Netherlands (one).
Just like four years ago, the goal is to get to the second round. And if the United States advances, theres a good chance the Americans would face Brazil in the second round.
Would I bet that nine times out of 10 were going to beat Brazil? Probably not, Donovan said. Could we beat Brazil? Absolutely. So you have to be a little bit realistic, but we want to put ourselves in that situation. And if were in that situation, I would still be confident.
Arenas defense appears set with Keller in goal, Eddie Lewis at left back, the 6-foot-4 Onyewu and Pope in the center and Steve Cherundolo at right back. Reyna, trying to overcome a strained right hamstring, is the top choice at defensive midfield, where he is the playmaker.
Beasley could be shifted across the midfield to the right flank against the Czechs, creating a spot on the left that could be filled by Convey or John OBrien.
Donovan, returning to Germany after two unhappy stays with Bayer Leverkusen, could be an attacking midfielder or paired at forward with Brian McBride. If Donovan is in the midfield, Johnson or Josh Wolff could start with McBride up front.
Reyna and Keller are among only seven players in this years tournament appearing on a World Cup roster for a fourth time. Reyna is an even rarer species, captaining his nation in two World Cups.
This is special. Theres nothing like this, Reyna said. Theres really nobody not even the best players in the world can really say theyre prepared for this, because its a unique situation, and thats what makes it something so great.
Arena usually tries to put the task in perspective, describing the World Cup title as the toughest trophy to win in professional sports. He is combative and sarcastic, an edge that carries over to his players, and he sends them out on the field each game with a patriotic refrain, reminding them to win for the red, white and blue.
Obviously our stock has risen over years. However were still an outsider looking in, he said. To continue to earn respect at the international level, it will require that we have successful World Cups.
And, unlike most players at the tournament, the Americans know theyll be able to return home, still relatively unknown, no matter what happens over the next month.
Even with increased visibility, theyre still not as well known as their counterparts in the NFL, baseball and the NBA, and unmet expectations from a World Cup fervor probably wouldnt stick to them in the same way it would haunt the Italians or English.
Whether we do really well or not so well, Reyna said, in a month it will be forgotten for the most part.
"We really got screwed with our draw. It'll be tough to finish in the top two of that group. Italy and the Czech republic both are better than us and Ghana ain't a slouch either."
About the worst draw we could have had. Period.
If I'm not mistaken, Ghana won the Africa cup. The US is playing in the group of Death. The 3 teams we're facing are *all* excellent. And as for not being a "real" sport??? Constantly running and making plays with no breaks for around an hour and a half? Soccer players are excellent athletes...
Yeah, we had it coming though. The last two World Cups were pretty good draws.
Is this the same "sport" where opposing fans regularly chant "Osama! Osama! Osama!" at the U.S. team?
Bring on the drunken oafs!
"The last two World Cups were pretty good draws"
And we did get to the quarter finals in Korea in 2002.
Not bad at all.
That's right. Some of our more sensitive FReepers can't handle it.
I once went to a professional soccer match and almost slit my own wrists.
New found Swagger... that has Bush's fault written all over it!
LOL! That picture is awesome!
I went to a match in London a few years back. We were about 30 minutes late to our seats and we got the nastiest looks from the fans. I think we offended them by being late. We left early so we could avoid the riots that ended up happening after the match. What a boring waste of time.
I felt the same way at Greatful Dead concerts (I've seen four). I would just go outside and party with the rest of the travelling carnival. Why do I bring it up? The World Cup is the same, except on a much larger scale.