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U.S. enters World Cup with newfound swagger
Journal Gazette ^ | 6/4/06 | Ronald Blum

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 Francisco’s 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. “We’re pretty fearless when we play. I think we both really believe that when we’re playing, we’re better than the other people on the other team, and we’re 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. They’re 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 we’ll have more fans that are cheering for the U.S. at these games, having traveled from the U.S. ... than we’ve 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 he’s 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.

“We’ve played about I guess 60 games since the last World Cup, and that’s no indication of where you are on the world stage,” Arena said last weekend.

“The only indication is a World Cup. So we’re really going to find out where we are in the World Cup. That’s the only way you can analyze any country in the world. The true test comes June 12, 17 and 22.”

Twelve of this year’s 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, there’s a good chance the Americans would face Brazil in the second round.

“Would I bet that nine times out of 10 we’re 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 we’re in that situation, I would still be confident.”

Arena’s 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 O’Brien.

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 year’s 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. There’s nothing like this,” Reyna said. “There’s really nobody – not even the best players in the world – can really say they’re prepared for this, because it’s a unique situation, and that’s 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 we’re 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 they’ll be able to return home, still relatively unknown, no matter what happens over the next month.

Even with increased visibility, they’re still not as well known as their counterparts in the NFL, baseball and the NBA, and unmet expectations from a World Cup fervor probably wouldn’t 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.”

TOPICS: Culture/Society; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: germany; hamburg; soccer; teamusa; usteam; worldcup
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To: his sidekick

The USA has a very difficult group. In addition, whoever finishes second will almost certainly face Brazil. Not being one of the eight seeded teams really hurt our chances, but that's because we were terrible in 1998.

61 posted on 06/04/2006 1:56:52 PM PDT by You Dirty Rats (I Love Free Republic!!!)
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To: You Dirty Rats
"Soccer is our only chance to avoid total embarassment on a world sports level."

America is the strongest sporting nation overall on the planet.
Look at the Olympic medal tables.
We won over twice as many golds in swimming for example, as the next country Australia did.
W have dominated track and field for decades.

"Puerto Rico beat the USA by 21 points in basketball."

And Puerto Rico never qualified for the second round. We did.
Plus very few of our top b'ball players even bothered to turn up.
We had Stefan Marbury of the Kiicks as one of our top players at the Olympics for crying out loud!

No Kobe. No Shaq. Not even Jason Kidd.
62 posted on 06/04/2006 1:59:08 PM PDT by Jameison
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To: freedom44

I don't think the U.S. team will advance out of Group E. It will probably be Italy and the Czech Republic who advance to the elimination round.

63 posted on 06/04/2006 2:00:22 PM PDT by 04-Bravo
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To: Joe Boucher
What is all the fuss I've been hearing about the "World Cup" lately in Germany? Is this something new? Did the United States and Germany make the finals or something? And if so, why is this "World Cup" in Germany? In most professional sports, it is custom to play some games at home and some games away. So maybe the first two games can be held in Germany, the next three in America and then the next two (if necessary) over in Germany. I suppose the German's get home field advantage for some sort of valid reason. I think some are confused about the "World Cup." It's not a game that will be played just once (i.e. Germany vs USA), but games that will be played over approximately 2 1/2 - 3 weeks and will consist of 32 countries participating, split into eight groups of four. The teams will play in matches against each other, narrowing down to four quarter-finals and then two semi-finals, and then finally the final game where there will be a winner of the 2006 World Cup.
64 posted on 06/04/2006 2:02:09 PM PDT by his sidekick (A Conservative American living and keeping a stiff upper lip in England.)
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To: Jameison

How many World Cups has the US won? Don't you think we should win a couple before the "soccer is ghey" stuff begins?

65 posted on 06/04/2006 2:02:46 PM PDT by 1rudeboy
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To: billbears

Don't be too sure. Smicer (midfield) is already out for the Czechs and they do have some injury issues up front. The Italians have made failing to meet expectations at the World Cup the one thing you can count on at the World Cup. Never mind the fact that the entire team is dealing with the Italian Soccer Fed. scandal and the media coverage that's come with it. Ghana is the best out of Africa right now, but I think the US can handle them.

It would be huge if the US advanced and it seems like a few doors are opening just a little bit for them. We'll find out next Monday. :)

66 posted on 06/04/2006 2:04:10 PM PDT by MNlurker
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And because I am a largely benevolent soccer hooligan, click below for one of the funniest sport videos ever.

Ghey Referee

67 posted on 06/04/2006 2:04:25 PM PDT by 1rudeboy
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To: 1rudeboy

I have and enjoy the heck out of it and they still do when trying to get a game in. Usually only an inning or so,

68 posted on 06/04/2006 2:05:14 PM PDT by Joe Boucher (an enemy of islam)
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Good soccer blooper video here, as well.
69 posted on 06/04/2006 2:05:51 PM PDT by 1rudeboy
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To: his sidekick

That is the way it should be but in international competition everyone works their asses off to beat the U.S.
It don't matter what sport it is, everyone hates the U.S.
You help your team from Ghana beat the U.S. and you are a hero for ever.

70 posted on 06/04/2006 2:07:32 PM PDT by Joe Boucher (an enemy of islam)
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To: ChadGore
Soccer is to sports as Harry Conic Jr. is to Jazz.

Either way, you only whisper their name?

71 posted on 06/04/2006 2:11:00 PM PDT by JamesWilson
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To: Joe Boucher

Well then, we'll have the perfect opportunity to prove it. If we make it out of the Group of Death and play Brazil in the 2nd round, we'd be playing against one of the most awesomely talented teams ever. We could beat them... but if Ronaldinho is playing at the top of his form and the rest of the guys act like a team, it would only be by a miracle. Not that I'm not hoping for one!!!

72 posted on 06/04/2006 2:14:03 PM PDT by austinTparty
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To: austinTparty

I won't bet the farm on us getting out of the 1st round but will watch and hope.
Wonder if they will play our games at about 2 a.m. e.s.t.

73 posted on 06/04/2006 2:20:07 PM PDT by Joe Boucher (an enemy of islam)
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To: Joe Boucher
"but in international competition everyone works their asses off to beat the U.S"

In the World Cup, everyone works their asses off to beat everyone else, doesn't matter who they are.

Just ask that Columbian player that was shot dead, when he missed a penalty for Columbia in the Word Cup, few years back.
74 posted on 06/04/2006 2:21:02 PM PDT by Jameison
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To: Joe Boucher

You *could* TiVo... but you know you won't. Just don't plan on sleep for the next month... :-)

75 posted on 06/04/2006 2:23:34 PM PDT by austinTparty
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To: Joe Boucher
"I won't bet the farm on us getting out of the 1st round but will watch and hope."

Same here.
Good news is, in sports anything can happen. Been following sports to long to think anything is a given for anyone, even if they are Italy in the World Cup.
Who ever thought Senegal was going to beat then World Champions, France, in the World Cup opener In Seoul, four years ago?
76 posted on 06/04/2006 2:26:36 PM PDT by Jameison
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To: Joe Boucher

"Soccer is very demanding and a great sport but don't think catchers or pitchers aren't out there working.
Try it."

They are working. Just nowhere near as hard as elite soccer players, basketball players, and football players.

77 posted on 06/04/2006 2:28:17 PM PDT by SmoothTalker
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To: MNlurker

Alright, let's say by some miracle they do advance (2nd place, they cannot win the division). The runner up in their group plays the winner of Group F, which will 99.94% be the Brazilians. By miracle of miracles they beat the Brazilians. Next up, either the French, Spanish, or Swiss in the quarters. If they win that one (which would mean the sun has stopped in the sky, cats can speak fluent English, and I've won the lottery), they will face the English in the semis. At which point they have no chance at all. No level of miracle would help them against the English.

78 posted on 06/04/2006 2:31:29 PM PDT by billbears (Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. --Santayana)
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To: billbears
"No level of miracle would help them against the English."

Ze Engleesh?
Hey, how's that Rooney fella coming along then?
BTW, we have beaten the English before.
79 posted on 06/04/2006 2:34:23 PM PDT by Jameison
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To: MikefromOhio

Gotta love a sport where you can bet on a tie.

80 posted on 06/04/2006 2:37:52 PM PDT by andrew2527
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