Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 8, 2006
By: Zachary Roth

FOR ALL THREE OF YOU WHO CARE: I like a good bit of Bush-bashing as much as the next liberal journalist, but I think Matt Yglesias is clearly being unfair to the president on this one.

Concerning the US soccer team's chances at this summer's World Cup, Bush told a German journalist: "Whether it's good enough to win it all, who knows? But I know they'll try their hardest." Matt calls the president's assessment "troubling," notes that "we're fielding a very strong team this year," and wonders why Bush couldn't "muster a stronger vote of confidence in the squad."

This is misguided. Despite its (absurdly inflated) FIFA ranking, it's a stretch to call Team USA "very strong." Compared to previous US squads, they're not bad, but that's a low bar. In '98 they lost all 3 games, including one to Iran. And the celebrated 2002 squad was flattered by its quarterfinal finish. It beat an over-rated Portugal, drew with South Korea, and lost 3-1 to Poland (!) before beating a mediocre Mexican team and losing to an uninspiring Germany. This year's model may be marginally better, but only the keeper Keller is truly world class. More important, look at the draw: If they get out of a group that includes Italy and the Czechs, which I doubt, they'll likely play Brazil in the second round. Good luck.

All things considered, "I know they'll try their hardest" seems like the appropriate sentiment. I'd say the president's comments in fact represent a refreshing instance of allowing his judgment to be informed by the facts on the ground.

Zachary Roth 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (94)

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Comments

If the US squad fails, it will be thanks to nay-sayers like the President, who failed to support our side.

Posted by: John on May 8, 2006 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

"I know they'll try their hardest" is something I say about my kid's T-ball team. He's 6 and I am just proud to see him out there learning and having fun.

It is undecidedly NOT something I would say about a group of top-tier athletes. Trying their hardest is presumed behavior. Thus, it's a stupid thing to say.

I say don't sell the Yanks short. We must expect and demand the best from our squad if they're ever going to win the Cup. They might not (OK, almost certainly they won't) win this year, but they WILL win in my lifetime. (Barring unanticipated poor health, I should be around for several more of these.) Let's root for an outcome at least as good as last time out, when our guys pushed Germany to the limit. None of that namby-pamby "try your best" crap; let's make our mark!

Posted by: Chocolate Thunder on May 8, 2006 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

Ha! Football!!

Keller is world class, I agree. However, I think that Donovan and Beasley are also extremely talented. Whenever Donovan is in the middle, we are better. I also enjoy Wolff up front.

The weak spot is defense. I don't trust the defensive line. That's where we are gonna be killed.

Predictions:

US 3 Ghana 1
US 1 Italy 1
US 2 CR 1

Posted by: POed Lib on May 8, 2006 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

Er...

Off-policy questions like this are a great way for a president to articulate the hopes and dreams of the American people they represent.

Given that the president didn't say: "I know nothing about it and honestly don't care" his comments were pretty flattering.

Posted by: Saam Barrager on May 8, 2006 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

"...losing to an uninspiring Germany."

That's one way to look at it. Or you could say that the US out-played a German team that went on to the Final.

Posted by: Nate on May 8, 2006 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

OK, I'll bite. The main hope for the U.S. is that, fortunately for us, soccer only allows 11 players to play at any one time. When you watch the leagues, its clear that countries like Brazil, Argentina, and England could field two or three World Cup quality teams -- those countries have 30+ players playing leading roles on top European and South American clubs.

This year, the U.S. will field a likely starting 11 of 10 starters on good European teams plus Landon Donovan. Donovan has the talent to play in Europe as well, so its not a bad team.

One thing the U.S. does not do is play a significant number of friendly matches against the European teams it needs to beat.

Taking a second-string team to a multiple goal pounding by Germany is not going to cut it. Neither is having your whole season boil down to beating Mexico.

The team is solid, but the depth is not there.

Posted by: hank on May 8, 2006 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

Why does Bush hate the US soccer team?

Posted by: ckelly on May 8, 2006 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

I am curious about what the point of posting this is supposed to be. Matt Iglesias made an off hand comment on Tapped about Bush's off hand comment about the U.S. Soccer team.

Is there so little of interest going on in the world right now that this merits any attention at all?

Posted by: Catch22 on May 8, 2006 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

comment was "informed by facts on the ground"???

I doubt it.

Sounds to me as if Bush had no idea what to say, and uttered a completely neutral comment to cover.

Posted by: David in NY on May 8, 2006 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

Defense may not be exactly stellar but Keller is a rock in goal.

Posted by: Chocolate Thunder on May 8, 2006 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

Yglesias suffers from BDS ("Bush Derangment Syndrome").

It's a common malady among otherwise intelligent people like Yglesias, KOS, Atrios, and yes, even Kevin Drum.

Posted by: Frequency Kenneth on May 8, 2006 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

Someone needs to tell Iran that payback is hell.

Posted by: Steve on May 8, 2006 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

HeMMHIIBA

Help me my head is in Bush's Ass

Posted by: lib on May 8, 2006 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

Mexico was not mediocre that year. Mexico finished 2-0-1 in their group, ahead of traditional power Italy.

http://2002.fifaworldcup.yahoo.com/02/en/t/g/g.html

Posted by: Foo Bar on May 8, 2006 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

The bottom line is the U.S. needs a nice helping of luck this time around. A team like England, for example, does not need luck, per se, but needs to hit the right chemestry and form. Its not going to be enough for the U.S. to simply play well. If Keller, Cherundulo, Reyna, Donovan, and McBride play, for example, Robinson, Terry, Lampard, Gerrard, and Owen, well, the problem is sort of obvious.

The U.S. needs to play its best and hope an opponent like England or Italy has a bit of an off day.

Posted by: hank on May 8, 2006 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

The only people in the US who care about soccer/futbol are military-hating, latte-sipping coastal elites, right? I'm surprised Bush said anything about it at all.

Oh, wait: Latinos pay attention to futbol, so Bush couldn't entirely ignore the question -- and he couldn't actually brag about the team. I think Rove murmured precisely the appropriate, calibrated response into Bush's earpiece.

Posted by: The Confidence Man on May 8, 2006 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

Who cares? Soccer is for sissy-boys.

[/freeper]

Posted by: BB on May 8, 2006 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

Why should you or I care that Matt is being unfair to the President? Aren't there enough Bushistas who care about this enough to potentially call Matt a traitor?

Posted by: lib on May 8, 2006 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

just to throw in one more point, portugal wasn't seen as overrated when the us beat 'em....

Posted by: howard on May 8, 2006 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

Uh, I think you're being a bit pessimistic here.

That "mediocre Mexican team" is one that in 2002 finished their group ahead of the Italians that you so highly regard.

Those Germans were finalists.

The Koreans that we tied on their home soil in front of tens of thousands of fans got to the semis.

The Portuguese that we beat in the first match were considered dark horses to go to the final.

This IS the best team that the US has ever fielded in a World Cup (compare qualifying results between 2001 and 2005; I think you'll agree), bar none, but that doesn't mean that we're assured of making the knockout rounds, just ask France and Argentina (crashed out in the first round in 2002.

The US is a top 20 side (granted not FIFA #4, as you allude to), but anything can happen in three games unless you have the overwhelming talent of Brazil or you are a complete minnow.

The fact is that this is a crucial WC for the US's development because if we can make the second round, we are almost assured of a seed in the next World Cup, allowing us to avoid a Group of Death like this year.

Posted by: gaucho on May 8, 2006 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

"...informed by the facts on the ground."

Unlikely. It's inconceivable that Bush has the slightest clue how good or bad our soccer team is. Therefore, he actually did a good job supporting the team without putting his foot in his mouth.

Posted by: Raleigh Myers on May 8, 2006 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

And something tells me that with 21 comments in less than half an hour a bit more than three people care.

Posted by: gaucho on May 8, 2006 at 5:13 PM | PERMALINK

gaucho refers to the WC seeding system, which, although technical and obscure, is really, really critical to the U.S.'s long term success.

And the bright side is pretty simple, this year's team actually has experience against the best players in the world.

Thank goodness we don't have to play any of these teams best of 5.

Posted by: hank on May 8, 2006 at 5:13 PM | PERMALINK

You guys are my favourite anglophiles ever, mentioning us in the same breath as Brazil and co. Just adorable. What with our most exciting players being injured and a few others catching a delightful case of food poisoning the other day, I think you can say Team England is ready to continue the run of fine form that has graced its trophy cabinet since 1966.

Talking about sissy sports, did you know that lacrosse is only played at upper-class girls' high schools in England?

Posted by: Gari N. Corp on May 8, 2006 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

Another reason for Bush's low polls numbers. The only answer to anything related to soccer that an American should give is "Who cares? It's the dumbest sport on the planet." Ninety minutes of pointlessness with no time outs and the vast majority of games get decided on the sudden death kicks at the end. No wonder soccer fans riot. Who can blame them? lol

It is my personal theory that the US will continue to be the greatest country in the world only as long as soccer is so regarded. The moment it becomes popular in this country we're done for.

Posted by: Chicounsel on May 8, 2006 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

Actually I thought Bush's comment was pretty good. The US could surprise some folks this year. For the first time we are fielding a well rounded team filled with solid European league players. With the quality we have in goal anything is possible. The MLS backups are pretty good. Some of them could play in Europe. MLS is in season right now, so the backups are in game shape.

On the other hand we are ranked, what, 4th in the world. That is a joke. I sure hope our guys don't read their press clippings. We could go home after the first round.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 8, 2006 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

Why does President Bush hate America?

Posted by: theorajones on May 8, 2006 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

Zachary Roth: "[The U.S. national team] beat an over-rated Portugal, drew with South Korea ..."

I believe that Portugal was the defending European Cup champion, and as I recall, South Korea made the World Cup's "Final Four." Congratulations on accomplishing a rare feat, because it's not easy to make oneself sound more ignorant on a given subject than George W. Bush.

Bush can be quite engaging in a discussion when he wants to be, especially if the subject is something near and dear to his heart, like personal fitness and sports (especially baseball).

And though I adamantly oppose him on most everything else, I wholeheartedly agree with his stated contention that the biggest threat to Americans' health today is obesity.

But then again, as head of the Texas Rangers, Bush approved the boneheaded deal that traded Sammy Sosa to the Chicago Cubs. Voters should have noticed a disconcerting knack for very bad judgments back then.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on May 8, 2006 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

People who think the US defense is our weak spot are clueless. Our defense is our STRENGTH. We have quite a few very good central defenders - and Gooch has been a monster. Granted, left back has been questionable for a while, but Lewis is an able player.

Our biggest problem is our FORWARDS. We've got McBride and ...? Johnson hasn't regained his scoring touch since his injury, Wolff was never a good finisher (despite his speed), and Ching??!? Yikes. We may have to put Donovan up top, which isn't his best position.

Posted by: Al on May 8, 2006 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

I'll have to agree with others that disparaging the US Cup performance 4 years ago is a bit unfair.

Portugal were good, and proved it again in Euro 2004. Germany were not great but they were an excellent team - and Ballack was and is world class.

But overall the comment about the FIFA rankings is correct. The US just does not have a whole set of star players at key positions.

Let's look at Germany, Italy, Holland or some the other - not Brazil, but have a shot teams. Each one has a great forward, a great midfielder and talented defenders. Each has several players who are in the finals of world league play - starters for teams like Barca, AC Milan, Man U, Bayern or Arsenal.

The US is below that top tier. But heck with millions of kids playing, we might be there soon.

Posted by: Samuel Knight on May 8, 2006 at 5:35 PM | PERMALINK

Zachary please. You obviously need to get out more often.

Claudia Reyna has played in the EPL, SPL and German Bundesliga. Steve Cherundolo is a starter for Hannover 96 in Germany. Brian McBride is a starter for Fulham and one fo the primary reasons they stayed up in the EPL. As others have noted, Beasley is a major force for PSV Eindhoven, which has won the Dutch Eredivisie the past two years.

Bobby Convey, Marcus Hahneman and Eddie Lewis were named by Four-Four-Two magazine to be among the fifty best players in the Championship Division in England. Of course Convey and Hahneman can't repeat that next year because they got their team, Reading, promoted to the Premiership for the first time in the club's history.

As for the opponents, I think that the greatest team to fear is the Czech Republic. They have arguably the best keeper in the world (Petr Cech of Chelsea) a 6'8" striker in Jan Koller (if he's healthy) and Pavel Nedved is a genius in the midfield.

Italy is a notoriously slow starter. A lot of their greatest players are getting old and their defenders do not match up well against fast players, which is why a definsively weak, but rapid S. Korean team knocked them out (not to mention some bad offside calls and Christian Vieri missing at point blank range into an open net.

One other factor: Italy is playing the US in Kaiserslautern. It is about as close to home-field advantage as a non-European team can have. Some 40,000 Americans live nearby. I used to be one of them many years ago.

Posted by: Randy Paul on May 8, 2006 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

Oh good, now Al's here to lecture us about footie.

Posted by: Chocolate Thunder on May 8, 2006 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

That's why I haven't been able to figure out why Taylor Twellman didn't make the team. Ching did nothing in the friendlies they played, and Twellman was the best player on the field in a couple of games.

Posted by: gab on May 8, 2006 at 5:37 PM | PERMALINK

Someone made a point above that US outplayed (but lost to) a German team that ended up in the final. Referring to Germans as "uninspired" might be reasonable, but German teams never played possessed or with deep emotions--they are, after all, Germans. The game might also have been somewhat rigged, as the number of calls that went against the US in that game--and quite a number of them blatantly wrong--was substantial. But at this level, you must be able to outplay not only your opponent, but the referees as well. England did not beat Maradona on the "Hand-of-God" goal, and I don't think anyone would say that England was outplayed in that game--they were simply outscored, albeit illegitimately. The US game against Germany, although not as obvious, was somewhat similar.

In general, there is more room for lower-ranked teams to outplay higher-ranked teams in the preliminary matches, including group play at the World Cup. The better teams, if they make it through the first round, usually start playing better and the refs give them the benefit of the doubt in close games. That's how Brazil beat US here when Leonardo cracked open Ramos's skull and that's how Germany beat US last time out.

The US team is perfectly capable of winning its group--they may be able to win two games (I very much doubt all three, although Italy rarely plays to win early on and Ghana is manageable). What happens after that is anyone's guess. However, I give them no chance to win the whole thing or even make it to the final. But if they make it out of the group, they should get a respectable showing. And don't worry about Brazil--they are not going far in Europe, especially not this year.

Posted by: buck turgidson on May 8, 2006 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

Donald from Hawaii: " ... I wholeheartedly agree with [Bush's] stated contention that the biggest threat to Americans' health is obesity."

I obviously misspoke. The biggest current threat to Americans' health is the Bush administration's foreign and domestic policies.

I feel much better now. For a moment there, I thought I was going squishy on that putz ...

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on May 8, 2006 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

Agree with whomever above. Sounding more ignorant than Bush on a topic is quite a feat.

Posted by: Kurtz on May 8, 2006 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

It is not possible for anyone to be unfair to President Bush.

Posted by: Farinata X on May 8, 2006 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

Chocolat

Al's comments were pretty good. By the way, I doubt if any team has three better goal keepers.

Unfortunately two of them are going to be setting on their butts most of the time.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 8, 2006 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

A team is more than just players. I think Bruce Arena is as good a national coach as there is in the world. And last Cup was a superb achievement for coach and team.

Posted by: Nat on May 8, 2006 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

I'll agree that Bush might be right about something like soccer, pretty much in the same spirit in which I might agree that Hitler loved his dog.

Posted by: frankly0 on May 8, 2006 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

if you taking a poll, mark me down as one of the millions who could not care less about this topic. it must have been a slow day for matt...

Posted by: supersaurus on May 8, 2006 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

It's a simple game. You need someone who can get the old ball in the onion bag. You've got to do something they haven't seen before.

We'll go as far as Eddie Johnson takes us. The Italians haven't seen him. He can score at this level. (Taylor Twellman can't.)

The midfield and defense can play at this level. No question.

The knock is we qualified in a "poor group." So why then are the Mexicans (whom we beat like a pinata) getting a #1 seed?

We probably have as good a chance as England. Our #2 and #3 goalies, Hahnemann and Howard, are better than anything they got.

Of course, if you think America is hated in Europe now, imagine if we won the tournament, and a bunch of obnoxious Yanks went around Germany going "U-S-A! U-S-A!"

Posted by: Dana Blankenhorn on May 8, 2006 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

Chocolate Thunder: "Oh good, now Al's here to lecture us about footie."

As uncoordinated child with a nasty disposition, The Al-bot was always picked last in P.E. when choosing up sides for a game.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on May 8, 2006 at 5:52 PM | PERMALINK

Soccer! Someone's talking about soccer! I just wet my pants!

What annoys me the most are those soccer-haters who don't seem to realize that we have our very own fairly successful soccer league here in the U.S., the U.S. has done respectably on the world stage, and doing well at the WC would no longer be a surprise for anyone.

Still, I think we should be glad Bush even knew what they were talking about.

Posted by: Alexander Wolfe on May 8, 2006 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

"I like a good bit of Bush-bashing as much as the next liberal journalist, but I think Matt Yglesias is clearly being unfair to the president on this one."

Why does it even matter? I mean, is the urge to beat up on fellow dems and get involved in the mud slinging so great that you have to find a story about the freakin soccer team? Are you just trying so hard to find something to defend Bush about?

I hear there is a lot going on with the oil market these days. You used to be good at that sort of thing. Why don't you do a story about that.

Posted by: Mysticdog on May 8, 2006 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

Why is this asshole spending his time speaking about soccer? What is it he has against work? The inanity of this fool knows no bounds.

Posted by: Pechorin on May 8, 2006 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK

Indeed. Why should we read yet another post on soccer-already so thoroughly covered on liberal blogs everywhere-when we could be reading a post that explores the unique and troublesome issue of our dependence on oil and it's ramifications? Clearly, that's not being covered well in the media or the blogosphere.

Posted by: Alexander Wolfe on May 8, 2006 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

By not forcefully declaring the US team (US military) invincible, Bush (the Democratic Party)is giving the competition (terrorists) just what they want (encouragement) and hurting our team's (soldier's) chances by undermining their confidence.

Conservative hypocrisy is a hoot.

Posted by: Advocate for God on May 8, 2006 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

Apparently we go to the World Cup with the team we have, not the team we want.

Posted by: Edo on May 8, 2006 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

Of course, if you think America is hated in Europe now, imagine if we won the tournament, and a bunch of obnoxious Yanks went around Germany going "U-S-A! U-S-A!"

I lived in Germany three years. It wouldn't be the first time they heard the above.

Posted by: Randy Paul on May 8, 2006 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

I for one think that Bush's ignorance of soccer is among his greatest achievements in office. It's no 7.5 lb fish, but it's at least a six pounder. I won't criticize soccer here for its pace or anything subjective, I realize a lot of people don't like my favorite sport, baseball, for those sorts of reasons. But I would hope even fans would admit that having such a large percentage of games end in ties is a flaw. There's no inherent virture in high scoring vs. low scoring sports, but if you go too low scoring, you get too many ties, which are abominations in the sports world. But it's even worse to resort to arbitrarily taking one aspect of the game and using it to choose a winner. Ending a soccer match with a shootout is like ending a football game with a field goal kicking competition, or a baseball game with a home run derby.

I sympathize with soccer fans in the U.S. who have to put up with all the criticism. I love and play a completely marginal sport (ultimate 'frisbee') that people rarely know anything about, and often denigrate, so I can sort of understand. But you need to increase that scoring, at least a little, just to get rid of all those ties, if it's ever gaining ground in the U.S. Or play 'til someone wins. Those shootouts are a travesty.

Posted by: ChiSox Fan in LA on May 8, 2006 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK

And don't worry about Brazil--they are not going far in Europe, especially not this year.

If someone other than Parreira (except for Scolari) were coaching, I might agree with you. I'm not comfortable with Cafu at right back, nor am I comfortable with Roberto Carlos at left back.

However, it is worth noting in 1994, when the combination with Ra as holding midfielder wasn't working that well, Parreira benched him and put in Dunga instead. That made a world of difference.

Contrast that with 1998 when the miserable, horrible, Junior Baiano played in central defense the entire tournament, even after committing the blatant foul that gave Norway the opening round win.

In 2002, Scolari subbed out Juninho and replaced him with Gilberto Silva midway through and that made all the difference.

Posted by: Randy Paul on May 8, 2006 at 6:43 PM | PERMALINK

"We'll go as far as Eddie Johnson takes us. ... He can score at this level."

Scoring against Jamaica or trinidad or Panama is not scoring 'at this level'.


'The knock is we qualified in a "poor group."'

Not a poor group. Just one, that with the exception of Oceania ,is the weakest confederation.The fact that Conacaf gets 3.5 places is nothing more than an indication that FIFA is bending over backwards to let Mexico and the US qualify every time.

"So why then are the Mexicans (whom we beat like a pinata) getting a #1 seed?"

Cause mexico has a better record in the last 2 world cups than the US does.

"We probably have as good a chance as England."

hahaha. yeah right. The bookies will take your money if that's what you think. England are at best long shots. The USA will be doing extremely well to get out of their group.

"Our #2 and #3 goalies, Hahnemann and Howard, are better than anything they got."

Pity you only get to play one goalie.....

Posted by: kb on May 8, 2006 at 6:50 PM | PERMALINK

As one of the few in the USA that cares... I am not optimistic about this year's team, but hoping that my higher expectations in WC 2002 will be rewarded with surprise despite my pessimism this year. I agree with an earlier comment, Beasley is world class, as is Keller, but up till now the problem is they don't seem to play well as a team. Even the victories in their region with few exceptions have been lacklustre, they played quite a few of their veterans against Jamaica and were not very impressive recently.

They have a very tough group... the Czechs are good, the Italians always pass thru to the next round, and the African teams are go for broke, hell bent type teams that can cause an undisciplined team fits... I truly hope they make it out of the Group play... but they will have their hands full... afterwards the going will be tough.. Germany will be difficult to beat at home..the rest of the top teams, Brazil, Argentina, Italy, France, Turkey will probably eat them alive. (England would be listed here but without Rooney they will not have as much firepower)

anyway I look forward yelling at my screen and hoping for the best...

as to the boyking George... I am surprised he could answer the question at all...

Posted by: el gaupo on May 8, 2006 at 6:52 PM | PERMALINK

Brazil (and Argentina)'s weakness is always its coaching. If they ever went with a good foreign coach they'd be unstoppable, just in terms of shear talent of the players. Brazilian coaches even managed to lose with teams like the one fielded in '82 and '86 (Zico, Falcao, Socrates - how can such a team lose?).

So... Brazil may not win the World Cup, but on shear talent they (and Argentina) should never be counted out. Remember - Brazil is the only team ever to win the World Cup outside its own home continent - including in Europe. (Most countries that manage to win a World Cup - think England and France - can only do it at home.) There is a home team advantage in soccer, but Brazil has managed to win even without it.

Posted by: cactus on May 8, 2006 at 6:55 PM | PERMALINK

"And don't worry about Brazil--they are not going far in Europe, especially not this year..."

Wow. That takes some major naivete or overconfidence! I guess if by "not far" you mean only to the final 4, I could agree with you, but otherwise, you're nuts. The way Ronaldinho has been playing? The talent that Brazilian team has is just insane. Its almost unfair.

(and I am willing to put $ on it!)

Posted by: xerixes on May 8, 2006 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

FIFA ratings matter until the World Cup begins. Then, they don't count for shit. The US team has been flattered by its geographical position -- it tends to play weaker teams in qualifying rounds -- but it's certainly a stronger squad than four years ago. That said, they're in a 'group of death', so American fans shouldn't expect them to progress, and celebrate if they do. (The Italians may well be the weakest of the first-round teams, curiously, given that they tend not to start well.)

Now, had Bush been asked to name one member of the squad, that would be more interesting.

Posted by: ahem on May 8, 2006 at 7:01 PM | PERMALINK

Yawn. Soccer. Even Cricket is better and I really hate Cricket. It is boring to watch and only slightly less boring to play.

When's that WBC starting up again? I miss that. That was fucking metal. Baseball forever.

Posted by: MNPundit on May 8, 2006 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

Ahem,

I'd like to see the US do well, but bear in mind, there is a big difference between a "group of death" and a group that a "group of death" for the US. Look around and see if there's another group (keep the seed) that wouldn't also look like a group of death for the US. Generally, the term group of death is used when you have 3 or even 4 very strong teams in the same group.

Posted by: cactus on May 8, 2006 at 7:10 PM | PERMALINK

Cactus,

Scolari is an excellent coach as is Parreiera. I have to disagree with you there.

Posted by: Randy Paul on May 8, 2006 at 7:11 PM | PERMALINK

I hope Rooney recovers. He deserves to play and if he could, have a four-World Cup career. Kind of annoying that he got that knock in the last couple of minutes of the game against Chelsea, of all teams.

I think England are under-coached, which is why, I suppose Sven-Goran had to go. This year's team really ought to be top-4, no contest.

Posted by: hank on May 8, 2006 at 7:15 PM | PERMALINK

hank, rooney ain't a-gonna make it this time, and it is a real shame (especially considering that the tackle was completely unnecessary, given that chelsea wss already leading 3-0), but even if he did, the english problem for world cups galore has been the back four not being of championship quality.

while that's often been true of brazil, they are so talented on offense that it matters less for them. certainly, ronaldinho's team is not to be counted out under any circumstances....

Posted by: howard on May 8, 2006 at 7:24 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, Zachary Roth wins the "glass half empty" prize today, doesn't he? Others have made many good points in rebuttal, the most important of which is that anyone who follows soccer at all places practically no significance in the FIFA rankings as a measure of real quality. As such, it is a red herring in any discussion about World Cup chances. Roth also doesn't seem to be very informed about the US team, or either the 2002 or 2006 World Cups. A couple of points in addition to those raised before:

1. Reyna was named to the FIFA Best 11 at the 2002 World Cup, which I believe would be the very definition of "world class." So make that at least two US starters who fall into that category. Not to mention that Eddie Johnson won the Golden Boot as top scorer at the 2003 Youth World Cup and that Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley finished 1-2 in the voting for most outstanding player at the 1999 Under-17 World Championships. Granted, these were at the youth level, but it's not like they are unknown on the world stage. Hence the big European clubs chasing after Johnson, Donovan's fat contract at Beyer Leverkusen, and Beasley's important role in PSV Einhoven's Champions League squad.

2. One of the strengths of the US team under Bruce Arena is that it is greater than the sum of its parts. In this respect, it is very much like the FIFA #2 Czech Republic (also in our group in June). Both teams are very well organized and prepared and have a history of beating teams laden with stars (like when we knocked off Mexico in 2002). It's frankly silly to assess a team's chances just by counting the number of stars on its roster. Just look at France in 2002...

I'll leave it at that. On the whole, it's hard to imagine a more ill-informed or poorly argued post.

Posted by: Boffo on May 8, 2006 at 7:29 PM | PERMALINK

Portugal stunk in 2002. They may have been highly regarded coming in (so was France remember), but lost to both the United States and South Korea in a very weak group. South Korea got a number of calls on their "run" to the semifinals and there isn't a person on this thread who believes they were one of the best four teams in the world, or even playing at that level, in 2002.

The one marquee win the United States did have was the victory over Mexico in the Round of 16, but they know that team backwards and forwards (playing in the same qualifying group) which certainly helped their chances.

Get out of group play this time around and I'll be impressed. They have a better team, but the competition is light years better as well.

Posted by: Double B on May 8, 2006 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

Double B:

Glad to see someone shatter the South Korea myth. They scored a whopping 8 goals in 7 games and led the tournament in fouls. They obviously liked their opponent's jerseys a great deal as they spent a lot of their time trying to pull them off.

The past the end line call on the pass from Joaquin to Morientes may have been one of the single worse calls I have ever seen.

Posted by: Randy Paul on May 8, 2006 at 7:45 PM | PERMALINK

You know, this is just another instance where Bush fails to inspire, even when he is, as you said, refreshingly informed. But even when he's honest, his utterances are so generic as to be dispiriting. he thinks he's being playful when he's just treading water, at best. Regradless of context, the guy has set back communication by a couple of decades.

Posted by: Kenji on May 8, 2006 at 8:03 PM | PERMALINK

I haven't been able to figure out why Taylor Twellman didn't make the team. Ching did nothing in the friendlies they played, and Twellman was the best player on the field in a couple of games.
Posted by: gab on May 8, 2006 at 5:37 PM |

I like Taylor Twellman, but I can't think of a single meaningful game where he was the best player on the field. The best player for a few moments here and there -- maybe. And Ching's "nothing" included the final moments goal that gained the U.S. team a draw at Jamaica.

That being said, finishing is clearly a problem for the U.S. team. They had trouble converting good chances in CONCACAF matches, against teams with weak defenses and inferior goalkeeping, and they're going to get far fewer such chances against a team like Italy, or anyone they'd face if they advanced out of group play.


A team is more than just players. I think Bruce Arena is as good a national coach as there is in the world. And last Cup was a superb achievement for coach and team.
Posted by: Nat on May 8, 2006 at 5:46 PM |

Bruce Arena has benefitted greatly from low expectations and a lack of sustained public scrutiny. He's certainly better than Steve Sampson -- both as an evaluator of talent and as a game planner -- and he's certainly grown more tactically astute (it helps that he can now work with players who have real skills).

Still, he's no tactical genius, and I could probably come up with a dozen better coaches in about ten seconds, although some of them would not be current national team coaches. Let's see: Parreira, Hiddink, van Basten, Lippi, Aragones, Scolari, ummn Bruckner and Lagerback (okay, I'm over ten seconds) ... but not Klinsmann.


England are at best long shots. The USA will be doing extremely well to get out of their group.
Posted by: kb on May 8, 2006 at 6:50 PM |

With a healthy Rooney, England are anything but longshots, and even without him, their midfield is so damned good that they'll have a halfway decent chance. But if Rooney and Owen are both out (Peter Crouch wouldn't start for the U.S. team, and what to make of Theo Walcott?), and if Gerrard can't form a smooth partnership with Lampard, then England have no chance at all.

How about this. If you could select one foreign player for the U.S. team, who would it be? It doesn't have to be the best player in the world, just the one who would most benefit the U.S. team.

I'd probably pass on Nedved, Riquelme and even Ronaldinho; I'd love to see Ibrahimovic, Toni or Messi up front for the Americans, but I think I'd got for a healthy Andriy Shevchenko!

Posted by: keith on May 8, 2006 at 8:13 PM | PERMALINK

The U.S. team seems to be on an every-other-World Cup rotation: good one time, lousy the next. This year is the time for "lousy" I'm afraid.

I think this is the worst team sent to a WC in a while -- of course, it used to be that qualifying was a big deal, but we are past that.

For the record, my prediction: three games and out -- no wins, maybe two draws, at best. Arena will go -- he's been great, but we have hit a wall -- a new coach will come in who will bring in more young players -- four years from now they will get out of the first round again.

Posted by: Dicksknee on May 8, 2006 at 8:38 PM | PERMALINK

First post ever.

What makes folks here so sure that the US can beat Ghana? Plus all those bashing "real football"..I suppose if the US pulled the ultimate upset and won the WC, you guys will be "disappointed", right?

After all..its only the biggest sport in the world. And the WORLD CUP is the biggest sporting event in the World..Superbowl?? Not even close...

Posted by: DROBUS on May 8, 2006 at 8:53 PM | PERMALINK

am curious about what the point of posting this is supposed to be. Matt Iglesias made an off hand comment on Tapped about Bush's off hand comment about the U.S. Soccer team.

Is there so little of interest going on in the world right now that this merits any attention at all? Catch22

What? Something other than the World Cup? Surely you jest.

Good luck, BTW - but you'll be lucky to beat Italia, I think.

Posted by: floopmeister on May 8, 2006 at 9:05 PM | PERMALINK

"Indeed. Why should we read yet another post on soccer-already so thoroughly covered on liberal blogs everywhere-when we could be reading a post that explores the unique and troublesome issue of our dependence on oil and it's ramifications? Clearly, that's not being covered well in the media or the blogosphere. "

Its not a post about soccer. Its a post complaining about how unfair it was for left blogger to criticize the president.

There hasn't been a single inciteful analysis of the current oil situation in months in the press. One of the few things Kevin has blogged well on in the past is the oil market.

Thus, stop starting pointless tiffs in the left blogosphere, and do a useful post for change. You know, like the previous post was complaining about not happening enough.

You want to start a soccer thread, go for it. I'm sure a lot of people with third world sport tendencies will love it. Why bitch about Yglesas?

Posted by: Mysticdog on May 8, 2006 at 9:12 PM | PERMALINK

You want to start a soccer thread, go for it. I'm sure a lot of people with third world sport tendencies will love it.

Sorry, I think you meant Whole World, right?

Posted by: floopmeister on May 8, 2006 at 9:14 PM | PERMALINK

I'll bet Georgie was "trying his hardest" when he caught that 7.5 lb. perch, that he sees as the high point of his presidency. Sheesh, what a moron..

Posted by: Stephen Kriz on May 8, 2006 at 9:23 PM | PERMALINK

Brazil, Argentina, Italy, France, Turkey will probably eat them alive.

Turkey probably won't, since they didn't qualify.

Posted by: Maldini on May 8, 2006 at 9:28 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, it's a pity about Turkey. They were an exciting team last time round.

Posted by: floopmeister on May 8, 2006 at 9:33 PM | PERMALINK

Why Mystic, I do believe you are correct. In fact, this post is so obviously about a lefty going after a lefty, that 9/10ths of the responses are about soccer.

Posted by: Alexander Wolfe on May 8, 2006 at 11:19 PM | PERMALINK

A couple of comments on various subjects.

First, on England: Rooney is almost certainly out, but they are keeping his spot warm until the last minute, just in case. Owen, on the other hand, is back and he's been returned to the squad.

On Brazil: Yes, Brazil did win the Cup in away from home... once. In almost every Cup in Europe, however, they were decidedly non-competitive. Argentina has similar problems--worse, that team often suffers from collective malaise that sends them home after group play.

Italy is notorious for playing just enough in the group to either make it or miss the next round on tie-breakers. Brazil often does the same thing, although they don't lose in the first round. But Italy this year is old and sluggish.

Given all this, the most dangerous first round opponents in the group are the Czechs. I would not want to be in the group with the Dutch either. And Germany just may be more inspired at home than they usually are. The trouble for US is not that they are so far behind the favorites--presumably Czechs and Italians, but that all four teams in the group are so close. Ghana can beat any of the other three teams on a good day as well, although they are likely to vary wildly from game to game. But the US will either be consistently solid, as they were in the last Cup, or they will be consistently mediocre, which earned them a rather dubious honor in the preceding Cup. Which team will show up will be obvious from the first 20 minutes of play in the first game. If they are sluggish, the tournament is over for them.

On Twellman: The decision to replace him with Ching was not based on his performance in the friendlies, but rather on the fact that "he had a tendency to disappear" in qualifiers. Being a Revolution fan (at least, in the past), I am familar with his problems--he can be great in a handful of games, then suddenly disappear in an important game for no reason (e.g., not because he's being closely marked). Still, I'm disappointed he won't be there at all. And Ralston and Noonan are alternates, leaving only Dempsey on the team. It is possible that the four, had they played together, could have given the team a great nucleus. The trouble is, that's not how national teams are picked (unlike other sports, such as hockey and basketball--in the rest of the world).

On the bunch of morons who whine about soccer/football being boring: this is from the same people who make baseball, golf and NASCAR racing the top spectator sports in the US. Get a life, people! Ignorance of the sport does not make the sport boring--it just makes the ignorant bored. Does anyone recall the time when a Seattle station broadcast a Mariners game on tape delay and edited out all the dead time from the tape, so that you mostly only saw "action"? The game time went from nearly 4 hours to about 45 minutes. MLB has since prohibited the practice, shrewd marketeers that they are.

Predictions: I am not sure of the logistics--and the matchups will depend on who finishes first or second in each group. But I expect two European teams in the final. It would be quite ironic to see England play Germany in the semifinal--let's hope that does not happen. The way Germany played in the past two years, they should be left behind. However, playing at home and having had time to jell this year, I expect them to be there in the end. Whether they win or not I won't predict. But could this finally be the year for the Dutch? Hmmm... So the strongest prediction I am willing to make is that at least one of the three--perhaps two--teams I just mentioned will be in the final. The other side--if not one of these--will also be European. Could be the Czechs, in fact. What does that tell you about the chances I give the US team?

Posted by: buck turgidson on May 8, 2006 at 11:47 PM | PERMALINK

No Comment.....on this Post.

Wheres the Beef??

Posted by: Mach Tuck on May 9, 2006 at 1:28 AM | PERMALINK

But then again, as head of the Texas Rangers, Bush approved the boneheaded deal that traded Sammy Sosa to the Chicago Cubs. Voters should have noticed a disconcerting knack for very bad judgments back then.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on May 8, 2006 at 5:29 PM

Right city, wrong side of town. Sosa, then all of 20 and unproven, was traded to the White Sox in 1989, as part of a deal that sent beloved South Side slugger Harold Baines to Texas. Sosa moved to the North Side in a deal for George Bell, which Sox fans still deem one of the dumbest trades in team history.

But then again, they won a World Series trophy last October (and could well do it again), while the Cubs are coming up on their 98th year without baseball's top honor, so few on the South Side are complaining. (And Baines is back with the Sox, as one of Ozzie Guillen's coaches.)

Posted by: Vincent on May 9, 2006 at 1:31 AM | PERMALINK

On the bunch of morons who whine about soccer/football being boring: this is from the same people who make baseball, golf and NASCAR racing the top spectator sports in the US. Get a life, people! Ignorance of the sport does not make the sport boring--it just makes the ignorant bored. Does anyone recall the time when a Seattle station broadcast a Mariners game on tape delay and edited out all the dead time from the tape, so that you mostly only saw "action"? The game time went from nearly 4 hours to about 45 minutes.

Baseball is more a game of anticipation, depending on the many situations (batter vs. pitcher, left vs. right, runners on base, outs in inning, score, wind conditions, ballpark, etc.). It's not a pure action game, and even a defender of it like me will concede that. In that manner, it resembles chess (and I hope that doesn't sound pretentious).

Conversely, that doesn't mean I disdain soccer. It's a splendid game, as is ice hockey, another continuous-action game. That I'm not as much a soccer fan as I am a baseball fan probably has more to do with my background (upstate New York, parents from Brooklyn who were avid Dodger fans -- my mother is now 85 and loves watching the Nationals on TV) than anything else. And my alma mater, the U. of Maryland, won the NCAA men's soccer title this past fall and has a devout core of fans. I'm certainly not one of those xenophobes that makes fun of soccer because it's popular outside America.

Posted by: Vincent on May 9, 2006 at 1:39 AM | PERMALINK

I believe that Portugal was the defending European Cup champion

No.

Posted by: ogmb on May 9, 2006 at 1:54 AM | PERMALINK

Baseball is more a game of anticipation, depending on the many situations (batter vs. pitcher, left vs. right, runners on base, outs in inning, score, wind conditions, ballpark, etc.). It's not a pure action game, and even a defender of it like me will concede that. In that manner, it resembles chess (and I hope that doesn't sound pretentious).

Of course not - it's the same reason I love cricket.

Posted by: floopmeister on May 9, 2006 at 1:58 AM | PERMALINK

In almost every Cup in Europe, however, they [Brazil] were decidedly non-competitive.

Safe one.

Posted by: ogmb on May 9, 2006 at 2:04 AM | PERMALINK

"Not a poor group. Just one, that with the exception of Oceania ,is the weakest confederation."

I'm not sure that Asia is stronger than Concacaf.

The US cruised through qualifying; we have the strongest team we ever had. Still, getting out of group play will be very difficult.

Posted by: Paul on May 9, 2006 at 2:18 AM | PERMALINK

If you guys want a more realistic view of where the USA ranks in the soccer world, you could try the world football ELO ratings site.

Perhaps the most notable discrepancy between the FIFA rankings and the ELO ratings system is the United States. (Australia is another notable one, handicapped by being stuck in the joke Oceania confederation until recently).

Posted by: Robert Merkel on May 9, 2006 at 4:38 AM | PERMALINK

Except that those ELO rankings aren't much better. To expand on my comment above that the debate about rankings is a red herring: For all the flaws of computer-based rankings in college football and basketball, the problem is vastly more complicated for international soccer.

First, like college football, teams don't play enough matches against each other to estimate relative strength with any precision. (And like the football and basketball rankings, a telling omission is that the margin of error is never reported.)

Second, and even more problematic, due to the nature of international soccer, many of the matches teams play -- "friendlies" and minor cups -- have negligible significance. As a result, it is common practice to see one team playing second- or third-string players against the other team's first stringers. (Such as when Norway essentially used its Under-23 squad against the US earlier this year.) FIFA and ELO try to account for this by weighting the value of different kinds of matches, but these weights are arbitrary and tell us nothing about how the teams involved actually valued it. ELO is no better in this regard, even if it is marginally more respected.

Posted by: boffo on May 9, 2006 at 7:59 AM | PERMALINK

Buck Turgidson,

Brazil has won the World Cup on 4 continents:

South America (1962), North America (1970 & 1994), Europe (1958) and Asia (2002). The one time the Cup was in Brazil (1950) they lost in the final. Brazil has been to the Championship game 7 times, winning 5 times and is the only nation to appear in every WC.

While a certain amount of hubris may creep in (witness 1998), it is a danger to underestimate them.

No European team has won the Cup outside of Europe to my knowledge.

Posted by: Randy Paul on May 9, 2006 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

While a certain amount of hubris may creep in (witness 1998), it is a danger to underestimate them.

I think Buck was referring to England 1966 (eliminated in group play), Germany 1974 (4th), Spain 1982 (loss in 2nd round to Italy), Italy 1990 (loss to Argentina in 1st elimination round). 1998 was, in recent history, the positive exception.

Posted by: ogmb on May 9, 2006 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

So-called "soccer" is a communist sport that should not be tolerated by any decent American. Not only are those pansies afraid to touch the ball with their hands, they cannot figure out how to get the ball into the net. The sooner this abortion of a sport leaves the North American continent, the better off we'll all be. If you like "soccer,"

Posted by: Max Edison on May 9, 2006 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

... Then you are probably a British cigarette, if you know what I mean and I know you do.

Posted by: Max Edison on May 9, 2006 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

Spoken like a male chicken, Max.

Anyway, the US isn't in The Group of Death this year (that's group C) but it's a group where you can easily pick two other teams to qualify.

Posted by: ahem on May 9, 2006 at 6:18 PM | PERMALINK

What I find so amusing about the soccer haters is their zeal. I don't see soccer fans, actively dissing gridiron football or baseball. I don't mind baseball, but gridiron football to me is dull beyond belief. I just feel a need to get in the face of gridiron football fans to say that.

It speaks of a neurotic insecurity on the part of the soccer haters.

Posted by: Randy Paul on May 9, 2006 at 8:42 PM | PERMALINK

That should say, "I just don't feel a need to get in the face of gridiron football fans to say that."

Posted by: Randy Paul on May 9, 2006 at 8:47 PM | PERMALINK

Mr. Roth's comments would be compelling if they were indeed true.

First, the current US team without question has the capability to advance in this summer's World Cup. Speculating exactly how far the team will go is a worthless endevour (bound to be as accurate as guessing how far the Dutch team will go in any given tournament). But, their team is now full of dependable players outside of the keeper position. Beasley led PSV Eindhoven to a semi-final match in last year's champion's league. McBride sits among the top goal scorers in the Premiership. Reyna, outside of injuries, is considered one of the most dependable mid-fielders in the Premiership. And, finally, there are young stars that have the potential of making a serious mark (most notably, Eddie Johnson, who scored 8 goals in 11 qualifiers).

Second, Mr. Roth's depiction of the 2002 World Cup has all the trappings of smug Europeanism. In retrospect, it's easy to say that Portugal was "overrated." But, they only now fit under that label because they lost to the US. The truth is Portugal was on many expert's short-lists to win the World Cup in 2002. As for South Korea, a common whipping post of the Europeanist movement to eliminate the 2002 tournament from memory, this is a team that beat Portugal, Spain and Italy on their way to the semi-finals. It's important to note that the US was the only team to acquire a point from South Korea (in their group round draw) until Korea was finally beaten. And, finally, Mr. Roth's comments about the mediocrity of the Mexican team is almost not even worth comment. Even if one were to negligently call the team average, it's important to remember that the US did not simply beat Mexico; they dominated Mexico in a 2-0 win.

Mr. Roth, while it's impossible to accurately predict the top performers in any given World Cup, I can confidently say that the semi-finals will not simply be a Euro-South American clash of a combination of teams like Brazil, Argentina, Netherlands, England, Germany, etc. Most likely it will contain at least one team like the US, or Mexico, or Japan, or non-traditional European teams like Croatia. Of course, when teams like these do succeed this summer, I expect nothing less then the same kind of snooty reactions from stuffy soccer traditionalists that can't bear to admit the growing parity in international soccer.

Posted by: Michael on May 10, 2006 at 12:44 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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