Tag Archives: MLS

World Cup 2010

American culture is filled with sporting events which have become major cultural events. These include the World Series, the Super Bowl, the Indy 500, Kentucky Derby, NCAA basketball tournament and many, many more.

To our closest cultural neighbors, the Canadians, there is nothing comparable to hockey and winning the Stanley Cup. An appreciation for what is known here in North America as ‘soccer’ has been slow in building at the professional level.

But elsewhere around the globe, from Europe to South America, Asia to Africa, Down Under and everywhere in between, no game is bigger than soccer, or what is actually known as ‘football’  to the rest of that world.

Today begins the biggest event in the biggest sport drawing the most interest the world over as the World Cup gets under way. It has been estimated that approximately 715 million people the world over watched the 2006 finals in which Italy defeated France in a shootout for the title.

Held every four years, the World Cup is the championship of football. Competitions actually begin three years earlier, so for this 2010 championship the competition began in 2007.

The early competitions occur within geographic regions of the planet, as nations battle against their neighbors for the right to advance to higher levels in the tournament.

The World Cup tournament began officially in 1930 with Uruguay dumping South American rivals Argentina by a 4-2 score.

There have been 18 World Cup tournaments, as the competition was not held in either 1942 or 1946 due to the events surrounding World War II.

The most successful nation has been perennial South American power Brazil, which is the only nation to appear in every tourney and which has won a record five times.

For this World Cup, a record 204 countries entered teams to the competition. Once the nations work their way through a qualifying period, a final 32-nation field is rewarded by earning their place in the official tournament. These 32 teams are now about to begin playing for the 2010 World Cup being hosted by South Africa, the first time the tourney final is ever to be held on the continent of Africa.

The final 32 qualifiers are now in South Africa, and have been split into eight ‘groups’ of four teams each known as Groups A-H. These groups of teams will meet the others within their group in a round-robin format with 3 points awarded for a win and 1 point awarded for a tie. The two teams with the most points at the end of group play will advance into the quarter-finals which are known as ‘knockout’ play. If a tie exists, goal differential and other tie-breakers are utilized to determine which nation advances.

The top eight teams have been ‘seeded’, or selected 1-8 as the best, although the host team is also seeded, meaning that the lowly-ranked South Africans are a seeded team this time around. The rest of the teams are ranked based on a formula developed by FIFA based on their performance in previous competitions. The seeded nations for 2010 are South Africa, Brazil, Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Argentina, and England.

The winners of the tournament are awarded the FIFA World Cup Trophy which was designed back in 1970 and approved by the leading football playing nations. The winners receive a gold-plated replica of the actual solid gold trophy, and can keep the replica in their nation until the following tournament at which time it is returned to FIFA. The trophy is engraved at the bottom with the year and national winner of every tourney since 1974. FIFA, the Federation International de Football Association, is the international governing body of the sport.

So with those basics in mind, it’s time to take a look at the top teams and nations for this 2010 World Cup, and the chances that the U.S. team can bring home the nations’ first-ever title. The Americans will begin play in dramatic fashion, meeting seeded nation and historic rival England in their opener. Though the game is almost a religion in England, the nation has won the World Cup only once, way back in 1966 by 4-2 over then West Germany, and it’s only other final four appearance was a loss in the 1990 semi-final.

England has a strong club led by one of the best and most relentless players in the world in Wayne Rooney. You can think of Rooney as a sort-of Pete Rose in soccer shorts. He plays the game all-out, all the time, and at age 26 may be entering his prime at just the right time. The rest of the English squad is made up of regulars in the English Premier League, widely considered the top professional league in the world. It would be sort of like a bunch of Americans from Major League Baseball performing in the World Baseball Classic or other such competition. The English always expect their team to win, are some of the most passionate on earth, and usually end up as ultimately disappointing, feeling that their team is snake-bitten.

Other strong clubs and players include Brazil, with 27-year old midfielder Kaka leading the way. Kaka distributes the ball to his scoring teammates as well as any player ever, but has had knee problems that might effect his play here. Even if he is off his game, the single-named Brazilians still have high-scoring Robinho and others, and will definitely be a strong factor as usual.

My personal pick to win will come from one of two nations, Spain and the Netherlands. The Spaniards have never finished above 4th, and that all the way back in 1950. They are frequently considered one of the most disappointing teams in World Cup competition. The talent, led by the great Xavi Hernandez, says this time should be different. The Dutchmen of the Netherlands advanced to the finals in back-to-back World Cup finals in 1972 and 1976, but lost heart-breaking matches each time. They are again among the most talented passing teams in the world.

The defending champs from Italy have won the World Cup four times (1934, ’38, ’82, 2006) and are famously nicknamed the ‘Azzurri’. They are a veteran team this time around that should advance at least to the final eight. Argentina has perhaps the best player in the world in Lionel Messi, and their coach is the legendary Diego Maradona. Portugal has another of the planet’s top players in Cristiano Ronaldo. Both of these teams are serious World Cup title contenders, and both Messi and Ronaldo are legitimate stars and national heroes who could make the difference in making that happen.

Traditional power Germany will again be a factor, but has suffered some serious injuries to key players who will not be able to compete this time around. The Germans lost the 2002 final and finished with a win in the 3rd place game four years ago. They also finished 3rd in 1934, and as West Germany they won the World Cup in 1954, 1974 and 1990.

As with every major sporting event, there are dark-horse teams that could seriously disrupt the plans of the major contenders. One such club is the secretive Koreans, who advanced all the way to the semi-finals when they hosted the World Cup four years ago. Mexico, Serbia, Uruguay, Greece and Paraguay are among the others who are talented enough to pull an upset or two and advance farther than some anticipate.

Another of the dark-horse teams are the Americans, who are favored in their Group C to be one of the two teams (along with England) to advance into knockout play. The game, known as soccer here, has been building in popularity among American youth over the past 2-3 decades. The American professional game finally appears to have a serious, long-term answer with the growing popularity and market expansion of Major League Soccer. And the USA is finally developing the talent and experience to be competitive against the world’s best.

Leading the American team this time around is 28-year old forward Landon Donovan (pictured). The star of Los Angeles Galaxy in MLS play, Donovan has become the face of U.S. soccer, and this should be his time to shine on the world stage. The team also has 20-year old striker Jozy Altidore, who many consider the future national team star goal scorer. No player is hotter right now than forward Edson Buddle, the leading scorer this season in MLS play. Players such as forwards Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, and defenders Carlos Bocanegra (the team captain) and the physical Jay DeMerit, give the USA it’s deepest, most talented side ever. The goalkeeper, Tim Howard, is considered one of the best in the world.

Coach Bob Bradley has guided the national team all the way in preparing for this World Cup. The coach since 2006, he has led three teams in MLS and was a 2-time assistant with the national team. His team does not need to defeat England in it’s opener in order to advance, but a win or a draw against the Brits would be considered a major step forward for his team, and is very much within reach. A loss would mean the USA would need to beat out Algeria and Slovenia in order to advance, something they would be favored to accomplish.

The World Cup is the single most important and popular sporting event in the entire world. Despite the fact that the United States has not had much international success and that the game has been slow to catch on here in the hearts of the general public, it is indeed beginning to emerge into the American consciousness. This South African World Cup now beginning is the best opportunity for the American team to advance the game here that has ever existed. Let the play begin!

Los Angeles Galaxy – 3, UNION – 1

Less than a minute into their 5th official MLS match, the Philadelphia Union were victimized by the hottest player in the league. LA Galaxy forward Edson Buddle streaked down the sideline, drew the Union defenders towards him, and then laid a perfect pass to A.J. DeLaGarza who drilled the ball into the back of the net for a 1-0 Galaxy lead.

The Galaxy is what the Union hope to become one day soon, a true MLS title contender with star players dotting the roster and a winning tradition. Even with injured superstar David Beckham unable to play, the Galaxy still fielded the likes of Buddle, who would later tally his league-leading 9th goal, U.S. national team star Landon Donovan, goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, and more. The Galaxy lost the MLS Cup final a year ago in an upset.

The Union, playing yet another away match as their future home PPL Park in Chester just outside of Philly is being completed for a June 2010 opening, never recovered from that early goal and deficit. But once again the Philly 11 established that they don’t lie down for anyone. Peter Nowak’s side played hard the entire match, and had some scoring opportunities of their own. In fact, following that first goal, the Union controlled play for most of the next 25 minutes.

The Galaxy got a break in the Union end, and a precise corner kick by Landon Donovan found Alex Gordon in front. His header was stopped by goalie Chris Seitz, but the rebound went right out to Buddle. The LA star took one swipe, had his shot blocked, and then made a nifty spin move on his own rebound to drill the ball home for a 2-0 lead. Just before the half was to end, it was Donovan again feeding Buddle as they blitzed the Union defense, and Buddle’s 2nd goal made it 3-0 at intermission.

The bad news wasn’t even over for the Union, as for the 3rd time already this season a player received a first half red card. This time it was Stafani Maglioranzi given the boot, and Philly was forced to play the entire 2nd half trailing by 3 goals and now a man short. Despite this self-inflicted disadvantage, the club pressed play and got a goal. Teenager and likely future Union star Jack McInerney (pictured) used his great speed to break towards the Galaxy goal, took a pass from midfielder Fred, and slipped the ball in for his first of what should be many MLS scores.

Following the loss, Nowak summed up the club’s initial struggles: “We knew it was going to take time, and more experience. It’s going to take time to get the players familiar with each other. After our win in the second game, I think we forgot we were an expansion team. And sometimes we got punished by ourselves.”

The 3rd consecutive loss leaves the Union sitting with a 1-4 record in MLS play headed into yet another road matchup, this time against defending MLS champion Real Salt Lake. Against LA, the Union continued to display the twin traits that have characterized their early season play thus far: gritty determination, and a disturbing lack of discipline.

The team takes play to their opponents and shows great skill for large stretches, but particularly with injured forward Sebastien LeToux out with a nagging injury, they appear short on goal-scoring finishers. On the defensive end they have had a number of key breakdowns leading to easy opponent goals, and have also lost their cool in outbursts that have cost them to play shorthanded.

It doesn’t get any easier for the youthful Union expansion club in travelling to Salt Lake City and meeting the champions. The club has the talent to win at Rio Tinto Stadium, but only if they play disciplined in their own end this time. The Union also announced during the week that the club would play an exhibition match on July 21st at Lincoln Financial Field against legendary English club Manchester United, an event that is sure to draw a huge crowd and create tremendous local excitement.

New York Red Bulls – 2, UNION -1 (Twice)

Twice within a short span of four days, the New York Red Bulls hosted and bested the expansion Philadelphia Union by the same scores of 2-1. Both games were held at New York’s Red Bull Arena, with the first being an official MLS regular season match and the 2nd representing a play-in to the U.S. Open Cup tournament.

In the first match, the Union 11 again came out fast, as has been their habit in these early games of the franchise’ history. They took the action to the Red Bull end, but couldn’t bury the ball in the net, and then as the pace became more even the two clubs battled into a 0-0 tie at half.

As has also been the case, they again found themselves behind by a goal on the road when New York scored on a header just five minutes into the 2nd half. The Union continued to plug away, and just moments later they got the equalizer in a familiar fashion. Alejandro Moreno broke free in the Bulls end, slid a pass along the ground towards the goal, and a streaking Sebastien LeToux (pictured) tapped it in for his 4th goal to tie the score at 1-1.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Union downfall also came along in familiar fashion. A handball in their own end resulted in a penalty kick for the Red Bull’s Juan Pablo Angel, who buried the shot to put New York on top 2-1. The Union were unable to get the equalizer, and thus dropped their 2nd straight road match thanks to a 2nd half penalty kick goal. The loss leaves the club with a 1-3-0 record in the early season.

Four days later, the Union headed back to New York for the Open Cup qualifier. The U.S. Open Cup tournament is the oldest soccer tournament in the States. It is open to any team that is affiliated with U.S. Soccer at the professional or amateur levels. Held annually since 1914, the Cup began to include pro teams such as those from MLS in 1995.

The tournament organizers matched Philadelphia and New York in this play-in match, part of a process that would lead to a final 16 teams who would ultimately compete in the official U.S. Open Cup tournament. The winner of this qualifier match would move on to face the New England Revolution of MLS, and the winner of that match would advance into the actual tournament.

So back to Red Bull Arena it was for the Union and coach Peter Nowak. When asked whether he would treat this as an exhibition and play his bench or reserve players, or if he would use most of his regulars, Nowak replied: “Is there a trophy? Then we’ll play the best players!” Clearly, Nowak is desirous of beginning a winning tradition as quickly as possible.

Connor Ching put the Red Bulls on top in the early minutes of the match, knocking his own rebound past Union goalkeeper Chris Seitz for a 1-0 New York advantage. Then just minutes before halftime, Ching took a beautiful crossing pass and drilled a shot past Seitz to put the home club up by a 2-0 score.

For the 2nd half, Nowak inserted the club’s leading scorer, Sebastien LeToux, into the match. It would prove to be initially ingenius but ultimately devastasting. LeToux quickly got the Union back into the game when he took a crossing pass from Cristian Arrieta and slid it into the net to pull the Union within 2-1 in the 68th minute.

That was the initially genius part. The Union continued to press for the equalizer, but with about 8 minutes left to play, LeToux suffered what appeared to be a serious leg injury and had to be carried off the pitch. Having already used up all their substitutions, the Union were forced to play short a man. Despite this disadvantage they continued to take the play to New York, but were ultimately unable to knot the score, falling by that 2-1 margin for the 2nd straight match to the Red Bulls.

The Union have shown a ton of ability in their early matches, and the youngest club in the MLS looks like the will be competitive in most of their matches. It will help them to get some more home matches as the MLS schedule moves along. However, they will need to find the leadership and intelligence to avoid the big mistakes at key late moments if they are to truly turn the record around in their first season.

Toronto FC – 2, UNION – 1

After going almost two weeks between their first-ever match on the road in Seattle to their first-ever home match back in Philly, the Union took the pitch for the 2nd time in 5 days at Toronto.

The Toronto FC (football club) have one of the most rabid and supportive fan bases in all of MLS, and so for the 2nd time in their young history, the Union 11 were going to be in extremely hostile conditions on the road in front of almost 22,000 Toronto partisans.

The Union came out strong and confident, riding the high of their weekend home victory over D.C. United, and were generally dominating play against Toronto in the early going.

But the momentum and the ultimate outcome of the game all changed suddenly and dramatically. In the 34th minute, Union defender and team captain Danny Califf was handed a red card and tossed from the game for delivering what appeared to be an intentional elbow to the head of Toronto forward Julian de Guzman.

With Califf tossed from the game, the Union would be forced to play the rest of the match shorthanded by a man. That was bad enough, but also on the ensuing free kick Toronto’s Dwayne De Rosario drilled a shot that overpowered Union goalie Chris Seitz, slipping through Seitz’ hands and into the net for a 1-0 Toronto lead.

Things appeared pretty bleak for the Union at that point in the match being covered nationally on ESPN2. They were trailing 1-0 on the road in an extremely hostile arena and had to play shorthanded. But hope reared it’s head again just before halftime.

That hope came in the form that it usually has for the Union so far in the early matches of this first season, with a rush from Le Toux, Moreno, and Torres.

An offensive attack led by forwards Sebastian Le Toux and Alejandro Moreno rushed forward into the Toronto third of the pitch, the ball was slipped over to Roger Torres along the wing, and Torres drove a bending cross towards the goal. Jordan Harvey came slashing in and punched the ball past Toronto goalkeeper Stefan Frei and the Union had a 1-1 tie.

In the 2nd half the Union rarely played as if down a man. They took much of the play to the Toronto end, not willing to yield the result to the hosts and continuing to press for their own victory. However, it was just a matter of time before being shorthanded resulted in Toronto opportunities. With less than 10 minutes to play, Union goalie Chris Seitz was called for a foul that yielded a penalty kick for Toronto. De Rosario drove the kick home for a 2-1 lead, and the undermanned Union were unable to gain the equalizer.

Despite the disheartening road loss, the Union have to take positives from this match. They played well overall, in fact they outplayed Toronto for most of the match, even when shorthanded. Were it not for Califf’s red card, the match may indeed have turned out much differently. The youngest team in MLS has proven that it has both heart and fire, but has also shown itself to be a bit undisciplined at times and has hurt itself with costly mistakes. These things can be expected with a mostly young expansion club, but with tough matches upcoming manager Peter Nowak needs to drill a little more discipline into his fiery young Union 11.

The Philadelphia Union are off and running in their first-ever season with a 1-2-0 record through the first three matches. Their next match will again be on the road, this time with a visit to the New York Red Bulls at 4pm next Saturday, April 24th. The match will be covered on local cable TV by the ABC Live Well network, available on Comcast and most other services.

Live Well will cover nine Union matches (including the next three), 6ABC will cover six matches, three matches will be covered nationally on ESPN2, and six will be covered by Fox Soccer Channel. As of right now, there are three matches whose local broadcasts are yet to be determined.

Stay tuned here at my http://www.mattveasey.com/ website for updates on all of the Union matches throughout the season.

UNION – 3, D.C. United – 2

Young Roger Torres has proven to be one of the most exciting players on the youngest team in Major League Soccer, and the 19-year old Philadelphia Union forward was a key player in setting up the first goal in franchise history. I was there, but thanks to Vice President Joe Biden, I didn’t get to see it live.

My wife and I had purchased a pair of great tickets, just off mid-field on the west side of Lincoln Financial Field, in anticipation of seeing this Inaugural home match, the first for the new expansion Union in front of their home crowd in Philadelphia. Unfortunately for Deb, she got sick in the days leading up to the match, and was still sick on game day.

My eldest daughter, Christine, pinch-hit and accompanied me to the match, and we got to enjoy a nice dad-daughter evening at The Linc. Unfortunately it got off to a slow start. Even though we arrived more than a half hour before the scheduled kickoff and were able to quickly and luckily find a great parking slot despite the crush of fans, our progress into The Linc was halted at the front door, literally.

It turns out that U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden had been solicited by the club to kick-out the ceremonial ‘first ball’, and thus the security at the front gates was unbelievable. Every fan entering and ever bag they carried was searched and screened, making for a massive holdup at those gates. It took us about 40 minutes to get through the sea of humanity and make our way into The Linc.

As we began to trek around the concourse to our seats, we scanned the food and merchandise concessions, and just then heard the roar of the crowd inside. Torres had been awarded a ‘corner kick’, blasted the ball inside, and then taken a carom and quickly fed the ball to striker Sebastian LeToux who came streaking towards the goal and headed it home for that first-ever goal in Union history.

The huge crowd of nearly 35,000 fans was whipped into a frenzy while Chrissy and I sighed and headed for the concessions. I picked her up a Union scarf, got myself a Union hooded sweartshirt to replace the Phillies one that I had worn to the field, we got some grub, and then headed for our seats. Turns out the seats were as good as advertised, in the 11th row and just off midfield, so we had a great view of all the action and were right in the middle of the massive, crowd.

To say that the atmosphere was electric would be to downplay things. Philadelphia-area soccer and sports fans did themselves proud at this home opener, particularly the controlled rowdiness in the light-blue shirted ‘Sons of Ben’ section over at the north end of the field. The ‘Sons’ stand, dance, chant, sing, and roar throughout the matches, and they were in opening day form throughout this one.

The opponents for this first-ever tilt on the Philly pitch were D.C. United from just down the I-95 road in our nation’s capital. Bus loads of Washington United fans had come up to Philly, and were mostly all seated together in the Linc’s upper level on the south side, backs to I-95. They roared and chanted and sang for their team for most of the match, particularly in the 2nd half.

It turns out also that Union team manager Peter Nowak was directing his club from the press box in this opening match. The timing of history had interrupted his enjoyment of the festivities.

Nowak is from Poland, and just a day earlier a plane crash had killed the Polish president along with a number of other Polish dignitaries, including a couple who were personally close with Nowak. He stayed off the sidelines in mourning, leaving the direct chore to his top assistant, John Hackworth, but still fulfilled his responsibilities to his team by monitoring and coaching from that press box.

The first half proved to be all Union. After LeToux’s first goal he had added another on a mad-dash streak down the sideline, which he finished by burying a well-placed shot to the long side of United goalkeeper Troy Perkins.

With the score 2-0 Union at the half, the franchise put on a nice display celebrating and honoring Philadelphia’s mostly failed pro soccer history, inviting back players from those teams of yester-year including the champion Philadelphia Atoms of the early 1970’s.

The 2nd half proved to be an entirely different story. A pair of hiccups by Union goalkeeper Chris Seitz, particularly on the tying goal which he dropped at his own feet directly into those of waiting United star Jaime Moreno, allowed the match to be tied up at 2-2 after 68 minutes.

With just 10 minutes remaining, a D.C. foul gave the Union a chance on a free kick. LeToux took the shot and didn’t waste his chance, again burying a drive into the back of the net for a hat trick and a 3-2 Union lead.

The hometown Philly crowd remained on their feet for pretty much the rest of the tilt as the home team continually outplayed and outhustled United to most every ball. After 90 minutes and about 4 more in stoppage time had elapsed, the ref signalled the end of the match, and the fans erupted in joy.

The Union players mobbed one another, and then in a fun, emotional display the players ran down as a group to the north end and lept up into the stands into the waiting arms of their ‘Sons of Ben’ fan club members in celebration of the 3-2 win and as a salute to the great support of the fans.

All in all it was an extremely fun evening down at The Linc with the Philadelphia Union for my daughter and I, further solidifying my new-found enjoyment of what is the most popular sport in the world.

My interest began when the Union were awarded their franchise a couple years ago. It continued as I watched last year’s MLS Cup Final in which Real Salt Lake upset the LA Galaxy in the championship at Seattle on television.

After this experience, I would and will advise anyone who has a chance to get out to a Union match and take up the cause of supporting the newest Philly team in moving forward in this great game.