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Come drink from my worldly cup of insight

June 22, 2006|by DAN KAUFFMAN

I think it's about time someone puts this year's U.S. soccer World Cup adventure in perspective, since the majority of the national media has had it totally wrong all World Cup.

Allow me.

First, let's get this out of the way: Anyone who knows anything about international soccer knows we - and yes, I'm going to use "we" and "us" in this column a lot, because I'm an American and proud of it - were not favorites to advance from the group stage to begin with.

It's not that our team isn't good, because it is. It just so happens that the luck of the draw put Italy and the Czech Republic - two of the best teams in the world - in our group. So can we stop with the nonsense, generally spouted by those who have no clue about soccer, that if we fail to reach the second round, it's a step back for us? Any team in the world would have trouble advancing out of a group with Italy and the Czechs.

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Second, even though we didn't play well against the Czechs, the knee-jerk reaction afterward was over the top. The 3-0 loss was indicative of what happens when a very good team plays its 'C-minus' game while a slightly better team plays its 'A' game. It was ugly, and not an accurate picture of how our team can play.

Third, our team did not 'arrive' on the world stage against Italy. Our team 'arrived' when it took a 3-0 lead in the first half against Portugal in its first game of the 2002 World Cup, then confirmed its arrival with a second-round victory over Mexico.

Enough of the "we arrived" stuff, the soccer world knows we're dangerous and has for four years. Saturday's gutsy 1-1 tie merely proved yet again that, in any one game, we can play with anybody, no matter the circumstances.

The next step is to reach the level where we're considered a real threat to win the World Cup. That may take two or three more World Cups. Right now, being considered dangerous is compliment enough, considering where we were in the soccer world a decade ago.

Finally, enough with those calling this morning's match with Ghana "the biggest match in U.S. soccer history." Wrong. That was the 2002 quarterfinal with Germany - a match in which we outplayed the Germans, and gained a ton of respect worldwide even in an unlucky defeat.

Regardless of today's result, it will not surpass that match, nor the Portugal or Mexico ones, in importance. Only a result that elevates us into World Cup contender status will surpass those matches.

Now, should we beat Ghana and Italy beats the Czechs to get us to the second round, and then we go on to shock Brazil ... THAT, my readers, would be the biggest match in U.S. soccer history. And here's the thing: We're dangerous enough to scare Brazil. It's not very likely, but it's at least possible.

Of course, first we have to get to the second round. We're playing today without midfielder Pablo Mastroeni and defender Eddie Pope - two sizable losses, but nothing close to what Ghana has to deal with, losing both of the players who scored in its 2-0 upset of the Czechs.

Still, Ghana has midfield speed, especially on counterattacks, and it also has the best player in the match in center midfielder Michael Essien, a star for Chelsea in the English Premier League. For us to win, we have to play with the same intensity as we did against Italy, and we need to get the ball down the wings and into good attacking spots, something we did better against Italy but can still improve on.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm tired of being impartial and objective.

USA! USA! USA!




Dan Kauffman is a staff writer for The Morning Herald. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7520, or by e-mail at kauffman@herald-mail.com

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