26 June 2010

Well, it was a road game

This is the goal that sunk the U.S. team today.  Asamoah Gyan, the guy in the red and yellow stripes, got one past Tim Howard in the third minute of overtime.  From then until the 120' mark, all Ghana had to do was play keep-away.  Final score:  United States 1-2 Ghana.  With the neutrals cheering on the last surviving African side, we were as screwed as I thought the last time I posted.

The sad part is that, hostile crowd aside, this was a game the Americans could've won -- if only they'd shown up on time.  Much has been made of coach Bob Bradley's ill-advised decision to start Ricardo Clark, but it really didn't matter who started in midfield.  For the third and fourth times in the tournament, the U.S. defense conceded a goal less than 15 minutes after kickoff.  That was okay once, and the Yanks got away with it twice.  Three times, though, make a nasty habit -- one the Americans have had since at least 2006.  Four times, as of the Gyan goal?  Time to book that flight back to O'Hare.

It's not too early for U.S. fans to look ahead to the 2014 Cup in Brazil.  Make no mistake:  the U.S. team performed well in South Africa, and it may have finally generated permanent interest here in soccer.  But there's definitely room for improvement:
  • Coaching:  If someone can attribute the U.S. penchant for falling behind to someone other than Bob Bradley, I'd be thrilled to hear the argument.  Bradley's substitution patterns proved too cute for his own good, and that alone should seal his fate as head coach.  To be fair, though, he did take the team much further than I dared hope he would; and I couldn't imagine him staying on even had the U.S. won the whole thing.
  • Strikers:  It would be nice if the Americans had one.  Because they didn't, scoring responsibility fell to midfielders Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey.  As a result, potentially decisive wins over Slovenia and Algeria turned into a draw and a narrow win.  The good news is that a few may be on the way.  The forwards we fielded this time are promising, but still inexperienced at the World Cup level.  If he can recover fully from his near-fatal car crash, Charlie Davis will provide a huge boost.
  • Donovan and Dempsey were great, but they're both in their late twenties.  The campaign for Brazil '14 will be the fourth for both men.  The next U.S. coach will have to consider the possibility that one, the other or both will not make it to Brazil.  Benny Feilhaber, the American super-sub this time around, could replace one of them; but he'll need help.

23 June 2010

We're So Screwed: The miniseries

One of my favorite science fiction TV series is the Australian-American classic Farscape.  Over four entertaining seasons spread across the millennial break, it chronicled the exploits of Ben Crichton, an astronaut stranded thousands (if not millions) of light-years from Earth.  In a region of space dominated by mutually hostile states, he survived in coalition with local outcasts, all of whom reside in a living spaceship.  In the last season, Crichton found a way back to Earth, drawing the attention of his worst enemies.  They close in on him -- and galactic domination -- in a climactic, three-part episode called, "We're So Screwed."  Somehow, Crichton and his friends escape, but not before the villains win some important victories.

"We're So Screwed."  It could describe the modern United States (aquatic oil gusher, anyone?), or it could refer to just the Americans' just-concluded trip through the first round of the World Cup.  Consider:
  • Against England, the Stars and Stripes conceded yet another early goal.  We Were So Screwed.  Only Robert Green's spectacular effort saved the Yanks' bacon:
  • Lost in the commotion over the blown call that cost the U.S. a win over Slovenia was the fact that the Americans played such a disastrous first half.  The Slovenians went out to a 2-0 halftime lead, and again:  We Were So Screwed.  That draw was both a bitter disappointment and a minor miracle.
  • Last night, the U.S. team showed up promptly against Algeria, but that wasn't counting for much.  The U.S. got most of the good shots, but nothing would go into the Algerian net.  With England leading Slovenia in the other group game, it appeared that the U.S. was headed for an early exit.
I'm watching this at home, so I had my remote set up to switch between the two matches.  At the 89-minute mark of the USA-Algeria match, I had little hope.

Click.  England and Slovenia wind down.  I watch the last minute, hoping the Slovenians would equalize.  Nothing.  We're So Screwed.

Click.  This is what showed up on my TV screen:

Milliseconds on one side of the final England whistle, Landon Donovan has scored the winning goal.  Like John Crichton and his friends escaping from the Skarrans, the Stars and Stripes had eluded doom for the third time in two weeks.  There was nothing left for me to do but jump and scream for joy across the living room.

Final score:  USA 1-0 Algeria.  The Yanks didn't just survive, they won their group for the first time since 1930.  Their reward?  A Saturday-night grudge match with a fully operational Ghana squad, last survivor of the six-team African contingent.

We're so screwed.

15 June 2010

13 June 2010

Well, that crashed and burned quickly.

So Germany applied a big smackeroo to Australia, 4-0. The win didn't surprise me, but the margin did. More to the point, with star Tim Cahill out for a red-card offense, the Aussies' chances to advance sunk through the floor. If they want to succeed at something this month, maybe they should apply for Pac-10 membership.

In the meantime, that bracket I posted last Tuesday now lies in ruins. I had tipped the U.S. to reach the semifinals, but that assumed that the Yanks would win Group C and draw Australia in the round of 16. The Aussies are pretty much out, and with them go the American's most realistic hopes of even getting to the quarter-finals.

At this point, it's pointless to keep posting my picks until the first round has finished. Crazy things will happen, so I anticipate posting something about the Cup every day or two. Just not daily predictions.

12 June 2010

Cat Watches Cup, Day 2

Day 2 results:
  • South Korea looked good, and Greece did not.  2-0 for Korea.  (Prediction: 0-0)
  • Argentina surprised no one with the 1-0 win over Nigeria.  (Prediction: 2-1)
  • The 1-1 draw between the U.S. and England is good for my ego.  For my brackets?  Not so much; I had England winning this one.
  • Only one out of three picked correctly.  Ugh.
Day 3 predictions:
  • Group C winds up with a big Slovenian win over Algeria.
  • Ghana and Serbia finish level, 1-1, to start the Group D action.
  • Australia turns out to have more issues than Germany, so the Socceroos lose, 2-1.

11 June 2010

(Okay, I give up.) The Cat Watches the Cup, part 1

Since the first day wasn't a disaster for the projections I made last time, I've decided to post after every day a game is played. The idea is to compare today's results to the prediction I made, then present my picks for tomorrow.

Day 1 predictions:  I picked South Africa and Mexico to draw, 1-1.  Uruguay was to embarrass France by 3-1.

Day 1 results:
  • Bull's-eye on RSA-MEX: 1-1!  Rafael Marquez matched Siphiwe Tshabalala's opening goal to create the tie.  Neither side deserved to win, so the result is fair.
  • France sucked almost as hard as I thought it would in its 0-0 draw.  The bad news is that no one played well enough tonight to win, and that includes Uruguay, too.
  • Everyone in Group A has a point, with Bafana Bafana and El Tri ahead on total goals.
  • My overall projection still rests on the Uruguay-South Africa match.
Day 2 predictions:
  • South Korea meets Greece in the Group B opener -- and they promptly put me to sleep with a goalless draw.  Like I need help sleeping at 0630.
  • In the other Group B match, Argentina opens with a 2-1 win over Nigeria.
  • Group C opens with a 2-1 win by England over the U.S.  (John Oliver goes nuts.)

08 June 2010

Tuesday Football: The Cat's World Cup forecast

With less than three days before the first kickoff, it's time to tell you which national teams will succeed this month in South Africa, which ones will crash, and which one will win it all.

In a competition like this, which starts with eight qualifying pools, I find this Sherlock Holmes quotation useful:
How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?
Keep it in mind as I go through the groups.

Group A:  Uruguay is just average, South Africa is just awful, and France is just a mess.  That leaves Mexico, a team I smacked two weeks ago, to win the group in shockingly easy fashion.  The hosts will advance, too, thanks solely to the power of the mighty vuvuzela.  That's "mighty" as in, "That brass section that infests every Southern Cal football game is mighty annoying."  France and Uruguay will prove no match for the tens of thousands of vuvuzelas blowing on Bafana Bafana's behalf.
  • Through:  Mexico, South Africa.  Out:  Uruguay, France (which doesn't even get a draw).
Group B:  It's possible that temper-prone Diego Maradona could coach Argentina out of the tournament, but at the group stage, it's not likely.  In the first place, the same could be said of Mexico's Javier Aguirre; more importantly, Barcelona star Lionel Messi won't let it happen.  The rest of the group looks pretty even, but I think Nigeria squeaks past its defense-oriented rivals.
  • Through:  Argentina, Nigeria.  Out:  Greece, South Korea
Group C:  Back when the draw happened in December, I thought that England and the U.S. were the obvious choices to advance.  On further reflection, Slovenia may be tougher than I thought.  With those three sides beating each other up, the stage win will come down to who can most comprehensively blow out luckless Algeria.  That side might actually be the United States.  Shockingly, it's England that crashes out -- done in by Slovenia, not the U.S.
  • Through:  United States, Slovenia.  Out:  England, Algeria
The other groups follow the fold.

07 June 2010

Pleasant dreams, Himan Brown

Himan Brown died last Friday at his New York home, although it didn't become public knowledge until yesterday.  As creator of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, Brown single-handedly extended the age of viable radio drama by almost a decade.  The creaking-door sound effect that Brown turned into RMT's signature became an audio icon for those of us who were too young for the Baby Boom but too old  for Generation X.

One thing I didn't realize until I started downloading RMT episodes in 2000 was how important Brown was to American radio.  Decades before RMT, he was responsible for popular radio dramas like Inner Sanctum -- RMT's immediate parent -- The Adventures of the Thin Man and Grand Central Station.  While he wasn't able to transition to television as it displaced radio, he really didn't need to.  (The picture above is from 1943, at the height of his long career.)  It's easy enough these days to hear old-time radio on the Internet, and Himan Brown is a big reason why.

My condolences to Himan Brown's family and friends.