A stern reminder about an upcoming U.S. Soccer-related event, whether you plan to check it out live and in person, on the "telly" or that wacky world wide web.
No more preparing. No more second-guessing. No more prognastications. It's time to put up or shut up for the U.S. Men's National Team. Whether it's fair or not, the last four years of progress and development within the U.S. Soccer world — National Team and otherwise — comes down to the three games that stand between us and the Round of 16.
June 5 / vs. Portugal / Suwon, Korea
[Televised live on ESPN2 at 5 a.m. ET and then via tape delay on ESPN2 at 3 p.m. ET]
It's unfortunate that Bruce and the boys have to open against the toughest opponent in the group, not to mention one of the top teams in the world. (We all know how everything fell apart after the opening loss to Germany at France '98). It would've been nice to play them in Game Three after having built a little momentum that may give a better chance at a difficult three points, but as the teams in Group F — Argentina, England, Nigeria and Sweden — can tell ya, you must play the hand you're dealt. Expect the U.S. to use speed to its ultimate advantage, as Portugal (as well as South Korea) will be quick and technical. Containing Portugal's talented midfield will be the top priority, so no matter who fills in for an injured Armas, they have their work cut out for them. That means a full 90 minutes, with little or no mistakes. Portugal has shown that they can be beat, but it may take a fortunate bounce in the attack and/or an immaculate defensive performance to squeak by this European power.
June 10 / vs. Korea Republic / Daegu, Korea
[Televised live on ESPN2 at 2:30 a.m. ET and then via tape delay on ESPN2 at 2 p.m. ET]
What may have looked like an easy win when the groups were announced back in December has now become just as difficult a match as the Portugal and Poland contest. While the South Koreans have never won a World Cup match in their 16-game history (0-10-4), they will have a packed stadium behind them and will be buoyed by a string of very promising results (including a 4-1 win over Scotland, a 1-1 draw with England, a narrow 3-2 loss to France, and a superb 2-0 win over Poland in their opener today. Fitness will make the difference in this match-up of fairly even teams, so it will take a solid 90-minute performance all over the field to dispatch this tricky first round opponent.
June 14 / vs. Poland / Daejeon, Korea
[Televised live on ESPN at 7:30 a.m. ET and then via tape delay on June 15 on ABC at 1 p.m. ET]
With the first two matches looking as tough as ever, it may come down to the third match to get the crucial three points. The match, which will undoubtedly be a high pressure match regardless of the first two outcomes, will also present a much different type of opponent. Unlike Portugal and Korea Republic, but like most Eastern European teams, Poland is big, tough and physical. But they also have an extremely potent secret weapon in Nigerian-born forward Emmanuel Olisadebe. Best of both worlds? Perhaps. Fair? Not really. They get Olisadebe, we get French-born Regis. But I digress. Although they lack a great World Cup history, there's a reason why they finished atop their UEFA group and were the first team to qualify (other than France) for Korea/Japan. This one feels like it may come down to a penalty kick or a goal off a set piece, so keep the coffee maker within arm's reach and stay glued to the tube for what could be one of the biggest make or break games in U.S. Men's National Team history.
Table of Contents
1) Armchair Midfielder ("Nike Road to Korea" according to Larry King)
2) Word Association (w/ MNT goalkeeper Brad Friedel)
3) At the Movies (w/ MNT midfielder DaMarcus Beasley)
4) Queries and Anecdotes (w/ Philips World Cup reporter and "Survivor: Africa" celeb Ethan Zohn)
5) Making it to the Show (w/ MNT defender Steve Cherundolo)
6) Mark That Calendar (The Opening Round -- June 5, June 10 and June 14)
7) Point/Counterpoint (w/ Soccer Broadcasters Ty Keough and Rob Stone)
8) "You Don't Know Jack (Marshall)" (General World Cup trivia)
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