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Ramblings, Rants & Random Thoughts

A monthly column about the State of U.S. Soccer that takes a hard look at everything from the performance of the U.S. National Teams to pro soccer in the good ‘ole U-S-of-A . If you’re looking for a viewpoint that you won’t see in a generic, nuts-and-bolts U.S. Soccer press release, you’ve come to the right place.

It’s been a while, some would say not long enough, since the Armchair Midfielder dropped some long-winded Larry King-style ramblings on the gen-pub (my new made-up phrase for the general public), but he’s back to rattle off some rants and random thoughts about everything from Freddy to hit shows on the BBC.

Here goes…

OLYMPIC REDUX?: Watching Conor Casey cause trouble for opposing defenders in the last two Men’s National Team wins, witnessing Eddie Gaven make a major mark on the MetroStars, and then seeing Edson Buddle healthy and effective again, I can’t help but recall the pain and disappointment of the U.S. U-23s failing to qualify for Athens. Simply put, it’s just a big, big bummer. Thinking that we would’ve had the trio of Landon, Beaz and Bobby in the middle PLUS Conor and Edson PLUS defensive forces like Ricardo Clark, Oguchi Onyewu and Zak Whitbread (for the entire tournament) PLUS three “overaged” players all on the same roster quickly makes the team look better on paper than the 2000 version that almost took bronze. Who knows what that team could’ve done in an Olympic field that is missing all three medal winners (Cameroon, Brazil and Spain) from the last go-round. As for critics of Mooch, they had it all wrong. He got everything he could out of the hand he was dealt. It just so happened that he had three Jacks and was beaten by a Full House.
LAWLESS: I have to admit that Greg Lalas’ columns for have been surprisingly good. To say that he’s a much better writer than a defender sounds like a cheap shot, but really it’s just a well-intended but back-handed compliment. I’m still waiting to see how critical he can be of his big bro if San Jose can't improve in the stands. Lord knows he isn’t a music critic, as I’m betting he owns the complete discography of Alexi’s peculiar Nectar Drop. [What exactly is a Nectar Drop? Did someone bite into an orange?] His own band Hamilton is only slightly better. The lyrics (“I can’t make the world spin backwards / I can’t stop a speeding train / I’m not Superman / But you’re my Lois Lane!!!”) could use some work, but it’s not the worst by-the-numbers, small-time rock band. A fair description might be a very poor man’s Foo Fighters or Buffalo Tom. But really, anything is better than Alexi’s Ratt-influenced records. Greg, we like the online writing thing, stick to it.
"REDUNDANCY": This has nothing to do with soccer, other than the fact that it hails from England, but the much-ballyhooed BBC series “The Office” is everything you’ve heard it is and more. Some times you hear so many rave reviews about a movie or book or whatever, it’s all but impossible not to be disappointed with it. Not so with the brilliant baffoonery of the British version of Dilbert come to life. I had almost forgotten how good sitcoms could be (No, I don’t mean “Friends”). There’s no live audience or laugh track to buoy the show, just sharp-witted, well-written dialogue and spot-on character performances.
COMMERCIAL BREAK: Anyone catch that Freddy Adu vs. Pele Sierra Mist commercial? Uh, yeah. Of course you have. I may be crazy, but despite multiple repeat viewings, I'm still thinking it is a cool commercial offering. Is it as entertaining and genius as the Nike commercial with Brazil versus Spain in the locker room tunnel? Of course not, but it’s simple, and it works. (By the way, who did the voiceovers for the "Ole's" in that Nike commercial? Rico Suave?)
RABBLE! RABBLE! RABBLE!: Although there are a lot of rabble-rousers out there with all kinds of solutions to ensure that the U.S. Women win gold in Athens, which we learned from the huge number of responses and mixed reviews that we received for this month’s edition of Point/Counterpoint, those people obviously haven’t been keeping tabs on the team this year. The team won three tournament titles (Four Nations Tournament, CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament and Algarve Cup) on the road by the end of March and has easily dispatched foes like Sweden, Canada, Norway and Brazil on the way to a 12-1-1 record in ’04. The only nagging thing in the back of my head is the memory of how the U.S. gals picked up the same number of trophies (Four Nations, Algarve Cup and Pacific Cup) by this time in 2000 and had this same kind of pre-tournament success before slipping in the gold medal match in Sydney. While I don’t think they peaked too early four years ago, I do know that the Olympics were the cap to an exhausting stretch of 62 games in less than two years before touching ground in Australia. The WUSA hiatus this year might end up being a blessing in disguise for the team’s dream of grabbing gold, as they are able to train every day together in residency in Carson and only average a game every three weeks in the four months leading up to the tournament. No matter who the final 18 are, they should be fresh as Gerber daisies for Greece.
I WANT MY M-L-S TV: MLS broadcasts have come a long way over the years. (Anyone remember back in 1996 when one of the first broadcasts missed a goal? Did I mention it was a penalty kick? That's right. They missed a penalty kick. I'll never forget that camera cutting away for some irrelevant shot of a player on the bench as Etcheverry stood over the ball. Suddenly the people in the background were going crazy and I turned to the person next to me and said, "Did they just do what I think they did?" We stared at the TV in disbelief. Anyway, I digress, back to my point.) The current game production, accompanied by the trio of Stone, Wynalda and Fair are doing a pretty good job. Sure they miss one now and again ("Uh, Eric, that disallowed Rev's goal on May 15 in Columbus was an excellent call by the refs, despite your protest. It was so good in fact, that when you did correct yourself, you owed it to the officials to point out how right they were."). I digress again. Anyway, when the new color guy has the guts to say "He should keep on running into the locker room" after a particularly glaring empty-net miss by Bobby Convey in the season opener, then you know people will keep on listening.
KIDS IN THE HALL: It’s hard to imagine three more deserving players to be inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame than Eric Wynalda, Paul Caligiuri and Mufasa (Michelle Akers, of course). All three players owned the majority of the 90s, and helped set the stage for the level that the National Teams are playing at now in the new millennium. Thanks to Caligiuri ripping that game winner against T&T, we’re talking about qualifying for a record fifth consecutive World Cup for 2006 instead of having a hollow streak that started only because we hosted the ’94 event. And if there’s a better all-time female soccer player than Michelle Akers, I challenge you to show me. Sure, Mia gets all the glory, but ask any of the Fab Five (Chastain, Hamm, Fawcett, Foudy and Lilly) or April and they’ll all tell you Michelle was the heart and soul behind the U.S. Women’s three championships in the last decade. And then there’s Eric. While he had an inconsistent pro career in MLS and a sometimes surly off-field reputation, no one can argue with his 34 goals for the U.S. MNT. While McBride has 23 goals with another qualifying cycle yet to play, the only current player with a shot at topping his mark is Landon, who already has 14 in just four full years of appearing under Bruce. Bottom line, Oneonta? Three all-timers are packing their bags and moving to the Hall.
DOMESTICATION: Going into the season, not much was being made of the new and/or foreign acquisitions that were coming into the league, and rightfully so. Missing were big names of the past like Nowak, Diallo, Ruiz and Spencer. That said, bringing in big names can be highly overrated (i.e., Branco or Mattheus, to name two). MLS has overachieved with its select off-season signings so far in 2004, with Andreas Herzog and Jovan Kirovski spicing up the L.A. attack as effectively as Fabian Taylor and Cornell Glen are doing for the Metros. Defenders Cory Gibbs and Antonio de la Torre have looked solid for their respectively surprising teams (Burn being surprisingly good, Rapids being surprisingly average). And where did Jean Phillipe Pergueueururo (never was that strong of a speller) come from? All I know is that he already has five points in six games for the Rapids. And who would’ve thought that Henry Ring would be leading all ‘keepers in shutouts and saves after a fifth of the season? The only names that haven’t panned out yet are the Crew’s Erick Scott and the Metros’ Sergio Galvan Rey, but it’s still early.
INTERNATIONALCATION: There was a point around this time last year where there wasn’t a lot of great news coming out of Europe with regard to U.S. players. The team’s and individual players’ success at the 2002 World Cup was losing its luster, and Brad Friedel was the only thing to crow about as the 2003 season ended. Not so in 2004, with Americans finishing strong in both England and Germany. Whether it be Keller’s two-year consecutive games streak at Tottenham or McBride’s pair of goals in Fulham’s last match or T-Ho’s Goalkeeper of the Year award or even something as small as Claudio getting back into the starting XI for Man-City, it’s all good in the EPL. Even at the lower levels, Yanks are showing well, with Eddie Lewis ending with six goals for Preston North End and former U-17 MNT stud Jonathan Spector winning Man-U’s Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award. Things are great in Germany, too, with the boys at Hannover helping the club stay up for another season and Sanneh back healthy and playing full matches for league champs Nurnberg, who were promoted to the top flight. Then you have both Conor Casey and Gregg Berhalter (who knew he had five goals this year?) putting up surprising goal numbers in the second Bundesliga and a host of other Americans dotting rosters at the lower levels. Of course, when the 2004-05 season rolls around, the big test for most of these guys will be those frequent long-distance trips back to our neck of the words for a little thing called World Cup qualifying. It will be old hat for the Friedel, Kellers and Reynas of the world, but an all new adventure for the likes of Bocanegra and Howard.
FUN WITH FUTSAL: And, I end on this note: anyone else notice the return of the Beasley Brothers to the National Team fold? Sure DaMarcus has played in a World Cup and has a single World Cup qualifying cap under his belt, but older brother Jamar, who was once the youngest player signed by MLS, is now a star in the Major Indoor Soccer League with the K.C. Comets, and on May 18 he made his qualifying debut for a senior U.S. National Team, helping the U.S. Futsal National Team to a two-game sweep of Honduras. Jamar picked up an assist along the way and by all accounts will be on-board when the team enters the final phase of Futsal qualifying in July in Costa Rica.

Table of Contents

1.  Armchair Midfielder: Ramblings, Rants & Random Thoughts
2.  In 3’s: MNT defender Steve Cherundolo
3.  Gear Galore: National Team Yearbooks are In
4.  Queries & Anecdotes: MNT Forward Jovan Kirovski
5.  Mark That Calendar: U-19 WNT CONCACAF Qualifying - 5/28-6/6
6.  Superstar!!!: U-17 Residency Graduates
7.  Fan Point/Counterpoint: U.S. WNT Forwards in Athens
8.  You Don’t Know Jack (Marshall): U-19 WNT Trivia

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