Tag Archives: Algeria

Landycakes no more

Landon Donovan scores v. Algeria, 23 June 2010 (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

In the future, we’ll look back at 23 June 2010 and realize that it was that day that Landon Donovan grew up.

To be sure, he’s matured immeasurably over the last two years or so. Most of that has to do with him finally accepting his position in US soccer’s player hierarchy and history. Donovan is the most talented player in US history. Now that he’s seeing that as more blessing than curse, he’s thriving.

Example A: his tenure with the Los Angeles Galaxy. He’s a leader and refuses to back down from anyone, not even Goldenballs himself. Example B: his work with the national team. Although Carlos Bocanegra is the captain and Tim Howard is the vocal leader, Donovan commands everyone’s respect. He’s the key for the strikers and the midfielders and they play off his vibe. He’s quietly confident now. Clint Dempsey’s rise has helped, because Dempsey is vocal where Donovan is quiet. At the same time, Dempsey and Donovan can switch sides without a large drop-off in skill level, a huge tactical advantage and a huge psychological burden lifted from Donovan.

The best, and final example, is Donovan’s 3-month long loan spell at Everton. In contrast to his stay in Germany, Donovan thrived in England. And the reason he thrived has everything to do with his maturity. Donovan accepted his position and the pressure and used it as a motivating factor, rather than getting psychologically crushed by it. Donovan was a revelation in England, and that led directly to today’s goal.

Donovan’s always had the ability to score. He’s not even 30 and he’s US soccer’s all-time leading scorer. He’s always been clinical, to a degree. But he’s never been happy with the result. It was like every time he scored, it was just another burden, something else to make him stick out from the crowd. After he scored the most important goal in US soccer history, there was genuine joy on his face. Even after the mob broke up, the smile remained. Donovan’s leadership and maturity and, most importantly, hard work over the last 2 years led to that goal.

So, no longer will I call him Landycakes. He’s Landon Donovan now. And US soccer is far better for it.

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The most important win in US soccer history

US players celebrate Landon Donovan's goal v. Algeria (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Sure, that could be hyperbole. And I could be wrong in less than a week. But for now, the United States’ 1-0 victory over Algeria on 23 June 2010 at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, is the biggest win in US soccer history.

The victory, sealed by Landon Donovan’s injury time goal at 91 minutes, was a long time coming. In the last game, a comically bad decision by Koman Coulibaly denied Maurice Edu a winner and the US a victory. But the result – a comeback draw – was still acceptable. Today, in the 20th minute, Clint Dempsey was called offside. Wrongly. The soccer gods were against the US for some reason. To add more insult to injury, the soccer gods rewarded a thoroughly unimpressive England team with a goal from Jermain Defoe. But the US didn’t give up. They kept doing the things that the soccer gods appreciate: work hard, pass crisply, keep shooting. Finally, the soccer gods rewarded them for their effort: Clint Dempsey’s low blast ricocheted off Algerian keeper Rais M’Bolhi and into Landon Donovan’s path. Donovan slotted it home, lighting Loftus Versfeld Stadium in red, white, and blue.

With that goal, the US won its World Cup group for the first time since 1930. It advanced to the knockout stage, and erased the awful memories of 2006. I submit that this win is more important the famous win over England in 1950. To be sure, the 1950 win was less expected (although the US was still seen as a pretty big underdog; witness the newspaper coverage). While the draw was a surprise to some, it was not a surprise to the players.

This US team expects to win games and expects to hang with the soccer elite. This game, the last in the group stage, shows that the US means business. They’ll have a chance to prove that again when they play Ghana on Saturday.

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Jobbed in Joburg

Koman Coulibay looks stunned that he's refereeing a World Cup match (David Cannon/Getty Images)

It’s probably a good thing that I waited this long to write about the US/Slovenia match in the World Cup. Then again, I saw the replays again a few minutes ago, which made me angry again. Almost as angry as I was when it actually happened. But, now that I’ve cooled down, I can safely come to a few conclusions.

1. The referee, Koman Coulibaly, was terrible. Actually, he was beyond terrible. This was, easily, the worst refereeing performance of the World Cup (and that’s saying something given the card-happy Spanish referee’s performance in the Germany/Serbia match). Coulibaly had an awful game. He called phantom fouls and ignored real ones (yes, I realize the game is fast: referees, however, are trained for that and only the best [in theory] get to appear on World Cup pitches). He looked nervous. He looked thoroughly unprepared for the match’s intensity and its speed. All of that, of course, culminated in the horrifying call that denied Maurice Edu the winning goal. I doubt (hope?) Coulibaly will have any more games to referee in this World Cup.

2. The United States came very close to killing itself. The US, going as far back as 2 years, has a terrible habit of conceding early goals. The team under Bob Bradley almost always plays from behind. That needs to stop. I don’t know what the problem is, but the back four is more than a little suspect. I like how Steve Cherundolo has played. He’s been a force on the right. Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit, while periodically effective, have been abused by speedy forwards. Carlos Bocanegra has not made any mistakes, but he hasn’t been exceptional, either. Bradley needs to consider playing a defensive midfielder for extra cover. Perhaps that will release the other midfielders and the forwards to attack.

But that doesn’t really solve the problem. The US needs to come out committed to defense for the first 20 minutes of the next game (against Algeria). They need to build a wall and then progress from there. The only acceptable outcome is a clean sheet against Algeria. It has to happen.

3. Slovenia deserves to be in the World Cup and will present a challenge to England. Put simply, England must win to progress. England cannot underestimate Slovenia’s skill on the ball or its defensive abilities. And since neither Wayne Rooney nor Emile Heskey has gotten off the schneid yet (really, only Steven Gerrard has looked impressive), I’d be worried if I were England. On the other hand, the US exposed some weaknesses in Slovenia’s defensive wall, perhaps giving Don Fabio a template.

Michael Bradley celebrates scoring his fantastic tying goal (Christof Koepsel/Getty Images)

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World Cup 2010: Group C jerseys

In part 3 of a series, I’m looking at Group C’s jerseys.

Algeria home jersey for the 2010 World Cup

Yes, that’s a fox on the shoulder (Algeria’s nickname is the Desert Foxes). Yes, it looks silly. Yes, it’s completely and totally awesome. One of the main things I liked about the 2006 World Cup was the trend of putting animals on the shirts, especially for African teams (the team nicknames are conducive to such design elements). I like how the fox is there but it’s not garish, as if it’s sneaking up on Algeria’s opponents. It is the flair that, say, the Nigerian jersey was missing. The rest of the shirt is simple and to the point, so bravo to Puma for not screwing it up.

England home jersey for the 2010 World Cup

You want simple? Umbro gives you simple. Derided as a schoolboy shirt when it was released, the England shirt has grown on me. I like the name and number font, as well (I’ll post action pictures when the World Cup gets underway). I like the collar and I love the Three Lions crest. This is the epitome of a modernized retro shirt.

Slovenia home jersey for the 2010 World Cup

I like Slovenia’s colors. I like the crest. I do not understand the Charlie Brown stripe in the middle. Maybe it’s meant to reflect mountains. Maybe it’s a graph of Greece’s economy now and in the future. Maybe it’s a sine wave of some sort, designed to paralyze opponents like Monty Python’s joke that kills. Whatever it is, I kinda like it, even if I don’t understand it.

USA home jersey for the 2010 World Cup

Let’s get this out of the way first: the home jersey is significantly better than the away jersey. I love the subtle stripe on the home shirt and hate the huge white beauty pageant stripe on the away shirt. There is something to be said for having two different designs. Then again, that’s not the Nike way (or the American way, for that matter; look at US sports and their home/away jerseys). The rest of the shirt is excellent: clean lines and good colors. Contrast where there needs to be contrast. Nike did good with this shirt, except for the away stripe. That annoys me to no end.

On the whole, Group C is the best looking group so far. We’ll see what the others bring to the table in the next few days.

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