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Jeff Maurer's Soccer Blog
Monday, 5 June 2006
US 1:0 Angola
Topic: US National Team

  The U.S. just beat Angola 1-0 in a closed doors scrimmage. Angola played the last 60 minutes of the match down a man. Angola has been getting their asses thoroughly kicked in their World Cup warmup matches, they played 2/3 of the game down a man, and we only beat them 1-0. As you might have guessed, Brian McBride scored our only goal. In our games against Morocco, Venezuela, and Latvia, we scored 0, 2, and 1 goal, respectively. I am starting to get seriously concerned about our goal-scoring ability.

  Which prompts me to say this: I hope that Donovan starts up top along side McBride against the Czech Republic. None of the strikers besides McBride have stepped up lately. I was high on Eddie Johnson for a while, but right now he's playing like he's never seen a soccer ball before. Donovan has speed, skill, and finishing ability, and he pairs up well with McBride. We'll still have O'Brien, Mastreoni, and Reyna in central midfield, so we can afford to slide Donovan up top. I hope that's what happens.

Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 2:09 PM EDT
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Monday, 1 May 2006
Bruce Arena Speaks
Topic: US National Team

  U.S. National Team coach Bruce Arena was on Argentine television last week, where he talked about his plans for the World Cup (and, because it is Spanish-language television, also sang a duet with a large-breasted woman and was tormented by a diabolical puppet).  I didn't see it, but it was picked up by a great soccer blog called Du Nord.  Apparently, he went into an incredible amount of detail.  If you're interested in reading the whole thing, follow the link in the last sentence, then scroll down the page (about 1/3 of the way, as of this posting) until you find where he posted links labeled "one, two, three," and so on, up to eleven.  I found numbers one, five, and eleven especially interesting.

  Here are some of the things we found out:

-  Bruce's starting center two are Oguchi Onyewu and Eddie Pope.  I'm sure that the Onyewu part won't surprise anybody, but there are a lot of people who will be disappointed to see Pope in there.  I feel like a lot of people are down on Eddie Pope because of the Jeff Agoos debacle in 2002, and they share a lot of similarities (both are distinguished but aging backs, have had their form called into question recently, and are Bruce Arena favorites from his D.C. United days).  Personally, I prefer Cory Gibbs as Onyewu's partner in the back, but I'm comfortable with Pope.  Honestly, center back is the position about which I spend the least amount of time worrying, as I am comfortable with any of our first four options for the two center spots (Carlos Bocanegra being the fourth).  Just as long as Greg Berhalter doesn't see the field.

-  Damarcus Beasley will be starting at left mid.  So any talk of a battle between Beasley and Bobby Convey for the starting left mid spot can be put to rest.

-  McBride's strike partner will be Landon Donovan, if anybody.  Apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks that Eddie Johnson has been playing like shit lately. 

-  Bruce actually took out a piece of paper and drew a lineup.  It looked like this:

  Yes, that's essentially a 4-5-1, though Bruce did leave Landon Donovan's position up in the air a little bit, saying that Landon would play "maybe up top."  Personally, the debacle in 1998 (in which we played an extremely weird 3-6-1), the Easter game against Mexico, and my general disdain for overly-defensive soccer make me skeptical of any single-striker formation, so I hope Bruce does end up putting Landon up top in a 4-4-2.  Bruce drew a question mark next to Reyna in the other central midfield spot, then said "maybe Pablo Mastreoni, maybe John O'Brien."  Other comments in the interview made it seem like Mastreoni currently has a slight edge (also, it was reported this morning that John O'Brien picked up a minor calf strain last week).  Bruce also drew a question mark at the right mid spot, then said "maybe Clint Dempsey," but didn't offer any other name.  I would assume that the alternative to Dempsey is probably Bobby Convey.

  Though Bruce drew the lineup pictured above, other comments he made throughout the interview (i.e., "Beasley can play on the left or centrally," "Reyna, O'Brien, and Mastreoni in the midfield") could lead you to believe that Bruce has something more like this in mind:

  If this is what he's planning, I like it.  For one thing, you've got your best eleven players on the field (Dempsey is good, just not as good as John O'Brien).  Also, it allows space for our outside backs to do what they do best: make offensive runs down the wings.  Furthermore, this has the flexibility to either become a 4-5-1, a 4-4-2, or a 4-3-3, depending on exactly where Beasley and Donovan decide to play.  Maybe Bruce is considering playing the first lineup versus the Czech Republic (when control of the midfield will be vital), then using this one against Italy (when we will probably try to attack the wings).

  I want to get on the record with my prediction of the U.S. World Cup roster before they announce on Tuesday at 6PM on Sportscenter.  Here's my best guess:

Goalkeepers: Kasey Keller, Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann

Defenders: Oguchi Onyewu, Eddie Pope, Cory Gibbs, Carlos Bocanegra, Greg Berhalter, Eddie Lewis, Steve Cherundolo, Frankie Hejduk

Midfielders: Landon Donovan, Damarcus Beasley, Claudio Reyna, Pablo Mastreoni, John O'Brien, Bobby Convey, Clint Dempsey, Ben Olsen

Strikers: Brian McBride, Eddie Johnson, Josh Wolff, Taylor Twellman

  This has been my prediction for a long time now (definitely since the game against Jamaica last month), and it seems that the most debatable part of this prediction is probably right, as the Washington Post is now reporting that Ben Olsen will make the World Cup roster.  That is awesome; it's good to have D.C. United represented, and Ben Olsen is my favorite player.  Very much deserved.

  Incidentally, Yanks Abroad posted this exact same list last week.  So it seems that the soccer nerd community is reaching a consensus.

Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 2:10 PM EDT
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Thursday, 27 April 2006
To Hell With My Friends

  Starting last fall, I played two seasons with a recreational soccer team in Springfield.  I had a lot of fun, and the team was pretty good; in the second season, in particular, we played some very good soccer and finished the regular season second out of ten teams.  Unfortunately, my move to Arlington and my increasingly busy comedy schedule (the Dale City Chuckle Hut is a demanding mistress) caused me to search for a different league.  Still, I had a lot of fun and made some good friends.

  Naturally, upon leaving, my wish became that the team would immediately plunge directly into the shitter, thus proving that I was the magic ingredient that kept the team afloat.  However, I checked the league standings recently and was horrified to discover that my former team is a very respectable 1-1-1 with a positive goal differential after three games against good teams!  What the hell?  I was hoping for a reincarnation of the '99 Chicago Bulls, making me the Michael Jordan of Northern Virginia soccer in this in-no-way-forced analogy.  Now, I stand the very real possibility of becoming the Pete Best of Northern Virginia soccer.  Well, you know what: fuck you, friends!

Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 2:12 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 27 December 2005
I Will Not Be "That Guy"
  For Christmas, my wife got me a DC United jersey (which I asked for) and, recognizing that my current soccer shorts have seen better days, added on some official DC United shorts as well.  As it happens, I played for a team in high school that wore black socks.  So, theoretically, I could wear an entire DC United uniform.  Here is my vow to you, the rest of the world: I WILL NEVER, EVER DO THAT.  I will not become that guy that wears the entire fucking uniform as if I'm tricking everyone into thinking that I'm on the team.  I recognize that my competitive soccer days ended long ago, and now I play only recreationally.  The shorts and socks will never appear in tandem with the jersey, which is mostly for when I am watching DC United games.  If anyone sees me violating this promise, or if I put my own name and number on the back of the jersey, I give you permission to shoot me in the head.  Seriously, do it; I deserve it.  Consider this blog post legally binding.  Print it out and bring it to court with you.

Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 2:12 PM EST
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Friday, 9 December 2005
World Cup Draw (pregame)
Topic: US National Team

  Let me quickly get on the record before it happens: here is my opinion of what would be a good, average, and bad draw for the US in today's World Cup draw.  By far the most important pot is pot 3, the one with all the European teams; the team we get from this pot will most likely be the team we fight for second place in our group.  The team we play from pot 1 (the one with the top seeds) is somewhat important, in that we have virtually no chance of displacing Brazil, whereas we've got an outside shot of ousting Spain or France.  Our draw from pot 2 (the African teams and the unseeded South American teams) makes virtually no difference to me whatsoever (unless we get an exceptionally weak team from pot 3, in which case the pot 2 team could potentially threaten for a top 2 finish in the group), as this will be the weakest team in our group and a stronger weakest team is just as likely to help us as hurt us.  So, here's my opinion of what would be a good, average, and bad draw, working from least important to most important.

Pot 2:
Good draw: Togo, Angola
Average draw: Tunisia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Australia, Ecuador
Bad draw: Paraguay

Pot 1:
Good draw: Spain, France
Average draw: Italy, England, Argentina
Bad draw: Brazil, Germany

Pot 3:
Good draw: Switzerland, Ukraine, Croatia
Average draw: Poland, Sweden
Bad draw: Portugal
Horrible draw: Netherlands, Czech Republic

  So, to boil it down: if we get put in a group with Netherlands or Czech Republic, I think we're just about screwed.  Being in with Portugal, Brazil, or Germany would also be very bad (though I'd like to see us play Germany again).  As long as we avoid these scenarios, I'll consider us lucky.

  Some quick notes: I also don't want to play Serbia-Montenegro (who, because of convoluted rules, are in their own pot); they are hot right now (having just beat arch-rivals - and not just in soccer - Bosnia Herzegovena in a must-win match) and hate us.  As for Germany, many people argue that they are at a low ebb right now, and I agree, but home field advantage in the World Cup is always - always, no exceptions whatsoever in the 72 year history of the tournament - huge. 

  Finally, there is some good news: because we are the highest seeded non-seeded team, and becuase we are by far the toughest team in our pot, there is a good chance that whatever group we get drawn into will become known as the "group of death".  For those of you new to soccer, the European press almost always designate one group to be the "group of death" (that phrase is almost as official as "sweet 16" is in basketball), then delight in predicting impending doom for those unlucky teams.  The two that emerge from that group (England and Sweden last time around) get an extra dose of respect.  So there's an excellent chance that Le Monde and Der Spiegel and The London Times will annoint our group the "group of death", then give us extra credit should we emerge from that group in spite of the fact that the group was only considered difficult by virtue of the fact that we were in it.

Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 2:14 PM EST
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Tuesday, 6 December 2005
Topic: US National Team
  The U.S. barely missed out on a World Cup top 8 seed today, meaning that our road to the second round will be much more difficult than that of Mexico (against whom we are 7-2-1 in the last 5 years, with a goal differential of 14-3).  FIFA is dominated by the European countries, which causes me to wonder: what did we do that offended Europe so badly?  Besides this: Rice Defends Tactics Used Against Suspects.  And this: US Admits Wrongful Detention, German Chancellor Says.  And this: CIA Ruse Damages Probe in Milan.  And that's just stuff that happened today.

Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 2:15 PM EST
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