International breaks are hard for fans of any team. Obviously, news has been very light in terms of the Fire, so there's not a whole lot to write about. I figured this was a ripe time to bust out a Hat Trick and get a QOTD rolling. There is only 1 more week until cf97 action returns, but that week will seem like forever. It is a nice rest for weary legs however, as well as for players getting fitness/health back. As usual, we will have our normal lead up to the New England game next Saturday with a Fireside Chat, Preview, and Gamethread so make sure you check back with us for those.
So, without further ado, on to the Hat Trick. Enjoy!
1. The USMNT got a critical 3 points last night in their effort to qualify for the World Cup. Although the Americans walked away with the win, I am sure I would be in the majority by saying the win was not an impressive one. I know, I know, 3 points is 3 points and I am glad for that. But this is a US team that still has never really clicked yet and put on a truly impressive performance for a good portion of 90 minutes. They did notch impressive wins over Italy and Mexico (for the first ever victory in Mexico), but even those wins were not beautiful displays of soccer. Of course we are not a team built like Barcelona so sometimes we win ugly. I am left wondering when will we actually see a splendid US performance? It hasn't come yet, but it needs to come very soon.
Now, one thing that has consistently worked against the US under Jurgen Klinsmann is personnel availability. It seems like every time we play a match, we are without some of our biggest names. Clint Dempsey has been hurt. Landon Donovan has seemingly gotten injured before every USMNT game in the past year. Last night was no different. Jurgen had to choose from a severely depleted roster to try to bring home 3 points. The pitch was worse quality than your average person's gravel driveway. The task was made taller.
Despite this, the US shouldn't have had to win in stoppage time like they did. It's Antigua and Barbuda for goodness sake. We need to dispatch teams like this early rather than letting them hang around. This is one of those times when a win almost feels like a loss. Teams like that are ones that we should be hanging 4 or 5 goals on.
Eddie Johnson scored two goals, 1 a stoppage time winner, to create yet another late comeback for the Yanks. I will withhold my personal thoughts on Eddie Johnson and just say that it was a massive 3 points for the US. This sets us up for Tuesday's final match against former Fire Marco Pappa and Guatemala. In case you had forgotten, the US drew 1-1 with Guatemala on June 12th this year. The Americans were rolling along until the aforementioned Marco Pappa slotted a free kick into the back of the net to equalize.
The US will advance to the hexagonal (or Hex for short) with a draw or a win on Tuesday. Jurgen's side can still advance with a loss, but then we would have to rely on having other results fall your way and that's never a good plan. We need to go in, take care of business, and win. Simple as that. Unfortunately after last night's showing and the trouble we had dispatching an inferior team, my confidence is not as high against a much better Guatemala side. I think we will still win, but I see it as another struggle. As fun as it is to say that (if I had a sarcasm font here I would use it).
This seems to have become a recurring description of every USMNT win the past year- "hey it's 3 points, but it was not pretty." This has to be concerning to USMNT fans. This is a time when we need to get rolling, rather than struggle against bad teams. The competition will really ratchet up in the Hex and beyond. Unfortunately I see the US as one of those teams that plays to their opposition's talent level. We can turn in great games against world powers. And that same team can play a few days later against your local club team and struggle to escape with a win. Jurgen and the players must get some consistency and approach a game vs. Antigua and Barbuda like they approach a game vs. Italy. Let's hope this happens sooner rather than later and that the injury bug goes away. All teams have to deal with injuries so that's not necessarily a valid excuse, but the US sure is getting their fair share and then some.
2. Steven Goff over at the Washington Post had a great read yesterday about the parallels between soccer and baseball. I know many of us also follow an MLB team, especially with an already exciting playoffs under way. He does a great job of comparing two sports that, really, have more in common than most people realize. Your average American fan tends to gravitate away from both sports. If you asked your average US sports fan that doesn't watch either sport, I would put good money on hearing the same excuse almost every time. And that would be that the two sports are "slow" or "boring" or "low scoring". However, we all know that's not true. I have seen some soccer games with end to end action that end in a 0-0 or 1-0 result. Sometimes those types of games can be as exciting, if not more exciting, than a 4-3 soccer match.
The same holds true for baseball. Everyone likes the action of a 10-9 slugfest, but some of the best games I have ever seen are a 1-0, 1-1, or 2-1 pitcher's duel. The strategy in both sports really skyrockets in a tense, even game. Especially as the games enter the later stages of play. I like the parallels that Steven has drawn between the two. I think that soccer fans and baseball fans can share many of the same feelings with each other that fans of others sports cannot. It's almost like a sense of camaraderie to me.
I don't have any data on this (and believe me, I looked), but I think it would be fascinating to poll soccer fans to see what other sports they watch as well. And that's just what I decided to do with my QOTD. I would put good money on the fact that many soccer fans are also avid baseball fans. That's not to say that soccer fans don't watch other sports either, but I think that the appreciation one must have to be able to see the beauty in a baseball or soccer game is a similar, but also different sort of cognitive appreciation than, say, an NFL game. There are of course intricacies to any sport but baseball and soccer truly have wonderful nuances that unfortunately not everyone can appreciate. After all, if the NFL gave 1 point for touchdowns instead of 7, that would be a pretty low scoring league too, huh? Everyone can appreciate a guy running full speed and knocking another guy out apparently. Not everyone can appreciate an expertly placed 98 MPH fastball on the black or a wonderful, in-curving free kick from 40 yards that perfectly finds the head of a teammate, who promptly deposits the ball past the keeper and into the net. And that, my friends, is part of what makes these two sports so great.
3. I would be remiss to not have at least one point of my Hat Trick not mention the Fire. Despite this being a slow week and all, in case you missed Young Walter Cronkite's recent video on the official Fire site, I have got you covered. Who is Young Walter Cronkite? Well, that's the famous Twitter hashtag of none other than Chicago Fire Director of Communications Brendan Hannan. In this video, he does his best Ed McMahon/Publisher's Clearing House impression in upgrading a lucky Fire fan's season ticket package for next year. Definitely worth a look.