International Friendly: USA 3-1 Australia
This morning, I dragged myself out of bed and into the gym to hop on the elliptical trainer and enjoy a small screen view of the USA vs Australia match. Every cardio machine is equipped with a small television that each user can control, and while I was the only one in the gym primed for the match, I didn’t hesitate and got down to business just in time to watch some
fucking boring serious fishing on ESPN2 in the run up to the match. This turned out to be the perfect pre-match warm up for me; a reminder of the glory days of autumn when I can roll out of bed at 7:20 AM on a Saturday and catch the first match of the weekend? No, more a reminder of how hilarious most sports television is in this country. Fishing? Any sporting show that ends with a recipe for grilled tuna seems to me a misguided attempt at legitimacy for what is essentially the process of scoring dinner. It was a nice, huge tuna steak, yes, but still, perhaps a little pre-match analysis one week before the World Cup?
Maybe I should be careful what I wish for, because as much as I complain about the lack of depth and quality in the US media’s analysis of soccer on TV, I sometimes forget how much I hate pre-game shows for American sports, especially American football, which, if it were not a sports show, would instead be the worst example of faux-Dadaist insanity you’ve ever seen, followed by a bunch of retired players sitting around blathering as experts for three hours prior to the game. Take this amazing example from 1996, as an animated blimp penetrates a giant stone vagina to kick things off… where are the fighting robots, I wonder? Who produces this shit?
Fox NFL Sunday circa 1996
At ESPN, the network’s on-air studio talent seems to know very little about the game, that you can’t help but wonder how awful the upcoming World Cup coverage is going to be. Friday, I heard ESPN’s lead studio talent Mike Tirico talking on the radio, boasting about how little he know of the game and how he was looking forward to representing all the soccer moms and dads out there, people who watch their kids play and could otherwise give a shit about the sport. His hope was to capture that audience with stories and a perspective of discovery. Uh-oh. Couple that with the guaranteed human interest stories of apartheid, Robben Island football for a political prisoners and the figure of Nelson Mandela, all of which are compelling tales of the political necessity of this World Cup but which I guarantee will be juxtaposed alongside human interest stories about Team USA players and their moms and dads, and this promises to be one vomit inducing month. Maybe I’ll start a clock to count the minutes of actual pre-match analysis timed against the “narratives” that US TV defaults to when they don’t know how to talk about the sport they’re covering (see the slobbering over stories of adversity during Olympic coverage– better that than listening to someone who knows nothing break-down the upcoming men’s volleyball semi-final, I guess). Maybe there is, somewhere out there, an adopted player whose wealthy, conservative white parents turned them into a great player and we can find a Blind Side: World Cup Edition. That would kill! I already want to die. On second thought, maybe they should stick to their usual soccer formula and just open every World Cup match with a fish recipe?
Anyway, it didn’t take long once the match began for Edson Buddle, starting in place of an injured Jozy Altidore to, in my opinion, cement his claim for a starting place alongside Altidore in next week’s World Cup opener against England; capitalizing on a turnover in the Australian midfield in the 4th minute, he blasted a perfect strike into the upper corner of Mark Schwartzer’s goal to put the USA on top 1-0.
Tesco shopping Toffee Australian midfielder Tim Cahill slid onto the end of a cross to make it 1-1 in the 19th minute, Buddle made a great far post run and buried an unmissable header from a sweet cross by Steve Cherundolo to put the US up for good, 2-1.
In between and after, the game was a remarkable duel between USA Forward Robbie Findley and Australian Forward Joshua Kennedy to see who could miss the most scoring opportunities; Findley won in a landslide, rounding the keeper and missing a wide open net by hitting the ball too hard, sliding in on an amazing cross from Buddle only to put a shot off the bar from about 6 inches from goal (then laying around in an offside position while the ball was still in play, allowing the linesman to flag for offside on an otherwise perfectly legitimate Clint Dempsey goal on the follow up), and turning several break-away opportunities into shots dragged wide of the net. As brutal and unlucky as Findley’s game was today, Buddle’s was poised and powerful, as the striker held up play nicely and really seemed to play like a natural target man, a skill the USA has missed since the retirement of Brian McBride. I was really pleased for him to have made the team and, get the research team on finding the Edson Buddle baby pictures for his upcoming human interest montage, we have an improbable story on out hands; from the fringes of US football to a start against England in the World Cup? I can hear the AVIDs over at ESPN in overdrive right now. Maybe they’ll even break out the “Buddle Mania” line…
Hercules Gomez came on in the final 10 minutes to bury a low driven cross from Landon Donovan directly in front of the goal, and the US walks away 3-1 winners…
…but if you think the goals are the story of the match, well, you didn’t watch the USA defense, which was once again just brutal in their command of the box. Jay DeMerit and Clarence Goodson both had tremendous difficulty making clearances, communicating with the goalie and communicating between one another, which allowed far too many chances for Australia, one of which Tim Cahill buried, most of the rest of which luckily fell to Joshua Kennedy, who couldn’t score in a brothel on the day. When the ball did fall to Australia’s Mark Bresciano, he forced reserve Goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann into a couple of very good saves which preserved the US victory. Still, the USA flattered to deceive on the day, and Australia was able to move through the center of the park and control the ball for large swaths of the game; I was particularly unimpressed with Ricardo Clark, who I can’t remember winning many balls in his DM role. This is Clark’s second bad game in a row and so, while he is small and young, I really do hope to see the more poised and possession friendly José Francisco Torres in midfield against England next week as Clark just doesn’t seem to be playing his best football right now. He was far too negative and more than once, his back passing put an already shaky defense under pressure. Michael Bradley also has something to answer for, as he failed to turn much possession into attack; against England, two Defensive Midfielders may be the proper if conservative choice, but if the USA goes that route, the DMs have to win possession and spring the attack or else Team USA’s weakest link, it’s defensive back four, will be leaking goals against an incredibly dangerous England attack.
Still it was Edson Buddle’s big day, so let’s give him some love and enjoy a 3-1 victory over a decent Australia team.
Are You Carlton Cole In Disguise? (and that’s not a bad thing…): Team USA’s Edson Buddle Lords It Over Vince Grella
As this was the final Team USA friendly, it’s back to the Group Previews for me… more tomorrow as we analyze Germany and Group D. Also, bonus coverage of the rash of injuries that have plagued some of the best players in the world in the run up to the tournament; it’s brutal out there! More tomorrow…