Saturday, July 07, 2007

Youth Served in Ottawa

Let's talk about soccer for a while...

Watched the U-20 game between the USA and Brazil last night and I have a bunch of thoughts.

First, I absolutely LOVED the coverage. The feed was clearly destined for overseas consumption, and there was no American crew interrupting the feed from Bristol, constantly interjecting googled facts that had little to do with the on-field action. The announcers actually seemed to follow the flow of the game and, God forbid!, kept quiet for large portions of the match. They actually sensed the game and didn't feel it necessary to fill every single second with an inane rambling. Also, there were limited commercials! It was amazing! Normally in soccer matches, pregame festivities aren't covered on TV here at all, and halftime is 15 minutes of straight commercials. For some reason, ESPN didn't cut in and fill every second that the clock wasn't running with DiTech, esurance and "The Bronx is Burning" commercials. They actually showed the national anthems and spent some time announcing the players and formations. It was great, and I'm quite certain that ESPN won't ever let it happen again.

Second, the Canadian crowd was awesome. Sure, the stadium wasn't massive, but it was totally full. And let's not kid ourselves, U-20 tournaments aren't anywhere near as big a deal as full internationals. Compare the attendance of these matches in Canada to the attendance of the Under 21 European Championships in Holland this year: not a single match in that entire tournament, including those with home team and the title game, had as many fans in attendance as last night's USA-Brazil game. Add in the excitement of MLS's Toronto FC, and there's a soccer crazed nation to the north. That's not exactly good for US Soccer - as the next time it's CONCACAF's turn to host the World Cup, they might not choose the massive stadia of the USA and instead opt for better summer weather in Canada. Canada could probably put up very good bids to host the Gold Cup too.

Now, about the game itself... The future's bright for the USA. The Brazil squad wasn't exactly their optimal U-20, but there was definitely talent on that team. But at the same time, it seemed to me like the USA had as much, if not more talent out there. I actually thought Adu was the best player on the field, when he stayed upright. The American defense appeared confident and quick against very skilled and athletic strikers. The result last night wasn't luck. In fact, I'd say that the only lucky thing of the night was that Brazil scored at all - their goal could've been handled by Seitz or been cleared off the line. The game was really enjoyable to watch, and it makes me think the future of the USMNT can't come soon enough. The core of Adu, Altidore, Zizzo and Szetela is something to get excited about. Adu draws som much attention that he frees others up (see the second goal last night), and his skill is world class. Altidore is right now as good a pure finisher has anyone wearing the US uniform. Zizzo looks like the kind of speed and skill, and most importantly an ability not to get blown off the ball with a faint breeze, we've needed on the wing forever. With the talent out on the field, almost as important is the fearlessness. After the match, the players seemed excited and happy - like they knew that their last 2 matches were a big deal. But it was also the look of a group of kids not afraid to do something great.

Now the draw comes up pretty good for the USA. Their next match is Wednesday, probably against the winner of Costa Rica-Scotland, but possibly North Korea, Zambia or Jordan. If the win that one, they'd get probably Portugal or Austria. There's a decent chance that the USA could avoid Argentina, Nigeria, and maybe Brazil again until the Finals. Spain looks to be the biggest threat on the USA's side of the draw.

Back on the TV coverage thing... I think it's very cool that ESPN showed last night's game. I wonder how much the surprise ratings the Gold Cup final got for Univision and the YouTube excitement about Adu's hat trick against Poland had to do with it. I don't think ESPN had intended on showing last night's match until just the other day (my cable guide had "NFL Live" and the Hot Dog Eating Contest supposed to air). That's a good sign for people who like watching soccer, like me. Adu's star power and on-field success for the team can only lead to more coverage, and more interest.


Kanu said...

Well said LD. This team is really enjoyable to watch, and seems like the 1st time that a US team is really playing with the confidence against the "big boys" like they belong as equals- as well as the US did at WC2002 they were still an underdog on a good cnderella run and even they knew it. Adu & Altidore are a great complimentary partnership up front, and Zizzo reall reminds me of Cesc Fabregas, both physically and the way he plays, even though he plays on the right. What a great core of young players to build around.

When Brasil equalized at 1-1 I thought "now we'll see what they are made of". By not succumbing to the pressure and folding they showed that they are the real deal and that the Poland match wasn't a lucky one-off; that Brasil team is really good and lots of those kids were on the team that made it to the finals of the U17 World Cup in 2005.

Call me crazy but I really think that this US team has a chance to win the whole thing. Either way it will make for an exciting run up to WC2010 with some of these guys getting into the mix.

I think MLS is probably even more of a proud peacock right now than USSoccer; Between Adu & Altidore, they can finally say to all the critics/naysayers "see? we can develop young talent."

And I agree with you 5000% on the ESPN coverage. I just hope that they do the same with the knockout stage game and throw it on ESPN as well.

Oh, and a special thank you to Comcast of San Francisco for not carrying ESPNU- wankers.

LD said...

Yeah, I meant to write about one other thing you've hinted at. I think the US definitely went almost too defensive after the opener, and it wasn't until the equalizer that the US got back into an attacking mode. Had they played with the pressure of the first 20 min, I thought they could've made it 2-0. But they didn't need to do that to advance, so defense was fine.

Don't get ESPNU either. And that blows. Makes me think about getting a dish.

Add lots of these players to Dempsey, Donovan, and others, and WC2010 could be very fun for USA fans. Now, if we can just get FIFA to realize that Mexico isn't CONCACAF's #1 team for draw purposes.

Michael said...

A few thoughts:

1. You sell Brazil short a little when you say that the game could have ended up 2-0. Brazil's goal was somewhat lucky, but on the other hand, then missed some real sitters, specifically a free header in the six-yard box and shot from about ten meters out when they were down 2-1. 2-2 would have been a fair result.

2. I also loved the international feed of the match, although a scoreboard would have been nice. Seeing a game on ESPN that isn't ruined by Dave O'Brien is a treat. Watching international footie has made me realize more and more how craptastic American sports coverage is. It's like Bill Simmons's realization during the World Cup that the atmosphere at American pro sports events has been ruined.

2a. I'm quite hopeful that ESPN realized that they were getting good ratings for the U20 games and that was why they put the game on the mothership in place of competitive eating.

3. I really liked what I saw from Freddie Adu. I never thought I would say those words. The U20s generally do a much better job of carving out chances than the senior team does.

4. If the US wins the tournament, do we become Ghana, a country that can win on the youth levels, but not on the senior levels because we don't have the same development apparatus that the big countries do?

Grandy said...

Meant to watch, forgot, have absorbed every possible highlight I could view of the game multiple times over. Did some chanting before bed last night. . .

Very excited. Don't want to get too excited, but seeing a US soccer team play with *swagger* on an international level is unprecedented (we've shown shades of that at times with the big club - Mexico in 02 for example - but never consistently and we showed no swagger in 06) and very exciting. There's clearly work to be done, but it's nice to see us playing with some actual skill in addition to that swagger.

Mike, we can't be Ghana (or even a worse off Portugal, who did at least win a Euro cup) until we get a full generation of these kids to the international level and then do nothing. While we've got solid products of the youth system playing right now, I think the current U-20 team represents a pretty clear step up talent wise - both in terms of quality and quantity - than we're used to getting from the youth system at any one time.

Any word on a bat-time and bat-channel for Wednesday?

LD said...

Michael, I didn't think the game would've ended 2-0, but rather the USA would've scored again before Brazil did. I think 2-2 is only a fair score if you assume Brazil converts their good chances. Assuming the USA converts their good chances as well and that the USA didn't sit back after going up a goal (knowing a draw is good enough to advance), I think 3-1 would've been a fair result. In my view, the USA was the better team on the field, and I didn't think I'd ever write that about a game against Brazil.

And as for the Ghana analogy... well, they did advance at WC2006. I think that we'd have to wait until this generation passes through the senior international level before making a statement like that. No success at all is akin to some of the African nations. Some success later on (advance, not win) could make the USA like Portugal (or even Argentina).