Category: Soccer

Best Goals from Non-Top Tier Leagues

Over the weekend, Elisha Sam of Notts County scored one of the more unbelievable goals you will ever see as they took on Oxford City in the FA Trophy Quarter Final. Notts is currently in the fifth tier of English football, and the goal is a favorite for the 2021 FIFA Puskas Award.

The Puskas Award has been awarded every year since 2009 and it goes to the “most beautiful” goal of the year. Ten goals are nominated each year, so I scrubbed them all and put together a list of all the nominees from non-top tier competitions. Many are World Cup goals, but are of the U-age variety, so those don’t count as senior goals, therefore not top tier. Here are the eight I found:

Lionus Hallenius with a ridiculous volley for Hammarby IF against Syrianska FC in the second-tier of Sweden’s football in 2010, the Supperettan.

Julio Gomez bicycle kick for Mexico vs. Germany in the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup

Olivia Jimenez from distance for Mexico against Switzerland in the 2012 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup

2015’s Puskas award winner is this spinning bicycle kick off an impressive volley for Wendell Lira and Goianesia against Atletico Goianiense in 2015.

David Ball finds the corner from distance for Fleetwood Town against Preston North End in the 2014-15 League One season.

Daniuska Rodriguez of Venezuela breaks multiple Colombian ankles before tucking one in the corner for this goal in the 2016 South American U-17 Women’s Championship.

Denya Catellanos wastes absolutely no time at all putting a ball in the net for Venezuela against Cameroon in the 2016 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan.

Jordi Mboula makes multiple Borussia Dortmund defenders look foolish as he scores for Barcelona in the 2016-17 UEFA Youth League.

The All “You’ve Never Heard of ‘Em” of Soccer’s USMNT

After their dismal qualifying performance for the 2018 World Cup, resulting in them missing the tournament for the first time in decades, confidence in the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team was at an all-time low. The team’s on-field play was disjointed, they were dismally coached by Jurgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena, and little hope sprung on the horizon. A few years later on, oh how much has changed. A string of positive performances under current coach Greg Berhalter, along with a flood of talented players making names for themselves in Europe and across the world has optimism once again coursing through U.S. soccer fans’ veins.

Recent friendlies have seen many players snag their first caps, and has thrown fuel on the fire of one soccer’s most fun guessing games: who are going to be the 23?

Well, some answers to this question are obvious. Everyone knows who Christian Pulisic is, the talismanic attacking midfielder currently kicking ass and taking names for Chelsea. Other young stars on the rise like Konrad De La Fuente, Sergino Dest, Josh Sargent, Weston McKinnie, and others are rapidly becoming household names.

But what if Berhalter wanted to really plumb the depths of the talent mine to round out the back end of the roster? He would probably schedule a friendly to audition a bunch of heretofore unknown players for those spots, wouldn’t he? Well, if WE were Berhalter, it’s what WE would do.

Here’s how that lineup might look.

Goalkeeper: Divine Imasuen

The United States has rarely been hurting for goalkeeping talent, which makes it weird that they kept running out Brad Guzan for so many games after the over overrated Tim Howard era. That being neither here nor there, the U.S. maintains a healthy stable of good goalkeepers, including but not limited to guys like Zach Steffen and Ethan Horvath. But if they ever wanted a, uh, intervention at the position, they might go with Divine Imasuen. The 19-year-old is currently contracted to Tennis Borussia in the German Regionalliga, which is somewhere between the 4th and 16th tier of German soccer. I’d say he was plying his trade, but it doesn’t look like he’s gotten on the field yet. Competition must be stiff up there in Tennis, wherever the hell that is.

Defender: Jonathan Campbell

Jonathan Campbell. He even sounds like a defender, right? John Brooks. Timothy Chandler. Jonathan Campbell. Would you even ask the question? Campbell is a veteran of sorts at age 29. Deep MLS fans may even remember the time he spent with the Chicago Fire from 2016 to 2018, and his cup of coffee in 2019 with the Seattle Sounders. Campbell supposedly announced his retirement in May of last year, but joke’s on you morons. The interwebs tell me he’s currently lacing them up for Svay Rieng in the Cambodian C-League. If my wild dreams of a Jonathan Campbell Disney movie-type late rise to stardom have any chance of becoming reality, I really hope there’s not a Cambodian A or B-League…

Defender: Rayan Holland

No, that’s not a typo, presumptuous grammar snob. You think I don’t know how to spell Ryan? That isn’t even this guy’s name. Anyway, Holland. He was born in England, but for some reason that I assume involves at least one of his parents, he has U.S. National Team eligibility. And a good thing he does, because if his recent performance for Kettering Town of the English National League (a mere four tiers below the Premiership) are any indicator, a call-up could happen at any moment. I may or may not have made some assumptions about those performances, because it’s impossible to find any information on his play, but come on. Rayan Holland! What a name!

Defender: Tom Tom Johnson

If you’re wondering why Johnson’s first name is Tom Tom instead of just Tom, or Thomas, or Tommy, so am I. Imagine being a 25-year-old from New Jersey, and having to introduce yourself with a name that sounds like something your grandma puts in your birthday card accompanying the wool sweater she knit you. Well, grandma can be proud of lil’ Tom Tom because he’s representing Rincon in the Spanish Autonomicas Division. I don’t know anything about Rincon, or Autonomicas for that matter, except that it’s below the Tercera Division, which my high school Spanish gives me reasonable confidence in asserting it’s well below the Primera Division as well.

Defender: Leo Krupnik

This is funny because Krupnik is old enough to have been born in the Soviet freaking Union!!! At 41, he’s still younger than me but whatever. While I can’t find any statistics on him after 2015, he’s still apparently somehow with Maccabi Umm Al Fahm in the Israeli Liga Bet. If the name sounds familiar to you, it’s because Krupnik actually had a fairly long, if a bit undistinguished, career in pro soccer, including a brief stint with the New York Red Bulls in 2009. And if you think 41 is too old to have a shot at making your international debut, well then you’ve clearly never seen Dennis Quaid in The Rookie. Jimmy Morris may have been about 36 when he cracked the big leagues with the Devil Rays, but Quaid was at least 60 when he played the part.

Midfielder: Mukwelle Akale

I had a whole litany of funny things to write about Akale, who is from Minneapolis and currently patrols the wing for Pafos in the Cypriot first division. That means it’s in Cyprus, you uncultured cretin. Turns out, I’m the dingus and the joke is on me. If Akale ever did get that call up to the senior team, it would only be his first time representing the senior team. That’s right. Akale has represented the U.S. at the U-17, U-18, and U-20 levels. *throws jokes into trash can*

Midfielder: Nehemia Perry

Perry is a 27-year-old of Jamaican descent but American eligibility who patrols the midfield for St. Andrews. No, not that St. Andrews. Not the other St. Andrews either. This St. Andrews is in the Maltese Challenge League. This is noteworthy because I was today years old when I found out that the Malta has multiple tiers of professional soccer. The Challenge League is not in the top one. To be fair to Perry, the limited statistical availability for Maltese lower league soccer still confirms he’s logged a few minutes for the team, even smashing home a goal. And can you say that you have scored a goal in professional soccer? Yeah, I didn’t think so, so shut up.

Midfielder: Athanasios Scheidt

In case you wondered, Scheidt’s name is pronounced shite. I know this, because I understand the basics of enunciation, and in the off chance I’m wrong, it means that God hates us and we’re all doomed anyway. Scheidt was born in Germany but apparently has at least one American parent, which passes the sniff test because we’re known as a country in which parents name their kids some pretty weird ass shite. See what I did there? Your new favorite player with the name Athanasios earns that distinction over all the other Athanasiosi by playing for Radomiak Radom in Polish I Liga. Or maybe it’s the 1 Liga? Who the hell knows, but it’s not the Ekstraklasa, which is evidently the top tier in Polish soccer.

Midfielder: Ben Sippola

Remember this guy? No you don’t, you damn liar. I mean, sure, there’s an off-chance you were a die-hard Columbus Crew supporter circa 2011, and knew his name from the occasional appearance on the substitutes bench. But let’s just be honest with one another. You weren’t a Crew fan in 2011, you’ll never be a Crew fan, and I had a third thing I wanted to say here but my train of thought got derailed. The 33-year-old Sippola currently is on the roster of Torslanda in the fourth tier of Swedish soccer. I can’t find any stats for him after 2013 so he might just be a coach. But it’s more fun to think of him out there whipping crosses and snapping fibulas in sub zero temperatures.

Forward: Arda Bulut

Bulut currently smashes goals into the back of the net for Karacabey Belediyespor in the Turkish second division. Yes, I absolutely copy and pasted that team name, because the chances of me typing that out without a typo that changed it’s meaning to goat humper or something embarrassing was close to zero. Also, Bulut has really only smashed in one goal. In 70 career minutes. Wipe that smirk off your face. It’s one more goal than you’ve scored.

Forward: Dion Acoff

Listen, man. You can’t go out there and bag goals for an Icelandic powerhouse like Throttur Reykjavik without being a badass on the pitch. Or maybe you can. Maybe you just have to be kinda good at soccer. And Acoff might be, because the 29-year-old from Fontana, California sees semi-regular playing time with Iceland’s biggest soccer club and has netted 16 career goals for them.

Substitutes Bench

Goalkeeper: Brian Schwake

The 19-year-old Schwake still has his whole career in front of him. If he doesn’t suck, it could be a long one. He does, however, play for Linlithgow Rose in Scotland. Heard of them? If not, that’s because they play in the Scotland Feeder Leagues. I don’t know what a Feeder League is, but it’s likely several levels below the Premiership, which is home to storied clubs like Rangers, Celtic, Dundee United, Hibernian and others.

Defender: Stephen Payne

Shaun accused me of writing too many homer articles. And while he’s right about that, I’m passive aggressively clapping back by including as many Southern California guys as I can. Payne was born in Riverside, which I just now noticed could just as easily be in Nigeria as it could in California, but whatever. He’s logging full-time minutes for Vilaverdense in the Portuguese Campeonato de Portugal Prio. That’s a few levels below iconic clubs such as Benfica, but hey, how many minutes are you logging in pro soccer? In Portugal? Where smoking hot women basically grow on trees? Exactly.

Midfielder: Faris Abdi

Hey look, another Southern California kid! Abdi is 21 years old, which low key sucks ass for him because he plays for Al Quadisiya in Saudi Arabia, and rumor has it if you drink alcohol there they lop off body parts. Abdi started his career in 2019 with Austin Bold in the U.S., and while I can surmise little more about them apart from being in Texas, my feeling is he shoulda stayed there. Dude could be getting druuuuuuuuuuuuunk right now.

Midfielder: Lee Nguyen

Remember this guy? This time I believe you. Why? Because Nguyen has logged more than 20,000 minutes of MLS soccer in his career. Those days are behind him as he currently plays for Ho Chi Minh City in Viet Nam. Fun fact, in the off chance that Nguyen did somehow get a call up to the National Team at age 33, it wouldn’t be the first time he did. From 2007 to 2016 he was capped by the U.S. nine times. In his prime, he was a heck of a player.

Forward: Maki Tall

Standing at 173cm, Tall is anything but. I’m clearly running out of jokes and I also don’t have any idea how many feet and inches that translates to. I only know my German parents used to say, roughly translated, “that guy is nearly two meters tall,” to anyone over six feet. 173cm is not two meters. At least it freaking better not be, otherwise I’ll throw my laptop in my non-existent swimming pool and go to bed. Tall is 25, was born in Washington D.C., and plays for Francs Borains in Belgium. They’re an amateur team, which I assume means they’re in a tier well below teams that are…well, in a professional league.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. I would remiss if I didn’t credit Soccerway.com here. Without that amazing website and its innumerable soccer rabbit holes to jump down, it would have taken me years to write this article, and I’ve have damn quit after 45 minutes.

USL Title Game: Louisville City vs. Phoenix Rising

Courtesy: Aaron Whelan

The sun may be setting on the 2018 USL season and an international superstar’s career, but there is one more match to be played on the United States second tier soccer calendar. Thursday night on ESPN 2, Louisville City FC will play host to Phoenix rising in the USL title game, this one held at Lynn Stadium at the University of Louisville rather than Louisville City FC’s traditional home field of Louisville Slugger Field.

History will be made as Louisville City is looking to become the USL’s first ever back-to-back champion while Phoenix Rising is looking to become the first road side to ever lift the USL Cup. The soccer world will certainly recognize one name on the pitch, as Ivory Coast international Didier Drogba makes his final appearance of his career. He comes into the match tied for the most goals in the playoffs, 3, with Michael Seaton of Orange County SC (the club Phoenix Rising beat to get to the title game) and Brian Ownby of Louisville.

Courtesy: Aaron Whelan

During the regular season, Cameron Lancaster of Louisville ran away with the scoring title, scoring 25 goals while the two closest to him had 20. Chris Cortez led Phoenix rising with 17 goals this season. In net, Carl Woszczynski of Phoenix Rising finished tied for third in the league with 12 clean sheets, while Louisville City keeper Greg Ranijtsingh finished one behind with 11.

If you an MLS fan looking to see names you may recognize, Louisville City has 21-year old Jonathan Lewis on loan from New York City FC where he scored three goals in 25 appearances in 2017. Phoenix Rising features six players on loan from an MLS club, including a trio of Los Angeles FC youngsters, although none of the three made much of an impact this season.

The match will be televised on ESPN2 at 8 PM EST and will be worth the watch for many reasons, but historically to see Drogba play the final match of his career.

World Cup Predictions

The USA is not in the World Cup that begins the day after we find out the USA will host the World Cup in 2026. It has been hard to get revved up for the next month of soccer without the USA, Italy, Netherlands and Ghana competing, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to be a fun watch. I looked through the groups and break down who I think will get out of each group and who will win the cup.

Group A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, & Uruguay

I have Uruguay winning the group behind the easiest footballer to hate, Luis Suarez, but they have plenty of talent in Edison Cavani, Diego Godin, Maximiliano Pereira and more. They are a solid team but nothing special as you will see in the knockout rounds. Russia actually has a good shot to win the group behind big Russian names that aren’t well known to casual soccer fans. Alexandr Golovin is a special young talent at CSKA Moscow, while the Miranchuk twins from Lokomotiv will really open eyes at this year’s tournament.  Egypt will finish third behind star Mohamed Salah, while Saudi Arabia will struggle to secure a point.

Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, & Iran

This one is very top heavy, but I have Portugal tabbed to win the group. Behind Christiano Ronaldo, you have the likes of Bernardo Silva, Bruno Alves, Pepe, and more. They simply have more talent and are a better team than runner ups Spain, who I don’t see having the scoring to make it deep into the tournament, but good enough to get out of the group and possibly one more match but not go on a run. I see Morocco finishing third with Iran struggling to get a point, much like the other team from the Middle East.

Group C: France, Australia, Peru, & Denmark

France might have as much talent as any team in the tournament, and should cruise through the group. There is so much talent in fact, Karim Benzama, Anthony Martial, Adrien Rabiot, and Aymeric Laporte will all be watching the tournament from home. The second team from the group may very well be determined on Friday when Peru and Denmark face off. I see Denmark knocking off Peru behind the star Christian Eriksen and a plethora of forwards they have on the squad. That leaves Australia last in the group, but I know I will tune in to see Tim Cahill in likely his last World Cup.

Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, & Nigeria

There is not a traditional “Group of Death” this year, but this may be as close as it gets. Argentina features arguably the best player in the world. Iceland is coming off a fantastic showing in the Euros two years ago that made them the darlings of the soccer world. There might not be a better midfield duo in the tournament than Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic for Croatia, and Nigeria features vets Victor Moses and Mikel John Obi. In the end I see Argentina finishing first while Croatia is a very strong second.

Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, & Serbia

Brazil has been a quiet team heading into the World Cup for the first time ever, but I still see them coasting through a solid group. Serbia has the veteran leadership to escape as the number two team, just ahead of Costa Rica followed closely by Switzerland.

Group F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, & South Korea

This is another really interesting group that will have Americans unsure of how to root. Do you pull for rival Mexico to represent the CONCACAF or do you root for them to face an early exit. Germany is easily the best team in the group and will run away with it, while I do see Mexico just holding off Sweden with South Korea coming in last.

Group G: Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, & England

If France is the most talented team in the tournament, Belgium is 1B. They may actually be able to roll out Youri Tielemans and Adnan Januzaj as subs, which is a nice luxury for head man Roberto Martinez. England has a special group of players that may make them a threat in Qatar in four years, but they definitely have enough to finish second in this group. I see Tunisia having a good showing and actually finishing third in the group, ahead of Panama.

Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, & Japan

This might end up being the least interesting group of all, but there is some sneaky talent here. Robert Lewandowski is still an elite goal scorer and will carry the club to a win in the group. Senegal is solid but will finish last in the group. The Colombia vs. Japan game on Tuesday will be more important than some expect. With a new coach at the helm, veteran stars Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda, and Shinji Okazaki are seeing more time on the pitch for Japan. That said, I think Colombia has just enough to finish second in the group over Japan.

Round of 16:

Spain over Uruguay
Portugal over Russia
France over Croatia
Argentina over Denmark
Brazil over Mexico
Germany over Serbia
Belgium over Colombia
England over Poland

The best match here will be France and Croatia, as Croatia has the team to push France to the brink, but France just has too much talent. If it is Spain against Russia rather than Portugal, I could see the hosts advancing to the quarters.

Quarter Finals

France over Spain
Portugal over Argentina
Belgium over Brazil
Germany over England

This would make for an incredible Quarter Finals to watch. France has incredible talent knocking off an undermanned Spain club. The two best players in the world face off yet again in Portugal and Argentina. Belgium’s talent is just too much for the always dangerous Brazil club. German and England face off in a rivalry that is always fantastic.

Semi Finals

Belgium over France
Germany over Portugal

The two most talented teams face off with Belgium coming out on top, while the best team overall in Germany knocks off arguably the best player in the world.

Third Place Game

France over Portugal

This is typically the least interesting match in the tournament, and there is a real chance Ronaldo doesn’t even play in it, but France will get the chance to show their depth and take third.

Final

Belgium over Germany

In a final that will have people worldwide really confused by the far too similar flags, it is talent that wins out over team play. I see Belgium lifting the cup in a final that could be epic.

USA Player Ratings VS Germany

Generally speaking, it’s difficult to assign grades to players who barely touched the ball. The statistics will show that Germany had possession of the ball 60 something percent of the time. It sure felt more like 80 something. The Germans were definitely good value for their win, and with more clinical finishing (or perhaps less heroic defending by the U.S.), they could have won by three or four more goals and sent the United States packing. As it is, the States are through to the knock out stage and here’s how the boys did against Deutschland.

GK – Tim Howard: 6.0 – Mueller’s bullet in the 55th minute was unstoppable, but had Howard simply collected the soft header low to his right rather than try to punch it out through the middle of the box, his score would be higher. Apart from that moment of madness, he was steady and commanding in the box, though nothing overly spectacular was required of him.

D – DaMarcus Beasley: 6.5 – Another solid performance from the veteran. One of the few U.S. players who got forward a little bit, and wasn’t beaten on the defensive end either.

D – Omar Gonzalez: 7.5 – Man of the match for the Americans. Several well-timed tackles to save sure goals and apart from a muffed clearance early, was brilliant. Didn’t support the offense much but when your team doesn’t have the ball, what can you do?

D – Matt Besler: 7.0 – Besler might well be the next American defender to get a contract from an English Premier League side. Few players have been steadier in the group stage. You can add toughness to his resume too, as he’s dealt with a troublesome hamstring.

D – Fabian Johnson: 5.0 – Disappointing performance from the right back. He wasn’t terrible, but completely failed to run at Benedikt Hoewedes after the German left back picked up an early yellow card. Made some timely interceptions, but also gave the Germans too much room in attack.

M – Brad Davis: 4.5 – The MLS veteran appeared out of his depth at the World Cup level. Left Beasley exposed at the back too frequently by failing to fill the gaps. Never got to attempt any free kicks, which is his specialty and the reason he was put in the side to begin with. Subbed out in the second half, probably later than he should have been.

M – Kyle Beckerman: 6.5 – Did what he always does. Provided solid support in front of the back four. Even made a few forays into the German half and didn’t look out of place, nor was he caught in possession like he was against Portugal a couple of times. Nice shift put in by the veteran midfielder.

M – Jermaine Jones: 6.0 – Didn’t show the all-around brilliance he displayed in the first two group games, but certainly wasn’t bad. His touch let him down a few times, but he defended well like he always does, and managed to avoid picking up a yellow card and preserve his eligibility for the round of 16. Fortunate not to be hurt after a gruesome looking collision with sub, Alejandro Bedoya.

M – Michael Bradley: 5.5 – Decent recovery performance by Bradley. After being historically awful against Ghana and Portugal, he can consider himself fortunate to not have been dropped. He wasn’t able to accomplish a ton offensively, but he managed to not give the ball away in bad positions, and was able to distribute well to the wings on the few occasions the U.S. managed to keep possession.

M – Graham Zusi: 4.5 – A bit of a let down from the Sporting Kansas City man. His delivery on corners was poor, and apart from going fairly close with an early effort that Manny Neuer probably would have stopped anyway had it been on target, was anonymous.

F – Clint Dempsey: 5.0 – Was completely shut down by the German defense. Fluffed a glorious chance at a headed equalizer deep into second half stoppage time to put a bow on a thoroughly forgettable offensive day for Deuce. That said, he tracked back and defended well from the front, which against Germany, is key for your forwards to do.

The Substitutes

M – Alejandro Bedoya: 5.0 – Fairly anonymous, apart from colliding with Jones, in the 20 minutes he was given. Had a sight of goal late in the second half, but took slightly too long to let it rip and let Phillip Lahm nip in for a sliding deflection.

M – DeAndre Yedlin: 4.5 – Shocking that he wasn’t introduced earlier with his youth and speed. Wasn’t lacking in energy, but the one chance he had to whip a dangerous cross in resulted in an unsophisticated larrup 25 feet over the goal and end line.

Coach: Jurgen Klinsmann: 5.5 – No magic subs this time, and a head scratcher in starting Davis. Also took too long to introduce fresh legs in Yedlin. That said, if you want to look at the group stage as a whole, he did well to advance the U.S. out of a brutal group.

The Referee: Ravshan Irmatov, Uzbekistan: 5.5 – Botched an advantage call early, and missed a couple of fouls committed by the Americans. Notably, both Bradley and Beckerman were fortunate to avoid early yellows. Reminder, 5.5 is not an awful grade. It’s not a great grade. It’s just there. And Irmatov, like the two refs that officiated the first two games, didn’t make any game-swinging bad decisions. There weren’t any near penalties, but still, he let the players decide the game.

USA Player Ratings Versus Portugal

Disaster came early and late for the United States.  In a game where they still earned a priceless point, the U.S. will be kicking themselves for not bagging all three and securing passage into the knock out round. 

Without further ado, here’s how the lads graded out.

GK – Tim Howard: 6 – He can’t be blamed for Nani’s opener, though falling flat on your back is probably not the strategy best employed when faced with an opposing forward alone with the ball in front of you. Made a couple of big saves, though to be honest, his own mistakes led to the opportunities that yielded the big saves. The last second equalizer from Portugal was unstoppable.

D – DaMarcus Beasley: 6.5 – For as shaky as he was in the opener against Ghana, he was every bit as steady in this one. Pressed forward, defended responsibly, kept possession. A nice performance from the veteran.

D – Matt Besler: 7.5 – Less regarded than his central defense partner, he was superior today. Portugal’s forwards were a non-factor for the most part, and his commanding performance was a big part of that. If you’re going to nitpick, you’d still like to see more thumping clearances when the situation calls for it, but he was essentially mistake-free today. 

D – Geoff Cameron: 3.5 – My oh my, his whiffed clearance that lead to Nani’s goal was surpassed in incompetence perhaps only by Spanish keeper Iker Casillas’ horrible first touch give-away against Spain. He was also beaten on Portugal’s equalizer at the death, though it was a perfect ball that led to it. Still, when you’re attached to both opposing goals, accountability is a must.  

D – Fabian Johnson: 6.5 – I think he read our review of the Ghana game. Got forward aggressively and caused problems for Portugal’s defense. Unfortunately, none of his efforts really bore fruit, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Defended competently too, which for a fullback should be considered the top priority anyway.

M – Alejandro Bedoya: 4.5 – Well, you rarely heard his name…which if he’s a goalie, that’s good. But he isn’t. He’s a wide midfielder whose role in the offense is…well, to help create offense. And he did little. Subbed off and deservedly so. It’s a surprise it didn’t come earlier. Should probably be dropped for the Germany game. 

M – Michael Bradley: 2.5 – It couldn’t possibly be worse than his performance against Ghana, right? Well, it was equally bad. His unforgiveable turnover in the final seconds led to the equalizing goal, costing the U.S. guaranteed advancement. And it was his THIRD turnover of stoppage time, and we lost count of all the give-aways during regular time. Before the U.S. took the lead, he squandered a practically unmissable scoring chance, a defender deflecting his shot off the line with the entire goal at his mercy. The three or four good passes he made do not even the scales. He’s not fit to wear the shirt.  

M – Kyle Beckerman: 5.5 – Worked hard, as he always does, but was careless in possession at times, taking too much time with the ball. He wasn’t nearly as terrible as Bradley, offering valuable support in front of the back four, but he failed to replicate the quality of his performance against Ghana. 

M – Jermaine Jones: 9.0 – His stunning equalizer will be a finalist for goal of the tournament, but he was miles away the best player on the field before that happened. Tough in the tackle, great in distribution, and just about everything you want from a holding midfielder. The yellow card he was assessed was his first, and came on a bad call too so his legendary temper is in check.

M – Graham Zusi: 6.0 – Zusi was ok. He ran hard, tried to support the defense, but once again, he was the provider on the key goal for the U.S. It was his lone contribution of note, but when you create goals, that’s enough in a supporting role.

F – Clint Dempsey: 8.0 – As the lone striker, he found space difficult to come by up front. That said, he never stopped working and got his deserved goal. He’s the very definition of a leader for this team. Anything said beyond this will just be me man-crushing. 

The Substitutes

M – DeAndre Yedlin: 6.5 – Superb raw talent, showcased excellent skill on the right wing after coming on. His cross started the sequence that led to Dempsey’s go-ahead goal. 

F – Chris Wondolowski: 6.0 – Wasn’t on the field long, but did the right things, holding possession and running time off the clock. If not for Bradley’s disastrous play, the media would probably point to his play in the final minutes as a key factor in protecting the lead. 

D – Omar Gonzalez: N/A – Not on the field long enough to generate a rating.

Coach – Jurgen Klinsmann: 6.0 – His players were not lacking for effort, so he deserves some credit for that. In addition, another bold substitution led to a big goal. But, leaving Bradley on the field for what now amounts to 190 (counting stoppage time) plus minutes of some of the most ruinously bad play in U.S. international soccer history is unexplainable. 

Referee – Nestor Pitana, Argentina: 6.5 – Again, the United States was fortunate to be involved in a game with a solid referee. All the big decisions were correct, though Nani should have been given a yellow for his embarrassing dive in the U.S. box, and the yellow awarded to Jones was not deserved. Still, nobody is perfect, and he did his main job of calling a fair game very well. 

USA Player Ratings Versus Ghana

The United States Men’s National Team picked up a priceless three points against old nemesis Ghana, who were the architects of their demise in the previous two World Cups. Their 2-1 victory Monday, while vital, was not the product of superior play however. Ghana dominated much of the game after Clint Dempsey’s superb opener a mere 32 seconds into the game. The U.S. seemed to struggle with the heat and humidity, and picked up several injuries during the course of the game. Some players rose to the challenge, others wilted. 

Anyway, below are The Stain’s ratings of the American players today on a scale of 1 to 10. Full disclosure, I’m modeling our 1-10 scale on several I read weekly during the English Premier League season because, simply put, I like the way they do it. A perfect 10 is exceedingly difficult to achieve. I’m sure there have been a few, but I have only ever seen one awarded in an article that I read, and it belonged to Hull City goal keeper Boaz Myhill for his otherworldly performance against Tottenham Hotspur a few years ago. In that game, Myhill made no fewer than a dozen saves, many of them of the spectacular variety, and a few that were impossible to believe. Nary a fumble, nor a stumble, and I’m apparently now a poet. For perspective, even the virtuoso performances of Dutch studs Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie against Spain on Friday earned an 8.5 and 9.0 respectively in my eyes. 

So basically, anything 7 or above is meritorious. A 6 is solid, depending on what may have been expected of that player. 5 is mediocre. 4 is bad. And we don’t need to get into what any lower numbers represent, though spoiler alert, there are a couple. 

Without further ado:

GK – Tim Howard: 7.0 – I understand that I’m in the minority, but I don’t feel that Howard is the best keeper on the U.S. roster. I’d start Brad Guzan. That said, Howard was strong. He commanded his area well, intervened on a bunch of crosses, made a slick save low and to his left to deny Asamoah Gyan in the first half, and marshalled his defenders well. His distribution left a little to be desired, as he has a propensity to hoof goal kicks out of bounds, or nowhere near a teammate. And while Andre Ayew’s equalizer in the 82nd minute was a nice finish to round off a nice play, Howard was beaten on the short side, and may have stopped it had he elected to simply make himself big and force a perfect strike rather than cheat to the far post. All in all, a job well done by the Everton netminder. Continued play at this level bodes well for U.S. chances.

D – Damarcus Beasley: 4.5 – For the first 25 minutes or so, Beasley was horrific, at one point just falling over as Christian Atsu dribbled past him. It was brutal. But slowly, the veteran rounded into form a little bit. And while he never quite looked comfortable, he did push forward on the left side to try and create offense, and never failed to give the maximum in effort tracking back. Lastly, he was also one of the few Americans who tried to do the right thing in second half stoppage time and keep the ball, rather than orchestrate a scoring opportunity that would just gift the ball back to the Africans, who to their credit, never quit putting the pressure on.

D – Geoff Cameron: 6.5 – The Stoke City fullback was excellent in a no-nonsense performance. He didn’t distribute the ball very well, nor did he pose much of a threat on offense during set pieces, but he tackled well and did a terrific job with young John Brooks, who was called into second half duty after starting partner Matt Besler had to depart with hamstring issues. More on both later. But perhaps most impressive about Cameron, he toughed through all 100 minutes (there were 5 minutes of stoppage time in each half) despite have difficulties with what appeared to be a calf injury of some sort. You’d like to see more authoritative clearances but all in all, he was a battler today, and his effort was appreciated by fans and teammates alike.

D – Matt Besler: 6.0 – Belser left the game at half time due to a tight hamstring. One of the more inexperienced starters on the team, Besler did not seem overwhelmed with his first World Cup start. He marked well, positioned himself correctly, and hasn’t a single thing to be ashamed of. Like Cameron, you’d like to see better clearances and more accurate passing out of the back, but those things will likely come as the experience accumulates.

D – Fabian Johnson: 5.0 – For the most part, Johnson was ok. He displayed a willingness to tackle and wasn’t intimidated. But one of the big reasons he is starting at right back is his ability to maraud forward and cause nightmares for the opposition’s left side defense. Johnson was barely involved offensively, and in his one foray into Ghana’s penalty area, he seemed directionless after initially beating his defender with a sparkling piece of skill. Plus, he was the one in charge of marking Ayew on his equaliser and didn’t diagnose the Ghanain’s run in time to intervene. Hey Fabian! Use your speed and skill and RUN AT THE DEFENSE! The U.S. is good on set pieces and Johnson is always the most likely to earn one.

M – Alejandro Bedoya: 5.5 – Bedoya wasn’t bad, and ran his absolute heart out, but his first touch was simply terrible. You have to give him props for battling through what appeared to be some hip difficulty before being substituted late on. He first appeared to be bugged by it early in the second half, by which time the U.S. had already burned two substitutions, so it was important for him to go as far as he could manage. You’d have liked to see him be tidier, but he didn’t once lack for effort. 

M – Michael Bradley: 2.5 – Even that is being generous, but at least he didn’t score an own goal. Bradley is the team’s best field player, and turned in what might the worst performance of anyone ever in a U.S. jersey during a World Cup game. Repeated turn overs, shocking decision making, and lack of awareness, you could have plugged in third choice keeper Nick Rimando at Bradley’s spot and gotten better. Perhaps worst of all, with a tired U.S. squad clinging to a lead in stoppage time, Bradley spurned an opportunity to burn priceless time off the clock, instead trying to force the creation of a needless scoring chance, and basically just gifted the ball back to Ghana. You could argue that he should simply be sent home, and he definitely should be dropped from the line up against Portugal on Sunday. Neither will happen, but any more performances like this, his international career is in jeopardy. 

M – Kyle Beckerman: 8.0 – For my money, Beckerman was the man of the match. He’s another guy whose inclusion in the World Cup squad surprised me, as he’s limited offensively, and hasn’t done much to impress in previous opportunities to feature for the U.S. But today, he was superb. Playing in front of the back four, he tackled relentlessly, made smart decisions, and possibly in an effort to make up for Bradley’s pathetic display, tried to help in the attack a bit in the second half, and didn’t look out of place at all doing it. The 32-year-old can hold his head high, and any more efforts like this one will raise the question why he wasn’t featured more prominently in previous international tournaments. 

M – Jermaine Jones: 7.5 – What exactly is it with guys I wasn’t keen on? Jones is another guy who I’ve never been a big fan of. He’s not particularly skillful, and a notorious hothead who lets his emotions get the better of him. At least, he was until today. Maximum effort for 100 minutes, top drawer defending, and he kept his head about him after an early clash. Like Beckerman, he doesn’t bring a ton offensively, but he too got involved, and set up Clint Dempsey’s opening goal with a smart pass. Moreover, he was one of the few American’s late on with the wherewithall to try and keep possession. Possibly his finest performance in a U.S. shirt. 

F – Jozy Altidore: 3.5 – Altidore wasn’t on the field long enough to have an impact, as a hamstring pull forced an early departure. He’s not a guy the U.S. could really afford to lose, as even in his poorer games, he still demands attention. In this one, his lone activity of note was electing to try and smash a shot through two Ghana defenders rather than lay off an easy pass to a wide open teammate at the top of the 18 yard box. 

F – Clint Dempsey: 6.5 – His opener in the first minute was a beauty. Beat a defender on the dribble, and a perfect finish. Unfortunately, Dempsey also became part of the U.S. walking wounded, taking a kick to the face that bloodied and possibly broke his nose. The kick appeared to be inadvertent, if careless, and the failure to call a foul was one of the referee’s few poor decisions. But it did leave Dempsey with an injury that impacted his breathing and therefore his effectiveness for the rest of the game. Nevertheless, “Deuce” trucked on and finished the game. It was a gutsy effort to be sure. 

The Substitutes

F – Aron Johannsson: 3.5 – He came on for Altidore in the first half, and to be truthful, disappointed. The skills that led to a productive year for Dutch big-timers AZ Alkmaar were nowhere to be seen. After a start that saw him give away possession multiple times, there was a glimmer of hope as a he played a smart and accurate outlet to Bedoya to start a U.S. counter attack. That, sadly, was the lone bright spot. The rest of the game was a combination of anonymity and failure to challenge for, much less keep possession. This stage appears to big for him at this point of his career.

D – John Brooks: 7.0 – Well, there’s the small detail that his smashing header off of a late corner was the game-winning goal. Apart from that, he also managed to do just enough defensively to thwart Ghana’s attacks. In what appears to be a theme among U.S. defenders, Brooks’ clearances were often barely sufficient rather than the thunderous boot the situations called for, but considering the circumstances of his introduction into the game, he performed admirably. 

M – Graham Zusi: 5.5 – Zusi offers some creativity and flair on offense, and about as much as I do on defense…after my fourth beer. However, his corner kick on Brooks’ winner was pin point. 10 minutes is not enough time to evaluate how much someone can contribute, but on Zusi’s brief participation in this one, Coach Jurgen Klinsmann should consider starting him ahead of Bradley against Portugal. 

Coach – Jurgen Klinsmann: 6.0 – Well, his team won. The Brooks substitution for Besler ended up being a winner. You can’t come down too hard on a guy whose team won. That said, there is no reason that five or six players should end up with muscle strains in a game. Yeah, these are grown men and shouldn’t have to be reminded to stretch, for heaven’s sake. But Jurgie needs to keep a more watchful eye on pre-game preparations. 

The Referee

Jonas Eriksson – Sweden: 7.5 – I’ll admit, I’m always quick to criticize officials. I think largely, it’s befuddling how bad most of them are. But Eriksson and his crew were excellent in this one. Yeah, the face kick on Dempsey went uncalled, which was kind of an obvious one to miss. But, no dodgy penalties awarded, all the offside decisions were correct, and he kept his cards in his pocket unless one was actually warranted. Truly a job well done for the Swede and his crew. 

2014 World Cup Preview: Group H

Group at a Glance: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, and South Korea.  This is another one of the weaker groups in the World Cup, but still has some star power and plenty of intrigue.  Algeria doesn’t have what it takes to compete in this group and will likely settle in as the fourth team in the group.  Belgium was one of the eight seeded groups coming into the World Cup draw, but currently sit outside the top ten in FIFA rankings.  South Korea and Russia have plenty of talent to challenge for the top spot in the group.

Favorites to Advance: The favorite to advance is Belgium, but it is no sure thing.  I actually have them finishing second in the group.  Russia is a common favorite to secure the second spot out of the group stages, but it will go to South Korea.  The Korean’s have some really talented footballers that could catch other squads off guard.  I like South Korea to secure the top spot in the group with Belgium close behind, and look for an epic showdown between the two teams star players when they face off, those two players are my players to watch.

Player(s) to Watch: The best player in the group is Eden Hazard of Belgium. He has scored or assisted on 12 goals in 19 matches in the Premiership this season, but has just 5 goals in 42 matches while playing for his country.  Belgium might be able to get out of the group without Hazard playing great, but he needs to step up big time in the knockout rounds for them to make any kind of run, especially with the talent coming out of Group G.  Son Hueng-Min will star for South Korea.  The 21 year old has played great for both club and country over the past 12 months and could be a true wild card in the group stage.

You can follow Shaun Kernahan on twitter @shaunkernahan, add him to your network on Google, and like Shaun on Facebook.

2014 World Cup Preview: Group G

Group at a Glance: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, United States. We definitely have a contender for the Group of Death here. Three very tough teams, plus the United States who have shown that when on their game, they can in fact hang with the world’s best. There should be some barnburners in this group, but it’s also another example of how the current system is horribly flawed. When one group has four teams that are better than the seeded teams in some other groups, that’s a problem. However, if you’re grading on entertainment value, this is probably the group to watch. If there’s a common perceived weakness with these teams, it’s strength in defense, so you’re going to see lots of goals.

Favorites to Advance: Germany and Portugal. The obvious isn’t always the way it goes in World Cup soccer, but in this case, it is. Both squads are fielding world-class midfields and loads of big stage experience. And of the four rickety defenses, the US and Ghana are the most vulnerable.

Players to Watch: Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Nani. Who is looking forward to defending these guys? Yeah, I wouldn’t be either. Masterful, the first three, and occasionally so for Nani, the German and Portuguese midfields will be something to behold.

Homer Corner: The United States has its plusses. They have some experience in midfield, some talented players in the world’s top leagues, and a coach in Jurgen Klinsman who has the players’ belief and dedication. That said, there are too many question marks. The unproven Omar Gonzales and Clarence Goodson take over central defense from the dependable duo of Carlos Bocanegra and Jay Demerit. Inexplicably, DaMarcus Beasley, who long ago sailed past the last port of international soccer relevance, is deemed to be the best option at left back. God only knows who replaces the criminally underrated Steve Cherundolo at right back. Geoff Cameron? Michael Parkhurst? Timothy Chandler? Eric Lichaj? It doesn’t appear to be a winning combo. Veteran Clint Dempsey provides some scoring punch up front, and if they move Landon Donovan to the wing, where he’s better suited, and pair Dempsey with Jozy Altidore at forward, they may score enough to edge a result over Ghana. But sadly, the group stage is where it will end for the stars and stripes in 2014.

2014 World Cup Preview: Group F

Group at a Glance: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, and Nigeria.  There are several groups in the running for group of death, this is not one of them.  Argentina currently sits at third in the world according to FIFA standings, with Bosnia-Herzegovina coming in at 19, Iran at 33, and Nigeria at 37. This group probably has the least amount of total talent of all the groups.

Favorites to Advance: If Argentina does not go through the group stage with nine points, they have failed.  They should win the group easy and the battle is for second.  Bosnia-Herzegovina is the initial favorite to be the second team out of the group, but their biggest competition might be Nigeria.  Iran may be ranked higher than Nigeria in the current FIFA standings, but Nigeria is the better team.

Player(s) to Watch: It is very easy, and correct, to say the player to watch is Lionel Messi for Argentina.  He is the best player in the world and it really isn’t all that close.  When not watching in awe of Messi, the other guy to keep an eye on is Edin Dzeko from Bosnia-Hezegovina.  Dzeko has teamed with Sergio Aguero at Manchester City to create arguably the best striking duo in the Premiership, and that comes from a United supporter.

You can follow Shaun Kernahan on twitter @shaunkernahan, add him to your network on Google, and like Shaun on Facebook.