Thursday, 26 June 2014


We can deal with Germany. We've done it before.

Sitting here in my studio apartment, using Sao Paulo as a kind of weigh station; I don't have tickets for USA-Germany, but I do have tickets for the next round, IF the US makes it. So here I wait. It is now almost 5am. Sleep doesn't come. 

Neither does any particular blog post idea. So how about some links to get us all in the mood.

- Let's start at the beginning. What does the US need today to advance?

They definitely get through with a win, and would also win the group in that case.

They would finish second in the group- which is all they need- if they draw with Germany.

If they lose, and Ghana-Portugal is a draw, US still finishes second.

If they lose and Portugal wins, there are very few scenarios in which Portugal could pass the US, but they all involve Portugal and/or Germany winning by a LOT of goals, to wipe out the edge the US has over Portugal in goal difference, which is the first tie-breaker.

If they lose and Ghana wins... things get hairy. 

Here's a handy and reliable-looking chart a dude on Twitter made:

That's right: coin toss is an actual option.

- That Nate Silver's a smart guy, right? Well, his website gives the US a 76% chance of advancing, despite a 64% chance of losing the match itself. 

While this news is comforting in its way, a scenario in which Ghana wins while Germany wins- I mean, LOOK AT ALL THE RED ON THAT CHART- renders that percentage meaningless to me. Job has to get done.

- I can't pretend to have anything intelligent to say about tactics, but The Shin Guardian can, and his tactical preview is recommended

- US Soccer has been throwing these great #FanHQ parties the night before and the afternoon of each match. My girlfriend and I went to the one in Natal and the Manaus. They were both fun. But nothing anywhere near as cool as what happened last night in Recife.

- Did you hear the Ghana controversy? They haven't been paid yet. They're pissed. Allegedly the president of Ghana- not of their football association, the president of the ACTUAL NATION OF GHANA- has assured the players that their three million dollars in cash is already on a plane to Brazil. It has come to this. Will this affect the mood of the team on game day? I deeply, deeply doubt it. But it's a pretty interesting story. 

- The US has played Germany in two previous World Cups.

At France 98, the first opponent for the US was the Germans, who won 2-0. As you may have heard, the second goal for Germany was scored by that dashing striker Jurgen Klinsmann (he assisted on the first goal, too).

At Japan/South Korea 2002, the best performance the US has had in the modern era, the teams met in the quarterfinals. Germany was not such a strong team that year, and they were there for the taking. But the US ran out of gas, and was denied a penalty on an obvious handball in the box, and Germany won 1-0 (long version or short version).

- I'm worried the players will be gassed after the Manaus experience, not to mention the fact that Germany has an extra day if rest on them. But the other four teams who played in Manaus didn't fare well in the first game afterward. Cameroon lost to Brazil 4-1; Croatia lost to Mexico 3-1; England lost to Uruguay 2-1; and Italy was shocked by Costa Rica 1-0.

It's a small sample size. But it's four losses and zero wins. Three goals scored, 10 goals conceded. And none of these teams scored more than once.

- Finally, if you're reading this before going to work: DON'T GO TO WORK!

Gonna try to sleep, now. Fingers crossed for our boys.


- Brendan Hunt

Tuesday, 17 June 2014


Natal, as you may have heard, is Portuguese for Christmas. Last night, when the US played Ghana, it sure as hell felt like a holiday.

A great, great night. 

We started the day at a US Soccer Fan Party, where we sat on 
weird furniture, drank heavily, and watched Germany beat the tar out of Portugal. 

(A quick word about Portugal, and Pepe:

My first soccer tournament that I was fully into, as opposed to watching bits of with semi-detached interest, was Euro 2000. That Portugal team, led by Luis Figo, was fantastic. But then, at the end of the second period of extra time in the semi-final against France, defender Abel Xavier conceded a penalty for a breathtakingly obvious handball. Zidane calmly converted, and Portugal were out. 

Despite the incredible transparency of the foul, the Portuguese players were outraged, surrounding the referee with great portent of violence, and leading to two red cards. It was a shameful scene, one that they would repeat almost identically in 2002 when South Korea crashed them out of that tournament.

In the years since, suffice to say that it has become very clear that these were not isolated incidents. Portugal is team exceedingly susceptible to self-destruction. Pepe, meanwhile, is a player whose game is largely based on drawing reactions out of opponents. Yesterday he tried to get one out of Muller, and was duly punished. As far as Pepe, Last of the Old-School Dirtbags, is concerned, a red card in the first half of the first match of the World Cup is nothing less than a fitting tribute. Good riddance.)

At the party, we made friends with a couple from Houston, who lured us by giving out USA temporary tattoos. Though this is also a move employed by child molesters, we trusted them, and made fast friends of these fans of Houston Dynamo.

(There was a guy in an FC Dallas shirt nearby that our Houstonian friend could only barely stop himself from mocking. Internecine squabbles across Texan/MLS lines are truly adorable.)

We took a picture with the US Ambassador to Brazil, who will apparently be at all the US Supporter parties. Of course, I left my card reader at home, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

To the game itself. We were in the upper right corner of your screen, just goal side of the corner tunnel, maybe 15 rows up. Solid view. 

US fans were loud and constant. As soon as one chant died, another started up. Perhaps we were fueled by the shockingly early Dempsey goal, but I doubt it. 

Dempsey goal, of course, led to considerable hugging with strangers. Weirdly, the four seats to our right were empty, so we had plenty of room to pace and go crazy like old people. 

What a goal. Top-drawer stuff.

Altidore injury was and is a massive, massive bummer. We don't get the same video feed as those at home of course, but we did see Jurgen solemnly mutter a curse to himself under his breath. I guess I was touched that it was "Shit." instead of "Scheisse."

Later, the Dempsey injury worried us too, worried us all terribly. When he got up under his own power, the cheer was palpable and real. 

Had very little sense of who was playing well or badly. Geoff Cameron stood out for me as a guy who was stepping up, in a consistently last-ditch way. Definitely felt like Bradley was out-of-synch. 

Besler sub at halftime was a surprise. I hadn't noticed him being hurt, though people around us apparently had. 
Immediately feared Brooks was an exploitable weak link. 

When I went to the USA-Italy game in Kaiserslautern in 2006, I was consistently impressed and surprised by the volume of the US fans. There was never a point where we weren't louder than the Italians. Last night, even sitting next to a tunnel, it felt like we were even louder, that the crowd knew even more what was expected of them. The energy throughout the second half was fantastic.

When Ghana scored, however- THAT was a NOISE. All the neutrals in the stadium exulted, and it was an immediate and impressive roar.

It didn't last, of course.

John Brooks. John fucking Brooks.

There is a fine ESPN Documentary series on the US team that debuted this year. A behind-the-scenes, meet-the-players kind of thing. In Brooks' segment, he shows us the tattoos he has on each elbow. One elbow, he tells us, is a tattoo of Germany with a star on Berlin, the city where he grew up. The other elbow is a tattoo of Illinois, with a star on Chicago, the city of his birth.

He pronounces the first syllable of Chicago with a hard "ch," as in "cheek." Far worse, even to a Chicagoan like myself, is that he pronounces the silent "s" at the end of Illinois.

And this is the guy who scores the goal that saves the US, the first goal scored by a sub in the entire 84-year World Cup history of the United State.

It felt unreal. Like it wasn't happening, even though it was from a corner and right in front of us. We really truly could not believe it, especially coming so soon after the Ghana goal. 

At final whistle I lifted girlfriend by the crotch with my neck and sat her on my shoulders. She apparently failed to take a picture while she was up there, so I dumped her. JK, we're fine. 

Everyone was joyous, but stunned. John Fucking Brooks.

This was my fourth #USMNT match, and my first win. It was my girlfriend's first-ever soccer game, period. I don't know how to tell her that they're not all like this. 

As opposed to Germany 2006, once the match was over you were NOT allowed to walk back into the stadium and buy more beer, which was the joyous discovery after the Italy game. Disappointing. 

Quickly, and unexpectedly, found a van heading back to our neighborhood that had two seats left. Sat next to an old Mexican-American guy, wearing a Mexico jersey and USA tracksuit top, who was drunk and happy as hell. Told me about his time in the Marines, how he saw his time in the Marines as the US providing him the opportunity to make something of himself. It was very sentimental, but he also still made jarhead jokes. He was a happy, happy man.

Soccer, man. Fucking soccer. Merry Christmas. God bless us, every one.

- Brendan Hunt

Sunday, 15 June 2014



I write you from the lobby of the surprisingly shitty hotel I so proudly reserved for my girlfriend and I here in Natal, just a few meters from the beach, maybe. It's dark. Can't tell for sure.

The lobby is showing Game 5 of the NBA Finals, and the rout is underway, giving us the chance to hear Spurs fans give their best to the soccer chant that is the riff from "Seven Nation Army."

Tonight, my girlfriend and I spent some time at the US Soccer Fan Party, which is every bit the drunken fratboy fest we expected. Heineken House, you need not fear. 

Tomorrow, we will attend Ghana v. USA. Let's talk about that.


As is well known, this will be the third World Cup in a row in which these two teams will meet; as is also well known, Ghana was victorious in the previous two meetings, and eliminated the US both times as well.

I was at the first of these meetings. I was sitting a few rows back in the left corner that the US faced in the second half, when they were losing 2-1. There was a famous (infamous?) moment in that second half when Landon Donovan broke into the right side of the box, in a perfect and dangerous position.

From where I was sitting, he seemed to be running straight towards me. At the very least, we had a great view of him as he came charging in. A great view of his eyes. 

They did not inspire confidence. 

Donovan passed, when he could have shot, and the chance was gone. The US would lose the match, and leave the tournament.

Four years later, against Slovenia, Donovan charged the box in a similar situation, down 2-1, right side of the box. Having learned from the Ghana experience (or so it seemed), he did not hesitate. He shot right at the keeper's face, and scored. It would prove to be an essential goal in the US advancing into the second round. Maybe not Donovan's most essential goal that month, but still.


Of course, when I went to that match in Nurnberg, it was much easier. I was living in Amsterdam. The tournament was in Germany. There were no vaccinations. There were no visas. There were no flights. I rode my bicycle to the train station and one train took me all the way there (to Kaisersalutern for the Italy match too, which is a different, and more pleasing, story).

Now here I am in Brazil, with a girlfriend who was not into soccer before she met me. There have been seven vaccinations between us. Two visas. And, without even having seen a match yet, we have shared three plane flights on three airlines.

She is open-minded and sweet about all of it. But there has been nothing so far to suggest that this trip will be worth it.

Perhaps some beach time in Natal will be all it takes. Maybe a riverboat cruise in Manaus will be enough.

But the best thing would be a US win, either against Portugal in Manaus, or over Ghana here in Natal tomorrow.

There is simply no guarantee that it's going to happen.


Landon Donovan isn't here, of course. Coach Klinsmann has adjudged him to be of no use. Which is a pisser.

When the news was first announced, many of my friends- who, not being big soccer fans themselves, inexplicably look to me to give them an opinion- asked my take. The news had come as a surprise, but I tried to stay level-headed. These things happen, I told them. Players age, coaches don't care. Since none of us are there in training watching what's going on, none of us can say whether this was the right call or not. This coach has done everything asked of him so far, so... we have to trust him. And wish the team well. Landon or no.

A week later, I was still bothered by it. How could it be that Landon Donovan- a crafty, talented veteran, who had even expressed a willingness to come off the bench- could be of no use to this team? Julian Green, an untested 18 year-old, was more valuable?

These weren't just the feelings of a dumb fan, either. Listening to the soccer channel on Sirius XM Radio, national team stalwarts John Harkes and Tony Meola were still questioning the move as well. 

It was a shock, no matter where you sit. It still feels like a personal thing between Klinsmann and Donovan. And none of it matters. Here we are, where Donovan is not.


The question is, has Klinsmann made the right call?

We cannot and will not know until we see if the US has made the second round or not. 

For now... I can only say that there has been no reason yet to doubt Herr Klinsmann.

He led them to their first win in Mexico, and only their second-ever draw there in an official match. He led them to their first win in Italy. He led the team to a win in the Gold Cup (with a lot of help from Donovan, of course). He led them to first place in their World Cup qualification group.

He has done absolutely everything you could ask of a new US coach. 

The most important thing though... that remains ahead of him. And it will start today.

It may yet come to pass that the Donovan decision is the step too far. But for now... I am inclined to retain my trust in our national team coach. I personally believe the US will make it to the second round.

And I truly hope they do. Because being dumped by my girlfriend while in Brazil would be fairly embarrassing.

- Brendan Hunt

Friday, 13 June 2014



For those who don’t know much about Dutch football and its attack-minded traditions, suffice to say that this is a bit of a shock. Sure, at the last World Cup, Holland got far despite not playing to the standard of their lofty traditions; but that was a different coach. That was Bert van Maarwijk, a tough-nosed, blue-collar kind of cat. A Rotterdam guy.

Louis van Gaal is supposed to be above all that. Van Gaal is from the Ajax school; he has even gone so far as to say Ajax is in his heart. Attacking football- in either a 4-3-3 or a 3-4-3- is supposed to be in his blood. 

For a man who has coached Holland, Ajax and even Barcelona to say he is playing with five defenders, it’s… I don’t even know. It’s like Springsteen lip-synching. It’s like Banksy painting on a canvas. Then posting a selfie.

I am not someone who will get too attached to old philosophies, as long as the new methods work; had that 2010 squad managed to win the damn thing, I would be sticking my fingers in my ears and screaming “NEE NEE NEE NEE” the moment Johan Cruyff was rolled in front of a camera to give his contrarian disapproval. 

But for Van Gaal- him, specifically- to get the lay of the land and decide that he needs extra support in back rather than fireworks in front? Well, that’s a bit rich. Because for my money, Van Gaal has come to that realization 13 years and 3 months too late.


In the summer of 1999, having suddenly relocated from Chicago to Amsterdam for a job earlier that year, I moved into a large, three story apartment on the Leidsestraat above a McDonald’s near the center of town. I was one of nine guys who lived in the place at any given time, and the only non-native; in the sitcom of my life, I wasn’t even the main character- I was the wacky foreign roommate

Having failed to acquire a love of football while in the States (the sport had little foothold in Chicago proper, where the the Pro Sports Cartel ruled young sporting hearts), it was here, with my eight new roommates and their various friends, that the beginnings of an understanding and a love of the game would be fostered in my willing soul.

I learned about the Dutch philosophy of football, which we need not get into too much here, as it is far more eloquently broken down other places (nowhere better than in David Winner’s fantastic book Brilliant Orange). In the summer of 2000, I saw those philosophies put into glorious action.

I have heard it said that you cannot love soccer until it breaks your heart. Well then, that summer was unmistakably when the love affair truly began. Because this heart was well and truly broke.

Euro 2000 was co-hosted by Belgium and the Netherlands, the first time either country had hosted a major tournament. My roommates, who had a bit of a fraternity spirit that they had acquired from their time together in, well, a fraternity, knew how to do it right; displaying the detailed measuring skills one might expect from a nation with such a distinct understanding of space, they converted our living room into bleachers. 

Over the course of those three weeks, there was considerable joy, and considerable lack of sobriety, as Holland charged into the semi-finals, where it all quite famously, and, I would come to realize, not particularly shockingly, went to shit

Later that night, Dutch TV showed footage of Holland’s coach, Frank Rijkaard, forlorn on the bench, stuck to his seat long after the match had ended, weeping quietly in an empty stadium. The image haunts me still.

In a way, watching that team lose- that glorious team of Bergkamp, Kluivert, Overmars, Davids, Stam, the de Boers, Van der Sar- watching that team lose may have made me more of a fan than watching them win could have done. I became, and shall remain, an Oranje fan for life.

At this point, I went Full Metal Holland. I joined the Supportersclub Oranje, and endeavored to go to all their home qualifiers for their march towards the 2002 World Cup, a march made inevitable by the addition of the best Dutch coach alive: Louis van Gaal.

For those who don’t know LvG (as I didn’t in 2000), there are two primary things to be aware of:

  1. He is a phenomenal coach. He was won the Champions League, and has also been a losing finalist with two different clubs over ten years apart. He was won the Dutch league (four times with two different clubs), the Spanish league (twice) and the German league. He knows what he’s doing. 
  2. He is phenomenally arrogant.
    This just part and parcel of who LvG is. A Google search for “Louis van Gaal arrogant” returns over 67,000 results. At times he has been known as much for being surly, prickly and insufferable, as he has for winning football matches. 
And his ego was never in greater pomp than in his first tenure as Dutch national team manager.

After winning the Champions League in 1995, Van Gaal’s Ajax was a losing finalist the following year, then a semi-finalist in 1997. From there he went to Barcelona, where he immediately won the Spanish league two times in a row, before settling for a Champions League semi-final finish in 2000. At both stops, his relationship with the local media was tempestuous at best, straight-up hateful at worst. Oh, and somewhere in there the Queen of the Netherlands made him a fucking knight. So yeah, at this point, our Louis was feeling pret-ty good about himself.

He should not have been.

When LvG arrived, Holland was the favorite to win their qualifying group, though it was obvious that getting past Portugal- led by the great Luis Figo- would be a formidable challenge. The only other minor threat was little ol’ Ireland, who were surely no threat at all. Even if Holland somehow failed to win their group, they would clearly finish second, and go on to destroy some poor second-tier side in a playoff.

Holland’s first qualifier was against middling Ireland in Amsterdam (a game was delighted to attend). The Irish, led by the fearless Roy Keane, went up 2-0, before a late Holland comeback secured a 2-2 draw. In a vacuum, a home draw against Ireland is a pretty embarrassing result for so mighty a side; but no one worried at the time.

A while later I went to Rotterdam for the arrival of Portugal; another reversal, this time a 2-0 loss. Again, no one was too concerned, especially as the loss came with a handy excuse- Portugal’s first goal came after the Dutch had stopped playing because they thought they heard a ref’s whistle, which turned out to be from the Portugal section of the stands. 

I don’t remember what Van Gaal was saying in the press at the time, and my Dutch isn’t good enough to dig around the interwebs to find it. But I do recall that the Dutch football press was challenging him, and he was being a characteristic dick about it.

But what did I know? Supportersclub Kaart or no, I was new to the country and new to the sport, following a qualifying campaign for the very first time; who was I to doubt anything?


In March of 2001- thirteen years and three months ago- Holland went to Porto for an obviously vital match; I watched with my roommates in our living room, which was then in its normal, bleacherless state. If Holland couldn’t win this match, bleacherless was how the room would remain for some time, and we all knew it.

The Dutch attack were in top form that night. By midway through the second half, they had reasserted their might, holding on to a 2-0 lead on the road. They looked imperious and dominant. Holland was back and the World Cup was only 15 months ahead, and Rijkaard’s tears would be wiped away! MAKE WAY FOR THE BLEACHERS!

Now I’m no soccer coach, nor any sort of tactician. But by then I had come to glean a tenet or two. One fairly reliable rule of thumb is- when you have a two-goal lead in a vital World Cup qualifier on the road against a powerful opponent, it might be advisable to throw on an extra defender or two.

Even if you’re a dogmatic Narcissist who feels the need to prove a point to your opponents, as well as to critics and ghosts, maybe just go ahead and consider the point best proved by a final score that reads 2-0.

Alas, Louis is a knight. And no one tells knights what to do.

In the 72nd minute, leading 2-0 and leaving Portugal looking helpless and bewildered, Van Gaal saw fit to replace Boudewijn Zenden, an attacking midfielder, with… a striker, Roy Makaay. Van Gaal now had three strikers on the pitch- Makaay, Kluivert and Hasselbaink, plus Overmars prowling the wing.

Eight minutes later, Van Gaal replaced Hasselbaink with… another striker. Pierre van Hooijdonk, a prolific but concrete-footed giant.

Three strikers. On the road. Leading by two. With ten minutes left. 

These are the tactics of a vindictive weirdo whose wings can be only be made of wax. Even I, a neophyte, knew that this was comical hubris. I got the sense that the Portuguese knew too, and did so immediately. They seemed emboldened by this slap in the face, as if this obvious foolhardiness had reminded them that Holland, while great, was a team well prone to collapses of their own design. Three minutes after Van Hooijdonk entered the match, Pauleta scored. In injury time, Figo added a penalty. Final score: 2-2

Many will say that the cause was not lost until September 1st of that year, when Holland went to Dublin and lost 1-0. But I know better.

Holland’s place in the World Cup wasn’t given up over ninety minutes in Dublin; it was chucked in the dumpster over the course of 13 minutes in Porto, and the culprit was Louis van Gaal, Knight of the Realm.


That World Cup- which Van Gaal must surely see as his Lost Tournament- would go on to be won by Brazil. In Japan and South Korea that summer, Brazil essentially had a three-pronged attack of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho, who were surrounded not by players of classically Brazilian attacking quality, but by tacklers and ball-winners.

Which brings us to 2014, where Van Gaal is planning a three-pronged attack of Van Persie, Robben and Sneijder, who will be surrounded not by players of classically Dutch attacking quality, but by tacklers and ball-winners. Cruyff cannot be pleased.

As for Van Gaal, I have one question- NOW he throws on extra defenders!?! 

Instead of just doing it for fifteen minutes in 2001, he’s going to do it for the entire summer of 2014!?!

A five-man back line for Holland. Never thought I’d see the day. Tjonge jonge jonge…

I never did get to watch a World Cup in those bleachers. By the time 2006 rolled around, I had moved back to America, having packed all my things in an orange suitcase that I still employ to this very day. Van Gaal, it seems, is the one trying to deal with baggage now.

- Brendan Hunt

ADDENDUM - With kickoff against Spain coming in a little over half an hour, let me acknowledge that, of course, formations aren't everything. You can have an attacking sensibility even with five at the back. It's just that you might as well have them when you're winning by two on the road...

Thursday, 12 June 2014



It’s World Cup Opening Day! Four years of listlessness purged with one tiny kick, and our lives have purpose again.

To celebrate, here are eleven things. Some are facts, and will already be known by the initiated among you; some are predictions, and are thus doomed.

    The best soccer in the world is played year-in and year-out in the UEFA Champions League. Mostly as a result of being the highest-paying event, this is a contest between all-star teams, each of which trains arduously year-round, honing their understanding of their tactics and their teammates as they pursue greatness.

    The World Cup? Not so much.

    These are national teams, whose methods of roster-building are constricted by passports. Groups of men who get together every few months, for maybe a week and a half, and try their best to build something cohesive in the time they are allotted. Then, every four years, 32 of those teams get to duke it out for a longer stretch.

    So the World Cup simply cannot be as high-quality a soccer product as the Champions League. Rest assured though, it is unequivocally a greater event.

    Why? One can argue a few reasons, but for me, the most important factor is simply the amount of people who care, and the extra drama that comes therefrom. How many events are there that draw the simultaneous focus of half of our splintered world? Not even the Olympics, with it’s broader, less concetrated spectrum of events, can come close. The world comes together for the World Cup and the World Cup only. With each passing four years, this fact becomes more and more incredible.

    It’s always more fun when the home team is doing well. The longer Brazil can stay in, the better for us all. Also, the less likely it becomes that Brazil will then go up in flames, which would be a drag.

    It is an important rule of thumb in football tournaments- no matter who you are, no matter who you’re playing: do NOT lose your first match.

    This is true even if you are a big team facing a small one; lots of crazy things can happen in these tournaments, and getting behind the eight-ball after one match is usually death.

    Grant Wahl of ran the stats, going back to the 1998 World Cup, when the tournament was played in it’s current format for the first time:

    Of the 46 teams that lost their first game, only four have advanced. Of the 46 teams that won, only 6 have failed to go the next round. Teams that drew, appropriately, still had about a 50/50 shot.

    We have been hearing since the draw that the US’ opener against Ghana was a “must-win” due to the difficulty of their group. But in real terms, that’s just not so. The most important thing, in a team’s first match, remains to not lose.

    Heavy favorites fail to win the tournament’s opening match ALL. THE. TIME. Most recently, reigning champions France took a 1-0 from Senegal on the chin in 2002, and soon enough they were out of the tournament. The pressure on Brazil will be immense, and Croatia is a very, very tough side.

    Gonna go out on a limb here- I think Spain’s run of dominance will come to an end, or at least one hell of a long stop. For two reasons:

    For one thing, I think Spain will lose to Holland in the opening match. There was very little to separate these two teams four years ago, when Spain took the title in extra time of an incredibly dramatic final. Each has made one key addition to tip the scales further.

    For Spain, that addition is striker Diego Costa. You may have noticed Costa kicking ass for Atletico Madrid this last season. He is a true powerhouse of a player, and one that any team would love to have. One of those teams is Brazil, because Costa, despite turning out for Spain, is a Brazilian. He has taken up Spanish nationality as a bit of a fuck-you to Brazilian football, who took far too long to recognize his talents with a call-up. Costa’s revenge, I feel, will come at a cost. No matter how much of a hard-ass he is, it’s quite a thing to be booed mercilessly by your own countrymen.

    Meanwhile, Holland has added the legendary coach Louis van Gaal, a strong improvement over Bert van Maarwijk. I’m thinking the addition of LvG outweighs the extra sumpin’-sumpin’ Costa provides, and Holland takes that match.

    Meanwhile, Chile will be beating the tar out of hapless Australia in the group’s other opener, and the Socceroos bring the charity of their opposition to the Dutch in the second round of matches. By the time the Spaniards get their turn to beat up on our Antipodean friends, it will be too late; Chile and Holland will be going through.

    (Then again, I lived in Holland for seven years and am an unapologetic Holland fan, so take what I say with a million grains of salt.)

    While we’re on predictions… I think all of the South American teams will take advantage of their home comforts and advance to the second round; except for Ecuador, who just won’t have the horses, I fear. 

    Before the tournament began, it was clear which slot in the draw was the worst slot to land; in terms of travel and weather, Group G, Slot 4 was the worst thing that could happen to a team, and that was even before the rest of the teams in the group were known.

    Sure enough, G4 befell the US, who will travel more than any other team in the tournament, in three different climates, to play three of the toughest teams they could possibly have drawn. For those who haven’t even gotten that part yet, the US will face:

    GHANA - The African powerhouse that knocked the US out of the last two World Cups

    PORTUGAL - A European mainstay that may enjoy a kind of de facto home field advantage in Brazil, and happens to feature the reigning World Player of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo

    GERMANY - Three-time winner, coming off two straight semi-final berths, #2 ranked team in the world, not here to party

    There is simply no reason to expect that the US can get out of this group.

    When the US team gets together to play World Cup qualifiers, they often take plane journeys comparable to the ones they will “endure” in Brazil, and also are often asked to play in drastically changing climates from match to match. While it’s certainly unfortunate to have pulled the worst slot possible, there may be no team more capable of rolling with those particular punches then the Yanks.

    As for the quality of their opposition, crazier things have happened before. It will take excellent performances and a lot of luck. But no matter what you hear, it is far from impossible. (I am picking them to advance.)

    If you’re never sure what match to watch on a given day, can only choose one, and see that England are playing, watch them. It's been a long time since they were appointment viewing, but I think those days are back. They’re not the strongest team, though they are young and fun. The reason to watch them is that in seemingly every World Cup, England can never fail to create drama where there need be none; be it through an amazing goal, deplorable officiating, or historically shoddy defending, we only know that with England, it reliably ends in tears.


    This is not a controversial position I’m about to take. I am among quite a few who believe that Brazil will make the final, then surrender to the ghastly pressure a demanding nation will put upon them, as they infamously (but not necessarily relevantly) did in 1950 when they were upset by Uruguay. This time, I see the honors going to Argentina.

    This will be ESPN’s last World Cup for a while, as they will be turning things over to Fox for Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 (location TBA). They have done an immense job of highlighting this tournament, and helping America more fully participate in this unique global event. The World Cup is now part of American culture, and ESPN is a massive reason why.
AND NOW THE DAY IS COME. Have a great month, everyone. May your team win. Unless your team is Portugal. Portugal is the worst.

- Brendan Hunt

EDIT - first version of this blog had a section mistitled, reading "Spain will fail to reach the group stage," which is clearly incorrect. Only the title of the section has been fixed, all other text remains as first posted.

Monday, 2 June 2014


Here we go again.

It's the World Cup again, and we shall all rejoice, for it is a time of rejoicing! Let us also encourage those Americans who still require said encouragement, and translate World Cup teams into US sports teams, for easier digestion. It's like soccer pro-biotics.

There are those who frown on the concept of this blog, those who rage at the notion that Americans are so unrefined as to require local cultural analogs for a sport whose greatness is a singular truth held to be self-evident, one that can represent itself on its own merits far better than this clumsy attempt at sporting translation ever could. 

There are still more who dislike it merely for the implication that there could possibly be people left in this country who gaze upon the World Cup in all of its magnificence, and still, after all these years, just don't quite get it.

I know this, because when I wrote the first version of this blog four years ago, I heard from a handful of these types of folks. I must admit, I was shocked to learn that this blog's central idea, one that came to my head so purely, and with such good intention, was in fact not so original; that it could be seen, in some circles, to be a bit of a hoary old chestnut, or even, dare I say it: hack.

I have heard these protests, and I see their validity, and I shall ignore them for the nonce.

As we nonetheless go back to this quadrennial well, to those who would find ill in it, I can but say: lighten up, Francis. 

There are many things about the World Cup to take with deadly seriousness; this blog is not one of them.

The fact remains, shocking as it is to the initiated, and despite the wonderful strides soccerball had made in our variegated land, there are still millions of people in our country who just haven't quite got the bug yet. Quite a few of them want to, though.

I heard from these people as well last time, and many of them appreciated the push. As Brazil has grown near, I have even heard from some demanding a sequel of a sort, that they may be pushers for this gateway drug, that it may help them spread the debilitating addiction that is football crack cocaine. Paying it forward, if you will. 

So, screw it. It's just a bit of fun. Who doesn't like fun?

Here's how it works:

- for each of the 32 national teams headed to Brazil, I tried to find the US team that most resembles it. 

- do not expect exact matches, for these teams are too unique to be categorized perfectly. Some pairings are along historical terms; some are more based on current affairs. None are exact.

- I have occasionally paired a team that has won trophies with a team that has not. Don't sweat those details. It's just, like, a vibe, bro.

- I have endeavored not to repeat any teams that I used in the last blog, even though I think some of the pairs from that time are either still applicable or even, in some cases, superior. So if, for example, you prefer Italy being compared to the San Antonio Spurs over whatever I've affixed to them this time around, just know that you may damn well be right. But for the sake of exercise, I'm mixing it up.

And now, presenting, for amusement purposes only (please, no gambling): 

Your 2014 World Cup Teams, needlessly corrupted into American!


Everyone knows that they’re bad, but they’re all like “No! Guys! Check it out! We’re good now!” But you’re all like, NOPE. Not only are you not fooled, you also suspect you’ll never see them again.




The story with this team is that of their leader, who, despite still being active, has already put together one of the best careers of any player ever. This guy is already a champion other places, but not here yet. He just needs that one more trophy to really put him in the uppermost echelon. His whole team knows it, knows how few chances he has left, have built everything they do around him- they want it for him that bad. So does the team's previous legend, the one who actually did win the big one here, the one to whom the active player is most compared, the one who, despite having retired years ago, is around ALL THE TIME. Which only makes the pressure all the more enormous. Nonetheless, this could very well be their year.




Completely overmatched. They’ve had some good teams in the past, sure; but, um… this is not going to go well. "By the way team, next time we take a group photo, could we maybe try smiling? We're still working on our branding here. Ya buncha Sheilas."




A young team, including a proper superstar or two, that appears to be gelling at just the right time to take on the big boys. Exciting times for the fans of this relative backwater, because historically, this team has no particular track record of success. But now, with so many people are calling them a dark horse, it will be impossible to surprise anyone; every team they face will know they have to rise to the occasion. These young players are full of confidence, sure; but do they know yet that that’s not enough? Can they overcome their own inexperience, or will they become another cautionary tale? The only thing that can stop them is themselves.


(as they were four months ago, before it all went south)


A new team, but not the first team to represent its area. Not expected to get far, but capable of beating anyone, so long as they get a big night from the big man up front.




Basically a lock to at least be one of the last four teams standing. Great history. Stacked on offense. Stacked on defense. A coach whose acumen is belied by his insane sideline behavior. And one young, uniquely gifted player, ready to lead them to their sixth trophy.




What the hell happened? Ever since the 90s, they've been a team to be reckoned with, fearing no overdog, kicking your ass and having fun doing it. Today, they are a readily domitable shadow.


(minus all the, like, titles and stuff)


What’s not to like? Dangerous, offensive-minded young team that only gets a little tougher and smarter every time someone actually manages to beat them. It's a team full of weapons; not a favorite to win it all, but who knows? If they catch a couple of breaks...




A sentimental favorite, no one would object to this team rising to the heights of their much-loved 90s teams (who actually weren't quite as good as people remember, but still). A dark horse favorite this time around, as long as injuries don't curtail their hopes. Possibly noteworthy: no matter what you've heard, not everyone who lives there is high.




Plucky! Fearless! Big fish from a small pond that just might get further than you expect them to! But they probably won’t! Let's enjoy it while it lasts! And fly, damn you, fly!




Get ready for an onslaught of fundamentals, with a light sprinkling of flash, and more white dudes than should be demographically possible. 




Owners of one of the best home-field advantages in the sport. Often, that’s just enough to get them into the tournament, if usually not much further than that. But on the rare occasions that they bring their home scoring form to the road, they are very tough to stop.




Supposedly, this is the land where the game is sacred, where the old values are protected and revered. The problem for them is that their own subscription to that mythology, by both players and fans, has driven unrealistic expectations from the latter and brought ridiculous pressure down on the former. It’s been a dark couple of decades. Now, however, it seems like they’ve learned their lesson; players and fans all appear to be level-headed and even-keeled as everyone starts all over again. As such, this is an appealingly young squad, unlikely to get too far, but unlikely to embarrass anyone either, as they get back to basics. 




Certainly a talented team, if one unlikely to match the heights of their glory days. But the current vintage carries the stink of some spectacular controversies, specific to their culture. Until they win something, the stink remains. (And seriously, that locker room must stink.)




A truly dominant team, and when they are hoisting trophies, it’s rarely because they have the best player; they have the best squad, all the way down to the end of the bench, and this year’s group is very much along those lines. But for a demanding team such as this, too many years have passed since they last won a title. Despite the team's nimble ability to recycle the roster, a window may be closing. Their calculating coach will try to get them back to the mountaintop. Not only is he one of the most respected tactical minds of the game, he also retains his own inimitable sense of sartorial style.




Look, I get it. We’re all supposed to have a soft spot for the over-achieving small-market team. But, well, this particular underdog has had their chance, I say. Time to restore order. Just a totally objective thought I've been having.




They don't have the firepower on offense to come out and score at will against superior opposition. But that's not their style, anyway.  They're perfectly content to be tough to beat, and see what happens from there. Susceptible to sneak attacks.




The team of choice among esthetes and intellectuals, responsible for a whole new way of playing the game, whose influence is seen still today. It’s always been just enough to get to the championship game and then lose. The claim is that this year they’re going to ignore their history and their traditions and change things up. I’ll believe it when I see it.




It’s not always about winning. Sometimes it’s about trying to make friends, and maybe learning a little something about yourself on the way.



20. IRAN 

The athletes themselves are adequate. The structure around them is a flaming, embarassing mess. Finishing 32nd sounds just about right.



21. ITALY 

Another team whose wins come from more than a single superstar, but from a roster filled with talent and sporting intelligence at every position... and Italian management.


(FUN FACT- in three of the four years that Italy was won the World Cup, the Cards have won the World Series.)


They haven’t really gotten anywhere in the last decade, but can you blame them? When they do make the tournament, they always come up against the biggest squads in the sport. Such are the perils of a (relatively) small-market team, of course; but this may be the year that everything lines up, as there are indications that they are peaking at the right time. Talented and eccentric, it’s an easy team to like. Also: elephants!



23. JAPAN 

Always formidable. Never a team whose efforts can be doubted. They tend to be the story of the one great player who can almost win a game by himself, but then doesn’t get enough support from the rest of the team, and it all ends in tears. Also: Nintendo!




Another once-threatening team reduced to a shambles. Their local rivals surpassing them in every way. Their sacred home ground, once a fortress, has begun to lose it's luster. Can new leadership get them back in track? Or are they still searching for rock bottom?




Every once in a while, this team- a big player in a small conference- is pretty damn good; not good enough to win the whole thing, just… good. "Once in a while" is now. They have a young, exciting team, capable of big surprises; just probably not the biggest surprise of all.




A team that has never won it all. The current side is composed mostly of goons, except for their main man, a gifted forward who is without a doubt one of the two best scorers in the world. But he’s not as young as he used to be. He’s running out of chances to win the big one, and cement his argument as one of the greatest of all time. For too many years now, we’ve been hearing this is their year. Powerful Americans will be watching closely. 




Unspectacular team from a cold, cold place, unabashedly focused more on the future than the present. Run by a classic curmudgeon of a coach, who will make sure they are at least fundamentally sound.




Will they win? No, definitely not. Probably not ever. but the fans don’t care, because right now they can’t believe their luck: the team is being coached by their most beloved player ever. Just like the teams he graced as a younger man, the favorite son has this team playing the right way. Unflappably. Relentlessly. No matter how overmatched they seem to be. 




Spain is just the best right now, and possibly the best ever. Spain wins all the trophies that matter. You can’t stop Spain. Spain is in the middle of historical run. People keep saying Spain's gonna stop, and then Spain doesn’t. Spain just keeps on kicking ass and breaking records. People feel lucky to take one game from Spain. There is nothing like Spain, there is only more Spain. Spain-Spain-Spain, Spain-Spain-Spain-Spain-Spain. Spain.




It’s not that this team has never been good… but that is the perception, and it is pervasive. Year after year, this is a team from whom there is nothing to expect. This time around, they have a high seed, sure, but that’s easily dismissed as stemming from the good fortune of facing weaker competition. Until you look a little more closely. Check out their roster. Lots of interesting young players on this team; for the first time in a long time they’re actually fun to watch. Are they too young to be this good? Or is their youth getting in the way of everyone realizing how good they actually are?




After years- yea, decades- in the wilderness, this team seems poised to finally return to the echelons of greatness they occupied in the earliest days of the game. Unfortunately, their most famous player is known as much for his prodigious talents as he is for being possibly the biggest heel in the sport. Their passionate, blue-collar fans couldn’t care less.



32. USA 

Yeah, sure, this team has been around a long time. Lots of ups and downs. Mostly downs. But for our purposes, let's ignore anything that happened before, say, 1990. Let's just look at where they are today.

There is a cloud over this team. And there doesn't need to be.

A team doesn't win like it should, so it makes a change and brings in a new coach. In this case, they bring in an intellectual-type with bold new ideas about how to run things. His first big decision: casting aside an aging fan favorite, a legend who brought the fans so much joy for so many years.

In the sober light of day, sure, the fans realize that for all that joy and all those highlights, he didn't bring a title. The fans also know that the current roster wasn't going to bring a title whether that legend was still around or not

The hotshot new coach- all of whose previous coaching success came in a whole other country- claims to respect the legend and all that he's done for the team. But does he really know how much this player meant to the fans? Or to his teammates? Is the intensity with which he practices the only measure of an icon's value? Is finding out worth the risk?

We shall see.

USA = 

(minus all titles; again, it's like a vibe, bro)

And there you have it.

So then, who will win the World Cup?

Here are all the groups, in translated form. Every team plays every team in its group once; top two teams advance to the free-for-all of the knockout stages. 

San Francisco 49ers
Wisconsin Badgers
New York Knicks
Detroit Pistons

Rafael Nadal
Oregon Ducks
Toronto Raptors
Tulsa Shock

Golden State Warriors
Michigan State Spartans
Oakland A's
Seattle Mariners

Detroit Lions
Dayton Flyers
Indiana Hoosiers
St. Louis Cardinals

Washington Wizards
Colorado Rockies
Miami Dolphins

Denver Broncos
New Orleans Pelicans
Furniture Row Racing
Fresno State Bulldogs

New England Patriots
Washington Capitals
Tampa Bay Rays
Chicago Bears

Indiana Pacers
Charlotte Bobcats
Minnesota Twins
Iowa State Cyclones

Really wish the US had drawn Group H. We totally could have taken the Twins. Sigh.

I will try to keep the blog more consistent this time around. Time zones being what they were in 2010, it was hard to stay on top of things, since I was drunk by noon every day.

But this time, I will be in Brazil, and shall report from there.

May you enjoy the World Cup, new fans and old, no matter who you support. 

- Brendan Hunt