By Andrew Dixon III, Staff Reporter
Tallahassee, FLA. — Because my favorite sports are 1)basketball and 1A)soccer (or the other way around, depending on the day) this is always one my favorite times of the year. Unfortunately, with the close of one of most theatrical NBA Finals in memory, my channel surfing is now limited to The Beautiful Game.
But hey, it’s all good.
With three major international tournaments going on right now, soccer fans and novices alike have more than enough opportunities to get their soccer fix now that the club season is over. The FIFA Women’s World Cup is already into its second group stage match, the Copa America tournament to determine the South American champions kicked off in Brazil on Friday night and CONCACAF’s showpiece, the Gold Cup begins today. By sheer coincidence, all three finals will be contested on July 7 in Paris, Rio de Janeiro, and Chicago, respectively.
FIFA Women’s World Cup (TV: Fox, FS1, Telemundo)
As Queen Latifah and Monie Love once said, “Ladies First”. The Women’s World Cup is already into their second round of Group Stage Matches with hosts France, Germany, England, Japan, the Netherlands, and Italy all assured of advancing to the Round of 16 by the start of play Saturday.
The favorites have largely taken care of business with the #1 ranked United States making the most definitive statement with their ruthless 13-0 annihilation of overmatched Thailand, setting a record for most goals in a game, in a half (10) and winning margin (more on this later). The hosts, enjoying massive support from their crowds, have also looked impressive with their very solid defense and control of the midfield. Led by the likes of Valerie Gauvin, the impressive Eugenie Le Sommer and Wendie Rennard on the backline, a showdown with the Americans looks likely in the quarterfinals, a match that may very well feature the winner of the tournament. Two-time champions Germany have looked solid though not dominant in their first two matches and Italy has raised a few eyebrows, beating highly respected Australia with a 93rd minute goal and then dominating the Reggae Girls of Jamaica 5-0 thanks to a hat-trick from Christina Girelli. The group stage finale for Italy matches them with 2007 Runners-up Brazil who gave away a two-goal lead and lost 3-2 to Australia. The US returns to action on Sunday against Chile with a victory virtually assuring them of passage into the next round.
The results have not been as kind for the African and Caribbean teams. Only Nigeria’s Super Falcons have recorded a win, a 2-0 victory over S. Korea, and need a point against France on Sunday to put themselves in a position to advance as a 3rdplace side. South Africa took a first-half lead in their opening match against Spain but conceded three second-half goals and then were eliminated with their 1-0 loss to China. Cameroon struggled to produce much offense in a 1-0 loss to Canada. Jamaica’s debut in a major tournament has also been tough going as they have conceded eight goals in two matches and are all but mathematically eliminated. The pattern has been similar: too much defending and very little offense going forward, highlighted by an inability to string passes together through the midfield lack patience in the final third of the field and reliance of long balls being played into space with the hopes that a forward will run unto it. It hasn’t been a recipe for success for any of the lesser regarded sides. The inexperience has been telling and hopefully, these teams will use this tournament to grow.
Copa America (TV: ESPN+, Telemundo)
The 46th edition of oldest international football tournament is underway as Brazil hosts its South American counterparts five years after hosting the World Cup.
Brazil will look to repeat its feat last achieved in 1989 when they both hosted and won the title. If the Selecao wins its ninth title, they will do so without Neymar who, after an injury-plagued season with PSG, ruptured an ankle ligament in a warm-up against guest nation Qatar and was ruled out, replaced by Willian. A number of Brazil’s top players will be present, however, including the likes of Roberto Firmino, Phillipe Coutinho and captained by Dani Alves who will be looking to lift Brazil’s first major title since the 2007 edition.
Argentina comes into this competition having made the last three finals of a major tournament without a winners’ medal. While Lionel Messi’s place in history assured, the one glaring omission to his resume is a major title. While Argentina will again call on the likes of Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria, and Paulo Dybala, their lack of speed which was exposed by Kylan Mbappe in last year’s World Cup remains a concern and they feature several inexperienced players in the midfield. They open today against a Colombia side that has established itself as a major threat through the likes of James Rodriguez, Davidson Sanchez, Juan Cuadrado, and their captain and all-time goal scorer, the now healthy Radamel Falcao. Uruguay, who has captured the most titles in this competition with 15 are also back with the likes of Luis “Just Bite It” Suarez and PSG’s Edison Cavani. Chile, the two-time defending champions will make one last run with its golden generation of players such as Alexis Sanchez, looking to reestablish his form after an injury-plagued year with Manchester United, Arturo Vidal, Eduardo Vargas and a return of Jean Beausejour. Peru and Paraguay also look to make deep runs in this tournament while Japan joins Qatar as a guest entry
CONCACAF Gold Cup (Fox Sports, Univision)
The Gold Cup is played every two but this is the cycle that matters. All entrants are bringing their first team without worrying about World Cup qualifiers.
While the US are the defending champions having won in 2017, 2015 champion El Enemigo is the team to beat. Despite missing players like Hrving “Chucky” Lozano due to injury, Carlos Vela and Javier Hernandez for personal reasons, That Team Down South remains the kings of CONCACAF in most people’s eyes. Veterans such as Raul Jimenez, Andes Guardado, and Hector Moreno return to international play as former Atlanta United coach Tata Martino leads the 10-time champions in an international competition for the first time. The US’ road to redemption begins with this tournament, having lost at the semifinal stage in 2015 to a Jamaica side that wasn’t good enough to make the Hex and of course not qualifying for the World Cup last year. After two dreadful results against Jamaica and Venezuela in warm-up matches, coach Greg Berhalter welcomes Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Christian Pulisic back to help integrate newcomers like Weston McKinney as they get their first taste of international competition. Runners-up two times in a row, Jamaica will host a Gold Cup match for the first time as they look to match their runs in the competition. The highly touted Andre Blake will anchor the defense in goal, Leon Bailey of Bayern Leverkusen looks to make his debut in the midfield. FC Cincinnati man Darren Mattocks and LAFC’s Peter-Lee Vassell are amongst 5 MLS players suiting up for the Reggae Boyz. Similar to Chile, this could be one of the last tournaments for some of Costa Rica’s stalwarts such as Bryan Ruiz and Celso Borges and Bryan Oviedo and Keylor Navas isn’t even here as he sorts out his club future. But Costa Rica still has the likes of Joel Campbell and Kendall Watson for a team looking to gain the semi-finals for the first time in 17 years. Don’t sleep on two-time finalists Panama either.
With the Gold cup expanding to 16 teams, the Caribbean is well represented. Joining the Reggae Boyz are Haiti, winners in 1973 and quarterfinalists in 2002 and 2009; Martinique who also made the final eight in 2002; the Soca Warriors of Trinidad and Tobago, semifinalists in 2002, Curacao and debutants Bermuda and Guyana who open against the US on Tuesday.
13-0: To Celebrate or not to Celebrate
Now back to the ladies. A lot has been said about the US’ Wave Motion Gun destruction of Thailand in their opening match. The glorified scrimmage, as it turned out to be, saw the US set all kinds of records and serve notice that THIS is the team to beat. Not the hosts, not Germany, not Brazil, THEM!
So for me, I don’t have a problem with the US continuing to score time and time again against a hapless opponent. Telling a bunch of world-class athletes not to play at their best is silly. Though “every goal counts” is a bit disingenuous when you’re one of the favorites playing against a team ranked much lower than you and should be reserved for mid-level teams like Nigeria and Argentina, it’s still all good.
That being said, anyone who thinks the issue observers have from this match was the score-line is fooling themselves. It wasn’t. It wasn’t not even celebrating scoring in a World Cup. It was the EXURBERANT celebrations for each goal as the scoreline got uglier and uglier. Swag surfing on the sideline, doing…whatever Megan Rapinoe’s celebration was (and she has long been one of my favorite players on this team and remains so), and celebrating every goal when you’re up double digits on a vastly inferior squad as if it was a 94th minute match winner was the issue. To pretend otherwise is, again, silly.
Coach Jill Ellis, as well as journalists and athletes who I respect, have suggested that this would not be an issue if it was the Men’s World Cup. Abby Wambach herself stated that those who are criticizing the celebrations were looking at this through a paternalistic viewpoint. Again, silly.
The record that the US now holds was set by Germany against Argentina in 2007. The Germans decimated the overmatched and lightly regarded Argentines 11-0 but as the score increased the celebrations decreased as seen in the video below demonstrates:
The gender issue is silly also. Let’s go back 17 years. In 2002, the German Men’s World Cup team laid the wood to a substandard Saudi Arabian side in their opening match. As the goals piled up in the 8-0- win celebrations, did not. Even Miroslav Klose ditched his famed flip as he celebrated his hat-trick.
I don’t have a problem with winning decisively and at the end of the day, this isn’t going affect that US’ psyche as they go forward. If anything, it’ll give them a US vs. The World mentality that they’ll need in the latter stages of the tournament. But the controversy is a legit question regarding sportsmanship that hopefully won’t be an issue as the tournament continues.
Based in Tallahassee, Andrew L. Dixon, III has contributed soccer articles to BASN since 2004. He previously authored a column for the US Soccer Players.com website and attended the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. He can be reached at Golnoir@aol.com