The World Cup run is over for the United States

The World Cup run is over for the United States

By Adam Vaccaro

What happened Saturday: In its thrilling run to the Round of 16, the United States went down a goal in the early minutes in two out of three group matches before being able to pull even for draws.

Against Ghana, they again found themselves down 1-0 on a Kevin-Prince Boateng strike. After a sluggish first half, the Yanks did as they'd grown accustomed and came out with urgency and enthusiasm in the second. And, again, Landon Donovan produced the big goal when his penalty kick in the 62nd minute tied things up. With new life, the US held on to force overtime.

But the extra two sessions opened as if a microcosm of the game itself. Within three minutes, Asamoah Gyan scored his third goal of the tournament to put the Black Stars ahead. The U.S. couldn't gain much control of the game after the score and despite a spirited effort, they just ran out of comeback strikes. Ghana won 2-1 in 120 minutes, eliminating the United States for the second straight World Cup.

Also Saturday: Soaking in South African winter rain with his team having already conceded a lead built on his early goal, Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez evaded his mark, cut to his right, and curled an 80th minute mid-range bid off the South Korean far post and into the back of the net. Suarez's second strike was the game-winner in a 2-1 final. South Korea was shut down early by Los Charruas' defense, which was not scored upon in group play, but gradually developed attacking momentum, bettering its opportunities throughout the match. The efforts culminated in a Lee Chung-Yong headed strike in the 68th minute. But Suarez's incredible goal dashed South Korea's hopes and ended the Taeguk Warrior's tournament. A once great soccer power, Uruguay's futbol revival continues as the team advances to the quarterfinals for the first time since 1970.

On American soccer: Whenever the World Cup comes about, the talk in America is of whether or not a strong showing will spell take-off for the sport in the US. In 2010 the Yanks fulfilled expectations by escaping their group, and they probably brought on a few more fans by advancing with such dramatic flair. But let's be honest. In order to really get the country soccer mad right now, they'd need to go deep into the tournament, at least making it to the quarterfinals.

That's fine. I largely agree. The Revs aren't going to suddenly start chasing the Red Sox' sellout record and most sports fans are going to shift their attention from the World Cup to baseball and NFL training camps across the country. Again, I agree. That's probably what's going to happen in the short term.

But something to take note of: In 2006, most of America's support in Germany was of the corporate variety, having secured tickets and flights through work, there primarily for the spectacle. In a substantially more difficult spot to travel to, the United States' supporters this time around were real. They were costumed, they were loud, they were enthusiastic, they were knowledgeable, and they were proud. They were soccer fans. And perhaps most important, they were young.

I contend that while a deep run may have boosted soccer in the country in the short term, the sport looks like it really is upcoming stateside and yes, I know this has been said for years and years. It's not going to be overnight. But the Yanks have young, enthusiastic support that more than ever in American soccer history really cares, not just about the team but about the game. Maybe it's a generation coming of age having only known a global village and the Internet, wanting to be a part of it by participating in international soccer. Maybe the reason is much simpler, like that the team has become a regular Cup qualifier. But for whatever reason, the support is there. The team itself was good enough only to escape its group and capture the country's attention on a Saturday afternoon. But these fans are many, and they're for real. And as an American soccer fan, that's solid enough consolation for me.

What it all means: Ghana moves forth to face Paraguay in the quarterfinals. A continent that saw all of its other teams eliminated before the second round, Africa will continue to rally around the Black Stars. The match should be a very strong defensive stand-off, with the winner moving onto what will be a surprising semifinal appearance for either side.

South Korea entered the tournament aiming to legitimize itself on the world soccer stage. In escaping its group, it took a step in so doing as the Taeguk Warriors reached their first knockout stage off Asian ground. Though this tournament's result obviously lacks the excitement of the trip to the semifinals on home ground in 2002, South Korea took a big step forward in 2010.
What to watch on Sunday: An old soccer rivalry will be reborn when Germany and England kick off in Bloemfontein. Historically a standby for a quality and passionate match, this will be the fifth meeting in World Cup finals history between the two sides and the 28th at large. For all the criticism the Three Lions took in drawing the US and Algeria, a trip to the quarterfinals at the expense of Germany would silence all howls of the team's early demise. That won't be easy, however. Die Mannschaft isn't as strong as it's been in the past, but it's superb organization and discipline could give England fits especially in midfield play. It was thought that Germany would be without star midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, suffering from a thigh injury, but he did train in full on Saturday. Schweinsteiger is still listed as doubtful, but if featured he'll provide a big boost for his team.

Also Sunday: Argentina will ride momentum into a 2006 Round of 16 rematch with Mexico as one of just two teams to go undefeated in group play. As coach Diego Maradona is quick to point out, Albiceleste's critics have been quiet since the tournament openers. Rightly so: Argentina has rivaled Brazil for the World Cup's most consistent excellence and has found itself on the shortlist of tournament favorites. Many thought that Maradona's fiery coaching style could negatively effect the team, but it seems that the 1986 Cup winner has been more inspiration than distraction for his players. On the field, Lionel Messi is yet to score for Argentina but has anchored the squad and has arguably been the tournament's best big-name player. Had Mexico won Group A it would have been a favorite to reach the semis, but Argentina is just too tough a challenge. Don't expect El Tri to avenge its 2006 elimination.
Question of the Day: Wither Wayne Rooney? After putting forth his best club season to date for Manchester United, Rooney has been held at bay in tournament play thus far. England coach Fabio Capello praised Rooney's play against Slovenia but the striker isn't providing his best if he's not scoring. If England is to go far in the tournament, they'll need Rooney to start finding the goal.

Full schedule (all times EDT): Germany v England Free State Stadium, MangaungBloemfontein 10:00 a.m.; Argentina v Mexico Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg 2:30 p.m.

Quote of Note: Sports are very, very cruel. One minute on top of the world next minute its over. I guess that's why I love 'em but not right now. Need a beer. - New England Revolution striker and CSNNE World Cup analyst Taylor Twellman following the United States' loss to Ghana, via Twitter.

Messi leads Argentina over U.S. 4-0, into Copa America final


Messi leads Argentina over U.S. 4-0, into Copa America final

HOUSTON — Lionel Messi was too much for the United States to contain.

The five-time world player of the year set up Ezequiel Lavezzi's opening goal in the third minute, then scored on a free kick to break Argentina's career scoring record and assisted on the final goal in a 4-0 rout of the U.S. on Tuesday night that put the La Albiceleste into the Copa America final.

"This was the goal when we got here, to play another final and we made it," Messi said. "We've been spectacular from day one and we deserved this."

After Messi doubled the lead in the 32nd minute with his 55th international goal, his tournament-leading fifth, Gonzalo Higuain quickly ended U.S. comeback hopes when he put the rebound of his initial shot past goalkeeper Brad Guzan in the 50th. Higuain scored off a Messi pass in the 86th.

Argentina will seek its first major title since the 1993 Copa — and its first since Messi's debut in 2005 — when it plays Chile or Colombia on Sunday in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

"That's what we hope and what we want, to finally achieve that," Messi said. "We deserve it, for all the good work we've been doing all these years."

It might be missing Lavezzi, who fell backward over an advertising sign board and appeared to land hard on his left arm at about the 60th minute. Lavezzi was able to get up several minutes later and left on a cart.

Hosting a special, expanded 16-nation edition of South America's championship to celebrate Copa America's 100th anniversary, the U.S. won a difficult group that included third-ranked Colombia and then beat No. 13 Ecuador in the quarterfinals. But top-ranked Argentina and Messi, who turns 29 Friday and is at the top of his game, outclassed the U.S. from the opening whistle and stunned the sellout crowd of 70,858 at NRG Stadium.

Messi has helped Barcelona win eight titles in Spain's La Liga and four in the Champions League, but his Argentina trophies have been limited to the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship for players under 20 and the gold medal in the 2008 Olympics, mostly for players under 23. La Albiceleste lost to Germany in the 2014 World Cup final and to Chile in last year's Copa America final.

The U.S. and coach Jurgen Klinsmann were trying to rebound after getting eliminated by Jamaica in the semifinals of last year's CONCACAF Gold Cup, losing to Mexico in a playoff for a 2017 Confederations Cup berth and struggling in the semifinal round of 2018 World Cup qualifying. The Americans close the tournament Saturday in the third-place match at Glendale, Arizona.

Klinsmann inserted midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Graham Zusi into his lineup along with forward Chris Wondolowski because of suspensions assessed to midfielders Jermaine Jones and Alejandro Bedoya, and forward Bobby Wood. In an effort to spark offense, 17-year-old Christian Pulisic entered at the start of the second half, and Steve Birnbaum came on in the 60th for Beckerman, allowing Geoff Cameron to move up to midfield, and Darlington Nagbe replaced Clint Dempsey in the 78th.

Argentina went ahead when Lavezzi played a short corner kick to Ever Banega, who passed back to Lavezzi sprinting from the corner diagonally. Lavezzi beat Fabian Johnson to the ball and poked it to Messi about 25 yards out, in the center of the field. As the U.S. defense started to come out, Messi one-timed a flick with his left foot over the back line to Lavezzi, who got to the ball ahead of Kyle Beckerman about 7 yards from the goal. He headed the ball over Guzan, who had started to come off his line.

Messi doubled the lead after Beckerman slipped and Chris Wondolowski took down Messi, earning a yellow card. Klinsmann screamed at Paraguayan referee Eduardo Cardozo as Messi placed the ball about 26 yards out, a few yards closer to the goal than the foul. After the U.S. set up its wall, Messi bent a beautiful curving drive that went just over Guzan's outstretched left palm and into the upper corner.

Messi moved one ahead Gabriel Batistuta's career total, according to the Argentine Football Association. However, FIFA records Batistuta's total as 56, including two goals in an exhibition against Slovakia in June 1995.

Higuain scored when he burst past John Brooks for Lavezzi's pass and one-timed a shot that Guzan stopped with a diving save, then poked the rebound into an open net. Messi nearly added a goal in the 83rd with a 20-yard shot that Guzan palmed to safety.

Feldman: Terrific goal by Rowe to win the game

Feldman: Terrific goal by Rowe to win the game

Brad Feldman and Paul Mariner break down the New England Revolution’s victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps behind the goals from London Woodberry and Kelyn Rowe.

Messi starts, Argentina beats Venezuela 4-1 in Copa America


Messi starts, Argentina beats Venezuela 4-1 in Copa America

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Lionel Messi had the ball along the sideline, closer to midfield than the goal, in what seemed to be a harmless position.

One well-placed entry pass later, the ball was in the net and Argentina was on its way to a Copa America semifinal matchup with the United States.

"He knows that he's a game-changing player," Argentina coach Geraldo Martino said Saturday night after Messi scored a goal and added two assists to beat Venezuela 4-1.

"Everybody's trying to cancel him. But he knows when to play one against one. He knows when to pass the ball to other players. There may be times when he lets some other player take advantage of this."

Messi's goal in the 60th minute gave Argentina a 3-0 lead and was his 54th in international play, tying the national record set by Gabriel Batistuta, according to Argentina's governing body. The Barcelona star also took over the Copa America scoring lead with his fourth goal despite making his first start of the tournament.

Argentina has two days to rest before playing the U.S. in Houston on Tuesday night. The Americans have been off since beating Ecuador on Thursday.

"I don't think we're too worried about that. We're very focused on our goal," Martino said. "This is not a big deal, the rest time."

With many in the Gillette Stadium wearing No. 10 from Messi's national team and La Liga jerseys, the five-time FIFA Player of the Year started the game after playing a total of just 74 minutes in the three group stage matches. Just eight minutes in, he connected with Gonzalo Higuain on a long entry pass to make it 1-0.

Eight days after recording a hat trick in just 29 minutes against Panama, Messi gathered the ball in at the sideline and lofted a long pass to Higuain, who split two defenders took the ball on a short hop and booted it in.

"We tried to force them to play long balls," Venezuela coach Rafael Dudamel said. "They have that stroke of genius that changes all your schemes. They had an incredible pass from Messi, and they scored. When you lose so early in the game, it's almost like a knockout."

Higuain scored again in the 28th to make it 2-0, picking up an errant backpass by Venezuela midfielder Arquimedes Figuera and sidestepping goalkeeper Dani Hernandez before left-footing it into the net.

In the 42nd minute, Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero took out Josef Martinez's legs with a headfirst dive. But on the resulting penalty kick, Luis Seijas tried to scooch it straight up the middle and Romero took a small stutter step to his left before catching it.

Messi made it 3-0 when he took a pass from Nicolas Gaitan just outside the 6-yard box.

Venezuela finally beat Romero in the 70th minute when Salomon Rondon headed the ball in, nicking the post on the way. But Messi assisted again on Erik Lamela's goal a minute later to make it 4-1.

Argentina is 6-2-2 against the U.S., with the teams playing to a 1-1 draw in a 2011 friendly in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The last American win was in a 1999 exhibition in Washington, D.C.

Recovering from a back injury, Messi sat out the group stage opener this year and played just 29 minutes against Panama — but still managed to record a hat trick. He came on as a second-half substitute in the group stage finale against Bolivia on Tuesday.

But Messi played the entire game on Saturday, giving a scare when he was taken down from behind in the penalty box in the first half and was slow to get up.

"We're very happy with the way that he has been evolved, the way that he recovered from his injury," Martino said. "His reinsertion into the team, we really value that, and we're happy to have him in good shape now that we're facing the semifinals."

Martino said he was pleased to see Messi tie the national record, but he would wait to comment on it until the record was broken "and I would like that to happen in the Copa America." With a semifinal and then either a championship or third-place game, that's a good bet.

"I tied it, still haven't broken it," Messi said. "But I'm happy to be next to Bati, with all that means."

Bautista also scored twice in an exhibition against Slovakia in 1995 that is included in FIFA's records but not the national federation's; that would give him 56 goals.

For Venezuela, which finished fourth in the 2011 Copa America, it was a reminder of how far La Vinotinto have to go.

"It's not what we were hoping for, nor what we would imagine," Dudamel said. "We found ourselves watching a very strong team, ranked No. 1, and they have been very unforgiving with our mistakes. When you play an adversary like this, any mistake you make they do not forgive. They just kill you."