From Soccer

A World Cup Journey Continues…

soccer usa brazil world cup

Twenty years ago, my dad and I watched soccer take hold of America as the 1994 World Cup swept the country. There was something truly special about that team, especially to a seven-year-old still convinced she could be a professional soccer player. The faux-denim kits, Alexi Lalas’s ginger glory, and an emotional run into the knockout rounds – I loved it all and started to dream.

Sixteen years later, my athletic ambitions long destroyed, I hopped on a plane to Johannesburg, South Africa with one of my best friends and a backpack, ready to experience the first African-hosted World Cup. The next two weeks were unforgettable. Watching Germany-Ghana in breathtaking Soccer Stadium, meeting fans from all 32 countries at our hostels, seeing Ronaldo boo-ed live at Spain-Portugal, shark diving in “Shark Alley”, rounding up USA fans across Capetown to watch Donovan’s historic moment in USA-Algeria…I could keep going, but I’d just be repeating myself.

I left South Africa craving more. The soccer, the fans, the country – it was truly the trip of a lifetime, and all I could think about on my 32 hour itinerary home was…Brazil 2014, here I come.

Four years later, I’m about to embark on a three week journey through Brazil for the most anticipated World Cup of the century. It’s hard to describe the million thoughts running through my head – excitement to watch the game in its birthplace, anxiety for our safety when the country is in turmoil, and relief that four years of saving and planning is finally happening.

All that disappeared watching the opening Brazil-Croatia match today. I’m READY. I’m ready to chant every song in the books while we cheer on the Yanks with our fellow American Outlaws. I’m ready to watch Brazil play in their house. I’m ready to visit the mecca of futebol – Maracana Stadium. I’m ready to continue a World Cup journey, 20 years in the making.

I BELIEVE!

Here’s our itinerary, message me if you’ll be down there!
June 17-20 Rio for Spain-Chile
June 20-23 Manaus for USA-Portugal
June 23-27 Recife for Mexico-Croatia and USA-Germany
June 27-29 Belo Horizonte for 1A (Brazil) vs. 2B (Spain/Netherlands/Chile)
June 29-July 3 Salvador for 1H (Belgium) vs. 2G (Portugal/Ghana/hopefully USA!)
July 3-6 Iguacu Falls

The World Cup Draw: An American Nightmare

tifo usa american outlaws

usa needs all the support it can get

Like many hopeful USA fans, I went to bed last night praying to Sir Ian Darke, Tim Howard’s beard, and Brek Shea’s hair for a favorable draw. Twelve hours later and it feels like Sepp Blatter took an asteroid-sized dump on America.

What happened, you ask? You can check out the groups here, but prepare those around you for the inevitable shrieking in agony as you compare Group G and what could have been – Group E. USA drew its personal group of death in Germany, Portugal, and Ghana. More on that later, but suffice to say that the amount of history and talent in this group is both terrifying for US fans and drool-worthy for soccer fans.

Highlights from the other groups:

  • Group B is also vying for official “Group of Death” fame, featuring Spain, Netherlands, Chile, and Australia. Sorry Aussies.
  • Thanks to the US, Mexico backed into World Cup qualification, and their chances of advancing look better than the Yanks, with a weak group other than Brazil. The Brazil vs. Mexico match on June 17th will be an unbelievable atmosphere, mark that one on your calendar if you’re planning a trip.
  • Group D has the wonderfully hilarious Luis Suarez vs. England. An even better matchup? Luis Suarez vs. British media.
  • Argentina faces an easy path to the knockout round, with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, and Nigeria. After Messi’s stellar performance in qualifying, this could finally be the year to silence the skeptics and bring his incredible talent to the international stage.

So what’s in store for the US as they face their personal nightmare? Let’s take a look.

Germany: Ah Deutschland. I have to admit, I have a soft spot in my heart for German fans after the hilarious encounter we had with them during Germany vs. Ghana in South Africa. See video below for our combined rendition of the German anthem and Take Me Out To The Ballgame. But while the tailgate before USA vs. Germany will be epic, the matchup itself is terrifying. Germany is one of the strongest teams at the World Cup, and the US win over the German B-squad in June shouldn’t give Americans false hope for a similar result. Klinsmann facing off against his former team only adds to the excitement here, and this match is an absolute must-see for all soccer fans.

Portugal: Is there a better image than a tough USA team from the Costa Rica snow game vs. pretty boy Cristiano Ronaldo? Portugal had a dismal performance in qualifying, until Ronaldo lit it up in the playoff against Sweden. The good news is that the US can beat Portugal as long as they can contain Ronaldo, their sole key player. The bad news? He’s lightning fast and I can’t think of anyone who can mark him. The Brazil crowd will be on America’s side for this one though, thanks to Ronaldo being universally hated and potential Brazil-Portugal colonization revenge. Either way, I can’t wait to see Tim Howard go mental as soon as Ronaldo starts diving. I have a feeling the Yanks are gonna get physical with this one.
Ronaldo

watching an entire stadium boo ronaldo at spain-portugal

Ghana: They knocked us out in 2006, they knocked us out in 2010, and they even knocked out former USA coach Bob Bradley from 2014 qualification – Ghana has our number. It’s on team USA to get past the history and realize that they’re a completely different team now with brand new leadership. Ghana is beatable, and it’s time to reverse history. This is the ultimate revenge game.
long street ghana

ghana fans celebrating in capetown after knocking out usa

You can read more about my experience watching all four of these teams in South Africa during the last World Cup.

The US is traveling the most out of any team during the group round, and even if they manage to advance, they would most likely face Belgium in the Round of 16. But while all these factors seem insurmountable, the US is coming off an incredible year in 2013. Klinsmann has revitalized this team and there’s an energy amongst the players that we haven’t seen in a long time. Combine that with a favorable schedule within the group, playing Germany last when they may be resting – there is hope. USA making a knockout stage run would be the storyline of the Cup.

Repeat after me – usa…USA…U! S! A!
usa

This Week in Football + Futbol [Dec 4]

soccer at meadowlands

hiding from world cup draw simulators

What a month it’s been! Between wasting hours on World Cup draw simulators and watching AFC teams do their best to NOT make the playoffs, it’s been quite the emotional rollercoaster for fans of these two sports. But this week is crazier than ever…so GET READY!

World Cup Draw, 11am on Friday
The draw might sound like a glorified Powerball selection, but I promise it’ll be a nail-biter. Everything is on the line, and ending up in the Group of Death can seal a country’s fate an entire six months before kickoff. In true FIFA form, they’ve introduced a mysterious “Pot X” to shake things up and sound dramatic. But in reality it’s nothing drastic – the new rules simply ensure that three European teams can’t end up in the same group. Pot X or not, the teams look absolutely terrifying, and this is one of the toughest fields in a long time. For USA fans, the possibility of a Group of Death with Brazil, Netherlands, and Italy is more depressing than Tim Howard shaving his beard. My advice? Cancel your meetings, hold a paper bag, and pray to Sir Ian Darke – the draw is here!

Fantasy Football Playoffs
As a Jets fan, fantasy football is my only hope for happiness in the NFL. I control my own fate (to an extent), which is a wonderful respite from the never-ending turmoil of following Rex, Geno, and the antics of Gang Green. For most fantasy players, this is the first week of playoffs, where your regular season success goes out the window and you’re at the mercy of injuries, infuriating coaching decisions, and other factors that can result in a dud week for even the most reliable starters. If you don’t play fantasy, I advise you to maintain a ten foot distance from anyone who does during the hours of noon to midnight on Sunday. If you do play and survived into the playoffs – may the odds be ever in your favor.

Colts @ Bengals, 1pm on Sunday
We’re just going to go ahead and ignore the heinous situation that is the AFC sixth seed. If you’re interested in going down that rabbit hole, I recommend the NFL Playoff Machine, partially because I built it and am shamlessly self-promoting, and partially because it’ll kill the next six hours of your life. Anyway, the matchup to watch this week is Colts-Bengals. They’re both pretty much guaranteed to make the playoffs at 8-4, but they’re neck and neck as the third and fourth seeds. Indy wins the tiebreaker currently, and a win over the Bengals would seal that position. Why is the third seed so important? They play the sixth seed in the first round of the playoffs, which is pretty appetizing in the AFC this year (see above).

With only four weeks left in the NFL regular season, and the biggest international soccer event until the World Cup on Friday, you should probably just park yourself on the couch Thursday through Monday. Who needs sunlight anyway?

This Week in Football + Futbol [Oct 22]

soccer at meadowlands

no vuvuzelas at the meadowlands? the nerve!

Welcome back to the second installment of This Week in Football + Futbol! If you’re new and wondering what all this weekly column nonsense is about, you can check out my first attempt here. If you’re back because you loved my scintillating original post, then I shower you with gratitude and unicorns. Enjoy!

NFL Teams Are Hurtin’
Week 7 was painful, literally. We saw a slew of major contributors go down with season-ending injuries – Reggie Wayne (Colts WR) with a torn ACL, Brian Cushing (Texans LB) with a broken leg and torn LCL, Leon Hall (Bengals CB) with an Achilles tear, Sam Bradford (Rams QB) with a torn ACL, and Jermichael Finley (Packers TE) with a terrifying collision that resulted in a severe neck injury. And those are just the season-ending ones. It’ll take a much longer post than this to talk about the larger picture here, but Sunday was yet another jarring day in the saga that is the truth about NFL player safety. If you haven’t watched it yet, I can’t recommend Frontline’s League of Denial enough, it’s truly eye-opening. Looking forward to Week 8, the array of injuries bring some interesting story lines to matchups that look pretty yawn-worthy on paper. Can the terrible Giants eke out another win over the QB-less Eagles? Will Geno avoid another pick six without Hall suiting up? Will the British become avid football (not futbol!) fans watching the Jags get stomped at Wembley? Yeah that last one was a joke.

UEFA Playoff Draw
In the final round of World Cup qualifying, the UEFA region has some interesting matchups after this week’s playoff draw. Portugal-Sweden, Ukraine-France, Greece-Romania, Iceland-Croatia – the winners punch their ticket to Brazil. By far the best story line here is Ibrahimovic vs. Ronaldo, two star players who have lifted their respective teams to contenders on the international stage. November will be fun.

Cowboys @ Lions, 1pm on Sunday
NFC showdown! Both these teams have a lot riding on this game. The Lions are 4-3 and and right on the heels of the division-leading Packers, and Dallas is also 4-3 on top of the NFC East with the Eagles only one game back. Depending on how their divisions shake out, both these teams could be vying for a playoff wild card spot, where a conference win is crucial. To add to the excitement, the Cowboys are 30th in the league against the pass, so we may be in for another Megatron explosion. Plus, it’s always fun trying to predict which Tony Romo will show up on Sunday. If it’s the Week 5 one we’re in for quite the shootout!

World Cup Draw Simulator Magically Appears on the Internet…
…immediately destroys productivity. Say goodbye to the next two hours (and months) of your life! Here’s the link, you’ve been warned. Other than resulting in total mania for futbol fans, this simulator shows just how competitive this World Cup field is. Any way you shake it, the groups look pretty ridiculous. As if we couldn’t get any more pumped for a World Cup in Brazil, this tournament is going to be a month of incredible futbol and crazy upsets. CAN’T WAIT!

This Week in Football + Futbol [Oct 14]

soccer at meadowlands

futbol in a football stadium – it’s a beautiful thing

I’m trying something new and I need your full loyal-reader-of-dheerja.com support to help me through this journey – a weekly column! Welcome to the first edition of This Week in Football + Futbol, an attempt to bring together my two favorite sports that are traditionally on opposite ends of the sports fan spectrum. I’ll focus on the NFL, for those of us who love devoting 12 hours on Sunday (and Thursday and Monday…) to the most American of sports, and on international soccer, for those of us who love supporting America as an underdog in the world’s biggest sport. Here goes!

Pats @ Jets, 1pm on Sunday
My first one and I already want to hide under my bed and delete this post forever. For us Jets fans, the only thing worse than playing the Pats is playing the Pats a week after Brady throws a beautiful game-winning touchdown and we suffer a devastating loss to the hated Steelers. Really, it doesn’t get much worse than this. The silver lining? Final touchdown aside, Brady is clearly not himself this season. While a lot of the blame lies with his crappy receiving corps, his accuracy has been downright un-Bradylike. Time to bring back the hair? There’s so much hate in this rivalry, and the Jets D is a force to be reckoned with, so tune in on Sunday to see it all go down at the Meadowlands! Wilfork vs. Rex sideline eating contest anyone?

FIFA World Rankings released Thursday
The monthly FIFA Rankings are usually a source of amusement for international soccer fans. Oh you mean the organization that thinks it’s a good idea to move the World Cup to winter can accurately rank teams with no bias whatsoever? Hah. Unfortunately, this Thursday’s release has real life implications for Brazil 2014 – they’ll be used to determine what countries will be seeded in the World Cup draw this December. The US has never been seeded, and the chances are slim this time, but we’ve seen crazier things from Sepp Blatter!

Return of the Backup QBs
Week 6 had Nick Foles, Thad Lewis, and Mike Glennon as top ten fantasy QBs, above Brees and Peyton. Sometimes fantasy makes you want to punch a wall. Sometimes fantasy makes you actually punch that wall. Anyway, keep an eye out to see if any of these guys can sustain those numbers, unless they’re unseated by injuries and/or a returning QB. Foles is making a strong case to keep the reins when Vick comes back, so we might get an always-fun QB controversy as a bonus.

Mexico @ Costa Rica, 9:30pm on Tuesday
International soccer takes rivalries to a new level. Americans aren’t good at accepting inferiority, and Mexico’s historical dominance in CONCACAF has created tension of epic proportions (sharing a border doesn’t help either). I could go on, but to get a real idea you should read accounts of USA vs. Mexico in Estadio Azteca. But for the first time, Mexico has struggled in World Cup qualifying, losing to the US in a repeat of “Dos A Cero!” along the way. Not qualifying for Brazil is a very real possibility for El Tri, and tomorrow’s match is a must-win to stay alive. If their victory over Panama on Friday with this insane bicycle kick goal is any indicator that Chicharito and crew are out for blood, you can’t miss this one.

Check back next week for round two!