Peter Goldstein is a professor at Juniata College in Pennsylvania in the USA. He has been
World Cup crazy since 1966. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
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Gold Cup - Group Stage Update 1
The Canadian men's national soccer team needs a nickname. Central Americans have those neat local names like catrachos and cuzcatlecos, and Caribbean sides have jazzy monikers like Soca Warriors and Reggae Boyz. Heck, even Mexico is known as the Tri, and you can call the USA the Yanks or the Stars and Stripes and be fine. You can't really call Canada the Maple Leafs, because that's a hockey team, and Canucks is too generic and another hockey team to boot.
So here's my suggestion: The Brazil Of The North. Because that's what they looked like when they eviscerated Costa Rica in a spellbinding opener at the Orange Bowl in Miami. The score was only 2:1, but make no mistake: this was Canada's game lock, stock, and carioca. Coach Stephen Hart countered Costa Rica's standard 3-5-2 with a 4-1-4-1, and the midfield dominated. Effective pressing, intelligent playmaking, elegant ball movement--without question the finest show we've seen from a Canadian side since the 2000 Gold Cup.
And yet with 56 minutes gone they were behind. Although Canada had the majority of the play in the first half, the cutting edge was lacking, and most of the shots came from too far out. Costa Rica had little to offer, and their one good opportunity, when Walter Centeno sent in Alvaro Saborio, was smothered by Pat Onstad. When the second half started it was more of the same--until a marvelous right-footed curving shot by Centeno came out of nowhere to put the ticos on top.
But pentacampeãos know how to come from behind--if you score one, they score two. Only one minute later they were even, a lovely layoff from centerforward Rob Friend smashed in by Julian deGuzman off the post. In the 73rd minute De Guzman got the go-ahead goal, a beautiful left-footed mirror image of Centeno's. Whereupon Canada took over the game completely, and if the fans weren't shouting "samba, samba!" they should have been.
DeGuzman was clearly man of the match, for the superb goals and his drive both in attack and defense. But it was a remarkable performance all around. Friend was a horse up front (and nearly scored on a nifty scissors kick), and the other midfielders, particularly Atiba Hutchinson and Patrice Bernier, were lively, smart, and on their game. Canada not only won, they played exciting soccer--and when was the last time you heard that?
Don't give them the trophy just yet. The centerbacks were a definite weak point: iffy in marking, slow to react. But hey--isn't that just like Brazil? A few more like this and the team can start doing Nike commercials.
As for Costa Rica, they're already in trouble. They caught a bad break when Alonso Solís and Bryan Ruiz, two potential starters, were injured in the final warm-up match against Chile. But even so they were sluggish, with Saborio rarely a threat and a two-defensive-midfielder setup leaving them short of punch. Medford should start Randall Azofeifa, a two-way player, instead of Rodolfo Rodríguez, merely a destroyer. He should also tell his team they can't sleepwalk their way to the quarterfinals.
[Here's the appropriate spot to salute those who nailed the baseball question from last column. Joe Thomas--who makes a living answering my trivia questions--and Dennis Bakke both knew that Dale Mitchell, the soon-to-be Canada head coach, was also the name of the player who made the last out in Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series. We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.]
The Group A nightcap was a Francophone contest, with Haiti and Guadeloupe getting together for a little match of le foot à la CONCACAF. It was also a rather more dangerous affair, with raucous Haitian fans, plenty of intense play, and a yellow card or four. Guadeloupe showed some flashy technique and enterprising wing play; Haiti showed muscle and pace. Both teams did remarkable things--unfortunately only every 20 minutes or so. The Caribbean Cup champs were somewhat less than expected, with star striker Éliphene Cadet looking like the Statue of Liberty and captain Pierre-Richard Bruny making howler after howler in the back line. As for Guadeloupe, they started 9 players from European clubs, so it figured that one of the two home-based players would give away a goal. A 35th minute Haiti counterattack found Alexandre Boucicault in the area, where he was felled by Alain Vertot. Midfielder Mones Chery converted the penalty, and you expected Guadeloupe to go under, just as they had in the semifinals of the Caribbean Cup.
But the debutantes, looking splendid in red, green, and yellow, did more than enough to equalize, and wouldn't you know it, the other home-based man got the tying goal. In the 53rd minute midfielder Aurélien Capoue released left back Miguel Comminges up the wing, and his cross was turned in on a sensational flying finish by Cédrick Fiston. The game looked like it had several more goals in it, with space opening up on all sides. But in the hot and rainy night the players were soon spent. Guadeloupe in particular barely hung on; Haiti had all the late play, but missed several good chances (and badly, too). 1:1 was a reasonable result, and neither side really deserved to lose.
It was a good game from Guadeloupe, Fiston a handful in attack and Stephane Auvray impressive as a combination milieu récuperateur et organizateur. Chery, Boucicault, and centerback Jean-Jacques Pierre were the best of the bunch for Haiti. Neither side looked ready to beat Canada--but then, who would?
I'd tell you about USA-Guatemala, but I don't write about roller derby. A few months ago the chapines had managed a 0:0 draw with the Yanks by a 90-minute bunker, so they repeated the strategy here, adding blackjacks and garottes to make it interesting. The USA figured they'd bang right back, and since the ref was woefully inconsistent with the whistle, the game disintegrated before it even got started. The home side got the only goal, when Taylor Twellman took a pass from DaMarcus Beasley, ran past a sleeping Pablo Melgar, and crossed low for an easy finish by Clint Dempsey. They also got the only red card, with Oguchi Onyewu picking up his second caution in the 73rd minute--not that every guy in light blue couldn't have been cautioned three or four times by that point. But since Guatemala had nothing to offer in attack, it didn't matter.
There were a few points of semi-interest, tactics-wise. Guatemala played something like a 4-1-4-1, with Carlos Ruiz the lone striker/smasher/diver, Leonel Noriega as destroyer in midfield and Gustavo Cabrera at left back instead of his usual centerback spot. The USA went with a 4-2-3-1, with Clint Dempsey in the middle, Landon Donovan out on the right (man of the match, but that's not his best position), and Twellman alone up front. The Yanks somehow managed a couple of neat passing combinations. But to be honest the whole thing was best forgotten.
The second game started out like something memorable, with Eliseo Quintanilla of El Salvador stinging Jan Michael Williams' hands with an early shot, and then Silvio Spann of T&T scoring on a wondrous 40-meter free kick (and throwing in a rapturous celebration to boot). But before long you realized that one team was fielding a B-minus side and the other had nearly been eliminated by Bermuda in the last WCQ, and the game settled into mediocrity. Give both sides credit, though: they played spirited and largely clean, and although hardly a feast for the eyes it was much more watchable than USA-Guatemala.
Well, watchable unless you were a T&T fan. Because after the Spann free kick T&T got nothing, and El Salvador got two goals for the 2:1 win. Man of the match was Quintanilla, who tired a bit in the second half but was overall the guts of the attack. He made his biggest impact in the 38th minute, first drawing a free kick, then in the aftermath lofting a fine cross to the far post, where Alfredo Pacheco rather spectacularly stuck out his right leg and turned the ball back for Ramón Sánchez' neat finish. In the second half T&T had a bit more of the possession, but neither Gary Glasgow nor André Toussaint could convert chances up front, and El Salvador got the winner with nine minutes to go. Centerback Keyeno Thomas had been the best of the Warriors to that point, but his soft crossfield pass was intercepted by substitute José Orlando "Chepe" Martínez, who homed in on the other centerback, Anthony Noreiga. Noreiga stopped him at the top of the area, but the loose ball was picked up by none other than veteran striker Ronald Cerritos, famous for his fights with the federation but having a vigorous and uncontroversial second half. He sent it in for Martínez close to goal, Thomas missed the tackle, the shot was blocked on the line by Romauld Aguilera, and Dennis Alas, last seen getting ejected from a WCQ game for wearing a necklace, drove the rebound into the open net.
You look at El Salvador's Gold Cup record and you see they haven't done all that badly. This is their third straight appearance with a win in the group stage. Unfortunately, that's usually their limit, and nothing they showed here suggested it'll be any different this time. Central defense was erratic, and keeper Juan José Gómez uncharacteristically shaky in the first half. A more experienced side would probably have taken advantage. But let's give them a shout for the comeback, and a positive note for Leonel Guevara, who looked good at right back.
You want to say that T&T have nowhere to go but up, but more likely they'll be going further down, since El Salvador was their easiest opponent. They had a few moments: sub Kerry Baptiste with a couple of good crosses from the right, some tidy play by defensive midfielder Aguilera, a flash or two (but also some disasters) from left back Seon Power. Best for the Warriors just to keep their heads down and keep plugging, and watch the TV highlights for Spann's wonder strike.
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