Hope for future despite U.S. exit

I wasn’t initially going to write about today’s U.S.-Belgium match. But the thoughts came anyway.

Sometimes soccer is a cruel sport. But in this match, it could have been far more cruel. The U.S. created some chances, but Belgium had far more. The team that ends with 38 shots ordinarily comes out on top. At the same time, the Americans don’t have to hang their heads about taking Belgium into extra time.

A number of players stepped up in this round, not all of them the usual suspects. In fact, only one of the truly shining spots today has been a force for the U.S. in years past.

Really, what a performance from Tim Howard. It’s hard to overstate his importance to the success of the U.S. in this tournament, and especially this knockout round game. The Everton goalie only missed blocking two shots all day; neither was his fault. He did his job and then some, stopping an incredible 16 shots. It’s a World Cup record, at least as long as the stat has been recorded. As well as Howard played in goal, though, the final outcome went the right way. It’s hard to get a loss on such a stellar performance from the keeper, but the opponent was the better side.

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The Return of Altidore

U.S. Soccer announced earlier today that Jozy Altidore will be available to play tomorrow against Belgium:

That’s certainly good news for the U.S. Though only 14 men can be used in a game, including substitutes, losing one of 23 to injury severely limits tactical possibilities. That’s especially the case when he’s your starting forward.

One major question, though, is how much and at what level Altidore will be able to play. The fact that coach Jürgen Klinsmann avoided answering the question when SI’s Grant Wahl inquired how much Altidore trained at full speed this week isn’t encouraging in that regard.

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Good Stories, June 28

I’ll be working on Monday’s post this weekend. It’ll be back to baseball, based on a recent signing.
If I’m lucky, I’ll have enough information for multiple posts on the topic.
In the meantime, here are some good reads from the past few days to tide you over:

ISAIAH AUSTIN — I needed to start with this story, because whether or not you care about the NBA or its draft, this is a remarkable young man you should know about. Matt Norlander tells the story far better than I can summarize it, so I’ll leave you to read his wonderful perspective on Isaiah Austin.

VIN SCULLY/MIKE MATHENY — I know I said reads, but the video here was the right combination of quirky and endearing to include the link. Deadspin can have its charm, but it’s nothing like that of longtime Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully. The site also changes his wording a bit, but if you can get past that, the video is a fun little story (seemingly out of nowhere) about Mike Matheny’s first day of classes in college.

JOEL EMBIID — The man who might have been the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft a week and a half ago went at No. 3 despite a foot injury that will likely keep him out for a good portion of the season. Grantland’s Jordan Conn writes on Joel Embiid’s journey to the NBA and the small basketball-loving contingent of his home country Cameroon.

U.S. MEN’S NATIONAL TEAM — Soccer in the U.S. is on the rise. Grant Wahl describes the significance of the national team making it through Group G. A great read today, as the round of 16 kicks off at noon with Brazil vs. Chile. The U.S. will face Belgium, who won Group H, on Tuesday.

FANS OF U.S. SOCCER — In a similar vein, SI writer Chris Ballard takes a step back to write this long-form piece as a U.S. supporter rather than a member of the media, incorporating his first-hand recollections of the 1998 World Cup to draw a picture of the “brave new world of American soccer fandom.” If you’re at all interested in a fan’s perspective of the spectacle, it’s worth a read.

BONUS VIDEO — No story here; this is just a raw display of power. That’s why it’s just the bonus, for you power-loving baseball fans out there. Mike Trout hit the longest home run of the year last night into the fountain at Kauffman Stadium. Here’s footage of his solo shot.

Roundup: Lincecum, USMNT, NBA/NHL drafts, sellers

This is a particularly crazy week in sports. Here are some of the highlights.

Tim Lincecum pitched his second no-hitter yesterday.

If you follow baseball, I’m not breaking that news for you.
My other post today explores a bit of how Lincecum is a different pitcher, but my post is centered on pitching injuries and prevention. Ben Reiter of SI.com has more on the no-hitter itself.

The U.S. Men’s National Team faces Germany at noon.

It’s a bit of a miracle the men have come this far through the “Group of Death,” but it would be a shame to come this far and not advance.

Sunday night’s game was deflating, as Portugal scored in the final minute of stoppage time on a beautiful cross. Maybe the U.S. should have been able to clear that ball, but let’s not lose sight of how well placed the cross was.

Jürgen Klinsmann and the U.S. men have some work to do against a powerful German squad that showed it was human when Ghana forced a draw. To ensure advancement to the round of 16, both Germany and the U.S. need a draw. The U.S. doesn’t need a win to move on, though. The different possibilities for U.S. advancement are outlined here, but we’ll know in a few hours who’s advanced.

If that’s not the sort of thing that piques your interest, just go ahead and watch the game(s). Someone will explain it all later.

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