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Announcing a Flat Formation

At the end of a metaphorical 90 minutes (more than 20 years literally), this is what U.S. Soccer and Nike came up with:

a.espncdn.com

  • A crest with 13 vertical stripes of red and white under a blue field is a traditional American style.
  • Seven red and 6 white stripes come directly from our flag, demonstrating that the crest is rooted in the history of our nation.
  • Uses the traditional field of blue to celebrate the three most important letters in the vocabulary of our fans, from stadiums to watch parties to the local bar – U.S.A.
  • The colors stay true to our nation’s colors with the red and blue drawn straight from the flag.
  • Notably, the new identity no longer features stars or a ball. In soccer tradition, stars are placed above the logo to represent World Cup victories. The WNT crest will prominently feature the three stars earned in 1991, 1999 and most recently, the historic 2015 victory.

(U.S. Soccer)

The new crest has uniquely American features (as listed above), yet it lacks imagination and declarative strength. This is the symbol of this burgeoning sport in America and the first impression is strikingly plain and boring.

Where is a bald eagle in striking position? The snake nobody should dare tread on?

There are countless creative design ideas that could have/should have been brainstormed for this branding endeavor.

Where is the ingenuity, that defining characteristic of soccer and this country? What does this crest convey to ourselves and our competitors? How does this new crest represent our heritage and a future of excellence?

There are 13 stripes, yes. The colors are red, white and the right shade of blue this time, yes. However, how did a design team at Nike, a company that prides itself on creativity and branding (cough cough Oregon football), submit this idea without it being April 1st? What does this crest possibly inspire for new jersey designs?

The United States of America broadly, and soccer in America specifically, has always been about a brighter tomorrow. But the new crest is a straight-forward graphic that doesn’t really tell us anything about yesterday, today or tomorrow.

U.S. Soccer desperately needs a vivid and cohesive identity on the pitch.

Flat and humdrum has already been done.

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Soccer’s Headache?

“The U.S. Soccer Federation is recommending a ban on headers for players 10 and under, limits for players between 11 and 13 and having medical professionals rather than coaches make decisions on whether players suspected of concussions can remain in games” (AP)

For the past few years, I have been forecasting a future with youth soccer that would see school districts impose headgear requirements for its players. The helmet (of sorts) would likely be soft-shell, as worn below by current Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Čech who suffered an unusually brutal injury nine years ago.

(Arsenal.com)

(Arsenal.com)

“The depressed fracture of the skull that Cech suffered in a clash with Reading’s Stephen Hunt threatened his life. His skull is thinner than average – possibly as a result of being born a triplet – and he will have to continue wearing his protective rugby-style cap for the next two years at least”
–Duncan White, Telegraph, 2008

The two factors going forward in this debate will be safety and reality.

Everyone wants players to be safe, but at what point does it cross into over-protection?

Petr Čech’s injury is an extreme anomaly. Precautions can and should be taken. Safety is a paramount concern. Concussions and head injuries do happen in this sport. Any player suspected of suffering a concussion or potential head injury needs to be examined and taken care of in the best way possible.

The proposed solution as a whole, however, seems to be bordering on the excessive. If parents don’t want kids to play or kids don’t want to play because of this fear, then don’t play or stop playing. That’s fine. It’s that simple. And to be clear, this recommendation doesn’t come with any attitude.

That’s just the reality of the beautiful game and life.

P.S. Headers are bad for the sport? 

Finding the Right Mix

Super-subs.

Jürgen Klinsmann does not always put out the best starting 11, but he is quite deft at rotating the right players in at the right times for maximum returns late in games.

Example?

Just take last night’s stand-out second-half substitutions during the Americans’  World Cup send-off match against Azerbaijan (their head coach is now literally on Klinsmann’s United States Men’s National Team staff for Brazil and is a long-time friend) at the ill-fated (yet energetic) Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California.

Mix Diskerud and Aron Johannsson.

These names have been mentioned in this blog before as being key players for the USMNT and for Brazil in particular. Each player added positive evidence to this hypothesis last night. Granted, it was a home match against the 85th-ranked team in the world, but there was virtually no flow from the middle-to-final third before they entered.

Johannsson subbed for Chris Wondolowski in the 61′ and Diskerud came on for the flat Alejandro Bedoya in the 71′, noticeably sporting #10, Donovan’s old number. And by old, I mean four days or so.

Speedster DeAndre Yedlin also came off the bench for Fabian Johnson in the 61′ and played a fair game.

The game was nil-nil in the 61′. What was the final score? 2-nil USMNT with goals from Diskerud and Johannsson.

Making a statement? Yes.

The match opened-up immediately after Johannsson started running around up top with some much needed purpose towards scoring goals and the flow looked as nice as Diskerud’s waving brown mane following his entrance. Just four minutes after Mix was added to the mix (c’mon, it’s right there), he scored off a rebound just outside the six-yard box that originated from a Michael Bradley half-volley at goal.

#10 to the rescue.

Regarding the #10 shirt, Diskerud had the ideal response in his post-match interview with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap.

“For me it is just a number. I am playing for what is in front of the jersey, not what is in the back or my name.”

Classy answer.

Aside from the fact that Clint Dempsey had minor groin pain and didn’t play, the quick takeaways are that the central defense is still shaky, the outside defense is shaky, the outside midfielders need to be more creative and daring on the flanks, starting forward Jozy Altidore has apparently adopted the Jairo Arrieta theory of playing up top without scoring goals and that the young 23-year old players in Mix Diskerud and Aron Johannsson need to be subs and/or starters in every group game this summer.

While Diskerud and Johannsson are both relatively new to the national team universe, they clearly play with an energetic and inventive chip on their shoulders that results in positive contributions and results. Johannsson wants to score whenever he plays, which is always a good thing to have in a forward. Just saying.

And Mix Diskerud and Michael Bradley are the perfect complement to each other. Diskerud is right-brained and Bradley is left-brained and together they can create a dangerous dynamic for the USMNT in the middle of the pitch. This team needs leadership and this coupling could very well be the stable and imaginative core this squad needs for pulling off any last-minute heroics or improbable upsets in Brazil.

Diskerud and Johannsson as super-subs? Yes.

However, if match-ups on the field permit it, super-starter also has a nice little ring to it. I’m looking at you, Mix.

Either way, Klinsmann finalizes the lineup. It rests with him in deciding if the summer of 2014 will be a memorable World Cup experience for the Americans.

Will Klinsmann be a super coach in Brazil?

USMNT fans hope so.

OH-It’s Good to be Home

Crew Stadium will once again play the patriotic host to a pivotal World Cup qualifying match. This evening, under a Midwestern blanket of stars, the United States of America will battle “That Team Down South.”

The stands will be painted with jerseys and shirts that will proudly showcase the brightest and boldest color combinations of red, white and blue. The chanting and support will be relentless because, honestly, it’s the USMNT’s homecoming.

The fans, players and coaches all know what’s waiting for them. Kickoff is set for 8:00 p.m. on ESPN, but the excitement has been building since the last match four years ago.

The stage is set for another defining 90 minutes of American soccer.

For the United States, tonight’s game can (should) provide this squad with a unique window into the future. Can the Americans regroup after suffering an embarrassing loss in Costa Rica 3-1 in a matter of just a few days with a depleted starting lineup (injury and yellow card accumulations)? Like today, and potentially during the summer of 2014 in Brazil, can the red-white and blue prove to have a short memory. When maximum points and victories are necessary and when the team is forced to travel between games, will Jürgen Klinsmann’s team rise to the occasion?

When an individual is under pressure, there are only two reactions: get crushed or push back.

The United States vs. Mexico is an incredible soccer rivalry. Luckily for the American players and fans, they will feel right at home in Columbus, Ohio. In the three World Cup Qualifying games played between these two nations at Crew Stadium (2001, 2005 and 2009), the United States has won all three games with a final tally of 2-nil.

Or, in better words: Dos a Cero.

There have been great goals, hard tackles, beautiful passes, yellow cards and McBride’s “eye wide shut.”

With three games left in World Cup qualifying and a point differential of 1 between the United States and first-place Costa Rica, 5 between the U.S. and Mexico and 6 between Costa Rica and Mexico, tonight’s match is critical for both teams.

The stakes are undeniably high. The rivalry is real. This is the game and Crew Stadium is the venue!

To build the suspense even more, there will be several intriguing story lines playing out tonight in the heat inside (but really outside) the house Lamar built.

  • Without the maestro in the middle, can the U.S. be guided without the quiet, steady leadership of Michael Bradley?
  • How will Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey play together in such a vitally important game? Will they be the catalysts or finishers on goals?
  • Will Mexico, having fired its head coach last Saturday morning, be dejected or inspired by pride?
  • How many yellow and red cards will the ref show or not show?
  • Will Chicharito (Javier Hernández Balcázar) play like a Manchester United star?
  • Besides Tim Howard, which American player will take the strategic and emotional leadership role tonight? FYI-This responsibility is not limited to the man wearing the captain’s armband…
  • Does the American side have a reliable and dependent back line?
  • Will the United States of America pull off another paramount victory in front of its best crowd?

Now, the most critical question: will it be miraculously cold tonight like back in 2001? The forecast says mid-80s, so probably not. But remember: this is Columbus, where the hopes and dreams of American soccer fans, players and coaches come true…

Plus, it all depends on how you define “cold.”

Another 2-nil win for the U.S. could seriously start to freeze the hopes of a berth to the 2014 World Cup in sunny Brazil for “That Team Down South.”

I’m getting chills just thinking about it!