Light the corner kicks of my mind. . .
Ok, that doesn't even make sense. As I wait for the game to start, I'm looking back a little. I was talking to another reporter yesterday about how difficult it is to interview players these days when the media is so monitored and controlled and get anything but a canned, robotic, rote response.
Of course, it's a little easier to get players to open up and chat when they trust you or at least know you a little bit. It takes time to build that relationship, though. Scott French, for example, whenever we cover the USWNT, points out that he's known some of the players on the squad since they were on youth teams, trying to decide which college to attend. He usually can get better quotes from those players than anybody else would, because they're comfortable just talking to him like he's an old friend.
In general, there's also a bit of prophetic pride when a player who you noticed doing well in the past and thought was special makes good. So I was reviewing my reporting history with the latest group that makes up the USNT
Brad Guzan (Chivas USA) Chivas USA is of course our local team, and I met Guzan before that disasterous 2005 season started. He seemed so incongruous, a big, tall fresh-faced goalkeeper pushed into the starting lineup of mostly Latinos in place of the injured Martin Zuniga. What really impressed me that season was Brad's capacity to take abuse. Not just the incredible amount of shots he faced, but the turmoil and discouragement of that first season. It didn't break him - it made him stronger and more determined.
Tim Howard (Everton FC) Tim I didn't meet and interview until he'd already been abroad. He's polite to the media, though, so he's fine to interview.
Carlos Bocanegra (Fulham FC) Same as Tim, though I noticed that Carlos seems more comfortable with interviews lately - maybe the captaincy helped. He seemed more impatient before.
Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA) Jonny B is another local boy. I knew of him in his UCLA days, but I didn't interview him until he was on Chivas USA. It was great to see him break out as a defender, though I still laugh when think how I was grilling him about the change early on. "Is this move going to work for you?" I actually asked.
Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96) Never spoken to him. He wasn't one of the players scheduled at the press conferences in Germany and I didn't have a credential for the mixed zone after games. He's not come out to camps or games in LA since I've been covering the squad.
Dan Califf (Aalborg BK) Danny's a cool guy. I first interviewed him before he made the jump to Europe. It was fun to hear him talking a little smack about his Danish teammates early this year, about how he wanted to earn bragging rights.
Oguchi Onyewu (Standard de Liege) Gooch has been in Europe for a long while - I think I first interviewed him after the US clinched the World Cup berth versus Mexico in Columbus. He'd had a memorable duel with Jared Borgetti there and he was pumped up.
Heath Pearce (Hansa Rostock) Heath is another Euro-based guy, but one of the most candid interviews I've met. He'll tell you what he really thinks, almost every time.
Jonathan Spector (West Ham United) Jonathan scares me a little. Ok, not really, but he's just serious sort of guy and he speaks like someone much older than he is. He says things in a formal manner; hardly uses any contractions, for example. It's a bit unusual.
Freddy Adu (SL Benfica) Freddy I met back when he was 14 and playing with the U20 team. He was such a happy kid, confident and in love with the game of soccer. He's matured, sure, but I hope he never loses that joy in the beautiful game.
DaMarcus Beasley (Glasgow Rangers) Bease I also inteviewed first in Columbus. He'd scored there, and he was the big hero. I was really happy he stopped to talk to me, as a bunch of reporters were trying to get quotes from him and he could have called it a night in the mixed zone earlier than he did.
Michael Bradley (SC Heerenveen) I was there when Michael scored his first MLS goal in 2005. His obvious pride was still tinged with disappointment over his dad's firing, but look at both of them now.
Maurice Edu (Toronto FC) Never spoken to him. When he was in LA, I was interviewing other players and when I asked about him, he'd already left and boarded the bus.
Benny Feilhaber (Derby County) Brazilian-born Benny - I talked to him in 2005, when Sigi Schmid was fending off accusations of UCLA favoritism on the U20 team. Benny shut that talk up with a breakout performance in the qualifying tournament.
Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA) Sasch, his teammates call him, is another Chivas USA regular who quietly had an impressive season this year, improving on his excellent rookie year. I interviewed him first back when he was still a U20 player. He didn't get that much playing time with that squad, but I was pointed in his direction when I asked the team's media officer which players were particularly well-spoken (monosyllabic answers are no fun). Kljestan's a smart guy, and that comes acgoss in his interviews.
Josmer Altidore (New York Red Bulls) Jozy was in Peru with the U17 team when he was only 15, still growing into those big feet of his. He had a good game as a sub versus Italy and I interviewed him after that win. Nice to see him with the senior team today.
Clint Dempsey (Fulham FC) My favorite Dempsey interview was after he scored against Japan in San Francisco. I was there in the mixed zone and asked him about his celebration dance. He demonstrated it again (lean wit it, rock wit it) for all the press. But I first interviewed him back in 2005 when he had long hair and was known as "the other Clint".
Game on! After a little message from Nelson Mandela - which gives a great sense of occasion to this match. I love the stadium announcer - he sounds like a boxing or WWF guy.
1- South Africe controls early on, but Heath Pearce gets the ball back for the U.S. Wow - the picture just jumped to image of an empty room with computers. It looks like a security feed. Max Bretos apologizes.
3- South Africa gets possession back and generates a corner kick - the U.S. deals pretty well.
5- Ex-Metros and Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parriera is shown on the bench. He raises his arms and complains about something. I think he's directing ire at the ref already.
7- Adu with a clever little turn sends a ball up to Dempsey on the run, but he can't quite reach the pass in the box. Where's Eddie Johnson? He's fast enough to chase a pass like that. I'm surprised he's not at least on the bench. Maybe the European team that wants to buy his contract objected.
10- Tim Howard kills an attack by catching the incoming cross. Adu is playing well, gets a corner for his team. The corner gets cleared, then Adu gets the ball back for a good cross, but a defender from South Africa clears that out as well.
12- Nice run of attacking possession for the U.S. here. Dempsey with some footwork in the corner but he loses the ball trying to nutmeg his defender and then gets called for a foul.
13- Adu nearly slips a ball through to Jozy Altidore's run, but an SA defender gets a foot on it.
15- Beasley's speed gets the better of him; he races out for a pass and gets flagged for offsides. The crowd in Jo-Burg is great, a constant buzz of noise, even if quite a few seats are empty.
20- Corner kick for SA - this leads to a shot that Howard saves well near the post.
22- It's SA's turn for a good run of possession. They have a bit of momentum generated.
23- Dempsey, active on the counter attack, gets a corner kick. Adu takes and serves into the box. Bodies go down in a scrum. SA clears, but the U.S. has regained a measure of control in the game.
25- Dempsey is physical and active - I think he's looking to match SA physically and intensity in their defending. Demps just shoved an SA defender out of bounds trying to reach a long pass. The guy shielded the ball well for a goal kick and doesn't seem to mind taking the shove.
27- GOAL! Cherundolo! Stevie C! He's off on an overlapping run and Maurice Edu feeds him a nice little pass, the defense hangs back a bit, anticipating a cross, but Stevie keeps going and takes the shot past a flatfooted Rowen Fernandez. Nice.
32- The crowd rallies after pouting in near silence for a while. Now they're encouraging their team again. The U.S. is still possessing well, though, pressuring SA territory.
34- Adu nice run to the edge of the SA box, but can't beat last defender.
36- CAP looks grimly quiet on the sidelines. Bease on a counter catches up to a long pass from Cherundolo, takes the shot, but this time, Fernandez is on his toes and makes the save.
39- Pearce goes to ground to tackle a ball, and continues to play even while sprawled when the rebound comes back in his direction. He's having a good game so far.
43- The U.S. is keeping a high defensive line, and SA is having trouble breaking it. They're hoofing hopeful balls long over the top. Oh, a little team play gets the ball into the box for SA, then the U.S. clears for corner.
44- Crappy corner from SA. Missed everyone.
45- Pearce with a long, long pass upfield - to no one. Sheesh.
45+- Adu on a breakaway! He races with the ball into the box, showing off good speed for nearly halftime. Though Bease is coming into the box, Adu tries a tricky far post shot though he's got practically no angle. He misses. Beasley is probably thinking, "Dang, Landon would have put the ball on my toe."
Oof. Stevie C, hero of the game, goes down after a tackle from behind. He limps into the locker room. He might not be able to continue.
Halftime - The U.S. is managing the game well, though they're not overwhelming SA. Still, it's smart road team soccer to wait patiently for opportunities.
Spector, Califf and Guzan are in for Cherundolo, Bocanegra and Howard, respectively.
48- Dempsey! Could have had the second right there, as he catches up to a ball headed back to the goalkeeper in the box. Dempsey gets a foot on it, but Fernandez is determined to make up for his earlier indecision. He snags the ball well.
52- Spector with a pass to Bradley, eek, poor decision as Bradley was surrounded by three SA players and has to fight to keep possession. He manages to pass back to Spector, who wisely goes in another direction.
53- The U.S. forget to cover the far post and Modise connects on a header that luckily for the U.S. is off. He was open though, as the U.S. defense got tangled up covering the near post and the incoming run from the otherside.
56- Delron Buckley nice dribble into the box, sends a quick pass back into blonde-haired Subusiso Zuma, but the there's a ton of traffic in the box and he can't slot his shot in past that.
58- The U.S. defense has lost composure. SA is pushing hard for the equalizer. Howard comes out for another ball in the box. The crowd is amped again.
60- Zuma and Pearce go down but, Zuma pops back up and carries his dribble into the box, where the U.S. look clueless right now. Zuma passes, but Spector clears the ball out just before Modise gets it.
61- CK goes to Modise at the corner of the box, but he tries to cut in looking for a shot and loses the ball.
62- Coach CAP looks more animated on the bench.
64- Bafana Bafana, with some great attacking play, can't quite breach the last line of U.S. defense. Spector blocks two shots in a row, just inside the box. Bradley looks grim now.
65- Jozy is in! Dempsey comes out.
67- The U.S. has barely moved out of their own half in this second half. CK cleared by Jozy.
68- SA regains possession, Zuma lays ball back for Macbeth Sibaya, whose low shot is wide, but not by much.
70- Pearce has trouble clearing a high bouncing ball in the box, and his attacker pounces, getting the ball and a cross to Benedict McCarthy off, but the header is weak and Guzan catches easily.
71- Sibewe Tshabalala is in now, I guess it was Delron Buckley earlier.
72- McCarthy in the box, Edu crashes into him, but ref waves play on. Interesting, but the replay shows the contact, while physical, was likely incidental.
74- Kljestan on for Adu.
77- Zuma was down for a god while, but he's back up now and in the game.
80- Modise with a shot from the top of the box between two defenders. It's way high.
82- Guzan with a little time-wasting move, taking his time on the goal kick. His kicks are about the only time the U.S. get into SA territory this half. Two crosses into the box in a row just miss Zuma. He's frustrated.
83- Guzan is out to snag another cross.
84- SA is mad. They want a handball in the box, but the ref gives a corner. Feilhaber, who had defended hard, even while contributing very little offensively, had a ball kicked into his bicep.
86- FK to SA. Feilhaber is out for Bornstien. Interesting. Pearce has been playing well, though, and Jonny can play in the midfield. Guzan catches the FK.
88- The crowd won't give up, and neither will thier team. One mistake could spoil the U.S. victory.
90- FK to SA, not far outside the box. Good chance for them. Modise hoofs it over the bar.
90+Edu and Kljestan work the ball well into the corner. The U.S. has its best moments in the second half holding the ball there a good long while, working short passes together to pass time.
When did the U.S. become mini-Italy? Not that I'm complaining about the win, because 1-0 still counts in the wins column.
Rising like cream: Edu, Adu (Anyone heard Black Eyed Peas' song "Bebot"? That's the tune that gets stuck in my head when I think of those two), Guzan,
Holding steady like superglue: Howard, Cherundolo, Bocanegra, Bradley, Beasley
Sliding slightly like players on a wet field: Dempsey (to be fair, not his ideal position, to be a lone forward; he's not really fast and being the only one up top negates his opportunistic movement), Spector, (dogged defending, but could make better decisions going forward), Califf (never looks good when you come in and the defense starts to fall apart) Pearce (really tired in the second half, though he hung tough on the last line)
Falling like concrete in the river: Feilhaber (lack of playing time at Derby is probably to blame) Onyewu (it's his job to hold the defense together, be the leader),
Drifting like dust in the wind: Didn't see enough of some players in action to really judge: Kljestan, Altidore, Bornstein.