Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Feb 29th a Banner Day for U.S. Soccer

It's too bad there isn't a February 29th every year. What a day for U.S. Soccer. Goals were scored, history was made, and three different U.S. teams emerged victorious today. Let's take a closer look at how it all went down.



The U.S. opened the 2012 Algarve Cup with a 5-0 thrashing of 12th ranked Denmark this afternoon as they took an early lead in Group B. Alex Morgan continued her torrid scoring pace this year notching her 7th and 8th goals of 2012 and Abby Wambach scored the 132nd goal of her international career to lead the offense while Hope Solo made 4 saves for her 61st career shutout to lead the defensive effort. Carli Lloyd and Sydney Leroux also chipped in goals in the second half, and with goal differential being one of the main tiebreakers in this tournament every little bit helps. The U.S. is now 7-0 to start the year and has only allowed one goal while scoring 45. The road to a third straight Algarve Cup title gets a lot tougher though as powerhouses Norway and Japan still loom ahead on the schedule. Japan, who defeated the U.S. in the World Cup Final last summer, rallied for a 2-1 win over Norway this morning in Group B's other match. The U.S. gets Norway on Friday, and then wraps up Group Play against Japan on Monday with a berth in the final potentially on the line.



The U.S. men made history today with their first ever win against the Italians in 11 tries. Clint Dempsey became just the fourth American player ever to score against Italy taking a feed from Jozy Altidore near the top of the box and hitting a driven shot against the grains and past a helpless Gianluigi Buffon for the only goal of the match as Tim Howard and company held on for a 1-0 win. While the win is certainly historic, let's not get too carried away. To be clear, the U.S. did not outplay Italy today. The Azzurri outshot Jurgen Klinsmann's club 19-4 and were victimized by 9 offsides calls, and with a little luck this game easily could have been 3 or 4 to 1 in favor of the hosts. But Howard made 7 saves and the U.S. back line of Steve Cherundolo, Carlos Bocanegra, Clarence Goodson and Fabian Johnson (later Jonathan Spector) made just enough plays to preserve the shutout and snap a winless streak dating back to 1934. Still, while this win doesn't propel the U.S. into the conversation of the best teams in the world, it's still another step in the right direction and it's a huge confidence builder. Any time you can go toe-to-toe with, and hang with, one of the world's best - and despite what you may think after today Italy is still exactly that - that's a substantial accomplishment.
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The U.S. has now won 4 games in a row - 3 of those outside of the country - and they haven't allowed a goal in any of their matches in 2012. And let's not forget that the U.S. still hasn't managed to put its two best players, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, on the field at the same time since the start of the Klinsmann era. With the improved play of Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu and Jozy Altidore, and the continued development of youngsters like Brek Shea to complement the starpower of Donovan and Dempsey there's plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the U.S.'s chances in World Cup Qualifying this summer.


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More reason to be optimistic for U.S. soccer fans as the U-23s, despite playing without Brek Shea or Terrence Boyd who were both in Italy with the Senior Squad, defeated Mexico in Texas tonight by a score of 2-0. Both goals came mere minutes apart in the first half, first with Juan Agudelo heading home a Mix Diskerud corner and then Diskerud deflecting Freddy Adu's long range shot into the corner of the net doubling the lead. On the other end, MLS keepers Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson combined to make 8 saves to preserve the shutout. Watching the U.S. handle a tough Mexico squad with some ease, you have to like their chances in Olympic Qualifying 3 weeks from now when they take on the likes of Cuba, Canada and El Salvador in group play. Qualifying kicks off on March 22nd.


Today was a busy day for soccer with a lot of the world's top teams in action in friendlies. Some of the highlights:

SPAIN 5 VENEZUELA 0 - Even without injured David Villa, Spain's offense is still potent. 26 year old Valencia striker Roberto Soldado came off the bench at halftime and struck 3 times as Spain cruised to a 5-0 win over Venezuela.

NETHERLANDS 3 ENGLAND 2 - England erased a 2-0 deficit with a pair of late goals, but Arjen Robben ripped their hearts out with his second goal of the match, two minutes into stoppage time, to give the Dutch a 3-2 win. Scary moment in this one on Holland's second goal when Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Chris Smalling knocked heads seconds after Huntelaar's header gave the Dutch a 2-0 lead. Both players were sent to the hospital with Smalling leaving the field on a stretcher.
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FRANCE 2 GERMANY 1 - Oliver Giroud and Florent Malouda each scored goals for the French while the Germans could only muster a 91st minute goal from Cacau as they lost at home 2-1.

ARGENTINA 3 SWITZERLAND 1 - The international game hasn't been particular kind to Lionel Messi, but today was an exception as he torched the Swiss defense for 3 goals, including 2 in the last five minutes, for his first ever international hat trick. Messi, who has scored at least 38 goals for Barcelona in each of the last 4 seasons, now has 22 goals for Argentina in 67 matches.

COLOMBIA 2 MEXICO 0 - Mexico dominated possession and attempted 17 shots, but the potent Chicharito and Gio Dos Santos were both shutout while Atl├ętico Madrid striker Falcao and midfielder Juan Cuadrado beat Mexican keeper Guillermo Ochoa for a 2-0 win.

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