Interview with Allyson Latta

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Young Americans

Well, it didn't take long for USA's U-20 star Freddy Adu to get back in the news. Looks like Portugese side Benfica are courting him with big numbers and the deal is almost sealed. If all goes well, Benfica will certainly have a new lease on life because not only will they have the dazzling Adu but the dangerously crafty Argentinian player Angel Di Maria and Argentina's Andres Diaz. Now that's some triple threat. Although Adu and Di Maria didn't get a chance to play against each other in the recent U-20 tournament held in Canada, they are no strangers to the other's feats and capabilities - it's one thing to play against each other, to play on the same team could prove quite thrilling, and I'm sure many of these youngsters would rather have the likes of a Di Maria and an Adu on their side opposed to battling it out against them. On the other side of things Jozy Altidore is holding his own for the Big Apple's Red Bulls, although he just couldn't get the ball in the net during last week's match against Chivas USA, nobody could, not Altidore, Juan Pablo Angel or John Wolyniec, three forwards and no luck. Sometimes that's what the ball does, adopts a mind of its own; hits every part of the goal, posts, crossbar, the goalie, outer-sides, corners and top of the net, but just can't seem to find its way into the back of it. Speaking of backs of things, I think it's going to be a long time before we see the backs of many of the latest U-20 players. News on Mexico's Gio Dos Santo's should be filtering in soon enough and the latest on Argentina's stunner, Sergio Aguero.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Never a Dull Moment

I was feeling a sort of post-partum depression with the end of the U-20 World Cup but the beauty of the football world is that there's rarely a dull moment. In less than a month from now on August 11th the official season begins, English, Scottish, then Seria A, Bundesliga et al - on August 18th the FIFA U-17 tournament gets underway in Korea, and Beijing hosts the FIFA Women's World Cup in September . Ah, the beautiful game.

Trades, rumours, and all that are happening across the Premiership. The most interesting one to me thus far is about Gabriel Heinze's threat to leave Man U for Liverpool. This brings me back to the strange dichotomy of liking certain players but not their clubs. I've always liked Heinze as a player, can't stand Man U by birth and Argentina, well I think I've stated my case before - it's in the statistics. Heinze is one of those modest, lethal players; perhaps the modesty's adopted from the British end of things and the lethal comes from being an Argentinian national player - that innate talent. Now Sir Alex Ferguson is hoping that Heinze, whose taking legal action against his club, will make the "right" decision and remain with the almighty Manchester United. However, I think it would be a great move for the left back(defender) to move to a team where he can actually do something. Heinze's talents have been nullified with Man U over the past couple of seasons and fresh off a good show of things in the Copa America tournament, Heinze seems fit and ready, in his prime, perhaps a little tired, but ready to make a fresh start in the new season. A new side would be good for the young Argentinian that will only get old too soon if he remains with Manchester. Time will tell, but here's hoping he gives Man U the boot!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Goals, Goals, Goals

Last night Toronto FC played a friendly against England's Aston Villa, no coverage, that I could see. I flicked and flicked and I flicked channels in an effort to find something about the game and eventually after wading through what seemed like the entire MLB's highlights,finally highlights from the soccer game were shown.

Toronto FC's popularity has taken off like a bullet and in the sold-out match against Aston Villa, they held their own it seems by coming back from a two-nil deficit to tie the game, then allowing two more goals against them in the end, but hell what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. For those of you that think soccer is generally lacking in goals - the 6 scored in this game must have whet your appetite. The highlights didn't satiate my desire to have seen the entire game, however, I should just find a way to see them in person, soak up the atmosphere and chant an anthem or two.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Villa's warm-up show

I went online in a desperate attempt to obtain tickets to the Aston Villa friendly against Toronto FC Wednesday night at BMO field in Toronto; a club I have yet to watch fully and completely but look forward to taking in. MLS, Los Angeles, Hollywood entertainment shows etc have been blind-sided by the arrival of Beckham but I find it so much more exciting that the Galaxy hosted a friendly against my favorite side Chelsea on the weekend and tomorrow Aston Villa will be on the pitch against Toronto FC and then on to play Columbus on Saturday. I think these friendlies can do more for the game in North America than the arrival of good ol' Becks. I like Beckham, I do, despite the fact that he played for Man U, a side I was simply born to abhor, that's the way it is for Chelsea supporters. I think Beckham is a master at what he does, sets up goals, drives the perfect corner kick, free kick and was a superb skipper, fair and generous, but he's not a patch on experiencing a full-on Premiership side, even if they are going to be a little rusty. If Aston Villa plays their starters tomorrow night it could be an exciting match. The team has an excellent mix of Danish, Czech, Irish, Scottish and English players, and the ex-Man U midfielder Cameroon's Eric Djemba-Djemba could be on the verge of a comeback year, could it start here. Many of the Villa players are familiar with their Toronto FC opponents and it should be a good game for all involved.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Agony and The Ecstasy

When the tears spilled down the pained faces of the young Czech players after yesterday's final against the almighty Argentina - my heart broke. Before I knew it tears soaked my face. The Czechs put up a good fight and played strong, clean football. In the first half Argentina exhibited shades of their histrionic play against Chile but quickly realized it wasn't going to work against the controlled and steely will of their European opponents, not to mention the ref and the entire FIFA organization, the cops, you know, and in the second half played the skillful game they are lethal at and renowned for.

The ecstasy that must have surged through the Czech's veins when Martin Fenin walloped the ball past Romero in the 60th minute of second half play was quickly shut down when Sergio Aguero took advantage of sailing past the Czech defenders, who were momentarily resting on their laurels, and swooped the ball past Petr into the back of the net. Aguero caught the fans, and practically everyone else on the bloody pitch off guard. That's the Argentinians for you. Shockingly, and not, even Aguero's goal was superseded in the 86th minute when Mauro Zarate stealthily sliced the ball, sending it soaring like a meteorite, an apparition, right through the goal keeper. I almost died. I think a lot of people on and off the pitch must have dropped their jaws and almost died. To my extra surprise, in response to the winning goal former goalkeeper and CBC broadcaster Craig Forrest made a comment that went something like this, Petr has just let down his country, all those watching from home, his mother, his grandmother, his sister, the entire nation. I have to ask you, Craig, would you have been able to save that comet, that bullet, that shooting star? I don't think so and I think Petr's mum, his grandmother, his sister and his country recognize there was no shame in preventing that goal from getting into the net - like I said before -that's the Argentinians for you.

Although I didn't see the third place game, I was happy to hear that Chile, despite missing many of their key weapons, played a respectable game of football and ended the tournament on a good note - afterall they were not the only culprits in the debacle on and off the pitch in the game against the equally guilty Argentinians, the officiating and on and on. And Austria, the solid football side they are, also missing a couple of their important defenders, did so well in their final game, in the entire tournament.

I'm sad it's all over. The final was bittersweet to me. Deep down, due to my personal issues with the Argentinian side, my English roots, all that, I desperately wanted the Czech Republic's U-20 side to win. They were a pleasure to watch, a great example of a solid European side - they were charming. If this is the sign of what's to come in that country's national team, in all the participating countries teams in this U-20 World Cup, the next World Cup's emerging national squads are going to give the power houses a real go of it. How exciting - bring on the new breed!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

I did it my way

Tomorrow four teams battle it out for fourth, third, second and first place in this absolutely brilliant FIFA U-20 World Cup. As a newish Canadian, despite emigrating from soccer territory years ago with my soccer family (well football to us, really) and after all the work my dad has done for the sport in this country, it was huge to me that Canada was host to this world class event. I kept humming something while thinking about what to write in this post and figured I'd leave it up to the man whose song came to mind - old blue eyes. My Way puts many things into perspective for me and mine, and the tourney I've experienced up to now. And I'm sure all of the teams - U.S.A., Mexico, Canada, Uruguay, Nigeria, Gambia, Zambia, Costa Rica, Panama, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Congo, Jordan, Korea DPR, Korea Republic, and New Zealand, and the third place challengers, Chile, Austria, the final contenders, the Czech Republic and Argentina - players, managers, refs and all, will agree ...Mr Frank Sinatra take it from here:

And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I'll say it clear,
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain.

I've lived a life that's full.
I've traveled each and every highway;
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Regrets, I've had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.

I planned each charted course;
Each careful step along the byway,
But more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up and spit it out.
I faced it all and I stood tall;
And did it my way.

I've loved, I've laughed and cried.
I've had my fill; my share of losing.
And now, as tears subside,
I find it all so amusing.

To think I did all that;
And may I say - not in a shy way,
No, oh no not me,
I did it my way.

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows -
And did it my way!

MAY THE BEST TEAM WIN, my friends, and congrats to all of those that fell before us!!!

Friday, July 20, 2007

When the Beautiful Game Turns Ugly

Local darbies have been breeding grounds of dirty play for decades; whether it's between London Premiership teams like Arsenal/Man U, the Scottish contingency, Celtic/Rangers, or on a grander scale, neighbouring nations - trouble awaits. Last night's match between Chile and Argentina was no exception and when the ref spilled more fuel on the fire everything exploded. It was no fun to watch these untamed players go after a win by attempting to break legs, ankles, take unnecessary dives, rolls, grab the ref, push each other about and have tantrums. The calmest most mature player on the pitch was Argentina's solid goal keeper Sergio Romero. Like colts these young men are only half-broken at this stage in their careers, a few more solid trainers on their backs and they might, just might, be reined in.

I've been told that the numerous times throughout the years that these countries have played against each other, Chile has only beaten Argentina three times. Whether this statistic relates to the full national team or the half-pints, there is something to be proved. Uruguay exhibited similar behaviour on and off the pitch with their loss to the U.S. but the geographical triangle of South American teams - Argentina at the top, Chile to the left and Uruguay to the right - are not only fighting on the pitch for football supremecy but to distinguish themselves one from the other, to create their own identities. Argentina have done that - hence the drive and rivalry brewing in Chile's boots. Chile have great players. Medina, for one, seemed disheartened, like all he wanted to do was play the game, do what he does best, get the ball in the net and his teammates, Suarez, Vidal, Sanchez, Godoy, to name a few were letting him down. On the other side, the Argentinians were no saints. Yacob was the timebomb we've come to know him as - but channelled his fire into the net with a beautiful goal in the 65th minute of the second half, and Moralez sealed the deal with a sneaky goal in the 93rd. But it's not so much how it ended but how they began, twelve minutes into the game, Di Maria scored a wicked goal that sailed past Chile's overly-dramatic goal keeper Cristopher Toselli and all tempers rose their ugly heads. I think the ref lost control of this game very early on and attempted to get it back the wrong way. FIfA's fair play banner was not gallantly swaying in the wind last night. And what happened off the field is not even worthy of discussion - it's stuff like that that gives football a bad name, and when it's off the pitch, it's not about the sport anymore.

In the end, the best team won. Now it's all about the South Americans against the Eastern Europeans - two different styles of play, mindsets, cultures, history, that all come to life on the pitch. If Argentina display their ability to play any kind of football be it controlled, unleashed, or both, they should put on a good show against the Czech Republic's strength, creativity and drive. I have a feeling, or I hope, this match, the final, will be a battle of skills not tempers.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Not Knowing

At this point in the tournament, I feel like anything can happen. I'm sure that for most people the money's on Argentina to win over Chile and move onto the final against the Czech Republic. However, who knows - anything can happen. Chile are not oblivious to what they are up against tonight and they didn't get this far without being the tricky, passionate team that they are. Sometimes the not knowing is more disconcerting. I'm very anxious, just to see what unfolds. What I do know, I think I can safely say, is that tonight's game will possess a lot more bells and whistles than last night's match between Austria and the Czech Republic - both literally and figuratively. It's almost down to the final in this very satisfying U-20 World Cup and I'm still reeling from the quarter finals; between Austria beating the US, and Mexico losing to Argentina - that game was like a great story that just resonates with you for days, maybe weeks after. I better get over it, and prepare myself for what's to come. Tonight's game should be one of technical wizardry and passion - look out for the fireworks.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Lights, Camera, Action...

Tonight Austria play the Czech Republic in the first of the semi-final games. At this point I have no clue who will take this game. Both teams have their subtle and not so subtle weapons. I'm curious to watch what unfolds, with no preconceived notions. This game for me will be like going to a movie. I like some of the actors but have no clue about the story line, the end is completely unpredictable, and the directors could be the deciding factor in the shows overall effect. So, lights, camera, action...

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Survival of the Fittest

There are obstacles and then there are locked doors, brick walls, bridgeless waterways, jail cells, quick sand, all things that hinder one from moving freely, and ultimately prevent one from progressing, reaching a destination or achieving a goal. Barring the metaphors, in today's Argentina vs Mexico game, Mexico not only met their match, their match superseded them on many levels. They shut them down and wore them down, like a crafty predator does its prey. Argentina completely took over in the second half and defended their jewel of a goal, disabling the frustrated Mexican side. Dos Santos couldn't get in goal position if he tried, surrounded by blue and white shirts at every turn. All of Mexico's opportunities were used up in the first half, and that sneaky goal by Moralez in the remaining seconds of the first half must have sealed Argentinian coach Hugo Tocalli's strategy for the remainder of the game; hang onto the lead and prevent the Mexicans from scoring - it worked. The Argentinians were sturdy, strong and cunning. With the likes of Aguero, Moralez and feisty Yacob, who was yanked off the field at one point by his coaches and given a talking to, Mexico's opponent were simply too well prepared, too well coached and too powerful. Their confidence on the field is inherent - it's in their football genes, natural. Their predecessors, their ancestors, these boys too are so familiar with competing in and winning championships, they pull the astroturf right out from under the other teams feet. Despite my visions and hopes, if Mexico were finally destined to lose to someone, there's no shame in losing to the likes of this Argentinian side. They put up a good fight but just couldn't make a move. It won't be the last of Dos Santos,Barrera,Vela, Guerrero etc. Of all the future superstars we've been exposed to in this U-20 World Cup and future fixtures for their respective national teams, Dos Santos' career is one I really look forward to following. I can't wait until he meets Yacob, Moralez, Mercado, Benego and Aguero again. Because you know all these players are going to be kicking-off against each other on numerous occassions for the next, oh, ten years or so, at least.

So, lets see how Argentina handle their geographical neighbours, Chile. It could be interesting - it's always interesting.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Then There Were Six

It breaks my heart when a team that exhibits so much promise gets knocked out of a tournament such as this. What today's Austria vs U.S.A. game reminded me of was that not all team's weapons are blatent. There are many different styles of play on a pitch, and we've witnessed at lot of panache in this U-20 World Cup; entertaining sides like Mexico, Argentina, Japan, Chile, Brazil, Nigeria, Uruguay, Costa Rica and on - fancy footwork, speed, agility, cunning, passion, and flare. However, teams such as Poland, Scotland, the Czech Republic and Austria bring a whole different style, discipline, strategy and physical element to the game. Austria are strong, structured, reserved and lethal in their surgical, almost mechanical approach. Though not present in this World Cup, Germany is a prime example of this method that stealthily wins championships. Austria has modestly marched their way to the top of this mountain and could very well be placing its flag at the peak. The Czech Republic though a little less controlled play a similar game. It takes one killer striker to hit the field for a team like Austria to nail a securing goal, then the rest of the team takes over again defending the lead - Hoffer is Austria's cannonball. He's deadly, accurate and enviably consistent. Unlike Altidore and Adu and the rest of the U.S. side that run and run and run and run and shoot and miss and shoot and score and run and run and run and run...the Austrians defend and defend and defend and send on Hoffer and score and defend. There's barely a bead of sweat apparent on their brows. They're not as exciting to watch, as memorable, but they march on, never veer from the path, have a mission and successfully complete it, like ants, and that's admirable.

I have followed and been behind the U.S. team from the start of this tourney. I love their enthusiasm, skill, professionalism and the incredible progress they've been making since hosting the World Cup, on the major scale, just over thirteen years ago. I envisaged an U.S.A. vs Mexico final - today half of that vision dissipated. I still see Mexico there though. Spain is gone. The Czech's move on. Nigeria always pose a threat. Chile has proven their toughness and Argentina loom like a dark cloud over my brightly lit dream of Mexico beating them like a pinata. I anxiously await Dos Santos and the rest of the Mexican crew hitting the pitch again and showing us what they can do! Whatever happens in tomorrow's quarterfinal matches, one thing is certain, we're heading toward a paradoxical final.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Luck of the Draw

I have a love/hate relationship with the Argentinian side. Gabriel Batistuta has always been one of my favourite players - if not my favourite; Argentina has been England's nemesis on more than one occasion in World Cup play and when I'm rooting for my national team a segment of my loyalty lies with my birthplace England, another with my folk's birthplace and my dad's former national team - Scotland, and of course there's my loyalty to the country whose soil I live on, Canada - it's a fine balance. Usually, it's England I'm behind and I have sat in the stands amidst good-natured Argentinian fans at World Cup events of the past and watched them kill my team. They are sly and fast and often far too bloody good. They have dominated World Cups, both U-20's and the big guys, since before many of us were born. In short - they frighten me and in yesterday's game against Poland, Argentina's youth team were no exception.

Last night's pitch was full of eleven sturdy Polish players and eleven Diego Maradonas. The ball was an extension of the young Argentinians' sweeping feet, which at times didn't even seem to be touching the ground, they appeared to communicate telepathically, eyes never leaving their target and it all seemed so effortless. Whose feet move that fast and skillfully other than perhaps Barishynikov's, Secretariat's, or Muhammed Ali's - Maradona's, Batistuta's. Frightening. And doesn't it figure that the nemesis is playing one of my favourite teams in this competition, the dazzling and seemingly unstoppable Mexican side. Sunday's game, Mexico vs Argentina is going to be a final in itself, and sadly one of the two most spectacular teams in this U-20 World Cup will be heading home trophy-less. That's the luck of the draw.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

From the ashes of disaster...

...rise the roses of success!

USA's game last night against Uruguay had my blood boiling,and my tone of voice reached a level that drove my poor dog into another room where he hid beneath a desk and quivered. He's not a small dog. I hurled pillows at the television screen and bit off what little fingernail growth I had until my damn fingers bled. A few minutes into the game I said, wait a minute, as well as a predictable style of play presenting itself on the opposing team, I thought, this ref is going to be responsible for the U.S.A.'s demise. Overcoming practically every obstacle imagineable on the field, except for a penalty or red card amazingly, the U-20 American side rallied together like the pros they are turning out to be and proved there is justice!!! There's nothing worse to me than when a ref turns a blind eye to an offending team, we see it in the Premiership with teams like Arsenal on a weekly basis, sorry Gunner's supporters but one has to call it as they see it. The more I watched the young Uruguayans step on opposing player's feet, punch players in the ear, elbow them as they ran by, and fall to the ground from a whisper, I thought I was going to lose my mind. Somehow, with the loss of Altidore to a filthy challenge that wasn't even called a foul, the U.S. hung on and Michael Bradley, their consistent work-horse on the field, achieved what he deserved, personal, and his team's, victory. Uruguay are undeniably talented and I looked forward to watching them but at this stage in their game they are a deadly mix of too much testosterone and South American anguish. The poor losership at the end of the match was the icing on the cake, proof that Uruguay's U-20 side ended this competition just where they belong - on the plane home.

As far as the officiating in the dying moments of an incredible performance by a bruised and exhausted U.S. side, half of the team were handed yellow cards for looking at their opponent the wrong way - so if the ref couldn't help them lose in the round of 16, he'd effect their security in the games to come. The beauty of it is - I don't think it'll make a damn difference to their success. I'm wary of premature predictions but among many things I think the Uruguay game did for the U.S., despite buffing up their injury list, was make them even stronger. I think Austria's luck might be about to run out.

The Spain vs Brazil game was a mix of absolute brilliance and absolute dullness - a game of extremes. In the end the stronger side won and for that I was very pleased. Players like Adan, Bueno, Capel, Pique, Garcia and Adrian put up a great fight for Spain against a tricky and skillful Brazilian side; it took 3/4s of the game for the Spanish side to reach their peak but when they did, they exhibited their shifty footwork, creativity and bravery on the field - ending so aptly with the matador's stance.

I believe that Japan would have been better off nailing a win prior to going to penalty kicks,easier said than done, however, they have yet to master the old one-on-one with their opponents. They played so well throughout this competition, though. They should be thrilled with their performance. As for the Czech Republic - I can't wait to finally see them play a game.

Tonight, Portugal play Chile, Argentina play Poland, Zambia play Nigeria and Mexico play Congo. I prefer Chile over Portugal, Argentina over Poland, Nigeria over Zambia and Mexico over Congo. I have to admit Mexico are my favs, along with the Americans. Right from the very first whistle in this competition I loved the look of the Mexican side. I'm nervous and emotional and think I better drop the dog off at my parent's.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

One Wrong Move

We've reached the first elimination round of the U-20 World Cup and I'm getting nervous. One wrong move and 4 of the best teams in this competition will be going home. The 3 games I'm really excited about in today's match-ups are USA vs Uruguay, I've yet to see Uruguay play in this World Cup but if history has any bearing on their performance, it should be a tough game, for both sides. Spain vs Brazil - again, have yet to see Spain play and I hope I get to see them today because I love the way the Spanish nationals play. I've watched Brazil and still think they're a little green, individual talent abounds, but their team work has yet to be mastered. And Japan vs Czech Republic - I've heard the Czech side are very strong, and I've witnessed Japan be dazzling and then not-so-dazzling, so I'm not sure how predictable their performance will be. How they play seems to depend on how the other team plays, so if the Czech side is going to give them a fight, I think they'll rise to the occasion. Austria vs Gambia is one game I'm not biting my fingernails off about, but hell it could turn out to be the one to watch.

My money's on USA, Spain, Japan and Gambia. I think I'll need a pint or two through this round!!

Then, tomorrow's another story.

Monday, July 9, 2007

It's not whether you win or lose...

It's how you play the game!!

In the last twenty minutes of the Canada vs Congo match all hell broke loose - why did it take that long for the fire in our team's hearts to start burning? As painful as it was to watch goalkeeper Asmir Begovic's large gloved hands come flying up to touch the ball while he was at least ten feet out of the penalty box - the event itself brought the Canadian team to life. The red card - the goalkeeper sent off in the dying minutes of Canada's last game - their last chance to show us what they are made of, what we're made of. When little, fair-haired, Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault donned the make-shift goalie jersey, mammoth gloves and stepped between the two daunting goal posts, I thought, Oh my God, now what are we in for. Then something happened, he took control of the game!!! Stopped a few incredible shots on goal, exuded passion, drive and guts and a healthy desperation that catapulted his entire team to life - suddenly they were attacking, shooting at the net from close range, scrambling for the ball, working together as a team, fighting for a win, fighting for anything, the anguish on their faces began to show, they were trying. The rain-soaked fans came alive, the bleeding ref came to life and the Congo had a game on their hands - I ask you, should this side of our national team not have been evident from their very first kick-off on their country's soil!!?

Having been a huge soccer fan practically since birth, and those of you who live and breathe the sport will understand, there's an all-encompassing effect that comes with supporting your country's team, the beauty of World Cup events, of any sporting event - hockey, the Olympics, the world series. They bring the fans, the people, together on so many levels, the patriotism, the pride one takes in cheering their players on and those players more often than not are brewing with that very same pride when they hit the pitch, the ice, the field - ah, it's magic. So sure, it isn't whether our countries win or lose but for those ninety odd minutes that we're all there as one; emotionally, joyfully, faithfully and with so much hope - it's how they play the game.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Skipper

Some games take time to assimilate, like some movies, books etc. You need time to mull over what happened before talking about it. I felt this way about the USA vs Brazil game. Ultimately, what I felt is that USA play like pros, this is the future national team, and they are playing like it now, almost more accomplished than their superiors, the old nationals. Brazil have so many talented players that have yet to hone their craft. They will be superb when they are ripe. Christiano Ronaldo (Portugal) and Ronaldinho (Brazil), were like some of these kids too at first, bubbling over with natural talent but not quite sure how to control it and apply it to the 'team'. Once they grew into their talent, yikes!

What USA have that Brazil don't, I think, is a great leader. Adu looks after his mates on the field. He's not a selfish player, for a superstar. They work great together and Adu has the ability to help make many of his teammates shine - like Altidore for example, a combination of great coaching, a great skipper, and strong experienced players is what's taking this team swiftly up the ranks. I think they stand a great chance in the round of sixteen.

I'm crossing my fingers for Scotland against Costa Rica tonight - it's going to be a strange match-up.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

To Use the Vernacular

With all due respect to the other commentators in this U-20 World Cup, the key elements that really made the Mexico vs Portugal game so brilliant were Mexico and Gary Bloom. There were two compelling narratives happening in unison. One on the pitch, made up of Mexico's thrilling ball control, foot work, skill, speed, joie de vivre and as Bloom so aptly put, incredible ability to read each other; and two, from the broadcast booth with Bloom's wit, poeticism, knowledge, genuine enthusiasm, and the football vernacular. I could have listened to that game with my eyes closed and enjoyed it just as much!

Mexico from the get go against Gambia exhibited a freshness, determination and skill that captured me instantly. Though I stated before, I have always liked the Mexican nationals for many of the traits that are present in the new breed. But this youth team are even more compelling, extremely talented and cohesive, a unit. Portugal had fleeting moments of brilliance, put up a good fight but appeared frustrated, exasperated, worn out. Mexico, though slightly breathless and drenched in sweat, maintained unbelievable ball savvy, control, determination and looked like they were enjoying every minute of it - all in a day's work. What a great game. Individual players like Dos Santos, the goalie Blanca, Hernandez etc were great but their ultimate gift, I think, is how they play as a team.

I had so much faith in Canada against Austria. It'll happen, in time.

Tomorrow - the outcome of the group of death!


Tonight at 7:30pm ET Canada play Austria. From here on out they better play with everything they've got, especially balls! Canada have a lot of weapons, there is no reason why they can't take on and stand up to Austria, who will be one tough opponent. I heard one broadcaster say that, "we don't expect Canada to win the whole thing". Yes, we do! Everybody wants their particular country to win, it's all part of it, whether they will or this point it's, almost, anybody's cup.

Darrin P commented on one of my posts that Canada are essentially greenhorns and that it takes time to develop a team. It's true, and tested, look at the U.S. side, thirteen years ago when they were greenhorns they hosted the World Cup, faced the best of the best in soccer boots, now look at them! Canada's U-20's are experiencing the best possible opponents in this competition and hosting The World, but I think we have to remember that the players themselves are far from greenhorns. 'Under-20' can be misleading. These so-called kids pretty much all play for top clubs, many of them are scouted at the ripe old age of 10 or younger. So yes, soccer itself is a greenhorn in this country but that's changing. My dad says it takes about thirty years to develop a great side, time and of course money. Over thirty years ago he came here from England as the first player-coach of the Toronto Metros. I'd say it's just about Canada's time to shine.

I'm also really excited about the Mexico vs Portugal game. I have always loved watching the Mexican national team, like Spain(which I'm so disappointed was not shown on CBC yesterday)and was really impressed with their U-20 side when they played Gambia. The new generation are a little different than their predecessors. I've got my eye on Giovanni Dos Santos and Javier Hernandez, strong players, both physically and mentally. And Portugal a real power house. This should be some game. I hope it's a steely ref or else look out for the red cards!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Is it just me or is anyone else completely frustrated with the lack of coverage on the U-20 World Cup games. Finally, Canada hosts a brilliant soccer event - the FIFA U-20 World Cup, the calibre of talent on these teams, a World Class event and we only get to see one game a day!? Granted maybe I don't have the right cable package, satellite or the box, but if I did, would it make a difference? There were four unbelievable matches yesterday, one was shown on CBC last night at 11pm, taped. Tonight the same thing, 4 matches, and an 11pm taped version of the Japan vs Costa Rica game. And an interesting match-up it was.

Also, I'm astonished that the U.S. team's brilliant win over Poland received little to no coverage on the U.S. stations. Haven't we been waiting for something entertaining, dramatic and spellbinding to occupy our television screens throughout this sports dryspell. Baseball can't satisfy all our cravings as we wait for the arrival of the NFL season, mourn the anticlimatic end to the NBA, the NHL and the Triple Crown! How lucky we are that we have a brilliant soccer event happening on our soil and the media is letting us down. No wonder the beautiful game has had such trouble taking off in this country! The fans are out there - feed us!

So Long, Farewell, Adu

Wow, now that the first game jitters in the U-20 World Cup are out of the way, the cream of the crop are unabashedly rising to the top! Brazil and Korea Republic played a world-class game against each other. I was on the edge of my seat throughout most it. Brazil started a little sloppy but with the end of the plank in sight, knowing they needed a win, they rose to the occasion. What skill these players exhibited on both sides. I think there was only one kid on Brazil's side that was marginal, but 10 out of 11 is quite something. Aside from the highly touted Pato - or the duck - I really like the looks of Amarol, Marcelo and Roberto. Pato wasn't living up to his hype in the first half, but he more than made up for it the minute the second half whistle blew. I think Brazil have found their stride, but Korea Republic are a force to be reckoned with. This is an exciting group.

I didn't see either of the high scoring games. Very frustrating that out of all the stellar games played yesterday only 1 was shown on CBC. Argentina beat Panama 6-0, and the USA, wow, a 6-1 win over Poland. Poland must have been flabbergasted coming off a win against Brazil! USA have built some national team over the last decade and if they have youth players like this, whoa!They could be one of the new power houses. Freddy Adu is something else - I think he'll even keep the spotlight off of Beckham for a while!!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Kids are Alright

I was a little overwhelmed yesterday with three games in U-20 World Cup. It was so exciting. What I love so much about this is watching the new generation of players. For years I've been watching and have become very attached to the old school.

It's like following college football and basketball. You have the opportunity to pick out the stars of the future. I've followed the likes of Peyton Manning from college to the Superbowl. By the second round of this tournament individual players will start to identify themselves. Right now I'm watching the teams as a whole. I love that Portugal exhibited the calibre and finesse of their superiors, their role models. They were cut right from that mold, little Figo's and Nuno Gomez's, et al. They looked very strong, a little too strong for the inexperienced New Zealand. New Zealand show a lot of potential though. I think it's good that they started with such a tough opponent as Portugal.

More later, especially on the Mexico and Gambia game!!

Sunday, July 1, 2007


Okay, perhaps this is not the tournament where the postcards will arrive home before the Scottish players. The Japanese, like the Chileans and the Argentinians play like small dogs run - fast and close to the ground. All lower body, excellent ball control, speed, agility. Scotland and Canada appear gangly and awkward next to their opponents. Is it all physique effecting these games? Of course not. Part physique, part mentality, part passion and culture. What I love about World Cup soccer is all that; how a country's traits are representative in their players. Each player has their individual characteristics, skills, but the overall country's can be seen in its team. Scotland like Canada has a team full of skilled players, like England's internationals,(not its youth team), packed full of stars, pros, but when you lump them together, they can't seem to pull off the grand win. Is it representative of the country? Am I getting political? No. Just an observation.

Off to the second half of the Canada vs Chile game. I think Canada needs to stop thinking so hard and play with their hearts, like the Chileans; their passion and drive is channeled through those speedy feet, just where it should be, an eye on the goal helps too!

The future of soccer

I'm about to sit down and watch Scotland play Japan in the FIFA U-20 World Cup. These kids are the next Gaza's, Beckham's, Batistuta's, Zidane's etc. Of course, these teenagers are far from amateurs at this stage in their game. It's exciting that the whole thing is taking place in Canada. In jest, or not, my dad Graham Leggat says that in international play Scotland always make it home before their postcards. He should know, he used to play for Scotland! This tourney might be different, we'll see how they perform against the always-exciting-to-watch Japanese.

Can't miss the kickoff!