June 18, 2006
Yesterday was a very full day for soccer fans everywhere, but especially here in Rochester. While both games that I cared about had similar results, those results left me with very different feelings afterward.
The US entered yesterday feeling like they needed a win versus Italy to have any real hope of advancing out of group play after a horrible 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic in their World Cup opener. But, before their match had even started, the US got some great news in the by way of Ghana upsetting the Czechs 2-0 earlier in the day.
With that good news, the fire to answer their critics, and fueled by a whole lot of US fans in a city referred to as K-Town by the troops stationed on the local US military base, the US team looked a heck of a lot more like the 2002 squad that made it to the Quarterfinals as opposed to the team that lost to the Czechs five days earlier.
The US got off to a strong start in the match and hopes were high. I was watching the clock. Once the match entered the seventh minute, I was glad that the US had passed the threshold where the Czechs gained an early lead and destroyed the US morale.
In the 21st minute, US defender Eddie
Pope was issued a yellow card for a challenge where it appeared that
both players were guilty of pulling on the other's jersey. Pope was not
thrilled with the call and it would alter come back to haunt the US.
Then in the 22nd minute, the Italians struck. On a free kick out wide to the left of Kasey Keller's goal, Andrea Pirlo delivered a nice cross into the box. Alberto Giardino beat Eddie Pope, who stopped and tried to signal for an offside call that was nowhere near coming, and headed the ball home to give the Italians a 1-0 lead. Giardino celebrated with a little air violin solo and it appeared that he was playing a death march for the Americans.
But then, Lady Luck smiled on the US. Claudio Reyna took the ball up the right side of the field and was fouled. Bobby Convey took the free kick and sent it long over the mixer and towards the far post where Christian Zaccardo had position on Brian McBride. But, Zaccardo badly misplayed the clearance and sent the ball backwards into his own goal.
But Lady Luck wasn't done quite yet in her attempts to help the US. One minute after the US goal, Daniele De Rossi went up to challenge Brian McBride for a ball in the air. De Rossi threw a wild elbow that caught McBride in the face. The elbow caused a gash to open on McBride that would take three post-match stitches to close. It also caused referee Jorge Larrionda to issue a red card to the Italian.
The party was on for the Americans as momentum appeared to be sitting down next to US manager Bruce Arena.
The US continued to pressure the Italians, but they never got a really good chance. Then in the 45th minute, Larrionda made another call that drew the ire of the US. Defensive midfielder Pablo Mastroeni went in for a hard challenge on Pirlo. Larrionda immediately went to the red card and took away the man up advantage the US had held for 17 minutes.
When the second half started, the US was still pretty confident. They had outplayed the Italians on the whole for the first half and the match was level. In the 47th minute, Pope went in for a tackle on Alberto Gilardino and he appeared to get a toe on the ball before taking down the Italian forward. However, the referee saw it differently and despite the protests of US captain Claudio Reyna and others, Larrionda issued Pope his second yellow card of the match and sent him off for an early shower.
Despite being down nine men to ten, the US still put plenty of pressure on Italy in the second half. DeMarcus Beasley came on in the 62nd minute for Clint Dempsey and immediately added some fresh legs to the US lineup that helped keep the pressure on the Italians. Three minutes after entering the match, Beasley appeared to give the US a 2-1 lead. However, the officials ruled that Brian McBride interfered with Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon's view of the shot while in an offside position and negated the goal. Personally, Buffon had no chance on the shot regardless of whether McBride was between him and Beasley at the time of the shot. If McBride didn't make contact with the shot, then it should have been a passive offside, to me.
After that play, the Italians started to wear down the US. Claudio Reyna, Carlos Bocanegra, and others on the US squad were having a hard time running towards the end of the match. The Italians got two really good chances, but Kasey Keller came up big. Especially on a point blank chance by second half sub Alessandro del Piero.
The Italians got 5 or 6 corners in the last ten minutes of the match, but they couldn't crack the US defense.
And when the final whistle blew, the US had survived both the mighty Italians and a poor officiating to earn a point and to keep their hopes for advancing out of group play alive.
And after the first four matches, there should be no argument that this is the "Group of Death".
The Rochester Rhinos entered Saturday night unbeaten and in first place. So, everything should have been fine in Rhino-land. But, after four straight draws, including the home opener at PAETEC Park, the natives appeared to be getting restless.
The fact that just a tad over 9000 fans showed up on a beautiful evening in a beautiful new stadium, kind of added to the sense that something doesn't seem right here.
Johnny Menyongar was left out of the lineup. Coach Calloway said it was to send a message. Charles Gbeke and Matthew Delicate were both left out of the starting lineup in favor of Connally Edozien and Greg Howes. Aaran Lines got the start versus his former club. T-Bone Bonseu was back in the defensive midfielder role after suffering what sounded like post-concussion type headaches. Juninho was back in the starting lineup and Rey Martinez was back as a potential sub.
The match started out with the Rhinos having a lot of possession, but not much in the way of really good scoring chances. The best chance early in the match was created by Portland when someone for the Timbers got on the end of a pass at point blank range and headed the ball into the ground and then up into the crossbar. Thankfully the Rhinos were able to clear the ball out and avoid giving up the first goal for the second straight match at PAETEC Park.
In the 37th minute, Connally Edozien got the Rhinos on the scoreboard. Aaran Lines had a nice cross into the box , which Edozien put away with a beautiful diving header. Edozien's celebration was something to behold as well as he performed a cartwheel and a huge back handspring.
Greg Howes and Juninho both had decent looks, but sent shots over the crossbar in the first half.
The Rhinos got into the locker room with the lead and all appeared well. The Rhinos hadn't generated a lot of really good chances in the first half, but they did control play for the most part and they had the lead.
The second half started with what appeared to be one technical adjustment. It appeared like Howes was dropped into the midfield and Juninho was pushed forward more with Edozien. The Rhinos started out with a slight advantage in possession, but neither team was all that dangerous.
Then in the 60th minute, the Rhinos defense had their first really bad defensive breakdown and Portland made them pay. Mamba Chisoni was able to elude a few Rhinos defenders and he played a low ball across the face of the goal. Scott Palguta had let Luke Kreamalmayer go on the opposite side and the Timbers midfielder put the ball away over top of a diving Scott Vallow.
Only nine minutes later, the Timbers would take the lead. Hugo Alcaraz-Cuellar, one of the best assist men in the A-League/USL 1st Division over the past few years, took a corner for Portland. Defender Scot Thompson broke loose from Jason Perry's marking and powered a header home to give the Timbers a 2-1 lead.
Just as the Timbers were scoring, Coach Calloway was prepping Gbeke, Delicate, and Martinez on what he wanted them to do when they were to enter the game. One minute the trio entered the match for John Ball, Juninho, and Edozien with their mission modified from trying to win the match, to merely trying to secure a single point for the Rhinos.
Gbeke and Delicate definitely helped change the tide in the Rhinos favor. The two big strikers were giving the Portland Timbers defense troubles. But, time wasn't on the Rhinos side. Then, in the 89th minute, the Rhinos were able to take a page out of the Virginia Beach playbook. Rey Martinez whipped a nice cross into the box and Matthew Delicate was able to use his face to finish the play.
In the end, it was the fifth straight tie for the Rhinos. And they held on to first place for another night. But, the performance wasn't what a lot of people were looking for. Personally, the point the Rhinos got wasn't anywhere near as satisfying as the point the US had secured earlier in the day.
Hopefully things will change when Montreal comes to town on Saturday.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author,
and not necessarily those of the Rochester Rhinos or SoccerSam.com. Feel free to
send any comments or complaints to email@example.com. James promises to read
(but not to respond) to all of them.