Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
Email Jon to talk about soccer.
The 2010 World Cup started on June 11. Both games that day were draws; South Africa drew 1-1 with Mexico, and neither Uruguay nor France could score a goal.
It was June 13 before a team scored more than twice in a match. It was June 15 before both sides scored in a match that didn't end as a 1-1 draw. Just 18 goals were scored in the first four days, and four of those goals were from Germany; the other 21 teams in action couldn't even manage a goal apiece. Nine were blanked entirely, and six more were involved in 1-1 draws with each other.
Now, let's look back at four days of soccer in 2014. Every match save Mexico-Cameroon has featured at least three goals, and Mexico had two wrongly called back for offsides against a rather weak Cameroonian side. The Netherlands scored five. Karim Benzema had a hat-trick for France. Haris Seferovic scored for Switzerland in the third of three stoppage-time minutes, to snatch a 2-1 win against Ecuador when the South Americans appeared set to themselves steal victory. There hasn't been a single draw. There have been 37 goals, in 11 games, and by one count there have been eight more that were disallowed for one reason or another.
Sure, the goalkeeping has been terrible, with Spain's Iker Casillas and Croatia's Stipe Pletikosa leading the Wall of Goalkeeping Shame. Some of the defending has been terrible, as well; many of the goals were reasonably simple headers from unmarked players in the penalty area, generally a good sign that things aren't right defensively. And a few defenders are getting into the spirit, if on the wrong end; Brazil and Bosnia-Herzegovina have both scored upon themselves in this tournament.
Still, it's been undeniably fun to watch. Five of the eleven games have featured one of the teams coming from 1-0 down to win, and we surely can't be far away from a two-goal comeback win.
Now then. On to more important things - specifically, the first USA match of the tournament. It's at 5:00 tonight, on ESPN, and as our friend Michael Rand once said, if you're not planning on watching, then you might as well turn in your passport.
The game is in Natal, which has seen such rainfall that the city is on flood alert. More showers are forecast for tonight, along with dew points in the 70s, which here in Minnesota - where the dew point is in the 70s for only a couple of hours in a normal summer - is the point at which it becomes so humid it is no longer possible for humans to breathe.
Americans will be worried about Ghanian striker Asamoah Gyan, who you might remember from 2010, when he scored in extra time to eliminate the USA in the first knockout round. You may also remember him from Ghana's match against Uruguay in the following round, when Gyan missed a penalty with no time left at the end of extra time, after Luis Suarez had been sent off for this piece of blatant cheating. Gyan scored 40 for his club team in the UAE this year, has scored twelve in his last 19 matches for Ghana, and figures to be the most dangerous presence tonight for the USA back four to deal with.
So too will America worry about do-everything Ghanian midfielder Michael Essien, who will likely be the main force attempting to blunt USA midfielder Michael Bradley's creativity. If Essien gets the best of Bradley, it could be a disjointed night for the Americans.
On the flip side, Ghana will worry about - actually, no one, really. All noises from the Ghana camp seem remarkably unconcerned about a USA team that the Africans have beat at two consecutive World Cups. Ghana midfielder Andre Ayew said, in a press conference, "If we're all fit, if we're all 100%, there's no way we don't win this game." While it seems like overconfidence, it does appear to be the attitude of the USA's opponents - and to be fair, they have had the Americans' number.
It's a game that is remarkably important for both teams' potential fortunes. With games against Germany and Portugal remaining, a loss would probably end the hopes of either to qualify, and a draw wouldn't go much further. Anything less than three points will be a disappointment in both camps.
Like we said: 5:00. ESPN. If you haven't planned ahead already, then plan now.
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