They Think It’s All Over

Tim Hall’s View From 101

The trophies have all been awarded, the last of which went to Cristiano Ronaldo, which only served to remind all of us – despite being arguably the greatest player of this generation – that he is still an awful smug bastard and nothing would please 95% of us more than to see that cocky smile wiped off that pretty boy’s face forever. Never mind why bad things happen to good people; if there’s any justice in the world, in the universe, why do good things happen to bad people?

Nevertheless, that’s it for the European leagues for the summer. Never you fear, though, because between summer transfers and training camps, they’ll be back in the headlines within a week or so. But, should you need a sorbet course to wipe the depressing image of a happy CR7 from your palate, you needn’t even wait that long, because even though it’s an odd numbered year, there’s still more than enough on tap for this Summer of Soccer to keep you going.

Let’s start with the US Men’s National Team, who rejoin CONCACAF World Cup qualifying in fourth place after four games, meaning, should things stay as they are right now, they would be tossed into a two-legged playoff against an Asian team. That ignominious fate is still six matches in the future, so there is still plenty of time for the US to climb in to one of the three automatic transfer positions, or to drop out entirely.

That battle is rejoined this week when the USMNT host last-place Trinidad and Tobago in Colorado. The four points that the US have thus far in the hexagonal final round of qualifying are owed to Bruce Arena’s return to the head coaching role, and a win and a draw in the two matches of import since, to claw the Yanks out of stone dead last. T&T are supposed to be a team that the US beats regularly, having cruised past same 4-0 during the semifinal round. Add in the fact that this match will be at altitude, and expectations are high for a business-like performance from the Stars-and-Stripes, which is also a polite way of saying that they may get caught looking past Trinidad, in which case they can certainly be caught out.

The reason that match is at altitude, and the reason the USMNT may look past Trinidad and Tobago is that Sunday marks the quadrennial trip for the US down to Estadio Azteca to face off against the hexagonal leaders Mexico. Over recent cycles this fixture between the two regional rivals has grown in importance and stature. Each match brings an increase in media coverage and an increase in American fans willing to make the trek south of the border, although, if having urine launched at you by a stranger is what they’re after, they could just roll the dice and hope they are in a Russian hotel for the World Cup next summer.

During the last qualifying cycle for the 2014 World Cup, the US was able to see out a scoreless draw against a Mexican side that was itself in shambles and ended up having to go to the international playoff as the fourth place side. To do so again and get four points out of the weekend would be a good sign that Arena has righted the ship for now and put the USMNT back on course for next summer. But, two bad results and the US are right back at the bottom and with two less games to pull themselves back up. Don’t forget, this is a Mexico side that will not only be looking to right the wrong of that draw four years ago, but should be brimming with confidence after finally defeating the US in Columbus back in the autumn.

Not all is national team action here in the States. We’re but six weeks away from welcoming the big ticket friendly match to the NYC area, as Barcelona takes on Juventus in July at MetLife Stadium. Barcelona will be looking to avenge their UEFA Champions League semifinal loss to Juve, while the side from Turin will be on their “We’re Sorry We Made Ronaldo Happy” apology tour, as well as debuting a sleek new modern crest that looks like it was made in Microsoft Paint. Both sides will be looking to escape the tri-state area with as few injuries and as many of your dollars as possible.

If spending $75 on just one ticket to sit a mile away from a meaningless friendly isn’t your cup of tea, then instead you can always spend around that much on two tickets and some ephemera to watch either of the local MLS teams in action. Up in the Bronx, New York City FC seem to have figured out that the way forward does not involve Andrea Pirlo standing around in the middle of the field like the world’s most expensive soccer jersey mannequin.

Instead, NYCFC have got away from packing the team with as many stars as possible and instead gone for a model that seems to work better for MLS teams, which is to give the focus to one mega-star (David Villa) and build with the right pieces around him instead of merely the most expensive. So far this has produced returns and put City right in the thick of a very congested Eastern conference battle. But it remains to be seen if Villa will keep up the good form all summer long, and if he can’t, how the team might respond without him.

Meanwhile, across the river in Harrison, New York Red Bulls are still yet to find their footing three months into the season. They continue to do just enough to get points at home but are frequently lost on the road. More than just bad results, the Metros go through periods of looking completely disinterested in what’s going on around them, and lacking the fight and intensity a top team would be expected to show. Still, they are clinging to a spot in the middle of the pack and to playoff contention, and as we know from history, teams only need to make the playoffs to go on a run to MLS Cup glory.

So, there’s all you need to know about the summer that awaits us: an egomaniac has all the reason to inflate his ego even further, the national team is teetering on the edge of disgrace, the big upcoming friendly is a soulless corporate cash grab that will sell out anyway because fools and their money are soon parted, one local club team is banking on a 35 year old set of legs surviving the New York City heat on a baseball field, and the other wishes that was the only problem it was staring at.

Everything is terrible, and it’s not even humid yet. Enjoy your Summer of Soccer!


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david@firsttouchonline.com