England v USA: a World Cup “Who Are You?”


So, they kick off today: South Africa v Mexico with Nelson Mandela, sadly, absent following the death of his 13-year-old great granddaughter in an accident after last night’s concert, and France v Uruguay tonight. And tomorrow Fabio Capello’s finest, minus Darren Bent, open the Group C campaign against the United States of America, the country from which we gratefully accepted Claudio Reyna at Sunderland. From the US fans’ site Sam’s Army, the highly knowledgeable Mark Spacone* looks forward to the game through American eyes, with American spelling and terminology …

Salut! Sunderland
: What are your feelings about the composition of Group C and how do you rate your chances of progressing?

When the first ball came out of the pot and it was England, I threw up and once I cleaned up and regained some composure, I thought the world was against us and the pots were stacked to ensure we Yanks would be in the group of death and eliminated in the first round just to show the world we don’t know the difference between a football and, well, a football! As the draw continued, it became clear the American dollar is still worth something in Sepp’s pocket because he drew us in with Algeria and Slovenia. Wait, I forgot, the draw is random! On this side of the pond, we think the US and England will advance into the second round (any order will do for us). Slovenia, however, may be the wedding crasher! Many are hoping the U.S. comes out of the England game without any injury regardless of the result, but the hopeful are looking for a draw, and the plain down right crazy who want to give others the ultimate “I told you so” are looking for a win. I wonder if Landon Donovan scores the winner if Everton supporters will chant “USA” again should he return there and perform as well as he did on loan this past season!

What would be an acceptable achievement for the USA in the South Africa tournament?

What would be unacceptable would be not advancing into the second round. Anything after that will be icing on the cake, but the further the U.S. would advance, the more exposure the game will get here. In the end, it would only be unacceptable to the couple thousand fans in this country…just kidding, there are more of us than that! Should we not advance, the majority will just go on making fun of those of us who care at work, in the store, in line at the bank, etc…

Does the world need to catch on that football – soccer – is not just a game for children and women in the United States?

I guess if the world has that view of the game in this country, then the perception of the game here needs to change from riots at every game, stampedes at every game, and a stabbing at every game in Europe and South America. That every English supporter is a hooligan and going to a game anywhere in the world isn’t safe! Just need to break the stereotypes.

Whatever your response to that, it is undeniably a minority sport by comparison with American football, basketball and baseball. What would it take – in the World Cup or generally – to bring a real breakthrough for the professional male game?

I don’t think the goal is for the game to be as big as the big three you mention. I don’t even think the goal is to surpass ice hockey! However, Since 1990, the game continues to take steps forward in this country. The National Team continues to perform well (knock on wood), and with each good performance, the more attention is given to the game. As you mentioned in a previous piece, people like a winner! We have a professional league in its 15th year and the play continues to improve and many of the players in MLS are loaned or sold to European clubs to help cultivate our best players in leagues with a strong history. US Soccer has begun a National Development Academy which consists of 70 or so of the best U18 and U16 teams across the country (many MLS teams have their academy teams in the program) mirroring the practice to game ratio as your EPL academies and playing on the weekend in high level games pitting the best against the best. This will hopefully get players at those ages exposed to a level of the game that has been absent until three years ago when US Soccer started the program. There is much hope in this program as the national staff of all ages are at almost all the games evaluating the talent and putting themselves in a position to identify the best youth players and pushing them into the national team programs, which, as time goes by will improve the full national side. The other thing that is making the game catch on and grow is the building of a soccer infrastructure. Soccer only stadiums are being built across the country for MLS teams. NY, Dallas, Chicago, Columbus, are just a few that are soccer only. This sort of infrastructure will help the game create its own identity because there are no longer grid iron lines on the field, the stadiums are compact and intimate, and the atmosphere at the games because of these facilities is tremendous! If the World Cup returns to the USA in 2018 or 2022, none of the games will be played at these new venues because the capacity is small (20-35K) and the World Cup organizers will want to use the larger 80K – 100K capacity stadiums for that… unless of course we lose out to England in our bid effort!

Who are your key players and how do you rate your coach Bob Bradley (and indeed his son)?

Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Onyewu – all players you guys are familiar with. We expect nothing but their best and you will hopefully be surprised by some young players Torres, Findley, Altidore. Our skipper is our skipper and this will really be his time to prove his worth. We are thrilled an American is coaching the Americans as opposed to a foreign coach with a “name.” The success of Bradley as an American coach and the team with a good performance will also help build the sport in this country that it is not just a game for foreigners. There is of course controversy in some circles about his son playing simply because he is the coaches son, but lets be honest, the guy can play and I don’t think anyone would jeopardize their career, reputation, and the hopes of a nation (well a third of a nation) by playing their own son if they didn’t earn it.

How do you expect the tournament, and American involvement in it, to be covered by the US media?

The coverage has been tremendous already. The best ever! Just 10 years ago, you’d be lucky to read about anything regarding the sport in terms of analysis or even results. If there was a riot, stabbing or death at a game anywhere in the world, that would make the front page. You literally can’t turn on ESPN without something about the World Cup being or opening a paper where there isn’t an article. It is fantastic by American standards. Again, with a good performance from our Nats the coverage will get even bigger.

What about England – what thoughts do you have on our Premier League and our international squad – and also about the team this site supports, Sunderland?

The EPL is one of the best leagues in Europe. The four spots you guys have in Champions league proves that as do the tremendous results in Europe by EPL teams over the past few years. The crowds at EPL games are amazing and often times I lose myself listening to the songs and chants and forget to watch the game! One day here in America our crowds will rival that! Your Nats… very intimidating. Of course your skipper is an Italian so that makes you guys even more threatening (my Italian born dad made sure I put that line in)! Yes, our boy Claudio Reyna played for Sunderland in the Stadium of Light, who, thankfully, has been named the new technical director of US Soccer’s Development Academy! Hopefully you guys won’t get buried in the middle of the table next season.

We have predicted a divefest in South Africa with players from most countries feigning injury and trying to hoodwink referees into awarding penalties/dangerous free kicks and sending off or booking opponents. What are your thoughts on cheating in the game?

Outside of the media reporting on the negative events surrounding some games around the world, they jump all over the diving and faking of fouls and use it as a tool of why the game shouldn’t be covered here, that it is a farce, etc… It is truly despicable because it is tough to convince people it is the “Beautiful Game” when someone gets a slight nick on the foot and they roll 50 times, screaming in pain, then 2 seconds later jump up and run at full speed. Tough to sell that mentality here and it really hurts the game. We hope your prediction is wrong.

In England, lots of supporters are very much club before country, even if they also want the national team to do well. Do you support a club and can you understand this attitude?

Definitely understand the mentality. There really isn’t an MLS team nearby to support so supporting the league in general is the goal. Despite the club before country in England and elsewhere in Europe, when your Nats play, the support is unwavering and it is seen in how the supporters cover the stadium with the flag of St George’s Cross, each with the city of it’s owner proudly printed across it, and all the while they sing in unison all match and change tunes at the drop of a hat without losing a beat. Again, we will get there some day when it comes to that sort of support.

What will be the score in our game and where will you watch it?

Will be watching at a pub with a bunch of other American fans. As far as the score, at which minute are you referring?

Who do you expect to win the cup, who do you expect to be unexpectedly strong and weak?

The World Cup wouldn’t be the World Cup without the usual favorites of Brazil, Argentina, Germany throw Spain in there. My own dark horse are the Dutch, but honestly, I think you guys can go far and that is truly unsolicited.

* Mark Spacone on Mark Spacone: (on the left of the photo, with a friend Mark Croker and his dad, Vince, at Germany 06) I am a teacher at Lackawanna High School, just outside of Buffalo, NY. Born and raised in Buffalo, NY. My Italian father and Irish/American mom basically ensured soccer was the only game I would play growing up and I learned at a young age when my older brother Chris asked to play baseball and my dad clenched his chest in pain and horror, to never ever ask that question again. It was sealed that soccer would be my game when Italy won the World Cup in ’82 and my dad was dancing on the coffee table in our living room! That was it for me and have been hooked ever since having been to every World Cup from ’94 to ’06. Can’t make this one, but my brother left two days ago to South Africa! Played a bit in college, and as an adult, but mostly coach now. Myself and a friend of mine, John Wright, started Sam’s Army after the ’94 World Cup to try and encourage any American fans to go to US games, stand in one section of the stadium, and sing and chant in support of our Nats who typically play games here at home, but seemingly are always the away team in terms of support. We have been growing and we use the EPL Supporters Clubs as models in terms of how to support a team as well as other European and South American Clubs. We have a long way to go, but we are trying to do our part!

15 thoughts on “England v USA: a World Cup “Who Are You?””

  1. I thought France were very poor. Very few attempts on goal. Ribery must be the most over rated player in the world. Every time I see him I assume that he must be just having an off day. Those off days have been going for about 6 years now.

    Uruguay were only mediocre and that contributed to the French looking reasonable. This is a very poor group indeed with probably little daylight between any of the 4. Mexico I think will get better with the next game, and should have buried S Africa in the opening 20 minutes. A peculiar game which they might be thankful to get a point from in the end.

  2. I had full faith in you Colin. Only you could pull it off. If my predictions are anything to go by I hope you also have Serbian, Greek, Brazilian and German fans lined up too!

  3. Forlan never quite delivered, though. What a frustrating game. Hard but not dirty. I thought the ref was a bit profligate with his yellow cards. France looked a lot better than I expected. It’s the coach who has the problem. Should have been much more timely with his substitutions. That could’ve made all the difference. Lovely irony to see Henry make an appeal for hand-ball. Uruguay got off lightly (though all credit to them) and I like France’s chances (no rhyme intended) a little better now.

  4. Well thought out and highly articulate answers there, a pleasure to read. As a fan of the American’s ‘football’ – a Washington Redskin – at that one, along with being a fan of Ice Hockey – a Montreal Canadien in this instance – I could relate to the question and answer given regarding simulation and diving in football.

    It’s laughable to see these players act like they do. Of course, it’s not all of them. I recall Real Madrid vs. Barcelona only a couple of months ago. The match up between the injury feigning winker in Ronaldo, and then the honest approach from Messi – who would be fouled but instantly jump back up to his feet and get into position. Two very differing personalities but two amazing players none the less.

    I look forward to your attempts of tracking down Algerian and Slovenian fans for subsequent interviews.

    As a matter of interest, I have USA as the second favourites in our group but have Slovenia qualifying with us instead. They are my dark horses for the group, I think they will approach the matches in a resolute manner and be tough for the USA to break down. Novakovic to score a few of goals in the tournament, most likely from set pieces.

    It’s not a case of me doubting the USA or thinking they aren’t good enough. I simply think the Slovenians may surprise a few of us. Before being dispatched of by Germany in the second round.

  5. Allez les…… Blancs??!! Howcum Uruguay get to where blue? Scrappy but far from crappy first half; nobody seems to know how to finish though. I love the way Ribery just keeps working. Best hairstyle — Sagna. France should win this.

  6. A fair draw and a decent game. Mexico must simultaneously be kicking themselves for not wrapping it up in the opening minutes before South Africa settled down and breathing a sigh of relief that luck was not with their opponents in the second half. Perez does not impress. Good officiating.

  7. Half-time in the first game and Mexico is throwing it away. Good pressure at the start seemed certain to crack a very shaky South African defence but then the Mexicans started passing the ball among themselves as if they were 3-0 up. It’s only going to take one good South African breakaway to turn the game upside down. They’re looking a lot more confident while Oscar Perez looks eminently beatable.

  8. Great article Mark. Really enjoyed reading it.

    One of the issues for me this side of the pond as you is that there will never be any real progress made until people stop tinkering with the rules and the way that the game is run from an early age. Kick ins instead of throw ins here (not sure if this applies to younger teams south of the border?), as well as rolling substitutions as there is in hockey (which is presumably where this bastardisation of football rules and culture originates). Equal playing time for all players regardless of ability (partly down to attitude of some coaches and political correctness), and often carried out to appease irritated parents when their kids don’t get much playing time. This is often the case with “rep” teams which we British don’t understand because everyone playing for a team in the UK is playing in some kind of league system. That’s not the case here where there are squadrons of teams playing “house league” against the same opposition week in week out. The standard of “house league” teams would be considered poor by European standards (and I’m being kind there!). There are a lot of things which need to change before things improve. Girls “soccer” has equal footing with boys, and anyone who is serious about improving the game at all needs to dispense with the notion that female football equates to the world game in any meaningful way. I’m not being sexist when I say that, but to some extent the question that Colin asked hints at the perception that is held here about who the game is for. I have no objection to girls playing the game and encourage it, but it shouldn’t be regarded as being the same thing.

    In certain house leagues there is an absence of physical contact. Contact is frowned upon by the parents. My son (7) went along and played a few games before becoming frustrated at trying to play the game essentially with a bunch of kids who couldn’t. In the first game he caused several “injuries” and a couple of players to leave the game hurt. He didn’t foul anyone; they just couldn’t cope with the fact that he would challenge hard for the ball in the way that he would have done in the UK. Some of the parents were most indignant and told me that “there is no physical contact allowed.” You can probably imagine my reaction. They were very nice, polite people and I had to dampen my response!

  9. Beautifully well-reasoned — and realistic — piece. I’d love to see the U.S. get into the last 8 and I don’t think that’s beyond the bounds of possibility.
    As for not having a club to support — c’mon, Mark, Lackawanna? Toronto FC is almost on your doorstep!

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