When is the World’s Biggest Party too Big? (FIFA World Cup)

Photo via AP Photo/Matthias Schrader

This past January, world soccer’s governing body, FIFA, voted to expand its quadrennial showcase event, the World Cup Finals, by 50 percent, from 32 nations to 48. 

This isn’t the first time that the organization has invited more countries to compete in its blockbuster tournament; since its first edition,  comprised of 13 teams in 1930, the field has increased in 1934, 1954, 1982, and again to the current format of 32 teams at France 1998. 

Now, from 2026 on, 48 federations – nearly 1/4 of FIFA’s members – will send a representative to the final tournament.  This drastic change will allow the populations of 16 more countries to slow down during every fourth summer, come together as one, and dream for glory.

More teams will create more games, though, and more revenue, which is a worry. FIFA is known to be corrupt, taking advantage of any opportunity to increase cash flow.

All of this begs the question: how much of the change in the tournament format is motivated by a desire to spread the joy of participation in the World Cup Finals to nations on the cusp of qualification, and how much of it has to do with fattening FIFA’s wallet? 

FIFA President Gianni Infantino defends the unanimous decision made by the sport’s world governing body this past January in Zurich, saying that the change in number of participants was based on “sporting merit”, not increases in revenue. He also said the decision will “mark the entrance of the World Cup into the 21st Century.” 

Many people are left skeptical as to whether or not Infantino is hiding FIFA’s true intentions, though, because no matter what he says, the fact remains that FIFA is poised to increase the revenue it earns as a result of this tournament by over $650 million.

There are disagreements as to whether or not the quality of play will be increased by the presence of additional teams, or if the talent on display will be diluted by this influx of perennial outsiders. 

FIFA defends the decision by pointing to major upsets at recent tournaments as a case for the inclusion of “smaller” nations.  It’s also up in the air as to what impact this change will have on the qualification portion of the tournament, where each continent has a certain number of spots allocated to it for the final tournament.  This may very well diminish the quality of play on display during the qualifying tournament; for example, six of the ten members of CONMEBOL, South America’s governing association, will qualify for the tournament. 

What will motivate Argentina to risk Lionel Messi, or for Brazil to play Neymar on match days where he may not be 100%, when not every match is vital?  Many people fear qualification will be less arduous for many nations, who will then not be accustomed to the intense levels of international competition when the World Cup Finals begin.

The tournament will still take place in the same 32 days that the current iteration of the tournament takes to complete.  Despite the increase in overall matches, from 64 to 80, the eventual winner will still only play on seven occasions, lift the same trophy, and receive the same adoration from their supporters. 

Hopefully, the level of play during the tournament rises along with FIFA’s revenue, so that international soccer’s governing body is not the only benefactor. If not, the global game will soon be ruled by those fortunate enough to be at the very top, if it isn’t already.

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Christian Pulisic: The United States’ one shot at stardom


Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

United States forward Christian Pulisic, an 18-year-old from Hershey, Pennsylvania, is taking the soccer world by storm.

He might have been born in the United States, but he looks different from any other US soccer player in history, for he has the chance to be the best American soccer player of all time. That is no joke.

Borussia Dortmund

Despite being brought up in the US, Pulisic knew he could be special from a very young age and moved overseas, to Germany, at the age of 15 to play soccer. Obviously, this move was the right one as Pulisic is reaping major benefits just a few years later.

In 2015, Pulisic joined the Bundesliga’s powerhouse Borussia Dortmund’s youth team. It took just 15 games, 10 goals and 8 assists, before the 17-year-old was called up to be a member of the Borussia Dortmund first team.

Once he joined the first team, Pulisic got limited playing time with a few starts here and there. On April 17, Pulisic scored his first goal in a 3-0 win over Hamburger SV. The goal made him the youngest foreigner to score in the Bundesliga and the fourth youngest player of all time to score in the league.

Five days later, Pulisic slotted the ball into the back of the net for his second career goal to become the youngest player in league history to score two goals.

Now, Pulisic is a common fixture in the starting 11 for Dortmund and has exploded onto the scene in the UEFA cup. In the round of 16, against Benfica, he scored his first UEFA goal and an assist.

The next time Pulisic takes the field in the Champions league is April 11 vs. Monaco.

United States Men’s National Team

Not only is the young US star getting great experience in Europe, he is playing incredibly well on some of the biggest stages for one of the premier teams in the world.

His play in Europe has easily translated to the United States. Pulisic has made a huge impact for the US with three goals and five assists in the past seven games.

Pulisic’s display of brilliance has really been on display in the past two World Cup Qualifiers for the US. He has had one goal and three assists in the last two games with some incredible highlights (below).

Make no mistake, the Pennsylvania native was instrumental in the US’s 6-0 win over Honduras and we should all expect to see more performances like this in the future.
Pulisic has skills that are rare to see in any US player. He has a talent that we have only seen in US legends like Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan. The big difference is that Pulisic possesses this skill at just 18 years of age.
Furthermore, Donovan and Dempsey played the early parts of their career in the MLS, which stunted the possible growth that they could have experienced if they chose to play against the world’s best.
In terms of Pulisic’s play now, he is able to pass with precision, hold possession, and beat people off the ball better than any US player in memory. He has proven to be a solid scorer, but most importantly, he has proved adept at setting up his teammates for good chances and goals.

Ultimately, Pulisic is the best young soccer player the US has ever seen. If he continues the progression he is on, he will not only be a US star, but a star in professional soccer in Europe. There is a reason Borussia Dortmund signed him to the team many years ago and is now placing him in the first 11 consistently. He is a stud and has a ton of potential.
If Pulisic keeps it up, we are going to see many more 6-0 wins for the US and multiple goal/assist performances from the Dortmund winger.
He is the first US soccer player that has the potential to reach stardom in Europe and is the ticket for US relevance in the World Cup.
Watch out, Russia 2018, Pulisic is coming!

Preview for the U.S.-Mexico Confederation Cup Qualifying game.

Photo Credit: USMNT Website

On October 10th, 2015 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) hosts Mexico in the final game of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.  This tournament is held every two years, and the winners of two successive Gold Cups will play each other for a spot in the Confederations Cup.  The U.S. won the 2013 Gold Cup, Mexico won the 2015 Gold Cup, and the winner of this final game takes it all and moves on to the Confederations Cup.  Here are a few of the biggest storylines heading into the game.

A loss against Mexico spell the end for Klinsmann?

After an exciting World Cup performance, the United States have been in a transitional period.  They have many up and coming players like Gyasi Zardes, Deandre Yedlin, John Brooks, and Fabian Johnson, who all have loads of potential, but have a long way to go before they are good enough to build a team around.  At the same time, the players who have been the face of the U.S. men’s soccer for the past decade are slowly fading and may not be available for the next world cup like Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, Jermaine Jones, and Clint Dempsey.  Overall, this is a tough position for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who hasn’t produced to the liking of US fans recently.  If he fails to win the game vs. Mexico the US will not be happy with not winning the gold cup and not securing a Confederations Cup spot.  A loss may not be the end, but it will be the beginning of a long process of asking questions in preparation for the America’s Cup in the summer of 2016.

 

Lack of Defensive Continuity adds importance to Jermaine Jones’s Return

The United States have been changing their backline a lot in the past few months and it has really hurt their performance on the field.  There have been injuries to John Brooks, the top CB for the USMNT, Matt Besler, the starter from the world cup, has been absent with his club team, and Omar Gonzalez, a common starter who rested against Brazil, but all of them should be back for the game against Mexico.  Even if all of them are back it will be the first time that they have played with each other recently and it will be tough to communicate effectively and that places a lot of stress on the midfield, especially the center defensive midfielder.  In this case, that is Jermaine Jones.  He is returning from groin surgery and in his return to Brazil looked awfully slow and unable to keep up with Brazil’s speedy attack.  Brazil penalized the US every time the ball was turned over in the midfield by Alejandro Bedoya or Jermaine Jones leading to a barrage of chances and a 4-1 win.  Against Mexico, the key will be very similar and it starts with Jermaine Jones.  He played superbly in the world cup contributing as a strong defender that can push anyone off the ball, a man who can keep possession shoving any defender off to take pressure off the inexperienced defense, and sometimes even adding on the offensive end with rips from outside the box like he did against Portugal.  Jermaine isn’t in top form.  Could it be because of rust, his age or his recent injury? We will know rather quickly against Mexico by the success of this US team.  If Jermaine Jones is back healthy it should be a rather easy win, but if not the United States defense gets exposed by the counter attacking Mexico team it will lead to another blowout possibly ending Jurgen’s tenure as head coach of the USMNT.

 

Mexico’s Head Coach Is…Oh Wait They Don’t Really Have One

The U.S. isn’t the only team having head coaching struggles, in fact, Mexico’s problems are far greater than those of the U.S.  After Mexico won the Gold Cup final this year, the team was heading home out of Philadelphia Airport when a reporter ran into Mexico’s squad by the airport security gate.  (Ex-)Head Coach Miguel Herrera proceeded to punch the reporter in the neck and ask him to settle things out on the street.  So unsurprisingly, this got him fired, and now Mexico has no real head coach.  The Brazilian-Mexican former midfielder, Ricardo Ferretti, has stepped in as interim head coach and signed a short-term contract lasting up to two more games (he has already coached two friendlies).  Constant changing of the head coach position not only creates uncertainty in the minds of the players but also requires the players to make on-the-field adjustments.  On the other hand, Mexico just tied World Cup finalists Argentina, robbed of a victory by a last-minute goal by that god they call Lionel Messi.  Will Mexico be able to continue their strong play against the U.S.?

 

Key to Victory: Michael Bradley and the Midfield

As mentioned before, the U.S. midfield will be the deciding factor in this game.  Aside from Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley will be the most important player on the pitch.  In their friendly against Argentina, almost every single one of Mexico’s chances came from Argentinian turnovers leading to quick counter attacks.  Mexico is extremely effective on the counter because of their speed on the wings paired with Chicharito’s eye for the goal.  For this reason, the U.S.’s ability to take care of the ball and eliminate these counter attacks is pivotal, and it starts with the USMNT captain, Michael Bradley.  Any ball intercepted or stolen in the midfield will lead directly to having to frantically defend Mexico’s speed.  However, Bradley will be happy for the return of MLS superstar Clint Dempsey, whose offensive skill and shot-taking ability will alleviate pressure in the midfield due to his ability to draw in multiple defenders.  Bradley’s ability to balance keeping the ball and playing conservatively with being creative and generating offense makes him the key player in this game.  A top notch performance from the US captain will almost certainly lead to a U.S. victory as well as a place in the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia.