O Say Can You See?

O say can you see,
By the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d
At the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars,
Thro’ the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watch’d,
Were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare,
The bombs bursting in air
Gave proof thro’ the night
That our flag was still there.

Playing a man down in the second half and fending off an Italian attack that in the final minutes of the match resembled a reenactment of the Battle of Fort McHenry, the Stars and Stripes did indeed survive the perilous fight which played out at Fritz-Walter Stadion in Kaiserslautern, Germany this past Saturday. Bloodied, tattered and torn, but intact, our lads emerged from the dark night of early extinction in the 2006 World Cup and lived to fight another day.

2006-06-17-mcbride.jpgIn what will surely be remembered as one the most bizarre, but courageous matches in U.S. National Team history, our boys, no, make that our men, fought back from a one-goal deficit, two red cards and an apparent go-ahead goal which was called back to win a hard-earned point in Group E play with a 1-1 draw against Italy. With Ghana’s stunning 2-0 victory over the Czech Republic, Group E is scrambled to the point that the U.S. can advance to the second round if they can beat Ghana next Thursday and if the Azzurri can recover and oust the Czech Republic. The U.S. could actually advance even if Italy lost or tied the Czechs, but they would have to win as well as score several goals again Ghana, an unlikely scenario considering the anemic U.S. offense to date (even today’s goal was an Italian “own goal” off Cristian Zaccardo’s misplayed clearance).

My main concern after the last match was that the Americans show some moxie and manhood win, lose or draw. I was thrilled to see the effort that our team put forth today, almost scoring with only nine men on the field (that would have been a World Cup first) and fending off challenge after challenge in the closing minutes, with U.S. keeper Kasey Keller standing tall in goal and making two spectacular saves off dangerous chances by Italian striker Alessandro del Piero.

All in all, it was a wonderful result considering the circumstances, which included a nervous center referee, Jorge Larrionda of Uruguay, who correctly showed the red to Italian player Daniele de Rossi who flagrantly fouled and bloodied American Brian McBride with an elbow to the face, but was too quick on the draw against U.S. midfielder Pablo Mastroeni after his cleats up tackle to the ankle of Andrea Pirlo (it should have been a yellow on the first offense). Larrionda went on to eject American defender Eddie Pope with his second yellow of the day, again a situation where a more measured and calm referree would have called a foul only, given the magnitude of the game and the fact that both teams were playing with even sides when the offense occurred.

Larrionda has apparently been suspended before for erratic officiating and was not allowed to participate in the last World Cup in 2002. This was his first game on the international stage in many years, and I suspect it will be his last after the powers-that-be review the match film.

Manager Bruce Arena had his troops ready for battle this time around, but his decision-making and substitution management still, at times, befuddle me. For instance, about mid-way through the second half, it was apparent that McBride, who at age 34 is no spring chicken by international soccer standards, was exhausted to the point of being ineffective. It would have been the perfect time, it seems, to substitute speedster Eddie Johnson, who was one of the few American players to make some noise and produce some quality chances in the first match against the Czechs.

I’m betting that Johnson with his fresh legs could have run at and beat the Italian back line who were also showing some signs of wearing down. Alas, Bruce stuck with an old-guard veteran, a tendency of his which is starting to raise a few furrowed brows among U.S. soccer faithful. But tonight, we pause from picking too many nits and instead celebrate courage under fire and survival.

O Say Can You See? Yes, there they are, standing tall and proud on the ramparts, exhausted from having given the last full measure for team, for country, for us.

  1. Brady

    Enjoyed your comments on the game, though some of my conclusions are quite different. The USa played with couraged but fouled extensively, never getting the hint that you can’t tackle from behind and you can’t slide tackle with two feet on the fragile ankle of fragile, faking Italian footballers.

    Though Arena knows much more about soccer than I’ll ever know, why he did not substitute sent me into a long monologue that both Son and Wife had to tune out on. Was he trying to teach his players a lesson? This is the World Cup. He needed to seize the occasions that were before him. Instead, it looked like he was watching the match.

    As for Keller, during the last 10 minutes he managed to kick the ball to the Italians every time he put the ball into play, even if it was 60 yards down the field.

    Although I would LOVE to see the USA make it into the next round, they must learn to score their own goals.

    Glad I got that off my chest.

  2. Mike the Eyeguy


    Despite my criticism of Larrionda, I am glad that for the most part he had little regard for all the dives taken by fragile, faking Italian footballers. Also, I’m thankful that the linesman in the second half kept whistling the Italians offsides even on those many occasions when they weren’t.

    Yeah, Mastroeni fouled the bejesus out of that guy, but not enough for a straight red in my opinion. I’m thinking Larrionda thought it was retaliation for McBride’s bloody mug and read more into it than what was there. Pope’s was a foul, but not worthy of a 2nd yellow considering the circumstances.

    Notice that after the third red, Larrionda basically checked out of the match and didn’t call anything else the rest of the time, even though there was still a lot going on out there. I think he knew he was in trouble at that point for having needlessy disrupted and affected a match that had all the earmarks of being a classic.

    The only thing more satisfying than second guessing refs is to arm-chair coach from the comfort of my living room. I’m figuring that with my USSF National D coaching license, two runner-up finishes in the Huntsville City Rec League tournament, one tournament championship and one final four appearance in the Alabama state championships with my U10 teams over the years, that I’ve earned the right to second guess Bruce Arena to my heart’s content.

    I agree, he was watching the game rather than coaching the last part of the second half because he was still in shock and too PO’ed at having Beasley’s goal disallowed to think straight (did you lip read what he said? Oh my…).

    I’ve watched coaches at all levels check out and stop coaching when things don’t go their way, and it really hacks me off when they do that. And I’m glad I got that off my chest too.

    I just watched France score their first goal in World Cup play since 1998. Hopefully, the American drought won’t last 8 years. Keller was magnificent in the box, but it would be nice if he could be a little more accurate with those 60 yard punts. 🙂

    Brady, this is so cool, international repartee on the World Cup!

    Go Nati! Go Stars and Stripes!

  3. greg


    I actually watched some WC this weekend! I tuned in to most of the 2nd half of the Ghana-Czech game. And, I began watching the USA game but unfortunately fell asleep through most of it (not because of the game, but because I was exhausted.) I woke up near the end. I enjoyed what I saw of both games, though. I tuned in to a little of Korea-France (I think) today, but didn’t stick with it. I’ll definitely watch a little more of it if I can catch it on. (we have a spanish channel that seems to be showing it all day long every day.)

    Now, back to the 2nd half of the NBA finals…something I understand a little better!

  4. Brady

    Thanks for the response.

    For the France game, I was sad to see Zidane get his yellow and miss the next game. I really do like him. But the draw was perfect for us. I’ve got on my Swiss team shirt and will catch the Togo match at 15:00 our time. I’ll only miss a couple of hours of work. Just hoping the Swiss don’t choke. But hey, they did make it to the World Cup!

    Unfortunately, we’ll miss the end of the Cup from Europe’s view. We’ll be in Arlington, VA for a week before heading to other relatives for our furlough. But I’ll catch the final in Paducah, KY, I think.

  5. Mike the Eyeguy


    I’ll make a soccer hooligan out of you yet. It will probably help you be an even better Cameron Crazie come next season.

  6. Mike the Eyeguy


    I hope you and your family have a wonderful time on furlough, just don’t expect there to be the same passion for futbol in Paducah that there is in Switzerland. Go Nati!

    I think I may be sick next Thursday morning for about 3 hours. I’m hoping I’ll be feeling much better after the match though.

  7. JRB

    I was so pleased that we at least played and fought like men, without the need for orange slices. We took it to them and showed that we are worthy competition. I have a good feeling about Ghana, because they’ll be down two of their best players too.

    My biggest gripe from USA – Italy: Demarcus Beasley. When he came on the 60s, he had a couple of great breaks, showed some speed, then seemed totally happy with his demonstration. He showed no killer instinct, just showed off his wheels with no great effort or fruit to show for it. Then he gets a lousy handball. Ride the pine, DB, ride the pine. McBride needs to give him a talking to about zeal and fight.

  8. Mike the Eyeguy


    I was very impressed with Ghana v. the Czechs–very well organized, great passing and speed to burn. But you’re right, they’re down two good ones and I feel we’ll match up well. Should be a good one.

    Just like Bruce, DB was demoralized after his goal was disallowed (a very correct call unfortunately) and quit trying after that. It’s a shame McBride was offsides, otherwise DB would have redeemed himself from his poor performance in the first match and likely would have played better for the balance of the match against Italy.

    It was exceedingly fair of Bruce to give him a shot like that, but look for Dempsey to start and play the whole way v. Ghana. Dempsey is dangerous, and he may just break loose soon, or spring someone else which will be just as good.

  9. Mike in zurich

    Interesting to read you guys’ comments. I watched the Italy-US game, and it was the most exciting match of the whole Cup for me so far. I didn’t understand Pope’s first yellow card. As far as I remember, he was pulling on the attacker’s shirt, but the attacker was pulling on his shirt first. I heard that the arbiter who made the call wasn’t even in a position to be able to judge. Well, I don’t know much about football, but I thought that first yellow card was excessive.

    I missed the Ghana-Czech match, and was shocked when I saw the result. Which is more likely, Italy beating the Czechs or us beating Ghana? From a spectator’s perspective, it’s such a shame the two matches are played simultaneously.

  10. Mike the Eyeguy

    Zurich Mike–

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I was suprised that Arena wasn’t a little more critical of the officiating after the match, but he simply said that the center ref made “some interesting decisions” and that carding “in general” had been excessive throughout the World Cup in his opinion. I guess it’s for the best that he time to calm down and think things over before commenting.

    I’ve been mulling over the U.S. chances the past day or so, and I’m afraid the more I think about it, the less optimistic I become. Ghana is missing a couple of key players, but so are we, and they still have Michael Essien. We must win, period. The Italians don’t have to win, so I could see them hunkering down and settling for a tie, and defensively they certainly have the people to do that.

    I don’t like the U.S. chances, but I would love to be wrong. Whoever the second place team is, they’ll die in the 2nd round v. Brazil. But still, to not advance after the fine showing in 2002 would be a setback for U.S. soccer.

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