Rossi Gutted; U.S. Rallies

See what happens? I bail on polite society for a four-day bender Memorial Day weekend (at least two of my internal organs threatened to shut down) and all hell breaks loose in the Soccer Universe with big names left off World Cup rosters and the U.S. regaining a little bit of its mojo in a send-off win over Turkey.

I’m a little late, but let’s try to get to some of it, starting with Guiseppe Rossi.

The Jersey-born striker was cut from the Italian side, unleashing a torrent of schadenfreude from U.S. fans, still stung by Rossi’s decision to cast his lot with the Azzurri instead of the Red, White and Blue. The thing is, such criticism is unwarranted. Rossi never flip-flopped; his intentions were always clear. He represented Italy as far back as U-16s and politely declined when then-U.S. Coach Bruce Arena invited him to camp in 2006.

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But that’s besides the point. You’re either with us or against us and after Rossi scored twice against the Nats last summer in the Confederations Cup, the hatred was cemented. Hell hath no fury like a fanbase scorned. The most talented U.S.-born striker in the world is not playing this summer and Americans will say it was his hubris–that he could crack the mighty Azzurri–that doomed him to that fate.

I’m not doing any celebrating over the news. Rossi has always spoke well of the U.S. team and he took the blow with class. However, there is perhaps some good news in this for U.S. fans beside a few hours of gloating. The U.S. youth teams have several promising kids with dual nationality possibilities–the Hoyos brothers, Sebastian Lletget and Joseph Gyau to name a few–and Rossi’s situation may have some of them thinking twice about trying to represent countries with deeper and more talented player pools.

Come to America! We suck! Guaranteed playing time! Wonder if we can get Nike to create us a slogan.

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As for those poor souls who couldn’t dream of playing for Italy and toil for the current U.S. side, they had to be breathing easier after a 2-1 comeback win against Turkey last Saturday. It wasn’t an overwhelming performance by any means. The defense, including the midfield, looked completely disorganized in the first half. Even when they had eight back, there was plenty of space for the Turks as the Yanks chased the ball–notably Michael Bradley–lunging into late challenges and hitting only air, which I suppose is fortunate, since, more often, he lunges in and hits someone’s knee and gets a red card.

bradley1

The Turkey goal came from a counter when Jonathan Spector got caught in possession just outside the opposing box and nobody filled in behind him for cover, a missed assignment from the centerbacks and central midfielders. Yes, Spector was awful for all 45 minutes he played (and his replacement, Steve Cherundolo was excellent, so maybe the right back position is up for grabs), but the blame wasn’t his in this case.

In truth, better finishing could have had the Turks up three at the half, but to the Nats’ credit, they reversed momentum and took over the game in the second frame. Jose Torres was all class after coming on as a sub, not only pulling the strings in midfield, which we know he can do, but also showing some bite defensively, a long-criticized aspect of his game. Bradley stopped spraying passes all over the pitch and used his spastic energy to much better effect. And gasp! Robbie Findley was the one to unlock the Turkish defense with an exquisite chip to Landon Donovan.

That goal (Donovan squared it across to Jozy Altidore who tucked it into a wide-open net) showed how dangerous Donovan is, how dangerous other teams believe he is. When Findley received the ball, there were two Turkish defenders in the area, but both backed off Findley when Donovan made his run, giving the Real Salt Lake man time to settle and lift a perfect ball over the top.

Clint Dempsey’s game-winner was all quick-thinking (to settle a difficult pass) and Texas muscle. Oguchi Onyewu got 45 minutes in the second half and looked far more comfortable–and effective–than last week. And those of you who had 28 seconds in the “Length of Time Jonathan Bornstein is on the Pitch Before He Gets Skinned” Pool, collect your prize at Soccerati HQ.

And now that I spent all day catching up, I’m behind again. What happened today?

Another One Gone

Most U. S. soccer fans have probably not heard the name Michael Hoyos. And they probably won’t be able to hear it in the future without cringing.

Hoyos is an 18-year-old midfielder who was born in Fountain Valley, CA to Argentine parents. A few years ago, he moved with his mother and younger brother Kevin to Argentina, eventually finding his way onto the youth team at Estudiantes, a storied club in Argentina’s top division. And now, Hoyos is making appearances with the senior team. At age 18. In one the biggest leagues outside of Europe.

hoyos

So why the cringing? It seems Hoyos is going the way of a fellow dual-citizen, New Jersey-born Giuseppe Rossi, who famously shunned the U.S. Soccer program for glory and plaudits with Italy (not to mention two goals against the U.S. in last summer’s Confederations Cup). According to Yanks Abroad, Hoyos has been invited into Argentina’s Under-20 camp.

Hoyos now appears to join the growing list of top-notch players who prefer their ancestral homelands to the Red, White and Blue, a list that also includes Serbian defender Neven Subotic.

This distressing trend can be firmly laid at the feet of the United States Soccer Federation, which has done a poor job of recruiting these dual-citizens to the program (and, in the case of Subotic, outright insulted him). Sure, overtures were made to Hoyos, but you’ve got to SELL the program. Soccer in this country will never inspire like it does the world over. The U.S. Men’s National Team will never generate the passion one sees in the stands when the Azzuri or Albicelestes take the pitch. So you have to do more than just say, “Hey, wannna play for us?”

Or be doomed to watch kids from Orange County score on us in big tournaments.