Not about what but how: the US, Italy, England, Spain & Portugal exits

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Those combing this site for opinions, answers and empathy early this morning found this strong piece from Richard Farley, which reflects on the progress of the United States soccer program after Tuesday’s World Cup ouster at the hands of Belgium in extra time.

Furthering that…

I received a Twitter reply today that charged Jurgen Klinsmann and the US team with failure, claiming that anything short of the quarterfinals is looked at as a joke performance by the world at-large.

Keeping in mind all of Richard’s points — quality of opposition, style of play, injuries, player depth — was the U.S. performance more impressive than every team that failed to make the knockout rounds? Was it worse than every team that continues onward?

In the latter case, the argument is fairly easy, but let’s rephrase the former query: Are you considering the U.S. tournament more of a success than Italy, England, Portugal and Spain?

Of course you are. But before another self high-five, consider style and what it means.

[ MORE: Analyzing Jurgen Klinsmann’s first World Cup with U.S. ]

[ MORE: Three things we learned in U.S. loss to Belgium ]

It’s hard-to-fathom whilst wallowing in the wake of a loss, but pretend Chris Wondolowski does manage to beat Thibaut Courtois and the Yanks move onto the quarterfinals. It doesn’t change Belgium’s dominance of the game, or the U.S. frittering away possession in the midfield. No one’s walking away claiming the Yanks were the better team, just that they had the better goalkeeper.

And by that logic, few would be tabbing the U.S. as favorite in a full-strength, neutral-site friendly played tomorrow against Italy, Spain, Portugal or England. That’s why these small signs of progress — committed defending, moments of dominant attack — against top competition are far more important to the growth of US Soccer than a single win or draw.

Look, beating Ghana and drawing Portugal are accomplishments, but the way the Americans controlled long stretches against Cristiano Ronaldo’s team is far more impressive than the points earned.

So let’s pull back the other four nations in question to join the United States. Italy can make some claims about a cheap red card but ultimately it was simply a disappointing attack to go with its traditional strong defense. Spain looked uninspired and sated, but ultimately is already a favorite to win its group at the next World Cup.

source: AP

Portugal and England, on the other hand, have some concerns. The former showed little outside of an injured Cristiano Ronaldo and needed gifts from Geoff Cameron and Fatau Dauda to earn any points. England looked lost outside of Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Gary Cahill, and drew send-off games against Honduras and Ecuador to run its recent record to 0W-3D-2L.

An English friend was telling me how no American player outside of Clint Dempsey or Tim Howard would play for the England team. Maybe not, but gone are the days when American starters wouldn’t make the bench for the Three Lions.

So where does the US team rank? Even if you consider the Yanks behind Portugal and England in addition to Spain and Italy, the fact of the matter is that the United States is actually in the discussion. The back-to-back Round of 16 performances aren’t viewing like the ‘miracle’ quarterfinal run of 2002, rather explained with a “The Yanks have shown they’re capable if they play to their potential.”

The States remain a rising force in soccer: not there yet, but coming. And it’s no longer silly to imagine that the US could be a team favored against Portugal, England or another European power in a full-strength, meaningful, neutral-site game at the next World Cup.

VIDEO: Gerrard’s juggle and finish leads Liverpool legends past Real Madrid

AP Photo/Rui Vieira
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Scoring at Anfield doesn’t get old, especially when your name is Steven Gerrard.

The English midfielder was playing in a friendly match between Liverpool and Real Madrid “legends” on Sunday, when he delivered this tasty goal (and assists to Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, and John Aldridge).

[ MORE: Under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

Gerrard redirects a cross over a lunging defender and into a place where he can lash a goal home to put the Reds up 4-0. He dedicated his Man of the Match performance to club legend Ronnie Moran, who died earlier this week.

Real’s comeback came up just short in a 4-3 final, with Fernando Morientes, Ruben de la Red, and Edwin Congo scoring for the visitors.

On a Sunday waiting for the international matches to begin, Gerrard supplies a nice highlight for the rest of us (Extended highlights free on Liverpool’s site).

Ozil bristles at talk of Arsenal selling him

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Mesut Ozil is on international break, and bristling at reports that Arsenal is going to sell him.

The midfielder’s absence from the lineup last week had plenty speculating on his future, even more than usual. His contract expires in 2018, and several reports claimed he’d join Alexis Sanchez as players destined for elsewhere.

[ MORE: Under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

Ozil was not called up by Germany, and has missed four of his last nine Premier League matches. Three of those were for illness, and he missed last week’s loss to West Brom with a hamstring injury.

From Metro:

“And you think Wenger tells the journalist before he tells me? Then I know him differently,” Ozil told German outlet Welt.

“I have a contract until 2018 in London and I feel very comfortable there. We’ll talk soon and then make a decision.”

Metro notes that Ozil also said he wants to win the Champions League, something that can only happen with Arsenal remaining in the Top Four. We suppose you could make snarky inferences from his “comfortable in London” phrasing, but we’ll leave it there.

Sydney FC clinches first place in A-League

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SYDNEY (AP) After clinching first place in Australia’s A-League without taking the field, Sydney FC enhanced its record achievement with a 3-0 win over the Perth Glory on Sunday.

Sydney FC won the Premiers Plate as regular-season champions after the second-place Melbourne Victory lost 1-0 to Brisbane on Saturday, when Sydney had a night off.

The Brisbane win left Sydney with an unassailable 11-point lead in first place with three rounds to play.

[ MORE: An under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

The Sydney side also created some history: it became the only team to have remained in outright first position in the standings for an entire season.

In the other match Sunday, the Wellington Phoenix beat Newcastle 5-0 to remain within five points of sixth-place Western Sydney for the final playoff spot.

Walking Dead? Star fittingly sees Exeter’s implausible comeback (video)

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As Rick Grimes, actor Andrew Lincoln regularly battles the undead on his show “The Walking Dead”.

As a friend of Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale, Lincoln was probably pretty happy to watch a team that would not die.

Exeter went down 3-0 when Yeovil Town broke a scoreless drought with a trio of tallies between the 62nd and 78th minutes.

[ MORE: An under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

But Exeter’s David Wheeler scored in the 88th minute, and Troy Brown and Reuben Reid scored a minute apart at the beginning of stoppage time to earn a point for the League Two playoff hopeful.

Couple things on this video, too:

— Check out the shove on the goalkeeper when trying to collect the ball after the first goal of the fight back.

— Watch the man with his baby behind the net after the third goal. Did Mom know how safe her little one was?