PST Panel – Discussing the draw, USA’s hopes and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil


Around the festive season, there are plenty of special days to look forward to.

But here at PST Towers, we have been looking forward to one particularly ‘special’ tournament for quite some time, as the 2014 World Cup kicks off in Brazil less than six months from now.

So, with the draw happening earlier this month and the 32 qualified nations making their final preparations ahead of wondrous spectacle in South America, myself, Steve Davis and Richard Farley had a lengthy chinwag to try and dissect the World Cup.

(MORE: 2014 World Cup Draw – Full schedule for all group games)

We may not agree on everything, but we had a lot of fun doing it.

Sit back and soak in the superior knowledge on show in our ProSoccerTalk panel, ahhh, drink it in.

Which nation made out the best? 

SD: Take your pick from between Switzerland and France. I mean, the French only squeezed into the field on the last day … and for that they get Ecuador, Honduras and Switzerland, the team that nobody thought should be a seeded side. And for Switzerland, even as a seed, things could have easily turned out worse. (Oh, for the first-placed group finisher, a second-round match against Iran, Nigeria or Bosnia and Herzegovina looks pretty tempting, too.)

RF: Argentina and Brazil both made out unreasonably well, and if it wasn’t for Uruguay drawing Italy and England, I’d be buying into some of the conspiracies. You also have to love France’s luck, being cast into a group (E) where they’ll be slight favorites despite not being the seeded team. The Albiceleste, however, will be the team with the fewest worries through the tournament’s first two weeks.

The French squeezed into the World Cup via the playoffs, and they were rewarded with a ridiculously easy draw.

JPW: I have to go with Steve, the French… how did they manage this one? After sneaking in the back door, they have to be one of the favorites to make it to the quarterfinals at least. Didier Dechamps must be rubbing his hands gleefully. Also, the hosts got off easy, as usual, and the likes of the Ivory Coast were handed a pretty reasonable draw with only Greece, Japan and Colombia to navigate past.

So then, who got hosed? 

RF: The Netherlands. I’m not as big on the Dutch as many, but they’re certainly one of the top 16 teams in the world. Given this draw, however, they’ll likely be on the outside looking in come the tournament’s third week. They’re not as good as Spain, they’re not as good as Chile, and although they’re capable of upsetting either, they’re also capable of replicating their disappointment from Euro 2012. With Australia in this group, it won’t get that bad, but given a probable Round of 16 match with Brazil (if they do survive), the Dutch got royally hosed by the draw.

JPW: You guys will laugh at me, but I have to say England got dealt a pretty bad hand. Okay, the Three Lions are perennial underachievers at tournaments and fans expecting them to waltz to the semifinal every time are slightly deluded, but Italy and Uruguay? Come on. Luis Suarez is going to tear Roy Hodgson’s defense apart, as plenty of fans believe getting our of Group D will be an achievement. Plus the U.S. got pretty screwed with two of the world’s top five in Germany and Portugal, then old foes Ghana just for the heck of it. Wow.

SD: The United States! The “easy” game of the group comes against their historical troublemaker, Ghana. (The key for the United States: beating Ghana in that first game. It’s all about that opener. Anything less than three points there and, well, they’ll be climbing uphill on a serious incline.) I’m not sure the United States deserved a seed necessarily … but Jurgen Klinsmann’s team certainly didn’t “draw” any good luck when the balls came out of the pots, either.

How far will the U.S. go? 

SD: Given Germany’s strength, Klinsmann’s kids are competing for second place in the group. Sorry, but that’s the way it is. And that most likely means a second-round date with Belgium, a team that I have been trumpeting for two years. (Remember how Belgium shook the United States like a rag doll last spring?) With the draw, it’s difficult to see a path beyond the second round for the United States.

A tough draw means progression past the last 16 would be deemed a great success for the USA.

RF: Portugal is another team I’m perpetually down on, so I’m more optimistic about this draw than most. My pick’s going to constantly change over the next six months, but as of right now, I think it could come down to tiebreakers. The progress Klinsmann’s made will show through in the tournament opener against Ghana, the U.S. will draw with Portugal, and a Germany team with six points in two rounds could allow the U.S. a fifth point. Then again, I wouldn’t’ be surprised to see the U.S. take care of business in Manaus against Portugal and be on six before facing the Germans.

JPW: Steve’s realism and Richard’s positivity is both sobering and encouraging. The USMNT have to play to their strengths in Brazil, and I think the Germans and Portuguese will genuinely find it tough to break the U.S. down. The only worry I have is scoring goals, which was a problem at times even in CONCACAF qualifying. If Jozy Altidore’s terrible season at Sunderland continues, who will Klinsi turn to? I hate to say it, but a group stage exit for the Yanks beckons.

What group-stage match are you most excited to see? 

SD: Stylistically, I can’t wait to watch the Group B matches (Spain, Netherlands, Chile and Australia). Two of the most technical teams in the field, a Chilean side that has some talent and could cause some trouble and an Australian side that will fight, play direct and look to muck up the matches.  To me, it’s a group that will feature a mix of attractive contests and contests of completely contrasting approaches.

JPW: I’m really looking forward to the game between Germany and Portugal in the Group G opener. These two sides really fancy themselves to go all the way and win the World Cup, so they’ll be raring to send out a message to the rest of the field. Cristiano Ronaldo fired up to deliver, plus Germany’s whole host of young attacker, this game should be end-ton-end, fiery and deliver plenty of goals. These two European giants will be frothing at the mouth. My type of match up.

source: Getty Images
Can the Netherlands turn on the style down in Brazil? Their match vs. Chile could be a real dazzler.

RF: I expect both the Netherlands and Chile to be on three points when they meet on June 23 with a knockout round spot on the line. Perhaps one will have snagged a point from Spain; regardless, I think that match will have quarterfinal quality, knockout round stakes, and see one of the tournament’s better teams out before the Round of 16.

Given neither team has much in defense, it could be one of the most entertaining matches of the tournament.

What 16 teams advance? 

RF: Picking now? Brazil, Mexico, Spain, Chile, Colombia, Japan, Uruguay, Italy, France, Ecuador, Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, United States, Belgium, Russia

Come May? I could see five or six of those picks changing.

SD: Brazil, Croatia, Spain, Netherlands, Greece, Ivory Coast, Uruguay, Italy, France, Ecuador, Argentina, Nigeria, Germany, United States, Belgium and Russia

JPW: Brazil, Mexico, Spain, Netherlands, Ivory Coast, Colombia, England, Uruguay, France, Switzerland, Argentina, Iran, Germany, Portugal, Belgium, Russisa.

Finally, name your favorite?

source: Getty Images
Will Messi and Aguero lead Argentina to World Cup success?

RF: Brazil.

SD: I think the pressure, the enormous weight of it all, will simply be too much for Brazil, who will fall out in the quarters or semis (IF, that is, they get past a thorny second round date against Netherlands or Spain.) So, I’m taking Argentina and Leo Messi to rise and take the trophy on their bitter rivals’ soil! Argentina is fabulously talented, has the best player in the world and, unlike in 2010, isn’t coached by a cartoon figure.

JPW: This is such a hard decision, but I’m going with the reigning champs Spain. Okay, that haven;t exactly been lighting it up in the qualifying rounds or the Confederations Cup last summer, but don’t underestimate their talent. I fancy them to make history, and become the first European team to win the World Cup on the South American continent.

WATCH: Fort Lauderdale striker scores screamer from half

Fort Lauderdale screamer
Leave a comment

Every goalkeeper could use a reminder to be wary of adventuring too far from his box, and USL League One provides us our latest lesson for backstops.

Ricky Lopez-Espin scored a terrific insurance goal for Fort Lauderdale CF on Saturday night, a marker which would stand as the difference in 2-1 defeat of Georgian outfit South Tormenta FC.

[ MORE: Atletico Madrid confirms positive COVID tests ]

The win pulls FLCF, first called Inter Miami II, off the bottom of the League One table early in this restarted season.

It was quite a hit, a turnover near midfield allowing Lopez-Espin the chance to spy the keeper off his line and rip a rocket out of reach.

Miami-born Lopez-Espin played college soccer at Creighton and was a Real Salt Lake draft pick. The 24-year-old played twice for RSL and later suited up for Real Monarchs and Lansing Ignite.

Two positive COVID tests for Atletico Madrid ahead of Champions League

Atletico Madrid coronavirus
Photo by Rubén de la Fuente Pérez/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Atletico Madrid announced two positive coronavirus tests from its crew set to travel to Portugal for this week’s UEFA Champions League quarterfinal against RB Leipzig.

[ MORE: JPW’s European predictions ]

The team says it will test all of its players and staff again to assure that there are no positive COVID-19 cases affecting the tournament.

Atleti asked for extreme privacy regarding the individuals who tested positive.

The match with RB Leipzig is Thursday in Lisbon, the second of four quarterfinals on the docket.

The positive tests are a stark reminder that while the top leagues in European soccer have done a very good job at isolating and keeping tests down, an incredibly contagious virus like COVID-19 can wreak havoc on the competition at any time.

From Atleti’s web site, via Sky Sports:

“Today, two positives appeared among the known results, which are now isolated in their respective homes and were reported immediately to the Spanish and Portuguese health authorities, UEFA, the Royal Spanish Football Federation, the Portuguese Federation and the Superior Council of Sports.

“As such, a corresponding protocol planned for these circumstances has been activated, which requires new tests to be undertaken to first team players, members of the Lisbon travelling party and those who are in close contact with the positive cases, and which will result in changes in the timings of training sessions, in the structure and development of the journey and the accommodation in the Portuguese capital.”

Atalanta plays PSG on Wednesday, while Barcelona and Bayern Munich meet Friday, and Man City battles Lyon on Saturday.

It will feel like smooth sailing once the tournament begins and players hit the proverbial bubble. Until then, though, this proves that there are no guarantees.

USWNT star Kelley O’Hara on NWSL restart, launching podcast

Kelley O'Hara
Photo by Bryan Byerly/ISI Photos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

When USWNT star Kelley O’Hara launched her own podcast, she didn’t mess around with the star power of her guests.

Launched in July, the “Just Women’s Sports” podcast has hosted three incredible guests including the first post-pregnancy interview with USWNT teammate Alex Morgan as well as talks with Olympic star Chloe Kim and WNBA hero Candace Parker.

A Stanford connection with fellow alum Haley Rosen put the two-time World Cup winner on the path to hosting the show, and O’Hara admits that she was driven by the chance to lift the lid on athletes’ true feelings beyond the shield that comes up while talking to reporters.

[ MORE: Champions League favorites ranked ]

“Even as an athlete I know that I have a little of my guard up when I’m talking to a reporter because sometimes they’ll take it and use it for their own narrative or agenda,” she said in a conversation with ProSoccerTalk. “There’s an ability to be vulnerable and be safe because you’re talking to someone who has a general idea of what it feels like to be an athlete. Nothing about it is trying to catch them.”

Part of that comes with O’Hara realizing she has a massive stage on account of her accomplishments. The USWNT is one of the most-watched teams in the world, on-and-off the pitch.

While she felt more like someone achieving a life goal when she first became a pro, the simultaneous life under a microscope and on a platform has inspired her to take advantage of her role model status.

“You come to realize that with the success that we have had, individually and with the national team, you do influence people,” O’Hara said. “You have an impact. You have this ability to be a role model and do good things in the world. That’s one of the reasons that I wanted to do this podcast; I have the ability to lend my platform to other athletes and give people a voice and a space.”

O’Hara was speaking as the National Women’s Soccer League put a bow on its return to the pitch with the NWSL Challenge Cup.

O’Hara’s Utah Royals fell to eventual champions Houston Dash in the quarterfinals, but the completion of the tournament in itself was a bright spot to a dark summer.

“I’m really proud about what the NWSL was able to create there,” O’Hara said. “There was a lot of uncertainty around the Challenge Cup because of COVID, but the fact that the NWSL was able to create an environment to get back on the field has been fantastic. Obviously you have Orlando that wasn’t able to come but since every team has arrived, not one player has tested positive so the NWSL deserves a lot of credit for designing this whole set-up.”

PST asked the 32-year-old how much credit should go to the players, considering how many other leagues have been thwarted by the negligence of athletes or staffers around COVID-19.

“When the NWSL was proposing everything, they told us it was built on trust. If players weren’t going to be responsible, it wasn’t going to work. It’s great that we all want to be competing, I feel we’re very lucky to be able to compete, but that’s contributed to people following the rules. You didn’t want to be the one person who ruins it.”

Learn more about the Just Women’s Sports crew, which includes Olympic heroes Kerri Walsh-Jennings, Hilary Knight, and Maggie Steffens as well as former WNBA No. 1 overall pick Nneka Ogwumike, at their official web site.

Champions League favorites ranked from eight to one

Leave a comment

Eight teams remain in the UEFA Champions League’s rapid-fire return, with one-legged ties promising high drama in Portugal.

The quarterfinals begin Wednesday, the bracket distinctly split into one deadly half and another with upset potential.

Because of this set-up, there’s a massive challenge in divining the true favorites to win the Aug. 23 in Lisbon.

[ MORE: JPW’s European predictions ]

If you were assembling a bottom-up power rankings in terms of the talent and toughness assembled by the eight remaining clubs, it might look something like this:

Longshots: Atalanta, Lyon
Puncher’s chance: Atletico Madrid, RB Leipzig
History-weighted powers: Man City, Paris Saint-Germain
Favorites: Barcelona, Bayern Munich

Here’s the rub: Three of the four biggest favorites will have to get through each other to get to the final, including the two top dogs. Barcelona and Bayern Munich will scrap Friday, and Man City’s slight advantage in facing Lyon is mitigated by one day’s less rest for a Bayern-Barca winner.

[ MORE: Man Utd – Copenhagen preview ]

Man City is the bookies’ favorites to win the whole thing. Do we see it that way? Spoiler alert: Nope.

And, by the way, despite changes to both outfits this is a Lyon that took four of six points from City in the 2018-19 UCL group stage. We don’t see an upset at that stage but it’s a way to note that anything is, indeed, possible.

8. Lyon

Seventh-place in Ligue 1 this season, Rudi Garcia’s men already have the beating of Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus on their resume. Moussa Dembele, Houssem Aouar, and Memphis Depay are all exciting attacking talents, but the bracket’s demands to take down Man City, then either Bayern and Barcelona just to get to the final sinks them to eighth.

7. RB Leipzig

Julian Nagelsmann is building a reputation as a man who can outwit anyone in a one-off — see two draws with Bayern in Bundesliga play this season — so it’s fitting that he’ll go tete-a-tete with Simeone in the next round. The absence of Timo Werner, who’s off to Chelsea, is a huge problem given the occasion(s). Asking three wins seems a lot, though there will be plenty of Americans pulling for Tyler Adams’ team.

Bayern Munich v. RB Leipzig recap and video highlights
09 February 2020, Bavaria, Munich: American midfielder Tyler Adams duels with Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski. (Photo by Matthias Balk/picture alliance via Getty Images)

6. Atalanta

The Bergamo-based side will have the support of many neutrals. For one thing, Atalanta is on a historic run for their club before taking into account their city’s status as one of the early epicenters of the coronavirus. For another, they are super fun. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men scored 98 goals in Serie A, 19 more than next-best Lazio, and lost the second-fewest games in Italy. They’ve lost once since January 25, a final day defeat to Inter Milan. Five players have scored double-digit goals in all comps this season.

5. Atletico Madrid

Ask Liverpool: Diego Simeone and Jan Oblak in knockout round football is reason to doubt anyone. Still, there’s an argument to be made that Atleti has punched well above its weight this season, even relative to El Cholo’s standards.

4. Barcelona

Lionel Messi means the club should be even higher on this list, and Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez are plenty battle-hardened in this spot. But Barca has made a mess of their last few ventures into the latter rounds of this tournament, and those ghosts combined with having to beat Bayern and perhaps Man City in consecutive weeks is brutal with several u’s.

Messi new contract
SEVILLA, SPAIN – JUNE 19: He’s good (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)

3. Paris Saint-Germain

There’s a good argument to be made that PSG might hold the top spot on this list. Thomas Tuchel’s men are better rested and have a more straight-forward path to Lisbon, plus the Ligue 1 champs have played and won two Cup finals in the past three weeks. There are two reasons we’re keeping them below Man City and Bayern. One is the UCL-challenged history that has us as well as surely them seeing ghosts, and the other is the uncertain status of Kylian Mbappe. He’s in the squad, but at what percent?

2. Manchester City

The reason to consider putting City above Bayern is the men in charge. Hansi Flick has done oh-so-well at Bayern but is certainly not Pep Guardiola in terms of big-game acumen or reputation. But City’s defense has proven suspect, with John Stones falling off a cliff and Nicolas Otamendi not at the levels of previous seasons. Relying on Fernandinho, Aymeric Laporte, and Eric Garcia to shut down three top attacks in two weeks is a big ask, and left back is also a huge concern with the talented wingers set to test City.

1. Bayern Munich

No weaknesses aside from potentially having to beat Barcelona and Man City inside of six days. Boasting one of the only double-double men in Europe’s top leagues in Serge Gnabry, a played who doesn’t get mentioned as often as history-chasing Robert Lewandowski and history-making Thomas Muller. A midfield duo of Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich which is just plain stupid. Speed and composure to spare with Manuel Neuer at the back. The German keeper may no longer be the undoubted 1 or 2 in the world, but he’s still a monster.