Monday, November 14, 2005
Scotland's press reacted to the USA's visit with a mixture of praise and admiration, condescension and disinterest.
Scotland's best-selling newspaper The Daily Record tapped into the lack of pre-match tension with a yawning James McFadden and the caption "So, looking forward to the big match, Faddy?"
Inside, after a shot of Scots skipper Christian Dailly peering over USA Today, and a reverent interview with 1960's US international Gerry Baker, who has spent most of his life in Scotland, the mass-circulation tabloid reverted to type.
The Record had made a list of the "Top Five US Soccer Legends", illustrated by a big blow-up of Alexi Lalas' questionable 'General Custer' photo shoot. I say questionable because while there is a school of thought that all publicity is good publicity, Lalas' grunge image and lifestyle became another excuse for the soccer snobs to dismiss US soccer as not serious. Even today, for many European fans, Lalas is the first American player who springs to mind, seven years after he last played for the States - against Scotland, ironically.
Apart from Lalas, of course, the list included Roy Wegerle, Cobi Jones, Nicolas Gaetjens (better known as Joe, the hero of Belo Horizonte in 1950), and the great Sylvester Stallone (!) for his part in the movie 'Victory'.
Funny, yes, but it also spoke volumes about insular European football minds, apparently oblivious to a US World Cup quarterfinal in 2002 and a FIFA ranking of seventh.
Glasgow's Herald printed a picture of the second-string American team that faced Panama last month with the headline "Seventh best in the world but how many of these US players do you know?"
Journalist Darryl Broadfoot then retread the familiar tale of soccer's struggle for recognition at home and its attempts to muscle in on 'the ‘crown jewels' of American life - baseball, basketball and ice hockey'. What happened to American football?
Meanwhile, his colleague Philip Dorward could not resist delving into the American cliché drawer with the slightly ambiguous phrase, 'the team from the land of Disney are still seen in some blinkered quarters as a Mickey Mouse team'. Otherwise, he produced a good interview with DaMarcus Beasley, only spoiled at the end when he incorrectly located the Connecticut town of New Britain, where the US defeated Scotland 2-1 in 1996, in New York State.
The verdict the day after the game acknowledged across the board was that the US were more than a match for Scotland, had outplayed them for periods and were good value for the 1-1 draw.
Having watched color footage of the 6-0 mauling in front of 107,000 fans at Hampden in 1952 before the game, reporters who then saw the closely-fought tie at the same venue drew inevitable comparisons.
'There is no doubt the balance of power has swung dramatically since 1952', by the Sunday Mail's Ewan Smith, was a typical summing up.
Smith gave his highest mark, 8, to Jonathan Spector and recorded that Gregg Berhalter looked 'every inch the textbook centre-half', that Beasley had 'a cool name and is an equally cool player to boot', and, changing canine metaphors, that Wolff was 'the USA's very own fox in the box'.
The Scottish papers were almost unanimous in naming Spector, Wolff and Beasley as the top American players although Scotland on Sunday disagreed, awarding its highest marks to Eddie Gaven and Carlos Bocanegra.
Reporter Andrew Smith also stood out in agreeing with the controversial FIFA rankings that place the US in 7th and Scotland in 62nd. "Until Webster's equalizer, the USA looked every inch a side 55 places above," Smith posited.
"The US are ranked seventh, whereas in the eyes of those who calculate world rankings, Scotland are just rank," quipped Gary Sutherland. His sardonic eye also noted the USA's colors made them look 'like England in disguise' and that Santino Quaranta fouled a fellow DC man Paul Hartley - DC standing for 'definitely cross'.
The Sunday Post's Ron Scott mentioned how the 26,708 attendance in the 50,000 capacity Hampden Park made for a poor atmosphere, adding mischievously: "Given their lack of support back home, the visitors were more at home in a half-empty arena." Ha, ha. By the way Ron, that was Brian Ching, not Carroll, whom Webster beat for the goal.
'Stars earn their Stripes' was one of the Sunday Mirror's predictable headlines, along with 'Andy keeps Wolff from Scots' door' and 'Yankee Doodle Andy', in praise of Webster's equalizer.
Joe McHugh gave the US several plaudits, noting how they were 'clearly a step ahead with their quick movement' and 'more fluent passing style', were 'well drilled and efficient' and 'flowed confidently towards Gordon's goal', though 'were not perfect'.
Fellow Mirror man Ray Hepburn wrote a reflective piece on the US' rise up the football ladder as proof, following the ascent of the African and Asian nations, that the football establishment, including Scotland, now finds itself in 'a new world order' of soccer.
Unlike his colleague at the Record, he identified the 'three stalwarts' of US sport as 'gridiron, baseball and ice hockey'. Bad luck, hoops.
Hepburn put the US' soccer success down to an 'inbuilt hunger' and opined 'they are fanatical in their physical fitness, even if at the other end of the scale there are millions of McDonalds fatties on the other side of the pond.'
He may have hit below the belt with that obesity reference, spelt Keller's first name as "Casey" and curiously referred to the States' coach as "Mike Bruce Arena," but to his credit he was the only journalist in Glasgow this weekend who brought up the name of Hugh Dallas, from nearby Motherwell, and rightly faulted him for missing the Frings handball in 2002 which might have kept the US in the World Cup.
Echoing Scotland manager Walter Smith's prediction that the US could become a major player on the world soccer stage over the next decade, the Sunday Herald's Michael Grant admitted some older fans still looked on the US as a 'traditional football lightweight', when in reality, America had metamorphosed into 'a credible football power'.
According to Grant, the USA took the field 'with a star-spangled banner if not a star-spangled team', but impressed with their 'perceptive passing and intelligent movement', as well as their 'impressive work rate' that saw them mass bodies behind the ball whenever Scotland threatened.
Natasha Woods, writing in the same paper, said of the US Nats that when 'they were good, especially in the first half, they were very, very good', singling out Beasley and 'the Wolff from Kansas City' for particular praise.
Forgivably unfamiliar with Major League Soccer, Woods was not the only Scottish reporter to refer to JOSHUA Wolff and BENJAMIN Olsen, whom she said reminded her of Italy's Gennaro Gattuso - 'all bearded aggression in the heart of midfield'.
Colleague Alan Campbell wrote a piece about the Scotland skipper's waning skills and his harrowing by the flying PSV winger with a glorious shower of alliteration: "Dailly in Denial over DaMarcus Domination."
A fourth Sunday Herald writer had his two cents. Stewart Fisher dispelled the myth of the dour Scot by saying the US 'colonized Hampden' so completely in the first half, 'they could have erected a Starbucks in the center circle'.
With an eye for colorful detail, Fisher was alone in mentioning the red, white and blue cheerleaders and fireworks which heralded the teams' entry and interestingly described the handful of traveling US fans as an 'unusually chic band'. Needless to say, Sam's Army were not out in force then.
Fisher might have incorrectly called US Soccer 'Soccer USA' but was full of compliments for the team, naming Beasley, Spector and the 'streetwise' and 'livewire' Wolff, who as wild predators do with their prey, 'devoured' his penalty.
It was up to his colleague Ian Bell to make amends for Fisher's levity, with a rant against the 'statistical hogwash' of the FIFA World Rankings which have granted the US, no better than Scotland according to Bell, an 'elevated status'.
Hardly the first to notice how haywire the rankings are, Bell nevertheless banged his drum: "All credit to the USA, but seventh in the world?," he asked stupefied. "Arena may have some noble aspirations, but if his team even reach the quarterfinals in Germany, the football world will have tilted on its axis," he thundered, oddly omitting mention of the US' last eight finish in Korea.
He did make this reader laugh though when he said the US had fielded 'a second string team with players from the likes of the Kansas City Wizards, but they still looked an organized, professional outfit', doubtless ensuring a warm welcome if he ever comes to Arrowhead.
Gordon Waddell in the Sunday Mail also ridiculed the FIFA rankings with a double whammy of Yank-bashing: "You could park a couple of Hummer limos longways in the 55-place gap and still have room to spare for a supersize order of fries." He thought the game was 'a snooze-a-thon' but praised the USA for being 'solid, athletic, with a bit of trickery on the left in Beasley. They were nobody's mugs'.
Colleague Alan McMillan was left unimpressed by the 'dreary draw…a Hampden snore rather than a roar'. "Snore draw with the Yanks," echoed Mark Guidi, albeit lauding the Yanks for playing 'some lovely football'.
So, it was pretty positive toward the Yanks all in all and a lot for US soccer fans to be cheerful about. As one of them might have written: "The Scottish lion came out rampant but the American Eagle showed its talons and soared away unmauled."
One final mention to the sub-editors at the Independent on Sunday. Reporter Phil Gordon must have either spotted a linesman's flag no one else did on Webster‘s goal or else been at the drink that shares his name, because his otherwise almost faultless match report (more fame for ‘Benjamin' Olsen) gave a final score of 1-0 to the USA. Ole!
In fairness though, the paper's main results section had the game ending in a draw... a 0-0 one.