Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Yours truly was one of the crowd in Kaiserslautern on a very warm and humid German night, cheering on the dwindling numbers of Team USA as they valiantly held on for a draw against Italy, who have now qualified for the gold medal in diving.

With a huge American presence courtesy of the nearby American military bases, the noise generated by the crowd was one of the loudest ever for a US team on foreign soil, but was still not as loud as the Italian contingent, who chanted "I-TAL-IA" in unison to the same cadence as "U-S-A". One day we can hope to emulate that same level of passion.

I happened to be at the game courtesy of one of the event's corporate sponsors, which was great for me personally, but I have to question the motives of some of the folks sitting nearby.

One American fan in front of me was wearing a German shirt, and waving three flags (America, Italy and Germany), clearly showing that he was just happy to be in the stadium. A group of Italians sitting behind us looked at this and thought it was a joke, wondering whether we will ever take soccer seriously.

Clearly, not all the US fans were this nonchalant, and it was nice to hear the crowd scream "Gooch!" every time Oguchi Onyewu made another key interception or block in our half.

By far the most telling scene that we had done well in K-town was the sight of the Italians sitting behind me leaving before extra time had started!

Other thoughts from the game:

[bullet]Two players who proved to the world on Saturday that they can play on any level in soccer were Landon Donovan (no surprise) and Clint Dempsey (surprise).

I don't know what happened, but the injection of confidence the LA Galaxy player had in the second half was nothing short of miraculous. At one point, he took on three Azzurri defenders, generally considered to be the best in the world, and beat them single handedly.

On Dempsey; I knew he was good, but not this good. He seemed to relish going right at Cannavaro and Perrotta with crossover dribbles.

If Dempsey doesn't end up in Europe in August, it will likely be due to MLS's transfer by committee approach which drags out the process ad infinitum.

[bullet]OK, I'm officially off DaMarcus Beasley. There has been a definite change in his play, and he looks very tentative when forced to go forward and unwilling to take on larger defenders with his speed. He can still track back and harass players on the ball, but it always seems his first option is to pass back.

An example of this occurred in the 71st minute of Saturday's game. A clever combination of passes between McBride and Reyna had worked the ball to Beasley in front of the box, who had an option to continue to 1-2 combination with McBride in front of goal. But he thought too long about it, and eventually had to pass back to defender Carlos Bocanegra on the wing, whose cross into the box was dealt with easily by Buffon.

[bullet]You have to ask yourself, which Kasey Keller shows up for the Ghana game? The one who was absolutely awesome with several reflex saves against Italy, or the one who looked flat footed against the Czech's?

[bullet]Song sung by the Italians after the game; "Dive, dive, wherever you may be. Roll on the ground and feign injury."

[bullet]It's not good that Pablo Mastroeni won't be part of the last group game, but every cloud a has a silver lining, and that lining will be John O'Brien coming in to play the holding role.

[bullet]However, it IS good that Eddie Pope won't be playing, as he has been the main culprit on nearly all the goals the Americans have surrendered in this tournament. Moving Bocanegra inside and having Jimmy Conrad in the left full back position looks, based on their play against Italy, to be a better combination.

Having just dissed Pope, I have to say he was probably one of the best defenders we have ever had put on a US shirt. Ah, what the passage of time does to a man. I can sympathize.

[bullet]For those still wondering about what scenarios out us in the second round, allow me to simplify. Italy wins, US wins, we have the privilege of playing Brazil and Rotundo… err.. Ronaldo.

We can also qualify if the Czech's and Italians draw and we beat Ghana by four goals.

[bullet]I wonder if I can find that American with the Italian flag, I need it for Thursday.

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