The road to Brazil 2014 begins with a stepping stone.

Caribbean Map

Fine, “stepping stone” isn’t a fair term to use. Antigua and Barbuda are so small, they’re better characterized as “stepping pebbles”. Test your “Where’s Waldo?” skills and try to pick them out on this map!

On June 8, the USA kicks off 2014 World Cup qualifying by taking on twin island-nation Antigua and Barbuda in Tampa, Florida.  The phrase “CONCACAF minnows” is thrown around a lot in US Soccer circles.  No team better illustrates the meaning of this phrase than Antigua.  As you work your way down through international tournaments, from “prestigious” to “pitiful”, one thing remains constant: Antigua ain’t playing.  The World Cup?  They’ve never qualified.  The CONCACAF Gold Cup?  Never qualified.  The Caribbean Cup?  Typically don’t qualify.  To be fair, they have qualified for the 2012 Caribbean Cup.  To be even more fair, they’re the host nation, so that doesn’t really say much.

Now, Antigua may not be an international powerhouse (like, ahem, the USA), but that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of winning.  Antigua enters this third round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying after finishing first in their second-round group, with a 5-0-1 record, and a ridiculous +23 goal differential.  However, this may end up hurting, rather than helping, Antigua against the USA.  Part of the reason they finished with such a high goal differential was their 10-0 rout of the US Virgin Islands – which happens to be an American territory.  Why does that matter?  Well, let’s just say Jermaine Jones doesn’t always take kindly to people who mess with America.

Jermaine Jones tackle

This is what Jermaine Jones did to Neymar for scoring one goal on the USA. Imagine what he’ll do to Antigua for scoring 10 goals on a US territory!

A few last random factoids before moving on to my standard breakdown.  To start: most of Antigua’s players ply their trade with Antigua Barbuda FC, in American soccer’s third division (USL Pro), though a handful play in England.  Most of Antigua doesn’t care about their national team, since the unbearable “sport” of cricket is immensely popular there.  Finally, and perhaps reflecting the previous factoid, the Antiguan national team’s logo appears to be two deer humping a basketball with (American) football laces stitched on it.  I’m speechless.

Antigua logo

A fresh take on a classic phrase. The Antiguan football team – stuck between a deer and, um, another deer.

Here’s the breakdown:

Statistics sez: There have been no previous matches between USA and “The Benna Boys”.  What, never heard of Antigua’s national team being called “The Benna Boys”?  Don’t worry, nobody has.  Nobody even knew Antigua had a national team.  I didn’t know until I wrote that last sentence.  Anyways, even without prior historical results, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Antigua will leave their first encounter with the USA wishing it had never happened.

What I’m eating: Antigua’s national dish is “fungie“, which is essentially fried cornmeal, similar to fried polenta.  Sounds tasty.  But America takes the elegant simplicity of fried carbohydrate to a whole new level that Antigua can’t even begin to compete with, with good ol’ Krispy Kreme donuts.  Thus, look for me on Friday to be stuffing my face with donuts like the USMNT will be stuffing Antigua’s net full of goals.

What I’m drinking: Back in college, I decided to spend a semester studying abroad on the Caribbean island nation of Barbados.  I don’t remember much about the experience, but I do remember two things.  One, I remember that I met my lovely fiancee there (thank you, Barbados!).  Two, Barbados (like many Caribbean nations) makes a fantastic rum, or at least rum that tastes fantastic by the third drink – Mount Gay rum.  Antigua has their own rum, called “English Harbour” – clearly a jab at America, using the pretentious and stupid English spelling of the word “harbor”.  While I usually opt for an American version of opponents’ beverages, the slogan of Barbados’ Mount Gay rum is “the rum that invented rum” – a slogan that oozes superiority.  Thus, for one game only, I’ll be abandoning my traditions and returning to my Bajan roots, enjoying a rum punch made with Barbados’ finest while simultaneously enjoying the USA making Antigua look downright silly.

Mount Gay

Take your rum back to England, Antigua. Mount Gay invented you and you know it.

What I’m singing: “Allen Stanford”, sung to the tune of “Yankee Doodle”.

A bit of background first.  Back in the 1980’s, an American businessman named Allen Stanford moved to Antigua.  He started a bank there, offering investors returns that consistently exceeded the market rate.  People in Antigua loved him – so much, in fact, that he was knighted by the Governor-General of Antigua in 2006.  Unfortunately, it turns out “Sir Allen” as actually running a $8 billion ponzi scheme, rather than a real bank.  Oops.  Antigua revoked his knighthood in 2010, but it was too late to prevent me from laughing at the whole story.

After a few rum punches, you may hear me sing this song inspired by this historical tidbit:

Allen Stanford was a Yank who moved off to Antigua
Started up a bank, too bad it was a Ponzi scheme
Yes, we’ve screwed Antigua once
Tonight, we’ll do you one worse
Make you wish we’d never met, like we were Allen Stanford

What to say to the Antigua and Barbuda fan when, God forbid, they score: “I genuinely did not think that would happen.”

Until next time…go USA!

On June 3, the USMNT will face Canada in Toronto in its final pre World Cup qualifying friendly.  5 days later, shit gets real against Antigua and Barbuda.  It’s go time, USA!

American-Canadian soccer relations have been complex, to say the least, over the past 6 months.  Say what you will about Caleb Porter, Sean Johnson, or El Salvador, but I still blame Baby Canada for the USA’s U23 Olympic qualifying debacle.  Shortly after that disaster, I found myself pulling for our northern neighbors in the CONCACAF Champions League.  Toronto FC seemed poised to pull off a massive upset against Mexican goalkeeper Oswaldo “Dirty” Sanchez and Santos Laguna after getting a 1-1 result in the first leg.  In typical Canadian fashion, however, Toronto FC disappointed me, getting thrashed 6-2 in the return leg.  At the same time, Canada’s loss here was ultimately America’s gain, as stud striker/double agent Herc Gomez (little known fact: he plays in Mexico as a part of the USMNT’s secret surveillance operations) notched two goals against Toronto, contributing to his (finally!) being recalled into the USMNT (and scoring the USA’s lone goal against Brazil on May 30).

Phew.  Keeping track of whether I hate or love Canada has been exhausting.  But no more – it’s back to pure hatred!

Blame Canada

While I’ve wavered in my hatred for Canada, South Park never has. Their steadfast dislike for our northern neighbors is inspiring, to say the least.

Here’s the breakdown:

Statistics sez: FIFA’s head-to-head search reveals that the USA holds a 13-9-8 record against Canada.  Not a bad statistic to have on our side.  Even better is the fact that out of 13 friendlies against Canada, the USA is undefeated in all but 2 (the last time Canada beat us in a friendly was in 1985).  In short, we dominate Canada in soccer friendlies like we dominate them in pretty much every other category, like “being a real country” and “not having our police wear funny outfits”.

Canadian Mounties

Canada’s national police force, the Mounties, wear silly hats. And sometimes have awesome moustaches.

[Note: Canadian cuisine has evolved very little since I wrote Know Thy Enemy: Baby Canada during U23 Olypmic qualifying earlier this year.  As such, I’ve “borrowed” most of the following two sections from that earlier piece.]

What I’m eating: The national dish of Canada is definitely fresh-clubbed baby seal.  But the sneaky Canadians would never admit that.  Instead, a survey of Canadians shows that, if they had to choose a national food BESIDES maple syrup (seriously, I didn’t make that part up), it would be “Poutine” – french fries and cheese curds covered in brown gravy.  Lucky for me, one of America’s finest eating establishments, In’N’Out Burger, makes a superior American version of poutine: animal-style fries.  That’s what I’ll be grubbing on while watching the USA run circles around the Canucks.

Poutine

Leave it to the Canadians – nay, the FRENCH Canadians – to make a combination of french fries, cheese, and gravy look gross. Shame on you, Canada.

What I’m drinking: Once again, Wikipedia to the rescue.  Looks like Canada is famous for two mixed drinks: Sortilege, a combination of Canadian whiskey and maple syrup, and Caribou, a mixture of red wine, Canadian whiskey, and – wait for it – maple syrup.  America can do one better – I’ll be taking shots of Log Cabin maple-flavored syrup (made in Vermont), chased with shots of America’s finest whiskey, Jack Daniels.  One shot of each for every goal the USA scores on Canada.  I think it’s going to be a long and uncomfortable night.

What I’m singing: “Canada’s Our Suburb”, sung to the tune of “Yankee Doodle”.

Canada, don’t feel too bad, you’re third best on the continent
Third of three, so actually it’s not a real accomplishment
Canada, you’ll always be America’s kid brother
We’re the best place in the world, you’re just our shitty suburb

What to say to the Canadian fan next to you if, God forbid, they score: “Is it still 1980 in Canada, or do Canadians actually still think turtlenecks are fashionable?”

Until next time…go USA!

On May 30, soccer fans in Landover, Maryland will flock to Fed-Ex field to see the world’s greatest soccer team.  They’ll be treated to a dazzling display of highly-skilled offense, rock-solid defense, and spectacular goalkeeping.  That’s right, folks, these fans will have the once-in-a-lifetime chance of seeing our very own USA national team in action, right before their very eyes!  Oh, and they’ll be playing some team named Brazil.

USA Number 1 license plate

Sorry, Brazil.  There’s only room for one “World’s Greatest Team” in Landover, and you ain’t it.

People like to talk about Brazil like they are God’s gift to soccer.  I’d like to point out that they’ve only won 5 World Cups over the last 80 years.  For some perspective, the LA Lakers were recently crowned world champions of American basketball 5 times in a single decade (2000-2010).  Needless to say, I’m not impressed, Brazil.  And for the record, I’m not a Lakers fan either.  Go Clippers!

Look, it’s not like I HATE Brazilian soccer.  I like Neymar’s bad haircuts as much as anyone.  But when your team’s Wikipedia page says it’s a “common quip” about soccer that “the English invented it, the Brazilians perfected it”, I think you may have an arrogance problem.  The recent comments on Messi from Brazil’s greatest player ever, Pele, only confirm this diagnosis.  While I agree with Pele that Lionel Messi is not the world’s greatest player right now (it’s Landon Donovan, of course), he’s dead wrong that Messi can’t compare to Neymar – unless, of course, we’re still talking about bad haircuts.

Mohawk plus rat tail? Come on, Neymar. You’re no Brek Shea.

And for all their accolades, it’s worth noting that Brazil hasn’t been entirely flawless as a soccer nation.  In 1950, Brazil had the honor of hosting the first World Cup since World War II began.  They made it to the final, facing Uruguay in Rio De Janiero, needing only a draw to be crowned world champions.  The ensuing 2-1 loss they suffered still stands as one of the biggest upsets in soccer history, and is known in Brazil to this day as the “fateful final”.  32 years later, Brazil was eliminated in the World Cup quarterfinals at the hands of Italy, another massive upset known today as “the Sarrias Disaster” (for the stadium the match was played in).  Here’s an idea for a saying: “England invented soccer, but Brazil perfected choking at it”.  It’s not really true, but whatever.  We’ll see if it catches on.

Losing Brazil Fan

Brazil may win a lot, but it’s important to remember that sometimes, they lose. Like on May 30, 2012!

Here’s the breakdown:

Statistics sez: The USA and Brazil have met 16 times before, according to FIFA’s website.  The results are sure to bring a smile to any USA soccer fan’s face: we have a 1-0-15 record against Brazil.  Yes, you read that right.  WE’VE BEATEN BRAZIL!  Based on our prior history, the USA has a 1/16 chance of beating Brazil on May 30.  For some perspective, this website puts the odds of “being injured by a chain saw” at roughly 1/4500.  That means the USA is about 280 times more likely to beat Brazil than the likelihood of me being injured by a chain saw.  As a person with sweaty hands and little knowledge of power tool safety procedures, I’d say I’m pretty damn likely to be injured by a chain saw at some point in my life – so I’m liking the USA’s odds in this one.

Chainsaw Massacre

The only thing being massacred on May 30 will be Brazil’s defense, with Clint Dempsey as the chain saw, and Jurgen Klinsmann as the crazy guy. On an unrelated note, I’d imagine a high percentage of self-inflicted chainsaw injuries come from holding it above your head, like so.

What I’m eating: According to Know Thy Enemies’ Brazilian correspondent (spoiler alert: it’s Wikipedia), the national dish of Brazil is feijoada – a stew made from black beans, pork, and beef, cooked over low heat in a clay pot.  It’s usually served with white rice and deep-fried banana.  Although that admittedly sounds delicious, it’s not my job to support Brazil by eating their food.  No, it’s my job to support the good ol’ USA by eating a crappier, Americanized version of Brazil’s food.  So here’s my plan: a can of off-brand franks-n-beans, microwaved in a plastic bowl and served atop a slice of white bread and a deep-fried twinkie.  Bonus points since this meal would fulfill the daily caloric requirements of an entire favela.

What I’m drinking: Brazil’s national cocktail is the caipirinha – made by combining cachaça (Brazilian rum), sugar, and lime.  The name of the drink is derived from the word caipira – the Brazilian Portuguese equivalent of “hillbilly”.  Please, Brazil.  You want a real hillbilly cocktail?  Try Hillbilly Gatorade – BBQ sauce, pickle juice, and a can of Miller High Life.  That’s what I’ll be choking down, suppressing my gag reflex like the USA defense will be suppressing Brazil’s attack.  True USA fans will do the same.

What I’m singing:  “Ego Check”, sung to the tune of “Yankee Doodle”.

Brazil’s good but way too vain, think they’re God’s gift to soccer
Pele says Neymar’s world’s best?  Please get Pele a doctor
Time to show Brazil they’re wrong, their glory years are all up
Brazil needs an ego check like Neymar needs a haircut

Bonus track!  “Neymar’s Haircut”, sung to the tune of “Dreidel Dreidel”.

Neymar, Neymar, Neymar, your haircut is so bad
Looks like you killed a hedgehog, and glued it on your head!
Please get this man a barber, he needs one oh so bad
He’ll never play like Messi with a hedgehog on hishead!


What to say to the Brazil fan next to you if, God forbid, they score: “Wow, that’s SO original of you to be a fan of Brazil’s soccer team.  Way to set yourself apart from the crowd!”

Until next time: Go USA!

On November 30, 1872, Scotland made history by participating in the first-ever international soccer match, a 0-0 draw against England.  It would be the last time Scotland would ever make history in the world of soccer, at least for doing something good.

Since that fateful day in 1872, England has gone on to become an international soccer powerhouse, performing well in European tournaments, hosting the world’s top soccer league, and even winning the World Cup.  Meanwhile, Scotland has plummeted into international insignificance by failing to qualify for the last three World Cups, and never making it past the group stage even when they have qualified.  Talk about not living up to expectations.

Scotland's Hopes

Scotland’s hopes for beating the USA, let alone qualifying for Brazil 2014, are about as deflated as this really ugly soccer ball.

On May 26, the USA will meet Scotland for a World Cup Qualifying tune-up  in Jacksonville, FL.  For the USA, it will be a chance for the squad to gel ahead of crucial matches against CONCACAF competition, not to mention getting a confidence boost from beating (what barely qualifies as) a European team.  For Scotland’s players, it will be a rare chance to experience weather in excess of 50 degrees.  Everybody wins – except Scotland, who will of course undoubtedly lose.

Here’s the breakdown:

Statistics sez: FIFA’s head-to-head search reveals the USA has a 1-2-2 record against Scotland.  To be fair, Scotland’s first victory against the USA came in 1952, hardly a recent result.  In 1992, Scotland improved their record against the USA to 2-0, sending floods of Scots into the streets to celebrate what must be their national team’s longest win streak against a particular opponent.  Since then, the USA has regained the upper hand, posting a victory and two draws in the last three meetings between the sides.  Plus, in 1995, America made the movie Braveheart, which FIFA clearly forgot to include in their “statistics”.  I’m pretty sure that counts as a win for the USA, since it forever associated Scotland with Mel Gibson.  Joke’s on you, Scotland!

Braveheart Face Paint

The national hero of Scotland, Mel Gibson.

What I’m eating: If having the grossest national food helped you win soccer games, Scotland would have this one in the bag.  America has delicious national foods like hamburgers, apple pie, and freedom.  The Scots?  Haggis, that vile concoction of sheep’s liver, heart and lungs, mixed with spices and wrapped in sheep’s stomach.  Since my goal is to eat the crappier American version of every opponent’s national cuisine, I’m guessing my only option is canned dog food?  Yum.

Haggis

Scotland’s gift to the world – haggis. Too bad it didn’t come with a return receipt.

What I’m drinking: Nothing pisses off a Scotsman like being mistaken for an Irishman (or a Brit, for that matter).  To disparage our opponent, I will therefore be washing down my canned dog food with Jameson whiskey, loudly proclaiming the entire time that I’m drinking Scotch.  “Man, I’m really tasting the peat in this Jameson Scotch whiskey!”  For those seeking a less alcoholic alternative, drinking a Guinness (“Scottish beer is so delicious!”) will have the same effect.

What I’m singing: “Mel Gibson” (sung to the tune of “Yankee Doodle”).

When the World Cup comes around, how fares Olde Great Britain?
England goes most every time, but Scotland’s always missing
When they make it in they’re out
In group-stage competition
Scotland needs a miracle, they better call Mel Gibson

What to say to the Scottish fan next to you if, God forbid, they score: “Man, I am SO glad you guys invented St. Patrick’s day.  It’s my favorite holiday!”

Until next time…

Go USA!

Just a quick note to know anyone who happens to mistakenly stumble across this site that I am indeed working on new content.  The USA U-23’s loss to El Salvador certainly sent me into hibernation for a while – that and the fact that neither the U23’s nor the senior USMNT team have played a match since that fateful day meant I wasn’t putting anything up here on the site.

I’m currently putting the finishing touches on my Know Thy Enemy: Scotland piece, and am just getting started on Brazil.  Look for each one to be posted about a week (maybe a little bit more) before each match.

In the meantime, here’s an inspirational photo of Mr. American Soccer himself, Landon Donovan, giving Mexican fans the ol’ Dos a Cero salute.  Just a little something to keep you going for the next few days.  I saw the photo on US Soccer Daily‘s website.  USSD is a great blog/Twitter follow, if you’re into that sort of thing.  This photo makes me so happy I could cry.

You tell ’em, Landon.

Until next time – Go USA!

Opposing players sometimes do something so despicable while playing against the USA, they earn the title of “Public Enemy”.  Read on to find out what this particular individual has done to earn this title.

PUBLIC ENEMY: ALEXANDER LARIN

When high kicks don't succeed, El Salvador's Alexander Larin just resorts to punches and biting instead.

On March 27, 2012, El Slavador scored a 95th minute equalizer to knock the USA out of Olympic Qualifying contention in the last game of the group stage.  While the main story was the USA’s failure to qualify, fans who watched the game will also remember this moment, when Terrence Boyd collapsed away from the ball (and away from the referee), his face bleeding profusely.  Replays would show that Salvadoran Alexander Larin blindsided Boyd, punching him as he backtracked.

After the game, USA midfielders Mikkel Diskerud and Freddy Adu showed reporters bite marks they had sustained during the match.  While they didn’t say who bit them, five days earlier, Canada’s Carl Haworth was issued a yellow card for shoving Larin, and later told reporters that was a response to Larin biting him.

I’m all for physical play and intense competition – but throwing sucker punches and doing a “Walking Dead” impression is enough to earn Larin the title of USA Public Enemy.  I’m not sure if we’ll see him play against the USA again, but if we do, let’s make sure he knows that we remember how he played during this tournament.

Until next time, suck it, Larin, and go USA!

The mantra here at Know Thy Enemies is that the best way to beat your opposition is to, well, KNOW them.  After major tournaments/games, Know Thy Enemies provides an International Relations update for the nations we recently played.  Check back here to learn what friendships were formed – and what enemies were made – during recent USA games.

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS UPDATE: 2012 CONCACAF OLYMPIC QUALIFYING

What a ride.  Just moments away from securing a huge comeback win against El Salvador to advance to the 2012 Olympic Qualifying semi-finals, the USA U23’s conceded a 95th minute goal.  The goal tied the score at 3-3, sending El Salvador through to the semi-finals, and a very talented, very disappointed, USA team home.  Watching that last-minute goal trickle over the goal line was one of the most painful experiences I’ve had as a USA soccer fan to date.  If you’re feeling masochistic, relive the agony with this video:

Here’s the update on where USA soccer’s relations with the following teams stands after the tournament:

EL SALVADOR: PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER THREE

With their last-minute elimination of the USA U23’s yesterday, El Salvador jumps nearly to the top of USA soccer’s shit list, behind only Mexico (forever public enemy number one), and Ghana (who have dashed the USA’s World Cup dreams two years in a row).  In the 79th minute, Salvadoran defender Alexander Larin punched USA striker Terrence Boyd in the face.  USA midfielders Mikkel Diskerud and Freddy Adu showed reporters bite marks sustained during the match, and Canada’s Carl Haworth also told reporters that he was bitten during their match against El Salvador – by Alexander Larin.  Pretty despicable stuff from El Salvador – and enough to make me dislike them very, very much.

El Salvador's Alexander Larin (in blue) has put his acting skills to good use this tournament, pulling off maneuvers straight out of "Rocky" (a punch to Terrence Boyd's face) and "Night of the Living Dead" (biting Canada's Carl Haworth).

CANADA: FRENEMY

Canadian-American relations seemed to be heading due south after Canada upset the USA 2-0 in the second game of the tournament.  Overall, however, Canada strategically outplayed the USA, fielding an unconventional 4-3-2-1 formation designed specifically to prevent the technically superior USA from controlling the middle of the field.  Doing that took some cajones – so Canada gets a point from that.  Their conceding the last-minute goal to Cuba also helped.  Canada has the chance to go from frenemy to close friend of the USA if Toronto FC can pull off a miracle against Mexican club Santos in CONCACAF Champions League later this week.

CUBA: FRIEND

Time to normalize relations with Cuba, Mr. Obama, because their U23 team was nothing but good to the USA during the 2012 OQ tournament.  The USA met Cuba in their opening match of the tournament – and gained confidence and momentum going forward by beating Cuba 6-0.  In the third game of group play, Cuba upset Canada with a stoppage-time equalizer to give the USA a chance at winning group A, and avoiding a semi-final showdown with Mexico.  To top it all off, after the USA failed to capitalize on Cuba’s hospitality by losing to El Salvador, Cuba’s players sympathized with the USA U23’s at the airport, watching highlights of the loss together.  Gracias, Cuba.

Friends

The USA made an unlikely ally during their 2012 Olympic Qualifying campaign: Cuba. Photo courtesy of @soccerbyives.

That’s it for now.  Until next time, boo El Salvador – and go USA!