Posts Tagged ‘USA’

After the USA’s “Winter Wonderland” victory over Costa Rica in Denver on Friday, the team migrates south to meet Mexico in the Azteca on Tuesday.  Although “win at home, draw away” is the CONCACAF WCQ mantra, things change in the Azteca, where the mantra becomes “put in a decent performance and do your best to deal with whatever Mexico throws at you” (literally, and figuratively).

With Landon Donovan taking a break from soccer, USA fans may be asking, “but without Landon, who will expel urine onto the grass field in Mexico?”. Don’t fret – chances are, Mexican fans will be happy to help the USA out with that one via a few plastic bags or red cups.

Most USA fans are well aware of the pressure that the USMNT faced coming into this pair of qualifiers.  Brian Straus’ highly publicized interviews with several current USMNT players painted a picture of a national team in serious trouble, with players questioning Jurgen Klinnsman’s methods and their teammates’ loyalty and dedication to the USA.  Fans and media alike were anxious to see how the team performed on Friday.  What we saw was a team willing to battle through a blizzard to squeak out a positive (if somewhat lucky) result, relieving much of the pressure that had built up in subsequent weeks.  For the USA, a win in the Azteca would be fantastic, a draw would be impressive, and a loss in which the USA plays cohesively and with the “never say die” spirit we attribute to the team would probably feel pretty good too.

Things aren’t so rosy on the other side, however.  I’ve been fortunate enough to convince Sergio Tristan, a founder of the USA-based Mexican national team supporters’ group Villas Army, to describe the enormous significance Tuesday’s match has for Mexico.  Sergio gives some great insights into the pressure Mexico is under from its rabid fan base and highly critical media, and how that pressure might be starting to undo the team at its seams.


Pressure, Pressure, and More Pressure: A Look at Tuesday’s Mexico v USA Match from a Mexican Fan Perspective.

Note: Sergio Tristan is a founder of Villas Army, a Mexican supporters’ group for fans living in the USA.  While his choice of national teams is questionable, he knows his stuff and is a great source for keeping up with all things Mexican soccer.  Be sure to give him a follow on Twitter (@SergioGoal).

Mexico returns home after a drawing 2-2 against Honduras in San Pedro Sula on Friday, where the field temperature at kickoff was between 110 and 115 degrees. For any team in CONCACAF a draw in Honduras is a good result, but for Mexico this draw feels more like a loss. El Tri had three points in hand and lost it all in three minutes. The debacle in Honduras has made Tuesday’s game much more important for Mexico. Here’s a look at some of the main factors for Mexico heading into the U.S. match at El Estadio Azteca:

Fan and Media Pressure

The average American sports fan does not follow soccer. The U.S. win on Friday was not on the front page of any major U.S. newspaper, even with the insane weather conditions in Denver. If the U.S. fails to reach the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, it is possible that this news will barely make it onto SportsCenter. In contrast, in Mexico the entire country eats, sleeps, and breathes their national team. The Mexican fan base is one of the most dedicated fan bases in the world, with fans often traveling with one way tickets just to see their team play. With that level of fan dedication, however, comes great expectations. Mexican fans are very demanding. The fans are not the only ones to put pressure on the Mexican national team – the Mexican press do their part, too. Their coverage is extensive and sometimes extremely critical, and serious conflict between the Mexican Federation and the press is very common.

The highly-critical nature of the Mexican media creates tension between players and the press. Mexico captain Francisco “Maza” Rodriguez (middle) expressing that tension after Mexico drew Jamaica 0-0 at home in February.

Mexico enters the match against the U.S. under huge amounts of pressure from fans and the media. El Tri has two points in their first two CONCACAF hex matches, the worst start ever for the Mexican team. As a result, the Mexican media have been very critical of head coach José Manuel de la Torre, aka El Chepo, and the team. The pressure seems to have gotten the best of El Chepo, who has acted very erratically with the media and has forbidden his players from making any comments after the game against Honduras.

Starting Lineup Concerns

There are two major roster questions for El Chepo following the game against Honduras. Team captian Francisco “Maza” Rodriguez will miss Tuesday’s match due to yellow card accumulation, and El Chepo must decide who will replace him at center back. Left back Jorge Torres Nilo will also miss Tuesday’s game due to injury.

At center back, El Chepo will likely start either Roberto Ayala or Johnny Magallon, as both are natural replacements for Rodriguez. Ayala provides the size and strength needed to hold off strong players like Jozy Altidore, while Magallon has a lot of experience in big international games.

The real question mark for Mexico rests in the left back position. Torres Nilo’s injury leaves El Chepo scratching his head on who use to fill the gap. Unfortunately, El Chepo seems to only have midfielders available to take over the left back position. Andres Guardado and Carlos Salciedo are the leading candidates to replace Torres Nilo. Guardado has been playing at left back with his club side Valencia (and performed well against Real Madrid), while Salciedo is naturally a left back who converted to center midfield three years ago. Neither player is a first choice left back, but neither player would be a disaster in the position. But the real question is whose departure from the midfield produces the most negative effect on the team’s attack – and the answer is Guardado. The former Atlas winger has been a terror on the left wing against all opponents, never afraid to run at defenders and often taking quality long shots. Salciedo, on the other hand, can be easily replaced in the midfield by Hector Herrera or Gerardo Torrado, both solid options.

With first-choice LB Jorge Torres Nilo injured, Mexican head coach “El Chepo” must make a decision over which midfielder to use to replace him.

El Chepo’s decision at this position will show how “worried” he is about playing the U.S., and how much “pressure” he is truly feeling. If he chooses to maintain the central midfield tandem of Zavala and Salciedo, then Guardado will be forced into the left back position. Putting Guardado, Mexico’s most dangerous winger, at left back would show that El Chepo is very cautious about facing the U.S. However, if El Chepo moves Salciedo from the midfield down to left back, inserts Hererra into the middle, and maintains Guardado on the wing, then El Chepo isn’t afraid, and is willing to push forward and take the game to the Americans. Look for this left back decision in the starting lineups to get a glimpse into El Chepo’s mindset on Tuesday.

El Estadio Azteca

Every seat at the Estadio Azteca has been opened up for Tuesday, the tickets are sold out, and the Mexican fans are ready! The altitude, the smog, and 110,000 fans are definitely a pressure cooker for any team to play against. The Americans will surely walk onto the field and feel the pride of Mexico. However, if the game hits 30 minutes and Mexico has yet to score or is playing badly then El Estadio Azteca goes from the Mexican national team’s greatest friend to its biggest foe. For proof, one need only remember the last WCQ Mexico played in the Azteca, against Jamaica. The Mexican fans began booing their own national team halfway into the game. Cheers of “Olé! Olé!” were heard whenever a Jamaican player touched the ball, while whistles rained down on Mexican corner kicks. The entire stadium turned on Mexico. The pressure of Azteca is surely felt by every away team that visits Mexico City. Yet, the pressure is greater for the Mexican Team who must not only win but satisfy its rabid fan base with good soccer.

Mexico’s famed El Stadia Azteca can quickly turn from Mexico’s greatest friend to its greatest foe.

A loss for the U.S. in the Azteca is expected, even by many of their fans. A win for Mexico is demanded by their fans. I believe that Mexico is slowly cracking under the pressure of being constantly under the microscope and not having the same results the team had in the previous round of qualifying. For all the talk of dissension in the U.S. ranks, nothing brings a group together like shared adversity. The U.S. team shared adversity in Denver on Friday. They have bonded and are motivated. A draw is highly possible.

I predict a 1-1 tie that feels like a win for the U.S. and which results in fire alarms ringing all over Mexico.


Thanks again to Sergio for sharing this piece with Know Thy Enemies.  My counterpart to Sergio’s take – “A USA Fan Perspective on USA v Mexico” – is up on the Villas Army website here.  Enjoy the game on Tuesday – and GO USA!


Well, folks, it’s a new year.  Welcome to 2013!  The new year always brings with it the potential for excitement, for surprises, for new beginnings – the potential for anything to happen!  Well, almost anything.  In this time of flux, of chaos, of uncertainty, USMNT fans around the world can take solace in the one thing that’s for sure in 2013: Canada, who the USMNT will face in a friendly on January 29, will continue to suck at soccer.

People who are happy with Canada’s national soccer team are hard to come by these days.

OK, OK, maybe that’s a little harsh.  But there’s no question that Canada’s national team program is in a time of flux.  2012 had the potential to be an excellent year for our “Nanook of the North” neighbor, as Canada came into their final group-stage WCQ match against Honduras needing only a draw to assure advancement to the Hex.  A difficult task away to Honduras, to be sure, but by no means impossible.  The resulting bloodbath in San Pedro Sula saw Canada unceremoniously dumped out of qualifying via a lopsided 8-1 loss. Tears flowed from Canadian fans’ eyes like maple syrup from, uh, maple syrup trees. For you sadists out there, here’s the highlights – they ain’t pretty.


The loss to Honduras shook Canadian soccer to its core.  Head coach Stephan Hart handed in his resignation just two days later, despite a general consensus that coaching errors were not a factor in the loss, and despite that the fact that his win percentage with the team was the highest of any Canadian coach in history.  The coaching position still remains vacant today, though Colin Miller, the Scottish-born former Canadian international, was named interim boss early in 2013.

Canada comes into Tuesday’s friendly against the USA with a very young squad.  Ten of the 22 players Miller called in to camp have never previously featured for the senior national team, eight played for Canada’s U23’s in last summer’s CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament, and only four participated in Canada’s ill-fated third round of World Cup Qualifying last year.  Colin Miller has stated that he hopes to use the camp to evaluate “the future” of Canadian soccer.

On January 26, this relatively inexperienced squad took the field against Denmark in a friendly in Tuscon, Arizona.  The result: a 4-0 loss to the Danes, and a forgettable game for Canadian fans.  I found a stream of the game and did a little scouting for Tuesday’s USMNT friendly.  While one 90-minute observation is hardly enough to make any conclusive evaluations, here’s the highlights, and a few things I saw while watching the game that may be relevant to the USAvCAN match later this week:

  • Overall, Canada looked every bit like a group of young, inexperienced players with very little time on the field together (as could be expected). Their defense was especially porous and uncoordinated, and Denmark was easily able to pick the defense apart with well-timed through balls and smart runs.  If the USA can play the pressing, probing style of soccer that Klinsi advocates, they should find ample gaps to exploit, and ample opportunities to put the ball in the back of the net.
  • Canada’s centerbacks in the Denmark fixture each had markedly different styles and abilities.  At RCB, Nana Attakora had heavy touches, loads of speed, and seemed anxious to get forward and help in the attack – sometimes leaving Canada exposed.  At LCB, veteran Nik Ledgerwood seemed to have good positioning instincts and excellent on-ball skills, with soft touches, good dribbling, and some nice passing vision.  He also seemed slow.  The USA should look to take advantage of Attakora’s ill-timed forward runs and/or Ledgerwood’s pace.
  • Midfielder Kyle Bekker, who garnered loads of attention at the recent MLS Combine and was subsequently taken as the number 3 overall pick by Toronto FC, had some errant passes and downright terrible corner-kick service.  But he also used his on-ball composure to hang on to the ball in sticky situations, and push Canada’s attack forward a bit in the second half.  With a little bit of space, Bekker looks like he could be dangerous, so the USA will want to close him down quickly.
  • Finally, veteran Tosaint Ricketts reminded me of Jozy Altidore on a bad day: heavy touches, zero vision, and constantly deciding to take defenders on 1v1 (unsuccessfully), rather than looking to hold the ball up or pass off to a teammate.  To be fair to Ricketts, Canada’s offense as a whole wasn’t giving him much help, and he did whip in a shot on goal from outside the box that was probably Canada’s best scoring chance of the second half.  The USA defense shouldn’t have problems with Ricketts provided he continues to play “bad Jozy” (as opposed to current “good Jozy”, tearing up the Eredivisie), and provided they can handle his physicality.

One match is hardly enough to judge a squad by, and it would be unfair to Canada to say that they don’t have a chance against the USMNT on Tuesday.  But I’m not really into fairness, so I’m going to say it anyways.  My prediction: 3-1 for the good guys, with Will Bruin bagging 2, Benny Feilhaber bursting back onto the national team scene with a long-range strike, and a Sean Johnson blunder leading to Canada’s lone goal.

Until next time – blame Canada, and GO USA!


Why so nervous, Klinsi? “Because I’ve read your scenarios below. HOW many games do we have to win to guarantee moving on?”

[EDIT: I realized after posting this piece that the minimum number of points the USA could advance with is zero – not one, as I originally stated.  I’ve updated the post to reflect this.  I’m not so great at math, obviously.  My bad.]

[EDIT AGAIN: Now I’ve realized that the USA is guaranteed a spot in the hex with only 4 points, not 6 as stated below.  I’m officially terrible at math.]

The final two games of the third round of CONCACAF 2014 World Cup qualifying are looming on the horizon for the USMNT: the first an away match in Antigua, and the second a home tilt against Guatemala at sold-out Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City.  With Guatemala, Jamaica, and the USA all sitting on 7 points apiece, this morning I started wondering exactly what sort of results the USA needs out of these two fixtures.  Here’s a quick summary of what I’ve gleaned from taking a look at the numbers:

The USA could find itself in the hex with 0 points from these next two matches.  I shudder to think that this could happen, but if the universe were kind enough to the USMNT in terms of other results, the USA could mathematically advance despite losing against both Antigua and Guatemala.  If the USA and Jamaica both lose their next two matches, Guatemala would finish at the top of the group, with the USA, Jamaica, and Antigua all sitting on 7 points.  Provided the USA had a higher goal differential than the other two nations (likely for Antigua, iffy for Jamaica), they’d finish second on the tiebreaker.

Needless to say, this scenario – even if the stars aligned and the USA went through – would likely be seen as something of a disaster.  USMNT fans would despair, and would probably be calling for Klinsi’s head on a platter.  Nobody wants to see this happen.


“Waiter – bring me Jurgen’s head. I’m so very hungry.”

6 points guarantees the USA moves on to the hex.  If the USA wins these final two matches, they’ll finish with 13 points.  Under this scenario, only one other team (Jamaica) could possibly finish above the USA, if they also won their last two remaining matches AND had a higher goal differential than the USA.  Guatemala could finish with a maximum of 10 points under this scenario, with Antigua out of contention after matchday 1.  Thus, the message here is simple: win these two games and you’re through, most likely finishing first in the group.

Edit: 4 points also guarantees the USA moves on in the tournament, though not necessarily at the top of the group.  God, my math skills are terrible.  Whoops.

Qualification for the hex is possible with 1, 2, or 3 points, but would be practically as nerve-wracking as going through with 0 points.  There are many scenarios that would put the USA through to the hex with 1 point (a draw and a loss), 2 points (2 draws), or 3 points (a win and a loss).  But like the first scenario explored above, the USA’s fate with 1, 2, or 3 points would depend heavily on the results of other matches.  And let’s be honest – no USA fan wants to hedge the USA’s advancement on the outcome of other matches or goal differentials.

The bottom line: the USA’s fate rests squarely in the team’s hands.  Against weaker opposition, the USA should be able to comfortably advance to the hex with two decisive victories on the 12th and 16th.  The USA has the added advantage of facing the stronger of the two opponents – Guatemala – on home soil, in front of what should be a raucous, pro-USA Livestrong Sporting Park crowd.  And good thing, as the USA cannot lose there if they want to ensure that they go through to the hex on their own merits, rather than due to the fortunate results of the Antigua/Jamaica tilt.

Until next time – get those 6 points, and GO USA!

Know Thy Enemy: Jamaica

Posted: September 5, 2012 in KTE Report
Tags: , ,

The kind folks over at USfutblog were kind enough to offer me a guest appearance on their site.  You can check out my Know Thy Enemy: Jamaica piece on their website here.  If you’re new to my site, feel free to poke around my previous posts.  There’s references to tainted chicken, bad haircuts, vaginas – pretty much everything any American soccer fan could be looking for.  And be sure to check out all the other articles on USfutblog, and follow them (@usfutblog) on Twitter.

Enjoy and see you back here on this site soon!

Ah, Mexico.  My favorite team in CONCACAF – nay, the world!  There are about a million awesome things about Mexico.  Mexico never cheats.  Their goalkeepers never try to take out the USA’s strikers after being scored on.  Their defenders never headbutt our players.  And their fans are the classiest in the world, never resorting to tasteless chants or throwing objects and bodily fluids at USA players on the field.

And guess what else – it’s opposite day!

Rafa Studs Up

Rafa Marquez, the cleanest, most honest, most likable player in the entire world. But only on opposite day!

OK, opposite day is over.  Anyone who knows American soccer knows that Mexico is American soccer’s public enemy number one.  The history of the rivalry between the two teams is lengthy and complex.  But a few metaphors can help clear things up.  For example, if the USMNT was Rocky Balboa, Mexico would be the lovechild of Apollo Creed and Ivan Drago.  If the USMNT was Simba, Mexico would be Scar, except not America’s uncle.  You get the idea.  The USMNT is chaste, pure, and righteous.  The Mexican national team is vile, evil, and despicable.  It’s a simple, undeniable fact of life, yet somehow a difficult one for Mexican fans to comprehend.

Simple Math

Some things in life are simple to understand. For example: the sky is blue. One plus one equals two. Mexico’s soccer team cheats, plays dirty, and is overall just plain bad. And so on and so forth.

On August 15, the USMNT marches into Mexico for what is mistakenly labeled by USA-Mexico newcomers as a “friendly”.  No game against Mexico is “friendly”.  Especially a game in the Estadio Azteca, Mexico City’s iron fortress where the only thing thinner than the air (the stadium sits at an elevation of 7200 feet) is the USA’s win record (0 wins at the Azteca).  As is customary, I’m doing my part to disparage our opponent through this blog.

Here’s the breakdown:

Statistics Sez: According to FIFA, the USA holds a 15-12-32 record all-time against our southern neighbors.  Not too encouraging, admittedly.  But let’s dig a little deeper.  Can we really trust FIFA to be compiling accurate statistics?  The same organization that knew its senior officials were accepting bribes, but did nothing?  Of course not.  Luckily for USA fans, I’ve been doing some statistical research of my own.  And according to my count, the USA’s record against Mexico currently stands at 1 billion wins, 0 losses, and 0 draws.  Numbers don’t lie, folks.  Mexico is toast.

Sepp Blatter

I say the USA has beaten Mexico a bazillion times, and never lost. Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, says otherwise. Who you going to believe? (Hint: the correct answer is “not Sepp Blatter”.)

What I’m eating: My usual strategy on USA-Mexico gameday is to eat Americanized Mexican food (Taco Bell, Green Burrito, Chipotle, etc).  But I don’t really feel like eating pre-prepared food next Wednesday.  Eating fresh is all the rage these days, you know.  Since I’m feeling creative, I’ve whipped up a little recipe for next Wednesday’s match.  I call it “Pollo Contaminado“, and here’s how you make it:


  • 1 chicken breast
  • 1 dose of performance-enhancing drug
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Ingest the dose of performance-enhancing drug.
  2. Saute, grill, bake, broil, or steam the chicken breast.  Season with salt and pepper.  Eat the chicken.
  3. Go to a doctor to get a drug test.  Fail the drug test.  Blame the chicken.

What I’m drinking: A fresh-cooked batch of Pollo Contaminado deserves a delicious beverage to accompany it.  I call this recipe “the Azteca Assault”, and it’s the best way to capture the experience of taking in a USA-Mexico match in Mexico City without leaving the comfort of your home.  It’s part cocktail, part drinking game, and 100% guaranteed to leave you soaking wet and bruised!


  • 2 cans of beer
  • 1 sleeve of red plastic cups
  • Jumbo pack of AA batteries
  • 1 friend


  1. Hand one can of beer, the plastic cups, and the batteries to your friend.
  2. Ask your friend to stand several feet behind you.
  3. Open your beer and start watching the USA-Mexico game.
  4. At random intervals, have your friend fill a cup with either beer or their own urine and throw it at you.  Try to guess which one was in the cup by using your sense of smell.  No cheating and looking behind you!
  5. If you incorrectly guess the liquid you’ve just been doused in, have your friend throw batteries at you.  If you guess correctly, take a sip of your beer, and have your friend throw batteries at you anyways.
Landon Donovan

Put yourself in Landon Donovan’s shoes by indulging in an “Azteca Assault” while watching USA v Mexico. Hope you brought an umbrella!

What I’m singing: “Stay Classy, Mexico”, sung to the tune of “Yankee Doodle”

Mexico, you’ll scream “puto”, and shower us in beer-a
But you’ll never wipe away what happened in Korea
Met in the Round of 16
We beat you dos a cero
Shocked the world and sent you home, now who here’s the culero?


What to say to the Mexican fan next to you if, God forbid, they score: “Only fair to let you score one.  After all, we did take California, New Mexico AND Texas from you during the Mexican-American war!”

Until next time – boo Mexico, and GO USA!

The USA will get its first taste of an away atmosphere for 2014 World Cup qualifying when they travel to Guatemala City on June 12.  Think you might have what it takes to play an away game in Central America?  This US Soccer video says otherwise.  Watch it, and if you tell me you didn’t pee yourself by the end, you’re either lying, or have better bladder control than me.

But never fear, USA fans.  What Guatemala provides in terms of intimidating stadiums is severely undermined by the fact that they’re actually pretty bad at soccer.  So bad that they’ve never qualified for the World Cup.  Fun fact: remember back in 2006, when Trinidad and Tobago became the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup?  Guatemala was the CONCACAF runner-up that year.  That’s right – Guatemala is worse than the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup.

Even more telling is the nickname of Guatemala’s most famous soccer player, Carlos Ruiz.  As a youngster, Ruiz earned the nickname “El Pescadito”, or “The Little Fish”.  That nickname is a fantastic metaphor for the country he represents in international competition: Guatemala, a true minnow.  Add in the fact that Carlos Ruiz is actually the starting catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, and I’m starting to think the USA should be able to easily handle La Furia Azul.

Carlos Ruiz

Guatemala is so bad at soccer that their most famous soccer player, Carlos Ruiz, actually plays baseball!

Here’s the breakdown:

Statistics sez: A FIFA head-to-head search shows that the USA holds a 12-5-4 record against Guatemala.  In the ten times the sides have met in World Cup qualifying, the USA has never lost, winning 6 and drawing 4.  Guatemala has failed to score against the USA in its last 5 qualifying matches, and I’m pretty sure Tim Howard won’t be looking to let that streak get broken.

Tim Howard laughing

The very thought of Guatemala scoring on the USA makes Tim Howard laugh. That’s right, this is what Timmy looks like while he’s laughing. “SCORE ON ME? YOU’RE FUCKING HILARIOUS, GUATEMALA!!!!”

What I’m eating: Guatemala’s most well-known food is fiambre, a smorgusburg salad of meats, cheeses, and vegetables, containing as many as 50 ingredients.  The dish is usually prepared on November 1, as a part of the celebrations of Day of the Dead.  I figure the most insulting American version of fiambre is a Fiesta Taco Salad from Taco Bell – also a smorgusburg salad, likely containing 50 chemical additives and ingredients.  But isn’t Taco Bell derived from Mexican, and not Guatemalan, food?  Even better.  Chowing down on fake Mexican food can serve as a not-so-subtle reminder to Guatemala that they’re pretty much Mexico Jr – Mexico’s Canada, if you will.

What I’m drinking: Guatemala’s most well-known local beer is Gallo, a lager which has been produced in the country since 1896.  That’s a pretty long time.  However, the great American lager, Budweiser, has been produced in the US of A for a full 20 years longer than that.  Look for me to be downing Buds while watching the USA score one goal for each year that Budweiser was making beer while Gallo wasn’t even a sparkle in Guatemala’s eye.

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

A little background is in order here.  Here’s what you need to know: FIFA recently began investigating a Guatemalan match-fixing scandal.  Three players were implicated and suspended from the Guatemalan national team, including a player named Yoni Flores.  Finally, the word “yoni” is Sanskrit for “vagina”.

With that context, here’s the song I was inspired to write for Tuesday’s match:

Guatemala did their best Italian impression
Fixed some games, FIFA found out and handed out suspensions
Now Yoni Flores can’t play, he’s sad, and starts to cry
I’m just laughing at his name, cause “Yoni” means vagina!


What to say to the Guatemalan fan next to you if, God forbid, they score: “Did Vagina score that one?  Oh wait, he’s suspended.  Never mind.”

Until next time…go USA!

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!