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Jack Huckel

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Before The “Hex” Came A “Penta” And It Turned The USA’s World Cup Fortunes Around

Written by on January 22, 2013 | No Comments »
Posted in United States, World Cups

The CONCACAF Men’s World Cup Qualifying over the past four tournaments has been the story of the “Hex” or the Hexagonal – a final-round six-team competition for the CONCACAF berths in the World Cup. The Hex for Brazil 2014 begins this February 6 with the U.S. visiting Honduras, Costa Rica at Panama, and Mexico hosting Jamaica.

In CONCACAF World Cup qualifying history, however, the Hex is a relatively recent innovation. The first Hex-like tournament was not really a Hex but a “Penta,” a five-team tournament played for the 1990 Italy World Cup and it was eventful in several ways.

Perhaps the most incredible circumstance was who was not in that tournament – Mexico. Having been found to have played overage players in an age-group FIFA competition, El Tri was banned. Without Mexico in the grouping, the path to securing one of the two qualifying positions was suddenly easier for the five teams: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Trinidad & Tobago, and the United States.

While essentially the same as today’s Hex – a home and home round robin – the tournament was not organized in the same manner. Instead of playing a full round against all opponents before meeting teams for a second time, the 1989 Penta, for example, had Costa Rica and Guatemala complete their play on the first two match dates and Costa Rica played the first four dates, also completing its games against the U.S. Interestingly, Costa Rica had completed all its matches by the 10th of 18 total matches, while T&T still had five matches left and the USA four.

And Costa Rica set the bar for qualification with its five wins and one draw for eleven points. Its plus 4 goal difference was also an important marker as the rest of the group pushed for qualification. At the beginning of September with five matches left the group standings looked like this:

 

The“Penta”

Played

Won

Draw

Lost

Goals For

Goals Against

Points

Costa Rica

8

5

1

2

10

6

11

T&T

6

2

3

1

5

3

7

USA

4

2

1

1

4

3

5

Guatemala

4

1

0

3

3

5

2

El Salvador

2

0

1

3

2

7

1

Note: In 1989 wins were 2 points.

The two matches in September saw wins for the U.S. and T&T, further distancing both from Guatemala and El Salvador. The U.S. with its seven points looked in good position to qualify, with matches at Guatemala and home to El Salvador in October that could put it at 9 points, the same as T&T, with a match at T&T left, where a tie would be good enough to go through.

But, as fate would have it, the U.S. fought tight battles with the two bottom teams, finishing both as 0-0 draws. Consequently, they came into the final match with seven points. Suddenly the match at “The Office,” as T&T’s national stadium is nicknamed, turned into even more of a do-or-die match – win or go home, forget about Italy and, maybe, about hosting the 1994 FIFA World Cup!

Of course, many reading this column will remember Paul Caligiuri’s goal, a dipping half-volley from 30 yards that found the lower left corner of the net, and the 60+ minutes of hectic action that followed in a raucous stadium prepared to celebrate T&T’s first World Cup qualification. With no further scoring, when it was all over, the U.S., for the first time since 1950, had qualified for the FIFA World Cup.

Team

Played

Won

Draw

Lost

Goals For

Goals Against

Points

Costa Rica

8

5

1

2

10

6

11

USA

8

4

3

1

6

3

11

Trinidad and Tobago

8

3

3

2

7

5

9

Guatemala

6

1

1

4

4

7

3

El Salvador

6

0

2

4

2

8

2

A Dark and Stormy Inaugural: The First MLS Cup Match – October 20, 1996

Written by on November 28, 2012 | 1 Comment »
Posted in MLS

The classic opening to a bad novel applies to the first Major League Soccer Cup championship match. The Nor’easter that blew through New England on the weekend of October 20, 1996 turned the field at Foxborough Stadium, in the town of Foxborough, MA, southwest of Boston, into a swamp, a lake in some parts, and a weather scene that added to the drama of the first championship, played between the Los Angeles Galaxy and D.C. United.  The weather certainly didn’t intimidate fans, as over 34,000 showed up to witness history.

Was this an auspicious warning from the gods that soccer on North American soil was not blessed or was it nature determining that a professional game that had faced challenges and failures over its long history was ready to meet this challenge and become stronger? There was fretting in the front offices, but in the locker rooms there was the same intensity and determination found in every championship locker room.

While the weather was, indeed, brutal, the match was a classic. The Galaxy opened the scoring in the 5th minute when Mauricio Cienfuegos cut the ball back on the right side of the box and his cross found the head of Eduardo Hurtado. The first half ended with LA up 1 – 0. Just 11 minutes into the second half, the Galaxy doubled the lead as Chris Armas dribbled through the center and left-footed a shot into the corner from the top of the box.

Conditions continued to deteriorate, but the play did not, as D.C. United pressed for a way back into the game. First a Marco Etcheverry free kick from the left found Tony Sanneh at the far post and the lead was halved in the 73rd minute. Nine minutes another Etcheverry free kick was driven into the penalty area. LA Galaxy goalkeeper Jorge Campos got a fist to it under pressure, but the ball skidded off his hand into the center of the area where United’s Shawn Medved took the shot. Campos made the save but could not hold the ball. It rebounded back to Medved who did not miss on the second opportunity. Match tied!

The Championship went to sudden-death overtime and, again, Etcheverry was the key, taking a corner kick just four minutes into the first period that Eddie Pope headed home for the game winner – 3 to 2 for D.C. United, the first MLS Cup champions!

Would the game have the same history if it were played on a sunny crisp fall afternoon amidst the foliage of beautiful New England? Who’s to know? But the weather and teams combined to create a classic on MLS’ first big championship stage – a game that all who experienced will always hold as a memory of historic proportions.

Highlight video of the game can be seen here.

Chasing A Legend

Written by on November 8, 2012 | 1 Comment »
Posted in General

Canada’s Christine Sinclair and the USA’s Abby Wambach pursue Mia Hamm’s international goal scoring record

The time-honored phrase, “records are made to be broken,” is capturing North American women’s soccer fans as Canada’s spectacular forward Christine Sinclair and the USA’s fabulous Abby Wambach are now within touching distance of Mia Hamm’s international women’s soccer/football record of 158 career goals.

Hamm’s record was accomplished over a 17-year and 275 match career. She retired in 2004 following the Athens Olympic Games, having won two World Cups and two Olympic Gold Medals. In addition there were numerous Algarve Cup championships, two third place World Cup finishes and an Olympic Silver Medal at the 2000 Sydney Games. While she scored goals, she also contributed to unparalleled success of the U.S. Women’s National Team.

Her first was scored in her 17th match at age 18. She reached 100 goals at age 26 in her 155th game.  Her 150th goal came at age 32 in her 259th match. Her final goal, #158, came in match number 273, also at age 32.

Christine Sinclair’s Canadian squad have been very competitive in numerous international, but have yet to get over the hump and come home champions in either a World Cup or an Olympic Games. The 2012 London Games were a high point for the Canadians, as, behind Christine’s semi-final hat trick, the Canadians controversially lost 4 -3 in a dramatic overtime match against the U.S., who went on to win the Gold Medal while the Canadians came home with Bronze.

Only can certainly not fault Christine as she has lead the team in scoring almost from her first day as team member, scoring her first goal against Norway as a 16-year-old in only her second match. She scored her 100th goal at age 27 in her 133rd game, and currently has scored 143 goals in 190 matches. All done before the age of 30!

Abby Wambach is ahead of Christine in the race to eclipse Mia’s record, with 147 goals in 192 matches. She scored her first goal for the U.S at the age of 21 against Finland in her second match for the National Team. She reached 100 goals in 2009 at age 29 in a game against Canada, her 128th international. Currently, at age 32 and with two games against Ireland left on the U.S. Women’s Team schedule in 2012, she stands at 147 goals in 192 matches.

While Abby is closer to surpassing Mia, and seems likely to accomplish that goal, Christine has the leg up on becoming the all-time goal scoring leader in women’s soccer/football. She is three years younger and, with Canada hosting the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the team is sure to have a number of warm-up matches over the next two years as preparation. These matches may be easier than the games the U.S. will have to play to qualify for that same tournament as one can expect that defending will be tighter and the opponent more determined than in the friendly matches Canada will play.

Good luck to both women. They have left an indelible mark on women’s football and will be honored as among the best in the game. Mia became an icon. Will these two?




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