Today's World Cup Indicator is:
In the USA's last 12 World Cup-related matches (the final qualification round, and the two recent group stage fixtures) they have allowed their opponent to score first 8 times (or 66% of their matches). In those 12 games, they went 6-2-4.
What does this mean for our beloved Yanks? One viewpoint is that it shows our grit and determination. Our "never-say-die" attitude qualified us for the World Cup, and has brought us from the brink of elimination (half-time against Slovenia) to the verge of knockout-round qualification.
As you'll hear Brian Young profess in tomorrow morning's podcast, this team is undoubtedly more lovable because of this. We love being the underdog, we love picking ourselves up off the mat, and we love snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
Example: Clint Dempsey's wonder-goal against Juventus capping an incredible comeback from a 3-1 deficit. Read the full story.
In the last 45 minutes we played against Slovenia, we saw an American team that was firing on all cylinders, playing with a passion and drive envied by teams around the world (Frenchmen Zinedine Zidane and Arsene Wenger certainly think so).
This knack for spectacle hides an unfortunate truth: that we are uncomfortable with our position in International football. We languish somewhere between being the best of the world's worst teams, and the worst of the world's best teams. Pundits tell us that we are good enough to compete, but not good enough to win. When we play the Brazils and Englands of the world, we are too intimidated to play aggressively when the scoreline is 0-0. Our team ends up so afraid of letting in an early goal, that we spend the opening minutes of every match trying to find our rhythm instead of the back of the net. We're like someone's kid brother at a party: desperately wanting to be cool, and consequently doomed to be anything but. We're nervous and tentative until the game sees a goal (whichever side scores it). When we have an objective (chasing a lead or protecting one), we loosen up, our passes connect, we push the tempo, and we start creating scoring chances.
When we find ourselves the favorites, we again don't know how to behave. Now we act like we're meeting our girlfriend's family. "They're going to love you" we're told, "just be yourself." Our play is tentative, our attacking uncreative. When an underdog scores, it's exciting. So we try to be bland. We figure that if the game is ordinary, our latent skill will allow us to end up on top.
This is not going to work. We can't keep coming from behind. Everyone at the party thinks you're awkward. Your girlfriend's parents think you're boring. Loosen up.
If we are going to beat Algeria, and if our national team wants to be successful, we need to come out swinging. We should hit on older girls and do the worm when the dance floor clears. We should make fun of our future in-laws and have an extra glass of wine. And even if coming out swinging means we go down - then we'll go down swinging too. What's more American than that?
by Rishi Desai
Taking a page from Planet Money's playbook, I present to you the Desai Invitational World Cup Indicator! I'll post one of these every now and then, an interesting number that has to do with the World Cup, or the statistics in our pool.
Today's World Cup Indicator is:
Which is... the average number of goals scored per match in the first 11 games of the World Cup.
If you've been listening to the furor over the Adidas Jabulani ball and the alleged difficulty it poses for goalkeepers, you might expect this World Cup to feature an avalanche of goals. Yet goals have been few and far between, and this might be a trend that holds throughout the tournament.
Despite this generation's rich field of offensive geniuses - Rooney, Ronaldo, Kaka, and Messi to name a few - the number of goals scored per game in the tournament has been trending down significantly for years.
There are a number of reasons this might be happening. There is the obvious suggestion that the new ball is also more difficult to handle for field players, making it harder for offensive players to create scoring opportunities. Some would suggest that increased speed and athleticism across the pitch has narrowed traditional differences between quick forwards and hulking physical defenders.
Whatever the case, long gone are the days when Just Fontaine scored 13 goals in 6 games for France during the 1958 tournament (a record that could very well stand forever). In the last World Cup, Miroslav Klose took home the Golden Boot for leading the tournament's scorers with a meager 5 goals.
Perhaps Klose's Germany squad can jump start the tournament's offensive malaise - their 4 goal opener against Australia is the only match to feature more than two goals. Unlike sloppy games from fellow powerhouses France and England, Germany did not look apprehensive behind the ball, and pushed the pace against a strong Australia side. If we take into account Lionel Messi's horrible luck in Argentina's opener - a 1-0 win that could easily have been 4-0 - we have reason to hope for an up-tick in goals. Powerhouses Brazil, Spain, and Portugal have yet to play, each with a slew of players capable of setting the nets on fire.
Perhaps we'll fill a group stage highlight reel after all.