Four years ago at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, fans and pundits alike were critical of the state of play in the world’s premier soccer tournament.
The first World Cup to be played on African soil was considered to be a defensive and rather dull tournament. Through 64 matches, the 32 teams combined to score 145 goals, the fewest amount of goals scored since the tournament field was expanded to 32 teams in 1998. Teams sat back and tried to sure up their defenses instead of going for it. The World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands was marred by the roughhouse tactics of the Dutch, who looked to kick off the technically superior Spanish off the pitch.
Things have changed. Whether it’s being surrounded by the carnival-like atmosphere of being in Brazil, improvements in attacking soccer or break downs in defensive play, the 2014 World Cup so far has provided entertainment and goals in abundance. In a rematch of the 2010 Final, the Dutch got well-measured revenge on the Spanish, scoring four times in the second half in a 5-1 win, the worst loss suffered by a defending champion at a World Cup.
Two of the surprise packages of the World Cup early on just so happen to feature New York Red Bulls. Tim Cahill has been the heart and soul for the Australian national team for three World Cups and continues to score goals. His goal scored against Chile in the Socceroos' first Group Stage game was a Cahill special: A deadly accurate header after a cross from the wing.
Cahill pulled the Aussies within a goal and had another effort ruled out for offside in the second half. The Australians did eventually fall victim to another Chilean counterattack, but no one can fault them for their soccer philosophy: Attacking and progressive all the way until the dying seconds of the match.
As for the other Red Bull in Brazil, he was on the bench watching his team pull off one of the biggest upsets of the tournament. Roy Miller’s Costa Rica fell behind by a goal to former world champions Uruguay, but stormed out of the gate in the second half and tallied three goals en route to a historic 3-1 victory. After one game, Los Ticos sit on top of a group featuring three former world champions – Italy, England and Uruguay.
Supporters and critics have undoubtedly welcomed the wide-open nature of the games. While a solid defense is essential to any victory, most observers enjoy attacking, stylish soccer where the most creative players are free to express themselves. In previous editions of the World Cup, teams like Australia and Costa Rica would defend deep into their own half, invite pressure on and hope they could nick a goal via a set piece or a counterattack. It’s a welcomed sight that both sides – un-fancied before the tournament – are looking to come at their opponents and not play for a draw.
There’s no guarantee that the attacking tendencies of the teams playing in the World Cup will continue or that the entertainment value will translate to Major League Soccer when the league returns from its hiatus. If it does, Major League Soccer and the domestic game in the United States will be better placed for it. One can only hope that happens.
Red Bulls Lose New York Derby
Although the Red Bulls won’t play another league game until June 27, they were in action last Saturday in the fourth round of the US Open.
Drawn against the NASL’s New York Cosmos, the Red Bulls suffered a 3-0 loss in a match that saw the Cosmos dominate from start to finish. Without a number of first-team players out due to international commitments or injury, head coach Mike Petke played a makeshift starting XI that saw young right back Chris Duvall get sent off for a reckless challenge.