Is Edmonton done? Sure looked like it last night, as the Oilers came tantalizingly close to packing it in, losing 5-0 to Carolina and not putting up much of a fight after a late second-period goal made it 3-0. Edmonton needs to battle back and at least show some pride in Game 3 on Saturday night, or this series will end quickly (something NBC might not mind, since the broadcasts on NBC will be very low-rated). With an extra day of rest, the Oilers won't have any excuses if their effort is similar to the putrid performance we saw last night.
And before I move on, credit to Carolina. It's easy to get lost in being critical of one team or the other, but the Hurricanes are hitting on all cylinders right now. It's actually quite incredible to watch. Their passing has been sharp, their goaltending great, and their defense has been solid, blocking shots and keeping forwards away from Cam Ward. And Carolina has outscored Edmonton 10-1 since the Oilers took a 3-0 lead in the second period of Game 1. Ouch.
World Cup Preview...Part Two. I'm going to examine the other four groups today (covered Groups A-D on Wednesday).
--> More on Team USA in a moment. The Czechs might be overrated a bit in the overall scheme of things, but they're good enough to run the table here.
--> Duh. Australia might be able to claim second, but I think Croatia will hold them off.
--> I think the Koreans will give France a run for first. I see Le Bleus as being somewhat overrated. This isn't as good as the side that won the 1998 Cup, but it isn't nearly as bad as they looked in 2002, either. France could run to the quarterfinals, but probably nothing more.
--> Spain is a perennial underachiever internationally, but they should survive group play. Ukraine will live and die with striker Andrii Shevchenko.
Team USA preview
Those who follow the sport closely (and some of us who don't) know that you can't put too much stock in the FIFA rankings, though it is nice to see Team USA ranked fifth. The Americans came out of CONCACAF qualifying with a 7-1-2 record and a better goal differential than Mexico. The success in 2006 will likely be held up to the quarterfinal run of 2002, even though that is insanely unfair to this year's group.
The American team has elite goalkeeping, led by veteran Kasey Keller, who will play as long as he's healthy. The defense isn't elite, but it's pretty good. Eddie Pope and youngster Oguchi Onyewu key the central defense. Eddie Lewis is one of four projected starters in the back (including Keller) who play professionally in Europe (Pope, who plays in MLS, is the only one of the five who doesn't play in Europe).
I love our midfield. Captain Claudio Reyna is apparently healthy after suffering a hamstring injury during a warmup friendly. Reyna is joined by World Cup veterans John O'Brien and DaMarcus Beasley, along with the creative Clint Dempsey. Young star Landon Donovan, who is inconsistent but often brilliant with the ball, joins steady veteran Brian McBride up front.
In a sport that is often considered a "young man's game", you still need some experience. And the United States has started to reap the benefits of their hard work at the youth level to build a respectable national team. Donovan, Dempsey, Onyewu, and Beasley have played together for a long time, and will continue to be the rocks of Team USA for at least a few more years, long after Reyna and McBride (two guys, by the way, who have made an unbelieveable impact on the growth of US Soccer) are gone.
Unlike some teams that lack bench depth, you can expect to see most of the 23-man roster to see at least some action in this tournament. Manager Bruce Arena, the longest-tenured coach for any World Cup side, knows his players and knows how to exploit matchups, and he isn't afraid to change up the lineup.
With Arena, a good motivator and tactician, running the show, the United States has a money chance to move on out of a tough group. Italy isn't as good as they've been before, and the Czechs are not unbeatable. The Americans have a dismal history on European soil, but they have never been this good before.
Round of 16
Germany over Sweden
Argentina over Portugal
England over Costa Rica
Netherlands over Mexico
Czech Republic over Croatia
France over Ukraine
Brazil over United States
South Korea over Spain
Argentina over Germany
Netherlands over England
Czech Republic over France
Brazil over South Korea
Argentina over Netherlands
Brazil over Czech Republic
Argentina over Brazil