By Jeff Kassouf
With the Copa América over and the Brazilians reigning supreme again, let’s take a look back at some of the high and low points of the tournament that produced everything from nail biting penalty kicks to completely dominant performances that separated the men from the boys.
Let’s begin by taking a look at some of the more enjoyable areas of the tournament. For me, many of the goals were simply spectacular. I know, goals are always nice, but this is no cop out. The Copa produced some world class strikes that demanded the attention of even the casual soccer fan. Obviously the one that everyone wants to talk about is Lionel Messi’s golden chip of Mexican goalkeeper Oswaldo Sánchez. The goal was world class and should go up there with some of the best of all time. The thing that was really great about it was that it wasn’t your classic stunner of a goal. It wasn’t a ridiculous attempt at a half-volley that happened to work or a screamer of a shot from 40 yards out. It was merely a deft little touch from just inside the 18 yard box, but it is a goal that will be replayed for many years to come.
Messi wasn’t the only one producing world class goals either. How about his teammate Pablo Aimar? His strike for the fourth goal against the United States was a lovely bit of teamwork involving three other teammates and capped off by his great header that was came perfectly in stride. There were also some great goals produced by Júlio Baptista, including the one that he put in the roof of the netting against Argentina in the final. His goal in Brazil’s 6-1 quarterfinal thrashing of Chile also doesn’t get as much credit as it deserves. With his body weight shifting away from goal, he was able to strike the ball back across the frame of goal with power and put it in off of the inside of the post. Such a goal goes unnoticed on the “glamour scale,” but the technical ability displayed in it is no small feat. Heck, even Roberto Ayala scored a pretty nice goal in the final – it’s too bad it was an own goal, because it would have been pretty going into the correct net.
Call it bias, but I call it proximity. The most disturbing thing that stood over this tournament for me was the United States’ sub-par roster. The likes of Brad Guzan and Eddie Gaven don’t belong on the field for a major tournament such as this. I recognize that some of the bigger names needed a break from soccer, especially after the Gold Cup. Some, such as Damarcus Beasley, could even use the excuse that they needed to get their club situation sorted out first. Landon Donovan needed to be with Los Angeles, as they are struggling mightily right now. But, in a day and age where the United States is trying to gain respect from other countries such as these South American ones, they are going to send a mixture of some regulars with their B-team to the continent’s major tournament? Where was Clint Dempsey? He is regularly regarded as our most creative attacking player, and they could have used some of that magic in the final third. It is great that the U.S. is getting into meaningful tournaments that present more of a challenge than some tiny Caribbean islands do, but if they don’t bring a squad that they think can win then they shouldn’t go to them at all.
Some scores were pretty hard to digest, particularly in the quarterfinals. The only particularly lopsided score in round play came from Group D action, where Paraguay handed Columbia a 5-0 defeat. However, the true disparity showed in the quarterfinals. Uruguay topped host country Venezuela 4-1, Brazil beat Chile 6-1, Mexico downed Paraguay 6-0, and Argentina ousted Peru 4-0. That makes the combined goal differential of winners to losers in this round an astounding 20-2. Ouch. Simply put, it wasn’t exactly a tough road to the semifinals. It’s unfortunate for the tournament that these games weren’t closer and more dramatic, especially for the host country Venezuela. That is not to discredit the Copa, but a goal differential of 18 over the course of four games doesn’t call for much drama. At least these games produced some of the aforementioned entertaining goals for audiences to drool over.
Jeff Kassouf is a staff writer for The New Paltz Times and a freelance writer who covers soccer, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org