I know the World Cup is going on, I know it happens every four years, I know it’s taking place in South Africa – the first time ever that the tournament is being held on African soil, and I know that the United States sent a team.  The rest of it? I only know bits and pieces, so I turned to a friend of mine who loves soccer to help me out.

When does the World Cup run?

It started June 11th and it runs through (I believe) through July 12th.

A whole month of soccer – that’s a lot more than just the couple weeks they give the Olympics.  I understand that the first portion of the World Cup starts with round-robin games with groupings of four, is that right?


Yes, a quick round robin with 4 teams in each group, each playing each other once, top 2 teams move on to knock-out (3 points for a win, 1 point for a tie).

Was the United States guaranteed a team, or did we have to qualify?

The USA successfully qualified to compete, and they are in a group with England, Algeria and Slovenia. Qualification games are played the year preceeding the world cup and are regional, here’s a link to the breakdown / schedule.

Honestly, to even make the World Cup is a huge accomplishment in itself, many top teams dont make it, this year several teams that the casual soccer fan would assume would qualify didn’t (Ireland, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, etc…)

Who are the star players on the United States team?

National teams are pretty much the all-stars of the country, each fan has his handful of “favorites”.  The ones getting the most publicity this year (for better or worse) are:

  • Jozy Altidore, a big physical striker who finally made his way to the premiership this past season with Hull City (in rather unspectacular form), in my opinion he lacks a good first touch, he’s a big physical presence but at this level you’ve got to have a goal scoring touch to play up front and be effective… he just doesnt have that edge yet.
  • Tim Howard our keeper, one of the best in the world, has held down a starting gig at Fulhum for a few years now and anchors a very questionable defense. If the US is going to be successful this year, Howard is going to have to do a lot of work.
  • Landon Donovan, the face of US soccer for the past decade, only starting player that I can think of on the team that actually plays his club soccer in the US.  He tends to disappear on big stages like the World Cup though.
  • Clint Dempsey – this is my boy, plays in the english premiership with Fulham, has a great touch and has loads of experience, while Donovan and Altidore will be busy getting the media attention, Dempsey will be busy setting up plays and scoring, if there will be a magical moment for the USA this world cup, it will come from Dempsey.

Are there any lesser-known talents on the US team who we should keep on the watch for, the skilled role-players who have a big impact even though they might not score?

2 guys that werent thought to have made the team could do something:

  • Edison Buddle – plays in MLS (Major League Soccer) for the LA Galaxy, is having an INCREDIBLE season so far domestically, has good pace and great first touch, but he lacks experience.
  • Herculez Gomez – Couldn’t find a job in MLS this past season so took a job with Pachuca in Mexico where we produced something like 20 goals in 18 games… looked brilliant in a few friendlies played before the cup began, he has blistering pace, look for him to possibly sub in late in the Algeria or Slovenia games and score a clinching goal on the counter-attack.

Is there anyone who you thought should’ve made the US team who didn’t make the cut? Any big names who you felt were rightfully snubbed?

Personnally i like Conner Casey a lot, a big striker who plays for Colorado in the MLS, he’s big and has got a great nose for the ball, i was looking for him to provide a alternate to an oft injured and sometimes ineffective Altidore, but Coach Bradley opted for the speedy Buddle and Gomez to the larger Casey.

How do you think we’ll fare against the teams in our group?

The tie against England, while not a pretty game, will lift the confidence of the US. The US should put up 3 points against Algeria.   5 points should be enough to put them through as the 2nd team of the group to the knock-out stage of the World Cup.

If you could only watch the games for the United States’ grouping and one other grouping, which of the other groupings would you pick to watch, and why?

One other group? Tough question.  While every group has its interesting matchups, personally if I could only choose one other group it would be Group A (RSA – Republic of South Africa, FRA, URU – Uruguay, MEX), all the teams are fun to watch, you have to love the home team, the fans have been great and the energy was great to see in the opening RSA/MEX game (best game of the tournement so far)… FRA who would usually be favored to win out, really haven’t looked that great the past few months, and didn’t look all the organized against URU in their first game. MEX who fell victim to the phenomenon that no host nation team has EVER lost the first game of the world cup, could fare well against FRA and URU in a push to win the group.

Also it’s interesting to point out, that no host nation has ever failed to quality for the knockout stage of the world cup, and RSA is the lowest seeded nation to ever host the world cup, so is the streak over? It will be fun to watch the desperate RSA team fight for a win against highly regarded FRA and URU teams to make a push for the knockout stage.

Are there any major injuries you’ve heard about which will significantly decrease the odds of that guy’s country from doing well?

Tons of injuries:

  • Michael Ballack/Germany – This was probably his last chance at the world cup, and while his veteran presence will be missed Germany is deep enough to cope, side note, Ballack was just released from Chelsea, is he MLS bound?
  • Didier Drogba/Ivory Coast – Argueably the best striker in the world right now, big, physical, beautiful touch, he’s got everything you want in a lone striker, complete with the diva attitude, many will claim his recently broken arm was a result of years of karma finally catching up with him. Its been said he may still play, but my guess is the rumors are just to keep the other teams in the group guessing. While this severely hurts Ivory Coast’s chances, they still have a solid team, Eboue, Toure and Kalou are top notch players and my dark horse player of the world cup Kader Keita could be given additional duties if Drogba is unable to go.
  • Rio Ferdinand/England – Tall, experienced, captain wont be with the team this world cup and will be missed. The hole left by his injury wasnt very glaring during the US game, but it will be when/if England plays some of the better teams in the world during the knockout stage.

If you had to name the top players in the tournament, who would those guys be?

  • Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the more recognizable footballers in the World.  He plays for Portugal, and through two games he has 1 goal.
  • Argentina’s Gonzalo Higuain has 3 goals in 2 games.
  • Lionel Messi of Argentina is often talked about as being one of the best footballers in the world, but he’s scoreless so far on 7 shots on goal.
  • Wayne Rooney of England doesn’t have a goal yet on any of his 7 shots (only 3 of them on goal)

The talk I hear most about the World Cup is regarding the vuvuzela’s (noise makers).  What’s your take on those things?

The vuvuzela’s are slightly annoying for the first couple minutes you watch, but it adds character to the game and is part of the tradition involved in that region.  Ten years from now this is likely how we’ll remember the 2010 World Cup.

How many players are on the field at a given time, and what are their general roles?

In addition to the goal keeper, there are ten competitors per team on the field at a given time.  There are three general positions

  • Strikers (typically located in the offensive zone, tasked with scoring goals)
  • Defenders (typically located in the defensive zone, tasked with keeping the opposing Strikers from shooting the ball at the goal)
  • Mid-fielders (tasked with helping move the ball into the offensive zone for the Strikers)

Though players are designated to the three position through use of formations and strategies, there aren’t rules which limit players from changing positions while play is going, nor a limit to the number of competitors who can act in any of the three roles.

How often do substitutions happen, and is there a limit to how many times players can substitute in and out of the game?  In baseball, once you substitute out of the game, you can’t go back in, but with hockey, basketball and football, you can switch as often as you’d like so long as play is stopped (with the exception of hockey, where you can switch mid-play)

Three substitutions per game is usually the norm for most soccer leagues, and once a player has been removed from the game for a substitute player, that player can not return to the game.

I know that with hockey, once new-watchers understand what icing and off-sides is all about, they can appreciate the game a lot better.  Is there anything with soccer, aside from the “no hands unless you’re the goalie” rule, that new-watchers should know about soccer to help them understand what’s going on better?

The penalty system is a big thing.  For certain fouls, a yellow card is displayed to a player committing a foul, acting as a warning.  A second infraction by a player results in a Red card, causing a player to be removed from a game.  In some cases, at the referee’s discretion, a Red card may be shown without prior warning Yellow card.

One of the biggest sources of confusion I see with people who watch soccer the first few times is the extra time at the end of the game.  While soccer matches have two halves of 45 minutes each, the clocks run continuously, so to account for time where the ball is out of bounds, substitutions are taking place, or injuries are being tended to, one of the referees keeps track of the wasted time and he essentially adds it onto the end of the match.  The referee signals the official end of the game, as the time isn’t added to the official game clock.  Often if a match is within one goal and the losing team is on the attack, the match will continue until the defense regains control of the ball and moves out of the zone.

The slide-tackle looks cool, but it seems like players are somewhat reluctant to do it.  What don’t I understand?

Unless the ball is kicked first, a slide tackle which takes out an opponent results in a foul.

Headers and bicycle kicks, how frequently do these fun-looking plays actually happen in a given game?

Headers are more frequent, but both require the exact right situation to occur, and rarely can a player set himself up for it on their own.