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After losing my Internet for a couple of days because of lightning and then celebrating the 4th of July weekend, I’m back with another update on the World Cup.

Despite a record setting number of saves by Team USA goalkeeper Tim Howard, USA lost to Belgium, 2-1.  The score was 0-0 at the end of regulation time, but while USA had some near misses, the Belgian squad clearly had the better of the play throughout the game.  It was a combination of Howard making some great saves and Belgian failing to do anything with their numerous corner kick opportunities that kept USA hopes alive until overtime.

Of their four games, this was Team USA’s worst performance overall.  Between Howard and their defenders, the team displayed some staunch defense.  And when they were able to mount an attack, they showed some good skills.  But their midfield play was horrendous.  Too often their passes were sloppy, either off target completely or enough to slow down the attack.  As a result, Belgium was able to make some dangerous counters and eventually wear down the USA defenders.  To make it worse, Team USA had difficulty getting back possession in midfield.

The performance and athleticism of two young players during the tournament, DeAndre Yedlin (age 21) and Julian Green (age 19) give the growing legion of USA soccer fans hope for a better showing in 2018 for the next World Cup.  Yedlin has tremendous speed that makes him an offensive threat and enables him to outrun occasional mistakes, had very good ball sense when inside the 18 yard line on offense, and generally showed tremendous poise and confidence for someone so young, even when he played an relatively unfamiliar midfield position against Belgium.  While Green only saw a few minutes of action at the end of the Belgium match, he scored the first time he touched the ball and also showed tremendous poise and good skill in a pressure situation.  His goal gave Team USA one last glimmer of hope that they could forge a tie and force the game into a penalty kick shootout.  A more favorable bounce here or there and the American squad might have stolen one.

Another 21 year old, John Brooks, also showed considerable poise with his clutch goal late in the match that was the winner against Ghana.  At this time, however, he is not as highly regarded as Yedlin and Green.

Of course while the young players gain valuable experience, the veterans will age.  Tim Howard is already the oldest regular on the US squad at 35, and while there have been top international goalkeepers around age 40, it is rare.  Can Howard maintain the athleticism that puts him among the top keepers in the world?  Team USA does have a talented number two in Brad Guzan who will still be in his prime in 2018, but very few people can compare to Howard, and if the Americans do not shore up their squad elsewhere, they will need the very best in the nets to compete.

Others who saw action in this World Cup and will be 35 or older in four years: starters Clint Dempsey, Demarcus Beasley, Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman; key substitutes Chris Wondolowski and Brad Davis.  Perhaps some of them will still be able to play a key role in Russia in 2018.  But the United States will need to continue to develop more international quality players to reach the next level on the world stage, the level where they are a contender to win it all.

Although we saw a number of upsets in Group play, the cream has been rising to the top.  We saw no upsets in the Round of 16 where all the Group winners advanced.  And the favorites have all advanced from the Quarterfinals to the Semifinals, with familiar soccer powers facing off against each other: Brazil versus Germany and Argentina versus Netherlands.

The best chance for an upset was probably for Colombia over a Brazil squad that might have been eliminated by now if not for the advantage of playing on home soil.  They managed to come out on top in a very chippy, foul filled game.  But they will be without two key players against Germany.  Their offensive star, Neymar, suffered a broken vertebra from a knee to his back in the last few minutes of the game, with subsequent controversy as to whether or not the Colombian player deliberately injured him.  (FIFA has decided that no disciplinary action should be taken against the Colombian player, Juan Zuniga.)  Neymar will be out of the remainder of the tournament.  He had notched four goals and one assist, accounting for half of Brazil’s goals in the finals.  And Brazil will also lose their captain, Thiago Silva, because he received his second yellow card of the tournament late in the Colombia match.  Silva got his side off to a fast start with an early goal against Colombia.

So it could be an uphill battle for Brazil against Germany, even with the home crowd supporting them.  That match is being played tomorrow (Tuesday, July 8).

Wednesday’s semifinal match will feature two of the stingiest teams in the World Cup: Netherlands and Argentina.  Netherlands has allowed only four goals in five games while Argentina has allowed three in the same span.  Neither team has lost or tied so far, although Netherlands had to resort to winning a shootout over upstart Costa Rica in the Quarterfinals.  The Dutch squad has not been able to duplicate their dominance seen in their opening match against defending champion, Spain.  And there is some evidence that they are wilting in the heat of the venues where they have played.  Their semifinal will take place in the cooler clime of Sao Paolo, but I still give the edge to Argentina.

So, I will go out a bit on a limb and predict a Germany-Argentina final.  It is pretty much a toss-up, but I will give the edge to Germany.  However, when you have as talented player like Lionel Messi, his individual efforts can make the difference.  So I am predicting but not betting (even if I did gamble, which I do not).

Switching over to baseball, the Dodgers have managed to make up a tremendous amount of ground in a short time and are now holding a slim lead in the NL West over the Giants.  It was a combination of the Dodgers starting to play better fundamental baseball plus excellent starting pitching, while the Giants went into a terrible slump.  Decades ago, the Giants were known as a team that started well and then had a June swoon.  They returned to that pattern this year.

When the Dodgers had a similar turnaround in the standings last year, they did it with the help of long winning streaks and a record tying 42-8 stretch.  This year, the Dodgers have yet to win more than three in a row.  But during their recent rise to the top, it has also been rare for them to lose back to back games.

There is nearly half the baseball regular season remaining and contending teams are beginning to upgrade their rosters with players acquired from teams that see little chance of winning this year.  So it is way too soon to know who will make the playoffs.  I have seen and read enough about baseball to know that it is way too soon to claim that the Dodgers will win their division, let alone anything beyond that.

In my next post, which should be in the next day or two, I will discuss someone who has come to my attention in the past week.  Interesting claims are being made about this person.  Please check back soon!

… we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. – Romans 5:3-5

God bless,