By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (June 22, 2012) US Soccer Players -- At least briefly, Cristiano Ronaldo's performance in Thursday's Euro 2012 quarterfinal revives the best player in the world debate. Lionel Messi has the trophy, but it's Ronaldo with the momentum. It's also Ronaldo himself that made a very cogent point earlier in the competition - he's the only one currently playing games that count.
Sure, Messi put in a ridiculous performance of his own against Brazil a couple of weeks ago. That it was in a friendly setting at a neutral site takes some of the gloss off the game, but it was still Messi and it was still Brazil. Ronaldo? His game that counted on Thursday was against a woefully overmatched Czech Republic lucky to keep the game scoreless as long as they did.
The Czech Republic - Portugal game could've easily turned into another Euro example of the better team deciding to increase their degree of difficulty. In what at times looked like a tribute to the kind of soccer Holland played on the way out of this tournament in the group stage, Portugal tried their chances from distance, turned clear shots into tough angles, and allowed the Czech defense to look mightier than it ever was over those 90 minutes.
Part of that was fear, fear of Petr Cech in goal. Who can blame them? Facing a good argument for the best goalkeeper in the game, any team with sense keeps that in mind. Yet it wasn't just Cech keeping Portugal out. Portugal only put five of their 20 shots on frame, and that statistic discounts several of those shots that were almost on target. It's hardly worth mentioning that Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio wasn't credited with a single save in the shutout, that was always going to be the Czech Republic's game plan against Portugal. Let them shoot, let them shoot some more, and keep faith in bad decisions on their part and Cech in goal to keep the score close.
So where does this leave Ronaldo in his latest game that counts? Superstar of the tournament for some, as much for a miss against the Czech Republic as his game-winning goal. His individual performance certainly changes the scope of Euro 2012, but that broader discussion of best in the world?
Quality of opponent is a factor even in a game that counts. The Czech Republic had one idea on display Wednesday, and Portugal seemed to go out of its way to help make that defensive theory work in reality. What does it say about the better club when they can't find a way early and often against this type of style?
I've asked two questions here, and my answers to both won't flatter Portugal or its superstar. Cristiano Ronaldo deserves credit for his individual performance and Portugal gets a minimum of another 90 minutes at Euro 2012. As for the broader conversation on who really is the best player in the world, the UEFA voters got it right for 2011 and it's the same choice for 2012.
That MLS Coach
I'm going to feign surprise that arguing against firing an MLS coach during a season for all but the most obvious reasons produced a few emails. Since all of them questioned my common sense, allow me to summarize. I don't understand the importance of the soccer coach on the practice field or during the game. Allow me to rebut.
The argument I made when you and I took over our hypothetical MLS club consisted of multiple caveats. The coach in question was doing his job was the biggest.
Confining this to Major League Soccer is only part of the point. Compared to other professional sports, an MLS coach does none of the following: calls plays from the sidelines (football and baseball), deals with unlimited substitutions (football, basketball, and hockey), and has timeouts (all of the other major team sports).
There's no soccer equivalent for a baseball manager visiting the mound, calling pitches from the dugout, or using an elaborate set of signals to tell his on-field players what to do. Even though soccer has set plays, there's no equivalent to the micromanagement of professional football. No soccer coach has the control of a hockey coach when it comes to line changes. There's no using timeouts to slow down the other team's run like in basketball or calling a timeout to design and implement a new play.
You can argue at least two things here. The first is that soccer coaches make substitutions. The second is that the soccer versions of a lot of these concepts are handled prior to the game on the training field. I would reply that we covered that by establishing that our hypothetical coach is doing his job. I would go onto stress that the role of the MLS (remember, were' specifically talking about Major League Soccer) is so limited to what coaches in the other major North American professional sports do during a game that it isn't at the same level of importance.
Why is this worth stressing? Simple, 'parting ways with the coach' in MLS doesn't have the same impact as it does not only in other sports, but in other professional soccer leagues. It takes more to affect midseason change in MLS, and it almost always has to involve restructuring the front office.
Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves. Please, tell me all about it.
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