Monday, June 12, 2006

US DOA at World Cup + Product Placement in Books

US squad DOA
DEBACLE. That's what it was. The United States's 2006 World Cup soccer squad, which had been heavily hyped in the pre-World Cup warmups, took the field today and utterly embarrassed itself. Utterly embarrassed itself. The US squad started flat--okay, let's chalk it up to nerves. But then, throughout the match against the Czech Republic, they were slow; they had trouble controlling the ball; was ineffective at tackling; they took little initiative in directing the game; they often had players walking up the field as the Czechs ran--literally, ran--past; they appeared to have no plan whatsoever, or whatever they did have they couldn't mount with any regularity; and they apparently forgot that unless you have 9 Pelés on the field (which won't even be the case with Brazil), you cannot win a soccer game without defense.

Italy vs. Ghana
Eddie Pope holding off the persistent Czech Pavel Nedved. (AFP/

Italy vs. Ghana
Oguchi Onyewu taking out Jan Koller (AFP/

Italy vs. Ghana
Jaroslav Plasil watching as teammate Tomas Rosicky's shot flies past Kasey Keller. Something similar occurred three times, unfortunately. (AFP/

Eddie Pope, the veteran defenseman, was the best of a sad lot. Oguchi Onyewu, the tall and handsome youngster whom Rod 2.0 called attention to a few days ago, was atrocious at times, especially at the beginning of the first half, gaining more fouls, including a yellow card, than tackles, though he eventually saved a number of forward attacks with timely headers and took out the Czechs' chief threat, Koller, early in the first half, though only after Koller had scored a goal. The other two defenders, especially Eddie Lewis, got beaten repeatedly. The midfielders and wings, especially on the left side, straggled and offered little offense to challenge the Czech backfielders. Brian McBride often seemed out of breath; the vaunted Landon Donovan was invisible; and DeMarcus Beasley turned the ball over too often and wasn't aggressive at all. The only players other than Eddie Pope who even acted like they were at one of the most important game in their professional careers were center Claudio Reyna, and Eddie Johnson, a second-half substitute, who had two brilliant chances, one a shot that went wide, and the second a missed cross. But the missed cross was emblematic of the US's problems; perhaps it was the 4-5-1 formation, but there was rarely any US player lingering near the Czech goal or penalty area to knock in a stray ball, a rebound or a set play.

Instead, the US kept passing the ball backwards--backwards!--to the midfielders and Pope and Onyewu, who often would pass it back to goalkeeper Kasey Keller. This poor thing seemed to be overmatched for the entire 90+ minutes. I know the Czechs are highly rated, but I hardly expected them to run huggermugger over the Americans as they did. Had Onyewu not gotten some timely headers or the Czech player Rosicky, who scored the two second half killers, not kicked a few more shots wide, it could have been a 6-0 disaster. Easily. Perhaps the worst aspect of the whole sorry spectacle was American coach Bruce Arena's dispassionate (heavily tranquilized? bored? soporific?) expression throughout. He barely moved an eyelid, let alone any other facial muscle, for most of the first half. When he finally decided to budge and make some changes in the second half, his substitutions (save for Johnson) didn't make much sense, or help at all.

He has since blasted the team, but he also should shoulder some, or a lot, of the blame. Given how Italy played against a strong Ghanaian squad (which, had the judging gone their way, would have tied the game), it looks very, very bleak for the US. Really, it would take several miracles for the US to beat either of those teams--Italy???--which they must if they're not going to take an early, 1998-style exit. Yes, I know they were placed in the "Group of Death" this year, but no matter what group they were in, if they came out playing as they did today, they'd be lucky to get a win against the weakest team in the tournament, which is now thought to be the coach-less Togo. And yes, miracles are possible, especially under Chicago underpasses or in New Jersey garages. And maybe today was the wakeup call the US team needed. Or maybe not. Germany has lots of great clubs, lots of beer, lots to see and do, I'm told. Maybe Bode Miller is their spiritual advisor.

Italy vs. Ghana
Aussie player Tim Cahill, who scored two goals in Australia's 3-2 defeat of Japan (FRANCOIS-XAVIER MARIT/AFP/Getty Images)

Italy vs. Ghana
Japan's goal, Kawaguchi Yoshikatsu, tries to stop one of Australia's goals (FRANCOIS-XAVIER MARIT/AFP/Getty Images)

So far one of the brightest spots has been Mexico, which won its first game against Iran 3-1, and has the talent to defeat Angola and make it to the next round. Somehow or another the US has defeated the Mexican squad in run-ups and qualifying matches, but los Mexicanos came out ready to play yesterday, and could win all three of their matches, especially if Portugal keeps playing without any fizz.

Tomorrow, two of the top teams will be playing: the heavily favored defending-champion Brazilians play Croatia, and France, the 1998 champions, play Switzerland. I predict Brazil and France will win. In the first match of the day, South Korea faces Togo, which lost its coach a few days ago, only to have him come back today. Not the kind of drama you want or need facing a team that has improved dramatically in the last 10 years.

Italy vs. Ghana
Italian forward Vincenzo Iaquinto races past Ghanaian goalie Richard Kingston on his way to scoring one of Italy's two goals. (FRANCOIS-XAVIER MARIT/AFP/Getty Images)

Italy vs. Ghana
Italy's Cannavaro and Ghana's Appiah showing what international friendship is all about (FRANCOIS-XAVIER MARIT/AFP/Getty Images)

Product placement in books?
One of the truisms of creative writing classes is that most teachers will urge students, especially beginners, to use brand names sparingly. Use them only when necessary for purposes of characterization or plot or theme (cf. Bret Easton Ellis's irony), or if they've become generic names (Xerox, Dumpster, etc.), or for specific effects (to show contrast, etc.). But often they serve as placeholders, are imprecise, and date poorly. Often the trendiest of brand names can become anachronistic not just a few years, but a few months, after a story or novel appears. That's the argument on behalf of non-underwritten brand-naming. As the New York Times is confirming, corporations continue to extend their reach even deeper into the literary realm, by which I mean into the text itself. Motoko Rich explores this in her article today, "Product Placement Deals Make Leap From Film to Books." In Cathy's Book: If Found Call (650) 266-8233, a young adult novel, the two male 4o-year-old male authors changed a galley reference mentioning Clinique lipstick to one produced by Proctor & Gamble's Cover Girl unit, which has a deal with the book's publisher. As a result, Cover Girl will shill the novel on a website,, that markets to adolescent girls.

The level of commodification and marketing, particularly to adolescents, that Rich describes is enough to make many traditionally minded literati, let alone conscientious parents, scream bloody murder. She does point out that adult novels in the chick lit genre already are and have been corporate tools for some time, but specially commissioned works, single-product or corporation-oriented works other than novelizations still are rare, though they might increasingly become so in the near future. Currently, according to the piece, an "air of crassness" may surround the novel under discussion, or similar ones, if the corporate links are highlighted, but as numerous critics from Marx onwards have pointed out, such are the forces of capitalism and its process of normalization and integration that it'll only be a matter of time before no one even blinks an eye--that is, of those few of us left reading books and comics and other related texts on a regular basis....

Here's another take, by the Columbia Journalism Review Daily's Paul McLeary, on Rich's article. McLeary not only cites the book the jeweller Bulgari commissioned from British writer Fay Weldon, The Bulgari Connection (have any Jstheater readers picked up this book?), but goes on to mention Brit chick lit author Carole Matthews's deal with Ford to mention their products in her works. (The first time I read this sentence I thought it might be a joke--Ford???) He goes on to link the situation Rich describes to the increasing trend towards books-by-committee and packaging companies, and notes the brouhaha that attended packaging company Alloy Entertainment's involvement in Kaavya Viswanathan's plagiaristic début, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, which sparked lots of condemnation and Schadenfreude, though something tells me it did little to stall the designs of the editors, publishers or companies like Alloy that see dollars at the end of the (writing) tunnel. (Isn't Alloy's name so perfectly ironic it's poetic?) Lastly, he cites a USA Today article that discusses how more publishers are linking with "retail partners" so that chick lit authors can socialize with potential readers at stores--named or alluded to in the books themselves?--like Ferragamo, Chanel, Frederic Fekkai, and Oscar de la Renta. The chick lit novels in such cases, you might say, are just padded versions of shopping catalogues....

(Link corrected: Thanks, Audiologo!)


  1. John, here's the url for the Motoko Rich article; you linked a FIFA article: