As exasperating as it was to the U.S. World Cup team and its fans — and presumably to fair-minded sports fans everywhere — at least the ruling that denied Maurice Edu a game-winning goal against Slovenia did not crush America’s chances in the tournament.
“The U.S. still has a great chance to go forward,” said Cobi Jones, who has experienced more highs and lows than any other player on the national team. He appeared in a record 164 matches and three World Cups (‘94, ’98, and ‘02).
His favorite moment: “Beating Mexico to get into the quarterfinals in 2002.” Then came a 1-0 loss to Germany in which a shot was blocked by the hand of a German defender at the goal line. “The hand-ball was not called [which would have given the U.S. a penalty kick],” Jones said. “It was a huge disappointment. Everybody saw it but the referee.” The defeat marked the end of Team USA’s most successful run in the World Cup.
In South Africa on Saturday, nobody saw what referee Koman Coulibaly apparently did — a foul by U.S. players who were being mugged by Slovenians while Edu managed to get his foot on Landon Donovan’s free kick.
“Edu brilliantly put the ball in the back of the net,” Jones said. “It’s too bad. To score in the World Cup is one of the great experiences a player can have. It was on a par with the baseball umpire [Jim Joyce] whose mistake cost the pitcher a perfect game.” But Joyce publicly admitted his blunder and apologized. Coulibaly offered no explanation for his bizarre decision, and his silence was sanctioned by FIFA, soccer’s governing body.
In his blog on the UCSB athletic Web site, Gaucho soccer coach Tom Vom Steeg says that Coulibaly was reflexively blowing his whistle every time there was jostling in front of the goal. In a televised interview, U.S. coach Bob Bradley suggested the referee may have made up his mind to impose a “makeup call” at that point of the match.
Jones, who was in Santa Barbara on Saturday to promote a restaurant venture, said that while the incident is great grist for conversation, the U.S. team should be focusing on Wednesday’s final group match (7 a.m. California time) against Algeria. If they win, they’re into the round of 16. And although they can take pride in coming back from a 2-0 deficit to tie Slovenia, they have some deficiencies to clean up.
“I’d like to see the team come out at the start as fired up as they are after somebody scores on them,” Jones said. “That’s definitely going to be a focus for Bradley. They can’t keep giving up early goals.”
On the attacking side, Jones said the Americans can do a better job of finishing, although he credited Donovan and Michael Bradley for “fabulous goals” that evened the score Saturday. “Bradley was the player of the game for me,” Jones said. “When you’re the coach’s son, you have to prove to the fans and your teammates you belong out there. He works really hard.”
Jones is an assistant coach of the L.A. Galaxy of Major League Soccer, and he thinks the club’s high-scoring star, Edson Buddle, might get a chance to show his stuff for the U.S. against Algeria. “Buddle is a solid player, and he’s hot,” Jones said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets an opportunity. He puts the ball in the net. We had a lot of half chances against Slovenia that weren’t put away.”
Jones was a star for the Galaxy himself, and when the club retired his number 13 in 2007, he was the first MLS player to be so honored.
One of the benefits of what Jones calls “the soccer lifestyle” is the opportunity to travel and experience different cultures. The former Westlake High and UCLA star said he became a man of the world while playing for Bora Milutinovic, the coach of the 1994 U.S. World Cup team. “Bora took us to the nicest restaurants in every city,” he said. “He wanted us to enjoy good food and wine.”
Jones has invested in several restaurants, and next month he will be opening Arch Rock Fish at 608 Anacapa Street in partnership with Jeremiah Higgins and Scott Leibfried. “We want it to cater to the people of Santa Barbara,” Jones said. “We want it to be like ‘Cheers.’ I grew up close by in Westlake and enjoy coming here.”
He said he’ll be wearing two hats during the college soccer season, which will climax with UCSB hosting the College Cup Championship in December: “I’ll be doing some scouting for the Galaxy.”