Archive for October, 2009

Stood Up By The Sports Guy

Update From Mark: The title and notion that we were “stood up” was written firmly tongue-in-cheek. Seems like it didn’t come across that way to some readers based on the comments. However, we certainly appreciate the impassioned discourse. For 45 days a note sat in the sidebar about the Campaign. This post was to wrap it up, say we failed and thank people for making the effort.

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Assuming you can be stood up by someone who never actually said “yes,” the USMNT faithful were stood up by faux USMNT fan Bill Simmons of ESPN.com last week when the Yanks took on Costa Rica at an emotional RFK stadium. And thus we came to the unsuccessful conclusion of the Bill Simmons Campaign.

Based on the emails we received and various message boards around virtual America, I know everyone put forth a great effort to reach out to Simmons via email and twitter imploring him to attend the final World Cup qualifier. (Matthew and I explored other avenues to make direct contact, but were ultimately unsuccessful as well.)

To all who did what they could, THANK YOU.

To be honest, I knew the campaign was in some trouble when Simmons opened a recent “Mailbag” with an ode to October as the best month for sports and didn’t even make a casual reference to World Cup qualification matches.

The Sports Guy was not in the stands (as far as we know and with his second half tweets as evidence) for the dramatic draw, but it sounds like he wishes he was there. (Don’t we all!)

Here’s an excerpt from his Friday NFL column:

RFK STADIUM (-3) over Any Other Soccer Venue
Did you see Wednesday’s incredible USA-Costa Rica game? Phenomenal crowd, upper decks hanging over the field, entire sections swaying, tons of history … the whole thing was Estadio Azteca-esque, only without the fluid-throwing. I was lucky enough to stand on that field once with the Hogs for a 2002 column. It’s an incredible place. Every seat feels like it’s right on top of you. So can’t we just make it official? Every big American soccer game should be played in RFK. We need the home-field advantage. Done and done.

Most interesting to me was that Simmons made no mention of Charlie Davies or The Salute in his note; especially considering the human side of sport and fan experience is what this guy’s career was been built on.

Let me let the statement resonate with you.

A guy who makes his living speaking from the fan perspective didn’t even note the tribute to  Charlie D, the player who scored the only goal that the “Sports Guy” ever saw in person.

(I’ll leave the debate about RFK as the national stadium to you guys and Jason Davis over at Match Fit who recently addressed the subject. Is Simmons qualified to offer an opinion on a national stadium for the USMNT…umm, no.)

In reality, the inclusion of the above snippet in his weekly NFL column seemed like Bill Simmons was tossing a bone to the soccer fans among his faithful readers. Kind of like a “See guys, I still follow soccer.”

For all the reasons we stated in the original piece kicking off the Campaign it was worth giving it a try as there is no denying the coverage by Simmons would have been a boon to Soccer in America. However, at the end of the day, soccer was simply a convenient August distraction and fodder for Simmons’ columns when needed.

Hey Bill, can we at least get a response the next time your soccer crush kicks in?

No caption needed

Honestly, "Sports Guy," how could you miss this? (Awesome photo by Matt Mathai.)

Well, Now I’m Psyched: Fifa 10 Review?

We’re in between a few posts here at TSG. Anyone know where we can get a (hot) intern who can do research, fact checking, and maybe wash some jerseys and shorts? Just asking.

Just hold "Up," then press A twice and B thrice

Just hold "Up," then press A twice and B thrice

TSG commentor Chris in San Francisco (the same guy who tried to befriend Messi in Fog City) just sent us this video commercial of Fifa 10 below. I don’t know if I am more excited for the World Cup or to check out this video game now.

If you’ve got the game, please weigh in with some commentary. My biggest issue always?

As a child of Pitfall on Atari and two or three-button “paddles” (controllers that my brother “claimed” were always broken….I can hear him know, “My “B” button isn’t working, it’s stuck….we have to start over.”) and graphics that would have kids these days asking, “What’s wrong with your TV, man?,” I always feel they over-engineer these games a bit. What’s the use in having a double scissors move with Ronaldo if I have to press some combination of A, hold B, C, then “start twice” all in realtime just to make it work?

Anyway, if you’ve got the game, weigh in with the pros, cons and whose player ratings are off. A few notes on those player ratings:

• If they give Messi or Ronaldo “Jeremy Roenick” (and please tell me some of you know what I’m talking about) powers, then that’s lame.

• If Dimitar Berbatov’s shooting ability (or Brian Ching’s for that matter) is anything above a 55 on a 100-point system, then, yes, that’s lame too.

• And if Michael Owen doesn’t have a “durability” or “strength” rating of a 4 (again out of 100), well then that’s super, don’t buy the game lame. I would play England or Man U in ’10 just to be dribbling with Owen up the field and without contact here a crack followed by a John Madden-esque, “Oh no! There’s a man down.”

Back to the USMNT on TSG shortly, but first this word from folks we’re not sponsored by.

Update:

Upon reading the post, my brother and I had this exchange:

Mark: i can’ t believe you didn’t write about the fact that you went out and bought xbox just for fifa when i was visiting

Matt: nah
Mark: then i kicked you ass all weekend and you even donned a headset so i could kick your ass online
Matt: That categorically is not what happened
12:50 PM Mark: But then since i was kicking your ass so much you started “losing connection to the host”
Matt: And I do remember whupping your ass up in Colorado and you not talking to me
Mark: That may have happened.

You Called It, Donovan Is Player Of The Year

Player of the Year Fan PollAccording to Goal.com Landon Donovan just won the Honda Player of the Year award given to the best performer on the US Men’s National Team.

An ESPNsoccernet article confirms that it was a “Landoslide” with Donovan receiving 424 points/votes, Howard coming in second with 275 and Jozy checking in third with 175. With the 2009 POY award, Donovan was also named Player of the Decade.

Congratulations, Landon. Well deserved. You elevated your game and kept your foot on the gas throughout a terrific 2009 campaign for the USMNT.

In TSG’s initial commentary on the award, we were in favor of handing the trophy over to Tim Howard while noting that Donovan was just as deserving.

However, following Donovan’s heroics in the Honduras match TSG requested a mulligan in our Unconvetional Hardware piece to allow us to vote for the now six-time winner. That being said, TSG’s readers pegged it right; Howard may have had an early lead, but he was soon overtaken by Donovan in the voting.

For those wondering, Charlie Davies came in 4th place in TSG’s Fan Poll and there was even a vote for Dilly Duka! (the voter actually included the exclamation mark). Also of note, Clint Dempsey, the Bronze Ball winner at the Confederations Cup, received just one vote. For the full list player receiving votes, see Fan Stats.

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And in minor, but hopeful news, Jermaine Jones’ paperwork making him eligible to be called up to the USMNT was finally approved by FIFA. With Jones’ fitness setbacks and the terrible injury cloud that is currently enveloping the national team these days, I’ll consider him on the team the first time he steps on the pitch in a US jersey.

With Davies in Repair, Who Strikes?

Now that the harsh, though thankful, realities of Charlie Davies’ injuries are known, it’s time for Bob Bradley and the braintrust to start contemplating the front line going into World Cup 2010.

Davies: Speed and strength

Davies: Speed and strength

Taking a step back, TSG would promote that Charlie Davies was the 3rd least replaceable player on the States’ roster. That’s quite a statement for a player who only factored regularly starting in July 2009 and has less than 20 caps to his name.

Think about it.

There is Landon — irreplaceable on offense, on the left wing and defense. And there is Tim Howard. While Brad Guzan would deputize capably, USMNT fans have come to expect and probably demand Howard’s one to two saves a game and on field direction that change the score.

Next up? Mike Bradley? Nope, you’ve got Benny and Rico, not to mention Paco and maybe Jones or Edu. Dempsey, no again, in fact Stu Holden might be more than his equal on the right wing. Gooch or Boca? I guess we’ll find out here with Gooch’s knee tear but it’s not not incredibly hard to envision Chad Marshall , JayDeMerit, or even a Jimmy Conrad or a Clarence Goodson filling in admirably for either of them.

Altidore? A player who remains the single biggest wildcard for 2010′s Cup theatrics oddly wasn’t on the pitch to start for the States’ two most important qualifier matches, away at Honduras and away at Mexico and remains on the bench at his club team. Ruminate on that.

Davies? Well there is….

In fact there is no one for an abundance of reasons. Charlie Davies, the 3rd least replaceable player on the US national team, and now likely gone through the World Cup.

In July that wouldn’t have seemed like much. In October, it means the entire team dynamics.

Take a look at what Coach Bradley was developing on the left side: Bornstein, Rico, Davies and Donovan–perhaps the four fastest players at their position.

With the Davies-Donovan combination on the left, the U.S. was first using it’s offensive prowess to cover for what deficiencies the team may have at left back (depending who you speak with).

Is it coincidence that both Mexico and most recently Honduras started their attacks down the right side? Nope, they knew that throwing numbers up the U.S. right flank was much less dangerous. Had they tested the U.S. left flank, either opponent would have had to deal with the explosive, yes that is the right word, counter potential the Yanks deployed. (See Confed Cup, Brazil, Rico to Donovan to Davies to Donovan.)

In fact the Davies-Donovan offensive pairing, more than covering for defense, was perhaps the U.S.’s best 1-2 strike combination ever. Yes, I said that–with apologies to Joe Max-Moore and begrudgingly Eric Wynalda. This combo wasn’t lofting a cross onto McBride’s head or Reyna slotting a run for Clint Mathis–this was much more. This was World Cup-grade striking teams avoiding the U.S. left flank.

"Who's this ball going to?"

"Who's this ball going to?"

This was Donovan being able to have a player that matched his speed in possession who knew how to create space for the offender behind him. As we talked about in our Costa Rica review piece (see the LD section in player ratings), Donovan clearly suffered from Altidore, though strong on his own, and Casey not clearing or positioning fast enough for his midfield runs against the Ticos. Charlie knew exactly where to go and got there…fast.

Additionally, Davies speed in and of itself with the ball would open that filling position for Donovan to trail the play and execute. Opponents had to respect Davies’s ability to get up the pitch and round the defense. Altidore, sure he will turn the corner on the defender, but whereas Davies “happens,” Altidore “unfurls.”

Get my drift.

And even smaller subtle things were developing. Davies penchant to go extremely wide and throw a cross on frame as opposed to just breaking down his man (see El Salvador). With Casey and Altidore lining up on the other side that was a very healthy and high probability-type attack.

Yes, CD9 you will be missed on the pitch.

The riddle now is two-part: Who replaces Davies? and Does Bob Bradley change his entire attacking scheme or does he try to slot in a player with some of Davies attributes (speed, one-on-one ability) in front of Donovan?

Come to think of it maybe it’s just one question: Who allows the USMNT’s best player, Landon Donovan, to have the biggest impact on the game?

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Mr. Castillo, Please Report to the Backline

EC: Lost in space?

EC: Lost in space?

A little email exchange between the TSG brothers earlier today.

Matthew: I watched the Toluca-Tigres game at the gym on Saturday.  Castillo was on the pitch. Got up the pitch a bunch probably due to the fact that he was playing in the midfield instead of the backline.

He is categorically not a defender.

Mark: I don’t want to hear that. I am going to pretend you never said that.

Matthew: He made some good runs. Very good on possession and possibly more of a wing or holding midfielder–not nearly strong enough on defense. He’ll be stay in front of guys for sure….but aerials, forget about it….and a Jozy type offender, he’s screwed.

Mark: Ever since he admitted he needed to work on his defense, I’ve stopped considering him an option at LB anytime soon.

Matthew here, sure, it was just one observation. I saw an extremely competent player who was strong on the ball, that’s for sure. Looked to me though slated more for a left holding mid. Maybe my comments are biased since he had a thin frame (heck, Ashley Cole has a thin frame), that being said, looked like a mid-pitchman to me.

If you’ve seen him, please do weigh in. He certainly should be able to help the USMNT in some capacity.

(By the way, Telemundo, you do a great job with camera production and game coverage.)

Running Game Commentary: Hull versus Fulham

Best shirt ever?

Best shirt ever?

Disappointing game all around but Fulham get the three points. Dempsey after a good start was quite but played decently. Altidore brought in a sub was well marked but made good use of the limited supply he got. Hopefully he will get a start soon. See you all soon.

94: Hull with a free kick…last action of the game no doubt

89: Altidore is being well marked by the giant Fulham defender Hangeland. He is setup though and uses his power to charge at the Fulham goal and sends a shot which is saved just over the bar.  Nothing comes of off the corner but a nice display of what Altidore can do. The commentators seem to be fans as well.

84: More subs for both teams…sadly JVofH is off. Game is dwindling. Jozy you need to take contro lof the very little forward progress that Hull is making as you need to cement yourself as a starter. The experience you will get will be of IMMENSE help to USMNT and yourself this coming summer.

80: Dempsey with a free header off a corner…Nice try but should have done better….Wow apparently Dempsey hasn’t scored in last 14 premiership games…wonder how many he has been responsible for?

77: Cross sent into the box for Altidore but it was poor. Altidore does well to give Schwarzer some problems but Fulham clear easily.

75: Hill City with a freekick about 10 yards outside the box…Taken by Bullard and its straight into the wall. Ball eventually gets to Altidore who gets dispossessed. Fulhma attack with Dempsey but Zamora sends an easy shot well wide.

72: Fulham is attacking at will and it ends with a weak scuffed shot by Dempsey directly in the hands of Myhill. Altidore and JVofH need some service cause they ain;t getting anything right now.

69: SUB YES…Altidore in for Hunt. C’mon Jozy…lets see what you can do.

68: YES…DOUBLE DIGITS on the comments!

65: Dempsey is apparently playing just behind the strikers and almost makes it 3-0 but his shot is inches wide. Game is sringing to life but only from a Fulham perspective. Hull are hopeless and that is spearheaded by their manager.

64: GOAL 2-0 Fullham. Breakdown in Hull’s offside trap and Zamora threads a cross to Kamara who taps it in.

61: Hull really need to inject some pace or maybe even a bit of life into their attacking game…no one more perfect than Jozy…COME ON PHIL BROWN!

60: SUB...Danny Murphy off, Jonathan Greening on…Murphy has picked up a knock and limps off.

56: Looks like Jimmy Bullard might be coming on soon for Fulham. Hull playing better now and putting more pressure on the Fulham goal with two successive corners…a third coming up

53: Lamentably the second half is not much different than the first. My sandwich though is amazing!

48: Would could really help this game out and Hull especially is the introduction of Jozy…

SECOND HALF is under way. Hopefully both managers will stress attacking football to their players

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