Archive for December, 2009

Don’t Tread On Me….Personified

Update 01/15: Add Jozy Altidore and his quake-stricken homeland of Haiti to the adversity…..

TSG contributor Kurt emailed us in December pondering that we do a piece on the personal struggles for the USMNT.

Will we see CD9 sooner than we think?

Kurt’s thesis? That the American team has faced quite a deal of personal adversity that is then exemplified by their never-say-die attitude.

As we ruminated back and forth on email, the piece resonated with us more, specifically a theme of “resilency.” In fact we had no idea the amount of adversity that many of the players faced in getting to where they are in their careers.

These achievements may pale in comparison to say, playing for the Iraqi National Team or making the trip from North Korea to South Africa, but on an individual-by-individual basis, they are no less impressive.

While all of face adversity in our life, the players on the USMNT may didn’t lead the charmed life to national team caps that might seem apparent.

Let’s take a look at what the team members individually overcame to get where they are today.

The You Can’ts

• The first player no doubt here is USMNT stalwart and top 10 international goalie Tim Howard. Tim Howard has only overcome his bout with Tourette’s syndrome, he’s exploded the stereotype. Think about it, a soccer goalie with Tourette’s–probably the fodder for cruel jokes (as did happen for Howard upon his introduction into the EPL.)

Continue reading

TSG Plays Santa Claus

Happy Holidays from The Shin Guardian.

To the brothers TSG, Christmas is all about giving, not receiving. Matthew and I are notorious among our family for spending too much time trying to find the right gift for people. However, we have a fairly high conversion rate on those gifts.

So, in the spirit of the season and the TSG way, we are eschewing the conventional “soccer gifts I want for Christmas” piece. In its stead TSG is playing Santa and handing out* gifts to some of our favorite USMNTers.

If any of our readers received any soccer-related gifts this year tell us about them in the comment section.

For Stu Holden…A Magic Eight Ball
It seems like Iceman is in need of some decision-making help. What could be better than the most popular tool in the solar system when one has trouble making a decision? (Will Stu Holden stay with Dynamo?…”Outlook not so good.”)

For Landon Donovan…Billabong Marius Snowboard Jacket
Congratulations on the Everton loan. Perhaps it is the right move from a soccer perspective, but trading in the paradise that is Manhattan Beach, CA for the much cooler temps of Liverpool during the winter months was a bit short-sighted. TSG specifically chose the Marius for its bright colors as we recommend taking every precaution to ensure you come out of the Everton Experiment in fine working order.

For Benny Feilhaber…Eagle Creek Comfort Plus Neck Pillow
“Comfort Plus” that’s what the official unofficial favorite player of TSG provides for the USMNT when he is on the pitch. More importantly, TSG wants Benny! to travel in style and comfort in 2010 so he is primed and ready to go following long trips to Camp Cupcake and South Africa.

For Tim Howard…Bubble Wrap and a Defender
Timmy keeps getting hammered in Everton and could use a little extra protection in front of him and (literally) on his body.

For Coach Bob Bradley…A World Atlas
After seeing Bradley’s predilection for MLS players throughout 2009, TSG wants to make sure that Bob-O is aware that there are other countries outside of the United States where Americans play soccer.

* “Handing out” is used metaphorically as we couldn’t find a box big enough to fit Dolf Lundgren (See “Defender” link.)

WC 2010: 5 More Offenders To Watch (Part II)

If you missed Part I….you can either click here or scroll with your new infrared computer mouse that you weren’t supposed to get until tomorrow.

Atta'boy JZA! Merry XMas!

05. Jozy Altidore

Nearly everyone reading this column is–quite obviously–familiar with Big Jeezy. Altidore pummeled the MLS with Red Bulls before moving–with great expectation–to Villarreal in 2008.

Villarreal couldn’t find a spot for the youngster–now 20–and shipped him to Hull City on a one-year loan where his first year has been uneven.

Beyond Didier Drogba, Altidore is on the of few players that has fantastic dribbling ability to go along with massive size.

He is also one of the few offenders who can post up and turn on his guy in the center of the pitch or drive down the wing after facing up.

Can he–will he–put it together in World Cup 2010?

04. Mesut Özil

A favorite of TSG contributor Antonio, Özil is pushing for first team consideration on Germany 2010.

The 21-year-old rooster-haired Özil has 6 goals for Werder in the campaign thus far on 13 appearances. Better, for Germany, Özil has started to factor for the homeland.

Özil will sit in midfield and with talented players like Schweinsteiger and Podolski already in the fold, Özil’s skills might sneak up on opponents…but should also be announced to the world.

03. Fernando Torres

Torres needs no introduction.

So we’ll be brief and let Tim Howard tell you about Torres, “I think he’s been one of the top in the world. He’s got speed, and he’s got a great sense for the goal, which all great strikers have. The craziest thing about Torres is that as silky smooth as he is, he’s a scrapper as well.”

I’ll now quote myself and say, “If you were going to build the perfect striker, you build Fernando Torres…period.”

With Spain one of the favorites hoist the cup, with David Villa to play off, and with service from Cesc and Iniesta. Watch out!

02. Luis Fabiano

Brazil's unequaled numeral nine

USMNT fans will remember Fabiana’s gorgeous pirouette and shot through Jay DeMerit’s legs and past Timmy Howard that then righted Brazil all the way to the Confed Cup win.

Fabiano’s got everything and then some. Think of him as, say, Carmelo Anthony. He’s tall. He’s got a post up game; he can put back rebounds. He can even face you up and take you 1-on-1 or launch the 3. All he needs his service.

Brazil is coming in with a more defensive game plan to World Cup 2010–that doesn’t mean you won’t see Maicon launching crosses and Kaka shoveling passes….all in the direction of Fabiano who will be playing at the top of the offensive triangle.

(Not a highlight video, put this guy just screams striker.)

01. Didier Drogba

Drogba’s name and resume precedes himself.

This is the moment for Drogba to extoll his greatness. So often teammates (Lampard, Terry) and managers (Grant, Mourinho) call him the greatest; yet to the populace he’s more just a great striker. Not a great.

With the Ivory Coast having their strongest team in years and Drogba arguably in his last World Cup as a difference maker, it’s time for the Chelsea man to go off and claim 2010 as the Year of Drogba.

—–

Honorable mentions:

One person you should’ve been able to watch is Alexandre Pato. It looks like Pato (The “Duck”) is being outright ignored by his national team. Right now he’s one of the best 20 players in the world, in TSG’s opinion. Can someone smudge his passport so it looks he was born in Miami? Ditto for Zlatan Ibrahimovic who has basically told the Sweden team to kiss off, turning down an invitation to the Italian friendly in November, perturbed at Sweden’s inability to qualify.

Just missing this list as well were Englishmen Wayne Rooney–a phenomenal forward but not top 10 player in our book–and wingman Aaron Lennon. It was Lennon in 2006 who showed the only penchant for one-on-one dazzlement for the Three Lions and he’s looking in better form this time around.

With their best team in years, we considered putting Robin Van Persie on this list. However the Dutch have a habit of folding in top international play and Van Persie is struggling with injuries right now.

No love from TSG for the USMNT’s own Landon Donovan. The world knows about Donovan and the USMNT will need that striker ahead of him. If the States go far, Jozy will need to make hay.

Franck Ribery might showcase his chops for France, but France doesn’t have the complete game or the coach to take it to the max this time around.

Is this Samuel E’to’s swan song as well? The Cameroonian still has the chops and his national team might surprise, however service to the now-Milan striker is variable at best, so no joy from The Shin Guardian.

World Cup: 10 Offenders To Watch (Part I)

Is this guy making our list?

Kick it off!

We begin our World Cup coverage with a two-parter.

Ten offenders to watch come Cup-calling time this upcoming June.

Mind you, this is not a comprehensive or exclusive list, nor is it a list of the top scorers or the top point-getters. It’s merely a list of ten guys who dazzle with the ball on and coming off their foot.

Some are well known and some are under the radar; but all should play a part in at least one highlight in South Africa 2010.

Part I.

(As always with video compilation pieces, either grab your best club gear and a Zima or turn down your sound.)

10. Danny (Portugal)

Everyone, but everyone will be focused on Danny’s slickster Portugese counterpart, Cristiano “The Greasy One” Ronaldo. That would be a mistake. We already know that Ronaldo will make his presence felt.

The 26-year old Venezuelen-born striker had his coming out party in August 2008, notching two goals in his debut for current club Zenit as they knocked off Manchester United 2008 UEFA Super Cup. If you watched Danny’s display that day, it was, in one word, spectacular. After that day, I’ve always looked for highlights or updates on his form.

If Danny’s current form is any indication (5 goals in 10 club appearances this year as we write this), we think he’s due in World Cup 2010.

09. Giuseppe Rossi (Italy)

We’ll spare the Benedict Arnold tirade.

The slightly mercurial Italian national, by way of New Jersey, United States, has been coming into his own in 2009. After shrugging of country pitch time issues–those who played in Serie A are favored–the Villarreal striker has been on target for his club, notching 8 goals in 17 appearances to go along with handful of assists.

With the expected absence of Cassano in the Italian squad, the 22-year-old Rossi will be a focus of the Italian attack and, in our opinion, he’ll deliver.

08. Diego Forlan (Uruguay)

Diego Forlan likely needs zero introduction on this publication.

One of the elder statesmen of this group, the 30-year old Forlan is Uruguay.

Forlan had a topsy-turvy ride earlier on in his career at Manchester United, but has long-since bloomed in La Liga with Atletico Madrid. A continual target of various EPL clubs now, Forlan has bagged 6 in 12 outside the Champions’ League this year for Madrid.

While were in the minority in stating that Uruguay does not get out of Group A, there will at least be one massive highlight from the blond-locked striker in the group stage. Mark our words.

07. Gonzalo Higuain (Argentina)

“Well it’s about time” was the TSG statement when Higuain finally factored for the Argentinian Maradonas. Rumor has it Maradona as an alumnus of Boca Juniors didn’t want to trot out a big-time striker who played for arch rival River Plate.

Higuain is lights out for Real Madrid this season. El Pipita (or The Nose as Higuain is known) has made summer acquisition  of Karim Benzema redundant and spurred transfer rumors for the Frenchman Benzema just a half season after arriving at the Bernabeu.

06. Alexis Sanchez (Chile)

Watching Chile attempt to beat Spain using a 3-5-2 isn’t the only reason to tune into the Chilean World Cup squad.

Before Sir Alex heisted Antonio Valencia as Ronaldo’s replacement, rumor was Ferguson was sniffing around Udinese’s Sanchez. Dubbed both the Wonder Boy and the Explosive Boy for his on-the-ball moves, Sanchez has yet to reach world acclaim. Look for him to improve on his 8 goals in 26 appearances for his national team….and make himself known….globally.

Tomorrow: Part II

Happy Holidays from The Shin Guardian

Thank you to all of our readers, fan and contributors who helped make our first (1/2) year just plain awesome.

For the next week we’ll be publishing on an abbreviated schedule as we spend time with our families as I’m sure you are.

Happy holidays,

Matthew & Mark

Bradley’s 30: What Is This? Junior High

Marvell: Back on the scene, crispy and clean

Coach USA took the next step to shoring up the remaining roster spots in South Africa today by inviting an inordinately large contingency of 30 players, 25 from the MLS, to camp this year in Los Angeles.

The annual January camps kicks off January 4th and making their way to the bunk beds will be:

GOALKEEPERS: Kevin Hartman (Kansas City), Troy Perkins (Valerenga), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Zach Thornton (Chivas USA)

DEFENDERS: Kevin Alston (New England Revolution), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City Wizards), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew), Heath Pearce (FC Dallas), Marvell Wynne (Toronto FC), Brandon McDonald (San Jose Earthquakes)

MIDFIELDERS: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Örebro), Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Benny Feilhaber (Aarhus), Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Jeff Larentowicz (New England Revolution), Dax McCarty (FC Dallas), Chris Pontius (D.C. United), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew),

FORWARDS: Justin Braun (Chivas USA), Conor Casey (Colorado Rapids), Jeff Cunningham (FC Dallas), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake), , Marcus Tracy (Aalborg)

—–

Thoughts:

• Follow-up on our preview on the January camp:

» TSG contributor Connor, see comment section, nailed the goalies. TSG thought Thornton–at 36 years–deserving, but a little long in the tooth.

» Unfortunately, no Sean Franklin. TSG suggested an invite be sent the injured defenders way, but understandable that it was not

» No Darrius Barnes, as TSG suggested. Just a little bit too young.

• Coach USA goes with a whopping 12 midfielders, suggesting that his midfield is hardly set and that players like Robbie Rogers and Jose Francisco Torres are not locks yet for WC 2010.

• If you look at the defensive selections, here’s TSG reading Coach Sweatpants mind, “I need to get reps for middle guys here. Goodson, you know have Gonzalez pushing you….your sub spot to lose. Let’s see what this McDonald kid has there too.

Got to figure that outside picture out: Show me something Kevin, Heath, and Marvell–Heath, Marvell this is your final shot.”

» Wynne was in the rotation late last year and early this year. If the speedy outside full can show he’s overcome the nagging injuries and that he’s matured in his read of the game, then he’ll be making a strong play for that left wingback back-up role….back-up for now.

»Note: The official USSF release has Brandon McDonald as a forward. Unless Coach USA sees something we don’t, McDonald should get trotted out at center back and center back alone. I’m this close (if McDonald shows well) to calling him “Gooch Jr.”

¤ TSG has lobbed an email into USMNT spokesperson Neil Buethe to get confirmation on the release and McDonald’s position.

¤ USSF amended their release and now lists McDonald appropriately as a defender.

• Is this the close of the Big Aloha Brian Ching’s USMNT career or is he being given time to rest his knee? If you remember Ching did some heavy lifting this year with the USMNT Gold Cup tourney, qualifiers and a Houston playoff run.

• In Ching’s stead and in the absence of TSG-promoted Nate Jacqua is Chivas USA’s Justin Braun. We’ll have to learn more about Braun here at TSG as we’ve only seen him play a handful of time. 6’3” and 22-years-old is a good start.

• A three-man race for the Charlie Davies role at camp amongst Marcus Tracy (Welcome to the USMNT program, Marcus!), Robbie Findley and Jeff Cunningham. Should be a good one to watch.

• Goodnight Frankie Hedjuk. You will be missed.

Might the EPL Get Another American Defender?

Lichaj: Ensconced on the TSG depth chart...

Shame on TSG for not updating our near bi-weekly Eric Lichaj Report.

We’ve been following Lichaj for about 3 months now since stellar column contributor Ryan put him on his depth chart way back when–see the comments section here.

An interesting report out of England this past week where Villa Manager Martin O’Neill–speaking of Lichaj and another defenders–” is believed to have refused to grant the defenders permission to play in Lincoln’s run to the third round of the FA Cup.”

Could a return to the mothership be in the offing? Villa’s defense has been stable this year, with the corner defense (where Lichaj plays) being manned capably by Luke Young and Steve Warnock, but they are certainly lacking some depth with the once-promising Nicky Shorey shipped out to lower league club Nottingham Forest and 32-year-old Habib Beye the only other cover.

Might be a good chance to get the youngster some tutelage and a few junior games…wait, our fandom just came out.

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