Archive for December, 2009

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.

Soccerizing American Sports

“Americanizing soccer” is always a topic for spirited debate, but how might other American sports benefit from being “Soccerized.” There are a number of great things about the beautiful game that could be translated to the NFL, NBA and MLB. Here are three things from soccer that could make some American leagues more enjoyable.

Sounders, big and little, take the pitch together.

How Teams Enter the Field
Recently I attended a Denver Broncos (American football) game. Just prior to kick-off, the speakers in the stadium started to blare with the latest hip-hop, the cheerleaders lined-up and a giant horse head was inflated near the south stands. As the announcer implored the fans to cheer for “your Dennnnvvvvver Bronnn-cooooos” smoke started pouring out of the inflated horse’s nose and large columns of fire shot into the sky. The players then charged out of the inflated horse head and started jumping up-and-down.  (And I didn’t even mention the five skydivers that landed moments prior.)

Quite the sight for sure, but it really did nothing in regard to the game. The fans listened to the anthem, sat down and then waited for the team to take the field again for the real game. Contrast those theatrics with the gingerly walk on the pitch by 18 players a side holding the hands of kids that typically happens in professional soccer games.  Different intention, different tone and different mindset.

American football is an inherently more violent game and perhaps players need to be hopped up to make hits, but it isn’t any less cerebral than soccer. Cultural differences and “fan experience” carry the day in America. However, can you imagine if NFL entrances were soccerized?

Picture the Super Bowl in February…Drew Brees and the Saints versus Peyton Manning and the Colts. A hush falls over the crowd as the teams are about to enter the field. Then, without fireworks, a bass line or a tumbling pass Reggie Bush trots out holding a hand of a youngster in a matching Saints jersey followed by the rest of his team. It would probably be the most talked about entrance in years.

Game Officiating
Performance aside, soccer officials take a better approach to officiating contests than most other sports. Unfortunately, in most American sports, the officials have evolved into a major part of the game. NBA referees are said to “control the game,” NFL officials throw yellow laundry at the players where an infraction occurred and MLB umpires are notorious for going chest-to-chest with players and managers.  In soccer, the official is rarely the center of attention (unless they miss an egregious double handball that results in a World Cup finals spot.)

As in any sport there are good and bad officials in soccer, but most do a good job of not becoming a part of the game. Soccer referees let players play and only ratchet up their own involvement beyond obvious rules violations if players are not competing in the spirit of the game. Often times, the first step in discipline is a discussion followed by a stern warning and then escalation to cards. In soccer, officials routinely attempt to influence the game in the right direction through gesturing to their pocket, calling players over for discussions before going the route of formal discipline and potentially altering the game.

Imagine if instead of tossing around double technical fouls, NBA officials decided to bring the sparring players over, talk to them like men and get them to shake hands, however forced. This approach wouldn’t diffuse every situation, but it will help to refocus the competition on the players and the game and not the official and their whistle.

Singing
Maybe it is just that soccer has history on its side, but as all sports have “gone corporate” in the past 15 years, soccer seems to have maintained the most passion in its fan bases. One of the outlets for the passionate soccer fan is singing. It is quite the thing to witness nearly an entire stadium of supporters singing in unison.

In America, fan led songs and cheers are few and far between outside of college fight songs and the J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets! cheer. In their place teams play Jock Jams, “De-Fense” chants are led by the PA announcer and noisemeters are placed in stadiums.

Could inspiring songs at the right moment give players of the home squad a boost? Might a player stepping to the plate in the 9th inning of a ball game in an opposing stadium be just a bit more distracted by a deafening song than the white noise of clapping hands and stopping fee? Would fans feel a certain sense of camaraderie through song much like you put your arm around the nearest stranger when Auld Lang Syne comes on New Year’s Eve? I’m not sure, but I’d like to find out.

Relegation
Pittsburgh Pirates. Kansas City Royal. Cleveland Browns. Detroit Lions. (gulp) New York Knicks. In all the major American sports, cheap owners, poor personnel decisions and general ineptitude has lead to a handful of perennial losers with virtually no motivation to improve due to monopolies of the major sports leagues. Relegation is perhaps the greatest gift soccer could give to other American sports, but also the most unlikely due to finances.

How else should American sports be soccereized?

Part III: Davies Still Repairing, Who’s Striking?

(Part IV of the series coming real soon….)

Two months ago to the day, TSG wrote one of our more popular columns: “With Davies in Repair, Who Strikes?

We followed this column with Part II that suggested that the answer to the USMNT striking problem may lay not with the players themselves, but with a different formation that took into account the rejiggered talents of the team that Bob Bradley could currently field.

So where do we sit today? Sixty odd days after the USMNT began addressing the issue for the South African replacement–sniffle–for one Charles Davies we’re still left with a lot of head scratching, if not even more.

Cakes: "I'm the man, but I'm still curious who's the man in front of me?"

TSG’s biggest question on the day and biggest requirement? How does the new look upfront impact Landon Donovan who clearly has the class now to be a difference maker, but needs the team and strategy tailored to his style. (Just ask Clint Dempsey about this….)

On our Landon issue, no current answers. With Landon absent for both friendlies, we learned little about potential replacements in Eddie Johnson and Jermaine Defoe Jr.–I mean Jeff Cunningham–who were called in to be considered for the role.

Cunningham scored in his starting debut, but was also knocked off the ball on multiple occasions. Eddie showed a little bit of pace, but a troubling lack of creativity in one-on-one situations. Further, since that friendly, EJ was moved to the discount rack at Fulham, buried on the bench and likely available to and at the mercy of the first suitor. No playing time for the potential South African hopeful.

Worse for the USMNT, it appears that Jozy can’t get a handle on things in Davies absence either, being wildy erratic and nearly invisible in the two friendlies–whether Jozy has been told to roam the offensive 1/3 or play hold-up is not known–what is known is that whatever role he was inhabited in Friendlyville it certainly didn’t breed confidence or create systemic opportunities.

JZA’s club situation has not shed any light on his future contributions either.

So going forward in this column, we’ll take a different tack in reviewing the possible players and combinations.

We’ll do the following: We’ll give some general priorities that Bob Bradley has favored through qualification. We’ll give our take on how the offense changes with various personnel and finally we’ll interject about the USMNT’s group stage opponents in helping us with our evaluation.

General priorities:

Complement Mr. LA Galaxy Landon Donovan.

Let me lead this segment with a broader question: Should it be Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey who the team is built around?

Wow! Did you see that question coming?

Continue reading

Where There’s Smoke, There’s Blackburn?

SH: Still in Dyna-orange for now...

You’ve got to take releases from the England rag The Sun with a grain of salt, but the latest?

Stu Holden offered a 4-year to head to the Rovers of Lancashire in the EPL.

Remember though, this is the same rag that gave us this Holden beauty.

Weigh in on what Stu should do here.

We’ll let you know if anyone sends us anything more here.

Damn You Jimmy Bullard…

• Well that stinks…as goes Jimmy Bullard so goes Jozy Altidore apparently.

Without funny man Bullard in the middle of the line-up, Hull City skipper Phil Brown has shifted his entire front six strategy. Two games post-Bullard knee injury have seen Brown go super conservative in an attempt to protect an extremely weak midfield. Brown has employed a 1-5 up top, relying on Craig Fagan to run down balls over the top and provide pressure and hoping that the likes of Steven Hunt and Geovanni can do yeoman’s work in both offensive and defensive support.

The strategy has returned Altidore, who was seeing starting time with Bullard in the line-up (and 4-4-2 line-up) to the bench or in Saturday’s case confined him to the stands. I might understand Brown’s strategy against Arsenal with one exception….Mr. Cesc Fabregas donned a parka for the game. If there was ever a game to be more offensive on the road at the Emirates, this was it. Further, what I don’t understand is, if you’re down 2-0 on the road, why take off forward players Geovanni and Garcia and introduce two defenders. Huh?

TSG for Hull City Manager!

When will Altidore see the pitch again as a starter? Likely when Bullard returns from the knee injury suffered three games ago against Villa. Jozy was able to link effectively with Bullard migrating the ball up the pitch–in short Hull was more offensive. With Fagan, Hull is essentially conceding offensive flow in favor of stretching the defense and hoping to get lucky on an over-the-top ball or on the trailing authoritative foots of Hunt and Geovanni.

Not all is lost for Big Jeezy though. Wiith a Sunday game coming up hosting Man U and a Bolton game away the Tuesday following, Altidore should factor in one of the two.Further, as we mentioned in our column on Friday, Kamel Ghilas goes out for the African Cup….so Jozy will–hopefully– be consistently in the 18 as at worst the 3rd striking option.

Does this man hold the key for the USMNT striker fortunes in South Africa....

Finally, you have to be a bit concerned by the defensive posturing of Manager Brown…if Brown thinks he can eek out survival of the relegation zone with going defensive and playing for the win only sporadically, JZA might have further trouble getting on the pitch until his game becomes more mature and well-rounded.

Let’s watch for Bullard’s return–it’s ironical that the once heir apparent to the central midfield for England might hold the key the USMNT striker fortunes in South Africa.

• If you didn’t see Clint’s assist Saturday against United it it was vintage Dempsey….find where the ball is going on a cross, head it back across the goal, score. It doesn’t get much simpler and efficient for that. Clints, “nose” where the ball is.

• West Ham, off the 1-1 draw to the Blues, has back-to-back games Sunday and Monday. So you’re likely to see Jonathan Spector, however with Faubert and Ilunga doing nothing short of a stellar job against the Chelsea attack, that backline looks set for West Ham.

• We know, we know. DaMarcus Beasley for president–another goal and assist. I guess that’s what happens when you’re very fresh from resting. Here’s the latest entry in the Beasley scrapbook:

• I don’t often root against Americans, but I sort of did this week. Bus loads of Woverhampton fans made the trek last weekend, only too see the Wanderers’ “B” squad up against Manchester United. Manager Mick McCarthy got–and TSG thinks he deserved–some serious guff for not playing his regulars. I would have liked nothing better than a Wolverhampton to lose at home to Burnley. Not in the cards, and USMNT’s Marcus Hahnemann turns away 5 shots-on. Kudos.

You don’t think a handful of World Cup-bound nattie teams would want Hahney in contention for their goal spot. Maybe let’s start with, oh, England or France? Gotta be embarrassing if you’re Robert Green and you get beaten three times on the same penalty (Lampard this Saturday), no?

• I can’t wait to see this Landon Donovan-Luis Saha pairing. Saha is at the top of his game….

• The Jay DeMerit locomotive is gather speed, another 90 in the middle for the stalwart as fellow interior man Carlos Bocanegra sits for Rennes. That’s now two straight games that Boca doesn’t make the starting 11 for Rennes when available….yikes!

• We’re calling it! Our next weekend update leads with “Maurice Edu in the 18 for Rangers and……”

(UPDATE: According to Mr. DaMarcus For President, Edu’s getting run out in a reserve game today….)

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