Archive for May, 2010

Preview: Who’s Bob Czeching Out?

Ah, such a loaded title to this column in so many ways.

Um, last time didn't go so well....no Koller this time

For those of you who are going to college, in college or graduated college like I did many moons ago, the USMNT road trip to South Africa has just commenced. The car is packed, gas topped, snacks mustered and the USMNT is moving. The team is saddled up and just about to get dialed in on the freeway.

Well, most of the team.

For seven players, their chance at another cap in 2010, barring a spate of injury, ends tomorrow.

What you’ll likely see from Bob Bradley is a mixture of veterans and players on the cusp. The veterans to provide the supporting cast for Bob Bradley to evaluate some of those seven against the best to Czechs have to offer. You need to judge players versus the best quality.

Actually, judging by Saturday’s loss to Turkey, the Czechs might be pulling a Juventus in this one as well; I digress.

Coach USA and his staff will really be grading out two primary things in this one: 1) the aforementioned abilities of the unsettled roster spots and 2) perhaps more critically, how those who’ve been injured–Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit, Carlos Bocanegra, Eddie Johnson even–perform under game conditions. This encounter is not about solidifying the starting eleven so much as seeing who gets into it on Turkey Day in Philadelphia and beyond.

I’m guessing that Tim Howard likely gets a breather in this one–could be the next one, but Howard’s from New Jersey, much closer to Philadelphia.

Okay, let’s kickoff our first USMNT preview since March…and let’s get our World Cup road trip started….

As always, we’ll follow the (now-patented) TSG format:

TSG’s “What We’re Looking For”
11 at the Whistle
*Disclaimers

TSG’s “What We’re Looking For”

Gerry Bertier and Julius Campbell are back! But are they fit?...and will they start?

• How’s Gooch?

Duh and “Next!”

• Who’s going where on the backline?

If I’m Bob Bradley here, I want to see the fitness of three guys I will likely rely on in South Africa on June 12th. I’ve got less than three weeks to get a stand-in ready, so my first priority here is checking out my senior staff in that back.

There have been murmurs that Boca and or DeMerit might sit this one out. I obviously can’t comment on medical reports or player fitness, but if they’re good to go, I say Bradley plays them. Get that first real-time look so you know if you need to get someone else ready for June 12th.

If they don’t play, well, there’s your storyline Wednesday morning.

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And Now A Word From….Ourselves

A brief message from corporate here.

Yup, we're "corporate"...big time!

TSG is very pleased to bring you a few announcements today:

• Please welcome Matt Mathai and Brian Mechanick who will be adding their talents to TSG over the next week.

You’ve seen both of their work before on TSG….and frankly if they got together and created their own publication, TSG proper would have as many readers as….as….the Rocky Mountain News? Ouch.

Your man on the scene...

» Brian will help us cover the USMNT the next few weeks. You know him from such features as “2006 vs. 2010” and the immensely popular “Choosing Your USMNT Jersey Is No Trivial Matter.

Brian is from Philadelphia, played fullback and FIFA growing up and is a fan of Tottenham Hotspur, the Union and of course “C’mon You Yanks!”

He’s also interested in locker boxing….I have no idea what that is.

» The TSG community bore witness to the incredible eye of Matt Mathai late last week.

Visionary, seriously, read on...

Matt issued a photo documentary on TSG and now this week he’ll be capturing lasting images of the tune-up series for TSG. Thanks Matt.

Matt was born in Malaysia and lived in India until I was 13 then moved to the District of Columbia.

He has degrees in Economics, Computer Science, and Engineering Management (gosh his parents must be proud), but he employs none of them in his day job. (Huh?)

Matt attended his first US Soccer match in 1991 (USA-Ireland at RFK.) and was a pretty early member of Sam’s Army (ca. 1995).

Matt also founded the Screaming Eagles, DC United’s first supporters club. Wow.

Matt’s watched, played, coached, refereed, and now, photographed soccer at various levels for many years.

Awesome….we’re happy to have both of you!

Stunningly handsome, amazingly objective, guaranteed to go blind...

• Meet the web’s Martin Tyler. One man, 32 teams, no sleep.

Well, you know him already. Our live commentary man Shaun Webb. I’ve known Shaun for almost ten years now and a nicer and more genuine guy you won’t find. But…that’s not what I am here to announce today!

Shaun is going to attempt the unthinkable, seemingly the unattainable!

Shaun is going to attempt to offer live commentary on (nearly) EVERY SINGLE WORLD CUP GAME!

Yes, folks, for once I typed something without error.

For West Coast residents that means getting up at 4:00-4:30 every morning.

I’ve decided that the TSG community–if they so desire–should start sending or at least start thinking of sending Shaun some “care packages.”

You know, a cacophony of Red Bull, Skittles, grilled cheese sandwiches (I think Shaun likes these), pajamas, coffee, donuts and advil.

I’ll make Shaun’s address available shortly.

The Don’t Tread Contest IS ABOUT TO GO….DOWN!

That’s right…stay tuned. We’ll need your vote and support…and along the way the USMNT is going to pick up some pre-USMNT fans. That’s right.

One last thing…

….TSG will be helping community member Antonio with his high school project….seriously.

“Magic” Gomez? Yup, That’ll Stick

Thanks to TSG writer Brian for sending us the vid. Shouldn’t these guys be looking at tape or something.

England vs. Mexico: Breakdown

Zonal Marking is a great site that a few folks in the TSG community interested me in.

Stringbean on the scene yesterday...

They have a great summation of yesterday’s friendly vs. Mexico.

Check it out here.

Conclusions by the English site:

• Aaron Lennon currently presents a better option on the right wing than Theo Walcott

• The central midfield of Milner and Carrick spent the game confused.

TSG comments:

• That defensive central midfield is the best place for the Yanks’ strength (Donovan and Dempsey) to attack.

• If you look at the first picture in the post *and flip it* vertically you can see how Bob Bradley may consider using Clint Dempsey, tucking him in behind Jose Altidore while Landon (who probably is a little more narrow) is a “lone winger” out on the left side.

Stay tuned Wednesday for some tactical review from TSG.

England versus Mexico – International Friendly

Has seen thinner days...but the Mexican talisman is still a dangerous threat.

Tweet Tweet Tweet. Game over. A comfortable win for England with a mix matched starting 11. Mexico looked dangerous and pacy but need to work on defending set pieces. Martin Tyler says it all when he said that both teams learned what they needed to. Lunch time for me.

91:00 – Oddly Glen Johnson is the man of the match. Yes he had a nice goal and he woke up in the second half. I would have given it to King.

89:00 – DAMN Lennon is not slow. The Spurs winger screams toward the Mexican goal going through two defenders but they commit a professional foul on him. Baines gets a chance to make up for his poor first half but sends the free kick into the wall.

87:00 – Johnson makes his presence felt immediately by skipping by a defender in the box but his cross is blocked out. Promising from the young City player. Hope he gets more of a run out against Japan.

85:00 - Adam Johnson on for Milner. Lets see what the youngster can do. Er…did Andy Murray just come on?

81:00 - Lennon showing some nifty skill to keep the ball in play. Ball eventually bounces toward the Mexican box and Dafoe and Perez are in a one on one situation that Perez kicks clear but straight to Rooney who traps it, controls and sends the ball goal ward with the Mexican keeper miles off his line, but its headed out at the last second by a defender.

76:00 - Joe Hart has had a lot less to do this half than Green did in the first. Wonder if that has to do with the 4 in front of him, the better overall possession by England or Mexico’s lack of bite in the second half? As I write this, Barerra skins Baines and sends a cross that misses everyone. Close one. Walcott off, Lennon on.

72:00 – Blanco on and Dos Santos off. He has been Mexico’s best player i think.

69:00 - England playing better now as they are passing it well and Walcott is sent through but the ball is cleared out for a corner. Nothing comes from the corner. England’s main issues are at the back but so far this half they’ve done a better job at nullifying any attack.

65:00 - Barrera is doing a great job down the wing and sends in a shot but Hart catches it easily. Down the other end, Rooney sends a beautiful pass to Gerrard who is bundled over just outside the box. The requisite Beckham mention/tv shot is shown has it is in his territory. In the end Gerrard takes it and sends it inches wide. What would Beckham have done?

61:00 – AHHHH – Rooney has a tramp stamp. Huddlestone on Carrick off. Guardado on for Vela for the Tri Colores.

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Addressing The Cliche: Why Is The USMNT Always “More Athletic?”

Energy and persistence conquer all things. – Ben Franklin

Often times when watching a game it can be heard (though I’ve never found it documented in writing) that the American players are very physically fit and the main attribute that they bring to the table is raw athleticism.  Sometimes the commentators go so far as to insinuate that our players are more physically fit than the other team.  Aside from Clint Dempsey (who has been described as having that special combination of audacity and je ne sais quoi), why are US players reduced to the physical traits that all athletes, regardless of sport, possess?

My first thoughts when Matthew allowed me to pen this piece were that this statement is a backhanded compliment, and to some extent it is, but there is as well a lot of truth in it.  As I mentioned here, we have a history of producing the top athletes at the Olympics, so it makes sense that our soccer players are the most athletic as well.

However, it stands to reason that any player playing for a national team ranked within the top 100 (give or take 20) of FIFA’s screwed-up rankings is a pretty serious athlete; get into FIFA’s top 20 national teams and you can bet your ass that all of the players in the pool are professional players that possess no more athleticism than the next guy.

But it’s the Yanks’ athleticism that is consistently lauded when an announcer attempts to compliment a nattie that’s playing somewhat well.

Jozy Altidore (whose potential is unfulfilled to date) is gargantuan of a player whose strength and speed cause defenses problems, but wait so is Didier Drogba.

Just as much O2 processing as an "athletic American"

Landon Donovan is fast and can run forever, but so can Ji Sung “Three Lung” Park.

Oguchi Onyewu is built like an NFL Linebacker, so sayeth Alejandro Bedoya, and is still fleet footed enough to play at a high level, but so is….well Onyewu is somewhat of an anomaly though Omar Gonzalez looks to be hot on his heals.  You get the idea; for every American soccer player that possess other-worldly athletic talents, there’s someone else who’s very similar who plays ball wearing the colors of a different nation.

So why is Landon Donovan’s “athleticism” lauded when Ji Sung Park’s isn’t even mentioned during a Manchester United Telecast?  My guess is that it’s a result of our 200 year old culture (Forgive me here because I recently finished reading Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer).  The gem of puritan wisdom that I lead this piece off with defines the American ethos in all facets of life; though most immigrant cultures in this country are very different from the buckle-shoe wearing, Mayflower voyaging original immigrants, the prevailing philosophy in this country remains “he who works hardest will be victorious.”  This ideal has infiltrated our long work weeks and lack of vacation days in the corporate world, our schools that still feel like their systematically brainwashing you to regurgitate the correct response instead of figuring out why it was the right one, and, as Jeremy Schaap mentions in his E:60 piece on Clint Dempsey, our regimented youth sports leagues(especially youth soccer).

Our culture is a results based one. Period.  Think about your current job, whatever it is, if you don’t perform to a certain expectation you’re dumped unceremoniously on your ass.  We do the same with our sports.  Quick, pick out the top athlete in each of the Big 5 sports (thanks to Tiger golf is currently sitting at #5 in the sports world) in the US from 50 years ago and then for today, those whose jerseys sell the most replicas of anyone.  I’m guessing you named the following:

NBA:   Bob Cousy/Michael Jordan
NHL: Gordie Howe/Wayne Gretzky
NFL (we’ll focus on quarterbacks from the last 30 years only since they’ve only become integral in that time period): Dan Marino/Brett Favre
MLB: Ted Williams/Albert Pujols
PGA: Jack Nicklaus/Tiger Woods

What do all of them have in common?  They hold the records; the scoring records, the number of championship records, the biggest and the bestest records.  So we look to these gods among men and devise ways to make our children just like them.  Notice anything else about these progressions?  The Marino to Favre transition is the only one where we have a the modern-day athlete who has risen to the upper echelons of his sport via a goofy grin and the swashbuckling attitude of a playground marauder, otherwise the modern athletes are obsessive-compulsives about perfecting their skills.

Skill first?

In this vein we have youth coaches who attempt to sculpt the “athlete” into the ideal player with the appropriate skills for their sports.  Thus, the bigger, stronger, faster kid who can perform XYZ four times out of ten is often preferred to the shorter, thinner, slower kid who can perform XYZ seven times out of ten.  While it is true for most sports that teaching the bigger, stronger, faster kid the necessary skills will yield a better end product, the same is not always true for soccer; take Lionel Messi and Xavi Hernandez as examples, no one would say their 5ft 7in frames are physically imposing, yet both are revered as being masters of their crafts.  Yet, for soccer clubs in the US, raw physicality and athleticism have always won out when it comes to selecting players.  Want proof?

Exhibit A) The president of a club I coached for once said during a tryout; “Look for the biggest and fastest players, we can teach them to kick a soccer ball, but we can’t teach speed.” By that sentiment, all we would need is a “sexy” European coach to take over the National Team and Youth System for the USSF and we’d be all set, right…?

Exhibit B) Prior to Germany ’06 Andrea Canales penned this piece about how the LA Galaxy, USMNT, and German National Team (due to adopted Californian Jurgen Klinsmann running the show) have all enlisted the help of an exercise science company called Athlete’s Performance to ensure that they are getting the most athleticism out of their athletes.

Exhibit C) The venerable This Is American Soccer’s interview with Ray Hudson.  Jump down to the question about him being a supporter of the USMNT over England, which contains this interesting observation:

I’ve seen first hand so many of the times these wonderful instructors allowing the kids to express themselves and have fun with the ball be basically hit on the head and told that that is not what is required. “We want more athletic football” has turned too many people off in this country.

Exhibit D) And TIAS scores an interview/autobiography style post by one of the top 100 freshman to watch in college soccer (from December 20007) with this little nugget:

The transition from high school to college is not easy to deal with; it is literally a whole new ball game. The sport is more physical, players are much more athletic, and the expectations of both players and coaches are much higher. Constant effort and commitment are a must; work ethic and desire can overshadow good soccer and technique.

Exhibit E) An article on the NSCAA website from 2003 that discusses the emerging American style, which the writer argues should be built around our athleticism and work rate.

Whether the announcers who’ve uttered this phrase intend it as a backhanded compliment or actual praise, only they’ll know.  The truth of it is our professionals are not more athletic than any other nations’, though we probably do tend to (currently) focus more on that side of player development when it comes to soccer (an all sports really).

This is just the beginning of our discussion today…they’ll be a follow-up with your commentary from below integrated. Have at it.

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