Archive for May, 2010

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.

Friendly Relations: England vs. Mexico

One thing we’ve tried to do at TSG is branch out and cover the England national team as much as possible because of the historic match-up to kick-off the World Cup.

In that vain, Prabhas Viswanathan, better known as GeorgeCross, is back with a preview for us on the Monday’s England vs. Mexico friendly. TSG will have a live chat up as well of this one.

Funny, the grass looks pretty good from far away.

England vs. Mexico – Monday 24th May 2010.  Wembley Stadium

Introduction

England will have been together for one week in a World Cup training base, as Capello starts to fine tune his preparations for that all important first game against America on 12th June.  For this, Capello has chosen America’s CONECAF rivals Mexico.  However, the author feels that just because they are in the same region, he doesn’t think that their football style is too comparable.  Anyway, Mexico who are also World Cup finalists, and are considered a constant in the Last 16, should prove to be a good test, but one England should win, especially at Wembley.

A few things you’re looking for

Back 5: For whatever reason, England have not played their first choice centre-back pairing of Ferdinand and Terry too much under Capello, and the deputies have done a job but are clearly not in the same class.  It is essential that they both have an error free game, individually and as a pair, making sure that the understanding is 100%.  Panning out slightly, the whole defensive unit needs to be on the same page.  Not only does the distance between Ferdinand and Terry have to be correct, the same must be said about Cole and G. Johnson.  In goal, Green needs to be calm, composed and confident – this means communication with his defenders, and no indecision and flapping.  Clean sheet and sold defensive display with no errors required.

Blanco: Still the straw that stirs it....

With Mexico’s lack of height up front (Hernández  (5’7½” ), Vela (5’9”), Blanco (5’10”), Franco (5’10”), Bererra (5’9”)), I’d expect our back four to play narrow, and let Mexico have the ball in wide areas, confident our centre-backs will win the ball in the air, should they centre.

Holding Midfielder:  Without a natural defensive midfielder, Barry is more of a natural choice for this role at the base of midfield than Lampard.  A steady performance breaking up attacks and distributing sensibly is needed.  Not getting caught on the wrong side of the ball is also required, because I feel Barry doesn’t have the pace to recover.  He needs to be ready to slot in when the full backs go forward.

However, with question marks over Barry’s fitness, this is a really tough one to call.  Does Capello go with the experience of Carrick or the current form of Parker or Huddlestone?  I think Capello will play it safe and go with Carrick unless he sees something remarkable in the week leading up to this game.

In Matthew's opinion, Carrick is the better true holding mid...

Carrick is a good passer of the ball, but that’s not the number one priority of a defensive midfielder.  I don’t want to see Carrick the wrong side of the ball when Mexico has possession, and he needs to be tactically astute with his positioning

Pressing: Mexico has a typical Latin playing style of short, quick passes.  They are patient in their build-up play in the middle third of the pitch focusing on technique rather than physicality.  I feel that they can cause England problems, especially if they can keep the ball for extended periods of time.  They will need to silence the Wembley crowd as this will hinder England.  England need to play their quick tempo, high pressing game, and “get in Mexico’s faces” and not let them settle.  I would like to see England press intelligently, with purpose, high up the pitch, and quickly regain possession, with minimum fuss.  Am I being greedy?

Theo Walcott: Much criticism has been thrown Walcott’s way, and this is a chance to show what he can do.  England need to play to his strengths and play the balls that will allow his to use his pace to get behind the opponent.  Walcott needs to be more confident and be direct – mixing up his play; going inside and outside and driving towards goal – he needs to put Mexico’s LB backs under pressure when he has the ball.  His delivery in the final third needs to be better, and it will be heavily scrutinized.

Theo the Tyke will be under the microscope again...

I want to see some good ball retention from England.  If we are in an advanced position and the player on the ball doesn’t see a good pass on, I’d like to see them play it backwards and start again, and keep possession.  This will help draw Mexico’s defence up the pitch, hopefully leaving space for England exploit in behind, or between the banks of players.  But you know that they will be impatient and wastefully shoot.

“11 at the Whistle”

Half of me is hoping that Mr. Capello starts with England’s strongest possible line up as we are only 180 minutes away from our first game, but half of me wants to drop Heskey and experiment with Rooney playing up front on his own like he did for United in away European Cup games, with Gerrard a little more centrally, and J. Cole on the left.

I fully expect some changes at half time or early in the second half to give perhaps a couple of ‘question marks’ a run out, in a meaningful friendly.  But I feel Capello will go with a 4-2-3-1 formation that England qualified so impressively with.

Goalkeeper:  Green

Back four:  G. Johnson, Ferdinand, Terry, Cole

Defensive Mids:  Lampard, Carrick

Midfield:  Walcott, Rooney, Gerrard

Forwards:  Heskey

Substitutions:  A. Johnson for Walcott; Cole for Gerrard; Parker for Carrick

Other

There has been a lot of talk about a 3-man defence with wing backs.  We have the full backs in A. Cole and G. Johnson to fulfill this, but I feel it is too risky to try to implement this so close to the tournament – I do not feel there is enough time for players to get comfortable, especially as nobody plays this system with their club.  Then there’s the issue of it being in effective vs. 4-5-1 and 4-3-3…  I cannot see it happening to be honest.

My knowledge on the Mexico national team is limited.  I know about some of the European based players, and a little hear-say on others, but as they play as a team is not a huge strength of mine.

World Cup Fever: Italy 2006 Redux

As you know, I’ve been putting up YouTube video “nuggets” on the right sidebar. You have some idea by the title and link what to expect when you click, but not always.

I had put this clip up there this morning, but in a regrettable campaign, I believe the 2006 Italy game–one of the US’s best Cup games ever in my opinion–deserves it’s own post.

I remember this game for three reasons: Clint Dempsey dribbling arsenal and assault, Bobby Convey’s miss, and DeRossi’s hatchet job of course on Brian McPride.

(For those new, TSG looked at the 2002 World Cup games way back in January…links below)

2002 highlights, games & commentary.

Sunday Feature: FIFA World Cup Game Review

This is a guest post by frequent TSG contributor Brian Mechanick.

After a draw versus England and a win over Slovenia and Algeria, the USA emerged out of group play in first place. The U.S. achieved tight victory over Serbia in the round of 16 and Argentina in the quarterfinals, as a 1-1 draw continued into a penalty-kick shootout, where Tim Howard’s save on Juan Sebastian Veron gave the Yanks the win. In the semifinals it was a rematch from March, as the USA met the Netherlands. A heroic brace from Clint Dempsey gave the USA the win.

USA for the win…

The final was the same as it was in the previous year’s Confederations Cup, as the U.S. met mighty Brazil. Luis Fabiano gave the Samba Kings the early lead, but a bolt from Michael Bradley tied it. After Tim Howard made save after save, Landon Donovan broke the deadlock on a perfect counter-attack. The final whistle sounds, and the players pour onto the field: the USA has won the World Cup, in my video game versioion.

EA Sports’ FIFA was one of the most important parts of making me a football fan. I first began playing with FIFA 98 on the N64, scoring goal after goal with Zidane. With FIFA 06 my love of Tottenham Hotspur was forged, sending Edgar Davids around the pitch like a cross between Pelé and Franz Beckenbauer. And now, a little more than a month out from the World Cup, EA has dropped 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa. Is it worth dropping $60 on?

FIFA 10 was the greatest soccer game of all time, if not sports game. The innovation of 360º degree dribbling, better ball physics, and more intelligent positioning made the game fantastic. The good and bad news is that FIFA World Cup largely resembles FIFA 10. If you’re looking for World Cup to be a big upgrade over your copy of FIFA 10, you’re going to be disappointed.

John Terry: Safer to teammates in the video game version...

What you do see with is the most gorgeous sports video game I’ve ever seen. The likenesses in the game are nearly perfect, Donovan’s receding hairline has the proper thinness and John Terry’s mug has that perfect punchability. The stadiums are magnificent and you really feel the atmosphere, whether it is the glamour of Wembley, intimidation of Azteca, or headache-inducing vuvuzelas of South Africa.

The gameplay has improved subtly improved. Most obvious is the new penalty kick system, which takes talent and composure unlike the rock-paper-scissor system of past editions. The game is smoother than ever, with players able to take first-touches on balls in the air that let them continue their runs and cut to open positions towards the goal.

The single-player mode is the star of the game. Not only do you get the ability to qualify for the cup with any of the 190 nations, but also Captain Your Country, which lets you lead your created player from your country’s B-squad to World Cup glory.

In the end, if cash is tight and you’re not exactly wearing out your copy of FIFA 10, the World Cup edition is missable. But if you are a FIFA nut, or have always wanted to see the Yanks hoist the trophy in fantastic, realistic games, then a highly recommend picking it up.

Score: 9 Shin Guards out of 10

Diego Milito Shows How To Be A #9

Was the Nerazzurri’s victory today ever truly in doubt?

Maicon: You were the right man for the job; Milito: You're a Hall-of-Famer in my book!

While Shaun played the keyboard on what I found to be a solid tactical game (minus DeMichelis of course), I was gathering with my SF soccer club the Black Sox at the Phoenix in San Franciso’s Mission District.

It was a slightly pro-Bayern crowd which let out an exasperted gasp when Thomas Muller kept trying to take on Maicon on the right wing.

Is that really all Louis Van Gaal had?

Note, if the US faces Germany in the knockouts, that same Muller will likely be on the right wing going up against Bornstein or Boca.

Anyway, DeMichelis losing the header and then the mark led to his first goal, a pretty ankle-breaker of a cross over led to the second, congratuations to Diego Milito who propelled Milan basically to the Treble with critical goals thoughout the season, today and in the Coppo Italia final.

See his post-game crowd address below. (Probably the most quoted character during the game at the Phoenix.)

Champs League Final – Bayern versus Inter Milan

Game is a bit of a snoozefest...especially for the hungover!

Oh well… i feel that was a bit of a let down as vis a vis exciting footie but a perfect illustration of defensive football. I’m off to Texas style BBQ.

TWEET TWEET TWEET - Inter deserved champions. Will Jose chuck his medal into the stands and go straight up and sign a contract with Real?

91:00 – Players going through the motions here. Fitting end to not a very inspiring game. Shame as it was shown on national TV.

88:00 – Game is peetering out. Discussion at TSG studios is now directed to age of consent in Europe led by the only female in the room.

82:00 - Pig mounter wins a free kick after some Ronaldo-esque step overs but Robbens free kick goes straight into the wall.

81:00 - Inter parking the buss right now and Bayern cannot break them down. Doesn’t make for exciting football. Dark and stormy number 2 coming up.

74:00 – Olic off and Gomez on. A Bayern goal would make things incredibly exciting. Meanwhile the guy next to me has woken up from his nap and making astute comments.

70:00 – GOOOAL - lovely bit of skill from Milito as he latches on to a beautiful pass from Eto’o and completely embarrasses Van Buyten as he sends him tumbling and fires past Butt. 2-0 Milito’s

68:00 – Chivu off and Stankovic on.

65:00 – Great save by the Brazilian keeper as Robben sends in a lovely curling shot.

63:00 – Altintop out and Klose in. Robben takes a cheeky free kick that bounces around the box and Pig Mounter sends the ball wide. TV angles + Booze = EXCITEMENT!

59:00 – Bayern pressuring and win a corner that was taken way to fast and almost gave Inter a counter on a plate.

54:00 – Altintop is making the most of his inclusion into the side by dribbling through some Inter defenders but the Turkish internationals shot selection is poor and the ball goes just wide of the keeper.

50:00 – A beautiful ball is sent to the pig mounter who instead of trapping it and shooting tries a one time pass to nobody. Dark N Stormy is delicious!

48:00 – Heard from the shin guardian studios…” Wow Butt got up”. Indeed the German keeper makes a wonderful save to deny Milito a second goal. The first three minutes of this second half has been more exciting than the entire first half. Got to go for it Bayern!

46:00 - Game on and i barely took a sip of my Dark and Stormy and Bayern come right out of the blocks and Muller has a golden chance to even the score and hits it directly at Cesar. Bayern are really pressuring the Italian club!

Well Bayern have had most of the possession but in typical Jose style, the game is being stifled in the Inter half and they are cuntering with danger and frequency. Kind of a boring game.

46:00 - Jose has trained his defenders well and are executing the bend don’t break defense perfectly. Half time. New drink.

43:00 - Milito scampers down the wing and gets behind the Bayern defenders and sends a lovely cross that Sneijder connects with perfectly but his shot is directly at a hapless Butt who pushes it out. Should have been a goal!

41:00 – Robben seems to be the only one trying as he comes across the pitch and sends the ball flying over Cesar’s goal. Van Gall really needs to wake the Bavarians up as they seem to be playing at 55rpm.

37:00 - All Inter now as they are pinging the ball around the distraught Bayern defenders. Bayern need to be careful as they can easily go 2-0 down.

34:00 – GOOOOOALLL. Milito. A beautiful ball from Sneijder and Milito pushes his way through to get to it and sends a lovely chip over Butt. 1-0 Inter.

32:00 - Pig mounter gets the ball and dribbles  instead of shooting…Nothing comes of it. Meanwhile on the other end comical shooting confuses everyone and the ball bounces into midfield…Game is now boring.

30:00 - Now its Chivu’s turn to go in the book for a poor tackle on Robben. Watching the game with a fanatic rugby player who claims that Chivu needs to strap on his scrum hat properly.

23:00 – Acrobatic dancing/kicking in the penalty area ends with Robben shot that goes way off target. Hard to tell where this game will go. Its somewhat entertaining but is it to the casual fan who is wondering where their NASCAR is this morning?

18:00 – Sneijder hits a cracker of a free kick that Butt punches out.

16:00 - Bayern try a corner clearly worked on in the training pitch and its handled by Maicon…Lucky

14:00 – Game and I have gone into a bit of a lull…more drinks!

10:00 – Robben shows his speed and runs around 2 Inter defenders and crosses to Muller who sends it wide.

5:00 -Two teams who counter a lot are doing as such. Martin Tyler is wonderful…brain not working properly yet and the Sweet tea infused vodka is not helping. WOW Zanetti is playing his 700th game for the same club!

3:00 – Walter Samuel has a very poor tackle on Robben and is booked for his efforts

Delicious and dangerous!

2:00 - First problem Fox. Your logo is almost in the center of the screen. Inter in the attack and send a looping free kick that Butt (hee hee) punches wide. All Inter right now who are going for it with three forwards.

TWEET – Game on

Lahm’s kid  in the traditional exchange of kids is almost the same height as he is!

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DAMN – a tasty drink! The game is on Fox…not fox sports…FOX…my how far we have come. And I think i just sent out my first tweet. The Bernabeu is bumping and the field is full of attractive Spanish women waving fans. I’m getting excited

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I’m off to to make a cocktail. Drink of the day Firefly…though someone just arrived bringing mimosa’s fixin’s…HOORAY!

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Hello all

Welcome to the Champions League final between German champions Bayern Munich versus Italian Champions Inter Milan. One team will win the treble as both won their domestic cups competitions. Line ups are out and nothing looks out of place minus calendar boy Franck Ribery who will sit this out due to his moment of madness in the first leg of the semi.

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