Archive for November, 2010

Tuesday Notes: Real Flatlines, Specs, More

Haven’t done a Tuesday notes/thoughts column in a while. (Note, I have your questions for our first “The Shinbox”…it’ll take a longer to write out answers).

Go:

More than proficient...

• Didn’t think the through ball could make it?

The 5-0 shellacking that Real Madrid took at the hands of the Nou campers yesterday was certainly unexpected. While we tweeted about a number of things (beyond Messi, Xavi, etc.) that Barcelona had going for them–like David Villa being a perfect complement off the ball to Xavi and Xabi Alonso failing to demand the ball–were trumped by one tactical error by the normally spot-on Jose Mourinho.

The Special One bet that against a flat five-man backline, protected by three midfielders tucked in, that Barcelona (in something they failed spectacularly at against Mourinho’s Inter last year) would be forced to the flanks and then forced and baited into the over-the-top ball (sans Zlatan Ibrahimovic).

Didn’t work and Real Madrid got shredded. Xavi, for one continually found Pedro and Villa for through balls that compromised that tactic. And that, my friends, is the main story in this one.

• Beyond Appeasement

While many suggest the potential MLS schedule change to conform to the FIFA schedule is merely kowtowing to Sepp Blatter prior to Thursday AND that the schedule change has no chance of succeeding and further of being successful, consider this writer discenibly not in that camp.

I won’t go as far to say it will work, but consideration should be given and here are some reasons. One, it does make player movement that much easier and would push MLS into the player discussions that are going in May and August, etc.

Two, while some suggest it would be near death to go up against the NFL season at the start of the campaign, conversely, take the case of the Colorado Rapids who received nearly zero local attention in their playoff lead-up because of the Denver Broncos. It’s a double-edged sword.

Three, it’s not like the TV ratings have really been ablaze. If Fox and ESPN are not going to push the league in it’s current seasonal slot, might want to change it up there.

Again, I’m not a promoter, I’m just saying it’s worth consideration.

• Spec-tator no longer?

A Bundesliga report has West Ham sideline statue Jonathan Spector headed, possibly to FC Cologne, in January.

Excellent! Nearly anywhere for the US rightback would a be a good move as it’s hard to sell, “Multiple continuous DNPs for a relegation-bound EPL team” to other English suitors.

Carry on Johnny S.

• Trembling hands await Thursday

The big World Cup bid(s) announcement is Thursday.

Consider me in the camp of those that don’t put too much merit in the Qatar bid. Perhaps I’m wrong, but a country that rules out libation, has serious issues with “other nations” that might attend, sits in the desert during the summer (regardless of stadium plans) and has known ties to terrorism just doesn’t have, say, the right cache for me.

I think the Qatar push is likely one that pays a lot of football-associated officials up until bid time and pushes the US bid (and Australia bid–my 2nd favorite) to the most possible concessions and offerings.

• J.J. jonesing for playing time

US international Jermaine Jones has been sent to the reserves by manager Felix McGrath. McGrath has been at odds with the American-German star through his entire tenure that started in July of 2009.

With Jones having the never-ending shin injury last year, McGrath has never really seen him play at his best AND was forced to bring in his own type of players–Peer Kluge–to cover for Jones last year.

Let’s see where this heads.

• Probably for the better?

Stu Holden is scurrying to heal his injured thigh before this weekend’s match with Manchester City. Uh, Stuie, might want to sit that one out and make sure you’re 100% before being subjected to another Nigel De Jong tackle.

• Gary Smith, rightback converter

Marvell Wynne re-ups with Colorado. Awaiting terms…

That’s now two rightbacks, Drew Moor and Wynne, that Gary Smith has successfully pushed inside.

The (Self-Indulgent) BBC Report on FIFA

Have a view of this BBC documentary and ponder a few direct and indirect questions, including:

• Precisely what has the United States needed to do, promise and deliver to navigate their way to their current bid position?

• Is it okay to bring World Cup 2022 to the United States in a Machiavellian way of “by any means necessary?”

• And indirectly, with Sunil Gulati running the show, will 2010 perhaps be considered a stunning failure for the USSF president who won re-election to a four-year term in February if the US does not gain the 2022 World Cup (in combination with the Bob Bradley debacle and the CONCACAF tourney re-alignment)?

(TSG’s thoughts in that case? Yes)

Real Madrid versus Barcelona

The dynamic duo are running rampant per usual

I hope you all enjoyed that as much as I did. Off to have lunch! and some wine! OH and Barcelona are top of La Liga

As soccer fans we were treated to a show. USMNT fans. NOTICE what speed and skill can do versus a little and large like strike force!

The game had everything. Passion, amazing skill, goals, cards and strategy. What was surprising was that none of those were exhibited by Real Madrid, aside from the cards!

TWEEEEET TWEEEET TWEET as the ref smartly ends this massacre. Barcelona celebrates and Real are in shock. A complete embarrassment. What will tomorrow bring? Heads will roll?

93:00 – ARGY BARGY as Sergio Ramos crushes Messi and gets a straight red. Then there is a  lot of pushing as Puyol goes crashing down. This is more than handbags.

91:00 – GOOOOOOOOAAALLLJeffren taps it in after a lovely bit of work from Bojan who runs down the wing and sends in a great cross. Barcelona 5 – Real Madrid 0

89:00 – Di Maria gets a glimmer of space but holds the ball back for Ronaldo who accidentally kicks  the ball out of bounds, much to the delight of the Blaugrana faithful.

87:00 – Xavi leaves to a thunderous applause as Keita comes on to replace him. Do any of these Barca players, aside from David Villa go by both their names?

82:00 – Benzema looks like he is going to cry.

80:00 – What a montage. They showed the happy faces of the Barca players and then the anguished faces of the Real players. Real get a corner. This has been their only real attacking move of the second half.

77:00 – Bojan immediately gets sent through, but his legs fail him and he tumbles. Moments later he sends in a rocket of a shot that Casillas does well to parry.

76:00 - Bojan on for David Villa. Welcome to the Clasico David Villa. A job well done!

75:00 – Handbags are being thrown by each side, as Real are understandably frustrated. Still 15 minutes left!

72:00 – Benzema tries a backheel to comical effect. At least he wins a throw in and Real have consecutive touches with the ball.

70:00 – Barcelona have used their back heel more times in the past 5 minutes than Real have touched the ball. This is so much fun to watch!

Continue reading

The Biggest El Classico Yet…

El Clasico

There are always big games to be played each year, whether it be club or country. We as fans love rivalries. We either support one of the teams and hate the other, or we watch the game as neutrals, anticipating fireworks, good play and heated battles.

International games between rivals are few and far between, but we always enjoy Argentina – Brazil, England – Germany, Spain – Portugal, USA – Mexico etc…,but typically only during World Cups or regional competitions every 2 to 4 years. “Friendlies” fail to measure up.

Club games though, are far more frequent and because they are often played twice a season and sometimes in the case of cup competitions, 2 to 4 times more. This breeds anticipation and each win or loss, or hard tackle or dubious goal, is fresh in each club supporters minds when the sides meet again. Unlike a Yankees – Red Sox series, which in my opinion has lost some of its intensity, due to the fact they meet 17 times a season (playoffs aside), these soccer games are talked about for weeks ahead of time.

The two best players in the world going head to head...again

Rangers/Celtic, the Merseyside Derby, North London Derby, Milan Derby, Galatasaray/Fenerbache, Roma/Lazio, Boca/River Plate to name a few, are all great matches, where league standing is cast aside. It’s all about beating your rival at all costs.

Often in these situations, skill and smooth play is thrown out the window and the referee is handing out cards like a dealer at the Bellagio, but Mondays Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona at the Camp Nou could prove to be something different and here is why.

For the first time in awhile, we have two of the best players to ever play the game around at the same time (too young to see if they will eclipse Maradona, Pele, Zidane, Cruyff etc… but don’t bet against it if they continue down this vein) Not only that, they play in the same league and on Monday, Cristiano Ronaldo will face off against Lionel Messi.

Their supporting cast is not too shabby either and the managers are world class as well.

To borrow some stats from the other Guardian publication. 13 World Champions will be playing. The last two winners of the Balon D’or will be there. The reason its not the last 5 is that Kaka is injured and Cannavaro and Ronaldinho have been let go to “greener pastures”. The last 4 top goal scorers of the Champions League will be there. Basically one will be hard pressed to ever have had a club game with this much talent on the pitch.

Hopefully Mourinho will let them play attacking football

Currently Real Madrid are one point leaders with 32 points and Barcelona are second with 31. No offense to the rest of La Liga, but this is now a two horse race and the title might well come down to goal difference.

The only thing that will stop this being an amazing goal fest will be the “special ones” defensive tactics, but with Higuain, Ozil, Ronaldo, Alonso, Di Maria et al, how can one be defensive. Barcelona will be going with “guns a blazing”. Lets hope, the game will live up to its billing, if not, there will be another one very soon!

TSG will be doing our best to do live commentary. If not, we can all blame COMCAST for being a bunch of douchebags!

The Deuce Abides

Clint Dempsey equalizing against Birmingham

Clint Dempsey scored his 6th goal of the season (5 in the EPL and 1 in the Carling Cup) this Saturday against Birmingham. He’s well on his way of overhauling his single season scoring record in all club competitions of 8 (2008-09 season) and the season is only a third done.

Why the sudden spurt of goals from the attacking midfielder? It’s because, due to the injuries to Fulham’s forwards, Mark Hughes has had to use Dempsey as the other striker in his 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 formations, and the Deuce abides.

5 of his 6 goals have come from the forward position. Not only is he banging them in the net with quite a regularity, but he is also in just about every attacking move that Fulham is involved in.

Gone are the days of Dempsey being absent for large parts of the game (certainly for country, but was accused of this at Fulham as well). In this last game, he (and Eddie Johnson) both had chances to acquire all three points for Fulham, but their efforts went astray. Fulham fans have noticed as one can see from this fans match day recap “Murphy had an OK match, whilst Dempsey worked his socks off as always.”

Now it’s time for Bob Bradley to take note as well.

Up until his injury, Dembele has been a good strike partner for Deuce.

Dempsey’s strike partners at Fulham this season, have not been of the big hulking variety or that of the traditional English center forward. They’ve been either Diomansy Kamara, Andrew Johnson, Moussa Dembele (all fast) and off the bench compatriot Eddie Johnson. With the exception of Eddie Johnson, Dempsey has been taller and heavier than the others, which leads me to believe that he could very well lead the line for the USMNT.

An excellent article by Neil W. Blackmon talks about the duality of Clint Dempsey. How he disappears for country, when for club he is so immense, and I for one agree with all his points. The article is broken up into two parts and the second one hasn’t come out yet, but I think it’s time for Bradley to make Deuce the focal point of the USMNT attack.

This doesn’t mean make him the lone striker necessarily, though I could see him up top with Donovan just behind him, backed up by Edu, Holden, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley. As Blackmon suggests at the end of part one of his well written article, that maybe Bradley senior should follow in Hodgson and Hughes’s strategy for getting the best out of Dempsey.

In the past year, the USMNT have mainly used a combination of Altidore, Johnson, Findley, Buddle and Gomez as their forwards in Bradley’s preferred 4-4-2 formation. This has yielded satisfactory results at best, but the main attack on the USMNT (aside from conceding early goals) has been their lack of firepower.

When teams play with two strikers, either as two up front or with one withdrawn, they often go with big/tall striker who can knock down/control the ball for their partner (often a speedy goal poacher). This can be effective to a point (Rooney/Heskey, Heskey/Owen, Carrol/Davies come to mind). Bradley seems to try this strategy with Altidore and another striker, but after a year or so of tinkering it hasn’t produced.

USMNT's most potent forward line.

Once again, the age old adage that size doesn’t matter, but its how you use it that counts, is correct. Look at Messi/Villa, Villa/Torres, Sneijder/Van Persie, Forlan/Suarez, etc… These are all partnerships that combine skill and speed versus height and speed/skill etc… often with the clubs or countries two best attacking players. I think it’s time for Bradley to use Dempsey and Donovan as the two strikers.

Sure they will both be 31 and 32 respectively in 2014, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be very effective. Donovan will have a lost a step or two, but he will still be faster than most. Dempsey as we are seeing, is getting better with age and will be a perfect compliment to Donovan’s speed and ball control. With Mo Edu, Holden, Jones and Bradley behind them, there is enough creativity, youth and skill to cover for what the front of have lost.

Personally, I feel this should have been used in South Africa, but hindsight is 20/20. At the very least Bradley should try and partner someone as Dempsey’s strike partner. He has three years to find a winning combination, but what is certain is that making Dempsey the focal point of an attack will bring out for country, the same Deuce that plays for club.

Happy Thanksgiving…Break!

Little Miss TSG says hi!

A Happy Thanksgiving and happy holidays to the TSG community, everyone, and especially those overseas with their loved ones at home.

A Happy Gobble-gobble from Little Miss Shinguardian.

And Happy holidays from beautiful, sunny Sea Ranch, CA, where wild turkeys were chased by French Bulldogs this morning and where the surf is up (but the surfer is stuck in the kitchen.)

TSG will be publishing on an abbreviated schedule until December 1st, 2010 as we’ve got the family in town meeting the precious little one for the first time.

Cheers….and thank you all for reading and being a part of the TSG community.

A Candid Conversation With Mo Edu

Mo Edu: On the ball against Colombia...

Way back when we started The Shin Guardian Maurice Edu was the first player to recognize our publication on Twitter.

Later that year in October, when we worked with groups of fans to initiate the Charlie Davies Salute at RFK following his horrific accident, it was again Mo Edu that recognized our effort and was the first to get the word out–despite dealing with his own grief.

There is a reason that Mo Edu has more followers than any other U.S. player on Twitter and that’s because it’s easy to see he’s just a genuine guy.

Follow him on Twitter and you’ll see.

He’s always responding to those that reach out to him, even though he is, you know, a Champions League player, now a World Cup veteran, and an integral part of one of the most storied clubs in all of sports, Glasgow Rangers.

Ladies and gentleman, finally, our conversation with Mo Edu:

(Note: This conversation taped before Edu’s knee injury that will rule him out of tomorrow’s Manchester United clash at Ibrox.)

TSG: Well first, I’m not going to ask you about some of the following popular subjects, like: “The World Cup” “Slovenia goal” “Ghana” and “Ricardo Clark.”

Mo Edu: Okay, very cool. Thanks.

TSG: I hear Sky Sports reports all the time referring to you as “Morris” and then the States reports referring to you as “Maurice.” Do you go by Morris, Maurice, or Mo?

Mo: Mo. It’s just Mo. I prefer Mo.

TSG: Straightaway. Good. I can stop guessing or, rather, messing that up.

Okay, let’s get rolling. Recently you became the first American to score twice in a Champions League match. (Maurice Edu scored against Valencia and then (d’oh) diverted one into his own net afterward. The Rangers drew Valencia in that one, 1-1.)

Talk about that.

Mo: [Laughing] I mean, it was a great game. I would have obviously liked for both of those two goals to be for our team…

It was great to score my first Champions League goal, but not winning the game was obviously more disappointing.

TSG: Tell me about the difference in playing a league game versus a Champs League game. Is it the publicity and the press? The mindset? Is there a different mentality at all?

Mo: Well, first it’s expectations. In the domestic league, we’re expected to win every game. Every game we’re pretty much the favorites. And we’ve done well in our league this year and lived up to it.

In the Champions League, we’re playing the best in the world. We’re the underdogs and our formation in those games, the 4-5-1, reflects this and is a reflection of the quality of the teams we’re playing against.

Obviously the Champions League is more difficult and, no disrespect to the SPL, but it’s just a different feel.

TSG: Is there a different feel in practice during those weeks as well? Is there more intensity in preparation?

Mo: Nah, to be honest…everyone just gets excited for the Champions League. We all look forward to it.

We know it’s huge. It’s a pretty big opportunity for us to play in those games. For our team.

I think because of how we’ve done thus far this season in the league, we’re pretty confident going into the games [in the CL] and think we can do something special this year.

TSG: What’s been the best or unique experience in traveling for the Champions League?

Old Trafford...quiet for a brief moment...

Mo: Playing in different, storied stadiums. We played at Old Trafford and the Mestalla in Spain–two historical stadiums.

Playing in those stadiums is something that you dream of as a kid. Obviously Old Trafford is the home one of the most renowned clubs in the world and has a great atmosphere.

That [playing at Old Trafford] being my first Champions League game it was very exciting. It’s a special moment to play there.

Then when we play at home in Champions League it’s second to none because of the good turnout by our fans and how much energy there is for those games.

Champions League games at Ibrox are something special. You really have to be there to witness just what the feeling is.

TSG: I spoke to some of the Rangers supporters and they wanted to know this specifically-worded question, “How freaky do you find the Rangers-Celtics rivalry?”

Mo: I mean, well first and foremost, for those that don’t know, it’s the biggest sports rivalry in the world. [A little more about it here.]

The lead-up to those games are just full of excitement. When the games kickoff…well, I’ve never been let down.

The passion that goes into the game by each team and the passion and the hatred that goes against the other teams by the fans is just amazing.

It’s a game we all relish and look forward to and I’ve never been let down.

I’ve been fortunate enough to score in one and I always really enjoy the games actually.

TSG: In terms of that rivalry–and while the Scottish Premier League is itself a very physical league–it’s hard not notice how many more fouls there are in the Celtics-Rangers game and just how unbelievably physical the matches are.

Do you notice that out on the field?

Mo: Well, it’s always hard because the week before there is so much hype leading up to the game. It’s the only thing that people talk about all week. Everywhere you look around town the week before the game is all about the game.

There’s a large buildup going into the game…so when the game kicks off there is a lot of energy, a lot of passion and emotion that’s already built up and now let go on the field.

You try to keep a calm head and not get wound up in all the silliness that goes on, but it’s hard not to feel it.

TSG: You mentioned earlier in your career–when you were at Toronto FC–that it was important for you to go to a well-known, established club to learn. What have you improved about your game at Rangers?

Mo: Well, overall, it’s maturing.

I’ve become a more well-rounded player; I’ve tried to become good at all the little things in the game. The biggest part though has been growing up and maturing though.

David Weir, going hard in a Celtics-Rangers clash...

TSG: Another question from the Ibrox faithful here: Do you expect to play as long as Sir David Weir?

Mo: [chuckles] I’d love to. He’s definitely elite. He’s a true professional. He’s a dedicated athlete. He takes care of his body and that’s a testament to him that he’s played as long as he has at his level.

I don’t think many players go on and play as long as he does and it’d be fortunate if I could do that…

TSG: Let’s transition to the U.S. team. I want to go back to October because one of the focal points of camp was your position on the team, specifically playing centerback instead of midfield.

Now it’s not a position you hadn’t played, but it’s not the one you’ve honed and improved yourself with at Rangers. How did that get set up? Did you come in the first day and were you playing central defense already?

Mo: When I first got there he [Bob] gave me a heads up and said that…they were going to look at me back there and for me to keep an open mind.

So that’s how I went about the week and attempted to learn from the guys around me.

TSG: Was there a specific reason–better distribution or pressing speed–that Bob put you back there? What was the impetus for it?

Mo: I mean, he tried to explain to me that I had good attributes that might lead me to do well back there. He wanted to give me a chance to experience it and for them to see how it could work out.

TSG: How do you feel it worked out?

Mo: I thought it was alright. It went okay, not the greatest. I didn’t feel too out of my comfort zone. I think as the game wore on, I got better.

I mean I don’t think I’m a seasoned vet back there or anything, but it was alright.

Edu: Grew comfortable as the game wore on...

TSG: At the end of camp, you next played in the three-man midfield against Colombia. So what was the overall feedback of the camp in playing those two positions?

Mo: Basically, the feedback was that he thinks that I have some quality beneficial to play centerback. That was about it.

TSG: Do you have the sense that you’ll be tried out there permanently? Or will you continue to get runs at both positions? Is the latter a fair statement or am I putting words in your mouth?

Mo: Well, like I said, they see me as a center midfielder but with the option that I could possibly play centerback if needed.

TSG: Okay, let’s move on, some teammate questions for you.

Which player do you want with you if you’re about get in a brawl in a bar?

Mo: Gooch, easily.

And…for Rangers, Kirk Broadfoot.

TSG: Who’s the best ball striker you’ve ever played with from a scoring perspective. Who’s got the sweetest shot on goal?

Mo: Clint strikes the ball well. He’s got good technique and when he gets it…yeah.

TSG: What players do or did you learn the most from at Gers?

Scottish and Gers great Barry Ferguson...

Mo: Barry Ferguson and Pedro Mendes. Every day in training, I learned something from those guys. Those were the guys I tried to emulate.

TSG: Okay, what are your aspirations for your level of play in the future? Where do you see yourself progressing to, level-wise or league-wise?

Mo: I’ve always been a fan of Arsenal. They’re my favorite team, so I could see myself there at some point. Then when you watch a team like Barcelona you obviously like to think about possibly playing there with the way they move the ball.

TSG: Is your agent based overseas?

Mo: No, in the States.

TSG: So how does it work…your contract is up in two more years. Does the club come to you and say something to the effect of, “We’re trying to get a return on investment and we’re shopping you around”?

Or do you, the player, say, “I want to go somewhere else”?

Or do you just wait to six months before the end of the contract and that necessitates the conversation?

Mo: It could happen numerous ways and either the first two ways you described are the most likely ones.

As a player, though, you try not to think of that stuff at all. When you think too much about that stuff, you’re game goes down.

That’s why you hire the agent.

TSG: Okay, carefully then: has there been chatter about you moving given your age and the solid campaign that you’re having this year?

Mo: [Laughing] I don’t know. I had a couple of rough seasons with injuries and this is the first year I haven’t really been injured.

Right now, I’m focused on helping my team out and getting some trophies to Ibrox.

TSG: Okay, fair enough.

Something people don’t know, is that your father had a stroke a few years ago. I wanted to ask you about this because my mother is afflicted with something similar called AVM (Arterio-Venous Malformation).

Has he ever been able to come over and watch you play?

Mo: It’s difficult for them to come over. He hasn’t been able to come over.

The last camp back in the States in Chicago, that’s the first time he was able to see me play in a while.

It was really good for him to come see me play. My brother comes over here often though.

TSG: In terms of playing in front of your father, talk about how special it is since he can’t come aboard.

Mo: My father introduced me to the game at a young age and now he can’t come to most of my games. He was my first coach. He doesn’t have as big a role now and that’s difficult sometimes.

When he does get a chance to see me play it’s very special. I try hard every game, but those games when he’s there are really important.

TSG: Does he follow you on TV?

Mo: They try to get as many games as they can.

TSG: Do you catch up after the games on the phone and talk about them?

Mo: It’s difficult, you know, given his condition… [pauses…]

TSG: Okay…let’s change up the thinking. There are a number of high-profile Americans now abroad from old timers like Friedel and Cherundolo to the young guys like yourself, Stu and Jozy. How’s the “player network” help for Americans abroad?

Mo: It’s good having all the guys here and around Europe.

Sometimes you feel all alone overseas, but now you can go visit a lot more with a lot of the guys you played with either growing up or in camps. For me personally I haven’t had the time to go visit; I’ve had a lot of midweek games, but I’m looking forward to getting out to see the guys.

Stuart had a chance to come catch the game at Old Trafford.

Jozy had a chance to watch the game in Spain.

It’s just good having friends around.

TSG: I’ll leave it there for the day. I wanted to thank you for always supporting The Shin Guardian from our initial days. You’ve always been supportive and given us the time of day and I thank you for that.

Mo: Oh man, no problem, my pleasure.

TSG: And we’ve grown quite a bit. We averaged about a half million readers per month during the World Cup and we’re growing!

Mo: Really, no worries. Glad I could play my role in it.

……….

Mo Edu, genuine.

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