Archive for November, 2010

MLS: Jay Bell’s Expanding Viewpoint

TSG’s Jay Bell takes a look at the MLS club non-protected lists.

On Wednesday, Portland and Vancouver will take the first steps in truly building their MLS teams. Each will select 10 players who they feel will best fit the direction and identity of the team. Both look to be more ambitious than Philadelphia was last season, who went with youth. Both teams have already signed initial players and look to add more outside of the MLS avenues. Vancouver is likely to carry several more over from their Division 2 squad.

We take a look at what the lists of unprotected players means for each team as well as potential targets of the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Chicago Fire’s list: Nery Castillo, Andrew Dykstra, Collins John, Krzysztof Krol, Freddie Ljungberg, Peter Lowry, Dasan Robinson, John Thorrington, Deris Umanzor.

What it means for them: Not much really. Chicago was able to protect all of their valued assets. Their unprotected list is filled with players that would be risks for Vancouver or Portland, but that Chicago could still build off of. Goalkeepers are not likely to be picked in the expansion draft and the Designated Players are too risky for the new teams.

What it means for the expansion draft: Lowry and Robinson could be targeted for valuable depth. Thorrington could also be looked to for a reliable veteran presence.

Chivas USA’s list: Carlos Borja, Jonathan Bornstein,Chukwudi Chijindu, Rodolfo Espinoza, Maykel Galindo, Alan Gordon, Dan Kennedy, Eduardo Lillingston, Giancarlo Maldonado, Gerson Mayen, Jesus Padilla, Osael Romero, Marcelo Saragosa, Mariano Trujillo, Alex Zotinca.

What it means for them: Chivas seems to be daring them to select one or two of their Hispanic attackers. Meanwhile Braun, Zizzo, Gavin, Lahoud, etc. are all protected. Chivas likely has a different plan than the one Vasquez had in mind.

What it means for the expansion draft: Chivas’ risky players cost less than Chicago’s, so they’re more tempting. An accomplished player like Maldonado may benefit in a different system and the expansion teams like players with upside, like Padilla.

Cummings, protected, but probably going...

Colorado Rapids’ list: Andre Akpan, Quincy Amarikwa, Stewart Ceus, Ian Joyce, Ross LaBauex, Claudio Lopez, Ciaran O’Brien, Scott Palguta, Ross Schunk, Wells Thompson, Peter Vagenas, Anthony Wallace.

What it means for them: Colorado protected their spine. That includes Cummings despite the possibility of losing him this summer. They never had great depth this season anyway, so they will need to address that this offseason.

What it means for the expansion draft: Two names jump off of this list: Wells Thompson and Anthony Wallace. Both became regulars down the stretch for the new MLS Cup champions. Wallace is young with upside; a perfect candidate. If they lose one, expect the other two switch to the protected list.

Columbus Crew’s list: Eric Brunner, Kevin Burns, Jason Garey, Leandre Griffit, Andy Gruenebaum, Frankie Hejduk, Adam Moffat, Duncan Oughton, Gino Padula, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Joshua Williams.

What it means for them: The Crew has already declined the options on its oldest players and will not have the grind of the Champions League next season. They’re looking to go younger and build for the next several years.

What it means for the expansion draft: Portland and Vancouver probably won’t select a goalkeeper, but if they did, Gruenebaum would be the one to target. Brunner, Garey, Griffit, Moffat, and Oughton are all solid MLS players. Columbus should lose two in the draft.

DC United’s list: Dan Allsopp, Brandon Barklage, Adam Cristman, Jordan Graye, Pablo Hernandez, Devon McTavish, Kurt Morsink, Juan Pena, Troy Perkins, Barry Rice, Carlos Varela..

What it means for them: Injuries ravaged a team that felt like they had a chance to make the playofffs. They hope to get the pieces back together this year. There is not much risk on the unprotected list as Hernandez never produced as they hoped.

What it means for the expansion draft: Portland and Vancouver are left with slim pickings. The better players are the riskiest in Perkins and Hernandez. One of them may take a flier on Barklage, Cristman, or McTavish late in the draft.

FC Dallas’ list: Eric Avila, Jeff Cunningham, Kyle Davies, Edson Edward, Bruno Guarda, Atiba Harris, Daniel Hernandez, Dax McCarty, Milton Rodriguez, Dario Sala, Jason Yeisley.

What it means for them: This team was deep and it shows. Dallas was just unable to protect all of their important pieces. The players that they do not lose will help them in their Champions League quest next season.

Dax going somewhere....

What it means for the expansion draft: How does Dax McCarty not get taken? He is a midfield cog that would provide experience, work rate, bite, etc. that is all desired in an expansion midfield. Avila, Guarda, and Harris are also dynamic young attacking players. Davies could get snatched up also unless he is put on the protected list after McCarty is taken.

Houston Dynamo’s list: Samuel Appiah, Corey Ashe, Ryan Cochrane, Richard Mulrooney, Joseph Ngwenya, Anthony Obodai, Dominic Oduro, Pat Onstad, Eddie Robinson.

What it means for them: Houston locked up their midfield and defense. TSG interviewee Geoff Cameron said they felt like they had the pieces. He’s probably right. Without any extra competitions, Houston’s core and a potential Designated Player (Gio . . . ?) should push for the playoffs again.

What it means for the expansion draft: If either team wants to athleticism, Ashe and Oduro can give them that. What if Vancouver wants to solidify their defensive depth and select Robinson? Is the league ready for a Demerit/Robinson pairing?

Los Angeles Galaxy’s list: Gregg Berhalter, Alex Cazumba, Leonardo Da Silva, Bryan Jordan, Jovan Kirovski, Dema Kovalenko, Mike Magee, Yohance Marshall, Brian Perk, Josh Saunders.

What it means for them: Retirements have already affected the team and there may be more. They were already going to need to get younger soon.

What it means for the expansion draft: Bryan Jordan would be a valuable hustle player in an inaugural season. Mike Magee is the most likely to be picked.

New England Revolution’s list: Zak Boggs, Preston Burpo, Nico Colaluca, Kheli Dube, Cory Gibbs, Jason Griffiths, Roberto Linck, Tim Murray, Pat Phelan, Seth Sinovic, Khano Smith, Ilija Stolica.

What it means for them: The team is finally moving forward past Ralston and Twellman. Kraft will have to allow Nicol to pick up some pieces if this team will return to the playoffs.

What it means for the expansion draft: Gibbs is 30, but how would that be for solidifying an expansion defense? New England should lose two with Phelan and Sinovic as the prime candidates.

New York Red Bulls’ list: Juan Pablo Angel, Andrew Boyens, Conor Chinn, Austin da Luz, Irving Garcia, Brian Nielsen, Carl Robinson, Ibrahim Salou, Luke Sassano, Greg Sutton, Carey Talley, Sinisa Ubiparipovic.

What it means for them:: With retirements, New York protected their important assets.

What it means for the expansion draft: They’re not going to pick up the salaries of Robinson or Salou. Angel is out already. Sassano and Ubiparipovic are workhorses in the midfield. One could get taken. Chinn and da Luz are also young players with upside.

Philadelphia Union’s list: Cristian Arrieta, Eduardo Coudet, Fred, Andrew Jacobson, Brad Knighton, Stefani Miglioranzi, Alejandro Moreno, Joseph Noone, Shea Salinas, Chris Seitz, Nick Zimmerman.

What it means for them: Nowak is staying with his plan. The team was young this season and they’ll still be young next season.

What it means for the expansion draft: Neither Vancouver nor Portland should go after older guys with big salaries: Arrieta, coudet, Fred, Migs, and Moreno. The team is young, but there are a lot of them. Philadelphia may lose two out of Jacobsen, Salinas, and Zimmerman.

Real Salt Lake’s list: Jean Alexandre, Pablo Campos, Robbie Findley, Nelson Gonzalez, Ned Grabavoy, David Horst, Rauwshan McKenzie, Timothy Melia, Alex Nimo, Kyle Reynish, Robbie Russell, Chris Shuler, Collen Warner, Andy Williams.

What it means for them: Same core going going forward.

What it means for the expansion draft RSL isn’t really risking losing Russell and Williams because of their age. The expansion sides may be interested in Alexandre or Grabavoy, as well as Warner and Gonzalez. Findley is trying his chances in Europe, but that would be a high-reward risk if he gets taken in the 9th or 10th rounds.

San Jose Earthquakes’ list: Arturo Alvarez, Andre Luiz, Steve Beitashour, Bobby Burling, Joe Cannon, Ramiro Corrales, Eduardo, Geovanni, Cornell Glen, Chris Leitch, Justin Morrow, Brad Ring, Tim Ward.

What it means for them: Yallop’s bunch will be back at it again next year if Wondolowski can keep the goals flowing.

What it means for the expansion draft: Geovanni is left out there, but Portland and Vancouver probably have their own ideas for DP’s. Arturo Alvarez is a dynamic attacker not common in the unprotected lists. Burling and Ward are the most likely to be selected.

Seattle Sounders FC’s list: Julian Baudet, Terry Boss, Danny Earls, David Estrada, Leonardo Gonzalez, Taylor Graham, Patrick Ianni, Roger Levesque, Tyrone Marshall, Miguel Montano, Blaise Nkufo, Pat Noonan, Sanna Nyassi, Zach Scott, Michael Seamon, Nathan Sturgis, Tyson Wahl.

What it means for them:: The Sounders had a deep squad. They needed one to win the US Open Cup, make the MLS playoffs, and compete in Champions League.

What it means for the expansion draft: I said Alvarez was rare in this draft, but Nyassi is here too. The Sounders are riddled with talented youngsters: Ianni, Montano, Seamon, Sturgis, Estrada, Wahl, etc. Gonzalez and Levesque are two veterans that will be considered. Seattle is another team that could lose two .

Sporting Kansas City’s list: Korede Aiyegbusi, Jamar Beasley, Sunil Chhetri, Jimmy Conrad, Birahim Diop, Zoltan Hercegfalvi, Aaron Hohlbein, Nick Koenenakis, Eric Kronberg, Jonathan Leathers, Chance Myers, Shavar Thomas, Josh Wolff.

What it means for them: The team formerly known as the Wizards did not have a bunch of important pieces this season. Conrad was the oldest and left out.

What it means for the expansion draft: Chance Myers is another young player to build a defense with. Leathers and Thomas are the only other two I could see being picked.

Toronto FC’s list: Chad Barrett, Julian deGuzman, Gabe Gala, Nick Garcia, Raivis Hscanovics, Fuad Ibrahim, Milos Kocic, Miguel Angel Ferrer Martinez, Joseph Nane, Amadou Sanyang, Martin Saric, Maxim Usanov, O’Brian White.

What it means for them: They brought in the German, but this team is still in turmoil. For a team that should be trying to get younger, they left most of their best young players unprotected.

What it means for the expansion draft: Almost everybody seems like a possibility depending on what direction Vancouver and Portland take. Attackers (Ibrahim, White, Barrett), midfielders (Saris, Sanyang, Nane, etc.), and defenders (Hscanovics, Usanov). A lot of those players seem like they could thrive in a better situation.

MLS Movable Parts Rolling Ticker

I can’t keep up with this, so you folks are going to have to help:

Warner...not Findley

• Both Robbie Findley and Collen Warner left unprotected by Real Salt Lake….not that they should have been protected over those that were.

I think the Timbers or Whitecaps are more likely to take a shot on Warner who’s shown flashes of having more potential than Robbie Findley already hasn’t realized. Also, signs point to Findley seeking work abroad.

• Love the Union moves over the past 18 months. Justin Mapp, Roger Torres, Brad Knighton, Sebastian Le Toux.

And now Brian Carroll, exactly what the team needs. Savvy veteran in the middle of the park.

What will Philly do on the backline now?

• Jeremy Hall to Portland. Young back, developing in the confines of Portland. Nice move Timbers. Don’t expect to see any more New Yorkers heading westward now.

• Allocation Central: The Timbers send some cash to the L.A. and in return procure an allocation slot for the 2011 and 2012 seasons. L.A. gains it back after that. There’s something exciting about an international slot headed to Portland…

Snippets: On The MLS Cup Final & More

More from the Colorado Rapids 2-1 victory over FC Dallas in Toronto Sunday night and around the league news today:

• It’s not the coaches Paul Gardner; it’s the officiating

Nearly 100% shut down amid a brutish clash....

Noted curmudgeon Paul Gardner had a notorious moment on last week’s MLS media conference call with Don Garber’s State of the League address.

Gardner ranted about the quality of the league and suggested that MLS front office did little to aid coaches in his estimation–like Jason Kreis–who were putting a sublime product field.

Gardner’s opine would be way off-base in describing last night’s affair. The causal relationship last night stemmed exclusively from the loose regulation by the referees.

It is somewhat incredulous that, in a nationally televised game on a major cable station, the league didn’t see fit to ensure that it’s referees called a game that would produce a more flowing match.

As the game wore on it became increasingly clear that imposing your body on the opponent was a necessity to either maintaining possession or maintaining a tackle.

Cause and effect of that? Boot City up the field as both teams looked to bypass the attritional endeavor in the middle of the field.

• Have the Rapids done enough to uplevel?

Two pieces of commentary last week and last night in the wake of the Rapids victory.

Colorado Rapids owner Stan Kroenke: How about upping the ante with a DP big guy and tossing around ideas of the "d" word.....

One, an interview I heard with Rapids’ assistant coach Paul Bravo where he mentioned that it was a “big thing” for Colorado to take a private charter to Toronto. Shouldn’t be.

And…had the occasion to speak with Matt Crawford who played for the Rapids from 2003-2007 last night at the bar. Crawford is an “uber-Rudy” if you will, chosen 38th in the MLS SuperDraft in 2003 and given little chance to make the team, Crawford made the cut as a defender, but went to play four strong years in the midfield on guile alone.

Crawford hung up due to injuries–a nasty hip one (see Kyle Martino); he didn’t get jettisoned due to skill.

Asked Crawford if the Rapids operation was as below average as many suggested.

His positive reply, “Oh yeah, atrocious. We really didn’t get any amenities at all.” Two of the better owners in the league, “Phil Anshutz and Dave Checketts.”

Nice to have a Rapids vet to commiserate with last evening.

• Okay, maybe we can sneak this guy through

Okay, we’ve been head down in MLS Finals and frankly diapers. Anyone care to fill us in with who to expect to be protected and cut loose for today’s MLS club expansion lists?

Who are the Whitecaps and Timbers looking at?

More notes:

» Seattle Sounders wingman Steve Zakuani goes to Goodison (home of the Everton Toffees) for training.

» From last week: Freddy Adu (we don’t cover him much at TSG for good reason) possibly headed to Danish club Randers. Playing time Freddy. Doesn’t matter where you go. Just, you know, do it.

You think Nike is a little bashful up their Adu hype at this point at all? (This one’s good too.)

» One from the EPL: The Dirty Tackle skewers Dimitar Berbatov who after acting interested earlier in the season has now went missing.

Even the great Jonathan Wilson occasionally gets one wrong.

Lunchpail: Colorado Crowned 2010 MLS Champs

The Colorado Rapids come away with the victory Sunday night in Toronto as they rally from a goal deficit to wash out FC Dallas in the MLS Cup final, 2-1.

Your 2010 MLS Champs....

In what could be described as a true dig-in and hold-your-ground tug of war, the Rapids voraciously defended their central midfield and used a Conor Casey toe-poke from a sprawled position and a Mac Kandji-initiated Dallas own goal to down MLS MVP David Ferreira–who had his team’s lone tally–and FC Dallas.

TSG’s Jason Price and I took in the game at Danny Coyles in San Francisco with the crew from Center Line Soccer and Die Hipster Brewmaster Scott Riley (pushing hard for a Dax McCarty championship ring). Jason and I compiled many of the thoughts below:

• Take a bow, Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz

While many will erroneously tout Jeff Larentowicz exclusively–who was himself near flawless in possession in his defensive third–it was specifically the combination of Pablo Mastroeni and the Big Red Mountain Man who shut down the Dallas midfield and made finding lynchpin David Ferreira exceedingly difficult.

Big Red and Sayid were not "Lost" on their island in the midfield...

Countless times throughout the game, the Hoops attempted to ping it through the middle and whether it was Ferreira, Dax McCarty or a checking back Atiba Harris, the Hoops found no joy.

That David Ferreira, in particular, was quieted without Pablo Mastroeni earning a card was something that was incredulous to this writer before the showdown.

The continued stymieing of the Dallas attack in the middle combined with Brek Shea’s absenteeism on the left, resigned Dallas to forcing the ball down the right flank to Marvin Chavez, who created a chance or two but was not nearly proficient enough for what was demanded of him on the evening. (Note: Chavez was good, but too much was asked of him.)

TSG suggested that Conor Casey would have to be withdrawn or that the Rapids couldn’t defend the central midfield with just the Larentowicz-Mastroeni bookend all night long and hope to win. Consider us proved wrong, pleasantly, by the display.

• The Conor Casey Workhorse

You knew Conor Casey was feeling it when late in the game the knockaround guy attempted a little double stutter step move on the left wing in the hopes of deking his way around two defenders.

Honduras all over again....

In a physical game that favored Casey’s elbow-flailing style, the Colorado man was an absolute necessity to the Colorado game plan and he came up aces (and with some MVP hardware.)

Beyond Casey’s goal from the ground to knot the score early in the first half, Casey was absolutely vital to the attack as Dallas’ game plan forced the ball away from Omar Cummings who in turn failed to rise to the occassion.55th minute

As Cummings faded from the Colorado offense, Casey was moved outside from his normal central forward role to provide a hold-up play and draw out the Dallas central defense.

With Casey creating numerous threats on the outside, it in turn created space in the midfield as Daniel Hernandez and friends were constantly forced to come out and help out their central backbone.

• Pickens, Moor, Wynne and even Andrew Wallace: Take A Bow

TSG’s Jason Price–an experienced keeper–and I acknowledged three massive mistakes that led to David Ferreira running on to an Eric Chavez cross and coolly depositing home the game’s initial score.

First, Andrew Wallace–who bent but didn’t break on the evening–gave up way too much of an angle in letting Chavez’s cross even find the box.

Next Drew Moor failed to run with Ferreira into the box on the quick countering play–allowing Ferreira a direct angle to receiving the service.

Finally, Matt Pickens–slow off his line all season long–was mostly decisive in coming out, but negligent in failing to get there. You have to get there.

The result? A lead for Dallas.

The 2nd half saw all the Rocky Mountain actors in that play take a step along with Marvell Wynne who continues to impress in his move from right back.

(In fact, Jason related a quote attributed to Colorado coach Gary Smith when asked early in the season about Wynne being the starting central back. It paraphrases to this, “Marvell is going to be just fine. He doesn’t have the license to go forward now.”)

Dallas may have had 17 shots to seven for Colorado, but the Rapids central defense and keeper proved up to the task demanded in their final game of the season.

• Mac Attack

TSG interviewed Mac Kandj on Thursday of this week and suggested the big fella would be a highly unlikely, but possible a factor come late Sunday night.

Kandji came on for an inefficient Omar Cummings and somehow managed to be a difference maker.

Well played…Jason Price and TSG.

Some other notes:

»Dealing with Cummings:

While Omar Cummings should be held accountable for failing to go find the ball, it was, two keen tactical moves by Schellas Hyndman–who should still be commended on his evening’s game plan–that led to Cummings vanishing act.

First, was Dallas continually keeping the ball away from Cummings side of the field.

Second, and perhaps more subtly was disciplined positioning by the Dallas backline combined, more notably, with Kevin Hartman playing way off his line in the back to make the space that Cummings could have to receive the ball over the top infinitesimal. At times, I thought Hartman was guarding the 18-yard line, not his goal line!

As Jason and I noted, a smart chip from the top of the offensive third might have earned Colorado an equalizer earlier in the game if Larentowicz or Mastroeni had looked for it.

» How Far Can “Evening Out” Go:

Jair Benitez should have probably earned a red card, but definitely a yellow as he battled Conor Casey in the box in the first half.

The play saw Casey initiate (and foul) Benitez, but then Benitez leg whip and trip Casey after the ball was at his feet.

After the play, it seemed the refs were intent on letting Casey have his way with ticky-tack fouls all over the pitch all night long on Dallas players.

On one play in the 2nd half, Casey–in a move we’ve seen from him before–purposely stepped on the back heel of one of the Dallas players.

It’s tough to take anything away from Casey as the game was called extremely loose and he was allowed to play as such, but consider this an addendum to the Casey praise above.

» Oops, listened to the wrong tunes on my iPod in pre-game

Colorado’s Brian Mullan and FC Dallas man Brek Shea cancelled each out. Both came out listlessly and couldn’t find their groove the entire game.

Shea was eventually substituted for Jeff Cunningham–an understandable but curious move as Cunningham likes contact as much as a nun in a singles bar–while Mullan should likely have went to the bench early in favor of Wells Thompson by our volition.

Zach Lloyd for the Texas men also look inexperience and unsettled.

TSG’s 2010 MLS Cup Final Preview

It’s Los Angeles vs. New York.

MLS Cup 2010 is upon us: Even the logos have come a long way...

Wait..wait…wait it’s Real Salt Lake vs. Columbus.

Nope, not that either.

The MLS Champion will be coronated Sunday and the two teams vying for the right to wear crisp straight-brim hats in front of the camera and t-shirts that are way too bit will be the Colorado Rapids and the FC Dallas Hoops.

Perhaps unexpected, but the match-up? Infinitely thrilling, with tactical battles circled all over the pitch like a block of honeycomb.

In fact, in Colorado and Dallas you have two teams on-form that played to two draws during the season. The game shouldn’t be a blowout; unless one of the coaches refuses to make adjustments like Bruce Arena failed to last week.

The clash will, again for Dallas, be a battle of high pressure and midfield supremacy, while Colorado will look to dictate the tempo and wriggle free the best MLS strike tandem of Conor Casey and Omar Cummings.

Here’s what we’re looking at….

• Omar-velous

O-Marvelous

Mr. Cummings. Oh Mr. Cummings. This…this match…this is your game to win.

FC Dallas has not faced a full-game speed threat like Cummings who’s got the moxie to finish in these playoffs and their 4-1-4-1 and high line of pressure is not really suited for it.

The closest the Hoops have come to a Cummings-type is the not-exactly-proficient Robbie Findley, who nevertheless created some opportunities in Dallas on the front end of the Real Salt Lake series and then scored the lone goal for the ‘Lakers when Dallas played a mile high.

Unlike Findley, Cummings will make you pay if you make a mistake and with Conor Casey behind him he has an efficient target guy to work off, around, over and through.

Look for Cummings to attack centrally and then diagonally to the corner behind Jair Benitez.

Benitez will need to come to play on Sunday night because if Dallas is forced to draw out to the flank to give him help,  it will take the shape out of the Colorado midfield and play into Dallas’ relentless upfield pressure.

(However, it should be noted that Colorado outshot Dallas to the tune of 29 shots (17 for Dallas) with 11 on goal (7 for Dallas) across their two draws this season)

• It’s Not Always the Coaches Fault, But…

Oddly, not a peep about Bruce Arena’s or Jason Kreis tactics in the wake of FC Dallas dismantling the two in the playoffs.

Dabbled in geniusness

Both–Arena more so–were outcoached by Schellas Hyndman.

A simple question, you and I are about to rumble in a death match. Assuming you’re not bringing any Pachiaos and I’m not bringing any Roy Jones Jr.s (in his prime)….I bring five guys, you bring four guys.

Who wins?

With Atiba Harris up top against L.A. and Jeff Cunningham up top against RSL, Dallas outletted to their chosen striker when the play dictated it, but otherwise punished the other teams in the middle–either maintaining possession on offense or shutting down linkage on defense.

That Javier Morales was missing for RSL in the bumper match was a much bigger issue than first thought in retrospect.

However, Dallas simply had more men in the middle, and then had the dangerous David Ferreira above them. On defense, you had two four-men midfields having to account for Dallas’ speed on the wings and then David Ferreira at all times in the middle, cue plenty of linking space for the likes of Daniel Hernandez and Dax McCarty.

What will Colorado do here? Now, cue key player number two: Pablo Mastroeni.

Who didn’t love the ‘Maestro’s USMNT tenure?

That said, Colorado picked up Jeff Larentowicz this year to help out the aging Mastroeni. As good as Mastroeni is, he can’t possibly run with Ferreira and the Dallas pace the entire day…nearly the entire day he can, but not the entire day.

Your move Gary Smith.

Do you drop Conor Casey deep to help out and for outlet purposes and allow Dallas to push up the park?

Or do you go it 4-on-5, a tactic that put your predecessors to the sword?

I’ll be burning my eyes watching how the Rapids manages the midfield on both offense and defense against the Hoops. If Dax McCarty specifically, is getting free and creating chances in the 2nd 15 minutes or so….well you know Gary Smith should rethink his strategy at halftime.

All about the tempo...will Shea flourish?

• So we arrive at wing play

Perhaps….perhaps this game will turn on the flanks then.

And continually, perhaps the wingers will be a slave to the tempo that has been dictated.

On the Colorado side of the ball you have steely veteran Brian Mullan and the versatile Wells Thompson. A patient game favors the mountain boys.

In the mirror, you have Chavez and Brek Shea and if all hell is breaking loose up and down the pitch, both are likely part of it and causing an offensive ruckus.

• The “Y” Factor

Sir Andrew Wallace–Colorad’s outside backer–play with confidence. If you have a howler?

You can’t have a howler.

Prediction:

Consider TSG sufficiently scared of the damage that Omar Cummings can inflict in this one.

Should Dallas contain Cummings, I see an FC Dallas win by the slimmest of margins, 2-1 perhaps. If the game goes late in the evening, I stick with Dallas as well as my confidence with Kevin Hartman is much higher than Matt Pickens who tends to not deal with balls more than five yards off his line all that well.

It’s Dallas…unless Omar Cummings dazzles.

Bay Area Represent: Sebastian Lletget

You could say the most promising American at West Ham these days doesn’t play fullback.

West Ham media speaks with midfielder Sebastien Lletget who first graced the pitch at Brisbane Park, just a short hop from San Francisco proper.

Lletget —who journeyed to Upton Park and planted roots at 13–will be in Peach City with the US U-20 crew next week.

ESPN UK’s Rebecca Lowe On All Things English

The lovely Rebecca Lowe with ESPN UK.

TSG had the honor once again of speaking with the absolutely wonderful and INCREDIBLY knowledgeable Rebecca Lowe. She had just finished doing her show for ESPN UK and we caught her while she was in a “football mind.”

We touched on some of the topics we discussed in our first interview and discussed the future of English football.

Here is an excerpt of what we talked about.

TSG: A rather large topic a couple of weeks ago was the whole Rooney saga. Do you think it was a carefully spun ploy or was it more of a desperate move by United and Ferguson to keep Rooney happy?

Rebecca Lowe: It’s so difficult to really know. I think, if you’re going to be skeptical and cynical and look at it with those eyes, you could say, similar to Cristiano Ronaldo and Sir Alex Ferguson, they made a pact which said, “Give me one year and then you can go.” I wonder if giving Rooney a whopping five-year contract might lead to them getting a huge sum for him next summer and allowing him to go then. I don’t think that’s beyond the realm of possibility at all.

The fans may not be as forgiving as Rooney hopes they will.

I think it was a very strange episode. I don’t think that Rooney was handled very well in terms of his PR. I don’t think the statements he put out were very wise. There are United fans who will not forgive as easily as Rooney is hoping they will. There are still rumors that there are players who haven’t forgiven him.

I’ve talked to Man United players and they have assured me (and I suppose they would) that what is done is done and it was all over the top and newspaper driven and everything is fine. Whether or not that is true, I don’t know. I know that a lot of fans are not happy and it will be very interesting to see when he comes back to play for United. Lets put it this way: I’m not sure he will see out his 5 year deal.

TSG: Do these very public contract negotiations and demands for money create a jealously among the players which effect their relationships?

RL: I obviously don’t know that for sure, but I think if you put yourself in that position, and if you’re in a normal office or in any normal job and that was going on, AND then you learnt that that person (who by the way was not playing very well) was being

O'Shea could be benefiting greatly from the Rooney saga.

rewarded with a whopping great contract, having just come out and said he doesn’t really fancy the club nor does he want to stay anymore, I don’t see how you can get over that so quickly. In a way, I think it has opened the doors for other players to ask for more money. Like John O’Shea who reportedly might be getting a new contract around 100,000 pounds a week. I think it’s going push a lot of players and their agents forward to push for more money from United. I don’t know, I’m not in that dressing room, but there are stories that come out and say that the players are not happy, BUT they have assured me that it is all forgotten. Time will tell what happens and maybe some day someone will write a book which will tell us the truth.

TSG: I wonder if this sets a bad precedent for United because everyone is going to ask for more and at some point they are going to have to say no.

RL: Yes indeed. John O’ Shea is a versatility [utility] player, and appears to be on the verge of getting a four-year contract of  something like 100 or 120 a week which is surprising. That and the knowledge that Rooney is getting a quarter of million a week will give the other players and their agents a bargaining tool to use, and United cannot afford it, end of story.

They just can’t afford it which is why, if they have done the deal with Rooney in order to get a massive sum for him next summer, they might not have realized what it is going to do to the rest of the players in terms of coming forward. United just don’t have the money to give those sort of wages. They’re are not Man City.

Gareth Bale is the real deal and could possibly be one of the most exciting players to come into the EPL in the last 5 years.

TSG: Gareth Bale has been playing very well since last spring, but his recent performances against Inter Milan have propelled him into the realm of the best, and is garnering interest from the top clubs. Is he for real or is this just a flash in the pan?

RL: I think this is for real, no doubt this is for real. You just can’t do what he did against Inter Milan and not be for real. It’s not just what he did against Inter, but at the end of last season, I think they played Chelsea and won and he scored or set up a goal, but he was just magnificent and Harry Redknapp came out afterwards and said what more can you say about this kid. He has been so consistent and Inter Milan was him showing that he can play against the very best.

He had a bad run of injuries and I don’t think he had a great belief as a youngster, and didn’t keep on the right track at times in terms of his confidence because his injuries were so bad. He also had bad luck because when you start off playing 24 games without your team winning it effects you. Finally, they may have been up 5-nil or 4-nil  against Burnely or someone, and Redknapp said, right, it’s safe to put Bale on and we are going to win this game [and they did].

Psychology is a massive part of football and according to all reports and to Harry Redknapp himself, the losing streak was playing on his [Bale's] mind massively, and it is a great thing for the media to grab hold on to. I was using it, my colleagues were using it, as it was an interesting fact. Gareth Bale would listen to it and he didn’t need to listen to it, and that game freed him up. The things that set him apart. One is his engine. The guy runs about 20 miles a game and he never tires and in the 95th minute he’s running just as hard and as quick as he is in the first.

Not only does he have amazing stamina, but he is very quick. He was best friends with Theo Walcott growing up in Southampton and apparently Walcott is a little bit quicker but not that much. He’s quite speedy but it’s his finishing that sets him apart. It’s outstanding.

Andy Carrol should take note of Bale's career and keep himself out of the front pages for the wrong reasons.

Secondly, he is living his life off the field correctly. He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t go out clubbing and he doesn’t get himself on the front pages of newspapers. He’s a very down-to-earth guy and I’ve been lucky enough to interview him, and he’s incredibly polite and humble, and so far has kept himself on the straight and narrow. As we’ve seen from Andy Carroll at Newcastle at the moment, it doesn’t help when you’re on the front pages of the newspapers.

Gareth Bale has enough good people around him like Harry Redknapp and his parents which makes me think he’ll carry on like this and go on from strength to strength. I think he’s one of the most exciting players that has come out of the Premier League in the last five years.

TSG: When Spurs came out here for their pre-season tour, I went down to San Jose to check them out and it was finishing that stuck out the most to me. He started off as left back but now has a more prominent midfield role.

RL: Yeah. Up until the end of last season he was been playing at left back and they realized he was getting forward so much. He’s not a bad defender, but he is a much better attacker and Redknapp saw that he was being wasted back there, and that is why he’s playing in the left of midfield which absolutely works as he is dictating games. I think it helps that he is playing alongside players at Tottenham that maybe in the past few years haven’t had the quality that they have now. Rafael Van de Vaart who is of the same level. To be playing alongside someone with that sort of football brain is only going to breed more success, and the more good players Bale plays with, the better he will get himself.

TSG: Stuart Holden, Clint Dempsey and Maurice Edu are all playing well for their respective clubs, whether it be in the EPL or SPL. They’re getting on the score sheet, setting up goals and in Holden’s case doing a good job of controlling the midfield. Is the English public surprised that the U.S. outfield players can have an impact on their clubs?

RL: No. Less and less surprise as the years go by to be honest. We can’t deny that the World Cup was a disaster for England against America. I think leading into that World Cup a lot of the general public in this country probably saw the USA as a country that doesn’t really play football, so that will probably be an easy victory. But it didn’t work out that way and I think that made quite a few people sit up and take note. Obviously you got the fans of the clubs where the likes of Clint Dempsey and Stuart Holden are who know them.

Donovan loved by fans, players and media in the UK.

Dempsey has been a regular for a long time and is doing even better now (after coming off some injury problems) and really coming into form by scoring a couple of goals last weekend. Certainly within the game people say that American players can be as good as anyone else, but with the fans it is now beginning to get there.

It really doesn’t help that American goalkeepers have been so prominent because I think that was the general perception: that Americans just have good goalkeepers. But now, especially with Landon Donovan, when he was at Everton it pushed that whole situation forward because he made a serious impact on the Premier league; he was really good and then of course came the World Cup.

He probably is recognized much more in Liverpool than he is in LA, and I think it’s a shame he cannot make it a permanent deal because he was great for the Premier league. Not only was he so good and he proved a lot of people wrong, because they thought since he came from the Galaxy he wasn’t going to be very good in the Premier League, but he was and he did it brilliantly. As you know, media and sports personalities in America are so excellent in front of  camera and so at ease because they have to do it so much and his interviews were such a joy to watch. It’s a great shame he hasn’t been able to come over here. I think on whole people are starting to notice and respect the U.S. outfield players.

TSG: People here were very happy with how the USMNT played and were clearly disappointed when they exited the World Cup. They fell in love with the heart and passion with which their team played. We kept expecting the same verve and bite from the English squad, but they were lacking. Was there a general malaise in the camp? Did the players not buy into Fabio Capello’s plan? We never got a full explanation describing why England did so poorly.

RL: It was a very, very bizarre summer for English football fans. No one could understand then and no one really understands what happened, even now. No player has yet offered an explanation of what happened. I think it was a combination of the little things that weren’t quite well thought out. Their base was tucked away up in Rustenberg and the players were bored. Rightly or wrongly, as a footballer in South Africa having everything at your fingertips, whether or not you should be bored is irrelevant, because they were and that led to less energy. I’m not sure if Capello saw eye to eye with the players every day. As an international manager  you get your squad for a couple of days every other month and from what I’ve heard, his manner and his way didn’t sit well with them for more than two or three days.

Capello should have done more than just shout.

Another reason is that in this country the pressure is so great. I spoke to Ashley Cole about this a few weeks ago and I said to him, “What was it?” And he didn’t really know why, but he did say that he thinks that the England players fear the shirt. They actually feel the pressure. At their clubs there is pressure, but it is a different kind of pressure.

England fans and media are so desperate to win the World Cup. We are so desperate for some footballing success and the press builds them up and builds them up a year before a major competition, and everyone is so desperate for them to win and that just yanks up the pressure. The media are quite tough in this country, and there are a lot of forthright, firm views and the players read it. They definitely read it and the fear of failure almost overwhelms them. Wayne Rooney is a separate case. I don’t think Wayne Rooney cares about pressure. I don’t think it gets to him. I think he knew what was going to come out of the papers not long after World Cup and his life was going to take a very, very sharp turn to essentially a mess really, and he was going to have to deal with that and that definitely weighed on his mind.

TSG: There doesn’t seem to be a general healthy support for the English National Team from the press as they tend to nit pick at everything about the team, whereas in other countries the press is a lot more “calm.” Does that make sense?

RL: Absolutely. There is no middle ground in this country when it comes to football. It’s a matter of extremes. You are either brilliant or you are off it, but that’s just the way this country is and that is the way football is unfortunately.

TSG: The USMNT’s success comes from their strong team ethic and game, but they don’t possess any world-class players. On a club level, the English team possess players who do play at the highest level, who win the EPL, Champions League, etc., but they all have strong foreign players around them. Are English players being “found out” a little bit in that at club level they are brilliant, but does it have to do with their surroundings rather than their skill?

RL: It’s interesting. When England came back from the World Cup I started thinking, “the Premier league is not the best league in the world is it,” because the players are making little impact at the World Cup, yet they win the Champions League and Premier league. It’s an interesting point. I don’t think that they are being found out, but I don’t think they’re as good as we think they are and I don’t think the level of English football is as good as we think it is.

Do Drogba, Torres and other foreign players make their English teammates better than they really are?

Man United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea are not filled with English players, whereas a lot of foreign clubs are like Barcelona being a case in point. They have a core which does very well for Spain.

I think in this country we have to decide: do we want a successful National Team or do we want a great Premier League? If we want a successful National Team then we have to limit the amount of foreigners in the league. It is preventing a bigger pool of players coming through and we’ve got to concentrate on the National Team if that is what we want.

No one is going to make that decision because the Premier League and the FA that decides the National Team are two totally different organizations and there is no one above them to make that decision, and the Premier League has a lot more money and therefore have a lot more power.

TSG: There seems to be a decent crop of future England players coming up: Jack Wilshire, Adam Johnson, Andy Carrol, Agbonlahor, Young, etc. Do you there is a new generation coming up that can measure up?

RL: Not really. I’m quite pessimistic about that. I don’t think they’re that good. Jack Wilshire is excellent and I think Adam Johnson is very good, but how could we possibly know how good they are when we thought that Lampard, Gerrard, Rooney and Ashley Cole were world beaters? And as you rightly say,  they can play at the top level of football, but they can’t bring it at the World Cup and I don’t know if we can say that the young players coming through will be any better, and I don’t really have a great deal of confidence.

TSG: Well, there were so many teams at the World Cup that might not have possessed superstars, but they could play their positions and play together as a system. Is that a direction that England need to take?

RL: Yes, definitely. We need to be a team. That was exactly what we are, a collection of 11 individuals as opposed to a team, and that is what Capello failed to create. I think the buck stops with him a fair amount, because he should have to shoulder the blame in the manner of which he went about things, like putting on Emile Heskey when you need two goals. [I rolled my eyes and I suspect Rebecca did the same when she said this.]

TSG: I think Fabio Capello should take the majority of the blame, because even though thought the players were better than they were, they were certainly not bad players and it is Capello’s job to find a way for them to play together.

RL: I think he needs to shoulder a lot of the blame and is quite fortunate to be in the same job. I think over the next year or so the call for Harry Redknapp to be the next England manager will grow and grow because the press love him in this country and partly because he’s been so successful at Spurs.

Is 'Arry the next England manager?

He definitely built a team, a real team ethic at Tottenham. The problem with that is that he’s quite outspoken, and I don’t know if the FA will go for it. Redknapp is someone who can create a team and take off that expectation that is being pushed on the English national team. Adam Johnson and Theo Walcott need the freedom to go out there and make their mistakes and play without fear, whereas now the moment they put on an England shirt and they make a mistake they get booed.

TSG: Early in your career you were a reporter for the Women’s World Cup. Do you still pay attention to that?

RL: It’s difficult as I’m not nearly as caught up with it as I was at the time, and naturally you have other things that fill your day, but I keep an eye on it because of the World Cup. What happened with America? Did they get through?

TSG: They’re playing Costa Rica this evening and if they win they will be in a playoff with Italy, I believe. They should easily win against Costa Rica though.

RL: Yeah, they should. There is the World Cup next summer and if America do get there they will be one of the favorites along with China and Germany and England who are there as well which is great. I certainly keep an eye on it, but it’s very difficult to be abreast of all the divisions in the international and domestic games is quite difficult.

TSG: You’ve worked for the BBC, Setenta and now ESPN. How is it working for them? Is their a different attitude being a U.S.-based company?

RL: Not really. On the show tonight there is nothing American about the show or innately different from anything I’ve done in my entire career. You are aware though, always of being part this huge group which brings about quite a lot of excitement, quite a lot of confidence to the company.

ESPN's World Cup coverage was excellent.

I think it has an excellent reputation in England already, partly because a lot of people go to America and see ESPN over there, and partly because they’ve done a good job over the past year and a half of covering the Premier League.

It’s different from the BBC because the BBC is a lot more…I must pick my words carefully here [TSG chuckles]…It’s a lot more traditional and it’s funded by the taxpayers, so they have to make sure they are appealing to a wide range of people, whereas ESPN being an international company can target certain groups and can go for it and have a very forward thinking attitude, break new ground and take some risks.

It’s quite like Setenta in that way as they can be innovative, but working for ESPN you definitely know that you’re working for a worldwide company from everything from getting e-mails in Spanish and God knows what they are saying.

TSG: During the World Cup people in the States loved the production and commentary and all in all thought ESPN did a great job of presenting the tournament.

RL: Yes. ESPN were very clever about the World Cup because they didn’t quite know enough about it, but they identified where the opportunity was and got the right people on board and that’s the right way to go about it.

TSG: Back to the EPL. It’s a bit of topsy turvy season with traditional sides like Liverpool and United struggling a bit and the promoted sides doing so well. Is this just early doors or will everything come back to normal come May?

RL: Yeah. I think it will return pretty much back to normal come May. I do think it’s one of the most interesting Premier League seasons so far and I really cannot pick a winner. I went for Chelsea in the beginning of the season and I was happy with my choice in the first few weeks, but a team loses one game and then you start thinking “Oh, maybe they might not win the league.”

I think the Premier League is a better product now than it has ever been because it is so unpredictable. With the newly promoted sides I can see any of those, well maybe not Blackpool, but certainly West Brom and Newcastle, finishing in the top half and that is really unheard of as a whole.

Will the Special One be back in the EPL next year?

Most often promoted sides would go back down again and the fact that these sides haven’t, I don’t really know the reason why, but there is carefully a closing of the gap between the top and the bottom teams and it makes for much better division. I mean no one wants predictability. I don’t think United will win it. I think Chelsea will win it,  but I’m not convinced in saying that.

TSG: Do you want to talk about Crystal Palace at all? [Rebecca Lowe is a Palace supporter and at the time of speaking were last in the Championship.]

RL: [sternly] Let us definitely skip over that one.

TSG: You’re the one in “the know.” Any rumors that you can tell us?

RL: Oh God! I’m rubbish at finding things like that out cause I’m not a tabloid journalist and they know everything! Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Mourinho over next summer to take over Man City. I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

TSG: Well I would love it if the Special One came back to the Premiership as he was so much fun. Thank you so much for taking the time and hopefully we will get to talk again soon.

RL: Take care and have a good day.

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