Archive for November, 2010

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.

Macoumba Kandji On Becoming A Rapid

This is a piece by TSG writer Jason Price.

Kandji...getting Rocky Mountain high...

It’s September, and the season’s winding down, and while you’ve battled with injury and form, all in all it’s been a good year.

You’ve all but won a place in the starting XI in an exciting new franchise that’s all on the up-and-up, with a brand new stadium outside the world’s greatest city and god damn it man – you’re the guy wearing the number 10 shirt.

Not to mention the fact that your boyhood hero–Thierry Henry–has just happened to drop in after the World Cup to sign on to play alongside you. You find inspiration in your goal celebrations – you dance the stanky leg.

Not bad for a kid who was making something like football minimum wage in a soccer outback just a dozen months before.  Not to mention the fact that your jaw-dropping performances against a pair of EPL giants only a few months ago got the rumor mill churning with images of you shooting through the penalty area to bury a cross past hapless English keeper Joe Hart.

The phone began to ring, and the idea of yourself in Europe seemed a lot less like a childhood fantasy, and more like the next logical step.  And it wouldn’t matter much if it would be a dream deferred for the moment, because your squad wanted you for the future, needed you for the run to Toronto…

So just take it one day at a time.

You’re happy here, you’ve settled.

The future’s so bright and all of that stuff…

The only decision you have really is which country to represent in the next World Cup Cycle. But what a luxury to have, what a life… It’s all working out after all.

And then you get pulled aside before training

All you know now is that you’ve got to pack your bags, get out of that lease, tell your friends goodbye, thank that boyhood hero of yours… Your phone starts ringing, texts start flooding in. You’ve been traded to Denver. You didn’t see it coming. You don’t know why.  You wonder what the winter’s like in the mountains.

Isn’t that the opposite way of Europe?

***

In all likelihood, the MLS Cup final will take place on Sunday in Toronto and there will be little mention of Macoumba Kandji, the lanky and crafty Senegalese forward the Rapids’s acquired in a late-season trade for the movious Mehdi Ballouchy.

If things go the Rapids’ way then Kandji stays comfortably numb in down apparel on the bench while he watches Omar Cummings and Conor Casey shoot through the Hoops’ backline.  If things don’t, then look for him beside the fourth official in the 75th minute or so about to dart onto the frigid green pitch in search of some last minute magic to take the game into extra time.

It is a Cup final and so anyone can be a hero, and while Kandji’s an unlikely one, his story’s as good as any, if not better; especially a final bereft of any drama or storyline in which the coaches seem to be arguing only over who’s the underdog.

Kandji may look the part of a central defender, but he's got offensive game...

TSG was fortunate enough to catch Kandji on his way to the airport Thursday morning. Not only was the 6 ‘ 4” collosus generous with his time, he impressed TSG with his sheer graciousness and honesty – which we hope comes across in the transcription below.  All in all, the conversation reminded us of how transient and insecure a career in professional football can be, a theme explored in Kyle Martino’s excellent article on this blog earlier in the week.

Mac Kandji strikes us as a good man. We especially thank him for choosing TSG as the venue for one important and much-anticipated “national” announcement which you can find below in our conversation with the soon-to-be international. And invite him to make a guest appearance for the famed San Francisco Black Sox anyday…

***

TSG: This was a big late season move both for the Rapids and the Red Bulls, and I’m sure for yourself. How can you compare the two teams and organizations?

MK: The Rapids were in good form when I was coming in… I was very pleased with the performance of the guys coming in here, seeing them working hard, day in and day out.  They’re both very good teams, very good organizations. And I think they both had potential to make it to the MLS Cup, so I’m not surprised to be here with the Rapids. They’re both great teams. They both have hard workers, good coaches… I can’t really compare the front office so much. I don’t know them like I know the New York Red Bulls. But the teams, you know, I think they’re about even.

TSG: Was the trade a surprise for you? Or did you see it coming?

MK: It was the biggest, biggest surprise ever. I would never, you know, thought like… imagined New York would trade me… Or the way it happened, I never thought it would happen, so… It was a big surprise.

TSG: How did you feel about it at the time? You had seemed to be settling in really well in New York…

MK: I… To be honest with you, I still love the fans in NY and their support to me was so great, you know, I still love em. The support their was great. Also here the fans welcomed me very well.  But, I guess I’m not a… I’m not a big Denver, Colorado guy yet. I mean the team is great, the guys are great, so I’m just trying to get used to the city. It’s not really my type of city, but I’m trying to get used to it so… we’ll see.

TSG: [Laughing] How do you mean, ‘It’s not really your type of city’?

MK: I mean it’s a bit slow for me. Maybe I don’t really know nobody here yet or whatever… But that’s just been the tough part for me with moving, changing from New York to Denver, Colorado.

TSG: I know that Paul Bravo [technical director of the Rapids] had mentioned that one of the reasons that they brought you in was because Omar would possibly be moving…  So do you kind of see you’re future as connected to what happens with him?

MK: Conor and Omar have been fantastic in pairing up together. They’ve been playing together for a long time, so they know each other, they’re used to each other… I came here and paired with Conor, you know, a very good player… a great player. He’s very easy to play with, the same as Omar. I mean they have different features: Conor is the guy who holds the ball up, and Omar is the guy who runs behind. And I would say that my future holds if Omar goes or stays because I didn’t come over here to sit on the bench, you know, cause I was playing in New York since I’ve been in the MLS and I didn’t come here to sit on the bench. So we’ll see if Omar is going to go or stay. I think we can see… We’ll probably see what I’m going to do after we find out what’s going to happen next season, you know?

TSG: So much of this depends on these other situations. I mean first it was you and Juan Pablo, and then Henry comes in, and then he gets injured, and then Agudelo gets in form…

MK: Yeah when I was in New York, it was me and Juan Pablo and then Thierry Henry came, but he was injured so even if I was there I would still be playing.

But, and then the move happened, and a couple of the guys getting injured and Agudelo getting his chance – playing very well, taking advantage of it. So, basically, I think you know in a way it was just like… It just depends on what’s going to happen and what’s the coaches plans, especially when two guys are playing very well together like here in Colorado, it’s very hard for the coach to take ‘em out and try to put me in, so… I think it’s just going to be depending on how it is. Depending on who’s going to stay and who’s going to go, then depending on that, I’ll have to make my decision. You know, try to go somewhere that, you know, I’m going to play.

TSG: I mean you’re performances against Man City and Tottenham were really awe-inspiring and shortly after there were rumors of you going to Blackpool or Bolton or maybe Greece…

MK:  Those types of teams are going to lift you’re game up because they’re going to bring the best out of you. So after those games there were a lot of European teams that were interested. But, New York, ah… that’s why I was shocked as well because they said that they’re not going to let me go anywhere til at least after the season because we’re trying to win a championship. And then, that’s when they traded me. I was really shocked cause there were those European teams that came in and tried to get me and New York said, “no”. But instead they traded me to Colorado.

TSG: Did you want to go to Europe at the time?

MK:  Yeah, of course. Of course. You know… my dream as a kid is just playing in Europe you know? And I still have the dream and hopefully I will in… maybe next year or the year after that or we’ll see. But I really, yeah, I was definitely considering those offers in Europe.

TSG: Can you talk a little bit about where the offers were from?

MK: At that time, I was working with an agency in England who have those connections. There were a couple of teams in England – I’m not allowed to say those teams. And there was one team in Greece, and a couple of teams in France as well who was very interested and he was talking to them and the Greek one was more in form and they were trying their best to get me over there but it didn’t end up happening.

TSG: So the next few weeks, after this cup final this weekend, are going to be very important in determining your future.

MK: Yeah, yeah… It is going to be very important for me because I really want to talk to the coaches to discuss my future because, just like I said, I want to be somewhere where I’m playing and somewhere that I could come in and help the team right away. But right now the most important thing is just to focus on this MLS Cup and hopefully try to win it, you know? And I will be available from the bench and if the coach needs me, I’ll definitely come in and give them 110% and then, after that, we’ll talk and we’ll see what’s going to happen for next season.

TSG: What kind of player do you like to pair with? I mean, you’ve had the opportunity to pair with some really talented, but very different players now.

MK: You know… anybody you ask is going to tell you that playing with their idol growing up. You know, I grew up idolizing Thierry Henry, who is a fantastic player.

You know but I think all of them, all of them are very good in their different kind of ways. Because, Juan Pablo – you know, unbelievable player. I learn SO much from him before Thierry Henry got there. Coming over here… Casey – fantastic player. Omar – fantastic player.

So it doesn’t really matter who I’m paired with, but I enjoyed playing with Thierry Henry a lot because I was learning, you know, I was just starting to learn so many things from him and I was expecting to learn a lot for the rest of the year. But you know I’m just grateful to have this opportunity to play with these unbelievable players. I mean, when I was in New York, as you can see, I was getting better week-by-week because I was learning so much from Juan Pablo Angel, pairing with him up top was a very good thing for me and my career. And Thierry Henry coming in with everything he accomplished in his life, I was just you know I was trying to learn as much a possible.

TSG: As the next World Cup cycle starts, I know a lot of people have been making decisions regarding international affiliations, and I know that you’ve been on the fence regarding Senegal, the Gambia, and the US, and I was just wondering if you had made any headway in any of those directions…

MK: I’m probably going with the Gambian National Team. It’s not 100% sure but there’s a good chance I’m going to go with the Gambian National Team because I think that’s where I fit in more. And I think they can help me out in the future. And I think I could get a lot of playing time over there, as well. And I think I could go in and help them.

Kandji set to join the Scorpions...

 

TSG: With Gambia? They’ve never qualified for an African Nations’ Cup. Is that correct?

MK: Yes, that’s correct. But I believe that this year we have have the team to qualify for African Nations’ Cup. It’s already begun, they’ve played a couple of games so now it’s just a matter of time of me going there and trying to you know add something to the guys… what they’ve  already brought. And I think they’re in the right position of qualifying because they’re in a group of three and they won 1 and lost 1, so I believe if we win 1 more game we should be in already.

TSG: Does that mean that you’ll be making that final decision pretty soon, and maybe joining them pretty shortly?

MK: Yeah. I mean probably right after the playoffs, I’ll probably just make my final decision. But I’m pretty sure I will go with the Gambian National Team.

TSG: And can you just explain the difference for you between going with Gambia or Senegal both football-wise and even culturally…

MK: Yes, it is different. Senegal you know – unbelievable talent in there. They have a lot of talented guys. Gambia is smaller, so it’s harder to find you know as much guys as Senegal. But, I was born in Senegal and raised in Gambia. I spent my whole life in Gambia. My grandma is from Gambia. But my dad played for the Senegal National Team, but he’s been very helpful. He would just tell me, ‘you know just make the right decision’. I mean obviously probably inside his heart he wants me to play for Senegal, but at the end of the day it’s my decision where I want to play.

TSG: There seems to be a relatively big MLS presence among Gambian National Team players…

MK: Yes, yes… It seems so. You know I think that it was making it easier on me cause I’ve got some guys here who I talk to every time like Kenny Mansally. He’s always telling me to come play for Gambia you know “it’s gonna be good in the future” and this and that and then Bouna on the other hand is telling me the same thing about Senegal. But Bouna was very helpful, he would just tell me that “I would love for you to play for Senegal, but just choose wherever is best for you.”

TSG: Have you played a competitive football match in West Africa in the past, or will this be your first?

MK: No, no, never…  [laughing]  I’ve never played any club soccer, any high school team… just street soccer with my friends. But it will be very nice to go back and see all my friends and family over there while representing the country and just to hope that I can do very good by them.

TSG: In terms of the MLS Cup, how do you see it shaking out in terms of what Colorado will have to do to be successful?

MK: Dallas has been fantastic. Fantastic. But I think we just go in there and play our game. I think we can definitely match ‘em up so… we’re gonna see. It’s going to be a very tough game I can see it now.  I mean we went to Dallas and we tied them 2-2 over there,  and all these games we’ve been playing,we  pressure all over the field and just take our chances in counterattack…  I think attacking, we’re going to go all out and probably pressure them all over the field.

Dax & Dallas To Drink From MLS Cup?

Dax the ticket to MLS glory?

FC Dallas was kind enough to get us a few minutes with midfielder Dax McCarty this week.

We wanted to interview Dax because–and as he reiterates below–with Colorado likely keying on David Ferreira in the midfield, Dax’s performance in the attack will be integral to FC Dallas raising the Cup on Sunday night.

To Dax…

TSG: Hi Dax, Matthew, The Shin Guardian, how you been? (TSG interviewed Dax during January USMNT Camp at HDC.)

Dax: Good man, I’m good.

TSG: Let’s get into it in just a sec…but first, did you watch the USMNT on Wednesday. What did you think?

Dax: Watched the whole game. It was definitely an exciting game. A lot of younger players got their first caps. I thought the US was very organized defensively and there was some pretty amazing goalkeeping by Brad Guzan.

Once Coach Bradley started to make some changes in the 2nd half, things got going. It was exciting to see the future of the national so you will get run out. And to cap it off the goal by the Agudelo kid…

TSG: Well we look forward to you floating some passes up field to Agudelo on the national scene in the future.

Dax: Oh man, I hope so.

TSG: You guys played a flat-out awesome game against Los Angeles this past Sunday. Was that the best game for Dallas on the season?

Dax: Absolutely, hands down. I don’t think we put together a more complete performance than we did against the Galaxy. The first 15 to 20 minutes we were on our back foot.

But we learned to weather storms this year.

And that’s why you have  a guy like Kevin Hartman in goal who is right up there with David Ferreira for MVP candidates in my opinion. He’s been that good for us this year in my view.

That was an incredible game to be a part of. It’s the type of game as a player that you want to play in, day in and day out.

To be able to say we beat the Supporter Shield winners in their own stadium, 3-0, is something that I won’t ever forget.

TSG: Let’s break it down a little, tactically how did you do it?

AH: Difference-maker

Dax: I think the decision to start Atiba Harris up top was a very big decision for us. Atiba I thought was outstanding. We knew that LA was a physical team and they rely heavily on set pieces.

So we had to put some size in the game and that Atiba was up top was huge in that he gave us an outlet for the guys in the midfield.

Atiba did a great job of holding th ball up. He brings others into the attack and he works his socks off. A couple of goals came directly from his work hard

And then team speed had a lot to do with it.

We’re extremely fast on the wing and we caused the Galaxy a lot of problems.

TSG: I want to be honest that I picked Los Angeles to take that game…

Dax: Oh, no problem

TSG: Well, it wasn’t that I thought Dallas didn’t have it them.

What impressed me the most was coming off a victory over RSL and beating one style of play, you faced a different style and totally shifted and dictated the tempo.

What’s the shift this week as you prepare for the Rapids?

Dax: We’re a team that is honestly able to play a number of ways. We have veterans with a lot of experience that know how to adapt to the game.

We have a number of different players and we can shift a little to address different types of teams and different types of players.

But, we don’t change up how we approach the game.

We like to possess the ball and attack. And then…hit teams on the counter.

Our team speed on th counterattack you would have to say is the best in the league.

For Colorado, to be completely honest, we just finished the first day of training and today (Wednesday) was more about getting a run out and the legs loose.

Not too much tactical on the session today.

I’m sure once we get to Toronto, we’re going to start working on that.

TSG: Let’s take a shot at it, the tactics…something that I’ve heard a lot this week…well the midfield of Colorado is getting a lot of press. The common statement I hear is “teams don’t like facing the Rapids’ midfield because Pablo and Jeff specifically, will wear you down defensively.”

What does the Dallas midfield have to do against Colorado’s?

Dax: Yeah, well, let’s give them all the credit in the world; they’re two top quality players.

Mastroeni: Doing what he does best...

Pablo’s been doing it for a number of years and has been a tremendous national team player. Jeff ‘s been on the national team also and did a great job in New England before Colorado.

One of things they do so well is have the disciple to complement each other. When one goes forward, the other always stays back and vice versa.

The first thing we have to do is match their physicality.

They are very good at disrupting how we’re going to want to play.

We’re also going to have  to move the ball through the midfield quickly and find the feet of David Ferreira very early.

They’ll be keying in on stopping so it’s my job to be very involved in the attack and provide an outlet for Daniel Hernandez from the back.

TSG: Colorado’s arguably got the best forwards in the league. Do you play an extremely high defensive line against them and take chances with the over the top ball to a guy like Cummings or do you sit back, pack it in a bit more and try to disrupt their attack that way?

Dax: We’re probably going to come out like we do most games with a high line, high pressure and high-pressing attack.

If they get space in the midfield, then they’ll be able to pick out Casey and Cummings, to of the best forwards in the league.

You can definitely expect to see us with high pressure and deny their forwards service. That’s critical.

TSG: What’s the so-dubbed “X factor” that the media is missing in this one?

Dax: You know, I really think the defenses for both teams are going to have the biggest say in the one.

Obviously Kevin Hartman’s been getting great press and rightfully so. He’s been the leader of a backline that has been tremendous for us all year. We’ve had injuries, players in and out of the line-up and young guys back there…but our defense has been outstanding.

And then you look on the other side of it. Drew Moor–whose a good friend–has been really good as has Marvell. You could say they’ve had a good run largely do to how well they’ve played in the back.

TSG: Thanks so much Dax for the time on tactics. Any special preparations for a championship match on game day?

Dax: Not going to change a thing; I’m not superstitious. Game day is pretty easy. Sleep in, more rest in the morning, light breakfast, relax, walk around Toronto and shake my legs.

Have lunch, take a nap between the pre-game meal.

And once game time comes, I’ll take a shower to wake myself up, put on my head phones and start  focusing on the game.

Sam Adams who?

TSG: Okay, last question, and we’ve got to follow-up with this. Some good friends at TSG, the Die Hipster Brewing Company, made a Dax McCarty Pale Ale that we delivered to you. They loved it so much they made “Dax II” earlier this year…..

Dax: That’s awesome. That’s fantastic news.

TSG: So they wanted to–did you like it? And what can they do with the next version.

Dax: Definitely liked it. You gave me the beer after the  national team camp in January. I couldn’t drink it then, but was able to a few weeks later.

Really did enjoy it . Very good, hearty beer.

You know, I’d love to see this explored into something I can start putting out to all my friends and more people.

And if you got some extra cases, my parents would love it as well. Pretty cool thing to have a beer named after you.

TSG: Well the guys and I think a Dax McCarty Celebration Ale may be in store for the holidays…and Sunday night.

Dax: Oh man….

TSG: Thanks so much for your time Dax. We always enjoy talking to you. People should know you’re a very affable, gregarious guy and your always great to speak with.

Dax: Aw man I appreciate it. Make sure you root for FC Dallas.

TSG: That’s our pick for the Final.

Dax: Awesome.

Dax McCarty…ready to celebrate….

_______________

Up next: Macoumba Kandji from the Colorado Rapids….

Video: 2010 MLS Cup Preview

Video by TSG writer Jay Bell

We’ll be up later with Dax McCarty from FC Dallasicous and with the Colorado Rapids’ Macoumba Kandji–hopefully if the scheduling works out–who ironically improved his chances on getting to the MLS Cup by relocating from the Red Bulls to the Rapids.

TSG’s Jay Bell now with a video preview of the Tussle in Toronto (I know..that was absolutely terrible)

Juan Agudelo….To YouTube You Go

The buzzing undercurrent remains this morning about the USMNT’s victory in South Africa and the anticipation of Juan Agudelo’s next cap–January against Chile–is palpable.

Our good friends over at 723 Football, who’ve been mancrushing on Agudelo since long before the MLS playoffs, put this video ditty together.

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