Archive for November, 2010

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.

USA 1, RSA 0: A Striker Scores in South Africa

Well, it may have taken five extra months, but a Yankee striker–one born in 1992 mind you–finally found the netting in South Africa in 2010. Eat your heart out Sunil Gulati.

A motley crew gets it done.

If you’re a fan of the USMNT, it’s hard to not be a little giddy as the States mildly corrected it’s last game in South Africa with a 1-0 win over the Bafana, Bafana at Green Point Stadium in Cape Town on Wednesday night.

The first hero in this one is actually Bob Bradley.

Perhaps it was his roots as collegiate coach, perhaps it was merely just a bunch of eager-to-please youngsters happy to be there….either way the oft-maligned coach of the U.S. initiated a short camp and managed a group of single-digit cappers who bought into his philosophy (attention to defense) and, ultimately, outlasted the “A-” team from South Africa.

Nowhere, perhaps, was this more evident than watching Mix Diskerud (as TSG accurately predicted getting a run at winger instead of centrally) willing himself to play defense after his late-in-the-2nd-half entry.

Those who have watched Diskerud in Norway have seen two things beyond his offensive acumen. First, a league where defense is important but not paramount and two, a player who doesn’t always adhere to his defensive assignment. You can probably ask Thomas Rongen about that analysis as well.

But there was Diskerud, late in the game, fending off crosses, recovering when beaten, and in a specific moment, keenly focused on Brad Guzan to make sure his one-man wall on a worrisome free kick on the near flank was on mark and protecting his keeper.

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Misplayed? DeMerit To Whitecaps In Offing

More than one source and numerous web sites say that Jay DeMerit to MLS’s new north-of-the-border franchise, the Vancouver Whitecaps, is a done deal with the signing to be announced tomorrow.

DeMerit, set to be announced by purveyors of BC Bud?

A puzzling outcome for DeMerit, who gambled on not re-upping his Watford deal last year and betting a strong World Cup (solid if not spectacular as it turned out) could be parlayed into a big contract at a strong European league.

In September, DeMerit made a few statements in a British radio interview, including:

I’m just being patient, but I want to get something sorted out…..I’m not trying to chase an opportunity….I’m in the luxury of being able to choose what I want to do

and

If nothing happens, I’ll look to go back to the States in January

Just last month, we started to get signs that it was MLS-or-bust for DeMerit: an appearance at the Mall of America in Minnesota and visiting with the USMNT that was in town in Chicago.

So what happened?

Well, first, this is no slight on Vancouver, but DeMerit made it clear he wanted to stay in Europe.

It clearly appears that DeMerit, 31 in a few weeks, battling injuries the past few years fell victim to lack of leverage and home grown rules (Italy and England) being instituted across Europe.

Why offer a multi-year deal to an aging American central defender? Surely the next year, another foreigner will be available who is perhaps younger and maybe meets your native quota.

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Orange Slices: USA vs. South Africa

Our “Orange Slice” post is back.

Orange Slices is back!

Update…1pm ET

It’s nearly go time! and here’s your starting line-up for the States…guessing a 4-2-3-1:

G: Guzan

DEF: Lichaj, Goodson, Ream, Bornstein

CDM: Pause, Carroll

MID: Bedoya, Gaven, Rogers

STR: Findley

———-

Orange Slices is our game day, catch-all post that we update throughout the day and also serves as the place for you to drop comments like, “I can’t believe Bob Bradley started five centerbacks….what was he thinking?”.

Everything goes in here (links, photo, video) that seems interesting and pertinent.

The Yanks face Bafana, Bafana today in the Nelson Mandela Challenge at Green Point Stadium in Cape Town.

The USA’s final match of 2010 kicks off at 11:30 p.m. PT  live on ESPN2 and Galavision. ESPN2’s coverage will begin with a 2 p.m. pregame show.

For TSG’s full preview see: Preview: Bafana, Bafana vs. The Kids, The Kids

Another good preview from our friends over at Yanks Are Coming here. (Especially liked the section on Robbie Rogers)

Now more bullets:

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