Archive for January, 2011

Fans In The Forefront As USSF Kicks Off 2011

After a summer World Cup that saw the United States kick, claw, scratch, sidefoot and ultimately submit, focus for US Soccer migrated ever so briefly from it’s players to the front office so to speak.

The populace...

With a new four-year preparatory cycle virtually beginning instantaneously, the denouement of an on-field campaign wrecked by Asamoah Gyan saw Sunil Gulati and US Soccer navigate, or meander if you prefer, through three events that didn’t necessarily have the desired outcomes: the rehiring, or hiring, of a men’s national team coach, drastic CONCACAF qualifying changes and a massive and aspirational attempt to bring the World Cup back to US soil.

No rest for the weary and a daunting task for the organization–on those last two–in a minefield named “FiFA” where randomness and favors appear to trump logic and merit at nearly every turn.

Fast forward to January 22nd, 2011 and US fans retroactively bore witness to the apparent sequel to Jurgen Klinsmann I, the US–outside of its control–coughing up it’s quadrennial trip to Azteca and Qatar, who sits three page turns in in the FiFA rankings, awarded the 2022 World Cup–the one that many in the English-speakering media thought was a few days in Zurich away from being earmarked for the States.

It’s a dizzying and frustrating sequence of events for US Soccer and the fed is getting back on message and looking to drive the sport forward–in the void of a World Cup bid win–by galvanizing both the casual and hardcore supporter.

The first step here in 2011 was the organziation of what is expected to be many intimate “Fan Forums” in and around US games.

The first forum occurred Saturday night at HDC prior to the Chile match and TSG was privledged enough to be the lone media scribe allowed to join up with a group of approximately 30 fans that would pepper USSF President Sunil Gulati with their questions and concerns.

Having arrived a full two hours before kick-off, the fan group was quickly led through the metal detectors and then escorted through the stadium guantlet to a downstairs media room.

There were a few refreshments lining the right wall, but no one bothered.

Gulati entered stage right, to hearty applause, after a short introduction by press officer Michael Kammarman and the session began.

What followed was a refreshingly candid Gulati–I believe I am qualified to make that statement because I interviewed him after the game and I certainly received more “media-tailored” responses to my queries–taking one fan question after the next and tackling them head on, engaging the inquirer often in his replies. Only one question was, sort of, ducked.

As an event, it was simple, but seemed to achieve its purpose as fans were either satisfied with Gulati’s response or posed follow-ups if they were still left wondering.

Having attended a few fan forums at various intersections of my life, I can easily say that the fans in attendance were also extremely well-prepared for the conversation.

Not only did their questions show the knowledge you would expect of a group that probably hits refresh on USSoccer.com, Twitter and BigSoccer.com all day long, but they were phrased in the right context to drive the answer they wanted. Aware of the stature of the speaker at the front, but more aware of their individual temporal importance to that speaker. Suddenly, I got a little self-conscious.

Gulati, for the most part, obliged.

With no ESPN ice cream mic crowding him and less dissemination of information expected post-event, less amplification allowed for less rhetoric and more direct responses.

Fans were welcome to share what they learned after the proceedings, but not during them.

Saturday's speaker of the house...

The wide-ranging see-saw media session lasted about an hour with the USSF preside engaging the audience with a Socratic method of Q&A. I can only imagine that Gulati behaves similarly in his Columbia classroom.

Some tidbits of information that emerged from Gulati in no particular order. Since TSG participated as an observer in the forum, we did not ask questions.

• The US vs. Argentina friendly up in everyone’s favorite soccer hotbed, Seattle, was torpedoed because of “distance issues” as the lead factor.

It was implied, but not stated by Gulati that Argentina felt the Land of Pearl Jam and Sockeye salmon was just too far for its players to travel for the international friendly date.

Despite the Argentinian negotiations, U.S. Soccer still does consider Seattle and other West Coast locations as great venues for potential matches in the future. But it’s clear to this writer that there are trickier logistical challenges because of the volume of players in Europe across potential opponent nations.

• “We liked the old system. That wasn’t what was on offer.”

Gulati’s sentiments on the changes to CONCACAF qualifying that will likely ruin, if not at least adversely impact, the USA vs. Mexico rivalry. Gulati shared that influence in the decision making was not like the World Bank, where big powers rule, but more like the United Nations where ever voting nation no matter small counted equally.

• No US friendly will be played again “in the next year” on the West Coast and, in what was more of a tongue-in-cheek remark, Gulati kidded that the US will “never play a Latin American country in a qualifier [out west].”

• However, there is a chance of a US – Mexico friendly on the West Coast “sometime in the next year.” The US considered a home-and-away series with Mexico this year, but thought–with a possibly meeting in the Gold Cup–it would not be in the best interest of team development.

• Exposure-wise, the number one priority for USSF right now is “our relationship with our media partners.”

• On the World Cup bid process, Gulati [due to the World Cup bid process in 2010] “thinks you’ll see some changes” in the future selection process.

A questioner then suggested that the US boycott FiFA which earned a well-tailored response from the US Soccer spokesman:

“I saw in the ground rules today that you could ask any question, not that I have to answer it though. [laughs] It’s in our collective interest that I don’t answer that one.”

• In the single exchange the seemed to get Gulati’s blood percolating, a fan led with a somewhat rambling question about a foreign coach ever potentially being the US Men’s Team coach, suggesting someone like Jose Mourinho who would be “given control of everything?”

Gulati, shooting back: “What’s “everything.” I don’t know what “everything” means. I don’t understand.”

The questioner continued: “Like Mourinho has at Real Madrid or had at Chelsea.”

Gulati, “Is that what you think? There’s another guy there that writes the checks. Guaranteed he didn’t have full control at Inter. If you’re an owner, you have full control. Without getting into specifics, let’s see what full control means.”

“Want to decide on the full schedule? Sure, I’ll give you full control. Oh, but we have a contract that this many games for television and you have to play this many games in the United States.”

“Ok, full control. ‘This player is suspended.’ No, in the United States, there is a grievance procedure that we have to observe. And I can give you another hundred.”

“I’m not referring to any specifics. There is no full control. Not with the US,  not at Real Madrid, not at Inter and certainly not at Chelsea. Chelsea has had six coaches in the past six years, right?”

“It’s never full control unless you’re the one writing the checks.”

Photo credit: The Villager newspaper...

“And I don’t own any teams. I don’t have anywhere near full control of my son’s under-13 team.”

“I refereed one game and I had one kid swearing at me the whole game. It was my kid.”

It was the one question that Gulati clearly bristled at (but recovered) and no doubt the press officers on hand will have a word with him on it. Following up on the exchange, Sunil Gulati, or Dan Flynn, for that matter have zero control in who Bob Bradley selects to bring into camp or other similar team moves.

That said–and without be an apologist–it was great to see Gulati, unencumbered by the press, get a little agitated, a little passionate.

• There will be a third kit for Gold Cup this summer as confirmed by Gulati hollering back to his marketing team in the back of the room for confirmation. It will be a red jersey.

All told, I thought the event was an excellent business move for USSF, seeking to engage–not placate–a sampling size of constituents so as to improve the message and direction going forward.

TSG was able to catch up for an exclusive interview with Gulati–one we had been seeking for some time–after the match that evening. You’ll see that on TSG sometime next week.

The Return Of The Don’t Tread Challenge!

Wildly fun, virally successful, and some great indie editors straight out….BALLIN’.

Fire this guy....up!

For those veterans of TSG, the Don’t Tread Challenge for World Cup 2010 was sweet. Of course, the videos were so excellent that they threatened those that spend too much money producing lesser ones…which caused a chain reaction and some folks were sent copyright notices.

Have no fear! The Challenge is back!

TSG is cranking up the USMNT hype machine.

Today, TSG announces the 2nd annual Don’t Tread Challenge for the most insanely awesome video that gets fans and foreigners fired up about the Gold Cup.

Our goal is first to compile the most insanely ORIGINAL and TALENTED videos for the TSG community and others to enjoy.

Then, TSG is going to get a VIP GUEST  video committee to select the finalists and then fans will vote for the winner. The prize is to-be-determined, but is guaranteed to be more substantial in meaning than monetary value–last year’s winner Colin Campbell made of with scarves, shirts, cleats and more!

So, TSG faithful, please spread the word.

Some details for those producing videos…

  1. Thank you.
  2. Videos will be accepted through May 1st.
  3. All videos must be new and include the name of the competition in the title and a link to The Shin Guardian.
  4. Videos that rip off one already made will be sent to the waste bin–so get going.
  5. Length is flexible, but somewhere between 2 minutes and 4 minutes sounds about right.
  6. Email link / video or any questions to shinguardian@gmail.com

After the jump…last year’s entries that are still floating in the video ether.

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MLS: Cheer For Fan Friendly, Not Family Friendly

TSG’s Nick Sindt with verbiage on MLS fan support

Swearing in MLS Stadia

Posh Spice is a trollop, Posh Spice is a whore,

When she’s shagging Davey Beckham, She thinks of Joe-Max Moore

-       Chant told to Dan (FBM) and I by a New England Revolution supporter at a Chicago Fire game

Earmuffs!

Earlier this past season, the front office of the Philadelphia Union sent an open letter to its season ticket holders highlighting that the fans of the Union come in all shapes and sizes and they all have a right to enjoy the game.  This letter went on further to highlight vulgar chants directed towards the opposition are not fostering an environment that is suitable for fans of all ages.  In years past, the Nordecke in Columbus have come under similar fire from the Crew’s front office.

Sixteen years into its existence, Major League Soccer has come to an interesting stage of its development/maturation.  No longer is the sport viewed as just a game for kids to burn off energy.  No longer is it a spectator sport just for mommy, daddy, little Tommy & Suzie.  Instead it is showing continued growth amongst the most important demographics and most of the teams can count on fervent supporters groups to be at each and every home game.  At 16, and given the examples mentioned above it appears that MLS clubs need to make a decision about who’s money are they more interested in; the family dollar, or money from the 18+ crowd?

As the league continues to grow it is less and less dependent on the fleeting family dollar and therefore it would be in each club’s best interest to not agitate their passionate season-ticket holders with open letters condemning their language.  However, the clubs and league cannot yet ignore the soccer moms and youth teams.  For one, these butts in seats are still butts in seats, and two, the parents bringing these kids to games when they’re young creates that link to future fandom.  The question then becomes should the clubs’ front office personnel go out of their way to continue championing a family friendly environment?  Or, should they simply let their environments develop as they will?

Personally I would like to see MLS franchises begin to care less and less about the family friendly environment as that money is exceedingly transient (especially in a recession) and families tend to create library-esque environments unless a certain blond-haired Englishman is marauding up and down the pitch.  Is there really a concern that five-year olds are hearing foul language and asking their parents what the word means?  Better yet, if the kids are hearing the words and recognizing them, then this isn’t their first exposure to the word then, is it.

Make it loud...but creative....

All of that being said I am in agreement with the MLS brass when it comes to profanity, but not for the same reasons.  The profane chants that I’ve been a part of when attending MLS and US games (You suck asshole, single finger salutes, etc.) are rudimentary, pedantic, and just plain uncreative.  Essentially we’re using profanity as if we were the middle schoolers (the ones we’re supposedly offending) and we just learned these fun words.

If we fans were to come up with more creative ways to get under the skin of the opposition (like the New England fans’ chant above though it does involve a word that isn’t acceptable in most conversations), especially if there’s less profanity being used, not too many front office types will have anything to say to about it.  Let’s consider it a challenge to come up with better chants and not just to reduce the amount of profanity for profanity’s sake, but to reduce the amount of ennui that emanates from the tired vocal stylings of that one techno song that you hear in every stadium from Leverkusen to Los Angeles.

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Ten Minutes With Brian Carroll

It seemed even last year that the Philly Union wanted Brian Carroll to come their way...

Best thing we can do as a media outlet, is to provide a bridge between the fans and the players. We’ve inventoried the interview requests that you’ve made to TSG and we’re working our way through them.

First up, Brian Carroll of the Philly Union. Billy Myers of Philadelphia Union supporter group, Sons of Ben, reached out to us and kept pestering hounding us–per TSG’s request–to reach out to Brian when the Union gobbled him up in the Columbus Crew “out with the old, in with the old” fire sale.

We got 10 minutes with Brian on the first day of training camp and both agreed it would be good to get in touch when he had a more perspective on the Union and his teammates after the season had put a month or two in the books.

Brian Carroll, physical complete, now member of the Union pitch staff, position…central clean-up Crew.

TSG: The reason the interview came up is I had a member of the Sons of Ben request it actually. At TSG we’re just a conduit to the fans really. Anything you have to say to Sons of Ben or the entire Philly Union fanbase? Any request for a specific cheer? SOB…what do you want to say to them…request for a specific che

Step 1: Get team, Step 2: Dale O, Dale O, Dale O, Dale O

Brian Carroll: Thank you for providing just an incredible atmosphere to play in. The stadium was truly great to come and visit with the atmosphere they created last year and I’m really looking forward to playing in front of them this eyar.

TSG: Okay, second question. This your second go-around with Peter Nowak. Are his training camps as intense as…as he is as a person?

BC: I think he just has a certain style that he likes to employ to get the best out of each and every one of his players. I don’t mind how rigorous or how much running his training camps have.

As long as he’s going to make me a better player….at the end of the day he’s just trying to improve the team and the individual.  And whatever way he does that, whatever way his style is, I look forward to that.

TSG: Any specific ways he improved you as a player?

BC: Well, I think the way he trains his squad creates a lot of competition which brings a lot of sharpness everyday.

The fitness level that he creates with his team from player one all the way down to the bottom, has them the most fit they can be and it’s usually more fit than other teams.

Just skill and tactics that he employes for the formations he wants to play, put the overall team in the best position to get a result and that’s what you takeaway.

TSG: Have you discussed your role on the team this year? Will you be playing your customary midfield position?

BC: You know we’re just getting underway here. We’re literally at physicals.

I haven’t spoken with Peter in terms of role on the team, or what the specific plan is for me involved in the team.

I’m just excited to be here and be under Peter and look forward to the challenges of the season.

Literally just getting into the playoffs.

TSG: What’s a realistic barometer for the Union. The playoffs?

BC: Well we would be shooting for the playoffs and the when we get in, anything can happen.

Called on by Nowak's mentor, Bob Bradley...

TSG: Okay, you’re a veteran and coming into a younger team. How do you employ leadership if you’re a veteran but new to a team? It’s seems sort of like the role Bob Bradley asked you to play recently for the US against South Africa in South Africa.

BC: Well the trip to South Africa was tremendous. First, it was an opportunity to see a part of the world that I’ve never been to.

Going into that situation it was a little different being one of the older guys, having some experience around me and being asked primarily to solidify the middle of the field.

But coming in here to Philly and bringing the experience I ‘ve been able to gather over the past eight seasons….it’s a little broader and I hoping over the course of the season that will transition to others and into points to get us into the playoffs.

TSG: Biggest rivalry for the Union in your perspective? United or the Red Bulls?

BC: I think really it’s both. The proximity to each of them inherently creates a good solid rivalry or rivalries.

Being literally the 1st day here in Philadelphia, I’m going to have to wait on that one.

I’m not sure how they were created last year, but I’m sure they’re both pretty big.

TSG: Any issue wearing the Bimbo sponsored shirt?

BC: I’ve only seen the jersey. I think it looks great and we’re really happy to be partnering with them.

They have a good history with other team sponsorships, especially in the Mexican leagues.

TSG: Are you going to try to convince Danny Mwanga to play for the US?

BC: [chuckles] I think for Danny…well, in a sense, it’s everyone’s individual decision. I’m sure thinking about the things that can be brought by playing for the United States and their advantages speaks for itself.

If that’s the decision and the way he decides to go, then that’d be great.

TSG: Did you get your brothers any Union jerseys? (Brian’s two brothers played for DC United)

BC: [chuckles] No, I have not yet. I haven’t even tried on the shirt yet or figured out my size, but I’m sure when things get settled I’m going to pick up some jerseys for them and the rest of the family.

TSG: Well our time’s up unfortunately. Loved to be able to get back in touch after a few weeks of games are in the books. Thanks for your time Brian.

BC: Sure, set it up.

Brian Carroll, Philly’s savvy new addition.


Bradley’s Clipboard: January 2011

Our 2nd entry in what is sure be a long-running journal. Here was our first entry in October.

After most camps and friendlies, TSG puts together a piece with the following components for discussion amongst the community.

Could this triumvirate be celebrating goals together in the summer?

To refresh….

I. The Best “A” Team starting eleven.

This is the team that would play regardless of opponent, situation or formation if the Yanks had to choose a line-up blindly for a potential World Cup game….tomorrow.

It’s what should be on Bradley’s clipboard.

II. The Depth Charts.

For each position we’ll list the top two, three or four players that if TSG–you always ask for our take instead of “what Bob Bradley will do”–was running the USMNT whom we’d have in what positions on Bradley’s clipboards.

III. The “X” Things

The two or three issues that are top of mind coming out of the last match or camp.

Go:

I. The Best Eleven

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Jumping The Pond? It’s Really All About The Euro

This piece authored by frequent TSG writer Jay Bell

MLS fans have grown accustomed to losing their favorite players to Europe.

Buddle: All about the bundle....of cash?

A lot of them who are also US Soccer fans actually want the best American players to leave MLS for the benefit of the US Men’s National Team by gaining game reps at the world’s highest level leagues.

US fans love to see when Landon Donovan and Stuart Holden step right in and play with the world’s elite players.

It gives them a sense of pride to see former MLSers like Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Brad Friedel, Tim Howard, and Ryan Nelsen doing well.

It is when MLS players go to lesser European leagues when US fans are disappointed to lose them. Clint Dempsey to Fulham? Good. Jozy Altidore to Villarreal? Awesome. Edson Buddle to Ingolstadt? Not so much.

Money was apparently a big part of the deal. Buddle was reportedly being offered a sizable pay increase by MLS. Reports say that Ingolstadt’s offer was twice the size of MLS’s biggest offer.

It is hard to begrudge a guy for jumping the pond for a big raise. This is where it is tough for MLS to compete with the rest of Europe even outside of the top leagues. Until MLS is able to compete more financially, American fans will continue to see their favorite players go to the Danish Superliga, Norwegian Tippeligaen, 2.Bundesliga and the nPower Championship to tuck away more coin.

Another common belief for players jumping from MLS to the lower leagues in Europe is that the belief that there is a greater chance to be discovered by scouts from the bigger leagues in Europe.

It is believed that players signed with lower leagues in Europe with the intentions of working their way up the ladder. So when fans see Buddle sign for Ingolstadt, he’s not just signing for a relegation fighter in the 2.Bundesliga. He is signing for the next team or two he plays for on his European journey. In theory, for most, each club and league they transfer to will be better than the last.

Is exposure a viable benefit?

MLS has a high profile internationally, at least when it comes to scouting. European teams continue to find top players from Major League Soccer. The English Premier League has long been a popular transfer destination for top MLS players. Former MLSers have played for the entire spectrum of EPL teams; from Manchester United to teams that were relegated. If they are not snatched up by teams in England or Germany, then near-top teams in other leagues want them.

MLS players have signed for Villarreal, Benfica, Anderlecht, Rangers, Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven, and more. These types of clubs, along with the EPL and Bundesliga, are where players are trying to get to when they leave MLS. How many of them actually do it?

Bradley...waves made at Heerenveen

Michael Bradley is the most successful example. He signed as a teenager with a Dutch team that is usually fighting for a spot in Europe and jumped to the Bundesliga.

Bradley’s next move will likely be to a better club in England, with Sunderland the popular rumor lately. Stern John played for multiple teams in England and made it to the EPL with Sunderland. Clarence Goodson also moved up from IK Start in Norway to Bondby IF.in Denmark. And . . . who else? For a myriad of reasons, MLS players very rarely move up the ladder in Europe whether it is because of injuries, financial reasons, personal reasons, or even just a simple lack of quality. Here is a small list of players who signed outside of the top clubs or leagues in Europe and stayed at or below the same level:

Wade Barrett

Nat Borchers

Adin Brown

Danny Califf

Joe Cannon

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