Archive for February, 2011

MLS: All Is Not Peachy in the Southeast…

This is the 1st guest post by TSG community member Jacob Chambliss. Well done.

As promising as the latest MLS expansion teams seem, their inception does little to dull my own apathy regarding the league’s newest franchises (Disclaimer: I do love Jay DeMerit).

Pick me!

This lack of excitement has nothing to do with my stance on soccer—I love the sport. Nor does it have anything to do with my Eurosoccer snobbery—I firmly believe that MLS is a growing league in more ways than one, and its future looks very promising. My problem with these expansions has to do with where my couch is located…in Atlanta, Georgia. There are no MLS teams anywhere near the Southeastern United States (or the South, as I refer to the geographical region in this post), and this saddens my heart.

Put simply, the reasons for MLS backing of teams in my region can’t overcome the cons. Any talk of expanding the league into the South seems ludicrous when measured against the inevitable revival of the NY Cosmos, for example. This certainly seems to be the stance of the MLS execs; in recent online forums with both Miami and Atlanta soccer fans, the resounding message is that expansion priority will go to establish another New York team.

Dan Courtemanche...

This comes despite the fact that MLS has at least one eye on setting up shop in the South. According to Dan Courtemanche, Executive Vice President of Communication for the MLS, expanding to the Southern region has long been one of Don Garber’s goals. When asked why this hasn’t happened yet, Courtemanche’s response was quite revealing.

While some would argue that soccer in the South can’t flourish because of the dominance of college football and Title IX—which basically restricts SEC schools from having men’s soccer teams—this does not at all seem to factor into Garber’s thinking.

Such a position ignores the soccer culture that exists in the South (did anyone see how packed the Georgia Dome was for the Mexico friendly last week?), and loses sight of the real issue behind potential MLS expansion teams. The problem isn’t so much college football here as it is with college football. That is, aspiring expansion teams into this region face an uphill battle procuring the proper facilities for their athletes.

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Kyle Martino: Controlling The Urge To Surge

Kyle Martino is a top broadcast analyst for Fox Soccer, a former MLS Rookie of the Year and has been capped multiple times for the US of A.

Juan Agudelo for the United States............ (Photo: Credit: Matt Mathai)

Coming off the Chile-USA friendly, with national teams trialing fresh-faced youngsters for upcoming tournaments, it seems that now is a good time to talk about the crucial metamorphosis of a young talent becoming a professional success.

There isn’t a current professional soccer player who, if asked, couldn’t immediately produce at least a handful of examples of players who were “The Man” when they were younger but currently reside in the “Where Are They Now” category.

I’m not talking about the youth ranks, when that freak kid who was bigger and faster dominated the game because he was born at the beginning of the year and had sick athletes for parents. I’m talking about those teenagers on the cusp of breaking starting lineups in the pros, or landing themselves on National Team rosters.

These are the players who made their pond grow in to an ocean as they climbed the ladder from High School, to College to Pros, but still were able to maintain their “Big Fish” status.

When I was growing up, young talented soccer players in America had a metric called the Olympic Development Program to help them improve as players and measure their progress along the way. Although considered very political–mostly by players that never made the teams–this was a very good way for coaches to identify talent, as well as light the path to the ultimate goal: Putting on a U.S. jersey and representing their country.

Putting yourself on the proverbial map....

The first stage of the program was at the State level, continuing through to a Regional level (dividing the country in to 4 regions), and culminating at the National level, with a Youth U.S. team.

Since we don’t have storied youth academies as they do overseas, like Ajax and Barcelona who pump out world-class players year after year, “ODP” was America’s answer to how we would identify and develop our next stars.

To compare, Ajax gave Holland players like Wesley Sneijder, Bergkamp, and Van Basten, and Region IV gave the U.S. Landon Donovan, Eddie Lewis and Carlos Bocanegra.

This multi-tiered system was the filtration process that would take millions of youth players in at the State level, and eventually end up with 20 or so standing at the end. I could write a War And Peace-sized novel on how desperately fanatical I was about playing for my country; the hours of practice and obsession with the game that actually lead me to force my parents to send me to Bollitieri (now IMG) in high school so I could continue to get better.

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Champ’s League: Arselona Live!

Yes, there is another game today.

After yesterday’s Boot Country theatrics and the quibbles that seem to be following Roma, I’m highly inclined to only take in the score of that game. Probably a mistake but…the headliner:

Yes, it's probably time for us to get subjected to yet another Xavi passing chart...

• Cesc It Ain’t So: Will
Arsenal Hold The Line at Home against Barca?

Wonderful that this rematch is happening from last year. Better yet with different actors in it.

With less than a collective fifteen observations of both teams this year, I’m not going to go out with a prediction.

Here are just some thoughts.

I don’t think–even with the swap of Villa for Zlatan–that Arsenal can afford to sit deep in this one. Their defensive organization is simply not good enough–this is an Arsenal team that has consistently conceded against lower level Premiership sides as well as Championship sides.

That said, the addition of a nimble Johan Djourou–well-respected at this publication–and 25-year-old Laurent Koscielny give Arsenal an agile interior. Their relative youth suggests that the pair could either have a howler or not grasp the moment and be difference makers–watch how this duo comes out.

Secondly, and I’ll probably eat my words shortly here, if I’m Arsene Wenger, I use the same deployment of Theo Walcott as I did last year–after the half as a sub when Pep and company can only make adjustments in-stream.

Walcott is not a 90-minute player and adding him in early takes away the known threat that must be accounted for later–when Maxwell and company are slowed. I’d stow him on the bench for the start.

Finally, if I’m Arsenal, I’d bang on the right rear guard of Barca–use Van Persie off-center and bring Nasri–if fit. Force Busquets to drop to help out and hopefully open up space for Cesc in the middle.

All of this, of course, easier said then done.

For the interlopers, it will likely be business as usual. Press up the pitch, bring Dani Alves up the right flank using Busquets as cover (hence the Arsenal comment above) and then, of course, Xavi pulling the strings.

Champ’s League….soon.

Official: Charlie Davies DC United Bound For 2011

Announcement this morning that Sochaux striker Charlie Davies has made the cut with DC United and will be loaned to the East Coast franchise for the 2011 season.

Tuesday: The Champ’s League..and More

It’s going to be all Southampton FC alum hype this week. Tomorrow it be Theo Walcott who will grab the hype for Arsenal as they battle Barcelona, again, in the Champion’s League.

Today, of course, it’s Gareth Bale….

Gosh, I really don't want Robinho back in the news...

• Tottenham Hotspur attempt to turn the lights out on AC Milan

….or is it?

As Harry Rednapp’s crew heads to the Giuseppe Meazza and the Champion’s League gets back under way, questions remains as to just who is fit for the visitors.

Ruled out earlier in the week, reports suggest Gareth Bale will make an appearance on the left flank that he alone owns during this Champ’s League campaign.

Knocks to Luka Modric and Rafael Van Der Vaart may drop both from the line-up.

Or is this just head games and will all three or a couple of the aforementioned play.

If you’ve watch the Spurs in the Champion’s League, specifically the width provided by Bale and Lennon, it’s no question that despite Milan’s form, the Londoners are going to give Allegri’s crew some problems.

Conversely, even minus maestro Andrea Pirlo in the middle and hatchet man Kevin Prince-Boateng, Milan will have the steel to go up the middle with the likes of Flamini, Seedorf and Gattuso.

Can Milan keep the pressure on in the middle of the pitch while Tottenham likely sits back and tries to catch ‘em down the flanks on the counter? Good question.

Another key match-up here? Robinho (likely to start over Pato) on the left hash going up against the sometimes clumsy Alan Hutton.

• Will Raul Schalke the Spaniards?

Two this past weekend for Valencia's Joaquin who may found himself on the pine with Mata's return...

It’s time to call a spade a spade.

Schalke 04 just hasn’t recaptured the glory they had last year. After challenging for the title last year in the Bundesliga, the German side have bobbed up and down all year long and currently are perfectly average, 10th in the table.

Conversely, while Valencia don’t have the best record in Europe, they’re playing this one at home and have been steady as she goes in La Liga in 2011.

While the headline here will be Raul’s return to Spain, the story will likely be Valencia’s midfielder, with Juan Mata returning, controlling the game and getting lose in German defensive third.

It’s going to take a big effort here by Schalke keeper Manuel Nueur, who’s been big all year, to earn the draw. Possible, but not probable.

• Elsewhere:

» Manchester City vs. Aris Salonika: The Citizens lick their wounds in Europa League action. Give us the crazy Italian! (He’s in the squad.)

» Birmingham vs. Newcastle: The Brum squad bores me. Really David Bentley and (former Bar Coder) Obafemi Martins was the best you could do in the January transfer window. A team sorely in need of a striker needs to give it team some firepower up top to avoid the continual grind. Anyway…

» Yankee Doodle Tuesday: Eddie Johnson goes for Preston North End.

» Ferrari firing up in Chicago: A little new piece missed yesterday. Former Sampdoria hopeful Gabriel Ferrari, one of the few Americans to test his wares in Serie A, is trying out for the Chicago Fire after his last club FC Wohlen didn’t sign him up. Going to try and get a TSG interview going there.

Jay Bell Asks: What League Do You Fancy?

Jay Bell, as only he can, initiates discussion on TSG.

The months of February and March is a big cluster of soccer for viewers in America. Every different league, different styles, different matchups, etc. are all in action over the next month and a half.

We’d like to know what TSG fans prefer and why. Feel free to give us some long answers in the comments because mine is pretty long too. Let us know your preferences for competition and style in the polls at the bottom.

First Kick goes to Seattle this year....Matthew already has Freddy Montero for the Golden Boot...will the season start with a bang?

MLS First Kick is March 15 when the Los Angeles Galaxy heads to Qwest Field. Honestly, I cannot wait. This is the biggest season so far. We all know the off-field intrigue this season: the entry of Portland and Vancouver into the league, Kansas City’s new stadium, the Cosmos marketing extravaganza, the final year of Beckham’s contract, etc. But when it really comes down to it, the product on the field is the showcase. A lot of people do not really admire the play or they just will not admit that they do, but I love it.

I am an American sports fan at heart. If anyone knows my Twitter or YouTube accounts, they may notice that the Arkansas Razorbacks are still my first love. The reason I love Arkansas and SEC football so much is because of the speed of play and the physical nature of the games. That is why I love watching MLS games. I love how fast the games move and admire the athleticism that is present in the league despite the players having to play through such gruesome summer heat.

GBS: Somehow gone without fanfare...

I am still enamored by the class oozed in every touch from Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Juan Pablo Angel, David Ferreira and of course Cuahtemoc Blanco when he played for Chicago, but their abilities on the ball would not stand out so much if it was not for the hectic pace of the game around them.

Around the same time as the MLS First Kick, either Real Salt Lake or the Columbus Crew will be heading into the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals. Their opponent will either be Saprissa from Costa Rica or Olimpia from Honduras. These are two of the most successful clubs from Central America. As much as I respect those two teams, I hate the style that they represent. Caribbean and Central American soccer is so scrambled, slow and dirty (in tactics/nature, not hygiene) that it is so hard for me to watch. I can only hope that Saprissa or Olimpia will not resort to Arabe Unido-type tactics if they are winning by one goal late in a match.

On the other side of the bracket are four Mexican squads. The knockout rounds of the Champions League come at a time when the Mexican Clausura is in full swing. The quality and intensity in those matches should be great for the Champions League. Unfortunately, I just cannot get excited by Mexican football. A lot of fans love the skill and quality exhibited in Mexico. I find the style more anesthetic than aesthetic. The game is just too slow for me. That is why I enjoy watching the contrast of styles between Mexican squads and MLS teams. MLS teams that do well in the tournament tend to have a Latin American influence (Javier Morales, Alvaro Saborio, Emilio Renteria, Schelotto), but still play at the speed that I appreciate from MLS.

That speed is part of why I will always embrace the English Premier League as my second favorite. There are the obvious enabling factors: quality, language, visibility and a popular destination for American players. I always enjoy the pace of the matches. The intensity of the games are at such high levels that are usually only reached on the international level.

Celebrating the American...

Part of the reason Landon Donovan was so beloved at Goodison Park was because of his work rate. The same can be said of Brian McBride at Craven Cottage.

The English game and its fans appreciate speed, intensity, grit, determination and effort; very “American” sports ideals. The league also includes dazzling skill with the ball though. Even Arsenal with all of its beautiful football still has players like Walcott, Chamakh, Song and all of their fullbacks that can play at a pace that presses opposing defenses.

The contrast of the English style and others will be on full display in the UEFA Champions League and the Europa League. All four English teams advanced in the Champions League while two remain in the Europa League. What other styles are out there?

The French Ligue 1 has sped up over the years. Along with easier citizenship processes, the playing styles in England and France have been very conducive to bringing in more African players. The African continent is known for the speed and “power” of its players.

Gervinho: Seizing Ligue One

Ligue 1 has benefited from its African influx. Obviously it is tougher to view French league matches in America and few US internationals ever play there, but it is a league that I wish I could see more of.

The German Bundesliga went through a transformation over the last decade of which Klinsmann and ESPN would not stop telling viewers about during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. The league has always represented the pace and physicality of the German national team. Now the league continues to replicate the growing attacking verve and prowess displayed by the Germans at the national level. The Dutch Eredivisie is not the juggernaut it once was, but the league continues to produce elite attackers. The speed of play and high-scoring dramatics make the league entertaining to watch. Unfortunately, like Ligue 1, it has low visibility in America and few US internationals ever play there.

In my opinion, much of the rest of the continent (and the world for that matter) plays at a slower, more deliberate pace. Italy is well known for its tactics and patience, perfectly described here by Eric Giardini. Spain’s La Liga takes Mexico’s technical abilities to the extreme. Barcelona is dazzling to watch, but many teams throughout the league play at a slow pace without anything near the quality of Barca. I believe a lot of the “megaclubs” in lower UEFA domestic leagues play a Latin style. Teams like Porto, Sporting Lisbon, Olympiakos, Panathinaikos, Galatasaray and Fenerbahce employ many Latin and Latin American players. Teams from the Danish Superliga and the Scottish Premier League play a more deliberate tactical game.

I cannot write at length about much South American and Asian soccer. The quality of the Brazilian and Argentine leagues is exhibited by the enormous number of exports and transfers every single year. The group stage of the Copa Libertadores runs through the end of April. The finals are in the middle of June. The Japanese J-League and Korean K-League exhibit a more technical style, while the Australian A-League is more similar to MLS. The group stage of the AFC Champions League ends in late May.

The perfect combination of everything usually comes at the international level. Even in Asia, North America and South America the more technical style of the game accelerates to a faster pace in continental competitions. Players’ initial reactions to the international game are almost always about the speed of play. There will be another set of FIFA international dates in March allowing for friendlies and UEFA European qualifiers.

No matter what your preference, every soccer fan will get their chance to indulge in their favorite styles, teams and league over the next several months. For me, I am ready to get the 2011 MLS season started and see how the US players are building up the CONCACAF Gold Cup in the summer.

Devastating…….Ronaldo

Nothing, nothing said “striker” growing up like Ronaldo. And, for this writer, no one claimed the identity of the canary Brazil jersey like the great #9.

And there was one curt word that described his play, “devastating.”

Teams would work so hard just to prevent him from getting the ball knowing what was coming next.

Reports say the great Brazilian Ronaldo is set to hang up the studs today.

For me, I’ll best remember Ronaldo’s international career as Brazil’s monumental place in World Cup and global football afforded more watching opportunities growing up.

The catastrophic 1998 seizure news, followed up by arguably his best World Cup performance–though not at his physical peak–in 2002 when he willed Brazil all the way.

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