Archive for June, 2011

Op-Ed: Hard To Change The Jet Engine In Midair

You know, this piece is just in good fun at this point. And quite honestly, it’s a thank you to Dan of the Free Beer Movement (the audacious and amazingly creative movement that it is) for his good work who emailed and said, “Can you just write an opposing piece to that Grantland piece. I would find it therapeutic.”

Hey Barnwell, why didn’t the US call in this guy?!

You got it Dan.

Grantland, the mostly-outstanding Bill Simmon’s gambit at making an intelligent and sardonic outlet that mashes up sports and American culture, took a foray into covering soccer this week.

That plane didn’t get off the ground.

One article, an interesting if cavalier one, contrasted the rise to fame of Chicharito versus the plight of Freddy Adu. TSG friend and World Cup vet Herculez Gomez will have some feedback here on TSG shortly on that one.

However, the piece that came under more scrutiny and flame-throwing was “Hard Lessons” by writer Bill Barnwell.

Barnwell takes US Soccer to the woodshed over it’s approach to the US Mens program and manager Bob Bradley’s player selection at this year’s Gold Cup.

The Boston native makes some good points about needing to focus on youth and Bradley attempting to find a central midfield combination at last year’s World Cup.

Fair points, none original though.

That said, Barnwell issues the edict that “Everything that US Soccer does should be with the goal of winning the World Cup.”

To that end, his conclusion somehow arrives at the US deploying an uncertain developmental squad at the 2011 Gold Cup and suggesting that the US might have been thrashed by Mexico in the Final–as they ultimately were–but it would have moved the program forward and team closer to a World Cup win.

Huh?

Give me that literary wrench for a second and let me recalibrate that statement.

By authoring a  youth-invigorated squad that takes their lumps against Mexico in the Final–let’s presume they just automatically make that Final by the way–the US team is better off  because of a series of six matches three years before the World Cup will slingshot their development as one, and put them in a better position three years from now on.

Footnote: Pay no mind to securing the important Confederations Cup berth where a probably more cemented team will play against the best on location–the World Cup  location–a year before the tournament.

Sell Mortimer Sell!

Let’s address that statement in reverse order.

The Confederations Cup.

Confederations Cups can be both fun and educational…and most importantly the best preparation for World Cups.

Sparing the 2009 heroics of the United States whose victory over Spain at the time still ranks as one of the best international team victories of the past half decade…..

The Confederation’s Cup throws together players who may or may not have spent much time together into an isolated environment over the course of a few weeks. It gives the players and coaches more games against competition they might face the next year to measure their recruits.

2009 saw Charlie Davies hustle his way to earning a starting forward spot on the front line and witnessed an elder Jay DeMerit–by Barnwell’s criteria–to cement his spot a year before the vuvuzelas took over full time.

If the goal is to win a World Cup, no tournament–not the Gold Cup, not the Euros, not the Copa–prepares a side better than the Confederations Cup.

The Roster & Its Deployment

A deeper look than Barnwell’s curious eye at the United States Gold Cup roster shows a decidedly more youthful and ambitious team than turned off the lights in South Africa a year earlier.

Eric Lichaj–the only player that probably should have got a look in the 2010 run-up that didn’t–was firmly inserted in the backline.

Timmy Chandler would have been there, if not for the fact that he owes perhaps the next 10 years of his career to his discovery by Dieter Hecking at FC Nurnberg. Nurnberg has already kicked off their 2011-12 preparation.

In the midfield and up top, Bob Bradley attempted to bring in–and extended an invitation to–young American right winger Josh Gatt, all of 19 years of age and 24-year-old Eddie Gaven, a steady if unspectacular forward for the Columbus Crew.

Freddy Adu, 22-years-old, got a look and started in that Final. New York Red Bull player and recent high school mortarboard thrower Juan Agudelo started three games.

By this count, that’s at least six “players for the future” that either were extended invites or actually got meaningful playing time.

Fair point by Barnwell on this German engineering job.

Barnwell conveniently forgets and instead attempts to redirect the jury of Grantlanders to look at the folly in “blooding” two new players who will be past their prime by his count in World Cup 2014, Jermaine Jones and Clarence Goodson.

There is some merit to Barnwell exposing of Jones who was decidedly uneven in his game play throughout the tournament at the expense of Maurice Edu.

However, take a step back.

If you’re arguing about whether Maurice Edu–who has played nearly his entire career against competition collectively below his teams–should start or a Champion’s League vet Jones should start, that is like arguing that Nigel De Jong was the reason that the Netherlands got to the Finals. Bradley’s team’s always have players who fills roles, not roles fit for players.

The disparity of talent between your defensive minded holding midfielder–except in cases formally named Essien–is not going to make or break your team if you sport the US kit. That’s especially the case when looking at a triumvirate of Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones and Ricardo Clark–where Jones still decidedly has the biggest leg up.

Whether it’s Jones who possesses better overall passing, Edu who possesses a better ability to see-react-tackle or Clark who possesses better trackback speed, you’re subjectively-blind to Jones’s successes at best, splitting hairs at worst.)

(Digression: The bigger problem as could not be more clearer after the Gold Cup is the continued desire by Bradley to employ his son Michael in the creative midfielder role in traffic and task him with coverage defending at the same time. Shocking you might say.)

29-year-old Goodson’s callout is even more perplexing who Barnwell handles with a dismissive, “if he was really a player of international quality, he would have shown it before now.”

Much like Jay DeMerit didn’t merit selection for the United States in 2010. DeMerit, of course, got his first cap when he was 27, but only became a full fledged starter when he was–you guessed it–29.

Let’s get into the age thing, because Barnwell pulls off a sneaky little misdirection with his next completely erroneous claim.

Bradley’s decision to include Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo as regular starters was also questionable. Both Bocanegra and Cherundolo will be 35 by the time the next World Cup rolls around. Only one defender older than 35 started all of his team’s games at the World Cup in South Africa, and that was 2006 FIFA Player of the Year Fabio Cannavaro. Neither Bocanegra nor Cherundolo are anywhere near as talented as Cannavaro, and as we saw with Cherundolo on Saturday night, older players are at a higher risk of getting injured after a full season of club football in Europe.

Crafty, Barnwell, crafty. Yes Fabio Cannavaro was eldest defender at World Cup who started all his games.

I don’t know, I thought this guy was pretty good in South Africa…

Perhaps Barnwell doesn’t value the contributions of Dutchman Gio Van Bronckhorst…who played and started every game far his team….at fullback….including 105 minutes in the final. Van Bronchhorst, 35 at World Cup 2010.  (GVB is a few months younger than Cannavaro)

In fact quite a bit of elder statesmen manned critical defensive positions for their teams in the tournament. Joan Capdevilla, 32 and a starter for Spain. 31-year-old Joris Mathijsen started the Final as well for the Dutch.

The previous knockout round saw 32-year-old Arne Friedrich start for the Germans.

That’s not really the point though. No one wants to bring a 36-year-old anything to the World Cup unless they are much better than their age label.

Cherundolo is 32-years-old now, not 36. Will ‘Dolo be a starter at World Cup 2014?

No, absolutely not. In fact, a heavy rumor heading into Gold Cup play was the Cherundolo wanted to retire prior to the tournament.

The better question perhaps–and let’s leave Bradley making a meal of the defense tactically in Pasadena alone–is if you know that Cherundolo is going to retire and that Chandler is the heir apparent, why not bring Cherundolo in even as a stop gap? Spector wasn’t the answer, what’s your other option? Barnwell?

The Gold Cup is a hellacious three week-or-so tournament where teams have to come in and fly from one city to the next and then plan another game three or four days later.

It’s not the best time to begin building repetitions with players who might be there for a World Cup tournament three years later. Yet Bradley nearly had that cake and ate it too.

He started Tim Ream– in two matches and a third if you include the Boston Spanish massacre. He started Juan Agudelo in three of them and he started a new flanker, 24-year-old Ale Bedoya, in place of Landon Donovan even after Donovan’s wedding respite game against Jamaica.

Sounds like quite an initiative to develop youth by Bradley who also of course slotted in 22-year-old Freddy Adu in the final ahead of Chris Wondolowski.

It’s not even remotely crystal that any of  the young players Barnwell mentions will be outright starters three years from now.

Ream probably gets a checkmark in 2014…

Tim Ream has the best shot and may nail his nameplate on at centerback, but he’ll face mounting competition from U-20 standout John Anthony Brooks at left centerback and–go ahead rip me on this–MLSers George John and Matt Besler. But mostly it’s Brooks.

They don’t just give out four year contracts at door at Hertha, who will play in the top German division, Bundesliga 1 this season.

Ream still needs a ways to go on his aerial game and positioning before he’s worthy of being one of the first names on the team sheet.

The aforementioned Edu–depending on how you value Stu Holden–will face competition from Bolton’s Holden, maybe Will Packwood, the ever-present Sacha Kljestan and perhaps Jarred Jeffries and many others in that central midfield role.

Barnwell extends the red carpet to Omar Gonzalez as the heir apparent in the central defense pairing for 2014. All I have to say to that is Chicharito is salivating.

If you accept that the international game is getting faster with the likes of younger forwards being trotted out and midfielders moving back to the defensive line to provide protection through offense, than that Gonzalez tab seems a tad hasty in light of his biggest deficiency right now, speed.

More so when you consider that Gonzalez plays on an MLS team that consistently possesses the ball against its opposition and is not challenged for large stretches of game.

Names like Clarence Goodson (rightfully) and Ike Opara–to name just two–will likely be going up against Gonzalez at the right central back role for the next years. He may win it, but to assume it’s his?

Heck even Oguchi Onyewu will be only 32 at the next World Cup–probably don’t want to rule out a two-time World Cup vet at a key quarterback position just yet.

Perhaps more egregious than Barnwell’s misplaced skewering of the 2011 Gold Cup roster is that he offers no solutions.

By his logic, Eddie Johnson and even Justin Mapp would have been undoing the competition at World Cup 2010 and Gold Cup 2011. Both the striker and forward of course were rostered players for Gold Cup 2007 and both were considered quite promising, yet I didn’t hear the Grantland columnist calling for their insertion in Bradley’s roster this time around.

Barnwell, you don’t change the jet engine when the airplane is in the air, especially if you’re not sure if you have the right parts.  That leads to engine failure and a deafening crashing sound.

No, you check the parts out–like Bradley did during the group stage–and see if they are an exact match.

I’ll agree with you US Soccer–and a follow-up is coming here at TSG–needs an adjustment. The Gold Cup with the financially and experientially lucrative Confederations Cup on the line is not the place for that big mechanic’s job.

The Grantland piece gets credit on one thing, you’ll always get a positive reaction and laugh–much like the hilarious outtakes at the end of a movie that wasn’t so funny–by invoking Ricardo Clark and Ghana.

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More on TSG:

Snap Judgements: Mexico Roars Back, Vanquishes Yanks, 4-2

Op-Ed: Xavi Is Wrong & Why I Hate Barcelona

Interview: Alfonso Mondelo & The Technical State of MLS

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Turns Out It Is The Most Dangerous Lead…For The Other Team

The US bucked the norm, but not the cliche....

This column by TSG’s Nick Sindt with support from: John Nyen, Jose Ceniceros, Nathan Gower, Luke Sandblom & Matthew Connors.

The piece was originally conceived due to our Soccer Cliches piece thanks to the contribution of Matt Mathai.

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Soccer is a wonderful sport for many reasons; the skill on display, watching 11 men or women playing as if one, the momentum shifts that can turn a lost cause into a great day, and so on.

It is the ability for one pass, one shot, one tackle to completely change the momentum and course of a match that is likely at the heart of one of the most tired clichés in all of soccer broadcasting: “a two-goal lead is the most dangerous lead in soccer.”

Sir Alex sees the way to victory as having a two-goal lead...

Back in January during a Manchester United-Birmingham game, the commentator made a statement about 10 minutes into the game about United manager Sir Alex Ferguson wanting a “second goal” which would’ve made the score 2-0.

Surely one of the most decorated managers of all time wouldn’t wish his team to score another goal and thus entering themselves into the Bermuda triangle of leads.

United went on to win that game 5-0 and, it should be noted that nary a comment was made about 2-0 being the most dangerous lead.

Then you take a Blackpool-United game on the evening of January 25th and 2-0 takes on a completely different meaning; this time United were down and managed to come back to win 3-2.  During the entire match I heard nothing about Blackpool holding onto the most dangerous lead.

In the two examples above, the two-goal lead led to an insurmountable victory and a narrow defeat which begs the question ‘what makes a two-goal lead so dangerous and what are the criteria surrounding this two-goal lead that make it so perilous?’

First, let’s address the most important elephant in the room for this often- and ill-used limerick, the data.

THE DATA

There were 380 games in La Liga this year. Of those 380 matches, 167 of them reached a 2-0 lead.

In 95.2% of them (159) the team that had rippled the nets twice went on to win. Six teams relinquished the lead and ended up “earning” a draw. Only two, TWO, of those teams lost.

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Group Effort: US Women Wields Heavy Stick In 2nd Half, Drop North Korea, 2-0

Editors’s Note: TSG guest columnist Maura Gladys on Game 1 for the USWNT.

Lauren Cheney paid back the boss lady for her surprise start....

Hear that? That’s the sound of the entire U.S. Women’s national team, along with its fan base, exhaling. After weeks of hype, build up, criticism, anxiety and pressure, the U.S. finally has a little room to breath, thanks to a 2-0 win over North Korea. It was not perfect. But the U.S. reached a level of play towards the end of the game that contained promising glimpses of a world champion team.

Those glimpses were not evident in the first 45 minutes. The U.S. looked nervous and shaky, especially on defense. The back four had trouble picking up streaking North Korean runners, and left fullback Amy LePeilbet, the U.S.’ best 1v1 defender, was beat twice in succession, leading to shots. The United States’ struggles weren’t only in the back. They failed to finish several good opportunities. Amy Rodriguez’s touch was off, Abby Wambach couldn’t convert on a few balls that you expect her to convert on, and all of Lauren Cheney’s shots were straight at the keeper. Not the best way to kick off a tournament that is supposed to be your return to glory. (It was around this time when Ian Darke of ESPN began referencing Italy in the 1994 World Cup, when they played poorly in the group stages but went on the win it all.)

Not the best day at the office for LePeilbet...

While many of the U.S.’s struggles were a product of their nerves, North Korea implemented a smart strategy that tied up the midfield and forced the attack to go out to the wings. They clogged the midfield and basically sat on top of Shannon Boxx and Carli Lloyd, neutralizing their distributing abilities, and daring the U.S. to attack from the wings. But with Lauren Cheney pinched in and Amy LePeilbet hesitant to push forward, Heather O’Reilly was the only one consistently out on the wing generating any offense.

Entering halftime with a scoreless draw was not a good feeling. With North Korea creating several good first half chances, a goal from them was not out of the question, and the buildup, hype and expectations seemed to be weighing even heavier on the U.S. squad.

Then, with one cut, cross and header, it was all okay. In the 54th minute, Carli Lloyd sent a floating opposite field cross to Abby Wambach, who collected it near the right corner flag. Wambach faked out her defender with an inside cut that gave her the space and time to pick out Lauren Cheney in the middle of the box. Cheney directed the cross right back where it came from, placing a header at the far post and sending the keeper sliding.

And exhale.

Cheney raced to the sidelines where the she was engulfed by the entire squad in a collective release of anxiety.

Continue reading

USMNT Briefs: Bradley, Altidore, Onyewu…

A few quick Tuesday notes here on the USMNT.

These two...again...

The Daily Bob: Seems that the fallout from the Gold Cup is still unclear.

Reached via email by the NY Times, USSF president Sunil Gulati issued the following perhaps-foreboding statement on beleaguered US manager Bob Bradley:

“We’ll have something to say later this week.”

Given that Bradley took his squad to the Gold Cup–more than a developmental one–and failed to secure a critical Timmy Chandler…and the United States just lost a vital World Cup prep tournament (and the approximate $10-$15M in revenue that comes with it). Well….

Double Dutch: A report by Greg Selzer at MLS Soccer follows up a Jozy tweet yesterday about Altidore heading to the Eredivisie and playing for AZ Alkmaar.

Per Selzer and a quote by former USMNTer Ernie Stewart–the club’s director–AZ Alkmaar is in talks with Altidore, but the club will need to shuttle out one of the four strikers currently on their roster.

• It’s not Siberia: While Altidore may be headed to Windmillville, Oguchi Onyewu was left without a chair at season’s close and has found his way to the Iberian peninsula to play with Sporting Lisbon, so says the US centerback via twitter.

Can he reclaim his lofty heights?

USA vs. North Korea: Live Commentary

Backline vet Rampone sports the armband for the States...

The starting line-ups out shortly.

Pia Sundhage’s crew is about to take on North Korea in their inaugural World Cup game.

Will Lauren Cheney get the nod up front or out wide?

Can the US contain speedster Kim Kyong Hwa?

Grab your pretzels and beer. It’s go time for the ladies.

The USWNT: World Cup Group Survival Manual

Editors’s Note:  The US Women are about to kickoff their World Cup, TSG guest columnist Maura Gladys reviews their group.

Group C Preview

Group C is one of the toughest of the tournament, featuring two veteran (re: aging?) squads, a mysterious team that even opposing coaches and players are struggling to get a read on, and a young, hungry South American squad ready to turn heads. With that so many potential storylines, as well as markedly different playing styles, every game in Group C should be entertaining and intriguing. Headlined by the top-ranked United States, the group features No. 8 North Korea, No. 5  Sweden and No. 31  Colombia.  The group is also almost identical to Group B of 2007, which featured the United States, North Korea, Sweden and Nigeria. In that group, the U.S. tied North Korea, and defeated Sweden and Nigeria to win the group.

THE OPPONENTS

NORTH KOREA

There’s not a ton of info out there about North Korea. What we do know about them: They finished second place in the Asian Cup, losing to Australia on penalty kicks. They seldom play international friendlies on foreign soil, but they recently took on Germany where they lost 2-0. They are a fast, disciplined machine of a team that likes to run their opponents ragged and thrives on organization. The Chollimas, who are currently ranked sixth in FIFA’s world rankings, took on the United States in the 2007 version of the tournament, and played the U.S. to a 2-2 draw, after a little bloodshed, so expect the rematch to be just as physical and fast. North Korea is dangerous on offense, led by lightning-fast attacking midfielder Kim Kyong Hwa. The offense often likes to work the ball into the area between the defense and midfield and take shots at the top of the box, a strategy that the U.S. isn’t the best at snuffing out. The Chollimas pose the biggest threat the to U.S. finishing with a perfect group record.

COLOMBIA

Columbia is young and unknown. With an average age of 21.6, and having never qualified for a major a major tournament, opponents have very little to go off of when preparing for the Cafeteras. However, it’s likely that Columbia’s inexperience will hurt them more than their opponent’s lack of knowledge will help them, as this tournament is seen more as a stepping stone to grow the sport for the future.

Continue reading

USWNT: Forwards, March

Editors’s Note:  The US Women are about to kickoff their World Cup, TSG guest columnist Maura Gladys concludes the positional review with the forwards. This piece written last week.

Part I:  Defense: USWNT positioning more core US backline success than experience.

Part II: USWNT: About That Midfield

Lauren Cheney's warm-up golazo against Mexico might have earned her the starting nod tomorrow.....

The United States is poised to have it’s trademark potent offense in Germany next week, thanks to a strong mix of veterans and bright, young talent. Abby Wambach and Amy Rodriguez are pretty clear-cut starters, and should be. Wambach is big, tall, fast and ferocious. She’s the clear the central point of the offense, and her 118 goals in 157 games confirms that.

Amy Rodriguez seems to be the best option to pair with Wambach. Yes, A-Rod blew about a million chances against Mexico, and it was fellow forward Lauren Cheney who netted the game-winner, but Rogriguez has the experience and complementary style that pairs nicely with Wambach. And the two are finally linking up effectively. They struggled finding each other in the two games against Japan, but looked much improved against Mexico.

Then there’s Alex Morgan. Morgan is a firecracker of a player who makes an immediate impact on the game the moment her feet hit the field. She proved that when she netted the game-winner against Italy last fall and created several great opportunities against Japan on May 18 with her speed and timing. In short, she’s the perfect catalyst to come off the bench in the second half to give the team an offensive spark in a close game.

The big question is when Sundhage will choose to bring her in. Against Japan, with the U.S. already leading, Morgan entered in the 61st  minute. But against Mexico, with the U.S. deadlocked in a scoreless tie, and struggling to put the ball in the net, Sundhage waited until the 76th minute to insert Morgan. During that game she also dropped back Lauren Cheney into the midfield when she subbed out Amy Rodriguez, ensuring that there would only be two strikers instead of bumping up a third striker to add some extra offense when a key goal was clearly needed. Sundhage’s justification for this was that the two striker system complements Morgan and Wambach’s skills together, and so adding a third forward would take away from that effectiveness.

This raises a few red flags. If Mexico was a meaningful World Cup game, and Lauren Cheney didn’t save the day with her wonderstrike, the coach would probably take some heat about not throwing a bit more offense forward. That kind of hesitancy to take risks during close games is a bit of a concern, especially for games like North Korea, where possession might be a rare commodity and the U.S. might need to capitalize on the few chances they get.

Let’s not forget aboiut Lauren Cheney. While Cheney will not likely beat out Rodriguez for that starting spot next to Wambach, she adds an important dimension to the squad. Not only does she possess the ability to change a game with one strike (Mexico, anyone?), she can also drop back into midfield and provide support there.

 

Overall, the front line is polished, fast and aggressive, and should be the strongest group of performers in Germany.

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