Archive for July, 2011

TSG Potluck: Pre$eason tours

Is MLS hampered by the European pre-season tours?

Potluck question from the venerable GeorgeCross (this was briefly discussed yesterday):

With many European teams coming stateside for their pre-sea$on tours, how do you think this hampers the growth of MLS / capturing non-MLS football fans?  Especially when United knock Seattle for 7.  It gives these fans an even bigger reason to say MLS is a joke, and this is the reason they don’t follow MLS, but a Euro team.

Discuss…

TSG Potluck: New Jersey or old?

Has heard at TSG studios during the final..."Why do their uniforms look like Elvish formal wear"? - Margo.

Potluck question from TSG commentor Eric:

With more and more Americans becoming fans of soccer, an increased number of jerseys are being seen on the streets. On any given weekend around DC, I can see a handful of jerseys, mostly USMNT or EPL clubs, just walking around and it has become “popular fashion” of late.

Jersey sales are huge business and clubs and manufacturers are very aware of this. Around this time every year, fans anxiously await to see the new kits for this season and decide whether or not they will splash the cash for a shirt that more often than not looks pretty much the same as last season’s.

A quick peak in my closet will reveal more soccer jerseys than shirts I can wear to work (I could provide a list but I don’t want to bore any of you), and I always say “Oh, I’m not getting X jersey this year”, but I always somehow manage to buy the most current shirt. Are you in the camp of having to have the latest jersey no matter what or do you just have one that you’ve been wearing for years?

Discuss…

The Talent Gap

Guest TSG contributor, DTH asks if there is a talent gap between the USMNT and their rivals south of the border.

Freddy Adu. A bright spot for the USMNT in the Gold Cup Final.

Somehow the hysteria has sustained itself for a month or so after the Gold Cup loss; it was traumatic, sure, but that’s no reason to draw the wrong conclusions. Most people seem to blame a talent gap, with some reasonable people—like, say, Brian Straus, suggesting that the Gold Cup loss was inevitable, even after going up 2-0. While Straus is a really good reporter, this seems almost unbearably silly: a team good enough to go 2-0 up is good enough to finish the game off. Mexico had trouble scoring two goals against its previous knockout round opponents—Guatemala and Honduras—and the U.S. is more talented than either.

Still, one game doesn’t make a trend and a talent gap, if real, would be a disturbing sign for the U.S., particularly since it had the edge in the previous decade in terms of results. The talent gap people are fuzzy on exactly what they mean: do they mean a talent gap right now or do they mean a talent gap that they can foresee in the future due to superior youth? Both questions are interesting, and I disagree with the common take on both, though to varying degrees.

Let’s take the talent gap right now, and look specifically at the 2011 Gold Cup rosters. Admittedly, I don’t know the Mexico depth chart in perfect detail, but it’s my impression that the roster is basically the most talented assemblage of Mexican players available, save for perhaps Jonathan Dos Santos and Carlos Vela (I have a personal fondness for Edgar Pacheco though as far as I know no one was really surprised he was excluded by de la Torre.) On the other hand, the U.S.’s roster was plainly not at full strength, for whatever reason—the most prominent being Stuart Holden, Timmy Chandler and (personal bias again) Mikkel Diskerud.

Can Mixx bring it at the national level?

There’s quite a bit of uncertainty surrounding each respective team’s fringe players, but I don’t think there’s a substantial difference necessarily. Holden can’t be counted on, as he’s missed large parts of three different seasons now to injury; Chandler may perhaps be a one-half-season wonder and Diskerud hasn’t been tested beyond the Tippeligaen. Still, the Mexican players have their own weaknesses (on the positive side–one Mexican player, dos Santos, addresses a specific and glaring need for Mexico: deep-lying midfielder. Despite the mistaken reputation of some players—no matter how many times you say it, people, Stuart Holden isn’t a number ten and doesn’t play as one, so please stop suggesting he’ll cure any creative woes—I’m not sure any of the U.S. players closest to the top 23 fill any current glaring needs.)

So then let’s consider the rosters themselves. Talent is difficult to quantify, especially in soccer, so I like using a couple of heuristics: number of players in Europe, and number of appearances in Europe. The best players generally play in the best leagues, and generally start in them. The U.S. featured 11 players in top five leagues, and five players playing for other European leagues. Mexico featured five top five league players, and three players playing in other European leagues.

I suppose Mexico partisans might claim that the relative strength of the Mexican league vis-à-vis the MLS helps explain a current talent gap, but this explanation doesn’t fit for me. We know that the U.S. and Mexico were at rough parity in results in the previous decade: was the U.S. substantially less talented during that time? That seems unlikely. It seems more likely that the U.S. and Mexico were roughly equivalently talented. And the gap between Mexico and the MLS was much larger then than now. So our domestically-based players are, relative to the past, getting much tougher competition and the gap between the difficulty of the competition is smaller.

Currently the most successful USMNT player abroad.

As you might imagine, the U.S. made substantially more appearances in top five leagues than Mexico: in total, Americans appeared in 212 top-five league games, for an average of 19 appearances per player. Mexico made 103 top-five league game appearances, for an average 20.6 appearances per player. Aside from Chicharito, Mexicans weren’t playing for substantially more successful teams than Americans: Cherundolo, top-four; Dempsey, mid-table; Howard, mid-table; Jones, lower-table but not relegated (but also Champions League); Bradley, lower-table but not relegated; Bocanegra, mid-table; Edu, champion; Lichaj, upper-table in Championship; Spector, relegated. By contrast two of Mexico’s top-five league players were relegated, and Barrera barely appeared for West Ham (he looked like he needed time to adjust, to be fair). The closer you look, the harder it is to see the talent gap: Americans play for more European teams and at a similar level.

So how to explain the gap? A few theories: Chicharito is just that good; the talent doesn’t mesh; the coaching is poor. Personally, I subscribe to elements of all three.

It’s a fair criticism to note that the U.S.’s best players are aging and Mexico’s are young. That’s where the fairest talent gap criticism comes into play, and given the weakness of American players aged 20-23, that generation will probably always be a weak spot. The youth players criticism even extends to youth teams. This is more interesting. Mexico just won its second u-17 World  Cup in five tries, and the team that won it this time around was very talented. Meanwhile, its American peers alternated from looking very good in the public eye (e.g. against the Czech Republic, or, before the tournament, against South Korea) and looking absolutely clueless. In fairness, this is a lot better than previous American u-17 teams, who looked consistently clueless (aside from the ’99 team with Donovan, Beasley, et. al.)

Mexico's future looks bright as their under 17's just won the World Cup

But if there’s one thing the hysteria has missed, it’s that like Tolstoy’s diagnosis of the family—all happy teams are the same; all unhappy teams are different. There’s the problem with analyzing the two team’s u-20 teams. The U.S. failed to qualify for the team on poor play and a series of flukes, essentially; but on the other hand, it’s already amassed the second-most professional appearances for an u-20 team ever (the exception being the 2007 team, which benefited from Freddy Adu’s huge number of appearances. Also note that this has been done while we’re still in the middle of the year; the gap will grow larger by the end.) At least as far as that generation is concerned, it’s hard to say the U.S. is worse at development. (Especially since the MLS is better: these u-20 players are earning more time against tougher competition.) On the other hand, Mexico’s u-20’s look like a solid bunch with a couple of very good prospects—Guarch and Torres, in particular—but have often looked workmanlike or worse against bad teams. (To take only one example: they struggled to beat a Chinese national team filled with players one or two years younger than they.)

My diagnosis, overall, is that there will be a talent gap—the game is about stars, particularly offensive ones, and the U.S. is not producing proven ones at the moment. On the other hand, it’s doing a good job of producing the Alejandro Bedoyas and Steve Cherundolos of the future. It’s a case of doing some things well and some things too poorly. That’s bad, but it’s a different kind of bad than we’ve been led to believe.

Contribute: The TSG Flash Potluck

Ah..sunsets...

One more day here…introducing the TSG Flash Potluck.

Real simple–and most of you do this in the comment section anyway….

By 4pm PT today, send us your opinion, your op-ed on any topic. Keep it brief (two, three paragraphs) and ask a question at the end, like, “Should we be concerned that many players that Bob Bradley brings in to camps are not playing or not starters for their MLS teams?”

Bring up a hot button issue, link to a cause (like this), take a stand!

Send us it with an email and we’ll put the best ones up. (shinguardian@gmail.com)

See you in a few days.

The TSG American Soccer “Ex-Casters” Round Table

Dan Wiersema of The Free Beer Movement puts together a star-studded broadcasting panel

Class, class....class!

As American crafts its own soccer identity on the field and in the stands another front has opened as well in the broadcasting booth. Major League Soccer’s first generation of players (Jamie Moreno, who retired in 2010, was the last player to have played in the league’s inaugural 1996 season) has taken off their boots and several have made the move behind the mic.

Today we’re talking to a few on-field American soccer pioneers that are now doing the same in front of the cameras; creating a distinctive “American” voice in soccer broadcasting.

Let’s Meet the Participants

Lalas: Say what?!

Alexi Lalas was a member of the 1994 and 1998 USMNT World Cup squads with 96 caps to his name. In his eleven years playing professionally he was the first modern American to play in Italy (Padova) and featured for the New England Revolution, the NY/NJ Metrostars, Kansas City Wizards, and Los Angeles Galaxy in Major League Soccer. He was also the general manager for both the Metrostars/Red Bulls and the Galaxy. For the past five years he’s worked as an on-air analyst for ESPN.

The third person "TT?" No problem...

Taylor Twellman is in his first year of the broadcasting business. Alongside JP Dellcamera, this 31-time USMNTer is the color man for Philadelphia Union matches and also appears on ESPN. Twellman played professionally for eleven years in Germany (1860 Munich) and the U.S. (New England Revolution) before medical reasons forced him to retire.

Martino

Kyle Martino is a three-year veteran of the booth and currently works for Fox Soccer Channel. Martino played in MLS for eight years for the Los Angeles Galaxy and Columbus Crew. He also featured eight times for his country.

Dunny...

Brian “Dunny” Dunseth has been in broadcasting since 2006 as a commentator for Fox Soccer nationally and Real Salt Lake locally. During his nine year professional career he played for several MLS sides including New England Revolution, Miami Fusion, Columbus Crew, Dallas Burn, Real Salt Lake, Chivas USA, Los Angeles Galaxy, and abroad for Bodens BK. Dunseth is also the co-founder of Bumpy Pitch, a soccer t-shirt maker and, The Original Winger, a soccer-lifestyle blog.

The Questions

The Shin Guardian: You all spent your entire lives playing soccer. Talk about your decision to retire and start thinking about life beyond the pitch.

Taylor Twellman: I didn’t have a choice as brain damage from concussions left me with no choice. I was asked, “Do you want to live healthy past 45/50? Then you must retire now and stop working out”.

Black and white issue for me so it was simple. Right now I am enjoying the media side of MLS and covering Boston sports locally and hopefully it’s a future that I have.

Alexi Lalas: I finished playing at the end of 2003 and was told that my contract would not be picked up. One door closes and another opens. I was lucky to be offered the opportunity to go right into an MLS front office. Although I could have hung on and played for a few more years, I recognized the gift that I was being given. Very few players get to go out on their own terms, so if a jumping-off point comes along you have to be mature enough to see it and brave enough to take it – because it might not be there further down the line.

Camaraderie on the pitch no more...

Kyle Martino: My decision was pretty much made for me. After several surgeries to put me back together, humpty-dumpty style, I was advised by doctors that the party was over. Deciding to retire was probably the most difficult moment in my life so far. To give up something I loved so intensely, something that I worked my whole life to obtain left me with a gigantic void. The silver lining (although to me it seems more like clear skies altogether) was getting the opportunity to fall in love with soccer in a whole new way. Broadcasting has given me a new appreciation for the sport that has been so good to me. It has taken time, but I can still get the buzz up in the booth that I used to get down on the field.

Brian Dunseth: I really don’t think anyone professional is ready for the day they decide to walk away from the playing side of the game, regardless of how long they’ve played.  For me, it was more about having control over my own life and the direction I decided to head into.

If you look above, I’ve played for pretty much every team in the history of soccer in the United States and I was completely fine with it.  Playing the game was never about establishing my life in just one spot; it was about the life experience that came along with the game on and off the field.

My wife (who was my Fiancée at the time) was dealing with the decline of her father at the time of my release from the Los Angeles Galaxy and, after owning three homes and not living in a single one of them for more than nine months, I decided my playing path had come to an end

TSG: How did you get into broadcasting? Is that something you considered realistic as a post-retirement career?

Martino: Getting involved in broadcasting was kind of a fluke. We were on a two game road trip with the LA Galaxy and I had received a red card for my skinny guy feisty-ness in the first game.  I was forced to sit on the sidelines to serve that one game suspension during the following game at New England. The broadcast team asked me up in to the booth to do an interview for a few minutes during the second half. I guess they liked what I was doing because they ended up keeping me there for most of the game.

I guess the Powers That Be took notice because a few years later when I had announced my retirement, my phone rang.  On the other end was ESPN asking if I wanted to try covering a game. I said yes, and the rest is history as they say.

Taylor on the pitch...on the right that is...

Twellman: Tom McNeeley from ESPN always told me I should give it a shot when I was done and that I may be good at it, but as a player I was Bull Durham, TT the cliché HA! So Now that I am done playing I can be the personality that I wanted to be as a player but not worry so much about saying something about the opponent or my own head coach that would be controversial.

Dunseth: It’s funny… I had a conversation with Christian Miles and Alan Hopkins in 2006 about getting into broadcasting.  This was a follow up to when I first came into MLS and I watched my teammate Alexi Lalas go on camera and absolutely turn it on.  I knew then I wanted to learn how to do what he was able of doing.

Miles & Hopkins

Less than a week after my release from the Galaxy, I moved back to Salt Lake City so my wife could be with her Father and decided to suck up my pride and go to a game.  When I got there about 45 minutes before kickoff, I heard the Pre-game Radio show and the guys breaking down the upcoming opponent.  I felt like I could do a good job doing that considering the fact I knew all the teams / players in the league and offered up my services.  From the Pre / Post-Game show, it turned into a Color Analyst role on radio and then when Robin Fraser took the Assistant Coach role alongside Jason Kreis, I was fortunate enough to be offered the Color Analyst role for Real Salt Lake broadcasts.

Lalas: In 2008, I was fired from the Galaxy and ESPN immediately called. Throughout my career I had made a point of seeking out and making time for TV work (World Cups, Olympics, highlight shows, commercials etc…). My limited appearances showed people that I knew what I was doing and had a potential future in broadcasting. I’ve always considered myself an entertainer and I enjoy performing. I had a successful career on the field which opened up doors for me off the field. But it only opened the door; the rest was and continues to be about hard work and commitment. It’s one of the most enjoyable jobs I’ve ever had and it enables me to remain in the game I love.

TSG How would you describe your broadcasting “style?”

Dunseth: Honest and Accountable. Being able to say to a player face  anything that I say to the camera.

Martino: My style is critical, but fair. I am in a unique position starting this career at my age. Most people get involved in TV after a long career stretching into their mid to late 30’s. Being so young, I will be covering guys I played with, and against, for many years to come. It gives me a great advantage to know the games I am covering so intimately and have that inside edge.

Continue reading

Bullet: MLS All-Star “Dilemma” Contradictory

Short, sweet here.

"Two practices you said....ha!"

Hans Backe acknowledged this week that his All-Star selections were strategic in nature so his MLS squad could compete against might Manchester United July 27th at Red Bull Arena.

…but this is just the pre-season for United.

…are the “strategic” MLS players that much better that they can come together for one, maybe two practices and compete against players that play and practice together all the time?

—–

You can’t straddle the line MLS. Call it “the summer star exhibition” or make it a true All-Star game.

Can’t have both. Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs…giggling.

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