Archive for August, 2011

DP’ing: MLS Signs Eddie Johnson

EJ juggled himself through Europe, now back to the States.

Eddie Johnson, back to MLS.

MLS VP Todd Durbin on a conference call earlier announced that Johnson will head back to the US domestic league and go through the normal allocation order to be assigned to a team.

Johnson returns after a foray overseas that saw him yo-yo in and out of Fulham’s reserve squad and some time in the 18, with jaunts to the Championship–most recently Preston North End–and to Aris with Freddy Adu.

Chivas USA–who traded for Juan Pablo Angel yesterday–are up first in the allocation. Should they pass it would then go Houston Dynamo, Toronto FC, Chicago Fire, and Sporting KC.

Where does EJ go? Who should he go to?

Our two cents: Let’s hope this isn’t an unfair contract for a player that couldn’t secure work overseas.

Caveating The Whole “No Foreign Coach Has Won A World Cup” Thing

Foreigh coach? So what.... (Photo credit: Matt Mathai)

Data collaborators on this piece include: Jacob Chambliss, Gregorio, Robert Jonas, Luke Sandblom, Matthew Acconciamessa, Calvin Paquette, Garrett Tozier, Jonathan Stein

Please support: The Others May Live Foundation, The NorthStar Soccer Club

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As you’ve heard countless times at The Shin Guardian, one of our favorite expressions is, “You can’t look at an observation in isolation, you need to look at the whole body of work.”

A heady and applicable statement when evaluating two-goal Conor Casey games in San Pedro Sula, Robbie Findley at Nottingham Forest, and Edgar Castillo at leftback last week.

Happel: Going where no foreign coach has went since....

A sister expression to the aforementioned might as well be, “Blanket statements are fun for media distribution, but the underlying story doesn’t always match.”

A great example here may be, “Michael Bradley has won playing time every club he’s went to.” Of course, that generalization came to abrupt end with Michael Bradley’s abbreviated tenure at Aston Villa.

Previously Bradley had been with a mere three clubs (a small number of observations), the defunct MLS MetroStars (where his father was the coach), Heerenveen (where he started), and Borussia Mönchengladbach
where he again started.

Bradley’s tenure with Aston Villa came to end after failing to win a single starting role in league competition.

But does that tell the story? Bradley from eye witness accounts was considered a step slow for the Prem (true or untrue), but was the Junior Bradley the victim of a numbers game, a new manager, a casualty of the homegrown rule or did ‘Gladbach
ask for too much for Bradley? Should Bradley be considered a C – C+ player now because he earned a starting spot at three out of now four pitstops?

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Selected Images: USA vs. Mexico; Klinsmann Debuts

For those new to TSG, Matt Mathai is a our resident photographer.

His story and affiliation with US Soccer and MLS is deep; you can check it out here.

Matt’s nickname–“Hansel Adams”–around the TSG Hall is one part Zoolander (Hansel…so hot) and two parts, well, Ansel Adams. Take a look–again–at Mathai f-stopping his way through last Wednesday USA vs. Mexico match-up in Philadelphia.

Update: If you’re on Twitter and like Matt’s work, do a solid and RT this: http://twitter.com/#!/shinguardian/status/103493511625719809

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Los Angeles Galaxy Make It Official: Robbie Keane On Board

Does Keano still have it.

The Galaxy make it official. Keano is bringing his footie fisticuffs to LA.

The LA Galaxy today agreed to terms with Ireland National Team captain Robbie Keane. Keane, who will join the club from Tottenham Hotspur of England’s Premier League, will officially be added to the club’s roster upon receipt of his P-1 Visa.

Keane has scored more than 250 goals for club and country in a career that began in 1997 at the age of just 17 and has seen him become one of the all-time leading goal scorers in the history of the Premier League. Per team and league regulations, details of the contract were not released.

No word on how and where Juan Pablo Angel is moving too and he looks likely to have a new address here shortly.

More:

Your Los Angeles Galaxicos — Our column from December 2010 citing the JPA signing as a poor one.

Are you ready for some football?!– Last year TSG’s Shaun Webb dropped by a Tottenham Hotspur practice here in SF in conjunction with the NFL’s 49ers. Pretty cool pics and segment.

 

To Paris With Love: A Revolution at PSG

This column by Eric Giardini. Proof once again that he does, in fact, write for TSG.

Messi is to Michael Jordan as Pastore is to Magic Johnson

At the conclusion of their 1-0 home loss to Lorient, jeers from the supporters rained down upon the Paris Saint-Germain players as they left the pitch at the Parc de Princes.

While home losses have become a common occurrence in Paris, this loss was especially disappointing to the home crowd. The capital club, which has floundered in mediocrity over the past decade, has not been in contention for the Ligue 1 title since 2004. With Lyon, Bordeaux, and Marseille all surpassing the once proud club in France in recent years, Parisians have almost had a laissez-faire attitude towards the club.

Since the 2001-02 campaign, the average attendance has dropped from approximately 43,000 per home match (86% capacity) to a low of 33,000 in 2009-10 (70% capacity, good for 12th in Ligue 1).

A week later, PSG followed up their home loss to Lorient with an away 1-1 draw Rennes and are currently in sitting in 15th place. With multiple bottom half of the table finishes in recent years, why are expectations so high in 2011 to get supporters worked up over an opening matchday loss?

Since the middle of June, the club has splashed €91.5m (91.5m!) bringing in eight new players. While the names and numbers of new faces in Paris are noteworthy in and of themselves, the crown jewel of the European transfer market packed his bags in Sicily, waved farewell to the iconic pink Palermo shirt, and will don the equally iconic red and blue for PSG. That’s right, PSG, the club that had become an afterthought in France, and even Paris, beat out the likes of Chelsea and Real Madrid for Javier Pastore’s signature. How did this happen? One must look no further than the club’s new Qatari owners and new Director of Football.

Leonardo proves you can return to where you came from...

The Qatar Investment Authority, founded in 2005, was established initially with the goal of managing the extra natural gas and oil surpluses that the Qatari government was receiving. In six short years, the QIA now has more than an estimated $80 billion in assets. After numerous attempts to purchase clubs in the past (Everton in 2008-2009 and Manchester United in 2010), the QIA was successful in being able to purchase 70% of PSG on May 31, 2011. The group hasn’t looked back since.

On July 13, Leonardo returned to the club he spent a season at as a player in the mid-1990s and was appointed as the club’s sporting director – a move that was widely expected as soon as he stepped down from the manager’s post at Inter Milan in mid-June. With control over the estimated €100m transfer kitty, Leonardo went to work assembling a team to the specifications of the new ownership. Said Nasser Al-Khelaïfi, Head of the Board:

“Our aim is to qualify for the Champions League every year as of 2012. Then, from 2015, we want to play a major role in Le Championnat. We don’t want to sign Lionel Messi, but we want to invest in the big stars of tomorrow from all over the world, including France.”

Leonardo, thus far, has taken ownership’s edict to heart and four of the eight new signings brought in are French. Somewhat unusual though, is rather than focusing on players within Ligue 1, Leonardo has targeted Serie A for signings.

Gamiero was the first pin to drop...

Kévin Gameiro was the first big money signing for PSG as he was brought over from Lorient on June 12, prior to the arrival of Leonardo, for €11m (with add-ons, the deal can reach up to €15m) after scoring 51 goals in 110 league matches. Once Leonardo officially took control, action came fast and furious in the transfer market. On the same day, July 25, three moves were announced as final. Defensive midfielder Blaise Matuidi arrived from Saint-Étienne for an additional €10m to help shore up that position after the retirement of Claude Makélélé – big shoes to fill to say the least. Jérémy Ménez arrived from Roma for a cool €8m (with another €1m in potential bonuses). To round out the day’s action, Serbian center back Milan Biševac joined the club from Valenciennes for up to €4m. Three days later, on July 28, a double swoop of Serie A occurred with the purchases of Sissoko from Juventus (€8m) and Sirigu from Palermo (€3.5m).

While bringing in eight new players may have the potential to disrupt the chemistry of a club, these moves will ultimately pay dividends for PSG in the long term. While the supporters may have unrealistic expectations for this season, where anything less than the Ligue 1 title will be deemed a failure, the new Qatari ownership have set their sights more realistically. A top three finish should be easily obtainable for the club and their slow start shouldn’t change this. Additionally, the players brought in over the summer were brought in with a plan and not just for the sake of purchasing players. Seemingly each new addition can be seen as a direct replacement for someone who has moved on. For example, Sirigu was brought in to take over for the retired Grégory Coupet, Ménez in for Ludovic Giuly who moved to Monaco on a free transfer, etc.

Another question is whether the targeting of the Serie A players will have an adverse affect on their old clubs and the league in general. Obviously Palermo will have a hard time overcoming the loss of their starting goalkeeper and their top playmaker and the effects were already seen with the club being knocked out in the qualification stage of Europa League.

Sissoko became a fringe player at Juventus and didn’t appear to be in new manager Antonio Conte’s plans. Time will ultimately tell what the loss of Ménez will mean for Roma. While it seems like he would be a good fit for Luis Enrique’s 4-3-3 attacking formation, for chemistry’s sake he was deemed expendable and was allowed to leave. The loss of Pastore from Italy to France seems to mean less for the state of Serie A than the fact that yet another continental star has decided to spurn advances from England to stay on the mainland. Pastore was never going to be allowed to move to one of the big clubs on the peninsula and was always going abroad. The fact that he chose to go to France rather than England (and Alexis Sanchez chose Barcelona from Udinese over a move to England) may be a sign of things to come in future transfer windows.

While these signings were all well and good and will certainly help the club, the signing of Pastore is what sent shockwaves through the soccer world. The €42m transfer smashed the previous French record transfer fee paid from 2000 when PSG paid Real Madrid €33.5m for Nicholas Anelka.

What's wrong with PSG?

Pastore should bring a playmaking ability that hasn’t been seen in Paris since a young Ronaldinho was beginning to make his name in Europe. Fortunately for the club, Pastore couldn’t be further from Ronaldinho in terms of attitude and work ethic. The odds of manager Antoine Kombouaré having to discipline Pastore for a lack of effort hover at about 0.00%. Pastore will become the focal point in the PSG attack and help link the back four with a very formidable attack. Pastore, Ménez, and Gameiro arrive in a squad that already contains plenty of firepower. Nenê, Guillaume Hoarau, and Mevlüt Erdinç provided a potent three-pronged attack before the new arrivals. With the new insertion of attacking skill, opposing managers will have a headache trying to scheme their defenses. Conversely, Kombouaré will have his own troubles trying to keep everyone happy with playing time.

In the club’s first two matches, five of the new eight signings have started: Sirigu, Biševac, Matuidi, Ménez, and Gameiro. While Pastore has not featured yet for PSG (he is still recovering from participating in Copa America for Argentina), his debut may come sooner than later with the early season struggles. I can’t imagine Pastore making his debut away to FC Differdange of Luxembourg of their Europa League qualifying round fixture, but he most certainly should play a role in the next Ligue 1 match at home to Valenciennes.  If not, more than jeers may rain down from the Les Parisiens faithful.

EPL Season Preview: Part IV: Hardware Shopping

By Neil Blackmon

Will United add another to the case this year?

Part IPart IIPart III

Toe met stiching this past weekend in the Barclay’s Premier League, and we’ve now seen an opening weekend lacking quality, or at the very least, entertaining football and devoid of a home side claiming full points.

Do not fear: the transfer window and the end of the lengthy preseason sometimes generates dull fixtures to open the year, but in a league increasingly defined by parity, it is safe to suggest the entertainment value will increase exponentially in the weeks to come and the storylines, with as many as five or six teams on paper capable of claiming the league, will be as riveting as ever. With the competitive race at the top in mind, we conclude our TSG EPL preview with a look at the top five.

Five Who’ll Battle For Hardware

Arsene: Can't he still navigate the Prem?

ARSENAL

Last Year: A year that began with dreams of a quadruple ended with broken dreams instead.

Arsenal had their moments, including a riveting home Champions League victory over eventual champion Barcelona, but too often they followed that up with bizarre and disappointing displays of football, such as the return leg at the Camp Nou, or the mystifying Carling Cup collapse against Birmingham City.

With only the league trophy a possibility after talk of winning four, Arsenal too often couldn’t handle what we at TSG call the “moving furniture” fixtures, losing to sides such as West Brom Albion and Bolton and drawing sides such as Wigan Athletic, Sunderland and perhaps most egregiously, Newcastle United in a shocking collapse.

Those are the matches that separate hardware winners from pretenders, and although Arsenal did finish fourth and qualify for Champions League play, there are at least whispers around the Emirates that, as the great poet Yeats wrote, the center may not hold and things may fall apart.

Gervinho: From Lille with love...and temper

Summer Additions: Hot-tempered Cote D’Ivore forward Gervinho, one of the only Ivorians to play decent football at the 2010 World Cup, arrives from French champion Lille to add dynamism at forward .

Gervinho is a classic “young guy” from France Wenger signing, but the question remains why, given the recent trophy drought, the manager has gone back to this well again rather than trying to pluck a Michael Essien or proven commodity from another English club. Consummating the flirtation with Everton’s Phil Jagielka would be a good start.

Summer Losses: In a word, colossal, despite Wenger’s best efforts. Gael Clichy has departed for the Eastlands, and although the reason why he says he left is laughable to cynics, it is telling of the new world order in the EPL: Clichy wants to play for City to win trophies.

That’s a zinger Wenger can’t be accustomed to. The long-suffering Cesc Fabregas has finally (mercifully) ended one of football’s worst romantic comedies ever, departing (at some point in the next few hours?) for Barcelona where he will hope to make the eighteen from time to time. Samir Nasri also appears headed for Manchester City. He wasn’t in the side for the opener at Newcastle Saturday, and though nothing is official, it seems to be all over except for the shouting.

Strengths: Forward seems to be a position of great strength if Gervinho is anything like the player we saw in South Africa or last year in France. Certainly he is a brighter talent than Nicky Bendtner or Eduardo, who have added the depth up top of late. Robbie Van Persie will score goals, of course, when he’s fit, and even with the losses in midfield promising youngsters Theo Walcott, Alex Song and Jack Wilshere remain, and Tomas Rosicky has never been a slouch—he’s just been a glue guy amidst superstars. Now he’ll be a glue guy in the starting eleven, which isn’t a bad thing.

Weaknesses: Clichy’s loss is troubling because it means the Gunners have zero elite class defenders on the roster. Sagna is ever-reliable but not getting any younger. Kieran Gibbs will slot in for Clichy, and he’s serviceable, and Thomas Vermaelen is an above-average player who doesn’t off make mistakes,  but the fact remains Arsenal have no depth in the back and lack a player who could be classified as of high international class.

Phil Jagielka, should he depart Goodison, would immediately be the best defender on the roster. That’s a problem, because Arsene Wenger continues to seem oblivious to the idea of signing a world class keeper. The Gunners had one in the days of “The Invincibiles”, but those days seem distant. Instead, the three-headed monster of Manuel Almunia, Wojciech Szczesny and Lukas Fabianski present the old NFL-dilemma: when you have three quarterbacks, you really have none. It would be hard to list five sides in the top-flight where any of those players would start.

Rosicky: Called on to be the deep-lying playmaker in Cesc's absence...

Best Case: The midfield is fine with the steady Rosicky lying deeper and fully fit to guide them. Aaron Ramsey, Wilshere and Theo Walcott cash-in on their immense promise and make Wenger once again look like a genius who knew when the next wave was ready. Fabianski at least provides adequacy in net, and Wenger secures an established defender (Jagielka?) before the end of August. Gervinho proves two undersized, pacy forwards is better than one, and Van Persie is fit for long enough stretches for his impact to be significant. Arsenal hold off their top four challengers, advance to the final sixteen of the Champions League, and win one of the two league cups.

Worst Case: The wheels finally come off. The midfield , which would have been able to withstand the departure of one star playmaker, can’t withstand the loss of two. Aaron Ramsey and Rosicky still haven’t recovered from injuries to the extent that they are similar players. Theo Walcott has peaked.

Jagielka stays at Goodison. Sagna starts to look old. Fabianski is mediocre and his replacements are howler-prone. Arsenal lack width without Clichy and an additional signing on the flank. The ownership battle between Stan Kroenke and Alisher Usmanov waging a Cold War in the boardroom that ultimately means no large expenditures.

Champions League group play is a disaster, ditto the early season without Cesc and Nasri, and Arsenal can’t recover, finishing sixth or (gasp) seventh. Meanwhile, Cesc wins the Champions League with Barcelona, playing three minutes in the final.

Our Guess: Fifth, thanks to the full-blown breakout season of Jack Wilshere, and an ability to grind out results after a relatively early Champions League exit makes depth concerns less pressing.

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The man who would be Mourinho....

Chelsea

Last Year: Early exits from both the Carling Cup and League Cup hinted at the larger problem—Chelsea were a good enough side, just not the kind of elite one we’ve grown accustomed to at Stamford Bridge. Still, despite a plodding beginning to the campaign, the Blues rallied and finished second in the league. They also reached the Champions League quarterfinals, which is the type of down year most clubs dream about. None of that was enough to save Carlo Ancelotti’s job, as he became the third Chelsea manager relieved of his duties under demanding Russian owner Roman Abramovich in the previous eight years.

Summer Additions: Barcelona youth product and Spanish U-20 Oriel Romeu, a defensive midfielder but not really one in the Mascherano or Nigel de Jong mold.

Instead, think more of a deeper lying, build possession from the back, dangerous aerial physical presence type, one who scouts around the Bridge think resembles Michael Essien as well, because the fragile, currently-injured, but “brilliant when healthy” Ghanian’s role this season is not particularly well-defined. A dispute over his return with his national team side magnifies the importance of the Romeu signing. Luka Modric is still very much on Chelsea’s wish list—but what’s the old adage about wishes and horses…

Summer Losses: Noting of note, although Thibaut Courtouis, brought in from Genk, was promptly loaned to Atletico Madrid upon his arrival in London. Chelsea have often loaned away or utilized the sale of youth to build the senior eighteen since the arrival of Abramovich—new manager Andre Villas-Boas has indicated five youth academy starlets in particular: Ryan Bertrand, Daniel Sturridge, Josh McEachran, Tomas Kalas and Gael Kakuta– are untouchable.

Does Ashley Cole still have the juice?

Strengths: The back four, still, of course, along with the overrated but still very good goalkeeper, Petr Cech. There isn’t a better group in the Barclay’s Premier League than John Terry, Ashley Cole, David Luiz and the brilliant Branislav Ivanovic.

They’ll need Cole and Ivanovic to menace the flanks, particularly as a midfield lacking numbers tries to sort itself out. This particular back four may also be even more strong in a 4-3-3 alignment under Villas-Boas, because David Luiz can use his calmness on the ball to ease link-up concerns with the middle and Cole, Ivanovic and even a wide-drifting Ramires give the Blues a host of distributive options on the flank to get the ball to a more advanced Malouda. All of this is still contingent on finding a reliable and calming presence in the center in the absence of Essien, of course, but Villas-Boas will at least be glad to have options to try out.

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The Weekend: Live Commentary

Already off to a positive start

MLS in full swing…and Brek Shea.

EPL starts.

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Suarez tallies.

Dempsey at left mid for Fulham

…and Keiron Dyer already injured.

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