Archive for September, 2011

USWNT: Deconstructing Pia

Maura Gladys returns with Part I of II on the USWNT moving forward

Out with the old, in with the new? Yeah, um, not so much....

It’s tough to derive meaning from last week’s U.S. Women’s Soccer Celebration Series in an on-field context. With nothing at stake, and with the purpose of the two game series against Canada clearly stated as a celebration, the squad was under no obligation other than to entertain fans.  USA-Brazil it was not. Pia Sundhage made sure that every member of the team saw the field, and tried out a new formation, with mixed results. But the games did give us a glimpse at who could feature prominently for the USWNT in Olympic qualifiers and (if everything goes to plan) London 2012 next summer.

Sundhage trotted out a shiny new 4-2-3-1 formation in both games, a departure from her usual 4-4-2. It relies on outside midfielders and backs to push the attack forward, good for the U.S. who has one of the most potent right side duos in the world in Ali Krieger and Heather O’Reilly. But the new formation also means that Sundhage needs to solidify an already muddled central midfield, that never quite hit it’s stride in Germany.

O'Reilly, still the USWNT's Jason Bourne

Carli Lloyd, Lauren Cheney, Shannon Boxx and Lori Lindsey played in the two “possession” midfielder slots over the course of the series, with all four doing well. Shannon Boxx made her defensive presence known, and Carli Lloyd looked more comfortable in this playmaking role than the goal-scoring one she was charged with in Germany. But that doesn’t mean that either’s spot is guaranteed for the future. Lori Lindsey passed well and was the catalyst for several U.S. attacks, and Cheney is morphing into a superb utility player, providing whatever is needed wherever she plays. Although she did better when moved a bit closer to goal, she still maintained play as a deep-lying playmaker.

Heather O’Reilly, Megan Rapinoe and Amy Rodriguez started both games access the midfield, with A-Rod running the left wing and Rapinoe playing beneath Abby Wambach. The real revelations from the series were subs Tobin Heath and Kelley O’Hara. Heath dazzled in Game 1 with her tight ball skills and eye for creativity. The one knock against her is her lack of physicality, and her lanky stature often sees her pushed off the ball too easily. But Heath is the future of the U.S. attacking midfield. With Alex Morgan up top and HAO and Rapinoe out on the wings, Heath will have an arsenal of weapons to spray choose from.

But this is Abby Wambach’s team for the foreseeable future. She again demonstrated her ability to seize games by the throat with her hustle and athleticism when she netted two goals on Thursday night, the first one a spinning, one-touch perfect strike to the top corner of the net, and the second one a trademark header that sent her and the ball flying into the goal. She also set up several teammates with wonderfully-placed crosses.

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Snapshot: The MLS MVP Race This Past Weekend

It won't be Landon in a walk this year...

Over the past few weeks and months, TSG has served you a steady diet of MLS MVP data snacks….but we’ve left the bright orange cellophane on for you to unwrap yourself.

Our candidate here at TSG is Brad Davis who has created 40 more “chances” this season (data excluding this past weekend) then the next closest competitor, according to Opta.

That he’s done this with a rotating cast of forwards, a defense that has but three clean sheets on the season and no complementary creative player in midfield makes his feat that much more astounding.

Let’s take a look at how some of the popular MVP candidates and their teams fared this weekend. To refresh, TSG has Brad Davis at #1 and Mauro Rosales at #2. Rosales is now injured for Seattle. And it looks like DeWayne DeRosario is making a move down the home stretch at #3.

Brad Davis: Available for teammates, taking chances in the offensive 3rd.

• Brad Davis, The Houston Dynamo win away at FC Dallas, 1-0

Not a explosive game for Davis but a steady game. Throw in that it was once again B-Dub  (doesn’t this guy need a fancy nickname or something to create some hype?) with the service to Geoff Cameron for the game winning goal at the death and well Brad Davis comes through again.

I’m normally not a fan of pass completion charts, but the one on the right here is telling.

Davis completed 20 of 31 passes–his only misses were chances taken going forward in the offensive third to spring something.

• Landon Donovan, LA Galaxy win away at Colubmbus, 1-0

This win says it all about Donovan’s MVP candidacy. The star USMNT forward was a did not play against Columbus along with fellow DP’s Robbie Keane and David Beckham, yet the Galaxy still won on the road.

First, Donovan is a major cog in the Galaxy system, but he is not “the” cog. With Beckham’s service and now Keane’s movement up front, Donovan is one of three in the attack game.

Second, as is customary with Bruce Arena’s teams, they play defensively on the road. Check the stats. For the past two season , Arena’s teams have conceded less on the road. That speaks to the spine of the team. The defense….or at least a defensive posture.

• DeWayne DeRosario, three goals in United’s home 4-1 win over RSL

Maybe Davis’s biggest competition for the award (aside from Rosales whose candidacy will suffer in that he’s out for 3 weeks.)

DeRo knocked in a hat trick in a hurry….but it was against a reserve Real Salt Lake side who looked like they were ready to concede the match from the opening minutes.

There is much merit to a DeRo campaign, but Davis has been there every game for the currently Eastern Conference-leading Dynamo.

Trump card.

• Thierry Henry, 90 minutes in a 2-0 home win for the Red Bulls over the Timbers

Henry has skidded a little into the backdrop in New York as their other DP, Rafa Marquez, has grabbed the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Henry has been steady for the Red Bulls this year, but shouldn’t the DP have a role in stemming locker room issues and being a stopper when results on the field are going the wrong way?

Similar to the Galaxy thoughts, it was New York’s defense that put up the fight in Marquez’s absence on Saturday in a must-win over visiting Portland. Additionally, it’s evident that New York is a much better team when both Luke Rodgers and Dane Richards are firing.

In other words, Henry still needs a lot of help.

Other candidates: Brek Shea, Faryd Mondragon, Omar Gonzalez

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(Note: If you added in a write-in vote, I will tally it when the poll closes.)

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And, in the spirit of “balanced coverage” we’ve added…

The Weekend: Live Commentary

For the entire MLS, EPL & more preview, that’s right here.

Game day starts now.

Marquee in the EPL: Chelsea looking to get healthy against Swansea City.

Will Lampard silence the critics and prove he's still a chic character on the pitch?

The Weekend Preview: The Winners….& “The Departed”

We had such a radical time with last week’s Point Break-style weekend preview that we’re back for more.

This time, we drop science with Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed,” an appropriate-themed movie as the MLS season turns to Fall and teams start tumbling out off the playoff ladder and into the offseason.

Who will become the The Departed in the MLS playoff race this weekend?

Truth be told, we wanted to use another Beantown cops-and-robbers flick here, the underrated and under-appreciated Ben Affleck vehicle “The Town,” but the dialogue just doesn’t crank up the sarcasm and pithy character-count that we needed to make a preview go around. (Note: “The Town…should easily have taken down a few awards last year in an Oscar’s season when “The King’s Speech”–a solid if ultimately unspectacular movie–won Best Picture.)

Let’s stay on point. Always a challenge for the TSG crew.

This week, we go with “The Departed,” a 2006 remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film “Internal Affairs.”

“The Departed” pits Irish mob boss Frank Costello, played by Jack Nicholson, against an undercover cop who infiltrates his gang, Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio). Matt Damon plays police rat Colin Sullivan–a mixed-up grab bag of swashbuckling cop bravado, blood-brother sellout, Costello order taker–with near perfect pace to complete the criminal triangle. Sullivan’s and Costigan’s search for the rat in the other unit runs parallel throughout the drama.

“The Departed” is also the third film of four that Martin Scorsese has cast one-time heart throb Leonardo DiCaprio in the leading role (1: The Gangs of New York, 2: The Aviator, 4: Shutter Island.) and is widely considered their best collaboration as Scorsese brought surrounded DiCaprio with his most talent to date in Nicholson and Damon.

Heiress to the Meg Ryan throne?

By the way, if Matt Damon were a footie player, he’d be Dirk Kuyt, a superstar that blends into the background and nails any role he’s tasked with.  Scorer, passer, defender, linker, etc.

Oh, and can’t mention “The Departed” without the object of affection, Vera Farmiga. Farmiga was on track to quietly become the Meg Ryan-girl-next-door of her her generation–only she has more talent and more ambition. Farmiga just finished directing her first movie.

On to our preview we go as MLS teams begin to depart the playoff race:

FRIDAY:

MLS:

• Match-up: The Union head southwest in a big-time showdown with the Sporting Wizards of Kansas City.

Costello: I don’t want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me.

We open our preview column with an excerpt from the opening monologue of Nicholson’s Frank Costello which sets the stage for the movie in a voiceover with historic shots of the growth of the downtrodden proletariat in Boston.

Head up, Freddy boy....

Freddy Adu.

Yes the writer sheepishly and slowly writing that name, he’s the same one that penned this column too.

6 games played, 4 started, 1 goal, 351 minutes, 7 shots, 1 on goal.

Got to be honest, after the Gold Cup flair we saw, I expected Freddy to #Aduit a little more, didn’t you?

Now it’s off to a major contest (between two teams that could face each other in the first round of the playoffs) in Kansas City for Peter Nowak’s Union. It should be an upbeat and free flowing game; precisely the type of game where Adu should excel.

Big test of worth here for Adu.

With more on Adu, LeToux and the Union, we turn over this segment to the experts on all things in and around the Liberty Bell, Adam Cann from the Philly Soccer Page:

Current Real Salt Lake assistant coach CJ Brown said that when he played on the Chicago Fire with Peter Nowak, his goal was to win the ball and get it to Nowak. Over and over. One imagines Nowak expects Freddy Adu to play the same way: Demanding the ball, moving it, dictating the action. Instead, Adu has been more like Colin Sullivan, Costello’s BPD plan: Hiding in plain sight.

It ain’t easy going back to your old ‘hood. After learning to pass, move, and hold possession in Europe, Adu joins a Philadelphia team that has a predilection for the vertical direction. To see Freddy Adu in the Union offense is to see the undercover Costigan run with Costello’s gang–he goes through the motions, but his motivation and heart are completely alternative.

Against Kansas City, Adu needs to go “method.” Time to access that inner Brando and accept a few Union truisms: 1) Sebastien Le Toux is running. Usually forward. Kick it to him. 2) If Sheanon Williams passes you on the right at full speed: Kick it to him. 3) If Sheanon isn’t there, there is no width. Draw a foul or do something special. 4) You and Roger Torres play on the same team. Be assured that passing to each other has been approved at the highest levels of management. 5) Demand the ball. You haven’t done much with it yet but if you don’t do this there is really no justification for having Freddy Adu on the field.

Many expected Freddy Adu to knock Roger Torres down the pecking order. Instead, Torres has flourished since Adu’s arrival and Freddy will need to work with the young Colombian if the Union expect to survive a tough road match against a talented KC team. and talented KC team.

Big stakes for Adu Friday night in the Land of Livestrong.

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SATURDAY:

EPL:

The supporting actors are half the fun in "The Departed"

• Match-up: The Chelsea of the EPL drop the drawbridge and welcome the Barca of the EPL, Swansea City.

Staff Sargent Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) enters for his second scene in the movie–he’s called in at the request of Captain Ellerby (Alec Baldwin) to brief the feds on the status of the “microprocessor case” against Costello. Dignam works with Captain Olivier McQueenan (Martin Sheen) in the state deep undercover division.

Ellerby: Go f*ck yourself.
Dignam: I’m tired from f*cking your wife.
Ellerby: How is your mother?
Dignam: Good, she’s tired from f*cking my father.

Same old Chelsea powerhouse?

Perhaps the most fascinating match Saturday in the Barclays.

Folks thought I was too harsh on Chelsea as they looked a step late all day against Manchester United last Saturday.

While I think that Villa-Boas’s system is more profound than Scolari’s or Ancelotti’s….and takes some getting used to, the Chelsea midfield (and yes John Terry too) cannot hide its awful performance. They were sloppy on defensive organization, negligent in man-marking and lacking ideas in the attack on Sunday.

Part of that is Chelsea being a work-in-progress, but the other part is still lacking that #10.

Why couldn't Arteta wear Chelsea blue?

You have to wonder with the sale of Benayoun and subsequent purchase of Raul Mereiles from Liverpool if they didn’t miss this past transfer season with not making a serious bid for Mikel Arteta–a move that would have disrupted a major London-based competitor and one that would have strengthened them in the middle of the pitch.

Arteta is not a true #10 and excels when playing from deep in the midfield,  but might he just have been the perfect replacement for Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge?

Chelsea should play with a vengeance this weekend and win, but the match-up against the possession-oriented Swansea City should be of the edge-of-the-seat nature.

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The conclusion of Dignam’s scene….

• Match-up: Manchester City looks to crunch down on some sweet Toffees

FBI Agent Lazio: Without asking for too many details, do you have anyone in with Costello presently?
Staff Sgt. Dignam: Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe f*ck yourself.

Best part about this scene? Lazio by the way. Yeah, he’s played by Robert Wahlberg, Marky Mark’s real-life brother.

Outstanding!

One blood brother telling another brother to “go f*ck himself” on the big screen. Think they use that around the dinner table at Thanksgiving time?

Robert: “Hey Mark, mind grabbing me a beer from the kitchen?”

Mark: “Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe f*ck yourself.”

Meanwhile City is staring straight across the Manchester horizon at United at flipping them the bird as they continue to stride towards superclub status. Not a good week for United.

News earlier this week that Manchester United’s plans to raise $1B on the Singapore Exchange has hit a snag: the volatile world markets.

Didn’t see that one coming, did you?

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MLS Midweek Game Night: Live Commentary

Woot! Woot!

All aboard! And away we go.... (yes, you'll see this image a few more times this year.)

All aboard the Perlaza MEGABUS!

Three matches–all with playoff implication.

FC Vollkswagen vs. FC Corona as Charlie Davies, DeRo and friends (minus Pontius) hope that games-in-hand are a blessing not a curse down the stretch. If United don’t take care of business against visiting Chivas tonight, they don’t belong.

The next is the night’s main event: The New York Red Bulls–home after a kick-and-scratch win over Dallas–need putdown Real Salt Lake. TRSL’s a savvy team, with or without Beckerman who’s out of action tonight, the Red Bulls better be ready to play. Opposite them, the Red Bulls are harder to figure out than an IKEA assembly manual.

For all the talk about Luke Rodgers being the missing ingredient, Juan Agudelo not playing, Rafa Marquez not playing…even though he’s on the pitch, this all gets back to Hans Backe–there is no way that the Red Bulls should fall out of the playoffs.

And finally, back to Portland. The friendly confines of home. The ridiculous advantage in foul calls. Darlington Nagbe looking just silky in the playmaker role. If the Timbers lose to a San Jose team missing Bobby Convey and Ike Opara at home….well they won’t, 3-1 the final.

 

On Charlie Davies: Every Boy Has A Winnie Cooper

This is Jared Dubois‘s second feature for The Shin Guardian. You can catch Jared on the soon-to-launch Best Soccer Show.

Thanks for the walk down memory lane, Jared.

(Sigh....)

Every boy has a Winnie Cooper.

You know the girl…

The one that you cherished and pined over as the one girl that had it all. One that was equal parts childhood innocence and teenage desire. She was everything you ever wanted but never had.

What wasn’t to love about the story of Winnie Cooper and Kevin Arnold? (For the youngsters reading along “The Wonder Years” was a sitcom that ran during the late 80’s through early 90’s and tagged a long for six years as a 12-year-old boy–Kevin Arnold played by Fred Savage–came of age.)

It was a tale every dude, every teenage boy, could relate to.

An exercise in objectifying only the positives in a woman, and then lifting that profile higher and higher until it was on a pedestal of such a lofty elevation that the real life version would never be able to live up to what you had made her out to be in your mind.

Those moments prove there is just one fish in the sea.

This girl came in varying TV forms. One man’s Winnie Cooper, was another man’s Kelly Kapowski, was another man’s Joey Potter, was another man’s Charlie Davies…

Wait. Charlie Davies?

Yes, Charlie Davies.

American soccer fans have been waiting, if not pining, for that one true striker.

The one that could fill that dark, yet optimistic, part of our hearts that has all but given up on ever seeing the first world class American Striker. And when Charlie Davies came on the scene it was like love at first sight.

The kid had it all, he was a young unabashed talent that could finish with maturity yet still filled with enough child-like wonder to dance in the corner like he was up in the club.

In that Winnie-like way, he made you feel like you were important, tantalizing the US fanbase with proclamations of a World Cup win and a swagger befitting a striker that grew up sniping in the barrios of Argentina.

And the best part of all, unlike many other would-be suitors to the American striker throne Charlie was able to show a level of consistency for both club and country.

He may not have always scored, but somehow he always managed to thrill. He always managed to leak in behind a defense or issue an authoritative step over that had your inner monologue crying out, “That’s my girl.”

You know what I mean.

Chuck D...still in the house?

The arc of Charlie Davies has been well-chronicled and you shouldn’t be–and you would be–bored with another recap of it here. But I would make the argument that his fall may be just as much of a blessing as his rise looked like it had the potential to be.

Every boy has a Winnie Cooper.

But how many of us married her and lived happily ever after? The few that have are legends, but for the majority of us, our lost idealistic loves are just that… lost.

In a sense, the lack of attainability is what separates the Winnie Coopers from the rest.

We will never get Charlie Davies back. Not the one we watched score in Azteca. Not the one that made our jaws drop with his left footed first time service to set up Landon Donovan against Brazil in 2010.

That man is gone, much like the man that goes off to war and–though he may come back in perfect health–the proverbial “something” is different.

He is changed by what circumstance life has given unto him. So too is Charlie Davies.

I watched Charlie Davies score three goals last week at Home Depot Center as DC United treated Chivas USA like they were the mentors in a father-son game.

He projected in many ways like the guy I unfairly put on a pedestal a few years ago.

And I got excited all over again, like when I read the words high school girlfriends wrote in my year books over a decade ago. I remember what it was like to feel enamored with something; the hope of attainability that was just never quite within reach.

But it’s important that I also remember that many things have changed since then. Charlie Davies isn’t the only one that has had to move on.

It’s not enough anymore to be just young and talented. In the last 2 years names like “Agudelo,” “Bunbury” and “Klinsmann” have come along and not bothered to dogear the chapter titled “CD9”. They have pressed on in his absence and turned the page.

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