Archive for November, 2011

Vote: David Beckham, Staying In The City of Angels?

David Beckham, trophy in hand as well as contract conclusion.

What does Beckham do? Take our poll below.

Sweet victory...or sweet escape...

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MLS Cup Final Live: Galaxy Victorious With 1-0 Win

The Galaxy finish of a classic MLS season by hoisting the trophy Sunday night at HDC.

The Dynamo’s defense was valiant, but in the end got tested one too many times by the quality attackers of the Galaxy.

(Still unsure that goal was going in unless Tally Hall nudge it…)

US Ladies Embrace Future in Closing Sweden Draw

USWNT almost atoned for it's group stage blemish on Saturday..

TSG’s Maura Gladys brings us home on the USWNT in 2011. Thanks for hard work, Maura.

If she didn’t prove it with her two goals and one in the 2011 World Cup, Alex Morgan proved last night that she deserves a spot in USWNT the starting lineup. Adding immediate spark and speed to a previously stagnant offense, Morgan came close to scoring several times, and set up the United States only goal of the night in a 1-1 tie against Sweden. This girl is not the future of U.S. Soccer. She is now.

Embracing the future...

Morgan was inserted into the game in the 74th minute, with the U.S. trailing 1-0. Up to that point, the squad had created several good chances, including a Shannon Boxx ringer off the crossbar, a few pushed wide by Amy Rodriguez and a header from Abby Wambach. But up to that point, the U.S. offense had been largely inconsistent and choppy, and their flow was getting broken up just as they were reaching the top of the penalty box, thanks to Sweden’s stout defense and disciplined back four.

But the minute Morgan’s feet hit the pitch, instant offense. First, Lauren Cheney sprung her with a precise ball behind the defense that Morgan ran on to and sent perfectly curving past the Swedish goalkeeper, only to be shut down by the pesky inside of the post.

Then in the 80th minute, the U.S. scored it’s only goal of the night, largely thanks to Morgan. Heather O’Reilly sent a ball over the defense to Morgan who yet again found herself behind the defense. Morgan collected the ball and fired it right at Hamamrstrom who deflected the tough shot right to the feet of a waiting Tobin Heath who struck it into an open goal.

Morgan found her way behind the defense several more times, fed by Lauren Cheney and O’Reilly, with Heath always running up with her, ready to crash or collect a loose ball.

Morgan’s spark had an affect on her teammates as well, especially Tobin Heath, who had seemed nervous and jittery up to that point, and Cheney who had a knack for finding Morgan through the back four.

You get the distinct feeling that had the youngsters been given more time, they almost assuredly could have netted a game-winner. Which goes back to a question we have been asking since this summer’s World Cup. Why isn’t Alex Morgan being used more effectively? As she continues to prove her worth that question is turning more from out-loud speculation to a pointed and spirited call in support of Morgan. Yes, she provides a lift coming off the bench, especially if the team is tied or trailing (which it seems to always be these days). But why let it get to that point when Morgan could score in the first half, giving the U.S. a comfortable lead and no need for a spark? All I want, all I yearn for, is to see Alex Morgan play more than fifteen minutes, preferably with Abby Wambach.

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Saturday: Live Commentary: One Will Stand

Club ball back in full effect.

Manchester City and Newcastle both look for the beatdown versus each other to remain unbeaten.

Tiote & Toure will battle in the middle for the right to remain on top...

USWNT Preview: Sweden…For Closure

Welcome back, Maura Gladys

For a little more than three weeks, the possibilities seemed endless for the U.S. Women’s National Team. On Oct. 27, Pia Sundhage named the 30 players headed into a two-week training camp in Arizona, to prepare for their upcoming match against Sweden. Peppered with a mix of 2011 World Cup vets and promising newcomers, including Whitney Engen, Brittany Bock, Ingrid Wells and Sydney Leroux the camp had the potential to produce a dynamic and lethal new-look squad ready to shed their World Cup identity and move towards Olympic qualifiers in January.

Carli Lloyd for the USWNT...

But the excitement for those possibilities died down this afternoon when Sundhage announced the 18 players named to the roster for today’s game. The squad features 18 of the 21 players from this summer’s World Cup squad, minus Hope Solo (who didn’t attend training camp due to her prior commitments with Dancing With the Stars), Megan Rapinoe (minor MCL sprain) and Kelley O’Hara.

Disappointing, to say the least.

So a game that was supposed to mark the official launching point of the team’s Olympic campaign still has a strong taste of World Cup 2011.

Today’s game could have provided the perfect opportunity for the team to move out of the shadow of their World Cup identity, by continuing to implement a new 4-2-3-1 lineup and testing out new, exciting talent against a strong, challenging team like Sweden.

Now, the next time Sundhage rolls out a lineup, qualification for the Olympics will be on the line, and there will be no room for experimentation.

The lineup doesn’t provide much room for speculation or imagination and unless something drastic happens, the same, already-tired narrative will play out, foreseeably, through Olympic qualifiers.

The frustration with Lloyd and Boxx in the midfield will continue and the defense will remain just strong enough to hold off their opponent, but hardly dominant.

The two bright spots that could come out of this game? The further development of the 4-2-3-1 and the continuation of the rise of Tobin Heath.

Sundhage unveiled the 4-2-3-1 formation during the two-game Celebration Series against Canada in September, to mixed results. However, it allowed several players, including Lauren Cheney, Carli Lloyd and Amy Rodriguez to thrive. A good performance within the system could solidify A-Rod and Lloyd’s place in the starting lineup come January.

One of the hallmarks of the system, the dependence on outside defenders to push up the flanks and attack will be tested greatly against a team like Sweden that likes to play balls over the top and quickly counterattack. It’s a tall, but achievable order for right back Ali Krieger and left backs Becky Sauerbrunn and Amy LePeilbet.

The most exciting thing to watch for today will be the play of Tobin Heath. Heath impressed against Canada, and is poised to assert herself as the heir to the U.S. midfield, especially within the 4-2-3-1. She has pinpoint accuracy, slick ball skills, and a playmaking eye, all of which shone through against Canada. Heath will have a tougher test against Sweden, who will no doubt try to push the lanky UNC grad off the ball frequently. But with targets like the versatile Lauren Cheney, the industrious Heather O’Reilly and the mercurial Abby Wambach, Heath should be able to use this game to convince Pia to hand over the keys to the U.S. midfield and let her coast.

Sundhage will be allowed to use six subs during the game, meaning all players will see time on the field. Maybe this means Alex Morgan will get a little more than a run-around this time, however Sundhage has yet to detour from any of her previous moves. So, it’s not likely.

 

MLS Cup: Preview & Pick: Didn’t See This One Coming…

Different angle for a TSG preview here.

Today, we publish a discussion with Sporting KC assistant coach John Pascarella. Pascarella is responsible for much of the technical preparation and tactical work for the Livestronglies. He and head coach Peter Vermes played club ball together and KC front office media man Josh Wisenhunt comments Pascarella is revered by the team, especially goalkeeper Jimmy Neilsen (Pascarella has a big hand in training the goalkeepers during practice.)

The reason we sought out John? His wife was responsible for the CJ Sapong draft pick. Actually, let’s wait on that for a minute.

The real reason?

The MLS Cup final thesis that is percolating over here at the TSG Hall of Justice?

Well, just take a look at our first question…

TSG: Okay, John, here’s why I wanted to get in touch.

I want to pick the Dynamo as my MLS Cup victor.

Here’s the reasoning I have in my head.

Sporting KC attacked the Dynamo with three very quick, very adept forwards who got a decent amount of service and they didn’t score. Now, here you’ve got LA with an older–despite what John Harkes says–Robbie Keane coming off two international games, Mike Magee and “some other guy” because Chad Barrett is out.

If Houston held KC to a goose egg, why can’t they do the same with LA?

Why shouldn’t I pick Houston?

Coach Pascarella

John: Well, to be honest with you, I think it’s a pretty good pick.

I think the game is going to be a toss-up. I just think that what the Dynamo are very, very good at is getting a team to play their style of game, their tempo of a game–which is what happened against us.

And once that happens they are very good at playing that game. It’s not a bad game or an ugly game of soccer. But it’s a very physical brand of soccer.

Ching doing work up top...

They knock the ball around well. They play to their strength which is Chinger [Brian Ching] up top obviously. Davis’s service has been strong, but of course he may not play, but they’ve got other guys.

Their team is very experienced. If they get you playing at their tempo, their team is very strong…and then they end up being very dangerous in attack that way.

You know your pick is not a bad one. It would be hard to go against it.

TSG: Ok, I get they control the game. But how did you guys attempt to speed it up, open it up–which I imagine was the strategy–and how did you not find your way through? What did you try to tweak during the game or try to solve to change that tempo?

John: Well, what we did was play into their hands by trying to play too direct.

If we had played a little bit more on the floor and if we would have connected through the midfield we would have had more success.

Where I think we were naive is that we tried to bypass the midfield and play direct to the forwards and I think that their back four handled that very very well that day and, to be fair, I think they handle that type of pressure very very well in general.

We would have been, in my opinion and the coaching staff’s opinion, more successful if we had kept the ball on the floor and tried to play through them rather than go by air.

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The Premiership: Newcastle Rises…

Neil Blackmon reminds that the “BPL” returns to action this weekend.

“Can’t See Nothing In Front of Me,

Can’t See Nothing Coming Up Behind,

I make my way through this darkness,

I can’t feel nothing but this chain that binds me…”

-        Bruce Springsteen, The Rising

Gainesville...

Two and a half years ago, at a cozy and wholly authentic pub called The Queen’s Arms in Gainesville, Florida, I was a tenth man watching nine English men bleed and shake with agony and despair. Newcastle United were being relegated that morning—and this was the final blow, the end of miserable campaign and fall from grace.

What was worse—it wasn’t a Hollywood script fall from grace—a “That really just happened” Leeds United type drop.

It was a grinding lesson in decay. The nine men, including the pub owner, were lifelong Newcastle United fans and as the minutes ticked away the drinks were poured with stiffer elbows and the emotions ran across every wavelength: hope, remorse, anger, sadness, regret, shame, acceptance.

An ocean away—the misery of Tyneside was present.

From its opening, The Queen’s Arms had transformed each weekend morning from lone watering hole in a posh Gainesville community called Haile Plantation (former University of Florida football coach Urban Meyer and current, legendary basketball coach Billy Donovan call Haile Plantation home) to right and proper football pub–where the only cynical glances you received were if you weren’t ordering Boddington’s at ten in the morning.

It was the type of place I’d looked for in all my years calling Gainesville home, and of course exactly the type of place, given my luck, I found after I’d moved on in life. On that day, the usual festive atmosphere was more requiem and wake—complete with open bar.  It’s a wonderful place, and on that cool morning and many mornings thereafter, it is where nine men from the northernmost city in England gather to watch their beloved Magpies.

8 long days...

The relegation year was a particularly brutal one–the sporting definition of a slow death. These nine men were among thousands upon thousands who struggled with them. It was more than the simple loss of top division football for a proud and storied club. It was the manner in which that loss occurred. Gerald Nanson, who manages The Queen’s Arms (and who, unlike most Newcastle supporters, also carves space in his heart out for lower division Carlisle United), moved to Florida with extended family a few years prior to that fateful campaign. Fiercely proud of where he had come from, Nanson said the decision was more rooted in economic reality than a grand vision of the Florida sunshine.

“The city itself is rightly proud of its isolation, its industrial history and identity,” Nanson told me on the telephone this week. “But the city was in an economic stalemate with slowing coal and shipping industries, and it seemed the best time for us to make a new start elsewhere, before it was too late.” Times are still hard in the Tyneside region. The shipping industry is recovering slowly but the coal industry is still decimated by Europe’s transition to green energy and dying mines. Unemployment is high and flight from a region in England where laying down roots was the norm is increasingly common. It is a city that is being forced to change, to adapt to the new global economy or face the continued experience of a “slow death.”  That fateful year, as such, was sport as metaphor, according to Nanson. “It wasn’t that we couldn’t accept that Newcastle were going down. Relegation is part of football. The tragic part was the manner in which we went down. We were watching a football club that mirrored the condition of the city. And that was enough to make grown men drown in their pints.”

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