Archive for November, 2011

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


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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Constants, Variables & Dreadlocks In Orbit Around Planet Klinsmann

By John Nyen

Engels: Invariably

Friedrich Engel, Georg Cantor, Grete Hermann, and Jurgen Klinsmann are related in a very odd way. Of course they are all German.

However, this would miss the implicit point hidden in the Klinsmann way.

That is that they are all German mathematicians.

There have been arguments written back and forth over the context in which Jurgen Klinsmann has been operating the US Men’s Soccer Team over his seven game tenure.

Critiques have flown in regarding player selection, playing time, the formation of the team and even the quotes by the coach himself. This has been exacerbated by losses and low scoring games. There could even be the argument made that USA soccer fans have become accustomed to winning first and foremost despite pretty play or form.

Up until 2011, Bob Bradley had a 62.9% winning record as US head coach. This meant that to those who ran through the Bruce Arena era (65.8 winning percentage) and Bob Bradley era that you were accustomed to turning on a USA game and watching them win or tie a good portion of the time.

El Capitan...

However, the expectations of Klinsmann when it came to winning were nothing compared to the expectations of how USA fans wanted their team to play. More “possession-oriented,” “attacking” and “taking the game to their opponents” stood out as buzzwords like the attributes of what the newest cleaning supplies can do.

These phrases were often uttered by the new coach himself as a way to show his future ideals.

However, these really are future ideals rather than immediate ideals. The eleven on the field are in essence a team of horses that have to be lead in the right way and shaped in the right way. At Klinsmann’s heart, it seems, is an attempt to logically and soundly “Solve for A.”

He is putting together equations with variables and constants in an effort to fix the issues with the team. Fans and observers tend to focus on the mistake or the success, the blown play, the goal scorer, or the own goal scorer. However, what we are missing at times is the formula, the expression which dictates how the mistake or the success happened. Klinsmann himself has expressed the desire to have his team stop focusing on the mistake and attempt to move onto the next play.

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The Orange Tuxedo: US Belle Of The Ball With 3-2 Win Over Slovenia

Can’t shake it.

Just can’t shake it.

The US Men’s team came under fire after Friday’s loss to France for its inability to create attacking chances and it’s failure to scintillate under new manager Jurgen Klinsmann. For a brief moment now, with a 3-2 victory on the road in Slovenia, the nervous fidgeting  that was beginning to surround the team and it’s new manager has quelled.

I just can’t shake the scene above. “Dumb and Dumber” references to the USMNT are staid, but this one just seemed to scream for inclusion.

Two, "striking"....seemed to work...

I can’t find the full clip, but if you’re a fan of the 1990’s comedy, you’ll know it. Lloyd Christmas–what a fantastic name–is getting dolled up for a fundraiser to meet a women he’s smitten with that hardly knows him. Refined, he and road trip buddy “Harry” are not, and Lloyd–Jim Carrey of course–tries on what seems like 20 different sophisticated tuxedos before he settles on the hideous one that draws the rave reviews of his moronic partner in travel.

A closet full of presentable and refined suits thrown out in favor of a gaudy one that will temporarily shock onlookers into attention, but eventually over the duration of the event, make them cringe.

Just can’t shake that orange tuxedo was the United States today and Jurgen Klinsmann the tailor that reluctantly gave in to its fitting and display.

US fans and pundits clamored for goals and attacking soccer–not un-rightfully so since it was Klinsmann who promised them that nirvana through the feet of Latino players (not one of whom was on the pitch on Tuesday oddly enough).

US fans demanded results–noted USMNT striker-turn-broadcaster Eric Wynalda–going so far as to feature in a piece in the New York Times demanding it and explaining the ethos of the USMNT.

And Klinsmann, it would appear, gave in. A 4-3-3 featuring a single striker set was cast into the back of the closet as the tried-and-true 4-4-2 of US days of yore was ironed and trotted out.

And the US scored. And scored again. And…again.

A trifecta, in the first half, against a Slovenia team that concedes less graciously than either side in the NBA lockout.

Fabian Johnson with a German waltz...

It was an explosive, if sloppy display, that saw the US score with some Charlie Hustle, pouncing on a turnover created deep in Slovenia’s end for score number one, with some good ol’lunchpail, a set piece ricocheting off Clint Dempsey’s cranium, and with panache, German-American Fabian Johnson twinkling through the Slovenia defense and being clipped in the box. Jozy Altidore would step up them and punctually bury the penalty kick.

The Slovenia defensive integrity crumbled–but in the process so did the United States cohesiveness–a beacon of hope in the otherwise dreary France match–and their stoutness as well.

Chance upon chance was manufactured or gifted to Slovenia who was no less sloppy on the day in a performance that mirrored the colloidal mist that hovered over their home turf.

The US withstood an onslaught to end the first half and a bevy of them in the second half. The display by Slovenia is one that is normally reserved for highly offensive teams–like Brazil–who have taken an opponent lightly early on and now need to dominate….rather than a team that typically goes about their business in a defensive manner hoping to catch a snoozing opponent on the counter.

When the final whistle finally and gleefully pierced the fog, there was a full set of happy faces on the US sidelines, but certainly a sense of a relief.

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MLS: Twelve Points, Twelve Matches, One Left

James Grossi gets us back into the swing of things by rewinding and pressing play on what happened in this year’s MLS playoffs and the lead-up.

The first twelve matches of the 2011 MLS playoffs have been played; one remains to determine who will take the honours as Champions. There have been some great matches and some dull ones, some standout performances and some disappointments. Players have stepped up, while others have withered in the spotlight.

With plenty to talk about, here’s some of the best:

The New York-Agudelo-Depth-Substitution Complex

"Whew, glad that's over"

New York, despite all the big name star-power has been severely limited by their lack of depth. Coach Hans Backe has consistently been unable or unwilling to rely on his bench, not even bothering to name a full complement of substitutes for the playoff matches.

Nowhere has this controversy been more acute than with the problem of Juan Agudelo – the promising youngster who has been riding the pine all season long. He’s been good enough for his country to select him, but not for club. (Note: Agent Ron Waxman confirmed this morning that Agudelo will train with Bundesliga outfit, VfB Stuttgart.)

Backe is a conservative manager, one who relies on proven heads, and experienced shoulders. His acquisition strategy is a perfect example of this, collecting players with years under their belts. Joel Lindpere, Jan Gunnar Solli, Frank Rost, Luke Rodgers, both Thierry Henry and Rafa Márquez are also deep into their careers.

In part due to his personal ethos, but also because there is an urge to win now in a club that has yet to find any sucess and to connect with the local fan-base. The impetus, to cash in on the hype surrounding their shiny, new ground, and solidify the investment prior to any New York II club coming in and causing divisions.

The US is not particularly deep in the forward category, nor have there been any real matches to speak of – Gold Cup aside – allowing space for a young player with tons of promise. That is simply not the case in New York. A solid, effective partnership between Henry and Rodgers is the obvious first-choice pairing. When Rodgers was out with injury Backe fielded Dane Richards in his stead, instead of the young Columbian-American.

The reason for that is Agudelo’s inexperience; for all his attacking gifts – that goal versus DC early in the season was positively Henry-esque – he is still not a two-way player, tending to drift through the match, rather than rampaging about as do Rodgers and Richards. With Henry on the field, his partner must provide more defensive work, closing down defenders, not allowing them to play out of the back and young Juan just doesn’t provide that.

Had New York not struggled so badly for the entire second half of the season he most definitely would have got more time on the field and that lack of match play made him unsuitable for tense situations in the playoffs. As much as one could argue that it was time to take a chance that is not Backe’s way, preferring the slow grind to the unexpected.

It’s a good sign for the league that the pressure to win has replaced the need to field players not ready for the level of competition, though there should be concern as it could stifle the development of a promising player.

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Live Commentary: USA vs. Slovenia

Retribution? Probably not.

Improvement? Needed.

One overwhelming positive. Captain Carlos Bocanegra with his 100th cap as the United States tangles with Slovenia today.

Starting line-ups shortly.

Funny, still looks young...


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