Archive for December, 2011

Landon Donovan Loan Everton: Music To Toffee Fans Ears

The news just broke.

Liverpool here I come!

Landon Donovan going on loan to Everton this winter. Precisely what the Toffees need–and frankly probably all they could afford. Everton are not awash in cash. They’re certainly not awash in goals.

The LA Galaxy announced on Thursday that Donovan will venture over to Everton on a two-month loan kicking off on on Jan. 1 2012.

Donovan today: “The opportunity to return to Everton and play for such a well-respected club and a manager that I hold in such high regard was something that was simply too good to pass up.”

Make no mistake here. With the Toffees hurting in the bank account, Donovan won’t be breaking that bank with his compensation here. In short, he wanted the move. This should also put to rest the notion that Donovan was battling an injury during the 2011 MLS season as a reason for his statistical lack of production.

And there, of course, some ancillary benefits for TSG folks and American fans:

5. Salacious rumors are sure to abound with the untimely–and ultimately inaccurate–news during the World Cup that Donovan might have fathered a child on his last trip over there.

4. Sensationalized UK online publications are sure to start identifying Galaxy teammates as potential loan or transfer targets.

3. You can actually watch Everton EPL games now and not cringe…unless Tony hibbert is on the ball of course

2. Fellaini’s afro will be re-introduced into American society.

1. January 11th and March 10th: Foreman vs. Ali. Whoops! Friedel vs. Donovan. Spurs vs. Toffees. Tasty…cakes!

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Okay, you asked for it:

Oreo Prose: The Maturation Of Zarek Valentin

Former LA Galaxy player, NCAA Champion & brother Julian Valentin writing for TSG
You can follow Julian on Twitter here

January 13, 2011.

Sponsored by Men's Warehouse...twice...

Zarek and I certainly didn’t plan it that day, but we ended up wearing the same black suit–the buy one, get one half off special from Men’s Warehouse.  I’d had mine for a year or so and he got his back from the tailor just in time to look good on draft day.

Our older brother Zach he was there too, sporting the same gray slacks that he wore in 2008 when I was drafted by the LA Galaxy.

For Zach, it was a familiar scene at the Baltimore Convention Center as he nursed a flask of Pepto-Bismol to take the edge off his nausea. True story.

The wait was kind, and with the fourth pick in the 2011 MLS Superdraft, Chivas USA selected my brother: Zarek Valentin…defender…University of Akron.

Zarek stood up, hugged us, strutted onto the stage in his Chivas scarf and hat, shook hands and said “cheese” with Commissioner Don Garber and flawlessly delivered all of the standard lines to those in attendance.

Yawn.

The real Zarek Valentin–in most any other settings–would have delivered a stand-up comedy routine and perhaps entertained the crowd with Dance #8.  But again, it was draft day, not an appropriate setting to workshop new material.

Zarek’s podcasts are out there on ussoccer.com and his video journal from the recent Generation Adidas trip to Amsterdam will make you laugh, scratch your head and wonder what’s going on in that melon of his.

The Twitter Zarek–his handle is @DubbZV, for some reason — is exactly who the real kid is: random, funny, quirky, a little bit off-the-wall but oddly profound and insightful. The adoration for Oreos—which is frequently tweeted material—is no act.  In fact, it’s a time-honored tradition, a snack that we enjoyed all throughout our childhood and still do to this day.

During halftime of late-night Serie A reruns on FSC–studying good defending–we’d head into the kitchen for cookies and milk.  Oreos and milk.

I’m looking forward to that when we’re home for Christmas.

Even with the goofy side of his personality, Z is a highly regarded player who has developed an edge.  If this were baseball–that’s what I do for work these days–he’d be a four-and-a-half tool player, a guy who made a solid first impression during his first campaign in the Majors.

Am I biased?  Of course.  But I call it like I see it.

Zarek played all along the Goats backline in his rookie year, demonstrating the vision, poise, technical ability and smart defending that turned heads at the amateur level.  As he continues to improve his concentration over 90 minutes and adjust to the speed of play in MLS, the best is still to come.  I may be his brother, but I like to think I have a keen eye for ability too.

A stellar opening campaign from the Akron man...

It’s a funny business, though, and just about a month ago, an inexperienced–to say it as politely as possible–Chivas USA front office pulled a major head-scratcher–to say it as politely as possible–by failing to protect him in the Expansion Draft.  MLS legend and Montreal Impact head coach Jesse Marsh was quick to call, and made Z the second pick in the Expansion Draft a couple days later, snapping up a player with Best XI potential…for free.

Am I biased?  Of course.  But I call it like I see it.

Consider this: Zarek (2,114) logged the fifth-most minutes for Chivas in 2011, behind Nick LaBrocca (3,058), Dan Kennedy (2,880), Heath Pearce (2,581) and Ante Jazic (2,468).

In fact, with his cumulative minutes played in 2011, Zarek became one of two rookies to graduate from Generation Adidas program; former Zips teammate and D.C. United man Perry Kitchen (2,726 minutes) was the other to eclipse the 2,000-minute mark and forfeit GA protection in said Expansion Draft.

Minutes certainly aren’t everything in this game, but they can be a strong indication of many things.  You won’t play if you don’t have it, something important to add to the team.  For reference, I played 54 minutes with the Galaxy first team in two years.  Case and point.

It was a surprising move for Zarek, from white sand to foreign soil, but an opportunity that he’s very excited about.  With a young and experienced coaching staff to work under and an impressive vision for the club, Z quickly realized the excitement surrounding the Impact.  He learned about the tradition of the club and @DubbZV began to bond with Montreal fans through talk of Oreo cookies and broken French.

Maybe one of them will find his wallet somewhere in Amsterdam too.

Montreal is a beautiful city with great history and culture.  Moreover, it’s a special city for us, and fond memories of his first visit to Montreal made Z even more excited.

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Europa League Wednesday: Fulham vs. Odense

A big one in Europa League today for Americans to watch.

No, not Tottenham.

Wisla Krakow is nipping at the Cottagers heals. A win for Krakow and loss for Fulham rules Damien Duff’s dudes out of Europa.

While American media will be all over Dempsey playing at home after eating at the Swansea gaffe-ateria, Nigerian Peter Utaka is a proficient “B movie” European striker with 99 goals in 246 club matches in his career. MLS comp for Utaka–a rich man’s Dominic Oduro–only Utaka nails the sitters.

Utaka below–gotta love the backing from Will Smith:

Camp Cupcake: Please RVSP This Week

As Camp Junior Mint (U-23) gets underway in Florida this week, Jurgen Klinsmann should be shortly submitting his roster for who gets an Evite to the annual Camp Cupcake in Carson, CA.

This will of course be Klinsmann’s first time selecting for the camp that normally sees predominant enrollment of fringe US and Nordic domestic league players.

What have we learned thus far fromt Klinsmann’s selections into previous camps is: (1) Jurgen has his favorites just like former coach Bob Bradley did and has his reaches, just like Bradley–so expect a few projects in camp as well as a few head-scatchers (2) Klinsmann favors possession, attacking oriented players at the expense of typically defensive stoppers–perhaps with the thinking that he can mold good athletes/attackers into better defenders, (3) much like any manager Klinsmann prefers to give youth more and more of a chance as you move up from the back. For that reason, vets Herculez Gomez and Chris Rolfe seemly won’t get call again in this one. (Gomez for his part will be at work for Santos Laguna)

What will be interesting here is to see if Klinsmann sticks with what US coaches before him did and makes this a novice camp with one or two veterans or if he makes it more of a “working camp” for the senior team.

Expecting the former and here’s a clearly discounted forecast of what else transpires in advance:

Goalie:

Good to have around in camp: Nick Rimando

Locks: Bill Hamid

Probable: Sean Johnson, Nick Rimando

Bubble: NA

The skinny: This seems pretty set. Hamid has already been tabbed the back-up to Howard–a somewhat interesting call given that he hasn’t featured for the States senior side yet. he should however get the most reps with the “first team” in Carson. Sean Johnson–fresh of U-23 time as well as Everton training–is likely nipping at Hamid’s heals.

And then Nick Rimando–veteran presence in camp; Klinsmann favorite. Note, should Brad Guzan start impressing you’ll see him right back in there fighting for a spot.

Defense:

Locks: Zach Loyd, Tim Ream, Heath Pearce

Probables: George John, Geoff Cameron, Michael Parkhurst

Bubble: Omar Gonzalez, Chance Myers, AJ De La Garza, Corey Ashe

The skinny: Locks for Klinsmann this camp in the back appear to be Zach Loyd, Tim Ream and Heath Pearce. All have been called in previously under the German in 2011. In regards to Pearce, he’s got the necessary speed and handles; he’s also the ability to shift out wide left if necessary.

After those locks, the centerback pecking order is chaotic; essentially four guys fighting for maybe one? two spots?

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(Video) El Clasico Reviewed In Slow Motion

Chelsea Vs. Man City; Rome vs. Juve: Preview, Live Action

We excavate this snippet and republish this from our Friday piece as today’s action is about to get underway.

The saga continues...

• Chelski vs. Europa’s Elite: Man City

Man City now have a but the Premiership trophy to focus on as they, too, departed the Champion’s League brackets this week and headed to Europa’s minor leagues.

In some ways on Monday it’s Old Chelsea vs. New Chelsea. Gone are the days when Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich splashed the cash on any brand soccer name that would look good–to him–on the back of the Blues uni (Ballack, Schevchenko).

Chelsea’s core (Lampard, Cole, Terry, Cech) is still intact and the Stamford Bridge crew are both better and worse for it.

On the positive side, there is still class–on field that is–with the aforementioned names.

Flipping to the negative side–with how firmly those critical-for-success players are entrenched–it is a poison pill for any manager trying to take over the ship and win some possessions for the trophy cabinets.

Chelsea...

Chelsea are almost like the Yahoo of the Premiership. They still have massive talent and operational scale, but they need to clean house of the top players to re-position for success.

(BTW, Google (Manchester United) and now Facebook (Manchester City) have since passed Chelsea by while Arsenal–I’d guess you’d have to consider them e-Bay at this point–are still a thorn in their side.)

No bigger conundrum is than that of Frank Lampard. The man is consistent. He is prescient. He is an exceedingly smart player. However Lampard also plays what can be considered a “luxury position,” not unlike the “elephant” role on NFL defenses.

Frank: Not balding, but aging...

Just like the elephant role, Lampard’s role is one where he is typically relied on to make plays but do very little dirty work.

In the attack he has the advantage of trailing the play and either getting forward or issuing a shot goal after the workers in front of him have already cleared a path and set-up a table. Defensively Chelsea play high line, reducing the space that a midfielder needs to cover and play a holder (Obi Mikel, Romeu) tasked with snuffing everything else out.

So Lampard is well hidden and is well fed. His role can hide, but it can also be oh so much more if they shuffled the starting deck.

Another midfield situation in the Prem to watch.

• Serious A: Roma vs. Juve

(This section by coffee bean, The National and Serie A expert Eric Giardini.)

Centerback?

Monday afternoon sees Juventus travel to Rome to take on Roma to close out the Serie A weekend. The two clubs are heading in very different directions. Juventus are the last remaining unbeaten team in Italy and have a two-point lead over Milan and Udinese at the top. Last time out, Juventus made fairly routine work over Cesena 2-0. However, striker (and ex-Roma player) Mirko Vucinic picked up an injury in the match and is out until the new year.

Roma, on the other hand, are in a tailspin. Losers of two in a row (2-0 to Udinese, 3-0 to Fiorentina), things are not getting easier for the club who’s next two are against Juventus and Napoli. The buzz from the Eternal City is that these two matches are a make or break for manager Luis Enrique or he may find himself on the outs. Things are tougher, still, with the suspension of three players (Bojan, Juan, Fernando Gago) for red cards picked up against Fiorentina.

Just to make things worse, the long-term injuries to Simon Kjaer and Nicholas Burdisso means that Daniele De Rossi is looking like he will play out of position at center back.

Juventus should leave Rome with all three points, leading to further speculation on Enrique’s job status and increased panic on De Rossi and his ongoing contract situation.

Be Patient Kop Faithful: Old Red Dalglish Will Deliver New Reds to Europe

John Henry's promise to restore Liverpool to former glory placed great faith in an old legend. He's beginning to deliver.

Neil Blackmon examines why the skeptics about Dalglish’s tactics and managerial ability are likely wrong.

A year ago, as  Liverpool stumbled out of the gate to a mid-table Christmas position, dark clouds swirled around Anfield and more than one commentator uttered the frightening “end of an era” cliché about England’s “other” most storied club. Roy Hodgson was sacked before he unpacked, and an American owner, the most cynically-viewed type of outsider in a parochial league gone global, John Henry, took control of the club. Henry promised the faithful in the mother country he would be “committed to winning” and “restoring Liverpool’s historic place” of competitive excellence, but such promises had been made before. Still, the man he backed to lead the Reds, Kenny Dalglish, was as fine a gesture of goodwill as any he could give to the wary faithful.

If anyone was to lead Liverpool quickly out of the coming darkness, surely it would, or should be, a former legend like Dalglish. Hiring an old legend or leader from the storied past is a time-honored show of good faith in sport. It doesn’t always work of course, but it buys you time. And when it does work, it’s all the more satisfying- in any sport. Johan Cruyff, in glorious fashion, led Ajax and Barcelona back to the promised land after arriving in troubled times. In 1958, Alabama football had won four games in three seasons and was lost in the wilderness. A championship coach and former Crimson Tide player, Bear Bryant, was hired to lead them. When asked why he left powerhouse Texas A & M to go to Alabama, Bryant responded, “Momma called. And when Momma calls, you have to come runnin.’” Mike Ditka, a former Bears player, returned Chicago to the mountaintop as its head coach in 1985. And former Florida Heisman Trophy winner Steve Spurrier returned home to Florida in 1990, taking over a program that had won zero championships in 80 years of football and winning seven in twelve years. There’s a certain passion that accompanies allegiance that makes a hire like Dalglish’s seem safe, or more likely to succeed.

As early as 1990, greats like the late Sir Bobby Robson suggested the 4-4-2 was finished as a winning formation.

Yet there were cynics, and there were (and are) fair questions. The most prominent of these involves criticism of Dalglish’s 4-4-2 system, with his beloved tucked-in winger. Indeed, even in 1990, the last time Liverpool won a title, there were questions to greats like the late Sir Bobby Robson as to whether that formation was dying, and the answers weren’t positive. Among the first to ask, and smartly diagram, this criticism was the great Jonathan Wilson, who while conceding the obvious—that King Kenny loved Liverpool, and there were few who questioned his ability to motivate and inspire—wondered if Dalglish’s hire would turn out to be a cautionary tale about the failure of conservative tactics in the Premier League’s gone global age where winning often involves being the best at a tactical chess match over 38 fixtures.

These questions remain, and judgment, as a whole, should be reserved. But a recent impressive run of form, a display on Dalglish’s part this campaign of tactical flexibility, and some film study suggests there is certainly reason for less than guarded optimism. Any discussion of Liverpool generates large-scale debate—such is life at one of sport’s most storied franchises. In my view, much of the debate around Dalglish’s tactical ability to lead Liverpool back to the promised land of the top four, however, ultimately turns on the answer to two questions.

First, as Wilson asked, Can the 4-4-2 still be successful today- or better put—the Bolton Test. Can the 4-4-2 be relied upon to grind out the necessary results against the Boltons of the world you absolutely must have to play the Benfica’s in the Champions League Group stages next autumn?

Opinions on this question are mixed. Wilson’s article was (oddly) inconclusive- but it did suggest (correctly) various limitations with the formation in today’s English football. Former Liverpool player Gary Gillespie is even more negative in his view, having gone as far as suggesting that Dalglish’s 4-4-2 is really not a tactical idea at all—and that in fact, when he was at Liverpool under King Kenny, players were told simply to “go out and play.” That sounds a bit like sour grapes from a former player who at best was a top-end backup, but it is a stern criticism nonetheless. And film study, at least in an isolated instance, validates that concern. Here we briefly look at Liverpool’s mind numbing 0-0 draw with Swansea City.

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