Archive for April, 2012

The Weekend: Live Commentary

EPL appetizers, the MLS main course.

Timmy on the road at Norwich City.

Needs Big Game.

 

MLS Week 5: 20 Tanks to LIVESTRONG

If you build it, they will....throw bobbleheads...

John Nyen attempts go iambic pentameter, but goes off-beat.

Well good afternoon, morning and good night kiddos. Some of you may already know this, but I am in the process of moving my offices back to the motherland. As such, my recent ability to file timely reports and watch the game tape has been slightly impeded. However, never let it be said that lack of knowledge is something that should keep you from filing a report. As such, I present the wild, crazy and slighty guess filled MLS TSG prediction for Week 5. This week Gary Gygax would be proud as we roll our 8 sided dice and try to see if our level 8 paladin (Sporting KC) can cast a light of entrapment snare upon the wooly orcish LA Galaxy. <—- NERD!

Charles Bukowski...

If Week 4 proved anything in MLS it was that absolutely anyone can win anywhere at any time. MLS has been known for its parity for quite a while but nowhere was this more evident than in sunny… er… rather rainy Los Angeles as the New England Revolution stormed ahead (see what I did there?) to a win.

It has to be said that the beginning of my Week 4 column was correct. Week four was “The Reckoning” as up was down, left was right and San Jose turned into Barcelona. My record on the year moved to 16 – 11 with 4 exactas (none from last week)

This really does prove that anything can and WILL happen in MLS. CatDogs? BeaverRats? Brek Shea’s Haircut? ANYTHING.

A sidenote about Brek Shea’s haircut… it really is reminiscent of Massive Headwound Harry, which is a reference that will show your age rather severely.

Let’s get on to the picks this week. As always…All times are East coast, all hops are not created equal, and for the record Rogue brewery uses a lot of Cascade hops… I’m telling this to you so you don’t have to ask them (on the tour) 18 million times what kind of hops they use even though they told you before the first time you asked…. CASCADE. Thanks.

All music suggestions this week are now poems by Charles Bukowski: ENJOY.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

8:30PM – FC Dallas V New England – FC Dallas Stadium – Television: Local Only

I started writing this column as the game was coming on, but I pre-tweeted my prediction to ShinGuardian corporate offices and Star Destroyer (West Coast Division). Check my twitter feed if you don’t believe me.

Bukowski Poem for this Game: Another Day

Last Game for FC Dallas: L 1-4

Last Game for New England: W 3-1

My Prediction: Dallas 2-0 over the “end of road trip, time to get home and have a few extra days off” Revolution.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Canadian grass....oh wait, this isn't Vancouver.

12:00PM – Montreal v Toronto FC – Olympic Stadium – Television: TSN/RDS

Let’s be brutally honest here, these two cities don’t have a lot of love for each other in general. Habs v Leafs…. Argonauts v Alouettes… Expo…er…rather…. Impact v TFC… Quebecois v Canada.

The Quebecois are one of the only political organizations/regional areas in North America in recent history to actually attempt to seccede from their country. This was tenatively decided as recently as 1998, so we aren’t talking about ratified treaties of 1812. Political ramifications aside the two fanbases are as diverse and opposed/joined as many in Canada these days. However, I can guarantee that the supporters groups will be into this game.

Having said all that the problem of course is that neither of these teams is playing well in MLS at this point. Montreal has the only point in the league between these two teams, and as tough as they have looked (at times) they really don’t look like storming to the top any time soon. I am going to concur with the front office here, as I watched the Montreal v RSL game and found myself wondering what happened to Justin Mapp. He looked like the spritely, young, comb-overed, 10 head of old and was taking on defenders and slashing through the middle with aplomb. I was quite surprised. He certainly was hit or miss last year for the Union (mostly miss in my opinion) however he looked like a different player out there for Montreal. Perhaps it is the poutine. On the other hand… Toronto has been this years Jeckle and Hyde team as their play during the regular season has been relatively insipid but their play during the CONCACAF Champions League has been inspiring. I tend to think that with the strong run in the CCL this year that Aaron Winter may have been trying strategies for TFC during the first three MLS games. With the loss of Torsten Friings, Winter toyed with a higher line, pressing with the midfield and even substitutions. Either way, TFC will need to solidify their gutsy performances in the CCL with some wins during MLS for their not-quite-long suffering fans.

Bukowski Poem for this Game: A radio with guts

Last Game for Montreal: L 0-1

Last Game for Toronto: A complete shellacking in the second half against Santos.

My Prediction: I think Toronto can find their feet here, but the fans propel Montreal to a score as well. 2-1 to TFC.

3:00PM – Columbus v New York – Crew Stadium – Television: Univision

Buenos Dias folks, I'm Chad Marshall.

The New York “Rafa Marquez is still terrible” Red Bull’s travel to Columbus to take on the suddenly turgid Crew. It has to be said that the Crew are one trade for Chris Wondowloski away from being San Jose East. Not that this is necessarily a problem for them, but the similarities (once pointed out) are quite amazing.

Soler/Backe is now less reliable than Perot/Stockdale was during the 90′s as they somehow have managed to run the good ship Red Bull straight over Metro waterfalls and back into the New Jersey turnpike. With Luke Rodgers not coming back, New York is now slower than an Edsel being pushed by Jay Leno while he describes (in detail) the inner workings of an engine that runs on steam. This of course, isn’t to say that New York isn’t going to win any games, but that they also aren’t going to be setting any track meet records either.

Of course speed is one thing but New York is, as well, one Thierry accident away from being a less defensively solid Montreal with Kenny Cooper as Justin Braun.

Bukowski Poem for this Game: About My Very Tortured Friend, Peter

Last Game for Columbus: W 2-0

Last Game for New York: W 5-2

My Prediction: Columbus get this game 2-1

—–

4:00PM – Sporting KC v Los Angeles – Livestrong Sporting Park – Television: ESPN ESPN Deportes

We miss ya Beas!

I BELIEVE…

I BELIEVE THIS MIGHT BE…

I BELIEVE THIS MIGHT BE 2006 WORLD CUP ALL OVER AGAIN.

I don’t think the above chant will catch on but the “Bruce Arena has run out of time and good will” clock is starting to tick, ever so slowly. Despite telling most columnists that they don’t know what they are doing on a near weekly basis, somehow the LA Galaxy are sitting in the basement of the Western Conference with their cousins, Chivas. The only reason LA aren’t dead last is because they have only played 3 games. Robbie Keane can’t hit the net, Landon Donovan isn’t playing, Omar Gonzales (more and more the retroactive MVP of last year) is on the shelf, and LA look limp and disinterested.

Meanwhile in a Bar-B-Q far far away, the thick tomato and molasses based sauce are dripping slowly off the slow cooked rib that is Kansas City’s season. To take a food analogy way past its prime, Sporting are currently those non-overcooked, delicious, slightly fatty ribs that you dream about. Or if you are a vegetarian, the perfect amount of vegetable tabbouleh with small cut tofu soaked in mesquite drippings. Sporting has just been that good this season. The only team that has only wins, looks to take on a team that is attempting to still wake up now that the season has started.

For all you history kids, it became apparent during the 2006 World Cup (and post World Cup) that the USA team was clearly very done with Bruce Arena. The 2006 team was one of the most promising and disappointing USA teams in recent history and they played so poorly during the tournament that the ensuing Arena firing resulted in the Bob Bradley era.

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Sporting KC Don’t Flunk The Flank, Tactically-Speaking

In this week’s MLS Soccer March to the Match podcast, the extraordinary amount of shot opportunities for Sporting KC was referenced.

Forward progress....

Cauldron favorite and midfielder Graham Zusi in particular is on a pace for almost 100 shots taken this season.

As a midfielder this is nothing short of outstanding. To our knowledge, a “true” midfielder has never led the league or come close to leading the league in shots.

That’s almost three shots per game.

It sounds pedestrian, but when you consider that his teammate Kei Kamara already has 28 (over 6 per game), in combination, it’s mesmerizing. (Note: CJ Sapong is in the top 20 in shots also!)

Now, shot volume is nothing new for Sporting KC. They led the league last year in shots taken with an average of almost 14.5 per game.

They’re on pace to straight obliterate that this year, with 688 or over 20 per game!

Again astounding and it deserves more press*. (*We will discuss a few negatives at the end of the piece as well.)

But the question is, what changed for Sporting KC this year to increase the shot count?

Beyond being on-form, how were they able to ratchet up the amount of shots per game.

And the answer lies in three tweaks to Peter Vermes system this year. And let’s just say–in a nod to Jonah Freedman who commented this week–it’s not your traditional 4-3-3. In fact, it’s really more of 3-2-3-2 in the attack with Chance Myers playing extremely high up the pitch. (That 3-2-3-2 is Sinovic-Besler-Collin, Espinosa-Cesar, Convey-Zusi-[FB - typically Myers], Sapong-Kamara).

• CJ Sapong fills the “right” role

Sporting KC selected Teal Bunbury as its hold-up player in Game One of the season in DC United, whether by design or because they want to keep Sapong fresh with Bunbury going on US Soccer duty.

Bunbury distribution in Week 1 (chart courtesy MLSSoccer.com)

The chart above shows Bunbury’s distribution.

It’s a bit over the map, with a lot of hold up particularly on the left flank.

Now contrast this with Sapong’s most recent work against Chivas USA and FC Dallas.

Sapong distribution against Chivas.

More compact and mostly on the right. In a nod, to Matt Doyle comments on the aforementioned podcast, “CJ Sapong is Brian McBride II and he’s dragging the defense everywhere and opening up Kei Kamara.”

Precisely.

Well, almost everywhere.

Sapong’s staying a little more tidy in the middle and keeping the flanks open for Kamara and Convey. (BTW, it’s very impressive to see Sapong move off the ball. While his touch can use work, Sapong not only takes angles, but he also initiates contact offball and move his defender out of position. Watch him this weekend.)

• Bobby Convey has been “anti-” his reputation.

Want to know why Vermes is the leading candidate for coach–and perhaps front office man–of the year.

Look no further that Convey. Some [looks in mirror, sighs] wondered if Vermes knew what he was doing bringing in the often me-first, petulant player to a strong locker room in the offseason.

Tactically, it’s paying dividends.

Last year, KC trotted out Omar Bravo primarily on the left flank. While coming off the corner added pressure to the defense it also opened up KC to being susceptible to counter attacks through the middle and–extremely key for the attack–it reduced width because with Kamara on the right and Bravo on the left it actually reduced the space that the fullbacks could advance to. (We’ll come back to that.)

This year, they’ve added Convey on the left–hat tip to Top Drawer Soccer’s Travis Clark who saw Convey’s deployment at “forward” in Vermes thinking early on.

Convey adds some valuable assets to the KC attack.

While Convey can get wide, he’s more deployed–unlike Bravo–in a withdrawn position. From this position, KC can elect to:

(a) Use Convey as the left-side attacking hub

(b) Use Convey’s excellent ability to provide service on the left to set up Kamara and Sapong around the posts

(c) Provide lead passes to Seth Sinovic overlapping on the flank.

(d) Stymie some counterattacks.

With Sinovic and Myers barreling down the flanks frequently it’s a lot of width and personnel for any defense to handle.

Which brings us to….

Square=midfield, Triangle=overlapping fullback, Circle=forward

• SKC don’t flunk the flanks

A little Mel Brooks reference for you there.

Barcelona is a team that people love to invoke for all types of analogies. TSG tries to avoid it, but we’ll use it here.

Chance Myers? Peter Vermes Dani Alves flanker. Let’s look–above–though with the ball on the other side.

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Talk To Me in Five Years: The 2007 Gold Cup Roster

Less a post here more just dawned because of two conversations this morning:

Back on the....

• On Justin Mapp

Made a comment this morning that Mapp is playing very well for the Montreal Impact. Got a lot of feedback that he was highly inconsistent for the Philadelphia Union last year. Agreed, but…

Players change and when they feel comfortable in a role it changes their outlook from perhaps nanoseconds to make an impression to tens of minutes. Should Mapp stay healthy and look this good four more games from now (and mind you he’s playing on a team with little attacking aptitude and that is always on the defensive)….well then maybe a contender can sneak in and steal’em. Line-hugging left-side midfielders a difficult lot to come by. Ask Sporting KC, they took a shot on Bobby Convey.

• World Cup 2010 forwards, how we looking?

This morning Clint Dempsey sits on 19 goals in all competitions for the session. Jozy Altidore is on 15. The completely “vigorated” (he’s not invigorated because he’s been doing it for awhile) Herculez Gomez sits on 11 (in 2012 alone) with Robbie Findley pulling up the rear at three.

They are almost the leading American scorers abroad this season and therein lies the interesting rub. Who enters the group? Matt Taylor, 30 years old, SC Paderborn 07 of the Bundesliga 2 who ironically played for Bradley at Chivas USA. Interesting.

——

Five years ago next month, the US Gold Cup roster would be announced. The historical is the team won the tourney (the last major tourney the USMNT won?) and here’s the squad that did it. Perhaps a bit dull to see most of these players would either retire or go on to be World Cup 2010 choices, but review nonetheless.

Below were some players on the periphery who were called in for friendlies immediately afterward:

—–

After the break, a few other odds and ends:

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Rechargeable “Manager Batteries,” Better Than Disposables?

Fates. Met.

By TSG’s coffee and Serie A expert, but not taco expert: Eric Giardini

This past month or so has seen the firings of two high profile managers from two high profile positions in the greater European soccer community.

André Villas-Boas fired on March 4th from Chelsea, one month shy of celebrating his one-year anniversary.

The firing was not a surprise as club owner Roman Abramovich has shown a lack of patience in keeping managers. For those counting at home, Abramovich and his mini-giraffe have now shown the door to nine during his nine-year tenure as owner (Ranieri, Mourinho, Grant, Scolari, Wilkins, Hiddink, Ancelotti, Villas-Boas, now Di Matteo). Former New York Yankee owner great George Steinbrenner would have identified nicely with Abramovich.

Not to be outdone in Serie A, Inter Milan cut the chord (and seemingly the parachute too) on its second manger of the season when it, pardon me, booted Claudio Ranieri.

This move–while also not a surprise given Inter’s struggles since the calendar turned to 2012–incredulously was expected for some time.

Andrea Stramaccioni, who the day before his appointment had led the Inter youth team to the inaugural NextGen tournament championship, replaced Ranieri.

While Villas-Boas’ firing caused great media stir around the soccer world, Ranieri’s did not. ‘

Why is this? Both team’s have similar Champion’s League stature for lack of a better qualifier and the press in both locales have field days every day?

The answer appears to lie deep and more subtlety within the heart of the cultures of England and Italy–specifically the way managers are viewed.

In Italy, results are paramount.

It isn’t important how results are achieved, just as long as they come.

If a club goes through a bad streak, someone is at fault. Since an owner cannot fire an entire team, unfortunately it is the manager who must pay the price. He gets the sack and it’s on to the next one. Fans and owners–on average and on the whole–are not overly concerned about long-term development and building for the future.

English managers, on the other hand, are given just a wee bit more security in this respect. Clubs are more willing to let a season play out instead of firing someone midseason.

For example, the 2011-2012 season shows a drastic disparity between the two leagues and numbers of managers fired midseason. Four managers have been fired in England while 14 already have faced the axe in Italy. Oddly enough, five clubs in Italy have made two firings this season. Inter, Palermo, Novara, Cagliari, and Cesena have all made changes twice – with Novara firing their manager January 30 and bringing him back on March 6.

The itchy trigger finger in Italy isn’t the only thing that separates the two nations in terms of their respective managerial cultures. The more interesting contrasts between the two involve coaching licenses, experience before landing a top-flight job, and the recycling of managers amongst the top clubs.

Even, the formal education of managers in the two nations is also drastically different.

While there is no formal “university” in England for managers to go to get their certification to become a manager, Italy has the famed Coverciano. Located in Florence, Coverciano is home to the FIGC (the Italian Football Association) as well the coaching school that all managers must pass to become a manger in either Serie A or B.

Coverciano

In Italy, it is accepted that managing a soccer team is a profession, and like any other profession, schooling is needed. Since opening its doors over 50 years ago, some of the world’s greatest managers have graduated from the coaching course and have had success all over the world. The curriculum at Coverciano covers a wide range of topics covering fitness, tactics, psychology, and even nutrition. An example of this is the current class at Coverciano, including the infamous Roberto Baggio, has been spending time at Roma learning tactics from Luis Enrique.

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Big Things Afoot: Pali Blues Appoint Goldman Brothers to Direct Club Operations

I’m sure you read that title and thought, “Who?” “What?”

Goldman & Zack (*sorry guys, couldn't help it)

Well, meet Max and Zack Goldman, brothers and the new Directors of Operations for The Pali Blues. For those unfamiliar, the Pali Blues are a top semi-pro women’s soccer team and the two-time defending Champions of the USL W-League. They also have perhaps the best supporter’s group unknown to many (that should be known), the Tony Danza Army.

Now, this may not seem like earth shattering news or the typical fair for TSG, but let me tell you why it is:

• The brothers are passionate about soccer

The aforementioned Tony Danza Army was their handiwork. They identified with soccer at the grassroots level and supported it, almost inordinately so, at that level.

• They’re in their 20′s

Max is 24 and Zach, 21…..and they’ve been chosen because of not only their passion, but their willingness to get involved and responsibility. That and…

• They’re smart. Like, real smart.

I’ve been fortunate enough, by luck, to sit next to Max on a plane and regularly converse (as much) with both via Twitter and email. I have rarely met–anywhere–sharper minds that combine a knowledge for the history of the game, the tactics and the intricacy of the business side.

Oh, you needed a big finish? You’re waiting for the punchline?

Readers of TSG, ladies and gentlemen, two, smart,  early 20′s professionals, passionate about soccer at the most basic (and the cheapest of levels) have signed on to guide the operations of a soccer club.

I believe you’re looking–here–at future soccer executives on a much, much grander scale and they’ve begun their apprenticeship. When they ascend the ranks, just remember they got their education at the right place and for the right reasons.

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