Archive for May, 2012

USA versus Scotland – SNAP JUDGMENTS

USMNT celebrating first half goal

Wow. When was the last time a US men’s soccer match provided so many positive talking points?  The win over Spain at the 2009 Confederations Cup?

Congratulations US fans. You just witnessed the red and white stripes romp over a not-that-bad Scotland team. Here are some of the top stories to take from the recently-concluded match in Jacksonville:

Still thirsty for success

Take a bow, Mr. Donovan. Take a bow.  In a week when Donovan was making headlines, though not necessarily “for all the wrong reasons,” the US’s all-time leading scorer stole the show Saturday night.

Donovan this week was talking about the end of his career even though it is obvious to anyone watching that he has several years left at the near-top of his game.

Donovan showed his still-dangerous speed on the break, his vision and incisive passing and the killer instinct that led to 46 international goals prior to tonight.

I think it is likely that LD returns to the LA Galaxy with a little more fire in his belly than recent months. Though, there are now more than whispers that even Donovan himself is thinking that a move away from LA may be best for all concerned.

General Bradley.  Donovan gets the headlines, but another player was arguably just as dominant as Donovan.

Bradley just finished a banner season in Serie A and showed why even the mighty Internazionale Milano are being linked with the young star.

Basically all criticisms of a young, immature Bradley have been erased by his steady progression on the field. Bradley earns the most praise these days for addressing his weaknesses and turning them into strengths.

Bradley showed his intelligence and soft first touch in the middle of the field. He only went to ground when the play dictated so. He exhibited his abilities in the final third, both on his screaming volley into the upper 90 and the direct assist to Donovan.

Think about this, the US’s best three players in South Africa were arguably Donovan, Dempsey and Bradley. Right now, they may all be playing even better in their own respects.

Jurgen turning that frown upside down after great US display.

System overload. The first four months under Juergen Klinsmann were not the most pleasant for US fans. A 1-4 record and a total of one goal scored was the immediate reward for a change of coaching regimes.

Now, to follow up a 1-0 defeat of Italy, the US just blasted Scotland 5-1. It can’t be a culmination of Klinsmann’s new system since players like Altidore and Dempsey were not even on the field, but it is the result of nine months of scheming, teaching and learning by everyone in the USMNT.

First and foremost was, not Donovan, but the three central midfielders’ performances. Bradley, Edu and Jones played in a way that previously only existed in the dreams of US fans since Jones made the switch from Germany.

All three floated across the field, cutting down Scotland’s attacks and then racing forward on the break. Jones’ long strides could be seen galloping down upon the Scottish defense on numerous occasions.

Bradley, Edu and Jones dominated the center of the park, but Scotland was assaulted by pressure coming from all over the field. Donovan, Torres and Boyd were unrelenting. Cherundolo and especially Fabian Johnson provided yet another wave of attacking verve in the final third.

An added long-term benefit is that the US player pool is poised to heap depth upon an already lethal lineup. Shea, Gatt, Gyau, Corona, Lichaj and still possibly Timothy Chandler are among a number of USMNT prospects still coming up through the ranks with varying amounts of international experience.

HOME field advantage. Often times, a US home game has looked disappointingly similar to a road match. Not Saturday night in Jacksonville.

A record southeastern crowd of 44,000+ cheered the US on to victory. The support the team has received in Nashville, Florida, Philadelphia, etc. has provided more and more evidence that this isn’t your….older brother’s US team.

Donovan with Gatorade, Dempsey with Nike, Bradley in Serie A, five different club captains in the squad and larger pro-US crowds are all evidence pointing to a higher profile US team than ever before.

I don’t know if I would go as far as others in calling this team fully “mainstream,” but better home crowds could provide the US an extra boost in this cycle of World Cup qualifying.

Can the USMNT replicate their form from tonight against Neymar and crew?

World Cup destination.  And that is the ultimate goal: qualifying for the World Cup. With the way the US performed against Italy and Scotland, it is tough to imagine the US having difficult qualifying for Brazil 2014, but qualifiers are a totally different beast.

US fans have felt the pain of seeing the US men shredded in the final 70 minutes of the 2011 Gold Cup final, the US Under-20 national team fail to qualify for the World Cup and, most recently, witnessing the heartbreaking loss by the Olympic team in the group stages of the qualifying tournament.

The US senior team was able to shake up that recent string of disappointment with Saturday’s thrashing of Scotland. In 13 days, the US will be back to playing “games that matter” and begin the process of trying to avoid “disaster.”

Qualifying is not a short process, and definitely not an easy one. Klinsmann’s approach is aimed at avoiding complacency. The US will have to have a short memory with games like Saturday’s and learn from the disappointments that always come. Then of course, if they qualify, expectations will mount once again.

Live Commentary: USA vs. Scotland

Starting line-ups shortly….as well as some Fabian Johnson, Edgar Castillo & Terrence Boyd too?

Will Boyd go Matrix in this series?

Poll: After Landon, the Next USMNT Media Darling?

Ciao, Bella?

With Landon Donovan’s ominous comments about losing the spark yesterday, who is–is anybody–poised to become the next USMNT marketing darling? (Clint Dempsey–the natural selection–disqualified.)

Klinsmann Qualifier Conundrum: Getting A Jol-ly Clint Dempsey

Martin Jol

[Stepping back]

Okay, you’re Martin Jol, Fulham manager. You’ve just left behind the land of windmills to help the cozy Cottagers of London again prove that tradition more than bank account matters, even in the British Petroleum League–sorry that BPL moniker always messes me up.

You’ve got this player on your side that has proven to every manager before you that he is Fulham’s playa. 

You run a certain Dutch system, don’t know where to fit him, so you start him on the bench a little bit at the beginning of the campaign–that being 2011-2012–but quickly you realize what all your predecessors did–he’s got to be on the field.

You start playing Fulham’s playa, American Clint Dempsey, all over the field. You play him as a withdrawn forward, you play him as an incutting left-sider, then back on the right. Everywhere he plays he shows commitment, he piles up fouls that get turned into set pieces which then show on the score sheet as goals.

But, now…now you’ve got a problem on your hand.

Your target man–Bobby Zamora–is unhappy.

Unhappy with his contract, the system everything.

He’s not doing the forward work you need. One day, the crosstown Spurs come in with two gimpy-kneed centerbacks and you figure, “Ah, what the hell. Let me try Deuce up top here–at least he’ll make Ledley King run all day.”

And lo and behold it works!

Symphonically.

Zamora and Dempsey combine with Dempsey turning centerbacks like they’re New England Patriots cornerbacks. Only you know Zamora is heading down the road to Hughes Place. No matter, maybe Ruiz or…or..”yes Dembele” can trail the play and interchange with Dempsey. My god that might just work. Heck, I’ll even through Kerim Frei on the wing to speed up our overall rate of play.

You play Dempsey up top, either in a one person set or a two and you give him license to roam.

Dempsey becomes a force up top and drops some serious goalage on the league. Clint appropriately chooses when to come back to the midfield to help out in linking, earning even more fouls as defenders trail him out wide. You know Dempsey can’t hack getting beat on with his back to the basket all season by his lonesome, so you bring in that big Russian kid from Stuttgart. And with Deuce distracting the defense you get another half dozen goals from Pogrebnyak too.

Life is good. You’re Fulham team finishes ninth in the table with a three point improvement on the previous campaign. In fact those 52 points match the output of another team interestingly enough, Liverpool that is supposed to be a step-up for London’s top American.

A Jol-ly Dempsey….

If you’re Jurgen Klinsmann though, life’s not as good in Attackville.

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TSG’s Official USA vs. Scotland Preview: Action Jacksonville

Steve Cherundolo: Putting his foot down on international attackers since September of 1999.

On Saturday, the US senior side kicks off its longest run of matches since the 2010 Gold Cup tournament with a set of three friendlies followed by the first triple of World Cup qualifying games.

Will Klinsmann have the US standing tall in World Cup qualifying? Or against Brazil for that matter?

The US will begin tuning a squad that, through a myriad of friendlies, has been defensively stout, but offensively suspect since the introduction of Jurgen Klinsmann as front man.

The friendly set: Scotland this Saturday, followed by Brazil in the midweek and closing with Canada is ideal for grading the players in advance of qualifying and was probably set up as such.

The US gets a gritty, defensive-postured, mid-tier UEFA side in Scotland as a warm-up for the theatrics of Brazil.

Per recent Klinsmann commentary, he’s calling the run of matches a “Five Game Tournament.”

Some challenges here for that disposition on Saturday.

First, US attackers Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey are not expected to play in this one. Altidore by club agreement; Dempsey for injury recovery. Add in the Oguchi Onyewu is not in camp yet and the Portugese leaguer will likely not get the starting nod either. It’s not Klinsmann’s first choice squad fans will likely see.

Second, the USMNT coaching staff needs to pair down the 27 in camp to 23 names for qualifying. That cut occurs this week as well. Combine that task with evaluating where players are physically and Scotland is not ultimate top of mind this week. Seemingly by admission as well.

Let’s get to our customary TSG preview. As usual it goes:

About The Opponent

TSG What We’re Looking For

11 At The Whistle

About The Opponent

A special treat for our TSG audience this time around. Grant Russell, a journalist with Scottish Television, has offered to write the “About The Opponent” section. He did such a good job, that we made it it’s own column. Below here is the forecasted 4-1-4-1 deployment, but for much more on Scotland click right here.

Scotland’s forecast starting line-up (via Grant Russell)

For a profile on Scotland national and Aston Villa midfielder, Barry Bannan, click here.

TSG What We’re Looking For:

• Forgetting Timmy Chandler

Where the US leftback situation looked somewhat settled up until Chandler’s invite snub a little more than two weeks ago, now it presents an interesting conundrum and will actually be looked at in tandem with the left advanced midfielder-wing role.

Will Fab(ulous) Johnson be back up top on the left?

And all the chatter will revolve, correctly, around one key figure: TSG hoffenheim’s Fabian Johnson.

Arguably the best display thus far by a left fullback not named Timothy Chandler over the past two years has been by Fabian Johnson, against Italy just a few months ago in Genoa.

Arguably the best display thus far by an attacking, advanced, left-midfielder has been…Fabian Johnson at the end of 2011 on the road in Slovenia.

So whither Jurgen on Johnson?

Given Johnson’s proclivity in the attack and Brek Shea’s recent swoons and given some of the call-ups, the US would appear to need Johnson’s skillset further up the pitch taking on defenders.

That said, when you look at the depth charts, the forward role sees Joe Corona as a viable option as well as an inverted Landon Donovan if Edgar Castillo is available to overlap to create left-side width.

(And a grander USMNT defensive point here….)

Defensive lines in soccer are like offensive lines in football. The goal is to build continuity through communal repetitions and common experiences. It’s why the Italy teams of the 2000′s were so good. It’s why Bob Bradley attempted to race Oguchi Onyewu back to fitness and central defense in advance of and in time for World Cup 2010.

When you look at the US, despite the improvements in defensive cohensiveness, the personnel still is quite challenging from what Klinsmann wants to do (play out of the back, overlap a lot more.)

With the beginning of qualifying and–if you step back–just two years and maybe 30 games until the 2014 World Cup, the US needs to begin making some “planning” decisions in the back.

Do they continue to run with Bocanegra since the Californian can handle CONCACAF competition or do they start grooming Cameron or Ream for that role? With Cameron’s selection–more on that specific ability in a minute–and Tim Ream’s absence, it appears the Dynamo man is 2nd on the LCB depth chart.

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(Video) Didier Drogba Says Arrivederci to Chelsea Fans

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