Archive for May, 2012

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 You play him as a withdrawn forward, you play him as an incutting left-sider, then back on the right.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

USA vs. Scotland Primer: About The Opponent

Grant Russell penned this column. Russell is a journalist for STV (Scottish Television) and regarded as an expert on Scottish football and on homegrown rules and players eligibility. Russell also tweets frequently on the Rangers and the American contingent playing there. 

Grant is a must-follow on Twitter.

Levein still a work in progress….

Two-and-a-half years have passed since Craig Levein’s brave new era got underway, yet Scotland are still in a period of exploration as the national coach tries to find the formula which will take the team to its first major championship since 1998.

The right steps are being taken behind the scenes to overhaul youth development, something long overlooked but being addressed by the appointment of Mark Wotte as performance director.

As ever in Scotland though, there is an expectation of the short term to be equally prosperous. After failure to qualify for the 2012 European Championships, the man at the helm is arguably facing a make-or-break World Cup qualifying campaign, albeit with a public element frustrated to date with his approach and not necessarily from his bosses.

Levein, at least, will have the next 18 months to win over a largely sceptical public. The friendly with the USA is hardly whetting even the most committed Scotland follower’s appetite and only a spectacular result in Jacksonville will register with most.

The friendly with the USA also comes against a backdrop of internal strife in the Scottish game. Rangers dominate the headlines owing to their perilous financial state and their incredulity at a year-long signing ban placed upon them by the Scottish FA for failing to pay government tax for nine months.

There is also the looming threat of worse to come for the club, with a ruling overdue on a possible £75m tax bill and an ongoing investigation into whether payments to players were hidden from the football authorities for over ten years, something which could see them stripped of almost all of their titles won since 1998.

An international match would normally divert the focus temporarily. But the squad named by Levein, with one relatively low-key exception in Matt Phillips, has failed to capture the imagination enough to suggest the game in will be little more than a footnote.

Scottish winger Matt Phillips for Blackpool.

Jordan Rhodes, one of Scotland’s two hopes of a superstar emerging in the near future, is instead with the under-21 selection for a more important European Championship game with Bulgaria. The other prodigy, Celtic’s James Forrest, misses the trip through injury.

Steven Fletcher, a respected and developing goal scorer who bagged nine in the English Premier League this season, remains in the wilderness because of a dispute with Levein.

Jamie Mackie, the man who threatened to thwart Manchester City in their title hopes in QPR’s final day fixture, misses out because his wife is expecting. Same too for Graham Dorrans, an established midfielder in England’s top flight, who could have used the match to enhance his own prospects of a permanent place in the starting team for the World Cup qualifiers. Likely starter James Morrison, another who impressed with West Brom tjis season, is absent through injury.

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USA vs. Scotland Primer: On Scotland’s Xavi, Barry Bannan

Villa's Barry Bannan

Barry Bannan stands out.

RJ Sepich is an ardent Aston Villa and USMNT Supporter.  Sepich is the Sports Editor at The Pitt News, the daily student newspaper at the University  of Pittsburgh.  This is RJ’s first piece for TSG.

Like many Aston Villa fans and players, Villa midfielder Barry Bannan was probably happy to see the end of a miserable season for the West Midlands side. It was the worst Premiership campaign ever for Villa, who just skirted relegation while finishing a not-so-respectable 16th.

Up next for the Scottish international is a trip to the States for a friendly with the US, and Bannan is likely welcoming the trip.

Scotland plays Bannan both inside and outside, but either place he’s still silky with the passes.

The diminutive Bannan—all of 5’7’’—struggled to get into Alex McLeish’s defensive-minded side at Villa this season. On the national scene though, he still managed to impress for Scotland during the run-in of their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign. In September, in his first competitive start for his country, Bannan assisted on the only goal of a 1-0 victory over Lithuania and his man-of-the-match performance led several pundits to declare him the future star of Scottish football.

He finished off the qualifying campaign with back-to-back starts against Lichtenstein and Spain as Scotland narrowly missed out on the playoffs after a 3-1 defeat to the defending European and World Champions. The now 22-year-old held his own against a Spanish midfield comprised of Barcelona’s Xavi and Manchester City’s David Silva, using the skills he learned in his earlier years at the same Aston Villa academy that has recently produced the likes of Chelsea’s Gary Cahill, Sunderland’s Craig Gardner, and a handful of other young Villa players such as Gabriel Agbonlahor, Marc Albrighton and Ciaran Clark.

Barry Bannan’s youth career began at Celtic, but he then joined Villa’s well-known academy system on a trial at 14-years-old. The Scot spent the next few years developing his game as a creative midfielder, making dozens of appearances in the youth and reserve teams at Villa. Bannan and promising young American right back Eric Lichaj were both staples of the Villa reserve team during the 2008-2009 season, and they both began working their way into the first team the next year.

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