Archive for June, 2012

Live Commentary: Germany vs. Italy

Will Mesut Ozil make his name now that Ronaldo is beach bound?

Live Commentary: Spain vs. Portugal

Will Ronaldo step up, MJ-style, and put Portugal to the sword. Or will Alvaro Negredo–the non-hipster choice–and his Spanish cohorts have the final say again? (Negredo starts today for Portugal).

Game on….shortly.

Ronaldo

Bear, Ninja, The Greasy One?

Video: The Sport We Love Part II

The follow-up to this one.

Who’s ready for the Euro’s conclusion?

More Conclusions In Progress: The State Of The Homegrown Program

Najar

Darius Tahir bookends John Parker’s piece on youth development with a closer look at the present-day state of the Homegrown Player program in MLS.

For the data review in Darius’s piece, please see this Google Spreadsheet.

After the Brazil loss we were told—as previous TSG writer Joshua Wells noted—that unless we found such results “unacceptable” the team would never become an elite one. Wells focused on the emotional response, but what about the strategy? Will loud, angry declarations actually work to improve a team’s performance over the long term?

The writer of the tweet, Michael Davies, comes from a nation—England—that’s a master of such angry declarations. Tournament after tournament, England have made loud declarations, taken umbrage, spewed bile, deployed sarcasm, black humor, rage, anger, derision, and resignation, as recommended. The results of this strategy are clear as England moves into Euro 2012, justly regarded as one of the top 16 favorites to win the entire tournament.

At best, anger is incidental to the ultimate fate of a national team. What really matters, of course, is youth development, and the problem with youth development is that you never see results until years later. The lackluster team against Antigua and Barbuda wasn’t the fault of youth development policies of 2012; it was the fault of youth development policies from roughly 2000-2005 or 6 or so. In other words anger might be counterproductive in sabotaging nascent policies.

For the U.S. it’s the move by the federation and MLS to improve youth development, specifically by signing players out of an academy. The hope is that more players will get better, pro-oriented training, which will either eliminate or reduce the need for college. The program has gotten quite a bit of hype since its inception in 2008, with, for example, writer Leander Schaerlaeckens musing that college soccer might become “largely irrelevant” in the production of MLS or national team players.

But how true is it now? Assessing the homegrown program at this moment is a difficult thing; instead of pinning a dead butterfly, you’re trying to pin a live one—it’s moving, fluttering away in a state of motion. Teams are expanding their programs, hiring new coaches, etc. Nevertheless we can make some conclusions.

While there hasn’t been an official list of “most valued young players,” one imagines homegrown players like Andy Najar, Juan Agudelo, and Bill Hamid are near the top of the list.

However, that’s a very partial way of assessing the program. I’ve put together some relevant stats for every homegrown player ever. With the recent signing of Karl Ouimette, there are 56 of them. What can we conclude?

Ajax, the football factory…

The Pace of the Program

Ajax, according to the New York Times Magazine article everyone consumed back during World Cup time, tries to graduate an average of a player and a half per year. How do MLS academy programs compare? Back-of-the-envelope calculations indicate a total of just around half that, with .74 players per team per year. (Expansion distorts the number a bit, so the “true” number is higher. Nevertheless MLS programs are not graduating players as quickly as Ajax.)

How many don’t make it? 

So far about 16% of signed homegrown players have been cut. This does not seem like an outlandish percentage.

How many are important players? 

In some ways this statistic will be a bit deceptive, but only three homegrown players have played more than half of available MLS minutes. Bill Hamid and Andy Najar, however, don’t make it because of Olympic qualifying and/or injury.

On the other hand, 56% of homegrown players haven’t played a single minute this season.

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Toting The Old Ball ‘N’ Chain: Player Development In America

Parker

About The Author: John Parker is the American Outlaws Atlanta President and Marketing Manager for adidas International Training Program (adidas ITP), the Atlanta based soccer logistics and education company. Parker’s views do not necessarily reflect those of adidas ITP or American Outlaws. John can be reached via twitter @John_adidasITP.  This is John’s first piece for The Shin Guardian.

Much has been made recently of a new generation of American soccer fans who’ve never known the U.S. without a first division soccer league. This demographic, the fifteen year olds who’ve grown accustomed to watching soccer from around the world, now carry the hopes of many who foresee a future where soccer has become mainstream.

With these, this generation there has been an assumption gathering momentum.

Onlookers and critics both domestic and abroad have begun to speak of the inevitability of the United States becoming a soccer superpower. Simon Kuper’s “Soccernomics” has given this further weight by emphasizing the not only the cultural shift in the U.S., but also the economic and social outlook that will finance America’s own sporting renaissance.

Everyone is Wrong 

To assume that there are not unforeseen changes or solutions would be naive.

However, there is one aspect of our culture that is not institutionalized in any other country, and it will prevent the exponential growth we might envision:

The quality, necessity and expense of our university system will mitigate the effects of any and all changes to our developmental practices. The amateurism rules established for collegiate athletics, rules we can’t and shouldn’t dispute, prevents the possibility of youth contracts for aspiring athletes.

This fact, one inherent to our sporting society, devalues all investment from American teams in their academies. It prevents the institution of youth contracts and prevents the gradual integration of youth players into professional teams. We can adapt our system accordingly, but every change we make will be muted by the necessity of retaining amateurism for youth players.

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MLS Doubleheader Doozy: Portland vs. Seattle, RBNY vs. DCU

Two fine matches today after victory is declared in the England-Italy Euro knockout.

Top’o’the table DC United travel just west of John Harkes’s homeland to take on the Red Bulls of NY.

Out west, it’s another MLS rivalry going down. Seattle caravans down to P-Town to take on the Chainsaws, who are about three poor games away from calling “Timber” on their season.

Since this one is being played just off Burnside, we go with our following video montages:

Euro 2012 Quarterfinal Preview, England vs. Italy: Anything But Penalty Kicks Please

Not today man.

Zack Goldman says goodbye to the quarters.

Good morning!  Today we’ve got our last quarterfinal, England versus Italy.

Both teams traveled to Euro 2012 with somewhat muted expectations, having underachieved at the last World Cup and feeling less than confident about their current squads.

Both federations dealt with a fair bit of of internal turmoil in the run-up to the tournament—Italy’s woes regarding yet another match fixing scandal (this leading me to believe that putting a Medieval Times in Italy might be the most fun thing ever), while England’s primarily stemmed from its well-publicized race issues that led to a managerial vacancy and a squad divided.

Let’s check out five things to focus on.

Whither Italy’s squad circle?

ONE.  What formation will Italy come out with?

We all know Roy Hodgson will deploy his typical 4-4-1-1.  So far, his approach has drawn praise from all corners—and rightfully so—as the English have embraced ‘winning ugly’.  It should be mentioned, however, that they could easily have lost all three group stage matches.  But, they didn’t.  And that, my friends, is precisely the point.

Italy’s shape will be much more difficult to predict.  With Giorgio Chiellini out with a thigh injury, Italian manager Cesare Prandelli has to ask himself whether he is willing to revert to the 3-5-2 formation that he deployed in his team’s first two matches in Poland.

Against Ireland, Prandelli both rotated his squad and altered his formation, coming out with a 4-3-1-2.  He preferred Antonio Di Natale to Mario Balotelli, and inserted Federico Balzaretti, Ignazio Abate, and Andrea Barzagli on the backline alongside Chiellini.

Simply put: Prandelli’s choice of which formation to go with today is the lens through which the narrative of this one will be written.

The 3-5-2 and the 4-3-1-2 see Italy play very different styles—and they react very differently to a 4-4-1-1.  While a 4-3-1-2 is much more orthodox, conducive to man-marking England, and allows the Italians to control the game much better with possession football, a 3-5-2 is a much more risky prospect—but one that could play dividends.  So far, England have been very comfortable playing their Hodgsonian style—content to sit back, remain organized, work hard defensively, and then attack as a group (particularly by working the ball into dangerous, wide positions).  A 3-5-2 may help the Italians unlock England’s organized defensive construction, but it would also likely make Prandelli’s men more defensively vulnerable and could force their wing backs to play at an almost suicidal tempo.

TWO.  Steven Gerrard and Andrea Pirlo have been absolutely superb—and have almost identical statistics through three matches.  Stevie G has played provider three times for England and has undoubtedly been the engine of their attack.  Pirlo has also done it all, finding the back of the net against Croatia on a gorgeous free-kick and assisting on two of Italy’s three other goals.  Over the hill?  Hardly.  All eyes on these two today.

THREE.  England must continue their practice of defending from the top-down.  One of the least publicized aspects of Hodgson’s defensive system might be its most intriguing—the allocation of very strict defensive duties to both forwards.

While Wayne Rooney is no stranger to occasionally roaming deeply into his team’s own half and making a crucial challenge at Manchester United, his defensive role is more streamlined and regimented with Hodgson’s England.

The concept is simple enough that Danny Welbeck and Andy Carroll, hardly possessing any defensive faculties between them, have done a decent job of buying in: When the ball is being advanced on your side, check back, drop in defensive support, and face-up the man in possession.

It is a simple bit of defensive responsibility and requires a tad more movement for the front-men, but it makes a big difference for England’s defensive shape and keeps the marks organized in the midfield.

Not to be that American in the room, but it’s a little like an effective half-court press in basketball, which uses that extra bit of early defensive effort to try and disrupt shaky guard play.  In any event, a lot of the credit that has gone to the Three Lions’ midfield for holding teams at bay when not in possession should actually go, in part, to the way Hodgson has used his strikers as his first line of defense.  It will be interesting to see how it is used against Italy—particularly if they end up playing with three in the back.

“He is who we thought he is?”

FOUR.  What to do about Ashley Young?  It’s no secret that the lad has struggled throughout his first three matches and has drawn criticism for some poor decisions in the attacking third in addition to some suspect defending.  He seems to be in a rut, both confidence- and performance-wise, and though he is slated to start, one has to wonder if Hodgson pulls him earlier than usual if England are down a goal or look like conceding in a deadlocked affair.

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