Archive for June, 2012

Winner Don’t Tread Challenge: The Confederation Cup: USA 2, Spain 0

Never need an excuse, or any excuse, to show the first winner of the TSG Don’t Tread Challenge Video Contest.

Still a keeper for many USMNT fans.

Three years ago today the US “flips the script and takes a pass at calling ‘Uncle'”

Euro 2012, Quarterfinal Preview: All About The Benzemas?

This time, Spain’s got the dominant player in Iniesta….

by Zack Goldman, The Google of Euro 2012

…And just like that we’re five games away from the end of the Euros.  Up next we’ve got a mouthwatering clash between Spain and France played in the Donetsk Mothership.  The tiki-taka boys went undefeated in the group stage with 7 points, while Les Bleus made it through Group D in second position with 4 points after dropping their last match against Sweden, 2-0.  That was their first loss in their last 24… but it was a costly one and they now face the very real possibility of crashing out of the tournament with two defeats in a row.

5 things to think about:

ONE: You may remember the last time these two sides met in a major tournament.  It was the Round of 16 of the 2006 FIFA World Cup when Zinedine Zidane’s masterful performance steered the French to a 3-1 victory in Hannover, with two goals coming in the last ten minutes.  Six years on, the reputations of these teams are extremely different—but, even as the reigning world and European champions, you can bet the Spanish are still smarting a bit from that clash and want their revenge.

Hmm….Cesc or Nando? Nando or Cesc?

TWO: Fernando Torres, Cesc Fabregas, or none of the above?  Manager Vicente del Bosque has said that he is still undecided on his lineup as of Friday night, but the crux of his dilemma likely focuses only on the question of whether to deploy a proven striker against France or to play Fabregas as a ‘False 9′.  Torres got the nod over Cesc in the last two group matches, but he failed to make much of an impact against Croatia.

By contrast, despite playing only a half-hour of football in the past two matches combined (and being hauled off in the final stages of the opening match against Italy), Fabregas has probably had the biggest impact for his country of any player.  As the engineer of Spain’s winner against Croatia and scoring goals against both Italy and Ireland, it seems unthinkable that Cesc could be left out.  However, he is clearly the ‘sixth man’ (literally and figuratively) of the midfield and that means his inclusion would deny Spain the opportunity to play with a true striker.

Cabaynayaha!

THREE: Is there a more underrated player in this tournament than Yohan Cabaye?  The Newcastle midfielder has been a revelation on Tyneside this year after his arrival from Lille in the summer.  A consummate professional by all accounts—something that the French need more than anything—he has come from nowhere in the past two years to become first choice for Laurent Blanc.

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Euro 2012, Quarterfinal Preview: Greece vs. Germany: The Bailout Bowl

Bailout!

Zack Goldman has your afternoon and lunchtime Cliff Notes right here.

Out of all of the old rivalries and politically-charged matchups that the European Championships have thrown up in recent years, this is one of the most compelling.  Let’s sink our teeth into the second quarterfinal, Greece against their sugardaddies… this is… The Bailout Bowl.

What we learned from the group stage.

Germany

Not as greasy as Ronaldo, but just as effective….

Essentially, we learned in the group stage that while Germany is not unassailable, they will be an extremely difficult out in this tournament.  At the risk of sounding reductive, they are an incredibly talented side that moves the ball well, defends competently, and works tirelessly as a team for 90 minutes (my Group B preview found here describes their playing style in greater detail).

Sami, unheralded….

The midfield spine of Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Mesut Özil has been every bit as good as advertised and absolutely central to the success of Die Mannschaft so far.  The trio is versatile and look as though they play the game with a single brain—always on the same page and moving off the ball in support.  They embody what is great about Joachim Löw’s team: they defend together, they attack together, and they run their socks off.  Look no further than their collective performance against Holland to see the difference they can make together.

At the defensive end of things, Mats Hummels has answered any questions about his readiness for a starting role with three dominant performances at center-back.  Superb anticipation, commitment to ball-winning, and a commanding presence in the air have made German fans forget all about that pre-tournament five-goal fiasco in Basel.  What’s more, Hummels has embodied the free-flowing spirit of the side with his willingness to become a meaningful part of the attack.  Whether it’s something like his stellar run against Holland—which parted the Dutch like the Orange Sea—or just lending support to the midfield by being available to bounce passes off in the center of the park, Hummels has done his part on both sides of the ball through three games and looks much more comfortable straying from the backline in possession than he once did.

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More Reaction: US Player Development

Agudelo for US Soccer….

So, should your star high school son take his talents to college or the pros?John Parker looked into that yesterday with, “Toting The Old Ball ‘N’Chain: Player Development in America.”
Here’s some more reaction to keep the discussion going below.

From Travis Clark, Staff Reporter & Editor at Advanced Soccer Media/TopDrawerSoccer.com & expert on youth soccer.

For now, college soccer remains the best option for aspiring pros. While the training sessions and seasons obviously are much different, a player is better off spending at least a year or two in college adjusting to a higher level, and hopefully not picking up too many bad habits along the way. A spot in MLS can then be claimed. However, if we’re talking players with national team desires and hopes, by all means they need to skip that route — or play no more than a season. Is it ideal? No. But in 2012, this moment, it’s better than not playing any games in the league or a scatter shot reserve league.The buck needs to stop with MLS when it comes developing players. Name one country across the globe where their first XI didn’t originate (at least initially) from a domestic club. And no, Middle East countries don’t count. MLS has only been developing players for roughly 4-5 years, and that’s a stretch. If player development continues to progress and improve at the domestic level, there’s no doubt that it benefits the national team long term. Just how that happens exactly is anyone’s guess.

From TSG Contributor, Ryan McCormack, who penned “A Treatise: The State of American Youth Soccer.”

John makes a strong argument for youth contracts in the United States in an effort to improve prospects at the international level.  The country will eventually need to decide if the amateur/professional designations are still relevant or outdated.  The prospects of youth contracts could yield results not only at the international level, but also in building a stronger domestic league and youth system.

The problem may go even further than he suggests.  As we know from the “Pay for Play” model of soccer, many socioeconomic disadvantaged kids who have a strong skill set in soccer have to give up playing the sport at the most competitive levels due to money.  They cannot afford club dues, coaching fees, club gear, or travel costs.  By creating a youth contract, the talent pool grows, making every level stronger as well.

Euro 2012 Quarterfinal Preview: Czech Yourself Before You Selecção Yourself

More from Euro expert Zack Goldman

So?  How’d you like that, then?

Krohn-Dehli: Eliminated but…”Mo’ Money..Mo’Money…Mo’….”

So far, Euro 2012 has kept us on the edge of our seats with a thrilling group stage that seemed to have everything.  Replete with great goals (and lots of them – 2.5 per game), some glorious and unpredictable team performances, and controversy over Nicklas Bendtner’s underwear, the first 24 games were simply enthralling.  Those who took a break from obsessively tracking the soap operas of Cristiano Ronaldo and Fernando Torres were treated to magnificent outings by some of the more unheralded footballers on the continent.  The names Alan Dzagoev, Mario Mandžukić, and Michael Krohn-Dehli may not feature in the next round, but they have thrilled audiences with their industrious and determined play, which has given this tournament such a unique zest.  The matches to come in Poland and Ukraine will likely feature the juggernauts of European soccer, but many of the headlines in the group stage go to an unexpected cotillion of debutantes, has-beens, and never-weres from the continent’s footballing periphery.

Yes, it had everything—everything, that is, except a clear frontrunner.  Pre-tournament favorites Germany looked impressive, yes, and Spain acquitted themselves well by picking up 7 points en route to the quarterfinals, but this tournament, like so many past editions of the Euros, has looked a lot like freshman year of college.  Some might walk taller than others or come in with better CV’s, but everyone eventually looks vulnerable at one point or another.  Even you, with your croakies and Vineyard Vines polos, Germany.

But, as we’ve learned from international competition so many times before (especially you, Euro 2008, when you let that Arshavin kid play), prior form goes out the window now.  Everyone is only three wins away from a European Championship (yes, even you, England).

We’re onto the quarterfinals.  Let’s break down today’s matchup, Czech Republic v. Portugal.

CZECH REPUBLIC (Group A winners) v. PORTUGAL (Group B runners-up)

What we learned from the group stage.

Czech Republic

Nedved no longer for the Czechs…

After collapsing to Russia 4-1, the Czechs recovered remarkably to win Group A (with a negative goal difference) and now face Portugal in the quarterfinals.  The story of the group stage for the Czech Republic is a classic tale of learning from your mistakes and making adjustments on the fly.  After being broken down again and again by counterattacks against the Russians, manager Michal Bilek restructured the center of the park by introducing holding midfielder Tomas Hubschman as a starter, thereby freeing up Jaroslav Plasil to take the reigns as a deep-lying playmaker and allowing Tomas Rosicky to move more freely as the engine of the attack.  Unencumbered defensively, the advanced midfielders also drew focus away from the wings, where the Czech Republic attacked with gusto, particularly against the Greeks.  Between the marauding runs of right back Theodor Gebre-Selassie and the purposeful, darting off-the-ball movement of wingers Petr Jiracek (who was moved out wide from a more central role against Russia) and Vaclav Pilar, the Czechs now look much more dynamic going forward than they did early on in the tournament.   They break up attacks well, get forward in numbers, and already have a few goals under their belt that exemplify their tremendous ability to take chances when they find a yard of space in the box.  Rosicky’s fitness is still up in the air—and he would be a huge boost to any hopes they have of progressing to the semifinals—but Czech fans can at least rest easy knowing that they’ve made some magnificent adjustments coming into this match.  There’s no doubt that this team is still lucky to be in this tournament (they could have conceded a few more in each of their three group stage matches), but they look more steely in the midfield, more deliberate on the counterattack, and are legitimately frightening in the final third with brilliant movement down the wings, incisive through-balls, and clinical finishing.

Portugal

Bento: Strategy in a box…

Unlike Michal Bilek, Portugal manager Paulo Bento was less intent on fixing his side’s glaring weaknesses that were on display throughout the group stage.  The Portuguese gaffer chose to play to his team’s strengths, gambling on their stellar attacking play and ultimately coming away with six points and the second spot in the Group of Death.  On the face of things, Portugal’s results sound pretty good—a narrow 1-0 loss to Germany, defeating Denmark, 3-2, in their next match, and then dispatching Holland, 2-1.  These results, however, belie the tactical problems of Bento’s system.  For all of the talk about the manager’s emphasis on defensive solidarity with his midfield trio, his team still, at the same time, gives up an awful lot of space on the wings.  Ronaldo’s clear indifference toward his defensive duties—as emphasized best in the game against Denmark in which Lars Jacobsen and Dennis Rommedahl practically skipped carefree down Ronnie’s flank—cannot continue to stand, especially against a side like the Czechs, who rely on being able to dart down the channels.  Worse yet, Ronaldo lines up in front of Fábio Coentrão, who, despite getting forward brilliantly in this tournament, is often guilty of neglecting his rearguard responsibilities in favor of getting into the attack.

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World Cup 2002: Germany 1, USA 0: The Ten Year Reunion

Save by Kahn!

The match is still held up as the modern day heights scaled of the USMNT soccer program.

The World Cup? On location in Ulsan, Korea… Friday, June 21, 2002.

The match? USA vs. Germany in the World Cup quarterfinals. Tomorrow the 10-year anniversary will be used as a grand US Soccer timeline marker.

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Euro 2012, Group D: Is Ukraine Merely A Road Apple?

Zlatan is ready to take his plane and go on vacation as France looks to waltz it’s way through it’s near-irrelevant match.

The other one is a biggie though? Ukraine fighting to see one of the hosts through as England looks to bury it’s reputation as the Big Nation Who Couldn’t.

Euro 2012 final group stage day. Back to TSG programming tomorrow.

Hi Shaun.

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