Archive for July, 2012

An Endangered Species: The Fulhamerican

The Cottage will be lonely…

This is Eric Beard‘s second piece for The Shin Guardian. Eric is Wikipedia-like on global soccer. He founded and created the excellent A Football Report and he also is a recent great pick-up for The NY Times.

We’re all in a long distance relationship.

Some of us are casually making an effort to keep in contact with good friends. Others want to maintain a more intimate relationship. Sometimes sacrifices are made to keep this symbiotic relationship thriving.

Thankfully, it’s easier than ever to endure distance with technology shrinking our desired surroundings so that they are accessible at our fingertips. T

That being said, the ever-potent poison to any relationship is apathy. There needs to be a spark, a connection that keeps us interested in continuing a conversation.

While some are more committed than others, all American soccer fans have developed a relationship with Fulham. Many of us have been in a relationship with Fulham for nearly a decade, since Brian McBride moved to England permanently in January 2004 for a mere $1.5 million. Again, the feeling is mutual.

As McBride explained earlier this year, “While our Premier League rivals are only now just discovering the delights of America’s top leagues, it’s fair to say that [Fulham’s] been unearthing its hidden treasures.”

Eddie Lewis’s cup of coffee as the 2000s decade turned creaked the door open, but it was McBride who paved the path along the Thames River. Soon following were Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey, Kasey Keller, and easy Eddie Johnson.

Fulham earned and embraced the nickname “Fulhamerica.”

The original American bungalow….

American Airlines advertisements began popping up along the Cottage’s pitch and on the club’s official website. For American fans, Fulham became a second home in a land that made American players fight for every word of praise.

The turn of the 2006-20007 to 2007-08 season was iconic for two of American soccer’s best attacking players of all time.

McBride, earning his permanent residence at the Cottage….

McBride earned the captain’s armband in August, but it was Clint who had just kept Fulham afloat in the Premier League with a match-winning goal against Liverpool on Cinco de Mayo two short months earlier.

McBride decided to move back to Chicago at the end of 07-08 campaign, but only after he was named Fulham’s Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons. McBride was not only a dream player for any manager, but he was an honest, hardworking person. In the most English manner possible, the club granted him legend status by naming a pub inside Craven Cottage “McBride’s.”

But as one club legend departed, another had finally been given the freedom to showcase his talent. Clint lifted his game and the club reached new heights with an unbelievable run to the Europa League final. No American, English, or Italian fan will forget that chip against Juventus, but little did we know that such an ineffably perfect goal only scratched the surface of Deuce’s potential. Clint soon became Fulham’s all-time leading goalscorer and one of the highest regarded players in the Premier League.

Of course, this isn’t new information. You know exactly what Clint and Brian have accomplished, but isn’t it nice to bask in the nostalgia?

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As nice as it is to look back, nostalgia’s presence at Fulham is problematic. Not to go too abstract, but nostalgia’s roots lie in two Greek words: nóstos (homecoming) and álgos (ache). Fulham and American fans long to see another driven header from McBride or a 35-yard-blast from Dempsey, but it’s clear that these things won’t be occurring at Craven Cottage ever again.

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MLS: Best of 2012 At The Turn

It’s kind of like the mix tape you made for that not-as-special-as-you-thought-they-were-at-the-time significant other back in high school.

MLS, they love us.

Get Him the Damn Ball: The Brek Shea Story

“Why never me?”

Alex Olshansky pops his TSG cherry with this insightful piece on The Rooster, Brek Shea. You can find great soccer analysis and difficult to digest spreadsheets from Alex on his own blog, Tempo Free Soccer.

Brek Shea was a promising young MLS talent at the start of the 2011 season.  Tall and full of pace, the former US U20 target striker’s attributes were so versatile that Schellas Hyndman started him at left back for the first couple games of the campaign. Shea quickly found his role as an attacking left winger, however, and started to impose himself on FC Dallas’ opponents.

After making the switch to the left wing, Shea played the full 90 minutes for each of the next 23 league games.  During this four month stretch Shea completed 34 Key Passes (pass immediately preceding attempt on goal), unleashed 64 Shots, and found the back of the net 10 times.  Among his goals were some of the better individual efforts in recent memory.  His play had seemingly reached a plane above MLS and speculation on his European prospects percolated.

European vacation….

The speculation reached a crescendo when Shea came on as a sub against Mexico in Klinsmann’s first game at the helm and almost singlehandedly led the US to a comeback win.  He would appear in the next nine USMNT games, catch the eye of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, training with the Gunners in London for two weeks in November.  Shea’s ascent towards becoming the next US star seemed unstoppable; he was the heir apparent to the panache throne of Mathis and Dempsey.

Finally a future star for US fans who had been tantalized recently with only mere morsels from 19-year-old prodigy Juan Agudelo and brief flurry of bravado from Charlie Davies.

But, a funny thing happened just when the hype was reaching its apex:  Shea stopped scoring goals.

Two days after making a sparkling appearance against Mexico on August 11, Shea scored a goal for FC Dallas in an MLS league game in Philadelphia.

Since then, Shea has scored just two goals from the run of play in his last 35 games across all competitions (USMNT, CCL, US U23, MLS).

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What The Heck Happened, With Chris Wingert

RSL: Not their night

TSG spoke with Real Salt Lake fullback Chris Wingert Monday after his team ended up on the wrong side of a 5-0 scoreline on the road against the San Jose Earthquakes.

The impetus of the conversation was to get a sense of just what happened with RSL’s snowball loss and to get an understanding of where the Jason Kreis’s team’s psyche was after the debacle.

Here’s the conversation with Chris with some pearls of insights on his teammates in closing.

Matthew, TSG: What the hell happened out there on Saturday?

You guys looked like Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon this year who unceremoniously fell to Roger Federer. Like the expectation was of the match between those two, you guys were supposed to have a lengthy tug-of-war, but instead one team seized on some momentum and it was lights-out of the opponent. You guys seem to collapse in the second half even before the cards showed up. What happened?

Chris Wingert: I don’t think we collapsed before the card; I’m pretty sure it was still 1-0 at the time.
Letting up four goals once we’re down a man is still not acceptable.

It’s something that we practice quite often in training [being a man down].

Last time we were there [SJ] down a man and a goal, we still had a decent amount of the play and we able to score and tie it up.

The belief that we could still get a result was there and then the wheels kind of fell off. We ended up giving up a bunch of set pieces and we ended up going three in the back; they kind of exposed us and got in a few more times.

TSG: What did you talk about going into the game and what were the tactics? You had lost two previous to San Jose. What did you change based upon those games?

Wingert: I don’t think there was a big change or need for in tactics. We had played well the past two games. We still had a lot of chances in both games; maybe twenty in that second game.

We spoke about being a little bit more focused and more sharp on the defensive end.

We felt we just needed to be a little sharper because they had scored on two set pieces in those losses.

Those should be things that would be pretty easy to fix. We played good soccer those games. We didn’t need to change tactics.

TSG:  One of the nice things about Buck Shaw stadium is is how incredibly close to the teams you are and how audible the game is. Having been to many a game at the Buck, I can say that Saturday I watched a SJE opponent who was “the more audibly frustrated team I’ve heard there.”

Not saying the Quakes created it, but did you get the sense it was a more frustrating game as it progressed? Seemed like that from the press box.

Wingert: Not necessarily as it progressed, but right there in the first half. We just weren’t playing that well and the frustration was coming just from that.

We weren’t doing a good job organizationally in the back. We needed to clean some things up there.

But at halftime we went in and we said, “We’re not playing well, but we’re still only down one-nothing, we’re in this game. If we can turn it around in the 2nd half all will be forgotten.”

We felt like we were still in a decent position to do that.

It felt like we had a tough call with everything that happened and things got out of control, went down a man again and they were able to bury us.

Morales: Tough sledding…

TSG: Ok. In regards to Javi Morales — who you got into it with early in the 1st half and then after a stare down late in the first half–Javi seems like a guy that is generally very positive on the pitch, but on Saturday it was clear to an impartial observer that he had let’s say funky body language. That he had some really bad body language.

Is his body language that something you spoke with him about. Was it noticeable for the team? It did seem just very negative.

Wingert: Well, I think, you know, Javi is just a really intense guy and there are going to be times on the pitch when you are getting on each other. It happened with me and him, and Jamison.

You’re trying to sort things out and it’s not like [softer voice]  “Hey, you think, maybe you could do this a little different.”

You’re going to get on each other; it’s nothing personal.

Javi wanted me to play the ball in behind.

I was trying to play it into the midfield and then out to the wing…and we were kind of having trouble getting it out there and I was saying to Javi: ‘I’m trying to get in first so we can keep the ball on the ground and knock it.’

It’s a situation where maybe we needed to play a little more direct. We talked about it at halftime.

We’re normally a possession-oriented team, a team that likes to keep it, knock it and for whatever reason that wasn’t working in the first half and maybe we needed to get the ball in there end and show ‘em it down in there end to get things going.

But I don’t think that Javi was anymore negative than normal; it’s just more about being a competitor. There are going to be times on the field in a tense situation and you have to get things accomplished.

Gil

TSG: There was also a lot of hollering at a young player here, Luis Gil.

It could be said that Jason Kries unfairly put Gil in a situation where it would be difficult to success. Now I know he had an excellent game last weekend, but that was at home against the cellar dweller Portland Timbers.

Here was a young player on the road, against a seasoned opponent, against a veteran midfield that was on-form and in a midfield that would be tasked 4 vs. 3 as Javi, you know, usually pushes up pretty high into a forward role. Do you think Jason put Luis in a tough position? How do you think he played?

Wingert: Well, not at all. That just shows the fact that we believe in Luis and we believe in his ability. He’s not like he’s a rookie and this wasn’t his first match. He’s more than capable of getting the job.

We believe in his talent and his work ethic. The team as a whole we struggled. It wasn’t Luis’s fault.

Luis has done great for us, especially for his age.

Luis is already incredibly mature and he’s got a great attitude and work ethic and that’s part of being on this team and him having some success.

I don’t think it was an unfair position to put him in at all.

He’s going to be a really big-time player. He’s already a very good player. And he’s only what 18, 19. He’s really going to be big-time in a couple of years and hopefully we’ll be able to keep him around for awhile.

TSG: But do you think he played poorly though on the evening or was in a tough spot?

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Off The Table: The Real Chance Your MLS Squad Has Of Making The Playoffs

n48 here we come?!

This is Steve Fenn‘s first piece for The Shin Guardian. You can find Steve on Twitter here. OptaHunt–as is his Twitter handle–can also be found writing for Big D Soccer here.

On Saturday, the Philadelphia Union beat the Montreal Impact 2-1 on a stoppage-time goal from Carlos Valdes. It was the 21st match of the season for Montreal, while Philadelphia were one of the three clubs to reach the midway point of 17 matches over the weekend.

Despite this disparity, if you go to any sports site in search of MLS standings (or table if you’re feeling Euro-snobbish), you’ll see all clubs ranked by total points.

At a glance this gives the mistaken impression that the Impact and their 21 points through 21 matches are having a better season than Union’s 20 out of 17.

When you look closer, it’s clear the Impact have had a far worse season so far, and face nearly impossible playoff prospects, while the Union have a fighter’s chance at the postseason.

To make this clearer, we should look at soccer leagues through a truer reflection of performance, points per game (PPG).

This is doubly true for a league like MLS with unbalanced schedules and an odd number of teams (and the resulting weekly byes).

Not only do PPG standings better illustrate clubs’ records thus far, but a simple secondary calculation can show you how much better they would have to be (or for the better half, how much dropoff they must avoid) to reach the playoffs.

The MLS “Table”

PPG = points/games played
GDPG = goal differential/games played

I left the points only ranking so that you may see which clubs are ordered differently by ppg.

As you can see this metric corrects the order of every team outside of playoff positions, bar last-no-matter-how-you-slice-it Toronto FC.

Along with correcting the rank of clubs, this table also serves as a warning against holding onto the sometimes false hope of how many of points back your club stands.

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Michael Bradley To Roma. Official.

Future meets Vintage

In a move we here at TSG have both known and written about, USMNT midfielder Michael Bradley continued his quest to play at the highest club level in football.

After a year of Serie A apprenticeship at Chievo Verona, Roma pays $4.6 million transfer fee to land the 24-year-old New Jersey native and ink him to a four-year contract.

More on Bradley at Roma and how he fits in here.

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