Archive for August, 2012

TSG Holds Court On Yanks Abroad With “The Hitman” Brian Sciaretta (Part I of II)

(This intro written just about one year ago.)

HITMAN!

The first time I met Brian Scriaretta was at the USA-Chile Camp Cupcake closer match in January 2011.

I had the pleasure of sitting next to the guy in the press box and our opposite roots of reaching that press box came out in our first conversation.

Brian, “So are you on this Twitter thing? I just started man.”

Matt, “Yeah, it’s really good at finding out half-truths, ridiculous commentary and having clichés RT’d.”

Brian, “Whoa, you have like (some number in the 2000s) followers! I’ve got like 200.”

Matt, “There are folks with like 80,000. Most of mine are stunningly beautiful women who have zero followers and offer work-at-home kits anyway and want me to click on links.”

After out technology chat, Brian proceeded to regal me with the tales of US players abroad that I had never heard of. Jonathan Brooks, Sean Cunningham and more.

To be honest, I felt like trying to sneak a few keystrokes into the Googlilator when he was talking so I didn’t sound like I worked at Bleacher Report.

Targeted by The Hitman…

At the time, Brian was going on about this guy, Tim Something …. Timmy Chandler–for those that don’t know Brian got the first interview with the now somewhat famous US Men’s (half) National Teamer.

I learned about a few other players in Germany whose names sounded like serial killers and questioning whether Teal Bunbury, fresh off his exciting play in South Africa and January Camp, had filed his one-time switch.

Brian has a virtual encyclopedia of knowledge of young US players in his head and at his fingers and he goes about providing info and interviews of players who will become popular two years from now. If I’m ESPN, I would hire the guy just because he’d hockey stick my SEO (search engine optimization.)

Brian is so good at tracking down US players (the nether reaches of Peru) that TSG coined the nickname “The Hitman” for him because, well, “he’ll find you.”

Now… Part I of II, TSG’s finally sits down with American soccer media’s Hitman. We’ve been trying to put this back-and-forth together for a year, but Brian’s been busy tracking down the next American Soccer Yeti and I, well, haven’t.

Go:

TSG: In your opinion, who are the top 5 players abroad that US fans should be excited about in terms of solid club play and contributions to the national team?

Fabian, #1

The Hitman: The first and foremost is Fabian Johnson. I honestly believe that this guy will be an enormous boost to the US team for years to come. He has a great attitude and is all business when he’s on the field. Just look at how he played last season. Up through the winter break he was in the midfield and was second in the Bundesliga in assists. Then he moved to left back and was one of the best left backs in the Bundesliga. I think for the national team his future will be in the midfield.

I also think a lot of Americans really need to be keeping a close eye on Sonderjyske midfielder Conor O’Brien who is playing very well in the Danish Superliga. His plays as a central midfielder that sits deep but makes plays. He also is solid defensively as well. With Jose Torres still very inconsistent for the US national team, Conor O’Brien may be a player flying under the radar.

In terms of up and coming players we will talk more about Brooks and Gatt shortly but they are the top two on my list of up and coming American players.As far as teenagers who I think is how you define up and coming, I rate the Liverpool duo of Villyan Bijev and Marc Pelosi highly. In the United States I also think Luis Gil and Jose Villarreal are looking good. Jerome Kiesewetter just signed an impressive professional contract.

TSG: So your top five….

The Hitman: So in terms of top 5 teenage American prospects here is my top five:

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Op-Ed: Interpreting Di Vaio’s Words On MLS

DiVaio’s debate.

James Grossi writes from Toronto for The Shin Guardian

 

Bare quotes are always dangerous without context.

In what amounted to a vain attempt at researching the actual source of the attributed quotes, only to discover that the Gazzetta Dello Sport website has a pay-wall – though it must be admitted that comprehension would have been a problem anyways – the problem of what to make of snippets from a player or manager who has been asked for their view on MLS has reared its head again.

The comments – roughly that MLS lacked tactical discipline and needed to bring in new managers to augment the brain-trust – echoed something Branko Boskovic tried to elucidate on the Capital Soccer Show a few weeks back.

Boskovic…

Boskovic was discussing his trouble finding the fitness required for a full ninety minutes in North America and commented that in Europe when a team takes the lead, each and every player on the pitch uses their lifetime of tactical training to stifle the opposition, letting the ball do the work, suffocating the match, allowing the team protecting the lead to conserve energy and see out the result without much fuss.

Here however, that simple act of shutting down the opponent does not – perhaps, cannot – happen with such efficiency; unless the club in question is Bruce Arena’s LA Galaxy of 2011, who were quite fond on the 1-0 score-line, even excelling at it.

The extra running that was required in the more frantic play of MLS was the cause of Boskovic’s lack of fitness. In essence, he felt he was probably good enough for entirety of the cooler atmosphere of a more-controlled European match; here, more was required of him – something he vowed to get on top of now that he was healthy and getting time on the pitch.

Some simple numbers back up the assertion that teams lack the ability to tactically close down a match: At the time of writing, 224 MLS matches have been played so far this season, removing the 14 that ended as scoreless draws – thereby focusing on those contests where there was the possibility of a comeback – the team that opened the scoring has lost 36 matches and tied a further 31. Just shy of 1/3 of matches witnessed a reversal of the destination of the points after either team had taken the advantage.

587 goals have been scored in those matches, 118 from minutes 60-to-75 and 128 from minutes 75-to-90 – San Jose accounts for 29 of those goals, but that doesn’t matter at the moment – more than 40% of goals have come in the final third of the match: clearly a disproportionate amount.

Some of that disparity can be accounted for by the ticking clock, necessitating the taking of risks, the effects of exhaustion, leading to poor decision making or mistakes, plays its role too, as does the potential that defensive substitute’s are not as good as starters, or that the desperate throwing on of additional attackers leads to increased scoring chances.

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Statistically, Is The MLS Season Engine Purring On All Cylinders?

Passes like laser beams…

Alex Olshansky with a look at the quality of play in MLS. Is the league in midseason form?

Olshansky also writes on his own blog at Tempo Free Soccer.

They played well ….

poorly despite …. because they are or are not in mid-season form.

We hear a variation of that quite frequently, especially in the context of the European summer barnstorming tours or CONCACAF Champions League matches. Likewise, soccer blog comment sections routinely fill up with How could he exclude/include him? He is/is not in mid-season form! when discussing a national team’s call-ups.

But what is “mid-season form?” Does it exist? Can we quantify it? Intuitively, the concept rings true. Teams and players benefit from playing every day alongside each other and consistently in games against tough opposition. Decisions are made quicker, passes are released faster, and technical skills are tightened up. It is certainly an environment more conducive to being at peak ability than, say, drinking a Bordeaux and eating oysters on a yacht by Cap d’Antibes (non-MLS players at least).

If this season in MLS is any indication then “mid-season form” certainly does exist. In fact, it seems MLS fans are being treated to an ever-improving level of play as the campaign has progressed.

Before looking at the charts below, it is important to explain the methodology behind what is deemed a “turnover” and a “possession.” The starting point is the OPTA MLS Chalkboards and the “Tackled, Possession Lost” (TPL) metric. TPL is assessed for any errant pass, interception, failed dribble, etc. 

The second component in determining turnovers is the “clearance” metric. All clearances are TPL, but not all clearances are changes in possession. For example, if a defender clears the ball out of bounds, then the team that originally lost the ball never really lost possession. Therefore, the number of clearances, less clearances where the defense maintains possession, is subtracted out of the TPL total. This subtotal is turnovers committed. Attempts on goal are added to turnovers to arrive at a total number of possessions.

First, let us look at the gross data. This is every MLS team’s turnover total for every game of the year.

Exhibit A.

—

There is a lot going on here. It certainly looks like there is a drop in the number of turnovers around Game 18, but there is a lot of noise in this data set. Let us see if we can make a little more sense of what we are looking at.

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The Side You Don’t See of Mario Balotelli

Whether staged by the PR folks or not, a funny moment with Balotelli ripping off the Manchester City official phographer’s lens.

The Weekend: More Saturday Action

On to MLS before the roundtrip to EPL action Sunday.

Today’s MLS big one…

20 Teams, 20 Thoughts: An American-Tinged EPL Opening Weekend Preview

The Prem is back….

TSG Staff contribution

After last year’s 6-part Premiership preview, the expectations were high this year.

We let you down. Our board has instructed us to cut back our budget of $0, free writers were asked to take gouging pay cuts, even TSG’s plan to actually, finally!, get itself a respectable logo is wallowing somewhere in nice-to-have-land somewhere in Q4.

But our stock is still stronger than Manchester United’s. Bang!

Let’s do this–albeit briefly–to get us juiced for tomorrow’s EPL, BPL, The Prem, The Barclays, season.

Twenty thoughts, twenty teams. Go, in no particular order:

After the snow falls, so does Cole…

West Ham: Welcome back Carlton Cole.

Folks, mark this date on your calendar: November 10th.

Tens of thousands of England fans will be pushing for Cole to be back in the national team picture.

Now mark this date on your calendar: March 15th.

I will remind TSG fans that tens of thousands of England fans once wanted Carlton Cole back in the national team picture earlier in the season.

Aston Villa: Marc Albrington still looks like an elf and Shay Given is still likely the starting goalkeeper. Brad Guzan is back-backing up and Randy Lerner–despite a sale of the Cleveland Browns–probably won’t deposit to much more in the coiffeurs.

Paul Lambert is on the scene and they brought in a few players from the Dutch league in the offseason, but one of them was Aussie Brett Holman whose play a few years ago at Blackburn was as mundane as his name. Yawn.

The EPL’s most boring team. [Nods head]

What they need is some Bob Bradley in their life. Too bad they passed on his son. That Roma transfer fee would’ve been nice.

Aston Villa kicks off against West Ham this weekend and how appropriate is that, because the Villians are a good bet to do the dipsey-do drop-pop that West Ham did in getting relegated and returning to the Prem a season later. I’d bet on it.

Dempsey is holding for chances to embarrass Terry at another location…

Fulham: I don’t feel bad for Fulham.

Clint Dempsey holding out, someone cue some Barry Manilow (“Looks like we made it!“).

Moussa Dembele smelling the warm and abundant green bread wafting across the straits from The Real Madrid.

Each year, Fulham play and act as “the little team that could” in London. The Cottagers play well enough to be respectable given their “small club” status, but they top out–not aspirational or good enough to challenge to be hovering closer to Prem bridesmaid status.

Each year someone on Fulham wants to go, last year it was Bobby Zamora. Do we feel bad for a club that continues to aggregate talent, but doesn’t take a shot at greatness for at least one season even though their manager has enough money to erect a freaking Michael Jackson statue outside the park? I don’t now. And you shouldn’t either.

Bottom’s up at McBride’s bar!

Stoke City: Will the Brit flacks accept Geoff Cameron as really a rich man’s Phil Jones or will they discount his abilities because he originates from near where the Boston Tea Party went down and doesn’t speak with the right accent or show the right papers at the border?

Here’s a question–and we’re probably sounding like a baffoon here–has Cameron eclipsed Lamar Odom as the best present-day alum in the history of URI?

(One quick final note, we think Emile Heskey ends up at Stoke City, right? FC Direct Football and vertical stripes do have a slimming effect. Can we book it?)

Chelsea: Can we all just take a step back here.  Does anyone realize that Ashley Cole will play his 200th match for Chelsea this year? Everyone recognizes that Cole is good. Good at defending, good at crossing, good at bombing runs. Great with a semi-automatic bb gun aimed at an intern–that’s neither here nor there–but the player is great.

Despite what largely seems like some major stains socially, Ashley Cole probably is the best defender of the past five years–at the very least he it top five. Who else could you put in that bucket? Maicon, dominant once, but now largely ambivalent about his play. Phillip Lahm, sure and terrific, he’s up there. Anyone else? Gasp, John Terry? Vidic? Sure but he’s been injured too. Carlos Puyol? Yup.

You’re top three are Cole, Lahm, Puyol, right?

In other news, Shaquilukaku out on loan, that’s a shame.

The Great Presider…

Tottenham Hotspurs: That’s a pretty suit you’ve got on their AVB, with an exquisite purple hering bone lining. Tailored to perfection.

Do you even like Scotty Parker AVB? Because, you know, he’s so not Juan Mata on the ball.

Will Andre Villas Boas play prettyball with the Spurs when their GM Dan Levy is extremely shrewd to a frugal bent?

Might Dan Levy’s moves be just shrewd enough? Says here that former Hoffenheim, by way of Swansea, man Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the best buy summer buy. He will not be Rafael Van Der Farting around on the ball. Kid can play.

 Norwich City:  Hello Chris Houghton. Remember when he got dumped out at Newcastle and everyone–Jonathan Wilson!–was aghast. Hypocrisy! “Houghton is a fantastic manager.”

Well you’re back here in now in the Prem Chris…lay some hurt on Prison Stripes.

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