Archive for August, 2012

Did That Happen?!: Revisiting the USA vs. Canada Masterclassic

Ring-a-round the Mounties.

Maura Gladys finally composes herself to write on the US’s heart-stopping win.

Some games are won with heart and soul and will and belief and all of the other intangibles that pepper sports vernacular when a monumental moment unfolds. But the U.S. women’s national team epic victory over Canada in yesterday’s Olympic semifinal match wasn’t won with intangibles. It was won in the physical realm. With clocks and feet and arms and legs and heads. The game was more a grueling boxer’s bout than a magical fairytale, with the U.S. going punch for punch with Canada before landing the knockout blow with less than thirty seconds left in the second overtime. It was physical, grinding, utterly unexpected and profoundly moving. And now, the body (and other) parts that meant the most during those 123 minutes and 30 seconds.

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TSG’s Azteca Roster: Being Klinsmann

Few remember that three years ago, it was a trip to Azteca that was the coming out party for Stu Holden on the USMNT “A” team…

TSG usually goes the route of trying to predict what the head coach, manager, or front office of some club will do. We remove (attempt to remove) personal biases and frankly it’s more important in our minds to initiate conversation with our audience on the observations seen to date.

With that said, we’ll take a mini-hiatus from that typical disposition and give you a list of what squad the collective we would call in to face the El Tri at their lofty and notoriously treacherous home adobo.

Jurgen Klinsmann is supposed to wait all the way until this weekend to announce the roster. The game is August 15th.

Summarizations:

» The Azteca is an extremely difficult place to play at get a rhythm for obvious reasons. Therefore, a disposition to first team players as much as possible.

» Much like the Italy win, a US win will grab headlines and vault the USMNT program forward, even as Mexico are (perhaps) missing players at the Olympics. The US program could really use an outright win against a program that has seemingly leap-frogged them in CONCACAF.

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Illuminations: Gold Cup 2011 vs. “The 5-Game Tournament”

2010-2011

2011 – ?

Darius Tahir bifurcates the past two USMNT seasonal campaigns using the Klinsmann hiring as the fulcrum point.

The US takes on Mexico precisely one month from today. The game is a ceremonious marker in time for the US Men’s National Team Program. It was one year ago as Bob Bradley was making phone calls to begin picking up the pieces of a Gold Cup Final gone horribly off the rails that Sunil Gulati swooped in and in a move that many had expected for some time, relieved the Princeton grad of his second term of service to the men’s program.

With Jurgen Klinsmann now having a full term in office, his recently concluded “5-Game Tournament” presents an interesting set of observations to match against Bob Bradley’s Confederation Cup-seeking Gold Cup campaign.

Now our cursory analysis by Darius Tahir

(All statistics shared in this spreadsheet)

Okay, Darius, what you got?

It’s awfully helpful when a comparison makes itself. In this case, with Klinsmann rapidly approaching his first-year anniversary of taking the head job with the USMNT, a natural comparison practically begs itself to be made: Bob Bradley’s Gold Cup run and Klinsmann’s “Five Game Tournament.” So let’s make it, then—what are the similarities, differences, and what might give you confidence (or lack of it) for the future)? And we’ll try to make these comparisons, as often as possible, through cold hard statistics—the OPTA statistics provided by MLS, in this case.

Headline Record

The US with a masterful performance against Jamaica at the Gold Cup…

Five games and six games, as the case may be, is hardly the biggest sample size to draw really firm conclusions from. But it’s probably big enough to make some preliminary ones. Some other caveats must be applied—all of Bradley’s games were competitive; only two of Klinsmann’s were. On the other hand, all of Bradley’s games were at home; two of Klinsmann’s were in the hostile environs of Guatemala City, and, ah, Toronto Canada.

On the other hand, Bradley’s team faced better opponents. Bradley’s team, at the time of playing them, had an Elo rating average of 50; Klinsmann’s, 65.

In terms of results—with no regard to those caveats—Bradley’s look better.

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USWNT: USA vs. Canada: Topping America’s Top Hat

La Nina throwing her wait around in London…

Maura Gladys rides with the USWNT

The United States had a workman-like victory over New Zealand on Friday. Not the blowout that was expected, but, still enough to get the job done. The game was scoreless through 25 minutes, partly thanks to New Zealand’s moxie and partly thanks to the U.S., especially Alex Morgan, failing to finish off a couple sitters. But then, in what is becoming a signature play for the U.S., Alex Morgan served up a ball to Abby Wambach who slid home the first, and game-winning goal for the U.S.

Despite the lead, the U.S. failed to fully assert their dominance, leaving the door open for New Zealand to sneak back in the game. What eventually kept them out was the United States composure during the entire match.

Sydney Leroux slammed the door on the Kiwis for good with her 87th minute goal. The goal itself was Alex Morgan-esque, with Leroux using her speed to get behind the defense and slot home a nutmeg between the goalkeeper’s legs.

DID YOU SEE THAT?!

But the Leroux-Morgan tandem, which is still a few years from coming to fruition, will signal a stark change from the current U.S. scoring threat. Right now, Wambach and Morgan have a very cool, thunder and lightning 1-2 punch going on. Morgan and Leroux are a lightning storm, all speed and flash. But Morgan has already shown immense growth as a playmaker and visionary, which may lead her into a deeper sitting role. In the meantime, with Leroux playing the super sub role, plus Morgan and Wambach on all cylinders, the U.S. is enjoying one of the most prolific offenses in women’s soccer history.

The best part of the goal was the look on Leroux’s face after her first Olympic goal, a mix of shock, surprise, euphoria and joy.

The U.S. win sets up a semifinal match against our neighbors to the north, Canada, a pairing no one expected. It’s an incredibly intriguing matchup though. NBC is trying to hype it as a rivalry match, but in reality, it’s a rivalry only by proximity. The U.S. has historically owned Canada, holding a 7-0-1 advantage since 2009. This year alone, the U.S. thumped Canada in the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying championship match in January (both teams had qualified at this point), and downed them 2-1 in June at the United States’ send-off match. However, you get the feeling that anything could happen in this game. The U.S. could roll 3-0 and I wouldn’t be shocked, but Canada could come out strong and force a 1-1 overtime game, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

Canada was sneaky dangerous in their quarterfinal match up against Great Britain.

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The Weekend: Live Commentary

Will the Hoops go Matrix on the Chainsaws or will Portland have their revenge? Sunday awaits…

USWNT: USA vs. New Zealand: Be The Wolf!

Maura Gladys, as usual, with pinpoint accuracy on the state of the USWNT

It’s interesting what we talk about when we talk about the USWNT these days. The lineup is stable, their form has been great, and there is little room to nitpick their play on the field. (This is operating under the assumption that the defense was, is, and will continue to be leaky for the foreseeable future.) Instead, concerns focus on how the team starts and finishes a game.

The narrative has shifted from tactical to theoretical, a mark of a true championship-caliber team.

That shift, signifies an overall strength and health in the USWNT program, and was reflected in the United States’ group play performance. The squad came out of group play with three dominant wins, setting up a quarterfinal showdown with New Zealand, the weakest team still left in the tournament. Thanks to some other surprising results, the United States’ road to the gold medal match also got a bit easier.

After a bit of a rollercoaster ride against France, the U.S. settled down and easily handled Colombia and North Korea, downing them 3-0 and 1-0 respectively. Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan were stars during both games, with Rapinoe’s stunning vision setting up Carli Lloyd in the 77th-minute and scoring one of her own earlier in the game.

Morgan’s performance this tournament has been amazing. While Wambach is the force up front, muscling in goals, Morgan is the often the one that gets her there, with her speed and a stride that gobbles up grass at two times the rate of anyone else on the field, putting her in great positions.

If there is a weakness for the U.S., it’s how they fall into the rhythm of a game, and how they finish off an opponent. The U.S. has had a reputation of coming out flat for the past few years, a habit that has carried over into this tournament (uhhh, France, anyone?) Although, the argument that by coming out flat, the U.S. risks going down, say, 2-0 to a team early in a game, doesn’t seem as daunting after last week. But still. It’s never good to come out flat, and the U.S. should try not to.

The U.S. has the opposite problem when closing out an opponent. Against Colombia, the U.S. secured a 3-0 lead by the 77th minute, more than enough for an easy win. But, they kept pushing, throwing more attacks forward, charging at the goal, playing all-out. With a commanding lead, there was no need to keep stepping on the gas, risking unnecessary injury and fatigue. The Olympic tournament is intense enough, with a potential of six games in 16 days, that there’s no real gain from grinding during that last 15 minutes. It’s something the team might run into against New Zealand, and maybe even in the semifinals.

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