Archive for October, 2012

MLS Knockouts: Whose Golfing Now?

The playoffs: No Country for which Old Man?

Two sudden death playoff games here, Wednesday and Thursday in MLS. Crow all you want about the league “tables” and the thrill of the race coming down to the last few weeks in other leagues, I’ll take the playoffs.

Playoffs are where the individual mettle is shown. Titi; yeah he’s been there. Edson Buddle goes primetime come October. And yes, even the Bobby Conveys of the world earn some praise. (Let’s hopefully not remember that 2010 series as the last great moments of Juan Agudelo.)

Wednesday Night: Chicago Fire vs. Houston Dynamo

The skinny: Normally this game would be an easy take for the Dynamo–a number of grizzled vets who keep shape on defense and no when to attack. But something about Houston hasn’t been quite right this year.

Brian Ching is just not impeccable as “the” target man. Will Bruin is not exactly clean on finishing the abundant scoring chances. Brad Davis isn’t getting as many of the set piece opportunities. Ricardo Clark is back, but just where he is in the veteran pecking order is still in question. Boniek Garcia can be worldly or out-of-this-wordly seemingly as the wind blows.

Bobby Boswell is a good defender, but he’s similar to Nat Borchers without a strong Jamison Olave next to him. Tally Hall can sparkle or make that one critical error as well. (Not quite sold on Hall yet. Is he Mattie Pickens or a true up-and-comer?)

Houston has vacillated between using the 4-3-3 and the 4-4-2 and a lot of it is predicated at what type of disposition they want to the game and the aforementioned gung-ho of Garcia.

It seems dicey to put the Dynamo in the next round.

That said, Chicago doesn’t exactly sparkle at all the opportune times either. When they need a goal this post season, the shot-jacker Marco Pappa is not going to be found. Patrick Nyarko can go Derrick Rose on you in one moment and then be Chris Duhon the next. Sherjill McDonald takes 6-ft chances like Dennis Rodman shooting 6-ft jumpers and Jalil Anibaba defends like Jamal Crawford for stretches (apologies for the Bulls analogies.)

The biggest enemy for Chicago in this one will be themselves. Can they avoid mistakes? Can they take their chances? Can everyone show up and have an above average to playoff-level match?

I like the Fire in this one because I like their “inside four” better than I like the Dynamo’s “inside four” this year. The Fire have steely vets Pavel Pardo, Logan Pause and Arne Freidrich to balance the risk of Austin Berry having a rookie-wide-eyed game.

The Dynamo meanwhile could show an “inside three” or an “inside four” to start the match and it’s some combination of Ricardo Clark and Adam Moffatt (who can smack one, but has been uneven this year …. actually roll that label out for Clark as well). The steady Bobby Boswell is a better defender then often credited, but needs a better accomplice than Jermaine Taylor.

The rest is a crap shoot, but you’ve got to defend narrow in the back against both of these teams.

Klopas KO’s Kinnear in this one….

The Fire take this one in a tight one.

Thursday: LA Galaxy v. Vancouver Whitecaps

(forthcoming)

As 2012 Closes, The USWNT In The Abstract

Maura Gladys with Part I of II on the USWNT

You can recognize it by the tone of the screams as players break from the team huddle and race to a spot on the field.

At an NFL game, or even a USMNT game, the roar of the crowd would be four octaves lower. But at a U.S. women’s national team game, the sound of the crowd doesn’t so much start at a rumble then rise to a roar as it builds to a five-alarm shriek that pierces the night sky. It’s beautiful.

Last Tuesday, I took in my first U.S. women’s national team match since 1999 when I was 9 years old and saw Mia Hamm and the U.S. women beat Denmark 3-0 in the opening match of the now-legendary Women’s World Cup. I have been writing about the team for two years, following the team for much longer. But thanks to an opportunity to produce some videos with KICTV, I was in Hartford, Connecticut for the U.S. Women’s friendly versus Germany.

The game was part of the USWNT’s ten-game victory tour around the U.S., to celebrate the United States’ gold medal victory in London and to keep the team in the public eye, in lieu of a domestic league.

Throughout the entire night, I couldn’t help thinking, over and over, everything is important, but nothing matters right now.

From individual performance on the field, in order to impress a new, yet-to-be-named coach (at the time), to off-the-field momentum that is being built to drum up support for a new league. It’s important. It means things for the immediate future of U.S. Soccer. But this will be the third try for a women’s league in the U.S. And it’s a very long two and a half years until the 2015 Women’s World Cup. You can only muster so much optimism so many times…

_________________

Members of the Hartford chapter of the American Outlaws Supporters Group gather on the outskirts of a parking lot of Rentschler Field about an hour before kickoff. While the group often turns out in droves for men’s games around the country, it’s presence isn’t as big at women’s games. But that’s going to change, according to one of the chapter leaders.

“The women haven’t been getting as much support as the men. But we want to show that they deserve it, and it’s going to start right here in Connecticut,” she tells me as the group sings a song dedicated to Hope Solo to the tune of “You Are My Sunshine” and a slightly inebriated man dressed as George Washington walks by.

“We’ve got Hope Solo

And you’ve got no goals

She’s make our hearts sing, just wait and see….”

And I think, ‘This is important. This is a good start. Soon we’ll have this at every game, and with even more supporters.’ But are we looking for a start? Or a ride that’s already in progress?

“…She’ll even dive right and punch from full flight

Hope Solo save a PK for me.”

______________

It’s 7:30 pm and Hartford is soaked. The temperature has dropped to a point where a slight puff of fog escapes from each talking mouth. It’s cold, it’s wet. It’s just miserable. But then there’s that noise. That piercing shriek that only occurs when thousands and thousands of girls are in the presence of their heroes.

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Policing The Synchronicity Of MLS Scheduling

Playoff bound, not down….

by Steve Fenn

Going into the final week of the season, none of the Eastern conference playoff teams were settled into a particular seed. In most other soccer leagues worldwide every club’s finales are played at the same time, making for more possibilities and excitement.

In MLS last weekend, the playing times of the four games involving these five Eastern clubs had no intersection, and as a result fans got less drama and later-playing teams got clearer playoff scenarios than they deserved going into their finales.

The biggest problem is the competitive imbalance caused by the current approach. Because they were the last of Eastern playoff teams to play, Houston knew before kickoff that they were stuck at fifth, and could rest many starters, which they smartly did.

With synchronized finales, they would have kicked off knowing that they had a shot at 3rd or 4th. Doubtful Warren Creavalle, Cam Weaver, Alex Dixon, and Giles Barnes would have started in that circumstance. Every factor can come into play in a crapshoot like the MLS Cup playoffs, and well-rested difference-makers will be a significant advantage for the Dynamo on Wednesday in Chicago. Also, from a fan prespective, staggered scheduling turned a potentially important match into a clearly meaningless one.

Here are the synchronized scoring timelines of the four matches, with a green boxes every time playoff seeding would have moved up, and red when seeding would have dropped:

Wouldn’t that have been much more fun than the final weekend we experienced? Granted, this chart is purely hypothetical since both New York and Kansas City played against Philadelphia. Also, as stated before, Houston and others would likely have used different players and tactics with more varied seeds available to them. You get the point that all Eastern games running at once would have been more dramatic and entertaining, though.

Synchronized finales would be much easier to implement now than ever before in MLS. The league seemingly committed to an unbalanced schedule that emphasizes intraconference rivalries. They could simply make the last bye be one of the 9 Western clubs and schedule only East vs. East and West vs. West matches duing the final week. Eastern clubs are all within 1 time zone of each other, and Western clubs are within 2 time zones of each other. MLS could schedule Eastern matches to kick of in the afternoon, give fans a little time to catch their breath, then follow it with the West. Or give one conference Saturday and the other Sunday.

As with most things in sports, this comes down to money, marketing, and TV partners. While ESPN, NBC, and Galavision certainly have enough stations at their disposal to put together a nice coverage plan for synchronized finales, there’s no guarantee that they’d be willing to do so. However, more drama and better competitive balance would generally lead to more interest, which would lead to higher ratings and attendance. MLS and its broadcast partners need to find a way to make synchronized finales work.

Wondolowski Writes The Record, Ties Lassiter For Big Dog Status

A special night in Portland last night … for the opponent’s hometown Bay Area man Chris Wondolowski who battled from the oblivion of the US soccer hemisphere to finally land time at the San Jos Earthquakes added him name to MLS lore.

A rotund 27 goals on the season for the San Jose striker; his final effort of the regular season coming on a penalty kick. Wondolowski ties the TV man Roy Lassiter for the MLS all-time season goal record.

But I Loved That Band: The Sunsetting Of Landon Donovan

The insecurities, finally and truly, are so unbecoming.

The pulsing signal became stronger this week.

The splash of light beyond the tunnel, the dark corridor adjusting the iris further.

What started out as peripheral and inconclusive signs–poor to absent early season play, missed national team matches–and rolled into suggestive interviews finally landed this week in an interview with ESPN.

The era of Landon Donovan–or at least Landon Donovan 1.0 (or 3.0 if you are measuring by World Cup terms)–appears to be sunsetting.

But who else?

It’s an existential moment, as much for Donovan as for the fans who grew accustomed to, demanded more and at times became bored with the single player synonymous with the US soccer ecosystem–from the domestic league, comparisons to the global game, and the national team.

It’s a somber graduation of sorts, not unlike when your favorite band finally chucks its last over-notched drumstick into the crowd at the encore–at once there is a sense of loss, an artificial mourning period that’s immediately buoyed by personal reflection, nostalgia and wistfulness of “what you both accomplished together.”

I’ll never feel quite that way about another band again.

And that part is patently true.

There will be more bands and they’ll be good and burn up the earbuds and force us to find rhythm at concerts. But it won’t be the same.

I’ll always have Phish at Madison Square Garden in 1995; Radiohead, Santa Barbara 2008. Many will also have Landon Donovan, Germany, 2002; Donovan, Slovenia, 2010.

Such is the parallel of Donovan to the US and a coming of age soccer existence.

One could argue that without the “possibilities of Donovan,” US soccer never burrows into the American conscience quite as quickly and gets its true “start;” it’s big promo deal, so to speak, after the faulty performance of 1998.

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Worried, You Are? What Force Will Guide the States Through The Hexagonal?

Is Klinsmann the USMNT’s Yoda or Darth (credit: American Outlaw member Brian Price)

Steve Fenn relives the last USMNT series with Ewok-sized nuggets for you to digest.

Is Jürgen Klinsmann the George Lucas of soccer?

Like Lucas’ reimagining of special effects and science fiction storytelling in the late 70s, early 2000s Klinsi broke down the German system until he had something that made much more sense and produced a fantastic product.

Both men have a checkered coaching (directing) history when they don’t have a very strong support staff.

Jogi Löw gets much of the credit for Klinsmann’s semifinal run at the 2006 World cup, just as Lawrence Kasdan, Irvin Kershner, and Richard Marquand are commonly credited for refining Lucas’s vision for the original Star Wars trilogy. Lending credence to these theories, Klinsmann’s stints helming Bayern Munich and the US Mens National Team have been marked by bouts of tactical naiveté, over-ambitious rhetoric, and, at inopportune times, embarrassing results.

Likewise, Star Wars prequel bashing is so prevalent that any attempt to further or indugle in it would be banal.

The throughline, though, is the prevailing notion that these men moved onto later projects without the support staff that had molded their ideas into practical applications.

At least, that’s the playful spin of the common narrative I heard and somewhat bought into between the 2-1 nailbiter in Antigua and the 3-1 smackdown of Guatemala that capped the semifinal round of US world cup qualifying campaign.

Based on the vitriol hurled at Klinsmann, you’d think he’d encased Jozy Altidore in carbonite and forced Landon Donovan to dance for him in a metal bikini.

The truth is complex, and our expecations for qualifying may have been unrealistic. To try to cut through the rhetoric, to the Opta Chalkboards for insights we go–include your normal disclaimers on “data can be made to explain anything”– from all 6 semifinal World Cup Qualifiers. If any of the language of this article or the Chalkboards themselves are unfamiliar, check out this page of Opta definitions.

June 8th – Antigua & Barbuda at United States

The hope by the faithful was for a slaughter when Antigua & Barbuda visited Raymond James Stadium. Instead, fans got drenched with a clear but uninspiring win. Looking back on the match through the Opta lens, one tale could be the old US nemesis–just ask Jozy Altidore–of “finishing” as the main culprit for the lackluster scoreline. Here are all of Landon Donovan’s passes in the match that led directly to a shot (aka key passes). Do you miss Landon?

Landonator in the opener…

That’s 11 chances created by one player. The rest of the team created 8, and there were 8 other shots that were unassisted (including all 3 goals). Taking the 44th minute PK out of any analysis of US finishing, the States took 26 other shots, 11 of them on target, but only 2 of which scored. The problem here was finishing, which we see a few times from the US qualifying campaign. Also, keep in mind that the vast majority of the A&B squad (15 out of 20 on their most recent roster) play together professionally for Antigua Barricuda FC in the US 2nd tier, USL Pro.

Very few national teams know each other that well, and it makes sense that A&B played more cohesively and with better results than expected early in qualifying.

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(Poll) On Landon Donovan & Consequential Value

Go! Go! USA! Oh….he’s incredible

The news of a, perhaps, impending Landon Donovan retirement spurred an interesting question on Twitter yesterday. It went like this:

How many players have more value to their national team than LD does to the U.S.? Surely Ronaldo but short list right?

TheShinGuardian ‏@shinguardian

@OldNumberr7 That is a great question. Great question. One I need to think about. Zlatan, maybe? Cech? Pirlo?
@shinguardian I would contend Ronaldo 1, Pirlo 2, Donovan 3. Unbelievable how defunct we are for any remotely comparable replacement
Great question. Is Landon Donovan the single most important player to his national team over the past half decade or so?

For better, for worse…

Contentions can certainly be made for Ibrahimovic, although he nearly quit on his team. Dimitar Berbatov, yes, but Bulgaria is hardly a powerhouse.

There’s Tim Cahill of course, but one might argue that Australia has never been the same sine the days of a high-flying Harry Kewell. There’s Andriy Shevchenko, but Ukraine is a UEFA doormat.
What about David Beckham–success or failure–as part of England? Does England have enough cache still without Beckham.
Ronaldo is in the mix as is Pirlo. Didier Drogba is a no-brainer from CAF as is Samuel Eto’o.
Okay, vote.
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