Archive for November, 2012

MLS Cup: Who’s Scheduling Victory Saturday?

Remember me?

Steve Fenn quickly on the MLS Cup … and proving TSG was just taking a quick break.

When handicapping Saturday’s MLS Cup Final, some will refer to the LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo’s only meeting this season. On May 26, Houston hosted the Galaxy and came away with a 2-1 victory. That result is barely relevant, though, because both sides have changed a great deal in the last six months. On that day, Bruce Arena didn’t play Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez, or Josh Saunders. Likewise, if Oscar Boniek Garcia, Kofi Sarkodie, Mac Kandji & Ricardo Clark were wearing orange in May, it was only on account of bad fashion sense.

Similarly, these clubs’ overall records have little bearing on the championship match because in 2012; they’ve seldom been as healthy as they are right now. Why not narrow the focus to those matches played by the squad’s best players? After all, it’s no secret that the Galaxy improved when Omar Gonzalez’ returned from injury, and Houston became a better team after acquiring Oscar Boniek Garcia.

LA’s Donovan, Keane, and Gonzalez did not play together often in the regular season, logging at least 225 minutes combined in only 8 matches. However, they were together the first 4 matches of the playoffs, until Landon sat out the 2nd leg in Seattle due to injury. The Dynamo’s trio of Boniek Garcia, Davis, and Will Bruin shared the field more often, logging 225+ for 14 regular season fixtures, and all 5 playoff matches.

Comparing 12 LA matches with 19 for Houston, outcomes obviously have to be recorded on a per match basis. This initially looks quite favorable to LA, with the Galaxy earning 1.83 points per game, and a 0.67 goal differential, while Houston only got 1.74 points per game and a 0.53 goal differential while fielding a relatively full strength squad. However, with samples like this, opponent strength has to be taken into account.

To adjust for strength of schedule, the opponents’ overall goal differential is added to individual matches’ GD. Then, to correct for home field advantage, the overall 2012 MLS home-away GD of .489 is subtracted from home matches and added to away matches.

When at full strength, the adjusted goal differentials of the Galaxy and Dynamo are remarkably similar, with LA coming in at .594, and Houston outscoring their opponents by .584. Statistically, this isn’t a significantly margin. The only edge comes from LA’s home field advantage, which is worth around half of a goal. The Galaxy are the favorites, but within a single match this Dynamo team with Boniek Garcia, Davis, and Bruin are quite capable of an upset.

USA 2 – Russia 2: Michael Bradley On Fire; Tim Howard Strong Desire

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We cheated on you today. Your TSG game review here.

USA vs. Russia Live: Who Will Break Who?

* We will be back to publishing shortly at The Shin Guardian

Gatt’a give the fans what they want Jurgy!

It’s the final game of the USMNT’s 2012. The word friendly has been synonymous with “excel” for the States as they’ve dropped somewhat historic wins on Italy and Mexico this year when the chips are set aside.

Today (10am EST, 7am PST on ESPN) the US will introduce some new and old faces into the fold in the hope of finding a little more attacking verve deeper in the US pool. New names like Gyau and Gatt will challenge “veterans” like Altidore and Kljestan for playing time.

Starting line-ups shortly.

The US Roster To Face-Off With Russia In The Cold

The US plays Russia Wednesday morning.

This morning–finally–Jurgen Klinsmann saw fit to tell the US fans who was playing.

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The camp participants are:

Welcome back guys!

GOALKEEPERS (3): Tim Howard (Everton), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

DEFENDERS (6): Carlos Bocanegra (Racing Santander), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Nuremberg), Maurice Edu (Stoke City), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim)

MIDFIELDERS (7): Michael Bradley (Roma), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Joshua Gatt (Molde), Joe Gyau (Hoffenheim), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim)

FORWARDS (4): Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA), Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Herculez Gomez (Santos Laguna)

MLS Playoffs Round I: The Wizardry of Oz or Judge Dreads?

The Wizardry of Oz or Judge Dreds in this one?

1-1 after the knockouts.

We get to the rest:

Seattle vs. Real Salt Lake:

This is the closest first round series bar none. Seattle may be the fat guy on the “talent” balance beam, but RSL still has the psyche. Dismiss anyone telling you that Seattle, club and fans alike, are not a wee bit nervous about the whole “never got out of the first round” thing. Jason Kreis’s group has that on the them.

This series is like the Celtics vs. the Miami Heat in some ways. Seattle have three legitimate offensive stars in Freddy Montero, Eddie Johnson and Mauro Rosales–not to mention Christian Tiffert who drops in passes like he’s Aaron Rodgers.

The Salt Lake Crew of Olave … Borchers … Beckerman … Espindola … Will J .. and more are the Boston Celtics. They know how to win, but their bodies and initiative are just a scant below what once took them to the championship.

This series is going to be about situational play (as it was last year) and Real Salt Lake’s ability to find the net. Let’s start with the latter … because if RSL can’t figure out how to attack in the final third, the analysis can stop there. Seattle is stingy, but Utah needs to test them.

Just like last year, home field advantage is key and that’s why tonight’s game will dictate this series. If it’s draw or better for RSL, then look for RSL to finish the job on the return next week. If Seattle can even grab a 1-0 or 3-2 victory tonight, they’ll be able to go into RSL with that team needing a goal and that’s the disposition you want Team Kreis in on the home leg, not bottle it up and let’s move on.

The cautious pick here is Seattle, but tonight’s your night Sounders. Win it–without EJ–and you will have proven as to greater MLS as to yourself.

Can the series top 2011:

DC United vs. Red Bull New York:

There are serious doubts about the Red Bulls’ defense as we know. The question is: Will we find out?

DC United waves the Red Bulls into RFK on Saturday and they’ve been a different team since De Ro’s season ended.

The Benjamin’s usually do the talking inside the Beltway … will it hold course this time?

In fact, they’ve been a better one. Ben Olsen curtailed his cutesy offensive attack–at the expensive of Perry Kitchen’s gas tank and the defense overall–and instead took the much smarter approach of using his best ball-handling fullback–that would be Andy Najar–to move the ball out of the back and pick spots up the flank or well up the field centrally to distribute the ball. DC United’s attack doesn’t inspire sonnets, but it gets the job done.

United is hurt by the flip-flop of venues in this one. Whereas they could’ve headed to NY, playing to keep a clean sheet and then scrounged for a goal at home, not they need to take the initiative and insure that they bucket at least one on Saturday.

On Saturday now, Saragosa and Kitchen are going to have to play flawlessly in tandem in the center of the pitch against the more veterans numbers (Henry dropping, Cahill, Taino, McCarty) that the Red Bulls can throw at them.

For the Gotham men in this series, they’ll need a tip-top Henry, a disciplined Cooper, to keep McCarty in the center of the field and have Cahill make a difference. Oh and they’ll need their defense not to crumble.

I like DC United’s approach in this one, but New York squeaks by on talent alone.

(SKC – HOU & LAG v. SJE forthcoming….)

USWNT: Big Shoes and Hair to Fill

Maura Gladys with all you need to know about the USWNT’s new head coach

Not many people were ready for the timing or content announcement. Shortly before 2 p.m. yesterday the Twitter universe was abuzz with the rumor that U.S. Soccer would announce the new coach of the U.S. Women’s Soccer team. That part wasn’t so surprising. (Although, some wondered why it was made in the midst of the worst storm to hit the East Coast in years). What was surprising was that the coach was Australian women’s national team head coach Tom Sermanni. Not considered a front-runner, Sermanni was kind of like that “mystery team” that’s always involved in a high-profile MLB or NFL trade rumor, but rarely comes out on top. But this time, the mystery candidate did, and after an initial shock, Sermanni has received overwhelming support and positive reviews.

Unfortunately Tony no longer supports his stache, something that many believe to have knocked him out of the running fro USWNT coach

Several American candidates including former-USWNT-coach Tony DiCicco, Notre Dame head coach Randy Waldrum and U.S. U-20 women’s national team head coach Steve Swanson seemed poised to take the position, especially since USSF president Sunil Gulati intimated several times that he wanted a coach with extensive U.S. experience. Although he doesn’t have much U.S. experience (three years coaching in the now-defunct WUSA), Sermani has 11 years of international experience, all with Australia.

Sermanni guided the Matildas from a floundering program to one of the most respected in the world, with a core of young talent and a bright future. He did that through cultivating a buy-in culture among the team, where players could be called upon to fill any role and would step up and do it (similar to Pia Sundhage’s strategy with the U.S. team.) But how else can Sermanni’s magic down-under translate to success for the U.S.? Here’s how he got the most out of Australia over those 11 years, and how it can directly help the U.S.

Australia’s Enfant Terible?

In the spring of 2011, just months before the Matilda’s would play in the 2011 Women’s World Cup, Sermanni sent home team star Lisa de Vanna from a training camp. De Vanna, who starred for Australia in the 2007 World Cup, scoring four goals in the tournament and earning a 2007 Women’s World Play of the Year nomination, was said to have “skipped out on media commitments, walked out of the team photograph and failed to fulfill training requirements”. Instead of trying to massage the situation, Sermanni expelled de Vanna from the camp.

The de Vanna issue, what it does, from a team and coaching perspective, it takes up time and it distracts from the plans that you’re trying to put together,” Sermanni said at the time.

”We do expect a certain standard of behaviour and how people represent the Matildas. There were things around that weren’t satisfactory. We tried to get a solution but we didn’t get it.”

Sermanni navigated situation with extreme professionalism, not allowing de Vanna’s antics to overshadow the team, and speaking forcefully about the level of expectations required to play for Australia. His handling of the situation set a standard for the rest of the team and prevented the issue from becoming a larger distraction.

This willingness to lay down the law will be essential with the U.S., a team that tends to run into controversy a bit more frequently than it might like, and it’s one of the reasons that several current U.S. players were lobbying for Sermanni, according to Adrian Healey.

Sermanni is an unabashed supporter of growing a team through youth and challenging them in big situations. At the 2011 Women’s World Cup, 18 of his 21 players were 25 or younger, five of them teenagers. They weren’t just there to observe either. Seventeen-year-old utility player Caitlin Foord was named Best Young Player award at the 2011 World Cup while 20-year-old Kyah Simon scored a brace in Australia’s come-from-behind win against Norway that guaranteed them passaged into the next round.

Under Sermanni, promising youngsters such as Hagen can get expect to see more playing time

For the U.S., this likely means more playing time not only for current young stars Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan, Lauren Cheney and Sydney Leroux (all of whom are over 22 and must seem ancient in Sermanni’s book) but caps for U-23 standout Sarah Hagen or 20-year-old Julie Johnston, among many others.

He alluded to as much in a conference call with reporters earlier this afternoon.

“I think the key thing is to be able to bring players into a National Team camp and give them opportunities and that’s what I want to try and do… I’m certainly not averse to throwing players into the mix and to try and develop players who are outside the established group at the moment.”

-Sermanni did much with little in Australia, employing aggressive, proactive tactical formations that challenged his players, and made it tough for opponents to defend. He now has the most talented team in the world at his fingertips and can take the squad, for which Pia planted the seed of possession soccer, to a level of true technical mastery. It was expected that U.S. Soccer would hire a manager that would put more emphasis on skill rather than athleticism, and Sermanni’s deep knowledge of the game is a perfect fit.

In his conference call, Sermanni stressed a commitment to “positive possession” soccer.

“You do want to keep developing your team to play a better brand of soccer, to play more…not possession for the sake of possession, but a positive style of possession, where the team is comfortable playing in tight areas, comfortable to back themselves in keeping the ball, comfortable to back themselves and be patient when they have to be patient,” he said.

Sermanni will have his work cut out for him when he formally takes over on January 1. But, with his knowledge and experience, and the tantalizing amount of talent on the U.S. squad, his appointment means exciting times ahead for U.S. women’s soccer.

MLS Knockout Round: Galactic or White-Knuckled?

Will DeMerit rise and shine tonight?

Well, TSG got it’s predictions off to a booming start last night, huh?

Chicago v. Houston Review:

You can’t put this entire game on Sean Johnson, can you? Well, not really. However, this one was really over in the first thirteen minutes.

Sean Johnson was skittish. Jalil Anibaba lost his man–only this time it wasn’t out on the wing where less damage can be done it was on a Brad Davis corner. That’s a big no-no.

One goal down, a few scary glove attempts of Sean Johnson against a seasoned Houston Dynamo team and manager was all this match needed. The Fire got bashful and regressed. No one took charge in the middle of the field and this was basically the Dynamo seeing out the remaining 77-some-odd minutes as the Fire looked tentative and listless going forward and were consumed with what Houston might do offensively. That’s not the way to think at home in a one-game.

Lesson learned hopefully for Chicago as Houston marches on and again faces of against Sporting KC in a rematch of last year’s most entertaining series.

(Mea culpa Will Bruin. You finished your chances last night)

LA Galaxy v. Vancouver Whitecaps

No matter how terrible Vancouver has been–and they’ve been just about the penultimate worst team for the past few months–there is still some speed on the team and a relatively stout and devout Jay DeMerit.

Yesterday we used a basketball analogy with the Bulls and the Fire. Today, we got American football. The Whitecaps are the Carolina Panthers circa 2004 or 2005 or so.

They’ve got Darren Mattocks up top–the equivalent of a speedy Steve Smith as the deep threat.

They’ve got a terrible quarterback pitching to him. The Panthers had Jake Delhomme who had flashes. Vancouver’s whole midfield–including Barry Robson–has flashes.

And they had a relatively in stout defense as do Vancouver.

So if everything goes right, and they hit Smith (Mattocks) on a few plays, the game may swing. The ‘Caps are like when you play someone inferior in Madden 2002 or something and they chuck it up the field every play to some wideout on the right side so makes three miracles grabs a game. Every 20th time you play the guy, he beats you because those plays are just enough and he’s put a safety and linebacker and managed to contain your running game.

Ok, sorry for the digression.

That’s the Whitecaps though. They’ve got enough parts to put together a game that may go their way, but in all likelihood …. not going to happen.

If the Caps get in an up-and-down track meet with the Galaxy, the triumvirate of Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and Edson Buddle will take all the wind out of their sails.

If they hunker down and play flawless defense, distribution the ball through Y.P. Lee (i.e. outside as much as possible) and hit Mattocks over the top or Dane Richards down the flank on those one or two vital plays when everything lines-up, they’ll have a chance to eek out a 1-0, 2-1 win.

I think this is a closer game than people expect, but the Galaxy are just too mature. Arena’s team is the pick.

 

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