Archive for January, 2013

AFCON 2013: First Round Games In The Dishwasher

Matt Pentz on a Tunisia wonderstrike at 1st found games in the AFCON

At first glance, it’s hard to pick out a single, unifying theme from the opening slate of group games from the 2013 African Cup of Nations.

After all, a stylistic diversity, both in terms of tactics and quality of play, is part of what makes the event so unique.

Nigeria v. Burkina Faso, for example, prized physicality over skill, while the preceding Zambia-Ethiopia match stood out with its patient, flowing pace. There have been pulsating moments – the second half of Ghana v. DR Congo – and stretches of mind-numbing staleness – the entirety of the South Africa-Cape Verde opener.

But after a stretch of eight matches that produced a surprising quality of draws, the defining quality of this tournament thus far has been the quality of the transcendent individual performances that have occasionally broken the deadlock.

There were three draws in the entire group stage of the 2012 tournament. This edition has already had five, and the opening day set the tone.

Cape Verde lacked the quality to push for a result, while the hosts were a toxic combination of inept and tentative. With the disappointing setback of the 2010 World Cup still lingering over the team, Bafana Bafana seemed paralyzed by fear of mistakes. An expectant, impatient crowd did little to encourage them. By halftime, it became clear that the two sides could play for 180 minutes and never score.

The following match also finished nil-nil, but at least both Angola and Morocco were willing to push forward. Hulking Angolan striker Manucho personified the ultimately fruitless but admirable perseverance, hurling himself at every half chance and trying to will the ball into the net.

Manucho Gonçalves

Manucho Gonçalves

Manucho failed to compliment his exertions with a goal, but Malian captain Seydou Keita built on the theme of the one-man difference maker a night later with greater success.

Stubborn Niger was six minutes of normal time from holding favored Mali and producing the fourth draw out of four for the tournament. Keita had been omnipresent throughout, even hitting the bar in the 77th minute, but looked destined for Manucho’s fate until he pounced on a fumbled shot to produce the lone goal. It was no less than he, and balanced, spirited Mali, deserved.

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TSG Goes Playground: 2010 USMNT vs. 2013 USMNT

Who do YOU want on that wall?! Who do you NEED on that wall? Read on, dear friend...

Who do YOU want on that wall?! Who do you NEED on that wall? Read on, dear friend…

Zack Goldman and Will Parchman go tête-à-tête, foot vs foot, Donovan vs. Donovan in the 3rd TSG UperDuper USMNT Team Draft.

Good morning and welcome to the third USMNT team vs. team draft, this year featuring two new draft competitors and two new team selections.

First, the competitors. He’s a strapping young man getting an education at Oxford and interning at a grassroots English football club. He’s also a codirector of the Pali Blues based in Southern California. He’s Zack Goldman and he’ll be drafting for his uncharitable–he hopes–FC, Tony Danza Supermarine.

His foil? Hailing from Waco, Texas and a student and author on the glorious game of American football is Will Parchman. You may know Parchman from his various and heady pieces here and elsewhere on the USMNT from, “Mind the Gap: You’re USA beats Mexico” retro diary to his recent novella: “The Empty Bucket: How To Look at the US midfield as Half Full featuring Ricardo Clark (foreshadowing).” He’s Will Parchman and he’ll be drafting for his side, Dr. Sweatpants.

Okay, here’s how it works for those that are new to this column. “Sweats” and “Supermarine” will be picking from the 2010 USMNT World Cup roster and the projected 2013 USMNT World Cup qualifying roster. The managers came together first and matched up players from both sides. For example, “Landon Donovan 2010 at RM, RF matches up with Landon 2013 RM, RF.” So if you’re taking “Landon Donovan,” you have to pick the year that you want.

Conversely, and here’s the fun part, your competitor gets assigned the opposite player. So if Sweats takes Donovan 2010, that means that Supermarine gets Donovan 2013. Make sense?

So this means the draft should go according to the biggest gulf in talent. Is Tim Howard 2013 much better or worse than Tim Howard 2010? If not, then a player should use his pick elsewhere.

At the end of this whole runaround, the managers will compile their selections and give you the formation they deploy in. Then you, yes you the fan, get to vote on which team is best.

Here’s the pairings before we get going:

G: Tim Howard 2010 vs. Tim Howard 2013

RB: (Pairing) Steve Cherundolo/Jonathan Spector 2010 vs. Steve Cherundolo/Tim Chandler 2013)

CB: Jay DeMerit 2010 vs. Geoff Cameron 2013

CB: Carlos Bocanegra 2010 vs. Carlos Bocanegra 2013

LB: Jonathan Bornstein 2010 vs. Fabian Johnson 2013

CM: Ricardo Clark 2010 vs. Danny Williams 2013

CM: Michael Bradley 2010 vs. Michael Bradley 2013

CM: Benny Feilhaber 2010 vs. Jermaine Jones 2013

MF/FW: Landon Donovan 2010 vs. Landon Donovan 2013

MF/FW: Clint Dempsey 2010 vs. Clint Dempsey 2013

STR: Jozy Altidore 2010 vs. Jozy Altidore 2013

BENCH: Stu Holden, Maurice Edu, Herculez Gomez 2010 vs. Graham Zusi, Maurice Edu, Eddie Johnson 2013

WILDCARD: Edson Buddle 2010 vs. Alan Gordon 2013

Let’s go.

Don Garber’s a nice guy and all, but in the spirit of this unique style of draft we go with Clint Mathis presiding over the proceedings.

Onward and maybe upward. Up to the podium strolls Mathis dressed in his finest T-shirt.

With the 1st pick in the 2010-2013 USMNT UberDraft…..

Dr. Sweatpants

Dr. Sweatpants

1st Pick:

Dr. Sweatpants selects CM Danny Williams 2013

Tony Danza Supermarine is assigned CM Ricardo Clark 2010

Dr. Sweatpants will go ahead and start us off with the first pick, which will be CM Danny Williams (2013) over CM Rico Clark (2010).

Danny Williams, RMF pariah no longer....

Danny Williams, RMF pariah no longer….

Defense: I struggled with the top pick until I took into account the monumental gap between the levels at which these two players played in their respective years.

Rico probably gets too much blame for what transpired against Ghana in 2010, but the facts are plain; he was playing without any confidence and lacked a surety on possession that had all but killed his effectiveness by the time the boys arrived South Africa. The goal giveaway, yellow card and subsequent substitution in the 31st minute against Ghana were merely symptoms of Rico’s disease.

Williams, on the other hand, is the future of the USMNT’s deep-lying mid position, everything Clark is not. He’s smooth, calm, a tremendous passer, an implacable destroyer with boatloads of athleticism and can run the channels if needed. In essence, he is what Jermaine Jones should’ve been, a Jones’ 2.0 model if you will. And, now that Klinsmann’s awful experiment with Williams on the wing is over for good, he anchors what could end up being the best central midfield pairing in USMNT history.

That’s right, I said that.

——————————–

That sound you currently hear an ocean away is the collective groan of the Tony Danza Supermarine front office. The last time Rico and I were on speaking terms was when I hurled a string of expletives his way from the second tier in Rustenburg. It was more painful in person.

Hopefully, we can move past this.

Tony Danza Supermarine

Tony Danza Supermarine

2nd Pick:

Tony Danza Supermarine selects LB Fabian Johnson 2013

Dr. Sweatpants is assigned LB Jonathan Bornstein 2010

With the 2nd pick, Tony Danza Supermarine selects LB Fabian Johnson (2013) over LB Jonathan Bornstein (2010).

Defense: Dr. Sweatpants has duly spotted one of the biggest gulfs in quality on the board — and now Tony Danza Supermarine will exploit the other by selecting Fabian Johnson and sending Johnny B. Bad to the Doctor.

Fab-u-lous...just fabulous...

Fab-u-lous…just fabulous…

In Fabian Johnson, the United States has seemingly secured its left back of the future — and the first world-class, natural option at the position in recent memory. His defensive performance in Genoa was brilliant, as was his work further up the pitch in Ljubljana.

He’s had several other wonderful showings since that demonstrate his attacking quality, commitment to marking, and comfort in possession.

Put simply: Johnson represents everything the US have needed at left back the past few cycles — and his dynamism is perfectly suited to the style of play Klinsmann is hoping to bring to the program. Great vision, great movement, great touch, and some steely defensive quality to boot — he’s been an excellent addition to the squad this cycle.

By contrast, Jonathan Bornstein has seen his foothold in the side crumble rapidly under Koach Klinsmann following his move south of the border. Actually, there was never a foothold once Bob Bradley was shown the door.

His tenure the previous cycle was much like Clark’s — some standout performances (a gritty and suffocating job against Algeria in the World Cup springs to mind) and some great highlights (like his role as Tico dream-stomper and instant Honduran royalty with the “Header Heard Around Tegucigalpa” in RFK) amid some absolute horror shows and general discomfort at left back.

It was a mixed legacy at best, and certainly not good enough on a match-to-match basis to dislodge someone of Johnson’s consistency and quality.

——————————–

Oh God. Bornstein. I say his last name with snarling contempt. I will force him to stay after practice every day for latrine duty and to clean jock straps.

Dr. Sweatpants

Dr. Sweatpants

3rd Pick:

Dr. Sweatpants selects CM Michael Bradley 2013

Tony Danza Supermarine is assigned CM Michael Bradley 2010
With the third pick, Dr. Sweatpants takes Michael Bradley (2013) over Michael Bradley (2010).

Defense: Michael Bradley under his father was a young, tightly-wound midfielder with lofty ideas but without the gravitas or experience to expound upon them.

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The Africa Cup of Nations 2013: Team By Team Look-Ins & Predictions

TSG dropped their AFCON primer earlier this week. Now a look at the groups and teams.

Will this be there year?

Will this be there year?

Matt Acconciamessa breaks down AFCON 2013

The Africa Cup of Nations rarely disappoints. From upsets and spectacular goals to captivating storylines and riveting finals, the continental showdown has proven itself to be a source of great entertainment in recent years.

The 2013 edition should be no different, with South Africa playing host to its third major tournament in four years and its first Africa Cup of Nations (from here on out abbreviated as AFCON) since their stunning 1995 triumph on home soil (that other, and arguably more important, post-Apartheid sporting success). Matches will be played in Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Nelspruit, and – a place near and dear to the hearts of American soccer fans – Rustenburg.

With the likes of Cameroon, Senegal, and Egypt home watching, this year’s field features several surprise qualifiers and a pretty wide open race to the final (along with a distinct lack of sweatpant-clad coaches). Here’s a rundown of who’s who in the 16-team field:

Group A:

South Africa

How they got here: As hosts, Bafana Bafana earned an automatic berth. Without AFCON qualifiers on their calendar, South Africa put together a so-so 2012, scoring just 10 goals in 12 games. After a run of six draws to start the year, they alternated wins and losses, with respectable 1-0 losses against Brazil, Poland, and Zambia.

Who to watch for: Siphiwe Tshabalala. The wonderfully-named Kaizer Chiefs midfielder has been the subject of some transfer rumors this month and could play himself into a new gig with a good showing. If South Africa’s attack is to avoid the kind of dry spells that plagued it last year, they’ll need the World Cup veteran to add some life in the middle and out wide.

How they’ll finish: Bafana Bafana should have enough to make through a manageable Group A, but with question marks at both ends of the field, an early exit from the knockout rounds seems likely. With that being said, home field advantage and a favorable quarterfinal draw could mean a deeper run.

Cape Verde

How they got here: The Cinderella story of qualification, Cape Verde pulled off a shocking 3-2 aggregate win over Cameroon to earn their first trip to a major international tournament. Recent results also include a narrow loss to Ghana and a goalless draw with Nigeria in the run up to this tournament.

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The Weekend: AFCON & EPL

Chelsea vs. Arsenal a good one on the British Isles.

Down south however, the most underrated soccer tourney in the world kick’s off. The African Cup of Nations. (Team by team previews and players to watch for here.)

Does this man hold the key for the Black Stars this year? Kwadwo Asamoah, playing out of position at leftback for Ghana

Does this man hold the key for the Black Stars this year? Kwadwo Asamoah, playing out of position at LB for Ghana

Talking Brek Shea With The Stoke City Potters

Brek Shea, here for the USMNT....(photo credit: Matt Mathai)

Brek Shea, here for the USMNT….(photo credit: Matt Mathai)

(Report: Via Taylor Twellman on Twitter, FC Dallas and Stoke City are near completion on a transfer deal for Texan Brek Shea valued at somwhere around $3.5M)

Welcome to the Jurgen Klinsmann England football factory.

We’ve written it in this space before, but it was Klinsmann who was instrumental in getting Geoff Cameron to Stoke City. It was also Klinsmann–we theorize–who called in the Cameron favor on Maurice Edu so the US central midfielder kept his value up in the wake of the Rangers debacle in Scotland.

Now?

Brek Shea welcome to the Potters. It’s really an ideal situation for the US forward who has suffered–it says here–more from herky-jerky coaching than a lack of development. Sure Shea had to grow at times over the past two seasons, but as Fox writer Leander  Schaerlaeckens points out on Twitter, “Every single player that has ever spoken his mind to Schellas Hyndman was gone within 6 months.”

Shea will join a Stoke City team that tends to keep its wingers pinned back allowing ample space on the flanks. That said, the central midfield of the Potters is typically more concerned with defensive integrity rather than on-the-floor table setting.

Shea should get ample one-vs-one opportunities

More:

Get Him The Damn Ball: The Brek Shea Story by Alex Olshansky

An analysis of how Brek Shea’s troubling 2012 season was more about how and where he was played.

MLS 2013 Draft & Transfer Tracker

The Irish need some love today. Dillon Powers.

The Irish need some love today. Dillon Powers.


The MLS Draft goes down today in Indianapolis. (Despite the billing, this is not a SuperDraft. You tell me Falcao is available today, I’ll change my mind.)
But it’s the player movement around this shapes the team a little bit more.

The news–graded by TSG–in the past week:

» B+: Mike Fucito to the San Jose Earthquakes for the 34th pick today.

» B: Jeff Larentowicz to the Chicago Fire.

» C-: Real Salt Lake re-sign Javy Morales to be their #10 pulling the strings.

» A: Rich Balchan in camp for the Chicago Fire after battling injuries the past two years in Columbus.

» TBD: The New England Revs trade-up to the 1st pick in the draft.

» A+: Robbie Keane re-signs a multiyear deal in Los Angeles

» B+: Juninho earns a permanent transfer to the Los Angeles Galaxy.

» C: Robbie Findley re-signs in Real Salt Lake after having his contract terminated by Nottingham Forest

» A-: Chilean winger Kevin Harbottle signs with the Colorado Rapids.

» B: Joel Lindpere is traded to the Chicago Fire from the Red Bulls for an international slot.

» A+: The Chicago Fire loan Alvaro Fernandez out to a Qatari league club.

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