Archive for January, 2013

Stu Holden Back On The Attack For Bolton

stu_holden

Holden out hope for 2014…

Seventeen minutes of FA Cup action.

And Stu Holden came through unscathed. For a fan base who has witnessed “delivers to the promised land” get cut down over the years–Charlie Davies, John O’Brien–Holden back on the pitch and with time to build his fitness, experience and resume in advance of World Cup 2014 is terrific. It seemed like just yesterday TSG was calling for Holden to get more senior time…under Bob Bradley that is (August 3, 2009).

Note: John O’Brien turns 35 this year. He likely would have been just winding down his career. Amazing…

500 Days Out: 23 USMNT Boarding Passes for World Cup 2014

Rio here we come!

Rio here we come!

by TSG staff

Welcome to 2013! Ready for 2014?

We are a few whiskers over 500 days away from finding out whether US’s central defense is ship-shape, though we may never get there because this is one hellacious qualifying campaign. Yes, qualifying this year will be more volatile than Facebook’s post-IPO stock price during a Long Term Capital crisis.

Last week, TSG took to our Proof Labs to meticulously cull dumpsters full of data to come up with “January 2013: Jurgen Klinsmann’s Depth Chart,” a 5,000 word must-read missive designed to completely explore the possibilities of the US roster come World Cup Qualifying and beyond.

This week? No such luck.

We’re bringing back one of the most popular columns here: “World Cup 201x Boarding Passes.” It’s 2014 of course, at least Dan Flynn and Sunil Gulati are praying it will be.

There’s been massive change over in our personnel here since we last spoke in 2010.

We’ve swapped out Air Bradley One for Air Jurgen One and my how plush the interior of this flying hotel is. Landon Donovan is still around or so we think. Ricardo Clark is not.

Well, let’s get to boarding.

Here is our very first installment for 2014. We’re early this year…amazing.

Please note, all tickets are completely refundable and subject to restrictions. The standby list is currently looking pretty good too.

We’ll board The Crew and Gold Club Elite Members now, sitting in First Class. Please proceed down the jetway:

First Class:

This way!

This way!

Jurgen Klinsmann: Well of course you knew Jurgen Klinsmann (COTUS) would get an extra 15 minutes on the airliner before anyone.

Four pieces of luggage already down below and now five carry-ons–one that appears to be … moving? — four hair dryers, three mobile phones, two passports, and SURPRISE one …Jose Torres? Yes indeed that bag was moving.

Torres escapes the duffle for a second as Klinsmann stuffs his head back in. Torres is no good at defense as we know.

Torres, muffled, “Agua.”

Klinsmann, welling up with … something, to the flight attendant, “I just … I just couldn’t bare for him to be left back.”

Wait just a second, Klinsy. Didn’t you once say, “Anybody can play leftback?”

Thank you. Thank you. We’re just getting started here.

Klinmann hefts the bag up into the overhead space as Torres continues to scratch at the zipper, saying over and over again, “Not de plane. Not de plane.”

Martin Vasquez: Vasquez takes his seat right next to COTUS. He’s got an Etch-a-Sketch, a copy of Inverting the Pyramid and the new app from Bleacher Report for his Windows smartphone. The USMNT Smithers feels he’s prepared.

Wait… no one’s told him yet?

Caleb Porter is joining for the trip in the same role he had for the U-23’s. No-so-innocent bystander. Ouch. Just remember Caleb, they’ve got chainsaws with freaking laser beams up in P-Town.

TSG has been impressed thus far with The Porter–can we make that his official nickname?–up in PDX–both beer and organizational moves.

FIRST CLASS:

At your service Mr. Jeremy ... Mr. Howard rather...

At your service Mr. Jeremy … Mr. Howard rather…

(1) Tim Howard: Howard ambles onto the plane. Immediately three vivacious and bodacious “flight attendants” in bikinis come bounding and bouncing towards him with what look like glorified feather dusters.

Apparently there’s a plane scene in Pulling the Brazilian Keeper, Volume II!

Oh c’mon the f off it, you’re a USMNT fan. You’re acting like you’ve never seen Tim Howard Keeper Porn. Tim Howard is gosh damn darn near the Ron Jeremy of Goalkeeper Porn.

May I remind you of this?! Or This?!!!

(BTW, in at least American lore, the Tim Howard “double head nod” is only slightly south of the Thierry Henry “shoulder shrug” and the Deuce “dumbfounded that foul wasn’t called stare” on the Official Soccer Gesture List.)

...

(2) Michael Bradley strides into first class, sits down, takes out his iPad and starts analyzing how to mark Ángelo Henríquez.

Must…be…prepared.

Bradley calls out to Klinsmann. He wants to know who he’s bunking with because last time in South Africa it was a 4am wake-up with Pops and two run throughs of P90x before hitting the gym before Maurice Edu and Jozy Altidore got home from the club.

Michael Bradley recently got a back tattoo with all the thing he wants to improve in his game. He’s crossing them off one by one in ink, not having them removed.

Respect.

Loddy Doddy, don’t pass to Totti…

(3) Clint Dempsey: Next up is Clint Dempsey looking a little bleary eyed from the birth of his fourth child. No matter, Deuce still has the flair. He plops down, puts up his Air Nagododos on the seat in front of him and reclines back to reveal a not-so-subtle t-shirt “I AM THE ARSENAL, FUCK THE EMIRATES!”

Clint carries a chip on his shoulder always. And don’t let Deuce’s stoic demeanor fool you, he cares.

This tale by Alecko Eskadarian on playing with Dempsey in a January camp is excellent.

Josh Gatt: In walks …. Josh Gatt and takes the first window seat in first class … to which Clint gets up and lets him know where his accommodations are. Gatt skillz? Yes and a Hardaway crossover to boot. Gatt respect? You’ve got to earn that at the big show, Speedy McMichigan.

(4) Hey, it’s Jozy Altidore!

Somewhere in Merseyside Jamie Carragher shits his pants as the guy next to him at the bar mutters without missing a beat “Just ‘Being Liverpool’ I guess.” Everyone laughs.

(5) Steve Cherundolo: Cherundolo’s up next. US Soccer called it in and did it up nice for Steve. He’s got a personalized seat pillow cushion with a gold-plated footrest that says “Wonderboy” on it. Cherundolo rests his right sneaker on it.

Kammarman has also gotten him a tote with a tub of metamucil and an EntertaintPak with plenty of $30 off his first hooker senior citizen discount for the ladies of Rio.

Dolo’s about to become The Mayor Below The Equator. Hey-O! Get some Steve!

(Quick add here, Steve Cherundolo is just about one of the nicest guys to interact with in the Mixed Zone after a game. He’s not going to give you much drama, but he always takes all the time in the world. Classy fella.)

(6) Geoff Cameron: Geoff Cameron trots on … singing some Stevie Wonder.

Okay we can dig it:

I’ve got something that I must tell
Last night we shutout the Red Devils.
And it was me and you, my Shawcross brother.

And when Van Persie was in the box
Jazzy Geoff stamped on his socks
It’s only dirty pool if you get caught,
Like you taught me…

My Shawcross brother.

Just like Aaron Ramsey. Oh yes…

My Shawcross brother.

Bum, bum nananana.

How many times did US fans wish they were Stevie Wonder watching the US central defense over the past 5 years. Cameron finally gives hope for …. Higher Ground.

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Primer: US Soccer Celebrity Pairings

By Jared DuBois and staff…

We’re gearing up for a drop of one of our most popular USMNT columns. So we thought we’d you in the mood with a little TMZ Rodius (Jared DuBois that is) style.

Question: What are some natural US soccer/MLS celebrity pairings? Justify it however you see fit.

ZUUUUSI....!

ZUUUUSI….!

Anna Kournikova and Graham Zuzi. Imagine the the fireworks when you put an Uzi with an AK.

How about the idea of a travel show coupling of Landon Donovan and Anthony Bourdain called “No Inclinations” they travel to distant remote corners of the Earth but Landon always gets home sick within a few weeks.

Lance Armstrong and Luis Saurez on the hunt to find the good guy for their Gillette Fusion commercial.

Adrian Peterson and Charlie Davies. One to heal quickly and have a record setting season, the other to promote the sh*t out of it and type “Believe” in every other tweet. It would be like ESPN’s version of the Odd Couple.

(Jared) I’d love to see an MLS coupling of my wife and Freddy Montero’s wife. He’ll I don’t even have to be involved. I can’t just sit in the corner with a small butt of a cigarette hanging from my lip as I slowly critique them with directorial phrases like “More Tender”.

Kris Boyd and Jillian Michaels together since she’s already used to dealing with the worlds Biggest Losers everyday.

"There's only one Dan Kennedy ... only one Dannnn Kennedy."

“There’s only one Dan Kennedy … only one Dannnn Kennedy.”

Lay-up: Sara Carbonero and Dan Kennedy. Dan Kennedy just got married, but at some point you have to think about your career, no?

Kennedy who could bounce on a trampoline in front of Klinsmann but the German wouldn’t see him immediately vaults into the rags and tabloids, creates a tete-a-tete with Iker and poof….Valencia transfer here we come. Klinsmann gushes like the second coming of Torres and on we go. Thank you…Sara!

Tom Cruise and Tobin Heath. Cruise has yet to sign his next 5-year contract with next Kidman or Holmes. Why Heath? She’s that not-quite-on-the-cusp of stardom player that proves that this isn’t some sort of celebrity marriage….in Cruise’s mind. Can you imagine the fireworks when Cruise tries to convert Heath to Scientology?! Oh where can Eddie Gaven be!

Where were we actually…

There may be no better way to get the NPSL off the ground then to have Tom Cruise bouncing up and down on a couch like a toddler on Oprah screaming, “I love women’s soccer.”

He’d be a…Maverick.

(We had nowhere to put this. Hopefully you’ve seen this remake of Destiny’s Child USWNT-style already….Morgan is Beyonce, right?)

I’d like the Emerald City Supporters–the Sounder’s fan group–to be the villian in the next James Bond movie. If they need a chief villian, they can choose our favorite Sounders fan of all time–Chappy Ascot. Don’t tell me that doesn’t play. It plays.

MLS 2013: A Technical Evaluation of Strength of Schedule

Screen shot 2013-01-13 at 11.13.01 PMSteve Fenn puts MLS’s 2013 schedule into the data blender

MLS has released the 2013 schedule, which is once again not balanced, and with further expansion coming soon probably never will be.

Every club will play each cross-conference opponent once. All Western clubs will play everyone else in their conference 3 times, and the East will play 2 intraconference opponents twice and face the rest 3 times.

Here’s a graphic layout of the entire schedule, with hosts on the left and visitors on top:

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…(click to enlarge)…

For (very cool) interactive graph, click here

Strength of Schedule

Given these imbalances, it is only natural to ask which teams gain advantage.

By linking opponent 2012 goal differential to every fixture, we can approximate strength of schedule pretty well. Across professional soccer leagues, goal differential has been proven to be a somewhat reliable predictor of the next season’s success or failure. Each individual match’s difficulty is tallied by dividing the opponent’s 2012 goal differential by 34 then adjusting for the average home field advantage in 2012 MLS (0.49 goals per game).

This strength of schedule figure is an approximation of how many goals each club should be favored by over the entire season based on their schedule alone. Like a betting line, negatives are good. Here is graph of 2012 goal differential vs 2013 strength of schedule:

...(click to enlarge)...

…(click to enlarge)…

For (very cool) interactive graph, click here

The West lines up perfectly with its best-fit line, the East is a bit jumbled.

Each Eastern club’s skew is driven by which two intraconference opponents they only face twice. Those above the line have it most difficult. Houston (orange) are the most hard done, facing Toronto and Philadelphia less than others, while Red Bull New York are the most fortunate, dodging 3rd matches against Sporting Kansas City and Chicago. Keep in mind that over the course of the season these differences in schedule strength are still quite small.

The worst-case scenario, though, would be the conferences becoming imbalanced. East and West were more-or-less equal in 2012, with goal differential of zero in interconference matches. However, when a season is unbalanced, that year’s Supporters Shield could deserve an asterisk, and the determination of the MLS Cup host might be questionable, too.

Monthly Schedule Strength

The month-to-month difficulty of this schedule should also be quite relevant to club expectations at various points of the season. To that end we have a graphical representation of the number of matches each club will play each month and the per-match difficulty of that month:

...(click to enlarge)...

…(click to enlarge)…

For (very cool) interactive graph, click here

The smallest squares are the easiest months, and the green months contain 3 or 4 matches, while the red have 5 or 6. March is clearly the easiest month in the schedules of Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Dallas. Don’t be surprised if these clubs’ records appear too good to be true on April Fools Day. If they struggle out of the gate, they may find it very difficult to catch up with the rest of the field in the West, though.

Additional Notes on the 2013 Schedule

Opportunity lost, again: MLS has yet to take full advantage of the slowest day of the sports year. Fans will have no other options on the day after the MLB All Star Game, July 17, but MLS’ only offering will be Toronto FC at Chivas USA on MLS Live. This is one weeknight that should feature a couple marquee matchups every year.

Steady match distribution: Of the 152 club-months, only 2.6% feature 6 matches, and 13.1% have only 3 matches. The US Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League will congest some clubs fixtures, but MLS has at least set a mostly even pace.

Staggered season finales: I went over this last season, but it bears repeating. The last week of the season should be synchronized for competitive balance. At least one of the teams playing on Sunday after their competitors are done will unfairly get to rest starters heading into the playoffs when they should be sweating the results.

Video: Klinsmann & The Village People – World Cup 1994

Need we say more. Well more than a tip of the hat…a vigorous handshake….to Scott McDowell for contributing!

Spanning The Weekend Soccer Globe: Whodinese?

Recommendations last weekend should have been up to your standards as, minus Crystal Palace v Stoke City’s 0-0 draw, you got matches with a ton of goals, with the best of the bunch entertainment-wise being Swansea City and Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with 3 goals in the last 10 minutes. The second full weekend of 2013 sees the return of Ligue 1 action with the Germans still on winter holiday. Let’s start in France, shall we?

(Also, I know there are a couple of big games going on in England on the 13th, but you won’t be getting anything here about either of those. You guys don’t need me to tell you to keep an eye on those, do you?)

FRANCE

Ligue 1's Michu?

Ligue 1’s Michu?

Who: Montpellier v Lorient

What: Ligue 1, Matchday 20

Where: Stade de la Mosson

When: January 12, 2:00pm ET

After the winter break in France, the second half of the season sees a three-way tussle at the top between the usual French suspects – PSG, Lyon, and Marseille. The three of them have pretty winnable matches against AC Ajaccio, Troyes, and Sochaux, respectively (of course they’ll all lose now) so we’ll dip just below to see a key match in the race for a European spot.

The middle of the Ligue 1 table is tight and only 6 points separates 4th place Rennes from 12th place Toulouse. Montpellier, in 11th, hosts Lorient who sits in 5th – just 1 point back from the Europa League. Christian Gourcuff, the father of Yoann (remember him?), has worked a bit of magic this season with Lorient and the club that finished just one point above being relegated are unbeaten in their last five. Lorient’s offense runs through Jérémie Aliadière who leads the club in both goals (7) and assists (6). The former Arsenal and Middlesbrough striker is beginning to settle in France, which he never quite seemed to do in England. Lorient, fortunately, remains relatively unscathed numbers wise with African Cup of Nations departures. Only two players will be heading to South Africa: Alain Traoré (Burkina Faso) and Alaixys Romao (Togo). On the flip side, these are two key players. Traoré is the second leading scorer and assist man on the squad behind Aliadière and Romao is a hard-tackling, ball-winning midfielder who brings the grit to the defensive side. How Gourcuff is able to adapt to the loss of these two players will go a long way in not only this match but for the next month. A troubling statistic for Lorient is their propensity to bleed goals on the road. In nine away matches, Lorient has allowed 16 goals, a worrisome number for a team trying to fight for Europe.

Montpellier, the champions of Ligue 1 last season, has not been able to quite find their form from a year ago which saw them to win their first league title. In their last league match before the break, Montpellier was thumped 4-1 at Lille and will be looking to start 2013 off better than 2012 ended. Gone from that side is Ligue 1’s Golden Boot winner Olivier Giroud, now at Arsenal, and no one player is looked at singularly to put the ball in the net. Souleymane Camara and Younès Belhanda both lead Montpellier with six goals each – about half of the club’s total goals scored come from these two. Belhanda will be away in South Africa representing Morocco so the burden will fall squarely on Camara to find the goals. However, with René Girard’s squad only conceding eight goals in their nine home matches, they may not need to score many to get a result. Joining Belhanda in South Africa will be his Moroccan teammate, defender Abdelhamid El Kaoutari. A win for Montpellier puts them right back in the hunt while a loss will all but end a repeat of playing those midweek European matches.

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Report: Juan Agudelo to Celtic

Agudelo

Agudelo

In a move that seem premeditated ever since he went on trial there, Sky Sports reporting this morning (and Juan Agudelo RT’ing their tweet) that US forward Juan Agudelo is set to make a move to Scottish top of the table expert Celtic.

With the management situation at Chivas USA always being dicey, a need to play frequently against physical competition and Celtic thinning their forward ranks through reps in the Champion’s League, this is an excellent opportunity for Agudelo to jump to Celtic and then springboard Eastward, if it in fact materializes.

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