Archive for January, 2013

The Exporting of Commercial American Football Talent

The ring-around-the-collar track needs to go.

The ring-around-the-collar track needs to go.

This by Joshua Boren. Bio in full below.

With the January transfer window here it seemed like an opportune time to revisit the discussion of American talent overseas. When it comes to the typical football transactions we see this time a year, it is still considered more rare than commonplace to expect Americans to be major contributors. It will not always be that way and continues to improve but, for the time being, those of us Stateside-football fans will have to depend on the likes of Clint Dempsey of Tottenham Hotspur and Michael Bradley of AS Roma to further the American cause.

But what if I was to tell you that is not necessarily the case when it comes to America and football? What if I could convince you there is an area in the football industry in which the US is a hotbed of talent for overseas clubs? Believe it or not, it is true. While the US may not yet be a major exporter of footballing talent on the pitch, our understanding of venue commercialization and revenue generation off the pitch is a highly-demanded commodity.

As the influx of new American and foreign owners (often of a younger generation than their predecessors) purchase clubs at far higher prices than those before them or with levels of debt and obligation beyond fathomable, the need to own and increase one’s own revenue streams becomes more critical to the success of a club. These revenues are generated by three key areas; broadcast, commercial and match-day revenues. As such, outside of broadcast income, the heart of the greatest source of revenue potential for a football club is driven by their home grounds – the stadium.

One needs to look no further than American football stadiums for a prototype as the NFL is a benchmark for how to drive revenue from these buildings; used less than 20 times per year on average.

Specifically, it is the VIP and Premium experience that is provided the most attention and for good reason. With these sources of revenue exempt from revenue sharing in the NFL (club seats, suites, concessions, etc.), those teams with new, state-of-the-art stadiums have a significant edge in profitability. These constraints led to innovative solutions in the design of stadia as teams sought to maximize these areas.

Given the overall success of the business model it was only a matter of time before it was imported and replicated by overseas clubs seeking new – and renovated – stadia. The most notable and easily recognizable example is that of Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal and opened in 2006.

Emirates, boasting American influence and design elements, became the model for UEFA and other European clubs seeking ways to maximize revenue and better the overall fan experience. Emirates has been hailed for its success and has highlighted another area where clubs could compete beyond the pitch in the ever-growing arms war that is football; stadia development and commercial rights.

The aspirations of the clubs have improved as well.

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January 2013: Jurgen Klinsmann’s Depth Chart

TSG goes diving again into the USMNT... something Klinsmann was very good at during his playing days...

TSG goes diving again into the USMNT… something Klinsmann was very good at during his playing days…

Wow, haven’t graphed out one of these charts in awhile.

What a difference a year makes. No, it hasn’t been that long, but a review of last year’s depth charts showed just how far in many cases–and not far in others–the USMNT has come under Klinsmann in his year and a quarter tenure.

For qualifications sake, this depth chart is an amalgamation how we expect Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff see the depth charts, interspersed with some selections from TSG. Hopefully it doesn’t make it confusing.

Doubt it. Let’s go.

THE DEFENSE

G: (1) Tim Howard, (2) Brad Guzan, (3) Nick Rimando

Peering in: Bill Hamid, Sean Johnson, Tally Hall

Once again, Batman & Robin between the posts for the USMNT...

Once again, Batman & Robin between the posts for the USMNT…

The skinny: For the first time since, since he was made king in 2007 there is a legitimate challenge to Tim Howard’s throne. Though that’s where the it ends…at the challenge stage, less the battle.

Howard has been somewhat pedestrian this year for Everton, while Brad Guzan is by any account the most in-form, uninjured keeper in the Premiership.

For Howard it’s been a case of maturation that seems to have bred some of his troubles.

The book on Howard is that he’s always been a fantastic keeper when facing a high volume of shots (USMNT and Everton fans know this very well), but his main foible was he was too aggressive coming off his line. Howard’s aggressive positioning has typically served him well for the States as the USMNT used to play on the counter and Howard would typically see a swarm of the opponent coming back at him.

As Howard has aged, he’s gotten a little bit more conservative about his line and that’s allowed him to make a few extra saves here and there, but it’s come at the tradeoff of Howard being even more tentative at commanding his box and coming out.

He’s allowed in a few more of “those Kuyt goals” (you know what I’m talking about) and he’s also had a little bit more difficulty on set pieces.

Guzan–who many thought was erring on the side of lunacy in re-upping with an Aston Villa club that had nary gave him a shot in the Premiership during his lengthy tenure there–is on course for most improved player in the Barclays.

He too has come up big this season in match after match–most notably and recently a stonewalling of Liverpool in early December–to see his Villains to victory at Anfield. (Let’s chalk up recent sha….lackings by Chelsea and Liverpool as 3-man-in-the-back-bonehead-move-mulligan.)

Guzan is working behind a newer, less mature but speedier backline at Villa. His leitenant ahead of him this year was thought to be veteran plodder Richard Dunne, instead it’s been young Cieran Clark who presides with fellow youngster Aussie Chris Herd–Eric Lichaj’s good friend–and Nathan Baker. All in their early 20’s.

Guzan by fan and teammate account has been the team’s MVP to date and his showing is starting to make USMNT fans confident that the royal lineage of US goalkeepers is in good stead.

And Guzan will come after Howard.

For Howard, 2014 is his World Cup. He’s the veteran and a cleat to the chest by Emile Heskey in Game 1 of World Cup 2010 ransacked him of being tip-top for the US stretch of games. Howard is the recognized leader on the pitch. He knows the competition and his veteran presence will be sorely needed to keep the defense disciplined.

Nick Rimando is the emergency keeper. Good with his feet and keeping the seat warm until Bill Hamid, Steve Clarke, Tally Hall or Sean Johnson shows they’re the real thing or until Jurgen Klinsmann gives a player like Dan Kennedy a shot.

This pairing is retired.

This pairing is retired.

Centerbacks:

LCB: (1) Carlos Bocanegra, (2*) Geoff Cameron*, (3) Matt Besler, (4) Michael Orozco-Fiscal

RCB: (1) Geoff Cameron, (2) Clarence Goodson (3) Omar Gonzalez

Peering in: Oguchi Onyewu, Maurice Edu, Seb Hines, John Anthony Brooks, Tim Ream, Austin Berry

The skinny: The US’s muddled centerback position is just like an onion. It’s full of many layers of intrigue and the more issues you peel back the more it makes you cry.

As with his predecessor Bob Bradley–who was so flummoxed in his selection process that he choose a not-fully-healed Oguchi Onyewu to start to World Cup group stage games in 2010–Jurgen Klinsmann has some serious work and contemplation to do here.

The head domino...

The head domino…

It starts with Carlos Bocanegra and the US situation would be solved if the States could turn back the clock on Bocanegra by about five years. The veteran keeps himself in shape, is aggressive in the box on both sides, and–perhaps his best, but least-cited trait–knows when to inflict a foul to disrupt tempo or send a message.

No one–no one–uses fouls as wisely as Bocanegra.

That said, as the mileage piles on, the captain’s lack of speed and challenges with the ball at his feet, in possession or clearance, has made him a near-liability. Why near? Bocanegra’s still smart enough to outfox B-level strikers, many of whom the US will face during qualifying. It’s his resume against slick moving players (Dos Santos, Ruiz) that leaves him wanting.

The parallels to Dutchman Johnny Heitinga are precise.

The US needs to replace Bocanegra; the changes and data of the global game beg that.

Where once the centerback position was dominated by more mature players who stayed at home for the entire game and owned their tuft of land and that was that, now centerbacks are tasked with a lot more as more and more teams are attempting to challenge for the ball on defense up the field and as more teams have went to pushing more players forward, 4-3-3.

Centerbacks must initiate attacks, must occasionally support the flanks–as a CDM drops deep–and have to cover more ground behind them when defending the counter–especially in Klinsmann’s desired system. It’s no wonder that the average age of a centerback at Euro 2012 was one year less than that of a central midfielder and no centerback at Euro 2012 was as old as Bocanegra will be in 2014.

Lump in that Bocanegra once impeccable record in the air is starting to creak by strikers with size–Asamoah Gyan for example–and the US is facing a situation where there most experienced and perhaps smartest player is a liability.

It doesn’t end there.

Bocanegra’s selection, or lack thereof, has a ripple effect in the back–and its likely why you see Clarence Goodson still being mercilessly trotted out.

Through some excellent camera work by ESPN during the USA-Jamaica game in Columbus back in October, Bocanegra could be seen loudly telling his backcourt mate Geoff Cameron to “Settle down, Geoff.”

Cameron is a right fullback now at Stoke City and Klinsmann should count his lucky stars that Dom Kinnear in Houston at least gave him observations of Cameron at centerback.

Head of the class now...

Head of the class now…

Cameron has been well to above average by just about any standard playing in the middle of defense for the US. His angles are mostly solid, his footwork good and his ability to turn upfield with the ball without hoofing excellent and keenly valued.

However, what Cameron lacks and what he won’t get now that he’s at rightback for Stoke is experience in the middle, specifically an education in calling his line.

It’s a big task to ask Cameron in the next year and a half to come up to that level and it’s why Tim Howard in the back–if Bocanegra is sacrificed–is so vital as well. Cameron is just not that guy. He’s your “chaseback,” your Cannavaro cliche. He’s needed for other things.

The CB who Klinsmann is looking for is the oak tree, the Oguchi Onyewu to pair with Cameron and he’s got 500 days to find it.

Clarence Goodson seems to be the first reliever these days–only he’s awful at keeping a line himself and has battles with concentration and confidence. With Goodson’s reps against better competition, it’s easy to see why Bob Bradley kept him on the bench in South Africa two years ago despite Gooch’s bad wheel.

The two best US hope for a pairing with Cameron are Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez and recent commentary by Klinsmann has his begging for Gonzalez to show himself as that player.

Looking forward to 2014?

Looking forward to 2014?

Besler is a terrific organizer and he plays the back line a little bit like Chris Paul plays point guard. He covers for his teammates, instructs them on where to go as his first order of defense while make the play himself as a secondary order.

He’s also comfortable playing on the left–unlike Goodson or Gonzalez.

Why is this important? The US typically plays a two-man game up the right or works the ball through the central midfielders to the left.

Most of the time, the US leftback–through design or ability–is tasked with remaining at home. Keeping Cameron on the right–as Bocanegra allows him to do currently–puts Cameron on his strongest foot to manage possession and ignite attacks. It’s a subtle, but still key point.

Beyond Besler, Gonzalez is the next hope for a vintage Cameron pairing, but he absolutely must improve him organizational and positioning skills to challenge. It was both a compliment and a challenge that Jurgen Klinsmann singled out his selection of Gonzalez coming into January camp. A compliment in that he needs Gonzalez’s unparalleled-in-the-pool aerial strength and line anchoring desperately. Its’ Gonzalez or bust (Goodson?).

If you’re Gonzo, your time is now. Like, right now. It’s going to take a full year if Boca is going to be replaced. So the understudy better be ready now with reps to gel. Not reps to get ready.

A return to form sees George John in the fold as could a return to form of Oguchi Onyewu who just doesn’t seem to have the same defensive prowess after his knee surgery. You just can’t count out Onyewu if he starts humming. 2014 could be his 3rd World Cup starting in Game 1 and nobody beats him in the air.

John Anthony Brooks. If you’re looking for any player to sparking out of the woodwork for World Cup 2014, it’s Brooks, alas he’s not that backline communicator either.

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Report: Graham Zusi On Full Trial At West Ham

Eurothrashin'

Eurothrashin’

Greg Seltzer is just about right every time.

So you know when he puts up a mini-post, just to drop a morsel that it’s good and likely accurate.

The scoop: Graham Zusi on a full trial at West Ham United….

… and Seltzer thinks it’s more than just “training” there for Juan Agudelo as well.

Discuss: Klinsmann’s January Camp Roster

Well done, Benny!

Last try, Benny!

Feilhaber with another lifeline.

Wondolowski with one more run.

The sweet left foot of Brad Davis.

GOALKEEPERS (3): Tally Hall (Houston Dynamo), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire)

DEFENDERS (9): Steven Beitashour (San Jose Earthquakes), Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), A.J. DeLaGarza (LA Galaxy), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Connor Lade (New York Red Bulls), Alfredo Morales (Hertha Berlin), Justin Morrow (San Jose Earthquakes), Jeff Parke (Philadelphia Union)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (out of contract), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Joshua Gatt (Molde), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

FORWARDS (5): Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA), Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo), Edson Buddle (Colorado Rapids), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Spanning The Weekend Soccer Globe: January 2013, Week 1

by Roma FC & coffee bean expert Eric Giardini

With a new year, we’ve decided to bring a new feature bring back an old one. While it’s easy to know which matches are going on in the Premier League each week, it can be difficult to know what other matches are going on around the continent (for now) and around the world. That’s where I step in – to be your guide and shed some light on these other matches.

Unfortunately, I’ve picked a slow week with many leagues either on winter break (Germany, France, Netherlands) or playing Cup matches. That being said, let’s start in England.

Liam Neeson, Cystal Palace Super Fan

Liam Neeson, Cystal Palace Super Fan

England

Who: Crystal Palace v Stoke City

What: FA Cup, Third Round

Where: Selhurst Park

When: January 5, 10:00am ET

Low Down: While there are a few other Championship sides hosting their EPL “betters” in Third Round FA Cup action, this one could very well be the one with the biggest chance of an upset. Will Stoke City get …. Taken? (Yeah, I know).

Crystal Palace has been the surprise team of the season as it enters this weekend in 3rd place in the Championship trailing only Cardiff City and Hull City. They’ve turned Selhurst Park into a fortress (cliché alert) by losing only once in 13 matches – with that loss coming on the first match day of the season on August 18. Since then they are unbeaten and have scored a league best 33 goals at home and 16 conceded. The Eagles rely heavily on striker Glenn Murray who has scored a ridiculous 22 goals in 22 matches, which, coincidentally also leads the league in scoring. The other player to watch out for is Wilfred Zaha. Zaha, who made his full England debut in November against Sweden, has been a heavily sought after player this transfer window with Manchester United and Arsenal fighting it out for his services.

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Op-Ed: It Matters

—-

A month ago–during MLS Cup weekend–I had the chance to attend TedXSan Diego. If you’re not familiar with the TedX conference series, they are participatory events intended to stimulate “ideas worth spreading.” The event was made more special to me because my brother is one of the organizers.

Emerzian

Emerzian

The first speaker was a mid-30’s-year-old guy named Matt Emerzian. Emerzian talked about how he went through a metamorphosis at the height of his business success. He had collapsed into a panic attack one Sunday evening and, through a few different turns, that panic attack led to therapy-through-charity.

A prescription for volunteering and responsibility.

Matt gave up a frivilous lifestyle in search of a life of purpose, purpose through social change.

Emerzian came up with a concept called Every Monday Matters and, rather than paraphrase what it is, I’m going to lift a passage from an interview where he defined its bedrock:

At the core of Every Monday Matters is a burning desire to help everyone understand that they matter. I think that every single person on the face of the earth has questioned his or her purpose. Why am I here? Why does it matter? Am I significant? This is life’s greatest challenge, and our biggest question. People are powerful–much more powerful than they think they are and their actions matter.

Matt challenged the audience, each of us to not only share in social change and responsibility, but also with a specific task.

That task was to don a EMM bracelet when we exited and give it to someone.. in need.. in some way, to reinforce how important they were and let them know they could do something about their situation. A double pay-it-forward effect so to speak.

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Wil Trapp: One ‘Bus Leads Home

“When I think of MLS, it’s just kinda like…. I mean personally? … It’s the Crew because I’m from Columbus and that’s the team that we have here.” – Wil Trapp

Homecoming...

Homecoming…

………..

This piece conceived and executed by John Nyen, Portland, OR

This moment should cascade over you, gentle reader.

Bathe in the recognition of it.

This column isn’t about that garden variety 30-, 40-, 50- or 60-year-old soccer crowd who went through indoor leagues, APSL, and the relatively barren landscape of soccer in North America post NASL and pre ‘94 World Cup.

This moment is about the youth of Canada and the United States, in and out of MLS markets, who have almost an unconscious association of Team and Town when it comes to soccer. There may not be king-sized blankets of rolling support yet, but the league is beyond mere pockets of it.

This unconscious association of Columbus to Crew and Kansas City to Sporting will do more for MLS and this sport in this geographical area than any number of crazy innovations or player signings.

Born January 15th, 1993, Wil Trapp is part of a new generation of young North American soccer player and fan.

At 19 years old, there is no point in Wil’s memory where MLS doesn’t exist.

It simply does exist, as it always has existed to him and his local team has always played in and around Columbus. From three years old to now, Wil can say that the Columbus Crew has been his team. He didn’t have to resort to scanning the dial for Saturday morning games broadcast with awkward accents and bloody-confusing phrases or flipping through channels with voluptuous women speaking Spanish for matches on confetti-strewn fields.

On December 13th 2012, Trapp signed a homegrown player contract with Columbus Crew after two years at the University of Akron and four as a pupil in the Columbus Crew academy. The Lincoln High School product heads into the 2013 season a professional soccer player, fulfilling a dream of his in more than one category. Not only does he get paid to play sports, but as well…. Wil signed a contract for the team that he has watched and loved growing up.

That wasn’t possible if Ronald Reagan was ever your president.

Wil bleeds yellow, and when he dons the Crew kit he’s bringing not only his new found professionalism but 19 years of ingrained passion. Wil is a Columbus Crew fan because he grew up in a suburb of Columbus, a town called Gahanna, which is about 15 minutes from Crew stadium.

Head down the 317, onto the onramp at the 670-270 exchange, and West to I-71 North. Done.

Now, Will Trapp’s unique perspective.

………..

Nyen, TSG: “Do you know when your first Columbus game was?”

Trapp: “I mean I can’t remember, like obviously, the specific game… I wanna say it was probably 96, 97?”

Nyen, TSG: “So you were right there at the beginning?”

Trapp: “Yeah, three or four years old.”

Nyen, TSG: “Your grandfather was a semi-pro player?”

Trapp: “Yeah, he’s Greek, he was born in Greece , he came over and just played in.…. I’m not sure how to put it exactly, but the Germans had a team, the English had a team, all the immigrants had their own international league”

………

It becomes cliché to say that certain people are born into soccer, within North America. It is almost a way of dismissing the impact of a person in the United States choosing to love soccer over football or baseball; or a person in Canada loving Dwayne De Rosario over Sidney Crosby.

When people can’t explain why they picked soccer over American football, baseball or hockey, the given reason must be their parents or their peers were soccer players.

Now, this isn’t necessarily false.

However, as with the eternal nature versus nurture debate there is the argument that it takes both sides to create a person and their interests. It isn’t just the people who shape you but as well the location and time in which you grow up. The specifics that surround that for the current young soccer player and fan are far different than they were even 20 years ago.

Perhaps it is just as simple as how passion is transferred, sometimes through a mentor, a father or mother or sibling, but often passion gets passed to you through the simple process of absorption with those environments around you. Within this latter theory, the very fact that professional soccer at the top level within North America exists allows it to grow (slowly) within each continuing generation of North American’s that continues to be born around the time of the start of the league and afterwards.

crew

………..

Nyen, TSG: “Is this (soccer) something that has existed within your family life? I mean, do your mom and dad watch the game?”

Trapp: “It was never, like I mean with my grandfather obviously it was big but with my parents not really. My mom didn’t play and my dad played recreational. So I mean he didn’t, he wasn’t too into it. He played football and basketball in high school.”

Nyen, TSG: “You attend a game when you’re three years old, did you go semi-frequently… like every once in a while? Would your parents take you? When’s the first game that you can remember going?”

Trapp: “I mean, it was probably when they really built the new stadium, and it was around 2001, 2002? And we had season tickets and we would go. Those were like the games that I really remember, being there… knowing the players and the field.”

Nyen, TSG: “Did you ever do the Nordecke, did you ever actually get into a supporters group?… I mean it seems that at your age you probably didn’t have a chance.”

Trapp: “Yeah….. no… I was a little too young for that. But I mean our season tickets were kinda like the opposite of them, on the same side but the opposite corner basically. We were pretty close and could experience it a little bit, the chants.”

………

Soccer (sport in general) survives on the passing of tradition and stories from generation to generation. Specifically soccer’s different team traditions survive, thrive and spread because of that tradition.

When you talk about the singing of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at Liverpool, there is a shared cultural tradition that has been passed down since the early 1960’s. When you talk about the singing of “You Are My Sunshine” at Portland Timbers games we are talking about a tradition that has been passed down since 2004. While seemingly young in age, this tradition and other moments of interpersonal cultural sharing are what help coagulate support and drive the connection between fans, team and individual players.

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