Archive for February, 2013

TSG’s 2013 MLS Preseason Prediction Preview (Part II of II)

Are you still paying attention! Part II is a bad choice!

Are you still paying attention! Part II is a bad choice!

Are you still paying attention?

Recovered from Wells Thompson dating your sister yet?

We forge on. In search of truth, hope, and something, anything interesting to say.

(If you missed Part I yesterday, look no further.)

Best American in MLS

Gonzalez was once a pirate like Jonas from Tyneside.

Gonzalez was once a pirate like Jonas from Tyneside.

Jay Bell: Omar Gonzalez. The emerging USMNT-er is a beast in the air and on set-pieces. Without Beckham, he may not be as huge of a factor on free kicks, but he’s still a prime candidate to head overseas soon.

Biggerstaff: Chris Wondolowski. Well, Chris Wondolowski is the best MLS player, and he is American, so he wins. Kevin Durr is the best American, and currently an MLS player, so he gets second.

J Rodius: Chris Pontius. By the end of 2013 I think we’ll be talking about Chris Pontius as a key player for the 2014 World Cup.

Parchman: Landon Donovan. This is like asking me to pick between a sugared beet and an elaborately prepared red velvet cake that’s suddenly gone missing. I’LL STILL TAKE THE CAKE, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

Runner-up: Brad Davis

Matt, TSG: Think about how tough this answer is right now with no Donovan. Where once Donovan reined supreme, now it’s not quite clear. Eddie Johnson is still the most talented, but can’t put it all completely together. You’ve got Zusi, Besler, Beckerman, DeMerit, Gonzalez, Kennedy, and Wondolowski in the greater discussion.

How did I think about this one? I’m drafting a team of only MLSers for the right to the wild card slot (that doesn’t exist) at the 2013 Confederation’s Cup. My foil, John Harkes, is drafting for the other side. Wait, that too easy. My foil is Bruce Arena. Who’s my very first pick from MLS?

I think by this criteria I take Chris Pontius.

All that said, goals win games and Chris Wondolowski scores goals. Can he replicate it in Klinsmann’s system on the international stage? No, but that’s not the question.

Chris Wondolowski.

Most Anti-American MLS player?

Grossi: Terry Dunfield. Sticking with the local, Terry Dunfield is everything that America prides itself on. He is tenacious, hard-working, bleeds for the cause, and doesn’t know the meaning of, nor stomach the taste of, defeat. Sounds like the perfect all-American, right? Well first off, he is thoroughly Canadian, which always raises the ire south of the border, and secondly, he doesn’t take himself too seriously. His formative time in England has given him an extremely relaxed demeanor and off-pitch personality that doesn’t quite scream professional workhorse – he’s more just one of the lads.

If American soccer can be guilty of anything, it is not finding the joy in the game that other nations thrive on. Terry combines all those skills that define the American player, with a passion that few can rival, all with a smile in his heart.

Thatmy friends, is Canadian.

Jay Bell: Torsten Frings. Duh. (Editor’s note: Torsten Frings regrettably retired today, about 11 years too late by our count.)

J RodiusShalrie Joseph. As in, UnAmerican? Or as in hates Americans? When I think of America I think of capitalism. When I think of capitalism I think of greed. When I think of greed I think of Wall Street. When I think of Wall Street I think of Charlie Sheen. When I think of Charlie Sheen I think of Winning. So if Winning is American then Shalrie Joseph is the most un-American player in the league. That dude ain’t won shit!

Parchman: Boniek Garcia. Because he knows how to do cool things with a soccer ball at his feet. ZING.

Runner-up: Marvin Chavez

Matt, TSG: Joia Plata. Robbie Findley …. wait for it … Plata likes to possess the ball, make sharp runs in the attacking third and is a single Junior Mint taller than Omar Gonzalez’s knee cap. If that isn’t un-American, I don’t know what is.

Biggerstaff: Non-alliteration on Chivas USA. My guess is when the season starts, anyone on the Chivas USA roster whose name doesn’t rhyme with man extremity will qualify here.

Player who should have been a goalie?

Goalie?

Goalie?

Biggerstaff: Eddie Gaven. I’d say Mike Magee, but he is top dolla cash money in the playoffs, so maybe Eddie Gaven? He grows weird beards, looks like he has good range and needs to go bald to be Friedel’s understudy.

Jay Bell: Rafa Marquez. Who would try to score when you could kick the ball as hard as you can at him??? I don’t care if he’s not in MLS anymore, he still deserves to be made fun of.

Parchman: Mike Magee. The mini mite!

Runner up: Connor Lade (mini mite the sequel!)

Matt, TSG: Steven Lenhart. Sometimes I think he legitimately would prefer to hand the ball than bring it down with his chest or shoulder.

Best Player in MLS from Africa with the exception of Nigeria?

Parchman: Steve Zakuani. Don’t dispute me. Even on one leg. I vote on potential and the assumption that Brian Mullan does not exist as a person. So there you go.

Runner up: Sanna Nyassi

Jay Bell: Dominic Oduro. He may still blast a few into orbit, but with Federico Fernando Higuaín and company behind him, he should get plenty of opportunities.

J Rodius: Darlington Nagbe. Forget the fact that his game is the type that should flourish under Porter. More importantly, Liberia is in Africa, right?

Grossi: Gershon Koffie. Vancouver’s Ghanaian-born Koffie is the best African player in the league, no contest. After an impressive first campaign, he grew into his defensive role last year and added those surging runs from deep that can be so devastating.

At only 21, should his progress continue on this path, he will only grace this league for another season or two.

Runner-up: Sanna Nyassi

Matt, TSG: Gale Agbossoumonde. Look, I really just wanted to fit the Bossman in this preview. The Togo-born defender might finally get out from under the weight of his hideous Traffic contract and become the player everyone once expected. He can learn from no one better than Ryan Nelson.

Runner-up: Gershon Koffie, Patrick Nyarko

Wildcard: Charles Eloundou — Look out for this kid. 18-year-old Cameroonian for the Rapids who wears #99. I like it already.

Biggerstaff: Kei Kamara. He is an MLS player on loan in the EPL. Yeah, since when does that happen outside of LA’s golden boys? Uh, never. In the MLS, Bakary Soumare, assuming he can get back to his previous form. Dude is a beast and will challenge for MLS defender of the year.

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MLS Preview Video: Weaponized

Jay Bell’s third and final in his preseason hype series

*Note: TSG MLS Fantasy League shortly on way.

 

TSG’s 2013 MLS Preseason Prediction Preview (Part I of II)

And away we go again….!

The TSG preseason gang is back. Prepare to escalate quickly!

The TSG preseason gang is back. Prepare to escalate quickly!

Welcome back folks to the most incorrect–politically, figuratively, quantitatively, qualitatively–MLS preview series out there. We’ve got everything you want…except the soulful cooing of a jazz flute with an anchorman hopscotching tables.

That’s next year.

But for three years running, the Crew in Columbus TSG crew has failed to dazzle you with even an iota of accurate analysis of the upcoming MLS season. Yet, you keep coming back, don’t you?

Two wrongs, in fact, do make a right.

So we’re back.

Let’s get right to rounding out our MLS debate table….we start with Chivas USA at the bottom. Thanks, I’ll be heard all season.

First here are the players/debaters:

Jay Bell. He was once a burgeoning soccer writer who has instead regressed into commenting exclusively on Arkansas football on Twitter. He’s a handsom man who takes too much guffaw from the corporate suits here at TSG and might just one day go postal. He’s of course Jay Bell and the pleasure is all his and the headache all ours in having him.

Matt Biggerstaff. Matt Biggerstaff is the target forward of this crew as he plays one for our local SF Black Sox. In true target man form, Biggerstaff accepts jabs and insults, but keeps on coming. He’s been kicked in the ankles (every game), clamped down on his shoulder, sucker-punched in the head (true) and had his bag stolen while playing on the pitch (true, just last week). So he’s used to a beatdown. Just bet on the opposite of his picks below. Welcome back Matt, there’s thumbtacks on your seat.

(Biggerstaff Response: I’m lovely, thanks for asking. I’m writing about America for Football.com of late. Shout out to /r/mls.)

James Grossi. Our first newcomer this year hails from the Land Where Ryan Nelsen Would Be King. Grossi is a contributor to The Shin Guardian, SB Nation’s Waking the Red, and The Blizzard in addition to his regular site Partially Obstructed View. Sitting at an American dominated roundtable, we’ll call Grossi the Undertaker of the crew as he seeks to survive this un-royal rumble. Please, no Honduras jokes. Oh wait, they work on Americans too.

Will Parchman. Our second newcomer. The wacko from Waco. TSG’s “Dear Diary” Man. If there was no Butler basketball, this man would have no job. In short, he’s US soccer media’s Jay DeMerit–he’s going to need to cut his teeth covering the fourth division in England before he gets anywhere. Welcome Will. Plate of spaghetti for you.

You can find Parchman tinkling the laptop ivories over at No Short Corners and here at TSG.

Jared DuBois. The TSG vet presiding over matter here in his third preseason preview. DuBois co-hosts The Best Soccer Show, self-titled of course. Jared needs no further intro around these parts. He’s legendary, not least for calling Charlie Davies his Winnie Cooper.

And pulling up the rear, yours truly.

Let’s get this short bus rollicking! We start with…

Regular season king? (But what will it mean?)

Regular season king? (But what will it mean?)

Supporters Shield

Biggerstaff: Sporting Kansas City. This prediction is based on the fact that Feilhaber wants to prove that he doesn’t actually suck, but even so, the moves they made in the off-season helped them get better. I think they will struggle with all the competitions they are in, but the West will beat itself up, they will dominate at home, and Kansas City will finally get a team that can call itself a (sorta) champion.

Runner-up: New York Red Bulls … because seeing them almost win silverware is almost as fun as your team winning it.

Jay Bell: Real Salt Lake

Supporter’s Shield winners in MLS always have a combination of continuity and perseverance through the ups and downs of the long season. RSL was wheeling and dealing this offseason, but most of the stars are still in place and they’re trusting the young guns, we’re looking at you Luis Gil. I give RSL the nod over Sporting Kansas City, Houston and San Jose because the other three compete in the current and/or next installments of the CONCACAF Champions League.

Matt, TSG: Who Cares? (DC United)

I have bowling trophies from junior high school that are made out of plastic and faux marble that are worth more at the end of November. Is that a problem for the league? No, not really.  Most points on the PSATS come October? DC United, because I think Ben Olsen and company care about these things.

Runner-up: Houston Dynamo. Best attacking team Dom Kinnear has in awhile. Finally spent some AEG money.

Parchman: Sporting Kansas City.

I’ll admit, the EPL knocked a few pegs from underneath a team I had pigeonholed as the league’s best back in December. No Roger, no Kei. I still have faith in Peter Vermes and crew (whadda draft), enough so that I think they’ll mow through a down Western Conference and then do enough in the East to hold off the dogs. Who else are you picking? NYRB? DC? I scoff. Scoff with an intensity that rumbles all the way to Landon Donovan’s secret underground bunker.

CJ Sapong is going to score all of the goals.

In the entire league.

A seasoned Justin Morrow  will have San Jose up the top'o'the table come October.

A seasoned Justin Morrow will have San Jose up the top’o’the table come October.

J Rodius: San Jose Earthquakes.

Literally you could pick a team out of a hat this year. All the big boys have lost big pieces, Beckham, Montero, Espindolave, Espinoza. The only name you are left with is the same one that seemed oh so unlikely last year as well. San Jose. You just have to wonder if this is the year Wondo drops off, or if Lenhart let all of last year’s attention go to his hair. But until they prove otherwise, I’m willing to gobble the Goonies.

Grossi: San Jose Earthquakes.

The usual names apply here. Expect the usual slow start out of LA, while Seattle, Kansas City, and Salt Lake all have some pretty extensive roster turnover to smooth over before they get down to business. San Jose looks the side most likely to pick up where they left off last season – unless of course their penchant for scoring late has expired.

Runner-up: Houston Dynamo, who can never be discounted under Dom Kinnear.

Say it ain't so, J Rod!

Say it ain’t so, J Rod!

Most Overrated Player?

JRodius: Kenny Cooper. I know last year dude was dropping goals like Ryan Reynolds drops divorce paperwork, but he is gonna miss Henry’s touch.

Parchman: Eddie Johnson. EJ has done more than a few good things in Seattle. But (and I suppose this is kind of what Seattle fans do) his contributions have been blown up to almost Herculean proportions merely because he was so bad for so long in England. Yeah, he’s better now. And yeah, he still occasionally looks like that overconfident 10-year-old in your local pickup game who just (kinda) learned how to do step-overs. “Check out this raindrop guys!!!” *shot flies into a nearby pickup truck, EJ falls over.*

Runner-up: Alan Gordon (You heard me)

Grossi: Roger Torres. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great player, I recall him coming on for an early appearance in Toronto a few years ago, he lit up the field, but as Coach Hackworth stated in the preseason, it’s time for Roger to become a regular contributor, to turn that potential into reality.

Runner-up: Teal Bunbury,Darren Mattocks.

Jay Bell: Brad Davis. Whew, everyone is going to hate me for this one. Brad Davis. Three different national team coaches over eight years and people are still mad at USMNT coaches that Davis hasn’t become a more prominent international player. Maybe it’s Davis. He’s not overly fast, great on defense or dangerous in front of goal. To me, he’s a very smart player that gets the ball to goal scorers and had a good left foot. Bruin and Boniek Garcia are so much more important to Houston.

Biggerstaff: (Freddy Montero, 2012).  I’d say Fredy Montero, but I said that last year, and I was right! I’m not even picking someone this year, just continuously gloating on that pick from last year.

Matt, TSG: Jimmy Neilsen. He plays behind the best backline in the business, has questionable distribution and does that horrible thing with his tongue when he makes even a routine save.

You’re not the Dikembe Mutumbo of MLS, dude. You’re a product of the Donovan Ricketts Effect (See Ricketts in LA-LA land then Ricketts in Montreal, two very different goalkeepers? I think not.)

Runner-up: Fabian Castillo. Prove it to me buddy. Happy to eat crow here. Prove you are more two footed than Brittany Hamilton is one-handed.

Most Improved Player?

Jay Bell: Danny Mwanga and Darlington Nagbe. They’ve finally got an attacking coach that embraces young players. Kris Boyd is no longer taking up minutes, so both players will have more opportunities for goal of the year nominees.

Biggerstaff: Juan Agudelo. Yeahhhhhh you know what it is, Agudelo Agudelo Agudelo. Kid wants out of Chivas USA, and will get his wish in August after torching some MLS defenses. See you in Europe buddy.

Runner-up: Rafa Marquez. Second place goes to Rafa Marquez, who improved the league so greatly with his departure that I want to recognize him somehow. Maybe a permanent spot on an MLS injured and will not play list?

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The Weekend: Live Commentary

Will US fans be banging the drum for an Oscar-winning debut for Brek Shea Saturday?

Britannia Brekkenization?

Britannia Brekkenization?

MLS Preview Video: Best Rock Performance

Jay Bell back with some Marilyn Manson & more MLS motion picture for 2013

MLS Preview Video: Quick Kicks, Sweet Threads

Jay Bell, accomplished journalist, with his first video preview of the 2013 MLS season. Nice work.

Op-Ed: E Pluribus Unum

For Rogers, life was a painful balancing act until today.

For Rogers, life was a painful balancing act until today.

Zack Goldman, pensive on the recent public statements of Robbie Rogers & Jozy Altidore

In an open letter on his website today, Robbie Rogers came out as gay, announced that he is stepping away indefinitely from professional soccer and unknowingly invited a torrent of support from US fans that was not unexpected if you’ve been following along with the recent narratives of domestic soccer.

The announcement, just a year and a half after Rogers scored the equalizer against Mexico in Jürgen Klinsmann’s coaching debut, has sent—and is still sending—shockwaves through the world of sports.

And, that response—from American soccer fans, at least—has been overwhelming and unwavering in its support for a 25-year-old who clearly has felt a weighted shroud over keeping his orientation private for long. It’s hard to wonder what it is like to walk around a world that is often not speaking your language, through advertisement, through innuendo, through media or whatever.

I’ve had the great fortune of seeing a lot of incredible moments in U.S. Soccer history, but nothing has fueled me with the pride that I have felt this past month as American players and fans have stood united in support of human rights and dignity.

Confronting raciism head-on....

Confronting raciism head-on….

First, there was Jozy Altidore’s level-headed, articulate, and forceful response towards the racism he encountered during a Dutch Cup match against Den Bosch. Now, a community rallies around Rogers’s powerful personal statement, which speaks honestly to the difficulty of revealing who you truly are, whilst also addressing the issue of homosexuality in soccer.

A mere discussion of homosexuality’s existence in the sport is often labeled as taboo by those within the game. It is a silence that often obstructs any kind of legitimate discourse on the topic, much less any meaningful action in an attempt to ease the burden on ‘potential’ gay players (hint: they exist). Rules and disciplinary action for those that prejudice gay players may be prevalent, but efforts to truly integrate and push acceptance, nay, standardization for those of an “alternate” persuasion are invisible.

Rogers eloquently and panoptically addresses the issue from the perspective of his own story—and it’s an honesty that will no doubt help others in similar situations struggling with the same search for peace and true self-discovery in the future. And further, one can’t help but wonder what struggles Rogers may have had to deal with growing up in a religious family.

Both Altidore’s post-match interview and Rogers’s letter represent astute, heartfelt, and mature views of monumental societal issues at a time when too few, both within and outside of sports, are ready to admit that we have a problem addressing them.

Instead—had Rogers not made his statement today—the narrative would have been about not creating faux role models out of athletes in the wake of the alleged actions of Oscar Pistorius.

Meanwhile role models are sitting there right in front of our very eyes.

These are two courageous actions from two men who make it rewarding and prideful to be a US fan regardless of the result on the field and whether Jermaine Jones should start or not.

The great thing about the responses of Altidore and Rogers are that they’ve done more than bring issues of racism and homophobia to the fore.

Hearing these men deliver such powerful, moving, and human rebuttals to prejudice has been, at the risk of sounding reductive, inspirational. To borrow the phrase Thierry Henry’s anti-racism campaign used during his years in England, events like these enliven a desire to “stand up, speak out.”

Altidore and Rogers have spawned responses that are more than plain indifference—a polite, accepting “okay” or “whatever floats your boat.” They have solicited something much more than a blind eye.

Rather, for American fans in the past fortnight, they have engendered a pride in our diversity—a pride in our ability to recognize it, to embody it, to celebrate it, and to defend it. The American ethos alive and well with cleats and a ball.

It has made me realize that the best part of being a fan of U.S. Soccer has nothing to do with goals or results, but the culture of openness, acceptance, and togetherness that is emerging as part of the fabric of our game. At a time when tribalism and bigotry have unfortunately had such a huge impact on global football, it is a quality that cannot be taken for granted, nor can its importance be emphasized enough.

This isn’t a forum for debate, but Sepp Blatter may have suggested that US soccer growth is not what his expectation was after 1994, but I say that US soccer is the beacon, is leading the sport. Sepp’s overtones are to “grow the game…..”

Haven’t Altidore and Rogers done just that?

I–US fan, writer, American–am proud of Robbie Rogers. I am proud of his American teammates for their supportive words. And, I am proud of U.S. Soccer supporters for embodying our nation’s celebrated credo: E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.

Here’s hoping we see Robbie Rogers back on the field soon, in a sport that is more open and accepting than the one he left behind.  As the great Eddie Pope so wonderfully wrote to Rogers earlier today: “Brave men like you will make it so that one day there’s no need for an announcement.  That day can’t arrive soon enough.”

More:

Andy Iro on Roger’s decision to come out

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