Archive for July, 2013

Op-Ed: Cup Quests: Does The USMNT Have The Potion It Needs?

Clint Dempsey left it all on the field that day at the Confederation Cup against Brazil. It just wasn’t quite enough. US fans identified.

Jay Bell sets the stage for the final two Gold Cup games

…..or is the chalice poisoned?

It’s a sobering look at the US’s performance in cup competitions since the 2007 Gold Cup if you will.

Has there been a more heartbreaking soccer allegiance than that of US Soccer fans to their men’s teams over the past six years? What’s the comp in international soccer? Ghana has had some rough breaks, but good luck getting an American soccer fan to feel bad for the Black Stars at this stage.

Is it bad luck or a statistically insignificant sampling size? Are American teams just that are constantly outplayed or outclassed by opponents just about or slightly above their equal when Mikey pushes the chips in?

Or is there a deeper problem?

I’m sorry I awoke you from your delirious Ron Burgundy unicorn dream sequence slumber, but while the US is feasting on minnows like Baxter does cheese, there are teams out their making news that’s more … that’s more … Anderson Cooper-worthy.

US players and fans have watched time and time again as chances for trophies have slipped away in numerous competitions over the past six years. Even this Gold Cup, despite the barrage of early success has some doubt; though with Mexico’s Brazil trip and Honduras having naryly escaped Costa Rica, the US must be considered the true favorite.

Think about this, the US senior team and youth teams have won just won one tournament since that gorgeous goal six years ago by “BEN-EE FEIL-HABER, YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSS!!!!!!”

Soak that in.

In CONCACAF, where the US is clearly one of just two juggernauts, it has managed to top the rest of the region just once in the last half decade, more so actually.

One-offs have not been kind to the US since 2007 either.

Americans do well in group play at times and have continued to find success in World Cup qualifying, but American dreams are often killed when the teams face do-or-die matches, whether in bracket play or group play. There are major exceptions, but they are outnumbered by the recent disappointments. Again, it may not be fair to consider World Cup advancement, but CONCACAF elimination?

Here is a not so brief recap of the events since that glorious 2007 Gold Cup championship:

2007

FIFA Under-20 World Cup

A stacked US team rolled in the group stage to top Poland and Brazil to win the group. The US won 2-1 to advance past Uruguay, but fell by the same score to Austria in the quarterfinals.

FIFA Under-17 World Cup

The US finished second in the group and beat Belgium in a do-or-die match before falling 2-1 to Germany in the knockout rounds.

2008

Beijing Olympics

The US defeated Japan 1-0 on a goal by Stuart Holden and seemed headed for a 6-point start after goals by Sacha Kljestan and Jozy Altidore gave the team a 2-1 lead late in the second match against the Netherlands. Then Gerald Sibon’s late, low free kick flew under the wall and past Brad Guzan for the Oranje to snatch a 2-2 draw.

The next match then saw the infamous elbow from Michael Orozco-Fiscal and a 2-1 defeat sent the Americans back home. It was, in fact, Honduras that won the CONCACAF qualifying competition despite failing to earn a point in China.

2009

FIFA Confederations Cup

The glaring exception to the US’s recent failures in knockout play is the historically shocking 2-0 upset over Spain in the semifinals in South Africa. The Americans turned that tournament on its head. They looked to be steaming to a first international tournament championship when Charlie Davies sent a perfect ball to Landon Donovan, who then converted the electric fast break opportunity for a 2-0 lead. The Counterattack Heard Round The World.

Donovan goes left foot for the 2-0 score after the Rico-Lando-Charlie sequence...

Donovan goes left foot for the 2-0 score after the Rico-Lando-Charlie sequence…

Arguably the most excruciating 45 minutes ever for US Soccer fans followed as the inevitable took seemingly forever to come to fruition. The Brazilians conquered Bob Bradley’s men 3-2 that night in one of the best matches in Confederations Cup history.

CONCACAF Gold Cup

From Holden’s strike against Panama to two separate “Dos a Cero” victories over Honduras, Bradley rallied his backups to make the final against Mexico. What followed was a dismantling of the US defense–Chad Marshall and Clarence Goodson cringe–and a punishing victory that gave all of the momentum in the rivalry back to El Tri.

U-20 World Cup

The US crashed out of the group stage in 2009 in the final group match to South Korea by a 3-0 scoreline. The team had also fallen in the CONCACAF final.

U-17 World Cup

The US finished second in the group before losing to Italy 2-1 in the knockout rounds. The semifinals of the CONCACAF tournament were not played due to the outbreak of swine flu.

2010

FIFA World Cup

The other best example of Americans being victorious in a do-or-die match was the 1-0 win over Algeria to advance to the Round of 16…..where the team promptly lost to Ghana, again.

2011

Gold Cup

The US came together in a way few thought they would to set up a third straight Gold Cup final match with Mexico. Bradley expertly worked the semifinal match against Panama with Freddy Adu, Donovan and Clint Dempsey combining to seal the victory. The trio were back at work in the final to give the US an early 2-0 lead.

Steve Cherundolo went 17 minutes before an injury decapitated his day and the US team… “and the rest is history.” Mexico, Giovanni Dos Santos in particular, was on another level than the US for the rest of that match. 4-2, El Tri, campeónes, again.

U-20 World Cup

The US wasn’t there. The Americans fell in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF tournament to Guatemala in…Guatemala.

U-17 World Cup

This team gave the US its only championship of the last six years.

The CONCACAF champs finished second in their group at the World Cup before losing to Germany 4-1 in the round of 16.

2012

London Olympics

It was a second straight disappointment for some players in this age group. The US crashed out of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament on a 94′ goal by Jaime Alas of El Salvador. Sean Johnson and others seemed to have moved past it, but it is still one of the stinging disappointments in recent US Soccer history.

2013

U-20 World Cup

Mexico added yet another trophy in the qualifying tournament by topping the US 3-1 in the final. The Americans went on to face a gauntlet in the group stage and had a chance to advance until the final match, where they were thrashed by…Ghana.

U-17 World Cup

Another US youth team will not be competing in an international tournament for the third consecutive year after the U-17′s crashed out of the qualifying tournament. The US’s attempt at qualification ended in a loss to Honduras in Panama.

CONCACAF only began to include bracket play in youth World Cup qualifying in 2009, but even the Olympic qualifying bracket have never been kind to the US. US teams lost in the 2000 final and later failed to reach the 2004 Olympics after falling in the region semifinals.

US fans aren’t and shouldn’t be expecting constant World Cup championships and there is certainly debate, perennially and appropriately, about just how much to value these tournaments. However, if you’re there and in contention, shouldn’t a win be expected? (It sure looks like Klinsmann is aware of this very phenomenon this year, even with the increased table stakes.)

There might also hope for better performances against teams outside of the world’s elite, but itt hasn’t been Brazil, Italy, Germany, Argentina, Spain knocking the States out of these tournaments.

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USA vs. El Sal: Will Mix Diskerud Ride Again?

Few point to the play of Mix Diskerud in the Olympic qualifying final game as problematic for the US as they crashed out of the Olympics with the draw against El Salvador last summer. Diskerud was slow in attack; lethargic on defense and a contributor in not shutting on the final dash by El Sal to rob the US of London.

Will he make amends today. Will El Sal’s lunchpail defense and stalling antics flummox the US.

Starting line-ups shortly.

Amends today?

Amends today?

 

USA vs. Costa Rica: Live Commentary

Back to regular programming shortly….

Starting line-ups within the hour….

Snow chance of another 1-0 result?

Weeeeeee!

Weeeeeee!

Chris Wondowlowski: Can You Belize It?!

Shwimmy Shwimmy Coco Puff....

Shwimmy Shwimmy Coco Puff….

Matt Biggerstaff with a thorough technical analysis of last night’s USA-Belize skirmish.

A critical Gold Cup World Cup Non Qualifier (GCWCNQ) was played this evening in Portland, as the US took on Belize. We learned a lot from this game, like the fact you can’t spell WIN without Wondowlowski, and you can’t spell Wondowloski with less than 4 W’s. The US won 6-1, and the red-hot Wondow, who has 4 goals in 2 games looks like a sure bet to unseat some guy who just signed with the Black Hats as the starting striker in the full US team lineup next time they play a match that is more critical than this critical match was. After running some numbers, we figured out that Wondow’s goals to overall touches ratio was approximately 42.917%, which is just unheard of. Clearly this outstanding performance will be a key factor in Wondow’s now clear path to Brazil 2014.

It would be foolish to overlook his likely strike partner, Stu Holden, who is a great example of a modern deep lying striker. Often times hiding near the backline, the unpredictable Holden will strike out of nowhere, like he did this evening. Also, he will look good doing it. That hair ain’t free ladies, you gotta work for that up do. Being good looking will only get Holden so far, fortunately his goal scoring skills are unquestioned, and Klinsmann was kind enough to only unleash them for one half against Belize. After Stu’s goal, we were graced with a crowd shot with some Stu heads, which were lovely, but it made me wonder about the camera crew in Seattle who couldn’t manage get any good shots with some marvelous Clint Dempsey heads I saw there.

Speaking of Klinsmann, his brilliant game plan to use Michael Parkhurst as the fulcrum of the attack was phenomenal. Parkhurst revealed some extremely dangerous attacking skills going forward that have clearly been extremely well hidden for all of Parkhurst’s career, and this was just the sort of game he needed to emerge as the USMNT’s prominent wing back. I am anxiously awaiting his position change on FIFA so I can insert him into my lineup and watch him tear up the lesser squads of the 15 year olds I play online who insult my mother. Who sucks now mofos?

"That's my bike, punk!" "I got me about $200!"

“That’s my bike, punk!” “I got me about $200!”

We also saw a sexy game from Jose Francisco Torres, who could be described as nothing less than bringing sexy back tonight. Between his delicious threaded passes that were true works of art, and that dashing haircut, there was nothing that wasn’t sexy about JFT tonight. The US has sorely been missing some sexy, and Mr. Torres brought that this evening in high quantities. Maybe even enough for me to borrow some, for my friends of course. I certainly don’t need it.

Apparently someone in the locker room confused DaMarcus Beasley with 19 year old Run DMB tonight, as the team attempted to play the man passes that his 19 year old self could have run onto. However today’s wiser and cultured DMB didn’t quite have the wheels to get to most of them (nor would many other human beings.) If someone could alert the squad that this is indeed, a more mature DMB with better taste and many leather bound books, there would be a better chance of him running onto them.

Belize stuck with the tried and true strategy of taking most of their shots from at least 30+ yards tonight, and it clearly paid off, like it often does. The US on the other hand, probably could have used someone yelling ‘SHOOOOOOOOOOOT IT’, like a friend’s dad did ever so kindly in high school pretty much any time we had the ball in the attacking half. Pull the trigger boys, you can’t score if you don’t shoot!

My player ratings:

Beasley – 7 – Another strong game from Run DMB. His shooting could use some improvement.

Corona – 6 – Solid match, looked much more involved then the previous match. Attempted to break some opponents with his shots.

Orozco-Fiscal – 4 – Was offside in a spot he should have scored. Allowed a goal.

Diskerud – 8 – Quickly competing with Torres for best hair. Got cap-tied with this match, win-win for everyone except Norway.

Rimando – 1 – Dude, come on. NO GOALS ALLOWED. That is your mission, and you have failed.

Donovan – 10 – Leading scorer in US history and scored? 10 for you sir.

WondoWlowski – 19 – Scored 3 times in one half? You get extra points in this rating for that.

Parkhurst -15 – Offensive wing back skills will never be doubted again.

Goodson – 21 – Good. Really good. Son!

Beckerman – 14 – Still most likely to accidentally get caught in his hair and suffocate.

Torres – 16 – Sexy is back, and it slots a mean through ball.

Holden – 11 – 3 Stu heads + one Stu is quite nice. But work on that hair dude.

Bedoya – 20 – Almost hit a jumping shot through a defender. That shit ain’t easy.

Shea – 23 – If you don’t get it by now, you won’t at all.

So, Mr. TSG said he couldn’t judge this game or even write about it, so I stepped up instead. Some of this might not be fully serious. My criteria for this game was that the US won by 4, and they did that, so MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. I’m very excited for Wondo, and happy to see Stu.

The Gold Cup Cometh: Will 2014 Squad Men Follow?

Off-year Gold Cups make players, not teams.

There will be misspellings, but I’m confident you will deal with them. :>

The off-year Gold Cups are always, well, entertaining. Last cycle’s off-year–2009–gave us the further emergence of Charlie Davies, the rightful gushing over the fair-haired guy from Houston (Stu Holden) and the folly of a flailing Luis Robles against Haiti. Thanks Stuey for smacking your 3-wood on a rope into the top right corner up New England way.

Whereas senior team observations are plentiful and more precise, perhaps, by comparison, the off-year Gold Cup represents the Christmas morning sensation that an unexpected present–perhaps a speedy flanker–may be unwrapped… or the inverse, the confirmation that the USMNT player pool is just too deep and two or three–novice or experienced–can’t swim with conviction or even tread water.

The Gold Cup is less about the system–a mere handful of capable players will emerge and they’ll most likely play their next game as complementary pawns to an A side rounding into form–and more about individual observation. It’s one of the few times with somewhat meaningful stakes (see CONCACAF Confed Cup changes) that it’s a player-specific, rather than team-specific set of observations.

It a late moment replacement for Jimmy Conrad in D.C. during the 2009 Gold Cup that  pulled the engine cord on Goodon's USMNT career. He's been hanging around ever since.

It a late moment replacement for Jimmy Conrad in D.C. during the 2009 Gold Cup that pulled the engine cord on Goodon’s USMNT career. He’s been hanging around ever since.

That 2009 Gold Cup final showed that. Mexico brought in ringers Carlos Vela and Gio Dos Santos after the group stage who ripped open a US central defense pairing of Chad Marshall (remember when?) and Clarence Goodson (wait a second, it was apparent then?) to the tune of 5-zilch at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. While some pundits incorrectly choose to excoriate the moment–calling it a travesty that swung the door wide open for Mexico–it gave then-manager Bob Bradley at least three critical player observations: (1) Chad Marshall and Clarence Goodson were clearly not ready to challenge for starting slots on the “A” team (correct), (2) Stu Holden and Charlie Davies could be counted on now to provide valuable “A” team minutes (correct) and (3) that Kyle Beckerman–for all his wondrous skill and talent–would be not be a cog in Bradley’s double-pivot system despite his talents as a single CDM (inconclusive).

On to the 2013 Gold Cup, let the player gushing and crushing flow like beer at TSG headquarters today. Ten questions–mostly player centric–to ponder:

(1) Lan-done?

Hardly.

Cut the guy some slack. He’s only the leading goal scorer in USMNT history.

He needed a break. So did Michael Jordan; no one batted an eye when he came back.

And Donovan–until recently–has largely been the MJ of the USMNT. Hard to deny that.

Donovan’s credentials are known; his shortcomings–making plays in traffic, reluctance to take over the game are still there.

It’s the former that he’ll need to improve on, not the latter. Dempsey is the US ace in the hole now and a role that better suits both of them.

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Dependence Days: MLS Teams Feeling The Gold Cup Shortage

"Dax, that's exactly how Kreis looked when he saw the RSL Gold Cup call-up list."

“Dax, that’s exactly how Kreis looked when he saw the RSL Gold Cup call-up list.”

TSG finally publishes Steve Fenn‘s piece after numerous threats and insults. Kidding Steve, good stuff.

This month, the United States and Canada will host 44 MLS fixtures as well as every Gold Cup match. It can only be guaranteed that just a single MLS match will be totally unaffected by the CONCACAF national team competition, though.

Montreal, Colorado and New England are the only domestic league clubs without Gold Cup representation and the only July meeting between two of those three is the Rapids visiting the Revs on the 17th.

For the other 15 clubs, varying degrees of the illness known as “shortbench” will be felt. How can the impact on a club be measured? Doing so with publicly available data is inexact, but directional and other factors can lead to a pretty good review of whose hit the hardest. At minimum, our probability of a getting right should exceed, oh, a certain club trading away their draft picks and allocation money in a whimsical manner.

To measure a player’s overall worth, two options are MLS player ratings from Castrol and WhoScored.com. Both of those ratings are based on a plethora of in-game data points, but the actual formulas and standards aren’t publicly laid out.

As an alternative, we can also evaluate each player based on the amount of time he has played for his club so far in 2013. To do this we simply divide each player’s minutes by the total minutes played by their team. Obviously, this has its own difficulties since factors other than quality can affect playing time, but it is a good proxy for clubs’ reliance on these players.

Because all three of these measures have their own issues and averaging them is hardly the right methodology, the best way to assign a single number to a player at this point may be to simply weigh each metric equally for one overall score. By normalizing and averaging Minutes Percentage, Castrol score, and WhoScored rating we’ll take a “slightly more than whimsical” approach to ascertaining a useful metric than the three individually, which we will call MCW.

...

(Click here for interactive version)

Liberties were taken here for Clarence Goodson, who will certainly have value when he returns for San Jose, but whose most recent MLS statistics from 2007 aren’t remotely useful. Instead he is presented as an average of three central defender proxies in George John, Jamison Olave, & Bobby Boswell. Also of note, Blas Perez will only miss two of FC Dallas’s four July matches, so his figure was halved above.

Of course, some teams are also likely to benefit from playing against weakened opponents. Below, all 44 MLS matches are mapped to clubs, assigning MCW differential to approximate the Gold Cup effect on each one.

...

(Click here for interactive version)

As you can see, New England, Montreal, and Chicago stand to benefit more from opponents’ Gold Cup absences more than others. The Revolution and Impact have no callups, while Chicago’s only absence will be keeper Sean Johnson. To be clear, these MCW rankings aren’t meant to be overall harbingers of match difficulty, just indicators of Gold Cup effects on some match difficulty index that TSG will force me to come up with later.

We can see that Real Salt Lake and San Jose’s options this month will be about as limiting as the New York Knicks’ salary cap situation. That’s hyperbole, as neither of these teams will be stuck long-term with a player like Andrea Bargnani. Also, in one light this has to be seen as a big opportunity for Jason Kreis and Mark Watson to witness which bench players are perhaps ready to contribute more frequently as the season crests that midpoint.

So in some sense, maybe this call-up also provides a chance to witness how a seasoned coach and a novice coach fair in the face of depleted squad depth.

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