Archive for August, 2013

Clint Dempsey: Keyser Söze Is In The Building

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Writer Jason Lemire has worked in the front offices of several MLS franchises and most recently was General Manager of The Pali Blues Soccer Club during the ascendance of the Tony Danza Army. 

In the words of U.S. Customs Special Agent Dave Kujan, “A rumor’s not a rumor that doesn’t die.” Come Monday morning, Keyser Söze will officially be in the building.

Predictably, the comments section of every website from ESPNFC to Uncle Snuffy’s Backyard Kickaround (pretty sure that’s a soccer blog) are currently being filled with posts decrying this move as the worst thing to happen to US soccer since… well… anything involving Freddy Adu.

The collective disgust – yes, people are “disgusted” – reads more or less like this:

“WHAT? MLS is a major step down for a player still in his prime!”

“This runs counter to Klinsmann’s “take it to the next level” credo!”

“Clint is giving up on his dreams!”

“Clint won’t be as good in Brazil 2014 because of this move!”

And all of it is either somewhat shortsighted, or perfectly represents an ethos among a certain American soccer fans that frankly needs adjusting.

All hail....

All hail….

With this in mind, let us consider how maybe, just maybe, this move is a good thing, and how said good thing would ultimately debunk the above concerns.

1. What makes a transfer a good transfer?

Assuming we are looking at the situation through the lens of an American soccer fan who cares about both the US National Team and the growth of our sport as a whole, assessing the quality of an individual player’s transfer generally comes down to the question of: will this move help the player develop. There is little debate that at this point in time, the big leagues of Europe have the capacity to both accelerate and hone the technical and tactical development of a young player in a manner superior to MLS. If you want to debate this point that’s fine, but for the time being let’s operate under the assumption that Clint Dempsey would not have developed into the elite international player that he is today had he stayed with the New England Revolution.

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Clint Dempsey’s To-The-Sounders Narrative

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In sports there are always three narratives.

There’s the game and what happened. That narrative is not really a narrative at all. It’s indisputable. Zlantan wonder volley. That Landon Donovan pass. USA 2 – Spain 0.  From box scores to YouTube, that stuff happened. There is empirical evidence. Archives.

Then there’s the media narrative. The range of truth and objectivity here is divergent, contradictory and above above all mercilessly shaped like the topography after a flash flood. It’s Game of Thrones references, grandiose metaphors that invoke some obscure playwright from yesteryear and hyperbolic parallels to sports legends with few video clips. All of this telling us the circumstance or reasoning behind “what happened.”

That narrative is completely disputable and its salty fodder that the media leaves out like cheese on a trap for a mouse to take. Snap! We gotcha. This is how you should see it.

Then there’s the “what truly happened” narrative. It’s often non-present as the event or moment transpires or it’s recounted sometime after the fact when sensitivities have dulled. Or rarely recounted at all.

Clint Dempsey’s move to the Seattle Sounders in MLS gathered up all those narratives, blended them on a frappe setting and spilled them out without warning on the American soccer fan this past Friday afternoon.

To be clear, the media narratives on Dempsey have always been voluminously tentacular though “what happened” remained indisputable.

Dempsey leaves England with 57 deposits in his account, the most ever by an American. In fact that goal total matches all of the next three Americans in England combined, the industrious Brian McBride, playmaker Roy Wegerle and a tie of Joe-Max Moore and Carlos Bocanegra.

Dempsey’s goal haul puts him 60th all-time on the Premiership goal list heading into this season, a lofty #7 for non-Europeans. Let that sink in. Clint Dempsey, as many goals as all but six non-Europeans to have played in the Prem. Ever. And this for a player who didn’t make the jump abroad until relatively late in his career; all was accomplished in six and a half seasons.

But beyond these topline numbers on Dempsey, the shape of the Dempsey story has been carved incongruously. Dempsey is the cliched sports enigma. Sure there were goals by the truckload at Fulham, but he also saw a lot of the ball and could he do it at a bigger club? Sure, he scores goals, but they are lucky or lunchpail with little skill; he’s not a true goal scorer. Dempsey never was bundled in with the Rooneys, Tevez’s or even Bents in his time playing out of London. TSG wrote about the somewhat negative stigma here.

Then there’s the American narrative on Dempsey which–since 2009–has shifted intentionally or not. 2008-2009 saw Dempsey as a shoot-em up cowboy, going out on the range when he felt like it and drawing against the competition as and when he saw it. The petulant and unfocused Dempsey, who TSG invoked Marvin Gaye to provide a narrative then.

By 2012 Dempsey had evolved–as Landon Donovan’s star and desire waned–to the top American in Europe. A Champion’s League-seeking, fire-burning-in-himish, fuck-off, try-shit media creation challenged by USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsman–”he hasn’t won shit”–but then contradictorily given the national team armband.

It’s this narrative here that American fans find most troubling with Dempsey’s Seattle relocation–and rightfully so.

The American soccer overlord out to prove–globally–that the US could play with the best. The pieces on Clint desire popped up just about everywhere.  Clint aspired to Champion’s League. Clint was going to Arsenal. Clint defines ambition. Nike centerpiece.

Times Squared

It’s inescapable. Americans–fans of MLS or not–don’t consider MLS the pinnacle. And it’s not. And they want their stars to reach the heights. And the media blitzkrieg around Dempsey ever since Donovan went walkabout was bigging up the Texan for bigger things.

It was supported by the national team coach challenging his best player and then further talking him up, eager for him to fly the flagship of American skill and get more reps and better competition… because that’s what he, the coach, did.

So that narrative with Dempsey’s move state side goes kerplunck like a weighted lure from the former Fulham fisherman himself.

The real tale probably won’t ever be known, but it likely goes a little something like this:

» US player fights from a tough upbringing to make it one of the top-50 footballers in one of the top, if not the top, soccer leagues in the world.

» Player fights for playing time each season and proves himself to new coaches and last year to a new team.

» Told yet again–for the sixth consecutive time–that his services are surplus to requirements. The player finally says, “Fuck it, I’m the star. I’m not getting a Champion’s League shot, except as a squad guy at a discount. I don’t need to prove anything else.”

Why go down or somewhat laterally (Sunderland, Everton) for less money? To prove what? To test playing time?

» MLS wiggles a massive paycheck, four-year security, and a chance to settle his family down, back in the States. And validate him–more than Europe could or would at this point–that he’s the star.

There’s a point where every player’s personal visage intersects logic. It’s inevitable. It’s age. It’s the youngster from the Bundesliga who looks like Ryan Gosling’s hipster doppelganger who was just brought in who plays the same position. It’s phone calls like Jay DeMerit got from Werder Breman post the  2010 World Cup–”We’ll take you. For a year. But here’s our terms.”

Nobody batted an eye when DeMerit returned.

Ambition intersecting with reality. Reality often wins that one.

It’s not Hollywood and it’s not the hyped narrative. But it’s probably what happened.

Report: Clint Dempsey A Seattle Sounder

The story broken by ESPN’s Doug McIntyre, confirmed by Steve Davis.

Clint Dempsey to become a Seattle Sounder.

America bound

America bound

 

TSG’s 2013 MLS Best-At-The-Break

Chris Klute ... by the widest of margins....

Chris Klute … by the widest of margins….

Since All-Star games are for … well … marketing and theatrics.

TSG’s Best-At-The-Break 2013 regardless of injuries, stats, etc. Purely through observation.

Let’s the in-fighting, ex-fighting, name-calling begin!

Go:

G: Nick Rimando

The skinny:  The guiding force on a being-made-over RSL team. His distribution and ability to play the ball at his feet solves a number of problems for RSL and continually saves RSL from winning a ball back punted up the field. And he’s been a phenomenal shot stopper yet again this year.

Honorable mention: Clint Irwin

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LB: Chris Klute

The skinny: …. and it’s not even close. Klute is still raw, but he uses his speed and physical ability extremely well and his dedication to getting forward in the attack continually demands the opposition to second guess their use of his flank on the attack. Terrific. Just terrific.

Honorable mention: Corey Ashe

"I hear you knocking, BUT YOU CAN'T COME IN!"

“I hear you knocking, BUT YOU CAN’T COME IN!”

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CB: José Gonçalves

The skinny: Gonçalves is a one-man wrecking crew for the league’s leading defense. He’s their captain and while he may stray a little bit from his line on occasion he makes it back up with his tackling and blocks.

Honorable mention: Aurélien Collin, Jamison Olave

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CB: George John

The skinny: This pick is astonishing here at TSG. But when it comes down to it, FC Dallas are an above average defensive team with John in the line-up and well-below without him. That simple. The straw that stirs the pot.

Honorable mention: Matt Besler (Note, still have Besler as my defender of the year horse .. but lots of ground though to catch up to Gonçalves) , Nat Borchers

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RB: Zach Loyd

The skinny: Probably the most difficult selection here and there are some acute holes in Loyd’s game, but–whether he occasionally stands up his guy too far up the field–Loyd has the defense and doesn’t try to do too much in possession. His crossing is underrated.

Honorable mention: Andrew Farrell. Farrell has made his rookie mistakes, but he’s also been a mainstay on the Revs #1 defense. Earlier in the year he was asked to manage a lot of possession out of the back and he did adequately. Looking at the other RB options available, you can live with his mistakes of inexperience.

Footnote: DeAndre Yedlin. Fast, fierce and woefully in need of some positional guidance. He’ll get there. I think. But cries for him to be on the national team right now are … premature.

CDM: Kyle Beckerman

The skinny: Admittedly a homer pick here at TSG. Beckerman does everything right and he’s consistent. When you can be counted on as a non-variable in the possession game–meaning his teammates trust him regardless of situation–that’s a major weapon that most teams don’t have.

Honorable mention: Diego Chara has been the Osvaldo Alonso of the Pacific Northwest this year. Yeah, that just happened. Michel for Dallas. Oriol Rosell

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MF: Will Johnson

The skinny: Outside RSL’s shadow and asked to adopt a technical role, Johnson has flourished. His leadership and engine–never in question–are on display again this year.

Honorable mention: Juninho. Just look at the Galaxy’s penchant to leak goals when Juninho isn’t on the prowl

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MF: Graham Zusi

The skinny: The Roger Federer-Rachel Weisz just snuck in here. Zusi, like last year, shot out of the gates with a bang to begin the season, but some tactical moves that seem to occasionally minimize his impact has slowed what started as an MVP type season. He’ll get back there. One of the quickest on-ball thinkers in MLS.

Honorable mention: Rodney Wallace, Russell Teibert, Kelyn Rowe

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CAM: Javi Morales

The skinny: Unreal that Morales wasn’t a chosen All-Star. Morales have been a little Duece-like for RSL in that he’s often the focal point of the other’s defense, but he keeps making the players required to create scoring chances. He’s finally back after his awful ankle injury that seemed to hurt his physical preparation and mental focus. Welcome back to the MVP game Javi!

Honorable mention: Federico Higuaín, Camilo Sanvezzo  (this was the tightest call)

FWD: Robbie Keane

The skinny: Stop it. Stop it right now. Keane is masterful off the ball. It doesn’t matter that he whines to refs, castigate teammates or has been bitten by the injury bug a few stretches of the season. He’s that good. Ask any coach in the league to pick a striker they’d want for a one-game elimination and you’re flipping coins with Henry and Keane.

Honorable mention: Mike Magee, Jack McInerney

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FWD: Juan Agudelo

The skinny: Agudelo’s teams score when he’s on the field, they fall flat in attack when he’s on the pine or in street clothes. It’s that simple. With Agudelo as lynchpin in the early season Chivas USA attack, the Goats were scoring goals in bundles and at a very high percentage to shots taken rate.

Migrating east to the Revolution, Agudelo again ignited another team’s attack. Deigo Fagundez owes his lunch money through the end of the season to Agudelo drawing defenses and distributing the ball to him with good looks on frame.

Honorable mention: Thierry Henry, Conor Casey

Best ... guess?

Best … guess?

Best XI Breakdown: RSL (3), Revs (2), FCD (2), Galaxy (1), Timbers (1) SKC (1), Rapids (1)

Honorable mention breakdown: SKC (3), RBNY (2), Union (2), Revs (2), Timbers (2), Whitecaps (2), Fire (1), Crew (1), Dynamo (1), RSL (1), Rapids (1), FCD (1), Galaxy (1)

MLS Dénouement: Kansas City Builds The Colosseum

Yedlin and the All-Stars were upended, but positive takeaways abound.

Yedlin and the All-Stars were upended, but positive takeaways abound.

Jay Bell reflects on the gala of a week it was in MLS.

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Wednesday’s night’s 3-1 victory for AS Roma provided more evidence on both sides of the debate over what the format should be for the Major League Soccer All-Star Game.

The positives were numerous and in full display. First and foremost, the MLS All-Star game is an event, not a normal contest. It is not and should not be a measuring stick for the quality of play in MLS. The game brings in 20 players, most of which do not play together, and pits them against world class teams. Roma may be in preseason, but the players are still club mates and they are still top players. Francesco Totti will go down as one of the greatest players in the history of the all-star game. He oozed class in this year’s event.

The display Sporting Kansas City and its fans put on Wednesday night followed the tone of the rest of the week. The pre-game and halftime displays were extravagant, the fans were active and they finally got the chance to erupt in second half stoppage time when the Los Angeles Galaxy’s Omar Gonzalez scored one of his vintage headers off an assist from Vancouver’s Camilo.

The exposure and the excuse to throw a party is the league’s top reason for leaving the current format as it is. New York Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry said emphatically after the game that he believed the current format is best for the league for the exposure it gets from playing high profile teams like Roma.

Henry, out ahead as usual...

Henry, out ahead as usual…

“Who will watch East vs. West in Europe? I’m telling you, no one,” Henry said.

“If all we are looking to do is to win a game, then easily you could set something up,” said SKC and all-star team manager Peter Vermes. “These are real games. These are real teams that come in here to play and sometimes results don’t go your way, but at the end – I still go back to it – it’s more than just the winning of the game. It’s really what the experience is for everyone that participates. It’s not just a game on Wednesday night. It’s everything that goes along with it.”

Vermes said he did not think that the result was the key focus. He felt that Wednesday’s match was about a vision becoming a reality for the club and its ownership.

“Everyone was talking about Kansas City, how nice everything was, how much buzz there was about this game,” said SKC defender Matt Besler.

The biggest news of the event was Commissioner Don Garber’s comment at halftime that MLS is planning to expand to 24 teams by the end of the decade. MLS expansion has become an even trickier proposition in recent years. A solid ownership group and a stadium are not the only factors anymore. New markets have to help the league’s value as a whole, which is precisely why the league pursued New York City FC.

Miami may be the clear frontrunner at the moment with the backing of David Beckham and Marcelo Claure. Once the group figures out a stadium situation and submits a legitimate bid, Miami will have the best chance of anyone because of the region’s soccer viewership. Orlando City SC is making noise with its pursuit of a stadium and an MLS team, but after that the race is wide open. The list of potential suitors also includes San Antonio, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Oklahoma City, Minnesota, Sacramento, Phoenix, Detroit and the Cosmos could eventually be a third team in the New York City metro.

Vermes was supportive of the continued expansion of MLS. He discussed the success of the most recent expansion teams and how they have competed from the start.

“I think it is fantastic for our league to keep expanding like we are,” Vermes said. “At one point, I thought maybe, ah, it may be a bit of a difficulty with regards to the player pool – how that starts to get thin – but I’m not seeing that. I think our teams are getting better. I think all of our clubs are getting better in their scouting as well.

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