Archive for August, 2013

Dempsey: The African-Americanesque Reflection

Dempsey, wild heights for Americans and Cottager faithful.

Dempsey, wild heights for Americans and Cottager faithful.

This terrific piece by Miriti Murungi. Mirungi’s day job is allegedly to make people laugh their way through Arsenal games on Twitter.

It’s no secret that so many incidents that happen to individuals in the African-American community are often magnified and reflected as emblematic of blackness. Specific criminal acts are always tied into half-assed, out-of-context statistical analyses of crime in the black community. Educational struggles often reflexively become an indictment of “broken” black homes and families. For so long, rap music, despite other art forms also having sub-genres glorifying violence, misogyny, drugs, and material acquisitions, has been inextricably tied to irresponsibility and destructiveness endemic in “black culture.” Within this web of reflexive, lazy association, it’s hard to find the time and space to be an individual without black being attached as the primary identifier associated with behavior.

And a conundrum awaits those fortunate enough to escape the nebulous, systemic, failure narrative attributed to blackness. “Making it” suddenly makes you a de facto spokesperson for “your people,” an example of how the “good ones” behave. And that’s true whether you want the job or not.

As it turns out, regardless of your standing in life, so often, blackness still trumps humanness; it becomes inescapable, even when you turn off the lights and are left with a subconscious pre-programmed with skeptical, undercutting voices from outside that seem to have been played on heavy rotation on every device capable of making noise, as far back as the mind remembers.

This reality frequently sparks reactions that, by now, are all too familiar to those with even a remedial understanding of the burden of blackness in America:

“Why does what I do have to reflect on all my people?”

“Why does what they do automatically implicate me?”

“Why does everything I do have to involve a discussion about the greater good?”

“Why can’t I be an individual?

“Why do I …”

“Why can’t you …”

“Why?”

These themes, which are a very real part of African-American life, echoed in my head, hitting a series of familiar notes, as I was monitoring Clint Dempsey’s return to Major League Soccer.

Yes, I know. My brain making the connection was initially uncomfortable for me, too. But bear with me for a moment.

SpaceDeuce.

SpaceDeuce.

Without question, Dempsey’s acquisition by the Seattle Sounders is the highest-profile acquisition (or re-acquisition) of an American in MLS history. The deal, reported to be approximately $32 million over four years, which doesn’t include an MLS-record breaking $9 million transfer fee to Tottenham, makes that point crystal clear, even if you want to adjust for inflation … twice. Dempsey has made it in America. And now, every conversation that follows him inevitably involves a comment, if not a full-fledged debate, about the merits of his decision. It’s a conversation that American soccer fans know too well.

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Juan Agudelo Stoked On The Prem: Headed To The Potters

Agudelo potting around in 2014....

Agudelo potting around in 2014….

Juan Agudelo–late of the New England Revs, Chivas USA and Red Bull New York–is skipping the pond and meeting up with the boys as he has signed a pre-contract with Stoke City in England’s Premiership.

A source close to the negotiations told TSG that the deal is officially closed. The 20-year-old Agudelo is under contract with MLS through the end of the year. A pre-contract can be signed by MLS players whose contracts expire within 6 months of the date of to-be-signed one.

Agudelo, long considered a top-5 USMNT prospect by TSG, will need to compete against strikers Kenwynne Jones & Peter Crouch among others for playing time. Agudelo has proved to have the skill in MLS, but now just needs the focus.

Depending on a range of factors, it’s possible a deal could be reached between MLS and Stoke City to allow Agudelo go early which probably benefits both sides.

Agudelo joins Brek Shea, Geoff Cameron and Mo Edu as other Yanks in the Potters’ locker room.

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)

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