Archive for February, 2014

US National Team Trains With 24 In Advance of Ukraine Match

Can Gooch turn back the clock?

Can Gooch turn back the clock?

Klinsmann with a few surprises for next week’s US match.

The roster….

GOALKEEPERS (3): Cody Cropper (Southampton), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton)

DEFENDERS (7): John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt), Oguchi Onyewu (Sheffield Wednesday), Will Packwood (Birmingham City), Tim Ream (Bolton Wanderers)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Jermaine Jones (Besiktas), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Brek Shea (Barnsley), Danny Williams (Reading)

FORWARDS (6): Juan Agudelo (Utrecht), Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar)

Some thoughts:

> Big camp for Danny Williams and Oguchi Onyewu. Both–it says here–have a shot at Brazil. US still needs to look at a Williams or Mo Edu type as a permutation to tracking players like Ronaldo or Reus when they come inside. Just think the work that Edu did on Gio Dos Santos in Mexico City last year. That guy hasn’t been in camp. Dark horse here? Alfredo Morales who Klinsi-san seems to have a soft spot for.

> Quite a reward for Will Packwood. Back from a broken leg and getting a senior look–hell of a validation.

> Klinsmann continues to check the Brek Shea box hoping the youngster can provide the true kind of width that Fabian Johnson still has consistency problems with as well. Shea is a very possible World Cup call along the lines of a Wondo or even Boyd. Somebody who the opposition is not familiar with who maybe doesn’t have the consistency and won’t play more than 20 total minutes, but presents a different look, i.e. Walcott for England in 2006 or Edson Buddle for the US in 2010.

> The RB competition now looks set: Cameron vs. Evans vs. perhaps Parkhurst. The US will keep their RB at home and cover with the indefatigueable Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya over the top. Up second for the US in Brazil? Ronaldo. There looks to be little shot now that Timmy Chandler or Steve Cherundolo get re-integrated.

USA – Mexico: Border Warring

"You're welcome."

“You’re welcome.”

Now that the USMNT vs Mexico match April 2nd has been officially confirmed, we can mark it as the most exciting World Cup lead up match that the US will play.

Sure, they will play some exciting games to be announced later and we might see the almighty Zlatan grace us with his presence.

Rumor has it that the Bay Area might even get a US game, which I do believe officially confirms that there will in fact be six more weeks of winter. Or that the apocalypse has, in fact, been scheduled for later this year, just after the World Cup, as Mother Nature or whomever has control over things like that wants to see how exactly Group G plays out. Can you blame them? It’s been almost 7 years since the US played in the Bay Area, and also seven years since a fateful US – Mexico showdown.

February 7th, 2007 brought US – Mexico to Phoenix Stadium, the same location where we will see the two bitter rivals matched up this year. It was a highly anticipated match up, in a year that was critical for US Soccer with both the Gold Cup that summer and World Cup qualifying on the horizon for the 2010 World Cup. Playing in front of a rather pro-Mexico crowd meant it would be a stiff test for the Americans. I remember nervously watching the first half as both teams struggled to get anything going. Early in the second half, the Kick TV man, Jimmy Conrad nodded home what was likely his biggest goal in a US shirt with a brilliant snap header off an inch perfect Donovan corner. Tim Howard made a big save or two, and then came the moment that truly defined why I dislike Mexico’s national team so much.

With only moments to go, a Mexican defender is near midfield, and plays the ball across the back toward a teammate. Instead he manages to pick off the referee, depositing the ball at the feet of Landon Donovan.

Donovan breaks. This is full speed ahead, all systems go, blazing like four stoners in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on 4/20 Landon. He splits both center backs, breaks on goal and takes one look back to make sure he is clear (which he is by about 5 yards, unfortunately he didn’t give the chasing defender the ol neener neener neener thumb in nose wave too) and fakes out Oswaldo Sanchez, cuts left past him, and finishes calmly.

Boom! AMERICA! Bald eagles emerge from the sky and come land on his shoulders while beautiful surfer girls beckon him to join them in the ocean right? Almost.

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Capital One Cup Final: Cometh the Moment, Cometh Jozy Altidore?

Altidore, still struggling to "Go Eredivisie" in England

Altidore, still struggling to “Go Eredivisie” in England

It has been a challenging season for both Jozy Altidore and Sunderland this year, as Sunderland has struggled in the EPL and Altidore has not performed up to some lofty expectations that fans and pundits alike had for his first season with the Black Cats.

The team’s struggles under former manager Paolo Di Canio, whose managerial reign lasted only 175 days have been well documented, and since he was sacked Sunderland has been fighting to recover valuable points that could keep them out of the relegation zone and in the EPL next season. With an extremely tight race at the bottom of the table, every point has been critically important for the likelihood that they avoid the drop.

Thunderland!

Thunderland!

Altidore has struggled individually in similar fashion to how the team has struggled overall. After an incredible season with AZ Alkmaar last year where he bagged 31 goals in all competitions and an extremely successful summer with the US National Team where his play was a major factor in the success that the US had with 2014 World Cup qualifying, expectations were that Altidore would be a major factor for Sunderland as they pushed out of the bottom half of the table and perhaps even challenged for a top 8 spot.

Unfortunately Altidore struggled to receive quality service for the first part of the season, which clearly frustrated him, and has had a major impact on his confidence, which is always tough on a player. So far this season he has only scored twice, a massive drop in production which cannot be fully placed on him. Lately, Sunderland has been playing much better but Altidore has still looked short of confidence, especially in front of the goal. His overall work rate, hold up play, and passing have improved of late though, and he looks as if he just needs a nice finish or lucky bounce to get him back rolling on one of his patented goal scoring hot streaks.

Sunderland has managed to perform quite well in the Capital One Cup even with their struggles in the EPL, knocking off Southampton, Chelsea, and Manchester United in the past three rounds to get to the final, taking out both Chelsea and United in extra time in riveting performances. The semi-final matches against United were especially impressive, as they needed extra time and penalties to clinch their spot in the final against Manchester City. City is a formidable opponent to say the least, as they are competing for the EPL title as well, with stars like Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero leading the way. City is certainly a favorite in this match up, as the level of talent they have at their disposal dwarfs that of Sunderland and their performance this season has been consistently much stronger than Sunderland.

This does open the door to the possibility of an upset though, even with Sunderland being given nearly 8.5 to 1 odds of actually being able to pull this off, according to this link while City are the strong favorite at 1/3 odds, meaning that if you wanted to wager on Jozy coming through in the clutch for Sunderland in the Capital One Cup Final, you could put down $20 and win nearly $200 if Sunderland could pull off the massive upset. It wouldn’t fully be a shock though, as Sunderland’s form of late has been much improved and Manchester City has been very inconsistent on the road throughout the season, and with this match being played in London, City will not have the comforts of the Etihad Stadium. Sunderland have already disposed of Chelsea and Manchester United leading up to the final, so a shock victory behind an Altidore goal or two might not be so far off after all. March 2nd at Wembley will be where it is all decided and Sunderland will get their opportunity to take on Man City with the cup on the line.

The Bradley Experiment: Can Il Generale Save Toronto FC?

MB90 acquitted himself on the big stage last time north of the border.

Michael Bradley  acquitted himself on the big stage north of the border in 2007, leading the US to the final 8 of the U-20 World Cup finals.

Alex Olshansky returns to TSG

Toronto FC’s 2007 entrée into MLS began with a bang, as sold out and rowdy crowds established their supporters as arguably the best MLS had seen up to that point. 

Success on the field that first season was harder to come by, as the club limped to six wins and found itself at the bottom of the table.

Seven playoff-less years later and not much has changed.  It should be noted that, in a league where the majority of teams make the playoffs, this run of futility is actually quite remarkable (the odds are approximately 0.38% or 1 in 261).   

Despite having a payroll above the league average, Toronto enter 2014 with six wins their last 48 games and 17 in their last 102.  That’s an average of less than six wins a year in the last three seasons.  Over that period of time the club has been the worst in MLS, which is somewhat of an accomplishment given Chivas USA’s results over the same period.  By the end of 2013, growing fan ennui and dissatisfaction had reduced the once-paragon of MLS support, BMO Field, to a lifeless and half-filled shell of its former self.

Then Tim Leiweke happened.

Lieweke's fingerprints scan just fine north of the border.

Lieweke’s fingerprints scan just fine north of the border.

A primary architect behind David Beckham’s move to the LA Galaxy, the newly installed President and CEO of Maple Leafs Entertainment made a splash by signing Jermaine Defoe and Michael Bradley in a dramatic coup.

Those signings, combined with the arrival of Dwayne De Rosario, Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar and striker Gilberto, have placed Toronto in a “win-now” mode where playoff qualification is the bare minimum.  Defoe is undoubtedly the more recognizable name globally, but it is the acquisition of Bradley that garnered the most surprise.  At 26 years old, and squarely in his prime, the American international is tasked with writing a new narrative in Toronto FC’s history.

Further cementing Bradley’s importance to the club, there are early indications that he will be the club’s captain entering their 2014 campaign.  Winning the press conference is one thing, but what on-field attributes does Michael Bradley bring to Toronto? Perhaps more important, what will he need to do in order to lead the club to its first playoff appearance?

The Problem

Toronto struggled in almost every facet of the game in 2013.  But they were particularly weak when in possession of the ball.  They scored the second fewest goals in the league, attempted the second fewest shots, had the second fewest passes per possession (2.5, a full pass per possession less than RSL’s 3.5), and attempted the most long balls as a percent of total passes (17%).  Playing direct soccer is not a bad thing, but playing direct and ineffectual soccer will not win you many games.  If Toronto had just managed to be an average MLS offense last season, they would have been in the playoff hunt.  Toronto needs improvement in all three facets of offense: maintain better possession, create more opportunities, and finish those opportunities.

The Solution

16-goal-stroll-in-the-park...

16-goal-stroll-in-the-park…

Michael Bradley is not a goal scorer. Yes, once upon a time he scored 16 league goals for Heerenveen in the Eredivisie, but he has just three league goals in his last 76 Serie A matches for Chievo and Roma.  Finishing chances will be up to Defoe and Gilberto—that’s why they were brought in.

Michael Bradley is not a goal creator.  Bradley is not a number 10 whose role it is to sit behind the strikers and ping defense-shredding passes.  Of course he can and will hit those, but for the most part he has not been asked to play that role for club or country.

Michael Bradley is an elite distributor and an excellent ball-winner.  In the 2012-2013 season Bradley had the third highest pass completion percent (89.4%) of any Serie A midfielder.  In his brief 2013-2014 Roma campaign he was at 91.9%, good enough for third highest in all of Serie A.  Of course, on its face, a high completion percent does not mean very much as the vast majority of these passes are simple short passes.  Nevertheless, even within that tactical context, he was one of the best in a top European league.

The chart below shows some of the most pertinent statistics from the past five years of his club career, as well as his performance with the US national team.  You will notice that his Shots per 90 and Key Passes (shot assists) per 90 have stayed relatively constant at approximately 1 each.  Of particular interest is the relationship between passing percentage and his defensive actions (Tackles + Interceptions / 90).  On better teams (Roma and USMNT) he has a much higher passing percentage but fewer defensive actions.  On Chievo and ‘Gladbach, by contrast, he was tasked with doing more defensive work while struggling with ball circulation (presumably when in possession he was under more duress on those teams).  Bradley has proven to be an adaptable player.

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The key for him is to find a way to be elite at both ball distribution and ball-winning for Toronto.

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Selected Images: USA 2 – South Korea 0

Matt Mathai. F-Stop Assassin.

Again.

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