Archive for March, 2014

TSG’s Official USA v. Mexico Preview: Weekends With Berti

"You think they'll go for this?"

“You think they’ll go for this?” Berti Vogts & Jurgen Klinsmann — The German Days

We got El Tri playing a 3man back w/Crash Marquez, Bayern kids getting USSF press releases, & an 11th hour tactical leadership change. Let’s do this WC!

Well, this little money grab friendly escalated quickly?

A few weeks ago when the US announced this match to line the administrative coffers in a tilt against their southern neighbors, it looked like this would be a casual affair. European players would be staying home–and by home, that means the east side of the Atlantic–and there would be one or maybe two MLS-based players looking to quickly shimmy their way onto the preliminary 30-man US World Cup roster.

Now? A cornucopia of narratives awaits the US as they land in Phoenix for their El Tri showdown. And even the location–the trip to Phoenix–is a storyline. All major sports league came out aggressively just a few months hence when a questionable bill on personal freedoms looked to be making its way to Arizona’s state capital for approval. USSF? They elected to play a friendly in the state. Go figure. High six figures?

Is it okay to look yet?

Is it okay to look yet?

Moving on… to better and more timely fare, it’s less than three months until witness is borne to the Brazilian version of “TSHABALALA!” (oops, who was that opponent?) and US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann just rummaged through his coach’s satchel–with both hands–and dug out two grenades, yanked the pins and lobbed the boomsticks into the USMNT locker room.

“EVERYBODY DOWN!”

“ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE YET?!”

Into camp: Bayern II sensation Julian Green whose commitment to the Red, White & Blue suggests that a World Cup ticket is in the offing.

Out of camp: Martin Vasquez–the long-maligned tactical Smithers for Klinsmann who has been continually and widely questioned. Word is he will be reassigned to the U-21 side.

In other news, there are less than 70 days until the World Cup.

A headscratcher?

A headscratcher?

In: Berti Vogts…and Tab Ramos. Vogts is currently the coach of Azerbaijan but comes stateside with a player’s resume only short of a whatever soccer’s purple heart is. More importantly, perhaps, is Vogts has coached this past cycle against both Portugal and Germany.

By all accounts, the securing of Green’s services is a coup and one the US could benefit from for a while.

TSG contributor and now alum Steve Fenn dropped a succinct piece  on measuring Green by year and class for his short career and how he projects.

Continually, statistics show that most teams bring too many defenders to the World Cup. The chances of the 21st man (two keepers behind) getting on the field for the States aren’t high. The 2010 cycle saw two defenders (Jonathan Spector and Clarence Goodson) only on the pitch for goal celebrations. So the thought goes that Green is likely to be additive and may get some run …. if he makes it.

Gutsy and shocking if not disruptive is what you could say banishing a top technical assistant–an assistant sidekick of 10years no less–with just more than two months to the World Cup. Not to say it may not acquit itself as a masterstroke.

If you stood watching a month ago as the US played a pre-occupied Ukraine team that not so much dissected the States as took advantage of its collective ineptitude. It was a stunning continuum of efforts that have shown the US exposed recently against teams that are adequately prepped to face them. (This is not to say CONCACAF foes aren’t well-prepared, but the US’s three group stage opponents have the clear ability to dictate the game and attack weaknesses–in CONCACAF the US has superior talent.)

The opinion on Vogts is decidedly uneven.

Scottish commentary leads itself to grave concern from his time there. Opinion is mixed on his tenure with Azerbaijan as he “competed” with a team well below the talent level of its opposition.

Michallik

Michallik

Here’s what former US national player and ESPN analyst Janusz Michallik told TSG Monday:

“It had to be an incredibly tough decision for Jurgen knowing his relationship with Martin. He is and was his champion for so long.

There had to be something right now that made him make this difficult decision.

In terms of Berti it’s a bit out of leftfield, but I am sure that he is more than capable of the scouting the opposition. The questions on Berti have always been about communication and personality.”

To be clear, few, if any,  teams change their tactical command less than three months before the World Cup. This is an astounding move. It’s a clear demotion for Vasquez and it’s an introduction of a variable that does not have a clear history or managerial success. Maybe Klinsmann lost faith or Vasquez balked at having support in Vogts? Maybe there was some restlessness at recent performances and players or management questioned the coaching staff? All curious with Klinsmann’s extension (amazingly already) in place.

In any World Cup country, this leads Sportscenter. It’s that big.

Beyond all these sidebars, there’s a game going on Wednesday in Phoenix and there will still be a handful of Yanks on display hoping to win camp time come May.

Maurice Edu will be gunning to jump the pack in midfield while Michael Parkhurst will seek to show that he can back-up anywhere along the back four. Book that latter one.

And then there’s El Tri.

Key kickoff note here? Just one player, Jesus Zavala will likely start from the motley downtrodden Mexicrew that got Dos-A-Cero’d in Columbus a half year ago. Amazing the tumult when you consider Chicharito and friends were a trendy World Cup favorite pick coming of their Olympic win.

Without further Freddy Adu, we get to our customary preview.

As usual, it goes:

About The Opponent

TSG What We’re Looking For

11 At The Whistle.

Marco Fabian looks to impress...and get on that all important South American radar Thursday.

Marco Fabian looks to impress…and get on that all important South American radar Wednesday.

About The Opponent: Mexico

Just the local yocals this time for social media maven and El Tri honcho Miguel Herrera.

Forget Saint Zusi. Saint Herrera.

Forget Saint Zusi. Saint Herrera.

Herrera of course announced his last roster selections personally on Twitter. After submarining New Zealand in the World Cup playoff, Herrera can probably walk into any bar in Mexico …. and not buy himself a drink … and walk out with the title.

El Tri will trot out a highly domesticated but altogether refactored side when they line-up against the States in Arizona.

Though the squad has turned, Mexico still suffers from the same main ills that plagued their World Cup qualifying campaign–metronomic build-up out of the back that fizzles upon entering the attacking third.

They’ll add two more problems to surmount here–a general lack of team speed and new holes in a defense that’s toying dangerously, at times, with a three-man backline.

The team is certainly more cohesive and playing as unit.

Mexico presents like the States in that the rearguard must be shielded and they do their best defending swarming weaker opponent ball-handlers up the pitch. It’s not consistent or voracious enough, gegenpressing it is not. El Tri seems to defend aggressively only in spurts and they can often be content to sit back and wait out some minutes if they lose the run of play. That said, when they do sit, they can be given over to long spells of merely defending and hoping, more than anything, to hit on the counter.

Under Herrera, the attack has blossomed.

"Hey?! Still important over here." (Yes, but in a different way.)

El Tri in possession.

"Hey?! Still important over here." (Yes, but in a different way.)

“Hey?! Still important over here.” (Yes, but in a different way.)

By this eye, it’s down to a single change: the removal of Gio Dos Santos.

For all his unquestionable talent, Dos Santos is the El Tri equivalent of Allen Iverson–singularly good enough to force his team to victory on occasion but relied on so frequently that the exclusivity bred staleness.

Dos Santos is a terrific player. His 2011 demolishing of Carlos Bocanegra and the US backline at the Rose Bowl will live on in series infamy but there can be no question that El Tri has a freer range of movement and linking with Dos Santos off the pitch.

Herrera’s assessment dovetails with the one above. Here’s what he told the media in December:

“Gio is a player that can make a difference, but he plays in a position that I don’t use, in the hole,” Herrera told. “I need two strikers, I don’t need an enganche.”

The simple assessment is that Dos Santos ate up space and time with the ball on his feet at the top of the attacking third, in-cutting from the right. Now with two strikers, the space between the lines can be checked to instead of inhabited–either by one of the strikers or a tucked-in midfielder coming horizontal.

Up top in Brazil may be Oribe Peralta and Chicharito, but their understudies Wednesday will be Raul Jimenez and Alan Pulido–a partnering not unlike, in spirit, what the US faced in Bosnia’s Eden Dzecko and Vedad Ibisevic.

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The US Roster To Face Mexico: The Last Ride for Edu

Remember me?

Remember me?

GOALKEEPERS (3): Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

DEFENDERS (8): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes), Michael Orozco (Puebla), Michael Parkhurst (Columbus Crew), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC)

MIDFIELDERS (7): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Maurice Edu (Philadelphia Union), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

FORWARDS (4): Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Eddie Johnson (D.C. United), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

> Excellent addition of Mo Edu. Those that follow TSG know that the missing element in the mix–by this publication’s call–is a speedy, tracking CM for when the US knows it will be an up-down game. Danny Williams acquitted himself reasonably well in Cyprus. Now it’s Edu’s turn.

> Big go as well for Michael Parkhurst who sure is looking (Cameron, Gonzo, Besler, DMB, Evans, Goodson, Fab J*) like the “seven-and-a-halfth” defender on the roster. (Depth Chart coming soon.)

> Don’t understand the calls for EJ being on the bubble. He is clearly Klinsmann’s preferred back-up to Jozy Altidore as he presents the strength to hold-up the ball and take on a defender that Terrence Boyd and Juan Agudelo just don’t have the reps for.

 

Julian Green Allowed To Train With US for Mexico

"Mexico! It's right there!"

“Mexico! It’s right there! Just Brazil somewhere.”

According to SI, Julian Green–the wunderkind striker out of Bayern II–has been given permission to train with the US team ahead of Mexico.

Signs certainly point to Green having more than a passing chance at making the World Cup roster in Brazil, cap-tying him to the US for his international career.

This is not an unprecedented from a US coach as Steve Sampson promised leftback David Regis a starting spot at World Cup 1998 if he committed. Regis was naturalized on May 20, 1998 and then summarily started ahead of Jeff Agoos on the backline in ’98.

At World Cup 2010, defenders were the least used players as no side came closer than one player–Germany–from using their entire roster.

....

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Openers: MLS Week One

Theme of the weekend...

Swoops Edu

….and we’re off!

Hell of an opening weekend to MLS. You don’t have to be an MLS apologist to like some of the end-to-end action that transpired in Vancouver, Portland and DC among other places.

Single observations are always very fleeting and often incorrect, but here are some one’s that may be material as the season gets going.

• Choreography improves.

One of the more subtle knocks on MLS is that the movement of the players doesn’t exist within a set team system. There are acceptable reasons for this–lack of some technical ability, lack of coaches with deep portfolios and little academy or d-league development. It’s hard to assume that any one player will be on the same team come the next year still AND that if they’re not, that the next man down the ladder will be ready to step-up.

However, in Columbus–with the movement of Hector Jiminez, Josh Williams & Higuain–he deserves a single moniker; for Philadelphia, with the movement of Maidana, Gaddis & Nogueira and even in Vancouver with the movement of Fernandez, Kenny Miller and, gulp, Darren Mattocks showed better and more systemic choreography of movement in creating chances.

I also don’t think that it’s any surprise that these combinations were by players educated outside the domestic system, but it’s welcome nonetheless.

…and one final note on that gorgeous goal by the Crew….you’re better than that Nick DeLeon. You really are.

• Don’t bring a bulldozer to a motorcycle fight.

Here’s was my tweet Saturday evening.

Stand up Union fans–at least for this week and despite that stoppage time mess–there should be a spring in your step. And Hackworth Ire should diminish–for now.

The Union went into Portland and gave Portland something to be seriously concerned about and that is, “Our midfield and fullback support are as fast or faster than yours.”

The Timbs busted teams up in 2013 by laying waste to the opponent’s midfield.

In Week One, Chainsaw fans saw the back of Diego Chara more than front as Chara raced back frequently to help close down Philly wingers–specifically Cristian Maidana–after the triumvirate of Brian Carroll,  Vincent Nogueira & Maurice–hereby by dubbed “Swoops–Edu continually linked through and around Will Johnson, Diego Valeria and Chara.

(Quick aside, Maidana might’ve quashed even the smallest hope that Michael Harrington had for a shot at the USMNT leftback  chart.)

More so, even when the Timbs got out on the break, Edu and Nogueira rushed to get back behind the ball. Probably easy to grab double digit images of times when the Timbers outletted and by the time they were bearing down on goal in the attacking third as many as seven Union defenders were there to greet them.

With Austin Berry and Amobi Okugo–you may not find a young defender with a better understanding of the game in MLS than Okugo–keeping a tight line, the Timbers had some looks but for the most part got bottled. That said, Portland being Portland capitalized on a singular fundamental mistake of the Union to wrest a point back at the death–good teams find a way to win without their–not pun intended–fastball.

The grander point here is–and one that was witnessed as Vancouver bum-rushed the Red Bulls–is that this year it is clear that you better have a midfield that can compete with speed at a minimum, but frankly technical ability as well. (FC Dallas had some pretty linking on the weekend as well.)

CAMIL-WHO?

• The replacement refs should get to the negotiating table

…because that was a well-refereed first weekend–something that is not always present with said “regular refs.”

• Chivas USA should’ve had it easier

Ultimately an authoritative header by Bobby Burling closed out what was a great first stanza by Wilmer Cabrera’s “FC ML”S squad. That said, Dan Kennedy had a bit of shocker.

The two goals he gave up were extremely soft–the first one being banged home by Benji Joya after Kennedy did a poor job of parrying and the second one–though screened–a poor reaction on a good, but not great ball on the turn outside the box.

Kennedy will be fine, but he dodged a two-point bullet today.

… and while we’re on keepers, Bill Hamid has too many reps to have as poor body language as he does.

• Bruin revolution?

It was an unfortunate call by many in pre-season but the Revs stumbles out of the gate is not surprising, but should it be troubling?

Hopefully, it’s singularly on account of the lack of continuity with Lee Nguyen and Andre Farrell nursing injuries.

Jose Goncalves was apparently not 100% and showed as such. He’s battling his contract situation as much as a knock. Scott Caldwell was hesitant–to put it kindly–on shutting down in the middle. And the Revs’ loss stands in stark contrast to when Jay Heap’s side went down to Houston last year and ran the Dynamo off the pitch.

Will Bruin last year regressed and scored in spurts. He got a soft NE side out of the gate Saturday–needs to keep up the consistency to show a healthy correction.

• Uri-nated (sorry)

Olum's passing chart.

Olum’s passing chart.

Plaudits for the work Saturday of such noted midfielders as Osvaldo Alonso for the Highlighters and Benny Feilhaber for Powder Blues, but the key midfielder for both sides Saturday was Uri Rosell, who sat on the day. Lawrence Olum filled in for the visitors and with KC missing their first-choice fullbacks in Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic, Seattle was able to get the ball in transition where it wanted to go faster and create some opportunities.

Continually with Rosell not moving the ball quickly out of the back, Feilhaber had a good game, but was much less integral in creating chances without Rosell protecting him.

For some visual and quantitative perspective, above is Olum’s passing chart (11 of 30 to go with some difficulties defensively). While not apples to apples (and in a 1-0 loss at home last year), Rosell went 14-of-66 against the Sonics at Sporting Park. Hard to overcome the engine out of the back being absent if the fullbacks require cover as well.

And PSA: Jeb Brovsky…onto another good cause. Have a click-and-sign if you would:

MLS 2014 Preseason Prediction Preview (II of II)

…and we forge on….without your consent or approval. (Part I here if you missed it.)

Hanging with Mr. Co...Magee!

Hanging with Mr. Co…Magee!

* The Mike Magee It’s Not HGH; it’s Landon’s Sabbatical Surprise Goal Scorer 2014 award?

Zack: Can I still pick Mike Magee for this? I look around that Chicago team and I’m not sure where else the goals will come from. I expect another big start to the season for him, especially with that potential, if unlikely, World Cup spot up for grabs.

Parchy: SURPRISE! You might’ve thought FC Dallas found Tesho Akindele in the Mines of Moria, and you’d be right. He’s an Oredigger, and he only escaped the mighty Balrog of the Misty Mountains via his wits and a pretty handy left foot. But, his entrance to the league delayed by a nasty case of dwarvish gout, it’ll be Alan Gordon. PLOT TWIST!

Nutmeg: You might think I’d say someone like Eddie Johnson, because anyone scoring goals in DC would be a shock to the senses. I think we’re all well aware that Ben Olsen is probably going to ride GAM until the wheels fall off, but I still don’t think that Eddie Johnson scoring goals is that surprising. The surprisingly still under-30 Kenny Cooper putting up Red Bulls numbers again, however, would be. Prepare.

Matthew: Urruti Tutti Fresh N’ Fruity. Can you imagine Timbs’ opponents this year. Valeri? ✓. Gaga Fernandez? ✓. Nagbe? ✓ “Damn, where did Valeri go?” “Wait who’s the young rattail kid sneaking in on goal all alone.” 12 to 15. Book it.

Biggy: Assuming Eddie Johnson is off to the World Cup, and that is a mighty large assumption, it will be Conor Doyle. He’s got a lot of potential, and with the offseason to actually get to know some of his teammates, he could be the breakout star of 2014. In fact, I’m going to go pick him up in fantasy right now.

Never gets old

* Seattle’s pitch in 2014 will…. get better? get worse? burst into flames? cave into a sinkhole? or other?

Zack: Somehow be triumphantly proclaimed “the loudest pitch in the league” in another MLS Cup-less season by Sounders fans and media.

Nutmeg: I’d like to allow Richard Sherman to answer this question for me since he feels the same way about Michael Crabtree as I do about Seattle’s pitch.

Matthew: …will do this:

Don’t laugh…that happened in Tacoma. Something about the Washington … air.

Parchy: This question should’ve somehow been melded with the Merritt Paulson tweet one. Can we give Merritt a dedicated Twitter account entitled “Does Seattle’s Field Have Football Lines Today?” Even when it doesn’t, every day is a “Yes.” To answer your question, orange.

...

* Player most likely to enjoy “the air” when in Seattle or Colorado?

Nutmeg: Thierry Henry isn’t a fan of the “grass” in Seattle, but at some point, if he decides to travel, he’ll need something to do with his free time. And they say “the air” helps with phantom ailments.

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USA v. Ukraine: Live Commentary

One hour to Cam vs. Kono at UFC 238. (If you missed the preview, it’s here.)

USA vs. Ukraine as the US tunes for Brazil.

The grounds ... via Rog Bennett, ESPN.

The grounds … via Rog Bennett, ESPN.

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