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Zero Mile Goalposts: MLS Roots In Atlanta

No longer Outkasts? MLS in Atlanta

No longer Outkasts? MLS in Atlanta

Author John Parker is the AO Atlanta Co-President and founding member.

He’s also the adidas ITP Director of Youth Development and Chief Storyteller. He knows his stuff.

I had always fantasized that the news of Atlanta MLS would arrive with much greater personal fanfare and the jovial mug shot to prove it. Yet, wrapped in a blanket of post-concussive syndrome, I experienced a moment I had fantasized about for a decade plus from a surprising distance. There was the fog that has been ever present the past few weeks casting concern upon my lucidity…and then there was this other question on my tongue, “how much confirmation bias have I heaped upon Atlanta MLS?”

I’m admittedly something of a rarity in Atlanta.

I live in the city of my birth (right down the new streetcar line that will go straight to the new Dome). I prefer to walk or take public transit. The only bar in Atlanta with the MLS Direct Kick package is one block from my house (due to my constant nagging) and I eschewed more romantic pursuits to work in a sport where I never excelled. I watched thirteen hours of MLS this weekend and the rest of the time I spent espousing the cultural growth of the area around downtown Atlanta to an old friend…I should be perfectly positioned to argue the MLS merits of my beloved hometown.

Yet this long-winded deposition begs the point, am I in too deep in to be trusted?

As such I felt the need to write this article to not only make the argument in support of MLS in Atlanta, but also to illuminate my own biases to myself. With a three-year purgatory soon upon us, there will be few topics on my tongue besides the impending team. Those who’ve seen MLS succeed and/or fail in their local towns will glean points that support their argument for or against Atlanta (and I know it’s mostly against). Either way, for me my passion has been directed at “the greater good” of MLS and US Soccer. Now, finally, it can be crafted around my hometown.

A Modern Atlanta

The local narrative surrounding improvements around Atlanta were vastly undermined by two national stories in the past year. With the move of the Atlanta Braves to Cobb County, and the ice storm that stranded motorists throughout the metro area, Atlanta was thrust in to the national purview. As is typical for Atlanta, if the nation cares it’s because we’ve yet again reinforced the concern around unchecked suburban sprawl. It’s true that Atlanta is a city that spends much of its time in cars transporting to and from the northern suburbs. It’s also true that the demographics of the city become a good bit more homogenous as you drive north.

These are issues I jest about locally, and issues I choose to mitigate when I craft the story of Atlanta for myself. It’s also an issue that came to a head during the Braves move and one that will be fascinating come 2017. While nationally the focus rested upon the density of the sprawl and population north of the city, the focus within Atlanta was one of division. Rapid demographic and cultural changes brought investment and an influx of young professionals back in to the east and west sides of the city. It’s the “g” word in caps lock, and it has been happening at near New York speed. With the growth in the city came money and a larger political voice. This voice stands in stark contrast with that of the northern counties.

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The Braves, a fixture in the east side of Atlanta and a cultural hallmark for many of the mid twenty to thirty something’s that now populate the area, elected for the easy money in the north over the growth potential in the city. This repudiated the momentum people like me believed was consistent in Atlanta’s evolution. However, the feeling of loss and insult that populated the daily topics of conversation was actually reinvigorating. It became clear Atlanta had formed a definitive identity, one that can and will eventually battle the national narrative of sprawl, sweet tea, and Waffle House. With easy access via Atlanta Rapid Transit (MARTA), the new Street Car or simply by foot, a successful grassroots campaign can form a core from the burgeoning identity of Atlanta.

An envelopment of Downtown Atlanta has come from the surrounding neighborhoods and inspired multiple massive developments besides the new stadium. With new investment in Downtown, a culture around the team and game day experience should follow. And with some craftily disseminated marketing campaigns, the desire to unify and represent a city oft maligned and undersold could create an unexpected surge of passion.

This is not to discount greater Atlanta as a whole. Atlanta MLS will and should try to build upon the massive Hispanic presence as well as the swath of youth soccer. MLS 3.0 will and must draw from these demographics. However, the national discussion on attendance of El Tri games and the omnipresence of youth soccer purposefully manipulates the argument to assume other opportunities aren’t more fruitful. The demographics for a downtown team that have shown success in the Pacific Northwest, Kansas City and elsewhere are here and growing. In 2017, they’ll be presented with a team to call their own as the Braves hit the trail for the suburbs. The tribal nature that epitomizes MLS supporter culture is one that I’ve often sought here in Atlanta and one I embrace with each opportunity.

I project myself on my neighbors in prescribing it for them as well. Whether this is a myopic belief or not will be an essential part of the equation for success.

A Sporting Quandary

A favorite case against Atlanta is the supposed fickle nature of its fans. Herein lies a larger question for Atlanta MLS where personal optimism faces a much more treacherous course. There is context for each professional team in Atlanta that allows for an educated argument that it is not the citizens’ fault. Yet our sprint to craft context does belie the truth to the national argument. To say Atlantans are fickle sports fans is to overlook that it is the capitol city of arguably the most passionate set of fans, those of southern college football. This will never change considering that the graduates of southern schools find the greatest upward mobility in Atlanta.

For many, college football is so large that it leaves little vacancy for other sports. I sympathize as I’ve had a similar reaction with soccer, having become something of a bandwagon fan for all other local sports considering I already occupy so much of my passion with a single pursuit.

However, while it is easy to roll my eyes at those who say Atlanta is not a sports town, it is much more difficult to argue against Atlanta not being a professional sports town. To sway the football diehards to take a Saturday in the fall off for soccer will be difficult. For this portion of the populace, I have questions I cannot answer. There are some traits to the city, however, that do console my attempts to craft my preferred narrative.

Most importantly, unlike the other local franchises they will not be competing with teams from other cities for Atlanta’s passion. What MLS lacks in generational continuity can be advantageous to expansion clubs in a young league, especially in a city with such a highly proportional transplant community.

There is a ground swell of a more contagious civic pride to expand from, and what I believe will be a downtown location in the top 20% in MLS. There are the demographics that convert to MLS fans and a void being opened by the Braves. These advantages should allow MLS breathing room in a claustrophobic sports city. The opportunities afforded being more about overcoming the sporting landscape may mean smoke bombs and sports radio won’t institutionalize this franchise. Successfully transforming Atlanta MLS in to a cultural landmark will require the proper organizational commitment Arthur Blank.

Prospecting for ticket buyers...

Prospecting for ticket buyers…

 

The Rich Man of Atlanta

I won’t harp on Arthur Blank’s business acumen, as I find little correlation between that and sporting success (plenty of intelligent men have found sports to be a great opportunity for business reasons alone). Rather, I’d focus on what Arthur Blank has meant to the Atlanta sporting landscape. As much as we (myself included) like to extol the importance of supporter culture, the quality of the organization for MLS is a necessary first. Portland’s brilliant marketing campaign, the organizational evolution in Kansas City, and the ambitious brilliance of Tim Leiweke were the conditions that build the foundation for strong supporter cultures to thrive in their respective cities. Here lies one of, if not the greatest of, Atlanta’s advantages. Some may remember the days of Ted Turner as owner of the Braves and Hawks.

In these days Atlanta was signing reigning Cy Young pitchers, packing the Omni for Hawks games, and finding unity in its sporting culture. Turner’s merger with Time Warner lead to a corporatization of the Atlanta sports teams and a loss of the façade that separated business from pride and passion. Left with an out of town corporate Braves ownership and a scrapheap collective for the Hawks and Thrashers rife with infighting, the city has instituted Arthur Blank as the 21st Century Atlantan Daddy Warbucks. Blank has been harkened upon to save each Atlanta franchise throughout his ownership.

While some do not appreciate his omnipresence within the team (he often stands on the sideline at the end of Falcons games), it cannot be denied that he is the only owner in the city who cares about his team and the city it represents, while capably executing upon his ambition. While there is no proof that he will show similar commitment to MLS, there simply isn’t a body of evidence to point either way. Yes, Home Depot has invested heavily in MLS and US Soccer, and the Blank Foundation has been involved with soccer non-profits as well.

However, these actions do not inspire me to erect barricades Peachtree Street, and they won’t for you either. We have to search for our context elsewhere. His investment in the city of Atlanta is the best body of proof we have for Blank’s commitment. I won’t bore with further details here, but it is at the least well built in to his public perception. The unfortunate nature of soccer in America is there simply isn’t a historical passion for the sport that permeates the ultra-wealthy. What we can plead to in the case of expansion is often the import placed in their public perception and their pride in the city they are investing in. With Arthur Blank it is easy to be optimistic that pleas to both will be heard.

What is Soccer in Atlanta?

While I’ve delved in to my optimism for the trajectory of the city and our most visible investor, this is unfortunately a question I cannot avoid here. I’ve avoided it so far due to my admitted confusion of what soccer means in most any diverse American town. There is a vast youth soccer scene in Atlanta, a large Hispanic presence, and a multicultural influence upon the evolving culture…these have not been the determining factors for MLS success yet.

Terminus Legion

Terminus Legion

There is a comparatively well-attended D2 team and a supporter group, Terminus Legion, already established. This bodes well, but…teams have succeeded even without this in place. What soccer means to your town is often very different than what American soccer means to your town. The difference rests at the confluence of dwindling apathy and a palpable void. It’s the reason American soccer is so damn interesting…because there is still so much mystery. As such, I find Atlanta to embody many of the traits of MLS. While I would say it is an average soccer town, there is a palpable void where MLS could create an American soccer town.

Conclusion

None of the arguments contained within will likely sway the cynics. They are not enough to inspire me to guarantees either. There are immutable concerns for a city that hasn’t shown a united civic or sporting pride with consistency. However, what I do know is that there is a very real potential for above average here. The arguments I’ve focused upon outline what are likely major advantages that have been essential aspects of previous MLS expansion sides’ success. To expect complete fulfillment of these advantages in a new region in a new era of MLS would admittedly be naïve. I may simply be overemphasizing a narrative I embrace to inspire confidence in order to neglect of a more ominous eventuality.

But the difficulty defining American soccer portends to the difficulty in estimating its grasp. At best one can look at the vessel and estimate the capacity. To return to my opening, it becomes clear that the argument for Atlanta is largely an argument born from the hope of what it could become. This conclusion, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to necessitate the narrative I’ve attempted to construct.

However, it does differentiate Atlanta from many of the previous expansion sides. In Orlando there is a very clear expectation. Nationally there were expectations of Philadelphia, of Montreal. There was an insurgence in Portland, and a collectivity in Seattle. As such Atlanta may be the most indeterminable expansion project yet, one that should cast doubts on certainties from both cynics and optimists. But Hope is a trait that exemplifies the sport in this country, and makes being a fan of it so worthwhile. In Atlanta it should be a trait that galvanizes a city that is ready to transition from hope to fulfillment.

USA 2 – Mexico 2: Odes & String Music To Beckerman

Walk in the park....

Walk in the park….

(The return of Will Parchman. That escalated quickly.)

I can’t do it you guys.

I know Jeff Agoos is staring at me from the bar over there.

I told him about this whole thing a couple weeks ago and I think he hates me now. I’m not trying to make enemies. I just wanted him to know I liked Julian Green. I mean, he’s young, but he’s pretty great. I told Jeff I thought he should be in Brazil the other day over our customary Thursday dinner of Grilled Cheese Martinis and Olestra Pancakes, and he just started yelling something about David Regis. How life is unfair and I think he said something about ponytails but I couldn’t make it out over all the carnage. I was running away by then.

Apologies to Jeff, but this is the first day on the new USMNT Julian Calendar. Whether or not he ends up in Brazil – which he should, as I’ve written about before and will defend – this is something like a recruiting coup during the last hour of signing day. I won’t get too deeply into the specifics or detail of my opinion because it’s all been thrown at you by verbal gymnasts more adept than I over the past couple weeks.

But I will say this – don’t hate me Jeff. I like you. But I like Julian Green too. And he doesn’t throw my Grilled Cheese Martini in my face.

Anyway, hier kommt die Mericaschaft. TO THE XI MY GREENIACS (I’m already so sorry for everything).

U.S. Soccer ‏@ussoccer 18m

#USMNT lineup (plain text version): Rimando; Beltran, Gonzalez, Besler, Parkhurst; Beckerman, Zusi, Davis, Bradley; Wondolowski, Dempsey

First reaction is FULLBACKS ARE DEAD. I don’t know what it’s like to feel confident about a fullbacking corps, but I DO know how it feels like to feel confidence in a corpse of a fullback. ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED. IS THIS NOT WHY YOU ARE HERE. Anyway. We’ll see. Beltran’s started the MLS season well, as has Parkhurst, who’s splayed out a bit wider in the Crew’s scheme even as a central defender. Also, I’m not particularly fond of Gonzo, and if that makes you upset feel free to send your hate mail to my coworkers. Thanks.

Brad Davis starts on the left to give us all a stark reminder of why America needs Julian Green in its player pool. Yes? Yes. This is Klinsmann just saying SCREW ALL OF YOU I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING. I don’t know why else that happens. Davis has some utility, but internationally I’ve had enough of his plaintive grunts and frustrated ears. Clint drops in behind Wondo, Graham Zusi does some shuttling on the right and hot damn am I excited to see Beckerman next to Bradley. Just a couple lovely midfielders.

This is supposedly a diamond. No way it ends up that way. No chance. Don’t care what Klinsmann wants, Bradley won’t reliably stack on Beckerman the way a diamond demands, and Dempsey won’t stay high. It’ll rearrange itself into a 4-2-3-1. Send me all of your anthrax if I’m wrong. Promise.

The rollout for the damned polo (The Damned Polo?) was one of the worst games I’ve ever seen. Time for The American Dream-sicle’s turn. You can use that. You should use that. Tell your friends.

Ian Darke’s voice fades in and immediately millions of multi-lingual babies with an encyclopedic knowledge of rich aged whiskeys are spontaneously born across the nation. Game time. Leggo.

‘1 – It’s too early to say anything, so I’m going to say something. Bradley is high. Maybe this will end up being a diamond. Should you listen to thinks I say? Hold on I’m making a Buzzfeed list about it.

‘2 – Tony Beltran already looks bad. More jokes about fullback corpses. More wine, stewards!

‘6 – Early thoughts: Parkhurst is so high. I mean the Colorado way. I also mean the tactical way. Mexico looks horribly disorganized. Beckerman and Bradley will make this look a lot more comfortable than it seems. And it probably won’t seem comfortable because Tony Beltran hates everything you hold dear.
‘9 – Wondo just gave Rafa a shove off the ball which, I mean, he plays for the Quakes but you’ve still got to root for that. Also, let’s talk about how much better Bradley is than everyone in the building tonight. My word. There’s calm, and then there’s Bill Murray, and then there’s Michael Bradley.

’13 – Odes and string music to Kyle Beckerman here. Have you seen his engagement photos? See his engagement photos.

’15 – THE DOOOOOMEEEEEEE GOOOOOALLLLLLSZZZZZ. Such marking. Many bad. Feels. Jesus Zavala just decided, you know, what the hell, who needs this bullcrap? Halfway to dos-a-cero, you know.

’20 – FIRST JULIAN GREEN SIGHTING ON THE BENCH. He sits next to DeAndre Yedlin, who was laughing because Tony Beltran is actually playing cricket right now. Drunk.

’24 – Besler flubs a header and Ian says, “Make mistakes like that against Cristiano Ronaldo and YOU’LL DIE YOU MISERABLE MAGGOTMAN.” OK. So not exactly. But I think if you wrote him, I mean, that was the gist. Are you scared? You should be scared. Omar isn’t very good.

’26 – Dempsey drops deeper than Bradley sometimes, which is not good. A sign he’s trying to prod the game open instead of letting it breathe. Bradley is settling atop Beckerman, but this is no 4-4-2. Dempsey is dropping back but needs to stay stacked on

’28 – GOAL WONDOFACEEEEE. Beltran did a thing! What! What! What! Beltran’s cross hits Bradley’s beautiful STATE CAPITAL DOME, which heads on for Wondo, who Wondo’d it Wondo tip you Wondo’d yourself. #DosACero

’30 – You’re happy about this if you’re the USMNT. I mean, you can’t be upset. Tony Beltran just did a thing. But Mexico is just John Tesh trying to sing you to sleep through a megaphone made of hypodermic needles right now. It’s sad and I can’t be apart of it.

’37 – No chance Klinsmann takes four forwards to Brazil, right? ArJo and Jozy are there. Which in my mind, with so many spots needed in midfield/defense, you either take EJ or Wondo. I know Wondo scored tonight. But he’s Wondo. Sorry, blacked out, were we talking about a third forward? I’m sad. What’s Julian Green doing right now?

’40 – Brad Davis just tried a back heel. It ended with Davis waking up in a Tijuana side street wondering why he’s covered in purple crepe paper.

’45 – Ian Darke: “THIS IS A RAZOR SHARP DISPLAY FROM THE UNITED STATES.” Yeah. What’s Clint done tonight? Why is he so high.

HALFTIME – US to win the World Cup? US to win the World Cup. Steward! More wine!

’46 – Michael Bradley led all players with 54 first-half touches. At this point you wonder how many staples it takes to make him Pirlo? No subs at half, but Julian Green comes on soon

’48 – Roger Bennett tweets Julian Green running around on the sideline. We all start jumping around like schoolchildren at this point, yes? OK?

’50 – Mexico goal off a set piece. Omar Gonzalez got picked, yeah, but he’s so shaky. Do you trust him for Brazil? I don’t know. 2-1. I’m going to go ahead and say Omar Gonzalez is not an international level center back and then #CameronOverEverything. Just going to leave that here.

’54 – Another set piece and this time Besler ball watches, only luck that leaves the header begging. Scaaaary.

’58 – MOTHER OF GOD THAT’S JULIAN GREEN’S MUSIC. ALSO LANDON DONOVAN WHO IS A HUMAN ALSO. You are free to officially start your Julian Calendars. Flip over to 1 AJ. Again, I’m very sorry for all of this.

 

"Luke, I am your father."

“Luke, I am your father.”

’59 – Green on for Brad Davis. Light some candles. Put on some Barry White LPs. We’re getting real.

’61 – Mexico looks ascendent. Goodson looks terrible already. Omar is drunk. What do we do? Oh yeah Julian Green. NM.

’66 – Bradley’s deployment higher means Dempsey pushes higher himself, running channels almost like a runner on the final leg of a 4×200 snagging the baton from his relay partner. It at times leaves Dempsey left out of the attack, but he’s more effective than he’s been in recent games. Which admittedly isn’t saying much but you know. Deuce.

’67 – Yeah, Mexico goal. Deserved. Good cut-back pass there, and Goodson/Omar are terrible together so it all makes sense. Goodson is a giraffe on marbles. Always.

’70 – BUCK UP IDIOTS.

’74 – Donovan came on for Zusi in the 58th, which I didn’t mention because Donovan’s been invisible, and this is just the fifth time Donovan/Dempsey/Bradley have played together under Jurgen Klinsmann (which goes back to August 2011). They have a 1-2-1 record together. Their only win together is 3-1 over Antigua & Barbuda. It does not look like No. 2 is on the way tonight. This is crumbling.

’76 – DEMPSEY JUST DID A THING WITH A TOUCH AND MAN DO YOU REMEMBER THAT GUY TREADING ON PEOPLE I’M KIND OF SAD NOW WHERE’S MY WINE STEWARD

’78 – Yedlin is on at RB for Beltran and already he’s combined with Dempsey for good times, great music. The best player to ever have worn the No. 2 for the USMNT is Frankie Hejduk. I’m not lying.

’80 – Julian Green injures his shoulder falling to the ground trying to trap a ball with nobody around. Suddenly a lot of people feel really stupid. Not me. Definitely not me.

’85 – EJ GOAL BUT THE FLAG IS UP BECAUSE COMMUNISTS. I’m sure EJ scored. Bradley started that whole thing. Let me see the replay, ESPN. OK. ONSIDE. Not close. I told you guys. Communists.

’87 – JULIAN GREEN PENNO BUT NO CALL BECAUSE COMMUNISTS. Guys. Punch something. Punch anything. Punch everything.

’89 – Both wrong calls. If this was the World Cup, I mean, I’m not saying this is all about Slovenia 2010, but it’s about Slovenia 2010 and I think somebody needs to be punched in their secret spaces.

’92 – This back line is like Uwe Boll’s directorial career. Gaping holes, sadness and trash fires.

FINAL. 2-2.

Ok. So the diamond kind of held more than I figured, though Dempsey dropped somewhat deep as we all figured. I was (somewhat) wrong. I owe all of you beers or something.

Good and bad things. The defense should scare you witless for Brazil. It’s bordering on DUKES OF HAZARD BROS JUMPIN’ OVER STUFF. Bradley is a mangod. Julian Green looked young but, I mean, I’d take him. Yedlin should start at RB (I SAID IT YOU WANNA FIGHT BRAH). Dempsey is still kind of scary but he looked better. Ian Darke can sire my children. The end. Thanks for joining. I’m going to find my wine steward. I think he’s drunk.

Mexico vs. USA: Live Commentary

The birth of Yedlin? The return of EJ? The lament of Dolo? J-Money?

EJ got his DP contract, but will he make it rain up top for the US in Phoenix?

EJ got his DP contract, but will he make it rain up top for the US in Phoenix?

Interlude: Michael Bradley, The 2014 Cycle Moment

Got a little wispy that we won’t see Steve Cherundolo at RB for the US anymore.

For some reason, it meander to thinking about arguably the best moment of the USMNT 2014 World Cup campaign–the third goal against Guatemala in Kansas City during the first round of qualifying.

Dempsey: “Sorry I poached your [goal], bro.”

Bradley: “I don’t give a fuck, dude.”

USA 3 - Guatemala 1

USA 3 – Guatemala 1

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

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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.

 

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