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.

....

….

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

Continue reading

Selected Images: USA 2 – South Korea 0

Matt Mathai. F-Stop Assassin.

Again.

D3S_0373 D3S_0430 D3S_0448 D3S_0451 D3S_0551 D3S_0776 D3S_0961 D3S_1033 D3S_1329 D3S_1818 D8H_0073 D8H_0100
D3S_0481

D3S_0560

D3S_1451

D3S_1475

D3S_1579

D3S_1713

D3S_1861

D3S_1938

D3S_2304

D3S_2408

USA vs. South Korea: I’ve Got Seoul Or I’m Super Bad

(The prodigal son makes a return)

"You wear that thing...."

“Split ends!”

Here’s what I know about South Korea’s junior varsity based upon a single observation Tuesday night. They’ve got a right midfielder, Kim Tae-Hwan, who is, indeed, a player. Slices centrally on his right and has quick first jab step. He’ll create a chance Saturday afternoon.

Their midfield will harass you in a swarm after the half line and extract a few buckets of turnovers. Their centerback pairing–whoa their centerbacks. Their Tuesday effort made the “Chad Marshall-Clarence Goodson against Mexico in 2009 at the Meadowlands” performance look absolutely symphonic. (Why’d you have to bring that up, old man?). And they’ve got a tall, rangey huckleberry up top who was directing traffic Tuesday and surprisingly spry….until you realize half the time he was battling Crash Marquez who will have binders full of red cards in Brazil.

Oh and the Koreans are number two in the MLS allocation order to no one’s surprise and the over-under on Ji-Sung Park references this weekend stands at 123.

And that’s really all that’s needed because just a slightly raised eye will be on the States at “The Bruce” (well done David Lindholm) to see if a little junket to Brazil can punch a few more return tickets in the summer, unmask a surprise player or two and take down a team that is should handle even though it’s a friendly.

It’s a curious bunch… these Yanks… this winter.

In the tried and true tradition, Jurgen Klinsmann leads with defense first. Omar and Besler in the middle with Rimando cleaning up behind and the newly be-ball-and-chained Kyle Beckerman directing the orange defensive flag waving attacks to the left lane on right. This part of the line-up will be ho-hum, biz as usual. (But make sure to keep your eye on Omar’s play. He’s been clean in the tackle–no cards for the US in 2013–and for the most part tidy, if not accurate on the ball, but he’s been a step slow in the team defense game and that… that … will kill you against the world’s best this summer.)

Quick aside and belabored point: Why is this a foreign notion to folks that good teams, championship-level teams shore up their defense at the start of a managers tenure. Southampton, Everton, the newish Bayern. Set the team defense and find out where you can take risks of losing shape to create opportunities.

However, these campers though may or may not follow the attacking blueprint that has developed since Costa Rica was picking icicles out of their ass in March of last year. There are three rightbacks still on the roster after one-ish (Shane O’Neill) was sent home.

There appears to be no lefty leftback on the roster with the job authored to Michael Harrington by most of the media–then you remember that Antigua & Barbuda saw Jose Torres at leftback in the quarterback role so you think Brad Davis–decidedly not quick enough covering in midfield. Maybe a ball distributing, less defensive leftback role might be an option–especially with Fabian Johnson’s injury issues and Edgar Castillo’s up-down form.

The top is striker heavy with a bunch of grisled veterans of MLS American football fields past.

Screen Shot 2014-01-31 at 9.28.22 AM

….rolling…

Mike Magee–MLS’s original Heath Pearce–who liked to roll in early….from party time that is early in his career. Eddie Johnson who will probably have a better career at DC United and more lengthy overall than Freddy Adu–think about that. And of course, there’s Papa Wondo, Chris Wondolowski–who, take a bow my friend, didn’t have to go to Europe to get paid fairly in MLS.

As for that attack, back in December, Jurgen Klinsmann–thank you World Cup prep–got a little found out. Scotland and Austria watched the tape and knew to overplay to the Yanks’ left with DaMarcus Beasley manning the ball typically out of the back.

Maybe he pulls a Davis at leftback or….

Just having some fun here at your expense.

Just having some fun here at your expense.

…. maybe he flips the formation on the vertical axis and goes up the right side–we saw South Korea keep distribution up there stronger right side on Tuesday.

Seattle Super ... Sonic

Seattle Super … Sonic

Maybe it is Harrington–or more likely Parkhurst–playing the tucked in defender role and maybe it’s Seattle’s Super Brad Evans in the first half with Seattle’s Sonic, DeAndre Yedlin earning his first cap relieving.

To balance the oppositely symmetric formation out Eric Alexander plays the Ale Bedoya role–near identical left-footed player there by the way in terms of skill set and the Yanks push up the right side with Evans and Yedlin, pardon me Clyde Frazier, overlapping and attacking.

Either way you can probably be sure of a few things come Saturday.

Just like last year’s eye sore against Canada, there will be test-iteration-test-iteration.

There will be a few wrinkles in deployment and stutters in attack…and defense for that matter. Sacha Kljestan won’t get three on the night and rubberstamp his US legacy and they’ll be a little sparkle of some player that will get him a half chance with the big boys at some point.

So sit back and save your energy–from analysis, groans, sweeping statements–by Cobi Jones’s eye Papa Wondo locked his World Cup spot against Belize six month ago–and rest up, because shit’s about to get real.

Michael Bradley Toronto FC Bound via sources

Is America’s ultimate prodigal son returning?

On Tuesday, a source intimated to me that Michael Bradley was headed out of Roma.

On Wednesday the news became cataclysmic. Bradley, according to ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman, was headed to MLS’s Toronto FC–no doubt, inferred, through the work of former AEG frontman Tim Leiweke. Alexi Lalas later confirmed the report that Twellman was going to be Red.

Now, an official announcement awaits?

Shane O’Neill & 25 Others Called Into Camp Klinsmann

Come on down the Rapids. Well deserved for outlaw Shane.

Come on down the Rapids. Well deserved for outlaw Shane.

Shane O’Neill, Eric Alexander, Luis Gil… Yedlin. Nice work Herr Klinsinator.

US camp opens January 6th in California and jumps midstream to Sao Paulo through the 25th and then finishes up back at the Artist Formerly Known as HDC in early February.

The roster:

GOALKEEPERS (4): Tally Hall (Houston Dynamo), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

DEFENDERS (10): Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes), Michael Harrington (Portland Timbers), Chris Klute (Colorado Rapids), Chance Myers (Sporting Kansas City), Shane O’Neill (Colorado Rapids), Seth Sinovic (Sporting Kansas City), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Eric Alexander (New York Red Bulls), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

FORWARDS (4): Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Eddie Johnson (D.C. United), Mike Magee (Chicago Fire), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes) -

ESPN World Cup Promo #1

If you read this publication enough, you know there is a decidedly objecting view on how the prep work for World Cup 2014 is going down (like most World Cups.)

That said an ESPN spot here promoting the World Cup is well done.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 220 other followers