It’s TSG Fantasy EPL time!

That’s right. The Shin Guardian Fantasy EPL is back. But wait, there’s more!

Dat. Hair.

Sorry, I got distracted when I said the word fantasy. Mainly because I started thinking about Geoff Cameron’s hair. Now that is a fantasy. Sorry Stu, your run as best Amhairican out there looks like it has come to an end. So get in on the official league of the most official soccer site on the most official internet that you know: Oh to have hair like Geoff Cameron!! (click meeeeeee) through the delightful fantasy dot premier league site. They do all the work, you do all the winning.

Speaking of winning, we’ve linked up with the good people over at Ruffneck Scarves / Who Are Ya Designs to give away some prizes during the fantasy EPL season. At the end of each month, whoever is in the top spot in the league will get to pick a scarf or t-shirt of their choice from the lovely collections they have. Only deal is once you win once, you can’t win again. No hogging all the goods.

We will also do a couple random giveaways throughout the season that will be randomly chosen, for those of us who have zero shot at finishing first. Like me. So basically, get in. Maybe you will win. Then you could take your new gear for a spin. That surely will leave you with a grin. Unlike my last 4 sentences.

Dos A Cero!

Brilliant.

Click here to get in the finest fantasy EPL league of them all or if you just need the league code, it is: 230169-260522. While you are clicking on things, give the TSG Facebook page a like if you feel so inclined. Tell your friends to get in the league too, so you can embarrass them with your expert knowledge of  the English Premier League, and then watch as they beat you based on picking players with the shortest names. It happens. I’m not bitter at all, I promise.

Ignore Geoff Cameron At CB At Your Own Peril

"Stop. I'm a CB."

“Stop. I’m a CB.”

Alex Olshanky makes the technical call: Geoff Cameron is a lion-in-waiting at CB.

The consensus among most long-time observers of Geoff Cameron is that the American international is best-utilized as a central defender or, potentially, as a central defensive midfielder. Not surprisingly, Cameron seems to agree with this assessment. Most do not see Cameron as a natural right back.

And yet, that is where he has carved out a nice role for himself at Stoke. Cameron made 36 of his 37 appearances in that role during the most recent EPL campaign. While he performed ably and drove his skillset up the RB quality curve–by the end of the year he was Stoke’s main conduit from the back and was hitting a higher percentage of crosses–it was a role where he was unable to make full use of his athleticism, arguably Cameron’s best attribute.

Cameron's Azteca point-blank-shot-saving header.

Cameron’s Azteca point-blank-shot-saving header. 

But, there is growing speculation that other European teams see in Cameron what he sees in himself: an international-caliber center back. The evidence, though not conclusive, indicates that Cameron should have no trouble finding a role in central defense for another team.

While we have a pretty good understanding of key performance indicators for attacking soccer players, there has been woefully little progress in measuring defensive players and, in particular, central defensive players. This is understandable: the best attribute for a defender is the attacking play that did not happen – how do you measure that? It’s like when a defensive tackle collapses the pocket, so a linebacker can make a play. There are no stats for “collapses pocket.”

This major caveat aside, there is one measurable trait that most of the best central defenders possess— the ability to win aerials. Opta measures both the number of aerials contested in a match and the % of these aerial battles “won” for every player. Although he played as a right back, Cameron demonstrated an aerial prowess that compares well to his central defensive peers.

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Skeptical that aerial win (%) means anything? Here are the players with 70%+ aerial win.

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We do have some more recent data on Cameron as a central defensive player.

We looked at his games vs. Turkey, Nigeria, Ghana, Portugal, and Belgium (he played as a central defensive midfielder this game).

We evaluated Cameron on three key central defensive indicators: aerial win (%), # of clearances, blocked shots (as a percent of shots conceded). While not all-encompassing in their scope, these are some of the better indicators we have for center backs.

Here is how this admittedly small sample size of Cameron’s international work stacks up against the best center backs in the EPL (per composite rankings of Whoscored, Squawka, Castrol). This analysis is in no way definitive, and you are no doubt thinking of that error vs. Portugal, but there is undoubtedly some compelling evidence on Geoff Cameron’s side.

Compelling evidence for Cameron.

Compelling evidence for Cameron.

1AD: Landon Donovan, US Soccer Synonym, Retires

The ever-moving attacker finally comes to rest….

Well done Landon.

Our piece from 2012… can’t say much more different now.

The Counterattack Heard Round the World

 

 

An MLS All-Star Twist

Valeri.

Valeri.

Steve Fenn has writes for TSG and on his own publication, Stat Hunting.

We have nearly reached the end of the silly season in the United States.

Not in regard to transfer rumors, which will continue to circulate worldwide for weeks, but we are about to see the other side of international friendlies in the States. For years now, US Soccer and MLS have regularly played host to barnstorming European powers of the game, who sweep through the country playing against each other and domestic sides. Huge crowds pay good money to watch scrimmages that neither side takes very seriously, and the climax of these exhibitions is the MLS All-Star Game.

Tonight the MLS All Stars will face Bayern Munich. Well, most of Bayern Munich. Well, most in terms of number of players, not in terms of talent. Like the majority of these summer friendlies, the match makes sense only on economic terms, but such considerations carry decision-making. The logic goes that All-Star festivities involving only MLS players did not sell in the past, and hosting a superclub (especially one with a budding American star in reserve) attracts attention and sells tickets.

Isn’t that thinking outdated, though? The last All-MLS All-Star Game took place in 2004, and the big names scoring the goals were Guevara, Eskandarian, Ching, and Kreis. As great as those players were in their day, I doubt they even had a Q-rating, while World Cup marketing campaigns (some more recent than others) has been built around the likes of Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, Thierry Henry, etc.

While MLS has the stars to potentially make an East vs. West game interesting, the league seems to want a popular team in their marquee event. Conveniently, few teams have a bigger presence the United States Mens National Team during a major international competition, and the USA will compete in a major tournament, or two, during each of the next five summers, hosting most of them. The 2015 Gold Cup, 2016 Copa America, 2017 Gold Cup, 2018 World Cup, and 2019 Gold Cup will take place in their respective Junes, and should the US qualify, they would also send a team to the Olympics in August 2016. MLS should strongly consider going back to a USA vs. the World format, this time hopefully even bringing the national team coach into the fold.

Advantages for US Soccer and Jurgen Klinsmann

Chance to work with players that aren’t yet eligible. The All-Star Game is not sanctioned by FIFA, so Klinsmann’s team includea players seeking US eligibility, like Darlington Nagbe, Ozzie Alonso, Diego Fagundez, etc.

Check-in with US mainstays. 11 players on the current All Star roster took part in Klinsmann’s 30-man World Cup camp, eight of whom he took to Brazil. National teams don’t get to play together often, and every chance a manager has to work with them is precious. Landon Donovan’s presence could well be awkward, but that would add to the drama of the event.

Evaluating fringe players. Sporting Kansas City’s Dom Dwyer, Seattle Sounder Chad Marshall (withdrawn due to injury), and DC United’s trio of Bill Hamid, Bobby Boswell, and Sean Franklin are the only American All-Stars who were not in the camp. Others would join these ranks on a full American 18, whether by selection of Klinsmann, commissioner Don Garber, or others in MLS.

Beyond this, the new addition to All-Star week, the Homegrown Game, could serve as a youth national team match, pitting the league’s young stars against a youth national team every year.

Potential USA rosters (those not on current roster are in bold):

Goalkeepers (2): Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Bill Hamid (D.C. United)

Defenders (6): Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Michael Parkhurst (Columbus Crew), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC), Bobby Boswell (DC United), Sean Franklin (DC United), Seth Sinovic (Sporting KC)

Midfielders (7): Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle Sounders FC), Dillon Powers (Colorado Rapids), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City), Maurice Edu (Philadelphia Union), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Diego Fagundez (New England Revolution)

Forwards (3):  Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Dom Dwyer (Sporting Kansas City) (status)

World class?

World class?

The World:

Goalkeepers (2): Jaime Penedo (LA Galaxy), Raul Fernandez (FC Dallas)

Defenders (6):  Aurélien Collin (Sporting Kansas City), José Gonçalves (New England Revolution), Jamison Olave (New York Red Bulls), Gonzalo Segares (Chicago Fire), Hassoun Camara (Montreal Impact), Giancarlo Gonzalez (Columbus Crew)

Midfielders (6): Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls), Will Johnson (Portland Timbers), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas), Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake), Federico Higuain (Columbus Crew)

Forwards (4): Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls), Obafemi Martins (Seattle Sounders FC), Erick Torres (Chivas USA), Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls), Dom Dwyer (Sporting Kansas City) (status)

Of course, as stated earlier, the biggest factor in decisions of this nature is money, and some monetary forces are at odds with one another as to the feasibility of this solution. MLS would save on expenses, as they would no longer need to pay exorbitant appearance fees to European clubs. On the other hand, a pseudo-official national team could draw Nike and Adidas into direct conflict over what the USA All-Stars would wear. Nike pays a great deal to outfit the national team, while Adidas does the same for everything MLS.

Hopefully this and any other obstacles could be overcome for the sake of an All-Star Game that truly promotes the league and provides an opportunity for the national team. With a new collective bargaining agreement pending, this could be the perfect time to restructure this event, and MLS might as well do everything in their power to improve it.

The USA U-20 team can help fill that World Cup-size hole in your heart

U20 MNT starting ix

Are you suffering from World Cup withdrawals? Do you find yourself chanting USA USA USA under your breath at work? Do you book two hour meetings that aren’t real on your work calendar in hopes that it might coax the World Cup to start again? Have you walked by a bar longingly on Saturday morning, wishing you weren’t outside in the sun and instead surrounded by sweaty Americans, all covered in beer? Me too. It’s hard. I feel it too. Unfortunately nothing can actually replace the World Cup. Not even vodka (trust me). Instead, let’s look at some other solutions to attempt to fill that World Cup-sized hole (at least temporarily). Tomorrow, 7/18 (or today if you are out in the East) the USMNT U-20 team takes on the Australia U-20 team for the championship of the NTC Invitational. With the goal differential situation, the USA can win the event with a draw or victory against Australia. This tournament, held at the StubHub Center, has seen the US take on both Bermuda and Chile so far. The best part is this game is being streamed, Friday night at 7 PM PST on http://www.ussoccer.com/. Throw your US jersey on and put that withdrawal to rest for the evening.

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Want to win the World Cup? Better win your group.

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‘All we need to do is get out of the Group of Death and we are good, right Mikey?’ ‘Not quiiitee Ale’

So much emphasis at the World Cup is put on getting out of the group. If you get out of the group, anything can happen! Technically this is true, but when zero of the teams that finished second in their respective groups at the 2014 World Cup won a game in the round of 16, it made me wonder if this was an anomaly or if  it was relatively standard. Here’s what teams that finished second in their group have done in the round of 16 since 1998:

Only 9 teams at the past 5 World Cups have won a round of 16 match when they advanced as the second place team out of their group. 1998 was when the World Cup shifted to 32 teams, so previous World Cups aren’t relevant as third place teams advanced from the group stage too. The teams that did win a round of 16 game after finishing second were Croatia and Denmark in France ’98, England, Senegal, Turkey, and the United States in Korea/Japan ’02, France and Ukraine in Germany ’06, and Ghana in South Africa ’10.

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Test Driving the Nike Magista Obras

Yes, you’ve seen them. Bright yellow or brighter red, everyone at the World Cup has been rocking them. The new Nike Magista Obras are the flyest kicks on the pitch at the World Cup and only the best players in the world have them. You can add me to that list. Why? Because I’m German-American and gunning for a spot on the 2018 roster? Well, no. I’m not nearly good enough for that. Fortunately the good people over at SoccerPro.com were kind enough to let me test drive these bad boys just to see how legit they really are. Can they make my mediocre touch silky and beautiful? I guesssssss they are just boots and not miracle workers. Or are they?

IMG_0581

When I first picked them up, I was amazed at how light they were. If you look at the picture here very closely, you can see that they are actually not touching the ground but just hovering slightly about it. That is how light they are. It’s like you are putting clouds on your feet, bright, brilliant first touch improving clouds. Of all the pairs of boots I have owned, these are by far the lightest. In fact, it’s almost frightening. I wondered for at least two minutes who stole part of my boots and how I could get them back. Seriously people, stop stealing part of my boots directly out of the mail! It’s uncalled for.

When you do put them on, there are two feelings: First, they feel like an extension of your foot and second, the envy of your friends as they watch you put them on. Seriously, not everyone will be happy for how awesome you are. The sock extension is a bit funny at first, but it stretches to fit your foot and ankle nicely. As soon as I started running on the field, it felt like I was wearing my Nike Frees but with way more traction. It was awesome. You get the ball and it feels like you are playing in your bare feet, but with better touch and control. That is a serious upgrade. Even the shoelaces are designed to maximize the lightness and minimize impact on your touch. Bravo to whoever designed these bad boys, you deserve a raise.

Speaking of raise, the Magista Obras definitely gave my first touch a raise. Or as we refer to it, the improvement that comes from #DatSockTouch. Be warned, #DatSockTouch may drastically improve your skills to the point where you question what you are doing at your day job instead of making moves in the 2. Bundesliga and hoping that Hertha Berlin and Borussia Mönchengladbach are keeping an eye on your prowess in front of goal. Have they seen that YouTube highlight video of my assist last game? I hope so. You need #DatSockTouch. Really though, the Magistas did seem to boost my touch on the ball, albeit not my overall skill. Nothing can help that, trust me, I know. Or at least that is what the doctor has told me. I did bend a free kick around a wall and into the bottom right corner for a lovely goal the first game I played with these on though, so maybe you should be the judge.

IMG_0583

The only way to make them better? Some AMERICA ball action.

Overall I have been incredibly pleased with these boots, you can tell how high quality they are. They only concern is because they are so light, they seem to lack a bit of protection in the back, in case someone slides into your heels as you zip past them. Outside of that, they seem to be pretty much flawless, besides the fact that no MLS team has reached out to me and offered me a contract since I put them on. I have looked dangerous both up top and in an attacking midfield role, so San Jose Earthquakes or DC United feel free to hit me up on Twitter if I can fill a need you have on your roster. I’ve been truly impressed with the way they handle and how much they feel like an extension of my foot. The Nike Magista Obras truly are the next generation of great boots. If you are in the market for a new pair, check out SoccerPro.com’s selection of the Nike Magista Obras, they won’t do you wrong and they just released some sweet new colors. Unfortunately they still don’t seem to come with a guaranteed contract, apparently you have to figure that out on your own. Hopefully the next variation will though!

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