Archive for April, 2011

MLS Player Of The Week: Lyle Yorks

Update: According to this report, the Feilhaber move came about in 72 hours. Wow. And, combine that with today’s learnings that Feilhaber’s salary this year is a single digit percentage premium ($375,000 to $374,000)  to his Aarhus salary and just a small raise (and only one added year) to $450,000 next year tells me the following:

Aarhus–likely–wasn’t re-upping at the same or comparable rate next year and no suitor was coming forward in the summer with a better deal.

Again, sure Feilhaber maybe wanted to play Stateside–I’m not sure I believe that since the exposure to European clubs diminishes–it still looks like MLS was negotiating against itself.

Once again, well done Mr. Yorks.


Give it up for Lyle Yorks as Benny Feilhaber should be doing right now.

Player Of The Week

Here’s what we know of the recent Americans abroad.

That Benny Feilhaber was out of contract at the end of this year.

That his team AGF Aarhus tried–multiple GM reports–to move him during the initial part of this season.

Being a World Cup veteran does not guarantee you a spot in Europe. Jay DeMerit elected to play out his final year at Watford in hopes that he could parlay his World Cup appearance into another enviable contract somewhere in Europe. Didn’t happen.

Edson Buddle took his World Cup resume and is now a part-time starter in Germany….for a Bundesliga II outfit trying desperately to avoid relegation to the third division.

World Cup occasional starter Jonathan Bornstein, now an occasional starter with Tigres in the Primera, likewise for World Cup roster cut Sacha Kljestan in Belgium with Anderlecht though his playing time is spotty.

Jozy Altidore? Seeking playing time after a somewhat impressive World Cup has found himself with a lateral move at best to the Turkish Superliga. back!

So that leads us to Benny Feilhaber.

US nationals are infinitely more marketable on the home shore and with Feilhaber out of contract at the end of the season, his agent, Yorks, did a smart thing by proactively moving Benny to MLS. Maybe it was Benny’s decision, who knows. One thing I do know is the I’m sure Yorks witnessed the DeMerit situation and thought, “I’m not losing the leverage for my player in the summer.”

Smart move. Could an MLS club had Benny for less in a few months? That would seem possible.

Moving about Europe is still a chore for an American player and one who is represented by an American agent. Don’t get me wrong, as far as I know, Yorks is one of the best in the business, but remember “Americans Abroad” in Europe–in abundance–is somewhat new as are the agent ties to various teams. Yorks’ agency has been around for ten years. By comparison, controversial player agent Paul Stretford (agent to Wayne Rooney) has been brokering players since 1987.

They, Americans abroad, represent an opportunity for teams (American fan dollars and media exposure), but there are also the limitations of homegrown rules and passports and there is the back-scratching for Euro agents that control even bigger players; agents that are more entrenched.

Feilhaber will do well in MLS. He’s a US national, a talented offender and a good looking guy to have on a campaign poster to boot. And it’s in MLS where that first quality–being a US national–holds the most value.

Real Salt Lake Scratches For Solid Result

Good teams find the way.

Real Salt Lake with not one, but two critical away goals to level the match both times as the visitors on the road in Monterrey played like it was already crowned the champion. Impressive.

Great performances all around, but Nick Rimando….aggressive…on the road?! Tops.

CONCACAF Champion’s League: A Calm Or A Real Salt Lake Storm?

Quick name an American team  that plays possession-oriented ball, has won a Cup, features domestic and foreign internationals and is a goal or two away from heading to the World Fifa World Club Cup.

Mo reasons with Morales

Amazing that the last question is one that can be considered for an MLS team, isn’t it?

Real Salt Lake takes the field south of the border this evening in hopes of making history; that is making their opponent Monterrey history or at least escaping tonight with a sufficient and manageable result for the home leg.

It’s nothing short of an astounding position in and one that has galvanized unified support for MLS, the league ahead of club rivalries. I dare say–for many reasons–that a Chelsea fan likely doesn’t root for Manchester United this year if the Red Devils make the UEFA Champion’s League Final.

The showing by Real Salt Lake has already been impressive and no doubt saved the club a few marketing and talent development dollars as teams below the Tropic of Cancer have witnessed its quality. Plus, for a team with an exquisite home record, I doubt RSL will feel an away disadvantage around MLS opponent stadiums upon the tourney’s conclusion.

Enjoy the match.

Textbook: Ronaldo Header Buries Barca

From a 5-0 shellacking, to a 1-1 man-down draw to today, a 1-0 Copa Del Rey win on the strength of a near-perfect header by Ronaldo.

Is Real Madrid crescendoing at the right time? Maybe….maybe…

MLS: Benny Feilhaber To Revs For Now

Feilhaber headed your way....

And the eagle has landed for now…

Or the Feilhaber rather.

US national and World Cup veteran Benny Feilhaber is headed to the New England Revolution for now. A good move by the Revs–and one that Chivas should have considered–in getting value. The Revs elected to gain an asset and perhaps bring some other assets in if Feilhaber’s not the fit.

According to Steve Davis, Feilhaber’s cap number will be an astounding $400K. Good work by the agent on that one considering that Feilhaber would have less suitors in the summer (and less leverage) out of contract.

A deal to Houston–who according to ESPN reporter Jeff Carlisle and this Houston Chronicle article was pushing both Chivas and New England for–may still materialize.

Debate: Are You Committing Formation Fraud?

Editor’s note: Today on TSG, Kyle Martino and I discuss the merits of formation talk in broadcasting and soccer commentary. When is it okay to label someone an advanced defensive midfielder sitting in a 4-2-3-1 and when is it not? To Kyle….

Kyle Martino:

Well, the team was prepared today in a 3-2-4-1 with a 2nd cousin once removed.

Soccer is a simple game that we try to complicate all too often. The foundation of the game is a very basic concept: a team’s formation.

All sports have formations in varying designs and applications. In some sports, the formation is a rule; A rule that, when broken, brings the game to a screeching halt.

The beauty of soccer is that it is free-flowing.  It defies these complex positional rules that can disrupt the flow of most other sports.   Because soccer is, at its essence, such a simple game, many people attempt to attach a greater, broader meaning on to its mechanics.  This tendency to over analyze the beautiful game has recently led to the acceptance of a glaring inaccuracy. In the game of soccer, a formation is a simple tactical blueprint designed to create balance and structure.  The magic of the game is in a team’s ability to take this mundane blueprint and give it its own identity through creative improvisation.  The inability to label this magic has led to the creation of “faux formations” by observers of the game.

Merry Christmas...

Call me traditional, but I am a strong believer that soccer is made up of three field positions: defenders, midfielders and forwards. (Sorry goalies, I love you guys but you have been left out of formations for a reason)  I am also a strong believer that there are only a handful of authentic formations to put these field players in: 3-5-2, 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-5-1. (could add a few other archaic variations but if teams still play them, they can’t be saved) Someone must have been thinking when they concocted this whole soccer thing, because formations have three separate lines denoting the three different field positions. Genius, right?

Even though there are only these few formations, there are many different ways to execute them. For instance, you can play a 4-4-2 formation with a diamond in the middle where you place one of the four midfielders closer to the two forwards and another just in front of the back four. These variations are how we came up with such terms as “defensive midfielder,” “withdrawn forward,” and “attacking midfielder.” Just because a team elects to play the traditional 4-4-2 formation a different way doesn’t mean we should now call it something absurd like a 4-1-2-1-2 or other nonsensical numerical variations of the line-up. By adding another line to the Three-Line Formation you are creating a position that doesn’t exist.

Take for instance the US National Team’s recent friendly against Argentina. I read several articles leading up to this game in which people labeled the US’s formation a 4-2-3-1. What?? What on earth is that?? Oh wait, you meant a 4-5-1.  Just because two midfielders might sit more defensively while the other three are going to be operating a little higher up the field doesn’t change the fact that you are playing with FIVE midfielders. You can get as creative as you like with your mysterious formations, but whether you’re calling it a 4-1-4-1, 4-2-3-1, 4-4-1-1, 4-3-2-1, all I hear is you mispronouncing 4-5-1.

I’m not sure where and when it started, but ever since I retired I have been noticing it more and more. Maybe people were calling our formations something different while I was playing but we never noticed. One theory is that it originated here in America as a result of soccer writers converted from the other football. Years of exposure to a game with so many different formations and an endless supply of analytical jargon caused them to try to make sense out of soccer by turning it in to something they knew. Another theory is that it was all of us analysts and writers around the world who did it to give us more to talk about and make us sound smarter. Or maybe it was the coaches attempt to improve their job security and raise their salaries by making the game seem more complicated than it is.

The origin of the formation fraud may never be traced. I wish I were able to offer a better explanation for its existence in the modern game, but for the time being we will all have to continue translating these modern imposters in to their true form.

Matthew, TSG:

Stu Holden, just your garden variety advanced central defensive midfielder on the rocks with a twist...

Alright Kyle. Let me start by saying this. I have, in fact, on this very publication referred to Stu Holden as an advanced defensive midfielder. And some have actually recognized what I mean.

Cackle away.

While Kyle goes so far as to characterize the incessant use of 4’s, 3’s, 2’s and 1’ as a fraud, coming from strictly a media perspective I would suggest that “formation talk” boils down to two things: (1) a mental handicap and (2) misplaced discussion.

Chalk one Jay DeMerit up already in that I’ve never pulled on a kit in the big show. That said, as a general tenor I do believe that the 4-2-3-1 and a 4-4-1-1 and whatever other formation you want to label do have one important purpose, an origination point for where to be on the field if one forgets.

Again, having not played I still believe, I can witness not a 4-5-1 at times—but a band of two defenders ahead of the centerbacks, followed by a band of 3 players.

Yes, they’re all midfielders, however, and to use an example relevant to this publication, I do believe against Argentina that Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley were tasked with being just aft of Maurice Edu, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan.

Now, where I think formation talks goes south is when it’s used for much more than this.  My mind cringes when I hear reporters or read commenters’ exclaim, “the US should have played ‘x’ formation against ‘y’ opponent.”

At the end of the day and this is where I dovetail with Kyle’s commentary, soccer is all game about players moving in time and space with a relationship to the ball—either the player and his team are possessing it or they’re not.

Everything else is in relationship to this.

So a steadfast assessment that team ‘z’ should exclusively adhere to a certain format for its players is blasphemous. To use the Holden example, my label of Stu was to suggest that, for Bolton, Stu had the responsibility within Owen’s Coyle’s system to mark the first attacker in his zone. The label “advanced defensive midfielder” descriptive but also less about positioning.

Likewise, last week, when Chelsea succumbed to Manchester United in the Champion’s League there was a consistent commentary about how Carlo Ancellotti magnanimously deployed a 4-3-2-1 formation, a formation reminiscent of some of his battles with Alex Ferguson when he was at Milan.

No matter how you cut it, Frank Lampard isnt a wide know what we mean by wide!

What was really more interesting was why Ancelotti decided to sacrifice width and have Frank Lampard—he of the lack of post-up play and run-at skills—as a left forward nonetheless.

It wasn’t necessarily “the formation” that failed—though that’s what got a lot of play—it was the players deployed incorrectly (in our opinion.)

Too often—and I think this is what Kyle is getting at—formations are used as a crutch or an “ah-ha moment” of commentary when in fact, the premium placed on them as a discussion point is too high.

Case in point, this legacy scouting report of Jose Mourinho on Newcastle when he was at Porto. Formation discussion, yes, but used as an addendum to what is in fact happening.

MLS: The Benny Feilhaber Sweepstakes

Take your shot.

Where to today?

Available: 26-year-old US National and World Cup vet fresh off a sparkling season in Denmark’s 2nd division complete with a host of assists.

Solid in possession and at best when attacking in a free-flowing system. Occasionally lacks focus on the field and has more than an occasional aversion to adhering to the defensive system.

Has spent time growing up in Hamburg’s solid youth-reserve system.

The allocation order for the rights to procure the Irvine, CA’s services for the rest of the year and-or trade him is as follows: Chivas USA, Philadelphia Union, New England Revolution, Houston Dynamo, Toronto FC to start.

The price tag? At a premium. Around $335,000 for the right to Free Benny.

Our odds:

Chivas USA: (10 to 1) Robin Fraser’s first year and the former RSL coach values defense and defense. He hasn’t been afraid to clean house and is focused at integrating his system as oppose to integrating a specific player (witness Justin Braun moved to a wide forward position and now to the bench.) While Feilhaber hails from nearby Irvine, a better chance that Chivas passes for now.

Philadelphia Union: (15 to 1) Piotr Nowak’s crew is flying right now and with Sebu Le Toux firmly entrenched as the offensive catalyst and Brian Carroll now rounding out the midfield, Feilhaber’s addition is not critical and might upset the balance for the Unionista.

My hunch is that Union only take Feilhaber if they intend to deal. They’ve got the development of Mwanga and perhaps–if they can somehow secure him long term–Roger Torres from América de Cali who they’ve spent time developing

New England Revolution: (5 to 1) Despite adding forward Rajko Lekic to the striker corps, the Revs–who didn’t find the answer in Fred–still need a complement for Shalrie Joseph in the midfield. Feilhaber would be a heck of a splash, but does a fiscally frugal management team open up the wallet?

Houston Dynamo: (4 to 1) The ill-advised Geoff Cameron experiment continues in the middle.The Dynamo just picked up Koke to play up top, but the investment in Feilhaber would be a minimal one as insurance against filling the forthcoming stadium.

I could see this happening.


Seattle Sounders (4 to 1) The cap room and the need for a catalyst to play in Zakuani or Montero every other possession. Given that the Sounders dropped Blaise N’Kufo before season’s beginning and that they’ll likely lose Zakuani or Montero at the end of the season, this seems like a good gambit.

They’ll likely need a trade though.

Los Angeles Galaxy (20 to 1) If only Feilhaber had played for the US natties in 2002 or 2006, Bruce Arena would be doing everything possible.

Your thoughts?


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