Archive for April, 2012

How Dimitar Berbatov’s “Demise” Condemns AVB’s Departure

A dinosaur?

Nary a peep.

That’s what will happen.

As another Premiership campaign bullets down the stretch and Manchester United goes ahead by a few horse lengths, so dribbles to closure the likely Premiership career of a peculiar one, Dimitar Berbatov.

It’s almost incredulous that a player who was last year’s co-Golden Boot winner–20 in the Premiership last year to share the title with the one and only Carlos Tevez–has become such an afterthought both by his manager and by the ravenous English press. Can you name the last Golden Boot winner who was so thoroughly dismissed by the flaks in London as the Bulgarian?

Berbatov has dropped so low on Twitter vitriol and overall fanatical appeal that he’s fallen well below the “Daily Mail Line.”

(The Daily Mail line is the minimum click impact a player’s name brings in so that an English rag feels necessary to write anything–truth, conjecture, about their car, about stealing a donut–in order to drive traffic to their web site. In short, he’s been, pun intended, written off.)

The man, who perhaps is best identified on the pitch now not by the groans of failure but for his awkward shuffling trot with his fists tucked inside his jersey like he’s still warming up–will slink away from the Premiership champ and probably be known as Man United’s most expensive, and worst?, purchase ever–over $30M£ for someone who produced goals, but could not impose his pristine touches and bend a game to his will at the highest level.

But Berbatov’s exoneration of striking duties at Old Trafford signals also the graduation of the club and shows why–after all these years–Sir Alex Ferguson’s still got it as manager. It also condemns yet another Chelsea manager, Andres Villas-Boas, impaled way too early on the roasting spit that is constantly revolving at Stamford Bridge.

No longer good buddies...

When Sir Alex bought “Berba” the idea was to provide a hold-up and disbursement pairing for Wayne Rooney and others to run off of, with the Bulgarian dropping dimes at will. With Ronaldo looking to leave Manchester the following year, Berba would come in and provide someone who would command attention of the opponent’s defense. Of course, he would also be counted on to display some of the silky moves he had done previously and put some balls in the back of the net.

Yet, despite a very respectable goal haul and despite accolades heaped on him as a misunderstood genius at the highest level, Berbatov’s “game”–and his role–is one that is slowly being exterminated across European leagues for the most part with the role of distributor moving a little further back the pitch. You’re either a false nine these days (Rooney, Van Persie) or you’re a physical target man who can threaten or you’re a speedy-slasher guy. A tweener?

The broader trend in global soccer has been for teams to press up the pitch, using a bevy of mite-sized attackers to not only create chances, but to also press the opponents defense (Jurgen, Jurgen).

In the attack, forwards are required to be more active and draw defenders either opening themselves up for a pass or open space for those behind them. Look no further most recently than Pep and Barcelona slotting in 20-year-old Cuenca at “forward” in a key Champion’s League tilt against A.C. Milan last month. Cuenca may have been labeled a “forward” but he stayed wide, merely drawing out the fullback to create space–more a winger who played advanced. Whoa is the striker who stays central and with perhaps effective but little movement.

On defense in this deployment, the rationale is quite simple–and analogous to the change in NFL defenses to employ two decent cover corners and mercilessly blitz the opponent with d-lineman, the linebackers, the safety and the rest of the kitchen sink.

The best players on a team are its attackers or rather should be. They have the speed, the skill, the guile. Soccer is about scoring. If you do not score, you can never win. You can draw, but you can’t win.

If you have a great attackers–see Fernando Torres at Liverpool–it changes everything–everything–behind them. If you have a boatload, even better.

And if your attackers can be convinced and counted on to in effect be your best defenders?

Note: If you don’t believe me, see Wigan’s win over Manchester United yesterday. Manchester United went 4-6 until the 75th minute, merely trying to move the ball up the floor against the “powerhouse” Latics. Wigan were inspired and their dedication to pressing the weaker players in the back–specifically Jonny Evans–won the day.

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Prescription Portland: Some Attacking Guile Up The Spine

Necessary or evil? We'll get to that....

With Liverpool in the dumpster, John Nyen sets out to save his beloved Timbers from themselves.

If you are going to do only one thing….. you need to do it very well.

This is especially the case in soccer where the Portland Timbers have been caught doing one thing…. and not so very well.

This was originally an article about running the 3-5-2 for the Timbers.

The how, the why, the players…. and it still is to a certain extent.

The issue here is that the Timbers need better players in multiple positions and the fans can’t count specifically on this happening.

So instead, focus is put on the way in which the Timbers can attempt to fix the issue with the defense and offense utilizing solely the players at their disposal. The alternate formations are a way of trying to compensate for the lack of full backs on the team and or the lack of offense through the middle whether through turning the fullbacks into wingbacks or moving Nagbe centrally.  This new positioning is a way for them to utilize current players to still remain an attacking offense while hopefully fixing the defense.

However, before we talk about a new formation, let’s discuss a thought that I had while sitting at a bar watching LA Galaxy v Sporting Kansas City.

Cuts one way...

The Timbers, as a whole, are a less effective version of Arjen Robben.

Arjen is legendary for receiving the ball on the right wing, driving down the field and then cutting to the left to get the ball on his left foot.

Everyone knows this is coming, everyone knows that he is very left footed and that you cannot let him turn to put the ball there.

Yet, game after game after game he does the same thing over and over. He collects the ball, drives at goal, turns left, shakes his defender and shoots. Now this works for Robben, because one supremely talented player with a cannon for a left foot who has honed his craft can pull this off. From a team perspective though, all this does is allow the other coach and team to plan well in advance for your tendencies and cut them off.

These tendencies were firmly in play on Saturday as the Timbers lost to Chivas USA. They dumped the ball out to the right, time and time and time again and attempted to either hump the ball into the box on a long prayer or cut back inside.

There are a couple reasons why Portland attempts this on the right as well as the left.

However, no more reason is prevalent than the fact that the Portland Timbers are completely feckless through the middle of the field.

Move central please...

They currently lack the ability to have a player who can drive, slash or create in the middle of the pitch. They play with two central defensive midfielders and frequently try to shuttle one of the two into an attacking role, which has not worked.

Jack Jewsbury and Diego Chara play the same position. They sit back, attempt to disrupt the play coming at them, collect and distribute.

They aren’t players who attempt to get out in front of the play, link up through passing, split the defense with through balls and play between the forwards and the defensive midfield. Both of these players are attempted interceptors and pass shuttlers. The Timbers play is the perfect example of this.

When Jewsbury or Chara get the ball, they attempt to look to the wings to play to a dangerous area. They collect and distribute out to Lovel Palmer or Rodney Wallace or the Songo’o-Alhassan combination and those players push up their respective wing, who then hump the ball into the box.

The problem with this practice is that without a true attacking central midfielder, and with all the play on the wings, the opposing team can relax defensively in the middle of the field. They can then push their outside midfielders out to cover the play on the outside and can push their central midfielders to attack more through the middle of the pitch. This means that eventually the Timbers are overwhelmed in the midfield, the wings are cut off and slowly but surely get pushed its back into its own half for the Chainsaw Gang.

Chivas understood where the danger could come from the Timbers, especially in the second half.

When Darlington Nagbe received the ball in an offensive position they swarmed all over him.

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The Great Intangible Tangible: Identity

Sporting KC didn’t play particularly well Saturday against the Los Angeles Galaxy, but it was a good enough.

The victors came away with an earned 1-0 scoreline to keep perfection on the line.

Out west, San Jose played uninspired soccer for the first 45 minutes of their match against Vancouver. This despite being playing at home and despite the name of Tottenham Hotspurs’ loanee Simon Dawkins–sometimes wizardly in possession–finally scribbled in the starting eleven.

Up in Salt Lake, Colorado succumbed to Kyle Beckerman & Co.

Two strikers made their presence felt for the home side against Oscar Pareja’s second-rate center defense combination. (Drew Moor was moved to midfield for the neighborly battle.)

Two weeks ago, the United States U-23 team failed to qualify for the Olympics, deploying in  4-3-3 formation while the strength of the team appeared it could be crossing and finishing and true wing play.

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Fulham vs. Chelsea Today: Best Comp for Dempsey?

Via @icloudchris on Twitter. Dempsey's winner.

First, a great primers for this question today: (On Clint Dempsey & respect)

Part of the previous piece on Dempsey asked the question why Dempsey–beyond perhaps being American–seems not to get the same respect as others given his proclivity for scoring in multiple ways despite not being a true striker, per se.

With another Fulham vs. Chelsea match going down today (the games between the two intra-city rivals always seemed to be marked by some Dempsey drama over the past three years–over-the-shoulder shots, braces, missed penalties), TSG gets the Monday juices flowing by asking:


What player does Dempsey best emulate?

I used to think and still perhaps think it’s Dennis Bergamp–however if Dempsey keeps scoring for the next few years he’ll eclipse Bergkamps ratio of high-teen-goal-counts to seasons ratio — that said, the styles seem similar.

Your choice? (And we’ll make this a column with better statistical review….)

[Note*: Threw in some names just to get the voting and commentary percolating here.]

The Weekend: Live Commentary

EPL appetizers, the MLS main course.

Timmy on the road at Norwich City.

Needs Big Game.


MLS Week 5: 20 Tanks to LIVESTRONG

If you build it, they will....throw bobbleheads...

John Nyen attempts go iambic pentameter, but goes off-beat.

Well good afternoon, morning and good night kiddos. Some of you may already know this, but I am in the process of moving my offices back to the motherland. As such, my recent ability to file timely reports and watch the game tape has been slightly impeded. However, never let it be said that lack of knowledge is something that should keep you from filing a report. As such, I present the wild, crazy and slighty guess filled MLS TSG prediction for Week 5. This week Gary Gygax would be proud as we roll our 8 sided dice and try to see if our level 8 paladin (Sporting KC) can cast a light of entrapment snare upon the wooly orcish LA Galaxy. <—- NERD!

Charles Bukowski...

If Week 4 proved anything in MLS it was that absolutely anyone can win anywhere at any time. MLS has been known for its parity for quite a while but nowhere was this more evident than in sunny… er… rather rainy Los Angeles as the New England Revolution stormed ahead (see what I did there?) to a win.

It has to be said that the beginning of my Week 4 column was correct. Week four was “The Reckoning” as up was down, left was right and San Jose turned into Barcelona. My record on the year moved to 16 – 11 with 4 exactas (none from last week)

This really does prove that anything can and WILL happen in MLS. CatDogs? BeaverRats? Brek Shea’s Haircut? ANYTHING.

A sidenote about Brek Shea’s haircut… it really is reminiscent of Massive Headwound Harry, which is a reference that will show your age rather severely.

Let’s get on to the picks this week. As always…All times are East coast, all hops are not created equal, and for the record Rogue brewery uses a lot of Cascade hops… I’m telling this to you so you don’t have to ask them (on the tour) 18 million times what kind of hops they use even though they told you before the first time you asked…. CASCADE. Thanks.

All music suggestions this week are now poems by Charles Bukowski: ENJOY.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

8:30PM – FC Dallas V New England – FC Dallas Stadium – Television: Local Only

I started writing this column as the game was coming on, but I pre-tweeted my prediction to ShinGuardian corporate offices and Star Destroyer (West Coast Division). Check my twitter feed if you don’t believe me.

Bukowski Poem for this Game: Another Day

Last Game for FC Dallas: L 1-4

Last Game for New England: W 3-1

My Prediction: Dallas 2-0 over the “end of road trip, time to get home and have a few extra days off” Revolution.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Canadian grass....oh wait, this isn't Vancouver.

12:00PM – Montreal v Toronto FC – Olympic Stadium – Television: TSN/RDS

Let’s be brutally honest here, these two cities don’t have a lot of love for each other in general. Habs v Leafs…. Argonauts v Alouettes… Expo…er…rather…. Impact v TFC… Quebecois v Canada.

The Quebecois are one of the only political organizations/regional areas in North America in recent history to actually attempt to seccede from their country. This was tenatively decided as recently as 1998, so we aren’t talking about ratified treaties of 1812. Political ramifications aside the two fanbases are as diverse and opposed/joined as many in Canada these days. However, I can guarantee that the supporters groups will be into this game.

Having said all that the problem of course is that neither of these teams is playing well in MLS at this point. Montreal has the only point in the league between these two teams, and as tough as they have looked (at times) they really don’t look like storming to the top any time soon. I am going to concur with the front office here, as I watched the Montreal v RSL game and found myself wondering what happened to Justin Mapp. He looked like the spritely, young, comb-overed, 10 head of old and was taking on defenders and slashing through the middle with aplomb. I was quite surprised. He certainly was hit or miss last year for the Union (mostly miss in my opinion) however he looked like a different player out there for Montreal. Perhaps it is the poutine. On the other hand… Toronto has been this years Jeckle and Hyde team as their play during the regular season has been relatively insipid but their play during the CONCACAF Champions League has been inspiring. I tend to think that with the strong run in the CCL this year that Aaron Winter may have been trying strategies for TFC during the first three MLS games. With the loss of Torsten Friings, Winter toyed with a higher line, pressing with the midfield and even substitutions. Either way, TFC will need to solidify their gutsy performances in the CCL with some wins during MLS for their not-quite-long suffering fans.

Bukowski Poem for this Game: A radio with guts

Last Game for Montreal: L 0-1

Last Game for Toronto: A complete shellacking in the second half against Santos.

My Prediction: I think Toronto can find their feet here, but the fans propel Montreal to a score as well. 2-1 to TFC.

3:00PM – Columbus v New York – Crew Stadium – Television: Univision

Buenos Dias folks, I'm Chad Marshall.

The New York “Rafa Marquez is still terrible” Red Bull’s travel to Columbus to take on the suddenly turgid Crew. It has to be said that the Crew are one trade for Chris Wondowloski away from being San Jose East. Not that this is necessarily a problem for them, but the similarities (once pointed out) are quite amazing.

Soler/Backe is now less reliable than Perot/Stockdale was during the 90’s as they somehow have managed to run the good ship Red Bull straight over Metro waterfalls and back into the New Jersey turnpike. With Luke Rodgers not coming back, New York is now slower than an Edsel being pushed by Jay Leno while he describes (in detail) the inner workings of an engine that runs on steam. This of course, isn’t to say that New York isn’t going to win any games, but that they also aren’t going to be setting any track meet records either.

Of course speed is one thing but New York is, as well, one Thierry accident away from being a less defensively solid Montreal with Kenny Cooper as Justin Braun.

Bukowski Poem for this Game: About My Very Tortured Friend, Peter

Last Game for Columbus: W 2-0

Last Game for New York: W 5-2

My Prediction: Columbus get this game 2-1


4:00PM – Sporting KC v Los Angeles – Livestrong Sporting Park – Television: ESPN ESPN Deportes

We miss ya Beas!




I don’t think the above chant will catch on but the “Bruce Arena has run out of time and good will” clock is starting to tick, ever so slowly. Despite telling most columnists that they don’t know what they are doing on a near weekly basis, somehow the LA Galaxy are sitting in the basement of the Western Conference with their cousins, Chivas. The only reason LA aren’t dead last is because they have only played 3 games. Robbie Keane can’t hit the net, Landon Donovan isn’t playing, Omar Gonzales (more and more the retroactive MVP of last year) is on the shelf, and LA look limp and disinterested.

Meanwhile in a Bar-B-Q far far away, the thick tomato and molasses based sauce are dripping slowly off the slow cooked rib that is Kansas City’s season. To take a food analogy way past its prime, Sporting are currently those non-overcooked, delicious, slightly fatty ribs that you dream about. Or if you are a vegetarian, the perfect amount of vegetable tabbouleh with small cut tofu soaked in mesquite drippings. Sporting has just been that good this season. The only team that has only wins, looks to take on a team that is attempting to still wake up now that the season has started.

For all you history kids, it became apparent during the 2006 World Cup (and post World Cup) that the USA team was clearly very done with Bruce Arena. The 2006 team was one of the most promising and disappointing USA teams in recent history and they played so poorly during the tournament that the ensuing Arena firing resulted in the Bob Bradley era.

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Sporting KC Don’t Flunk The Flank, Tactically-Speaking

In this week’s MLS Soccer March to the Match podcast, the extraordinary amount of shot opportunities for Sporting KC was referenced.

Forward progress....

Cauldron favorite and midfielder Graham Zusi in particular is on a pace for almost 100 shots taken this season.

As a midfielder this is nothing short of outstanding. To our knowledge, a “true” midfielder has never led the league or come close to leading the league in shots.

That’s almost three shots per game.

It sounds pedestrian, but when you consider that his teammate Kei Kamara already has 28 (over 6 per game), in combination, it’s mesmerizing. (Note: CJ Sapong is in the top 20 in shots also!)

Now, shot volume is nothing new for Sporting KC. They led the league last year in shots taken with an average of almost 14.5 per game.

They’re on pace to straight obliterate that this year, with 688 or over 20 per game!

Again astounding and it deserves more press*. (*We will discuss a few negatives at the end of the piece as well.)

But the question is, what changed for Sporting KC this year to increase the shot count?

Beyond being on-form, how were they able to ratchet up the amount of shots per game.

And the answer lies in three tweaks to Peter Vermes system this year. And let’s just say–in a nod to Jonah Freedman who commented this week–it’s not your traditional 4-3-3. In fact, it’s really more of 3-2-3-2 in the attack with Chance Myers playing extremely high up the pitch. (That 3-2-3-2 is Sinovic-Besler-Collin, Espinosa-Cesar, Convey-Zusi-[FB – typically Myers], Sapong-Kamara).

• CJ Sapong fills the “right” role

Sporting KC selected Teal Bunbury as its hold-up player in Game One of the season in DC United, whether by design or because they want to keep Sapong fresh with Bunbury going on US Soccer duty.

Bunbury distribution in Week 1 (chart courtesy

The chart above shows Bunbury’s distribution.

It’s a bit over the map, with a lot of hold up particularly on the left flank.

Now contrast this with Sapong’s most recent work against Chivas USA and FC Dallas.

Sapong distribution against Chivas.

More compact and mostly on the right. In a nod, to Matt Doyle comments on the aforementioned podcast, “CJ Sapong is Brian McBride II and he’s dragging the defense everywhere and opening up Kei Kamara.”


Well, almost everywhere.

Sapong’s staying a little more tidy in the middle and keeping the flanks open for Kamara and Convey. (BTW, it’s very impressive to see Sapong move off the ball. While his touch can use work, Sapong not only takes angles, but he also initiates contact offball and move his defender out of position. Watch him this weekend.)

• Bobby Convey has been “anti-” his reputation.

Want to know why Vermes is the leading candidate for coach–and perhaps front office man–of the year.

Look no further that Convey. Some [looks in mirror, sighs] wondered if Vermes knew what he was doing bringing in the often me-first, petulant player to a strong locker room in the offseason.

Tactically, it’s paying dividends.

Last year, KC trotted out Omar Bravo primarily on the left flank. While coming off the corner added pressure to the defense it also opened up KC to being susceptible to counter attacks through the middle and–extremely key for the attack–it reduced width because with Kamara on the right and Bravo on the left it actually reduced the space that the fullbacks could advance to. (We’ll come back to that.)

This year, they’ve added Convey on the left–hat tip to Top Drawer Soccer’s Travis Clark who saw Convey’s deployment at “forward” in Vermes thinking early on.

Convey adds some valuable assets to the KC attack.

While Convey can get wide, he’s more deployed–unlike Bravo–in a withdrawn position. From this position, KC can elect to:

(a) Use Convey as the left-side attacking hub

(b) Use Convey’s excellent ability to provide service on the left to set up Kamara and Sapong around the posts

(c) Provide lead passes to Seth Sinovic overlapping on the flank.

(d) Stymie some counterattacks.

With Sinovic and Myers barreling down the flanks frequently it’s a lot of width and personnel for any defense to handle.

Which brings us to….

Square=midfield, Triangle=overlapping fullback, Circle=forward

• SKC don’t flunk the flanks

A little Mel Brooks reference for you there.

Barcelona is a team that people love to invoke for all types of analogies. TSG tries to avoid it, but we’ll use it here.

Chance Myers? Peter Vermes Dani Alves flanker. Let’s look–above–though with the ball on the other side.

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