Sunday, January 31, 2010 |
Take what is already an established fact, that on the whole US National Team fans overreact to almost any event involving an American player, add the pressure of a World Cup year, and things ratchet up to a fever pitch.
To wit: Jozy Altidore, as little as a week ago, was the focus of "come home to MLS" calls by certain segments of the American soccer community. He wasn't playing in England, the World Cup is only five months away, and MLS provides a nice safety net. Better to have him playing in a lesser league than riding the bench Europe.
Except, those lamenting Jozy's situation either discounted his team authorized bereavement leave due to the disaster in Haiti and overreacted anyway, or were not aware of it. Jozy returned to the Hull lineup yesterday, figured prominently in the Tigers' draw with Wolves, and suddenly appears to be back on track.
In a culture that values recent and singular results to the detriment of the bigger picture, every player's last game is his most important. While Jozy returned and played well, appearing to prove that calls for an MLS return were premature, Eddie Johnson and Freddy Adu jumped back into the discussion with one nice play in their new club's win on Sunday. Johnson scored on a pass from Adu, with each showing glimpses of what made them promising talents in the first place. But does one goal, no matter how nice, really put either or both players back in the National Team picture for South Africa?
Not in my mind, it doesn't, but that won't stop some fans from getting disproportionately excited. With a talent pool as shallow as the United States', every American abroad with a name and a pedigree (which both Johnson and Adu have despite their recent struggles) is grist for the mill; while Johnson and Adu have a long way to go until they can be viewed as viable contributors on the international level, that doesn't mean they won't have their fair share of backers if they play well in Greece. At the very least, we shouldn't completely discount their chances.
Last week, it was Altidore, his "problems" and concern over his form and development. This week it's Johnson and Adu and their exciting combination, a tantalizing bit of quality from attacking players. Next week, it might be Cooper jumping back into the mix if he scores for Plymouth Argyle, panic for Stuart Holden if he's unable to make the Bolton team, or any number of possible events that will send the American fan base into hysterics.
The World Cup makes us all a little bit crazy.
Sunday, January 31, 2010 |
It's that time again; there's a new American Soccer Show available for download. Zach and I cover just about everything that happened over the course of the last week, including the CBA extension, Donovan, Davies, and much more.
DOWNLOAD the new show
SUBSCRIBE in iTunes (pretty please?)
If iTunes isn't your thing, subscribe to the RSS feed here.
Go to the AmSoc website to listen there.
Sunday, January 31, 2010 |
by Matt - US Soccer Daily
For those who haven’t been paying attention to the 2010 African Cup of Nations, Algeria’s campaign ended yesterday with the consolation game against Nigeria. Though their appearance in that match may give off the impression that they had a successful run in the tournament, their actual play was underwhelming, to say the least, and should give USMNT fans reason for optimism. In 6 games, they were 2-3-1 (W-L-D), out of which there was really only one strong performance, that being their extra time victory over Cote d’Ivoire (which looks like an aberration in retrospect). Other than that lone exception, Algeria really looked like a mediocre side; they were embarrassed 3-0 by 99th ranked Malawi, they scraped by an average Mali team for a 1-0 win, and they were gifted a 0-0 draw by a disinterested Angola side to make it to the knockout rounds (the extent of the perceived lack of effort from Angola even leading third place Mali to claim the sides colluded).
After their one impressive win against Didier Drogba and company, the Algerians were utterly dominated in the semifinals by Egypt, who avenged their World Cup qualification loss with a convincing 4-0 victory. The match added another example of what seems to be a lack of mental fortitude from the Desert Foxes, who absolutely lost their composure, picking up three red cards and surrendering goals just minutes after each. If this were an isolated incident, it might not be worth mentioning, but Algeria showed a good deal of mental weakness in their opener, when they folded like lawn chairs after Malawi took a two goal lead in the first half. Advantage USA in this department, if you ask me.
Throughout the tournament, Algeria also suffered from some very shoddy defending inside the box. Whether it was poor marking on set pieces, awful clearance attempts, or some “olé” defending, Algeria gave up a lot of goals that were more the result of their own shortcomings, rather than the skill or cleverness of their opponents. It was the type of defense that makes me optimistic that the mismatches that Bob Bradley’s side will create on corners and free kicks will almost certainly lead to at least one goal, and that quick dribblers like Landon Donovan or Charlie Davies (fingers crossed) could slice through the Algeria defense like a hot knife through butter.
Now, at this point, you may be thinking to yourself, “it’s a tournament in January; they’ll be a better team once the World Cup rolls around.” But why do so many of us make that conclusion when we would almost definitely not do so with regards to our own national team? As much as some USMNT fans like to underestimate their own team’s ability, I think there is an equal propensity to be overly complimentary of another team’s talent or more forgiving of their flaws. If the USMNT put together the same stretch of results against average to strong teams, the internet might crash from the ensuing message board and blogosphere panic.
So let’s be real for a second: Algeria did not look like a strong team against teams that are at best on the USMNT’s level. It took them 3 matches and 20 minutes to put in anything resembling a strong performance, something they won’t have the luxury of come June. There is only five months until the World Cup, and this will only hurt the confidence of a camp that already has been the target of a good deal of criticism from fans and the media. We wouldn’t dismiss a USMNT showing like this one, so why do so for another team?
Does it mean 3 easy points in June? Not at all. But while it does not guarantee a good result for the Yanks, Algeria’s abysmal African Cup of Nations gives good reason for you to feel optimistic about facing at least one Group C opponent in South Africa.
Friday, January 29, 2010 |
Thankfully, there will be no work stoppage come February 1st in Major League Soccer. Though the two sides don't have a deal done, they have agreed on a two week negotiating extension, with a new drop-dead date of February 12th.
Goody. The specter of labor strife was beginning to weigh on the minds of fans with the expiration of the CBA rapidly approaching. If the extension buys the time needed to complete a new deal, then we can all relax; the important thing is that players can head to camp, teams can prepare for their season, and front offices can go about their business.
Unfortunately, the other result of the negotiating extension will be even more analysis, predictions, uninformed guessing, and general nonsense. Every blogger from here to The Bleacher Reports (blech, blech, and double blech), will now have even more time to spit out paragraph after paragraph of what each and every teeny tiny development might mean, and bring us no closer to any actual understanding
Player X said Y? Well that must mean that the owners are digging their heels in on guaranteed contracts! Will the players cave?
Everything that can be written, likely has. And even if there is something unique to say, does it really matter now? We know what the Players want, we get where the Owners are coming from, and until we know what the new agreement (assuming there is one, and I am, come February 13th) looks like, analysis without direct sources is just pissing in the wind.
I won't be doing it, I can tell you that much. I fully expect that whatever "gag order" exists will hold for the next two weeks; next time we hear from the Union and the League it will be in the form of a "Declaration of Good Feelings" in which both sides proclaim the future of Major League Soccer secure thanks to a new CBA built on a spirit of cooperation. Until then, I don't know what more I can say. It's not that I'm not interested, it's just that I'm more concerned with the actual results rather than the baseless speculation.
Two weeks really isn't that long, and I suppose I can dodge the inevitable blog posts, commentaries, and news stories that regurgitate old information for that time. The problem is discerning the difference between the rehashed and the genuinely new; I'm going to be extremely annoyed when I'm three paragraphs in to a piece to suddenly realize that the writer is leaning on things said three weeks ago. I'd imagine most of you will be in the same boat. Let hope the deal gets done well before the new deadline.
And so I make this promise to you, my loyal readers: There will be no new CBA posts in this space unless it contains or relates to actual and current developments. Will I crank out five hundred words if some player comments that "things are going well"? No. Will I be lamenting the plight of the Players or defending the current constrictions MLS places on them? No.
Instead, I'm going to move on to other subjects until words comes down from the bigwigs in New York that the deal is signed and every thing is hunky-dory, some time of work stoppage is in effect, or actual insight is available on the structure of the new CBA.
The final word, for now, on this matter is a simple nod to the good omen that the negotiating extension is for the prospects of an agreement.
We'll talk CBA again, don't worry; we just won't be doing it until something actually happens.
Thursday, January 28, 2010 |
Remember when Jermaine Jones, a star midfield destroyer in the Germaan Bundesliga suddenly popped up as an potential USMNT player?
Remember when Jones got hurt last summer, but would only need a few months to recover?
Remember when it looked like Jones might get back on the field for Schalke, making is possible his National Team debut was imminent?
Yeah, you can go ahead and forget about all of that.
Jones still has not played this year for Schalke, is still experiencing pain in the shin he injured eight months ago, and has no timetable for a return to action. While USMNT fans are flipping out (in a good) way over the surprising possibility that Charlie Davies will be back for the World Cup and the amazing progress Oguchi Onyewu seems to be making, Jones' extended recovery is best forgotten about.
Better yet if we could all just simply wipe away any memories we have that Jones was ever an option; flip a switch, stare at a flashing light, and go back to a time when Jermaine Jones was still in the German National Team's player pool. The whole thing has been one giant tease.
Directing our hopeful expectations towards Davies and Oneywu, which I'm sure we're all doing anyway, is a much better use of our energy.
As exciting as the possibility was that Jones might suit up for the country of his father and give the United States a proven play with big league credentials, it was never guaranteed that he would simply slot right in and make the team better. Jones would have needed time to acclimate to his new teammates, the style of play, and the his role in the setup; even if Jones returns from his injury on the club level in a month or two, it's doubtful there is enough time for all of that to happen before Bob Bradley fills out his roster for South Africa.
So, unless you're a fan of Schalke 04, I highly suggest you forget about Jermaine Jones.
This is not the midfielder you were looking for.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010 |
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I give you ESPN's World Cup broadcast schedule.
I bring this up not because I don't think you've heard about it (I assume you have), but because it's worthy of comment. Lots and lots of comment.
There's simply nothing more glorious than soccer in HD (and yes, I include MLS in that statement), and ESPN is giving us every World Cup match in high definition. The schedule is comprehensives and is backed up by a commitment by ESPN to provide pre-game, and half-time, and post-game analysis.
Even better, the USMNT's opening match against England, highly anticipated and full of intriguing story lines, will be on broadcast television (ABC) June 12th. There is simply no reason to believe that it won't be the highest rated soccer match ever shown in the United States. Besides the obvious Anglophone connection, the big brother-little brother dynamic, one which works in both directions depending on subject, the game will likely be even more visible thanks to the amazing story of Charlie Davies. Much could still go wrong for Davies, but if he's playing, in the squad, and in uniform in Rustenburg, media outlets everywhere will inundate the American public with his saga. Fine by me.
Though the ESPN coverage schedule is enough to make footy fanatics shed a tear of joy, it still only represents a practical choice on the part of the network. They paid a lot of money for the American broadcast rights, and the only major sports in season (that ESPN also broadcasts) being Major League Baseball and the NBA, showing every game is a smart business decision. The comprehensive coverage doesn't represent a massive shift in the status of soccer in the United States, but it might indicate a rising water level.
Despite the tired opinions the old-timey sportswriters like to crank out (or recycle) in which they moan cynically about the soccer explosion that they believe will never come, the professional game will not vault into the American consciousness overnight. Even a high-profile Saturday match like USA-England won't make a drastic difference immediately; more fans will be attracted to the game, but the path to day-to-day relevancy is a slow and winding one. Still, ESPN's coverage of the World Cup does show that the market exists (why else would they buy the rights and commit the resources they will), that progress is happening, and that soccer's place in America is secure.
From a fan's perspective, provided I'm able to avoid work long enough to enjoy it, ESPN's coverage is an amazing, amazing thing. I'm ready for June right now. Longer term and bigger picture, I'm hopeful that more casual and resistant fans come to the game because of it. There's not better showcase for the sport than the World Cup, and with every game on, every game in HD, and every game framed by proper commentary, there's a very good chance of that happening.
It should be noted that this is not the first time ESPN will broadcast every game of the tournament live and in HD; they did the same in 2006. The major difference this time around is the wider reach of HD, the additional commitment to on-the-ground coverage, and the lucky break of the USMNT opening with England. All that should make for the best performing World Cup in American television history (not a high bar, admittedly), and probably by a wide margin. That performance should convince other networks and corporate concerns that soccer is worth an investment, hopefully leading to more coverage, better quality coverage, and a resulting increase in the number of people interested in the game.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go fill out a leave request form.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010 |
Get yourself over to the American Soccer Show website now for an exclusive interview with New England Revolution striker Taylor Twellman. Zach and I talked to Taylor about everything from The Bachelor to the CBA (with a bit more about the CBA). Taylor even hinted about a possible time frame for a labor resolution.
The American Soccer Show Interview with Taylor Twellman
Wednesday, January 27, 2010 |
The health of a sport often leans heavily on its longevity. The longer a game is around, the deeper its roots penetrate the culture it inhabits, creating long lasting connections that transcend generations.
No American professional sports league exploded into massive popularity overnight. Baseball, with the added advantage of being the only professional sport in the country at the turn of the 20th Century, slowly assumed it's perch as America's pastime over the course of decades. The NBA, as recently as thirty years ago, was a marginal sport struggling for live national television exposure. Even the country's undisputed sports king, the NFL, needed years to become the ubiquitous giant it is today.
Each and every one of these leagues benefited from the passage of time. As more and more people fell in love with them, they passed their interest and passion to their children. Fathers and sons going to games together might be sappy and over-romanticized, but it plays a role in the continued relevance of a sport.
MLS is no different, and only fifteen years into its existence is only now beginning to see the results of transferred passion. Finally, though, Major League Soccer has an example of the legacy of the league in a player; Teal Bunbury, drafted fourth overall by the Kansas City Wizards, is the first son of a former MLS player to come into the league.
Teal's father, Alex, also played for the Wizards back in 1999 and 2000, the last two years of a career that took him to England and Portugal. This link, made all the better by the potential the younger Bunbury possesses (Teal won this year's Hermann Award, annually give to the best collegiate player in the country), represents on the field what MLS is also now beginning to see in the stands.
American sports fans are intimately familiar with similar father-son player combos in other sports. The Griffeys, the Hulls, the Mannings; these are the "first families" of sports on this continent, families that connect an older generation to a newer, serving as touchstones that cement the cultural bonds sports have to our lives.
Teal Bunbury may or may not be a great player in MLS, and the career of his father in the league is hardly on the level of Archie Manning or Ken Griffey, Sr. for both accomplishments or longevity; but as long as Major League Soccer doesn't fade away like so many other American competitions, the Bunburys will surely be the just the first of many families to span the MLS generations.
For more on the Bunburys, read Mike Woitalla's piece at Soccer America
Tuesday, January 26, 2010 |
I've talked about the change in public tone in regards to the MLS CBA negotiations over the past few weeks, focusing on the positive vibes coming from several players. You can throw another piece of evidence on that pile, with Freddie Ljungberg adding his two cents:
Based on the latest news I’ve heard from both sides, there wont be a lock out or strike on Feb 1.
This is in no way a guarantee that there won't be a work stoppage, but it's absolutely a good sign; while Ljungberg may not be intimately involved in the CBA negotiations, I have no doubt that he's spoken to people who are. Those people have obviously given the Sounder midfielder reason to believe that an agreement, or an alternative that will keep the league operating in the interim, is coming.
Prior to January, nothing good was being said, and the players were bracing for a lockout. The change in tone came swiftly and recently (remember, the FIFPro released a fairly caustic statement with quotes from Donovan and Keller as recently as January 5th), and emanating from more than one source. Combined, the weight of the evidence is significant.
Nothing is certain, and with negotiations that are surely tense and always in danger of falling apart, all of the apparent progress made could be wiped out in a day.
Still, my mind has already shifted from "Will the deal get done?" to "What will the new CBA look like?". I fully expect the answers to those questions to be coming shortly.
I've heard from several people who believe the players will get the short end of the stick; there's good reason to think that, with the owners still holding most of the leverage. But I'm also beginning to get the sense that compromise on at least one of the major issues is coming. My gut (and it's just my gut) says a form of free agency is more likely, but it could just as easily be semi-guaranteed contracts.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010 |
After soliciting for suggestions for my next post, my being full of writing energy but missing an area of focus, I was asked to present an argument for whether Jozy Altidore should return to MLS.
But I'm not going to, yet. Instead, I'm going to first do what I usually do; take a specific issue and step back to take a more general view, hoping to either draw conclusions or raise relevant questions that might not seem obvious on the surface.
I suppose it's a good thing that Major League Soccer provides young American players with a safety net. Not getting enough playing time abroad? Well come on home, young man, and we'll find a spot for you! Sure, the competition isn't as good (generally), you probably won't make as much, and there's no real fame to be gained by being a footballer in a country that puts the sport about as high as BMX racing and stuff that happens in an "octagon", but hey, what else are you going to do? It's a World Cup year, remember?
There's a large segment of the American soccer community that reacts, for lack of a better word, violently the moment a young player hits a rough spot in Europe. The calls for an MLS return are loud and impassioned, usually based on the idea that the player in question would find themselves on the field here rather than rotting on the bench there. But, would it really be what's best for them? Is throwing in the towel the right move? How would that affect the player's psychological makeup and development in the long run?
Unfortunately, no one really knows, and the basic truth that playing is always better than not playing carries a lot of weight.
None of this is to say that certain players might not be better off back in MLS. It's truly up to the player and comes down to the state of their career; for some, MLS would be a step back, a last ditch resort, and an admission that their career is on life support. Not because MLS is a terrible place to play, but because they've invested so much to making it in Europe that the only mental effect possible is a destructive one.
On occasion, "coming home" is absolutely the right move. Sometimes, when a player is either out of options, finds the going too difficult in Europe, or simply wants to be a part of a burgeoning league in the country he's from, Major League Soccer is an attractive landing spot. But there needs to be less calls for Americans to return to the US and the warm bosom of MLS and more push for those players to show resolve.
Back to the specific. Jozy Altidore is going through a rough patch at Hull, not helped by the recent tragedy in Haiti, and finds himself without consistent playing time less than six months before the World Cup. His club is acquiring more talent, players who will make it even more difficult for Altidore to get on the pitch. This has some asking if Jozy might not be better off back at home, where playing time is guaranteed and his World Cup form can better be maintained.
In essence, people are saying Jozy should quit.
I'm just not a fan of that. Whether it would help the fortunes of the National Team or not, saying that because Jozy finds himself in a less-than-perfect situation dictates a step back from his goals is ludicrous. Last time I checked, Americans were known as stubborn go-getters, intent on making things go our way until there is absolutely no hope.
Okay, so I'm exaggerating, and there should always be pragmatic considerations; but ducking out at the first sign (or second perhaps, depends on how you count) of trouble will do him no good. He needs to stick it out, fight for a spot, and build a mental strength that will serve him well throughout his career. We know he has the ability.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010 |
Holy crap, Charlie Davies is going to play in the World Cup.
Yesterday's story from Ives Galarcep has shot through the American soccer community like a missile of good feelings. In its wake, every blogger has a post on the remarkable healing abilities and resolve of Davies, with jaws dropped in understandable awe. I'm no exception.
Suddenly, we all have hope - hell, more than hope - that Charlie will be back playing in time enough to be fully fit and on form when the United States kicks off with England on June 12th in Rustenburg. Think about that for a moment; when the news of Davies injuries broke back in October, almost every National Team fan wrote him off for the World Cup, even as we were pouring our hearts out in sympathy.
Just get well. Forget playing, because that really doesn't matter. Just get well.
Except for Charlie it did matter, and it now appears as though he will be playing, and doing so soon. The man is jogging, has a goal to hit the field by next month, and plans to be back in France with Sochaux before the end of their domestic season.
Holy crap, Charlie Davies is going to play in the World Cup.
Wait a second. Am I allowed to say that yet? Do I have some obligation as a blogger to reign everyone in, be the voice of reason, and just generally mute the enthusiasm? I mean, what if he doesn't play? What if his rehabilitation hits a bump, a setback, a very possible snag that slows things down and keeps him from being fully fit come June?
If you have the heart to play the buzzkill with no reservations, you might want to check your pulse. Still, there's certainly room for logic and reason, both of which say things like "He's not on the field yet" and "Even if he can play, he might not be the same"; the problem is that those perfectly valid concerns carry with them all of the joy and exaltation of the human spirit as poetry written by an angst-ridden fifteen year old girl. Simply put, no one likes a wet blanket.
But wait; Charlie himself said that the talk among USMNT fans of the need to find a replacement for him has served as a motivator. That means that anyone suggesting that Bob Bradley should dismiss Davies as a possibility and move on is actually helping by doing so, and shouldn't necessarily stop just because the vocal majority won't like it too much. The obligation returns, not because people need to be reigned in, but because in an ironic way, it might be better to follow it.
What to do?
Let's put the World Cup aside for a moment. Whether Davies is ready to play in the tournament or not, his recovery to this point seems (and I only say seems because I haven't seen it with my own eyes) miraculous. No matter the time it ultimately takes for him to return to the field, it looks like a certainty that he will. Beyond that, meaning what his ultimate level of play will be, is impossible to know; without any evidence to back it up, I'm convinced he'll return to being the burgeoning talent he was before. That's a matter of faith, not fact. I suspect most of you have the same gut feeling.
My other gut feeling? If he is in the World Cup team, Charlie's comeback would be the biggest American soccer story to hit the mainstream since some English guy signed up to play . ESPN, and rightly so, will run the story into the ground. Americans will buy up Charlie Davies #9 shirts on an massive level and casual fans will suddenly be interested in the US World Cup campaign. The insular community will freak out with the newbies arrive, and soccer will (momentarily) be the biggest thing on the American sports landscape.
World Cup + England match + Charlie = Kaboom.
I'm getting ahead of myself. What was it I was saying something about obligation? Oh right...while I mostly reject it, I certainly want to do my part to motivate Charlie to get back to full strength as quickly as possible. If "doubting" him is what it takes, I guess I can bite the bullet.
Let's hope Bob Bradley sees more out of potential Davies replacements in next month's friendly than he did against Honduras. There's not much time to find a striker.
Holy crap, Charlie Davies is going to play in the World Cup.
Monday, January 25, 2010 |
by Keith Hickey
I've just finished reading this column by the occasionally excellent and permanently cantankerous Bill Archer. The gist of it is that ticket sales for the World Cup aren't going all that well, hampered by poor infrastructure and fears over safety. This raises the possibility of World Cup matches being played in brand-new half-empty stadiums. With tickets for teams like the Netherlands, Germany, and even England still available, how are matches like New Zealand-Paraguay and Switzerland-Honduras expected to sell out? Now, because there's really nothing FIFA can do at this point, besides lowering prices and stepping up marketing, I'm not worrying about this summer's tournament (at least not in this post). I'm wondering how this edition could affect future selections.
If South Africa fails to live up to expectations, and there are conspicuously empty seats, infrastructure issues, and/or problems with crime, FIFA will be very keen to avoid any but the surest of sure bets when it comes to the next couple of Tournaments. And although there's no official rotation policy, I find it difficult to believe the brain trust in Zurich is going to pass up Europe three tournaments in a row. I expect that the safe assumption that it's a safe bet to be a great host will lead to England getting 2018, leaving Qatar, Australia, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea competing with the US for the 2022 hosting duties. Now, I've already made clear why I think the US would be the best choice. But I'm biased.
Looking at the other bids, Japan and Korea can be ruled out, having hosted the tournament just eight years ago. Indonesia, along with the infrastructure issues that come from being a nation of 17,000 islands, has at least the possibility the threat of terrorism, and following the unfortunate incident the Togolese team encountered in Cabinda, that's something FIFA will be loathe to risk. Qatar, population-wise, is smaller than Phoenix, Arizona. If ticket sales for South Africa are poor, they'd be almost non-existent for Qatar, who would also be left with several brand new stadiums and little use for them. Australia would then be the strongest competition for the US, but given the standard operating procedure of the current regime (accumulate power first, then use it to make money), coupled with the facts that Australia consolidates no voting block, and would be on television in Europe and North America at inconvenient times, the US, for already enumerated reasons, would be the clear front-runner.
On the other side of our "coin of wild hypotheticals®" is the possibility that despite all the naysaying, South Africa (and FIFA) throws everything they have into making the tournament a dazzling success, a global feast of football punctuated by the memorable and the sublime, and all those unsold tickets find their way into the hands of paying customers. That shakes things up a bit in the future World Cup hosts department. Europe generally, and England specifically would still be favored for 2018, but FIFA might be tempted to go with a dark horse like Russia instead, helping UEFA President Michel Platini (no friend of the FA on the best of days) entrench in his eastern European power base. And emboldened by success in South Africa, the rich and relatively untapped market of Australia begins to look more attractive to the powers that be.
But still, they'd be crazy to pass up the US.
Monday, January 25, 2010 |
There simply aren't many concrete conclusions to draw from the USMNT's loss to Honduras on Saturday. Jimmy Conrad's early second yellow and subsequent ejection so completely changed the game that even evaluating a few select players become difficult.
If nothing else, the loss to Honduras and some of the abject performances by American "B/C" team players appears to indicate that which we all know and love to moan about; the United States doesn't have much depth.
After seeing that sentiment expressed all over the Internet following the loss, I found myself thinking about the definition of "depth". It seems a simple concept. But are the lamentations over American depth missing the point?
What is depth? Is it a quality backup option at every position? Is it a pool of five or so players in reserve who can be slotted in when necessary? Is it talent beyond the first choice twenty-three that compares favorably to the same players from other World Cup participants?
Unfortunately for the United States and Bob Bradley, the American development infrastructure has yet to produce enough talent for a strong backup to be available at every position, or for even the third and fourth choice players to be of good quality. There are few nations in the world that can boast a reserve squad of players who hold down first division club jobs in top leagues in the world, and the ones that can happen to be home to such a league. Italy, Spain, England, Germany, and perhaps one or two others rely heavily on domestically-based players and do so because they're able to; even those not good enough to break into their country's first team are standouts on the club level. Other nations traditionally among the world elite like Brazil and Argentina benefit from a singular sporting focus, long history of playing the game, and the sheer number of young players coming up when it comes to depth.
None of this is to say that the US is not seriously lacking, or should not be better, when it comes to depth. But for a nation that sits solidly on the second level in world football, well below those countries mentioned above in prestige, history, etc., the US is far from unique. When at full health (which it is admittedly not at the moment), the Unites States' first team is strong enough to do things like beat Spain and take Brazil to the wire in the Confederations Cup; when facing an injury crisis, the team becomes an uneven patchwork, a situation in which most of the World Cup field would also find themselves. How many nations headed to South Africa this year are deep enough for a rash of injuries not to critically weaken their team?
Perhaps I'm partaking in a bit of sleight-of-hand here. For many, "depth" is an absolute; either you have quality backups and reserves or you don't, and the comparable state of other nations' own player pools is irrelevant. If depth is not relative, than the United States is absolutely lacking, no question, and the angst and hand-wringing is understandable. It's difficult to be comfortable with the state of the squad beyond the first twenty players or so when they lay an egg like they did on Saturday.
Still, simply for arguments sake, let's take a look at the potential squad for South Africa with an eye towards depth:
I'm using Max Zeger's "Bradley's Bunch" from Goal.com as the basis for the World Cup squad because it's easier than putting it together myself on a tight schedule, and Max knows his stuff and is a friend of The American Soccer Show.
Max's current twenty three man roster, if the World Cup started today:
GOALKEEPERS (3): Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Marcus Hanhemann
DEFENDERS (8): Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector, Jay DeMerit, Jonathan Bornstein, Edgar Castillo, Clarence Goodson
MIDFIELDERS (8): Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Ricardo Clark, Stuart Holden, Benny Feilhaber, Jose Francisco Torres, Maurice Edu, DaMarcus Beasley
FORWARDS (4): Landon Donovan*, Josmer Altidore, Brian Ching, Robbie Findley
*Striker, midfielder, whatever
I might have a few quibbles with this roster, but for the most part, it seems about right. From this roster, it's possible to create two full teams; by definition, "depth" begins with those second team choices:
Possible First team*:
FORWARDS: Altidore, Findley
MIDFIELDERS: Donovan, Bradley, Clark, Dempsey
DEFENDERS: Bornstein, Onyewu, Bocanegra, Cherundolo
*Obviously this lineup is far from a certainty
Now a second team; keep in mind that this is an entirely new lineup without any considerations for a possible change in formation. The only player that will remain is Donovan, because though he has settled into a left-sided midfield role, he remains an option at striker. Max includes three traditional strikers plus Donovan, which means there aren't four available players to make two full squads in a 4-4-2 and have every player be exclusive to one lineup or the other:
FORWARDS: Donovan, Ching
MIDFIELDERS: Beasley, Feilhaber, Edu, Holden
DEFENDERS: Castillo, DeMerit, Goodson, Spector
Again, certain players in the first team could be swapped out with ones from the second team depending on tactics and opponent; the point here is to illustrate "depth" as a function of two distinct lineups, with a view of how comparable the quality of the second team players are to the first. Clearly the second team is weaker in spots and lacks experience, but there's a reason why most of them are clear second choices. Debating the strength of the first team based on the quality of certain players, and the weaknesses they create in the overall team, is a different question; focusing solely on how the lineups compare, the drop-off is noticeable but far from drastic.
The major variable that is difficult to account for is form; as with most of their competition, the US is beholden to form as a major factor in choosing a first team.
What's missing from this comparison is players whose statuses are unknown, but who would either be first team players or add depth, like Charlie Davies and Jermaine Jones. If fully healthy, those two players would bump the weaker second-teamers from the roster, and slightly increase overall depth.
Depth is necessary to cover for injury and the aforementioned issues of form, but in and of itself doesn't make a team significantly better; first-teamers are such for a reason, and while every team aims to have backups with quality as close as possible to those in front of them, few teams in the world can boast a second lineup of players close to or on par with their first choice lineup. Those that can are generally on the lower end of the quality spectrum, meaning that they don't have enough highly skilled players in the first team for the second team to represent a real dip in talent.
What Saturday's loss to Honduras indicated is that the United States is lacking quality at its third and fourth string levels; in fact, instead of giving insight about a lack of depth, it might be more accurate to say that the game illustrated the United States is deficient in developing players, though it's difficult to assess that now with so many fringe/new names in the mix.
FORWARDS: Cunningham, Findley
MIDFIELDERS: Rogers, Feilhaber , Beckerman, Kljestan
DEFENDERS: Bornstein, Conrad, Marshall , Wynne
SUBSTITUTES: Heath Pearce, Brad Davis, Dax McCarty, Conor Casey, Alejandro Bedoya, Clarence Goodson
Of the group that played on Saturday, only a handful truly have a shot at the World Cup squad, and only a few of those that do would have any chance of seeing the field in South Africa. What then, does this team or that game really say about American depth?
Depth matters, that much is certain. Whether the players that represent depth are viewed as potential first-team contributors or simply the "next wave", the development of a pool of talent says a lot about the overall quality of a national team program. The United States lacks that overall quality in many ways, even as its first choice lineup is capable of beating top-ranked teams, advancing in the World Cup, or consistently achieving regional supremacy.
But the question of "depth" is neither black/white nor properly asked without establishing context. If "depth" is a full secondary roster of twenty-three players who can compete against an equivalent team from a similarly ranked nation, then perhaps there is little to none in the US ranks. If it's simply a second line that can ably backup the first team and keep the team's loss of overall quality to a minimum, then there is at least some.
How do you define depth?
Sunday, January 24, 2010 |
Getting things done a little earlier than usual, the new American Soccer Show is up over at the website.
This week, Jason and Zach review the USMNT performance against Honduras, discuss Donovan (and the bet), hit on Holden and Clark's new clubs, talk to Sean Wheelock about a variety of topics, and wonder if there's been a shift in the CBA negotiations.
Visit the site to download the show directly. Make sure to subscribe to the iTunes feed as well, so you never miss a show.
Saturday, January 23, 2010 |
So Bob, What'd Ya Learn?
I honestly didn't expect to be writing about this game tonight. As I mentioned in my "preview" post, the excitement level topped out at "minimal" for a variety of reasons.
Yet here I am, attempting to put into context a pretty dismal result for the Yanks against Honduras at the Home Depot Center. Losing 1-3 looks bad, is bad, and can't simply be excused away; still, too many extenuating circumstances were at play for my angst level to rise too high.
Jimmy Conrad. Oh, Jimmy. I love ya buddy, and you're tweets are classic. But was it really necessary to put your team in a hole like that with an ill-advised jersey tug, after you had already picked up a yellow? Perhaps if you had waited until after halftime to do something so stupid, I might not be as disappointed; but you essentially ruined the match as an evaluation tool. Down to ten men and behind a goal doesn't make for a natural "let's see how these guys do" situation. Sure, the crucible of it all tells coaches something about a few players, but because the playing field was no longer level it really only allows for a view of intangibles.
Some Yanks acquitted themselves fairly well. Jonathan Bornstein was my American Man of the Match, and was clearly the most composed player on the field for the US. Others were terrible, and while I could point each of them out, it really wouldn't serve a purpose; none of them are going to South Africa, and most of them will never feature in any meaningful match for the US.
I hope Bob Bradley is able to glean something from that game. Robbie Findley did fine, though pairing him with Cunningham didn't go over, and was made worse by the loss of Conrad. Maybe that's enough to make the match worthwhile for the head coach.
That's it for now. As I said, what wasn't overly important in the first place had any real value stolen by the early sending off. On to February.
Consider this your open thread to share thoughts about the game. I'd love to hear what you guys made of the performance, with a particular eye to individuals.
Friday, January 22, 2010 |
Guest Post by Matt - US Soccer Daily
Christened in June of 2003, the Home Depot Center is the crown jewel of US Soccer (that is, until Red Bull Arena opens in a couple months). Over the past six and a half years, the House that Anschutz Built has hosted the USMNT on eight occasions, with the Yanks compiling a record of 7-0-1 in those matches.
Despite having been around for two full cycles now, the HDC has hosted just one World Cup qualifying match to this point. The fact that the Los Angeles area doesn't exactly provide a home field advantage against a good portion of CONCACAF makes the HDC a less than appealing venue when a World Cup berth is on the line. But Bob Bradley's side did choose to kick off their 2010 qualifying campaign at the home of Chivas USA and the LA Galaxy, taking on Barbados in their opening match. Not only was this match noteworthy for the fact that it was the first WCQ at the Home Depot Center, but it would also end up being the largest win in USMNT history, as the Yanks steamrolled the Bajans by a score of 8-0. The Yanks wasted no time in starting qualification off on the right foot, with Clint Dempsey topping another USMNT record by scoring just 53 seconds into the match. So, though the stadium has hosted just one qualifier, it has still been the scene of several historic USMNT moments.
Outside of the WCQ, the HDC has hosted two other competitive matches featuring the USMNT, albeit as a "neutral" venue. Back in '07, the Yanks had two Gold Cup group stage matches, one against Trinidad & Tobago and the other against Guatemala. Much like the other their game against Barbados, the USMNT was unbeatable at the friendly confines of Carson, blanking both opponents for wins of 2-0 and 1-0. Those wins were part of what would end up being another Gold Cup triumph for the Red, White, and Blue, which booked them a ticket to last summer's memorable Confederations Cup in South Africa.
Tomorrow will mark the sixth January friendly played at the Home Depot Center, the fifth consecutive year that the Yanks' first match will take place in Carson. In the five friendlies, the USMNT outscored its opponents by a combined score of 14-4 (2.8 goals for per game, just .8 goals against). All of the previous friendlies have been against Scandinavian teams (Sweden in '09 and '08, Denmark in '07 and '04, and Norway in '06) thanks in large part to the coinciding domestic offseasons. The friendlies have been the scene of some history, as well, with Landon Donovan passing Eric Wynalda to become the USMNT's all-time leading goalscorer by burying a penalty in a 2-0 victory over Sweden back in 2008. Who knows, even though it is just a friendly, tomorrow's match at the HDC might just have another historic moment in store for us.
The only blemish on an otherwise impeccable run at the HDC actually came in the USMNT's first game there back in '04, as they split the points with the Danes after trading penalty kicks for a 1-1 final. Since then, the Yanks have always sent the home fans happy, with last year's 3-2 win and 2007's 1-0 victory over Guatemala being the only games with less than a two goal margin of victory.
Tomorrow's match will mark the first time that a non-Scandinavian team comes to the HDC for the January friendly, with US Soccer instead opting for fellow World Cup qualifier and CONCACAF rival Honduras. Expect another US win, and look for Honduran national hero Jonathan Bornstein to get a rousing ovation from the fans of Los Catrachos in attendance. It might not exactly be all of the guys we're going to see in South Africa, but it's the USMNT nonetheless, and I for one can't get enough of seeing the Yanks play.
Tune in at 9 PM ET on Fox Soccer Channel to see if Bob Bradley and company can kick off the new year on the right foot.
(Cross posted at US Soccer Daily)
Friday, January 22, 2010 |
After my dabbles in the world of over-excited, exclamation point-saturated writing over the last few weeks, it pains me to use the dreaded line-over-dot, even in a sarcastic sense. Yet there it is, because it adds to the effect of the headline; unless you're going to the the game I can't honestly find a reason to get too worked up about tomorrow's friendly in Carson.
But it is the National Team in action, and it will serve as an opportunity to see some younger and fringe players against real competition as they push for South Africa. The focus for many, like it is for Matt at US Soccer Daily, will be on Robbie Findley; the RSL striker is the best analogue for Charlie Davies currently available to Bob Bradley, and the hope is that he'll play and play well against Honduras. If Bradley is looking for a speedy option to fill the Davies role (not a given), then Findley will need to show he's capable against the Honduras "B" side to even gain consideration.
But, as Matt states (you stole my thunder, Matt), we can't put too much into anything that happens tomorrow. It's a friendly and it's Honduras "B". The "Kljestan Effect" is a very real possibility; if the Americans win, and a particular individual plays well, he'll immediately be pushed for the World Cup squad. Repeating Matt again, it's all about perspective.
Sacha in January 2009
So when you're watching tomorrow night, naturally pulling for a US victory, and preferably a rout, make sure you view whatever happens through the proper lens. Bradley, setting his team up in a way that should give him the most possible information on certain players, will take things out of it you and I will never notice. But there will be obvious good and bad performances, players who step up and play over their respective heads, and others who fail or fall flat. From those things we can attempt to draw conclusions. They won't mean much.
In a World Cup year, even when the match in question is a "B" team friendly involving a large group of players who may never really figure in the National Team setup, it's almost impossible to relax. I intend to try, and I suggest you do the same; I'd like the Yanks to win, and I'd love to see some amazing performances, but nothing that happens will have any far reaching meaning.
Thursday, January 21, 2010 |
There's a new wrinkle in the DC United stadium saga, and it comes by way of Craig Stauffer at the Washington Examiner; club president Kevin Payne implies that the World Cup hosting fortunes of Washington and Baltimore could be tied to a new facility for United.
I'm going to take a moment to let you read Craig's post and for the information there to sink in.
Payne's contention that the World Cup spot for the cities on the list includes a responsibility to foster "soccer sustainability" is one I'd not heard, or hadn't processed in a way that relates directly to club soccer. If true, and I have no reason to believe it's not, it means that DC United might be playing in Baltimore before too long.
I say that because Baltimore is the city actively pursuing a soccer stadium study, while Washington continues to show abject disinterest in its professional soccer team. United, whether the mainstream sports media and mayor's office like it or not, is an institution in the city, and the only professional team in Washington with a recent history of championship success. It would be a pity to see them leave, and an absolute travesty for their fans.
That means nothing if there's no effort to work with United, though, and Payne's cursory nod towards "quiet talks" doesn't give me much hope. Still, Washington must want the World Cup, right?
I'm not so sure. FedEx Field, the stadium where games would be played, is in Maryland, not the District. Anyone that has seen RFK in recent years knows that there's no conceivable way that facility would host World Cup matches, and will most likely be torn down by 2018 or 2022. If there's nowhere for games to played in DC, and the city government IS responsible for meeting the "soccer sustainability" standard, then United might be out of luck in Washington.
There's one other possible chain of events that could affect United's staying DC, though I expect the club would have either pulled up stakes or found an alternative to RFK by then; the Washington Redskins returning to the District. If the city, as has long been rumored, seriously attempts to lure the NFL team back into DC, then there may be an impetus for them to get a soccer stadium deal done. A brand new Redskins stadium on the RFK site would be a natural place for World Cup matches, and with twelve years until a potential USA World Cup, there's plenty of time for it to happen. If Baltimore is showing the interest in soccer that the bid committee and FIFA want to see, however, and DC doesn't get itself in gear quickly, it may be too late.
I'm fleshing these thoughts out as I write, and might be missing something. Let me know if any of this doesn't make sense, or if you read Payne's comments and the goings on in Baltimore differently.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010 |
I was tempted to subtitle this post "But did anyone notice?", but refrained because I'm certain some of you have; for months, all we've heard from MLS players was talk of management intransigence, contracts that violated FIFA rules, and plans for being locked out come February 1st.
Yet suddenly, in just the past few days (or as Fake Sigi said on Twitter "since the draft"; there could be a connection), Goff reported "good vibes", John Wolyniec told Big Apple Soccer he's "hopeful", and Adrian Hanauer said he's "cautiously optimistic". From the Players' end (Wolyniec), it seems like a massive change in tact; what was doom and gloom, talk of rights, and MLS needing to fall in line with the rest of the world, is now a much rosier outlook. The language used is still noncommittal (as one would expect), the tone of it should not be taken for granted.
Nothing said, by either side, is without forethought. While I'm sure Michael Lewis caught Wolyniec either going onto or coming off of the training pitch, that doesn't necessarily mean the Red Bull striker was speaking candidly. Wolyniec knows Lewis is a reporter, after all, and likely chose his words carefully. Bottom line, if MLSPU didn't want what Wolyneic said to be out there, he wouldn't have said it. If you need a little more convincing, know that Wolyniec is on the bargaining committee for the Players, and would surely be more in tune with the need for discretion than most.
If taken as a sign of change, be it actual progress or the players softening (a possibility), then this new tone is promising; perhaps the two sides are getting slowly closer to a compromise that will allow for an on-time start to the season.
But wait; while there's suddenly good vibes and hopeful feelings from certain quarters, others are talking about the need for a "Plan B". If there is a lockout, players, especially those with World Cup aspirations, will want to be playing. Greg Seltzer examined those backup plans, and while his information came from the players' and agents' sides only (Seltzer related that MLS and D2 clubs had stonewalled him in the search for information, something I don't read too much into), the timing of the piece contradicts all of those good feelings, just a little bit.
I'm hoping it's just a matter of two aspects of the CBA story pushing in different directions, and that the backup plans are being discussed as a matter of prudence rather than because there's a real belief they'll be needed. If there's a chance, even a small one, that a work stoppage is coming, then we can't blame the players for looking for opportunities elsewhere just in case.
Perhaps I'm reading too much into what really only amounts to a few journalists going out and getting stories, with what they've been told a matter of fact rather than any premeditated choices. Hell, if Wolyniec is being candid, that could actually be better than the alternative because he feels comfortable with the way the negotiations are going to let go a little bit.
I don't think everyone is chummy, and I have no sense of how close the two sides might be to getting a deal done, but I'm suddenly much more optimistic than I was only a week ago.
A change in tone will do that.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010 |
I'm a bit of a designed-for-soccer stadium junkie; I track the deals to get them built anxiously, I follow their construction progress closely, and I get giddy when they finally begin to take shape (as Philly's is as we speak).
There's not much that will bring more credibility to MLS as a proper professional American sports league than every team playing in its own stadium. Converted minor league baseball stadiums, college football stadiums, and crumbling multi-use relics do nothing to help the profile of a league that is constantly fighting a "second rate" image. The more teams that get into proper facilities, the better.
Three clubs recently on the hunt for stadium deals are Houston, DC United, and Kansas City.
The Dynamo have a provisional deal on the table with the City of Houston, and just needs a commitment from Harris County to get things going. Dynamo fans, rightly anxious and ready for the pact to be finalized, recently held a rally on the proposed site. Despite my initial concerns that newly-elected mayor Annise Parker might scuttle the deal, it appears the hangup is not with the City, but the County.
Houston desperately needs a stadium. After relocating to Texas from San Jose because a deal couldn't be found in California, it would be a massive blow to have a stadium in Houston fall through. The Dynamo have been a model organization, draw well, and carry the MLS flag in more way than one. Let's cross our fingers that Harris County pulls the trigger on the $10 million they would need to contribute to get the stadium started.
After a flurry of activity in the first half of 2009, there's been little to no movement on any stadium deal for DC United. The club heads into the season with one primary owner (Will Chang) ready and willing to make a deal with whatever nearby locality opens their minds. As with Houston, DC is a flag-bearer for MLS, and every year that goes by without the club in its own dedicated facility, the worse the league looks.
Back in October, Baltimore mayor Sheila Dixon floated a proposal to conduct a feasibility study for a soccer-specific stadium in the city with an eye towards luring DC United north. Forgotten by many (including myself), Baltimore's interest has popped up again, with news that funds have been approved to conduct the study.
United moving to the Charm City would be a devastating blow to its existing fan base. Few, if any, of the club's committed fans will be willing to travel that far to support a team that no longer truly belongs to them. While I love the idea of a top-flight club in Baltimore, and another dedicated soccer stadium in a major US city is always good, United must find themselves a site in the immediate DC metropolitan area. And not too far out from the city, if you please.
Kansas City Wizards
Unlike Houston and DC, the Kansas City Wizards now have a deal signed, sealed, and delivered. Wyandotte County, Kansas unanimously approved funding for a mixed-use project yesterday, green-lighting construction. The Wizards' finally settling on a Kansas site comes after more than a year of haggling over a Missouri site that until as recently as mid-2009 was the front-runner.
With ground-breaking today, the Wizards are on their way to joining the list of teams with proper and club-controlled stadiums. Opening is scheduled for late 2011 or early 2012.
Head over the the team's blog, Hillcrest Road, to see some renderings.
As much of a stadium junkie as I am, I look forward to the day when posts like this are impossible because every MLS club is its own stadium designed specifically for soccer.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010 |
By most accounts, the Philadelphia Union cleaned up with their first ever MLS SuperDraft. In the first round alone, the expansion side managed to pick up three highly-regarded players in Danny Mwanga (1st overall), Amobi Okugo (6th overall) and Jack McInerney (seventh overall).
Between them, the Philadelphia first rounders have an average age less than eighteen years old. In a draft that saw only four teenagers selected, the Union tapped three of them for their inaugural squad. Coincidence? Or carefully crafted draft strategy?
Despite the "win now" attitude that will pervade thanks both to the Soudners' first year success and the rabid fans that will inhabit Chester Stadium, Piotr Nowak is giving every indication that he's looking towards the future. Although I expect that Mwanga and Okugo could both see solid minutes in 2010, neither will be relied on to lead the team, and McInerney might best be termed a "project", a player with the talent to turn into something special but needs seasoning and coaching to get there.
Philly's first round picks have, respectively, two years of college soccer (Mwanga-Oregon State), one year of college soccer (Okugo-UCLA), and zero years of college soccer (U-17er McInerney). Does that make them inherently more "mold-able" having not been overly exposed to the traditionally physical and direct college game? Does Nowak want players as "unspoiled" as possible?
The MLS SuperDraft is a bit of a crap shoot. Many of the players selected have brief or middling pro careers of no real consequence, no matter where they were chosen in the draft order. Top picks, as with any sport, often flame out or fail to live up to expectations. Because the draft is a mandatory part of putting together a club in Major League Soccer thanks to the lack of an established professional development system, the Union and Nowak made a conscience choice to go after promising players as young as they could get them; short of developing Mwanga, Okugo, and McInerney themselves, the next best thing for the Union is to get them now, while there's still a shot of directing their growth in a positive professional direction.
There's no realistic or allowable way for MLS clubs to "stockpile" talent the way big clubs around the world do. While clubs from England, Spain, Italy, etc. can bring in fresh-faced kids with natural ability and turn them into senior players, top-flight American sides must take what they can get out of the draft. In a way, Nowak and the Union have managed to "stockpile" a group of young, talented players in a uniquely MLS way; the kids in question might not be fourteen, blank slates on which to impress the values of the club and the way they like to play, but they are young by the standards of the league and the soccer culture.
I'm willing to bet that Nowak was unconvinced any player in this year's draft could significantly contribute immediately to his squad, and that bringing in a highly-touted 22 year-old with little beyond a nice college résumé would ultimately be an inefficient use of his early picks. Besides, those players take up roster spots and salary cap space in restriction-laden MLS, meaning that Generation Adidas contracts (which all three first rounds picks have) are preferable. GA player salaries don't hit the cap, and the players are part of the club's Developmental Roster rather than its Senior one. That gives Nowak just that much more flexibility while having control over a phase of his youngsters development that might otherwise happen, or be stagnated, in college.
It's possible that Mwanga, Okugo, and McInerney were just the best players available in the Union staff's minds, and that their young ages are simply a coincidence. But Piotr Nowak, while doing the difficult work of building a new club from scratch, doesn't strike me as the type of coach who would simply happen upon three of the youngest players available with his first round picks.
Danny Mwanga, 18 years old, two seasons of college soccer. Amobi Okugo, 18 years old, one season of college soccer. Jack McInerney, 17 years old, zero seasons of college soccer.
Three raw players, each with big potential and zero to few "wasted years" in college soccer, ready to become pros under the tutelage of Piotr Nowak and the Philadelphia Union staff. Add it all up, and it appears that Philly had a clear draft strategy and executed it to perfection.
Now for the hard part; turning their young starlets into big time soccer players.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010 |
Back when news of Landon Donovans's new Galaxy contract broke, I wrote that, contrary to the popular opinion that he was giving up on his European ambitions, getting the deal he did was an incredibly smart move on his part.
Not only that, but I speculated that perhaps Donovan had a "reserve" put into his contract that would allow for a European transfer should a club there meet a minimum price. Though not confirmed, Andrea Canales references such a clause in a piece on Donovan yesterday, noting a reported valuation of €7 million (roughly $10 million).
From my post the day the Galaxy contract was announced:
Besides, and I'm simply speculating here, it's possible that Donovan's new agreement allows him a modicum of control over any transfer that might come along. Anything is possible, and I wonder if Donovan only agreed to sign the new deal if the league promised to sell him if a minimum amount they would want to justify letting their premier American player go was met. Call it a "Donovan Reserve".
If there is such a clause in Donovan's brand new MLS contract, it immediately changes how people should perceive the deal; say what you want about the dog and pony show that LA put on (something most American sports organizations would do with a star player), successfully negotiating himself an out makes it a very good deal from Donovan's end. I continue to say that Donovan knows where he stands; impress at Everton (a loan he knew was coming when he signed the deal), and there was a reasonable chance he might find a buyer. If not in the spring, he would still have another shot to earn himself a move if he played well at the World Cup. Two ways to prove his worth, and written-in-stone out clause.
The number itself is a different question. For a player like Donovan, it's not an obscene amount of money; for a player like Donovan with no European success on his CV, it's more questionable. Donovan's is surely aware of that fact, and knows it will take a strong performance at Everton and/or the World Cup to raise his price high enough. But there's the added bonus of clubs knowing exactly how much it will take to get him out of MLS. A no-haggle price might draw more attention than would the prospect of negotiating with the Galaxy and the League.
Also remember that Donovan and his representatives had to balance the reserve against his new MLS contract in case nothing worked out abroad. The League could keep Donovan around at his old rate for two more seasons, but wanted to lock up their biggest American star, while Donovan wanted the security and pay raise of a new contract, but wanted the control of an out clause if an opportunity presented itself. In that situation, $11 million seems about right. Again, we're speculating, but it seems to make sense.
From what I gathered, it's doubtful Everton would come in for Donovan at the rumored price, no matter how well he plays. He'll need a massive two months, if his loan isn't extended (a possibility), to have any chance of heading to Europe in July. Guessing at the likelihood of that happening would be just that, guessing.
Donovan is talking about staying in Merseyside past March. He likely has a contract clause that could get him to Europe. I think his European ambitions are extremely clear.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010 |
Image Courtesy NASL.com
by Adam Soucie - Captain Positive
It is a commonly forgotten reality that sports teams are businesses. The theses in Soccernomics aside, the goal of any professional sports team is to make money. Traditionally, owners make money by building the value of a franchise over time and then selling it. During that time period, the team usually loses money (or makes very little). It is the basic concept of investing. You have to spend money to make money. Soccer is no different. Until now.
It seems that some NASL teams have found a new business model. Leading the charge is Traffic Sports Football Management, owners of NASL club Miami FC and co-architects of the new NASL itself. Traffic is a fitting name for this movement’s leaders for a simple, albeit cryptic, reason. With the way they are handling recent player loans, Miami FC, Crystal Palace Baltimore, and Whitecaps FC of Vancouver are participating in human trafficking.
Before you label me Sepp 2.0, understand that I’m not implying ANY mistreatment of these players or claiming they are being forced against their will here. I have no doubt the players in question are well aware of the clubs’ intentions and are the reason they entered the deals to begin with. In every case except one (Bryan Arguez), the players in question are under the age of 18 or have just turned 18. Because FIFA does not allow players under the age of 18 to sign multi-year contracts with a club outside of their own country (or their country of residence, to be more specific). FIFA rules practically necessitate a middle man. At the very least, they create the market for this kind of business.
For Part I of this story I’m going to focus on the player that inspired me to write this piece in the first place: former US U-17 midfielder Korey Veeder. It was announced yesterday by the NASL, and was the lead story on the league’s site no less, that Veeder was signed by Crystal Palace Baltimore. At first glance, the headline sounds like a great thing for the NASL. Once you begin reading the press release, the veil is lifted.
As I understand it, Veeder will never suit up for Crystal Palace Baltimore. He will train with the team, or at least will train in the same city, but he is due to be sent over in several weeks. Specifically, he will be joining the team’s parent team in the England’s Coca-Cola Championship League, Crystal Palace. After training with Palace, he is due to be loaned out. A borrower has yet to be found.
None of these seems sinister, and in no way am I saying it is. What bothers me is that the NASL is trumpeting Veeder’s signing. He has nothing to do with the NASL at all. Palace has been after Veeder for two years. They admit as much in the press release. FIFA regulations and EU/Great Britain laws are the only reason Veeder isn’t playing for Palace right now. The question remains, what does this have to do with the NASL?
Veeder’s situation is ultimately vanilla. His story only scratches the surface of this problem. Next I’ll take a look at the journey of Bryan Arguez and examine how he went from the 11th overall pick of the 2007 MLS Superdraft to loan fodder for Traffic Sports.
Cross-posted to Captain Positive
Monday, January 18, 2010 |
Landon Donovan says he would be "open" to extending his Everton loan. Collectively, the American soccer public gasps in shock.
Not really. Donovan's sentiments, reported today on Soccernet, are exactly what one would expect to hear from a in-form player contributing to a club immediately and being almost universally praised for his performances.
For Donovan, because his previous forays into Europe never amounted to anything, these past two weeks with Everton have to be just that much sweeter. Doubted from the very outset of the loan rumors (though he claims to be unaffected), Donovan stepped in immediately for the Toffees, showed he can play at the highest level, and now finds himself wanted. The psychology here isn't too tough to identify.
But Donovan knows that an extension of the loan past the initial ten weeks is not entirely in his hands. Though he could push MLS and the Galaxy to agree to a longer stay in Merseyside, there's really nothing he can do; from his play to this point, it seems reasonable that Everton would want to keep him around until the end of the Premier League, but there's no guarantee that they'll be willing or able to meet the Galaxy's demand.
Making it all the more difficult for Donovan is the loan his Galaxy teammate David Beckham has at AC Milan. Could we reasonably expect LA to sign off on a loan extension for Donovan when they'll already be without their other star player? The ramifications of a Beckham and Donovan-less Galaxy might not just be on the field, but could be in the stands as well. From a business perspective, AEG would be cutting themselves off at the knees through June if they agreed to let Donovan stay in England.
I like watching Donovan play with Everton. I like that he's proving some of his detractors wrong, and I like that those who think him talented but had concerns about his playing in the EPL can put those to rest. I would personally love to see him stay in England through the end of the season, helping David Moyes push his club back up the standings.
But I wonder what it would take for that to happen. My gut says "a lot", and while "Landon Donovan the successful American in Europe" (which is not yet applicable, but could be down the road) has a nice ring to it, MLS might not feel the same way. There are only so many name commodities in American soccer, and whether he's the best domestically-produced player or not, Landon Donovan is a name.
If and when Donovan has proved himself enough in England and at the World Cup and someone comes to MLS with an eight figure offer, it will clearly be in the League's best interest to sell high and reap the financial benefits; with the loan to Everton there's no such large impact to the bottom line to be had, which makes such a move unlikely.
For now, as long as Donovan is playing well in blue, the talk of a possible loan extension will continue, as it should. Donovan will be answering these questions from now until March, as long as he's playing and playing well. The Everton fans will want him to stay, the club might want him to stay, and I'm certain Donovan will want to stay.
Unfortunately, I just have trouble believing MLS will go for it.
Monday, January 18, 2010 |
There's a new AmSoc available, and it would be great if you checked it out.
News, Donovan, Dempsey, Drafts...
DOWNLOAD THE SHOW
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VISIT THE AMSOC WEBSITE
Sunday, January 17, 2010 |
There's no way to color today's injury blow to Fulham and USMNT player Clint Dempsey other than "potentially devastating". Dempsey has come to be a major contributor for both club and country, popping up for crucial goals, putting pressure on opposing defenses, and allowing his managers supreme flexibility.
Dempsey's reputation as a talented, hard-working player is both accurate and well-earned. It's a testament to his abilities and success with Fulham that a perceived drop-off in his play with the Americans is so supremely frustrating. It's not that Dempsey doesn't do plenty while wearing the Red, White, and Blue, it's that he isn't quite as consistent. In both lineups he is crucial, depended-upon, and dangerous. For both sets of fans, he's a favorite.
So it's understandable that the reaction to Dempsey's knee injury in today's match against Blackburn has USMNT fans cursing their luck and gnashing their teeth. With an already problematic injury situation that includes a sidelined Oguchi Onyewu and Charlie Davies, any hint that Dempsey could miss the World Cup is enough to send some fans into a death spiral of depression and lost expectations. Without Dempsey, what chance does the US have of getting out of their group?
Fortunately, we don't yet know that Dempsey will miss the tournament in South Africa. He is scheduled for a scan, and while Fulahm manager Roy Hodgson's appraisal lends no optimism, there's always a chance that the damage is less severe than it seems. With a favorable prognosis and a little luck Dempsey might be back on the field for the Cottagers in a few months, giving him enough time to get back to full fitness and form before June.
Of course, there's the heart-breaking alternative, that Dempsey is out for a protracted length of time and that he either won't be healthy or won't be ready to play for his country this summer. It's that thought that has the fan base worried, and it's that thought that has some wondering if the US will manage anything out of their group stage matches.
Playing without Dempsey would clearly make the Americans a weaker side. Dempsey's experience and talent cannot be replaced easily by Bob Bradley, and there's no real reason to believe that anyone could fill Clint's shoes. The US could be headed for disaster in South Africa, though the loss of Dempsey is not in itself the tipping point. Yes, Dempsey plays a key role, and yes, any substitute is likely to come up short of his standard; but there have been enough games won by the US without a stellar performance from the midfielder to think that it's possible they can get by minus his presence.
But simply because getting through without Dempsey is possible doesn't mean it's likely. The danger Dempsey presents allows other players on the field to find space and make things happen, even when he's not scoring himself. I fully expect that Bob Bradley will curse (if he does curse) his and the team's luck (if Dempsey is indeed lost) briefly before moving on to revamping his lineup. What was a unclear outlook for success becomes all the more murky without Dempsey, and the quality of Bradley's squad will take a massive hit.
I'm crossing my fingers that Dempsey's injury is not season-ending, that he won't miss the World Cup, and that any discussion of the USMNT without him becomes moot almost immediately.
It's about time the US squad caught a lucky break.
Sunday, January 17, 2010 |
Though it required me to tell a small white lie to my primary employers (I say "primary" like there's a secondary one), I had the opportunity to cover the MLS SuperDraft in person for both this blog and CSRN.
You can go just about anywhere else for breakdown, analysis and the "winners" and "losers" from the draft itself. Any site worth its salt is dishing out evaluations of the players involved and the collection of talent (in DC United's case, "collection" equals one player) each team managed to acquire; while all of that is worthwhile and relevant, you know that's not what we do here at Match Fit USA.
So instead of trite declarations of how each team fared, I'm going to instead take a broader view of the draft itself, the purpose it serves, the presentation it's given and it's value to Major League Soccer.
First, the thing is a damn fine showcase for the league. Particularly when the draft takes place in an MLS city, or in this case a soon to be MLS city, it serves as a perfect gathering place for fans and clubs alike. Because the draft is always paired with the NSCAA annual convention, there's much more going on around it than it might seem. From leagues (youth, professional, adult, it doesn't matter) to vendors to players, coaches, and media, the NSCAA is a bazaar of everything soccer in the United States. There were enough training suits walking around the Philadelphia Convention Center to outfit the Bahamanian Olympic delegation.
The MLS SuperDraft occupied the ballroom, a space plenty big enough for the team tables, stage, fan seating areas, and media. The Union fans dominated the room, of course, simply because there were more of them; and while the contingents of Red Bull and United fans in attendance (those two groups were seated directly next to each other, but on the opposite side from the Union fans/SoBs) were much smaller, they certainly made their presence felt. The location set up nicely for a new expression of the New York v. Philly rivalry to kick up a notch, with the added bonus of the DC faithful in attendance, doing their part to spice things up.
Far be it for me to slight a group of fans that essentially willed themselves a team, but I expect the Union supporters will get better with time and actual games. A nice little scene did take place in the lobby before the draft, however, with the marble construction (lots and lots of marble) of the room helping to echo the anti-New York chants emanating from the gathered Union support. Red Bull fans naturally held their ground, shouting down at the Philadelphians from the landing above. There just happened to be a lot less of them.
Beyond the crazies (and I say that will all respect) that traveled up and down I-95 to be there, the SuperDraft was an interesting insight into how the League runs one of its bigger annual events. There's no actual competition to showcase as there is at the All-Star Game or MLS Cup Final, and the attention garnered will never reach NFL proportions, but the opportunity to get on television (at least for the first round) and put the product in front of potential new eyes should never be discounted.
There will likely be a few more draft thoughts in the coming days, but take this from these thoughts; the MLS SuperDraft serves a purpose that has nothing to do with introducing young players (many of whom will contribute little or nothing for their clubs) into the league.