Jul 7, 2014

World Cup 2014 Aftermath--Salute to the Veterans

Deep breaths. Heart Rate Check. Anti-depressants unnecessary. Proud and patriotic, but somewhat sad nonetheless.

Almost a week after watching the U.S. get eliminated from the 2014 World Cup at the hands of a 2-1 loss to Belgium, it is hard to be truly sorry. Remember back in December 2013 and the World Cup draw, no one expected the U.S. to do much. But these boys escaped the Group of Death and played Belgium for 120 minutes and could have equalized or won. Hardly anyone expected the U.S. to make the Round of 16. The U.S. was one half-volley or one set piece or one missed save by Courtois to advance to the quarterfinals.

I think the USMNT is on a good footing going forward. There is much youth in the squad and that bodes well for the future. I will have more going forward on that score in future posts. However, I want to take the time to thank the veterans, the men on the back side of 30 who are unlikely to see 2018 in Russia. That is not say they won't have a role going forward transitioning to the World Cup 2018 USMNT, but let's face it Father Time is a cruel S.O.B. and there are always those young and hungry guys chomping at your heels.

So taking a look at five of the World Cup 2014 starters and stars who played their way into our hearts.

Tim Howard--yes, goalkeepers have a longer shelf-life than field players and Howard stands among the greatest goalkeepers the U.S. has ever produced. How you rank Tony Meoloa, Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel and Howard depends largely upon your age and how you came up through the U.S. Soccer system, but you would be hard pressed to name a better four keepers for any country who have manned the net over 24 years and seven World Cups than those men. At age 36, Howard could be in the prime of his playing career and a 16 save performance against Belgium shows that the man can still stop the shots. But Howard will be 40 at the next World Cup...he will be old enough to be some of the squad member's father. Yes, I believe Howard could still play at the highest level in four years, but will Klinsmann let him? Will Howard let himself do so?

Clint Dempsey--Deuce got screwed this World Cup. With Jozy Altidore going down, Deuce was called upon to play in a role that does not suit him. That is a bit sad to see because I would have loved to have seen him roaming the channels and the penalty area like pissed off Texas rattlesnake ready to strike. But Dempsey is 32 and not likely to make the next World Cup squad to redeem his memory. He plays with flair, he can score, he has the quintessential American attitude of someone who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, made good, but never lost that wrong side of the tracks swagger disappear. But the mileage on the legs will doom him.I will never forget how heartbroken Dempsey was following the 2009 Confederations Cup final, holding the Bronze Boot trophy, tears in his eyes at losing the heartbreaker to Brazil. Dempsey is a quality player and deserves all the accolades he received, but his time is measured--one only need look at how Jurgen Klinsmann handled Landon Donovan.

Jermaine Jones--injury prevented him from playing in 2010 in South Africa. But for my money, he was the best player on the U.S. team in the group stage--far and away. Say what you want about German Americans on Klinmann's squad, Jones showed all the characteristics of an American player, playing till the final whistle or till he dropped. His goal against Portugal will be one of my favorite memories of this World Cup. His box to box play, his willingness to sacrifice his body to the game, and the infamous image of his hair during the Snow Game against Costa Rica all make certain that he will live in U.S. lore for a long time to come.

DeMarcus Beasley--what can you say about Run DMB?

  • The only American to play in four World Cups. 
  • A man who so completely reinvented himself as a player, to step into the left back position (even if he didn't like it to start) and play better than men 10 years younger than himself. 
  • To see him defend on an island against Ghana, against Portugal, against Germany and against Belgium, taking on and outsmarting world class players. 

It was a sight to behold. Beasley made so few mistakes that it hard to imagine that he played in his fourth World Cup. Then after 270 minutes of defending, to play 120 minutes against Belgium and to be bombing down the left flank like the DMB of 2002 it was hard to realize that this is a man who has spent more than 12 years off and on the USMNT but always peaking at the right time, fulfilling the roles every coached asked of him. Beasley's place in the pantheon of American soccer is assured...but he did it on terms that might not suggest that he is done (five World Cups anyone?). He also did it quiet, which I love.

Kyle Beckerman--my favorite dreadlocked hobbit. Beckerman proved that you don't have to be the greatest athlete, the fastest man on the squad or even the best technical player to be indespensible. If not for Klinmann's fear of Marouene Fellani's height, we could have seen one of the classic hair battles in the World Cup: Beckerman's Dreads vs. Fellani's 'Fro. Beckerman could have made a difference for the USMNT in the Belgium match. But coulda, woulda, shoulda. To make his first World Cup squad at his age, Beckerman proved that if you fill a role as completely, and as completely effective, as he does there is a place in the squad for you. When many people thought Beckerman would be a back up to Jermaine Jones or Michael Bradley, he proved to be as important as Tim Howard. Beckerman may not have had the length of a USMNT career as Howard or Beasley, but he certainly had a big impact and set the standard for defensive midfielders for Klinsmann going foward. Did you see that Perry Kitchen and Will Trapp?

These five men will possibly see action in the 2015 Gold Cup and maybe we will see one or two of them in the Copa America. These are great players, who played the game the American way--without apology and without quitting. But like I said before, Father Time is a cantankerous bastard and he marches ever on.

Thanks guys--for every memory.

May 27, 2014

Welcome Back Matt

I have to admit, I have had some personal matters that have kept me from regularly or even semi-regularly posting to this blog. So with a just a couple of weeks until the quadrennial soccer geekfest known as the World Cup, I figured it was time to come back.

The big news of course is that Landon Donovan will not be on the World Cup roster. Fine, it has happened. I can't really add my surprise to the pile and make any significant change to that pile of emotional scrapheap.

But tonight is the first tune-up match vs. Azerbijian, coached by Bertie Voakes, Jurgen Klinsmann's new assistant coach. What the opponent will bring is of little concern, particularly since I don't know of anyone who has any kind of information on what or how Azerbijian plays.

But this game is a test for the national soccer psyche and for whatever mental and emotional test that Jurgen Klinsmann is conducting.

Remember back in March 2013, when The Sporting News' Brian Strauss wrote an article about dissension in the dressing room and how Klinsmann's methods were not creating a good environment in the dressing room? Remember how the USMNT reacted in the Snowpacalypse? Remember the win streak that followed?

Klinsmann has made much of his desire to unbalance his squad members. The dropping of Donovan might be just the kind of unbalancing he wants to create, leaving aside Donovan's lack of form (this past weekend's performance against the porous Philadelphia defense). That kind of unbalancing, along with a very young team that may react well to a us vs. them attitude. For that to work, you have assume that old hands like Howard, Guzan, Rimando, Dempsey, Bradley, Beasley and Jones are in on the gag.

Apr 18, 2013

These Are My Teams

Drop what you are doing right now and go read this post at the Shin Guardian about the power of the beautiful game to one man. (and while you are at it, start following the Shin Guardian--some of the best writing about soccer and topics related to soccer on the interwebs).

My US National Teams is a special symbol. More than any other sport, in my opinion, they have the makeup, background, and ability to represent what’s best about us all. A son of a Mexican immigrants giving his all to provide support for the son of a Haitian immigrant. 
German born offspring of American soldiers battle alongside a hard nosed Jersey boy and a rapping tattooed East Texan…who’s white I might add. 
Nowhere else will you find a man who overcomes an obstacle like Tourette syndrome every day to perform at the highest level. 
Because of who they are and the sport they play, they have the opportunity and responsibility to wear my colors and personify what’s best about my people.

All over the world, the power of sport has the ability to heal people like nothing else.  People of different religions, different socio-economic class, different heritage can coalesce around a game.  I remember the emotion of the first baseball game in New York after 9/11 and I can't stand watching baseball on TV.  I remember MLS matches following 9/11 and the first DC United home game after 9/11.  I couldn't get to the match--but I felt the same power.

The stories of fans singing the National Anthem at the Bruins game last night is a powerful reminder of the power of sport to heal.  Next year, you won't be able to tell one Boston Marathon runner from another, they will all be the same person, in the same shirt and rightfully so.

Yes, for me soccer is a defining experience in my life.  I measure my years by the numbers of World Cups I have seen.  My national teams show me what is possible in this nation of ours.  Many people might wonder about the impact of a diversification of our population.  But for me, it has always been its greatest strength.  You can put 100 Americans in a room together and you might not find any two remotely alike.  I have seen that on a soccer field and when it comes to sport in America--it is honestly the only time you see it.

When the National Soccer Teams take the field--more than any time, other than maybe the Olympics--you have the true power of what it means to be America in one place.  I can sit in a bar, a restaurant or even a public plaza with dozens, hundreds even thousands of people I don't know and I can experience, the joy, the wonder, the heartache, the pain, and the sheer oneness with them all--Americans.

Mar 27, 2013

In College Park, MD, Sasho Cirovski is Smiling

Look, come about 12:15 last night, I was getting nervous, I didn't want a heart break as the U.S. MNT grabbed the first World Cup Qualifying point out of Azteca stadium in 16 years.

But when the starting line-up was announced last night, the team included these three players:
Maurice Edu
Omar Gonzalez
Graham Zusi

Course, when the U.S. took to the snow in Denver for the SnowClassico, Zusi and Gonzalez were joined with Clarence Goodson, another former Terp.

All three are former Terps.  Yeah Sasho is smiling......I am too.


Mar 19, 2013

Four Times Unlucky

This just has to suck for the striker.  As a goalkeeper though, I live for this kind of magic.

Honestly, in almost 35 years of playing, coaching, refereeing and watching, I can honestly say that soccer never fails to surprise me from time to time.

Mar 13, 2013

Can I get a Witness? Sounders Second Half Comeback on 3 Stunning Goals

Witness the goalkeeping of Michael Gspurning!

Witness the skill of 19 year old rookie DeAndre Yedlin's volley for Seattle's First Goal!

Witness the wonder strike from Djimi Traore in Seattles come from behind, 3-1 (3-2 Agg) win over Tigres in the CONCACAF champions League Quarterfinal last night.  (Candidate for FIFA Goal of the Year?--methinks so.

Witness the wonder of Eddie Johnson's near impossible angle goal to give the Sounders the win!

How I wish I was a Century Link last night to Witness!!!!

I am a DC United fan through and through, but when it is CONCACAF Champions League--I am all about the MLS and last night was wonderful.

Feb 6, 2013

GAME DAY!!! USMNT at Honduras

Alas, paying job obligations keep me from a preview of my own, but suffice to say that the opening match is important for the USMNT.  Three points is not a total long shot, but my guess is that Jurgen Klinsmann will be happy with a point on the road.

Lots of different previews of today's match:  For ones that I like check out:

Ives Galarcep, Soccer by Ives here and podcast version here.

Grant Wahl of course here.

Charles Boehm for USSoccerplayers.com.

The always slightly irreverent, but usually very accurate, The Shinguardian's Official Preview.

Me, Three points and "watching" the game via MatchTracker.  Sucks but BeIN Sports is blocked at the office (I wonder why?)  Also not that ESPN3 is blocked also, so.....Damn law firms.

Feb 5, 2013

Andy Najar to RSC Anderlecht--Who is the Next Homegrown Player

In a not completely unexpected move, DC United Midfielder/Right Back Andy Najar completed a transfer to Belgian side RSC Anderlecht for an undisclosed fee, but believed to be somewhere between $2 million and $3 million.  After Najar's first year in the league, at age 17, you could see Najar was going places and that his time with DC United was limited--barring injury.  Now at the no longer tender age of 19, Najar is (already) in Europe.  If he keeps the current pace of progression up, expect that within 3 years, Najar is playing in one of the top four leagues in Europe.

But the big news is Najar's transfer is the first MLS Homegrown player to be transferred abroad, and for a not insubstantial sum of money, most of which goes to DC United, rather than MLS.  That begs the question,  who is next among the current crop of homegrown players that could be on the sale block for transfer overseas?

Certainly, with MLS in full pre-season, there is no certainty about rosters.  But at this link is a list of homegrown players that have been signed by MLS clubs, starting with Tristan Bowen (L.A. Galaxy) in 2008 to Michael Seaton (DC United) a little over two weeks ago.  So far, a total of 66 players have been signed to homegrown contracts, but not many of them have seen significant minutes as players.  Of the 66 signed so far, eight have been signed in the current off-season so clearly unable to have any contribution in 2012.

Of the remaining 57, 38 were active in 2012.  Of that 38, only 25 saw ANY minutes whatsoever.  Only ten homegrown players saw more than 200 minutes:

  1. Brent Richards (Portland)--201 min.
  2. Tristan Bowen (Chivas USA)--248 min.
  3. Diego Fagundez (New England)--770 min.
  4. Eric Gehrig (Columbus)--812 min
  5. Doneil Henry (Toronto)--1139 min.
  6. Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA & New York)--1570 min.
  7. Andy Najar (DC United)--2045 Min.
  8. Bill Hamid (DC United)--2087 Min.
  9. Connor Lade (New York)--2088 Min.
  10. Ashtone Morgan (Toronto)--2528 Min.

To be realistic, it is probably only the list from Henry to Morgan who we can realistically think about potential transfers to Europe in the next two-three years.

So of the players, Henry, Agudelo, Hamid, Lade and Morgan, who is most likely to go?

Of course, lots of people expect that Juan Agudelo will be the next player to transfer to Europe.  Agudelo scored only three goals last season, for an average of one goal every 523 minutes, or almost once in every SIX games.  Agudelo is going to have to score more if he is going to impress as a striker.  True, he spent most of the season with Chivas, a team that managed a paltry 24 goals all season, but if Agudelo is going to garner attention from clubs across the Atlantic Ocean, he had better start finding the back of the net with some regularity.  It is true that Agudelo has a lot of talent as a striker, but you get paid to score as a striker.

As a young goalkeeper, Bill Hamid has progressed miles in the past two seasons since winning the starting job for the Black & Red.  There is no denying that Hamid is a fabulous shot stopper.  He is also comfortable taking the cross and has gotten very good at directing his defenders.  But the knock on Hamid, and rightfully so, is that he cannot control his emotions.  I do see Hamid making a move overseas, but since goalkeepers typically have long careers, see Keller, Kasey and Freidel, Brad, he will benefit from a couple more seasons with DC United before making a move.

Connor Lade looks like he is 15 and is a long way from a move overseas.  Yes, he is a fine right back, but he needs to improve in just about all areas of his game to get beyond the MLS level.  He has a tendency to get burned on defense and he is not a sharp with his attacking play as he needs to be.  Lade is a good MLS right back, but that is not going  to earn him a transfer.  If New York can get their head out of the collective backsides, and the drama in the dressing room is minimized, Lade may have a solid future.  The question is whether Mike Petke and Robin Fraser can develop the talent.

Looking like a classic centerback is nothing for Doneil Henry.  Tall, but not too lanky; strong, but not slow; Henry has the physical tools to be a good centerback.  However, he needs some time to strengthen both his technical game, to play out of the back and improve his decision making.  but Henry is getting time with the Canadian U20 squad and spent time with the senior Canandian Squad, seeing impressive minutes against the United States.  What is good for Henry (besides youth and talent)?  His coach is Ryan Nelsen, a coach who has played at the highest levels as a centerback.  It is possible to see Henry make big strides this year.

Ashtone Morgan is complete defender, gifted with speed, good defensive skills and an attacking verve that should improve with a few more games.  Morgan, although just approaching age 22, has been a solid two year contributor.  Morgan is perhaps in the best position of all of these five players to make a quick move overseas.  He has been consistent in his play, has made contributions to the attack with five assists last year and two assists in 2011 when he first earned starts for Toronto.  Despite the general shambles of the Toronto front office in recent years, the fact that they identified both Morgan and Henry and have brought them along well is a positive sign for the Canadian side.

If I had to place odds on which of these players moves abroad in the next two years, I would put my money on Morgan.

What do you think?  Can Hamid mature sooner?  Will the Canucks claim the next homegrown player transfer?  Can Agudelo live up to the promise?

Alex Morgan as Katy Perry

for ESPN The Magazine's Music issue.

Yeah--she is smoking hot.  Kudos to the Hair and Make-up team cause Alex Morgan does not much look like Katy Perry.

Feb 4, 2013

Five Talking Points: USMNT Roster for Honduras WCQ

For reasons best known to him, US coach Jurgen Klinsmann waited until today to announce his squad for the first Hexagonal World Cup Qualifying Match against Honduras in San Pedro Sula on Wednesday.  (to be fair, Klinsmann said he wanted to make sure people didn't get hurt in the weekend's matches, but it is not like he couldn't name others on short notice if necessary--whatever.)

Here is the Roster:

GOALKEEPERS (3) : Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire)
DEFENDERS (9) : Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Carlos Bocanegra (Racing Santander), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Timmy Chandler (Nuremberg), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Michael Parkhurst (Augsburg)
MIDFIELDERS (8) : Michael Bradley (Roma), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Maurice Edu (Bursaspor), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht ), Jose Torres (Tigres), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FORWARDS (4 ): Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Clint Dempsey (Tottenham Hotspur), Herculez Gomez (Santos), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders)

1.  If there are any surprises on this roster, it would be the Brad Evans and Brad Davis.  Brad Davis did not supremely impress in the match against Canada, although he was better that Brad Evans.  Though to be honest, Evans played much better at right back than in central midfileder.  That said, I don't see either starting this match.

2.  Sean Johnson now needs to shave his head--he has wayyyy too much hair for a USMNT goalkeeper.  Still I think he has earned this call up.

3.  Centerback pairing is kind of an interesting question.  The inclusion of Mo Edu on this list suggests that Klinsmann is keeping his options open, with the former Terp having played as a centerback for Klinsmann in the past.  However, I suspect that we will see Omar Gonzalez line up next to Carlos Bocanegra.

4.  The striker corps presents an interesting conundrum for Klinsmann.  Jozy Altidore has been hot, red hot in the Eredivisie, but in the past has not been able to translate that in to success for the Red, White and Blue. Add to the equation that Eddie Johnson has proven himself to be far better holding the ball as a target striker than Altidore.  Dempsey is too good a player to leave on the bench, so will we see a 4-3-3 that Klinsmann likes but that most U.S. players are not used to playing?

5.  If there was ever a chance for Timmy chandler to redeem himself in the eyes of U.S. fans this game will be it.  Almost assured of starting--short of being caught in bed with a teammates wife--Chandler is going to need to provide width if Klinsmann goes 4-3-3 and that will put a big burden on him.

Bonus Talking Point:  Too many Brads on this squad and too many Johnsons, I don't like it.

My predicted line up

-------Altidore ------------  E. Johnson-------

----------------D. Williams---------------------