Dec 22, 2011

Camp Cupcake Roster Announced

Although to be fair, the moniker Camp Cupcake is a bit tongue in cheek, but this is another opportunity to see  how far MLS has come as a league when they face quality sides in Panama and Venezuela.  The MLS heavy squad called up by Jurgen Klinsmann features just two foreign based players--the steady, dependable Michael Parkhurst and the clearly out of favor at Eintract Frankfut midfielder Ricardo (Red Cardo) Clark.

One of the more interesting things to see might be to see what kind of tactical formation Klinsmann puts out.  Most of these players are used to a 4-4-2 system and Klinsmann has favored an attacking 4-3-3 that is likely unfamiliar to these players.

GOALKEEPERS (3): Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake) 

Absolutely no problems here and the only question will be weather Hamid finally gets his first cap.  Rimando is clearly the number three on the U.S. set up and his leadership is bound to help.  Hamid and Johnson will get a Christmas break after spending a week with the U.S. MNT U 23 team camp in Florida before heading to Phoenix.  According to Ives Galarcep, Johnson is a great shot stopper but a little lacking in the distribution and communications areas, so I am thinking that the contest for starts will be between the veteran Rimando and Hamid.  I think Hamid gets at least one start.

DEFENDERS (7): Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), A.J. DeLaGarza (LA Galaxy), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), George John (FC Dallas), Zach Loyd (FC Dallas), Michael Parkhurst (FC Nordsjaelland), Heath Pearce (Chivas USA) 

Finally, Omar Gonzalez gets his call up and Geoff Cameron returns to the USMNT.  There is an interesting mix here, as interestingly, there are two left backs in Loyd and Pearce, but no natural right back on the list.  Of course, Klinsmann has lots of good options at right back with Steve Cherundolo and Timmy Chandler, so it will be interesting to see if Pearce can claw his way back onto the roster.  I would loved to have seen Todd Dunivant on this list as I think he is probably the most consistent left back in MLS, but Loyd is certainly making a case for himself.

To be perfectly honest, while I think a twin tower defense of Gonzalez and Cameron in the center would be great to see, I would be interested in seeing if the Gonzalez/De La Garza pairing would work on the National Team level.  What a great story that would be, teammates at Maryland, teammates at the club level and teammates for the National Team.  .  While Gonzalez is a good back, I think A.J. De La Garza is far more important to the Galaxy defense and would have put him ahead of Gonzalez for a national team call up.  

My guess is that the versatile De La Garza finds himself on the right side, which again, would be interesting.

MIDFIELDERS (6): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Ricardo Clark (Eintracht Frankfurt), Benny Feilhaber (New England Revolution), Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado Rapids), Brek Shea (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City) 

I hope that Brad Davis is still injured and thus not included on this roster for that reason.  How that man and his wicked left foot and set piece play doesn't get called in if healthy is beyond me.  Surprised to see Clark on this list given his complete lack of playing time in Frankfurt, but maybe Klinsmann is helping the man get a loan or something, but I am not sure that Clark gets playing time ahead of Beckerman and Larentowicz in holding midfield.  Heck, even Cameraon is, in my opinion, a better holding midfielder.

Zusi earned this call up the right way--by playing great.  I am not sure he gets a lot of minutes on the right side ahead of Feilhaber, but you never know.  Shea, coming of his training stint, will be an interesting player to watch.  Will the training with Arsenal have helped raise his game.  The last couple of national team games, Shea looked tired, hopefully he got some rest in England.

Beckerman, Klinsmann's dreadlocked Hobbit is a real leader for the coach and likely to wear the armband for this team.  I know that a lot of people are not happy with Klinsmann's infatuation with Beckerman, but he is effective at doing his job.  If Klinsmann plays a 4-3-3, Beckerman will be on a hot seat, but something tells me that we are going to be looking at a 4-4-2 with Beckerman in his customary holding role.

The only snub I can see would be Josh Gatt.  I would love to have seen how he works in this set up.

FORWARDS (4): Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Teal Bunbury (Sporting Kansas City), C.J. Sapong (Sporting Kansas City), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Can we see a three man front with Aguedelo, Bunbury and Sapong?  Please?  I would be happy giving up defensive strength to see what these three young men can do together.  The speed, the scoring ability, the movement, can you imagine?  But alas, probably not going to happen.  While I can see the functional need for a player like Wondolowski from a leadership aspect, I think it would have been interesting to see other MLS strikers like Justin Braun called in.  However, if you dropped Wondolowski and added Altidore--this would probably be a four man crew that lots of fans would like to see for World Cup qualifying.

So who gets the starts?  Here is my prediction (4-4-2)



-Loyd----Cameron---Gonzalez----De La Garza-


If Klinsmann goes 4-3-3



-Loyd---Cameron---Gonzalez----De La Garza-


Concussions Claim Another Player

DC United's Devon McTavish announced his retirement from soccer today after missing most of 2011 season after suffering a concussion in a pres-season friendly. Apparently on medical advice, the 27 year old will leave the professional game having spent five seasons (86 appearances-69 starts) with the Black and Red.

McTavish is another in a growing list of players leaving the professional game as a result of concussions or concussion related symptoms. While there is little that can be done to prevent concussions from happening, and certainly I don't suggest that players continue their careers against the medical advice of doctors, you have to wonder if there are any treatments on the horizon that can help prevent good players like Taylor Twellman and Devon McTavish from having to leave the game at the height of their careers.

Good luck to Devon, thanks for the many years of service.

Dec 15, 2011

A Bit of My Childhood Returns

In August of 1974, my family moved into our house in Orange Park, Florida,  a suburb just south of Jacksonville, heavy with Navy personnel from NAS Jacksonville, where my father was stationed.  My father was an enlisted man in the Navy, my mom was a nurse at the local hospital who usually worked the evening 3:00pm to 11:00 pm shift.  We had moved to Orange Park in August of 1974, when I was five, my brother 3 and my sister turned 1 on the day we moved into our house.  We had just spent the past four years living in Spain while my father was stationed there.

Fast forward about five or six years (it is hard to pin down right now) and we had become a soccer family.  Soccer was relatively new in northeast Florida, where the biggest sporting event of the year was probably the annual Florida-Georgia football game.  American football and baseball dominated the sports landscape in that area.  I had played little league baseball and pretty much sucked at it.  I could field and throw pretty well, but I couldn't hit for jack, my batting average was pretty anemic, think I was 3 for 2 seasons.  I didn't play football and I am not sure my father (who had played high school football and one year at college before being asked to leave college, which in itself is a humorous story) wanted me to play American football.  We were looking around for something for me to play  in the fall.  And so, I first played soccer as a 9 year old, playing in only the second season of my local soccer club (the spring season there had been one team, in the fall there were 11 teams).  Soccer exploded and from then on I was hooked and never played another organized sport until I joined the Navy.

Soccer was not something that kids played much in Northeast Florida and I can't say it was a fixture in my house until such time as both my brother and I started playing and trying out for travel teams.  At that time when we had four TV channels, including PBS, there was not much in the way of soccer around.  However, the legendary "Soccer Made In Germany" pretty quickly became almost required watching when it was on TV. 

logoBy the early 1980's we were a soccer family, my brother and I both playing.  It was around this time that my father dicovered the old North American Soccer League and more specifically the Tampa Bay Rowdies.  The Rowdies became one of the defining experiences of my childhood.  The green and gold kits, the "Fannies" (the supporters group) and that great tag line "
Rowdies Are a Kick in the Grass."  Going to these games became pretty regular fixtures during the summer.  As a family, we would drive down to Tampa, maybe spend the day in Busch Gardens or see my great uncle in Orlando and then go to a match.

But the truly defining experience was the one day road trips on some Fridays.  School, W.E. Cherry Elementary, let out around 3:00 pm. With my mother working the evening shift, my father, brother, sister and I would get in the van, drive four hours to Tampa.  We would arrive just before game time, have stadium food to eat and watch the Rowdies play.  Then after the game was over, we would climb back in to the van and drive four hours home. My dad had built a plywood platform that would fit into the back of the van for the kids to sleep on in addition to the bench seats in the van (this was way before child safety seats were mandatory).  On the way home, we could sleep while my father drove.  We would drive 8 hours round trip in order to watch a professional soccer game.  It was a spectacular time as a kid.

Then usually the next day, my brother and I would then go play a soccer game or two and I would referee two or three games (at age 10 or 11).

Around this time, I remember a man coming around to the house soliciting subscribers for cable TV.  I distinctly remember my father asking if the cable package contained Channel 44 out of Tampa since that was the channel that carried the Rowdies games (the package did not), but we got cable nonetheless.

Although not an every week occurance, the same day trips to Tampa were as much a part of my soccer childhood as Saturday morning games with my friends.  As a kid, I watched the likes of Englishmen Sam Allardyce and Rodney Marsh, the Brazilian Tatu and even early American players like goalkeeper Winston DuBose and the now legendary Glenn "Mooch" Myernick playing for the Rowdies.  I remember seeing greats like Gerd Mueller playing for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Giorgio Chinaglia and Franz Beckenbauer of the New York Cosmos and Johann Cruyff of the Washington Diplomats (despite being a Rowdies fan, Cruyff was my idol and I wanted to be him as a player).  Of course, at the time I didn't know that these men were more or less past their prime as players.  But it was spectacular fun being at the game, where you would hear chants and the advertising tag line and some chucklehead dressed in a giant soccer ball head launching himself in to the goals.

Check out the lack of shinguards!

So what brings on this bit of nostalgia---the Citrus Sports Group has reacquired the rights to the Rowdies name and the club will be playing in the NASL again.

I have a new soccer mission in life, one I hope to accomplish in the upcoming year.  I want to get down to Florida during the season and take my dad to a Rowdies game again.  We won't know the players in all likelihood, and there probably won't be all the glitz, glamour and general nuttiness that accompanied the teams of the 1970's and 80's, but it won't matter.  We know a heck of a lot more about the game now than we did in the 1980's and that makes the enjoyment of the game a lot better. 

Sure, we probably won't do the trip from Orange Park to Tampa in a single day, although that surely would be fun since at least I can drive now.  But for the chance to regrasp and relive a little bit of my childhood by going to a Rowdies game 30 years later is too sweet to pass up.

For me, soccer was then, is now and will forever remain, a "Kick in the Grass" thanks to the Rowdies.

UPDATE:  On April 14, 2012 I accomplished my mission and took my father to a Rowdies Game.  We drove down to Tampa and back in a day although we left early and had dinner with a Navy buddy of mine. Here is my dad and I at the game at half-time--thanks to random stranger sitting behind us. We were seated below the supporters group and it was a blast.  Can't wait to do it again!

Dec 7, 2011

Santino Quaranta comes of age

D.C. United's encomium to Santino Quaranta.

Dec 5, 2011

Dempsey Scores for Fulham--And Sets a Record

Clint Dempsey scored for Fulham tonight helping his club defeat Liverpool 1-0 at Craven Cottage.  It was a garbage goal but they still count.

The goal puts Dempsey on top of the list of American goals scorers in the Premier League, beating former teammate Brian McBride for that honor.

Well Done Duece!

Quaranta Grows Up and Retires

Last week, it should have come as no surprise that DC United declined to exercise the option on midfielder Santino Quaranta's contract.  The move put Quaranta into the list of players available for the Re-Entry draft.  With guarnateed compensation of $117,500 in 2011, clubs would have to pay United man at least that much for the next year if selected in today's first round.  Given that Quaranta spent a fair amount of time injured in 2011, having only started 10 times and making 21 total appearances in 2011. Reports are that the club declined to offer him a new deal at a lower salary figure.

Speaking to Steve Goff of the Washington Post Soccer Insider, Quaranta expressed some dismay over how he was treated in the past couple of weeks:

“The situation in D.C. was handled in all the wrong way,” he said. “I never talked to the front office guys, never knew what they wanted to do, just got a phone call from Benny [Coach Ben Olsen]. It did reiterate to me the business and selfish nature and the bubble we’re in.”

I believe that such a statement was a bit harsh and perhaps made with some emotional content.  At 27 and an 11 year veteran of MLS, Quaranta has to know that this is still a business.

But Quaranta's story as a professional player may end here, but I believe that we may not have heard the last of Santino Quaranta.  Quaranta plans to focus his attention on two matters, the Pipeline Soccer Club which he helped found and working with Dan Cronin, the substance abuse expert and advisor that Quaranta credits with saving his career and his life.

Quaranta has always been public about his connection to Baltimore and his family.  In 2006 DC United traded the young midfielder to the L. A. Galaxy where he made 12 appearances in that year and then three more in 2007 before being traded to the New York Red Bulls.  It was during this time that Quaranta's now public battles with drug addiciton escalated.  The separation from his family and other support system no doubt added to those problems.  After being released by New York, Quaranta begged the MLS for help.  After rehab, Quantan returned DC United on essentially a league minimum salary and Quaranta successfully revived his career, including scoring for the USMNT in the 2009 Gold Cup against Honduras in front of his home crowd in DC.

Quaranta is public about his addiction problems and frankly so, admitting that he still battles with his addiction daily.  While it is possible that he would have been selected in the second round of the re-entry draft, it would have come at a reduced salary and definitely somewhere else, maybe very far from his family.  So, rather than, "chase $100,000" around the country, Tino decided to retire in order to stay closer to his home, his family and his support system.

This is an admirable move on many levels.  First, it is courageous to hang up one's boots, to change the course of your life at age 27 having been a professional in one field for 11 years.  Second, Quaranta has perhaps realized that some people can live apart from their family and friends for a while and some people can't.  Maybe Quaranta is in the latter group of people and there is nothing wrong with that.  Family and friends are important and so is being there for them as well.

Third and I think this is most important, Quaranta has grown up and realized that there is a duty to give back to the community from which he got so much.  The Pipeline Soccer Club will benefit from his experience as a professional and as a man and ultimately the latter is more important.  But Quaranta has a valuable story to tell on a personal level to those who struggle with addiction.  Ultimately, that Quaranta is alive and able to retire from professional playing at age 27 is a tribute to Dan Cronin and the other people who helped Quaranta (including, I might add Ben Olsen).

I am sure that Quaranta is bitter about how his departure for DC United was handled and perhaps he has every right to be given his side of the story.  But I hope that with a little time and healing that Quaranta will find a role with the Black & Red, a team of which he was a part for so long.

DC United opened their arms and their heart to Quaranta, and I am sure, with time, that the grown up Quaranta will do the same for DC United.

Thanks Tino, it has been a pleasure watching you play.

Dec 1, 2011

From the Not Surprised News Pile

Davies loan expires:
When D.C. United acquired Charlie Davies on loan from French side FC Sochaux on February 15 earlier this year, the forward’s deal was set to expire on December 1. In light of that deadline, the club announced today that it will not be pursuing a permanent transfer for Davies at this time.

“D.C. United is not exercising its December 1 option to secure the permanent transfer of Charlie Davies,” said General Manager Dave Kasper. “Conversations regarding Charlie’s future are ongoing.”

Reading between the lines of what Kasper said, there are two options. First, another loan period (unlikely but possible) or an outright purchase at a much lower sales price. Much will depend on Sochaux plan's and desires.

NBC Makes a Great Move for MLS Broadcasts

Seattle Sounders FC voice Arlo White will be the voice of NBC's MLS broadcasts in a move that is being very well received around the league followers.

I absolutely love the way White calls a game. Now all NBC has to do if find a color commentator who is on part with White.

Nov 29, 2011

DC United's Clyde Simms is On the Way Out?

Today DC United has annouced that the club has acquired Robbie Russell from Real Salt Lake in exchange for a 2013 Draft Selection. That may sound like a cheap price to pay, but Russell, as an out of contract veteran was likely to be put into the Re-Entry Draft where DC would have picked him up on a freebie.  This way, RSL gets something for Russell and Russell gets to move back closer to his family.  You have to credit RSL for handling this situation in this way, everyone gets something and most importantly, Russell gets to be closer to his family.  RSL gave Russell something he wanted, which RSL didn't have to do.  That is class.

Given that DC United's back line looked a bit shaky in the past year, Russell's experience will certainly help. It is not that Perry Kitchen didn't do a decent enough job at right back, but Russell has probably 2-3 years left of playing time, barring injuries and with the return of Dejan Jakovic and the inclusion of Brandon McDonald last year, it seems clear that Ben Olsen is looking to solidify the back line.

While on the face of this move, the victim in this acquisition would appear to be Perry Kitchen. But the true victim is likely to be Defensive midfielder Clyde Simms. Simms' longevity the the Black & Red appears to be ending. In a couple of appearances at defensive midfielder, Perry Kitchen showed a skill and maturity beyond his years and beyond the abilities of Simms. Kitchen made good decisions and transitioned well (and yeah probably got burned a couple of times but the kid is just 19). Kitchen's demeanor on the ball is much calmer and he is a better passer of the ball as well. By contrast, Simms does not appear to be capable of keeping up with the increased speed of play in the MLS, makes poor decisions with his passes (a lot of back passes and lateral passes) and seems incapable to transitioning quickly from defense to attack.

The business side of things looks good for Russell as well.  Russell was paid $134,000 in 2011 by RSL.  Clyde Simms was carrying a $179,000 salary and if you look at that, even giving Russell a modest raise, DC could be saving money.

So with the acquisition of Russell, Kitchen is likely to be moved inside to sit in front of Jakovic and McDonald and put Simms on the bench or the trading block. If DC United cannot unload Simms to an MLS club, I am thinking a loan to a USL/NASL side is in Simms' future.

UPDATE:  According to Steve Goff, the rumor is that Simms' option was not picked up by DC United, so it is likely that Simms will be seen in Wednesday's re-entry draft and won't be with DC United next year at all.  So far no confirmation on that.

Nov 28, 2011

Montreal pick up Ricketts from LA: Good Business All Around

Montreal pick up Ricketts from LA for allocation |

The expansion side picked up Jamaican International Donovan Ricketts to be, almost certainly, their number 1 keeper.

I kind of figured that Montreal was going to pick up either Ricketts or his L.A. Galaxy teammate Josh Saunders. The Galaxy was not likely to be able to retain both men.

It is a good bit of business for both teams and for Ricketts, who had been riding the pine for the latter half of the season and only got a start in October when Saunders had to serve a red card suspension. Thus Ricketts was unlikely to reacquire the starting role from Saunders short of an injury to Saunders. Ricketts will be the starter and still has many years left in his career.

Montreal gets a proven, excellent, ready to go net minder who has the ability to save a game. There is no questioning Ricketts ability and I think his injury problems are behind him. Montreal gets an outstanding leader on the field as well.

L.A. sheds itself of an international roster spot which will allow them to pick up another international roster position in the midfield or even up top. L.A. also clears some space on the salary cap, even if Saunders renegotiates his contract after a stand out year. Ricketts was carrying a $170,000 a year contract versus Saunders, $63,000 salary. Even a 100% raise to Saunders saves L.A. a big chunk of change.

Check out my soccer blog at Nutmegs and Stepovers

Nov 18, 2011

Kyle Beckerman Is A Dreadlocked Hobbit

I not only loved The Lord of the Rings Triology, but I have read the books multiple times (although for some reason I can't find my copies and should be getting new ones for my kids to read). Everyone seems to have their favorite characters: Frodo, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf. Whatever. You can keep all of them (and they are good characters don't misunderstand me.)

My favorite character in the books and in the movies is Samwise Gamgee. Sam has one job and one job only--help Frodo dispose of the Ring. Nothing more, nothing less. But what makes Sam so appealing to me is that he is a hobbit who is unwaveringly devoted to his friend, to doing what must be done to help his friend achieve the mission. Sam knows what his role is and, most importantly what his limits are. He is not a strong leader like Aragorn or a warrior like Legolas or Gimli. Sam is the staff upon which Frodo leans when the quest gets rough. Sam is the hobbit who, quite literally carries Frodo at times to make sure the quest is completed. But Sam doesn't put on airs. Sam wants to do his job and go home. He doesn't seek glory, he doesn't want anything more than to help his friends accomplish the mission and then return to the Shire and all the fanfare is not necessary.

In truth, I have always liked those kinds of characters in stories and movies. I like the guys who work behind the scenes, who provide the support necessary to make the lead characters succeed.  The best ones do it because they know who they are, are comfortable with themselves and don't need the accolades and fanfare, they just go quietly about their work and the do it well.

Which brings me to Kyle Beckerman and the U.S. Men's National Team. I have no clue about Beckerman's acting skills. But I have always liked the dreadlocked one, and I think he has been vastly underrated for years.

Kyle Beckerman is the USMNT's Samwise Gamgee.

The Shinguardian's John Nyen has a wonderful piece entitled Constants, Variables & Dreadlocks In Orbit Around Planet Klinsmann. (By the way, if you are not subscribed to or reading the Shinguardian, you are missing out on some quality writing). Nyen talks of constants and variables in the USMNT. Some of the constants are familiar and well-founded, players like Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Steve Cherundolo and Carolos Bocanegra. Some constants may be a little less solid--Timmy Chandler and Jozy Altidore--players who are good players but still learning to fill their roles. Then there is the constant presences of Kyle Beckerman, a man who has been consistent in his performance, and as a result is consistently in Klinsmann's starting eleven, even though there are more individually talented players available. It is Beckerman the leaves some people scratching their heads.

What impressed me most about Nyen's piece was the analysis of Kyle Beckerman. In a recent interview with Brian Straus in the Sporting News, (an outstanding read as well) USMNT Coach Jurgen Klinsman said the following about team selection:
My job is to develop a team that works hand-in-hand, that covers its weaknesses and expresses its strengths. There might be some decision where the fan says, “I don’t get that,” but hopefully over time they will understand why I’m doing certain things.

Some may say, “Why is there a Kyle Beckerman right now occupying the No. 6 (defensive midfielder) role, when we have Jermaine Jones playing for Schalke or Michael (Bradley) in Verona and they’re really good players?”

Right now, what I tell (Beckerman) to do, he’s doing it 100 percent.
Nyen then analyzes that means. Beckerman has been a constant in Klinsmann's set up and he made clear why. Beckerman does exactly what Klinsmann wants--Beckerman is a good player who follows instructions. Beckerman knows what his job is and does it well.
This is not saying that Beckerman is the future at DM or that he will be playing in the 2014 World Cup–both probably shouldn’t be expected.

What Klinsmann is saying is, “You want to be the #6. See this guy ahead of you? You may be better than him, but he’s doing it the right way. Watch what he’s doing and if you can grasp it, you’ll get your shot.”

Beckerman is a known value, and that he executes exactly what Klinsmann asks. He isn’t going to be making 50 yard runs down field and running willy-nilly into the box for a header. He will be cautious, intercept passes, break up plays and be where he is supposed to be most of the time.
Therein lies the difference. Beckerman may not be the fastest players, the strongest player, the best passer, attacker or dribbler. I suspect that Beckerman may even be the first to tell you that. But, like Samwise Gamgee, Beckerman brings no special skills to the table other than an unwavering desire to make the team succeed, a willingness to do the dirty work and provide the unheralded support work that a defensive midfielder must do to enable his team to succeed. The fact that he does the job exactly the way Klinsmann wants the job done is the sign of a true professional and the reason why Beckerman keeps featuring for Klinsmann. Kyle Beckerman is steady, dependable and true---he is Samwise Gamgee.

Beckerman is doing the job and is a constant in the midfield which has allowed Klinsmann to shift players around in the midfield, whether that is a 3, 4 or 5 man midfield to find other combinations that work. Klinsmann can experiment elsewhere because he knows that his "Sam" will be steady, solidly performing Kyle Beckerman.

Beckerman is being held out as an example of what perhaps more skilled players like Michael Bradley or Jermaine Jones or Maurice Edu need to do. Follow directions, break up the play, slow down the counter and do the dirty work that is necessary of a defensive midfielder.

Soccer is an 11 player team sport. The Fellowship of the Ring was a team effort. Like the Fellowship, each player on the pitch has a role and not everyone can be the headline grabbing star. For a team to succeed greatly, it needs players to each play their role properly. Sometimes it needs a Samwise Gamgee to provide the quiet, unheralded support from which the team gets its strength.

Jurgen Klinsmann has found his Samwise Gamgee, a humble dreadlocked hobbit, in Kyle Beckerman.

DeRosario Named MLS MVP--A Good, But Wrong Choice

I am not sure why MLS decided to bury this announcement at 6:30 am, but they did and the 2011 VW MLS MVP is DC United's Dwayne DeRosario.  DeRo played with three teams this season, starting in his native Toronto, moving south to New York and then finding himself playing in DC.  Along the way, DeRosario racked up 16 goals and 12 assists to win the Golden Boot this year (on the strength of his assists after tying with San Jose Earthquakes Chris Wondolowski with 16 goals each).  DeRosario's production (including two hat tricks this season) is one of the reasons why DC United was in the playoff hunt until the final two match days.

But was DeRosario really the LEAGUE MVP this year.  I am a DC United Fan and I have to say No.

Was DeRo the DC United MVP?  Absolutely, without a doubt.  DC would not have been within a sniff of the playoffs without him (and while his clearly one of the best to play in MLS ever, I was not sure I wanted to give up Dax McCarthy in favor of DeRosario, but looking back it was a smart piece of business by DC).  DeRo earned the Golden Boot with a better goal conversion ratio that Wondolowski).  DeRo was fourth on the assists leaders list behind Brad Davis (16), David Beckham (15) and Seattle's Mauro Rosales (14).  DeRo was a leader and a warrior on the pitch, creating something out of nothing at times.  So as a team MVP, he is a no brainer.

But MVP of the League?  I don't think so.

First, I just have this aversion to naming someone a league MVP from a team that doesn't make the playoffs.  Sorry, but to be valuable, you have to do more than just perform in the regular season, your contributions have to be such that your team doesn't make the playoffs without your efforts.  So, while DeRo got the Black & Red close, he and his team didn't close the deal.

Second, he played for three teams this year.  Granted, most of his goals and assists came while at DC, but not all of them.  It just feels funny to name an MVP who played with three clubs this year. How can a player who played with three clubs be THE MOST Valuable Player?

Third, this smacks of a career award, not a year award.  There is no doubt about DeRo's accomplishments in this league.  He was won championships, he has also won now the Golden Boot.  He has been a key figure in MLS history and arguably one of the best and most consistent players in the league, year in and year out.  At age 33, he still has a few years in the gas tank (I hope), and he is interested in winning another MLS Cup.  DeRo had a great season and while it deserves recognition, it seems to me that his peers, the media and the club officials are rewarding a long, successful career by, pardon the terminology, bootstrapping a Golden Boot year.

My vote for MVP was Brad Davis, Houston's left-footed playmaker.  Without Davis, Houston would not have made the playoffs, would not have made it to the Conference Finals. His leadership on the pitch, the fact that he creates so many scoring chances for his club, his set piece wizardry, his never say die attitude and work ethic he projects is what drove Houston to the MLS Cup.

As a DC United Fan, it is hard for me not to relish in DeRo's performance this year in only 18 games for the Black & Red.  I am happy he won the Golden Boot, I am happy he is performing at the level he is at.  I am glad that DC United is working to secure his services for a couple more years (Note to Ben Olsen and Kevin Payne--three years would be nice).  But his selection as the League MVP is a good, but wrong decision.

Nov 17, 2011

Portland Timbers Midfielder Darlington Nagbe Wins 2011 AT&T MLS Goal Of The Year |

Portland Timbers Midfielder Darlington Nagbe Wins 2011 AT&T MLS Goal Of The Year

Let's face it, there was some sick competition for the MLS Goal of the Year this year. Everything from long range bombs (I am looking at you Adam Moffet and Graham Zusi) to end to end solo runs (Andy Najar) to just wonderful creative (yeah Juan Adugelo's ridiculous volley against DC United), it was amazing some of this year's goals.

But the competition really boiled down to to volleys. Nagbe's juggling, upper left blast and Eric Hassli's turn and volley.

In the end, it is Nagbe's juggling volley that nabs the honors.

But first, I need to talk about Eric Hassli's candidate. Hassli makes a wonderful strike, but when you really look at it, it is something of a hopeful ball. Yes, the turn is wonderful and it takes a great deal of skill to make that turn and get the ball anywhere close to on frame. But you have to wonder, was it really what he intended to do? I am not sure.

But for Nagbe, there was never any doubt what he was looking to do, strike the ball with venom, put it on frame and beat Jimmy Nielsen. That is exactly what he did and it was beautiful: a moment of sheer brilliance and a delight to watch.

So congratulations to Darlington Nagbe--it was well deserved.

Check out my soccer blog at Nutmegs and Stepovers

Sepp Blatter Is an Idiot!

Video – FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s Take On Racism In The Game – ‘I Would Deny It’

Thanks to The Original Winger.

I am not sure how Blatter can deny racism. Is it as rampant as it was say 30 years ago? Probably not, but it does exist, it is demonstrated almost every week.

CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournaments to be Televised---SWEET!

Via TheOriginalWinger CONCACAF announced today partnerships with Telemundo and Universal Sports Network for both the women’s and men’s 2012 CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournaments.

Telemundo will provide exclusive Spanish-language television coverage of both tournaments in the U.S. Universal Sports Network’s rights include exclusive English-language telecasts of all matches featuring the United States and the finals from each of the tournaments.

The Women's Tournament will be from January 19-29 at BC Place in Vancouver--That's gonna be a little chilly.

The Men's Tournament, which will feature U-23 teams with three overage players possible, will take place from March 22 to April 2. Group play will be at the Home Depot Center and Nashville's LP Field. Semi-final and final matches will be held at LiveStrong Park in Kansas City.

The two teams that make the finals in each tournament will go to the Olympic Games in London.

Nov 16, 2011

More European Training News

Soccer By Ives just tweeted the U.S. U-23 and DC United rookie defender/midfielder Perry Kitchen will spend a week training with Bundesliga side Freiburg.    That is excellent news.

Also planning some off-season training time in Germany is US MNT wunderkind Juan Agudelo, who will spend a stint at Stuttgart.

Kitchen and Agudelo are not the only MLSers spending their off season in Europe.  Goalkeepers Bill Hamid (DC United) and Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire) will spend time with West Brom and Manchester United respectively and Omar Salgado will spend time with Fulham.  Of course, Brek Shea will spend a month with Arsenel.

I have long been an advocate of young MLS players spending training time with European clubs.  While work permit rules would make a move by any of these players unlikely, aside from Shea and perhaps Agudelo, the time spent working out with high level players is always a good thing.


Kyle Beckerman and Robbie Rogers will also have training stints with Kaiserslautern according to Soccer by Ives.
For Rogers, who is set to be out of contract with the Crew and has expressed a wish to return to Europe, the training period is not a trial, but it does provide him an opportunity to catch the eye of Kaiserslautern coach Marco Kurz. 

Slovenia 2:3 U.S. MNT--Oh Bradley, Michael Bradley. Wherefore art thou Michael Bradley

Jurgen Klinsmann broke out of his 4-3-3 mold and went all Bob Bradley/Bruce Arena on us and sent out a USMNT squad boasting an asymmetric 4-4-2 that did the trick for the U.S. goal scorers and made for an entertaining game.  Sure three goals, include a smoking header by Clint Dempsey, makes the heart beat faster (along with a few defensive lapses and the brilliance of the saves by the woodwork).  The entertainment factor was high even if you couldn't see the ball half the time.

Klinsmann's tactical set up (if it was intended) boasted an asymmetric midfield comprised of Kyle Beckerman in is now familiar role of a defensive midfielder, Clint Dempsey playing the hole behind the two strikers, newcomer Fabian Johnson on the left flank and Michael Bradley nominally playing on the right flank but more often that not, looking like he was playing between Dempsey and Beckerman.    When I first started looking at the match, I thought it interesting the Bradely was pinched so far inside, even on the attack.  Was Bradley so used to playing the middle that he just naturally drifted there?  Was Bradley not following Klinsmann's instructions?  Or was Bradley playing in that area based on a tactical decision by Klinsmann.  As the first half progressed and Bradley's effectiveness and impact on the attack became apparent, it was clear that Bradley was playing as instructed.

The tactical set up used Bradley's skills to maximum effectiveness on the attack.  How many times have we seen Michael Bradley make a late run to pop up in a dangerous place seemingly out of nowhere?  He was making those late runs well yesterday, moving into the attack quickly when Altidore, Buddle or Dempsey were holding the ball, giving the attacking trio a quick outlet to keep the attack developing.  But Bradley's defensive skills were also well utilized allowing him and Beckerman to quickly snuff out the Slovenian counter attack at times.  

But the asymmetry did a couple of other, more negative, things that put pressure on the U.S. back line.  Klinsmann will need to address these matters if he continues with an asymmetrical formation.  First, with Bradley so far inside, the only way to get width on the right flank was through an overlapping Cherundolo, which on attack is fine.  Cherundolo is quick enough and skilled enough to take the ball down the flank and whip in a good cross, which was happening regularly.  But the tactics also put a lot of pressure on Cherundolo and the centerbacks, particularly Clarence Goodson.    The great big hole on the right flank allowed for Slovenia, a very good counterattacking team, to generate attacks from that hole.  Cherundolo is effective and can handle the pressure and delay an attack from Slovenia, but against better sides, I am not sure that would be the case.  Bradley of course, got back well and would double up, but if the attack crosses the ball quickly, there is a hole in central defense that was created.

Credit to Slovenia for recognizing the set up and exploiting it effectively.  With Cherundolo so far advanced, Goodson has to slide to the right to cover, leaving Carlos Bocanegra exposed in the middle, particularly since left back Timmy Chandler was often out of position in his effort to get forward.  Slovenia was able to exploit the right (their left) flank hole.  Perhaps the better solution tactically would have been to shift Beckerman a little to the right to provide a little more cover, but that is neither here nor there.

But the system that Klinsmann used made effective use of Bradley.  Having been largely absent from Klinsmann's squads in recent games, I think people were beginning to wonder if Michael Bradley was really a nepotism selection by his father.  Yesterday proved, that Michael Bradley still has as much to offer Jurgen Klinsmann as he did his father.  

Quick Free Kicks
Five goals is still not a lot for the U.S., but with Edson Buddle's success yesterday, could there be a call up for Hercules Gomez on the horizon?  

Could the penalty kick goal for Altidore be the confidence boost he needs to get scoring for his country?  Who knows, but it was nice to see his name on the score sheet.

I have to say that the 100 Jersey that Slovenia gave to Carlos Bocanegra on the occasion of his 100th cap for the United States was a pure class act.  Well done to Slovenia for that.  

Brek Shea/Fabian Johnson.  Yesterday Max Bretos tweeted that the shine might be coming off Brek Shea in light of Fabian Johnson's performance.  I think Shea is tired and it has showed.  But Shea is still quality and the competion will make both young men better players.

Nov 15, 2011

Bruce Arena Wins Coach of the Year

With his L.A. Galaxy in the MLS Cup, it is not surprise that Bruce Arena has won coach of the year. But is he the coach of the year?

My pick was actually Peter Vermes from Sporting KC.

Young American Omar Salgado Heading to West London

Salgado to train with Fulham: That is a good move for Saldado who can learn a lot for guys like Bobby Zamora and Clint Dempsey.

OmarSalgado1 (

Nov 11, 2011

France 1:0 USMNT: The Ghost of Bob Bradley?

The U.S. MNT took to the Stade de France and turned in a performance that looked more Bob Bradley than Jurgen Klinsmann.  The Ghost of Bob Bradley's bucket 4-4-2 raised its irritating head.  Defensively, the U.S. looked solid, they kept their shape and were well organized.  Obviously Tim Howard came up big a couple times to keep the score line where it was and there was some good central defending, cover and size from Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo and Clarence Goodson.  Tim Chandler looked good defensively but as an attacking left back, couldn't seem to find a rhythm.  I think that if Goodson hadn't been tripped up by Remy, that goal probably would not have happened, but those are the unlucky breaks.

Up top, Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey had good games.  Jozy looked better holding the ball up and Dempsey could hold the ball but there was not enough support so both were getting stripped of the ball too quickly.

So the problem is really in the midfield.  Yes, I know, there were a number of players missing, Landon Donovan being one of them, Torres and Holden.  Tonight I would have loved to have seen what Sasha Kljestan could have done.  But Klinsmann started essentially only three attacking players, Altidore, Dempsey and Brek Shea.  Tonight was Shea's weakest performance in the Klinsmann era and I can see the heaviness in his legs.  Danny Williams showed almost no attacking flair, although was adequate on defense.  But if you look at the U.S. bench, there were attacking options.  Klinsmann could have started Beasly on the left flank and Shea on the right.  Both are speedy wingers who can whip a cross in and have the work rate and energy to play box to box. And speaking of box to box midfielders, Michael Bradley is still one of the best the U.S. has to offer.  What made Bradley dangerous previously was his late runs into the box, but he can't seem to buy a game from Klinsmann.

But tactically, there were a couple of times when you could see the problem.  A ball was played from Edu, Beckerman, Goodson or Bocanegra to Dempsey or Altidore.  The strikers would do their job and hold the ball for a few seconds.  The problem is that neither Edu or Beckerman would pass and then move into the attack.  They would pass and then slow down.  They might move laterally to receive a ball, but then not play the quick ball out wide to Shea or Williams or an overlapping Cherundolo or Chandler.

I did not expect a wide open free-flowing style of play from the U.S. in this game, but there was no link-up play at all in the midfield and there was nothing new on display here.  There was no experimentation, no testing of different player combinations.  Each of the players did exactly as you would expect and they played there roles exactly as they would have done if Bob Bradley and his track suit were on the touchline.  I know that you can't lose games if you never give up a goal, but you can't win games either if nothing is risked.  In a friendly, I would rather lose 3-0 if we are getting good looks at the goal, shooting and attacking.  But the biggest criticism of Bunker Bob Bradley was that he was defensive and played the counter.  

Tonight made me wonder, is Jurgen Klinsmann getting too cynical?  I know what Bob Bradley would do, but what will Klinsmann do on Tuesday?

Nov 10, 2011

Pelosi, Shea Named to Top 101 List of Young Players

101 Great Goals has stepped into a void about a list of young players in world soccer:
Spanish magazine Don Balon would publish their list of the top 100 youngsters in world football at around this time of year.

Due to economic pressure and a scandal that brought about the arrest of their editor, Don Balon is no longer and we have decided to step into the breach to list the best young players currently plying their trade in world football.

There is one rule for this top youngsters run down, and follows the format Don Balon put in place over many years. To qualify for inclusion, the player must be born after January 1, 1990.

(We have also taken the liberty to add one more player to make it 101 to reflect the name of this very website.)
U.S. International Brek Shea and U.S. Youth International (and recent Liverpool signing) Marc Pelosi were the Americans named to the list.

Check the list out and keep an eye on some of those players. I hear that Brazilian guy Neymar is pretty good.

Nov 8, 2011

Liverpool sign Marc Pelosi

Interesting, but unless Pelosi breaks into to the first team, it won't matter that Liverpool sign USA under-17 captain Marc Pelosi.

Nov 7, 2011

Who Should Start For USMNT Against France? Wrong Question To Ask

The question that will occupy much of the USMNT commentariat over the next week is just that simple, who will, or should or might start against the French.  So let me get that out of the way quickly.  Here is who I think will start:






Here is who I would like to see start in a 4-4-1-1: obviously limited to the current squad





*As a DC United fan, I really want Hamid to get a cap this time around, but I am okay if that happens with Slovenia.

Three reasons for this line up.

1.  The Jozy Altidore as a target striker is just not going to work in my mind and is a waste of Jozy's best talents.  Of the forwards on this squad, Buddle is the closest thing to a target striker we have and I know he is not ideal.

2.  Michael Bradley has been a beast at defensive midfielder in Serie A and that is saying something.  Let's see if he can spray things around as a passer that Klinsmann wants.

3.  I like Goodson's ball control better.  

But the line-up questions are not nearly as intriguing as the tactical questions.  Klinsmann has clearly indicated a more ball control oriented style of play.  I have to admit, I like that about Klinsmann, but he is not picking a squad that seems disposed to that kind of a game.  So is the player pool adapting to Klinsmann's desired style or is Klinsmann adopting his preferred tactics to the player pool.  Ideally, it is the former, but the evidence is not there.

If you start in the back, picking guys like Onyewu and Orozco-Fiscal  over guys like Goodson or Tm Ream or A.J. De La Garza, you are not picking ball control defenders.  Now, someone like Onyewu has a role in any side and sometimes a physical presence is necessary as a defender.  But when Orozco-Fiscal continues to get selected over better defenders or over defenders that have not been adequately observed on a international stage, it is hard to say that Klinsmann is looking for defenders who can play out of the back when his is over looking good defenders with ball control skills. Ball control has to start at the back.

I know these are friendlies and giving the upcoming World Cup qualifying that will start in the summer, Klinsmann needs to start developing groups of players who are or may be effective.  The emergence of the left flank pairing of Tim Chandler and Brek Shea is just one example of a success.  But there is a distinct lack of experimentation otherwise in the midfield absent Jose Torres.  The fact is, with Donovan and Dempsey, and to a lesser extent Bradley, Jones, Edu and Beckerman, we know what we have.  Beckerman can do the dirty work and Donovan, Bradley and Dempsey have a long history together, so what are we going to learn here that we don't already know?  Why not bring in some other players?  What about Mixx Diskerrud or Sacha Kljestan's talents?  What could they add to the ball control mix?  What about someone completely outside the box, like Mike Magee of the L.A. Galaxy or Graham Zusi of Sporting Kansas City?    The fact is that if you are going have a ball control style of play, this current midfield crop needs to be augmented and Klinsmann needs to do some experimenting.

The fact is that as we head into the World Cup Qualifying cycle, we are not getting enough new players into the mix to see if there are players out there who have that ball control style of play that Klinsmann wants to play.  So, we are seeing the same players over and over again.

But a thought has occurred to me.  If you look at the seletions of Caleb Porter and Tab Ramos and Richie Williams as youth team coaches and the claimed integrated style of play that Klinsmann was to develop across the program, is Klinsmann writing off 2014?  That is the subject of the next post.

So tell me, is Klinsmann adapting his tactics by limiting his player pool?

Nov 6, 2011

MLS Conference Finals

A couple of tasty matches this evening as Houston travels to Sporting Kansas City and LA hosts Real Salt Lake, which means that the MLS cup will actually feature a Western Conference and an Eastern Conference team.  Shocking, I know. 

Questions for tonight:
How much more does Houston's Brad Davis have to do to get Jurgen Klinsmann's attention? 

Can Omar Gonzalez play like he is worthy of a USMNT call up or will A.J. De La Garza play like he is ready for international duty?

Who will win the Juninho-Beckerman match up?

Will LA-RSL be a defensive battle or an offensive slugfest?

Will Brad Davis or Graham Zusi have more set piece success? 

No matter what happens, I am looking forward to the games.

Nov 4, 2011

National Team Calls for the Wrong L.A. Galaxy Center Back

Last night, the L.A. Galaxy dispatched Red Bull New York from the MLS playoffs in a pretty entertaining affair  at the Home Depot Center, winning the conference semi-final tie 3-1 on aggregate on the back of two strong performances by Mike Magee and yes David Beckham.

But this is not about Magee punishing his former club or Beckham playing well in potentially his final games for the Galaxy.  Nope, this post is about center backs and specifically about L.A. Galaxy's center back pairing of A.J. De La Garza and Omar Gonzalez.

U.S. Men's National Team Coach Jurgen Klinsmann should be looking at these center backs and be considering one of them for National Team inclusion.  While much of the U.S. fandom is calling for Omar Gonzalez to be considered for call up to the National Team, last night showed exactly why that should not be the case and why A.J. De La Garza is the Galaxy center back that should have a better claim to a call-up to Klinsmann's squad than Gonzalez.

Gonzalez is a fine MLS center back.  He is dominating in the air and at 6'5" he better be.  He is good at attacking set pieces and has scored a few goals in his career.  He defends set pieces well and is usually in the right position most of the time. But there are weaknesses in his game.  He is not the fastest of players, but then again, a lot of center backs are not quick.  He sometimes gets caught out of position at bad times and appears to have problems keeping his head in the game, particularly late in the.  Gonzalez may be a big man, and there are roles for big men,  but just being a big center back is not going to cut it on Klinsmann's squad.

But there is one glaring weakness that was on display last night and indeed in most games for L.A. this year which means it is not likely that he will get regular call-ups for the National Team outside maybe the January camp.  Simply put, Gonzalez cannot play like Klinsmann wants to play.

Klinsmann in looking to play a certain style of soccer; a possession oriented, ball movement style of play and right now Gonzalez can't play that way.  Last night, what did we see from Gonzalez?  A lot of blast the ball clear; searching, hopeful balls played over the midfield, hoping that Robbie Keane, Chad Barrett or later Adam Christman could get under them.  Sure there are times when you need to blast the ball in to Row Z of the stadium in order for your team to reorganize, but Gonzalez cannot play well with the ball at his feet and that is what Klinsmann wants out of all of his players.  Until Gonzalez can do that, he will be a USMNT B team player at best.  Klinsmann needs his center backs to be capable of collecting the ball at their feet, maintaining composure and passing out of the defensive third.  Twelve-year-olds can blast the ball down the field indiscriminately.  Professional and. most importantly, international caliber level players need to be able to dribble and pass out of the defensive third and not bypass the midfield.

But look at A. J. De La Garza.  He is not what we think of when you think of center backs.  He is not tall like Gonzalez or a mass of muscle like Oguchi Onyewu.  So because he is not a big man he doesn't try to muscle his way out of problems or rely on physical prowess to be a good defender.  De La Garza plays positions quite well, cutting off the through ball, reading the plays that develop in front of him, popping up at just the right time, in just the right place to snuff out an attack.  He has a bit more speed that Gonzalez.  It is a different role that Gonzalez and that is what makes them such a good pairing.

But time and again last night, De La Garza could do what Klinsmann is trying to develop in his team.  De La Garza would collect the ball, get composed with the ball at his feet and play the 20 yard pass into Beckham, Donovan or Magree and start an attack based on movement and possession, not attacks based on hope and a 50/50 ball.  He didn't do it every time he was on the ball, but you can see that De La Garza never looks panicked or worried.  He doesn't wilt under pressure and try to slam his way through.

Because De La Garza didn't and couldn't develop physical domination attributes of a "traditional" center back, he had to develop as a footballer.  So he has positioning, mental acuity and the ability to keep his composure.  Passing skills can be taught, but the ability to read a game cannot.  De La Garza has to learn to read the game because that is what he had to do.  De La Garza's ability to read an attack makes him a perfect back for starting an attack as well.  He can pick out the cutting pass that will open up an opposing midfield and allow his midfield to being the attack.

I think Gonzalez and De La Garza may be the best center back pairing in MLS, excepting maybe Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave.  They have gotten that way through years of experience playing together.  But when it comes to Jurgen Klinsmann's national team goals and style, De La Garza is a better center back.

Can De La Garza develop into an international level center back?  I don't know, but I do know this, he has more tools in his tool box to play the way Klinsmann wants that Omar Gonzalez.  Klinsmann should call De La Garza should get a cap before Gonzalez.

Nov 2, 2011

Training or Trial for Hamid

DC United net minder Bill Hamid is in England this week to train with West Bromwich Albion under the overall eye of Roy Hodgson and the close eye of veteran keeper Dean Kiely at the Premier League side.

DC United said that Hamid's trip to England was simply a training stint, to keep his skills sharp and build on them.

But West Brom's assistant coach Michael Appleton suggested to the club's news arm that West Brom is hosting Hamid "for a week so we can have a look at him."

West Brom's number one keeper is Ben Foster, who is on loan from Birmingham and their second keeper is little known Luke Daniels. Could Hamid make a break into the West Brom squad? Perhaps, but that is assuming that Hamid can get a work permit, itself something of a question despite Hamid's recent call-ups by the National Team.

But the larger question is whether is Hamid should make the transfer. In an attempt to put aside my DC United fan hat here, I would say no--not yet.

DC United is in a tricky position. As a homegrown player, Hamid doesn't count against the salary cap just yet and of course, United stands to make a pretty penny on Hamid's transfer assuming it is north of a couple of million dollars ($5 million not be unreasonable, but I would guess closer to $3 million for a transfer fee). So DC's financial status is something of a question.

Hamid has had one full year between the pipes for the Black and Red. It was a good year, but not a great year for Hamid. To be sure, the young man is a fine shot stopper and is getting better at organizing his back line. But another season under Pat Onstad's tutelage will do Hamid wonders. Hamid is also a practical lock for a call up to the U.S. Olympic team and would seem to have the inside track to be the starter for qualifying and assuming the U.S. makes the Olympic tournament, he will be on display for all of England to see.

A year longer for Hamid and perhaps some time between the pipes for the National Team during World Cup qualifying would be good for the young man. As a keeper, Hamid has perhaps 20 years or more left in his playing career. Let's not rush it.

Oct 26, 2011

A few minutes with D.C. United President Kevin Payne, Part 2 - Soccer Insider - The Washington Post

Steve Goff talks to D.C. United President Kevin Payne about off the field matters.

Couple of takeaways:
What’s the state of the club’s finances?

“It’s a struggle for us here at RFK. We have the highest expenses and lowest revenue.”

Can you renegotiate the lease?

“We’re talking to EventsDC [which manages the stadium]. We’ve always had a good relationship with them. I think they recognize our situation. We’re hopeful we can reach an agreement that makes more sense and allows us to remain here. It’s about the amount we pay and the amount we make here. Compared to the average team in our league, the combination of expenses and revenue, we’re about $2.85 million worse per year: about $1 million more in expenses than the average MLS team and about $1.85 million less in revenue. It’s a lot of money.”

How long can you keep going at that rate?

“We can’t.”

So true. Average attendance is up a little this year, but still no where near the 2007 mark of just shy of 21,000. So game day revenue is probably not getting any better. The fact is, that DC United needs its own stadium, one that it controls and one that will allow it to grow better. DC United is not the worst in average attendance, being in the middle of the pack, but without their own stadium or at least a much better deal (which is very unlikely at RFK) then chances are the losses will continue to mount.

Speaking of stadiums:

Fans are waiting. They’ve heard all the rumors, rumblings, false alarms. So should they expect something soon?

“I hate to put a date on things. It’s not like we’re not working on this, but it’s not easy. It’s complicated. And it’s not something that lends itself to being negotiated in the media. I know it’s frustrating for our fans, but trust me, it’s a lot more frustrating for us. We’re doing the best we can. We’re pushing as hard as we can. I think everyone is dealing in good faith. We certainly hope we have some resolution sooner rather than later, but I’m not going to put a time on it.”

You’ve been pursuing a stadium plan for a long time. Meanwhile, Houston’s stadium is going to open next year. Kansas City moved into a new stadium this year. Most of the teams around the league are playing in a new or renovated stadium. What makes this situation so different that you haven’t been able to get a deal done?

“We spent a lot of time and effort on Poplar Point [park land across the Anacostia from Nationals Park]. Through no fault of our own, the District and the federal government haven’t been able to reach agreement on the land transfer, so we had to start over again. We probably wasted time in Prince George’s County [Maryland], in retrospect, and then had to start over in D.C. At the same time, we were contacted by Baltimore. Houston spent quite a bit of time on it too and frankly the resources of AEG are the reason they were finally able to say, ‘We’re going to do it.’ We’re not in that position. We’re not Red Bull. We’re not Kansas City, which got public financing for their stadium.”

The soap opera that is the stadium issue for DC United is getting quite morose. The fact of the matter is that the District of Columbia has tossed aside a soccer specific stadium on more than one occasion. There probably won't be a DC United stadium in the District of Columbia, so the question becomes, where else will it go. I think DC United wants to build a stadium inside or very close to the Beltway, but sites further out may be more economical. But DC United and owner Will Chang are not going to get investors without a stadium plan in place. The fans are getting anxious, but unlike other locales (such as Houston) there are too many internecine squabbles over location, jurisdiction, traffic and the like to make the selection process easy.

Oct 25, 2011

USMNT Attacking Options

Two goals in five games.  When you write that out it looks bad, but that is exactly how many goals have been scored by the US Men's National Team in Jurgen Klinsmann's tenure as the coach.  There are all kinds of reasons or excuses you can find, depending on your point of view.  But the fact of the matter is, the United States has long had a problem finding the back of the net and it has continued under Klinsmann's watch.

I was listening to the most recent Sports Illustrated Soccer Roundtable podcast wherein the panelist were talking about whether the "love affair" with Jozy Altidore needed to come to an end.  However, one of the panelists (Steve Davis I think), mentioned that the Altidore we see playing for AZ Alkmaar is not the same Altidore we see in the U.S. set up.  On the most crass level, that is true, Altidore is lighting up the Eredivise and Altidore is not scoring for the U.S.  For some people it is as basic as that, but you have to look behind the numbers to see why.

If you watch Altidore play for Alkmaar, you can see a very different style of play.  Jozy is coming in from the wing, moving much more and making himself a nuisance through sheer mobility--opposing defenses just don't know where he is going to pop up.  Such tactics make it easy for Jozy to find a hole and then get a ball into the goal.  But when you see Jozy playing up top for the U.S., he is playing almost a target striker role, his mobility is limited by his role. That makes him easier to defend, witness his game against Belgium when Vincent Kompany was in Jozy's hip pocket all game and Jozy did nothing effectively.

But look back two to three years ago and what was Jozy doing then for the United States, he was a mobile striker.  Brian Ching played the target role and Jozy was free to move.  When Ching was not in the side, Bob Bradley, to his credit would generally let Jozy and Charlie Davies simply move around to great effect.  See, Spain in Confederations Cup Semi-Final and Mexico in World Cup Qualifying, or just Jozy on his own being mobile--see Algeria and Slovenia games at the World Cup.  There would be no "target striker" and the movement of both men caused problems and opened up gaps for guys like Donovan and Dempsey to exploit as well as for Altidore and Davies.

Jozy is best and most effective as a mobile striker, swinging out wide and taking defenders on the dribble, or drifting out to the weak side and cutting in on a run to the front or back post.  Where Jozy is not effective is as a static target striker.

So if Jozy is best moving around, how do you complement that strength?  With a goal poacher, a fox in the box.  Oddly enough, a much smaller Juan Agudelo could be that player.  Clint Dempsey might be that player as well and right now, that is where I would put my money.

Aug 30, 2011

This Guy is the Spanish #2

Check out these fabulous Victor Valdes saves against Giuseppe Rossi of Villareal.

Great stuff and remember, Valdes is not the Spanish national team starting keeper--he is the #2 behind Iker Casillas. Yeah--the Spanish don't have a weakness at keeper.

Aug 29, 2011


Last night I watching the late SportsCenter and after getting through all the baseball talk and a trip by Lou Holtz to his old high school to coach one practice, I saw some highlights of Wayne Rooney taking a few free kicks and scoring a hat trick.

Now, first of all, I am happy that soccer highlights are making the SportsCenter cut, so I really shouldn't complaint.  But let's look only at the Manchester United mauling of Arsenel and I can find two prettier goals:

Ashley Young's First of the day (here) and Ashley Young's 92nd minute dagger.  (Just a note to premier league clubs, you might want to consider putting a defender on Young when he is sitting on the corner of the penalty area--just a free piece of advice).

Look, taking nothing away from Rooney's set piece magic, but if ESPN wanted to feather Rooney, how about also featuring the work he did on Young's goals.

A Change MLS' Policies Finds MLS Clubs Sitting Atop Champion's League Groups.

After two rounds of the Group Stage in the CONCACAF Champion's League, MLS clubs are leading the pack.  If you would have told me two years ago that I would be writing a lead like that, I would have laughed at you.  The reason is that until two years ago, for the most part, MLS clubs simply didn't put a great deal of emphasis on winning the Champion's League--it was another international competition that simply drained the talent and resources of clubs from their MLS league campaigns.

But this year, we see something different, we see five MLS clubs (four from the United States and 1 from Canada) not only competing but succeeding in the tournament. That's right, after two games each, all four of the groups are headed by the MLS clubs in their groups.  The L.A. Galaxy leads Group A on six points, the Colorado Rapids top Group B on four points; FC Dallas is carrying six points in Group C and the Seattle Sounders lead Group D on six points.  Part of the success is that FC Dallas and Seattle both traveled to Mexico and won on Mexican soil for the first time in 49 games.  Had Colorado not blown their lead against Real Espana, they too would have been on six points.  Toronto, the Canadian representative, is carrying three points as their loss in the competition came at the hands of FC Dallas.

So what should we attribute this success to?  Well, the cynics would say that the Mexican sides (Pumas and Monterrey) didn't field their normal first XI, which is true.  The cynics would also say that L.A. Galaxy and Colorado have not faced their Mexican opponents either at home or in Mexico.  Which is also true.  But there is something a little different this year--two factors which make it more likely that MLS clubs will be able to compete and which make it possible that certainly three and possibly four MLS clubs can make the knockout stages.   I think the MLS clubs are taking the competition seriously this year.  The success of Real Salt Lake, making the final and almost winning, has shown that if MLS clubs take the competition seriously, real success can be found.  I believe the mindset, more than anything else, is what has put the MLS clubs in the position they now find themselves.

First, MLS has made it easier, from a personnel standpoint for MLS clubs to compete by expanding the rosters, making player development a priority and the general improvement in quality of play and quality of players.  I believe that Don Garber and the rest of the MLS leadership and owners always wished that MLS clubs would do well on an international stage importance.  But in the past, their focus was a tad myopic, looking first to the league, without understanding the importance of the regional, international club competition.    Garber's delusions of grandeur in earlier years was always tempered by the cruicible of the Champion's League.  No matter how good MLS clubs looked when competing against each other, they were often found lacking when competing against Mexican clubs or Saprissa or the top clubs from the region.

MLS rule changes, the homegrown player rules, the expanded rosters, the reserve league, even the young designated player rule (even thought it didn't directly related to the most recent results) all contribute to an atmosphere at the clubs that gives them the ability to prioritize the Champinon's League without necessarily sacrificing league play.  Clubs now have, or are on their way to having, the depth to play their first team players in the Champions' League matches and then rest them for league games if necessary without affecting the quality of the league play.  So instead of just young players, rookies or reserves getting time in the Champions' League while the first team rode the bench, now you see these clubs starting 9 or 10 of their normal starting 11 and then using reserve and squad players for a couple of games in the league play.

I have no doubt that these rules changes were about making the League stronger, their carry over effect cannot be minimized.  The rules changes, particularly expanded rosters and the reserve league,  puts the MLS on a more even keel with other regional powers, particularly the Mexican sides because the players get more game time in meaningful matches. The general upward trend of the quality of play can be linked to the intense focus on player development being made by Don Garber & Co., changes that are welcome and important.

These changes do make a difference in whether teams are prepared, from a personnel position, to compete in the regional competition.  But I also believe that the support that MLS leaders gave to Real Salt Lake also indicate something of a shift in the mindset of MLS leaders.  When RSL came close to hoisting the Champion's League trophy and did so without the express, initial support of the MLS, I think Garber & Co. had to jump on the bandwagon quickly.  In doing so, leading up to this year's competition, I think MLS has made a implicit, if not explicit, effort to give clubs support for the Champion's League.  I think theyGarber & Co. want an MLS club to hoist the Champion's League trophy and compete in the Club World Cup, even if the MLS squad gets stomped on at the Club World Cup for a few years.   RSL made their run and came close--largely without some of the benefit that accrue to MLS clubs now and certainly not with the emphasis, up front, that the League put on the tournament.  So whether they intended to or not, MLS has made it possible for clubs to compete in the regional, international tournament.  MLS has sent a message, whether they were explicit or not, that winning the Champion's League is important and good for the club, the league and the sport in general.

Aug 12, 2011

USA 1:1 Mexico--Some Thoughts

The USMNT Wednesday night did prevent a 4 game losing streak to the Mexicans, something that hasn't happened in about 40 years, but that is cold comfort.  The game ended up a draw and considering the U.S. performance in the first half, that is a pretty good result.  I am sure that Jurgen Klinsmann will take with a smile.

Speaking of Klinsmann, he was in a no lose situation.  If the U.S. came into the match and got hammered, Klinsmann would be able to point to the fact that he had only been on the job for 10 days and just a little over a month ago, the U.S. blew a two goal lead to this same team minus Chicharito.  But a draw is the best result for Klinsmann, it puts him in good stead with the fans ("at least we didn't lose to Mexico again") but avoids the unrealistice expectations that would come from a win.

Here are my conclusions about the game, such as it was.

1.  The Back Line and Playing Out of the Back.  It was clear from the effort and energy that everyone was putting out defending that Klinsmann wants this team to defend as a unit.  He also clearly wanted them attacking as a unit but that didn't happen because the U.S. featured a make-shift back line.  Bocanegra is still a good centerback--not great, but good, solid, dependable.  But what was missing for Klinsmann's attack as a unit/defend as a unit mentality was the ability to play the ball out of the back.  Orozco-Fiscal and Castillo can't do it.  I counted at least 6 times in the second half where Orozco-Fiscal just hoofed the ball foward toward Buddle and later Agudelo despite the presence of Beckerman, Cherundolo or Bradley within 15-20 yards for a simple, possession oriented pass, the kind of pass that Tim Ream or Clarence Goodson are excellent at making and confident enough in their own ability to make.  Goodson can claim experience, but Ream has as much or even less expereince than Orozco-Fiscal and will make the simple, high percentage pass.

By the same token, Edgar Castillo might be a fine attacking left back, but he appeared only comfortable doing so when the ball was in the U.S. attacking half.  Castillo didn't seem adept at moving the ball from the defensive third to the midfield third.  Some people will chalk this up to nerves and I might give Castillo the benefit of the doubt in the first half, but by the second half a professional player has to get past the nerves.

Tim Ream, Clarence Goodson and to a slightly lesser extent Carlos Bocanegra (of the players brought into camp) are far more comfortable with the ball at their feet, under pressure, and have the confidence to play the pass.  If the U.S. is to advance beyond its current level, our back lines has to be better with the ball at their feet.  The development of soccer playing centerbacks (as opposed to strapping, strong, hard men) is likely to take time and that is where Ream and Goodson have an advantage.  But until Klinsmann gets a back line capable of playing with the ball at their feet, the attack as a unit/defend as a unit is going to be lacking in the former department.

2.  Landon Donovan and the Strikers.  Edson Buddle is a decent striker--not world class, but serviceable.  The problem is that to be effective, he cannot operate alone, that much was obvious in the first half.  When Buddle was lighting it up in MLS a couple years ago, what did he have to help him?  Landon Donovan and Mike Magee to work off of him and several good midfielders to feed him him the ball.  Stuck on the right wing, Donovan did not have the freedom to burst through to Buddle holding the ball.  The central midfield triangle of Jones, Bradley and Beckerman left too much space (as Jorge Ramos noted last night, almost 30-35 yards at times) between them and Buddle to allow them to move through in transition for the few seconds that Buddle was able to hold the ball against three defenders.

What Wednesday proved is that Landon Donovan is most dangerous as a withdrawn striker.  Donovan's effectiveness as a player is diminished when tied to a position like left wing, but his skills, speed, vision and creativity are best used when he can move around.  Donovan's unpredictablity is the U.S. side's greatest asset.  When Juan Agudelo came on last night, his movement created problems for the Mexicans, left the Mexican back line a little disorganized (more so when Rafa Marquez left the game), and opened up opportunities for Donovan.  Agudelo's movement, combined with Donovan's movement made it impossible to predict where Donovan was going to pop up.  Since both players have pace and the ability to strike from anywhere, the U.S. was far more dangerous.  If Klinsmann wants Donovan on the left or right flank, then Klinsi will need to free Donovan to move around and to let a player like Steve Cherundolo to provide the width from the back.  This may call for a asymmetrical formation, but that may be what is needed.

Which brings me to Jozy Altidore.  Think back to 2009 and the Confederations Cup Semifinal against Spain and Final against Brazil.  How was Jozy most effective?  When he and Charlies Davies were working as a dual striker, even Spain's normally rock solid defense couldn't keep track of them.  Jozy and Charlie did not play a target striker/off striker set up, but when both were moving around the field, inside out or oustide in, somewhat independently, but aware of each other, they could pry open a defense either by themselves or opening the space for Donovan or Dempsey to do it.   People have looked at Jozy and thought that he has the size to be a target striker.  But while Jozy can do that, he is not best at it.  Since Brian McBride and Brian Ching, the U.S. has not had a truly effective target striker.  So I hope Klinsman will look at what happened last night, look at Jozy's performance two years ago and look for a way to exploit the things Donovan, Dempsey, Davies, Altidore and Agudelo do best---move.

3.  Three Players Who Improved their Stock.  Wednesday night, three players really made a solid case for continued inclusion in the Player Pool:  Kyle Beckerman, Brek Shea and Jose Torres.  I couldn't believe what I was seeing on my Twitter feed when people were saying Beckerman was the worst player on the field.  I couldn't disagree more, Beckerman was doing the job he was put in there to do...clean up in front of the (shaky) back line and serve as a conduit for transition.  He did the first part of his job superbly and the second part better than Jones and almost as good as Bradley.  Beckerman is, in my opinion, the best defensive/holding midfielder in MLS and very underrated by Bob Bradley.  Bradley could have put Beckerman in a holding role and freed up Michael Bradley or Stuart Holden to attack, knowing that there was someone in the hole to watch their back. Beckerman can do by himself, what Bob Bradley needed two players to accomplish--to do the dirty work in midfield.

Brek Shea was a revelation Wednesday and after several abortive attempts under Bob Bradley, Shea was probably in the minds of many people, going to be a fringe national teamer at best.  But his club coach, Schellas Hyndman has helped mature a promising young man into a professional.  With nine MLS goals this year, Shea is confident and has learned the game.  Shea's season with FC Dallas is impressive, but I always wondered if he could take the step to the national team.  Wednesday gave me hope.  He muscled his way to that assist on the U.S. goal, showing his strength.  He has pace and deft ball control and at 6'5" can dominate in the air.  He has always had these attributes, but the mental side of things was lacking; confidence was lacking.  Wednesday Shea was finding the open space and more importantly, literally screaming for the ball. Shea was not content to have the ball moved around to him, he was demanding the ball, being assertive.  That is the mark of confidence and that is what Shea's national team game was missing--a belief that he belonged on the pitch and had something to contribute.

Jose Torres is wasted on the left flank.  There, I said it.  He doesn't have the pace to play a winger and his close control and short passing cannot be put to use on the flank.  When, in the second half, he moved inside as Shea moved outside, Torres showed what he can do---play football.  With Torres helping to direct traffic, the U.S. was making shorter, faster, one-touch, two-touch, crisp passes that caused the Mexicans to back off.  Most of the time it was Torres at the center of those exchanges and that is what makes him valuable to Klinsmann and not so to Bob Bradley.  To play a unit style of soccer, there has to be a couple of players in the middle of the park to link everything together; think Xavi and Iniesta.  Without that, attacking and defending as unit will not work--one line or the other is going to get isolated.  Torres is one of those players and I think Stuart Holden is the other that could be the midfield glue.

4. Having Fun and Playing for Fun.  In the post game interview, Klinsmann said he is having fun.  To be honest, I think that is what I missed under Bob Bradley, a sense that the players and Bradley were having fun.  In the first half, it looked like the U.S. was not having any fun.  Maybe it was Bradley's personality, I don't know, but the U.S. rarely looked like they were having fun.

As a coach of young players (U7s and U8s) my job is to make sure they have fun while learning the game of soccer.  As they get older, I think professional players sometimes forget that they are getting paid to play A GAME.  Yes it is their job, but it should be fun too.

But in the second half, the whole half, it looked like the U.S. was having fun.  Maybe that is what Klinsmann said in the dressing room, "Come on boys, this is a game first--have fun!"  The last 25 minutes or so was not just the U.S. playing better football but playing for fun.  That energy, enthusiasm and the feeling of fun was almost palpable through the TV.  The players seemed more relaxed and more energetic.  They played beautiful football.  But most of all, they were playing a game--a game that should be fun first.  Maybe the change in ethos among the U.S. Team with Klinsmann at the helm will be a reminder that yes, you may be playing for national pride, but have some fun.  It looked like fun, they played like the were having fun and particularly in the last 25 minutes it was FUN TO WATCH.

As a fan, that is what I want, an enjoyable, FUN experience.