Mar 31, 2011

McCarthy's Musings: Designated player model continues its evolution -

McCarthy's Musings: Designated player model continues its evolution -

Mar 30, 2011

Now That is Fandom

Watching your team in the afterlife.....a true fan.

Fans bring dead friend, in his coffin, to Colombian soccer match |

Mar 14, 2011

MLS, Refereeing Standards and the 2011 Season

Last week, MLS Commissioner Don Garber made some comments about officiating for the upcoming MLS season--which thankfully is starting tomorrow.  Garber wants to see a drastic reduction in studs up challenges, better and more accurate offside calls and a cracking down on the practical muggings that some defenders in the league get away with among other things.  Garber wants more attacking soccer and I agree.  While Garber's comments are certainly welcome--he doesn't get any say in the priorities for officiating--that duty belongs to the U.S. Soccer Federation.

That is not to say that Garber's and MLS' wishes on officiating will go unheeded, but MLS doesn't hire or appoint the officials for MLS games, the USSF and the Canadian Soccer Federation do.  The USSF sets out priorities that it wants MLS referees and indeed referees at all levels to be especially watchful for, in addition to enforcing the laws of the game.  In the past, there has been an emphasis on blows to the head, handling the ball offenses, denial of obvious goal scoring opportunities and the like.  It is not that MLS and Garber are wrong--I think everyone in the game will appreciate the significant reduction or elimination of studs up tackles or making sure we get offside calls right and the like.

I don't think Garber is criticizing referees just to be critical.  He has a product to sell and attacking soccer puts people in the stands.  So his criticisms should be considered in that light.  But critiques of refereeing have been, it seems to me, growing steadily.

Referees are, more and more, criticized for making decisions that affect the outcome of the game.  But that is not a phenomenon unique to MLS.  Indeed it can happen at any level and I have been the referee who had to make that fateful decision.  Referees worldwide, even some of the best in the game, are consistently criticized by coaches, players and fans.  Most of the criticisms are not well founded, formulated, as they usually are, in the conspiracies of fandom.  As a fan, I sometimes wish more calls went my team's way.  But, as a referee I usually don't want to hear from anyone who has never passed a certification test, let alone actually picked up a whistle and called a game at any level, let alone one anywhere close to a professional level.

There are many calls to do something about refereeing, but there has to be a starting point.  As a referee there should be two goals for every game, at any level:  1.  Keep the players as safe as possible; and 2. Enforce the laws of the game consistently.

The challenge facing Garber and USSF is the second.  Much of the criticism of referees stems from a lack of consistency.  What one referee believes to be a good challenge might get called as foul by another.  What one referee considers a yellow card offense, another might believe warrants a talking and yet another might consider a straight red card offense.  There may be some inconsistencies in between referees that can never be eliminated.  Sit in any high level seminar for referees looking at game situations and you might get many divergent opinions on what to do in a given situation.

But what MLS and USSF could do is start helping referees become more consistent with themselves.  I believe that is where the problem lies, not necessarily inconsistency between referees, but inconsistency by the same referee.  The most difficult six words in may of the laws of the game are "in the opinion of the referee."  This allows for discretion by the referee to apply the laws in a common sense way consistent with the game.  The problem may that individual referees themselves are internally inconsistent with themselves.  While a referee's opinion may change over time, you would hope that the change would A) not happen in the span of one game and B) happen slowly over time in relation to other developments in the game.

My proposal would be instead of looking at each game in isolation as an evaluative tool, MLS and USSF should be looking at a referee's performance over multiple games and seeking to make the individual referee consistent in his application of the laws of the game over time--not just in one game, but in an entire season.  In short make sure the referees opinion is consistently applied.  Helping referees to be consistent with themselves will go a long way to improving refereeing--in the MLS and in other leagues.

Mar 8, 2011

Sporting KC Teams with Lance Armstrong's LIVESTRONG in Stadium Naming

This is just plain cool. LIVESTRONG® Enters Into Landmark Partnership With Sporting Club To Name New Stadium LIVESTRONG® Sporting Park.

It seems like some MLS clubs are getting their off the field activities lined up and Sporting KC seems to be one of those clubs. A new stadium and a brilliant sponsor guaranteed to bring in revenue for the club as well as revenue for Armstrong's Foundation.

LIVESTRONG is the brand of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, created in 1997 by the cancer survivor and champion cyclist to serve people living with cancer and empower communities to take action. For the duration of the agreement, a portion of all stadium revenues, including ticket sales and concessions, will fund the foundation’s advocacy work. The partnership will also help launch the development of local cancer survivorship services for Kansas City residents.

“LIVESTRONG is honored to bring its mission to Kansas City through LIVESTRONG Sporting Park,” said Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor, champion cyclist and LIVESTRONG founder and chairman. “Professional sports provide a powerful vehicle to affect positive change in the world. LIVESTRONG’s partnership with Sporting Club gives us an innovative opportunity to advance the cancer fight in this region and we are eager to get started.”

“Sports are a unifying force in bringing people together,” said Doug Ulman, LIVESTRONG president and CEO. “LIVESTRONG Sporting Park is more than just a stadium – it’s the first athletic venue in the world with a social change mission and offers an ideal arena to champion the cancer cause.”

That is well done, Sporting KC.

Quick Free Kicks

There are two sites out there that do great, long form interviews with soccer, Adam Spangler at This Is American Soccer and the boys at The Shinguardian.

Matthew at the Shinguardian recently had a long interview with MLS Director of Player Programs Alfonso Mondelo, and it is plenty insightful to say the least.  Among many roles Mondelo performs is programming for the MLS Academies--which are starting to pay off in terms of providing players for the first team on every team.

CONCACAF had been campaigning for a fourth full spot for the 2014 World Cup, but didn't get it.  I am not sure that the confederation was deserving of a fourth full spot, but I can see why Ewok Chief Chuck Blazer was upset.  Maybe if more leaders at FIFA started to get a bit more upset, we might see some changes.

UEFA Champions League returns today and the tastiest match up is Barcelona-Arsenel.  Well worth sitting in a pub watching or otherwise ditching work.

Don't look now, but the US Women's National Team is putting together a solid run at the Algarve Cup in Portugal.  As a tune-up for the Women's World Cup this summer, the U.S. has put together three wins in three matches over Norway, Japan and Finland.  The women put four past Finland, including a brace from young striker Alex Morgan.  The U.S. will place Iceland (yes that is right Iceland) in the final.  Iceland had beaten Sweden, China and Denmark to advance to the final.

Mar 4, 2011

Special 1 TV

Cabbage continues his stinking tweets.

Nelson is "LMFAO"!

The Boy makes an "independent editorial decision" that backfires.

The Special 1 gets humble?!?!?!

Brilliant Stuff!

Mar 2, 2011

Real Salt Lake 4:1 Columbus Crew

In the CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal 2nd Leg and it could have been worse. Will Johnson with a bomb in the first half that clangs upright, a second half corner headed off the crossbar and several wonderful saves by Ray Burse, it could have easily been 7 or more.

Rio Tinto was rocking even in below freezing weather and RSL looked good, real good. I was very impressed by everyone, particularly Saborio and Morales. Man, they look like they could be this years Casey/Cummings pair and it is just pre-season. Andy Williams' free kick for the fourth goal--just so sweet!

RSL will face the winner of Olimpia (PAN) and Saprissa (CRA) in the semi-finals. If RSL can keep it even on the away leg, Rio Tinto should help them get through to the finals, where they will face Mexican competition in Cruz Azul (who also advanced last night), Monterrey or Toluca.

Mar 1, 2011

American Player Development and the Bradenton Academy

Over the weekend, the US Men's U17 Team Qualified for the 14th consecutive FIFA U17 World Cup to be held in Mexico this summer.  The win came on the back of some lackluster performances by a team that routinely looked to be the second best team on the pitch.  The final match, against a quality Canadian side, was won with a spectacular goal by Nathan Smith and a pair of insurance goals in extra time, which may have been more the result of better fitness rather than any better technical skill by the Americans.

Still, qualifying and winning the regional qualifying tournament, even if Mexico and their technical skill was not participating, is a good thing.  But the performance and technical skill, or rather the lack thereof, is cause for a massive reconsideration in the way in which our youth national teams are managed and trained.   But, I am not the first, nor likely the last, to call for a change to Bradenton and the current regime of developing our young players.  It is not just about the young men, but also about our young women, for even as the 2011 Women's World Cup is set to begin in Germany this summer, the U17 WNT did not qualify for its World Cup.

Unlike Jason Davies, who sees problems with the number of U.S. boys in MLS academies as opposed to the Canadian side, I don't worry about the young MNT or WNT players being associated with non-MLS development academy teams.  Rather, I think the Bradenton Academy is now doing a disservice to the technical development of young American players because the pool of talent that is being drawn from is much wider, and deeper, than what is represented by the players brought into the Academy.  But at the youth national team level, there is a big and growing disconnect between the U17 level and U20 level.  While almost uniformly amateur at the U17 level, the U20 level--both in the U.S. and abroad--is almost entirely professional in nature.  That disconnect might be at the heart of Davis' piece, whether he intended it or not, the fact is that the Canadian boys spend more of their time playing against professionals and that will improve their game.  But the American players don't spend as much of their time training and playing with professional players.

So what to do, end Bradenton as the destination for the best American young players--both for the men's and women's program.  Instead, for the U17 boys and girls programs, the single academy should be replaced with regular, regional "residency" camps.

There are 10 regions in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy set up.  Each of these regions usually has a "select" team which is the foundation for the regional residency camps.  Each of these regional residencies are short term--three weeks or so  in length, 4-6 times a year.  But during the camps, the focus for games should be against professional sides (MLS reserves/Academies, USL/NASL) or against top collegiate programs.  The camps should be no more than 30 players, which develops a pool of 300 or so players to draw from for National Team camps.

Focus should be on technical ball handling.  I know it is important to teach tactics and formations to young players, but at the age of 14/15/16, the players should still be spending as much time, if not more, on technical skills and ball control.  I would suggest at least 1:1 or 1.5:1 technical to tactical training ratio.  Players at that age can see the tactics of upper age groups and will try to emulate that so coaches at this level need to be giving the skills to make the tactics work.

These regional residency programs should work like professional teams do, providing a place for players and coaches to develop a style of play unique to that region, much like professional clubs have a unique style and then the national team coach should be in a position to pick a national team squad from a pool of 300 or more players, just like Bob Bradley or Thomas Rongen does before tournaments.  Coaches at the Development Academy club level and these regional residency programs should be focused on developing the player as a technical player.  The National Team Coach should be focused on picking a camp of the 30 best players available in the weeks immediately prior to a competition, just like Rongen and just like Bob Bradley do, not selecting 40 or so players for an academic semester.

The fact is, the growth of the Development Academy (and why isn't there a girls aspect to the DA yet) makes Bradenton obsolete.  The growth of the MLS academies and the connections between the DA clubs and overseas clubs (and associated scouting networks) no longer means that Bradenton is the destination for the best young American players nor should it be.  The youth national teams should be focused on the same mission as the full national teams--fielding the best 25 players possible.  The task of player development needs to be lower, at the DA club level  or lower.

USMNT U17 Wonder-Strike

No matter what age you are, this is a great strike:

Congrats to the U17 USMNT for Winning CONCACAF U17 World Cup Qualifying Tournament. Hats off to the Canadians as well. On to Mexico in the summer.