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.

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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.