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.