Aug 31, 2012

Demspey to Spurs

BenSmithBBC is reporting that Tottenham and Fulham have agreed to a transfer fee and Dempsey is at Spurs lodge undergoing a quick medical and to negotiate personal terms.

Clint Dempsey and the Transfer Market

I am attempting to put my homer hat on a shelf and take a good long look at the Clint Dempsey transfer saga.  Since the end of last season, speculation has run rampant that Dempsey, arguably the best American field player to ever suit up for a Premier League side, would leave the confines of Craven Cottage for climes with a more cash.  In particular, there were rumors that Dempsey would move to Arsenel or Liverpool.  To be sure, Dempsey was certainly looking for a chance to play Champions League soccer.  But as the summer wore on, the market for Dempsey seemed soft.

That leads to the question of why?  Let's take a look at Dempsey and his time a Fulham.

From his early days at Fulham, he proved adept at two things.  First, he regularly scored goals and for every year he was fully healthy, he scored more goals each year than he did the year before.  Dempsey became a Fulham hero in his first year when he scored the goal that saved the Cottagers from relegation in 2007.  In the 2011/12 season, the Texan scored 23 goals across all competitions for Fulham, rightfully earning him Club Player of the Season honors as well as consideration for Professional Footballers Association Player of the Year.

Second, every time the manager merry-go-round at Fulham forced managers to change, Dempsey earned his way in to the starting XI.  Each time.

Dempsey has displayed his versatility as a player, playing as striker, withdrawn striker and midfielder.  He was able to score no matter where he was placed in a line-up.  He is a relentless player, playing until he drops and never quitting.

So, in the summer after his most successful year as a professional, why is it the Dempsey might be headed not to Arsenal or Liverpool or even Tottenham?  Why, if the rumors are correct, is Dempsey probably headed to another mid-table team in England?

Clearly, the market for Dempsey is not as strong as either he thought or for that matter, his agent, or American fans.  There could be the xenophobic explanation--i.e. Dempsey is an American and therefore not someone that would be considered good enough.  But while there may be some doubts about Dempsey because he is an American, it cannot be said that Dempsey is couldn't play on Champions League teams.  He has succeeded on every team he has ever played on, and did so despite his supposed "American" handicap.  If American fans think that is the reason, we will never get past that mindset until such time as the U.S. wins the World Cup, when ever that may be.

Rather the reason for a soft transfer market for Dempsey is probably three-fold.  Dempsey can be incredibly streaky as a player.  When he is "on" he is really on and a threat to score at any moment.  But there are many times, sometimes in big games, that Dempsey is practically a non-entity.  That has happened for the U.S. MNT and for Fulham.  Yes, last year was a great year for Dempsey, but it is hard to ignore the streaky nature of his play.

Second, is what is Dempsey's best role?  Striker, withdrawn striker, central midfield, flank player?  Dempsey's versatility may actually be his downfall.  Dempsey may be able to work as a striker, but he would need to be a withdrawn striker as he is better going at people, coming into the attack.  That is not to say he can't hold the ball up and take the abuse a target striker has to take on occasion, but it is not his best role.  In a fairly traditional 4-4-2, Dempsey can work either at the top of a diamond midfield. or on the right flank.  But with a number of teams moving into a 4-3-3, Dempsey may not fit very well anywhere.  Hence, Sunderland's interest, which is a much more traditional set up.

Third, and finally, Dempsey is 29.  He is at that magic age, and likely his peak, as a field player.  In the past clubs have overpaid for players (and some clubs still overpay in the transfer market).  But in the current world, Dempsey, at his age, is not going to have a massive future transfer value.  If he gets a three or four year deal, he will be 33.  His next move maybe back to MLS, a league with notorious reluctance to pay any transfer fee, so they would take him on a free.  Without any future transfer value, this is his last big move and as a result, his current transfer value is going to be smaller.

With the transfer window about to close, the dealing for Dempsey maybe intense but if I were putting money down, if Dempsey is going to leave Craven Cottage, it will be for the Stadium of Light and Sunderland, not Anfield.

Aug 22, 2012

USMNT Away Matches for World Cup Qualifying

Steven Goff, the Washington Post's Soccer Insider, has been burning up Twitter this morning with the news that the fledgling outfit BeIn Sport has the U.S. TV rights to CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying matches including all of the U.S. MNT's away matches during World Cup Qualifying, beginning with the Jamaica--US match.

The sports channel, owned by Qatar based Al Jazeera (an tidbit that has been left out of press releases for some pretty obvious political reasons), has been buying up the rights to the worlds top leagues, including La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1, and others.  In fact, the network has been splashing the cash like crazy like a Las Vegas whale on a bender.

What does this mean for the U.S. MNT?

All of their away matches in World Cup Qualifying, including this round and the hexagonal, will be carried by BeIn Sport.  BeIn sport is currently carried in the U.S. on DirectTV and Dish Network.  While they are actively seeking space on other cable carriers, currently there are only satellite feeds.  As Goff has pointed out, the home teams own the rights to broadcasts.  So while ESPN and/or NBC will show the home games, U.S. Soccer has no control over the away matches and cannot sell the rights.

With so much cash to spend around, other CONCACAF Members will snap up the generous payment for rights being offered, something that CONCACAF has a particular reputation for doing.  Not that I blame the other national federations, so many countries are seeking additional funds to keep up.  All BeIn has to do is come in with a bid that is 10-15% higher than anyone's bid and watch the rights flow in like so much water.  While it is clear that no federation has to do business with Al Jazeera/BeIn Sport, the kind of money flowing from Qatar is hard to ignore.

So what will happen?  In theory BeIn could sell a transmission to ESPN or NBC or Fox for transmission in the U.S. (a good short term but expensive idea given that a U.S. Jamaica match which is the biggest draw in the group won't come anywhere close to the viewership that U.S.-Mexico will pull in).  Of course, BeIn Sport is making a big push to contact cable providers and get on systems (which you can do here) through out the U.S.  That probably won't help for the Jamaica game, but might be plausible by the time the Hex rolls around.

Also, Goff notes that his information does not indicate that BeIn Sport will be streaming the games on their website.


Update:  8/22 1:21p.m.  Comcast states that they are currently working with BeIn Sports to provide service Xfinity customers.

A Good Idea.

Aug 21, 2012


In Defense of Mark Geiger

Referees are the participants in a soccer game that everyone loves to hate.  Let's face it, even the most experienced people in the game usually find something to criticize about referees.  Whether it was Graham Poll and his infamous three yellow card performance in the 2006 World Cup or Howard Webb's complete failure to see Nigel De Jong's kung fu kick to the chest in the 2010 World Cup final, fans, players, coaches, pundits and even other referees always find something to complain about when it comes to refereeing.

There has been a great deal written about the DC United-Philadelphia Union match from Sunday, I have had a chance to sit and think about a few things when it comes to the performance of referee Mark Geiger.  NCB Sports announcer Arlo White repeatedly said the this was Geiger's 100 match as a MLS referee.  Geiger was also the U.S. and CONCACAF representative to the London Olympic Games.  So, let's get one thing off the table right now--Geiger is an experienced referee.  He is not foolish, he is not a bad referee.  

Did Geiger have a bad night?  I would say yes and no.  Everyone is going to look at the final 10-15 minutes of the match and wonder what happened.  There have been all kinds of stats being thrown out regarding Geiger's penchant for reaching for the pocket and pulling the red card.  For example, the aforementioned Arlo White tweeted that Geiger has awarded 10 red cards in 12 MLS matches and two during the Olympics.  Now assuming that is accurate (and I have no reason to doubt White's statistical information) the question becomes what were the circumstances in which Geiger awarded red cards.  Just a couple of quick notes on some of those 10 red cards in 12 MLS games this year:

May 12, 2012--Chivas USA v. L.A. Galaxy--red card awarded to David Junior Lopes for denial of a goal scoring opportunity by use of hands (DOGSO-H).  That is a straight red card and was clearly warranted.

June 16, 2012--Montreal Impact v. Seattle Sounders--Seattle's Jhon Kennedy Hurtado received a straight red for a denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity when Hurtado hacked down Montreal's Collen Warner as Warner was about to enter the penalty area for a strike on goal.  

July 7, 2012--Real Salt Lake v. Portland Timbers.  Portland's Diego Chara received a red card for DOGSO-H when he used his hands to prevent Alvarao Saborio's header from going in the goal in the 73rd minute.

So let's talk about Sunday night's three red card tally.  The scuffle that earned DC United's Branko Boskovic his marching orders was not shown on TV and I haven't seen other video.  But it seems to me that Gieger and his Assistant Referee did talk about it.  What is surprising is that Philadelphia's Roger Torres only got a yellow card.  However, if Boskovic threw a punch, whether he connected or not, is violent conduct and deserves a sending off.  The MLS Box score says that Boskovic got sent off for "Argument."  Dissent is not a red card offensive, but foul and abusive language is.  So perhaps that is what the card was for.  In either event, foul or abusive language or violent conduct, per the Laws of the Game, it is a red card offense.

United's Emilio Dudar was sent off for a harsh challenge late in the game.  Dudar came in from behind, with his studs up.  This was not a case of Dudar clattering into an opponent while on his feet or a reckless studs up challenge from the front or the side.  This "challenge" came from behind.  The Laws of the Game contain three levels of fouls.  

“Careless” means that the player has shown a lack of attention or consideration when making a challenge or that he acted without precaution. No further disciplinary sanction is needed if a foul is judged to be careless
“Reckless” means that the player has acted with complete disregard to the danger to, or consequences for, his opponent. A player who plays in a reckless manner must be cautioned
“Using excessive force” means that the player has far exceeded the necessary use of force and is in danger of injuring his opponent. A player who uses excessive force must be sent off 

In the opinion of Geiger, Dudar's foul used excessive force and endangered the safety of his opponent.  Red card.

On commentator decided to pick apart Geiger's performance, casting doubt on Geiger's performance early in the game, particularly the 37th minute yellow card against Sheanon Williams for "Time wasting."  First there is no such think, it is called "Delaying the Restart of Play."  Now, Geiger is pretty good, but while he was correct within the laws of the game, I think he made a mistake here.  He was too quick with the yellow card, but DC United Coach Ben Olsen was standing right behind Williams complaining about it.  Williams was slowly walking down the pitch and took his sweet time take the throw in.  It was a call within the laws of the game. The problem was that the Williams yellow card probably weighed on Geiger's mind, which is probably what Union midfielder was still in the game after the about the 60th minute.  LaHoud committed a harsh tackle in the 44th minute and got booked for it.  But in the second half, Geiger gave LaHoud a number of talks after fouls which were yellow card worthy.  But Geiger kept him in the game.

People talk about common sense among referees and in fact in training, referees are called upon to rely on Law 18--common sense--when officiating games.  But really what Geiger's problem was not a lack of common sense but a lack of consistency.  He was not consistent in his application of the laws of the game.  He could have, and probably should have, sent off  players (LaHoud in particular) a lot sooner.

But here is the defense Geiger and all those people talking the performance of referees.  Unless you have refereed a game, you can have no idea how fast you have to make decisions.  A referee has at best two seconds to see a play, determine if there is a foul, what foul it is, whether to apply advantage, call a foul and whether circumstances warrant the issuance of a card.  A referee must do this dozens of times a game.  A referee does not have the luxury of instant replay, he must rely upon his eyes, his judgment and the assistance of his assistant referees and fourth official.

In all likelihood, the most critical review of Geiger's performance will come from Geiger himself.  He is a professional, he will examine his performance and look for ways to improve.    Before we line up to figuratively lynch Geiger, maybe we should take a long hard look at the players themselves.  In the end, no referee "gives" a red card, every player who is sent off "earned" that red card.

Must See Own Goal.

File under "Not Surprised"