Apr 18, 2013

These Are My Teams

Drop what you are doing right now and go read this post at the Shin Guardian about the power of the beautiful game to one man. (and while you are at it, start following the Shin Guardian--some of the best writing about soccer and topics related to soccer on the interwebs).

My US National Teams is a special symbol. More than any other sport, in my opinion, they have the makeup, background, and ability to represent what’s best about us all. A son of a Mexican immigrants giving his all to provide support for the son of a Haitian immigrant. 
German born offspring of American soldiers battle alongside a hard nosed Jersey boy and a rapping tattooed East Texan…who’s white I might add. 
Nowhere else will you find a man who overcomes an obstacle like Tourette syndrome every day to perform at the highest level. 
Because of who they are and the sport they play, they have the opportunity and responsibility to wear my colors and personify what’s best about my people.

All over the world, the power of sport has the ability to heal people like nothing else.  People of different religions, different socio-economic class, different heritage can coalesce around a game.  I remember the emotion of the first baseball game in New York after 9/11 and I can't stand watching baseball on TV.  I remember MLS matches following 9/11 and the first DC United home game after 9/11.  I couldn't get to the match--but I felt the same power.

The stories of fans singing the National Anthem at the Bruins game last night is a powerful reminder of the power of sport to heal.  Next year, you won't be able to tell one Boston Marathon runner from another, they will all be the same person, in the same shirt and rightfully so.

Yes, for me soccer is a defining experience in my life.  I measure my years by the numbers of World Cups I have seen.  My national teams show me what is possible in this nation of ours.  Many people might wonder about the impact of a diversification of our population.  But for me, it has always been its greatest strength.  You can put 100 Americans in a room together and you might not find any two remotely alike.  I have seen that on a soccer field and when it comes to sport in America--it is honestly the only time you see it.

When the National Soccer Teams take the field--more than any time, other than maybe the Olympics--you have the true power of what it means to be America in one place.  I can sit in a bar, a restaurant or even a public plaza with dozens, hundreds even thousands of people I don't know and I can experience, the joy, the wonder, the heartache, the pain, and the sheer oneness with them all--Americans.

Mar 27, 2013

In College Park, MD, Sasho Cirovski is Smiling

Look, come about 12:15 last night, I was getting nervous, I didn't want a heart break as the U.S. MNT grabbed the first World Cup Qualifying point out of Azteca stadium in 16 years.

But when the starting line-up was announced last night, the team included these three players:
Maurice Edu
Omar Gonzalez
Graham Zusi

Course, when the U.S. took to the snow in Denver for the SnowClassico, Zusi and Gonzalez were joined with Clarence Goodson, another former Terp.

All three are former Terps.  Yeah Sasho is smiling......I am too.


Mar 19, 2013

Four Times Unlucky

This just has to suck for the striker.  As a goalkeeper though, I live for this kind of magic.

Honestly, in almost 35 years of playing, coaching, refereeing and watching, I can honestly say that soccer never fails to surprise me from time to time.

Mar 13, 2013

Can I get a Witness? Sounders Second Half Comeback on 3 Stunning Goals

Witness the goalkeeping of Michael Gspurning!

Witness the skill of 19 year old rookie DeAndre Yedlin's volley for Seattle's First Goal!

Witness the wonder strike from Djimi Traore in Seattles come from behind, 3-1 (3-2 Agg) win over Tigres in the CONCACAF champions League Quarterfinal last night.  (Candidate for FIFA Goal of the Year?--methinks so.

Witness the wonder of Eddie Johnson's near impossible angle goal to give the Sounders the win!

How I wish I was a Century Link last night to Witness!!!!

I am a DC United fan through and through, but when it is CONCACAF Champions League--I am all about the MLS and last night was wonderful.

Feb 6, 2013

GAME DAY!!! USMNT at Honduras

Alas, paying job obligations keep me from a preview of my own, but suffice to say that the opening match is important for the USMNT.  Three points is not a total long shot, but my guess is that Jurgen Klinsmann will be happy with a point on the road.

Lots of different previews of today's match:  For ones that I like check out:

Ives Galarcep, Soccer by Ives here and podcast version here.

Grant Wahl of course here.

Charles Boehm for USSoccerplayers.com.

The always slightly irreverent, but usually very accurate, The Shinguardian's Official Preview.

Me, Three points and "watching" the game via MatchTracker.  Sucks but BeIN Sports is blocked at the office (I wonder why?)  Also not that ESPN3 is blocked also, so.....Damn law firms.

Feb 5, 2013

Andy Najar to RSC Anderlecht--Who is the Next Homegrown Player

In a not completely unexpected move, DC United Midfielder/Right Back Andy Najar completed a transfer to Belgian side RSC Anderlecht for an undisclosed fee, but believed to be somewhere between $2 million and $3 million.  After Najar's first year in the league, at age 17, you could see Najar was going places and that his time with DC United was limited--barring injury.  Now at the no longer tender age of 19, Najar is (already) in Europe.  If he keeps the current pace of progression up, expect that within 3 years, Najar is playing in one of the top four leagues in Europe.

But the big news is Najar's transfer is the first MLS Homegrown player to be transferred abroad, and for a not insubstantial sum of money, most of which goes to DC United, rather than MLS.  That begs the question,  who is next among the current crop of homegrown players that could be on the sale block for transfer overseas?

Certainly, with MLS in full pre-season, there is no certainty about rosters.  But at this link is a list of homegrown players that have been signed by MLS clubs, starting with Tristan Bowen (L.A. Galaxy) in 2008 to Michael Seaton (DC United) a little over two weeks ago.  So far, a total of 66 players have been signed to homegrown contracts, but not many of them have seen significant minutes as players.  Of the 66 signed so far, eight have been signed in the current off-season so clearly unable to have any contribution in 2012.

Of the remaining 57, 38 were active in 2012.  Of that 38, only 25 saw ANY minutes whatsoever.  Only ten homegrown players saw more than 200 minutes:

  1. Brent Richards (Portland)--201 min.
  2. Tristan Bowen (Chivas USA)--248 min.
  3. Diego Fagundez (New England)--770 min.
  4. Eric Gehrig (Columbus)--812 min
  5. Doneil Henry (Toronto)--1139 min.
  6. Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA & New York)--1570 min.
  7. Andy Najar (DC United)--2045 Min.
  8. Bill Hamid (DC United)--2087 Min.
  9. Connor Lade (New York)--2088 Min.
  10. Ashtone Morgan (Toronto)--2528 Min.

To be realistic, it is probably only the list from Henry to Morgan who we can realistically think about potential transfers to Europe in the next two-three years.

So of the players, Henry, Agudelo, Hamid, Lade and Morgan, who is most likely to go?

Of course, lots of people expect that Juan Agudelo will be the next player to transfer to Europe.  Agudelo scored only three goals last season, for an average of one goal every 523 minutes, or almost once in every SIX games.  Agudelo is going to have to score more if he is going to impress as a striker.  True, he spent most of the season with Chivas, a team that managed a paltry 24 goals all season, but if Agudelo is going to garner attention from clubs across the Atlantic Ocean, he had better start finding the back of the net with some regularity.  It is true that Agudelo has a lot of talent as a striker, but you get paid to score as a striker.

As a young goalkeeper, Bill Hamid has progressed miles in the past two seasons since winning the starting job for the Black & Red.  There is no denying that Hamid is a fabulous shot stopper.  He is also comfortable taking the cross and has gotten very good at directing his defenders.  But the knock on Hamid, and rightfully so, is that he cannot control his emotions.  I do see Hamid making a move overseas, but since goalkeepers typically have long careers, see Keller, Kasey and Freidel, Brad, he will benefit from a couple more seasons with DC United before making a move.

Connor Lade looks like he is 15 and is a long way from a move overseas.  Yes, he is a fine right back, but he needs to improve in just about all areas of his game to get beyond the MLS level.  He has a tendency to get burned on defense and he is not a sharp with his attacking play as he needs to be.  Lade is a good MLS right back, but that is not going  to earn him a transfer.  If New York can get their head out of the collective backsides, and the drama in the dressing room is minimized, Lade may have a solid future.  The question is whether Mike Petke and Robin Fraser can develop the talent.

Looking like a classic centerback is nothing for Doneil Henry.  Tall, but not too lanky; strong, but not slow; Henry has the physical tools to be a good centerback.  However, he needs some time to strengthen both his technical game, to play out of the back and improve his decision making.  but Henry is getting time with the Canadian U20 squad and spent time with the senior Canandian Squad, seeing impressive minutes against the United States.  What is good for Henry (besides youth and talent)?  His coach is Ryan Nelsen, a coach who has played at the highest levels as a centerback.  It is possible to see Henry make big strides this year.

Ashtone Morgan is complete defender, gifted with speed, good defensive skills and an attacking verve that should improve with a few more games.  Morgan, although just approaching age 22, has been a solid two year contributor.  Morgan is perhaps in the best position of all of these five players to make a quick move overseas.  He has been consistent in his play, has made contributions to the attack with five assists last year and two assists in 2011 when he first earned starts for Toronto.  Despite the general shambles of the Toronto front office in recent years, the fact that they identified both Morgan and Henry and have brought them along well is a positive sign for the Canadian side.

If I had to place odds on which of these players moves abroad in the next two years, I would put my money on Morgan.

What do you think?  Can Hamid mature sooner?  Will the Canucks claim the next homegrown player transfer?  Can Agudelo live up to the promise?

Alex Morgan as Katy Perry

for ESPN The Magazine's Music issue.

Yeah--she is smoking hot.  Kudos to the Hair and Make-up team cause Alex Morgan does not much look like Katy Perry.

Feb 4, 2013

Five Talking Points: USMNT Roster for Honduras WCQ

For reasons best known to him, US coach Jurgen Klinsmann waited until today to announce his squad for the first Hexagonal World Cup Qualifying Match against Honduras in San Pedro Sula on Wednesday.  (to be fair, Klinsmann said he wanted to make sure people didn't get hurt in the weekend's matches, but it is not like he couldn't name others on short notice if necessary--whatever.)

Here is the Roster:

GOALKEEPERS (3) : Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire)
DEFENDERS (9) : Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Carlos Bocanegra (Racing Santander), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Timmy Chandler (Nuremberg), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Michael Parkhurst (Augsburg)
MIDFIELDERS (8) : Michael Bradley (Roma), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Maurice Edu (Bursaspor), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht ), Jose Torres (Tigres), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FORWARDS (4 ): Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Clint Dempsey (Tottenham Hotspur), Herculez Gomez (Santos), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders)

1.  If there are any surprises on this roster, it would be the Brad Evans and Brad Davis.  Brad Davis did not supremely impress in the match against Canada, although he was better that Brad Evans.  Though to be honest, Evans played much better at right back than in central midfileder.  That said, I don't see either starting this match.

2.  Sean Johnson now needs to shave his head--he has wayyyy too much hair for a USMNT goalkeeper.  Still I think he has earned this call up.

3.  Centerback pairing is kind of an interesting question.  The inclusion of Mo Edu on this list suggests that Klinsmann is keeping his options open, with the former Terp having played as a centerback for Klinsmann in the past.  However, I suspect that we will see Omar Gonzalez line up next to Carlos Bocanegra.

4.  The striker corps presents an interesting conundrum for Klinsmann.  Jozy Altidore has been hot, red hot in the Eredivisie, but in the past has not been able to translate that in to success for the Red, White and Blue. Add to the equation that Eddie Johnson has proven himself to be far better holding the ball as a target striker than Altidore.  Dempsey is too good a player to leave on the bench, so will we see a 4-3-3 that Klinsmann likes but that most U.S. players are not used to playing?

5.  If there was ever a chance for Timmy chandler to redeem himself in the eyes of U.S. fans this game will be it.  Almost assured of starting--short of being caught in bed with a teammates wife--Chandler is going to need to provide width if Klinsmann goes 4-3-3 and that will put a big burden on him.

Bonus Talking Point:  Too many Brads on this squad and too many Johnsons, I don't like it.

My predicted line up

-------Altidore ------------  E. Johnson-------

----------------D. Williams---------------------



Jan 30, 2013

Five Talking Points--USMNT 0:0 Canada--Two Words UGGG---LLYYY

We have all had that morning after bad date experience right?  The morning after the beer goggle moment where it looks like you have found a sexy young thing to spend the night with but you wake up feeling not only violated, but lied to?  Where morning hideousness makes you wonder what the frak was I thinking?  Yeah--that was last night.

Like most US Soccer fans, I am prepared to suffer late nights to be coupled with early mornings, odd line-ups and tactical situations, crappy refereeing from Central American officiating crews, terrible television commentating (although I liked the half-time bit between Taylor Twellman and Alexi Lalas.  Those guys should be calling games together.  No offense to Adrian Healy or Arlo White).  I was prepared for a lesser standard of play from the USMNT last night simply because it was the January camp and most of the players are, frankly, B level players.  I was prepared for Canada to bunker 9, 10, or even 11 men behind the ball.  But I woke this morning with a serious case of beer goggle hangover.  And I am feeling violated.

Last's nights match was simply ugly with a capital U.

I know that not every match is going to be pretty, but aside from about 1.1 seconds of Sean Johnson save brilliance and a three pass sequence in the first half, I can't remember anything truly pretty about that game.

The match left me wondering why I stayed up to watch the whole thing and wondering if I should ask Comcast for a refund of my cable bill for last night.

I think my ability to do extra reps in my workout this morning can be attributed to anger at the performance last night.

It was Post-50 First Dates Adam Sandler movie bad.

It was wondering if I could get a ruffie to forget it bad.

It was 11:00 am dorm hall walk of shame with the not hot one night stand calling after you that you forgot your underwear bad.

So, now that little rant is over, on to the talking points, as there was a few things that can be gleaned from last night's soccer famine.

  1. Eddie Johnson--Grown Ass Man has grown up a lot.  Maybe it is the tutelage of Sigi Schmidt, maybe it is the humility that comes with age and experience, but Grown Ass Man looked like a pretty decent target striker last night.  He held the ball well and played well with his back to the goal.  But when GAM went wide, he really made trouble for the Canadian back line.  The problem, although not of Johnson's making, was that there was few opportunities for him and the USMNT to exploit the space he created.  I can see an Eddie Johnson/Jozy Altidore pairing up top in Honduras.
  2. Omar Gonzalez is the real deal.  A while back, I argued that A.J. De La Garza was actually the better defender from the long time tandem, and he may be the better defender.  But Gonzalez is the better soccer player.  Gonzalez was frequently up in the attack, not just on set plays, but starting attacks from the back with sharp passing.  If Gonzalez can keep that kind of play going, it would not surprise me in the least to see a Gonzalez/Geoff Cameron pairing in Brazil 2014.
  3. Oh, Michael, Michael, Wherefore art though Michael Bradley?  It was clear that the U.S. was missing a player like Bradley, a general who can dictate the pace of the match, spray the ball around and unlock a packed midfield.  To say that Brad Evans was better playing right back rather than the top of a midfield diamond is a minor understatement.   Benny Feilhaber was better than I have seen him during his limited appearance, but right now, I don't see any kind of competition for Michael Bradley for that midfield general role.
  4. Josh Gatt--Lightning Contained. I love his speed, I love his willingness to take on players, I love the fact that he is true winger.  But Josh Gatt cannot play against a five man midfield.  Wingers like to dribble, wingers like to run and if it is too stuffed in the midfield, there is nowhere to run.  You can make the argument that Gatt needs to find his own space to run, but ....
  5. Juan Agudelo--Super Sub?  The young Chivas USA striker did what substitutes are supposed to do, make an impact.  Agudelo was all over the place, picking up the ball, taking risks, taking shots, drawing fouls in dangerous spots.  He was energetic with the U.S. needed him to be.  Find the holes in the defense a little better and Agudelo will be a terror as a super sub.
We all know that Jurgen Klinsmann was looking for lessons in the friendly rather than a result.  The big lesson is that a young, MLS centric team does not have enough tactical skill to unlock a packed midfield.  

We have all had that experience, but last nights beer goggles were pretty bad and I for one want to put them back in the closet.

Jan 8, 2013

Five Talking Points--USMNT January Camp

Five talking points about the USMNT Roster for the January Camp.

Just as a quick reminder, here is the roster:
GOALKEEPERS- Tally Hall (Houston Dynamo), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire)

DEFENDERS-Steven Beitashour (San Jose Earthquakes), Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), A.J. DeLaGarza (LA Galaxy), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Connor Lade (New York Red Bulls), Alfredo Morales (Hertha Berlin), Justin Morrow (San Jose Earthquakes), Jeff Parke (Philadelphia Union)

MIDFIELDERS- Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (out of contract), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Joshua Gatt (Molde), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

FORWARDS- Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA), Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo), Edson Buddle (Colorado Rapids), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

To the Points:  

1.  I can't remember the last time a USMNT roster featured two outside midfielders who could serve the ball with as much aplomb as Brad Davis and Graham Zusi.  Two set piece service maestros.  Seems to me like a match made in heaven--so that means we won't see them together.  Shame, that could be a lot of fun to watch them on the pitch together.

2.  Besler or Gonzalez?  If you accept the (semi-conventional) wisdom that Geoff Cameron has solidified a place in Klinsmann's back line corps, who between Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler has the chops to make the step up to partner with Cameron with the surely imminent departure of Carlos Bocanegra from the regular national team fold.  (on that point- is Bocanegra really on the outs?)

3.  Speaking of Gonzalez, can he and his L.A. Galaxy and Maryland Terrapin teammate A.J. De La Garza make an impact on the national team as they have in college and MLS?  The versatility of De La Garza to play either right or left back has to be give him the edge to start in this corps.  Truly has there ever been as consistent a pairing of players through all levels as these two?  I think not.

4.  Klinsmann has said that between 5 and 8 of these players will likely be held in camp for the Honduras World Cup Qualifier.  That list, I suspect will include, Hamid, Beckerman, Gonzalez, Zusi, Johnson and Wondolowski.  On the bubble will be Gatt and Besler.  

5.    It would be easy to look at this as Benny Feilhaber's final chance to impress Klinsmann for inclusion in World Cup Qualifying rosters, but I suspect that his inclusion is no throw-away.  Can Feilhaber capture that Gold Cup magic in a bottle (or in a volley) and catapault himself back into contention--particularly in light of the doubts surrounding Landon Donovan's future?  A strong camp will do that for him.

Projected Line-Up vs. Canada (4-1-3-2)


De La Garza---Gonzalez---Besler---Beitashour

Gatt --------------Zusi---------------Feilhaber----