Thursday, December 13, 2007

Observations from Sigi online chat

Interesting chat with Columbus Crew coach Sigi Schmid. While I am frequently critical of MLS, there is nothing like the Crew fan base. Crew Stadium will someday be remembered as the Plymouth Rock of a real soccer culture in this country. Walking to a game, you watch the fans tailgate and juggle in loose circles all around the stadium. Every Crew corner kick has the metal rafters shaking as people stomp their feet. Beautiful atmosphere with knowledgeable, fun fans. And Amber Bock at the concessions.

Crew fans deserve a decent team, but since Brian McBride got his just desserts in the UK, it has been simply grim. Should there be optimism? A few thoughts:

  • "You're always trying to look at positional needs, which are important, but you're also trying to find the best soccer players available."
    • More of the latter please, Sigi. In my humble opinion, the Crew needs talent. Period. You have Schelotto, Gaven (kindof), and Marshall. That's it. If you look over the hill you'll see Frankie "I used to run fast" Hejduk and Alejandro "I score a goal every 5 games--look it up" Moreno, but that's it. Carrol's a nice addition, but not enough to turn so many close losses and ties into wins. The team simply lacks talented footballers.
  • "The needs for us are to add a quality forward, an experienced central midfielder, like to pick up a central defender with pace."
    • A sobering thought for Crew fans--basically you need to build the fundamental spine of a team.
  • " We're always looking for good players. I obviously have a past history with Carlos having brought him to the league." (Schmid's comments about Dallas shopping Carlos Ruiz)
    • Schmid sounds coy, even smitten by the little fish. OK, this recalls my experience when my Dallas Cowboys signed Deion Sanders. I hated Deion, but recognized he was what we needed. I hate the way Ruiz plays soccer. He is petulant, fraudulent, and pathetic. But given the right environment, he has the skills to be the difference-maker the Crew needs. For FC Dallas, he's scored 31 goals in 65 appearances. He is primed for a rebound year and could certainly help Columbus in the final third. Was it really Doc Holiday or just Val Kilmer who said "my hypocrisy knows no bounds"?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Agreeing and disagreeing with Ivan Gazidis

Part 1 -- Agreement:

Interestingly astute comments from Ivan Gazidis regarding the influx of South American talent being the story of MLS this year, rather than the league becoming Beckham League Soccer.

I find this very encouraging. Throwing US monies at aging international stars? We've seen that story and know how it ends. Investing in a wealth of talent in Central and South America is cheaper and has a more fundamental impact on the quality of play.

Let's be honest: while big name transfers will get MLS some play in certain media cycles, there is a core group of soccer-hungry, soccer-literate fans that MLS struggles to engage, primarily because the technical skill and quality of play is frequently poor. With properly researched scouting, MLS can have technically gifted South American players who you can feature in the league and improve that reputation, and do so with less investment and less risk.

Part 2 - Disagreement

As for Gazidis's comment:
"To me it represents a significant failure on our part that, outside of perhaps our goalkeepers, we really haven't produced a truly world class player," Gazidis said.
I think that is harsh at best. First, it depends heavily on your definition of "world class." For me, that means a player that could step into any side in the world--not always the first XI, but certainly into the first team. Have we created a field player in that class? I'd agree that we probably haven't--though I still believe Adu and Altidore may be the first in that category over the next 4-5 years as they grow into the prime of their careers.

Is that, however, a "significant failure" for a side that basically was an also-ran in international football as recently as 1990? While he had some faults, I always appreciated Bruce Arena's sufficiently long view on this sort of thing. It takes time to build world class athletes in any sport, and you can't totally ignore a sport for decades and then expect to have top class performers in a few years.

The success of DeMarcus Beasley, Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra and others is significant and shouldn't be ignored. An American playing top flight football in major European leagues no longer bears mentioning, as it did when Claudio Reyna was customarily called "Captain America" by EPL announcers because he was such a novelty.

It may take a long time to have world class players in the top flight leagues, but we are clearly taking steps in the right direction.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Congrats Houston!

Houston over the Revs in a hard fought, but hardly scintillating MLS Cup final. You have to feel bad for Steve Ralston, who looked just emotionally crushed sitting on the bench.

But there really is such a thing as a "big game"player--someone who seems energized and focused by the pressure of a cup final--and, as Steve Davis points out, Dwayne De Rosario is that kind of footballer.

Though he won't get a lot of press, Pat Onstad has again proven that he is as well.

Sadly, the jury (of public opinion, anyhow) may no longer be out on Ralston, Twellman, and this very good Revs team. Fair or not, the "Buffalo Bills of MLS" moniker is echoing across mainstream media stories and blogs alike.

Recommended reading:

"...Houston deserved this championship. Nowhere was this more evident than the reactions of each team when they gave up their first goal: the Houston players nodded, clapped each other on the back, and gritted their teeth, while the Revs cursed and moaned and looked at each other in bewilderment and frustration. And remember, Houston did this without two key players in Brian Ching and Ricardo Clark, which is the hallmark of a championship team."

"To make democracy work, we must be a notion of participants, not simply observers."

Quote by Louis L'Amour, surely foreseeing the grave and noble duty of voting the the 2007 Best of US Soccer Awards.

My heretofore sporadic posting or just a general aptitude for assessing quality has led the Academy to overlook Futbol-USA, but there are a number of fine candidates available for the best US Soccer blog.

Ives Galarcep is one of the best soccer writers in the US, and you can't beat his blog for tremendous insight. Du Nord is the heartbeat of US Soccer blogging for my money. And This is American Soccer is a sharply and professionally presented source for in-depth news about the beautiful game in the US of A.

Get out and vote!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

US-South Africa Analysis: Good, Bad, Ugly

Certainly it was a win on foreign soil, but this was a very poor effort from a young US side.

Though they didn't get much possession or many opportunities in the first quarter of the game, the US players were patient and executed a good game plan against an athletic team at altitude.

The goal was against the run of play but very well taken from a difficult angle, and the US played much better toward the end of the half.

However, I don't think it is overstating it to say the US were dreadful in the second half (for more, read on below).

Nonetheless, it is good to end the year on a win and I do like that Bob Bradley is getting a lot of youngsters in the rotation.


Maurice Edu: Some of the folks commenting on Soccer by Ives were disparaging Edu early in the match, which I find bizarre. A disruptive force throughout the game, he broke up several South African attacks. Of all the midfielders, he also seemed most capable of getting the ball off his feet quickly. A nice assist on the US goal as well.

Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra - Night and day in terms of composure in the defense between the first and second half. Notable by their absence when we were scurrying to catch up to South African attacks in the second half.

Tim Howard - Sure he didn't have too much to do, but he made a very nice save at the near post on the botched corner in the first half, and distributed the ball well (maybe I'm seeing him in a better light because Brad Guzan annoyed me so much with his aimless booting in the second half).


Benny Feilhaber - He looked rusty and slow throughout. It wasn't simply that he was gassed; he looked one step behind the whole match. The oft-maligned (unfairly)* Max Bretos was spot-on--Feilhaber needs to get regular playing time. At his best, he plays dynamic football marked by fast touches and quick reactions--the exact skills that get dulled while sitting on a rain-spattered bench in Derbyshire.

Heath Pearce - Purely defensively, Pearce played fairly well. Unfortunately, in the first half, as the US tried to build possession out of the back, Pearce consistently stalled the ball movement. He dwelled on the ball, completely indecisive. In the second half, he led the "tackle and clear" approach--never looking to play the ball to the feet of a teammate.


The US play in the second half - Sorry, can't single out anyone for blame. No energy, no creativity, no football. Certainly, the altitude played a significant factor in the players' ineffectiveness, but I would have rather seen them return to the possession game they attempted in the first half. But with no Bocanegra or Cherundolo, they were reduced to tackling and then booting it repeatedly.

Ironically, this is more physically taxing approach because you lose the ability to control the pace of the game.

* People love to bemoan Max Bretos's announcing, but I'm always glad to have an announcer who actually knows something about soccer. There are plenty of more "polished" announcers (Dave O'Brien, Eric Wynalda, Marcelo (ug) Balboa), but they repeatedly spout statements that betray their complete ignorance of world soccer:
  • "Kasey Keller is well known as the best goalkeeper in Europe"
  • "Swedish superstar Freddy 'LUNG' berg").
Come on people: Max is one of us--one soccer geek made good.