Thursday, February 12, 2009

Otra Vez

So...I'm amusing myself this morning reading the Spanish language newspapers for their take on last night's US-Mexico tilt, yet another drubbing by the Stars and Stripes. 2-0. Again. I don't speak a whole lot of Spanish, but can fake my way through most of it. What I can't grasp, I run through Babelfish, which, as anyone who has used Babelfish knows, is awesome in its consistent silliness. I give you the lede of a La Opinion article, run through two different translations:

Total loss. That is the balance. Red balance. Themselves does not treat only of the rout, neither of the three points that were an illusion for gullible.

Total loss. That is the balance. Balance red. It is not just the defeat, nor the three points were a mirage for dreamers.

"Total loss" is correct. "Balance," I think, is more properly "problems" ("red" refers to, of course, Rafa Marquez's sending off; that guy has serious problems for someone of such prodigious talent). The second translation has the fourth sentence about right, but I prefer "illusion for the gullible." Must be the writer in me.


The US were dominant in the first 45 with the wind at their back. Confident, composed. Bradley sent out a positive lineup, using Sacha Kljestan in the center of the park, instead of the more defensive-minded Ricardo Clark, eschewing his usual 4-5-1 (or 4-4-1-1) with two holding mids. Kljestan's relative inexperience didn't show, though he was never a real threat going forward, he and Michael Bradley did an effective job of disjointing the Mexican midfield and getting forward. Mexico were clearly wary of the speed of Donovan and Beasley, which allowed for space stepping in behind those players when they made runs. While the Nats didn't take great advantage of that, it's a trend that should pay dividends down the line as this group moves forward.

Sadly, all that good work went to crap in the 2nd half when the US took their foot off the pedal. It may have been the soggy conditions, some out-of-season players lacking full fitness, being against the strong winds. Or parts of all three. Regardless, with a one-goal lead, with the goal coming at a momentum-changing time right before half, the home side should have stormed out of the tunnel and continued to impose their will. They did not. They sat deeper, instead of challegning in midfield, the very tactic that had served them so well in the first 45. Even when Marquez was dismissed (at first, I didn't think it was a red, but the replay clearly showed he led with his studs, a karate kick to Howard's knee that Roy Keane can appreciate), the US played passively. That might be a useful skill on the road, but, at home, you're playing with fire.

Still, they got the result. Mexico were poor in nearly every aspect of the game. Eriksson has them playing a conservative brand of futbol and that's never been their style. It's a poor fit. Their "flair" players, Nery Castillo, Gio, were reduced to playing one-on-one due to lack of support, due to the defensive mind-set of the Mexican midfield. Yes, they were short-handed, missing Guardado, who terrorizes the US and Torrado, the rock in midfield. But it's hard to imagine them flourishing in the Swede's set-up.

Going forward, the US has to be more cynical, adopt some swagger and killer instinct. The team, as comprised last night, won't scare anyone in the World Cup final round, but some pieces are in place for improvement. Bradley the Younger was a revelation, aside from the two goals. Kljestan provides some color to go along with Beasley (surprising strong last night considering his lack of playing time at Rangers) and Donovan. Pearce was strong at left back and Hejduk was equally impressive on the right. Clint Dempsey seems to disappear at times and, like my friend Jorginho says, he gets frustrated by poor service and his body language is obvious. But he seemed to work hard last night.

With a clogged fixture list this summer (Gold Cup and Confederations Cup in addition to qualifying), players currently outside the Starting XI should get lots of opportunities to state their case for inclusion. Jozy, Marvell Wynne, Jose F. Torres, Jonathan Spector, Gabriel Ferrari, Danny Szetela and, I suppose, the erstwhile Freddy Adu. Some of those guys are more creative than what we've currently got and I think "creative" is what we need more of. Steel and industry, on the other hand, is not in short supply.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The 'B' Team

U.S. National team coach Bob Bradley convenes a winter training session this weekend at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA with a mostly fringe group of prospects from MLS and Americans playing in the off-season Scandinavian Leagues. With the exceptions of Ricardo Clark, Sacha Kljestan and Brian Ching, none of the players in camp have made a significant impact on Bradley's Starting XI since he took over.

Those three, and the remaining players will be trying to impress Bradley ahead of World Cup qualifying that begins Feb. 11 against Mexico in Columbus. Prior to that, the U.S. has a friendly against Sweden (Jan. 24 in Carson), which will feature hopefuls from the camp. Here are a few players who have a chance to make an impact and be involved in the hexagonal.

Marvell Wynne: Toronto F.C.'s speedy left-back is still unpolished, but with that slot up for grabs on the National Team, his speed and power warrant a long look.'re comfortable with Heath Pearce?

Chad Marshall: After a series of concussions derailed what appeared to be a promising career, Marshall returned with a vengeance last year, earning MLS Defender of the Year honors while leading the Crew to the title. The U.S. is likely set in central defense with Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu, but Marshall's size and aerial ability will put him in the conversation for South Africa if he impressed in camp.

Stuart Holden: The talented Houston Dynamo midfielder might get the start against Sweden in the Landon Donovan playmaker role in Bradley's preferred 4-5-1. Holden was one of the brighter performers for the Olympic side and those of us who've watched recent U.S. teams struggle to create scoring opportunities from open play are dying to see someone step up and provide better service.

Charlie Davies: Just give the guy a chance and he'll score. He doesn't look especially pretty out there, but is pace is phenominal and his scoring record with Hammarby in the Swedish League is one of the best of any U.S. striker, regardless of where they ply their trade. Sure, Ching can hold the ball, but he's no Brian McBride, as in, he doesn't put the ball in the net enough. Kenny Cooper is a fine player, too, more skilled with hsi feet than he's given credit for, but I think the international game is a bit too swift for him. Not so for Davies.

Full list of the players called into camp:

GOALKEEPERS (4): Jon Busch (Chicago Fire), Will Hesmer (Columbus Crew), Troy Perkins (Valerenga IF), Matt Pickens (out of contract).

DEFENDERS (8): Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Danny Califf (FC Midtjylland), Sean Franklin (Los Angeles Galaxy), Cory Gibbs (Colorado Rapids), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew), Chris Wingert (Real Salt Lake), Marvell Wynne (Toronto FC).

MIDFIELDERS (9): Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), Brian Carroll (Columbus Crew), Ricardo Clark (Houston Dynamo), Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew), Stuart Holden (Houston Dynamo), Jack Jewsbury (Kansas City Wizards), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew), John Thorrington (Chicago Fire).

FORWARDS (4): Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo), Kenny Cooper (FC Dallas), Charlie Davies (Hammarby IF), Chris Rolfe (Chicago Fire).

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Stuck In 2008 closes, I find myself unable to sleep most nights. Liverpool are top of the table and my poor girlfriend can only stand to hear me ramble on about Fernando Torres's hammy and Robbie Keane's shyness in front of goal and Andrea Dossena's total inability to do anything but suck. So I lay there wondering about all these pressing issues, and more, like the upcoming hexagonal in CONCACAF, Neven Subotic's choice and is Bruce Arena the answer for the Galaxy?

Ha. Kidding on the last one.

The point remains, I needed somewhere to exert my passion for The Beautiful Game and you, dear readers of the internets, are the lucky recipiants.

My blog title comes from former US Men's National Team coach Steve Sampson's ill-fated set-up in the opening game of the 1998 World Cup v. Germany. That lineup was gayer than calling your national team die Mannschaft. As such, I've set the bar extremely low with the title. I couldn't possibly fail more epically than Sampson, or Mike Burns for that matter, did in that game.


About me: I'm a long-time player who achieved a modicum of success in the youth and prep ranks. I've coached a dozen years, from U-8 AYSO to high school varsity. I get up early for Premier League games every weekend. I support Liverpool. Steve McManaman is my favorite player ever. I nearly named my son Owen, after Michael Owen, but the (ex-)wife nixed the plan. I also follow the USMNT very closely, as well as American players abroad.

About the blog: I will mostly deal with the EPL and USMNT, but will highlight stories from other leagues, as well. I might try really hard to become more familiar with MLS this year. It's so hard. But it really should be my duty as a soccer-loving American. Is that a New Year's resolution? No. And you can't prove it is. You may get a few personal anecdotes mixed in, from my battles in the Sunday pub league or my son's AYSO club, which I coached last season to an underwhelming 4-6, or my own glory days gone by. Not for ego, mind you, but in service to a greater, universal point.

This should be fun. I'm getting out of my track suit and entering the fray.