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U.S. v Jamaica:
What went wrong and what can be fixed?

Photo: Gilbert Bellamy / Reuters

One of the primary complaints about the U.S. Men’s National Team during the Bob Bradley years was the coach’s insistence on using two defensive-minded midfielders in the middle of his 4-4-2 formation. The likes of Michael Bradley, the coach’s son, Rico Clark and Maurice Edu were charged with winning balls and then just getting them away from the U.S. goal by any means possible. There was no one to play the role of a Number 10, a player to pull strings and orchestrate attacks with incisive passing, a trait the team has lacked since the retirement of Claudio Reyna.

When Jurgen Klinsman took the reins of the side, we were promised a more pro-active, possession-oriented style. No longer would the U.S. team be the hard-working, athletic sort. There would be technical ability, a free-flowing style from back to front.

Well….

Continue reading “U.S. v Jamaica:
What went wrong and what can be fixed?”

We’re Back!

Soccerati.com had a raging start but was then shuttered after a few glorious months of semi-rational Yankee commentary on the beautiful game. Now we’re back, ready to bring you the views/opinions of our various writers, and hope you find it entertaining. Perhaps even a little informative but we’re not holding our breath on that account just yet.

We will kick things off later with a rundown of the U.S Men’s National Team cockup against Jamaica by the left coast’s JoeSpeaker followed by some shiny objects like pretty pictures and videos.

We’re also taking application for contributors to the site, and by applications we mean “if you want to write for us, you’re in”. The current pay rate is a hearty thank-you-very-much until we have things running at top speed and the advertisers begin pouring in.

If you’re interested in participating, shoot an email to Soccerati2012@gmail.com.

Thanks and enjoy!
Team Soccerati

Same as the Old Boss

United States Men’s National Team Coach Bob Bradley is back. U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati was unable to resist Bradley’s steely blue-eyed gaze and handed him a new four-year contract that will see him helm the Nats through the next World Cup cycle. Excuse me while I vomit on my team sheet.

One can argue the pros and cons as the program goes forward: stability v. staleness, comfort v. upheaval. All mere conjecture. What we can tangibly discuss is whether Bradley’s past performance merited the extension. And while I’m willing to give him some credit, ultimately, his shortcomings should have spurred a search for new blood.

The primary criticism is that Bradley failed to integrate young talent into the side. Think about the breakout U.S. players of the last cycle. The first name that comes to mind is Charlie Davies. His injury mars memory, but recall that he was on the outside looking in for nearly the entire four years, despite having the best goal-scoring record among Americans in European leagues. It wasn’t until the Confederations Cup last summer when he got a serious look and that was only because of the Nats’ abject performance in their first two group games. Faced with almost no chance of advancement, a resigned Bradley handed Davies a start.

One sparkling performance later, Davies became an automatic selection and proved to be one of the most dynamic players on the team. It was desperation, rather than foresight, that hastened Davies’ inclusion and so it has been with a number of players. Benny Feilhaber and Jose Francisco Torres are two of the best Americans with the ball at their feet, yet they remain on the fringes of the starting lineup in favor of the likes of Ricardo Clark. Stuart Holden didn’t even get 45 minutes in South Africa and he’s expertly pulling the strings for Bolton in the center of midfield.

It’s my contention that you put your best 11 players on the field. Instead, Bradley adheres strictly to formation. There is no place for the creativity of the above-mentioned players when insisting on a 4-4-2 with twin ball-winners in the middle of the park. Faced with no Davies in South Africa, Bradley held tight to the 4-4-2 and started Robbie Findley three times (and it would have been four if he wasn’t on a yellow card suspension for Algeria). You mean to tell me that a 4-2-3-1 wasn’t a better option? That a dangerous Feilhaber or marauding Holden or clever Torres, all technically superior players, weren’t a better option on the pitch than Robbie Fucking Findley?

His lineups are baffling and including Rico Clark in the Round of 16 game against Ghana is the worst kind of example. That decision alone cost the U.S. the game. Maurice Edu had played better all tourney and was forced to enter in the 27th minute after Clark picked up a yellow (and his giveaway resulted in Ghana’s first goal). That wasted substitution might have helped in extra time, you know?

Maybe an even worse instance of Bradley not knowing his players occurred in a qualifier in Costa Rica. Saprissa Stadium is every bit as intimidating as Azteca in Mexico, the former’s unpredictable turf standing in for the latter’s smog and altitude. Such a contest cries out for experience and veteran leadership. So Bradley handed a first start to Marvell Wynne.

Marvell Wynne.

Following the 3-1 loss–and it wasn’t that close–we have not heard from Marvell again. There’s a right way to bring players along. You put them in a position to succeed. You run them out there in friendlies. You experiment with formations. Especially if you have a four-year contract. To put it succinctly, and in terms the kids can understand, this team needs more “ballers.” It doesn’t need the limited talents of Clark or Jonny Bornstein.

As I said earlier, Bradley does have some strengths. He’s a very good leader. He can claim responsibility for the team’s spirit, which is world class. He got expected results (and an unexpected one), even if it wasn’t at all times attractive or easy. The thinking among U.S. Soccer honchos is that the American soccer player is unique and therefore best understood by an American coach. Hence eight years of Bruce Arena and now eight of Bradley. This is a short-sighted view. Advancement of the program demands an emphasis on technical ability, on tactical maturity. These are the areas in which American players are lacking and a rigid insistence on “The American Way” will only serve to stunt the growth of future players.

U.S. Soccer had the chance to take the next step up. By retaining Bradley, they’ve sentenced the program to more of the same.

Italian Soccer Leagued Renamed for Online Gambling Site

serie_bwinAhh, like to see it …

Italy’s Serie B has been renamed for their title sponsor, and now will be known as Serie Bwin.

It’s a two-year deal according to Reuters. This comes after an operational split between Italy’s second-tier professional football league and Serie A.

Below is a list from Wikipedia of who will be in Serie B, er, Serie bwin, for 2010-2011:

Continue reading “Italian Soccer Leagued Renamed for Online Gambling Site”

Recruiting

On Sunday night, I watched an MLS game, Galaxy at DC United. Part of it was a need for some Proper football to help ease my hangover from the World Cup. Part was a burgeoning desire to support the league more fully and to learn about (and see) some of the young players I’d been reading about. Specifically, for this game, 17-year-old United midfielder Andy Najar.

Najar came to the U.S. three years ago from Honduras and was spotted by a United official who brought the youngster into the club’s Academy. He’s been a regular this year and generated a lot of chatter for his fearless play and undeniable skill.

For example:

Najar impressed v. Landon Donovan and Co. as well. He scored United’s only goal in the 2-1 loss, beating USMNT striker Edson Buddle to power home a header off a free kick (Najar is generously listed at 5’7″). He showed tremendous work-rate up and down the wing and even displayed a willingness to defend, an awareness lacking in many young players.

Naturally, the big question surrounding the kid is, “Which national team will he play for?” I found myself furiously looking for clues online. I didn’t find the answer. What I did find is everyone else is wondering the same thing.

As mentioned, Najar hasn’t tipped his hand one way or the other. He remains a Honduran citizen, but has a green card in the U.S. (he’d need to secure citizenship on these shores before he’d be eligible for the Nats). His “no comment” is especially impressive considering this article, where a Honduran journo presses the issue no less than five times (my favorite being where he asks who Najar’s favorite Honduran player is and follows that up with, “Well…what if HE asked you to play for the Catrachos?”)

Najar’s case points to a trend among the powers that be at the United States Soccer Federation. With the high-profile “defections” of Guiseppe Rossi and Neven Subotic, USSF officials are going to great pains to track down and recruit young players with dual nationalities. Qualifying for next year’s U-20 World Cup gets underway shortly and the U.S. player pool has expanded world-wide.

There are a few forces at work here. One, U-20 Coach Thomas Rongen was widely blamed for Subotic’s choice to represent Serbia after the coach snubbed the defender, so it’s in his best interest–that of continued employment–to beat the bushes with new-found thoroughness. There’s the U.S. youth soccer club system, which is generally for affluent suburbans who can afford the time and travel. The system fails to identify and recruit urban talent–often the children of recent immigrants–who feel more allegiance to their parents’ homelands and have contacts with family and leagues in foreign countries where they are more likely to be given tryouts. Former U.S. captain Claudio Reyna has recently been tapped as Youth Technical Director to help expand the opportunities for these players. There has been, until recently, a reverse bias against U.S. soccer teams, long though to be short on invention and world-class talent, not to mention their low-profile in the media.

The last has surely changed after the World Cup, which should serve as a powerful marketing tool for the U.S. as a soccer nation that has arrived. On the field and in the papers and in the pubs.

Andy Najar’s decision will draw plenty of attention and his will not be the only saga played out on message boards (but hopefully not during one-hour specials on ESPN) as future National Teams take shape. One thing is for certain, for American soccer, we’re gonna need a bigger melting pot.

World Cup Final Preview

Previews and predictions for Sunday’s World Cup final between Netherlands and Spain are all over the internet, the so-called experts–including a German octopus–offering their take on what is a mouth-watering match-up between two teams with skill in spades. But did any of those pundits tell you to bet the Netherlands at 12-1 to win the whole shebang?

I think not. Which qualifies Soccerati as the most learned place in the universe to get your football information. Here then, the keys to Sunday’s final.

puyol

Spanish coach Vincente Del Bosque made the correct, though potentially controversial, decision to leave striker Fernando Torres out of the Starting XI in the semi-final against Germany. The Liverpool hit-man is both out of shape and form and the insertion of Pedro in his stead resulted in Spain’s finest performance yet. Though moving David Villa from the left to the lone striker position, saw the tournament’s joint top-scorer receive less service, he did keep the ball moving, which Torres has been unable to do, and added more fluidity to the Spanish attack. Yes, they scored only the one goal, but that was largely due to Germany stacking 8 players inside 25 yards of their own goal. I don’t think that was the German strategy coming in. Rather, I believe they were so stunned by the Spanish movement in the first 20 minutes, that they naturally fell back on their heels, a reaction the Dutch must avoid.

In contrast, Dutch Gaffer Bert van Marwijk has resisted replacing his under-performing striker, Robin van Persie. The petulant Arsenal man also appears a step slow and has but a single goal in this World Cup. Unfortunately for van Marwijk, he can’t go to a Pedro or a David Silva. His lone options are Klass-Jan Huntelaar (also out of form) and Ryan Babel (stale and generally incompetent), so van Persie it is.

Tactically, the Dutch will handle Spain differently than did the back-tracking Germans. Midfield destroyers Marc van Bommel and Nigel de Jong will look to engage Xavi and Andreas Iniesta early and often. Where the Germans simply tried to keep the ball in front of them, allowing the stylish Spanish play-makers to dance around at will, van Bommel and de Jong will pressure the ball higher up the pitch and look to disrupt the flow of the Spanish movements. This decision will also include a lot of fouls, something at which the two Dutchmen are more than adept, so the game will be more choppy, which works against the Spanish.

The Dutch weakness in defense is their two centrebacks, who are unlikely to contain Villa’s pace and guile, so I expect the outside backs, Gregory Van Der Wiel and Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, to pull inside to help. This is a tactic that has worked well against the Spanish–clogging the center and conceding the flanks–as we saw in their tourney-opening loss to Switzerland and in the Confederations Cup semi-final last summer against the United States.

South Africa Soccer WCup Uruguay Netherlands

Out wide, the key match-up will be between Arjen Robben and Sergio Ramos. The Dutch winger frequently starts on the right, but will switch often with Dirk Kuyt on the opposite flank, thus matching up with the marauding Spanish right back. Robben’s pace and general danger should eliminate some of those forays forward, taking away one of the Spanish options. If Sergio Ramos insists on coming forward anyway, Robben will find space and one-on-one opportunities against centrebacks Gerard Pique and Carlos Puyol, which favors the Oranj.

Aside from Robben, the Dutch will rely on Wesley Sneijder to continue to orchestrate their attacks. With five goals in the tournament so far, all of them of an opportunistic nature, the play-maker has shown he needs but the slightest glimpse of daylight to convert his chances. He will be closely shadowed by Sergio Busquests, who, though he is eclipsed by the bigger names on the Spanish squad, has been invaluable in breaking up opposing attacks all tournament long.

Because of the attacking nature of both sides, many expect a wide-open final, but the Dutch have been less adventurous than previous incarnations of their Total Football. While I believe they will force the issue offensively more than any of Spain’s prior opponents this tournament, they will still rely on the steel of van Bommel and de Jong to cause chaos. As such, the game will be a cagey affair, with both sides unwilling to let the play flow too freely.

At the end, I’m sticking with the Dutch. 2-1 Netherlands in an absorbing, if not all together beautiful, final.

South Africa Soccer WCup Uruguay Netherlands

Postmortem

At halftime of the United States-Ghana game, I stood outside the pub with scores of others, smoking furiously and despairing at the Yanks going behind early once again. The mood remained upbeat, however, the same mood that has engulfed this team since its fight-back against Slovenia and the stunner against Algeria. At one point, I mentioned that Ghana’s goal was a soft one, a near-post finish that Tim Howard should have been better positioned for. Cue the end of “upbeat.”

Several fans savaged me for that observation. I had crossed the line. I had become critical of a team which had become darlings of the sports landscape. Never mind the truth, that the U.S was favored to get out of the group, that they found, in the knockout stages, the easiest possible route to the semifinals, that for all their heart-stopping entertainment (Will Leitch called it “terrifying fun”), they remained mistake-prone at the back and lacked a legitimate scoring threat at striker.

endYes, we all thrilled to their exploits and, at the end of the Ghana loss, it seemed cruel to point fingers. The effort did not lack. The two-week ride exhausted our bodies, our brains and our cynicism. In the pub, as the Yanks filed off the pitch in disbelief, we applauded with genuine thanks and admiration and then exited the dim bar, blinking into the stark, afternoon sun.

In the light of day, in the darkness of our frantic minds, we see the errors. The schoolboy defending on both goals, blatant cases of being a step slow in instinct, a thought slow in anticipation. It’s not as if the U.S. team’s penchant for gift-wrapping early goals was a secret. These must be addressed and game-planned on the training ground. And not fixing that issue is a primary reason they are out.

Another was the very existence of Rico Clark on the field, where he was directly responsible for two goals in just over 90 minutes played. We see a feckless Robbie Findley, all that pace useless when you run to nowhere or into the teeth of defense that is organized, physical and every bit as fast as you are. Coach Bob Bradley did not send out his best team against Ghana (Clint Dempsey up front with Jozy Altidore; Stuart Holden or Benny Feilhaber in the midfield with Maurice Edu instead of Clark), a mis-judgement compounded by Clark’s yellow card and the need to expend a precious substitution in the 27th minute of a game that would ultimately go to extra time.

And yes, Howard, the unquestioned backbone of the team. You absolutely can not let that goal in at the near post. He was one, maybe two, strides from where he should have been when that ball was struck. In the correct position, he scoops it up harmlessly at his feet. I’ve not read a single word about this anywhere. Maybe because Clark’s giveaway was so much more glaring, as was Jay DeMerit not closing down the shooter quickly enough. Regardless, a world-class goalkeeper is the one who bails out his team and Howard didn’t do enough in this crucial situation.

Maybe it’s simply because Howard is a symbol of this team, an athlete who overcame personal odds (he has Tourette’s) to succeed at the highest level in the EPL and internationally. As soccer fans in America, we ardently wish our overseas players make a mark, give respect to the game on our shores and Howard, and others, have done that. They make us proud, as if they were our own children. Sometimes, however, children are naughty. They disappoint us, let us down, and we are forced to punish them, to break out the Parent Speech and guide them. Afterward, we may feel badly, seeing their remorse, the pain they feel at being criticized by the ones who love them most.

It hurts to play the heavy, necessary though it may be. And so it is, this team that brought us so much this summer. I’m sad to see them go. But they have lessons to learn and they can not be absolved of their failings. Until they correct them.

Four years should be time enough.

Land of the Free Kick

For the last 48 hours or so, I’ve tried to craft an in-depth, meaningful essay on The Moment, on the feeling I had seeing Landon Donovan stroke it into the net, the emotion of watching the goal over and over, and perhaps most tear-jerking, the compilation of reactions from U.S. fans everywhere (the guy sliding down the stairs kills me). But I can’t. It’s beyond me in my current adrenaline-overloaded state.

cele

I wanted to talk about how the goal, and the entire U.S. World Cup run so far, has basically eliminated the stodgy bullshit from mainstream media columnists, who have never failed in the past to trot our their tired and dismissive drivel about America never being a soccer nation. Which is awesome. Because we already are a soccer nation.

I’ve long since gotten past trying to convince non-soccer fans of the intrinsic beauty of the game. I don’t care if you like it or not. I don’t need you. The U.S. team doesn’t need you. And I can blissfully skip past any ignorant comment after years of red-faced defense of this game I love. Today, I am secure in knowing those people missed out. Serves ’em right.

Ink will be spilled coast to coast about What It Means. I’m usually annoyed at that stuff, too. For every success or failure, we have to hear how it will affect soccer in the future. What other sport is faced with such repeated analysis?

Here’s what it means. It means we won a game in dramatic fashion to save our skins. It means casual sports fans have taken notice because the U.S. team’s fight and belief (and this insane ability to pull goals out of their ass in the waning minutes) is something Americans admire. They don’t need to know a set-piece from a settee to feel something for these Yanks. It means I’m going to bar tomorrow to hopefully re-live one of those scenes from the video, a bar where the proprietor suggested I get there three hours early to avoid being turned away by the fire marshal.

Ghana is a tough foe. They will be very difficult to break down defensively and they have athletes all over the park. Their ability to score goals is suspect, but their discipline and work-rate will be a huge issue for this U.S. team, as will the Yanks’ ability to recover from a physically- and emotionally-draining performance just three days earlier. The game threatens to be 0-0 for a long time, increasing the pressure with every passing minute. This game is as close to a toss-up as you will find.

But watching this U.S. team in this World Cup, would you bet against them?

World Cup Hurting Movie Biz?

This is an old article from Variety (plunked from an unfinished post by @huffcity) but kinda interesting, especially to see if it has played out to be true. Basically, it says that the World Cup — June 11-July 11 — has put a real crimp in Hollywood’s movie release schedule, particularly in Europe, where they’re presuming every debut would be a flop.

Personally, I think they should just re-run Victory non-stop:

Wicked Chops FC Update

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It couldn’t really be a Wicked Chops Fantasy anything without a major WAG involved, right? Diana Chaves is apparently a Cristiano Ronaldo castaway picked up by Portugal’s César Peixoto. We found her in BleacherReport’s Hottest WAGs of Group G.


For those of us playing in the Wicked Chops FC Fantasy Pool, it all starts to mean something now that we move through the group stage.

Click here to check out how you’re doing.

Our group has 203 people in it … and one of my squads — Go Alexi Lalas! — is tied for 15th place!

Yes, I said one of my squads, plural. I first saw @Chazbeaner, the group’s creator, had two teams … Chazbeaner Real and Chazbeaner Wish. I was reading Real like ray-al, not reel. Anyhow, I don’t think I can win the prizes anyway, so screw off. My other team, Ditka, is doing less well. But I did recognize the power of Uruguay. And in both flights got USA #1, ENG #2 … But I didn’t give the Mexicans enough credit, and I thought too highly of the Serbians chances as a post-war, rebuilt nation to have the heart to be the first-round Cinderella.

U.S.A.: Group Winners

The last time I cried after a soccer game was when I was 13 and I let in a soft late goal in a 3-2 loss to our hated rivals. Until today. Until the U.S. improbably topped the group after (not improbably) leaving it late to beat Algeria 1-0 in the World Cup.

Those assholes in Red, White and Blue are taking years off my life with these cardiac event-inducing performances. Though, when Landon Donovan slotted home the loose ball in injury time, he may have saved me from getting in my car and driving off a cliff. And, this stalwart U.S. team, ultimately gave me a sporting memory I’ll never forget.

landy

Analysis, at this juncture, seems superfluous. Anyone who suffered through those 90+ scoreless minutes wouldn’t quibble with the effort, the only lingering memory beyond Donovan’s goal being the Americans inability to finish. Kudos must be handed out, however.

To Jozy Altidore, who has beeen immense the last 180 minutes, his skied sitter notwithstanding. He has learned much at Hull; his hold-up play is top-notch, his patience is vastly improved and his ability to get into dangerous spots, while not yet translating into goals in his account, has opened up lanes for others to exploit.

To Michael Bradley, who has tamed his baser instincts (chiefly, the urge to chase the ball and dive into tackles he has no hope of winning) and been a calm and persistent presence in midfield. While he is not yet a distributor who can carve up defenses, he has been far more composed on the ball and kept his giveaways to a minimum.

To Jonathan Bornstein. I had a moment of sheer panic this ayem when I saw he was in the Starting XI. He’s been abject for six months. But this was a masterstroke from Coach Bob Bradley. Algeria’s set-up and approach virtually ensured Bornstein’s defensive responsibilities would be minimal and the Chivas USA player was in to try to get forward and exploit Algeria on the flanks. It didn’t exactly happen that way, but the change did strengthen the back line, with the Bocanegra/DeMerit pairing yielding excellent results compared to the previous two games.

To Clint Dempsey’s tireless work. He could have had three (and did, in fact, have one), but he kept his head and his run helped crate the game-winner.

To Bob Bradley who has fashioned a team to be admired. Not nearly a top-20 team in terms of skill, but maybe #1 in the world in terms of Team. Captial T. Their belief and spirit is remarkable.

And to Landon Donovan, who was largely absent most of the night, but who put the g.d. ball into the g.d. net and remains one of our country’s most approachable and likeable sportsmen. As the de facto figurehead of U.S. soccer, we can wish for no finer ambassador.

The Round of 16 awaits. For now, I’ll relish the next 72 hours until I will live and die with them again. My most favorite memory, well beyond the end of this tournament, will be that I watched this game with my 8-year-old son, AJ. It’s rare he’ll sit through and entire sporting event, but not only was he riveted by the action, he was emotionally invested. He cried, too, ’round the 82nd minute when it seemed all those missed chances would be the 2010 epitaph for this U.S. team. When the ball hit the back of the net, I leaped in the air, screaming, “It’s in! It’s in!” My son jumped into my arms, we hugged, rolled on the living room floor and shared the moment.

Thank you for that, U.S.A.