Thursday, June 14, 2012

Thursday - Must. Read. Links.

Irish fans singing
 A reminder that fans aren't just hooligans. Pure class. Sheer beauty.

Can't miss podcast
My two favorite men in soccer and in blazers! Possibly the best podcast on the internet.

Live-chat with Seve Sanchez 
NY Red Bulls highlights from the first 13 games of the MLS season. Check out all 26 goals.

Could Shevchenko follow up his dream start at Euro with a move to the MLS?

Excellent analysis of yesterday's game between two international powerhouses.

 Somewhere, Messi is smiling.

Dave Whelan back in the news
With Redknapp out at Tottenham, unfortunately fans are forced to deal with the never-ending updates from Whelan about the future of Wigan's Roberto Martinez.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

3 Thoughts: USA at Guatemala

It's a fabulous time of year to be a soccer fan, especially of the USMNT. Advocates of the world's beautiful game and American soccer have the rare gift of Euro 2012 during the day and then qualifying games at night. Since my last post (the delay wasn't a result of laziness or disinterest but instead a trip to Bonnaroo) a lot has transpired with the US team and most of it negative. First was the 4-1 loss to Brazil and then the underwhelming offensive performances against Canada and Antigua & Barbuda; the latter during a crucial qualifying game. My notes during those games say things like "Gooch has played his last meaningful game for the USMNT," except the fact that he again came in during the Antigua game and immediately contributed to a goal for the opposition. More notes from those games:
  • Onyewu always had a unique combination of size and speed that tantalized US fans. This inherently American ideal blinded fans to the problems with Onyewu; one being he lacks the requisite passing skills necessary to positively contribute to an offense predicated on quick passing and a higher tempo.
  • Too often fans use the phrases that the score doesn't matter or the scoreline doesn't tell the whole story.
"The score doesn't matter" and "the scoreline doesn't tell the whole story" are clich├ęs better served with mom's oranges. As fans we can't have it both ways; we can't say it's just a friendly when we lose and then claim it's monumental when we beat a team like Italy. Yes, a friendly is just a friendly but for a team in CONCACAF it's also a litmus test, letting the team know how far they have come and how far they have to go. The US team intentionally schedules friendlies with higher caliber South American and European teams in preparation for tournament play. Their time to test their mettle against the world's elite will come again but for now it's time to compete versus CONCACAF qualifying competition and last night, shortly after their unconvincing win at Antigua & Barbuda the US took to the field against a determined and hungry Guatemalan team. Here are 3 things I saw during last night's game, which I caught at Mulligan's, a soccer bar I suggest everyone make a trip to:
  1. Definitely
    • The team's midfield hasn't looked comfortable in attack since the Scotland game. They're often caught occupying the same area, causing spacing issues and their movement is stagnant. Maurice Edu, a capable defender, doesn't show himself enough for the supporting pass and makes poor decisions when given the opportunity. The resulting domino effect causes Bradley and Dempsey to drop deeper, limiting Bradley's ability to make the decisive pass in the offensive third and pulling Dempsey away from goal. In addition, Donovan hasn't seized enough of his opportunities to attack down the wing, often deferring to his teammates. As a whole the unit that was once the rock of the USMNT now appears to be going through some growing pains. The good news, the team doesn't resume qualifying until September 7th against Jamaica and should have time to work things out.
  2. Possibly
    • Donovan has truly lost his competitive edge. In the 3 games since (coinciding with Clint Dempsey's return) his emphatic hat-trick against Scotland, Landon Donovan has reverted back to the player who infuriates more than he excites. The Guatemalan defense were consistently backing off the pacy winger, giving him acres of space to attack and instead he chose to jog the ball forward or timidly pass the ball off to a supporting teammate. The USMNT is at its most dangerous when their best players are attacking, relentlessly pressuring their less talented opponents and if LD isn't into it mentally, Klinsmann may be left with a tough decision.
  3. Hopefully
    • The US uses Jozy Altidore more in the starting role and Hercules Gomez as the super-sub. The team's movement is better with Altidore as the lone striker because he's more comfortable checking to the ball and holding up possession. Dempsey is more dangerous playing off of Altidore; the two have built some chemistry together during the Klinsmann era. Even Donovan started to attack the space down the flanks once Altidore entered the game and with two aerial options in the box, the team is more threatening off his crosses. This doesn't and shouldn't take away from Gomez who has seized his opportunity and ran with it. His work rate and knack for poaching goals will provide a huge boost late in games.
I enjoyed the match with a Guinness but it would have been better enjoyed with a beer as deafening as the Guatemalan fans and as questionable as the refereeing; one that matched the intensity of a qualifying game in Central America. I'd have suggested Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA, not quite as feisty as a Douple IPA but a memorable brew, one that like Klinsmann's first trip to Central America, you're unlikely to forget.

Live Chat for Euro 2012

If you're not at work (or have some privacy at your desk) catch the game on ESPN3 and then head on over to Footballers Convention for a live-chat for Denmark-Portugal. Or tweet to be heard! Send questions, complain about Portugal's incessant diving or cheer on your team...either way join the conversation and be heard!

I'll be rooting for Denmark seeing as they're superstars on the pitch and in the recording studio:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Follow me @MustLikeSoccer

Follow me (@MustLikeSoccer) during tonight's game as the USMNT takes on Guatemala in Klinsmann's biggest test since taking over as coach.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Happy Birthday Stevie G

The man. The myth. The legend.
In speaking about Steven Gerrard, Zinedine Zidane was quoted as saying, "he has great passing ability, can tackle and scores goals, but most importantly he gives the players around him confidence and belief. You can't learn that – players like him are just born with that presence." Present, an apt descriptor for the greatest player of Liverpool's modern generation, one whose impact extends well beyond the stat sheet.

Though he lacks the dramatic style of many of his contemporaries, Gerrard has always made up for it with a mastery of the moment. Whether he's unleashing a bone-rattling tackle or blasting a long distance strike that looks like it was shot of out of foot cannon, he puts the big in big game. I mean seriously? Today, as he celebrates his 32nd birthday preparing for Euro 2012, Liverpool fans are left wondering if they'll ever see their legend in those moments again.

3 Things to Watch: Brazil at USA

For anyone tuning in to watch tonight's match as the United States Men's National Team takes on Brazil, the disparity between the sides needn't be further examined. Brazil, the five-time world champion, play the game with an unmatched spontaneity, as if their feet smile every time they touch the ball. Their individual and collective flair used to embarrass opponents is second nature and they continually produce some of the world's finest attacking footballers. See Neymar & Hulk.

In contrast, the United States possesses fewer players technically gifted enough to break their defender down and instead are learning a system that relies on movement, possession and quick, decisive passing. Their creativity is more likely to be fostered at the team level rather than within the individual. Tonight their growth, new 'style-of-play' and tactics will be put to the proverbial test.

Three things to watch in tonight's game:
  1. Will Fabian Johnson's defensive responsibilities affect his impact with the attack?
    • Johnson got forward effectively versus Scotland, filling the wide space when Torres drifted centrally or just using his quickness to join the attack. His pace and confidence on the ball make him a unique threat for the USMNT, but will having to mark the dynamic Brazilian scorers reduce his role?
  2.  How high can the US pressure the Brazilian backline?
    • Ultimately the success of this US team will be predicated on their ability to gain and then retain possession. They'll be able to do so by maintaining a higher line with their wings and putting their opponent's defense under pressure. Against some of the CONCACAF qualifying teams and the likes of Scotland this is an easier proposition than against a team with world-class defenders like Brazil, all of whom are comfortable in tight spaces.
  3. How many times will Jonathan Bornstein get beat in space?
    • Thankfully this is one thing USMNT fans can be assured they will not have to see tonight. If fans thank Klinsmann for nothing else, they can at least appreciate that.
You can catch the game on ESPN2 or ESPN3. Enjoy!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Dempsey Who?

Playing without two of their top scoring options, the US Men's National team played with confidence and purpose, scoring 5 goals against an over-matched Scotland team. Scotland won't be mistaken for Spain, Brazil or even England for that matter but the 48th ranked team in the world is still a formidable challenge for a team that has often underwhelmed against CONCACAF competition. Donovan, playing as the primary scoring option with Dempsey sidelined was spectacular and set the tone for the US attack early and often. After weeks of listening to how he's lost his title as America's best player, Donovan answered the bell with one of the best national team performances in years.

Jurgen Klinsmann's vision, one that encourages possession and creativity, may finally be coming to fruition. The US relied on that advantage in possession and quick-touch passing to create seams in their opponents defense, using one-twos and decisive runs from their wingers in attack. It was an altogether impressive performance from a squad that is learning a new system and still coming into its own. As their younger players continue to develop and gain experience, it seems the future is quite bright for this group.

  • After the worst national anthem ever, it seems Victoria Zarlenga is destined for a career in pop music
  • Surprisingly I'm a fan of the new kit but the numbers should be darker blue 
  • Really enjoyed the perspective from these field level highlights
Recap (click on the time of the goal for the highlights):
3rd minute (1-0 United States) 
USMNT Starting XI
Torres provided the initial defensive pressure and regained possession after the ball caromed back to him. His one-touch pass was sublime, relieving pressure and switching the ball to Bradley in stride. Bradley's sleek one-touch of his own continued the left-to-right ball movement to Jones. Jones held the ball too long and was fortunate that the defender deflected the ball to Donovan, whose first touch put him in the perfect shooting position. After an initial save by the Scotland goalkeeper, Donovan clinically put the ball over three Scottish defenders to open up the scoring for the United States.

12th minute (2-0 United States) 
Two words: world class. Somewhere in Egypt, a father and former USMNT coach is smiling. Michael Bradley connecting on a half-volley, gave the US an early 2-0 lead. It was a stunning moment of individual brilliance that was set up by a Jones one-touch, off a pass from Donovan. Only 12 minutes in and Bradley is already establishing himself as one of the best players on the pitch.

15th minute (2-1 United States)
Scotland got one back on an own-goal that deflected off the stomach of Geoff Cameron.Cameron was exclusively at fault because his initial step was forward, losing his mark and allowing his man to come free for the header that ultimately caused the goal. Cameron will have to do better if he wants to continue to start and have an impact role on the US team.

60th minute (3-1 United States)
Landon Donovan was the beneficiary of another great one-two from the US midfield and his first touch shot was slotted nicely inside the far post. USA's commitment to the quick touch, pass and move style Jurgen Klinsmann has implemented has drastically changed their tactical approach to offensive football. They're evolving into more than just a counterattacking team and are also a joy to watch, which are words not often praised on the USMNT.

65th minute (4-1 United States)
Once again, the best two players on the field connect for the US. Donovan with a slicing, instinctive run between defenders opened up a passing lane for Bradley. Using the outside of his foot, Bradley put the ball in stride for the streaking Donovan, who calmly and superbly struck the ball just the inside the far post. A perfect shot from the greatest goal-scorer in national team history.
70th minute (5-1 United States)
A textbook counterattacking goal from the US, one that every high school coach should have on DVD for their next coaching lesson. With 7 players within 30 yards of their own goal, the US began on a well executed transition from defense to offense. Off of a Scotland turnover, Bradley played Jones forward in space. With Corona wide left, Gomez made a selfless diagonal run from left to right that created space for Jones to continue pushing forward. Donovan who started 20 yards behind Jones initially, hustled down the right wing and received a one-touch pass from Gomez. With two US players open in the box, Donovan placed the ball right on Jones head for the fifth goal of the game.

Questions ahead of the Brazil game:
  1. With Dempsey out and Donovan in for the first time in a while against Scotland, how will the team play if its two best players finally share the field?
  2. Will they revert to defensive, counterattacking soccer against Brazil or continue to bring the game to their opponent?
  3. Did Cameron do enough to secure a partnership with Bocanegra in central defense? If not, who emerges from the group to challenge for that position?