Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Liverpool Fan's Thoughts on the Departure of Luis Suarez

photo by Hamed Sabervia PhotoRee

Scott sends off Luis Suarez with an appropriate mixture of emotions, at least for a scouser:

So it's finally official: Luis Suarez is going to Barcelona, ending 2.5 years of on-field brilliance and mystifying moments of lunacy. Concluding how to feel about this transfer requires a serious mental inventory, such was our emotional investment. On the one hand, there is no doubt that Suarez is one of the main factors in Liverpool's return to Premier League relevance. It would be hard to find a fiercer competitor and, if all his teammates' comments are to be believed, a more committed team player (when not wanting away, of course). He is a player who raises the level of both play and expectations of everyone around him. And he should rightly be considered, as a snapshot in time, among the absolute best in the game right now, to be mentioned in the same breath as Messi and Ronaldo.

Then there is the significant monetary investment in the troublesome Uruguayan. Setting aside the 35 million-ish paid to Ajax, there is the PR sunk cost of dealing with Evra Part 1 (the comment), Evra Part 2 (the handshake that wasn't) and then the Ivanovic Bite. That we now have to distinguish which bite, never mind the Eredivisie counterpart, speaks volumes about the further spinning of the PR machine that would be required. Not to mention the sheer emotional and psychological toll expended (and yet to be expended) by players, coaches and fans alike during each of his past and future bans.

To Liverpool's great credit, there was no circling of the wagons this time around. Fool me once, fool me twice, fool me thrice... (it defies cliche).  I know I was. First there was seeing the uniquely talented forward around his family and hearing his teammates wax on about his attitude and work ethic. Then, most importantly, we observed concrete, significant progress of his rehabilitation in the English Premiere League - nary a moment of lunacy all year, calmer demeanor on the field even during trying times and, to the immense pleasure of any American proselytizing for the sport in the US, a reduction of diving to near zero level.

By all accounts the narrative was fulfilling its own prophesy - that of the underprivileged, angry youth who escaped his humble beginnings to be with his beloved and play his beloved sport in ever-higher arenas. Significant lapses of decorum marred his way and, sure, it took the polemic prodigy a few more raps on the wrist to finally learn his lesson. But a settled year at the Liverpool club who patiently stood by their admittedly flawed star, a new long-term contract and statements by all about the mutual contentment of the evolving situation and prospects for the future - surely, this Merseyside cautionary tale would find its Hollywood ending.

Unfortunately, it was the wrong type of Hollywood that emerged - one of addiction and relapse. Forgive me the rough edges of this analogy, but there were glaring similarities to Suarez' World Cup cameo. After a year of clean living in the hard knocks but mostly stay-on-your-feet world of English soccer, Luis was surrounded by the environment of catty, diving soccer that international soccer can be. Away from the Liverpudlian support group, the Uruguayan simply relapsed into his old ways, shattering all the rehabilitation he had achieved in his record season with that bite and hardening the hearts of those who really thought he had gotten past it all.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Game Day Beer Review: Sierra Nevada / Cigar City Yonder Bock Tropical Maibock

The Location: Residential neighborhood, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The Date: Thursday, July 17th

The Time: 8:15pm, Eastern Daylight Time

The Weather: 81 degrees, soft breeze blowing
The Scene: Backyard beer drinking

The Music: Mandolin Rain, Josh Kelley

The Beer: Sierra Nevada / Cigar City Yonder Tropical Maibock, Sierra Nevada / Cigar City Collaboration (7.70% ABV)

The Review: Yonder Bock poured a deep copper penny color with the whitest of white, fluffy heads; considerable lacing developed on the glass surface as the head receded.   The smell was mild and bready, with the faintest hint of tropical fruit scents.  The beer's taste was malt-forward, succeeded by tropical fruit favors including pineapple and guava, and followed by the drying effect of  a well-hopped beer.  Yonder bock has a medium mouthfeel, and is well carbonated and tingly on the tongue.

The Feel: Summer evenings are tailor made for relaxing, and this beer more than fits the bill.


Monday, July 14, 2014

The Final Word: Germany 1 - Argentina 0 (ET)

photo by Miriam Poppevia PhotoRee

Scott has some final thoughts about the Final:

  • Germany didn't look nearly as dangerous as they have in previous games but they did just enough.
  • I can't help thinking that a healthy DiMaria might have swung this game the other way.
  • That was a spectacular take and finish by Goetze.
  • Messi looked so dangerous throughout and it was almost a pity to see him go home empty handed. His last gasp free kick, however, perhaps belied his concentration.
  • I never thought I would see they day when more Germans were diving than South Americans.
  • Except for getting the Neuer/Higuain clatter spectacularly wrong, this was a well-officiated game.
  • I really love how the refs were instructed to hold their cards as the more free-flowing games were very entertaining. Only the Brazil-Colombia game got out of hand. 
  • Is Muller a diver?  He sure went down easily a couple of times.
  • Higuain blew 2 primo chances - the first because it seems he is intimidated by Neuer and couldn't get a 1 on 1 shot even on target and the other because he doesn't seem to understand the concept of offside even when he has a clear view of the last defender.
  • Manuel Neuer is a studly sweeper-keeper. Did you see him take the throw in!?
  • Argentina chicks are hot.
  • Ian Darke is one of the best announcers ever - astute, witty, knowledgeable and gracious. Plus, I feel like I'm playing FIFA Soccer on the Wii when he speaks.
  • Schweinsteiger looked like the Allstate mayhem guy by the end of the game.
  • Bottom line - this game could have gone either way but Germany were the better team over the tournament so I suppose it's fitting that they won.
  • Does Klinsmann get any credit?
This is farlieonfootie for July 14.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Aftermath: Belgium 2 - USMNT 1 (Continued, Part 3/3)

photo by U.S. Department of Statevia PhotoRee
More analysis of the reasons behind the USMNT's 2-1 loss to Belgium:
Ed: I think the European leagues are better, but I don't think the MLS is a bad training ground.  The problem is not training -- that's coming around pretty well in the USA -- it's just that the players aren't that good.  Deondre Yedlin is all USA and all MLS, but he's clearly a talent.  Landon Donovan was the same.  Plus there are lots of guys who didn't make our roster who've been hoofing it in Europe for a while.  Eric Lichaj pops to mind....  And how much did Sunderland help Jozy Altidore's game?

Along these lines, please remind me which basketball academy produced LeBron James and Michael Jordan, and how going to college hurt Tim Duncan's game.  (My delusional 9 year old has already told me that he was going to go to college first rather than just trying to go pro even though the latter is probably  better -- I can only imagine he overheard a Coach Mark diatribe on that one).  The idea that we need a European-style academy system for soccer has always seemed a bit silly to me.  It's too much along the lines of those people that think they could make the PGA tour if they just trained more as a kid....  Or even the coaches at the Barcelona camps that will train your kid to be as good as Xavi and Iniesta.  Come on!

I agree with the line regarding Adrian Peterson, but think that day is already here with guys like Yedlin making the team.  When we get to a critical mass with these type of guys we will become dangerous.  I would love to see Sergio Ramos try to mark Adrian Peterson (or Yedlin for that matter), or any NFL-level running back or defensive back that decided to play soccer instead.  Football youth participation is already down due to concussions; soccer is up due to TV.  TV will eventually make the difference, though for some reason I think the journey will be more fun than the destination in this case.  There's a certain charm to being an underdog that you don't get when you're expected to win.  Plus I want my kids to get playing time before all the elite athletes jump in!

Mark: The target striker issue that B* mentioned is dead on. With as many quality defenders and even midfielders (albeit defensive ones) that we have produced, we can't seem to find one good target striker out of 25 million soccer players. That's kind of nuts. In our history there has only been one true US target player that has ever played in one of the four major leagues (Brian McBride). He wasn't sensational, but he did the job even at the Premier League level. Not being able to win a ball at the forward spot was as big as issue yesterday as not having the precision playmaker.
Altidore is probably the closest thing to a target player, but he's only a hair above six feet tall and is of average pace, when most countries have a 6'2 or 6'3 guy or a guy who's just really strong and fast. Altidore has not been able to crack the Premier League yet which tells you where our best stands.

A Terrance Boyd/Altidore progression might get us there, but there are not many target choices out there at any level of US soccer. Was really surprised Boyd or Eddie Johnson didn't come as they give us at least so backup combination of size and speed up front.
On another note, the MLS is creeping up the ranks. I believe it had 37 players in the world cup which was behind The Bundesliga, English, French League, Italian and Spanish but ahead of Holland which is considered a pretty good league. The new $90 million dollar TV contract will raise level of play another notch.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Aftermath: Belgium 2 - USMNT 1 (Continued, Part 2/3)

photo by robert.melokvia PhotoRee

Mark: When you look at it from a shots-on-goal standpoint it's easy to be dark. We spent most of the tourney on the wrong end of a shooting gallery. But that happens when you are playing counter attacking soccer. The problem was we left the only good counter attacking player in the country at home. I don't think green was the answer although he had a big play. I think we did "ok" but I think it was in spite of our coaching not because of it. My coach rank for Cups is Bruce Arena, Bora Milutinovic followed by a tie with Bob Bradley and Klinsmann,  and Steve Sampson is a distant last.

B* (Name changed to protect the innocent): I agree. No one will ever be able to convince me that Klinsmann does not regret his choice to exclude Landon Donovan. More specifically, I believe that regret flashed brightly in front of him when Chris Wondolowski missed from point blank, as Donovan buries that goal. US soccer is heading in the right direction, but we need goal scorers in a major way.

Scott: I'm still sick about the whole thing. Wondo was put in the game for exactly that reason. Feel bad for him.

I'm probably too much of an optimist, but I disagree with Mark about Klinsmann's ranking and I think he is dragging US soccer forward. The problem is, we all want it to happen faster than it is. We are light years away from 1990 and 1994, and we will only continue to improve. Just look at where our expectations are now and how disappointed we are when we get knocked out. I wish there were a way we could do it every year, because we improve every cycle and, mark my words, in another 20 years USA will be among those teams that can actually win the whole thing. Granted, I said something similar after 1994 - it's just happening slowly....

I have to agree with the comment about MLS. For us to do significantly better before 20 years from now, we need more players playing in top leagues. MLS will catch up one day (or at least close the gap enough) but until that happens it doesn't give our national team players what they need, with few exceptions.

We said all along that we would need to play our best and then get lucky to go very deep in this tournament. Well, we got lucky against Ghana and then Belgium for 90 minutes, but only Tim Howard played his best so we got bounced. And yet, it was still there for the taking with Wondo's miss and when we had them pinned to the ropes for the last 10 min of extra time.

Searching for the good, I point at those last 10 min. Quite frankly, I think it is more amazing that we didn't score during that time.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Aftermath: Belgium 2 - USMNT 1 (Part 1)

The inter-office debate rages on:

Mark: Well that was a heart breaker. My random thoughts: we are back at 1994 watching "Bora Ball" and the all-heart team try to dodge twenty shots and then steal the game with a goal. That wasn't the style Klinsmann was supposed to bring in. This was a great exhibition of heart, but we got outshot and outpossessed dramatically in three of the four games. There could have been some very lopsided losses in this Cup for us.
Ed: That's a step too far< I think.  Klinsi didn't promise possession, just more attacking soccer.  And when we got the ball we did attack in numbers.  Plus there was no team that played a tougher four opponents.  But no, we are not as technically gifted as Belgium's golden generation or Germany.  But we were surprisingly close to Portugal on that regard.
Mark: Michael Bradley is the toughest player to ever play for the US national team, but should never play another game as an attacking midfielder. Klinsmann really did a poor job of casting him.
Ed: Completely agree.  He never looked better than when he orchestrated from the holding position in extra time.  I was reminded how solid he is back there where he should be.  He simply doesn't have the speed or creativity or desire to take on players and space in the attack.  Dempsey does, and dempsey also looked better when he returned to the number 10 spot.
Mark: Jermaine Jones is a beast, but like Bradley was expected to carry the team offensively and he just does not have the distribution ability.
Ed: Agreed again!  A tough holder who makes for a great spine.  Guys like that thrive on the premier league and his muscle made us better.  But destroyers are never also creators.
Mark: Kyle Beckerman is a tremendous position player, and we missed him today. The middle was far more open without him in there. Belgium had far more opportunities than German which is a stronger side. Was shocked he got pulled.
Ed: Can't say, really.  Cameron made Fellaini look pretty ineffective.  But Beckerman had a good tourney for a slow dude with big hair.
Mark: Why does it seem like we switch formations every game in the World Cup under Klinsmann?
Ed: I think that's called tactics and I'm okay with it.  The Dutch switched their formation at halftime against Mexico and it paid off, we can switch game to game if we have too.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Impossible is Nothing: Germany 1 - USMNT 0

Coach Mark and Correspondent Ed weigh in on the USMNT's advancing through the Group of Death to the Round of 16:


So we backed into the next round. There is no sport in the world that can bring you that anti-climatic feeling like soccer. We lost, and we won at the same time. Muted high fives everywhere.

You got to like the competitiveness of this team. The team has the personality of Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman, which is 100% scrappy hustle. Unfortunately it also has their offensive skill set.

Bradley has looked like a defensive mid pretending to be an attacking mid the whole tournament. Jones ended up playing target man part of the game because he's the only player on our offense who has the physical strength to compete for balls with a player on his back. We had a terrible time controlling the ball in our midfield to come into the attack.

I think Clint Dempsey's doing a good job faking the striker position. He's not fast enough to go by anybody, and not strong enough to play target, but he's got such a great feel getting in good spots and is the only guy with any precision on the team so he can survive.

I thought Omar Gonzalez was terrific today. Horribly tough spot to be put into, but he was a beast in the air, and showed a faster recovery step than Geoff Cameron. I think Cameron had a terrible game the other day, but he's a player. I would not mind seeing him sub into the defensive midfield to end a game. I thought it was kind of lousy that he got pulled after such a rough game when he was so solid during qualifying, but Gonzalez justified the decision, at least for today.

This team's Achilles' Heel is a complete lack of speed and precision on the offensive side. Dempsey and Graham Zusi (who I thought was very good today) are the only two offensive creators who have any precision on the final pass or shot. But neither of those two guys has the speed to threaten vertically.

Bradley's been just awful in front of the goal. Bedoya is basically an invisible player, and plays like a third outside fullback with a hustle-only game and Brad Davis showed why he got passed over three times for World Cups when he was in his prime. He's too slow and not tough enough on defense. It was a miracle we survived him today.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Two Points Dropped, or a Point Gained?: USMNT 2 - Portugal 2

24 hours after the Cristiano Ronaldo cross that rocked the USMNT, the crack analytical team from farlieonfootie breaks down the game and looks forward to Thursday's action.

Mark:  To revisit our pre-cup theme, did we really take Alejandra Bedoya over Landon Donovan? Bedoya apparently did not complete a single pass yesterday.

The one thing we have lacked so far is precision in front of the goal, and the most precise player in American history is making funny commercials while we are missing the goal by a foot to the left and a foot to the right.

Who thinks that Donovan misses that tap in that Bradley missed yesterday. I don't think Donovan has ever missed on of those. That would have been Donovan's spot yesterday.

It's a real shame because we seem to have a real team here, except that we need a second forward or wing player. And we left the best one in the history of the country at home.

Scott:  I’m still in denial. It can be a cruel game. But then you can make it even worse by not hanging onto the ball for another 30 seconds. At least twice in the last couple of minutes I saw times we could have easily bled off 15 seconds or so, but instead we gave it right back to them so CR7 could have his one moment. A botched clearance, a missed open net, and inability to waste 30 seconds… I wish I could go back to bed.

Mark:  I think this is hard to let go of because we know this is going to come back to haunt us. In American soccer it always does. There are never happy endings. It's like what happens to the Central American teams. Some how even when they should win, they lose, usually by some call where the ref gives the game to Argentina or Germany because they are the teams that are supposed to advance. I am hoping Portugal wins. I don't have a lot of confidence that we can take Germany. I think we are capable of a devastatingly close loss to them, but not a win.

The one thing I am happy about is that US soccer is clearly better than Portugal and that's no small feat, and Costa Rica is better than a lot of people so our group now has some respect.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Convergence: USMNT 2 - Ghana 1

The farlieonfootie staff, including sometime-contributor and USMNT expert, Coach Mark, converged on a local sports bar to quaff craft brews and cheer on the USA, along with 100 or so other players, parents and coaches of Fort Lauderdale Select FC.  With the exuberance of USA’s victory now faded (even if only slightly), a sober (literally and figuratively) assessment was inevitable.  With the Bossman headed to ground zero in the Amazon, the minions started chirping:
Mark Gets Things Going
So my take on the game yesterday is that the more things change in US soccer the more they stay the same. It was an extremely gritty victory, and I have to give Klinsmann credit in that he wins a lot, and he probably wins more games that we should lose (or tie) than any coach in American history. He's either really lucky and his luck will run out, or he’s really smart and just knows how to win, regardless of how unimpressive it might be.
My concerns going in was that this team had no counterattacking speed and few offensive threats. I was concerned we would not score a goal this tournament, but thanks to some individual magic by Dempsey and a lost man mark we got two. I think we scored two on something like three shots. I think Ghana had about twenty shots.
The team is playing with three defensive midfielders. While that worked against weaker qualifying competition, they couldn't maintain any possession yesterday (but they defended well). Bradley is a defensive mid at the highest level of play, not an offensive mid. Beckerman did a great job of clogging the middle and is always in the right spot, and Jones is a reckless, destroying machine. But that's a tough lineup to hold the ball with, let alone score. Bedoya is another hustle player, but offensively there is nothing there.
We like to attack with our backs, but it exposes the flanks and yesterday Ghana had 30 crosses (7 more than the next highest team in the cup).
Many people think this team is better than our last two teams. I just don't see it. Claudio Reyna, Brian McBride, and then a young Donovan, Beasley, and Dempsey were a lot more dangerous than anything I feel we have in this cup. Cherundolo and Bocanegra were career European 1st division talents, that have been replaced by younger players without their polish.
I feel like this team is more comparable to the Bora teams where it's just ugly gritty hustling American soccer. Really looking forward to Portugal to see if Klinsmann can pull a rabbit out of his hat.
One thing I like about Klinsmann is he's a fun coach. He has great sideline celebrations and most of the players genuinely seem to like him.
And one thing that has improved is our game watches. From six people to 100 is real progress. If the talent on the field can improve 5% as fast we are in good shape.
Scott Responds
I agree with all you said with the slight tweak that I think we are better than we used to be.  It was gritty yesterday but we are capable of real possession soccer, unlike in years past.  We just couldn’t pull it together that way yesterday due to Ghana’s consistent pressure and our inability to not give the ball away.  I still think Bradley dictates how this team will do (barring luck like yesterday) and he was very poor at holding up play and possessing.  Plus, at 1-0 up, why were we surging forward every time we won the ball, only to give it away again within seconds?  Why not switch it back and forth, get our breath back, make them run even more and then look for holes?  I was disappointed with that.
Klinsmann is fun to watch and I think it is a little of him being good and motivating players (previous tactical point notwithstanding) and a little luck too.  We knew we would need some luck to advance, but who knew we would need so much of it against Ghana? 
Against Portugal and Germany, we will need more of that luck and also need Bradley to find his footing, Dempsey to not clock out after his moment and the whole rest of the team to remember the importance of possession – especially in the heat and humidity of Manaus.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The US Fan's Perspective: From Cringing to Leaning Forward

Correspondent Scott is especially prolific lately:

I know it's not the World Cup yet, but USA's 2-1 victory over Nigeria in Jacksonville has convinced me that US Soccer has finally, truly arrived. I'm not saying they are going to win the World Cup, but I think it is safe to say that we can now play with anyone and play the game well - maintain possession, utilize quick, one-touch passes, create opportunities and counter.

Let's face it, it wasn't that long ago that as a fan I would lean back and cringe a little at how we might keep the ball or make a technical error (anybody remember Jeff Agoos against Jamaica?).  Fast forward a couple World Cups and now I lean forward each time we have the ball, in anticipation of what we might create.

Yes, there were still a few cringe-worthy moments, usually defensively, but even those are far fewer than a decade ago.  Quite frankly, there's no way a Jeff Agoos even makes the team now. To be clear, I mean no disrespect to Mr. Agoos, who gave his all for our National Team.  He is just a dusty example of when our all wasn't nearly enough. But now, playing our best and not making any mistakes, we really do have a chance to beat the best in the world. And with the formation change yesterday that left both Beckerman and Jones providing cover for the defense, allowing Bradley to create going forward, we might have found our best chance of escaping the Group of Death.