Wednesday, March 30, 2016

On the Future of US Football....errr, Soccer



Correspomdents Ed and Scott weigh in on the fortunes of the USMNT after last night's crucial victory over regional "powerhouse" Guatemala :-/


Ed:  I watched the game last evening.  I liked our lineup better, though I still don’t understand a few things.  First of all, Guatemala is terrible; how we lost to them last week is beyond belief.  I would think a good U.S. college team could beat them.  Second, at least last night Jurgen Klinsman had people at their appropriate positions – except for Bradley, whom he insists on playing in a number 10 though Bradley can’t help himself and often fell back into the number 6 position in spite of Beckerman being there.  I still think we are a better team with Bradley at 6, Nagbe  at 8 and Nguyen (or your boy Benny Feilhaber, Scott, but for whatever reason he’s an enemy of the state) at 10, and Beckerman on the bench unless and until we need him.  I was glad to see Zusi again, though I’m not sure of Castillo – he’s like a taller, younger imitation brand of Beasley.

 

My conclusions were:  we still aren’t very good at the simple tasks of passing and receiving.  I don’t watch much US National Team but clearly these guys aren’t at BPL level as they miss a lot of passes and have some poor first touches.  While we dominated the game and score line, there were no style points for us like there are when an overmatched team in the BPL plays a lower level team, e.g., Spurs playing Sunderland.  Sunderland will have their shots but Spurs will dominate possession and the game and there will usually be chance after chance.  

Dempsey played well but he’s definitely not going to be there next world cup as the 30 thing is upon him.


Bobby Wood is okay.  Like Castillo, I find it surprising that we don’t have any better USA players at those positions considering the talent we sometimes see just in South Florida.

 

Whatever.  They won.  They were better.  Onward.

 

I should note that US Youth Soccer has dramatically increased the number of US Soccer Academies.  I don’t know if this is a Klinsman thing, but suspect it is.  In Germany he is credited in small part to the cleaning up of their malfunctioning and fractured system.  German soccer put a ton of money into training coaches to get a high number of highly qualified coaches throughout, and JK forced money into facilities for the same purpose. I  believe to be an academy you need both a highly licensed coach and a certain quantity of facilities.  I imagine this will be good for USA youth soccer in general and the development of better players than we currently have on our USA national team.  If JK’s legacy is this, then he may have earned his money as it’s probably the most important thing for USA to get better at the international game (that said, I don’t know much about all the new academies springing up).  The current players are better than he’s made them look, but they still just aren’t that good compared to their top European counterparts. 


Scott:  I agree with pretty much everything Ed said except we dominated the game so much (granted, I only watched the first half and then skimmed the second) that I’m not sure what more could have been expected.  Maybe another 2 goals but 4 is plenty.  I think we lacked style points because we simply lack the requisite number of players with deft touch.  So maybe I am agreeing with Ed on everything.  I certainly saw a lot of errant first touches – it was like watching a “highlight” reel of Fort Lauderdale over 45s.

 

Interesting point he made about more academies here and that perhaps that was Jurgen’s influence in Germany.  Maybe he’s really more a director of football than a coach.


Ed (always needing the last word): I read a book on German soccer called Das Boot! (really, on both counts).  They didn’t detail what JK did but he had some involvement (though he wasn’t necessarily the primary mover).  It spoke of how he pushed to get guys in who were citizens elsewhere – Ozil for example.  And how he wanted a focus on youth and better facilities.  He did all the same things with the German team—playing players out of position and antagonizing a lot of people in German soccer at the time.  German soccer was much more of a mess than people realize – it was overrun with local rivalries, players from different areas not wanting to play with each other, and a lack of good and developed coaches.  They wanted to reach out and make sure more kids had good training as well so as not to lose the ones who weren’t in the Bayern or Dortmund academy or wherever.  I think Tony Kroos is considered a success story on that front.  Today, people think favorably of his upsetting the apple cart and the status quo because they ended up winning the World Cup shortly after he left with “his” team.  I suspect he has taken that model here, though there is less of an apple cart to upset and I have found many of his moves to be antagonizing without much purpose.  Regardless, if he is pushing to refocus US youth soccer in America – and I’m sure he’s not the only person – then I think that’s the right idea.  You can’t read Das Boot without thinking of USA soccer and applying the lessons learned there to the USA.  In short, for them it was mostly about training coaches to ultimately have players better at playing a less direct style.  This is what JK says he wants here.  I’d say the players cannot really do this yet.


This is a relieved farlieonfootie for March 30. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Whose Perch is it?

photo by Alan Vernon.via PhotoRee

This article is genuinely funnier to read after the events of this past weekend, although I'm guessing that's not the case for Liverpool-loving Correspondent Scott, who wrote it:

When title hopes are long gone and domestic cups are snatched away early, there is always a special satisfaction in humbling an historic, acrimonious rival. Prior to Thursday night, it had been Liverpool regularly capitulating to Manchester United. But after a dominating display at Anfield last week, the good Reds weathered an early flurry by Martial & Co. to again show more verve going forward and more resolute defending. It was a deserved aggregate win for Liverpool as they will now progress in Europa and Manchester United are left with slim chances to save this lost season.   If I were ever to take the low road to schadenfreude, there was no better time than when the camera panned to Darth Ferguson in the stands (he of “knock them off their f-ing perch” infamy), smile wiped resoundingly from his ever-red face.  But I digress…


The Klopp effect is taking time to take root, especially without an influx of players chosen by him, but through the erratic play and results one can see a growing confidence and cohesion. No doubt the return of Sturridge and a healthy Coutinho is a big factor, each of them consistently befuddling defenders.  Coutinho’s deftly chipped finish past an amazingly in-form De Gea is Exhibit A as to why the Brazilian is our most important player and why he is making inroads on the Brazil national team.
 

Progress has been made in other areas as well.  A previously porous defense has turned particularly parsimonious, even when regulars are out injured.  Sakho has begun to impose and his partnership with Lovren, especially, has been solid.  Clyne has had an off day here and there but has been remarkably consistent and even the rampaging Spaniard, Moreno, has begun to show his defensive chips instead of only his ability to gallop forward.  Even Milner, when conscripted to left back out of necessity, holds the line when not wearing a path down the outside channel.


Friday, January 8, 2016

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

photo by Carla216via PhotoRee

 
 
Scott's Liverpool side start of the New Year with a resvolution:
 
My how things have changed.  It doesn’t seem that long ago that Jurgen Klopp was gangenpressing his way to a Bundisliga championship, Stoke City were hacking down Premier League opponents under the direction of Tony Pulis, who now coaches such thuggery at West Bromwich Albion, and West Ham United were happy just not to be in the relegation zone.  But now, the Kloppmeister is reining over a stuttering (and limping) Liverpool side struggling to escape mid-table irrelevance, Mark Hughes’ Stoke City were favorites to beat the Reds, and West Ham comprehensively dismantled those Top 4 pretenders.
 
Of course, much as some things change, others remain, irritatingly, the same: Liverpool’s incessant underperforming, Daniel Sturridge’s perpetual sabbatical, and the literary aesthetic requirement that all lists be in groups of three.  Oh, and there’s also that bit about Liverpool not having the requisite world-class players to mount a serious title challenge.
 
That said, a 1-0 victory away to Stoke in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final was at least a stutter-step in the positive direction.  The first half was characterized by absolute dominance by the Reds, with a touch of poor finishing and a dash of hamstring pull.  The second half yielded less dominance, more poor finishing and another dash (and a half, if you count the hobbling Kolo Toure) of hamstring pull. 
 
I never thought an FA Cup game against lowly Exeter City could bring on such nervy anticipation.  But lately we seem to play much better against Premier League title challengers than we do against League 2 opposition.  Because no matter whom you play, you can only win if you score and goals have eluded Liverpool even as we dictate proceedings and create chances.  Even the normally reliable Benteke has squandered brilliant opportunities in front of goal. 
 
Changes are needed at Anfield and, while we can see some of them being made already under the enthusiastic German’s direction, more can’t come soon enough.
 
This is farlieonfootie for January 8th.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Two Steps Forward for Liverpool....



...but two steps backward for your editor, who was delayed in adding this post from pre-Thanksgiving. Without further ado, Correspondent Scott on the 4-1 thrashing of City:

While Mangala might have gotten the scoring started when he couldn't sort out his own feet quickly enough to prevent his own-goal, the writing was already on the wall from the first whistle that Liverpool had come to the Etihad with their tails up and ready to play. Swarming pressing, intricate and creative passing, tireless running and resolute defending made the Reds' opponents seem like a League One team at times. Sure, City's talismanic Kompany was out injured, but I doubt even the towering Belgian could have stemmed the sea of red shirts that poured forward swiftly and relentlessly.

 

Liverpool could have (should have?) easily scored a few more (kudos to Joe Hart for multiple 1v1 saves) and, were it not for some individual brilliance from Aguero, could have also kept a clean sheet away at the home of the then league leaders. Whenever you hear someone say that a coach only has a minor impact on a team's performance, look no further than a quick comparison between the last couple Liverpool games under Rodgers and this game against Manchester City.

 

Of course Klopp is managing expectations (as he should after the Crystal Palace debacle) and saying a top 4 finish will be difficult.  And, indeed it will.  But the flurry of games over the next few weeks should be a pretty good barometer as to whether a return to the Champions League is actually attainable or merely a momentary glimmer of hope, much like Leiscester City’s 1st place standing in the table.  The keys to ongoing success will be to maintain the defensive stoutness spearheaded by the very-in-form Skrtl and the resurgent Mignolet, while continuing the replenishment of confidence that has imbued Firmino, Moreno and others.


This is farlieonfootie for November 30. 



Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Clapping Klopp at the Kop

photo by kevinzimvia PhotoRee

With Scott's prodigious output, we may have to re-fashion this as a Liverpool blog:
 
Despite the recent stumble to Crystal Palace, the Kop is still wildly clapping for Klopp. It does look like there has been an injection of enthusiasm and belief into the squad, but will it last?  Ever the optimist, I like to think so and, with a couple quality transfers in January, I think Liverpool will be challenging for the Top 4, notwithstanding their current mid-table position.

Winning the ball back in dangerous positions can always turn a game and Jurgen has the Reds swarming frenetically in the offensive half. Of course, such effort is not sustainable over 90 minutes so the key will be for Liverpool to learn to toggle on and off in unison - if one goes they all go - no lone hunters who will invariably be picked apart by even mediocre passing.

We may need to re-fashion this as a Liverpool blog with Scott's continual writing: 

Naturally, there is more to Klopp's system than the Gangenpress. The formation has changed from the Rodgers days, alternating between the  Christmas tree 4-3-2-1 and the 4-2-3-1, which allows more width farther up the pitch. Either setup allows for a chance to control the midfield, which integrates into Klopp's passing system.
 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Curious Visit from George

photo by A National Acrobatvia PhotoRee

 We're back, with our once a month post -- from Correspondent Scott:
 
With Liverpool’s recent results having slapped me into some type of disbelieving stupor, the confluence of (1) coaching my daughter in a tournament this past weekend and (2) a delightful visit from my boyhood soccer coach, George Merrin, brought me to my senses, such as they are.  Of course, Liverpool’s 3-2 squeaker over Aston Villa helped too.  Long-time readers of farlieonfootie will remember I paid homage to George when he last visited in 2011, thankfully not his last visit as thought at the time.  George hails from England but now lives in Australia and was my soccer coach when I lived in Saudi Arabia – the most influential coach I ever had, as you can probably tell by the fact that we have stayed in touch for the last 30 years.  It was so meaningful to me for him to visit and see just how far his influence extends – An English coach training an American in Saudi Arabia fostered a passion for the game that led to my humble coaching efforts with 9 year old girls (and often shambolic literary efforts hereon).  The very definition of a legacy. 
 
As some may recall, George is a life-long Canaries fan and fate would have that Liverpool played Norwich City on his first weekend in town.  He was very pleased with the 1-1 result and I suppose watching with him and seeing his enjoyment took some of the sting out of a draw we were supposed to win.  Or I should say temporarily took the sting out since Liverpool’s poor play has swelled to such proportions that Brendan Rodgers has every reason to fear for his job.  In fact, it could be that only Daniel Sturridge’s return has saved the Liverpool gaffer….for now.
 
At least Philippe Coutinho is back from suspension to bamboozle opponents and James Milner seems to be hitting his stride.  Injuries to Christian Benteke and Jordan Henderson certainly don’t help but Mamadou Sakho back in the lineup seems to give some assurances over the schizophrenic Dejan Lovren.  However, no injuries or lineup changes can excuse needing penalties to send off Carlisle United in the League Cup.  Liverpool is like a misfiring engine that may or may not get into gear.  We’ll see if a Merseyside derby this weekend can spark it to life.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Liverpool Self-destructs

photo by Steve Puntervia PhotoRee

It could be a long season for Scott:

It all started so well with narrow wins over Stoke City and Bournemouth, followed by a tough nil-nil away draw to Arsenal. Win the points at home against the "lesser" competition, and pick some up on the road against the Heavies, and Liverpool would survive the early season Schedule of Death. Alas, the script got torn up at Anfield this weekend after a gruesome 3-0 capitulation to West Ham, made possible by some truly asinine defensive blunders.  Sure, there was a strong scent of misfortune wafting about each of the three concessions, but that was barely noticeable due to the spectacle of self-immolation put on by Liverpool's defense. I had not yet jumped on the Joe Gomez bandwagon, nor the Dejan Lovren comeback car, and certainly won't now. 


On the first goal, Martin Skrtl was blamed by the announcers for a headed clearance that did not exit the danger area. Ok, maybe, but where were the midfielders to help gather it or at least pressure the turnover? But most concerning to me was the sight of Gomez, practically with a consoling arm around Manuel Lanzini, ushering him toward the goal and politely standing aside while the Argentine turned in the pass from the aforementioned turnover. Merely putting his foot a few inches forward would have blocked the shot. And, yes, poor Gomez is not left-footed and does not have much experience on the left but, come on, does he have to cut in to use his right every time?  He attempted only one left foot cross that I noted and that one floated into the stands behind the goal. Gomez might work better in another position, and will surely improve, but his performance is just not good enough when you have one of the best headers of the ball in the game (Christian Benteke) starving for service in the penalty area. 

 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Voldemourinho Suffers Irony Poisoning: Arsenal 1 - Chelsea 0

photo by jonathan mcintoshvia PhotoRee



Scott kicks off the season with excessive use of ironic metaphors:
 

"Arsenal defended with 10 players, they put everybody in front of their own line and they had good organization - congratulations to them."  Cough, cough

"They had a couple of chances in counterattacks, but we had ours in organized football." 


Jose Mourinho, nay Voldemourinho, that provocateur of the Dark Arts, went on to slightly dig himself out of the ironic hole that threatened to implausibly smother his preternatural ego.  But scoff as he may at the meaninglessness of the Community Shield, even as he flicked his loser's medal to a surprised fan, have no doubt that the Dark Lord will now redouble his manufacture of belittling comments as he is haunted by his hypocrisy and scalded by hot irony.  Or perhaps he will simply seethe in egomaniacal solitude along the River Thames stirring a cauldron of eyes such as: "I don't want the medal.  I don't keep the ones when I win, imagine the ones when I lose."
 

Friday, July 10, 2015

For Everyone, Everywhere: Scott on the USWNT's World Cup Triumph

photo by Nabeel Hvia PhotoRee



Scott reflects on a remarkable run:

With the Women's World Cup trophy safely ensconced in team USA's display case, a reflection on the tournament feels in order. I must admit, I was captivated by Team USA's unwavering march to the Final and found myself swept up in the excitement that made that Final the most watched US soccer event in history, men's or women's, drawing more viewers than Game 7 of the World Series or the final games of the NBA Final and Stanley Cup Final. If there was any doubt before that soccer is in America to stay, such thoughts were smashed by the Women’s World Cup Champions.

 

For me, once I mentally accepted that I was not watching the men's World Cup, and just accepted the differences, I found the whole tournament very enjoyable. It is clear that the women have more time on the ball which often means a more thoughtful progression of play. I subsequently watched the US Men v Honduras and the increased speed of play was very apparent. What I've come to appreciate is that the differences in the women's game make it just that - different - certainly not worse. Exhibit A was the breathtaking Final which was exhilarating to watch as an American soccer fan, regardless of the gender of the players.

 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Appreciating the Women's World Cup



S
cott certainly does
:

It may not be on a par with Caitlyn Jenner, but I'm going through a womanly transition of my own. Up until last Monday, I had only ever watched 2 or 3 women's soccer games in their entirety, compared to the hundreds of men's games I've watched, discussed and written about. But we are all evolving and transforming (some more than others), so with the confluence of the Women's World Cup and my daughter being almost 9 and very excited about soccer (she has played since she was 4 and just finished her first competitive season of Club soccer with Fort Lauderdale Select), I have now watched 2 women’s games in the last week and parts of several others.  And, I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed getting in touch with my feminine side of soccer.

 

Right away, I was surprised at how fast the speed of play was.  It’s not as fast as a men’s game, nor would I expect it to be, but it was, indeed, faster than I remember.  I was also a little surprised with the high level of skill, perhaps showing a bit of chauvinism there since there’s no reason a woman can’t be as skilled as a man if she were to practice the same amount.  But before I’m pilloried for sexism, or worse, let me go on to say that I found myself so drawn into the games that I forgot it was “women’s” soccer and enjoyed it as just “soccer.”  Quite frankly, in my mind, that’s the highest compliment I can give.

 

There were also some observations I was very pleased to make.  For example, I didn’t see nearly as much diving as the men do.  Nor did I see injury faking.  When they were fouled they just got on with it.  Of course, I do know that women are, indeed, capable of such chicanery – remember the Brazilian Erika in 2011?  So, perhaps my sample size is still too small to draw any conclusions about diving or faking, but I was pleased with what I witnessed.  Although, it must be said, Americans generally don’t engage in the dark arts nearly as much as other countries (I say proudly) so it stands to reason that the games I’ve watched, each involving Team USA, would contain fewer examples of such antics.

 

Also with respect to on-pitch behavior, it was almost surreal to me how placid the women players were after being fouled.  There was none of the “how dare you?” or “I’m going to kick your ass for that.”  Rather, as I said, they pretty much just got up and got on with it.  As a former player who played a bit physically and wasn’t afraid to let someone know if I was unhappy with their reciprocal efforts, I’m not exactly sure how to feel about that.  But, as a current, aged player who only fouls completely by accident and, even then, is overcome by remorse and spouts apologies, I do see the benefits.

 

The biggest difference I noticed with respect to the actual flow of the games was how much space there seemed to be for players out wide and how much time the player with the ball seemed to have before being closed down.  Logically, perhaps both are due to the speed of the players themselves as they aren’t able to close down an attacker as quickly or cover as much ground as quickly.  What that does, though, is make it all seem (to me) a little more thoughtful rather than nearly instinctive.  I usually see in advance how the play is going to develop and rarely find myself surprised by a choice made by the player with the ball.  It’s certainly not worse, it’s just different.  It’s kind of like watching a good movie you’ve already seen before.  And what I am coming to appreciate is that it’s just a different flavor of soccer.  A little more vanilla but very tasty.

 

I can see myself growing into women’s international soccer as my daughter grows up.  I stress international because I’m not sure I’ll every watch women’s club soccer.  And before the stocks are measured for me please note that I don’t even watch MLS because there are only so many hours I can devote to my fandom and Liverpool plays a lot of games.  But as much as I enjoyed the last couple of games, there was something else missing: the history and the familiarity.  There have only been 6 women’s World Cups, dating back to 1991.  By way of comparison, there have been 20 men’s World Cups (and would have been two more were it not for World War II), dating back to 1930.  I grew up hearing about the magic of Pele and witnessing the marvels of Maradona.  In contrast, I was graduating college during the first Women’s World Cup.  I know every player on the men’s national team but only knew a handful of players on the women’s team.  I could name several players on the majority of teams in the men’s World Cup but could only name Marta when it comes to the women’s.  I turned on the England vs. Slovenia Euro qualifier today and knew every single English player and even a couple of Slovenians, but wouldn’t be able to name a single player on their women’s teams.

 

Maybe I’m a bad USA fan or, worse, maybe I really am chauvinistic when it comes to soccer.  But, no, I don’t think so.  I think I, like so many other soccer fans in every country around the world, am only now beginning to acquire a taste for the flavor of women’s soccer.  I will, no doubt, learn more of their names and follow more of their careers and, inevitably, be more interested and vested in their future exploits.  I will more consistently see it as “just soccer.”  And for that, as much as anything else, I can thank my precious daughter.


This is farlieonfootie for June 16.