Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Fish Rots At The Head

photo by Doom64via PhotoRee

Regular readers of this site will recall a familiar theme around these parts, which -- at its essence -- goes something like this: Bob Must Go.  I write, of course, regarding Bob Bradley and his position as Head Coach of the US Men's National Team.  Bradley's recent travails have been well documented here and on many other sites, so there's no need to rehash the arguments in favor of removing the coach.

But today I go further: I'm no longer satisfied with calling for the head of the Head Coach of the US Soccer Team.  No, our national problems with the game the rest of the world calls football go well beyond Bradley and straight to the top of the US Soccer Federation (the "USSF"), all the way to the desk of Sunil Gulati.  Having run US Soccer since 2006, and serving as the Vice President of the USSF since 2001, Gulati is where the buck stops for football in this country.  And it's where the ultimate blame resides.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Aftermath

photo by John Althouse Cohenvia PhotoRee

As you'll no doubt notice after reading this piece by Coach Mark, there's some internal dissent here at the corporate office regarding our level of satisfaction with Coach Bob Bradley.  But before you get to that, here's Mark's final thoughts on the US National Team  after its painful loss to Mexico in Saturday night's Gold Cup final:

We'll call it a wrap at 4-2. Loss aside, it was one of the more entertaining soccer games you'll ever see. Who was it that said there's no scoring in soccer?

The game Saturday night against the best Mexican team I've ever seen provided a nice final exam for the US in the Gold Cup. Here are my final Gold Cup remarks on the first post-World-Cup version of the U.S. National team:

Starting from the rear, Steve Cherundolo showed why he should be considered an American legend. At 31 he's still going strong. The main question surrounding Cherundolo is whether he can he hang on for one more Cup.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

I Want More

photo by ninette_luzvia PhotoRee

Lately I've read a number of tweets and posts on Twitter and various Manchester United websites to the effect that United fans should be more than happy with our activity in the transfer season to date, which at the time of this writing had yielded Phil Jones, Ashley Young and (presumably) David DeGea.  To which I'll add my own voice: I'm happy we've signed a few younger players, and begun the process of replacing the legend who formerly guarded goal, but I won't go so far as to say I'm satisfied.  As I've already tweeted previously, the Jones signing is clearly one for the future, while the Young signing leaves me a bit cold.

The articles I've read basically imply that we as United fans should be more than happy to have "refreshed" our squad -- something that needs to be done to any team, no matter how good they may be.  But to have greater ambitions -- say to knock a certain Barcelona club off their perch -- is too much to ask at the current time.  That we should leave the big money signings to clubs like Real, City, Chelsea and Barca, because it's not the "United" way, and that the only way to ultimately beat those clubs is to strengthen and refresh as we're currently doing.  To be happy with the off-season pick ups so far.

I guess I feel differently.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Good Man is Hard to Find

photo by Free-ersvia PhotoRee

The spinning wheel that is the Chelsea manager search came to a rest earlier this week with the not-so-surprising announcement that Andres Villas-Boas (British announcers are going to have a field day trying to pronounce this one) has been named the new manager at Chelsea, after releasing himself from bondage in Porto and freeing the way for the Son of the Special One to return to Stamford Bridge. 

In some ways, this move makes perfect sense: young, talented and up-and-coming manager, looking to make his name in Europe, is seduced by the prospect of a dream appointment at the top of one of England's "big" clubs, a club where he once worked at the right hand of the Master. But look more closely, readers -- and the reasonings for this move become even clearer. This isn't just the story of Andres Villas-Boas wanting to come to Chelsea to increase his own personal glory.  It's also the story of a domineering, perpetually meddling and megalomaniacal owner, and the struggle to find someone who is talented enough to manage the club, yet also pliant enough to to live under the sizable thumb of a certain Russian thief.  I mean Billionaire.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I Told You So

One of Correspondent Ed's Readers Protests His Absence From Our Pages
photo by BinaryApevia PhotoRee

Correspondent Ed is back with four random thoughts.  Apparently he couldn't think of seven this week:

1. Team USA:  Well, I was totally fooled.  The commentators this past weekend had USA soccer as being terrible compared to the athletic Jamaican team that hadn't been scored against.  It turned out, though, that Jamaica is terrible, and they proved it by missing two easy scoring chances in front of the US goal early in the game.  Of all players, it was the coach's son, Bradley, who both lost possession sloppily and was lazy in getting up field to keep the Jamaican's onside.  That said, the better team won, and did so handily.  Jamaica is not in the US team's league yet.  Now onward to Panama, another team I expect the US to beat, and then into the finals against Mexico, a team the US defense will likely struggle with.  

2. Seven Meters per Second:  That's apparently how fast Thierry Henry ran in his prime whenever and wherever he was on the pitch.  For those of you who'd like some math to go with that, seven meters per second is the equivalent of running a forty yard dash in 5.08 seconds.  Not fast?  Well, for Henry, that's not his full speed, that's his gait around the pitch speed, and it's something he was doing for what I would guess is 5 to 6 miles a game.  Astounding.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Middle of the Road?

photo by Scott Meis Photographyvia PhotoRee

If it's Tuesday it must be Coach Mark,  back today with additional analysis of the US Mens National team, which is in action tomorrow in the Gold Cup Semi-final vs. Panama. 

The U.S.' 2-0 victory over Jamaica on Sunday provides a nice segway to talk about the U.S. midfield prospects for the next World Cup.

The first three games of the Gold Cup showed Bob Bradley's challenge in the U.S. midfield, and Sunday's game offered some potential solutions. The problem that the US has is that it has too many players who play the same position and offer similar skills: Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley are clones; defensive, physical midfielders who will run until their legs fall off ,and bring some skill into the attack, but not enough to create chances at the highest levels of play. Bob Bradley likes them both on the field at the same time. It's a tough pairing from a goal creation standpoint, and over the last ten games the two defensive mid lineup has produced a dearth of goals. They are both hard players to take off the field and Bradley has been unwilling of late to go to a more conventional midfield arrangement.

But they are not the only problem in the US attack. Equally as challenging is that Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey are both best when they are playing the second forward position. Bradley has been trying them on the flanks with very little success (or success from the flanks, anyway). Whether by design or sheer stubbornness, Clint Dempsey seems to play where he wants to on the field regardless of where you put him. He likes to tuck in just behind the forward and get that ball at the top of the penalty box. Occasionally, he likes to drop deeper and play some center midfield, a position he has shown an increasing ability to handle. Bradley has tried him on the left flank, the right flank, and when the US gets behind in a game, at the 2nd forward where he belongs. Despite being designated in these three different positions, he always seem to crowd the middle and take that second forward or attacking midfield spot, designed assignment be damned.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Game Day Beer Review: Brouwerij Van Steenburghe Witches Brew Blond Tripel Ale

(9.30% ABV). Poured into a wine glass, Witches Brew appears bright orange with a huge headful of white foam that stays and stays...and stays. I get hops on the nose, as well as a slight sense of Belgian sweetness. It's got a light-ish mouthfeel, and is decently carbonated.  Witches Brew has a sweet taste -- maybe too sweet? -- and a melange of spices and alchohol are clearly present; I get toffee and honey, too.  It's not bad: B+.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Fathers Day

photo by mrhayatavia PhotoRee

To our readers here in the old US of A who happen to be Dads, Happy Fathers Day.  If you're not from the States and want to celebrate anyway, go ahead and do it.  With the miracle of children, every day is Fathers Day.

This is farlieonfootie for June 19.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

I Need a Hero

photo by JD Hancockvia PhotoRee

Today features a column in which three of our correspondents -- count 'em -- go toe-to-toe on why US Soccer has never produced a true superstar.  This article was written in large part in response to this piece, which appeared in the Wall Street Journal recently, which argued (among other things) that our national team players' abilities have outstripped the coaching talent necessary to help them advance their careers.

Correspondent Scott:

I agree US coaching quality can improve – just look at the talented Under-7 Fort Lauderdale Select side being held back by at least one hack coach.  But I think two factors are more relevant:

First, the author of the article completely glossed over the Football / Basketball / Baseball talent drain by simply pointing at Lionel Messi and then moving on.  That is an incredibly weak argument.  Sure, there are exceptions, but I would argue that if Messi were living in this country there is a very good chance that his father would be more into one of the other "big" sports and that would have diluted his soccer playing time growing up.  

In fact, with his balance and quickness, he would have been one of the best football players until high school, by which time it would have been too late to  accumulate the years of soccer playing.  It is a fact that the "Big Three" US sports (football, baseball and basketball) drain the talent pool available to US Soccer, and the author is naïve to dismiss it so easily.  Sure, there are excellent athletes who devote themselves to soccer, but with the majority of US athletes looking at the Big Three, it's as if our country had a fraction of the population from which to choose, putting us on par with countries that are much smaller – which is exactly where we are as a national program!

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Step Behind

photo by eeekkgirlvia PhotoRee

Correspondent Mark, fresh from scouting the US Mens' National Team, returns to our pages with his thoughts on the Gold Cup:

The first round of the Gold Cup has been put to rest and there is enough data in to make a few observations on the latest iteration of the US national team. In today’s blog we’ll start with the defense.

The performance against Guadeloupe represented a shoring up of a defense that has been shaky at best in its previous three games. What we learned in the early cup games is that Tim Ream is not ready for prime time, and Clarence Goodson may not be either. As gifted as Ream is with the ball at his feet, he’s been manhandled by stronger forwards and had an equally difficult time staying with quicker forwards. Everything that comes his way in the air is an adventure, and there have to be some questions on whether the young defender will ever have the physical tools to play against top international competition.

Last cup Oguchi Onyewu and Jay Demeritt gave the U.S. a back line that was a step slow but had a nasty temperament. Nobody pushed the U.S around in the back. The word that best describes the current U.S. back line is probably soft. Goodson does well in the air but he has been frequently been caught a step behind streaking forwards. He has done some nice things on set plays, which is encouraging, but he looks like a stop gap measure until more talented U.S. defenders come of age. The best of the up and comers is probably Omar Gonzalez. At 6’5 the 23 year old Gonzalez is the center of the MLS’s best defense and a former rookie of the year and MLS all star. It’s somewhat of a surprise that Ream got the nod over Gonzalez to begin with, but look for the pecking order of young defenders to swap after the Gold Cup.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Seven Things I Dont Understand

photo by ming1967via PhotoRee

I have only one comment on this piece from Correspondent Ed. I'm surprised there's only seven:

1.  Alex McLeish

Okay, so Villa needs a coach, but is McLeish their best option?  Somehow I recall this guy coaching a team that has just been relegated.  Granted, it wasn't a team with that much talent, but they looked absolutely awful at the end of the season.

And why bring in someone who creates such controversy?  Why amp up the cross-town fans even further?
There seems to be a strange trend among all GM's to hire coaches with experience, regardless of whether or not that experience is good.  Is it really possible that there is no lower division coach that far exceeded expectations?  No one that might have been good enough to, oh I don't know, get a 17th place finish for Birmingham?  Please.  To me Villa is showing once again why they will never be more than a second tier club.

2.  Nolan to West Ham

How does one of the best players on his team leave the EPL for The Championship?  Were the locker rooms too nice?  The crowds too big?  Was there no other team in the EPL that might have wanted you?

And what's with Newcastle?  Trading Andy Carroll for huge money makes sense.  Selling Nolan for a few mil doesn't.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Fear The Butterfly

photo by tylanarocksvia PhotoRee

Raymond James Stadium / Tampa, FL /  June 11, 2011 / USA 1 – 2 Panama

Correspondent Scott checks in from the most recent USMNT game in Tampa:

As I perform a mental self-assessment in the wake of USA’s 2-1 defeat to Panama, I almost forgive my optimism prior to kickoff.  After all, we had recovered some dignity after that friendly Spanish spanking by handily beating our impossibly polite northern neighbors without much of a fuss.  Cozy again in the warm uterine waters of CONCACAF play, surely we would continue to be the awkward teenager who, while often humbled by the adults of real federations like UEFA and CONMEBOL, can always bully the smaller siblings of the house.  Alas, it seems little Tommy has been taking some karate lessons because Panama waxed us in the first half and did enough in the second to break our 26 game unbeaten streak in Gold Cup group play.

With my good friend, Jack, attending the game live, I was hoping the US would play like Brazil, but instead we made Panama look like Brazil as the first half brought back haunting memories of our 1994 World Cup team.  Sure we got a couple chances but Panama dominated possession, creativity and effort.  Just look at the majority of Steve Cherundolo’s crosses and, aside from asking yourself how they got HD back in the mid nineties, you’ll be wanting to know if he is aware you can only score from the front of the goal and not up in the stands behind.  Clint Dempsey, our only competent player in the first half, seemed to have forgotten he was playing with Cherundolo and not his Fulham teammate, Brede Hangeland, judging by his disappointment with the deliveries. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Bob Must Go

photo by MattGerlachPhotographyvia PhotoRee

So, last night's loss against Panama may not lead to the US exiting the Gold Cup tournament, and I still expect them to qualify for the knockout stages of the competition -- barring an upset of catastrophic proportions by Guadaloupe -- but the fact the Americans lost to Panama on home soil has to go down as a black mark on Bob Bradley's head coaching resume. Actually, the fact that we're even forced to write an article contemplating whether or not the Americans can advance in a tourney against a bunch of CONCACAF minnows is shocking in and of itself....

Continuing where I left off last week, the combination of Sunil Gulati and Bob Bradley is not what is going to help US soccer succeed now or in the future. I include Gulati this time in my increasingly vocal criticism, because he's the man in charge, the one who re-hired Bradley after the 2010 World Cup, and he's also the one who vetoed the hiring -- that's twice now -- of a more offensive-minded head coach such as Jurgen Klinsmann.

To put it simply, US soccer has taken a step backward over the past 12-18 months. Not only does the coach not appear to know who his best 11 are, he doesn't appear capable of putting a strong 11 on the pitch, and the US appears particularly suspect on defense.  Which is a perfect jumping off point to begin our analysis of Saturday night's dismal 90 minutes:

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Transfer Daze

photo by Sophie H Powellvia PhotoRee

"Will he, or won't he" fills the news void: Will Phil Jones sign with United?  Why, he already has!  No he hasn't, there was a last minute snag with Venkys that's holding up the deal. Will Ashley Young sign?  He's getting married this week, and will sign when he comes back.  How about Nani?  He's trade bait for Inter, to be offered in a player-and-cash deal for Wesley Sneijder. Luka's not going anywhere says Harry, but much to Arsene's dismay, Samir is playing footsie with Sir Alex.

I've written about all this transfer nonsense before, but this past week has revealed the truth once more: there's part fact, part fiction, and part pure fantasy and negotiating leverage at play here -- Welcome to Silly Season, in which the fans and "In the Know" pundits play football manager as they critique, criticize and attempt to cajole their teams into action or inaction in the summer transfer market.

In part this happens because something needs to fill the gaping maw that claims the term "news" during the slower summer months. With the hilarious and appropriately-named "Weinergate" hogging the headlines over here in the States, and no League games occurring to grab a true fan's attention, rumor and speculation suffice just fine. So to add to the witches brew of speculation, fact and opinion, I'll add a few thoughts of my own to the mix:

Friday, June 10, 2011

Game Day Beer Review: Sam Adams' Infinium Biere de Champagne

(10.30% ABV) Well, I finally had it: the Sam Adams Infinium.  It's not every day you drink a $20 bottle of beer.  

Stashed away in the upper reaches of my wine refrigerator, with the large formats and the bottles of champagne, this particular bottle had rested for several months, along with the thought gnawing away in the back of my head the entire time: Infinium needs to be drunk prior to July 2011.  But what's the right occasion?  In the end I decided it's kind of like the US Supreme Court's definition of pornography: you'll know it when you see it.  And that occasion finally arived, along with an unexpected visit from some out-of-town friends, this past weekend.  But would the bottle live up to the considerable hype?

Soon, the bottle was opened and here's what I found: I poured the Sam Adams' Infinium from the well designed 750 ml bottle into a pilsner glass, all the better to showcase the steady stream of champagne-like bubbles which are a prominent feature of the beer.  It poured a deep golden color, with a fat, three-fingered head of luscious white foam.  

The beer was extremely yeasty smelling, with the strong scent of lemons and straw evident on the nose. But it's the taste that was really different: Wow!  Infinium is tart, with a strong lemon zest. It's also highly carbonated, with a mouthfeel that stands up to its promised vision. It started sour and finished sweet, maybe a bit too sweet for my liking. I don't know that I could drink more than one of these.  

It's unusual and daring, and I give Sam some credit for trying to pull it off, but I don't think I'll be back for more: B-, but worth a try..... 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Barcelona v. Manchester United: Tactics vs. Talent - Part II

photo by americanistadechiapasvia PhotoRee

Back by popular demand is Part II of Correspondent Ed's analysis of the UEFA Champions League Final:

Let’s start right in and continue our analysis of Tactics v. Talent.

The Problem of Mascherano

There is one player who plays for Barcelona whose abilities we already know from his stint at Liverpool – and that is Javier Mascherano.  Mascherano wasn’t a bad player for Liverpool, where he played at holding midfielder, but he certainly wasn’t very dangerous or dominant. 

For the Champions League game, Mascherano was inserted at center back for Barcelona.  One would suspect that this would be a terrible problem; however, in those few opportunities that United created, Marchiarano handled himself reasonably well.  Central defense was really not a problem for Barcelona throughout the game, and this is large part because United never had the ball.  Plus, the Barca system allows for and almost requires smaller defenders who are better at handling the ball than United’s big two in the middle. 

This is not to diminish the contributions of both Pique and Busquets, who were outstanding both defensively and handling the ball.  That said, I would think United could never hide Mascherano in the center. 

Verdict on MascheranoTactics cover up lack of talent

Monday, June 6, 2011

Time To Go

photo by Unhindered by Talentvia PhotoRee

Saturday's action featured two coaches who've both managed to dramatically overstay their welcome, Fabio Capello and Bob Bradley. Herewith some thoughts on two not-so-pretty games for the English-speaking sides:

o Wembley was declared a "sell out" for the England's Euro 2012 qualifier versus the Swiss on Saturday. Amazingly, a number of fans came dressed as empty seats.....  

o You're kidding me, right? Ads on the sideline at Wembley stated that Carlsberg is the "Offical Beer" of the English national team? What's next?  Newcastle sponsoring Denmark?

o There was some shocking defending by the Three Lions in the first half. Memo to Fabio Capello: Do not use James Milner in a two-man wall. In fact, don't use Milner at all. He's terrible.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Game Day Beer Review: Brouwerij De Koninck Belgian Pale Ale

(5.00% ABV) On draft, served in a goblet. De Koninck pours a clear golden color, with a one-fingered head which quickly recedes into a thin white line serving only to guard the contents from my thirsty mouth. The beer's smell is almost non-existent; there's nothing there, except maybe some mild grains. It smells like bread.

De Koninck tastes mild, as well. It's got some hop bitterness, but these are not aggressive hops, these are the world famous Saaz hops, which must spend a lot of their lifetime just chilling out, because they're very mellow. There's something else going on, but I'm not quite sharp enough to figure it out -- I'll leave it at a certain barely detectable level of funkiness. De Koninck is crisp, clean, and extremely drinkable.  I give it a A-.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Barcelona v. Manchester United: Tactics vs. Talent – Part I

photo by Oh-Barcelona.comvia PhotoRee

Columnist Ed with some thoughts on a game I can't bear yet to re-watch:

Is Barcelona Football's Version 2.0?
                        Barcelona’s domination of Manchester United at the Champions League final was stunning.  The score – 3 to 1 – could have easily been 5 to 1.  Barcelona had an outrageous 70% of the possession, outshot United 22 to 4 (12 to 1 in shots on goal), and was in control of the game for all but a few minutes.    This game, as well as their prior series against Real Madrid, a team with a similar style as Manchester United a singular question that for some reason has been largely ignored by the media.  Namely, is the talent level of Barcelona that much greater than United, or are the imported Dutch tactics the future of football?  Put in another more personal way, has the direct game perfected by Sir Alex Ferguson become dated?  Will or should all teams work towards the Dutch “clockwork orange” methodology?
                        Let’s be clear regarding what I consider the main characteristics of Barca’s play.  Barca favor short passes and possession.  They play 5 or arguably 6 midfielders.  Their players are small and quick.  They attack centrally and, due to the size of their players, rarely put long crosses into the box.  Even when they attack from the outside, they work to penetrate as close to the goal as possible and then favor passes at the feet of rushing attackers.
                       United play, of course, a more direct style.  They often play aggressive cross-field passes.  They look to push the ball forward towards the space available, and try to spread teams out with speed on the edges.  Wide midfielders typically stay wide and put high crosses into the center.  Their players tend to be larger, and work to increase players physicality.