Posted on: June 28, 2011 10:14 am
 

Gold Cup Dust: Yanks Need to Hold the Line

Many in Uncle Sam’s Army are livid about the current state of the US Men’s National Soccer Team and understandably so.  In my last article I harped on the fact that the Nats seemed to have a habit of starting games flatfooted and then having to scramble for 70 minutes to claw back into the game.  The outcome of this Gold Cup Final against Mexico was the exact opposite though.  Come to think of it, that’s not the first time that has happened either (Brazil at the Confederations Cup 2009).  So allow me to rephrase my complaint:  we either come out flatfooted and give up cheap goals within the first 20 minutes and have to scramble like hell for the next 70 minutes OR we come out blazing hot for 20 minutes and then collapse handing the game away over the next 70 minutes.  Can we just get 90 minutes of consistent Futbol?

In all honesty, and I indicated this in my last blog, I think Mexico was the better team this year and I didn’t think we would be able to knock them off IF we were able to make it to the Gold Cup Final.  I think Mexico has completed their transition from an older team to the younger generation and they are sitting strong and very pretty right now with an exciting brand of Futbol.  The USMNT on the other hand is in the midst of transition much like Mexico underwent not long ago and like Italy, France and others are also undertaking now.  Our roster is made up of guys knocking on 30 and guys almost old enough to order a beer with not a whole lot in between.  I’m not all that bent out of shape when looking at the bigger picture that the Yanks lost to El Tri this go around. 

I am irritated at how it played out though.  Mexico came into the game needing extra time to get into the Gold Cup Final.  While Mexico completely dominated their group they had faltered or at least cooled their heels a little during the knockout stages.  Certainly they were the better complete team heading into Saturday night, but they were also ripe for an upset at the hands of a scrappy US side.  And sure enough 20 minutes into the game the Yanks had El Tri right where they wanted them.  So what in the wide, wide world of sports happened out there?

Most have blamed the injury to Cherundolo for the collapse of the backline and some have gone further (rightfully so, in my opinion) to Bradley’s decision to bring in Bornstein at left back and making a double switch by moving Lichaj from left back to right back where Dolo had been. 

We were dealt a difficult challenge when Dolo had to come out, no doubt.  Great teams overcome the inevitable setbacks that always rise up in Championships.  Championship teams almost always have to dig very deep at some point in the contest to overcome a major obstacle or bad bounce seemingly threatening their dream.  In this situation, Bob Bradley took a bad situation and made it worse with two swaps instead of one.  But I still think there was more to the collapse of the team than Dolo having to leave the game in the 11th minute and the boneheaded coaching move that followed. 

The Nats appear to be missing a confidence and swagger to them.  They are coming up short in their own belief in themselves for some reason.  That doubt starts with the Coach and works all the way down to each player on the team.  Why did the coach name Spector to the 23-man roster as what would appear to be the #2 Right Back and not have the confidence to put him in the game when the #1 right back went down?  Bradley got so much out of his bench and his substitutes the entire tournament why lose confidence in the final?  Either there is something we don’t know that transpired on the training pitch, something between Spector and Bradley behind closed doors or Bradley had a major brain lock in a moment of high tension on the grand stage.  Lichaj had been playing so well on the left, why disrupt that?  If Spector is the only change for Dolo and then struggles, instruct Jones, Bradley and/or Bedoya to support the right side flank in a more defensive role, but don’t screw up both flanks and thus the entire backline when faced with the wing play that El Tri brings into the attack.  We may never know why Bradley made his decision, but that whole episode was bizarre.  

From the moment Dolo left the game, the entire team fell out of sorts and it was only a matter of time for Mexico.  Many pundits have stated that Howard had his worst game ever for the Stars and Stripes.  I agree.  But to me that was a direct result of Howard feeling a desperate need that someone had to step up and pick up the slack on defense.  When the backline fell out of synch, Howard began to try too hard and ended up in bad positions at bad times.  It reminded me of John Elway in the first three Super Bowls he went to where he was seemingly the only player on offense.  He tried to do too much and forced those games into blowouts the other way, but he had little choice, if he didn’t do it, who could?  Likewise, Howard had to have felt he was the only player left playing defense once the backline was thrown into turmoil by the head coach. 

So where do we go from here? 

Should Bradley be sacked?  I don’t think you fire Bradley on the sole basis of not beating Mexico and winning the Gold Cup.  But Bradley has given the US Soccer Federation enough of a big picture over many years that if USSF wants to go in another direction for the next World Cup there is sufficient justification, but more importantly there is still time for a new coach to develop the squad that will head to Brazil.  At the same time, Bradley has to be given credit for a pretty solid tenure all things considered (including sitting Landon a couple of first halves).  At this point, I would be supportive if USSF decides to go in another direction, but I am also well aware that a replacement for Bradley could fare much worse in the current transitional cycle than Bradley might.  At the end of the day, I just think it is time to shake his hand, thank him for a job well done and wish him every success in the future.  My support for his departure has more to do with freshening things up, bringing in a new management style and philosophy with the excitement that usually accompanies a new approach.  Oftentimes a new coach brings in an air of confidence and energy that the players could use in this case.  And if Gulati won’t give the best coach available the freedom to build a winner, then Gulati needs to be kicked to the curb without the same niceties suggested just above for Bradley.

Whoever the coach is going to be going forward including Bradley if they stick with him, much effort must be made towards building a backline of 8 players that are fully interchangeable and young enough to get us through the entire cycle with some much needed consistency.  We already have a base in Ream, Chandler and Lichaj, but we can’t go into Brazil with the soon-to-be 30-somethings from this past cycle and the cycle before that.  We are in need of a major reload in the back and this new generation needs to play together in every game between now and Brazil.  Continuity is the key to holding a good line.

Posted on: June 13, 2011 5:40 pm
 

Yanks: Moving on From Panama

 

My initial reaction after the US Men’s team fell to Panama in the Gold Cup Group Stage on Saturday night by a score of 2-1 was just to reply to a post in a Gold Cup Thread on the message boards.  But after the Rolaids had time to neutralize the acid in my stomach and I have calmed down, I figured I had more to say than just a quick thread response.  A full blown Blog was in order.  Besides, I have been negligent in posting anything new since October when the MLS Season was winding down.

Many of the articles I have read on the loss to Panama are hammering on many of the players individually, but by far most articles are clamoring for Coach Bob Bradley’s scalp.  There has been a lot written around the country assessing the general state of affairs with the Stars and Stripes.  A lot of valid points are out there for those that hunt for the news and can sift through the hot headed backlashes.  Here is my two cents for what it’s worth.

The most glaring problem plaguing the Nats is how they start games.  The team seems to come out flat for every game except Canada and this problem goes back a long time, definitely pre-World Cup because they were lethargic starting every game in that tournament.  If the starting XI were the same for every game over that time span, I might be tempted to hang that in large part on the players.  But this seems to be systemic and organizational and that has me also looking at the head coach, Bob Bradley.  It doesn’t matter which players he starts, they don’t come alive until they have given up a goal (or two or three).  And that usually happens within the first 15-20 minutes. 

Having pointed towards Bradley on this energy problem, I do have one major player concern that seems to have flown under everyone’s radar.  It could be a real contributing factor to this “team” problem.  There was an article last week (out of a Florida newspaper, I believe) that included some comments from Landon Donovan leading up to the game against Panama.  In that article, Donovan was asked why he was not participating in a scrimmage with the rest of the team near the end of one of the practices.  “Generally after a game I don’t do a whole lot for a few days.  I got a sweat in here but my body doesn’t respond well to doing too much in the days following a game” is specifically what Landon Donovan said.

 WHAT?  I don’t care who you are or who you think you are, if you don’t practice with your teammates, you don’t play in games with them either.  Who else is sitting out of practices because their bodies don’t respond well to practicing?  Gee, I wonder why we’ve looked flat in so many games…

Donovan has looked like crap in practically every Nats game since his amazing goal at the WC.  The only thing he seems to be contributing is kicking duties on set pieces.  Maybe that goal went to his head and he’s too good to have to practice anymore.  If Bradley is allowing/condoning/rewarding this crap and playing favorites like that then fire Bradley and send LD back to LA.  He’s not the only right winger in the player pool and his set pieces aren’t as good as Brad Davis’.  You need to tighten it up Landon, if this is in fact the case.  You’re supposed to be a leader on this team.  You are the poster child for American Soccer.  If you’re taking it easy during the week, it’s no wonder the team comes out “taking it easy” in the first half of every game.  That’s a cancer, folks plain and simple.  There’s an old saying in the U.S. Army:  You fight like you train and you train like you fight. 

If a player is too tired to practice with everyone else, I can understand that.  Landon has had a pretty heavy workload.  But he shouldn’t start the next game either.  That’s leadership and personnel management.  Maybe he comes in as a late second half sub or preferably he just sits out a game altogether.  Otherwise it sends the wrong message to everyone else and is a source of resentment.

Another issue that I have posted about several times that is still driving me up the wall.  Bradley started Agudelo again and left him in the game against Panama until after the 60<sup>th</sup> minute.  I love Agudelo.  I think he has an incredible future with the Yanks, but he’s 19 and still has a ton to learn.  Running head down into triple teams and losing the ball near the other team’s penalty box (or in it) when your team is behind does not work, Bradley!  Wondo should be starting these games and then being replaced by Agudelo in the 2<sup>nd</sup> half not vice versa.  There are readers of this that will want to point out that Wondo missed a sure scoring opportunity.  He did and it happens all the time even to the best of the best.  The real problem is Wondo is only playing enough to get one chance like that in a game.  On the other hand, Wondo also had a brilliant one touch pass to set up a sure goal for Michael Bradley, which Bradley then missed.  That’s not a dig on Bradley either, great opportunities are missed all the time in this sport.  Our problem is we didn’t get chances like those in the first 60 minutes.  It’s déjà vu of Findley/Buddle at the world cup!  That’s Bob Bradley.

Our backline has taken some heat for Saturday as well.  Goodson and Ream specifically didn’t have great evenings, and I had posted just last week that they worked really well together against Canada, but their inexperience might eventually bite us.  We were bitten on Saturday.  I’m not going to pound on them though.  Ream made a bad [young] play that gave Panama the PK, but that comes with playing a kid that could well lead our U23 team at the Olympics next summer.  I can live with that.  It was a factor in our loss, but I can accept that in this case because I don’t think Gooch is 100% back yet and Ream is still our best option with Goodson.  Goodson got our only goal so I’m not going to pound on him either.  I don’t think we lost the game because of our defense, we lost because of a flatfooted start from front to back and a lack of creativity in the final third (hey Bradley, if you missed it the first time, try Wondo for some creative passing and shots on goal during the first 60 minutes since he’s the only other striker you called up with Agudelo and Altidore).

The Yanks can and should rebound from this.  This team should make it to the finals.  I’m not sure we can beat Mexico this year, but anything short of 2<sup>nd</sup> and anymore first halves like Saturday and I’ll be calling for Klinsmann in July and demanding that Bob Bradley take Sunil Gulati with him.

Posted on: April 14, 2010 1:02 pm
Edited on: April 14, 2010 3:28 pm
 

Soccer (futball) in the USA

Recently I have become a professional soccer fan.  And I do mean recently.  As in this year.  My daughters have been playing the sport for years.  I even stepped in last year to coach my 6 year old's team when their original coach had to withdraw for work related reasons.  I literally knew nothing of the game other than "no hands" and kick it in the other goal. 

A couple of months ago I bought my girls the FIFA 2010 soccer game for their Wii in an effort to further their interest and knowledge of the game.  They haven't played it much, but I have.  And I love it.  I've learned more about soccer in the past couple of months than in the previous 40+ years.  It's a wonderful sport and my new found sport is helping me get through the Spring and Summer doldrums that result from the lack of American Football.

Most people that I talk to tell me they just haveven't ever been able to get into enjoying soccer because they find it boring.  What I have observed of the sport at the professional level is that it isn't anywhere near as boring to me as baseball or golf watched on TV.  Don't get me wrong, I love going to baseball games, but I cannot watch them on TV.  I love playing golf, but I always take naps when other's are playing it on my TV.  And then there is basketball which at most only has my attention during the NCAA Tournament in March of each year. 

So in a nutshell, the only major sport I enjoy watching on TV is Football, both college and the NFL, and the season only runs from September through the end of January.  For 7 months out of each year, I really haven't been able to find anything else of interest.  I tried NASCAR for a few years, but it's more of a male soap opera if you ask me.  I think I found something to enjoy from February through the fall now and that's the other type of Futball.

Major League Soccer (MLS) is entering it's 15th season and just expanded this year with a new team in Philly with two more teams being added next year (Portland and Vancouver).  The World Cup is also this summer in June and July in South Africa.  The USA Team plays powerhouse England in our first match.  All-in-all, it's a good year to develop an interst in the other Futball.  You know, the type that everyone else on the planet is rabid about. 

Why are several billion people so passionate about futball?  I have a few reasons why I have become an overnight fan:

1.  The game is played in two 45 minute halves and the clock doesn't stop for anything nor does TV break away for commercials during play.  At the end of each half, time is added onto the game, extending play, to make up for lost time due to injuries and player substitutions that ate up the clock during the half.  So you get about 47-50 minutes of no comercial interruptions.  That's a big plus for me.  And with Tivo and DVR's, I just pause the game when I need a break and catch up to live action sometime during the commercials that run at half-time.

2.  Because it is so hard to navigate with the ball using anything BUT your hands and arms through a picket fence of bodies, scores are usually very low, which might be why many think of it as boring, but that also means the underdog is almost always in the game just needing one break for a chance to win.  The nature of the game itself is a great equalizer.  We Americans always love the underdog and in futball, the underdog has a better chance to pull off the upset than in almost any other sport.

3.  America should dominate in this sport.  Simply put, the best futball teams in the world field 11 players from everywhere.  Soccer teams are a microcosm of the the Melting Pot that is the United States.  On the super teams in Europe you will see players from all over Europe, but also from Asia, the Middle East, South America, Africa and even the United States more and more.  Our country is made up of people from all over the world, just like the really good teams in this sport.  We already have the gene pool in our back yards to be the best of the best without having to look all over the world to find them.  We just need to develop the talent better. 

4.  Acting.  That's right, just like basketball players and punters in football, soccer players are excellent at overdramatizing in an effort to draw a penalty which can result in a free kick or even better another player being kicked out of the game.  It's sometimes very humerous to watch the feigned agony of a player on the ground trying to draw a penalty on the other team.  Regardless of the outcome, the injured player is usually up and running at 100% within 30 seconds.  And unlike hockey, when a player is kicked out of the game for what is essentially unnecesary roughness, it isn't for just a few minutes, it's for the rest of the game and his team cannot replace him with another player.  The underdog has an even better chance when it's 11 on 10, thus the motivation for superb (and humerous) acting. 

More and more Americans are playing the game each year from rec leagues to high schools and it is gowing rapidly here.  I hope it isn't too long before it is picked up by more Division 1 colleges, but Title IX is a major hurdle to fielding men's soccer teams right now.  Take a peak at a game or two this summer as Team USA takes on the world in South Africa and then take a gander at an ESPN televised MLS game on a Thursday night or some lazy Saturday this summer.  It may take awhile to adopt the game, but there are a number of reasons why billions of others are so rabid about it.  And keep an eye out for a local semi-pro team to pop up in your hometown.  If you get a local team, go to a game in person.  You'll see.
Posted on: March 1, 2010 5:45 pm
 

Conference Dominos Headed to FBS

So much talk about Conference realignments and the opinions are wildly varied with some truly remarkable predictions.  The most fantastic predictions come from fanatics who desperately want their school to be included in one of the Elite Conferences so badly that they have become delusional about it.  Those fans firmly believe their school will be the chosen school for the XYZ Conference’s expansion regardless of rational common sense.  So in the spirit of total insanity, I thought I would throw out some ideas on how the FBS is going to look radically different by the end of this decade.

When the doors close behind the last university president to arrive at the BigTen Conference Expansion Meeting, surely all of you realize that business interests [money] and a lot of common sense will reign supreme.  Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake in what will end up triggering a domino effect of massive conference realignments.  I believe the scope of these changes will be much like we saw in the early 1990’s when the SEC, BigTen, ACC, WAC all expanded while the Southwest Conference folded and gave way to the birth of the Big XII.  That time period was extremely exciting and we are about to witness round two and something every bit as significant.  But take it to heart that your “city” university is not going to get an invite to a major BCS conference except and unless the Big East remains a BCS Conference.

Common sense should weigh into everyone’s guesses as to how this will all unfold rather than just wishful thinking.  But since that doesn’t appear to limit anyone else, why should I limit my imagination.  At least some of the fans out there do in fact close out with saying something like “I know it will never happen, but wouldn’t it be cool?”   

Let’s start with the Conference with the biggest brand in this mix and the one that kicked off all the excitement, the BigTen.  Like I said earlier, I think you can rule out any city-based university.  The BigTen schools are all flagship universities of entire states.  That isn’t going to change.  That means you can rule out schools like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Louisville.  I don’t mean any offense to those schools, but step back and look at the conference.  They are all the University of [State] or they are land grant schools like [State] State University.  Those flagship schools get the lion’s share of research grants and they carry the most political clout.  Private universities on the other hand, like Notre Dame and Northwestern can and will be considered because of their prestige and again, the political clout that they carry.  Notre Dame isn’t going to join a conference though.  Realistically there aren’t that many schools that fit the mold for the BigTen, so I don’t understand all the wild speculation on it.

·         Rutgers and/or Syracuse – Both are flagship universities of their states and both provide deep penetration into the New York Metropolitan Television Market.  Interestingly enough in my opinion, Barry Alvarez was recently quoted in the press as saying the BigTen was looking at expanding by “at least” one more team.  That indicates the BigTen is at least considering a major move to beyond 12 teams up to maybe 13 or 14.  If that’s the case, I would look to both of these teams being added.  This isn’t as much about immediate competitive spirit as most people seem to think, but Syracuse has very proud competitive traditions even if they have fallen off in recent years, and Rutgers appears to have turned the corner this past decade.  Regardless of current or past competiveness, as soon as these schools join the BigTen and start sharing in that monstrous stream of cash, both universities will field BigTen caliber talent quickly.  Case in point, the ACC went after Boston College instead of West Virginia because it wanted the TV markets of the northeast rather than a rural state even though WVU already has a very competitive athletic program in numerous sports.

·         Missouri – Forget about Iowa State (BigTen already has Iowa covered), Nebraska (not as much revenue from TV markets) or Texas (too far geographically).  Missouri is a natural fit for the BigTen.  And from the perspective of Mizzou, they are sick of being screwed by the Big XII where the nexus of political and monetary power in that conference lies way south in the state of Texas.  Mizzou keeps getting screwed in bowl selections and revenue sharing by the Big XII’s uneven revenue sharing structure as well as political tendencies to lobby for the Texas schools in the bowl pecking order.  Mizzou wins big with a $witch and the BigTen wins too with St Louis and Kansas City TV markets.  If the BigTen only adds one school, I’m not sure Mizzou will get the invite over access to New York City and JoPa is already on record pushing for another school in the East.  If three are added, these are your three and you can take that to the BigTen National Bank.

Next is the Pac-10 and I suspect they might hold back until after their brother in the East, the BigTen has made its decision.  The reason the Pac-10 waits for the BigTen to make the first move is because of how Mizzou fits into the equation. 

·         Colorado - If Mizzou bolts from the Big XII to the BigTen, the Pac-10 will follow suit quickly with an invite of Colorado.  Colorado was invited to join the Pac-10 in the mid 90’s and turned it down just as the Big XII was coming together.  If the Big XII begins to come apart, I think the Buffs will be ready to look West and the Pac-10 would love to have the Denver TV market. 

·         Utah – If the Pac-10 can get Colorado (which may be contingent on the BigTen getting Mizzou), then the Pac-10 will also invite Utah for an easy 12<sup>th</sup>.  Utah delivers the Salt Lake City market.  The Pac-10 may wait to follow the BigTen’s lead, but they will move quickly when they do.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pac-10 and BigTen don’t coordinate to a certain extent through back channels to simultaneously rape the Big XII based on the relationship that already exists between the BigTen and Pac-10.

Now we start getting into the dominos and the fallout and things start getting pretty difficult to forecast beyond.  But honestly, this is where I think it begins to get the most exciting.  What happens to the Big East and the Big XII in the aftermath?  Do the other two major conferences, ACC and SEC, look at the BigTen and Pac-10 expanding to 12-14 teams and decide to also expand beyond 12 teams?   There would be some great opportunities to pick up some schools from what is left of the Big East and Big XII.

 

Remember that you saw it here first.  Here is the coming order of the FBS, at least with the Major BCS conferences.  The further down the pecking order you go, the more difficult it is to predict the fallout.  And truthfully, conference hopping may last many years with teams coming in and then leaving in short order in search of equilibrium.

 

BigTen East:

Rutgers

Syracuse

Penn State

Ohio State

Michigan

Indiana

Purdue

 

BigTen West:

Michigan State

Wisconsin

Northwestern

Illinois

Missouri

Iowa

Minnesota

 

 

Pac-10 North:

 

Washington

Washington State

Oregon

Oregon State

Stanford

California

 

 

Pac-10 South:

 

USC

UCLA

Colorado

Utah

Arizona State

Arizona

 

 

ACC Atlantic:

 

Clemson

Boston College

UConn

Florida State

Wake Forest

North Carolina State

Maryland

 

 

ACC Coastal:

 

Georgia Tech

Virginia Tech

West Virginia

Miami

North Carolina

Duke

Virginia

 

 

SEC East:

 

South Carolina

Georgia

Florida

Tennessee

Vanderbilt

Kentucky

Auburn

 

 

SEC West:

 

Alabama

Mississippi State

Ole Miss

Arkansas

LSU

Texas

Texas A&M

 

 

Big XII North:

 

Nebraska

Iowa State

Kansas

Kansas State

Colorado State

Oklahoma State

 

 

Big XII South

 

Texas Tech

Baylor

Oklahoma

TCU

SMU

Houston

 

 

Mountain West:

 

BYU

Air Force

Wyoming

UNLV

San Diego State

New Mexico

Boise State

Nevada

Fresno State

 

 

Big East North:

 

Cincinnati

Pittsburgh

Louisville

East Carolina

Marshall

Temple

 

 

Big East South:

 

South Florida

Central Florida

Southern Mississippi

Memphis

Tulane

UAB

 

 

What happens in the Sun Belt, MAC and WAC Conferences from there is getting to the point of true insanity and makes my head hurt, but I hope Louisanna Tech finds a better geographic fit than where they currently are.

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com