U.S.-Costa Rica – What Klinsmann Got Wrong

ImageThere is a reason why long winning streaks are rare in soccer – stuff can easily go wrong! This was evident against Costa Rica. Michael Bradley is without a doubt the most important Yank and his injury before the game clearly unsettled the team. While the US should have expected an early onslaught, they looked totally shocked and were in some ways fortunate not to give up a third goal. All looked lost. 

 
Yet… and there is a very big YET… the US fought there way back into the game. By the second half the US looked likely to level. Dempsey hit the post and Donovan was terrorizing Costa Rica. Unfortunately, Costa Rica hit on the break effectively ending the game. 
 
It is tough to be too critical of Klinsmann, especially after such a great run of games.  But last night we saw some of Klinsmann’s managerial tendencies back fire, namely his continuing willingness to play players out of position. 
 
First, Fiscal was totally lost at right back. The second goal was caused by him allowing CR to get behind him, forcing Gonzalez to come over. Even then Fiscal didn’t provide any help. As a result Gonzalez was isolated and could do little to prevent the cross into the box – a cross he would have cleared on the other end if he hadn’t had to cover for Fiscal. That wasn’t the only time Fiscal was beat on the wing. Furthermore, Fiscal offered nothing going forward. It is one thing if Fiscal was the emergency option. But Klinsmann had him there over Cameron who plays there for a Premier League side. Granted Cameron doesn’t get forward very much with Stoke, but if he is your back up DM, then he is clearly better on the ball than Fiscal.  The lack of true fullbacks is clearly the major hole in the US side. 
 
Second, the substitutions hurt, rather than helped. I thought Klinsmann decision to bring on Eddie Johnson was a good one. A true CF would through something new at a CR backline that was on its heels. But by taking off Zusi he forced Donovan – who at that point was terrorizing the CR back line out wide. All of sudden the US attack began to sputter without Donovan. A better move would have been to bring on EJ for Fiscal and shift Fabian Johnson to RB with the direction to get forward. Donovan would have then have had defensive responsibilities on the left, but wouldn’t have needed to stay wide as Beasley could have provided the width. Instead, with Fiscal offering little going forward and exposed defensively, Donovan had to stay wide and play more as a true RM. 
 
Furthermore, it made little sense to bring on Johnson if you wanted to bring on Altidore a few minutes later. Bringing on Altidore and taking off Fabian Johnson may seem like an attacking move, but in reality it was anything but. The problem wasn’t Jozy. It is that by bringing on Jozy required Eddie to play deeper and wide (once again a player not playing his normal position). With Donovan isolated wide, and Eddie Johnson having to link the play the US became completely disjointed. While the third goal was clearly demoralizing, the U.S. barely strung passes together once the subs were made. 
 
Also a note on Howard. From my view the third goal was on him. He got his positioning entirely wrong. First, at the time the ball was booted forward, Howard was very deep, essentially at his penalty spot. He should have been further forward prepared to come out and clear balls over the top. Second, his first reaction was to go backward toward his goal once the ball is kicked. If he decides to go for the ball he gets there. Even if it is close he forces Campbell to round him allowing the CB to recover. He had to see that Besler had no chance of catching Campbell. Third, even if he didn’t want to leave the box, he still needs to charge at Campbell to shut down the angle. He literally just stood there – just outside his six yard box – and was beaten low. He has to attack the ball there. Now some of this might be on the coaching staff, as Howard might have been told to stay back and not to venture out as a sweeper keeper. If so that’s a mistake, especially when chasing the game. 
 
Overall, the game probably couldn’t have gone much worse.  The injury to Bradley and the yellow cards (especially the boneheaded one by Altidore) will really test the depth of the US.
 
That being said, the US is still in very good shape for qualification and if Dempsey’s shot hits the inside, rather than the outside, of the post, we are talking about the tremendous resilience of this US side. This game highlighted some areas for the US to improve, what it didn’t do is cause reason for panic. 

Why Spurs Aren’t Going To Sell Bale (or at least why they shouldn’t)

article-2359033-1ABC8FC1000005DC-12_634x521It has been largely assumed that Spurs would have to sell Bale and would not be able to resist an 85 million pound offer from Real Madrid. Daniel Levy is now seen as just holding out to get a better deal from Madrid.  But when analyzing Spurs past transfer history and the current dynamics of the market, it becomes clear that Spurs are most likely not bluffing. They want to keep Bale and have no intention of selling Bale this summer for anything less than an absurd 100+ million pounds.  And Spurs are exactly right in their approach. Bale is worth more to Spurs in 2013-14 than 85 million pounds.

Importantly, this doesn’t mean Bale is worth more than 85 million pounds. Bale is an asset. And just like any property, just  because someone offers you a huge amount for your house doesn’t mean it makes sense to sell. Timing matters and the timing doesn’t make sense here.

But what about Spurs spending?
One reason to think Bale is on his way is that Spurs are spending likely drunken sailors – only Manchester City in the EPL has spent more this season. The logic goes that poor Spurs can’t afford this, so they must already be using the money they plan to get for Bale now. But there are reasons to doubt this.

As the transfer history shows, Spurs have money.  But until this summer, Spurs haven’t really spent considerably since Harry Redknapp’s first two years. Look at the last 8-9 years of transfer activity:

  • 2013-14 (-47 mil euros net): Spurs have spent 69 million euros (Paulinho, Soldaldo, Capoue, Chadli) and sold 22 million
  • 2012-13 (-4 mil): Spurs last year spent 72 mil euros and sold 68 million euros
  • 2011-12 (+36 mil): (Redknapp’s last season), Spurs spent just 6 mill euros (Scott Parker) and sold 42 million euros.
  • 2010-2011 (-23 mil): spent 26 million, and sold just 3 million.
  • 09-10 (-9 mil):  spent 40 and sold 31.
  • 08-09 (-50 mil): This was the year Spurs sold Berbatov and Keane (2 pts, 8 games) and then got Redknapp and had to panic buy in the January window, Spurs spent 140 mill and sold 90 mil
  • 07-08 (-72 mil): 94 spent (Bent, Bale), 22 mil sold
  • 06-07 (-23 mil): 61 spent (Berbatov), 38 mil sold
  • 05-06 (-14 mil): 36 spent, 22 mil sold.

Over the last 8 years (excluding this summer), Spurs have spent an average of 20 million euros more per season than they have sold. But if you don’t count the last two seasons Spurs were spending 30 million euros more per season than selling for the 6 seasons between 2005 and 2011. But the past two seasons Spurs have been a selling club netting 32 million euros. So if Spurs could maintain spending at 30 million per season for the six years prior to 2011-2012 than Tottenham have likely been banking revenue the past two seasons.

This means that not only do Spurs have the 32 million euros they have netted the past two seasons, but likely are capable of spending an additional 60 million from a lack of spending. In other words, Spurs have not spent their transfer allotment the past two years.  That would equate to Spurs being able to afford to spend about 90 million euros netHence, despite already having a net outflow of 47 million euros this window, Spurs should have about an additional 30-40 million euros more they could spend, given the lack of spending the past two years.  This is what makes Tottenham’s bid for Willan and others financially viable. Furthermore, if Spurs plan on selling Bale next season, they can count on likely being in the black in terms of spending, likely making them more willing to push their spending limit.

Lastly, my guess is that part of the agreement in keeping AVB at Spurs (he turned down Real and PSG) is that he will be given the resources to compete. This current rate of spending is probably part of that deal.  So Spurs spending could easily be disconnected from any Bale sale.

But still why not sell at 85 million pounds – a Premier League record?
First, Spurs will increase their chances at qualifying for Champions League. With Bale Spurs, while not assured, will be favorites for the Champions League. That’s likely an additional 20 to 40 million pounds in revenue. Without Bale, Spurs have a good shot at CL, but the odds get lowered. So lets assume you don’t sell Bale this year and his value drops to 60 million, just because the amount that Real is willing to pay lessens. You still have likely come out even by keeping him and getting into the CL than by selling.

Second, it is harder to replace Bale now because you don’t have the attraction of CL. Next year, if Spurs make the CL they can actually use the funds to lure current CL quality players. Right now Spurs have to speculate more in the transfer market, as they have to find players that they think will be of that calibre.

Third, you gain global market share by keeping Bale. Bale is the best player in the Premier League and a human highlight reel. There’s a reason why Spurs ranked top in NBC’s chose your club promotion and its Bale. He’s on the Time’s Square billboard for god sakes. In politics this is called “earned media” – ie free publicity. Spurs will never be able to get this sort of free publicity again. This could hugely impact the potential earnings of the club, as new markets, with a growing fan base have thousands of people looking for a team to cheer for, for jersey’s to buy.

Fourth, Spurs actually have a shot at winning the league with Bale. Yes, with Bale (and with AVB and new signings), Spurs can win the title. The top 3 EPL clubs have new managers this season and while Mourinho isn’t exactly “new” he has to reshape the squad and could face a couple hiccups. The winning point totals the past four seasons have been 89, 86, 80, and 86 points. There are reasons to believe that it will be less this year, due to competitive balance and new coaches. Let’s say 82-86 points wins this year. With Bale likely playing as a striker/attacking midfield from the get go and with Soldaldo and other new signings, Spurs will likely improve on the 72 points last year when they had no strikers scoring more than a handful of goals and had a new manager. It is by no means unreasonable to think Spurs could potentially be about 10 points better than they were last year. And at around 82 points they are fully in the title race.

Harry Redknapp’s Brilliant Tactical Pragmatism

Lost in Stoke’s controversial win on Sunday, in which referee Chris Foy failed to award Spurs two clear penalties and a legitimate goal, was Harry Redknapp’s magnificent tactical switch to a 3-5-2 at halftime.

Redknapp is frequently described in the UK as an old school football manager that doesn’t really do tactics. He is credited with being popular among the players and of having restored solidity to Spurs (an expected trait of English managers), but overall he is widely considered a rather simplistic thinker when it comes to tactics and strategies. During Spurs Champions’ League run last year, UK journalists often expressed doubt that Redknapp had the tactical nous to cut it against the Europe’s best tacticians. With victories over Inter Milan and AC Milan that should have been put to rest. But the notion that Redknapp is more of a working class meat and potatoes football coach that is good for some great quotes in the press but lacks the intellectual sophistication to ever be elite – continues to hang around Redknapp. Some of this is that he has a Joe Bidenesque ability to provide the blue collar sound bite – exhibit A was Redknapp’s fantastic zinger this weekend at Mr. Foy, “But he’ll look at it tonight on TV when his wife’s making him a bacon sandwich and he’ll think ‘**** me, what have I done there’.” Interestingly, many of Spurs fans buy into this line of thinking and are only just now realizing that Redknapp is an internationally elite manager and can cut it tactically with the best of them.

What is different about Redknapp is that he is a pragmatist. He is not dogmatic about how his team plays. He doesn’t care if he plays route one or plays tiki-tak or plays narrow or with width. He is about finding what works with the players that he has. But just because he doesn’t have a style like Arsene Wenger or Barcelona, or is tactically obsessive like a Rafa Benitez does not mean he isn’t a master tactician.
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The Dilemma of Jermaine Defoe: Why Redknapp Should Keep Benching Him

When Jermaine Defoe is on he scores goals and right now he is on. He has five premier league goals this season, despite getting limited minutes off the bench. Against West Brom on Saturday, Defoe scored a fantastic goal that gave Spurs a late lead. This seems to create a real managerial problem for Harry Redknapp over who to start. Past attempts to start Rafael Van Der Vaart out wide have exposed his defensive weaknesses and Adebayor isn’t going to be benched. So tactically there just isn’t room for both Defoe and Rafael Van Der Vaart. So who to start?

While the English press have made this seem a real dilemma, it isn’t. The fact is that it is hard to imagine Defoe starting for any of the other top 6 sides (City, United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool). This is because, besides scoring an occasional goal, Defoe does little else when on the pitch. One only has to look at the Guardian chalkboards. Against West Brom Defoe attempted just 22 passes, lowest of all the Spurs starters. Adebayor attempted 52. In just 70 minutes against Aston Villa and 66 minutes against Fulham Van Der Vaart attempted 62 and 42 passes respectively. As a substitute Defoe completed just 1 pass in 20+ minutes against Villa and just 4 passes in 25+ minutes against Fulham. The plain fact is that when Spurs play Defoe they are playing with a specialist – a goal poacher – who adds little to the team except when in the goal mouth area.
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MLS Playoffs Are Great! But Lose The Wild Card

Playoffs matter in American sports and the MLS playoffs are showing why. In a country with a packed sports marketplace it is difficult for regular season play to really captivate the country. All the other major professional sports, except for the NFL, similarly rely on the playoffs to serve as their premier national platform. This year’s MLS playoffs thus far have produced exciting, enthralling games and are showing that playoffs can do for MLS what they do for other American sports. It is safe to say, that the playoffs are here to stay.

Yet just because these playoffs have produced some great match ups and some great games that doesn’t mean the format is perfect. The fact that a team from the east can potentially play for the western conference title is bizarre. The limited time between the games and the travel involved definitely takes a toll on the players. Not all of these problems have simple solutions. The league obviously wants the best teams in regardless of conference. It also wants to have as long a regular season as possible and is in a race against the weather to get the playoffs in before winter sets in.

But the main thing MLS should change is the 10 team playoff format. The two mid-week wild card games were unnecessary. Not only was attendance fairly abysmal for these games, but the fact that they are midweek create a lot of travel uncertainties for the non-wild card teams. And since the lower seeded teams host the first game in the home and away series, this creates less time to promote the match up and sell tickets. Yes without them we would have not had the New York-LA match up. But it is hardly an advantage for LA – the #1 seed – to find out on late Wednesday that they have the schlep across the country.
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Prospects for a DC United Stadium Might Not Be Hopeless

The Washington City Paper has a good overall rundown on the state of DC United’s stadium search. As we all know it’s not pretty. In the campaign for Mayor both Mayor Fenty and challenger Vince Gray have adopted essentially the same line on the stadium – we want United in DC, but economic times are bad so it’s doubtful we can build them a stadium.

This should not come as shocking to DC residents or to the residents of almost every municipality in the country. The era of tax-payer funded stadiums is likely over, especially in a city like DC that essentially just got hosed by MLB to spend more than $600 billion for the Nationals stadium.

While Fenty didn’t find away to make it work for DC United, I think the real bad guy in this situation was DC United’s initial owner Victor MacFarlane who really just cared about getting a land give away and building lots of condos. But even after all that, it was still quite plausible that DC United would have been part of the Poplar Point redevelopment plan. But that plan crashed and burned with the economic crash.

While it might be conceivable that the city of Baltimore decides to swoop in and build United a new stadium, don’t bet on it. Remember United thought they had a deal with stadium friendly PG County, but that fell through when it became politically unpalatable in the downturn. State and local governments in Maryland are facing tough budget choices just as DC is and political support for soccer, let alone any sport, is likely going to be minimal if not non-existent.
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Donovan’s MLS Price Tag Is Not Ridiculous

There has been a lot of outraged reaction to Martin Rogers reporting that Landon Donovan’s price tag by MLS was $16 million. In my mind that seems pretty much right on the money.

The point made by many is that $16 million for a 28 year old, who therefore has little resale value, makes little financial sense. Others note that Donovan is not good enough to merit that price tag. There are a few things worth point out here.

First, we are talking dollars not pounds. 16 million dollars is just 10 million pounds. Now 10 million pounds is a lot of money, but when you look at the outlays of the previous years – Robbie Keane at 28 to Liverpool for 20 million, Gareth Barry to Man City for 20 plus at 28 – this sum appears quite reasonable.

Second, buying Donovan gets a team access into the US market. Any purchase of Donovan isn’t just about how he performs on the field, it is about gaining a foothold into the growing US market. After the World Cup, he is by far the most recognized American soccer player and has become somewhat of a celebrity. The World Cup increased his value, especially to the league. This is why a team like Man City showed interest in Donovan. And why a league like MLS values Donovan highly.
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US Choses Stability Over Change In Keeping Bob Bradley

Change can be difficult. But sometimes change is needed. In the decision to keep Bob Bradley I was one in favor of change. This is not because of some ingrained Bob Bradley hate. I have defended him throughout the last World Cup cycle and think he would have done a good job at Aston Villa. Keeping Bob Bradley is no disaster and was likely the right decision for US soccer after US soccer likely failed to get Juergen Klinsmann for a second time. But the real question now is whether Bradley can move the team forward and take them to the next level.

Our chief problem as a national team in my view, is that we have no third gear. We seem to have just two gears 1st or 5th. As we saw in the World Cup the US team would too frequently start like zombies in 1st gear but would kick it into 5th gear when their backs were against the world. But teams in a 90 minute game need a 3rd gear. They need to develop a way of playing that can be sustained over 90 minutes, that puts teams on the back foot through skill, guile, and possession, instead of sweat. To instill this new gear I felt the US men’s national team was in need of fresh eyes and of refining its style of play. And I am not sure Bradley is the man for that job.

How This Likely Went Down

What looked to have happened here is both US soccer and Bob Bradley essentially broke up their marriage for a brief period and went looking for something better. Bradley was trying to throw his hat in the ring in England, first with Fulham than with Aston Villa. Sunil Gulati of US soccer examined what other possible candidates were out there and went back for Juergen Klinsmann. In the end, both these flings didn’t materialize.

For US soccer the pursuit of Klinsmann again made sense. But it is likely that Klinsmann again wanted too much control over the direction of player development – a big issue in 2006 when Gulati went after him then. Perhaps that is both a small price to pay and something that is sorely needed. But I think in the eyes of Gulati, US soccer player development is already moving in a new direction and continues to produce better players and as a result better national teams. In other words, it ain’t broke. So handing over substantial control to a foreign coach who we know thinks the US development system is crap and that college athletics is no way to develop talent, could rock the boat so much that it capsizes. Furthermore, for US soccer there really aren’t that many great coaches out there. They all have jobs – except for Sven Goran Erickson.
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Time To Panic Over Benny Feilhaber’s Club Future

Lyle Yorks, Benny Feilhaber’s agent, needs to get cracking. Feilhaber is on the cusp of having to stay with his Danish club, who got relegated to the Danish second division. The inability thus far for Feilhaber to secure a move is evidence of an incredibly slow transfer market, in which cash-strapped clubs are unable to get financing to bring in new players. But playing second division Danish soccer should not be in the cards for Feilhaber, who was one of the shining stars for the US in the World Cup.

I have long praised Feilhaber. In my view, he is the best American passer of the ball and is a true play making #10. In the World Cup, he demonstrated his technical quality and was a hugely important attacking influence.

Feilhaber did have an unsuccessful spell at Derby County, who quickly crashed out of the Premier League. One could point to that to say he couldn’t cut it at the highest level. That is nonsense. Derby County not only sacked the manager that brought him in, but Feilhaber was a luxury that a team like Derby county could not afford. Relegation battlers are focused on survival and often adopt negative defensive tactics to eke out draws. Feilhaber is a creative force, not a midfield battler.

The problem now for Benny is that this is the moment where his value should be highest. He proved his quality on the World stage and at 25 he is in his prime. While it is not all doom and gloom as his Aarhus are likely to be promoted this year, playing second division Danish league soccer for a whole year is still a major set back in his development. With just a day left in the transfer window lets hope something happens, but there is thus far little chatter in the rumor mill and the fact that he played 90 minutes over the weekend probably indicates he won’t be sold.

Also, one aspect about having a well connected foreign coach like Klinnsmann, is that they are better able to talk up their players and put them on the radar of European club managers.

No Need To Rush On Bob Bradley

Frankly, people need to chill. The mantra coming from bloggers, fans, and the press to “just get it figured out already” or “to do something” is wrong. US soccer and Sunil Gulati is right to be methodical about this.

We are not in some race against the clock here. This isn’t 2006 where the US had a bad world cup and had fired Bruce Arena and was left rudderless and directionless for six months when the team was in desperate need of an overhaul and was facing 2 tough tournaments in June of 2007. And despite the supposed “fiasco” that was the 06 process, it is not like that worked out poorly.

US soccer can totally take their time here.

First, they have a good coach in place for the next 4 months. Let’s say that no one new is hired in the next month, Bradley doesn’t get another job and remains at the helm for the October friendlies, even though US soccer has no intention of keeping him on. So what. One of Bradley’s strongest attributes was his ability to bring in young talent. Frankly, I would probably rather have Bradley manage that game than a new manager that isn’t familiar with the player pool. It is not like he is going to slack off and phone it in – and anyone who thinks so isn’t giving Bradley any credit. Would this be a missed opportunity for a new manager to work with the team? Perhaps, but guys, we have 3 years until the next really meaningful competition.
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