Five lessons from USA v France

Jozy's strong play best thing for US during France game

It is hard to find positives from the dismal performance of the United States during their 1-0 defeat to France in Paris. Yes, it was very disappointing and it would be easy to go the full Lalas and limit analysis to whining incessantly “where is the possession this Jurgen Klinsmann keeps talking about?” But just because it was disappointing doesn’t mean there is nothing to learn from this matchup on the road against a team that has just come through a year of competitive fixtures and is now unbeaten in its last 16 games. Here are five lessons from France pointing towards the next game against Slovenia.

Altidore looks more polished after strong start at AZ Alkmar

Jozy Altidore was excellent and it would be lazy to look at the score line and the minimal chances and say the striker failed to do his job and get a goal. But he was clearly the most threatening American player and more importantly, he displayed skill and class on a number of occasions to fashion the odd half-chance virtually single-handedly. In fact, while it didn’t look like much in real time, the replay clearly showed that Altidore was tripped in the box after a brilliant turn in the 20th minute. That could have been a penalty.

Read the rest of this column at Guardian Sports

 

Is Arsenal the best place for Brek Shea?

Arsenal not the best Euro destination for Brek Shea; photo by Albumen

News that Brek Shea will join Arsenal on a two-week trial following the USMNT’s games in Europe against France and Slovenia is big news and clearly an indication that the FC Dallas left-winger is likely the next American to make the leap to Europe. But are the Gunners really the best landing spot for Shea? I don’t think so, and that’s not because of this blog’s general antipathy to Arsenal (Max is a Spurs fan after all). Shea needs to play in an environment that is conducive to his development, and Arsenal just doesn’t fit the bill right now.

The lure of playing for one of the Premier League’s and Europe’s top clubs is obviously strong. And the Gunners are still in the Champions League and are climbing the table with four straight league wins after a rough start to the season. But you can’t shake the feeling that Arsenal’s restive supporters–having endured six straight seasons without a major trophy–are just a couple of bad games from returning to the mood of the early season when Wenger’s position seemed very much in doubt. Continue reading

Five lessons from Klinsmann’s first five games

Klinsmann after USA victory of Honduras; image courtesy of Nathan F

What hope does Jürgen Klinsmann’s USMNT have against France on Friday and Slovenia on Tuesday after mixed fortunes in his first five games in charge?

Progress not Miracles

Just one win and two goals is probably not what Jürgen Klinsmann imagined the return would be through his first five games in charge of the U.S. men’s national team. But, as Amy Lawrence described last month, this is a long-term project on Klinsmann has a great deal of latitude to remake U.S. soccer from youth development through the senior squad.

As the U.S. looks ahead to France this Friday and a World Cup rematch with Slovenia next Tuesday, Klinsmann’s first five games underscore that U.S. fans should be looking for progress not miracles. This U.S. squad, when fully fit and available, is deeper and more talented than any previous iteration with highly skilled veterans and some real potential stars. Klinsmann’s task is to take a U.S. soccer system which has produced uneven results over the last decade and move it into the upper echelon of soccer nations – and that task is more difficult than going from the poor performances of the 1990s to the largely respectable return during the 2000s. Here are some key things we’ve learned so far about that project:

Full column at the new Guardian US website

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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Association Football is Back!

We’re back. Life intervened—we both got married and got new jobs—to make it very difficult to devote the kind of time necessary to keep up the blog at the frequency posting we wanted and as a result, we got away from writing anything. But we’ve missed it, and thanks to the strong admonitions of friends and a few very loyal readers, we’re going to start posting again.

The focus will remain the same: the growth of soccer in the United States both on the field with the U.S. Men’s National Team and MLS and off it as the sport grows in popularity and as a successful business; the English Premier League, Max’s Spurs and Ken’s Liverpool give us plenty to write about; the global governance of the game; and the occasional convergence of soccer and international politics.

We will be posting less frequently than our previous efforts but we will make each post count more as our style will favor the long-form column full of analysis.

One new wrinkle is that we will be more active on Twitter and Facebook. So please follow us on Twitter @assocfootball and checkout the Association Football Facebook page.

Thank you to those who have encouraged us to get back to doing something we truly loved. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

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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