The Decade American Soccer Arrived

As the sun sets on the 00s, it is worth an initial look back on the decade that was and some thoughts on the decade that will be. While politically, economically, and socially this will be seen as one of the worst decades in memory, when it comes to soccer, this is the decade that American soccer finally arrived.

1. USMNT became a respected, even feared, international team.
As the decade began playing the United States was seen internationally, as playing Trinidad or New Zealand. We were seen as a push over, a minnow of the soccer world. This lack of respect was vividly demonstrated in the BBC’s 30 min lead in program to the USA-Portugal 2002 world cup game, where Gary Linnekar and Alan Hansen never even talked about the US team. Now, following the confederations cup and more and more Americans playing abroad, there is a genuine respect for the US side coming from the vast majority of English commentators. We are no longer seen as a push over. Moreover, during this decade the US-Mexico rivalry reached another level, with the US overtaking Mexico as the Kings of CONCACAF, evidenced by winning in the 02 round of 16 in the World Cup, the 2 World Cup qualifications of the decade and the 07 Gold Cup, which sent the US to the Confederations Cup. This rivalry is shaping up as one of the best international soccer rivalries in the world. We are not world beaters yet, but we are among the stronger of the second tier of soccer nations.

What does the next decade hold? The progress over this past decade has been remarkable and that should continue. However, I think few will expect the US to win a World Cup this decade, but as 2020 draws to a close we will begin to creep into the conversation. There will be some setbacks. And I think one of the three tournaments will be seen as really disappointing, but overall the national team like the game overall will continue its rise.
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The Jan Camp and Replacing Charlie Davies

Jan Camp Opened Door For Davies

I disagree with Jamie Trecker almost completely. Trecker dismisses the need for a January USMNT training camp and argues that USSF money could be better spent elsewhere. Now I have no idea how much this camp costs. But unless it is astronomically high, this camp is well worth it, especially now.

Let’s take the case of Charlie Davies. While Davies was an emerging player of interest late 2008, let us not forget the kid basically came out of nowhere. We forget that the first game that Charlie Davies started for the USMNT in a match that mattered was against Egypt in the confederations cup. Davies played an extremely bit part in all the previous qualifiers and even failed to make the bench on a number of occasions. He was such a bit part in 2008 that he didn’t play in the Olympics save for the last 10 minutes of the final game against Nigeria. A year later Davies was starting against Mexico in Azteca!

While Davies was called in that fall to play an irrelevant game against Trinidad, I would argue that it was the January camp that solidified his position as a solid option for the national team. Davies started against Sweden and no doubt impressed Bob Bradley during that camp, laying the groundwork for his future national team inclusion.

So why is the camp useful?
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Who are you and what have you done with Steven Gerrard?

Did Abramovitch have Gerrard kidnapped? Photo by Wonker

After enduring the entire 90 minutes of Liverpool v Portsmouth on Saturday, I have just been too depressed to write about either Liverpool or soccer. Some distance from that wretched display has allowed me to think a little more clearly about what ails the Reds this season. They have many problems, but I have focused on two main culprits for their poor play: Benitez’s favored 4-2-3-1 system falls apart without a midfield player to orchestrate the attack; and Steven Gerrard has been complete crap (or absolute pants for our British readers) for the last three months.

I’ll have more on the missing playmaker in another post, but today it’s about Gerrard and whether he was kidnapped by the Russian mafia in Florence in late September and replaced by an imposter. Continue reading

Reading the tea leaves in USMNT camp- No Holden, No Clark? No Ching? [UPDATED]

Not Going to South Africa?

Bob Bradley released the 30-man roster for the annual USMNT camp in January. This camp is made up exclusively of MLS and Scandinavian based players that are both in off-season. There are some surprising and welcome additions that have been pointed out here and here. But I think the roster is more interesting for who isn’t on it than for who is. Three MLS based players and USMNT regulars have not been called up: Stuart Holden, Ricardo Clark, and Brian Ching.

Does the absence of Holden and Clark confirm their departures to Europe? It doesn’t definitively, since they could be called in if a move to Europe fell through, but its another piece of evidence that both players are gone. This isn’t really a shocking omission, since we know both these players will probably go to Europe in January. But it does throw some cold water on the likely phony uncertainty of what Stuart Holden will do.

Has Ching been dropped?
Ching’s exclusion is perhaps the bigger piece of news, since he is an MLS based player and doesn’t seem to be suffering from any injuries. I think this makes it increasingly clear that he is not making the trip to South Africa.
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Meat Pies and Orange Slices

Holden to Blackburn rumors heat up. This I think would be a great move for Holden. He would be a perfect replacement for Mortem Gamst Pedersen, who is rumored to be headed to Celtic, and Holden would be joining a club where he should get playing time and that will likely not be the nitty gritty of the relegation struggle.

Ricardo Clarke not going to Livorno, come on Greg tell us where! Greg Seltzer at No Short Corners, in another great piece of reporting, tells us that “Impending Dynamo free agent Ricardo Clark is not about to join Livorno… in fact, the club CEO told me they are off him completely now, “with main focus on finding a striker. I can tell you that Clark currently has at least two offers on the table and that I’m fairly certain I know one of the suitors. I’m on it.” Impatient Nats fans are waiting anxiously.

Damarcus Beasley is back. And so is Edu. Both returns are absolutely huge for the Yanks. An inform Beasley gives us something we are sorely missing with Davies out: speed. More on this latter and expect to see an AF six month out USMNT World Cup squad.

What do Henry Kissinger, Donna Shalala and Drew Carey have in common

Kansas City stadium construction begins. So it’s finally happening – WV Hooligan has photographic evidence! I had always thought this wasn’t going to happen and they would relocate in the dead of night to St. Louis, good for KC – but a stadium out in the middle of nowhere isn’t going to exactly set the region ablaze.
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What to think of Arsenal?

Arsenal is a lot like Manchester United this year, they have a lot of quality, but are really a shadow of their former selves.

While the 3-0 victory over Hull this weekend looked dominating on the surface, during the game itself Arsenal struggled during large stretches. Arsenal are no doubt one of the top teams in the league but this is not the same Arsenal as years past.

Arsenal continue to have their quintessential flowing attacking style of play and are stacked with pacey attacking technical players. But with the fairly pedestrian quality of the central midfield – Song, Diaby, Denilson (Fabregas of course the notable exception), and most importantly the lack of a true #9 striker with the loss of Van Persie, this is not a title contending team. But is it a team that could drop out of the top four?
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Champions League draw brings Mourinho, Beckham back home

Mourinho will be smiling when his Inter put one over on his old club in the CL 2nd round; photo by Steindy

Who said fixing the draw was a bad idea? I have no idea if UEFA followed FIFA’s lead and rigged their draw for the second round of the Champions League. But even if they didn’t, they couldn’t have planned two more mouthwatering ties than Inter v Chelsea and Milan v Man U. Jose Mourinho will leading his new club, Inter against his old club, Chelsea, in his first match back at Stamford Bridge since his departure two years ago. And David Beckham will also be making his debut as an Old Trafford visitor after never playing against his former side while at Madrid.

The returns will get the headlines, but these are two very tough second round games for all of these teams, with at least one genuine contender for the title guaranteed to bow out, throwing the competition open at a fairly early stage. Continue reading

Even with Everton loan, Donovan unlikely to move to Europe permanently

Donovan's European dream unlikely to be permanent; Photo by W. Jarrett

Its finally official, Landon Donovan will join Everton on loan in January. Donovan will return to MLS in time for the season opener on March 27. This move is great news for Donovan as he comes into a side that can and will use him. The move is great news for our World Cup hopes because Everton plays all the top teams during Donovan’s stay and he will get on the field experience against opening foes England. Despite this very positive step, Donovan is unlikely to ever make a permanent move to Europe because it’s hard to imagine a big club willing to meet MLS’s valuation on a 28-year-old attacking midfielder that is the only American star playing in America.

Everton Manager David Moyes worked hard to secure Donovan’s services for his side ravaged by injuries and stuck in the wrong half of the table. Moyes is looking for “players to come in and hit the ground running, not need a month or two to get ready,” so it looks like he intends to get Donovan on the pitch early and often. Donovan’s pace, experience, and versatility should allow him fit in pretty well with Everton’s other players; I can see him adding the attacking midfielder to compliment Tim Cahill the Toffees have been lacking since Mikel Arteta went down with repeated knee injuries.  Continue reading

World Cup 2010: Beasley resurgence could add important option for US squad

Beasley could be valuable weapon off the bench in South Africa

Few American soccer fans will have expected DeMarcus Beasley to be in Bob Bradley’s plans for the 23-man US squad headed to South Africa. His play over the last couple of seasons for club and county has been very disappointing, and he seemed to be losing his long running battle with injuries. Furthermore, new faces were emerging to take over from Beasley, especially Charlie Davies. But now Davies is almost certainly out for the World Cup as he recovers from a horrific car crash and Beasley is getting regular minutes and scoring great goals for Rangers. If he’s back to his best, his pace and experience would be a great asset to the US in South Africa.

We all remember shouting at the television as ball after ball seemed to bounce of Beasley’s feet as if he’d never played soccer before. Whether playing left wing or a more unfamiliar left back, he looked lost. After being substituted during the first-round Brazil game in the Confederations Cup last summer, it looked like his national team career might be over. Making matters worse, he wasn’t getting a kick at Rangers, stuck behind two players and seemingly on the outs with Manager Walter Smith. He even talked publicly about wanting to leave Glasgow in the January transfer window in the hope of getting some playing time and forcing his way back into consideration for the US squad. Continue reading

Spurs Send a Message, Harry Plants A Flag

Yesterday Spurs sent a message to the league: we are going to be in this champions league hunt to the end. Despite a horrendous performance from Crouch, Spurs totally dominated the game and should have scored more. But this game also served as a coming out party a bit for Redknapp, who in his post game comments specifically called out his north London rivals.

“I’ve said since the start of the season that the champions will come from Chelsea or Manchester United but after that it’s up for grabs…Anything is possible this season. Look at Arsenal, you would have expected them to go up and win at Burnley after beating Liverpool, but they didn’t so that shows you how hard it’s going to be.”

Whether this amounts to the Guardian headline “Harry Redknapp claims Arsenal and Liverpool may drop from elite” is besides the point. The headline should please Spurs and is shot across the bow at Wenger and Arsenal. The Gunners drew with Burnley and according to reports didn’t really dominate the game. Arsenal had one brilliant moment against Liverpool – the Arshavin goal – other than that they were second best. Without Van Persie the Gunners look increasingly toothless and I think it is safe to say that they are more likely going to be closer to fourth than to first when all is said in done. Wenger’s lashing out at the fixture list is just the latest sign of frustration. Harry’s comments should only some pressure to the Gunners, who have some real holes to fill come January.
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