Would McCarthy have surrendered to any other team than Man U?

McCarthy only to happy to surrender to Ferguson; Photo by Erix

The integrity of the Premier League has been called into question after Wolves manager Mick McCarthy rested all ten of his outfield starters from Saturday’s 1-0 over Spurs for the trip to Manchester United. United probably would have won anyway, but its odd for a manager to preemptively surrender a game no matter the quality of the opponent. His stated objective was to avoid injury ahead of a supposedly more winnable game against Burnley on the weekend. But I can’t help wondering if he would have done the same thing against Chelsea or Arsenal.

Wolves are definitely in a relegation scrap, just above the drop zone in 17th entering this round of fixtures. They face 13th place Burnley at home on Sunday in a critical match in which they need to take points. You can see the logic of not wanting to risk fatigue or injury to his starters and try and catch a Burnley side with no such luxury. A trip to Old Trafford is not a match that most teams in the bottom half expect to get anything from. Continue reading


Interpreting MLS’s Offer to Stuart Holden – It’s PR

MLS offered Stuart Holden a considerable salary increase to lure him to resign with the league. Holden who was making just $35,000 this past season was offered an approximately 10 fold increase, ie $350,000 to resign with the league. What to think of this?

While this sounds like a good offer, this is really a public relations jester from MLS. Stuart Holden could have resigned at the beginning of the year but refused and played for a measly 35 grand so that he would be free to sign with a European club in the offseason. Holden has garnered a lot of interest from practically every club in Scotland, including Rangers. But since Holden could be signed on a free transfer it is likely he could be signed by a team from one of the bigger leagues. While $350,000 is a good salary for MLS, this is small beer compared to what he could get paid in Europe. If MLS were to offer to make him a designated player and pay him around the 1 million mark it could have a bit more appeal, but even with that Holden could still likely make more in Europe. So by offering Holden a new offer and having Holden turn it down this will enable MLS to save some face for losing such an up incoming star. This is similar to when the Washington Nationals sought to resign Alfonso Soriano – a move that bought some goodwill.
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Assessing US Player Development – Creating A Uniquely American System

Critical to America’s growth as a soccer power is improving player development. While other countries with a long footballing pedigree have massive and sophisticated development systems ingrained into their national cultures, the US is essentially building a system without much of a foundation. As the youth soccer revolution has exploded, it has also exposed some flaws and revealed a void in the later stages of player development. Youth players were dropping off once they got to middle school and high school, choosing other sports instead. Many players from poorer families were gradually losing access to the game, unable to continue playing at a high level, as traveling teams simply cost too much. And the national academy set up at Bradenton, while attracting and developing talented players, simply lacked the breadth to really make a massive structural impact.

However, considerable progress has occurred over the last decade. While there are those that disagree, I tend to think things are largely going in the right direction. But this is not a call for complacency. If the US is going to get to that next level as a soccer power, considerable action will have to be taken to develop and reform US player development.

So what needs to be done? In my view there is no silver bullet to solve the challenges confronting US player development. There is no one-size fits all system or solution that can simply be applied from on high. We are simply too large a country geographically, too diverse, and too socio-economically disparate. Instead it is about creating a layered system that will both prevent players from falling through the cracks and will give young players reasonable options in deciding their future. This means that for the US player development to start humming we will need all levels – professional (MLS, NASL?/USL), educational (NCAA, high school), and federation (USSF youth teams, Bradenton). Continue reading

Britain’s embarrassing xenophobia on “cheaters” holding them back

Steven Gerrard doesn't dive, ever

Its something that every non-British English speaking soccer fan knows all too well: in the eyes of the British, only foreigners cheat. We all remember the uproar surrounding David N’Gog’s blatant dive against Birmingham a few weeks back. Compare that furor to the tidal wave of criticism total silence on Wayne Rooney’s plunge against Villa on Saturday. But it’s not just diving; the British seem to have a peculiar view of who can pressure referees and who can’t. This reflexive xenophobia is part of what is holding the English back in world soccer.

David N’Gog dove. It’s pretty simple. Lee Carsley stuck his leg in and N’Gog theatrically went over it without any contact. He won a penalty that rescued a 2-2 draw for the struggling Reds. All across Britain, N’Gog was castigated – “hung, drawn, and quartered” in the words of one journalist. It shouldn’t have been a penalty and it was a key moment in the game, but it is impossible to think that it would have produced the same reaction if an English player had been the culprit. Continue reading

What Donovan Could Have Been…

Steve Davis at Daily Soccer Fix gives his take on what Donovan could have been had he stayed in Europe. Steve argues that had Donovan continued on at Bayern Leverkusen he would have likely become another Eddie Johnson or Damarcus Beasley. In other words, a player who never gaining the trust of this European manager warms the bench and sees his skills stagnate and decline. Davis’ argument provides an important corrective to the constant Landon bashing asserting that he didn’t have the stones to stick it out in Europe. However, while the alternate scenario drawn up by Davis is certainly plausible, there is also another scenario that I think is equally plausible – that Donovan would have become an elite world class player, resembling an American Michael Owen.
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Did Spurs blow their chance at top 4?

Spurs have struggled all season with the label of pretender vs. contender for a top 4 spot. After jumping out to a great start, Spurs plagued by injuries suffered defeats to United, Chelsea, and Arsenal. Then they rallied, trudged on and won games they were supposed to win, placing them in the top four picture. However, their last three games have to raise questions, whether this is really the Spurs of old – a quality, yet fragile side prone to dropping points unnecessarily. Spurs had an opportunity to create some separation between themselves and the rest of the pack over their last three games. Instead, Spurs dropped 7 gettable points and dropped out of the top 4 – raising the question, have they blown it?

In their last three premier leagues games Spurs drew against Villa away, drew against Everton, and lost to Wolves. The draw away at Villa was not a case of Spurs “blowing” it, but Martin O’Neil did note after the game that Villa were “lucky” to get a draw an to not take advantage was doubly bad since Villa is a top 4 competitor. Against Everton, Spurs blew a two goal lead in the final third of the game and squandered a late penalty. This was definitely 2 points lost. And finally they lost at home against a team penned in by most to go down. Spurs now sit at 27 points, two points back of Villa for 4th.

This is a bad run of form – but is it catastrophic? It isn’t, Spurs are still on pace for a top four slot, but only just. The last three results now give them little margin for error over the next few games to stay on pace. A few points to consider:
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Liverpool v Arsenal preview: Will Benitez go for it?

Benitez can't get out of his own way with the media, can he do it on the team sheet?

Arsenal journey to Anfield to face Liverpool in the Premier League’s only Sunday match up and a critical game for both sides. Liverpool are under siege after a poor first half of the season was underlined by their meek Champions League exit on Wednesday. They are, however, getting healthy at just the right time.

Arsenal, on the other hand, are ravaged by injuries and could be forced to play without a recognized striker. Despite all the goals they’ve scored this season, no front man is a problem for a team that has struggled to find goals since Robin Van Persie went down. The big question for me, though, will be whether the under-fire Benitez stays conservative or goes for it. Aquilani anyone? Continue reading

Good for Donovan, Now What About Holden?

With all the talk of Donovan going to Everton, there has been little in the rumor mill about Stuart Holden? Holden, born in Scotland, has a UK passport and can therefore play anywhere in Europe and is not beholden to the evil UK Home Office and those pesky work permits. So a move to Europe is a certainty. But where?

Holden told the New York Times, “he is considering offers from overseas” but wouldn’t rule out MLS. Where Stuart Holden goes is probably more important to our World Cup team then Donovan. Holden is critical to rounding out our World Cup squad. If he can lock down a place in the starting 11 on the right side, than Bradley can easily more up Donovan or Dempsey to the second striker spot. Holden landing in Europe is critical, but it is also critical that he land well. It is potentially disastourous if Holden were to go to Europe and not play. Allan Ramsey explains the dilemma:

Holden faces the same dilemma that has plagued U.S. players over the last few years. Pick a team that has too much talent, but plays in a good league, and risk riding the pine, or pick a team that you should be an unquestioned starter for and risk moving out of the direct sight lines of Bob Bradley and U.S. Soccer.

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Meat Pies and Orange Slices


Here’s a roundup of some of the stories we’ve been reading from around the world of soccer.

MatchFitUSA has an interesting piece noting that the flow of American soccer talent seems to be coming back in the direction of MLS, with that Danny Calif, Vincenzo Bernardo, Lee Nguyen, and now Niko Gkoinis are coming back from Europe. Some of the movement, of course, could be because they weren’t sticking with their teams in Europe and didn’t really have much choice. But whatever the reason, it is important for MLS to be able to be a repository of good American players. Despite seeing his first action during Rangers’ Champions League finale, DeMarcus Beasley would benefit from such a move and could force his way back into the thinking of Bob Bradley with a strong start to the MLS season.

One player moving in the other direction will be Landon Donovan, who looks all but certain to join Everton on loan in January. The Guardian follows up yesterday’s rumors with a report that talks are at an “advanced stage” and Donovan will be joining on a three-month loan deal. Donovan is an excellent fit with Everton, the new Mikel Arteta?, and will definitely benefit by playing a dozen or so games in the Premier League as the USMNT prepares to face England in the Group C opener. Continue reading

World Cup 2010: How to beat England

Eight things Bob Bradley can do to outsmart this guy; Photo by Paul Blank

While there are no easy games in the World Cup, unquestionably the most difficult game for the US in Group C will be the opener against England. As I said yesterday, points earned in this game are mostly a bonus as the US has a quite manageable path to the second round even if it gets blown out by the English.

But that said, of all the top level teams, England is a pretty good match up for the United States; a lot of Americans are familiar with the English game because they play in the Premier League, the English are not the most technically gifted teams who would never let the US have a kick, and while they have a few quick players, they are lacking in overall team speed. Below, I break down four defensive, and four offensive tactical options the US team could deploy to beat England. Continue reading