USA Plays In Europe Not MLS – UPDATED-

I sort of had an epiphany of the obvious the other day. Almost all of the US world cup squad and perhaps all of the starters (assuming you put Spector or Bocanegra at LB instead of Bornstein) will not just be playing abroad, but will be doing so in top European leagues. With the moves of Landon Donovan, Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark, even the US bench will be stacked with European based players.

8 players in the Premier League: Jozy Altidore, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Jonathan Specter, Stuart Holden, Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann
2 in France: Carlos Bocanegra, Charlie Davies
3 in Germany: Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Steve Cherundolo
1 in Italy: Oguchi Onyewu
2 in Scotland: Damarcus Beasley, Maurice Edu
1 in English Championship: Jay Demerit
1 in Denmark: Benny Feilhaber

That is 18 European players in top leagues out of 23 in the squad.

Now you could take issue with considering the Danish, Scottish, and Championship top European leagues. But I would say Rangers is no doubt a big European club that is of Premier league quality and that plays in the Champions League. Watford is not a Premier League side, but Jay Demerit is a premiership caliber player and has played there. Denmark albeit is a good, not great league, but Feilhaber also has a history in the Bundesliga and Premiership. You could also say that Landon Donovan is on loan and could be with MLS when the tournament starts, sure, but that is quibbling. In other words I think the point stands. And demonstrates that American players are improving and European clubs are taking notice.
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Suddenly feeling okay about the US of A

Despite a dreadful performance against Honduras, in which no one impressed, while many hurt their World Cup squad chances, I am starting to feel pretty good about the US squad. Why?

First, the injury news. A week ago we were all on the verge of despair when Dempsey went down – we were looking at potentially missing four starters (Dempsey, Davies, Onyewu, and Jones). Now things are looking up. I still have some worries about Dempsey, but initial fears of knee surgery were overblown and hopefully Clint will only be out a few months.

And then On Monday, Ives had the blockbuster story on Charlie Davies recovery, which he gushed about Davies recovery and the possibility of him joining Sochaux as early as April. Ives also reported that it looks like Onyewu is just a few weeks away from being able to rejoin AC Milan and participate in training. This is also way ahead of schedule and is simply great news. The fact that the gushing report comes from Ives, a veteran soccer journalist who has been around the block, is a great sign. It is one thing for Davies and Onyewu to say they will be back soon, and another for a reporter to actually observe this to be true.

I had basically dismissed the prospect of Davies making it to the World Cup – and I worried greatly about Onyewu – not just because I doubted that he would be fit, but also because it seemed highly improbable that he would get any playing time either in training or in games before the World Cup. This meant that even if Davies was healthy it would be hard for Bradley to bring a guy who hadn’t played a competitively in nine months. This is a gamble Arena took with John O’brien in 06. I worried not because I didn’t think these players were “committed” to getting fit, but because it is very easy to have setbacks. Think Maurice Edu, whose knee injury in late May was supposed to keep him only to the beginning of the season. He came back just a few weeks ago. Tottenham’s Luka Modric had a stress fracture in his leg and was supposed to be out just 6 weeks, he was out three months. Ditto to Jermaine Jones. Soccer players are like well oiled machines, if things don’t go perfectly setbacks are likely.

Second, the January moves for USMNT players all look really good.
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What We Learned, If Anything, From US-Honduras

To a large extent, Saturday night’s game against Honduras was a waste. Jimmy Conrad’s red card in the 17th minute distorted the rest of the game and reduced its value in assessing potential World Cup aspirants. Yet even before the red card, the US looked woeful.

The yanks looked disjointed and complacent from the get-go. It looked as if it was a pick-up game filled with players who had never played together (probably because they hadn’t). In fact, the whole team looked very rusty, with loose touches and passes more the norm than the exception (this is also probably due to most of the players hadn’t played together in a number of months). That however doesn’t excuse the performance and I think just shows how important it is to 1. have a settled squad that has played together and 2. have players that are in form. The intensity and speed that Honduras brought definitely caught the US off guard and while I bet if Conrad had not been sent off the US would have settled a bit and adapted to the game’s pace, the fact is that in a World Cup we can’t have guys on the field who are rusty and not used to the pace of international soccer.

Finally, in some ways this was good preparation, since the fact is that the US frequently finds itself playing a man down. The response on Saturday night was mixed. Some players demonstrated character others didn’t quite look up to the task. I think overall more players hurt their chances than helped.

Players who hurt themselves:

Jimmy Conrad: He did himself a lot of damage. A cynical and deserved yellow in the first 10 followed by a stupid pull down in the 17th was interspersed with some nervous defending and bad distribution. I think he was on the outside for making the squad, this game only confirmed that.

Chad Marshall: Chad did not help himself. While his appeal is his size and strength, his lack of pace was frequently exposed after Conrad was tossed. He was completely at fault on the goal, as he failed to pick up Palacios – the only one in the box and someone who Bornstein instructed him to pick up and he had trouble coping with the pacey Hondurans.
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Who is Daniel Williams? Does US Soccer Know?

Who is Daniel Williams and why is he starting in the Bundesliga? That was the question that occurred to me as I watched the end of Freiburg-Stuttgart on Gol TV. I noticed Williams’ as he came off in the 87th minute. It was his first Bundesliga start and came off to good applause.

My first thought was that he was English, but there are few if any English players in the Bundesliga. So I went to the google and found surprisingly little. But what I did find is that he has dual German-American citizenship. He is just 20 years old and spent much of last year playing for Freiburg lower division side. He is a midfielder and apparently impressed enough to get called up to the first team and was given a start.

In an interview with a German site he was asked which country he would play for (this has been translated through google): You are German-born American citizen. If you had a choice: Which country would you play and why?

Daniel Williams: So far, there is a question. But I feel very connected to Germany. I was born and raised.

Okay so that is fairly non-committal and we are pretty deep in the defensive midfield position, but he is definitely someone worth monitoring going forward.

Holden Signed By Bolton, Says UK Report

There is a report from the amazingly unreliable British press that Stuart Holden has signed with Bolton. The Bolton News reports:

WANDERERS are set to complete a double loan swoop later today, with Manchester City winger Vladimir Weiss and US international midfielder Stuart Holden set to become Owen Coyle’s first recruits at the club. Holden has impressed on a trial at the Reebok and will complete a deal from Houston Dynamo to stay until the end of the season…It is not yet known whether Holden will be able to feature.

There have been mixed reports on Holden from the UK press, with some saying new Bolton manager has passed on Holden. But following these reports Holden has remained at Bolton by all indication. So I think it makes sense that they will sign Holden.

I asked earlier why would Holden go on trial before simply signing – since a failed trial would lower his overall value. I think two things seem clear. One, Holden wants to play for Owen Coyle who adopts a very attacking and flowing style of play. Second, he wanted assurances that he would play and I bet Coyle couldn’t give any assurance unless he saw Holden in person. The last few weeks have thus given Holden a chance to regain form after a long MLS layoff and give Coyle a full view of Holden’s capabilities. In other words, if he does sign, he will likely play an important role.

This, if true, is great news for the USMNT. While Dempsey will be back for the World Cup, we have no idea if he will regain his form, and with Hull’s moves for a striker and Altidore’s place looking unsettled, we desperately Holden to get hot.

Some thoughts on Liverpool v. Spurs

This was a game much more pivotal to Liverpool than it was to Spurs. Anything less than a win at home would have added to the sense of despair at Anfield and fueled crisis talks. A win by the Reds would bolt them right back into the mix, putting them just a point back from Spurs. For Tottenham, it was all about not losing – so as to not give a major top 4 rival any boost. That’s why it was so weird that team’s approaches were exactly opposite. Liverpool in the end out worked Spurs, but were very fortunate to get an early goal to put that game plan into effect. Spurs were also hard done to have a perfectly good goal disallowed – something that would have forced Liverpool to open up and change tactics. The race for top four just got more exciting after this one

Liverpool played like Stoke – little flash all heart. The crowd showed tremendous support for Benitez and that energy clearly lifted the players. But tactically Liverpool also adopted a Stoke-like approach. They started the game playing a 4-5-1, but the personnel was really 5 defenders and 5 midfielders. This was really a 4-6 at times with everyone defending. While Liverpool had some chances late in the game, this was a side that didn’t really seem to have a goal in it. What they did have is hustle and an early well-taken – yet flukish – goal by Kuyt off a clearance from Reina, allowed them to sit back and scrap and defend. They at times had all 11 players behind the ball, which greatly frustrated Spurs passing attack.

Spurs really missed Lennon and Huddelstone. Yes Liverpool clearly missed Lennon has been Spurs most important and valuable player this year, as his pace and improving crossing ability has been the largest contributor to Spurs’ goals. But what also became clear is how important Tom Huddelstone is to Tottenham. He has become to Tottenham what Xavi Alonso was to Liverpool – in fact he would have been a good replacement for Alonso at Liverpool and far cheaper than Aquilani. Huddelstone plays deep and pings the ball around the field to great effect. He also reduces the need for Palacios to be a creative player. Yesterday Jenas and Palacios struggled to take hold of the midfield. With Jenas playing further up field, Palacios was forced to play the role of distributer which is just not his strong suit. Jenas played well at times and is more effective at getting forward into the box then Hudd, but Spurs clearly missed his ability to control the flow of the game.
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Options For Expansion

[See part 1 here]

Expansion depends on a lot of different factors: a wealthy and committed ownership group, an amenable local government, the economic climate and the country. Therefore league expansion is not something that can simply be determined by the league in its corporate headquarters. However, given the last round of expansion into smaller markets, there are markets I believe the league has to move to expand its profitability and the game.

Lets assess MLS’s presence throughout the country.

Pacific Northwest:
When 2009 started MLS had no presence in the Pacific northwest, when 2011 season starts, MLS will have a greater presence in this soccer friendly region than any other professional sport. This region will be saturated.

California: Three teams, one in the south bay in San Jose and two LA teams playing in the same stadium. Chivas has been a disappointment and I think in retrospect a franchise focused on a specific ethnic group was a mistake and has created what has at times been an ugly rivalry with their “Gringos” rivals. Furthermore, LA is a huge city geographically, yet Chivas plays in the same stadium as the Galaxy. This is a waste of a franchise in terms of expanding the geographic breadth of the league. Additionally, San Jose has yet to get a stadium and are located in the south bay, a considerable distance from San Francisco proper and the East Bay cities of Oakland and Berkley. Major cities with no team: San Diego, San Francisco/Oakland (North and East bay)
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A Plan For MLS Expansion

MLS has grown rapidly over the last half decade and is on the cusp of becoming a true national league. Following the contraction of Tampa and Miami early this decade, MLS has placed franchises in Houston, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Toronto, a second team in Los Angeles, Seattle, Philadelphia and next year Portland and Vancouver. This will give the league 18 teams, 16 in the US and 2 in Canada. Yet with the league approaching that magical number of 20 teams, in which pressure will grow for a pause in expansion, it is still absent in some major markets and regions of the country. How MLS manages the next round of expansion will greatly impact the efforts to make MLS a big mainstream pro sports league in the US.

Current Expansion Climate

With the success of past expansions, the addition of Beckham and the clear growth of MLS and the game in general, there is significant interest in bringing MLS to cities throughout North America. The league therefore has been able to increase the expansion fee, require set stadium plans, and has been able to play cities off each other.
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US injury crisis deepens: Dempsey could miss World Cup with knee injury

Dempsey deepens US injury crisis; Photo by Nick Sarebi

Clint Dempsey injured his knee in Sunday’s match against Blackburn and now could miss the World Cup. The Fulham player won’t know the extent of the damage until Monday, but the prognosis, according to manager Roy Hodgson, “is not good.” Dempsey brings to three the number of US starters who have gone down with serious injuries since the team qualified for the World Cup Finals, following Charlie Davies’ car accident and Oguchi Onyewu’s ruptured patella tendon. Onyewu could be back in time, but Davies is out of the tournament and with Dempsey also now questionable at best, the depth of the US squad will be tested like never before. This hurts. 

Dempsey’s injury comes at a terrible time for him, Fulham, and the US. He had been having a fantastic season for Fulham, had won the full confidence of his manager, and was making a name for himself as an all around player who also can score some fantastic goals. In fact, he smashed an overhead kick off the bar in today’s game and was arguably Fulham’s best player before he was forced off. A matchup with England must have been a dream come true for all Americans in the Premier League. And with Davies going down, the US needed all its top attacking players to help fill the void. Continue reading

Bolton Likely To Sign Holden

The Sun has a truly awesome headline: Bolton Could Be Holden On To Stu.

BOLTON boss Owen Coyle is considering whether to offer Stuart Holden a contract at the Reebok Stadium. Coyle said: “Stuart has come in and trained well with us. It is something we will look at in the next few days… “We have a good group of players but we are looking to improve the squad we have. That’s an ongoing process. “He’s obviously got talent, good technique and quick feet. We just have to make that judgment about whether he is better than what we have already got.”

It looks pretty clear that Holden will end up at Bolton as new manager Owen Coyle seems particularly keen after still bringing Holden in after his move from Burnley. However, one thing I do not get is why Holden is on trial. What agent told Holden that was a good idea?

I mean let’s say Owen Coyle passes on Holden after seeing him up close and personal. That would put a major dent into the interest from other suitors and perhaps his overall value. A number of clubs will be telling themselves, if Coyle didn’t want to sign him on a free transfer than he must not be good enough for this league.

Why put him on trial? Most players that are in demand would never do that. The only explanation I can think of is that Holden really really wants to play for Coyle, which is a smart move. But if he doesn’t land at Bolton, he could have some trouble finding another suitor.