Assessing Altidore’s Year

I see that Martin Rogers at Yahoo is concerned about Altidore’s allegedly poor season at Hull with the head butt the “final embarassment.” I touched on the “head butt” incident yesterday, but is Rogers’ right that Jozy’s year was a disappointment:

Bradley goes into soccer’s greatest tournament with a first-choice forward who has managed just two goals this season and who failed to lock down a permanent starting role with one of the worst sides in the EPL.

I think, contrary to Rogers conclusion, that Jozy’s time at Hull was largely positive and that Bob Bradley going into the World Cup has a young player that took big strides this year and is much more of a complete player.

Let’s be clear, Jozy never set the league alight. He burst on the scene with an amazing first game, where he did everything but score. He then struggled to find his footing a bit in the fall, as he was in and out of the starting lineup and seemed to find his groove a bit just when Phil Brown got sacked. The last month of the season saw the new manager changing things up a bit.

But Jozy, contrary to Roger’s claims was a Hull mainstay. Jozy started 16 games and appeared in 12 others as a substitute. Remember he also missed a few games at the beginning of the year with visa issues and took a brief leave during the Haiti earthquake. Despite Rogers claim that Altidore couldn’t lock down a spot, he had started more games than Jan Vennegor of Hesselink. This is a lot of PT for a 20 year old Premier League newbee. I think that in and of itself is quite an accomplishment.
Continue reading

Overreacting to Jozy’s Red

Jozy Altidore received a red card at the close of the first half against Sunderland for “head butting” Scotsman Alan Hutton – queue the commentary of Jozy as an immature thug that is wasting away his talent.

Please.

The red card came after a mêlée in sued following Hutton provocatively picking up the ball and throwing it at Jozy as he laid face down on the ground. While Hutton’s act caused no bodily harm it was a deliberate effort to both disrespect and provoke. If this were baseball Hutton would have gotten a fastball in his ear the next time up. Jozy proceeded to get up and aggressively push Hutton and when leaning forward clashed heads with Hutton. Now by definition this was a “head butt” as the English media have pointed out. Steve Bruce went so far as to describe Jozy’s act as a deliberate effort to inflict “grievous bodily harm.”

I think this is bogus. Altidore did “head butt” Hutton, but from my viewing this was entirely unintentional. As Jozy started pushing Hutton he leaned forward and they clashed heads, with Jozy’s head lowered the contact had the effect of a head butt and Hutton went down as if he were shot. Now of course, only Jozy knows if it was intentional or not, but I find it hard to believe that Jozy, an American, would instinctively head butt someone. We aren’t Scottish after all. So in my view the red card offense, was not a deliberate act of aggression.

This doesn’t make Jozy’s red card stupid. Jozy got duped into losing his cool and that sense showed his immaturity. Could he have handled it better? Yes. But assuming the head butt was unintentional, Jozy had every reason to get in Hutton’s face and if heads did not clash both would have likely received yellow cards – something that would have been quite advantageous to Hull since a defender on a yellow means much more than a striker.

Alas things went poorly and Jozy deserves criticism. But a few have gone way over the top, such as Eric Altshule at MLS Talk, who wrote that:

Jozy Altidore is a wonderful soccer player from the neck down. Unfortunately, he is gaining a deserved reputation as a player with a million dollar body and a ten cent brain. Jozy needs to put away the twitter, stop with the silly antics on the field and become the outstanding professional he has the potential to be. Otherwise, he is destined to become another American journeyman player in Europe whose only honors will be the Clint-Mathis-Memorial-What-Could-Have-Been Award.

Now Eric writes some great stuff, but this is asinine.
Continue reading

Can Spurs Close The Deal?

After wins against Arsenal and Chelsea, Spurs have little pressure on them as Manchester United. Harry Redknapp would have taken 6 points from those three games in a heart beat. Even if Spurs lose to United this weekend, they will still control their own destiny in the pursuit for fourth. In essence, they have nothing to lose against United and should play like it.

What has been remarkable about Spurs recent run, is the poor form of their strikers. Neither Crouch, Defoe, or Pavlyuchenko have been reliable goal scorers. Of the four goals scored in their last three games, only one came from a striker and it was on a penalty. The failure to score against Pompey at Wembley, despite dominating possession could be discounted, as Harry did, to being just one of those days, but the fact is that it also demonstrated a lack of class among the front two. Defoe has 21 goals in 39 games, which is a more than respectable total, but many of those goals came in bunches early in the season. Peter Crouch has just 7 in 34 games, which is just not good enough. And the remaining strikers have contributed a handful.

What is also remarkable about the Spurs run is that they have rarely had their two best players on the field at the same time. Aaron Lennon who came into his own this year has been out since January, while Luka Modric broke his leg in August and didn’t return to full form until the winter. Yet when one has gone down another has stepped up. The loss of Modric, saw Lennon fill the creative void, as he handed goals to Defoe on a silver platter with pin point crosses. When Lennon went down, Gareth Bale stepped up to provide that offensive spark from LB and then LM. If Bale and Lennon were on the field at the same time Spurs would be quite a force.
Continue reading

MLS’ Future Is Not In The Suburbs

This past weekend a winless and pathetic DC United attracted more than 18,000 fans to a collapsing and cavernous relic of a stadium on a chili evening in Washington. Yet in Denver, the Colorado Rapids, possessing a respectable record and playing in a shiny and recently built stadium attracted less than 10,000 fans. There is something very wrong with this picture.

The hard fact that MLS must come to realize is that even if you build it (a new soccer-specific stadium) they still may not come. Now there are many contributing factors for these differences in popularity – from cultural elements in these cities, to successful management and marketing, to on the field success, but the fact is that the location of new stadiums really matter. Colorado plays in the middle of nowhere, while DC plays in the city center located on two metro lines. The fundamental lesson that MLS must learn is that its future is not in the burbs but in the cities.

If you look around the league where the crowds are strong they are all teams with stadiums in urban locations – Seattle, New York, Toronto, DC, and Los Angeles. The teams with disappointingly low attendance are almost all due to teams with stadiums in the suburbs.

Not only do suburban based teams do more poorly at the gates than urban ones, but by strategically catering to a suburban clientèle they also fail to develop an intense and passionate fan base that is vital to penetrating local sports culture and ancillary revenues – like jersey sales. By building stadiums in the middle of nowhere, these franchises may have doomed themselves to cultural irrelevance within their respective cities for the next quarter century. A stadium should not be pursued for simply the sake of a new stadium, such short term cost calculus, will hurt long term profitability and viability of franchises – and will as a result hurt the growth of the game.


The Example of Dicks Sporting Goods Park

Before Dicks Sporting Goods Park opened, the Rapids averaged throughout their tenure 14,299 playing at Mile High Stadium(s). At the new soccer specific Dicks Sporting Goods Park, the average has been just 13,593. That means the Rapids averaged more at the more centrally located, yet cavernous football stadium than at a stadium designed for soccer. One can also not attribute this drop in attendance to performance. While Colorado was not very good in 07 and 08, they were quite credible last year, yet regardless, they saw their lowest level of attendance yet.

Why is attendance so poor, despite a brand new stadium? I am not from Denver, but Dicks is very far from much of the population centers – including other suburbs south of the city. The stadium is so far on the outskirts that it actually borders a wildlife preserve! Dicks is not all that far from downtown, about 20 minute drive with no traffic. But there seem to be absolutely no public transit options. The website for Dicks Sporting Goods Park for instance only offers driving directions, because frankly there are no transit options. And while this maybe typical for the U.S., Denver actually has a decent light rail system and has vibrant centrally located neighborhoods. Urban 20 somethings looking for nightlife and entertainment, unlike in Seattle, DC and Toronto, are less likely to make the trek out for a game.

The same problems affecting Colorado, also affect other suburban locations such as Dallas, New England and to a lesser extent Chicago.


Why Suburbs Fail

For most of the last decade the major emphasis of the league has been to push franchises to get there own stadiums. The reasons behind this make a lot of sense. Soccer-specific stadiums demonstrate the league’s permanence and owning a stadium gives each franchise a significant monetary boost, since stadium ownership yields significant revenue in advertising, naming rights, and other royalties. As a result it is likely that Dallas made more money in their home opener that attracted 10,000 less fans than DC, which has to pay rent. Despite the attendance woes of certain clubs, owning your own stadium remains crucial to an MLS franchise’s long term viability.
Continue reading

US World Cup Squad One Month Till D-Day

So Bob Bradley has less than a month to make a decision on who’s in and who’s out of the USMNT. Unfortunately, for Bob the options are narrowing not expanding. Injuries to Stuart Holden, Benny Feilhaber and of course Charlie Davies and Oguchi Onyewu are cause for some serious concern – not so much that they won’t be back – all should be fit – but that each will be rusty and out of form. In general, there are about 20-21 players that would seem to be locks, while few have really emerged to own the remaining few spots.

Last in: Bedoya, Pearce/Bornstein, Beasley.
Just missed: Casey, Gomez, Eddie Johnson

Strikers: Altidore, Davies (Donovan and Dempsey)
Continue reading