US Choses Stability Over Change In Keeping Bob Bradley

Change can be difficult. But sometimes change is needed. In the decision to keep Bob Bradley I was one in favor of change. This is not because of some ingrained Bob Bradley hate. I have defended him throughout the last World Cup cycle and think he would have done a good job at Aston Villa. Keeping Bob Bradley is no disaster and was likely the right decision for US soccer after US soccer likely failed to get Juergen Klinsmann for a second time. But the real question now is whether Bradley can move the team forward and take them to the next level.

Our chief problem as a national team in my view, is that we have no third gear. We seem to have just two gears 1st or 5th. As we saw in the World Cup the US team would too frequently start like zombies in 1st gear but would kick it into 5th gear when their backs were against the world. But teams in a 90 minute game need a 3rd gear. They need to develop a way of playing that can be sustained over 90 minutes, that puts teams on the back foot through skill, guile, and possession, instead of sweat. To instill this new gear I felt the US men’s national team was in need of fresh eyes and of refining its style of play. And I am not sure Bradley is the man for that job.

How This Likely Went Down

What looked to have happened here is both US soccer and Bob Bradley essentially broke up their marriage for a brief period and went looking for something better. Bradley was trying to throw his hat in the ring in England, first with Fulham than with Aston Villa. Sunil Gulati of US soccer examined what other possible candidates were out there and went back for Juergen Klinsmann. In the end, both these flings didn’t materialize.

For US soccer the pursuit of Klinsmann again made sense. But it is likely that Klinsmann again wanted too much control over the direction of player development – a big issue in 2006 when Gulati went after him then. Perhaps that is both a small price to pay and something that is sorely needed. But I think in the eyes of Gulati, US soccer player development is already moving in a new direction and continues to produce better players and as a result better national teams. In other words, it ain’t broke. So handing over substantial control to a foreign coach who we know thinks the US development system is crap and that college athletics is no way to develop talent, could rock the boat so much that it capsizes. Furthermore, for US soccer there really aren’t that many great coaches out there. They all have jobs – except for Sven Goran Erickson.
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Assessing ESPN’s WC Coverage – A Major Step Forward For Soccer In America

Overall it was an outstanding World Cup for ESPN and a tremendous improvement over four years ago. ESPN’s massive investment in the tournament gave the World Cup and Olympics like feel and signifies the massive progress the game is making in this country. The coverage was thorough and professional and the on-air personalities seemed to gel well. However, the coverage in many ways seemed to emulate the approach to World Cup coverage pursued by BBC or ITV and was perhaps not as innovative as ESPN could have made it. Here is a run down of what worked and what didn’t.

Positives:

Chris Fowler. He was perhaps ESPN’s star of the tournament and showed he is a true professional. Fowler who had never covered soccer before to my knowledge almost never put a foot wrong. But it wasn’t just that he didn’t make a mistake, he provided insight and framed the topics of discussion in an interesting and easy to understand way. Perhaps for the fist time on national television on Sunday, there was a discussion of the different tactical schools of soccer from the Dutch to the Barcelona school. For soccer followers there wasn’t much new there, but on the other hand it was a generally informative discussion that gave the American viewer the sense that there were different ways of playing the game. Fowler was the one who presented the discussion and provided the context – he also had a great sign off at the close of proceedings that was quite an advert for South Africa.
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Bob Ryan Captures What US World Cup Run Meant – It Made America Sad

Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe is one of the classic American sports journalists. He is also a bit old school. He came of age before soccer was anything in this country and confesses to know little about the game. But Ryan unlike many of the sports writers of his generation, doesn’t approach soccer was some preconceived ideological disdain. Instead, he pays attention when the game makes him pay attention and respects the sport as it is. In 2002, he penned a magnificent column that essentially called it his fellow writers, such as Tony Kornheiser, who were resistant to embracing the US team in the World Cup merely out of a preconceived disdain for soccer. Ryan said if they couldn’t get into this team and this competition then they simply weren’t sports fans. You gotta love when a non-soccer guy and one of the most respected American sports writers took on the soccer hate directly.
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Howard Webb Was Not Good Enough

Disclaimer: I hate Howard Webb. All Spurs fans do. When Webb officiates a Spurs game, often against one of the big four, the big calls always go against Tottenham. Harry Redknapp himself said “I never seem to get a decision out of Howard Webb.” Now it might be that Webb hates Spurs, but it also might be (and this is my Howard Webb theory – that he tends to err or lean towards the more favored teams.

Now both teams after the final can complain about fouls/cards not given, as both teams did vehemently after the game. They were right to. But in the end I think the Dutch got the worst of it and feel right to be aggrieved. Webb overall did nothing to distinguish himself, got some very big calls wrong, and on those big calls, as my Spurs experience attests, they went to the team that was favored.
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Spain’s negative tactics and broing soccer killed the World Cup

That was miserable. It is remarkable what Vicente del Bosque has done to an awesome collection of skilled players.

Spain's negativity killed the World Cup

Spain’s most potent attacking play is a corner kick. Spain’s negativity is entirely elective – with that array of attacking skill they could overwhelm teams. But they choose to destroy the game by clogging  the middle of the field and keep possession without trying to score goals until the defense made a mistake. Only it hardly ever happend. The result was a dire final unworthy of Spanish and Dutch tradition. Italy and France, yest. Spain and the Netherlands, no.

Spain are very skilled. So what. They won their last four games 1-0.  They scored only 8 goals in the seven games of the tournament, eerily reminiscent of the 7 goals Greece scored to win Euro 2004 in six games.  The Americans scored 5 (really 7) in just four games and just one of the US games had more chances and excitement than all of Spain’s combined. You don’t believe me? The Guardian’s Richard Williams, who said, “Holland and Spain’s anti-football let Europe down.” Continue reading

FIFA to change officiating: Two refs is the best answer

Soccer should follow hockey and go to two refs

This World Cup has been plagued by poor officiating. From the mystery foul that ruled out a perfectly good Maurice Edu winner against Slovenia, or Frank Lampard’s goal that wasn’t against Germany, or Carlos Tevez’s offside goal to open the scoring against Mexico, referees have been at the center of attention too often and for the wrong reasons. FIFA seemed embarrassed by the number and shocking nature of the mistakes, and now it looks like refereeing changes are coming. Goal line technology and two end line officals are the most commonly discussed options, but both of those would only solve one problem – goal decisions. If changes are going to be made, FIFA should address officiating throughout the game, and two on field referees will improve goal line decisions but also make the entire game easier to officiate.

Human error is part of the game for officials too. One line of argument goes that controversial calls actually help the game as it elevates interest and media attention. That, frankly, is crap. Of all the major team sports, soccer is by far the most difficult in which to score, just one moment can turn a game. The stakes are magnified exponentially when they come in a tournament as important to players and fans as the World Cup that only happens once every four years. Who knows what would have happened in the second half of England v Germany if the score was tied 2-2, but it certainly could have been a much different game.

Despite earlier comments from FIFA President Sepp Blatter that no changes were coming, FIFA General Secretary Jermone Valke told the BBC Thursday that this “is the final World Cup with the current refereeing system.” Continue reading

Don’t Underestimate The Dutch

From absorbing the press hype prior to the World Cup final it would seem that either Spain has already won or that the Dutch are one of the weakest teams to make the final. If Spain are over looking the Dutch they are making a huge mistake. The Dutch have won every game they have played in the tournament and have often done so through grit, determination, and at times individual brilliance. Spain have not played a better side this in tournament.

In a previous post I slagged off Spain – in a slightly over the top and provocative way – for boring stifling play – ie they use possession to stifle not to open up their opponents and create chances. Whether one loves or hates Spain’s style, I think it is worth noting that they have been playing on a bit of a knifes edge throughout the tournament and the bounces have largely gone their way. Against Germany, Ramos could have been called for a penalty for clipping Ozil’s heels in the box. Against Paraguay they could have easily fallen behind both on a correct, but marginal, offside decision and as a result of a penalty that was saved. Roque Santa Cruz also nearly equalized at the death. And against Portugal, while Spain again dominated possession, Portugal created some dangerous chances on the break and looked a bit vulnerable during Portugal’s late flourish. This is not to say that Spain didn’t “deserve” to win each of these games – but winning by such small margins (no team has scored fewer goals and gotten to the World Cup final) is always a dangerous way of winning.
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