Friday, September 28, 2012

Simek & Deuce pass in England's other cup

It passed many by, but two American internationals crossed paths in front of 12,625 this week as Clint Dempsey's Tottenham won 3-0 at Frankie Simek's Carlisle United in the Capital One (League) Cup.

Simek and Dempsey were on the same team in 2007 when the US beat Mexico in the Gold Cup final, but now play two divisions apart in England, one in the Premier League, the other in League One.

St Louis-born Simek is two years younger than Dempsey and had the advantage of a work permit via his father's job with Budweiser, so started out age 12 at Arsenal no less, progressing through their youth system to debut for the Gunners in a 5-1 hammering of Wolves in December 2003. Playing alongside Simek for Arsenal in the League Cup that night were Cesc Fabregas, Nwankwo Kanu and Patrick Vieira.

That was as far as Simek got for Arsenal and he had to console himself with skippering their reserves.
Dropping a division to join Sheffield Wednesday in 2005 he got the first-team football which eluded him at Highbury. 124 appearances followed as well as five USMNT caps, but for the US he found his way blocked, as Jonathan Spector did, by Steve Cherundolo's consistency.

I watched Simek score his first goal in England at Millwall, up against Zak Whitbread, and I often wondered why such a solid and reliable right-back was never snapped up by a bigger club. Whitbread had always been a defender of modest resources but managed to bag a season in the Premier League with Norwich last year.

In 2007 Aston Villa sniffed around what was one of the best defenders in the Championship, but the Owls' £4m valuation and the player himself showing no interest in leaving Yorkshire meant the Missouri-born man stayed put, dropping another flight to join Carlisle United in 2010. In contrast to Dempsey, who was agitating openly to leave MLS when I asked him, Simek found the suggestion of moving on a nuisance.

A quiet and loyal guy, Simek remains well-liked by everyone who has spent time with him. But you can't help wondering if he should not have shown Dempsey's drive to move on to bigger things, upsetting a few apple-carts along the way if necessary...

Squint and Spurs' black and white kit could pass for Fulham's. How strange to see that club with no Yanks in their ranks after years of 'Fulhamerica'. I used to watch Eddie Lewis and Marcus Hahnemann playing in the Cottagers reserves at Woking at the turn of the millennium, Stars & Stripes in hand to remind them not everyone had forgotten them, even if Jean Tigana had.

A Chicago friend of mine is a season-ticket holder at the Cottage, where I heard many an American voice during the McBride-Bocanegra-Keller-Johnson-Dempsey years. I hope they will all be there next season and beyond...

...The League Cup has always been an odd entity, dating from the 1960s but ultimately born of the historic split in soccer in the 1880s between the amateur south (the F.A.) and the professional north of England, where the Football League is still based (in Preston). With the increased amount of European games and the enhanced money of the Premier League, a second domestic cup seems to have had its day, but a place in the Europa League for the winners and the chance to blood young talent means there is no rush to abolish it.

The advent of large squads and the whispering campaign against the tournament itself mean coaches do not fear fines for fielding weakened teams anymore, so otherwise sold-out big clubs take out newspaper ads to flog League Cup tickets. As a credible competition it died long ago, and yet it continues.

Watching a second eleven take on a first team can be entertaining if the kids win. I've watched Arsenal's youth group dismantle a few experienced sides over the past few years at the Emirates and there was Liverpool doing it to West Brom on Wednesday.

The post-match interviews in the League Cup are bizarre when the coach has deliberately used a weakened side and risked elimination. Roberto Mancini raging about a 4-2 home loss to Aston Villa when he had dropped five regulars this week was typically surreal.

Long gone are the titanic struggles between the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United in League Cup Finals, but if young Englishmen who find it hard to get picked at Premier League clubs can get some playing time and Birmingham City, Leicester and their ilk have some silverware to crow about, the League Cup still serves some purpose I suppose.

-Sean O'Conor

1 comment:

dikranovich said...

credit to hoffenheim today for putting up a game fight in light of the tragedy that has hit them.

prayers go out to boris vukcevic and his family.