Saturday, June 2, 2012

For no one

The second stage of African World Cup Qualifying kicked off Friday with Ghana pounding Lesotho 7-0. 

Of more concern to Americans though, Bob Bradley's Egypt beat Mozambique 2-0 in Alexandria. They played in an empty stadium after training in Lebanon ahead of the match. 

I was able to catch a little bit of the match, including the first goal, and Bradley's stamp on the team was evident. They played a tidy, but simple possession game when they could while mixing in the odd long and/or diagonal ball. In defense, the team was clearly well-drilled in keeping its shape, winning the numbers battles and letting their superior talent do the rest. 
Mozambique weren't half bad, but they weren't all that good either. The visitors would have fit in in CONCACAF just fine though they'd be lucky to make the Hex if this match was any indication. The game-winning goal came after Mozambique failed to clear a corner, Egypt knocked the ball around the outside of the area before an early-range cross was spilled by the keeper, Kapango, for Mahmoud Fathallah to scissor home from point-blank range. Apparently, Kapango also put one into his own net less than 10 minutes later to end the scoring. 

Bradley's team continues Group G play next Thursday when it travels to Zimbabwe. Only the winners of each of the 10 groups in CAF qualifying advance to the final playoff stage. Guinea, who narrowly missed out on the knockout rounds at this year's African Cup of Nations, look likely to be Egypt's chief rivals for that coveted spot. 

The Pharaohs have not played in the World Cup Finals since 1990 where they were narrowly eliminated in one of the tightest groups ever. So it's pretty easy to picture Bradley telling the following: 

"Our goal, our mission is to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. This is something that drives all of us -- players, coaches and supporters." 

- Jacob Klinger

Friday, June 1, 2012

Urgh, Part Deuce

Did you wonder why I recently put Spain among the nations with Champions League-qualified clubs interested in Clint Dempsey when no one else has? Well, now you know thanks to a dastardly Marca scribe doing a bit of MLS Espanol work. And there went that vest card...

Okay, so let's discuss it. Yes, it's true that Málaga are considering an offer for our man Deuce, I've been watching them watching him for a couple months. However, I can also tell you that 1) this offer has not yet been slipped across the table to Fulham on folded paper & 2) Málaga may actually be the suitor bringing up the rear of the pack, for various reasons.

- Greg Seltzer

Goodies for breakfast! (updated)

I may be getting phone ear, but it allowed me to hear many interesting things along my travels through the back corridors the last few days - much more than I let drop in this week's summer transfer window preview Postcard. Let's spill a few more items...

  • Not exactly a great secret at this point, but it does from all appearance seem that Terrence Boyd is heading to Rapid Vienna very shortly.
  • I have learned that Charlie Davies has been ruled outside the plans of the new Sochaux manager, and thus, he is on the market. I've also been informed that he has three clubs showing interest, with at least one of them being an Eredivisie club holding a European cup berth. I'm not sharing everything I have on this scene yet, but trust me, it could get very, very, very interesting.

    UPDATE: Not long after posting this, I found a France Football report from last night claiming AZ were one of the Dutch teams checking out Davies. So I quickly hit up Earnie Stewart to see if it was true and he said no dice.
  • Not for the first time, but Michael Parkhurst has a couple few suitors with his contract soon dwindling down to the final six months. And once again, a fraction of this interest is out of Germany. Still, FC Nordsjælland have no intention of giving him up without a fight and will probably soon initiate extension talks. I would not expect any fast movement here, largely because the Wild Tigers hold a Champions League group phase pass for the fall.
Now, we come to the portion of our show when we smash rumors like Gallagher does watermelons. Once my lovely assistant is finished handing out the plastic sheeting for those of you in the first few rows, we will obliterate a couple of recent MLS items for the fans back home - one supposedly incoming and one said to be outgoing.
  • A couple of clubs are reportedly (and I use that word loosely due to its familiarity) super-ready to snap up Brek Shea, Liverpool easily being the heavy link right now. I can emphatically confirm that there are no offers for FC Dallas' Painting Cockatoo(™) and none forthcoming in the foreseeable future.
  • On the other hand, UK rags have been busy claiming that Spurs defender Ryan Nelsen is in talks for a D.C. United return. This is strictly made up. He is not in such negotiations and I have been assured by his agent that the Kiwi man will be found in England next season.

- Greg Seltzer

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Make it nasty?

The U.S. was certainly unlucky and could have had some more calls go its way against Brazil. Jurgen Klinsmann is not treading so lightly, though, and has basically made a call to more gamesmanship.

I'm not so sure how I feel about it. We've all seen the team being taken advantage of before, but I've always taken pride in the relative lack of BS present in our team.

That's just me, see for yourself.

- Jacob Klinger

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Musings of a mad 'Merican

We'll be digesting that one for a while yet, for now though, I've got some initial notes on USA-Brazil.

We didn't have it. We need it. Donovan can play inside, of course, he's a very talented player, but someones have got to give the team width on both flanks and it cannot be Fab Johnson flying up from the left back spot all game long. Cherundolo was serviceable on the right, too, but that was about it until Dempsey and Boyd came on.

Brazil knew we weren't going to do much out wide and merrily packed the middle of the field on us, forcing the U.S. into a game it could not win.

Jermaine Jones is not a right midfielder ...
This goes back to the width bit, after all, things don't happen in isolation here. It was a soccer game.

Still, he had to pull into places he shouldn't have to on offense. When he lost the ball with his sometimes suspect touches it hurt the U.S. badly. It doesn't matter what the match-up is, when the other team gets to play countless one-on-ones with your right back, the game won't end well. Cherundolo did well tonight, but he was isolated against Neymar all night and he's good at this game.

You can't play compact and loose at this level.

We're right there
Look, a lot went wrong Wednesday night, but this team really clenched some Brazilian butts. It was "just a friendly," still, it's hard not to be encouraged when the Stars and Stripes are regularly finding their way through one of the world's most formidable sides.

CONCACAF qualifying is an entirely different animal, should the U.S. come out unscathed however, the team can quite comfortably look back on this match the next time it faces world-class opposition. 

Two years from now we won't be talking about friendlies. By then, 24 months of internal adjustments, player development and the odd bounce of the ball could really have the U.S. sending a "name" team home from Brazil 2014.

Seriously though, outside of Germany, Brazil has got to be one of the worst top-notch match-ups for the U.S. I'd rather play Spain.

- Jacob Klinger

My USMNT Clipboard - Big Finish.0

It's the end of May, so as promised, here is my own final depth chart for World Cup qualifier #1. The five with asterisks are not in the squad for Klinsi's wonderfully mad five-game tourney experiment.

#1 - GK
Tim Howard
Brad Guzan
Nick Rimando


#2 - RB
Steve Cherundolo
Jonathan Spector

Yes, Spector takes Timothy Chandler's spot - hopefully, it's only kept warm for the time being.

#3 - RCB
Oguchi Onyewu
Clarence Goodson

I told ya Gooch would be back strong. Recognize.

#4 - LCB
Carlos Bocanegra
Tim Ream

Geoff Cameron fans, please hold the line...

#5 - LB
Michael Parkhurst
Heath Pearce

You may well be incredulous, I don't care. As I said, I'd want to know exactly what I was getting in qualifier #1 - maybe that's just wacky me. If Eric Lichaj wasn't dealing with an injury nag, he'd be the new starter here, but oh well and que sera sera and here we are. Sorry to everyone that disagrees, but Fabian Johnson really is needed in his regular role if we're pondering a best possible line-up. That's my view.

#6 - DM
Maurice Edu
Geoff Cameron

Everyone's well aware of what and how Cameron plays in MLS. We aren't talking about MLS here. Up in my brain, things like skill set and position potential at this level are far more important than their typical club role.

#7 - RW
Landon Donovan
Josh Gatt

Yeah, that's right. Sweet Moses, I want to kick Gatt's tires in USMNT colors. Heaven help me, I really do.

#8 - CM
Michael Bradley
Jermaine Jones

As good as Jones is in friendlies, I still love the idea of having his game-changing ability in pocket. 

#9 - F
Jozy Altidore
Herculez Gomez

I considered moving DJ Cool Herc back to right wing, but funk dat, he's a definite impact sub. So if I'm fitting him into the tactics, I'll take him near the main impact zone, thank you very much.

#10 - AM
Clint Dempsey
Sacha Kljestan

This is the last time I move Kljestan to a different position, I swear. Blame it on all the injuries over the duration of this exercise.

#11 - LW
Fabian Johnson
Jose Francisco Torres

This just in: a very recent scientific study shows that great minds only think alike half the time. Apparently, the other half of the time, they discuss it amicably over a nosh.


Alright... have at it, you jackals.

- Greg Seltzer

Let's get this party started right (if not also quickly)

I know the transfer window doesn't open until tomorrow, but I've had some time to dig into this Geoff Cameron interest story originally broken at Soccer By Ives (like so many of you have pleaded) and here's the skinny: Houston should expect a couple few offers in the coming days. For reals. This is not a drill.

There will be more than one, and the they will come from a pool of suitors consisting of two EPL clubs (one promoted, one not), two Eredivisie sides and one German lonely heart. The likelihood of offers emitting from those countries probably goes in about that order, as well.

SO... the real question is, do I have any names confirmed? Well, no, I do not at this moment - but let's just say that my current scopes in those places are getting quite narrow and you might end up surprised at who bids. Stay tuned to the Bat Channel, good citizens.

- Greg Seltzer

The MLS women's revolution

The face of a growing fan faction? WUFC thinks so.
Over the course of the last decade or so, MLS has undergone the painstaking process of outgrowing its training wheels. The sparks of life the league cradled so delicately in the 90s are roaring into full-fledged wildfires that dance loud and bright on green fields from Seattle to DC. 

Sixty thousand strong showed up at CenturyLink Field last year to throw a send-off party for Kasey Keller. NBC just lobbed $10 million a year at MLS to broadcast its games until at least 2014. Attendance averages are already up eight percent from 2011, when MLS blazed a league record for bodies through the turnstiles. And supporters groups, long the backbone of fervent team support, continue to gain momentum with an ever growing panoply of chants, songs and traditions.

But what about women?

It was a question that dogged Kayla Knapp. In the midst of all this unchecked growth, she saw female soccer support scattered to the four winds. It was there, but it wasn't organized.

Knapp was sure there a better way. So she did something about it.

Knapp insists that the women soccer supporters in America were already there in broad numbers, they just needed some direction. That's where Women United Football Club entered the picture, an online meeting place for women to pour over every corner of MLS from a woman's perspective. Since launching in March, the site has flourished.

"The biggest service we want to provide is just to have a space for women to go and enjoy the game," Knapp told NSC. "It's a wide range of ways to view the game. It's to give women a space where they feel comfortable to talk about things they don't want to feel judged about."

Knapp worked in concert with six other founding members to kickstart WUFC earlier this year, and by March 9 they had a website up and running. It was born of the 21st century, Twitter conversations spawning an email chain that birthed a movement. Kristi Colvin initially floated the idea on Twitter and looked for any takers, and a mutual Twitter contact hooked the two up. Colvin has been more involved with constructing the architecture of the website while Knapp and others have provided years of soccer-watching know-how. So it's appropriate that everything about WUFC feels new, fresh and, fortuitously, extremely popular.

Word spread quickly once WUFC's feet hit the ground. The NY Times picked up the scent trail. Yahoo got on board. and The Original Winger, too.

"From the very beginning, before we had a website, the support has been incredible from both men and women," Knapp said. "People jumped on board so quickly that it was almost overwhelming."

The membership rolls hit 451 on Tuesday just shy of the site's three-month birthday, and roughly 1,300 already follow WUFC on Twitter. The site is still stretching its legs and brushing off the sleep-caked eyes of early site formation, meaning it isn't fully developed just yet. Knapp said the site will soon open its blogs to members as well as admins, one of the first moves in a long line of them planned out over days, months and years.

Knapp represents the female soccer fanatic as a first-hand acolyte. An online editor for Fox Soccer and a contributor at Soccer By Ives, Knapp knows the kind of trained, unique view a female can have on the beautiful game. That spurred conversations with other women maybe less practiced in the art of soccer viewing.

"There wasn't really a place for women to go and talk about game from our perspective," Knapp said. "Myself as a sports journalist, there aren't very many women writing and blogging about soccer. For me personally, it was about getting women to a place where they can share their own content and their own perspectives on the game."

The organization is already providing a female ballast for gender issues in MLS. In the wake of Simon Borg's suspension from well-traveled podcast ExtraTime Radio, the boys invited co-founder Malena Barajas onto the program to talk shop.

WUFC was among the first responders to Borg's monologue, which, among other things, established Borg's hesitance to date a female soccer fanatic like himself. The words fell flat upon the public at large. As the sails of social media strained and billowed in the aftermath, WUFC's members rallied under a common banner. The response was deemed so legitimate that MLS itself held up the microphone to WUFC's collective voice.

The response solidified the vibrancy and legitimacy of WUFC for Knapp. Its future, it appears, is bright.

"I think that women make up a much larger viewership of MLS than people realize," she said. "Some of us might not be as vocal, but women are popping up all over the place. Before this process I didn't know as many female soccer fans, but now its incredible how many female fans are popping up that I didn't even know were there."

- Will Parchman

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

All in a day's charity

Will Ferrell. Old Trafford. You know it's going to be a good day (unless you're Gordon Ramsay). We can get Russell Brand to play Sergio Pizzorno in the Soccer Aid movie. I'll have my people fax your people.

- Greg Seltzer

Monday, May 28, 2012

The MLS Grinder: The league's best

CJ Sapong is scoring again. Loogout.
With May just about in the books, the Grinder is feeling fairly list oriented this fine (unbelievably hot) Memorial Day. I have little use for weekly power rankings, those tropes of hyper analysis. But they can serve a purpose when pulled out to a macro level every now and again, and that's where the Grinder goes today. Boldly sloshing into the knee-high wastes of my first top 5 of the season. What follows are my top five best teams through May and a few salient bits on each squad to this point.

Disclaimer: TFC's first win did not push the Reds onto the list. It was a close call, though. Wink, wink.

#5. Seattle Sounders

Seattle has the potential to climb well above No. 5 later in the year. With a roster like this and a raucous home field advantage, Seattle will likely be hovering among the league's elite all season. But thanks to highs tempered by some deep craters, it's still to be determined whether Seattle has enough gumption to get it done on a consistent basis. Four straight wins over the Fire, Galaxy, Union and FCD were great, but I'd be more concerned with the ensuing 1-0 loss to RSL, a perennial thorn in Seattle's side when it counts. As is, Seattle is a fringe elite team. This could have easily been San Jose at #5, but I prefer a staunch defensive team over one that presses high on goals. Those teams tend to have a tougher time sustaining form.

The name atop our newcomer lists the start the year was David Estrada, who wowed with ascending goal totals that had fantasy owners scrambling. But as Estrada's rocket gradually soared back to earth, Fredy Montero's took off. Montero has long been the most enigmatic figure in the league, vacillating between moments of incredible form and disappearing acts of the highest order. But Montero has been banging in some incredible goals and finding some paper-thin creases, so we'll see where that train leads. Alonso remains the holding midfielder of record in MLS, and a back line blighted by the injury to Adam Johansson, who has a right foot like a howitzer, has still surrendered a league-low nine goals through 13 games.

#4. New York Red Bulls

The volatility of New York's locker room has been well documented over the past few years, and Rafa Marquez is a continually ticking incendiary device. Thierry Henry is getting brittle, and I have a hard time believing Kenny Cooper's torrid form of late has any life to it beyond mid-summer. And yet. I find myself wondering when New York will finally break down and collapse for good, and then they flash all these shiny attacking toys behind Henry and you begin to wonder. New York's form in the last five: win, win, win, win, draw. Most of that has been without Henry. I wanted to give up on my preseason MLS Cup pick, but that seems like a foolhardy proposition right now. And I can't explain exactly why.

Hot form aside, New York was drifting toward the dust bin without some back line help. And like a white knight, in rode Heath Pierce to bolster a defense that ranked dead last for the first several weeks of the season. Pierce himself is not a salve for 100 percent of those issues, but he's as close to it as New York could've gotten. Kenny Cooper is bound to slow down sooner or later, but he's as hot as anybody in the league for now. That's a horse Hans Backe won't mind riding for the time being. And if Rafa can keep it together and produce a string of positive games, New York could be leading the East fairly soon. And they'd deserve to.

#3. Real Salt Lake

It's incredible to me that RSL has kept up this form for a sustained period of years, and that the Royals continue to rescue wins from the strangest, darkest corners. RSL's 3-2 win over FCD last weekend moved them to the top of the West after Nat Borchers hit the winner in the 93rd minute. It was RSL's third stoppage time winner of the season, and the latest contest forced RSL to retake the lead twice after FCD equalizers. With the league's best coach at the helm and various moving parts clicking into gear, this is not a team I'd bet against winning the West on its current form.

The most remarkable bit about RSL's mounting win total is Jason Kreis' ability to swap out pieces like car tires and rarely miss steps. Right back Terukazu Tanaka (not this one, FYI) made just his second career MLS start against FCD and supplied the assist on Alvaro Saborio's game-opening goal. And backup keeper Kyle Reynish extended his shutout streak to 325 minutes before getting his hands on both FCD scores. The ballyhooed depth Kreis has created has been on full display this year. Which is why this team only tends to get better as the weather heats up.

#2. DC United

Shocked to see the DC boys this high? You shouldn't be. It's always been a mere matter of moments before this team gelled into something more closely resembling a fully formed transformer than a toy car. The slow start is there, of course, but so too is DC's blistering form to end May. Four wins in five got DC to the top of the East on points, and a mirroring slow start from DeRo has all been wiped out by his league-leading assist tally, which sits at eight. DC has so many dangerous pieces that it's just been a matter of time. What should be interesting will be watching whether this team can sustain its good run once the season slows to a heat-induced crawl.

Of course it starts with DeRo, but have you guys watched Andy Najar this year? The wide midfielder with the fancy footwork has been as skillful as anybody in the league through May, and his wide partner, Nick DeLeon, is up toward the top of most rookie of the year ballots right now. In fact, the problem will be getting all these pieces on the field at the same time. DeLeon, Najar, Chris Pontius, Hamdi Salihi, Maicon Santos and DeRo all deserve first team minutes, but there needs to be some defense in there too. If that group crystallizes soon, as they appear to be doing, watch out.

#1. Sporting Kansas City

A lot will be made of SKC's brief mental lapse that resulted in an 0-3-1 run of form after a 7-0-0 start. But KC's 2-1 win over San Jose was an emphatic way to break those doldrums into a hundred tiny bits. SKC's defense is the best in the East because it does more than any other unit. Chance Myers beats up and down the right touchline like a duster over the Oklahoma plains, and there are few central units more cohesive than the one helmed by Aurelien Collin. On its day, SKC is as close to having no discernible weaknesses as anybody in the league. Troughs are a natural part of the game, but what the San Jose win showed me was that this is a team with a relatively short memory. Which is essential.

The most encouraging bit of news from the weekend was CJ Sapong's goal, which could herald an end to the defending rookie of the year's slump. With Bobby Convey out with an injury, Peter Vermes put Sapong on the left with Teal Bunbury at center forward and the shot-happy Kei Kamara on the right. This is the formation that made so much noise last year once SKC moved into the StrongBox, and it resumed dominance over the weekend. I spent a lot of time last weekend trying to discern the root of SKC's problems and came out without anything profound, which told me that SKC would soon bounce back. And so they did.

- Will Parchman

Go ahead... tell me who's the coolest.

No words needed.

- Greg Seltzer

Terrence Boyd, A Goodie Saga

This mini-serial has a new episode today. The exposition points:
  • Thanks to sources, I can now definitively confirm that there will be no loan spell for hot USMNT topic Terrence Boyd. Borussia Dortmund have decided they are amply stocked with strong prospects at that position. They are only accepting buy offers and he will definitely be leaving the Bundesliga champs this summer.
  • So does that mean loan bidders and Europa league entrants Rapid Vienna are no longer in the race? Honestly, I do not yet know. It's not just a holiday in America this fine Monday, but also one in Europe, so I'll try to dig into this aspect tomorrow. What I do know is that they could spring a few hundred thousand Euros on a player if they really wanted to.
  • Finally, last week, I reported one Boyd suitor had moved into serious talks. Now, we have multiple clubs getting serious. I don't have any new club names to divulge, but at least one of the latecomers will play in the Bundesliga this coming season.
Today's cliffhanger? I'm told he could have a new employer by the weekend. Stay tuned...

- Greg Seltzer