Friday, February 27, 2009

Liverpool appear to support Rafa

As contract discussions continue to be on-going with Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez, major steps appear to be moving towards the direction of a long-term future for Benitez at Anfield.

The week started with rumors of Jose Mourinho being the favorite to succeed Benitez if he was not resolve contractual issues.

An unnamed source told the Sun, “The Americans [Hicks and Gillett] had read Mourinho was interested in returning to the Premier League and wanted to know if he meant it.“But it wasn’t a firm approach or a job offer. It was more a case of testing the water in case Rafa did decide to walk out.”

On the heels of those rumors, the week ended with chief executive Rick Parry confirming that he will step down at the end of the season. Parry was long figured as a rival of Benitez at the club, and with Parry stepping down, could pave the way for Benitez to be given more say in what happens in the day-to-day operations in the club, including player transfers.

It is understood the pair have failed to see eye-to-eye over the club's transfer policy and academy recruitment plans, with Benitez - who guided his team to a UEFA Champions League victory at Real Madrid on Wednesday - thought to be looking for full control.

Last summer, Benitez criticised Parry’s handling of the club’s pursuit of Aston Villa midfielder Gareth Barry and other transfer targets.

"I have a lot of experience in football at different clubs and if you do not have a technical director and you are the manager you have to have control of the football decisions – but always within the confines of a budget which is controlled by the owners and the club," said Benitez.

"In this scenario the manager knows the amount of money he has available to him and can decide how much he should spend on each player according to the needs of the team.

"The only person who can decide the value of a player to his squad is the manager because he knows what elements are needed to improve the squad."

Change of Culture at Chelsea

The devil is in the details, and task-master Guus Hiddink is changing the culture of Chelsea piece by piece.

A great way to stress a positive culture is being uniform, both on and off the field. Uniformity brings a sense of proprietorship, and clearly that is being stressed by Hiddink. Chelsea players were ordered to wear their Armani club suits before and after Wednesday night’s Champions League win over Juventus at Stamford Bridge, as they were for last weekend’s Premier League match at Aston Villa.

An anonymous insider told the Sun, “Guus is clearly a man not to be messed with and he’s told the players he wants them to play like a team and look like a team. “He wears the same suit, shirt and tie issued by the club and has told the squad they must do the same. Anyone caught with even the knot on their tie loose can be fined £100.”

Warnings issued about being on time for training and about the use of mobile phones, as well as tests to monitor the players’ physical conditions and changing their diet habits, are tremendous steps towards moving the club back to the expectation level promised when they were English Premier League Champions.

A club insider said: “Guus is clearly a man not to be messed with..."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

With firing the entire team not an option, hastily firing the coach seems to be the default option

Graig Carbino writes an outstanding blog about ownership and management hastily firing a coach when the going gets touch. The New York Rangers (NHL) and Phoenix Suns (NBA) are the most recent culprits, but it can happen at the national team level as well.

Carbino writes "Bruce Arena’s tenure with the US program was as mixed bag as you get. He started out with people questioning whether the US could advance with a domestic coach. Winning calmed people down, and overseeing the high water mark for the modern history of the US National Team gave him all the credibility he should've needed."

"Instead, he ran into that standard coaching problem the minute the results turned. The 2006 Cup campaign didn’t quite go as planned and when the US team returned home without making it out of the opening round you just knew Arena was doomed."

I thought some of his most interesting points came in reference to the lack of professional playing experience of former US national team coach Bruce Arena, and current manager Bob Bradley.

"Neither Bradley nor his predecessor were standout players. Arena had more success in pro lacrosse than he did in the professional soccer scene of the mid-70's. One National Team cap and some time in the American Soccer League beats Bradley's complete lack of professional playing experience, but neither of them would point to their playing years as impressive.
This notion that you had to have been a superstar player to understand the game still baffles many. Look at Arena and Bradley as two simple examples of how this antiquated, shortsighted viewpoint lacks any credence."

When you look at the success of the US national team coaches, coupled with the success of Jose Mourinho (Inter Milan) and Rafa Benitez (Liverpool), it leads you to believe that practical experience as a coach or manager is a heck of a lot more important than playing experience.

"The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will." - Vince Lombardi

Hiddink doesn't rest on laurels

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink is not one that is easily pleased, which is a good sign for Chelsea supporters who have gotten used to their team's complacency.

"They are not at tip-top physical level,” Hiddink said. “They are at a high level of fitness but not near the top for games like this. It is something we will work on."

Look for both the expectations and demands at Chelsea to return more to what was common when Jose Mourinho was in charge, which was the most successful era in the London club's history.

Where are all the goals?

Soccer America columnist Paul Gardner wrote in his blog 'Defense on Autopilot' that despite most of the free-wheeling attacking play on display in the European Champions League this week, teams and players are so conditioned on individual and team defending that it kept goal scoring at a premium.

"Think about this: eight teams — Barcelona, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Juventus, Liverpool, Lyon, Manchester United, Real Madrid, a list that arguably includes the top seven teams in the world (sorry, about that, Lyon). Teams bursting with attacking, goalscoring talent. On the field, at one time or another, were Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o, Thierry Henry, Adriano, Kaka, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Dimitar Berbatov, Nikolas Anelka, Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Alessandro Del Piero, David Trezeguet, Fernando Torres, Dirk Kuyt, Raul, Arjen Robben, Gonzalo Higuain, Karim Benzema, Juninho."

"A glittering gallery of goalscorers — and what did we get? Despite all that talent, despite all the money spent on acquiring and paying that talent, after 360-plus minutes of soccer, we got just four goals. Of those, one was from a direct free kick and one from a set play; only two resulted from open play. So that’s the best that the world’s best teams, with all their superstars, can do."

Gardner referenced the fact that this was not caused by first-leg matches forcing away teams to sit in and defend - Juventus (17 shots - 4 on goal) and Manchester United (15 shots - 5 on goal) were the two most offensive minded teams in their first-legs, and they were away from home. Manchester United drew their match 0-0, where Juventus lost their match 1-0.

"You could read into those few stats a simple tale that attacking play does not pay. But there is another revelation here -- one that should not be a surprise. Defensive play has now become so organized, so standardized -- in fact, so easy -- that even when a team is not playing defensively, it has little trouble in snuffing out its opponents' attacks. Even when those attacks feature a bunch of the world's top goalscorers!"

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Is an away tie a win in the Champions League?

"Sometimes when you win, you really lose...and sometimes when you lose, you really win," was Rosie Perez' zen philosophy to Woody Harrleson in 'White Men Can't Jump'. After a 0-0 draw against Inter Milan on the road last night, Sir Alex Ferguson is left to ask if a tie is a win in the European Champions League.

“Obviously I’m disappointed we’ve not won here but the second leg is at Old Trafford where we have a great record," said Ferguson. "We must have a good chance of going through. The game’s not finished, obviously, but we are capable of winning it.”

When you start evaluating your options available after finishing without a victory, logic would tell you that it would be harder for Inter to score 1 goal, let alone defeat United at Old Trafford, than for United to come away victorious - Old Trafford, as well as the Champions League in general, have become a fortress for United this season. Their draw yesterday made it a record 20 Champions League matches unbeaten, and the last time Edwin van de Sar had conceded a goal in the English Premier League was in October.

"We'll improve in the second leg and will be more attacking at Old Trafford, and we know we can score," said midfielder Ji-Sung Park.

Playing a tough cup tie on the road in what had been billed as the clash of the titans - English Premier League leaders versus the Italian Serie A leaders - United deployed a 4-5-1 formation for the majority of the game at the San Siro, with Dimitar Berbatov as the lone striker. Even with the exclusion of Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez, United still created a boat-load of chances in the first half of this match, dispelling the idea that they came out looking solely to defend.

"We played very well and showed the right spirit," defender Patrice Evra told "We came here to win, not just to defend. So we're happy with that part of our game."

"But it's a little bit frustrating because we had a lot of opportunities to score, particularly in the first half."

"Now we have a game at home that we have to win, and I think we have the power to do that. I know the fans will get behind us and hopefully we can get the result we need to go through."

A crucial away goal may have evaded the visitors, but United's desire and commitment throughout the 90 minutes give hopes for a repeat showing at Old Trafford in two weeks time.

A lot will be made of aggregate score at this stage - if Inter score once, United would lose out on away goals in a 1-1 home draw, as away goals count as double. Saying that, all United need to do to progress to the quarter-finals of the competition is beat the Serie A leaders on home soil. United captain Ryan Giggs believes the tie remains finely poised.

"It's still a tricky tie, and we would have liked to have scored that away goal," he added. "But if we perform like we did tonight at Old Trafford then we'll win."

"Experience is going to be very important. Inter are a top side and they have got goals in them. We will have to defend well and make sure we put our chances away."

Even if United come out in their usual attacking-minded alignment with two strikers and two wingers, expect the home side to get it done on the defensive side of the ball again.

"It's not just the defenders who defend, at United everyone works together to do that - the midfielders, the forwards, the defenders and the goalkeeper," said Evra. "We all try to give our best because we all respect the shirt."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"Luck is what happens when PREPARATION meets OPPORTUNITY" - Darrell Royal, former University of Texas Football Coach

Monday, February 23, 2009

Solskjaer turns down Norway job offer

Former Manchester United great Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has apparently turned down the opportunity to manage his national team side of Norway, as reported by ESPN SoccerNet and Norway News.

Solskjaer, 38, was wildly popular as a player at Manchester United, and is now the reserve team coach at United. Give him credit for being able to chart the right course on his career map.

''I didn't think it was the right time for me to accept the job, although obviously it was an honour to be asked,'' the 38-year-old told TV2. ''I'm working at Manchester United and my coaching career is on the right path. Obviously it would have been exciting to take a much bigger job than the one I have, but right now I've agreed to do the job I have at United."

A great definition of EFFORT

Legendary Alabama football coach Paul 'Bear' Bryant was regarded as one of the great motivators of his generation, and was able to sum up the idea of extra effort in this speech to his Alabama football team before a 1974 game:

"Most of you will live another fifty years or more. I hope it's seventy, but if it's fifty that's still a good life, and what happens today, you'll have to live with the rest of the way. You can't get it back if you don't win. It's sixty minutes and over. The losers are the ones who say, 'Oh I wish I could play it again.' You can't play it again.

Well, you're not really going to have to play sixty minutes. None of you. The longest play in a game is six and a half seconds. The shortest play is less than two seconds. That's barely a wink of the eye. You'll average five seconds a play. Five seconds of total effort, going all out, giving a hundred percent. You oughta be able to hold your hand in a fire that long.

If you're lucky enough to play seventy plays, that amounts to about six minutes. Six minutes of your time. Out of fifty years, six minutes doesn't seem like much. But a loser will regret it the rest of his life.

You've worked a long time for this. You've been playing since you were in the seventh grade. You go out there in front of all those people and don't give a hundred percent every play then you're cheating yourself, and your recruiters, and your parents, and your high school coach, and everybody whoever helped you. This is what you have been working toward...

In any big game there are five or six or seven key plays that will decide the outcome. If you put out for five seconds on every play, you'll get your share of those key plays. You never know when they'll come, so you have to go all out every time.

If you're reckless, and give that extra effort, and every play try a little harder, you'll see in the films on Monday that it was you who made those five or six plays that win. Play 'em jaw to jaw, and you'll win in the fourth quarter."

Tactical game of chicken: who changes for who?

When it comes to 'cup matches' - where you have to win or you are eliminated - there is very little margin of error, especially when you go away from home. Teams tend to be slightly more cautious on the road in home-and-home series like you find in the European Champions League. The old adage is that 'you play for three points (a win) at home, and no less than one point (a tie or win) on the road.'

The Manchester United versus Inter Milan match-up in the Champions League round of 16 tomorrow pits two of the great tacticians in the modern game - Sir Alex Ferguson (Man Utd) and Jose Mourinho (Inter) - as well as two well-balanced and flexible teams. Don't be surprised to see a chess match break out between these two sides, with United facing the initial task of having to play the first leg on the road.

"Man Utd changed to play away from home. They are not going to come here to have fun," said Mourinho. "I am not saying they are afraid of us, no, but they respect us and they know that they can lose."

Points are hard to come by at this stage, and whether it be a tie or a win, coming away with points on the road is vital in Champions League competition.

Mourinho has never been bashful about trying to send messages to his own team through the media (as well as his opposing manager), and it appears like 'the Special one' will be looking to play as tight defensively as possible.

"It will not be an open game - we want it to be tight and tactical," said Mourinho. "So the strikers will not have time and room to work in. That makes it important for us that Zlatan Ibrahimovic produces his very top performance."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The truth comes out

As to be expected from former Manchester United legend, Roy Keane breaks his silence about why he unexpectedly resigned his post as manager at Sunderland earlier in the season.

Commenting on a falling-out with the club's American-based majority shareholder Ellis Short with Graeme Bailey of Sky Sports, Keane referenced how things changed quickly in the relationship.

"Then there were accusations about how often I came in, about moving my family to Sunderland. And it was the tone. I couldn't give my heart and soul with this fella on my shoulder," said Keane.

It also sounds like we have not seen the last of Keano, as he comments about football 'being in his blood'.

"What did he (Sir Alex Ferguson) think I was going to do? Go backpacking around Mexico? I have five kids. Football is in my blood, I'd just had enough at Sunderland."

United boss' praise for Mourinho

A clash of the titans is ahead this week in the UEFA Champions League, pitting English Premier League leaders Manchester United and Italian Serie A leaders Inter Milan.
Not only are arguably the top two leagues in the world highlighted in this match-up, but arguably the two most successful managers of their era as well - Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho.
The two have met up 12 different times during their career - Ferguson's United versus Mourinho's Porto, Chelsea and now Inter - and this proves to be the next chapter in their history together.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Below was a great blog that I was sent by Emily Cohen, who is a soccer mom, as well as a freelance writer in Berkeley, CA. It's amazing what you can learn from young children, and their insight into player/coach interaction during games is interesting.

Out of the Mouths of Babes
By Emily Cohen

Driving the school or sports carpool always affords the opportunity to eavesdrop on what's really happening in kids' lives. While kids may not tell their parents about an embarrassing or unsettling experience with a teacher, a coach, or another authority figure, they'll almost certainly tell each other, especially if they're in the backseat of a car and they don't think the parent is listening.

It was just this situation in which I found myself, driving my daughter and some friends home from a soccer game. In between surfing radio stations, I heard the girls comparing the coaching styles of various coaches. One girl said to the others about a past coach, "One minute, she yelled, 'Go to the right!' The next minute, she yelled, 'Go to the left!' I was so confused, I didn't do anything. I stopped to figure out what she was telling me to do, and the girl with the ball dribbled right by me."

I laughed to myself and wondered if the coach realized that her yelling was completely counterproductive. In fact, I wonder if most coaches really think about how their bellows and screeches from the sideline, which they think of as helpful instructions, are perceived by their players.

If coaches ever stopped to ask players whether instructions yelled from the sidelines motivate the player to do what the coach wants, the collective response would be a resounding "No!"

All but two of the 15 kids -- ages 7 to 17 -- with whom I spoke said that their coach's yelled instructions didn't help them at all. In fact, it made it difficult to focus on what they were doing -- playing soccer. And the two who did say that shouted instructions or directions by the coach helped them perform better qualified their answers by saying that they thought the coaches were trying to help but, when they thought about it, what the coach was trying to explain to them would have been better communicated off the field, during a substitution or at halftime -- or, better yet, at a practice.

But enough of my interpretations. Let's hear it from the kids themselves:

"Getting yelled at by my coach isn't helpful at all because it makes it harder to concentrate. It's more difficult to control the soccer ball when someone's yelling at me."

"When the coach yells at me to mark someone or run somewhere else, I can't focus on the game. I think I make more mistakes because I was listening not playing."

"Both the coaches were screaming instructions. I tried to do what one of the coaches said, but it was hard to figure out, because the coaches were saying different things."

"I hate it when the coach screams at me to 'play better' or 'run harder.' I mean, really, I'm trying my best already and that just makes me feel worse. It doesn't make me play better or run harder."

"Most of the time, when the coach yells something to me, I saw it already and I'm trying to get there. But I can't yell that to them because I'm too busy running!"

And my personal favorite: "I don't like it when a coach yells at me to do something because I usually figure out what to do on my own."

There it is, in a nutshell. Isn't that really what youth soccer is about? Figuring out how to play the game and gaining a sense of accomplishment from doing just that?

I wonder how many of those screaming coaches could play an hour of soccer (or play a tennis match or a run a 10K race or cycle up a steep grade) with someone yelling at them the entire time to "run harder," "cycle faster" or "play better." Most would likely lose their patience and yell back at the offender.

I just hope the next time one of them coaches a kids' soccer game, he or she thinks twice about yelling at the players and decides to just let them play.

(Emily Cohen is a freelance writer living in Berkeley, Calif. She is the mother of a son, 12, and a daughter, 9, who both play multiple sports. She has been a team manager for her children's soccer, baseball and softball teams.)

Messi: One player doesn't make a team

Argentina and Barcelona star Lionel Messi is firmly grounded when it comes to understanding his role in the Barcelona team, and in a time where egos and bank accounts can be larger than a club's trophy case, it is encouraging to see one of the world's stars be able to buy into something bigger than himself.

As Messi mentioned on, "any team that depends on one player are not a true footballing team".

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Insight into pre-season preparations with FC Dallas

Steve Hunt from was able to gain some valuable insight behind the scenes of pre-season with FC Dallas of Major League Soccer. FC Dallas Head Coach Schellas Hyndman had taken the reigns of the Hoops in mid-season last year, and is in the midst of his first pre-season in MLS.

After starting their pre-season in Dallas, the team has started the second phase of their pre-season in Sunrise, Florida - affording them the opportunity to do all the things necessary to prepare for the rigors of the regular season, which includes exhibition matches as well as building cohesion.

"I think it's fantastic that our team can get away and go down there," Hyndman said. "We've got three games set up -- one against FIU, Colorado and BK Hacken. I think being together on the road, sharing the hotel, doing team chemistry and bonding, all those things that we all know are necessary, I think that's great. So I'm looking forward to that."

Berbatov hungry for title addiction

DIMITAR BERBATOV sees the addicted nature of his successful Manchester United teammates, and he is also discovering that same need to winning titles as his team-mates.

The Manchester United striker, 27, arrived at Old Trafford last August after a two-year spell at Tottenham. After getting a taste of domestic, European and World Club Cup success this season and discovering just how hungry his new squad mates are, the Bulgarian has got the buzz.

"The players here who have already won it, need it again and again and again. I have none of that. When I am here, it is like I need it - I want it."

"With the help of everybody, with the right amount of effort on the pitch and with the team we have, I am pretty sure we can win it again."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Like father, like son

It's hard to accuse the coach of nepotism when his son is the standout player on the team. As Michael Lewis reports, that's the case with our US National team, led by Head Coach Bob Bradley and central midfielder Michael Bradley.

"He and his dad are just alike," said former New York Red Bulls forward Jozy Altidore, who helped set up Michael's second goal Wednesday. "Bob's just a bit older than him. On soccer they're both very intense. They have so much passion for the game. They really just eat, breath and sleep soccer.

Added goalkeeper Tim Howard, who survived a nasty hit by Mexican defender Rafael Marquez to record a shutout: "I think he was fantastic, aside from the goals. He was up and down the field, side to side, staying in the tackles, winning balls, collecting second balls. He did everything right."

"Bob probably demands more of [Michael]. He treats us all equally. We trust all in the relationship that we have with Michael as a teammate and that Bob Bradley has with Michael as a player. We trust in our relationship. Michael doesn't take any short cuts. He is the hardest working guy on the team. He demands a lot of himself, which I think is the epitome of a big-time player, which I think Michael will be."

How do you prepare for Man Utd?

That's the question that Pete Gill is trying to uncover on Football 365. The combination of the undeniable squad depth, coupled with Sir Alex Ferguson's unpredictability, makes scouting and preparing to play Manchester United almost as hard as actually having to play against them...

"It's impossible to prepare for playing against them. We watched them for six consecutive games and they played six completely different teams with different ways of playing. You can watch them in 60 consecutive ways but then they'll just change who plays where," complained Nigel Clough this weekend.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Mourinho is Sir Alex's kryptonite

If Sir Alex Ferguson is the English Premier League's Superman, then Jose Mourinho is his kryptonite.

Sir Alex has only beaten Mourinho once in a dozen attempts between Mourinho's stops at FC Porto and Chelsea FC. Their next match-up is ahead next week when Inter Milan takes on Manchester United in the European Champions League, and proves to be a true clash of the titans.

Matt Barlow of the Mail Online reports of the genuine threat that Mourinho and his Inter Milan team pose to United's quest for European glory.

"Ferguson will warn his European champions how threats can emerge from the most unlikely places — Mourinho’s Porto knocked United out of the Champions League on their way to winning the trophy in 2004 — and if any team look capable of halting United’s bid for history it is Inter, nine points clear in Serie A chasing a fourth straight title."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Can United win the 'quadruple'?

"At this club we want to win every game and we go into every game expecting to win, but it's tough to win all four competitions."

"It hasn't been done, but this club is always making history and breaking new ground."

Michael Carrick references the amazing journey that Manchester United are on this season, aiming their sites at the English Premier League (currently sitting two points up on Liverpool, with a game at hand), the European Champions League (currently in the round of 16), the FA Cup (currently in the quarterfinals) and the Carling Cup (set to play Tottenham Hotspur in March for the Final). United secured their place in the FA Cup quarterfinals today with a 4-1 away victory over Derby County.

Only one club has won the 'treble' - the league, Champions League and FA Cup - and that was United in 1999.

As Carrick mentions, it takes more than just having the strongest team in England and possibly Europe.

"It hasn't happened before because so many things can go wrong. It's difficult, especially in cup competitions because one slip and you can be out."

Dufty makes jump to MLS

Having worked with Alec Dufty at both the youth and collegiate levels, there was never a question in my mind that he would become a professional soccer player. Even in high school, he was always more driven and focused than his peers. Having a father who played professionally didn't hurt as a role model - his father (Dave) played for the San Jose Earthquakes in the North American Soccer League (NASL) in the 70's.

Now a member of the 'Goalkeeper U' fraternity that has developed over the years at the University of Evansville - US internationals AJ Lachowecki (US Futsal team), Trey Harrington (US Olympic Team) and Troy Perkins (US full national team) - the similarities in the career path to Perkins is most similar: undrafted out of college after performing well at the MLS Combine; coming into the league relatively unheralded (initially signed as a 3rd string goalkeeper).

Who knows what the next step is for Dufty, but the reason why guys like Perkins, Matt Pickens (Colorado) and Will Hesmer (Columbus) have all made it is because they have had the resolve, commitment and drive to come through the system and earn their keep. Dufty has a lot of those same attributes, so who knows...

Attached is an article from today's Evansville Courier Press about Dufty and his pre-season with the New York Red Bulls.

"Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle." - Abraham Lincoln

Hiddink next in the Chelsea hot seat

Chelsea have named Dutchman Guus Hiddink as the successor to Luiz Felipe Scolari. Hiddink will finish the season on an interim basis, working double duty between the hot seat at Chelsea and his post as the Russia National team manager.

Where Hiddink has a very impressive CV - European Cup winners in 1987 with PSV; successful national team stints with Holland, South Korea, Australia and Russia - but as Sky Sports' Andy Gray mentions in his column, rather than jump on the Hiddink bandwagon, he thinks the same issues that did Scolari in are still present at Chelsea.

"In my view, Luiz Felipe Scolari's CV is probably every bit as good as Gus Hiddink's," said Gray.

"Of course, Hiddink enjoyed European Cup success in 1988 - but that's a long time ago - and has won Dutch titles but how does that translate to Premier League success? Not easily, in my book.

The Premier League, as Scolari found out, is a totally different ball-game. I'm not saying Hiddink won't revive Chelsea because I've huge respect for the man.
But he is joining a club that is impatient, that has players who are capable of sniping and back-biting when they are not flavour of the month. The squad needs guidance and discipline and Hiddink has to say 'I'm the gaffer and we do it my way'.

One advantage he has over Scolari is that he will be able to walk onto the training ground and dictate what's going on to everybody. Conversing in the language of the league you are playing in is so important and there's no doubt Scolari struggled there."
What Hiddink does have to his advantage is his tremendous track record of adapting his tactics to the personnel he inherits, using 'total football' philosophies that have proven in club and international football. Jamie Jackson of the does a great job illustrating how Hiddink has been able to do that on each of his stops along the way.
"According to the man who mentored Hiddink as a player in Holland, it is his tactical versatility that marks him out. Piet de Visser, Roman Abramovich's chief football adviser and the man who recommended Hiddink for Russia and Chelsea, says his Dutch compatriot is "not a coach who always demands the same system for his teams. He looks at the players, gets to know their best strengths and then decides the system."
Hiddink does have a track record for correcting some of the issues with the current Chelsea side - including fitness and man-management - as illustrated in Jonathan Wilson's blog on the
"Hiddink's sides have a reputation for formidable fitness. A pre-World Cup training camp in 2002 made his South Korea side so fit that he even had to deny dark – and groundless – allegations of doping. Of the five players who ran furthest in Euro 2008, three were members of his Russia squad."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Squad depth the key for Ferguson

It' s got to be nice to have the squad depth of Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United - they currently are on a run of one loss in the past 23 matches in all competitions, and a record breaking 13 consecutive matches without conceding a goal.

In their last shutout victory - a 1-0 win over West Ham United last weekend - it was a United team that had Rooney, Evra, Anderson, Hargreaves and Evans all out injured, and Fletcher, Nani, Neville and Park on the bench.

In this Sky Sports News report, Ferguson credits it all to squad depth for the defending champions. Credit Ferguson for not only building a team that goes 14-15 deep against any team in the world, but also a squad that has a young enough nucleus that is intact for years to come.

"I select the team that I consider is the best for each particular match," said Ferguson. "I have got a great many factors in mind, ranging from the tactical to who needs a rest and who we play in the next game.

I can give you my best 14 or 15, but better than that, all I can say is that is a squad game and that we have a damn fine squad. In fact it is the best."

Was Scolari prepared to meet the expectations of Chelsea?

There has obviously been a lot in the UK media recently about Chelsea's management after the dismissal of Luiz Felipe Scolari and the subsequent hiring of Guus Hiddink. As I continue to read articles in favor of or against Scolari, it makes me wonder about the expectations that go along with a job that massive.

Clubs like Real Madrid in Spain, or even the New York Yankees in Major League Baseball, spend so much money that the only expectations they can meet is immediate - either win now or be replaced. Apparently Chelsea is also now in that exclusive club.

Scolari mentioned in this Reuters interview that he was lacking a difference maker on the pitch - a player who can run at defenders and take them on to create scoring chances. While attending the Manchester United 3-0 thrashing of Chelsea last month, I also thought it was strange that Scolari opted to play with five midfielders, one striker (Drogba) and really no attacking support on the flanks. Knowing that he had Abromovich at his disposal, and that he was given free reign to purchase whomever he wanted - he was able to buy up the likes of Deco, Quaresma or Bosingwa while at the reigns of Chelsea- it leads me to believe that maybe Scolari's demise was less about not being able to have the right players at his disposal, and more about the expectations being too great for him to manage.

As the national team manager of arguably the most colorful countries in South America (Brazil) and Europe (Portugal), he had the most creative players in the world at his disposal. It was less about coaching players, but rather managing them in preparation for a tournament. It is certainly unfortunate that Scolari was not given more time to make his imprint at Chelsea, but given the fact that he was able to spend as much money as he needed to put together the team of his choice, he must have understood that with those amazing benefits were tremendous responsibilities - maybe Abromovich is unrealistic and unreasonable to think that any manager could put together a team to compete at this level in only 7 months, but if that was the case, Scolari shouldn't have accepted a position with this kind of responsibility.

I worry in some regards about one of my favorite players from the past - Mark Hughes - and his ability to meet the expectations that go along with the spending spree taking place at Manchester City. Where I worry in some cases, I also know that he is financially secure in his massive salary to deal with whatever road his team (and his chairman, board and ownership) take him down.

I know that there were also questions within the team about Scolari's training methods - putting together a training rhythm for a marathon-like EPL season is much different than a sprint-like tournament you find in a World Cup or European Championships. I know while I was over there last month, there was a lot of talk about how light the training sessions were - which is not uncommon to find while you are preparing/competing in a tournament, where you are trying to pace yourself and keep your players fresh over a very short duration of time. There were also questions about their ability to practice or prepare for defending set pieces. At the game I attended, there was certainly support to that- United scored twice on corner kicks (one being disallowed) and on a service off of a free kick. I'm not there in training every day - and I always tend to be sensitive to the manager from the standpoint that unless you are on the training pitch or in the locker room, it is hard to be critical about what a manger does or doesn't do - but they certainly looked a little disoriented on defending restarts.

I have been happy to see players like Ballack or Kalou taking some of the responsibility - it certainly seems easier to fire one manager than to fire 11 players - which is unfortunate...ultimately, Scolari can't play for his players. Perhaps if there were more key players who were willing to share some of that responsibility, maybe Scolari would still be at the helm.

Was Scolari treated unfairly? Respond back and let me know your thoughts.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Hart brings in Kidd at Pompey has reported that Brian Kidd has joined Portsmouth to assist caretaker manager Paul Hart following the sacking of Tony Adams.

Brian Kidd was a key contributor in the Manchester United European Cup winning team in 1968, and gained world-wide acclaim as Sir Alex Ferguson's assistant in the great United teams on the 1990's. He was a key influence in developing young players like Ryan Giggs at the youth level, and helped mature them into a nucleus that would lead United to league titles in 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996 and 1997.

Kidd left Manchester United in 1999 to serve as manager of Blackburn Rovers, and after stints with Blackburn and Leeds United, eventually worked for Sven-Göran Eriksson as an assistant to England. He was forced to end this role just weeks before Euro 2004, due to undergoing surgery for prostate cancer. Kidd had recovered by February 2006.

He had ties to the United States as well, having played in the now-defunct North American Soccer League (NASL), playing for the Atlanta Chiefs, Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Minnesota Strikers.

I had the thrill of a lifetime to get to meet him during his time as first team coach at United, and it was a dream come true to be able to see someone that I looked up to as a player, coach and person work up close - I had the chance to watch him train Manchester United's youth team, as well as do a session with a group of young American players (that included my brother).

Brian is one of the true treasures of football coaches, and I am excited to see him back in the English Premier League.

The hardest job for a goalkeeper is being an understudy

While visiting Brad Guzan at Aston Villa FC last month, I was so encouraged by his perspective about being the 2nd goalkeeper with both Aston Villa (behind Brad Friedel) and with the US National team (behind Tim Howard).

Guzan had referenced that he thought his job was to play so well in training all week that he would make Villa manager Martin O'Neill's decision when making the starting lineup as difficult as possible. He never once referenced trying to 'beat out' Friedel; rather, he put all of the onus on him to perform to the best of his abilities, knowing that if he was playing well, his opportunity would be around the corner. Having had the opportunity to coach Brad at the ODP level (with Region II ODP), I was so impressed with how mature he has become over the years. He also had tremendous foresight - knowing that there would be a time when the mantle would be passed on from Friedel to him, and that he knew his time would come. He has a very solid relationship with both Friedel and Howard, and learns a lot from watching them play and working with them.

With Tim Howard receiving his second yellow card in qualifying against Mexico, Guzan will get his chance to perform on a major stage with the US National team in their upcoming qualifier against El Salvador on March 28th. Knowing Brad, he will be ready...

Below is an excerpt from an interview with Manchester United goalkeeping coach Eric Steele, where he talks about the challenges facing Tomasz Kuszczak and Ben Foster as they continue to shadow Edwin van der Sar...

The hardest job for a goalkeeper at United is understudying the number 1.

At the present time, Edwin van der Sar is in the top spot, he’s got the shirt, and it’s up to Tomasz Kuszczak and Ben Foster to become Edwin's senior challenger.

Whenever Tomasz comes into the team and plays one game, some people might say he could have done this or that better. They never seem to talk about what he did well in the game, which is something I always look at. People need to take into account it might be Tomasz's first game for six weeks. The same goes for Ben.

While that’s very much part of the territory if a goalkeeper comes to United and challenges the number one, it still has to be put into the equation when you’re assessing them. The keepers are working at a fantastic tempo in the training sessions that Mike Phelan and Rene Meulensteen put on and the sessions do reflect what a goalkeeper has to do come Saturday afternoon or Wednesday night. But there's nothing like playing in a real game to develop your decision-making.

Thankfully we’ve had matches in the Carling Cup and FA Cup which have given Ben and Tomasz an opportunity, and they’ve also played the odd game in the Premier League and Champions League. At all times, they have to be prepared for when the manager says to them, "You're playing." If they're not ready, that's my fault...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Revolution’s Michael Videira back home

Attached is a good article from Kyle McCarthy of the Boston Herald. Michael Videira was as dynamic a two-way midfielder as there was in college soccer during his career at Duke University (2004-07), and was a National Player of the Year candidate. After trying his hand in football abroad with Hamilton of the Scottish Premier League, he is back home playing for the New England Revolution.
After seeing Mike work on a day to day basis, expect the fiery and hard-working midfielder to force himself into Steve Nichol's Revs lineup.

Bradley, US proves tough enough against Mexico

The US team were the mentally and stronger team last night as they knocked off CONCACAF rival Mexico, 2-0, in wet and windy conditions at Columbus Crew Stadium. This match was the first matchup in this final stage of 2010 World Cup qualifying.

Michael Bradley scored late in each half to pace a cool and composed US attack. He finished a rebound during a goalmouth scramble to post a 1-0 lead shortly before halftime- taking advantage of a great corner kick by DeMarcus Beasley, a cunning header back across the goalmouth from Landon Donovan, and a driven header from Oguchi Onyewu that was knocked down by Mexican goalkeeper Sanchez before Bradley finished.

His second goal in stoppage time was a driven shot from 28 yards out that skidded underneath Sanchez, which also came from a brilliant combination betweeen late substitute Jozy Altidore, Donovan and Bradley.

"As a player, these are the games we want to play in," said Michael Bradley after scoring the fourth and fifth goals of his international career. "In the locker room before the game, we looked at every guy and knew we were ready to play. I don't think it's one guy, it's not just Landon [Donovan], it's 11 guys committed to do every little thing on the field to make sure we were going to get the result."

While weather conditions and perhaps jitters from playing in a 'cup final' atmosphere affected the early stages of the game, the Americans dug in and held off some early Mexico attacks.

"Our midfield play tonight, their work as a group, was really important and that sets the tone in the game," said Bob Bradley. "Tonight is a night where we'll go around and talk with each guy about how they played. I don't think it was necessarily a night where we got our best performances from each guy. But I think collectively there was an understanding of the game that had something to do with Mexico and something to do with the conditions."

The US seemed to deal with the conditions of gusting, swirling winds better than their Mexican opposition, proving to be the mentally tougher team and avoiding distraction of peripheral factors like weather.

"On nights when the conditions are bad, when the wind is like this, it's very important that the team moves well together," said Bradley. "You can't have gaps on the field, you have to feel tactically that you're disciplined. Obviously there are adjustments when you're against the wind. The ball isn't going to go as far on goal kicks, you still have to string passes together. You don't want every ball to be up in the air. We talked about all those things, but the major emphasis was just on the way we would move as a team in order to handle the conditions."

As committed and focused as the US team proved to be, it was the lack of composure from a key Mexican player at a critical phase of the match that proved to be a difference in their side. Midway through the second half, defender Rafael Marquez studded US goalkeeper Tim Howard in the knee as he caught a high ball and the referee whipped out his red card. This was the second time that Marquez, a defender for world power Barcelona FC, let his lack of composure affect the outcome of a match - seven years ago at the 2002 World Cup, a flying head-butt on Cobi Jones earned Marquez a red card in that 2-0 defeat.

Howard stood up tough enough in goal for the US, dealing with a number of challenges to preserve the shutout. In the early stages of the game, Howard denied dos Santos from close range; He was connected well to his back four, coming out to collect long through balls played behind his backs; Howard controlled his box as well, charging out to collect a ball lobbed high into the box when Marquez crashed into him high and late and stupidly.

Howard must sit out the March 28 game at El Salvador, however, after earning his second caution of the qualifiers when he tossed the ball away angrily after being felled by Marquez.

Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra weren't exposed one-v-one by balls played into space, a credit to the US tight and organized defense. Frankie Hejduk patrolled the right flank on both sides of the ball. Heath Pearce held up the left side.

"We were always around the ball and we made it hard for them to play," said Hejduk, who saluted his hometown fans as well as his teammates. "That was our game plan and Columbus did its job again. The weather came in and the fans were there and it was crazy like it was supposed to be. We're just all excited and it's good to get a win tonight."

It was a great night for US Soccer, as well as for the Bradley family. Even though the winning coach and two-goal star are father and son, the duo are pretty grounded and focused on the task at hand.

"Right now I'm the coach, it's about the team," said Bradley. "When you coach at a professional level there's a way that you want to do the work. There is an environment that you create and you want to establish a high level of being a pro in terms of what the right mentality is. The one thing that happens with Michael is that he gets a steady dose of that, not only when he's in with the team but in terms of the father-son relationship that we've had."

"You are never a loser until you quit trying" - Mike Ditka, one of only two people to win NFL Super Bowls as a player, an assistant coach and a head coach.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Giggs' greatness mirrors Ferguson

What is it about men who has the world but wants yet more?

This is the question that Matthew Syed answers in his TimesOnline column, and sheds some insight into two of the great champions of world football, Ryan Giggs and Sir Alex Ferguson.

Defining Toughness

This article by ESPN analyst and former Duke basketball player and assistant coach Jay Bilas was recently forwarded to me, and is an outstanding reference to what toughness really is - as it relates to college basketball, although there are a lot of points that apply to soccer as well.

Grella signs with Leeds United

Duke All-American Mike Grella just signed an 18-month contract with English team Leeds United, and fulfilled his life-long dream of becoming a professional.

"If I could have done school in a year, I would have done it in a year," Grella said while in the United States this week.

Grella was a third-round pick of Major League Soccer's Toronto FC, but he chose to go on a two-week trial with Leeds instead. In his debut for Leeds' reserve team last month, he had a hat trick to prompt interest from other teams and the contract offer from Leeds.
Leeds won the English championship in 1992, but financial woes dropped the club two divisions to England's third-tier league. Still, it has the facilities, fan base and tradition of a top-flight team, which made it an attractive destination for Grella, who avoided immigration red tape by obtaining an Italian passport through his parents, who are first-generation immigrants.

"I had heard of Leeds before going over, obviously, and I was excited about it," Grella said. "Of course, you hear it's in the third division and you're a little skeptical about it. But the facilities are fantastic, and the fan base. I went to a couple home games and the atmosphere was fantastic."

Grella signing with Leeds makes him the next in a long line of professionals that came out of the Duke University team that was the 2005 ACC Champions and finished the regular season as the number one team in the country -

* Michael Videira graduated in June and passed on an MLS offer from the New England Revolution to try out for teams in England this fall. Videira initially ended up signing with Hamilton of the Scottish Premier League, but recently signed with the Revs to return to his home town.

* Blake Camp was drafted by the New York Red Bulls, and played for two seasons in New York before joining the Atlanta Silverbacks (USL-1) last season.

* Chris Loftus was with the New England Revolution for the 2007 season before going over to Sweden, where he currently plays.

* Kyle Helton joined Loftus with the New England Revolution for the 2007 season.

* Spencer Wadsworth was selected by the New England Revolution in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft, and spent the 2008 season with both the Revolution and FC Dallas.

* Darrius Barnes recently joined the New England Revolution after being drafted in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft.

* Tim Jepson was drafted by the San Jose Earthquakes in the 2008 MLS Supplemental Draft.

* Zack Pope was drafted by the Chicago Fire in the 2008 MLS Supplemental Draft.

* Danny Kramer played for two seasons with the Rochester Rhinos (USL-1).

Grella, who is roughly fifth or sixth on the Leeds depth chart at striker, has 18 months to make his case.

"I have until the end of the season and the entire next season," Grella said. "I definitely have some time to prove myself."
Anyone who has been around Grella knows that it is only a matter of time before he makes his presence felt - he has been a prolific goalscorer at ever level he has played in, and that figures to continue in this next chapter of his career.

US awaits derby in 2010 World Cup Qualifying

In baseball, you have cross-town rivals like the New York Yankees and Mets; In college sports, you have long-time conference rivals like Duke and North Carolina in basketball or Michigan and Ohio State in football. In England, these kind of matches that pit bitter rivals that live in close proximity are called a 'derby' (pronounced dar-bee).

For US soccer fans, our derby is CONCACAF rival Mexico. Since qualification for the 1990 World Cup almost 20 years ago, the two countries have had a stranglehold on qualification for the North & Central American countries, as well as the Caribbean nations. Only three teams from this region of the world will qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, which makes every match in qualification a playoff game. This chapter of the US-Mexico rivalry is perhaps the most anticipated match on US soil in four years. The match will mark the 55th meeting between the two long-time rivals, and kicks off the final round of FIFA World Cup qualifying.

Where the neighboring country might be civil to each other in most cases, this is clearly a classic grudge match of two footballing nations that do not like each other.

"This is the game all the guys look forward to," says US midfielder Sacha Kljestan. "It's probably been on our calendars for a long time."

Just as they were 2 ½ years ago when these nations last met in a qualifier, the Americans are favored. By beating Mexico, 2-0, at Columbus Crew Stadium in September, 2005, the Americans clinched their World Cup 2006 place with three qualifiers still to play.This time, the qualifying starts against Mexico in Columbus, and on the U.S. team are veterans of the rivalry as well as several players projected to play important roles at the 2010 World Cup - assuming the USA gets there - yet still untested in a Hexagonal.

"The qualifiers are a different beast," says Kljestan, whose busy schedule in 2008 included starts in all three Olympic matches as well as eight games with the senior team, six of which were qualifiers. But he's never played in a Hexagonal nor against Mexico.

"I see just in meetings the older guys, how serious they are, and on the field the effort you have to put in for the whole 90 minutes. We want to dictate the way the game is played, we want to play the game on our terms."

The match will be played at Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio at 7 p.m. ET, and will be televised live on ESPN2 & Univision). Tune in to watch our US team represent the Stars and Stripes on the way to qualification for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Be prepared in sports and life for when 'Sudden Change' strikes

From the Evansville Courier Press, January 31, 2009

I have heard people say that, at times, life imitates sport. With the winter weather that hit the area this week, it brought an important lesson I had shared with my University of Evansville men's soccer team to life.

Long-time University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler preached to his players the concept of "Sudden Change" — that there will be times in a game that you will be forced to deal with an adverse situation, and your instincts will require you to deal with that situation quickly.

He felt that understanding not only that mistakes will happen but that if you embrace that fact and deal with or perhaps fix the mistake, it makes you and your teammates stronger.
Our team at the University of Evansville embodied that concept of "sudden change" and used it as a rallying cry for this past season.

We wore the slogan on our practice shirts, and along with Dr. Gregg Wilson created a "Rules of Engagement for dealing with Sudden Change." We stressed the fact that each member of the team will be confronted with a sudden change every day — whether walking to class or during the course of an NCAA tournament game — and would be measured by peers by how they dealt with the situation.

Stressing the fact that you can't let the things that you can't control affect the things that you can — whether it was bad weather, poor field conditions, or a referee's call — these were some of the important rules we used:

— When receiving feedback, "don't take things personal." Understand that a teammate shouting instructions or encouragement is trying to help. Trust your teammates.

— When giving feedback, be constructive and understand the "2-second rule." Feedback on the field shouldn't be a distraction to a teammate, so be specific.As for the "2-second rule," don't give any feedback that will create a conversation any interaction between teammates (or between a player and a coach/teammate on the sideline) longer than 2 seconds becomes a distraction. If the feedback prompts a response any longer than a nod or a thumbs up, save it for halftime or later.

—When coping after a mistake, don't play with the fear of failure. Too many players play afraid to make mistakes, and never take chances or be creative. Be confident that you are prepared properly and are capable enough to play without fear.

— Keep giving feedback rather than go into a shell. Understand that your teammates need your help, and the more you talk the more it re-focuses you back on the game rather than on the previous mistake. Pouting or being moody are not options.

— Keep calm under crisis, as the players who lose control and drift from the game plan tend to make the most mistakes and compound their first mistake into additional ones.

The "Sudden Change Rules of Engagement" have helped our players, both on and off the field, and came in handy the other day for me as well.

With power going out at our home and my young children bouncing all over the house, it would have been easy to flip out about variables I couldn't control — the loss of power, car in the driveway being stuck. I don't know that I was able to turn dealing with that adversity into a victory (being still without power), but it was much easier to create a plan to solve these problems.

Disputing refs rarely worth fuss

From the Evansville Courier Press, December 21, 2008

As a player or a coach, there are only so many variables you can control during the course of a soccer game — a call that a referee makes (or doesn't make) is not one of them.

Longtime Duke University soccer coach John Rennie used to always say to his players "do not let what you can't control affect the things that you can" with a referee's decision being one of the major factors you can't control.

Here are some reference points about dealing with referees or assistant referees (linesmen) that could assist players, coaches or spectators:

'Working' the refs: As much as athletes and coaches probably feel that 'working' the refs is glorified by watching ESPN, the idea of shouting at the referee during the game becomes more of a hindrance and distraction to the officials and your own players. As a player, arguing with the referee or even getting yellow-carded for dissent are signs of a lack of mental toughness or focus.
As a coach, it is worth referencing that at higher levels, crowds are so large and loud that the officials can't really hear you anyway. In most levels of professional soccer in Europe, the technical area (coaches and substitutes) is actually located in the stands — so you don't see coaches roaming the sidelines as much as you might see here in the U.S.

Don't 'cry wolf': The coach who complains about every call gets tuned out pretty quickly by an official, and now the coach has lost a forum to even discuss a call with the referee. Understand that the more professional you behave toward the referee during the course of the game, the better chance he or she will lend their ear if there is a concern you need to have addressed.

Use your captain's role appropriately: One of the reasons why the captain of a team is asked to wear an arm band is to distinguish themselves from their teammates. The captain is the only player who should address the official about anything relating to the game, and the coach should encourage any contact between the players and the referee be through the captain. I think a good practice for coaching youth players at an early enough age for a teaching opportunity is to substitute any player other than the captain who addresses a referee, and/or substitute any child who has a parent that is too vocal in their criticism of the officials. Knowing that, could help make your player (and maybe their parent) mentally tougher in learning how to deal with adverse situations when a call doesn't go their way.

Being offside is not 'your' interpretation: The laws of the game actually read that a player who is offside is deemed in the official's interpretation that an attacking player was in an offside position. Regardless of what you may (or may not) have seen, if the referee or assistant referee (linesman) was in the proper position — in line with the last man on the defending team — it is not a worthwhile argument to debate whether a player was in an offside position or not. In most cases, I tend to debate whether an 'AR' was in line with the last man more so than whether a player was offside or not — if the 'AR' was not in the proper position, they wouldn't have the vantage point to make the correct call.

If you are going to voice a concern with an official, don't make it opinion-based: In all cases in the laws of the game, the rules state either a clear definition or that it is in the referee's interpretation — meaning that 'your' opinion doesn't matter in relation to the rules. Make sure that any dispute you have with an official mirrors your own understanding of the rules, and don't allow it to become a 'he said, she said'. You will always lose a debate with an official that isn't supported by fact.

Set a good example: Whether you are a coach, or a parent spectator, understand that your players or your own child will mirror the way you treat the officials. Why should your players or own child show respect to the official if you don't? In most cases, the coach or parent spectator that shouts and screams at the official regularly isn't showing a lot of respect to their team, its players or even themselves by doing so. Set an example that you would like your own child to follow, and hopefully this is a life lesson that transcends sport.

Develop a plan to fully realize athletic goals

From the Evansville Courier Press, October 19, 2008

Every athlete needs help in setting goals to achieve. Whether it is making a team, being a starter or winning a championship, most of that process starts within the individual athlete first.

When we have individual meetings with our players and it is crucial for a team's success to have regular dialogue we try to clearly outline and define objectives for the player. Hand in hand with that process is having the player identify what is important to him on an individual and team basis. Once that is done, we work on creating an action plan and set of goals to help that set out on that path.

Highly regarded strength and conditioning coach Jonathan Conneely has created a plan for motivating professional athletes that really crystallized some of these items. Whether it is taking on challenge to meet a specific goal, or helping set one for your child, here are questions that he asks his athletes that you should ask yourself:

— How bad do you want it? Every player says that they want to achieve it, but how many actually do it? It's like the adage 'If you talk the talk, you have to walk the walk.' If your goal is that important, you will do the little things to make it possible to achieve it. Training or practicing is something you do through all conditions not just when it is convenient.
Athletes who are successful at meeting goals train outside their comfort zone, and because of that, tend to be mentally stronger. Former baseball great Ted Williams commented about running around the bases after hitting a home run, despite his team being mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, that "I try to play each game like someone is watching me play for the first time." Players who meet their goals don't take days off from meeting it, and their character is most likely tested when they think no one else is watching.

— What is driving you toward your goal? Is it recognition? Is it for the sheer enjoyment of the game? Is it to seek approval from someone else? Is it because of your competitive spirit or drive? Find out what motivates you, and make sure that it is the right reason.

— What am I willing to do to achieve it? Ultimately, it comes down to what you are willing to sacrifice. It is one thing to say you want to be a great athlete, to play at the collegiate or professional level. But what does it take to get there? What are you doing on a daily, weekly, monthly or annual basis to reach that level? You may have to live a different lifestyle than your friends, adjusting your free time and prioritizing your goal. Are you willing to make those kinds of sacrifices?

— How much do I really invest into it? How much time do you dedicate to sharpening the skills needed to achieve your goals? Be honest: Are you really ready to invest the time necessary to be great? Are you willing to put in the time and hard work necessary?

— Do you love it? Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm." Passion, enthusiasm and desire are key components. This is what keeps you going when times are tough. Most people quit because they are not truly passionate about what they are doing. If this goal is something that you love, don't let anything distract you from that.

Whether it is an individual goal like making a team or becoming a starter, or a team goal like winning a championship, make sure that you ask yourself these questions before you set out on your journey. The hard part is not the training — it's the map that you follow to get there.

Players make systems work

From the Evansville Courier Press, October 5, 2008

You know that age-old question about 'what came first, the chicken or the egg?' It seems similar in trying to gauge whether the system determines the players or the players determine the system?

A 'system' in any sport could be described as what alignment is used, but I think the alignment is probably based on what I would use to describe as a coach's 'system' — how will his players try to attack, and how will they try to defend.

The challenge that good coaches find is whether to fit their players into a specific system, or to create a system that utilizes the players. The goal for either is to maximize the strength of the group.

If you are in a setting where you can purchase players (professional level) or recruit players (collegiate level), it is easier to bring in players to fit a system. But it also be restrictive if you have dynamic players capable of doing more in a relatively rigid system. Remember the old saying that the only person who could hold Michael Jordan to under 20 points in a basketball game was Dean Smith, his coach at the University of North Carolina?

In a level where you can't bring in players to fit a system, these are factors you should consider:

Who are your key players, and how can you utilize their strengths? If the best passer/distributor in your midfield is a really good athlete as well, that will influence how many players you use in midfield. If your best 1-on-1 central defender is a step slow, perhaps he will be deployed as a 'stopper' with a 'sweeper' behind to cover the lack of speed.

What is your team's overall athletic ability? That could determine the areas to attack and defend. If you have pacy defenders, you can hold a higher defensive line and press more — playing in the other team's half. If you have speed up front, you can try to play off the counter-attack more to create space behind your opponent's defense.

What kind of depth does your team have? Having a deep player pool can allow the opportunity to play in a fast-paced system. With limited depth, you might have to be creative with either substitutions or pacing your key players.

The key to any good system is to find a way for your team to be successful. A coach is only as good as his players, so the best way to measure a system's success is to see how the players' comfort and how they're utilized affects the outcome of games.

Instead of blaming a coach, help players help themselves

From the Courier Press, August 24, 2008

The fall high school, cub and travel seasons are underway, and a scene that is not too uncommon might be to have your child come home unhappy after a day of practice.

Perhaps he or she didn't get to play as many minutes as they would like, or played as large a role as they would have liked. Not every kid gets to be happy all the time in sports, whether it be winning or losing a game, being a starter or a reserve, or having a larger or smaller role in their team.

Here are some helpful hints in dealing with your child as he or she starts their fall season:

Whose fault is it?
When your child is not playing the role you envision, there are two options:
1) The athlete or parent to accept that the child isn't performing to the fullest of his abilities, and/or another player is performing better. That is hard to do, both for the athlete and the parent; it requires being honest with yourself, as well as to block out the natural emotional attachment.

2) Blame the coach. I always tell disgruntled players that you can't blame the coach when you don't play the role that you want, then credit yourself when you do play yourself into that role. Either it is all on the coach, or it is all on the player's shoulders. I do maintain that the coach's decisions are based more on how your child performs than on a personal preference. Give yourself, your child and the coach more credit if you are going to point fingers, point at the person in the mirror first.

Fix the problem
If your child is not happy with their current role or playing time, it should be resolved between the player and the coach. Take it from me — the only thing worse than sitting on the bench and watching the game is watching your parent embarrass you by meeting with the coach to talk it out.

Put your child in a position to succeed by giving them more responsibility — have them meet with the coach to find out what they are not doing, rather than what the coach is doing wrong. In most cases, similar to a teacher who is asked for extra credit by a student, the coach will bend over backward to help the players who are trying to help themselves. The player who has a parent intercede is labeled "high maintenance."

Create an 'action plan'
Once your child identifies why he/she is not playing the role they seek, they need to create an 'action plan" — a series of exercises or activities to work on away from practice, or a mentality to adopt in practice. An 'action plan' is steps to improve the problem that has been identified by the coach.

Things you can control
The hardest part of being a parent of an athlete is that perhaps unlike your own job or household, you can't control the variables that go along with success, or lack of, in athletics. That's hard as a parent, because the initial instinct is to protect a child by helping them through adverse situations.

In soccer or any sport, there are some variables that you will not be able to control — the weather, a referee's call, the playing surface, a coach's decision. The only things that your child can control is attitude and effort — having a positive attitude is something that every coach wants from every player; without a positive attitude, you are a detraction or distraction to the group rather than a part of its core.

Having a strong effort and work-ethic is something that can help you work through problems — the harder you work, the greater your luck improves. Rather than moan about situations that they cannot control, worry about the factors that the players can control — their own attitude and their own effort. If your child has a great attitude and puts out excellent effort, regardless as to how large or small their role, they will be a successful member of the group.