Tuesday, March 31, 2009

'If you build it, they will come'...in Seattle

Sigi Schmid has seen the opening of a state-of-the-art soccer specific stadium as the coach of the Los Angeles Galaxy years ago (Home Depot Center in Carson, CA), and now is at the helm of the Seattle Sounders FC as they started their 2009 expansion season in Major League Soccer (MLS) at Qwest Field in front of 30,000+ fans.

Having lived through two real-life 'Fields of Dream' in MLS, the Sounders have truly proven that 'if you build it, they will come'. Their fervent fan support creates the ideal setting to see a soccer match. Schmid emailed me the other day, and referenced "If there is a place to see a game in the states, it is here".

The Sounders and their support at Qwest Field has developed a tremendous fan base, and have converted loyal NFL fans like the Seattle Times columnist Danny O'Neil to their city's new team.

Mariners fans can't manage to sustain a three-syllable "I-chi-ro" chant for more than a couple of rounds, and here were soccer fans singing entire songs that celebrated the team, imbibing beer to celebrate the team and pointing out the lack of songs from Salt Lake fans.

The Emerald City Supporters stayed on their feet from the moment they marched into the stadium more than an hour before kickoff until the match concluded. Players stopped to applaud their support before leaving the pitch.

"There is nothing like the bond between players and supporters," said Eric Gilbertson, a software engineer who is one of the core members of the Emerald City Supporters.

I want to be an Emerald City Supporter. It's the highest compliment I can summon for a group that is now more than 600 strong. They wave flags, they sing songs and I left with a surprisingly favorable opinion of the whole experience.

Monday, March 30, 2009

'...and no less than 1 point on the road'

Following the old adage of 'getting 3 points at home, and no less than 1 point on the road', the US National team fought back from being down 2-0 on the road to CONCACAF rival El Salvador to manage a 2-2 draw and get back a vital point in World Cup qualifying.

As Paul Oberjuerge of the New York Times reported, the old math is apparently still in force: add 3 points for home victories to 1 point for road ties and gain a spot in the World Cup, eventually. El Salvador outplayed the United States for 70-plus minutes at Estadio Cuscatlán on Saturday night, surging to a two-goal lead before 30,500 roaring fans and dispelled the idea of the Americans counting on road victories to speed them through qualifying.

The United States rallied sharply in the final 15 minutes to salvage a 2-2 tie, happy for the 1 point that keeps it on pace to make the World Cup the usual way, one grinding match at a time.
“I think all the teams in Concacaf are getting better, and this is going to be a real battle this time around to qualify,” said Frankie Hejduk, the veteran defender who scored one goal and set up the other. “We’ve got to understand that, and I think we do.”

Winning on the road is always a challenge, and is even greater in the CONCACAF region (North America, Central America, Caribbean) - Mexico and Central America has always been difficult for the United States; it is now 6-18-10 in World Cup qualifier road matches against the countries from Mexico south to Panama.

Where some will look at Saturday's match as dropped points by not winning, coming back from two goals down to get a valuable point keeps the US in the poll position for qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.

"In some ways we feel like we lost a couple points today," said US striker Landon Donovan. "At the end of the day, if we win our home games and tie on the road, then that’s plenty to get us through.”

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The 'Sir Alex' of Australian rugby

I had this great article on a blog forwarded on to me from a former assistant - Stu Riddle, who is now the head soccer coach at Western Michigan University.

A native of New Zealand, Riddle found this interesting comparison between Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson - regarded as the most successful manager in English football - with Wayne Bennett, his rugby league equivalent in Australia.

Bennett was appointed coach of the Brisbane Broncos in 1988, and built them into one of the greatest rugby teams in the world, winning six championships prior to leaving at the end of last season for a new challenge at St. George Illawara Dragons.

Bennett has also coached the national team of Australia, and was an integral part of the coaching staff as New Zealand pulled off a sensational victory at last year's World Cup.

The similarities between Bennett and Ferguson were illustrated in the blog of Paul Fletcher, and outlines the key components to having success-

Putting the team ahead of the individual - "the one underlying thing that has always got me across the line is doing what is right - doing the right thing by the team. It is a difference between the successful and the unsuccessful coaches."

Knowing when to re-create the nucleus of your team with younger players - "I liken myself to a headmaster at school. They might be with you four or five years but a time comes when they have to move on. There is a kid in grade eight and he or she wants the opportunity you gave the other person."

"I had to acknowledge how to sustain this, how to stay ultra competitive," he says. "I studied other clubs and saw how they made mistakes; they had been great but held on to players for too long."

"You have a 20-year-old who is not as good as your 30-year-old pro but you know that he is going to be, he has got all the right attributes, so you take a short-term loss for a long-term gain," said Bennett.

Trust and honesty - "You cannot deal with men and you cannot lead if you cannot be honest - it just doesn't work."

Fletcher's blog provided some keen insight into both Bennett, and the unique key components that both of them share. It certainly appears that expectations and demands placed on them seem to be key.

"The other common denominator for us all in long-term jobs is that you still have to be winning," said Bennett, a former Australian winger.

"You can have all the persona and everything else but you are still expected to get results - it might not be about winning the Premiership every year but you are still expected to be up there."

'If it's not broken, don't fix it'

Sometimes the best coaches or managers are the ones that don't tinker with their team when they have a good thing going. That's the 'if it's not broken, don't fix it' theory, and it certainly appears that first year head coach Robert Warzchya of the Columbus Crew prescribes to that rationale.

Warzchya is a former MLS All-Star midfielder for the Crew, as well as a long-time assistant in Columbus prior to taking over the helm this season. He inherits a team that were the MLS Cup holders this past season, and return 10 of 11 starters. Rather than try to make wholesale changes, which is not uncommon for new coaches who take over a team, Warzchya's experience with this nucleus keep himself with a 'status quo' mentality.

A veteran nucleus has made it easier for first year players like Alex Grendi to settle in when called upon last weekend, and veteran goalkeeper Will Hesmer feels that is a strength of the defending champs.

"The older guys have done a good job of acclimating the rookies and bringing them in and giving them confidence," said Hesmer. "They're going to have to play a part this year. That's how it works with the smaller roster and the increased competition we have this year. That's the nature of it. We feel confident whoever is called on will step in."

Veteran leadership and depth are keys to success in any team, and Crew defender Danny O'Rourke feels that is an x-factor with this unit. Even with key contributors Robbie Rogers, Adam Moffat and Pat Noonan omitted from the midfield for this weekend, their appears to be able replacements.

"Depth was our strong point last year," O'Rourke said. "We had a consistent team but when injuries struck we were able to not miss a beat. We'll be all right. Everyone will be amped up for the home opener so I don't think it will be too much of a problem."

Father & son lead US into El Salvador

Heading into tonight's big 2010 World Cup qualifying matchup between the United States and El Salvador, there are few players who are more important than central midfielder Michael Bradley.

Aside from being the US midfield engine, Michael is also the son of US head coach Bob Bradley. In this interview with FIFA.com, the younger Bradley makes it very clear that there is no nepotism when it comes to his father.

"When it comes to playing, it’s no different to any other coach, and I’m no different to any other player," says Bradley. "He wants the best for the team, and he puts everything into that. My dad treats every player the same, and makes the same demands of us all – both on and off the field. That goes for me too. Everyone on the team knows that, which is why the atmosphere’s so good."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bradley holds Donovan to a higher standard

The best coaches are the ones who are able to challenge their top players and make them more accountable to the group. US National team head coach Bob Bradley has been able to do that with Landon Donovan, and the US is expecting big dividends this weekend against El Salvador in a 2010 World Cup qualifier.

''We're always challenging Landon and the others who have been around to take more responsibility, take bigger roles,'' U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. ``I think in those ways, he appreciates that we hold him to a high standard and constantly challenge him. He knows that leadership is important for us to continue to become a better team.''

Donovan has spent most of this winter on loan with German power Bayern Munich, and was given the opportunity to train day in and day out with stars like Franck Ribery, Miroslav Klose and Luca Toni.

''It was a lot of learning for me,'' Donovan said Tuesday, a day after arriving in Miami to train with the U.S. men's national team. ``I think I came back a better player, a more experienced player. Training at that level every day makes you better.''

Hopefully the combination of training in that environment every day, along with the expectations that Bradley and his staff have placed on him, will have Donovan at a higher standard and help him spearhead the US attack in World Cup qualifying.

''Opponents playing against Bayern Munich tend to sit in and defend in numbers,'' Donovan said. ``I was trying to make little advantages when not having too much space to work with.''

''That was good for me, and it makes me -- when I come back in with the Galaxy and the national team -- that much brighter, that much sharper, when I'm around the ball,'' he added.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Former Liverpool star turns 'little league parent'

A sports psychologist once said that he would make the clinical definition of a 'little league parent' as a parent who looks out onto the field and sees their own head on their child's shoulders - trying to live vicariously through their own child.

Perhaps that explains why former Liverpool and Scotland standout Graeme Souness lost control at a recent youth soccer match of his 9-year old son.

It was reported that Souness had a go at the opposing coach, the official, and some female spectators as well. Souness, who was renown for his physical player and his temper, seemed to think that he did not act in the wrong.

"I waited 90 seconds for the coach to take the lad off - but nothing happened," Souness told the Telegraph. " I said to him, 'What the **** are you teaching kids?'"

A witness, Jeff Goodwin, was quoted by the Irish Times as saying:"This guy should know better. There were ladies in our group. He did say to them 'excuse me' but he told our coach, 'If you think this is the way to teach kids to play, you've no ****ing chance.' Our coach was speechless. It was out of order."

Souness was highly regarded for his physical and combative play in the midfield, but where that kind of attitude was necessary to patrol the heart of the Liverpool, Rangers and Scottish national teams, he probably needs to learn how to check himself in relation to now being a spectator, and a parent.

Does Adversity Reveal Character for Manchester United?

I once saw a sign hang in a locker room that read: ABC - Adversity Builds Character.

I used to be a firm believer in that theory, but as time went on, I realized that adversity revealed the character of a team more so than build the character of a team - in times of adversity, when you or your teammates are backed against the wall, you tend to learn a lot about the people around you.

Hopefully that's not the case for Manchester United at the moment, who after suffering a devastating 4-1 defeat to Liverpool two weeks ago, came out very flat and suffered a 2-0 loss to Fulham this past weekend.

You would have thought that the defending English Premier League and European Champions League title holders would have shown more resolve and come out with some urgency this past weekend, but as Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson referenced, his team didn't meet this newest challenge ahead of them.

"In the first half we never got started," Ferguson said. "They were lively and got stuck in and we respect that - they lost 4-0 to us a couple of weeks ago. But it's disappointing we didn't meet the challenge."

Ferguson did a good job of accepting responsibility for his team's performance, and rather than blaming the loss on an official who sent two of his players off, he looked into his own locker room first.

"There's no point talking about the referee - we didn't play well enough to win the game in the first half and that's why we lost it."

"In the second half I thought we did really well - they kept going and credit to them. But we're home to Aston Villa in our next game - and that will be crucial."

Monday, March 23, 2009

"It's still in our hands" says Giggs

Duke University Sports Psychologist Greg Dale used to always stress to our players "don't let the things you can't control affect the things that you can." Even after two consecutive league defeats, Manchester United's Ryan Giggs still prescribes to that theory.

Back to back defeats to Liverpool and Fulham has seen Manchester United's English Premier League lead slip back to one point (with a game at hand) over Liverpool. Even with their sluggish form, Giggs still remains upbeat.

"We're obviously disappointed with the result," Giggs told MUTV. "After losing last weekend, we wanted to come here and put on a good performance."

"We didn't do that in the first half - our passing was sloppy and our movement wasn't good enough. We just couldn't get it going, the tempo wasn't good."

"Going a goal behind and down to ten men, we had to arrange our shape a little bit differently. We came out and played a lot better in the second half. We were on top, we created some good chances and their keeper made a couple of good saves. Had one of those efforts gone in then we could have gone on to win it but it wasn't to be."

With Manchester United still being a point up on Liverpool with the game at hand, Giggs knows that United still control their own destiny, and need to focus on their own task at hand.

"We've got to do our own job, not worry about the teams around us. It's still in our hands."


High Expectations follow Revs victory

The New England Revolution kicked off the start of the 2009 Major League Soccer season with a 1-0 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes, and with a lineup that featured two rookies and one second-year player starting at the back, expectations are sure to rise after a shutout victory.

Rookies Darrius Barnes (Duke University) and Kevin Alston (Indiana University) both slotted into starting spots in the Revolution backline, along side second-year pro Chris Tierney (Virginia) and veteran Jay Heaps to form a steady backline that stimied the Earthquakes attack. With a team whose average age of 25, this road victory proved to be a valuable learning experience as well.

"[The win] is really big, because in a lot of ways, we weren't really given much of a chance coming into tonight just in terms of personnel, and with the way things have gone for us in San Jose," said midfielder Jeff Larentowicz. "I think it is good for us, and it's good for the young guys to experience a win right off the bat."

After Barnes broke up a San Jose attack in the midfield, Larentowicz lobbed a ball over the Earthquakes defense to Kehli Duke, who tucked into the back of the net for the game-winner.

Revolution coach Steve Nichol was full of praise for his youngsters.

"They were sent out their tonight to do a job, and they did a job," said Nicol of his young defenders. "You can't ask any more than that. ... They did what was asked of them and more; positionally and their decision-making, all of those things they got right tonight."

As expectations start to rise around this young New England nucleus, Barnes welcomes the responsibility that falls on his shoulders.

"I always have high expectations," said Barnes. "But coach [Nicol], he just said to play simple, and don't try to do too much and do things I don't normally do. That advice helped out a lot."


Friday, March 20, 2009

Southgate preaches preparation

Former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden was quoted famously by saying “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” Apparently Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate prescribes to that same theory.

With a relegation clash with Stoke City coming up this weekend, Southgate is making sure that he has all of his bases covered.

"We have had the training pitch set up so it is the same dimensions as Stoke, because they have narrowed their pitch," said Southgate. "

"You would be foolish not to prepare properly for things like that."

"In the same way we would for any team we play against, you highlight things that might cause you a problem in the opposition and make sure you have at least covered in your training sessions."

"Whether it has any effect on a Saturday remains to be seen but at least you know in your own mind that the team is prepared for it."

Lessons learned about being cool under crisis

Regardless as to whether the allegations of Arsenal skipper Cesc Fabregas spitting at Hull City personnel is found to be true or not, Hull manager Phil Brown shared that he had learned a valuable lesson through the experience.

Very few managers in the fishbowl that Brown is in would admit to behaving rash, but he felt that post-game interviews while emotions are still running high is something he needs to assess before doing again in the future.

"It's a leaning curve for me as a young manager at this level," he told Sky Sports News.

"The emotions of the game were still running through the veins of my body for the next 24 hours, that's for me and Brian Horton and the players."

"To do any kind of interview straight after the game I will probably have to look at that."

I have always felt that it is almost impossible to make rational decisions so quickly after a match, to the point where I don't like to even comment to my own players that soon after a game - until I get to settle down, watch the video of the match, and put together more rational thoughts.
For any competitor, the heat of the game can force you to act more with your heart than your head; in most cases, whether you are coaching young children or managing an English Premier League club, cooler heads under crisis always prevail.

Schmid, Sounders record first win for franchise

Seattle Sounders FC got their inaugural campaign off to a smashing start with a thorough 3-0 thrashing of the New York Red Bulls at a sold-out Qwest Field in First Kick 2009.

32,523 fans packed Qwest Field to capacity to watch Fredy Montero pace the Seattle attack with two goals to lead Seattle's attack. The 21-year-old Montero, who was signed on loan from Colombian club Deportivo Cali, showed why he has led the Colombian first division in scoring for two consecutive seasons by controlling the game from his striker position.

Montero scored his first goal in the 12th minute, and after Brad Evans got played in by Montero in the 25th, Seattle was off and running.

"After that it was a mountain to climb," said New York coach Juan Carlos Osorio said. "We couldn't really get any good efforts on shots on goal."

Meanwhile, New York's offense failed to gain any traction. With the exception of two free kicks from just outside the area, Seattle's defense did well to limit New York's chances in the first half.

In the 75th minute, Montero sealed the outcome with a superb piece of individual skill. After picking Mike Petke's pocket 40 yards from goal, he headed towards New York goalkeeper Danny Cepero, and coolly finished the breakaway with a high shot to the 'keeper's near post.

It was a great opening match for Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid, who was full of praise for his Columbian sniper.

"Fredy was a marked man going into this game. Certainly Juan Carlos Osorio knew who he was and I'm sure he primed his defenders and primed his defenders," Schmid said. "At the end of the day, a good player's qualities are going to show through."

Good coaches find ways to exploit their opposition, and it certainly appeared that New York played right into what Schmid and Seattle wanted to do.

"We wanted to play the ball and get the ball in behind them and try to stretch them early," said Schmid. "I thought they probably had more possession than we did at times and were able to move the ball a little bit better. But I thought we were dangerous off the counter. And we were dangerous off turnovers. As our cohesion and continuity and passing ... gets better we'll be able to maintain more possession. I thought Sanna Nyassi caused a lot of problems for them in first half. Got behind them, that was definitely a thing that bothered them. Sebastian on the other side couldn't get forward quite as much cause he was helping quite a lot with Richards. But he also found opportunities to go forwards. But I thought we were dangerous, definitely."

Momentum changes quite frequently during the course of a match, and Schmid had a good gauge about what to expect - both from his team, and in regards to what it takes to be a successful team in general.

"Any time we can score three goals and not give the other ones any, I'm very happy with that," said Schmid. "As I said, I've been coaching too long to say this was an artistically beautiful performance or we dominated the game. At the same token, it's something that's going to get better. I always say the game of soccer is real simple in my mind. It's a turnover sport. It's how quickly do you react to turnovers. Teams that react to turnovers and adjust the quickest, offense to defense, defense to offense, are the best teams. The other thing that happens in soccer is every team has a period where they dominate the game. And you got to make sure you don't give up goals when they dominate, which we did when New York was dominating those 20 minutes in the second half we did a good job of not giving goals and we have to score goals when we dominate and we were able to score goals in the first 20 minutes of the game, first 25 when we dominated. That's what game of soccer is all about. We'll play better and better soccer.

Schmid was also quick to praise the supporters for the environment they created, but was pretty grounded about the result.

"It was everything you dreamed of. We talked about it before the game with the team," Schmid said. "We said what an incredible feeling it's going to be when you walk in this locker room at the end of the game with your first win in Sounders history. And they all had that feeling."

"Was it the best game? No, I think we'll play better. We'll get our understanding down even better. I thought we did some things very well and some things we still (have) to work on."

The atmosphere created at Qwest Field is what every coach asks for, offering a genuine home field advantage.

"We want to make this a fortress and today was the first step in that direction," said Schmid. "This is going to be a place in MLS where teams are going to have to think twice about coming in here to play. It has atmosphere, it's loud, I told Brad Evans after game we have to start working on hand signals because 'I can't hear a thing you're saying, coach.' I've never had a player say that to me in any MLS stadium. From that standpoint, it certainly shows crowd was definite factor. Uniqueness of soccer is there's a connectivity and interaction between crowd and players, and I think you felt that today."

It's always nice to get your season opener out of the way, and after shaking off the butterflies, Schmid sees his team settling in and getting used to the expectations placed on them.

"I have a sigh or relief every time I win a game," said Schmid. "Certainly nerves went into it. As we warmed up today, some 5-v-5, I told the guys butterflies are normal. If you don't feel them, you're not alive. Getting it behind us, getting first game, everything that was surrounding, everyone can now settle in and it becomes part of the regular work ethic we have to do. Certainly sigh of relief, but also a huge smile in terms of what happened tonight."

Schmid has been a class act wherever he has been, from the collegiate level with UCLA, to the professional level with Los Angeles, Columbus and now in Seattle. He has won championships at each of those stops, and after last night, all signs point to a similar direction for Sigi in Seattle.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Luck needs to be on your side

Long-time Duke University soccer coach John Rennie once went over a number of criteria you needed to have to win the NCAA National Championship, and the one he added at the top of the list was 'needing a bit of luck'.

My initial reaction was that acknowledging 'luck' into our team winning was knocking the strength of our team - his feeling was that no matter how good a team you have, to be successful in a tournament or cup-type format, you need to have a number of things go your way. Included in that was having your players healthy, playing well, and getting to play at home.

I thought it was ironic that in today's Sky Sports, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was able to acknowledge some of those same items in forecasting his team's chances at winning the fabled quintuple. The Red Devils have already won the FIFA Club World Cup and the Carling Cup, while the Premier League champions hold a four-point lead in the defence of their crown.
United are also in the FA Cup semi-finals and the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, making glory on five fronts a possibility.

He told the New Statesman: "The thing about cup football is you need to be the best but you also need a lot of luck and I think it's asking too much for all the games to go your way."

"The one thing I will say is, this squad is the best I have ever had. Every game we play, I feel confident."

"At the moment, every attack fears our defence and every defence fears our midfield and attack. That gives you confidence but it is too tough a call."

I would hate to leave winning a cup to chance or 'luck', but in both Coach Rennie and Ferguson's examples, 'luck' was not the key to the equation. I'm a firm believer that each team creates their own luck...and that the harder you work and better you play, the better the chance of creating 'good luck'...

Liverpool commits to future, re-signs Rafa

The last thing you want to have is a 'lame duck' as your manager, and Liverpool have ended any doubt about Rafa Benitez' future by re-signing him to a 5-year deal.

Not only does it secure Benitez, but also secures some continuity within the club as well. By having their manager locked in long-term, it allows for the club to build towards the same continuity that clubs like Manchester United and Arsenal have had - both Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have been given the opportunity to grow their team, both on and off the field. Now, Benitez can look to do the same.

As Rob Parrish from Sky Sports reports, signing key players like Daniel Agger and Dirk Kuyt, as well as his backroom staff, will help Benitez continue to look forward to winning more championships.

He told the Liverpool Echo: "It was a very easy decision for me to take because I only ever wanted to stay at this football club."

"My priority now is to do the deals for my staff and for the players who will be important for this club in the future."

"We want to improve in all departments - the squad, the mentality - everything that we possibly can."

"We want to be successful and to bring trophies to this club for the fans."

He said: "For me and for my family it has been a fantastic week. My idea is always to win trophies, not just games."

"But to beat Real Madrid and Manchester United and then sign the contract makes this a perfect week. But now we must look ahead, not back."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sir Alex prepares for "squeaky bum time"

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson made headlines years ago for referring for this critical time of the season as "squeaky bum time", in reference to players nerves starting to get the best of them.

As reported to the Sun, Ferguson comments about being up for the challenge being worth the stress that goes along with the pressures of competing for an English Premier League and European Champions League titles.

He told Inside United: "You only really relish it if you end up winning."

"You're prepared to go through the agony as long as you end up on top."

"It can be edgy, but you have to accept the challenge."

"Being there is the greatest thing and that's what we are all striving for."

O'Neill stock rises with FA

It looks like Ashley Young isn't the only one to sing Martin O'Neill's praises. Givemefootball.com reports that O'Neill is the heir apparent to the English National team manager's job, if there was an decision for Fabio Capello to leave that post (and if Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger were not available).

The combination of his successful track record, strong campaign this season with Aston Villa, and the development of rising England stars Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor have all seen O'Neill's stock rise with the English Football Association.


Shaun Custis of the Sun also reports that O’Neill is greatly admired by the FA’s new chief executive Ian Watmore, who likes the way he is bringing through so many English players.

An FA insider said: “There is no doubt Martin O’Neill’s stock has risen again. He is seen as the preferred candidate to take over from Fabio.”

Capello has a 4½-year contract with the FA running through to the European Championships of 2012. But there is an opt-out after the 2010 World Cup finals.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Young credits O'Neill for his improvement

Two key components to the resurgence of Aston Villa this season have been the play of winger Ashley Young, and the management of Martin O'Neill.

When it comes to Young's success at Villa Park and with the English National team, he credits O'Neill with instilling the confidence needed to make it at this level.

"My belief has improved under the manager. He installs that confidence in you," Young told the club's official website.

"He gives you the desire to go out there and try and do well and impress. As a winger, he gives you freedom to go and attack. That's fantastic."

"My self-belief has improved so much under him. Since I have been at Villa I have won Player of the Month a few times and I have gained international recognition."

"I was in the team of the season too - that's all down to him."

"His man-management skills are spot on. All players are different and he realises that."


Confidence is contagious

Former Green Bay Packers Football Coach Vince Lombardi was once quoted as saying 'Confidence is contagious and so is a lack of confidence'. When listening to the managers and key players from the English Premier League's top teams, it is easy to see that confidence is a key component in their success.

After Liverpool recorded their biggest victory at Old Trafford since 1936, Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez stressed the level of belief his side has at the moment.

"We have beaten Real Madrid and Manchester United in the same week," observed the Liverpool boss. "If we can beat them, we can beat anybody."

He added: "Realistically, we have to win all of our games. But part of winning the war is winning football matches."

"We have more belief and more confidence now. It will be difficult but we can do it."


Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson uses a squad rotation system where players are regularly rotated in and out of the lineup, and where it offers the opportunity to keep key players fresh and promotes great depth, there is always potential for players who are not regularly performing to be dissatisfied. Ferguson has done a good job of getting the required 'buy in' from his players, and credits their tremendous attitude and belief in his system.

"The attitude of the players has been marvellous, especially when it comes to the business of being left out," said Ferguson. "There have been no dummies flying out of the pram."

"It's great to have such adaptable players and it's one of our strengths as we enter the last lap of the title race."


Chelsea midfielder Michael Ballack feels that his team's belief and resolve is what has kept them in the title fight this long, and is their key component in keeping their title hopes alive.

"We are not a team that ever give up. It's going to take something big for us to be able to win the league, but in football you never know," the Germany international said in the Daily Express.

"We have to enjoy the moment we are in. Right now we are winning games and looking forward to the next one."


Lombardi also had referenced once that winning was 'habitual', and I think there is no question that to find success, you need to believe in yourself, your team and expect to have success. Among all three of the top teams in the English Premier League, winning is not a 'sometimes thing', but an 'all the time thing'. It's amazing what you can achieve when your players and coaches believe they are going to win whenever they step on the pitch.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Inspire Personal Accountability

Mac Anderson, founder of SIMPLE TRUTHS, references a great excerpt from a book titled 'Who Are "They" Anyway?', and has a great lesson to be learned about personal accountability. Authors B.J. Gallagher and Steve Ventura wrote-

"The most important words of personal responsibility are as follows:
The 10 most important words:
I won't wait for others to take the first step.
The 9 most important words:
If it is to be, it's up to me.
The 8 most important words:
If not me, who? If not now, when?
The 7 most important words:
Let me take a shot at it.
The 6 most important words:
I will not pass the buck.
The 5 most important words:
You can count on me.
The 4 most important words:
It IS my job!
The 3 most important words:
Just do it!
The 2 most important words:
I will.
The most important word:

Professional development prepares Keane for next job

A healthy part of any career growth is professional development, and is something that I think is vital for coaches. Every off-season I attempt to take 2-3 'professional development trips' to go watch teams train, in hopes of gaining some insight from some of the top soccer or football coaches in the world.

In January, I had the opportunity to go watch the Aston Villa Football Club train in Birmingham, England - watching everything from their team training, goalkeeping session and a functional finishing session. Later this month, I am looking forward to going down to Nashville, Tennessee to go see our US National team prepare for their World Cup Qualifier versus Trinidad & Tobago. Whether it is learning new training ideas, hearing different reference points or sharing ideas, it is healthy to be exposed to different coaching tactics and concepts.

While at Duke University, I learned as much from watching the Duke University basketball team practice as I had in any coaching course I had taken part in.

I was really happy to hear that former Sunderland manager Roy Keane was doing much the same after leaving his post at Sunderland. In an article published by The Sun this past weekend, we learned that Keane has since travelled the world learning new techniques from a range of coaches. After a spell with the New Zealand rugby union team, Keane spent time in Portugal with Benfica boss Quique Sanchez Flores.

He revealed: "I wanted to know the methods of Benfica's work from the juniors to the first team. Benfica have some of the best faculties on the continent."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rude awakening fuels Ferdinand

Sometimes a loss can act as a shot in the arm to ward off complacency, and Rio Ferdinand feels that his Manchester United team will grow from their 4-1 defeat at the hands of rival Liverpool this past weekend.

As Sky Sports' Chris Burton reports, Ferdinand feels that any complacency that might have been in their changing room prior to the Liverpool match has certainly been lost.

"We have got a rude awakening," admitted the England international. "None of us has been taking anything for granted but subconsciously there may have been complacency.

"But results like this can be turned into a positive. Any complacency that was there will have torn out of us. At least we are still a good position even if it doesn't soften the blow."

"Now we have to dust ourselves down and get our minds right for the game at Fulham next week, when we will hopefully get ourselves back on track."

Communication key to defending

From the Evansville Courier Press, March 15, 2009

In most cases when people talk about teams in any sport that have good chemistry, they tend to talk about how cohesive they are on the offensive side of the ball. I think it's easier to see that chemistry when a team is defending than at any other time.

So much of sports like soccer take place in transition, where the game quickly goes from a team losing possession on offense to having to switch gears and defend. Most players rely on their instincts during that quick transition from offense to defense, but the teams with the best chemistry can rely on much more than that.

Commitment: Teams that are committed are those that have players who buy into the fact that they are part of something bigger than themselves. Bill Russell, who won 11 NBA titles with the Boston Celtics as a player and as a player-coach, is regarded by most as perhaps the best defender and winner in professional sports. Russell once said, "I determined early in my career the only important statistic is the final score."

Players who buy into that "important statistic" are usually more willing to play roles that aren't always associated with sexy statistics like goals or assists. These are the players that will work back on defense, and find something left in their tanks as the games reach the latter stages.

Selflessness: To be a good team defender, you have to be pretty 'selfless' opposed to being 'selfish.' When your team concedes a goal, no one wants to hear a defender or midfielder say, 'It wasn't my guy who scored.' Good team defenders understand that any time their team is scored on, it affects everyone. Team defenders don't just track the closest attacking player, but can keep an eye on all opposing players who are a threat. Those players who can communicate with their teammates while still defending 'their man' tend to be excel as team defenders.

Communication: When watching the Duke University basketball team practice one day, I heard Mike Krzyzewski instruct his players that on defense 'one player pressures the ball, and the other four players are coaching that player where to go and how to do it.' It is easy to see those attributes when watching Duke play basketball on TV, but even easier to appreciate it in person when you can hear them shouting instructions.

We stress with our players at the University of Evansville that the most important coaches on game day are not on the bench or on the sideline, but on the field with you. Ultimately, when the stakes get higher and you are playing in larger venues with larger crowds, the players can't really hear a coach anyway. And no matter how loud a coach yells, most athletes are so focused on playing that the chatter from the sideline only acts as noise or a distraction.

To coach on the field, we always tell our players to be 'connected' to the players in front of you and next to you — constantly giving instructions to those players when the other team has the ball.

Our University of Evansville team came back from a successful spring exhibition trip where we defeated Duke University (3-0), UNC Wilmington (4-1) and Cape Fear Community College (2-0). As great as it was to get positive results from a team like Duke that has a national reputation, the best accolade was what I received after that match from another coach who was in attendance.

"You could see how organized your team was defensively, but you could hear it that much more," he said. "That was the difference between the two teams."

The teams that you hear the most on the defensive end of the field tend to be the ones that win more frequently, which is the only statistic that matters.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Victory favors the team that makes the fewest mistakes

This quote is in locker rooms all over the country, and is a quote I first heard echoed by former Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight. Unfortunately for Manchester United, this is a warning that needed to be heeded going into their 4-1 defeat at the hands at rival Liverpool this afternoon.

A goal of our University of Evansville team this 2009 season is not to make mistakes that give our opponents scoring chances - 'giving' goals to the other team, rather than having them earn them the hard way: by playing through or around our defense.

This has been a staple of a fortress-like defense at Old Trafford this season, and Manchester United has not been defeated at home since their FA Cup quarterfinal defeat by Portsmouth last March. I was in attendance at that match, and even though they had a boat-load of scoring chances, couldn't finish their opportunities while conceding a mistake in their own defense.

That same theme reared it's ugly head today as Manchester United fell victim to mistakes by their most reliable of players en route to their defeat today.

United went up early after Carlos Tevez sent a brilliantly weighted ball in behind for Park Ji-Sung, who was brought down in the box by Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina for a penalty. Cristiano Ronaldo cooly placed the spot kick in the back of the net, and for a brief moment, Manchester United appeared to have momentum.

5 minutes later, Liverpool was able to take advantage of a mistake by the normally reliable Nemanja Vidic to draw them level - Vidic let Martin Skrtel's long punt forward bounce when he could have headed it back into the Liverpool half quite easily. Then, he failed to deal with the loose ball, allowing Fernando Torres to nip in and streak clear, beating Edwin van der Sar with clinical efficiency.

Conceding one goal was amazing enough for the Red Devils, yet before half-time Liverpool had scored again. Hull City were the last team to score more than once against United in Premier League combat - and that was four-and-a-half months ago.

When Torres tried to send Steven Gerrard racing into the box and Patrice Evra mis-timed his tackle, the Liverpool skipper converted his penalty with the same confidence Ronaldo had shown earlier.

Gerrard's glee was obvious. And Liverpool's lead was fully deserved, condemning Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson to his first interval rallying call in league combat at Old Trafford all season. The Scot injected a greater sense of urgency into his team, even if there was no improvement in their retention of the ball.

United at least managed to generate some momentum, with Tevez almost getting on the end of a Wayne Rooney knock-back and then rolling a shot on the turn just wide.

Having expressed his 'hatred' of Liverpool earlier in the week, the last thing Rooney wanted was to suffer an immediate defeat and a chance for Gerrard to gloat.

Yet as time ticked by, that was the fate Rooney was condemned to, especially as Ferguson waited until less than 20 minutes remained before he made the introductions of Dimitar Berbatov, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.

It is the kind of strength Benitez does not have and one of the major reasons why Liverpool have found themselves on the wrong end of a 14-point swing in fortunes since United returned from their Club World Cup campaign in Japan just before Christmas.

What Liverpool have managed to do this season is beat Chelsea and United, against both of whom they have now registered 'doubles' - creating a silver lining for their disappointing second half of the season.

Any hope United had, evaporated within a minute of Ferguson's spectacular triple substitution as another woeful first touch, again from Vidic, left the Serbian little alternative other than to haul down Gerrard.

For the second successive game against Liverpool, it brought Vidic a red card and he was still making his way down the tunnel when Aurelio curled home a superb free-kick.

And Liverpool were not finished as Dossena lobbed van der Sar to complete a memorable win, whose significance remains unknown.

Ferguson, though, believes his team's overall performance was not too bad as he backed his players to show a positive response in their next game.

"It is a hard one to take because I thought, really, we were the better team and the score does not reflect that," Ferguson claimed. "But of course when you win 4-1 at Old Trafford you deserve all the plaudits and you can't deny them that. If the league was starting today, you would take a four-point start. It was a bad day in terms of the goals we lost but I couldn't argue with the quality of play that much."

Ferguson was willing to concede some of his players were not at their best, but refused to point the finger at individuals.

"One or two players were a little bit short today in terms of what we expect of them but I do know the football was good, we kept driving on and they showed good energy, even though we only had two and a half days to prepare for the match, he added," said Ferguson. "There is no complacency on our part. Now the thing is to respond. It always is at this club - you lose a game and you respond. We always do."

Two convincing victories during the past week against European powers Real Madrid and Manchester United breeds some life into an otherwise disappointing second half of the English Premier League season, and gives Liverpool some belief and confidence as they head into the home stretch of the European Champions League and Premiership seasons.

“We have beaten Real Madrid and Manchester United in the same week. If we can beat them, we can beat anybody," said Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez. “Realistically, we have to win all of our games. But part of winning the war is winning football matches. We have more belief and more confidence now. ”

Where the result is probably too little too late for the Premiership - Manchester United are still four points up on Liverpool, but also have a game at hand - this confidence and belief that Liverpool players and supporters now have should certainly raise expectations.

Where 'giving away goals' eventually did in Manchester United, the best teams make the fewest mistakes, and take advantage of opponents who make them. On this day, Liverpool was able to take advantage...which is what good teams do.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Fire & Ice lead Revs backline

I don't think there was a Duke alum who I had the chance to interact with during my time working there who 'bled blue' more than Jay Heaps. Jay had it all as an athlete - he was the National Player of the Year in some of the strongest college soccer teams in the 90's, and was a member of the Duke basketball team as well.

As great as an athlete as Heaps was, what separated him from his peers was his competitiveness and his commitment -the ideal attributes to have in a leader for a team. Anyone who has played with him at the collegiate and professional level talks about his drive and about how hard he plays - he consistently ranks among the league leaders in minutes played in MLS, and still plays with the passion and enthusiasm that garnished him Rookie of the Year in his inaugural season. Anyone who plays against him talks about how terrible it is to play against this tough and combative defender.

His commitment to the colors of his team is also unquestioned - I never had the honor of coaching Jay at Duke (he graduated prior to my arrival as an assistant), but I don't believe there was an alum who came back to visit or emailed as often as he did. He was always connected to the program, well after his former teammates had graduated - he embodied what you looked for in a student-athlete, and has carried that on as a professional in New England.

Kyle McCarthy wrote an outstanding piece on Jay on MLSnet.com, and catches the essence of what makes Jay Heaps unique.

"You can ask him to do anything," Revolution coach Steve Nicol said.

Being asked to fill a role and filling the role well are two different tasks. Heaps is able to play anywhere across the back because he can adjust to each position and its demands, according to Nicol.

"When you have someone like Jay, he adapts to the situation," Nicol said. "He can play anywhere along the back. It's fantastic for me. He can just plug right in."


As tough and combative as Heaps is, I don't think I've ever been around a player who is as cool and relaxed under pressure as Darrius Barnes. 'D' was an unheralded youth player who came on the scene nationally after strong performances with the Triangle Futbol Club and at the Adidas Elite Soccer Program (ESP), and was a hidden jewel in one of the nation's top recruiting classes in college soccer in 2005.

I had always likened him to Eddie Pope for all of the natural similarities - the physical prowess, similar position, similar uniform number (#23). Where Barnes wasn't flashy, his unique weapons on set pieces made him stand out - great leaping ability on attacking and defending free kicks, as well as being able to throw the ball in farther than anyone else in the country made him a significant threat on set pieces.

I was not surprised to see him get selected by the New England Revolution in this past MLS SuperDraft, nor was I shocked to see him getting an opportunity to slot into his natural central defense role with the Revs.

Kyle McCarthy wrote a great piece on MLSnet.com on Barnes recently as well.

"Darrius has settled in well because he's got a great attitude," Revs defender Jay Heaps said. "He's a great talent. He's athletic. He understands the game."


Barnes and Heaps have everything you look for in a central defensive pairing - the fiery Heaps dictating things as the leader, demanding and barking out orders; Barnes as the ball-winner in the air and calming presence.

The combination of 'Fire and Ice' might be what the Revs are looking for this season.

Adversity reveals character for Arsenal

I was always a firm believer growing up of "ABC - Adversity Builds Character".

As I gained more experience and insight as a coach, I realized that it wasn't that "Adversity Builds Character" as much as Adversity 'Reveals' Character.

Thrust into situations with your back against the wall, in a scenario where you have to produce or you have lost, you tend to find out a lot about the people who are around you. It's the adage about soldiers 'knowing who's with you in a foxhole'.

Knowing this, I believe that Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger found out quite a bit about the players he is sharing a foxhole with after their heroic victory over Roma in penalty kicks. A lot has been made about their young and inexperience team that might lack depth in comparison to Manchester United or Chelsea, but goalkeeper Manuel Almunia refutes that, as reported by ANTONY KASTRINAKIS of the Sun.

Almunia said: “This kind of game can give you two years of maturity in one evening. I think some players gained a lot of experience from it."

“From now on I think they will realise they can be big players, they can be important in Europe and we can face any team in Europe."

“We believe we can win the trophy and the young players will have taken a lot of belief from this."

“We have a lot of talented players but you also need confidence, belief and the right mental attitude."
“We have been questioned this season over our mental attitude because we haven’t shown enough character or mental strength."

“But we have young players and they can give more and they have given more now."

“We are getting stronger, players are coming back at the right time and we can give the fans what they deserve this season."

“They deserve a trophy and we want to give them something back. Arsenal is a great club and we believe we can do something great this season.”

Questions about Arsenal's depth are being answered by the return of mended players like Eduardo and Theo Walcott, while Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Adebayor are almost ready to play again.

Confidence is high right now among Arsenal's players, and believing you can be successful is half the battle.

“Playing in Roma, with so many people in the stadium and going 1-0 down in the ninth minute is not easy," said Almunia. “All the players have a right to be confident now because we have shown that we can do it in Rome.”

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Spain, Italy can't keep up with the EPL

Based on the results and comments following European Champions League victories by English clubs Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, it would seem to stand that the top clubs from the premier leagues in Spain and Italy are having trouble keeping up.

The pace of the game and the quality of the domestic and international players in the English Premier League are getting great kudos after big wins this week - Manchester United defeating Inter Milan (Italian Serie A leaders); Chelsea knocked out Juventus (Italian Serie A); Arsenal victory in penalty kicks of Roma (Italian Serie A); and Liverpool disposed of Spanish heavyweight Real Madrid.

Liverpool's Spanish sensation Fernando Torres credits it to the preparation of his manager, Rafa Benitez, as well as the pace and intensity that Liverpool plays with.

"I think we prepared the game better than them," Torres explained on the club's official website.

"The boss was brilliant in explaining how to play against them.

"The plan before the game was to play with intensity and with a high-tempo.

"Spanish football has quality but it is slower, so we knew it would be difficult for them if we played with intensity."


Inter manager Jose Mourinho credits the commitment the English clubs have for spending money to buy players, and to develop them as well.

"To win the Champions League you need a boat full of money and constant improvement,'' said Mourinho, who is in his first season with Inter. "And that's what we're doing. (United) is superior in physical stature, speed and deadball kicks. But I don't have anything to criticize my players about. To win the Champions League, you've got to grow step by step.''

Another aspect that Mourinho thinks is critical is being able to build continuity, which is a key component to the success that Sir Alex Ferguson has had at Manchester United - having the time to see his team develop and grow.

"You win the Champions League with continuity," said Mourinho. "United today is exactly the same as when it lost the (English) league to my Chelsea team three years ago, except for (Dimitar) Berbatov."


Alex Ferguson doesn't see it as much of a debate - in his mind, after the success of the English clubs in Europe over the past couple of years, there is no question who reigns supreme.

As for all four English teams making the last eight once again, Ferguson admitted: “English football has been the best for the last three years."

No complacency from Sir Alex

As Soccer America's Paul Kennedy reports, rather than gloat after a big win over nemesis Jose Mourinho and Inter Milan, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson preferred to direct his attention towards a lack of urgency.

Ferguson's single-mindedness has always been a strength for the Man Utd manager, and has proven to be a beacon for the club's success during his time at the helm. After winning the English Premier League for the first time in 1992/93, Ferguson charged into the locker room holding an envelope that he charged had inside it the names of the 'big time Charlies' in their locker room that he would get rid of the following season if they did not repeat as Champions - which they did...and the envelope was never opened...no one every questions Ferguson's foresight and ability to prepare for the next challenge ahead.

In regards to United's 2-0 victory yesterday, Ferguson compared watching on after they scored their first goal as 'watching a game of suicide'.

"It was one of those long European nights where you don't know if you're watching a game of football or watching a game of suicide," he said. "After scoring the first goal, I thought we would go on and kill them. But after going ahead we started trying to put icing on the cake and we were lucky to be in front at halftime."

Neil Custis of the Sun reported that Jose Mourinho felt that United has all of those same intense and focused qualities of their manager, which should be the deciding factor in having European success.

Mourinho said: “United are in the perfect condition. They are at the top of their careers. The team has reached its maximum level in terms of experience and quality.

“They are intense in their game and the Champions League is about all these qualities. I think they could win all their cups this season. They deserved to win. We played against a team that showed why they are European champions.”

Despite Ferguson's pessimism, he was also able to appreciate the accomplishment of defeating a side of Inter's caliber and advancing into the final 8 in Europe.

“It was practice football and allowed Inter to get a grip on the game," said Ferguson. "From the middle of the first half to the end of it they were the better team and should have been level.”

Yet Ferguson was still delighted to get through.

He added: “We played a team at their maximum in terms of potential and experience and to get through that is a big plus for us. I think we’ll be better in the next round.”

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Will Jose come out and play?

That is the challenge that Sir Alex Ferguson has issued to Inter Milan boss and long-time rival Jose Mourinho, as their two teams look towards their second leg of their last-16 clash of the European Champions League.

After a goalless draw at the San Siro, Ferguson was surprised by the notion that his Manchester United team was expected to sit in and play for a 0-0 scoreline.

Givemefootball.com reports that United surprised Mourinho, who had said he did not expect much attacking threat from them, in the first leg where they tore Inter apart but could not find that all-important away goal.

"Could he (Mourinho) really have believed that we wouldn't attack at the San Siro?" Ferguson said. "Well, I'll tell you that at Old Trafford Inter will play for penalties."

"There is always that Italian mentality. Even with Argentinians and other foreigners, that remains the idea."

"They will look to suffocate the game for 120 minutes of goalless football. But I'm not worried about anything. My players have shown they have what it takes when it comes to penalties. I hope it continues like that."

Givemefootball.com states that Ferguson is expecting Inter to come to Old Trafford and defend and, having won both last year's Champions League final and this month's Carling Cup on penalties, the United boss is not overly concerned.

"We controlled them well in Milan - Inter only had a couple of half-chances in the second half. My players played with an incredible level of concentration. They have to do the same in the return leg."

Sunday, March 8, 2009

O'Neill ambition leads Aston Villa

Martin Laursen has been injured on and off for the past two months, but even on the sideline he has been able to see the vision and ambition that drives Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill.

O'Neill has had the midas touch at each of his stops during his career, from Leicester City to Glasgow Celtic and now to Aston Villa, and looks to add a UEFA Champions League place with a strong finish to the EPL season - a Champions League place is given to a top-four finish in the English Premier League, and Aston Villa is currently sitting fourth.

"The manager can get the club into the Champions League - we are really focused on that. It is unbelievable how much the manager has transformed the club. Look at what he has done."

"If you look at where we were when he took over and where we are now, it is incredible. We are fourth in the Premier League and in the hunt for a Champions League spot."

Good coaches never stop learning

Jon Gruden went from Super Bowl Champion with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to out of work last month.

Some coaches in this same situation would pack up and hide - not Gruden, the consummate perfectionist that demands as much from himself as he did from his players.

As Chris Harry from the Orlando Sentinel reports, Gruden still gets up for work each morning at 3:17AM, trying to get better.

"You know, the thing I'm really struggling with, I miss football. So thank God for Tim Marcum. . . . I go down there, I got my Beta cam, all my films and got people in the league who have sent me stuff to study. . . . I hit the pad on the Ice Palace, man, it's the most beautiful facility. I love it. It's the first place I ever saw Bon Jovi. I go in there and he's afforded me a chance to study film. He comes in, we watch tape. [I know] some college coaches and I've already, in my own sick mind, budgeted time for this and this and this and this, and I'm going to learn a lot about the spread offense, and about college football. I already know the questions I'm going to ask. I'm going to do clinics. I'm going to do appearances, but more than anything else I'm going to do research."

'Stonecutter Credo' is theme for Spurs' success

Gregg Popovich, head coach of the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA, found a passage by a 19th-century social reformer that crystallized his thoughts on building a team.

A great article in Sports Illustrated describes how reading a book by Jacob Riis struck Popovich enough that he had it displayed in the Spurs' locker room, and in each of the different languages spoken on his multi-cultural roster:

"When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before."

Popovich does have three stars in his team - Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli - but the genius that is Coach Popovich is surrounding that cast with players who buy into his system.

"We get guys who want to do their job and go home and aren't impressed with the hoopla," says Popovich. "One of the keys is to bring in guys who have gotten over themselves. They either want to prove that they can play in this league -- or they want to prove nothing. They fill their role and know the pecking order. We have three guys who are the best players, and everyone else fits around them."

The players that fill those roles are interchangeable based on their ability to accept their roles, and to buy into the idea of being a part of something bigger than themselves. You only have to hear sometimes starter/sometimes reserve center Fabricio Oberto to fully understand what players who believe in winning first and everything else second truly buy into-

The system, on the other hand, also means that players know the reality and manage expectations accordingly. Asked about his reduced role, Oberto says, "If I'm not playing and the teams wins, that's perfect." Perfect? "Look, everyone wants to play, [but] everyone wants to win more." Mason has noticed the abiding irony. "It's funny, on the losing team you can have the egos and selfishness. This is a winning organization -- they've earned the right [to ego] -- and there's no one self-centered. Total team. We'll exercise in the pool and all 15 guys are in there. It's just different here."


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Pre-season trip unites Sounders

It is a standard protocol for a manager to take their team away on a pre-season trip to help prepare them for the start of the season, as well as for valuable team building.

The University of Evansville just recently completed a spring exhibition trip down to North Carolina, playing against Duke University (3-0 victory), Cape Fear Community College (2-0 victory) and UNC Wilmington (4-1 victory). These kinds of opportunities allow coaches to evaluate his team prior to the season starting against strong competition, which is a huge coup on a pre-season trip. It also allows a coach to build solid continuity between new teammates or a new nucleus on the field.

Sigi Schmid has his Seattle Sounders FC on a trip to Argentina, which allows the new expansion team to accomplish all of these important items as their embark on their inaugural MLS season.

"It's been a positive trip," said Schmid. "I think we've learned things about ourselves. We've gotten more minutes for guys together on the field, so the understanding is better. You learn from doing things successful, you also learn from things that don't work. You learn a lot that way."

"I think we accomplished that. It allowed us to continue to work on our fitness and allowed us to push that in the right direction. It's been a good trip for all those factors."

Can Maradona lead Argentina?

Being a great player doesn't always translate into being a great coach or manager - numbers of superstars in sport have had varied results when they have tried their hands in management, and Magic Johnson, Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Charlton found it hard to replicate their playing pedigree.

Now, Diego Maradona hopes to emulate the success of Jurgen Klinsmann (Germany) and Marco van Basten (Holland) - two other stars of his era - as he embarks into international management. Never short on confidence, Maradona feels that he has the right blueprint for success in place.

"I have proved to myself that I can lead a group, and I know that (ex-manager Carlos) Bilardo will show me if I'm doing it wrong," he said on Goal.com. "I am awake at 4am designing a team. I grabbed el Bilardismo for this. But all the teams I thought of are so attacking."

With attacking tactics like the potential of playing a 3-3-1-3 and the personnel that includes Mascherano and Riquelme in his midfield, Maradona feels that all the pieces are in place for continential and international success.

Friday, March 6, 2009

How Clough ranks among today's top managers

Brian Clough will always be regarded as one of the top managers in the history of European football, and is as colorful a figure as the game has seen.

How would he rate today among the top managers in the game? The Sun and 'Championship Manager' have put together their ratings of how Clough would match-up with the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger, Rafa Benitez, and his protege - Martin O'Neill.

“I WOULDN’T say I'm the best manager in the business, but I'm certainly in the top one.” - Brian Clough

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Where are all the pros?

At a time when college soccer is under siege and held to task for not developing enough good professional players, Brent Latham's article on Yanks Abroad talks about that responsibility falling on the shoulders of Major League Soccer and the USSF.

Thomas Rongen's US Under-20 National team heads into qualifying with a roster that's nucleus is comprised of college players, and the lack of pros in the team come down to the simple fact that Major League Soccer is NOT developing young players themselves.

"The Generation Adidas program, with its predecessor Nike project 40, has been around for a decade, and has produced some quality players," writes Latham.

"But it provides a chance to only about ten young players each year, several of whom often are not Americans. An already small number, the impact is not likely to increase any time soon. Other than moving abroad, only the college option remains. Thus, the largely amateur U20 national team."

College soccer has offered a body of work to a number of these top young players, and look at young professionals in MLS or abroad that are not playing week in and week out give a limited reference point to identify these players. Even Neven Subotic - now a star at Borussia Dortmund and once considered for the US National teams before declaring intent to play for his native Serbia - fell through the cracks from the US youth national teams. In most cases, the players who have panned out with the US U-20 National teams have been guys with more practical experience at the collegiate level.

"While college players that have represented the US at this level sometimes turn out to be rough gems such as Benny Feilhaber or Marvell Wynne from the 2005 edition, or Sal Zizzo in 2007, there are simply too many players of nearly the same level to pick from," writes Latham. "Even for a scout with the experience of Rongen, it is a daunting task to determine which will be the standouts on such a small body of work - witness Rongen's utter failure to predict the rise of Neven Subotic."

We need to do a better job of developing young professionals in our country, but more of that onus needs to fall on the shoulders of Major League Soccer and the USSF than at the feet of the college game.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The secret to Man Utd's defensive success

Peter Schmeichel was the world's best goalkeeper for the better part of a decade (1988-2000), and has enough medals won at Manchester United and Denmark to prove it.

When asked about how Manchester United has been able to keep this tremendous run of good form defensively, he was quick to point out what makes Edwin van der Sar and his back line so special.

In reference to van der Sar being more than just a shot-stopper, Schmeichel comments "I must say it irritates me when people talk about shot-stopping goalkeepers. They can all stop shots."

"If they couldn’t, they would not be playing at that level. Being a goalkeeper for a top club, and especially at Manchester United, is about more than that."

van der Sar being so good with his feet allows him to be connected to his back four, and to develop a positive relationship with central defenders Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.

"Because Van der Sar is so good with his feet — he was a groundbreaker in many ways — United have the freedom and confidence to play high up the field. They can impose their own football on teams knowing that the back door is locked if the other team break."

"This is fundamental to United and keeper should never really be viewed in isolation. A keeper should not be separated from the rest of the team. For example, when I played at Old Trafford I had a great relationship with central defenders Gary Pallister and Steve Bruce. We trusted each other, we knew what each other were doing and where we would be."

"It is the same with Van der Sar, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand."

I think Vidic should be the English Premier League Player of the Year for his role in United's success, and Schmeichel seems to be an admirer of Vidic as well.

"I have to say that I think Vidic has been crucial. He is a defender who does the simple things first and he has allowed Ferdinand to develop in to one of the top three central defenders in the world. He is also the reason why Jonny Evans looks like he’s been playing for the team for 100 years when he comes in."

Specialization not the answer for most players

from the Evansville Courier Press, March 1, 2009 MIKE JACOBS COLUMN

As the spring season gets ready to kick off for youth soccer players, it would be a healthy reminder of why players should (and should not) be playing soccer all-year round.

In an age where more youth athletes are getting "specialized" by playing only one sport, it's important to stress the idea of participating in as many different activities as possible. I once told a town meeting in New York that I thought the drawback of young American soccer players as compared to European counterparts was that kids in our country were too distracted with other interests to be able to train properly and hone their skills. A parent immediately hold me to task, asking who I was to tell them that their 9-year old child should only play soccer.

Years later, I have to plead ignorance in both being fairly young at the time of that comment as well as lacking in life experience as a parent myself. Having two young children involved in sports at the recreational, school and travel levels, it's important to reference a couple of things about being diverse and well-rounded:

— Most American youths stop playing soccer by 15, which tells you that maybe they play too much at too young an age. There are exceptions in players committed and determined to do so. But the exceptions are the ones with the genuine interest in doing so themselves. Any parent who has to figuratively or literally drag their kid along to their next practice needs to decide if their kid really wants to participate as much as the parent themselves.

— Our country develops the best athletes in the world is because they're so well-rounded.We're short international level players out in the field, but we are developing world-class goalkeepers at a rapid rate. U.S. National team goalkeepers Brad Guzan and Tim Howard both played out in the field in high school, and Howard was a standout in basketball. Former National team goalkeeper Tony Meola won an athletic scholarship to Virginia in both soccer and baseball.

— If you as a parent are investing money in year-round training, coaching and travel with the intentions of receiving an athletic scholarship, think again. Former IU basketball coach Bob Knight spoke at the Five Star Basketball Camp years ago, and referenced that out of 240,000 high school basketball players in the country only 3,000 actually play Division I basketball. That number is slightly more than 1 percent —and the numbers are even lower in Division I soccer, with more players on a high school soccer team and fewer Division I soccer programs. If you are encouraging your child to play 'select' or 'travel' soccer for the potential for an athletic scholarship, you would be better served to save the money spent on gas, hotels, personal trainers and uniforms and pay for college yourself.

There are plenty of enefits to playing soccer on a year-round basis. The opportunity to play and train with players who are more serious about their sport; the opportunity to play for coaches who are working year round themselves; the chance to play against teams with other players who are training together on a more regular basis with the standard much higher than at the recreational or school levels.

The idea to specialize in one sport is on more of a case by case basis, opposed to a specific rule to be able to play at the collegiate level.

Some of the best collegiate athletes are two-sport or three-sport athletes, and some of the best collegiate players only play soccer in their high school years.

It is fine and appropriate for a child to cut down on commitments as they get older and are asked to manage their time better. Just make sure that your child does it on their own terms for the right reasons.