Friday, June 26, 2009

Will USA's Giant-Slaying Continue?

Soccer America's Ridge Mahoney previews the FIFA Confederations Cup Final between the USA and Brazil.

After conceding two goals in the first 20 minutes and losing Sacha Kljestan to a red card in the 57th (in their group play match versus each other), the USA did manage to hit the crossbar twice - Conor Casey and Benny Feilhaber - late in the match.

In terms of fatigue, the roles are reversed. Spain had the extra day of rest for the semifinal and though it dictated tempo at certain intervals, the Americans refused to buckle under a fierce onslaught in the final minutes. The USA will have the extra rest day for the final, though replacing the suspended Michael Bradley in central midfield will probably require a shift in tactics and possibly formation as well, with a version of a 4-5-1 among the possibilities.

If he has confidence in the Jozy Altidore-Charlie Davies tandem up front, Coach Bob Bradley can slot Feilhaber at outside mid and move Donovan into middle with Clark, though Feilhaber is best suited to a central role. That could move Clint Dempsey to the left, which is where he often plays for Fulham. Feilhaber last started for the USA one and a half years ago against South Africa in Johannesburg, the site of Sunday's final, and hasn't played a full match since the 2007 Copa America.

Another option is to start Dempsey at forward rather than midfield, but he's been effective coming from wide positions if more consistently dangerous up top. Even if the players ostensibly start out in a 4-5-1, in their best games there's been a lot of interchanging and interplay among the attackers, which if repeated will test Brazil and perhaps add to this unforgettable competition a second historic victory.

Ranking the US Upset of Spain

"We all know about the U.S. beating England back in the World Cup in 1950 but this result, in the semifinals of a major FIFA competition watched by millions around the world, has to rank right up there among the greatest upsets of all time," U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard told reporters. "On Sunday we thought we were going home, now we are heading into the final. No one gave us a chance on Sunday, no one thought we could turn it around, but you have to believe."

FIFA's own website posed the question: "Is this the greatest upset ever in a FIFA competition?" It left the answer open, but the result ranks alongside North Korea's 1-0 win over Italy in the 1966 World Cup finals, Cameroon's 1-0 win over defending world champions Argentina in the opening match of the 1990 World Cup and Senegal's 1-0 victory over defending world champions France in the 2002 World Cup finals. Two successive World Cup finals also produced huge shocks. In 1950 Brazil was odds-on favorites to beat Uruguay in Rio de Janeiro to become world champion for the first time but lost, 2-1. Four years later Hungary's "Magic Magyars," who had not lost for more than four years, met West Germany in the final, a few weeks after beating it 8-3 in the group stage. Hungary, one of the greatest teams ever assembled in world soccer, led 2-0 early in the game but ended up being beaten 3-2.

This is not the first time Spain has been the victims of a major upset. It lost 3-2 to Nigeria in the 1998 World Cup in Nantes after Nigeria scored two late goals. The USA upset surpasses that one in magnitude, however, as Spain is currently No. 1 in FIFA's world rankings, had been unbeaten for nearly three years and 35 matches and had won 15 games in a row. The USA, meanwhile, wants to prove that the upset wasn't exactly a fluke. "It might not be the last upset here either," Howard said. "If we can beat the world-ranked No. 1 side, what can we do against Brazil or South Africa?"

Bradley's Keys To US Victory Over Spain

After celebrating the USA's historic win over Spain, U.S. coach Bob Bradley described the approach his team took into the game: "We really felt strongly that when we got the ball we needed to be aggressive. We needed to play some of the kind of balls behind their defense that could cause them trouble. We needed to have the confidence that we could keep the ball and move it."

Particularly important was keeping the great midfielder Xavi in check. "When you play Spain, you have to work very hard as a group to defend," Bradley said. "We made a special point of trying to close down Xavi as best we could, knowing that he gets the ball all the time, trying to make him play the ball square or backward as much possible."

Of course, scoring early enhanced the U.S. effort, but also created challenges. "An early goal is a great thing, but it also means there are some periods, because Spain is pushing so hard, it means you are just defending," Bradley. "We did do a very good job of sealing down the middle of the field. Most of what they could get was coming through the flanks. I thought our backline did very well. In the center, both Jay DeMerit and Oguchi Onyewu had very strong efforts. Overall, it's a team effort to make sure the defending is good and to look for moments to get a goal."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A pilot's character

I always tell my players that a great definition of character is 'how you act when no one is watching you'. A man with tremendous character is Chesley Sullenberger.

When US Airways pilot, Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, splash-landed his jetliner in the Hudson River on January 15th, everyone on board escaped safely. But left in the cargo hold was a book the aviation hero had checked out from his local library.

Library officials say Sullenberger asked for an extension and waiver of overdue fees. The librarians say they were struck by Sullenberger's sense of responsibility and did him one better: They're waiving all fees, even lost book fees, and placing a template in the replacement book dedicating it to him.

The subject of that lost book? Professional ethics. His plane's passengers were blessed to be in the hands of a man of character and strength.

USA vs Spain preview

Brent Latham of Yanks Abroad previews the USA vs Spain semifinal match of the FIFA Confederations Cup.

Coach Bob Bradley has a full squad to choose from for the first time since the Italy match, and against the Spanish attack may elect for a more defensive minded 4-5-1 similar to the lineup he chose against Italy, with Jozy Altidore again getting the start up top.

Carlos Bocanegra has returned to training after missing the first three matches, but is unlikely to replace Jay DeMerit in the center of defense.

Oguchi Onyewu will continue as a rock in the middle. The soon-to-be former Standard Liege man, who has been linked recently with Turkish club Fenerbache will likely be flanked once again by Jonathan Spector on the right and Jonathan Bornstein on the left.

In the midfield Ricardo Clark and Michael Bradley will almost certainly be the central pairing, with the red hot Landon Donovan linking the midfield to the attack. Clint Dempsey will start on one of the flanks, and Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Klejstan are Bradley's likely options for the final spot if he chooses to play defensively and leave Charlie Davies on the bench.

Jumping Back on the Bradley Bandwagon

George Murphy of Yanks writes about showing resolve and not jumping off 'the Bob Bradley bandwagon'.

I purposely waited until the end of the United States' three Confederations Cup group-stage games before voicing an opinion about their performance, mainly because 1) I didn't want to jump to conclusions and join the "Fire Bob Bradley because he can't win big games" bandwagon prematurely, and 2) I thought it would be fair to give the players until the end of the tournament before judging their individual performances.

So, the United States just advanced out of a group that may have been tougher than the one they were in for the 2006 World Cup, where they were grouped with Italy, Ghana, and Czech Republic.

No team that has ever won a World Cup, Champions League final, or any other major tournament, did not have some sort of turn of events work out in their favor.

In looking back, in all honesty, the only game in the tournament that the United States was outplayed in was their loss to Brazil.

I thought that, against Italy, the team looked confident, composed, and focused. Ricardo Clark's sending off obviously took quite a bit of wind out of their sails, and look at the goals they conceded in the second half: Rossi's wonder-shot which wouldn't have been saved by any goalkeeper in this world, DeRossi's shot which Howard had a hard time tracking, and Rossi's third goal which was pretty much a product of fatigue for the United States back line after Pirlo turned them inside out.

But overall, were they outclassed by the Azzurri? I don't think so. In fact, before Clark's red card, I thought that they looked like the better team.

For those of you who jumped off, there are still a couple of seats left to hop back on the Bob Bradley Bandwagon...

US shows fight in Confederations Cup

I know that there were a number of US Soccer fans who were ready to jump off the Bob Bradley bandwagon after the past month, looking at medicore perfromances in three of our last four CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers, and two losses at the FIFA Confederations Cup - despite being a man down in each match for long stretches.

After an inspired 3-0 victory over Egypt propelled the US into the semifinals against Spain on Wednesday, Bradley and his staff have every right to feel vindicated. US Soccer president Sunil Gulati was quick to rationalize the performance of the US.

“I think our fans, for the most part, understand that Italy was O.K. and Brazil was bad,” Gulati said. “We get hammered for the Italy game; we got hammered for the Brazil game. Tonight was as good” as the previous games were disappointing.

“I hope they realize that,” Gulati said. “This is like a professional team. There’s going to be ups and downs. There isn’t going to be progress right through, just like there isn’t for Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, England, Italy or anybody else.”

We as a footballing nation have the ability to compete against any country, but need to have a certain level of work-ethic, attitude and effort to be able to accomplish that.

“The fair assessment is that we played a good game against Italy for 60 minutes,” Landon Donovan said. “We were undone by a red card. Brazil was a one-off we didn’t deserve to win.”

The sublime desperation shown against Egypt displayed “the effort we can give,” Donovan said, “and when we do that, we have a chance against anyone.”

After Sunday’s win against Egypt, the players described their unlikely advance to the semifinals in distinctly American terms.

“We showed what you can accomplish by fighting hard and sticking together,” midfielder Clint Dempsey said.

Friday, June 19, 2009

This quote comes from Malcolm Gladwell's 'Outliers', in reference to the work ethic that is developed from Chinese Rice Farmers.

The poster is courtesy of Tom Benson, University of Evansville Sports Information Department.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

New breed of holding midfielders emerging

At a time where our US National team might need to add depth to our pool of players at the defensive or holding midfield spot, Steve Davis of writes of a new breed of players in that role in MLS.

Let's not get carried away and say that the day of the tough, tackle-happy enforcement presence in the holding midfield spot is dead. It's not.

But there is a little lean around MLS these days in some places toward a different type of player in that spot. A few teams have someone who looks and acts more as a deep-lying playmaker. He still screens the defense, of course. Winning the ball and covering ground remains a priority. But hard tackling isn't their specialty. Passing is. So once possession is won, these guys can do a little more than just move the ball along to the creators, slashers and crashers.

Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake) and Clyde Simms (DC United) have had stints with the US team in the past, and perhaps it is time for FC Dallas and US Under-23 midfielder Dax McCarty to get a look there as well.

Your players will laugh at your sideline behavior

This is a tremendous entry from Dave Clark of Better Soccer Coaching - read the entry below, as well as a link to where you can see the video of a comedian's imitation of Fabio Capello's sideline antics.

It was funny this weekend watching the antics of the coaches. It started with Fabio Capello’s fury in the first 40 minutes of the World Cup qualifier between Kazakhstan and England.

Capello is well known for his touchline antics, and this match was no exception. His angry persona was well summed up by him throwing his oarms about in a mobile dug-out on the running track around the Almaty Stadium.

The next day I went to a tournament and saw all around me coaches on the touchline imitating Capello. But the funniest part was after one coach has ranted at his team for losing a game then storming off in search of a bacon sandwich, one of the boys did a rather good impression of his antics which had the rest of the players laughing their heads off.

It isn’t just the young players that do this. When Antonio Cassano was playing for Real Madrid he fell out with Capello. I found a great clip of Cassano imitating Capello in front of his team mates – and another clip of an Italian impressionist Davide Pratelli doing the same thing. You can be sure your players will do the same about you if you lose your temper on the touchline.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"We must beat Brazil"

...says Landon Donovan, in his interview with as the US team prepares to play against world power Brazil in the FIFA Confederations Cup.

"We had the opportunity to see some of their (Brazil's) game against Egypt and I have to be honest, it looks like they're human after all," Donovan told, noting the South Americans' nervy 4-3 win over the Pharaohs in Mangaung/Bloemfontein, a game which highlighted some serious frailties in the Brazilian rearguard.

"We hung with Italy and gave them a hard game, made things very complicated for them for a large part of our first game. I don't see any reason why we can't do exactly that against the Brazilians too. We will have an even better chance if we can keep 11 men on the field," he added, referring to Ricardo Clark's dismissal in their 3-1 defeat by Gli Azzurri.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Phil Jackson and the Art of Winning

TNT Analyst David Aldridge wrote an outstanding article about 'The Zen of Ten', outlining how Phil Jackson became the most successful coach in NBA history.

He took the lessons from the Knicks team on which he played and which won the 1973 title, and from its coach, Red Holzman: individual sacrifice for the good of the group. It has been the cornerstone of his coaching philosophy.

"The best way to sum it up is just that Phil's belief in his own players far outweighs that of any coach I've ever played for in terms of his willingness to allow the players to be players and make the plays," Fisher said Sunday. "... I've never coached before so I don't want to say overcoached or undercoached or over-whatever, but his willingnesss to allow things to happen and develop and grow and mature. There are not a lot of coaches in the Playoffs and Finals, when everything is on the line, that will still be playing nine, 10, 11 guys in the rotation."

Italy tops 10-man USA

The U.S. Men’s National Team fell 3-1 to defending world champion Italy to open the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa.

After going down a man when Ricardo Clark was shown a 33rd minute red card, the U.S. bounced back to take a 1-0 lead before halftime on a Landon Donovan penalty kick. In the second half, though, Italy took advantage of the additional space, scoring on two long-range efforts in the 58th and 72nd minutes before adding an insurance goal in stoppage time.

"It's disappointing." U.S. head coach Bob Bradley said. "To play against a team like Italy and be down a man takes extra strong efforts on a lot of parts, and I thought that part was good. After their goal, I thought we did a very good job for a period of time of still being organized and finding some opportunities going forward. At the end, we are taking more chances because we are still trying to find a way to get the equalizer. Unfortunately we couldn't do better with a few long range shots and corners in that period of time. They did well to finish the game. It's only the first game of the group, and now we move on."

Monday, June 15, 2009

FIFA Confederations Cup - USA vs Italy preview

Soccer America's Ridge Mahoney previews the USA vs Italy match today, which is the opening round of the FIFA Confederations Cup. The match will be televised live on ESPN at 1:30PM CST.

Nearly three years after they tied, 1-1, at the 2006 World Cup, the USA and Italy meet again Monday to open their schedules at the 2009 Confederations Cup (2:25 p.m. ET, ESPN, TeleFutura). Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey, DaMarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan are the only U.S. holdovers who played in that match against the eventual world champion, though keeper Tim Howard watched from the bench. The Americans are missing several regulars for the Confederations Cup, including right back Steve Cherundolo and Pablo Mastroeni, who also played in the Kaiserslautern match that featured an own goal, an equalizer by Alberto Gilardino, and three players sent off.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Hard Work Creates Good Opportunities

When asked about possible issues with team chemistry, Seattle Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid shot down those rumors. If anything, Schmid said, players are being too nice to one another.

"I think our locker room is good. I think the guys get along with each other, and everybody has a good healthy respect for each other, and everybody I think can joke and have fun with each other," Schmid said. "Sometimes I want our guys to be a little more demanding of each other.

But Seattle players are noticeably frustrated: frustrated at a league-leading tally of five red cards, frustrated at perceived inconsistencies with referees and frustrated at the team's six-game winless streak. If the best way to increase team morale in victories, Schmid sees one way to get back into the win column - hard work.

"It's just a matter of continuing to work, and continuing to battle, and continuing to come out with a good attitude," Schmid said. "I'm a big believer that when you work hard enough that at the end of the day things will turn in your direction."

Players still backing coach

Speculation hovers silently over Coach Juan Carlos Osorio amidst the New York Red Bulls' slow start, and coaching positions at the club are historically volatile - in it's 14-year history, the club has had 11 coaches.

In times of potential crisis, nothing is more important than a unified front among players and coaches. That seems to be the case among the Red Bulls, as Stefan Bondy of the North Jersey Herald reports that three of the team leaders - Juan Pablo Angel , Kevin Goldthwaite and Seth Stammler - voiced their support of Osorio after Wednesday's practice.

"I don't think there's been any change in how guys look at Juan Carlos," Goldthwaite said. "He's always been a real meticulous guy with a lot of tinkering. We always took that with a grain of salt and it hasn't changed in the last two months. "You got to assume that in any organization, in any sport, there's going to be speculation when you go on a run like we have. Juan Carlos does a good job to put that aside and prepare us for the next game."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"There are no traffic jams along the extra mile"
-Roger Staubach, quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, 1969-1979

Vermes is never finished tinkering with roster

Ryan Young of the Kansas City Star wrote a great article recently on Kansas City Wizards Technical Director Peter Vermes. Vermes has built the Wizards into a legitimate contender for the MLS Cup during his three seasons in charge of the club, and has done so by constantly looking to upgrade his club.

A player for the Wizards during 2000-02, the 42-year-old Vermes is in his third year as the team’s technical director, a role akin to that of the general manager in other sports.

He turned down an attractive offer during last season to become general manager for the Los Angeles Galaxy. He says people asked him how he could pass that up, but well, he says he believes in the vision and potential of the Wizards organization.

Through 13 games this year, though, Kansas City is 4-5-4. It’s coming off a frustrating 2-0 loss at home last Saturday to Columbus and in a four-way tie for third place in the seven-team Eastern Conference.

Vermes says he likes to remain even-keeled, but the season is a constant evaluation process — internally and externally.

“You go into the season, you pick your guys — you have to have confidence in them. You have to have confidence in the people that you pick,” Vermes says. “At the same time, it can’t be blind confidence either.”

U.S. soccer nowhere near Project 2010 aspirations

I was coaching at Iona College in New York during the spring of 1996 when US Soccer and Nike came out with its bold PROJECT 2010. We hosted a Nike Cup event on our campus, where members of Nike’s national marketing department announced this massive financial initiative (recorded at $50 million) that would put the US in a position TO WIN THE WORLD CUP BY 2010. Now, that mission statement was changed quickly after we were bounced out of the 1998 World Cup without a point to show for, and re-worded towards being ‘a legitimate contender in world soccer’. This program had a few important initiatives, including an under-17 national residency program that would house ‘the stars of tomorrow’.

As we are now a year away from World Cup 2010, I would say that where the United States have made great strides over the past 20 years (the US qualified for the 1990 World Cup in the fall of 1989), but we are still much closer to being a ‘3rd world country’ among soccer giants than ‘a legitimate contender in world soccer’. Our residency program has helped developed the likes of Landon Donovan, DeMarcus Beasley, Oguchi Onyewu, Michael Bradley, Freddy Adu and Jozy Altidore; saying that, none of those players are world stars that compete at the level of the likes of the players participating in countries that ARE legitimate contenders in world soccer.

There are a number of nations that have had success at a world championship (like the US had in 2002, advancing to the quarterfinals) and had individuals who have stood out at the highest of levels of domestic football (Tim Howard and Brad Friedel are among the elite goalkeepers in the English Premier League, as well as the world). Saying that, to be a legitimate contender to win a World Championship needs a wealth of special players to build their team around (Howard is the only member of the current team that is a standout in one of the top leagues in the world; I would like to think that Bradley and Onyewu will get the chance to prove themselves in a similar arena soon). It also needs to sustain that over a period of time.

When Sepp Blatter pulls the ping pong balls out for his draw in the 2010 World Cup, he will do so with teams that are ‘seeded’, based on a combination of their world ranking and tradition of success. In a four team group that will play 3 matches in group play, I would say that the nations that are ‘legitimate contenders in world soccer’ are either a 1 or 2 seed. The US has probably earned being a 3rd seed, meaning that they would need to get results against higher seeded teams (which are normally traditional powers) to advance, as they had against Portugal and host South Korea in 2002.

Rather than talk about a marketing scheme that was not able to work (Project 2010), I would prefer to call ‘a spade a spade’, look at the incremental success our country has made over the past 10 years (of Project 2010), significant improvement over the past 20 years (since our 1990 qualification), and continue to see us make strides into becoming ‘more competitive in world soccer’ rather than worrying about turning ourselves into a ‘legitimate contender in world soccer’.

I am as passionate and patriotic as anyone when it comes to supporting the US National team, but I am also honest at assessing our country as a real footballing nation. Nothing would make me prouder and excited than to see our country advance out of the group stages…which is realistic expectations for probably 75% of the countries competing. Every country should aspire for their team to win the World Cup, but I am willing to take it incrementally…opposed to the Nike and US Soccer PR machine that puts unrealistic expectations on the players and coaches of our country.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Top 10 Most Annoying Things Managers Say

This clever list came from, referencing the most annoying comments made by managers in their post-game interviews-

10) He has been like a new signing
A player returning from a long-term injury. Classic Arsene Wenger spin. No, try signing a player. That's like a new signing.

9) At the end of the day
Every day ends, we know this. There is no need to tag this onto the start of a sentence.

8) I haven’t seen the video replay
A manager’s reaction after a player blatantly punches an opponent, or after Patrick Vieira spits in Neil Ruddock’s face five yards away from the dugout. “I didn’t Zee it.”

The rigors of pre-season training

With pre-season training for college soccer players approximately 2 months away, I found a great column by Gavin Strachan of BBC Sport. Strachan is also a player with Notts County, and writes of the trials and tribulations of preparing for pre-season training.

The main reason clubs now expect their players to come back with an extremely high level of fitnesplayers were the first to throw up! Regardless of how many pre-season schedules you have endured one thing never changes - the horrible nervous feeling in the pit of your stomach before the first run. I am sure 99% of players will relate to this. I have not come up with one definitive reason why this is but I think it is a combination of not knowing how fit you are in relation to the other players and also the thought of what awaits you in the coming weeks of pre-season. s is that it gives them more scope to devote their pre-season training time to honing a team system for the season ahead and working on the technical side of things. This is illustrated by the fact that a lot of clubs now go straight into a degree of ballwork on the first day of pre-season training, or if not on the first day then certainly in the first week. In days gone by the unwritten rule was that you would not even set eyes on a football until the second or third week of your pre-season work.

There is also a greater emphasis on sports science now. For most clubs, the pre-season schedule is now overseen by specialist fitness coaches. When I first started, such figures were few and far between in the industry. Whereas heart-rate monitors are used now to chart every individual's performance levels in running sessions, the main yardstick before was which players were the first to throw up!

Regardless of how many pre-season schedules you have endured one thing never changes - the horrible nervous feeling in the pit of your stomach before the first run. I am sure 99% of players will relate to this. I have not come up with one definitive reason why this is but I think it is a combination of not knowing how fit you are in relation to the other players and also the thought of what awaits you in the coming weeks of pre-season.

Monday, June 8, 2009

What we've learned about the U.S. team

Jonah Freedman of writes about items we have learned during the past two World Cup qualifiers for the US National team.

With the first kick of South Africa 2010 almost exactly a year away, it's time to take a look at what we've learned, and that starts with head coach Bob Bradley. After his most difficult stretch of his two-and-half-year tenure, the honeymoon period is officially over and we can reflect on some of the things he has done right, and some of the things that need to change.

Experimenting with US lineup

Below is an article by J Hutcherson from the USSoccerPlayers Newsletter, who writes about Bob Bradley's experimenting with the US lineup.

Credit Bob Bradley with ending an experiment that was never likely to work in CONCACAF, but wonder aloud with me over the long-term value of holding onto a few ideas that need not be etched in stone. The most obvious is the insistence on a defensive midfielder against any and all opponents, but it goes past that.

Bradley is also propping up an old National Team idea, that it's perfectly acceptable to play someone out of position and then judge accordingly. That dovetails the defensive mid issue with Michael Bradley, a gifted attacking player who has shown that in two European leagues. There's also DaMarcus Beasley, who had at least one major outlet use the word "regressed" in describing his game... at left back.
Saturday gave us new-look wingers as Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey continue to move around the starting eleven. Just like the US Soccer Federation's official player pool didn't have Conor Casey listed at all when he took the field on Saturday (still doesn't as of this morning, when he's part of the squad heading to South Africa) they're also not clear on where Donovan and Dempsey actually play. One is listed as a forward, the other as a midfielder, and both have turned into the easy alteration in Bradley's starting eleven.

Even players that have shown they can perform where needed can use some stability in assignments. It's different getting forward from the wing than it is from central midfield, much less upfront.

In broad terms, that's the lesson from Saturday night. Playing actual defenders in their positions worked for the United States. Even then, there's a left back playing in central defense, but we'll assume most US fans don't catch a lot of Rennes games.

Bradley had Jonathan Spector on the left Saturday night, and he should have confirmed he belonged even for those that can't wrap their mind around the idea that a regular at Premier League level should be able to do the job for the National Team. Spector is also capable of playing all over the back, including defensive midfield. You would think he would be the kind of player that would fit right into the Bradley era and his unique version of squad rotation.

Where does this leave the United States as they setup shop in South Africa? As usual, in flux. That could actually work to their advantage, because it's got to be tough to scout a team that has shown so many different looks.

Consider what happened to Honduras. A goal up, they opted to see if the US would punch themselves out with possession while Honduras waited for space on the counter. Had they substituted an ineffective forward earlier, that might have worked. They also underestimated Jonathan Spector, a player who they probably didn't expect to see.

In fairness to Bob Bradley, he's got a wide player pool that isn't very deep past the obvious. In fairness to the obvious, there's been too much tinkering.

There's a US lineup that competes well at the highest levels. We've seen glimpses. Now there's a week with enough of the best available American players before taking the big stage to prove it.

USA 2 - Honduras 1

The United States kept up their home unbeaten streak in World Cup Qualifying on Saturday night in Chicago, coming from behind to beat Honduras 2-1. Carlos Costly put Honduras one-up in the 5th minute, and brought back bad memories from Wednesday's loss in Costa Rica. This time, the United States regrouped.

After a no-call on a foul in the box on Ricardo Clark, Honduras was called for a handball in the box in the 42nd with Landon Donovan converting a minute later. With the score level, Carlos Bocanegra headed in what would be the United States' winner in the 68th. Bocanegra had to leave the game with a pulled hamstring in the 72nd, but is expected to recover in time for the Confederations Cup.

"Credit to the guys," Bocanegra told ESPN's Pedro Gomez. "We fought, we stayed together today... a team effort to show a lot of character being able to come back."

With the bulk of the 55,647 in attendance there in support of Honduras, the United States also had to work to quiet that part of the crowd in Chicago.

“I think Sam’s Army and the people that do support us, we appreciate that," US defender Oguchi Onyewu said. "We can hear them during the games. We really can’t control the number of fans we have at our games, all we can do is appreciate the ones we have and try to play our hardest for them.”

The United States returns to action on June 15th when they open their 2009 Confederations Cup schedule against Italy in South Africa. That game will be available live starting at 2:30pm on ESPN.

Friday, June 5, 2009

World Cup Qualifying Preview: U.S. vs. Honduras’s Noah Davis previews the U.S.A.’s showdown with Honduras in Chicago.

In the past, Bradley has made few changes to the Starting XI between games on double fixture dates. Expect that trend to change on Saturday, as the American manager needs to drastically alter the 4-3-3 that struggled in San Jose. For one, the younger Bradley needs to be replaced. Additionally, both Marvell Wynne and DaMarcus Beasley failed miserably on the flanks against Costa Rica and will see their positions filled by Jonathan Spector and Jonathan Bornstein, respectively. Up top, while Jozy Altidore is virtually a lock to get his third straight qualifying start, but the second striker slot remains up for grabs. With Brian Ching out, I see Bradley turning to Charlie Davies who played well in his 10 minutes on Wednesday. Other options include Major League Soccer player of the month Conor Casey, who was called in on Friday, or Donovan, who could be moved higher up the pitch while Beasley slides into the vacated left midfield spot.

Steps for Success at Stamford Bridge

Norman Hubbard of ESPN Soccernet has put together a list of steps for success for new Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti:

Last longer than his three predecessors - A warning from recent history: Phil Scolari lasted just seven months. Avram Grant was in charge for eight months, Luiz Felipe Scolari for seven and Guus Hiddink, albeit of his own volition, for less than four. Chelsea may talk about the long term, but short-term thinking prevails.

Make it his team - Three managers have come and gone since the Portuguese's exit, but this is still Jose Mourinho's side, consisting of players with a fierce loyalty to him and operating with the defensive structure he devised.

Find some flair - It is tempting to wonder whether Scolari's reign would have lasted longer had he succeeded in signing Robinho. As it was, Chelsea had fewer players capable of unlocking a defence with a flash of skill than their principal rivals, a situation that was exacerbated by Joe Cole's absence for the second half of the campaign and Florent Malouda's mediocre form before Hiddink's arrival.

Communicate better - Last season provides a lesson. Scolari struggled to get his message across and left. Hiddink communicated wonderfully well and was loved. Ancelotti's faltering English may not bode well especially as, despite a cosmopolitan dressing room, there are few Italian speakers.

Reduce the average age - Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack, Juliano Belletti, Paulo Ferreira, Ricardo Carvalho, Deco and Shevchenko have all celebrated their 30th birthdays. In contrast, of the side who started the FA Cup final, only John Obi Mikel is under 26.

Decide on Drogba -A conundrum that needs answering before it causes further trouble. He has scored in Chelsea's last five domestic Cup finals. He has also contrived to disgrace himself in their last two European exits. Drogba polarises opinion, but Chelsea's fortunes seem to depend upon his mood.

Reduce the player power - No dressing room appears to contain as many vocal, influential players as Chelsea's. Yet this should be Ancelotti's specialist subject: his Milan teams of the last eight years have included players of the stature of Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Cafu, Kaka, Alexandre Pato, Shevchenko, Pirlo, Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta, Rino Gattuso, Filippo Inzaghi, Rui Costa, Clarence Seedorf and David Beckham. They might not all be rampant egos, but several certainly are.

Charm, but not obey, Abramovich - Roman Abramovich was rarely spotted at Stamford Bridge towards the end of Scolari's reign. He quickly reappeared under Hiddink. Ancelotti needs the Russian to retain his enthusiasm - not least for signing cheques - without interfering in transfers, as Shevchenko's arrival proves.

Win the big games - As Lampard showed against Everton at Wembley, Chelsea have big-game players. Indeed, by common consensus, they possess plenty of them. Yet the fact remains that they have failed to win too many such matches.

Win the Champions League - Ancelotti has admitted it himself. He believes he has a three-year deadline in which to conquer Europe. To last beyond a second season, some other success is required first. But it has become very apparent that for Chelsea, the Champions League is the ultimate.

No Excuses from Capello, England

England manager Fabio Capello talks about the challenges facing England in World Cup qualifiers this week.

On the players being fatigued after a long English Premier League season: "The problems of players, if they are tired or not, is no excuse. We have to play, we have to win and everyone who plays has to be very strong."
"At the end of the season, the players are not fresh like when we started. But we have to play two very important games against Kazakhstan and Andorra."

"There will be no excuses that we are tired or wanting a holiday. None of that."

On reports of a training ground altercation between midfielder Gareth Barry and another player: "I was a player. I am a manager. During the training sometimes, some players after one tackle push the other one but on Thursday I saw nothing. Absolutely nothing."

Thursday, June 4, 2009

World Cup Qualifying - Costa Rica 3, United States 1

It was an unfortunate evening for US Soccer last night, with our national team going down to a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Costa Rica.

George Murphy of Yanks Abroad writes about some of the concerns for the US team last night, as well as heading into an all-important match against Honduras this weekend in Chicago.

I'm not pressing the panic button quite yet, but Bob Bradley's previously preferred 4-4-2 formation with two holding midfielders who can attack and defend, be ready to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in, and win fifty-fifty challenges would have came in handy this evening after Michael Bradley ran himself to death throughout the entire game as he was alone for most of the game at center midfield.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

US begins grueling stretch vs Costa Rica

The US National team resumes qualifying for the 2010 World Cup with a CONCACAF region match-up on the road against Costa Rica.

Frank Giase of the Newark Star-Ledger previews the match, which will be televised live on ESPN.

It's also likely Bradley will tweak the roster along the way, as he hopes to give the European-based players as much time off as possible because the end of next season's club schedule will lead right into the World Cup. As a former Major League Soccer coach, Bradley also will be aware of how much time players will miss right in the heart of the MLS season.

The defense, with age or inexperience, appears to be the biggest concern. Frankie Hejduk (34), Carlos Bocanegra (30) and Jay DeMerit (30) are all over 30, but except for Oguchi Onyewu (27), everybody else under age 30 is unproven.

That group includes Danny Califf (23 caps), Heath Pearce (23), Jonathan Bornstein (14), Jonathan Spector (12) and Marvell Wynne (2).

Veteran Steve Cherundolo, who is 30, is also in the mix but is out after undergoing hip surgery.
The biggest problem has been finding outside backs, which is why Bradley has turned to Hejduk for important games. Bornstein (24) was on the fast track a few years ago before he was injured and still could be the answer on the left, while the speedy Wynne (23) could be the future on the right side.

The surprise in midfield is the return of Benny Feilhaber. One of the standouts at the 2005 Under-20 World Cup, Feilhaber fell off the map when his ego grew at a faster rate than his talent and his attitude became a bit too much to deal with. He was signed by Hamburg, transferred to Derby County and is now playing in Denmark.

But Bradley has a heart, and an eye for talent, and with Feilhaber just 24 and perhaps a bit more mature, there is no reason to give up on him.

It also will be interesting to watch the progress of 21-year-old midfielder Jose Francisco Torres, who plays for Pachuca. Torres has one goal in four appearances.

There is experience up front in Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Brian Ching, but 19-year-old Jozy Altidore, who has six goals in nine international games, will also see time. Charlie Davies, a 22-year-old forward who plays in Sweden, is also on the roster.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Pellegrini to coach Real Madrid

The AP has reported that Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini looks set to take over at Real Madrid.

Pellegrini transformed Villarreal since arriving from River Plate in 2004. The Chilean's fluid style of attacking football -- often compared to Arsene Wenger's Arsenal -- got Villarreal into the Champions League twice during his five-years in charge, including a run to the semifinals in 2006. Villarreal finished fifth in La Liga this season.

This move reminds of Rafa Benitez, who transformed his career with La Liga success at Valencia, and then moved on to Liverpool.

Champions League final offers style points

Evansville Courier Press, May 31, 2009

Wednesday's UEFA Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United broadcast live on ESPN was the highest-rated and most-watched UEFA telecast in U.S. cable television history, viewed in 1,066,000 homes for a 1.1 rating.

That represented an increase of almost 34 percent over the previous record set last year when Man United beat Chelsea.

The game also was the most-watched ever for ESPN Deportes, as the Spanish-language telecast earned a 9.9 Hispanic coverage rating, representing 474,000 homes, the biggest audience and second-highest rating the network has received. The only higher rating was 10.1 for the Euro 2008 final between Spain and Germany.

Not only was it the opportunity to watch the two best teams in Europe, but it also offered players and coaches of all levels some valuable lessons.

* A tactical game of "chicken:" The players influence the game more than anything else, but tactics played a hand in helping tip the scales. Sometimes the dilemma comes at seeing whether either team will change tactics for the other.

Barcelona is so talented in possession that the teams that have had the most success against them — Chelsea in the previous round and Manchester United in last year's semifinal — have stayed compact in defense and played off the counterattack. Manchester United is one of the premier counterattacking teams in the world with an ability to get out quickly in transition, and that appeared to be an advantage in this match-up.

But manager Sir Alex Ferguson appeared to lose the game of "chicken," opting to come out at Barcelona right away. That generated some good early scoring chances but also left them susceptible to counterattacks by a very dangerous Barcelona midfield. Samuel Eto'o's goal in the 10th minute put Man United's backs to the wall, trying to claw back from a one-goal deficit against a team that is very capable of killing off a game.

Ferguson looked to inject life into his team at halftime, inserting sparkplug Carlos Tevez and reverting back to his more offensive alignment with essentially four attacking players. But that conceded too much space in midfield, which seemed to play into Barcelona's hands.

The midfield opened up significantly in the second half, which allowed Barcelona's midfield led by Iniesta and Xavi to dictate the game from there. Lionel Messi's goal in the 70th minute ended United's hopes of a comeback.

* Three in midfield get the work done: Because of the demands placed on the central midfielders, many teams prefer to play with three as opposed to the traditional 4-4-2 with two central midfielders. That allows more support and balance on the attack, while also providing cover to combat the counter.

Barcelona's use of a holding midfielder to sit in behind Xavi and Iniesta allowed them the freedom to roam on both sides of the ball and gave them ample opportunities to be their team's playmakers. Manchester United traditionally plays in an alignment similar to a 4-4-2, but plays primarily with three in midfield in European competition.

* Pace on the flanks: The use of wingers to flank a center forward creates quite a trinity in attack for Barcelona. Having the combination of Messi, Eto'o and Henry forces a team's backline to always be on guard, and the flexibility of those players to be in different roles allows them to unbalance a defense. Messi, who normally is deployed on the flanks, spent most of the match centrally. United has played striker Wayne Rooney on the flanks for most of the past month to give them more flexibility in their attack.

I am seeing more and more youth and high school teams adopting these systems that we have seen at the international, professional and collegiate levels, and getting the opportunity to see teams at the highest of levels in European soccer only lies credence to what seems to be in vogue for styles and systems of play.

Changing of the guard at Chelsea

by Paul Kennedy of SOCCER AMERICA, Monday, Jun 1, 2009 7:00 AM ET

With Chelsea's 2-1 win over Everton in Saturday's FA Cup final, Dutchman Guus Hiddink's stint as interim manager is over. Italian Carlo Ancelotti is headed over from AC Milan to manage the Blues. The big question will be, what reinforcements will he bring with him?

It's unlikely Ancelotti will be able to bring with him Brazilian Kaka from Milan, but captain John Terry is urging Chelsea to sign Frenchman Frank Ribery from Bayern Munich and David Villa from Valencia -- acquisitions that would surely top $100 million.

"There's talk of Ribery and Villa and when big players like that come up, we need to show people that Chelsea are back," Terry told the Daily Mail. "We want to show we're going to compete for the best players out there. We want the likes of Ribery and Villa and if we can get them we can push for the Premier League again. At the same time, we need to keep hold of lads like Didier Drogba, Ashley Cole and Joe Cole, who are up for contract talks."

Even the pockets of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich aren't probably deep enough to achieve all of Terry's wishes.