Thursday, December 31, 2009

Fletcher Supports Craig Levein

New Scotland boss Craig Levein has the support of captain Darren Fletcher, which bodes well for his task of rebuilding the culture of the Scottish National Team.

Scotland was closing in on a play-off spot for this summer's 2010 World Cup before crashing against Norway in August. Fletcher longs for a return to a reputation of being a tough opponent to play against.

"It is important for Scotland that we went back to what we were a few years ago," said the Manchester United midfielder. "We were on the brink of something good. We were a dogged, hard-to-beat side who teams didn't like to come up against. We need to get back to that under the new manager."

SOCCERNOMICS Answers the Game's Questions

Michael Lewis' Moneyball changed the way we look at identifying talent in baseball, and gave Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane an opportunity to change the culture of Major League Baseball scouting.

Beane was able to work with mathematicians to create baseline data and statistics to support theories on which players to identify.

Simon Kuper and Stefon Szymanski are able to take these process a step further in regards to world soccer, as their book SOCCERNOMICS breaks down specific attributes to determine the answers to the questions of the world's game.

Apply the interesting and financially successful analytical methods of Freakonomics to soccer, this duo of economist and sports writer create some fascinating theories supported with data that is hard to refute.

The book's subtitle - "Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey — and Even Iraq — Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World's Most Popular Sport" - is just one of the questions examined in the book, and offers some unique insight into a reasonable question - Why are certain countries more successful than others? Factors like overall population and economy tend to be factors of these trends, and the book even goes as far as to calculate exactly how well each country should be able to do based on these factors.

A main focus of the book is the analysis of the England national team, which it turns out has actually over-achieved somewhat for its resources. Kuper and Szymanski go as far as to analyze each member of the English national team player pool's background - what career path their parent's had, where they were brought up - to offer some fascinating insight into building a team.

One of my favorite chapters is the one on that focuses on the 2008 UEFA Champions League Final between Manchester United and Chelsea, which ends in penalty kicks. What seems like a pure game of chance to most who have not played the game gains some extra credence, and will make every penalty kick you see for the rest of your life more interesting. An economist had examined past penalty shootout behavior between the two teams and had sent in advice to Chelsea about how to score on United's Edwin van der Sar. They followed the advice to great success, but managed to lose when one player slipped and fell and another one changed his mind at the last minute. The YouTube video of the shootout becomes hilarious to watch after you've read the chapter.

SOCCERNOMICS is a book that makes you ask questions about why things happen in the game, and offers some great insight into possible solutions to those questions. This is a must-read for any student of the game, as well as those who really enjoy the game of soccer.

(Special thanks to Tom Boerger for passing along a copy to me.)

Valencia Grows Out of the Shadow

The task of making people forget about Cristiano Ronaldo would not be an easy job, but in his first 5 months in a Manchester United uniform, Antonio Valencia has chipped in to help compete for the English Premier League title in a major way.

One of the bright young stars in the 2006 World Cup for Ecuador, the Villarreal winger was on everyone's radar prior to coming to the English Premier League by joining Wigan. With Ronaldo's 80 million pound transfer to Real Madrid, Valencia was on the top of United's wish list to be the heir apparent.

Valencia scored his 7th goal of the season in yesterday's 5-0 rout of Wigan, but what was most impressive in his match-up versus his former club was his ability to create chances for others - setting up three of their first four goals, with Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov profiting from Valencia’s vision and unselfish team play.

This appears to be the major difference between Valencia and Ronaldo, who, for all his strengths, often infuriated his team-mates with his refusal to do anything other than shoot once he was within 40 yards of goal.

Mark Ogden of the Telegraph reports on the differences between Valencia and Ronaldo, and of how the speedy Ecuadorian has grown in his initial season with Manchester United.

No matter which way Manchester United attempted to spin the Ecuadorean’s £18 million arrival from the DW Stadium, Valencia’s first objective was to fill the huge void created by Cristiano Ronaldo’s £80 million transfer to Real Madrid.

In terms of impossible jobs, replacing Ronaldo at United is probably second only to the mountainous challenge facing the poor soul who replaces Sir Alex Ferguson’s in the manager’s chair at Old Trafford.

Yet six months after taking on the challenge of slipping into Ronaldo’s size nines, Valencia is beginning to make his own name at Old Trafford.

He will never be the new Ronaldo, just as Teddy Sheringham could never outshine Eric Cantona, but prior to the clash with his previous employers on Wednesday night, Ferguson spoke glowingly of the 24-year-old’s progress in a United shirt.

Ferguson said: “The good thing about Valencia is that he’s as tough as boots. Really tough. He can see it out and he has great stamina and great speed."

“In a personality sense, I don’t find that he would be interested in trying to outmatch Cristiano.” Valencia has improved markedly since leaving Wigan and his former team-mates discovered that at first hand as he played the architect in their downfall.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


If I was going to create a blueprint for success for a Major League Soccer franchise, it would start with management that has a clear level of experience in identifying American talent.

Where some clubs are willing to look at new candidates from a pool of young American coaches - DC United interviewed 34-year old Akron head coach Caleb Porter before setting its sights on 40-year old Curt Onalfo - others like the New York Red Bulls still think the answers are abroad (passing over young assistant Richie Williams in favor of foreign-based candidates).

The Red Bulls should take a lesson from the Los Angeles Galaxy, who after failing miserably with dutchman Ruud Gullit were able to right the ship by hiring former US national team manager Bruce Arena. Arena has proven himself at the international, domestic and collegiate levels, and led the Galaxy to the MLS Cup title match in only one years time.

The exceptions to this rule have been foreign-born managers with extensive experience in Major League Soccer - Steve Nicol, who was an assistant coach with the New England Revolution before he took on the head coaching role; and Philadelphia Union coach Peter Nowak, who was a standout player with the Chicago Fire.

Michael Lewis wrote a great article recently, in which he outlined the lack of success by foreign-born managers in MLS.

MLS And Foreign Coaches
By Michael Lewis -- The Major League Soccer landscape is littered with foreign coaches who have yet to deliver on a consistent basis. So, why does new New York Red Bulls sporting director and general manager Erik Soler reportedly want to hire someone from Europe?

With the Red Bulls set to open up their jewel of a soccer stadium, Red Bull Arena, in Harrison, NJ in 2010, they want to make as big a splash as possible. And why not with a big name coach?

Before going any further, we should define a foreign coach, as it pertains to MLS. A foreign coach is someone who has little or no MLS experience or a coaching background in the United States. That exempts the likes of Steve Nicol, who was an assistant coach with the New England Revolution and with the A-League Boston Bulldogs before he took on the head coaching role, and Philadelphia Union coach Peter Nowak, who was a standout player with the Chicago Fire.

In the cases of Nicol and Nowak were already around the League long enough to understand the psyche of American players and the complicated rules and regulations of MLS, which are unlike any other league in the World. Nicol's teams have been to three MLS Cup finals and he is the longest tenured coach with one club (since 2002) in the league’s 14-year history. Nowak's DC United side won the league crown in 2004 before heSomeday there will be a major breakthrough for a foreign coach without that background. Someone from Europe or South America will break the .500 barrier, will go deep in the playoffs on a consistent basis, bring home the Philip F. Anschutz trophy as well. Even if the League's history suggests otherwise.

The failures are across many nationalities: English, Dutch, Portuguese, Brazilian, Italian, Serbian, and Northern Irish. Their total record? It's a rather sorry 136-204-41, a .411 winning percentage, never finishing above .500 in a full season, never getting out of the first round of the playoffs (in three tries) and no MLS Cup titles.

Here is a quick look at a dozen foreign coaches in MLS:

Frank Stapleton, New England Revolution (1996)
The former Ireland international (20 goals in 71 appearances) was brought in to lead the Revs after a stint with Bradford City in England (1991-1994). His Irish background was thought to be a perfect fit with Boston's Irish community. But it was far from perfect for the League, as New England finished at 15-17 and last-place in the Eastern Conference. He was given the pink slip after only one season. Thomas Rongen replaced Stapleton.

Bobby Houghton, Colorado Rapids (1996)
He did coach the Toronto Blizzard of the old North American Soccer League from 1982-84, but as we have all found out, that league was light years away from MLS. Houghton, an Englishman who guided Malmo (Sweden) to the 1979 European Cup final, did not enjoy the same success in the United States. His Rapids went 11-20 in the League's inaugural season. He was sacked with a game remaining (Roy Wegerle coached the final game, a 1-0 defeat). Glenn Myernick took over for Houghton. He is currently India's National Team coach.

Carlos Queiroz, New York/New Jersey MetroStars (1996)
Actually, Queiroz didn't fare poorly at all. The Portugal native became the first foreign-born coach to register a .500 record (12-12), turning around a disastrous start under Eddie Firmani. Queiroz tightened up a defensive sieve and made the team much more competitive. In fact, the MetroStars took DC United to three games in their Eastern Conference semifinals series. However, Grampus Eight (Japan) offered the current Portugal National Team coach millions compared to the MetroStars' $500,000 annual salary (an excellent amount in those days) and he bolted for the Far East. Carlos Alberto Parreira succeeded Queiroz.

Carlos Alberto Parreira, New York/New Jersey MetroStars (1997)
Parreira discovered it was easier to guide Brazil to its fourth World Cup title, and first in 24 years in 1994, than the MetroStars to the MLS playoffs. He made a lot of wrong player personnel decisions, including bringing in defensive players from a country best known for its attacking flair and 1994 World Cup hero Branco, who turned into a bad seed by seeing red cards three times in only 11 matches. Not surprisingly, the Metros finished at 13-19. Parreira wasn't fired. He left on his own accord, taking a $3 million offer to coach Saudi Arabia in the 1998 World Cup. Alfonso Mondelo replaced Parreira.

Walter Zenga, New England Revolution (1998-1999)
Zenga, who has been linked by La Gazzetta dello Sport to the Red Bulls, was a disaster during his tenure with New England. He took over for the fired Thomas Rongen late in the 1998 season and guided the team to a 3-3 mark. Things went from bad to worse the next season as the Revs dipped to 10-20. And even worse, Zenga had the audacity to demand to negotiate for a new contract while the team was fighting for its playoff lives. He was given his walking papers and was replaced by Nicol on an interim basis before Fernando Clavijo took over fulltime. Since New England, the 49-year-old Zenga has averaged almost a team a year as a coach, directing Brera (Italy), National Bucharest (Romania), Steaua Bucharest (Romania), Red Star Belgrade (Serbia), Gaziantepspor (Turkey), Al Ain FC (United Arab Emirates, Dinamo Bucharest (Romania), Catania (Italy) and most recently Palermo (Italy). He was fired 13 games into the season on November 23rd. That's nine clubs in five countries in 10 years.

Ivo Wortmann, Miami Fusion (1998-2000)
Just because you're a Brazilian doesn't mean you will have the answers for a struggling team. Wortmann inherited a horrible team from Carlos Cordoba. He guided the Fusion to an encouraging 7-6 record the rest of the 1998 season and into the playoffs. Ditto for 1999, although the team finished at 13-19 and was eliminated by United in two straight for the second consecutive season. But a a woeful 1-4-3 start in 2000 doomed Wortmann. He has coached 22 teams - clubs and national sides - since 1982. He is in his fourth tenure with Juventude (Brazil). Ray Hudson succeeded Wortmann in South Florida.

Bora Milutinovic, New York/New Jersey MetroStars (1998-99)
He might have forged a reputation as a miracle worker with several National Teams at World Cup level, but he was less than ordinary as an MLS coach. Bora, who was 1-0 in 1998, had major communication problems with his players and media in a nightmare 1999 season that saw the MetroStars finish with a putrid 7-25 record (winning only four regulation three-point matches) and 15 points, which included a league-record 12-game losing streak. The team and Bora agreed to part ways after the season. Octavio Zambrano took over for Milutinovic.

Hans Westerhof, Chivas USA (2005)
Westerhof, who has coached for nearly a quarter of a century, replaced Thomas Rongen after a horrible start for the expansion team. He had been the coach of the parent club in Guadalajara in 2003-2004, but things didn't workout for the US version. Chivas went 3-13-4 under Westerhof, and he eventually returned to coach Chivas de Guadalajara. Current US National Team coach Bob Bradley replaced him at Chivas USA.

Ruud Gullit, Los Angeles Galaxy (2008)
So much for "sexy soccer" or whatever the former Dutch international midfielder was trying to do with the Galaxy. Gullit, who had signed a contract that made him one of the highest paid MLS coaches, resigned as coach "for personal reasons" on August 11th, 2008. The Galaxy, winless in its last seven games, was on its way to missing the post-season for the third consecutive year with a 6-8-5 record. There were problems galore with the Galaxy (Anschutz Entertainment Group CEO Tim Leiweke called the team "dysfunctional"). Former US National Team coach Bruce Arena succeeded Gullit.

John Carver and Chris Cummins, Toronto FC (2008-2009)
Carver gave up on MLS last season. First, he criticized the standard of officiating after a 3-2 road loss at FC Dallas and subsequently fined $750 by the League. After he wasn't on the bench for a 1-0 home victory over Chivas USA, he resigned for personal reasons four days later on April 25th. Toronto failed to reach the playoffs in 2008 (9-13-8) and was 2-2-2 under Carver in 2009. Earlier this month the Englishman was named assistant coach to Plymouth Argyle manager Paul Mariner, the former New England Revolutoin assistant who left at the end of the regular season. Chris Cummins, an Englishman, coached Toronto on an interim basis the rest of the season (8-9-7) as the team wound up on the post-season sideline before Preki was named as head coach for 2010.

Gary Smith, Colorado Rapids (2008 to present)
After replacing Fernando Clavijo as interim coach, Smith guided the Rapids to a 5-4-2 mark the rest of the 2008 season. They missed the playoffs in the final minute of their last regular-season game in '08, and were on the sidelines again for '09 with a 10-10-10 mark and a sixth-place finish in the Western Conference. The Rapids are Smith's first job as a head coach after being an assistant with Wimbledon and Wycombe in England. Smith, who enjoyed a 10-year career in England, could be on the hot seat if the Rapids don't start well or finish poorly.

One last note: If you're wondering why Carlos Cordoda (Miami Fusion, 1998) and Colin Clarke (FC Dallas, 2003-2006) weren't mentioned, they had coached in the United States prior to their MLS ventures. left to join the US National Team staff.

Character Makes Man Utd the Favorites

Alan Hansen writes about why Manchester United is still the favorites for the English Premier League title-

We are talking about the most the most open race ever but there are still only three teams who I see winning it: Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United. If I was putting a bet on, then, for character and the ability to play poorly and win, then it would be United every single time.

If you play as badly as United did at Fulham, you come off the pitch and confidence is at rock bottom. This is where character comes in: Ferguson even admitted that the players were in the dressing room feeling sorry for themselves. I bet he said to them: "The minute you start feeling sorry for yourselves is the minute that we're finished."

It is an easy option to feel sorry for yourselves. You blame everybody in the world, but the only way you are going to get out of it is by sticking together and showing a huge amount of character, and that is what United do every time they go out on to the pitch.

The Italian Job

Italian football coaches are the benchmark all over the world, and have really integrated their principles into England.

Fabio Capello is now the English national team manager, and it is not uncommon for players in the England camp to talk about the levels of discipline and professionalism both on and off the field.

Carlo Ancelotti (Chelsea) and Roberto Mancini (Man City) now follow the path that was initially blazed by Claudio Ranieri at Chelsea from 2000 to 2004; since then, former Rainieri imports Gianluca Vialli (Chelsea), Gianfranco Zola (West Ham United) and Roberto Di Matteo (West Bromwich Albion) have all taken their turn in management as well.

As reports, you can gauge the significant differences in off-field expectation levels between the English and Italian coaches.

The Italians have brought a touch of professionalism to the English game, ending the culture of “win or lose, we’re off to booze.” That’s something another Italian, Claudio Ranieri, noticed when he managed Chelsea from 2000 to 2004.

“There is this different culture in England, a different tradition of the players’ deportment from that here in Italy,” said Ranieri now coaching Roma in Italy’s Serie A. “In England, you fight hard on the field, then the match is over and you can think about the next thing.

“In England, it might be normal for a player to drink more than is wise and to party. All that behaviour you read about is strange to Italian soccer culture. Here, players are expected to be disciplined in their own lives.”

One player who noticed that difference was Ray Wilkins, who moved from Manchester United to AC Milan in 1984.

“I had played for Manchester United, but I can honestly say I didn’t fully become a professional until I moved to Milan when I was 27,” Wilkins told the Independent newspaper. “Diet, training, everything was totally different. Now that difference has been totally negated. It has gone totally at the top level. ”

Gianluca Vialli, a former Chelsea manager who ended his illustrious playing career with the London club after moving from Italy, wrote an interesting book about the differences between the English and Italian approaches to soccer a few years ago called The Italian Job.

“To the Italian footballer, football is a job,” Vialli wrote. “To the English footballer, it’s a game.”

Onalfo To Lead DC United

DC United ended their coaching search by hiring former Kansas City Wizards head coach Curt Onalfo to lead them in the 2010 season.

Onalfo is a former DC United assistant, and appreciates the task of rebuilding this proud franchise.

I am very excited to lead D.C. United into a new era, building on its storied and successful history,” said Onalfo. “Having already played and served as an assistant coach for the most successful club in MLS history, I understand the expectations that come along with this position. It takes more to be the head coach of United and I fully intend to help bring D.C. its fifth MLS Cup.”

Onalfo was most recently the head coach of the Kansas City Wizards. When he was hired prior to the 2007 MLS season, he took over a Wizards team that had not made the post-season in the team’s prior two campaigns (2005 and 2006). In his first season as the team’s skipper, he not only led Kansas City back to the post-season, but into the Eastern Conference Final. Onalfo then guided the team into the MLS Cup playoffs for a second consecutive year in 2008. During his two and a half seasons in Kansas City, Onalfo had a career record of 27-29-22, making the playoffs each of the full seasons he served as the team’s head coach.

Prior to his time in Kansas City, Onalfo spent four years (2003-06) as Bruce Arena’s assistant coach on the U.S. Men’s National Team. During his time with the U.S., the national team put together a record of 38-12-14 in all competitions. While at his post, the team was a semifinalist at the 2003 Gold Cup, and finished atop CONCACAF in 2006 FIFA World Cup qualification. Onalfo was with the team throughout the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, which included former United midfielder Ben Olsen as a member. He also served as an assistant to head coach Glenn ‘Mooch’ Myernick during Olympic qualifying for 2004 Athens.

From 1998-2002, Onalfo was a member of D.C. United, first as a player (1998-99) and then as an Assistant Coach and Director of Youth Development (2000-02). He first joined the team in 1998 under Bruce Arena and then played the 1999 season under Thomas Rongen. While with the team, he captured four trophies - the 1998 CONCACAF Champions Cup, 1998 InterAmerican Cup, 1999 Supporters’ Shield and 1999 MLS Cup. After retiring at the end of the ’99 season, he joined Rongen’s staff as an assistant coach for the 2000 campaign. In 2001, Rongen and Onalfo together launched United’s youth academy program. Under Onalfo’s guidance, the club’s U-15 side won a national championship in its very first year of competition. In 2002, when Ray Hudson was hired as the team’s new head coach, Onalfo stayed on as an assistant for the duration of the campaign.

Megson Removed At Bolton

Gary Megson has been sacked as manager of Bolton Wanderers with first team coach Steve Wigley and assistant manager Chris Evans taking over first-team duties with immediate effect.

A statement on the club's official website said: "Gary Megson has been relieved of his duties as First Team Manager of Bolton Wanderers Football Club with immediate effect."

"The decision has been taken in the light of the position the club finds itself in the Barclays Premier League at the halfway point of the season."

Megson was a magician last season as he steered the club away from relegation after an abysmal start to the campaign by Lee and achieved a mid-table finish last season.

The Trotters currently lie 18th in the Premier League table, behind West Ham on goal difference, but they have two games in hand on the Hammers and have not lost in five games.

Former Manchester City boss Mark Hughes and ex-Peterborough manager Darren Ferguson have emerged as the early favourites to take-up the vacancy.

Sir Alex Answers Critics

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson refutes comments made by England coach Fabio Capello and Inter Milan manager Jose Mourinho claiming that the Old Trafford club are in decline.

Surviving injuries to their backline that have kept all but Patrice Evra out for long stretches have United only 2 points out of first place with a victory against Wigan tonight. Despite the injury blows, United are only a point off the pace they were at last season's title-winning team at this time.

"With all the problems we've had with injuries to defenders, I would have definitely accepted being two points off the top of the table by the end of the year," Ferguson said.

"We have come through a key period - if we beat Wigan we will have got through it without too much damage. We've got the experience to do it and the players to do it."

Mourinho questioned whether United were struggling to replace Cristiano Ronaldo goal-scoring after his departure to Real Madrid at the end of last season. Ferguson refutes that as well, referencing that they have scored 8 more goals from this stage last season.

"I think we've got 14 different goalscorers this season," Ferguson said. "They're all weighing in from different positions."

"So why worry? The important thing is we're winning and we've scored a lot more than at the same stage last season."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Is Wenger Judged Fairly?

I have often been critical of Arsene Wenger and Arsenal's lack of titles during the past 5 years, but perhaps that is an unfair assessment of what Wenger has accomplished.

In a time of big money spending on transfer fees in the English Premier League, Arsenal has opted to stay away from big name transfers- instead, opting to build a side with young players while being conservative with their finances.

Big money was spent to build Emirates Stadium, and where that was used as a crutch to lean on as to why big money wasn't being spent to retain stars like Henry, Viera, Hleb or Flammini during this period, Stuart Condie of the Canadian Press reports how Wenger has persevered and achieved.

Arsenal hosts Aston Villa on Sunday with manager Arsene Wenger insistent that his current four-year spell without a trophy represents the most satisfying period of his time in the Premier League.
Wenger won three Premier League titles and four FA Cups in his first nine years with Arsenal but has won nothing since the 2005 FA Cup.

With Arsenal paying for a new stadium since then, the Frenchman has overhauled his squad on a limited budget and built on youth team players - but still kept the club in the top four.

"People forget we have been reasonably consistent and it has been the most difficult period, but as well for me, the period where I worked the best," Wenger said. "People should respect the fact we have still made some money in every single year without the team dropping a level and maintaining a successful period in the Champions League and reasonably in the league."

City dumping Hughes doesn't solve problem

Roberto Mancini has replaced Mark Hughes as the manager of Manchester City, and will attempt to do what 13 previous City bosses haven't been able to accomplish - outlast Sir Alex Ferguson.

The average reign of Man City manager during this period has been 18 months, and as Neil Custis of the Sun reports, Ferguson is proof that sticking with a manager is the way to build a culture at a club.

Fergie, still seething over the treatment of his former Manchester United player Hughes, reckons City could have another six managers before he has even left Old Trafford.

When it was pointed out to the United boss of 23 years that Mancini was now the 14th manager at City in that time he replied: "14th? Is that all? I can't wait for the 20th! "

"Changing a manager doesn't necessarily mean you are going to be successful. Sometimes you get an early spurt but there's no long-term certainty that it is beneficial. I have said it time and time again, there is good evidence that staying with a manager is beneficial. I think everyone was shocked. I spoke to Mark the next day and I could tell he was suffering. It's so obvious that that kind of behaviour is unacceptable. It doesn't matter if you've lost 20 games or two games, as was the case with Mark. There's a way to treat people, surely?"

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2010 World Cup: The Legacy Of The Metrostars

Growing up in New York, it was hard to see the birth of Major League Soccer come with such a futile franchise in the New York metropolitan area.

Names of the franchise (now the New York Red Bulls) and faces of players and coaches have changed with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, but it is amazing to see the number of top-flite coaches that have been jettisoned from Giants Stadium.

Michael Lewis reports on how three former MetroStars managers are now preparing to coach nations in the 2010 World Cup, and how a fourth, is scouting for another nation that will participate for the World Championship.

When you think about clubs that probably would have the greatest representation on World Cup-bound teams, the names of Arsenal, Liverpool, Real Mardrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich certainly would come to mind. A team from Major League Soccer? And the MetroStars of all teams? You've got to be kidding.

Heck, the club isn't even named the MetroStars any more. The New York/New Jersey team in MLS is called the New York Red Bulls, after its energy-drink owners, thanks to the purchase of the team in March 2006.

But the MetroStars' legacy certainly lives on, with not one, not two, but three former coaches guiding at team in South Africa at the 2010 World Cup -- Carlos Queiroz (Portugal), Carlos Alberto Parreira (South Africa) and Bob Bradley (United States). A fourth ex-MetroStars coach -- Bora Miltunovic, is a scout for his native Serbia after nothing materialized from talks with North Korea. Don't slam the door on Bora. Teams have been known to have coaches only months prior to the Mundial's kickoff -- ie Bora himself with Costa Rica prior to Italia '90.

"In the early days of the MetroStars there was a focus on having some big name foreign coaches and obviously, Carlos Querioz and Carlos Parreira fit the mold," Bradley said prior to the draw in Cape Town earlier this month. "Both have had incredible careers and its not a surprise to anybody who knows them or has seen them work that they're coaching teams in this World Cup."

It's too bad Portugal, South Africa, the USA, and Serbia could not have been draw together in a World Cup group. It certainly would make one intriguing group to talk about from now until June 11th.

By the way, the combined record of Queiroz, Parreira and Bradley with the MetroStars was sub-.500 at 58-62-26. If you add Milutinovic's record, it is 62-89-30.

The former MetroStars coaches involved in the World Cup:

Carlos Queiroz

He was brought in to rescue a struggling MetroStars team after only eight games of MLS' inaugural season in 1996. The MetroStars were 3-5 (one one win was a three-win victory) and five points. Despite being a foreign coach, Queiroz acquitted himself quite well the rest of the season, guiding the club to a 13-12 mark (there were no draws in those days) and a playoff berth. The MetroStars took D.C. United to the final game of a three-game Eastern Conference semifinal series, losing late in the third match.

Imagine how MLS history would have been different had the MetroStars prevailed and United failed to win the League's first championship.

Charlie Stillitano, then the MetroStars general manager, wanted Queiroz back for the 1997 season and offered him a generous $500,000 contract. Queiroz opted for a better deal from the J-League's Grampus Eight.

Querioz, 56, who had turned down the US National Team post in 1995, helped write the Project 2010 report that mapped out US Soccer's plans for the new century. He also has coached the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, and Manchester United (as an assistant coach) before taking over the reins of the Portuguese National Team. He directed the team into the World Cup, winning a playoff series with Bosnia.

Portugal was drawn with Brazil, Ivory Coast and North Korea in Group G, also known as 2010's "Group of Death."

Carlos Alberto Parreira

After losing one Carlos, Stillitano tapped his international connections and brought in Parreira for the '97 season. Parreira directed Brazil to its fourth World Cup championship in 1994, and first in 24 years. However, Parreira did not fair as well as his predecessor, trying to figure out the rules and regulations and the then $1.3 MLS salary cap. Despite having the likes of Roberto Donadoni and recruiting former Brazilian World Cup standout Branco, and with U.S. internationals Tony Meola and Tab Ramos, the MetroStars finished at 13-19 and out of the playoffs.

Parreira earned $500,000 to coach the MetroStars. When he was hired, he said "It's not the money. I am financially independent." It was money that lured Parreira from the MetroStars at the 1998 World Cup draw in December, 1997 to coach Saudi Arabia -- some $3 million. However, the Saudis lost all three games and Parreira was axed after the team's second defeat. It was believed to be the first time a coach was fired during the group stage of the World Cup.

The 66-year-old Parreira's tenure with South Africa has been a curious one. He was named coach in August 2006 but had to step down in 2008 due to his wife's illness. His successor, Brazilian Joel Santana lasted until October when he was given the pink slip. Parreira relieved him and he faces a major challenge, trying to avoid having South Africa become the first host country to miss the second round.

Parreira has coached at five previous World Cups -- Kuwait (1982), United Arab Emirates (1990), Brazil (1994), Saudi Arabia (1998) and Brazil (2006).

South Africa was seeded in Group A and will play Mexico, France and Uruguay in the opening round.

Bob Bradley

Bradley enjoyed great success with the Chicago Fire. At the helm of an expansion team in 1998, Bradley directed the Fire to the MLS Cup title and US Open Cup crown. He tried to duplicate that success during his tenure with the MetroStars from 2003 to 2005, but failed in his quest to turn the team into one of the League's best sides.

The MetroStars reached the playoffs in Bradley's first two seasons, but were eliminated in the opening round. Bradley was in reach of a third playoff when then club president Alexi Lalas fired him with three games remaining in the season. His assistant Mo Johnston took the team into the post season.

From there, Bradley joined Chivas USA and quickly turned the League's worst team into a playoff side in 2006, finishing third in the League in goals scored. However, Bradley's stay with Chivas turned into a short one as he was named interim coach of the U.S. National Team on December 8th, 2006 before taking on full responsibilities on May 16th, 2007.

Since then, the 51-year-old Bradley has guided the US to the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup title, runner-up in the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa, and to the 2010 World Cup.

For the record, Bradley's MLS coaching record was an impressive 124-94-54, while his numbers with the MetroStars were a mediocre 32-31-26.

The US was drawin into Group C and will take on England, Algeria and Slovenia.

Bora Milutinovic

At the international level, Milutinovic forged a reputation as a miracle worker, given his incredible success coaching World Cup teams. However, with the MetroStars, Bora was an absolute disaster during the end of the 1998 and entire 1999 season, after he was brought in to replace the first Alfonso Mondelo (who had succeeded Parreira). The team went 4-27-4 and accrued only 16 points during his tenure, registering only two regulation wins.

Milutinovic's problems with the MetroStars included his inability to communicate fully with his players or to the press in the most important media center in the world. During the depths of one of the worst seasons in league history, Stillitano refused to fire Bora because the MetroStars would have had to eat the remainder of his annual $175,000 contract (that included several bonuses and incentive clauses). Bora and the MetroStars finally came to a parting of the ways on October 29th, 1999. Stillitano hired Octavio Zambrano before he left the club, which helped start a major team revival for 2000.

The 65-year-old Milutinovic's rep is secure at the World Cup level. He directed host Mexico to the quarterfinals in 1986, first-timers Costa Rica to the second round and two first-round wins in Italy in 1990, the host US to a second-round finish in 1994, Nigeria to the second round in 1998 and China to its first World Cup appearance in 2002. The Chinese were the lone Milutinovic-coached team that failed to get out of the opening round.

Serbia was drawn into Group D with Germany, Australia and Ghana.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Move to Pros Not Immediate Cards for Cirovski

University of Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski has done as much as any other college coach during the past 5 years, winning two national championships and churning out a number of MLS prospects along the way.

Cirovski loves the college game, and sat down with L.E. Eisenmenger to discuss why he hasn't made the jump to Major League Soccer himself.

“Is the timing right? Are the terms right?” Cirovski said. “Are the pieces there to do it the way you want to do it? For a college coach there’s quite a bit of control in the way your team looks, feels, plays, and is put together, and that’s something important for a successful college coach going into a pro environment."

"Those are things constantly being evaluated by clubs and they want to make the decisions. And in college you don’t make changes to your team halfway through the year - you don’t release players and you don’t get players halfway through the year.”

Understanding the American mindset is key to success because 70-80% of MLS players come through the college or American youth soccer system. Although Cirovski admits dealing with the international star or Latin American player has “a bit of a learning curve,” the college system also brings in internationals and the NCAA is relaxing restrictions to allow more.

“The psychological player management and control of your locker room is very important in the pros,” he said, “because you’re dealing with even greater egos and people’s livelihoods. The greatest challenge of a pro coach is to make sure you have the integrity of your locker room and the integrity with the players.”

Bruce brings in players of character

Steve Bruce has the respect of his board at Sunderland, and the biggest reason is because of the qualities and values of the players that he brings into the club. George Caulkin of the Times reports on the stability that Sunderland looks to achieve with Bruce at the helm.

We already know what Bruce’s Sunderland means, or will come to mean. It means the hunger and alacrity of Darren Bent, the committed drive of men like Lee Cattermole and Lorik Cana, the rugged defending of Michael Turner. A lack of consistency is understandable in the context of their difficulties over the previous two years, but Bruce and Quinn are building something tangible, not producing it from nowhere.

Steady growth is the key and Aston Villa, where Randy Lerner has allowed Martin O’Neill the time and scope to construct a powerful squad, is the blueprint. To date, Ellis Short has been a model owner, allowing Quinn and his board to run the club and providing substantive funds for team strengthening. Having being promoted and now stabilised, the next challenge facing the club is to fill the ground on a regular basis.

“Steve gets what we’re all about,” Quinn told The Times. “He’s from this region and he’s promoting the kind of player who will buy into the kind of psyche we need and want. Football is so embedded in the psyche here. Certain people have come here in the past and they were showboaters, it didn’t click and it didn’t work - they fooled some of the people but not all of the people. We had to remove that kind of player.

“Obviously Steve is his own man and picks his own players to sign and I don’t interfere, but the great thing I know is that he’ll bring proper characters here, with proper respect for the North East. Lorik Cana, there’s a typical example. I’m told that people who go to work on a Monday feel really good about having him as their club captain, they talk about him on the assembly lines at work, chuffed to bits.

“That’s where Steve will do well at this football club. It’s a well-known term in the football world that managers live and die by the players they sign and Steve’s halfway there already because when you’ve got the kind of spirit he looks for in a player and he brings them to Sunderland, it’s half the battle.”

Battle of wits - not money - will decide EPL

After Fulham's 3-0 drubbing of Manchester United this past weekend, coupled by Aston Villa's steady climb up the English Premier League table, it leads you to believe that big money spending alone doesn't lead to success on the field.

Mark Hughes saw that formula doesn't always work at Manchester City, as he was fired this past weekend after big spending to assemble his roster didn't translate to any higher than 7th in the standings.

Kevin McCarra of the Guardian reports on the challenges of spending and competing in the English Premier League.

Shrewdness has become the principal currency now that cash itself is so scarce. The leading clubs in the Premier League can no longer be sure of the affluence that once overwhelmed opponents. A curmudgeon will sigh that this has led to a lowering of standards at the top of the Premier League, but those old-fashioned enough to enjoy uncertainty will find the game's appeal enhanced.

There ought to be celebration when Roy Hodgson is at present the most admired manager in England. He has not turned his back on money, but Fulham's resources are still modest. The half-dozen signings made by him in the line-up that beat Manchester United 3-0 on Saturday ran from Zoltan Gera, a Bosman addition, to Bobby Zamora, who cost £4.8m from West Ham United and, credibly or not, is being treated as an England candidate for the World Cup.

Budgets have shrunk almost everywhere, even if Sir Alex Ferguson explained low-key recruitment at United following the £80m sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid with the claim that the sums being quoted were unrealistic. Whatever the circumstances under the Glazers, the manager is well-equipped for a battle of wits now that the game has ceased to be a trial of budgets.

That outcome at Craven Cottage will have had him wincing, but Ferguson simply had to exercise patience after running out of fit defenders. The restrictions encountered by United may have been extreme, but virtually everyone now lives in Arsène Wenger's world, where extravagance is never the answer.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Developing Youth Standard Set at Man Utd

Manchester United’s emphasis on the development and use of youth is nothing new. Football Fan analyses the lineage in tremendous youth coaches and developers of talent at Manchester United.

Manchester United’s emphasis on the development and use of youth is nothing new. In the 50’s Joe Armstrong and Jimmy Murphy recruited and trained a set of young men that went on into the first team and under Sir Matt Busby became ‘The Busby Babes’. At the time this was a rarity as rather than develop players, teams usually just bought them but the likes of Sir Bobby Charlton, Duncan Edwards and Liam Whelan more than proved they were worthy of first team football with their outstanding talent and performances. Sadly in 1958 the dynasty was cut short after 8 of the babes were killed in the Munich air disaster.

In the early 90s another United dynasty was built under Brian Kidd and Eric Harrison, they would go on to become ‘Fergie’s Fledglings’. Consisting of Ryan Giggs, Gary and Phil Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Robbie Savage and Keith Gillespie amongst others whilst some would depart and forge careers elsewhere the core of the team would remain at Old Trafford and help set United on their way to a period of dominance in English football that is yet to be replicated.

United’s youth set up and scouting system is one of the most revered in football and rightly so. It has spotted as well as produced some real talents of the game that have gone on to shine not only at Old Trafford but elsewhere.

Gelnovatch meets lofty expectations

I don't know if there is another college soccer coach who has higher expectations than Virginia's George Gelnovatch.

Following in the footsteps of Bruce Arena at the University of Virginia leaves lofty expectations and pretty stiff demands on college soccer's flag-ship program.

Frank Giase of The Newark Star Ledger tells Gelnovatch's story of perseverance.

When Arena left to coach D.C. United in the first year of Major League Soccer in 1996, Gelnovatch got the call.

“I was 31 at the time and probably too young and naive to think much about it,” he said. “People expect you to win, and when you don’t they want to know what was the matter.”

Gelnovatch reached the NCAA final in just his second year but lost to UCLA, 2-0.

“There’s a big difference in perception,” he said. “You make it to the final and lose and nobody remembers, but you win it and you’re a conquering hero.”

This year Virginia conquered with defense — 12 shutouts in the final 13 games — to finish 19-3-3 and raise Gelnovatch’s 14-year record to 214-79-25.

“When you come into a program that’s won five national championships, the four ACC titles that you win or all the College Cups that you get to, winning a national championship of your own allows all those other accomplishments to be put into place with that,” Gelnovatch said. “Around mid-October we started to turn the corner a little bit and by the ACC Tournament we started firing. We kept getting better toward the end of the season.”

Gelnovatch earns Coach of the Year award

Congratulations to George Gelnovatch, who was recently named the Soccer America National Coach of the Year.

George Gelnovatch, who led Virginia to a national championship 14 years after replacing Bruce Arena, is the 2009 Soccer America Men's Coach of the Year.

After the 1995 season, Gelnovatch replaced Bruce Arena, who had led Virginia to five NCAA titles. He took the Cavaliers to the 1997 final, where they lost to UCLA, and didn't make it back until 2009 when they beat unbeaten Akron in a shootout in the final.

"I knew was only a matter of time before we won another championship," said Gelnovatch. "In 1997, I thought we had a real good chance and lost in the finals. In 2006, we were in the College Cup and things didn't work out our way. I kept telling people, it was not a matter of if, it was a matter of when."

Virginia's sixth title puts the Cavs third in NCAA Division I men's history behind only Saint Louis with 10 titles and Indiana with seven.

This year's title was the most unexpected.

Chris Agorsor, who entered Virginia as the top recruit in the country in 2008, was lost for the season midway through the 2008 campaign and wasn't a factor during the Cavs' 2009 title run.

Virginia lost all three games during preseason play and wasn't ranked in the Soccer America Preseason Top 25 for the first time in more than a quarter century.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Assembling & Retaining an MLS team

Peter Wilt wrote an outstanding column on assembling and retaining a good team in Major League Soccer-

MLS’ strict salary budgets, weighted lotteries, drafts and allocations have made it a very difficult league to stay near the top or the bottom of the standings for long stretches. Incompetent, lazy or ignorant decision making can certainly make the latter an exception to the rule, but staying on top requires the right combination of several factors including a little bit of luck.

This column will focus on retaining a strong core, but I do want to mention a few keys to assembling a strong team in the first place. As in the construction of a front office, the key to assembling a good soccer team is to surround yourself with talented, hard working people with good character. Include players you have worked with personally or are recommended by people you know and trust.

Former Chicago Fire team member Diego Gutierrez, on the environment created in Chicago-

Peter and Bob created a working environment where honesty and sincerity were paramount, they were the foundation of everything we did. It kept the place sacred, it kept doubt from ever penetrating anything we did. If a guy was frustrated with playing time, we talked it over, put it on the table and dealt with it. As a player, you can’t ask for more. If your coach and your President/GM are bringing in the right people, they are honest with you and you know where you stand, there are no obstacles for you to go out and do your best. I think it is safe to say that you play your best when you have peace of mind.

Selecting an MLS Head Coach

When it comes to looking at the process of hiring an MLS Head Coach, who would know better than Peter Wilt, who hired first Bob Bradley and then Dave Sarachan with the Chicago Fire.

I’ve only selected two more Major League Soccer head coaches in my life than most of this column’s readers have, so please take this coach hiring how-to column with a shaker full of sodium chloride. I generally believe that coaches should be given the benefit of time as stability is a huge benefit to a team and change in leadership usually creates instability for a period of time and that’s part of the reason the Fire only had two head coaches in my eight years. The Fire are now on the verge of naming their third new head coach in the past three years.

Both of my choices had considerable success, especially in their first seasons. Bob Bradley made the playoffs and won both MLS Cup and the US Open Cup for the expansion Chicago Fire in 1998. His successor, Dave Sarachan, was arguably even more successful by capturing the Fire’s only Supporters Shield as well as the US Open Cup and Eastern Conference regular season and playoff championship.

MLS Coaching Carousel

MLS coaching openings are still hot topics of debate in Chicago, DC United and New York.

New York seems to be close to the vest with their search.

With Akron's Caleb Porter given a contract extension with the Zips, Curt Onalfo appears to be the chief candidate for DC.

In Chicago, rumors have their search down to two candidates - Tom Soehn and Jesse March - although, according to ESPN Chicago's Charlie Corr, there are other candidates just as worthy.

Soccer America reported Wednesday that the Chicago Fire's head coach opening is down to two finalists: Chivas USA midfielder Jesse Marsch and former D.C. United head coach Tom Soehn.

However, a source with knowledge of the Fire's coaching search refuted the report and stated to that the search still is in full swing, with multiple candidates in the mix and candidates who have yet to speak with the organization.

Marsch and Soehn were a part of the Fire's 1998 MLS Cup team and share strong ties to the Chicago area. Marsch is a native of Racine, Wis., and spent eight seasons with Chicago. Soehn, a native of Chicago, played for the Fire from 1998 to 2000 and was an assistant coach for the Fire from 2001 to 2003.

The report does bring into question whether they would be the right fit for technical director Frank Klopas' attacking/tactical plan. Marsch has never been a coach -- head or assistant. Soehn is a former defender whose 2008 and 2009 D.C. United teams missed the playoffs both seasons, and United gave up more goals than they scored in both campaigns.

In terms of executing Klopas' vision, I think these three possibilities are more suited to bring the attacking mind-set to fruition:

1. John Spencer: He is a former striker with Premiership playing experience, several successful seasons with the Colorado Rapids, and most recently an assistant coach for one of MLS's most consistent and successful franchises -- the Houston Dynamo, under Dominic Kinnear. He's a shade under 40 and doesn't have any head coaching experience, aside from handling Dynamo Reserve duties. But Spencer would be a fresh look with an attacking mind-set. There are several MLS assistants out there who have been working under some intelligent soccer minds, and Spencer should be considered at the top of this list of men who could provide a positive impact in their first major head coaching job. Maybe this should have been the proper move by the Fire a couple years ago.

2. Colin Clarke: This name has not been floating about, but I think the Northern Ireland native did not get a fair shot in MLS. And if the Fire want to improve in the offensive third, Clarke is a hard-nosed coach who can get some scoring results. Clarke currently is coaching the United Soccer Leagues First Division's Puerto Rico Islanders. Before, he spent four seasons with the Dallas Burn/FC Dallas, taking FC Dallas to the playoffs in 2005 and 2006. But he was fired following the '06 season despite the team scoring the second-most goals during regular-season play and dominating at home with a league-best 12-3-1 record. The Fire wish they had a small taste of that type of mark at Toyota Park this year. We tend to look beyond USL-1, but Clarke deserves another chance in MLS.

3. Thomas Rongen: He is a former defender and defensive midfielder, but if you look at the body of his coaching work, Rongen seems to find a nice blend on both sides of the ball. He led the reigns of some talented squads, too -- 1999 D.C. United, for example. When it comes to the technical side, Rongen is a good fit and he understands the league quite well. There are certainly some areas where the Fire could have improved this past season, and two of the more glaring spots include player management and identifying strengths and weaknesses in personnel. Those probably are two of Rongen's best attributes.

Honorable mention: Peter Nowak -- Would it be too selfish if the Fire pried Nowak away from the 2010 expansion Philadelphia Union?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Football Coaching Quotes

These college football coach's quotes came from Dr. Gregg Wilson, Exercise Science - Sports Studies Chair at the University of Evansville -

#1. 'After you retire, there's only one big event left... and I ain't ready for that.' Bobby Bowden / Florida State

#2. 'The man who complains about the way the ball bounces is likely to be the one who dropped it.' Lou Holtz / Arkansas

#3. 'There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you.' Woody Hayes / Ohio State

#4. 'I don't expect to win enough games to be put on NCAA probation. I just want to win enough to warrant an investigation' Bob Devaney / Nebraska

#5. 'It's kind of hard to rally around a math class.' Bear Bryant / Alabama

#6. 'I make my practices real hard because if a player is a quitter, I want him to quit in practice, not in a game.' Bear Bryant / Alabama

#7. 'I never graduated from Iowa , but I was only there for two terms - Truman's and Eisenhower's.' Alex Karras / Iowa

#8. 'My advice to defensive players: Take the shortest route to the ball and arrive in a bad humor.' Bowden Wyatt / Tennessee

#9. 'I could have been a Rhodes Scholar, except for my grades.' Duffy Daugherty / Michigan State

#10. 'Always remember... Goliath was a 40 point favorite over David.' Shug Jordan / Auburn

#11. 'I asked Darrell Royal, the coach of the Texas Longhorns, why he didn't recruit me and he said: 'Well, Walt, we took a look at you and you weren't any good.' Walt Garrison / Oklahoma State

#12. 'Son, you've got a good engine, but your hands aren't on the steering wheel.' Bobby Bowden / Florida State

#13. 'Football is not a contact sport - it is a collision sport. Dancing is a contact sport.' Duffy Daugherty / Michigan State

#14. After USC lost 51-0 to Notre Dame, his postgame message to his team: 'All those who need showers, take them.' John McKay / USC

#15. 'If lessons are learned in defeat, our team is getting a great education.' Murray Warmath / Minnesota

#16. 'The only qualifications for a lineman are to be big and dumb. To be a back, you only have to be dumb.' 'Knute Rockne / Notre Dame

#17. 'It isn't necessary to see a good tackle. You can hear it.' Knute Rockne / Notre Dame

#18. 'We didn't tackle well today but we made up for it by not blocking.' Wilson Matthews / Little Rock Central High School

#19. 'I've found that prayers work best when you have big players.' Knute Rockne / Notre Dame

#20. 'Gentlemen, it is better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football.' John Heisman AUBURN