Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Art of the Counter-Attack

Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United have mastered the art of the counter-attack, and it was on full display during their 3-1 victory over Arsenal today.

Too many fans associate the counter-attack with a team that sits back with large numbers defending behind the ball, and then tries to mount an attack once they win the ball by trying to play a lone striker forward.

The true counter-attack is based off of having pace in the critical attacking areas of the field- on the flanks and up front - and being able to get out quickly in transition.

Manchester United has been the best counter-attacking team in the world for several years, and has been spear-headed by the likes of Giggs, Kanchelskis, Cole, Yorke and Ronaldo. The 2009-10 version has just as much speed as in years past with the likes of Nani and Valencia on the flanks, but are armed with as good a goalscorer as there is in the world right now in Wayne Rooney.

Ferguson believes his side's ability on the break proved crucial in exposing Arsenal's weaknesses.

Nani ran Gael Clichy ragged and ensured United had established a two-goal lead by the interval.

He baffled Arsenal with a stunning piece of trickery that forced uncertain Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia to turn his cross into his own net after 33 minutes and then set up Rooney's 100th Premier League goal four minutes later.

United caught Arsenal cold as they turned defence into attack, Rooney sprinting from just outside his own area to take a return pass from Park and finish in style.

Ji-Sung Park graphically illustrated the gulf between Arsenal and United just after half-time when he took advantage of a path lack of resistance to run unchallenged from inside his own half to beat Almunia.

"Counter-attack has always been a part of our game," said Ferguson.

"Arsenal play a lot of good football and get to the edge of the box regularly, so if you can get the ball, you've got a chance against them."

Altidore's Play Draws Praise

US striker Jozy Altidore was outstanding in his return to Hull City after a temporary leave of absence - taking a compassionate leave following the earthquake that hit Haiti, where he originated from prior to his family migrating to the US.

Altidore assisted on the Tigers' first goal and earned a penalty that led to their second goal in a 2-2 tie with Wolves, but he later went off for new signing, Egypt international Amr Zaki. The move baffled former English star Paul Merson, a pundit on Sky Sports' Soccer Saturday show.

"I can't believe Phil Brown made the substitution but he knows better than me," said Merson. "Jozy Altidore was a threat, an absolute threat. He set up the first, then won the penalty, but he had a one-on-one and [Wolves keeper Marcus] Hahnemann made the save - but Wolves were relieved to see him go off because he was a big, big threat. Zaki came on and did alright but not as well as Altidore. I thought that substitution changed the game."

Ironically, Altidore's offensive assault came against another American in the Wolves goal, as Marcus Hahnemann had to deal with Jozy as he attempted to keep Wolves in the match.

With Altidore's strong performance coupled with Everton's Landon Donovan scoring his first EPL goal this week, it certainly appears that the American invasion in the English Premier League is picking up steam.

Americans in the English Premier League-

Aston Villa - Brad Friedel, Brad Guzan, Eric Lichaj
Bolton - Stuart Holden
Everton - Tim Howard, Landon Donovan
Fulham - Clint Dempsey
West Ham United - Jonathan Spector
Wolves - Marcus Hahemann

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Fear of Failure Drives Evans

Most athletes and coaches are driven to success by the idea of winning a championship, while others are led by the fear of failure. The idea of agonizing defeat haunts some competitors into driving forward.

Manchester United defender Jonny Evans talks about how the fear of failure drives Manchester United towards continued success.

The Manchester United defender Jonny Evans says fear of failure will drive the team to greater success. As Sir Alex Ferguson's side prepare for the second leg of their Carling Cup semi-final with Manchester City, where they are 2-1 down from the first game at Eastlands, the Northern Ireland international said: "A big thing at this club is the fear of not winning anything and not finishing at the top.

"The players want to be winners and there is something at the back of your mind that says you don't want to be part of a side that doesn't win anything. I am a young player who has come into the team over the last couple of seasons. I don't want to be remembered by the fans as someone who was part of a team that loses. You don't want to be known as a failure."

Ferguson has always maintained it is the agonising defeats that drive him on, rather than the nights of glory. It is an attitude shared by the likes of Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes and one that has been absorbed by Evans, who is set to partner Rio Ferdinand at the heart of United's defence at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

"All the great players have said it is the defeats that drive you on rather than the victories," said the 22-year-old. "It is the ones that have got away. The things you win get put to the back of your mind until your career has finished, then you can look back. When opportunities have slipped it is different. You don't want to lose things."

O'Neill's Passion Leads Villa

It is easy to appreciate the job that Martin O'Neill has done at Aston Villa.

Not only has he put Villa in position to challenge the top four in each of the past two seasons and a birth in the Carling Cup Final this season, but his intensity, focus and drive makes both he and his team easy to root for.

Jonathan Pearce of the BBC writes about the passionate leader of Aston Villa.

The Villa boss is one of the most intriguing men I have ever met in the game. He has a brilliant mind and there is a passionate intensity in anything he does, coupled with deep introspection and crackling nervous energy.

I had a chance to spend some time around Aston Villa's training ground last season, and you could sense the level of confidence that his young players had - a definite feeling of self-belief, which stems from their leader.

With the continued pursuit of a Carling Cup title, a European place, and a seat at the table with the top 4 of the English Premier League all in reach, expect to see O'Neill and Aston Villa involved in the conversation of the top teams in the EPL down the final stretch of the season.

Friday, January 29, 2010

TEAM - Together Everyone Achieves More

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney seems to follow the belief that "Together Everyone Achieves More - TEAM.

Rooney, who already has 21 goals under his belt, insists that Manchester United is not a one-man team.

"I don't look on us as a one-man team or see it as a great burden on me, it's nonsense. If I don't get the service, I can't score. If I don't, I expect others to, and we've done that well. We've shared the goals out well and it's certainly not just about me. We expect to win as a team, not as individuals," Rooney said.

"It's so important to get the support of others when you're playing up front on your own, or it can be pretty lonely up there. Those who said I'm not an out-and-out goal-scorer are probably right," Rooney said.

"I always feel I could score more. I didn't used to get that many from inside the six-yard box in previous seasons. But I've worked on my movement to create space and it's paying off. "So far this season I've managed it - in fact I can't remember a goal I've scored from outside the box and those tap-ins are down to the whole team, not one player," Rooney added.

How Berlusconi changed Italian soccer

Try as he might, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has a long way to go before he can even come close to carrying the bags of Silvio Berlusconi.

AC Milan's owner and president has been at the forefront of European and Italian club soccer for more than two decades, winning 5 European Cups during that period. Keir Radnedge of World Soccer outlines Berlusconi's plan. A key component in that plan was finding the right manager, and then giving him the room to implement his own blueprint.

Turning stars into winners takes a top-class coach. Berlusconi found one in Arrigo Sacchi. The shoe-maker from Fusignano had never played at professional level, but as he said: "You don't have to have been a horse to be a successful jockey."

Sacchi's horse sense produced a winning thoroughbred by mixing Dutch fluidity with Italian backbone, such players as stopper Alessandro Costacurta, playmaker Carlo Ancelotti (now Milan's coach), sweeper and skipper Franco Baresi and magnificent young left back Paolo Maldini.

Sacchi, Fabio Capello, Alberto Zaccheroni and Ancelotti have all enjoyed long tenures as coach. Here, perhaps, is a key factor in Berlusconi's success. First he appoints top-class coaches, then he leaves them alone to get on with the job, though, as he says: "It's only right and proper that the man who steers the ship should make his views known at the right time and place."

In fact, Berlusconi has displayed the most rabid fan's insistence on shouting his opinions from the San Siro rooftop. Each coach has needed the strength of personality and self confidence to pick his own team and not the president's, while Berlusconi has been championing the causes, variously, of Argentinean striker Claudio Borghi, the Slav pairing of Dejan Savicevic and Zvonimir Boban, then the tactical value of two strikers rather than one so that "his" Andriy Shevchenko should always be a starter.

Any coach could disagree but only as long as he won. As Berlusconi -- who openly admits he fancies his own potential as a soccer coach -- has said: "Milan would always like to be the best, of course. But at the highest level winning or losing is often a matter of luck. What is important is that we are always among the main actors in this theater. As long as we are always competing to win then we will win more often than not -- and a winning coach gives me no excuse to replace him."

Courting Other Clubs Could Hurt Benitez

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is playing a dangerous game by courting other clubs, most notably Juventus. He is very popular among Liverpool supporters, but as Matt Hughes of the Times Online reports, he could be in danger of losing that support...and at a time when he probably needs them the most.

In what will remain a battle to survive at Anfield, Benitez has two great weapons in his armoury other than the cost of his dismissal: a gleaming replica of the European Cup in the trophy cabinet and the support of the majority of the club’s fans. No-one can take Liverpool’s remarkable 2005 Champions League triumph away from him, but the backing of even the most loyal supporters could easily be squandered.

By continuing to court other clubs, most recently Juventus, Benitez risks losing that support. Benitez had the perfect opportunity to repeat his commitment to Liverpool following Tuesday’s goalless draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers, yet instead would only talk about the game in question, thus giving the Juve rumours added credence.

If Benitez does want to leave Liverpool then fair enough, though if he is merely seeking to prove a point to their owners then he is playing a dangerous game. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that many fans would happily wish him on his way.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Gullit Doesn't Get U.S.

Ruud Gullit's failure as the head coach of the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer was another example of a foreign-based manager not taking the time to learn the system of MLS or to get a handle on being able to identify the American player.

In reading Andrea Canales' column on, it appears that it was the fault of the US that Gullit didn't have a more successful stint in LA.

Yes, everyone in the USA ruined Gullit's chances to be successful as a coach because they didn't pay enough attention to him, apparently.

"In LA, nobody is talking about football. No television stations. You see it nowhere," Gullit said in a recent Associated Press interview. "It's difficult to swallow because you need that adrenaline to pump yourself up. If nobody talks about it, it's almost like an enigma."

Ah, yes, American soccer is an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, shrouded in mystery.

Actually, it's much simpler than that - Gullit wasn't a good coach because he didn't want to spend enough time understanding the system of Major League Soccer and how to deal with the salary cap and other issues. He also couldn't motivate the players he had to play well enough to win more games. Incidently, that was also his problem when his coaching tenure ended at Chelsea and at Newcastle, only there he didn't bother to blame the country's entire attitude towards the sport for his dismissal.

Ironically, Gullit was brought back to the US to be a commentator for ESPN during this summer's 2010 World Cup...and it sounds like he still hasn't figured our game or our country out yet...

Still, the American soccer fans are such easy targets - Gullit keeps swinging.

"When USA is playing at home, they don't play at home. It's unbelievable," Gullit said.

Ah, yes, many might have looked at the blue/white fans in the crowd at the recent Honduras versus USA game and decided that here Gullit has some merit. After all, the Honduran fans visibly outnumbered the USA ones.

However, that friendly wasn't a World Cup qualifying game, and the fan numbers for the Americans has definitely improved vastly of late.The USA players often made it a point to acknowledge to the media how the partisan crowd spurred them on to good home performances, where the USA was unbeaten in the hexagonal round.

Basically, what Gullit missed is that there is a groundswell of support for soccer in the USA, mostly because he never looked in the right places for it.

He didn't check the Internet, for example, where multitudes of websites like this one, soccer message boards, blogs and internet streams have fed the passion of fans all over the world. American fans are there, crashing feeds of Everton games to watch Landon Donovan play, arguing if Edgar Castillo is playing better than Jonathan Bornstein, analyzing who might one day replace Bob Bradley as coach.

In some ways, these fans are more dedicated because they have to work harder at it - precisely because it's not spoon-fed to them via SportsCenter and 'booyah' moments and the front page of the sports section. It's rather like being a vegetarian in cattle country. There's a bit of a pioneer spirit to it - and what could possibly be more American than that?

It's a far cry from Gullit finding himself unmotivated because his picture wasn't in the tabloids every day.

Yet Gullit thinks the soccer revolution is being held back by American fear and insecurity.

"Certain people don't want to acknowledge [soccer] so much because everybody wants to protect the American sports, and I can understand that," he said.

Ah yes, everyone in the USA wants to protect all things American. That's why no one buys import cars in the United States, ever. Except - right, they do all the time. Homegrown soccer like MLS is just as much American as the Honda cars built in Ohio, if not more so.

After all, how can any sport have a nationality? Sporting entertainment is the most universal of pastimes - it belongs to whoever plays it and enjoys it. The sport of basketball was invented in the USA, but does Spain worry that Pau Gasol playing it somehow undermines the future of Fernando Torres? I highly doubt it.

Granted, there are many areas that USA supporters need to improve - they don't support their national team in any circumstance, for example, tending to focus on the games with the well-known American players, leading to a paltry representation at this summer's Gold Cup final, for example. But it's not the pitifully dire situation Gullit has portrayed.

The bitter irony about Gullit's futile attempt at managing the LA Galaxy is that in a little more than one year's time, Bruce Arena was able to turn around MLS' flagship laughing stock, and get them into the 2009 MLS Cup.

Gullit was one of the brilliant players in Europe during his era, but clearly, this is a classic example of being a great player not translating into being a great coach.

As Arrigo Sacchi once said: "You don't have to have been a horse to be a successful jockey."

An End Of An Era For Vizvary

George Vizvary ended an era in collegiate soccer recently when he resigned from Ulster County Community College at the age of 74.

“He loves his job. He always wanted to do good for his players and help them beyond their careers at Ulster. George represented the college with dignity and was always above board.”

Vizvary compiled a 534-159-28 career record over 36 seasons. He was inducted to the National Junior College Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 2007 and has the most victories in NJCAA soccer.

The Senators won national championships in 1977 and 1978. More recently, Ulster finished second in the 2007 national tournament.

Vizvary earned Freeman Sportsperson of the Year honors in 2007 along with his second Region XV Coach of the Year award. He also was Freeman Sportsperson of the Year in 1991.

“We’ve been privileged to have coach Vizvary for so many years at Ulster,” college president Donald Katt said in the press release.

Two of Vizvary’s former players, Tom Mulroy (1993) and Joey Ulrich (2000) also were inducted to the NJCAA Hall of Fame. Mulroy, Ulrich, Niels Guldbjerg and Njego Pesa were chosen on the NJCAA Team of the Century.

Under Vizvary, the Senators captured 17 region titles and 24 Mid-Hudson Conference championships. Forty-five Ulster players competed professionally and 52 achieved All-American status from the NJCAA and National Soccer Coaches Association of America.

I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time around 'Viz', as he was known to his friends while growing up in the Hudson Valley region of New York, and there was no question that he was a positive influence in my coaching career. He did a great deal to help players through his roles with Ulster County Community College, the Empire State Games, and as a member of the United States Soccer Federation National Coaching Staff.

We wish 'Viz' the best of luck as he steps away from the collegiate game as one of it's true giants.

The German Influence

German football has had a significant influence on American soccer today, whether it be through “Soccer Made in Germany” (which PBS ran on TV here in the US from 1976 to 1988), watching Franz Beckenbauer play for the New York Cosmos, or the coaches that migrated here.

Greg Lalas gives a historical perspective of the German influence on the American game today

But perhaps the biggest influence Germans have had on U.S. soccer in recent years is in the coaching ranks. Lothar Osiander, a native of Munich, led the U.S. Olympic team at both the 1988 and 1992 games, not long after coaching the semi-pro San Francisco Greek-Americans to the U.S. Open Cup title in 1985. He also later coached the Los Angeles Galaxy and San Jose Clash.

Current Seattle Sounders coach Sigi Schmid was born in Tübingen before moving to the U.S. as a young boy. Former D.C. United coach Tommy Soehn’s parent immigrated from Germany (though his father has Romanian roots). And bringing things full circle, at least to an extent, it is little coincidence that Philadelphia Union’s inaugural coach, former Polish international Peter Nowak, spent the best years of his playing career in the German Bundesliga.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bob Bradley Interview

Bob Bradley was recently interviewed on ESPN's First Take, the morning sports talk program on ESPN2.

Click on the link to hear about the World Cup group, the status of injured stars, coaching his son, the best athlete in his family that also produced Major League Baseball catcher Scott Bradley, his game as a forward at Princeton ("I was very, very poor-man's version of Gerd Mueller ... Michael has done far better than that") and what makes him laugh.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Rafa to Juve?

The Sun reports that Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is on the top of the wishlist of Italian giant Juventus.

He is the Italian giants' No 1 choice to succeed Ciro Ferrara, who will be sacked this week following the 2-1 home defeat to Roma last weekend.

Ferrara will still take charge of the team for Thursday night's Coppa Italia clash at Inter Milan.

Juve's original target was former Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink. But he has priced himself out of the market by demanding an 'emergency' payment of £3.5million to bale them out this season - and a long-term contract at £7m a year.

Despite Liverpool's erratic form this season, Juve club president Jean-Claude Blanc sees Benitez as the man to restore the Old Lady of Turin's flagging fortunes. Ferrara was only made Claudio Ranieri's successor in August.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Great players define and embrace toughness

From the Evansville Courier Press, January 24, 2010

Jay Bilas has a great reference point when it comes to competing at a high level of sports — he played basketball at Duke University, and after his playing career ended, joined Coach Mike Krzyzewski's coaching staff. He has since parlayed his playing and coaching career into a role as one of ESPN's top college basketball analysts.

He wrote an article on last year ( bilas_jay&id=3868904) that still draws references 12 months later. It hit on a topic that every coach stresses with players — toughness.

I've been shocked about how many coaches from different sports at all levels had read the article and were able to draw from their own experiences.

"... in almost coordinated fashion, I would watch games and see player upon player thumping his chest after a routine play, angrily taunting an opponent after a blocked shot, getting into a shouting match with an opposing player, or squaring up nose-to-nose as if a fight might ensue," Bilas wrote. " I see players jawing at each other, trying to 'intimidate' other players. What a waste of time. That is nothing more than fake toughness, and it has no real value.

"I often wonder: Do people really understand what coaches and experienced players mean when they emphasize "toughness" in basketball? Or is it just some buzzword that is thrown around haphazardly without clear definition or understanding?"

Bilas said that while he came to college thinking toughness was based on the physical, he realized that it had more to do with the mental. I was always taught that strength could be measured in a weight room, but that toughness was measured by what was inside of you — it wasn't measured in a soccer player's ability to kick someone on the other team, but in his ability to get kicked and keep playing; it was not whether you were knocked down, but in your resolve that allowed you to get back up.

Bilas also referenced that he thought toughness was a skill, and as a skill, could be developed and improved. He even created a list of items that he thought were a way that toughness was exhibited in basketball.

Soccer Journal editor Jay Martin had recently taken the lead from Bilas' article and created his own list of items that displayed toughness in soccer. Some of the key items were:

— Talk on defense: A tough player talks and communicates with teammates while defending, and is so focused on winning that he/she is not only worried about the player that they are guarding, but on helping their teammates as well.

— Play so hard your coach has to take you out: Tough players work so hard that they need to be rested. The toughest players don't pace themselves. Watch the University of North Carolina's women's team —when some of coach Anson Dorrance's players come off the field, they need oxygen. They are a 'tough' team, and it is no coincidence that they compete for a national championship every year.

— Take responsibility for your teammates: Tough players take responsibility for themselves as well as others. If the bus leaves at 9:00 a.m., tough players make sure they and their teammates are on time.

— Get out of the comfort zone: A tough player knows that soccer is a game played when tired and sore. When tough players feel like they don't want to run any longer, they run harder.

— Take and give criticism the right way: Tough players take criticism without feeling they have to answer back or come up with an excuse. They want to get better. Tough players are not afraid to tell teammates what they need to hear.

— Show strength in body language: Tough players project confidence and security. They don't hang their heads; they don't argue with officials. Look coaches and teammates in the eye: Tough players never drop their heads. They always look their coach in the eye, because if the coach is talking, it is important to them.

— Make every game important: Tough players know that if they want to reach a championship game at any level they must play every game like it's a championship game.

As Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo says: "Players play the game, but tough players win the game."

Finding a Way to Win

This article by Dan Coughlin is about the nation's winningest high school coach Terry Michler. Michler, who's coaching is influenced by the Dutch, is the author of three great books. Coaching Soccer Champions, Full Season Training Program - Elite Teams and Dutch "Total Football".

On November 21st I attended the Missouri Boys Class 3 State Soccer Championship between CBC and SLUH. I wanted my eight-year-old son, Ben, to see soccer played at a very high level. However, I didn't expect to see what we watched that night. CBC put on the finest display of soccer I've ever seen at any level, including collegiate and professional soccer. The passing, dribbling, finishing, running without the ball, attacking and defending was at an extraordinarily high level. It was like watching a world-class jazz ensemble perform for 80 minutes.

After the game I sent Terry Michler, the head soccer coach at CBC, a congratulatory e-mail. As you may know, Terry is America's all-time winningest high school soccer coach with over 800 victories in his 39-year career. He replied and said he still enjoys coaching and has a passion to keep on learning how to improve. I was really impressed with that e-mail so Terry and I began to exchange e-mails about the team and his approach to coaching. Then I read his book "Total Dutch Football." I then realized that what Terry was saying has tremendous application for business managers. We sat down for three hours to discuss a wide variety of topics pertaining to how he coaches soccer. I then typed up his thoughts and attempted to convert each one of his comments into a management insight for anyone who is responsible for the results of a business or a not-for-profit organization.

Click here for the complete article and Q&A with Terry Michler.

Guzan Enhances Reputation

Brad Guzan continues to highten his profile with strong performances for Aston Villa in the Carling Cup, and appears primed and ready to add his name to the list of American goalkeeping standouts in the English Premier League.

Guzan has been the understudy for compatriot Brad Friedel with Aston Villa, and has really made his mark in the Carling Cup competition this Spring - saving four penalties against Sunderland to help Villa advance deep into the competition.

Abdul Kashif of writes about Guzan's development, and how he hopes to parlay his strong form this season into an even larger role with Aston Villa and the US National team.

The U.S has a history of producing world-class keepers with names such as Tim Howard and Villa’s own Brad Friedel currently gracing the Premier League. Guzan enthuses that it is ‘great’ to work with Friedel - a keeper he has always looked up to and someone who has ‘seen it all in his career.’

He said: “For somebody like me, working with him on a daily basis and getting to know him inside the dressing room has been brilliant.

“You can’t teach somebody experience. You’ve got to go in there, you’ve got to learn and get your hands dirty, so to speak. Being able to take that away from him, his composure, it’s been great for me.”

“With the few opportunities that I’ve had, I’ve spoken with the manager and he’s been pleased with my performances. It’s never easy for a goalkeeper to come in when you’re not playing regularly, to come into a team and be successful,” he added.

“It’s a matter of trying to play games and take that form into the national team and when my number’s called, help the team and hopefully make a run at the World Cup.”

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Backe's Reference Point

New Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe feels that he has a reference point that he can draw from that will help him to adjust to the American game in Major League Soccer, where other foreign-born managers have failed before him.

At his first official press conference, Backe, 57, pointed out he'd been working for clubs with limited resources and modest budgets, restrictions that have helped propel many foreign coaches out of MLS. At the SuperDraft, he noted another similarity between his past and present.

"I was surprised," he said. "It's a physical league with pace. OK, some teams are possession teams, like Chivas, but most of the teams are physical teams, similar to the Scandinavian teams in a way.

"I saw 20 or 30 games during the Mexico time, Interliga, SuperLiga, so I've seen a lot of MLS teams, not against each other but against the Mexican teams. I know rather well the level."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Fulham Statement On Dempsey Injury

Late Tuesday, Fulham announced the extent of the ligament injury suffered by US National Team player Clint Dempsey:

During the Blackburn Rovers fixture on Sunday 17 January, Clint Dempsey sustained moderate damage to a ligament in his right knee. Following the results of a scan, early indications are positive in that no operation is required. At this stage it is thought that the injury will not prevent him from featuring for Fulham, prior to the end of the season.

Whilst obviously disappointed, Clint is focused on his rehabilitation and will work hard, in line with medical advice, to return at the soonest opportunity.

In a separate statement, US National Team coach Bob Bradley said: “The news about Clint's injury is positive, especially given the fact that he will not require surgery. We are confident that Clint will be ready to be an important part of our team during the World Cup."