Sunday, February 28, 2010

Holden: 'Added bonus' for Bolton

Stuart Holden continues to lead the US assault on the English Premier League, joining other US stars Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Jozy Altidore in having appeared in the EPL this season.

Holden made his English Premier League debut for Bolton Wanderers in a 1-0 victory over visiting Wolves on Saturday. Afterwards, Bolton manager Owen Coyle praised the 24-year-old midfielder.

Bolton won on Zat Knight's goal -- its first in six league games -- and moved out of the relegation zone into a tie for 14th place with Sunderland. Four points separate the seven teams above last-place Portsmouth.

Holden started in Bolton's loss to Tottenham in the FA Cup on Wednesday and played well enough to justify his inclusion in the starting lineup for a second straight game. He had several chances but shot wide in the first half and had a shot stopped by Wolves goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann, his teammate on the U.S. national team, in the second half.

"I thought Stuart was great again," Coyle said. "He has a lot about him, a real hunger and a desire. He was at Sunderland as a young player and got released, went to America and took his game on. He could have stayed and played safe but he wanted to come back to England and prove himself. We will give him the platform. I am delighted how he has gone about it. He was a bundle of energy and his set-play delivery was terrific - it is an added bonus for us."

'Mental Conditioning' is Valuable Tool to Help Players Succeed in Modern-age

Trevor Moawad's name has been synonymous with sports psychology and 'mental conditioning' in soccer since his arrival at the IMG Academies - working with the United States Under-17 national team and the elite athletes at IMG.

Over the past couple of years, Moawad has been able to carve a niche in college football, having worked with the likes of Alabama and coach Nick Saban and now with Florida State University.

"I didn't have any experience with mental conditioning before meeting Trevor," Alles said. "But Nick Saban has an exceptional mind himself. He's a revolutionary guy. He thinks outside the box."

In his position as director of operations, Alles worked closely with Moawad that year. He helped facilitate Moawad's meetings with players and coaches, and he says the results were "astounding."

Moawad, the director of the IMG Performance Institute in Bradenton, would meet with select players who were identified by Saban and the Tide coaching staff, and he would report back with his evaluations as well as action plans.

"It worked, and it worked fast," Alles said. "Trevor was off the charts in knowing what it took to get this guy on board or that guy on board. He approached each guy differently, and he identified the button to push for each of them."

Alles ended up returning to his alma mater, Ohio State, after that first campaign in Tuscaloosa, but he watched Alabama closely each of the last two seasons. And he is certain that Moawad's efforts played a large role in the Tide's success.

"I think it had a lot to do with how fast it turned around," Alles said. "A lot of it is recruiting. But it's also bringing together a bunch of individuals from different programs and experiences, and getting them to think and function alike.

"I saw a lot of players on the field this past season that when I first got there, I didn't think they would still be at Alabama two or three years later, let alone be contributing on the field for a team that won the national title."

Mental conditioning has really become a key component to success in all sports, and has really become a valued resource in the game of soccer.

The Most Wanted Soccer Coach In The World

Jose Mourinho, Sir Alex Ferguson and Rafa Benitez dominate the media as the most popular coaching names and faces in world soccer, but the most wanted soccer coach in the world could set a record of sorts this summer by coaching no fewer than three national teams in the space of three months.

Grahame Jones writes about Guus Hiddink's odyssey over the past year, which has led him to high demand at the domestic and international levels.

"The interest from the Ivory Coast is real," Hiddink told the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, "but first I have to analyze the situation. Drogba asked me in the name of the players to accept the invitation."

Friday, February 26, 2010

Mellor named USL technical director

Peter Mellor, a staff coach with the United States Soccer Federation since 1992, has joined United Soccer Leagues as its first national technical director.

Mellor, will be charged with managing the technical aspects of USL’s player development programs as well as assisting USL teams in scouting, development and advancement of players. He will also establish a network of coaches throughout the USA and Canada who will work to identify top goalkeeping talent for USL teams.

“I’ve always had a great deal of respect for Peter and the success he’s had in coaching and developing players at all levels of the U.S. national team program,” USL CEO Alec Papadakis said. “Most importantly, he will be yet another valuable resource for our clubs, especially in the USL Pro divisions, as we continue to raise the bar on the level of service USL provides."

Mellor played 17 years as a goalie in England with Burnley, Fulham, Hereford United and Portsmouth and then went into coaching. He has worked for many years with young U.S. goalkeepers and assisted in the under-17 national team program.

He was one of the original coaches for the U-17 Residency Program in Bradenton, Fla., after serving as the goalkeeper coach for the nearby Tampa Bay Mutiny of Major League Soccer.

Portsmouth Going Into Administration

On a sad, but potentially momentous day for British football, Portsmouth have become the first Premier League club to enter administration

since the formation of the league in 1992. Whether the rest of the so-called “richest league in the world” – or perhaps the deepest in debt - and those who aspire to enter it take heed remains to be seen.

The decision will prompt the Premier League to issue a nine-point penalty next week, leaving Portsmouth facing almost certain relegation to the Coca-Cola Championship as they slip 16 points adrift at the foot of the league table. There may be further points penalties next season depending on the work of the administrator, Andrew Andronikou, of the accountancy firm UHY Hacker Young, in reaching agreements with creditors.

Balram Chainrai, the owner, had indicated that administration was inevitable if no new buyer was found this week, with a winding-up petition by HM Revenue & Customs over a bill of £12.1 million to be heard in the Companies Court on Monday. The official announcement came on the club website. “At 10:20am today Portsmouth Football Club was placed into administration following the filing of a notice of appointment at the High Court."

Peter Storrie, the Portsmouth chief executive, later confirmed that he would resign from the club once a new owner was found. Storrie, who negotiated some of the excessive player contracts that have brought Portsmouth to this point, had been expected to stay on albeit at a considerable reduction to his previously hefty salary – he has denied that it is £1.4 million, saying that it is around half as much. "While accepting as chief executive of Portsmouth Football Club that it was inevitable that criticism would come my way, the overall funding of the business was the responsibility of the owner. What I am not prepared to accept is the very personal level of abuse on websites, emails and local radio which I have received over the last couple of days.

"It is my intention to work with the administrator to help sell the business and I hope that will be quick as there is already interest in acquiring the club. I will also work with Avram Grant on the football side. Once the sale is complete, I will tender my notice to the new owners as set out under the terms of my contract. I find it somewhat ironic that a couple of months ago my name was being chanted by the fans at a time when I seriously considered my position at the club. Yet now, because I appear to be the last one left, they are calling for my head."

The reason for the club’s plight is simple: excessive spending on players – in transfer fees but especially wages – that could not possibly be sustained by the income generated by a medium-sized club, even with the financial assistance of the television revenue generated by the Premier League.

Avram Grant and the players are reported to be considering voluntary wage cuts aimed at preserving the jobs of some staff, but that, with respect, is a classic example of shutting the stable door well after the horse has disappeared over the horizon and shows precisely how divorced from reality it is possible for players to become.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Club vs High School Battle Looms Large in Southern California

High school soccer teams all over the country have always shared elite players with club teams.

Players often compete in club, then arrive in time for the high school season already in soccer shape, having been taught by top-notch coaches.

So high school coaches - many of them also club coaches themselves - benefit from players competing in club soccer.

But in recent years, prep coaches have been losing more elite players and are becoming increasingly disgruntled because of local soccer academies snatching the top prep players.

Nowhere has that become more apparent than in Southern California. Dave Thorpe of the Daily Breeze reports on the challenges between club and high school in So Cal.

The Los Angeles Galaxy Youth Academy, the Chivas USA Youth Academy and Pateadores OC all field multiple youth teams that compete in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy and are sprinkled with South Bay teenagers who are no longer playing for their respective high schools.

"Academies have expanded their pool of players and are bringing more kids in," Torrance varsity boys soccer coach Eric Spotts said. "It used to be the elite, now it's the elite and near-elite.

"You can't blame the kids; they think they have a shot at playing pro. And while it's a good way for colleges to recruit you, most of the kids are not so good that they are going to play pro."

The U.S. Soccer Development Academy was started in the fall of 2007. Its senior manager of communications, Neil Buethe, said each individual academy club has the option of allowing its players the opportunity to play in high school.

But this season, most academies, including the Galaxy Academy, are not allowing their players to compete for their high schools. As a result, kids are being picked to play academy soccer before they've made a major impact on their high school teams, or in some cases, before they've played any varsity soccer at all.

South Bay high school soccer teams have lost more quality players this season than ever before. Almost every team in the Bay and Pioneer leagues, some teams in the Marine League, and other schools like Bishop Montgomery and Animo have lost players to academies.

"Academies are depriving boys of the high school experience, which I think is a very important experience," Bishop Montgomery boys varsity coach Clive Hulbert said. "If you get to experience academy soccer, great, but to not let kids play high school does a disservice to the kids."

Ching Does Whatever It Takes

Brian Ching is fighting to make the US roster for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and is willing to do the little things to help make his team successful.

Ching hasn't been a consistent goal-scorer (11 goals in 44 international appearances), but US coach Bob Bradley frequently has espoused the qualities of the 31-year-old forward. Bradley did it again Wednesday night.

"Brian has qualities on the field in terms of putting himself in good positions, holding balls, bringing guys into the game," Bradley said. "He’s a player that works hard for the team. I think often he makes players around him better because of the type of honest, dirty work that he does. I thought that was clearly the case in the second half. Had some chances, the goalkeeper made some great saves, but he got himself a goal, and I thought he had a good presence."

USA 2 - El Salvador 1

Wet conditions at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium did the United States National Team no favors on Wednesday night against El Salvador. In a game where the US dominated position and chances, they couldn't get their shots to fall. El Salvador made things worse, with Rudis Corrales scoring in the 59th-minute.

The USA continued to press and create chances in the El Salvador box, finally connecting with the head of second-half substitute Brian Ching who equalized in the 75th-minute. In the second minute of stoppage time, Sacha Kljestan took the ball at the top of the penalty area, played a one-two, and scored.

“We have some things to talk about,” US coach Bob Bradley told ESPN when asked about which of these players might make the roster against Holland. “But certainly it was nice to see Brian Ching come on the field in the second-half and I thought he played well…. I thought Sacha Kljestan had a good first-half… didn’t think the second was as good for awhile, but it finished real well.”

"I feel like in the January and February camps I tried my hardest just to get back in the team," Kljestan said. "And prove to myself, prove to the teammates and prove to the coaching staff that I want to be here and deserve to be here and can be a positive for the team. I think the game against Honduras wasn’t my best but I think tonight I played a little bit better and I hope to continue to get a chance to move on and be a part of the team.”

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sparks Fly Between Mourinho and Chelsea

José Mourinho has chosen the eve of his first meeting with Chelsea since leaving Stamford Bridge 2½ years ago to launch a thinly veiled attack on his former club.

The Inter Milan coach attempted to claim all the credit for Chelsea’s development into a leading European force and accused Roman Abramovich of signing the wrong players before he took over as manager in 2004.

Any encounter between Mourinho and Abramovich tomorrow night at San Siro, where Inter play Chelsea in the first leg of their Champions League round-of-16 tie, is likely to be a frosty affair.

Mourinho’s relationship with Abramovich began to deteriorate as a result of a clash over transfer policy in January 2007. Mourinho wanted sole control and was furious when the owner prevented him from signing a centre back during the transfer window to provide cover for the injured John Terry, creating a source of conflict that resulted in the manager’s departure eight months later.

“Chelsea today is the consequence of what I built up,” Mourinho said. “They haven’t forgotten what I did for the club and how I made history. Before I arrived they bought the wrong players. I brought in Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira because I needed them for specific positions and I knew the players.”

Apparently, there is no love lost between Mourinho and current Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti. The two were rivals last season in Italy while managing against each other in Milan - Ancelotti was the manager of AC Milan while Mourinho is with cross-town rivals Inter.

It does not appear that Ancelotti appreciates Mourinho's daggers thrown through the media, or his lack of playing pedigree.

Carlo Ancelotti “I have friends outside of football. Mourinho is just a colleague who I respect. Friends? He is not my friend.”

“If Mourinho is Jesus, then I am certainly not one of his apostles.”

“Mourinho? I am not fascinated by his personality when he communicates. Sometimes he says useless things. I focus on work.”

“Is Mourinho up for my job at Milan? We’ve already found someone to replace [Alessandro] Costacurta, but if we’d known earlier, we could have found him a job. Helping the goalkeeper coach? No, he’s never played football, he wouldn’t be capable of shooting on goal.”

The #10 - Are They Being Moved Out Wide?

As tactics continue to evolve in the game, you tend to see different trends in individual and team tactics.

One trend was teams moving away from using a #10 - the creative attacking player. It was not uncommon for teams to deploy a player in that role, either as a withdrawn striker or as an attacking midfielder. He was almost like a 'designated attacking player', much in the way that baseball uses a 'designated hitter' to only participate in offense.

With the demands of the game changing, you tend to see less and less teams utilizing a player in that role that stars like Pele or Maradona made famous. With such a premium placed on the middle of the midfield in turf battles, most teams use more two-way players in those roles.

Saying that, you have seen teams in recent years deploy creative geniuses in a wider role in the field, where there is more space to be able to take players on and get into the attacking third of the field.

Ohio Wesleyan soccer coach Dr. Jay Martin weighed in recently on the idea of dangerous attacking players being moved from central roles to being played wide in the midfield.

Looking into the future, it appears Landon Donovan has been switched over to the right flank for good for both club and country. Looking at the game today to me this is where the best/most dangerous players in the world are currently playing for the most part – Ronaldo, Messi, Ribery, Schweinsteiger, Henry (at Barcelona), Steven Gerrard (for England).

Donovan’s switch is particularly intriguing because of the BIG NEWS England international Ashley Cole’s recent broken ankle and the turbulent time the 3 Lions have been going through with John Terry and Wayne Bridge. If Bridge is the first choice left back come the World Cup, how badly can Donovan expose England’s weakness in that first group game?

"The trend of putting the playmaker on the outside started a few years ago. With most teams shutting down the middle of the field, it was important to get the attacking/playmakers out wide. There is more time and space and it is hard to double team a player out wide. Ferguson was the first with Ronaldo and Bayern followed with Ribery right after.

"Donovan will find more room and more time out wide. He can serve the ball so this is a good place for him. He is playing very well in that position for Everton. His success now will give him confidence for the WC. He should do very well v Bridge – but who will be on the end of the serve?"

Monday, February 22, 2010

Is Crossing Becoming A Dying Breed?

The game of soccer has changed a lot over the past 50 years, and with that, so has the idea of crosses.

In the 1940's and 1950's, it was not uncommon that the game was based on having two pacy wingers who could get to the end line and get a cross over.

Even for most of David Beckham's career at Manchester United, he was regarded for his ability to cross the ball - both during the run of play and through set pieces.

Paul Gardner recently wrote an outstanding piece for Soccer America, where he discusses how the evolution of the game has changed the role of the cross.

In the 1940s and 1950s that was the way you played the game, you had two fast and tricky wingers who would race toward the goal line, over would come a tempting cros s and then ... just at the right moment! -- the burly center forward would come charging up, to meet the ball powerfully with a thunderbolt of a header that ripped past the goalkeeper for a breath-taking goal.

Sounds great -- and actually, I’m not exaggerating that much, things often did happen that way. The name typifying that sort of play was Tommy Lawton, who scored many a superb goal just like that. But Lawton has gone, he died in 1996, and the robust simplicity of the game he played has gone with him.

You don’t see many goals like that these days ... and yet, strange to relate, the British obsession with the cross is as strong as ever. This makes little sense to me, because I am convinced that most crosses are dealt with pretty easily by modern defenses.

A definition is required. I’m treating as a “cross” any aerial ball that is played from the flanks into the penalty area from within a distance of say 30 ya rds back from the goal line -- farther out than that, it is hardly a cross, more of a long forward ball. I’m also including corner kicks and free kicks -- provided they are played in the air.

The vast majority of the crosses it seems to me are speculative -- they are not aimed at a specific teammate, they are lofted into the penalty area in the hope that they will find a teammate. Nothing more complicated than that -- put the ball into “the mixer” and hope for the best.

So I have done some research into this matter, checking up on myself to see if I’m getting this right. Admittedly, rather primitive research, but it’s a start. I chose a couple of games from this past weekend, one from Spain (Barcelona vs. Racing Santander), one from England (Everton vs. Manchester United), and went through them looking for crosses.

The stats are admittedly slender -- observations on just two games -- but what they reveal is empha tic -- so much so, that they astounded even me -- and I was more or less ready for them.

Game (Crosses)

Crosses causing danger

Crosses resulting in goals

Barcelona 4 Racing 0 (17)

3 (17.6%)


Everton 3 Man. United 1 (63)

6 ( 9.5%)


The enormous difference between the use of crosses in the Spanish and English games is surely significant. If it be argued that the choice of Barcelona, with its intricate passing game, skews the results, I would argue that it is a fair comparison of one of Spain’s top teams against ManU, one of England’s.

There is also the stunning news that despite 80 (repeat, eighty) crosses, not one of them led to a goal being scored. Two of the goals (Dimitar Berbatov for ManU, Dan Gosling for Everton) did come from balls played into the area -- but these were ground balls, much closer to being accurate passes.

Everton and ManU used the cross 63 times, which works out pretty nearly at once per minute of actual playing time. Yet it has a zero success rate, and registers only a 1 in 10 rating on "causing danger." That makes it sound hopelessly dumb.

But, who knows, maybe the carpet bombing of aerial crosses merely makes the ground ball more effective when it comes as a sudden surprise. Could be, I suppose. Though I’m far from convinced.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Vermes Searches for New Culture in Kansas City

The Kansas City Wizards needed a shake up and a change - they hadn't advanced into the MLS Playoffs, and head coach Curt Onalfo was dismissed.

In came Peter Vermes - the former captain of the US National team, and the Wizards' technical director and interm head coach.

Vermes was named the team's full-time head coach at the conclusion of the season, and has worked hard on trying to change the culture within the locker room.

Tod Palmer of the Kansas City Star reports on Vermes' attempt at building a culture in Kansas City.

“What we’ve tried to do since day one is take a business approach to this,” he said. “I don’t mean to sound corporate, but what I mean is that we have a job to do as a team. Everybody has to understand that every time we step inside those white lines, we are there to compete and to win. That’s why we step inside those white lines. It’s not just, ‘Hey, I played a game today.’ It’s got to be that we’re focused on the result. How do we get that result?”

Developmental Academy Helps Colleges

There is no question that the US Soccer Development Academy has already made significant strides in improving the American youth player.

Nowhere else do you see those strides starting to take shape than in the college game, where youth players are coming into this level more prepared for the demands on and off the field.

Big Apple Soccer writes about how the top college coaches view the impact of the USSDA on the college game.

“I think the Academy program is still relatively young, but already I think there are some benefits,” said Gelnovatch, who won his first NCAA College Cup championship in 2009. “The standards that have been set by U.S. Soccer for these clubs are good standards, but the biggest change I have seen is in the identification process.”

With Development Academy scouts in attendance at a majority of regular season games and every game during Showcase events, players are identified and tracked more closely and consistently than in the past.

The coaching staff at Virginia takes advantage of both the Richmond Strikers and the Richmond Kickers proximity to Charlottesville. Not only does Gelnovatch keep a close eye on local talent, but he has a full slate of quality teams coming in from across the country on a weekly basis.

Gelnovatch and his staff are also among nearly 300 college coaches in attendance at every Development Academy Showcase.

“For college programs, those Showcase events make it easier to get into a four-day environment and watch all of the Academy teams,” he said. “To come out to three events a year and see all these players shouldn’t be an issue for any major program.”

Keeping a close eye on the Academy talent, Gelnovatch has definitely seen a change in the type of players coming out of the member clubs.

In 2009, the Cavaliers brought in Will Bates from the Richmond Strikers, D.C. United’s Marcus Douglas, Sean Murnane and Shane Cooke, and BW Gottschee NYC’s Ahkeel Rodney, meaning all but one freshman on the team hailed from an Academy club. On Feb. 3, three more Academy players signed National Letters of Intent to play for Virginia as they attempt to defend their national championship.

What is 'Skill' or 'Good Football'?

From the Evansville Courier Press, February 21, 2010

The comment is etched in memory —when talking with a recruiting contact about a prospect, the coach commented "he's not the most skilled player, but he works really hard."

What threw me for a loop was the perception of what "skill" was to that coach, and how different his definition was from mine. Attributes like being able to work hard and compete are harder to acquire than the ability to dribble or pass.

I mentioned in my column months ago about Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000-hour rule — how someone who is elite at his craft has honed his skills for more than 10,000 hours. It is the technique or understanding of tactics that will attract the most attention by fans, but the reality is that without "skills" like determination, commitment and work ethic, the elite athlete would never get the chance to put in those 10,000 hours.

The players who stood out to me and who I admired as an athlete were those who had mastered skills in all areas — but stood out more for their competitive and commitment-based skills.

Bryan Robson was the high-profile captain for England and Manchester United, but became an icon for his country and club because of his commitment level and ability to drive his team to victory.

Chris Mullin was regarded as one of the great shooters in collegiate and professional basketball in the past 25 years, but what attracted me to following his career were stories of him spending an entire evening in his high school gym practicing jump shots.

Even today, many of the great athletes at the highest of levels are masters of that competitive inner drive to make them the stars they are today. Champions like Kobe Bryant, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Wayne Rooney and Peyton Manning are regarded among their peers for their ability to out-work their peers — it is not a coincidence that they win more than anyone else in their respective sports.

The first criteria I use to measure how special an athlete is starts with their ability to make their teammates better and the commitment to do whatever they are asked to help their team find success.

The same fans or coaches who think that working hard is not a "skill" also probably worry more about playing "good soccer"' than about results. This 'style versus substance' debate was a hot topic in England the past several weeks, with Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill at odds. The mentality around Arsenal is that aesthetics in some ways are more important than winning titles. Wenger has been quoted in defeat with comments about how his team was the better team, despite the result. O'Neill's feeling is that the better team is always the one that ends up with victory.

Gabriele Marcotti of the London Times chipped in on this debate between the two managers.

"We are conditioned to assume that technique, passing and creativity constitute 'good' football (soccer), because those qualities are aesthetically pleasing. If that's your definition, it's pretty obvious that Arsenal plays 'good football.' Can you play 'good football' if your technique, passing and creativity are not as good as Arsenal's? I would argue that you can.

"But I'd go further than that. You can be direct and counter-attacking and still play 'good football' ... (which) has to be a means to an end, otherwise it is pointless football. 'Good football' means essentially execution. Do you have a game plan, do you execute that game plan well and does it bring results? If the answer is yes, then your football is 'good.'"

It is an idealistic view of the game to place how it looks over gaining results. Most fans of Arsenal or the Brazilian national team tend to romanticize more about how their team plays even more than how often they win. In the 2006 World Cup, Brazil was the most attractive nation, while Italy — the most organized and hard-working — went home with the championship.

The reality is that where it is fine to romanticize about these kinds of teams, the style of these teams are often difficult to emulate. Former Duke University soccer coach John Rennie would always say that "the only thing you need to play like Brazil is ... Brazilians."

Most coaches tend to see their teams with rose-colored glasses and fancy that they play "good soccer." Understanding that, it is important to know that fans tend to associate most with the players and teams that compete the hardest. Not only are these attributes that young players can replicate with hard work, but their teams tend to win more than the ones that prioritize aesthetics over victory.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Donovan Names Everton's Player of the Month

Landon Donovan has capped off the start of his loan stay with Everton by being named the club's Player of the Month for January.

The on-loan midfielder was presented with his award by Blues legend, Graeme Sharp and Kitbag representative, Victoria Schofield at a lunch in Goodison's Dixie Dean Lounge on Thursday.

The 28-year-old received the accolade due to some fine performances since his arrival from MLS side LA Galaxy at the turn of the year.

The American international was delighted to be bestowed as the acknowlegdement comes from the Club's fans.

Landon Donovan image gallery

Donovan said: "It's a privilege to receive the recognition as it comes from the supporters."

The USA record goalscorer played five times in the month of January, scoring once and on his debut assisted Leon Osman's header at the Emirates.

After accepting his award, Donovan held a signing session at the Club store Everton One at Goodison.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dempsey Should Be Back for World Cup

Fulham manager Roy Hodgson says injured American star Clint Dempsey should return to action before the end of the season, putting him ready for the World Cup.

Hodgson said Wednesday that "his progress is good and he is working very hard to recover. The medical staff are very happy with him."

Dempsey damaged his right knee in Fulham's 2-0 loss to Blackburn on Jan. 17. He was playing some of the best soccer since his arrival in the English Premier League in 2007. He had seven goals for the Cottagers this season.

Let's hope for a quick return for Clint - his health, along with the form of Landon Donovan and Jozy Altidore, will be key factors in United States' success in this summer's World Cup

Rooney takes on Roy Keane's role

Wayne Rooney seniority at Manchester United means the striker is not afraid to voice his displeasure when his teammates fail to perform. In fact, his persona in the locker room is starting to resemble former United legend Roy Keane - Rooney is willing to drive his teammates by example on the field, or with a hairdryer in the locker room.

Daniel Taylor of the Guardian reports of how Rooney is coming of age as a leader as well as a prolific goalscorer.

There are not too many footballers these days, in an era when they are trained to see nothing and say even less, who would emerge from an away win in the bear pit of San Siro to complain that some team‑mates were "not doing their jobs". A few years ago it would have been regarded as impudence but Wayne Rooney has a new seniority in Manchester United's dressing room these days and the man Corriere dello Sport acclaimed today as "the English phenomenon" could not be accused of anything other than daring to call it how it was.

His team-mates, one suspects, will not mind when Rooney is winning games for them, just as they used to put up with Roy Keane's black moods because they knew what he brought to the team and that, more often than not, his assessment of their shortcomings was justified. Not that Rooney's complaints were delivered with the whiplash of Keane's tongue, but there were times in last night's 3‑2 defeat of Milan in the Champions League when his temper glands were pricked sufficiently for a switch to flick in his head, and not just because of Nani's ability to exasperate on the right wing.

The most volcanic explosion followed an over-hit pass from Darren Fletcher and, when it comes to players not doing their jobs, there were four or five others, including the newly appointed captain of the England national team, who might have felt compelled to raise an apologetic arm during a first half that had Sir Alex Ferguson blowing out his cheeks and talking of "oh God, a catalogue of mistakes".

There is a danger to be over-critical when, ultimately, United have ensured they will go into the return leg on 10 March in a position of considerable strength and, in the process, have established a Champions League record of 16 away games unbeaten. It is a run that stretches back nearly three years and takes in Roma (twice), Barcelona, Arsenal and ­Internazionale, as well as foreign ­excursions against the champions of France, Germany and Portugal. United have scored 25 in that time and conceded only seven and it is peculiar their intrepid travels have not attracted more acclaim.

They also have a striker who is fast becoming the irresistible choice as the player of the year and who now has 25 goals for the season, having finally curtailed his natural instinct to roam around the pitch looking for the ball. "I'm getting inside the box a lot more, and that's helping me score goals," Rooney explained. "I'm anticipating balls into the box. That's the main thing I've been working on."

Lagerway Discusses MLS

Garth Lagerwey was a standout goalkeeper at Duke University, and after a career in Major League Soccer has moved on to become the general manager and senior vice-president of soccer operations of Real Salt Lake, the current MLS champions.

Garth has a unique pedigree in the sport from an on-the-field and administrative standpoint, and recently spoke to MBA Soccer to offer some insight on the book Soccernomics, Major League Soccer and inquired about the cost-effectiveness of youth academies.

MBA Soccer: In what areas do you believe Major League Soccer needs to improve to increase its audience and revenue (short- and long-term)?

Lagerwey: We need to keep building soccer-specific stadia, and we’re seeing this with the New York Red Bulls and Philadelphia Union, as both of their buildings open this season, and Kansas City just got approval to build a new stadium, which will hopefully open in 2011. Stadia are critical from a revenue generation standpoint. Nothing announces permanence like building a home. Here in Salt Lake City, the construction of Rio Tinto stadium has enabled us to do much more in the community and with our team than we could before. We can provide our fans with a genuine soccer experience in what is currently the best stadium in the US.

On the technical side of things, we need to work on our youth soccer and keep more of the best athletes playing soccer. Almost all kids play soccer growing up, but we lose athletes to other sports as they enter high school. We need to provide more development opportunities, specifically to kids in the 18 to 23 year old range, and we need to continue to develop our youth academies.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

‘Pelada’ Features Pickup Games Around the World

For the true soccer purist, “Pelada” is a tribute to those who are in constant search for pick-up games.

The move is an ode to soccer around the globe, but with a twist — the games are played far, far away from manicured fields and are bereft of highly paid players.

Instead, the film, a labor of love among the directors Rebekah Fergusson & Gwendolyn Oxenham (two former Duke University soccer players), Luke Boughen, and Ryan White, might qualify as the soccer world’s answer to man's search for the perfect pick-up game.

In “Pelada,” the four young Americans embark on a six-month odyssey to 25 different countries, playing pickup games in locales that most American tourists avoid. From a prison in Bolivia to a game with bootleggers in Kenya, from freestylers in China to women playing in the hijab in Iran.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Man Utd vs AC Milan Should Prove to be Tactical Battle

Manchester United and AC Milan have developed quite a rivalry in Europe over the past 10 years, and the 2010 edition promises to have just as much drama as in year's past.

Gone is Kaka from Milan's roster, but enter former United standout David Beckham, who tends to travel with a media circus.

Oliver Kay of the Times talks about the potential team tactics that Sir Alex Ferguson will potentially deploy for this first-leg UEFA Champions League match-up.

How will United approach the game?

I expect them to match up against Milan's three-man midfield, with Fletcher, Scholes and Michael Carrick across the centre of the park. United will try and keep things tight early on and then, depending on how the match is unfolding, attempt to hit Milan on the counter.

In contrast to 2007, Milan do not have anyone with the individual ability to terrify United. Kaka was outstanding in both legs in that year but since his departure to Real, there is just not anyone who strikes fear into the opposition. In midfield, Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo and Massimo Ambrosini are steady and very good at their jobs. Ronaldinho is dangerous, but he is a fading force, as is David Beckham and although Alexandre Pato has huge potential he is nowhere near Rooney's level just yet.

Do you expect United to push for the away goal or will they be content with 0-0?

At this stage of the competition last year, United produced one of their best performances of the season against Inter Milan and somehow only came away with a 0-0 draw. Jose Mourinho would have been slightly surprised by United's willingness to attack from the off in search of the away goal and that could well be something they attempt to do again tonight.

United tends to be at their best when they can absorb the opposition's initial pressure, and then get out quickly on the counter-attack. That would potentially set up an away match like this in United's favor if they were to choose their traditional tactics, but as we saw against Inter Milan last year, they are also quite capable of coming out and pressing on both sides of the ball.

It should prove to be a tremendous match.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Eric Harrison explains his methods

Eric Harrison has exerted a tremendous amount of influence at Manchester United. As United's youth coach, he was the off-field genius who not only supplied Alex Ferguson with a band of young players capable of sustaining the team's success post Cantona but moulded some of ­English football's brightest individuals.

The man responsible for producing David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers helped mold that group to reach successive FA Youth Cup finals in 1992 and 1993 before collecting full sets of senior medals after bursting into Ferguson's first team.

Louise Taylor of the Guardian reports on Harrison's methods of developing young players.

It was tough love but Harrison's man management was far from one-dimensional. In an important departure from convention he devoted several hours a week to talking to each boy individually. Moreover, at a time when some increasingly regimented coaches frowned on self-expression, he actively encouraged on-pitch improvisation.

"Youth coaching is 10% about kicks up the backsides and 90% about arms round the shoulders," he said. "You have to let boys use their imaginations and relax. You can't play good football if you're tense – but you can be relaxed and hard-working.

"We worked hard on team play. Some youth coaches don't do it but I was preparing them for Manchester United's first team and they needed to learn football wasn't all about glory on the ball."

"The group became so close and had such strong telepathy Sir Alex and I decided to keep them together playing Under-18 football for an extra year. We wanted to really bond them – and eventually they went virtually straight into the first team having played very few reserve games.

"They had unbelievable desire, fed off each other's energy and were all totally dedicated. Not one of them ever got into trouble with drink, drugs or anything. To get such magnificent players together at the same time was incredible. Coaching them was fantastically exciting."

Saturday, February 13, 2010

US Soccer Development Academy - Changing the Face of US Soccer

The US Soccer Federation changed the face of youth soccer in our country when they created the US Soccer Development Academy.

Many (including myself) will tell you that it has changed youth soccer in our country for the better, although there are still some critics, too.

3 FOUR 3 referenced the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Development Academy-

The Academy is a step in the right direction. There is a laundry list of things that are correct – many of which have been mentioned within the soccer community.

The Good

* A unified national league.
* Virtually year-round.
* Extra day of training.
* Level competition.
* MLS teams involved.
* Better logistics for scouts.
* Phasing out of high-school.
* Abolishing crazy tournament schedules.
* Training is taken more seriously.
* … and other things

The Bad (but fixable with time)

* Pay-to-play persists which filters out a HUGE number of talent from the pool.
* Club interests are not aligned with “development”. There’s no incentive to “develop” a player.
* No clear accountability metric(s) that are aligned with “development”.
* … and other things

The Ugly

The ugly, and unrecognized, monster which will keep the spirit of the Academy from fulfilling it’s promise is coaching. First, let’s be clear what development at the U-16 & U-18 level is all about – Soccer IQ.

It’s not about improving technique. If by U-16 a player does not have great quality on the ball, there’s nothing a coach can do. It’s up to the individual to spend hours upon hours, 7 days a week to catch up to his peers. It’s also not about the list of good things above. Those things only provide an improved infrastructure.

Developing a player at this age is all about programming his computer. Tactical structure, positional roles, correct decision-making, and vision. These are the things that develop you, and this is where 9 out of 10 coaches in this country fall flat on their face! This is the nationwide crisis at all levels.

If the coaches themselves don’t have a developed Soccer IQ, how are they supposed to give proper instruction? And of the small minority who might actually have it, they also need to be a capable teacher/trainer to transmit whatever understanding they have.

Without the right teachers, you will never get developed players.