Sunday, October 31, 2010

Big Names Being Chased By Toronto FC

Who are the top candidates to fill the vacant Toronto FC head coaching job in MLS?

Gerry Dobson handicaps the field, with some big names being thrown about by the Canadian media-

Some big names are believed to be interested in the vacant Toronto FC coaching job.

By now you're aware that when MLSE said they would be after a big name with a significant pedigree in the sport to run Toronto FC, they meant none other than Juergen Klinsmann.

They'll soon make official what has been in the making for a couple of weeks now. Klinsmann is, indeed, their man.

It's unclear exactly what his title will be, but make no mistake, the reality is Klinsmann will be in total command. He'll run everything from the top, right on down to the academy.

The fact that he won't be relocating to Toronto is irrelevant. If you've ever visited Newport Beach, Cal., you'd have an understanding of why Klinsmann's staying put. The place is gorgeous. But seriously, the fact is he'll make all the decisions that matter. Everything else, Klinsmann will leave in the hands of the man (or men) he hires to run the day-to-day stuff. At this point, that's unclear as well. Klinsmann may well appoint a single overseer below him to act as general manager and head coach.

MLSE overseer Tom Anselmi has been telling everyone that applications have been coming in from everywhere. Believe him. We know for a fact that there has been contact with the following people.

* Roberto Donadoni -- The former Italian manager last coached Serie A side Napoli before being fired just over a year ago. He was also dismissed as head coach of Italy the year before. As a player, he was a star for AC Milan before playing a couple of seasons with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars of MLS in 96 and 97. He's the frontrunner.

* Franco Baresi. Another Italian who toiled for 20 years with AC Milan and had some wonderful moments with Italy as well. His managerial resume is short and spotty. Likely a longshot.

* Carlos Queiroz. The Portuguese manager is best known for being Sir Alex Ferguson's No. 2 on two different occasions, but he also ran Real Madrid and Portugal before being fired from his country in September. It's also forgotten by many that Queiroz coached the MetroStars in 1996. Word is, Queiroz made the initial call to Toronto FC.

* Iain Dowie. A long-time player for various clubs at different levels in England. He has also enjoyed several managing positions in recent years around England, but has never managed to stick anywhere for any significant time. He's currently without a club. Another longshot.

These are only a few that we know of. But we keep hearing Donadoni's name over and over.

Another thing to make clear is this: Earl Cochrane, Jim Brennan and Nick Dasovic are going nowhere. No matter what Klinsmann does, MLSE believes strongly in the future of that trio. While none of them are in line for immediate promotion, their places are secure under the Klinsmann regime.

Academy vs. High School

More and more high school-aged players are forfeiting the opportunity to represent their high school teams in order to train on a year-round basis with their US Soccer Development Academy team.

Jackie Friedman of the Star Ledger writes about top high school players in New Jersey who are playing for their Red Bull Academy team opposed to their high school teams.

“I definitely love the tradition of high school soccer because it’s so much fun, but you really gain your skill and keep improving when you’re playing academy,” said Ehrenworth, who earned a scholarship to play at West Virginia University next fall. “At Red Bull, we’re fighting for a starting job every single practice. You can’t afford to make any mistakes; you’re going all-out every day against the best players.”

Predictably, high school coaches fear the proliferation of academy programs will hurt their sport, dilute the overall quality of play and have other long-term effects.

“It’s taken away something I feel is important to a lot of kids’ lives,” said John Nacarlo, the boys soccer coach at Holmdel. “When you’re growing up, playing for your high school should be a big deal.

“It’s not anymore. And it’s definitely going to get worse.”

Friday, October 29, 2010

Guardiola to succeed Ferguson at Manchester United?

Reports for years have come out about both a Sir Alex Ferguson imminent retirement, and a list of potential candidates as his successor.

The Mirror reports that Barcelona boss Josep Guardiola is being lined up as Sir Alex's successor at Manchester United, and how Ferguson has recommended Guardiola because of his style of play.

Guardiola, 39, is believed to have a strained relationship with Barcelona's new president Sandro Rossell and the ex-Spanish international's contract expires next summer.

Guardiola's agent Jose Maria Orobigt says there has been contact from a top European club as United look for a long term successor for 68-year-old Ferguson.

Jose Mourinho has often been tipped as the next Old Trafford boss but if United could land Guardiola it would be seen as a huge coup and would help pacify supporters after Ferguson's departure.

Mike Walters writes in his blog about why 'Pep' would be an ideal and inspired choice to replace Sir Alex.

And sooner or later, Manchester United will have to grasp the nettle and find a long-term successor for Sir Alex Ferguson. The old Govan growler had second thoughts after he was tempted by the pipe and slippers eight years ago, but at 68 the search has intensified again, and smoke signals emanating from Spain suggest Barcelona's Pep Guardiola is the man in pole position - recommended by Fergie himself.

He would be a good choice, if only because - in the worst case scenario - Guardiola would be expendable if his inheritance from Fergie turned out to be a poisoned chalice. A battalion of United legends, including Mark Hughes, Steve Bruce and Roy Keane, were revered at Old Trafford as players - but their reputations would be tarnished if they returned to the club as Ferguson's immediate successor and found him an impossible act to follow.

When Sir Matt Busby stepped down, Wilf McGuinness and Frank O'Farrell never stood a chance of emulating the United godfather's triumphs. Not a prayer. It was almost as if United's nosedive, culminating in reluctant executioner Denis Law rubber-stamping their relegation in 1974, was a necessary evil so that Tommy Docherty, Ron Atkinson and Sir Alex could restore the club's fortunes.

On that basis, Guardiola would be an inspired appointment. If he makes a hash of it, United fans will not be forced to loosen or sever emotional ties with a favourite son; but if he brings the same brand of slick, pass-and-move football which has turned Barcelona into market leaders worldwide, he will fit like Cinderella's glass slipper.

As a player, Guardiola was an aristocrat, a product of Barcelona's La Masia nursery - the dream factory which churned out Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi - so his pedigree is not an issue.

Even as Barca were passing United to death at the Champions League final 17 months ago, Ferguson recognised a kindred spirit in the way Guardiola's team played the game: an accent on flair rather than suffocation, a commitment to attack rather than absorbing pressure and stealing points with the stealth of pickpockets, entertainment rather than clinical efficiency.

Those are the principles which sets Guardiola apart from Jose Mourinho, now his rival across the Gran Classico divide at Real Madrid.

And Guardiola's relationship with new Barcelona president Sandro Rossell is said to be strained after Mourinho stole a march on Barcelona in La Liga.

If there is a parting of the ways at the Nou Camp, there are worse candidates to succeed Ferguson than Spanish football's king of the Pep-talk. Watch this space.

Larentowicz steadies Colorado midfield

Jeff Larentowicz has been the difference maker in the Colorado Rapids midfield, as well as in their locker room.

Ridge Mahoney of Soccer America writes of how every successful team needs a player like Larentowicz as their anchor.

“I left New England after playing with
Shalrie [Joseph] for so long, and it was always his team and his midfield,” says Larentowicz. “I was just there to pick up scraps. Pablo and Shalrie are comparable in terms of their experience and their dominance on the field.

“When I got here I just observed Pablo, watched him play, and found my spot. There wasn’t a lot of conversation about how we were going to play or what we were going to do, it was just kind of innate. I just sat back, watched him, and found the gaps and the holes where I needed to be.”

At 27, Larentowicz is seven years younger than Mastroeni and can cover a lot of ground as the former U.S. international tries to bolster the attack. Yet they share offensive and defensive duties, and by scoring four goals Larentowicz doubled the output of Mastroeni, who also registered three assists.

Gary Smith needed Larentowicz to toughen up what he perceived to be a rather benign central midfield, and also to bring along a track record of success.

“Jeff was out of contract in New England and most teams were aware that Jeff was available,” says Smith. “He’d been one of their most consistent players and was somebody I felt would be a huge addition, not only on the field with the role that he plays, but also as a character in the locker room.

“He’s one of those players -- and you need as many of them as you can get – that when you write in your team, if you can get seven out of 10 regularly, you’re not doing too bad. Once we knew he was available it was a question of getting the right deal, and getting together with Jeff and his agent to work out a contract so he could re-sign with MLS. Fortunately, we were able to do both.”

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fear of Losing Motivates Kinnear

The last time Dominic Kinnear did not participate in the MLS post-season as a player or a coach was in 1998. Kinnear was a player then, a former US National Team player (54 appearances).

For someone who has known nothing but success in Major League Soccer, missing the playoffs for the first time in 12 years did not sink in for Houston Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear until he was driving to Robertson Stadium for his team's regular-season finale on Saturday.

Michael Lewis writes of the long, tough season for Kinnear and the Dynamo. Kinnear talks about his own competitive spirit, and how the fear of losing motivates the very successful coach of the Houston Dynamo.

"We knew it was the last game of the year," he said. "But when you look back at the last four years, our last game of the year would have been the Western Conference final, a playoff defeat,, or winning two cups. So driving to the stadium didn't have the same sense of butterflies and nerves it has in the past years. So, it's a new experience all around."

To many fans today, the 43-year-old Kinnear is better known as the coach who guided the Dynamo to back-to-back MLS Cup titles in 2006 and 2007. He also was an assistant coach on two San Jose Earthquakes championship sides in 2001 and 2003. So, not playing in late October and November certainly is foreign territory. The Dynamo (9-15-6, 33 points) finished in 7th-place in the Western Conference.

"It was very difficult," Kinnear said earlier this week. "When you look back at one point we were 5-4-1. The first third of the season went good. The middle third was really difficult. As any coach will tell you if you lose more games than you win, the season's difficult already with challenges. It was definitely a rough season."

Still, the first day of the off-season did not mean vacation time. Kinnear went to the Brazilian consulate in Houston to obtain a visa. He plans to take a scouting trip to Brazil. He also met with the Dynamo team administrator to go over some pre-season trips in 2011. Kinnear said the Dynamo will begin its player-coach exit meetings on Thursday.

Kinnear realized it was going to be tough going after US internationals Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark decided to pursue careers in Europe and Wade Barrett retired to become an assistant coach. Add defender Geoff Cameron's knee injury that kept him out of half the season and Brian Ching's recurring knee problems and you had a recipe for a long, long season.

For Kinnear, the season simply "didn't go as expected. Even looking at the locker room on the last day of the year, I thought I had the squad to make a push for MLS Cup. I think if we would start the season all over again with the same group of guys, I think it would go different. With Ricardo and Stuart and Wade Barrett, it was a little bit much. Obviously, with Geoff Cameron going down early in the season that didn't help us out…. We didn't have a lot of opportunities to get ourselves back into the playoff race. In the end, we didn't."

Houston started looking toward 2011 when the Dynamo traded midfielder Brian Mullan to the Colorado Rapids for midfielder Colin Clark and allocation money on September 15th.

"That was an idea for 2011," he said. "After that the consideration was to try to get to the playoffs. I wanted my full attention to be on the games because you want to win as many games as possible and if you start something else and your record is worse than what it could be and it makes you feel worse then you already do. I'll take a couple of days, after these exit meetings and after the expansion draft, we'll know what we need to do."

After failing to reach the post season, Kinnear won't be fired. Let's face it. He certainly has accrued enough coaching capital from his previous accomplishments to continue on. But Kinnear also realizes memories fade quite quickly in professional sports. It's not about what you have done then, but what you have achieved today.

"I feel fine," he said. "I'll be honest with you. I worry about my job every day. Backing or not, I understand professional sports. If it was all based on past success, then nobody would really lose their position. The management from all accounts are behind me. Like I said, I worry not because I've won or whatever else - and this year has not gone well. Even when we're winning, I still worry about my job all the time. Once you rest and think you're there, then you lose your desire to win and to compete.”

"That's really a fear for me,” he continued. “I'm afraid of losing. I think that's what drives every competitive person. Everyone loves to win. Everyone loves it and enjoys winning. If you've really, really fearful of losing and you're scorn for losing is there, I think that's what drives you."

As for picking an MLS Cup champion, Kinnear did not make any predictions as to which team will parade around with the Philip F. Anschutz trophy at BMO Field on November 22nd.

"I'm staying out of that one," he said. "It is as even a group as we have seen. That's what I can say. Look how early the playoffs were pretty much secured. It was kind of jockeying for position. The point gap between the last playoff team shows you that these teams can put a run of results together. A lot of it is built on defensive statistics and that's what makes everything even.

"Even if you look at San Jose, San Jose may have or tied their shutout record for the Earthquakes/Clash. Everything that they've won, which points to Chris Wondolowski's goal-scoring, which is incredible this year. But i think their team defending has really put them in a position as to where they are."

Wondo has enjoyed an incredible season, capturing the MLS Golden Boot with 18 goals. When he was with the Dynamo (and the 2005 Earthquakes), the 27-year-old has scored four goals in 39 games. Wondolowski, who was traded to the Quakes for Cam Weaver last year, didn't play regularly, but then again, he had some pretty decent goal-scorers in front of him.

Wondolowski's success hasn't surprised Kinnear, but the quality of goals he has scored is another matter.

"If you look at his history in the reserve league, he was up there," he said. "When he was here. and we had Brian Ching and Dwanye DeRosario and others, but Wondo was the best finisher in training. He has good balance. He's got good two feet. He's always moving. Therefore the ball finds him, but I think he is on a path to find the ball just by his movement.”

"Surprising? Yes, when I watch some of the goals he scored this year. He's humble, got a great disposition. Everyone knows him is happy that he's done so well this year. He has raised some eyebrows, even the guys who know him the best. I think we all can say, 'Why is Chris scoring so many goals?' You can say, the guy is a great finisher. If you give him opportunities, he can score some goals this year.

"He doesn't need a handful of chances to score a goal. He needs maybe two or maybe three. He hits the target so often in practice. I'm not surprised that he's scoring goals, Look at the chances he has been given. Some of the goals, look at DC a couple of weeks back, a one-time ball was a pretty spectacular goal. He's on a bit of a roll right now. He's on a hot streak or in zone. He's finding himself in good positions. He's not rattled. He's confident."

Long list of coaching candidates for Chivas USA

The dismissal by Chivas USA of Martin Vasquez has left the door open for a number of potential candidates to be the manager of the Goats.

Scott French looks over the list of candidates for Chivas USA.

Looking for potential candidates? There are, at least on the surface, hundreds of them. No, thousands. Which are viable and which are not depends on how much Chivas wants to spend -- both on a coach and on players -- and how wide a net Hamilton and the club's "soccer committee" choose to cast. Some possibilities:

The biggest, at least in local circles, is German legend Juergen Klinsmann, one of the premier strikers of his (or any) generation -- and an innovative coach who took an unfancied Germany side to the 2006 World Cup semifinals, ran into problems at tradition-minded Bayern Munich (where Vasquez was among his assistants) and twice broke off talks with U.S. Soccer about taking the reigns of our national team, both times over control issues.

Klinsmann lives in Huntington Beach, is between coaching jobs, and is familiar with MLS through his years in the U.S. and history with the Galaxy, for which he served as consultant during
Sigi Schmid's reign. He might find the opportunity to build with Chivas most attractive: the club's anti-corporate style stands in stark contrast to their neighbors down the hall, and it wouldn't surprise us if he and President/CEO Shawn Hunter got along famously.

Bora Milutinovic, who has guided five countries at the World Cup (including the U.S., in 1994) and had one dismal stint in charge of the MetroStars (now the Red Bulls) in the late '90s. The Serbian with Mexican roots still has a home in Laguna Niguel.

Who else? Any guess is as good as any other, and none of them are very good at all. The "big" names aren't in the U.S., and they're not coming to L.A. for the kind of money Chivas will offer -- nor the headaches working with MLS's roster rules will bring.

There are plenty of coaches out there who have worked in MLS, including at least two former Chivas USA coaches (Thomas Rongen, now the U.S. under-20 national team boss; and Preki, who was dismissed in mid-September as Toronto FC's coach, the job he took after parting ways with the Goats after last season). There's former Galaxy and U.S./Costa Rica national teams coach Steve Sampson, who we understand lobbied hard for the job before Vasquez was hired.

The best option might be Kansas City Wizards assistant coach
Octavio Zambrano, who was the Galaxy's head coach in 1997-99 and in charge of the MetroStars in 2000-02. He subsequently coached in Moldova and Hungary and joined the Wizards' staff last year.

And what about
Dave Sarachan, the Galaxy's associate head coach? He won two U.S. Open Cups and reached two MLS Cup finals in 5½ seasons as Chicago Fire coach, but he's a good foil for Bruce Arena, whom he previously assisted at the University of Virginia, with D.C. United and with the U.S. national team.

A very interesting pool of possibilities here, and we'll focus on three: Jesse Marsch, Mike Sorber and Eric Wynalda.

The Princeton-educated Marsch, Chivas' on-field leader until he retired after last season to join former Chivas USA coach Bob Bradley's U.S. national team staff, knows the club's culture and played a huge role in setting the standards the Goats failed to meet this year. But he's short on coaching experience and might be a better assistant-coach hire.

Sorber, a U.S. assistant under Bradley since May 2007, is a coaching star in the making. He came out of nowhere to start in central midfield for the 1994 World Cup team, then played in Mexico (with Pumas UNAM) and in MLS (for Kansas City, the MetroStars, New England and Chicago). Sorber's dad is a legendary junior college coach in St. Louis, and the assumption has been Sorber will take the job at Saint Louis University, his alma mater, when he's ready to do so.

Drinking Culture Hard to Swallow

In a day and age where the science of sport has led coaches at all levels to look hard at the diet and lifestyles of our players away from the field, the popular feeling around the English Premier League is that most of their domestic players are still caught in a bit of a time warp.

Roy Keane was eventually dismissed from the Republic of Ireland team for complaints about the poor culture around their team's prep for the 2002 World Cup, ranging from a variety of topics including quality of training, training facilities, and poor food and drink options for their players.

Roberto Mancini has much work to do to eradicate the drinking culture at Manchester City after four of his stars' boozy night out.

Despite Mancini's pleas to England pair Joe Hart and Adam Johnson to behave, the pair were pictured downing shots and beers along with Gareth Barry and Shay Given at a party in Scotland.

The four were photographed letting their hair down in the early hours of Tuesday morning during a two-day golf break at St Andrews.

Hart, Johnson, Barry and Given are said to have come from a nightclub to the party in a student house at 1am before leaving 90 minutes later.

"It is better to go with a woman than a drink. It is better. That is what I did when I was a player.

"In Italy the players don't have this culture to drink after the game. It is so different, but I understand it is part of the English culture and it is not easy to change.

"Adam Johnson and Joe Hart are young, they are playing in the national team and they must change. It's very frustrating for me to see this behaviour because I don't understand it.

"I don't understand why a player must drink after a game. OK, maybe one drink is OK. But three, four, five, six - drinking until they are drunk - this is not good."

Chivas USA dumps Vazquez

Just four days after it concluded its MLS season, Soccer America reports that Chivas USA fired head coach Martin Vasquez. The former U.S. and Mexico international lasted one season during which Chivas USA finished last in the Western Conference with an 8-18-4 record.

Vazquez returned to Chivas USA following the dismissal of Preki after last year's playoffs but he could not maintain the club's postseason record of reaching the final eight every year after its 2005 expansion season.

The 2010 season ended Saturday with a 4-1 loss at home to Chicago.

Vasquez previously served as an assistant coach at the club from 2005-2007. In 2008-09, he was an assistant to Juergen Klinsmann at Bayern Munich in Germany.

“This was a difficult decision for our organization to make,” said Chivas USA Vice President of Soccer Operations Stephen Hamilton in a statement. “Everyone at Chivas USA has a great deal of respect for Martin, both as a person and a coach. Unfortunately, after this difficult season came to a close, we decided to move in a different direction. We all wish Martin the very best in the future.”

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Culture Shock for James at Bristol City

Goalkeeper David James holds the all-time record for English Premier League appearances and shutouts and played more than 50 times for England, including three games at the 2010 World Cup. In his column for the Guardian, James details some of the differences between life in the EPL and the Championship League (second division), in which he plays for Bristol City.

"Even basic moves cause problems. I like to throw the ball out quickly, but my automatic thought of rapid attack sometimes needs suppressing because in this league the players are more used to keepers hoofing it up the other end."

James says his not criticizing the players, but when it comes to the ball: "It's horrible, it's like kicking a shot put around! It definitely has a detrimental effect on the way the game is played and that can't be good for a league competing for attention with the top flight."

Then there's the shoes: "In the Premier League you want for nothing. Players have 15 pairs of boots, goalkeepers have 15 pairs of gloves. Turn up for training and your boots are clean, everything is done for you. .... At Bristol. You bring your own boots in, and you've got to clean them yourself. I slipped up last Saturday because I forgot my boots – luckily I managed to find a box with a few spares, but the only pair in my size were covered in mould. So it was a quick scrub in the sink and then off I went. At times it feels like I've come full circle in my career."

FIFA World Coach of the Year - candidates

As the 2010 calendar year comes to a close, ballots are being sent out to award the World Player of the Year and World Coach of the Year by FIFA.

The following 10 coaches are in contention for the new FIFA Coach of the Year award for men's soccer:

FIFA World Coach of the Year-Men's Soccer 2010:
Carlo Ancelotti (Italy/ Chelsea)
Vicente del Bosque (Spain/Spain national team)
Alex Ferguson (Scotland/Manchester United)
Pep Guardiola (Spain/Barcelona)
Joachim Loew (Germany/Germany national team)
Jose Mourinho (Portugal/Inter Milan and Real Madrid)
Oscar Tabarez (Uruguay/Uruguay national team)
Louis Van Gaal (Netherlands, Bayern Munich)
Bert Van Marwijk (Netherlands/Netherlands national team)
Arsene Wenger (France/Arsenal)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

D.C. United will not consider Olsen for full-time position

D.C. United interim coach Ben Olsen will not be considered for the full-time position because of his inexperience, club president Kevin Payne said Monday.

"I don't think he is ready," Payne said. "It's been a great learning experience for Ben and I am sure he will learn a great deal over the next couple of years. I fully expect Ben will be our head coach someday."

Olsen, who retired as a player last winter and became an assistant coach, was asked to oversee the club after Curt Onalfo's dismissal in August. Initially reluctant to accept the position, Olsen grew more confident in the role and began expressing the desire to remain in charge.

Although Payne said from the outset that Olsen was too inexperienced to be considered beyond this year, Olsen said he had "hoped he would change his mind.

"I am a competitive guy, and when you get to sit in the big office, you want to stay in it."

Attendance & Interest Continues to Grow in MLS

Major League Soccer continues to grow as a major professional sports entity here in the United States, and if you don't believe me, the truth is in the attendance figures.

Average attendance for the 2010 regular season, with Seattle on top for the second straight season, was the highest since 2007 and the third highest in league history.

League newcomer Philadelphia had the fourth highest average with 19,254. Among the 15 returning teams, all but six had an increase from 2009.


Club (2010 Rank)

2010 Home

2009 Home
Average (Final)

Seattle (1) 36,173 30,897
+5,276 (+17%)
Los Angeles (2) 21,437 20,416 +1,021 (+5%)
Toronto FC (3) 20,453 20,344 -109 (-0.5%)
Philadelphia (4) 19,254
New York (5) 18,441 12,490 +5.951 (+47%)
Houston (6)
17,047 +263 (+1%)
Real Salt Lake (7) 17,095 16,375 +720 (+4%)
Chicago (8)
14,688 +1,126 (+8%)
Columbus (9)
14,446 +196 (+1%)
Chivas USA (10)
15,091 -515 (-3%)
D.C. United (11)
16,088 -1,556 (-13%)
Colorado (12)
12,330 +999 (+8%)
New England (13)
13,731 -744 (-5%)
FC Dallas (14)
12,440 -1,625 (-13%)
Kansas City (15)
10,053 +234 (+2%)
San Jose (16) 9,659
14,114 -4,455 (-32%)
16,037 +638 (+4%)

MLS Playoffs - Handicapping the Field

With the MLS Playoffs around the corner, Ridge Mahoney of Soccer America handicaps the field of contenders for the MLS Cup-

Each MLS team is ranked by its odds to win MLS Cup, given the teams' performances this season and their grouping in the playoff brackets. If all eight teams had an equal chance, each would be ranked at 7-1 (one chance in eight, 12.5 percent).

1. Real Salt Lake (4-1).
RSL set a league mark by conceding only 20 goals and tied the league record for fewest losses (four). It has added depth and a very dangerous goalscorer, Alvaro Saborio, to last year’s championship group, and is also hardened by qualification for the Concacaf Champions’ League quarterfinals. If not worn out from an arduous schedule, RSL should get back to the final.

2. Los Angeles (5-1). The Galaxy blew through the first half of the season so impressively that hysteria erupted when the results cooled off a bit. The 2010 team is younger and faster than the 2009 squad that fell a PK short of the title, and would host RSL if both reach the conference final. Landon Donovan, Edson Buddle and David Beckham get most of the headlines yet this has been a very good year for the other Donovan, as in goalkeeper Ricketts.

3. New York (6-1). Yes, it has three DPs, but Juan Pablo Angel is 35 and Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez have yet to start together in four consecutive games, which the postseason demands. The form of Joel Lindpere, Dane Richards, Bouna Coundoul and Carlos Mendes -- and how well rookies Tim Ream and Tony Tchani handle playoff pressure -- may determine the Red Bulls’ fate.

4. FC Dallas (8-1).
Losing the final two regular-season games doubled the number of defeats this season to four; still the defense is solid and David Ferreira is one of the league’s best game-breakers. But several starters are still rounding back into form after injury layoffs, an especially important factor in the case of keeper Kevin Hartman.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Malcolm Allison

In the 70's and 80's, Malcolm Allison was regarded as one of the greatest characters the game of soccer in England has ever seen. Big Mal, as he was known, was one of the most flamboyant and creative soccer coaches of all time.

Tony Waiters writes of the legend of Malcolm Allison, who passed away last week.

In the 50's, the great Hungarian national soccer team gave the England team a tough lesson by beating them on home soil 6 to 3 for the first-ever home defeat for England. They added insult to injury a few month's later by defeating England again, this time 7:1, in Budapest.

In my formative years as a coach there were two books that became my coaching Bibles.

One was called: "Soccer for Thinkers" by Malcolm Allison. I must've read it a dozen times.

The other was called "Coaching Tactics and Techniques" by Arpad Csanadi, a Hungarian Master Coach, and a product of Hungary's soccer of the 1950's. His missive was in three volumes. Of course, I did not read those three volumes a dozen times, but continually returned to Csanadi's books for expert guidance.

As it happened, in the late 60's I was dispatched by the English Football Association to Hungary for a month to study their coaching and training methods. While I was there I was able to spend some time with Arpad, who by then was the Minister of Sport for his country.

Arpad and I played tennis at the National Stadium (the famous Nep Stadium) where I was able to win back some pride for England by defeating him in three sets. But the best part of the day came after we had played. We ate and drank wine that I was able to find out so much more about that great era of Hungarian soccer of the 50's.

On my return to England, one of my tasks was to address the professional trainers and coaches course at Lilleshall, the national soccer center, including a practical session on the field, to show the training and coaching methods that were presently being employed in Hungary. Malcolm Allison was an attendee.

After my session we had the rest of the afternoon off. It was a beautiful summer's day and Malcolm invited me to sit with him under a large oak tree within the hall's quadrangle. For two hours he interrogated me. He wanted to know everything I could tell him about what they were doing in Hungary.

Later that week, Alan Wade, the Director of Coaching for the Football Association, was called back to London. He should have been doing the afternoon training session. Instead, the staff were delegated the task of filling in. As we were all relatively inexperienced coaches among the crème-de-la-crème of the English pro soccer, we wisely invited Malcolm to join our team.

Malcolm said he would do a session based on attacking play down the flanks. As we sat there in the Lilleshall staff room, we all started scribbling furiously to work out our session plans.

Malcolm pulled over a napkin, scribbled three or four things down, put it in his pocket and that was it. 2-minutes - tops!

The rest of us were sweating it out because these were the top managers and coaches from the top English clubs and we were doing the presenting.

Among those present were the coaching staff of Liverpool Football Club, including the great Bill Shankly. As a result of the session I did, I was later offered a job at the Anfield. But that is for another Boot Room.

Fast forward two years and I had spent the best part of two seasons at Liverpool. as the Youth Coach. But I made the decision to leave the coaching staff at Liverpool FC - a very hard decision - to return to playing.

I could see life closing in if I was to continue on to become the manager coach of a pro club. I wasn't quite ready for that.

My first phone call was to Malcolm Allison. Would he consider me coming back to play for Manchester City where he was doing such an impressive coaching job in partnership with the great Joe Mercer?

malcolm_2We got close, but it was not to be and I ended up going to Burnley Football Club. Guess what was the very first game of the season? Liverpool FC. What else? And I was back in the top division again. Playing for Liverpool was Steve Heighway, who I had signed from amateur team, Skelmersdale United, a few months earlier (that will be another Boot Room).

I've written before about Joe Mercer. The Mercer/Allison coaching combination may well have been the most exciting era in successful attacking play in English soccer. Both Mercer and Allison were incredible brains in the game.

This year there is another book due to be published about the Joe Mercer/Malcolm Allison partnership that is to be called, "The Best of Enemies." It'll give a fascinating insight to that outstanding Manchester City team of the 70s.

So call this Boot Room, Malcolm Allison #1. There are many more stories, that I had the privilege of being close to, that highlight the larger-than-life, Big Mal.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Breaking Down the MLS Playoff Teams

With the 2010 MLS playoffs upon us, Steve Davis takes a look at the tactics used by the top seeded teams.

Let's take a look at the four seeded teams — those that will finish first and second in their respective conferences. Next week we'll handle the rest.

Hint: The 4-4-2 will dominate the postseason, with two slight dissenters.

LA Galaxy: Personnel options aplenty

As far back as a decade ago, some soccer insiders began regarding the diamond-shaped midfield as passé. Never mind that Dominic Kinnear won two league titles using a midfield diamond, and that Real Salt Lake won using a diamond as the basic shape (even if it was just a loose starting point for Jason Kreis’ side).

Galaxy manager Bruce Arena loves his diamond, too. In his case, the basic shape is less predictable because he has abundant options. David Beckham has mostly played along the right but also in the middle. Brazilian midfielder Juninho has generally been on top of the diamond, but lined up once as a defensive anchor.

And there’s the weekly Landon Donovan decision: Where to station MLS’ reigning MVP? Last weekend it was as a withdrawn striker, tucked in behind Edson Buddle. But he’s mostly been a wide midfielder this year.

If a looming first-round matchup with Seattle comes true, would Donovan still be on the outside, where he would have to spend significant energy chasing the Sounders’ fleet wingers?

Who Says the MLS Isn't a Big Draw?

With the Major League Soccer regular season winding down this weekend, David Biderman of the Wall Street Journal asks this question of this country's sports fans: Please stop saying nobody in the U.S. cares about soccer.

Half of the league's teams are averaging more than 15,000 fans per match, and while that's not astronomical—the NFL's lowest-drawing teams get 40,000-plus—it actually puts the league in the same conversation with a handful of NBA teams, who start their own regular seasons next week. Thirteen of the 16 MLS teams are based in the same area as NBA teams and five of them are outdrawing what their basketball counterparts did in 2009-10, including the Houston Dynamo (16,832) besting the Houston Rockets (16,528) and the New York Red Bulls (18,625) drawing 42% more fans than the New Jersey Nets (13,103).

As impressive as these numbers may be, it would be silly to assume that soccer has knocked off the NBA. MLS teams charge a fraction of what NBA teams do for tickets. Moreover, some NBA teams can't draw more fans because they don't have any more tickets to sell. While the Los Angeles Galaxy average 11.5% more fans per game than the Lakers, the Galaxy are only at 80% capacity. The Lakers are sold out.

FIFA will look again at goal-line tech

Goal-line technology has moved a significant step closer after the International FA Board today agreed to re-examine the issue.

IFAB's business meeting in Wales ended with members - made up of FIFA and the four British home associations - agreeing to look again just seven months after the game's law-making body ruled it out.

A statement said: 'The technology would apply solely to the goal line, and only to determine whether a goal has been scored or not.

'The system must be accurate; the indication of whether a goal has been scored must be immediate and automatically confirmed within one second; the indication of whether a goal has been scored will only be communicated to the match officials.'

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Look At What Made Brian McBride 'THE American Striker'

As Brian McBride retires from the game, we have to take a look back at what made him the most accomplished striker in US national team history.

It doesn't get more All-American than Brian McBride.

He grew up in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights and played for Buffalo Grove High School. He played four years at Saint Louis University (and graduated), the home of American soccer during the dark days of the 1960s, and was the first pick in the inaugural MLS draft.

There was no foreign upbringing, no foreign club, to instill him with that Olde World soccer sense. Yet somehow, he was able to score goals. Lots of them. At every level. From Columbus and
West London to Lyon, Suwon and Jeonju, McBride beat goalkeepers with unprecedented consistency for a Yank.

He fought through a bizarre array of injuries (this Chicago Tribune article has some good details) to become the first American to score in two World Cups and a hero on both sides of the Atlantic. On Saturday he'll play his final home game with the Chicago Fire, which he joined in 2008, before finishing out his illustrious career on Oct. 23 at Chivas USA.

Thirty goals for the U.S. national team, 44 in the English Premier League with Fulham and Everton and 79 in MLS with the Crew and Fire: The numbers are an indication of McBride's goal mouth mastery, and destroy any notion that Americans fundamentally lack the savvy, dedication or technique to score regularly at the pro and international level.

That's been
the concern since this summer's World Cup. McBride's goal against Mexico in 2002 marked the last World Cup tally by an American striker. There have been eight scoreless games (for forwards) since. The national team's current go-to front runner, Jozy Altidore, has managed just three goals in 2010 for club or country. The competition for a second spot is so flimsy that U.S. coach Bob Bradley is experimenting with one-striker formations (more on that, with comments from Altidore and Bradley, coming soon at FanHouse).

So when the Fire made McBride available for questions on Friday afternoon, FanHouse jumped at the chance to ask the best striker in American history why he's the legendary exception rather than the rule.

Ever humble -- "He always was for the team first and never was an attention-grabbing player. That's something you don't often get from forwards," former national team captain
Claudio Reyna said -- McBride said a forward's development was about hard work and proper training technique, and not any innate qualities that Americans don't possess.

"It's a lot of the confidence side of things. A lot of repetition," he said.

"Trainings are pretty short in Europe. So you get done with training after an hour and 10 minutes, you feel fresh and you feel you need to do something more. Players stick around for half an hour and just do finishing. Those repetitions, putting yourself in those postions, are something players around the U.S. can do more.

"One of the biggest differences that I saw when I went over there, 95 percent of the finishing drills we did were all inside the (penalty) box. When I was here, 90 percent of the finishing drills were outside th box. Otherwise the goalies were freaking out, going crazy," he continued. "That's not realistic. Putting things in perspective as far as the game situations, that's what players need to be put in."

McBride wants to play a role in changing the way forwards are trained in this country. He said on Friday that he has a "rough plan for doing some of the things...that are sort of lacking with MLS, with academy or camp-type stuff, where I provide that sort of knowledge. Not only the technical side, but the tactical side, the physical side of what an attacking player needs."