Friday, December 30, 2011

The Manchester United Way

A lot is made of the culture that Sir Alex Ferguson has built at Manchester United, and the foundation is built on an insatiable thirst for winning.

You can certainly see it on the field when watching the Red Devils take on English Premier League opponents, but if you can't pinpoint that x-factor on the field, listen to comments by Manchester United players, coaches and rivals.


Wigan manager Roberto Martinez thinks Tom Cleverley's return from injury will boost Manchester United's bid to repeat as Premier League Champions. The Wigan manager tips Cleverley's winning mentality to give United an edge over other contenders, according to

"Tom Cleverley is a player you need to work with to understand the full package," Martinez said. "The mentality he's got is quite unique. He's a winner and we all see what he can do.

"Tom will be refreshed and that could be the key for United. He's going to be fully fit and it's going to be like having a new signing. He can make a big impact on the title race."


Ferguson believes the setbacks suffered by Manchester United this season versus Manchester City in the league and Basel in the UEFA Champions League have only highlighted their strength of character.

The Old Trafford boss said: "If you lose a derby game 6-1, get knocked out by a Championship team in the quarter-final of the Carling Cup, and lose to Basle, who are not a power in Europe, you can understand the criticism.

"But in terms of the nature of the players we have and the kind of club we are, we have shown the resilience and determination to do something about it each time it has happened.

"That says a lot about the character of the team.

"We lose games in normal seasons. This season we have lost games that have been dramatic and a bit more emphatic in the sense of the impact it had on our chances of winning trophies.

"These were bad results for us but the character of the team has rescued us each time."


Defender Patrice Evra believes only the Barclays Premier League champions have the necessary fighting spirit to win the title this year.

The France left back played a starring role in United's 5-0 demolition of Wigan on Boxing Day that saw Sir Alex Ferguson's team draw level with local rivals Manchester City at the top of the table.

United have taken 25 points out of 27 since losing 6-1 at home to City on October 23. Their recovery from that dark day has been all the more remarkable given an injury list that saw them start Monday's game without 11 first team regulars.

Evra said: 'I've said this from the beginning - in six years playing here - the United spirit is always there. No other team have got that spirit. This is United. This is why I'm so proud to play here.'

United won on Monday with Michael Carrick playing at centre back and Evra was playing alongside him after a half-time injury to Jonny Evans.

'This is the United spirit,' stressed Evra. 'You can play everywhere for the team. If you want to win, you have to accept it. You can see Antonio Valencia playing right back as well. Only because United play like a team is this possible. The team is the star, not only one player.

'That's why you can put me and Michael Carrick at centre back. We're going to win because it's the team effort and team spirit. That's why I'm confident about the future. It was a big disappointment when we went out early in the Champions League. But I think it was a wake up call because maybe everyone looked at themselves in the mirror and said, "We can do much better".

'What the fans expect of every player, we are doing now. That's why I'm very pleased. Nothing is easy. It's because we're working hard. If we stop working hard and think only with the United name, everything is going to be wrong.

'That's why we have to keep going with this momentum and trust each other because it's a big squad and everyone wants to show they deserve to play.'

Manchester United have all of the qualities that a coach hopes to inspire and create in their own team, and whether you are a fan of the English Premier League title holders or not, it's hard not to appreciate the Manchester United way.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

US Soccer Mourns the Loss of Dr. Thomas Fleck

Dr. Thomas Fleck, an icon in youth soccer coaching education, passed away on Saturday, December 24, at the age of 74.

A 40-year member of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, Fleck served as president of the NSCAA for two years (1984-85), Fleck was instrumental in the establishment of the NSCAA Academies, the association's soccer coaching education division. As a member of the NSCAA Executive Committee, Fleck championed youth soccer and was instrumental in developing the youth coach membership category. He served as a member of its teaching staff for more than a quarter of a century. In 2005, Fleck was chosen as the 63rd recipient of the Honor Award, the highest award bestowed by the NSCAA.

“The NSCAA family has lost a dear friend,” said NSCAA CEO and Executive Director Joe Cummings “Many of us became coaches because of Tom. His contributions to the NSCAA go beyond his work with our coaching education program extending to numerous administrative responsibilities. He was a dear friend to so many in our Association. We offer our prayers and condolences to the entire Fleck family.”

Fleck represented the U.S. Soccer Federation as the technical advisor for the 1980 World Youth Championship in Tunisia, as well as the 1994 World Cup hosted by the United States. He also was recognized internationally when he presented a keynote on youth soccer for UEFA Coaches at Wembley, England in 1998.

A 1958 graduate of West Chester University, Fleck was honored as an All-America. He also was the men's varsity coach at Lehigh University, where he earned his doctorate in education in 1970 while serving as Director of the famed Centennial Elementary Laboratory School, the breeding ground for many of his innovative approaches to developmental learning systems. An accomplished author, he wrote or co-wrote more than 10 books, including the popular The Baffled Parent's Guide to Great Soccer Drills.

Inducted into the Eastern Pennsylvania Soccer Hall of Fame in 1996, Fleck also received the Walt Chyzowych Memorial Fund Award in 2004. He was presented an NSCAA Letter of Commendation in 1986 and participated in the torch relay for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games.

A memorial service will be held in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Saturday, January 21.

Trial & Error

The more time I spend on a college campus, the more I realize that true education comes from not only gaining theoretical experience through classroom lectures and assignments, but from gaining practical experience in that desired field.

Whether it be from internship opportunities to interviewing professionals, getting your hands dirty by experiencing it yourself is the truest form of development.

That same development applies to coaching as well - most coaches ply their trade at the side of a valued mentor who can help provide a blueprint for success, where others are able to cut their teeth by stepping in and coaching their own program at a very early age.

Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy got the opportunity to be thrown into the fire right away when he was hired seven years ago at the age of 37, which would be the equivalent of coaching adolescence. Ivan Maisel of ESPN writes of the baptism under fire of Gundy, who has learned from those experiences to coach one of the premier college football teams in the nation.

"I look back," Gundy said, "and never would have hired me, knowing what I know now."

The arc of Gundy's success at his alma mater has yet to bend toward earth. He has won as many or more games in each season than the previous one, from four wins in 2005 to 11 and counting as No. 3 Oklahoma State prepares to play No. 4 Stanford in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Monday.

When Gundy looks back, he sees a young head coach who tried to do things the way that head coaches are supposed to do them. In his first three seasons, Gundy went 18-19 (.486) and became best known for a rant at a news conference.

The more he has trusted his gut, the more that he refused to heed the Coaching 101 textbook of conventional wisdom, the more games the Cowboys have won. Beginning in 2008, Gundy has gone 40-11 (.784). Over that same time, the coach on the other side of the Bedlam rivalry is 41-12 (.774).

That's right, Mike Gundy is toe-to-toe with Bob Stoops. Actually, Gundy got in the last good lick. That 44-10 defeat of the Sooners to finish the regular season earned Oklahoma State its first Big 12 championship.

"There's so much growing that goes on that can only happen during experience," Gundy said. "... [There's] the evolution but also the mistakes, making mistakes, and sitting in my office and thinking, 'OK, how can I eliminate that, and what's the solution for the next time?' It was patience and making mistakes."

Coaches don't have a lot of time to sit in their office and think. When Gundy took the job, someone told him to keep a fire extinguisher on his desk, because that's what a head coach does.

"You just put fires out all day and then you get home," Gundy said. "And you continue to do it. And I thought, that doesn't sound right. That doesn't sound like much fun. That is exactly the way it is, for the most part."

Gundy remembered what T. Boone Pickens, the billionaire godfather of Oklahoma State athletics, told him when he got hired: (1) take risks, and (2) be unpredictable. So he began to ask questions. Why did Oklahoma State get to the end of the season with more players in the training room than on the field? Why did certain coaching hires click and others not? Gundy asked questions, and he didn't go to the Coaching 101 textbook for his answers.

I really associate with Gundy - I got my first head coaching job at Iona College at age 24, and where I have blessed since then with the opportunity to learn at the side of two coaching lessons in Fred Schmalz (University of Evansville) and John Rennie (Duke University), I still draw from some of those lessons learned at Iona to this day. My father used to always say 'A-B-C: Adversity Builds Character'. What i've learned from those experiences of making decisions under fire as a head coach is that adversity often reveals character as much as it builds character, and you learn a lot from how you respond in those situations - it's much more different when you are the head coach opposed to being the assistant. Someone told me once that 'as an assistant, you can take all of the credit, and none of the the head coach, there's nowhere to hide!' There are some lessons that you can only learn from being the head coach yourself.

Mizel wrote about the valuable lesson that the Oklahoma State coach learned along the way. When Gundy struggled as a young head coach, he stopped doing what he thought a head coach is supposed to do. He trusted his gut. The results can be seen from Stillwater clear to Glendale, Ariz. For the first time, Oklahoma State is in the BCS. I don't follow any one college football team in particular, but i'm definitely going to be curiously be following Gundy and his Oklahoma State team in the BCS games this coming week.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Does firing your head coach really fix anything?

No matter how good a coach you may be, your success will ultimately come down to your players on the field.

Especially in professional sports, ownership groups with itchy trigger fingers seem to think that a quick firing can present a quick fix for a team in disarray. That has been brought to the forefront in the National Football League (NFL) here in the United States, and in the English Premier League (EPL).

Stephen Dubner writes that where perception may be reality when it comes to changing one coach out opposed to an entire team, firing your head coach may not accomplish anything.

‘Tis the season – for the firing of head coaches, that is. In the space of two weeks, three teams – the Jaguars, Chiefs, and Dolphins – canned their top man.

Allow me to make two seemingly contradictory points:

•An NFL head coach is probably the most influential, hands-on coach in the four major sports; but:

•Firing the head coach of a bad team probably does a lot less to improve that team than most of us think.

Our latest “Football Freakonomics” segment asks whether firing a head coach really does much to improve a team’s chances – or if it’s simply the standard move for losing organizations, meant to appease critics in the media, the stands, and even the locker room.

First, let’s look at some numbers: between 2000 and 2010, there were 17 coaches fired during the season. Teams that went 47-105 (.309) before the firing went 43-77 (.358) with a new guy. That’s a pretty significant improvement, no? Indeed, the 4-9 Dolphins last week won their first game under interim coach Todd Bowles while the 5-8 Chiefs, under interim coach Romeo Crenell, beat previously undefeated Green Bay!

But: whoa. There are at least three reasons to think that coaching changes have significantly less impact than teams would like to think.

1.Regression to the mean: teams that have done very badly for a long time are more likely to win a bit more in the future, whether they get a new coach or not. Sadly, the opposite is also true for winning teams.

2.As Sam Farmer of the L.A. Times points out in our video, most former NFL Coaches of the Year are eventually fired. Did they suddenly forget how to coach? Did their brilliant strategies evaporate? Or, more likely, was their former winning a consequence of a lot of factors that went well beyond coaching?

3.It is hard in general to satisfactorily measure leadership – whether we’re talking about a football coach, a CEO, or the President of the United States – but a variety of empirical research shows that an institution’s top man or woman is seldom as influential as we think. It’s a natural inclination to pin a lot of blame (or, occasionally, glory) on the figurehead. But just as the President don’t actually have much control over the economy, a football coach has limited control over his team’s outcome.

That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of vital duties performed by a coach; of course there are. And some coaches are plainly much better than others. But a losing team that blindly fires its head coach without looking for the real reasons behind its stinky record is a bit like someone with a high fever tossing the thermometer in the trash.

The magical influence of Coach K

I had the opportunity to visit with the Duke University basketball team and their coaching staff during the Thanksgiving holidays, and where it was great to be back in Durham and on-campus visiting with old friends, watching their practice was a model of efficiency.

Coach Krzyzewski and his staff have practice planned down to the finite detail, and each member of their staff are constantly in motion while working towards keeping practice sharp.

It was their first practice after returning from Hawaii with a tournament title, and they were preparing to face Ohio State University in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge.

What was most impressive about Coach Krzyzewski and his staff - Jeff Capel, Chris Collins, Steve Wojciechowski - was their ability to communicate with their players. They placed high demands and clear expectations, and the work-rate and defensive intensity are now trademarks of all Duke basketball teams.

Shortly after returning from North Carolina, I learned that Coach Krzyzewski was named as Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year. Never was there a more deserving honoree, for he has contributed not only on his own campus, but with USA Basketball and as a role model for so many other coaches across the country. It is not uncommon to read stories of other leaders in sport like Jason Garrett (Dallas Cowboys) and Jurgen Klinsmann (US Soccer) visiting with Coach like I had last month, and there is a reason why so many coaches in different sports and varying levels flock to learn at his side.

Here is the link to the SI Sportsman of the Year article, as well as an excerpt of what makes Coach K so unique-


It was an odd thing for a coach to say to a player who was about to shoot two hugely important free throws. It was an odder thing still for a coach to say to a player who on seven previous occasions that evening had launched the ball from the foul line into the ether of the Hoosier Dome and smartly through the hoop. Given the circumstances—12 seconds to play against mighty UNLV, tie game, a national title in the balance—it may have been oddest of all that the player, Christian Laettner of Duke, grinned back.

Let the coach, Mike Krzyzewski, explain: "Two years earlier we had met as a team after losing to Seton Hall at the '89 Final Four in Seattle. I was determined not to lay any guilt trips on the players, not to let them leave that room feeling down. I told them we were staying through the championship game to celebrate what they had accomplished. Then I looked at my seniors and I started to cry.

"Laettner is sitting right in front of me. He's only 19. He's bewildered. I'm not sure he's ever seen an adult cry. And later that night—it must have been 11 o'clock—I'm watching tape in my hotel room and there's this knock at the door. It's Christian. He wants to know if I'm all right. He sits down, and I tell him how proud I am of what they've done and how we would build on it. And again he says, 'Are you sure you're all right?' When he gets up to leave, before he shuts the door, he turns and says, 'You sure you're all right?'

"I threw a pillow at him and said, 'Get out of here.' "

Let other coaches throw chairs. Krzyzewski, the man from rigid and proper Duke, schooled at West Point, purportedly cloned from Bob Knight, will throw pillows. When the NCAA tournament gets under way next week, Krzyzewski will be trying to guide the defending national champion Blue Devils, 25-2 and ranked No. 1 all season, to their sixth trip to the Final Four in seven years. To all but the finicky few who believe that a coach fails unless he wins it all every time, Krzyzewski's record is unassailable. "He's the best in the business right now," says Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins. "He's a great coach and a much better recruiter than people give him credit for. I mean, the Final Four four years in a row, plus a national championship? It's totally ridiculous."

Krzyzewski has one thing going for him that few other coaches have and that none can acquire by studying tape or spending time at clinics. He's a most fortuitous fluke of demography. He grew up in what might as well have been Depression America, upstairs in a sparsely furnished brick two-flat in a Polish neighborhood of Chicago. His parents hoarded what little they had in order to do better by their two boys. ("In my mom's closet there were always two dresses," Krzyzewski says. "They were clean, they were in great shape, but there were only two. My parents were people who never had anything, but they had everything.") Yet he is a card-carrying baby boomer who attended Army as a member of its most restless class, the class of 1969, one that kept a nervous eye on Southeast Asia. Thus even as Krzyzewski relates like some touchie-feelie big brother, he's a schoolmaster preaching hoary precepts out of a simpler time, someone who can hammer home a standard coaching exhortation like "Give me the best that you've got" by playing an Anita Baker tape in the locker room. Imagine McGuffey's Reader on laser disc.

This peculiar generational straddling act goes a long way toward explaining how Krzyzewski has risen to the summit of his profession. It's not, however, why the Blue Devils won that national title last spring. (If there's any distinction Krzyzewski is both adept and relentless at drawing, it's the one between winning titles and being a successful coach.) Four times in five years he had gone to the Final Four and fallen short; but he had understood long ago what can be learned from falling short, and he had internalized those lessons even as pundits breezily concluded that it was his fate to be there at the end and preside in gentlemanly fashion over a loss, like some latter-day Bud Grant or Gene Mauch. Couldn't win it all—just as he supposedly couldn't coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference, couldn't recruit in it, couldn't make that Knight shtick work, and had a name that couldn't even be pronounced, for goodness' sake. (It's shuh-SHEF-ski.)

He broke through at the '91 Final Four in much the same way he had overcome back-to-back 17-loss seasons at Duke in 1982 and '83 (one of those 34 defeats, a 17-pointer at Princeton in December '81, left him crying in the shower) and much as he had risen above a washout recruiting year in 1981, an epic oh-fer that remains unmatched in the annals of player procurement. In each case after flubbing he retooled and tried again, and if he flubbed again, he tried again until he got it right. "How did he get to be where he is?" says his wife, Mickie, who shares his innocent steeliness. "He just worked at it. Yeah, it's a cliché. But there are so few people who are real clichés."

It's an article of faith with Krzyzewski that failure and success are connected like cause and effect. "That's why losing at the Final Four has never been a bother to me," he says. "There was a bigger thing there. It's because we reacted the way we did after we lost that we came back. If I'd acted like an——after we lost, why would they want to come back?"

What really matters

Someone told me the mark of a great program or of a successful coach is how many players come back to visit after their playing careers are over.

That thought is always referenced over the holidays when receiving so many different emails, texts and phone calls from former players and assistant coaches.

Merry Christmas to all of you who sent holiday wishes, and I look forward to seeing you all again soon.

Some things to think about on Christmas Day | MIKE JACOBS COLUMN

Courtesy of the Evansville Courier Press, December 25, 2011

With the holidays upon us, it's important to remember what's really important and matters the most.

That reflection can happen at home with family and within your own religious faith, but also within your team, too. Whether you are a member of a team or that team's coach, don't forget why you have signed up for that role in the first place.

-- Sacrifice versus investment: We had the opportunity to bring in sports performance consultant Rob Kehoe to work with our University of Evansville soccer team a couple of winters ago, and he talked to our players about their purpose and perspective for being a part of our program. He discussed how many athletes talk about sacrificing their own efforts, time and energies for the good of their team.

To sacrifice is to give something up, and as a part of a team, a member should look at it less as "giving something up," and more as an investment — having the approach that "I'm putting something in, with the intention of getting something back."

Whether it be getting to learn lessons that transcend sport, being able to represent your school or town, spending quality time with your friends, or just being able to get healthier or fitter, appreciate and be humble about the fact that we get twice as much out of being a part of a team than we put in ourselves.

-- Homework versus a game: Whether it be in school throughout the day or muddling through a tough day at work, attending a practice should never be a chore like homework.

Anytime I get down or overwhelmed about a practice or game that didn't go my way, I try to envision what it was like when I was playing games as a kid with my own friends and teammates. The sheer enjoyment of getting to play sports with friends was always fun, and it keeps things in perspective, that no matter how tough work gets, we understand why we do it in the first place. Any point where being a part of a team seems to feel more like a chore than fun is the time to step back and assess why you're doing it in the first place.

-- Burden versus opportunity: When adversity does strike, I often think back to a great talk that local doctor Mark Logan had given to our Aces team years ago.

He said that dealing with tough times can be looked at as a terrible burden or as a tremendous opportunity to challenge yourself to show resolve in the face of adversity. Lou Holtz once said, "Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond to it."

Rather than whine and complain when things don't go your way, look at it as a challenge of your own mental strength and commitment.

-- Positive role models show resolve: Growing up in New York it was easy to look at professional athletes with critical eyes. After all, a relentless media every day identified warts just as easily as they highlighted success. As critical as the New York media and sports fans are, they are also quick to identify those who are able to stand up to challenges and adversity.

Icons like Don Mattingly and Patrick Ewing achieved legendary status in New York because they not only found success on the playing field, but primarily because they were able to bounce back and demonstrate their toughness at times when their team might not have been the most successful. Fans associate with those who are able to rise in the face of adversity. As often as "Rocky" will be on television during the holidays, appreciate the fact that we root for him not because he gets knocked down, but because he always gets back up.

The holidays make me reflect upon all of the reasons why I wanted to get involved in sports years ago. My father was a basketball coach, and he really seemed to appreciate helping one of his players find personal success even more than he did his team winning games or championships.

Whether as a coach or a teammate, I hope that we can all reflect during this holiday season on how important it is to be a part of a group in the first place — appreciating those who make us better and assist us as teammates.

The more appreciative and helpful we are of those around us, the more success we'll all have at the end of the day.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The tactical trends of Marcelo Bielsa

Barcelona's system and style is being emulated all over the world by teams at all levels. As accomplished as Barcelona's fluidity and control on both sides of the ball can be, it also appears that they have copied a page out of Marcelo Bielsa's playbook in regards to his high pressing and back 3.
Keen tactician Jonathan Wilson writes of Bielsa's growing influence on Barcelona.

The philosophy of this Barcelona, of course, is rooted in Total Football and the ideas implanted by Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff in the early 70s. What has become increasingly clear, though, is that their style is Total Football viewed through a bielsista prism. The central tenets of Marcelo Bielsa's style – the hard pressing, the high defensive line – are very much of the Dutch tradition, but in their use of a back three, which admittedly echoes the 3-1-3-3 Cruyff sometimes employed in the early 90s, Barcelona have taken on a bielsista aspect. The use of a central midfielder, Sergio Busquets, to initiate attacks from the back is classic Bielsa, as is the desire to fight battles high up the pitch in opposition territory – as in the use of Dani Alves to negate Marcelo in El Clásico and so cut off the support to Cristiano Ronaldo.

It is not just Barcelona, though. Guardiola famously drove through the night to meet Bielsa in Argentina; another Argentinian, Jorge Sampaoli, a self-confessed disciple of Bielsa, has used his methods to great effect at Universidad de Chile, who won the Chilean Apertura and the Copa Sudamericana and are in the semi-finals of the play-offs for the Clausura. They are astonishingly tactically flexible in terms of shape, but the basic style remains bielsista, something exemplified by the use of a 3-1-4-2 in their Copa Sudamericana semi-final against Liga de Quito, engaging the opposition wing-backs deep in their own half.

Bielsa himself, perhaps too fundamentalist for one of the world's biggest clubs, works away at Athletic Bilbao, where he has tempered his idealism with pragmatism, abandoning the back three for a back four, and playing to the strengths of his target-man centre-forward Fernando Llorente.

Everything is relative. What is right for one group of players in one set of circumstances will not necessarily be so for another group of players in a different set of circumstances. In the summer, both Chelsea and Internazionale appointed new managers. Both their new managers prefer a high line and a hard press. Both squads they inherited were ill-suited to their style of play, the defences in particular too slow to play high up the pitch and risk balls being played in behind them. In both cases the incongruity of managerial philosophy and squad was clear.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Breakdown of US Olympic Team Player Pool

Ives Galarcep gives a detailed look at Caleb Porter's pool for the US Under-23 team-

Caleb Porter’s first camp as US Under-23 national team coach has been a competitive one - a productive one for the talented group under his command. There have been some impressive performances put in by some of the players you would expect, but also some pleasant surprises from players lower on the depth chart.

Here is a look at how how the players have looked in the early days of the U-23 camp in Florida:

Thinking 2012

The men's Olympic soccer tournament at London 2012 will feature the U-23 teams of 16 nations, with each squad allowed three overage players. The United States will start their road to London on March 22 in Nashville, where they will vie with Canada, Cuba and El Salvador for two spots in the next stage: the elimination round. There four teams will play for the region's two spots in the 2012 Summer Olympic games.

Bill Hamid (D.C. United) looks like the starter at this point, but the battle is fierce as both Zac MacMath (Philadelphia Union) and Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire) are worthy competitors and both have been sharp. All three are capable of starting and have their unique strengths, but right now Hamid looks to be the front-runner for the starting job. David Bingham (San Jose) is a solid prospect as well but falls a notch below the pack.


Gale Agbossoumonde (Eintracht Frankfurt) looks like the best centerback of the bunch, though questions remain about his lack of playing time on the club level. College teammates Sebastien Ibeagha and Andrew Wenger (both Duke) have shown good qualities in central defense as well, with Ibeagha looking particularly strong (which makes you wonder if he will be turning pro soon). Wenger has some very good qualities, but at times you see the effects of him not having played as a defender in either of his past two college seasons. Royal-Dominique Fennell (Stuttgarter Kickers) hasn’t gotten off to a good start in camp, losing ground in the battle for central defender spots.

At fullback, Sheanon Williams (Philadelphia) and Zarek Valentin (Montreal) both look very solid, while Kofi Sarkodie’s lack of playing time in Houston in 2011 could be hurting him in the battle at right back. Valentin has shown an ability to play at left back as well. Jorge Villafana (Chivas USA) is the lone natural left back in the group.


There are a plethora of options at the central midfield spots, and several players have impressed early on in camp. Dilly Duka (Columbus Crew) has followed up a strong performance at the recent Generation adidas tour of the Netherlands with another good showing so far in camp. Sebastian Lletget (West Ham United) has also shown some real quality on the ball and has been one of the most impressive passers in camp.

Mikkel Diskerud (Staeback) and Joey Corona (Club Tijuana) had both had good moments playing in the attacking midfield role, though Diskerud didn’t always look comfortable in the high-pressuring system. Kelyn Rowe (UCLA) has shown some flashes, though he remains a long-shot to break through this loaded group.

On the defensive midfield front, Amobi Okugo (Philadelphia) looks very strong, a good tackler who keeps the ball moving. Bryan Arguez (Montreal) has been one of the truly pleasant surprises. Showing a good passing touch and an ability to cover ground well and read the game. He has even seen some time at centerback, a position that currently lacks depth.

Jared Jeffrey (Mainz) is a highly-skilled central midfield option with the kind of versatility Caleb Porter likes. Michael Stephens (LA Galaxy) played well in Sunday’s intra-squad scrimmage, but is facing a stacked field for a central midfield roster spot.


Terrance Boyd (Borussia Dortmund) has looked like the class of the forward pool through two U-23 camps. His combination of strength, size and shooting ability make him a good bet to make the Olympic qualifying squad. Andrew Wooten (Kaiserslautern) has also impressed, scoring a good goal in Sunday’s intra-squad game and playing well in training. Teal Bunbury (Sporting Kansas City) has looked rusty, which is clearly a product of missing recent camps and tours the other MLS-based players have taken part in to keep up fitness-wise with the European-based contingent. He’s still one of the top contenders for the forward roster spots, though.

Speedy winger Joe Gyau (TSG Hoffenheim) has been the most impressive of the wide forward options and arguably the most impressive player in the camp. Freddy Adu’s ability on the ball is clearly on another level, and he has shown the versatility to play either wide forward role or the attacking midfielder role in the 4-3-3.

Jack McInerney (Philadelphia) and Danny Cruz (Houston) both showed good hustle and high work rates working the wings, with McInerney looking particularly comfortable in the 4-3-3 system.

Jann George (Nuremberg) has an awkward running style, but he has some pace and is a smart player. Will Bruin (Houston) scored a goal in Sunday’s intra-squad scrimmage, working at the right forward slot, but he faces an uphill battle to make the team.

Porter puts imprint on US Olympic Team

United States Under-23 coach Caleb Porter has been a star here in the US at the collegiate level, and is now charged with the responsibilities of managing the US Olympic team. His goals are not only to qualify for the Olympics, but also to help develop a nucleus that will compete for the US in the 2014 World Cup.

"If you're a coach, you're a coach, and you can switch gears," Porter said. "I'm certainly aware that this is a different animal than coaching the college guys, but in all honestly I've been coaching pros. I've been coaching future pros, I've had 16 in the last five years.

"These guys are professionals, and I'm going to treat them like professionals," Porter said. "I'm going to treat them like men and my job is to bring the best out of them."

Porter's main tasks, along with picking the right players to help the US reach the Olympics, is implementing the attacking style he has enjoyed success with at Akron. His use of a high-pressure, possession-oriented 4-3-3 formation should maximize the skills of the current U-23 pool, a group filled with quality midfield and forward options.

The system has been a hit among the players.

"He's going to do a great job," said Montreal defender Zarek Valentin, who played for Porter at Akron. "I know that he's been successful, and he's going to be successful wherever he goes. Hopefully we can put the team together in this short amount of time, and develop that cohesion that's important in these kind of teams."

Monday, December 19, 2011

Barca stays in the moment when adversity strikes versus Real

It is not uncommon for teams to lose their composure when adversity strikes in a match. Whether it be conceding a goal at an inappropriate time in the match, an injury or a player being sent off.

The truly special teams are able to keep cool and stay in the moment when adversity arrives, and Barcelona's performance versus Real Madrid last week was a clear illustration of why they are the gold standard in world football.

Paul Gardner writes of the cool and composed performance that Barca provided in their victory over Real Madrid in the Classico-

Yet Barca made short work of Real. Despite that disastrous start to the game, when goalkeeper Victor Valdes virtually gifted a goal to Real. The game was only 22 seconds old when Karim Benzema pounced on Valdes’s error to put Real 1-0 ahead.

Barca’s reaction to this stunning opening was equally stunning. Because there was, in effect, no reaction. Barca would simply play the way it always plays -- and, of especial significance, goalkeeper Valdes would persist with the very approach that had landed him and his team in trouble - he would continue to try to pass the ball out to a teammate, rather than hoof it downfield.

What we saw for the next 90 minutes or so was simply extraordinary. Real, one of the world’s most powerful teams, certainly one of the world’s most expensively assembled teams, a team packed with brilliant players, reduced to impotence in front of its own fans.

Worse yet for Real was that the humiliation -- for that’s what it was -- was administered by a Barca team that was never puffing and panting and straining to achieve victory. The Barca players played their game, the game we’ve been watching for some years now -- watching it but never tiring of watching it.

Once again we could see Barca dominating a game with ball possession and quick-fire, accurate passing, with players moving smoothly and quickly in magical patterns, or maybe not patterns, maybe just inspired traceries of improvisation ... but movement with an aura of purpose. And of beauty.

Herzog added to US staff

Jurgen Klinsmann is bringing in former Bayern Munich teammate Andreas Herzog to be his assistant coach on the U.S. national team. The Austrian soccer federation made the announcement that Herzog, who had 103 caps for Austria, would be leaving his job as Austrian U-21 coach to return to the United States, where he finished his career with the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2004.

"Jurgen Klinsmann and I have been close friends for many years now. I face this new challenge with great confidence," Herzog said in the Austrian federation's statement.

Herzog was the assistant to Austria national team coaches Josef Hickersberger and Karel Brueckner before taking over the under-21 team in March 2009.

Dempsey continues goal scoring for Fulham

Fulham has won four English Premier League games this season, and each time Clint Dempsey has scored. Dempsey added to his American career record with his 38th EPL goal and an assist for Fulham in its 2-0 win over Bolton Wanderers on Saturday.

Paul Kennedy of Soccer America reports on the American record-setting goal scorer.

Dempsey scored on a powerful header off a cross from Ruiz for his sixth EPL goal of the season and then two minutes later sprung the Tico, who lobbed Bolton keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen.

The win left Fulham tied for 11th in the EPL after 16 games. With the Cottagers eliminated from the Europa League on Thursday when they couldn't beat Danish club Odense, their attention is now firmly on the EPL.

"It is what it is,” Dempsey told talkSport. “We’re out of the Europa League which we’re frustrated about but we want to do as well as we can do in the league and finish in the top half. And we’ve got the FA Cup, and hopefully we can go on a nice run in that so those are the things we’ve got left to play for and we’re going to do our best to have a good season."

Dempsey says he's happy at Fulham, which he joined five years ago.

“I’m happy here,” he added, “I’ve had some of my best times here. I still have this season and another left [on my current contract] and I am looking forward to making the most of my time where I am at. Like I’ve said before, some of my best memories in football have been at Fulham.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Porter preps U.S. men for Olympic qualifiers

U.S. U-23 men's national team coach Caleb Porter has 28 players in camp in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., preparing for Olympic qualifying in March.

“We have nearly 50 players we see as potential players for the group, realistically, who we feel are capable of contributing or deserve an opportunity to be looked at,” Porter said. “As we move into the New Year, we really want to key in on who’s going to help us so that we can start to build a cohesive group that understands the way we’re going to do things.”

Regarding developing a style of play and what can fans can expect to see on the field in terms of a formation, Porter said: “We’re going to start to give these messages: how we’re going to attack and defend, the philosophy behind it, the training activities that imprint it on the players and then the system. We’re not going to have four or five different systems that we’re throwing at the guys, we’re going to have a 4-3-3 and some variations within the 4-3-3 so they understand depending on the game and the personnel.

“If you look at the top clubs in the world, they always have a couple systems they utilize, and they have some adaptations on those systems. We want to introduce a 4-4-2 as well because it might make more sense in some games, and depending on what the personnel is like, to maybe play with two strikers instead of three or one."

Guardiola: "Tactics are just players"

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, ahead of its team's Club World Cup semifinal, spoke with, sharing his views on topics such as tactics:

"People talk about tactics, but when you look at it, tactics are just players. You change things so that the team can get the most out of the skills they have to offer, but you don’t go any further than that. When it comes to tactics you have to think about what the opposition does and the players who can hurt you. What I’ve done this season is a response to the game plans our rivals are now adopting against us. As time goes by, people get to know you better. They pose problems for you and you have to come up with solutions.

A key is finding intelligent players: "The problem is you can’t always get them. You can sign players on the recommendation of friends and colleagues and based on what you see on TV, but it’s only when they’re out on the field with you that you find out if they can do what you want them to. It’s not easy. Sometimes it’s worked for me and sometimes it hasn’t."

USSF looking at deficit

Steven Goff of the Washington Post wrote about the 604-page U.S. Soccer Federation budget for fiscal year 2013, which covers April 2012 through the following March, and must be ratified at the USSF’s annual general meeting in March.

Among his discoveries:

* The USSF is projecting a $6.6 million deficit in FY ’13 ($8.8 million operating deficit, offset some by $2.2 million investment income). “We believe our commitment today to both programming and personnel will increase the overall value of our core property and in turn increase future revenue opportunities,” the federation says in the budget report.

That “personnel” includes new U.S. men’s national team coach Juergen Klinsmann, whose base salary is $2.5 million – four times more than predecessor Bob Bradley earned. The USSF is also expanding the officiating program and continuing to invest in the Development Academy, which is designed to bolster the youth system. The USSF is projecting a deficit of $4.5 million for fiscal year 2012, which ends this March ($6.1 million overall, offset some by $1.6 million investment income). The economy is partly to blame. In 2010 and ’11, the USSF banked surpluses totaling more than $8 million, most of it coming from investment income.

From a marketing and sponsorship perspective, the report says, “we have long-term agreements in place [through 2014] with sustained revenue. We are also in the process of pursuing additional long-term sponsorship agreements that will help protect against any short-term economic downturns.” According to the budget, revenue in FY ’13 will come from sponsors ($12.5 million); men’s and women’s national team events ($11.6 million); player and membership registration ($5.7 million); referee registration ($3 million); and coaching programs ($1.5 million). Nike, a major sponsor, earmarked an additional $5.9 million for player development programs.

Arena prepares Berhalter to take the helm at Hammarby

When 2011 started, LA Galaxy defender Gregg Berhalter set out to work on his life after soccer. Turns out, the season he spent as a player-assistant coach was the best transition possible.

Berhalter hit the ground running on his post-playing days, as he was named manager of Swedish club Hammarby IF on Monday. The former Galaxy and US national team defender will take charge of a proud club that has fallen on tough times as of late.

Having served under Bruce Arena this past season helped pave the way for this new role, Berhalter said.

“It was everything and I told Bruce that,” Berhalter told by phone. “Without him, none of this would have been possible. He’s the best American coach we’ve had and I’ve learned tons from him.”

Berhalter joined the Galaxy in early 2009 after he signed with MLS and was allocated to LA. From the start, Berhalter not only had the task of helping sort out what had been one of the league’s worst defenses, but also having to serve in a bit of an unofficial coaching role. As one of the most experienced players on the roster, Berhalter became a leader, helping guide young players like Omar Gonzalez and Sean Franklin.

Ahead of the 2011 season, the role became much more official as Berhalter not only focused on trying to play – injuries robbed him of a bulk of playing time – but also helped sort out the defense and helped coach the same young players in a more formal role.

“Giving me that responsibility, giving me that role was huge," Berhalter said. "Without that, I wouldn’t even be close to preparing for this. The only reason why I am halfway prepared is because of the role he gave me and what he let me do this year.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Berhalter – and one he was reminded of several times during his introductory press conference – is his managerial experience, or lack thereof. He put his hands in the air with regards to that issue.

“I don’t even try to fight it – it’s true, I’m inexperienced,” he said. "But what I do bring is fresh ideas, a lot of energy. And every coach had a first game; there has to be a beginning and this is it.”

Hammarby IF are co-owned by Galaxy owners Anschutz Entertainment Group. Former Galaxy player Chris Klein is on the Hammarby board of directors and helped get Berhalter’s name on the list of candidates. Despite his lack of managerial experience, Berhalter made it through the various levels during the hiring process and was ultimately entrusted with the task of guiding the team back to the Allsvenskan. Hammarby last won a league cup in 2001 and have spent two seasons in the Superettan, the Swedish second flight.

What the club may look like in their fight to gain promotion remains to be seen.

“The first thing I have to do is get a hold of the players, analyzing them in person, up close, on the training field, and then deciding what system we’re going to play,” Berhalter said. “It would be foolish of me to say, ‘This is the system we’re going to play right now’ without seeing them live and seeing the new players and how they gel and how they form together.”

Still, there is one trait that could perhaps become a hallmark of Berhalter’s managerial style.

“I can guarantee that it’s going to be a team that works hard and is going to be passionate,” he said.

Is the 3-1-4-2 formation on the rise?

From word of mouth to a memorable turning point, a new set of tactics are emerging and, surprisingly, were even on show during Barcelona's latest win over Real Madrid.

Jonathan Wilson writes of the potential growing trend of the 3-1-4-2 alignment in the modern game.

Something very odd happened at the end of last week. Historical changes in tactics usually happen incrementally over time: there would be rumours of a side doing something unusual ("and they say the centre-forward plays in midfield …") followed by a pivotal game in which that tactical change proves decisive and is accepted as a new phase in football's development (Nandor Hidegkuti picks England apart while scoring three in Hungary's 6-3 win at Wembley in 1953).

More recently, perhaps, with the blanket televisation of football, it's been possible to trace the evolution, but still, there tends to be one moment, one game in which everything snaps into focus (Lionel Messi, for instance, ripping Real Madrid apart from the false nine position).

Last Thursday night, we saw something highly unusual: a 3-1-4-2 from Universidad de Chile as they won the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana away to Liga de Quito (they're likely to revert to orthodox 3-4-3 for Wednesday's second leg). We'd seen 3-3-2-2 and 3-3-1-3 before – usually from Marcelo Bielsa sides – but this, with the wing-backs pushed so high up they were midfielders and the deep-lying midfielder such a holder he was effectively an auxiliary centre-back, was new.

Three-and-a-Half Men and the Rwanda Protocol
But then Tom Legg, whom I'm going to go out on a limb and describe as east Africa's leading tactical analyst, got in touch to say that earlier the same Thursday, Rwanda had switched to a 3-1-4-2 in the second half of their Cecafa Cup semi-final against Sudan. Rwanda had contained a narrow Sudan relatively comfortably in the first half to lead 1-0, but Sudan's half-time switch from a 4-4-2 diamond to 4-2-3-1 gave them more attacking width and led to them equalise after 68 minutes.

Rwanda's Serbian coach, Milutin Sredojevic, promptly withdrew the 17-year-old centre-back Emery Bayisenge and replaced him with a 17-year-old midfielder, Andrew Buteera. Buteera is usually thought of as a creator, but here was deployed deep as Rwanda shifted to a 3-1-4-2. As Legg points out, this was counterintuitive: if your opponent is winning the battle on the flanks, making your own team even more narrow seems like the last thing you should do. As it turned out, though, Rwanda retook control of the centre, cutting the supply to Sudan's wide men. Buteera and the two wide men, Jean-Claude Iranzi and Eric Gasana, found space to create attacks and Olivier Karekezi lashed in the winner from a narrow angle with 13 minutes remaining.

That was surprising enough – an unexpected formation popping up on the same day in Ecuador and Tanzania. But the biggest surprise came on Saturday as it, in slightly mutated form, appeared again in Spain, and specifically in Madrid, not in a regional African tournament or South America's secondary competition, but in the biggest game of them all: El Clásico. It was as if M Night Shyamalan were directing a documentary on football tactics, the 3-1-4-2 virus sprouting uncontrollably across the globe.

As has now been well-documented, El Clásico turned on Pep Guardiola's decision midway through the first half to abandon the slightly odd 4-3-Cesc Fábregas-2 with which he had begun. He pushed Dani Alves from right-back to right midfield, so he could check the runs of Marcelo and cut off the support for Cristiano Ronaldo, a move that also spared him from having to pretend he is a full-back which, as anybody who has seen him play for Brazil will know, he is not.

That meant Carles Puyol moving to right-back, with Sergio Busquets dropping in to become a second centre-back. Gerard Piqué became the right-sided centre-back, allowing him to double up on Ronaldo when required, while Alexis Sánchez moved to become a highly mobile centre-forward (a false nine, if you like, but with lateral rather than longitudinal movement). Messi operated as an orthodox 10, with Andrés Iniesta shuttling on the left and Fábregas brought back much closer to Xavi Hernández. At first, the formation looked like a highly fluent 4-2-3-1, as though Barça were going to match Real Madrid shape for shape, but then the real benefit of the system became clear.

It is often overlooked just how key Busquets is to initiating Barça attacks, but he is always there as the get-out: if a player gets into trouble, he can go back to Busquets. Block off the escape route, though, and anxiety can be induced. Attack the metronome and the whole orchestra loses rhythm. José Mourinho surprised many by opting for a 4-2-3-1 rather than a 4-3-3, but what it allowed him to do was press with five men, leaving Lassana Diarra to protect the back four. That brought the opening goal, but it also rattled Barça.

Moving Busquets back, though, gave him time and space. Withdrawn from the front line, he could begin again to shape the battle. It was a risk, because it left Mesut Ozil free, but he is a slightly old-fashioned playmaker, somebody who is adept at finding time amid the hubbub to measure a pass. Usually that is an asset, but here it gave Busquets time to close him down. We are used to seeing Busquets dropping back from midfield to become a centre-back; but here he was doing the opposite, stepping out from the back four to become a midfielder. Perhaps this is the logical outcome for a side that flips so often between a back three and a back four: it ends up playing a back three-and-a-half.

First principles
But there is a deeper logic, and one that could be predicted. When Jack Charlton made his famous comment after the 1994 World Cup about full-backs being the most important position on the field, he was specifically referring to the fact that when two 4-4-2s clash, the full-backs are the players with a direct opponent. They are special not because of anything inherent in being a full-back, but because they are the players with the time and space to shape the game.

Football has moved on, though, and the prevalence of 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 means that full-backs often do have a direct opponent. That can create fascinating tactical duels – Roberto Carlos v David Beckham as Real Madrid beat Manchester United 3-1 in 2003, Theo Walcott v Danijel Pranjic as England won 4-1 in Croatia in 2008, Michael Essien v Cristiano Ronaldo in the Champions League final in 2008, Gareth Bale v Maicon as Tottenham beat Internazionale last season – but it also means that the space that was once the full-back's birthright is no longer guaranteed.

So where is that space? If a team plays a back four against an opponent with a lone central striker (or a false nine), then at least one of its centre-backs should be spare. It's not quite the same as a full-back being free in that it's clearly far easier for a single striker to shuffle 10 yards to close down the other centre-back than it is for him to run 30 yards to close down a full-back, but two centre-backs faced with one forward trying to close them down should be able to work space for one of them to step forward with the ball, at least until a potential presser from the opposing midfield comes into play.

Two years ago, I suggested we would increasingly see Piqué start to step forward with the ball to join Busquets in midfield; actually the reverse has happened and we have seen Busquets drop back to join Piqué (the clue was in the influence of Bielsa on Guardiola; the Argentinian visionary, also an inspiration for Universidad de Chile's coach Jorge Sampaoli, has a habit of pulling midfielders back into defence, as he has done with Javi Martínez at Athletic Bilbao). The effect is the same, a central defender who steps out from the back, a playmaker from the centre of defence.

Of course that is not entirely new. You could go back to Martim Francisco, the coach of Vila Nova, a club from Nova Lima, a town about 20 miles from Belo Horizonte, in the early 1950s. He pushed his left-half, Lito, back to play as the quarto zagueiro – the fourth defender – a term still used in Brazil for a centre-back with a responsibility to step up into the midfield. More obviously, there is Franz Beckenbauer and a whole generation of liberi stretching through the 70s and 80s all the way to the likes of Miodrag Belodedici and Matthias Sammer in the 90s. Sammer, though, was very much the last of his kind, and the libero has not really existed for 15-20 years, squeezed out by the influence of Arrigo Sacchi and the love of the hard press.

Germany, generally, was slow to respond to the rise of high pressing with a back four, which was why Volker Finke had such success with Freiburg. Christoph Biermann argued in Der Ball ist Rund that, for all Berti Vogts's faults, he did at least reconcile the Germany national team to the modern world of pressing (Borussia Dortmund, of course, pressed ferociously last season, yet Bayern were clearly unsettled by Augsburg's high line in their defeat there two weeks ago).

An environment of change
And that is what makes Busquets's role so fascinating – it facilitates a back three-and-a-half in a system that presses. Again, there is a precedent, and perhaps it is not surprising that it should be found in the heritage of this Barça: Johan Cruyff's Barcelona Dream Team of the early 90s, although they also lined up in a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2, often played a 3-1-3-3, as did the Holland of Guus Hiddink. In Cruyff's variant, Ronaldo Koeman was often the one, although Guardiola himself operated there on occasions; but at Euro 96 Hiddink was playing Clarence Seedorf in the role.

So Guardiola, to an extent, has gone back to his roots, although there is a difference between the roles of Koeman and Busquets, if only in how opponents line up against them. Where Cruyff's 3-1-3-3 was rooted in the Rinus Michels belief that you played as many defenders as the opponent had forwards, plus one, and so Koeman was effectively free until there was an attack down the flank at which he had to drop back to become a second centre-back, Guardiola's – on Saturday at least – was predicated on Busquets staying deep (like Koeman deeper than the opposition midfield, but actually deeper than Koeman because the general trend from three-band to four-band systems means the first wave of opposing midfield tends to play higher) and stepping up when the opposing playmaker came into the game.

And that brings us to the other recent sighting of the back three-and-a-half, which was in the Spanish Super Cup. Applying first principles to the issue of tackling a false nine, it makes sense to play a back three and track the opposing false nine with the player who would have been the second centre-back, whether a defender or a holding midfielder. That was precisely how Mourinho deployed Ricardo Carvalho against Messi, with some success, even if the result ended up going against Real Madrid – again, the result being a back three with a player who often played in the back line but did not remain there.

So that gives us four examples this season, of teams playing a 3-1-4-2. All had different motivations. For Real Madrid, it was to free a player to man-mark. For Universidad de Chile, it was to provide the cover that allowed the wing-backs to engage Liga de Quito's wing-backs high up the pitch. For Rwanda it was to wrest control of the midfield through weight of numbers in the centre. For Barcelona it was to create space for their conductor. If there are four separate routes to a single solution, that suggests there is not a sole cause.

So, why now? It comes back, as tactics always do, to space. The prevalence of systems with one or no central strikers means that for much of the last decade, one of the centre-backs has been spare. To an extent, that's quite useful in itself, providing additional defensive cover. But there are more interesting things that can be done with him, and it is that that football is only just beginning to explore.

Redknapp bans Spurs players from Christmas parties

Citing a heavy holiday schedule of four matches in 14 days, Tottenham coach Harry Redknapp has told his players there will be no team Christmas parties. Two years ago, Spurs players drew his ire by staging a team party in Dublin. Manchester City has enjoyed a "fancy-dress" Christmas party and Arsenal's players have been pictured out and about in London.

If Redknapp is perceived to be a modern-day, soccer version of Ebenezer Scrooge, he can live with it. Spurs opens the holiday program against Sunderland at home on Sunday.

"No more Christmas parties. We are too busy playing football, we have too many games and they have to concentrate on playing and getting on with their football," Redknapp said. "If they can't behave themselves, if they can't miss having a drink with the money they are earning there is something wrong with them. They are getting fortunes. They have great careers, great lives. They can get on with their football and then go away for six weeks in the summer. Don't cause problems at Christmas."

Redknapp is wary of players being depicted as carousers by the notoriously salacious British media. "The press will be waiting, someone will be taking pictures of them," he said. "Somebody can just have their eyes closed and it looks like they are boozed. You don't need it."

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mourinho's 10 commandments

Leading up to the Clasico this past weekend between Real Madrid and Barcelona, Paul Kennedy of Soccer America reported on what Jose Mourinho left his players with as their 10 secrets of success heading into this massive rivalry of world football super powers.

What will it take for Real Madrid to beat Barcelona in their much-awaited Clasico on Saturday at the Bernabeu Stadium? Real has beaten Barca just once in seven games since Coach Jose Mourinho took charge last year, but, according to the pro-Real Madrid sports daily Marca, Mourinho gave his players a list of 10 secrets to success ...

Mourinho's 10 commandments
1. Don't give up a goal. Or at least not in the first half.

2. Let the fans make the Bernabeu Stadium hell for Barca.

3. Don't worry about the referee. But be careful about picking up cards.

4. Take advantage of Real's aerial superiority.

5. Don't lose sight of the ball for an instant.

6. Shut down the space Barca players have and pass on the marking.

7. Intensity, Pressure, Verticality and lots of rhythm.

8. Work hard to tire out Barca.

9. Concentration and coordination of movements.

10. Believe in yourself. Don't be anxious.

A Coach Trades Up by Going to a 'Midmajor'

Perhaps only in the nonrevenue-producing universe of collegiate men’s soccer would Creighton University, a small Jesuit college in Nebraska, be considered a more desirable destination than the University of North Carolina.

But that is essentially what the highly regarded Elmar Bolowich said when he stunned the soccer community last February with his decision to leave Chapel Hill after 22 years as coach and with the Tar Heels building toward a potential second N.C.A.A. championship — that men’s soccer matters more in Omaha.

“When you’re at one place so long, you always wonder, ‘Is this the only thing?’ ” Bolowich said. “I tell my players you have to get out of your comfort zone if you really want to accomplish something big. I felt like that applied to me first.”

Nine months later, Bolowich has Creighton in the College Cup Final Four for the first time since 2002. The second-seeded Bluejays (21-2) will face U.N.C. Charlotte (16-4-3) in the first semifinal Friday in Hoover, Ala. Top-seeded North Carolina (20-2-2), now under the guidance of the Bolowich protégé Carlos Somoano, meets 13th-seeded U.C.L.A. (18-4-1) in the other semifinal. If seeds hold, Creighton would meet North Carolina in the N.C.A.A. championship game Sunday.

“I left a very good team,” Bolowich said. “Even when I parted, I told the U.N.C. guys, ‘You’re going to be back in the final four.’ ”

Bolowich left a comfortable situation at North Carolina, where he earned an annual salary of $91,052, according to state records, and cultivated a recruiting pipeline from the local youth soccer clubs. But he said he has found an even sweeter spot at Creighton.

“Being the only major fall sport in Omaha, your sport is getting recognized,” Bolowich said. “Even being at a top school like North Carolina, we were just one of 28 sports.”

Beth Miller, the senior associate athletic director at North Carolina, said: “It’s true that at Creighton, they don’t have football, so it’s the premier fall sport. That’s great for them. But I think at the University of North Carolina, while we do have a broad-based program, soccer is definitely one of our premier sports — men’s soccer and women’s soccer. It is a little different, the positioning of the sport, but we’re seeing success in a lot of sports. We had 5,800 people at our N.C.A.A. quarterfinal game. It was a great crowd.”

North Carolina has nearly four times as many students and twice as many Division I athletic programs as Creighton. But bigger college does not always equal better prospects.

With an N.C.A.A. maximum of 9.9 scholarships per team and soccer’s global reach, midmajor institutions like U.C. Santa Barbara (2006) and Akron (2010) have won N.C.A.A. championships in recent years.

“In our soccer world, you don’t think of Creighton or Charlotte as midmajors,” said Somoano, who was Bolowich’s top assistant coach for nine years before becoming the head coach at North Carolina this season. “I was at Virginia Commonwealth University prior to coming to U.N.C., and I knew we could be as competitive as anybody.”

Creighton, which competes in the Missouri Valley Conference, has advanced to the N.C.A.A. tournament 19 of the last 20 seasons. This is the Bluejays’ fourth College Cup appearance. After making it to the national championship game in 2000 and the semifinals in 2002, the university opened Morrison Stadium in 2003. The $13 million soccer-only facility has further raised the program’s profile with blue-chip recruits.

“When you see that stadium, you want to go,” said the senior defender and Chicago-area native Andrew Duran, a former national high school player of the year.

It certainly got Bolowich’s attention. A native of Edenkoben, Germany, Bolowich (pronounced BOWL-o-vich) played and coached semiprofessional soccer after graduating from the University of Mainz. He joined U.N.C. as a part-time assistant in 1986, and became a two-time Atlantic Coast Conference coach of the year. He went 280-144-40 in 22 seasons.

When the former Creighton coach Jamie Clark left after one season to take the same job at the University of Washington, Bolowich visited Omaha and toured the stadium, which College Soccer News called the most exciting college soccer site in the nation.

Clark resigned Jan. 26. Creighton hired Bolowich 15 days later.

“It is phenomenal, the difference,” Bolowich said. “People know you’re here. They care about the program. There are so many people tied to it that they have suites up in the stadium. It’s like a party when you have a home game.”

Klinsmann’s contract with USSF pays him $2.5 million in base salary

Steve Goff of the Washington Post reports that Juergen Klinsmann will earn $2.5 million in base salary to coach the U.S. men’s national soccer team — more than four times higher than his predecessor, Bob Bradley, and 13 times larger than women’s coach Pia Sundhage.

No other details about Klinsmann’s contract, including incentives and other payments, appeared in the U.S. Soccer Federation’s audited financial statements.

Klinsmann, a German icon, signed a three-year contract with the USSF in August. He replaced Bradley, the 2010 World Cup coach who was dismissed just one year into a new, four-year deal. According to the USSF documents, Bradley was entitled to compensation through August 2012.

For additional information.....

It’s unclear how much the federation paid — or continues to pay — Bradley after his termination. Bradley, who is now coaching Egypt’s national team, had a base salary of about $450,000 between April 2009 and March 2010. (He also earned bonuses, pushing his total to more than $800,000.) Presumably, Bradley’s base figure rose to between $500,000 and $600,000 when he signed the new pact in September 2010.

Sundhage, who guided the United States to the 2008 Olympic gold medal and second place at the Women’s World Cup last summer, has a base salary of $190,000 in the final year of a contract that expires next November. She also receives a marketing guarantee of $20,000 annually, and this year met incentives of undisclosed amounts for the World Cup success.

Meantime, the Insider has learned that the Chicago-based organization is bracing for losses over two to three years after reporting gains in recent years. One source cited Klinsmann’s contract, an increased financial commitment to officiating programs at the pro level and expansion of the Development Academy, which was created in 2007 to improve the quality of the national youth system.

The federation will look to boost revenue when it renews — or enters into new — sponsorship deals after the current pacts expire in December 2014.

Between April 2010 and March 2011, the USSF received $11 million from Nike and $5.6 million from Soccer United Marketing, an MLS-owned entity that has a representation agreement with the federation.

First-year coach leads UNC to title

First-year North Carolina men’s soccer coach Carlos Somoano isn’t one to sling one-liners in a press conference or blow a gasket at a referee.

His leadership style is understated yet effective, as evidenced by the confetti machine raining yellow, blue and white down on the Tar Heels on Sunday following the championship match of the NCAA College Cup.

“He gave us a little pre-game speech and after he left the field, the players looked at each other and were like, ‘Great speech,' ” said UNC senior captain Kirk Urso of the man players simply refer to as ‘Carlos.’ “We were all motivated and ready to go. He has his moments.”

The top-seeded Tar Heels beat unseeded and upset-minded Charlotte 1-0 in front of 8,777 fans at Regions Park.

Somoano (pronounced Some-WAH-no) became the second coach in NCAA history to win a national title in his first season, joining Indiana’s Mike Freitag, who accomplished the feat in 2004. He is only the third coach to reach 20 wins in his inaugural campaign, joining San Diego State’s Chuck Clegg (1982) and Santa Clara’s Mitch Murray (1991), as the Tar Heels finished 21-2-3.

“The fact that we won the national championship is extremely rewarding, but more so than anything is my experience working for these guys and them working for me and us working as a team for each other,” the 41-year-old Somoano said. “That’s what makes me feel great inside.”

His devotion to the sport had paid off for Somoano, who grew up in football-crazy Texas and was a former two-time captain at Division II Eckerd on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Although North Carolina made the College Cup for the fourth consecutive season, only three current players -- Urso, goalkeeper Scott Goodwin and midfielder Enzo Martinez -- started for the Tar Heels at the event last season. The Carolina coaching vacancy was created on Feb. 9 when former coach Elmar Bolovich, who led UNC to the 2001 title, left for Creighton after 21 seasons in Chapel Hill. After serving as the interim coach following nine seasons as an assistant, Somoano was named the program’s fifth head coach on April 25.

Urso said that from day one during the preseason, every minute of the day was organized. To Goodwin, discipline and focus have been hallmarks of the Somoano tenure.

“He kept us week by week on who we’re playing, who we’re facing,” Goodwin said. “I think now we can kind of celebrate a bit, which is nice.”

Somoano also welcomed two standout transfers including Ben Speas, a junior who won a national title last year at Akron and scored the game’s lone goal on an unassisted 25-yarder in the 65th minute on Sunday in what the coach called a “moment of inspiration.” UNC featured the youngest starting line-up of the College Cup field.

“He made sure we were in check all the way through the season,” said Speas, named Most Oustanding Offensive Player for the 2011 College Cup. “I think a big reason we won this thing is because of Carlos, for sure.”

In Friday’s second semifinal, UNC battled UCLA to a 2-2 tie in 110 minutes and claimed a 3-1 penalty shootout victory. The Tar Heels faced a team with a completely different style Sunday with the 49ers, who outshot them 19-10. It was the first time all year his team wasn’t able to dominate the ball, Somoano said.

“That happens sometimes in soccer, but we always believed that we could find a way to win the game because we’ve done that all year long,” Somoano said. “We don’t get stressed if things don’t go our way. We’ve had a great attitude in that all year long, whether it be the referees’ decisions or mistakes that we make or an opponent getting after us a little bit.”

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Brazil's Soccer Philosopher King

Watching the 1982 World Cup in my parent's basement, my brother and I pranced around our basement trying to imitate the beauty of Socrates. No-look passes, flicks and back heels were introduced to a growing soccer nation, and I was clearly swept up in it.

With the passing of the Brazilian midfielder this past weekend at the age of 57, Gabriele Marcotti writes of the great playmaker and leader of the Brazilian football revolution.

Sunday morning marked the passing of Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira, better known simply as Socrates. The Brazilian midfielder was 57. He is survived by his wife and six sons. Sometimes greatness is measured through intangibles like leadership and personality, sometimes it is gauged through empirical achievement, like statistics and championships. Sometimes it's a combination of all those things. But Socrates stood on an even higher plane: Soccer will probably never again produce anyone like him.

The 1982 Brazilian team that he captained was perhaps the greatest never to win the World Cup (along with Hungary in 1954 and Holland in 1974). It was also one of the last Brazil teams to fully embody the romantic stereotype that comes to mind when we think of the green-and-gold. Sublime touches, languid pace, creativity ... the sheer joy of what they call "jogo bonito," or the beautiful game. Zico was probably the best player on that Brazil side, but Socrates was its philosophy made flesh.

At 6-foot-4 and rail-thin, he strolled through the midfield sporting his trademark beard and headband. He could have been Bill Walton's long lost Brazilian cousin. On the ball though, he was more Magic Johnson, thanks to his signature move, the no-look backheel pass. It's one of those things that isn't particularly hard to do, but is frightfully difficult to do well, mainly because you have to weight and execute a pass to a point on the pitch you can't actually see. Plus, rather than kicking the ball with your foot, where you at least have some level of sensitivity, you strike it with the bony part of your heel. When you see it these days, it's often a hit-and-hope move of last resort. For Socrates it was his bread and butter, something he nonchalantly pulled off in congested midfields, surprising not just his opponents, but often his teammates too, who would suddenly receive assists in mid-stride.

The backheel is not something any youth coach teaches. Nor is it something any pro coach particularly wants to encourage, precisely because it is so unpredictable. But in the carefree world of 1970s Brazilian soccer it had its place, especially when used as effectively as Socrates used it.

Jones - "I’ll play anywhere"

Manchester United utility player Phil Jones is more than happy to be shuffled around the side if it means the team keeps on winning.

The 19-year-old summer signing from Blackburn has produced some impressive performances this season despite being asked to play on the right or in the centre of defence and also in midfield.

“I enjoy playing anywhere. I enjoy playing football, so wherever I am asked to play I will play,” he said.

“If the manager asks me to play right-back, centre-back or midfield, I will go and do a job there.

“I don’t think it really matters at the moment that I am cementing a spot in a certain position because I am still young."

“Hopefully, as my career progresses that will happen.”

Jones scored his first goal for the club in the weekend’s 1-0 win at Aston Villa.

“I’m delighted to score but it wasn’t about the goal. It was about three points and I thought the lads did exceptionally well,” he added.

Rennie and Jacobus to be inducted into NSCAA Hall of Fame

John Rennie, the noted men’s coach at Duke University, and M. “Chick” Jacobus, the highly successful boys coach at Kingswood School of West Hartford, Conn., will comprise the 2012 induction class to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s Hall of Fame.

The two will be inducted into the NSCAA’s Hall of Fame as part of the Association’s annual Awards Banquet, to be held Friday, January 13, at 7 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom of the Kansas City Convention Center. The event is being held in conjunction with the annual NSCAA Convention, which will run from January 11-15 in Kansas City, Mo.

About John Rennie

Rennie built Duke into a soccer powerhouse, winning the first NCAA national championship by any Blue Devil athletics squad in 1986. During his 36 seasons he compiled a career mark of 454-207-49, including a 410-161-35 record in his 29 seasons at Duke, the nation’s most successful program during that time frame.

He led his team to the NCAA Tournament 20 times during his tenure, including five trips to the College Cup (1982, 1986, 1992, 1995 and 2004). His program cut a broad path in the Atlantic Coast Conference, winning the league title five times as he amassed the most wins by a coach at an ACC schools (410) and the league victories (95). The success was built upon defense, with his teams posting 242 shutouts under his tutelage, including 48 in his final seven seasons. Six of his players earned national player of the year honors, while 29 Blue Devils earned All-America honors and four were named Academic All-America.

Since his retirement as Duke’s coach after the 2007 season, Rennie has been active with U.S. Club Soccer and in 2009 was named the organization’s director of youth development. The first chairman of the NCAA Division I Soccer Coaches Committee, Rennie has served as a member of the USSF National Coaching Staff and is a co-founder of the Triangle Futbol Club. In 2007 he received the NSCAA’s Bill Jeffrey Award, presented to recognize long-term service to intercollegiate soccer.

About Chick Jacobus

Jacobus, retired boys soccer coach at Kingswood School of West Hartford, Conn., and co-founder of the Western New England Prep School Soccer Association (WNEPSSA), has been elected to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Hall of Fame. A 1924 graduate of Kingswood, he matriculated at Princeton University, earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in architecture. He returned to Kingswood in 1932 and remained there as a faculty member for his entire professional life, save for a stint in service during World War II.

In 24 seasons Jacobus fashioned a record of 115-77-25, a .588 winning percentage. His Kingswood teams were known for their competitiveness and their sportsmanship, and his emphasis on integrity and responsibility served his charges well. He maintained ties with his players throughout his career and into retirement, serving as an advisor and role model to many.

His service to soccer included a term as president of WNEPSSA. He was president of the NSCAA in 1964, becoming only the second non-collegiate coach to serve in the capacity. He received the NSCAA’s Honor Award in 1976. Jacobus passed away in 1982, leaving no surviving family. The Kingswood Oxford School will receive the award in his name.

Ramirez offered American Dream at LIU

Arnie Ramirez was a pioneer in collegiate soccer here in the United States, and not just because of the success his Long Island University team had on the field.

Ramirez gave opportunities to Latino players long before anyone else was interested and able to do so at the collegiate level.

The players and men he has inspired has ranged from Giovanni Savarese, the New York/New Jersey MetroStars scoring legend who is the New York Cosmos Academy director and Jorge Acosta, Maicol Antelo, Roger Chavez, Mickey Kydes, Walter Bustamante, Richard Chinapoo and Martin Alvarez, among others who went on to play professionally in the United States or abroad.
"A lot of the kids were from the city like me -- with a scholarship," Ramírez said. "They were able to do something with their lives or it would not have happened."

Because LIU is an inner-city college in Brooklyn, it wasn't easy convincing American-born players to attend the school.

"I had to get kids from other countries," Ramírez said. "The really good players didn't want to go to LIU or Brooklyn."

Which made LIU a unique school well before it’s time.

"Most teams didn't have Latino players," he added. "They thought they were undisciplined. I gave them a chance."

A chance for an education and to play a game they all loved.

Ramírez was an offensive-minded coach.

"I told my players, 'When I'm on the bench, I want to enjoy myself. I want to watch beautiful soccer,' " he said.

Ramírez said he did not care about the size of the player, "as long as they were comfortable with the ball. We had a lot of midgets. We had a lot of little guys."

And the Blackbirds wound up with a lot of wins.

Ramírez has lived a life most coaches would love to boast on his resume. He either has played, coached or administered at every level -- from youth to high school to college to amateur to professional to international.

Name a role and he has done it.

Ramírez is best known as the Long Island University men's coach for 19 years. He certainly left his mark, helping Latinos home and abroad get an education and have a better life. For the record, Ramírez accrued a 214-145-25 record and four NCAA Division I tournament appearances. He has more than 300 career wins. In 2006, Ramírez was inducted into the LIU Sports Hall of Fame.

But that was only part of the equation. He was the technical director and coach of the Puerto National Team during qualifying for the 1994 World Cup.

He was the liaison for the Bolivian team during that competition in the United States

He was liaison for the Mexico team during the 1996 Summer Olympics in the USA.

He also was director of Pele Soccer Camps, coach of Inka S.C., an amateur soccer team based in New York City, most recently the women's soccer coach at Ramapo State and the coach of various youth soccer teams and clubs in the metropolitan area.

What a soccer life.

"I was fortunate," Ramírez said. "I did something I loved for more than 40 years. It was a dream. I am so proud my players did so well."

Gunn leads Cinderella Charlotte to NCAA College Cup

The meteoric rise of the Charlotte 49ers into the 2011 College Cup is like something out of a movie, and coach Jeremy Gunn is the orchestrator of their run.

If you read my column, you know I am not an astute and knowledgeable fan of soccer.

But to spend 45 minutes over breakfast with Charlotte soccer coach Jeremy Gunn is to want to launch a corner kick, head a ball into a goal, pick up a yellow card or even a red card.

Gunn's passion for his team, sport, school, adopted city, music, cricket, Leeds United, the NCAA's student-athlete system, hard work and tea with milk and sugar fills Starbucks on East Boulevard. Every other conversation in the room, and there are at least 25, is nothing but white noise.

Gunn, 40, makes tea sound like a reward.

At about noon today, he and his team will get another when they leave for Hoover, Ala., and soccer's College Cup. They'll play Creighton Friday and, if they win, play the North Carolina-UCLA winner Sunday.

The achievement is tremendous. Like basketball and football, soccer has storied programs, and Charlotte has not been one of them.

Gunn, however, insists the 49ers played some of the best soccer in the country in 2010.

"But you have to have a certain resolve to win games against the great teams," he says over oatmeal that was warm when he ordered but will soon turn cold. "There's more steel to the team this year."

Take a break and eat if you want, I suggest.

Dark, lean and usually smiling, Gunn is accustomed to cold oatmeal. He starts talking and there's just so much to say.

"Certain programs win national championships and go to final fours," Gunn says. "You think that's what happens to other programs, the so-called special programs that have an aura about them. We had that tipping point where you realize the teams you've long been looking up at, you finally look at square in the eye."

Monday, December 5, 2011

Martin steers Ohio Wesleyan through adversity en route to National Title

Dr. Jay Martin and his Ohio Wesleyan team went on an amazing journey this season, which culminated with a National Championship on Sunday.

The story to get there was amazing, and a tremendous tribute to Martin's ability to keep his players focused on the process and to not get distracted when adversity struck during the week leading to the Final.

Andrew Das of the New York Times wrote of this improbable story line that led to Martin's 608th career victory and Division III National Title.

Ohio Wesleyan beat Calvin, 2-1, on Saturday night in San Antonio to win the N.C.A.A. Division III national championship. The title was the second for Ohio Wesleyan and its coach, Jay Martin, who earned his 608th career victory in the final. That set a record for the most wins by any coach at any level in college men’s soccer.

But the championship, and the milestone, do not begin to tell the story of the Battling Bishops’ week in Texas.

Ohio Wesleyan arrived in San Antonio on Wednesday, and the first thing the players and coaches did was head out for a meal. While they ate, someone broke into the team’s two rented vans, which were parked outside the restaurant. Less than an hour after leaving the airport, they had lost everything from their soccer balls to their homework.
Among the items stolen were 15 laptop computers belonging to the players, wallets, clothes, practice gear, soccer shoes, uniforms and other personal items.

An Ohio Wesleyan sports information director was scheduled to bring down extra uniforms Thursday, and Trinity (Texas), the host school for the championship, loaned the Ohio Wesleyan players shoes, soccer balls and cones for practice.

It will be up to the San Antonio Police Department to find the other items that are not so easily replaced.

“Two of my guys were crying because all their projects and work for finals next week were on their computers that were stolen,” Martin said. “I immediately called our president and the dean of students. They said they will contact all their professors to tell them about the potential problem. They are very supportive. We want to take the academic pressure off them as quickly as we could.”

Trinity Coach Paul McGinlay, who previously coached at Wooster, a conference rival of Ohio Wesleyan’s, stepped in to help the visitors prepare for their semifinal against Montclair State. While McGinlay opened up his equipment closet, tournament organizers came up with gifts for the Bishops to hand out at a Special Olympics clinic that the teams held Thursday; the pens, pencils and keychains that the Bishops had brought from Ohio were among the items stolen from the vans.

“It is a small world,” said McGinlay, who has known Martin for 25 years. “Twenty-one years ago Jay wrote my reference for the Trinity job. I’ve been here ever since. He is a good friend, and I will do whatever I can to help him and his team.”

Martin took things from there, guiding Ohio Wesleyan to two victories that seemed the furthest thing from their minds on Wednesday. He and his team will travel home a lot prouder, if a little lighter. And Martin will be praised for a coaching job that went above and beyond the call only days after all (or at least some) seemed lost.

“My message to our guys is: all that stuff is material, and they will get it back eventually,” Martin had said Friday. “But this experience is something they will have forever one way or the other.”