Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Big Crowd Weekend Breaks 4 Million Mark

Mike Woitalla of Soccer America writes of the continued success at the turnstyles for Major League Soccer.

Three Week 24 games were postponed because of Hurricane Irene but the seven remaining games drew big crowds as the season's total broke the 4 million mark. For MLS attendance rankings ...

* The average attendance for Week 24's seven games was 20,813 as total attendance this season hit 4,095,750 (through 235 games).

* MLS broke the 4 million mark once before -- last season, when total attendance, with two fewer teams, was 4,002,000.

* The Portland Timbers sold out their 14th straight game with another 18,627 crowd for Wednesday's 1-0 win over Chivas USA.

* The Seattle Sounders rewarded 36,364 fans with a 6-2 win over Columbus.

* MLS's attendance average so far this season is 17,428. The 2010 season ended with a 16,037 league-wide attendance average.

* MLS's highest attendance came in its inaugural season of 1996 -- 17,406.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

College Soccer Crowd Records Continue to Fall

Soccer America reports on the continued rise in attendance in college soccer here in the United States.

College soccer continues to ride a wave of increasing popularity, evidence of which were the record crowds enjoyed by both No. 1 Louisville and Akron, the team it lost to in the 2010 Men's College Cup final, on Saturday. But there also record crowds at UAB and College of Charleston and the biggest turnout at Bowling Green in 15 years ...

Louisville won its battle with Preseason No. 2 UCLA, 2-0, in front of a record crowd of 7,821 at Cardinal Park. The previous Louisville record wa s 5,562 set against Ohio State in last year’s Sweet 16.

Akron beat Cleveland State, 5-0, before a record-setting crowd of 5,241 fans at FirstEnergy Stadium-Cub Cadet Field (formerly known as Jackson Field).

-- UAB drew 3,141 fans -- a regular-season attendance record for West Campus Field -- for its 2-1 season-opening victory over Clemson Saturday night. “What a perfect night it was,” UAB head coach Mike Getman said. “It was a great crowd that was loud and gave us a lot of energy. Our fans raised the intensity of our team and we couldn’t have won without the terrific crowd."

-- In spite of the postponement of the game scheduled to be Friday's NSCAA Game of the Week opener on Fox Soccer, College of Charleston set a school record of 2,931 fans for Sunday's match against South Carolina.

-- Bowling Green drew a crowd of 2,133 -- more than triple the previous largest crowd at Cochrane Field in the last 15 years -- for its 2-0 win over 2010 NCAA Division I semifinalist Michigan.

Eto'o transfer proves MLS success is dependent on corporations, investors

If it were not already apparent, success of the modern game is dependent on corporate funding and owner investments.

The growth of the game would be quite different if not for sponsors and external funding. From the naming rights of many stadia to the field boards and club kits, the branding from corporations is near impossible to ignore.

The current structure of Major League Soccer's player rules and salary cap present its own challenges. Without corporate funding, how would Major League Soccer rationalize the cost of David Beckham’s $5.5 million salary, or even Freddy Adu’s reported $425,000 in salary and compensation? Imagine a player in Major League Soccer earning $29 million annually, more than five times that of the league’s top earner. Only a small percentage of MLS players earn an amount worthy of comparison.

Samuel Eto’o’s transfer to Anzhi Makhachkala of the Russian Premier League is worth as much as $87 million. The three-year deal makes him the highest paid footballer and the second highest paid athlete of 2011. Formula One Driver Fernando Alonso reportedly earns more than $40 million annually.

The important note to consider that Eto’o’s latest deal is without endorsements. Eto’o is sponsored by Puma, who extended its partnership with the Cameroon National Team at the end of 2010. Financial terms of his endorsement were not disclosed.

The Eto’o deal mirrors similar but not quite as lucrative transfers as top talent above the age of thirty continue to move. Los Angeles Galaxy striker Robbie Keane was acquired from Tottenham Hotspur earlier this month for $4.8 million per year. The two-year deal did not include a transfer fee from his former club.

In light of the many big names transferring both to clubs abroad and in Major League Soccer (as the league's transfer window closed), less has been discussed about each nation's able to retain homegrown players in their respective league. Lucrative contracts with clubs capable of winning hardware year after year provide few reasons for players not to consider a transfer. It is the tradition that is forgotten in the shadow of large salaries - an opportunity MLS may be capable of restoring.

Regardless, the result of the Eto’o transfer is an increased value for the soccer industry as a whole. While interests of players include new opportunities and environments, the interest of investors and owners is to transform a club into a business with the global brand power of Barcelona and Manchester United.

It is becoming the standard that corporate dollars are a requirement for world class soccer.

With MLS receiving more interest now than ever, the brand is also in its infancy on a global level. When is it time for MLS to begin building an international brand? As the league continues to attract world class talent (albeit in the latter stages of their careers), there is obvious potential with the likes of Beckham, Henry, etc.

However, little has been done to provide Major League Soccer with face time abroad. International preseason training and participation in the Emirates Cup may be just the start.

Under current terms, MLS broadcasting partners are limited to televising matches in the United States. The official video streaming service produced by MLS, MatchDay Live, also limited viewing to customers located in the United States during use via IP address, etc. According to Major League Soccer’s Blackout Regulations, MatchDay Live is not available outside of the United States, Canada and Mexico.

It is the lure of the UEFA Champions League that is the most obvious draw for both corporations and the rich alike. The clubs finishing first and second in the Russian Premier League are guaranteed a spot in the group stage while the third place finisher is allowed a chance to qualify from the second stage of the competition. Neither Major League Soccer nor the CONCACAF Champions League are able to produce the television ratings and popularity that surrounds tournaments hosted by UEFA.

For those unfamiliar with the Russian Premier League, some may consider it comparable to Major League Soccer in its obscurity. However, the current UEFA Club Rankings list a number of Russian sides amongst the likes of AC Milan and Valencia, and even ahead of AS Roma, Tottenham and Manchester City.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fergie 'wouldn't have allowed' drought

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson insists he "wouldn't have allowed" the club to go six years without a trophy, as he prepares to take on silverware shy Arsenal.

The Gunners have failed to win a trophy under Arsene Wenger since their 2005 FA Cup final victory over United and, although Ferguson has been vocal in his support of his French rival in recent years, the Red Devils' boss appears to have stepped up the mind games again ahead of Sunday's clash sat Old Trafford.

On the prospect of going six years without winning anything, Ferguson said: "I wouldn't have allowed that to happen. You know, I don't contemplate these things.

"Arsene has got his way and I've got my way and, you do the best with what you believe in. And that's what Arsene is trying to do. It is a different way of management.''

Wenger has come under plenty of criticism of late for a difficult start to the season on the pitch and the sales of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri off it, though the pressure was alleviated a little by a midweek Champions League victory over Udinese.

Arsenal visited the reigning Premier League champions on Sunday having taken one point from their opening three games, and were left in the relegation zone by the end of the day.

What's next for Arsenal, Wenger?

At times, there's a certain stubbornness when it comes to clubs parting ways with an established coach. The quick exit that we see so regularly - especially in Europe - might happen often enough to be the standard, but there are examples of teams that seem unable to tell when it's time for a change. Public pressure and results might be against the coach, but somehow he keeps his job.

J Hutcherson writes of the unique relationship between Arsenal and their manager, Arsene Wenger.

If you happen to be an Arsenal fan, you've probably raised your level of concern about your manager. Arsene Wenger's squad was on the wrong side of an embarrassing 8-2 loss to Manchester United over the weekend, and they're at risk of losing control of their season in September. This from a club that disappointed in not putting up more of a challenge with a 4th-place finish last season.

With that in mind, the expectations at Arsenal are always going to be at or near the top of the table. Failing to get the team there has to be a concern, especially in England where it can be a quick slide from contender, to respectable, to trouble.

Part of that might be why Wenger doesn't seem as in danger of losing his job as another coach might in the same situation. Wenger has earned his leeway. He was the architect of one of the best runs in the history of English soccer - much less the more recent history of the Premier League. Arsenal's undefeated streak lasted for more than a season, he's won the title three times, and he's kept Arsenal in contention. It's that last item that might be the most important.

Under Wenger, Arsenal has had the title chasing stability to open a new 60,000-seat stadium and put distance between themselves and their London competition for most financially viable club in the capital. Anyone else in that role, and Arsenal's steps forward could just as easily become steps back. It's worth keeping in mind that Wenger has managed under very different chief executives, moving from David Dein to Ivan Gazidis.

No team hires a former Major League Soccer executive without the concept of cost control in mind, and that's been the story of Arsenal in recent seasons. They've played a very different game from the clubs nearest them in the table, working to make sure the budget is sensible while keeping the squad competitive. There's an argument that the Arsenal version of success - and by extension Wenger's - is almost unique at Premier League level. He's expected to do more with less than his rivals even though he built the modern version of the club and his own reputation under less stringent finances.

There's an argument that grows stronger with each loss that Arsenal have taken their financial football too far. Wenger hasn't been able to replace players at the level a club like Arsenal requires. His squads lose strength seemingly every season. His ability to hold the squad together enough to keep winning - i.e. his job - grows more difficult each time another player exits.

When Dein resigned as vice-chairman of Arsenal in 2007 Wenger offered to resign with him. After all, Dein was as important to Arsenal's era of dominance as the manager he hired. As the story goes, Dein talked Wenger out of it for the good of the club. No one at that level of the clubs administration seemed to suffer from the illusion that they would be better off without Wenger. That same thinking might be what's keeping him employed now.

Yet you have to wonder what's in it for Wenger. For all the talk of the challenge of returning a club to former glory, it's not the same when you're financially handcuffed the way Wenger seems to be. In many ways, his Arsenal no longer exists. The club is about implementing cost controls and financial fair play well before UEFA tries to enforce their new rules for how clubs spend their money. In other words, Arsenal have created a playing field that puts their manager, their squad, and their fans at a competitive disadvantage now. What that means for the future is more of an open question than Arsenal would like.

For their manager? Would anyone really blame Wenger for reconsidering his role in the light of recent events? He doesn't have the squad to compete against the Premier League elite, and there's an argument that Arsenal's finish last season was an overachievement rather than a disappointment. His squad is noticeably weaker in a market where Arsenal doesn't have the buying power of their nearest rivals. He remains playing against restrictions imposed by his club that seem beyond his influence.

It's the club that has in no small part worked against sporting success by putting so much stress on finances, real estate ventures, and stadium construction rather than doing as much as possible to compete in the transfer market and on the field. Their success is tempered in a way that doesn't work for most Premier League teams.

For Wenger, it's living through an era when everyone else in the Premier League - no matter how begrudgingly - wouldn't have minded being like Arsenal. Now? Arsenal are chasing their nearest rival Tottenham for contending team to fall off the most from last season. And yet, without Wenger in charge there's still the feeling that it could be worse.

That's where the Arsenal story takes a different turn. It's not so much about Arsenal parting ways with Wenger as it is Wenger parting ways with Arsenal.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

True holding midfielder re-emerges in MLS

Conventional wisdom once demanded a good club needed a midfield destroyer, someone to bounce about over a broad range with menace and bite and one simple goal in life: to create mayhem and turnovers in the midfield while eliminating rhythm for the other guys’ attack.

Some MLS clubs still have a character befitting this description, a spritely type who has yet to meet an attack he wouldn’t like to kick, hammer and choke into submission.

Steve Davis writes of the return of the true holding midfielder in Major League Soccer.

But there is another way, a slightly less physical and chaotic MO, to patrol areas in front of a back four. More teams are now assigning a true, central holding presence. His job is still about breaking up attacks and screening the back line, but his methods are more reliant on positioning and eliminating dangerous space, while less reliant on tireless tackling and kicking shins.

The old-school destroyers still exist in MLS. A good example has been on the job for three years in Seattle, where Osvaldo Alonso remains young enough, mobile enough and hungry enough to crash about over a greater range.

Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman does much the same from the diamond-midfield formation at Rio Tinto. Shalrie Joseph once used his big stride to patrol this way for New England, although he has sometimes occupied more advanced roles in the Revolution midfield this season.

But some teams want a little more “holding” from their holding midfielders. What managers ask from this revised role is a highly disciplined determination to occupy and police the central areas in front of the back four, the most vulnerable space from which so many goals emanate. The old adage about “touching every blade of grass” just doesn’t apply to these guys, which is exactly what managers want.

A big part of the ongoing Chivas USA resurrection is the work Simon Elliott is performing in such a role at the Home Depot Center. FC Dallas’ Daniel Hernandez has been doing the same for two-plus years now. Teemu Tainio has been in such a recessed posture for much of the year at Red Bull Arena. And veteran German midfielder Torsten Frings started in that spot for Toronto FC before being redeployed in the defense.

You might notice a trend there: Every one of those players is north of 30. Elliott is renowned for his exceptional fitness but nothing can alter that fact that he’s 37, and with advancing age comes fading quickness. Hernandez recently turned 35. Frings will cross into the 35-and-older group later this year. Tainio is the “baby” at 31.

Clearly all these guys can still perform, but their range and speed may be limited. So managers arrange a system that plays to their strengths, which is snuffing out danger strategically, tackling in the right spots and the occasional need for well-chosen tactical fouling. They aren’t “two-way” midfielders by any stretch.

The basic rule: The more these fellows can remain central, the better. They want to defend over short distances, looking to intercept and tackle as attackers enter those danger zones, biding their time and waiting for trouble to find them instead of advancing out to look for trouble. When they are drawn out, it’s critical that someone steps into the vulnerable space.

In a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-3-3, the “weak side” central midfielder (that is, the player opposite the side with the ball) must recognize the need to step in. In a diamond, it’s the outside midfielder on the opposite side who must rush into the gap.

This way, a midfield defensive presence is always available there. That prevents a center back from being pulled out to challenge shooters or ball handers in those areas, which helps to maintain the important integrity of the back line.

None of this means, by the way, that systems deploying a “fifth defender” are just for old guys. At the recently completed FIFA U-20 World Cup, Brazil and Portugal each deployed a deep-lying holding presence who was content to stay at home.

For Brazil, GrĂªmio midfielder Fernando patrolled ably in the champs’ 4-3-3, remaining reliably connected to his back line. For Portugal, Danilo was similarly disciplined in the Europeans' 4-1-4-1 look. (Property of Italy’s Parma, Danilo is currently on loan at Greece’s Aris, and is one to keep an eye on for the future.)

Another key to the position is the offensive responsibilities, which are fairly limited. They are linking men and not much more. Rarely will Tainio, Elliott or Hernandez move forward to shoot or cross the way, say, David Beckham will for the LA Galaxy, even though he is nominally a defensive midfielder.

A 4-4-2 system with a straight-line midfield demands far more two-way action. Think about the way Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz perform for Colorado: One holds while the other advances on offense. On defense, they play a little more side-by-side, which means one player can drift out wide to assist the defending in those areas. Same for a 4-2-3-1, where one member of the defensive midfield pairing must slide out toward the touchline in defensive support while his partner holds the central space.

But players such as Elliott, Hernandez and the like don’t want to be drawn away. The fact is, bad things happen when they do stray too far from the security of their post. For instance, last weekend when Seattle and Dallas met with second place in the West at stake, Hernandez got caught out past his own halfway line at one point.

Seattle’s Mauro Rosales, usually set up to the right but playing more centrally Saturday as the Sounders tilted the field in a tactical adjustment, pushed one ball speedily by Hernandez. The home team captain needed to foul and was lucky to escape a yellow card. Hernandez just doesn’t have the foot speed to contain faster attackers in the open field.

That’s why he strategically limits his chances at being caught out there. It’s a role that works — for him, for his team and for a few others

Rennie knows how to take care of business

Eight years in pharmaceutical and software sales isn't the first thing that jumps out about Martin Rennie's resume.

It's the four straight coach of the year nominations as he's worked his way up the North American soccer ladder, or the USL-2 title in Cleveland, or considerable wins in Carolina (see box).

But the Vancouver Whitecaps' future coach, a 36-year-old Scot who takes over from Tommy Soehn in November, attributes much of his soccer success to his business background.

"I was around managers and owners - very driven, very smart - who knew how to get the best out of people," says Rennie. "I picked up things about communication, goal setting, building a winning culture . . . A lot of times I would think: When I'm in coaching, I'm going to use that . . ."

Rennie has done more than simply win games since leaving Scotland for Salem, Ore., in 2005 to coach the fourth-tier Cascade Surge; he's built teams and constructed winning cultures.

In Carolina, where the Rail-Hawks are enjoying unprecedented success, he turned over almost the entire roster when he took over in 2009.

In Cleveland before that, not much existed when Rennie arrived at the expansion club. No training facility: No team name; no colours; no roster.

Former players say he's achieved success as much by his ability to manage people as his tactical acumen.

"He's one of those guys you respect as a coach and you want to work with him to make the team better," said Josh Gardner, a midfielder who played for Rennie in Carolina and is now with MLS team Columbus Crew.

"He works on the psychology of the game, which I don't think a lot of coaches do. He knows how he can get the most out of a player by talking to them, focusing on their lives so he can understand them better.

"And he's always steady, always positive, regardless of the situation. That goes a long way because a lot of coaches can be negative."

The same two things consistently emerge about Rennie: He gets to know his players intimately; and he is immensely and unceasingly positive.

The son of a Reverend and a nurse, Rennie's desire to listen, to lead and to care for others comes naturally, he said.

His interest in psychology and the mental side of soccer was fuelled by his own frustrations as a player.

When Rennie arrived in North America to pursue a professional career, he promptly tore up his right knee. After he recovered, he struggled to find his form.

"I started to question, Now that I'm physically fine, why aren't I doing well?" he said. "A lot of the things I learned after, about how my mind works, would have helped."

But the quick demise of his playing days led Rennie into sales - he has a degree in business management from the University of Glasgow - and he earned his coaching badges and played non-league soccer on the side. He attained his UEFA 'A' License at 26, which is remarkably young, and also has his Youth License.

It might be an unconventional route to MLS head coach, but it's not one he would trade.

A voracious reader of books on business, communications, psychology and sport, one of Rennie's favourites is Winning! by Sir Clive Woodward. It documents the journey of England's national rugby team under Woodward's stewardship.

Shortly after he took over in

1997, England lost 76-0 to Australia. In 2003, after a Jonny Wilkinson drop goal, they were world champions.

Wrote Woodward: "We changed the way we coached, the way we played and, of equal importance, how we operated off the field."

"He worked for a big company in sales and then became a coach," Rennie said. "I often go back to it.

"Sales is one of those jobs where you have to perform in order to keep your job and be well paid. You can have a great week, or month, or year, but what are you doing now?"

Rennie, who is married with two young kids, said sales also gave him a greater appreciation for life in soccer, and that feeds his positive approach. Coaches and players are doing what they love, and he likes to remind people of that.

"I want to create an environment that is hard but it's fair and we see the good in situations," he said. "I just prefer to live with a more positive outlook on life.

"I want to give my players as much confidence as I can, help them believe in themselves and in each other."

If the last nine games of their inaugural MLS season go anything like the first 25, the Whitecaps (3-13-9) will need a healthy dose of belief next season as much as new personnel.

Rennie wanted to remain in Carolina for the end of this season.

Having lost last year's division two final to the Puerto Rico Islanders, there is unfinished business there.

Not ideal for the Whitecaps, perhaps, but an admirable statement of character.

He is confident that arriving in November will give him enough time to help turn this franchise around by year two.

"I do believe we can build something quickly," he said. "I look at how Philadelphia has done this season after the first season and that's encouraging.

"I think MLS is one of those leagues where you can do that. A lot of the players are of a similar standard, so if you find that edge, it can be huge."

Rennie's edge, he believes, is as much mental as anything.

It's a sales pitch the Whitecaps have gladly bought into. Fans will just have to wait awhile on the delivery.


Rennie's Three-step Plan

Martin Rennie has a clear process in mind for when he takes over as the Whitecaps coach in November:

- "Making sure I've got the players that fit the profile I believe in. You have to be hard to play against, well organized, have every single player willing to do the work defensively, and you have to be good on set plays. I want to have a team that can pass the ball, build from the back and have composure in possession. A side that can be creative and attacking."

- "The next thing is to build an environment where they have belief and confidence."

- "Then you make sure they understand what their roles are, when we have the ball, when we don't have the ball, on set pieces, and so on. It's a process that takes time, but I've had to do it every season."

The Rennie Factor

Since coming to North America from Scotland in 2005, Martin Rennie has had a positive effect on three clubs that haven't done so well without him: Cascade Surge, USL PDL (fourth tier) Rennie inherited a good team in 2005, won a second-straight division title at 12-2-2, made a conference final and qualified for the clubs first ever U.S.

Open Cup. Without Rennie, they won three games in 2006. The club folded in 2009.

Cleveland City Stars, USL-2 (third tier)

Rennie coached the expansion team to a pair of top-three league finishes in 2007 and '08, won a title and made a semifinal. After Rennie, the squad finished 11th in 2009, missed the playoffs and folded.

Carolina RailHawks, USL-1/USSF D2/

NASL (all second tier) The RailHawks finished eighth in their first two seasons, 2007 and '08.

Rennie showed up in '09 and they finished second. In 2010, they were top in their conference and lost in the league finals. They are currently atop the NASL table.

Talking Tactics

Rennie has often employed a 4-3-3 formation that morphs into a 4-5-1 defensively, but he said his Whitecaps could play 4-4-2 as well.

"It just depends on what I think is best, sometimes depending on the player's a bit, or the type of game were going to play," he said.



Martin Rennie, hired on Aug. 9 to take the Whitecaps coaching reins after this season, is just 36. But in a league where the average coaching age approaches 50, he isn't alone in the 30-something club.

Here's a look at the others:

Ben Olsen, D.C. United, 34 The youngest coach in MLS, Olsen took over in D.C. midway through 2010 after a nine-year playing

career. D.C. finished bottom of the standings last year but are battling for a playoff spot this season.

Jason Kreis, Real Salt Lake, 38 Kreis was 34 when he retired and stepped into the head job at RSL in 2007. One of the league's model franchises, they won MLS Cup in 2009 and reached the CONCACAF Champions League final this year.

Jesse Marsch, Montreal, 37 The expansion Impact have hired Bob Bradley's former assistant with the U.S. national team for 2012.

Marsch retired in 2009 after three MLS Cup titles and more than 300 games for D.C., Chicago and Chivas. Note: Rennie will also be the third Scottish head coach in MLS, joining Steve Nicol in New England and John Spencer in Portland.

NBC Sports Is All In On MLS

With the first positive impression of MLS on NBC from their promotion of it during Sunday Night Football there can be speculation about how much they are going to run with it. Sure, MLS doesn't have strong ratings (~300k viewers on ESPN2, ~70k on Fox Soccer) to merit strong promotion.

But there's a reason that NBC Sports will promote Major League Soccer in ways that the sport has never been promoted before 2012.

They are going to use their synergistic, multi-platform designed for MLS strategy to show the NFL and MLB exactly what the new Comcast/NBC partnership can be.

But NBC is looking at the big picture.

"We’ll be strategic about how we program the games," Miller said, pointing to the planned pregame and postgame shows for every MLS game as evidence of the care and attention NBC devotes to its partners. "We will promote MLS in our other programming, including the Olympics, to try and bring other viewers into the sport."

The message, particularly to the NFL and MLB, is clear: Promotion and production is how NBC believes it sets itself apart from its competitors.

They have already started with Sunday Night Football. They are likely to continue with their coverage of Notre Dame, the PAC-12, the Mountain West and the Ivy League. As Major League Soccer gets heavy promotion through these products and the winter with the NHL it is likely that NBC custom crafts their message to the audiences. Because that is what the NFL and MLB will expect them to do.

Notre Dame football means the Chicago Fire. PAC-12 and Mountain West means a lot of Western Conference teams. Both mean heavy use of supporter group footage as this is a natural connection for college football fans. Grambling v Southern on NBC? Hello, Sound Wave, the March to the Match. Hello Timbers Army and Section-8.

For the NHL fan expect hard hitting tackles, juggling shots and volleys.

I am not a soccer exceptionalist. NBC doesn't need to try and convince regular sports fans how different the sport is. There are already all the elements there for the average sports fan. They can use those moments that anyone recognizes as special. I fully expect them to do so.

While this is a huge step for MLS. It is going to be a stepping stone for NBC Sports. It will the step from secondary and tertiary sports (MLS, NHL, Olympics, Biking) to the big time. If NBC wants to show the NFL and MLB that those sports can be even bigger than they are now, they will do it by showing that they can get great ratings for sports that used to struggle. They've already got two bullet-points with the NHL and Tour de France. They are about to do it with MLS too.


The emergence of yet another new team at Manchester United may fuel the argument over just how Sir Alex Ferguson stays one step ahead of his rivals. But it settles another debate.

Graham Taylor writes of the future of Manchester United, as well as the potential for the English national team.

It shows England do have talent – and Fabio Capello should not be afraid to use it.

England’s defence for the Euro 2012 qualifiers with Bulgaria and Wales looks likely to be depleted, with Rio Ferdinand and Glen Johnson both set to be absent. But, in Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, there are two Manchester United youngsters who could represent England’s future.

Neither has played for the senior team yet and Jones has already been chosen for the imminent Under-21 games. But that would not worry me long term.

And you could add Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck, whose careful nurturing bears testament to Sir Alex’s innate ability to bring talent through at just the right time.

When you see Jones, just five minutes into his Old Trafford debut on Monday, shouting at his team-mates, organising players and puffing out his chest, you know you have some player.

Sir Alex deserves enormous credit for the manner in which he signed Jones from Blackburn and Smalling from Fulham before that. The season had barely ended when Jones arrived at United. Contrast that with the situation Arsenal and Arsene Wenger find themselves in.

The other point that springs to mind is the price United paid for Jones, because £16.5SHrS million looks a steal compared to some of the transfer dealings that have taken place. For all the money that is spent by clubs, arguably one of the most important slices should be reserved for getting recruitment right. Here United are ahead of the game.

The signing of Javier Hernandez last summer tells you that abroad as well as domestically, Sir Alex has the right people scouring for talent.

Regardless of what is riding on the game, I would have had no hesitation in picking Jones to partner John Terry against Bulgaria and asking Smalling to play at right-back.

The season may be in its infancy, but this pair really inspire confidence.

Ron Greenwood once picked seven Liverpool players for an international in 1977 and England could have a bunch of players making waves at United featuring in Sofia a week on Friday.

Wayne Rooney – and I really do believe that the success of his hair transplant has given him confidence – and Ashley Young look certain to start. And Welbeck and Cleverley are interesting players.

Welbeck is going to join Jones in the U21s and he looks full of confidence. Cleveley is a player I know from his loan spell at Watford and he possesses that rare quality of knowing what pass he is going to make long before the ball arrives at his feet.

He has already played around 75 league games given his loan spells and Welbeck, at 20, is not far short of 50 senior appearances.

They will not all play for England at once – yet. Whether Sir Alex would like to see that is another debate, but he will always have the interests of United at heart.

But Fabio must fight his corner and he will be intrigued by the fact that there is, after all, talent out there.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Humble Welbeck revels in Manchester United spotlight

Danny Welbeck says he is living the dream after the Manchester-born striker got United’s Old Trafford Premier League goal account underway on Monday.

"There is no better feeling for a Manc kid than scoring for United," said the 20-year-old from Longsight after the 3-0 win over Tottenham.

The former Hulme-based Trinity C of E High School student has been the spearhead of the new-look young Reds and opened the scoring against Spurs and had a vital cheeky back-heel assist for the second scored by Anderson.

Welbeck and fellow Academy product Tom Cleverley are now desperate to establish themselves in the senior ranks.

"We have both been at the academy for over 10 years really. For us both to be coming through and starting in the Manchester United first team is a massive achievement," added the striker.

"We are so grateful to all the coaches we have had throughout the youth system. We will never forget them and will always be grateful to them.

"It does give us confidence when the manager picks us. But we know we have a great squad. There is youth and experience in abundance.

"When it comes to team selection, whoever is chosen will give it their best shot. Me and Tom have shown we will work hard for the team whenever we are chosen. We want more of it."

Ex-MLSers turned coaches at the collegiate level

MLS and college soccer have been intertwined since the league’s inception in 1996. Thousands of players have navigated the path successfully from college to MLS, with many going on to enjoy lengthy careers and win numerous trophies as professional.

Travis Clark of writes of the former MLS standouts who are now coaching in the collegiate game.

A handful of those collegiate stars, after stints of varying length and impact in MLS, have jumped into the coaching ranks via one route or another. With the college season starting this weekend, here’s a look at some former MLS players currently in charge of college programs across the country:

Todd Yeagley, Indiana (Columbus Crew, 1996-2002)

One of the most accomplished players to transition into the collegiate coaching ranks, Yeagley has helped rebuild the program his dad, Jerry, steered for 30 years. He made more than 100 appearances in midfield and defense for the Crew.

Jamie Clark, Washington (San Jose Clash, 1999-2001)

The Scottish defender enters his first season as the coach of Washington, taking the job after a successful stint at Creighton. Played consistently his rookie year for the Clash back in 1999 before injuries forced him into early retirement.

Jorge Salcedo, UCLA (LA Galaxy 1996, Columbus Crew 1997, Chicago Fire 1998, Tampa Bay Mutiny 1998-99, LA Galaxy 1999-2000)

A league original, Salcedo was a journeyman during his five years in the league, playing for four different teams. In 1999, he was traded back to the Galaxy in exchange for current FC Dallas captain Daniel Hernandez. He picked up a few caps for the US men’s national team along the way and, after retiring, transitioned into an assistant coaching role before becoming head coach in 2003.

John Kerr Jr., Duke (Dallas Burn 1996, New England Revolution 1996-97)

Kerr came to MLS after a playing career with stops in France, England and Ireland, and joined the Burn for the league’s inaugural year. After playing 12 games in Dallas, he was traded to New England, where he played out the rest of the 1996 season and all of 1997 before being waived in November. Kerr has been at the helm at Duke since 2007.

Caleb Porter, Akron (San Jose Clash 1998, Tampa Bay Mutiny 1999-2000)

Injuries limited Porter’s pro career, as he only made four appearances - all for the Clash - across three MLS seasons. Porter (pictured above) has steadily built Akron into one of the most prominent programs in the nation, and is looking to lead the Zips to a second straight national title this fall.

Kris Kelderman, Wisconsin-Green Bay (D.C. United 1996-97, Miami Fusion 1998, New England Revolution, 1999)

The Wisconsin native took the head coaching job back home in May of this year after serving as an assistant for George Mason, the Kansas City Wizards and D.C. United. He played four seasons in MLS, and won two MLS Cups with DC back in 1996 and 1997.

Clint Peay, Richmond (D.C. United 1996-2000)

The defender spent four seasons at D.C. United and won three MLS Cups before transitioning to a series of assistant coach roles at Davidson, George Mason and Georgetown. He was appointed head coach at the University of Richmond in January 2009 and is entering his third season in charge.

Paul Holocher, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (San Jose Clash 1996)

Another Clash pick in the inaugural draft, Holocher only played four games in the first season before getting waived in April 1997. After a head coaching stint at UC Santa Cruz, he took the Cal Poly job back in 2006.

Chaka Daley, Providence (New England Revolution 1999)

While working as an assistant in Providence — his alma matter — Daley signed with the Revolution in June 1999, appeared in two games and was released at the end of the season. A year later, he became head coach at Providence and is looking to compete in the Big East this fall.

Kevin Grimes, California (San Jose Clash 1996)

A former US national team player, Grimes was 29 when MLS began and was selected by the Clash in the inaugural player draft, but was waived right at the start of the season. After two years as an assistant at his alma mater, SMU, in the late ‘90s, Grimes took his current job prior to the 2000 season and is entering his 12th year in charge at Cal.

Mike McGinty, St. Louis (D.C. United 2002)

A goalkeeper drafted at the start of 2002, McGinty was a Supplemental pick who never started a game in goal for DC. He took over at St. Louis University in 2010.

George Gelnovatch, Virginia (D.C. United 1996)

The successor to Bruce Arena at UVa, Gelnovatch joined D.C. United for a brief loan stint at the tail end of his playing career and appeared twice in 1996.

Assistant Coaches: Aleksey Korol, University of Illinois at Chicago (Dallas Burn 2000-01, Chicago Fire 2002); Craig Waibel, Michigan (Colorado 2000, LA Galaxy 2001-02, San Jose Earthquakes 2003-05, Houston Dynamo 2006-10); Chris Gbandi, Connecticut (FC Dallas 2002-07); Bo Oshoniyi, Penn State (Columbus Crew 1996, Kansas City Wizards 2000-06); Brian Maisonneuve, Indiana (Columbus Crew 1996-2004)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What does Williams have to do?

Michael Lewis writes about the challenges facing Richie Williams in getting a coaching job in Major League Soccer.

Williams has certainly paid his dues as both a player and assistant coach in both college soccer and in MLS.

Before I go any further, I should make it clear that I do not represent Richie Williams. I am neither his agent nor his manager. OK, now that I've gotten this out of the way, I now can say it: Why isn't Williams a head coach of an MLS team? I mean, what does the man have to do?

Williams has gone through enough job interviews in recent years - FC Dallas, DC United and even the New York Red Bulls, after Juan Carlos Osorio resigned during that forgettable 2009 season, among other clubs - that he probably can be on the other side of the table and ask some probing questions himself to prospective head coaches.

At 41, Williams has all the background and tools to be a head coach. He has paid his dues, coaching in college as an assistant at his alma mater, the University of Virginia. He also knows this League, inside and out, having been in the original, 1996 class of Major League Soccer. He became one of the top defensive midfielders in MLS, an all-star and was called into the National Team 20 times.

He has been a professional assistant coach since the 2006 MLS season and was an assistant coach under four coaches on the MetroStars/Red Bulls learning from and assisting the likes of Mo Johnston, Bruce Arena, Juan Carlos Osorio and Hans Backe.

He has been around the block and then some. He is there for the hiring. Yet, no one wants to take the plunge.

In fact, Williams has been an MLS head coach already - on two occasions - as a caretaker coach for the Red Bulls, first in 2006, between the Johnston and the Arena regimes and then three years later after Osorio resigned.

Both times Williams directed the Red Bulls to 3-3-2 marks. He inherited a team from Johnston that had accrued more ties than wins and losses combined (2-3-7). Hmmm, where have we heard that song before? (this year's 6-6-13 Red Bulls' team). He then took over a down-trodden side from Osorio that had won all of two matches out of 22 (2-16-4 record) and acquitted himself well, especially given the circumstances.

Granted, 12 games might not be the ultimate measuring stick, but I saw enough, the way he ran practices, dealt with the players and the media.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Neville’s book shows England team in shambles

Steven Howard of the Sun reports on the new book by former England international Gary Neville, and about some of the problems behind the scenes in the England national team.

SO Gary Neville, veteran of 85 England internationals, has spoken.
And it's all as we told you at the time.

The former Manchester United and England full-back has called his soon to be published autobiography, quite simply, 'Red'.

And that will have been the colour of a few faces yesterday morning, as the first serialisation hit the streets.

The named, shamed and embarrassed include Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Keegan, Sven Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren. The WAGS get both barrels as well.

The most amusing thing of all - judging by the conclusions reached on some of the England managers Red Nev played under - is that he would have been reading the national newspapers at the time and agreeing with every word!

We all said Glenn Hoddle had a certain ability as an international boss, especially in the way he set up his teams.

But we doubted whether that would be enough to offset his one glaring weakness. That he was away with the fairies. We knew about Eileen Drewery but not that Hoddle had a pre-match routine that included shaking the players' hands and touching them over the heart.

Or that during the epic France 98 encounter with Argentina, one of Hoddle's finest hours despite eventual elimination, he had asked coaching staff to walk round the pitch anti-clockwise to create positive energy... . .

If Hoddle tended to be a bit of a Mrs Malaprop - he once talked of how football was an up-and-down experience of 'pigs and troughs' - Keegan was a born orator who provided the national media with a ready supply of quotes and sound bites.

Yet we always said his main problem was he was too close to the players, that he wanted to be one of the boys. That he was an old school merchant, a sort of Gene Hunt throwback who loved his cards and race nights (the amount of time spent on which was described as 'ridiculous' by Neville).

We wrote of how his closeness to certain players interfered with discipline, his team selection and decision-making.

We also maintained that, though he was a fine communicator, this didn't necessarily apply to tactics - unlike Hoddle.

Neville tells a great story of how Keegan got one of his coaches, Les Reed, to give a talk about England's next opponents - only for the manager to fall asleep in the front row.

Then there was Eriksson. It quickly became apparent he had favourites, that there was a 'caps for the boys' mentality. And that he was in thrall to skipper David Beckham. Here, again, Neville provides confirmation with the words: "The big names were guaranteed to play rather than the best team."

He talks specifically about the 'quarterback' role Beckham adopted (probably on his own suggestion) in World Cup qualifiers against Wales and Northern Ireland.

And how the team was put out of shape to accommodate the big players.

As he said: "It seemed to me like a fudge to get round the issue of how to keep Becks, Gerrard and Lampard in the same team."

Next to McClaren. While the vast majority of us felt international football, and a fine Croatian team, found him out, Neville is a little undecided.

There were also some of us who felt the former Middlesbrough boss spent a little too much time on his own appearance and how people perceived him.

At one moment, Neville believed McClaren was appointed before he was ready, at another he thought he could thrive in international football.

But he sided firmly with some newspaper critics who claimed the sudden switch to 3-5-2 on the eve of the game with Croatia in Zagreb was a recipe for disaster. Then there was McClaren's contentious dropping of Beckham. Like Neville, we all saw it as the manager making a statement and showing him as his own man.

In retrospect, Neville is probably correct when he says to drop Beckham completely didn't make sense.

As for the WAGS, they get an absolute monstering. Here again, we are all singing from the same songsheet.

Rio Ferdinand subsequently spoke of how unhappy some of the England players were with the whole WAGS phenomenon. But not in the acerbic tone Neville adopts.

He calls it the one farcical issue of Eriksson's reign, how some people saw a tournament as not a series of matches but a photo opportunity.

And how it had grown into a monster by Germany 2006.

Sportswriters penned articles on how the sudden WAGS culture was alienating certain players and undermining the entire World Cup campaign.

News reporters and news desks back home, though, were ecstatic at having something with which to fill their papers now that, thankfully, the hooligan problem had evaporated. Neville also spends some time on his role in the threatened strike by the England squad over Ferdinand's dropping from the side following his failure to attend a drugs test.

While some commended his actions as 'all-for-one and one-for-all' backing for a friend and colleague, others saw the huge irony of multi-millionaire footballers going on strike.

Finally, what of the way ahead? Here we are united again.

In a famous SunSport headline over a South Africa 2010 preview of mine were the words: 'This lot win the World Cup? Please, let's get real'.

Now Neville says: "I don't see us competing seriously for a major tournament for at least 10 years. We still have a lot of catching up to do."

Equally chillingly, he says of the so-called Golden Generation, of which he was an integral part: "I'm not convinced we ever had the strength in depth to win a World Cup or European Championship."

In summary, I will make one point. I don't know who should be the more concerned to discover we are of the same opinion on so many footballing matters.

Gary Neville or me. What a choice.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Villas-Boas era to start at Chelsea

Chelsea's Andre Villas-Boas, the youngest manager in the English Premier League at the age of 33, finds himself under the spotlight himself as the Blues seek to regain their EPL title.

''I just want to be first,'' said Villas-Boas, who arrived from Porto. ''We look for excellence and look to win back the title that escaped us last season. We'll do everything in our power to win it back. We've had a good pre-season and everyone is feeling excited to coming back to competitive games."

Villas-Boas has faced inevitable comparisons with countryman Jose Mourinho, who came to Stamford Bridge from Porto in 2004. ''I don't have enough personality to copy people. I express myself as I am. It's for others if they see a certain coincidence in that. I've lived with it through my short managerial career. I have no problem with it.''

Villas-Boas says the media is obsessed with his age. "'The players are old and the manager is young,'" he said. You have to be, at any age, competent enough to be successful. I think we're competent enough."

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ferdinand talks about managing expectations

The largest challenge that awaits a defending title holder is managing the high level of expectations that go along with being the favorites or defending champions.

Rio Ferdinand talks of how last season's Premier League trophy will not hamper performances this season.

Ferdinand told the BBC: "I think it’s just acknowledgement of the season we had before really, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to win it just because you’re favourites. It’s nice to be favourites, but end of the season we’ll see where we finish.

"No, it’s not a burden at all, I think we relish anything that’s put in front of us. To be honest the pressure comes from within the club; the players, the staff, the manager himself, the fans. We put pressure on ourselves to win things and we’ll be doing the same this year."

United's season kicked off with an impressive 3-2 victory over title rivals Manchester City in the Community Shield, which saw the Premier League champions come back from a two-goal half-time deficit to secure the win.

"It’s great, it’s what Man United’s all about, I’ve always said over all the years if we’re one or two goals down in a game we’ll beat them and we proved that again on Sunday," said Ferdinand.

"That will continue hopefully for the rest of the season. Last season one of the reasons we won the league is because of the way we dealt with situations like that and when we’re in those situations most of the time manage to pull it back and regain a point or take all three."

Friday, August 12, 2011


Nemanja Vidic believes United are perfectly prepared for the start of the campaign - though he is wary of a potential upset against West Brom in Sunday's opener.

The Reds' skipper is fully focused on extending the 100 per cent run at The Hawthorns since the inception of the Barclays Premier League after enjoying a perfect record in terms of the pre-season.

"I don't think we have hit top form quite yet but I think we've done a very good job in pre-season and, fitness-wise, we're ready," Vidic told on Friday.

"Starting the season away from home makes life a little harder - the first game is tough anyway, even at home - and West Brom isn't an easy place to go.

"It's always important to win matches but obviously the games only start to mean something when trophies are up for grabs or when you're playing for points in the league. It's good that we've won all our pre-season games, though - it means we're in a positive frame of mind going into the game at West Brom.

"Now we have to do all we can to win three points, which is the most important thing. It's not about how we play the game or whether or not we play good football - it's all about winning. This is the target."

Looking at MLS Attendance

MLS is on the rise at the turnstyle, too...

2011 has been a banner year at gate across Major League Soccer. The league is averaging more than 17,300 fans per game in 2011. This is the first time since the league’s inagural season that average attendance has crested the 17k figure. Perhaps even more impressive, the median attendance in 2011 is at an all time high, easily surpassing the previous high (1996) of approximately 16,100. To put the averages in an American sports perspective, the MLS average has eclipsed both the NBA and NHL and lags only MLB and NFL among US based professional team sports. While its true that many MLS stadiums enjoy a capacity far in excess of their indoor cousins, soccer attendance is also limited by the reduced capacity in San Jose. Perhaps most impressively, the league is enjoying these fantastic numbers despite the presence of world soccer powers criscrossing the nation filling stadiums at a clip of more than 40k per game.

Not surprisingly, much of the credit for the fantastic attendance numbers rests in the trio of franchises in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle is averaging more than 37k per game, Vancouver just over 20k and Portland more than 18,600. Both Dallas and Colorado (the 2010 MLS Cup participants) have seen attendance increases well in excess of 10% while traditional attendance powers Los Angeles and New York (if tradition can be a one year run), have managed an increase in 2011. Kansas City’s attendance has increased in dramatic fashion (more than 70%), also a significant contributing factor. Most of the other teams (with two notable exceptions) have managed slight gains or limited drops suggesting a committed and vested base of fans.

MLS on NBC proves soccer is expanding in US

William Browning writes of the continued growth of soccer on TV here in the US.

Beginning Jan. 2, 2012, all of the games and broadcasts on Fox Soccer Channel will move to the renamed Versus channel called NBC Sports Network. Potential viewership will double from 40 million to 80 million for the next three years of the contract. The move may be small as ESPN still has the most MLS games during the season. Yet soccer needs as many potential viewers as possible.

NBC will have over 40 total games in 2012. There will be 38 regular season games, three playoff games and two U.S. Men's National Team games. As one of the "big three" broadcasting stations, NBC will get a lot more popular.

MLS has expanded to 18 teams this year with another coming in Montreal in 2012. New stadiums and more fans are packing it in. It's the last year of David Beckham's contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy, and MLS will need to pick up more fans after he's gone.

It's a smart move as the NHL has been a staple of NBC as the fourth sports league in America behind the NFL, MLB and NBA. With the NBA in the middle of a labor dispute, the move of MLS is perfectly timed to take advantage of disgruntled fans.

NBC's football coverage has never quite taken off as it is a third tier network in terms of the NFL. The broadcast giant is trying to climb back into sports relevancy. Major League Soccer is a great product to put out there to lure more ratings and higher revenue.

MLS has taken the smart approach ever since the league was founded in 1996. It already knew that soccer talent in America was not as good as players overseas. It also realized that soccer would not be as popular as other mainstream sports in America. MLS has slowly grown in 16 seasons, and it has been stable for the most part.

Fans in all cities have been die hard and constant. Soccer-specific stadiums have been built. Now MLS is attempting to take its game to a new level. Switching to a more mainstream broadcaster is a good additional step to expand the game in more American homes.

ESPN2 telecast tops 1 million viewers

Paul Kennedy of Soccer America reports of the tv viewers and coverage for the USA-Mexico friendly on Wednesday night.

Despite ESPN2's late start to its coverage of the USA-Mexico friendly, its broadcast was watched by 1,084,000 viewers.

The game's broadcast began on ESPNews because a Little League Southeast regional semifinal game from Georgia went over its two-hour time slot by 35 minutes.

The 1,084,000 viewers earned the game a 0.5 rating and represented , a larger viewing audience than any other program on ESPN or ESPN2 on Wednesday night.

Univision finished tied with NBC and ahead of ABC with its average rating of 1.7 (5 share) among the coveted adults 18-49.

US players 'fight for numbers'

American fans could have a little more trouble buying jerseys in the future if Klinsmann sticks with his idea of using numbers 1-11 for his starters for each game.

Many players wore unfamiliar numbers against Mexico and Klinsmann stated "it's a bit of signal that it's a fight going on for those numbers." Players' last names also were left off jerseys, but only because "there was not enough time (to put the names on)," he said after revealing his numbering plan.

Can Klinsmann make a grass-roots impact?

Mike Woitalla of Soccer America writes of how US coach Jurgen Klinsmann hopes to impact the US game at the grassroots level.

Before Jurgen Klinsmann's debut as U.S. coach against Mexico, ESPN’s Julie Foudy asked him, "How would you define success over the next three years?"

It’s noteworthy that Klinsmann steered his response to youth soccer:

“I define success in individual development of players. Soccer traditionally is a lower-class sport. We need to find ways to give those lower-class kids the opportunity to play in the club environments where there’s a lot of money involved. We need to find ways to get the kids who are in a club environment to also play and kick the ball around in unorganized ways.”

When Klinsmann moved to the USA 13 years ago, shortly after retiring from a superstar playing career, he explained his short-term plans: Taking classes at a technology college to learn how the Internet “will change our society.” Taking Spanish classes. And exploring youth soccer development.

Klinsmann got involved in the adidas ESP Camp, a player development showcase for America's top teens. Along with former Germany teammates, he founded FD21 (“Fussball in Deutschland in the 21st Century”), an initiative aimed at getting children to play more soccer. ("If we can get kids interested again in just going out for an informal game of soccer now and then, we will be headed for a better future for the sport.")

The 1990 World Cup winner has often commented on the importance of free play. In 2003 at an NSCAA Convention, Klinsmann told Marc Connolly of ESPNSoccerNet:

"Soccer, in my opinion, is self-teaching. The more you play, the better you get. You don't see kids play in the park these days. It's only in an organized environment. We are starting to have that similar problem in Europe, as well. Certain things are not teachable.”

A year ago, Klinsmann told’s Grant Wahl, “You have the fact that [in the USA] it's mostly organized soccer, when we know that the best players in the world come out of unorganized events.”

The topic came up again in Klinsmann’s first press conference as U.S. national team coach.

“What is really missing compared to the leading soccer nations around the world, the top 10-12 nations around the world, is the amount of time kids play the game,” he said. “If you have a kid who plays in Mexico 20 hours a week, and maybe four hours of organized soccer but 16 hours of unorganized soccer just banging the ball around in the neighborhood, but if he gets up to 20 hours it doesn’t matter how he plays it, with his dad or with his buddies in the street.

“This will show later on with his technical abilities, with his passing, with his instinct on the field and all those things, and I think that’s certainly an area where a lot of work is ahead of us.”

Klinsmann also remarked on the recent progress U.S. Soccer has made: The U.S. Soccer Development Academy’s launch in 2007 and the appointment last year of Claudio Reyna as Youth Technical Director and his unveiling of a youth coaching curriculum.

“I want Claudio very close to me,” said Klinsmann. “He will always be a part of the staff, and he will sit with us coaches at the table so I can tell him how I look at the game and how I can be of help to him.”

Commenting on the youth national teams, and whether they should all play the same system as the senior team, Klinsmann said:

“Obviously, you won’t have a copy in your under-20 or under-17 of the men’s national team because players are different. Players have all different characteristics, so every coach needs to find his own little path of how to put things together. But overall it should be a broader understanding of how also the youth teams should play, and this will be one of the main topics going forward.”

Klinsmann also spoke about the USA finally creating its own, American style of play. A topic which, like the inclusion of the USA’s Latino talent, his two most recent predecessors didn’t talk about much.

“It’s actually a fascinating point and I think, yes, the youth teams should reflect, again, the mixture of your cultures,” Klinsmann said. “It should reflect what’s going on in your country and there’s so much going on and that’s why I think Claudio Reyna’s role is very, very important to find a path, with us together, how those teams should play and how they should be put together.

“There’s so much influence coming from the Latin environment over the last 15-20 years. It also has to be reflected in the U.S. national team, and you have so many kids now with dual citizenship, Mexican or other Central American countries and American, so that will always be a topic to discuss.”

Klinsmann’s timing is good. He will benefit from the fact that since Sunil Gulati was elected president in 2006 U.S. Soccer has made youth player development a priority, and from MLS’s ambitious entry into the youth game.

Klinsmann’s predecessors made major contributions to improving the direction of youth soccer, but did so mainly behind the scenes. In his short time at the helm, Klinsmann has indicated a willingness to use his bully pulpit to make important points about the youth game in America.

The American youth game problems that Klinsmann cites may not be revelations and he won’t get a magic wand to make them go away. He can’t be expected to single-handedly encourage American children to play pickup soccer.

But his statements might very well have an influence on the coaches and parents at the grass-roots who are ultimately responsible for creating the soccer environment for America's children.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Freddy Adu set to join Union

With the MLS transfer window set to close on Friday, 22-year-old playmaking midfielder Freddy Adu is set to join the Union, according to multiple sources.

The team will make the official announcement Friday at noon at PPL Park.

“The important thing is that we try shuffle the front line a little bit,” said coach Peter Nowak on Thursday, when asked about any incoming personnel. “Jack [McInerney] and [Velkjo] Paunovic did a very good job the last few games, but that’s one area we need some cover. The rest, we can figure out, but now we’re looking to score more goals.”

Once hailed the savior of American soccer, Adu will simply have to be the savior of the lackluster Union offense, who lost leading scorer Carlos Ruiz in a transfer to Mexican side Veracruz and has since struggled, going winless in their last three games. The hope is for Adu to spark production out of forwards Sebastien Le Toux, Danny Mwanga and McInerney.

Adu, who has been out of the MLS since 2007 but is a two-time All Star with the league, moved to Portuguese side SL Benfica before being loaned on a yearly basis around Europe with AS Monaco, Belenenses, Aris FC and Caykur Rizespor.

Nowak said it was still to be determined if any new addition would be ready for the Union’s Saturday night contest against FC Dallas at PPL Park.

“I can’t tell you,” he said. “I wish the procedure would go smooth, but I can’t tell you how it’s going to be. This is out of my hands and it’s between the MLS, US Soccer Federation and the other clubs.”

Nowak has a familiarity with Adu, as he coached and eventually feuded with the young phenom in his first two years as pro with DC United from 2004-2006. Adu became at odds with Nowak over playing time and was eventually transferred to Real Salt Lake. The two have since reclaimed their working relationship.

Adu, who was in Philadelphia for the US Men’s National Team match against Mexico at Lincoln Financial Field on Wednesday, opened the eyes of MLS teams during his time with the US team in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. After more than a year of being left off the national team landscape and missing a trip to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup, Adu earned a chance at redemption and took it.

In the semifinal game against Panama, Adu set up the game-winning goal with a pass to Landon Donovan, which was eventually slammed home by Clint Dempsey to advance the American side. Suddenly, a humbled Adu was back in the U.S. soccer picture.

Bradley blazes trails for American coaches

Jason Davis writes how Bob Bradley continues to blaze trails for the American soccer coach.

Don't cry for Bob Bradley. Despite losing his job as the head coach of the United States National Team rather unceremoniously just a week and a half ago, Bradley is already in the mix for another position. According to reports and confirmation from his agent, Bradley is the front runner to become the next head coach of Egypt. Whether he gets the job or not, Bradley's candidacy represents a step outside of the traditional bubble for American coaches. If he does take over in Egypt, Bradley will immediately become a trailblazer for coaches from the United States.

American coaches live in a fishbowl, swimming laps in a confined space. Whether they start in college or the pros, the men born in the US and raised on the game here are typically coaches of American soccer in some form for the entirety of their careers. As a matter of course or circumstance, Americans just aren’t plucked for jobs abroad. Rarely are the even mentioned as candidates. Upward mobility in the American coaching ranks means turning a college gig into a pro gig, and if fortune smiles, into a National Team run. Bradley, like his predecessor Bruce Arena, followed that path.

It might be fitting that just as US Soccer has changed course with the hiring of a non-American for the first time in twenty years, the American coach they dismissed is being considered for a landmark appointment.

There’s not much history of American coaches taking their talent to foreign shores. The list of head coaches at the international level begins and ends with Steve Sampson’s tenure with Costa Rica's National Team, a position he held from 2002-2004. Sampson had moderate success with the Ticos before being dismissed during a poor run in qualifying. He promptly returned to MLS to coach the Galaxy. Sampson’s sojourn turned out to be nothing more than a blip, and the status quo took hold again.

There is a smattering, or less, of American head coaches outside of the country in the club game. While their careers prove that it’s possible to be American and get a job somewhere other than in America’s unique patchwork of schools and clubs, none is guilty of having a profile of much note. That’s mostly a function of where they coach, off the radar in lesser soccer countries or in lower divisions that get little attention. It’s a task just to find references to them in the information-easy internet age.

Here's the thing, Bradley’s name popping up as a verified candidate for the Egypt job shouldn’t be all that surprising. His reputation has always been much stronger outside of the United States than within it, and he’s proven himself to be a capable international coach by taking the Americans to heights previously unseen.

It was interesting to watch the reaction from foreign journalists when Bradley’s dismissal hit the wires. Beyond the prevailing “two-cycle” wisdom, many were taken aback by the apparent ease with which Bradley and his record were dismissed. After renewing Bradley’s contract after the 2010 World Cup, the decision to make a change now was eyebrow-raising. That says something about the perception of American talent, but it’s also a commentary on how much respect Bradley has garnered from people with an outsider’s perspective on US Soccer.

USA 1 - Mexico 1

The United States got a quick return after losing the Gold Cup final to Mexico in June, meeting in a friendly on Wednesday night in Philadelphia.

In front of 30,138 fans, it looked like the game was going to be all Mexico. The USA finished the first-half with no shots while Mexico went into halftime with a goal. Oribe Peralta scored in the 16th minute. The United States regrouped in the second-half, coming close to scoring just before Klinsmann used his first substitutions in the 60th minute. It would be a sub proving the difference for the US, with Robbie Rogers scoring two minutes after entering the game for Michael Bradley. Fellow sub Brek Shea had the assist on the Rogers goal.

"I think we stopped giving them so much respect and we put them under pressure," US midfielder Landon Donovan told ESPN following the game. "When they're under pressure, they don't do well. They don't like it."

The game was the debut for new National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who saw his squad regroup to get an equalizer.

"What we were lacking in the first-half was putting pressure on them, going into their half in the final third and creating chances," Klinsmann said.... "We kept the pace up and we expected them to struggle a little bit towards the end of the game. I think there are some players that can make a difference here. Landon, obviously, but Robbie Rogers and Brek Shea, they have the qualities to go one-on-one. Those qualities that Mexico have as well, but they are attacking midfielders. That is really fun to see. They’re taking people on and they’re going into the box. That’s what changed with them coming in as subs."

Ridge Mahoney writes of the persona of new USA head coach Jurgen Klinsmann-

After a stodgy beginning, the USA took on the bright, energetic personality of its coach to push forward zealously, equalize and nearly steal a winning goal in the final minutes.

When Robbie Rogers equalized, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann jumped along the sideline, pumped his fists, and did everything he did as a goalscorer except launch into a full-length belly slide. He fairly bubbled in his postgame interview on ESPN2, and a string of sweeping attacks in the final half an hour certainly merited such enthusiasm.

Not so noticeable but just as vital was some resilient central defensive play by Carlos Bocanegra and Michael Orozco Fiscal, who blocked numerous crosses and picked off threatening diagonal balls after Mexico had breached the flanks. While Klinsmann has preached his devotion to attacking play, he is acutely aware of organization and discipline in the defensive third and despite a vast advantage in possession for much of the match, Mexico carved open only a few good chances, and were scrambling to hold off the USA in the final minutes.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

MLS and NBC strike historic deal

Paul Kennedy of Soccer America breaks the news on a historical televsion agreement between NBC and Major League Soccer.

MLS reached a three-year agreement with NBC and NBC Sports Group to show 45 MLS games and four U.S. men’s national team games on NBC and NBC Sports Network (currently VERSUS) each season, beginning in 2012.

NBC will broadcast two regular-season MLS games, two playoff games and two U.S. men's games, marking the first time four MLS matches will be broadcast on English-language network television since 2002. The NBC Sports Network will televise 38 regular-season games, three playoff games and two U.S. Men’s National Team matches. All telecasts on NBC and NBC Sports Network will consist of pre-game and post-game coverage.

Sources told Sports Business Daily the agreement is worth $10 million a year.

“Everyone at the NBC Sports Group is thrilled to begin this partnership with Major League Soccer,” said Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Sports Group. “MLS is a perfect fit for our new group, and we are uniquely positioned to help grow soccer in the United States with extensive coverage on NBC Sports Network, significant programming on the broadcast network and our growing digital platforms. Additionally, this agreement complements the partnerships that five of our regional sports networks have with their local MLS teams.”

The agreement will mark to end of MLS's coverage on Fox Soccer Channel.

Their agreement expired after the end of the 2010 season but was extended for one year following protracted negotiations that failed to net a long-term agreement.

MLS will benefit from having its 2012 television partners in place ahead of time so it can plan the 2012 season -- that wasn't the case this year -- and the three-year term means all current MLS TV deals will expire at the end of the 2014 season.

MLS also has agreements with ESPN and Univision.

"In soccer, in life, you learn along the way to deal with things that are difficult. You learn to deal with things that don't go your way or that are difficult for people close to you. This is no different. It's part of the game. Nobody would have expected [Bob] to be here for 20 years, and you know that going in. I think my dad more than anybody realized that, and was committed to working as hard as he could and doing whatever he could to help the national team while he was here. The day they decided it was best to go in another direction, so be it. He's confident with the work he put into it, and now, on our end, it's been good and exciting coming in."

-- Michael Bradley on his first national team camp since his father, Bob Bradley, was replaced as head coach

Klinsmann seeks high energy

Chelsea Janes of the USA Today reports on Jurgen Klinsmann preparing to pace the sidelines for the first time as coach of the U.S. men's soccer team Wednesday night when the Americans take on Mexico in a friendly in Philadelphia.

Wednesday night's game (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, Univision) is a rematch of the CONCACAF Gold Cup final on June 25 in which Mexico rallied from a 2-0 deficit to stun the Americans 4-2, a result that led to the firing of then coach Bob Bradley a month later.

That opened the door for Klinsmann, who will lead a team that has several young, inexperienced players against a Mexican side that features 10 of 11 starters from the Gold Cup final. The exception is a big one: Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, the Gold Cup's leading scorer with seven goals. The 23-year-old is out after suffering a concussion about two weeks ago.

The U.S. will feature a depleted offensive arsenal, as forward Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar) and midfielder Clint Dempsey (Fulham) won't play due to European club obligations. Twelve players who were not on the roster for the Gold Cup final will be in uniform for Klinsmann, including nine who have played fewer than 15 games for the senior squad.

Klinsmann has had little time to prepare with his coaching staff since his hiring July 29. He and his team will have had just three days of training, and less time than that with key players Carlos Bocanegra and Ricardo Clark, who did not arrive in Philadelphia until Monday night.

"It is obviously a little bit complicated with it being the first game after the Gold Cup, and a lot of players still in preseason," Klinsmann said. "You just try to make the best out of it…You want to see a team that gives a high energy and shows a great attitude and shows the people a great performance."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

2011 Largest Soccer Crowds

Paul Kennedy of Soccer America writes of the massive crowds that were on hand at matches here in the United States this summer.

Despite tours by such popular clubs as Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid, Mexico's national team remains the biggest draw on the U.S. soccer scene.

The Tri, which faces the USA on Wednesday in Philadelphia, has drawn six of the 15 largest soccer crowds of the year on U.S. soil, including four of the top six crowds.

Reflective of its ability to attract fans for heavyweight opposition, the USA has played on four of the nine dates that drew the largest crowds.

The seven other largest crowds not involving the USA or Mexico were for the 2011 World Football Challenge. Five of those games involved MLS teams.

2011 Largest Crowds


93,410 1. USA-Mexico June 25 Pasadena, Calif.

81,807 2. Man. Utd.-Barcelona July 30 Landover, Md.

80,108 3. Mexico-El Salvador June 5 Arlington, Texas

78,936 4. USA-Argentina March 26 East Rutherford, N.J.

78,807 5. Mexico-Guatemala June 18 East Rutherford, N.J.

70,627 6. Mexico-Honduras, USA-Panama June 22 Houston

70,080 7. Barcelona-Guadalajara Aug. 3 Miami

67,052 8. Seattle-Man. Utd. July 20 Seattle

64,121 9. USA-Spain June 4 Foxboro, Mass.

62,000 10. Mexico-Costa Rica June 12 Chicago

61,308 11. Chicago-Man. Utd. July 23 Chicago

60,808 12. Mexico-Ecuador March 29 San Diego

60,807 13. Barcelona-Club America Aug. 6 Philadelphia

57,305 14. Philadelphia-Real Madrid July 23 Los Angeles

56,211 15. Los Angeles-Real Madrid July 16 Los Angeles

Will to win remains the trademark of champions

James Lawton writes of how Manchester United's will to win is what separates them from their rivals, and keeps them in the pole position heading into the start of the 2011-12 English Premier League campaign.

It is rather too early to know the degree – and the depth – of Manchester United's latest renewal but we do know that their potentially toughest rivals endured more than the pain of late and demoralising defeat.

City – the team of ever more imposing financial muscle and stockpiled talent – had to reflect not on the intermittent brilliance of their conquerors but much more on their serially consistent state of mind.

More than anything, it houses an extremely belligerent reaction to the possibility of defeat.

This threat was put in place with much less beautiful intimidation than when Barcelona turned Wembley into their own playpen a few months ago but at 2-0, and with Yaya Touré beginning to look again like a midfield enforcer of formidable proportions, you wouldn't have put a lot of money on City failing to nail down their sudden advantage.

Indeed, for a little while Sir Alex Ferguson's expression said that some of his worst nightmares were coming to pass. He would need, you had to suspect, more than double-glazing to keep out the racket about to be generated by these particularly bothersome neighbours.

That it didn't happen had so much do with that way of thinking and, consequently, playing. United had not been so much put down as affronted and when Nani scored an equalising goal of quite brilliant conception and execution, when United swarmed around a defence which for a little while looked as efficient as it was mean, it was not Ferguson but Roberto Mancini who had most to worry about what might come to him in the next few weeks.

For the City manager, it is the old question. At what point does a collection of highly gifted and well-rewarded players begin to believe in its own weight as a team?

There was a flicker of encouraging evidence when David Silva fed in a beautiful free-kick to the head of Joleon Lescott, before Edin Dzeko profited from huge space and the uncertain reaction of David de Gea to his long shot. But then, as has happened so often at times of particularly compelling doubt, United simply ran through it. They continued to dictate the terms and did it with such confidence and panache that City were, as they had appeared to be in the opening minutes, quite lost.

Maybe the watching Sergio Aguero will implant a little more certainty in the next few weeks. Perhaps City will finally produce, before the close of the August window, the blockbusting signing that makes all the difference. Meanwhile, they remain a work in progress, impressive enough in their separate parts, but still short of a team who know quite what they might achieve.

United? They remain what they were while winning their 19th title in a less than vintage season – a team shorn of some classic strengths but still possessing, to a greater degree than any of their domestic and most of their foreign rivals, a quite remarkable competitive edge. Barcelona spelled out the new demands facing Ferguson in the last reach of his extraordinary career and no one could say that what we saw at Wembley yesterday constituted much more than a set of good intentions and a continued willingness to play to the edge of their ability.

Certainly, the first major appearance of Ashley Young must have brought a sharp degree of encouragement to the old warrior, along with the long-legged strides of Danny Welbeck, returning from his exile in the north-east frontier, and the impressive introduction of big Phil Jones, whose reassuring presence also ran to several forward passes of quite startling intuition.

Wayne Rooney produced an unspectacular but still seriously promising down-payment on his vow of a season of sustained graft and achievement, and Anderson also had moments of impressive intervention.

Did it add up to a tightening of the grip in which United held the Premier League at the end of last season? There was no such certainty – not least because the United player who made most difference, who turned the game and then carried it, at the expense of the normally relentless Vincent Kompany, was Nani.

Nani, who can, in the space of a minute, carry you across all the terrain of football from brilliance to absolute futility... Nani, who, when he came on in the Champions League final in May, almost as an after-thought, could occupy only the periphery of the game played by Xavi, Iniesta and Messi... Nani, who you can celebrate often enough but never quite trust.

Maybe he has turned a corner. Perhaps he will build on his thrilling audition for a new season. Yet still the suspicion has to be that United, certainly if they are to get a little closer to the old peak of Europe, need more sustained authority in midfield. Certainly their cooling on Wesley Sneijder must have more to do with economics than football need.

Still, there were plenty of reasons for United to leave Wembley with a level of optimism beyond their means after their last two visits to the stadium, when they were beaten by City in the FA Cup semi-final and relegated to another planet by Barcelona in May. They could tell themselves, once again, that there were the seeds of a new United, one which, with an average age of 22, had outplayed the powerbrokers from across town.

Tom Cleverley, who will be 22 this week, was no mean symbol of such hope when he came on as a substitute with an impressively combative edge. He was enraged by his failure to control a perfectly cushioned header to his feet by Rooney. Plainly, he had imagined his own breakthrough with a goal which would have been as finely shaped as Nani's equaliser. This, though, simply required Nani to complete his latest tour-de-force with his most decisive, killing moment.

Certainly it was too soon to know quite what it would all mean in the trenches of a new season. Beyond, of course, the latest evidence that United remain the team everyone has to beat.