Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Michael Bradley - Serie A update

How was Michael Bradley’s weekend? Pretty good, according to Paolo Bandini in the Guardian. Bradley is being given a platform where he can contribute, which is a new concept for Americans in Italy. Beyond the clichés about any player taking time to adjust to Serie A, Bradley is already showing he can play in maybe the most challenging league technically and tactically in the world.

From the Guardian-

• A fine weekend for Michael Bradley, providing the assist for Sergio Pellissier's equaliser and setting things in motion for Davide Moscardelli's stoppage-time winner against Genoa – sending a perfectly judged long pass down the right flank that allowed Gennaro Sardo to cross for the forward to head home. It's been a mixed start for the American midfielder, but a few more passes like that will go a long way towards winning over the doubters in Verona.

"This can't happen in a top club -- to refuse to go in to help his teammates. What I said to Carlos is between me, him and the team. But if we want to improve as a team Carlos can't play with us. With me, he is finished."

-- Manchester City coach Roberto Mancini on striker Carlos Tevez, who refused to come on as a substitute during Man City's 2-0 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Tuesday. The 27-year-old Argentine, who has voiced his desire to leave the club over the past year, ignored Mancini’s instructions to warm up early in the second half.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bradley's Egyptian challenge reaches far beyond the pitch

The appointment of Bob Bradley as the national team coach for Egypt is significant on a number of different fronts, both on and off the field, and for our nation and abroad.

The term “globalization” is one that's become so widespread, that its true meaning can get buried amongst an avalanche of trend pieces and people trying to sound smarter than they actually are.

For those who've may have lost touch with the significance of the term, I'd like to offer an alternative definition:

glob•al•i•za•tion [gloh-buh-luh-zey-shuhn]


1. The act of globalizing, or extending to other or all parts of the world. Ex: the globalization of manufacturing.

2. Worldwide integration and development. Ex: Globalization has resulted in the loss of some individual cultural identities.

3. An American coaching a Middle Eastern country's national soccer team.

Former U.S. coach Bob Bradley's hiring by Egypt is a huge step forward for American soccer, but leaving it at that fails to recognize its cultural and global significance.

In purely soccer terms, Bradley's appointment is a validation of the growth of the American game. Only twice before has a U.S.-born coach been in charge of a foreign national team, and never before at this high-profile of a job. (Steve Sampson with Costa Rica from 2002 to 2004 and Bill Moravek with the British Virgin Islands in 2000 are the others)

Egypt has won three consecutive African Cup of Nations championships, but won’t have a chance to win a fourth straight after shockingly failing to even qualify for next year’s competition. Outside of its home continent, the nation has failed to make much of an impact, appearing in just two World Cups in its history, and none since 1990.

Make no mistake, though. Despite Egypt not qualifying for AFCON 2012, this is a high-profile position with a traditional soccer power ranked as high as ninth in the world by FIFA as recently as 2010.

Beyond the soccer pitch, the implications of Bradley’s appointment are hard to ignore.

Bradley enters a country and a region in a transition. It’s been less than a year since the world was introduced to the “Arab Spring”, a series of uprisings and revolutions across the Arab world. So far, Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have experienced wholesale regime changes, while protests and violence continue in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen. Nearly every other Middle Eastern country has experienced some form of protest or attempted uprising.

Bradley's hiring can be viewed as a manifestation of the new democratic attitude starting to develop within the region. His selection to lead Egypt’s soccer team was not due to any outside loyalties he may have had (former coach Hassan Shehata was an avowed supporter of deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak), but simply because he was the best candidate. Egypt’s ruling military is currently attempting to organize a democratic election that will determine the next leader of the country in much the same fashion.

Although the United States’ relationship with Egypt is relatively strong, this is still an American coaching a national side in the most virulent anti-American region in the world. That’s progress on a level reaching far beyond the soccer pitch.

Culturally, compared to his experience coaching the United States, Bradley might as well be coaching the intergalactic all-star team from the planet Volta.

Shehata, the last coach of Egypt's national soccer team, once said he only wanted players on his team that were Muslim. When his name was linked with the Israel national team job, he said he would rather die of hunger than coach the Israeli team.

Bradley, an American, likely doesn't care what religion his players are, and presumably would take a position with Israel instead of succumbing to starvation.

The United States and Mexico have a nice little rivalry, but it’s like a rec-league derby compared to Egypt and Algeria, two North African countries with decades of bad blood between them.

Two years ago, the two countries met in a playoff for a berth in the 2010 World Cup. Algeria’s team bus was attacked by Egyptian fans in Cairo, injuring four Algerian players. Violence in both Egypt and Algeria continued throughout the two-leg tied, which was won by Algeria and ended with riots at the Algerian embassy in Cairo.

Many of the same Egypt supporters involved in these clashes were at the forefront of the Egyptian revolution last winter. These highly politicized ultras are deeply distrustful of the Egyptian Football Association, which many viewed and continue to view as an organization sympathetic to Mubarak. They will initially give Bradley the benefit of the doubt, but every word, every action, every move he makes will be under the microscope.

These supporters groups are still heavily involved in the Egyptian reformation process, as demonstrations and protests continue against the current ruling military for their failure to adopt changes and organize elections in a timely fashion.

The same groups form the backbone of the country’s soccer supporters. If Bradley doesn’t stay in their good graces, he’ll face a backlash that will render meaningless any kind of negative reaction he got from the American Outlaws for, say, starting Jonathan Bornstein.

On the pitch, Bradley will face a huge task: Rebuild a traditional soccer power’s program and qualify for its first World Cup in 24 years.

Off the pitch, he faces an even bigger challenge: Adapt to an African nation still in turmoil from a recent revolution, and bridge the gap between the West and the Middle East, all while treading a dangerously thin line between politics and sport.

In the end, how he deals with the latter set of issues may be more important than how he manages the former.

Monday, September 26, 2011


Never one do be complacent, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson isn't getting carried away with United's flying start to the season as he admits there are plenty more hurdles to overcome.

The Reds have won all five Barclays Premier League games for the first time under the boss with Stoke next to stand in the champions' way on Saturday. Yet the manager still believes his team will improve in the New Year, once the league has really started to take shape.

"It's only five games of course and we're delighted at that," explained the boss. "It's not normal for us to do it. We did change the dynamics of the team in terms of the early-season some years ago - we tried to address that when Chelsea made those flying starts."

"In the first two years, we didn't catch them - they were off and running before we'd got out of the blocks ourselves and we couldn't afford that. The third year, we addressed that and our start to the season was much better. In the competitive league we're in now, I think we do better in the second half and I think we'll do better in the second half again this season. At the moment, it's only five games - there are a lot of hurdles to navigate."

"I always look at the league then and see whether we have a chance or an uphill fight. We've had all the big teams at home so far and if you think in the second half of the season we're going to have to go to all those grounds. So hopefully our second half is good."

'The Rooney Rule' & the EPL

Jason Davis wrote an article about the lack of ethnic diversity among management in the English Premier League, and how it related to 'the Rooney Rule' in the National Football League (NFL) here in the US.

England's Premier League finds itself working through a difficult equation when it comes to race and coaching at the professional level. On one side are the vast numbers of minorities playing the sport at all levels, including 25% or more at the professional level. On the other, the number two. That's how many black managers are currently employed out of 92 professional clubs.

For North American pro sports fans, this is a familiar discussion. How does a sport, especially one with a long history of denying opportunities based on skin color, right that historical inequality?

Though no one should be arguing that North American professional sports is devoid of racial bias, meaningful steps have been taken to create opportunity. There's a long list of firsts for African American and Hispanic players in Major League Baseball, the oldest pro team sport in the United States. What was - decades of institutionalized racism that barred participation - is no more. That list of firsts includes players, coaches, managers, league executives, and team owners.

English professional soccer's efforts to remedy the lack of opportunity for minority players along with the environment that waited for them should they make the professional level began relatively late. Into the 1980's, minorities trying to play in the English League were still facing a day-to-day racism that was overt, menacing, and dangerous. The English game has changed over the last twenty years on the field and in the stands. Where it hasn't is on the sidelines.

Around 25% of English professional players representing multiple countries and heritages would identify as black. The numbers are significantly smaller for Asian and Hispanic players. Yet just two out of 92 professional clubs have black managers. That doesn't include the black players and coaches working in England that never reach the professional level. The number only gets bigger on one side of the equation. England has already admitted they have a problem, and they're now working on a solution.

Across the Atlantic, the National Football League faced this very issue. The coaching ranks were not representative of the black players in the NFL, much less African-American participation at all levels of the game. With numerous black coaches, it made no sense that so few ever ended up as NFL head coaches. The numbers simply didn't add up, and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney responded by championing what's become known as the Rooney rule. Simply put, NFL teams have to show the league that they've interviewed at least one minority candidate for open coaching positions.

Since the rule's adoption, this has created opportunities for black coaches. It worked, because even though it did not mandate teams hire minority candidates, it allowed those candidates the opportunity to dispel erroneous notions about their ability to do the job based on historical prejudice. Rooney's own Steelers won the Super Bowl with an African-American coach who never played in the NFL.

While England debates the merit of a similar rule for the Premier League down through the Football League, American soccer is left out of the conversation for two reasons: There's not the historical precedent of denying opportunities to minority candidates, and the League has already acted, enacting a modified version of the Rooney rule.

In long run, quitting will never be the easy way out/MIKE JACOBS COLUMN

"Before you win, you need to learn how not to lose."

I can't find a source that credits the person who initiated that quote, but it is something that I have adapted over the years.

It often applies to young teams that need to draw from adverse situations as learning experiences, as we currently are at the University of Evansville with 14 of our 25 players as freshmen, including 7 of 11 starters in last week's 2-1 overtime victory over nationally ranked Memphis.

It also applies to children who are considering quitting, be it a youth sports team or anything that seems too tough.

We as parents and youth sports coaches need to prevent our young children from quitting when things get too difficult. As important as it is that our children have a positive experience and walk away from their activities with smiles on their faces, there are life lessons that are much greater than sport that you can draw from these experiences.

As Winston Churchill once said, "This is the lesson. Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small — never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense."

The website "All Pro Dad" had a great blog post earlier this month which focused on items that should be considered before letting your child quit. Key points included:

"Quitter" is a tough label to shake: Be it among friends, with a teacher in a classroom or a coach or teammates, quitting is a pretty big deal. You build up trust with equity over time, and quitting is a massive withdrawal on your relationships.

Tenacity is a strong word for life: Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Abraham Lincoln lost several elections before being voted President of the United States. Thomas Edison "failed" 10,000 times on his way to inventing the light bulb. What if any of them had quit when things got tough?

This is a big life-lesson opportunity: I always talk with our players about lessons that transcend sport, looking to find things that happen on the ball field and applying it to items they will need later in life as business leaders, husbands or fathers. If your child doesn't learn resolve or mental toughness now, how will they become equipped to follow through as adults?

Kids usually quit for the wrong reason: Sit down and talk with your child to find out why the want to quit. You might find out that there is a larger problem at hand that you didn't initially identify. "It's not fun anymore" may be code for "kids make fun of me."

Challenging experiences invariably build character; the easy way out typically builds something else: The players who are most successful in pressurized situations are the ones who have experience in knowing how to act when put in those situations. There is no question that you can have instincts that take over in those situations, but the only real way to teach your children how to respond is to have them take the pressure sometimes.

The more often children quit before completing a task, the less likely they are to finish the next one. Quitting, like perseverance, can quickly become a habit. Be an accountable parent, coach or teacher and challenge your children not to give up too easily. Those who find success are the ones who accept challenges when things get tough, and grow from them. Most coaches select captains that they feel can thrive in adverse situations, and can help those around them when things get tough.

In a time where so many children grow up with a sense of entitlement, we need to continue to teach that most true victories come with a lot of hard work and pitfalls. Victory is not always identified on the scoreboard, but on the journey to get there.

Courtesy of the Evansville Courier Press, September 25, 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

Bradley to Egypt is historic feat

Jonah Freedman of had written this post prior to Bob Bradley's deal with Egypt, but he writes about the historical significance of Bradley's deal, and what it means for US Soccer.

Although the deal isn't officially done yet as of Thursday evening, all indications point to Bob Bradley set to sign a contract that will make him the new manager of the Egyptian national team. An official announcement may not come until Saturday, but one there is one definite statement we can make right now:

This would be the biggest thing that has ever happened to a coach born and bred in the American game.

It’s bigger than any trophy position at a major European club, it’s bigger than an established national team job and it’s far, far bigger than his last gig in charge of the US national team.

And that’s ironic, considering there were so many fans who were hoping that Bradley would become the first American manager in the English Premier League or in the Mexican Primera División.

This is bigger. This new challenge would be the grandest possible endorsement of Bradley’s accomplishments. It is the last frontier in every way, a more herculean task than any position Bradley could have found anywhere in the world, at the club or international level.

First, the obvious: The former MLS Coach of the Year would become only the third American ever to coach a national team outside the US, and the first to lead one outside of CONCACAF. These are uncharted waters, and speak to the level of respect Bradley garnered during his five years in charge of the USMNT.

But Egypt is no Costa Rica to build from the ground up — it is an established power that is highly decorated within arguably the toughest federation in the world to coach. Africa is notorious for importing foreign coaches who fail disastrously because of their lack of understanding of how things work in countries where priorities, politics and a sense of urgency are completely alien.

Africa is a place where accomplished European coaches — the likes of Henri Michel, Carlos Queiroz, Carlos Alberto Perreira, Sven-Göran Eriksson, even Bora Milutinovic — have brought in their pedigree and supposed disciplined approach, yet fell short of translating it. That’s the precedent Bradley would have to battle.

“He’s so way out of his comfort zone, it’s frightening,” noted African soccer journalist Mark Gleeson told by phone on Thursday. “This is a place where he’ll tell them to go left, and the entire troop goes right. Things happen in African football that are unfathomable.”

On the pitch itself, Bradley’s challenge will be just as immense: Rebuild the most successful program in African history. After a near decade of dominance under the predecessor, Hassan Shehata, the Pharaohs have begun to stagnate. The generation of impact players that guided Egypt to three straight African Cup of Nations titles has become long in the tooth.

Perhaps where Shehata failed was in lacking the foresight to see beyond his Golden Generation that included established stars and fan favorites. As a result, the Pharaohs disastrously failed to qualify for the 2012 Cup of Nations and will miss the tournament for the first time in 30 years.

Here Bradley would get a unique opportunity to put his own stamp on the team: Utilize the existing strength of the system and integrate youth into it. Eliminated in ACN qualifying, Egypt have begun fielding their Under-23 side that will attempt to qualify for next summer’s Olympics in London, starting in December.

How the former US manager would get to know his new players in a foreign country — where he doesn’t speak the language and must learn the nuances of a vastly different system — and how he deploys them will be one of the biggest tests of his 35 years of coaching acumen.

Fortunately, this is where Bradley’s reputation comes into play. Nearly all Egyptian fans were impressed with the US’ performance in dispatching Egypt from the 2009 Confederations Cup — really, Bradley’s best three-game stretch of his entire tenure — and they respect what he could bring to their team.

“Bradley [did] an excellent job of giving structure and routine to the American national team,” one Cairo resident observed on Wednesday to a friend of mine currently living in the Egyptian capital. “They are like soldiers in the military. They are strong. The Egyptian team does not have structure or routine, they are chaotic. They have skill, more skill than the American team, but they need a routine to build their strength."

One of Bradley’s former charges from that ’09 Confed Cup team thinks there’s plenty to work with.

“There’s some guys with a lot of size, there’s some guys with good athleticism and, I think in watching them play over the years, when they play together, they’re a good team,” Vancouver Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit told last weekend. “Hopefully Bob can make them better.”

But the biggest challenge of all is winning over the Egyptian public. Like many countries experiencing political upheaval, soccer is the best and most popular diversion in Egypt. Bradley would have to do enough to convince fans that their team is worth following despite him being a distrusted American, despite the team's current ebb, and despite what many perceived as the players' support of deposed former president Hosni Mubarak.

For a country that has been through hell and back during their revolution over the past 10 months, soccer can be the best salve to heal wounds that are still very raw. Hundreds literally died for their cause. Egypt could use something else to cheer for. No pressure there.

Will Bradley be the savior? Can he win over an Arab nation? Can he become the first foreign coach to lead Egypt to glory in the modern era — and the first coach, period, to lead the Pharaohs back to the World Cup for the first time since 1990? Only time will tell.

But what is clear is that, all of a sudden, whether Bradley succeeds will have a huge bearing on other opportunities for American coaches abroad. He is carrying the responsibility for all of American soccer, as well as MLS.

“The irony of American soccer is that, going back to the NASL days, the US was an importer of the world’s finest talent,” Gleeson noted. “MLS had those marquee players when it started as well. Now, in effect, you’re exporting your first marquee coach.”

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Turf vs. Grass debate losing traction

The age-old debate about playing on natural grass versus an artifical surface doesn't seem to be as controversial as it was 10-years ago.

A large part of that may be with the new technological advances in the new field turf, as well as the large growth of artificial fields all over the United States.

Dr. Dev Mishra addresses the question of whether there are more injuries from playing on artificial turf than natural grass.

“I don’t think there’s any better playing surface than a well-maintained grass field, but I’d prefer one of the newer varieties of turf fields over a poorly maintained grass field any day,” Mishra writes.

Moreover, the type of shoes worn can have an impact on injury rates. Read the article HERE.


For those that are statistically inclined, there's been a new focus on completed passes in Major League Soccer this season. Part of that is the influence of FC Barcelona, felt from the top clubs in Europe, to national teams, to rec sides that like what they see from Pep Guardiola's Barca style.

J Hutcherson writes of the continued influence of Barcelona - both on the world, and specifically on Major League Soccer.

Even when it doesn't lead to multiple goals, Barcelona puts on a show. They move the ball in all directions, highlight the team as well as the individual, and make the most out of their composite parts. It doesn't hurt that a couple of those parts are on the short list for best players in the World, along with a guy named Lionel Messi who already is.

Yet even Barcelona, mighty as they are, have shown that the passing game can let a team down. It's not an end in itself. It's a production mechanism that is practically worthless without goals. Even against an overmatched team - say a lower division club - showing you can out-pass the opposition counts for very little if you don't score enough goals to win.

A case in point. On Wednesday, mighty Rangers exited the Scottish Cup against a first division club. Rangers manager Ally McCoist wasn't shy in highlighting what he saw as the problem:

"The overriding feeling is we weren't good enough," McCoist told his club's official site. "We've been doing well in the league but we lost our discipline completely and went chasing the game far too early. We were passing the ball about and taking too many touches without going forward at a far higher tempo. We were miles short of what is expected at this club."

Whether or not it provides any solace the day after getting bounced out of a competition they won last season, McCoist's Rangers aren't the only ones "passing the ball around and taking too many touches." We've seen the same thing from Barcelona, the style leaders in making sure the ball does significant work over 90 minutes.

Earlier in the 2011 season, I watched DC United connect on 17 passes without the ball crossing the halfway line or the other team contesting. It was like a training drill, including a couple of players knocking the ball three yards to the left or right only to run onto it. Whether that counts as a completed pass is an open question, but there was no tactical benefit to what DC was doing that night. They were just knocking the ball around in their own in before doing exactly as expected and trying to lace it forward to catch an attacking player. No surprise, after their version of the Harlem Globetrotters's magic circle, there wasn't a soccer version of a successful alley-oop.

Again, DC is hardly the only ones. More than a few MLS teams have done the same thing, working the ball around uncontested or at the most lightly contested and ultimately costing themselves any real look at goal. Some teams have adjusted. Pass all you want, but it's not happening in the final third. We've seen that in the US Open Cup, MLS, and CONCACAF Champions League level, not to mention in competitive and friendly internationals. And just like with Rangers, it's one team trying to pass themselves to goals while the other team plays a harder nosed style of soccer.

True clash of styles is what makes Barcelona so lethal. They put out a team and a game that is close to unique in the way they're able to perform. When it works, even a 2-0 win can look resounding. When it doesn't, pundits and fans begin to wonder what all that passing and ball movement really accomplishes. If it hasn't already, that's going to become the standard criticism for pass happy clubs when they don't win.

In fairness to DC, they won the game I'm describing. 2-1 over Seattle on May 4th. The first goal was a through ball and the second from a cross. By halftime, the pass around game had been set aside for their usual set of tactics. They responded to what the other team showed them on the night. Even for Barcelona - not to mention all the teams in between - that's the best kind of tactical acumen. There always needs to be the ability to adjust accordingly. Without it, even good teams can pass themselves into trouble.

'People don't see how hard Manchester United work'

Leeds manager Simon Grayson admitted his side were taught a lesson by Manchester United last night.

The West Yorkshire outfit approached their Carling Cup third-round tie at Elland Road with high hopes of repeating their 2010 FA Cup triumph over United.

Instead, the contest was over by half-time as the visitors raced into a 3-0 lead which they defended until the end.

"People don't see how hard Manchester United work and how powerful they are," said Grayson.

"They are playing at the top level because they have that fantastic desire to do it every week."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bradley arrives in Cairo

Former United States football coach, Bob Bradley, arrived in Cairo on Wednesday morning and is set to meet Egyptian Football Association (EFA) officials to finalise contract details for his new job as manager of the Egyptian national team.

The meeting was supposed to be held on Tuesday but Bradley’s arrival was delayed due to flight ticketing problems.

“We selected Bradley to coach the Egyptian national team after many meetings with other foreigners recently,” the association chairman, Samir Zaher, said earlier this week.

The EFA interviewed many foreign coaches including Colombian Fancisco Maturana, Serbian Zoran Filipović, Frenchman Hervé Renard and Portuguese Nelo Vingada.

The 53-year old manager will succeed legendary coach Hassan Shehata who led Egypt to three successive African Cup of Nations (ACN) trophies but failed to ensure qualification for the 2012 tournament.

The Olympic youth team, under the helm of Hany Ramzy, is representing the Pharaohs in the two meaningless 2012 ACN qualifiers that remain. They were defeated 2-1 by Sierra Leone and will host Niger in the last round.

It’s expected that the former Chicago Fire and MetroStars manager will be assisted by youth team coach, Dia’a El-Sayed, who will take the post of general trainer, Amr Abou El-Ezz, who will become the administrative manager, and former Zamalek doctor, Mostafa El-Mounaiery, who will take the medical manager position.

Reyna: 'It all ties into style of play'

As U.S. Soccer’s Youth Technical Director, Claudio Reyna believes a key to improving American player development is convincing more youth clubs to strive for a style of play conducive to nurturing talent. The 78-club U.S. Soccer Development Academy, which kicked off its fifth season this month, is a integral part of the national team program’s quest to improve American soccer. Mike Woitalla of Soccer America interviewed Reyna on the future development of US youth players-

SOCCER AMERICA: I’d say that the USA produces many more good players than ever but doesn’t produce truly exceptional, creative players at a better rate than it did 20, even 30 years ago. Would you agree?

CLAUDIO REYNA: To a certain degree. There’s a bigger pool of players. I like some players who stand out at certain age groups – whose names I’d rather not mention to keep them level headed. But, absolutely, we could use some more exceptional players.

On the one side the average player has improved over the last 10 to 20 years, but if you look at the top-tier players -- we can definitely push ourselves to increase the number of those, and it’s the coaches who can make that happen.

SA: What can coaches do?

CLAUDIO REYNA: We have to make sure we nurture those players in the right way because sometimes they haven’t been given a chance -- maybe because of the style of play or because of a particular coach.

I believe a Wesley Sneijder would have never developed in an ugly style of play. He grew up in a country [Netherlands] where he was allowed to flourish and play, and that goes for all the Spanish players, all the great German players, all the great Argentine and Brazilian players.

It really all ties back to style of play -- if we don’t make sure it’s a good style of play, potentially great players are going to get lost in the helter-skelter, fast type of soccer.

If we encourage a much better style of play, then those players will enjoy playing in that environment and will be able to shine.

In my opinion, sometimes the soccer is quite ugly to watch -- you can’t even spot the talented player because he’s caught up in that type of game.

That’s one of the reasons a better style of play at the youth level will help the individuals coming up.

MATCH ANALYSIS: Chelsea 1-3 Manchester United

Graham MacAree writes an outstanding tactical match analysis of the recent Chelsea vs. Manchester United match. Click here for the more detailed analysis, and below is his recap of the alignments and systems used by both teams in United's 3-1 victory.

From the tactical standpoint, there wasn't much unusual going on, so far as Manchester United are concerned. Sir Alex Ferguson has bucked the tactical trend of late, focusing on wide play and using two banks of four in defence. His 4-4-1-1 has nonetheless been very effective, mostly because the wide players are very good and Wayne Rooney's habit of roaming into the midfield while ostensibly playing as second striker mitigates many of the problems that a two-striker system presents.

Many analysts have pointed to United's shape as the key factor behind their unconvincing performance in Europe, especially against Barcelona, but I would disagree. Going toe to toe vs. Barcelona in central midfield is hubris in the extreme, so one should focus elsewhere. In Ferguson's case, he's targetting the wings whilst unleashing Rooney in the centre for maximum chaos and mayhem.

Unfortunately for United, that choice plus several injury problems have meant that their centre was very vulnerable indeed. When Darren Fletcher, Anderson, Phil Jones and Johnny Evans are essentially the core of a side, that side will be vulnerable down the middle. It was there than Andre Villas-Boas chose to target.

It's unclear just how much truth is in that tweet, but what is certain is that Villas-Boas opted for an extremely open match. Raul Meireles was once more summoned into the holding role, flanked by Ramires and Frank Lampard. Fernando Torres was the man to lead the line, with Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge on the left and right wing. The only other surprise was that David Luiz was benched in favour of Branislav Ivanovic, although that particular move was almost necessitated by choosing Meireles over Mikel. It was, more or less, the same 4-3-3 that we saw at the Stadium of Light against Sunderland, although Torres was playing higher up the pitch than Nicolas Anelka did against Sunderland.

The formation was designed for a slugging match and to ask questions of a shaky United defence. It did the attacking part of its job, but suffered badly whenever the hosts were on the ball. Meireles did not do an adequate job tracking Rooney, and while John Terry and Ivanovic were nearly perfect in the way they dealt with Javier Hernandez, the wingers gave Chelsea problems throughout, because the fullbacks couldn't support the attack without opening up channels for United to launch long diagonals to their wide players. Nani in particular tore Chelsea apart, dominating a lackadaisical Ashley Cole on our left flank.

Nevertheless, the basic thrust of Villas-Boas' strategy was a success. The fact that Chelsea were down 3-0 at halftime was probably not a fair reflection on the scoreline - the Blues had generated just as many chances as United (although, I suspect, talk of Chelsea outplaying their hosts is exaggerating the matter somewhat). Although the midfield never looked fluid, chances were being generated, and the team looked menacing on the attack.

Obviously, it all went wrong - we'll get into the whys later, but that three goal deficit wasn't entirely luck - and the manager was forced to make changes in the second half, taking off Lampard for Anelka. Lampard had been the most effective midfield player in terms of retaining possession, but hadn't really helped the Chelsea cause on the attack. With a forward coming on for a midfielder, the shape had to change, and the team became a 4-2-1-3, with Ramires dropping back and Mata playing as a trequartista and Anelka taking his spot on the left wing.

Chelsea were slightly (but only slightly) more defensively capable in this new shape, and even more of a threat to score. Torres put the Blues on the board within a minute of the restart and should have scored twice more in the half. United, of course, hit the woodwork twice and missed a penalty, so they certainly weren't having any problems cutting Chelsea's defence open - the formation change didn't improve Cole's or Bosingwa's fortunes one bit.

At the end of the day, the chosen shape represented a very bold gamble. The attackers, by and large, did their jobs. The defence did not, and that is why Chelsea lost.

Arsenal Support for Wenger

Paul Doyle of the Guardian writes of the job security for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

Arsenal's chief executive, Ivan Gazidis, has delivered a rousing defence of the club's manager, Arsène Wenger, insisting suggestions that the Frenchman's methods no longer suit the modern game and that his position is under threat are "nonsense".

Following last season's dismal conclusion Arsenal have made their worst start to a campaign in over half a century but Gazidis said criticism of the club and the manager is a result of dangerous "short-termism" and that in the long run Arsenal are on course to thrive.

"[The criticism of Wenger] is part of this black and white perception: that you're either flying high or a broken failure," said Gazidis. "He didn't suddenly become a bad manager. To have him portrayed as some kind of idiot who is out of touch is profoundly damaging, not simply for Arsenal nor particularly for Arsène, but for football. It's nonsense based on the need to always create a mini-crisis … we are incredibly fortunate to have a manager who has a vision of what the game can be. To have a manager that thinks about the future is relatively rare.

"There is genuine unity of purpose at Arsenal. We are fully supportive of each other. I think the lack of division [between the board and the manager] sometimes infuriates people."

Gazidis rubbished suggestions that Wenger has become disillusioned by the criticism, saying the manager remains "passionately engaged" to the club. He acknowledged that the team have had some "horrible" results in recent months and fallen below expectations but said it is to Wenger's credit that expectations are so high in the first place.

"The potential is very high at the club but self-inflicted problems have prevented us from achieving that potential. We have to correct that – that is the frustration that Arsène is wrestling with."

Monday, September 19, 2011

Statistics Investment Paying Off In Major League Soccer

Now in its 16th season, Major League Soccer is continuing to show growth and stability as a major American sports league. The current season features two new teams (Portland Timbers and Vancouver FC), a revamped playoff format, and more sponsorship dollars coming in than ever before. Last week, Visa extended its partnership with the league, and will continue to have exclusive promotional rights at events like the MLS All-Star Game and MLS Cup.

Adrian Melville of Forbes magazine writes of the growth of Major League Soccer.

In addition to sponsorship dollars, MLS has also made strides in providing comprehensive coverage for their fans. In March, the league entered a partnership agreement with leading European sports data company Opta Sports. The partnership with Opta demonstrates an awareness that American sports leagues must become increasingly interactive with their fans in order to keep a core base. This is particularly true in American soccer, where many casual fans are still learning the nuances of the game, and at the same time the next generation of die-hard fans are hungry for more in-depth analysis. All of this led to MLS contracting Opta, and so far the partnership has proven to be an overwhelming success.

With its Head office in London, Opta has developed a database of sports statistics that is used by virtually all industry facets (media, teams, betting companies and soccer scouts). Customers include News International, BBC, BSkyB on a broad basis, while major clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City come to Opta for advanced scouting tools. Of course, there is also the indirect value of Opta’s advanced statistics for gaming as well. Online gambling sites in the United Kingdom saw a 40% increase in visitors over the past year, growing faster than social networking sites such as Facebook. Although this increase includes poker sites as well as sports betting, Sport England estimates the value of spending on sport-related gambling in England grew from £1.7bn in 1985 to £2.8bn in 2008. And that figure is likely to continue growing, with an estimated £1bn bet on the 2010 World Cup alone in the UK last summer.

Now, Opta is expanding its reach to the United States and have set up office in New York. So far the partnership with MLS has been vital in producing quality content to fans, and has allowed writers to cover more angles within the league. Opta is currently the driving force behind Matchday Live, a free mobile application that allows fans to track game statistics in real time. From there, MLS is planning on not only listing statistics through Matchday Live, but also presenting a visual effect with Opta’s ‘chalkboard’ feature. The chalkboard allows fans to see an actual heat map of a player’s activity throughout the course of a game, and provides insight on where a player is getting his touches, winning fouls, committing turnovers, etc. In short, you see where a player spent most of the game, and in what locations he had the biggest impact.

Finally, Opta’s advanced match analysis software provides the data for the Castrol Index rankings. Similar to ESPN’s new QB rating system for football, the Castrol Index tracks every player’s move on the field and assesses whether it has a positive or negative impact on a team’s ability to score or concede a goal.

To supplement the advanced content, Opta is also using social media to get fans more involved. Opta’s American twitter handle, @OptaJack, has already gained nearly 8,000 followers since the beginning of the 2011 MLS season, and gives fans statistical snapshots of their favorite players and teams. The enhanced stats that Opta provides also open up a window into fantasy gaming opportunities, which MLS has linked directly to Facebook to create a more engaging experience. The three games — MLS Fantasy Challenge, Salary Cap game, and Pro Soccer picks, are designed through Facebook, and allow players to score points with a myriad of categories as opposed to simply goals, assists, wins, and saves. This naturally leads to more brand affinity for players and teams, which is a main priority for MLS.

Overall, the numbers seem to prove that the investment MLS has made is an overwhelming success, and a blueprint for other sports looking to gain market share in the American sports landscape. In July alone, the staff posted close to 700 original stories, a 33 percent increase from July 2010. And in response to the content, the website recorded just over 3 million unique visitors. The flagship website,, also increased its video production by 33% in July, and reached 1 million videos viewed, which doubled numbers from 2010. As MLS and Opta move forward together, they are continuing to seek out and understand the needs of their online soccer fans, and tailor their work to delivering the best possible experience for their youthful fan base.

James Dennis, CEO of Opta US is very pleased with the progress made so far. He asserts that “The relationship with MLS has been excellent in terms of the proactive interest taken to fully utilize all aspects of the Opta analysis. We look forward to expanding our services throughout the league and forming an integral part of the development of MLS and the sport in general in the US.” If they can successfully continue to innovate in the digital landscape with new features and sponsors, there is no doubt that the league will continue to draw interest (and major rights fees) from major networks like NBC and ESPN.


Ryan Giggs has warned the youngsters coming through the ranks at Old Trafford that talent alone is insufficient to make the grade at United.

The veteran midfielder feels a number of the club's teenagers are good enough to pull on the famous red shirt but the important step is to have the fight and determination to succeed at the highest level.

"I'm not going to single any of the youngsters out but there are talents and this is an important part of their career," he told MUTV.

"I look at the likes of the lads who have come through from my age group and, later, John O'Shea and Wes Brown. When they got the chance, they took it. What they've got to do at this age now - 17, 18 and 19 - if they get a chance to train with the first-team, they have got to make an impact. If they come on as a sub, they must make an impact and make the manager not leave you out for the next game.

"It's tough in the first-team as there's a lot of quality but it's even tougher to stay there. The majority coming through have got the quality, it's just have they got that desire and appetite to take it up a step more?"

Rumors suggest Solskjaer on Blackburn’s shortlist

Manchester United legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is top of Blackburn’s shortlist should they sack the under-fire Steve Kean.

Solskjaer – now 38 - is the current manager of Norwegian side Molde and is on the brink of winning the league title in Norway, which has drawn the attention of the Blackburn owners, according to an article in The Mirror.

Blackburn owners The Venky’s group have insisted Steve Kean’s job is not under threat, though with pressure from the club's supporters to remove the Scot, another defeat this weekend at home to Arsenal could seal his fate.

Solskjaer has minimal managerial experience in England, only coaching the Manchester United reserve side before moving back to Norway, though his profile and potential will interest the Indian billionaires at Blackburn as they look to raise the profile of the club.

Solskjaer’s agent would not be drawn on speculation linking him with the job, claiming it was unfair whilst Kean was still at the helm.

"Blackburn Rovers have a manager," Jim Solbakken said in an article in The Mirror.

"And Ole is doing very well in Norway."

Keane - Manchester United 'will only get stronger'

Roy Keane has warned Manchester United's title rivals that his former club will "only get stronger".

Keane said United were "red hot favourites" for the Premier League and believes only an injury to Wayne Rooney could pose a serious problem.

Keane, 40, who was sacked as Ipswich manager in January after 20 months in charge, told BBC Radio 5 live's Sportsweek: "United to me are just going to get stronger and they are the team to beat as usual.

"At reserve and academy level, they have got such good young players coming through.

"Eventually you hope they get into the first team, just as Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley have.

"And they settle straight into the team because they've got good habits, good attitudes and a good spirit.

"The only major question mark would be if Wayne Rooney picks up an injury, because he's a big, big player for them.

"He is scoring goals for fun. Since he signed his contract, he has settled down and his best years are still ahead of him."

Thursday, September 15, 2011

MLS expansion seems settled at 20

The most powerful and prestigious soccer leagues in the world have stopped at 20. From a huge country like Brazil to a relatively small one like England, 20 clubs seem to be the limit for even the strongest circuits. Whether it’s to keep the number of games manageable, maintain the depth of the talent pool or simply a trend, 20 has become the standard.

MLS president Mark Abbott, for the time being, seems to be content with 20, too, raising the bar significantly for those markets or investors keen to join the league.

While other major American pro sports leagues have expanded to 30 teams and beyond, Abbott told Sporting News that 20 is suitable for MLS.

The Montreal Impact will ascend from the second-division NASL to become club No. 19 next year, while MLS has targeted New York City as the site for No. 20.

“Our focus right now is the 20th team in New York and we have not yet set a timeline for expansion beyond that, or even (determined) if we’re going to expand beyond that,” Abbott said. “There’s no place we need to be. Even at the size we are, we have a tremendous national footprint and are at the size that soccer leagues typically are. We feel good about the size we’re at. Other markets could be very successful as MLS markets, but (expanding beyond 20) wouldn’t be out of need. We don’t need to grow beyond where we are.”

The league’s growth has been explosive. Following the 2001 season (its sixth) MLS contracted the clubs in Tampa and South Florida, cutting membership to 10 teams. It climbed to 12 in 2005, with six more coming aboard over the next six years, including the Portland Timbers in 2011.

Meanwhile, the league continues to tinker with its player acquisition rules and give teams increasing leeway to determine how much money they want to spend and to determine their player development and acquisition priorities. The average MLS player salary has risen 81.5 percent since 2006.

It’s a lot to handle, and the changes may be enough for MLS executives to conclude that it’s time to let everything settle in for a few years. Commissioner Don Garber has said on several occasions that he is tired of the annual changes in schedule and competition format, and that establishing consistency and stability is crucial.

That puts cities, supporter groups and minor league clubs hoping to play in MLS on the furthest of back burners.

The competition for the New York City team will command the headlines over the next couple of years. While the New York Cosmos appear to be the frontrunner thanks to a branding blitz that landed the organization an exhibition against Manchester United last month, both MLS and the Cosmos confirmed that there are other interested bidders.

“It’s not just the Cosmos. All you guys think it’s the Cosmos that are going to be buying that team when they get a stadium. They’re one of many ownership groups,” Garber said at July’s All-Star Game at Red Bull Arena, just across the Hudson River from New York.

And getting that stadium is no easy task. Cosmos vice chairman Terry Byrne told Sporting News in late June that his group has narrowed the number of potential sites to four, and that while the Cosmos have the financial resources to get it done, several hurdles remain.

“On a level of 1 to 10, we’re at a 4—10 being in the MLS, a stadium, up and running with an all-singing, all-dancing team. I think we’re just about to hit 4,” Byrne said, adding that he expects to make significant progress over the next couple of months.

Not even a team that played Manchester United is a shoo-in.

The expansion bar already had been set higher by MLS. Portland, Montreal and the Seattle Sounders had a long tradition of minor league success and support. Philadelphia Union fans showed up en masse to league events before the franchise was even awarded. To enter MLS in the near future, considering its satisfaction with 20, would take an exceptionally special case. There would need to be a wealthy ownership group in place (the expansion fee alone could approach $100 million), a stadium plan (preferably soccer-specific) and a proven level of support.

Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf has said he’s interested in an MLS team if he’s successful in securing a new stadium for his NFL team. A developer named Christopher Milam was given permission to conduct feasibility and design studies for a stadium complex in Henderson, Nev., several miles south of Las Vegas. The plan includes a 25,000-seat soccer facility.

Orlando is going the minor league route. A little more than a week ago, Orlando City won the USL Pro (third division) championship before more than 11,000 fans at the Citrus Bowl. Drawing five figures to a game two tiers below MLS is something that City co-owner Phil Rawlins hopes will earn respect at MLS headquarters.

“Don Garber’s going to have no shortage of applications crossing his desk from all sorts of different areas,” Rawlins said, mentioning Atlanta and Miami as other interested markets. MLS lacks a team in the southeast U.S. and has spoken to groups in all three cities.

“We’ve met with Garber and Abbott and they’ve laid out a road map for expansion. It’s going to come down to the right ownership group, the right fan base, the right TV marketplace with the right exposure for them,” Rawlins said.

Orlando, like several other markets, has its work cut out.

Egypt Name Bradley Coach

Egypt have appointed former United States coach Bob Bradley as national team manager, state news agency MENA said on Wednesday.

Bradley replaces long-standing coach Hassan Shehata who left in June after holders Egypt struggled in qualifying for the 2012 African Nations Cup finals. They have since been eliminated.

Bradley, fired by the U.S. in July, was on an Egyptian FA shortlist that included the experienced Francisco Maturana, who has managed Peru, Ecuador and his native Colombia, and Zoran Filipovic, the former Yugoslav striker and Montenegro coach.

The American will be given the task of getting Egypt to the World Cup finals for the first time since 1990.

Bradley is expected to arrive in Cairo on Sunday or Monday to sign a contract, Egyptian FA spokesman Azmi Mugahed told MENA. Details of the deal will be announced next week.

Bradley took over as the permanent head coach of the U.S. in 2007 after being taken on as interim coach when the Americans flopped at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

He enjoyed instant success, winning the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup at home and leading the U.S. to the final of the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa.

Bradley guided the team through the qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup, also in South Africa, but they lost in the second round to Ghana after drawing with England in the group stage.

Bradley was linked with a move to English Premier League club Aston Villa but signed a four-year extension last year to stay on as U.S. head coach.

Chandler considering playing for Germany

Paul Kennedy of Soccer America reports that US national team right back is apparently leaning towards playing for Germany.

It was a bad news day on the national team front out of Germany. Former U.S. national team defender Tony Sanneh tweeted that German national team coach Joachim Loew was going to FC Nuremberg -- Sanneh's former club -- to meet with U.S. national team right back Timmy Chandler and the "rumor" was that Chandler was going to play for Germany. And out of Hoffenheim came the news that another promising German-American, Fabian Johnson, was sidelined with a herniated disk in the neck.

How solid was Chandler's commitment to play for the USA became a matter of speculation when he did not play at the Gold Cup, choosing instead to rest after his first Bundesliga season at Nuremberg.

If he had played at the Gold Cup -- an official competition -- he would not be able to change national teams.

Sanneh noted that, if true, Loew's interest in Chandler would stem from the fact that Germany, loaded at many positions, is thin at right back, Chandler's position.

And Sanneh also added that the USA will have no opportunity to "cup-tie" Chandler until next summer. Germany's next major event is Euro 2012 in June.

Sanneh later added that "this twitter stuff is dangerous." (There were no reports Wednesday out of Germany about Loew's "official visit" to Nuremberg.)

Johnson, who joined Hoffenheim from Wolfsburg and started the first five games of the 2011-12 Bundesliga season, was injured at practice on Tuesday and is expected to be sidelined for about a month.

That would keep him out of the action for the U.S. friendlies on Oct. 7 and Oct. 11 -- if he was eligible for selection.

Johnson didn't play for the USA in its recent friendlies against Costa Rica and Belgium because no FIFA application to switch national teams has been approved. Johnson previously represented Germany at the 2009 U-21 European Championship.

(Players who represent one country in an official youth competition can later make a one-time switch if they were eligible for the second country at the time they played for the first country.)

Johnson has struggled with injuries over the past couple of years. He suffered an ACL tear in March 2009 and has been bothered by Achilles' tendon problems. He played just 16 games for Wolfsburg after moving up from Division II 1860 Munich.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Record setting season for MLS attendance

Mike Woitalla of Soccer America writes of the record season for Major League Soccer attendance-

Ten Week 26 games averaged 17,646 fans as MLS, with just more than a month left in the regular season, is on pace to break its season attendance record.

* Seattle drew the biggest crowd of the week when 35,940 watched it fall to Real Salt Lake.

* San Jose drew the smallest crowd, but the 10,525 who watched the Quakes end a 13-game winless streak marked its fourth straight sellout at tiny Buck Shaw Stadium.

* New England, which struggles at the gate, drew its third biggest crowd of the season when 15,498 watched it down Dallas.

* MLS's attendance average so far this season is 17,455. 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.

Bradley creates American flavor in Serie A

Clemente Lisi writes of Michael Bradley's start to his Serie A career with Chievo Verona.

The opening weekend of Italy’s Serie A brought with it the familiar sights and sounds. The sight of loud fans tossing flares onto the field and the sound of coaches whining about referees. In the middle of it all was one American among the nearly 500 players spread out across 20 clubs.

Michael Bradley is that sole American in Serie A after signing with Chievo Verona last month from German club Borussia Monchengladbach. Compare that to the eight who currently play in Germany’s Bundesliga, seven in England’s Premiership, and four in Scotland’s Premier League, and while Italy is a popular destination for American tourists, it’s not so much so for American soccer players.

This past Sunday, Bradley sat on the bench as Chievo played newly promoted Novara 2-2 draw before the home fans at the Bentegodi Stadium. Bradley has said this season will be a challenge for him and that cracking the starting lineup will be his primary goal.

“I watched Serie A on TV while growing up,” Bradley said during his first news conference on September 1st in Verona. “Playing in Italy is a great challenge for me. Chievo has given me a great opportunity. It will be a tough season. I will give it my all to succeed in Serie A.”

For the 24-year-old National Team central midfielder, giving it his all may not be enough. While Italian clubs have traditionally favored South American players compared to ones hailing from CONCACAF nations, there was a major exception. Milan signed US National Team defender Oguchi Onyewu for the 2009-10 season, but an injury-plagued two-year stint resulted in Onyewu never playing in a Serie A match.

Paolo Bandini, who covers Serie A for the English newspaper The Guardian, said that aside from a few big clubs in Italy, the rest are “only looking at foreign players” with low transfer fees and salary demands. Bandini said that means teams are looking for non-European Union players from South America where they “might just find a bargain. On top of that is the non-EU rules which restricts [Serie A clubs] to signing no more than two – and last year just one – players from outside Europe. A lot of South Americans who do get signed are actually eligible for European passports through parents or grandparents.”

Those who thought Serie A would get an influx of American players after businessman Thomas Di Benedetto finalized a deal this year to become owner of AS Roma were mistaken. Di Benedetto, a partner of New England Sports Ventures that also owns the Boston Red Sox and Premier League club Liverpool, has said he wants to attract more local players to AS Roma – a cheaper way to build a squad rather than paying for foreigners on the transfer market.

But Bradley may succeed where other Americans in Italy have not since Chievo is a mid-table team without a squad of stars. If Onyewu had trouble breaking into AC Milan’s star-studded lineup, Bradley may become a starter on a team eager to finish in the top half of the standings and contend for a Europa League spot.

The most famous US National Team player in Italy was defender Alexi Lalas, who used the exposure he received at the 1994 World Cup to sign a two-year deal with Padova. Lalas, the first American to play in Italy since before World War II, would make 44 appearances and score three goals in two seasons before returning home to play in MLS. The highlight of his sojourn came in October 1994 when he scored in Padova’s shock 2-0 win over AC Milan, who was coached at the time by current England manager Fabio Capello and featured striker Ruud Gullit in the lineup.

AC Milan midfielder Clarence Seedorf, who played with Onyewu, believes Italian clubs aren’t the ones necessarily shunning US players, saying, "Americans prefer to go and play in a country without a language barrier. Americans prefer to play in England in that sense. It works both ways.”

With such a limited history playing in what some would still argue is one of the world's best leagues, Bradley becomes the latest opportunity to establish a US National Team presence in Serie A.

“As for Bradley, I think he can do well,” said Bandini. “Hard worker like that should fit in well at Chievo and I think he can carve out a spot for himself in that midfield.”

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 had profound impact on soccer: MLS came to a halt

The tragedy of 9/11 affected everyone differently, and especially being from New York and speaking first-hand as having friends and former teammates who passed away in the terrible tragedy, it certainly makes you step back and think of the things that are really important in your life.

John Hayden of the Washington Times writes of how 9/11 affected Major League Soccer 10 years ago.

Bill Shankly, the legendary coach of fabled Liverpool, once said, "Soccer isn't a matter of life and death—it's much more important than that." Shankly's oft-quoted remark sounded ridiculous and hollow ten year's ago following the terrorist attacks on that Tuesday morning of September 11 in New York City, Washington D.C., and over the hills of Pennsylvania.

After the attack, Major League Soccer cancelled the final week of the regular season. D.C. United's 28-game season was cut short by two games. The club failed to reach the playoffs and Thomas Rongen's three-year tenure at the team was over.

In November that year, D.C. United and the Washington Freedom held an evening of benefit games at RFK Stadium to help victims and families of the terrorist attacks. Juergen Klinsmann, now the U.S. men's coach, made a special appearance playing for United. But the most moving moment of the night, was when 9-year-old soccer player Christa Horrocks of Philadelphia, whose father Michael was a co-pilot on United Flight 175 that hit the World Trade Center, stood next to Mia Hamm on the field as an honorary captain for the Freedom. Hamm played the entire game with a photo of Christa's father in her shinguard.

In Europe, UEFA angered many by allowing Champions League games that Tuesday night to continue. However, after an outcry from clubs, supporters and even the Vatican, UEFA postponed the Wednesday matches, which included Manchester United's game against Olympiakos in Greece.

While 67 Britons died in the attack, matches were still played in midweek and at the weekend in England.

During the minute's silence which preceded Tottenham Hotspur F.A. Cup game against Torquay United on the Thursday evening after 9/11, many eyes were focused on American goalie Kasey Keller who was making his debut for the London club that went on to beat United 2-0.

World Cup qualifying games also went on in Asia that weekend. Iran held a minute of silence before its qualifier against Bahrain to honor those killed in the attacks. The crowd of about 60,000 sat quietly as players stood on the field and TV announcers kept silent.

"In tragic circumstances, football must symbolize the ideals of fair play and nonviolence, and encourage people to respect the dignity of each and every human being," FIFA president Sepp Blatter said at the time. "The world today is no longer the one we knew. But football must remain a beacon of hope."

This weekend, soccer players involved in Major League Soccer will solemnly observe the tragic events of September 11, 2001.

Just prior to the singing of the national anthem at each game, fans will be asked to join in a 30-second moment of silence. All players and referees will wear black armbands bearing the logo of the official 9/11 Memorial in Lower Manhatten.

"The entire MLS family looks to honor those who lost their lives and those that so heroically worked as first responders on 9/11," said MLS Commissioner Don Garber who on the tragic day was driving to his office via the Lincoln Tunnel when he saw the towers in flames. He then called his brother, who works a block away from the World Trade Center, and urged him to find safety.

Added Garber this week: "It is important that we all take time to reflect on the devastating loss on that tragic day and recognize the enormous commitment and sacrifices made by so many brave Americans that work to protect our safety every day."


SIR BOBBY CHARLTON believes that Wayne Rooney can be the leader of the young Manchester United pack evoking memories of Eric Cantona.

United great Charlton praised the important role Cantona played in helping nurture the careers of David Beckham, Gary Neville, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes in the 1990s.

Now United director Charlton can visualise Rooney becoming a mentor to the new kids on the Old Trafford block, like Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck.

With United boss Sir Alex Ferguson stating his intention to use the youngsters in this season’s Champions League campaign, which begins against Benfica in Lisbon on Wednesday, Rooney could be pivotal. Charlton said: “With the departure of Gary Neville, Edwin van der Sar, John O’Shea and Wes Brown, there is more responsibility for Wayne.

“I think he has responded to all the new young players around him. Wayne has reacted to things the way Eric did. What Cantona did for that group in 1995, Wayne can do for the current generation.” Charlton is pleased that Rooney’s problems last season, which at one stage resulted in a desire to leave the club, are now in the past.

What Cantona did for that group in 1995, Wayne can do for the current generation
Sir Bobby Charlton.

“I’m just glad he is playing for us and nobody else,” Charlton added. “Wayne has the potential to be a great player at United for a decade.

“No one would be more pleased than me if one day he takes my goalscoring record.

“He’s a unique player who will try things other players won’t.” Despite Ferguson’s promise to his young stars, the manager has said the game against Benfica is one for the more experienced players.

Evansville embraces soccer, entices this soccer family | MIKE JACOBS COLUMN

From the Evansville Courier Press, September 11, 2011

Why Evansville?

That was the question I was asked by some friends at a Purple Aces Club gathering, and I think my answer pleasantly surprised those I was sitting with.

Having been born and raised in the New York metropolitan area and despite growing up with a sports orientation through professional sports teams like the Cosmos, Yankees and Knickerbockers, I was always a college soccer fan. The University of Connecticut dominated college soccer in the early 1980s, and with programs like Brooklyn College and Long Island University being nationally ranked, it was easy to find a college soccer fix around the North American Soccer League offseason.

Long before my arrival in the Midwest, through magazines like Soccer America and Soccer Digest, my naive geography told me the first two things I knew about Evansville — the basketball team wore sleeves on their jerseys, and Fred Schmalz's Purple Aces could play with ANYBODY in the nation.

Names like Mick Lyon and Dan McHugh were fairly familiar, even halfway across the country, and when I was offered the opportunity to leave my position as the head coach at Iona College to join coach Schmalz's staff, I didn't need to be asked twice.

My wife Jen and I only had one child (Katie) when we arrived here in 2000, and it was a bit of an adventure to leave friends and family to pursue my coaching dreams. It was really blind faith to attempt to be a part of one of the nation's truly elite college soccer programs, and what we found was a lot more than that.

After two seasons, I was again offered a unique opportunity — this time in Durham, N.C., as a member of the staff at Duke University. When weighing the options, former Aces basketball coach Jim Crews helped me put it in perspective. Coach Crews asked me if I would like to be the head coach at UE some day, and then told me, "If you stay here, you may be a candidate; if you go to Duke and do well, you will definitely be a candidate."

Sure enough, in the midst of a 2005 season that saw ACC champion Duke ranked No. 1 in the nation, the opportunity arose for our family to return and for me to fill the vacant position of head coach at UE.

The only place our family would have left Duke for was Evansville. UE has always been my dream job and has been so because of the unique relationship that the Aces have with their community, and specifically, with the soccer community.

I have never been in a city where soccer is more important. You can see it at Price Park or Goebel Soccer Complex, watching young Evansville Soccer Club participants chasing balls around the field; you can see it at the EVSC Fields on a Wednesday night rivalry game between two top high school teams; you can see it when Indiana University comes to town to play the hometown Aces in front of capacity crowds.

Soccer is a massive participation sport in our community, but between fan support and media coverage, there is nowhere else where soccer is more important.

In a transient profession like college athletics, it is nice to be at a destination where you can be a part of something bigger than yourself.

Today is a big day at Black Beauty Field at Arad McCutchan Stadium, as we combine two tremendous traditions in Aces Soccer — the final day of the ProRehab Aces Soccer Classic and the Kick It for the Cure breast cancer benefit in which our Aces will wear pink jerseys versus Eastern Illinois. Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m., and your attendance will only amplify why being in Evansville was a pretty easy decision.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Klinsmann overseeing a generational shift for USA

Out with the old, in with the new.

"I think we have some very interesting youngsters coming through the ranks,” U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann remarked in the press conference following the 1-0 loss to Belgium on Tuesday.

It is the reality of the situation for Klinsmann; the window of opportunity is closing for a lot of the stalwarts of the national team.

Regulars like Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Carlos Bocanegra, and Steve Cherundolo are all going to be over the age of 30 by the time the next World Cup kicks off.

Why is that age significant? It is the rough cutoff spot for soccer players in the new coach’s system.

When Klinsmann led the German national team to a third place finish at the 2006 World Cup, he only had three field players over 30 on the roster.

For those who argue that talent is cyclical, Germany only brought two players over that mark to the 2010 World Cup. The Germans finished third at that event.

Prior to the Klinsmann era, Germany had five field players over the age of 30 on the roster at the 2002 World Cup, but only took four players under 23, which was the most populated age group for next two World Cup finals.

The style that Klinsmann preached, and then his assistant Joachim Low modified at the next World Cup finals, is built on fitness and youthful legs.

Perhaps this is the reason that eccentric FC Dallas star Brek Shea has already caught the eye of the new U.S. boss.

“[Shea]'s full of energy, he's creative, and he’s fast and has a good physical presence,” Klinsmann said. “He's one of the kids we are going to build over the next cycle.”

The coach went on to mention New York Red Bulls forward Juan Agudelo as another piece for the coaches to build for the next cycle.

‘Building players for the next cycle’ was the crutch for the coach during the press conference and should be a specialty for his staff given the current makeup of his assistant coaches.

Friday, September 9, 2011


Now the international break is over, the games start coming thick and fast as Manchester United have additional Champions League and Carling Cup commitments.

Sir Alex Ferguson knows how best to utilise his squad and will reward those who have patiently watched the Reds rack up three consecutive victories in the Barclays Premier League. A quick glance at the players at the manager's disposal tells you everything you need to know about the champions' remarkable strength in depth.

As the team prepares for the tough trip to Bolton, it's worth pointing out that last season's joint-leading scorer in the Barclays Premier League, Dimitar Berbatov, has had just 25 minutes of league action this term. Fellow striker Michael Owen has not had a sniff yet, mainly due to injury and illness, although he is fit again. And there's also Federico Macheda and Mame Biram Diouf who have had to make do with a Reserves outing against Swansea to stay fresh.

It's not just up front either - Rio Ferdinand has been warned by the boss he may have to wait before making his return and, at the time of writing, experienced players of the calibre of Ryan Giggs, Ji-sung Park, Michael Carrick and Javier Hernandez have still to make their first starts.

The embarrassment of riches at Old Trafford also means there's some exciting youngsters coming through, eagerly awaiting an opportunity in the Carling Cup. It all means the manager can rotate his squad accordingly for the tough programme ahead and everybody is fully aware of the competition for places and the need to always perform at their best.

Former MLS star to coach Columbia

Former Colombia star Leonel Alvarez, who played five seasons in MLS with Dallas and New England, was named Colombia's new national team coach, replacing the popular Hernan Dario Gomez, who quit last month after being involved in an incident in which he struck a woman at a Bogota bar.

Alvarez, 46, was Gomez's assistant and then the national team's interim coach after Gomez, who apologized for the incident, resigned on Aug. 22.

Alvarez will face the task of leading Colombia in World Cup 2014 qualifying, which begins next month in South America. The Cafeteros have not qualified since 1998.

"We are going to put all our effort toward the objective of returning to the World Cup," he said. "Believe me, it is an immense honor, a great pleasure."

Alvarez earned 106 caps for Colombia and played at the 1990 and 1994 World Cups and at five Copa Americas.

He was a Best XI selection for the Dallas Burn in MLS's first season. After a year at Mexican club Veracruz, he returned to Dallas in 1998 but was traded to New England to the next season.

After leaving MLS in 2001, he played three more years in Colombia before retiring in 2004.

Bradley still weighs options in Egypt

Former U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley won't be toiling in Mexico any time soon, but he's still wanted in Egypt.

Santos Laguna on Thursday offered its vacant coaching job to Benjamin Galindo, according to reports in Mexico, after interviewing Bradley earlier this week, but an Egyptian federation spokesman told Major League Soccer's website that the Pharaohs job is Bradley's if he wants it.

Bradley, who built Chivas USA into an MLS power before a nearly-five-year tenure as U.S. coach that ended in late July, had discussions last month in Cairo about taking charge of Egypt's national team, which has won the past three African Cups of Nations but was eliminated last weekend from contention for next year's edition.

“Everything is still here for Bob Bradley,” an Egyptian soccer spokesman said. “We hope, maybe, we can have the answer next week. We hope he will be the coach.”

Egypt wants Bradley to take its team to the 2014 World Cup; the Pharaohs have played in only two World Cup finals, in 1934 and 1990.

Galindo, 50, is a former midfielder -- he was part of Mexico's 1994 World Cup contingent -- who has played for and coached Santos. He was in charge of the Torreon-based club in 2006 and also has coached Guadalajara, Cruz Azul and Atlas.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Extra work is key for Oduro's scoring surge

Chicago Fire forward Dominic Oduro has scored five goals in the last six games in all competitions, and credits the additional training he is getting with the Chicago coaching staff for keeping him sharp.

Sam Stejskal checks on the source of the 26-year-old Ghanaian's hot streak.

"It feels amazing,” Oduro told Tuesday. “It’s been an amazing stretch of goals, especially that one in the Open Cup [semifnal win]; that was unbelievable. It shows you how hard work leads to improvement.”

Oduro, who leads the Fire with nine league goals, has been putting in extra time in front of net with interim head coach Frank Klopas and assistant Larry Sunderland, and is seeing the payoff with his recent hot stretch. "I’m working with Frank and Larry in terms of getting in front of goal and making sure I’m doing a good job,” Oduro said. “We’re just working out how to just eliminate all errors when I get in front of goal. It’s just basic stuff, get your head up and try to place it instead of just killing it, and that’s what I’m trying to do this whole time. It’s been a couple of great goals, it’s working for me and if it works why stop it?”

He also credits new midfielder Pavel Pardo, the former Mexican national team star. "Pavel especially will talk to me, work with me, try to create spaces for me and also try to put balls in front of me,” Oduro said. “He’ll take me aside and talk to me about the game plan and everything and there have been a couple of times where he’s been effective in terms of playing balls behind. I’m just glad I have guys here who keep me going when the chips are down."

Capello plans senior player clear-out

England manager Fabio Capello is preparing a clear-out of senior players after becoming convinced that too many of his squad have been "scarred" by previous failures, reports said on Thursday.

Several newspapers speculated that the axe was hovering over Frank Lampard, James Milner, Rio Ferdinand and Gareth Barry as Capello attempts to freshen up his team with next year's Euro 2012 finals in mind.

England moved to within a point of qualification for Euro 2012 on Tuesday after an unconvincing 1-0 victory over Wales at Wembley that raised fresh questions about the resilience of Capello's men.

Capello was quoted as saying in several newspapers that he had expected England would perform poorly after studying players body language during their pre-match warm-up at Wembley.

"When I go to the pitch before the game, I like to see the warm-up. During my career I have sometimes understood a lot of things because of what happened in the warm-up," Capello said.

Capello said he had attempted to gee up his players after they returned to the dressing room before kick-off but to no avail.

"I tried. I spoke with the players but it was impossible to change the things that I saw. Impossible," he said.

Asked if it was because not enough time remained to change the mood in the dressing room, Capello said the problem was mental.

"The problem was here," Capello added, pointing to his head.

Capello said he struggled to comprehend why England could not sustain a given level of performance through 90 minutes.

"Sometimes it is incredible to understand why," he said.

"I have said before, as a manager, as a player, there are times when I never understood what really happened.

"We played well for 20 minutes. Why can't we play the same (for the whole game)? I don't understand.

"The result was really good. The most important thing. But we need to speak about some things."

Although Capello did not identify players who may be at risk, several newspapers on Thursday reported that Manchester City duo Barry and Milner along with Lampard and possibly Ferdinand were most at threat.

Capello was likely to fast-track the development of Manchester United trio Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck as he attempts to accelerate a steady overhaul which has been under way since the disastrous 2010 World Cup.

Tuesday's squad at Wembley contained only eight members of the 23-man party which travelled to South Africa two years ago, although Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson would have been included to face Wales if fit.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

USSF curriculum starting to trickle down through youth ranks

Charles Boehm wrote recently about how the new USSF curriculum that was created by Claudio Reyna is starting to make it's way into our youth soccer setting here in the United States.

Last year U.S. Soccer hired Claudio Reyna as the federation’s youth technical director, tasking the former Men’s National Team star with evaluating and revitalizing the nation’s approach to player development from the ground up.

Reyna unveiled the fruits of his labor, the U.S. Soccer Coaching Curriculum, at a convention this past April, urging the nation’s youth coaches to adopt a flowing, possession-based philosophy with the 4-3-3 formation as its primary tactical structure in the same slick vein as European and Spanish champions FC Barcelona.

Many observers scoffed at the idea, pointing out the futility of trying to impose an overarching style on the unruly, results-oriented world of elite youth soccer. Others doubted whether America players could master the required technical ability any time soon.

But those critics might have been surprised to find ample signs of movement in Reyna’s direction at Prince William Soccer, Inc.’s Toys For Tots Tournament in Virginia last weekend. With the fall season close at hand, teams in age groups as young as under-14 could be seen departing from the standard 4-4-2, experimenting with other tactical shapes or merely introducing new ideas for children beginning to learn the game’s finer points.

“Absolutely,” said VSA Heat Gold 96 coach Larry Chang, whose team dominated the tournament’s U15G Black division with a 4-0 record and +16 goal differential. “Ball mastery is clearly first, but we’ve worked enough over the years that many of the girls are gaining confidence there, so we’re starting to put together many of the tactical plays that you see at the higher levels.”

And this was no coincidence, as several coaches cited 4-3-3 as the future of U.S. player development.

“We have a bunch of new players and we’re trying a new formation – a move to what the U.S. Soccer model is for the youth, 4-3-3,” said David Zatt, coach of Gunston Elite’s U18 Ladies side, who finished with a 2-1 record in Flight B of Toys For Tots’ U19 Girls division.

“So we’re trying that out. It seems to be working pretty well. It is a little bit awkward for some of our players who aren’t accustomed to it, but I think they’re getting used to it. We had a scrimmage last week and the tournament here is going to help quite a bit preparing for the season.”

As the U.S. Men’s National Team’s halting performances under new coach Jurgen Klinsmann have revealed, the move from 4-4-2 to more nuanced shapes like 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 and related alignments can challenge even the most elite professionals, so youth coaches must introduce the new ideas gradually.

“It is advanced, and that’s why we take it a game, a practice, a tournament at a time. They haven’t really even dealt with a four-man defense yet, so my goal is just to get the defensive line set,” explained Beach FC U15 Girls Black coach Emily Kittleson. “With the 4-3-3, that’s more of a club push. We want to push the 4-3-3 and it probably does have something to do with the national team push for that now.

“Right now I’m still sticking with a 4-4-2, because they’re starting to learn the need for the outside players, what kind of runs you make as an outside player, and how the center mids need to transition the ball and find those outside players, find the space for them to run on to. That can be transitioned into the 4-3-3 pretty easily, because my two outside mids will probably play those outside forward positions and you’re still trying to find space wide, the transition into space."

Kittleson, a former standout player at William & Mary whose team ran up an 0-2-1 record at Toys For Tots, hopes to have her players comfortable with 4-3-3 by the end of the season but is prioritizing defensive shape at this point.

Obviously, actions speak louder than words and many coaches will do what it takes to win games, and thus placate expectant parents, rather than implement these sorts of advanced tactical concepts. But the fact that Reyna’s ideas have already begun to filter down to youth club competition probably bodes well for the future.