Thursday, June 23, 2011
Clint Dempsey's goal late in the second half gave the USA a 1-0 win over Panama and moved it into the final of the Gold Cup for fourth straight time. Dempsey teamed up with two very improbable substitutions -- Landon Donovan, again coming off the bench, and Freddy Adu, making his first U.S. appearance since 2009 -- for the winning goal that sent the Americans to Saturday's final against the Mexico-Honduras winner at the Rose Bowl.
Dempsey's goal was his third goal of the tournament and came after Adu fed Donovan down the right wing, and Donovan fed Dempsey, who scored from close range in the 76th minute.
Here are three points of emphasis following the win in Houston by which the USA has qualified for its sixth consecutive Gold Cup final:
MUCH ADU ABOUT SOMETHING. When he went to Turkey during the winter to play for Rizespor of the Second Division, Freddy Adu – as he’d done for several previous loan spells – said many of the same things about reviving his career, finding the right mentality, etc., etc.
Well, the Freddy Adu who entered a tense, scoreless semifinal did his talking with his play. His diagonal ball from the center circle that freed Landon Donovan down the right flank to set up Clint Dempsey’s goal oozed with class; hit with just right mix of bend and pace, Donovan could control it easily and had the time to center his own pass at just the right moment.
Adu didn’t play flawlessly, he gave away a couple of balls in bad spots but the USA managed to defuse the situations. As the clock wound down he dug into tackles and took the ball past opponents to eat up time. After an absence of two years, since the last Gold Cup in 2009, Adu has regained a place in the national team pool if not necessarily as a regular callup. But for a 22-year-old (as of June 2) with a lot of pro experience, he’s in a good spot.
COACHING ACUMEN STRIKES AGAIN. Coach Bob Bradley elected to keep Donovan on the bench and start the same XI as he’d used against Jamaica, with the exception of Juan Agudelo replacing an injured Jozy Altidore. Sacha Kljestan couldn’t replicate his effective, incisive play against Jamaica as he and Dempsey and Alejandro Bedoya interchanged positions, so Kljestan came off at halftime for Donovan.
Adu replaced Agudelo midway through the second half, and soon afterward collected a ball from Michael Bradley to set the scoring sequence in motion. Yet Adu’s return isn’t the only gutsy move made by Coach Bradley in this tournament.
Despite struggling offensively and making attacking changes, the defense posted yet another shutout -- its third straight in the competition -- while allowing very few clear chances at goal. Bradley’s decision to move captain Carlos Bocanegra into the middle alongside Clarence Goodson was predicated on confidence in Eric Lichaj, who has been loaned out by Aston Villa to lower-division teams the past three years, yet overcame a very rough day against Spain to emerge as a solid performer at left back. And he’s also only 22.
'CINCO A CERO!' That cry will be heard incessantly Saturday at the Rose Bowl, site of the final, as a pro-Mexican crowd reminds the world of the scoreline when Mexico romped over the Americans two years ago.
The game will be a classic case of the USA playing an away match at home in a fiercely hostile atmosphere, yet in the three meetings between the nations in Pasadena, the Americans have a 1-0 win (1994) and 2-2 tie (1996) to go along with a 2-0 loss in 1997. And, most of the pressure will be on Mexico.
June 22 in Houston
USA 1 Panama 0. Goal: Dempsey 76.
USA -- Howard, Cherundolo, Goodson, Bocanegra, Lichaj, Bradley, Jones, Bedoya, Kljestan (Donovan, 46), Dempsey, Agudelo (Adu, 66).
Panama -- Penedo, R.Torres, Machado, L.Henriquez, Baloy, Gomez (Godoy, 86), Barahona (G.Torres, 86), Cooper (Renteria, 71), A.Henriquez, Quintero, Tejada.
Yellow Cards: USA -- Bocanegra 68; Panama -- Cooper 18, L.Henriquez 36, Gomez 72.
Referee: Enrico Wijngaarde (Suriname).
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
But while Donovan’s late arrival is the big story, the real story is the tactical epiphany Bob Bradley seems, finally, to have had. Gone was the 4-5-1, gone was the Empty Bucket, the lack of midfield movement (mostly) and the lack of ideas in the final third.
In its place was the 4-1-3-1-1 the US used so well against Slovenia and Algeria last summer in South Africa, and with it, finally, was soccer of the type that doesn’t immediately get deleted from the TiVo for banality.
THE FORMATION’S KEYS
The whole point of the 4-1-3-1-1 is to free up two players on the field: The guy in the middle of the “3” and the “1” just in front of him. Everything else is more or less by the book, as the fullbacks overlap, the flank midfielders pinch in possession and dive toward goal in the final third, and the pivot protects the central pairing.
In Sunday’s match, the two free men were Michael Bradley and Sacha Kljestan, and while Bradley struggled a bit by repeatedly killing the tempo, Kljestan’s vision and ability to find space both for himself and his teammates was the decisive factor.
Kljestan’s unorthodox style and propensity to spray passes has hampered his development over the past three years, but at Anderlecht this season he came into his own. The structure the Belgian team imposed upon him and the focus they demanded sharpened his skills, and taught him to choose his moments instead of always playing for the killer pass. Instead of merely an attacker, he's become a true enganche, the guy who's able to find moments of weakness in the defense and put his teammates into a spot to exploit them.
HOW IT PLAYED OUT
Kljestan’s ability to play patiently and find possession in the final third brought more of the attackers into the play and allowed the US to attack at angles they haven’t been finding recently. The fact that it didn’t result in a glut of goals is an ongoing concern — nobody in the US pool is finishing regularly at the moment — but the variety and unpredictability of the US ventures into the Jamaican box took the starch out of the Reggae Boyz. No longer were the US team reduced to hopeful crosses and set-pieces, and as the game went on Jamaica dropped deeper and deeper in order to compensate.
Just as important was that the tactical switch gave Jermaine Jones a defined role and some protection to the central defensive pairing. In previous games, the Jones-Bradley central midfield hasn’t really worked because they’ve largely been occupying each others’ spaces, making redundant runs and only showing for the ball on one side of the pitch.
On Sunday, Jones stayed deeper, only going forward specifically when Bradley had the ball deep. It’s a more limited role, but one the US has shown a need for.
The result, of course, was that the Yanks were much less vulnerable in that “red zone” between the central midfield and central defense. It’s the area where they tend to give up the majority of their goals, and Jamaica didn’t have a single shot from that spot on the field.
Jones’ deeper positioning also freed Bradley up to play as more of a “forward destroyer,” much like Kevin-Prince Boateng for AC Milan or, if you prefer, Pablo Mastroeni for Colorado. Bradley, as mentioned, didn’t have a particularly good game — he looks fatigued — but he did a good job of disrupting the few moments of possession Jamaica did have, and generally blunted attacks before they could even start.
This is how the US need to play. It’s the lineup that best plays to their strengths and minimizes their weaknesses.
Now, Kljestan isn’t exactly Wesley Sneijder, but he doesn’t need to be. He just needs to create time and space for guys like Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Juan Agudelo. All three had good games — as did Alejandro Bedoya, the man who Donovan replaced in the 64th minute — because they were getting the ball without defenders draped all over them.
It may be counterintuitive to have a guy like Kljestan, who’s not much of a goal threat himself (there were at least three times on the day he could and should have pulled the trigger, but didn’t) placed in such an advanced position
But it works. And it’s time for Bob Bradley to stop chasing after formations and lineups that should work and focus on the ones that do.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Saturday afternoon, U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley wouldn’t admit that the pressure was on, or that a CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal loss to Jamaica might put his five-year reign in jeopardy.
It was, and it very well could have. But Bradley’s stoicism was justified. It turns out he had an ace up his sleeve.
Players decide games but coaches put them in position to succeed, and Sunday’s comprehensive 2-0 victory over Jamaica at sold-out RFK Stadium was as much a victory for Bradley as it was for his team.
Criticized recently for his squad’s slow starts, uneven play and tactical rigidity, the coach selected a starting 11 unlike any he fielded at last summer’s World Cup or during the Gold Cup’s first round. It featured five midfielders rather than four, with Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones in their customary deep roles and Clint Dempsey, Sacha Kljestan and Alejandro Bedoya up front supporting lone striker Jozy Altidore. Kljestan and Bedoya were reserves in the Gold Cup’s first three games.
Landon Donovan, who arrived in Washington at around 7 a.m. after attending his twin sister’s wedding near Los Angeles, was on the bench. For years, Bob Bradley had deployed Dempsey and Donovan as outside midfielders, with the space behind the two forwards left empty. It appeared this month that opponents had solved it, and the U.S. was unable to either maintain possession or consistently involve its strikers in the attack.
Instead of stubbornness, Bradley offered inspiration. His son Michael Bradley and Jones ran hard and passed smartly, while Dempsey, Bedoya and Kljestan were dynamic and tireless. They interchanged with each other, showed for the ball and ran Jamaica ragged. The Americans imposed themselves on a team that had gone 3-0-0 in the group stage and didn’t skip a beat when Agudelo replaced the injured Altidore in the 12th minute. By the time Jones gave the Americans the lead four minutes after half time, the "Reggae Boyz" were spent.
“We just felt the way they defend, that we could play a lot of passes, make their defenders have to make decisions about who they would step to. Now our ability to move the ball for 90 minutes would control the game and also create chances,” Bob Bradley said. “Clearly this idea that we keep improving in terms of how we move the ball, the rhythm of our play, this kind of thing, is part of our growth.”
The new formation, which gave each midfielder more passing options and created an attack that could challenge Jamaica from different spots on the field, enabled that growth. What Spain did to the U.S. in that object lesson of an exhibition on June 4 outside Boston, the Americans did to Jamaica here in Washington.
“We wanted to be a team tonight that passed the ball well and moved the ball around a lot, so I could find those gaps behind Jozy at the beginning and Juan…and really kind of change positions with Clint and move the ball around,” said Kljestan, who clearly has improved after his first year at Belgian power Anderlecht.
“We just did a good job of passing the ball and moving and interchanging positions. We’re a good passing team when we want to be, especially in a game like that we needed to be able to tire them out.”
Donovan replaced Bedoya in the 66th, and a minute later Jamaica was reduced to 10 men on a red card to defender Jermaine Taylor. Donovan, whose Gold Cup has been somewhat subdued, wasn’t as energetic as Bedoya but helped the U.S. keep the ball. In the 80th, the hard-working Agudelo, who’d done all the thankless running expected from a lone striker, found some space on the right and delivered a perfect cross to Dempsey for the insurance goal.
“We were patient. We were confident. We moved the ball around well,” Dempsey told Sporting News. “We made it difficult for them to play out of the back. We were able to find players in between their lines, able to create chances for ourselves.”
Multiple U.S. players said that an event like the Gold Cup, which doesn’t afford nearly the same amount of pre-competition training as a World Cup, is about getting better and coming together as the tournament progresses.
“We’re more of a team,” Donovan said of the reasons for Sunday’s performance. “That takes time to get there. We’re starting to really understand how we want to play. We’re executing.”
Bob Bradley has come along as well, watching and learning how best to take advantage of his side’s strengths. Understanding starts at the top, and on Sunday, Bradley proved he was up to the challenge.
His demeanor at the postgame press conference was far different than the day before. He began by speaking something that sounded like German, in reference to the man of the match award given to Jones, a German-born son of an American serviceman who asked Bundesliga veteran Steve Cherundolo to translate. Bradley, well known for his serious demeanor, broke up the room.
A spot in Wednesday’s semifinals is just reward for a coach and a team that, at least for a day, figured it all out. Now, instead of facing questions about the his long-term future, Bradley will lead a team to Houston that will be favored to advance to the Gold Cup final.
It was a rare moment of candor for Bradley, who has always shielded his private life from the fame and intrusion that comes with where his coaching career has taken him.
So it was no surprise last week when, following discussions with Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, two of the national team’s most important players, they were allowed to leave the team in the midst of the Confederation of North and Central American and Caribbean Football’s Gold Cup to travel to their hometowns to each attend the wedding of a sister, which took place in California and Texas, respectively, on Saturday.
It was a decision that could easily have backfired on Bradley, whose job may have been on the line had the Americans lost to Jamaica in the quarterfinals Sunday in Washington instead of the spirited performance the team turned in.
While the U.S. Soccer Federation apparently agreed with the decision, going as far as chartering planes at considerable expense for both players to return Sunday morning in time for the game, the federation also made it clear the importance of winning the Gold Cup.
“There are times that players come to you with personal requests and as a coach you have an idea how you think things should be done,” Bradley said. “That’s especially true with the national team. You have to hold the bar as high as you can, but at the same time understand what families mean to them and you have to sometimes weigh things and make decisions.”
While being at the wedding was a joyous moment for Dempsey, he also said the family took time to put flowers on the gravesite of his sister Jennifer, who died of a brain aneurism in 1995 at the age of 16. For Donovan, this wasn’t just his sister, it was his twin sister, the person he was closest to growing up while he was being raised by his mother following his parents’ divorce when he was two.
Clearly, these were occasions that had deep, underlying meanings.
So what is a coach supposed to do?
“Everybody has different attitudes about that,” Bradley said. “Somebody was saying that (former national team midfielder) Pablo Mastroeni spoke on MLS radio and said he missed his brother’s wedding and he said it’s the worst decision he ever made.”
Perhaps this wouldn’t be such a big story if we weren’t talking about Donovan, the national team captain and all-time leading goal scorer, and Dempsey, who is the heart and soul of the team.
Not only are they two of only three players in U.S. history to score goals in multiple World Cups, and will still be key players in 2014, they are players who play with passion and commitment. Could they continue to play that way and buy into everything Bradley says if they believe their coach was responsible for them missing such an important moment in their lives?
Ironically, a similar situation involved Bradley’s wedding in 1986.
“My brother Scott, when the wedding was set up, was playing for the Yankees,” Bradley recalled. “The Yankees were playing in Baltimore that day and he was going to be the best man and he got traded to Seattle, and before he had five seconds to think about it I called him and said ‘you need to be with your team. (Younger brother) Jeff’s going to pinch-hit for you and that’s that.’
“But that doesn’t mean just because I did it that way that’s right for somebody else. So you learn in all this that there’s give and take. You try to always do what’s best for the team and you make tough decisions.”
So the answer was yes.
After the game, both players said how much it meant to them and they vowed to play their best against Jamaica and not use the travel or the time away as an excuse.
And they did.
Dempsey played 90 minutes of high-energy soccer and scored the goal that sealed the 2-0 victory. Donovan played the final 25 minutes, brought a spark to the game, and helped set up Dempsey’s goal. At the World Cup last year, the U.S. fell behind in three games, rallied to tie each time, and Donovan scored the winning goal in stoppage time in a win-or-go-home match against Algeria.
That type of effort and commitment is hard for a player to give a coach he doesn’t respect. Last week’s decision was an example of how a coach earns that respect.
Monday, June 20, 2011
The USA opened play at the 2011 Under-17 World Cup in Torreon, Mexico, Sunday with a 3-0 win over the Czech Republic thanks to superb goals from midfielders Alejandro Guido and Esteban Rodriguez and late sub Alfred Koroma. Here are five things we learned about the U.S. U-17s ...
No Oliver, no problem. Whatever the reasons for his exit from the Bradenton residency program and removal from the under-17 national team program, Andrew Oliver's departure left a big hole in the U.S. attack. After all, Oliver led the USA in scoring en route to its 2011 Concacaf championship. But without him, the USA did just fine, getting three superb goals.
First goal settled nerves. U.S. coach Wilmer Cabrera was impressed how his young players handled first-game jitters. "They played the game, made themselves feel comfortable, and got the result by playing well," he said. "That’s important and that’s going to give us confidence to continue improving throughout the tournament." Guido got the USA going when he picked off a Czech pass outside the area and blasted a left-footed shot from more than 20 yards out.
Arriola excellent in first start. Paul Arriola went to Montego Bay for the Concacaf qualifying tournament, but he didn't play a minute. Against the Czech Republic, he was a threat up front and set up the second U.S. goal early in the second half when he beat a Czech defender in the penalty area and cut the ball back to Rodriguez.
Koroma is supersub. Koroma started on the U.S. team that beat El Salvador, 3-2, to clinch its 14th straight berth in the finals but didn't start the opener against the Czechs. In and out of residency since he was 13, the Sierra Leone-born striker certainly impressed scouts with a great individual goal taken shortly after he entered the game.
McIntosh's save of the tournament candidate. It was only the first game, but goalie Kendall McIntosh made a save that merits consideration for goal of the tournament. Lukas Julis was wide open in front of the goal and his shot was about to score the line when McIntosh dived to his right and palmed the ball away. McIntosh only won the starting job after No. 1 Fernando Pina was red carded in the El Salvador qualifying game but looked confident against the Czechs.
June 19 in Torreon
USA 3 Czech Rep. 0. Goals: Guido 5, E.Rodriguez 52, Koroma 89.
USA -- McIntosh, Acosta, Fehr, Carroll, Amon, E.Rodriguez, Dunn, Guido (Salkicic, 75), Pelosi, M.Rodriguez (Koroma, 87), Arriola (Melo, 90)
Czech Rep. -- Zima, Karafiat, Filip, Lueftner, Sterba, Nerad (Stratil, 54), Cermak, Salasovic (Travnik, 72), Masek (Kadula, 61), Julis, Svoboda.
Yellow Card: USA -- Salkicic 86.
Referee: Diego Abal (Argentina).
"I was disappointed with my performance against Guadeloupe, that I wasn’t able to finish the chances that I got," Dempsey said. "I wanted to make sure that I came out today and did whatever I could to help the team win, and I was able to get the goal that sealed it."
The United States will get a rematch with Group C winners Panama in the semifinals. Panama advanced 5-3 on penalties after drawing 1-1 with El Salvador. That game is scheduled for Wednesday at 7pm ET.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
Young urbanites in a region that gave America grunge music and Starbucks are flocking to see the Seattle Sounders, the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps — and the marketing departments for all three teams are wisely tapping into that demographic.
The trend was evident last month when the first MLS match between the Sounders and the expansion Timbers drew more than 36,000 fans to Qwest Field in Seattle. It played out again recently when the Whitecaps visited Seattle, the second of the fan-created Cascadia Cup rivalry between the teams.
The atmosphere at both matches has been called European — and that's a big compliment.
"Is there a reason going to a soccer match in the Pacific Northwest seems like going to a European soccer match more than anywhere else in the United States? Well, yes. There's a culture here that was really accepting of it. It's a younger audience; young professionals, that pub culture you talk about," said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at University of Oregon.
In the early days of MLS, the focus was on families and capitalizing on the legions of kids across the nation who play soccer. In more recent years, stars like Beckham and Landon Donovan have been trumpeted.
But teams in the Pacific Northwest — or the PNW, as it is affectionately known — appealed directly to 20- to 30-something tech-savvy professionals. The teams already had an added advantage in that all three clubs dated back to 1970s with the old North American Soccer League, so they had a history of sorts.
"We already had a brand, we already had the young, urban relevancy. And I think we just built on that with MLS. We know who we are," Timbers owner Merritt Paulson said.
The Sounders, who joined the MLS in 2009, set the standard. Their fans made match day a ritual, priming in trendy downtown bars before a raucous prematch march to the team's stadium. The sustained buzz surrounding the team — which competes in a market that is also home to the NFL's Seahawks and MLB's Mariners — has been enough to regularly draw an average of more than 35,000 fans per game, by far best in the MLS. Their gear is also the league's most popular.
Portland and Vancouver jumped into the fray this season as MLS expansion teams.
Portland launched the "We are Timbers" ad campaign that featured everyday fans posing with axes and other logging tools. The word "Timbers" did not appear in the campaign, just a logo and "2011" for the team's inaugural season.
"We had a very unique marketing strategy, and it was critical that it reflected this city, our fans and really the Timbers' brand — the authenticity that's unique to Portland," Paulson said. "We went with a focused campaign that I think was edgy and attention grabbing."
The Whitecaps drew attention — not all of it positive — with a television spot that featured an attractive young woman and body painting to ethereal music. It didn't have much to do with soccer — except that a team jersey was painted on her skin — but it certainly got noticed.
All three groups also embraced social media to promote their teams.
"That is your driving force," Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. "Your driving force is the adults and if you can get that fan base then that is where you're going to win. And then your kids become fans because of it."
Keller, who played at the University of Portland, noted that the Pacific Northwest has always been partial to the beautiful game. He joked that the Pilots soccer team always got the hottest girls.
But what ultimately made the biggest difference was the teams' appeal to their fan groups. Seattle has the Emerald City Supporters, Portland has the Timbers Army and Vancouver has the Southsiders.
The groups work tirelessly to make the game-day experience well, European — there's that word again — with their chants and coordinated displays known as tifos. The Timbers Army was given the honor of singing the national anthem at the team's home opener, while Sounders supporters have a say whether the team's GM should be fired.
"They gave supporters almost a sense of ownership of the team, something that's getting harder and harder to do with big teams in the NFL and the NBA," Swangard said.
But truth be told, fans bristle when the suggestion is made that they've helped make soccer hip.
"When you start talking about cool, that implies you're just doing it for the appearance," Timbers fan Nikki Suydam said at a recent match. "And nobody is here just because it is cool. We're here because we love the sport, we love the team and we love the city."
Fellow Portland fan Seth Hunt, 30, said any popularity the teams have ultimately comes from their fostering a sense of community.
"We come with our friends. We all like soccer," Hunt said. "We're from all walks of life and were drawn together by love of the game and supporting a team."
Members of the U.S. national team may be on the defensive when they remind us that trophies aren’t awarded midway through a tournament or for playing pretty soccer, but they’re also 100 percent correct.
When the Americans (2-1-0) take the field for Sunday’s CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal against 3-0-0 Jamaica (3 p.m. ET Fox Soccer, Univision), only the ensuing 90 minutes will matter. The scoreboard at sold-out RFK Stadium won’t reflect the surprising adversity the U.S. faced during the continental championship tournament’s group stage.
But when the final whistle blows, if that scoreboard is tilting Jamaica’s way, the Americans’ entire body of work at this Gold Cup will be relevant. They’ll have suffered slow starts, lost a first-round game for the first time and defeated tiny Guadeloupe just 1-0 before being eliminated at the quarterfinal stage by a side ranked 55th in the world.
Despite avoiding regional powers Mexico, Honduras and Costa Rica, the U.S. will finish an also-ran in a tournament it hosted and was a co-favorite to win. The momentum from last summer’s stirring World Cup performance will be extinguished.
So there’s far more at stake against Jamaica than just a spot in Wednesday’s semifinals. A loss will put U.S. coach Bob Bradley and the man who re-hired him, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, under unprecedented scrutiny. While it may be a stretch to argue that Bradley is coaching for his job on Sunday, it’s fair to say that defeat will eliminate the benefit of the doubt.
During Bradley’s Saturday press conference at RFK, Sporting News asked the coach (three times) if he thought the quarterfinal meant more than a trip to Houston and the semis -- if there was something greater at stake for himself and the program. He didn’t answer the question. Perhaps he feels so secure in his performance that addressing the subject would be a waste of his time. Maybe he does feel significant pressure and is uncomfortable discussing it, or maybe he simply doesn’t want his status to be a distraction. We can only guess.
For me, Bradley has done enough in the previous World Cup cycle to return for the full cycle heading into the 2014 FIFA World Cup - getting to the finals of the FIFA Confederations Cup; qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and then winning their group. I can only imagine the distractions facing Coach Bradley and his staff, and I look forward to seeing them rise to the challenges versus Jamaica this afternoon.
At a time when Isiah Thomas is referenced more for his lack of coaching and management success than for his brilliance on the basketball court as a player, a story offers a lesson from Thomas into being a part of a championship team.
Bill Simmons of ESPN recently wrote an outstanding book for fans of the National Basketball Association titled, “The Book of Basketball.” Simmons writes about a chance meeting with Thomas years after his playing career was over, when Thomas shared what he learned from the great Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers teams of the 1980s and then applied it to his Detroit Pistons teams that eventually won NBA championships as well.
Thomas had studied those Boston and Los Angeles teams that were winning titles while his Pistons weren’t able to get over the hump. What he learned from Lakers head coach Pat Riley was a theory that appeared to explain why some teams win consistently in all team sports and why others don’t accomplish their goals.
Riley preached what he describes as “the disease of more.” What Riley found was that a team that found some form of success one season had the potential to have team members worry more about getting more for themselves the next season — more minutes, more shots and more money. That kills a team and prevents it from reaching its ultimate goal or repeating that same level of success.
Thomas noted that it’s hard not to be selfish from the standpoint that most players want more accolades, more playing time, a larger role, and more money. He found that the teams that were able to fight that were the ones that were able to reach their end result.
On the Pistons’ teams that won championships, even though Thomas was an NBA All-Star, he didn’t behave like he was any better. Rather than look at his own statistics, he would look at his team’s win-loss record as the most important number. He felt that, on his team, it would be hard to tell who the best player was because so many of them found ways to contribute to their team’s success — and they also didn’t care who was given the credit. When you have a special team, every player contributes something special. With that level of contribution from a group, the opposing team has to worry about containing eight or nine players rather than two or three.
Thomas felt that the key to basketball had less to do with basketball and more to do with the buy-in of teammates and the ability to sacrifice for the greater good.
He also credited Detroit general manager Jack McCloskey and coach Chuck Daly for their ability to place a premium on a player’s mental skills as well as his physical skills. Those Pistons’ teams had great players who were physically gifted, but they also had a nucleus that was very mentally tough and committed to sacrifice individual accolades for the good of the group. Both men found a way to integrate players who were flexible and versatile and sought out interchangeable parts willing to give up minutes for other teammates to help create chemistry in the group.
In the end, the Detroit Pistons’ teams that Thomas led on the court became champions because they liked each other, knew their roles, ignored statistics and valued winning over everything else. They won because their best players sacrificed to make everyone else happy. They won because everyone was on the same page.
Isiah Thomas has not been able to mirror that same level of success in management, but he does offer a unique perspective for groups in both sport or business to find success and sustain it.
Teams that are special not only have talented players, but have players that are willing to place the success of the group ahead of the individual.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
"We always play well in Washington," US goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "And the support we have in Washington is fantastic."
After starting their bench players, Panama got a late equalizer to finish 1-1 against Canada. Panama won Group C and will play El Salvador in the second game of Sunday's quarterfinal doubleheader at RFK.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
* After playing its first 10 games on the road, Kansas City moved into its brand-new Livestrong Sporting Park and drew 19,925 for a scoreless tie in a stadium whose capacity is listed as 18,467.
* Seattle hosted new Northwest rival Vancouver and drew its second biggest crowd of the season (36,502) for the 2-2 tie. Seattle, the league attendance leader with an average of 36,297, has a modest 3-2-3 win-loss-tie record at Qwest Field.
* Los Angeles (No. 2 in attendance average) and Philadelphia (No. 8) remain undefeated at home
* Columbus played at home twice in Week 13, drawing 9,650 for a Wednesday win over Real Salt Lake and 13,498 for a Sunday loss to Chicago.
The League wide MLS attendance this 2011 season is soaring - averaging 17,347 fans per game, compared to the 16,037 that Major League Soccer averaged in 2010.
-- Colombian great Carlos Valderrama upon being asked whether playmakers still exist in modern soccer.
It certainly makes sense.
Panama bunkered in early on and used counterattacks to break up the U.S. as the hosts had their 26-game unbeaten streak snapped in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
The Americans (1-1-0, three) play Guadeloupe in a must-win situation at Livestrong Sporting Park on Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET.
"Most teams are going to sit in against us, barring a few," Howard said after training at the stadium on Monday. "What you ended up seeing in the Panama game is that we wanted to win the game in the first five minutes. They sat back and they move it side to side and they kept it tight.
"We wanted to score the goals and win the game five-10 minutes in and it takes time to probe and break teams down. To their credit, they counterattacked very well. They counterattacked quickly and got themselves forward. In those type of situations we just have to be more patient. In the opening game we were a bit more patient."
Sunday, June 12, 2011
Sluggish first half is costly. Again. After scoring in the 15th minute to take a lead they held until the final whistle against Canada, the Americans said all the right things about how important a strong start would be against Panama, which lost, 2-1, in the 2007 and 2009 Gold Cup quarterfinals after playing them to a 0-0 tie in the 2005 final.
But the Panamanians outhustled and outmuscled the USA early, and scored the first goal when Eduardo Dasent nailed a header that keeper Tim Howard parried but couldn’t smother, and defender Clarence Goodson, who was grappling with Luis Tejada for the rebound, scuffed the loose ball into his own net. The play began when the USA cleared a free kick but nobody marked up on Dasent when Gabriel Gomez played the ball back into the goalmouth.
The second goal resulted from a penalty kick when Tim Ream wound up to clear a ball from his own penalty area and instead whacked Blas Perez as the Panamanian stepped between Ream and the ball. Gomez slammed the penalty into the top corner for a 2-0 halftime lead; the U.S. got one back when Clarence Goodson nodded in Michael Bradley’s header from a Landon Donovan corner kick midway through the second half.
At the World Cup last summer, in three of four games the USA fell behind and had to rally. It successfully did so against England (1-1) and Slovenia (2-2) in group play, and against Ghana in the round of 16, it rallied from 1-0 down, but conceded again early in extra time and never caught up.
Poor play under pressure. Canada conceded a lot of space in midfield and seldom put high pressure on the U.S. back line and central midfielders as they built up U.S. attacks. Panama took a different approach.
Panama pressed from the outset, and kept a tight watch on U.S. forwards Jozy Altidore and Juan Agudelo. Without those outlets up top, and space and time constricted in many parts of the field, the Americans struggled to keep the ball and move it forward cohesively. Not until Coach Bob Bradley used all three of his subs on attacking players – Alejandro Bedoya, Sacha Kljestan and Chris Wondolowski -- did the USA mount anything more than disjointed, sputtering efforts.
Its primary attacking catalysts -- Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Dempsey -- all seemed off their games, and once the Panamanians scored the first goal, their athleticism and enthusiasm -- plus a monster game by centerback and captain Felipe Baloy -- overwhelmed the USA until Bedoya and Kljestan came onto the field on the hour.
Feeble finishing. After Goodson scored, the Americans fluffed numerous opportunities to equalize. Wondolowski hit the most egregious miss, volleying over the bar from about four yards out when presented a hard, centering pass by Altidore. Michael Bradley steered a first-time shot just wide to nullify a superb sequence of one-touch combination play, and in stoppage time, after keeper Jaime Penedo turned a bouncing Altidore header over the bar, the big striker headed a shot on frame that caromed off Dempsey and fell to Donovan, who blazed his shot well off-target.
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Multiple Choice: The United States was calm, collected, and dangerous on first looks. It was the second and third looks letting them down, turning into a panic matched only by the Canadian defenders. A bit more poise and winning time to consider options, and they're likely in the lead a lot earlier. Instead, shot selection went out the window in place of simply putting the ball somewhere near frame. It can work, but the US is too good a team to rely on that style of soccer. Their second goal demonstrated what the US should be doing in those situations, and it's to this team's credit that they made the appropriate adjustments.
Clean Up: There should be no complaints directed at the US defense from Tuesday night's performance. Steve Cherundolo, Carlos Bocanegra, Tim Ream, and Clarence Goodson did their jobs. The Canadian attack had its moments, but not what's expected from a team with Dwayne De Rosario and Ali Gerba. Canada can expect better against other teams in Group C, but the US back line wasn't giving enough away for Canada to have much of an opportunity of turning a half chance into a goal.
The Canadian Question: After tonight's as close to Canada as possible rivalry game, the Canadian Soccer Association is once again left to wonder what's happening with their program. Almost was moments like '07 aside, they have to find a way to develop and recruit players to compete at CONCACAF level. Right now, there are just too many gaps to fill. They're also combating a long term image problem with players that have options to represent another country more than likely to take it. Canadian MLS teams might not be the answer, but the CSA had literally two decades to come up with something better between the end of the North American Soccer League and MLS expanding to Canada. Remember when they were going to form a league made up of reserve teams from European clubs?
Group C: Scouting the rest of the group, it's tough to come up with a reason for the US to lose any games. Guadeloupe is an unknown quantity that usually catches someone, but their big game performance might've already happened. It wasn't enough to get a point, and that could be their swansong in 2011. Panama is a competitive CONCACAF team, but there's enough of a gap between then and the United States to favor the US in just about any scenario.
The Rest Of The Field: As we head into the second games, the winners across the groups make sense. Though few should've seen the multi-goal onslaughts coming in both Group A games and one of the Group B openers, the results were to be expected. That includes the 0-0 draw between Honduras and Guatemala in Group B. That's the group with the most to show in their second matchday, with Jamaica likely overmatched against Honduras and Guatemala set to show that Grenada is simply overmatched by the rest of the group. With El Salvador crashing out against Mexico, they don't look up to a return to form against Costa Rica. Group A will probably have to wait until matchday three to give us a game, the Mexico - Costa Rica showdown.
“The last couple of days around the hotel and on the training ground... the atmosphere was really good in the hotel, training was really upbeat," Howard said. "We got into the dressing room early and there was a toughness about us that we were ready for this game. There was no hangover. We’re in a weird situation in CONCACAF because we play a lot of top teams around the world, and we’re hunting them all the time. Then you come into CONCACAF and, for better or worse, we’re the hunted. It takes on a different mindset and I think equally you have to be hard, you have to be tough and you can’t take anything for granted. Tonight our mindset was right.”
Monday, June 6, 2011
As expected, Spain had the better attacking play, stringing together passes and creating opportunities. Santiago Cazorla opened the scoring in the 28th minute, capping several near misses by Spain. Xabi Alonso found Alvaro Negredo to make it 2-0 Spain four minutes later. It was 3-0 Spain in the 41st when Cazorla scored again, this time from a rebound. Fernando Torres made it 4-0 in the 73rd minute, sending in a shot that bounced off both posts before crossing the goal line.
Uncharacteristically, Bradley subbed on five players at halftime, bringing on Bradley, Cherundolo, and Dempsey along with Clarence Goodson and Chris Wondolowski. Bradley later subbed on Alejandro Bedoya, using all of his available field players. Spain also used all six of their substitutions, bringing on regular starting keeper Iker Casillas in the 77th minute.
Earlier in the day, Cobi Jones, Earnie Stewart, and Eddie Pope were officially inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Joining the three Player inductees were Veteran Bruce Murry and Builder Bob Gansler. The five new members of the Hall of Fame were introduced before the start of the game.
Do Barca’s players, with their poetic ball skills and precise attacking, surpass the best football teams of all time?
Jimmy Burns of Newsweek writes about where Barcelona sits among soccer's elite.
Some think this would suggest that Barca is certainly better than United’s own best team of the 1998–99 season, which became the first English side to win a treble of trophies (Premier League, FA Cup, and Champions League) with a roster that included an evolving young star named David Beckham.
For lovers of the “beautiful game,” Barca’s onslaught against Manchester United was soccer played at its best, with huge skill and minimum thuggery. The focus of Barcelona’s play was on possession of the ball (or on winning it back during the rare moments it was lost), then attacking with an intricate choreography of precise, short passes where players moved on and off the ball in constant, fluid movement. In the words of Simon Barnes, chief sports writer at the London Times, “all soccer people turned instantly into ballet critics to applaud a style of play that had an aesthetic dimension as well as being admirably, if not lethally, suited for the purpose of attaining victory.”
Those who watched Barcelona defeat Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League final last weekend were able to witness the potential of a soccer revolution here in the United States.
According to figures compiled by Nielsen Media Research, as reported by Soccer America, the telecasts of the game delivered a 2.1 rating and 6 share, which represents 4.2 million viewers nationally. That share is the percentage of U.S. households with televisions that were tuned to the game, and doesn't include restaurants and bars that might have been tuned in as well.
Those statistics, which are generally larger than Major League Baseball averages on the same day and time slot, again show that soccer is now a mainstream sport in the United States.
Still, the tremendous TV ratings and attendance at exhibition games generally have come when the top European and South American teams are participating. So the next step as a soccer nation is for us to be able to replicate those ratings and attendance figures with American players and teams in Major League Soccer.
The revolution that I mentioned could reference soccer as a spectator sport here in the United States. But this soccer transformation will truly be felt on the field and is due to the performance of Barcelona.
As a Manchester United supporter, it was humbling to see the team get handled so clinically. Barcelona's 3-1 victory was a convincing defeat of its English opposition, but it wasn't just on the scoreboard that a huge victory was displayed. How Barcelona defeated Manchester United is what will spark this change in the modern game, both in the United States and abroad, as well as potentially in other sports as well.
Here are key points that were illustrated by Barcelona, and could be adopted by young athletes in all sports in the United States-
* Piano Players versus Piano Carriers: I had once believed that great teams had a balance of creative artists (piano players) and hard workers (piano carriers). What made Barcelona so unique was that their most creative players were also the ones who displayed the most blue-collar qualities.
Xavi Hernandez is considered the best passing midfielder in the world today, and not only did he lead Barcelona with the most total passes (148) and completion percentage (95), he also covered more ground than any other player on the field. Xavi's 7.4 miles covered in the 90-minute game dwarfed any of the players on Manchester United.
When your best players are also your hardest workers, you know that you have special components. At Barcelona, their top players are both piano players and piano carriers.
* The best defense is a good offense: This phrase is used often in military and sport, and was evident in the UEFA Champions League final. Barcelona's movement of the ball and player movement away from the ball is a standard that every player and team should emulate.
As a team, Barcelona's 777 completed passes more than doubled the passes Manchester United made (357), with Barcelona retaining the overall possession for 69 percent of the game. When your team has the ball for more than two-thirds of the game, it is hard for the opponent to mount an attack. When your team is forced to chase and defend for long stretches, it is hard to compose yourself to create any counter-attack when, on the rare occasion, you do win the ball.
* Transition defense: As much is made of Barcelona's ability to retain possession, their most underrated attribute is their ability to defend in transition. Great teams in all sports take a level of ownership in defensive transition — winning the ball back immediately after your team loses possession. In this case, Barcelona is the best team in the world at defensive transition with the ability to put the opposition under pressure immediately after losing possession.
The combination of Xavi, Iniesta and Sergio Busquets in the midfield closes the ball down and pressures the opposing midfield quickly to create turnovers and turn them into scoring chances. Barcelona's third goal was a brilliant finish by David Villa, but it all started with Busquets dispossessing Manchester United midfielder Nani deep in his own defensive third.
* Does size matter? Strength and toughness are not measured in feet and inches, but rather in the way a player conducts himself. Barcelona has three of the world's greatest players in Lionel Messi (5-foot-6), Xavi (5-7) and Andres Iniesta (5-7). When your game is built around keeping the ball on the floor, quick movement and defensive pressure, perhaps athletic success is less about how big you are, and more about how big you play.
Whether by high technical quality or ability to retain possession when their team has the ball, or their ability to win the ball back so quickly when the other team has the ball, Barcelona has created a new blueprint for youth players and teams all over the world to follow.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
There's an old Boy Meets World episode where Cory surprises Topanga while the latter is babysitting. The young boy being babysat eventually introduces himself to Cory, and explains that he would like to stay up until 9:30 to watch his favorite show. A confused Cory doesn't understand why "they," the television executives for that particular network, would move the show from it's original 8:30 time slot to 9:30. The very upset young boy responds "they're trying to kill it! They're trying to kill it!" This was, of course, an inside joke regarding ABC's treatment of the Boy Meets World series.
The joke also kinda/sorta works for FOX Soccer Channel's Soccer Night in America.
What FSC and/or MLS failed to remember when creating the Soccer Night In America schedule is that there is no sect of people lazier than American television viewers. We can't be bothered to get up and walk a few feet to turn our TVs on or change the channel or volume. We don't even need to bother reading TV listings in the paper, a TV Guide or the scrolling channel guide TV station. Those of us with digital cable or satellite boxes can simply press an arrow button on our remote to see what's going to be on different stations over the next 24-48 hours, and even read a short description for every show by pressing an "Info" button. Technology's great.
My simple point is that not every TV viewer that watches sports in this country is a diehard fan. The casual sports fan may not know which teams are playing, but he does know that if he puts his TV on ESPN at 8 pm during the summer, a baseball game will be on. He knows that some football game will be on FOX and/or CBS during a fall Sunday afternoon, NBC during that evening and ESPN the following night. How does he have such knowledge? Because he's been programmed to know this information through years of repetitious television viewing.
That's not going to happen with FOX Soccer Channel and Soccer Night in America, however, due to games being scheduled at all kinds of different times throughout the summer. The June 3 pre-game show begins at 10:30 pm. Seven days later, coverage starts off at 8 pm. Such time changes occur throughout the season, and broad commercials for the Soccer Night in America program (at least commercials broadcast in NY/NJ and PA) tell viewers to "check local listings."
No casual sports fan in this country that wasn't going to watch the show in the first place is "checking local listings" or putting in any such effort to watch soccer. Not a one.
FSC's Soccer Night in America isn't about getting me or similar MLS and soccer fans to watch. Chances are, we're going to somehow learn whenever any live soccer match is shown on FSC and FSPlus and, at the very least, check the score of the game at least once. Soccer Night in America is a real opportunity to establish a true TV soccer tradition in the United States. When such a tradition is established, viewers may not know which teams are playing on a particular night, but they'll know that if their TVs are on FSC at 8 pm on Saturday, a live soccer match, one that's probably featuring Major League Soccer clubs, will be on.
MLS fanboys hurt by any criticism of the league will tell you that such a set schedule for Soccer Night in America is impossible due to the west coast teams in the league. West coast teams are featured in Sunday Night/Monday Night Football broadcasts and Sunday Night Baseball showings throughout the season. Changes are made to team schedules to accommodate TV. Major League Soccer has already done this with Soccer Night in America. The Red Bulls vs. New England match originally scheduled for June 11 was moved to June 10 specifically for Soccer Night in America . No biggie.
The point of having a Soccer Night in America show is to have an actual "soccer night" in America, a night each week that, as time goes on, has more and more viewers watching and enjoying the sport. SNIA has, thus far, been a fine television program and I look forward to more of it throughout the season. Next year, though, pick a night and a time and stick with it.
And give the program a better theme. The old BCS theme just isn't doing it for me.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Mike Woitalla of Soccer America reports again on how Major League Soccer looks to shatter the MLS season attendance record in 2011.
The New England Revolution drew its biggest crowd of the season by far for a loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy. The Northwest trio drew big crowds as usual in Week 11, the third straight week in which league-wide average attendance for the season increased. For MLS attendance rankings ...
* The New England crowd of 21,793 that saw the Revs lose, 1-0, to the Los Angeles Galaxy -- on a Miguel Lopez header set up by David Beckham -- marked the Revs' biggest crowd of the season by 7,607. The previous high in 2011 at Gillette Stadium was for the Revs' last home game; 14,186 for a 1-0 win over Vancouver.
* The Galaxy has the highest road attendance average: 23,784 for nine games.
* The 2011 leaguewide season attendance average of 17,478 after 11 weeks of action is higher than the 17,406 mark for the highest full season average, set in MLS's inaugural 1996 season.
* Portland lost its first home game after winning all previous five at Jeld-Wen Field but extended its streak of sellouts when 18,627 came for its 3-2 loss to D.C. United. The league's two other Pacific Northwest teams drew well once again: Seattle (36,026) and Vancouver (21,000).
|Club (2011 Rank) ||Week 11 |
|2011 Home |
|2010 Home |
|Chicago (13) ||11,926 ||13,288 ||15,814|
|Chivas USA (9) ||--||17,118||14,576|
|Colorado (14) ||16,439 ||13,835||13,329|
|Columbus (16) ||9,431||10,071 ||14,642|
|D.C. United (11) ||--||16,344||14,532|
|FC Dallas (12) ||--||13,728||10,815|
|Houston (7) ||16,709||17,488||17,310|
|Kansas City (-) ||--||-- ||10,287|
|Los Angeles (2) ||14,485||22,823||21,437|
|New England (15) ||21,793||12,449 ||12,987|
|New York (8) ||18,081||17,339||18,441|
|Philadelphia (6) ||--||18,101||19,254|
|Portland (5) || |
|18,627|| -- |
|Real Salt Lake (10) ||14,674||16,262 ||17,095|
|San Jose (17) ||--||9,855 ||9,659|
|Seattle (1) ||36,026||36,268||36,173|
|Toronto FC (4) ||20,122 ||19,628 ||20,453|
|Vancouver (3) ||21,000||20,117||-- |
| Leaguewide ||18,274||17,478||16,037|