Friday, March 30, 2012

Knicks hope that 'defense wins championships'

Michael Moraitis writes of the old adage 'defense wins championships', and how the New York Knicks new-found commitment to stopping their opponents can push them into the postseason.

Don't look now, but the New York Knicks defense is ranked 12th in the NBA, allowing 94.6 points per game this season and fifth in defensive efficiency. What was a solid defense under the anti-defensive coach Mike D'Antoni is now starting to look like an elite defense under Mike Woodson.

The Woodson-led Knicks are 8-1 and the theme of those eight wins has been defense. During this nine-game stretch, New York has allowed only two of its opponents to break 90 points and only one those opponents, the Indiana Pacers, broke 100.

The Knicks still won that game by 15.

Once New York brought in a top defender in Tyson Chandler, it was thought the culture of this team's defense would immediately change. And while it did upon Chandler's arrival to Madison Square Garden, it wasn't quite where it is now.

Since the coaching change, the Knicks are playing with a new level of energy on the defensive side of the ball.

The reasons for this are two-fold:

1. Woodson's defensive-minded approach gives the Knicks a better gameplan for opponents as well as more structure on the defensive side of the ball.

2. Woodson keeps his players on the floor for shorter stints and in turn, the team has more energy to play defense for the period of time they are on the floor.

Even notoriously bad defenders like Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony have been playing the best defense of their careers. Both are beginning to dispel the idea they are incapable of playing defense. Granted, neither are perfect, but not even the biggest haters can deny that when you watch these guys that they are much improved from what they once were.

All that being said, the biggest problems for New York this season weren't ones that many experts thought it would have.

While the overall health of some of the Knicks' players was questioned—and rightfully so looking at the current injury report—their offense was not thought to be a concern. However, offensively the Knicks have been very inconsistent this year.

It's been their defense that has seen the most consistency. It's been their defense that has picked them up time and time again during the season and saved their numerous offensive droughts during the 2011-12 season.

Like an MVP player, there's no telling where the Knicks would be without their defense. It's been vital to New York's success and it's certainly been the difference between it being on its way to the playoffs as opposed to on its way home for an early finish to the season.

Boy, I never thought I'd say that again about the New York Knicks in my lifetime.

The most important recipe for a championship team is its defense, and it appears the Knicks have that nailed down for the most part. If their offense can ever match the defensive intensity they've displayed this season, the Knicks will be a championship contender.

Ferguson turns kids into men

Manchester United defender Jonny Evans on how much of an impact Sir Alex Ferguson has had on him as a footballer and as a person -

"The thing that really stands out is how he turns all the kids that come through the Academy into men. He encourages you, but will also have a quiet word when he feels he needs to. He just knows the right things to say at the right time."

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Trust and belief lead Manchester United

Monday’s 1-0 win over Fulham had all the hallmarks of a Manchester United win in the closing weeks of a season.

Rio Ferdinand believes their experience of such tight encounters gives them the belief they can hold their nerve while others would panic. He also thinks such wins have a negative mental impact on the rivals.

“It happens every year and at this stage of the season we know what it takes and we’ve got comfort in the knowledge that we can create chances and remain calm,” said Ferdinand.

“The crowd got a bit edgy at the end of the game, understandably. But if it’s 0-0 after 88 minutes we still know we’re going to create chances in the dying moments to win games and it’s important to keep that in mind.

“You’ve got to hold your nerve but as important as that, if not more important, is trusting each other. You’ve got to trust in the fact that if you’re not going to create a chance, someone else is.

"If you’re not going to put your head on the ball when it comes into the box or make that tackle, someone else is. That’s the way you’ve got to be, and the team that does that best between now and the end of the season will be the one to win the league.”

Ferdinand insist that as well as the impetus a hard-fought win gives United, it is the demoralising impact on their challengers that cannot be underestimated.

He said: “I’ve been in that position before. I remember playing against West Ham a few years ago when we went out for the warm-up. Everton were winning 2-1 against Chelsea and when we came in we found out it had been reversed. Chelsea won the game and it killed us a little bit and we ended up losing to West Ham that time. So psychologically it can affect teams, but we don’t care what happens with them, it’s about us. If we remain calm and win all our games, we’ll be successful.

“As long as we keep winning our games, that’s all that matters. Instead of worrying about the other teams and how they’re doing, it doesn’t really play on our minds to be honest. It’s about us, about keeping our own house in order. We say the same thing every season but it really is true.”

MLS on track to shatter average attendance record

Mike Woitalla of Soccer America writes of the continued success at the turnstiles of Major League Soccer, which is on track to shatter their average attendance record - the 2011 average of 17,872 set the record a year ago, and after the first three weeks, MLS clubs are averaging 20,861 fans per game.

Five teams had their home openers last weekend, including Columbus, whose crowd nearly doubled the figure from a year ago. For MLS team attendance rankings ...

* In 2011, the Columbus Crew finished with its lowest attendance average (12,185) since moving into the MLS's first soccer-specific stadium in 1999. And its 2011 home opener drew only 10,306. So there's reason for optimism after it opened this season with 18,197 to see a 2-1 win over Montreal.

* Last weekend's other home openers: New York (21,024), Toronto (20,070), Chicago (18,075), and New England (12,925).

* Seattle, on Friday night, had Week 3's biggest crowd -- 38,304 to watch a 2-0 win over Houston.

Vermes' vision shaping Sporting Kansas City

Changes were at hand for the Kansas City Wizards in 2011. Changes which started with their name - from Wizards to Sporting Kansas City - and included a new stadium, new colors, and - most importantly - new players.

"We needed to change the culture and unfortunately, when you're changing culture you have to change people," manger Peter Vermes said. "The mechanisms to achieve that aren't the easiest."
Newly removed from an interim tag, Vermes was placed in charge of all soccer operations for Sporting. He faced the daunting task of taking years of mediocrity and replacing it with the same type of quality that won an MLS Cup in 2000, when a younger Vermes anchored the Kansas City defense.

"I knew going into this, it was going to take some time and what we have now is a very strong core group of players," Vermes said. "We've laid out our expectations and this group meets that standard daily. That's the crux of our success."

Success that Vermes' team realized almost immediately. Sporting posted a 13-9-12 record and reached the eastern conference finals in 2011. It was the farthest Sporting had gone in the playoffs in eight years. Following that success this year with a trip to MLS Cup is an attainable achievement, but Vermes is focused on the path, not the destination.

"We have small goals that we are trying to achieve right now, in the short term," Vermes said. "That will lead to big goals and one of the biggest is consistency. If we're consistent, we will put ourselves in a position to compete for those big goals."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

USA eliminated from Olympic Qualifying

A stoppage time equalizer was the difference in Nashville on Monday night, with the United States Under-23 National Team failing to advance out of the group stage in the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament. After Cuba came up with a stoppage time equalizer against Canada in the early game, Canada advanced in second-place. That left the United States facing a must-win scenario to advance to the semifinals.

Terrence Boyd had the USA on track to do just that, opening the scoring two minutes in with Brek Shea picking up the assist. El Salvador answered later in the half, equalizing in the 35th and going ahead two minutes later. With starting US goalkeeper Bill Hamid injured, Sean Johnson subbed on in the 39th minute.

Boyd scored his second goal in the 65th minute and the US went ahead through Joe Corona three minutes later. Deep into stoppage time, Jaime Alas scored to send El Salvador into the semifinals as Group A winner.

J Hutcherson writes five things to consider from what we saw in the Olympic qualification tournament.


United States Under-23 National Team coach Caleb Porter had more time with various versions of his squad than most coaches in the competition. Multiple camps, a friendly, and the cooperation of Major League Soccer meant realistic player availability. The U-23's were never going to be first choice due to player commitments with European clubs, but that was a known issue from the beginning. Few can really complain about Porter's choices from the available player pool. On paper, he put together a competitive side without straying far from the obvious selections. This wasn't a situation where there was a shadow team falling victim to creative selection. Regardless of the eventual result, that's a best effort that needs to be remembered.


A coach has a fundamental choice to make, especially with a select squad like a national team. Do you adopt a formation and a set of tactics and then try to mold the team to fit, or do you select the best available players and then use the formation and tactics that plays to their strengths? Porter did a bit of both. He was committed to an attacking style of soccer, but it required a type of midfield and defense that ultimately exposed some weaknesses in the US lineup. It was a risk, one that didn't pay off. Whether or not that was the right choice isn't the same question. Porter seemed to be following the wider commitment to attacking play we've seen from full National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann. If what Porter was doing was staying on that broader message, there's a strong argument that he made the right choice. Klinsmann himself has been criticized for playing to a system rather than the strengths of individual players. It's a tough situation for any coach, weighing a longer term vision against immediate results. Unfortunately for Porter, he was in a win or go home scenario that Klinsmann has yet to face as coach of the senior squad. Again, with youth technical director Claudio Reyna beside Porter on the bench and Klinsmann in attendance, Olympic qualifying is part of the bigger picture for US Soccer. Porter's choices have to be examined within that, rather than simply treating them as one coach's prerogative.

What's Most Important in our Lives

'An Empty Pickle Jar' is one of the 10 Rules to Simplify Your Life in the book...Stress is a Choice.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a very large and empty pickle jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls.

He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous "yes."

The professor then produced two glasses of chocolate milk from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand.

The students laughed.

The Moral of the Story - The professor waited for the laughter to subside....

"Now," said the professor, "I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things...your family, your children, your health, your friends, your favorite passions. Things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full."

"The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your home, your car."

"The sand is everything else...The small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first, there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are critical to your happiness."

"Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house or fix the disposal."

"Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities, the rest is just sand."

This story is a wonderful reminder to focus on what is most important in our lives.

Monday, March 26, 2012

'Willis Reed moments' provide life lessons for young athletes/MIKE JACOBS COLUMN

Courtesy of the Evansville Courier Press, March 25, 2012

With crucial NCAA basketball games taking place this weekend with trips to the Final Four at stake, look for models of resiliency for young athletes in the mold of Willis Reed.

Growing up in New York, I always heard stories from my father of the legend of Willis Reed. Reed was the captain of the New York Knicks, and was the driving force that led them to the 1970 NBA Finals versus the Los Angeles Lakers. Reed’s performance in the first four games of the series was epic as he matched up with the Lakers’ dominant center, Wilt Chamberlain. In the fourth quarter of Game 5, he sustained a significant thigh injury that prevented him from finishing that game as well as playing in a Game 6 blow-out by the Lakers. Reed’s injury had thrown the Knicks into disarray, and left their chances of winning the title in serious jeopardy, with the series tied at 3-3 heading into the pivotal Game 7.

With both teams warming up on the court for Game 7, Reed limped onto the court with the Madison Square Garden crowd going wild, and an inspired group of teammates gaining a renewed level of confidence. Reed summoned the strength to out-jump Chamberlain on the opening tip. He then scored the game's first basket on a shot from the top of the key. He followed that by scoring the second New York basket by sinking a 20-footer.

Reed didn’t score again, but his inspired performance propelled his Knicks’ teammates to lead by as many as 29 points in the first half, and eventually won the game and NBA title.

Of all the great moments in NBA history, few are looked back on as more fabled than Reed’s gutty performance in the 1970 NBA Finals. Although his statistics only counted for four points, they were worth a massive source of inspiration for teammates and fans.

The legend of Willis Reed stuck with me as I grew up, and has evoked several special memories to me that are regarded by New York sports fans as ‘Willis Reed moments’.
A ‘Willis Reed moment’ to me is defined as an opportunity for someone with their back against the wall under significant adversity to show their true resilience, and eventually come through victorious. The ‘Willis Reed moment’ is most often synonymous with sporting events, but can act as a tremendous life lesson that can transcend sport for young athletes.

One of my own ‘Willis Reed moments’ that stands out to me was playing in a high school soccer playoff game in my junior year, and making a mistake late in that game that resulted in my team being scored upon that eventually resulted in our team losing and seeing our season end. My role in that loss stayed with me throughout the off-season, and I had vowed to persevere the next time I was given the opportunity to respond positively in a clutch situation. When that moment arose in a penalty kick shootout in a rematch the following season, I saved three penalty kicks to lead my team to a tournament title.

Those personal life experiences pale in comparison to seeing your own children learn and grow from their own ‘Willis Reed moments’.

One of my children defined her own level of resolve and mental toughness when she was posed with her own ‘Willis Reed moment’ years ago. After playing the previous season on the first team in her youth soccer club, she participated in tryouts the following year only to find out that she had not made the first team and was relegated to the second team. Posed with the options of finding a different team to play on, quitting soccer, or moving on to play with this different team, she picked herself and her bruised ego up and went to play on the second team. Playing with renewed confidence and a swagger to prove she was capable, she played well enough that season to eventually make the first team the following season.

There are few moments that I look back on with more pride than how my own daughter responded in the face of adversity, and how she etched her own ‘Willis Reed moment’. Regardless as to where her own playing career takes her, I know that she is a stronger person by persevering through tough times and learning from those experiences.

As you watch some of the top collegiate athletes and teams battle for the ultimate sporting prize in the coming weeks as the NCAA basketball tournament comes to a climax, look not only for wins on the scoreboard, but for tremendous life lessons that you can draw from to teach your athletes and children by how these players respond under pressure.

Where that New York Knicks victory in 1970 might be a distant memory, Willis Reed’s legacy continues to live on in defining on and off the court moments everywhere.


This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody's job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it.

It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody have done.

How Ryan Meara Went from Fordham University to the Unlikely Starting Keeper for the Red Bulls

Emerging from his calculus midterm this week, Ryan Meara looked every bit the part of a regular Fordham senior. Baggy sweatshirt, bleary eyes, white sneakers and a blue spiral notebook under his arm.

"At least it's over," he said. Now he could get back to his senior year extracurriculars, like road-tripping with his buddies, going to the gym and being the starting goalkeeper for the New York Red Bulls.

Four months ago, differential equations would have been near the top of Meara's list of concerns. He had just completed an excellent college goalkeeping career and was racking up the credits he needed to graduate. He had even registered for spring classes. Then, in the middle of January, the call came from the Red Bulls. He was to report to preseason training in four days.

In the best-case scenario, he figured, he would be competing for the backup role. So, just in case, he drew up a backup plan.

Meara worked out how he could finish his classes during the season and signed himself up for this spring's Fire Department exam. Should the whole professional soccer thing not work out for him, he wants to make sure he has a college degree and would not think twice about trading in his goalkeeper gloves for, well, other gloves—just more fire-retardant.

Joining the department someday has been on Meara's mind since he was a kid, for obvious reasons. He is the son, grandson and nephew of New York City firefighters.

"It is a big part of my family, the Fire Department — but if I'd wanted to become a cop, I don't think anyone would have held it against me," he said. "My dad would take me and my brothers to the firehouse every now and then. And the thing that always stuck with me is that it's such a close-knit group of guys."

Meara thinks he is unlikely to actually sit for the test this time around—his schedule means he cannot devote enough time to studying for it. So the FDNY will not be drafting Meara anytime soon. Besides, the Red Bulls beat it to the punch.

Bill Self sets the standard in College Hoops

As Kansas players danced around the locker room with pieces of the Edward Jones Dome net pinned behind their ears, one of the greatest coaches in basketball history was stuck in traffic.

Hall of Famer Larry Brown -- the only man to win an NCAA title and an NBA championship -- hustled up the steps and out of the arena after the Jayhawks advanced to the Final Four by defeating North Carolina 80-67 Sunday.

As the cars backed up on Interstate 70, Brown had time to reflect on what he'd just seen from his former team -- and his former pupil.

When talking about Bill Self, Brown almost seemed in awe.

"I can't imagine how he's done it," said Brown, who hired Self as a graduate assistant at KU back in 1985. "The eight straight Big 12 titles, getting this team to the Final Four, I just can't imagine ..."

Brown paused.

"Our game has a lot of great coaches," he said. "But right now I can't think of many who are better than Bill."

That's because there aren't any.

All throughout Sunday's 13-point victory over the top-seeded Tar Heels, and even for a few hours after it, I kept asking myself the same question: Who in college basketball, right now, is better than Bill Self?

Not "Who has the best resume?" Self is more than 10 years younger than legends such as Rick Pitino, Jim Calhoun, Jim Boeheim, Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski. So comparing his Final Four count to theirs is unfair.

Instead, I tried to think of the No. 1 candidate I would target if I was an athletic director who had been given millions of dollars to start a basketball program from scratch. If I could have my pick of any coach in America, who would I choose?

To me, the answer is obvious.


"There's no one I'd rather play for," Kansas guard Elijah Johnson said. "He's the best coach in the country."

Or at least he has been since replacing Roy Williams at Kansas in 2003-04.

Since that time, no one has been more on top of their profession than Self, who has gone 268-52 in his nine seasons at Kansas. No coach in America has won more games during that span except for Kentucky's John Calipari (281-52). But 38 of those wins were vacated because of NCAA rules violations, so officially, Self is the leader.

Even more impressive is that Self's KU teams have won eight straight Big 12 titles, the longest streak of consecutive league crowns by a major-conference team since UCLA won 13 in a row from 1967-79.

"Year after year, we lose guys and people wonder if we're going to be down," fifth-year senior Conner Teahan said. "Yet, year after year, he finds a way to get it done. He just instills so much confidence in us. He makes us believe we're capable of doing anything."

Friday, March 23, 2012

Caleb Porter - interview

U.S. Under-23 national team Caleb Porter is one of the most highly-regarded young coaches in American soccer, and his appointment to lead the United States through Olympic Qualifying didn't come as much of a surprise to those familiar with his success at the University of Akron.

Ives Galarcep interviews Porter on his philosophies of the game-


"I’m a guy that never wants to go into a game and sit back and wait and worry and wonder and hang on,” Porter said. “I want to go at teams and I want my players to be confident when they go onto a field."

“I want them to be creative. I want them to have the ball."

"It’s built around possession of the ball and ball retention. Approximately 75 percent of the time the team with more possession wins the game."

"It’s not a style that’s hard to get guys to buy into, everyone wants the ball. What’s hard is getting them to be effective with it."

"We have a lot of technical players and I think by encouraging them to play you’ll see their technical qualities and creativity come out even more than you may even realize with some of these guys.

"I don’t think you have to have 11 guys that are world class to do it,” Porter said. “If you can coach it the right way, and if you can get your players to buy into playing one and two touch, and work on movement and combination play, and buy into pressing, it can be done."


"I’ve always liked pressing. When I was at Indiana (University) we were always a pressing team and I always felt like that’s why we're so confident as a team. It gives you a spirit and belief that when you press and disrupt an opponent."

"I start watching Barcelona three or four years ago and really, really studying them and it was like the a-ha moment. I thought in my mind that I wanted to put out a style that was pressing, but also attack-oriented with a lot of rhythm and creativity, and Barcelona was playing a perfect version of that.

"It’s the possession and the pressure, the combination of the two. Obviously they’re very talented too."


"I implemented that philosophy at Akron and some people thought it was probably too ambitious for college soccer. Here we are, trying to play the beautiful game and playing hybrid systems and build out of the back and use my goalkeeper. Hopefully I’ve proven it can happen."

"It develops players and it's hopefully a way of doing things that can help grow the sport in this country."

"I won championships at Indiana, and so for me when I went to Akron it wasn’t going to just be good enough to win championships. I wanted to win in a way that would actually raise the bar and develop players, grow the sport and get other college coaches to follow our lead and see that you can win in college soccer with an attractive, attack-oriented approach."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Record crowd in Montreal paces MLS

MLS attendance has soared at the start of this 2012 season, with a leaguewide average of 21,107 fans per match.

This number has been bolstered by the Montreal Impact's first MLS home game- which drew 58,912 to the Olympic Stadium- setting an attendance record for pro soccer in the Canadian city.

Mike Woitalla of Soccer America recorded these facts about week 2 of Major League Soccer-

* The Impact crowd for a 1-1 tie with Chicago on Saturday broke the record of 58,542 set by the Manic for a North American Soccer League playoff game in 1981.

* The Seattle Sounders, which have led the league in attendance the past three seasons, opened with 38,709 for a 3-1 win over Toronto.

* The 21,816 for San Jose's hosting of Houston was at San Francisco's AT&T Park and was the first part of a doubleheader with Mexico-Senegal U-23s.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Heaps continues to shape Revs into new mold

No MLS team won fewer games than the meager five produced last year by New England, and a major roster revamp under new Coach Jay Heaps will take time to develop. Two games into his new career as a head coach, Heaps knows a lot more about himself than he does his team.
Ridge Mahoney writes of the challenges posed to the first year coach of the Revolution.

After a tough loss in San Jose to open the season, he hoped to learn more Saturday against Sporting Kansas City, but an early red card to defender Steven McCarthy left the Revs shorthanded and in a deep hole against last year’s Eastern Conference champion.

The powerful and majestic Shalrie Joseph dropped back from midfield to plug the gap, but SKC efficiently and skillfully took the Revs apart in a 3-0 win. Heaps did a get a glimpse at some of the players he acquired to renovate a team that won just five games last year and finished 23 points behind SKC, yet playing 75 minutes a man down to a juggernaut in its home opener almost has to be wiped off the slate.

“It’s really disappointing,” said Heaps to He played nine seasons (2001-09) in New England and took over from his former coach, Steve Nicol, last November. “We had a good game plan going into the game and we had good chances in the beginning. We weren’t giving anything away, we were tight, we had a nice compact form and we thought we had a plan. Then there was the red card and they scored early on. It’s tough playing a man down.”

McCarthy is one of Heaps’ personal projects. Drafted out of North Carolina a year ago, he played 21 games (18 starts) as the tallest (6-foot-5) midfielder in the league, rookie or otherwise. As an analyst on the Revs’ television broadcasts as an analyst, Heaps had wondered how he might fare in the back. When named to replace Nicol, he sounded out McCarthy regarding a positional change.

“He said he played there a little bit there when he was younger before he got pushed into midfield because of his feet,” said Heaps in an interview prior to the opener against San Jose. “I told him that it’s a similar role in that everything’s in front of you even though there’s a little bit more urgency in the back line.

“When I was in booth last year, I was playing around with where I thought some players might be better. He always came across to me as a centerback even though he played so much defensive midfield. He’s got good feet but he’s 6-foot-5 and can win just about every aerial challenge.”

In the 14th minute against SKC, McCarthy challenged C.J. Sapong and about 35 yards from goal grabbed him to prevent a breakaway. If he commits that foul at the midfield line, maybe McCarthy gets away with a caution, but in this case referee Silviu Petrescu ruled he had denied a clear goalscoring opportunity, and out came the red card.

Thus Heaps lost an opportunity to assess how his team is adapting to the possession-oriented game he hopes to implement. McCarthy’s ability to bring the ball out of the back, as he did a few times in the second half against San Jose, is a facet of that change, as is incorporating skillful acquisitions like attacker Lee Nguyen, forwards Fernando Cardenas and Saër Sène, and rookie Kelyn Rowe along with returnees such as U.S. international Benny Feilhaber and Shalrie Joseph.

“In a tactical sense, he wants us to play a pass-and-move game, and not so much the direct game Stevie used to ask of us,” says Feilhaber, whose subtle skills didn’t mesh fluidly in a very direct style preferred by Nicol. “That falls in perfectly for me and Kelyn and Shaz, and a lot of those guys in the midfield who want to get the ball at their feet and play it. I think that will help us this year.”

Heaps also recognizes the need for size and speed up front. The Revs picked up former D.C. United striker Blake Brettschneider, who started the San Jose game, and are awaiting the debut of Colombian frontman Jose Moreno, whose loan deal with Once Caldas hit a snag a few weeks ago that Heaps says has been resolved. Speedster Jeremiah White, yet another offseason signing, made his first MLS appearance against SKC as a 61st-minute sub.

“He has that very important ability to stretch the field,” says Heaps of White, a third-round 2004 SuperDraft pick out of Wake Forest who played in Europe and Saudi Arabia prior to signing with MLS. “We saw during preseason he has the ability to get behind defenses. That’s going to help the way we possess, because he’s that threat with his speed and teams have to respect that he can open up moves in the middle.”

Of Moreno (6-foot, 180 pounds), Heaps says, “He’s that big, strong forward. He holds the ball, he’s athletic. We have guys who can pick you out –- Kelyn and Benny can put the ball anywhere you want -– so it’s a matter of having a guy who can hold the ball so we can get up the field.”

Another former D.C. player, holding mid Clyde Simms, has been paired with Joseph to give the Revs a blend of steel and skill in midfield. “The more time we get together the better we’re going to be together, and with Clyde he’s so good on the ball you’ve just got to get into position and move off him and he’s going to find your feet,” says Joseph, who along with keeper Matt Reis and a few others know Heaps well from his days as their hard-nosed right back.

Feilhaber never played with Heaps yet knows he’s brought a change in mentality along with overhauls of personnel and tactics. “He brings a lot of intensity,” says Feilhaber. “That’s how he was as a player, a really intense player, intense coach, intense person in general. That’s something I think we were lacking a little bit last year, so it’s definitely good to see that instilled in the guys.”

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Di Matteo says Chelsea have their passion back

Three straight wins, including a dramatic 4-1 defeat of Napoli in the Champions League, has rekindled his players' passion, says Chelsea coach Roberto Di Matteo.

“I’ve been speaking to the players individually … to try and get them feeling the responsibility and make them aware of our targets, to bring a little bit of team spirit back, the spirit of sacrifice and passion for the game,” Di Matteo said.

Next up for Chelsea, which is fifth in the Premier League and has been paired with Benfica in the Champions League quarterfinals, is an FA Cup match with Leicester City Sunday and a crucial league game against Manchester City Wednesday.

As a player, Di Matteo helped lead Chelsea out of a moribund period without any trophies. He scored a goal in Chelsea's 1997 FA Cup victory over Middlesbrough to end a drought of more than two decades, and upon his retirement in 2002 had won four trophies. Current Chelsea stars John Terry and Frank Lampard, each of whom scored a goal in the Napoli match, are former Di Matteo teammates. The club's revival since Andre Villas-Boas was dismissed has renewed hopes it can win a trophy despite its past troubles.

Friday, March 16, 2012

American success in Europa League

With Manchester United and Manchester City crashing out of the Europa League, Chelsea remains as the only English team competing in Europe - as they still remain in the UEFA Champions League for the moment.

What's even more interesting is that with a solid performance this week in the Europa League, there might be more Americans currently competing in European competition than English players-

* Steve Cherundolo started for Hannover 96 in what turned out to be an easy night at AWD-Arena. Mohammed Abdellaoue had the home side up within four minutes, and it was 2-0 Hannover when Liege put the ball into the back of their own net in the 21st. Hannover would be the recipients of another own goal in the 73rd, with Sergio Pinto scoring their fourth in stoppage time.

* Jozy Altidore started for AZ, and where Udinese may have won on the night at the Stadio Friuli, it wasn't enough to overcome the first-leg. Antonio Di Natale seemed to have AZ's number, opening the scoring from the penalty spot in the third minute and scoring from the run of play in the 15th. Fortunately for AZ, that was it for the Udinese offense. AZ's Erik Falkenburg scored in the 31st, with AZ failing to convert from the penalty spot in the 64th minute.

* Klaas-Jan Huntelaar had a hat-trick, but it was Jermaine Jones scoring the goal that put Schalke in the next round. Schalke trailed on the night from the 14th minute, with Huntelaar equalizing in the 29th and putting Schalke ahead from the penalty spot in the 57th minute. Jones scored in the 70th, with Huntelaar getting his third goal of the game in the 81st minute. Jones assisted on the Huntelaar goal, subbing out in the 88th.

* Sporting advanced over Manchester City with a 3-3 aggregate, and expects to have standout defender Oguchi Onyewu back for the next leg.

With the American success in the Europa League, coupled with the prominent roles that Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Tim Howard (Everton) and Michael Bradley (Chievo) have had this season in their respective teams, US Soccer has earned it's seat at the table among Europe's elite.

MLS eyes northern exposure in Canada

All eyes in Major League Soccer have turned towards the northern boarder this week. Between the on-field success of Toronto FC in the CONCACAF Champions League, as well as the anticipation of 50,000+ fans for Montreal's home opener, it appears that MLS' northern exposure is where it's at.

Ridge Mahoney of Soccer America writes about the MLS growth in the north.

It has been one of the league's doormats since joining MLS in 2007, yet Toronto FC has broken new ground for MLS with the devotion and input of its powerful fan base. Reaching the Concacaf Champions League semifinals by upsetting the Galaxy has given the franchise its finest on-field moment.

Maybe it’s fitting that a Canadian team is the last one standing of North America's top professional division in the regional club competition.

Toronto FC has certainly stunk on the field, having failed to qualify for the playoffs in each of its five seasons, but Commissioner Don Garber gives the first Canadian city to join the league a lot of credit for sparking passionate support that is snowballing through much of the league. Perhaps that 4-3 aggregate upset of the high-profile, heavily moneyed Galaxy in the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals is how those fickle soccer gods repay those who bring their passion and hope to every game, week after week, month after month, year after year. It’s about time the Red Patch Boys, North End Elite, et al, got their due.

Any misconception that pro soccer interest in Toronto crested with the 21,000 or so supporters who routinely pack BMO Field went down the drain nine days ago when 47,568 fans filled Rogers Centre for the CCL first leg. Garber was in attendance with Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum, and on a conference call with reporters the following day he spoke about what the event and the crowd meant.

“Last night I turned to Larry Tanenbaum and I said, every time I attend a big MLS event, in this case, an event with two MLS teams, I kind of get emotional because this league had so many challenges seven, or eight or nine years ago,” said Garber. “It would have been impossible to have conceived that you would have 40,000-plus on a weeknight going absolutely nuts for two MLS teams and then having front page photographs and articles in the newspaper when you leave town. It started in Toronto.

“It certainly reached an entirely new level in Seattle. The first time I did the March to the Match or saw the fans come out in the pouring rain of the first championship game we had up there in the pouring rain and fans being there through thick and thin. Or going up to a meeting in Microsoft and seeing half of the office wearing Sounders jerseys, then going down trying to lobby for the public stadium support in Philadelphia and seeing hundreds and hundreds of members of the Sons of Ben. It all sort of feels a bit like a tidal wave that is rising and this massive interest in the league.”

The league will rise further this weekend when its 19th franchise and third Canadian entry, Montreal, plays its first MLS home game against Chicago. More than 50,000 tickets have been sold and capacity at Olympic Stadium, where the Impact will play until renovations are completed at Stade Saputo, has been increased to approximately 60,000. No one expects subsequent games to approach that number, but playing a league game in a big stadium – long regarded as anathema unless accompanied by fireworks or an international exhibition – has in certain markets created a demand that helps drives fans to games in the smaller facilities.

Philly opened its 2010 expansion season with a bunch of road games and two matches at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the NFL Eagles. The games drew crowds of 34,870 and 25,038 that didn’t fill up much of the Linc, but did fire up a portion of the populace.

“You know, if we’d been part of the league when it started in 1996, I don’t think the interest would have been nearly this strong,” says Philly president Nick Sakiewicz, whose team often sells out PPL Park (capacity 18,500). “There’s no question that fans around here watching MLS, especially teams nearby like D.C. and New York, for more than a decade have been frustrated by having to wait so long for a team.

“And while playing in an NFL stadium long-term obviously hasn’t worked in our league, having our first two games at Lincoln Financial Field gave a lot more people the opportunity to see the team and what an MLS game looked like than if we had played in Chester from the start. When we did move there, people knew the smaller capacity meant they might not get tickets, so if they didn’t have season tickets they at least bought them well in advance.”

It’s a sign of the league’s maturity that in other cities, a reverse process has also worked. Two seasons in CommunityAmerica Ballpark, where the capacity barely nudges five figures for Sporting Kansas City games, has prompted loud sellouts at Livestrong Sporting Park. Vancouver played at Empire Field before moving into B.C. Place, where the reduced capacity of 21,000 approximates that of its previous home yet has room for expansion. San Jose will leave Buck Shaw Stadium (10,500) for its new stadium (about 18,000) sometime next year with hopefully the same effect.

Garber was also in attendance last Monday in Portland, and another raucous sellout crowd – in the pouring rain – conjured a throbbing atmosphere as the Timbers beat Philadelphia, 3-1. How to explain what has happened in the Northwest? For Cascadia Cup home games against Vancouver and Portland, Seattle has announced it will open up CenturyLink Field to its full capacity (66,000), which is an amazing development considering those teams entered MLS just last year.

With the addition of Montreal, Toronto has not only a nearby soccer rival dating back to days in the lower divisions as well as the old NASL, but a bitter foe frequently encountered in the NHL and Canadian Football League. TFC and the Impact will meet three times in league play and twice more in the Canadian Championship to determine a representative for the next version of the CCL.

Might such games in the future be candidates for the larger venues available? Pent-up demand is a powerful force. And what if they meet someday in MLS Cup? Wow.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Viewership spike for NBC Sports Network with first MLS telecast of 2012

NBC Sports Network’s first MLS telecast, Sunday afternoon’s game between FC Dallas and the New York Red Bulls, drew a 0.07 national household rating, the network announced Tuesday. That’s equivalent to about 82,000 viewers.

The number seems low, but it represents a more than threefold increase from last year’s opening telecast on Fox Soccer, which was replaced by NBC this season as MLS’s second English-language U.S. broadcast partner.

ESPN has been televising games since the league’s inception in 1996 and averaged 291,000 viewers per game on ESPN and ESPN2 last year. Fox Soccer averaged a 0.04 rating/68,000 viewers over the full 2011 regular season.

Both the New York and Dallas markets received 0.30 household ratings on Sunday.

Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports Group, told Sporting News recently that the network will be shooting for a 0.3-0.4 rating on NBC Sports Network, formerly known as Versus, this season and a 1.0 for the three games scheduled for NBC’s flagship broadcast network.

An American Soccer Coach In Egypt

Anti-Americanism is on the rise in Egypt these days. A highly publicized trial is under way in Cairo against U.S.-funded pro-democracy groups, and Egyptians are making it clear they reject any American involvement in their country's affairs.

There's one exception, however: an American living in Cairo whom Egyptians are counting on to shake things up. His name is Bob Bradley, and he's the New Jersey-born coach of Egypt's struggling national soccer team.

What many Egyptians admire about Bradley, who coached the U.S. men's national team until last year, is his hands-on approach, says youth coach and soccer expert Diaa Salah. He says the 53-year-old American is trying to improve the agility and fitness of the Egyptian players to help them qualify for the World Cup in 2014.

"He's not a typical suit-and-tie coach," Salah says. "No, he gets his track suit on and gets down on the pitch with the players. He likes to get involved in all of the situations on the pitch. That gives a very good message to the players themselves."

It's a message that Bradley relies on his Arabic-speaking assistants to translate for his players, most of whom don't speak English. But what Bradley lacks in foreign-language skills, his supporters say he makes up for by embracing Egyptian culture and living among them in a popular Cairo neighborhood, rather than in a walled compound.

"He's not one of those coaches who likes to keep distance; no, he wants to be right in the middle of things," Salah says. "I think Egyptians do like [and] are very warm and welcoming to coaches like that."

Bradley says he's gratified by how Egyptians have welcomed him and his wife, Lindsay, since he took over the national team here last October.

"We recognize how proud Egyptians are of their country, their history, of their culture, and people have really reached out to us in a way that we feel very appreciative," Bradley says.

How long the warm reception will last is unclear.

The Road Ahead

In downtown Cairo, passerby Ahmed Adel expressed his frustration with the lackluster performance of the team in recent months. He and others here say Bradley has big shoes to fill, as his Egyptian predecessor, Hassan Shehata, led the Egyptians to three Africa Cup titles.

The American coach also faces major hurdles his predecessors haven't.

Egypt's unprecedented popular uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak from power and the continuing struggle between his military allies and emerging democratic forces here have weakened many of the country's institutions, including its soccer league.

An even more devastating blow came last month with a fatal riot that killed 74 soccer fans after a game in the northern city of Port Said. It was the worst such tragedy in Egyptian history and led officials to cancel league games for the rest of this year.

Bradley says it has also limited his opportunities to scout for new talent.

"There are probably 10 to 12 players that we would have considered for the camp that we have right now, had this incident not taken place," he says.

As of this month, the Egyptian team dropped to its lowest world ranking ever — 64th place, compared to ninth place two years ago. But Bradley says he's not giving up.

"I made it very clear that the national team will need to have camps and will need to find a way to play matches, especially when you consider that the league will not start up again," he says.

His players are training in Egypt and abroad, like in Qatar, where the Egyptian national team recently won 5-0 in a friendly game against Kenya.

The Egyptian team's captain, Ahmed Hassan, says he predicts that with their American coach's drive and the Egyptian players' confidence, the national team will recover.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Five games sell out in opening week

Mike Woitalla of Soccer America reports on the number of sellout crowds in week 1 of the 2012 Major League Soccer season.

Five of eight games in the opening week of the 2012 MLS season sold out. For MLS team attendance rankings ...

Portland, Vancouver, San Jose, Los Angeles and FC Dallas all announced capacity crowds for their first games of MLS's 17th season. The Galaxy's 27,000 crowd at the Home Depot Center was the biggest of Week 1.

The opening week average of 18,174 was down from last season's first-week openers, when Seattle's crowd of 36,433 drove the average to 21,046. The Sounders, who had a bye, open their season at home next Saturday. The 2010 season had opened with an average of 17,921.


Club (2012 Rank) Week 1 Home Games 2012 Home Average 2011 Home Average (Final)

Chicago (-) -- -- 14,273
Chivas USA (7) 14,464 14,464 14,830
Colorado (6) 14,746 14,746 14,838
Columbus (-) -- -- 12,185
D.C. United (5) 16,314 16,314 15,196
FC Dallas (3) 20,906 20,906 12,861
Houston (-) -- -- 17,694
Kansas City (-) -- -- 17,810
Los Angeles (1) 27,000 27,000 23,335
Montreal (-) -- -- --
New England (-) -- -- 13,222
New York (-) -- -- 19,749
Philadelphia (-) -- -- 18,259
Portland (4) 20,438 20,438 18,827
Real Salt Lake (-) -- -- 17,591
San Jose (8) 10,525 10,525 11,858
Seattle (-) -- -- 38,496
Toronto FC (-) -- -- 20,267
Vancouver (2) 21,000 21,000 20,406

Leaguewide 18,174 18,174 17,872

Vancouver-Montreal game draws record audience

MLS continues to grow, and not only are they drawing large crowds at the turnstyles, but also large TV audiences as well.

Saturday's Vancouver-Montreal game was the most-watched MLS game ever in Canada, drawing an average audience of 541,000 viewers for the Impact's debut game on TSN (288,000) and RDS (253,000), according to BBM Canada.

By comparison, the NHL averaged 707,000 on TSN last season; the CFL averaged 637,000.

TSN (the Sports Network) and French-language RDS (available in 2.5 million homes) are the official MLS broadcasters in Canada. Their national package includes 36 games featuring Montreal, Toronto FC and Vancouver.

ESPN has a minority interest in both networks.

When Major League Soccer matches in Canada are coming close to TV audiences for the National Hockey League in Canada (their national sport), you know that the game is growing in leaps and bounds.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Rennie is a master of positive thinking

While delivering a classroomlike session on his power of positive-thinking coaching style to a group of soccer scribes, head coach Martin Rennie was asked which Vancouver Whitecaps' players have already benefited from that philosophy.

He quickly cited forwards Eric Hassli and Long Tan as great examples of players who have embraced the notion of believing in themselves and doing whatever it takes to become better.

"Eric has lost weight and he's fitter and a lot stronger in the air now," Rennie said. "Long Tan has showed me more than I thought he had early on."

The new Whitecaps boss spent part of the session outlining various tactical formations but devoted just as much time on the need for players to rid themselves of negativity.

"If people keep telling you you're not good at something - like 'You're no good in the air' or 'You don't have a good left foot' - then you start believing that," he said. "We want players to break out of that negative mindset."

Rennie said talented playmaking midfielder Davide Chiumiento will do amazing things this season if he continues to think positively and play to his full potential. The former Swiss Super Leaguer has shown well in pre-season play, often looking extremely motivated.

Chiumiento said it's already clear that Rennie knows what he wants from his players.

"He's sure about how he wants to play football," he said. "If he's not happy, he tells you and if he's happy, he tells you too, so that's really good."

Bielsa's tactics unravels Manchester United in Europa League

Zonal Marking provides a comprehensive look at how Bielsa and Athletic Bilbao's tactics helped play a large part in defeating Manchester United in the Europa League this past week.

Bielsa, as we know, likes to maintain a spare man at the back. If United were playing a straight 4-4-2, Bielsa probably would have played three centre-backs instead of the extra central midfielder that featured here, but because United are actually more like 4-4-1-1, Bielsa could tell Ander Iturraspe to pick up Rooney, with the spare man retained at the back with 2 v 1 against Javier Hernandez.

United’s shape was as expected, though they used Ashley Young on the right and Park Ji-Sung on the left – both probably prefer the left, but since Young’s game is more based around the ball and therefore more highly influenced by which side of the pitch he plays on, it would probably have been better off the other way around. That said, Park is better defensively and Andoni Iraola is the better Athletic full-back, so the decision made sense in that respect.


Athletic were highly flexible and versatile, and without the ball they pressed heavily from the front. Fernando Llorente was told to close down the two centre-backs, with the wide players rarely looking to close down the other centre-back to make it 2 v 2 high up, and instead focussing more on tracking United’s full-backs, who seldom managed to break forward unattended.

As seen in the game against Barcelona, Athletic want to practically man-mark the opposition all over the pitch, and this meant that Ander Herrera and Oscar De Marcos moved forward to shut down Phil Jones and Ryan Giggs, playing significantly in advance of Iturraspe. There was often a huge gap in front of Iturraspe, and although United didn’t have anyone to naturally exploit this space, they could have had more lateral movement off the flanks from Young and Park – they would have been tracked, but would have drawn their marker out of position.

Athletic's pressing system
The diagram to the right shows the simple (on paper) way Athletic pressed. Llorente had to cover two men in order to maintain the spare man at the other end of the pitch, but otherwise the wingers pressed full-backs, central midfielders were on central midfielders, and wing-backs on wide midfielders.

At the back the centre-backs took it in turns (though Javi Martinez did it more) to track Javier Hernandez out of the back very tightly, and the Mexican struggled with the physical attention. The other centre-back, usually San Jose, then became the sweeper.

Athletic attacks

But what Athletic did excellently here was with the ball, moving it quickly from player to player, but reasonably patiently when United had men behind the ball. The brilliance in their play comes from the change of tempo when they have the ball 30-40 yards from goal – it usually hinges upon a quick, direct run in behind an opponent from one of the wing-backs or central midfielders, often to create a one-two opportunity and get past an opponent.

The wing-backs were particularly important in Athletic’s play, because they stretched the play and provided attacking overlaps. They often moved so high up the pitch that they became part of the forward line, and neither Park nor Young wanted to move that deep. For Athletic’s first goal, both Iraola and Aurtenexte found got into the box – the away side simple overwhelmed United with numbers.


The passing wasn’t always particularly precise, but it was generally ambitious and forward-thinking, with the knowledge that if Athletic misplaced a pass and conceded possession, they would win the ball back quickly anyway.

There was an interesting approach to long balls. Bielsa had to wean Athletic off playing long, high balls towards Llorente at the start of the season, but they do still play direct balls for the wingers moving in behind the defence for (straightish) diagonal balls. In the first half, both Iker Muniain and Markel Susaeta had good chances in this fashion.

Llorente did a good job when he did get the ball, though, by holding it up and waiting for midfield runners. Smalling and Evans have the makings of a good partnership but are not yet comfortable against a big, strong number nine.

United were guilty of standing off high up the pitch. Athletic were telling the strikers to press, but Rooney was doing almost nothing without the ball, letting Iturraspe dictate the tempo and spread the play to the flanks. He was told to do more work in the second half, when United were chopping and changing in the midfield zone and trying to find more energy and mobility.

Phil Jones and Ryan Giggs struggled – Jones wasn’t good enough on the ball under pressure, and Giggs lacked the mobility and struggled with close attention in deep positions. Michael Carrick and Anderson ended up in that zone, and though Carrick did OK and stablised United, even he isn’t at his best under pressure.

There were so many chances in the game that the goals barely stood out amongst all the opportunites, but it was notable that United’s two goals came following a free-kick and a penalty – Athletic continue to lack discipline at the back. The away side’s major chances came when the wing-backs overloaded play, stretched the United defence and created gaps for onrushing midfielders to burst though. There could and should have been more goals, but Athletic fully merited the victory.


United knew what to expect from Athletic, but simply seemed unprepared for such heavy pressing. The midfield wasn’t mobile nor good enough on the ball, there was little rotation of positions or even particularly good movement, and when United did break through the centre, Hernandez was extremely wasteful in the box. He’s fallen out of favour dramatically recently, and Welbeck is the clear first choice upfront.

Athletic played (probably) their best game of the season, perfectly in keeping with Bielsa’s strategy and ideology. If they could play this way every week they’d be in La Liga’s top three, but it’s difficult to press with such energy every match.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The legacy of David Moyes

Loyalty and longevity are rare traits in the world of professional sports. In Premier League soccer, keeping a team manager who has not won a trophy in 10 years is almost unheard of.

This week, David Moyes will complete a full decade as manager and coach at Everton.

It is an open secret that Everton, without a billionaire owner, struggles to spend anything like what the big boys of England’s Premier League spend. The current squads of Manchester City and Manchester United, one of which will win the league this season, cost $526 million and $400 million, respectively, to recruit.

Despite working with limited resources, Moyes consistently keeps Everton in the top half of the world’s wealthiest league throughout his term; and the fact that no opponent dares to take Everton lightly, are his legacy.

Beating Chelsea, Manchester City and Spurs proves that. As the seasons wear on, Everton gains strength and confidence. Moyes does not know why. He has tried everything — changed the preseason, changed the training regimen, gotten inside the heads of players who have served him most of his tenure — and still he is no wiser as to why the team starts slowly but then gathers self-confidence after the turn of the year.

One credible answer is that Everton tends to lose key players to wealthier opponents as each transfer window dawns. Arsenal took its playmaker, Mikel Arteta, in the trading window last summer, and Spurs took Steven Pienaar in the previous season.

Pienaar is now back because Spurs did not need him. The deal is a loan, meaning Everton is not permitted to field him against Tottenham.

With a smallish squad, Moyes must, anyway, rotate his players through a heavy schedule that included Tottenham on Saturday, the Merseyside derby Tuesday and an F.A. Cup quarterfinal against Sunderland on Saturday.

Sunderland is like Everton, a giant of the past trying to achieve through tenacity what others buy. The one sure thing when they meet next weekend is that it will take every last ounce of effort to be the winner.

Moyes has become synonymous with vigor. His Evertonians run like commandos: they never give an inch, they chase lost causes, they play up to more costly opponents.

Over the decade that makes him the third-longest serving manager at a Premier League club — after Ferguson’s 25 years at United and Arsène Wenger’s 15 with Arsenal — Moyes has spent $35 million of Everton’s money.

Many players in the league cost more than that. They include Wayne Rooney, who was nurtured by Moyes and sold when Manchester United made an offer Everton could not refuse.

The grapevine reports that if Spurs’ Harry Redknapp is offered the England team to manage in May, Moyes might be offered the Tottenham team he has just plotted to defeat. Whether Moyes stays at Everton or not, his legacy among the English Premier League's managerial elite is secure.

The legend of Biesla continues to grow

Bilbao coach Marcelo Biesla once again has proved himself to be a tactical genius, with the next footnote on his impressive resume coming at the expense of Manchester United.

Bielsa became a household name in coaching with his direction of Chile in the past 2010 FIFA World Cup, guiding them to victories over Honduras and Switzerland and advancing into the second round.

His legend has grown again as he has taken the helm of Athletic Bilbao of the Spanish La Liga, and as his Bilbao side advanced into the Europa Leauge, he outwitted Manchester United by exposing flaws and playing some terrific football in their 3-2 victory this past week.

Bilbao’s 3-2 win hardly doing justice to their dominance. Their pressing was intense, their passing precise, it was as Eduardo Rodrigal Varez said in El Pais, as if ”United had the air of a diva deprived of her dressing room whilst Athletic opened the door with the energy of a youthful actor.”

That energy is Bielsa’s making. Endless hours of training before the season began and even once it had they were initially like a team pounding a treadmill on an incline, constantly running just to stand still and eventually wilting through tiredness. But crucially the players got it, they could see the Argentine’s vision and since their fitness levels reached the required level to carry it out, they have soared.

An example of just how good Athletic’s pressing was comes not only from the fact that they had nearly 70% of possession at Old Trafford – never allowing Utd any time on the ball and then using it wisely when they did – but from another great game from this week’s European card. When Arsenal’s high-tempo smothered AC Milan into submission enough to take a 3-0 half-time lead, one of the greatest comebacks in European football history was on. Yet, they tired quickly in the second-half, unable to maintain such intense pressing, something on which Bielsa insists.

Rumors have risen about Bielsa becoming the favorite target by Roman Abromovich at Chelsea, and regardless as to whether he remains at Athletic or not, the shine on Bielsa's star has never been brighter.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Road to Success is Paved with Failure

"Failure is one of the most important steps towards success."

You might need to read that quote once or twice, but the reality is that the road to success is paved with failure because failure teaches us how to succeed. It is only through failure when we gain the opportunity to pick ourselves back up.

I was forwarded this outstanding article that clearly illustrates how failure leads to future successes-

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. – Michael Jordan

The pupil who is never required to do what he cannot do, never does what he can do. – John Stuart Mill

I want my kids to fail. That probably isn’t at the top of your list for your kids, but it should be. Failure is one of the most important experiences they will ever have. The road to success is paved with failure because failure teaches us how to succeed.
I want my kids to fail. It is only when they fail that they have an opportunity to pick themselves back up. It is only when they fail that they learn to work hard. It is only when they fail that they learn what doesn’t work. It is only when they fail that they learn that sometimes people need help. It is only when they fail that they learn empathy for others struggling. It is only when they fail that they learn that life is not always fair. It is only when they fail that they understand what being human is.

I want my kids to fail, but not to the point that they can’t emotionally continue. Right now I am there to help provide a pep talk, spend time working with them to succeed, and tell them that I believe they can succeed if they continue to try. But I will not always be able to be there, so this motivation needs to become internalized so that they succeed even if no one else believes in them.

I want my kids to fail, but not to the point where they cannot afford to feed, shelter, and clothe themselves. While they are under my care is a time that the consequences of failure are not threatening to their health and welfare. This is the time to learn through failure how to succeed.

I want my kids to fail in the classroom. This is true education! I don’t want them to believe that success is easy, but when a child is bright enough to learn with minimal effort and is rewarded with A’s for that, they come to believe that hard work isn’t needed for success. I want them to struggle, to not always succeed on the first try – or the twentieth, to learn that asking for help is not a sign of weakness or lack of intelligence, and to see that success is often a long process.

I want my kids to fail. That is one reason we supplement their education at home. Our kindergartner has learned through doing second grade math, which she can find challenging, that there is a strong correlation between the effort she puts in and how her quiz scores are. When she has a rough quiz, she often chooses to do three or four practices so that her next quiz will be better. This drive will take her further than her natural intelligence.

I want my kids to fail – and you should want yours to also. If your children are struggling, help them to learn to succeed. Don’t make success easy for them, but teach them the skills they need to succeed. If your children are not struggling at times in school, ask why not. Ask for curriculum that challenges them and makes them work for their grades. Learning how to fail is one of the most important skills they will ever learn.

I want my kids to fail. It is how they will learn to succeed.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Manchester United continue to win 'Cup finals'

The use of a 'Cup final' as a cliche in soccer make sense.

A 'Cup final' is a match that is a championship game in a tournament - one where there can only be a winner and a loser, and one where the loser is eliminated. The NBA on TNT uses this phrase for their commercials during their tournament-style playoffs: WIN OR GO HOME.

A level of urgency is something that is essential to achieve victory in that setting, and the best teams tend to carry that with them throughout their season - and not just with their back against the wall in a 'Cup final'.

Rio Ferdinand of Manchester United was interviewed recently following their critical 3-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur, and he discussed that level of urgency that has been a fabric of the club's successful culture.

“All we have ever said is to keep putting points on the board,” he said.

“Our last two away games have shown the professionalism in the camp and that has been fantastic. We have to continue that.

“We have big games coming up. Each game will be like a cup final. I know that’s a cliche but it’s true.”

City have been unable to shake United off and know they may have to keep picking up maximum points to avoid being overtaken by their arch-rivals in the coming weeks.

Ferdinand added: “We have just got to keep winning games. If we do that, we will put pressure on the other teams.

“It is about keeping our own house in order and making sure we remain resilient and keep putting points on the board.”

Resilience is something United have shown in abundance to win their last two games, scoring a stoppage-time winner at Norwich before producing a classic smash-and-grab victory on Sunday.

“It was a huge win for us because this was one of the games people probably expected us to drop points in,” Ferdinand said.

“It is tough stadium to play at and Spurs are a very good team now, so we had to come and produce a good performance. I thought our performance was very professional.

“At half-time, the manager told us to go out and play a bit better than we had done in the first half because we hadn’t really played at all.

“It was more or less a backs-to-the-wall display in the first half but we nicked a goal before half-time and set ourselves up for the second half.”

Urgency and resiliency are needed to outlast opponents throughout a long season, and if Manchester United can keep treating matches like they are 'Cup finals', they appear to be on track to hoist a cup at the end of the season once again.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Having the bottle and belief are keys to United's EPL title chase

Whether you are a Manchester United supporter or not, it's hard to argue with their ability to grind out results.

Sir Alex Ferguson and his 19 titles would be tough to refute in a debate, but when you look closely, you can see that at the core of the club's long run of success is the mental toughness needed to fight through rigid fixtures and tough opposition.

It is human nature to look at the games coming up and attempt to pick out the matches where your closest challengers will slip up and drop points and, six weeks ago, the City players would have seen United facing games against Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham and expected them to find it tough.

But United won at the Emirates, they fought back from 3-0 down to draw at Chelsea, beat Liverpool at Old Trafford and on Sunday, despite not playing particularly well, emerged with a 3-1 win at white Hart Lane.

Throw in their last-minute victory at Norwich last week and there can be no denying that United have laid down a marker and sent out a message to City that says, ‘right, come on then’.

At this stage of the season, it is not about being the best team or having the best players. It is about having the bottle and the belief to win the title.

Former Liverpool great Alan Hansen writes of how Manchester United's winning mentality means they can edge out City and remain Premier League top dogs.

If the pressure begins to tell, individuals begin to do their own thing and the collective suffers.

City have improved greatly since last season and it is incredibly difficult to separate them from United at the moment, but while United have been over the course and distance so many times, we still don’t know how City will react because they don’t have that experience of winning a title.

Clearly, the game between the two teams at the Etihad Stadium on April 30 is going to be pivotal.

Home advantage in that game, and their current two-point lead, ensure that City have something in their favour in what will be an intriguing run-in. But a quick glance at the fixtures between now and then suggests that City will do well to be on top when they face United.

Roberto Mancini’s team must face Chelsea at home and Arsenal away. United, on the other hand, don’t play another top-six team until they face City.

But the reality is that there are no easy games now. United have discovered that to their cost this season in losing at home to Blackburn and then being beaten at Newcastle.

They have also been hammered 6-1 by City and suffered an early Champions League exit, but while those defeats and setbacks would send a lot of teams under, United have picked themselves up and got on with it and they just keep getting results.

That is why I believe that United just have the edge and, if I had to back one of them to win the league from this point, I would favour them.

There is also the motivational factor of United being determined to stop their neighbours and city rivals becoming top dogs in Manchester.

United have been on top for so long that they will not want to contemplate surrendering their position to City.

There really is a different dynamic to a title race when you are vying with your closest rivals and I experienced it first hand when Liverpool and Everton contested the first division championship for four seasons in the 1980s.

For a long time Everton, like City, had not been particularly good and Liverpool had won lots of trophies to claim a position of dominance.

But Howard Kendall built a phenomenal side at Goodison Park and the fear of giving up top spot in the city was a real one for us at Anfield. It gave the title race a totally different feel when we were battling against Everton.

We were lucky, though, because although Everton won two titles, we claimed the trophy back immediately on each occasion. I’m not sure it will be quite so simple for United to do that, however, if City beat them to the Premier League title this season.

If City win this one, you can see them winning six or seven out of the next 10 because they will inevitably strengthen again.

But if United emerge as champions, the perception will be that City will have capitulated, having led for so long, and that will undoubtedly have a big effect on both clubs.

It would be a major setback for City and another example of United’s ability to win, regardless of the challenge in front of them, so it could be a momentous run-in.

And because the first title is so much harder to win than the fifth, sixth or, in Sir Alex Ferguson’s case, the 13th, United have the edge.

Debate between HS & USSDA continues

As the debate between High School soccer and the United States Soccer Development Academy continues to forge forward, there was a lot of national media attention directed their way this past week.

Sam Borden of the New York Times wrote about the choices that players involved in both affiliations are being ased to make.

Professional sports leagues in the United States have long relied on high schools to help cultivate the country’s best athletes. Rosters in Major League Baseball, the N.F.L. and the N.B.A. are filled with former scholastic stars, many of whom hold tightly to their quintessentially American memories of homecoming, letterman jackets and games played under the Friday night lights.

But for the organization charged with producing soccer players who can compete with the world’s best, that system has been deemed inadequate. The United States Soccer Federation announced a new policy recently that will uncouple high school soccer and the training of top youth players, a move that is unique among major team sports in this country and, some believe, is indicative of a trend in the way the United States develops elite athletes.

The shift by the federation applies to its top boys teams around the country, requiring players on those teams — known as Development Academy teams — to participate in a nearly year-round season and, by extension, forcing them and their soccer moms and dads to decide whether they should play for their club or play for their school.

The move has stirred a fierce debate among players, coaches and parents from California to Connecticut. In community forums, during town-hall-style meetings and on Internet message boards, those in favor have lauded the move as a requisite (and obvious) step to raising the quality of soccer in the United States, while critics have labeled it misguided, overzealous and an unnecessary denial of a longstanding American experience for children.

The federation’s decision is believed to be the first instance of a major team sport’s national organization keeping some of its members from playing scholastically. For players like Steven Enna, a sophomore and star forward at St. James Academy in Lenexa, Kan., who also plays for his local academy team, Sporting Kansas City, the shift has created an unsettling situation made stickier because his father is also his high school coach.

“It’s awkward,” Enna said. “You look at LeBron James — he played for his high school and went pro. Why do we have to give it up?”

The short answer, according to the national federation, is that soccer is different. If the United States hopes to compete with traditional soccer powers like Spain, Brazil and the Netherlands, the organization said, it must close the gap with those countries when it comes to identifying and training the best players.

The introduction of the Development Academy program — which began in 2007, features enhanced coaching and competition (but with a focus on out-of-competition training), and now consists of 78 clubs nationwide — was a step in that process, according to the academy’s director of scouting, Tony Lepore. But even five years ago, Lepore said, top soccer officials were doing research that consistently led them to believe this latest model, featuring a 10-month season and player exclusivity, was the only choice.

High school soccer has different rules from the international game — unlimited substitutions, most notably — as well as different priorities and tactics from an Academy program, Lepore said. Losing the players for several months each year was costly.

Lepore added that despite the uproar, this is in many ways a baby step toward the systems in place around the world. After all, even with the changes, Lepore said, the average Development Academy team will practice 200 to 260 hours a season.

“They’re probably closer to 600 hours a year in Spain or Holland,” he said. “We’re not surprised by the reaction, and we get it: high school sports are a big part of the culture. But when it comes to elite soccer players and their development, this change is optimal.”

Kevin Baxter of the Chicago Tribune writes of how the opportunities posed are 'win-win', and that elite young U.S. players will get more training while more opportunities will be created for high school players.

When Marie Ishida, head of the one of the nation's largest governing bodies for high school athletics, first heard that U.S. Soccer was planning to force kids to choose between playing for their school and training to play for their country she protested in what she felt was the most appropriate way possible.

She wrote a letter.

"Well, that didn't settle very well with us," remembers Ishida, executive director of the California Interscholastic Federation, which oversees sports programs at more than 1,500 member schools. "They frankly stopped talking to us."

So it was hardly news when the U.S. Soccer Development Academy followed through on its promise and expanded the academy season three months to 40 weeks overall, from September to June, beginning next fall. What may have been surprising, though, was the fact that Ishida and others like her have apparently made their peace with the plan.

"Our attitude's kind of been 'OK, we lose the elite athletes. But that leaves a spot for somebody else,'" she says.

In fact, U.S. Soccer's decision — once fraught with controversy — benefits both the national program as well as high school and other youth leagues. For the national program, lengthening the calendar for academy players will help close a critical gap the U.S. has long conceded to other nations, where top youth players train for 10 or more months each year.

But because the academy is open to elite players only, the loss to high school and other programs will be fewer than 4,000 U 15-16 and U 17-18 male players nationwide — or less than 1% of the current player pool. So while that's not enough to seriously affect the level of play, it does create 4,000 opportunities for kids who might not have made the cut before.

What started out as a feud has ended in a cease-fire — with both sides rightly claiming victory.

"They said their goal was to win a World Cup and they felt the only way to do that was to identify some of these club programs early," Ishida says. "And frankly CIF — and any state association's goal — is not necessarily to produce World Cup athletes or Division I scholarship recipients.

"Our goal is about participation. And about competition."

Regardless as to whether you side in favor of the USSDA or High School, there is no question that this move has created more discussion about the best way to develop players in our country - something that has never been delved into to this extent prior, and has to ultimately assist in catching our nation up to the rest of the world.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Rooney praises Ferguson

United striker Wayne Rooney has stated that Sir Alex Ferguson is a great leader, and that he attempts to recreate the desire and commitment shown by the boss for himself.

"He is a great manager," Rooney told "He knows which players he can speak to and which players he can shout at, if he needs to.

"He knows how the players react and how to get the best out of them. That's important, especially in this day and age.

"His mentality for the game, his commitment and desire and obviously things that the players try and take on themselves. For me personally, he's been brilliant. He is a great leader of our team."