Saturday, January 27, 2007

US Soccer Update - Weekly Capsule

A Retirement League Response:

As media reports from around the world stream in on the blockbuster Beckham transfer, the worlds perception of the league in which Beckham is heading to is not in line with the reality of what awaits the current Real Madrid players. Much of this view is a hold over from the day of
Pele and the defunct NASL. The average age of an MLS player is roughly on par with the average age of players at this year's World Cup, 27.

True, MLS has had its share of former international stars looking for paychecks such as Lothar Matteus, Hristo Stoitchkov, Youri Djorkaeff, and Hong Mihn Bo in recent years. Of this group, only Stoitchkov met with any success (mostly because he rarely played 90 minutes). The rest
were simply signings of folly in a league that requires as much fitness as any league in the world.

For the uninitiated, the Major League Soccer Season starts on April 1 this season and heads continues through mid November. The heart of the season is played during the summer months and it is not uncommon for matches to be played in excess 90 degree Fahrenheit heat. A team like the LA Galaxy will be involved in additional competitions during the MLS season as well such as the Superliga (a USA vs. Mexico Champions League) and the US Open Cup (similar to FA Cup). Further straining MLS players are the travel requirements of a large country (a LA vs. New York match will require a 5,700 round trip for one team) and summer international
matches which drain MLS team of their best talent throughout the season.

Buried in the piles of Beckham news was that US international Clint Dempsey completed a US $4 million transfer to Fulham in the English Premier League. At Fulham, he will join Americans Brian McBride and Carlos Bocanegra who also honed their skills in MLS before crossing the
Atlantic. Also on the Fulham roster is Kiwi Simon Elliot, formerly of the LA Galaxy and Columbus Crew. The list doesn't stop there! Tim Howard (Everton), Bobby Convey (Reading), Marcus Hannehman (Reading), DaMarcus Beasley (Manchester City), Ryan Nelsen (Blackburn), Cory Gibbs (Charlton) and Brad Friedel (Blackburn) all formerly manned MLS rosters
before graduating to the EPL. Freddy Adu is often linked with Manchester United and Landon Donovan is often rumored to head overseas too. MLS isn't filled with aging stars; rather it is a hotbed for budding stars!

MLS also limits the amount of "Senior International" players a team can sign to three, creating many opportunities for young Americans to get playing time. The US National team has qualified for the last five World Cups, with the last three rosters being comprised of players on
MLS rosters, which was good enough to snag a quarter-final appearance in 2002!

Once, LA Galaxy games are broadcast around the world this summer, the world will be shocked at the quality of the matches being played out in the team's soccer-only stadium. The days of Pele are long gone!

Captain America Comes Home:
As expected Claudio Reyna was signed by The Bruce Arena Red Bulls almost immediately after he was released by Manchester City. On paper this look like another quality signing, for the rest of the Eastern Conference. Although Captain Boredom was recently a starter for EPL
mid-tablers Manchester City, he's at the tail end of an injury plagued career. Opinions on Reyna differ vastly, but one cannot doubt that he is one of the highest quality players every produced by the US. What has been unfortunate for our national team over the years is that this
is his first opportunity to play in MLS. Over the past two World Cups, he has clearly been out of sync with the MLS raised players, yet continued to garner praise for his "poise" on the ball. Some call it poise, I'll call it slow down play. This slow-down, build up play is well suited for the EPL and Germany, where Claudio has been seen until recently, but is was a killer against the Czech's and Ghana. I apologize for getting off topic slightly, but I wanted to paint a picture of what Arena has traded Amado Guevara for! Surely, when on form, Guevara is more suited to the MLS pace than Reyna. Further, Guevara's durability cannot be question as we are talking about the player that took to the field for a sweltering 90 August minutes in DC
with two broken arms a couple of years ago. Surely, Arena is trading up in the locker room department as Guevara's talent was often overshadowed by his poor attitude under duress. Of course, Claudio may be seen in the Red Bull infirmary more than the locker room, where the heat and Astroturf involved in an MLS season are bound to result many days on the
IR for him. When you piece all these transactions together, NYRB is basically paying more money (and wasting a DP slot) for a player that will have a similar overall impact in the team as Guevara.

Denver oh Denver:

Our Boys take on their Bhoys! I like it! Another out of form team for the All-Stars to beat up on and on a Thursday to boot. If Chelsea couldn't handle the Enhanced DC United Crew, then the Scots should really have their hands full with the Uber Dynamo that likely will be
fielded. Should be a great showcase for the league, particularly of Mr. Becks can make it. Expect ticket demand to be resemble a crush as Beckhamania and legions of Celtic fans combine to pack the smallest stadium in the league.

USA 3 - Denmark 1

Oh, yes! The US played last week for the first time in 9 years. Good to see a MLS coach familiar with the current state of the league to get a run out! The result, surprise! Attacking Soccer! Expectedly the group looked tentative and out of sync early on as many newcomers
acclimated to the faster pace of the international game. During this period, the Danes took advantage of some wire crossing in the US defense to score a highlight reel goal that almost decapitated Matt Reis. Landon equalized from the spot shortly after. Fortunately for the home team, Justin Mapp entered at the half for flaccid former teammate Nate Jaqua
and ensured that, as Yoda might say, the visitors alone would not feature on the highlight reel. Following a steal in the center circle, Mapp headed against instinct to the right side while evading sliding would-be tacklers. As he approached the corner of the box he looked up
seeing no options and a pair of Danes. Undaunted, he split the defenders and headed to the endline. Upon reaching the line, Mapp crossed the ball to national team newbie Jonathan Boronstein who coolly finished the scoring sequence and put the Americans ahead for good.
Later Kenny Cooper entered and scored shortly after on a through ball from Heath Pearce and a 20-30 yard run. The finishing has been so poor for our side over the years, we've forgotten how much of a gimme Cooper's goal was after receiving the pass. Of course, credit is due to
Kenny for correctly reading the game and putting himself in excellent position to convert the opportunity.