Olympic Qualifying, USA vs. Canada: “Join or Die”

CANADA
No. – Name – Pos. – D.O.B. – Club
1 – Asmir Begovic – GK – 20.06.1987 – Portsmouth FC/ENG
2 – Graham Ramalho – DF – 12.01.1986 – FC Groningen/NED
3 – Jacob Lensky – MD – 16.12.1988 – Feyenoord Rotterdam/NED
4 – Dejan Jakovic – MD – 16.07.1985 – U. Alabama-Birmingham/USA
5 – Andrew Hainault – DF – 17.06.1986 – Sparta Prague/CZE
6 – Nikolas Ledgerwood – DF – 16.01.1985 – 1860 Munich/GER
7 – Andrazes Ornoch – MD – 21.08.1985 – Esbjerg FB/DEN
8 – Ryan Gyaki – MD – 06.12.1985 – Hansa Rostock/GER
9 – Andrea Lombardo – AT – 23.05.1987 – Toronto FC
10 – Will Johnson – AT – 21.01.1987 – De Graafschap/NED
11 – Tosaint Ricketts – AT – 06.08.1987 – U. Wisconsin-Green Bay/USA
12 – Diaz Kambere – DF – 18.10.1985 – Vancouver Whitecaps
13 – Kyle Hall – AT – 27.01.1986 – Syracuse University/USA
14 – Tyler Hemming – DF – 09.05.1985 – Toronto FC
15 – Tyler Rosenlund – MD – 13.09.1986 – no club
16 – Keegan Ayre – MD – 04.07.1988 – Berwick Rangers FC/SCO
17 – Marcus Haber – AT – 11.01.1989 – FC Gronengen/NED
18 – Joshua Wagenaar – GK – 26.02.1985 – no club
19 – Isidro Sanchez – MD – 05.06.1987 – no club
22 – David Monsalve – GK – 21.12.1988 – no club
TD: Nick DASOVIC 

Our boys must be pretty happy with their steady progress heading into the semifinals, with Nowak’s trial by error tactical approach working somewhat decently without any dire consequences. Canada, however, just came off one hell of an emotional roller coaster in which it took them 5 goals and a trouncing of eventual Group B winners Guatemala to squeak by an uneasy Mexico. Both Will Johnson and Tosaint Ricketts had braces in the win and Josh Wagenaar won the war in between the posts, but does dramatic momentum outweigh rest for your stars? Freddy Adu, Altidore, Maurice Edu, etc. have all gotten the full rest they deserve after getting beat up in their first two games [Altidore especially – taking hits from eventual Cuban defector Yendry Diaz]. I just hope it doesn’t come down to an arguably botched call like in last summer’s Gold Cup. With Jonathan Spector in there now and Orozco, Sturgis, and Edu looking good – we should have solid enough back four to keep anything suspect from happening. The Canadians are going to have a handful with Altidore (as any team does) without the presence of a bruiser like a Yendry Diaz, i.e. someone that can handle Jozy’s physical presence. That certainly doesn’t mean the tone of the whole game won’t be physical. It’s more of a product of an opponent’s placement of mroe defenders behind the ball than real quality man-to-man marking. Therefore, expect it to be crowded in the middle, but if they stick to their wings – as they have tried – the goals should come. That’s the biggest question though – who to terrorize the wings? Holden seems a lock. It’s either Zizzo and Gaven for the other spot as Findley and Davies still haven’t won me over since the first game against Cuba. I’d pick Zizzo (even though Jeff might disagree) based on speed although Gaven has been slowly getting more and more comfortable out there. Zizzo, on numerous occasions, was able to work his way into the box, finding the easy square pass, and creating the chances.

Watch Out For:

FW Tosaint Ricketts – the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay striker has that speed and strength combo that made Cuba’s Linares so dangerous and he’s really come into his own so far this tourney. Ricketts has done admirably well in Green Bay, but he is still relatively new to the international scene only joining the national team program last winter. What a better way to make a name for yourself then score the goal that sends your team to the Olympics?

FW Will Johnson – You could just as easily put Andrea Lombardo in here, but the truth is, Johnson has his name at the top of the scoring charts. A former Chicago Fire discovery signing, Johnson now is on loan at De Graafschaap in the Dutch Eredivisie from Michael Bradley’s Heerenveen. He has also spent time in Blackburn’s youth set-up and has worked well enough within the national team to earn 3 senior caps.

DF Andrew Hainault – captains a defense that has only faltered against Haiti but held strong with a tie against Mexico and a Guatemalan team that – despite the 5-0 win – managed to threaten the Canadian defense on occasion. Hainault plays in the Czech Republic with powerhouse Sparta Prague as one of the only foreigners on the team. His play there has earned him 9 caps with the senior side as well.

Regarding the XI, I would expect for the US:

——————Altidore——————— 

Holden ————Adu——————Zizzo

———–Kljestan——–McCarty———–

Spector——Orozco——–Edu———–Hill

——————–Seitz———————-

PREDICTIONS ANYONE?

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Olympic Qualifying Breakdown – Who’s Your Best XI?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008
U.S.A. vs. Cuba

Thursday, March 13, 2008
U.S.A. vs. Panama

Saturday, March 15th, 2008
U.S.A. vs. Honduras

Roster was released – as I am sure you have seen – over the weekend and some notable omissions include Gold Cup hero turned Derby County wantaway Benny Feilhaber, last summer’s U-20 standout Robbie Rogers, and FC Dallas’ creative midfielder Arturo Alvarez. Michael Bradley of Heerenveen was left out due to club obligations. Heerenveen is still in the fight for the Dutch Eredivisie title and/or European contention with Ajax and PSV and Bradley is no doubt a huge part of that. The goal is to finish in the top two of their group, beat their opponent in the semifinal and make it to the finals which guarantees them a spot at this summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing.

GK (2): Dominic Cervi (out of contract), Chris Seitz (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders (6): Hunter Freeman (New York Red Bulls), Patrick Ianni (Houston Dynamo), Michael Orozco (San Luis), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United), Nathan Sturgis (Real Salt Lake), Marvell Wynne (Toronto FC)

Midfielders (7): Freddy Adu (SL Benfica), Maurice Edu (Toronto FC), Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew), Stuart Holden (Houston Dynamo), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Dax McCarty (FC Dallas), Sal Zizzo (Hannover 96)

Forwards (5): Jozy Altidore (New York Red Bulls), Chad Barrett (Chicago Fire), Charlie Davies (Hammarby IF), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake), Kamani Hill (Vfl Wolfsburg)

With this roster, I would certainly expect Piotr Nowak to go with Jozy Altidore as the lone forward, putting Freddy Adu right in behind them as they did at the U-20 World Cup. Zizzo has got to go on one of the wings as I remember his dismantling of the Brazilian defense in Canada as well. Expect either Eddie Gaven or Stuart Holden to patrol the other wing. I, for one, can’t understand the necessity of carrying a Chad Barrett over an Arturo Alvarez, who is versatile and serviceable on either of the wings, in the middle, or up top as striker. Then again, I also can’t understand the choice of 5 strikers when the tactic should be tailor-made for Jozy. Robbie Rogers has apparently been fighting an injury which makes his absence a bit understandable. I am just hoping that due to the lack of a Zizzo-like left winger, we don’t see Freddy Adu put out there. He needs be tucked in behind Altidore where he can dictate the run of play and roam freely. What I really like about this group, though, is the attacking presence in the back. At the Olympic level, I think this crop of fullbacks – with only one appearing regularly for the senior national team – could make a play for the weakest spot on the field for our Nats. Wynne, Freeman, and Spector should do well (Spector won’t be joining them until after the Group Stages though so Freeman and Wynne will be left to prove themselves).

The XI see being used:

————–Altidore—————-

Holden———Adu————-Zizzo

———-Edu——–Kljestan——–

Freeman—Ianni—Sturgis—-Wynne

—————Seitz——————

First game is Tuesday at 8:00pm EST on Fox Soccer Channel. What’s your take on the Starting XI?

Bob: Commence the Experiment

A couple people are posting the U.S. roster that was called in to play Mexico this Wednesday – and at least one person is playing “the roster game” (and having a couple bites at as he does it). On the other side of the affair, Sideline Views’ Luis Bueno listed Mexico’s traveling party and added some analysis for good measure. Much like Luis, I think the Mexican roster looks pretty solid – as in, a whole lot like an A-Team…or maybe that’s just what I think when I recognize many of the names on a Mexican roster.

So, to kill some time on a slow Sunday (the Super what now?), I thought I’d take some time on the question of who should we play against this bunch. Given my present state of, um, underwhelmedness regarding the significance of the result itself, I’m still advocating on-field experimentation. And, in the event we do lose, we can adopt the Mexican tactic of blaming the loss on such externals.

So, below, I’ll trot out the starting XI I’d like to Bradley trot out on Wednesday…and I do so knowing this is not the line-up we’ll see. Before naming names, I should confess I tend to favor 4-4-2’s for perhaps the dumbest reason: I’ve played as a defender in my share of 3-5-2’s and I just hate how exposed I feel back there…absolutely prejudiced me against that formation. What can I say? I view myself as a midfielder…in spite of the few seconds I’ve received on that opinion from the various coaches I’ve had.

Enough preliminaries…here it is: Continue reading

U.S. 2-0 Sweden: Our Depth Beat Their Depth

There was a lot to like about this game. Seriously. Fox Soccer Channel commentator Christopher Sullivan griped at the end about a certain lack of artistry, but anyone who tuned in saw a good, fairly even, pretty up-tempo game. And, better still, the U.S. Men’s National Team (Yanquis) flat won; they gave away fewer chances and played the better game. This is Sweden, mind, not elite, but definitely “real Europe,” even if it wasn’t their first team. That doesn’t matter because that wasn’t our first team either. Sweden’s first team might beat our first team 6 or 7 times out of 10, but the gap is closing – at least that’s what I pick up from watching our B-Team out-play, even out-think, the Swedes B-Team.

The Yanquis did well enough that it’s hard to find sincere fault with anyone’s game – though it’s not like I’m not going to try below. As for the Swedes, well, they settled for average; at times, I thought the game looked like a circa-1996 Sweden v. USA, but with the roles reversed. I can recall one tactically inspired move from Sweden, an overlapping cross-field run that totally isolated Ramiro Corrales on the U.S. left. But one move by the U.S. best illustrates the differences in inventiveness: Pat Noonan broke in on the left, dished to Landon Donovan and continued his run; Donovan holds for a bit, then pokes the ball into Noonan, who taps a lay-off that nearly resulted in a shot; it was all fast, short passes, the Americans trying to pick their way through Sweden rather than hoofing toward space and crossing. No, neither move ended with a goal – in fact, both U.S. goals came off something perilously close to slop – but the Swedes never matched the savvy and understanding on display in the U.S. move. Hell, we almost played “street-ball” right there.

In any case, I’ve got the notes to blab, blab, blab. But I’ll spare all y’all from that and bang out some player ratings – e.g. the refuge of a blogger who can’t figure out a structure for his talking points. Enjoy. Continue reading

New Forward Tandem for the Yanquis?

Beat to the punch on this one…the only reason to read this post is the subtly different take.

A bit of U.S. Men’s National Team (Yanquis) news comes out of The Boston Globe’s report on Preston North End’s pursuit of New England Revolution striker Taylor Twellman (and I’ll get back to this*).  Here’s that:

“In yesterday’s training session, Twellman was paired with New York’s Jozy Altidore at striker during a full-field scrimmage.”

OK, that’s it.  Discuss.  Sounds good?  Bad?  Are the players too similar (ha!)?  My take: I’ve heard worse ideas by far.  Given our current options at forward, I say let ‘er rip – and give it a few games,  yeah?

Another interesting tidbit from the same article, one that gets to “my kind of players”:

“[Pat] Noonan looked sharp during the training session, pairing with Jeremiah White (AGF Aarhus) at forward.  ‘Pat is a unique player, there is a cleverness in his game,’ Bradley said. ‘It’s a matter of him staying healthy.'”

Here’s a not-so-dirty secret: I have always preferred Noonan to Twellman, even as I can’t argue with a straight face that he does more for New England.  But there’s a kind of weird savvy to Noonan’s game that, as Bradley points out, separates him from the herd.  Who knows?  Maybe that’s what makes his groin/other body parts go all funny.  Still, best of luck to him with his health.  Further, assuming his health holds together, I wouldn’t mind giving Noonan a long look with the Yanquis.  Bring the weird, Pat, lead us to glory.

* OK, the Twellman thing.  First of all, New England would be nuts to let him go; there’s nothing else to make of 101 goals in 177 games.  Coming at it from the other direction, assuming he really wants to go, I wouldn’t hold a Dempsey-esque tantrum against Twellman; one gets the impression that’s what it will take sometimes.  The bigger picture is that the man is in a deadly rut with this team; Twellman has done his part in the last two MLS Cups only to see things fall apart behind him.  As such, I’d recommend a change of  scenery, acknowledging all the while that this is not the thinking of a Revolution fan.

Red Bull New York 2007 Review: An Atypically Typical Year

Red Bull New York
Record (W-L-T): 12-11-7; 47 GF, 45 GA
Source Material: Schedule/match reports; roster

Overview
All in all, and perhaps a little sadly, this was a pretty typical year for Major League Soccer’s (MLS) New York franchise: uneven, unsettled, and, as always, unrewarded.  But a couple oddities put a fresh twist or two on the familiar: a start to the season strong enough to convince a few that the team had rounded a corner; the simple, frankly shocking presence of a reliable scoring tandem; finally, the year of the designated player, the Year of the Bruce and how those factors interacted.  In a sense, then, the narrative for 2007 was all wrong in that it offered Red Bull New York something positively foreign: hope and promise.  That they kept that alive until, arguably, August inches a little bit further from the “typical.”  But Red Bull’s season ended as they always do, which means that even if things didn’t quite go to Hell after August, they got close enough to make legible the famous statement about hope posted on the gate.

Now, where does that leave us?  It was a typical year, but it wasn’t?  Damned unsatisfying, that, but it seems accurate.  For instance, in the typical column you had Clint Mathis back with the team and starring in the early going (not to mention getting sent off twice by early June – neat trick for an offensive player).   In the atypical column, the Red Bull roster featured one of the hottest American prospects in Josmer “Jozy” Altidore and one of the league’s deadliest forwards in Juan Pablo Angel.  Back in the typical column, Bruce Arena played the role of high-profile coach, while, almost tragically, Claudio Reyna played the too-familiar, over-priced under-achiever. Continue reading

LA 1-1 Red Bull: A Call for Group Therapy

If you care at all, you know that LA and Red Bull tied 1-1 last night – even if, at time of writing, MLSnet.com’s headline reads “Galaxy win again, keep hopes alive.” But, I ask that you bear with me through a digression – which relates to that game – to get at something about that draw.

Back in high school, we had this program called Natural Helpers. Comprised of students, Natural Helpers were meant to provide peer counseling, a kind of sympathetic ear that troubled students would be more willing to talk into as they sorted out teenage doubts and frustrations. Their fellow students volunteered people for the program, presumably due to their talent for listening or capacity for sage advice.

No one ever volunteered me for Natural Helpers (vague misanthropy fits poorly with the program), but one of my sisters made it in, allowing her to tell me a bit about the group – and, more specifically, about orientation. Everyone knew about the retreat, which involved a chaperoned weekend in the woods for all the new recruits. Everyone also knew what went on over that weekend: the kids got drunk, smoked acres of weed, shed tears over the tyranny of parents/social institutions and the cruelty of kids at school, and, after drying the tears, vigorous, healing sex ensued.

At least that’s what happened at my high school…I still regret that negative creep vibe.

But, if 60 Minutes (or maybe 20/20) is to be believed, the Natural Helpers program at my school might have been an aberration. A report I saw some years back portrayed a very different, deeply earnest program. Students in this version of Natural Helpers attended workshops on peer pressure and conducted trust exercises – all while sober. One workshop in particular got to the students: one where they had to walk a circle of their friends/fellow-Helpers, look them in the eye, and say “NO!” to them. They would all collapse into sobs by the third, or even second, friend. Very emotional stuff. Continue reading