Thursday, August 25, 2011

Klinsmann Roster, Take Two

Jurgen Klinsmann's second roster is out, and I've fired off some initial off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts here for you. First the roster which will be used for games against Costa Rica (9/2, at Home Depot Center) and Belgium (9/6 in Belgium), then my ramblings.

Bill Hamid, Tim Howard

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra, Edgar Castillo, Timmy Chandler, Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Zach Loyd, Michael Orozco Fiscal, Heath Pearce, Tim Ream

Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman, Clint Dempsey, Maurice Edu, Fabian Johnson, Sacha Kljestan, Jeff Larentowicz, Robbie Rogers, Brek Shea, Jose Torres

Forwards: Juan Agudelo, Jozy Altidore, Teal Bunbury, Landon Donovan

Surprising Omissions: This is a new manager of course so what went on beforehand should not necessarily be followed through by this regime. Case in point - Michael Bradley. The young Bradley was an absolute lock to start and go 90 under the previous coach but his role was lessened, other midfielders were given more responsibility and a new midfield began to sort itself out against Mexico. Now, Bradley is not part of the squad. Neither is Jermaine Jones. These are two guys who started in what will be the United States' most important game from the end of the World Cup until qualifying begins in 2012. And now they're gone.

Maybe they're not gone for good but this team is going to continue without them. The likes of Brek Shea, Jose Francisco Torres and Kyle Beckerman - each of whom did well for himself against Mexico - will continue to progress forward in the new-look midfield.

Fabian Who?: Even the most well-informed US supporter may not exactly have been clamoring for Fabian Johnson to get a call. Johnson is a German-born defender/midfielder who is all of 23 years of age. He recently said he would consider playing for the US after having played for several German youth national teams. Johnson along with Timothy Chandler and David Yeldell and Jones as well are part of a growing batch of US national team players who were born in Germany. Perhaps having Klinsmann aboard will see that figure grow. In any case, Chandler and Johnson are certainly capable of staking their claim on the squad. Johnson gets regular minutes for Hoffenheim and has a lot of upside. He's likely technically more advanced than other 23-year-olds. His biggest challenge will be adjusting to players with whom he's not played with much or at all, but Chandler did well to acclimate himself quickly and Johnson could do the same.

Defensive Stars: I've clamored for Chad Marshall and Todd Dunivant in the past and neither are here. Am I disappointed? Not really. In part because I've accepted the fact that neither could get called on by Klinsmann for whatever reason, but also because this is a good and versatile group. Left back is a spot where I thought Edgar Castillo did well against Mexico. Sure he was rough around the edges but I like the new mandate by Klinsmann in that position. Castillo may have been neutralized because a lot of Mexican players were familiar with him but I want to see him play with the same intensity against Costa Rica and Belgium. Heath Pearce is also a capable player who has done well in league this year. I'm a fan of Michael Orozco Fiscal and I can see him growing in confidence and poise with each and every game. Clarence Goodson is someone who can step in immediately and perform and in Chandler and Tim Ream there is youth and talent, although I am not sold on Ream quite yet. I'd like to see more from him but he's caught many coaches' eyes. I guess I'm just glad that we aren't getting Oguchi Onyewu time and again, whether he deserved to get a call or not.

Larento...huh?: Okay, Jeff Larentowicz may be a bit of a surprise. Now, I'm not certain he's a lock to play but I will say that he and Kyle Beckerman were in the same class a bit, standout midfielders for very good MLS teams who did not seem like national team material. Beckerman took major strides towards disproving that and now Larentowicz has the same chance. And that's all any player needs, right?, a chance.

My Ideal XI: From this group, in a game that means something...

Howard; Cherundolo, Bocanegra, Orozco Fiscal, Castillo; Beckerman, Edu, Shea, Dempsey; Donovan, Altidore.

Altidore is in fine form right now and bursting with confidence; otherwise I might be tempted to toss Dempsey and Donovan up high and throw Torres in the midfield. I'm an advocate of playing Torres and Shea together since they can create so much.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Real Influential

Remember when MLS teams couldn't buy a win in Mexico?

Way back in like 2010 and before, MLS teams did pretty bad south of the border. It was a little sad to see MLS teams go there, knowing that no matter what they did, it would not be good enough for a win. Heck, a draw would have been seen as an accomplishment.

But those days are gone. Not gone in the sense that MLS teams won't lose in Mexico or anything, but the time when Mexico meant an automatic loss for an MLS side certainly has disappeared.

FC Dallas shattered that record and Seattle brushed off the remains. Each took a 1-0 win from their respective games against Mexico, by identical 1-0 wins over Pumas and Monterrey, respectively.

Why the big change? What happened from the time when Seattle blew a 2-0 lead at Monterrey by allowing three goals in a four-minute span way back in 2010 to now when MLS teams can suddenly do no wrong in Mexico?

Real Salt Lake.

That's what happened.

RSL's run to the CONCACAF Champions League title came up excruciatingly short but the club's experience rubbed off on a lot of people. Galaxy players I spoke to about the Champions League said RSL's run made them look at the tournament in a different light, that they didn't really see the tournament before the way they see it now.

It makes sense. RSL's run was captivating and the way it ended, with RSL needing a result at home to secure a championship, made many feel as if it was going to happen. Why not? They'd gone down to Saprissa and done quite well, then pulled out a 2-2 draw at Monterrey, so a win at home was not exactly asking for too much.

It did not happen, though, but coming so close to glory probably made MLS players want to experience that for themselves. You don't know what you have until it's gone, right? So when MLS players, who probably jumped on RSL's bandwagon like so many other MLS supporters, felt the title slip away, they may have said the next time they are in position to fight for it themselves, they will do just that.

It's a mentality change that helped fuel MLS teams in Champions League. Aside from FC Dallas' historic win in Mexico, MLS clubs have done quite well for themselves thus far. No MLS team has lost and only Colorado's 1-1 draw at Honduras' Real Espana prevented the league from going a perfect 7-of-7 in CCL play.

Tonight FC Dallas and Toronto FC will meet so we may see the first MLS loss, but since it's coming against another MLS team, perhaps that's a bit of a wash.

Regardless, MLS teams now are making their push towards making their league become more influential in the region, at least on the field.

RSL helped push that door open.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Win Or Else

It's do-or-die for the LA Galaxy. It's win or else.

It may have been that way before but now that the Galaxy picked up Robbie Keane, it's definitely that way now.

Anything less than an MLS Cup victory will be a massive failure, particularly when it looks as if the Galaxy will have home-field advantage all the way through, from the first round of the playoffs to MLS Cup itself as it's at Home Depot Center this year.

What happens then if the Galaxy fall short? What if Seattle or FC Dallas or, as has been the norm the last couple of years, a team comes from out of nowhere and winds up hoisting the MLS Cup in late November?

Who would pay the price?

This team is a solid roster, from the quality that is on top with Landon Donovan, David Beckham and now Keane, to the standout younger players in Juninho and Omar Gonzalez, to the rock-solid stability found in veterans such as Todd Dunivant and Gregg Berhalter and the steady contributions from the likes of Mike Magee and Josh Saunders. This roster is talented, deep and a good mix of veterans and youth.

Can't blow up the roster, can you? Perhaps Beckham's contract situation might give the team an easy out in case of failure - change the direction of the team somewhat by getting rid of Beckham and bringing someone as influential (on the field anyway) as him.

But an even more drastic change? How about firing Bruce Arena? Is that even an option?

Management is making it clear - no excuses. Players themselves have said the same thing.

"You see how much our ownership group is willing to put into it – they’re putting all their resources behind us," Todd Dunivant said after Keane's first practice. "There are no excuses. We’ve got to go out and do our job."

The Galaxy have been close now for two years, and another close-but-no-championship-cigar would be disastrous. I picture management saying "What the hell do we need to do??" in some closed-door meeting if the Galaxy don't win MLS Cup.

Would making a change at coach be the answer?

Now, this isn't a team afraid of making such moves. Sigi Schmid was fired in 2004 with the Galaxy in first place in August. Octavio Zambrano was fired five games into the 1999 season, one year removed from having coached one of the best teams in MLS history (the Galaxy went on to reach MLS Cup 99 but lost to DC United).

There is a precedent with the Galaxy that winning teams doesn't always equate to job stability.

Arena may be different though. After all, he was able to bring some stability to what had turned into a cesspool of a club in 2008. He took the team from worst to first in one season and with him the club has been a force in MLS.

But without a championship this year, in particular this year as the game is at Home Depot Center and Beckham's in the final year of his contract, will management take their frustrations out on Arena?

While management certainly acts as if MLS Cup is a foregone conclusion now - Tim Leiweke was particularly brash and arrogant at Keane's introductory event - MLS history has shown that it's anything but. More than half of the teams in the league now will reach the playoffs and one of the teams that barely got in will certainly look to make a run. It could be Chivas, DC United, Houston or someone else who has shown massive flaws during the season yet gets hot at the right time.

The road will be a challenge no matter who is in the Galaxy's way, no matter how strong the Galaxy finish the season.

Now, I don't necessarily agree with placing the blame on Arena. He's done well to build a strong team in a relatively short amount of time. But it's clear that management expects and demands a championship this season, and not just the Supporters' Shield. Say what you will about what means more and what's more of an accomplishment but MLS Cup is the trophy ownership wants.

And if the Galaxy comes up short, who will take the fall?

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Keane Start

The LA Galaxy rolled out the red carpet for Robbie Keane as the club spared no expense for Friday's presentation/press conference. Free food, free Guinness and lots of people to see him for the first time in the flesh.

He didn't exactly disappoint on Saturday, did he?

Keane scored a goal on his debut for the Galaxy and was rather calm about it afterward. He's scored lots of goals of course and probably doesn't get too overly enthused about them at this point. Still, he did his trademark cartwheel and somersault after his goal, which was certainly a treat for LA Galaxy fans to see not only in person but also right away.

Here's a story where teammates such as Landon Donovan and David Beckham react to Keane's first match.

Now, I guess I'm not surprised he scored right away. His track record certainly suggested that that was a possibility. And with all the hoopla surrounding his arrival, perhaps he was a bit more focused than normal.

There is part of me that thinks such a goal under the circumstances he scored it in is not the greatest endorsement for the league. He had one training session and hadn't played a game in nine days, yet he comes straight into the team and puts a goal away.

I don't know, maybe that has more to do with how piss-poor the Earthquakes are right now.

Regardless, Keane goals/cartwheels/somersaults aren't something that we'll see little of at Home Depot Center this year.

But will it put them over the top? I know the initial reaction among many is to say yes, that this guarantees the Galaxy the Supporters' Shield and gives them a good chance of reaching MLS Cup. Heck, the way Tim Leiweke trotted out Keane and how brash he was with his own remarks, I'm sure he certainly thinks Keane will guarantee the Galaxy a trip to MLS Cup at worst.

The Supporters' Shield is certainly within reach. The games are becoming scarce and Seattle is the only team with a realistic chance of catching the Galaxy at this point... RSL has a long shot in doing so... but otherwise it's the Sounders in hot pursuit and that's it.

Keane, he'll help. But the playoffs, we've seen, haven't exactly favored the stronger teams.

And if Leiweke wants to guarantee his team a chance at anything, perhaps he should figure out a way to make it so the Supporters' Shield winner isn't on equal footing with some mediocre team that barely squeeked into the playoffs on day of the pursuit towards MLS Cup.

But that's another topic for another day. For now, we wait to see how Keane's body will respond to his first game, whether Arena will use him on Thursday against Alajuelense and how much he'll play then and Sunday in New York. My guess is he'll play 45 minutes against Alajuelense (starting the match on the bench) and will start and play 60-75 at New York.

No reason to burn him out right away.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

More Galaxy Reax

By the time Keane and Arena finished the post-game presser, the visitor's locker room was almost all devoid of Earthquake players. That wasn't too surprising, because in general, the losing team clears out quickly. 

The lovely Mrs. Keane was in the hallway to have a quick word with her goalscoring hubby. She was twirling a lock of blonde hair around her finger while speaking to him. I think she was a bit startled at the reporters rushing past her as if she wasn't even there. Sports media in the USA hasn't really caught onto the WAG culture of Britain, and no one tried to take a picture or ask her a question. 

In the locker room, rap music was blasting. I asked defender Omar Gonzalez about it and he told me the players take turns playing DJ for the locker room during training days, but he wasn't sure who was in charge of the tunes for gameday. He guessed goalkeeper coach Ian Feuer was responsible. 

Omar also acknowledged that he's been trying to emulate teammate Beckham with that long pass sent to Keane that Robbie couldn't quite convert. 

"I see David hit passes like that all the time, and I'm pretty confident in my ability to hit long passes from the box, too. So I thought, why not? It worked before. It almost worked again."

On the loss of Juan Pablo Angel to Chivas USA: It was hard. Juan was a great teammate with a great work ethic. That's the toughest part of this profession, but I hope it works out for him.

On the Galaxy's upcoming stretch of games: We've just got to take it one game at a time. Maybe we'll see more players in during certain games. 

On Hejduk on the backline: It doesn't matter who is back there. We trust every player. AJ, Gregg, Frankie, Sean, Bryan, they can all step in and do a great job. 

On Keane: He scored, so that's exactly what we wanted. It's great.

The scrum around Becks for quotes was scary large, so I avoided it completely, talking to Todd Dunivant instead. 

On the SJ rivalry: I think it's still alive. It's changed through the years, especially because the team didn't exist for a couple of years, but I think it's still there. You saw our fans trying to shout them down this match and that really made a good atmosphere. 

On Angel's departure: Angel will really be missed. He was a great guy, very classy player and a hard worker. We found out at halftime that he scored for Chivas USA and I really wish him the best. 

On Keane: What a way to introduce himself to the team and fans. We're really happy to have him here. 

On the red card foul on Donovan: It happened right in front of me. (Beitashour) had a chance to avoid him, and go clear over him, but he very clearly brought his foot down on Landon's knee. It was definitely intentional. I was just trying to defend my teammate.

Stats - Saunders had six saves (say that five times fast), and the Galaxy had only two shots on goal the whole match. Of course, they made goals out of both shots. Keane had three shots total. Aside from the goal, his other attempts were high and wide. 

Keane Debut Aftermath

Seems many think that Becks was juiced by Keane's addition to the squad.  
Keane has been invited to the post-game presser. Here he is now with Arena. 

"This was a hard game for us tonight. I thought San Jose was dangerous." Arena says. The coach says he thought the Galaxy looked tired at points, and it was good to get new players like Keane and Hejduk some work. "We're elated with Robbie. I think he had a great 70 minutes for us tonight."

Keane speaks. "All in all, we have to be pleased with the three points." 

Arena: He's a fit athlete and after he gets in a few games, he'll be in top shape. I wanted to give him as many minutes as I could. With this travel and time zone, it's not easy. 

Keane: When you go into a new team, it's always nice to score. When you play a few games without scoring, it can play with your mind.

On playing with David Beckham: When you play with good players, it's easy to play well. 

On what he expected of his non-famous teammates: I didn't expect anything, to be honest. As the games will go on, three or four games, I'll get to know the players better and a better understanding will make us a better team. 

On playing Henry and New York: It's a big game that I'm looking forward to, but first we have a big game on Thursday and then I'll look forward to that. 

On playing with emotion: I like to play with energy, I've always done that. I had a good night's sleep. I was delighted to get 90 minutes. 

On fans: It was fantastic. The reception I got, since I got to the airport was great. I hope I repaid them with a goal and that there's a lot more to come.

Arena: Over the next few years, I think MLS is going to attract a lot more players like Keane.

Keane, on expectations: I'll do the same I did tonight. I'm here to score goals.
On his celebration: I've been celebrating that way for 14 years. Where have you been?

Robbie Keane's Galaxy debut

So there is general consensus among the Galaxy fans I talked to that Robbie Keane is a good signing for the squad. One, however, admitted to being a disgruntled West Ham fan and said that the Galaxy would regret the move. 
There's a bit of extra pressure on Robbie tonight, perhaps, because the player moved in order for him to be signed, Juan Pablo Angel, scored tonight for Chivas USA. 
One Galaxy administrator was up here in the pressbox and commented on how he was surprised that Galaxy fans were so patient with Angel, given that he really didn't do what he'd been signed to do. 
However, Angel is just a class act. Even if he wasn't scoring, he clearly wanted to do so, and he never blamed anyone or anything for his lack of production. Taking responsibility goes a long way with fans, and I think many of them sincerely hoped Angel would bust out of the slump. 
Yet there's already some grumbling in the pressbox as well from a few of the Spanish media, with a couple of reporters exclaiming that the Keane signing (and the Angel trade) is another example of the team ignoring the Hispanic community.  We'll see soon if Keane performs in a way that wins hearts and influences people. 
LA Galaxy fans want this win over San Jose badly. The fires of the old rivalry still burn deep. The Angel City Brigade brought Smurf posters to mock the SJ fans who made the trip. 
Keane gets a good cheer from the fans in the player announcements. They want this signing to work.
The anthem has been played, and Keane posed with the squad for the team photo. They're throwing him right into the mix from the start. 
Not every seat is full in the stands, but LA fans arrive late. The grass section has been opened up for general seating, and that usually means an official sell out. 27, 000.
1 - The Galaxy have a chance right from the start, as Busch dives but can't reach a Christman shot after Juninho found him with a sweet pass. Off the post! 
3 - MacDonald with the shot, but Saunders blocks it and Hejduk is on to the rebound to clear before the much-younger Wondo can react. 
5 - Keane gets the ball to LD, who gives it right back. Keane doesn't make a total hash out of it, but neither is he able to shoot, and the Earthquakes eventually win the ball.
7 - Hejduk with a good run helps the Galaxy earn a corner.  It's not a great one by Becks - short, and the Galaxy don't get the call on last touch. Goal kick. 
9 - Keane is wearing Edson Buddle's old number. He hasn't proved he can score like Edson did for the Galaxy, though. Incidently, the scuttlebut in the pressbox is that the Galaxy tried to bring Edson back to the team, but he turned down the offer, miffed that the team had moved for Angel in the first place instead of simply paying their scoring star more money.  
12 - Wily Hejduk outhustles Khari Stephenson to the ball in the box. That's got to be embarrassing.  40 is around the corner for Frankie. 
13 - Keane with a shot! Busch saves. Although it looked like offside on the play, it wasn't because SJ played the ball back, though unintentionally via a bad rebounded pass.  
14 - Franklin with a shot as the ball bounced out to him from the corner. 
15 - Keane gets the ball in the net this time, but this time, the offside was valid and called. No goal.  Actually, it wasn't in the net, either, but the outside of it. 
16 - Corrales with a chippy foul on LD just outside the box. Freekick hits the wall. 
17 - Dunivant threads a cross in front of goal, but Cristman misses the header. Opportunity blown. 
19 - Now it's Keane's turn to miss one. Hejduk cross, Cristman whiffs on the header, which turns into a dummy pass for a surprised Keane, who still manages to connect, but it's wide by a foot. 
20 - GOAL! Keane. Franklin, no, Beckham with a long pass out of the back, which bounces perfectly for Keane to rush past the backline. Busch is discomfited running out for the ball, tries to block a shot he anticipates, but Keane plays and cool and just follows the bouncing ball past the keeper. With the goal wide open, Keane hits a sliding angled shot for the goal and celebrates with a cartwheel.  His teammates swarm over him, welcoming the new guy.
23 - Cristman is down outside the box, but doesn't get the call.
27 - Good interplay as LD to Keane, to Cristman, to LD, who shoots, and earns a corner. Corner comes to nothing, though. 
29 - Becks is having words with the ref.  
30 - Pretty lively play from both sides. SJ not laying down.  
32 - Good play gets Bobby Convey in the Galaxy box for a shot that just barely gets deflected wide. Corner is cleared.  
34 - Becks trips Convery from behind. That's one way to stop him. The freekick leads to a shot that a diving Saunders barely stops. Quakes looking good.  
36 - Galaxy corner - this one is good from Becks, but everyone misses it.  
37 - Quakes turn with a corner, but the Galaxy clear. 
38 - Wondo whiffs! How on earth did he beat Buddle out for the Golden Boot last year?
40 - Quakes just welcomed Keane to MLS with a nice crunching tackle. Howyadoing, Ireland captain? 
41 - Becks freekick gets sent right back to him, and a Quakes outlet pass finds Stephenson racing Franklin to the ball - Steph hits side netting. 
42 - Saunders nice one-handed deflect of a Baca shot. Convey takes the corner to jeers of "US Reject!" from the LA Riot Squad. 
44 - Berhalter is helpfully cluing the linesman in to Wondo's offside even before the pass is sent.  
45 - Quakes pushing hard for the tying goal before the whistle.  
They don't get it. Halftime. Keane is the 18th Galaxy player to score on his debut with the team. I remember LD doing it. Beckham's not one of the other 16, though.  
47 - Alecko Eskandarian was the last player to score on his Galaxy debut. He's retired now, poor Alecko. Too many concussions. 
49 - Corrales with a good run builds a play that forces a Saunders save.  
50 - Cristman is awkwardly earnest up front, working hard, but just hashed up a Keane pass.  
52 - During halftime, an Irish reporter here for Keane's debut said the Earthquakes seemed "disorganized". They're looking more cohesive now, causing the Galaxy problems.  
53 - Interesting. Keane passes up the chance to pass to Cristman a through pass to give the youngster a shot on goal,  waiting instead to set up a give-go for his own run. By this time, the SJ defense has set up, and Cristman gets a nasty foul on Burling fighting for the ball. 
55 - Baca gets a yellow for simulation. It's true he wasn't touched by a Galaxy player, but he also seemed to trip, not dive. Then again, he didn't exactly bounce back up.  
56 - Saunders collides with Dunivant punching out a ball. He eventually shakes off the encounter, though is seemed to involve a twisted shoulder. 
57 - Stephenson misses just wide. 
59 - Quakes with the better of play of late.  
61 - Hernandez goes over the back of Cristman, but the big blonde shakes off the foul. 
62 - A group of Quakes fans faithful keep chanting in the corner - making the Galaxy fans work to drown them out. Builds a good atmosphere. 
63 - Gonzalez booms a long pass - over the top of the defense, perfect for Keane - who shanks it over the goal. Somewhere, West Ham fans are smiling, "I told you so." 
64 - Still a great pass from Gonzales. Juergen, are you watching? 
65 - Becks gets upended by a late tackle by Convey. Free kick reaches Dunivant, who can't direct header well from an awkward position. 
68 - Hejduk trips Morrow, sees yellow for it. 
69 - Galaxy defenders clear the freekick and Saunders catches the eventual shot that the Quakes manage to build up. 
71 - Wondo is out for Simon Dawkins, Steph out for Edmundo Zura. Galaxy bring in Mike Magee for Keane, who gets a standing ovation from the fans.  Mighty Magee gets a good cheer from fans, too, who still remember his exploits in goal.
74 - Quakes with a dangerous freekick, but the Galaxy clear it.  
76 - A bit of sting has gone out of the match. Quakes are still pushing, Galaxy still holding them off, but the pattern has set in.  
77 - Saunders and Zura tangle when the goalkeeper comes out to punch the ball, but a solid Gonzalez header clears the danger. Are you watching, Jurgen? 
79 - Cristman gets a nice cheer from the fans as he exits in favor of Miguel Lopez.  Hopefully, Cristman's hard work will overcome his ineptitude. Actually, he's a fairly decent forward, but injury has stunted his development. 
82 - Ouch. LD gets cleated in the knee by Steven Beitashour. Red card. That was stupid. SJ are basically doomed now.  
85 - Although not by that crappy Magee pass. He hits it behind an open LD, who slips trying to reverse direction.  
87 - SJ corner comes to nothing.  
89 - However, a focused SJ team is passing the ball fairly well - oh, there's a Galaxy break - but Lopez can't connect on the cross for the finishing goal. Decent try, though.  
90 - Great Becks cross - and Magee directs the header wide. Yikes. 
GOAL! Then another Galaxy play builds and Franklin slides a cross across goal for Magee - and he nails it.  Magee regains hero status.  
90+ Dan Keat  comes on for Franklin, who is subbed off to a big cheer.
QUakes build up a decent chance, but Baca misses the Corrales cross. 
Fulltime! Keane is welcome in Los Angeles. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Home On The Range

The Galaxy have signed Robbie Keane, making their current Designated Player striker, Juan Pablo Angel, a disposable asset. 

Of course, the move didn't come from out of the blue. The Galaxy need a forward who can be effective, or the club probably won't survive the playoffs. Angel wasn't much of a force for the Galaxy at all. Normally, bringing in an overseas striker for a proven MLS performer isn't the best move, but Angel's production dropped off a cliff when he joined the Los Angeles squad. 

Luis had a theory earlier in the season that Angel was unsettled because his family remained back East. They finally completed the arrangements to join him, but now he's been traded. 
On the plus side, it looks like Angel is headed across the hallway to join Chivas USA. So perhaps LA's rivals will reap the benefits of an avenging Angel, who certainly didn't seem happy about the trade. 

It's funny how one of Bruce Arena's best coaching moves was to bring Angel to New York, and one of his worst moves was to bring the same player to LA. 

Yet it also seems to be Arena's weakness to hang on to the past glories of certain players for far too long, Jeff Agoos, Claudio Reyna and John O'Brien certainly come to mind. 

Will Keane be a scoring star for the Galaxy? Meh, the fantasy of a big name player joining MLS and tearing up the league simply doesn't happen very often. About the last time it worked out was with Angel.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Fun of it All

As someone who knew Luis when he was very overweight, I've seen first hand his transformation and have gotten occasional glimpses into the effort losing so many pounds entailed. Of course, that doesn't mean I have a true inkling of how much blood, sweat and tears all of it took. I'm still working on my first marathon (hopefully in Luis' pace group) scheduled for next year. 

Yet as much as I respect Luis for putting in the work required to change his life to a healthier one, and as much as I believe Bob Bradley is an excellent ideal for the discipline that leads to effective results, I can't help but think there's more to the beautiful game than working hard. 

That's honestly what encouraged me the most about watching Klinsmann in his first USA game as coach. "Grinsy Klinsy" has been teased about his enjoyment of the sport and of life itself, before, but it's both an infectious and important reminder to see his enthusiasm for the game. 
Bradley's intensity was impressively intense. Then again, there's a reason why the word "tense" is part of "intense". 

I'm not saying there wasn't a lighthearted side to Bradley. He's human, and actually has a clever sense of humor. His moments of levity as a coach probably had more effect on the squad partly because something special is by definition a bit rare.

Yet Bradley was definitely all about the work, and that was the mantra he continuously preached to players. 

The reason that didn't always sit well with me is that I fell in love with soccer not because of love for the industry and effort the sport required, though I respect the running and stamina the non-stop action demands. But what I love are the creative, special moments. I marvel at the players who have the skill to dance with the ball, the intuition to find a teammate with a no-look pass, the precision to bury a cross into the net with one touch. I cheer for daring dribbling against multiple opponents,  fearless diving headers, bicycle kicks, slick rabonas, the Cuauhtemina, the Cryuff turn, the bending freekicks, the cheeky shots through the legs.

What most encouraged me about Klinsmann's debut in the USA - Mexico friendly was seeing how he simply enjoyed the game and communicated that to his players. Klinsmann didn't just nod at the USA players who came off the field, acknowledging their effort. His genuine enthusiasm communicated to each player personal affirmation, appreciation and a whole, "ain't this grand?" vibe.

I didn't see a cohesive, mature and disciplined USA squad versus Mexico, but there was energy, especially in the second half. Most of all, there was a freedom, an exploratory nature, to their attack at that point. Yes, it needs to be less random to be effective, but it was still encouraging to see. 

"Attacking, fearless, and fun" is what I texted to a former player who asked me what I'd seen to like about the USA in the match. 

"Fun is the key word" he texted back. 

I think it really is. Inspiration is too often overlooked as a coaching criteria. Soccer is a creative game, and to really play well, one must love to play and have fun with the ball. The USA isn't going to get better at the beautiful game simply by having more young players turn pro at a younger age. It's going to take more players kicking the ball around by themselves, trying crazy tricks and turns, dancing with the ball, taking almost-impossible shots again and again, putting in the work without ever thinking of it as work, learning and growing through the sheer fun of it all. 

Klinsmann fell in love with the sport like that, and he still retains some of that spark. Hopefully, he can use that spark to light a fire in USA soccer.

Up Next For USMNT

It's not often the US national team comes around these parts, around SoCal.

Sure, Home Depot Center gets a friendly once a year, but that's in January after a weeks-long camp that usually features a bunch of new faces. While those friendlies can be entertaining, it's tough to watch the US play international friendlies on FIFA dates (with full teams) as well as World Cup qualifying matches and other meaningful games in far-flung destinations around the country.

This year has been a bit of a treat for local US fans. Okay, maybe it's not as much of a treat to have watched the U.S. lose to Mexico in the Gold Cup final but the chance to watch the U.S. play in the final of a tournament isn't one that comes around that often.

And neither is the chance to watch a strong U.S. team at Home Depot Center.

Such is the case on Sept. 2 when the U.S. hosts Costa Rica at Home Depot Center. Since it's a FIFA date, US coach Jurgen Klinsmann will have the option of calling in his full side for the match.

But some were trying to take this joy away from local US fans. Some were suggesting that Klinsmann call in a team of MLS players to play in this match and then call in a team of European-based players for the came in Belgium, slated for Sept. 6.

Thankfully, Klinsmann put that to rest. After the Mexico match, Klinsmann said he would use the same team for both games.

It just makes sense. He had, what?, two training sessions, three maybe, to handle the US before a game against Mexico, changed things around nevertheless and came away with a 1-1 result and, more importantly, a strong sense that things were changing for the better.

This will be a chance for Klinsmann now to spend some more time with the team, to further instill his system, his style, his tactics and to help the team grow and develop. Why not call in the same team for both games?

I get the travel is long and the flights are tough from Europe to Southern California. But oh well. They're big boys, they can deal with it. Chalk that up to job hazards. Besides, the players will have Sunday to travel and Monday to get adjusted. It won't be the first transatlantic flight for those guys. Tuesday would be a day where you could start to get together and train while Wednesday and Thursday could be more intense training sessions before the match on Friday.

Regardless of the intensity of the training sessions, though, simply allowing for Klinsmann to be with the team's key players both now and in the near future will be vital for the growth and development of the squad.

A Believer In The Work

In my life - outside of family - there are three people who have influenced me the most, whom I can point to as being a true role model for me. One was Paul Oberjuerge, my former editor at The San Bernardino Sun, who gave me my start in journalism and allowed me to cover soccer back in 1998. The other was a trainer I had at my local gym, whom you will hear about soon enough. The third was Bob Bradley, recently deposed U.S. men's national team coach. Why Bob Bradley? Let me tell you why (and I don't think I've ever told this to anyone) ...

The work. Believe in the work.

Anyone who spent any amount of time around Bob Bradley in 2006 heard about the work.

Results weren't important because as long as players put in the work in training, things would take care of themselves. In fact, the only way to have a chance of positive results was through the work the players put in training.

It seemed like a strange concept for me. I mean, wins and losses are pretty objective while the work was rather subjective. Chivas USA had had a miserable 2005 season and they needed a turnaround - and a fast one at that. That meant wins and draws, something they'd had far too little of the year before.

And Bob Bradley was the man entrusted to steer the ship in the right direction. Right off the bat, he tried to change the culture surrounding the club, by bringing in guys like Ante Razov and Jesse Marsch, drafting the likes of Jonathan Bornstein and Sacha Kljestan and helping them mesh with incumbent stars in Juan Pablo Garcia and Francisco "Paco" Palencia.

How would that team be judged? I knew that it wouldn't be judged by the work. At least, that wasn't my initial reaction.

Around the start of the 2006 season, I had come to a bit of a crossroads in my own life. I'd always struggled with weight. I had been overweight in my youth, got a bit bigger once out of high school but for the latter part of my 20s, I ballooned out of control, tipping the scales at more than 300 pounds.

I didn't have the work in me to do anything but sit around and eat.

But in March 2006 I began meeting with a personal trainer at the local gym. It was an interesting experience. I wasn't around gyms very often those days... or any days before then to be honest. You don't get to three bills by going to the gym, after all. But there I was, not really having much confidence in myself, feeling like it was a lost cause even before I got into the gym, wondering if I should just leave the trainer hanging and bail.

I stuck with him through our initial meeting, though. I weighed in at a whopping 308.6 pounds. Afterward, the trainer asked me what I wanted my goal to be. I told him that I wanted a one in front of my weight. It was pie in the sky, I was fully aware. Later, we went and worked out. I did the elliptical for seven minutes, the exercise bike for eight more and was sore for three days afterward.

But this time I wanted to give it a good try, this weight loss thing. I hadn't ever really been serious about it, but this time I figured may as well. I had two little girls, ages 2 and 6 months, and I didn't want to be the "fat dad" at school. It was already embarrassing enough being around professional athletes looking the way I did. I didn't want to embarrass my daughters once they were old enough to realize such things.

I remember one of the first times I interviewed Bob Bradley, right around the time I'd met the trainer for the first time. I was sweating like crazy - I used to sweat a lot for no reason. I asked him a few questions. He talked about the work that the team was putting in during the preseason.

It seemed like every time I caught Bob Bradley after a training session, he brought up the work. The work was good, the work was getting better, the work, the work, the work... It was hardly ever about wins and losses, mostly always the work.

I started to put in a lot of my own work in at the gym. As the season began, so too did my weight-loss journey. I was doing cardio, working out on the elliptical. I was doing circuits on different machines, working out my legs, arms and keeping my heart rate up. It was slow at first, painful most of the time and, to be honest, enjoyable none of the time, but I had put my faith in the trainer. And I'd paid about $1,000 for 20 sessions, so I also had that to drive me.

Now, my trainer did not want for me to weigh myself very often. He said the best way to get an accurate gauge of my progress was to weigh myself once a month. He had my faith, so I didn't deviate from his intsructions.

It was tough at times to not weigh myself. I was doing all of this stuff, I had changed my eating habits pretty much overnight (out with sodas, fast food, frozen dinners; in with veggies, home-cooked meals and water). I wanted to have some sort of affirmation that I was headed on the right path instead of the trainer's constant praise.

A light went off. Slowly at first, but it began to flicker.

Here I was, putting in the work. What was going to get me where I wanted to get? The work. What would be the most important thing for me to focus on? The work.

The scale would only tell so much. I could see some weight loss after a week and then relax and ease off on the work.

Much like Chivas USA could have gotten excited about a win and may have started to ease up on their own work.

For both of us, things were paying off, right?

Much like wins and losses, my own weight was not the most accurate reflection of myself back then. It was in the work. I had to stay true to the work in the gym, to the work I put in when preparing meals, when avoiding junk food, when avoiding going over my calories.

I understood what Bob Bradley had preached for so long.

The work had become the most important thing in my life.

After one month, I had lost 10 pounds. The second month, I dropped 13 more. For five consecutive months, I lost double-digit pounds. By November, I was down to 250 pounds, the lightest I'd been in years. I may not have looked like it but I felt like a new man.

Bob Bradley left Chivas USA in December 2006 for the U.S. national team. My trainer had departed my gym only a month prior. I was to fend for myself. That winter featured few workouts but also no pounds gained.

The gym was not a part of my life in December, or in January 2007, or in February. By March of that year, I told myself that one of two things would happen - 1) I would go back to the gym, re-dedicate myself to the work and lose the rest of my weight, or 2) I would put it all back on.

Number two was not an option. It just wasn't. I went back to the gym. On my own, I started working out, hitting the elliptical and the weight machines for the most part. Like a cattle prod on my backside, Bob Bradley's words about the work would resurface at the gym.

I weighed myself about once every two weeks. After one stretch that saw me hit the gym for about six out of seven days, I didn't lose a single pound. I had started at 236 and finished at 236. I upped the work. It wasn't good enough and the work became twice as challenging. By October of 2007, I had dropped to 199. By November, I got under 190, probably for the first time since I was in high school.

The work. It worked. Who would have known that such a philosophy would have carried over from the soccer field to a source it was likely never intended to influence?

Me, in June 2005 and at the finish line of the 2010 San Francisco Marathon

Since then, I took up running. I started slowly, running a 5K in June 2008 and a 10K later that year. I ran a half-marathon in April 2009 and ran my first marathon in February 2010. I have run four marathons now and will run marathon number five in March 2012... and hopefully marathons six and seven will follow next year as well.

I'm confident in myself. I am a believer in the work. I'm all about the work I put in when I run. Running a marathon is great but training for it, putting in long runs on weekends and getting my midweek runs - doing the work - is what will get me to the finish line. The work is what counts, not my time.

Thank you Bob Bradley, for instilling the work in me.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Klinsmann's Debut: Initial Reactions

Jurgen Klinsmann's US debut came and went and left behind a night-and-day performance and a 1-1 draw against Mexico.

So what can we conclude about the match? Well, I'm not one to draw major conclusions from a friendly, but since this wasn't just any other friendly, here are some things that jumped out at me.

* Brek Shea is good: Yes, the FC Dallas star is a pretty good player. I'd vote him as my MLS Most Valuable Player right now, and he continued his stellar game-changing performances against Mexico. Shea created the game-tying goal by finding space to slip a ball across the goal mouth to Robbie Rogers. Shea's play with FC Dallas has been screaming national team inclusion, and his play off the bench should help him gain a stronger foothold on the squad.

* Midfield madness: So many players saw time in the middle of the field on Wednesday. It was a good thing, don't get me wrong. It's just kind of difficult to digest all of them. For me, it was nice to see Jose Torres play as long as he did and also nice that both him and Shea were on the field at the same time. With Torres and Landon Donovan and Shea knocking the ball around to one another, there is potential there to create some offense and break down opposing defenses. Torres did better when Shea came in as he was allowed to play more centrally. It looks as if Torres could become a key figure in the middle of the field.

* Forward's struggles: Edson Buddle did well to knock bodies around but was unable to receive the ball too much. His replacement, Juan Agudelo, had some touches - some of them good - but had poor decision-making and was a hindrance more than anything. The forwards did not really perform well at all, but perhaps that was a difficult thing to ask considering how the team played overall in terms of where the buildup came from. Perhaps it would be best to play Clint Dempsey up top alone as his scrappy type of play may have come in handy on the field Wednesday.

* Solid D: Michael Orozco may not have been a first choice of many to start but Orozco did not look out of his league in the match. Quite the contrary, he more than held his own against Mexico. How much that has to do with his own ability and how much that has to do with the fact that he's seen most of those guys in league play is uncertain but what is for sure is that he is now in the mix to gain playing time in upcoming matches.

* Change is good: Change truly was a good thing for this team. There are a lot of areas that need addressing still and definitely some rough edges but that need softening but Klinsmann has had all of three days to work with the team and already it looked much different than the U.S. has looked in a while. It looked as if the U.S. players were ready to run themselves into the ground if need be. Donovan on one play showed some great determination when he darted around a defender on the left side of the penalty area and raced in towards the goal only to be knocked down and not receive a penalty in his favor. It may or may not have been a foul but Donovan sure did not look tired or winded while racing around the corner. And neither did any US players for that matter. There was a lot more energy and desire on the field tonight than there has been for a while.

What stood out for you the most?

Instant Reliance

What lineup will Jurgen Klinsmann use tonight in his USMNT debut against Mexico?

We'll all have to wait and see of course, and another thing we'll have to wait and see about is what players Klinsmann will rely heavily on during his time as US coach.

Might those players be on the field tonight against Mexico? It's not only possible but likely that some key players from the Klinsmann era will be on display from the start. Take a look at previous US coaches' debuts and you'll see some coaches who jumped right into it with some players who would be key in their respective cycles.

Bob Bradley's first match

USA 3:1 Denmark
at Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.

USA: Matt Reis; Chris Albright (Bryan Namoff, 63), Jimmy Conrad, Bobby Boswell (Dan Califf, 89), Jonathan Bornstein; Pablo Mastroeni (Kyle Beckerman, 86), Ricardo Clark, Landon Donovan, Chris Rolfe (Heath Pearce, 74); Eddie Johnson (Kenny Cooper, 63), Nate Jaqua (Justin Mapp, 46)

* Both Bornstein and Clark would go on to play in the 2007 Gold Cup, 2007 Copa America, 2009 Confederations Cup and 2010 World Cup. This was their first cap for the US.

* Donovan also did the same but he was already an established player.

Bruce Arena's first match

USA 0:0 Australia
at Spartan Stadium, San Jose, Calif.

USA: Zach Thornton, Jeff Agoos, Carlos Llamosa, Eddie Pope, Richie Williams (Chris
Armas 46), Eddie Lewis (Ben Olsen 73), Clint Mathis (Mark Chung 69), Joe-Max
Moore, Cobi Jones, Roy Lassiter (CJ Brown 90+), Brian McBride

* This was a radical shift, since this match featured only MLS players.

* Jeff Agoos, Clint Mathis, Joe-Max Moore, Carlos Llamosa and Cobi Jones went on to represent the US at the 2002 World Cup while Eddie Pope, Eddie Lewis and Brian McBride played for the US in both the 02 and 06 World Cups.

* Ben Olsen didn't make the US roster for the 02 World Cup but was in Germany for 2006.

Maybe it's too far to look back at this but just for kicks... (draw your own conclusions)

Steve Sampson's first match

USA 2:2 Uruguay
at Cotton Bowl, Dallas, Texas

USA: Jurgen Sommer, Lawrence Lozzano (Zak Ibsen 46), Alexi Lalas, Paul Caligiuri,
Jeff Agoos, Cobi Jones, Mike Burns, Chad Deering (Ante Razov 46), John Kerr, Jovan
Kirovski, Ernie Stewart

Anyway, it might seem like there's an established hierarchy of players on the team that Klinsmann takes over from Bradley, with guys like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra, Tim Howard *the* unquestioned stars of the team and their respective positions. And it might seem like youngsters like Brek Shea, Edgar Castillo, Michael Orozco, Tim Ream, Jose Francisco Torres, Bill Hamid and Juan Agudelo are perhaps too young and inexperienced to rely on right now.

Maybe, but the first group of players will all be well into their 30s in 2014. Someone's going to have to step up and fill those other roles. Klinsmann's probably well aware of it all, and maybe pegging some of these youngsters as key players right from the start.

It's not like it hasn't happened before.

Klinsmann Era Gets Underway

Jurgen Klinsmann will begin his USMNT coaching career with a game against Mexico tonight in Philadelphia.

While the result won't mean a whole heck of a lot, some (many?) fans and media are taking this game rather seriously. Of course, it's a game no US supporter wants to lose. It doesn't matter if it's a friendly, a qualifier, a game on FIFA 11.... probably no US fan wants to lose to Mexico under any circumstances.

Before I get into the heart of this post, I think that sometimes it's necessary to go back in order to move forward. A bad loss here may not necessarily mean the ship is sinking or that the US is really in a tailspin. In fact, I wrote a story about the virtue of patience, at least Bruce Arena is preaching patience.

Anyway, it's perhaps interesting to look at how Arena progressed while looking at his matches against Mexico and the idea of patience. Remember, when Arena took over in 1998, the US team was in shambles after a terrible showing at the World Cup in France, highlighted (or perhaps low-lighted?) by player bickering and a bit of a revolt against then-coach Steve Sampson.

Arena was perhaps then under no immediate pressure - at least not more than usual - and had time to build the squad. There was patience.

His first match against Mexico went badly. Mexico beat the U.S. by 2-1 in San Diego at the USA Cup 99 in March of that year. In August, the US lost to Mexico in Estadio Azteca by 1-0 in extra time in a Confederations Cup semifinal (to this day, I will argue that that was the best chance the US has had of beating Mexico in Azteca, but we'll save that debate for another day).

Things started to slowly change in the United States' fortunes after that. A makeshift Mexico squad lost by 3-0 in USA Cup 2000 in June of that year. But in October, the tide really shifted towards the US in the border skirmish rivalry. Landon Donovan debuted with a goal in a US win over Mexico, by 2-0 in October at the LA Coliseum.

In February 2001, the US beat Mexico by 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier but lost to El Tri in Azteca in July by 1-0. A 1-0 friendly win in Denver preceded a World Cup Round of 16 matchup in 2002, won by the US and helping the squad reach the quarterfinals of the World Cup.

Patience then saw Arena guide the team not only to repeated success against Mexico but more importantly to the deepest stage the US had reached in the World Cup since 1930.

It took some early losses and early setbacks against Mexico but to help propel the US forward. And the Klinsmann era might also start with some setbacks against Mexico. Or it could be like Bob Bradley's first match against Mexico, a surprising (or was it?) 2-0 win over Mexico in Arizona in February 2007.

Either way, Klinsmann will get tossed into the fray with the United States' biggest regional rival. It's a measuring stick that will let Klinsmann know right away where the US stands on several levels.

Friday, August 5, 2011


CONCACAF Champions League groups were finally set after the second legs were completed this week. There weren't too many surprises as all MLS and Mexico teams went through - although Olimpia of Honduras made things interesting with Santos Laguna.

Each group looks difficult and each group has its challenges but perhaps the most challenging group is.... well, let me write about each group and decide.

Group A

LA Galaxy (USA)
Alajuelense (Costa Rica)
Morelia (Mexico)
Motagua (Honduras)

The Galaxy will try and put last year's qualifying debacle behind them as they will get their first crack at the Champions League (they've played in several Champions Cups prior). But the road is difficult for all teams. Tegucigalpa could be the most difficult venue amongst the quartet but Motagua has struggled on the road in their brief CONCACAF history. Morelia shredded their Haitian opposition in qualifying but in league, they are coming off a loss to Pumas. Morelia will meet up against Monterrey and Guadalajara before the tournament begins, which could reveal what kind of side Monarcas could be in league. Alajuelences meanwhile are a traditional power in Costa Rica and are trying to re-establish themselves, having won the last two Costa Rican league titles.

Group B

Colorado Rapids (USA)
Real Espana (Honduras)
Santos Laguna (Mexico)
Isidro Metapan (El Salvador)

Colorado won MLS Cup 2010 ahead of FC Dallas and claimed a spot in the tournament proper because of that, but the Rapids are not having as strong of a season as their cup rivals are. Colorado looked to have suffered some doom when forward Conor Casey was lost for the season recently but the team has responded well, with eight goals in three games since. Isidro Metapan will participate in the group stage for the second time as they reached the 09-10 edition, but the El Salvadorans seem like a longshot to advance. Santos Laguna have won their first two league games by a combined 7-1 and figure to be the toughest side in this group while Real Espana will have their challenging venue in San Pedro Sula as an advantage.

Group C

Pumas UNAM (Mexico)
Tauro (Panama)
FC Dallas (USA)
Toronto FC (Canada)

Pumas could be the best team in the entire tournament. The current Mexican league champions, Pumas have three wins in three games in the Apertura 2011 season thus far. Traditionally, though, Pumas have fielded reserves and youngsters for their international competition. How serious Pumas take this tournament should be evident from the start. Tauro of Panama reached the tournament directly and can be a tricky side - Tauro ousted Chivas USA from the tournament in 2008. This is the lone group with two MLS sides as Toronto and FC Dallas will square off two more times. FC Dallas has the horses to compete for a spot in the knockout rounds while Toronto has a new-look side who could come together well in this tournament. And Toronto could have the edge over FC Dallas and Tauro - Toronto tied Cruz Azul in Mexico in the tournament last time around, a rare result for an MLS side.

Group D

Monterrey (Mexico)
Comunicaciones (Guatemala)
Seattle Sounders (USA)
Herediano (Costa Rica)

The champions of CONCACAF lead Group D as Monterrey returns and will try to defend their title. Monterrey will be tough both home and away, as their second-leg victory over Real Salt Lake in the final earlier this year proved. Herediano are in their first group stage and were embarrassed by Cruz Azul in their first attempt at qualifying, losing at home by 6-2 in 2009. Comunicaciones have won 24 Guatemalan league titles and won a CONCACAF crown in the 70s but will be hard-pressed to do well in this tournament. Seattle Sounders meanwhile have the experience from 2010-11 to count on and did well to take care of San Francisco of Panama when they needed to in the preliminary round. Certainly Seattle have the talent to do well in this tournament.

Alright, based on my observations, some of which I included above, it seems to me that the toughest group is Group A. Motagua are a dangerous team loaded with strong players such as Amado Guevara, Guillermo "Pando" Ramirez and Ivan Guerrero - all former MLSers. Group A is wide open as any of the four could finish anywhere from first to last.

The weakest group seems like Group D. Guatemalan sides traditionally have fared poorly in this tournament while Herediano are wide-eyed first-timers. Group C looks top-heavy with Pumas playing so well of late but Toronto could surprise and be a bit of a wild card in the mix. Group B looks quite balanced. Although Santos have done well, they lost Christian Benitez and will rely on Oribe Peralta for offense.

The tournament kicks off on Aug. 16, and just what group proves to be the trickiest will begin to sort out soon enough.

Observations and Ideas on JK's first USA roster

Both Freddy Adu and Landon Donovan burned up youth teams as young forwards, and Klinsmann seems to have returned them to that spot, perhaps because of the current dearth of American attacking talent in front. DaMarcus Beasley as a forward seems to me a stretch, however. I'd really rather have seen Herculez Gomez get the call. Good to see Buddle wasn't forgotten, because I think he can contribute. 

In the midfield, I'm not surprised Michael Bradley got the call. He's a good player, and unlike others in Europe right now, he actually could use national team minutes. But by giving Clint Dempsey a rest, moving LD and Adu to forward, Klinsmann has made room in the midfield for a number of players who could either challenge Bradley for a starting spot or become his new regular partner there. Rico Clark, Mo Edu, J. Jones, even Kyle Beckerman. I wonder if Klinsmann's strategy here is to see all the possibilities play side by side and then make his evaluation. It's a bit of a science experiment, but I like the approach, because I feel that previous USA coaches didn't experiment enough with player combinations. Brek Shea is hopefully past the stage where a USMNT callup makes him run around like a purposeless headless chicken, and can instead show off the talent that shocks his detractors and delights his fans. Jose Torres has to prove he's ready for the big-time as well, because who else in that midfield (unless JK is just kidding with listing LD and Adu as forwards) is going to distribute with any creativity? 

Defenders - Orozco has some bite, but hopefully, he's learned to make wiser choices than that elbow he threw long ago in the Olympics, because Mexico, even in a friendly, is an intense match. Goodson is a good footsoldier, Castillo has a burner's speed, but needs to mind his defensive positioning, Ream has the opposite problem, with generally good positioning and not so much in the speed or aerial department. Latest reports are that Chandler is out with an injury, so the German jokes 'Dolo was planning to share with him about Klinsi will have to wait. I think it's good that Pearce gets another chance, because it seemed he was dropped rather quickly previously. I'd still like to see Dunivant get a look-see, though I grant that his speed, or rather, the standard of it, may be what's held him back on the international level. That's the kind of stuff that's tough to guess, though, because Dunny seems to get to where he needs to be to stop a defender just fine in MLS matches. 

Hamid is an interesting goalkeeping pick, and perhaps JK doesn't want Brad Guzan to get too comfortable as heir apparent. Or, even more likely, didn't want to pull him from his club's preseason. Howard, of course, is the standby, though he was far from rock solid in the Gold Cup final. I hope away from the media, he's focusing more on fixing the errors he made than worrying about the amount of Spanish the trophy announcer speaks.

I'm intrigued by the roster, but to me, the real glimpse of Klinsmann's plan will be how he uses these players. Who starts from this bunch and where? What would you like to see?

Goalkeepers: Bill Hamid, Tim Howard
Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra, Edgar Castillo, Timmy Chandler, Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Michael Orozco Fiscal, Heath Pearce, Tim Ream
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones, Brek Shea, Jose Torres
Forwards: Freddy Adu, Juan Agudelo, DaMarcus Beasley, Edson Buddle, Landon Donovan

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Klinsmann's First Roster: Good, Solid Mix

Finally, US Soccer coach Jurgen Klinsmann released his first-ever US national team roster as he called in 22 players to face Mexico on Aug. 10 in Philadelphia.

First the roster, then some thoughts.

Goalkeepers: Bill Hamid, Tim Howard

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra, Edgar Castillo, Timmy Chandler, Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Michael Orozco Fiscal, Heath Pearce, Tim Ream

Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones, Brek Shea, Jose Torres

Forwards: Freddy Adu, Juan Agudelo, DaMarcus Beasley, Edson Buddle, Landon Donovan

Surprises: Perhaps the biggest surprise on here is Bill Hamid, the young DC United 'keeper. Hamid has played 17 games for DC this season and is the man in charge there for the foreseable future. However, so is Tim Howard so Hamid's impact won't be felt until much later on, if at all.

Ricardo Clark and Michael Orozco Fiscal were surprise nods, each getting back on the squad after having fallen out of favor. DaMarcus Beasley returns as well. Beasley worked hard to get himself onto a club and has done well in his limited time with Puebla. Beasley is not quite at the age where he can be put out to pasture so he still has something to offer. Orozco Fiscal gets the nod in central defense and could be an option for the future while Clark is welcomed back after his World Cup fiasco. Perhaps Klinsmann has kept tabs on him because of his club and maybe Klinsmann was able to talk to someone at Eintracht Frankfurt to get insight on Clark. Whatever the case, Clark - who was always a serviceable player - gets a chance to start fresh.

Omissions: You can't have a roster without seeing who is gone. Chad Marshall is a player I think should have gotten way more playing time with the U.S. national team than he has received. He is the top defender in MLS over the last 5-6 years and yet he has to watch a guy like Tim Ream get fast-tracked onto the national team. It's disappointing that Marshall is not more recognized for his talents and ability.

No Joe Corona, which is also disappointing. Now, this one is not a managerial decision necessarily. Corona may be leaning towards playing for Mexico or perhaps Klinsmann just does not feel Corona is quite ready for the full national team but Corona's situation is not as clear-cut as Marshall. Corona is a talent for certain but he has options in terms of national team and - who knows? - he may very well receive a call from El Tri for this match.

Also not on the squad is Todd Dunivant, who was both Heath Pearce and Edgar Castillo ahead of him apparently. But - to the joy of most US supporters - Jonathan Bornstein is not on the roster either.

Perhaps the biggest name not on the roster is Clint Dempsey, but all indications seem to point to rest being the reason why Dempsey won't be in Philadelphia next week.

Forward Lot: Landon Donovan is listed as a forward in the roster Klinsmann revealed. But so too is Beasley, so that may not be saying much. Still, if Donovan will play forward for the U.S., then it's perhaps not surprising to see Jozy Altidore not on the squad. Donovan could carry the scoring load for the U.S. under Klinsmann and if the new coach has pegged his scoring hopes on Donovan, it's not a bad thing. Donovan is after all the US national team's all-time leading scorer.

Herculez Gomez was not called in, but another World Cup player who should have played more is. Edson Buddle returns and again, perhaps his playing for a German club helped his own situation. It would have been interesting to see both Buddle and Gomez on the roster but they will each have to keep working harder to get or maintain their spots on the team.

Dynamic Duo: It's good to see both Brek Shea and Jose Torres in the mix at midfield. Those are two players who just didn't fit in Bradley's system and now with Klinsmann in charge it could be where one or both of those guys have a lot more freedom to create and test the opposing team.

Overall, this is a strong roster with some players who are at the top of their game now, others who are near that point and still others who have plenty to offer down the road. The game against Mexico is a must-win in the sense that any US game versus Mexico is a must-win, so these players and this roster's strength will be tested soon enough.

What do you think? Well done by Klinsmann? Strong initial roster? Surprised by some of the names?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Great American Hope

Herculez Gomez will play at Estadio Azteca tonight for Estudiantes. Azteca is of course the most hallowed ground in all of Mexico. One of the nation's most popular club teams plays there as America calls Azteca home. But more significantly, Azteca is home to the Mexican national team.

Azteca though has been conquered by Americans before - at least individually. The U.S. has always done miserably there but Eddie Lewis and Charlie Davies have scored goals there in World Cup qualifying matches.

But have any Americans scored there in a club game? Might Herculez become the first American to score there for a club team?


If he scores there, it will be a great accomplishment both for himself and for Americans abroad. But he will join a list that has already been started.

Cle Kooiman scored for Cruz Azul in a Clasico Joven at Estadio Azteca on Nov. 29, 1992. Match stats here. Funny thing is, the Ontario, Calif.-born Kooiman scored three goals during his career in Mexico and one of them happened to be in Azteca.

But is Kooiman the only American to ever score a goal at the Azteca for a club team? I don't even know if that information exists as to how many Americans have scored goals for club teams there but so far Kooiman is the only one I can think of or discovered when researching it.

Kooiman was a bit of an oddity. He captained Cruz Azul during his time there, in the early 1990s. For an American to be on such a high-profile Mexican club then was very rare but to be captain... I remember finding out that he was American. One of my aunts - a staunch Cruz Azul supporter to this day - defended him and said he was one of their toughest players and how she was a big fan of is. I wonder if she had that defensive position right away because Azul fans had to defend an American as captain or if she just had a thing for the guy and stuck up for him because of that.

Anyway, Kooiman so far as in the list, and Herculez Gomez could make that at least two Americans who've broken through at Azteca for a club team.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Seaworthy Barca

So I got an e-mail about Barcelona player's visit to the Miami Seaquarium. Meh. That stuff doesn't really turn the needle for me but I figured it might for some people out there.

So I figured I'd post some of those pictures here for you to enjoy.

All pictures courtesy of