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Jeff Maurer's Soccer Blog
Tuesday, 1 June 2010
What We Learned from the Turkey Match
Topic: US National Team

We didn’t really learn so much as confirm what we already knew (or at least I confirmed what I thought I already knew…I’m very good at discarding information that doesn’t conform to my pre-existing opinions). So, let’s review…

 

Steve Cherundolo > Jonathan Spector. I’ve felt this way for a while; I’m glad to see more people coming over to my side. I actually didn’t think that Spector played that poorly; the goal wasn’t his fault, and he spent a fair amount of time pinching in to cover for an uncharacteristically poor Jay Demerit (Demerit was back to his old self in the second half). That being said, I could see Spector lining up against Engald; his size might match up better against Heskey.

 

Ricardo Clark is not that good. I said it in my post a few days ago: Clark is only serviceable…servicable! And I think that characterization is apt…apt! He really didn’t impress me: he didn’t hold the ball or pass well, and his work rate was mediocre. Also, when we pair him with Bradley we have two midfields who like to sit very deep and don’t tend to carry the ball forward. It should be Edu for defense or Torres for offense.

 

Torres is a legitimate option in the middle. Torres has won me over (it wasn’t just this game…he’s been playing well for Pachucha). He’s sharp on the ball and an excellent passer. The only other player who offers that particular skillset in the midfield is Feilhaber. But, as we saw yesterday, Torres is better.

 

Gooch is fine. After the Czech Republic game, people were freaking out about Gooch. Everyone was alarmed by his supposed limp (what limp? I didn’t see one) and complaining that he got out-jumped on the first goal. In fact, the problem on the first goal wasn’t his jumping, it was his positioning; the Czech guy got there first and got on Gooch’s shoulder. We’ve seen Gooch play twice now, and I don’t think there’s anything there: he’s fine, he’s totally fine. He’s healed, he’s not limping, he can jump. He’s getting his match fitness back. He’s fine.   

 

Jonathan Bornstein is for emergencies only. Holy shit, he played poorly. And I like him – he seems like a good guy, puts in a good effort every time. But he is not international caliber, period.

 

People are overreacting to the Charlie Findley phenomenon. A week ago, the blogosphere hated Charlie Findley. Suddenly, everyone loves him. Look: he played pretty well. He was active and made a nice chip to Donovan on the first goal. But he also made a few poor decisions and was 0-for-3 at getting crosses in from the wing. I understand that Bradley wants him on the team for his speed…okay, fine, I get that. I still think he’s one of our weaker players.

 

If you really feel the need to have a speedy forward up top, then how about this:

 

------------------Altidore---------------Donovan-----------------------

 

Dempsey------------Edu/Torres----------Bradley-------------Holden

 

Bocanegra------------Gooch-------------Demerit----------Cherundolo

 

---------------------------------Howard------------------------------------

 

This basically puts Holden in for Findley. Why? Because Holden is a better player than Findley. This is our best 11 Bob: make them fit. You’re doing it on the back line, and it’s working. Do it on the whole field.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 12:05 PM EDT
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Saturday, 29 May 2010
USA vs. Turkey Preview
Topic: US National Team

Here's what I'm hoping to see when the US plays Turkey tomorrow.

1. No injuries. Duh.

2. Holding the ball in the midfield. We're more of a counterattacking side - we don't do this extremely well. I'm not saying we need to be Mexico or Argentina, but I'd like to see us establish a rhythm and take some pressure off the defense.

3. Creativity in attack/ability to break down a compact defense.Turkey are coached by Gus Hiddink, so you know they'll be well-organized. In 2006, we showed a disturbing inability to break down Morocco and Latvia in the send-off series, which carried over to the World Cup. When we needed two goals in the second half against Ghana, we weren't able to break through.

4. Beasley: all in or fold. I don't think he'll start (see below), but I think he'll see significant minutes. I hope he either plays well enough to make me believe that the old (and I mean OLD...like 2004) Damarcus Beasley is back, or he plays poorly enough that Bradley leaves him out of the 11 during the Cup. I am a Beasley pessimist - it's been a long, long time since he showed good form for any significant amount of time.

Which brings us to...

My preferred lineup:

-----------------Altidore---------Dempsey-------------- 

Donovan----------Edu---------Bradley---------Holden 

Bocanegra-------Gooch-------Demerit------Cherundolo

---------------------------Howard------------------------

 The lineup I think we'll see: 

-----------------Altidore---------Gomez-------------- 

Dempsey----------Edu---------Bradley---------Donovan 

Bocanegra---------Gooch--------Demerit--------Spector

---------------------------Howard------------------------ 


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 12:44 AM EDT
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Friday, 28 May 2010
Advice for England
Topic: US National Team

Gabriele Marcotti of SI.com has five questions for England. As an American and a Premiereship fan, I'd like to offer some answers.

1. What happens if Gareth Barry isn't fit? The options are Scott Parker, Tom Huddlestone, and Michael Carrick.

Go with Carrick. One can't overemphasize the importance - not to mention the sheer aesthetic majesty - of a well-played square ball. And Carrick is the Michaelangelo of square balls. Always remember: everything Manchester United does is always right, and anything they do is superior to anything any other club does. Which reminds me: why didn't Michael Owen make the squad?

2. Who's between the sticks? It's either James, Hart, or Green.

Since Scott Carson is not an option (I guess Capello needs to prove he's his own man...give it up, Fabio - you'll never escape Steve McClaren's shadow), I recommend Green. You don't want James - he had that one bad game against Denmark in 2005. And you don't want Hart - he barely handled a ball this year. Now, Green...he's had shots flying at him practically non-stop all year. And he got half a fingertip or maybe part of a knee on many of them! I've been watching the West Ham defense all year...Green is definitely the way to go.

3. Who Leads the Line? Rooney and Gerrard will play in attack, and the options to line up alongside them are Heskey, Bent, Defoe, and Crouch.

Just because Crouch has scored every time he's touched a ball for England in the last four years is no reason to think that he's any good. I mean, look at him. Dork. Looks like Stephen Merchant. Please. Defoe and Bent are speedy, but our defenders are really awesome at coping with speed. Jonathan Spector could mark either one right out of the game. You know what our defenders really struggle with, though? Lumbering, low-scoring strikers who don't play much. I shudder to think of the damage Emile Heskey might do.

4. How many fragile central defenders can you afford to bring? Ferdinand and Ledley King are both coming off of injuries, meaning that Carragher, Dawson, or Upson might be pressed into service.

Whichever option maximizes the odds that Matthew Upson will see the field is the right play here. Just imagine: Upson and Green, the linchpins of that stingy West Ham defense, reunited for England! Hell, I'd be willing to let Jonathan Spector switch nationalities just to see that combo weave their magic one more time!

5. Who completes the front four? The options are Cole, Lennon, Walcott, Wright-Phillips, and Milner.

Well, it can't be Milner, since various articles I've read already have him penciled in at left back, center mid, goalkeeper, and third base. Lennon and Wright-Phillips are similar players - how do you break the news to the one left out without hurting his feelings? Leave them both out. Cole already had one good World Cup - he doesn't need another. Go with Walcott. Why? Because I love "tantric soccer" - all buildup, no finish. And Walcott is an expert. What good is an amazing run down the wing if you immediately overshadow it with a powerful strike or a well-placed pass? Much better to trip over your own feet and let the ball roll harmlessly out of bounds. That way, we learn to find enjoyment in the buildup instead of seeking the immediate gratification of a finish.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 10:52 AM EDT
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Thursday, 27 May 2010
Robbie Findley is Dick Cheney
Topic: US National Team

When Bush 43 was president, every liberal fantasized about him getting impeached. We imagined a Nixon-esque shame-filled walk to a helicopter, broadcast on every network. The nation would howl at the reviled president, his legacy forever tarnished. We pictured the helicopter taking off and growing smaller in the distance, thus removing Bush and his policies from our lives forever. We’d flash a self-satisfied smile, breathe a sigh of relief that a dark era in presidential history was finally ending, and then welcome the new president…

 

Dick Cheney.

 

That’ll jolt you back to reality in a fucking hurry.

 

Brian Ching haters: Robbie Findley is Dick Cheney.

 

If you read yesterday’s post, you can guess that I’m not thrilled that Bradley took Findley over Ching. But it’s not really the fact that Bradley took Findley over CHING that bothers me. What bothers me is the fact that Bradley took Findley over Bedoya. I don’t like what that probably means for the starting 11. Here’s my thinking…

 

Do you play your best 11, regardless of position? Or do you play the best player at each position? It’s an old debate. I generally believe in playing your best 11 (within reason). The Findley pick – along with both Gomez AND Buddle being included – makes me think that Bradley plans on putting one of these three in our starting 11. That worries me.

 

In my mind, the best attacking formation is definitely Altidore and Dempsey up top, Donovan and Holden on the wings. If you slide Dempsey back to midfield, then you essentially replace Holden with your underwhelming striker of choice: Buddle, Gomez, or Findley. The fact that Bradley picked a forward over a midfielder makes me think that’s exactly what he plans to do. And if that’s NOT what he plans to do, then why take what amounts to five strikers?

 

We’ll learn a lot about Bradley's plans from the game against Turkey on Saturday. And hey, I’ll be 100 percent behind whatever guys we put on the field. I hope that Findley fulfills his promise and that Buddle and Gomez take their recent success to the World Cup. But I think the percentage play is to start Holden.

 

One thing to consider: it seems that Ching might still be carrying a hamstring injury. Here’s what Bradley said yesterday:

 

"Plain and simple, Edson and Herculez have had real good stretches, scored a lot of goals. Brian has been such an important player but it's tough when you have an injury at an inopportune time."

 

So, there’s that to factor in. I’m inclined to give Bob the benefit of the doubt: he’s the one watching training every day, he’s the one getting reports from the trainers. I hope he made the right call.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 12:51 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 26 May 2010
The US Roster: Who Should Make It, Who Should Be Cut, and Who Should Be Put to Death?
Topic: US National Team

Ramping the soccer blog back up in anticipation of the World Cup. I hope to write a post every day, and since I will be: 1) going on vacation next week, and 2) seriously half-assing my job for the duration of the Cup, it might actually happen.

Last night we saw the US scrubs lose 4-2 to the Czech scrubs - I'm sorry..."szcrubs". Bob Bradley will name the US 23 at 1PM today. The loss to the Czechs confirmed what I've been feeling for a long time: this team doesn't have a lot of depth. My level of confidence really plummets once you get outside the core group of guys.

I don't want to get into the Gomez vs. Buddle/Beasley vs. Bedoya debates. Those are depressing. You know how on "Lost" they kept saying "once you talk to the smoke monster, it's already too late"? In the World Cup, once you start contemplating that Edson Buddle might be your best option, it's already too late. So, instead of simply naming my preferred 23, here are my feelings on all 30 guys.

I'm feeling good. Jozy, Dempsey, Landon, Bradley, Holden, Bocanegra, Gooch, Demerit, Cherundolo, Howard.

These are the core guys - this is our best team. Yes, I rate Cherundolo above Spector, though I know that Bob Bradley has them the other way around. And yes, I like Holden a lot; I think he's going to break out in 2010 the way Dempsey did in 2006.

Please, Bob: take this list and make a lineup out of it. I know that means putting Dempsey up top (nothing wrong with that) and sliding Bocanegra left (not ideal, but not bad), but just do it.  There are ten of these guys, but not to worry: there are still decent options before the talent level falls off a cliff.

*Also feeling good: Guzan and Hahnemann. I like them both. If this were club soccer, I'd be on the phone with England about a trade. But we're unlikely to see either of them, so I'll keep them in a separate category from the field players.

I like those odds. Spector, Edu, Torres.

These guys are usually pretty good...usually. Each has a glitch in his game. Edu's passing can get sloppy. Torres, who plays in Mexico, sometimes succumbs to the curse of Mexican soccer: he forgets that you get points for GOALS, not for stringing together meaningless passes. Spector plays every game the same: 89 solid minutes, good passing, a few enterprising runs up the flank, one catastrophic mistake. Still, I'd feel pretty good about seeing any of these guys on the field.

At this point, we're at 13 guys (plus the two extra goalkeepers). You can make a lineup out of these 13, inserting Edu for more defense or Torres for offense. Spector can slide in wherever you need him in the back, meaning you can afford to lose one guy. But outside of these 13, the talent level really starts to drop off.

Serviceable subs: all is not lost. Ching, Clark, Feilhaber, Goodson.

It's true: I am not a Ricardo Clark fan. I think he's serviceable...nothing more. Also true: I am a Brian Ching apologist. I, unlike many US fans, am not filled with dread when he takes the field. And I think that Clarence Goodson might be the Jimmy Conrad of 2010. Here's how to best describe my feelings about these guys: if they come in when we have a LEAD, I'll feel okay. They can play - I don't expect them to come in and suck. But if they come in when we're behind or tied - i.e., we're relying on them to provide a spark, or they represent our best option - then I won't be feeling very good.

I've got a bad feeling about this. Gomez, Buddle, Bornstein, Beasley, Bedoya, Rodgers.

Remember the Ghana game in 2006? Remember when Reyna got stripped for Ghana's first goal, hurt his knee, and Ben Olsen came in to replace him? Now, I'm a DC United fan; Ben Olsen is my favorite player, and I was pumped to see him come in. Everyone at the Arlington Drafthouse, where I was watching, applauded. But I know the rest of the nation had...well...a somewhat different reaction. Sort of a nation-wide sinking feeling. A collective "so, it's come to this, has it?" That's the way I'll feel if any of these guys get on the field. It's not that they can't play - on any given day, any of these guys can be pretty good. And I'll be praying that they come up big. But I won't like our chances.

About Beasley, Buddle, and Gomez: past performance does not necessarily predict future results. I am so sick of hearing about Beasley's World Cup experience. He had experience in 2006, and that didn't keep him from sucking. He's also been getting Freddy Adu-level minutes in Scotland. Buddle and Gomez are both riding hot streaks, and both have some impressive tools (Buddle's pace and size, Gomez's shot from distance). But both also have many, many years of MLS mediocrity on their resumes. As a baseball fan, I need to see more before I'll be convinced that either are experiencing anything more than a temporary spike in form.

Please God, no. Kljestan, Marshall, Findley.

My days as a Sacha Kljestan apologist are over. He just turns the ball over too much; I thought it might go away, but it hasn't. I like Marshall when he's healthy, but he's clearly not healthy. Findley is Eddie Johnson Junior: his speed makes everyone ignore the fact that he hasn't yet shown that he's any good at soccer.

Put him in a rocket, shoot it into space, turn off the tracking equipment. Heath Pearce, Eddie Johnson.

The second and third Czech goals were bittersweet: I wasn't happy that they scored, but they DID both contribute to hopefully keeping Heath Pearce off the plane. I'm sorry: he's just not national team caliber. He only plays one position, and he doesn't play it well. Leave him at home, take seven defenders, and use Edu at center back if you absolutely have to. Eddie Johnson is still riding that hat trick he scored against Panama in 2004. Eddie Johnson, Smashing Pumpkins, Margaret Cho: they haven't been good for a long time. Give up the ghost.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 10:28 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 26 May 2010 12:02 PM EDT
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Friday, 4 December 2009
FIFA Screwed Us! Already! Again!

***Note: I am writing this immediately BEFORE the World Cup draw***

 

FIFA is a patently corrupt organization. What other organization would make a habit of announcing the rules for a competition DURING that competition, which is exactly what FIFA does by determining the rules for the World Cup draw AFTER the qualified teams have been determined.

 

The draw happens in about an hour, and US fans are patiently awaiting our quadrennial screwing. But US fans should know: the screwing has already begun! And I can prove it with statistics! Here’s my logic…

 

It not only matters which names get drawn out of the pot – it matters into which pot you are placed. A quick primer for the uninitiated:

 

-         There are eight groups in the World Cup, each with four teams. Those four teams are determined by drawing one ball each from four “pots”. Long story short: you will play one team from each of the other three pots, and you will play none of the teams from your own pot.

 

The first pot contains what FIFA determines (after the fact…sorry, France!) to be the best eight teams in the tournament. The US isn’t in that pot, and we don’t deserve to be. The fourth pot is the rest of the European teams. That leaves two pots for North America, South America (minus Brazil and Argentina), Africa (minus South Africa), Asia, and New Zealand.

 

Let’s use FIFA’s October rankings (which are notoriously weird, but are frankly as good as any other ranking system out there) to determine the relative strength of each federation. Please note: these are the same rankings that FIFA used to determine the seeded teams. It turns out that North America, South America, and Africa are virtually equally good:

 

North American teams’ average ranking: 22.3

South American teams’ average ranking (minus Brazil and Argentina, who are seeded): 22.0

African teams’ average ranking (minus South Africa, who are seeded): 22.8

 

The weak sister in the group is clearly Asia: the average ranking of the Asian teams is 50. New Zealand is ranked #77, and after watching the Confederations Cup and the playoff with Bahrain, I can’t believe that they’re ranked that high.

 

So, whichever team gets thrown in the same pot with the weaker Asian teams is at a huge disadvantage. It could have been any of the three equally strong federations, but it was us. Why is this a screw job? Because it was us last time, too.

 

Yes, CONCACAF (minus Mexico, who were seeded even though the US had a higher FIFA ranking) was also in the Asian pot in 2006. I’d say that it’s somebody else’s turn.

 

But wait! The screwing’s not quite over! FIFA also made out pot Pot 2. Why is this a screw job? Because it means that we will play the seeded team in our group first. You always want to play the seeded team in your group third: there is a good chance that the seeded team will have already qualified by the third game, at which point they will be playing second-stringers, and those second-stringers will be playing half-assed (mathematically, that’s one-fourth of the strength of the original squad). Being in Pot 2, we won’t have that opportunity. Shennanigans, I say!

 

Enough whining – I’m off to watch the draw. For the record, here’s how I rank each Pot:

 

Pot 1:

1 – Brazil

2 – Spain

3 – Germany

4 – England

5 – Netherlands

6 – Italy

7 – Argentina

8 – South Africa

 

Pot 2:

1 – US

2 – Mexico

3 – Australia

4 – South Korea

5 – Japan

6 – Honduras

7 – North Korea

8 – New Zealand

 

Pot 3:

1 – Ivory Coast

2 – Paraguay

3 – Chile

4 – Ghana

5 – Cameroon

6 – Nigeria

7 – Uruguay

8 – Nigeria

 

Pot 4:

1 – France

2 – Portugal

3 – Serbia

4 – Denmark

5 – Greece

6 – Switzerland

7 – Slovakia

8 – Slovenia

 

After the draw, I’m going to add up the rankings of each team. An average draw for the US would be a total of 13.5 (impossible, but you get the idea). Anything higher than that is a good draw; anything lower than that is a bad draw. Frankly, as long as we avoid France, Portugal, and Ivory Coast, I’ll be pretty happy.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 11:40 AM EST
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Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Looking Back at England, Forward to Spain
Topic: US National Team

  Friendly number 2 of 3 against quality opponents is today. The first one, against England, went badly. My post last week covered seven things I'd like to see against England, so I'd like to revisit those seven things:

 

1. Eddie Johnson on the bench. Nope - he played 90 minutes, and, to be fair, I thought he played better than normal. Which is to say: he still did not play very well.

2. A decent scoreline. This was probably the big victory, if there was one. 3-0 or maybe even 4-0 would have also been fair scorelines.

3. A good game for Bocanegra. Actually, I thought that he - and the entire back line, actually, played pretty well; they were just under pressure the entire game. The one criticism I have is that they didn't play the ball forward extremely well, which contributed to them being under pressure the entire game. Bocanegra probably didn't help himself much in the eyes of most Premiership managers, but he probably didn't hurt himself much, either.

4. A good game for Freddy Adu. I thought he was fine, but it's not like he made an irrefutable case for more playing time to Benfica's new manager. I think he'll get a shot today against Spain; with Donovan out, a creative option is sorely needed, and he's the only other name on the roster who fits that description.

5. A good game for Beckham. Yep, pretty good. Better than Gareth Barry, in my opinion. Now that I'm seeing Beckham play on a regular basis, my opinion of Beckham is this: without his right foot, Beckham is a good player. Not a great player by any stretch, but a solid, quality player with good technique and a decent work rate. But his right foot is absolutely atomic. It bumps him up from good to world class. I can't think of any player who can strike the ball as accurately and with as much pace as consistently as Beckham. Roberto Carlos has a laser beam free kick, but he can't play the bending ball that Beckham plays all the time. Juninho and Nakamura are probably Beckham's equivalent as far as scoring from free kicks is concerned, but Beckham is probably the better crosser both from dead balls and the run of play. If Beckham got hurt and could only take free kicks, it would probably make sense for the Galaxy to just play with 10 and then trot him out there for each dead ball. He's that good.

6. A good game from Michael Bradley. Nope - I thought he was pretty poor. He tackled well and didn't draw a red card, but that's about all. He really didn't play the ball forward well. He did poorly in tight spots. He didn't link up with the forwards, and didn't get forward much himself. Not an impressive showing. I think he'll be paired with Mastreoni today; maybe that will allow him to focus on offense a little bit more.

7. Minutes for Kenny Cooper. Okay, I really blew it on this one: Cooper wasn't on the roster. But I'm a comedian writing about soccer; I don't think it's reasonable to expect me to have even the vaguest idea what I'm talking about. 

 

Other thoughts from the England match, Larry King News & Notes style:

- I've felt this way for a long time: the national team really needs Landon Donovan. That doesn't bode well for today's match versus Spain, which Donovan will also sit out.

- Dempsey had a howler.

- I've never liked Josh Wolff much as a striker (he can't finish), and was not surprised when 1860 Munich started playing him on the right wing. I though that's where Bradley was going to put him against England, with Dempsey up top.

- The US striker pool is pathetic. When you can make a convincing argument why Nate Jaqua should be starting - and I think that you can - you've officially fallen on hard times.

- It's only a friendly, where you want to test out promising young players, and we still put Frankie Hejduk, Eddie Lewis, and Josh Wolff on the field. Nothing against those guys, but the fact that we can't replace them at the moment is a very bad sign.  

 

 Now on to today's game against Spain. I think we'll get a better performance based on the fact that our guys want to atone for the England match, but I really worry about the team that we'll be putting on the fied. For starters, we still have no strikers. Eddie Johnson is like a koala bear: the koala survived because it had no predators, and Eddie Johnson keeps getting minutes because there's no-one there to displace him. That being the case, here's the line that I think we'll see versus Spain, which also happens to be the lineup that I hope we'll see:

 

-------------------------Johnson----------

--------------Adu---------------------------

Beasley-------------------------Dempsey

---------Bradley------Mastreoni---------

Pearce---Boca-----Onyewu-------Dolo

----------------Howard--------------------

 

Yes, that's right: I am advocating a starting lineup that contains Eddie Johnson. Ugh. It's come to that. As I mentioned, a good argument can be made for Jaqua instead of Johnson, but I think that we'll have to defend and counter against Spain, and Jaqua isn't built for the counter attack.

Of course, the real solution to the striker problem should be obvious by now: Jozy Altidore must be sent into deep space, where he will age at a faster rate, a-la Planet of the Apes. He needs to be 22 now. World Cup qualifying starts in a few weeks; if we can't get Altidore on the field somehow, then somebody better get Brian McBride on the phone.



Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 1:05 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 28 May 2008
What I Hope to See Against England
Topic: US National Team

  Friendlies are like open mics: the result is less important that what you learn. Here's what I'm hoping for against England:

 

1. Eddie Johnson on the bench. I'm over him; he's not the guy. My worst fear is that he'll play and have a semi-decent game, which will subsequently earn him another ten games of back-passes and donkey touches that cause the commentators to say "he just needs to find his form..." He has found his form: his form is shit.  

Of course, it looks like Donovan might not play, which means that Johnson probably will.

 

2. A decent scoreline. I'd love it if the US won, but England are the stronger team and they have to be considered the favorites. If the US lose by two goals or one, that gets remembered as: "The US came to Wembley and England won." If we lose by three goals or more, that gets remembered as: "The US came to Wembley and got their asses kicked."

 

3. A good game for Bocanegra. He's out of contract with Fulham and is looking for a new team. He's proven that he's good enough to play in the Premiership; a good game here could help him latch on with a Premiership team. 

 

4. A good game for Freddy Adu. He's dominating at the U-20 and Olympic levels, and he's still only 18 (which seems impossible - shouldn't he be about 35 by now?). It's time to start giving him regular looks with the full national team. Benfica have a new coach and some good performances in high-profile matches should help Freddy get a look.

 

5. A good game for Beckham. If Beckham plays poorly, everyone in England will say: "His form is shit because he plays in MLS." We need a good game from Beckham in order to be spared that inane chorus. Of course, a good game from Beckham will not cause anyone in England to give MLS any credit whatsoever, but it will at least minimize the disparaging remarks.

 

6. A good game from Michael Bradley. Another guy who's basically on trial; he could all but cement a spot in the Premiership with a good game tonight. Most important for me: no brain farts in the closing moments of the game. He has a very bad habit of drawing stupid cards and committing stupid fouls after the 80th minute. 

 

7. Minutes for Kenny Cooper. He's the anti-Eddie Johnson: he's consistently good, and yet nobody seems to notice. I don't think he'll ever be a great national team player, but I could see him being a reliable, solid option, a la Jimmy Conrad. 


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 1:55 PM EDT
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Monday, 19 May 2008
The Premiership: the Most Boring League in the World
Topic: English Premiership

The British press was freaking out last week about the end of the Premiership season. They were calling it the most exciting season in years, the closest Premiership race ever, etc. And, in a way, it was - it was only the fourth time in the history of the Premiership that the title came down to the final day. Here's the thing: I can't understand why I'm supposed to care about any of that.

I'm not a Chelsea fan or a Man U fan. I also don't cheer for Arsenal or Liverpool. Actually, I feel that any American who cheers for any of those four teams better have a damn good reason for doing so - there had better be some sort of family connection or other very good explanation. In the case of Chelsea, it's okay if you became a Chelsea fan before Roman Abromavich bought the team (Grant Wahl did this). But, barring those exceptions, for an American to pick any of those four teams as "their" team is blatant frontrunning.

I probably went too far in the other direction: I cheer for Fulham. I chose Fulham for obvious reasons: they're the team with the Americans. And now they're my team forever. I'm not changing. As I mentioned in the previous post, I will stay with this marriage no matter how bad it gets.

So, obviously, my attention last week was with my team. And it was a great week; they won and, against all odds stayed up. Which means that Fulham's 2009 relegation-avoidance campaign will be broadcast in the US. Hooray?

Here's the thing: because I don't cheer for one of the big four, my team will never, EVER win the title. Never. I could live to be 100, and Fulham will never win the Premiership. They're already 0 for 129 years, and their highest finish ever is - drum roll please - ninth. Cheering for Fulham is different than cheering for any American team in that I don't know exactly what the ultimate goal is. In the US, the ultimate goal is always to win a championship. For Fulham, and many teams like them, the goal is...what...? Avoiding relegation again? So, 17th place is a victory?

Fulham aren't the only team in this position - not by a long shot. Pretty much any team in the Premiership outside of the big four can't aspire to more than a UEFA cup spot, and a few can maybe hope for a place in the Champions League (where they will be promptly dispatched by a G-14 team). Everton, Newcastle, Tottenham, and a few others might consider themselves title contenders, but they're kidding themselves: they are not close to even sniffing the title. Realistically, they are competing for fifth place.

I would be willing to bet that no team outside of the Big Four will win the Premiership in the next 20 years (unless a team undergoes some sort of Chelsea-esque financial infusion). Already, only four teams have ever won the Premiership in its 16 year history. The one break from Big Four dominance came when Blackburn won in 1995, and that's looking like more and more of a fluke. In the past 13 years, it's been only Chelsea, Arsenal, and Man U. The Big Four have finished in the top four spots for the last three years. And every year that they earn more Champions League money only widens the gap between the Big Four and the rest of the league.

If I haven't started caring about the Red Sox or Yankees after all these years, then I'm not likely to start caring about the Big Four, either. I care about my team. And my team is never involved in the title race, nor will they ever be unless something changes. I think that some people in England are starting to realize that the lack of parity is a growing problem; as money becomes more prevalent in soccer, the gap between the rich teams and the poor teams becomes more apparent on the field. This might - one day - lead England to adopt a very American solution: the dreaded salary cap.

Of course, there won't be a salary cap any time soon. The very fact that the US pioneered the idea probably pushes it back by at least two decades. So, in the meantime, the Premiership is basically a four team league, or maybe even a two-team league. And that's not very exciting to me. Don't get me wrong - I'll keep following the Premiership, but I'll be following the bottom of the league, where my team plays. The top of the table is just boring to me.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 4:40 PM EDT
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Sunday, 27 April 2008
The Seven Stages of Relegation
Topic: English Premiership

Fulham are going down. Probably. They've still got a chance, but it's not looking good. Like many Americans, I am a Fulham fan. And, like many Americans, I have never been through this before.

Relegation pain is unique. It's gradual and incremental, with flashes of hope that only prolong the suffering. It's more like a gutshot than a bullet to the brain - the suffering unfolds slowly, in stages, with the outcome becoming more apparent with each passing moment.

I can't explain this condition to my non-soccer-loving friends. It's an experience that Bill Simmons hasn't documented. I feel a need to record my symptoms so that Americans can understand this affliction that the Europeans have brought over. Maybe Nicholas Kristof will chronicle my plight. Mabye little rubber bracelets will draw attention to the horrors of this condition. Bono might get involved (though maybe not - he supports Celtic). I must speak. The world must know:

 

The Seven Stages of Relegation:

Stage 1: Naive Optimism.  Soccer players are a bit like race horses - they're evaluated largely by pedigree. Fulham's opening day roster had some pedigree. Danny Murphy is ex-Liverpool, who are politely included in the Big Four. David Healy holds the record for most goals scored in European qualifying, and no one ever went wrong in soccer basing their evaluations on goal-scoring statistics, right? The manager, Lawrie Sanchez, had great success managing Wycome Wanderers - they absolutely tore apart my rec team (they were winning 4-1 when we had to clear the field for marching band practice). And we avoided relegation last year by one whole point! Who else here has their sights set on European football in 2008!?!

Stage 2: Tinkering. A few weeks into the season, it was clear that the team needed...let's say "adjustments". Specifically, Brian McBride's tibia needed to be adjusted to be roughly in line with his femur. Also, it was not yet clear whether Stephen Davis should be played in the center, played on the wing, or shot into deep space. Still, there was time, and reinforcements were coming from, um, Crystal Palace, and with Lawrie Sanchez applying the same deft tactics that helped Northern Ireland almost not fail to qualify for Euro 2008, the ship would still be righted, right? Right?

Stage 3: Hatred of Chris Baird. Is Chris Baird's dad really powerful or something? Does he possess compromising photos of important people? What I'm asking is: what was it that kept this man on the field for so long? Was it the same thing that's keeping Andy Rooney on TV? With all of Fulham's contacts with America, why didn't they just pick any - literally any- right back from MLS? They're all better than Chris Baird.

Stage 4: Denial/False Hope. I don't think that Mohamed Al-Fayed celebrates Christmas, but I sure celebrated when he fired Lawrie Sanchez in December. With that act alone, things started looking up. After all, surely the new coach wouldn't make the same mistake that Sanchez had made: buying players based on reputation alone, then sticking with those players for too long in a stubborn attempt to avoid admitting a mistake. Besides, Bullard and McBride were coming back, and Bolton was horrible, and Derby was already down, and Wigan is a rugby town, so there's nothing to worry about, right? Right?

Stage 5: Xenophobia. You know who's fault this all is? Foreigners. Specifically those filthy fucking Irish: Baird and Healy and Davis and Aaron Hughes...they're the ones to blame. They come here and they take jobs away from hard working Americans, and look what happens. None of this is the Americans' fault. Bocanegra, Dempsey, and Keller aren't seeing enough minutes, and it's all because of their sneaky English coach. The English have always favored the Irish.

Stage 6: Bitterness/clinging to God, guns. This is all a test. The penalty kick against Newcastle, the hand ball goal against West Ham...it seems like everyone is out to screw us right now - and they undeniably are - but you know how we can get through this? Faith. A little good, old-fashioned, faith - you know, the kind of faith that causes God to give you stuff. You've read snippets of the bible - ask and it shall be given unto you. Well, God, if you're listening, I would like to hold onto a one-goal lead. And if we can't, I'm going to get a gun and shoot Chris Baird in both knees.

Stage 6: Aethism. Thanks a pantload, God. Or, should I say: "god". There is no hope - life is meaningless. We are born, we suffer, and then we die. Soccer is like life: a random series of chance encounters over which we have no control. All we can do is watch where the ball bounces and hope for a quick and relatively painless death. The sky is grey. The orb is spinning. I retire. Silence.

Stage 7: Manchester United. They are the Death Star of English soccer. They are big and powerful and have a gravity that draws you inward. Yes, they are evil, and they exist to squash the hope of smaller civilizations throughout the galaxy, leaving only the blackness of space...but, damn it, they win. Maybe I should stop being such a martyr and go over to the dark side.

 

But no...I've already decided: if Fulham go down, I'm going down with my team. Hell, I'm part Irish myself: I'll stick with this marriage forever no matter how bad it gets. Actually, after the comeback win at Man City last week, I'm starting to think they could stay up. Which either means that we've either begun Chapter IV: A New Hope, or that I've cycled back to Stage 4 and still have stages 5, 6, and 7 ahead of me.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 2:18 PM EDT
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