CCL and MLS Live Blog - 9/30

Wednesday, September 30, 2009 | View Comments
Hey Match Fit USA gang! Sorry I haven't been able to contribute to the site lately, I've been super busy. However, I do have time to live blog a whole bunch of MLS and Concacaf Champions League action tonight. We'll likely be joined by your Match Fit USA Soccer Show hosts Jason Davis and Zach Woosley, along with a whole host of characters.

FC Dallas takes on the New England Revolution at 7pm EST on MLS Direct Kick and the interwebs, DC United takes on San Juan Jabloteh at 8pm EST on FSC, and that is followed by what should be tonight's best game, Houston Dynamo vs. Pachuca on FSC at 10pm EST. We're starting at 7pm, enjoy!

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Deep Cuts: Scrubs or Shin Guards?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009 | View Comments
U-17 MLS Youth Cup Tournament Final

The condition of professional soccer in the United States is such that the when presented with a choice between playing the game on its highest level here or hanging up the boots and focusing on a job in the "real world" is not as simple as it should be.

For millions of young athletes in America, the dream of a professional career rises above and surpasses any other; it's true for baseball, American football, basketball, and hockey. To reach the pinnacle of those sports and have a chance to play on big stages in front of thousands of people all the while getting paid (very well) to do so is a hard proposition to pass up. But soccer doesn't fit that dream path, both because the game is an afterthought at best in the US, and because player salaries lag miles behind those in major American sports leagues.

Three college soccer players are faced with the dilemma, and the Indiana Daily Student describes their struggle; stick it out and become professional footballers, or pass on what will probably be a hard-scrabble existence to follow the alternate dream of becoming a doctor. Here's to the hope that one day, their choice won't be so difficult.

  • From the capital city of New York comes a remembrance of the New York Eagles, Albany's American Soccer League representative way back in 1979. Interesting notes from this piece include the national makeup of the Eagles' squad, the internal conflict that occurred because of it, and the absolute reverence that the author holds for the scoring hero of the team, Billy Boljevic. With the history of American soccer being littered with failed teams and short-lived clubs, there are bound to be thousands of stories like this one. Let's hope thirty years from now, people are remembering the 2009 season for teams that are still alive and thriving.

  • Here's peek at one fan's experience this summer, and the stressful nature of being a US National Team supporter in a country where you're simply bound to be outnumbered by supporters of the opposition when attending a match. Even as more Americans pick up the game and become fans of the national team, there's not likely to be a break in the live supporter numbers any time soon. Immigrants, especially those from Latin America, are simply more rabid about their support in much greater numbers than Americans; this means that although there might be enough Yank fans to at least equal the number of "away" supporters, they simply don't snap up tickets as quickly.

Deep Cuts appears daily and is an attempt to bring you soccer links from off the beaten path or of particular interest. If you come across something you think would make a good Deep Cut, please send it along to

Twitterverse Players League

Wednesday, September 30, 2009 | View Comments

Match Fit USA, Ginge Talks the Footy, and the CSRN family announces the first ever Twitterverse Players League, a competition to crown a single king of the American soccer and MLS Twitter community.

Listed below are thirty-two of the Twitterverse's elite soccer players; they are Americans, MLS players, former MLS players, current stars, future stars, and emerging talents. Through Twitter, they interact with their fans, play pranks on their teammates, share their thoughts, criticize officials (only once, but it happened), and engender massive support thanks to direct communication with the world at large.

The thirty-two TPL competitors have been seeded and places in pots based on their current number of followers; Pot 1 contains the most followed, and Pot 8 the least. Eight groups of four will be created from this group, every group with a player from each of the four pots.

Then the fun begins. You, the fan, will vote for your favorite tweeting player; group stage voting will last a week, when the top two players from the group will go on to the Round of 16. Want to see a player from your club or national team go through? Push them on Twitter, Facebook, message boards, etc. Voting isn't enough, you've got to work to get your guy through. The competition will be fierce, and upsets will be difficult, but will a little effort they just might be possible.

Besides, there's actually incentive for you to spread the word and campaign on your player's behalf:

Everyone that tweets the link to the voting and spreads the word for their player with the hashtag #TPL in the tweet will be automatically entered in a drawing for fabulous prizes, including scarves from the good people at Ruffneck, the official scarf supplier of Major League Soccer, as well as free months of Setanta-i.

Not on Twitter? Sign up now and follow the players below; Twitter is a great way to connect with fans of the beautiful game, and keep up with some of soccer's biggest names.


Jozy Altidore
Freddy Adu
Charlie Davies
Maurice Edu
Stuart Holden
Brian Ching
Sacha Kljestan
Danny Dichio


Brad Guzan
Dwayne DeRosario
Giuseppe Rossi
Robbie Rogers

Bobby Boswell
Rohann Ricketts
Taylor Twellman
Alecko Eskandarion


Brian Namoff
Michael Chabala
Kei Kamara
Danny Cruz

Carl Robinson
Edson Buddle
Jim Brennan
Lee Nguyen


Joe Cannon
Brian Jordan
Chris Tierney
Vincenzo Bernardo

Bobby Rhine
Hunter Freeman
Brad Knighton
Taylor Graham

The draw is set for Friday, and will be held via a live audio stream at both MFUSA and Ginge Talks the Footy starting at 8 pm EDT. Following along as the first edition of the Twitterverse Players League gets fired up!

Any questions?

*UPDATE* Just to clear up any confusion, voting begins after the groups are set through the draw on Friday. Polls will be set up for each group, and you'll be able to vote for the player of your choice.

FIFA Declares Honduras Safe

Tuesday, September 29, 2009 | View Comments

FIFA, in response to protests by the Honduran federation regarding any change of venue for that county's World Cup qualifier with the United States, has declared that the game will take place in San Pedro Sula despite the current crisis.

FIFA has reserved the right to move the game if conditions worsen in the Central American country, thought this pronouncement should quell the rampant speculation that the match would be moved.

Mexican side Toluca confused matters and increased the rumors of relocation for the Honduras-US match by announcing Monday that they would not travel to San Pedro Sula to play their CONCACAF Champions League match with Honduran side Marathon, then reversing themselves later in the day when they give assurances that safety could be guaranteed.

For some US National Team fans, this news may come as a bit of a disappointment; the United States' record on the road in qualifying, particularly in Central America, is far from stellar, and a change of venue would have benefited them significantly. It's understandable then, that Honduran official opposed any suggestion that the game should be moved, and with final round qualifying for the region a tense and tight affair, every club is desperate to maintain their advantages.

The task for the Americans, beating the Hondurans in San Pedro Sula in order to complete their qualification campaign, is a tall one, and the highly contentious political situation on the ground will only make their visit more nerve-wracking.

The Central Midfield: A Hypothesis

Tuesday, September 29, 2009 | View Comments
Ricardo Clark

A few days ago, I posted some numbers about the US central midfield and the effects of individuals and midfield partnerships on the number of goals scored and conceded. Two general trends emerged from the analysis; that replacing more defensive players with more offensive players increases the number of goals conceded and that replacing defensive players with more offensive players does not increase the number of goals scored. While there are sample size and control issues in the analysis, and I fully concede that the results are not significant to a level of confidence that I would make the decision of who should play and who should sit on them, they raise interesting questions. Why is the US so reliant on a defensive midfielder? Why does playing an offensive midfielder not result in more goals for the US?

The Defensive Mid

Fair warning: the hypothesis laid out here is supported with statistics that are not statistically significant within scientific confidence levels (the sample sizes are too small and I’m too lazy to figure out the confidence intervals), nor are they properly controlled to specifically isolate the variable, but they are interesting and pass the smell test.

That the addition of more defensive-minded midfielders lowers the goals conceded rate should surprise no one. If that rate went up, why would you ever play with one? However, more than just a general effect on the game, who the US has conceded goals to when a DM is on versus not on the field is telling of what they bring to the table. During its 13 “A” games, the US has conceded 18 goals; 8 to strikers, 7 to midfielders, 3 to defenders. Below is a table that looks at the positions being played by those who scored against the US broken out by the presence of at least one defensive mid.

No DM4701143202

For the US, the presence of a defensive mid seems to have a twofold effect. First, it has a direct effect of reducing strikes directly from central midfielders for .6 goals/GE to .25 goals/GE. Second, but more important number wise, it seems to have an indirect effect at reducing strikes from the rest of the pitch. LMs and RBs should be the primary defensive responsibilities of our RBs and LMs respectively. The two side back positions and Donovan while playing left mid are the most likely candidates for pinching in to fill central midfield gaps that occur when a defensive midfielder is not in the lineup. This means that their primary defensive responsibilities are left unattended resulting in a probable increase in opportunities for opposing side midfielders and backs.

Based on his playing time and style it should be no surprise that Michael Bradley was the most defensive-minded midfielder on the pitch for all 470 minutes when there has been no true DM. The results are as much an indictment of his inability to shut down the midfield as it is a testament to the ability of Clark and Mastroeni to do so. Until the unlikely event of playing a meaningful game without Bradley or a DM in the lineup, it is impossible to know if the US needs to play with a DM or just that whenever Bradley plays, he must be paired with a defensive midfielder.

The Lost Talent

That offensive minded midfielders do not contribute more to the goal scoring is more of a conundrum. Logically, more possession be it through dribbling or passing should lead to more goal scoring opportunities. In the interest of entertainment and mental gymnastics, I am going to take a shot at a theory that is definitely still a work in progress. In fact, I am not sure that I believe what is written below, but it is the best I could come up with and I hope it stimulates a good conversation in the comments...

What if the current US strikers are not good at playing in a possession based offense? The list of true strikers that the US has used in “A” team matches is Altidore, Casey, Ching, and Davies. Here’s what I would judge as each respective player’s greatest strength: strength to out physical a defender, heading, holding up the ball, and speed.

Scoring in a counter attacking and set piece offense relies on these traits. The ability to shield off a defender when both are racing for a pass up the wing loses its effectiveness when playing a half-field offense. The ability to head in a cross is less necessary when the attack is built through the middle as opposed to the wings. Pulling down a long ball and holding it for an on-rushing midfielder loses its effectiveness when there are no long balls. The ability to blow past a defender on a release loses its effectiveness when the defense is already settled in the box. To be an effective striker in a possession offense the most important traits are not strength, speed, or height, but are positioning, timing, and vision. While I’m confident that Altidore and Davies will develop this, their national team and club playing experience until now (primarily New York Red Bulls and Hammarby) has not made this an area of expertise.

Someone who does have those abilities is Clint Dempsey. With his questionable looking performances on the right side and the emergence of Feilhaber and Holden as viable replacements, a move up top for Dempsey could be a step in the right direction for building a possession side. Kenny Cooper is another who jumps to mind as having better than average positioning. What has kept him off the team or on the bench is that he is not as quick, is not great with his head, and does not use his strength to take on defenders like the other strikers above who are more suited to a counter attacking style. Either or both of these players would likely raise the effectiveness of Torres and Feilhaber. The question remains is the benefit to Torres’ and Feilhaber’s style outweighed by the loss of effectiveness in the counterattacking game?

Putting together a best XI is not about picking the best eleven players at their respective positions. It is about choosing players with complementary skills. The strikers that play now are chosen because their skills mesh with a back line that has a propensity to panic against high line pressure and serve long balls down the field. They mesh with the apparent need (see above) to play a defensive midfielder whose passing ability does not fit into a possession scheme. They mesh with Donovan’s ability to place perfect outlet passes on the counter. When Feilhaber or Torres take the field, none of these things change. Counterattack and set piece opportunities come at the same rate. I would argue that this is why the goal scoring rate with them in does not change. Perhaps, it is a case where their talents are wasted on the team.

For you conspiracy theorists out there, if this analysis is correct, then using a counter attacking style makes it a lot easier to justify playing a central midfielder who has a knack for finding the back of the net on the counterattack and set pieces himself instead of creating for others, i.e. Michael Bradley.

Finally, if you want to see a more possession style played by the US and like one of the guys currently sitting on the bench or not making the team, I propose this as the most viable (Bob might actually consider playing it the next time Michael gets suspended) option:

GK: Howard
Def: Spector, Onyewu, Bocanegra, Pearce
Mid: Feilhaber/Holden, Feilhaber/Torres, Clark, Donovan
FW: Dempsey, Altidore

Or you can just wait a couple years until Jozy’s and Charlie’s position, timing, and vision are much better and the US can use either of these attacking styles effectively.

There. I’ve given you all some talking points. Argue below.

From Thirty Two, There Will Be One

Tuesday, September 29, 2009 | View Comments

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Mexico Bows Out of World Cup Running

Tuesday, September 29, 2009 | View Comments

The US World Cup bid for either 2018 or 2022 received a boost today, as Mexico withdrew from the running. Mexican federation President Decio de Maria chalked up the decision to economic factors, including the considerable investment hosting the tournament would require.

Mexico's withdrawal leaves the United States as the only CONCACAF nation bidding for a World Cup, which should work to their benefit. The confederation's leadership will no longer be split as to which bid to back, meaning that the powerful voices in FIFA's hierarchy representing the region should be fully behind the US bid.

The US is now in competition with Australia, Belgium and the Netherlands (joint bid), England, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Spain and Portugal (joint bid), Qatar, and Russia for one of the two World Cups up for grabs.

The American bid was already strong, and no nation in those believed to be leaders for 2022 can match the US in stadiums or infrastructure; Mexico falling out only makes the bid stronger, as CONCACAF can now concentrate their efforts in one direction.

What do you make of Mexico's decision to remove themselves from consideration?

Loftus Versfeld Stadium

A novel "mortgage" system, one in which fans can buy their own piece of stadium real estate (their seats) over the course of a protracted term, just as they would a condominium, could change the way professional sports teams approach stadium financing. The program allows purchasers to avoid pesky ticket price raises by locking in their annual payments, provides needed financing for stadium projects, and guarantees the buyer ownership of his or her seat no matter the stadium or if the team relocated.

A Wall Street Journal (not that deep, I know, but this is incredibly interesting) piece outlines the concept; while it is only currently being utilized by American universities hoping to expand their college football stadiums, the story suggests that Tottenham Hotspur, a club desperately looking for financing options as they look to build a replacement for White Hart Lane, might be the first professional team to enact it.

The largest problem with selling seats in this manner for professional teams looking to finance building projects is sales; while the long term investment for passionate fans might make sense, it could be difficult to sell some or most of the most expensive seats. For that reason, the concept would be a pipe dream for American soccer clubs looking for alternative financing sources to build a stadium. The game, and the leagues involved, simply don't have the profile and demand for tickets that could make the "seats as condos" idea work.

  • Vancouver Whitecaps President Bob Lenarduzzi spoke during a fund-raiser for the University of Victoria yesterday, and in a preview of his speech from the Times-Colonist he touched on several interesting topics. Among them was the belief that college soccer in Canada has a role to play in the development of professional players, the commitment of the Whitecaps to starting a new USL-1 club in Victoria once the club moves to MLS, and the frustration over the sticky stadium situation that the club currently faces. Lenarduzzi's statements on the stadium don't sound too good, and he put the lack of movement squarely on the shoulders of the local government.

  • FIFA's top medical man wants referees and coaches to step up efforts to punish violent play, and says career-ending injuries have been on the rise over the past two years. With the stakes such as they are, Michel D'Hooghe believes coaches may be complicit in some of the horrific tackles that take place on the pitch. D'Hooghe is calling for a strict application of the rules, which would mean a spike in red cards given to players who tackle from behind or use their elbows illegally. The rules are the rules, and should be applied as their written, though the practical matter is that referees are hesitant to hand out ejection, especially early in matches. If D'Hooghe did get his way, the global soccer community would be forced to go through a period of painful adjustment (not to mention controversy and anger), but would certainly come out better for it on the other side.

  • The A-League, the Australian analog for Major League Soccer with its salary cap, Marquee Player rule and franchise system, is pulling back on plans to expand. Economic factors have delayed a Sydney ownership group's hopes to start a second club in that city, and the league will remain at ten teams for at least one more season. The A-League fascinates me because of its similarities to MLS, though the differences between the two leagues and the two countries in question are significant. Still, if MLS is able to continue expanding through the worst economy in recent memory while other leagues are holding, they must be doing something right. Now if MLS would just follow the Aussies' lead and completely exempt DP player salaries from the cap...

Deep Cuts appears daily and is an attempt to bring you soccer links from off the beaten path or of particular interest. If you come across something you think would make a good Deep Cut, please send it along to

Confusion Over Honduran Matches

Monday, September 28, 2009 | View Comments
Crisis in Honduras

With the ongoing political crisis in Honduras showing no signs of breaking, confusion has broken out of the status of CONCACAF Champions League games set to take place in the country this week.

Several Spanish language outlets are reporting the the Marathon-Toluca match scheduled for Thursday in San Pedro Sula has in fact been cancelled, though Ives Galarcep says sources refute those reports.

The two CCL matches were set as a indicator of the status of the United States' World Cup qualifier; the statement was made that if the Champions League matches took place in Honduras, then the qualifier would likely go on as planned as well (looking for the source of that statement, will link when I can find it).

The obvious conclusion here is that little, if any, of the information we're getting can be trusted. The situation in Honduras has taken an ugly turn, with some of the press being censored by the ruling government; that may make getting news out of the country even more difficult, meaning that we'll be forced to wait until kickoff to be sure that the US will in fact be playing Honduras in San Pedro Sula.

The Marathon-Toluca match may, and likely will, take place as scheduled, though it still may not indicate anything about the status of the US-Honduras qualifier.

US Soccer has yet to make a follow up statement since initially confirming that they were monitoring the situation.

Premier League: Hull Survive Despite Losing To United

If you haven't noticed, things aren't going so well for the Hull City Tigers. Assumed to be relegation candidates before the current Premier League season started, the Tigers are living up to that billing in spades.

Their most recent misadventure, a 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Liverpool at Anfield, is not disappointing for Hull in terms of result (a win over a top four opponent away was never going to a likely proposition) but in the nature of that beating that they took. Hull's battle to stay up will be more about getting points out of matches with clubs like Birmingham (to whom they've lost) and Bolton (whom they've beaten) than doing well against the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea.

But the Liverpool defeat on top of some other recent poor results has lit the burner under Phil Brown, and the Hull manager is staring to feel the heat. For most Americans, beyond those who have fully taken to Hull as passionate fans, the question of Phil Brown's potential sacking might now matter if it weren't for one rather large question:

If Brown is fired, what happens to Jozy?

Jozy's not going anywhere, of course, and should be with Hull for the balance of the Premier League season. But if Brown, the man ostensibly behind the acquiring of the young American on loan from Villareal, is no longer manager, where does that leave Altidore's prospects for playing time?

Altidore has yet, and may never, entrench himself as a first team choice for the Tigers. He entered this weekend's match as a late-game substitute for Geovanni, at a point in the action when the outcome was well decided; with several more experienced forwards options available, spot minutes may be the best that we can expect for Jozy. Managers in peril tend to rely more on seasoned players they're familiar with than unknown youngsters for whom consistency is still an issue; it's also unlikely that would change under a new manager, since a new man would probably do the same in an effort to save the club from relegation.

Either way, it's a tough time for American fans tracking Altidore's progress, and it shows not signs of getting better. He can still make his mark at Hull, and the hope and belief is that he can be a starter in the Premier League before too long. Unfortunately, it's difficult to see a path that leads there at the moment, and perhaps we should (and some certainly did) have seen the problems coming. Clubs bound to struggle cannot afford to wait on young talent, no matter how much potential there might be, while their chance of remaining top-flight slip away with every dropped point.

The World Cup is rapidly approaching, and Jozy Altidore is already a prominent part of the US National Team. The more time on field, especially for a player of his age, the better; at twenty years old, Altidore cannot afford to be wasting away on the Hull bench when so much of the American hopes in South Africa will be tied to his performance.

Phil Brown has received the dreaded (I'm required by the sportswriters' code to describe it as "dreaded") vote of confidence from Hull's chairman, which probably means he'll receive his walking papers shortly; even if he doesn't, as a manager under fire from multiple angles, he's not likely to take chances or be experimental. Would a replacement, either a caretaker or a newly installed permanent manager, be more likely to put Jozy on the pitch?

Maybe Jozy's just damned either way.

Deep Cuts: Investing in the Future

Monday, September 28, 2009 | View Comments
Adu signs with MLS

While you ponder what exactly the TPL might be, I've managed to collect a few intriguing links from around the internet to further stimulate your mind.

Soccer, perhaps more than the traditionally relevant and entrenched sports leagues in the United States, is about looking to, and preparing for, the future. Intelligent people are on the job all over the country, including L.E. Eisenmenger at Soccerlens; her piece there today proposes a youth transfer fee system in the United States, something which could help bridge the gap between the massive youth clubs our country possesses and the new-on-the-scene MLS clubs.

L.E.'s suggestion makes sense on several levels, and while the details would certainly have to be worked out, fixing the disconnect should be a priority for US Soccer, Major League Soccer, and those that run youth clubs around the country. If the clubs have incentive to develop players for the professional ranks, much of the animosity that exists between the two levels could be washed away, making for a more productive environment for the game in the U.S.

  • Also a nod towards the future and building the game in the US is the launch of, a site that will provide a free online hub for the sport in America. Audacious in its aims, the US Soccer Project's corporate backer, Elite Design Corporation, plans to purchase a European club "to enhance player development and bridge the gap between the U.S. youth system and the structure of youth soccer around the world". It will be extremely interesting to see where this site goes, and if their ambitious goals are achievable.

  • Coming on the heels of last week's announcement that the MLS Cup Final will be moved to prime-time as well as cable comes one writer's call for the game to move away from neutral sites. The argument here is that MLS is wrong to follow the "NFL model", and should instead move to be more in line with South America's Copa Libertadores (a two-legged final). I'm fine with a two-legged final in each finalists home stadium, but I chafe a bit at the idea that the series should take place on consecutive Wednesdays in order to limit competition for attention. Then again, does MLS really need to play their final on a weekend up against American football?

  • Our last link for today relates to a unfulfilled future, and one that has faded fast in recent times. Extrafootie remembers when Freddy Adu was America's chosen one, and throws salt in the wound with a video highlight package of the young phenom. I still feel for Freddy, who was never placed in a position to develop naturally because of the hype that surrounded him. You have to wonder if he would have become a great player if he was either not American or had come after someone else had blazed the trail that it seems he was forced to. Although different players in style and talent, it's worth considering whether Jozy Altidore would have become the player he is today if Freddy Adu hadn't come before him.

And now the part I always forget: Deep Cuts will attempt (but not always manage) to bring you soccer links from off the beaten path on a daily basis. If you come across something you think would make a good Deep Cut, please send it along to

What is TPL?

Monday, September 28, 2009 | View Comments

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This week on Match Fit USA, Jason and Zach review the Honudras qualifier situation, talk about the US Under-20s, take a look at 2010's MLS openers, and debate the concept of club re-branding.

Match Fit USA Soccer Show, part of the Champions Soccer Radio Network.

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Deep Cuts: Extra Extra

Friday, September 25, 2009 | View Comments

The issue of immigration and soccer is bouncing around the internet recently; several articles have come out on the issue in regards to the US National Team. I haven't completely wrapped my head around it all, but it's clearly worth talking about; even more so because it seems the anti-immigration lobby are using the squad to illustrate that immigrants are failing to assimilate.

At least, that's what The Wonk tells us, as they explain that an article I linked to previously was actually a backhanded slap at immigration policy. I had no idea, and failed to realize that the source of the piece, the Center for Immigration Studies, is actually working to reduce immigration. No matter your opinion on the issue (a political sticky wicket I'm not going to muck up a soccer blog with), it's interesting to see soccer, and specifically the National Team, as a focal point in the debate.

  • The new American owner of Italian club Bari has high hopes for Serie A; how an American, Italy's first foreign owner, will fit in there will be an interesting saga to watch. Bari is new promoted, so there shouldn't be the same pitfalls that American owners in England have encountered after taking over massive clubs. Italy has never been a place that Americans go, which is why Livorno's interest in two (Donovan and Clark), and Milan's signing of Oguchi Onyewu this summer was intriguing. With an American owner in Italy, it's possible we'll see more names linked with Serie A.

  • Someone has a solution to the chronic controversy of the amount of added time Manchester United gets at Old Trafford; follow the example of American football. I love when Americans do this, because while there's validity to the suggestion, they often fail to appreciate how resistant to change sports communities typically are. It's why goal line technology is still not in place, why there's no pitch clock in Major League Baseball, and why angst-ridden discussion follows all of those issues. Eventually changes do come, as we're seeing with the end-line official experiment in the Europa league, but I can't imagine significant changes with timekeeping are ever going to be seriously considered.

Evidence of a Central Midfield

Thursday, September 24, 2009 | View Comments
USA v Mexico, FIFA World Cup Qualifier

Essien, Pirlo, Mascherano, Xavi, Iniesta, Kaka. These guys can deliver devastating tackles, brilliant balls over the top, immense pitch coverage, fantastic one-touch passing, penetrating runs, and jaw dropping dribbling. As diverse as their talents are, they all line up in the center midfield and create the backbones of their teams. They are charged either with being the engine for their team or shutting down the other team’s engine. Only in the central midfield can you find this diversity of talents and roles. While the quality of those above midfielders may not be available in the US talent pool, that level of diversity certainly is.

Eight players have staffed the US central midfield in the 13 “A” team games that have been played in 2009. While Mastroeni and Beckerman have played in games with the US “A” team, their time with the MNT is likely coming to a close; Mastroeni because of age and Beckerman because of better options. The rest of the US talent pool in the center of the pitch is young but experienced for their age. Bradley, Clark, Edu, Feilhaber, Kljestan, and Torres average only 23.3 years old but 20.7 caps. They are still developing, but have shown the brilliance of their potential and the mistakes of their youth.

I wanted to see how the US plays with these players on the field in a more concrete way than just by my own feelings about them. Similar to the hockey plus-minus stat, the table below shows each players minutes, the goals scored while they have been in the central midfield, the goals conceded while they have been in the central midfield, each of those numbers per game equivalent (where game equivalent equals 93 minutes with the extra three added for average second half stoppage time), and the difference between the two.


But that’s only part of the story, because these are midfield pairings, who you are paired with matters too. Here’s where the subjectivity of this comes in. I am going to classify the central midfielders into three groups: more useful when the opponent has the ball (defensive), more useful when the US has the ball (offensive), equally useful (balanced). I classify Clark, Mastroeni, Beckerman, and Edu as defensive; Feilhaber and Torres as offensive; and Bradley and Kljestan as balanced. Below is a chart with all the different combinations that the US has played this year.


The two tables show one thing very strongly; Sacha Kljestan has been terrible for the US this year. While Torres’ defensive numbers are not great, the statistical analysis there suffers from an overall lack of minutes and being skewed by the three man center midfield disaster that was the Costa Rica first half. Kljestan has no such excuses. His removal from a lineup has generally been followed by a US goal (Mexico) or two (at El Salvador), while his insertion is generally followed by an opposition goal (Italy and Brazil). Because of terrible play when Kljestan is in the lineup, the Bal-Bal combination has suffered greatly. The other three combinations that the US has frequently used shows a stable trend:


As the more defensive players are replaced by more offensive players, the goals conceded rises; however, the number of goals scored does not significantly change. An analysis of the numbers separated from player bias, stylistic leanings, and form arguments shows that the US should start its matches with a pairing of a defensive midfielder and a balanced center midfielder with an attacking option off the bench to replace the balanced player when a late goal is needed. In that case, there is a slightly higher likelihood of scoring without selling out the back against the counter. In games where an Off has replaced a Def by red card (Italy when Feilhaber moved to the middle after Clark was tossed) or substitution (Mexico, again Feilhaber for Clark) the US has allowed 3 goals and scored 1 in 74 minutes; whereas a Off has never been brought in for a Bal.

Until Edu returns, Clark is the only top defensive midfielder the US has. Likewise until Jones is eligible and healed, Bradley is the only good option as a balanced midfielder. While their play might be ugly, the objective results of their pairing is hard to argue with. In 370 minutes with them on the pitch together, the US has scored eight goals and conceded one or 2.0 goals scored per game and 0.3 goals conceded per game.

Central midfield pairings can be defensive, possessive, creative, attacking, or some combination of these things. The goal should be to find the pairing that gives a team the best chance to win. For whatever reason, the US bleeds goals when anything nearing an offensively minded midfield is played, and those more offensively minded players have not contributed to the attack enough to offset that loss. When healthy and not suspended, objectively the pairing of Clark and Bradley puts the US in the best position to win. That being said, the statistics make a strong case for looking at the pairing of Torres and Clark; as the strike rate with Torres on the field is the highest of any midfielder and Clark’s low concede rate may balance that midfield nicely.

MLS Announces 2010 Home Openers

Thursday, September 24, 2009 | View Comments

The 2009 MLS season hasn't even gotten to the playoff stages, and already fans are looking forward to 2010. The league announced the home openers for each team today, and with the debut of Red Bull Arena, the (expected) continued enthusiasm for the Seattle Sounders in Year 2, and the new grass surface at BMO Field, 2010's kick off is a highly anticipated one.

Here's the list, with the caveat that the date of Toronto's home opener depends on the readiness of their new grass field.

First Kick presented by Dick's Sporting Goods - Thursday, March 25, 2010
Philadelphia Union at Seattle Sounders FC, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN2/Deportes,

Saturday, March 27, 2010
Toronto FC at Columbus Crew, 4 p.m.
Chicago Fire at New York Red Bulls, 7 p.m. (ESPN2/Deportes,
D.C. United at Kansas City Wizards, 8:30 p.m.
Houston Dynamo at FC Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
Real Salt Lake at San Jose Earthquakes, 9 p.m.
New England Revolution at LA Galaxy, 11 p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel/Fox Sports en Español)

Sunday, March 28, 2010
Colorado Rapids at Chivas USA, Time TBD (TeleFutura)

Saturday, April 3, 2010
Chicago Fire at Colorado Rapids, Time TBD
New England Revolution at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.
Kansas City Wizards at Houston Dynamo, 8:30 p.m.

Saturday, April 10, 2010
D.C. United at Philadelphia Union, 3 p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel/Fox Sports en Español)
Toronto FC at New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m.
San Jose Earthquakes at Chicago Fire, 8:30 p.m.
Seattle Sounders FC at Real Salt Lake, 9 p.m.

I've got those first two game circled on my calendar, what about you?

Chivas de Guadalajara v Chivas USA

After five years of existence and a less than expected response from their connection to their Mexican cousins, Chivas USA finally squeezed a friendly out of Chivas de Guadalajara. Dubbed the "ChivaClasico", the game took placed last night at the Rose Bowl, with the Mexican giants defeated their American namesakes 2-0 on two late goals by Omar Arellano.

Yet, as with most high-profile friendlies, especially in light of the success of Soccer United Marketing's "Summer of Soccer", the results on the field matter less than the success in the stands and the exposure the clubs receive. While the game was probably still a win for both clubs, last night's friendly, especially in the context of others in 2009, was ultimately a disappointment.

The "ChivaClasico" drew 22,879, in a stadium that holds over 100,000, and in a city with a massive Mexican population. Chivas Guadalajara is one of the most well-supported Mexican clubs, and surely has enough passionate support in LA to attract what amounts to a sellout at the Home Depot Center. The two clubs, and Chivas USA in particular, being the hosts for the match, surely thought the game would do much better; I assume that if they knew the game would draw less than 27,000 (capacity at the HDC), they would have simply played the match there.

So who failed here? The Galaxy's friendly at the Rose Bowl, though admittedly involving star power on the MLS side as well as the visiting club side, drew a sell-out at the same stadium. Perhaps it's unfair to expect that sort of turnout for a game involving none of the world-renowned stars that AC Milan or the Galaxy possess, but the name "Chivas" has it's own particular pull; I'm at a loss to explain why a game involving one of the biggest clubs in this part of the world, and one with a strong fan base in the LA-area, wasn't able to attract a larger crowd.

Deep Cuts: Window or Aisle?

Thursday, September 24, 2009 | View Comments
Southwest Airline Passengers Exit Plane In Burbank

The cost-control restrictions that Major League Soccer places on its teams are sometimes viewed as unnecessary and capricious by many of the league's fans; this is especially true for fans of clubs who would willingly spend the extra cash to make their players more comfortable (and therefore hopefully allow them to perform better). Seattle is a perfect example, having chartered a plan and putting its players up in the Ritz Carlton before their US Open Cup final showdown with DC United.

And speaking of the Sounders, The Olympian gives us a peek at their typical travel issues, the same ones that the rest of the league deals with. There's the obligatory quote from the Designated Player (that would be Mr. Ljungberg) on how different MLS is in terms of travel, though I was interested to read that the players don't seem to have any complaints about the league-mandated hotels; it looks like things have improved since Beckham and Xavier had their fried chicken fit as related in the Grant Wahl book. If soccer players do become superstars in the US at some point in the future, and the league hasn't yet removed the travel restrictions by then, I picture roving bands of groupies, all attempting to get on an MLS team's commercial flight and angling for a seat near the star striker.

  • Last week in Deep Cuts, I passed along a link to an opinion piece on how one anti-immigration group's ideas for reform would seriously hurt the US National Team. Today comes another piece connecting immigration and the Nats, in which the author wonders why there aren't more immigrants in the side. There's a reasonable point there, though the author completely ignores the issue of development; if two equally gifted players are born in Brazil, and one moves to the US at age 8, the likelihood is that the player that remained in the soccer hotbed of South America will become the better player. That doesn't mean there isn't an issue capitalizing on the talent that is here, be it naturalized or native-born; the US program has clearly yet to full maximize the player pool as it exists in the United States.

  • American Airlines is launching an online game in an effort to woo soccer fans, and specifically Hispanis ones, to the airline's frequent flyer program. The game is available in both English and Spanish, and features Spanish-language sportscaster Fernando Fiore. I'm guessing we'll see more and more of these types of programs as the game's profile rises in the US, and not just aimed at Hispanic consumers (though they will certainly drive soccer-related marketing for the foreseeable future). Unfortunately, The Man has my computer here at work on lockdown, so I'm unable to check it out. If anyone wants to give a quick review of the campaign and the game, feel free to do so in the comments.

Alas, that's just about all I could find of any real interest today. I may be back to update this post if I come across something worth passing along.

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