Remember Eddie?

Friday, October 30, 2009 | View Comments
WCQ - Barbados v United States

by Matt - US Soccer Daily

Eddie Johnson was always on the fast track to national team success. The Bunnell, Florida native played with U-17 national team, scoring nearly a goal per game in 25 appearances. He then moved on to the U-20 national team, where he shined at the 2003 U-20 World Cup, scoring four goals and winning the Golden Shoe. Once he got his chance with the senior team, Johnson kept up the torrid pace he had set with the youth teams, scoring four goals in his first two caps. Needless to say, American fans were excited by the goal scoring prowess of the then 20 year old.

Johnson’s ability caught the eye of a number of European scouts, as well, and MLS fielded significant transfer offers from overseas suitors. After a series of rejected transfers and nixed deals, Eddie would finally make the move in January 2008, joining the American contingent at Fulham. Now, about two years later, Johnson has yet to make much of an impact in England, and the emergence of Charlie Davies and Jozy Altidore made him an afterthought in the minds of most American fans. But with Davies’ unfortunate injury, it might be time to bring Eddie back into camp. With Brian Ching, Conor Casey, and Kenny Cooper falling in behind Altidore in the pecking order, the US is lacking for speed up front, and Johnson could bring just that.

Johnson’s time on loan last season really helped him turn a corner. His game sense has improved, and he now has a high work rate that helped him become a fan favorite at Cardiff. Johnson played well this season in Fulham’s preseason tour of Australia, and he has frequently found the back of the net with the reserves (most recently scoring two goals in a match earlier this week). His style of play is not too unlike that of Charlie Davies, and an Altidore-Johnson partnership up front might wreak similar havoc for opposing backlines.

The major knock against bringing in Eddie is the fact that he’s only made three appearances this season. (In those appearances, Eddie has an assist and has created a couple of quality goal scoring opportunities.) Other speed options, like Robbie Findley and Jeff Cunningham, meanwhile, have played and scored regularly in MLS, so they might be more appealing options. But Cunningham, 33, has been somewhat of an enigma over his career and never really made a mark at the international level, failing to score in 10 caps. Findley, meanwhile, does not have any real international experience, something Johnson does have.

More than anything, the thought of bringing Eddie Johnson back into the national team is an intriguing one. He’s always had raw ability, but now with a high work rate an improved attitude, it might be Eddie’s time to shine. Bob Bradley should exercise all options in the coming months to try to fill the holes in his lineup, and I would not be surprised to see EJ called into camp. His early success might have been too much too soon, and a couple years of learning and maturing overseas could be the missing piece of the puzzle. If he can manage to earn some playing time and make an impact in friendlies over the next couple months, Eddie might just find himself back on the fast track to national team success.

Real Salt Lake v Seattle Sounders

One hell of a soccer match took place in Seattle last night. The MLS playoffs got off to a flying start as the Houston Dynamo and Seattle Sounders battled to a scoreless draw at Qwest Field in front of 35,000 fans. While the soccer wasn't always pretty and neither side was able to put away their chances when they came, the atmosphere was electric, the competition fierce, and the drama intense.

Both teams left all they had on the field, and there's not a better setting in MLS for a match of that gravity than Qwest Field with it's 35k.

I'm sure Don Garber and the leadership of MLS wish they could bottle what we saw last night. Imagine if every playoff match, hell, every match period, was like that one; MLS would jump from fringe league with a solid core of support but little real relevance to a major part of the American sports scene in a matter of a few years.

Alas, Seattle's playoff atmosphere is unique. Although there are other clubs around the league that have fantastic support and might even fill their stadiums, no one can match the number we saw in Seattle last night. That doesn't mean, of course, that they can't be just as electric and fun to watch; I fully expect the Dynamo faithful to represent next week, and Robertson should have a intense feel all it's own. If the two side put on another show (perhaps with finishing this time) like they did last night, the league will be better for it.

Last night was a perfect example of how a nil-nil draw can be incredibly entertaining; while I doubt many did, I really hope more than a few American sports fans, perhaps looking for something to watch after the World Series game has finished, flipped over to ESPN2. There's reasonable chance, if they were either open-minded or misplaced the remote, that they found themselves the enjoying the game. Wouldn't that be nice?

Although it's not really about those average-joe American sports fans. The goal should be to attract confirmed soccer fans, people who watch the game on a regular basis but are still ignoring MLS. Last night's game was far from pretty, and I'm sure many a snob turned their nose up at it last night for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that it just didn't look like an EPL match; but if you are a fan of soccer, a fan of sport, and don't have a "beautiful game" label stick shoved you-know-where on a regular basis, then you should have thoroughly enjoyed Sounders-Dynamo in front of a proper crowd.

Here's to hoping that last night's match set off a trend of highly-competitive, enjoyable, and well-attended playoff matches around MLS. RSL-Columbus, LA-Chivas, Chicago-New England; all of the first legs of those series have potential, with the "SuperClasico" being the most intriguing of the batch. I can't think of any reason that all of those matches won't be sold out (it would be terrible if one or more wasn't), so atmospheres should be good. It's up to the clubs to follow the example of Seattle and Houston and play like it's, well, a playoff series.

If the first match of the 2009 MLS playoffs is a harbinger of what the 2009 playoffs will be, there's reason to be excited.

Campos Up for FC Dallas Job

Thursday, October 29, 2009 | View Comments

Match Fit USA has learned that Mexican legend Jorge Campos may be under consideration for FC Dallas' newly created Technical Director position. Campos has had contact with the club in regards to the position after general manager Michael Hitchcock was let go this week.

Campos retired in 2004 after a distinguished playing career, including stints with the LA Galaxy and Chicago Fire, and was on Ricardo Lavolpe's staff during Mexico's 2006 World Cup effort. He currently does periodic television work for TV Azteca. He was spotted at the Cotton Bowl for Mexico's match with Columbia, a game that was the second half of a doubleheader; FC Dallas took on New England in the first game.

FC Dallas has seen their attendance fall in recent years despite the opening of a brand new stadium, and Hitchcock's time with the club was marred by those issues. After four years in the general manager position, Hitchcock was dismissed and the club's management structure changed; FC Dallas announced that it would not hire a replacement for Hitchcock, but would instead hire a technical director to assist head coach Schellas Hyndman with front office responsibilities. Hunt Sports Group president John Wagner remains in charge of the club's business operations.

The revival of FC Dallas' fortunes in the second half of the MLS season, a revival that saw them narrowly miss the playoffs, is being credited to Hyndman; that credit appears to have convinced owner Clark Hunt that the former SMU head man should be given more authority over the club's personnel decisions. What role Campos would play in the process as "Technical Director" is unclear.

FC Dallas has declines to comment on the candidacy of Campos to MFUSA, citing company policy.

Deep Cuts: Slim Pickins

Thursday, October 29, 2009 | View Comments

Deep Cuts took a brief hiatus yesterday, for a couple of different reasons: one, I was forced to do The Man's bidding with no real break, and two, the Internet failed to deliver anything of real interest. Deep Cuts returns today, though the situation hasn't much change; I still have way too much work to do, and there's very little of interest worth highlighting.

  • The State of Kansas won't sweeten the incentive package they've offered the groups (including OnGoal, owners of the Wizards) looking to build a stadium complex in Wyandotte County. The package details came down on October 15th, and the state has yet to hear from the Wizards; I'm not sure if that's cause for concern, but it does seem odd. The Wizards continue to project that image of a club not long for their current home is things don't start moving soon; Community America Ballpark is fine as a stop-gap, but playing there gives the league a "minor league" feel that MLS shouldn't tolerate for much longer. I'm not a financial guy, so I don't know if the Kansas packages is a good one or not; but it appears to be the best the Wizards are going to get on that side of the line, and if Missouri is no longer an option, it's time to get moving. Put a shovel in the ground already.

  • MFUSA favorite Chris Nee covers the game from many different perspectives, including that of a PR maven; in that role he penned a fantastic piece on how football clubs can use blogs to improve their relationship with their fans. Chris tackles more than angle in the blog/club dynamic, including how clubs should identify and work with the more prominent club-focused bloggers as well as how to properly run an in-house blog. Too many clubs, both here in the States as well as in Chris' homeland of England, see bloggers as enemies rather than potential allies. MLS teams, because of the dearth of professional media covering them, may do a little bit better in this area than their Euro cousins, but there's always room for improvment.

Deep Cuts appears every weekday, and highlights American soccer-related items from around the web. If you have a story for Deep Cuts (even shallow ones), you can send it along to

The future of the "second" division of American and Canadian soccer took a dramatic turn today: Alex Papadakis, chairman of NuRock Soccer Holdings, the new owner of USL, told a Canadian radio station that the Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact would not be participating in USL-1 next season.

Papadakis indicated that "the negotiations are finished", and that the league will move forward with those clubs that want to be a part of USL-1. That would indicate that the statuses of the entirety of the Team Owners Association-affiliated clubs (Carolina, Miami, Minnesota, and the new Tampa Bay Rowdies, with a potential St. Louis club and the on-hiatus Atlanta Silverbacks involved as well) are in question.

Papadakis' words didn't jive with those of Impact owner Joey Saputo's who indicated that negotiations are not finished and that the Impact could still play in USL-1 next year. For the Whitecaps part, President Bob Lenarduzzi told John Molinaro of the CBC that the TOA is pursuing a new league option and is on the verge of submitting an application to the USSF (both statements in Molinaro's story at the CBC site); those statements have now been couched by Lenarduzzi, who has since told Molinaro that his club is "in limbo" for 2010.

It appears that Lenaduzzi may have shown too much of the TOA's hand, and was then forced to "retract" (though he didn't fully) his statements. Fleshing out what exactly is happening is extremely difficult; both sides are clearly attempting to influence public opinion, with the high profile Canadian clubs at the forefront of the battle.

Lenarduzzi's comment about submitting an application to the USSF are interesting, in that they indicate that either the TOA or some portion of it is moving ahead with contingency plans should a resolution not be found. Time is of the essence here; if the break away clubs hope to be ready to play outside of USL-1 in 2010, they need to get moving on the process.

Things are messy, that much is sure. I'm still at a loss to explain exactly what it is the TOA clubs might get out of returning to a league that is wholly owned by a third party and that leaves them out of of decision-making process. The backbone of any league, in any sport, is its member clubs; as such, those clubs should helping to make policy, determine direction, etc. USL/NuRock has done nothing to this point to indicate that they get that; instead, they inform players their contracts are voided behind the clubs backs, make proclamations that certain clubs are out of the league despite statements to the contrary by the clubs themselves, and just general look the bully.

I'm solidly on the side of owners who want a say in how the business of their league is conducted. I understand that breaking away would be extremely difficult, risky, and complicated; the new league would have a Herculean task ahead of it to install the proper administrative bodies to make such a thing happen. It all really comes down to how far the TOA member clubs are willing to go to get what they want. It doesn't look to me like NuRock will be backing down.

For an overview of today's events, read friend of MFUSA Andrew Bucholtz's piece on the matter.

What do you make of today's developments?

Over the past week or so, I've found myself pondering the playoff structure that MLS uses to determine its champion. I'm both solidly American (and no, that's nothing to be ashamed of) and a fan of the "traditional" aspects of the world's game; this means I'm a touch conflicted over the issue of single table versus playoffs as a way to crown America's top club.

As an American, I understand the benefit and shortcomings of the system. I appreciate that holding a post-season playoff tournament is just the way we do things here when it comes to professional sports, and that decades of history have conditioned the American sports fan to expect one. I also get that most (but certainly not all) top soccer leagues around the world just don't do it this way; the best team over the course of a season is given the title, as a acknowledgement that it's not just about getting hot for a few weeks but about being the consistent best team over the course of a long journey.

Part of what makes a single table champion viable in most football competitions is a balanced schedule; there are twenty teams in each of the top tier European leagues, a nice round number that allows for a full season of home-and-away matches. The inherent fairness of that system means that the team with the most points at the end of the year deserves their reward. Without a balanced schedule to this point, thanks to both a small number of teams and a desire to leverage rivalries as much as possible, Major League Soccer could never consider a true single table.

In 2010, MLS will finally go to the balanced schedule. Philadelphia's entry brings the number of clubs to sixteen, and home-and-away matches across the league makes for a nice round thirty league games. The time seems right to move to the single table, crown the top point-getter at the end of the season the league champion, and get on with the business of lining up with the majority of the footballing world.

Not so fast.

The playoffs serve a purpose for Major League Soccer, balanced schedule or not. Americans, despite becoming more and more familiar with football as played around the world, are still comfortable with them. While the club on top of the standings after a full regular season certainly deserves to be crowned champion, the knockout style post-season tournament brings an additional level of intrigue and drama still helpful to selling the American product. MLS still needs a showpiece game, a massive "show off" event once a year that will hopefully draw a little mainstream media attention. I'll admit that there's an element of pandering to the non-soccer media there; though it's distasteful, it's unfortunately necessary. The MLS Cup Final is the league and the sports marquee event, and without a serious knockout up tournament, won't be going anywhere anytime soon.

Don't forget that US Soccer, and not MLS, runs the under-appreciated US Open Cup; even if the final of the tournament was a proper showpiece, it does the league no good. If the playoffs were to go away, the league would need to fill the void left by the loss of the MLS Cup Final. There doesn't seem to be an easy answer for how to do that. It becomes a case of the tail wagging the dog, if just a little; the league needs the final, therefore the playoffs are here to stay.

We've established that the playoffs aren't, and probably shouldn't, be going away. We know that MLS has committed to a balanced schedule for 2010. It only makes sense then, with the travel and regional concerns no longer at play in scheduling, to abolish the conference system and move to a single table with playoffs. Play the season out, thirty games consisting of home-and-away with every other team, and send the top eight to the playoffs. It's clean, simple, and without all of the complicated nonsense of incomprehensible tiebreakers. If you need a tiebreaker, goal differential will do nicely.

I think there's a chance MLS will do the right thing and move to this system for 2010. Conferences mean nothing now; they're just arbitrary delineations that have no bearing on the competition. Holding onto something that literally has no bearing would not only be ridiculous, it would only serve to bring MLS more criticism. Surely the league knows that labels like "Western" and "Eastern", when the schedule is not affected by them, is ridiculous beyond comprehension.

Coaching Carousel: TFC and NYRB

Tuesday, October 27, 2009 | View Comments

After today's announcement that Chris Cummins will not return to Toronto, two of Major League Soccer's highest profile franchises are without head coaches. Red Bull, denizens of North America's biggest market and with a new stadium on the way, and Toronto, with their rabid fan base and consistent sellouts, failed to make the playoffs (both spectacularly, though the latter's last day heartbreaking loss to the former leaves the question of which was worse up to debate); with crucial decisions to be made on the coaching front, are both of these teams primed to make big splashes?

Both clubs ended their seasons with interim managers; Chris Cummins in Toronto might have held on until next year had the Reds not fell on their faces so dramatically, and Richie Williams in New York was unlikely remain in the top job no matter how the remainder of the season played out. With the off-season underway, the watch begins for how the two clubs will fill their vacancies; one needs to appease their angry supporters while the other needs to bring attention to themselves after a poorly-played and poorly-attended season.

New York Red Bulls

FC Dallas v New York Red Bulls

The focus for the Red Bulls moved away from the field almost immediately as soon as the final whistle sounded against Toronto. Those fans committed to and emotionally invested in the team are as excited for the opening of Red Bull Arena as anyone, though they naturally want to see the product on the pitch get much, much better for 2010. Rumors of Thierry Henry joining New York after the World Cup are nice, but they do little to ease fears that the Red Bulls will head into their new facility with another weak squad. The excitement that a new stadium brings will only carry so far, and so it's incumbent upon the club's Austrian overlords to make a splash. Whether they decide to do that via player signings or through a big name head coach (or both) doesn't really matter; the important thing, from a ticket-selling standpoint, is to push the interest level as high as possible.

The club was recently linked with former Chelsea man Avram Grant, and while the Israeli's resume isn't overly impressive outside of his time with the Blues, he would have been a massive managerial name on this side of the pond. With Grant moving on to Portsmouth, New York is back in the market for a manager, and I doubt it would surprise anyone if they used the hiring as equal parts football-move and PR-fodder. It is New York, after all, and if the club decides to throw a little of its corporate cash around, there's no reason to believe that they couldn't lure a big name.

Who the Red Bulls might target is a mystery; do a search for the club in Google News, and you'll be inundated with stories about Henry's potential signing. Finding a competent head coach should be a higher priority, and I'm still not convinced that the Henry rumors have legs.

Former Italian National Team and Napoli manager Roberto Donadoni, who played with New York during their early Metrostars days, is available, and could be top of the list.

Toronto FC

Toronto FC v Los Angeles Galaxy

Toronto doesn't need to sell tickets. Their fans are passionate and vocal, and in light of failing to make the playoffs in their third year, increasingly frustrated. MLSE, the club's owners, have to be feeling the heat; it's more than just bloggers and message boards, with some of the city's biggest media outlets weighing in with scathing pieces that "enough is enough". Outgoing interim manager Chris Cummins alluded to broke promises on the part of the club, something that only fans the flames of dissatisfaction among the rank and file.

So in which direction does TFC head? The club finds itself at a crossroads, caught between being Canada's biggest club, dealing with all that entails (including snapping up almost every big Canadian name available), and residing squarely in the bottom half of Major League Soccer.

Splashy moves during the off-season guarantee you nothing, of course, and Toronto might be better served to take a pragmatic approach in their coaching search, even if it means choosing someone who won't send the supporters into rapturous hysterics. Who would send TFC fans into those hysterics is a mystery to me; while certain segments would surely fall over backwards if someone like, say, Sven-Goran Eriksson was hired, the more thoughtful of the bunch might see such a move as a pandering attempt to quiet the mob and a sure portent of ultimate disaster. As the Ruud Gullit experiment in LA proved, it takes a special "name" foreign coach to deal with the complexities and irregularities of the MLS system, and the chances aren't good Sven would be one of those guys.

Not that I'm suggesting Eriksson would seriously consider MLS or that MLSE would seriously consider Eriksson, I'm simply using the Swede as an example.

Perhaps more relevant than my idle speculation that Toronto might look to make a splash is the question of whether or not they should.

New York appear the more obvious of the two to go the big name route, though I think it's conceivable Toronto ends up with a head coach absolutely no one expected; do you see either club making a splash, and if so, who should they bring in?

Deep Cuts: The Gnashing of Teeth

Tuesday, October 27, 2009 | View Comments
Toronto FC v Los Angeles Galaxy

The plight of Toronto FC and the frustration of its fans are popular fodder around the North American soccer community these days. The moaning angst of Reds supporters can be heard down here in the States; for some, it's sweet music that evokes a classic Nelson "Ha ha!". The rest of us are either un-bothered or are watching with interest as the self-examination north of the border begins.

At least one Canadian writer believes that missing the playoffs is a good thing, in the same way that an alcoholic hitting rock bottom and realizing it's time for AA is a good thing. I'm never one to wish pain on a passionate fan base (aside from Mexican National team supporters), and I'm not familiar enough with the management of TFC to know if there's anything to the theory; but if people I respect believe that club (and specifically Mo Johnston) have mishandled things, then I suppose it's probably true.

As the Sounders have proved this year (and yes, I know about the domestic player issues for TFC), there's really no reason that a newer well-supported team with a significant home-field advantage can't make the playoffs. The off-season and year four could be very interesting in Toronto.

There's a press conference shortly with the first act in the drama; the guess here is that Cummins is out.

  • FC Dallas defender George John wants to play in Greece one day. I'm guessing that John is Greek, because it seems an odd aspiration for an American player otherwise. It's not that Greece doesn't have a very good domestic league, it's just that most young players here hope to make the jump to England, Germany, Spain, and the like. I'm not sure if John particularly impressed this season (not saying he didn't, I'm just unaware), but maybe he'll improve enough to get his wish one day.

  • While some in the US decry the snobbery of soccer fans even while they reject the game out of hand, the Australians seem even more conflicted. The Aussie World Cup bid is a big, big deal Down Under, but not everyone appears to be on board. The idea that both rugby league and Aussie rules football should shut down if the World Cup goes to the country strikes at least one writer as soccer "evangelism" gone awry. What is most interesting to me about this story is that certain portions of it could have easily been written by an American lamenting the behavior of the soccer community in the United States. Perhaps most interesting is the implication that Australia's soccer federation (the FFA) is coloring resistance from the country's other major sporting competitions as "sabotage". I wonder, if Major League Baseball (who I can't imagine would be asked to shut down during an American World Cup and didn't in 1994) threw up concerns about the World Cup here, how the general sports complex would react.

  • A typical clueless American has played FIFA 10, and given his review. It's a good review for the game, even if he feels the need to take shots at the sport in general along the way. I haven't played FIFA 10 (though I'm desperate too), but being familiar with the franchise, I can assure you that his basic premise is terribly flawed; even those oblivious to soccer can have a blast playing the game, and it doesn't matter if you completely understand the rules or not. Besides, how hard are they to understand? Oh, and please stop with throwing Beckham into every story even remotely connected to soccer in the US.

Deep Cuts: Monday, Monday

Monday, October 26, 2009 | View Comments
Football - Slovakia Training

Not exactly deep, but certainly worth noting (and I'm not sure I have time to write up a full post); US Soccer has confirmed the rumored friendly with Slovakia on November 14th. The first-ever visit to Bratislava comes four days before the Americans take on Denmark in Aarhus. The two game trip represents a nice little European tour for a team in desperate need of action, as Bob Bradley has to start the search for front and back line replacements immediately.

  • Real Salt Lake made the MLS playoffs in a bit of a surprise, and one Deseret News writer hopes it can steer more young people towards the game. Amy Donaldson muses over all of the same issues that are discussed among the faithful on a regular basis, including the most common refrain; why do Americans who play the sport as youths move away from it in adulthood? There aren't any answers here (I'm not sure there is an easy answer, though I attempted to reason one out way back in January) just a general hope that RSL's playoff run captures the imagination of the community. Unlikely as that may be, it's a nice thought.

  • Soccer Fan Pro has some questions about that lack of news surrounding the accident that seriously injured Charlie Davies. Taking Davies specific situation out of it, the post has a good point; there are not enough interested parties doing the digging when it comes to soccer in the United States. It's a function of the level of interest, of course, not to mention the fact that jobs reporting on soccer are few and far between. The legitimate reporters covering the game here will generally follow the lead of the organizations in control because everything is tightly managed. Whether or not you believe US Soccer, MLS, and other soccer bodies should be more transparent, the lack of committed effort to get to the bottom of things is the more glaring issue. I suppose it all comes down to how much you believe we should know, and whether it's our right to know it.

US U-17 World Cup Preview

Monday, October 26, 2009 | View Comments

by Jason Gatties, Guest Contributor (Craven Cottage US)

The United States U-20's fizzled in Egypt. Luckily, we have the U-17's to look forward to. It all kicks October 26th versus Spain (ESPN 2 & at 2:00 pm Eastern. Can the U-17's accomplish what the U-20's couldn't? I think they can, although it's not like that will be all that hard to do.

Following the youth teams is not easy at all because there is so little coverage of this age group. It doesn't help when head coach Wilmer Cabrera leaves off three top players with very little explanation. Sebastian Lletge, Charlie Renken & Joseph Gyau are all missing and some people feel Wilmer had a "falling out" with these players, which makes little sense to me. These three players left the residency program earlier this year in favor of joining academy programs in Germany & England. Apparently, bettering yourself leads to getting left off the U-17 World Cup roster. Pretty petty if you ask me. Since the youngsters mentioned above will not be part of this team, I won't waste another moment on them (thanks Wilmer) but keep an eye out because in my opinion, these kids are the truly the future of U.S. Soccer.

Thankfully, we do have talent left on the team. Let's start with Jack McInerney. The 5'8" forward lead the U.S. in scoring during last summer's CONCACAF U-17 Championship, which was held in Mexico (and canceled early due to the piggy flu outbreak). The 17 year old from Georgia is very quick and creative. When Jack entered the residency program, he wasn't highly touted but he surely made his mark in Mexico, scoring five goals in three group games. With these kids heading to Europe rather than College, expect Jack to be the next to "jump ship". Luckily for him, he didn't take off before this tournament and Wilmer included him on the World Cup roster.

Shall we stick with the forwards? How about Stefan Jerome. I'm willing to bet most of you who follow U.S. soccer have heard of this kid. He's 5'11" tall, so he has three inches on Jack and he calls Davie, Florida home. Stefan joined the residency program in 2007 and he reminds me of a cross between Charlie Davies & Eddie Johnson (the good part of EJ). He is a real attacking forward, which is something I love to see, especially at the youth level. He hasn't received as much "European attention" as the other kids I have mentioned, but playing professionally somewhere is in this kid's future. Call me crazy, but I would like to see him go the MLS route, much like Jozy did. I'd like to see how he stacks up against current MLS defenders before he moves on to a higher level. And hell, it would give everyone here a chance to see what he can do as to me, he's perhaps the most exciting youth player in our system.

Midfield? Not yet. Let's go directly between the pipes. Tony Meola, Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel, Marcus Hahnemann, Brad Guzan, Tim Howard...Earl Edwards. 6'3", 205 pounds of imposing superstar in the making. Brazil will host the 2014 FIFA World Cup and I'm not sure if Tim Howard or Brad Guzan will be our starter five years from now, but I believe I know who the understudy will be. He's like a smaller version of Gooch...playing goal keeper. He gave up only two goals during the group stage of the CONCACAF U-17 Championship and if he performs well in Nigeria, big clubs will take notice. By far my favorite player on this team. I'm not even real sure who I would compare him too, he's in a class all by himself. If for no other reason, please tune in . He plays for Nomads SC. Know who else played for Nomads SC??? Try Frankie Hejduk & Steve Cherundolo.

Midfield? Yes, let's go. A theme with this group seems to be "attack". Luis Gil is a quick 16 year old who loves to do just that. He scored versus Cuba during the CONCACAF U-17 Championship and not only offers us an attacking option, the kid can play a little defense as well. In fact, it was his defense that I was most impressed with during the U-17 tournament this summer. This kid is red hot right now, with interest coming from Arsenal as well as a few clubs in Spain. If he can perform well on the world's stage this week, he very well join Sebastian Lletge, Charlie Renken & Joseph Gyau in Europe later this winter.

The United States are in Group B with Spain, Malawi & UAE. Spain are probably the favorites to top the group (I have no clue, maybe Malawi are the bomb in U-17 circles) but I feel the U.S. have a legit shot at advancing. I'm predicting a Quarterfinal appearance but just reaching the knockout stage is a nice experience. ESPN U & will offer English language coverage while Galavision will fill your Spanish language needs. If you want to watch the other countries involved, is your best source. Don't sleep on these kids, this tournament will be fun.

FIFA U-17 World Cup: USA Schedule

Monday, October 26th- vs Spain (2:00 pm ESPN U, & Galavision)

Thursday, October 29th- vs Malawi (11:00 am ESPN U &

Sunday, November 1st- vs UAE (10:00 am ESPN U, & Galavision)

TPL Quarterfinal Voting

Monday, October 26, 2009 | View Comments

Eight men remain in the quest to find American favorite soccer Twitter personality.

Below are the four quarterfinal matches. Don't forget to vote in every one!

Tweet out this message to spread the word on the tournament and to enter yourself in a drawing for great prizes from Ruffneck Scarves and Setanta:

Help choose America's favorite soccer Twitter personality! VOTE HERE! #TPL

Follow Ginge (GTTF) and Jason (MFUSA) for regular updates on the competition.

Voting for this round runs from Monday, October 26th through Friday October 30th.

This week on MFUSA, Jason and Zach discuss the playoff system in MLS, talk to Ben Berger of Footie Business about MLS in the poor economy, bring in Sean Wheelock to cover the state of the game, and hit some news and notes.

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

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TPL Round of 16 Review Podcast

Saturday, October 24, 2009 | View Comments

Jason and Zach review the Round of 16 in the TPL, address a controversy, and look forward to the quarterfinals. The search for America's Favorite Soccer Twitter Personality continues...


TPL Round of 16 Wrap Up Show

Friday, October 23, 2009 | View Comments

Zach and Jason take to the internet airwaves tonight at 9 PM ET to review the Twitterverse Players League Round of 16 and set up the quarterfinal match-ups.

Follow this link to the Match Fit USA UStream channel, or listen via the embedded player below.


| edit post
Landon Donovan

by Matt - US Soccer Daily

The past couple months were aptly referred to as “The Summer of Soccer” by the top figures in American soccer, and for good reason. World Cup qualifiers, MLS play, the USMNT’s Confederations Cup run, the Gold Cup, and a slew of world-class clubs coming to the States for friendlies combined for one glorious summer for soccer fans. Soccer gained high levels of exposure unusual for a non-World Cup year, as ESPN and other outlets made a significant effort to cover the beautiful game. All of the coverage and competitions added to the growing population of soccer fans in the US, as many were captivated by a riveting (and very busy) couple of months.

Although more than a few fans were simply hopping on the bandwagon and had their curiosity fizzle soon after, it’s safe to say that a fair share have now developed a sincere interest in soccer in general that will last beyond this summer. Soccer is getting a little more respect on TV shows that at one point in time only mocked it if it was ever brought up (see: ESPN’s lineup from 5:00 to 6:00 on weekdays), and at the very least, the US National Team has drifted into the realm of relevance for the average sports fan. Americans have shown an appetite for top level soccer, as evidenced by the thousands and thousands of fans who packed stadiums all summer, and it’s safe to say that the sport has taken another huge stride towards mainstream acceptance over the past year.

But what if it was all pulled down by one awful week? Think about it: with just two matches to go, CONCACAF qualifying was as tight as possible. Most US fans expected a loss in Honduras; the actual result was really quite surprising for many. And the Costa Rica game was never going to be an easy one, even with the home fans behind the team (just look how the US struggled at home against El Salvador and Honduras). Sometimes a team just picks the wrong time to have a bad run. Imagine if the US slipped to fourth, played a two-legged playoff against a talented Uruguay team, and found themselves on the outside looking in of the World Cup party. All of a sudden, the momentum and interest that soccer had built up would have been dealt one huge blow.

In a year where soccer has gained unparalleled mainstream exposure in the US, the USMNT’s berth in the 2010 World Cup was the cherry on top. But if it weren’t for Conor Casey and Jonathan Bornstein (how often do I utter that phrase?), all of those small steps forward could have been given one huge push back. The average sports fan might not have been as interested in next summer’s tournament, knowing the US didn’t even make it. Some fans might have even used a failed qualification as evidence that the US just isn’t good enough and use that as a reason not to care. Others, meanwhile, might have been turned off from soccer altogether after giving it a chance this past summer. Even talented kids might decide to focus their athletic dreams on another sport. I don’t know how much of that would have actually happened; I might be exaggerating the hit soccer in the US would’ve taken. But there is no doubt that missing the World Cup would have been a very bad thing coming at a very inopportune time.

This thought ran through my mind constantly as qualifying came into the stretch run. I was afraid to actually vocalize out of fear that it might happen. Now that qualification is secure, though, I can talk about it knowing that we’ve already booked our ticket to South Africa. For fans like me who want to see the game succeed in the US at all levels, missing the World Cup would have been a nightmare. Thankfully, Bob Bradley and company got the job done, and we can all now breathe a sigh of relief.

But man…what if…

The World Cup is a scant 231 days away. Twenty-three nations have qualified as of this moment, and frantic preparations are already underway.

For the United States, one of those twenty-three qualified countries, "preparations" boils down to: scheduling friendlies to ensure Bob Bradley has the proper forums to evaluate his player pool, securing a training base and accommodations in South Africa that give the US the best chance of playing well, and slipping cash to Sepp Blatter so the Americans get in the seeded pot at December's group draw.

Okay, so they're probably not doing that last one. But the first two are crucial elements of the run-up to any World Cup; as we saw in 2006, Bruce Arena failed to properly test his squad during the warm-up months, and it did them no favors, while the competition for the best training bases is fierce (and for good reason) in a nod to comfort and physical-conditioning.

We'll get to the friendlies later, though it is good to see that the US will take advantage of both of November's FIFA dates by taking on the challenge of playing in Europe, a place they have traditionally struggled.

Training Base & Accommodations

Believe it or not, US Soccer took care of this piece of business way back in June, just before the start of the Confederations Cup; they secured facilities at Southdowns College located in Irene, a town just south of Pretoria and thirty miles from Johannesburg. Southdowns was the training base for Italy during the Confederations Cup, and comes highly rated (by whom, I'm not sure). Included in the package is accommodations at the Irene Country Lodge, a few miles away from the college.

The facilities boast several fields, a gym, and a swimming pool.

One of the acknowledged problems of playing in South Africa is altitude; several World Cup host cities rest near or above a mile high.

A list of the altitudes of the host cities, in feet above sea level:

Johannesburg: 5500
Pretoria: 4400
Cape Town: 130
Duban: 26
Port Elizabeth/Nelson Mandela Bay: 200
Bloemfontein: 4400
Rustenburg: 3780
Nelspruit: 2200
Polokwane: 4050

Pretoria appears to be a nice balance between the ultra-thin air of Johannesburg and the lower altitudes of the coastal cities.

Southdowns can be seen here and here, in photos taken during the Italian National Team's stay there in June.

Donovan's Next Step

Thursday, October 22, 2009 | View Comments
Landon Donovan, Pablo Herrera, Michael Barrantes

He led his nation through qualifying, assisting in or scoring almost every big goal along the way. He impressed the world during the Confederations Cup, scoring a classic counter-attack goal against the kings of the counter-attack, Brazil. He turned the opinion of more than a few American soccer fans with his play and his declaration that he was finally ready to tackle Europe.

It's been a banner year in the career of Landon Donovan.

Only right then, considering his significant contributions to the National Team this year, the he be named the Honda Player of the Year for the third consecutive time and the sixth overall. The awards committee, while they were at it, threw in a "Player of the Decade" award for good measure.

Still, 2009 is really just a stepping stone for Donovan. The next phase of his career is crucial; if he doesn't build on his "breakout" year, then what did he really gain?

If 2009 was the year Donovan finally began to play up to his considerable potential, then 2010 will the perfect stage for a virtuoso performance. Between a move to Europe (possible, if not likely, in January) and the World Cup in in the summer, America's Best Player™ has the chances to place himself in a section of the "world class" discussion that has rarely, beyond goalkeepers, included an American.

Whether Donovan's abilities are diminished by fans and observers because he's an American or not (and I'm of the opinion that they are), the fact remains that he plays in a second-or-third rate league; add to that the problem that international exploits in CONCACAF are generally viewed with skepticism and that the Confederations Cup was dismissed by many as a glorified exhibition, and Donovan still faces an uphill climb to convince the football world that he's a bona fide star.

His first task is getting to Europe, and preferably to a club in one of the top leagues (which, for his purposes, includes England, Spain, Italy, Germany, and France) and one where he'll play. This year's winter loan to Bayern Munich, the first sign that Donovan was intent on making his name outside of MLS, was nice, but it brought with it the intrinsic problem of breaking into a loaded team with established stars. If Donovan is going to break through the glass ceiling of his own making, he'll need to end up somewhere when playing time is not only likely, but will come in abundance.

Can you say "mid-table"?

Playing for a poor team, elite league or not, won't do Donovan any good. It's for this reason the rumored move to Livorno worried me; fighting to stay up saps the energy and drive of even the best players, and entering mid-season as an unknown handicaps him immediately when managers are generally protecting their jobs. Jozy Alitdore's plight at Hull, where Phil Brown has continued to play known, more experienced players despite poor results, should serve as a cautionary tale. "Big" clubs are either unlikely to be interested or will have too many options for a Donovan move to one to make sense. That leaves mid-table clubs, who might be open to adding someone of Donovan's quality because their league position is stable, yet don't have so many elite players that breaking into the squad should be difficult.

Europe in January sets the stage for South Africa in June.

With the planet's eyes on the World Cup, South Africa is where Donovan will either finally put to rest questions about his mental makeup and abilities, or where the naysayers will find their ultimate argument. Germany was a disaster not only for the Unites States, but for Donovan as well; making amends by pushing US along next summer would go a long way towards washing clean the stink of 2006.

For many, 2009 brought with it the death of name "Landycakes". It will be how the next step goes for Donovan that will determine if 2010 brings about its resurrection or final burial.

Deep Cuts: Stand Up Straight

Thursday, October 22, 2009 | View Comments
2010 World Cup - Soccer City Stadium under construction - Soweto

Yesterday, we tackled the notion that American soccer fans are snobbish and elitist by highlighting a piece written on the subject by Alex Akita at The Bleacher Report. I attempted to explain part of that reaction to the amount of abuse the sport and its community take; it's not an excuse, but it does better frame "why" it happens.

How lucky are we, then, that a perfect example of the "issue" of soccer-bashing presented itself today? I hate to bring attention to something as idiotically close-minded as this is, but it just seems necessary. Why people want to turn the place of soccer in America into an "us vs. them" debate, I'll never know; how exactly are American ideals being threatened by a game?.

You can hide behind all of the pseudo-anthropology and nonsense psychology you want, Mr. Faville, but your reasoning is not only flawed (and filled with unprovable statements that make you appear petty and small), it poorly conceals your rampant xenophobia and chauvinism.

  • The construction of South Africa 2010's crown jewel stadium, Soccer City, is in its final stages. It's an impressive feat for a country few believed was ready to host the World Cup, and while there is still quite a ways to go, things appear to be on track. Not everyone appears to be happy about Soccer City's completion, however, with protests taking place nearby. The exact reasons for that protest is unclear, but in a country with significant social problems, including poverty and crime, the massive expense of holding the World Cup probably doesn't sit well with everyone. I still believe that the positives of playing the tournament in South Africa outweigh the negatives, and that the country will do a fine job; but until kickoff next June, FIFA and South African authorities will be under non-stop scrutiny.

  • In the modern world of athletic science, every aspect of a player's life is micromanaged to give him or her the best opportunity for success. For the Vancouver Whitecaps, this means going as far as assessing and correcting problems with posture; team President Bob Lenarduzzi has instituted a program, after experiencing the benefits himself, that every Whitecaps player (men, women, and youth) must go through. The idea is that poor posture leads to weaker muscles and a diminished range of motion over time, and that with proper management these issues can be corrected or reversed. Remember this in two years when the Whitecaps enter MLS; if they find immediate success, and people say "they're no slouches", they'll be literally correct. Don't worry, I wrote it and I'm cringing right along with you.

Deep Cuts appears every weekday, and highlights American soccer-related items from around the web. If you have a story for Deep Cuts (even shallow ones), you can send it along to

The Case for Brian McBride

Thursday, October 22, 2009 | View Comments
Chicago Fire v CD Chivas USA

by Brian Morse

Try and wrap your mind around this:

Conor Casey and Kenny Cooper are now the USMNT's 2nd and 3rd choices at striker for South Africa.

The USA has two Jan Koller knock-offs as options to partner up top with Jozy Altidore. Neither one of these men have proven to be top internationals, and now they are primed to be main cogs in our World Cup squad. I would go so far as to say I would rather see Brian Ching in camp than the two men who strike fear in absolutely no one. The worst part of this equation is not even the fact that the Nats are so super thin at forward so as to have Casey and Cooper in the mix to start, but it now leaves Bob Bradley with one of these two as his only possible selection off the subs bench. In the 80th minute of a World Cup match, do you really want to be in the position of having to turn to Cooper or Casey for an equalizer? Target men such as these both are, isn't the kind of player you want to have as your go-to guy for a key goal. Ideally the Yanks should be able to turn to someone with pace or creativity who can get past tired defenders and create their own chances, not someone who relies solely on the service of their midfield. The USA has no such luxury. A team in this situation should in the very least be able to call in their wily veteran, someone with multitudes of international experience. A man that upon his entrance brings confidence to other ten men on the pitch. This brings us to retired national-teamer, Brian McBride.

Certainly McBride's age is the case against him. McBride will turn 38 during the group stage in South Africa and an appearance for the USA would make him one of the 20 oldest players ever be capped during a World Cup. He wouldn't be able to go a full 90 three times in the group stage, I can't argue that fact, but he could be incredibly dangerous in 20 minute bursts. His strike rate in MLS this year is 1 in 3, not on par with Casey or Cooper, but certainly respectable. What intrigues me is his strike rate as a member of the national team. 30 goals in 96 matches, far outpacing the combined 6 in 26 of Casey and Cooper. McBride has scored his 30 goals all over the world, in key moments, in big tournaments and against quality opposition. Only Casey has scored away from US soil, his brace against Honduras. Cooper on the other hand has scored only stateside, only 1of his 4 goals past a non-CONCACAF opponent, in a friendly against Denmark's B-Team.

Brian deserves at the very least a phone call from Bob Bradley to gauge his interest. McBride played for the Olympic team last summer in China, proving he can still play internationally for the Yanks. The US can afford to give him a roster spot and skip taking a 7th defender. The intangibles a player like McBride brings to a young team are invaluable. I certainly think his locker room presence far surpasses anyone in the current player pool save Frankie Hejduk. McBride has shown to have great mental fortitude, an unrivaled work rate, and “in the box courage”, which can only help the squad. His being on the pitch for the US would bring a similar talismanic feel and brashness that comes for Mexico with Blanco or Italy with Del Piero. Its a no-lose situation to ask him to lace them up a few more times for the Red, White, and Blue.

Hello Brian, It's Me, Sunil

Wednesday, October 21, 2009 | View Comments
Sunil Gulati

The first to respond to the call for new writers for MFUSA, Brian Morse has the interesting story of how he picked up the phone to the voice of the President of US Soccer himself, Sunil Gulati.

by Brian Morse

“Brian Morse speaking"

“Brian, this is Sunil Gulati”

A phone call from Dr. Gulati, president of the US Soccer Federation, was certainly not how I expected to start my Tuesday morning. It was 10:15 and I was in no state of mind to have a meaningful conversation with the most influential member of the US Soccer community.

How did I get to this point? Why was this man calling me at work? He told me he only had fifteen minutes before he had to begin his lecture course on the principles of economics at Columbia University. He said that he had to talk to me before it got underway.

Let's go back awhile, to December 2006. The US Men’s National Team hadn’t played since losing to Ghana to close out their 2006 World Cup campaign. I was still bitter about the USMNT’s showing in the Germany. The squad had showed no heart, and little fight. As a result, Bruce Arena, the most successful USMNT coach of all time, was not asked to come back for the next World Cup cycle. My beloved national team was without a manager and had been since July. Juergen Klinsmann had just withdrawn his name after months of speculation and I was fed up with the months of non-action by the USSF. My brother Stephen, who was equally disappointed with US Soccer’s inability to get Klinsmann under contract, suggested I email someone at US Soccer to speak my mind. Why not go straight to the top? Stephen was a graduate student at Columbia University, and had access to faculty email addresses, so he could get me Gulati’s Columbia contact info. It was perfect.

My first email to Gulati was short and sweet. I never expected a response from him, even though I certainly asked for one. I asked him why US Soccer couldn’t reach and agreement with Klinsmann and when oh when would US Soccer hire a new coach so at least we, the supporters, could begin the post World Cup healing process. Gulati, to my surprise, answered my cries, the pleadings of passionate supporter. He assured me that although the USSF and Klinnsman had decided to go separate directions, there was a big announcement to be made by US Soccer very soon. Could this really be? Was Gulati letting me get sneak a peek into the back room at US Soccer? Was it even really him? I immediately called Stephen to tell him that Gulati had actually answered my email, an email that could be have easily been brushed away as mad ravings from an irate fan.

True to his word, on December 8th, US Soccer did make a big announcement. The very announcement I had been dreading from the start; Bob Bradley was to be the new head coach. The announcement was not that big of a surprise to anyone familiar with soccer here in the States; Bradley had just come off a very successful season as coach of Chivas USA, had won plenty of silverware with the Chicago Fire and maybe most importantly was part of Bruce Arena’s coaching tree. To me the announcement couldn’t have been more crushing. As an avid fan of the Red Bulls (then the Metrostars) during Bradley’s stint with the team, I had only bad memories of him as a manager. Bradley oversaw the demise of local favorite Clint Mathis as well creating one of my most dreadful soccer memories by bringing the Metrostars B-team to an important late season game against the Revolution in 2003.

I immediately emailed Gulati again, this time more angry than sad. Once again he responded. This time a little less formal, as he was trying to calm me down. He reminded me that a few mistakes does not a coaching resume make. He asked for my patience and thanked me for my passion. He told me that he had full confidence in Bradley. Still it was unsettling that Bradley was given the job, and the fact he had an interim tag wasn’t helping prove Gulati’s confidence. This being said, I was proud of myself. I had gotten the man behind the biggest story in US Soccer since our collapse in Germany to correspond with me. The excitement died down over time, and the US was winning, so I had no complaints and no bones to pick. Everything was right in the world of US Soccer; everything, that is, until Hope Solo.

I had been following the Women’s World Cup in China with a fair degree of passion, but in reality I was just waiting like the rest of the US soccer public for our women to play in the final and be crowned champs. I got up early during the group stage to watch the matches play out live. I was discouraged by the result against Korea DPR, but I passed it off as the squad looking past the surprising Koreans. I tried to shrug off Greg Ryan’s decision to play in an unfamiliar 4-3-3 formation and play a man down while Abby Wambach was recovering on the sideline. The latter was a little unnerving, as it showed a degree of cockiness that always seemed to catch up with teams on a stage like this. These worries were soon forgotten as the US dispatched Sweden, Nigeria, and England with relative ease. Then the news broke that Ryan had decided to replace keeper Hope Solo with Brianna Scurry for biggest game of his coaching career. It was a truly shocking decision, especially looking back at it now. The loss to Brazil and the controversy which ensued was been well documented and dissected to the extreme. I decided to take a step back and look at an even bigger issue at play. Why hadn’t US Soccer come forward immediately after the loss and pledged their support to Greg Ryan? If they didn’t support what he did, why let him ban Hope Solo from the being a part of the squad for the remainder of the tournament? I dug up Gulati’s email address and let him know how disgusted I was with the federation’s apparent lack of action. Gulati had side-stepped questions about Ryan and Solo during post-match interviews, and I wasn’t going to let him side-step me.

Dr. Gulati –

Good Morning.

I am sure you have received numerous emails and phone calls regarding not only the match yesterday, but the controversy that followed. As a supporter of all our US National Teams, it seems clear to me that a response by the USSF itself is warranted in this situation. Greg Ryan’s pre-match decision to play Brianna Scurry over Hope Solo is certainly his to make, but to only have a post-match response to Hope’s comments from Coach Ryan is unacceptable to me. Either show full support for Ryan or let him go, don’t side step the issue. I am sure you will agree that in a team setting, when a coach displays a lack of faith in a player that has been performing well over a period of time, and his lack of faith appears to be flawed, there is certainly going to be a certain degree of backlash in the media and the locker room. It would be hard for me to believe that making the decision to bench Solo so close to the biggest game the USWNT has had in years doesn’t effect the morale among the younger players on the squad. Now what we have is a situation akin to the one that happened in Germany two summers ago, a coach hanging on without the full support of his squad, his federation, and its fans. Please Dr. Gulati, don’t drag this out like the selection process of the USMNT manager. I think you would be surprised by the number of people in the US Soccer family who are waiting for you to take control of this situation. Either pledge Coach Ryan the federation’s full support or put Ms. Solo on a plane back to the States.

Gulati answered me in typical politically correct fashion, assuring me he was disappointed along with everyone else. He was confident that the team would move forward in a positive way; hopefully with a win against Norway. I appreciated his response but I couldn’t accept his response. I was upset with US Soccer and I wanted answers. The loss in China was starting to stir up bad memories of the Men’s squad in Venezuela over the summer at the Copa America. I had never been satisfied with the reasons Gulati and Bradley had given regarding squad selection for that tournament, and I let my emotions guide me in my response.

Dr. Gulati:

I am assuming you by now realize how patient US Soccer fans have been during the last 18 months. I fail to see how we can continue to spin every loss, every setback, every disappointment as a step in the right direction. I also fail to see how this federation can continue to retain respect of the supporters when it refuses to step up and take real control of any major situation. You and I both are well aware that around the world the USSF is not thought too highly of. Copa America and Ryan’s Folly are the cornerstones of another year to forget. What does US Soccer have to hang its hat on this year? Wins over Mexico? That’s like the Yankees saying there season was a success because they beat the Red Sox a few times. Why doesn’t anyone take charge at US Soccer and say that things like this are unacceptable? A federation is going to sit back and watch this and do nothing? Why does US Soccer never answer questions about the top issues that the fans have? The other major sports in our country certainly have their flaws but they are held accountable for their mistakes. The NFL brings back instant replay, Major League Baseball conducts an internal steroids investigation. Why can’t soccer supporters get a straight answer on why we brought our junior varsity to Copa America, what happened with the Klinsmann negotiations or why we only schedule friendlies with the same CONCACAF teams over and over? Why are we kept in the dark about the rumors that Nike dictates the teams decisions about where, who and when we play? Why don’t you at least come out and deny this?

At what point are Dan Flynn and yourself held accountable for being in charge of two FIFA Top 10 ranked national teams that failed to make an impact at their respective World Cups?

This email apparently touched a nerve with Gulati, as he responded to me hours before meeting with the press in Shanghai the day before the third place game with Norway. Gulati took a tone that I certainly did not expect from the man at the helm of the USSF. He let me know that he would not get into personnel issues with me in the middle of a world championship and went as far as to say that he had gone on record many times in the mainstream media as to why the US brought a lackluster squad to Venezuela, but it just had not been understood or accepted. I could definitely agree with that, not once on Fox Soccer Channel or anywhere else did I hear a real definitive answer on the Copa squad. I knew that I had his attention at this point, and decided to push him for an answer on something that had been bothering me and most US soccer supporters since the USMNT had been embarrassed in South America, an embarrassment that had seen the USSF’s integrity questioned by the general secretary of CONMEBOL. “We like for the continent's most important competition to be respected with the best players," Eduardo Deluca told reporters. He said the USSF decision "doesn't please us."

Why accept an invitation to a tournament you don’t plan on winning? To get caps for Marvell Wynne and Dan Califf?

Dr. Gulati:

Thank you for taking the time to respond to me directly on these topics.
I certainly appreciate your candor on these subjects. As I stated previously when you and I corresponded during Bob Bradley's hiring, there are certainly positives to having a federation where one can feel comfortable contacting the persons in charge. I doubt anyone in England is able to email Prince William or Geoff Thompson.
In regards to the squad selection for Copa America, I have to agree with you that the reasons behind the inclusion of some players on the 22-man roster were not understood or accepted. Why did such giant clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Arsenal release the likes of Messi, Robinho, and Gilberto Silva if they were not required to do so? I find it hard to believe that a club like Fulham would not follow suit by releasing the captain of a national team during its summer training. It's not like this was the African Cup of Nations taking place during the domestic season, it's safe to say we didn't even select our best 22 players from MLS. I don't think it would have been such a problem with the majority of people who follow US Soccer if there was not already a track record of Bringing sub-standard squads to international tournaments not named "Gold Cup."

I am sure will agree that in most cases there is a lack of soccer coverage in the mainstream media and when the major outlets do cover the sport there is usually a focus on what is happening in UEFA or CONMEBOL countries. Certainly you know that a lack of information leads to misinformation, hopefully this is the case regarding the Nike rumors.

This all being said, the bottom line is that I am big believer in US Soccer as a whole. The Development Academy Showcase this weekend in Carson is definitely something to be proud of as the USSF develops young talent for the future.

Good Luck and Safe Travels

Then it happened. Not five minutes after I clicked send the phone at my desk rang.

“Brian Morse speaking”

“Brian, this is Sunil Gulati”

Gulati and I exchanged pleasantries. He proceeded to launch a calculated defense of Bob Bradley’s squad selection. I was unprepared to respond intelligently. He was too well spoken, too organized, too powerful. He is the head of organized soccer in the free world, my heart was in my throat.

“Believe me”, he said, “we tried to get these guys”

I couldn’t muster anything better than an “okay” or “you’re right.”

He made several points that I already knew: Beasley and Onyewu were in between clubs, Donovan had been extremely vocal about not playing, and Everton wouldn’t release Tim Howard. He did tell me something that finally put me at ease, something Eric Wynalda, Allen Hopkins, and the rest of the usual suspects that cover soccer in the US had failed to mention during their Copa America coverage. Copa America is CONMEBOL’s domestic tournament. This is why the players for all participating CONMEBOL countries had to be released from their club teams. This is also why the US being an invitee to the tournament couldn’t cry to FIFA when the likes of Fulham, Everton, and others wouldn’t release our national teamers.

He asked me if I understood now. I did but I still had so many questions. Why bring Kasey Keller if you are just trying to get experience on a big stage for our young players? Why allow our younger players to be demoralized by a comprehensive defeat from a scarily talented Argentine squad? I never had a chance.

Was Gulati’s phone call a sign of life from within the front office, a place in American sports often vilified for its lack of passion and thought for the common fan? If it was, then despite all my misgivings about US Soccer and its checkered past, I feel like I can trust our national soccer team to this man. If it wasn’t, he will definitely be hearing from me again.

Call for Writers

Wednesday, October 21, 2009 | View Comments
Businessman using laptop computer (focus on hands), overhead view

Match Fit USA is always looking for quality writers to contribute to the site; if you enjoy writing, have a passion for American soccer, and possess a strong dose of opinion, it's time to put those attributes to good use.

If you're interested in writing for the site, send a 500+ word sample to with the subject line "Writer".

Match Fit USA has grown by leaps and bounds in the last ten months, and as the site approaches its first anniversary, the future is bright; if you want to be a part of that future, now is as good a time as any to get in.


Deep Cuts: Community & Kids

Wednesday, October 21, 2009 | View Comments

The issue of exclusivity as it pertains to the American soccer community is a sticky one. On one hand, soccer fans tend to be overly passionate about the sport, often to the point of excluding other "traditional" American games from their lives, therefore "elevating" themselves above the casual sports fan when it comes to soccer. On the other, we generally hope for the day when soccer is part of the broader sports conversation, penetrating the collective consciousness enough so that we no longer have to fret over things like media coverage or Jim Rome. The former condition leads us to look down on those whose knowledge or interest doesn't live up to some undefined lofty standard; the latter means that we shouldn't be picky about who decides to gives the game a chance.

Alex Akita at Bleacher Report, in what I can only call the first piece that that didn't make me want to punch my computer screen, sees a problem in the attitude of American soccer fans. The suggestion is that we exclude the casual fan to the point of hatred, thereby alienating people who might be willing to open their minds to the sports. While I won't excuse away anyone who behaves in the way Akita describes, I will say that the condition of soccer fans in the US is unlike that of any other professional team sport. Soccer is regularly ridiculed by the regular Joe and media personality alike; this has bred a natural defense mechanism into us that leads to the exclusionary antics of which Akita accuses us.

It's not an excuse, but it is an explanation. Send me an email, Alex, and I'll explain it to you further.

  • The U-17 World Cup gets started shortly in Nigeria, and the American side has some high hopes. Led by some exciting attacking talent, the Baby Yanks expect to score. But they'll need a solid defense, too, and the key man at the back seems to be Indiana native Perry Kitchen. Slated to head to Akron University in January, Kitchen is profiled by the Indy Star. The piece notes that Kitchen may have European interest, something which doesn't surprise me but makes me wonder why he would have already committed to Akron. It still seems that college is the default path American kids take when hitting the crucial 17 or 18 year old age; I'm not sure college alone is enough to properly help them maximize their potential (if only because of the constraints and rules of the college game), so I'll be interested to see what Kitchen chooses if he impresses in the tourney and receives European offers.

  • Kitchen and his teammates might do the US proud in Nigeria and kick off their careers in the process, but their parents won't be there to see them do so. Security concerns have forced the families of American players to remain in the States while their sons are in Africa. While I understand FIFA's desire to spread tournaments across their member federations, and appreciate the effort to open up Africa particularly, this tournament was headed for trouble from the start. The youngsters there will be monitored closely be armed security during their stay, something that US Soccer couldn't provide for family members. FIFA knew the dangers, and concerns about Nigeria's ability to bring the tourney off were raised, yet they went ahead anyway. There's no reason that a high-profile even like the U-17s should be played in a country where family members cannot travel because the likelihood of something happening is just too great to risk it.

Deep Cuts appears every weekday, and highlights American soccer-related items from around the web. If you have a story for Deep Cuts (even shallow ones), you can send it along to

The Business of Soccer Blogging

Tuesday, October 20, 2009 | View Comments
American Currency

Ben Berger at Footiebusiness was kind enough to include me in a piece he did on the business of soccer blogging; soccer information is predominantly disseminated through blogs (or pseudo-blogs, or news sites that are essentially blogs) in the absence of major interest from traditional news sites, and Ben's piece is a look behind the curtain.

Ben's write-up includes a newspaper writer who uses his blog to get information that might otherwise go to waste in his industry out quickly (Steven Goff, Soccer Insider), a "blogger" of immense stature that ventured out on his own after working as reporter (Ives Galarcep, Soccer By Ives) and a low-level blogger with a full-time regular job who writes "on the side" (myself).

If you're interested in this sort of thing, it's definitely worth a read. Both of the other writers involved have chops and news-gathering skills I could only pretend to emulate, and cover the sport day-in and day-out. While Goff might monitor the traffic on his site and know where his readership comes from, he's completely detached from ancillary aspects like advertising. Galarcep, who runs his own blog as a business and can because of his massive readership, is obviously much more hands on when it comes to watching trends and making money from his site. I'm in a separate third category, of course, and am frankly humbled by my inclusion in Ben's article.

Go check it out, and be sure to add Footiebusiness to your regular soccer blog rotation.

Sports News - October 24, 2008

FIFA has finally gotten around to approving German-American (or should that be American-German?) Jermaine Jones' switch to the US National Team.

Jones, a member of FC Schalke in Germany's top flight, is still attempting to return from a lower leg injury that has sidelined him for the entirety of the German Bundesliga season.

Jones' return to the field, and subsequent call up by Bob Bradley (who under no pressure to do so quickly considering that Jones cannot switch back to Germany) will give the Americans another center midfield option to go along with the glut of players at that position.

I'll attempt to keep a close eye on Jones' injury progress.

MLS, Doing (Some) Things Right

Tuesday, October 20, 2009 | View Comments
New England Revolution v New York Red Bulls

For all of its flaws, there are a few things that Major League Soccer does right; the game is the healthiest and most financially viable on the professional level it's ever been, soccer-specific stadiums are going up all over the country, and young MLS players are going on to careers in the more lucrative environs of Europe.

The economic crisis that hit the US last year threatened to derail all of that. The league, just as with any entertainment product, faced an uncertain 2009 as the expendable income of millions of Americans disappeared. While the bargain-nature of soccer in the US was viewed as a strength that might mitigate the economic effect, no one knew for sure.

Kristian Dyer at Soccernet did a little research, talked to some people, and wrote an excellent piece on the situation; MLS seems to be doing okay, and remains well positioned despite the downturn.

Yes, attendance is down. But in relation to more established sports products, it hasn't really been a bad year for MLS. Cost-cutting measures, no matter how much we despise them (remember the reserve league?) do help.

MLS can't stand still, of course, and will need to be proactive if they hope to come out strong on the other side. The argument could be made that expanding during the bad economy actually makes sense; the league pockets the expansion fees as a buffer against their losses, the new teams build the league's brand in new markets, and the fans have a new cheaper pro sports alternative in their cities.

Raymond Sauer, a professor of economics at Clemson and the man behind The Sports Economist blog, is quoted by Dyer in the story and gets to the heart of the matter by summing up MLS' dilemma going forward:

"MLS will have to spend more on talent if they are to build a generation of fans for their own home-grown teams. There are plenty of challenges ahead."

The economy is now showing slow signs of recovering, and with the World Cup likely to raise soccer's profile considerably in 2010, Major League Soccer should stand to reap the benefits if they continue to do (more) things right.

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