Once More, LD

Tonight at 6:00 CST on ESPN, Landon Donovan will suit up for the US Men’s National Team a final time.  This match against Ecuador in Hartford, CT, will feature mostly younger, fringe-type players due to MLS’s proximity to the play-offs.  But Landon will be there, for about 30 minutes or so, according to the media.

Don’t be surprised if he scores or assists in that time.  He may be about to retire, but at 32 he still has a lot to offer – among the MLS leaders for assists this season – still capable of that burst of speed or game-changing play.  And as the USA’s career goal scoring and assists leader, as the face of the sport in this country as MLS has grown to legitimacy and more Americans have embrace soccer, you’re going to hear a lot of gushing on the broadcast, ESPN, and elsewhere.

For a lot of folks in my peer group, Landon’s career has coincided with our fandom.  He was the up-and-comer after the 1998 World Cup, on the big stage in Korea, and the guy at the top of the other team’s clipboard for the next twelve years.  We wanted him in Brazil this summer, and I still believe we could have done better down there with LD in the 10 shirt. Continue reading

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Coaching Class E License – Prep Work

A friend and I have been coaching rec league soccer at the YMCA for our boys the last two years.  This summer we decided to try and take some of our players and form a competitive team to play in local soccer tournaments in our area.  We have a good central group of kids, and the the thought is we can find a handful of other good players from the Y teams in our age group to fill out our roster.

So far so good.  We decided to sign up for the Illinois Class E Coaching License – a two day course focused on ages 9-12, sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation.  We figure this will help us improve our training sessions and overall coaching.  This weekend we’ll be at the course, but prior to that we had prep work to complete.

The prep work consists of three main assignments:  Rules of the Game/Referee Introduction, Concussion Awareness, and Coaching Philosophy/Team Management.

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USA World Cup Scrub

Yedlin = the Future

A couple of days since the USA Soccer team exited the World Cup – beat by a better team in Belgium, but defiant and unbroken in the end.  Everyone has acknowledged the brilliance of Tim Howard, the heart and drive of the field players, as well as their lack of possession and  finishing.  As much as the Team America was outplayed on the ball by Beligum, had Wondolowski and Dempsey scored on a couple of key chances, we could well be talking about one more game against Messi and Argentina.  SI.com’s Grant Wahl summed up the match very nicely (as usual).

Meanwhile, as mass attention begins to drift away from the team, the die hard American fans have begun the debate on strategy and tactics.  We made it out of the Group of Death – unexpected by most.  But we did so playing typically gritty, defensive-minded and opportunistic soccer.  This is not how Jurgen Klinsmann said we would play.  Did we make it to the knock-out rounds because of the coaching staff’s approach and preparations, or in spite of their tactics and roster selections?   Continue reading

Power of the Cup

“Who would win?” my son asked me.  “Michael Bradley and Graham Zusi vs. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan.  It’s two-on-two.”

“No goalkeepers?” I replied.

“Zusi and Bradley get Tim Howard.  The other guys get Brad Guzan.  Three-on-three.”

“Why Landon?” I asked him.

“Well, you keep saying he should be there with the team…”

That’s my boy!   For the record, I took Dempsey, Donovan, and Guzan.

This discussion took place out of the blue last week.  Before the World Cup, my eight-year-old son barely knew the U.S. Soccer team.  He knew a few of them, but now he knows the entire roster.  He’s interested, engaged.  He and his sister sat and watched nearly all of each group stage match – two of them out at sports bars/restaurants, one in town.  He can’t get enough World Cup.

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USA 2, Ghana 1 – Pentagram

What a game!  What a weird, wonderful, and at times frightening game!  Some will claim the USA turned back the clock about 30 years with a gritty, ugly, gut-check win.  Some will note that Juergen’s tactics and substitutions pretty much worked to a T.  And down at the Dublin Pub, with most of our YMCA U8 Soccer Team looking on (occasionally), we were starting to get a very bad feeling when Ghana continued to whip in crosses and come closer with their outside blasts.  The tying goal seemed inevitable…   And then Graham Zusi to John Brooks…

 

Juergen’s success with his subs continues…  With Germany’s pasting of Portugal, the Group of Death suddenly seems navigable – even with the injuries.  So on to five points about this opening World Cup Win…

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Five Points from the Send-off Series

Less than a week from today, the U.S. Soccer team will take the field for their first World Cup match against Ghana.  That will be at 5 pm CST on Monday, so plan to leave work early.  Juergen Klinsmann has had his team together for three-plus weeks, he’s controversially cut Landon Donovan, and he’s  led the team to three wins in the send-off series against progressively more difficult opponents. The 2-0 win against Azerbaijan was a snoozer.   The back line didn’t have much to do, the offense looked rough amidst tired legs, and Mix Diskerud and Aron Johannsson  go the goals.  The next game, against Turkey, was more instructive.  Here the back line looked a little disorganized and loose, while Jermaine Jones had too much to do at the base of the diamond midfield.  But the offense looked better, more fluid, and the Bradley-to-Johnson goal was as good as you’ll see:

2-1, USA, with more for the coaches to think about.  This past Saturday, the team took on Nigeria, who will also be in Brazil and are easily the best opponent of the three.  This 2-1 win was pretty convincing, and should have us all feeling a lot more positive.  The defense looked stout, the attacking movements were there, and Jozy Altidore scored twice to break out of his slump.  If you had asked what we wanted out of the Nigeria game, those preceding three points are it.

So now it’s on to the grand stage.  The wait is nearly over.  It’s gut-check time.  Insert additional cliche here.  Ghana, Portugal, and Germany are on the horizon.  Here’s your U.S. Soccer Send-off Series Pentagram, with five points to consider…

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Our 23 vs. Klinsi’s

Since Jurgen Klinsmann cut Landon Donovan while trimming his World Cup roster to 23 players this past week, Beemsville has run the reaction gamut:  disbelief, anger, sadness…  But mostly disbelief.  Veteran soccer commentators like Alexi Lalas and Grant Wahl will tell us an emotional reaction is to be expected (and it’s a good thing for U.S. Soccer); after all, Landon has been the face of the National Team for going on a decade.  He’s the greatest player our country has ever produced, scored more goals, had more assists, and come up clutch in big moments throughout his career.  Has he slowed down a step?  Sure.  But since he was quicker than virtually everyone else to begin with…  And since his game is also based on intelligence, technique, timing…  Well, we still can’t believe Jurgen made this call.

Still can’t believe we’re going to line up against Ghana in less than a month, and Number 10 won’t be on the pitch (or at least on the bench).  We’ve listened to a few podcasts, read a ton of articles, and from Taylor Twellman to Brian Sciaretta, we can’t find one person who thinks this was the right call.

What does this say about Jurgen?  He’s certainly a man with a plan.  He’s certainly said all kinds of stuff about earning it, competing, etc., but as Alexi Lalas said, it comes down to personal preference.  And that preference seems to favor the young, and untested.  The problem we have here, is it once again throws the coaching staff’s judgement into question.  Is Jurgen trying to win now or is this part of his construction plan for the next cycle?  Is this to make the World Cup more about him?   Because as of right now, every match played is a referendum on the Landon cut.

So let’s have a look at the Klinsmann 23 and compare it to the final Beemsville 23 from earlier this month:

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