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

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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Camp Cali Thoughts

Fair warning:  this blog will definitely take on a World Cup feel over the next couple of months…  Speaking of which, ESPN aired the first of an excellent documentary series last night:  Inside U.S. Soccer’s March to Brazil.  Really interesting profiles of the team and coaches, with great access and inside footage.  If you’re only a casual fan of the team or only pay attention around World Cup time, this series will definitely get you more familiar with our team and what they go through to qualify.  ESPN will no doubt be replaying this many times, so check your program guide.

Meanwhile, Jurgen Klinsmann’s 30-man squad convened today for training camp in Stanford.  They will go at it a couple of weeks before playing three friendlies – the send-off series – against Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Nigeria.  Sometime during this stretch, Jurgen will cut the squad down to the required 23.

Here’s how the coach’s 30 differed from the Beemsville picks

We had Jay DeMerit, Tim Ream, Juan Agudelo, and Eddie Johnson in our 30.  Der Coach called in Joe Corona, Brad Davis, DeAndre Yedlin, and John Brooks instead.

Jurgen has never called in Jay, so no surprise there.  Call it a difference of opinion.   The others we can sorta, kinda see as well.  Brooks and Yedlin are two for the future.  If nothing else, they can come to camp, press other guys, and see what it will take for the next cycle.  Corona is an interesting choice in that he’s been given multiple chances and hasn’t really taken advantage.  It seemed like the Gold Cup last summer showed that Corona wasn’t quite fleet enough to play wide, and not quite physical enough to play central in this crowded midfield.  Brad Davis is the most interesting choice.  He’s the veteran, with a great left foot.  If you want a left-footed veteran to come in the last 20 minutes and provide service, he’s your guy. Continue reading

23 for Brazil – April

The Mexico friendly is behind us.  A tale of two halves, with some impressive midfield play and alarming defending,  and surprise!  Jurgen unveils a diamond midfield.  Mostly, guys who’ve already booked tickets to the World Cup confirmed why they’re going, and a couple of guys made strong cases for inclusion.  Among those not staking claims were the injured (Brad Evans), the not-allowed-to-participate-because-Mexico (Beasley, Herculez, Joe Corona) and the very wet behind the ears (Julian Green).  While we wouldn’t be surprised to see Green brought along for seasoning, it’s getting might late for debutantes.

So it’s time for another Beemsville 23:  our picks (not who we think Jurgen Klinsmann will take) for the World Cup.  It’s t-minus two months until the USA kicks off against Ghana in Brazil, and only a couple of weeks before the coaching staff names its preliminary 30-man roster for training camp.

Check out the cool graphical setup for the 23 at American Soccer Now. Continue reading

23 For Brazil – March

Bring Back Jay!

Earlier this month, Jurgen rolled out a mostly European-based squad in Cyprus, who were pretty roundly outplayed by a motivated Ukrainian side that’s just about the best team not to make the World Cup.  It was an opportunity to confirm who probably shouldn’t be on the 23 man roster for Brazil, and that’s the best we can say about that game.  Guys like Oguchi Onyewu, John Brooks, Edgar Castillo, and Sascha Klejistan showed very little.

So here’s our Ides of March Beemsville 23:  our picks (not who we think Jurgen will take) for the World Cup, based on numerous factors.  We will know more next month, with the Mexico friendly played and MLS a month or so into the schedule.

Goalkeepers (3):  Tim Howard (Everton), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake).   Timmy remains the #1.

Defenders (7): Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Matt Besler (Kansas City), Omar Gonzalez (L.A. Galaxy), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Timothy Chandler (FC Nurenburg), DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Jay DeMerit (Vancouver), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin).  The more I think about, the more this group needs some veteran leadership.  DeMerit, if healthy, can provide that in spades and is still one of the best pure defenders in the pool.  He’s the perfect late game, settle-it-down defensive sub.  Yeah, I know, Jurgen’s never called him in.  If Tim Chandler can get back on the field by late April, he goes, due to lack of other viable outside back options. Continue reading

23 for Brazil – Feb Edition

The USA’s January camp is behind us, this World Cup year begun with training in Sao Paulo  and an unconvincing victory over South Korea last weekend.  Coach Jurgen has begun his stretch run of evaluation, giving looks to the MLS-based contingent in camp while continuing to watch and track the European and Mexico-based players.

Interesting about Jurgen:  he espouses a lot of new-age philosophy, talks about mindset, attitude, leaving the door open for players.  But when it’s come down to it, he’s been very regimented about bringing players in, having them earn their spots over time.  He’s looked at a lot, but you get the sense he’s much less likely to drop a surprise on us than his predecessors.

That said, we have significant questions about the team’s back-line, the attacking midfield spots, as well as how many forwards should make the roster.  Guys are hurt, guys aren’t playing (or aren’t playing well), and MLS is still a month from kicking off.  We’ll know a lot more when the March 5 friendly in Ukraine rolls around.

For now, though, it’s time to roll out the Beemsville 23:  our picks (not who we think Jurgen will take) for the World Cup, based on numerous scientific factors like watching the players on TV (some more than others), FIFA 2014-PS3 edition, the opinions of soccer writers and podcasters, and the proverbial gut feeling.

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These Knees

Playing indoor soccer last Saturday – the old guy co-ed league, consisting of aging dudes and younger gals who can still play – and my buddy goes down in the middle of the field and doesn’t get up.  No contact or anything, I wasn’t really watching the play, and there he lies.  A wince and a grimace.  “It’s my knee,” he says, “I felt the pops.”  And this friend would know, having torn his ACL years ago when we were playing pick-up basketball.  Now, he hasn’t gone to the doctor yet, but we’re pretty sure he’s looking at surgery and a long rehab.

A similar injury happened last week to Arsenal winger, Theo Walcott.  Walcott, a much younger guy in the prime of his career, will now miss the rest of the English Premier League season as well as England’s run at the World Cup next summer.  His ACL will need major repairs, and Arsenal and English fans clench their teeth in frustration as he was one of their more dynamic players. Continue reading

GoM: Silver Linings

So it’s the Group of Megadeath for Jurgen, Landon, Clint, and Tim.  Every Euro pundit and more than a few Americans have dismissed the US’s chances of advancing out of hand.  There was much moaning to be heard, especially when you look at some of the other groups we could have drawn – particularly Mexico’s spot in Group A (with Brazil, Croatia, and Cameroon), or Honduras’ spot in Group E (with Switzerland, France, and Ecuador), or Group H, aka the Group of Life (USA could have drawn with Belgium, Algeria, and Russia).

But, if you listened to players interviewed, like Tim, Clint, and Jozy Altidore, you didn’t hear any whining.  You didn’t get a sense of intimidation.  It was more a sense of shrugging the shoulders and digging in for battle.  More than a few folks reacted like this.

In Beemsville, our initial reaction was it could have been worse.  Second reaction was:  Ghana – we have something for your punk ass…  Most will recall that Ghana put us out of the last two World Cups.  And it just so happens we open with Ghana.  That first game is so, so vital – the one for which you schemed and plan and prepare for months.  Silver lining here is playing your most beatable opponent first.  Teams that get three points from their first win are always more likely to advance.  Ghana’s defense is questionable, and Juregen’s team has shown more propensity for scoring over the last year.  If you have to open with someone from the GoM, let it be Ghana. Continue reading