Archive for February, 2010

>   The US roster for its March friendly against the Netherlands was released today. This friendly will fall on the final FIFA date before the World Cup rosters are released. I am going to analyze these selections and give you my picks for the WC roster.

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Marcus Hahnemann (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Tim Howard (Everton)
DEFENDERS (7): Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes), Jay DeMerit (Watford), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Heath Pearce (FC Dallas), Frank Simek (Sheffield Wednesday), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United)
MIDFIELDERS (7): DaMarcus Beasley (Rangers), Alejandro Bedoya (Orebro), Michael Bradley (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Landon Donovan (Everton), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Stuart Holden (Bolton Wanderers), José Torres (Pachuca)
FORWARDS (3): Jozy Altidore (Hull City), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake), Eddie Johnson (Aris Thessaloniki)

Goalkeepers – No real surprises here. Tim Howard is the undisputed starter, although I’ve heard rumblings in internetland about whether or not Brad Friedel would come out of retirement to backstop the US to another quarterfinal appearance. My guess is he wouldn’t as he has spent that last six years living comfortably in retirement from the national team. Brad Guzan, America’s future starting goalkeeper (we know that because in the US the best goalkeepers lose their hair before they turn twelve), is a no brainer. Marcus Hahnemann is enjoying a good run of form in the EPL with Wolverhampton.

Defenders – With Cherundolo out injured and Wynne retired from international play following his abysmal game against Honduras (just a joke, but also maybe a suggestion?), Frank Simek has a good chance to claim a place on the WC roster. I gotta say, I enjoyed watching Simek play a few years ago and he did have an unfortunate run of injuries, but is he really a WC quality player? If Simek can go, expect to see him on the right and Jonathan Spector on the left, as he has seen time there for West Ham. Bornstein seems to be a regular for Bradley, but the interesting thing this time around is that he may not play on the left. He has shown the ability to play center back over the last year in MLS and internationally. Assuming the great experiment continues, we could see a new combination on the back line. I would personally like to see Jay Demerit get some time as he was an absolute beast at the Confederations Cup last summer. Bocanegra, Goodson, and Pearce round out the selections.

Midfielders – Here we have a mix of proven veterans and untested “rookies”. Actually, every player on the roster has been capped, but some have far less experience than others. I’m intrigued to see Beasley and Edu returning from poor form and injury to make this roster. Both players have shown well for the US in the past, what remains to be seen is if they can find that form once again. Bedoya for me is a great selection. I thought his second half play against Honduras in January was one of the few positives from that match, although I’ve read mixed reviews online of that game. I was in attendance, so maybe my perspective counts a little more. Coach Sweatpants Jr. is another no brainer. What I’d like to see: Can Donovan can reproduce the play that made him Everton’s player of the month? Does Bradley finally give Torres a chance to show what he can do? Does Holden get some time after delaying his Bolton debut with an injury?

Forwards – Always the easiest to write about, as there are rarely more than four. Altidore is our forward no brainer pick. Findley has speed to get behind defenders, but thus far has been unable to replicate that success on the international stage. Johnson is the most interesting pick as he has been in soccer purgatory for the last I-don’t-know-how-long-because-I-stopped-thinking-he-was-a-viable-option-for-the-US. Can Findley show that he has what it takes to succeed in South Africa? Will Johnson (not of RSL) show that he deserves to be involved with the national team again?

My starting lineup would be:

                     Howard

Simek Demerit Bocanegra Spector

Donovan Bradley Torres Beasley

            Altidore Findley

   I could also see Pearce filling in on the left with Spector going to the right. I doubt Bornstein will continue to play in the middle as the Netherlands would provide a far more physical and technical challenge than El Salvador.

   Edu is a distinct possibility in place of Torres, but I’d like to see Torres in the middle. It really comes down to the question of physicality vs. possession. If Beasley doesn’t start, Donovan could slide to the left and Holden could be on the right. Too bad Hollywood doesn’t make the trip. We could use a molestache in the midfield.

   Altidore and Findley are the likely starters up top unless Bradley decides to give Johnson the start. I doubt Donovan goes up top given his form on the outside of midfield for Everton and in the past with the US, but with only three forwards, maybe we’ll see him there.

World Cup – Who goes?

Howard, Guzan, Hahnemann

Onyewu, Bocanegra, Spector, Cherundolo, Demerit, Bornstein, Goodson, Pearce

Bradley, Donovan, Clark, Dempsey, Torres, Holden, Beasley, Kljestan

Altidore, Davies, Ching, Findley

   This is only a quick jot of potential candidates. Yes, I know some of them are injured, but based on recent reports, even Davies has a shot at being fit in time or at least being an option pending a deep run during June. Pearce has played well of late, I see Beasley making a comeback, and Kljestan shows flashes of amazingness. Ching will always get criticized but the fact is that he works hard, holds the ball, draws fouls (which are only useful if the US can capitalize on set plays unlike last night against El Shitador), and scores clutch goals at least at the club level. Findley also has great club form which may be able to translate internationally.

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>Wow, I just finished watching the USA-El Salvador game and Hollywood got the winner in added time. It was an entertaining game that showed us some few things about what is to come. But first…

Weekday thoughts:

   Ronaldo has announced that he will hang them up in 2011 once his contract with Corinthians runs out. It will be sad to see possibly the greatest forward of all time (certainly the greatest in World Cup history) retire. Over the years he scored 15 World Cup goals and 62 international goals overall while winning 2 world cups, finishing in second in one, and making the quarterfinals in his last. He also won 3 FIFA World Player of the Year awards as well as a World Cup Golden and Silver Ball, and a World Cup Golden, Silver, and Bronze Boot. He will be missed.

   Some interesting news this week out of the Algeria camp: according to a report, two likely world cup starters in Portsmouth left back Nadir Belhadj and ES Setif keeper Faouzi Chaouchi might be suspended an additional 4 games for their red cards against Egypt in the African Cup of Nations semifinals, which would all but rule them out of the World Cup.
   Also of note, Algeria picked their base camp for the World Cup at sea level and was one of only seven sides to do so. Considering they play USA in Pretoria at 4,170 feet above sea level, this doesn’t seem like a good move.

   Grant Wahl is reporting that USA is likely to play one last friendly before the World Cup: likely June 5th against Australia somewhere in South Africa. USA had a similar game against Angola four years ago in Germany; however, that game was a closed-door scrimmage. From what I have heard about this game though, it would be open to the public. This is another great addition to the list of friendly matches that will come our way before the World Cup.

   In Wednesday FA Cup action Slovenia captain Robert Koren scored twice against Reading. After doing some research, it appears that the West Brom player scores about once every 10 matches for both club and country, and all the offense goes through him. Should we be worried? Considering Carlos Bocanegra has a better goal scoring record, I would say no.
   Spurs calmly lit up Bolton 4-0, but this game was notable for another reason. Stuart Holden got the start in central midfield and played all 90 minutes. Holden was simply the best player for Bolton, which wasn’t really saying much, but he was head and shoulder above everyone else. I watched 80 minutes of the game (my stream cut out for 10 minutes) and by my count, Holden gave the ball away just once. He certainly looks like he belongs in the side and he should have had two assists, but one of Bolton’s Bob Marley look-alikes did terribly with the glorious chances he was granted. Personally, I would like to see the Iceman starting in the center of the park with Michael Bradley next Wednesday. It also should be noted that Holden was very strong with his set piece deliveries.

USA 2 El Salvador 1

   This was a good match that saw USA dominate as expected, however they did not finish their chances. In general, USA looked very good on the buildup, and the counter as a few players helped their chances and a few hurt theirs.

Men of the Match:

3.    Sacha Kljestan – Hollywood had a great first half in terms of distribution and was somewhat unlucky to not score one of his two chances. He didn’t give the ball away much, but I didn’t have him in my top three players until he scored the winning goal. He has definitely earned a spot on the roster vs. the Netherlands.
2.    Brian Ching – Ching Kong was great for the whole 45 minutes. He fought for the ball and distributed it well. A healthy Ching could go a long way in the World Cup in terms of holding possession and possibly adding the odd goal here and there. His flicks were world class today, not to mention the fact that he got a goal. My favorite play from him was a half volley that he took very well off a cross from the right side. I’m still not sure how he got to it and got it on goal. With the terrible forward play as of late, Ching looks to have earned a spot in South Africa just based on this performance.
1.    Heath Pearce – What can I say? He was a monster for the full 90 minutes. He slightly edges out Ching based on having a great game vs. just a great half. Pearce was getting up and down the field all day; attacking just as well as defending for most of the game. He had the cross that Brian Ching scored on and he had a few others that should have resulted in goals. However, my favorite play of the game was in the 85th minute when he absolutely destroyed Arturo Alvarez on a two-footed challenge. Pearce got all ball and it shouldn’t have been a foul. It was the sort of tackle that you dream of making; unfortunately, he got a yellow in the process but it was undeserving. Perhaps this is karma for Alvarez pulling a Benedict Arnold (© Will Robinson) on the USA.

Disappointment(s):

Robbie Rogers – He looked lost for most of the game. He got into good positions but did nothing with the ball and had a terrible game decision wise. I was looking for more from the Columbus midfielder.
John Harkes – No explanation needed.

Now, time for my Thursday top 10 list, after bashing Americans last week, I decided to give my boys some love this week by naming my 10 favorite American players of all time. (Note: I realized after making this list that I left off Carlos Bocanegra, if I had to make the list again, he would be just above McBride and below Donovan. Call it my top 11 list.)

10.    Alecko Eskandarian – I gotta throw some love to some of my DC boys even if he only played once for the national team. I love how this guy scores so many amazing goals and his 2004 MLS Cup MVP season was unforgettable. I still wish that DC never traded him even if it meant giving up just 20 goals in 4 years in order to get Luciano Emilio who would provide 40 in 3 years. He is also the only player on this list that I have met. Fun story: In 2005, he had just returned from injury so he didn’t start when DC played San Jose at Spartan Stadium, so I talked to him at half time, got his autograph, and told him to go score some goals. He then proceeded to score zero goals in the 2005 season. My bad Alecko.

9.    Clint Mathis – Cleetus has to have a place on this list, if only for just being a straight up badass. His peak was short, but from 2001-2003 no one was more dangerous for the USMNT. His goal in the 2002 World Cup against South Korea is still one of my all time favorite goals.

8.    Brian McBride – Although I only witnessed the end of his career, what a career it was. His 30 goals are third all time (until Dempsey passes him in 2012/13) and he provided invaluable hold up play that we haven’t seen since he retired. USA is still struggling to cope with his retirement.

7.    Landon Donovan – You would think that the all time leading scorer would be higher up on my list, but he isn’t. I love him; I just love all the other guys a little more. There isn’t really much to be said about Landon that you don’t know. He is the best USA player now and probably of all time, I just like everyone else’s styles a little more. Donovan has also been great in MLS play. In the first professional game I ever went to back in the days of the 1836 San Houston DynaClashQuakes, Donovan scored a goal and set up another in a 3-1 win.

6.    Jozy Altidore – I just love the way he plays. He is so big and strong and you have to love the stanky legg celebration. Jozy is electrifying and he has a chance to be the best USA forward ever, if he can just become a little more consistent in the EPL. No player this young has been in such a high league before though. Jozy has a bright future.

5.    Michael Bradley – Admittedly, he dropped some spots for being a former MetroBull, but I just love the way he plays. He is strong in all facets of his play. He plays a great through ball, makes great late runs, scores a decent amount of goals and is strong in the air. If he could just stop getting red cards in tournament semi finals, he would be great.

4.    Charlie Davies – I was at his international debut and my initial thoughts were that he would never amount to much. I was obviously proven wrong though and he was the surprise of 2009 in both good and bad ways. It is a sad story that someone was at the top for such a short amount of time before he had it taken all away. His goal in Mexico was fantastic and it gave me confidence that we will get a result there soon. I believe that when Charlie gets back he will be stronger than ever and USA will reap all the benefits.

3.    Ben Olsen – The former heart and soul of DC United since 1998. Ben Olsen was never the most skillful player, but you did not mess with him. He was rugged and had a knack for scoring timely goals. It is sad that my favorite DC player retired, but his ankles were never quite right after 2000 so he will get some much-needed rest. It was great to see him play in the last World Cup.

2.    Oguchi Onyewu – The first time I saw Onyewu play was against Mexico at Azteca. Onyewu was not nearly the player he is now and had a howler of a game then. But he showed me a lot when in the return leg of that game he absolutely dominated Jared Borghetti leading to one of my favorite pictures of all time:

Onyewu is possibly the most physically gifted athlete on the team however; he really struggled technically until a few years ago. He was amazing at the Confederations Cup, he won almost every ball and his distribution was world class. Hopefully he gets over this injury and gets minutes for Milan before June. We need this absolute monster back.

1.    Clint Dempsey – Was there ever any doubt? This is all I have to say.

>   Hi everyone, it’s Dylan again with your Wednesday college football lunch. Before we dive into today’s topics of issues with the BCS and college coaching, here are a few leftovers from last week’s lunch.

1.    Before this past season, USC had been the dominant team this decade in division 1A. Every year since 2002 they had won at least 10 games, finished in the top 10 of the final AP voting, won the Pac10 conference championship and were invited to play in a BCS bowl game. All of those years, except for one, they had won that bowl game and in 2003 and 2004, they had won at least a share of the National Championship. Everything changed this past year as they put four notches up on the wrong side of the record column and played in the Emerald Nuts Bowl in San Francisco. While this may be a dream destination for Washington State, USC clearly had higher aspirations and have to be disappointed with this year’s outcome.

2.    As with every college season, there were plenty of surprise teams this year, and not all of them good. Starting off with some of the disappointing teams: Ole Miss was a huge surprise the year before last and they came into this season as a possible national title contender with Heisman hopeful Jevan Snead behind center. They quickly faltered and fell completely out of the rankings for a few weeks in the middle of the season. They were able to rebound slightly by the end of the year, but ending up ranked 20th and having four loses is not what they envisioned when the year began. Oklahoma State also had aspirations of a championship and had multiple Heisman hopefuls in Dez Bryant, Zac Robinson and Kendall Hunter. Injuries and suspensions to key players left the Cowboys in a similar position as Ole Miss, four loses and a ranking much lower than they were anticipating at the beginning of the year. Not all was bad as some teams did much better than expected. Alabama was ranked fairly highly to start the year, but not many expected them to run the table, win the championship and have the Heisman trophy winner at the end of the year. Boise State and TCU also surprised many people by going undefeated throughout the entire regular season. Last, but not least, is Iowa. They were ranked 22nd to start off the year, but after barely winning there first game against a 1AA team, they dropped out of the polls completely. By seasons end they had climbed to seventh and had won the Orange Bowl against a favored Georgia Tech team.

   Now that we’ve finished going over the specifics of last years season, let us delve into some issues that have shaped college football over the past couple of years, the BCS and college coaching infidelity.
   Everyone who watches college football has an opinion on how the BCS should be. They say that there should be a playoff system. There should be a plus one. The system should be scrapped and we should go back to how it was. I would like to address that last point before I delve into what I think about all of this. Let’s take this past year for example. If the BCS had never come along, last years bowl pairings would have looked like this:

Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Ohio State

Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Cincinnati

Cotton Bowl: Texas vs. Florida

Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. Pittsburgh

These aren’t perfect and the matchups may be switched around a little, but you get the picture. In case you hadn’t noticed, there is not a TCU or Boise State to be seen in the major bowls and if all goes as planned here are the records of these teams at the end of the year. Alabama (14-0), Texas (14-0, this is assuming that Colt McCoy plays the whole game. For anyone watching the Texas-Alabama game before McCoy got hurt, you know that the Longhorns were dominating and had a very good chance to win that game. I think they beat Florida in a mini upset.), Ohio State (11-2), Oregon (10-3), Cincinnati (12-1), Florida (12-2), Georgia Tech (12-2), Pittsburgh (9-4), Boise State (14-0), and TCU (13-0, both of these last two teams probably would have destroyed any lower level teams they were matched up against in their crappy bowls.)
Let’s take a closer look at four of these records: Alabama, Texas and Boise State (14-0), and TCU (13-0). We know now that Alabama can beat a Colt McCoyless Texas team and Boise State can beat TCU straight up. But, in this alternate-no-BCS-universe, we have four undefeated teams at the end of the year that can honestly say they deserve to be the #1 team.
   Another way to look at this is if Florida beats down Texas in Tebows last game as they beat down Cincinnati. Now you’re looking at Alabama most likely taking the top prize and Boise and TCU complaining about no having a chance. Maybe this is the year that kick starts serious thought about having a plus one or outright playoff system, which brings me to my main point: although the BCS is flawed, so are every other system that people have thought of.
   Let’s start out with the playoff method. College basketball has the best (or second best depending on how you feel about the world cup being once every four years) tournament in the world. Hands down. No contest whatsoever. Many pundits have often wondered why college football does not use this same formula to enhance the excitement that college football brings. There are multiple flaws with this type of reasoning. First, you can play basketball once every two or three days for an entire month and not die like you probably would in football. Secondly, because of this, the excitement level couldn’t match the continuous buzz that the NCAA tournament does because there are constantly games going on. Not only that, but the same problems that people have with the BCS (namely that polls determine everything, and not enough teams have a shot) would crop up with a playoff system. How would the ninth team in an 8-team tournament feel? Kind of like how the third ranked team does now. Yes, the problem is lessened, but it’s still there. Also, you couldn’t realistically have more than eight teams make the field without the games dragging into February.
   Many people feel, as do I, that the plus-1 system would be the best way to crown a national champion. The way that this would work is to have two of the existing BCS bowls host the top 4 teams in a bracket style tournament (top seed plays lowest and middle two play each other) with the two winners playing a week later in the already thought of BCS national championship game. The system is already in place. There are the four normal BCS games and a separate national championship already, why not just tweak it a little. The problem that this creates would only happen in years like 2005 when USC and Texas were clearly the two best teams, as well as the only two undefeateds at the end of the year. A plus one would have been detrimental this season, as we already knew who should play in the final game.
   This just goes to show that no system is perfect and although the BCS does need to be changed, it is better than what we have and not nearly as poor as some people conceive it to be.

   Coaching changes happen all the time in the college ranks. Teams don’t perform up to standards so they fire the headman. This in turn leaves a void, so they either turn to someone already in the organization, or more likely, they hire a head coach looking for another opportunity from another school. This leaves that school with the need to hire a head coach so they also look elsewhere. Around and around it goes until everyone is settled in and the season progresses. As I showed above, some teams achieve below expectations and they will decide to go in a different direction with there coach. This will continue to go on as long as there is money to be made. The problem mostly lies when schools need to hire a new candidate and they turn to other schools for options. Some coaches like the situation they are in and wouldn’t leave for anything. Some coaches aren’t good enough to be asked. Some coaches are waiting for a better opportunity. Some colleges are targeting young assistants from other schools. This leaves just a few coaches. These are people like Nick Saban, Rich Rodriguez, Lane Kiffin and Bobby Petrino. All of these men have made pledges to young men that they will be with them through thick and thin. They have told countless parents that they will mold their children into adults that they can be proud of. They have told countless fan bases that they will lead them to the promised land of a national title and if they have to cut off there own limbs to do it, so be it. Then at the first hint of more money or a higher caliber team, they hastily jump ship and bring their pack of lies to a completely new band of followers and recruits. This type of behavior is despicable and is one of the things wrong with college football today. Although I love the game and am a little too obsessed with following every aspect of it, whenever coach’s news comes up, I just skip to the next article. I would advise you to do the same, don’t give these attention-seeking men what they so terribly want, and what they could not deserve less.

   That’s all the time we have for today’s lunch, but join me next week for the debuting of my own special column gimmick. It won’t disappoint.

>   Before I start my column, I have some breaking news to announce on here. Monday afternoon, I was thinking about the awesome song Evan post last week (check out Thursday’s post to see it for a thirteenth viewing), and I was wondering how Clint Dempsey’s teammates thought of the song. I decided to TWEET USMNT Striker Jozy Altidore on my personal Twitter account if he jokes and gives him crap about it, and to my surprise, he responded with this: “@wrobinson91 oh of course I do every chance I get!” There it is, ladies and gentlemen. The inside scoop you have ALL been waiting for. Anyways, here’s my new piece:

   Hey again guys! I know you have all been looking forward to my next piece, so due to popular demand, here it is. First off, I would like to apologize to all of you Cowboy fans (cough, Russell, cough) for excluding your team’s best season in a while. For one, Jerry Jones’ new stadium is simply amazing. I mean, he has the biggest high definition TV in the world in his stadium! On the gridiron though, Dallas finished 11-5, won their first playoff game since 1996, where oddly enough, they beat the Vikings, whom if you remember, beat Dallas in the divisional round this most recent postseason. Things look very bright for Dallas, however. They have arguably the best pass rush tandem in the league (with the young Anthony Spencer and All-Pro DeMarcus Ware), and have some young and solid playmakers that Tony Romo has missed since TO’s first year with them. On that note, I decided to do something special this week. After listening to ex Baltimore/Cleveland scout Daniel Jeremiah’s podcast, “Move the Sticks,” he ranked the best young players for each team. I decided that I would do the same, starting from the AFC West and doing the AFC this week (due to time constraints and school, and of news that broke out on Monday):

AFC West

Denver Broncos

Ryan Clady – I remember watching the Denver/Indy game, and I saw Dwight Freeney sacks Kyle Orton late in the game, and I thought this was the first time I saw Clady give up a sack. Upon further review, however, he allowed his first full sack against San Diego in week five. Still though, Clady has dominated pass rushers in his entire career (two years granted), and made the first team all-pro team last year. He’ll be the franchise tackle in Denver for years to come.

Kansas City Chiefs

Jamaal Charles – I remembering seeing Charles at Texas and thought he was really good, and that he would be a high draft pick. Then on draft day, he fell to the third round. His knock coming out of school was that he wasn’t a great pass catcher and needed to be better at running between the tackles. Obviously, he has improved in at least one of those areas, as he averaged nearly six yards per carry last year! He made everyone forget who Larry Johnson was after he thrashed defenses last year.

Oakland Raiders

Jamarcus Russell – Totally kidding here. I can’t even joke about this guy

Zach Miller – This was a hard pick, because Al Davis does not know how to draft for a football team. Miller had a decent year last year, but has shown significant signs that he can be an elite tight end. With the revolving door at quarterback, he has been a top ten TE. Just imagine if he had someone of at least Matt Schaub’s caliber.

San Diego Chargers

Antonio Cromartie – He only had three interceptions last year, but he’s only a few years removed from the longest play in NFL history and a ten interception season. The Chargers are currently shopping him (allegedly) and has rumors of some off the field problems. Nevertheless, he has been hurt a decent amount of the last two years, and has shown he can be good. I believe he is their best young defensive player right now.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

Ray Rice – This was a tough call between Rice, Joe Flacco, Michael Oher and Le’Ron McClain, but Rice was one of the best running backs last year. He was also one of the most versatile. He reminded me a lot of Mo Jo in Jacksonville. Like Charles, I thought this guy was great at Rutgers, but he slipped in the draft. Seeing players like him who are extremely talented but fall in the draft make me ask one thing: how come the Broncos could not have gotten someone like him? He averaged approximately six yards per touch (receiving and rushing), and racked up eight total touchdowns. I’ll look forward to watching him next year.

Cincinnati Bengals

Johnathan Joseph – It was another close call between him and his fellow corner that plays on the other side of the field, Leon Hall. He and Hall both had the same amount of interceptions (six), but Joseph had a lot more return yards than Hall as well as a defensive touchdown. I do think that Cincy has one of the, if not the best corner duo in the league. They can anchor the outside receivers for a few more years.

Cleveland Browns

Joe Thomas – Along with Clady and Jake Long in Miami, Thomas is up there in elite left tackles, the most important player on the offensive line for a right handed quarterback. Despite having crappy players take snaps for him his entire career, Thomas has held up and been the bright spot on the team, including Josh Cribbs and this year, Jerome Harrison. He will be their franchise tackle for at least the next seven or so years.

Pittsburgh Steelers

LaMarr Woodley – Two years removed from being world champions, the Steelers had an off year. However, their defense is still the definition of the team despite Big Ben having phenomenal passing performances this year (503 yards in ONE GAME!). However, with Polamalu being out a majority of the year and James Harrison completing an off year compared to his Defensive Player of the Year Campaign, Woodley put up big numbers after starting slow. He recorded three more sacks this most recent year than the Steelers’ Super Bowl year. Like some of the people on this list, how did he drop to the middle of the second round?

AFC East

Buffalo Bills

Paul Posluszny – Another product of JoePa’s Linebacker U in State College, PA, Posluszny put up big numbers last year. He recorded 110 tackles, three forced fumbles and three picks playing at mike. He also only played 12 games last year! He actually recorded the same amount of total and solo tackles in 12 games last year as he did in 16 games in 2008. By that pace, that equates to approximately 147 tackles, and would have slotted him second behind Patrick Willis. He’ll enter his fourth year next year. Look for him to put up bigger numbers if he remains healthy.

Miami Dolphins

Jake Long – Long was a big story before his draft day, as one of the true football geniuses, Bill Parcells, made a deal for Jake Long before being drafted. He has great size and ability at left tackle, and punishes people on the edge. He allowed only four sacks last year, 14 of the games with his virtually rookie quarterback, and four-year starter at the University of Michigan, Chad Henne, taking snaps. While Henne showed some good signs last year, he did struggle quite a bit. Long will be the franchise player for the Fins until I finish college (eight years or so).

New England Patriots

Jerod Mayo – The NFL Team of the 2000s, who were built on defense, have struggled on that side of the ball as of recent. But, I can tell you whose fault it’s not: Jerod Mayo’s. In his rookie year, he recorded 128 tackles, 100 of which were solo. An MCL strain sidelined Mayo for three games, and the mediocre defense looked horrendous. Fortunately, for the Pats, he was their first round pick, and will be under contract for at least another three years. Don’t expect Belichick to let him go easily.

New York Jets

Darrelle Revis – Unquestionably the foundation of the New York Jets tenacious defense, Revis flat out dominated opposing wide outs this year. He punished them. He has tremendous speed, and was able to hold the following receivers to under 50 yards: Andre Johnson, Randy Moss (2x), Marques Colston, Mike Sims-Walker, Roddy White, Reggie Wayne and Chad Ochocinco (2x). He did allow Vincent Jackson to go for seven catches and 111 yards, but his team got a big win, on the road, in the playoffs. He will constantly be at or near the top of the best cornerback discussion.

AFC South

Houston Texans

Brian Cushing – Cush showed any and all doubters he had before the draft that he could play in the NFL. Just look at this Defensive Rookie of the Year statline: 134 tackles. Two forced fumbles. Five sacks. Four interceptions. His ex-teammate who was drafted by Green Bay (Clay Matthews) put up an equally as impressive year as their main edge rusher, Cushing got more tackles than his young partner did at Middle Linebacker, Demeco Ryans, last year. Expect to hear his name repeatedly. He’s still at least four years from his prime.

Indianapolis Colts

Austin Collie/Pierre Garçon – Both of these young receivers have been talented for Manning this year, and I believe in tandem they are better as opposed to their individual entities. It is almost impossible to fully shut down the Colts offense, as Manning is so talented, but also with the wealth of targets at his disposal. He didn’t have his second string receiver this year (Anthony Gonzales), but Collie and Garçon filled in amazingly. Next year, barring another injury or a trade, Manning will have six quality targets (Wayne, Clark, the aforementioned young duo, Gonzales, Addai), and the offense will keep trucking along.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Maurice Jones-Drew – MoJo is one of the toughest football players in THE National, FOOTBALL LEAGUE. Yes, that was my Ron Jaworski impersonation, and just about everybody on ESPN. Anyways, for real, Jones-Drew is probably the toughest pound for pound guy in the league. Remember when he DESTROYED Merriman? There was a 50 pound, 5 inch advantage on Merriman, and he got lit up. He ran for 15 touchdowns last year, and will only get better.

Tennessee Titans

Chris Johnson – Chris Johnson electrified the combine last year when he ran a blistering 4.24 on his 40 time, and rose up the draft boards. Even though Ray Rice, Steve Slaton, Tim Hightower, Johnathan Stewart, Felix Jones, Rashard Mendenhall, Matt Forté, Jamaal Charles and Tashard Choice have all had some form of success, Johnson became the first person since Jamal Lewis did in 2003 to gain 2000 rushing yards in a season. He can get to the outside edge with such ease; it looks like he isn’t even trying at times. He has not had the fumblitis Adrian Peterson has had, and has shown to be a better receiver from the backfield, but he isn’t as tough between the tackles as Peterson has shown. If he can break more tackles as opposed to eluding them, he can be the most dangerous weapon the NFL has seen since Barry Sanders.

   When I heard that the Chargers released LaDainian Tomlinson on Monday, I wasn’t shocked, but it was upsetting. Since I have been knowledgeable and aware of what goes on in football, LT held the title of best running back in the game. He holds 28 San Diego Franchise records. He is currently eighth on the all time rushing leaders list, and is the highest active member. Just watch some of his highlights from his TCU days to his best NFL ones.

   Despite being a Broncos fan, I wish the best for LT and hope he can find somewhere to play next year, so he can change his place in history through the stat line. I hope you enjoyed this week’s post, and hope you read next week when I cover the news that happened in the week between then and now, as well as my young stars in the NFC.

>   I’m guessing that at least 50% of the people who opened up this page just closed it based on the title. I mean El Salvador, who cares? Well I do for one. USA plays El Salvador this Wednesday in the second to last warm up match before the Bob Bradley selects his World Cup squad. This will be an interesting match with a few spots up for grabs (a few were gained against Guatemala in a 4-0 victory 4 years ago. Chris Klein, Eddie Johnson and Ben Olsen scored; I can’t remember the other scorer as this is all off the top of my head, while Olsen and Johnson cemented their spots). I will preview this match, but first…

Weekend Recap:

   On Friday, I had the luxury of taking in the Borussia Monchengladbach – TSG Hoffenheim game. It was a thrilling 2-2 draw with St. Louis University product and current Bosnia & Herzegovina international Vedad Ibisevic getting one of the goals. This man was great and it’s too bad that he never wanted to play for USA as he has scored 30 Bundesliga goals in just two years; something no USA striker can match.
   As far as the rest of the match, Borussia had some great team moments but too often, their players put their head down and dribble to nowhere, which brings me to my next point. Michael Bradley did not have a strong match, but his vision, passing, and overall play is on a completely different level then his teammates. He is simply too good for his team. He is one of the masters in modern soccer at making late runs out of the midfield, and because of his teammates sub-par play, they never even see the great passes they could be making. Three or four times Coach Sweatpants Jr. shed his marker and was wide open in the box and he got the ball just once. The one ball he did get, he failed to finish off, but it wasn’t a great ball to begin with. Overall, despite some giveaways he managed to stay relevant. I don’t think he will be with this team next year; he is too good for them and should fetch a great transfer fee.
   Also of note in this game was Karim Matmour’s play. Despite being my friend’s favorite player (has this ever been written about Matmour before?), he was terrible for the second straight week. By my count, he had the ball four times, and here is what he did:

•   First touch after coming on is incredibly telegraphed as he tries to juke his defender with his defender ending up with the ball easily.
•   Gets played a nice layoff ball at the top of the box and proceeds, with no pressure, to shoot it out for a THROW IN. Yes, the shot was about 40 yards off target. How does this even happen still in professional soccer?
•   Gets the ball in the final third on a wing and losses the ball after one touch then fouls the defender who just got the ball.
•   Using his head, lays off a long ball to a teammate.

That’s right, in 18 minutes of play instead of holding up the ball or creating scoring chances he gave the ball away three times out of four. Remember folks this is one of Algeria’s star players. Are you worried for June 23rd? (If the answer is yes, you clearly haven’t read any of these last 600 words)

   Clint Dempsey is still hurt but Fulham posted an impressive 2-1 home win against reigning Europa League (UEFA Cup) champions Shakhtar Donestk. I hope that they will still be alive in the competition when Dempsey is fit. The return leg is set for Thursday.

   Stuart Holden once again fails to make the 18 for Bolton against Blackburn on Sunday. Why did they even sign him if they aren’t going to play him? The deal is only for the rest of the season. If he continues to not make the squad, is this not just a huge waste of money?

   Lastly, Landon was once again impressive as Everton took down Manchester United 3-1 in Liverpool. Landon was all over the field and played a part in the second Everton goal. He played 90 minutes on the left wing and despite missing a relatively routine chance, he Goal.com gave him an 8/10 for the match. I watched the game and found him particularly impressive in his passing and work rate. Sadly, I got about one hour of sleep and I cannot remember for the life of me many of the details of the match. I remember him being good though, another positive step for Landon.

El Salvador Preview:

   Really, whoever emerges in this game only has a chance at a substitute’s role, but an important role nonetheless. Bradley should use his general 4-4-2, looking something like this:

                  Findley-Ching

Rogers-McCarty-Beckerman-Kljestan

Bornstein-Goodson-Marshall-Wynne?

                        Perkins

   In reality, Bornstein already is a lock to go, and there is no way Wynne or whoever plays right back will be selected by Bradley and co. Besides them, the people with the best chance to make the squad in order are Ching, Goodson, Rogers, Marshall, Findley, Kljestan, Beckerman, McCarty. All these guys will be fighting for a spot in the 23 although anything done against an El Salvador B team should be taken lightly. Expect USA to come out strong and play well for 45-60 minutes before making a lot of subs. hopefully we will get to see some of Geoff Cameron and/or Chris Pontius. These two young players may be key ingredients for the 2014 World Cup cycle.

Prediction: USA 4 SLV 0

That’s all for today, enjoy the USA game on Wednesday and try to catch the Everton-Sporting game on Thursday.

>     On Saturday, February 13th, I (Matt) had the pleasure of attending the annual Soccer Nation Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the event, as I formerly was, this gathering is organized by Cal South and according to the website is “two amazing days of high-spirited soccer action, education, shopping, networking, and just plain fun.”

     Being a soccer coach, my focus was primarily set on the education and networking facets. I had signed up for the VIP Coach Pass, which not only gave me early access to the event (doors opened for VIP pass holders at 8:30am, general public at 9:30am), but also included many free products (t-shirts, coupons, etc.). The event was held in the spacious south hall of the convention center where all sorts of soccer related vendors set up shop. After having a little trouble figuring out where to park as well as waiting in a long line to pick up my pass, I soon found myself heading inside. As I headed up the escalator, I could see the many booths, in the middle of which was “the Center Pitch”, an Astroturf adorned plot of land where numerous professional coaches put on coaching demonstrations. This was my ultimate destination.

     But first, I opted to walk around and see the various exhibits while I still had time before the general public entered. I went to the Nike booth to check out their new bright green total 90s, headed by the LA Galaxy and Chivas booths to score some free stuff (I gave the LA shirt to my girlfriend, more on why in a future post), and tried to ignore the many solicitations from uniform vendors (as I am not a league official and cannot speak on behalf of my league as to whether or not we want to change our uniforms).

     Soon I could hear the first coaching demonstrator come on the PA and begin his session, so I went back over to the center pitch to check it out. I missed the introduction, but I’m pretty sure the coach was USC’s Ali Khosroshahin, who ran a young group of youth players through a session oriented toward technical development in young players.

     Next up was Jan Smisek, who despite her experience and credentials, did not come across as very interactive with the players. Perhaps this was because the demonstration was oriented more toward the coaches. She ran an older group of Olympic Development Program players through a session on 2v2 defending, focusing mostly on the second or supporting defender.

     Then, with perhaps the most exciting demonstration (in my opinion) of the day came Klaus Pabst, who took the ODP players through a session focusing on 1v1 up to 4v4 tactics. This was all without mentioning the fact that his last name also refers to my favorite cheap pub beer. I enjoyed his charisma and interaction with the players so much, that I decided to head to one of the smaller rooms adjacent to the main hall to hear him discuss FC Koln’s (Cologne) youth development system. I later spoke with him more in depth and made plans to visit the academy and the club the next time I am in Germany.

     Bob Gansler, my favorite retired MLS coach, was next. He ran a group of boys through a technically challenging session and displayed a huge amount of humor and wit which I would have had no idea he possessed had I not attended.

     Oscar Gil (who I was too lazy to find a link to, look him up if you want), from Boca Juniors in Argentina was next, but I only caught the end of the session as I was both hungry and hungover and went searching for food (found some nachos and a coke, not bad for $7 in LA). When I returned, I watched him putting ODP players through a very physical progression from a team game with 1v1 in zones to a 9v9 game.

     Jeff Tipping, of National Soccer Coaches Association of America was up next (again, lazy). He put the players through a session designed to work on the transition from attack to defense, but ended up spending more time on attacking on the counter.

     Finally, the crown jewel of the day (and the reason why I decided to come), was Dave Sarachan, current assistant coach of the LA Gaylaxy (oops, did I write that?). He originally was supposed to do a session on attacking on the counter, but ended up improvising (as Jeff Tipping stole his topic) and running the players through an effective technical passing and possession exercise.

     That session closed out the first day of the convention. Sadly, I was not able to return the following day as a combination of Valentine’s Day, a soccer game and lack of time prevented me from doing so. I am happy to report that Valentine’s Day went well, we won our soccer game, and I found time to do other things (such as spend time with my lovely girlfriend – I’ll keep it PG, don’t worry). I learned a lot from the demonstrations and hope to attend similar events in the future (except the upcoming Vegas event in March, which I cannot swing).

Burn of the week – From [ex-USA head coach Steve] Sampson, I learned what not to do as a coach.” – Former USMNT player and current NAC Breda technical director, Earnie Stewart.

Upcoming match of the week – Everton vs. Manchester United, Saturday at 4:45AM PST. Yes, I will be awake and watching. Maybe still even drunk.

Match of the week (thus far) – I’m gonna have to go with San Jose 1: Kansas City 0. Not the biggest or most important match, but it’s nice to see the ‘Quakes come up with at least one preseason win thus far against significant opposition

>Thursday Lunch: GOING TO PHILLAAAAAAAY!!!

Posted: February 18, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

>   That’s right! Just like Marshall Eriksen, we’re goin’ to Phillaay! And of course, by we are, I mean the US National team. Sorry to disappoint all of our loyal readers (my bad Mom), but I digress. On May 29th, USA will play a friendly against Turkey just 4 days after a game against the Czech Republic at a location to be announced. Honestly, this is great news. After the debacle that was the last send off series, with games against Morocco, Venezuela, and Latvia, I am glad the USSF got it right this time. Although neither team made the World Cup this year, Turkey was a Euro 2008 semifinalist and the Czechs boast European stars such as Arsenal’s Tomáš Rosický and Chelsea’s Petr Čech. Perhaps the US team will be adequately prepared this time.

In other news:

   Benny Feilhaber is out 10 days with cartilage damage in his ankle. It looks as if he will miss the Netherlands Friendly as so many will.

   Maurice Edu plays his first full 90 minutes since the last SPL season, no one noticed. I mean does anyone ever watch the SPL? I mean people complain about MLS being a bad quality league, but the SPL is like MLS, except that there are only two teams in the league. Maybe Edu will get the start against the Netherlands which would be his first USA start in….I can’t remember the last time he started to be honest. Also, DaMarcus Beasley played in the reserve game the day before (I assume to build fitness). At least he scored a goal against AYSO quality players.

   Landon Donovan had a quiet game as Everton beat Sporting Lisbon 2-1 in the first leg of their round of 32 Europa League meeting. Everton looked the better of the team for most of the game but Sporting got a late penalty. Landon did not see much of the ball but when he did, he didn’t really do too much to convince that he should be getting more of it. He did play 90 minutes however.

   I was so sure that Stuart Holden would get his first action in the EPL yesterday against Wigan; however, he failed to make the bench. This is a confusing one to me, I’m sure he will get playing time soon enough though.

   Finally, and this is the shocker of the week, Freddy Adu scored again. He also picked up an assist while playing 66 minutes in a 3-0 win in the Greek Cup. I believed they advanced to the semifinals because of him. As much as I don’t like Freddy, which segues well into my new feature coming up next, he is playing well at the right time. Could he earn a World Cup spot?

   Now for something new: starting today and every Thursday, I will be having a top 10 list on something completely random in soccer. This will be much like Letterman’s top 10 lists, but mine will be funny. Now for my first list:

My top 10 least favorite American players of all time (all but number one fluctuates from time to time)

10.    Brett Favre – Just kidding. I know he doesn’t play soccer and that is why there will be two #10’s on this list. Although I do hate him, I just want to say his name because a certain someone (who I will never mention by name) refuses to mention Brett Favre by name on this blog.

The real 10.    Eric Wynalda – Yes, I know “Waldo” with 34 goals is USA’s second leading goal scorer of all time. I also know that he scored possibly the nicest American World Cup goal of all time in 1994 vs. Sweden. Just like I also know that he played in three World Cups: an incredible achievement. Despite all of that, the following shows why I don’t like him. Within minutes of being subbed into the 1990 World Cup, he got red carded for elbowing an opposing player in the face. When you go to the World Cup, you need players who don’t make these kinds of mistakes. Also, for being such a great goal scorer, he never showed it on the biggest stage, scoring just a single goal in eight World Cup games or in MLS finishing with just 34 goals in 8 seasons, hardly a good record.

9.    Pablo Mastroeni – Has there ever been anyone less skilled to play for USA in the modern era (1990-present)? If there has, I have not seen them. He played in two World Cups and just basically fouled people. He has never scored for the national team and it is clearly his fault that USA did not get more than a point against Italy in 2006. Up a man and tied going into half time, he made quite possibly the dumbest challenge I have ever seen. He went studs up on Pirlo in an unimportant area of the field and was rightfully sent off. Instead of going into half time with a man advantage and tied, he evened the numbers and made it easier for Italy. As I said with Wynalda, you cannot do this on the world’s biggest stage.

8.    John Harkes – Not only is he the worst American Soccer commentator ever not named Balboa, but he is one of the biggest reasons why USA failed in 1998. Harkes broke the bro code and touched uglies with Eric Wynalda’s wife, leading to his dismissal from the team. We could have really used him in that tournament and without him, we were doomed to a last place finish. It always surprises me when a professional athlete, who can pretty much get any ass he wants (not to mention is married), hooks up with a teammates spouse. What a disgrace. He also picked Uruguay to make the World Cup semis. Let’s see how that one goes.

7.    Steve Sampson – Yes he never played for USA but that is how much I don’t like him. I am putting him on this list because of the 3-6-1. I don’t even feel like explaining this one, if you want to know how much he sucked you can A) ask anyone who knows anything about USA soccer or B) read his Wikipedia article or C) just not waste your time.

6.    Eddie Johnson – Ah the grown ass man himself. He was the talk of the country when he scored eight goals in his first eight internationals. Sadly, if you do the math on his 39 appearance and 12-goal career record that means that he scored just four goals in his next 31 appearances. He seems like a good guy and that is why I hate to put him on this list, but he has let me down faster and harder than any other player I have seen.

5.    Freddy Adu – Not only is he one of the most annoying sports personalities, but why does everyone still talk about him? He scored a goal like once every eight games in MLS. He never developed and never matured into the player everyone thought he was going to be, and what does he do? He makes excuses. I hate excuses almost as much as I hate player #1 on this list.

4.    Arturo Alvarez – He wines about playing time. He dives. He is lazy. He complains to refs. He does not work well as a team player. He has extraordinary skill. Wow, I just described the Mexican National team. I don’t care that he plays for El Salvador because El Salvador sucks.

3.    Josh Wolff – In my book, Josh Wolff has played two good games in his career. One was against Mexico in 2001. One was against Mexico in 2002. Everyone has been on this guy’s nuts in MLS saying how great he is. Sure, he has 73 MLS goals, but guess how many playoff goals he has? If you guess 10, you would be wrong. He has one. Going into his 10th year and with 13 playoff appearances, he has one playoff goal. He was part of a great 1998 Chicago Fire squad that won MLS cup and a decent 2004 Kansas City team that lost to the best team in MLS History (if you don’t know who that is you are reading the wrong blog). How does a man this highly touted have just one playoff goal? And the worst part is the one playoff goal that he did score was a penalty kick. Every time Josh Wolff used to play for USA, I would cringe. He is possibly the most overrated player in the history of MLS. Please retire.

2.    Wells Thompson – 71 games. Two goals. Three assists. No, soccer is not all about stats, but would you not expect more from an attacking midfielder in MLS? He shoots when he should pass, he passes when he should cross, and he crosses when he should shoot (if that is even possible). He almost reminds me of 2006 World Cup Landon Donovan but way worse and much more annoying. I always did not like him as a player but the tipping point was last year when he tried to fight Ben Olsen. You don’t mess with Ben. Ben promptly scored a header over Thompson’s “marking”. You have to know that when Ben Olsen scores a goal over you, you are terrible.

1.    Giuseppe Rossi – I don’t even want to talk about this one.

Because I did not want to end on a sad note like that here is this, just because I can.