Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Breaking Down The Premier League Contenders and Pretenders Midway Through The Year

So it's almost (or it is depending on when you're reading this) the winter break. The points separating the top teams in the Premier League are slim and this is turning out to be one of the most exciting seasons in a while. So let's look at the contenders and pretenders in the Premier League as it stands right now.

The table is as follows right now:
1. Arsenal - 35 pts
2. Liverpool - 30 pts
3. Chelsea - 30 pts
4. Manchester City - 29 pts
5. Everton - 28 pts
6. Tottenham - 27 pts
7. Newcastle - 26 pts
8. Southampton - 23 pts
9. Manchester United - 22 pts
10. Swansea - 19 pts
11. Aston Villa - 19 pts
12. Hull City - 18 pts
13. Stoke City - 17 pts
14. Norwich - 17 pts
15. West Brom - 15 pts
16. Cardiff - 14 pts
17. West Ham - 13 pts
18. Fulham - 13 pts
19. Crystal Palace - 13 pts
20. Sunderland - 8 pts

The point spread of the Premier League in the top half of the table is pretty even, which makes for a fun second half of the season, hopefully.


Arsenal: Arsenal coming into the season would have probably been dubbed "elite pretenders" the perennial 4th place finishers have had a flying start to the season and have found themselves at the top of the table for almost the whole year so far. Arsene Wenger looked to be on the hot seat coming into the year, but now he looks certain to be offered a new contract this season. The addition of Mesut Ozil plus the improved play of Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud, and the whole defense has seen Arsenal seemingly take the step towards a title.

Manchester City: The team from the blue half of Manchester are up to their normal tricks, scoring lots of goals at home and trying to grind games out away from home. Sergio Aguero is firing on all cylinders, while support players such as Yaya Toure, Jesus Navas, and the reinvigorated Samir Nasri have City in great position should they stay in the top 5 going into the winter break. The keeper situation may cause problems for City, but new boss Pellegrini will find a way to make it work out.

Chelsea: Can you ever count out a Jose Mourinho squad from an EPL title challenge? The Special One returned to London this season and has had a pretty good start to the season, even if he wouldn't tell you so himself. He still hasn't lost a game as manager of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and with his midfield playing so well you almost forget that their strike force is abysmal, almost.

Everton: What the heck? Who would have thought Everton would be on a contender list for EPL title challengers? Well they are on mine, solid back to back performances against Manchester United and Arsenal have morale higher than ever for the Merseyside club. Amazingly they have only lost 1 game so far this season. The on loan duo of Lukaku and Deulofeu are proving to be great pick ups for Everton and Roberto Martinez is looking more and more like a managerial genius each week.


Manchester United: Don't get angry, United fans. You had to see this one coming. Manchester United are a shell of themselves compared to last season. No Sir Alex to be that rock on the sidelines and David Moyes is looking out of his league managing one of the biggest (if not THE biggest) club in the world right now. All eyes are on United to see how they battle during the second half of the season. If they add some quality in the midfield during the January transfer window we could be talking about a completely different United team.

Liverpool: Liverpool are having one of their best seasons in recent memory, but I still don't think they're good enough to put them into the contender discussion. They have the best strike duo in the league with Suarez and Sturridge, but that will only carry you so far. I see Liverpool trailing off into 4th this season. But even if that is as high as they finish, that is a great success. Brendan Rodgers should be everyones Manager of the Season so far.

Southampton/Newcastle: No disrespect to either club, both are having phenomenal seasons considering where most expected them to be this far into the season, but there is no real threat to the top teams in the league coming from either.

So there you have it. My contenders and pretenders so far in the Premier League. What do you think? Did I miss any team that should be on either list? Let me know in the comments below or on twitter @theinformsoccer

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Best and Worst Case Scenarios For The United States World Cup Draw

By now most of you should have seen the pots for the World Cup 2014 draw. If you haven't you can view the pots and the reasons teams ended up in what pots here.

Many, like myself, looked at the pots and thought, well this could either go terribly wrong or amazingly well for the United States. The USA has the possibility of drawing a very daunting group of death, but also the possibility of drawing a group they should cruise out of. Here are the best and worst case scenarios.

Best: The best draw for the US would come with them ending up in a group comprised of Switzerland, Algeria, USA, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Switzerland is easily identified as the weakest of the Pot 1 teams and every country in the other pots will be itching to have them drawn into theirs. Algeria is ranked 26th in the world and look to be this years whipping boys out of the tournament. The USMNT has already defeated Bosnia-Herzegovina recently and that was not on US soil. So their chances of coming up big against them again are very high. That group would give the US the best chance of getting out of the group stage on top. Alternates for a good draw for the US out of each pot are Colombia out of Pot 1. Nigeria, Cameroon, or Ecuador out of Pot 2. Croatia or Greece out of Pot 4.

Worst: Now comes the part every United States fan is dreading will not happen, the USMNT drawing the group of death. Lets start with Pot 1. Basically every team besides Switzerland and possibly Colombia in this pot will cause huge problems for the USMNT. It's evident the United States doesn't have the talent to match those teams at full strength, so drawing Spain, Germany, Brazil, Belgium, Argentina, or Uruguay could spell a sure loss in the games they play against them. Out of Pot 2 it has to be Ghana. The USMNT could find themselves in yet another matchup against Ghana, and that team is one that will haunt the USMNT. The US will also want to avoid the Ivory Coast. While vastly underachieving in the big tournaments so far, they are a team full of talent and capable of being a dark horse in the tournament. From Pot 4 its Italy, Netherlands, and Ronaldo...I mean Portugal. All three of those teams have deep squads and the ability to go deep in the tournament. The US would do well to avoid them if possible.

Now with that over I must say this, the best and worst draws are all in your own opinion. The USMNT is a scrappy team, they like to play the underdog role. In my opinion those are the best and worst scenarios for the USMNT. Yes, they are capable of showing up at any given moment and producing a win for a ages against a top team, but in the World Cup everyone is playing at their absolute highest level. No harm in the USMNT to want to avoid some of the more dangerous countries and watch them knock each other off.

What do you think? What are the best and worst draws the USMNT could get?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Manchester United are back?

Over the last couple months the team once feared throughout, Manchester United, lost some of its mystique as being one of those teams you feared playing. Lackluster results against some mediocre teams and a blowout against cross-town rivals Manchester City saw the Red Devils at mid table and looking pretty ordinary.

Many were calling for David Moyes' head and rightly so, no fan of a hugely successful team wants to see them play average football and come away with average results. Talks of a dispute between star Wayne Rooney and the fact that Manchester United was failing to bring in any big name stars in the summer was troubling.

Fast forward to the present (November 28 as I write this) and Manchester United are doing pretty well for themselves, all things considered. Sitting in 6th at the moment they aren't exactly where many wanted or predicted them to be come this close to the winter break, but they have been building momentum. In their last 3 games in the Premier League they have come away with 7 points and haven't lost a game since a shock 2-1 defeat to West Brom. So what has changed since that embarrassing defeat?

When the season kicked off you could tell that not everyone was buying in to David Moyes' system, and that showed in their losses to Liverpool, Manchester City, and West Brom. They didn't have the usual attacking threat that we are accustomed to seeing from them and their biggest addition in the summer, Marouane Fellani, wasn't bringing much to the team at the time. Fast forward past that last defeat, United have looked like a completely different team: confident in attack, their defense while only keeping 4 clean sheets in the past 10 games has looked a lot better, and midfield play has gotten significantly better also.

The fixtures up next for United are tough. Their next four games are away to Spurs, home against Everton, home against Newcastle, and home to Shakthar. All of those are lose-able games, but also winnable if you are United. At this point in the season last year United was on top of the league and looking like they were unbeatable, now they look mortal but seem to have some of the magic left. Can they make a run at a top 4 spot? I say yes, they might squeak in the number 4 spot, but the competition at the top of the table is stiff and United will have to be firing on all cylinders to keep pace in the Premier League.

What do you think? Are United finding their stride? Will they finish in the top 4? Should David Moyes be fired if they fail to make it to the Champions League?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Quick Take on Adnan Januzaj

There's been a lot of negativity and bad blood brewed over the past few days after Jack Wilshere stated that, in reference to the thought of Adnan Januzaj getting called up for England, “The only people who should play for England are English people,” after a training session this past week. Many seem to agree with him in believing that people not born in England should not play for the national team.

That argument can be made and have quite a strong backing, but times are changing and Wilshere needs to recognize and accept that. It's not a secret the England squad is lacking in, well, something. The young talent in England just isn't up to par with what we see coming through the ranks of other big name countries and that is widely recognized. With the proposed pursuit of Januzaj, it shows that England are ready to follow in the footsteps of other countries that are making the most of out of finding ways to get players that qualify to play for their country to do exactly that.

A prime example is the United States. Jürgen Klinsmann had been criticized early on for using many players that qualified to play for both Germany and America and persuading them to play for his United States squad. Many thought he was overlooking some of the young prospects that were born and raised in the United States, but now he has silenced those critics by qualifying the USA for the World Cup in Brazil. He also has kept the core of the team (at least for now) American.

So where is the harm in being open to letting naturalized citizens play for your country? It shows diversity, willingness to accept change, and if it doesn't work out you drop them from them team. Seems an easy enough solution. Look at all the players that could have played for other nations but chose to play for the one they do now, many of them are excelling. Lukas Podolski, Mario Balotelli, Danny Welbeck, etc. all of these players could have picked another country to play for yet didn't.

If Janujaz gets called up to England when the time is appropriate and chooses to play for them then his peers need to accept it and welcome him into the team with open arms. The idea that a player must be born in the country to play in the country is a dying one. Times are changing, it's about time we all accept that.

Monday, September 23, 2013

World Power Rankings 9/23

Recently on the latest episode of the video podcast my friend Nate and I gave our takes on the top 5 teams in the world right now. This was based off of the Power Rankings done by ESPNFC. We both had the same 5 teams in almost the exact same order. My list looking like:

  1. Real Madrid
  2. Bayern Munich
  3. Barcelona
  4. Manchester United
  5. Arsenal
With his list looking like:

  1. Bayern Munich
  2. Real Madrid
  3. Barcelona
  4. Manchester United
  5. Arsenal
I think it's time to revise the list after Manchester United got totally dominated by Manchester City and I'll tell you why my list is the way it is.

  1. Bayern Munich - Now in the upcoming episode I said Bayern Munich would only move up to number 1 over Real Madrid once they set a lineup, well this weekend against Schalke they played so well and dominated the game that I can't justify making the only reason they get to move up being a set lineup. Bayern played almost perfect football, controlling the tempo, passing crisply, attacking and defending with ease, and just making Schalke look completely inferior. Bayern are catching fire at the moment, with 7 goals in their past 2 games. Can anyone stop a fully realized Bayern side? Probably not, and early in the seasons of world football it looks increasingly likely the European Champions will repeat for the first time ever.
  2. Real Madrid - Real Madrid get bumped down to number 2 on my list for really only one reason, the quality of the team they beat this weekend wasn't enough to keep them from holding off Bayern. a 6-1 win at Galatasaray in the Champions League followed by a 4-1 win over Getafe have Real Madrid flying right now. They are my picks to win La Liga and make a Champions League final unless paired up with Bayern in the Semis.
  3. Arsenal - This is going to be the most controversial spot on my list, but Arsene Wenger's side are playing as well as any team on the planet right now. A great 2-1 win in Marseille was followed up by a good 3-1 win over Stoke City this weekend. Mesut Ozil leads the EPL with 3 assist and has only played 2 games in the league. Olivier Giroud is looking reliable, Flamini has added some fight to the midfield, and their back four are playing in top form. 
  4. Barcelona - Now some might call me crazy for placing Arsenal ahead of Barcelona in my power rankings, but right now I feel that there is just something missing at the Nou Camp. Again, you might think I'm crazy after back to back 4-0 wins, but I just feel like Barcelona aren't playing to full power. Their back four is suspect, and that right now is my main concern with the Blaugrana. 
  5. Napoli - Big spending Napoli make an appearance in my top spot this week. A win over AC Milan where Pepe Reina became the first keeper to ever save a Mario Balotelli goal and a good win over Champions League runners up Dortmund have Napoli in good form, and Gonzalo Higuain looks the deadly striker that many knew he would be. How long Napoli can keep up their great form remains to be seen, but they're my wildcard pick for the Serie A title this year. 

And there it is, my top 5 in the world as of September 23rd. What do you think? Am I crazy for putting Arsenal ahead of Barcelona? Should Man City be in the list after decimating Manchester United? Let me know in the comments below or on twitter @theinformsoccer.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Boot Room Video Blogs

Hey everyone, just wanted to let you know you can check my buddy Nate and I out on YouTube at making our weekly video blog for The Boot Room, my more professional site!

Here is this weeks video, if you like it please thumbs it up, subscribe to the channel, comment, and share the link!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Mesut Ozil: The Pressure is On

Arsenal fans were crying out for a signing, and it seemed as though the club were going to have another disappointing transfer window. And then it happened.

Soon after Gareth Bale completed his world record move to Real Madrid there were grumblings about what stars Madrid would be willing to sell to cover the cost of Bale. Di Maria, Benzema, and Ozil were all names thrown out as potentially expendable. One club linked to all of the names was none other than Arsenal. Arsene Wenger's lack of spending was the butt of every transfer market joke this summer, and then he broke the club record transfer fee.
Ozil was announced with less than an hour left in the transfer window, and though Ozil wasn't the signing that was needed, he's the signing every fan of the club wanted. A marquee, big money move by a club being slammed for not being able to attract top talent.

It seemed Ozil saw the writing on the wall with the transfers of Isco and Bale. That coupled with the fact he was regularly not finishing games and being subbed off with a good portion of the games he started remaining made it most likely an easy choice. Fans of every other team in La Liga should be rejoicing right about now, according to Squawka Ozil created 91 scoring chances last season. He is arguably the best playmaker in the world right now, and his ability combined with the likes of Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, and the other attackers on the team could be deadly. Not to mention he will likely make Olivier Giroud look even better than he has already this season.
Now, as amazing as the signing of Ozil is, it doesn't completely make us forget what Arsenal lack. They still need a box to box midfielder, another center back, and a second striker. But we can't dismiss that Ozil will make the Arsenal attack something that has to be looked at closely and feared by all defenses.

Does Ozil make Arsenal a title contender this year? No, not at all. As amazing as he is he won't make up for the deficiencies the club still have. But, he will invigorate the clubs fans with a feeling of, "this is the start of something special." A player like Ozil is the perfect building block for Arsene Wenger, and maybe the first real step to Arsenal finally ending the silverware drought.

For a more tactical look at how Ozil will effect Arsenal check out this post.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Potential Young Stars, Revised

A few days ago I made a post with players that have the potential to have huge breakout years this upcoming season. To expand on that post I came up with a data sheet with all their past data from pass completion percentage to average match rating. I also added a few names onto the list that weren't in the post. To see the original post go here:

Player Name Pass Success Shots on goal Clean Sheets Avg Match Rtg Tackles Won Dribbles Completed World Class Potential
Thiago Alcantara 91.9 0.8 N/A 7.25 1.5 1.6 Yes
Paul Pogba 82.5 1.8 N/A 7.21 2.4 1.5 Yes
David Alaba 88.8 1.2 N/A 7.3 1.9 0.7 Yes
Isco 85.6 1.9 N/A 7.17 1.2 2.2 Yes
Thibaut Courtois 47.3 N/A 20 6.82 N/A N/A Yes
David De Gea 60.3 N/A 11 6.83 N/A N/A Yes
Julian Draxler 81.7 2.1 N/A 7.39 1.4 2.7 Yes
Stephan El Shaarawy 84.2 2.6 N/A 7.16 1 1.1 Maybe
Kevin De Bruyne 76.8 2.7 N/A 7.58 1.5 3 Maybe
M'baye Niang 76.5 1.2 N/A 6.6 1.3 1.2 No
Raheem Sterling 84.1 1.2 N/A 6.77 1.5 1.5 No
Marc-Andre ter Stegen 63 N/A 9 6.86 N/A N/A No

I made this list of players that are some of the hottest young commodities I could think of and looked up some key stats that pertain to players and used those stats along with the "eye test" of how well they play when you watch them to determine if they can be considered world class one day.

Players that got a "Yes" in the World Class Potential category did so because they have shown that they can be great players on the biggest stages, and are at a young stage in their careers at which they are still improving. Not only did the players with a "Yes" have pretty good statistics this past season, but during the eye test it was clear these players had what it takes to become truly great.

Players that got a "Maybe" still have some question marks about them. The standout of the two will probably be El Shaarawy. Now I absolutely love El Shaarawy but he fell into the "Maybe" category for reasons mostly due to becoming second fiddle to Mario Balotelli, which raised question marks for me if AC Milan saw something we didn't in that maybe he isn't a viable number 1 option. But instead of dropping him in the "No" category I had to give him a "Maybe" because last summer I saw him play in person against Chelsea in Miami and the kid had a flair and confidence about him that looked like no other on the field.

Lastly we have the players that got a "No" and that doesn't necessarily mean I don't think they will be world class level, but it means at the moment from what I have seen I can't give them a "Maybe" or a "Yes" because their body of work just isn't enough to make that judgement.

So what do you think? Should we weigh the potential of players on stats and the eye test alone? One more than the other? And what do you think of the list? Let me know!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Potential 2013/2014 Season Breakout Stars

Great young talent is the key to the development of our sport. While established names are fun to watch and discuss, the young talent of the world can be just as fun to talk about. Everyone knows about the young stars of today that have already made a name for themselves such as Neymar, Mario Gotze, Eden Hazard, and Oscar, but there is a plethora of young talent that you probably wouldn't pay attention to unless they were playing at a big club or on big stages. Here we will highlight a few.

Julian Draxler – Julian Draxler could be the next great German attacking midfielder. This season at Schalke he put up astounding numbers, in 36 appearances for the German club he netted 11 goals and assisted on 3. Now this may not seem like much, but given the fact he is only 19 years old and thrusted himself into the starting line-up for Schalke, he shows lots of promise going forward. Draxler is more than capable of using both feet, is creative on the ball, a great passer (he completed roughly 82% of his passes this season), and is as lethal a finisher as midfielders go. Draxler is one to watch for this upcoming season, and I don't expect him to stay at Schalke for long if he keeps improving his performances.

Raheem Sterling – Outside of England you may not find many people that rate Raheem Sterling very high. Sterling found himself in the Premier League spotlight after he made a move to Liverpool from the QPR youth team at the tender age of 17. Sterling shows lots of promise, a speedy, crafty winger with great agility. The downside to Sterling is that we haven't seen enough of him in the first team for Liverpool, as he usually comes on as a substitute. In 31 matches for Liverpool this season, he only had 2 goals and 2 assists. That isn't that impressive for a player of his potential and its hard to give other stats for him because of his lack of playing time, but what is impressive is how much he improves each and every game. I see Sterling breaking into the starting line-up consistently next season and seeing his output improve in turn.

Deulofeu – His name may be hard to pronounce, but his quality isn't hard to recognize. Deulofeu looks like he could become another one of Barcelona's, La Masia, prodigies. Speed, ball control, vision, great passing. Deulofeu possess all of these qualities, qualities that a winger needs to have to be effective at the top level. His chance to get permanently promoted to Barcelona from Barcelona B seems to have dwindled a bit with the addition of Neymar, but a player with his potential won't be playing in a second tier league for long.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen – A lot of us like to talk about field players as they are usually more exciting to talk about, but we can't forget about the men between the sticks. Ter Stegen is one of the most, if not the most, promising young goal keeper out there today and some in Germany don't think it will be too long before he can find his way to more first team appearances for the National Team. At the age of 21 years old it seems like ter Stegen already has amazing skills that many veteran keepers took years to develop.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Beginners Guide to Soccer Part 2

     It's been awhile since my last post since I've been so busy with work recently but the last week allowed me some off time and time to watch the Tottenham vs. Basel game. Although we did not have a chance to watch from the beginning we picked up at around the 85th minute at 2-2.

     Ironically enough while watching what we thought would be the end of this game I was talking to the Informer about if they go into overtime how it works. Luckily for me I was able to watch it myself as the game went into overtime and ultimately penalties. Although this was a somewhat boring game with many goals that could have been but never found the back of the net. This was still a chance for me to see how a penalty shootout worked. Throughout the game I was going for Tottenham and for some reason when the penalties came I had a feeling that they wouldn't come through and I was right, Brad Friedel was unable to block Basel and ended in a 4-1 in the penalties with Basel going through.
Although rooting for Friedel he was unable to block any of Basel's penalty kicks.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

DeAndre Yedlin can be the future of United States defending

It's no secret the state of the United States National Team defense is in limbo. Despite some good showings against Costa Rica and Mexico, there is no set back line for Jurgen Klinsmann's side, and it just seems to be who is available at the time that will start in the back for the National Team and the fact that the old guard of the USMNT defense is starting to look, well, old doesn't help.

Enter DeAndre Yedlin, the rookie defender for the Seattle Sounders. Yedlin burst onto the scene during the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, scoring his first competitive goal as a professional in a 3-1 win over heavily favored Tigres. But followers of United States promising youth will know him for his time spent at the University of Akron and during his time in the Seattle Sounders Youth Squad.

Yedlin brings lots to the table in terms of on field abilities and potential. Only 19 years old it is amazing that Yedlin has solidified his spot in the Sounders starting XI, but it's not surprising. In his final season at the youth level in 2012 he was named to the All-PDL First XI. Yedlin possesses a great top speed, and has shown he an get up the field to attack and be back on defense in time to not have to worry about him playing out of position.

There are still questions surrounding Yedlin, and those are justified by his play. There are times when he pushes up when he should maybe stay back, and times when he tries to do a little too much with the ball at his feet than most would like to see a full back do. But one thing is for certain, the kid has game. Having been recently called up to train with the United States U20 squad at their upcoming camp.

Yedlin is a step in the right direction for the United States and MLS, a homegrown player that is showing his quality now, and his future potential. Yedlin seems set to join an emerging group of young American players that can potentially or have already joined the senior squad. He might not play a flashy attacking position, but Yedlin is a prospect that any fan of United States soccer will want to keep an eye on now, and for years to come.

What do you think? Will Yedlin break into the senior squad and provide a boost to the defense? What other young players should be on the radar?

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Sunday, March 31, 2013


This past week the USMNT continued it's push to qualify for the World Cup with games against Costa Rica and Mexico.

The United States came out with 4 points and put themselves into second in the group for the time being. Having to deal with reports that some national team squad members were unhappy with the way coach Jurgen Klinsmann was running things, this seemed like it might be a terrible few games for the United States. The United States was without many key players too, Carlos Bocanegra, Tim Howard, and Landon Donovan were all either unpicked or unavailable for the United States.

The game against Costa Rica was a sloppy one, played in (basically) a blizzard the United States scored an early goal off a Clint Dempsey put back and it proved to be enough to guide them to victory. Truth be told, after that goal, the United States looked like it had no real attacking threats, when they pushed forward there was no creativity, and they were reverting back to the usual "give it to Clint and see what he can do" method that they have seemed to adopt as of late. Costa Rica had it's chances, and to be fair to them, if the game had been in better conditions I'm not sure the United States would have escaped with any points, as Costa Rica looked threatening on the attack after halftime.

Then came Mexico, the game most fans were looking forward to. The first time the United States was travelling to the Azteca since their victory in a friendly in 2012. But the chances of a US victory or even a tie looked slim as the United States had only ever taken a point in Mexico during World Cup qualifying once. Mexico came out guns blazing, and their pressure never let up. Massive amounts of pressure was heaped onto the inexperienced back line of the United States and interim goalkeeper Brad Guzan. The defense was up to the task though, stymieing the Mexico attack more often than not. Chicharito failed to put away 3 or 4 sure goals, and it seemed luck was on the American's side. But as well as the defense played, the same could not be said for the offense. Clint Dempsey was invisible on the field, playing like he was in over his head and obviously feeling the pressure of the stage. Altidore was just as bad, mustering no real chances for himself in what continues to be a disappointing campaign for him. Graham Zusi and Herculez Gomez looked good at times out on the wings, but the lack of pace against the pacy Mexico team was evident. Maurice Edu played admirably, but didn't do anything really exciting, and Michael Bradley played like, well, Michael Bradley. Consistently good and not having to worry if he would show up or not.

The United States will have to figure out a way to remedy the woeful attack it has at the moment, and maybe with Landon Donovan returning from a leave of absence and the readdition of Brek Shea to the squad the United States will be able to try out different attackers. One things for sure, if they don't fix it soon, and the back line starts to dip in performance the United States will find it difficult to qualify for the upcoming World Cup.

How do you think the USMNT did? Will they have trouble going forward?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Captain America: Clint Dempsey

When Carlos Bocanegra was left out of the US Men's National Team for the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico there was much speculation as to who would be selected to captain Jürgen Klinsmann's side. With no Tim Howard available and Landon Donovan still MIA, many speculated either Michael Bradley or Jermaine Jones would be selected to lead. It came as a shock however that Klinsmann selected Clint Dempsey to lead the United States.

Clint Dempsey is not your typical type of leader, not too vocal when it comes to his leadership approach, he chooses to lead by example rather than vocally. This is why lots of people questioned the choice to give Deuce the armband, as they thought Bradley or Jones would be more of a hands-on type of leader. I for one had said all along that giving the armband to Bradley or Jones would be a mistake, as the team needed something to give them a boost confidence and belief. The selection of Dempsey came right when anonymous sources were questioning Klinsmann's leadership. In an article by Brian Strauss on AOL Sporting News he mentions that a good number of players in the US camp were starting to question their managers leadership, tactics, and methods. You can read the article here.

Dempsey being named captain made so much sense to me. A player that many, including myself, has said needed to grow up a bit and be a leader, Dempsey was the clear choice for me. Bradley, at least to me, seems to disappear a bit on the field and that shouldn't happen when playing a holding midfield role like he does. Jermaine Jones I feel doesn't have enough experience, at least not as much as Dempsey, with the national team. What better way to force someone to grow up than hand them the biggest role on the team? This was reminiscent of when the New York Jets made Joe Namath captain back in the 60's and forced him to become a leader. I think this is what will happen with Dempsey. Clint is arguably the best American playing soccer right now, and more than likely will be for the next few years. His recent move to Tottenham Hotspur hasn't gone quite as planned, as he is not being used in a free role and is being confined to a more fixed role on the team. But there are sparks of the Fulham Dempsey at Spurs and hopefully he can turn that around.

Will Dempsey be the captain when Bocanegra, Howard, and eventually Donovan are fit and back in the squad? It's possible. If he can prove he is a good fit to wear the armband and isn't afraid to speak up and stand up for his teammates in a way that shows leadership instead of hotheadedness, he will be the captain even when those 3 are picked for the squad. This could be the emergence of a new Captain America. That title, to me, had always been Landon Donovan's and rightly so. But now I'm ready to concede that this is Clint Dempsey's team and Jürgen Klinsmann seems to agree. The future of the USMNT starts and ends with Clint Dempsey. Will he falter under the pressure of being thrown into captaincy or will he thrive with the new responsibility and raise his play?

Did Klinsmann make the right choice in Dempsey? Should he have chosen Bradley? Jones?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

USMNT Selection Thoughts

The United States squad for the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers came out yesterday and along with some surprises the squad didn't look too different from recent times. With the addition of Brek Shea and DaMarcus Beasley back into the lineup the USMNT can stretch the field better than before.

                                     Klinsmann will lead an inexperienced US team against Costa Rica and Mexico.

Here is the full list of players selected:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa - 5/3 SO), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire – 0/0), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake – 0/0) 
DEFENDERS (6): Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake – 0/0), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City – 0/0), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City – 6/0), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy – 1/0), Clarence Goodson (Brondby – 5/0), Justin Morrow (San Jose Earthquakes – 0/0)
MIDFIELDERS (9): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla – 26/6), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake – 2/0), Michael Bradley (Roma – 20/5), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana – 1/0), Maurice Edu (Bursaspor – 10/0), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04 – 6/0), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht – 13/0), Brek Shea (Stoke City – 2/0), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City – 4/0)
FORWARDS (5): Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar – 18/6), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna – 2/0), Clint Dempsey (Tottenham Hotspur – 27/11), Herculez Gomez (Santos – 6/2), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC – 12/10)

The problem point for this United States squad is defense, but that is nothing new. 3 of the 6 defenders chosen for this squad have no senior team experience with the USMNT, but we are being asked to put our trust into them to make life on projected new number 1 keeper Brad Guzan. With Carlos Bocanegra not being selected I'm anxious to see if the new selections can show me something promising.

As stated before, Brek Shea and DeMarcus Beasley have been reintroduced into the squad. The spark that (I personally think) is need by the USMNT, Shea, will probably get a start in one of the 2 games coming up. I'm thinking it will be the Costa Rica game and Klinsmann will opt to go with a more experienced player in that spot for the Mexico game. Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu, and Graham Zusi return in the midfield for the US, with many expecting Michael Bradley to be chosen as captain in the absence of Bocanegra, Howard, and Donovan (I have a lot to say about the captaincy, but I'll save that until it's announced).

                                                Brek Shea makes his return to the USMNT squad. Will he be a difference maker?

As for the forwards, they look as strong as can be for the United States with what Klinsmann has to choose from. You could make the case Wondolowski should have been selected, maybe Juan Agudelo also. But Klinsmann seems to be sticking to his guns, and that is admirable. Jozy Altidore has been inform for his club AZ Alkmaar, but hasn't shown that goal scoring prowess for the national team just yet. Clint Dempsey is going to be the focus of the two qualifiers, the US needs him to get going and score to ease some of the pressure off of the inexperienced defense. Clint may benefit from having a creative player on the wing in Shea reintroduced to the squad, but we will see if those two can link up or if we see another lackluster attacking display from the United States.

                                             Will Clint Dempsey find his scoring touch in the next 2 World Cup Qualifiers?

I see lots of problems arising for the USMNT, maybe not against Costa Rica, a game they should win. Against Mexico however the back line will be tested and it will be curious to see if the new boys can show some grit and composure or if they waiver and fall apart. The speed of Mexico will test the United States, as it always has, and the United States almost always has a problem when playing Mexico. The lack of a real field general for the United States could also be a problem, as there is no calming influence for when things go south quick that I can easily recognize on that squad at the moment. I expect the United States to come out of these next 2 games with 3 or 4 points towards qualifying. I see a 2-1 maybe 3-1 win over Costa Rica and a 1-1 or 2-2 draw against Mexico. The key is Clint Dempsey as it will be moving forward for the foreseeable future for the United States. When Dempsey is on his game, the US attack is formidable, when he is off there is no threat to score.

Did Klinsmann get the squad right? Who got snubbed? Who is your key player in this squad?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Top Rivalries in the MLS

This week the MLS spotlights the rivalries created over the past 18 years. This is the type of week fans of the MLS wish would come around every week. For ESPNFC's take on the rivalry games this weekend click here. Here are my top rivalries in the MLS.

1. Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers - The definitive rivalry in the MLS. These two clubs have arguably the biggest fanbases in the MLS and the atmosphere at a game between Sounders and Timbers rivals most games in Europe. This rivalry has it all: history, geography, passion, and die hard fans. This is one rivalry even MLS haters should watch.

2. Los Angeles Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes - This might not be a rivalry game being played this weekend, but on the west coast only this comes second to Sounders and Timbers. It's a battle for California bragging rights and the games these two teams produce are always exciting and keep you entertained thoroughly.

3. New York Red Bulls and DC United - One of the most known rivalries in the MLS, New York and DC have a history of dislike for one another. DC has been more successful, but New York gets the media coverage and the revenue being in the Big Apple. The addition of Thierry Henry to the rivalry mixed with former MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario have spiced it up even more than before. A game between these two never disappoints. 

What do you think? What are the top MLS rivalries in your opinion? What's your favorite? 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Other Champions League

Everyone who pays attention soccer has at least heard of the UEFA Champions League, the single biggest club competition in all of soccer and the competition every club aspires to be a part of. But did you know that in North America there is another Champions League? No? Don't feel like a terrible soccer fan, most people don't know either.

The CONCACAF Champions League is the western hemispheres answer to the UEFA Champions League. The problem is the CONCACAF Champions League is, to put it lightly, boring. The teams aren't interesting, at least not interesting enough to spark the interest of enough people so that it is a known competition. The CCL doesn't offer much in terms of star power, when your marquee names are MLS teams and Liga MX teams you don't get much of an audience outside of the west. When I say the CCL is boring, I don't mean the action is. Actually, some of the CCL games I have seen have been more competitive and exciting than UCL games, but that is because the quality of players is level throughout the whole competition. You don't really see powerhouse clubs in the CCL because there aren't any in the leagues that send clubs to the competition.

Did you know the quarterfinals of the CCL just wrapped up?

A big problem for CCL is that there isn't enough star power for the media to want to cover it. There are no globally known names that are in the competition besides Landon Donovan, and he isn't even with the Galaxy squad at the moment. Quite frankly, no one really seems to care about the CCL. Would there be a nationally televised game on ESPN if an American side didn't get to the final of the CCL? Probably not. Come to think of it they probably wouldn't put it on ESPN2 if TWO American teams made it to the final.

The CCL just seems like a waste of time to most people, why watch CCL when you could watch college basketball or heck even spring training baseball. The lack of caring when it comes to CCL is due in large part to the MLS not being globally recognized as a good league. It also has a lot to due with the quality of the other leagues that contribute to the CCL's pool of teams.

Just like when it comes to the MLS I advise you to give the CCL a try, it might not give you the same exhilaration as watching Real Madrid v Manchester United in the UCL but there is some quality ball that is played in the CCL if you catch the two right teams playing.

What do you think? Do you watch CONCACAF Champions League? Why hasn't it been more successful?

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Bayern Survive Arsenal Scare

It was almost a disastrous day for FC Bayern Munich when Arsenal came to town for the second leg of their Champions League tie. The Gunners came in to this leg 1-3 down on the aggregate score and needed to win by 3 goals to progress to the next round of the Champions League.

The team Arsene Wenger put onto the field looked like he was throwing in the towel, but after 3 minutes it looked like Wenger knew exactly what he was doing. Arsenal took the lead 3 minutes in with a goal from Olivier Giroud and looked to be full of confidence in a game no one expected them to win.

Bayern did however settle in. Providing pressure for the rest of the game, it seemed as though the Bavarians would comfortably move on after a minor stumble, but Arsenal wouldn't go down without a fight. Even though Bayern bombarded the Arsenal goal with shot after shot, they just couldn't find the back of the net. And this almost cost them when in the 85th minute Laurent Koscielny headed home a Santi Cazorla header to tie up the aggregate score 3-3. But a 2-0 win wouldn't be enough to see Arsenal through and they needed 1 more to progress. Momentum was on the Gunners side, but Bayern kept their cool. Slowing play down, milking the clock, drawing fouls, Bayern knew time was on their side. And after 3 minutes of stoppage time it was over.

Arsenal fought valiantly and almost completed one of the most improbable comebacks of the year, but they couldn't put the last goal away.

Bayern now join Barcelona, Madrid, PSG, Juventes, Dortmund, Galatasaray, and Malaga in the quarterfinals with the draw on Friday.

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Why you should stop being a Euro snob and watch the MLS

After reading the ESPNFC article "Can you call yourself a U.S. soccer fan if you don't support MLS?" (read the article here) I decided to give my take on this. And my answer to that question is yes, and no. The MLS is one of the most intriguing leagues in the world. You either think the league is filled with a mixture of over the hill stars and talentless rookies or you think it is a league full of potential and that others should give it a chance.

If you are one of those who thinks the MLS is a wasted league you fall into the Euro snob category. The loose definition of a Euro snob is someone who refuses to give leagues outside of Europe a chance to be a fun and exciting league. This category is filled with about 70% of the people who talk about the MLS. These people feel that the MLS is filled with bad passing, boring goals, and slow pace of play. Now in some instances they are right about all those things, sometimes watching a MLS game can feel like torture, but you could say that about any game where the play is sloppy and unorganized. I'm going to tell you why you need to stop being a Euro snob and give the MLS a chance.

Major League Soccer is only 18 years old. That is younger than most of the people that follow the league. So the fact people want to say MLS doesn't have any real talent in the league can be a valid argument, but not for long. We are slowly seeing more and more talent start to shine through the cracks of the MLS and these players are very promising. Young talent such as Juan Agudelo, Darlington Nagbe, Freddy Montero, and others look to be the next stars of the MLS.

With a young league comes young league mistakes. Many of the players are right either right out of college, have never played overseas, or are aging stars who are past their prime. In theory the mixture of inexperience and experience should produce for more exciting soccer and a better development for those inexperienced players, but as we have seen this isn't always the case. This is why we see bad passes, a lower game IQ, and a slower pace of play. But this can all change once the MLS teams start to adopt a youth system that really teaches their youth players how to play the game properly. The MLS should look to model itself after the Bundesliga, a league where big name stars are there but the focus is really on homegrown talent that starts at clubs youth levels.

The MLS also suffers from having a playoff system as their way of crowning a champion. It seems like they tried to appease the fact the American public wants to see a Super Bowl every time there is a champion crowned. They want to see underdogs win and upset favorites, but that is not the approach the league should have taken. Look at all the major leagues in the world and you will see a model that is proven successful: whoever wins the most games all season and racks up the most points wins the championship. Simple right? It seems like the MLS doesn't want to change for fear of this way of crowning a champion not appealing to the public, but as long as you keep the US Open Cup the way it is you still get your playoffs and a Super Bowl style game to crown a champion.

All that aside the MLS can be one of the most exciting leagues to watch. It seems like a lot of the time that amazing goals are produced out of thin air. Honestly I have seen more overhead kick goals scored in the MLS than in any of the top leagues in the world. Does this mean the MLS is better than any of the top leagues? No of course not, but it doesn't mean the league is in any way terrible. In the past few years the quality of the MLS has started to really rise.

I looked up a lot of responses and discussions about if you can really be a U.S. fan if you don't support MLS and why people say to give the MLS a chance and I agreed with what most people said. Yes, you can be a U.S. soccer fan if you don't support MLS but that doesn't mean you shouldn't give it a chance. Pick a MLS team, support it, follow it, maybe even go to a game and I swear to you that you will have a change of heart if you think the MLS is a terrible league.

Go watch kicktv's video about why you should watch the MLS, it might give you a little more incentive to give it a chance. (watch the video here)

What do you think? Is the MLS a terrible league? What should the MLS do to improve?

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Friday, March 8, 2013

Will the United States reach the World Cup?

With the recent injury to goalkeeper Tim Howard the United States changes of making the World Cup seem slim. The United States will now rely on Brad Guzan to keep the opposition of the score-sheet and I'm anxious to see if Guzan can shoulder the burden of filling Tim Howard's gloves.

The United States is already struggling. Lacking a real attacking threat, the best chance the United States had to stay in games was Howard in goal. But now with Howard being out with two broken bones in his back we will see what Guzan is made of. Guzan is no stranger to playing at a high level, as he is currently the first choice keeper for Premier League side Aston Villa.

The loss of Howard leaves the US with no real commanding leaders on the field, however. This could be a golden opportunity for a new leader to emerge for the United States, and I hope that is either Clint Dempsey or Michael Bradley. Let's not overreact too much to the United States losing Tim Howard though as their next World Cup qualifying game is at home against Costa Rica, a game that should be an easy win for the Americans. This will show us if the United States can hang around without Howard in goal, and I sincerely hope they can.

What do you think? Are the United States doomed without Tim Howard? Will Guzan be an adequate replacement?

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Biggest Debate in Soccer

Soccers biggest debate, who is truly the best player in the world. Is it Barcelonas goal machine, Lionel Messi or is it Madrids talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo? Both players posses skills far beyond any other players on the planet, but who is truly the better superstar?

The similarities of Ronaldo and Messi are actually harder to draw up then the differences, while Messi enjoys being on the ball he knows how to move methodically through the field without the ball and into prime positions to score. Ronaldo on the other hand is more of a bombarder. Preferring to get the ball on the wing and use his pace and skills to beat opponents while cutting inside to score. Both players have mastered their craft, but who does the most for their team, who is better?

My money is on the Portuguese man, Cristiano Ronaldo. CR7 when he wants to, can take over a game all on his own, and teams don't know how to stop him. Unlike Messi for Barcelona, if Ronaldo is having an off day it's usually game over for Madrid that day. But Ronaldo is rarely off his game. Able to play any striker role on the field, Ronaldo is a complete attacker. Possessing world class speed, agility, and goal prowess he is deadly from any situation. You can never count madrid out of a game as long as CR7 is on the pitch. There is some fair criticism that comes with picking Ronaldo over Messi though, how can you not pick a 4 time ballon d'or winner? Messi has won 19 trophies, Ronaldo only has 12. Messi has scored 200 la liga goals and last calendar year he broke Gerd Müllers goal record. All those stats are very nice and super impressive, but it came down to a few factors for me. 

First, marketability. It's one thing to have immense talents but if you aren't marketable no one will know who you are. Messi, putting it nicely, is boring. He scores and does a regular hugging celebration with teammates, he has boring press conferences, he isn't overly flashy, doesn't date supermodels, etc. and all that is truly great and is admirable, any young player looking to be respected in the future of their careers should take note of how Messi conducts himself, but when it comes to being a player young kids want to idolize for how cool it is to be a superstar, they look to Ronaldo. Ronaldo has all the attributes to be a world icon. The looks, the charisma, the swagger. On top of that he has world class abilities on the field. He is flashy when he plays, using lots of fancy flicks and skills against opponents. When he scores you never know what type of celebration you will get, and that is exciting. I bet if you asked most young players in the world right now who they want to shape their game to be like, it would be Ronaldo.

My main point that led me to pick Ronaldo is the fact that if you put Messi or Ronaldo on any mid level team in any league who leads a team farther in their careers. In my opinion if you put Ronaldo on a team that is mid level he will lead that team to not only a league title, but a Champions League spot and I think he could lead a mediocre team to at least the knockout stage of the Champions League. Now Messi, he could possibly do the same, but he is a different type of player. Higher game IQ but less physical ability than Ronaldo. Ronaldo is a safer bet to accomplish those things with another team than Messi.

This is all my opinion, of course. So what do you think? Is Messi the greatest in the game? Is it CR7? Have another player you want to make a case for? Let me know in the comments!

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