Monday, May 26, 2014

Preview of Friendly vs. Azerbaijan

This Tuesday at Candlestick Park in San Francisco will mark the first friendly since Jurgen Klinsmann named his final 23-man roster.

Azerbaijan is an interesting side. Their best player is likely Ruslan Abishov, a midfield plying his trade for Rubin Kazan in the Russian Premier League. 

Milli is led by German coach Berti Vogts. Ironically, Vogts is also employed by the United States as a "special advisor" to Jurgen Klinsmann. An interesting dynamic -- as Vogts is literally working for both sides

Azerbaijan is a team likely to 'park the proverbial bus' from a defensive standpoint. In World Cup Qualifying, the team conceded only 11 goals in 10 games. It's likely from this statistic, the USMNT will enjoy the lion's share of the possession. Milli will likely hope for a counter attack chance in order to nick a goal. 

This match should give us an indication as to a possible starting lineup for the match versus Ghana on June 16. 

Here's the lineup I predict Klinsmann will trot out: 

Jozy Altidore 

               Clint Dempsey

Graham Zusi ---- Michael Bradley ---- Alejandro Bedoya
                             Jermaine Jones

DaMarcus Beasley ---- Matt Besler ---- Geoff Cameron ---- Fabian Johnson

                                         Tim Howard

There's no real surprises within this group. I opted for Beasley over Chandler due to experience. I still do believe Chandler will ultimately start the first game of the World Cup. 

Zusi and Bedoya will act as the workmanlike two-way players on the flanks of the diamond. Both are adept at tracking back and helping out on the defensive effort. I believe Bradley will play in an advanced role, with Jones playing a bit behind. Of course, Jones will have the license to make energetic forays up the pitch. In the event of such an occurrence, Bradley will slide back in a deeper role. 

Besler and Cameron will be the first choice pairing in the middle. It's imperative both get comfortable playing with each other in game-like conditions. I expect this to be the eventual starting unit in the middle come the Ghana match. 

Dempsey will resume his role as a false 9, tucking behind Altidore with the freedom to roam in the middle and link up with Bedoya and Zusi. 

This should be a fascinating game to watch. Azerbaijan will not be easy to break down (as evidenced by their goal against numbers in qualifying). The USMNT will have to be patient and pragmatic when attacking the goal. 

I also expect to see plenty of substitutions by Klinsmann. I'll be most interested to see Julian Green, DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks and Timothy Chandler. 

It'll be significant for the team to get off to a good start with this being the first of four friendlies leading up to the tournament. While the scoreline isn't necessarily important, the form on the pitch will be. Gaining confidence and building chemistry should be the ultimate goal from this fixture.

The game will begin at 7:00 p.m. PT. It can be seen on ESPN2. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Thoughts on the Final 23

One thing is for sure: Jurgen Klinsmann has a LARGE pair of cojones.

Both cavalier and swashbuckling, Klinsmann may have taken on the role of a rogue in regards his surprising selections on Thursday afternoon. This roster selection provided more theatre than a Shakespeare play circa 1605.

The largest omission is undoubtedly Landon Donovan. The 'golden boy' of American soccer for the past decade, Donovan has accrued 57 goals and close to 60 assists whilst donning the stars and stripes.

I will go by unit-by-unit with my thoughts on the final selections.


Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando

No surprise here. Howard, at 35, is playing at perhaps the highest level of his career. He will marshall the back line with his vocal nature.


Geoff Cameron, DeAndre Yedlin, Matt Besler, John Brooks, Tim Chandler, DaMarcus Beasley, Omar Gonzalez, Fabian Johnson

DeAndreYedlin is the notable inclusion. At 20 years of age, the Seattle Sounders man is very raw and green. I wouldn't say it's shocking he made the squad, but it's very surprising. Yedlin likely took the place of Michael Parkhurst. While Parkhurst is the steadier and more experienced option, Yedlin the big advantage in pace and athleticism.

Selecting John Brooks over Clarence Goodson is also interesting. Goodson has been a veteran on the USMNT for quite some time. He's started World Cup qualifying matches under Klinsmann, and is very good from an aerial perspective.

As was the case with Yedlin, Klinsmann opted for youth over experience. Brooks is only 21, but did start this past year in the Bundesliga for Hertha Berlin. Looking at the selected defenders, he'll be battling Omar Gonzalez for the third centre back spot, behind Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler.

Based on this list, here's my starting back line on June 16th against Ghana:

Fabian Johnson ---- Matt Besler ---- Geoff Cameron ---- Tim Chandler

The following is a young, but very athletic unit. Chandler and Johnson face quality week in and week out in the Bundesliga. Both (having been former German Youth internationals) will know Germany extremely well. Cameron also gets the starting nod centrally-- in his preferred position.


Kyle Beckerman, Mix Diskerud, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Brad Davis, Alejandro Bedoya, Julian Green, Graham Zusi

It's an interesting mix of midfielders from within this group. Width could be a problem from within this group -- especially without Landon Donovan on the roster.

I do like the inclusion of Mix Diskerud to the side. I feel as if he's one of the most underrated players in the pool. Tidy and clever with the ball, Diskerud has shown the propensity to alleviate pressure with his deft touch and passing ability. I don't expect him to necessarily start, but he could provide quality off the bench.

Brad Davis is the interesting one. Being the only natural left footed player from within the group truly did help his cause. He's a specialist with his ability to cross the ball. I would be surprised to see him start in Brazil. His value will likely come as a substitute (if selected).

With no Donovan on the roster, I'm convinced we will see Green introduced in some capacity. The 18-year-old former German Youth International is very talented. However, he competed on the fourth tier of German football this past year. Alas, Klinsmann rolled the proverbial dice with his selection. It's heaping a lot upon the young player's shoulders, but he's got to perform well in Brazil.

With DaMarcus Beasley on the roster, it wouldn't be a shock to see Klinsmann potentially push Fabian Johnson up into the midfield (if need be).

Based on this list, here's my starting midfield on June 16th against Ghana:

Graham Zusi ---- Michael Bradley ---- Jermaine Jones ---- Alejandro Bedoya

FORWARDS (4): Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Aron Johansson, Chris Wondolowski

Leaving Landon Donovan off the final roster was an incredibly ballsy move by Klinsmann. As many know, he's arguably the best American to ever play the sport.

When looking at the totality of the situation, it's not overly surprising. For one, Donovan has looked out of sorts during his recent play with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Donovan has universally been known as a clinical performer. Of late, he's lacked sharpness on the pitch. Knee concerns have zapped Donovan of both consistency and pace.

Simply put, he's not the Landon Donovan of 2010.

I am surprised Terrence Boyd isn't on the roster. Along with Jozy Altidore, Boyd would be thought of as the big, brutish forward with the ability to hold up the ball up. Instead, MLS heartthrob Chris Wondolowski snagged the final forward spot.

"Wondo" is a goal poacher. He doesn't have exceptional skill, nor physical ability. What he does bring is a nose for the goal. He's very good at exploiting small pockets of space from within the box. He's constantly working to get open. I'm sure Wondolowski's work ethic and drive got him on the team.

Despite being plagued by abhorrent form at Sunderland, Altidore will assume the role as the target striker. I would guess Clint Dempsey will be deployed as a false 9 behind Altidore. He likes to play centrally, and with his recent form, it'd be hard to take him out of the starting XI.

Based on this list, here's my starting striker corps on June 16th against Ghana:

Clint Dempsey ---- Jozy Altidore


Klinsmann has more than rattled the proverbial cages...and I personally find it refreshing.

Many people expected Donovan to be on the roster. In fact, most probably envisioned Donovan starting out on the flank against Ghana.

Give credit to Klinsmann for this fact: he didn't submit to the public pressures of having Donovan on the team. A day ago, Tim Howard publicly lauded Donovan as being one of the best players on the team. Will this hinder the chemistry on the team? Donovan has long been a stalwart on the team. Will resentment creep in with regards to someone like the youngster Julian Green?

These are all questions Klinsmann will have to answer.

The media outcry over this decision will also be vast. Klinsmann will bear the brunt of second guessing and questioning -- which will be intensified ten fold if the USMNT doesn't get out of the group stage. It's the single most fascinating storyline heading into the second week of camp.

In terms of the roster, it's quite interesting. Klinsmann has compiled a youthful and athletic side. The only quibbles I personally have reside in regards to Wondolowski over Boyd. I would have liked to see Boyd in the mix, with his size and finishing ability.

Klinsmann is putting his cards out on the table. This roster selection is clearly an eye to the future -- when speaking about Copa America 2016 and the World Cup in Russia in '18. With the recent contract extension, Klinsmann may feel as if he's got some security. It could help to explain the additions of young players such as Brooks, Green and Yedlin.

He's also shown he's not afraid to make the tough decisions. Remember, he was under immense pressure during his time with both Bayern Munich and the German National Team.

This latest chapter in the Klinsmann book will be a memorable one. The next one should be even more tantalizing.

Landon Donovan Snub Isn't Shocking, But It Is A Pleasent Surprise

It's extremely reassuring to see the bombardment of tweets, posts, texts, and calls that have been received in regards to the latest news of the final 23 players going to the Big Dance.  My phone literally crashed and had to be reset because of all of the texts I got from people in regards to Lando's cut. Anytime someone wants to argue that soccer isn't a big deal in America, just remember this day, and the 30 minutes of social media chaos that ensued with the announcement. 

Some time has passed, my pulse has slowed, and I'm no longer breathing through a paper bag.  Now let's discuss why this really isn't a big shock at all.  Any player that spends the last 8 months confirming that they've lost a step, lost the competitive edge, is looking to retire, and is content with a minor role (or no role at all) on the national team is probably the red flag JK had considered going into the camp. We can argue that Klinsmann had a predetermined notion that Donovan wasn't going to make the team, I certainly believe it given their past interviews on each other, it was no secret that they weren't the best of friends. If we argue against that theory, there's still plenty of evidence that shows why this was the right decision.

First, we all need to realize Donovan is not in shape right now.  Anytime a player is trending on twitter as #fatlandon, you know it's not a good sign going into the deepest pool of players in USMNT history. 

Second, we need to remember what position Donovan got called in for.  He was listed as a FORWARD.  Klinsmann had stated in previous interviews that Landon was called in as a striker, and that's the position he will play in camp.  There was no room for him in our crowded midfield, filled with much younger, and quite frankly hungrier, players.  And unfortunately for him, so is our forward pool.  We have two top quality strikers both under the age of 25 that will see the most minutes up top. I'm going to look past Jozy's season because the fact that Ben Lederman could have scored more goals than him.  Jozy shows up in big games, he works hard when he's with the National Team, and there's no other player I'd rather see start up top for us.  Aron Johannsson is an extremely impressive specimen.  He has proven in club ball that he can score in just about every way possible.  He's got technical ability and a proven nose for goal.  Untested for the national team, it will be interesting to see where his role will be and how he fits into JK's plans.  I'm aware of the fact that my prejudice against Wondo is really tough to get past, but for professionalism, I will try.  The reason he made it over Donovan is because of form.  As we saw in the last World Cup, at least one striker makes the team because of a hot streak (i.e. Gomez and Buddle.  Yes, let's not forget Buddle was in South Africa).  And when it comes down to domestic and international form, is there any player in the world who is better than Chris Wondolowski at what he does?  The dude was a beast in the Gold Cup, and was unstoppable last season for San José.  Do I agree that he deserved a spot over Boyd? Not at all.  But over Donovan, it just makes sense.

Third, we don't need him just because he brings leadership.  Our team's average age is two years younger than last World Cup's team, but that doesn't mean we lack leadership.  Anyone who says Landon is a great leader and the player's captain on the field isn't necessarily wrong, but the fact is; he's NOT the captain, and he's not the only one on the roster with experience.  The USMNT has never had a player play in four World Cups, so it's nothing new if Donovan isn't there (Beasley will now be the first American to accomplish this feat).  We've got four players that will start who have all worn the captains armband at least once before: Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, DaMarkus Beasley, and current captain Clint Dempsey.  Not to mention the amount of club captains sprinkled in defense and midfield. You've got each of those players in different positions, spread through the entire field, so what's the problem?  Why do we need Donovan to add to that?

Comment below and let us know what you think about Klinsmann's decision.  Was it right? Was it simply personal? Will it cost him his job if we lack leadership?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


That's what several hopeful Americans did NOT hear on selection Monday, March 12, 2014.  For 30 Americans playing their trade everywhere from San Jose to Istanbul, it was a dream come true or a last run into the history books.  For many, it was a chance to show the world what they have.  Unfortunately, as with any team selections, there were many omissions.  Some I saw coming (Kljestan), some I was disappointed (Ream), but others downright left me scratching my head.  Considering exactly 50% of our 30 man roster is domestic, adding Beasley and Corona from Mexico, we have a majority team playing right here in North America.  Let's dive in to players who I think were wrongly omitted.

**Spoiler Alert**
This list is mostly compromised of European-based players and I feel like that shouldn't be a shock since more than half the team is already playing locally.

Oguchi Onyewu

I've taken a collection of opinions with this choice and I'd say it's about 50/50 with people either agreeing or disagreeing.  Onyewu has had a very inconsistent, rough, tough, and injury-ridden past few seasons since the last World Cup, seeing him bounce around Europe until finally settling in England in search for that perfect fit.  We thought it was going to be at QPR with Manager Harry Redknapp going as far as to saying Gooch was almost guaranteed a World Cup spot.  When that didn't pan out, he finally found consistency with Sheffield Wednesday, where he was a starter week-in/week-out and just missed out on a playoff spot to get into the Premier League.

So what got him snubbed from the 30?  USMNT Head Coach Jürgen Klinsmann stated that a recent shift in form was not a deciding factor for any player selected, so it could be his lack of consistent play time since the last World Cup, even though he's been solid since the new year.  I believe a big reason was his poor showing in the Ukraine game.  Up until that point, it looked like he had secured a spot, but with a God-awful pairing with John Brooks, and the fact that he looked like an 80 year old man running around out there, Klinsmann decided to look a younger pairing.

Tim Ream

This one was probably the biggest shock for any American fan.  Let's get past the fact that he plays for a team at the bottom of the table in England's Second Division.  The League Championship is a better league than the MLS plain and simple.  THIS IS AN ARGUMENT THAT WILL BE MADE IN A LATER POST, so don't hate just yet.  Ream won player of the year for his team.  Player of the year.  I know it's a big statement, but wouldn't you want a player of the year on your team regardless of the league? (Is that contradicting myself?)  Bolton posted 11 shut outs this year and he had a major influence, starting at every opportunity while also playing just about every position in defense and midfield.  

So what got him snubbed from the 30?  I think a big factor for him was that he was scouted far too late in the selection process.  He wasn't on the radar for the better part of a year, but they had already had their defenders in mind.  He pulled out of the Ukraine game which was the final nail in the coffin.  On top of that, Ream has only been capped eight times in four years, and hasn't really played or integrated with the team much.

Juan Agudelo

Tough luck kid.  You really started to shine at the end of your season on loan at Utrecht.  Agudelo was caught in a sticky situation for a little while after signing with Stoke.  Unable to acquire a work permit in England, Agudelo was loaned to Utrecht in Holland without ever suiting up for the Potters. He flip flopped from starter to super sub throughout the season, but was one of the best players on the field for them.  He scored 3 goals for them in 14 games, along with a handful of assists, but it was the movement he had off the ball, as well as the technical abilities on the ball, that made this a controversial omission.  When his work permit was denied a second time, Stoke and him terminated the contract and he is now searching for a new club.  A World Cup pick would have given him a great chance to spruce up his resume for European suiters, and even helped him gain a English Work Permit so that other teams there could sign him.

So what got him snubbed from the 30?  Again, Klinsy stated that the process included more than just this recent year of scouting in his decision, and rightly so Agudelo got the axe.  When Agudelo was on the Red Bulls, he was their crowned jewel who they refused to sell to.  Suitors from all over Europe were interested in his signature, but they held firm in keeping him.  That was until they decided he WASN'T their crowned jewel and traded him to Chivas USA, who then traded him to the Revolution.  So I guess he just didn't show enough in a long period of time to really prove he was deserving of a World Cup spot.  Here's this to think of:  It's the 118th minute of extra time, and the opponents defense has just caught up to our counter, but haven't settled in yet.  Who do you want to be at the end of that cross? Juan Agudelo? Or Chris Wondo(w)lowski?  Tough pill to swallow, I know, but Agudelo will shine in the 2016 Copa America.

José Torres

José Torres could have been the best Torres in the World Cup (no offense Fernando)!  He is America's most consistent player in the Mexican league who has LITERALLY played every position on the field. Hell, I bet he isn't too shabby between the posts.  He's got over 170 caps in club soccer over two teams and he's only 26 years old.  He's won three CONCACAF Champions League titles, one Liga MX title, one North American Super Liga, and one Copa MX.  It's hard to look at his accolades as a player and not see his potential.  He could have taken the spots of almost every midfielder we have in the camp right now sans Jones and Bradley.  Torres is a work horse who has amazing vision and passing and better yet, he goes by Gringo Torres.  I would have loved to see him make the camp over Beckerman, Davis, and Edu, and guys please don't forget that he actually started for us last World Cup against Slovenia.

So what got him snubbed from the 30?

Well for starters, we have an incredibly deep pool of midfielders.  On top of that deep pool, every single one of them have shown why they deserve as spot on the team, whether it was through the Gold Cup, friendlies, or qualifiers, each player is there for a reason.  Torres hasn't seen the field for the US in over a year, and wasn't a large part of qualifying for this World Cup.  There are obviously reasons as to why he didn't make the cut, but I can't think of too many that make a lot of sense other than Klinsmann wants to play a different style and doesn't see Torres fitting into it.

Gedion Zalelem

Wait what?  Is this kid even American?  Alright I will admit this is a ridiculous name to throw out there, but hear me out.  We have an 18 year old Julian Green on our team which has already sparked enough controversy to rivals Brazil's protests (not really).  But let's think of this hypothetically, shall we?  Green played once for Bayern Munich's senior team this season for.  That's it.  So how is Green any better than Zalelem?  He's probably not, but let's consider this: Green plays in the German fourth division, never making the bench for Bayern's senior team even after they won the title back in March.  Zalelem saw time on the field with Arsenal's first team, and made the bench on several different occasions throughout the season across all competitions.  I'd like to believe that if Zalelem really was on the radar for this World Cup, his citizenship papers would have gone through faster, and he would have overtook Green on the roster.

So what got him snubbed from the 30?
Well, he's not technically an American citizen yet. That's enough right there.  You want more? Ok, he's only 17, barely seen any first team minutes, needs time to grow and learn the professional game, and needs to be loaned to a team in a better league in order to get more playing time.  Wait, am I describing Zalelem or Green?

Honorable Mentions

Brek Shea
Shows insurmountable talent when he feels like it.  Problem is: he never feels like it.

Benny Feilhaber
German last name, Brazilian heritage, and a Gold Cup goal of the century.  What's not to love? Oh yeah, his talent since moving back to the MLS.

Herculez Gomez
Sorry Herc, just too many better forwards this time around.  We'll always have South Africa (sigh).

Eddie Johnson
No. Just no.  I don't care what you did in qualifying.

So that's it for my first post here!  For the three or four of you that will read this, comment and let me know who you think should have made the team.

The Proverbial Elephant in the Room: The Back Line

With less than a month until the opening World Cup match versus Ghana, USMNT head man Jurgen Klinsmann is still unsure as to whom will start on the back line.

A less-than-ideal situation? Absolutely. A precarious position? In some ways, yes.

Soccer (or football) purists will point to the cohesion needed from within the back four. In a perfect world, the unit would have been solidified months ago. The four upcoming friendlies would be a mere dress rehearsal for the big dance in Brazil.

For the United States, such a luxury does not exist. Curiously, Klinsmann selected five right backs (six if you include Fabian Johnson) into the training camp at Stanford. This tryout of sorts is fascinating, to say the least.

Geoff Cameron is perhaps the most intriguing option of all. The Boston native featured as a right back for EPL side Stoke City this past year. He's also primarily played as a right back under Klinsmann. However, his natural position is in the middle -- whether it's as a centre back or as a destroyer in the midfield.

The first-team pairing in the middle for the USMNT has recently been Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez. Unfortunately for Gonzalez, he's battled both injury concerns and inconsistency over the course of the last year. While solid in the air, Gonzalez struggles with pace and athleticism. He's also prone to mental errors (as evidenced by the friendly versus Belgium in 2013).

Not surprisingly, Klinsmann has hinted Cameron could likely be slotted in as a centre back for this upcoming slate of games. At the very least, Cameron will provide Gonzalez with some competition at the spot.

Fabian Johnson will likely start at left back. It'll be a relative surprise for Besler to not start at one of the centre back spots. Based on the number of right backs brought in for the camp, I'd hard time seeing Cameron as the other centre back next to Besler. This premise is punctuated even more by Gonzalez's lack of form recently.

In a perfect world, here's the starting back line we will see June 16th against Ghana:

Fabian Johnson ---- Matt Besler ---- Geoff Cameron ---- Tim Chandler

Many fans of the USMNT will not like the inclusion of Chandler. He hasn't participated with the team in over a year, and thus was not an integral cog in WC qualifying.

However, he's got the most ability of any other right back option -- which includes DeAndre Yedlin, Brad Evans and Michael Parkhurst.

Yedlin is supremely athletic, but also raw and inexperienced. It'd be a stretch to see Yedlin make the roster at this point. Parkhurst is a heady, quality player with experience. He should make the roster due to those attributes. With that said, he's not overly quick or explosive. Parkhurst won't be the type of player likely to make overlapping runs on the flank. It'll essentially take away from the attack.

Evans is perhaps the most polarizing member of the 30 man group. Klinsmann's first-choice right back for the majority of the cycle, Evans is naturally a midfielder. Can one truly envision Evans going up against the likes of Jordan Ayew, Cristiano Ronaldo or Marco Reus? MLS enthusiasts will say yes. In Evans' case (like Gonzalez), he's suffered from both poor form and injury of late.

Chandler is the most adept going forward of the group. He's also experienced -- having played in the Bundesliga for Nurnberg this past year. Not to denigrate the MLS, but Chandler competes against much higher competition on a weekly basis when compared to the likes of Evans, Parkhurst and Yedlin.

The potential back four of Johnson, Besler, Cameron and Chandler is an athletic group. Johnson and Chandler have the ability to make dynamic forays up the channels. This scenario works well with a projected outside mid pairing of Alejandro Bedoya and Graham Zusi. Both Bedoya and Zusi track back very well, and can do so in the event of an overlapping run by one of the outside backs.

The friendlies versus Azerbaijan, Turkey, Nigeria and Belgium in theory will give this group time to gel and play with each other. It will be fascinating to see how this dynamic develops.