Tag Archives: CONCACAF

Gold Cup 2011: The Final – Mexico vs. USMNT

This is the final that everyone expected, and virtually everyone wanted to see.  While the road to the Rose Bowl hasn’t been simple for either team (see the US loss to Panama in the group stage, or Mexico’s narrow extra-time victory over Honduras in the semifinal); was their really any doubt that the continent’s two juggernauts would be vying for the regional title?  Since the Gold Cup began in 1991, either the US (4 wins, 3 runner-up finishes) or Mexico (5 wins, 1 runner-up) has won all but one of the titles – Canada won in 2000.

With the region’s two premier teams playing for the title, the game has gotten a lot of attention in the national media.  This morning, ESPN had Alexi Lalas on SportsCenter discussing the match.  The Worldwide Leader couldn’t resist mentioning that the US has lost just once to Mexico on US soil since 2000, though that one loss was a 5-0 drilling in the 2009 Gold Cup final, though this blog post by Scott French of ESPN Los Angeles should make some USMNT fans feel better.  According to French, the US has outscored El Tri 21-8 in matches outside of Estadio Azteca since 2000.  Throw the 5-0 beating out, and the difference jumps to 21-3 in 12 matches!

Player/Position Comparison: 

Tim Howard gives the USMNT the edge in goal.

Goalkeeper – The easiest comparison of the bunch.  Tim Howard, as mentioned before is one of the best in the world.  He’s at the top of his game and a true difference maker.  Take a look at this save (about 2o seconds into the video) against Jamaica to see what I’m talking about.  Alfredo Talavera, however, has Guillermo Ochoa and his failed doping test to thank for his spot in the starting XI.  Advantage: USMNT

Defense – Bob Bradley seems to have found his starting back 4 with Steve CherundoloClarence GoodsonCarlos Bocanegra and Eric Lichaj all playing well in the past 3 games.  Lichaj and Cherundolo have been dangerous moving forward, though they will have to defend much more against Mexico than they have in previous matches.  The US back line has not conceded a goal since the loss to Panama but will certainly be tested against Mexico.  El Tri’s back 4 of Rafa Marquez, Héctor Moreno, Efrain Juarez and Carlos Salcido have conceded just 2 goals the entire tournament, though they have yet to be truly tested.  Advantage: Push

Midfield – Mexico plays with a classic four man midfield.  Two central midfielders (Gerardo Torrado and Israel Castro) and two wingers (Andres Guardado and Pablo Barrera.  Barrera has played well in the Gold Cup, scoring 1 goal and assisting on 3 others.  Guardado may not start due to an ankle injury. If Guardado can’t go, Giovani Dos Santos would likely slot into his spot.  Expect Bob Bradley to start a five man midfield, as this formation has worked in the last two games.  While Landon Donovan hasn’t started the last two games, he HAS to be on the field.  He’s a big game player for the US and has played well against Mexico in the past.  Michael BradleyJermaine Jones,  Clint Dempsey and Alejandro Bedoya should keep their spots in the lineup.  Dempsey has been extremely good, and Bedoya has transferred his fine form with Örebro to the USMNT.  Though the US has played well, Mexico is better from a technical standpoint.  (slight) Advantage: Mexico

Chicharito has been on fire this year. Will the USMNT be able to keep him of the scoresheet?

Forward – Though the goalkeeper comparison is one-sided, this is the area of the field where the difference between the two teams is most apparent.  Javier Hernandez has been a revelation this season.  Chicharito scored 20 goals for Manchester United in 45 appearances and has netted another 10 goals in 8 appearances for El Tri.  Seven of those goals have come in the Gold Cup.  With Jozy Altidore out with a hamstring injury, the US will likely start 18-year-old Juan Agudelo up top.  Agudelo has shown flashes, but he’s no match for Hernandez.  Advantage: Mexico

Prediction – While Mexico holds the advantage from an individual talent perspective, the US is greater than the sum of its parts.  In addition to the team mentality that permeates the USMNT camp, the US team believes it can beat Mexico.  No matter how partisan the crowd, and in Southern California it will likely be extremely pro-Mexico, the USMNT has proven time and again that it has the mentality necessary to defeat its southern rivals.  Score: USMNT 2 – Mexico 1. 

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Gold Cup 2011: Jamaica-US Preview

Thanks to this absolute laser by Jozy Altidore, the US beat Guadeloupe to advance to the knockout round of the 2011 Gold Cup.  Despite this victory, the US finished second in their group and drew Jamaica in the quarterfinals.  On current form, this could be an extremely tough game for the Yanks.  The Reggae Boyz have been one of the most impressive sides in the tournament, while the Yanks have underperformed.

Despite the uninspired performance of the USMNT, ESPN’s Five Aside Blog had this to say about the upcoming match:

The United States failed to win its group for the first time in Gold Cup history. As Group C runner-up, the United States faces Group B winner Jamaica, the only team other than Mexico to win all of its group games. USA has reached the semis in nine of the 10 previous tournaments, while Jamaica hasn’t reached the semifinals since 1998. Despite tournament form, SPI rates USA an 83.9 percent favorite to advance and extend its unbeaten (9-0-8) record against the Reggae Boyz. Jamaica has lost all four of its Gold Cup elimination games.1

Clearly, the SPI algorithm thinks the US will be able to overcome its malaise and put in the kind of performance American fans expect.

Player/Position Comparison:

Goalkeeper –  Tim Howard has been stellar for years and cannot be blamed for the loss to Panama.  He is one of the best keepers in England and arguably the world.  The US is lucky to have him guarding their goal.  Donovan Ricketts has been a rock in goal during the tournament, leading a defense that has yet to concede.  He’s also posted 6 clean sheets for the L.A. Galaxy this season.  Despite this good form, this comparison is simple.  One of the best in the MLS vs. one of the best in the EPL.   Advantage: USMNT

Defense – The Jamaican defense has yet to concede a goal, though part of that is probably thanks to the impotent competition they faced in the group stage.  Jamaica’s defense should not be discounted as three of the four starters play in MLS and they have paired well together all tournament.  Shavar ThomasJermaine TaylorDicoy Williams and Eric Vernan have all played well.  The US has struggled to find the right combination to start along the back.  Tim Ream looked out of his depth playing against Panama and Oguchi Onyewu is still lacking in form and hasn’t made an appearance.  Not without their struggles against Guadeloupe, expect the back four of  Steve CherundoloClarence GoodsonCarlos Bocanegra and Eric Lichaj to be in the Starting XI on Sunday.  On paper it would seem the US, with defenders from the Bundesliga, Ligue 1, the Premier League and the Danish League, has a better defense, but Jamaica is hot and is playing well as a unit.  Advantage: Push

While Bob Bradley stubbornly continues to deploy Clint Dempsey in the midfield, he's the USMNT's best hope at forward.

Midfield – Jamaica’s midfield has been on fire during the tournament.  Demar Phillips, who plays his club soccer with Ålesund in Norway, has scored three goals in three games. Dane Richards has been a terror on the wing.  Jason Morrison and Rodolph Austin, both of the Norwegian Tippeligaen have also put in solid efforts. The US midfield should be its strength.  With Landon Donovan on the left and Michael Bradley in the center the Yanks have two midfielders who have proven they can play at the top club level.  Who lines up on the right and in the center next to Bradley is a different story.  Jermaine Jones has not played his best during the Gold Cup, though Bob Bradley seems to be enamored with the former German under-20 international.  Clint Dempsey has lined up on the right, but as stated in a previous post, his best position for the USMNT may be up top.  Alejandro Bedoya has provided a spark off the bench and Sascha Kljestan has reignited his international career with a good showing.  Again, the US has a better midfield on paper, but the Reggae Boyz have been on fire this tournament.  Advantage: USMNT

Forwards – Another area where the USMNT has better players on paper – if you include Clint Dempsey.  As with players across the rest of the pitch, the Jamaican forwards have had a great tournament.  Led by San Jose Earthquakes striker, Ryan Johnson, the Jamaican front line has both scored goals and set up Jamaica’s lethal wingers.  Providing support for Johnson are Keammar Daley who plies his trade in the Jamaican Premier League and Luton Shelton of Norwegian side Vålerenga IF. Both have scored and assisted in Jamaica’s group games.  On the opposite side of the pitch, Jozy Altidore has looked great this tournament.  While still prone to lapses in concentration, he has provided 2 of the US’s 4 goals and assisted on another.  His wonder strike against Guadeloupe should have him feeling confident.  The rest of the US forward contingent has been less than stellar.  Chris Wondolowski has been wasteful in front of goal (see  this video) and Juan Agudelo is still learning.  With Bob Bradley seemingly unable to imagine Clint Dempsey as a forward, the US could be in trouble. Advantage: Jamaica

Coaching Staff – Let’s not even go there…

On paper, the US has better players than Jamaica.  More US players play in the top leagues around the world than the current Jamaican squad.  On form, the Jamaican squad is playing better than the USMNT, though they were in the easiest of the three groups. Is Jamaica’s form entirely due to its easy group, or are they a team to be reckoned with?  The USMNT, its fans and the rest of CONCACAF will know the answer on Sunday afternoon.

Prediction – Jamaica will make it tough, but I expect the real US team to show up for this game.  USMNT 2 – Jamaica 1.

 

Gold Cup 2011: USMNT 1 – Panama 2 – The Fallout

Photo of soccer coach, Bob Bradley. Wilson Won...

While willing to give Bob Bradley the benefit of the doubt, the USMNT cannot continue to lose matches to inferior sides. (Image via Wikipedia)

I could start this post, as I am sure many have started (and will start) with a call to have Bob Bradley removed from his position at the helm of the United States Men’s National Team.  I’m not going to do that.  Every time the United States suffers a defeat, whether to a CONCACAF minnow or a European power, US soccer fans call for his dismissal.  Do I think Bradley has shortcomings as a coach? Yes.  Do I think the USSF should fire him immediately? No.  Do I think the US needs to re-evaluate its coaching staff after the Gold Cup? Yes.  As Brent Latham at The USA 10 Kit wrote:

Coach Bob Bradley, 3.5 – Did what he could with limited resources, but then again, it’s a hole he got himself into. Who on that bench was going to really help him? At some point, you really do have to ask if he’s capable of getting the best out of the resources at his disposal. That moment is now sooner rather than later.

While I am not calling for his ouster, it does seem curious that Bradley continually ignores the fact that his best forward is playing in the midfield.  Clint Dempsey has shown time and again, both with the USMNT and at Fulham, that he is best when he’s near the goal.  He has the strength, vision and creativity to pull off some shots that most of the forwards in the US pool would never dream about.  His record in front of goal the last several seasons and especially this season (12 goals, 3 assists) show that Deuce needs to play up top.  If Dempsey playing at forward would allow Bradley to keep Juan Agudelo on the bench where he could be used as a sub late in the game – something that has worked well for the US since Agudelo’s introduction to the senior team (obviously Chris Wondolowski is not the answer, if you don’t believe me, watch this video – virtually any professional soccer player should have buried that shot!).

For a more in-depth review of how the boys played last night, check the post from The USA 10 Kit, Goal.com, or the NY Times’ Goal blog.

Despite the loss to Panama, the US could still raise this trophy on June 25 in the Rose Bowl.

Beyond raising questions about the direction of the USMNT, what does this loss mean for the Yanks’ more immediate future in this tournament?  With the loss, the US sits in 2nd place in group C behind Panama, who has collected  6 points from their two matches.  The US plays Guadeloupe in their final group game.  Guadeloupe has shown in past Gold Cup editions that they have some quality (finishing 4th in 2007 and 6th in 2009), and gave both Panama and Canada scares this year.  Despite playing both Canada and Panama tough, this is a team the Yanks should beat.  Winning assures the US of a spot in the quarterfinal. Where they will finish in the group gets more complicated.

Possible Outcomes:

  •  If the US wins and Canada defeats Panama by fewer than 4 goals, the US would finish first
    • Quarterfinal opponent – One of the two third places teams to advance – Guatemala (as of this post)
  •  A US win and any other outcome from the Canada-Panama game would see the US finish 2nd in the group.
    • Quarterfinal opponent – The winner of Group B (either Jamaica of Honduras).
  • A draw with Guadeloupe would see the Yanks finish 2nd if Canada loses to/draws with Panama
    • Quarterfinal opponent – The winner of Group B (either Jamaica of Honduras)
  • The US could also finish 2nd despite a loss, as long as they lose to Guadeloupe by only 1 goal and Panama defeats Canada
    • Quarterfinal opponent – The winner of Group B (either Jamaica of Honduras)
  • The US would finish 3rd in group if they lose to Guadeloupe by 2 or 3 goals and Panama defeats Canada. This isn’t a death sentence, as they could still qualify for the quarters on points if either El Salvador – Cuba in Group A or Guatemala – Grenada in Group B end in a draw.
    • Quarterfinal opponent – As it stands now, Mexico.  This is the WORST possible scenario; thankfully, it is also the most unlikely.

The US plays Guadeloupe at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City on Tuesday night at 9pm.  Those interested in watching the match can catch the action on Fox Soccer Channel, or should check out their local chapter of The American Outlaws.

MLS Celebrates Sweet 16

First, Happy 16th Season MLS!

I am a voracious reader. For several years, I commuted to Boston on the train every day.  During that time I would go through a book a week (sometimes two depending on how quick a read the books were).  I know that this might not seem to be linked to MLS starting its 16th season, just hear me out.  Due to my love of reading and immense amounts of reading time, I’ve read countless books on one of my favorite topics – soccer.

The books ranged from the encyclopedic (The Ball is Round by David Goldblatt) to the quirky (Bloody Confused by Chuck Culpepper).  The most recent book to catch my attention was Soccer in a Football World by David Wangerin. In the book, Wangerin charts the convoluted and often dispiriting path of fútbol in the United States.  From the little documented early days under the auspices of the United States of America Foot Ball Association (now the United States Soccer Federation) and the American Soccer League to the 2006 World Cup, Wangerin provides a great background for anybody interested in soccer in the United States. In addition to filling in some historical blanks, Soccer in a Football World got me thinking about how MLS fits into the American sporting landscape.

As MLS enters its 16th season, which kicks off on March 15 in Seattle (Sounders v. Galaxy; should be a good one), there are reasons to believe that the league and the sport are finally gaining some true traction in America.

Positives Signs –

Philadelphia Union are one of MLS's recent expansion successes, and my favorite club.

Successful Expansion – MLS has added 5 teams since 2007 and will add the Montreal Impact in 2012.  Montreal’s introduction will bring the count to 19, with MLS looking to expand to 20.  Toronto, Seattle and Philadelphia were all extremely successful at the gate in their first seasons.  Toronto has averaged more than 20,000 fans per game in each of its first 4 seasons. Seattle draws crowds that many European soccer teams would envy (36,000+ last season), and Philadelphia continued the trend of successful expansion by averaging over 19,000 fans in their inaugural season. Portland and Vancouver both look primed to continue the trend, with Portland selling more than 12,000 season tickets and Vancouver more than 15,500.

Could the revived Cosmos be the 20th MLS team in 2012 or beyond?

As mentioned before, MLS is looking to expand to twenty teams, and Don Garber has made it known that he would love a second team in the New York City area.  To wit, perhaps the most famous name in US soccer, the New York Cosmos, has been revived in an attempt to become that 20th team.  With Eric Cantona as the Director of Soccer, Pelé as Honorary President, and Giorgio Chinaglia as International Ambassador the club has some heavy hitters promoting its interests (both Pelé and Chinaglia played for the previous incarnation of the Cosmos).

Attendance – Thanks in large part to the success of the recent expansion teams, 2010 saw MLS attendance rise to 16,675 fans per game.  Only two prior MLS seasons top that number (2007 and 1996).  While the NFL and MLB both average far more fans than MLS, the NHL and NBA average only slightly more.  While these numbers might be slightly outdated, MLS ranks 13th in average attendance among world soccer leagues.  Not bad for a country that supposedly doesn’t like soccer.  Attendance has been on the rise and should continue that upward trend, on the strength of a new soccer specific stadium in Kansas City and the addition of the Timbers and Whitecaps.  As Geoffrey Arnold of The Oregonian writes (citing an article from the Wall Street Journal), there are several cities where MLS outdraws NBA teams.  Of the cities listed, only The Galaxy outdrawing the Lakers doesn’t present the full picture (the Lakers would certainly sell more tickets if the Staples Center could accommodate more fans).  The general upward trend in attendance over the past several years is certainly a positive sign for MLS; however, the attendance situation isn’t entirely rosy, there are some disconcerting signs for several clubs. More on the negatives to come.

Performance of the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) – As important as domestic soccer is around the world most (if not all) domestic leagues are set up to help the national team perform on a higher level.  While soccer fans enjoy watching the Champions League, the World Cup is what matters most. The creation and continued growth of MLS has given US soccer talent a place to develop and the performance of the USMNT has benefited from its existence.

MLS is the first domestic soccer league in the US to make developing American talent a priority.  The ASL and the NASL both relied heavily on imports (MLS is starting to trend this way as well) while neglecting native talent.  Since the creation of MLS, the US has qualified for all 4 World Cups, advanced from the Group Stage on two occasions, beaten the World #1 and been ranked as high as 4th in the FIFA World Rankings (I still can’t believe this, but it’s true).

While MLS hasn’t turned the USMNT into a legitimate threat to win the World Cup (yet), the investment in soccer (the USSF’s Project 2010, which didn’t work quite according to plan) along with the growing competitiveness in  domestic soccer has transformed the US from laughing-stock to CONCACAF power and occasional giant slayer.

Interesting side note: The US is one of only 7 teams to qualify for every World Cup since 1990.  The others: Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Spain and South Korea.

Bad Signs

Profitibility – MLS continues to expand and more fans (on average) are attending games; however, these positive signs haven’t translated into profitability.  According to most reports, which are difficult to find as financial transparency is not an MLS strong point, very few teams turn a profit.  Thanks to some awesome work by Dave Clark at Sounder at Heart we can draw a few conclusions.  Using data from a 2007 Forbes study in conjunction with a study conducted on behalf of the Portland Timbers, Clark came to the conclusion that 2 clubs (Seattle and Toronto) were profitable in 2009. The long-term stability of the game and the league will require teams to move toward profitability.  Teams can only stay afloat while incurring losses for so long. See the NASL for proof of that.

TV Ratings/Contract – If MLS ever wants to make a collective turn toward profitability, the league needs to establish itself on television.  No professional sport can survive in today’s market without a TV deal.  MLS just agreed to an extension of its previous TV contract with Fox Soccer Channel that will pay the league $6.25 million this season (MLS has a contract with ESPN that pays the league $8 million per year through 2014, and includes rights to USMNT games). For the sake of comparison, the NFL earns $3 billion per year, MLB earns nearly $500 million, the NBA earns $930 million, and the NHL earns at least $75 million. While comparing MLS to the NFL, NBA and MLB is certainly unfair, comparing the league to the NHL isn’t entirely ridiculous.  While TV ratings remain poor (an average of 249,000 viewers for games broadcast on ESPN2), those numbers actually are comparable to the numbers the NHL records on Versus (297,000 per broadcast in 2009-2010, scroll to the bottom to see a table of the ratings numbers).  So the question that needs to be asked is: why the NHL can get $75 million per year from Versus and MLS can only bring in a fraction of that amount? If MLS wants to remain a viable league and grow its brand, it will need to secure a better television contract.

Attendance – As mentioned above, MLS attendance has been on the rise over the past several years, but that doesn’t tell the entire story. While there are successes, several clubs have woeful attendance numbers. Sporting Kansas City, FC Dallas and the San Jose Earthquakes all hovered around the 10,000 mark. Several other teams saw drops in attendance from 2009. There is some hope for Kansas City, as they are set to open their new soccer-specific stadium this season. For a league that doesn’t derive much revenue from a television deal, it is vitally important to put fans in the seats.

An extremely interesting story will be if MLS can capitalize on the labor strife in the NFL and a potential NBA work stoppage to grow its brand. While soccer will never replace football or baseball in the hearts and minds of American sports fans and likely will never challenge the NBA, why couldn’t the beautiful game could supplant the NHL in the American sports pecking order.