The Latest Installment of the North London Derby: Arsenal Outclass Spurs?

The first point to make about the weekend is that this NLD match meant much more to Arsenal than it did to Tottenham.  Tottenham were riding high in third place while Arsenal were reeling from an exit out of the FA Cup and an impending exit from the Champions League.

There has been a transition process underway in North London for the last two seasons.  I would argue that now that transition is completed.  It’s not that Arsenal are a better team than Tottenham this season, only true Gooners in all their delusion would argue that.  It is not that “Class is Permanent,” as the Emirates faithful seem to  believe.  I think that it is precisely because Tottenham are a better team now than Arsenal that they let this match slip away from them. Continue reading

Red Bulls Postseason Update: February 21, the One in Which the Club Releases 2 Young Players

The first order of business: the club announced on February 10 that they have signed 20 year old Icelandic midfielder Victor Palsson.  He looks to add some depth to the midfield, though in a defensive role already filled by Teemu Tainio and Rafael Marquez.  And now, let’s just cut to the chase.

The Red Bulls decided to release developing young players Sacir Hot and Matt Kassel the other week.  Not only were the defender and midfielder once touted youngsters, they were also Homegrown Players for New York.  Taken by itself, NYRB releasing players isn’t big news.  But given the hype that was produced for two local boys who came through the academy system and the seeming failure of the club to properly invest time or energy into their youth players, this story deservedly ballooned into something bigger.

It is the nature of bloggers, especially sports bloggers (and super-especially soccer bloggers), to purport the mundane as earth-shaking.  And it is true that much of the uproar that appeared on Metrofanatic and the Facebook pages of Supporters’ Groups was the misdirected release of years of bottled up rage.  But there are quite valid gripes to make about the way the club has handled this situation, just the latest in a series of fumbles, and the rationale behind these player releases. Continue reading

Rochester Native Signed to Philadelphia Union of MLS

MLS club Philadelphia Union announced today that they have signed former Aquinas midfielder Krystian Witkowski.

Only a handful of players from Section V have ever been drafted by the MLS: Webster’s Brian Bliss (Columbus in 1996), Arcadia’s Dema Kovalenko (Chicago in 1999), Livonia’s Aleksey Korol (Dallas in 2000), Gates Chili’s Yuri Lavrinenko (Chicago in 2000), Pittsford Sutherland’s Jamil Walker (San Jose in 2003) and Pittsford Suthrland’s Ian Pilarski (Chicago in 2004).  Of that list, Witkowski is the fourth to sign a contract with a club.  Witkowski is the first player who was born in the Rochester area to join MLS and also marks the first player from Marist College to be signed by the league.

From the club’s official press release, “Witkowski, a midfielder out of Marist College, was the 26th overall pick in the 2012 Supplemental Draft. He collected three consecutive All-MAAC First Team awards and in 2011 was named to the All-North Atlantic Region second team. In 71 collegiate games, Witkowski registered 21 goals and 12 assists, including nine goals and six assists as a junior. Prior to playing for Marist, Witkowski featured for the U-18 Polish national team.”

A Few Thoughts on High School and College Soccer

A couple weeks back, the US Soccer Development Academy announced that it would officially switch to the 10-month schedule practiced and recognized by most of the FIFA world for the 2012-2013 season.  This would effectively make the DA a replacement for high school soccer as the switch blocks players from competing in scholastic leagues.  American youth soccer fanatics with internet access have long been haranguing the detriments of the high school system: limited practice each day, multiple games in a week, three month schedule in large swaths of the country, the physicality of play, the lack of proper officiating, uneven application across leagues and states, and the lack of concentrated possession based development in the face of huge gaps in quality between teams.  These bloggers and (let’s call them) “soccer activists” have been making noise telling youth players to skip the high school route for a while now, but until very recently there was no viable alternative.

For the current season the US Soccer Development Academy League (formed in 2009) has 78 participating clubs spread geographically through 10 divisions.  You can see the map and national clustering on the East Coast, in California, and in Texas here.  From US Soccer’s page on the DA program, “The Academy’s programming philosophy of increased training, less total games and more competitive games is based on U.S. Soccer’s Best Practices utilized by the U-17 U.S. National Team Residency program.”  This directly addresses several of the most pressing concerns observers have had about high school soccer.

Today the internet is ablaze with people similarly lambasting the college soccer system, myself included.  But what the general public might not fully understand is that there is not currently an adequate system to accommodate the thousands of NCAA players.  The Development Academy league has grown tremendously since its founding, but only provides access for players up to age 18.  After a player reaches the traditional high school graduation age, what are his options? Continue reading

Signs of MLS “Loosening the Noose of Parity”

People say you shouldn’t quote yourself in essays, but this is the internet and I won’t get in trouble for plagiarizing myself.

From April 7 2011, posted to an article on http://thecup.us

“I think that as the noose of parity in MLS is loosened, teams will be more able and willing to pick their competition. As true league hierarchy develops, some teams will see themselves as “cup teams” like Spurs and Pompey in England. Not to pick on anyone, but a team like Portland (arbitrary choice) who doesn’t have a great chance of winning the Supporter’s Shield, an outside chance at a play-off run and isn’t qualified for CCL, would choose to field full teams for all cup games and, in doing so, promote the importance of the competition.”

League hierarchy might take a while to develop, as in the 2011 season 10 out of 18 teams made the playoffs and thus, 56% of teams had a shot at winning the postseason prize MLS cup.  But there have been encouraging signs of MLS league administration allowing more financial freedom to clubs to decide their own destinies. Continue reading

Rhinos Postseason Update: February 11

The Rhinos have lost two and gained two since my last update.  Club management has clearly set about to address the biggest problem area in the squad from 2011, but have they also opened up new wounds?

First thing is first: Neal Kitson is gone.  Rhinos management has tried to play down the importance of his departure, but Kitson will be missed in 2012.  Head coach Jesse Myers said, “Losing Neal is definitely a bump in the road this off-season.  At the same time, it’s been my experience that quality goalkeeping is usually available due to the nature of the position.” Continue reading

Neal Kitson’s Transfer to Northampton Town and the Contradictions of Lower Level Soccer

Amid all the confusion and tattered hopes of transfer deadline day you may have missed that the Rochester Rhinos starting goalkeeper secured a switch to Northampton Town FC.  Northampton Town play in League Two, the fourth tier of English football, probably a fair step up from the quality found in the American third division in which the Rhinos currently play.

But this transfer raises more questions in my mind than just comparing leagues across the pond.  Broadly, how are the structure of clubs and leagues different on either side of the Atlantic?  But more concretely, what does this transfer, and others like it, tell us about the mentality of operating a soccer club in the lower divisions of the United States. Continue reading