The One Where I Watched an NASL Game

What conclusions can I draw from watching one full NASL match?  Quite a few apparently…

On Sunday afternoon I took the time to watch the full 90 minutes between the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and FC Edmonton.  After watching Tottenham Hotspur squeak out their first win at home this season in the morning and grabbing lunch off campus but before I started reading for my Monday classes, I was able to watch the whole NASL match.  Previously this season I had only caught a few minutes here or there of NASL action in addition to seeing the weekly highlights show on YouTube.  I was initially blown away by the product on the field.

During the USL-Pro season I attended all Rhinos’ home games and tried to watch every away game on U-Nation’s streaming service.  I also watched all of the United States’ and Mexico’s international matches and the Euro Tournament.  Now that fall is upon us, I watch college soccer (both my own school and nationally ranked division I colleges on television), Mexican league and cup games, and a fair share of European club soccer.  During this whole time I’ve been watching every Red Bulls’ game and a number of other MLS matches of national significance.  The point is I watch a good deal of soccer and NASL ranks pretty highly in that pantheon.

I’m not arguing that NASL is the end-all be-all for American soccer; that’d be silly.  MLS clearly operates at a higher level on and off the field, but the style of play utilized by many teams in NASL is very promising.  Watching this NASL game, between 5th placed Fort Lauderdale and 8th placed (out of 8 teams) Edmonton, I observed a more exciting brand of soccer than the average MLS match exhibits.  Several MLS clubs boast world class players like Robbie Keane, Thierry Henry and Fredy Montero, but as a whole this NASL game had a much more attacking feel than an average MLS game. Continue reading

Rhinos Players in USL-Pro Team of the Week Throughout the Season

I kept track of which Rhinos players were named to the Team of the Week on the league’s website.  I then compiled the information and awarded 5 points each time a Rhino was named Player of the Week, 3 points for Team of the Week, and 1 point for an Honorable Mention.

The Rhinos were inactive during Week 1, so no members of the squad were named to the USL-Pro Team of the Week.

Week 2:
GK: Kristian Nicht; “Was sharp in his first game in North America, recording a shutout.”
M: Tyler Rosenlund; “Well-placed header earned Rhinos victory against Los Angeles.”
F: Tam McManus; “Linked up well with midfield, and started move that led to goal.”
Honorable Mention: J.C. Banks (assist), Troy Roberts

Week 3:
F: Andrew Hoxie; “Halftime sub had major impact in Rhinos win against Blues
Honorable Mention: Kristian Nicht (shutout), J.C. Banks (goal)

Week 4:
D: George Kyriazis; “Strong presence at center back as Rhinos took third victory”
F: J.C. Banks ; “Scored only goal, his second of season, to keep Rhinos perfect”
Honorable Mention: Kristian Nicht (shutout)

Week 5:
D: Jack Traynor; “Played both fullback positions dominantly in 1-0 win against Eagles”
M: * Drew Cost; “Played key role in Rhinos’ goal, kept midfield tight throughout”
Honorable Mention: Tam McManus

Week 6:
GK: * Kristian Nicht; “Was outstanding in 10-save shutout to maintain Rhinos’ perfect start”
D: Troy Roberts; “Remarkably consistent, way key player in win against Charlotte”

Week 7:
D: Quavas Kirk; “Goal maintained Rhinos’ undefeated start to the season”
Honorable Mention: J.C. Banks

Week 8:
M: Danny Earls; “Strong work-rate all weekend was rewarded with assist vs. Dayton”
Honorable Mention: Tam McManus

Week 9:
D: George Kyriazis; “Put in strong performance despite Rhinos defeat to Kickers”
M: Danny Earls; “Was consistently threatening, only to be turned away by Pascale”

Week 10:
M: Tyler Rosenlund; “Fine header gave Rhinos lead against Hammerheads in 1-1 draw”
Honorable Mention: Danny Earls

Week 11:
M: Michael Tanke; “Bright spot for Rhinos had goal and assist in two contests”
Honorable Mention: Quavas Kirk

Week 12:
D: Troy Roberts; “Stalwart was consistent as Rhinos took big road victory”
M: J.C. Banks; “Had game-winning goal and assist as Rhinos snapped winless streak
Honorable Mention: Isaac Kissi, Graciano Brito

Week 13:
Honorable Mention: J.C. Banks

Week 14:
D: Danny Earls; “Scored game-winning goal in victory against Dayton.”
F: Kendell McFayden; “Two early goals sparked Rhinos in victory against Antigua”
Honorable Mention: J.C. Banks, Andrew Hoxie

Week 15:
Honorable Mention: Troy Roberts

Week 16:
D: Lucas Fernandez; “Had an assist, and helped set up opener, in Rhinos’ victory”
M: Tyler Rosenlund; “Controlled the midfield as Rhinos regained second place”
Honorable Mention: Andrew Hoxie, J.C. Banks

Week 17:
D: George Kyriazis; “Strong performance as Rhinos shut out Blues in 1-0 win”
M: Danny Earls; “Good possession and distribution in win against Los Angeles”
Honorable Mention: Tam McManus, Chris Estridge

Week 18:
Honorable Mention: Danny Earls

Week 19:
No Rhinos players mentioned because we played our worst game in team history.

Week 20:
D: George Kyriazis; “Played key role as Rhinos shut out Riverhounds to end season”
F: Andrew Hoxie; “Late strike allowed Rhinos to claim No.2 seed in playoffs”
Honorable Mention: Troy Roberts, Tyler Rosenlund

It should really come as any surprise who the top players were by this count.  J.C. Banks was an all-star who, when healthy, was in the very highest echelon of the league.  Danny Earls provided a spark when playing out wide and could play in other positions.  Rochester’s centerback tandem was the best or second best in the league this season.  Troy Roberts was a veteran leader and I don’t think I saw George Kyriazis put a wrong foot in all season.  Kristian Nicht was simply outstanding in his first season in North American soccer.  Aside from the regular season game against Charleston, Nicht consistently made saves that I didn’t think were humanly possible beforehand.

Banks: 14 points
Earls: 14 points
Kyriazis: 12 points
Nicht: 10 points
Rosenlund: 10 points
Roberts: 9 points
Hoxie: 8 points
McManus: 6 points
McFayden: 5 points
Cost: 5 points
Kirk: 4 points
Tanke: 3 points
Fernandez: 3 points
Traynor: 3 points
Estridge: 1 point
Kissi: 1 point
Brito: 1 point

Hamilton College Concedes to Williams Late

The Continentals (5-6-3 in 2011) hosted the Williams College Ephs in a midweek NESCAC class.  Williams finished 2011 with a 9-4-3 record, 5-2-3 against conference opponents.  Hamilton went into the Wednesday afternoon game 1-1-0 having beaten SUNY Oswego and losing to conference opponents Trinity College 2-1 at the weekend.  Williams was riding the high of defeating Westfield State University and NESCAC’s Bates College.

I missed the whole first half of the match due to those pesky academic obligations.  The score was already 1-1 when I showed up to the game and the teams were trading chances.  Around the hour mark I realized that Williams was seeing more of the ball.  The Ephs were content to sit on possession inside Hamilton’s half.  Williams’ defenders were just past half field passing the ball among themselves.  This wasn’t necessarily bad news for Hamilton because the defense was solid and the team looked very dangerous on the counter attack.

Number 9 for Hamilton, sophomore Griffin Abbott, is a quick and nifty player on and off the ball.  He lines up centrally but can easily make runs out wide to receive the ball.  Hamilton played with two advanced wide players, senior Anthony Balbo (13) and senior Hennie Bosman (7).  Balbo started on the left side with Bosman on the right but the two wingers often swapped flanks.  Fluidity characterized what I saw as a 4-3-3 with a defensive midfield triangle.

Hamilton was quick off the mark as Hennie Bosman headed home off a chance created by an Abbott cross just 2:18 into the game.  Unfortunately for the Continentals, Williams’ attackers caught them napping when speedy forward User Kushaina played a low cross through Mohammed Rashid’s legs to midfielder Matt Muralles 14:36 into the first half.  Even though the second half didn’t see any goals, there was back and forth action for much of the time. Continue reading

Surveying the Soccer Scene: Some More Thoughts on College Aged Players

Instead of having to keep track of the alphabet soup of league names and sift through the overlapping league structures, wouldn’t it be easier if some central body (say, the U.S.S.F.) stepped in to regulate national leagues?  This step would make it easier for fans, but also national scouts, to keep track of the best young talent in the country.

There is definitely the simple economic argument against this line of action, which says that if this centralized approach was viable then it would have already happened.  I don’t buy that.  I think it is in fact feasible but the will has not been present from those in charge

In a previous post about high school and college in the United States, I mentioned something that I think is relevant in this discussion.  High school soccer persisted (and in most respects is still persisting) until a viable alternative was created and cultivated.  The U.S.S.F. hopes the Development Academy League grows to fulfill that role.  In the same respect, college soccer will be the path of choice for the majority of aspiring soccer players, even those from MLS club academies, until a national u-20 (or u-21, or u-22) league is established and has enough resources to adequately develop players the way the DA currently does.

In much the same way that Academies were originally designed to accommodate and complement high school soccer by working on a different schedule, current leagues like PDL and NPSL are only active in the summer months.  The infrastructure that the USL umbrella currently has at its disposal cannot be ignored when considering how to bridge the gap from youth development to professional development.  In addition to the u-12 through u-20 leagues, they also operate an extensive patchwork of mostly u-23 (mostly amateur) teams in the Premier Development League.  On top of the PDL is the USL-Pro, which consists of 11 professional clubs, 10 in the United States.  USL also operates a the women’s W-League and the Major Indoor Soccer League.  The organization has specialized office staff for each endeavor and has provided a great deal of stability to soccer in America, despite poor retention rates in its leagues some years.

If a national-regional u-21 league was mapped out, it would be make a great deal of sense to utilize the existing structures.  Taking advantage of Super Y-League clubs and Super-20 clubs, or in many cases the same clubs running teams in multiple age divisions, is a smarter way of tapping into potential player pools but also of utilizing the contacts and administrative infrastructure which is already established and primed for competition. Continue reading

Breakdown of Rhinos Regular Season Results

Here are the results of each game of the Rhinos’ regular season with the final standings of each opponent.

@ LA 1-0, win, 8th
@ LA 2-0, win, 8th
@ Dayton, 1-0, win, 9th
vs Charlotte, 1-0, win, 7th
@ Charlotte, 1-0, win, 7th
@ Charleston, 1-0, win, 3rd
vs Dayton, 1-1, tie, 9th
@ Harrisburg, 0-1, loss, 6th
@ Dayton, 2-2, tie, 9th
vs Richmond, 0-1, loss, 4th
vs Wilmington, 1-1, tie, 5th
@ Harrisburg, 1-2, loss, 6th
@ Pittsburgh, 1-1, tie, 10th
@ Richmond, 3-2, win, 4th
vs Harrisburg, 1-2, loss, 6th
vs Antigua, 4-1, win, 11th
vs Dayton, 2-0, win, 9th
@ Wilmington, 0-0, tie, 5th
@ Orlando, 0-4, loss, 1st
vs Pittsburgh, 2-0, win, 10th
vs LA, 1-0, win, 8th
vs Orlando, 0-1, loss, 1st
vs Charleston, 0-4, loss, 3rd
vs Pittsburgh, 1-0, win, 10th

Totals against each team by standing:
1st – 2 losses, 0 points
2nd – Us, lol
3rd – 1 win, 1 loss, 3 points
4th – 1 win, 1 loss, 3 points
5th – 2 ties, 2 points
6th – 3 losses, 0 points
7th – 2 wins, 6 points
8th – 3 wins, 9 points
9th – 2 wins, 2 tie, 8 points
10th – 2 wins, 1 tie, 7 points
11th – 1 win, 3 points

Rochester Rhinos earned 41 points from 24 games for the season for 1.71 points per game:
against Orlando – 0 points per game (2 games)
against Charleston – 1.5 ppg (2 games)
against Richmond – 1.5 ppg (2 games)
against Wilmington – 1 ppg (2 games)
against Harrisburg – 0 ppg (3 games)
against Charlotte – 3 ppg (2 games)
against LA – 3 ppg (3 games)
against Dayton – 2 ppg (4 games)
against Pittsburgh – 2.3 ppg (3 games)
against Antigua – 3 ppg (1 game)

Conclusions:  Taking the moronic scheduling of games out of the equation, a team is supposed to tie teams as good as they are and beat they are better than.  The Rhinos followed that mold in all cases except against Harrisburg.  Grabbing 1.5 points per game against Charleston and Richmond across 2 games respectively means 1 win and 1 loss, which is fair if you accept the assumption that they are equally talented teams.  Only taking 1 point per game from Wilmington is a testament to Corey Hertzog and the impact he had since joining that team.  In every other case, taking at least 2 points per game is a remarkable record in any competitive league.

Saying that the Rhinos took most of their wins from weaker teams means nothing.  In any league in the world, successful teams get most of their wins from weaker teams.  By virtue of logic most teams take wins from weaker teams; that’s why they are the weaker teams.  We also got results against tougher teams.  There were only two teams we didn’t nick a point from all season.

A 4-0 loss at home, the worst home result in team history, is a depressing way to end the season but takes away from the fact that we beat Charleston at Blackbaud earlier in the season.  The 3 points from a 1-0 win are the same as the 3 points from a 4-0 win.

The problem here isn’t so much the results (except against Harrisburg and god, do I hate Harrisburg), but the performances.  It hurts and also defies reasonable explanation how we take the best attack-minded team we’ve had in years and try to grind out results.

I would love to get some feedback from other fans before I try to tackle the season in review.  Comment on this post (or any other post, lol) or email me dohertysoccer [at] gmail.com to let me know what you thought of the Rhinos season or what the team could have done better this year.

Surveying the Soccer Scene: the Future of Youth Soccer (u-20 and pre-15)

Going forward there is even more to be done to prevent wasted effort and allow for talented players to be identified earlier.  USSF has already taken drastic steps into the realms of youth soccer by first creating the DA in 2007 and now mandating the 10-month schedule switch for the 2012-13 season.  The next big step should be incorporating more clubs and adding other age divisions.  This could come in the form of absorbing USL youth clubs that meet criteria or to provide other incentives to swell the ranks of untapped player pools in order to provide more regionalized competition while maintaining the high quality of play.  This would also mean that the USSF would either create a u-13/14 league, or a u-20/u-21 league, or both.

The U.S. has dozens of professional affiliates and independent youth clubs that participate in the U.S.S.F. Development Academy League.  For the 2011-2012 season, the DA has a u-15/16 age division and a u-17/18 age division.  There is currently nothing available nationally above or below those age groups.  While there remains no centrally organized u-20 league in the United States, there is a rapidly expanding youth system below the Development Academy.

The older division would be a stepping stone for players between the now established u-18 DA League and NPSL/PDL clubs.  Currently there is not one unified path for 19 year old DA standouts to reach the professional leagues.  From fall to winter NCAA programs train players, and from May to August there are the Super 20, NPSL, and USL PDL.

The pink dots are Super-20 clubs, green are NPSL clubs, and blue is PDL.  The preceding map shows that it may be beneficial to the operating costs of involved clubs congregate the teams clubs from the three leagues under one umbrella. Continue reading