U.S. Player Ratings Against Antigua and Barbuda

On the scale from 0 to 10, a 3 would signify scoring two own goals and 9 would be a hat-trick.

Tim Howard – 6
Howard made an important save and was left high & dry on the goal against.  He could have done more to organize his defense and mobilize the rest of the team.

Carlos Bocanegra – 4
Bocanegra was out of his element playing on the left side against pacy forwards.  He couldn’t keep up with his marks and didn’t provide support up the wing.

Geoff Cameron – 5
Cameron got burned by Peter Byers by horribly mistiming his tackle on Antigua’s goal.  Despite struggling to adjust his positioning, Cameron did have a few surging runs through the center.

Clarence Goodson – 3.5
Goodson looked like a boy among men on the field Friday night.  His toothpick build was cast aside several times by Antigua’s forwards, including by goal-scorer Dexter Blackstock on that play.

Steve Cherundolo – 6
Cherundolo was solid enough defensively but didn’t push up as high as he normally does.  Because of the defensive line of Antigua and the narrow layout of the field, Cherundolo wasn’t able to make overlapping runs.

Eddie Johnson – 7.5
Johnson scored two goals for the United States.  While those contributions cannot be ignored, the Seattle forward was ineffective and unable to contribute to the play for the rest of the game.  Klinsmann skewed the assymetrical formation and tactics toward Johnson’s headers but the team didn’t score from the run of play.  The first goal was a broken short corner cross and the second was a throw in to Kljestan who laid the ball off to Gordon who crossed for Johnson; two passes in four seconds.

Danny Williams – 5
Williams was charged with the single-handed duty of marshaling the midfield for the Yanks.  His role as defensive midfielder was unable to contain Antigua’s counter attacks and when he did break up the play his teammates didn’t offer many outlets.

Michael Bradley – 5.5
Bradley did not have the space to operate his game in the middle of the field.  Antigua’s defense and Klinsmann’s lineup meant that Bradley’s passes was predictable whether played to the right or forced through the center.

Graham Zusi – 6
Zusi played three brilliant balls into the box, including the assist on Johnson’s first goal.  However, Zusi was marked out of the game for stretches and lost control of a few of his crosses over the goal.

Clint Dempsey – 5
Dempsey was absent from the game for long periods.  Antigua’s defense was so compact within the small field, the Texan could not find holes through which to make runs.  He did make a couple of incisive diagonal passes towards Gomez.

Herculez Gomez – 5
Gomez looked frustrated almost from the kickoff.  He could not find a rhythm on the field and was forced into the right corner several times.  Gomez was played through the back four on multiple occasions but his first touch sent the ball straight to an onrushing Molvin James.

A Few Thoughts About the U.S. Win in Antigua

Jurgen Klinsmann made some mistakes with regard to his call-up decisions, bringing in both Landon Donovan and Brek Shea despite injury concerns.  He also made some confounding choices in his game-day selection against Antigua, especially on the left side.

Injuries to both Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo gave Klinsmann the option of playing either Michael Parkhurst, a versatile defender but primarily a right back, and Carlos Bocanegra, a central defender who has only started 5 competitive matches for the U.S. on the outside in 5 years, as a make-shift left back.  Parkhurst is a natural full back who is used to to overlapping down the flank and providing support for the attack.  Even though Bocanegra play extensively on the left side for his club Saint Etienne, he doesn’t offer much going forward.  Klinsmann selected Bocanegra.

Clarence Goodson is a toothpick and showed on numerous occasions tonight that he cannot handle the physicality of international play.  Jurgen Klinsmann seems to like Geoff Cameron and if he gets the start against Guatemala on Tuesday we will know that the German has patience for Cameron’s development with an eye towards Brazil 2014.  If the former Houston Dynamo man is the heir apparent at central defense, his partner shouldn’t be Goodson.  Cameron likes to step up to the attacker and once he wins the ball Cameron carries possession into midfield.  A defender like Cameron requires a stay at home central defense partner that can handle counter attacks and deal with the physicality of opposition.  Goodson does not fill that bill, while Bocanegra has the experience and strength to contend with CONCACAF forwards.

The goal against the U.S. showed exactly why Cameron and Goodson can’t partner each other.  Cameron ran out to pressure the ball and made a poorly timed challenge on Peter Byers.  Byers easily evaded the rash tackle of an immature Cameron and played a ball into Dexter Blackstock.  By the time the ball got to him, Blackstone had already put Goodson on his back and faced no challenge on his tap-in from 6 yards.  Neither player can excel while playing with the other. Continue reading

Projecting the USMNT Lineup Against Antigua & Barbuda

4 of the 24 players Jurgen Klinsmann called into the national team camp have been scratched for the game against Antigua and Barbuda.  Landon Donovan and Brek Shea both joined the squad with injuries, which begs the question why they were included in the first place.  Left back Edgar Castillo picked up a knock on his foot during training that has ruled him out for the last two qualifying matches of the group stage.  Fabian Johnson, the first choice left back, has come down with a bad case of the flu and Klinsmann removed him from contention for Friday’s game in Antigua to allow him to recover better for the tougher match at home against Guatemala on Tuesday.  Where do these absences leave the team’s lineup for the match in Antigua?

The loss of both natural left backs leaves a considerable gap in the team’s defense.  Steve Cherundolo will start in right side of the back four, while Geoff Cameron will partner with either Carlos Bocanegra or Clarence Goodson.  Bocanegra could play as a left back, like he did in the second half of the first game against Antigua, but I’d rather see Michael Parkhurst get the nod there.  For the United States’ first World Cup Qualifier against Antigua and Barbuda in June, both Castillo and Johnson were unfit.  In their place, midfielder Jose Francisco Torres played in defense.  This time around, Torres is recovering from a foot injury and wasn’t called into the squad.

Though he is naturally a right back, Parkhurst has filled in across the back line in his career.  This season in Denmark, the American has played 9 times as a right back and once as a center back.  Last Danish Superliga season Parkhurst played right back 17 times with two assists and a goal, center back 10 times with one assist, and left back 3 times with one assist.  That year, Parkhurst was most offensively productive as a left sided defender and has shown the ability to get up the outside throughout his career in MLS and the Danish Superliga.

Klinsmann cited Eddie Johnson and Alan Gordon‘s ability to win balls out of the air as the reason for their inclusion in the national team squad.  This points to the manager wanting wide players to serve balls into two forwards in the penalty box.  Johnson is on red-hot form for Seattle Sounders this season after finally turning his career around.  He will have to beat out Herculez Gomez for a starting spot as the advanced forward for the Nats.  Clint Dempsey is settling into the central attacking midfield role with Tottenham Hotspur, but he should start up top for the national team as a slightly withdrawn forward.  Alan Gordon could make a late appearance if the team needs a late goal, as the San Jose forward has a penchant for stoppage time goals.

The midfield has a few more options available for the match against Antigua.  Although the team doesn’t have any natural wide players with injuries to both Shea and Donovan, Klinsmann will look for midfielders playing balls into the box from wide areas.  Graham Zusi started at right midfield against Jamaica in Columbus, a game the U.S. won, and played an attacking midfield role against Mexico during that historic win at Estadio Azteca. It seems fairly certain Zusi will start on the right side of midfield in Antigua.

The left side of midfield is a bit trickier.  Torres, Shea, and Donovan have all played on the left for the national team recently and are all unavailable for the upcoming games.  Dempsey could play on the left side but that removes his deft touches and lethal shots from the penalty area.  Another option on that side is fringe player Sacha Kljestan.  Kljestan is capable on the outside as he has split his career with Chivas USA and Anderlecht between central midfield and the left side.

Defensive midfield is a crowded position in this U.S. squad.  Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu, Kyle Beckerman, and Danny Williams are all naturally defensive midfield players.  Edu was listed on the official roster as a defender and could be seen as more of a back-up central defender in Klinsmann’s eyes.  Kyle Beckerman is an MLS All-Star and has flashes for the national team, but he seems out of his playing depth at the international level.  Jermaine Jones could start against Antigua but his weak performances in recent games point to Danny Williams getting the nod.

If Klinsmann plays two forwards up top, the other central midfielder will need to be less of a ball carrier and more of a passing playmaker.  While Dempsey, Kljestan, Zusi, or Corona could play behind two forwards, Michael Bradley will probably start in central midfield.  Bradley missed the qualifiers against Jamaica with a quad strain in his right leg, but capped his return to fitness with a goal for club side AS Roma recently.  Bradley has played on both the right and left side of midfield on a number of occasions in the past calendar year, but he can serve the team better operating in the center of midfield.


This first formation is what I think Klinsmann should pick because it accentuates the strengths of several players.  Generally the lineup looks like a traditional 4-4-2, but the dynamism of the players on the field will allow Klinsi to shake things up and adjust his tactics during the course of the game.  Kljestan and Zusi man the flanks and will need to play in lots of balls to Dempsey and Gomez, who have both shown a scoring ability with their heads.  Bradley will sit on the edge of the area to take shots from range or recycle possession around.  Williams will marshal the midfield and provide cover when fullbacks push forward.

 

This second formation is another option that has a lot of similarities to the first.  A 4-2-3-1 gives Jermaine Jones another chance to prove himself for the U.S. and gets Bradley more involved in and around the penalty area.  Clint Dempsey will drift inside and look to have the ball on his foot so both Danny Williams and the left back (in this instance Bocanegra) will have to be aware of the space behind Demps.  Cherundolo will be important getting forward on the right side and Bocanegra may have to play inside to allow Parkhurst to get up the left.  Williams and Bradley will be crucial to any success the U.S. finds in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3.

Whatever the formation and lineup Jurgen Klinsmann chooses on Friday, or the weather in the Caribbean, or the condition of the pitch in Antigua, there is no way to escape the fact that the United States needs to win this match.  Antigua and Barbuda are truly minnows in comparison with the perennial World Cup Qualifiers.  With national pride on the line and needing 3 points to continue their chance of advancing to the Hexagonal Round of Qualification (but still mathematically possible), Antigua may be forced to play a more open style of game.  No matter which players walk out on the field on Friday night, the U.S. needs to attack Antigua early and set a quick tempo to the game.  Anything less than a win for the Yanks is a failure.

Surveying the Soccer Scene: The National Impact of US Club Soccer’s Pre-Academy Leagues

An important contributing factor to Mexico’s recent domination at seemingly every age level has been the implementation of a comprehensive youth development system.  The centerpieces of that system are the national u-15 and u-18 leagues.  Several organizations in the United States have taken steps in past few years to create a similarly comprehensive and productive development path in this country.

There are 80 professional affiliates and independent youth clubs that participate in the United States Soccer Federation Development Academy League.  The DA has operated a u-15/16 age division and a u-17/18 age division since its founding in 2009.  There is currently nothing available on a national scale 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.  These leagues may provide the basis for the recently announced u-13/14 Development Academy age division starting in the fall of 2013.  One of these programs, conveniently enough, is called the Pre-Academy Leagues.

Operating under the auspices of U.S. Club Soccer’s National Premier Leagues directive, the Pre-Academy Leagues offer the same high level of competition and intelligent training schedule that incited the initial drive for the Development Academy, only for the u-11 though u-15 age groups.  Across several geographic divisions, youth clubs (a large percentage of which are currently participating in the USDA) now have the chance to develop players in a competitive atmosphere at a younger age.  This allows clubs with several age brackets the opportunity to groom their players from as early as 10 or 11 and keep these players on a well-thought out training regimen to best develop young talent.

There were three conferences in the Pre-Academy League for the 2011-12 season: Northeast, Southeast, and Texas.


The Northeast Pre-Academy League is split into two divisions, a majority of which currently participate in the USDA.
Liberty Division:
Albertson SC (NY)
Cosmos Academy East (NY)
FC Greater Boston (MA)
FC Westchester (NY)
Met Oval (NY)
Oakwood SC (CT)
PDA (NJ)
Seacoast United (NH)
South Central Premier (NY)

Mid-Atlantic Division:
Baltimore Bays Chelsea (MD)
D.C. United (DC)
FC DELCO (PA)
Match Fit (NJ)
McLean Youth Soccer (VA)
New York Red Bulls (NY)
NJSA 04 (NJ)
PA Classics (PA)
Potomac SA (MD)


The Southeast Pre-Academy League, is made up of 13 clubs which all field older teams in U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy:
CASL (NC)
Charlotte SA (NC)
Clearwater Chargers (FL)
Concorde Fire (GA)
Georgia United Soccer Alliance (GA)
IMG Soccer Academy (FL)
North Meck SC (NC)
Kendall SC (FL)
Richmond Kickers (VA)
Richmond Strikers (VA)
South Carolina United Battery (SC)
Virginia Rush (VA)
Weston FC (FL)


The nine clubs in the Texas Pre-Academy League, which all field teams in the Development Academy, include two MLS clubs and the world renowned Dallas Texans youth club:
Andromeda
Classics Elite
Dallas Texans
FC Dallas
Houston Dynamo
Lonestar SC
Solar
Texans SC
Texas Rush

USCS Beyond the Pre-Academy Leagues
These three Pre-Academy Leagues are the jewels in the crown of US Club Soccer’s National Premier Leagues (NPL).  According to their website, “The NPL has been created to provide a unified, league-based national developmental platform with the highest level of competition in given geographic areas, and to elevate and change the competitive youth soccer landscape based upon fundamental principles outlined in US Club Soccer’s 10-year vision.”  NPL currently oversees 17 regional leagues focused on the development of young soccer players.

Starting in the fall of 2012, US Club Soccer will add the South Atlantic Premier League and the Mountain Developmental League to its list of regional youth structures.  The South Atlantic Premier League will have six clubs running a u-13 and a u-14 division.
Atlanta Fire United (Ga.)
Augusta Arsenal (Ga.)
Charlotte United (N.C.)
FC Alliance (Tenn.)
Roanoke Stars (Va.)
Triangle United (N.C.)

The following quotes are taken from USCS’s press release.  “FC Alliance is very excited to join the South Atlantic Premier League,” said FC Alliance Director of Coaching Josh Gray. “The league and the quality clubs that have entered it will enhance our club model for player development and provide our teams with great competition.”

“Triangle United is excited about the opportunity to participate in the South Atlantic Premier League,” said Triangle United Director of Soccer John Cirillo. “Each of the clubs involved in the league are well-recognized clubs with great leadership and great teams. Having these teams to compete against is only going to make our club stronger. We are looking forward to many great years of competition as the league develops.”

The Mountain Developmental League will consist of 12 clubs playing in age divisions ranging from u-13 to u-17.  Two of the clubs, Real Colorado and Colorado Rush, currently participate in the USDA at the u-16 and u-18 levels.
Arsenal Colorado (Colo.)
Blackhawks (Ariz.)
Colorado Rush (Colo.)
Colorado Storm (Colo.)
FC Boulder (Colo.)
Gilbert SC (Ariz.)
New Mexico Rush (N.M.)
Pride Soccer Club (Colo.)
Real Colorado (Colo.)
Rio SC (N.M.)
SC Del Sol (Ariz.)
Sereno SC (Ariz.)

The following two quotes were published by USCS here.  “Colorado Rush is extremely excited to be part of the Mountain Developmental League,” said Colorado Rush SC Director of Coaching Wes Hart. “The landscape of youth soccer has changed drastically over the past few years and we believe that the NPL is another positive step in helping our sport grow.”

“Rio Soccer Club is excited about the opportunity to participate in the Mountain Developmental League,” said Chris Cartlidge, Director of Coaching at Rio SC (formerly Rio Vista FC). “The participating clubs have a track record of developing quality teams and players. NPL affiliation will enhance the diversity and the quality of our competitive games and we are looking forward to this outstanding developmental opportunity for our membership.”

Why is it important nationally?
The expansion of US Club Soccer’s National Premier Leagues, especially the Pre-Academy Leagues, is crucial nationally because of the recent announcement that the Development Academy will hold a u-13/14 age division in the 2013-14 season.  Because NPL regional leagues contain both current DA clubs and other independent youth clubs they will be an important resource for the newly announced national league.  In accordance with the information hitherto released by the DA, the youngest age division will consist of some clubs already playing in the older divisions and some new clubs that aren’t not currently members of the Development Academy.

US Club Soccer has already laid down the framework to allow the Development Academy to grow.  In many respects, USCS has done the dirty work on the ground level by establishing regional leagues for the most competitive youth clubs around the country.  Participation in the youngest division may increase the likelihood that new clubs will strive to join the DA at the u-16 and u-18 levels, by adhering to a stringent set of regulations and operation guidelines.  Because the Pre-Academy League allow clubs that participate in the Development Academy League the chance to play their younger players in a similarly formatted competition, with regard to the training to game time ratio, the transition to the new age division in the DA will be much smoother.

For more information..
The following overview and more information can be found on the National Premier Leagues website.

ABOUT THE NATIONAL PREMIER LEAGUES:

US Club Soccer’s National Premier Leagues have been created to provide a national competitive developmental platform:

• focused on long-term player development;

• for the country’s top soccer clubs, allowing consistent, meaningful high-level games appropriately scheduled with higher training-to-game ratios;

• that allows players to be scouted and evaluated by U.S. Soccer National Staff and Technical Advisors;

• that is designed and structured by the clubs, based on the needs of the clubs;

• using international rules of competition;

• that provides an avenue for qualification for the NPL Champions Cup.

The NPL is an important component of US Club Soccer’s 10-year vision to refine the landscape for competitive youth soccer. This vision recognizes that:

• properly-structured youth soccer clubs are the vehicle through which player development does and must occur in the United States.

• clubs should play in leagues that provide meaningful games, allow establishment of the proper training-to-game ratio, and eliminate calendar congestion.

• National Premier Leagues, as well as the best clubs, should be integrated in US Club Soccer’s id2 National Identification and Development Program, include Player Development Programs (PDPs) in select local markets, and work closely with U.S. Soccer staff regarding player identification, and player and coach development.

Responding to Tim Holt’s Appearance on Soccer is a Kick in the Grass, September 24

I don’t want this to be an indictment against the show as a whole, which you may or may not enjoy.  However, a host can still be respectful while asking insightful and probing questions that make the guest think.  This doesn’t happen during the course of the interview below.

Tim Holt, the President of the United Soccer Leagues since 2009, was a guest on Soccer is a Kick in the Grass last week for about 11 minutes.  I took the liberty to cut that section out for y’all to listen to.

Tim Holt is generally good at what he does, I have no reason to dislike the guy.  He’s a former soccer player and has been involved with the organization since 1999.  Holt offers a different demeanor and public face for the league than did his predecessor.  However, he would be serving his organization better to provide a realistic assessment of the league’s position in American soccer rather than living in a parallel universe in which USL-Pro has been wildly successful over the last two years.

Soccer is a Kick in the Grass’s host stressed the performance of three USL-Pro clubs in the 2012 U.S. Open Cup, singling out the Charlotte Eagles defeating NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions.  Somehow the host made the claim that USL-Pro “came out on top” against their rival league.  One game against an expansion team playing in the competition for the first time is tantamount to a smothering by USL-Pro.

The Phoenix expansion plans are not a horrible idea at face value, but officials need to take many steps very quickly to get a stadium, some players and a marketing campaign underway for the 2013 season.  Head coach David Robertson did well to sign fellow Scotsman Darren Mackie on September 27, though.  Phoenix FC plans to announce their home venue for 2013 in October with a number of signed players on hand. Continue reading