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Sunday, September 30, 2012

American Breakthrough: Dempsey scores for Spurs

Photo credit: Action Images

Some dreams are worth dreaming. Some scores are bigger when the game ends. Some players are just special. That was US international Clint Dempsey today for his new team, Tottenham Hotspur. Dempsey scored the game-winner against Manchester United at the famed Old Trafford and re-wrote the role of Americans in premier club soccer.

Clint Dempsey's goal was special for several reasons. Besides the obvious significance of the rival, the very fact that the game was at Old Trafford and one that the Spurs had not won since 1989 elevates Dempsey's goal. Additionally, it brings Tottenham up to 5th place after a 3-game winning streak. It is a credit to Villas-Boas for acquiring the US international and starting him in important matches.

Dempsey has a knack for scoring important, if we may say, scavenger goals. He seems to always be at the right place at the right time and has the presence of mind to adjust the speed and strength of his shots in order to break the goal line. This is what has made him such a threat during his career. Dempsey took his time and remained focused during a transfer season that he saw as his last chance to play for a major team in Europe. An 11th hour move to Tottenham was what he deserved, and after starting 3 matches, he found the back of the net in style.

This is an American breakthrough because of who Clint Dempsey plays for, for his abilities on the pitch, and the path behind him. He elevates other Americans abroad playing for important teams like Michael Bradley (Roma) and Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar) and sets up higher expectations for future United States talent. Dempsey has given us his share of important goals, from recent games in World Cup qualifying, to his goals for New England and Fulham, to unforgettable strikes versus Egypt and Spain at the Confederations Cup 2009, versus England at World Cup 2010, and the winner versus Italy on Italian soil earlier this year. He has added to his repertoire today by scoring for his latest, and most impressive club in the best soccer league in the world. Dempsey is pure American magic and we haven't seen all he can do yet.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

MLS Attendance Statistics Week 28

As the MLS season begins to wind down, a few locations in the attendance arena show some real patterns compared to years past. Nowhere is this more a fact than in New York. The Red Bulls may have 3 designated players in Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez and Tim Cahill, but big bucks and a shiny, recently-built stadium haven't translated into the filled arenas seen in Seattle, Portland, Kansas City, Philadelphia and Houston.

New York's deficit compared to last year now stands at almost 3000 seats. This is after a considerable positive jump in the past two years following the completion of RBA and the signing of Henry and Marquez. So what is it? Quality on the pitch? Hardly, in my opinion. Accessibility of venue? Nope. Style of play? Maybe. New direction for team? Perhaps. We will see after this season is complete. Maybe New York needs the other New York team to start playing.

Another sore spot for MLS these days is Toronto FC. The once-gleaming venue for full stadiums and ardent fans, has now run into its 6th year of mediocrity. The team has yet to make it into the playoffs and the fans have begun to notice. What was once 100% attendance has since become 80%. The same fate could be in hand for the Timbers if they are unable to capitalize on a dedicated fan base.

The numbers:

Team Average Relative Median
DC 13833 71 14131
KC 19296 104 19422
NE 12690 63 12523
CLB 14140 69 13651
TOR 18480 80 18773
CHI 15956 80 16914
NYRB 16744 66 16464
PHI 18217 98 18412
HOU 20850 95 21423
MON 23100 114 19223
LA 22309 83 21731
CHV 13285 71 13594
DAL 13590 66 12203
SJ 13633 130 10525
COL 14975 83 14987
RSL 18897 94 19341
SEA 42327 110 38934
POR 20438 100 20438
VAN 19409 92 19394

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

3 points: USA defeats Jamaica

Photo credit: Reuters

It may seem that it would be written in the stars for the United States: playing at home in a qualifier on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. So much pride, spirit and desire. And the men in stripes did not disappoint. Team USA got their win and vengeance over Jamaica after a shock loss in Kingston last Friday, and they are now in better position to qualify for the next round of World Cup Qualifying.

It was, however, a tale of two halves. Not necessarily the temporal halves, but the before and after the goal was scored. Before the goal, the US held 79% of the possession, hit the post three times and was denied, miraculously by Dwayne Miller twice. Most of all, the US looked great throughout the first half with Zusi, Cherundolo and Danny Williams looking especially impressive. 

After the goal, the Americans looked disinterested and, at times vulnerable. Marking became sloppy and Dempsey could not get forward with clarity. It could have been so much more if they had kept the same tempo going. It may have been a perfect match altogether.

If the Americans had had Michael Bradley or Donovan on this night, the score could easily have been much more emphatic. Even so, however, nothing in the first 55 minutes made us feel that those two legionnaires were absolutely necessary to win; the score might have been 4-0 by the end of the night. 

The forwards did their job tonight. Dempsey held the ball, looked dangerous and demanded respect. This gave Herculez Gomez more room to roam, strike, open spaces and ultimately stand up to take the free kick that gave the US the victory. Altidore's insertion late in the game gave the front line more stability and a way to hold up the play.

The midfield clicked tonight. Even Jose Torres, long-heralded the playmaker by Juergen Klinsmann, looked clear and precise in his passes and his shots. Danny Williams excelled at defensive midfielder and outshone recent efforts by Edu, Jones and Beckermann. Graham Zusi has made a case for himself as a good option on the wing with great passing ability and a superb shot. We will see more of him in the future. Jones was probably the weakest link tonight but he held the Jamaicans back and took a few knocks in the process.

The defense was rather stout with Cherundolo and Bocanegra back in their respective positions. There is no arguing that, for the moment, there is no replacement for Bocanegra, only approximations, and we need Boca for matches like these. Cherundolo has also made a clear point that he is still the man to beat at right back unless Timmy Chandler joins the team or Eric Lichaj improves further.

The ball is now clearly in the US' half for qualifying. A trip to lowly, feisty, and eliminated Antigua and Barbuda and a home match versus Guatemala. Win both and the US advances. Jamaica and Guatemala will face each other next in Central America in a match that could decide their fate in this group. No team can take anything for granted anymore. This is where it ends and it begins.

Player ratings:

F. Johnson.........6

Subs: Edu (6.5), Shea (6), Altidore (5.5)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Historical Inconsistency: Jamaica defeats USA

Photo credit: Reuters

Jamaica shocked the United States in a historical first-win over the Americans in the continuation of World Cup qualifying. Just a month ago we were talking about the historic triumph of the US over Mexico at the Azteca Stadium. Consistency? Yes, consistency in inconsistency.

Most of us were deprived of this match due to the limited nature of TV coverage (beIN Sport is on DirecTV, Dish Network and Comcast on a limited basis). And maybe that is a good thing. While scrambling to find a suitable online signal during the first half, it was clear in the second half that this would be an uphill battle for the US. Most of the possession was Jamaican and Dempsey's goal came way too early.

The second half was hardly reminiscent of the wins versus Italy, Mexico or Scotland. Instead, it was more like the 0-0 tie in Canada, except that Jamaica could penetrate with resolve. Edu and Jones were routinely exposed and Johnson did not maintain a hold on the left flank. Where was the virtuous Geoff Cameron? Even Howard can be faulted for Jamaica's second goal. That's the kind of strike that Howard has for breakfast any given weekend in the Premier League.

As far as the forwards, both Altidore and Gomez looked highly ineffective. Indeed, the most lively player on the pitch was the person with least action in the last 3 months: Clint Dempsey. Now it is also true that Maurice Edu did not see much action in the past few months, and yet he was also thrown into the mix. And yes, Edu was superb versus Mexico at the Azteca, but this is a highly-meaningful match and his role as a defensive midfielder was crucial to keep Jamaica from scoring.

Was the absence of Michael Bradley really that important? After tonight it seems that is the case. His presence, driving spirit and steadiness was missing in the midfield. It's true that he wasn't in Mexico, but that wasn't a competitive match and the players were only fueled by pride and failure was only momentary. A world cup qualifier is an entirely different animal and it deserves respect, always.

Klinsmann made several bold moves today. From the benching of Carlos Bocanegra and choosing Parkhurst instead of Steve Cherundolo or Jonathan Spector, to the switch to a 4-4-2 formation. It did not pan out and suddenly the Messiah coach is on the brink of missing out on World Cup 2014. There was a comment today, "we don't deserve to be in the top 50 after the Jamaica match." I'm not sure I agree, but it's true that if the Americans are unable to win the next three games, they may be watching the rest of qualifying in 2013 from home.

In the past a game like today's was a wake-up call. For good teams that is always the case. Now it's time for the US Men's National Soccer Team to prove us all wrong and show us that it is indeed a good team.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Buy American: from Dempsey to Edu

Photo credit: @SpursOfficial
The most highly-regarded American international--Clint Dempsey--finally made a move out of mid-table Fulham FC of the Premier League to Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League during the closing minutes of transfer deadline in Europe. This after 5 stellar years with the London outfit and scoring 23 goals in all competitions during the 2011-2012 season. And even though his move was deserved, and that he flirted with teams like Liverpool and Arsenal, a more impressive effect has occurred: top European teams are buying American.

It's true that this has happened before with the likes of Jozy Altidore making a move to Villarreal and Onyewu to AC Milan, but the back-top-back transfers of Bradley and Dempsey should have American fans excited. Now comes word that Maurice Edu, a top competitor and long-time player for the ill-fated Glasgow Rangers, is joining forces with Geoff Cameron at Stoke City. A new American Premier League team is born. If you were to start both at center back then you'd have the tandem that came away with a shutout at Estadio Azteca in the US' first ever win over Mexico on Mexican soil. Great selling point, right?

Dempsey and Edu weren't alone today and in the recent weeks. Up-and-coming Terrence Boyd, a player with no professional experience prior to his recent games with the US U-23 and full national team, signed with legendary Austrian team Rapid Vienna and became a starting striker that already has 4 goals in all competitions. Add to this Alejandro Bedoya's move to Helsingborg, Mixx Diskerud's loan to Rosenborg, both whom have scored key goals already, as well as Onyewu to Malaga of the Spanish Primera, and we suddenly see that buying American is getting quite fruitful for teams in Europe.

It remains to be seen, of course, how some of these moves will pan out. Bradley, aside from a recent injury, slid right into a starting role for Roma and has made a difference so far. So has Cameron. If Dempsey can crack the starting 11 for Spurs and if he can score consistently, then American soccer will finally have taking that extra step to become a provider of top talent for the world's most beautiful sport. And World Cup 2014 is right around the corner.