Keeping up with the Thurmans . . .

Since Neal has been posting like a soccer mad crack addict, and getting published by across the pond internet soccer sites as well (congrats by the way), I figure its about time for one of my typical posts of dubious informative value and meaningless drivel . . .

So, as this is my first soccer "offseason" I have a few thoughts:

Is there really an offseason in soccer - this seems all quite mad - my fantasy line-ups are screwed with enough by the resting of players for midweek matches and such, a longer break would clearly help players fantasy value.

Does anyone, Neal not included, really care about all of these cups, matches, games, etc. that have been going on this summer?

Does Neal have an Arsenal "Red Currant" shirt yet? Has the french influence totally overcome the Gunners, the new kit (er, marketing ploy) seems inspired by a type of french wine.

I know for a fact that Neal has a good job that keeps him busy, and also seems to have a somwhat normal social life, so how on earth does he know who the 3rd string goalie is on the 1st place team in the Mandarin Chinese 3rd Division? Does he have 5 satellite feeds each with TiVo?

Will someone please set Andy Johnson free!!!

Is Lauren Robert a complete bad seed, a team chemistry killer, a cancer, a pain in the arse, or is he just french?

How much will Mourinho wine and moan this season when things don't go his way (assuming that they don't all go his way that is)?

Will SWP be the world's most expensive substitute, or does Jose think that Robben is a soft little wussy that won't play injured and runs like a girl?

That's all for now. Congrats again to Neal "Footie" Thurman.

They Shot Sonny On The Causeway...

Santino Quaranta? Really? Heading to training camp with the USMNT? The senior team? How'd THAT happen? As a United fan, I was happy to see him score in their last game but, THAT WAS HIS FIRST GOAL IN YEARS. How does that merit a call-up? Are we THAT thin at striker? Now I know how the Brits were feeling when they saw the line-up for the US Tour earlier in the summer. At least Peter Crouch was starting regularly for his team and scoring in bunches in the top flight. Not sure if this is "one step forward, two steps back" territory but thrown on top of the crap performance at the U20 tournament, this hasn't been the most encouraging summer for US Soccer.

Random Sunday Musings...

Sadly, we're coming to the end of the two big summer tournaments that have ensured that I get my fix of world class footie while the European leagues are doing little more than generating random transfer gossip. A few thoughts from on both the former and the latter:

1) Watching the Nigerians beat Holland in the Quarterfinals of the U20 tournament brought back fond memories of the Atlanta Olympics. Jay-Jay Okocha and Kanu took Athens, GA by storm. I was going in preparing to choose between the Brazilians and the Argentines as the team I was going to pull for to win gold. Somewhere along the way, that plan was scrapped due to both the entertaining play of the Nigerian team and boundless enthusiasm of the Nigerian fans.

2) It's hard to project central midfielders in youth tournaments - at least it is from your couch - but Jon Mikel Obi - the subject of much contraversy and debate between ManYoo and Chelsea - seems like a he has some potential. The question is whether he's the next Patrick Vieira - exceptional Premiership player - or the next Papa Bouba Diop - ok Premiership player with bursts of excellence. Could easily go either way.

3) Despite a some portion of my ancestors coming from there, I've never been able to generate much enthusiasm for the Germans. Plus, well, they're Germans - not exactly a nation known for being lovable in football or anything else. Despite all of that, I found myself enjoying their style of play against Brazil - much less, um, German than usual. All credit to Klinsman for insisting they play positive football despite having an inexperienced partnership in central defense and having a lot to lose in the eyes of the German public. In a month, no one outside of Germany is going to remember who won the Confederations Cup, but blooding young defenders against Brazil in knock-out play and Argentina in the group stage will pay dividends next summer. Although Huth getting first team football would help more.

4) I think I might enjoy watching Robinho in Claret next season - here's hoping Real don't come back with a better deal (but I'm not holding my breath).

5) Will Craig Bellamy please make up his freakin' mind. He's no Vieira and he's no Gerrard so why are we being subjected to this many headlines. Silly though it may have been the Lampard-to-Real rumor was more interesting to read than the 18th version of Bellamy-to-[Fill-in-the-blank mid-table Premiership team].

6) Speaking of the Lampard rumor - who are Real kidding? Unless there is some sort of behind-the-scenes issues between Jose and Frank that has managed to fall through the cracks (yeah, right), why do real think this deal has even a small chance of happening? Chelsea certainly doesn't need the money, they don't need an expensive striker who is OK-at-best in the air with Robben and Duff roaming the wings. I can't imagine Lampard has looked at the experiences of Beckham, Owen and Woodgate and said - Wow, I gotta leave a great city where I'm a god and spend some time in Madrid. Just silly.

7) Is SWP a viable candidate for the right side of midfield for England in 2006 if he's splitting time with Duff and Robben this coming season? And of those three who would the preferred pairing be on the 3 days when none visiting the team doctor?

8) For the 10 people that watched it - what a fantastic series of saves by Onstad vs. LA - if you saw it, you know what I'm talking about. If you didn't, its worth catching MLS Wrap on Fox Soccer Channel just for that 15 second highlight. Too bad he's old and Canadian - otherwise, he'd be another one for the USMNT ranks.

9) After watching the halftime feature on Landon Donovan, I felt like they were interviewing someone who's playing on a really good pub team rather than someone we're counting on to help us break new ground in 2006. Throw in a TERRIBLE performance vs. his old San Jose team and you get the feeling he's just not up to the challenge. A great player vs. bad teams but not really someone who is going to step up and lead vs. Mexico in qualifying or vs. the best of South America or Europe next summer. Eddie Johnson, paging Eddie Johnson, please step up and lead us to the promised land.

10) And, yes, I watched WAY too much soccer this weekend - I'd like to thank Rupert Murdoch for bringing most of it to me and the nice people at TiVo for allowing me to watch it all at my leisure.


OK, maybe its because I'm an American and don't REALLY understand football but I'm confused at all the angst coming from White Hart Lane about the "tapping up" of Frank Arnesen. If the reports are true and Tottenham are to be compensated with Glen Johnson, Robert Huth, and a bundle of cash then not only should they wish Arnesen a happy journey across town, they should give him a bonus for having excelled in his duties. They brought Frank in to use his vaunted "notebook" to bring in young talent to the Tottenham squad before they mature into expensive players. So far, here's his record (again assuming the deal with Chelsea is correct as speculated):

1) removed Santini (addition by subtraction if ever that happened),
2) restored Carrick to the line-up - leading to an England call-up
3) brought in Mido on the cheap - you can never have enough guys who can put the ball in the net, even if they're a little crazy
4) brought in Ziegler, Dawson, Jackson, Reid, Routledge and Lennon who are all young and have been integral parts of their countries U20 national teams ensuring that there are a lot of players with potential to develop into stars in the next 3 or 4 years
5) brought in two senior national team players - Huth and Johnson - for free
6) netted the club between 3 and 5 million pounds which will represent a multiple return on his salary for the last year.

That's about as good a job as one could expect and, really, how much roster space does Tottenham have left for Arnesen to continue this type of work in the coming year. Might as well have someone else paying his salary.


In recent years, guys like Lee Bowyer and Alan Smith have made it exceedingly easy to really dislike Leeds United - add in the fact that they were the last team to beat Arsenal before the Gunner's historic unbeaten run and all the financial stupidity of their management, general fan arrogance, and the one-time presence of the corpulant Mark Viduka and its hard to contemplate a soft spot in my heart for this bunch. Now, though, they're a mediocre Championship side and they've signed USMNT Left Midfielder Eddie Lewis who was out of contract at PNE. I can't decide if this means I root for Lewis less (sort of like I root for Spector less because he's a ManYoo guy) or if I root for Leeds to get promoted and, thus, give Eddie a chance to show off his wares in the Prem. Jury's still out, but hopefully, he's trading up.

The Horror...

Some observations from the US/Italy fiasco, surprisingly, some (ok, one) of them are positives for US Soccer:

1) Pelle, Pelle, Pelle - if you ever wanted to know what Ibrahimovich was like as a U20, now you know. How do we get us one of those? His foot skills had the US defense enthralled as they watched for the next move. Let the bidding begin...with any luck, he'll follow Zlatan to Ajax (but hopefully, not to Juve after that).

2) About That Contract - after a nice opening game against Argentina, the announcer was talking about Chad Barrett very kindly and even mentioned the possibility of overseas interest - after his frightening inability to close out 3 or 4 very makable opportunities, one wonders if he'll get any more PT in Chicago this season. Could have been 3-0 by halftime. Needless to say, Nate Jaqua isn't worried about his spot in the line-up.

3) Freddie and Eddie - Freddie had some clever tricks and Gaven put some nice shots on goal which always seemed to end up heading right for the keeper's gut (no matter where he put them). In general, though, both failed to live up to the hype. They both need to show more a more consistent ability to stamp their will on the game. Lets hope that's just part of the maturation process.

4) Shooting - we still can't shoot from distance. The Italians had 6 or 7 speculative shots on or near target from well outside of the 18. One of the less worst of the bunch ended up deflecting off of the unlucky Jon Spector for Italy's first goal. Any chance we'll start teaching this skill soon?

5) Disappointment - OK, we were all pissed that we got hosed against the Germans in 2002 but lets be honest, we were sort of happy to be in the Final 8 vs. the Germans. This is the first time I really remember expecting to win against a traditional world power (I had already started figuring out how to rework my schedule for the Quarterfinal match on Friday). I'm not really a fan of moral victories, but like marking up the kitchen doorway as a kid, its a nice way to mark our growth as a soccer power on the world stage.

6) FAD Marvelle Wynne - He was beaten once or twice later in the game after we started sending everyone forward but if you didn't know ahead of time you would have guessed he and not Spector was the Man United defender on the US backline. Can MLS get to him before Arsene claims him for Arsenal? I'm torn as to what I want the answer to be. Either way, a year or two at Ajax or PSV would be an excellent next stage of his development.

Our First No-Brainer...

As Jeremy pointed out this afternoon, Chelsea have signed the first guy that everyone will have in their line-up come the first day of the fantasy season (injuries not withstanding of course). Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Asier del Horno, left back from Athletic Bilbao - and we thought Liverpool was going to sign the first Spaniard of the close season. In a related note, Ashley Cole was reportedly overherd wondering what that sound was - the answer, of course, his leverage crashing unceremoniously to the ground.

Check out the big brain on Brad...

Could it be that we are starting from the back and creating an embarrassment of riches not only in net but also in defense? The signs are certainly looking good at the u20 level. Not only has Marvelle Wynne been the break-out star of the tournament for the team but when he was rested for the Egypt match, Brad Evans was nearly as impressive. He doesn't have quite the same pace but he was stout in defense, put in some excellent crosses and was dangerous in the air on a few free kicks/corners in the Egyptian box. Hard to get a great read since Egypt didn't score a goal in the tournament but if I were an MLS GM, Mr. Evans would be high on my list whenever he becomes available in the draft.

Other Random Notes for the U20 Tourney and Confederations Cup:

1) Wow, Riquelme is a lot of fun to watch for Argentina - I'm not much of a fan of the Argentines but he's must-see-tv. (OK, I'm probably WAY late to the party on this one but I don't remember the last time I saw Argentina play)

2) Gotta love seeing a black striker playing for Germany

3) Brazil continues to look pretty average in the U20s, must be that their serious talent is already with the senior team next door in Germany.

4) Is Spain preparing for a Portugal-like "Golden Generation" of underachievers? They certainly look powerful at the U20 level but somehow, I don't think the powers of Europe are quaking at the prospect.

5) Marvelle Wynne, Marvelle Wynne, Marvelle Wynne (time for me to start a new campaign - kneel Marvelle Wynne and arise FAD Marvelle Wynne - teaming him with Senderos, Clichey and just about anyone for 8 to 10 years starting in a year or two would be a nice prospect so long as that fourth guy isn't named Neville)

6) Bring on the Italians (OK, the Italians have already been brought on, but I haven't watched it on TiVo yet)

National Identity

There has been much discussion by columnists and commentators in the last month or so about the emerging character of US soccer as demonstrated by our national teams. This has, of course, been brought about by the recent WC qualifiers and the Youth World Cup tournament which have given us a chance to see and speculate on both the near and long term future of American soccer and how we stack up versus the best in the world. Here are a few random observations from what I've seen:

1) Physical superiority - of the teams that I've seen, we seem to possess the best combination of speed, height, endurance and agility. Outside of endurance, we probably aren't the best in the world at any of the above but we seem to have more 6'+ athletes with good agility and nice speed where England, Germany or Italy will generally either have a short guy with agility and speed or a slower tall guy. Apparently, its good to have a huge population and the best athletic training infrastructure in the World.

2) Few "playmakers" - outside of Freddie Adu at the U20 level, there aren't really any American field players who create that moment of brilliance on the offensive end that will turn a game. We're really dependent on teamwork for that sort of thing most of the time. Beasley, Johnson and Donovan are a potent trio but you really don't get that same feeling of "something good is going to happen" that you do when Wayne Rooney is on the ball for England, Ronaldihno is on the ball for Brazil or Arjen Robben is on it for Holland (I'd love to throw in an Henry reference here but no one really gets worried when he has the ball in a France uniform). Granted, there are a lot of countries that lack this ingredient - like Germany, France, Mexico, and Columbia in the world top 10 - but if we're going to seriously challenge for a World Cup we need to have that. Fortunately, Friedel, Keller and Howard all fit the bill in net and there are probably more on the way.

3) Total Offense - We aren't quite to the level of the Clockwork Orange of yesteryear but our offensive formations seem to be morphing (both at the u20 and senior levels) into a very fluid thing. Watching Donovan and Beasley interchange around McBride rather than conform to traditional wing roles seems to cause problems in the same way Chelsea interchanges Duff and Robben when they're healthy. Markers tend to get caught up either following their man and getting out of position or missing a zone assignment as the opposite wing comes across into their territory. Its also good for a change of pace after a defender has gotten used to the person they've been marking for a while. This seems to be mirrorred at the u20 level with Freddie Adu working all over the field and pushing Chad Barrett into different positions as he does so.

4) All Out Attack - Given a general speed advantage, its nice to see that in most situations we are developing the confidence to attack on a consistent basis. This needs to continue as the competition gets more difficult.

5) Lack of Technical Skill - Its getting better but there are still way too many bad crosses and flubbed shots from distance. I was shocked to see Feilhaber's shot from 25 yards - a staple from central midfielders like Scholes and Lampard in the Prem and seemingly the birthright of every German. We need more people on the team who can threaten from distance. Forcing defenses to come out further to defend us closely will open things up for us to exploit our speed. Ditto with the crosses, better crossing of the ball which will force defenders further out on the sides.

Free At Last...

Fantasy owners rejoice - Lauren Robert is gone from St. James' Park and the shameful starting XI policies of Souey. Given the current constitution of the Pompey roster, it would be hard to imagine him not starting every single game he's healthy for. Now, about getting him a striker so that he can cash in on some assists as he is bombing crosses in from the left flank.

Free RvP!! (unless he did it of course)

More from the YWC

Brazil vs. Nigeria - shouldn't there have been SOMEONE in this game that was impressive, sadly, not the case. I'll withhold my opinion on the theory that both of these teams might be good enough to cancel out exceptional talent but this was miserable watching.

Upon a second viewing, the US team played another excellent team, this time one who was playing 20 km from home soil. They looked excellent in the first half, not so much in the second half. Here are a few player-specific comments:

1) Bandwagon Watch - Marvelle Wynne wasn't AS impressive in this match but he was still one of the better players on the pitch - he seemed to wear down somewhat towards the end of the game creating some openings for the Germans on the right side of the defense when he didn't get back from a run. His few crosses were better than in the Argentina game. Still amazing to watch him

2) The Missing Link - usually, this is a compliment to a player who has filled in a gap, in this case, it refers to Eddie Gaven who is supposed to be linking midfield and attack and, um, hasn't for two games against good competition. He seems to SEE the right pass but consistently fail to deliver it - in one 2nd half sequence he kicked the ball into the same defenders shins twice trying to thread the needle - didn't look promising.

3) Freddie - not his greatest game ever, he didn't play badly but he didn't really have any moments of brilliance either.

4) Wheelhouse - I'm not ready to put together a bandwagon yet, but I have enjoyed watching Benny Feilhaber play in the center of the US midfield. He is stalwart in defense and generally in position to act as a first line of defense. He also makes some good opportunistic runs into the offensive half. He doesn't have as obvious a position as either Makelele (defensive central midfield) or Lampard (offensive central midfield) - he's more like a (very) poor man's Steven Gerrard. Worth keeping an eye on - I'm betting he makes some appearances with the full MNT and makes some noise in a few more years.

Hopefully, there wasn't anything above that might spoil the game for anyone heading home to watch on TiVo :-)

More Bandwagon Jumping...

As MLS drags into the middle of the season, we pause for qualifiers and the fun of the Under 20 World Cup in Holland giving us a preview of the superstars of the future. Having had the chance to see two games so far (Holland v. Japan and US v. Argentina), the future is definitely bright. The revelation for the Dutch side is Arsenal reserve winger Quincy Owusu-Abeyie - if you remember the first time you saw Christiano Ronaldo, this was about the same experience. He was just faster than everyone else, had a bag of tricks, and was clearly the most dangerous person on the field by a large margin setting up both Holland goals. For Argentina, the surprise is that they really didn't seem to have many difference makers until Lionel Messi (Barcalona) sepped onto the field and looked positively Maradona-like on the ball making sick move after sick move. Finally, the man who inspired the title of this posting - the revelation on the right side of the American defense that seemed to pop up everywhere he was needed. I wasn't sure if Marvelle Wynne was playing right midfield or right defense - he was always in the attack when the US was moving up and he was always stalwart in defense when Argentina had the ball. His cross led to the US goal and he was a constant thorn in the side of the Argentines. Someone needs to find him a crossing coach and Marvelle needs to spend the next year doing nothing but working on that part of his game. If he gets that down, he'll be a fixture on the senior MNT for years to come. Lets hope it happens. On to the Germans.

The Curse Begins...

Earlier in the close season, we briefly mentioned the Curse of the Boro Strikers that has destroyed the careers of a number of seemingly up-and-coming strikers who have joined the club over the last 3 or 4 years. Ordinarily, it takes at least until the beginning of the season for the curse to strike but this just in...Yakubu has come down with a second bout of malaria. You can't make stuff like this up. 6 million out the door for his services and within a month, yellow fever (insert your own joke linking yellow and his effort from about November through March here).

BTW, if the good folks at Stamford Bridge are reading, PLEASE feel free to contact me and my boss in any order you see fit to offer a place as the official blogger of the team - negotiations start at $50k/week.

An addendum to the summation...

Of course, I had to be out of the country for it to happen, but our long national nightmare is over...the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays have reclaimed their rightful place atop the College Lacrosse world with a 9-8 victory over Duke (and its ALWAYS good when Duke loses) in the NCAA Finals in Philadelphia on Monday. Just to give some perspective, no senior class had ever come through Hopkins WITHOUT winning at least one national championship until the class that entered in 1988 (otherwise known as my class). Not only did that class not win, but there has been no championship at Homewood since - sort of a big deal when you only have one sport of note on campus (and the sport's Hall of Fame is in your gym).

Let there be rejoicing in Charles Village...

Now back to our regularly scheduled program...

Live from Europe...

Notes from a week in the land of Footie...

1) Wow, what a night watching the CL Final in a bar (Bob's) in County Limerick in Ireland - the irony of three Yanks being the only ones watching in the back room by halftime and the room full of people who gathered (OK, in this case a "room full" meant about 15) after the first 10 minutes of the 2nd half.

2) I have to imagine that this was the English equivalent of the Miracle on Ice for this generation of English kids (or at least Liverpool fans) - just stunning...

3) In response to Jeremy's comments on Rafa being MVP of the CL Final - I was thinking he was the goat for not starting Didi - what exactly was he thinking playing exactly zero holding midfielders against Kaka? Gerrard and Alonso are both great players but they really play the same position and it will be interesting to see what happens next year. Sort of the same dilema Sven faces with Gerrard and Lamps in central midfield for England...

4) ...Which brings us to US/England - the coverage in England was, um, not nearly as impressive as I'd hoped. They clearly had no idea that we were missing a number of our first choice players just like the England squad was. They apparently haven't warmed to the idea that we got some game over here. Would love to see what they'd do with EJ and DMB bringing the speed.

5) Stamford Bridge...beautiful and very welcoming - tour including a trip into the home and visitor's dressing rooms, press room and onto the pitch. All this and an extremely amusing guide who was talking massive trash about other clubs (esp. ManYoo and Arsenal as you might imagine) all the while can be yours for 5 pounds. Also, a much improved new logo and a rumor that they're after Adriano - imagine Robben and Duff crossing the ball into him, yikes.

6) Highbury...not so beautiful and tours only available on Fridays (I wasn't around on Friday) but I'm seriously considering buying a condo either outside the new stadium or on the site of the existing Highbury (the pitch will be a treelined courtyard) - if anyone is interested and season ticket package comes with the former...

7) Lillywhite's...10 pound LS England Away replica - can't beat that with a stick.