Saturday, May 26, 2012

US Soccer: Behind the Crest - Klinsmann's Lineups

Soccer fans love diagramming our own starting lineups and formations as evidenced by any quick visit to Bigsoccer forums.  But when Klinsmann's actual lineup and formation plan on his coaching whiteboard is shown on video during the coach's meeting, that is enormous news.  Below is what the Behind the Crest vid showed.

In case its hard to make out for you, I typed it out below.  Though the names were listed one on top of another for each position, I listed them left to right.

1) The first formation, on the left, was possibly a 4-4-2, with a diamond midfield.  I guess it could also be a 4-3-3, with withdrawn central forward.

------------------Jozy/Herculez-------------Terrence/Juan/Chris W--------------
---------Jose/Michael -----------------------------------Landon/Graham---------

2) The second formation, on the right, was possibly also a 4-4-2, this time with what could be two defensive central midfielders.

-------------------Clint/Herculez/Juan A-----------Jozy/Terrence/Chris W-----------------

- The order in which the names were listed seem to indicate the depth chart, except that Landon was listed below Graham, who was cut, in the #2 formation.  Edgar is listed above Fabian in both lineups, but Klinsmann wouldn't start Castillo over Fabian, would he?
- We know Alfredo was cut, and he's listed last at RB in both formations.  Danny Williams, also cut possibly for injury reasons, was last in the #2 formation at RM, the only lineup he shows up in.  Juan Agudelo, also cut, was listed 2nd at RF in the 1st formation, but was listed 3rd at LF in the 2nd formation.
- Landon is the only RM left in the 23, while Jose F Torres is exclusively listed at LM.
- Bradley is listed at LM in #1, and a CDM in #2.
- Players who were listed first in both formations were: Clint, Jozy, Jose, Edgar, Carlos, Clarence, Steve and Tim.  Landon should be in this group by default, but if it was a mistake, what other mistakes are on here?

Friday, May 25, 2012

US Soccer - Pre-5 Game Series Thoughts

With a brutal schedule of 5 games in 18 days coming up, Klinsmann is running this camp as if it were a tournament.  Though only our last two games actually matter because they are World Cup qualifiers (hosting Antigua & Barbuda; then at Guatemala), it will be of great benefit to play Scotland, Canada and especially Brazil.  With Bob Bradley at the helm in past years, knowledgeable US fans always had an idea of what to expect from our teams in terms of formation, tactics/style and ultimately results.  With Klinsmann, we are all still learning.  Primarily, we still don't really know how he will deploy our midfielders.  Now that its been nearly a year since his hiring with WC qualifiers upon us, the time for experimentation is over.  Its time to produce.

I figured it would be fun to jot down my thoughts now and see how completely ignorant I am after even watching a few games.

Today, Klinsmann whittled down the 27 man camp squad to our "tournament"-bound 23.

GK: Howard, Guzan, Rimando
- Though Juergen had given Hamid a lot of opportunities the past year, he has seemingly selected the best 3 available (Friedel notwithstanding) now for the real games.  Hamid didn't exactly seize the moment with the U-23's either.

Def: Cherundolo, Onyewu, Bocanegra, Cameron, Parkhurst, Goodson, Castillo
- We are heavy on CBs (5) and extremely thin at fullbacks (2).  But Parkhurst is apparently the RB backup now while Fabian Johnson, listed as a midfielder by US Soccer, is a capable LB.
- Timothy Chandler clearly wants to play for Germany, though he may not admit it.  His absence last year cost us the Gold Cup (Bornstein would've have never seen the field) and this decision to avoid being cap-tied has now lost him the confidence of Klinsmann, teammates and US fans.  If he turns us down again in the fall, we should be done with him, as unfortunate as that is.  Time to make a decision, Timmy.
- Eric Lichaj and Tim Ream are two others who probably should be on the squad, but may have been excluded due to exhaustion - Lichaj just back from injury and Ream having just joined the EPL.
- Castillo?  really?

Mid: Bradley, Edu, Beckerman, Jones, Corona, Torres and Johnson.
- Just like our defense, this is a very central-minded group of midfielders, isn't it?  We have four central defensive midfielders (1st four listed) and Torres is often deployed there as a deep-lying playmaker.  Fabian Johnson is seemingly the only wing of the group, and in my opinion should be pushed back to LB.  Of course, this is just another minor example of the difference between Klinsmann's thinking and Bradley's since JK has 6 forwards listed, while Bradley usually only had 4.
- If Beckerman starts OVER Michael Bradley, I will want to fight somebody.
- No Danny Williams, DeMarcus Beasley or Sasha Kljestan - all interesting decisions.
- Joe Corona, who just last year stated that his priority was Mexico, finally gets his first call-up to USMNT, after some productive performances in the U-23's failed Olympic qualifying campaign.

For: Dempsey, Donovan, Altidore, Boyd, Gomez, Wondolowski
- The biggest shocker was that Brek Shea didn't even make the 27 man camp roster.  He was basically Klinsmann's biggest contribution to the starting lineup since last summer.  He needs to get back in form and avoid getting suspended.  In years past, Bradley would have called him up anyway.
- Dempsey and Donovan will finally get to play together under Klinsmann - how will they be deployed?
- Freddy Adu being deployed vs Mexico in the '11 Gold Cup can possibly be seen as Bradley's last act of desperation - perhaps to signify that he was finally out of ideas.  Adu hasn't sniffed a call-up since.
- If Boyd can score a few, he may become this year's Agudelo (or Eddie Johnson), upon whom we immediately place all our hopes and dreams.

I have zero idea how Klinsmann will send them out, but this is how I would line them up.  Man, I already miss Shea.


If I were to guess how Klinsmann will do it, maybe something like this.


A 4-3-3, with Beckerman parked in front of the defense.  Bradley and Jones alternate going forward centrally.  On defense, they flatten out beside Beckerman.  Dolo and Johnson will be called upon to provide width for Clint and Landon.  Yes, I already know that I have no idea what I'm talking about.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Chelsea wins Champions League, finally

The two players I'm happiest for are Drogba and Lampard.  Both men, 34 by the start of next season, are on the downside of their careers.  They've truly given their best years to Chelsea - Lampard came in 2001, Drogba in 2004 - and have together won 3 Premier League titles and 4 FA Cups since.  However, the UEFA Champions League championship had always painfully evaded them.  Together having scored nearly 350 goals together for Chelsea (they rank #3 (Lampard) and #4 (Drogba) in all-time Chelsea goals), none were as big as Drogba's emphatic 88th minute header to send the game to extra time.

Abramovich has been coveting the European championship trophy probably ever since he won back-to-back EPL titles in '05 and '06.  But after 4 semifinal losses (including the heartbreaking injury time goal by Iniesta to deny Chelsea a Finals appearance in 2009) and the PK loss to Man U in the 2008 CL Final (when Terry slipped and missed the game-winning PK - serves him right), it seemed that the golden generation of Chelsea football would fade away without the prize they craved the most.  Even this season, former manager, Andre Villas-Boas, had tried to cast aside Lampard and Drogba in favor of the younger players of Chelsea's future.  Little did he realize the most glorious moment of Chelsea history was about to arrive on the shoulders of its present legends.

The moments I will remember from the Final:

- Ashley Cole defending out of his mind to keep Bayern scoreless except his 83rd minute marking lapse.  He atoned for it with his perfect PK, powerfully lashed out of Neuer's reach, just inside the right post into the side netting.

- Petr Cech deserving consideration for man of the match honors.  He atoned for Drogba's brain-dead extra time penalty box foul and expertly punched away Olic's PK.

- David Luiz's long, accelerating, run-up after which he resolutely punished the ball into the right-top corner.  And Lampard had the guts to send it straight up the middle over Neuer.

- Drogba's incredulous expression after rolling in his game-winning PK.  It was disbelief and joy rolled into one.

The night was the biggest moment of Lampard and Drogba's professional careers.  Lampard, already a Chelsea legend and the greatest Chelsea player of this generation, really has nothing left to achieve now.  And though he made some public mistakes in early 2000s, he has since handled himself in a very respectable and professional manner, making me wonder why in the world Terry is undisputed captain all the time.

Drogba, having clinched the game in what is likely his last kick of the ball in a Chelsea shirt, added to his extremely impressive resume.  At this club, he has SCORED in the championship game of 8 different Cups (4 FA Cups, 3 Football League Cups and 1 CL) out of a total of 9 played.  He finished with 9 goals in those 8 games, including 4 game-winners.  The best part, is that his goals helped Chelsea win 7 of those 9 games.  His only blight is the red card he received in the '08 CL Final vs Man U, but this game more than made up for it.  Can you imagine Drogba's reputation had Cech not saved Robben's extra time penalty?  Unbelievable how one moment can alter lives forever in this game.

You may be wondering why I care about Chelsea.  Okay, I don't really feel that much of a connection with the club, especially one that's half a world away.  But, they have come to LA on summer tours I believe at least 3 times since 2005, often practicing at UCLA (something that Real Madrid has taken to doing - I guess Mourinho just likes it here) and were readily available to interested fans.  Even Abramovich would pose for pictures.  They were the opponent for Beckham's first Galaxy game, for which I was in attendance.  Seriously, back in 2006, they were the new galacticos - the most expensive team on earth with players like Ballack, Shevchenko, Robben, Essien, etc.  So I'm happy for them that they won with those who were able to persevere through the tough years.  That said, now that they've won theirs, I'd rather see Real win the CL next year.

Last note:  I couldn't be more pleased that Terry didn't play in the club's biggest game in history.  Given his history - post 9/11 behavior, Wayne Bridge's girl, racism accusations, etc, doesn't he just strike you as a class-less jerk?