Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Once again, my pure state of soccer discombobulation has compelled me to go jazz on this keyboard. Nike has their slogan, and I have mine: just riff it. All you groovy cats grab your goatee, your latte and a seat on the crushed velvet couch 'coz I'm about to go Bebop on all sixes.
Lawrie Sanchez is just plain cool
So very true, and yet so hard to ascertain whether the new Fulham coach is the cat's pajamas because of his sleek fashion sense, his wildly entertaining animated sideline demeanor or simply because he benched Tomasz Radzinski.
The dark suit and glasses, combined with his playful emoting, were certainly money - somebody get him a trumpet - but if I hold hope for a quick Cottage resurrection, it is because Sanchez was able to figure out on his first half week in command what Chris Coleman could not in nearly 40 games: dump the lazy Canadian.
Try if you can to ignore that he has managed all of two goals and three assists playing with Brian McBride for the entire Premiership campaign. Never mind that Carlos Bocanegra has put more efforts on goal than Radzinski working most of his campaign from central defense.
The tearing point should have definitely come when Radz took his sweet time moseying off from the far side of the field when subbed out against Everton with 19 minutes remaining and Fulham down two goals. Were I coach, he'd have never suited up for the Cottagers again - but then who did Coleman turn to first off the bench the next game against Man City? That's right, Hopalong Radzinski, who wasn't even fully fit.
Then came Sanchez... and Dempsey was the first attack sub called... and Radzinski stayed affixed to the bench until the final whistle. Fulham did lose at Reading to extend their winless drought to nine games, but they were quite unlucky not to grab a share.
The word making rounds is that club chairman Mohammed Al Fayed walked out before the whistle of the City loss, turning to his directors with a stern 'Sack him!' as he left. I like to imagine that the storm-out occurred at the precise moment Radzinski walked up to the fourth official to have his cleats checked.
Naturally, this delicious machination will please most fans of Yanks abroad. Dempsey is in line for more minutes, if only because Mr. Slack won't be eating them up without actually shooting at goal or winning free kicks or picking out tireless runners like McBride and Vincenzo Montella instead of creating counters for the opponent with bumbling selfishness.
I suspect Deuce will soon get a start because Wayne Routledge is a) losing effectiveness the more minutes he plays & b) just a loan item anyway. I still expect Dempsey will need a full preseason in England before he gets back to his best, but at least some late season looks will keep some Chicken Littles back home from insisting that he needs to return to MLS - a sadly common rally cry anytime an American in Europe doesn't start for two games.
More importantly, though, I now feel confident that Sanchez can keep the Cottagers above the relegation fray. With Coleman, who I must admit to generally liking, it had begun to seem like an inevitability as long as unknown variables such as Dempsey (and fairly productive forwards Heidar Helguson and Montella) were being ignored in situations where goals were needed.
Now if we can just exorcise Coleman's Zat Knight crush from the building...
Still livin' la vida Boca
While fully aware that I recently scribed a full length Carlos Bocanegra adoration piece, one more thing really must be said. Be forewarned: stat junkies (who always struggle to get a complete handle on this game) won't like it.
If Carlos Bocanegra can't make the top 100 of ACTIM Ratings by the end of the season, then the ranking system is completely fraudulent and further proof that math can never quantify soccer on its own. It's very nice to see three Yank keepers listed very high by a foreign outlet and all, but the computation clearly gives oversized rewards to players on winning teams.
I understand people's desire/determination/insistence to tell soccer stories purely with numbers, but Bocanegra's should be impressive enough, no matter what mathematical theory is utilized. Even if you subtract the one goal he scored during his central midfield stint, 'Los is still the highest scoring Premiership defender this season.
He has five goals from 22 shots on target (fifth best on Fulham) and covers a lot of defensive ground in his usual physical manner without putting his team in danger with excessive fouling; he has only four yellow cards in nearly 2000 minutes and stands an astounding seventh on the club's free kicks given chart.
Considering he is the best ball mover among all US central defense candidates, don't be surprised if Charlie Blackmouth is an entrenched starter there by the time World Cup 2010 rolls around. That being said, I think it would be aces if some US coach had the guts to cop one of Coleman's ingenious maneuvers by trying Bocanegra in a 4-3-3 midfield behind Benny Feilhaber and Landon Donovan.
Either way, he belongs in a team's spine, not on the wing... and he certainly belongs in the list of the top 100 league performers for this season. As Steven Colbert might say: "You're on notice, ACTIM!"
Soaring without a net
Nobody knows where DaMarcus Beasley will be at the beginning of next season - least of all, Jitterbug himself - but at least US fans can take comfort in the notion that the speedster is showing strong signs of life in Manchester.
The PSV Eindhoven loan-out is finally getting his chance under Stuart Pearce, a coach that could rival Coleman in the blind spot championship. The man affectionately known as "Psycho" did manage to save his job by remembering that the City offense produces a little more with the unpredictable speed of Beasley and Georgios Samaras on the field (of course, now one could add Emile Mpenza to that equation, but more fair warning: the Belgian has a history of impressing on arrival before eventually tanking his efforts).
Now, I am not going to suggest Beasley is leading the Blues charge or that he has fully returned to his 2004/05 PSV self just yet, but whomever he plays for next season will have a guy with at long last renewed confidence.
Need proof? If coolly taken goals against Fulham and Arsenal aren't enough, check out the highlights from last week's City-Liverpool draw. Nobody in that game came closer to scoring then when Bease cut into the area on his right foot and put a rocket just over off the crossbar... yes, I did say 'right foot'.
The US star says he wants to stay in Manchester, but the club doesn't seem especially sold on making a transfer offer. Meanwhile, PSV Eindhoven are facing summer defections after hurting for a left-side attacker for much of the season. Ronald Koeman would never tip his hand, but he will be desperate for approval if they blow the title and he has been swayed by fans before.
If it matters, PSV supporters also seem split on Beasley. About 60-65% thank him for his previous contributions, but would much rather sell him to fund a star raid.
The remaining 35-40% mutter under their breath that the Farmers would have already claimed the league crown for a third straight time had Koeman recalled the American in January. To these folks, he is an experienced Eredivisie wild card, someone who would work very well with Arouna Koné and essentially a "free transfer".
Both sects have solid points, but in the end, I have a hard time believing Koeman will bring Beasley back regardless of whether they defend the title from hard chargers Ajax and AZ Alkmaar. Trust me, he has a built-in reasoning prepared for either outcome.
And while MLS would surely pay for him, I'm convinced that DaMarcus isn't ready to come home yet.
So we are back to where we started: who's going to shell out a million Euros or two for Run DMB? I could certainly imagine that a few Eredivisie teams would jump at him, including perhaps Feyenoord, whose fans have quickly tired of Erwin Koeman and his 100% Lowlands squad. He seems happier with English daily life than he was with the same in Eindhoven, but Rotterdam is his favorite Dutch city, so they'd have that going for them.
For any Premiership team to make a bid, I think Beasley would need to take part in a couple more goals until the end of the season, really get his name on the front page. He's now getting his chances and hopefully he can put on a few good window displays - there are certainly EPL clubs that could use his je ne sais quoi.
Fulham, anyone? Why the hell not?
Put me in, coach!
Sampdoria coach Walter Novellino is missing his most established pair of strikers long term (one through injury and one through a cocaine suspension) and the offense is having a lot of trouble creating chances for commendable starter Fabio Quagliarella - nevertheless, the boss has not seen a single occasion to test drive sporty young Yank Gabriel Ferrari.
Not even a three-goal 71st minute deficit to AS Roma on Sunday could compel Novellino to hand the #25 shirt his league debut (instead he brought on a midfielder that has scored all of once in seven Italian top flight seasons). Meanwhile, the Blucerchiati haven't scored more than once in a game since February.
Call me crazy, but it sure seems like the antidote just might include a fresh-legged forward that can bang inside or run out wide, depending on situational need.
Good grief, Walter, put the kid in already!
The fun begins
Another great strike hope for American fans, Hammarby rookie Charlie Davies, did receive his debut this weekend, working the final 20 minutes of a victory over Trelleborg.
Hopes are very high for Davies in Hammarby, and for good reason. He showed good strength and awareness on the ball during the abbreviated stint, even picking up a cheap assist on their second goal, a smooth individual effort by Erkan Zengin.
Look for the Boston College product, now recovered from a minor thigh strain that delayed his debut by a game, to find his way is way into the line-up and form a potent tandem with Paulinho Guara.
Please step away from the hater-ade
I gotta tell ya, I am simply perplexed at so many of the reactions I've seen and heard to the goal-and-two-assist first half performance of Kansas City man Eddie Johnson.
When the guy performs several quality actions, but fails to take his chance against Guatemala, he is panned for lack of end product. Now that he goes off on DC United, it is because the defense sucked. Funny... I don't recall such comments when Herculez Gomez hit the winner for Colorado on opening day. No, he was roundly suggested for a call-up.
I also seem to remember fans chatting up the USMNT worthiness of United back dwellers Bobby Boswell, Brian Carroll and Troy Perkins. Meanwhile, Johnson simply remains 'worthless' to a lot of folks, a wasted national team camp space.
So what's up, haters? Let's say United's defense are the Keystone Cops, so at the very least he ably punished poor defending. Problem is, I saw a deftly placed header flick, a perfect cross takedown/lay-off and a smooth finish on those three goals. Are these not still good plays when the right back slips?
Or is that judging card only reserved for certain players? I just don't get what this kid has done to deserve such continual scorn - will it help if he apologizes for not being Luca Toni at 23? Hell, Luca Toni wasn't even Luca Toni at 23.
He scored a goal and two assists in 45 minutes, but that's not enough for even mild praise. What else do you want Eddie to do? Make you a pizza?
Let's face it: in some instances and for some reason, many US fans expect WAY too much. Maybe if folks could get off Johnson's back for five minutes, he'd play like... well... like he doesn't have tons of unnecessary weight on his back.
Jozy is no pussycat
While on the subject of MLS-based US National Team prospects for the future, I need to send out a "gimme some skin!" to Big Apple phenom Josmer Altidore for his gangbusters display in a waterlogged win over FC Dallas on Sunday.
Most observers understandably made a huge fuss over Clint Mathis' triumphant New York return, but it was Altidore's chops that drew my attention. The kid showed pretty much every card available in the striker deck, including a sublime back-of-the-head, sharp angle opener.
Jersey boy Altidore also provided a simple touch to help on the goal by Cletus, ran off the ball like a thoroughbred, got up for the aerial game like an NBA center and dribbled with his head up. Perhaps most encouraging to any watching USMNT faithful was the utter lack of hesitation in facing and firing at goal, which he did repeatedly.
Maybe the idea of making World Cup noise in 2010 isn't so far away as we might think. We have a large cadre of promising forwards eager to take the scoring reins from Brian McBride, and by the time Altidore turns 20, the 'Nats biggest question mark could well have become a 6'1" exclamation point.
The word "future" is so fun, ready made for both daydreaming and debate, and it should never become a crime to get excited by kids like Jozy Altidore... daydream away.
When Robbie Rogers left Heerenveen, I was surprised more than anything. I assumed he was homesick and a bit lonely in Friesland, but that his departure wasn't expressly tied to a lack of first team looks.
Of course, that is how we originally rated the situation and it seemed like a good fit when he landed with the Crew. Trouble is, Heerenveen recently told two wing players that had been given a bit of first team time ahead of Rogers (Canada international Will Johnson and Bo Storm) that they were not coming back for next season.
He missed out on Young Heerenveen's Beloftencompetitie title celebrations, makes surely no more than half what he did in the Netherlands and has passed up the chance to earn his way into one of the world's finest leagues for development, the Eredivisie.
I hate to say it, but it is possible that Robbie made a sizable mistake. He's a talented kid, so let's hope he didn't come home for 11 minutes every two matches.
I'm certainly not saying he's done or even that he can't develop in MLS - he clearly can. Nevertheless, walking away from a long term deal with a club like Heerenveen is something he will have to perform past in certain eyes, especially if he wants to go back overseas one day.