Marsch made Assistant Coach – Good for US Soccer?

Beckham vs. MarschFor what our opinion’s worth (and we realize that it isn’t much), no, Marsch’s appointment is not good for US Soccer. And as it turns out, we aren’t the only ones who feel this way. Paul Gardner over at Soccer America wrote a piece recently called U.S. Coach: No Experience needed. In this article Gardner touches on Marsch’s lack of international experience, unlikable personality, compulsion to foul, and his hatred of Brazilians, among other things. Whether Bradley’s appointment of Marsch is a signal that he condones Marsch’s behavior and attitude or is simply willing to overlook it, this is bad news. Especially considering his team’s disciplinary problems that were well documented over the summer.

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Why the World Cup draw is inherently unfair

In the lead-up to Friday’s World Cup draw, there has been plenty of speculation about the seeds, pots, and best- and worst-case scenarios.  While doing my best to take part in the guessing game, it dawned on me: the World Cup draw is an inherently unfair system.  Not just “kind of unfair”–the kind of unfair one could justify for the sake of geographical diversity–but really, blatantly, unforgivably unfair.  Which teams suffer most?  Those from non-European regions.

The current draw is organized in the following manner:  Pot 1 is composed of eight seeded teams–the host and seven others determined by a formula weighing FIFA rankings and past World Cup performances (which, in fact, is already a component of the FIFA ranking formula, but that’s another story).  This formula is not made known to the public until after the final World Cup qualifier is played (if at all), which conveniently allows FIFA to unseed the undesirables (see USA (ranked #4) in 2006, France (hand ball) in 2010).  The other three pots are determined solely by geography.  UEFA gets an entire pot to itself.  The other four or five regions are divided amongst the last two pots, keeping all teams from like regions in the same pot (for example, all CONCACAF teams are in Pot 2 and all CAF teams are in Pot 3).  This is done to ensure that no more than two European teams end up in a single World Cup group, and no teams from smaller regions are forced to play a team they already went through two years of qualifying with.  One team is drawn from each of four pots and presto! you have your group stage set.

On the surface, this may seem fair enough–the desire for geographical diversity in the group stage seems innocent enough, and I can’t pretend that ending up in Mexico or Honduras’ group wouldn’t be somewhat disheartening–but the de facto outcome of the draw is a seeding system based on region rather than merit.  In the case of the 2010 draw, a team that has accomplished much by FIFA’s standards–enough to earn them the ranking of #14 (USA)–is at a significant disadvantage to less accomplished team from a more favorable region, like Slovakia (ranked #34).  While FIFA might point to past World Cup performances as justification for grouping confederations as they have, the smaller regions have always had the cards stacked against them in these draws–the playing field is not level. Continue reading

Better know a kit: A history of the modern U.S. soccer jersey

USMNT Jersey 1984-2009

[UPDATE: a new, updated version of this history lives at Project-2010.net]

We’re taking a look at the USA men’s soccer jerseys of the last 25 or so years, not only to provide a bit of history, but also as a bit of a refresher before looking toward the future of the USA’s kit. My main complaint about the USA kit is that there’s no continuity. Unlike most national team kits, the design has changed drastically each time adidas or Nike has unveiled their latest designs. Whether it’s red, white, or blue, stripes, sashes or denim, you’ll see below that the designs are all over place. I know that I’m nowhere near the first to say this, but I really think that in order to develop a team identity, we need to have a consistent template for (at least) the home jersey.

I’ve always favored the red jerseys in general. It’s good, bright color for fans to wear. Really, I’d rather have it as our home color, but US Soccer seems hung up on having white home jerseys (which have always seemed kind of bland to me). I guess it’s fitting that the USA would wear whites at home since it’s the traditional home color in most American sports.

Below, we’ve got images of every home and away kit since 1984. I’ve offered a brief commentary and grade for each shirt. Obviously, I’m not attempting to be objective in any way. If you disagree, make it known down in the comments section or in the poll at the end of the post.

Alright, let’s get started…. Continue reading

Debunking the myth: The unique difficulty of CONCACAF away qualifiers

MATCH ANALYSISWe ran this post a while back, but since this topic has reared its head yet again with the upcoming US World Cup qualifiers, we thought we should post it one more time.

In a brief September 8th article, we brought up the debate on the difficulty of CONCACAF away Qualifiers, citing Ives Galarcep’s “Hazards of road qualifiers” and Luis Bueno’s “Debunking the myth.” After reading these, I decided this debate has been going on for quite a while and it’s time for me to throw in my two cents:  away qualifiers aren’t the exceptionally difficult task people often make them out to be.
Continue reading

Fire Bob Bradley

We’ll admit that we have never been Bob Bradley’s biggest fans, but we’ve also tried to refrain from calling for his head.  That was until the Brazil match.  Given the US’s performances over the past few weeks, it has become doubtlessly clear that our current coach is not the man for the job.  While all of our problems can’t be attributed to Bradley, we have a number of problems for which he is either partially for fully responsible:

SQUAD SELECTION – If you look at our history of posts, it’ll be pretty apparent that we tend to disagree with Bradley most of the time–we’d prefer more opportunities for Cooper and fewer for Hejduk, for example.  These are admittedly minor disputes.  But Bradley continues to make more and more indefensibly poor decisions.  Players like Pearce, Johnson, and Kljestan have been given numerous opportunities long after they lost their form.  The worst of all is Beasley.  Bradley’s decision to give him a start against Brazil–three games after it was abundantly clear that he should not be seeing the field any time soon–is absolutely unforgivable.

TACTICS – I don’t like the 4-5-1.  One can make a valid argument about why this is a perfectly fine formation, but it’s becoming quite clear that the US are unable to execute it effectively.  Even against poor opponents, most of our goals come from set pieces–not from the run of play.  It is extremely hard to score goals when you play a formation and set of tactics that are designed solely to stifle the opposition.  Against top competition (England, Spain, Argentina, Italy, and Brazil), we have now allowed 9 goals and scored only 1 off a penalty.  Egypt is comparably talented (arguably less), yet they are able to take the game to teams like Italy and Brazil.  This is because they are willing to take a risk and play creative, attacking soccer.  To those who say we don’t have the tools, I would retort, despite what we see in Bradley’s system, (Michael) Bradley, Feilhaber, Torres, Adu, Dempsey, Donovan, and Altidore would benefit greatly from a more offensive approach.

While it is very difficult to find an effective system that utilizes all of the best available players in their preferred positions, it is important to mold your tactics and formation around the players you have available to you–not the other way around.  These have become the norm: Dempsey as a right winger; Donovan as a left winger; Beasley as a left back; Bradley as a strict defensive midfielder; Kljestan as a defensive midfielder; Altidore as a lone target striker; Bocanegra as a center back; etc.  There is no reason that we should have so many players playing out of position on a regular basis.  As a coach, Bradley should be most concerned with figuring out how to get the most out of each of his players, not how to jam them into his preferred formation.

MOTIVATION – In 3 of the last 4 games, we have given up the first goal in the first 7 minutes.  In 4 of the last 5 games, we have gone down 0-2, 0-3, 0-1, and 0-3 before scoring a goal (if we scored at all).  The team is obviously not coming out of the locker room ready to play.  Obviously Bradley can’t be blamed entirely for this, but it is a clear problem that he has failed to address.

DISCIPLINE – Again, this cannot be blamed entirely on Bradley, but there is something very wrong with a team that consistently tackles hard and lunges in late.  Not only are we giving up too many free kicks in dangerous positions, but we’re receiving far too many yellow and red cards.  You don’t want to let teams like Brazil and Italy walk all over you, but keeping 11 men on the field should be a priority.

WHO WE SHOULD BRING IN – I know this is vague, but it should be a proven coach from outside the US Soccer system.  The problem with the USSF is that it’s the ultimate “good old boys” network–everyone seems to be a lifer.  For years, our only hope to stay competitive was to play a stifling brand of soccer that usually keeps games close against superior competition (and unfortunately keeps games close against inferior competition, too).  Everyone in the system is intimately familiar with this style (NOTE: Wilmer Cabrera might be the exception to this rule), and it is not the style that’s going to take us to the next tier in world soccer.  We need a fresh perspective.  We need someone who doesn’t already have a set of favorites.  We need someone who is willing to approach the USMNT (not the entire USSF, mind you) and rebuild it from scratch, best utilizing the tools we have available to us.  A big task–yes.  But with about a year until the World Cup, it is still possible to accomplish this task.  I’d say, if we’re going to get rid of Bradley, we should do it right now.  If, however, we’re only planning to replace him with the next in line in the USSF, I’d say don’t bother.

This brings me to another point–the idea that we need to have someone who knows the “quirky” US system. I don’t buy this at all. In fact, I want someone who knows nothing about the system. I don’t understand why, when so many people acknowledge that there are so many problems with player development in this country, these same people demand someone who “gets it.” All that does is further the problem.

Let’s look at former San Jose Earthquake Guus Hiddink as an example. (Yes, I’ll admit it. He would be my dream choice. And yes, I know he’s not available.) Do you really believe that the player development infrastructure in South Korea is the same as it is in Holland or Russia? I really doubt it. Yet he went to South Korea and Russia, shook things up, and got these teams playing as a unit and above their ability. While Russia has good individual talent, as a whole they are not much better off (if at all) than the US.  Yet they were able to make a great (and entertaining, unlike some teams…cough…Greece…cough) run at Euro 2008, fearlessly running at supposedly superior teams. I realize that Hiddink is arguably the best manager in the world, and that not every new foreign coach would have this effect, but that is not my point.  He was able to succesfully step into unfamiliar systems and shake things up. And it would seem that not knowing the system–the ability to approach his job with a fresh set of eyes–was key to helping him accomplish this.

WHY BRADLEY PROBABLY WON’T GET FIRED – There seem to be two ways to get fired from the US head coaching position:

1. Fail to qualify for the World Cup

2. Fail to get out of the group stage of the World Cup

The first is extremely unlikely to happen, so almost all coaches get at least 4 years to implement their systems.  Confederations Cup, Gold Cup, Copa America, and other like competitions don’t mean too much to the USSF.  As long as we continue our streak of World Cup qualifications, all is OK.  Here’s the scary part…

If, by some miracle, Bradley gets us to the knock-outs of the World Cup, prepare yourselves for four more years.

The Great Debate: CONCACAF Away Qualifiers

In this section, we give our take on one of the most hotly-contested issues in US Soccer.

Harlow Shapley knows something about Great Debates...

Harlow Shapley knows something about Great Debates...

In a brief September 8th article, we brought up the debate on the difficulty of CONCACAF away Qualifiers, citing Ives Galarcep’s “Hazards of road qualifiers” and Luis Bueno’s “Debunking the myth.” While looking through Soccer by Ives this morning, I came upon this in one of his Q&A articles:

This is hypothetical, if the USA and England were to switch places for qualifying, how do you think each team would do?

  • OFC:   won 76%, drew 13%, lost 11%
  • CONMEBOL:   won 58%, drew 26%, lost 16%
  • CAF:   won 58%, drew 19%, lost 23%
  • AFC:   won 51%, drew 16%, lost 33%
  • CONCACAF:   won 49%, drew 19%, lost 32%
  • UEFA:   won 44%, drew 25%, lost 31%
  • The English Premier League (2007-08):   won 46%, drew 26%, and lost 28%
  • MLS (2008):   won 51%, drew 26%, lost 23%

Away qualifiers in CONCACAF

There’s been a lot of talk these days about the difficulty of away World Cup Qualifiers in CONCACAF (and everywhere else, for that matter).  Here is Ives Galarcep’s take on the “Hazards of away qualifiers.”

We here at Project 2010 (the Blog) are of a different opinion.  As Luis Bueno demonstrates in article, “Debunking the myth,” The USA (as well as Mexico and Costa Rica, for that matter) has a history of good results in away qualifiers.  In another post on the blog, Bueno points out that if you exclude matches against Mexico and Costa Rica (the other two of the “big three”), the USA has not lost a road qualifier since 1980 to Canada.  

Although we’re happy to have our 6 points and first place, maybe we’re not wrong to expect a little more…