Thursday, March 31, 2005


MLS World Cup qualifying update

The tally after the first sets of qualifiers in 2005:

* 55 goals by 22 current or former MLS players (yes, I'm counting former Crew draft pick and current Toronto Lynx striker John Barry Nusum in that total, and adding in goals from now-current MLS players from prior in qualifying) representing 14 countries OTHER than the United States in 4 confederations.

Carlos Ruiz (Guatemala) 8
Stern John (Trinidad/Tobago) 6
Dipsy Selolwane (Botswana) 5
Andy Herron (Costa Rica) 2
Guillermo "El Pando" Ramirez (Guatemala) 2
Zizi Roberts (Liberia) 1
Shaun Bartlett (South Africa) 1
Cornell Glen (Trinidad/Tobago) 1
William Sunsing (Costa Rica) 1
Joselito Vaca (Bolivia) 1
Scott Sealy (Trinidad/Tobago) 1
Douglas Sequiera (Costa Rica) 1

This above list no longer includes players whose countries were eliminated from qualifying in 2004 (25 goals from 10 players representing 7 countries in 2 confederations).

Thursday, February 17, 2005


What a Mess....

On Tuesday, April Heinrichs resigned as manager of the United States Women's National Team, ending a five-year run where the US finished second in the 2000 Olympics, third in the 2003 Women's World Cup, and first at the 2004 Olympics. Moreover, her attempt to pacify the veterans while bleeding new talent harmed the program and her standing both within Soccer House and in the media. The search is on for a replacement and all I can say is GOOD LUCK!

Despite having what is considered the best national team program on the planet in terms of player talent and success rate, there is not a pool of talented persons available to lead it. I never did like April and thought the Fed could have made a better choice in 1999 when Tony DiCicco "retired". The best candidate then, and the one who would be the best candidate now had he not been taken from us by cancer in the interim, was Clive Charles. He had solid credentials in the women's game, had been an assistant for BOTH National Teams, had coached at least two present members of the WNT pool (Tiffeny Milbrett and Shannon MacMillan), and was not part of the UNC establishment that held (and still holds) a lion's share of spots in the player pool. With the best candidate (in my opinion) no longer with us, we are left with few options, none of which are pretty. They break down (with one exception) into the following categories: retreads, WUSA, aisle-crossers, imports, and projects.

Retreads: Anson Dorrance and Tony DiCicco. Both former managers of the WNT, this pair of experienced coaches have to be considered on the short list for the vacancy. Dorrance's recent legal troubles at UNC make him a questionable candidate and I'm not sure he wants to get back into the NT game. The latter is also probably true for DiCicco, I would believe. If either man came forth and said he was interested, I am quite sure he would have serious backing for the post.

WUSA: The pool of former WUSA coaches, unlike that of MLS managers, is not teeming with possible options for this post. The top coaches in the league all have baggage. Be it Jim Gabarra or Tom Stone with little or no international experience, Pia Sundhage and her import status (she managed the Swedish YNTs prior to coming to WUSA), or Ian Sawyers and the perception of riding his wife's coattails (he's married to Julie Foudy), the nascent professional league did not spring up any one person who could be considered fully qualified for the opening the way MLS did with Bruce Arena.

Aisle-Crossers: This piece of the pool includes those whose primary coaching experience comes from the men's game but who MIGHT be interested in the position. At the top of this list would be Glenn "Mooch" Myernick. A former player in the NASL and coach in MLS, he is currently the top assistant on the Men's National Team and was the architect of the shocking win over Portugal in the 2002 World Cup. He has international experience, managing the U-23 National Team in Olympic qualifying, and would bring a sense of professionalism to the WNT program. The issue here, for Mooch or any other coach from outside the WNT pipeline, would be the ensuing firestorm from those who resent the notion that there is not a qualified candidate in the women's game (akin to the argument that there isn't a qualified American option for the men's team after Bruce hangs up the clipboard).

Imports: As the title implies, those in this category have coached or currently coach other national teams. The three names that come to mind are Evan Pellerud (current Canada and former Norway mgr.), Sundhage, and Rene Simoes (current Brazil manager and former head of the Jamaican Men's National Team, leading them to the 1998 World Cup). As with the aisle-crossers, the idea of going outside the borders for a new coach opens a can of worms for a lot of people involved with soccer in this country.

Projects: Heinrichs came from this part of the pool herself on taking the NT job. Her main accomplishment was captaining the WNT to the 1991 World Cup title and her coaching experience consisted of a handful of seasons at the University of Virginia. The fact that she was a she ultimately secured her hiring (IMO) and my gut tells me the Fed wants to stay the course on promoting women in high-profile coaching positions in this country (nevermind that the gender gap hasn't been closed yet as is the case in other sports). Any candidate in this part of the pool, no matter how knowledgeable of the international game, the player pool, and the politics of Soccer House, will have to learn on-the-job to an extent. Former players that are now coaches at the college level include Shannon Higgins-Cirovski (Maryland) and Carin Gabarra (Navy). Top college coaches such as Jillian Ellis (UCLA) and Becky Burleigh (Florida) come to mind as well. Recently-retired players such as Michelle Akers, Joy Fawcett, Carla Overbeck, and the like might be considered in order to keep the publicity machine rolling and preclude a rebuilding process that will not be pretty.

With all of that said, one candidate DOES exist in this country to lead the Women's National Team. He has been a college coach for a number of years, led the U-21 National Team in the DiCicco administration, and has enormous credibility in the women's game. That candidate is Jerry Smith from Santa Clara. No one I believe questions his commitment to women's soccer or his success rate at any stop to date. The only possible drawback is that he is married to Brandi Chastain and some (those less-educated in women's soccer and its history) might see this as a patronage move and thus no better than that for an aisle-crosser, an import, or a project. Unlike Sawyers, Smith's success/promotion in the game has never been because of Brandi, but on his own merit. In my opinion, unless Dorrance or DiCicco come out of international retirement, Smith needs to be the one hired.

Sunday, February 06, 2005


Matchday One: Get Off The Mark

The United States National Team kicks off the final round of World Cup Qualifying on Wednesday in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad against the Soca Warriors. The roster is attached at the bottom, but before that, keys to the Hex and this opening match:

Hexagonal points:

* IT'S A MARATHON, not a sprint! For all the high-pressure ties in the Hex (US/Mexico and US/Costa Rica to name a couple) which seem to project a life-or-death nature, the amount of error available to a team is much more in this round than it was in the semifinal round. A team that hit a hot stretch over Matches 1-3 might fall back to the pack by the time matches 7-10 are played in September/October (e.g. the US in 2001), whereas a team can struggle out of the gate and still find its way to Germany by the time all is said and done (e.g. Mexico in 2001 and the US in 1997).

* A team MUST take advantage of road points when and where they make themselves available (any trip to T&T or a midweek tilt at either CR or Mexico to state a couple of examples), because getting a draw from the host is in effect stealing two points from them.

* The home team MUST dictate play or else fall victim to being steamrolled on their home soil. Anyone who was at the US/Honduras match in DC in 2001 can attest to the fact that the opponent took it to us from the get-go. If the host lets its visitor bring the pace, they are likely to be trying to stave off a stealing of all the points rather than a splitting of the spoils.

* As in the semifinal round, group play can be broken down into a series of home-and-away battles, so that if you win more of those battles than you lose, you will advance. The United States went 2-0-3 in the series in the 2001 Hex (split with Mexico, Honduras, and Costa Rica while beating Jamaica and Trinidad/Tobago). We should win the series over T&T and Panama, thus making the Costa Rica/Mexico/Guatemala series a battle to avoid the playoff spot against the team from Asia.

US/T&T points:

* A tie is a good result considering the labor impasse which stole valuable training time from the team, but three points can be gotten. Port-of-Spain is the tamest road venue in the Hex and its occupant is perceived once again as the weak sister in the group. Every team in the Hex will be looking for points at T&T and we can set the standard by getting three on Matchday One.

* The US will be aggressive but not reckless. The goal of this game is to get points in whatever variety they come. The US has been known to get out early on the Soca Warriors and a quick pair of strikes will lock up the result (akin to their visit to Foxboro in 2001, where we scored twice in the first 22 minutes).

* The tactic will be to flood the box with crosses against a weak backline. Expect Beasley and Lewis to start on the flanks supported by Cherundolo and Bocanegra and Donovan to work as almost a third forward behind McBride and either Wolff or Johnson.

* This is the first match of the round and as such a less-than-stellar result will not doom the US. The roster combining players from Major League Soccer who are just starting spring training and in-season European-based players could make for a performance that is played at the level of our opponent.

Unofficial roster: Joe Cannon, Marcus Hahnemann, Kasey Keller; Chris Albright, Gregg Berhalter, Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo, Jimmy Conrad, Cory Gibbs, Frankie Hejduk, Eddie Pope; DaMarcus Beasley, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Eddie Lewis, Pablo Mastroeni, Clint Mathis, Ben Olsen; Brian Ching, Eddie Johnson, Brian McBride, Taylor Twellman, Josh Wolff.

United States 2, Trinidad/Tobago 0

Monday, January 10, 2005


Just get it done!

The labor impasse between the United States Soccer Federation and the United States National Team Players Association continues along with no movement seen from either side. With a month to go until the USNT opens the Hex in Trinidad, and 22 days until the Feb. 1 date the USSF set as a deadline for an agreement without them using replacement players (non-union members who have not participated in a national team camp in the past four years), it is time for fans to begin actively voicing their displeasure over this. The following is based on an IM conversation with the legendary Dr. Chuck, administrator of the blog at, and sorts out my thoughts on the issues and how I think the sides need to proceed to get to an agreement.

The USNTPA have been working without a contract since December 31, 2002 and are seeking a greater portion of the profits which they bring in for the USSF through friendlies and World Cup qualifiers. The USSF is in a tough position here as their concern is with the entire spectrum of soccer in the United States, which includes the Women's National Team, Youth National Teams and amateur/youth soccer. The players refused to participate in a training camp in December, which the Fed took as being notice of a strike. At that point, the Fed locked the union out of this month's scheduled camp and cancelled two high-profile tune-ups, against South Korea and Sweden, in preparation for the beginning of the Hex. With the facts out of the way, let's move on to each side and how they are perceiving this battle.

USNTPA: They feel as though they give up a lot in terms of time and money lost from their club sides to play for the US and thus want their work to be compensated fairly. The fact that they have worked without a new contract since the last one expired at the end of 2002 is quite admirable and therefore they are hoping to get some retroactive pay from the Fed for that. Their concern is with being fairly treated by the USSF and that the Fed bargains in good faith rather than give them a deal and say "take it or leave it".

USSF: The Fed has a $30 million surplus on-hand and could very easily meet the players' demands without hurting the bottom line. Their investment in new soccer-specific stadia is in the best interest of the professional game in this country and is a justifiable expense on their part. The biggest issue for the Fed right now is that they also have to re-negotiate their contract with the Women's National Team union, and that is causing the impasse with the men to spin out of control. The current contract with the WNT calls for them to be paid the same as the men and to be financially supported until a women's professional league proves solvent in this country. With the "Golden Girls" retiring, the Fed wants to make cuts in that contract, but cannot do so if they finish the agreement with the men first.

How to Make a Deal: The best move for both sides here is to get an interim agreement signed, once that would last until after the 2006 World Cup, with promises of retroactive pay over the life of this agreement based on the figures in the new one, and meeting the players somewhere in the middle of what they are requesting. This way, the players get a fair shake and return to camp to prepare for qualifying and the Fed gets something done that will not necessarily impact their negotiations with the WNT. After the 2006 Cup, the USSF can negotiate a four-year contract with the USNTPA that deals with the entire gamut of issues that are on the table now, but outside of the dual negotiations with the WNT and hopefully with the ability to make differential contracts with the two.

In conclusion, the WNT is indirectly to blame for the USSF/USNTPA impasse, although all sides carry some burden for letting things get to this point. I honestly hope that an agreement can be arrived at shortly and that we will have our full complement of players in Port-of-Spain on February 9th for that first match of the round.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004


Hex schedule and takes

The Hex draw was done yesterday in Zurich, with the United States getting the #6 ball. Therefore, the schedule is as follows:

February 9 @ Trinidad/Tobago
March 26 or 27 @ Mexico
March 30 vs. Guatelmala
June 4 or 5 vs. Costa Rica
June 8 @ Panama
August 17 vs. Trinidad/Tobago
September 3 or 4 vs. Mexico
September 7 @ Guatemala
October 8 or 9 @ Costa Rica
October 12 vs. Panama

On the surface, the schedule is workable. We get the easiest road venue first, followed by the most difficult, with four of the following five matches on home soil and the Gold Cup scheduled between Matchdays 5 and 6 also in the US. The pain-in-the-rear of the schedule comes in the second half, with Mexico here on Labor Day weekend and a Matchday 9 encounter with Costa Rica. Oddly enough, our weekend dates are with Mexico and Costa Rica, teams that I would prefer to be playing mid-week when crowds on both sides would be lessened and we would have a better chance of getting road points and guaranteeing a pro-US crowd at home.

As for venues, I would choose to play Mexico behind doors if at ALL possible because of the date issue, but would then choose Blackbaud Stadium in Charleston, SC to host the tilt if a closed-doors match were unfeasible. I'd play Costa Rica in Kansas City again, play Guatemala in the elevation of Denver (I was won over to this choice), Panama at the new house in Frisco, and Trinidad/Tobago in Columbus as part of a doubleheader. In reality, I expect Mexico to be in Columbus, Foxboro to get a date, Seattle or Portland to get the Guatemala match, with the other two dates involving Columbus, Frisco, Kansas City, and Victoria Street.

Best-case scenario: We get four points from the first two matches and clinch a spot to Germany before the trip to Saprissa.


MLS World Cup Qualifying update

The tally heading into 2005:

* 48 goals by 18 current or former MLS players (yes, I'm counting former Crew draft pick and current Toronto Lynx striker John Barry Nusum in that total, and adding in goals from now-current MLS players from prior in qualifying) representing 13 countries OTHER than the United States in 3 confederations. (# = country is eliminated from qualifying)

#John Barry Nusum (Bermuda) 7
Carlos Ruiz (Guatemala) 6
Stern John (Trinidad/Tobago) 6
Dipsy Selolwane (Botswana) 5
#Amado Guevara (Honduras) 4
#Dwayne DeRosario (Canada) 4
#Duncan Oughton (New Zealand) 2
Andy Herron (Costa Rica) 2
#Ryan Nelsen (New Zealand) 2
#Jean-Philippe Peguero (Haiti) 2
Zizi Roberts (Liberia) 1
Shaun Bartlett (South Africa) 1
#Saul Martinez (Honduras) 1
#Damani Ralph (Jamaica) 1
#Jorge "Zarco" Rodriguez (El Salvador) 1
Cornell Glen (Trinidad/Tobago) 1
William Sunsing (Costa Rica) 1
#Andy Williams (Jamaica) 1

I will re-format this list for the start of qualifying in February with just those on nations still in the hunt listed.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004


Matchday Six: In Search of Motivation

The US National Team will take the pitch this evening in its final match of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying for 2004 with advancement to the final stage secure. Jamaica needs a win in order to punch its ticket to the Hex without outside help and should plan to bring the house at the US to that end. The motivation for the home side is an amalgam of different emotions. For some players, tonight is an opportunity to show Bruce Arena that he should keep them in mind when qualifying starts again in February. For others, the opportunity is there to move up the food chain in the pool with a good showing (Eddie Johnson, Oguchi Onyewu, Pablo Mastroeni). For some of the Europe-based players in camp, tonight presents a chance to play a full 90-minute match against a decent opponent. The most complex sort of motivation tonight will be that of the team in general.

Since the US has already clinched a place in the Hex, the result of tonight's match is meaningless in the eyes of some, nothing more than a glorified friendly. Those of us who follow soccer (and write on it from the fan's perspective), however, see a myriad of motivations for the team. Some of us think the US should play all-out, both to eliminate Jamaica and make the road to Germany less stressful while at the same time proving our dominance in the region. Others think we need to blood talent for next year and that it doesn't matter who comes with us from the group to the Hex. I take a slightly-different approach and think of the long-term implications of tonight's match.

What we need to do tonight comes down to one key question: Will the US qualify for Germany NO MATTER WHO is in the Hex or not? If one says no, then by all means we need to pave the easiest road possible and should shell the Reggae Boyz. If yes, then the bigger question of "what is in the best long-term interests of the US National Team?" shoud be asked. For the momentum of the quarterfinal finish in Korea/Japan to be sustained, we need to keep our world ranking up. Playing Panama or El Salvador twice next year would not be helpful in that regard, especially if we drew a match with one of them. A road draw against Jamaica, however, wouldn't hurt as much. Given the gap in standing between Jamaica and the other two teams in our group, having Jamaica in the Hex would help us in the efforts to qualify for a seed in 2006 or 2010 (or help Mexico as well). Getting a seed almost ensures advancement to the knock-out stages, since one would avoid Brazil, Argentina, and a number of very good European sides. The points separating the teams between 6 and 12 are so few that getting good results against slightly-better opposition might make a difference between a group of Argentina/Sweden/Portugal/USA and USA/Denmark/Ireland/Ecuador, and if it doesn't do so for 2006 it might for 2010 or 2014. In the grand scheme of things, the US is better-served by having Jamaica in the Hex because the higher the ranking of the team you beat, the more points you can secure, and in a game of inches, a couple extra points on a sheet of paper can go a long way.

Prediction: In a match that will be heavily-influenced by scoreboard-watching, the US and Jamaica will play to a somewhat-entertaining 1-1 draw. Jamaica advances with this result amid cries of collusion from the Panamanian federation and is rewarded with a February 9th date on the road at The United States of America.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004


US vs. Jamaica roster pool and considerations (update)

I said I would update the list for the Jamaica match as teams went out of the MLS playoffs, but just got side-tracked. Here is my 18-man roster (looks like a short camp, so the Wizards and United players will get calls and "experience" will win the roster day):

Chris Armas, Chicago Fire (MLS) M
Joe Cannon, Colorado Rapids (MLS) G
Conor Casey, FC Mainz (Germany) F
Bobby Convey, Reading (England) D
Landon Donovan, San Jose Earthquakes (MLS) M
Eddie Gaven, Metrostars (MLS) M
Cory Gibbs, FC Dallas (MLS) D
Frankie Hejduk, Columbus Crew (MLS) D
Eddie Johnson, FC Dallas (MLS) F
Cobi Jones, Los Angeles Galaxy (MLS) M
Pablo Mastroeni, Colorado Rapids (MLS) M
Oguchi Onyewu, Standard Liege (Belgium) D
Eddie Pope, Metrostars (MLS) D
Tony Sanneh, Columbus Crew (MLS) D
Taylor Twellman, New England Revolution (MLS) F
Jonny Walker, Metrostars (MLS) G
Josh Wolff, Kansas City Wizards (MLS) F
Kerry Zavagnin, Kansas City Wizards (MLS) M

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