Friday, October 27, 2006

Real Salt Lake - The Issues

Andrea Canales has a nice column on Real Salt Lake. She looks at some of the posative points of their season despite their last place finish in the West and 3rd worst in the league overall. While it's refreshing to see a columnist look at the posistives, there are several issues facing the team. 4) Ellinger - There are still a lot of question marks over his ability to coach at the professional level. Many of his critics say that it's not Ellinger that turned the team around in the 2nd half of the season but simply the added quality players on the team coming together and finally performing well. 3) Pope and Kreis - Both Eddie Pope and Jason Kreis are important players in the history of Major League Soccer (MLS). Eddie Pope's one of the highest paid players in the league. He'll be 33 going into the next season which normally wouldn't rule out a center back from having a good year except that he's been struggling with back problems. This year we saw a 35 year old Tony Sanneh return to form after struggling through back injuries. It's not time to rule Pope out yet. But it may not be worth the risk especially considering in the MLS, RSL could have a couple decent defenders for Pope's wages. Kreis is facing similar questions over how much he can contribute to the offense next year as a 34 year old. He may slide back into the midfield. That solves one problem but creates new questions over how well he can contribute day in, day out in that role and who from the midfield - Williams, Ballouchy, or Klein - loses out. 2) Defense - Real Salt Lake was tied for the worst defense in the league this year. While it was much improved over 2005's expansion year, it was hard for them to get worse than last year's performance. The team only had 4 shutouts. It's not just the number of goals they gave up but that consistantly gave up goals. This is another reason that the team may be better served cashing in on Eddie Pope. It also leads to questions over the quality of the midfield. Williams, Klein and even Ballouchy are not known for their ability to defend. Ellinger needs to shake up things in his midfield to give their defense more help. 1) Jeff Cunningham - The key change last offseaon was bringing in Jeff Cunningham. He was directly involved in 28 of RSL's 45 goals in 2006. But this was the last year of his contract and the league has yet to announce signing him to an extension. And to thicken the plot a few weeks ago Cunningham was quoted in the press making comments about playing at the new expansion team, Toronto FC. If Cunningham doesn't return for 2007, Real Salt Lake has a huge void to fill to say the least.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Political Correctness???

Wisla Krakow's Nikola Mijailovic was just handed a 5 game ban for allegedly directing racial slurs at Blackburn's Benni McCarthy. I have no doubts that racism occurs in the game. In fact it's one area that frustrates me with europe. They seem 30 years behind the US in addressing the issue both in the game and in society as a whole. My concern is over exactly how it's addressed in the game. In many ways the issue is similar to that over hate crime laws in the US. I've never been a fan of them myself. If you murder someone because they're hispanic instead od murdering them because they slept with your wife or over a drug deal gone bad, I don't see either as being worse than the other. They all show a clear disrespect for human life. The same situation applies to cleaning up things in the game. Is it any worse for a player to commit ungentlemanly conduct if they're trying to get under the other guys skin by telling him his sister's a whore than it is to tell him he's a monkey? And even if you decide that calling a black player a monkey is worse, where do you draw the lines? If you tell a Turkish player that his dad was a Kurdish terrorist is that a plain insult or is that racist? What if a Brasilian player with clear African heritage calls a player from the Ivory Coast a monkey? What if a referee at a game overhears a Somali player telling an African-American player that his mom was a crack whore? Is that a racial insult when it's one black insulting another? And if it is, will the punishment be just as bad as if it a white saying that to a black? Or what an English player tells a Russian player that his dad is a worthless drunk and should lay off the vodka? Is that going to be punished too? My concern is that as they try to clean up the game, 2 things will happen. The first is that the authorities will not anticipate these issues and try to start dialogue on them until they've occured. This will result in inconsistant punishments both in terms of what constitutes racial abuse and the punishments that are handed out My other concern is that it will take decades before the full scope of racism is addressed. That is for too long the definition will be oversimplistic and PC-driven. It will not take into account racist taunts directed at players because their Corsican or Russian or some other form of "white". And it won't take into account the various racial taunts from one "black" player to another "black". It is nice to see UEFA slowly dipping their toe into the water and starting to get involved. But they should've been doing a lot more about this a decade or two ago. And now that they're finally doing something about it, they don't seem to be considering all the aspects of the issue. I

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

2006 MLS Sophmore Player of The Year

Quick Note : Props to College To Pros in letting me share this post with them. They focus on young players at the youth level or ones having moved into the pro game. This is an aspect of the game in the US that does not get the attention it deserves.

2006 MLS Sophmore Player of The Year

There's always a lot of talk about the rookie of the year. We'll hear about players going through a sophomore slump. But we don't hear many pundits talk about the sophomore player of the year. That is, just like picking the best rookie in the league, picking out who in their 2nd year performed the best.

I find how a player performs in their 2nd year to say more about them than how they did in their rookie year. Offensive players have an advantage in their first year. They can get away with more mistakes than defenders. A mistake on the offensive end can result in something like a goal kick. A mistake on the defensive end can result in a goal against your team.

Even though technically this wasn't Herculez Gomez's sophomore year, he only got 5 minutes of playing time in his first year. In many ways last year was his rookie year. He did great. This year he's frequently struggled to even get playing time, let alone doing well. MLS defenses have adjusted and he's struggled to play consistently well.

Unlike offensive players, a gaffe in the defensive third too often results in a goal. This leaves young defensive players with a lot less room for error than their defensive counter parts. Because of the importance of not only raw skill but also reading the game and recognizing the positioning and movements needed to keep things tight at the back, it often takes defensive players a year just to adjust to the level of the MLS. It's in their second year that defenders tend to show what they're really capable of in the league.. One can see this in the list below with the number of defenders that had a good 2nd year.

There were a lot of players that in their 2nd year in the league that got a lot of playing time. And a lot of them did a decent job with it. Guys like Drew Moor, Chad Barrett, Ugo Ihemelu, Danny O'Rourke, Clyde Simms, Hunter Freeman and others were worth looking at. But many of them did not see enough playing time or really stand out in their play to be in the running for the award. That's not to say that guys like Chad Barrett still don't have a lot of promise. They just didn't do enough this year to be in the running.

These are the players I thought were most deserving of being called best sophomore player in the league :

5) Kevin Novak – Real Salt Lake

Novak is the dark horse candidate that made my list. In many ways this was a bit like a rookie season for him. For the first time in his career he found himself playing right back.

Luke Kreamalmeyer was the early season rookie darling at Real Salt Lake during their 2005 inaugural year. "Kreme" was fast, hard working and got the starting not for their first every game at home. But it was Novak caught fans attention as the season wound down. He was thrown into the starting lineup late in the season when RSL was in the middle of a massive losing streak (they closed the season out going 0-11-1).

This year Ellinger seemed more than happy to put him on the back burning. Ex-US International Chris Klein had a lock on starting on the right side of the midfield. And Ellinger seemed happy to experiment with Andy Williams, Medhi Ballouchy and rookie Ryan Johnson on the left.

Veteran Chris Brown wasn't looking good as a rightback. Novak stepped up and showed Brown how to get things done and made the job at RB his own. He got in over 2,000 for RSL this year. At times he made some mistakes but he made up for it with his work rate.

4) Chris Rolfe – Chicago Fire

He generated a lot of buzz in his rookie year racking up 8 goals and 5 assists. He's had some injuries to deal with, especially this year. Had he not broken his foot, it's likely he would've went on to have a year better than last years. Despite the unfortunate injury and only getting 1,636 minutes this year he still managed to put away 7 goals. More importantly, as Revolution coach Steve Nicol recently pointed out, he has a wonderful understanding of the game. Watch for him putting away a key goal or three for the Fire in the playoffs this year.

3) Michael Parkhurst – New England Revolution

The beauty of Parkhurst is that he's darn good without being spectacular. And in many ways that's exactly what you want in a defender. You want them to be consistently good. You can't afford them to have an off night without your team being punished for it.

One of the things I don't hear people talk about enough with Parkhurst is he ability to read the play and break it up cleanly. Last year in his rookie season he picked up only 2 yellow cards while playing every minute of the season for the Revolution. This year he missed 2 games but only got one yellow card (YC). Not only did Parkhurst avoid having a sophomore slump but he had another solid season. He may not be spectacular but he may turn out to be the next Ryan Nelsen.

2) Scott Sealy – Kansas City Wizards

If I had to pick Eddie Johnson or Scott Sealy to be on my team, I wouldn't hesitate to pick Sealy. Kansas City brought Eddie Johnson in expecting him to do big things for the team and have paid him big wages accordingly. Johnson hasn't produced but luckily for KC, Scott Sealy stepped up again this year and scored goals when they needed them. He put away 10 goals for them this year and nearly dragged them into the playoffs. Not only did he score goals again this year but he did it needing less minutes and less shots than most any other player in the league. His presence at Kansas City makes Eddie Johnson expendable.

And the winner for the unofficial 2007 Major League Sophomore of the Year award is :

1) Bobby Boswell – DC United

If I were a GM, my wet dreams would involve building a defense around this kid. In fact, I'd love to see him teamed up with Parkhurst. It'd be good cop / bad cop with Bobby being the bad cop. Parkhurt gets his job done quietly. On the other hand Bobby isn't shy to remind you of his presense. Boswell was key part of the defense for DC United yet again. He looks to have a nice combination of skills. He didn't get involved in the attack as often this year but the young Troy Perkins in the net and the offense scoring goals, it was better for the team for it to be that way. He's only 23 and looks capable of leading the USA's backline for World Cup 2010.

Monday, October 23, 2006

BBC On New England's Steve Nicol

Steve Nicol, New England Revolution Props to Neilissimo on bringing to my attention a nice article by the BBC on Steve Nicol. Nicol doesn't sound as though he's looking at going back to England to try coaching just yet. It was good to see that he's interested in coachign the US Men. He's not a candidate this time around but I think he's got the quality to do the job, esepcially with his unique experience of playing for big clubs, competing at a high national team level and also being familiar with the weird quirks that America has in it's game.