Monthly Archives: June 2011

Chelsea Transfer Rumors

Are Drogba and Essien on their way out?

Two of my favorite blues are Didier Drogba and Michael Essien.  They first caught my attention at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, playing for Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana respectively.  The fact that they both played for Chelsea FC was a primary reason I became such an avid Chelsea fan in the first place.  So the rumors that either or both of them could be sent to another club are disappointing to say the least.

I get it, soccer is obviously a business and difficult personnel decisions have to be made from time to time.  Unfortunately, players have a finite shelf life and clubs have to be strategic about when to transfer them.  Clubs can’t afford to be as sentimental toward players as fans are.

I know this is tainted with sentiment, but I really don’t think it’s time to let go of Drogba or Essien.  Both underperformed last season, but Drogba in particular surged in the last month or so (maybe it was the competition for his spot with Torres).  They’ve both got plenty of good soccer left in them, even if Drogba’s is more of a substitute role next season.  According to a report today, Essien’s agent says Essien is not leaving Chelsea.  Hope that’s true!  As for Drogba, his former club Marseille seem pretty interested

Which Chelsea squad members would you transfer, if any?

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Post-Gold Cup Debriefing

Changes needed before US can book 2014 trip to Brazil

Unfortunately, if the Gold Cup is any indication, US qualification for World Cup 2014 is not a forgone conclusion.  It should be.  I still expect them to make it, but we’ve got to tighten the belts and get to work to be certain.  Here is a handy to-do list:

1)  The US needs a defensive overhaul immediately if not sooner.  Fast counterattacks from the opposition should not be a surprise, yet fans hold their breath every time the US faces one because it’s inevitably a shaky moment.

Cherundolo’s the man, and Bocanegra has a lot of guts.  However, they’re not getting any younger and who knows where they’ll be in their careers three years from now.  Goodson and Lichaj have potential, but I’m not convinced they’re up to World Cup standards.  Maybe they will be by 2014, but in the mean time, we need to have a massive nationwide search for the best and the brightest.  Uncle Sam Wants You… to play some airtight D!

2)  The US needs someone to accelerate into space with the ball and attack the goal.  The best teams always seem to have a player or two who can move the ball solo when necessary, creating panic in the opposing defense and scoring opportunities (just look at Dos Santos and Hernandez in the Gold Cup final).  The US doesn’t have anyone like that right now.  Dempsey, currently the best all-around US player, is more confident and poised on the ball than he’s ever been.  But he doesn’t have the kind of open-field speed with the ball that the team needs.

Anyone who remembers the US teams of the 90s knows we’ve come a very long way in our possession game.  Now we just need to ratchet up the tempo multiple notches.

3)  Figure out our best roster and stick to it.  Teams need time to gel.  If we’re still tinkering by spring 2014, it will not be a good sign.  Give Maurice Edu some minutes (I don’t know why he spent most of the Gold Cup on the bench).  Kljestan surprised me in his limited appearances.  He’s worth another look.  Time-wise, the most proportionally impressive US player during the Gold Cup was actually Freddy Adu.  He needs to figure prominently in qualifying plans.

I’m not writing off Altidore yet because he’s young and could still develop into a great player, however, he’s had more than his fair share of chances the past few years and hasn’t produced nearly enough.  It’s time to look at some other striker options.  By the way, Agudelo and Wondolowski aren’t the answers.  I don’t like this strategy of cherry-picking whoever’s hot in MLS at tournament time.  Not that MLS can’t provide some excellent talent – it can – but the MLS picks for South Africa and the Gold Cup did not pan out.

4)  It’s time for a new coach.  I like Bob Bradley.  I didn’t at first.  After giving him a chance and reading more about him (Filip Bondy’s book Chasing the Game has a great section on Bradley), what I initially perceived to be arrogance I came to see more as dignity and wisdom.  He represented the country honorably and I admire that.  However, it’s time for a fresh start.  We need someone like Guus Hiddink or Jurgen Klinsmann.  Maybe someone with professional playing experience.  It seems counter-intuitive for Americans to pick a foreigner to coach our national team, but we could really benefit from the different perspective and experience a foreigner would provide.  Now is the best time to make a coaching change before World Cup qualifying gets fully under way.

What do you think – should Coach Bradley stay or go?  What else does the US need to address ahead of World Cup 2014?

Gold Cup Meltdown

US Defeat Raises Many Questions

The US loss to Mexico in the Gold Cup Final was a disappointing end to an eye-opening tournament for the Americans.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t that surprising to see the US squander an early 2 – 0 lead.  Fans of the USMNT are used to such ups and downs.  I have a lot of affection for the current core group – there are some real fighters among them (Cherundolo & Dempsey were gutsy standouts during this tourney).  But boy does the US have its work cut out for them to get ready for 2014!

Mexico was the better team Saturday.  The frustrating thing is we had a real chance.  Perhaps the US meltdown was due to the fact that we have virtually no experience taking such an early lead, much less maintaining it.  No excuses though.  The US should’ve done much better.

Mexico had surprisingly little possession or build-up, but they didn’t need it.  All they had to do was stop the often snail-paced US advance or wait for the US to cough up the ball, then speedily counterattack.  If I had to put my finger on one thing Mexico had that the US did not, it was the lethal counterattack.  They were also better at being in the right place at the right time.

I’m not usually one to blame goalkeepers for losses, but Tim Howard’s performance Saturday was frustrating.  Losing Cherundolo so early on undoubtedly made for a long afternoon for Howard (and don’t get me started on Bornstein as Cherundolo’s replacement – if he’s our best defensive bench option then we’re in more trouble than I thought!), but Howard should have stopped at least three of the four Mexican goals.

Howard’s play was particularly head scratching during the mad box scramble that led to the fourth Mexican goal.  Much has been made of Dos Santos’ skillful chip-in, but what about Howard’s blunder?  That goal clearly shouldn’t have happened.  Based on his post-game outburst regarding the Spanish-language award ceremony, it seems Howard knew he had a bad day.  Howard is a world-class keeper, but his best days don’t coincide often enough with the occasions when the US needs him most.

Mark J. Terrill – AP Images

So where does the US go from here?  I suggest the drawing board.  The Gold Cup loss isn’t the end of the world, but the US is an established enough soccer nation that total domination of CONCACAF – including Mexico – should never be in question.  The fact that it is in question, with World Cup qualifying just around the corner, is cause for concern.

The New 2011/12 Chelsea Kits

Solid choices for next season’s jerseys

Guys never care more about fashion than when discussing team colors/uniforms.  You wouldn’t catch most guys having a similarly hearty debate by a shirt rack in the Gap, but in the context of our teams, suddenly we’re all designers.

I like simple jerseys, with streamlined sponsor logos.  I find French league jerseys way too busy, often resembling subway walls.  MLS kits are great by and large, if a bit homogenous (since all are Adidas).  The EPL’s are generally solid with occasional offenders (my retinas are still recovering from that hot pink Everton away number from season before last).  As a biased Chelsea fan, I think their uniforms have been mostly snazzy in recent years and I like their kit selections for next season.  You can buy yours here (I don’t get a cut – I’m just pointing the way as a public service).

I particularly like the way Adidas designed the new Chelsea home jersey – consistent with the past few seasons, but with small additions that make it new.  I really like the white shoulders and subtly alternating horizontal stripes within the blue.  Last season’s jersey is hard to beat (the red in the collar was cool), but the new one holds its own without reinventing the wheel…

As for the away kit, well, I definitely like it better than last season’s ode to Halloween colors.  I prefer it when teams don’t completely abandon their core colors in their away jersey, so I like the way this one ties in the blue via the square pattern on the front.  This one still doesn’t surpass my favorite Chelsea away jersey from the past several seasons – the ‘09/10 mostly-white alternate  – but it’s an improvement over last year…

So Chelsea fans, what do you think about the new threads – good, bad, or ugly?  Which league features the best kits overall?

Much Adu About Freddy

Freddy Adu makes off-the-bench impact in US victory over Panama

American media loves to irrationally over-hype individuals, then later tear them down.  Perhaps it’s the incessant need for something to write/talk about.  Whatever the reason, it’s annoying.  Over the past several years, there may be no more egregious example of this than the Freddy Adu story.

Poor Freddy was trotted out as a 14-year-old and heralded as the latest hero of American soccer – the smiling ingénue who would cause millions of American boys to cast aside their helmets, mitts, and basketballs in favor of the beautiful game.  And when that didn’t happen overnight, and Freddy didn’t even play all that much, and the MLS didn’t start printing money, the media predictably dropped Adu like a bad habit.  By the time he was eighteen, when most folks are just starting to awkwardly figure out what to do with their lives, Freddy was considered a washed-up has-been.  Ridiculous and terribly unfair.

That’s why it was so gratifying to see Adu get some minutes late in the second half of the 1 – 0 U.S. victory over Panama in the first of last night’s Gold Cup semifinals.  U.S. coach Bob Bradley looked downright genius for inserting Adu when he did.  Adu was an instant energy boost, pestering the fatigued Panama defense with darting runs on and off the ball.  It was his looping, on-a-dime pass to Landon Donovan that set up Donovan’s grass-scorching pass through the box to Clint Dempsey who tapped in the winner.

Credit to Bob Bradley (who has definitely been on my iffy list due to the Americans’ weak Gold Cup group play) for recognizing the potential that is so obviously still present in the now 22-year-old Adu.  Here’s hoping this Gold Cup will be the spark Adu needs to take his game to the next level and be the first of many more appearances for the U.S. national team!

On that note, as an EPL fan, I’d love to see Adu develop with a Premier League club.  Which club do you think would be a good fit for Freddy?

Chelsea Welcomes New Manager Andre Villas-Boas

Former Porto honcho a bold choice by Chelsea

My initial reaction to the recent rumors and subsequent hiring of Andre Villas-Boas as the new Chelsea manager was surprise, followed quickly by this could be good.  Surprise, because after weeks of Guus Hiddink the Sequel rumors, I was pretty much resigned to Hiddink landing the job – not in too much of a negative sense mind you, it just wasn’t all that exciting a choice.  Hiddink would be a safe, solid pick, with loads of experience and previous Chelsea rapport to build on, he just doesn’t seem like a candidate who would be in for the long haul.

Villas-Boas on the other hand could be the perfect man for the long haul.  He’s young (33) and energetic.  He aspires to coach in the EPL.  He’s already worked at Chelsea for a spell during the Mourinho years.  Any hesitance is simply due to his limited track record.  Porto’s last season was undeniably fantastic, and Villas-Boas has been tutored by some renowned managers, but it does give me pause considering most Chelsea starters have been playing three, four, or five times as long as he’s been a manager (I haven’t done the math, but it’s a lot).

It also gives me pause when you read comments about what great friends he is with his players.  Really?  Do managers need to be best buds with their team?  Certainly, at this level, you want to have good manager-player rapport, but I don’t like the idea of the manager being a peer, texting buddy, BFF with the team.  Call me old school, but I prefer a manager at least a few years older than his players because of the perspective and wisdom it can afford him.

After those last two paragraphs I almost talked myself out of Villas-Boas enthusiasm.  Plus, “Villas-Boas” doesn’t really roll off the tongue (or keyboard).  I wonder if we can call him “VB” for short?  Or maybe just Andre.  He is a risky choice, but I like the idea overall.  It’s not as if he has to build the club from the ground up.  He has a lot to work with.  If he works out, he could be just the kind of long-term manager Chelsea could build their future around.  Hopefully they’ll demonstrate more patience with Andre  than they did with Carlo!

Thanks-a-lotti, Carlo (part 2)

Firing Carlo Ancelotti was a knee-jerk reaction to a disappointing Chelsea season.

At the English Premier League level – unless there is obvious locker room strife, or some other glaring incompetence – you’ve  got to give managers a few seasons to implement their system.  Now I love the current Chelsea players.  It is their individual talent and smooth cohesion on the pitch that made me a Chelsea supporter in the first place.  But they had a poor season.  And it wasn’t Ancelotti’s fault (unless he never included shooting practice in training sessions).

When Ancelotti took the helm before the ‘09/10 season, he inherited a very good team.  He orchestrated a couple additions for the 2010/11 season (most notably Ramires), but by and large wasn’t there long enough to implement much of anything.  I haven’t checked Chelsea’s shooting percentage from last season, but it wasn’t pretty, and I’m certain the plethora of missed scoring opportunities caused the second place finish in the league far more than any perceived Ancelotti blunders.

With twenty teams in the Premier League, no one’s club is going to win the title every year.  But you at least want your team to be in the running.  Chelsea was in the running last season.  Should they have done better?  Absolutely!  Was it Carlo’s fault that they didn’t?  I really don’t think so.  Perhaps if next season is similar or worse than last season, you could think about letting Ancelotti go then, but the man should’ve been given another season.

I like and appreciate Abramovich’s cash and all it has brought to Chelsea FC.  I also like the fact that he’s not a media attention hound.  But I don’t like his revolving door approach to managers.  Managers don’t win soccer matches.  Players do.  So, whoever the next manager is, grant him at least three seasons to settle in and see what he can help the players accomplish.

Thanks-a-lotti, Carlo (part 1)

Firing Carlo Ancelotti was a knee-jerk reaction to a disappointing Chelsea season.

It was disappointing to see Carlo Ancelotti let go.  He deserved better than the calloused way he was dumped.  He wasn’t at Chelsea long enough for fans to grow too attached, but he was growing on this fan at least.  And then poof!  Second place finish, with no additional trophies or Champions League final even though you were at the helm for the historic Double just last season?   Sorry, Carlo.  Don’t let the (bus) door hit you on the way out.  At least that’s what it seems the club’s executive attitude was.

Many fans support the modern tendency in major sports to blame the coach and ship him out when championships don’t flow annually.  I’m not a fan of this carousel approach because I don’t think it produces championships.  Teams do.  And how do you develop/maintain good teams?  I’m no teamwork guru, but it seems that solid leadership (via the manager) and stability are key.  You don’t get leadership or stability with the carousel approach.

Apparently the Chelsea FC board disagrees.  Check out Chief Executive Ron Gourlay’s comment in a Reuters interview Thursday:

Continuity is very important but so is performance and results… Our model may not be the model others agree with but at the end of the day, we’ve taken the decisions we felt we needed to take to develop Chelsea Football Club… and we’ve won 10 major trophies in the last six years.

As a fan, you certainly want your club management to be passionate and vigilant about winning, but Chelsea is a club with the kind of stature that demands longevity with a respected manager.  Someone who can mold and maintain the team in a methodical fashion that will yield long-term results.  Was Ancelotti that guy?  I don’t know.  Perhaps.  But we’ll never find that guy by starting over every season or two.