Category Archives: Coaching
My trip to the heart of rival territory…
The first week of March was exhausting. My high school soccer team had a regional playoff game on Monday night, which we won, propelling us into the state final four in Houston the following weekend. I spent the rest of the week leading up to our Thursday afternoon departure madly scrambling to arrange all the last-minute Houston trip details.
One of the main scheduling conundrums that needed solving was what to do with our 22-man team on Friday afternoon. With our semifinal game scheduled for 9:00 Friday morning, we had quite the time to kill afterward. I needed something fun and economical that wouldn’t completely sap their energy ahead of the state championship game on Saturday (assuming we won our semifinal of course).
I considered visiting the Johnson Space Center, but it is actually rather far from where we were staying in Houston. After scuttling NASA, my natural inclination was something Houston Dynamo-related – despite the fact they are the sworn enemy of FC Dallas. But what could we do?
I contacted the Dynamo’s Director of Soccer Operations, inquiring as politely as possible whether it would be possible for my team to attend a Dynamo training session if they had one Friday afternoon. I suppose this would be akin to a Liverpool fan wanting to visit a Manchester United training session. I did feel slightly traitor-ish since I’ve never arranged for my team to attend an FC Dallas training session, but these were unique circumstances, us making the final four in Houston and all. At least that’s how I soothed my fan conscience.
Surprisingly, I actually heard back from the Soccer Operations guy that the Dynamo would be training Thursday and Friday morning at 10:00 AM and that we were welcome to attend either session. My heart sank as my super cool (and cheap!) team outing would not be possible since we would be playing our semifinal Friday morning at 9:00.
The Dynamo training session bust led me to wonder if the club offered tours of their practically brand new BBVA Compass Stadium (it opened in 2012). I called the number and talked to account executive Ken who was very enthusiastic about the prospects of arranging a tour for my team. He got our request approved, called me back and just like that we were set for a 3:00 PM stadium tour on Friday.
I was excited. Not only am I endeavoring to be a more faithful MLS supporter, but I also want to spur impressionable young men to support it as well, thus doing my part to influence future generations of American soccer fans. Selfishly, I really wanted to find out if BBVA Compass Stadium is as cool as it looks on TV.
On the nearly five hour drive from our school in suburban Dallas to Houston, I tried to inspire the team with a screening of Rise & Shine: The Jay Demerit Story which I had recently purchased expressly for this trip. While documentaries may not be everyone’s cup of tea (much less teenagers’) I thought this soccer-centric story would surely have widespread appeal. The film may be sluggish in parts, but who wouldn’t be roused, perhaps even get a lump in the throat, when Demerit scores the winning goal that gained Watford promotion to the Premier League in 2006? Well, apparently I am the only one so affected. Every time I glanced around at my players on the bus during the film, no one was remotely paying attention. Each was absorbed in his own digital devices and oversized headphones. My inspirational/motivational attempt became the running joke of our state trip as I was the only one interested in watching Rise & Shine: The Jay Demerit Story (and I had already seen it).
Friday morning we dispatched Houston St. Thomas Episcopal 4-0 in our semifinal, advancing to Saturday’s state championship game against Houston Cypress Christian. Immediately following our game, the team shuttled over to another venue to watch our varsity girls’ team win their semifinal 1-0. From there, both teams traveled to a deli that was supposed to accommodate our huge troupe for lunch. After finally directing our charter bus driver (who mystifyingly did not have a GPS) to this very difficult-to-locate deli, we immediately discovered the deli had not been forthcoming on the phone about their ability to serve and seat our huge group (which included over forty players, plus coaches and several parents). This deli was in fact a lunch counter inside a high-rise office building. We had to find another restaurant capable of serving us in a timely manner, as it would have taken approximately 36 hours for everyone to eat had we stayed at the deli. The deli owner was furious and gave my assistant coach an earful, but we really had no choice but to head elsewhere.
By then I was severely stressed as I could see no way we would make it to the stadium on time for our tour. Strategizing at the alternative restaurant where we finally landed, I decided to call account executive Ken and see if there was any way to move our tour time to 4:00. Ken could not have been more laid back and accommodating. This in spite of the fact that the Dynamo brass had given Ken and the rest of the club’s staff the day off because of all the midnight oil they’d been burning in the weeks leading up to the MLS season opener. Ken told me to give him a call when we were on our way to the stadium, that he would be passing the time playing FIFA ’13 at a buddy’s apartment directly across the street from the stadium. Now I felt extra pressure – this guy was basically giving up his afternoon off to make this tour happen for us.
Houston traffic was the next hurdle on our BBVA Compass Stadium quest. We inched along for an hour on Southwest Freeway 59. I’m pretty sure Los Angeles has the only traffic I’ve experienced worse than Houston’s. I had to call account executive Ken again to explain our lateness. He still seemed cucumber-cool, assuring me he had no problem playing FIFA while he waited. Ken’s FIFA fun wasn’t quite enough to assuage my stress over our lateness though.
Finally, at 4:45 PM we pulled alongside the stadium. The team universally proclaimed the structure’s coolness. I wholeheartedly concurred. My first thought was disdain at how much the exterior aesthetics of the Dynamo’s stadium trumped FC Dallas’. From the outside BBVA Compass Stadium looks like it was constructed by and for NASA, all silver and sleek and airy. From the outside, FC Dallas Stadium looks like part of a nice strip mall.
Ken met us outside the stadium, checked us in with security, and led us straight into the lower level inner ring tunnel. He explained straight away that we unfortunately wouldn’t be able to visit the Dynamo locker room, that not even he had ever been that far inside the inner sanctum. That roused my suspicions that ridiculously successful Dynamo Head Coach Dominic Kinnear has a vault of secrets in there.
Our first tour stop was the players’ tunnel leading to the pitch. Ken led us down the ramp to the edge of the pitch right behind one of the goals. We were allowed to step to the edge of the grass, but no further. The Dynamo are apparently extra finicky about their pitch. Ken said he’s only been on the pitch once, during last year’s staff Christmas party when they played an inter-office staff match. From field level the empty stadium is awesome – a truly soccer specific venue. I’ve never been in a stadium so large that feels so intimate. Though it seats 22,000, the seats on the top row feel remarkably close to the pitch.
Ken proudly moved us through various sections of the stadium – the south party deck available for corporate rentals, the premium season ticket holder sections featuring leather seats with hand-stitched Houston Dynamo monograms, and finally the President’s Club interior lounge overlooking midfield. Stunning.
The lateness of our arrival unfortunately meant limiting our tour to half an hour. Ken would have let us stay longer, but we had a dinner reservation to get to and considering the traffic, we wanted to eat before midnight. As Ken led us back out of the stadium, we passed the Dynamo team shop, which surprisingly wasn’t much larger than FC Dallas’ shoe box-sized shop. One of our team captains asked Ken, “Everyone gets a free jersey, right?” Ken assured him that not even he gets a free jersey as a Dynamo employee. I guess you have to pay for that awesome space-aged stadium somehow.
As I forked over the cash for our tour (the admission included a match ticket, but since none of us reside in Houston we opted to donate our tickets to a local charity) and thanked Ken for his helpfulness, he informed me he would be at FC Dallas with the rest of the Dynamo front office staff for the big FC Dallas v. Dynamo Derby match on Sunday, March 17. I said I’d look for him there. We shook hands, our eyes narrowing as our grip tightened and the rivalry vibes took over… in my mind at least. He hasn’t been to FC Dallas Stadium before and I felt like apologizing for our home ground relative to the Dynamo’s awesome environs, but caught myself. What would I apologize for? So what if the Dynamo have a sweet stadium? That doesn’t make me like their team any better. I hope Ken has as pleasant an experience at our stadium as we had at theirs – right up until game time at least. Then I hope it’s a sad, sad day for Dynamo fans.
On Saturday, after a fierce 0-0 first half, we finally breached the goal and never looked back, defeating Houston Cypress Christian 4-0 for our school’s first-ever varsity boys soccer state championship. It must have been that inspiring Dynamo stadium tour – either that or Rise & Shine: The Jay Demerit Story.
Blues arrive in America for two week tour
The blog has been on pause for a couple weeks while I’ve been vacationing with my family. But I’m back home now, just in time for Chelsea’s arrival stateside for their four-city tour, which kicks off this Wednesday in Seattle against the Sounders (you can see it live on ESPN2). The team touched down in Seattle yesterday evening to begin a busy couple weeks of training, matches, and publicity.
When Chelsea last visited the States in 2009, they swung by the then brand new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas (which is just a few minutes from my house) for a game against Mexican side Club America.
Unfortunately, the Blues’ U.S. tour this time around is geographically peripheral with stops in Seattle, New York City, Philadelphia, and Miami – locales too far-flung for my schedule and pocketbook this summer. But I’ll still be closely tracking the team’s American adventure, so be sure to check back here regularly for updates.
Chelsea released their tour roster yesterday, which is an exciting mix of youngsters and veterans. I don’t envy DiMatteo’s task of determining a first team from this talented pool. Making his job even more difficult are the major players who will join the tour later (Terry, Torres, Meireles, Cole, and Malouda – due to their post-Euro 2012 rest) and four players not even on the tour since they will be playing in the Olympics (Bertrand, Sturridge, Romeu, and Mata).
Welcome to America, Chelsea! Hope you enjoy your stay and here’s hoping we get to enjoy four Blues victories while you’re here!
Which of Chelsea’s four U.S. pre-season matches are you looking forward to the most?
FC Dallas Coach Schellas Hyndman talks about team’s discipline
A few days ago I wrote about FC Dallas’ penchant for earning red cards this season, the latest offender being Jair Benitez who was booked against Houston Dynamo last Saturday. Reckless on-field behavior, including red cards last month by Daniel Hernandez and Blas Perez, and a retroactive league suspension for Brek Shea, have kicked the team when it’s already down with an unbelievable number of injuries. The cards have been extremely unwise (to put it nicely) given the club’s injury predicament and position in the Western Conference standings (currently last). It made me seriously wonder what is going on leadership-wise at FCD.
Anyway, check out this interesting admission from Coach Schellas Hyndman posted on the club’s website yesterday…
It’s good to hear Coach Hyndman alarmed at the team’s lack of mental discipline, though I’m surprised there wasn’t already a disciplinary policy (fine, suspension, etc.) in place. Anyway, it sounds like he’s ready to clamp down on this red card issue. I just hope it’s not too little too late.
What do you think FC Dallas should do to improve their mental discipline?
FC Dallas’ meltdown continues with 2-1 loss at Houston
I’d really like to write something positive related to FC Dallas this year, but they’re making it very difficult. I was hoping the long break after a busy stretch of games in May would recharge the team and turn around their increasingly dismal season. Instead, fans got more of the same from the team’s visit to Houston last night.
The first hour went very well, with the team looking much livelier than we’ve seen since the first couple weeks of the season. But then fans were treated to another completely boneheaded move from a veteran who should know better. Jair Benitez earned a red card for elbowing (off-the-ball no less) Houston’s Colin Clark in the head. Benitez’s inexcusable and inexplicable action killed FCD’s momentum and flushed away their remaining chance at possibly getting a much-needed win.
It’s understandable that players can lose their cool in the heat of battle, but Benitez’s ejection came when FCD was doing quite well in the game. They were enjoying most of the possession at the time, had just tied the game a few minutes earlier, and had decent momentum. What was Benitez thinking? He wasn’t and that’s the problem. Several FCD players haven’t been thinking this year.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend some time around the FCD coaching staff at a clinic and was impressed by their affable, down-to-earth style. But I’m beginning to wonder if that easy-going atmosphere unintentionally allows lapses in players’ on-field discipline. These FCD red cards are getting ridiculous. The club should fine Jair Benitez. Whether or not issuing fines is an effective means to chastise professional players is beyond my realm of expertise, but something must be done. The card blunders this season are baffling considering the team’s injury woes. The red cards have completely changed matches that FCD legitimately might have won. It is also discouraging for fans – who are already disappointed that so many FCD stars are out injured – and have to endure further benchwarmer misadventures when players like Benitez are suspended for red cards.
Speaking of frustrating benchwarmers, it’s certainly not substitute Andrew Wiedeman’s fault that Dallas lost, but seriously, what was with his two awful corner kicks late in the match? Before the first one, he squandered a shot opportunity in the box by trying to take a controlling touch when the team really just needed him to blast it at the goal. On both corner kicks, he sailed the ball completely over the cluster of FCD players in the box. It was a maddening waste since chances were precious with FCD down to ten men.
On the plus side, Castillo showed some real spark in the first half and Jackson played out of his mind. Jackson showed amazing speed and tremendous stamina. He scored FCD’s only goal and later saved a goal off the line. The problem with Jackson and Castillo is their propensity for holding onto the ball a couple seconds too long. They both have too many turnovers in the critical final third.
It would be easy for the team, and fans, to blame FC Dallas’ poor season on all the injuries. But FCD has been very competitive in most of their matches this year, and should have won many of them, despite their missing starters. This is no longer a slump – it’s a crisis. Adversity often reveals what a team is truly made of, and right now I’m pretty disappointed with what I see.
What should FC Dallas do to correct its course?
Roberto Di Matteo is finally Chelsea’s “permanent” manager
On Wednesday, Chelsea announced they are upgrading Roberto Di Matteo from “caretaker” manager to full-blown regular manager. He has apparently signed a two-year contract, which is three months in Abramovich years. Just kidding, Romovich. Just a little sacking humor.
Actually, Di Matteo’s hiring shows some good common sense from the Chelsea brass. Sure, he’s not on the big-time fancy manager short list (at least not yet anyway). But why on earth wouldn’t you give an extension to the guy who was at the helm for an F.A. Cup title and the club’s first Champions League title – all in his first few months on the job? It only seems fair that he would get the chance to manage Chelsea for a full season. Chelsea has chosen wisely.
Di Matteo proved adept at getting Chelsea ready for big matches and guiding them in sticking with the game plan. I wish I knew exactly what he did so differently from Andre Villas-Boas behind the scenes, but whatever it was it worked. Di Matteo apparently has great rapport with the Blues squad. It takes time to develop trust and quality relationships between coach and players, so why bust up something that works?
In the excellent (and recently revised/updated) book Soccernomics, the authors statistically show that, generally speaking, the amount players are paid has more bearing on a team’s success than who manages the team. So if you have a manager the players trust, who is strategically competent, and a good ambassador for the club, you might as well stick with him. Save the big bucks for your players rather than blowing it on a ritzy-name manager.
The challenge for Di Matteo next season will be incorporating new players and building for the future, while still satisfying the fans’ (and owner’s) hunger to win. Another potential challenge will be maintaining the team’s drive after already winning the biggest club prize in world soccer. But as anyone who followed Chelsea last season knows, despite winning the Champions League, there is plenty of room for improvement!
What do you think of Di Matteo’s appointment as Chelsea manager?