Welcome to Episode 2 of Superman and the SoccerSmith's Soccer Q&A. We're trying out a new format this week, let us know what you think. And without further ado, we bring you the 4-4-2.
1) Superman (SM) - The MLS SuperDraft just happened. Considering that college athletics aren't nearly as important in other countries who have much better domestic leagues, and so many kids are going to play abroad (either in lieu of college or sometimes during), how important do you think it is to keep this uniquely American process going?
SoccerSmith (SS) - In a word, the reason we have drafts in professional sports here in the States is to create parity. The weakest teams get the highest picks and it allows more teams to be able to compete on a shorter timeline. You could argue that this makes our top clubs weaker because they can't build a pipeline of top flight talent to constantly replenish their own stocks, but I think it's better for the league as a whole. In 19 seasons, the league has seen nine different champions and ten different clubs win the Supporter's Shield (team with the best regular season record). Compare that to the last 19 seasons in England where there have been only four Premier League Champions (Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City) or Spain where only nine clubs have won a title since 1929.
SM - I guess my biggest problem with the draft is that I'm not sure if it's working as advertised. There are a load of players who are jumping ship to Europe and South America who would be top picks in the draft and the reasons they are leaving are mostly money-based. If a young player has a choice between playing in the MLS for a set amount of money or playing in Europe or South America for considerably more, I'd have to think that would be an easy choice. A "better" league with more exposure to bigger European and South American clubs along with more money? Sign me up. I'm not saying that we need to pay rookies in the league like NFL rookies get paid, but there needs to be more incentive for our young players to stay and play here. That's how you grow the league from the inside.
2) SS - Will Jozy Altidore's career get back on track now that's returned from Europe?
SM - That is the 5-6 million dollar question, isn't it? Look, it's easy to say that he failed in England, and that this is a step down, competition-wise, from where he was playing. However the biggest difference between then and his immediate future is this: He's going to not only play, but start. Regularly. And with the addition of Sebastian Giovinco in the midfield and his USMNT teammate Mike Bradley, he should score some goals. Goal scoring leads to confidence, which leads to better, more inspired play, which leads to more goal scoring. It's the kind of cycle that benefits world-class forwards. So yeah, I think this could most definitely get him back on track.
SS - If this doesn't get him back on track, then nothing will. As you said, he's going to have every opportunity to succeed in Toronto where he will be THE GUY. He's got a suddenly very impressive supporting cast, and he's going to see the ball a lot. We saw what he did with opportunities in the Netherlands, and while I don't necessarily think he's going to break any records, I think a solid 15-18 goal season is certainly reasonable.
3) SM - Considering the moves that NYCFC are making combined with the proven leadership of Jason Kreis, do you think they can make a legitimate title challenge in their first year in the league?
SS - Absolutely they can challenge for the title. I don't see a clear-cut favorite in the East right now, and if things go well for NYCFC, there's no reason why they can't be right in the thick of things. Add the fact that an extra team from each conference makes the postseason this year which means you only need to be in the top six to have a chance. Once you're in the playoffs, anything can happen. They're certainly not a shoe-in, and I think you could make a legitimate argument for almost every team in the East to be a contender, but I think I could say with a straight face that if things go well, NYCFC could absolutely be in the title game conversation.
SM - With the roster they're shaping up I think it's safe to say that they will make an immediate impact, and they will only get better once Lampard arrives. The main problem with any brand-new squad is getting them to play and act as a team. If they can get past that and buy into what Jason Kreis is selling, I think they could be a very dangerous team. Having said that, I totally agree that you could make an argument for almost every team in the East this upcoming season. It should make for some very entertaining soccer. I cannot wait for it to get kicked off.
4) SS - Who's going to have a bigger impact this season, Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard?
SM - Stevie G. Hands down. If for no other reason than he'll be slotting into a proven system that wins championships. With all due respect to NYCFC and Jason Kreis, they are just starting up there in the big apple, while Bruce Arena has been busy winning championships with proven superstars. For me the edge has to go to Steven Gerrard, even though I think Lamps is actually the better player.
SS - I don't necessarily disagree with your points, but I'll offer up this counterargument. Lampard isn't only going to have an impact as a player, but also as a mentor for young Mix Diskerud. If Lampard can elevate Diskerud's game to another level, I think his impact in totality will be larger.
1) SM - So far with this current crop of USMNT players we've seen flashes of brilliance and, to my eye, a load of mediocre play. What do you think it's going to take for us to play at a consistently high level?
SS - Well that's the real question, isn't it? You never really know what you're going to get with this group. I think you're going to continue to see inconsistency until this team settles on an identity. Are we an attack-first team? Are we defensive stalwarts? Are we technically savvy? Are we big and physical? About the only thing you can say about the U.S. is that we're traditionally pretty fit, and they never give up. And those two things in themselves aren't going to win Championships. I really think we need to settle on a system, and then start figuring out who the best players for that system are going to be, and then stick with it. The continuous changes of lineups and personnel prevent any continuity from one match to the next and until we land on something, we're going to continue to be a middle-of-the-pack also-ran.
SM - The Dutch play "total football". The Spanish play possession. The Germans play a very dynamic, free-flowing/attacking style of play. We, as you said, seem to be a team without an identity. For a long time we seemed to be a defend and counterattack team. Then Klinsmann came in and the expectations were that we would change into more of an attack-first team. The problem has been that, even after 4 years of Klinsyball, we seem to have a tendency to fall back into what we used to do, and that's when the fans get frustrated. As fans, we want to see our team succeed, and for that they absolutely need consistency. The next tournament, The Gold Cup, is right around the corner and unless we get settled in now, it could be a very long tournament (and an even longer year) for USMNT fans.
2) SS - When do you think we'll see Gedion Zelalem in a U.S. jersey?
SM - Hopefully just as soon as FIFA clears the paperwork. To my knowledge he's very keen on playing for the old Red, White, and Blue, and quite frankly, we could sorely use the type of playmaker he's supposed to be. Having said that, I hope people don't have unrealistic expectation along the lines of Julian Green. GZ and Green are both very, very early into their careers and sometimes I think people place too many expectations on these young kids.
SS - You make an excellent point about expectations. Zelalem is highly touted prospect, but it's not like he's getting first team minutes with Arsenal. He's still a project, and realistically, he's probably still a little ways away from being able to have an impact at the National Team level. That said, the sooner we can lock him in the better, so it wouldn't surprise me if, assuming he's eligible, he ends up on the Gold Cup roster this summer.
3) SM - Let's speculate. Jozy and Deuce up top or Aron Johannsson and Terrance Boyd?
SS - Well, are we talking this summer's Gold Cup or are we talking the 2018 World Cup? Because if a 35-year-old Clint Dempsey is still our best attacking option in 2018 then we either have some serious problems, or Deuce is a physical anomaly. Anyhow, for this summer's Gold Cup, assuming no new injuries, I'd expect to see Deuce and Jozy up top. Until someone else steps up and proves otherwise, those two are our best attacking option right now. The other two are kind of up in the air to even make the roster at this point. Johannsson is coming off of ankle surgery and isn't yet in form, and who knows if Boyd will ever return to form from his knee injury. Now if we're going to jump to 2018, it's certainly possible that Jozy is still in the conversation as he'll only be 28 when the next World Cup kicks off. After that, there's a whole stable of options: Johannsson, Boyd, Gyasi Zardes, Dom Dwyer, Rubio Rubin, etc. Plus, you have all of the previously undiscovered talent that Klinsmann has yet to unveil. Undoubtedly, the American Striker search will certainly be something to watch as we start the next cycle.
SM - I admit, this was a fairly vague question, especially with Johansson just getting back to full fitness and Boyd still rehabbing his knee, but you hit on what I was getting at. We seem to have a plethora of attacking options up top and the future looks bright, but who will it be going forward? With everyone healthy (I know, but I'm speculating) I would love to see a 2-striker team of Johannsson and Boyd. AJo has legitimate pace and Boyd is quick, powerful, and excellent in the air. Jozy and Deuce notwithstanding, I honestly think that these two could be our future.
4) SS - Do you think leaving Rubio Rubin off the U-20 Roster was a mistake?
SM - Actually, no. I count him as a member of the senior squad and this is a good chance for the lesser-known guys to make a name for themselves. I'm a firm believer that once you get a cap for the senior squad, you should be cap-tied to the senior squad.
SS - I'm actually going to disagree with you here. While I see your rationale, I think the youth national teams are more than just an opportunity for undiscovered talent. It's an opportunity for our younger players to get minutes against top competition. If this was a friendly match or lowgrade tournament, I'd agree with you, but this is a tournament for a berth to the U-20 World Cup. And our goal should be to put together a team that can win the tournament, not just provide experience to some of our fringe players. Rubin is a bonafide striker, and our U-20s are struggling to score goals. Yes, Romain Gall is tied for the tournament lead in scoring, but three of his goals have come from the penalty spot. Furthermore, in three games against not-Aruba, we haven't scored in the run of play. We have one goal off a set piece (corner kick), and two penalty kicks. And that's it. And now we're a loss to Trinidad and Tobago away from being eliminated from the tournament all together. I really think Rubin could help this team, and leaving him off the roster was a mistake.
1) SM - Do you think we'll ever see Stuart Holden suit up to play again? For club or country?
SS - Man, I hope so. I'm a big Stuart Holden fan, but at age 29, I think it's safe to say his National Team days are finished. But could he make a return at the club level? I certainly think so. Whether it's with Bolton, or it's here in the States, I think as long as he wants a chance, someone will give it to him. The guy definitely deserves a break.
SM - I know it's a longshot, and call me selfish is you must, but I want to see him suit up for the US one more time. I know this summer for the Gold Cup is unlikely, but it's not outside the realm of possibility for Copa America, and even the next World Cup is not a completely insane notion. It's so hard to not root for this guy when you know how much he's been through and how positive he's been the whole time. He is beloved by Bolton Wanderer supporters and USMNT supporters alike and it's for his wonderfully positive attitude as much as the fact that the guy can play. Here's to hoping to seeing him suit up again and playing for a long time, injury-free.
2) SS - Where will Freddy Adu be in six months?
SM - Bagging groceries? Waiting tables? Playing in the World Series of Poker? In all honesty this question could be answered so many ways it's almost not a fair question. Now, where would I like to see him in 6 months? Hopefully on the comeback trail. The kid had so much potential and so much promise, and us fans have by and large been let down. I think he needs someone to take him under his wing and give him some guidance, and give us fans another chance at seeing what he could have been.
SS - I suppose the possibilities are more or less endless. Dancing with the Stars maybe? He's got great footwork. I do hope he catches on somewhere. I'd hate to think that he ends up as nothing more than a precautionary tale. He's only 25, so there's certainly time for him to get things back on track, but he's got to find a way to get onto the field somewhere. Heck, anywhere.
That's all for this week, folks. Follow us on twitter at @cjleonard03 and @SoccerSmith15.