Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Superman and the SoccerSmith Q&A, Episode 3

Welcome to Episode 3 of Superman and the SoccerSmith's 4-4-2 Soccer Q&A. Let's get right to it this week!


1. SoccerSmith (SS) - Seattle Sounders 2nd round draft pick Tyler Miller opted to sign with SVN Zweibrücken of the German 4th Division instead of signing an MLS contract. Miller was quoted as saying “I have always followed European soccer, I knew that’s where many of the top players were, and thought if I could get over there, who knows what could be possible… I want to play in the best league in the world, currently that is in Europe.” What do you think of his decision?

Superman (SM) - It's very easy to get starry-eyed over the big European leagues. The Bundeslinga, Serie A, La Liga, the EPL and even Ligue 1 in France are all noteworthy leagues that feature huge names and storied clubs. That being said, there's a huge difference between going to play for a team like the Seattle Sounders (who actually picked him 33rd overall) and the German 4th division side where he signed a contract. That's not a typo that our editor missed by the way. He passed up a chance to train and play in Seattle, a team that is a perennial powerhouse in the MLS, to move to Europe and train and play at SVN Zweibrücken, who currently sit in 9th place in the 4th division in Germany. Look, I get the desire to play in Europe; to be able to be close to where the best soccer on the planet is currently being played. But for me, common sense should come into play at some point. You cannot tell me that Zweibrücken has better training methods, better resources, or are playing in a better league than the Sounders are. This, to me, is a slap in the face of both the MLS and the Seattle Sounders.

SS - Yeah, I'm with you on this one. I don't have an issue with him going to play in Europe, but was the German 4th Division really the best he could do? Does anyone even watch the German 4th Division over there? Does Bayern Munich know that they have a 4th Division? Is he walking into a starting job or will he be sitting on the bench (in the 4th Division)? I really think he would've been better served signing with Seattle where he's got two veteran keepers ahead of him to learn from in Frei and Perkins. He could spend a couple seasons there and then hopefully leverage that into a better opportunity overseas if so inclined. It just seems like a big gamble. I wish the kid nothing but the best, and it'll be interesting to follow how he does, I just think his decision is short-sighted.

2. SM - Is the signing of Sebastian Giovinco, who is considered by some to be a true world-class talent who's in the prime of his career, a sign of things to come for the MLS? 

SS - I hope so? If Giovinco comes here and lights up the league, and stays in Italy's National Team picture, why wouldn't other players in their prime be tempted by the large dollar figures that some MLS clubs can offer up? Even if we couldn't persuade the top players in Europe, you'd think maybe we'd be a draw for the top players in Central and South America. Now, if he falls out of favor in Italy despite success in America, that may deter some players from coming here. It's a heavy burden that Giovinco's facing whether knowingly or not, but as an MLS fan, I think you have to be excited about the prospects of this move. If nothing else, he's going to elevate the level of play in the league.

SM - I'm with you on this one for sure. What I'd like to see is not only Giovinco do well in the MLS, but also force the issue on the other teams in the league as far as making their play better to account for him and the squad around him. If he manages to rack up a bunch of goals and assists and stays in his national team picture, this could potentially be big for the MLS. Fingers crossed that he does well and attracts more of the same (and better) level players to come and play over here.

3. SS - Carlo Garganese wrote a pretty scathing article about Sebastian Giovinco’s move to MLS, but Italy head coach Antonio Conte says he would have made the same decision. Who’s right?

SM - Conte is. Hands down. Did Giovinco play for Juventus? Sure. Was he a regular starter? No. He's spent a lot of time out on loan. The kid is a heck of a player, I don't think anyone would argue that, but he wants to play regularly. With all due respect to TFC and the MLS in general, when Giovinco was playing regularly out on loan at mid-table clubs in Italy, he shined, and he got call-ups for the Italian National team. So long as Greg Vanney has Giovinco and the rest of his squad playing to potential (of which they have a metric ton of) I see no reason why this should stop. Mr. Garganese is overreacting and showing a bit of disrespect to TFC, MLS, and Giovinco in my opinion.

SS - While I agree that Garganese's gone a little over-the-top with his criticism of Giovinco's move to MLS, playing devil's advocate I can see where he's coming from about Giovinco "giving up his footballing soul" for money. To an outsider, particularly one with a vested interest in Italian soccer, Giovinco's move seems solely, or at least largely, financially motivated. Let's face it, he's a getting a LOT of money to play for Toronto. Even Conte said that the move made sense in part because of the money he'd be getting to go there. But he's not the first player to make a move like that, so it seems a little harsh to punish him for it. Wesley Sneijder left Internazionale at age 28 to play in the Turkish Super Lig which isn't exactly a tier one league. If you doubt me, name five players that play there other than Sneijder. And despite the move to Turkey, Sneijder still made the Dutch World Cup team a year and a half later and even scored in the World Cup against Mexico. Look, is MLS a lesser league than Serie A? Absolutely. But does that mean he will cease to be a good soccer player if he comes here? Seems unlikely. I mean look at Costa Rica, currently ranked #16 in world. Over half of their World Cup roster in 2014 was comprised of players in North America (9 in Costa Rica, 3 in MLS). And their European contingent was represented by players from leagues in Norway, Belgium, Greece, Sweden, Russia and Denmark. And they BEAT Italy in the last World Cup. Bottom line, Giovinco will need to perform if he's going to stay in the National Team picture for Italy, but that'd be the case no matter where he plays. At least now, he'll be guaranteed to be on the field.

4. SM - The MLS recently renamed the MVP award the Landon Donovan MVP award. Too soon?

SS - Honestly, as long as he stays retired, it's not too soon. I mean it is REALLY soon, but I don't think that matters. Donovan helped make MLS into what it is today, and he's been the face of the league for over a decade. He's the most decorated player in American Soccer history, and it's not like anyone else is close to unseating him, apologies to Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley among others. There's no question his name deserves to be on that trophy, whether it's now or five years from now, or ten years from now or whatever. As long as he doesn't go all Michael Jordan on us, I see this as a non-issue.

SM - I know I'll get stick for this, but for me, it's WAY too soon. I agree on all your points about him being the best we've produced and so forth and so on, but he retires and they immediately name the award after him? To me it almost seems forced, as if they're scared that someone else will come along who is better, so let's hurry up and name it after him now. Or more likely, let's draw even more attention to old Landycakes than we already have this past year. I would have had way less of an issue with it had they waited 5 or 7 years and then named it after him. Would have seemed more genuine to me.


1. SS - The U.S. U-20s are headed to a World Cup that will be without Spain, France, Italy, England and the Netherlands. Based on what we saw in the CONCACAF tournament, do you think our boys will be competitive in New Zealand this summer?

SM - I think these boys would have been competitive regardless of who showed up to play for this tournament. They seem to be a scrappy, never-say-die squad who thrive under pressure. Of course it doesn't hurt that the "big boys" are out of it, but I almost wish they weren't. Soccer in the US still doesn't get a ton of respect on the world stage and if we do go far in this tournament, there will be some, if not several, critics and analysts who will decry our efforts simply because we didn't have to play Italy, Spain, and the like, and never-you-mind the fact that those teams didn't actually make it there.

SS - Obviously everyone that's going to be in the tournament, except maybe the hosts, will have earned their place. The European powers that typically dominate these fields were eliminated during qualifying so I don't think the "weaker" field will be a talking point once they get down to business. That said, I didn't LOVE the way we played in the CONCACAF tournament. Defensively we did pretty well, but offensively, things just didn't click. That's great that we scored eight goals against Aruba, but I would've thought we would've fared better against teams like Panama and Guatemala and Trinidad and Tobago. I don't want to dismiss our chances completely, but for us to go deep into the World Cup this summer, the U20s are going to have to work some of the kinks out, particularly on the attacking end.

2. SM - The USWNT has been drawn into the "group of death" for the World Cup featuring Sweden, Nigeria, and Australia. Considering the strength of these teams, the bit of turmoil we are having with Hope Solo, and our recent below-average performances, how do you think we'll fare with this group?

SS - Honestly, I'm not THAT concerned about the so-called "Group of Death" that we're set up for. We have 22 wins and 4 draws in 26 matches against Australia, and are perfect in 4 matches against Nigeria. Against Sweden, who we "struggle" against, we're 20-6-9 (Wins-Losses-Draws). I don't want to make it sound like this is going to be a walk in the park, but as long as we avoid let downs against Australia and Nigeria, I'd be comfortable saying we're in a great position to advance to the next round.

SM - My two biggest worries are this. Can we get back to the consistency that we are known for having, and how much is the Hope Solo saga going to affect the women going forward. We're on our second head coach since Pia Sundhage left and it's been strictly because of the results we've put forth(or haven't put forth if you will). If Jillian Ellis can get these ladies firing on all cylinders I agree we should be fine, however that also brings me to my next point, which involves Hope Solo. Monday Sunil Galati said there's a very real chance that Solo may not be with the team for the World Cup this summer. She is the undisputed number 1 on that team, a place that she's earned with her performances. How much is her not being available due to poor decision-making on her part going to hurt the squad? I'd like to think that they would be able to play just as well without her, but honestly is her back-up that good? I'm hoping we don't have to find out.

3. SS - Hope Solo just got a 30-game suspension from the Women’s National Team. This comes on the heels of domestic violence charges (that were dropped). Is Solo’s National Team Future in jeopardy?

SM - I think Hope Solo has very little idea of the kind of scrutiny she's actually under. The Women's World Cup is right around the corner. Her Domestic violence charges get dropped, and almost immediately afterward there are reports of her husband getting a DWI with her in the vehicle AND the reports I'm reading about this morning say it was a team van? I know she's a phenomenal player, but she's also representing the United States on arguably the highest level in women's professional sports. I think this 30-day suspension may be her last chance. If she doesn't get her act together we may well have a new number 1 between the sticks this summer.

SS - I'm with you that she has to be running out of chances. I know she's a great keeper, but you don't need distractions like that. If the World Cup wasn't just a few months away, I would think the U.S. would have already moved on and started developing a new number one, but the abbreviated timeline, it would probably do more harm than good to really shake things up at this point. That said, things being what they are, I would certainly not be surprised if the 2015 World Cup wasn't Solo's swan song.

4. SM - Juan Agudelo has just been linked with 1860 Munich in Germany, the team that Bobby Wood wants out of. Considering all the jumping from club to club that Juan has made the last few years, do you think that it might do good for Juan to have a talk with Wood before he makes that move, or should he just go and play, regardless of whatever problems Bobby seems to have with the club?

SS - I don't know that he needs to talk to Wood. The two are different players in different situations. Unless there's a clear anti-American sentiment from the coaching staff, I'd say he'd probably be fine there. And you have to assume that if they didn't want Agudelo, they wouldn't be trying to sign him in the first place. I'm honestly more intrigued about the rumors that have Agudelo linked to New England where he could pair up with Charlie Davies. That'd be quite an attack with those two in front of Lee Nguyen, Teal Bunbury and Jermaine Jones if it materializes.

SM - If Bobby Wood wants out, I would imagine there has to be a good reason, and I think it wouldn't hurt Agudelo to have a short conversation on his reasoning behind it. Agudelo is still young (as is Wood), but with New England having an interest in him as well as 1860 Munich, in my opinion it could help him in making his mind up. Maybe Wood feels like they're not giving him the best training. Maybe it has to do with something going on in the locker room. It could potentially be just Wood wanting to make a move for a change of scenery. But for someone who's been with 5 clubs in 4 years and is still only 22 years old, I think he should use every advantage he can in making his decisions.

Wild Card

1. SS - What are three things you’ll be watching for in the U.S.’s upcoming match against Chile?

SM - 1: Cohesion. I wanna see if these guys move as a unit and act as a team. Make passes and move into space. Defend as a group. Keep their shape. Too often towards the end of last year I seemed to see guys make a pass and then stand there admiring the ball rolling, or see a man make a run up from defense and then trot back while the rest of the team was defending basically a man down. 2: Leadership. Not just from the captain, but from all the senior guys out there. They need to hold themselves, and each other, responsible for both the mistakes they make and the things they do right. 3: Style. And not playing for style points (although I wouldn't mind that), but having a consistent style of play. We need to have an identity, and there is no time like the present to put it on the field. I wanna see us go out there and play a certain way, commit to it, and not panic if things start to go wrong.

SS - Here's my three. First, a strong start and a strong finish. I want to see these guys avoid giving up goals early and late in matches. This requires mental toughness in addition to physical stamina which really should be our calling card. Second, I'm curious about how we're going to line up. Are we a 4-4-2? A 3-5-2? 4-3-3? 3-6-1? And whatever we land on, will it work? Finally, I'm going to watch our strikers, especially the young ones. Do we have an heir apparent for Dempsey in the mix right now? Whoever gets out there needs to produce and establish themselves early in the cycle so we can get them more minutes and try and put together a solid attack moving forward.

2. SM - Can Brek Shea ever be the player we all hoped he would be? Or was he playing above and beyond his actual ability?

SS - I think first, we need to establish what it is that we hope Brek Shea is going to be. Is he a winger? A striker? An outside back? A central midfielder? He showed so much promise and so much versatility early on in his career, but he's never really been locked into a position. The biggest thing for him right now is just that he needs to get on the field. He hasn't played significant minutes at the club level since 2012 which means he basically lost two seasons. With steady minutes in Orlando, I think he can get back to his pre-England levels, but after that where he goes will really depend on how he's utilized.

SM - I think a lot of Shea's problems have had to do with maturity. When he was playing in Dallas he was surrounded by friends and family and honestly didn't seem to have much adult responsibility. Then the move to Stoke, a world of difference away from what he's used to, and no kind of support system in place. This move, for me, has nothing but positives for the guy. He's back in the states and he'll be playing regularly with one of the greatest midfielders to ever play the game. I'm gonna go ahead and make a prediction that this will be a breakout year for Brek, in which he'll find the consistency we, as MLS and USMNT fans, want him to have.

That's all for this week, folks. Follow us on twitter at @cjleonard03 and @SoccerSmith15.

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