Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Superman and the SoccerSmith's Q&A, Episode 1

The Blog is happy to introduce Cory "Superman" Leonard this week as we introduce a new column, Superman and the SoccerSmith's Q&A. Without further ado:

Round 1

SoccerSmith (SS): Should MLS teams fear the price tag associated with bringing Jozy Altidore back to MLS?

Superman (SM): I'd say that with what some teams are paying for "designated players" versus the quality of some of those players, yes, they should be wary of his associated price tag. He is not as proven yet as players like Kaka, Henry, Gerrard, or even as experienced as guys like Dempsey or Bradley. For my money, one great season in the Netherlands followed by a season and half of mediocrity in England does not warrant his price tag.

SS: I agree that cost is a concern, but when you figure Toronto FC could lose Jermain Defoe, and that New York already lost Thierry Henry, Altidore seems like a logical fit for both clubs. That said, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Dom Dwyer and Gyasi Zardes were hardly household names a year ago and they combined to score over 60 goals last season suggesting that spending money to bring in quality strikers isn't always required to generate offense. I would like to see Jozy catch on somewhere though. Whatever he's doing now isn't working and it's hurting the National Team.

Round 2

SS: What are your thoughts on Klinsmann's latest roster and all of the new faces in camp?

SM: I, for one, am very glad to see new faces in camp. I like Klinsy's approach of going here and there and wherever he can to find these guys with actual, proven (or semi-proven)talent. We need new blood with real skills for all the upcoming tournaments and the only real way to find out what these people are capable of is to put them in the camp environment and play them in friendlies. The old guard was great, and most of them are still strong players, but if we are going to truly challenge for World Cups in the future the torch has to be passed to the new guys.

SS: I'm with you, I also think the new blood puts everyone on notice and establishes that no one has a guaranteed roster spot. In theory this improves the competition and allows him to put together the best possible roster. My only concern would be that at some point, you want to start honing in on your final team and give the guys some time to play together. It is still pretty early in the cycle, but I think we saw a notable lack of chemistry on the field in Brazil this past summer and that's something we'll need to address moving forward.

Round 3

SS: Can Sporting KC bounce back from last season's end of the year collapse or are they now just another middle of the pack team?

SM: Man this is a tough one as I count myself amongst the SKC supporters. I think we have a very good core group in Besler, Feilhaber, Dom Dwyer, and Zusi, but if we don't shore up the defense a bit and re-learn how to close out games this could be a very long season indeed. At the end of last season it seemed we either were chasing games or got a lead that we couldn't protect. I think a strong D-mid and someone to partner up with Besler now that Collin is gone needs to be a priority. If those things aren't addressed and the winning mentality isn't re-installed it could be a very ho-hum season.

SS: Sporting also has the added challenge of life in the Western Conference this year. There's obviously no shortage of talent on their roster, and they've brought back Roger Espinoza and acquired Columbus's Bernardo Anor to bolster the midfield, while adding Hungarian striker Krisztian Nemeth to add some offense. I think you're right though, there are still some moves to be made, especially in the back where all they've done is bring in Jalil Anibaba. And the fact remains that from August 1st until the end of the season, Sporting won just three times in thirteen matches (3-8-2), and all three of those wins were against non-playoff teams (Chivas USA, Chicago and Toronto). Were the players just rundown after a long season? Whatever it was, that issue needs to be solved, because the team that was on the field at the end of the season was certainly not competitive.

Round 4

SM: How do you feel about how NYCFC and MLS is handling the Frank Lampard situation up in New York?

SS: I may be in the minority here, but I really think this is a non-story. Yeah, it would be nice to see Lampard suit up on Opening Day, but if NYCFC is ok with letting him stay in England, then I don't see why it's a big deal. I get that it makes us look like a second-rate league, but let's face it, we are still a second-rate league. Maybe it's a marketing ploy and Lampard's going to start spreading the word about how accommodating MLS is and that will grease the skids for future internationals to come here. We'll see. But I really think that a year from now, people won't remember that Lampard didn't show up until July and life will go on.

SM: My biggest problem with the whole thing is the hit the fans of this fledgling club are taking. You're already having to split fans with the Red Bulls, you put all this hype around Super Frank playing for your club come opening day, and then you say he won't be there till after the EPL season is over? New Yorkers are a hard bunch, and it's not outside the realm of possibility to see people demand season-ticket refunds and basically tell the whole club to go to hell. Will it matter in a year? Probably not. But I don't think The City Group is getting off on the right foot with their brand-new fan base.

Round 5

SM: DeAndre Yedlin at Tottenham. Too soon or the right time?

SS: This is a tough one. My gut tells me that it's too soon, but how do you turn down an opportunity to play for a team of that stature? I just worry about some of the promising prospects who have gone out there before him: Juan Agudelo, Jozy Altidore, Brek Shea, Freddy Adu... They all left young, and stuff hasn't panned out for them in Europe. Maybe Yedlin's different, but I would feel better if Yedlin was going there to be Tottenham's starting right back today, and not a project for their future or a role player. Honestly, I would have preferred he stay in Seattle, but those are mostly for selfish reasons. I love what the Sounders have been doing as far as building an organization. They have talent, they have depth, they're racking up the hardware, and they're built to be good for the long haul. I think Yedlin could have been a part of something special had he stayed, but as I said, I can't fault him for leaving.

SM: Honestly I'm also kinda torn on this one. On the one hand, I'm very proud to see a real homegrown player getting the call to go play at one of the biggest clubs in the EPL. For me it shows where the sport is headed in our country and how good the talent here could be given time. At the same time, I have the same concerns you do. Will he actually get first-team minutes? Will the stress of living and working in a whole different country at such a young age get to him? And there's this to consider. Tottenham have had a plethora of managers in the last 5 years or so. What happens if that trend continues and he's not in the next guy's plans? Time will tell, but I honestly have a good feeling about this kid.

Round 6

SM: For me the quality of play in the MLS has taken a few large steps in the past few years, but it's still seen as a "retirement home" for big-time players. How much longer do you think it will be before MLS can land legitimate 5-star talent who aren't 30+ years old?

SS: I think for MLS to truly be a "top" league, our teams need to perform better on the international stage. Year in and year out, the Champions League title eludes our sides, and with few exceptions, it hasn't been close. We're certainly closing the gap between us and Mexico at the club level, but they still have the clear advantage. The biggest difference isn't necessarily talent, but depth. They're able to go 20 deep of top-level players whereas MLS sides typically go maybe 14. Those extra guys are the ones that get starts in tournaments advance clubs to later rounds. Because we don't have that, we see sides like Portland and New York and Sporting all crashing out in the Opening Rounds of the Champions League which is ridiculous. So yeah, success at these tournaments is what's going to put the league on the map. If we can jump ahead of Mexico, we'll start pulling more of the quality talent from Central and South America, and that will ultimately lead to us getting 5-star talents who are still in their prime from around the globe. I think we're getting there too. I mean, years ago, who would have dreamed that Thierry Henry and David Beckham and Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard and Kaka and David Villa and Robbie Keane would be in MLS at all?

SM: Gerrard. Villa. Kaka. Lampard. All big names, all set to make immediate impacts on their clubs. Unfortunately these guys are all, at a minimum, 32 years old. Which is not to say that they don't have anything left in the tank, but by professional soccer standards (and by professional athlete standards in general), they are on the back end of their careers. I agree with you to a point on the CONCACAF Champions League. MLS squads, at present, do not have enough depth to put up an honest fight and compete for a trophy. However I think the answer to that problem has to be solved internally. More and more guys are leaving at a young age and going abroad to play because there either isn't a local academy or the one that's there just isn't as good as one they can join out of the country. Until we can solve that problem and keep our young talent here and developing we will continue to get major talent who happen to be in the final stage of their careers.

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

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