Welcome to Episode 4 of Superman and the SoccerSmith's 4-4-2 Soccer Q&A. Let's get right to it this week!
1. SoccerSmith (SS) - Who will have a bigger impact in MLS this season: Edson Buddle or Dwayne DeRosario?
Superman (SM) - Well this is a tricky one considering that technically neither one of them has a team right now. That being said, Edson Buddle is currently in camp with LA and is also 33 years old while DeRo is not in anyone's camp and is 36, which is old, even by MLS standards. Buddle scored 42 goals in 87 appearances with the LA Galaxy in his time there from 07-10. While I don't see him regaining that type of form again, I do think there could be a place for him to play the wily old vet alongside a young and talented forward who could benefit from his experience.
SS - I don't know how much Zardes stands to benefit from Buddle's experience considering he already plays alongside Robbie Keane, but I think you're right (at this point) that Buddle will have the bigger impact this season. That said, I'll be shocked if DeRo doesn't end up somewhere by the start of the season. He just scored a pair of goals for Canada, and while one was a PK, the other wasn't, so he can obviously still play. If I'm Montreal or Vancouver and I'm headed to the Champions League, I'd give the Canadian international a shot just to add depth and experience and a championship pedigree to my roster. But we'll see. Silence on the line for DeRo right now. As far as Buddle goes, if he can stick with the Galaxy, he'll give them more depth up top which is ideal for another club with Champions League aspirations. You also have to figure that both Keane and Zardes stand to miss time for International Duty, and Buddle is a proven commodity that could probably provide the occasional start alongside Alan Gordon. You can't have too many options, and if Buddle is willing to accept a reduced role, I think he could be a nice find for LA.
2. SM - Should the MLS switch to the fall/winter/spring season like the European leagues or should we keep to our current schedule?
SS - I can see the argument to make a move to align with the European leagues, but we have a lot of teams based up north, and for the purpose of scheduling do you want teams like New England, New York, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Columbus and Colorado playing home games outdoors in December, January, February? I mean think back to how ridiculous that USA-Costa Rica game a couple years ago was. I get that Europe pulls it off, but there are also a lot of games postponed which may be all right there, but when you're dealing with a relatively new base, I think you'd risk losing a lot of people. And as a fan it makes it so you have year round soccer coverage with the summers here and the winters over there. So no, I wouldn't advocate a change.
SM - I think aligning with Europe could work. Under-pitch heating would keep snow from sticking to the fields, and could also push the guys playing on turf away from it and on to real grass. Even going as far as the winter break that La Liga, Bundesliga, and Serie A take would help keep us out of the coldest part of the winter. From a player safety standpoint it makes more sense to me as well. Playing a full 90 minutes outside in Houston in August has got to be terrible for one's body, and with Las Vegas looking more and more likely as a future MLS home, do we really want to see water breaks like there were in the World Cup last year? Also, every other sport in this country is played at more or less the same time on the calendar at the semi-pro (read:college) level and professional level except soccer. For me, aligning them just makes sense.
3. SS - There's been a lot of "sexy" acquisitions this offseason with the signings of U.S. internationals Brek Shea, Juan Agudelo, Mix Diskerud, Jozy Altidore and Sacha Kljestan. That being said, give me one under-the-radar signing that you think is going to be a big deal this season.
SM - I'm not sure how under the radar this is, but Shaun Maloney for the Chicago Fire could be a huge deal for them. This is a guy who knows how to win. Five Scottish Premier League titles with Celtic, five Scottish Cups with Celtic, and he most recently won the FA Cup in England with Wigan Athletic back in 2013. He's capable of playing either an attacking mid role or as a winger and I think when combined with Mike Magee they could present a lot of MLS defenses some serious headaches.
SS - I'm glad you brought up Chicago. The Fire of 2015 are going to be completely unrecognizable after all their work this offseason. More than just Maloney, they've brought in a number of potential impact players this offseason: Nigerian-Swedish Striker and Designated Player Kennedy Igboananike, Ghanaian International Team Striker and Designated Player David Accam, 6'3" Brazilian Center Back Adailton, former LA Galaxy and US Youth International Michael Stephens, Brazilian striker Guly do Prado fresh off a 4 year stretch with Southampton, and a sound backup keeper in Jon Busch. The Fire obviously are looking to bounce back in a big way after setting a record for draws in 2014. As for my under-the-radar signing, I'm going to throw out another ex-Wigan player in Roger Espinoza. The Honduran international returns to Sporting KC after 2 seasons in England where he played the full match in their FA Cup title-clinching upset of Manchester City. I think he'll help Sporting in a big way this year with his contributions in the midfield.
4. SM - The MLS just added two more teams with Orlando City SC and NYCFC. With plans to expand to 24 teams by the 2017 season, how many teams is too many teams?
SS - 24 is probably the right number, and even that may be too high. The more teams, the more fans, but you also deteriorate your talent pool significantly and the goal of competing with Mexico and the like in the CONCACAF Champions League slips that much farther away. Now, if we change the rules with regard to Designated Players and international spots and allow for more talent to compensate, then maybe the league can get bigger. But unless there are long term plans to have two MLS flights and a promotion/relegation system, I think we need to stem the growth.
SM - Totally in agreement with you. I think the MLS sees the growth over the last few years and is looking to cash in on the rapid rise of soccer in the country. The problem as you pointed out is that with more and more people playing professionally, coupled with the league's ridiculous designated player rule, the talent pool will drop. The only question is how far. Until the time comes around that the MLS is willing to talk about promotion and relegation, there seriously needs to be a cap put on the number of teams.
1. SS - At what point is Jurgen Klinsmann's job as head coach in jeopardy?
SM - I Think it has to be the Gold Cup this summer. Yes, we just lost to what was essentially Chile's B/C team, but that was a friendly. A friendly that saw some guys get their first call-ups to the national team. A friendly that saw us debut a formation we had yet to see under Klinsmann. A friendly that relied heavily on MLS guys who were mostly coming off of vacation and getting ready to start preseason. So when Klinsy bemoans our lack of fitness, I can see where he's coming from. However, if we don't show up to the Gold Cup this summer looking to dominate play, it may be time to go in a different direction.
SS - For me, the Chile game is just a single data point, my bigger concern is post-World Cup we have not played well, and we haven't shown any signs of growth as a program during his tenure. Yes, he's a sensational recruiter, and he's brought a lot of players into camp that might have otherwise been missed, but where are the results? We may have more individual talent, but that's not translating into team success. At a certain point, he's going to need to produce results, or I think U.S. Soccer needs to go a different direction.
2. SM - The 3-at-the-back experiment for the recent match against what was arguably Chile's B, or even C squad didn't exactly go as planned. Do you think that came down more to tactics, or personnel?
SS - I think there's a lot of things that contributed to the loss. To be fair, when we abandoned the 3-5-2, the U.S. was actually up 2-1. And I think a lot of the system's shortcomings could attributed to inexperience in the formation, and lack of fitness due to players not being in midseason form. I think we have the personnel to play out of a 3-5-2, and the only "mistake" I saw was that we abandoned it after 45 minutes. But yeah, moving forward I have no idea what Klinsmann's plans are and it will be interesting to see how we line up against Panama.
SM The old saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" comes to mind. I get that it was a friendly, but for Pete's sake can we keep doing what seemed to be working in the first half for the entire game? A lot was made of the 3-5-2 before the game. I think the commentators mentioned it 983 times or so before kickoff. I wasn't a fan of it, but it did seem to mostly be working before half. Clearly I was wrong because we came out the second half with a different shape. For me this loss came down to tactics. The USMNT fans are hungry for a win. We have a lead using a much talked-about formation and then for reasons unknown abandon it. I can't lay this on the personnel that we had in because it would seem to me that they all should have been practicing the same thing during camp. I don't know what Klinsmann's intentions are, but I hope when we face Panama we have one mindset that we only change if it doesn't seem to be working.
3. SS - The USWNT's roster features three keepers who aren't Hope Solo for upcoming matches against France and England. Do you think it makes more sense for them to start veteran backup Nicole Barnhart (54 CAPS) or relative youngsters Ashlyn Harris and Alyssa Naeher (5 CAPS combined)?
SM - Barnhart. Keepers are like fine wine, they generally get better with age and experience and with the very real possibility of not having Solo in goal this summer, I think you go with your next most experienced woman.
SS - I think it depends on what the long term plans for Solo are. If there are any doubts about Solo being ready this summer, I think Barnhart is the logical choice given her experience (although it should be noted, she has never played in an Olympic or World Cup match either). That said, if everyone thinks Solo is here for the long haul, then it's probably time to give someone else minutes. Barnhart is 33, just a couple months younger than Solo, so she's not the heir apparent, and you hate to put yourself in a position where you don't have any experienced keepers. I wouldn't be surprised to see Barnhart start one match and then the other two split the other.
4. SM - With the Gold Cup fast approaching, is it time for the U.S. to settle on a formation and get used to playing it, or do you think we still have time to experiment around with it?
SS - Yes and no. Experimenting is fine if we have no idea what we're working towards, but at some point soon, we need to come up with a strategy. Not being involved in the closed door meetings to find out what exactly our strategy is, it's hard to say that I agree or disagree with what Klinsmann's doing, but every match that we haven't settled on a strategy, is a wasted match in terms of preparation. Yes, it helps rule things out that don't work, but whatever formation we settle on, we'll need time to get proficient at it. I've always been of the mindset that you build your formation based on the players, and not select players based on your formation, and maybe the issue is that Klinsmann hasn't figured out what he has to work with, but at a certain point, hopefully this summer, we need to have a game plan. So we have a LITTLE bit of time left, but I think we need to have settled on a way ahead by the end of this run of friendlies.
SM - I think this falls back under the category of identity. Who are we as a team? What do we offer in terms of style of play and work rate? The style of players that we have coupled with how they work individually and as a team should contribute to what type of formation we play. I'm with you on playing to your strengths. As a coach you should be able to look at your squad and determine what you have, and decide how best to utilize them. It is now February. The Gold Cup is only a few months away and these guys only have a few more camps to get whatever it is we are going to be doing for the foreseeable future right. Without a discernible identity or philosophy I fear we could experimenting ourselves right into a poor showing this summer.
1. SS - Do you think the concept of loaning out players under contract could work in any of the other major U.S. sports?
SM - I don't see why not. I know when NFL starters go down to serious injury and the backups go to playing a lot of times they end up calling guys up "off the street" who have been at home and/or just training on their own, hoping for a call from their agent. Wouldn't a coach or manager much rather have a guy who has been getting actual game time as opposed to a player who is in decent shape physically but hasn't actually been playing?
SS - I think it would take a lot to make that significant a change, but I can think of a lot of instances when loaning players in the other major sports might make sense. For you basketball fans, imagine if Darko Mlicic had spent his first couple NBA seasons starting for the New Jersey Nets or Milwaukee Bucks instead of riding the pine in Detroit. Maybe his career ends up differently. It'd also give small-market teams who aren't contending a chance to loan out stars to bring in extra money. I don't know that we'll ever see it, but it's an interesting thing to think about.
2. SM - Miguel Ibarra has two USMNT call-ups and 1 cap. His highlights from Minnesota United are nothing short of ridiculous. How long will it be before a bigger, better club come along and puts this guy on their payroll?
SS - It's complicated. So for whatever reason, Ibarra has slipped through the cracks thus far. He was drafted, but couldn't crack the Timbers' roster and now he's in Minnesota where he's had success and caught the eye of Jurgen Klinsmann. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as an MLS club just calling him up on the phone and bringing him into camp. He's going to have a big price tag associated with him until his contract's up because Minnesota's not going to just give him away. And right now, I can't say a lot of clubs think highly enough of him to put forth that kind of cash for a player who is as of yet unproven at the higher levels. I'm betting we see him in MLS at some point, but I'd venture that's probably still a couple years away at best.
SM - At 24 years old, let's hope it's sooner rather than later. I'd hate to see such a talent being "wasted" on the lower leagues here in the U.S. Whatever his asking price is for Minnesota to let him go, there are plenty of teams who have the resources to bring him in, both in MLS and abroad. The sports world is full of stories of guys that didn't make it in one league, switched to another, and then came back or even went on to bigger and better things than they started from. I'm not saying he should get DP money or be signed to Manchester United by any means, but in my eyes the kid deserves a shot to ply his trade on a bigger scale and in a tougher league.
That's all for this week, folks. Follow us on twitter at @cjleonard03 and @SoccerSmith15.