Saturday, February 14, 2015

Superman and the SoccerSmith Q&A, Episode 5

Welcome to Episode 5 of Superman and the SoccerSmith's 4-4-2 Soccer Q&A. Better late than never! Here we go!


1. SoccerSmith (SS) - Tim Cahill's marriage with the New York Red Bulls has drawn to a mutual conclusion with the Aussie Captain headed to China after signing a contract with Shanghai Shenhua. Looking back on his three seasons in the Big Apple, would you call his time in MLS a hit or a miss?

Superman (SM) - Is mixed bag an option? 14 goals in 62 appearances isn't exactly lighting it up for a forward, especially one who was getting designated player money. Having said that, he's never been anything but complimentary to the club, the fans, and the league and is regarded as have helped to grow the sport and the league in this country, so there's that. At the end of the day, however, I think it comes down to production and he didn't produce near enough for the level of play expected from him.

SS - I don't think you can call it a complete miss even if Cahill only delivered one truly big goal scoring season in three years with New York. Truth be told, Cahill's never been a big goal scorer for his club teams (not the case for Australia, but that's another story). Only once in his career did he score more than the 12 goals he bagged for New York in 2013, and that was for Millwall F.C. in 2001-02 when he scored 13 in 49 matches (Cahill needed just 29 matches to score his 12 in 2013). Cahill scored in the postseason in 2013 and 2014, and as you mentioned, by all accounts seems to have been a great teammate. Was he overpaid? Yeah. Could they have gotten that production from a non-designated player? Probably. But having an MLSer score one of the most impressive goals of the 2014 World Cup is good for THE LEAGUE. So maybe Cahill wasn't the home run that Thierry Henry was, but I think he's at least a single.

2. SM - The Impact are struggling to put bodies in their stadium for a CONCACAF cup tie up in Montreal, while down in Orlando 7,000 people showed up to watch an open training session. How many seasons can a team like the Impact survive without proper fan support?

SS - Montreal's attendance numbers have gone down every year which is a legitimate concern. But let's face it, last year they were terrible. Can you really expect to pack the house when you only win six games? And I don't know if it's fair to use attendance for the CONCACAF Champions League as a metric for a team's success. CONCACAF does a TERRIBLE job of promoting its biggest club tournament in the U.S. and Canada. The games typically aren't televised, and only the most diehard of fans even know it's going on. I mean we're a couple weeks away from the quarterfinals, and even the MLS website isn't talking about upcoming matches for Montreal and DC. I think Montreal will probably be ok. The league has a solid business model and I don't think many teams are losing money. I know Montreal lost their baseball team, but I think this is a little different. Ultimately, they need to win some games, and if their attendance still drops at that point, we can revisit the topic.

SM - The problem is not only with Champions League. Their regular-season attendance last season was dismal at best and only got worse as the season went on. Perhaps this year will be different as they've re-tooled their lineup with an eye towards the playoffs. As the saying goes, winning fixes everything.

3. SS - Vancouver's new designated player Octavio Rivero made his preseason debut with a brace against New England. Too early to get excited about what the 23-year old Uruguayan brings to the table?

SM - Guarded optimism should be the phrase of the day in my opinion. People get very excited any time a young player, and especially when it's a young foreign player it seems, shows some talent and/or skill in early games. It's a preseason friendly. If the kid lights it up in March and continues to do so over the course of the season, I'll be the first to sing his praises. But until such time as the games start counting I think it would do everyone well to relax a bit.

SS - I agree it's too early to pencil this guy into the MLS Best XI, and I like your 'guarded optimism' comment. I do think this was a good signing though, and having him deliver, even if just in a friendly, is a positive sign. He still has to deliver when the lights go on for real, but he's definitely getting off on the right foot in my opinion.

4. SM - D.C. United recently acquired Michael Farfan from Cruz Azul. Can the one-time rookie of the year finalist re-establish himself and be the catalyst that United need?

SS - United are in an interesting predicament. They won the Eastern Conference regular season title last year, and have a plethora of high level talent, but almost every team in the conference made some sort of big move this offseason. New York brought home Sacha Kljestan, New England snagged Juan Agudelo, the expansion clubs are loaded with big names (Kaka, Villa, Lampard, Diskerud, Shea...), Chicago loaded up on fresh faces, and Toronto built an all-star team from scratch. The once weak Eastern Conference is suddenly loaded with big name talent. And with that, I think it made sense for United to add some more depth in their midfield. Remember too, that United is in the Champions League NOW, and they'll be in the Champions League again this fall so depth is going to be huge for them. Even if Farfan isn't an All-Star any more, he's going to be a solid addition.

SM - Farfan only scored one goal at Cruz Azul last year, but he did it in only one appearance, so take that with a grain of salt. He was excellent attacking down the right wing while with the Union, and it was only when John Hackworth tried to convert him to a Central Attacking Mid that his career slid a bit. He's a gritty winger with an eye for goal and could be the boost that United need to go from an also-ran playoff team to a legitimate Championship contender.


1. SS - Give me three winners and three losers from the US Men's January/February camp.
SM - Winners:  1.  Gyasi Zardes. The kid seems to be the real deal. His assist to Deuce was perfectly weighted and his work rate both with the ball and without was nothing short of heroic. Galaxy and USMNT fans should be excited about this kid.  2.  Michael Bradley. Many were wondering how he would look after his foot surgery this summer. I think he's successfully answered all his critics. He was everywhere at once for both games and if I live to be 158 I'll never forget that corner that he dropped into the goal. Class all the way.  3.  Clint Dempsey. I know I'm gonna get some stick for this, but Deuce looked for all the world like the old Deuce. The one that Bruce Arena once said "tries s***". Most all his touches were positive, he was creative on the ball in trying to make chances, and his goal against Panama was amazing for the way he rounded the keeper, maintained possession, and got it in the back of the net.  Losers:  1.  Perry Kitchen. He looked totally out of sorts and managed to lose possession almost immediately upon receiving the ball.  2.  Jermaine Jones. Can we all just agree that he's not a center-back and move on please? His defensive awareness is terrible at best and scarily bad at worst. Put him back in the center of the park, please.  3.  Brek Shea. Again. Can we all just agree he's not a left-back and move on? Against Chile he did score a goal, but his defending was suspect the entire game and he seemed to find himself up in the final third much more than in the defensive third against Panama.

SS - My winners are Zardes, Steve Birnbaum and Miguel Ibarra. Zardes took advantage of his opportunities, grabbed a beautiful assist on Dempsey's goal against Panama, and appears to be on the verge of turning into a superstar in one of the league's biggest markets. We talked a while back about the need for some of these young strikers to assert themselves, and Zardes did just that. Birnbaum made a respectable debut, and didn't do anything to rule him out of future conversations about our back line. A lot of the guys we've been playing back there are getting older, and like you, I don't see Jones as a long-term solution (or a short-term solution). I think Birnbaum is an exciting young player, and I think we'll see him in camp again. Ibarra didn't do anything amazing in his start, but he moves well off the ball, and he's a smart player. AND Klinsmann likes him. I don't think he's ready to be a featured player on our roster, but he has to potential to carve out a niche as a role player. My losers are Bobby Wood, Lee Nguyen and DeAndre Yedlin. Wood was largely ineffective in 45 minutes against Chile, and if Zardes wasn't ahead of him before this camp, he's definitely ahead of him now. Nguyen is just in a tough spot. He's not going to supplant Michael Bradley or Mix Diskerud in the midfield, and even though he always seems to be dangerous, he just doesn't seem like he'll ever get the opportunity to shine that he has in MLS. As for Yedlin, hear me out. Yedlin definitely has some fitness issues as he isn't getting first team minutes over in England. He's trying to learn a new position as a flank midfielder, and had a lot of defensive lapses. I mean, everything you hit Shea for, Yedlin's the same thing. He had trouble tracking back, and while his speed is weapon to be sure, he can't rely on that right now when he's not at 100% fitness. The concern for him, as far as I'm concerned, is when is he going to get fit between now and the Gold Cup? Shea's going to play every day for OCSC, and Yedlin's a project in England. Long term, I think going to Tottenham will be great for him, but I don't know that it sets him up for immediate success with the National Team. Time will tell though.

2. SM - For me, Michael Bradley against Panama looked for all the world like our best field player. He made tackles, made passes, and dropped a corner kick into the back of the net like it was the easiest thing in the world to do. He was just named as his club team's captain up in Toronto, how long before we see him wearing the armband on a permanent basis for the Stars and Stripes?

SS - I'm honestly surprised he's not the captain now. Dempsey is a gritty, gutsy, leave-it-all-on-the-field kind of guy, but I don't know how much of a vocal leader he is. Bradley seems to be that guy, but they may wait until Dempsey's play declines so the decision is a no-brainer. That said, hard to get inside the mind of Jurgen Klinsmann sometimes (or all the time).

SM - I think you're spot-on here. Bradley seems all the world to me like the captain in all but name and honestly, I don't think it will take much of a drop in Dempsey's play for Klinsmann to hand the armband off to him. If Deuce has a poor or average Gold Cup, I think the US could have a new Captain this summer.

3. SS - The U.S. Women dropped a 2-0 decision against #3 France (in France) on Sunday. Cause for concern?

SM - Good question. Let's look at it this way. Missing were Hope Solo, Sydney Leroux, Megan Rapinoe, And Christie Rampone. One of France's goals was a mis-hit cross that fell into the top corner of the goal by accident. The all-time leading scorer for the U.S., Abby Wambach, missed a penalty and this was Alex Morgan's first game back since injuring her ankle back in October. Taking all those factors into account, maybe this loss isn't time to hit the panic button just yet, however if we don't get a win soon, it may well be time to.

SS - I agree that it's probably too soon to freak out about one loss. And while it's disappointing, losing to the #3 team in the world on their home field isn't cause for crisis. That said, I'd like to see a better performance from them against England on Friday. As you said, at some point you need to start getting results.

4. SM - With upcoming friendlies against Mexico, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Denmark, who do you want to see more of? The foreign-based players or the MLS guys?

SS - How about the best players? I don't really care if they're based in MLS or Europe, what I would like to see is Klinsmann start building our starting lineup for the Gold Cup so we start developing some chemistry. I will say that our European contingent needs to start stepping it up if they want to be well represented. Injuries have been a factor overseas this year limiting some of our players' production, and right now with a lot of National Team talent returning to MLS, I wouldn't be surprised to see MLS contributing well over 50 percent of the player pool this year.

SM - Agreed. I think we're in a great position right now. MLS is getting underway which will get the contingent of players based here up to match fitness. The European season is moving right along at the same time. Our talent pool is as deep as it's ever been and barring injury, we should be able to see the best players available and not have to hear about problems with "fitness". I'm with you that we will probably see 50% of our Gold Cup roster from the MLS, but for me, some of those European guys are going to be able to shine as well. All in all, it should make for some very good soccer.

Wild Card

1. SS - Excluding Toronto, which MLS club that missed the postseason in 2014 is in the best position to make the postseason in 2015?

SM - For me right now it's the Montreal Impact. Nigel Reo-Coker, Eric Kronberg, Bakary Soumare, Marco Donadel and no less than 7 other new players signed so far this offseason plus the owner's stated commitment to doing whatever it takes to get people in the seats equates to a serious run at the playoffs for me. If they manage to find the "big name striker" they're current searching for don't be surprised if they fly under the radar and make the playoffs.

SS - I talked a lot about Chicago last week, so I'll leave them out of this block as well. I'm going to get a little crazy and make the case for San Jose to bounce back in 2015. They have a plethora of offensive weapons starting with the always dangerous Wondo, U-20 International Tommy Thompson, Swiss International Innocent Emeghara, Steven Lenhart who was limited to just two games in 2014 due to a series of injuries, Adam Jahn who has a pair of braces this preseason, and designated player Matias Perez Garcia. They also had injuries on the backline last year which limited Clarence Goodson to just 10 games and they've since added Marvell Wynne to add depth there as well. The Western Conference is going to be all kinds of competitive, but with everyone beating up on everyone else, there's no reason that San Jose can't be in the conversation if they stay healthy and catch a couple breaks.

2. SM - In your mind is DeAndre Yedlin a right winger or a right back?

SS - You know, I really don't know. He seems to be more of an asset going forward and using his speed to recover than he does actually defending which would suggest he's more of a wing, but his fitness level may limit him to playing out of the back. Let's face it, he's just 21, and still has some time to figure out a natural position for himself. I see him as a young DaMarcus Beasley, a guy who can really fill in just about anywhere.

SM - For me, he's very, very raw. There is a huge amount of potential there and if Tottenham keep both him and his manager, Mauricio Pochettino, around his development could skyrocket over the next few years. Pochettino has a knack for developing and utilizing young talent into world-class players. Having said that, while he is young, I think he needs to settle on an identity. Playing one position consistently and playing it well will benefit him greatly and can also help the U.S. We have a plethora of guys who "can play" a certain position for us even though that's not necessarily what they do for their club team. Utility players are great and serve a purpose but I'd rather have a bunch of true world-class guys who only play their chosen spot than several utility guys who are okay at a couple positions.

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

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