Friday, March 6, 2015

Superman and the SoccerSmith Q&A, Episode 8

Welcome to Episode 8 of Superman and the SoccerSmith's 4-4-2 Soccer Q&A. Just in time for Opening Weekend! Here we go!


1. SoccerSmith (SS): As we kick off the 2015 regular season, give me your preseason predictions for Western Conference Champion, Eastern Conference Champion, MVP, Golden Boot, and Newcomer of the Year.

Superman (SM): Man this one is tough. With Gyasi Zardes and Robbie Keane on form, coupled with Stevie G arriving in May, I have the Galaxy winning the West, but not by much as Seattle, RSL, and Sporting KC should all be right there in the hunt. The East has gotten a whole lot better with the addition of NYCFC and Orlando City, and while I think both teams will do well with their powerful and star-studded rosters, I see this as being a two-horse race for the top spot between Toronto and New England with Toronto having the slight edge. Mike Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco, and Jozy Altidore should prove to be a hell of a trio and score a lot of goals. My early pick for MVP is Ricardo Kaka. I think he will prove invaluable in Orlando's playoff push. Golden Boot I'll say will belong to Dom Dwyer. The dude had a banner year last season and I fully expect that run of form to both continue and improve. Newcomer of the Year will be the Atomic Ant, Sebastian Giovinco. His creativity and dynamic play should be enough to earn him that title.

SS: I'm going to say Seattle wins the West. I think the Galaxy are going to be right there with them, but I think the tandem of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins is going to be that much better with a full season under their belts. Plus, they're coming into the season with a huge chip on their shoulder. LA lost Landon Donovan and Marcelo Sarvas and starts the season without Steven Gerrard so I think their midfield is going to be hurting early on and Seattle will exploit that fact. In the East, I'm going to go with the Columbus Crew. Columbus has quietly put together a solid core of Federico Higuain, Ethan Finlay, Will Trapp, Michael Parkhurst, Tony Tchani, Justin Meram and Steve Clark. And they've added Icelandic international Kristinn Steindórsson, Kei Kamara, and Argentine right back Hernán Grana into the mix. They also have the Golden Boot winner from the CONCACAF U-20 Tournament, Romain Gall, waiting in the wings. DC United is struggling with injuries, Toronto FC will have to find its identity and establish chemistry, the Red Bulls lost playmaker Thierry Henry, the expansion clubs are tough to bet on, and New England has all their eggs in the Lee Nguyen basket. Columbus could surprise some people. As for the MVP, in keeping with my picking the Crew to win the East, I'm going to go with Federico Higuain. He may not be the playmaker his brother is, but he's scored double-digit goals in each of the last two seasons, and now he arguably has his best supporting cast around him. The Golden Boot is going to go to Bryan Róchez, how's that for a dark horse candidate? Róchez is only 20, but he's coming off a 20 goal season for Real España in Honduras and now he has Kaka setting him up. Finally, for newcomer of the year I'm going to go with Kaka. This is a guy who could make a push for 20 assists, and Orlando City's success will be totally dependent on what he brings to the table.

2. SM: Austin Berry, the 2012 Rookie of the Year has been sent on loan to FC Anyang, which is in the second division of the South Korean K league. Not precisely what I'd call progress. Can Berry get his career back on track or are we going to be asking "whatever happened to that guy?" at some point in the future?

SS: Do you think anyone foresaw this at the end of the 2012 season? It’s a long fall from MLS Rookie of the Year to South Korea’s second division. Anyhow, as far as whether or not he can put his career back together? Hard to say. Berry may have damaged his reputation with comments he made about the Union coaching staff in a recent interview: “[Jim Curtin’s] the new coach. It’s his first situation where he’s had to deal with something like this. [Chris] Albright probably wasn’t supposed to have this position for a couple more seasons… It is guys in new positions, not knowing how the league works and not really knowing what’s going on.” Now Curtin (152 starts over 9 MLS seasons) and Albright (22 CAPS for the U.S., a Best XI selection in 2005 and 3 MLS Cups) aren’t exactly nobodies. And to suggest that these guys have less of an understanding of how the league works than Berry probably wasn’t Berry’s best play, which may also be why he’s getting loaned to South Korea’s 2nd Division and not somewhere better. That said, reputation aside, yes Berry’s career can recover from this. Berry isn’t a washed up 30-something, he’s only 26. And this is a loan, not a transfer. I have to assume he’s going to start for FC Anyang, otherwise this move wouldn’t make much sense for either party (FC Anyang is limited to four international players on their roster). If he goes there and performs, perhaps helping Anyang get promoted to the K League Classic, maybe that will get him back into someone’s good graces stateside.

What has my attention most is the destination. Professional athletes have spoken out of turn about their coaches and what not since pro sports were a thing. The second division in South Korea seems a bit excessive to me if he's going on a loan spell as a sort of punishment. That being said, I think you're spot-on about his potential for a return. If he helps FC Anyang to get promoted and is suddenly the best player in their league, perhaps we'll see him back in a MLS jersey sooner rather than later. 

3. SS: Who will score more goals this season: David Villa, Jozy Altidore or Chris Wondolowski?

SM: David Villa. Wondo is a poacher, Jozy is a back-to-goal, hold up play type of guy, but David Villa seems to be able to do it all. To me he's more of a complete forward who can score in any way and that will lead to him scoring more goals.

SS: I think you could really make a case for all three of them. Wondo is going to get his. We saw this last year even when San Jose was abysmal and now they're much improved. Altidore will be getting fed by Michael Bradley and Sebastian Giovinco which certainly won't hurt his case. But I'm with you, and would have to pick David Villa. All things being equal, he's just better. And if he had a full season of Frank Lampard, I think you'd be hard pressed to argue that he wouldn't be the favorite to win the Golden Boot. Even without Lampard, he'll still have Mix Diskerud, so I think he'll finish the season in the high teens slightly ahead of Wondo and Jozy.

4. SM: Orlando City has sold 60,000 tickets to their home opener against NYCFC this Sunday. Considering the rapid rise of the MLS the past few seasons, do you see this type of attendance becoming the norm?

SS: I’m going to go with no. Florida isn’t known for its attendance at pro sporting events. Think Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Rays or Miami Marlins. Remember the Tampa Bay Mutiny? How about the Miami Fusion? The Citrus Bowl may hold 65,000+, but their new stadium which will open next year will only hold 19,500 which is about the norm for soccer specific stadiums. I think it’s great that people are coming out for the opener, but we’ll see where the fans are in October and November if Orlando City’s first season is a rough one. Could the U.S. someday have 60,000 fan soccer stadiums? I suppose that’s a possibility, but let’s start with trying to win the Champion’s League.

SM: Call me optimistic, but I'm thinking that this is a sign of things to come. I realize this is the home opener, which is usually a big deal in any sport, and that Orlando has made a huge deal about filling the Citrus Bowl. I also am aware of the fact that the soccer-specific stadium that they're building will only hold 1/3 of the people that will be at the game on Sunday. But let's not forget that over 7,000 folks showed up to watch an open training session. And let's also take into account that they have sold 60,000 tickets for this game, THREE TIMES what their stadium will hold. I'm thinking that a lot of that can carry over, but I also think it depends on how much success they have. If they make the playoffs this year, be on the lookout for sellout crowds all through the 2016. You heard it here first. 


1. SS: Christie Rampone turns 40 this summer. How much longer can she keep playing? Can she catch Kristine Lilly and her ridiculous 352 CAPs (she currently sits at 304)?

SM: Provided she stays healthy and in form, I don't see her stopping 'til she gets good and ready to. She's played professionally since 1997 and has shown no signs of slowing down or made any announcements or mentions of retirement. Part of that I'm sure is her position. Center backs may lose a step or two, but generally become better with age, much like goalkeepers. That being said, it also wouldn't shock me to see her retire this summer if the women win the World Cup. As to whether or not she can catch up with Lilly's ridiculous number of caps, well, that obviously depends on her continuing playing for a few years, as there's a significant gap between 304 and 352 and there's a bunch of younger, extremely talented women looking to get caps of their own.

SS: Let's start off by saying what she's accomplished thus far is nothing short of amazing. 300+ CAPs with the U.S., a 3-sport star in college (basketball, soccer and lacrosse), 4 World Cups (1 Championship) and 4 Olympic Games (including three Gold Medals) and that's just to name a few of her accolades. Then you factor in that she's done all of this despite having two kids, tearing an ACL in 2001, and being diagnosed with Lyme Disease in 2010. So given that she's more or less unstoppable, I'm inclined to say that Rampone could still be the U.S. Captain at 47 while suiting up for her 7th World Cup. How could you honestly bet against her? Pretty sure I'm going to have to find a spot for her on my Mount Rushmore, especially when she gets her 400th cap in 2023.

2. SM: Sacha Kiljestan has made no secret of the fact that he wants back into the National Team picture. With the load that he will be carrying in New York, can he perform well enough to play his way back into the squad?

SS: Sacha’s got his work cut out for him. He played just one match for the U.S. in 2014 and that was on the heels of his best season in Europe when he scored 9 goals across all competitions for Anderlecht. He’s 29 so you have to figure his window for contributing at the international level is closing. But, he’s playing in a big market with a striker who tied the MLS single season scoring record a year ago. If Kljestan helps Bradley Wright-Phillips enjoy similar success in 2015, and the Red Bulls are in the playoff hunt, you’d have to think his name will come up.

I swear it's like we share a brain sometimes. I like Sacha. I love his attitude and work rate. His commitment level is up there with anyone you can name. But the hard fact for him right now is that we are very full in the middle of the park. Lee Nguyen, Clint Dempsey, Mix Diskerud, Michael Bradley... All of these people are capable of playing behind the striker in the role that Kljestan will be playing in New York. And that's just the shortlist in truth. If Sacha can create magic at Red Bull arena and get BWP scoring goals like a madman, I agree he's got a legitimate shot at another call-up. But it seems to me like unless he plays well above and beyond even his own expectations, the 'stache may not get another cap for the Red, White, and Blue. 

3. SS: Has anyone stood out to you during the CONCACAF U-17 Tourney thus far?

SM: Joe Gallardo Jr. A hat trick against Cuba in the 5-0 rout last Friday closely followed by a goal from a free-kick against Trinidad and Tobago this week. The youngster seems to be playing up and above his age group. He's one to keep an eye on for the future.

SS: The U.S. has gotten hat tricks from Gallardo and Joshua Perez so far in the tournament, but I'm going throw out a name of a guy who hasn't scored yet instead. Christian Pulisic, the U.S.'s #10, has four assists through three matches and has truly been the catalyst of the U.S. attack. A product of the Borussia Dortmund youth system, he appears to be the total package already tallying 18 goals for the U.S. despite not turning 17 until this September.

4. SM: Carli Lloyd basically took over at halftime of the women's opener against Norway in the Algarve Cup this week. She scored a wicked left-footed shot and calmly buried a PK to give the Ladies a 2-1 win. Is she on your shortlist for best player of the tournament right now?

SS: I’m not sure I’m ready to go that far. Don’t get me wrong, I’m stoked about her Woman of the Match performance against Norway, but there’s a lot of great teams here, and three other players who netted braces on Match Day 1, two of whom did so without the benefit of a PK and against the #1 team in the world. I think your best player of the tournament is going to be someone from Group A. With Sweden, Brazil, China and Germany all in the same group (the worst team in the group coming in at #13 in the world) there’s a lot of opportunities for players to deliver signature performances, and whoever wins that group is going to have earned it.

SM: Agreed to a point. Her comments after the game amounted to her being tired of losing, tired of being written off as an also-ran, and being a veteran and leader on this team were excellent in my opinion. Those comments along with the black eye she got in a closed-door friendly show the fire and desire she has to win. I'm looking for her to make even more of an impact as this tournament goes on. 

Wild Card

1. SS: Give me five players in MLS right now that are worth the price of admission.

SM: This is the kind of research I can really get behind. 1. Ricardo Kaka. How many times have MLS fans been able to watch a bona fide Ballon d'Or winner take the field, even one that's supposedly on the back side of his career? 2. Frank Lampard. Super Frank will be joining NYCFC this summer and should make an impact the second he takes the pitch. He's won EPL titles, Champions League titles, along with several other domestic tournaments. He's basically a living legend. 3. Steven Gerrard. Another guy who is basically a living legend who will be joining the Galaxy this summer. Having come close, but never actually winning the Premier League, he will be fired up to try to bring another title to LA. 4. David Villa. Another bona fide superstar who seems to be able to score goals at will. He's won almost every trophy there is, including the UEFA Champions League, a World Cup, and the Euros. 5. Sebastian Giovinco. The Atomic Ant has an affinity for cutting and slicing up defenses, juking defenders out of their shoes before delivering killer final balls or practically unstoppable shots.

SS: I can't disagree with any of those selections, but I'll throw out five other names just to keep this interesting. 1. Lee Nguyen. This guy's got an absolute hammer shot, and while he may never get a legitimate opportunity with the U.S., he's certainly an exciting player to watch. 2. Kyle Beckerman. As far as holding midfielders go, this guy plays the position as good as anyone. As both a distributor and a disruptive defensive presence, he's worth watching. 3. Robbie Keane. Ireland's all-time scoring leader and most CAP'd player is the reigning league MVP and even at age 34 is still a threat to score tallying over 20 goals for the Galaxy last year between the regular season and playoffs. 4. Michael Bradley. Arguably the best America has to offer right now. Nobody works harder on the field than he does. 5. Bill Hamid. Arguably the future of U.S. Goalkeeping, Hamid was a big reason DC won the East last year, and you saw how much of a difference it made not having him in net for DC's first leg Champions League match against Alajuelense.

2. SM: Freddy Adu is reportedly in talks with two separate teams in the Swedish Allsvenskan. Considering his recent exploits and the long list of teams he's represented, can he finally nail down some regular playing time and get his career back on track or is this just another stop on his interesting career?

SS: Oh boy, who knows? If given the opportunity, he could probably get his career on track, but as we’ve discussed before, Adu seems to get in his own way when things aren’t going right for him. Will he be humble about this opportunity and work his butt off or is he expecting a starting job to be handed to him? I honestly can’t even begin to guess how this plays out. At this point, Adu is just as likely to play in the Champions League as he is to end up teammates with Austin Berry in South Korea’s second division.

Freddy Adu is a special case. He's played for no less than 10 separate club teams and he's still only 25. I'd venture to say that's a record. Possibly not one anyone would like to have, but a record nonetheless. In the will he/won't he game, at this point, I honestly wouldn't know where to lay my money. Much like you said, at this point he's just as likely to end up at Real Madrid as he is the New Orleans Jesters. 

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

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