Welcome, David Moyes

Welcome to Manchester United, David Moyes.

And Everton, say goodbye to Marouane Fellaini, Leighton Baines, and top six finishes. And probably Ross Barkley, too. And Kevin Mirallas if Moyes decides he wants a new winger.

Jurgen Klinsmann Needs To Do One Thing Before World Cup Begins

I mean, besides, obviously, qualify for the World Cup.

And my ‘one thing’ is kind of an overarching thing that will involve a lot of moving pieces. But to put it simply: build the United States Men’s National Team around Jozy Altidore.

He will be 24 in 2014 and 28 in 2018, so we can at least expect him to be around and performing in the next two World Cups (and possibly on the bench in 2022). So he’ll be approaching his peak at next World Cup.

He’s scoring goals left and right in Holland. And while the Eredivisie may not be the best league, it still produces quality play and players and no one else looks likely to be producing at a comparable level in a comparable (or superior) league.

If we’re going to score goals and win games – not just now (when older players like Dempsey can take up the slack), but in two years (when Dempsey and, if he’s back, Donovan, will both be on the wrong side of thirty) – USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann has to find a way to get Altidore to start scoring and producing for the national team. It’s not optional. He can’t say, well, he’s just not able to produce for us, so we’ll do something else. No. There is almost zero chance of an attacking player in his mid to late twenties stepping to a high enough level to win us some games against the world’s best by then (not impossible – someone like Terence Boyd or even Juan Aguedelo could improve dramatically and also begin playing for a higher tier league, but it seems unlikely that it will happen soon enough).

So build the team around Altidore. AZ Alkmaar, like many Dutch teams, play a 4-3-3 with a attacking central midfielder that makes it something of a hybrid betweena 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1. Either way, Altidore is the man in the center. And while other players are by no means afraid of taking shots, the wingers/wide forwards and attacking midfielders have a brief to supply service to Altidore.

Now, I haven’t seen enough his club games to really say what, uniquely, the team does to get the best out of Altidore, but surely the coach of the United States Men’s National Team could find someone in the Netherlands with a tivo who could send him some game footage. What I have seen suggests that, while he’s hard working and just play as a pure poacher, he stays fairly high up the pitch; he’s got good speed, enough to beat most central defenders, but more often uses his strength to muscle himself some space amongst opposing defenders.

Do they play with speedy wingers? Then start putting speedy players like Brek Shea and John Gatt on the wing, even if there are better players out there, because it’s about what’s best for the team (and what’s best for the team, at least in the attacking third, is what’s best for Jozy).

Do they play with a wide player who’s more of a wide forward who uses their own goal threat to create space for Altidore? Fine, then play Dempsey on the wing.

Or are they players who depend less on the speed than on the quality and precision of their service into the attacking areas? Paging Graham Zusi, Freddy Adu, Sacha Kljestan, and Landon Donovan.

Does the attacking midfielder play close to Altidore, almost as a second striker? Then put Dempsey behind him.

Or does their trequartista play deeper and control speed and tempo and look for the killer pass to start the counterattack? Freddy Adu, maybe, or take a gander Jose Torres and Kljestan in that spot.

Or does that player make fast runs from deep? Donovan or Mixx Diserud should get a look then.

I don’t care. We just don’t have another striker who is reliably scoring goals at a high enough level. Put aside whatever tactical ideas you have, Jurgen, and start figuring out what helps Jozy score goals.

Bad Start To The Hexagonal

But it’s not hard to guess what happened.

And, to an extent, I am guessing. I was at work during the World Cup qualifying match against Honduras – a match that we lost 2-1 – and could only follow the action as best I could on twitter.

I know that the defense was overmatched and played poorly, but that will have to come with time. Geoff Cameron is a quality defender and Omar Gonzalez has to come good because the pipeline of good, young defenders with the potential to be international quality players isn’t exactly overflowing. Same goes for the fullbacks. Steve Cherundulo will probably be on the roster in 2014, but we’ll need someone under thirty in the right back spot to cover for what will be, by 2014 Cherundulo’s thirty-five year old legs.

I like Klinsmann. I really do. I want to like him as our coach.

But he as consistently gotten the midfield wrong.

Eddie Johnson on the left? Meh. I can live with it.

But the trio of Jermaine Jones, Danny Williams, and Michael Bradley doesn’t have enough attacking quality. Bradley can attack, but he can’t be the only one of the trio with the ability to link midfield and attack. Personally, I’m a big Sacha Kljestan fan. He started out as an attacking midfielder, but has improved his defense and range of passing from deeper positions since joining Anderlecht in Belgium. He help out at defense, but also provide a wide range of passing and help keep possession. Arguments could also be made for Maurice Edu (more defensive, but with better passing ranges than Jones or Williams and a penchant for driving forward) or Jose Torres (plays in the center circle and helps keep possession with his passing and ball control) or even Freddy Adu (has good close control in tight spaces). But with so many defensive minded folks in the midfield, too much space was given to Honduras and too little help the offense. Ugh.

And what irks is that he had players on the bench like Kljestan (he did come on in the second half), Jose Torres, and Graham Zusi (who could have provided some width and delivery into the box) – and at least one of them should have started.

Klinsmann keeps talking about playing attacking soccer. Let’s start seeing some. We won’t win anything by sitting back.

4th Place

So, if Arsenal miss out in fourth place and, consequently, the fourth and final Champion’s League spot, does Arsene Wenger get fired? Because that’s what’s going to happen.

Gerrard & Rodgers

It was always a question with the Liverpool legend. The accumulation of injuries and wear on his body eating away at the physical strength and capacity for tireless running that had made him such a powerful offensive weapon.

But, beginning with Houllier, coaches slowly gave up on trying to teach or enforce any kind tactical discipline on the local icon. This trend culminated in Rafa Benitez’ decision to remove all defensive and positional responsibilities and give him a free hand to roam where he pleased.

With the decline of his physical gifts, such a role came with greater cost to the team’s defensive shape and with less offensive output to offset it.

Somehow, Liverpool’s relatively new coach, Brendan Rodgers, has managed to turn Steven Gerrard into the kind player he needed to become.

Sitting deep and using his eye for long, diagonal passes. Timing tackles and breaking up opposing attacks instead of desperately chasing players and depending on his pace and power. And timing his offensive surges to conserve his energy.

Rodgers has very nearly managed to transform Gerrard into a regista, the outfield role that, arguably, requires the greatest degree of tactical discipline.

It’s unkind to say this, but if this iteration of Steven Gerrard had been around earlier in the century, England’s national team might have had at least a shot at World Cup or European title.

Why The (Latest) Modern Trequartista Emerged

The newest iteration of the trequartista is not the fantasista of old.

Last season, when Kevin-Prince Boateng’s performances as an unorthodox #10 were garnering attention, it was sometimes called le plongeur. Yaya Toure at Manchester City has been playing this role for a couple of seasons now.

Rather than being known for their passing ability (though many who play this role are fine and usually underrated passers), they are used for their energy and drive.

The rise of this new trequartista is a direct response to another role which has had a rebirth: the regista.

The deep lying playmakers who sit in front of their own defense, but who don’t always specialize in tackles, they specialize in launching attacks. Through a combination of accurate long and medium passing (Pirlo being a perfect example) or an ability to quickly recycle possession (Busquets does this very well). And no team can rise to the heights, especially in the Champion’s League, without one anymore.

Manchester United has the controversial Michael Carrick; Manchester City has Gareth Barry and added Jack Rodwell and Javi Garcia; Real Madrid’s moves flow through Xabi Alonso; and Juventus lives by the ageless vision of Andrea Pirlo.

Thiago Motta, a traditional, hard tackling defensive midfielder by trade, was played by Italy as a #10 in the final of the Euros not because anyone thought him capable of subtly unlocking Spain’s defenses, but so that his hustle and defensive nous could deny time and space to Spain’s deep lying midfielders (of course, Spain, in that tournament, had three players able to play some version of that role – Xavi, Xabi Alonso, and Sergio Busquets – and Motta also got himself injured, so it didn’t work out so well).

Everton coach David Moyes moved his big, Belgian tackler, Marouane Fellaini behind the striker not only for his goal scoring prowess, but for real defensive, more than ever, starts at the front. His size and aggression puts pressure on opposing defenders and deep lying midfielders, thereby providing real defensive cover for his team, even when playing just outside the other team’s eighteen yard box. Everton has an attacking midfielder on their roster and on the field in Leon Osman, but Moyes knows that Osman can’t provide the same kind of disruptive role, so plays his traditional attacking midfielder behind behind a classic holding midfielder.


Belgium’s Golden Generation Complrte

With the rise of Aston Villa’s Belgian target man, Christian Benetke, Belgium’s array of playmakers and wide forwards (Hazard, Mirallas), dominating box to box midfielders with wide passing ranges (Fellaini, Witsel, Defour, Dembele), powerful defenders (Vertonghen, Kompany, Vermaelen) now have a focal point for their attack.

Pick ’em now for the semi finals of the 2014 World Cup.

Tottenham Opportunities

For the last few years my favorite EPL team has been Tottenham Hotspur (I loved their fearless attack under Redknapp, playing with two traditional, British wingers in Bale and Lennon).

Bale is out for a couple of weeks and I’m hoping to see Clint Dempsey (the new Captain America) moved out of “the hole,” where he hasn’t looked 100% effective for club nor country,mto Bale’s wide left.

Dempsey would tend to cut inside and attack the goal. With Defoe too short to attack crosses, Dempsey could provide an aerial threat and could also interchange with Sigurdsson (who would presumably come in as attacking midfielder) and create space for Defoe to use his acceleration and movement to find the little openings.

Also, Spurs don’t need to spend huge sums on a tempo setting player like Moutinho. He will cost too much, when that money could be better spent on needs like a long term replacement for Gallas and another striker.

What people keep on forgetting is that Scott Parker is expected back in the new year.

He’s no Moutinho, but his defensive nous and careful, accurate (though unadventurous) passing will provide a incredible platform for other midfielders to surge forward. He’s not a long term solution at thirty-two years old, but he’s got another season in his legs, long enough for Livermore and Carroll to grow into first teamers.


I have never been a fan of the LA Galaxy (while living in Los Angeles, I preferred to attend Chivas USA games; I also attended Clippers rather than Lakers games, so there is a touch of perversity in my choices), but I was still interested enough in the capture of Beckham to be angry when his actions those first three seasons in Los Angeles showed him to be of a dismissive attitude towards my city (at the time), my country, and my soccer league.

I don’t know what happened, but these last three seasons, he pulled it together and started playing with heart and god bless him for that.

He announced he’s leaving at the end of the season, which is probably good and right. The Galaxy are in the MLS Cup and, on paper and with a healthy team, look like favorites. End on a high note.

The rumor has him doing one last stint in Australia, which has a shortened league schedule and will already be half over after the cup game, which means he’d have a chance to play six to ten games, strut his stuff, and finish his career with his body intact (hopefully).

So, basically. Beckham, I’ve forgiven you and you’re making the right decision to leave now.