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Archive for the ‘Top 5 Lists’ Category

Top 5 reasons to start following Liga MX
   January 7, 2014 (12:14 PM) by Matt Benson

As for the latest in our Top 5 Lists series, we asked Kim Tate to give us five reasons on why Americans should start following Liga MX.  Kim follows Mexico, Liga MX, CONCACAF, and CONMEBOL and will be covering Costa Rica at the World Cup for Telegraph Sport.  You can follow her on Twitter at @KimTateSports.

Aside from the 20 (that I counted) Americans playing in Liga MX right now, there are other reasons to start becoming familiar with the league and some of the great entertainment it has to offer. Just a few of my reasons to become a Liga MX follower this year, below.

1) Copa Libertadores

In this year’s 55th edition of the famed South American tournament, three of Mexico’s Liga MX teams will compete against three teams from Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela; and five from Argentina and Brazil. The 2014 Mexico teams are all suited for some good battles, especially if Liga MX squads with talent from their opposing countries like Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil end up competing against their home sides. Santos Laguna, Leon, and Morelia are all strong teams who had good showings in the 2013 Apertura, finishing second, third, and sixth, respectively.

Morelia, already well rounded with talent, will face Santa Fe in the first stage, a two-legged, home and away series which will determine which teams are placed into groups for the second stage. The winner of Morelia/Santa Fe will be placed into Group 5 with Atlético Mineiro (Brazil), Nacional (Paraguay), and Zamora (Venezuela). Santos and Leon already have their group placements in the second stage, and will play in a home and away round -robin series. Santos has goal scoring hero Oribe Peralta paired with a firey Darwin Quintero, and their opponents will be Peñarol (Uruguay), Arsenal (Argentina), and Deportivo Anzoátegui (Venezuela). This is Leon’s second consecutive year in the tournament, and players like Argentine Mauro Boselli who had 18 goals in 22 games in 2013 will face a group with Bolívar (Bolivia), Flamengo (Brazil), and Emelec (Ecuador). While no Mexico team has ever won it all in Copa Libertadores, it still makes for some great entertainment to see Liga MX clubs pitted against some of the top teams in South America, which already has a reputation for being home to some of the most exciting football in the world.

2) Herculez Gomez in CONCACAF Champions League

More of a regional tournament, CONCACAF Champions League is a showcase of qualifying teams from MLS, Mexico, and other Central American regions and emulates similar Champions League format as UEFA Champions League in Europe. Aside from Toluca and Cruz Azul, the third remaining team for Mexico is Club Tijuana, which recently picked up Herculez Gomez from Santos Laguna last season.

For those unfamiliar, Gomez is notorious for absolutely terrorizing teams with his oodles of goals in this tournament, and is especially famed for doing so against MLS opponents. He proved it last year with Santos, and while not an MLS opponent, he proved his rule over CONCACAF again in Tijuana’s 6-0 defeat of Victoria in September, where he scored three goals upon his club debut after sitting out for two months with a leg injury. The feat left him in a tie for fifth on the all-time scoring list with Oribe Peralta, his former teammate at Santos, and he also became the only player to score more than one goal in each of the last three editions of the Champions League. The accolades go on: he is the first player to have ever won the Liga MX title and an MLS Cup, which he did with Santos Laguna in 2012 and the LA Galaxy in 2005. As fate would have it, the Galaxy are Tijuana’s next scheduled opponent when CONCACAF Champions League resumes in March.

3) America and Chivas, Mexico’s two most successful clubs

When Mexico almost imploded in World Cup qualifying, the Federation brought in Club America’s manager Miguel Herrera as a last minute attempt to salvage the national team’s chances of making it past the playoffs to secure a spot in Brazil. What we got was an America-dominant El Tri, with seven players from Las Aguilas taking the pitch during the remainder of the qualification process. Sure, El Piojo mixed in players from Leon like his captain, Rafa Marquez, goal scoring machine Oribe Peralta from Santos and 37 year old Sinha from Toluca, but that same America-based club side is the team we’ll see fielded for a majority of the season in this Clausura. They won the Liguilla in the 2013 Clausura and were in contention to win it again during the 2013 Apertura, but Leon denied them of their 12th title and hopes of becoming Mexico’s most successful club. Regardless, Luis Gabriel Rey and Raul Jimenez are dynamite; powerhouse Aquivaldo Mosquero reminds us of the late Chucho Benitez; and their overall cohesion and organization makes for some great football. It will be interesting to see how they do under new manager Antonio ‘Turco’ Mohamed, who won the 2012 title and made a deep run in Copa Lib at the helm of Tijuana.

Chivas is another story, finishing 16th in the Apertura and with relegation looming if they don’t see a significant turnaround. The addition of former Atlas man Omar Bravo – who was named captain and scored within 2 minutes in their 1-1 draw with Santos Laguna Saturday night – Israel Castro, Gerardo Rodriguez and Jair Pereira will hopefully aid in turning things around while the drama continues in Guadalajara. Will be fun to watch it all come to the surface.

4) Enter the Ecuadorians

Ecuadorian players have become more prominent over the last couple of years in Liga MX, and they’re especially fun to watch when placed in scrappy situations. Observe a Xolos match and think of who you’re reminded of when watching Fidel Martinez – he’s a standout in talent and looks, with speed and technical skill a soccer junkie could watch all day long. For Morelia, Jefferson Montero is skillful and a handful on all levels. Though they recently suffered a surprising 1-0 defeat to Queretaro in their Clausura home opener, Montero still wrecked havoc and provided start to finish pizzazz without having scored any goals. Walter Ayovi is a special defensive talent who was recently picked up by Pachuca after having spent four years at Monterrey, and his cousin, Jaimen, just signed with Tijuana to compliment the attack led by Martinez. Atlante’s Ecuadorian duo in Narciso Mina and Michael Arroyo will be ones to watch as well. South American talent is far and wide in Liga MX, but these players stand out and enhance the experience of watching already fast-paced games by adding their explosiveness and unique style of play.

5) Club drama

All leagues and teams have their share of bumps in the road, PR blunders, and “diva”-like attitudes from players, but a handful of the Mexican league’s administrations and coaches provide some the best entertainment there is in this region. Queretaro’s very public “announcements” of “new” signings DaMarcus Beasley from Puebla and Camilo Sanvezzo from Vancouver Whitecaps recently both turned out to be a web of confusion and haste on behalf of los Gallos, with the latter causing an internet standoff and quite a reaction from the Whitecaps. The Beasley thing was amusing and confusing, especially when the club released official statements while Beas and his agent took to twitter to set the record straight, but the Camilo saga was just brilliant entertainment if you sat on Twitter and watched it all unfold. As it stands, Queretaro has since removed all tweets announcing Camilo as its newest signing, and deleted any associated pictures of the Brazilian MLS Golden Boot winner donned in a club kit, but two blunders in a row is pretty bad.  Funny to be a spectator on the outside, though.

Categories: Top 5 Lists

Top 5 Players of the Hex
   October 21, 2013 (8:30 AM) by Jon Arnold

With the Hex now over and teams fully qualified (wait, sorry Mexico, you are not qualified yet), Jon breaks out his Top 5 players from the Hex in our latest in the Top 5 Lists series.

5) Giancarlo Gonzalez, D, Costa Rica

The Vålerenga man, who can play in various spots along the back line, was a revelation for Jorge Luis Pinto, starting every Hex match after a successful Copa Centroamericana campaign. After the infamous snow match in Colorado, the Costa Rica defense ran off four consecutive clean sheets and then allowed only one goal against the U.S. on the way to clinching a World Cup berth. Gonzalez was excellent, whether anchoring a five-man back line or pairing with Michael Umaña. Perhaps a good campaign in Brazil will be enough to get the 25-year-old to a more prestigious European league.

4) Jerry Bentgson, F, Honduras

With potential like he showed in the Hex, it’s easy to see why the New England Revolution want to keep Bentgson. He was Honduras leading scorer in qualifying with nine goals in all rounds, putting him in the same ranks as Falcao and Gonzalo Higuain. In the Hex, he and Carlo Costly both had four goals in the Hex, but Bentgson not only scored more important goals, he also equaled Costly’s mark despite missing los Catrachos’ match against the United States because of a falling out with the manager.

3) Bryan Ruiz, M, Costa Rica

Ruiz started the Hex a bit slow but ended qualifying as his country’s top goalscorer. His real influence wasn’t necessarily bagging goals but creating goals for the Ticos. Ruiz has slipped a bit at Fulham but that lag in form didn’t follow him home. Aside from some staunch defense, Ruiz is the biggest reason Costa Rica rolled through the tournament and will be playing in Brazil next year.

2) Michael Bradley, M, United States

The best player on the best team calmly guided the U.S. to qualification and the top spot in the Hex. He was injured but not needed in the team’s final four matches. In the previous six, he’d been the Michael Bradley Americans have come to know and love. Winning back possession? Passing success rate in the high 90s? Getting forward when necessary? Bradley did it all and did it well.

1) Jozy Altidore, F, United States

Altidore was the best scorer on the best team, but that’s not the only reason he finished first. The Sunderland striker elevated his game in the final qualifying round and found lots of ways to score. Whether it was the lone goal at home against Honduras or an opener in Kingston, Jamaica, Altidore was there when needed. Can Altidore ride his hot streak in the Stars and Stripes all the way to Brazil? That’s the question everyone will be asking in 2014.

Also receiving consideration: Alberto Quintero, M, Panama. Graham Zusi, M, United States. Keylor Navas, GK, Costa Rica. Matt Besler, D, United States.  Jaime Penedo, GK, Panama. Carlo Costly, F, Honduras.

Categories: Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Top 5 Lists

Top 5 US Soccer-related GIFs
   October 14, 2013 (5:30 AM) by Matt Benson

As for the latest in our Top 5 Lists series, we asked Maxi from Futbol Intellect to bring his humor and love for GIFs to the site.  You can follow Maxi on Twitter at @FutbolIntellect.  That all said, here are his Top 5 US Soccer-related GIFs.

Here’s a quick fact for you: within 100 years, history won’t be taught with textbooks, but with iPads packed with 6-second GIFs offering a glimpse into the most important moments in human history, from President Barack Obama’s inaugural speech, to that time a panda sneezed in a zoo. As a board-certified historian, I can confirm that fact. Heavy stuff.

That said, the fine folks from Over There thought it a good idea to get a jump on our inevitable future, and make the task of future Apple GIF Geniuses® a bit easier, lest they take the wealth of cardboard Deuce Face GIFs as evidence of an early century cult. Here’s the Top 5 US soccer-related GIFs!

5) Stanky Leg Deluxe


Ahh, the halcyon days where Charlie Davies and Jozy Altidore ran rampant, while the future of US soccer looked sure to be dominated by outrageous goals and wacky dance moves. US soccer has certainly turned out well (thanks Jurgey!), but the carefree and naive play that we loved during the 2010 World Cup qualification process has been noticeably absent. Here’s to the alternate universe where Charlie Davies stanky legged his way to a World Cup Final.



Speaking of World Cup qualification, the US has struggled through it’s fair share of awkward matches during the last few months. The best, from a fan’s point of view? Costa Rica in Denver; a match that shouldn’t have taken place, that shouldn’t have been played out, and that shouldn’t have ended with a fairly straight-forward three points for the US. While the number of quality GIFs from the match are numerous, I personally prefer this one, of Geoff Cameron giving a bit of help to a snow shoveler late in the second half. An excellent team effort, all around.

3) Roxbury


Look at Taylor Twellman’s spot-on Chris Kattan impression, all the way from the perfect head nod to the eyes filled with decades of sorrow, and tell me this isn’t one of the best GIFs you’ve ever seen.  The only problem is that like the sirens of ancient mythology, once you see it, you can’t look away. It was 9AM when I first found this GIF; the time is now 7PM on a Tuesday evening in 2018. Send help.



Does the San Jose Earthquake mascot have a name? Or even a species? All I know is that David Beckham was seconds away from getting into a legitimate fight with a sports mascot. Bonus points for the ‘Sportscenter is Next!’ sign.

1) Landon, what do you think of this list?


The amount of emotional catharsis in this GIF is overwhelming. Not just for Landon, but for myself as well. Landon spends months overseas, only to come back *sniffles* and fight his…his…*sobs* WAY BACK TO THE US SQUAD?! Seriously though, just queue up an Explosions in the Sky song and let it play while stare into Landon Donovan’s soul. Better yet, just play this on YouTube and let the GIF overcome you.

Categories: Top 5 Lists

Top 5 USMNT Qualifiers So Far
   October 11, 2013 (12:37 AM) by Matt Benson

As we continue to bring back our Top 5 Lists series, we will have some guest writers from time to time.  Andrew Pokorny writes about the USMNT for and is here to give us his Top 5 USMNT qualifiers so far before we play the last two.


1) Snow Game – March 22, 2013

The Costa Rica v. USA battle in the middle of a blizzard is a sight I will never forget.  The game wasn’t about skill nor technical ability but rather about heart and desire.  The USA won this whiteout because of Dempsey’s desire to score.  It became more exciting as players started to slip and slide around.  However, the thing that really did it was the reaction of the entire Costa Rican bench once the game was over.  Even though both teams had to play in these miserable (a fact they still can’t seem to understand), they cried like little babies, making this victory that much sweeter.

2) Tie at Mexico – March 26, 2013

This game was huge.  For the first time since 1997, the USA traveled to the Azteca and picked up a point.  It also started a trend of miserable games for Mexico from which they have yet to bounce back and because of which Chepo was fired.  The game itself did not feature that exciting of play, but rather the prospect of stealing a point in Mexico made it more exciting than any goal.  This result will be remembered by US soccer fanatics for years to come.

3) Panama in Seattle – June 11, 2013

This game had what was probably the best atmosphere at any USMNT game, ever.  Sam’s Army brought CenturyLink Field alive.  I still get goosebumps whenever I see the crowd dressed in red, white, and blue jumping or signing together.  To top it off, the US played beautiful soccer throughout and completely dominated the game.  Altidore and Johnson had two great finishes off of two great balls by F. Johnson and Cameron, respectively.

4) Dos a Cero – September 10, 2013

Another classic in Columbus.  The USMNT shut down the Mexicans in a clinching victory.  Three things made this victory great.  First, we beat Mexico, and there is nothing better than better the team from south of the border.  Second, it was played in Columbus in front of an excellent crowd of diehard soccer fans.  Third, with this victory we qualified for Brazil 2014.  How could a game turn out any better?

5) Late Winner in Kingston – June 7, 2013

I will always remember watching this game on my laptop with an illegal stream.  I will also remember Brad Evans late winner after it looked like all hope was lost.  The Office exploded after Jamaica scored late in the game, but the USMNT would not die.  Three points rather than one in Kingston made qualification a whole lot easier for the squad.  An impressive, late winner makes this game the fifth best qualifier so far.

Categories: Top 5 Lists, US Men's National Team

Top 5 Yanks on foreign national teams
   October 9, 2013 (12:41 AM) by Howie Michaels

I actually drafted this before we found out that Steven Beitashour will be playing for Iran, but here is the top five Americans in Europe who play for other national teams.

5) Roger Espinoza, Wigan (Honduras)


The former Ohio State Buckeye moved to Colorado at 12 and became a US citizen in 2008, although he opted to represent his home nation.  After several seasons as a left back and then defensive midfielder with the Sporting Kansas City Wizards, he joined Wigan mid-season in January and won himself an FA Cup (although he was unable to prevent their relegation).

4) Boaz Myhill, West Bromwich Albion (Wales)


The California native moved to England with his American father and Welsh mother at a young age. He played for Hull City at all four professional levels of English football before moving to West Brom and spending time on loan with Birmingham City. He was never really on the US radar, but in an alternate universe would probably have been worth a call.

3) Yura Movsisyan, Spartak Moscow (Armenia)


Okay, so I’m not 100% sure that Yura has ever obtained US citizenship. However, he lived in the US for a decade, went to high school and college here, and expressed an interest in playing for the US before moving abroad and losing his nationalization chances so he’s American enough for me (and has merits ahead of the somewhat similar background of Vedad Ibišević). After helping Real Salt Lake win the 2009 MLS Cup, Movsisyan has made moves to Randers in Denmark, Krasnodar in Russia, and now Spartak Moscow, a legitimately big club in a big country, where he has continued his tradition of scoring a ton of goals at every stop.

2) Neven Subotic, Borussia Dortmund (Serbia)


Unlike the others on this list, Subotic was part of the US setup for a long time, playing for the U-17s and U-20s before his infamous fallout with then-U-20 coach Thomas Rongen and subsequent switch to his native Serbia.  Of course, he plays a position that could always use improvement for the US.  He isn’t a European champion, but that isn’t his fault.

1) Giuseppe Rossi, Florentina (Italy)


The New Jersey native really needs no introduction here. Rossi famously (infamously?) opted to play for his parents’ Italy over his native United States. An understandable decision given the relative prestige of the two nations, but that has made Rossi’s success no less painful. He scored 54 goals in 4 ½ years at Villarrael (and helped keep Jozy Altidore on the bench). Despite missing nearly two years with two torn ACLs, Rossi has made an immediate impact in Serie A, with five goals already.

Categories: Top 5 Lists

What I’m watching for on Saturday
   January 20, 2011 (9:49 PM) by Howie Michaels

The U.S. trots out what amounts to the junior varsity squad for Saturday’s friendly against Chile (10 P.M. EST, and TelaFutra). Bob Bradley has called up his usual MLS/Scandinavian roster for the January camp, and this roster is particularly young: Alejandro Bedoya, who has six caps (all in 2010), is the most-capped player. The only player to have an international goal is 18 year-old Red Bulls striker Juan Agudelo. In all, the team has a collective 23 caps among them. For comparison, Landon Donovan has 128 caps. Sacha Kljestan, a fairly young player that is hardly a national team regular, has 25 caps alone.

However, when I use the term “junior varsity” I do not mean it in a degrading way. Rather, it’s a young team that may include future national team stars. Against Colombia in October, Brek Shea became the first player born in the 1990s to earn a cap. This team has four players born in the ’90s, all of whom are seeking their second cap. Fourteen players in camp are 23 years old or younger.

With the Gold Cup beginning in just over four months and World Cup qualifying beginning as early as this fall, this may represent a last chance for players to play themselves into the picture for the upcoming critical matches before some of the World Cup key players begin to fade from the picture.

With that introduction, here are the five things I’m most interested in watching on Saturday night:

1) How will the forwards look?
It’s no secret that forward isn’t the strongest position for the U.S. American strikers have famously gone two consecutive World Cups without scoring a goal (although I do think that Jozy Altidore had a good World Cup despite his lack of goals). Two World Cup veterans— Edson Buddle and Robbie Findley– recently left their clubs in the domestic league for teams in Europe; both were forced to join second-division clubs. The best U.S. forward, Alitdore, struggles to get off the bench for Villarreal; the remaining forward from that team, Herculez Gomez, had scored once in fifteen appearances for Pachuca this season.

It is due to that current situation that so many U.S. fans were excited by the play of young Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury in November. Agudelo, the former academy star for the Red Bulls, emerged as a starter for New York in the playoffs as injuries slowed Thierry Henry. He parlayed his breakout performances over the two legs (which included a great assist for a brief, late equalizing goal in the second leg) into a cap, where he scored the winner against South Africa at just 17 years old (and became the rare forward to score a senior international goal before a senior club goal). Bunbury, meanwhile, had a 5-goal rookie campaign for Sporting Kansas City and may have more minutes available in Sporting’s 4-3-3 next season with the departure of former national teamer Josh Wolff. He will also have the chance to learn from Mexican World Cup veteran Omar Bravo next year. Bunbury appeared as a second-half sub against South Africa and looked promising.

The remaining forward options are more interesting and unconventional in background. Chris Wondolowski, 28 years old next week, came out of nowhere (11 goals in all competitions his first six years as a professional) to win the MLS Golden Boot with a stunning 18 goals in 26 regular season matches before adding a series-winner in the playoffs. He becomes the latest in a line of hot/in-form US forwards to get a previously-unexpected national team shot (see also: Jeff Cunningham in late 2009, Gomez, Buddle, and Conor Casey in 2009). Is Wondolowski just a fluke wonder— 12 of his goals came in the last 13 games of the season, including two hat tricks— or is he a late bloomer? While not physically impressive in the manner of Agudelo or Bunbury, Wondolowski demonstrated a great knack for finishing— something that US strikers could stand to use.

The other interesting forward option is the late addition to the camp, the Ukrainian-born Yevgeni (“Eugene”) Starikov. Starikov emerged on the scene literally from the middle of nowhere (I would classify Siberia as “nowhere”) emerging as a key player for FC Tom Tomsk while on loan from powerhouse Zenit St. Petersburg. No one is quite sure what to make of him as a prospect, but at just 21/22 he was making starts in one of the best non-Big Four leagues in Europe so he would seem to have some talent.

2) What formation does Bob Bradley use?
During the fall string of friendlies, Bradley experimented with a number of lineups besides the 4-4-2 (more of a 4-2-2-2) that he used for the most part during the previous cycle. Against Poland, he used a 4-5-1. Against Colombia, he used a 4-3-3 with three central midfielders (Maurice Edu, Michael Bradley, and Jermaine Jones) in vein of the Manchester City inverted triangle. Against South Africa, we saw both the 4-4-2 and the 4-2-3-1 that was so popular at the World Cup. With the depth that the US has in central midfield, I would not be surprised if the 4-2-3-1 emerged as the preferred formation this cycle. Could we see the young Norwegian-American Mikkel “Mix” Diskerud (who had the impressive game-winning assist at South Africa) playing the center of the 3 (as many speculate may emerge over time)?

3) Will depth emerge at the wide midfield positions?
While Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, the two stars of the last cycle, both play officially wide attacking midfield positions, neither are true wingers (both tend to have the freedom to move around the field in the 4-2-2-2) and the US has a lack of proven depth in the outside midfield. With Stuart Holden playing more and more centrally at Bolton Wanderers, there is an opportunity for young outside midfielders to prove themselves. Shea and Bedoya in particular could stand to gain significantly with strong performances, and Diskerud and Eric Alexander– both of whom play more inside but may play outside on Saturday– also have a lot to gain. While Shea impressed coaches from Real and Atletico Madrid while playing at centerback during the MLS Generation adidas trip to Spain, I still think that the 20 year-old’s immediate future is at winger. For the sake of the US, who already have a number of young centerbacks in the pool, I hope he can develop into a dynamic left-footed attacker. Bedoya, meanwhile, looks to continue his rise within the American ranks. Both (along with Diskerud) are probably on the Gold Cup roster bubble right now, showing an ability to provide service and creativity from the wings would go a long way towards earning themselves a spot on the roster.

4) How will the back line shake out?
As I mentioned, the U.S. does seem to have a number of potentially strong centerback options. Three of them— Ike Opara (injury), George John (injury), and Gale Agbossoumonde (on trial in Sweden)— aren’t here, but several of them are in camp. Will Tim Ream (possibly the best US centerback of any age with the ball at his feet) and Omar Gonzalez prove to be a long-term pairing? Is one-time rightback Marvell Wynne (whom I don’t think has played since his disastrous outing in a 3-1 loss at Costa Rica) a budding athletic centerback star (where he revived his career with Colorado)? Will Anthony Wallace become a player at left back, or will the US continue its century-long search for a reliable player there (although Jonathan Bornstein played very well at the World Cup)? Where does AJ DeLaGarza— generally the backup to fellow camper Sean Franklin at RB, an often-effective pairing with former college teammate Gonzalez– fit into the picture?

5) Do Jeff Larentowicz and Dax McCarty have a future with this team?
I feel bad for Larentowicz and McCarty in a way. Both of them have flourished in MLS, with McCarty having a great season for Dallas while Larentowicz may have been the most important addition to MLS Cup champion Colorado. As mentioned, central midfield is the deepest US position. However, one can never have enough depth. Unlike the central midfielders that went to South Africa (Logan Pause and Brian Carroll), both Larentowicz and McCarty seem to have some upside. Will they play enough to at least become options as qualifying stretches on and some injury-prone players (cough, Jermaine Jones, cough) fall in and out of form, or will their careers mirror Kyle Beckerman’s— probably a key player for the US five years ago but left behind by the current crop of talent?

My predicted lineup:

Johnson (Rimando)
Miller (Wallace)
Cronin (McCarty)
Diskerud (Larentowicz)
Bunbury (Agudelo)
Alexander (Shea)
Starikov (Wondolowski)

Also, while I’m not gunning for stickers, this strikes me as a 1-1 draw.

Categories: Alejandro Bedoya, Brek Shea, Eugene Starikov, Juan Agudelo, Mix Diskerud, Omar Gonzalez, Ryan Miller, Sean Franklin, Sean Johnson, Teal Bunbury, Tim Ream, Top 5 Lists, US Men's National Team

My top five questions going into the USMNT’s upcoming friendlies
   October 4, 2010 (7:47 PM) by Matt Benson

1) Will Bob Bradley attempt to play something other than a 4-4-2?

Bob has lived and died by the 4-4-2 since becoming the manager of the team.  He once tinkered with a 4-5-1/4-3-3 in a World Cup qualifier down in Costa Rica (a 3-1 loss) in 2009, but after getting behind early and the team just looking awful, he quickly abandoned that plan and really hasn’t strayed from the 4-4-2.  I am eager to see if Bob tries anything new or if we will see the standard 4-4-2.

2) Who will step up and be the offensive leader with no Landon Donovan in the lineup?

With Lando trying to win the MLS Supporters’ Shield for the Galaxy (as well as giving him a little bit of a break), he was not called to the team for these friendlies.  He has been the offensive “quarterback” for most of the last four years.  If the US is doing something creative offensively, it is more than likely that Donovan is involved.  It should be interesting to see who steps up and takes the on-the-field leadership when it comes to creating offensively.  Will it be Dempsey?  Or will someone like Benny Feilhaber or Stuart Holden take charge?

3) How far along is Gooch since his injury?

People are quick to write off Gooch since he returned quicker than normal for someone with that major of a knee injury and looked average in the World Cup.  People have forgotten how well he played for the US between 2005-2009.  Plus, he is still less than a year away from his surgery and has not been getting playing time at AC Milan.  These games will give him a chance to play actual minutes in an actual game and I want to see if he looks better.  If the US wants to get that defense back to something of a strength for the team, they are going to need a healthy and confident Gooch.

4) Who is going to play left back?

Heath Pearce will not be able to play in Saturday’s game, but will return (with Brek Shea) for next Tuesday’s game.  Carlos Bocanegra is the next logical choice by looking at the roster, but I would like to see Eric Lichaj and Jonathan Spector given a chance.  While Spector has played LB for West Ham, he has only featured once at LB for the US under Bob Bradley and that was at the 2007 Gold Cup in one game.  This position has been a giant question mark for the US in recent years (long live Jeff Agoos!) and while Bocanegra and Jonathan Bornstein did a serviceable job at the World Cup, the US needs to find someone to take control of the position.

5) How well will Jermaine Jones play within the squad?

One of the best qualities of the US teams in recent years has been the fact that they are close knit family, many of which have grown up playing with each other in the US youth systems.  Now enters this 28-year-old midfielder who grew up in Germany most of his life and is brand new to the US program.  I am just interested in how he interacts with the players on and off the field.

So those are my questions heading into the games over the next week.  What are you interested in seeing or knowing?

Categories: Top 5 Lists, US Men's National Team

My top five camp battles/storylines
   May 14, 2010 (8:47 PM) by Howie Michaels

If you’re a reader of this blog, you are undoubtedly well-aware of the fact that the 30-man preliminary World Cup roster was released earlier this week. From this 30-man roster, Bob Bradley must find 23 to take with him to South Africa (actually, it’s 20 men from 27 since all three goalkeepers will be there).

There are some guys who are mortal locks, there are some guys who are probably in to help balance out practices and scrimmages as much as anything. I am guessing myself that there are really only a handful of spots up for grabs at this point, but I wanted to look at the top five battles of interest (to me) over the coming weeks:

#5: Heath Pearce vs. Jonathan Bornstein
A few weeks ago, I had penciled in both guys to make the 23. However, I’ve reconsidered that. When you consider that Carlos Bocanegra plays leftback for Rennes (and probably will against Slovenia and Algeria) and that Jonathan Spector can also play leftback (mixed results or not), this may be a race for the third-choice option at LB. Only two of the four semifinalists as the last World Cup brought eight true defenders and only one semifinalist at the 2002 World Cup did. I consider Bocanegra, Onyewu, Demerit, Cherundolo, Goodson, and Spector to be relative locks. Couple that with DaMarcus Beasley’s ability to play LB in an emergency (however harrowing this was during qualifying) and Maurice Edu having token experience at CB, and this may be the last defender spot available.

Versatility could be a factor. Pearce has demonstrated an ability to play LM with some success with FC Dallas in action so far this year, and Bornstein played CB after the Conrad red card (and rather well) and has lined up at CB some for Chivas USA where he was serviceable playing out of position. This one could come down to form in camp; the fact that Bradley has a history with Bornstein (coached him at Chivas and actually moved him to LB out of college) may play a factor.

#4. Ricardo Clark vs. Maurice Edu
Strictly speaking, you could throw in Benny Feilhaber and Jose Francisco Torres into this discussion, but their skills are probably better suited for coming off the bench (although I think Torres may get the starting nod against Slovenia or Algeria due to his ability to break down a defense). Michael Bradley will (rightfully) start against England, but his midfield partner is certainly up for debate. Clark of course started when Bradley in the epic win over Spain last summer and was first-choice in the critical stretch of qualifying. He also came on strong late in the season in Germany and earned himself a permanent deal. Edu on the other hand was not healthy for much of 2009. The fact that Clark is more of a destroyer while Edu likes to get forward more may play a factor here.

#3: DaMarcus Beasley vs. Alejandro Bedoya
While I know a lot of the Beasley truthers think that Bradley has a secret plan to start him, I don’t think that Beasley is a lock. That said, I expect him to be on the roster as it is clear that Bradley trusts in the reliable veteran (nearly 100 caps). I don’t think Bradley will rate Beasley ahead of guys like Feilhaber, Holden, etc., but I think he will be the mix. In particular, believe that this may be the fight for the 23rd roster spot. Bedoya has had the better form over the past year and has really come out of nowhere to add a true winger option.

#2: The Forwards
This position was difficult to evaluate before the events of the past few days; now it’s impossible. Initially, I suspected that we’d see Ching, Buddle, and Gomez (assuming Davies was not healthy). However, Eddie Johnson’s form has been really strong lately (3 goals in Greek playoffs) so he seemed tracking in the right direction before he got hurt. Now, of course, he may miss more than a week of camp. Brian Ching’s injury in early April seemingly left him out, but he returned last night against Salt Lake. In that same match, Robbie Findley of Salt Lake scored his first goal of the MLS season and generally looked dangerous.

Then you have the two wild-cards: Herculez Gomez and Edson Buddle. I’m of the opinion that Gomez is the closest thing to Charlie Davies left in the US pool. Gomez of course led the Mexican league in scoring, the first American to lead a foreign league in scoring. Buddle has scored nine times in eight MLS matches so far this year. They’re both somewhat of enigmas at the international level; Buddle has but one cap, in a 2003 friendly. Gomez has all of two, both in Copa America 2007. While Findley only has four caps, we’ve at least seen him in multiple caps over the last year.

#1: Where Does Dempsey Wind Up?
This isn’t a battle per say. We know that Dempsey is going to start. However, where he starts is going to be dependent on the form of Stuart Holden (or whoever would be the alternative at RM) and the performance of the guys mentioned #2. I rank it #1 because it’s a sort of meta-issue for the team overall.

What do you guys think?

Categories: Top 5 Lists
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Top 5 USMNT Jerseys of All-Time
   May 5, 2010 (8:25 AM) by Matt Benson

I looked at my five favorite jerseys worn by Americans overseas this season a couple weeks ago, and with the latest USMNT World Cup jerseys being unveiled last week, I thought it was time to look the jerseys worn all-time by the USMNT and come up with a new list with my five favorites.

This is all my opinion.  Feel free to disagree and argue in the comments.

Honorable Mention – 1934 Home

So my list will actually have six jerseys when it is all said and done.  I am a sucker for old school stuff, but this one is a pretty classic look and I am a fan of the old US Soccer badge.

Biggest win in this jersey: The US only played two international games in 1934.  A World Cup qualifier against Mexico and their first round loss to Italy in the actual World Cup.  Because of that, their 4-2 win over Mexico on May 24, 1934 in Rome gets the nod.  Aldo Donelli ended up scoring all four goals for the Americans on that day.

#5 – 1950 Home

Yes, the jersey behind this year’s version.  Another classic look, and once again, I like the old school US Soccer badge.

Biggest win in this jersey: Any fan of US Soccer should know this answer, especially since it has been mentioned about 9,483 times since the US drew England in their group back in December.  On June 29, 1950 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Joe Gaetjens was able to head a Walter Bahr shot/cross into the back of the net leading to the US’ 1-0 victory over England in the World Cup.  The greatest victory in US Soccer history?  I think so…..for now.

#4 – 1995 Road

After some really ugly jerseys for most of the 1990s, especially both worn in the 1994 World Cup, Nike came along and produced two solid jerseys.  But I am giving the road jersey the nod as I like the blue.  This jersey also led to the 2006 road jersey,  where Nike took this design, made slight changes and updated it a bit.

Biggest win in this jersey: After already surprising Chile in their first game of Copa America ’95, the United States upset (ranked #8 by FIFA) Argentina 3-0 (goals by Frank Klopas, Alexi Lalas and Eric Wynalda) on July 15, 1995 and advanced to quarterfinals.

#3 – 2008 Home

This was one of those jerseys that underwhelmed me when they released it, but over time, it slowly won me over.  Now, I am a big fan and wish it wouldn’t go away.

Biggest win in this jersey: You could argue their 3-2 win over Honduras to clinch a spot in the World Cup was the biggest, but I am going with their 2-0 victory over #1 ranked Spain in the Confederations Cup on June 24, 2009.  It snapped Spain’s 35-game unbeaten streak and propelled the US to their first ever appearance in the final of a worldwide tournament.

#2 – 2006 Home

After Nike made some solid jerseys in 1995, there was a run of some pretty average jerseys until this bad boy.  Even a bloody nose still looks bad ass in this jersey.  Plus, it was unique to the United States after wearing some Nike jerseys that they made for other countries and just used the same template.

Biggest win in this jersey: On June 24, 2007, Benny Feilhaber kicked the game-winner in the 73rd minute against Mexico in the final of the 2007 Gold Cup.  The win gave the US their first ever back-to-back Gold Cup titles.

#1 – 2006 Third

A throwback of sorts to the old days, this jersey is easily my favorite of all-time.  I wish the US would try to use red more often, but they just stick to white and blue for whatever reason.  Plus, they used the old school US Soccer badge that I like a lot more than the current one.  If anyone has an extra one of these laying around, I will gladly buy it off of them.

Biggest win in this jersey: Here is the problem.  They only wore these in one game and I don’t know which one that was exactly.  I want to say it was in their 1-0 win over Lativa on May 28, 2006 in their run before the 2006 World Cup.

So there you have it.  What are your thoughts?  Fire away in the comments.

Categories: Top 5 Lists

Top 5 Jerseys Worn by Americans Overseas
   April 21, 2010 (7:20 AM) by Matt Benson

Every once in a while we will try to look at various things and make a Top 5 list.  Some things will be serious, most will not, but I thought I would start off with something easy and take a look at the Top 5 jerseys worn by Americans in Europe for this season.

This is all my opinion.  Feel free to disagree and argue in the comments.

But take a look at my Top 5 list after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

Categories: Top 5 Lists