On Jurgen Klinsmann, his first roster, and the upcoming Mexico friendly

The last time I appeared at the EJSIC, I wrote a post about the firing of Bob Bradley and the potential candidates to take over. One of those candidates, the former German player and coach Jurgen Klinsmann, was hired. His signing marked the end of a roughly five year flirtation period with US Soccer.

Klinsmann has a pedigree on the international level. As a player, he led West Germany to the 1990 World Cup, won a few UEFA Champions League titles (the highest trophy in European club football), and was a prolific scorer with snake-like ability to slither between defenders to find the ball.

As a coach, he took over the German national team after a poor showing in the 2004 European Championships. He fearlessly left older players off the roster in favor of young, unproven talents. That gamble paid off with Germany’s third place finish in the 2006 World Cup, a tournament the country hosted.

New US Coach Jurgen Klinsmann

Now Klinsmann seeks to revamp a U.S. national team while simultaneously transforming the youth development system in this country. Just a guess here, but it’s probably one of the hardest jobs any soccer coach has ever undertaken.

The coaching at the national team level is not that hard part (though there will be challenges). It’s changing the development system so that the U.S. can perhaps finally achieve the potential its wealth and population supports which will prove difficult.

While those goals are long-term, let’s look to the near future. Next Wednesday (August 10), the U.S. will play Mexico in a friendly (exhibition) in Philadelphia. The only problem is that there is no such thing as a “friendly” against Mexico, a sentiment that U.S. midfielder Freddy Adu shared via Twitter yesterday.

U.S. Roster vs. Mexico

Yesterday, Klinsmann unveiled his first 22 man roster for his first game as coach of the Yanks.

Forwards: Freddy Adu, Juan Agudelo, DaMarcus Beasley, Edson Buddle, and Landon Donovan.

Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones, Brek Shea, and Jose Torres.

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra, Edgar Castillo, Timothy Chandler, Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Michael Orozco Fiscal, Heath Pearce, and Tim Ream.

Goal Keepers: Bill Hamid, and Tim Howard.

The roster includes some old and some new blood. Let’s go position by position looking at each player in some detail.

Forwards

1. Freddy Adu: the former prodigy’s international career looked ruined until two successful Gold Cup appearances with a sub in the semi-finals and a start in the finals. Klinsmann’s style of play can only help Adu even more.

2. Juan Agudelo: the future of the U.S. at striker, Agudelo has learned a lot at the club level from playing and practicing alongside French legend Theirry Henry. Now he’ll study under one of the greatest goal scorers of a previous generation.

3. DaMarcus Beasley: when I first saw Beasley’s name, I was shocked. At one time, Beasley was a better player than Landon Donovan. Once his prime passed, his usefulness did too. However, Beasley has had somewhat of a career resurrection while playing in Mexico’s top professional league. Intriguing pick who may still have something left to help.

4. Edson Buddle: Buddle was on the 2010 World Cup squad thanks to a hot hand (foot?) in the MLS that season. He’s since moved on to play in Germany’s second division. Honestly, I have no idea how well he has played there. One thing he’s always had is speed and judging by the rest of this lineup, Klinsmann likes speed.

Landon Donovan

5. Landon Donovan: the most interesting aspect of this pick is that Donovan is listed as a forward and not a midfielder. Under Bradley and at the club level, Donovan has commonly played the right midfield position though he has shown the ability to play up when needed (Gold Cup final against Mexico).

Midfielders

1. Kyle Beckerman: the dread-locked midfielder for Real Salt Lake has never really impressed wearing the national team colors, but Klinsmann should evaluate every possible player to better grasp his new team. Beckerman has some good attributes that he regularly displays in MLS. Perhaps a new coaching philosophy will benefit him as well.

2. Michael Bradley: the son of our former coach, Bradley’s future seems a little uncertain. He always started for his dad (something I defended in the previous post about Bob Bradley’s firing) which will probably not continue. Regardless, Michael has earned his role on this American squad and should continue to see lots of playing time.

3. Ricardo Clark: I hate this player. I perhaps hate him more than Johnny Bornstein (who, thankfully, was left off the roster). Hopefully he doesn’t continually give the ball away in the midfield this time (I’m not holding my breath).

4. Maurice Edu: while included on the Gold Cup roster, Edu did not see the pitch at all. He’s not an attacking player so his role is a little unclear, but he’s still good enough to see playing time.

5. Jermaine Jones: the German-American citizen teamed up with Michael Bradley in the central midfield during the Gold Cup. Maybe Klinsmann can get him to stay in his freaking position.

Young Midfielder Brek Shea

6. Brek Shea: a promising young talent for the MLS’ FC Dallas, Shea had yet to see major action under Bradley. However, if Klinsmann goes with a youth movement like he did with Germany in 2004, expect to see Shea a lot in the future. Good player.

7. Jose Torres: a permanent resident of the Bob Bradley doghouse, Torres was called in by Klinsmann for his attacking prowess and Latin flair for the game. Klinsmann has repeatedly said he wants to include Latin players in the U.S. squad so here’s a good start. I can’t wait to see what Torres can offer under a more attacking-oriented approach.

Defenders

1. Carlos Bocanegra: the captain (will he retain that title?) still has some game left in him despite a poor showing in the Gold Cup final (along with the entire defensive line minus Cherundolo).

2. Edgar Castillo: another young Latin player, Castillo has made one prior appearance for the U.S. One aspect he brings to the team is his ability to pass out of the back, a key to maintaining possession of the ball.

Timmy Chandler

3. Timothy Chandler: Chandler is another German-American citizen who is a future cornerstone for the U.S. at right back. He can play on the flanks and possess the ball well.

4. Steve Cherundolo: the U.S.’s best defender as of late, Cherundolo is probably nearing the age of international retirement, but perhaps he can stick around long enough to help with qualifying and even possibly World Cup 2014. After all, he’s gotten better with age.

5. Clarence Goodson: Goodson has a unique aspect about him; he’s still young enough to have a solid future for the national team while having enough experience to be very valuable.

6. Michael Orozco Fiscal: see Edgar Castillo (honestly). Another young player with a Latin flair for the game.

7. Heath Pearce: a somewhat overlooked defender in the Bradley era (33 appearances), Pearce could potentially be a valuable sub / emergency starter.

8. Tim Ream: the future at CB for the U.S., Ream is the kind of player who will thrive under Klinsmann’s possession-based game. Ream is not afraid to have the ball at his feet with pressuring forwards nearby. He’s made some mistakes while playing for the Yanks, but there’s nothing to his game that experience can’t fix.

Goal Keepers

1. Bill Hamid: the future of the U.S. between the posts, Hamid should get some good experience in this game against a pretty good attacking team in Mexico.

2. Tim Howard: still the number one option for the U.S. as keeper. Nothing changes with a new coach.

Players left out

When the roster was first unveiled yesterday, a slight stir flowed through Twitter and other social media sites because of the noticeable absences of Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey. Nothing should be read into those absences.

Altidore is still recovering from the hamstring injury he suffered in the Gold Cup while also training for the start of a new club season with a new club in Holland. He’s still very much in the future of the U.S. team.

For Clint Dempsey, his absence is nothing more than a courtesy to Fulham, his club in England. Fulham are preparing for the start of the English Premier League season with a new coach while also trying to qualify for the Europa League (a Euro club tourney under the Champions League).

The Mexico Friendly

Klinsmann will take these 22 men into the Mexico game as his first opportunity to see many of these players and to better evaluate some veterans. The result of this game means absolutely nothing. Nada. Nil. Friendlies are nothing more than games for young players to gain valuable experience in semi-competitive settings.

And this friendly is even more. It’s a game for Klinsmann to begin the evaluation process in selecting his best squad for World Cup qualifying and World Cup 2014. His success or failure as a coach will not be decided by this game or any other exhibition in the rest of the calendar year or the early months of 2012.

That doesn’t mean both team don’t care about winning. Far from it, I imagine. Both teams would love to notch another victory over their biggest rival. It just means that a loss here is not the end of the world or an indictment of the actions of the past weeks (firing Bradley and hiring Klinsmann).

For a great article on the U.S.-Mexico rivalry though (and an elaboration of the Adu Tweet linked earlier), Grantland.com has the goods.

Enjoy the article and until next time, Go Go USA!

RE: The Firing of Bob Bradley

Earlier this afternoon, the news of U.S. Soccer’s firing of men’s national team manager Bob Bradley hit the airwaves and blogosphere. Bradley, a maligned coach as of late, began serving the Yanks in 2007 and oversaw successful outcomes in the 2007 Gold Cup, the 2009 Confederations Cup, and the 2010 World Cup (more on those later).

My personal feeling about the firing is ambivalence. I like Bob Bradley. I think he’s done a number of good things for the U.S. national team. I also think he’s a bit too stubborn in relying on under-performing veterans. My thoughts about his career, the firing, and the future of U.S. Soccer follow.

1. 2007 Gold Cup

When Bradley was hired in January ’07, the Gold Cup loomed just months ahead. Six months before, the U.S. embarrassingly bowed out of the group stage of the 2006 World Cup in which they did not win a single game. That tournament also marked the end of Bruce Arenas’ tenure as national team coach.

Bradley managed to rally the troops though and win the 2007 Gold Cup. It earned the U.S. a berth in the ’09 Confederations Cup and returned confidence to the national team.

2. 2009 Confederations Cup

With World Cup qualifying fully underway, the U.S. traveled to South Africa for a World Cup primer, the Confederations Cup. The first two games left a lot to be desired, but with a 3-0 thrashing of African champs Egypt (and Brazil’s beat-down of Italy at the same time), the U.S. advanced to the knockout rounds. And there awaited number one ranked Spain on some ridiculously long unbeaten streak.

The Americans pulled it off, 2-0; a shock result that gathered momentum for the following year. Bradley’s style of defend, defend, defend, counter worked in that game. The U.S. remained disciplined against a powerful Spanish midfield and forward tandem.

In the championship game, the U.S. blew a 2-0 halftime lead to powerhouse Brazil. Regardless of that outcome, optimism surrounded the Yanks.

3. 2010 World Cup

The U.S. entered South Africa with a favorable group draw and a veteran team. They won the group with two draws and a last gasp victory against Algeria. However, the run ended in the Round of 16 with an extra time loss to Ghana.

While U.S. fans could reasonably have been disappointed in the effort, most considered the 2010 campaign a success.

4. 2011 Gold Cup

Bradley’s contract ran out in late 2010, but the U.S. re-signed him for another four year cycle. U.S. Soccer saw this year’s Gold Cup as an important tournament for a few reasons. One, they wanted a spot in the 2013 Confederations Cup to gain valuable experience for the upcoming young crop of players (especially at defense). Two, the Americans wanted to maintain their role as the top dog in CONCACAF over Mexico. Three, it wished to correct some bad play that cost the U.S. in the World Cup and in friendlies since then.

The Red, White, and Blue made the finals as expected, but not without drama, ineptitude, and close calls along the way. And Mexico awaited in the finals, a team that steamrolled the competition. When the U.S. gained a 2-0 lead in the first half, things looked great. However, the U.S. defense unraveled against the tough Mexican attack before losing 4-2.

The finals left a bitter taste in the mouths of disappointed fans, players, and coaches in what turned out to be a disappointing tournament. It also turned out to be the last game of Bob Bradley’s tenure of U.S. coach.

5. What led to the firing

I have no sources, no insider knowledge, nothing. These are only my thoughts.

A. Slow starts – Under Bradley’s steely gaze, the Americans often struggled at the start of games. The cause of that struggle remains unknown with speculation blaming poor coaching, lackadaisical effort, etc. Whatever the cause, the end result was the same: the U.S. often failed to match the opponent’s energy and play early in games.

In the 2010 World Cup, the U.S. fell behind England 1-0 within the first ten minutes, trailed Slovenia 2-0 at halftime, and gave up goals to Ghana in the first half of regular time and extra time.

While the U.S. often showed a lot of resiliency in mustering come backs, such expended energy takes a toll on a team, an often unnecessary toll.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this trend was how often it occurred. In high profile friendlies and major tournaments, it’s tough to continually rely on your team to mount a comeback. Its a dangerous way to win a soccer game.

B. Playing Michael Bradley – Some pundits have suggested Michael Bradley receives the benefit of his dad as coach, i.e. undeserved playing time. I highly doubt this had anything to do with the decision to fire Bradley for one simple reason: Michael earned his spot.

When Michael first started playing Center Midfield for the national team, he was a little rough around the edges. But with age and experience, he has earned his role. He’s a defensive player with an eye for possession and ball control who’s also not afraid to press forward when the attack calls for an extra man.

Along with Stuart Holden, Michael Bradley is our best CM. Other options such as Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu are nice players in spurts, but neither has shown the consistency that Michael has from game to game. And they’ve both had plenty of opportunity with Holden being injured for last year’s World Cup and this year’s Gold Cup.

Michael Bradley was arguably America’s best player in South Africa last year (alongside Landon Donovan). He was one of the tournament leaders in running distance per game, and often spurred the team with his leadership capabilities.

C. Reliance on Veterans – Bradley, a thoughtful tactician, has been criticized for his continued reliance on veteran players who do not perform well. I tend to follow this thinking, but one thing must be cleared: BRADLEY HAD TO RELY ON VETERANS FOR THIS GOLD CUP.

After America’s defeat in the 2011 Gold Cup finals, several sports writers countrywide wrote about Mexico’s young guns and how the U.S. failed to match them. Well, there’s a reason the U.S. didn’t match them: it simply could not.

The U.S. defensive line is the most aged aspect of the current team, but without those veterans, the U.S. didn’t stand a chance (it had a small chance with them). While future national teamers like Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez, Gale Agbossoumonde are very talented players, they are simply not ready. Mexico’s attackers, a group of guys with Euro league experiences, would have shredded them.

The U.S. wanted a spot in the 2013 Confederations Cup so it’s young defenders could gained valuable experience in a competitive international competition, but it could not get there without the play of the veterans in 2011.

With that said, Bradley did over-rely on veterans players he should have cut long before. One such was Johnny Bornstein who led to at least two of Mexico’s goals in the Gold Cup finals. Others include the ineffective Ricardo Clark, and the over-the-hill DaMarcus Beasley (a good contributor at one time).

D. Giving up on younger players – Alongside his over-reliance on bad veterans, Bradley often vanished younger players to the doghouse. The biggest example of this was CM Jose Torres. Torres made the U.S. squad for South Africa, but his Latin flair for the game conflicted with Bradley’s strategy and style.

Incidentally, a player like Torres would have been invaluable against a team like Mexico. However, if the managers not happy with the player, that’s not much else can be done.

6. The Future

Lots of rumors, suggestions, etc. have been thrown around as the search for Bradley’s successor begins. Again, no sources or insider knowledge for me on this aspect, only my thoughts.

A. Jurgen Klinsmann – The former German international player and coach, Klinsmann has flirted with U.S. Soccer in the past two coaching searches. Klinnsmann would be good for the U.S. as he knows what it takes to have success. However, each of his last two exchanges with U.S. Soccer have ended over the power he wants. Klinsmann wants the ability to control youth development from the bottom up while U.S. Soccer has been unwilling to give up that power. I doubt the U.S. gives up that power this time.

B. Guus Hiddink – The former manager of Chelsea as well as several national teams (including Turkey currently), Hiddink would be a great hire. He too knows what it takes to succeed. If he’s currently satisfied with his job in Turkey, it may take some time and persuading to land him, but enough money should do the job one would think.

C. Marcello Lippi – Lippi lead his native Italy to the 2006 World Cup championship. A proven coaching commodity, Lippi would be a great hire. The only problem is his style of play. Many critics have slammed Bradley for playing a boring style of soccer. Well, Italians perfected the boring style. But it gets results so if the U.S. is more concerned with substance over style, Lippi will deliver.

D. Jason Kreis – Kreis, an American, is the current coach of MLS’ most successful team, Real Salt Lake. Kreis guided RSL to a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League finals. He’s an up and coming name in the coaching world and will probably be the U.S. coach at some point in the future. Is the time now, or is he still too unseasoned?

E. International v. Domestic – There will be a lot of debate in the coming days whether the next U.S. coach should come from the MLS ranks or be of international blood. The pro-American side will point to the fact that no team has ever won the World Cup with a foreigner as its coach. However, I think it’s time the U.S. hired a non-American.

I do not think American coaches are the problem. Bradley was a good coach, Arenas before him did well, etc. However, the U.S. game is taught differently than the rest of the world, i.e. the style of soccer developed in western Europe (the winning style, I might add).

The time is right for the U.S. to learn that style at the national team level. The trickle-down effect could be instrumental for the future of U.S. Soccer. Our way of developing talent, playing the game, etc. is not working. It’s time to join the rest of the world and leech off of their ideas and strategies. It’s time to play winning soccer.

Former Seton Hall Coach Bobby Gonzalez’s Sister Releases Tell-All Blog

Bobby Gonzalez is the now disgraced former coach of the Big East’s Seton Hall Pirates. A controversial figure, Gonzalez’s on-court results never matched his sideline and off-court bravado. He was eventually fired, and then continued to make headlines after being charged with theft.

Now Gonzalez’s sister, Linda, who is known for absolutely nothing as far as I am aware, wrote a “top ten” on her blog of the worst college basketball writers in America.

Bobby Gonzalez

Not just any ole “top ten” list, this one includes the “WORST, LEAST CREDIBLE, MOST CONFLICTED SPORTSWRITERS [sic].” Enter Grammar Nazi mode: “least credible, and most conflicted sportswriters,” Exit Grammar Nazi mode.

And according to Linda, the top ten (drum roll please) is: (1) Pete Thamel of the New York Times, (2) Pat Forde of ESPN, (3) Jeff Goodman of CBS, (4) Lenn Robbins of the New York Post, (5) JP Pelzman of the Bergen Record (New Jersey), (6) Gary Parrish of CBS, (7) Mike Francessa of WFAN New York, (8) Dana O’Neil of ESPN, (9) Sean Brennan of New York Daily News and Eammon Brennan of ESPN.com (tie), and (10) Dick “Hoops” Weiss of New York Daily News.

It gets better though. For each writer, she includes paragraphs of varying lengths explaining her reasoning which ends with a bolded (just in case you lose your place in the wall of text) “Prediction Fantasy.” The prediction fantasy is her desired end result for each writer which ranges from physical pain to emotional embarrassment to new professions outside of the media.

It is quintessential Gonzalez: a little in your face with just a tad too much crazy mixed in. Linda is not all bad, it seems. She makes a quick list of her five favorite writers at the end of the blog entry. That list is not nearly as fun as her main one, however.

If you thought Linda was done with her flaunting opinions, you were wrong. The Big Lead, a sports blog / website, Tweeted the blog entry which found its way to many of Linda’s “victims.”

Linda then attempted to refute The Big Lead’s quick write-up on the blog. Again, not nearly as entertaining as the top ten list. The subsequent entry is basically a defense of her brother.

The timing of this blog is odd given that Gonzalez has been out of the news for a while since his firing. Perhaps, a spur of the moment thing. Or maybe Linda’s been sitting on it for a while. Regardless the motive, you mess with a Gonzalez, you get the Linda.

A Fan’s Guide: How to escape when entering to field of play

This video has made the rounds on numerous websites, but I wanted here just for the sheer entertainment value. It’s also quite amazing if you ask me.

Remember, spectators on the field are seriouz bizness.

Unfortunately, the po-po eventually cuffed him. It was probably worth it for the fifteen minutes of fame, though.

What’s a no-hitter worth?

Last night, Minnesota Twins’ pitcher Francisco Liriano threw the first no-hitter of the 2011 Major League Baseball season. No-nos are so rare that they are entrenched in baseball lore alongside the perfect game. With new statistics developed over the last twenty years, the no-hitters value is changing.

Famous baseball statistician Bill James created the GameScore. The tool seeks to measure a pitcher’s value over the course of a single game. The GameScore has since been translated to position players under a different formula and name, but James’ formula remains the go-to for evaluating a pitcher’s performance.

Warning: some math will follow. The formula itself begins with the number 50. 50 represents the average score of a single game. Any final score above 50 is an above average performance, while anything below 50 is sub-average. Then outs, innings pitched, and strikeouts are added to the number while hits, earned runs, unearned runs, and walks are subtracted from the number. All put together, the formula = 50 + 1* Outs (recorded) + 2*IP after the 4th + 1*K – 2*H – 4*ER – 2*Unearned Runs – 1*BB.

Liriano’s no-hitter scored an 83 on James’ formula. An 83 doesn’t sound too bad, right? That’s good enough for a B in grade school and college. But it’s only the fourteenth best game pitched this season. Four pitchers have scored 90 or above this season: Cliff Lee with the season’s best (to date) 92, Dan Haren and Ian Kennedy each with a 91 score game, and Tim Hudson with a 90 (he just finished that game about an hour ago).

Francisco Liriano

Other pitchers ahead of Liriano include Anibal Sanchez (89), Josh Beckett (87), Kyle Lohse (87), Dice-K Matsuzaka (86), Jaime Garcia (86), Carlos Zambrano (85), Chad Billingsley (85), Jason Marquis (84), James Shields (84), Roy Halladay (83), Shields again (83), and Yovani Gallardo (83). Obviously, Liriano is in a four-way ties for fourteenth, but the fact remains that his no-hitter is not worth as much as the aura that surrounds the unique feat.

So what brought down Liriano’s score? Obviously it wasn’t the outs recorded or the number of innings pitched past the fourth inning. His low strikeout total (2 for the game) hurt. In fact, of the twenty best games pitched this season, only Gallardo had an equally low strikeout total. No other pitcher in the top twenty games struck out less than six. Another element that doomed Liriano was his high walk total. He issued six free passes to the White Sox in the game which accounted for twice as much as any other pitcher in the the top twenty games.

In 2010, there were five no-hitters (not counting Halladay’s post-season no-no). Ubaldo Jimenez, Roy Halladay, Dallas Braden, Edwin Jackson, and Matt Garza each accomplished the feat during MLB’s 162 game season. Yet, only three of those fantastic performances made the top twenty pitched games according to GameScore: Halladay second with a 98, Braden tied for fourth with a 93, and Garza tied for seventh with a 92. Halladay’s playoff no-hitter scored a 94. The very next day, Giants’ ace Tim Lincecum scored a 96 for a two-hit shutout over the Atlanta Braves.

Roy Halladay

Avoiding the GameScore metric for just a second, all of these games are well-pitched and deserve recognition. However, if you asked the average fan, which of the games is better, I’m betting they’d pick the no-hitter 99 times out of 100. And their choice may be justified. Then again, they may be choosing the worse performance (I know, really nit-picking here).

The point, though, is that baseball fans and statisticians have introduced interesting new measures of a player’s effectiveness over the last two decades. Tradition will continue to favor the no-hitter. Baseball has been around for nearly 150 years, and that doesn’t go away over a single game or twenty years of new formulas.

No-hitters are great to watch. They have everything a fan wants: heart-pounding excitement, anticipation, a great defensive play or two saving the game, etc. Just know, they’re not the only way to gauge a pitcher’s performance.

If you’d like to follow GameScore throughout the season, click here.

Source: Billy Gillispie newest member at MiddleSchoolElite.com

Billy Gillispie, the former Kentucky Wildcats basketball coach and current Texas Tech Red Raiders coach, jump-started future recruiting for his current program by subscribing to MiddleSchoolElite.com, a website dedicated to ranking basketball players in the fifth, sixth, and seventh grades.

BCG, as supporters affectionately call the coach, made national headlines while coaching in Lexington by securing the commitment of Thousand Oaks, California eighth grader Michael Avery. Now stationed in Lubbock, Texas, Gillispie decided to make early relationships with potential future high school stars.

Red Raiders' Coach Gillispie

A source close to the coach said Gillispie knows he doesn’t have the Kentucky brand behind him anymore and he wants to build early relationships that will pay off in five or six years, when the kids become juniors in high school.

The source continued by stating: “Billy just wants what’s best for the kids. It’s nothin’ serious right now, just a friendly hello letter of interest with a little bit about the school and Billy himself. Just starting early, that’s all.”

Gillispie’s recruitment of Avery while at Kentucky received national scrutiny, although it was not a violation of NCAA rules.

The NCAA has since limited contact between coaches and recruits who are not yet juniors in high school. However, the source insists, BCG is within the confines of the rules.

“We like to call it the gray area,” said the source who chose to remain anonymous. “You oughta’ see Billy’s face though. It just lights up when he finds a 6’5″ seventh grader. He takes a sip of his bourbon, and then starts pecking away at an e-mail or letter.”

“It’s kinda scary how excited he gets at times. He just gets this look in his eye, and you know he wants the kid. But it’s a good kinda look. It’s not a Michael Jackson kinda look.”

MiddleSchoolElite.com ranks the young classes (2016-2018 currently) on various criteria including their accomplishments, team success, individual talent, and long range potential. The site combines these factors into a secret “formula.”

“You know,” our source continued, “it’s just something new. If we can figure out which fifth grader in the country will be the best in seven years, we’re way ahead of the curve. We’ll already have a relationship with the family, we’ll be trusted. Trust is the key to recruiting. Earn the trust of the player, the family, the AAU coach, and the runner, then you get the kid. Seven years is a long time to build up trust.”

A quick survey of other major college coaches revealed some interest in the site, but BCG remains a lone wolf in the next universe of recruiting for now.

The Pacific Northwest is the Holy Grail of American Soccer

I’m a big soccer fan, as you’ve seen from my numerous posts about the sport on this blog. Admittedly, I’m not the biggest Major League Soccer fan. There are a few reasons why I don’t watch the MLS with the same intensity as the English Premier League and the UEFA Champion’s League, but mainly it is because I live in the traditional American South and there just isn’t a MLS team nearby.

I don’t hate the MLS. I watch the ESPN game of the week, I catch a few games on Fox Soccer, etc. I just don’t have that die-hard passion for one team that keeps me following a specific team and the league in general.

As an occasional viewer over the past few seasons, it’s become plainly apparent what the Pacific Northwest means to the growth of American soccer. Three teams, the Seattle Sounders; the Portland Timbers; and the Vancouver Whitecaps, boast the best fans and the best atmospheres.

The atmosphere at those games rivals even the biggest and most successful European clubs. The play on the field isn’t there yet, but the fans involvement is ever present.

It began in 2009 when Seattle Sounds FC began its inaugural season in the MLS. The 22,000 ticket allotment was filled before the first game, and the franchise continues to expand available seating at Qwest Field (currently 35,700). Seattle won the U.S. Open Cup (a side tournament different than the MLS season) in its first season and continues to enjoy success.

The MLS 2011 season marked the beginning of the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps. The Whitecaps opened their era with a home win over Canadian rival Toronto FC earlier this season. They’re currently hosting games in a 27,000 seat stadium while Vancouver native and NBA All-Star Steve Nash is a part owner.

Portland played their first home MLS game last night on ESPN2. They defeated the Chicago Fire 4-2. It was the atmosphere that again caught my attention. Caught on video below are the members of the Timbers support group, Timber’s Army, singing the national anthem before the game while the rain drizzles the pitch.

As an American soccer fan, that video gives me chills. It’s beautiful, it’s spontaneous, it’s everything that sports in general (and soccer specifically) brings to the table. I only hope I see such an atmosphere in my native South one day. Until that time, God bless the Pacific Northwest, the Holy Grail of American soccer.

P.S. Bob Ryan can suck it!

USMNT International Friendlies Primer

Whenever I get the opportunity, I like to bring soccer to the blog. Starting this weekend, the U.S. Men’s National Team will play two exhibition matches on U.S. soil as early preparation for this summer’s Gold Cup tournament. This will be a preview of the upcoming games written for both new fans and established ones.

1. What is the Gold Cup?

The newer soccer fan may not know what this tournament is, and don’t feel ashamed if you find yourself in that category because it does not receive a lot of media attention aside from the hardcore blogs.

Anyway, the Gold Cup is a tournament for CONCACAF teams, the FIFA body responsible for North, Central, and Caribbean America, in which the winner will earn a spot in the 2013 Confederations Cup. The 2013 Confederations Cup will be played in the summer before the 2014 Brazilian World Cup and will feature 5 teams representing the 5 World Cup qualifying FIFA regions (no Oceania) plus the defending World Cup champion (Spain)

You may remember that in the summer of 2009 the U.S. played in the Confederations Cup in which it placed second to Brazil after defeating Spain in the semifinals. It is a very important tournament for preparing for the World Cup against good competition, so the U.S. will be throwing out its A lineup this summer in hopes of qualifying.

I’ll have more on the actual Gold Cup itself as the tournament nears, but if you’re interested now you can explore the schedule and group draws here.

2. The upcoming friendlies

This coming Saturday, the U.S. will host South American powerhouse Argentina at New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey. On the following Tuesday, the U.S. will play Paraguay in Nashville. The Argentina game will be broadcast on ESPN2, and the Paraguay game will feature on Fox Soccer Channel.

These are the only two exhibitions scheduled before the actual Gold Cup so look for the U.S. to play its A team. The U.S. views it as imperative to play in the Confederations Cup in two summers.

3. The U.S. roster

U.S. players finished their club commitments this past weekend, and have traveled to Cary, North Carolina to train for the week. Coach Bob Bradley, fresh off his contract extension through the next World Cup cycle, named 24 players to the first team.

However, injuries have forced an updated roster. Stuart Holden, a dynamic midfielder, and two defenders, Steve Cherundolo and Zak Whitebread, have been withdrawn from the roster due to injuries. Cherundolo and Whitebread are out for minor, nagging injuries which they need to rest for their remaining club schedules. The U.S. defense will miss Cherundolo as he has established himself as a stalwart on the back line.

Stuart Holden

The more troubling injury is that of Stuart Holden. Holden became one of the best midfielders in the English Premier League this season while playing for Bolton Wanderers. Holden was tackled by Manchester United’s Johnny Evans this past weekend resulting in a gash needing 26 stitches and surgery today to repair an (at this time) undisclosed knee injury which will keep Holden out for six months.

Holden was the victim of a broken leg from Holland hit-man Nigel de Jong in an exhibition before last summer’s World Cup. The young midfielder can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to international play.

These three players were replaced by one, Eric Lichaj. Lichaj is a promising young defender who figured to eventually take over for Cherundolo, possibly as soon as the 2014 World Cup, but he is probably not quite ready to step into a starting role this summer. He has shown some promise in the EPL this season with Aston Villa (and now on loan with Leeds United), so maybe he turns a few heads this summer.

Agudelo after scoring in a U.S. friendly last year

The rest of the U.S. roster provides some familiar names as well as some new blood to keep an eye on. Two young names to watch are Juan Agudelo and Timothy Chandler.

Agudelo starred for MLS’ New York Red Bulls last season. The now 18 year old has made two appearances on the national team scoring one goal. He will push striker Jozy Altidore for playing time.

Chandler, 8 days shy of his 21st birthday, has dual citizenship in Germany, where he was born, and America. Thankfully, he has decided to play for the U.S., and he has lots of potential for the future. He starts in Germany’s highest league, the Bundesliga.

For more information about the ins and outs of the U.S. roster, check out the NY Times Goal soccer blog.

4. The Formation

Bob Bradley recently announced his intention to switch from his beloved 4-4-2 to a more offensive-minded 4-2-3-1. The injury to Holden, who would have starred as the center in the three line, may force Bradley’s hand, but let’s hope not. Bradley has some room to toy with this formation as well.

Tim Howard will be in goal. He’s the best the U.S. has, and there’s really no reason to leave him out. The back line is also pretty much set. Captain Carlos Bocanegra will start as a center-back. Oguchi Onyewu will likely be in the other CB. Jay DeMerit will likely set up as the right wing defender.

The wiggle room for Bradley comes at left back. Lichaj is the natural predecessor to the position, and I’d bet he starts there against Argentina. However, Chandler could see some time there (or another defender position given his versatility). Chandler provides a better attacking option than Lichaj so it’s something to keep an eye on.

In the midfield, the two line will be two defensive midfielder. Bradley has three players for two spots: his son Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, or Jermaine Jones. My guess is Bradley-Edu one game, and Bradley-Jones the other. All three are deserving.

The face of American soccer, Landon Donovan

In the upper midfield, Bradley will run three attacking midfielders. On the wings will be Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. They can each play either side and will likely switch at points throughout games. The middle midfielder in the three is where the loss of Holden shows. He’s America’s best option there.

With his absence, Bradley has some choices. He could move his son up leaving Jones and Edu in the back midfield. Michael is a good player, but he’s not the attacking option that naturally fits there. Bradley could try Benny Feilhaber who’s proven capable, but inconsistent. He could try Dempsey there.

Or, Bradley has a bit of a dark-horse in Sacha Kljestan as argued by The Yanks Are Coming blog. I like the Kljestan theory, who fell out of favor after a poor performance in the last World Cup cycle, but has since regained form while playing in Belgium. Kljestan is the offense-creator that the position requires.

Up top, Jozy Altidore will most certainly start. He needs to start scoring more goals from that position, but he still has a lot of upside and could potentially shine in the system. Agudelo will almost certainly sub in the games for Altidore. Edson Buddle is the only other striker on the roster, and let’s just hope he doesn’t see too much action.

Then again, if Bradley reverts back to the 4-4-2 because of the Holden injury, all of this becomes irrelevant. I really hope he stays with the new formation though because the 4-4-2 isn’t nearly as effective without Charlie Davies and the strength of the U.S. is the midfield so we should use it to our advantage.

5. Argentina

Argentina will be the better team of the two the U.S. plays, but they certainly won’t be unbeatable. They’ll be good, but the U.S. has a chance.

The most dangerous man in futbol, Lio Messi

Argentina announced that the world’s best player, Lionel Messi, would be suiting up for the friendlies. However, they also announced Carlos Tevez, a powerful goal-scoring forward, would not be representing the national team. The U.S. caught a bit of a break there. Still, the Argentines possess a very good team.

Prediction: Tie 2-2 (a little hopeful, but it’s possible)

Paraguay

Paraguay doesn’t strike the fear in the heart of opponents as Argentina does, but they are still a solid team. Paraguay will play its game taking advantage of mistakes and often capitalizing. This game, in a sense, may be more important because Paraguay is closer to the level of teams the U.S. will play in the Gold Cup (there are no Argentinas in CONCACAF), specifically Mexico.

Prediction: U.S. 2-1