Sunday, May 30, 2010

Unlike the New Meadowlands, Gillette Stadium will not get a Super Bowl

AP Photo/Victoria Arocho

The biggest news in the NFL this week has been that the 2014 Super Bowl will be played at New Meadowlands Stadium, the brand-new, $1.6 billion home of the New York Giants and Jets.

Not only did it make headlines because it will be played in the New York media market for the first time (the stadium is actually in East Rutherford, NJ), it also marks the first time the Super Bowl will be played outdoors in a cold weather city.

With New York having such a strong sports rivalry with Boston, Patriots fans were left saying, “Why not Gillette?”

While many—even Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft himself—agree that a Super Bowl in New York would be a special event, the Bostonians believe that if it’s successful they should be able to host it as well.

Quite frankly, though, it just is not a realistic expectation.

The first problem is the sheer size of the stadiums. Gillette has a large capacity of 68,756. However, the New Meadowlands seats nearly 14,000 more people. That results in a higher sold-out crowd, which means more money for the league.

As new stadiums are being built, more seats are being put in. Cowboys Stadium, which will host the 2010 Super Bowl, seats 80,000 (although the record attendance is 105,121). Gillette is nine years old and although modifications can be made, like the new scoreboards that are being put in the end zones, the stadium is at a disadvantage.

Tied into the stadium is the infrastructure of the area. Gillette Stadium isn’t in Boston; it’s in Foxborough. There is only one road to get there, an absolute scarcity of available parking, and only one way to get out of the stadium. Public transportation out to Foxborough is not nearly as strong as from New York City to the Meadowlands.

The massive traffic problems would not be a pretty sight.

Simple geography also plays a role in not being awarded a Super Bowl. The biggest argument against New York was the cold weather and potential for snow. Boston is even farther north of New York, which would mean even colder temperatures and greater potential for larger snowfalls.

Also, the history of the Super Bowl goes against New England. Forty-seven Super Bowls will have been played before the 2014 becomes the first cold weather Super Bowl played outdoors.

The New York game will not be the start of a trend; rather, it will be an oddity, a spectacle, an event billed as once-in-a-lifetime.

While football is an all-weather sport and watching a game in the snow is appealing to the fans’ eyes, the big argument is that weather should not be a variable in the most important game of the year.

The players expect Super Bowl conditions to be ideal. Wide receivers don’t want to catch rock-hard footballs. Kickers don’t want a potential game-winning or tying field goal to get pushed wide because of the wind. Warm weather teams would be at a strong disadvantage, and snowy conditions favor teams with a strong running game, which would leave pass-happy teams, much like the Pats, to alter their game plan.

It is reasonable to expect a lot of excuses about the weather from the players (especially from the losing team) and the media.

The 2014 Super Bowl at the New Meadowlands will be all about the experience. It’s bigger, more glamorous, and provides some controversy as well. It won’t be redone anytime soon, and certainly not at Gillette.

Sorry Boston, but New York will be the sole winner of this round in the rivalry.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Baby Bulls Making Push for Starting Lineup

AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

After a disastrous 2009 season and another offseason of whole-sale roster and staff changes, the New York Red Bulls finally seemed liked a franchise ready to turn things around. The team opened a brand new stadium and opened the season with a 5-1 record, sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings.

However the past may have caught up on the Red Bulls. They have lost their last three league games and have been outscored 8-1. There has been a lack of goal scoring, strong defending, and overall enthusiasm and heart.

The reserves meanwhile have watched their collective stock skyrocket. Because of a schedule loaded with league games, U.S. Open Cup games, and friendlies with international clubs, head coach Hans Backe decided to use his bench in the Open Cup and friendlies. So far he has seen incredible results.

In non-league games since the start of the season the Red Bulls have four wins and zero losses and outscored the competition 11-2. The “Baby Bulls”, as they are being called, have been impressive winning three games to qualify for the Open Cup and beating Italian giants Juventus. Opposing teams have also used mostly starters against them, making the performances even more impressive.

Finally given significant playing time, the reserves are stepping up to the occasion and proving their worth. With the regulars struggling, it might be wise for Backe to give some of the reserves an opportunity during league play matches.

While inconsistency in the lineups was a huge problem for the team in its disastrous 2009 season, with players shuffling in and out of the lineup and no time to gel as a unit, some changes, even temporary, to shake things up could be in order.

The biggest issue has been pairing a striker alongside Juan Pablo Angel since Macoumba Kandji went down with an injury.

Salou Ibrahim has been the forward of choice, and he has scored two goals, but overall he is disappointing. He tends to be slow and botches a number of chances. However John Wolyniec and rookie Conor Chinn have been scoring goals in bunches. Both have put in four goals in the four games the reserves have played.

Wolyniec is a local fan favorite who throughout his career has provided big goals and is always big on effort. Chinn’s recent scoring streak shouldn’t be a surprise either, as he was the second leading scorer behind Angel in the preseason. Either needs to be implemented into the starting lineup immediately.

The midfield could also see a number of changes. Joel Lindpere missed the previous match against the Columbus Crew because of injury and Carl Robinson will miss the next five-to-six weeks because of a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee.

With the depth at center midfield now shaky, it is time to let Tony Tchani, the second overall pick in the 2010 MLS draft, get regular playing time. He is a bit raw, but incredibly talented. He scored the lone goal against Columbus and has looked impressive in his other matches.

The wings, for the most part, have been unsettled positions. Dan Richards has played every match, mostly on the right, but is wildly inconsistent, a problem his entire career. His speed is valued though and he can break loose at any time and be involved in a great play.

The recent matches have provided a number of alternative choices however. Two names come to mind immediately: Irving Garcia and Jeremy Hall.

Garcia was a late draft pick in 2010 Draft. He is small in stature but huge in effort and hustle. He is constantly working on both ends of the field. He played extremely well against Juventus and added an assist in the Open Cup win over the Colorado Rapids. He has good pace and coupled with his grit he has been very impressive lately.

Hall was originally drafted last season to be a wing but was used as a right fullback, where he did an overall good job. He’s bounced around a bit this season but can do the job at wing. He fired home a great streak against Juventus and like Garcia has very good speed, and his time at defense only helped his understanding of being a two-way player.

He could still be used at right back, but the midfield has struggled and the return and emergence of Chris Albright.

Albright missed the beginning of the season because of injury but he has healed and has shown very good form since making his debut in the first Open Cup match against Philadelphia. His experience and leadership make him a strong candidate to start and to solidify a defensive unit that has been hit hard as of late.

Finally there is the goalkeeping position.

Bouna Coundoul has generally played well in his time in New York, although he has had some very shaky instances. He does have more talent than his backup, Greg Sutton, and rotating goalies much like Jon Conway and Danny Cepero did last year isn’t suggested, Sutton has played in a four “reserve” matches and played strongly. Two goals allowed in four games, especially one against the likes of Alessandro Del Piero and David Trezeguet, is impressive and he might have earned a spot start.

It isn’t time for the Red Bulls and the team’s fans to panic yet; it simply is a rough patch in a season that isn’t even a third complete yet. That being said, it is not a time for players to become complacent. It does not have to be a temporary move, especially with the transfer window opening again soon, but it may be wise to shake things up a little bit and reward some of the very good play of the bench.

Red Bulls vs. Colorado Rapids U.S. Open Cup highlights. Video from YouTube.

Monday, May 24, 2010

10 Best German Performances at the World Cup

Germany is one of the most successful nations to play in the World Cup. They are third in most World Cup wins (three), and have the most top three finishes of any nation (10).

In Germany’s past are much political tension, turmoil, and unrest, which also spilled over into the soccer world. They were banned by FIFA after the Second World War until the 1954 World Cup and from then through 1990 was a split nation, with Germany’s statistics being carried over by West Germany.

Still, the nation persevered on the field. There are a number of legends and FIFA 100 players that represented the nation at the World Cup and the teams consistently compete for the sport’s biggest prize.

Even in years where the team isn’t considered as strong in the past, they still manage to be in a position to finish in the top four.

As the 2010 World Cup nears, the Germans will be participating in their 15th straight World Cup, the most of any European team.

Take a look at Germany’s soccer past with the ten best performances, either by a collective team or an individual.

List is in chronological order.

1954: World Cup Champions

The first World Cup won by the nation was arguably the most important. Not only was it the team’s first World Cup championship, always a special feat, but it also meant even more in the social and political aspect of the world.

The final, which saw Germany beat previously unbeaten Hungary, is called “The Miracle of Bern” because of how heavily favored Hungary was to win it all. Hungary had previously beaten West Germany in the group stage 8-3 but the Germans responded with a 3-2 victory to win their first World Cup title.

Also adding to the upset was that the German team was made up entirely of amateurs. They are the only team to be made of non-professionals and win the trophy.

After the Second World War, Germany was banned from international competition. Not until after the 1950 World Cup did FIFA reinstate West Germany (which kept the statistics of the German National Team).

The win established a new Germany, a nation that could succeed even despite its horrific recent events.

1954: Fritz Walter

Walter, a 19-year-old prodigy before the World War II, was named captain of the rebuilt squad that qualified for the 1954 tournament.

In the semi-finals, Walter scored two penalty kicks to push the West Germans into the final against Hungary, a team undefeated in its 32 previous matches.

Walter finished the tournament with three goals, but even more important, much like the symbolism of the team Walter was the embodiment of the grit, toughness, exceptional work rate, and ambition of the German spirit in rebuilding not only the national team, but the country as a whole.

Walter was the first German captain to ever hold the World Cup trophy and is widely considered one of the best players in the history of the game. He was voted the third best individual in the tournament and awarded the Bronze Ball.

He was also named to the All-Star team.

1974: World Cup Champions

Germany’s second World Cup title came on its own soil. The team obviously escaped the first round, but suffered an embarrassing defeat to East Germany during group play. The match up had a lot of political tension surrounding it. East Germany would win the battle, but West Germany would win the war, dominating their second grouping and reaching the finals.

In the championship game, the Germans squared off against the Netherlands who had dominated play with a “total football” approach, practically eliminating designated positions and having all field players step up at any position when the situation called for it.

The Germans gave up a penalty kick goal in the first minute, but they came from behind with goals in the 25th and 43rd minutes to capture their second championship.

1974: Franz Beckenbauer

One of Germany’s most legendary players, Beckenbauer captained the 1974 squad in West Germany and lifted the FIFA World Cup trophy, the newest version of the trophy.

Beckenbauer’s leadership and defense helped propel the team in its efforts of winning the championship, especially in the final against the Netherlands and star Johan Cruyff.

Beckenbauer became the first German to win the Silver Ball, the highest individual honor a German had received at that point in history, and was also selected to the All-Star team.

1982: Karl-Heinz Rummenigge

The captain of the 1982 team competing in Spain shone throughout the entire tournament.

Rummenigge scored the first goal for the Germans in the tournament, a hat-trick against Chile in the second game of first round play, and a goal in extra-time and converted his penalty in a shootout against France in the semi-finals.

He earned the Silver Boot award and the Bronze Ball for his outstanding play and leadership.

1990: World Cup Champions

1990 was a year of revenge for Germany.

Argentina beat Germany in the finals 3-2 in 1986, forcing the Germans to settle for second place. Four years later, the two teams squared off again in the finals and Germany would get vengeance with a 1-0 victory.

The game saw two Argentines sent off with red cards, a first in the World Cup final.

Despite the 1990 World Cup featuring the lowest goals-per-game average, Germany scored the most in the group stage (10). The team had four players—Lothar Matthaus, Andreas Brehme, Jurgen Klinsmann, and Rudi Voller—score multiple goals in the tournament, the most from any one nation to do so in 1990.

1990: Lothar Matthaus

Matthaus captained the 1990 West German squad to victory and had many moments of brilliance himself.

Matthaus scored four goals, including two against Yugoslavia in the group stage matchup and the only goal off a penalty kick in the 1-0 quarterfinal victory over Czechoslovakia. He also converted in the penalty kick round against England to help put West Germany back in the finals.

The 1990 West German squad played aggressively offensively and Matthaus was the leader of that charge. He received the Bronze Boot award for his four goals, and was also awarded the Silver Ball. Matthaus was also named to the All-Star team.

2002: Oliver Kahn

Despite low expectations for Germany in South Korea/Japan, Kahn put the nation on his back and lifted the team into the tournament finals and a second-place finish.

Named the captain of the team, Kahn allowed only three goals the entire competition, two of which came in the final against Brazil, playing with torn ligaments in his right ring finger. He was the first German keeper to record five clean sheets in a single World Cup.

Kahn’s performance in net was so brilliant that he was awarded the Golden Ball award as the tournament’s best player. He is the only goalkeeper in the history of the World Cup to win the Golden Ball.

Kahn was also awarded the Lev Yashin Award for the best goalkeeper and was named to the All-Star team.

2006: Hosts, Third-Place

The stage once again was set on home soil. The Germans would not win it all, but they would give their fans a product to be extremely proud of.

The Germans stormed through group play going undefeated. They stumbled in the semi-finals, losing 2-0 to eventual champion Italy, but there isn’t much shame in losing to the best. They would bounce back and trounce Portugal 3-1, behind two goals from Bastian Schweinsteiger, for third place.

Goal scoring was at an all-time low pace for the tournament as a whole but the Germans played attractive and aggressive soccer for the fans. They scored the most goals in the tournament (14) and excited the nation when defender Philipp Lahm scored the opening goal of the World Cup in the first five minutes against Costa Rica.

The Germans were represented at every position on the all-star team by goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, Lahm, midfielder Michael Ballack, and forward Miroslav Klose. Klose was awarded the Golden Boot and Lukas Podolski was named the Best Young Player.

The 2006 World Cup saw strong patriotism and support from its German fans, some say the most flag-waving since World War II.

2006: Miroslav Klose

Klose followed up his 2002 Silver Shoe award (second-leading goal scorer in the 2002 World Cup) by winning the Golden Shoe in Germany in 2006. His five goals also landed him a second consecutive spot on the All-Star team.

Although his five goals were tied for the second-smallest total by a Golden Boot winner and lowest since 1962 when six players tied for the lead with four goals, Klose was still the best finisher. He helped Germany score the most goals in the tournament.

Klose is the first German since the reunification of the country to win the award and is the only player to score five or more goals in consecutive World Cups. His performance in 2006 also pushed him only six goals away from passing Ronaldo as the World Cup’s all-time leading scorer.

In the team’s opening game, which also happened to be Klose’s 28th birthday, he scored two goals in Germany’s 4-2 win over Costa Rica.

Photo Credits.
Lothar Matthaus: AP Photo/Carlo Fumagal
Franz Beckenbauer: AP Photo/Heribert Proepper
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge: AP Photo/Daniel Maurer
Oliver Kahn: AP Photo/Christof Stache
Miroslav Klose: AP Photo/Axel Heimken

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bob Bradley: A Closer Look at the Man in Charge of the U.S. team

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Arguably the most successful and storied coach in United States Soccer history is Bruce Arena.

He’s won championships at the college level with the University of Virginia and the professional level with MLS club D.C. United and taken the Los Angeles Galaxy to the finals as well. He also enjoyed an eight-year stint as the leader of the United States national team, a team he brought to new great heights, including reaching the quarter-finals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup and raising overall expectations of the team, fostering a winning attitude.

Another feat is that he has mentored the next great American coach: Bob Bradley.

Bradley will lead the United States in next month’s World Cup in South Africa. He was Arena’s protégée and since succeeding him as the Head Coach of the United States he has enjoyed a great deal of success.

Not that success is new to Bradley.

After playing at Princeton, Bradley began his coaching career at the extremely young age of 22, heading the Ohio University men’s program. He stayed there for three seasons until Arena picked him to be one of his assistants at the University of Virginia.

In 1984 Bradley was hired to be the head coach of Princeton where in 12 seasons he won two Ivy League titles and took the Tigers to the Final Four in 1993.

Again in 1996 Arena took him away from a head coaching position to be his assistant with D.C. United of the new soccer league, MLS.

Bradley became a star coach in MLS. The expansion-Chicago Fire tabbed him as the team’s first coach in 1998. He guided the team in its inaugural season to win both the MLS Cup and United States Open Cup.

He coached the MetroStars for three seasons and brought them to their first U.S. Open Cup final, and took over for Chivas USA and brought them to their first playoff appearance.

Over his MLS career, Bradley won two U.S. Open Cup finals and one MLS Cup final. He made the playoffs in each of his nine seasons in the league and was the first coach in the league to post 100 career victories and to win two Coach of the Year awards. Also, at the time of taking the head coaching position with the United States National Team he was the winningest coach in MLS history.

What he did with Chicago in the club’s first ever season is a testament to his ability as a coach. While the league invites parity, expansion clubs do struggle. Putting together a team from scratch proves to be a difficult task. Getting an entire new team to gel and play well together is a challenge. Bradley was able to put all the new faces together and not only be competitive but win the double. He got the players to believe in him, his system, and each other.

Originally given the head coaching position of the National Team on an interim basis, Bradley quickly proved that he was the man for the job permanently. The team went undefeated in its first 10 games with Bradley at the helm, and he guided them to a 12-5-1 record in his first year as head coach.

Since Bradley took over in 2006 the team has won one Gold Cup and was the runner-up in the second, finished second in the FIFA Confederations Cup which included a 2-0 victory over then-No.1 ranked Spain, and, most importantly, qualified for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Bradley has helped establish the United States as the team to beat in the CONCACAF region. While some would argue that the teams in the region are not the best competition, that isn’t the team’s or Bradley’s fault and it is important to win no matter who the opponent is.

That being said, under Bradley the team has also challenged itself against some of the best counties in the world. In the summer of 2008 they played friendlies at England and Spain and home against Argentina, and played Italy, Spain, and Brazil twice in the Confederations Cup the following summer.

Bradley has his detractors. The biggest criticism is that he plays favorites and gives some players opportunities that they don’t deserve. Many cry foul when Conor Casey or Sacha Kljestan get continuous chances or when Jonathan Bornstein, Brian Ching, or Ricardo Clark are included in the starting eleven. Some even dare to say the only reason midfielder Michael Bradley is on the team is because his dad is the coach.

First of all, the younger Bradley is absolutely one of the best players the nation has produced and has been rumored to be making the jump to the English Premier League. He is on the team because of his own merits.

As for the others, can Bradley be faulted for wanting to work with people he is familiar with, players that he knows what to expect from them and they know Bradley’s system? All those players have provided moments of brilliance for the national team. They’ve all produced at one time or another.

One of Bradley’s strengths is his familiarity with American players and MLS. He knows the league and its players better than any foreign coach could and with his mentor Arena back in the league you can be sure the two are in constant communication.

Bradley may be a quiet man who doesn’t really entertain the media, but he has an extremely high knowledge of the game and is good at identifying talent. Another thing he has done a good job of during his tenure has been to integrate and develop young talent onto the national team, a unique challenge as the team has lost many veterans in recent years but seen prospects such as the younger Bradley, 20-year-old Jozy Altidore, 24-year-old Stuart Holden, and 23-year-old Charlie Davies emerge.

Now Bradley faces his biggest challenge. A successful World Cup run (the team must absolutely make it out of the group stage) would not only vastly improve Bradley’s resume but would also keep pushing soccer to the forefront of the American sporting landscape.

There’s a lot at stake for him, his players, and the sport’s status in this country, and expectations are high, but expect Bradley to be calm go about things with a business-as-usual attitude.

And business as usual for Bradley and the United States has been winning.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Seattle Sounders Beat New York Red Bulls, Maintain Hope

AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

To say the Seattle Sounders have not met expectations is an understatement.

Seven games into the 2010 season the team that many liked to make it to the MLS Cup final is in last place in the competitive Western Conference. The team’s leading scorer in 2009, Fredy Montero, was benched. The defense that allowed the fewest goals in the league last season had allowed multiple goals against in three of the past four games and a horrid four goals against in their previous matchup against MLS points leader Los Angeles Galaxy.

And one of the few teams currently making a profit gave its season ticket holders a refund after the L.A. drubbing.

Still, Saturday night saved some light in what has been a mostly dark season.

The Sounders beat the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena—where New York had yet to lose including preseason and U.S. Open Cup games—1-0 on a 85th minute goal from Montero.

The victory not only stopped a four-game winless streak but gives the team a new sense of optimism.

Firstly, the benching of Montero might have finally woke him up.

He has been ineffective this season. He had become complacent in the starting 11 and many have said that he looks disinterested and possibly distracted by a potential move to Europe.

However his five minute performance against the Red Bulls shows that he seemed to understand that he needs to earn his spot in the lineup. Montero was active and pressured the Red Bulls defense, namely center back Mike Petke and goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul.

His goal not only gave the team much needed three points but also was a nice change of pace for a team that has had enormous difficulty finishing all season. The Sounders had only scored one goal in their previous three games.

More promising was the overall effort the team gave.

The last meeting between the two teams saw the Sounders outshoot the Red Bulls 17-10 yet get shutout. With the four-game winless streak, playing on the road against a team that hadn’t lost on their own turf, and again outshooting them but not being able to put the ball in the back of the net, it would have been easy for the Sounders to give up and settle for the draw.

They didn’t though. The defense held strong and Montero injected new life to the team and they came away with a very big road win.

Now the team will catch another break in the form of the World Cup.

The United States will begin their pre-World Cup training camp soon, which means players named to the preliminary roster will go missing from their MLS clubs. The league will play through the training camps and up until the beginning of the World Cup before it goes on hiatus during group play.

The Sounders however will not lose any players from their roster. They will remain at full-strength.

Compare that to the Galaxy, who suffered a disappointing draw against Toronto FC on Saturday, who will be without MLS leading-scorer Edson Buddle for at the period throughout training camp, and will lose captain Landon Donovan for the entirety of the United States’ run through the tournament.

It is a perfect opportunity for Seattle to make up lost ground.

The win does not fix Seattle’s problems. It does however provide a glimmer of hope.

If the team can gain some confidence and momentum from this victory then, in a league where parity is rewarded, they can still live up to lofty preseason expectations.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Much Ado About Nothing: LeBron James Should Stay in Cleveland

AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Another season in the NBA, another year LeBron James won’t win the NBA Championship.

After the Cleveland Cavaliers were put away in six games in the Conference semi-finals by the Boston Celtics, James is now home for the summer and will only be able to watch the NBA Finals.

What’s different this offseason is that instead of priority number one for Cleveland being to build a competent team around James they will have to worry about keeping James in Cleveland in the most anticipated offseason in NBA history.

There will be a lot of rumors, a lot of speculation, a lot of media attention, and, most likely, a lot of silence from James himself. The question: what should James do?

The answer should be fairly simple. James should stay in Cleveland. It really is the best situation for him.

Firstly, the Cavaliers are James’ hometown team. He is from Akron, Ohio. He has his family and his friends all in place. They can come to all of his home games. Having a great support system in place is very advantageous.

New York Knicks fans would argue that sure, it’s nice to be playing in front of your hometown fans, but you can always go home during the offseason and after you retire.

So money is the next deciding factor, and no one can give James a better contract offer than Cleveland.

The current collective bargaining agreement gives the player’s current team the best chance to keep their players, allowing them to re-sign their own free agents to a longer deal, for more money, and even if it puts them over the salary cap.

Cleveland’s maximum contract offer to James would be for six years and a total of $125.5 million. That’s for one extra season and $30 million more than any other team can offer. That’s a lot of money and a lot of stability.

Many have said that James would make more playing in a bigger market, a la New York. But can James really be any more famous than he already is?

The Cavaliers are frequently featured in nationally-televised games on ESPN, ABC, and TNT. James has a huge Nike billboard outside of Madison Square Garden. Also, with the Internet and 24-hour sports channels, being in a big market isn’t as necessary for money and fame as it used to be. James will still be the most popular player in the NBA next season no matter who he was playing for.

Let’s not forget he plans on changing his jersey number next season so he should be atop the jersey sales because of the new look.

James says the most important thing to him is winning. Does any other team give him a better chance at winning the championship than Cleveland?

For years, the Cavaliers’ front office has been working to build a team around James. This year Cleveland had the best record in the NBA during the regular season. While people are questioning the group of players around “The King” now after losing in the playoffs again, remember all year how the majority of people fawned at the depth the Cavaliers had and how the addition of Antawn Jamison “assured” them of finally winning the championship.

Where else could LeBron go that would give him a better chance at winning the championship?

The Lakers, Magic, Nuggets, Spurs, and Celtics would all be hands-on favorites to win the championship by adding James, but none of those teams have the money to add him.

Even if he and Dwayne Wade went to New York, or James went to Miami to partner with Wade those teams would still have a worse supporting cast than what James has in Cleveland.

Chicago is intriguing and they would have a nice starting lineup, but would they be deep enough?

For his own sake, James should stay in Cleveland. The situation provides him with the best combinations of support systems, money, and wins.

All the attention and speculation could very well be much ado about nothing.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

United States World Cup 2010: Who Will Survive the Final Cut?

Thirty days before the start of the World Cup the United States announced its preliminary 30-man roster, which will be pared down to 23-players by June 1.

The biggest move was not including forward Charlie Davies in the squad. Davies has been battling back from injuries sustained in a deadly car accident in October. His progress has been remarkable, but it wasn’t enough to convince Head Coach Bob Bradley that he will be ready to go in time for the start of the tournament, especially considering he did not receive medical clearance from his club team Sochaux (France).

Here is a look at who was named to the roster and which players will (should) be going to South Africa.

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann

All three were locks and will be going to South Africa. The competition will be who backs up Howard, with Hahnemann having the upper hand after enjoying a successful season in the English Premier League with Wolverhampton while Guzan got little playing time for Aston Villa backing up former-U.S. International Brad Friedel.

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein, Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit, Clarence Goodson, Chad Marshall, Oguchi Onyewu, Heath Pearce, Jonathan Spector

Normally teams will take eight defenders, but the majority of the United States defenders can play any position on the backline. The belief is because of their versatility Bradley will take one less defender in order to bring an extra midfielder.

Bocanegra—the captain—is definitely going to the World Cup. So are Bornstein, DeMerit, Spector, Cherundolo, and Onyewu, despite the last name not having played since October because of a torn patellar tendon. So essentially Pearce, Goodson and Marshall are up for the final defense position.

Marshall looks to be the first out from that group. He was the 2008 and 2009 MLS Defender of the Year, however injuries have hurt him. He had to leave the National Team’s winter camp and has only played in two of the Columbus Crew’s five games this season. The other two are more in form than Marshall which will leave him on the outside.

Pearce was the starting left back but lost the position because of a dip in form caused by his club team in Germany benching him. However, he transferred to MLS in September. He’s started ever since and has played well, also starring in the United States friendly against El Salvador in February. In his favor is his ability to also play as a wing midfielder.

Goodson is a solid center back who also is very useful on set pieces, something that he could offer should Onyewu not be 100%.

Pearce should be the one to come out on top. He’s getting the playing time now at the club level and is playing well. His ability to get into the offense, either playing fullback or as a midfielder, is unique and the strongest of the defenders. His versatility should serve him well over Goodson, a fine player himself, as he can slide into a number of different positions.

Midfielders: DaMarcus Beasley, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Stuart Holden, Sacha Kljestan, Robbie Rogers, Jose Francisco Torres

Two players, Donovan and Bradley, are guaranteed to be starting in June at midfield. Dempsey will also start, but he could move up top instead of playing on the wing. The biggest question will be who starts alongside Bradley in the middle.

It is a crowded field with Edu, Feilhaber, Clark, Kljestan, and Torres vying for the position. The two most qualified players to actually start are Edu and Clark. Edu, although his strength is defense, does provide more offense than Clark. However Clark has more experience starting for the national team, is a Bradley favorite, and now is getting playing time in the German Bundesliga. Both will make the squad.

Feilhaber will also make the team. He provides more creativity in the middle and could be a good compliment to Clark and allow Bradley and Edu to focus a little more on their defensive strengths.

Torres is a super-sub quality player. He provides a good spark off the bench and can make things happen. He can also, if needed, swing outside and play wing midfielder. He’ll be going to South Africa as well.

Kljestan will be the odd-man out from this group. After a hat-trick against Sweden in January 2009, a lot of people thought Kljestan had arrived, and being a guy that Bradley had coached with Chivas USA he received every opportunity to solidify that role. However, he could never reach that level of form again. He struggled mightily for both club and country, even getting benched at Chivas last summer at one point. He is looking better as of late, but it’s just too little too late at a very crowded position.

As for the wings, now that Holden is healthy and getting playing time with Bolton, he’s in and could very well start provided Dempsey starts at forward.

Bedoya has only come on recently but he has gotten good reviews. A midfielder for
Obrero SK of the Swedish Allsvenskan league (the country’s top division), the 23-year-old looks to have his name on the final roster of 23.

Beasley and Rogers will not be as lucky.

Once a prominent member of the U.S. team, Beasley’s stock faded fast. Playing time never came with Rangers and combined with injuries Beasley took a drastic drop in form. He came back into the picture with a good string of games with Rangers scoring a couple goals, but had another injury and things went back to the way they were.

Rogers was an exciting prospect for the team looking to replace Beasley. He has good pace and serves a good cross. However he hasn’t seen the field regularly for the Columbus Crew the past two seasons and his last international appearance against El Salvador saw Rogers try to do too much and hold onto the ball for too long. He just isn’t ready to be playing in the World Cup.

Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Edson Buddle, Brian Ching, Robbie Findley, Herculez Gomez, Eddie Johnson

Altidore, despite his current club situation unsettled and only scoring one goal in his season with Hull in the EPL, is going to South Africa.

Bradley likes to have a holding forward on the roster and Brian Ching is the only option here, so he should be going as well. It was surprising that Bradley left new favorite Conor Casey, however Ching went to the last World Cup so with such a young group his experience could be valuable.

Without Charlie Davies Bradley looks for a “speed” option up front with Robbie Findley, who was one of the options early to replace him. However he wasn’t ever able to take full advantage of the situation earlier in the year and a knee injury has hampered his play with Real Salt Lake. It’s hard to imagine he makes the final roster.

Buddle, Gomez, and Johnson are the three most in-form forwards the nation has to offer. Buddle leads Major League Soccer with nine goals in eight games. Gomez has scored 10 goals in 14 games for Mexican club Puebla. Johnson has put away three goals in the recent Greek-league playoffs.

None of these guys were on the radar earlier in the year (Buddle and Gomez weren’t even mentioned in the U.S. media guide) but their play as of late has deservedly put them in this position.

Johnson seems to be the longest shot of the three options, but he has experience with the national team and played in two games in the 2006 World Cup. He has exhibited goal scoring abilities before and has enjoyed a small renaissance in Greece. The team is familiar with Johnson and he should squeak onto the team.

So Gomez or Buddle?

Buddle has been scoring goals in bunches, but he has never quite scored at this rate. It’s good timing on his part to be playing his best soccer now, but he has never displayed this before. He’s also only been capped once and that was way back in 2003.

Gomez has been a goal scorer in the past, he’s just had a few down seasons. He’s only had two appearances with the national team, but they were much more recent, playing in the 2007 Copa America.

Ultimately Gomez has been much more consistent than Buddle throughout his career, so he will get the nod over Buddle.

Photo Credits.
Team: AP Photo/Bas Czerwinski
Tim Howard: AP Photo/Tim Hales
Carlos Bocanegra: AP Photo/Fernando Llano
Stu Holden: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
Jozy Altidore: AP Photo/Frank Augstein

Jermaine Cunningham or Carlos Dunlap: Who Should the Patriots Have Taken?

Two players will forever be tied together in their NFL careers as two teammates who, in college, played the same position and who were selected back-to-back in April’s NFL Draft.

Their link may not be as popular as Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf (though not teammates in college, they were two heralded quarterbacks that went first and second in the draft and are constantly compared) but Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap will now forever be linked together in terms of their football experiences.

Cunningham, a senior, and Dunlap, a junior, were both members of the Florida Gators defensive line from 2007-2009. Both are naturally gifted athletes and both were big pieces on a National Championship team. Both also have checkered pasts that have come into question.

While they will answer many questions throughout their rookie year, the New England Patriots will have one big question to answer: which of these two was actually the better pick?

The Patriots took Cunningham with the 21st pick in the second round (53rd overall), while the Cincinnati Bengals made Dunlap the very next selection.

New England’s biggest need was pass rushing, from both the outside linebacker and defensive end positions. Many outsiders wonder if Cunningham will make the impact they hoped for from a second round pick.

According to Cunningham’s and Dunlap’s Gator bios, they each totaled 19.5 sacks in college, with Cunningham needing one more year than Dunlap to reach that number.

Dunlap gets the most fanfare and attention of the two, as well.

Dunlap was an All-SEC Second-Team selection in ’08 and a First-Team choice in ’09. He was the defensive MVP of the 2009 BCS Championship game victory over Oklahoma.

However, he gets his fair share of negative attention as well.

He was arrested on drunken driving charges his junior year, which caused him to be suspended for the team’s SEC Championship game. His motor is also questioned at times. With his DUI charge coming before such a big game and his reputation of not playing hard all the time, many wonder how committed Dunlap is to the game and his team.

Character issues are a big concern in the NFL today and Dunlap’s may have been a major turnoff to the Patriots, but Cunningham, an All-SEC Second-Team choice his senior year, isn’t squeaky clean either. In 2007 he was arrested for misdemeanor battery, and some question his maturity after a disappointing senior year.

Cunningham also underwent a shoulder procedure that made him miss the Senior Bowl. He would also be making the transition from defensive end to linebacker in the 3-4 defense New England plays, which is certainly not an easy task.

Dunlap is a monster at 6'6" and 240 pounds. With his size, skill, and the numbers he put together in college, he would have been an ideal candidate to immediately step in and take over the starting spot that has yet to be successfully filled since Richard Seymour was traded before last season.

So why Cunningham?

Bill Belichick and the rest of the Patriots’ decision makers must have felt that Cunningham’s off-field issues were minor compared to Dunlap’s and possibly behind him. Character has become a big deal in the league today and the Patriots have long coveted players with good standing. Dunlap may have had too many red flags for the Patriots’ taste.

They also must’ve thought that the outside linebacker spot would be harder to fill than the defensive end spot, especially after releasing Adalius Thomas, which made them even thinner at the position. The Patriots have recently signed Damione Lewis and Gerard Warren to use on the defensive line but no additions have been made to the linebacker position.

It is too early to know which player will have the better career and who would have made the bigger impact on for New England.

However, it is never too early to speculate, and these two players will be at the constant end of such speculation the rest of their NFL careers.

So did New England make the right decision by drafting Cunningham?

Photo Credits.
Cunningham: AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain
Dunlap: AP Photo/Ed Reinke