The 'Other' Football....

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Search For The Perfect [#] 10......

By Alan Clark, Tuesday October 24th, 2006.

MLS has often been tagged as a physical, fast-paced league when energy and fitness rule and skill and technique come secondary. To be fair, the USMNT is hardly replete with playmakers and the majority in MLS are from foreign climes.

Only Landon Donovan and Canada's own Dwayne de Rosario could claim legitimate playmaker status in MLS with the balance coming from more skill-driven leagues, namely in South America.

Looking round the league, here are a run down of the primary playmaker(s) on each side:

Chivas USA : Juan Pablo Garcia (Mex), Sascha Kjlestan (USA)
Chicago : Thiago (Brazil)
Colorado : Terry Cooke (Eng), Clint Mathis (USA)
Columbus : Sebastien Rozental (Chile)
Dallas : Ronnie O'Brien (Eire), Ramon Nunez (Hon)
DC : Christian Gomez (Arg), Jaime Moreno (Bol)
Houston : Dwayne de Rosario (Can)
Kansas City : No prototypical #10.
Los Angeles : Landon Donovan (LA)
New England : Andy Dorman (Wales)? Not really a #10 either. Could be Dempsey, but that's not how he is deployed.
New York : Amado Guevara (Hon), Youri Djorkaeff (France)
Salt Lake : Mehdi Ballouchi (Morocco)

There's a few other players poking round the league that could be considered playmakers - Ramon Ramirez (Mex) and John O'Brien (USA) at Chivas would be two. Jose Cancela (Uruguay) at New England another.

Of those on this list I would suspect only the afore-mentioned LD, DeRo, Thaigo, Guevarra and Djorkaeff have earned the right to be a #10. Others could yet grow to fill those boots admirably, such as Ballouchi and Kjlestan, but the majority of the rest are either wingers, or in the role by default. The league lacks some of the big name, creative talent that's been here in the past - the like of Carlos Valderrama, Piotr Nowak and Marco Etcheverry.

Ask many fans who stay away from MLS and the usual line will come back about poor play. What causes the perceived low standard (which in reality is much higher than most realise) is simply a lack of flair players. So, it would seem many fans simply want to see the craft in it's purest form. The individual skill of say your average South American, or African, can be a joy to behold, but not all will work well in any kind of tactical system. Many - even entire national teams - will fail to gel, and collectively they can lack the guile, strategy and workrate that is common place in the average North American player.

A marriage of the two seems to make perfect sense, and has proven effective in the past. I don't think it's any co-incidence that the teams with proven playmakers have been more successful - either with a #10 in the middle or a proven threat on the wings and from set pieces, such as Cooke and O' Brien.

So, that brings me to the point of this thread and the debate I desire; with the impending Beckham ruling, and even without it, MLS seems to desire and need some craft in the middle and to that end I'd like to see your suggestions for players MLS clubs could bring in.....especially TFC!

I'm not on about players like Ronaldinho, a player who could command a considerable transfer sum and wages in excess of an entire team's cap. I'm looking for a crafty older player (although in reality some may be younger, 'unknowns' like Gomez at DC) that could be incorporated into the league. The only real example of this in recent years would be Youri Djorkaeff (especially in 2005).

So, who do you think would work - even out of position, would he come here and why do you think they would be a success.

I'll start the ball rolling with the most obvious one Mr Posh Spice;

David Beckham, Fee : $0 if he doesn't sign a new contract. Age : 32

He's a known quantity, but the only thing I'd say on top of all the obvious things is that his preferred position is in the centre of midfield. A move inside would offset his diminishing pace, and extend his career considerably. His passing is precision personified and his set pieces are second to none, both on the cross and as shots on goal. His commercial boon would simply sweeten the deal, as many have alluded, MLS (and the USA in general) and Bex seems like a match made in heaven.

Claus Jensen, Fee: $0 if he doesn't sign a new contract. Age: 29 now (30 in 07 when his Fulham contracts expires)

Jensen is a very under-rated playmaker currently plying his trade for Fulham. It's about time MLS took a player from the Cottagers as they've pilfered a few freebies from MLS in recent years. Boca, Elliott and McBride are all MLS ex-pats on their team.

Jensen is a good dead-ball player, can cross and scores a few. His current contract expires in 2007 (signed a 3 year deal in 2004).

He's got a bag load of caps and has played in the EPL since 1998 for Bolton, Charlton and now Fulham.

At 30 - and free - he'd be an ideal choice.

Alan Thompson, Fee: Unknown (Low, if not free is my guess). Age: 32 (33 in Dec)

Plays in Scotland so might be an angle their for MoJo, he's creative, left-fotted (always a bonus) got a great free kick to boot.

He's been a little injury prone, but he has excellent experience and the rough-and-tumble of the SPL should have more than prepared him for the physical side of MLS.

He's been in Scotland for 6 years and has yet to feature this year I think so he's probably getting a little restless. I doubt he would command wages that would price him out of MLS.

Decent age and has a few years left. He's probably not quite a #10, but he's got enough technical ability that he could pull it off in MLS. He's certainly worth a shot.

Like Jensen, not a big name, but someone who could work out to be a very savvy pick up, Beckham rule or not.


Of course, the approval of the Designated Player Rule should see a spike in the talent in MLS, and likely at the playmaker (and striker) positions.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

MLS Cup 2006 : Playoff Predictions

By Alan Clark, Tuesday October 17th, 2006.

I'm back! I've been away, taking time to watch the 'Beautiful Game', working on my MLS data for Football Manager 2007 (a.k.a Worldwide Soccer Manager 2007) and generally getting the disappointment of WC06 out of my system.

So, after my blogging sebaticle, it's time to review my preseason predictions:

First up, the Eastern Conference:

Eastern Conference:
Chicago Fire (1st) - Actual - 3rd
New England Revolution (2nd) - Actual 2nd
New York Red Bulls (3rd) - Actual 4th
DC United (4th) - Actual 1st
Columbus Crew (5th) - Actual 6th
Kansas City Wizards (6th) - Actual 5th

I'll take solace in the fact that I went 4/4 on the qualifiers for the playoffs, even if my order was a little out. I believe I'll invoke this get out of jail card "To be honest, the top 4 could go any way". As it turns out, DC were the team in 2006 and rightly won the Supporter's Shield, though the somewhat backed into the playoffs after a poor run of result to round out the year.

KC were in with a shout all the way to game 32 of the regular season, but given EJ's no-show season, they didn't really deserve it. The one good piece of news out of KC this year was new ownership and a lifeline. I'm glad, it doesn't help anyone to play musical chairs with the teams in MLS.

Next up the West. Plenty of surprises there....

Western Conference:
FC Dallas (1st) - Actual 1st
Houston Dynamo (2nd) - Actual 2nd
Los Angeles (3rd) - Actual 6th
Colorado Rapids (4th) - Actual 4th
Chivas USA (5th) - Actual 3rd
Real Salt Lake (6th) - Actual 6th

4/6 spot on in the West, but who saw the defending 'Double' champs LA choking - even without WC-bound Landon and the dire guidance of the Grim Reaper (aka Steve Sampson)?

Still, I correctly predicted 7/8 playoff teams and 5/12 placed exactly as I touted.

Not bad, I could probably have made some money off of that, were I not in a country with inexplicable and contradictory online gambling laws.

So, to the bracket.....


Conference Semi Finals:

DC vs NY : Result DC. DC stumbled a little to end the regular season, but NY were far from on fire. It's a great rivalry, but I don't see NY pulling this one out. However, with the Supporter's Shield winner earning little more than the right to play their #1 rival in a two game aggregate series - starting on the road! - then anything could happen. This one is an upset in the making perhaps.

Score : DC to take both games, narrowly. I'll go with 1-0 at NY, 2-1 at home.

NE vs CHICAGO : Two good teams, both in decent form ahead of the post-season. Steve Nicol overcame some adversity (namely rumblings and dissention in his camp) before guiding the Revs' to 2nd place and home field advantage (which really is little advantage in a two leg tie). Chicago also overcame the mother of all road trips to start the season. Seem to plave plenty of fire power, something NE has struggled for despite boasting some blue chip offensive talent.

Score : NE to take it on aggregate goals. Fire to take game one 2-1, with the Revs 2-0 in game 2. This one is so close, an errant red card, or poor PK call could decide the tie.


Conference Semi Finals:

FCD vs COLORADO : I don't envison any trouble here for the 'Super Hoops', but just like DC, they've reversed over the finish line.

Score : If this one goes according to talent, this could be a blow out.

HOUSTON vs CHIVAS : Hmmm, seems - dare I say it - that Chivas have Houston's number. Could that really happen? Can DeRo find one of his patented Goal of the Season contenders to decide this? One thing's for sure, it should be the best game of the semi's with two of the league's most attractive, attack-minded teams locking horns.

Score : Upset is possible, but I'm going to play it safe and say that the Dynamo will squeak through. 4-3 on aggregate.

Open Letter to Randy Lerner

By Alan Clark, Tuesday October 17th, 2006.

Today I wrote an email and tried sending it to every possible variation of an email address that someone at Aston Villa might have! (using emails found on their website as a guide)
All but one came back (and that was a general info email) so I guess no luck, unless someone happens to pass it along. Anyways....I thought I'd post it here as an open letter...

Dear Randy

I appreciated the remarks made recently about your ownership in Villa being 'for the right reasons', I also understand your ties to the UK. The start of your tenure could not have been better, so congrats there and commendations on the appointment of Martin O'Neil, one of the best managers of our generation.

What I am wondering is why you aren't involved in MLS?

As a successful sports owner, with an apparent passion for football/soccer, surely helping the game out at home should be an option you consider?

Your experience and financial muscle would be an asset to the league and especially now you are invested in AVFC, the option to include North American sister team just plain makes sense. The ability share resources and staff, as well as providing a year round calendar for your players where required is also priceless. It's essentially a way to have two teams for the price of one! It would also be a great way to promote the Villa brand in the US where it concedes considerable ground on the 'larger' EPL/European clubs.

It's disappointing that Malcolm Glazer and yourself would choose to invest so heavily in the sport abroad, yet not at home where the costs are much smaller and the influence of your benevolence could be much greater.

MLS is a league on the brink - I say this as both a fan and an observer. The influx of new ownership, soccer-specific-stadia, expansion and a plethora of recent tv/commercial agreements, shows that MLS is on the rise. I think that other owners have noticed this and that now is the time to step in to be involved in the league as it prepares to take the proverbial 'next step'.

I appreciate single-entity is not for all, but it's clear that the league is moving away from this as it diversifies it's ownership and moves to a more conventional franchise model. The league is ripe, and I for one would love your experience and leadership to join the league.

I wish you well in all your ventures Mr Lerner, and I hope that one day [soon] that might include a foray into MLS - there's plenty of markets available and fans, like myself, willing and waiting to pick up a new team in our region. The US is a big place, big enough for the World's Game.

Best Regards

Alan Clark

Probably totally pointless, but it made me feel better.....