Monthly Archives: November 2007

McClown sacked; who’s next?

Steve McClown was relieved of his duties as England’s national team manager this morning and, in my opinion, it’s about 12 months too late. His tenure was marked by tactical incompetance and poor player management. He was clearly overmatched and, in retrospect, it is clear he was chosen by the English Football Association (FA) simply because he is English. The players may like him but he suffers from the classic assistant syndrome: he can’t make the difficult choice when he has to. It’s like in U-571 when Matthew McConaughey has to step up and order someone he liked to do something he pretty much knew was going to get him killed. In the end, McConaughey’s character could; McClown couldn’t.

His most famous moment is, arguably, “cutting” David Beckham from the team. It was McClown trying to establish his authority but it backfired. He didn’t have the authority to do that; he could never establish himself as the captain of the ship, like McConaughey did, and will forever been seen as the executive officer, the guy who’s friends with all the men, in this case, the players on the national team. To be fair, he started off well, with three straight wins. Unfortunately, that’s one-third of his total number of wins in 18 months. He managed 18 games, winning 9, losing 5, and drawing 4. It’s a hardly inspiring record.

There are problems with England, though. Like Mexico, they fancy themselves a top 5 soccer nation (this is a recurring theory of mine re: Mexico; perhaps I’ll write about that sometime). The reality is, they’re not. Their two best mids – Frank Lampard and Stevie Gerrard – can’t play together. They have zero wingers with any technical ability. There is a perpetual black hole in the net; witness the recurring recall of Calamity James (which, thankfully, has mostly ended). England’s best keeper might be Ben Foster, a youngster who’s currently languishing on Manchester United’s bench. The national team needs a manager that can meld these disparate talents together into a cohesive whole. It needs a manager with the juice to make tough calls and not be cowed by the media (as McClown so often was).

That manager is Fabio Capello.

According to reports on F365, he’s interested in the job. And, even though I’m morally opposed to his defensive style, he needs to be hired. He brings instant respect to the job. The most influential players – think Beckham, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Wayne Rooney – will embrace him and accept him because they want to win. He’s had success everywhere he’s been. It’s really a no brainer. Of course, some will shout that England should be managed by an Englishman. But that’s just dumb: just like a club team, a national team should hire the best manager available. England should hire Capello and let him do what he will with the team. He will bring instant results. I guarantee it.

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MLS Cup Final

I decided to write about the MLS Cup Final because it’s remarkable in my mind for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a re-match of last year’s final, which adds a bit of drama. ABC also showed a graphic that said that 16 of the 22 starters started last year. Second, it involves two teams with stupid nicknames: the Dynamo v. the Revolution. Come on people, pick nouns for your team names! Big injury news in that Brian Ching isn’t playing due to the calf injury he suffered last week in KC. Personally, I’m hoping for a Willis Reed moment where he comes on and scores a goal while limping. It’s kickff, so here we go…

FIRST HALF

Goal: Taylor Twellman (20th minute), New England

The announcers are Dave O’Brien, Eric Wynalda, and Julie Foudy. This is the usual crew for ESPN/ABC games so there’s no surprise there. O’Brien is much improved from the World Cup last year and he’s usually good at what he does, in my opinion. Wynalda is apparently trying to be bombastic for no apparent reason. He spent the first part of the half advocating a wrestling match. I’m all for the ref letting the teams play but there needs to be some control. Most of the rest of the half was spent pointing out silly things though he made one good point about New England coming out attacking rather than defending, which was their MO for the season up to now. Julie Foudy should have her mic taken away because all she does is point out the obvious. The point of an analyst is analyze!

As for the game, the referee struck a balance between letting them play and calling fouls. He called the ones that needed to be called. He was also proven right when replays showed there was no handball in the box, despite Houston’s protests (about 22 minutes). There’s been a good pace to the game so far. I like how New England’s moving the ball up and down the flanks. Khano Smith has been especially impressive to me because he runs so smoothly and has good vision. If LA is watching this game, they should go get him to receive Beckham’s crosses next year. Or Toronto FC should get him because they need lots more good players. But I digress. Shalrie Joseph has been a force in the middle. He’s definitely earning his money today.

Houston seems disorganized, which is disappointing because I’m rooting for them. They’ve been back on their heels for most of the half, which is too bad. They need to press forward. I’d push down the flanks because De Rosario hasn’t been used at all. Use him! And, aside from one really good cross headed badly by Joseph Ngwenya, they’ve hardly attacked at all. They need to fix that coming out of the gate in the second half. Pat Onstad has been good. He had no chance on Twellman’s goal (which was nobody’s fault because it was a good cross and a better header) but he made a massive save at 32 minutes to keep the deficit 1-0.

SECOND HALF

Goals: Joseph Ngwenya (61st minute), Houston; Dwayne De Rosario (74th minute), Houston

Yellow Cards: Wade Barrett (57th minute), Houston; Khano Smith (65th minute), New England

Substitutions: New England: Andy Dorman for Steve Ralston (78th minute); Houston: Stuart Holden for Joseph Ngwenya (81st minute)

Wow. This is what soccer is all about. What a second half! It had everything: cards, goals, tremendous passing, fabulous crosses, and ridiculous saves. I must say that Houston took my advice and found Dwayne De Rosario. In fact, Houston came out and pressed from the beginning of the half. Ngwenya, De Rosario, and Jaqua terrorized the New England back four from the beginning. They were rewarded, of course, with goals. They also played visually appealing soccer with long runs and quick passing. It looked like they figured out that New England was sitting and waiting for them to come. So Houston changed tack: long passes to get into the New England zone and quick passes around the box. It was a good tactical decision. The Houston back four still looked a tad disorganized but they were saved on at least 3 occasions by Pat Onstad.

I must point out that New England responded well to Houston’s first goal. They had fight in them and realized they needed to press. The second goal, though, destroyed them. De Rosario’s beauty killed New England’s fight. To their credit, the last few minutes were fast and furious action as New England pushed everyone up. They were nearly rewarded on a corner with a perfect cross to Jeff Larentowicz who, unluckily enough, headed it right into Onstad’s leg. Amazing. I’m not sure what New England could have done differently, to be honest. They played well, except for the 10 minutes after De Rosario’s goal. They were tactically sound, in my opinion, though they could have used better marking in the box. Khano Smith, after I sang his praises in the first half, basically disappeared in the second, except for his ridiculously stupid yellow card.

I am disappointed with ABC’s coverage. The director needs to be fired because s/he showed far too many close-ups during game actions. I want to see the corner kicks, not a close-up of the keeper or defenders battling with attackers. That needs to change for next year. Other than that, Wynalda and Foudy were annoying but O’Brien kept them mostly on point. With that said, it was a great match and a demonstration of how far MLS has come in 12 years.

Congratulations on your repeat, Houston.

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World Cup rotation ended

Following the announcement that Brazil has been awarded the 2014 World Cup, FIFA decided to end the rotation among the confederations (Europe, Asia, South America, North America, Africa). They did this just as North America’s turn to host the Cup was due, in 2018. I find the timing curious though I really don’t see a grand conspiracy. I’m nearly positive that politicking by European nations prompted FIFA to end the rotation. By 2018, the World Cup would have been out of Europe for 12 years. To me, that isn’t a very long time; to Europeans, it apparently is.

I understand the rationale: Europe has the most teams involved in qualifying and contributes the most teams to the field. Therefore it is only logical that they get the World Cup at least every three rotations. Well, it’s logical to them. To me, the only thing in consideration should be the ability to host the Cup. This means quality stadia, quality locations, ability to handle the millions of tourists, and, nowadays, to provide the security that needs to be in place. I think that limits where the Cup can be held, but not unfairly. For example, I’m positive Brazil will put on a good Finals; they better, anyway, because I plan to be there.

In terms of 2018, I think the favorite is still the United States. The United States has the stadia and the ability to handle it, as shown by 1994. The runner up will probably be England or Spain. Coming in 4th will likely be Mexico, which is a shame because I’m sure they’d put on a good Cup, too. I suppose this will sort itself out over the next 10 years but I look forward to the World Cup coming back to the US.

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