Monday, October 14, 2013

State of Major League Soccer

*Note: This post is the second in the MLS series. For the first part, check out Transfer Monday: Vol. Dempsey

This has been a long time coming. Sorry for the break in between updates. No excuses, play like a champion. Let's just get right into it by breaking down MLS into three categories: Format, Schedule, and Quality.


Here's the rundown of how MLS works, for those unfamiliar with the rules:

Right now, the league has 19 teams split up into two conferences (Eastern and Western). The schedule is unbalanced to favor regional rivalries. After a total of 34 games (fairly divided based on said rivalries,) 10 teams make the playoffs. The fourth and fifth placed teams of each conference play a wild card round, with the winner advancing to play the top seed of the division. From there it is a, somewhat, standard American-style elimination bracket with the Western Conference champion facing their Eastern Conference counterparts in MLS Cup.

Now, traditionalists (like I once was) tend to dislike this format. They call for a standard, one-table, home-and-away, no-playoffs system. That's fine. I can understand the draw of playing the the rest of the leagues in the world. But this is 'Merica. We do things our way.

On a serious note, I have actually grown fond of the way MLS schedules games. For one thing, the country is huge. It is exhausting to fly five hours, and over three time zones from coast-to-coast. Limiting these types of trips to two or three times a year, as opposed to five or six is beneficial for the players. Additionally, I love the fact that the Cascadia Cup consists of nine games. And the the Galaxy face Chivas USA three times each season. And that New York, DC United, and Philly all play each other three times. The league is still in its infancy. These rivalries have been drawn up on paper, but the way they become real is with the passion of the players and fans. You want to be the best team in your area, you want bragging rights over your neighbors; the way to achieve either of those is repetition. Winning on a consistent basis, or thwarting your opponents' attempts.

Playoffs are another staple of American sports. I stand to be corrected, but the only other major soccer league in the world, that I can think of, which uses a playoff system is Liga MX in Mexico. They do two post seasons every year. The Brazilian Serie A used to have a playoff system until 2003 (which led to my Botafogo winning the league in 1995,) as well. Again, I am okay with playoffs. They are an exciting way to end the season, and to determine a champion. My one problem with the system is that, as it stands, more than half the teams in the league make the post season. This tends to water down the importance of the regular season. Of course, right now there is a tight race for the last few spots in either conference, but where is the exclusivity of the post season if a team with more losses than wins, or a negative goal differential can squeak in? The current playoff format is too forgiving, it should be for teams that earn the right to be there throughout the season.

Túlio, o artilheiro, o herói. Fogão, campeão de 1995!


This is the reason I was motivated to write again. There have been talks, again, about switching the MLS season to the European calendar. As you may have guessed by my pro-MLS stance, I am against this idea. FIFA president Sepp Blatter is the one pushing MLS to make the change. To be honest, he does not make a strong point. His only arguments is that it would be better for the USMNT and for American fans. However, he has no reasons why, other than the fact that American players in Europe are accustomed to this schedule, and the public wants their heroes at home.

I have never put much stock in Blatter. And this is no different, but for the sake of taking this idea into consideration here are a couple of the pros and cons:

Pro: MLS players will be in the same condition as the rest of the world come summer tournaments such as the World Cup, Gold Cup, and Confederations Cup.

Con: This condition players will be in is exhaustion from a long league schedule.

Pro: MLS can work FIFA dates into its calendar, avoiding scheduling conflicts for international games during the season.

Con: MLS teams will battle the NFL, NBA, NHL, and NCAA for ticket sales, and more importantly viewership. MLS and its teams could lose millions in TV contracts because networks like FOX and NBC will not televise a soccer game over any of the aforementioned leagues.

Con: Weather in cities such as Toronto, New York, Denver, etc... will not be forgiving in the winter. Snow games like March, 2013's USA vs. Costa Rica will become the norm.

Con: The argument that this is a worldwide standard is blatantly false. The Scandinavian leagues, along with Russia, Brazil, and others do not operate on the August - May calendar.

Ultimately, I could see MLS caving to FIFA's demands, but I do not think it would be in the league's best interest. Instead, I propose extending the MLS season. By starting the season one month earlier, MLS could accommodate FIFA international dates into the calendar more readily. This would prevent teams from losing their best players at the most inopportune moments (Robbie Keane, anyone?)


Easily the biggest knock on MLS by naysayers. MLS will never be as good as Europe. Well, those naysayers have no idea what they are talking about.

I concede that the league is incomparable to the Barclay's Premier League, the German Bundesliga, La Liga, etc... But I dare anyone to convince me the the Danish Superliga is a superior competition. Or Superleague Greece. Or the Czech Gambrinus Liga. Bigger picture, guys.

One differentiating positive I have noticed watching MLS games over the years is the speed and tenacity of the game. MLS is one of the most physical leagues I have ever seen. If there is one thing American coaches know more about than anyone else in the world, it is strength and conditioning. Talent will come.

For what Major League Soccer is - arguably the fifth most popular professional sports league in the US - it is solid. We live in a society of instant results, which is especially true in the sports world. Fair weather fans forget that the league only started play in 1996. Rome was not built in a day, and neither was MLS. It's an ever-growing process, and better players are emerging in this country every day. While the level of play is not at the top tier, yet, I have no doubt in my mind that it will one day get there. 

The next step is for the one of the league's teams to lift the CONCACAF Champions League trophy. Let's get to Liga MX's level, then we'll worry about "Europe".

Feel free to leave comments and feedback, suggest future topics to cover, whatever. Also follow me on Twitter @biasedsoccer

Monday, August 5, 2013

Transfer Monday: Vol. Dempsey

*Note: This is the first post in a three-part look at MLS.

There were whispers of Deuce leaving Tottenham all throughout this transfer window. Paulinho was brought in to strengthen the midfield. Roberto Soldado just became the starting striker. And if the Bale for Di Maria and Coentrao move had actually materialized (which I doubt will at this point), Dempsey leaving would have been completely understandable

That's not to say that this move is a complete mystery. Dempsey could have stayed, but he would have had to battle for a starting spot at any of the positions his versatility allows for. Personally, I would rather have him on the field rather than Moussa Dembele, but that did not look likely.

The real "head scratcher" is why he chose to come back to MLS rather than stay in Europe. It actually makes perfect sense. Critics will look down on this decision because of the fact that Deuce is 30 years old, has a lot left in the tank, and that he has already proven so much in his seven years in the Premier League to regress to MLS. While I agree that he could have stayed abroad and found another team, it would not have been in his best interest. Let's break down his options:

Staying in England

One of the goals Dempsey had not achieved in his time abroad was playing in the Champions League. He had his best chance to make that happen with Spurs, but the team failed to qualify (despite holding a 12 point lead over then-fifth placed Arsenal). Had they finish in fourth place, Dempsey would likely face the same uncertainty this off-season with new signings and loss of playing time. So if he moved to another team in England, where might he have landed?

Let's throw the Top Four out the window because Manchester United, Man City, and Chelsea are all set at his position. A case could be made for Arsenal, but with Cazorla having a strong season, and Arteta and Wilshire manning the other central roles, playing time would certainly be an issue.

That leaves non-Champions League teams as his option in England. Teams like Everton, Fulham, even my struggling Liverpool could have found space for him on the field, but not playing in Europe's highest competition defeats the purpose of staying in England.

Other UCL Teams

Looking for consistent playing time eliminates top teams in top leagues, such as Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus, PSG, etc... this leaves his options as secondary teams in top leagues, or top teams in weak leagues.

Of the former, clubs like Schalke 04, Real Sociedad, or Bayer Leverkusen could be interesting moves for Dempsey. They would offer continental competition (for at least one season) and strong domestic play in the year leading up to the World Cup.

Considering the latter of the options, moving to Celtic, or FC Copenhagen just doesn't make sense domestically. The payoff of potentially playing in the UCL does not offset a weaker weekly schedule (or teammates, for that matter). And I've argued it before, European leagues that are not one of the top five (maybe up to seven if you include Portugal and the Netherlands) are not necessarily stronger than MLS.

Ultimately, moving to a different country and having to earn a starting spot is not the ideal scenario for anyone in a World Cup year.

Returning to MLS

This is a win-win-win for Dempsey, the Seattle Sounders, and MLS.

Clint signed a monster contract (by MLS standards) for $32 million over four years, making him the highest paid player in league history. He moves his family, but to his home country rather than a place where they would have to learn a new language and adapt to a different lifestyle. He will become a focal point for his team, instead of a super-sub, or fringe player. Most importantly, he will not lose his place in the USMNT. Arguably the best American player at the moment, he was never really in danger of losing his place in the team. Over the years MLS players have earned more respect among the national team pool, so playing in Europe is not the most likely way to get called up anymore. Klinsmann is not very happy about the move, but I doubt it will have serious repercussions on an international level. Landon Donovan is the prime example of that. A talented player can turn it on whenever he wants, no matter where he plies his trade.

The Sounders instantly become a title contender with this move. They boast one of the scariest offenses in MLS with Eddie Johnson, Obafemi Martins, Mauro Rosales already on the roster. They have had strong teams in the past, but floundered in the playoffs. With my LA Galaxy looking vulnerable all season, along with inconsistent teams like Colorado and RSL, Dempsey could put the Sounders over the top in the West.

For MLS, recruiting one of the best American players of all time back home in the prime of his career is a huge coup. It is a testament to the increased competitiveness on the field, as well as the financial muscle off it. Not to mention that Dempsey is a marketable player. The captain of the USMNT playing for the the team with the leagues best attendance is a great buildup to the World Cup. Here's to hoping league officials capitalize on this.

The transfer from one of England's top teams to MLS at the peak of his career may not be the most glamorous move. It may not even be the most intelligent career move. But in the end, none of that matters. Clint Dempsey is a great player who has his priorities in mind. Coming back to the States will not make or break him. For one, he's already made it. Returning home is no longer considered a backwards step for Amerincan players thanks to the advancement of the league and its teams. 

Feel free to leave comments and feedback, suggest future topics to cover, whatever. Also follow me on Twitter @biasedsoccer

Monday, July 22, 2013

State of the USMNT

This post has been a long time coming. I have often stated my beliefs and opinions about the US Men's National Team, but this will be the first written account of it.

I have been brushing off writing about the Gold Cup for a few reasons, not least of which is that I don't particularly enjoy writing match recaps. Games are played; you either watch them, or you don't. I'd rather exchange ideas about what happened than give a minute by minute update. Anyone who wants that information can check ESPN's Gamecast. The bigger reason, however, is that the USMNT - as a whole - had not done anything noteworthy.

In one of my previous posts (Transfer Monday) I stated that the Nats tcob against Belize. Last week (Transfer Monday: Vol. II) I mentioned that I had a gripe, which I would get to. Well, here it is:

If the USMNT wants to be considered a challenger, a top caliber program, and basically live up to the expectations of the, albeit fickle, American media and public, then beating Belize, Cuba, El Salvador, and even Costa Rica should be a given, not a struggle.

It's just that simple.

Are we there yet? No.
Can we get there? Yes.
Will we get there? I think so, but it will take time and player development.

This next part may seem like a tangent, but bear with me, it's all related. Do me a favor and check out the latest FIFA rankings. Most people in the soccer world put little stock in the actual rankings of these countries, and I am no exception. It is a flawed system, but the bigger picture is what matters here. I like to think of the rankings in terms of Fantasy Football (again, bear with me). If you do not play/understand FF, feel free to skip down to the next paragraph. When ranking players in FF, experts generally break them into categories. Quarterbacks, for example, may be categorized as "elite" or "solid starter" down to "bye week play" or "if you're desperate". "Elite" is self explanatory, while "if you're desperate" basically means that if you have nobody to put into your team for a given week, at the very least we know that Mark Sanchez is starting, and he's playing the Bills. So, instead of having a 1-207 list of countries, I have a few different categories, and the order in each doesn't really matter.

Note: These rankings are based on history and opinion. If you've got a problem with them, go ahead and voice it.


The cream of the crop. These countries have proven throughout the years that they are the best of the best by winning trophies. In order of World Cup trophies:

Brazil, Italy, Germany, Argentina, Spain

While these teams may have their off years, anytime they participate in major tournaments, they are among the favorites. Spain are the latest addition to this group. They are included because of their recent dominance and the fact that they continue to produce talented players. These are the only Elite teams, in my opinion.

Elite Pretenders

These teams could make a case for being in the upper echelon, but when it comes down to it, Joe Flacco is not Peyton Manning. That's not to say these teams cannot make the jump, but they have to earn it. In no particular order:

France, England, Netherlands, Portugal, Uruguay

The Dutch continually struggle to win the big ones, and Portugal are just happy to be here. The other three have won at least one World Cup. Uruguay have had a long lull in production since 1950, while England are over-hyped and underwhelming.  France could make the strongest argument to be included with the big boys, having won the 1998 World Cup, and 1984 and 2000 EUROs, but those who know me know why they aren't. This blog is called Biased Soccer for a reason.

The Muddled Middle I

This category is where it gets messy. In the FIFA rankings, these countries usually fall anywhere between 3 and 50. The order is taken from where they currently stand in the FIFA rankings.

Colombia, Croatia, Belgium, Greece, Cote d'Ivoire, Switzerland, Russia, Mexico, Chile, USA, Ghana, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ukraine, Sweden, Nigeria, Japan, Australia, Serbia, South Korea, Paraguay, Turkey

The USMNT falls into this category, along with many other countries. I'll get to what this means after my rankings. 

The Muddled Middle II

The difference between I and II is that the teams above have demonstrated more consistency over the years. They regularly qualify for the World Cup, and the European representatives qualify for the EUROs. The non-UEFA contingent are teams that have won their regional tournaments, or are always thereabouts in the end. The following are other middle-of-the-road teams, but have less of a track record. Same way of determining order as above:

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ecuador, Peru, Norway, Hungary, Romania, Algeria, Costa Rica, Ireland, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Honduras, South Africa

Now, I only selected teams currently in the top 60 according to FIFA. Even then, I omitted a few (as well as included some questionable ones). There could be a "Muddled Middle III", and "The Rest" but I won't go that deep. Here's the point, and where it ties back into the State of the USMNT:

Right now, the USA is not close to being an "Elite" footballing nation. But we can get there.

I believe most hard-core fans are realistic about this, but the media leads the casual supporter to believe that we deserve to be in the final reckoning more often than not.

Explaining my rankings
Think of it this way: The head-to-head results between teams in the same category are usually pretty evenly split.

Example: In the last 10 meetings between Brazil and Argentina, Brazil have won 5 matches, drawn 2, and lost 3.

Example 2: There have only been four meetings between the USA and Denmark, with each nation holding a 1-2-1 record.

However, the difference between the "Elite"/"Elite Pretenders" and the "Muddled Middle" is significant. Brazil are 8-1-1 against the States (after 90 minutes) in the last 10 matches. Brazil are 8-0-1 against Costa Rica, all time. In four of the last five matches, Brazil have scored at least four goals against the Central Americans, who are arguably the third best team in CONCACAF. For comparison, the Nats are 5-2-3 against Costa Rica since 2002. On top of this, the USMNT have won by more than one goal only once in that time.

How to become "Elite"
In my mind, there are three major steps to take to reach the likes of Brazil and Spain:

1) Establish complete regional dominance

While they have not often occurred, blowout wins against clearly inferior opponents must become a staple for the Nats. They have proven they are capable of over-matching opponents thus far during the Gold Cup with a second choice squad, no less. Excuses for ugly 2-1 wins against Antigua and Barbuda shouldn't be tolerated. While "a win is a win" in WCQ, matches like these do nothing to boost the reputation of our team.

2) Consistently compete against the world's best

Last month's win against Germany was a great stepping stone, more so than the win against Italy in 2012. The match in Italy last year was a display of negative tactics and counter attacking, which is to be expected when weaker teams face strong oppo. Not very fun to watch. The argument can be made that Italy was at full strength, and the Bavarians sent their 'B' team, but just as the current US squad is tearing apart weaker foes in the Gold Cup, so could it be said that the Germans are capable of doing the same. While these two victories have been highlights of the Klinsmann era, I will point out that they are accompanied by draws with Canada and Russia, and losses to Ecuador, France, and Belgium (in an embarrassing manner).

This is a gradual process, it will not occur over night, but the fact that the USA have shown signs of improvement over the last few years is encouraging. Progress can still be made.

3) Win the World Cup

The "Elite" nations I mentioned all have this in common. A few countries on the outside looking in have won on the world's biggest stage. Without this on the USMNT resume, they cannot be considered "Elite".

For the record, I think it is possible for this to happen. I may even go as far as to (optimistically) say that it could happen in my lifetime. In the next 60 years, 15 World Cups will be held. With American resources and infrastructure, it is absolutely within reason to assume a World Cup championship is achievable. 

Think about Spain, the baby of the "Elite". Their evolution into the powerhouse they are today began about 20 years ago, when they began producing players like Xavi, Iniesta, Casillas, etc. US Soccer and MLS have been working hard to improve the academy program in the States. They are producing and cultivating better players, and while the process is not yet where it needs to be, it is progressing. The tricky thing to keep in mind that our rivals have a head start on us, and are also continually progressing. Reaching the levels to which we aspire will likely take decades. Hopefully I'll still be around to see it.

Feel free to leave comments and feedback, suggest future topics to cover, whatever. Also follow me on Twitter @biasedsoccer

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Transfer Monday: Vol. II

Let me start by saying that I do realize that last week's "Transfer Monday" was posted on a Wednesday. I'll be honest, I completely lost track of what day it was. However, that mental lapse has inspired me to continue calling this series "Transfer Monday" no matter which day it goes up.

Again, Gold Cup would be a good topic to write about, but I'll be honest, I missed most of the USAvCRC game. And I have a gripe about that which I will post in the near future. Moving on!

There haven't been many big names moving around over the course of the week, but I'll take a look at those who have, and some potential transfers on the horizon.

Edinson Cavani (Striker) - Napoli to PSG

Cavani is a beast. He has lit up the scoring charts in Italy for the past few seasons with Napoli, and helped them to a second place finish last year. The Parisians have been buying up big names since the Qataris became majority shareholders in 2011. With a team of stars (and egos that come with them *cough*Ibra*cough*) I think it's only a matter of time before there is some lockerroom discontent. If Ibrahimovic isn't moved after this season, or if Monaco (or anyone else, for that matter) usurps PSG's short-lived championship, look for heads to roll in Le City of Lights.

Asier Illarramendi (Midfielder) - Real Sociedad to Real Madrid

I may have seen a total of two Real Sociedad games over the last 3+ years. But, I had heard of Illarramendi as a kid with a bright future. He has been touted as the next Xabi Alonso, which is exactly what Real Madrid need. Alsonso isn't getting any younger, and his injury before the Confeds may worry Los Galacticos. We'll all learn a little bit more about Illarramendi this season with the spotlight on him.

Emanuele Giaccherini (Winger) - Juventus to Sunderland

This one is a bit of a head-scratcher. Giaccherini has established himself as a regular for the Italian national team over the last two years. They way top Italian clubs swap players, it is surprising to see one of their own jump ship for the Prem. Even more surprising is that Giaccherini landed in Sunderland, of all places. It seems as though the Black Cats are tired of finishing at the bottom half of the table, and they're making their push towards European qualification.

Thiago Alcantara (Midfielder) - Barcelona to Bayern Munich

"Greed, for lack of a better word, is good." Gordon Gekko said it, Pep Guardiola seemingly lives by it. Forget, for a moment, the fact that Bayern won the Champions League last season, and that they demolished Barcelona to get there. When Pep was at Barcelona, his roster was stacked. Yet, he continued to bring in players that proved to be somewhat surplus to requirements. Boasting Xavi, Iniesta, and even Busquets in the center of the field, Pep brought in Javier Mascherano and Cesc Fabregas. Both players were previously stars for their respective clubs, but have since struggled to break in regularly for Barca. Mascherano moved to center-back, while Fabregas has come off the bench more than he would have liked.

Queue Thiago, who spurned a likely starting role at Manchester United for Bayern (much to Wugene's dismay), which already features the likes of Schweinsteiger, Muller, and now Mario Gotze. Granted, the German giants will probably play close to sixty games this season, and depth is definitely needed, but someone will be left out in the cold, featuring mainly in cup matches and occasionally in the league or Champions League. Bayern may not need much help anywhere on the field, but the midfield was probably the least of their concern. Pep, quit being so greedy!

Keep an eye out for...

Luis Suarez: Hopefully he goes to Madrid instead of Arsenal. I would be extremely annoyed for him to criticize the British media only to stay in England.

Wayne Rooney: David Moyes has said he is staying in Manchester, but Chelsea, Arsenal, and PSG have all been interested this summer.

Gonzalo Higuain: Federico's younger, and more famous brother (well, outside of MLS circles perhaps) is on his way out of Madrid. Arsenal were the favorites, but he may decide to go to Italy with Napoli looking for a Cavani replacement. Liverpool have also surfaced as a possibility with a potential swap for Suarez.

Thiago Silva: The Brazil captain seems to be leaving Paris for Barcelona. Silva's dominance at the heart of defense would be greatly appreciated in Catalonia.

Christian Benteke: One of two big reasons Villa has lived to fight another year in the Prem (the other being Brad Guzan... USA! USA!), the Belgian has been fiercely linked with Tottenham.

Feel free to leave comments and feedback, suggest future topics to cover, whatever. Also follow me on Twitter @biasedsoccer

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Transfer Monday

I feel like I should be talking about the Gold Cup, and that's probably what some people might expect. But, I'm not going to do that for a few reasons. One: I've already put in my two cents about the USMNT roster. Two: The US tcob (took care of business) against Belize, as they should have. Three: I don't feel like it, and this is my blog. Fair enough?

Instead, I've decided to take a look at the recent big-name transfers. Since this is the "silly season" and players are moving left and right every day, I'll do my best to keep up with a weekly post. Let's take a look at some of the more high-profile swaps so far.

Simon Mignolet (GK) - Sunderland to Liverpool

Mignolet was one of a couple of BPL 'keepers rumored to move this summer. He is a good player, and looks to be the long-term replacement for Pepe Reina. The interesting bit, though, is that Reina is still on the Reds' roster. He has been linked with a move back to Barcelona (where he spent time at the famous La Masia), who still have Victor Valdes for one final year. So, until something is resolved with Reina there exist two possible 'keeper controversies to start the 2013-14 season.

Jesus Navas (Winger) - Sevilla to Manchester City

Navas is a very good player. During the Confederations Cup, he provided a spark for Spain coming off the bench against both Italy and Brazil. Unfortunately for him, Spain is stacked with attack-minded midfielders and wingers. In my opinion, he could replace Pedro as a starter, but the Barcelona chemistry has been difficult to overlook. Tangent over.

Man City have acquired another speedy winger. Scott Sinclair did not work out last season, and Navas will be given his shot. He has a well-documented history of homesickness and anxiety (I believe he often held out of the Spain squad during away matches earlier in his career), but having participated in the 2010 World Cup, 2012 Euros, and 2013 Confeds, it seems Navas has at least made an effort to put his worries behind him. Now with a permanent home in England we will see how his conditions affect his play.

Carlos Tevez (Striker) - Manchester City to Juventus

Tevez had a roller coaster of a spell with City. At one point he served as captain, but contract disputes and transfer requests climaxed in abandoning the team to hang out and play golf in Argentina during the 2011-2012 season. Once he returned, he was as reliable as ever for the Citizens. Now with the Italian champions, Tevez should thrive with Andrea Pirlo pulling the strings.

Paulinho (Midfielder) - Corinthians to Tottenham

Spurs signed a quality player. I didn't know much about Paulinho until coming down to Brazil at the end of last year. Since then I've been able to watch him play for the Seleção, as well as Corinthians, and let me tell you the man does it all. He shone in the Confeds and should do so in North London, as well. A box-to-box player, he kind of reminds me of Frank Lampard. Spurs' midfield is looking mighty formidable for next season.

Jozy Altidore (Striker) - AZ Alkmaar to Sunderland

Jozy in the Prem, take 2. I hadn't realized he had gotten so much playing time for Hull City back in the 2009-10 season. He took part in 28 matches, scoring only once. While those numbers are pretty dismal, this time around promises to be different. Jozy was red-hot in the Netherlands, which has finally transferred back to the Nats. This should help his confidence in battling for a starting spot. Sunderland are a better team than Hull was, and he will get some service from Sebastian Larsson and Adam Johnson. Who knows, maybe even John O'Shea will chip in.

Radamel Falcao (Striker) - Atletico Madrid to AS Monaco

Welcome back to Ligue 1 Monaco. What's that? You've got a ton of money now? Sure, you can buy trophies! Watch out though, it will be a bidding war between you and PSG... 

Monaco, once a European heavyweight (okay, maybe more of a middleweight), are well on their way back to prominence. I bet a move to a then-second division team isn't looking so bad now, is it Sean Franklin?

David Villa (Striker) - Barcelona to Atletico Madrid

The biggest surprise here is that Villa chose to stay in Spain, rather than the touted move to Spurs. Atletico Madrid aren't as far away from catching the big boys as one might think. They were in second place for much of last season before finishing comfortably in third. They've done this by building a strong core, and always having dangerous strikers. Before Villa came Falcao, who was preceded by Diego Forlan.

This was probably the best piece of business of the transfer window. Falcao was sold for roughly $75 million. Villa, still a very capable striker who had been forced to play on the left wing during his tenure at Barcelona, was brought in for about $6.5 million. Over three years.

Neymar (Winger/Striker) - Santos to Barcelona

Neymar is about to roll up his sleeves and get a little Messi in Barcelona. Neymar's performance at the Confeds silenced a lot of his critics. The biggest thing to watch for is how his style of play blends with the likes of Messi and Iniesta. Credit to my cousin JP who first pointed out to me that Neymar's game is much more comparable to Cristiano Ronaldo than to Messi. I've come to agree with that idea, and think it will benefit everyone mentioned, with the exception of Ronaldo (and Real Madrid).

Nicholas Anelka (Striker) - Shanghai Shenhua to West Brom

PSG, Arsenal, Real Madrid, PSG again, Liverpool, Man City, Fenerbahce, Bolton, Chelsea, Shanghai, Juventus, West Brom. Ladies and Gentlemen, the definition of 'mercenary'.

Carlos Bocanegra (Defender) - Rangers to Chivas USA

Poor guy. Charlie Blackmouth returns to southern California with the most hapless team in MLS. It will be an uphill battle for the former USMNT captain to regain a roster spot before the upcoming World Cup. I wish him luck.

Pablo Mastroeni (Midfielder) - Colorado Rapids to LA Galaxy

Conversation between Bruce Arena and one of his advisers... Let's just call him TJ.

Landon Donovan? check. Cobi Jones? check. Frankie Hejduk? Check. Greg Berhalter, Eddie Lewis, Tony Sanneh? Check, check, and check. How about Clint Mathis?? Yup. Alright, then let's bring in Pablo Mastroeni next.

Feel free to leave comments and feedback, suggest future topics to cover, whatever. Also follow me on Twitter @biasedsoccer

Monday, July 1, 2013

Confederations Cup Recap

Well, the precursor to the World Cup is now in the books, and it's time to take a look back. Overall, this edition of the Confederations Cup was pretty successful. In terms of quality of play and stadium atmosphere, you can't complain. Protests and activism in cities around Brazil didn't affect the event itself very much. I'll go over some of the highlights, lowlights, and revisit some of my pre-tournament predictions.


Goal of the Tournament
Spectacular goals are often the most remembered of tournaments (Ronaldinho vs. England in 2002, Maxi Rodriguez vs. Mexico in 2006). This is even more true when they are the first goal the competition (Lahm vs. Costa Rica in 2006, Tshabalala vs. Mexico in 2010). That's why Neymar's strike against Japan to open up the Confeds gets the nod.

Save of the Tournament
You would think names like Casillas, Buffon, and Julio Cesar should easily qualify, and they each had some great saves, to their credit. However, no save was more meaningful than David Luiz's goal-line clearance in the final. That tackle kept Brazil in the lead; had Pedro scored the game would have gone much differently.

Best Match
Hands down, the Japan vs. Italy match was the most exciting of the Cup. A back-and-forth brawl where both teams had chances to ice the game, until the Azzurri prevailed.

Feel-Good Moment
Expectations for Tahiti were to be thoroughly embarrassed, and judging by their scorelines, they were. However the integrity and spirit with which they played each match was very admirable. The Brazilian fans adopted the OFC champs as their own, but the best moment for the minnows was when Jonathan Tehau rose above the Nigerian defender on a corner kick and scored their only goal of the tournament.


Social and political issues were brought to the forefront in Brazil during the Confeds. Protests occurred in most major cities, including on gamedays. While they were mostly peaceful, there were a few of instances of police using rubber bullets and tear gas on the crowd, as well as some troublemakers lighting fires in the streets. 

These events were foreshadowed when President Dilma Rousseff, a popular leader until recently, was booed at the opening ceremony. For his efforts to calm the crowd, diminutive FIFA President Sepp Blatter received the same treatment.

Hindsight is 20/20:

The reason I decided to call this blog "Unbiasedly Biased" is because even though I am very opinionated in the world of soccer, I am also man enough to admit when I am wrong. 

So here is me coming full circle, boasting about my correct calls with my tail between my legs.

For reference, here are the two preview posts:

Correct Predictions:
  • Selecting Brazil and Spain to meet in the finals.
  • Brazil's defense holding strong, allowing a tournament-low three goals.
  • Uruguay's midfield being a liability. Forlan dropped back far too often to collect and distribute the ball.
  • Mario Balotelli scoring a goal and receiving a card (though it was only a yellow).
Incorrect Predictions:
  • Spain holding the trophy at the end (Fair Play trophy doesn't count).
  • Japan sneaking into the semi-finals. They could have done it, had Kagawa not missed a point-blank header.
  • Italy having a strong defense. They leaked eight goals in five games, and Buffon looked past it.
  • Brazil's strikers being a weakness. Fred has a nose for goal, scoring five, and Jo chipped in with a couple of his own.
  • Neymar underwhelming. Yeah, I blew it on that one.
Onto the Gold Cup!

Feel free to leave comments and feedback, suggest future topics to cover, whatever. Also follow me on Twitter @biasedsoccer

Friday, June 28, 2013

Nitpicking the USA Gold Cup Roster

The USMNT 23-man roster was finalized yesterday for the biannual CONCACAF Gold Cup by Jurgen Klinsmann. All the names were on the 35-man provisional roster named a few weeks ago, and Klinsy had hinted at how this team would look various times since then. So, there should not be many surprises to the hardcore fan. 

In years past, this edition of the GC would be a throw away because it had no implication towards the Confederations Cup. However, this year's champion will battle the 2015 winner for a spot in the 2017 Confed Cup. With that said, let's break it down by position and see what we come up with.


Bill Hamid (DC United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

No surprises here, at all. These three have been Klinsmann's go-to MLS 'keepers since he took over. I would imagine Rimando earns starting duties, but it really is a toss up. Rimando is 34 years old, and while he is probably the best out of the three, US soccer would be wise to start investing in younger 'keepers once Timmy Howard (also 34) is done. Personally, I'd like to have seen Brad Guzan get some minutes in meaningful matches for the Nats, since he is heir-apparent to the throne (aka goal).


Corey Ashe (Houston Dynamo), DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Oguchi Onyewu (Malaga), Michael Orozco Fiscal (Puebla), Michael Parkhurst (FC Augsburg)

There are some interesting names in this group. One would assume that these players are here to stand out as substitutes for the current preferred defensive line Klinsmann will put forth next summer. DeMarcus Beasley played pretty well in qualifiers, and he figures to be the starter at left back, but he defensive abilities are a liability. Castillo is far from a fan favorite, he'll try to silence his critics if given a starting role. 

Onyewu is back! I'm sure this has more to do with reputation and the potential to replicate, but he has not been the same since his injuries began, along with a handful of woeful career moves. I was never the biggest fan of Gooch because other than aerial ability and physical prowess (he is beastly), his ball skills and decision making leave much to be desired.

This group has a lot  to prove. Honestly, having any one of this cast of characters as a starting option come the World Cup scares me a little.


Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Helsinborg), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Joshua Gatt (Molde FK), Stuart Holden (Bolton), Jose Torres (Tigres)

If the defense was worrisome, this midfield needs to pick up their slack. Other than Beckerman (who is either a locker room guy, or a REALLY good practice player), every selection offers exciting potential. The trio of Scandinavian-based players have had solid runs for their clubs over the course of the year, while Corona and Torres have played consistent minutes in Mexico. Corona even has experience against big names in the Copa Libertadores (Xolos were a penalty kick save away from the semi-finals. They lost to Ronaldinho, Jo, and Bernard of Atletico Mineiro and Brazil), which is great for such a young player. There is no pressure on Holden, which should help him settle in and get his rhythm back.

One question still stands, though. Is there no holding midfielder worthy of fighting for a place, other than Beckerman? A position that seemed deep in 2010, considering Maurice Edu couldn't (and still can't) break the starting eleven, has run dry. Young MLS players will probably be given a chance only after 2014.


Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Herculez Gomez (Club Tijuana), Jack McInerney (Philadelphia Union), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

I would like to see Landon fill the Clint Dempsey role for the tournament because he seems to fit the position best. Though Landon is the only proven goal scorer at this level, it is encouraging to see names who have been performing well for their respective clubs. Wondo may not be at his best this season, but three consecutive seasons at the top of the scoring charts in MLS merits him a place on this team. At the very least, his and Herc's experience should help the younger guys.

Altidore finally found his shooting boots in June, but if he dries up again someone else will need to be relied on to find the back of the net. Hopefully McInerny and Bruin seize this opportunity and don't fall by the wayside like some other MLS stars have.


The fact that this is the Gold Cup, and not the Confeds, or the World Cup makes accepting this roster easier. There is a good mix of proven talent, players on the cusp of a breakthrough, and fresh blood. This team will have two games to start strong and potentially lock up a quarter-final berth. If the this group can jell quickly against Belize and Cuba, they should have plenty of confidence facing the toughest challengers Costa Rica.

With that said, there are no guarantees this squad will lift the trophy. Between whomever Mexico send (which I assume would also be a 'B' team), and other CONCACAF heavyweights, this figures to be a wide open competition. Expect lots of sloppy play.

Feel free to leave comments and feedback, suggest future topics to cover, whatever. Also follow me on Twitter @biasedsoccer