To Russia With Goals: USA v. Czech Republic

It begins again.

In less than a week, the United States will play the Czech Republic in Prague. The first friendly of the 2018 World Cup cycle will feature the United States playing a midlevel Czech Republic team in Europe.

It won’t be the marquee matchup that the near-game against Colombia would have been. It’s the first friendly after the 2014 World Cup, and it shouldn’t be a big test of the United States system. After the World Cup, players see a drop in fitness and slowly return back to their domestic clubs. This first match is the time to change the guard, and look forward to the next World Cup cycle.

Several players that were likely to feature for the United States will not be available. Aron Johannsson and Terrence Boyd are still recovering from injuries that will keep them out of competition until October. Danny Williams is still recovering from knee issues. Jermaine Jones has joined MLS. Oguchi Onyewu at 32 remains a free agent. Juan Agudelo is a free agent. Continue reading

Yedlin: Next big thing or the next small Brek? Why Tottenham is the wrong move

He was the bad shot that went in.

When Jurgen Klinsmann selected DeAndre Yedlin to be part of the World Cup squad, the move was widely criticized. Yedlin had shown flashes at the 2013 Under-20 World Cup, but his MLS career was marked by inconsistent performances. His selection was a long-shot move more familiar to a struggling high school football team than a surging national soccer team.

With his exceptional speed and noteworthy games against Portugal and Belgium, the Seattle right back has drawn attention from far and wide.  He was rumored to be on the way to Serie A and Roma only to have that move fizzle out. Now is apparently the time for Yedlin to move and Tottenham will win the race. The English Premier League side will acquire Yedlin for an American eye-popping, but mundane for larger European Club transfer fee. Yedlin’s transfer to Tottenham is the wrong move. Continue reading

Are goalkeepers prisoners of defense? A statistical look at MLS

Tim Howard had the greatest game ever…in a loss.

Effusive praise in other American sports is reserved solely for winners. Had Curt Schilling not won Game 6 he would not live in Boston lore. Michael Jordan’s buzzer beater in ’89 would have been forgotten if it had merely tied the game.

Yet, Tim Howard has become the most recognized US soccer player for his 15 save performance against Belgium. Howard kept the Belgians at bay for more than 90 minutes, in a game the US did not deserve to win. Perhaps collective wisdom is instructive in this case. Howard was merely at the mercy of his defense and midfield. He did all he could.

In 2012, San Jose won the regular season with the second worst goalkeeping in the league. That same year, Kansas City had the best goalkeeping and finished second. San Jose scored 15 more goals than anyone to compensate for a save percentage of 62.9%. Kansas City only scored 42 goals, the fewest among winning teams, while sporting a 75.4% save percentage. From this it seems odd to suggest that goalkeepers matter very little or are all that matters in soccer. However, it does open the question how much does a goalkeeper matter in soccer? Continue reading

US soccer and the economics of mediocrity

One goal from Thomas Muller and an entire nation began to cry. Only down one goal and with 78 minutes left to play, one German strike was enough to bring men, women, and children alike to tears. Just the prospect of having to consider defeat was unbearable, an emotional reaction to soccer many in this country would find unfathomable.

The United States’ loss to Belgium almost two weeks earlier came with no tears to be found. There was no dirge for the end of DaMarcus Beasley’s career, no inquest for why Jurgen didn’t get the team to at least where we were in 2002 and no public excoriation for the disappointing play of Michael Bradley.

Instead, it was raving about the wonderful play of 21-year-old DeAndre Yedlin, and the goal of 19-year-old Julian Green. It was the quintessential “we’ll get ‘em next year” sort of response, always focusing on the next big thing and not the haunting disappointment of the past. Always about the sell of what’s next. Continue reading