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Armchair Analyst

14 December 7:27 pm

First of all, go ahead and bookmark this site right here: CLICK ME! It's an invaluable resource for anybody who cares about US soccer in general, and the US Open Cup in particular.

And if you don't care about the US Open Cup ... what the hell is wrong with you? It's one of the world's oldest tournaments, features huge upsets pretty much ever year, and is a breeding ground for future MLS stars. Yeah, the MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield may get your juices flowing a little more, but a cup's a cup. Anybody should be ecstatic to win one.

And it looks like, in 2013, the Sounders will have two shots to get back to the mountain top.

Not only are the big boy Sounders automatically drawn into the competition (along with the other 15 US-based MLS teams), but the Sounders U-23s have earned themselves a spot as well. There's no official announcement as of yet (US Soccer tends to take its time with USOC-related stuff), but according to TheCup.us' sources, Seattle's U-23s are in it by virtue of a first-place finish in the PDL's Northwest Division.

Second in the Northwest Division, by the way? That'd be the Portland Timbers U-23s, who are in the Cup (announcement pending!) for the second straight year.

So it looks like we could have two separate cases of fratricide, should the brackets work out just so. And should Cal FC not crash the party this time around.

EDIT: And our good friends at SounderAtHeart just sent us this:

So yeah, US Soccer may not have confirmed yet. But this one sure looks like it's good to go.

09 December 11:35 pm

At worst, he's the third-greatest player ever. Even if he never wins a World Cup, he has a legit shot at No. 1.

Here you go, all 86 (and counting) of Lionel Messi's goals in the 2012 calendar year:

(In case you were wondering:

  1. Pelé
  2. Maradona
  3. Messi
  4. Di Stéfano
  5. Beckenbauer

Let the whinging begin)

05 December 7:13 pm

You bet your sweet bippy.

Here it is on r/MLS, the 2012, end-of-season awards. And I am awesome.

Does this kind of dominance come naturally, you may wonder?

It would be immodest to say "yes." It would also be wrong. As Malcolm Gladwell so eloquently (read: dubiously) explained in his pop-psychology best-seller Outliers, there may very well be a thing called "The 10,000 Hour Rule." And that if any talentless hack does one specific task for 10,000 hours or more, he'll probably get pretty good at it.

I guarantee you I've wasted 10,000 hours on the internet. Hell, I've probably done 20,000 hours. I remember 'TheSpark' before it became 'SparkNotes.' I spent hours on SoccerAmerica:Graffiti. I ran a linkshell in FFXI, for God's sake.

That's why I'm beating a World Cup veteran (Hi, Alexi!) and my boss (Um.. sorry, Chris) combined.

To blatantly rip off Stephen Colbert: I am like an athlete who has trained his entire life for a race he never knew was coming. And that race is "internet."

Thank you for your votes.

I'm Matt Doyle, and I approve this message.

05 December 4:44 pm

Good supporters' group songs in MLS have a way of going viral. Everybody steals (borrows, improves upon, whatever) from everybody else.

And the song of recent vintage that's done the rounds the most is "I Believe That We Will Win." Since coming to MLS via the Red Bull Arena SouthWard in summer 2010 (and if you have evidence someone else in the league did it earlier, do go ahead and post it in the comments below), it's become a de rigeur chant.

Let's face it, though: KC does it best. The Cauldron absolutely owns this one.

Anyway, here's what our guy Shawn Francis over at TheOffsideRules called the song's "own, heart-fluttering short film," courtesy of the American Outlaws. It looks like it was shot primarily (completely?) at Livestrong Sporting Park and the surrounding drinking establishments before/during/after the recent US national team game vs. Guatemala, and it is pretty damn awesome:

04 December 8:28 pm

If you're the type of person who misses the 3 am ET wake-up calls of the 2002 World Cup and loves obscure New Zealand semi-pro teams, then you're in luck. Because the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup starts Thursday at some point. When, I'm not certain, because you need a degree in physics to figure out the time zone differentials.

But we'll let the good folks at KICKTV give us a handy-dandy cheat sheet so that you don't miss a minute of action.

04 December 5:43 pm

If you clicked because of that title ,you should be ashamed of yourself.

Anyway, Dortmund finished atop the UEFA Champions League "Group of Death" thanks to their 1-0 win over Manchester City on Tuesday (side note: LOL!). That means one of the other group winners will have to face Real Madrid in the Round of 16, and also that City finished with the worst group record of any EPL side in Champions League history, with just three points.

Mostly, though, this is all an excuse to post video of Dortmund's secret weapon, "Footbonaut." Resistance is futile:

Hat tip to Goal.com's Seth Vertelney for the video. This thing is both awesome and ridiculous.

04 December 4:10 pm

Robbie Russell, a veteran of MLS, Norway, and both the UEFA and CONCACAF Champions Leagues, appears to be hanging it up. The 33-year-old right back battled through injuries with D.C. United last year, but still had enough in the tank to set up the decisive goal vs. New York in his team's victory in the Eastern Conference Championship.

This all courtesy of a tweet from The Washington Post's Steven Goff:

Note the adverb sneaking its way in there — that "probably" does leave the door open a crack. But with age catching up to him and Andy Najar looking like a long-term solution at right back, it's hard to imagine Russell making it past 2013.

30 November 4:16 pm

We'll have more coming on this in a bit, but for the time being, let's just link out to Grant Wahl's sit-down with AEG honcho Tim Leiweke, who we all thought would be busy finding "The Beckham Replacement" over the next couple of months.

Turns out that timeframe may have been compressed a bit:

"We're well aware of Kaká's interest in MLS, and we in turn have made it very clear to him that he's aware of our interest in him," Leiweke told Wahl on Friday. "We have a great relationship with Real Madrid, and just as we worked through a player with them six years ago [Beckham], I'm absolutely convinced we could find the right deal this time, too."

The transfer window officially opens on January 1. The silly season, it seems, is open already.

As usual, the whole article is worth a read.

28 November 7:24 pm

There has been no one clearly dominant player in college soccer this year. There's actually been a bunch of them.

And after a somewhat (OK, mostly) laughable preseason Hermann Trophy watch list, the NSCAA got things largely right with their 15-strong roll call of semifinalists.

Of course, the two guys they missed — CSU Bakersfield's Gyasi Zardes and Indiana University's Eriq Zavaleta — are Nos. 1 and 3 on our Big Board, and both sure-fire pros as soon as they decide to put pen to paper. Zardes is an LA Galaxy Academy product who reportedly turned down a Homegrown contract last year, and led the Roadrunners with 15 goals and nine assists as a redshirt junior. Zavaleta, a true sophomore, has 17 goals and three assists, and has led the Hoosiers into the NCAA Tournament's final eight.

So yeah, a couple of big names missing from the list, which is below:

Name Class Position School
Carlos Alvarez Sr. M UConn
Don Anding Sr. F Northwestern
Ashton Bennett Sr. F Coastal Carolina
Scott Caldwell Sr. M Akron
Mamadou Doudou Diouf Jr. F UConn
Andrew Farrell Jr. D Louisville
Ryan Finley Sr. F Notre Dame
Jose Gomez Sr. M Creighton
Daniel Haber Jr.  F Cornell
Robbie Kristo So. F St. Louis
Patrick Mullins Jr. F Maryland
Steve Neumann Jr. F Georgetown
Dillon Powers Sr. M Notre Dame
Devon Sandoval Sr. F New Mexico
Chris Thomas Sr. F Elon

Note the number of seniors, which speaks well of the chances for a third consecutive strong SuperDraft. I can't pretend to have watched as much college soccer this year as guys like Daniel Robertson, who provides our MLS on Campus coverage, and Travis Clark, who does great work for TopDrawerSoccer.com, but I've seen my fair share, and most of these guys have a future. I particularly like Alvarez and Diouf, because I am a UConn homer, and Sandoval, because he will be the next Steven Lenhart. Seriously, you will either love or hate him.

Odds-on favorite at this point? Probably Notre Dame's Finley, who scored 21 goals and added four assists for the Fighting Irish. All as a sub, which either makes it way more impressive or way more confusing.

Notre Dame, by the way, lost to Indiana last weekend in the Round of 16. Zavaleta scored the game-winner.

Some things are better than trophies.

14 November 11:57 am

When it comes to friendlies, Tim Howard may be the greatest 'keeper in the world. He's the hero of Wednesday's 2-2 draw.

And when it comes to soccer, the US are still better playing direct, simple stuff than trying to be Spain. No, you're not going to get many results if you rely primarily on running volleys from outside the 18. But at least that's a club the US have in the bag. Tika-taka isn't.

Anyway, here's what we learned in order of importance:

Jurgen Klinsmann's message got through to Jozy Altidore loud and clear

He wasn't Pelé out there, but he didn't need to be. What the US forwards have done well since the days of Wynalda (and probably before) is work damn hard on both sides of the ball. Even Jozy's done that well at times in his career — notably the summers of 2009 and 2010, and as recently as as last year against Slovenia when his pressure led to Edson Buddle's goal.

That Jozy was back against the Russians. There was little combination play to speak of in the final third — something we'll get to in point No. 2 — but Altidore can't be blamed for that. What he should get credit for is pressuring the Russian backs and checking to midfield constantly, offering a largely outskilled and creatively bereft midfield an outlet when they got in trouble.

And again, he wasn't perfect in that. But he was really good, won a ton of possession-positive headers, found space a few times to let rip, and made a bunch of unselfish runs off the ball. If there was any justice, he'd have gotten a better touch on that Fabian Johnson pass in the 70th minute.

You can have two of Danny Williams, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones on the field at the same time

Any more than two and you get a midfield that plays like ... well, like what we saw today. I don't know how many times we have to see that during Klinsmann's tenure, but let's add a "+1" after Wednesday's draw.

The slightly mitigating factor is that the Williams/Bradley/Jones trio looked a bit more useful when Klinsmann switched away from the 4-3-3 to a lopsided 4-4-2 with 25 minutes to go (with Williams eventually coming off for the effective Mo Edu, which is a like-for-like switch).

The improvement makes sense since the US, as a whole, were much better in 1-v-1 situations than they were in combination play — a bizarre thing to say/think about a team with such strong Bundesliga influences. And, of course, because it opened up space for Bradley to move forward. Without that switch he's nowhere near Juan Agudelo's knock-back header to find the equalizer.

The 4-3-3 can still work with this team, but it needs a midfield trio that can hold the ball and build chances. Williams/Bradley/Jones ain't it.

Josh Gatt is still more athlete than soccer player

I've been harping on this a lot, as I often do with Youtube heroes. And I'm not going to stop.

The player Gatt reminds me of most is Dane Richards. He's got a ton of speed — both at the start and the top end — and can make things happen in the open field pretty damn well. He also attacks the back post ferociously, a prerequisite for any winger in a 4-3-3 (which is what Gatt is for his club team in Molde, and was on Wednesday as well).

However, at this point, he's unable to make decisions in possession, and defensively he's an absolute nightmare. Any simple one-two left him undone (witness his last action of the game, in the 62nd minute), and the Russians went at him incessantly during the game's first 20-odd minutes.

He got better as the half went on, but right now he's a significantly inferior soccer player — and national team prospect — to guys like Chris Pontius, Nick DeLeon and, quite obviously, Graham Zusi.

But figuring out stuff like that is what friendlies are for.

Bonus thought: Once again, the US played better when Sacha Kljestan came on

Other than Landon Donovan, no one in the US pool sees the game quicker. And he's become much, much stronger on the ball in the past two years. If it were my call, his name would be on the starting XI in pen.