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matthew doyle

04 September 7:25 pm

Highly caffeinated Seattle Sounders beat writer Jeremiah Oshan got confirmation from SSFC general manager Adrian Hanauer that former Chelsea, Barcelona, Tottenham, Monaco, Fulham, Stoke City, AEK Athens and (insert 10 more clubs here) attacker Eidur Gudjohnsen will be training with the team this week. No promises made beyond that yet.

Read all about it at Sounder at Heart. Or if you prefer the pure, untainted original, I hope your Icelandic's good.

01 September 6:37 pm

I haven't found anything officially official yet, and I'm probably not going to because I don't read Swedish, but this guy was nice enough to tweet in English for us Yanks:

Brought to my attention by the always excellent Jonathan Tannenwald of Philly.com. Give him a follow on Twitter.

So... how should Americans feel about this? Our coach is leaving for a team that's a darkhorse candidate to win the 2015 Women's World Cup in Canada - Sweden haven't been a true contender for almost a decade, but are most definitely on the up.

My vote goes to "We should feel grateful to her and absolutely, positively understand this move." Sundhage's teams didn't always play beautiful soccer - ok, they freaking rarely played beautiful soccer - but they sure won a hell of a lot. They also gave us some of the most thrilling finishes in the history of the game and - hopefully, anyway - laid the groundwork for a sustainable top flight women's league in North America.

So good luck, Pia. You have our gratitude and best wishes.

See you in Canada.

29 August 2:00 pm

Do you like the Caleb Porter signing for Portland? Because I do.

Here are a couple of positives:

He'll likely keep Darlington Nagbe playing like this. Way back in February, everybody in Timbers camp assured me that Nagbe was one of the most talented players in the league. Then head coach John Spencer went so far as to say he's the most talented player in MLS.

I shook it off as a coach predictably trying to build the confidence of a youngster who'd shown flashes, but didn't seem to have the mindset (or a clear position) to be successful. Nagbe didn't score enough to play as a second forward, didn't pass aggressively enough to be a No. 10, and didn't work the flanks like a winger. Barring the Goal of the Year vs. Sporting KC, his 2011 season was, frankly, disappointing. He was a guy you'd want on your side in five-v-five keep-aways, but not in a game that counts.

GOAL: Nagbe puts the Timbers ahead

And that continued to be the story until about three weeks ago. Something clicked, and now Nagbe is a devastating force any time he's in the final third. Y.P. Lee doesn't get left on his rear too often, but that's exactly what happened this weekend when Nagbe scored the opener in the 2-1 win over the Whitecaps.

I'm happy about this not just because the Timbers deserve a bit of luck, but because Nagbe is in the process of getting his US citizenship (and is reportedly fairly close). And anyone who's playing this well, and is that tidy with the ball, will hopefully translate that to the international level.

Porter, of course, coached Nagbe at Akron, and brought the best out of him there. So purely from a "Selfish US Fan" perspective — yes, I like this hire.

I also like what Porter's done with Akron. Recruiting to northeast Ohio is, we'll say, just a bit harder than recruiting to Westwood or Chapel Hill. He had a vision for his program, and saw it out against fairly significant odds.

That success in the college ranks is actually a pretty good predictor of MLS success. It's something I had the chance to talk with Frankie Hejduk about last season, as he was riding the wave to his second Shield/Cup double with one of the great teams in MLS history. He'd done so before, back in 2008 with the Columbus Crew — one of the other great teams in MLS history.

To paraphrase, Hejduk felt that the biggest similarity between the 2011 Galaxy and 2008 Crew was the way the teams were managed. Bruce Arena and Sigi Schmid — the two best managers in MLS history (apologies to Dom Kinnear) — had created an atmosphere that Hejduk compared to college, an atmosphere of competitiveness but unity that he said doesn't often exist at the professional level.

Coming from a guy who's played in the UEFA Champions League, the CONCACAF Champions League, a pair of World Cups and won the Supporters' Shield winners in three different decades, that observation has some weight.

Porter, by all accounts, is cut from the same cloth. A lot of people see a college background as a handicap, but Frankie and I see it as a plus.

And here are the negatives:

Porter's Under-23 Olympic qualifying team was lamentably rigid. He stayed with the 4-3-3 come hell or high water, and the US both burned and drowned. The Canadians exposed his squad badly, and then he failed to adjust for the group finale against El Salvador. You want to forget, but you remember.

It's a case of him failing to make the best use of his available resources. This past U-23 group was loaded with pacey wingers and fullbacks who can cross, and big, strong forwards who can finish those crosses. A 4-4-2 was called for given the personnel — imagine El Salvador trying to contain Terrence Boyd and Will Bruin, just for a moment if you would. It's laughable.

But the adjustment never came. It was 4-3-3 to the very end, and it was ugly. The good news for Timbers fans is that he hasn't been that rigid at Akron, so perhaps it wasn't really his call with the U-23s.

He gets cute and plays guys out of position far too often for my tastes. Sometimes the best bet is just to keep it simple, and he seems to be against doing that a bit too often. I don't know if it's because he's young or if it's just how he's wired, but it definitely puts a ceiling on my expectations from him.

Anybody who watched MLS in 2011 — anybody! — could've told you that Perry Kitchen (another Akron product) was going to struggle at central defense in Olympic qualifying. It was also fairly apparent even at that point that Amobi Okugo would end up being a backliner.

Yet Kitchen spent the tournament in the heart of defense, while Okugo played defensive mid. Five months later, that's practically inconceivable.

Not to sell the job short, but 90 percent of managing is keeping the players pointed in the right direction emotionally and then putting everyone in the right spots on the pitch. I have little doubt that Porter will be successful at the first (I can't stress this enough: Every single player I've talked to who's played for him at any level absolutely loves him).

For the second ... if I were a Timbers fan, that's where my worries would be.

27 August 7:05 pm

All 32 goals from Week 25 action. Three belong to Fredy Montero, three to Federico Higuain. Two each to Alan Gordon, Simon Dawkins... and Kei Kamara.

Ouch.

ALL GOALS FROM MLS Week 25

20 August 8:43 pm

A few weeks ago, I was pretty convinced that the Western Conference playoff race was over. Sure, Chivas USA were lurking around, and Colorado had some pieces in place, but neither really seemed threatening.

LA, meanwhile, were heating up, and Vancouver seemed rock-solid despite overhauling their roster.

Fast forward to this week. The 'Caps have lost two in a row, and are just 3-6-3 in their last 12. They're right there with the Galaxy on 37 points, and should be safe, but ... here come FC Dallas.

They've been a new team since David Ferreira has returned to fitness, and the reigning MLS Player of the Week just so happened to eviscerate the Whitecaps last Wednesday in a 2-0 win at BC Place. Brek Shea has come to life for club and country, while Fabián Castillo has started to look the part of a Designated Player thanks largely to the space Ferreira has created for him in attack.

They've just been missing one piece: center forward Blas Pérez. The big Panamanian was one of the stars of the early-going this year, but has missed much of the last several months with both injuries and personal tragedy when his father passed away.

It's been a long road back. Which probably made this tweet that much more satisfying:

15 August 10:14 pm

Well ... that was cathartic. Jurgen Klinsmann didn't do everything I'd have done, but he definitely got the formation and shape right. That's a big step in the right direction. Here are three things we learned from the US national team's first victory in Mexico in 75 years.

1. This is now Geoff Cameron's backline

We at MLSsoccer.com have been talking all week about how a generational shift in the center of defense has been needed.

Carlos Bocanegra has been a great captain and, at times, a great defender, but he's well past his prime. Oguchi Onyewu, meanwhile, simply hasn't ever recovered from that 2009 knee injury. We saw that much against Antigua and Barbuda. The other option recently has been Clarence Goodson, who is tissue-paper soft.

So that left first Bob Bradley, then Jurgen Klinsmann with the task of developing the next generation of central defenders, and to be honest, it didn't go as quickly as I'd have liked. I ripped Klinsmann in my column last Friday for sticking with the old guard for too long, and did the same to Bradley last summer after the Gold Cup disappointment.

The Antigua game, and the disappointing 1-1 draw with Guatemala that followed it, drove the point home, apparently. Klinsmann kicked "tried and true" to the curb in favor of Cameron and Maurice Edu, and was rewarded with one of the best defensive performances in years (this was miles better than the Italy game, in which the US were bailed out repeatedly by a flag-happy linesman).

Cameron was flawless for 80 minutes on the night, both in his distribution (expected) and positioning (a happy surprise). He'd struggled at times with Houston this year, playing more loosely than he should have. That was nowhere to be found against Mexico.

Edu was nearly as good, bar a couple of miscommunications in distribution. They both flagged down the final 10 minutes, but that's to be expected at the Azteca.

But man, was that a big step in the right direction.

The one concern now is that they both land with clubs that are only interested in playing them at midfield. Hopefully Stoke City and Valencia, or Ipswich Town, or whoever is going to sign Edu, watched this game and realized that these guys are defenders, not midfielders.

2. There may be no place to play Jose Torres against good competition

Look, he's gotten plenty of chances. On Wednesday he played 45 minutes with three defensive midfielders behind him, two pure attackers in front of him and a pair of fullbacks who could and would overlap if there was space. It was exactly what I asked for — a chance to see the guy playing his natural spot with plenty of support around him.

And Torres did nothing on either side of the ball. There is absolutely no reason to trust him against top competition at this point, especially if they're physical.

Would you want him out there against Jamaica next month when the games count?

Neither would I.

3. These aren't new tactics

When Klinsmann came aboard, he talked about playing a new, proactive style that would impose the game upon the opposition.

Those were his words. But his deeds have been the total opposite. His team stays deep, defends in numbers and punishes mistakes. They never hog the ball unless it happens to be against Scotland or the like.

That's been the recipe against top teams for 25 years (with a few exceptions). I recently rewatched the 0-0 draw from 1998 World Cup qualifying, and defensively it was pretty much a mirror image of this game.

So full credit to Klinsmann for realizing that, if he wants to write a new manual, he should at least master the old one first.

14 August 2:59 pm

You've probably heard by now that Maurice Edu is most likely going to get a start in central defense for the US against Mexico on Wednesday night.

Jurgen Klinsmann has his reasons. First and foremost is that none of the newcomers in the US central defensive player pool — including Geoff Cameron — have shown that they're ready to lock down a starting spot. So Klinsmann has to turn every card he can looking for an ace.

Secondly, though — and this is pure speculation on my part — this might be a chance for Valencia to see what Edu looks like on the backline against top competition.

Valencia have been the third-best team in Spain for about the past 15 years, meaning that their interest in Edu is a gigantic step up from Rangers, or whatever mid-table French side is pursuing him. And we know how Klinsmann feels about stepping up to the next level.

But there's virtually no chance that Edu can play in the midfield for a team of Valencia's caliber. He doesn't read the game well enough in 360 degrees, and is always more comfortable when things are playing out in front of him. We've also seen plenty of shanked 22-yard shots from him, enough to know that he's not going to add Michael Bradley-esque offense when pushing forward.

What Edu has the raw materials for, however, is the center of defense. I think Valencia see that much, and I also think that if he'd gone anywhere but Rangers he'd have been pushed into that spot after his great performance there in the 2008 Olympics.

So if you're a fan of both the US and La Liga, keep your fingers crossed that Edu has a blinder on Wednesday night. If he does, it could mean a move to the Mediterranean will soon follow.

25 July 10:52 pm

Halftime analysis from Chelsea TV: "It feels quite like an exhibition, doesn't it?"

Yes, yes it does.

The MLS All-Star Game is great for the pomp and pagaentry, for the chance to see the guys who are ostensibly the league's best gathered in one spot, and for the chance to heckle one European superstar or another (this year's target, courtesy of the Sons of Ben, appeared to be Frank Lampard. Bold choice that didn't quite work out).

But just as in other leagues, the All-Star Game doesn't quite run in the red. Players have a little more time and space, tackles are a little less meaningful and complaints to the ref are a little less vociferous than they'd otherwise be.

Bear all that in mind when trying to delve into the 90 minutes we just saw, and don't be too firm in the conclusions you've drawn.

With that caveat, here are three things we learned from the 3-2 MLS victory...

Ozzie Alonso can play in any league in the world

Alonso comes up short vs. a number of MLS d-mids in terms of passing ability. He's not a time-keeper like Kyle Beckerman or Dax McCarty, and when he gets frustrated, he'll play it long a bit too often. He never would have hit that pass to Eddie Johnson for the game-winner.

Many coaches would make that sacrifice, however, for his ability to win the second ball. Alonso is simply phenomenal at it, whether it's against Chivas USA or Chelsea FC.

Basketball coaches talk about guys like Kevin Love or — two decades ago — Dennis Rodman, and their "Rebounding Gene." They just, somehow, know how to read the shot, the angle, the momentum, the spacing of players, and get themselves into the right spot to grab the ball.

That's the nearest approximation I can make for Alonso's ability to gobble up everything in midfield. It's uncanny, like a mutant superpower. And while he may not be as well-rounded as other d-mids out there, his ability in this particular area does so much in terms of freeing the rest of the midfield to play higher that it's, at this point, incalculable.

With all that in mind, I'm kind of stunned that no Euro team has made the Sounders an offer they can't refuse. Having that one world-class skill out there would have a multiplying effect on the abilities of the rest of the players on any team. Period.

With All-Star teams, simpler is better

Ben Olsen started his side out in a 4-4-1-1 and basically kept them there all night. It didn't exactly make for elegant build-up (especially against Chelsea's 4-2-3-1), but in those rare moments that the field opened up and the All-Stars got moving forward, opportunities for flowing, aggressive counterattacks were there. That's about the best you can ask for from a team playing with one day of practice under their belt.

Defensively, it was even more important to keep it simple. Chelsea had their chances, sure, but it's worth noting that their goals came off a set piece and a goalkeeper error. That can happen no matter the formation.

Point is, keeping it simple was Olsen's way of keeping his team from making the errors that have plagued the All-Stars the last two times out. It's also why most tactical experimentation takes place at the club level, where coaches have their players for 10 months out of 12, rather than at the national team level, where the best most managers can hope for is a two-week camp. Can't reinvent the wheel on a deadline.

Balance is the most important physical asset for any soccer player

We didn't really learn this today (or the other two, to be honest), but it bears repeating here anyway.

Too often we get caught up in size, speed, strength, leaping ability, etc etc etc. And all of those are valuable (some more than others). But give me an athlete who can stay on his feet when everyone else around him is getting corkscrewed into the ground, and I can build you a soccer player.

The extreme version is Lionel Messi, obviously. His balance is the most outstanding physical trait in the history of the game.

On Wednesday night in Chester, Pa., it was Chris Wondolowski who stood out, particularly on his goal. When he scored, my Twitter timeline filled up with "Typical Wondo goal" and "All he had to do was put it in" and the like.

And, well, yeah. That's the point, isn't it? He was able to get into position in front of goal then stay on his feet in a situation where most strikers would have taken a tumble. Look at how quickly he stops his momentum, squares and finishes. It's not rocket science.

I'll leave you with a thought from the great George Best, talking about — appropriately — former Chelsea and LA Galaxy head coach Ruud Gullit in Andrew Godsell's Europe United:

"Ruud Gullit is a great player by any standards. He has all the skills. He's not afraid to do things with the ball. And he looks as if he's enjoying every second of it. By my reckoning, that's what makes him an even better player than Maradona. Both have the key quality you will find in all the best players: balance."

It's the truth at any level.

19 July 1:57 am

SEATTLE - The "Roger Levesque denouement" story will come sometime in the next couple of days. I'm not the one to write it - Levesque has a special place in Sounders lore, and it'll take someone who's steeped in said lore to do his story justice.

But as a neutral, and as a fan of the league, just know this: A life-long sub, a guy who was never the best player on the field at any point during his professional career, just got a standing ovation from 50,000 fans on a random Wednesday night in July. He hung around out there for 45 minutes afterward signing autographs, mingling with hoi polloi, and basically embodying everything about what must have been a wild trip.

Levesque, like so many other American kids, began playing before there was even a professional soccer league here in the States. He started his pro career bouncing between MLS and the lower divisions. And he finished it on a field surrounded by World Cup stars, European champions and teammates from 14 different countries while 50,000 people screamed his name back and forth.

It's been his own journey, but while watching it was hard not to think of how far we've all come.

Anyway, bon voyage, Roger. Thanks for the moment.

 

17 July 6:57 pm

SEATTLE — One question that fans often ask me is "Which MLS team has the best training facilities?" My answer is always, "I don't know," since I've never actually made a study of it and always forget to ask people who have.

That said, judging by the reactions of Chelsea FC ahead of Wednesday night's Herbalife World Football Challenge opener against Seattle (9:30 pm ET; ESPN2), the Sounders may be the odds-on favorites.

That's French for "Holy crap, this place is diesel!"

Praise for the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton — about 25 minutes from downtown Seattle — has been a recurring theme amongst both the Chelsea players and staff.

"First I have to say is the facilities, the training ground is really unbelievable," winger Marko Marin said on Tuesday. "I never saw something like this — so big and everything."

Branislav Ivanovic had said something similar on Monday after a kick-around with members of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks (with whom the Sounders share the facility). And head coach Roberto Di Matteo was simple and to the point: "Very, very good," he offered.

So there you have it. Not a definitve answer by any means, but a neat little data point along the way.