2006 Season Review: RBNY (and, yeah, I'm still alive)

For those interested in such things, I'm still plugging away at my 2006 season review series for Write On Sports. Today's installment features Red Bull New York, for whom I saw a wretched past and, in spite of said past, somehow predicted a happier future.

In any case, this will be the extent of my posting until after the New Year.

Still, that Eskandarian trade....that's something.


Knives Come Out for Adu

The Boston Globe ran an article today by a guy named Steve James, oh whom I had never heard. While it doesn't cover unfamiliar ground - how Freddie Adu's actual talent relates to the hype - the article contains some of the most cutting judgments I've yet seen.

All the barbs break skin, but the LA Times' Grahame Jones is the only one who twists the knife:

"He is a gifted player for his age but nothing special, even within the limited talent field that is MLS. His training with Manchester United was more of a courtesy by Man U toward MLS than an expression of serious interest and from what I hear he did not overly impress."

"Perhaps in time and with the right coaching, he might become a useful journeyman player but at the moment he is quite ordinary."


I have to confess that I'm not sold on Adu either. And I remain in a holding pattern on the latest great hype, Josmer Altidore. Believe me, I want him to be everything fans expect, but I'm definitely going to wait till he gets there to annoint him.


Bradley, Nowak, the Past...Love or Something Else?

Not surprisingly, I'm finding more stuff on the already mentioned ascension of Piotr Nowak to role of assistant coach with various parts of the national team program.

Joining an ever-lengthening list of relevant facts that completely slipped my mind today was the fact that Bob Bradley and Piotr Nowak have worked together closely before - e.g. as captain and coach of the Chicago Fire from 1998 to 2002. It took this article to jog my memory...I have no excuse.

On ESPN's site, Andrea Canales makes a pretty good case for the wisdom of this move, identifying it as a sign that Bradley "has just begun to fight" to make the USMNT job permanent. Still, I was gratified to see I wasn't the only one wondering about the relationship. In an apparently prescient post to his blog about Tom Soehn replacing Nowak at DC United, Ives Galarcep suggested the possibility of Nowak joining Bradley in the U.S. program. But he also tucked in the following toward the bottom:

"This is also assuming Bradley has forgiven Nowak for all his Jose Mourinho-like sideline histrionics, some of which have definitely rubbed Bradley the wrong way."

The "this" refers the question of whether Bradley would try to pick up Nowak. We know that happened. The question is how far Canales is correct in dubbing this a career-preserving maneuver against the more immediate question of how well Bradley and Nowak will work together in roles more equal than those they had with the Fire.


Landing Beckham Using the Rule - Potholes & Obligations

The San Diego Union-Tribune's Mark Zeigler went that extra little mile once again in reminding folks just how tricky - and, potentially, expensive - bringing David Beckham to Los Angeles might be. The devil plays in the numbers:

"There are several factors to consider, not the least of which is it's gonna get expensive. His annual salary is in the neighborhood of $8 million after taxes, which converts to $10 million-plus before them. He could leave Real Madrid on a free transfer when his contract expires in May, but anyone wanting to lock him up in the January window would have to pay Real Madrid a transfer fee that could push well into eight figures."

Ah, yes, the transfer fee. I mean, good golly, I know all this stuff, but it slips my mind more often than I care to admit. Don't know about anyone else, but I'm reading that to say we won't be seeing David Beckham sporting an LA Galaxy jersey in January. On the other hand, if I were Beckham and I was bored of riding pain in Madrid and generally interested in a comparatively anonymous lifestyle (I think "comparative" is the best he can expect), I'd figure I was already rich, take the pay cut, and go play in LA. Apart from explaining why I'm not rich, it's also fair to admit few people share my views on accumulating wealth.

That's all good and well, but the best part of this article comes with a quote from "superagent" Richard Motzkin:

“Do I think we'll see Beckham next year? I don't know. I'd say it's 50-50. But I would like to think the player for whom the rule is named would have enough appreciation of that fact that it would sway his decision.”

Perhaps after recoiling from the stalking ex-boyfriend desperation contained in that comment, Beckham will mull the move in earnest. ("C'mon, baby! I cut my chest for YOU!!)


Soehn/Nowak: Coaching Carousel on Hyperdrive

Some mornings, you expect to ease into the day - then the first thing you read is that Tom Soehn was appointed head coach of DC United and that Piotr Nowak will hook up with the U.S. National Team as an assistant (LINK).

Holy crap.

I don't know enough about Soehn to comment on how he'll do; I only know he has been linked to every coaching vacancy over the past three years at least. Based on that, it seems most people expect him to do well. And, to be unfair to Nowak, the second half of 2006 could very well have been the equivalent of an ailing marriage; maybe a change will do some good.

As for the Nowak move, that one leaves me a little uneasy. Nowak seems a pretty driven fella, one whose ego may strain in the role of second banana. But that's just an impression; Bob Bradley thinks clearly thinks otherwise and he certainly knows Nowak better than some schlump observing things from Portland, Oregon. Still, if I'm watching for anything with this hire, it's for distracting tension between Bradley and Nowak.

Big change though, huh?


2006 Season Review: Colorado

So, I'm not wild about the headline I chose - I threw out something tentative and never got around to correcting it - but think the rest of it came out OK.

For those interested in one person's recap of the Colorado Rapids' 2006, follow the link and have a read.


MVB Archives: Rounding Out October '06

Given how much energy I put into the first round of the playoffs, it's a miracle I found time to talk about anything else in Major League Soccer (MLS) - and yet I did. While he's hardly at fault - I accept full responsibility for my mania - Brian Garrison of An American's View somehow tricked me into floating a proposal for revamping MLS's regular season/playoff format/etc that had as much chance of adoption as I've got of sprouting wings and flying to the moon to eat green cheese. Seriously, that was a fun project that I kind of let peter out...and with admittedly few regrets. Thomas More wrote Utopia some centuries ago, right? And he did a better job.

Still, that was some time taken.

Returning to the matter at hand, though - that'd be the playoffs - it's fair to say I obsessed a bit. How much? Oh (LINK) just a little; though it got (LINK) pretty bad (LINK) whenever (LINK) I dealt with (LINK) New England. Still, they rescued me from my pessimism and that provided a happy moment or two. Surprisingly, all that takes us only so far as the end of the first round.

Interesting as all that was (to me anyway) the end of the first-round produced another interesting story in 2006: late-game/post-game brawls, especially in the Western Conference. Bad as the Houston Dynamo-Chivas USA brawl seemed to me at the time, it was the FC Dallas-Colorado Rapids affair that carried more long-term consequences. Whether or not some suspensions were just, it was kind of refreshing, if a little jarring, to see so much passion among the players.

Here's to hoping that emotion carries over to the 2007 regular season, where the all teams could certainly use it...in a constructive way that conforms to the league's rules, of course...

U.S. Camp: Early (Involved) Commentary

All y'all know by know that "Coach" Bradley called in 29 players for his inaugural training camp (list here). And, judging by my choice of headlines, I've got to be the last amateur pundit to look into this. But that's not completely true (I'm not slacking!): I did sneak an update into yesterday's post on USA Today's Q & A with Bradley.

Even there, though, I touched on the roster only tangentially. Before seeing it, however, I voiced one hope for Bradley's tenure:

"I'm hoping he begins by showing a willingness to build the team as opposed to playing for results by calling in veteran players. I'd like to think that would make a better impression with the right people."

According to the training camp report Steve Davis turned into ESPN, that's precisely what we can expect from Bradley's tenure:

"That in itself confirms a little something, although nothing shocking: that Bradley understands his work is all about development, and that he won't stray from that endeavor in some thinly veiled gambit to win insignificant matches and solidify his hold on the spot."

Well, super. I'm still on the same page with Bradley.

Davis' piece ain't bad, but it's also nowhere near as involved as the efforts turned in by heavy-hitters Ives Galarcep (LINK) and Marc Connolly (LINK). Both pundits pick through the names, explain eye-raising absences (Brian Ching (bum knee) and Brad Davis (wedding), to name two), and propose rosters for the January friendly against Denmark; hell, Connolly proposes three and tinkers with formation as well. My level of enthusiasm - which I'd compare in terms of relative satisfaction to coming across a thimble-full of water after crawling out of the desert - doesn't compel me to look at this in similar detail, but I have a thought or two on some questions they mentioned:

1) Justin Mapp: The time is now to start him on the left.

2) Michael Parkhurst: ditto - the time is now to play him. Groom him now, figure out where he'll work best. Concerns about size do come into play, but now is the time to see whether he can massage these at the international level as well as he does in MLS.

3) Twellman: As much as I like Twellman (love/irk sums it up fairly), I'd leave him on the bubble and give others more time to earn the spot; I'm thinking mainly of Nate Jaqua and Kenny Cooper here. If they fail, then recall Twellman and see what he does. In a related note, I see more in Jaqua than Galarcep; as he would say, that's just my opinion (and he's correct about that).

4) In yesterday's post, I mentioned that I liked seeing Eskandarian in the mix. I still do, but respect Davis' "mild surprise" at Esky's inclusion. It's been a while. To be honest, the same goes for Joshua Gros, who, as I saw it, seemed to fade deep in the past season.

Obviously, there's talking points to keep us chatting past the New Year in there, but that's all for now.

Trying Out in Toronto

I'm only flagging this Toronto Sun article about Toronto FC's open tryouts because it contains an interesting line of thinking. For those unfamiliar with the story, Toronto FC invited the locals down to strut their stuff, but they did so with the lowest of expectations and using a strange-ish format: a series of 60-minute, 6-a-side games - and the axe fell damned quickly after for the overwhelming majority of players.

With that in mind, I find the essential conclusions from the day simultaneously intriguing and predictable:

"Assistant coach Bob Gansler was blunt in his assessment of the talent he had seen in the first half of the three-day tryout."

"'I didn't see anyone who was even close to having the physical conditioning to play at the MLS level,' he said."

I just strikes me as odd that "physical conditioning" was the chief thing mentioned. Why not look for flashes from a good soccer brain first and look into conditioning second? Maybe having 1,000 invitees rendered that impossible, but with lack of fitness almost a given why not look for something else?


MVB Archives: Oct 7 - 20

Hey, hey...got two weeks in this edition. For those who haven't followed this from the start, I'm in the process of moving the good bits of the archives from My Very Brain to this site. The idea is to see all the copy gets to one place.

With regard to the copy, the bulk of it was directed toward something entirely expected 'round the middle of October: the MLS playoffs. I offered impressions, "playoff porn," I even undertook the last of my masochistic previews (and this project was a doozy) for the 2006 season. On a more personal level, I watched my New England Revolution charge into the playoffs -the first time they had actually charged in 2007.

Another item I did was remarkable only for being prescient. In reviewing ESPN's final "power ranking" for 2006, I wrote this:

"...there's something weird about putting FC Dallas over DC United; there's something weirder still about either of them topping the Houston Dynamo. And it's not that the latter is great, so much as the other two are stumbling into a chasm of indeterminate depth."

To fully understand why that makes me giddy, you've got to know my record for predictions.

And, naturally, it's not possible to discuss the MLS playoffs without complaining about the format...so I did.

The other stuff I like from those two weeks were a bit more random: I still think DC United's collapse (my word for it) constitutes one of the stories for 2006; as it turns out, I never bought into the Beckham rule - and, in spite of its adoption, will remain unreconciled pending evidence of success; I managed two posts (LINK and LINK) on the relationship between soccer and statistics that I really must parlay into something bigger; time was also set aside for my "tryst" with Real Salt Lake - I'm hoping for big things from that bunch next season and they'll remain my Western Conference team till we get something in the Pacific Northwest.

Speaking of which, I was particularly proud of my open letter to MLS Commissioner Don Garber as to why Portland, Oregon should get an MLS team before Seattle, Washington.

All righty...two more weeks down. Making time...

A Meaty Q & A with Bob Bradley


USA Today ran a pretty dense Q & A with newly appointed interim (grrrr...) USMNT head coach Bob Bradely this morning. All in all, he comes off like a pretty bright fellow and there are several noteworthy highlights - see, for instance, what he has to say about playing his son, his relationship with Bruce Arena, etc. - so take the time to read it if you got it.

But my two personal favorites come here (and this is Bradley talking):

"In 2002, our team had a freshness, a confidence, we got a great result in the first game (3-2 upset of Portugal). That's really important. If you're not together all the time, you build momentum during a World Cup. So that first game against Portugal absolutely was a spark. Sometimes, that's all it takes."

For what it's worth, I put a lot of stock in the passage in bold - not to mention its reverse.

But the million-dollar question of Bradley's uncertain tenure comes here:

"Most friendlies give coaches a chance to experiment with new players and tactics. As an interim coach hoping to be the permanent coach, is it more imperative to win those games?"

"The first responsibility is always to win and have the team look good. Of course, there are so many variables there. The idea of introducing young players into the team, the availability of players, it can go on and on. There are things that are out of my control. The ability to take whatever group is in camp and make sure the work in that camp is really good and when we have that opportunity that we take advantage of it."

Now, in a sense, Bradley ducked the question - and as well as any Bush White House flak that predates Scott McClellan and Tony Snow. But the way he answers will say a lot to me - and, hopefully, to USSF officials - about what Bradley would be like as a coach, specifically the extent to which he'll take chances. It's my hope he defies the strictures of his circumstances and pushes hard to introduce new players into the line-up; I'm hoping he begins by showing a willingness to build the team as opposed to playing for results by calling in veteran players. I'd like to think that would make a better impression with the right people.

We'll have the first answer to this question shortly. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: I just caught wind of Bob Bradley's first-ever list of call-ups to the national team training camp. In spite of the near absence of Europe-based players - who will, admittedly, be busy with club duties - I like what I see, specifically: Jonathan Bornstein, Michael Parkhurst, Dasan Robinson, Kyle Beckerman, Brian Mullan, Alecko Eskandarian, Kenny Cooper and Nate Jaqua.

The rest are OK, too.


Why I Lost Interest in England

Rather than dig into that question myself, here are two articles that explain the reason by implication:

1) Simon Tanton's essay against buying championships.

2) A piece by Kevin McCarra from the UK Guardian about the long-shot dreams of some lower-ranking Premiership clubs hoping to keep up with the elite.

As much as Major League Soccer's parity irks me, it at least keeps me and everyone else guessing. I just don't have the patience for nine months of soccer that ends with one of the same three teams taking the trophy - and that's even taking into account the better quality and appearance. The Champions League is a bit better, at least in terms of unpredictability and teams being closer to the same "social class," but the whole Tuesday/Wednesday thing is a killer.

In the end, I guess I'd just rather be surprised...even if the pervasive mediocrity in MLS drives me crazy sometimes.


What Dempsey Meant to Davies

The Boston Globe's Frank Dell'Appa produced another write-up for the Charlie Davies beat (the youngster headed to Sweden's Hammarby IF). Fun as all the details about salary are to read, it's a quote in the lower third of this article that raises one of the central questions to Major League Soccer's future:

"'One of the concerns was that [Davies] would be locked into the MLS for six years," [Boston College coach Ed] Kelly said."

Is this the Clint Dempsey "situation" rearing its head? It certainly wouldn't surprise me, though it sounds like there were more factors in play. After all, Davies plays in the Revolution's backyard, which considerably ups the chance of him getting wind of Dempsey's thwarted attempts to leave MLS. Could this have played a role in Cam Weaver's decision to try Norway? Did MLS scouts (is there such an animal?) or coaches even notice Weaver? Those are big, big questions, all of them.

Anyway, Dell'Appa's got a pretty interesting article there. And do note the way Davies path crosses that of one Freddie Adu.


Cam in Norway

I won't pretend I know anything about Cam Weaver as a player. For instance, I've never seen him play, in spite of the fact he spent the past year (at least) just up the road from me with the Seattle Sounders.

In any case, ESPN reported this morning that Weaver is headed to Europe at the beckoning of a Norwegian club (FK Haugesund - nope, haven't heard of them). Here's to wishing him all the luck in the world - and, as with Charlie Davies - I hope he can help all of us out down the road. It doesn't hurt he's got a pretty charming life story.

Not to ascribe God-like wisdom to Scandinavians, but it's worth asking what their scouts are seeing that Major League Soccer clubs aren't. How real, or serious, is the poaching?


My Very Brain (MVB) Archives: Oct. 1 - 6

As threatened in the welcome back post, I have spent the afternoon pawing through the soccer-related archives on My Very Brain; I'm trying to move the good (enough) stuff to archives on this site so's I can pretend I never, ever attempted the experiment with posting soccer stuff on My Very Brain.

Also in that note, I described this transfer project as reflecting a "Best-of-[insert month]," but that whole "of the month" thing came before remembering I talk so goddamn much (I mean, holy shit, am I verbose!). Before linking to the pick of the stuff I found for the week that started with October 1st, I want to add one thing: it's pretty fun looking back at what counted as the buzz for any given week. If you check out the links below, I think you'll see what I mean.

For instance, we all know that the search for the USMNT coach as something of a "blue balls" experience, but realizing that an announcement seemed imminent in the first week in October explains why, um, "things" got so blue. Everyone seemed a live choice back then - even New England's Steve Nicol. That sounds sillier now, what with the Revs sub-par regular season and a third collapse in a final (you got one more season, Nicol!)

Another semi-related hot topic helped keep the coaching situation on the front-burner: the now-real possibility of U.S. participation in the Copa America. The decision to participate in the Copa counts as one of the rare moments where everyone was on the same page - even Jamie Trecker.

October also happened to be the first month in which several teams' late season peformances started to serve as predictors for the post-season. DC United's late slump was a fascinating thing to watch - painful as it was for their fans - but I think I managed to nail down one cause for it: judging by comments from some of their players, they figured they'd done enough by winning the Supporters' Shield. Another reality that came into focus around the beginning of October was just how bad the Columbus Crew was in 2006.

OK, last few here. October happens to be the month I accepted D's challenge to make My Very Brain a New England Revolution blog. Naturally, this will continue with It's a Simple Game, though the some of the guarantees of that first post will almost certainly not hold.

On a personal note, I spent a lot of 2006 doing match previews - typically for the site ArmchairGM. I'll commemorate the lot of 'em by linking to the big sprawler I produced for New England's final game against DC United. All in all, the previews were kind of a curious thing to do - especially given how rarely I made the correct calls - so I don't know whether I'll do this for next season. I expect I'll wind up doing more post-game reviews in 2007 because those are "newsier." I suspect those will look a lot like this, but I'll be sending them to Write On Sports instead - assuming they'll take them. For all that, though, ArmchairGM is a pretty cool place and I don't remotely regret discovering them; they just need people to build their database.

Anyway, all for now. More filling in the past three months tomorrow.


Moving Back

Hey, just wanted to let people know that I'm reorganizing my posting habits for a record sixth time this year. For the forseeable future, all soccer-related stuff I do will appear on It's a Simple Game...again.

For the record - and it is indeed that - a couple things went into this admittedly flaky decision:

1) It countermands the previously undertaken flaky decision to post all the stuff I do on My Very Brain (link). It makes more sense to have a straight "soccer blog" as opposed to a general content train-wreck.

2) The comments thing mattered. In short, I can't stand talking politics online (who knows? maybe I can't stand talking politics in general any more). Nothing changes, no one learns anything and everyone gets pissed off; that's fun like jerking off with sandpaper. Against that, I've found soccer people better able to maintain decent appreciation of the fact that what they're discussing doesn't matter. Anyway, I wanted to hear what other people think about soccer, even if it happens only infrequently, and I've still got comments set up here, but not on My Very Brain; in fact, comments will never go up on My Very Brain ever, ever again.

3) The title is better...it didn't hurt I watched Bull Durham yesterday, the movie that inspired the title.

There's more to it than this, but that's almost all to do with My Very Brain and not this site.

As for the rest of today - if not this week - I'm going to wrap up the soccer side of My Very Brain and create "Best of [fill-in-month/week-here]" posts to get all the good stuff on this site....where it properly belongs.

You all have my apologies for the past three months of madness. And a special thanks goes to Oscar M for tolerating both this switch and the previous one.