Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sunderland Spending Their Bent Money

In January of this year Sunderland sold Darren Bent to Aston Villa for a fee near $38 million and then did just enough to stay in the Premier League. Following Bent's sale the team went into a downward spiral that was led by the inconsistant second half of the season by Asamoah Gyan. This has been a team many thought would go down, while at the beginning of the '10-'11 season others expected the Black Cats to push for a European place.

Earlier this summer they cashed in on Jordan Henderson selling him for $25 million to Liverpool; a foolish move in my opinon on Liverpool's part. The club has now used part of that $63 million kitty to bring in quality Premier League performers and a promising young talent.

With the summer signings already made by Sunderland I believe they will push for Europe next year. Craig Gardner and Sebastion Larsson have been signed from Birmingham and should add quality in the midfield the club lacked last season. Goalkeeper Kieran Westwood should push incumbent Craig Gordan for the number one shirt, while Korean Ji Dong-Won arrives from Korean side Chunnamn Dragons. Dong-Won impressed the Premier League side last winter during the Asian Cup when he recorded four goals and two assists in six matches. The wild card of Sunderland's signings has definately got to be Conor Wickham. At only 18 he has played the past two seasons at Ipswich Town in the Championship where he has found the back of the net 13 times in 63 outings. At only 18-years old he is a player that will be worked in slowly to this Black Cat team and most likely play as the fourth striker behind Gyan, Fraizer Campbell and Dong-Won.

Don't be surprised to see one or two more quality players arrive before the end of August. This team should find themselves well away from the trap door to the Championship next season and solidify themselves with another year of Premier League football.

Koevermans and Fringes

Today, Toronto FC signed former Werder Bremen captain and German international Torsten Fringes and formr PSV Eindhoven striker Danny Koevermans. These two signings just pose more questions, rather than give answers to a team that is struggling in the league and with the system of first year manager Aron Winter.

Koevermans has had a stellar career in the Dutch Eredivisie scoring boat loads of goals; he has scored 136 goals to be exact in a 10-year career that has spanned three clubs. Koevermans is familiar with the 4-3-3 formation as that is the preferred formation in Holland, and recently played the central striker role for PSV. Currently, PSV is in serious financial problems and not only have released quality players, sold their biggest star Balazs Dzsudzsak, but they have asked their city council for nearly $55 million as a bailout. If Koevermans is in it for the pay day then TFC won't improve, and with the contract/money structure of MLS I wouldn't be surprised.

Fringes on the other hand is past his prime. As a supporter of German side Werder Bremen I was able to watch a terrible, terrible Bremen team lose week in and week out. Fortunately, the club did just enough to avoid relegation and it could be said Fringes was the best midfield player throughout the season despite his age, but he didn't have much help in the area. Bremen played most of last season with Fringes holding in an attacking 4-3-1-2 that gave attacking midfielder Marko Marin a free role to exploit defenses. In TFC's
4-3-3, I don't believe Fringes has the legs to cover as much ground as he will be required to do. No doubt he has been a great player over the years and it is a shame to see him leave Bremen. However, TFC may have bought a player that is past his sell-by date.

I would love to see these players help TFC become a playoff contender. But it seems TFC is continuing to put the pieces of a different puzzle down hoping they will fit and no one will realize the pieces don't match. Better than Mista, but they don't have the core still.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My Roster Ideas for Sporting KC This Summer

After starting the season as the worst team in MLS Sporting KC has temporarily turned things around and have gone unbeaten in their last seven matches. Obviously, the main thing to credit in this turn around is KC's change from the 4-3-3 to 4-5-1 formations (something I preached from the beginning as the 4-3-3 doesn't work in MLS. TFC could be decent if they also made the change as their back four, like KC's earlier this season, is being ripped apart due to the lack of midfielders to protect them). But over this unbeaten run KC has still looked vulnerable for large parts of games. Philadelphia would have taken all three points if they had had some better finishing on the night, and Vancouver controlled much of the second half and were slightly unlucky not to get a draw.

I have been very critical of the Vermes regime and the team he has put together. There are some positions that definately need strengthening, but with MLS's tight salary controls it can make it very difficult for a team like Sporting to add quality. The transfer window will open on July 15, and surely Sporting has their feelers out looking for players to add to the existing squad. But there are players within MLS the team could make a move for, as well as cashing in on some under performing players.

The two areas that Sporting need to address are the defense and midfield, meanwhile the striker position is filled with the fantastic C.J. Sapong, the overrated Teal Bunbury, Kei Kamara and DP Omar Bravo; and this group can also include Birahim Diop. But could one of these men, excluding Bravo and (presummably) Sapong be used as bait to bring in a defender or midfielder to either the starting XI or to add depth. Throughout Vermes time in KC he has put his trust in some unfashionable players such as Diop, so I don't expect him to be on the move. Meanwhile, Bunbury's potential out weights the possibility for a move. Who then can KC move out?

First on my list is Roger Espinoza who has underperformed all season no matter where he has played on the pitch. His performances against Chicago, in which Marco Pappa beat him on the dribble twice in the same sequence, and Espinoza's ridiculous outing against LA Galaxy prove my point that he isn't developing as a player and is not of the quality the team currently needs. Personally, I've never seen the attractiveness in Espinoza's play and though he can play both in defense and midfield I think it's time to move him on. Moving Espinoza would also free up an international slot if the team is looking at bringing in another player from abroad. With the free-signing of Seth Sinovic, who has made the leftback position his own, Espinoza is surplus to requirements in my view.

Stephane Auvary is the next on my chopping block. Much of the time this season Auvary has seemed like another body just making up the numbers on the pitch. His passing is horrid and his play is negative. In the match versus the Union he killed two consecutive KC attacks late in the game with passes from the attacking third back to the half-way line. Auvary gives an appearance of a hardman in midfield, but lacks the tenacity of Craig Rocastle or the workmanship of Luke Sassano. Sassano another unfancied player picked up in the re-allocation draft has shone this season for Sporting.

KC has finally settled on a centerback pairing that works in Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin. This pairing now has both the overpaid Julio Cesar and equally overpaid Shavar Thomas looking in from the outside. Vermes does have an infatuation on Cesar and still gives him plenty of minutes on the pitch. However, according to my stats Thomas has only been on the pitch for 37 minutes this season. Obviously, not enough time to warrent such a high salary. Unfortunately, Thomas is 30-years old and his best days are in the rearview mirror now (according to a KC podcast Thomas salary maybe half or full paid by Philly). KC most likely won't get much value from within the league, but could atleast open up a roster spot and acquire a draft pick for next season if they move Thomas. Being that Thomas is Jamaican I believe it would open up another international slot; he has lived in America for quite some time and could actually hold a green card that I am not aware of.

Of course there are fringe players such as Korede Aiyegbusi that should and could be moved. However, Aiyegbusi seems to have fans within the organization including Vermes. Aiyegbusi holds both British and Nigerian citizenship and moving him would open yet another international slot to bring in a player from abroad.

Even if Sporting is able or even willing to part company with these players to freshen up the squad who is available? Earlier this season it was rumored KC was interested in acquiring Toronto's Nana Attakora. Attakora has been frozen out in Toronto after failing to agree a new contract. KC could definately use another defender and Attakora is young at only 22. However, TFC would most likely want an attacking player in exchange and despite playing a 4-5-1 (now) I can't imagine Vermes moving Kamara or Diop for a young promising defender.

Another player who seems to be on the outs with his current club is DC United's Santino Quaranta who could add some skill and class to KC's current midfield. Quaranta was United's captain last season, but hasn't seen much of the pitch this season. To my knowledge hasn't played since May 14
*** (Unfortunately, after writing this paragraph the news broke that Quaranta is currently out due to a concussion he has sustained.) ***. If he is not hurt this obviously means he and manager Ben Olsen are not seeing eye to eye. Quaranta could play on either flank and help ease tired legs as the season progresses.

Vancouver's John Thorrington  and Portland's Adam Moffat are two other players that KC could consider to fill out the midfield. Thorrington currently has a calf strain, but is a player with an excellent passing ability and could add depth behind captain Davy Arnaud. He has fought injury much of this season and has only appeared once in the league for the Whitecaps as a substitute. However, during his time in Chicago he was a valuable member to a team that had some good seasons during the Blanco era. Moffat on the other hand is a player who has never rekindled the form he showed early on in Columbus after injuring his knee. He has only appeared four times for Portland and probably won't get much playing time as the season continues. A draft pick or allocation money could pry him away from Portland and help Sporting solidify their midfield.

Finally, Sporting could go overseas to land an American plying his trade abroad. One such player on my radar is American Lee Nguyen who, due to being paid a higher salary, plies his trade in the Vietnamese V-League. Nguyen has made attempts to return to the US and play in MLS, but it has yet to happen. Nguyen can play in midfield or even up top and like Quaranta could add some class to the KC midfield. The downside to Nguyen is he has been playing in the V-League and though not completely inferior to MLS it is still a step or two below. The big question is can he make the step up to MLS?

This summer's MLS transfer window could be the biggest we've seen. The world economy is still in the doldrums and many teams from abroad could attempt to raid MLS for cheaper talent. Meanwhile, MLS's stock has risen over the past 18-months and we could see better talent continue to flow into the league.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


I decided to give MLS Extra Time podcast a second chance today after a few months away. Just wanted to thank the guys who host the show for their over reactions and inability to talk tactics or anything important. Props also for spending most of  their time talking about meaningless aspects of games, teams and players. Cheers!


Earlier this week I wrote briefly about the MLS MVP race and my two picks so far Brek Shea and Jack Jewsbury. Well, it seems some people are agreeing with me as an article on posted after I wrote my piece is listing both men as the fourth and fifth candidates for the award.

But it is the person on top of many people's list that I do not agree with, and that is Landon Donovan. Donovan is having another good season by his standards. He is tied with Thierry Henry for the league lead in goals with eight in 11-games and he also has one assist. LA Galaxy as a team has scored 28 goals over the course of the year. By my calculations, which are rarely right, he has score around a third of LA's goals. The Galaxy, however, have proved time and again this season they haven't missed Donovan when he has been out of the line-up; whether due to the Gold Cup or injury. Compared to Portland's Jewsbury who has scored or assisted on half of Portland's goals I think Donovan isn't quite as valuable. Take into account Donovan has excellent players around him in David Beckham, Juan Pablo Angel, Juninho and a fantastic defense. The Galaxy would be sitting a top or near the top even without Donovan. On the other hand we would not see Portland pushing for a playoff spot in their first MLS year without their captain and true leader on the pitch. Jewsbury's experience and leadership has been the calm in the storm for this club, and he has popped up when it has truly counted. The MVP shouldn't go to the player from the best team who has had a better season than his teammates. Rather it should been given to the player who is the most valuable person to his team, and I do not feel that it is Donovan.

There is also talk of Thierry Henry winning this award which seems utterly ridiculous as well. Henry is tied with Donovan for league lead in goals. The Red Bulls, however, have continued to spit and sputter this season and are unable to find any consistent form. Luke Rodgers has five goals on the season and could be considered just as valuable when he has been in the line-up for the club. Brek Shea's breakout season since David Ferriera was injuried has dwarfed Henry's in my opinion. His play, also since moving from the failed experiment as a defender, has been the catalyst to FC Dallas moving from the foot of the West Conference to the top. He has turned me into a believer this season after looking overrated for the past two season. Now the focal point of the attack Shea is shining bright in Dallas.

Unfortunately, the MLS believes stars sell tickets and not good entertaining football. I don't expect Jewsbury or Shea to win this award regardless of what they help their respective teams accomplish this season. MLS can continue to brag on the stars of the league and the importance of the DP if either Donovan or Henry wins the trophy. This also helps MLS's desire for a LA/New York rivalry, which is an entirely different story.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Quick football thoughts...

- MLS is heating up this season and I've selected my early season MVP favorites. Now, I already know neither of these two will win as I'm sure every MLS writer hacks will select Landon Donovan or the next obvious person. I've noticed over the years the voters tend to not dig to far to find the league's MVP. But my two picks thus far as FC Dallas' Brek Shea who has had a breakout season following his failed move to central defender and the injury to David Ferriera, and Portland's Jack Jewsbury.

Shea has six goals and one assist in 15 matches, and (maybe) half of those matches he was in defense. Since moving back to the wide position for FCD he has really broken out and been a vital part to the resurgence of FCD. Helping them climb to second in the west after a terrible start. I still this he would be an excellent target striker.

My second MLS MVP pick is Portland's Jack Jewsbury. Through 14-matches Jewsbury has scored four goals and assisted on four more. He has had his hand in eight of the teams 16-goals. Not a bad stat and he is an important reason the Timbers are fighting for a playoff spot. I still feel he was the wrong player for Sporting KC to trade, but a brilliant job of scouting by the Timbers.

Neither of these men will win the MVP, though Shea has a better shot than Jewsbury since he is on the cusp of the national team. These two are definately the most important players to their teams, and are the reason their teams are contending. Without them neither of these teams are the same.

- In non-MLS news, finally, it seems Udinese's Alexis Sanchez will sign for Barcelona for around $50 million. A fantastic young player, but I'm confused to where and how he will fit into the team. He plays a similar role to that of Lionel Messi, and I can see this being a similar move to what Barca did with Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2009-2010. Barca has been looking for cover for their stars and Sanchez could be just that; but he seems like an expensive cover player. Barca already has Javier Mascherano, Ibrahim Affalley and Bojan who cannot get regular football. Is this an embarassment of riches or a team that is spending too much money on squad players?

- I've read a lot of reports about the USA doing well and having a fighting spirit, etc and so forth during the current Gold Cup. But excuse me, but this is the USA the second best (or first) team in CONCACAF. I expect this team to roll over anyone and everyone that is not Mexico in this group. I'm not sure why we're giving Bob Bradley and this squad a pass as they should be expected to be in the final against Mexico regardless of the team that is put in front of them. I'm in favor of replacing Bradley as well. Not because I dislike him,  but I don't feel one coach should get two World Cup cycles. It keeps the players fresh and brings in new ideas. I'm in favor of one Dominic Kinnear actually, but that's just me.

Sporting KC Two Wins in Row?

After beginning the season in such dire form and sitting bottom of the overall table in MLS for much of the first third of the season Sporting KC now sits... ummmmm... Bottom of the table. However, they sit bottom with a brilliant chance of catching not only the last automatic playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but they could very well catch the struggling Philadelphia Union and New York Red Bulls who are only nine points better off.

Since the beginning of the season I was adamant about two things: Peter Vermes needed to go and/or Sporting KC needed to change their 4-3-3 into a formation with four midfielders to protect the backline. Well, it was the later that occurred and since doing so Sporting has reeled off two consecutive wins. They're undefeated in their last five, and haven't been beaten since traveling to Seattle where they were beaten by an injury-time goal.

Since changing formations into a 4-5-1 the club has relied more on their midfield and defense than the misfiring Teal Bunbury or Omar Bravo. The unheralded Graham Zusi and C.J. Sapong have been the true leaders over the past few matches. Both are equal on league goals with the DP Bravo and one behind Bunbury, who most people thought would have a break out season and take the MLS Golden Boot. Which could still happen. Though he hasn't scored since week three in Vancouver.

The amazing thing is (and I admit Vermes may have gotten it right) that these two draftees have been the real deal as of late. Though both have a lot of growing to do still. We're also starting to see the improvements a healthy Chance Myers has made. He has succeeded in the reserve division thus far, and is now proving to be a good MLS quality fullback. Throw in Luke Sassano and these are the true leaders of Sporting currently and not Bravo or Bunbury. Many would say Bravo has been good so far this year, but I'm not convinced Kei Kamara or someone else couldn't play the current role that is occupied by Bravo. Bravo hasn't scored since opening day and has missed good chances ever since. Not to mention been injuried and suspended.

This team has a long way to go, and could just as easily go cold and still end the season in last place. Right now this club is in a fragile state. We are being teased. One or two more results and this team could take off, but a loss next match against Philadelphia and it could all go back to where Sporting was two weeks ago. It has been an unbelievable surprise of late and I'm sure there are more in store. I must give Vermes credit for being slightly proactive and giving into a formation change. It's nice to see Sporting make headlines for what's on the pitch and not Ochocinco, free subs or a name change that has been derided throughout the league. They're finaling getting results. Atleast for now.

11 Players Banned for Life

A few weeks ago I wrote about a betting scandal that has set the Korean K-League on its ear. Since then 11 players have been found guilty of match fixing and will serve life bans. Of these players one is currently serving his mandatory military term (two years) and plays for Sangmu Sangju Phoenix; because of this he has been tried by a military court. Daejon Citizens Football Club has been worse hit by this match fixing scandal and will lose eight players due to it.

Already we have seen the suicides of two players due to the scandal.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

33% of the season is over

Last season and during the off-season there were a plethora of blogs dedicated to MLS becoming a single table league (amongst other things). But MLS went a great distance in squashing that idea as well as doing away with the MLS playoffs. There's no question that MLS needs the dual conference structure to keep casual fans and markets interested in the league. If MLS was in a single table only two teams from the Eastern Conference would currently make the playoffs; Philadelphia and New York. The entire midway and midwest of America, sans Dallas, would miss out on the MLS post-season. Financially this would be a massive blow for the league. Not to mention alienating fans from areas of the country who only have a passing interest in the league as a whole anyway. I believe the It's Called Football podcast summed it up best when they said Toronto isn't a MLS town, it's a TFC town. To go one step further North America isn't a MLS country, but fans are interested in their city or regions team. Most USA soccer fans don't go out of their way to watch a MLS match that doesn't involve their team. That is one reason ESPN's MLS ratings are regularly low.

Unfortunately, it does make sense to have a league with two conferences and a play-off format. Promotion and relegation are another topic and this won't happen for the two biggest reason: The casual American fan will lose interest if the team can't compete for the league title and there's too much money at stake.

However, the reason I wrote this was to look at where MLS stands as of the minute. Roughly one-third of the 36-game season has been played thus far. LA Galaxy has played the most matches with 16 while Sporting KC has played the least with 10. This is how the league looks with 33% of the season finished already:

1. LA Galaxy- 30
2. FC Dallas- 25
3. Philadelphia Union- 21
4. Seattle Sounders- 21
5. Real Salt Lake- 20
6. New York Red Bulls - 19
7. Colorado Rapids- 19
8. Chivas USA- 17
9. Portland- 17
10. San Jose- 16
11. DC United- 16
12. Houston- 15
13. Columbus- 15
14. New England- 13
15. Toronto FC- 13
16. Chicago Fire- 10
17. Vancouver- 10
18. Sporting KC- 6

Looking at this table it's easy to see a gap between the top teams in the league and the worst team(s). When seperated into two conferences perhaps it doesn't look as bad for Sporting KC to only have six points thus far. However, in a single table we see they are 24-points off first place, though they only need to be good enough to be 10th overall in the league. This team has a very good shot a stringing together some results and making the playoffs still. But looking at the table like this I believe it would be an injustice not only for them to make the playoffs, but an injustice to the LA Galaxy who are proving yet again they are the best team in MLS. Play-offs are a North American tradition if you will, but LA's season will be meaningless if they go without rewards for being the top team only to lose a match in the play-offs. There are two-thirds of the season still to play, and it will be interesting to see if this gap from top to bottom widens. MLS contains 18 teams this season (Montreal joins in 2012), and we are seeing a difference top to bottom we didn't see in the past.

I feel the true travesty of this situation is LA Galaxy maybe the best team over 36-games, but may have nothing to show for it due to a one off play-off match.

** on a side note I advocate the Supporters' Shield winner (worthless title) automatically being placed in the MLS Cup Final and the other play-off teams battle it out to play them. Currently, the Korean K-League does something similar and I believe rewards the top teams in doing so. ***