What To Watch Among All These International Friendlies Today

February 29, 2012 — by Suman


It’s yet another FIFA day of international friendlies today.  The ones involving European teams are getting more interesting, as we’re just a handful of months away from Euro2012 kicking off in Poland/Ukraine, and hence managers are starting to sort out their squads.

Given that, here are a handful of matches that might actually be worth watching (all times ET, with US TV/streaming info via WaPo’s SoccerInsider):

Switzerland vs. Argentina: 2:30pmET, GolTV

Italy vs. USA: 2:30pmET, ESPN2, Galavision,

Germany vs. France: 2:45pmET, (tape at 6 p.m. on ESPN Deportes)

England vs. Netherlands: 3pmET, Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Deportes

Spain vs. Venezuela 3:30pmET, ESPN Deportes,

Here are some reasons why these matches:

Switzerland vs. Argentina: We got interested in the Swiss squad last week–in particular that they’ve got a contingent of ethnic Albanian kids born in Kosovo around the time Yugoslavia was slipping into civil war.  We came across this from watching first Napoli–who have not only Swiss captain Gökhan İnler (born in Switzerland to Turkish immigrants) but also Blerim Džemaili (born in Macedonia to Albanian parents)–and then Basel (Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri) in the Champs League last week.

Plus it’s Argentina. Not only Messi, but also Mascherano (also Barcelona), Gago and Lamela (both Roma), Kun Aguero (Man City), and Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid). Though apparently Angel di Maria (also Real Madrid), Javier Pastore (PSG), and Ever Banega (Valencia) are not in the squad this time–the latter because he broke his ankle last week in an “automobile mishap“–he forgot to set the handbrake on his car while filling up with gas.

England-Netherlands: Can’t way we’re all that interested in the England squad (as usual, the English press is hyperventilating about things like who caretaker manager Stuart Pearce has named captain). We’re more interested to see who Holland plays, as a guide to who Bert Marwijk will take to Poland/Ukraine this summer (where his side should be 3rd favorites, behind Germany and of course defending world and Euro champions Spain). In the midfield, will Marwijk stick with the experience and pragmatism of de Jong, van Bommel and Sneijder (although the latter has been struggling with Inter, to the extent that Mr Zonal Marking recently wrote a column for ESPN titled “What’s wrong with Wesley Sneijder?“).  Or will he give younger, more dynamic midfielders like Kevin Strootman, Georgino Wijnaldum (both PSV) and Urby Emanuelson (who’s impressed lately playing for Milan) a chance?  He has plenty of big-name experienced options up front: Dirk Kuyt, Klaus Huntelaar, Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie.  From a column about the Oranje in today’s Guardian:

Van Marwijk’s successful route to Poland and Ukraine was founded on the firepower of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (12 in eight games), Van Persie (six in six), Dirk Kuyt (six in nine), Ibrahim Afellay (three in six) and Sneijder (three in eight).

It’s a real shame Affelay tore his ACL back in September, getting ready for his first full campaign with Barcelona (after joining them from PSV last January.)  The good news is that he recently resumed training, with the possibility that he may yet appear for Barcelona this spring, and hence receive consideration for the trip to Poland/Ukraine.

The more experienced strikers above are joined on this squad by three younger attacking guys that still play in Eredivisie: Luuk de JongOla John (both Twente), and Luciano Narsingh (Heereveen).

Italy-USA: Balotelli not chosen for Italy–in his place a 20yo kid named Fabio Borini, who’s currently playing for Roma (on loan from Parma?).  For the US, one headline we saw was that Klinsmann included yet another son of a US serviceman, who plays for Borussia Dortmund’s reserve squad.  See TheShinGuardian comprehensive match preview here.

Germany vs. France: Germany are co-favorites to emerge triumphant in Poland/Ukraine this summer.  In fact, some observers think that on recent form they’ve actually nudged ahead of Spain.  The lineup is stacked with young dynamic talent.  Of course there’s a large contingent of Bayern Munich players (Manuel Neuer, Jérôme BoatengThomas Müller, Toni Kroos), even though usual captain Phillip Lahm is apparently sitting this one out.  And there’s the two players that have moved to Madrid, Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira.  In fact, those two and Miroslav Klose are the only three on today’s squad that play outside the Bundesliga.  We’re interested in seeing some of those young players, who play outside of Munich: up and coming star Marco Reus (Borussia Mönchengladbach); Marcel Schmelzer and Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund); André Schürrle and Lars Bender (Bayer Leverkeusen).  It’s a shame Borussia Dortmund’s Mario Götze is still out with a pelvic injury–hopefully we’ll see him in action this spring (as Dortmund looks to hold off Bayern to repeat as Bundesliga champions) and summer.

We threw in Spain-Venezuela only b/c we’re interested in seeing who Spain plays–beyond the usual suspects. Headlines in the English press last week were that Torres didn’t make the cut for this one (and hence looking unlikely for Euros this summer), but it’s interesting to see that it was not only Soldado that got picked up front, but also this kid Iker Munian (19yo) that plays for Athletic Bilbao. In fact, Athletic has as many players in the squad as Real Madrid (4 apiece)–and no Barcelona or Madrid players among the strikers chosen. The squad:

Victor Valdes (Barcelona), José Manuel Reina (Liverpool), Iker Casillas (Real Madrid); Alvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid), Carles Puyol(Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Andoni Iraola (Athletic Bilbao), Gerard Piqué (Barcelona), Jordi Alba (Valencia); Javi Martínez (Athletic Bilbao), Xavi (Barcelona), Andrés Iniesta(Barcelona), Cesc Fábregas (Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid),Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Santi Cazorla (Malaga), Thiago Alcântara (Barcelona), David Silva (Manchester City), Jesús Navas(Sevilla); Fernando Llorente (Athletic Bilbao), Iker Muniain (Athletic Bilbao), Juan Mata (Chelsea), Alvaro Negredo (Sevilla), Roberto Soldado (Valencia)

Breakdown by club:
Barcelona: 8
Real Madrid: 4
Athletic Bilbao: 4
Valencia: 2
Sevilla: 2
Malaga: 1
Liverpool: 1
Chelsea: 1
Man City: 1

On the other side of the ball, note that Venezuela also features an Athletic Bilbao player (defender Fernando Amorebieta, who was born in Venezuela to Basque parents.  From A Football Report piece about Athletic Bilbao’s Basque-only policy:

Here’s the story with Amorebieta.  He was born in Venezuela in 1985.  His parents, however, were Basque, from a small town in Bizkaia called Iurreta.  They were in the Americas on business, and while in Venezuela, Fernando was born.  When he was two, the family moved back to Iurreta, and it would be another twenty years before Fernando returned to the country where he was born.  What makes Amorebieta able to play for Athletic is the fact that, despite being born in Venezuela, he comes from Basque parents and a Basque family, and he essentially grew up in the Basque Country.  Thus, Athletic had no issues with signing him in 1996 to play in the youth system despite not having been born in Spain.

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U.S. Best Brazil in U-17s

December 5, 2011 — by Rob Kirby


The U.S. Under-17 team took on Brazil in Lakewood Ranch, FL, and never looked outclassed in the slightest, defeating Brazil 3-1. Having drawn 2-2 with France midweek and beaten Turkey 2-1 on Friday, they won the Nike International Friendlies trophy with three first-half goals and an impressive second-half defense.

As for witnessing the emergence of the “next Neymar” or “next Clint Dempsey” in the crop of U-17 players, the latter certainly seemed more the case. (“New Pelé” Neymar played in the tournament in 2008.) U.S. attacking midfielder Junior Flores displayed outstanding playmaking abilities and looks a huge prospect for the future. Involved in each of the U.S. goals, he outmaneuvered defenders at will, as Rubio Rubin charged down the right flank, providing excellent service to forwards Corey Baird and Wesley Wade. Meanwhile, right back Shaquell Moore and centerback Tyler Turner looked solid, both in attack and defense. Rubin, Flores and the back four played in every match of the tournament, consistency evidenced in the group’s chemistry and cohesiveness.

Kellen Gulley, former U.S. U-17 standout, sat beside this intrepid reporter in the stands in the second half and said, “The Brazil team two years ago would have killed this [Brazil] team. And last year’s was almost as good.” Gulley, 17, scored the equalizer against Brazil in the 2009 tournament for a 1-1 draw. He currently plays for the Chicago Fire youth team.

Brazil’s number 10 Gabriel repeatedly put in dangerous crosses on which forwards Joanderson and Bruno failed to capitalize. However, captain and center half Eriks definitely seemed one to watch in the coming years. Going against type, though, the side produced more fouls than flair. And when themselves fouled, the theatrics came out, eliciting jeers such as “Get him a binky” and “Get him a pacifier” from the capacity crowd. Right back Abner, in particular, made a meal of every challenge, prompting even Eriks to bark at him to get up and on with it as they chased to close the goal gap in the second half.

Right winger Rubin knocked in a back-to-the-goal strike at just two minutes in, the first shot of the game. Off a free kick from the dynamic Junior Flores that got headed his way, Rubin flick-volleyed the ball over his right shoulder to the surprise of everyone, not least Guilherme, the Brazilian goalie.

In the 12th minute, Brazilian midfielder Matheus Queiroz attacked a poor clearance and blazed in a power strike into the upper right corner to level the proceedings. On a night when the U.S. served up the majority of the ball control and goal-scoring flair, the strike had Samba written all over it.

U.S. captain Turner picked up the ball and created space after a scramble from Flores’ delivery into in the six-yard box in the 31st minute, striking to make it 2-1. The celebration between players and fans actually resulted in a section of ad placards and pitch barriers getting knocked over. The goal was Tyler’s second of the tournament (third, if you count the own goal in the France match-up).

As half-time approached, Flores weaved through midfield and centered for Wesley Wade, who beat his defender and sent the ball past Guilherme into the far corner, doubling the lead and Wade’s tournament goal tally, making it 3-1 at the break.

Brazil pressed for a second goal in the second half, to no avail. Despite firing off many shots, most attempts proved easy saves for Paul Christensen, the U.S. ‘keeper. On the other end, Flores nearly scored in the 75th minute, only to hit the outside netting.

In the earlier match of the day, France drew 3-3 with Turkey to take third.


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Klinsmann & USMNT: Concerns, But Cautiously Optimistic

August 10, 2011 — by Simon

Klinsmann & Vasquez: Back together again

My concern with Klinsmann is exactly the one lots of commentators have already cited–he’s not really a tactician, and it was Jogi Löw who did all that heavy lifting with the German National Team. And Martin Vasquez, who went from being an assistant at MLS’s Chivas club to being Klinsmann’s assistant at Bayern (and came back for a short tenure as Chivas’s head coach), isn’t really a tactician either–but he seems to impress folks since he got the Youth Development Director position with Real Salt Lake post-Chivas. I like Dooley as a possible assistant.  He would seem to bridge some of the American/German dynamics. And Tab Ramos is still in my eyes the best player ever to wear the shield (sorry to the Claudio Reyna and Landon Donovan fans), and I think he has high potential as a coach.  This might be an audition for him with the u20s or 23s since he’s the interim there. I think it would make sense to have Claudio as the new technical director to be on the staff in some capacity. But having a big-time tactician on board is key. To make a cross-sport analogy, Phil Jackson was always the big picture, motivation, keeping the team in balance guy, while he let Tex Winters install and run the offense in the Triangle. I think that’s the dynamic (at least that’s the word coming out of Germany after the hire, and also previously during the multiple Gulati-Klinsmann flirtations). So the question for me becomes: is there a dynamic tactician somewhere in the ranks of USMNT youth squads, or MLS, or elsewhere. Sadly this person will probably have to come from his old German contacts.

In terms of who I would like to see him bring in–there’s Peter Nowak.  Now this might be my Chicago Fire bias, but he’s a former international for Poland, and has worked in both MLS and the US youth systems. I realize that as a former Bradley assistant he might be fraught with baggage, but I think he might add some “bite” that complements Klinsmann. Other guys I think would be interesting as assistants are Dom Kinnear and Franky Yallop, who I got to watch and talk to when I was coaching in Nor-Cal when they were with the Quakes (or Dynamos now).

I tell you who I DON’T want to see in the assistant positions Sigi Schmid or Rongren. I’ve never been impressed with Schmid at any of the levels he’s coached at–UCLA, Galaxy, etc. And Rongren made some COLOSSAL mistakes in my opinion in terms of who brought in to camp and did/didn’t develop in his time with the U-20’s. [Editor’s note: read the sad (for US Soccer) Subotic saga.]

I’m cautiously optomistic on Klinsmann generally. I don’t think he’ll be the savior that some think he will be, in part because of the need to change soccer culture vis-a-vis player development, which will be a long time coming.

Finally, on a player selection note, I’d like to see him bring in (Stanford Bias Warning!) Chad Marshall. He had a good run with the U23’s on the back line, played well as a center back for the Columbus Crew last year, and was in the WC2010 camp, so hopefully he can get a longer look.

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Kirby’s Latest Rant: Jingoism and American Soccer

July 19, 2011 — by Suman

Sam's Army growing..and going co-ed

At sports bars and gyms and generally anywhere Americans congregated Sunday, people celebrated soccer like it was the national sport. Until last week, I doubt if hardly anyone knew a Women’s World Cup even existed, let alone any player’s name, from any country. But as with the Olympics, if any American is in the running for the gold for any sport, be it badminton, fast walking or synchronized swimming, people who may have badmouthed the sport just the day previous keep their eyes glued to the TV. As a nation, we are ardent fans of [fill in the blank], provided there’s a medal involved.

The thrill of the soccer pitch thrilled like never before, literally. Every shot on goal elicited gasps, clapping, hoping against hope, you name it, by yes, the very same people who say soccer isn’t a real sport like American football. Politics may split America into roughly equal halves, but when it comes to winning something, the country bands together as one, jingoistic as jingo can be.

Admittedly, that was somewhat of a rant. But as everyone loves bitching and whining, I’ll continue in a related vein.

The majority of Americans have always denigrated soccer and deemed it downright wimpy when compared to American football, even if all evidence points to the contrary. Slide tackles, snapped legs, knees and ankles, cleat studs raked across faces, all without the full body armor of American football, these are but details. And why does it matter? Extreme physicality and the threat of real bodily harm exist in both sports. I’ve heard people disdain baseball for being boring but never for being less violent than football. And what of basketball, the pushing and the pulling in abundance, but if it gets too rough you can bet the man in the black-and-white stripes will blow his trusty whistle.

In his How Soccer Explains the World, Franklin Foer theorizes that although American upper middle-class parents champion soccer for kids at early ages for confidence building and team play, it’s only as a sports placeholder. Parents cleave to the “let’s not keep score, everyone wins” kindergarten mantra until the child (or boy, really) can at last strap on the body armor and do battle on the football field. Much of the American football hegemony stems from inertia (father’s father taught by his father, and now onto the son), as well as class (in non-Latino communities, few inner-city kids are similarly encouraged to play at a young age). Soccer gets tagged as a sort of yuppie’s game, which is deeply ironic in a global perspective. Soccer is one of the few sports that anyone of any income bracket (and really, of any size) can play. Ask Maradona, for example.

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CONCACAF Gold Cup 101: An Infographic by US Soccer

June 7, 2011 — by Suman1

The CONCACAF Gold Cup started on Sunday, with four games already in the books. The USMNT kicks off its campaign tonight, taking on Canada at Ford Field in downtown Detroit (8pmET on FSC).  US Soccer has produced an infographic with just about everything you need to know about “the region’s most important international tournament” (click to view a larger version):


Gold Cup 101

PreviewScheduleUnited States

What to Watch This Weekend

June 3, 2011 — by Suman

We took a few weeks off from our guide to the upcoming weekend’s televised matches.  It’s perhaps an odd time to resurrect it, just after the climax of the European club season–but actually perhaps it’s more necessary now that we’re asking ourselves–what exactly are we supposed to watch, now that they’re done playing in Europe?

Well, for starters, they’re not done playing in Europe–there’s a full slate of Euro 2012 qualifiers this weekend.  Though to be honest none of the matchups qualify as must-see.  We’re more interested in a pair of international friendlies that will end up being a tasty doubleheader on Saturday: Brazil hosting the Netherlands in a rematch of last summer’s shock World Cup quarterfinal upset, and USA hosting the World Cup winners, Spain.

(TV listings below pulled from the Washington Post’s SoccerInsider post of comprehensive TV listings for the weekend.)

Saturday, June 4 (all times ET)

England-Switzerland 11:30 a.m. FSC: We thought we should pick at least one Euro qualifier–and although we did have the intention of listing today’s Germany-Austria and Belgium-Turkey matches (both of which turned out to be interesting), we didn’t get around to writing this up in time.  So we’re left with Saturday’s slim pickings, and so we’ll go with the cliche: England hosting Switerland.  Just check any of the English papers for too much coverage from an Anglocentric perspective.  We don’t know too much about the Swiss squad–the two most recognizable names for us are defender Johann Djourou, who really came into his own with Arsenal this past season; and 26-year old Swiss captain Gökhan Inler, who starred in the midfield for the exciting Udinese squad that finished 4th in Serie A.

Brazil-Netherlands 3 p.m. Univision, Luckily our man in Sao Paulo has stepped in to our recent posting void with a nicely detailed preview of the Seleção going into this friendly with the Netherlands.  No doubt the Brazilians will be looking for revenge after they were dumped out of the World Cup by the Dutch last July.  On the other hand, the brilliant Oranje haven’t let up since their run to the final last summer–their currently undefeated in their Euro qualifying group.  It seems like the Dutch will be without a number of their established players–Wesley Sneijder, Mark van Bommel, Rafael van der Vaart, Maarten Stekelenburg are all out of the squad, due to injury or just fatigue after the long club campaign.  But Robin van Persie, Dirk Kuyt, Nigel de Jong, and Arjen Robben are all in the squad, and we’ll also be looking for exciting up and coming Dutchmen like Ibrahim Affelay (Barcelona), Gregory van der Wiel (Ajax), Eljero Elia (Hamburg), and Luuk de Jong (Twente).

United States-Spain 4:30 p.m. ESPN, Univision,

USA hosts world champions Spain in Foxborough, MA–apparently US Soccer is close to selling out the 68,000-seat Gillette Stadium!. For a full preview, we’ll point you over to the Shin Guardian. As they remind us, the last time these two met, in the 2009 Gold Cup, the US shocked with a 2-0 victory; in fact, they include a link to a column from May 2010 by tactical guru Jonathan Wilson praising Bob Bradley’s tactics against Spain in that match.

We’re wondering who Spain will play?  Xavi, Puyol, Cesc aren’t in the squad, but the rest of the big names are.  Though we can’t imagine Spain will field their top XI, at least not for all that long, or that they’ll be putting forth full effort–especially the Barcelona players that were playing Man U just a week ago in London.

Actually, it will be interesting to see some Spanish players not from Barcelona or Madrid play–we’re pretty sure Joan Capdevila the only such player who featured regularly in the WC last summer. Here is the squad that has travelled to Boston–there is certainly a bit of footballing talent in Spain: