The Kids Aren’t All Right

July 31, 2010

His story feels like a movie.

Andy Najar moved to the United States from Honduras at the age of 13. He was turned down for being too small by the D.C. youth academy that same year.  In a stroke of big-screen type luck, the assistant coach for his  high school spotted him playing a pick-up game, and Najar immediately found himself on the high school team. A year of organized soccer later and he made the cut at D.C. United. Fastfoward to 2010 and at 17 he may now be their best player.

Najar’s rise from obscurity to a poster boy for the MLS academies has been rapid and has even caught the attention of bigger fish across the sea with rumors that Arsenal want him for a trial at the end of the MLS season appearing.

He’s quick, good on the ball and incredibly aggressive when given the opportunity by defenders. He’s not the finished product, though. Najar hasn’t been the best making choices in the final third, but that’s not something that should be expected out of a 17 year old, especially one with limited organized play. Not to mention D.C. are pretty lackluster in the final third as it is. What makes Najar extra special is his effort to chase down lost causes and track back to help out defensively. I can’t think of too many young hot-shots that put in as hard a shift as Najar does on a week-to-week basis.

D.C. United  have a history of being involved with the brightest and most hyped young players in the MLS. Santino Quaranta, Bobby Convey, and Freddy Adu all were given their first shots with the club and none have reached the potential many expected from them.  Now it’ll be United’s task to prevent Najar from going down the same paths as the others.

D.C. broke the record for youngest MLS player three times with the signings of Convey(2000), Quaranta(2001), and Adu(2004). When Convey and Quaranta were operating on opposite wings for D.C. it looked as if the future flanks of the US National Team were confirmed for the next decade. But due to various issues(Convey- injuries, attitude, Quaranta – injuries, drugs) their careers never hit the heights that was expected. They still have time left as both are in the their mid-20s, but it will be a large up-hill battle to eliminate the “what-ifs” that will most likely surround their careers.

But D.C. isn’t the one to blame. They aren’t responsible for Eddie Gaven, Danny Szetela and Justin Mapp. While Gaven has had a respectable career in the MLS, all three had similar hype as Quaranta and Convey coming in to the league. The MLS as a whole has struggled to develop these young kids labeled as future stars. It raises the question on whether the league is suited for youth development or if it’s still very much a “link-league” to Europe. I think the MLS right now is a fantastic place for college players to come and get a crash course on the professional level, but until the league can prove it can develop so-called domestic wonder kids, I’ll favor giving these players a chance overseas if given the opportunity.

Every year more and more young players with massive potential are appearing  in the MLS.  Luis Gil and Jack McInerney are just two of the latest. While Najar will most likely play for Honduras in his future, for the future of the national team it’s incredibly important that the nurturing and developing of these special talents is improved so players like Gil and McInerney aren’t stunted. If that can happen in the MLS, I would be ecstatic, I’m just not sure it’s ready for it yet, based on the league’s track record.

The MLS need a win here. If Najar can continue to progress it would be a win for the too often overlooked immigrate population by the national team development program. It would be a big win for the MLS and its’ youth academies, and it would be a major win for the national team he chooses. I have my fingers crossed for his future, and any fan of the domestic game should do the same.


Captain, My Captain

July 23, 2010

You may have noticed that it’s been a while since Julian Kersh or myself have posted – simply put, we’ve been busy. Countless matches of Arsenal v. Liverpool, selecting MLS sides to support and figuring out the best way to frame Stevie G. and Cesc jerseys. Yes, in a purely tax motivated and business decision for TOTAL FOOTBALL – we’ve grabbed an apartment on the edge of Birmingham, rubbing elbows with millionaires.

Now that we’re straightened out, let’s talk football.

In the weeks since the end of the World Cup – US tours, international transfers and rumors are swirling through the media day-by-day. Of course, our beloved Gunners are not exempt.

THE answer to Arsenal's Goalkeeping problems

First, the man we’ve all been waiting for (since Jens Lehmann left) Mark Schwarzer. All but confirmed, Schwarzer will be making the move from Craven Cottage to the Emirates and be the first choice between the sticks – ready to start against Liverpool and the likes of Fernando Torres and Stevie G.

Arsenal have been lacking in the goalkeeping department ever since Jens Lehmann’s departure in 2008 – even then it wasn’t truly quality work by the German.

In terms of youth, it seems that the Professor has plans for Jack Wilshere in the first team this season – and I, for one, couldn’t be happier. Yes, the music is awful, but this clip of his run against Rangers in the Emirates Cup last preseason is proof enough of why this young man has talent and will be a key player in Arsenal, and England’s, future.

Perhaps I’ve saved the most controversial for last – Cesc Fabregas. I’m not really sure what can be said at this point. After seeing Pepe Reina instigating a middle school locker room bullying with the likes of Puyol and Pique – Cesc seemed rather hesitant and had a worrying laugh about him when forced into a Barca jersey. My take: he will be staying at the Emirates for the season – not leaving before the start of 2010/11, not leaving in January, staying for the season and going on to Captain us through an appearance in the Champions League final and to win the league: our Big Four performances will be different this year. That being said, I’ll wait till the transfer window is closed to hang my Cesc jersey above the TV – not yet having the same commitment that Jules’s Stevie has given to his faithful.

Ready to lead the Gunners to a title - Got that Double feeling?


Joe Cole arrives, but at what price?

July 21, 2010
The signing of Joe Cole has lifted many Liverpool fans around the world out of the gloom. Despite not making the Champions League, despite the ownership situation, Liverpool have managed to sign one of the more admired players in the Premier League. It could certainly be considered a statement of intent by the club to the fans and to the players, but like many good things there always seem to be a catch.

Cole training (Courtesy of Liverpoolfc.tv)

I’m a big fan of Joe Cole like the majority of fans of the Premier League. His ability to create opportunities and consistently unlock defenses is worth its weight in gold, especially as more and more Premier League teams opt to play with deep, narrow back fours and physically imposing defensive midfielders. An answer to the very restricting tactics is something Liverpool have struggled to find during the Rafalution.

Luis Garcia, who is a cult legend at the club, was that special kind of player. His flair for the dramatic earned him the name King Luis while his inconsistency often overshadowed the plaudits from his magical moments. Chelsea’s new signing Yossi Benayoun played a similar role at the club though he never reached the peaks of Garcia, but nor did he reach the lows.  But as big of moments as those players had they were still very much roleplayers in a squad dominated by Gerrard and later Torres. I believe Joe Cole is a player in a higher quality tier than Yossi and Garcia and with his addition the attacking play is not a burden for just Torres and Gerrard anymore. Add what Liverpool fans saw from Maxi when he began to settle and it’s certainly one of the more intimidating attacking sides Liverpool have put out in a while, and that’s not including the dependable and clutch Dirk Kuyt.

But as I alluded to earlier, there is a catch(or possibly several).

The rumor is Cole will be making around 90,000 pounds a week. As many know Liverpool’s financial situation is not just poor, but approaching  closer and closer to the point of implosion. This 90,000 pounds is not a massive wage for a player of Joe Cole’s quality assuming he has a clean slate in the past nor if the club is in a stable financial state, but neither of those are true in this situation.

He did make 38 appearances last year(many as a sub) which is reasonable at a club like Chelsea when he wasn’t considered a key figure. For reference Lampard had 50, Drogba had 44, Terry had 46, and Yossi had 39 at Liverpool. However if you combine Cole’s total number of appearances in 2006/2007 and 2008/2009 he had just 40. Anything less than 30 starts this season and that 90,000 pound wage is going to look awfully steep and comparisons to Harry Kewell will surface.

Kewell had severe injuries issues at Liverpool

While I’d like to not harp on the salary (you have to spend money to make money after all and an interesting piece by Kuper suggests it helping with winning, too) it’s an issue that can not be overlooked because of the state of the club and the recent selling of Insua(though, oddly Insua was still training at Melwood as of yesterday). Insua had a tough season last year. He was a part of a porous backline and certainly looked behind the speed of the game, most noticeably being caught out of position when the ball was lost. But Insua is still only 21 years old, he’s already been capped for Argentina, and when comparing him to other players in his age group and position not many stack up to his ability. He was an unpolished young foreign left-back thrown into a flat back-four(home and away) in over 40 matches. The learning curve was always going to be very steep.

Just look at another left-back that had a similar situation. Gareth Bale has looked just as overwhelmed at the left-back position as Insua, but was capable of playing another position and had a fantastic season in a higher-up position where there was less defensive responsibility. To expect an entire campaign of impeccable positioning and awareness(especially in a flat back-four away from home) from a 21-year-old is simply asking too much.

Insua looks bound for Italy

But that’s only half the issue and the other part gets us back to Cole. Assuming the transfer goes through Insua is going to Fiorentina for either 3.8m+ incentives or a fee around 5m based on which sources one believes. Hicks and Purslow have stated on numerous occasions that player sells do not go toward the debt but rather into the transfer and wage kitty. Now there can be two views on this:

1) Hicks and Purslow are not telling the truth and Insua was sold because he was viewed as expendable in comparison to the rest of the squad. Never mind that Insua was probably worth around double the rumored price of the transfer.

2) That the money for Insua does go into that kitty.

Let’s assume #2.

As much of an admirer of Joe Cole as I am with the timing of these two deals it looks as if the Insua money went directly toward signing Cole. If we assume it was 5 million pounds for Insua and it’s roughly 5 million for Cole not including incentives or a signing bonus it’s almost a swap. That sounds nice looking at it(Insua for Cole), though remember Insua has his whole career ahead of him and he could have been sold for much more now and possibly even more later if he continued to improve.

But finances and a lack of left-backs aren’t the only reason I’m not jumping through the roof over the signing.

It’s tough to understand why purchasing Cole was worthy of selling the team’s only current first-team left-back and one of its brightest players for the future in exchange for a player that adds a higher quality to an area of the field that has some semblance of depth.

There’s no mistaking that players like Gerrard and Carragher are excited to see a quality addition like Cole to the squad. I’m sure their trip to South Africa together played a big part in him signing with Liverpool. Torres must like the addition as well. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a smooth transition.

Joe Cole has made it clear in the past that he wants to play in the center behind the striker(s). He feels its his best position and it certainly had to play a role in deciding what club he signed for. Unfortunately,  Steven Gerrard and Aquilani thrive in that same spot. Assuming Gerrard stays(which he has recently stated he would) I think it would be madness to separate him from Torres(again, assuming he stays). That leaves Joe Cole on the left where Liverpool currently have Babel, Jovanovic, and Reira. That’s not to say Cole isn’t a quality above those players, he obviously is. I personally  don’t have too much faith in Babel or Reira, but at least they are warm bodies and already on the book.

Now if Cole were to play in his preferred position Gerrard would then need to be moved. Two spots would be available and that’s on the right and in the central midfield pairing. Benitez got arguably the best season out of Gerrard from the right, but it seemed like every week there was discontent about his role by a number of sources including Gerrard. Plus Kuyt and Maxi both are more than capable in that area of the field.

The other solution would be to move Gerrard into a central midfield pairing. This especially worries me.

Gerrard is a special, special player. There are very few that I put in his elite category, but his casual tactical discipline and ambitious play on the ball are not ideal for a central midfielder.

And that’s not even mentioning Aquilani. A lot of money was spent on Alberto and he will most likely slip even further down the pecking order with the arrival of Cole.

Hodgson has quite the task ahead of him

I do want to make it clear that I think Cole signing is a great statement of intent by the club. I’ve always wanted to see a player with the skill-set of Cole at Liverpool. The issue comes with looking at the current financial situation of the club combined with the other issues plaguing the squad.

Left-backs are an absolute must buy as soon as possible. Remember Liverpool only have a few friendlies left, and the club is already operating on a short schedule because of the World Cup and the Europa League qualifier. Another striker must also be considered, and possibly a midfielder if Mascherano goes.

Assuming a quality left-back is brought in and the rest of the team is held together the squad does look very capable of retaking a spot in the top four. But this Cole signing must only be the first step in the process of squad rebuilding and not one of the final phases. I would have been ecstatic if the news of the signing happened after a left-back was signed. When I look back I hope the timing is the only thing that prevented me from being overjoyed, and that there were sufficient reinforcements waiting in the wings.

I know there is a plan. It would be naive of me to assume there wasn’t one. I’m just wondering if the plan was made by the manager or the man who has no real background in the sport and is trying to attract owners to the club.

But hey, at the very least he won’t be scoring against Liverpool anymore.


No Cole? No Problem

July 19, 2010

 

Don’t get me wrong, Joe Cole would be a welcome addition to almost any side, particularly on a free transfer.  I myself am an admirer of his style, which reminds Spurs fans of a modern-day Paul Gascoigne. Once Cole was out of contract with Chelsea, he was always going to be keen to stay in London with either Spurs or Arsenal with the prospect of Champions League football at both clubs. 

Spurs seemed the most likely fit, given manager Harry Redknapp gave him his first professional contract while at West Ham.  Not to mention five of his English teammates in South Africa ply their trade at the Lane, trying to convince Cole to join them.  Even Frank Lampard, ex-Chelsea teammate and nephew of Harry Redknapp, tried to convince Cole that Spurs were the right fit for him. 

In the last few weeks, it became evident that their was a three-horse race trying to secure the midfielders’ services. Word of his move to Spurs intensified within the Spurs grapevine, but nothing became official. 

To the surprise of many, Cole utlimately decided to join Liverpool in what he dubbed for, “footballing reasons”. When word of the wages the Merseyside club were set to offer Cole, it became fairly obvious where he was going.

To refer to his decision as a footballing one, and to follow it up by saying “it was not financial”, is diabolical at best.  If it were a footballing decision, he would playing at White Hart Lane or the Emirates next season.

As I said, Cole is a very talented player capable of playing on either wing, or as an attacking midfielder.  His seven seasons at Chelsea, however, were marred by injuries and maturity issues.  In those seven seasons, he was unable to command a starting place week in, week out at Stamford Bridge. 

Redknapp likely viewed Cole as a signing to booster the prospect of playing a 4-5-1 in the Champions League, a formation that is ever-popular in the competition.  Outside of him playing behind a target man in this formation, where would Cole fit in the 4-4-2?

Look at the positions Cole plays relative to this Spurs squad.  Assuming Gareth Bale on the left wing, Aaron Lennon on the right, and Luka Modric in that attacking midfield role, there is no place for him in our 11.  Not a chance Joe Cole displaces any of those three.  Redknapp has reiterated his desire to play Bale at left back, but he will certainly feature in both roles depending on our opponent, healthy players, ect..

If you look at the cover we have for those players, Spurs fans should really care less about missing out on the injury-ridden player. You could easily make the argument that another Croatian, Niko Kranjcar is a superior player. The long-awaited Giovani Dos Santos era in North London should take off this season. The young Mexican forward appears to have cut his attitude with Redknapp, and was rated by FIFA as one of this summer’s three best young technical players in South Africa. Given the chance, Giovani can and will shine in 2010-2011. 

David Bentley was markedly improved last season, and should have the chance this season to prove he was worth the pricy fee paid to Blackburn Rovers. There are youngsters aplenty on the wings and in the midfield for Spurs, with left winger Andros Townshend having been the most impressive on our first two friendlies this season. Single volley legend Danny Rose, along with midfielders John Bostock and Jake Livermore come with very high praise, and should get their chances sooner rather than later.

Point being, Joe Cole was never a necessary signing for Spurs. You can never have enough depth due to the physicality of English football, and the rigors that await in the Champions League. There is no shortage of creativity at White Hart Lane.  And for £90,000, well thank God we weren’t that inept. 

As for how he fits in with Liverpool is a different story. Assuming they don’t leave, (no safe assumptions at Anfield this summer) Cole, Gerrard, and Aquillani will all want to play the same position. That prospect spells nothing but trouble for the cash-strapped giants. Cash-strapped, and 90,000/ week for a player that does not fit their needs reaks in fiscal irresponsibility. Desperately scrapping up free transfers out there is only a short-term solution, for a looming potential crisis.


2014: USMNT Player Watch Part I – Central Defenders

July 18, 2010

With South Africa and the 2010 cycle now behind them the United States national team will now be focusing on earning their way to Brazil and the 2014 World Cup.  While the United States benefits from being a relatively young team in numerous key positions and logically they should have many players that were involved in this cycle play a major part in the years to come, there will be several new faces that emerge over the years.

As an example of the changes that occur during a cycle,  four years ago Freddy Adu, Bobby Convey and Michael Parkhurst felt like dead certain selections for the 2010 squad. Four years is a long time and the US team will evolve regardless of the manager.

So what players could emerge from just role-players or unknowns and make themselves known on the international stage? Let’s take a look at some names that could play a part in getting the team to Brazil or could even make the plane. In the first of a series of posts on the topic let’s look at central defenders.

Early favorites

Clarence Goodson – 28 and will be 32 by the time the next World Cup takes place. He was a late-bloomer who’s career took off when he left American soil and began his career in Europe where he eventually earned his way onto the plane to South Africa. Big and makes an impact in both boxes with his head, he will at the very least play a role early in the 2014 cycle.

Chad Marshall – Marshall is still only 25 years old. A product of the famed Bradenten Academy it seems that Marshall has been around for much longer than his age leads one to believe. He scored his first goal(and only) for the national team in 2005 against Columbia and since then has become one of the MLS’ premier defenders. He’s a two time MLS Defenders of the Year, has the won the MLS Cup, and in his roughly five years with the Crew they’ve won the Supporters Shield three times. Marshall and Goodson were two of the few players that came away from the 2009 Gold Cup with positive impressions. He also made the 30-man squad for South Africa, but not the 23.

The Forgotten

Michael Orozco Fiscal – His last national team appearance came in the 2008 Olympics where he was sent off. Even after the send-off he was involved in a few qualifier camps but still only has one cap to his name. After a stint in the Mexico he’s been loaned to MLS club Philadelphia Union and was immediately a regular in their first eleven. Just yesterday he scored with an excellent header in the Union’s 2-1 victory over Toronto.

Geoff Cameron – Cameron’s first two seasons in the MLS saw his stock rise and eventually earned him a few call-ups to national team camps. There’s still a debate whether his best place is in the backline or as a midfielder, but if he’s going to break into the national team it’ll most likely going to be as the former. A ruptured PCL earlier in the MLS season has ruled him out for the entire year, but if he can make a successful comeback Cameron should factor into a few camps and potentially add a few  caps.

Zak Whitbread – Whitbread is probably the most well-known to US fans in the forgotten category, though he may be the biggest long shot on the list. He was in the Liverpool development system for a number of years though he was unable to break into the first team. After his departure from Liverpool in 2006 he became a regular for Milwall despite battling injuries. He joined Norwich in January 2010 but has failed to establish himself due to yet another injury.

New Kids on the Block

Omar Gonzalez – Gonzalez won the MLS’ 2009 Rookie of the Year award in a year where many other rookies shined. It would surprise many people if he’s not in or around the USMNT squad in the next couple years. A plus is that he wants to play for the USA over Mexico, but it’s important for the USSF to cement his favoritism before the situation gets messy.

Ike Opara – Opara  does not quite have the height of the other names listed so far, but he’s hardly short a 6’2 and his athleticism has led to him being recognized as a player with massive potential. He was drafted 3rd in this year’s MLS draft, and has already scored three goals as a defender in his rookie season.

Tim Ream – Ream was drafted 18th in the same draft as Opara, and has quickly become a name passed around by many American fans as a potential national team member for 2014. What has drawn most fans to Ream has been his ability on the ball as well as off. He isn’t afraid to be on the ball, and has a very calm play-style that many 22 year-old rookies do not possess. He has the potential to be one of the most complete defenders the US has seen in a long time.

And for every player that is hyped now there’s no accounting for the names that will pop up mid-cycle like Bedoya, Davies, and so on that appeared during the run-up to South Africa. Much like the game itself national teams are fluid and constantly changing. Unknown young players seem to be appearing all the time in the MLS and that is a great sign for the future.


Big Summer for the Bhoys

July 14, 2010

After two consecutive disappointing campaigns, The Celtic FC are set to bolster their squad in this summer’s transfer market.  In contrast, their “Old Firm” rivals Rangers have lost their most valuable assets, and the cash-strapped club don’t appear to have suitable replacements lined up.

Finishing second in most European leagues can hardly be considered a failure.  For Celtic, anything but league triumph and Old Firm domination is unacceptable.  There were mixed emotions amongst Hoops fans when then manager Gordon Strachan resigned from his post in 2009.  When he took the job in 2005, he had a tough act to follow.  Martin O’Neill had restored power in Glasgow the way of Parkhead, and was revered by Celtic fans worldwide.  

Strachan was successful.  He won three straight league titles in his first three years, and ended his tenure with three other domestic cup trophies.   Not to mention the famous Champions League victories over Manchester United and AC Milan, which both helped Celtic reach the knockout stages of the competition in back to back seasons (2006-07. 07-08).  He faced a lot of unwarranted criticism in his final two seasons as manager, which were both injury-riddled.  He is known for his rigorous management style and shrewd tactics, which didn’t translate into attractive football fans craved.  In his fourth season, he finished second in the SPL behind Rangers, and only managed to defeat their rivals once in four league contests.  His impending firing resulted in his resignation at the end of the season.

Fans were excited about the hiring of former West Brom coach Tony Mowbray, who had the pedigree to change the negative, but successful style implemented by Strachan.  His West Brom, and Hibernian teams played a 4-3-3, and were always fun to watch.  His West Brom teams in the Premier League were refreshing, because rarely do you see newly promoted teams give it a go.  His tenure at Celtic was an absolute failure. He failed to beat Rangers in three tries, could not advance to the Europa League knockout stages, and were a distant second to Rangers in the league for much of the season.  After a 4-0 loss to lowly St. Mirren, he was sacked in late March.

With only pride left to play for, and second to have a shot in Champions League qualifying, assistant and former Celtic captain Neil Lennon took over on an interim basis.  In eight league games, Lennon was perfect taking 24 points from the fixtures which included their only victory over Rangers last season.  His spell was good enough to earn him the job permanently.

This summer has been very successful for the Bhoys.  They have signed three quality players on free transfers, and  one big surprise in the group in Joe Ledley.  The Cardiff City product has been tipped for a Premier League move for some time now.  He almost realized top flight dreams with the Welsh outfit last season, but Cardiff City lost out to Blackpool in the Championship playoffs final.  Ledley can play either as a left winger or centrally as a holding midfielder, a la Gareth Barry with his dangerous left foot.  Celtic’s capture of the Welshman surprised many as Premier League clubs Stoke City and West Brom were interested in his services, as were Italian giants AS Roma.  This signing likely means that winger Aiden McGeady will make his long-awaited move to England, but Ledley’s versatility could prove to be an upgrade for Celtic. 

The other two signings are right back Cha Du-Ri from German side Freiburg, and left back Charlie Mulgrew, most recently of Aberdeen.  Cha had a successful World Cup for South Korea, and is very capable going forward.  Celtic also are reportedly about to tie up Mexican right back Efrain Juarez, which would be another major move as he has been linked with clubs all over Europe.  Cha, and Juarez’ prospective signing more than likely spells the end of right back Andreas Hinkel at Parkhead, unless Lennon is intent on moving the German into the center of defense. 

Mulgrew should be a familiar name to Celtic fans, as he was a product of the Bhoys academy.  His rift with then manager Strachan, never allowed him a chance to prove himself at Parkhead.  He had an unsuccessful spell with Wolves in 2006, and eventually back to Scotland with Aberdeen in 2008.  Mulgrew is a very talented player.  He is truly a wing back, which I don’t need to tell you is extremely rare hailing from Scotland.  He’s big, very strong, and has the pace and technical ability to venture forward.  He possesses a fearsome left foot, and is somewhat of a specialist from set pieces.  If there are no longer attitude issues with the player, then he could become an integral part of Lennon’s plans going forward.

South Korean midfielder Ki Sung-Yong will feel like a new signing after moving in January.  Ki is immensely talented, and is eventually destined for greatness if he adjusts to life in Glasgow.

The club have also been strongly linked with former North London star Sol Campbell, and recently relegated Hull midefielder Jimmy Bullard.  Campbell is definitely still possible, but it looks like wage demands have killed the Bullard move. 

Don’t expect Robbie Keane back in any shape or form following his second-half loan last season, as Spurs boss Harry Redknapp is keen to sell him if he won’t ply his trade at the Lane next year.  The club will likely make a splash with a striker if Keane falls through.  They will be depending on youngsters Cillian Sheridan and Paul McGowan to provide cover for Geogios Samaras, Shaun Maloney and Marc Antoine-Fortune if they can’t find their man up front.

Celtic have lost CB Stephen McManus to Middlesborough, who Gordon Strachan has swiftly transformed into Glasgow South.  Along with McGeady and infamous keeper Artur Boruc, expect those to be the only big names exiting Parkhead this summer.  Celtic are keen to keep hold of star midfielder Scott Brown, who hasn’t quite fullfilled his talents since his move from Hibs.  It’s there, and new midfielder coach and former Celtic great Alan Thompson intends on getting it out of him. 

Celtic will be in for a keeper with the Boruc departure.  However, from one pollock to another, backup Lukasz Zaluska is the likely replacement as a starter.  If that’s the case, it would be nice to see third-string American keeper Dominic Cervi get his first-team debut at some point this season.

Until next time, Hail Hail!


Va-Va-Boom

July 14, 2010

The MLS made just the explosion it sought after the nation was gripped by the World Cup.

Courtesy of the New York Red Bulls

The news did not come as a surprise. Rumors about Thierry Henry coming to the MLS and specifically coming to the Big Apple have been circling around since at least 2007. Over the past year it’s become a foregone conclusion in MLS circles. In New York there was the House that Ruth Built, and in 2010 the New York Red Bulls opened what many considered to be the House that was built for Henry.  And after all the anticipation it is now official that “Va-va-voom“ will arrive in America. It is an MLS supporters dream come true.

Henry could be considered the most decorated player to sign for the MLS, and possibly the most decorated player in the United States since the famed NASL years with Pele, Beckenbauer, and Cruyff all playing on American soil. He has a World Cup, European Championship and Champions League winners medal, he is famed member of Arsenal‘s Invincibles and a two-time golden boot winner. He’s France’s all-time scorer(51), second only to Lilian Thuram in appearances(123), and the list continues on and on.

Now he will ply his trade in New York.

But signing for New York and the MLS is one thing, performing is another. After a successful 2008/09 campaign at Barcelona his third year was one Henry will want to forget. He lacked the spark that saw his stardom rise,  the explosiveness  in his acceleration looked gone, and with the emergence of Pedro he took a backseat in the Barcelona pecking order. The signing of Villa all but confirmed his tidy exit in this summer’s transfer window. No fanfare on that side of the Atlantic and that spoke volumes.

And New York does not exactly have the history of big signings working out.

Youri Djorkaeff, a teammate of Henry on the French national team that won the World Cup and Euros had a forgettable run in New York in 2005/06. Roberto Donadoni, while playing well enough to be selected in the league’s best XI, didn’t have the impact that was expected. Lothar Matthaus, capped 150 times by Germany, was a complete disappointment. It would be unfair to not mention Juan Pablo Angel, though. Angel did not see the MLS as a soccer retirement home but as another stop in his career, and he quickly cemented himself as  the league’s premier striker.

It’ll be important for Henry to accept Angel’s mentality toward the league. Equally important will be how he adapts to the style. The game here is played at a quicker pace then what he’s seen at Barcelona over the past three seasons with a much stronger emphasis on the physical game. While he is no stranger to a fast paced, physical game it’ll be interesting to see if his can adapt his game to it now that he is 32, past his prime,  and question marks surround his once famed acceleration. He certainly has the technical prowess to terrify MLS backlines, but that’s always been just a part of Henry’s game. Now that technical ability must take the forefront assuming he can’t burst away in the heat against players that are conditioned to the constant summer running in the MLS.

But there is certainly room for a lot of optimism. He certainly is not washed up nor is he too old at 32.

Also, Henry should slot easily into the progressive 4-1-3-2 formation Hans Backe has installed at New York. He’ll have help in Angel who is considered the MLS’ most dangerous attacker, and their tandem will certainly take the pressure off the shielding midfielder and backline that has struggled to gel during the first half of the season.  With emerging young layers like Tim Ream(who could certainly factor in the US’ 2014 plans), Tchani, Hall, and Borman combined with experienced MLS veterans like Petke, Mendes, Albright, and the enigmatic Richards there is a solid core for Henry to operate in. If you add the possible introduction of Ljungberg to connect the sometimes too separated midfield from the attackers or Marquez to solidify the spine there is a team that should certainly be a major contender come November.

Even with no Marquez or Ljungberg there will be no lowering  the bar for Henry. He is expected to be the deadliest striker in the MLS as soon as he puts on the jersey, and in New York he has the manager, the stadium, the city, and a supporting cast that should create a foundation for him to excel. The MLS might not see the Henry of old, but if he can adapt his game and accept the MLS as something other than a joy ride he might make those pipe-dreams from years ago into a reality.