Monday, September 22, 2014

Week 5 Analysis

I actually got to watch some EPL this weekend!! What a crazy weekend for some teams, and so much disappointment for others.

QPR 2:2 Stoke City
They just gotta do this to me, don't they? Like I said last week, 2-2 scores are the worst. Diouf (the savior of Stoke against Man City) scored, as well as Peter Crouch with a long distance strike. QPR were able to save the day thanks to a free kick goal by Kranjcar in the 88th minute. 

Swansea City 0:1 Southampton
You've gotta be kidding me. My opinion on Southampton at the beginning of the season has been greatly deteriorated, and is currently one of my two biggest flops in soccer analysis (the other being my World Cup 2014 bracket... but I mean how many people had correct brackets?) Southampton is currently second in the EPL, right behind Chelsea. Next week will be interesting, as Southampton play QPR. Hopefully they can get a 5-0 result against the weak QPR team like Tottenham and Man U did. 

Aston Villa 0:3 Arsenal
This is probably the best result of the weekend. Arsenal were able to break the strong Aston Villa defense/GK that gained tons of points in the first few weeks. The reason Arsenal were able to break through so well? Danny Welbeck. He scored and assisted in this game, making it his breakout game for Arsenal. I hope he continues to do well in the upcoming weeks (and not just because he's on my FPL team...)

Burnley 0:0 Sunderland
Boring teams, boring score. Next.

Newcastle 2:2 Hull City 
Okay, this 2-2 tie was actually not as bad as others that I am forced to write about week after week. Hull City went up 2-0 in the second half (with all goals coming in the second half) only to be destroyed in the last half hour by Newcastle's Cisse, who brought his team back to tie 2-2.

West Ham 3:1 Liverpool
Terrible game by Liverpool defense. They allowed 2 goals in the first seven minutes, and this set the tempo for the rest of the game. This was obviously West Ham's plan, as they came off the whistle in a full out attack. They then proceeded to defend and park the bus for the rest of the game, which allowed them to win. Liverpool has some good talent in the defense, it just needs to come together more in the upcoming weeks. Also, signing Joe Hart is the winter transfer market would be a great plus. 

Leicester City 5:3 Manchester United
This is just a complete embarrassment for Manchester United. They were up 2-0 and then proceeded to give up 5 (FIVE) goals to LEICESTER CITY. The Man U defense was destroyed by the attack of Leicester City, giving up the ball many times and in the wrong places. Just embarrassing. Good game for Leicester, though!

Tottenham 0:1 West Brom
Tottenham are continuing to slide down a terrible slope with horrible results. They lost at home... to West Brom. They had 7 shots, with 1 on goal. Strikers and midfielders are obviously a problem here, and hopefully they can fix this during the winter transfer market.

Man City 1:1 Chelsea 
People were claiming that this was such a great game, when in reality it wasn't. Sure, seeing Frank Lampard score on his old team, Chelsea, to help Manchester City tie the game up was awesome, and seeing the look on Jose Mourinho's face after the goal was even more awesome. I hate watching Chelsea play top teams because of the tactics Mourinho uses to get results. He "parks the bus" with his team, which is like double tapping the D-pad to the left on an Xbox controller in the middle of a FIFA game (which puts the team into Ultra Defensive mode). This makes the game boring to watch, as all 11 players are behind the ball to try to defend the goal. This is how they won against Liverpool last year, and I just hate the tactic. Eden Hazard had a good assist in this game, but I still don't believe he is a top player in the world. 

Everton 2:3 Crystal Palace
So apparently last weeks 2-0 win for Everton was a fluke or something, because this score is just strange. The defense needs strengthening, and Leighton Baines needs to take more of a leadership role. Allowing 3 goals to Crystal Palace is just strange. Next week will be an interesting game for Everton in the Merseyside Derby against Liverpool (where Daniel Sturridge may come back for Liverpool, yay!)

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Week of Soccer

I've been thinking lately of a way that I could cover other leagues and tournaments without having to write as extensive posts as I do for MLS and EPL, and it suddenly hit me today. I can put the best stories from around the soccer world and put them all in one post! Sure, this will include some MLS and EPL, but I mean how can I not include the top 2 leagues in the world in "A Week of Soccer" (I need a new name for this... Any ideas?) Well here we go!

La Liga
This is the top flight Spanish league, which includes Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid (go ahead and try to name 5 other teams in La Liga... I'm not sure I could). Some story lines coming out of La Liga last week were that Real Madrid surprisingly LOST to Atletico Madrid, 2:1. How can you have all star players such as Bale, Benzema, Rodriguez, and Kroos, lose to a decimated Atletico side? Also, Barcelona is unbeaten in league play thus far with 3 wins.

Champions League
The Champions League is this HUGE tournament that happens from September to May in Europe. It includes teams from around Europe, and pits powerhouses such as Bayern Munich and Manchester City against each other. Teams can qualify for the tournament by performing well in their separate leagues, such as in the EPL, where a team must be in the top 3 of the league by the end of the season to qualify for the Champions League. Some big stories from the Champions league this week were that Bayern Munich defeated Manchester City 1-0 and Schalke (a German team) tied a Costa-less Chelsea 1-1.

Okay, I know this isn't "around the world", but MLS made big news this week by announcing a rebrand of their image. The league decided that it was time for a change because of all the changes already happening in the league. There will be 2 new teams next season, and huge names such as Kaka, Lampard, and Villa coming to the league.

This is the new logo for MLS, with the three stars standing for "Community. Club. Country." The MLS finds these three pillars crucial to American soccer, and decided to even incorporate them into the crest. Something cool about this crest is that it can be personalized based on each team. Below is the example for the Orlando City crest. The problem that many people have with the crest is the random white space on the right side of the design. Many people have taken matters into their own hands and filled that white space with team logos and designs. You can see some of those here!

Americans Abroad
Some Americans made headlines this week such as:
Tim Howard- Made 12 saves in a Europa League game for Everton
Brek Shea- Got an assist in his debut for Birmingham City, where he is on loan from Stoke City
Julian Green- Announced that he hoped being able to play at Hamburg (Germany) will help him get first team time in the future on Bayern Munich

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

EPL Week 4 Score and Analysis

Alright, I'll admit it. I watched 0 (zero) minutes of EPL soccer this weekend. I'm sorry to the soccer world for my absence, and this will not happen again (but hey my FPL team did decent). I'll base the analysis below on what I have read and highlights I have seen from the games.

Arsenal 2:2 Man City
These 2 teams met in the FA Cup the week before EPL actually started, with a much different score line. Arsenal destroyed the Man City team 3-0. This score is very strange and hard to break down. Both of these teams did not make HUGE waves in the transfer window (well Man City technically wasn't allowed to sign anyone anyway...). I think this will definitely affect Man City down the road, because they haven't been able to add to their league winning team from last season. Heck, they even had to get rid of Negredo because of the sanctions put on them. On the Arsenal side, I'm not sure. Welbeck needs to start scoring here soon with the absence of Olivier Giroud.

Stoke City 0:1 Leicester
This was Leicester's first win in the EPL since being promoted, which is understandable because of the rough schedule they had right out of the gates with Everton, Chelsea, and Arsenal. This should be an upsetting loss for Stoke as they just came off a HUGE win vs. Man City.

Chelsea 4:2 Swansea City
Swansea struck early, but they were unable to hold onto their lead. A hat trick by Diego Costa (ugh) was more than enough for Chelsea to top Swansea. I think the trick is just for the media to keep saying that Costa is "hurt" before games so that he keeps performing like he is. This game also made me angry because Loic Remy actually got to see the field.... AND HE SCORED. So much for selling him from my FPL team last week....

Southampton 4:0 Newcastle 
Southampton just keeps on proving me wrong week after week. Four goals?! That's just insane. I guess I (and almost every other soccer analyst) overlooked the depth and/or purchases that Southampton made in the offseason. 2 goals by Graziano Pelle, a summer signing, brought Southampton the lead in the first twenty minutes. Goals in the second half came from Jack Cork and the in-form Morgan Schneiderlin.

Sunderland 2:2 Tottenham
Alright what's going on here... Ever since destroying QPR in week 2, Tottenham has quickly been sliding downhill. A 3-0 loss at home to Liverpool in week 3 now THIS? Sunderland? I believe Tottenham are in need of some DeAndre Yedlin. (USA, USA, USA)

Crystal Palace 0:0 Burnley

West Brom 0:2 Everton 
Finally, a decent defensive outing by Everton. They've proved the past few games that they had scoring abilities through players such as Naismith and McGeady, but the defense has not performed at the level it was last season. Good to see Lukaku score, but his time on my FPL team has sadly come to an end.

Liverpool 0:1 Aston Villa
Come on you Reds, are you kidding me? Honestly (not coming up with excuses as a Liverpool fan) I believe that the international break was really killer for Liverpool. Sterling started on the bench, probably because he needed a break after a long week away with England, and Sturridge was out with an injury. And he will be the next few weeks as well. All credit to Aston Villa though, who keep getting positive results on the road and at home. Shout out to USMNT-er Brad Guzan with the shutout.

Man United 4:0 QPR
This is the game Van Gaal needed to deliver to Man United fans. It was only a matter of time before the fans turned, but this will hold them back for a little while. I would be a little scared of this score if a currently out of form Tottenham hadn't gotten the same score against the weak QPR team a few weeks ago. The next few weeks should be great confidence boosters for this brand new Man U team, and it will definitely be an exciting story to watch.

Hull City 2:2 West Ham
I really don't know what to say for 2-2 ties... Kind of hard to write about. Both defenses were obviously not on point, and both offenses were obviously pretty decent. Sorry don't have much to say on this one.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Futbolicy on the World Cup

For a little more than a month every four years, the world comes together to watch the greatest soccer players compete in the World Cup. New young players have a chance to make headlines, while old stars are able to add to their long list of achievements.

James Rodriguez (left) and Lionel Messi (right)

Does anyone actually know the process that goes into planning a tournament such as a World Cup? There's a bidding process, where teams compete for the tournament to be held in their country. Then FIFA (the government of international soccer) votes and decides on a country that they believe deserves to hold the tournament. Locations are chosen far in advance so that there is plenty of time to prepare. Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 were both chosen in late 2010!

One major question still remains: why would a country want to have the World Cup come to their country anyway? Maybe it's for glory, or for recognition on a global scale. Some might think they have a better chance winning it if it's in their country (I'm talking about you England... or for that matter Brazil). FIFA has a totally different thought process when it comes to giving the World Cup rights, and I believe their thought process is greatly flawed. Over the past series of World Cups, FIFA has given the tournament to countries they believe could benefit from the "economic gains" that they CLAIM the tournament brings. This is the reason that South Africa, Brazil, Russia, and Qatar have all gotten to host the tournament. FIFA claims that although the country will have to spend tons of money, they will get it all back. Figures coming straight out of the Brazil tournament show that the Brazilian government spent $14 billion on the tournament, and only got $3.5 billion back of that money from the tournament. That means that the country of Brazil lost $10.5 billion AT LEAST on the tournament. FIFA tries to make the host countries feel better saying that the new stadiums could attract more fans to local club teams, and that they will eventually break even in the long run. Between the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, South Africa has been trying to make their money back by doing this, but have only made $500 million in the past 4 years from the stadiums they spent so much to build. FIFA needs to stop granting the World Cup to nations who can not economically handle everything that the job entails. I am all for spreading the beautiful game, but this is the wrong way to do it.

Brazilians protest the 2014 World Cup

This being said, I believe I have a solution for how FIFA should handle the World Cup. FIFA should take the five major continents (because who wants to play in Antarctica.... and I'll group Australia into Asia), and switch between each continent from every World Cup. There would have to be criteria set, such as if a country wants to host the tournament then they would ALREADY have to have the infrastructure to host the tournament. By doing this, FIFA could get rid of the huge costs of having to build stadiums, and simply spend that money over long time periods (since there would be sixteen years before the same continent hosts the tournament) on the maintenance of the already built stadiums. If this were to be the case and FIFA were to switch to this system after the 2022 World Cup, this is how I would lay out the next five World Cups:

  • 2026: USA
  • 2030: Germany, England, or Spain/Portugal
  • 2034: Korea/Japan
Because I had a hard time thinking of countries in Africa and South America to host the tournament, I would just give them to the last two countries who hosted the tournament, since they already spent so much money on stadiums so...

  • 2038: South Africa
  • 2042: Brazil
After 2042, this cycle would repeat, but other countries within each respective continent could fight for the World Cup, as long as they had the infrastructure and ability to hold the tournament.

By switching to my method, FIFA and the countries they are currently giving the World Cup to would stop losing their money and the games would be more structured. My hopes would be that their would be less unrest than what we saw in Brazil this summer as well. (Plus the World Cup being in the US in 12 years wouldn't be too shabby.)


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Futbolicy on MLS

Let me just start by saying that I love Major League Soccer. That being said, I believe major changes will be made within the next 10 years as to how the league will be played. If not, the MLS will not be able to further compete with other leagues across the globe. This will also affect the national team, as Jurgen Klinsmann will have to look more towards Europe for players to field a team.

I see 3 major problems with MLS, and all 3 problems have manageable solutions that we could see enacted within the next 10-15 years:

  1. In English soccer, they use something known as a tier system. This is also seen in Spain and Germany. In England, the top teams play in the Barclays Premier league. This is where popular teams such as Manchester United and Liverpool play. There are 20 teams in the Premier League. Underneath the Premier League is the Football League Championship. This league has 24 teams in it. After the Football League Championship, there are 6 other different leagues. To promote competition, there's something known as relegation and promotion in English soccer. During the season, each team will play every other team for a total of 38 games. At the end of the season, the bottom 3 teams of the Premier League are relegated to the Football League Championship, while the top 3 teams in the Football League Championship are promoted to the Premier League. So every year, there are three new teams introduced to the Premier League, who replaced those three relegated that underperformed the previous season. In the US, there is no such thing as promotion and relegation. We do have 4 different leagues: the MLS, the USL Pro, NASL, and the NPSL. These four leagues used to barely interact, with most NASL and USL Pro teams now acting as "farm teams" for MLS squads. Recently, there has been a call from many different USL Pro teams that they want to join the MLS. One, Orlando City SC, has been successful and will join the league in 2015. MLS has also recently announced the expansion of its league with 3 more teams: New York City FC, Atlanta, and Miami. This year, the MLS has 19 teams and with the expansion they will have 21 next season (Atlanta joins in 2017 and Miami is TBD). Since the US doesn't have a promotion/relegation system, they have a playoff system. There are 2 different conferences, East and West, and the top 5 teams from each conference at the end of the season will play in the playoffs. This is how the top team in MLS is determined. With the MLS eventually having 23+ teams, a playoff system will be pointless and boring (as if it isn't already). The obvious solution for this is to stop expanding and turn to promotion/relegation. This means the MLS would have to work with the leagues beneath them to help further organize them and make them stronger. This also means that the MLS will have to stop randomly making teams (GASP). I cringe whenever I hear that the MLS is just going to "make" a team, such as in Atlanta or plans for a team in Las Vegas. Why do that when there are teams that have established themselves and made a name for themselves already? If a team wants to be created, they'll have to start at the bottom and work their way up. If they really are as good as they say they are then we will see them in a few years when they make their way up the tier system.  (Goodness I wrote a lot about that....)
  2. Designated players. If you said this to a soccer fan in England or Spain they'd have no idea what you're talking about. That, or they would make fun of the American system for having them. The designated players rule in MLS needs to go. This rule allows each MLS team to sign 3 players that are above the set MLS salary cap (also a dumb rule not seen in Europe). In 2014, the salary cap was $3.1 million dollars, and this salary had to be split between 20 players for a whopping total of $155,000 per player per year. To put this into perspective, top players at Manchester United make more than half of this.... A WEEK. Every MLS team can have 3 exceptions to this, their 3 designated players. The reason I think this rule will be changed soon is because of the expansion team known as NYCFC. New York City will be unlike any other team seen in MLS. It was bought by Manchester City of the Premier League and the New York Yankees. Both teams are known to be very rich and spend high amounts of money for players. NYCFC has already bought 2 of their 3 designated players: David Villa, a very popular Spanish player, and Frank Lampard, a popular former Chelsea player. I see the owners of NYCFC eventually sitting down with MLS and trying to fight the designated player rule. When that time comes, I will definitely be on the NYC side. 
  3. This last problem isn't as major as the other two, but it definitely deserves a looking at. The MLS year runs from February to the beginning of December. Most other leagues in the world start in late August and finish in the middle of May. The problem with the MLS schedule appears when the World Cup comes around. The MLS is forced to take a two week break, while most other teams are already in their break in between seasons. This break also isn't long enough because it only goes until the end of group stage, and not through the whole tournament. It punishes teams that have World Cup players, because they will have to go on without their usual stars while they participate in the elimination rounds of the tournament. Another problem was seen just this past week, when the US played an international friendly on a FIFA friendly date. Lots of other leagues usually take a one week break when a FIFA date comes around, and allow their players to go play for their respective national squads. MLS refuses to do this, and keeps on going about their business playing games. Since it's so late in the season, many US national team members that play in the MLS refused a call up from Jurgen Klinsmann because they found it necessary to stay and help their team secure a spot in the MLS playoffs. Recently, there has been lots of chatter about the MLS changing to a FIFA calendar, and I believe that it will be forced into it within the next couple of years.     
The MLS has the ability to grow and create more competition in other ways than just adding teams and creating new ones. By fixing the three problems listed above, they will be able to compete internationally as one of the most competitive leagues in the world. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Futbolicy on FIFA (the game)

I was introduced to FIFA by my friend Marcos about 2 years ago. I was never ready to make the commitment to actually buy the game for myself so he would always let me borrow his older copies whenever he got the new one for Christmas. When FIFA 14 came out last September, I was determined to get a copy. I was tired of having non-updated teams and outdated players. Once I acquired a copy of the game, I was hooked. While playing, I did not know I was actually learning more about soccer than ever before. When I was actually playing soccer, I was so focused on learning my position (left mid) than those of the teammates around me. Of course, I knew that this player would be here for me to pass to or another player would be there looking for me to pass to, but I really didn't understand the actual game of soccer. Through FIFA I was able to learn formations, tactics, and other positions. After much playing, I realized that I talked to myself, yelled at the TV, and yelled at players in the game as if they were real. This may make it sound like I'm crazy, or got way too into the game, but what I was really doing was analyzing the game. By talking to myself, I was able to slow the game down and make smarter passes and take better shots. After yelling at the TV, I would make formation changes that would give me a more attacking offense or more conservative midfield. And by yelling at players and realizing they were either too tired to play or just not fast enough to keep up with the other team, I would switch them out with a player on the bench. By doing these three things, I have become both a better FIFA player and soccer analyzer.

How have you become a better "soccer analyzer" you ask? All three of these skills can be used while watching a game, waiting to get into a game from the bench, or coaching a real game. If you ever get the chance to watch a soccer game with me (go ahead and put that on your bucket list) you'll realize that I am constantly pointing at the screen as if the players can see me and know where I'm pointing. Usually, I'm pointing at where the open pass is or where holes are in our defense. Real games are basically just more intense FIFA games, and having a good understanding of FIFA and tactics definitely makes watching soccer way more fun.

I'm out, my FIFA campaign is calling my name.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

3 Notes from USA vs. CZE

Well, I was going to write these three things in my post yesterday, but I started going off on a tangent on the whole "where the USA will be in 4 years" thing. So today, instead of how US soccer will look in 4 years, I'll talk about how the team looked yesterday. The following three subjects are thoughts that I had during the game.

  1. With Tim Howard announcing that he is taking a break from US national team, a competition has begun for the open position. The first half, we saw Brad Guzan in goal. Usually, Guzan is understood as Tim Howard's back up. He has experience against some of the best players in the world because he plays (and starts) in the EPL for Aston Villa. Currently, Guzan is in great form and just this weekend let in his first goal of the season after a 360+ minute shutout since the start of the EPL 3 weeks ago. In the US game, Guzan made a few saves, but much of the play was on the Czech side for the first half. At halftime, Klinsmann decided to switch out keepers and give Nick Rimando a chance to impress. And that's exactly what he did. Since this was an international friendly, each side could make 6 changes. Making that many changes can seriously change the speed of play, and this could be the reason why the US did so poorly in the 2nd half. This can also be seen in the US 2-2 draw in a "friendly" vs. Mexico before the World Cup. With this poor showing in the second half, Rimando was forced to come up with some incredible saves. He was the main reason the game ended up 1-0 and not 2 or 3 to 1. In the battle for starting keeper, both past backups made their case that they deserve to start in the game vs Czech Republic.
  2. Youngsters. Youngsters everywhere. Some took the opportunity and shined. Joe Gyau, a winger, was one of the best players for the Americans yesterday. His strength and speed gave him the ability to beat defenders and his name was constantly being said in the game. He was hungry for the ball and for goals. I may get struck down by the US soccer gods for saying this, but Julian Green did not impress me at all yesterday. Although his confidence is very high, Green didn't make appropriate passes and his set pieces.... Let's not get into those. Emerson Hyndman also made his first team debut, and he has a very bright future as a midfielder for the USA. 
  3. Mix. Diskerud. Great player, great hair. His performance yesterday left me thinking: what if he had started over Michael Bradley in the World Cup? If he had played like he did yesterday, I would like to believe we would have had a better chance against both Portugal and Belgium. Anyways, Diskerud had a great game against the Czechs and I look forward to watching his role in the US team develop the next few years. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Next World Cup Cycle (The Quest for the Semifinals)

After 4 short hours of classes, a quick lunch, and a speedy walk back to my dorm, I was able to sit down and watch the USAvCZE game live thanks to NBC Live Extra. Every single USA game is important to me, from "boring" international friendlies to exciting WCQ such as USA vs. Jamaica (thanks Brad Evans!) They give insight to the squad, and show strengths and weaknesses that are important to work on.

Brad Evans celebrating his late equalizing goal vs. Jamaica

Spikes in appreciation of US soccer always happen during the World Cup, but then what happens after? The true soccer fans stay and the country as a whole turns back to football or basketball (or worse... baseball). Why do fans gained in the World Cup lose interest? Most seem to believe that the World Cup is the only tournament that the US actually competes in. Who can blame them? It's the only tournament that the USA plays in that is nationally televised and advertised for. It's also the most competitive tournament that the US plays in. Sure, the Gold Cup comes every 2 years, but we play opponents such as Belize or Cuba. No one wants to watch those games. The games are barely even televised. This set up is totally different than our European counterparts. They know that once the World Cup ends, they only have to wait 2 years for the almost as popular Euro tournament. Qualifiers for the Euro even start less than 2 months after the end of the World Cup! This gives European fans more competitive games to watch, building more pride for a national squad.

Spain after winning Euro 2012

This World Cup cycle, US fans should be more excited than ever for the national team. In 2016, USA is hosting the Copa America. Usually, this tournament is reserved for teams from South America, but the tournament will be celebrating its 100th year, and the organizers have decided to celebrate by inviting the US and Mexico to participate. In this tournament, the US team will have the chance to play South American powerhouses such as Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. Because of this, Americans should look forward to the next four years of American soccer, and the chant "I believe that we will win" should be ringing in my ears as loud as ever before.