Friday, March 30

Frustrated by Olympic Failure? How ‘bout some Futsal World Cup Qualifying?

Less than two weeks after the Milwaukee Wave repeated as Major Indoor Soccer League champions, long-time Wave and US National Futsal coach Keith Tozar announced a camp of 18 players to prepare for the upcoming CONCACAF Futsal Championship July 2-8 in Guatemala. The camp will be held April 1-7 in Torrance, Calif.

The U.S. has won the CONCACAF championship twice, in 1996 and 2004. In 2008, the USA reached the Futsal World Cup but failed to advance out of the group stage. For the first time in the qualifying tournament’s history, CONCACAF will send four teams to the Futsal World Cup in Thailand, being held from Nov. 2-18, 2012. The eight teams will be split into two groups of four teams each. The top two teams from each group advance to the semifinals and earn places at the FIFA Futsal World Cup.

In a very mixed roster, there are a number of veteran indoor and outdoor professional players, including former MLS players Byron Alvarez, Kraig Chiles and Angel Rivillo. They are joined by a handful of players that are local to the home facility of the National Futsal Team in Torrance, a few teenage high school players.

A couple of other interesting players on the squad are Patrick Healey and Lubo Kocic. Healey’s father is the president and general manager of his club team, the Baltimore Blast. Kocic, a member of the Rochester Lancers, has played outdoors in the PDL in Houston and professionally in Puerto Rico in addition to being a participant in the Soccer Aces Academy reality TV show.

Alvarez, however, is arguably the most recognizable name on the list. The forward was a former standout in the USL First Division, making a name for himself as skillful with the ball while with the Portland Timbers.

U.S. Futsal National Team Roster by Position
Name (Hometown / Current Club | Previous Clubs)

Ryan Oster (Torrance, Calif.)
Daniel Waltman (Gig Harbor, Wash./Missouri Comets | Rockford Rampage, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Detroit Ignition, Chicago Storm, Yakima Reds, Univ of Washington)

Patrick Healey (Nottingham, Md./Baltimore Blast | Crystal Palace Baltimore, Towson Univ.)
Ljubomir Kocic (Metairie, La./Rochester Lancers | Puerto Rico United, Houston Leones, Univ. of Incarnate Word)
Kevin Ten Eyck (Wichita, Kan./Wichita Wings | Friends Univ.)
Nelson Torres (Santa Clara, Calif.)

Kraig Chiles (San Diego, Calif./San Diego Sockers | LA Legends, Chivas USA, San Diego State Univ.)
Matt Clare (Brandon, Fla./Norfolk SharX | Tampa Bay Rowdies, Bradenton Academics, West Virginia Chaos)
Jeff Hughes (Independence, Ky./Syracuse Silver Knights | Cincinnati Kings, 1790 Cincinnati, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Wilmington Hammerheads, TSV 1860 Munchen, Univ. of Cincinnati, Western Michigan Univ.)
Casey Macias (Irvine, Calif. / graduating HS this year)
Angel Rivillo (Bala Cynwyd, Pa./Wichita Wings | Philadelphia Kixx, Atlanta Silverbacks, Chicago Fire, Milwaukee Wave, Milwaukee Rampage, Dallas Burn, Creighton Univ.)
Alex Robles (Lynwood, Calif. / graduating HS this year)
Lucas Stauffer (Faribault, Minn. / graduating HS in 2013)
Matthew Stewart (Chicago, Ill./Milwaukee Wave | Rockford Rampage)

Byron Alvarez (Kansas City, Mo./Missouri Comets | Portland Timbers, Monterrey La Raza, Charleston Battery, Chicago Storm, Portland Timbers, MetroStars, Yakima Reds)
Machel Millwood (Laurel, Md./Baltimore Blast | Crystal Palace Baltimore, Atlanta Silverbacks, Syracuse Salty Dogs, Towson Univ. Prince Georges CC)
Nicolas Perera (San Marcos, Calif./Milwaukee Wave)
Bato Radoncic (Chicago, Ill./Missouri Comets |Chicago Riot, Rockford Rampage, Milwaukee Rampage)

Wednesday, March 28

Stories Of the Day: Misbehavior

It looks like the theme of the day is behaving badly…

Bumbling in Brazil: On the very day that FIFA officials met with the new leadership of the Brazilian soccer federation, news broke that Brazilian coach Mano Menezes refused a breathalyzer test when stopped at a police checkpoint after midnight last night. As if  the new administration did not already have enough on its plate with World Cup hosting preparation drama, now they have to deal with trouble on the football side of things.  

Precedent for Profanity now Three Games: Major League Soccer announced its punishment for Dynamo midfielder Colin Clark, who uttered a profane gay slur at a ball kid in Friday’s game in Seattle. The punishment laid out was three games, an undisclosed fine and sensitivity training. Three games seems a little harsh, but given the salaries in the league, it is difficult to issue a comparable penalty that other major leagues have levied on its star players. All in all, it is a fair result. Though it was allegedly the heat of the battle, it was really only seven minutes into the game and a ball kid dropping the ball instead of tossing it to him in essentially was the midfield – what exactly was the big dramatic rush there that would justify any kind of complaint, profane or not.

Tussle in Toronto: If you have not seen it yet, I am sure the video will be making the rounds soon enough. Following the 1-1 CCL draw between Toronto and Santos Laguna, in which the hosts played well against a visiting side that finished with 10 men, a fracas broke out between players on the two clubs. Star Santos Laguna striker Carlos Quintero struck at TFC player after the final whistle, which drew a post-game red card from the official and sparked the post-game shoving contest that could, perhaps, result in more punishments being handed out.

Side Notes

Speaking of Santos Laguna: As a former USL staffer, it continues to be a treat to see Herculez Gomez, a USL Second Division find, continue to excel. It looks like a Mexican club has finally decided to give him more of an opportunity, and he is not disappointing. Soccer By Ives put together a great look at his recent success.

Pizzolitto Retires: Another standout in USL, Nevio Pizzolitto called it a career after 17 seasons today. He was always one of the best defenders in the USL First Division for Montreal, drawing the ire and respect from the opposition. I always liked that name too… but maybe that’s because I enjoy pizza.

Tuesday, March 27

Olympic Failure or an Evolving, Maturing Psyche?

There have been a lot of excellent and interesting examinations of the 'colossal' failure of the US U23 Men’s National Team over the past week.
U23 MNT prepares | photo: US Soccer
Perhaps something that should also be examined is the role of Major League Soccer in this. Fourteen of the 20 players on the squad were from MLS clubs. Canada, which faces tough odds to qualify with Mexico looming in the semifinals, features seven players from MLS and another three from the NASL.

Aside from the demolition of a 10-man Cuba, neither side acquitted themselves very well at the tournament. Canada played El Salvador to a scoreless draw to open the tournament and defeated the US on two corner kicks. On the final day Canada again came out with a minimal result, playing Cuba, which came in outscored 10-0, to a 1-1 draw.

Is the problem that these younger players are not playing together enough leading up to the tournament, or does it lie in the development and preparation they are getting at their clubs? You have to wonder if the fact so many of them are literally just coming in off of preseason MLS camps where they have been learning to sync up with new club teammates and then thrust into a national team where they have to go through the process all over again in addition to not being in complete match fitness like their opponents from El Salvador.

Part of the blame in that also probably falls on CONCACAF, which scheduled the tournament outside of FIFA windows that would have given the US and Canada greater access to its standouts abroad in Europe.

But in the end, I think I may know what the underlying issue is that is behind all of the above factors pointed out. Perhaps we just don’t care about the Youth National Teams’ success anymore; at least in tournaments.

We often say that we are a young soccer nation. And while that is true, we are also maturing. Part of that process is outgrowing a need to obsess over winning youth tournaments.

I think the obsession really began on the heels of the 1998 World Cup debacle and the explosion of the internet over the next 10 years. Fans became savvy and could follow the development of players at all levels, making the success of our youth teams a much larger representation of who we were as a soccer nation; that if we couldn’t contend in the World Cup, maybe we could slip in somehow and win at the youth level.

But now that MLS is becoming a success and the senior national team is firmly set as a CONCACAF power and has more or less established itself as one of the second-tier quality nations in FIFA, we don’t need to rely on the youth programs for respect. I think a lot of the coaches and executives in US Soccer and MLS have come to this realization, but fans and media have not quite turned that corner. While attention from the ‘outsiders’ is still on living up to expectations, the insiders have turned the youth teams into what they are around the world for the other establish nations: development and scouting programs.

And while I think Jurgen Klinsmann would have liked the boys to get some more international experience, what he ultimately cares about is finding out which players can succeed on this kind of stage. MLS teams know the youth events, in the big scheme of things, are not the most important aspect anymore and want their players back.

And if the coaches and executives feel this way, perhaps the players also now do not treat these games as the holy grail; that a loss could be the end of their careers. No, they know a good individual performance can land bigger club contracts and that poor performances can be put behind them with future success with their club(s), earning senior call-ups later in their career. That kind of psyche takes the focus away from worrying about every little 'team interaction' on the field and makes it more difficult to find a cohesive team performance by the group. 

Sure, my initial reaction to the performance was that it was extremely disappointing. But let’s face the truth; NBC was not going to all of a sudden change its Olympic programming plans to make soccer its top focus. And ultimately, all I could really do was shrug my shoulders and say, “oh well.”

I think the time has come for everyone on the outside to also grow beyond living and dying on each youth national team result. We need to begin treating the youth teams for what they are – development programs. When we watch the games and examine what happens, it should be in concert with the bigger picture. Perhaps a little less of the blame searching and a little more constructive criticism is in order... at least for the youth national teams.

Stories Of the Day: Do You Believe in Miracles? Nevermind

What a wild day news day surrounding the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament…

Another Tournament, Another Disappearance: It seemed as though Cuba was finally going to survive a tournament in North America without losing any players to defection. Then news came out of Nashville during the team’s final group match today that Yosmel de Armas, who started in the team’s 4-0 loss two days prior, was listed as “not present” on the roster, immediately sparking rumors of defection.

Miracle Day for Cuba: The possible defection aside, it was a day for believers. On the same day the Pope made his first visit to the nation of Cuba since his predecessor 14 years ago, the Cuban national team found their own miracle in Nashville. In the first minute of stoppage time Maykel Reyes headed in a free kick to stun Canada for a surprising 1-1 draw. The result locked the Canucks into second place in the group and an unfortunate pairing with a red hot Mexican side that has dominated its group while also opening the door back up for the United States to finish first, as was expected.

Prayer Plentiful in Prime Time: With the shocking result of the first contest in the doubleheader, the second match between El Salvador and the United States turned into a thriller that had fans of both sides praying for rallies throughout the affair. The US scored just seconds into the match courtesy of Terrence Boyd and looked ready to resume a role as regional power.

Then two minutes in the middle of the half completely reversed the momentum. Mark Blanco headed in a corner in the 35th to level it up and Andres Flores tallied less than two minutes later to give El Salvador a commanding advantage, needing only a draw to move on.

Boyd would strike again for a resurgent US in the middle of the second half, equalizing in the 65th. Then Joe Corona gave the hosts the 3-2 lead eight minutes later. But just when it looked like the miracle was going to happen for the United States, El Salvador found fortune in the fifth minute of stoppage time when Jaime Alas scored from long range for a 3-3 draw, giving the nation the opportunity to reach the Olympics for the first time since 1968.

Monday, March 26

Stories Of the Day: Split for Canadians, Unfortunate Remarks

It was a huge day Saturday for Canada with extreme highs and lows…

National Pride: Canadians all across the country united behind a splendid start to the day as the Canadian women’s national team delivered a bit of a surprise. Though it was a friendly, the lady Canucks upset no. 4 ranked Brazil, 2-1, on a pair of Christine Sinclair tallies.

Later in the day, the U23 Canadian men registered what will likely go down as the upset of the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament when they shocked the United States, 2-0, in Nashville. Two corner kicks doomed the US squad as Doneil Henry and Lucas Cavallini took advantage of a “listless performance... [and] criminal defensive work.” Now the US men must beat El Salvador, who played Canada to a scoreless draw, to advance as the second seed from the group to the semifinals, where they will face Mexico, which demolished T&T and dominated Honduras.    

The day, as a whole, was a disaster for the US. Before the game it was announced striker Juan Agudelo’s meniscus was torn, knocking him out of the tournament and sidelining him for the New York Red Bulls.

Club Calamity: While there was much to celebrate from national team results, there was literally nothing to celebrate at the club level as all three Canadian MLS teams went scoreless on the day. The only consolation, perhaps, on the day was that Vancouver managed a draw, though it was against previously pointless DC United. Toronto lost 3-0 at home to San Jose and Montreal fell, 2-0, on the road to Columbus, which picked up its first positive result.

It is not a good sign as Toronto heads into a Champions League semifinal series Wednesday against Mexican power Santos Laguna.

Red Card for Intolerance: On Friday, I brought up a point where supporters clubs were upstaging FIFA at the organization’s own mantra, FIFA Fair Play, with their “Show Racism the Red Card” initiative. Well, the well-planned event will undoubtedly take a back seat this week following the incident in the first game of the weekend, Houston at Seattle. During the match, Dynamo player Colin Clark approached the touchline expecting the ball, but when the ballkid rolled it to his feet instead of with a toss, the veteran MLS player stunned many when he turned to the kid uttered a gay slur at him (f***ing f****t), which was caught on NBC Sports audio and from fan video cameras. 

Clark, apologized online via twitter and to a gay advocacy group following the match, but the incident will be long remembered and will most likely result in league penalties.  

It is a shame an incident of this sort occurs so soon after the offseason announcement from David Testo, a veteran MLS and lower division player, that he is gay. At the time I commented (on Extra Time @ that I was very surprised he was open with his friends and teammates, but that it had been respected by those who knew around the sport, but had not said anything publicly.

It was noted at the time by former coach Marc Dos Santos that Testo was occasionally the target of homophobic abuse while playing, but no response came from any league officials (MLS, NASL, USL), so far as I know, at the time about stamping out the offensive action. Perhaps it had been addressed, this innocent youth would not have been placed in this position and homosexuals around the nation would not have been offended.