Friday, March 22, 2013

Stories of the Day - March 22: All about CONCACAF WCQ

Today's reading material is a special edition devoted to the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying Hexagonal. First, we'll start off with the week's big story off the field followed by looks at the games and more.


Speaking Out
In one of the biggest breaking stories in recent history regarding the US MNT, Brian Straus of the The Sporting News published on Tuesday a lengthy examination of the state of affairs for the team heading into the pair of qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico this week. Straus spoke to 22 players and individuals around the national team and many had some very harsh criticisms of the current US coach Jurgen Klinsmann, many of them relating to a perceived lack of tactical acumen, poor team management and terrible communication with the players and team, particularly on game day. Straus also ties the current player complaints, which should be pointed out are anonymous, to his past with the Germany and Bayern Munich coaching stints, referring to a book written by German national team captain Philipp Lahm, who wrote that all of the players at Bayern knew it wouldn't work with Klinsmann and they played the season in damage control. Following up on Lahm's thoughts, Straus points to his former assistant coach with Germany, Joachim Low, as the man who really deserved all the credit for the nation's success, leading the team to further success as head coach after Klinsmann's departure.

The Bocanegra Response
US two-time World Cup back Carlos Bocanegra was a central figure in the Straus report as many players pointed to Klinsmann's handling of the captain's status on the team as a prime example of the issues causing harm to the team. They pointed to the stunning reversal from being in the starting group for training prior to the first qualifier against Honduras to being put on the bench the morning of the match. Plus, the Straus story came out on the heels of an roster announcement that saw the veteran left out, which surprised many analysts around the nation. There was no response from Bocanegra on the roster exclusion, but he spoke out the following day via Twitter and Facebook in regards to the Straus story, saying that he respected the coach, noting that every coach has their own style and methods.

Bradley Bites Back
Meanwhile, current US MNT midfielder Michael Bradley was much more critical of the situation, calling the actions of his teammates that spoke anonymously to Straus shameful and embarrassing for crossing the line and taking the issues they had outside of the inner circle. It should be pointed out though, that as the son of the previous US MNT coach, Bradley may have a much more coach-biased view on this kind of situation and it should be no surprised he would defend a coach in this situation as he would not like to see it happen to his own father.

No Division
Injured US goalkeeper Tim Howard took another track in responding to the comments, saying that there is no division in the team because although the players all come from different backgrounds, they all have pride in wearing the US shirt and are all committed to the cause.

Borg Examines Players
While Straus' story was a look at Klinsmann, MLS columnist Simon Borg took on the role of looking at things in the other direction, saying that the story may have more to say about the players and the state of the player pool than Klinsmann. Borg says maybe there are a group of players in the pool that just aren't ready for the big time Klinsmann is trying to take them to, which is why they are struggling to make it as Klinsman tries to put them in situations outside of their comfort zone. He also asks a pertinent question: "What serious soccer professional would try to publicly undermine their coach and their team in that fashion?"

And Finally, Klinsmann's Response
While many players and analysts had their say over several days, the coach remained quiet. In the pre-match presser Thursday, though, he finally spoke on the Straus report, more or less brushing off the matter as he said three things of note in response. 1) That journalists and people can say what they want and the debate itself is a good sign for the sport. 2) He has always said the team is in a transition. 3) That he would prefer people spoke directly to him if they had problems, but the situation is not a distraction.


The Missing Piece
The New York Times' Sam Borden featured a story Wednesday about one of the other more intriguing ongoing stories when it comes to the national team: Landon Donovan and his sabbatical. Borden takes a look at how Donovan's career has led to a moment in which he felt exhausted to a point in which he had to literally take a break, speaking to Bruce Arena and his Galaxy teammate Todd Dunivant. The one thing I would like to know is, does any of the USMNT drama - the Honduras loss, the team division and the Straus report - happen if Donovan had not taken the sabbatical?

Embracing the Cold
Soccer America's preview of the match by Paul Kennedy leads off with the possible weather conditions in Colorado, noting it may not be that much an issue for Costa Rica considering the number of players on the squad who play professionally in cold weather nations. The report includes a breakdown on the history between the two sides and a look at the Ticos roster.

Arrieta's New American Test
Kyle McCarthy of caught up with Costa Rica's Jairo Arrieta in advance of the against the United States. The Columbus striker could see a lot of time if expected started Alvaro Saborio's midweek injury is more than just a knock.

Captain Clint
Klinsmann named Clint Dempsey as the team's new captain.

Meola Backs the Backup
Former star US goalkeeper Tony Meola gave a virtual thumbs up in regards to Brad Guzan filling in for the injured Tim Howard, saying that the team will be ok and that he didn't think there would be a drop off with Guzan in goal.

Mexican Musings
The United States is not the only power facing a difficult situation. Kyle McCarthy takes a look at the problems facing Mexico, which is coming off a stunning 0-0 draw against Jamaica and is visiting Honduras, a place they have had nightmare results historically - including losses in the last four games, on Friday.

Home Turf Dominance
National writer Jeff Bradley checks in at MLSsoccer with an excellent look at the US National Team's decade-long dominance at home, particularly with the continued construction and use of MLS soccer-specific stadia. Some of the numbers are amazing and a few are astonishing, such as the percentage of goals scored by MLS players in those MLS venue games.

A Dominican Moment? columnist Jonah Freedman chimed in this week with an interesting view from a different angle, saying that his experience at the World Baseball Classic gave him new insight into what possibly lies ahead for the US in world soccer.

MLS Continues On
While most leagues around the world take a break for this week's international windows for competition, Major League Soccer will continue on with matches this weekend despite 39 players being away for international duty. Steven Goff of the Washington Post takes a look at the situation.

Bring on the All Whites
Although only one of the 10 games has been played thus far in the Hexagonal, CONCACAF's final six teams now know who awaits the fourth-place finisher in the FIFA World Cup intercontinental qualifying playoff from Oceania. New Zealand clinched the top spot in their confederation with a game remaining by defeating New Caledonia. Four years ago the fourth-place CONCACAF side, Costa Rica, lost to Uruguay of CONMEBOL.

Video Preview
MLS columnists Jason Saghini and Simon Borg host a video preview of the US-Costa Rica contest, bringing in scouting reports on both teams from several other contributors from the MLSsoccer crew.

And Now for a Chuckle
On a very serious day, here is a little comical relief. Last week's Texas showdown produced some humorous video from FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo centering around FCD's infomercial spoof of an orange-crushing machine. The Dallas victory led to the Whitecaps, Houston's opponent this week, reaching out in jest to FCD that they were interested in picking up one of those machines… and Dallas provided a response.

'Stories of the Day' is a quick recap of interesting, underreported, or top soccer news items - sometimes accompanied by some commentary - to give readers in the Inland Northwest area (or beyond) a brief look around the North American news scene.