Monday, October 6, 2014

Posted on Monday, October 06, 2014 by Lex


Friday, August 15, 2014

Posted on Friday, August 15, 2014 by Lex


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Jack Megaw joins the podcast today to discuss the Top 10 clubs in Europe ahead of the domestic campaigns. We make some prediction a

Posted on Wednesday, August 06, 2014 by Lex

1 comment

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

When Didier Drogba left Stamford Bridge, he left a note on the Cobham dressing room white board. The note read “Blue till I die” with his signature below.  Rumors of Drogba’s Chelsea reunion with Jose Mourinho and Chelsea began as early as April 2013, after an embrace following a Champions League match between Real Madrid and Galatasaray.  The Drogba transfer speculation lasted for over a year before Drogba was reunited with his beloved Blues.

After a two year departure, Didier Drogba has returned to Stamford Bridge. His last term at Chelsea ended with his kick of the ball that earned the Blues their first ever UEFA Champions League title. Last year Chelsea’s weakest position was striker, now it is almost an embarrassment of riches at the front of attack.  Drogba is now the latest addition to go along with the fresh intensity of Diego Costa, the return of Romelu Lukaku, and Fernando Torres, who once upon a time was the greatest striker in the world.

The internet is awash in rumors that Romelu Lukaku will soon depart Chelsea for Everton, but the signing of his idol Didier Drogba likely signals that he will stay with the club. Lukaku scored 15 goals in his previous Premier League campaign with Everton, a total greater than any player accomplished at Chelsea last season. Internet rumors also have Fernando Torres linked with a return to Atletico Madrid, but until either of these rumors are proven true, Chelsea will boast a depth in the position they have lacked for the past two seasons.

Diego Costa should absolutely be considered the first choice striker. His considerable skill and trademark intensity should serve him well in the league, where Chelsea lacked a consistent goal scoring threat. Costa is one of the five best strikers in the world and is coming off a season with Atletico Madrid, where he scored 27 La Liga goals. In his last campaign he fell just short of Champions League glory, with Chelsea he seeks to contribute to a growing dynasty. He has already displayed his lethal finishing ability, running onto a through ball from fellow new signing Cesc Fabregas, during Sunday afternoon’s friendly with Slovenian club Olimpija.

The friendly match also displayed the mercurial talents of Torres, who impressed all with an incredible flick, and followed it up with a monumental miss from 6 yards out. Torres is an incredibly interesting tale of glory and decline that coincided with his switch from Liverpool to Chelsea three years ago. He has not been able to return to the form that once made him the greatest in the world. As El Nino grew into a fully matured footballer, he only showed flashes of brilliance, thankfully for Chelsea some of those moments earned them a Champions League title. As Torres enters the second to last year of his contract, he seeks one more chance at glory before the club will be forced to consider his ongoing status.

Romelu Lukaku enters this season with a lot to prove to his manager and teammates. His contributions to West Brom and Everton were tremendous over the past two campaigns. He scores goals with an alarming frequency for a player only a few years into his career. Now with the chance to work with his idol Drogba at Chelsea, Lukaku could learn from and compete alongside some of the most experienced and cultured strikers of our time. Some critics have argued that Lukaku has an attitude problem, rather than a belief that he can immediately contribute to a squad that has not had a player match his goal totals from the last two seasons. The influence of veterans like Drogba and Torres will teach him how he will be expected to operate under Mourinho.

Jose Mourinho has made no suggestion that he will stray away from the 4-3-3 formation that has brought him so much success in the past. In Mourinho’s system there is usually only one striker on the pitch at a time. The wide positions in the attacking three will be made up of some combination of Eden Hazard, Andre Schurrle, Willian, and Mohamed Salah. Diego Costa will likely feature in most matches at the center of attack, while Lukaku should serve as the second striker in the pecking order. This arrangement would mean that Torres and Drogba would feature in roles coming off the bench or starting matches of lesser importance. It is a role that both are already accustomed to and one that could preserve the fitness of Diego Costa, who played a total of 58 matches for club and country over the last season.

As we rapidly approach the beginning of the English Premier League season, Chelsea’s depth at striker is almost unparalleled. The combined career goals scored by the Chelsea quartet is a massive 760 goals. With over 1,850 matches of experience at the striker positon, there is a tremendous wealth of footballing knowledge for Lukaku and Costa to continue growing from. Mourinho is the greatest squad building manager of the current era of football and is also one of the most savvy man mangers in the beautiful game.  The Premier League title is up for grabs and with the death of tiki-taka, the Champion’s League competition will be wide open. Chelsea should be considered favorites for both.

Didier Drogba has said that he returned to Chelsea in order to win more trophies. A club like Chelsea is accustomed to the demands of fighting on multiple fronts. The depth that they enjoy at the striker positon will help give them a great advantage in their campaign. The ability to play legends like Torres and Drogba in Cup competitions will give them a leg up on almost every other team they will face. With the youth and desire to win that Diego Costa and Romelu Lukaku bring to the table, Chelsea can stand toe to toe with any club in the world. By bringing back Drogba and holding onto Lukaku, Jose Mourinho has already gone a long way to making this a Blue decade. 

Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2014 by Lex

1 comment

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Soccer in the United States is on the rise, there is no denying this. The US Soccer Federation has been recognized by FIFA for over 100 years. It has done an excellent job fostering the sport in our nation for the past 20 years. Thanks to their efforts we have multiple leagues on the rise, one of the largest youth player populations in the world, and a loyal fan base for both the Men's and Women's national teams. Despite this, there are still areas where our countries lag far behind.

Coaching is not up to the standard of many of the European and South American countries we are competing with. Domestic clubs have no incentive to build academy systems within their communities. Our nation squanders our numbers advantage in youth player population, with only a few players that could be considered international superstars coming from a population of millions. The USA also has a tremendously confusing league structure with a bizarre system of player transfers. 

As the manager of the USMNT, Jurgen Klinsmann is in a unique position to push through reforms to bring America into 21st century football. He has already breathed life into the squad by selecting a youthful World Cup squad that rekindled American public interest in the sport. Under his tutelage he led the United States to their most successful year ever in 2013. He was part of the reform effort in Germany that ultimately led to World Cup triumph just a week ago. Klinsmann is at his heart a reformer, there is no better man to overhaul the American system. With that being said, here are reforms Klinsmann should push through in order to take American soccer to the next level.

1. Encourage Unification of American League Structure

As it currently stands, American professional soccer is divided into three tiers comprised of 50 teams. Expansion efforts will increase this number over the coming seasons, with the top tier Major League Soccer being the 3rd most attended sport in North America. These indicators signal that American soccer at least at the top tier is healthy and solvent. For this reason, America now needs to transition that success down the league structure and unify the leagues, utilizing a system of promotion and relegation. This system would give MLS clubs an added incentive to perform at a high level, give USL and NASL clubs rewards for their success, and add excitement at all levels for the fans.

2. Encourage Professional Talents to Forgo Collegiate Soccer

The NCAA is a cartel that profits from free labor and it harms the development of American youth soccer talent. Currently the majority of high school talents are playing for a college scholarship, not to become a professional footballer. By the time American soccer players expend their collegiate eligibility they are at least 21 years old. 21 is considered by most professional clubs to be too old to relearn the skills and benefit from professional training they should have received during their teenage years. At European and South American clubs, professional prospects are groomed from the age of 13 by top youth coaches. They receive training from an early age in order to develop the instincts and discipline necessary to become a professional. 

Players are in America are motivated by the hope of receiving a college scholarship and diploma, a worthwhile investment, but a short sighted one. As a student-athlete it is difficult to take full advantage of either opportunity when you are forced to sacrifice academics for training or vice versa. Tying academics to football not only harms college institutions, but the players that are involved in them. Now, I'm not saying every prospect should give up college in order to chase the dream of being a professional footballer, but for elite teenage talents it is something that should certainly be considered. 

3. Require Clubs to Develop Academy Systems

American clubs do not take advantage of the youth player populations within their areas of influence. Professional clubs should be motivated to develop talent within their locales. By developing talent locally they foster new generations of fans, can create unique club identities, and perhaps most importantly, avoid excessive transfer fees and profit off the sale of these players. Also by improving and developing academy systems, the national team can better keep track of elite talents in different areas of the country. This would decrease the number of youth players that fall through the cracks. America is a unique country so there will always be players like Clint Dempsey that succeed without club academy involvement, but these should be rare occurrences, not the norm. 

4. Pay Professional and Semi-Professional Players a Living Wage and increase the Minimum Wage

The average salary for MLS players in currently $207,831 per year, however 76% of players make less than the league average. In 2013, 62 players were paid the league minimum of $35,125. Compare this to the English Championship, the second tier league of England, where players make 211,068 per year. Salaries for leagues such as USL Pro are significantly smaller, with players make on average between $20,000 to $40,000 per year. How can professional players be expected to succeed when they could make more money being an accountant? Players must have an economic incentive to continue their careers, giving them something beyond the entry level salary for most careers. Without a living wage, players could be forced to take off season jobs, which can cause them to sacrifice fitness and training opportunities. The future of US Soccer depends on players being able to make a living playing domestically.

5. Win the CONCACAF Champions League

Despite having a solvent league, the MLS still performs poorly in CONCACAF's continental competition. The best ever performance by an American club came from the 2010-11 Real Salt Lake squad that finished runner up to Monterrey. Without a club establishing itself as a dynasty in this competition, American club football will struggle to find itself taken seriously in the world of football. Winning this competition opens the doors to the Club World Championship, which pits the champions of each continent against each other. On this stage, an MLS club could face European giants like Real Madrid and display how far the league has come.

In closing, America is a sleeping giant in world football. Taking action on these reforms would not be easy and may require sacrifice. However if they are implemented, America could begin to wake the beast from its slumber.

Posted on Sunday, July 20, 2014 by Lex


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

At the end of the World Cup final on Sunday, Manuel Neuer cemented his place as the greatest goalkeeper in the world. Over the last month he displayed how he has earned that label and his exemplary play earned him the coveted Golden Glove as the tournament's best keeper. Neuer tracked down virtually every ball played within his end. He set a record for most touches in a match outside the penalty area by a keeper with 21 against Algeria. He even boasted a higher passing completion percentage than Lionel Messi. 

Manuel Neuer was the keystone of success for Germany, just as he has been for Bayern Munich for some time now. His considerable skill, dribbling ability, and distribution allow Germany's full backs to press higher up the pitch, creating more pressure on the opposition. This allowed Germany to attack with eight, while the center backs could play wider and Neuer scooped up any loose balls in the middle. This tactical advantage allowed Germany to attack with lethal force against Brazil, while remaining stable at the back against Algeria and Argentina. His heat maps for the World Cup cover almost an entire third of the field, something no other keeper at the tournament could boast.

Manuel Neuer possesses the skills set to be an outfield player, yet his body dimensions, jumping ability, and reflexes make him a perfect goalkeeper. Standing at 6'4'', 200lbs, he has a body similar to Jon "Bones" Jones or Richard Sherman. He is a super-athlete wearing a goalkeeper's kit. With almost every performance he spectacularly refutes Twitter critics who clamor for him to stay within the penalty area. He is calm under pressure, capable of making the big saves, as he displayed in the dying moments against France when he denied Karim Benzema with a palm of defiance. 

As time goes on, and the tactical advantage that Germany and Bayern enjoy grows more apparent, we will begin to see the sweeper keeper role utilized more commonly. Children will grow up wanting to become goalkeepers, so they can dance around defenses and deny attackers in the same fashion as Neuer. Players will want to emulate him because he is involved in buildup for attacking play. Few things in football are more impressive than Neuer starting a counter attack. He is the model goalkeeper for the future and possibly one of the best of all time. He is a treasure for our time.

Posted on Wednesday, July 16, 2014 by Lex


Monday, July 14, 2014

Post World Cup Depression is a medical condition that I invented to summarize the feelings of emptiness, boredom and depression that can be felt by football fans following the end of the world's greatest tournament. PWCD sufferers may have begun to show signs of symptoms as soon as their rooting interest has been eliminated from the tournament. Others may not experience symptoms for days to come, while German fans should be immune to this fictional malady following their success. For those of you suffering, this simple five step program should help bridge the gap between the bliss of the World Cup and the beginning of the European domestic campaigns.

1. Go play football

When I was six years old and the World Cup came to the United States, I could not get enough soccer. Following the USA's elimination and Brazil's ultimate success at the tournament, I found myself wanting more. In the days before Major League Soccer began operating, I decided to join my local club team. This began my 20 year love affair with the beautiful game. There are not many better feelings than running with the ball at your feet and this simple pleasure remains one of the greatest joys in life. So find a group of friends and play five aside or go practice your juggling for a half hour or so. One thousand touches later and you should be feeling a bit better.

2. Support your local club

No matter where you live, odds are you are within driving distance of your local professional soccer club. There are hundreds of professional and semi-professional clubs around North America and if you haven't had a chance to check out your local club, now is the perfect time. Whether your club is riding high at the top of the table or sitting at the bottom of the league, they would love to hear your voice and have your support. Your patronage allows the sport to continue to grow and fosters curiosity among younger generations of football fans. As time goes on the league structure in North :America will strengthen and the quality of play will improve, allowing your initial attention investments to pay dividends.

3. Get wrapped up in the "silly season"

One of the best things about being a football fan is witnessing the ongoing soap opera of the transfer season. The transfer window does not close until the end of August, so there are still six more weeks of drama for players to move from club to club. So far during this silly season we have seen Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas move to Chelsea, Alexis Sanchez move to Arsenal, and Luis Suarez chomp his way through transfer embargo to Barcelona. Several big names are still rumored to be in the market for transfers to big clubs including midfield maestro Toni Kroos, French talent Paul Pogba, and PSG striker Edinson Cavani. There will also be dozens of other signings and transfer request submitted, so get your popcorn ready because these will be an exciting six weeks.

4. Begin or continue your Football Manager career

There is perhaps no better way to familiarize yourself with the beautiful game than to play Football Manager. In this computer game you can select your squad from virtually any club in the world and choose almost any player in the world to join your team. It offers a great introduction to the tactics and strategy of the beautiful game, while giving gamers one of the most immersing experiences in all of gaming. *Warning* Do not do this if you value your free time, close relations, or have an addictive personality. Hours will seem to disappear, but if you're looking to fill the void until the beginning of the Premier League season, this is a great way to spend a month.

5. Take a deep breath and wait it out because the Barclays Premier League returns on August 16.

Posted on Monday, July 14, 2014 by Lex