Friendly, But Imperfect: US Soccer vs. Chile

Last night’s international soccer friendly between the USA and Chile was pretty much what fans expected.  An inexperienced USA squad (the most capped player only had six prior USA games under his belt) gave their all and came out with a tie against a generally savvier Chilean team.

At times it looked more like a race than a game, with the USA’s players realizing that their decision making and play making needed to step up a notch or two to match the pace of an international game. But, especially at the start of the game, what sped up was mostly the running. Passes looked rushed in execution rather than conception.

So, shall we call this game a failure? No, not at all.  Nobody was expecting a display of ‘jogo bonito’ from the young US team.

This team represented (by and large) the United States’ best prospects, and these players needed to see some international experience. The US Men’s National Team needs to add some new energy and skills soon or the Brazil 2014 lineup will get us a bit too accustomed to the term “wily verteran” instead of  “breakout star.”

As far as the play on the field… I’m not a player-rater, there are plenty of places to read such ratings – for instance, here is one from the MLS website that I think is pretty far off base and one from ESPN that I think is much, much closer.

Instead, here are a few, far from complete, high level thoughts that stayed with me.

Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury up front were the most tantalizing of the prospects on the field, especially in combination – as they bring size, speed and some skill, and since the USA has had such trouble getting forwards to put the ball in the net.   That such inexperienced players are so exciting to the USA fan base, potentially tells you as much about the level of concern with the current roster of forwards as with these two players.

Brek Shea is quite the enigma. He is quickly becoming one of those players that splits the National Team faithful into two camps, one that think he’s the next “big thing” on the wing, and those who think he’s useless. I’m not a member of either camp, as I’ve seen him in MLS and thought he’d be an interesting and useful addition to the National Team but agree he’s struggled on the big stage so far. He has the size (though seemingly was bumped off the ball by far smaller Chileans?) and pace to do more than he has shown so far.

Dax McCarthy was also solid, but remains difficult to fit into our current National Team puzzle. He makes himself available, constantly moves into open spaces and (generally) distributes the ball well. And, though not a goal, that long distance shot which forced a great save by the Chilean keeper was nearly a SportsCenter highlight. However, if we need to add the passing craftiness of a true “number 10”, I’m not sure Dax is the answer at this level.

I think a diamond in the rough out there is Mikkel “Mix” Diskerud. Now, I’ll be the first to admit, he didn’t get much done last night. But there’s something about the way he plays the game, an inherent skill and confidence on the ball, that when combined with his young age could be a harbinger of good things to come.  Let’s hope so.

What is frustrating about a game like this is that is that its aim (to see a broad mix of new players) often works against the liklihood of accomplishing that result as best as possible (getting a good sense of how these players would fit in with the rest of the Senior Roster.)

In a perfect world we would get to see the above players (and the rest of them that I didn’t choose to call out) inserted into a lineup that had most of the “A” players from the National Team. Seeing how a Brek Shea does with an experienced international full back in behind him, or how Dax does with a Dempsey or Donovan looking for his quick passes would show a better view of how much we can look to these players in “must win” National Team games.

But we don’t live in a perfect world, we don’t have the perfect National Team, and there is no such thing as a perfect test. But it sure was nice to see them back on that field.

It was also nice to know we were looking at the new ingredients that can spice up our familar main course.  If that can be done successfully it could be a fun few years.

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USA Men’s National Team vs. Brazil: The Glass is Half…

I haven’t visited the half-full vs. half-empty review style in a while, so before I hit the web, Twitter, and fifteen different views of player ratings which will inevitably color my perspective, let’s dust it off.

To level set though, let’s remind ourselves that for all intents and purposes, the USA vs. Brazil game was a meaningless friendly.  It was clear that we’d hear lots of Bob Bradley rumor mongering, see many substitutions and get a glimpse of some new faces on either side.

My only hope all day was for it to be a good game.  For it to be fun.  For us to see something a bit new.   And before the we fill or empty our glass here in our traditional style, let’s examine why I left this comprehensive loss a little more at ease than I should have.

The primary reason: Brazil is back.  While it is hard to imagine it being so clear after only one game, it does seem like the positive, exciting, energetic and yes, happy, Brazilian team might be making a comeback.  Mr. Dunga, thanks for nothing.

The USA will always be my team, but  Brazil at their best should be everyone’s team (unless maybe you’re Argentine).  I hate for the USA to lose, but I’d rather see a fast moving, positive playing Brazilian team beat us three times over than re-watch a 0-5 result against Mexico in the Gold Cup Final.  And I don’t care if it was a “B Team” or an “F Team.”  Sorry.

Brazilian skill on the ball is always superb, but what kept my attention all game was the unbelievable off the ball movement.   Between brazen one-touch keep away games, instantaneous changes of pace and sly off the ball runs, I can almost understand the ball watching the USA displayed far too frequently.  Almost.

With that, let’s get back to reality…

Glass Half Full View

  • The USA didn’t give up an early goal.  Yes, this half-full sentiment is really the absence of a negative.  However, USA fans have grown so accustomed to being behind after fifteen minutes, it was a noteworthy and welcome change.  In fact, for about the first 20 minutes, the USA played very well.
  • Tim Howard and Brad Guzan both looked up to the task.  This isn’t a surprise, but when you are so thoroughly outplayed for 70 minutes or so, you take out whatever positives you can.
  • The USA got to test out some new talent.  Omar Gonzalez, welcome to the fire.  You will be invited back for more.  It’s pretty obvious that Gonzalez has a future with the USA, and since Brazil ran right through our midfield on a number of occasions, he got a fast and furious introduction to international defending.   Alejandro Bedoya wasn’t fully convincing, but if you need potential future US National Team players to get experience, this was the kind of game to do it in.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
  • 77,000 fans created what looked like a great atmosphere in the new Meadowlands stadium.  Let’s say that again… 77,000 fans.  We’ve been spoiled by recent crowd sizes in the USA for games lately, but let’s not forget how much has changed in 15 years.

Glass Half Empty View

  • The USA was outclassed by an extremely young Brazilian side.  Irrespective of how good the Brazilian team played, the USA team should have made it much, much harder on them.  There’s work to be done as the cycle starts anew.
  • Where will the USA find some offense?  Yes, it’s clear there are issues at forward.  We keep hearing how confident Edson Buddle is from his MLS success – but why does he never look to be playing with confidence when with the USA?  Jozy Altidore is still raw.  Herculez Gomez is still breaking through with the USA.   Aside from moving Clint Dempsey and/or Landon Donovan up top, the USA’s finishing capabilities are not going to scare many opposing defenses.
  • However, our midfield sure isn’t offering our forwards much in the way of creative support.  One reason Landon Donovan can be successful is that he can check back, and use pace to create opportunities out of midfield – and not rely on too much creativity from around him.  Otherwise, our forwards wait for great service, which aside from occasional early first-time crosses from wide, rarely comes.
  • Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu are both good players but are too similar and – especially today – got caught being too casual with their passing and possession.   What is just as troubling is with two reasonably defensive-minded midfielders in the center of the field, you would expect the USA to have much more “bite” that we showed today.  Brazil passed through the US midfield far too easily, far too often.  This is undoubtedly why Bob Bradley was hoping to get Jermaine Jones into the mix, and maybe someday he will.  The USA’s only other real option for “bite” in the midfield is Ricardo Clark, and while his career is not done with the USA I imagine, Bob Bradley would have been a very brave man to call him into this camp.

And with that, the USA must move forward.  It’s dance toward mainstream relevance might have tripped up tonight as casual fans expected the same drama and even games as they saw in South Africa.

The Brazilians, however, appear to be ready to Samba once again.

And that’s something.

Dear Soccer Haters… I’m Done.

Dear American Soccer Hater,

We really need to talk.  I know that it has been a while since we’ve chatted.  You see, I’ve had a few other things on my mind lately.

There’s been this small competition going on in South Africa, of that sport you so love to hate: Soccer.  (I don’t dare call it “football,” I know how much that bothers you, and I’d like you to finish this letter.  I’ll avoid use of the following as well: pitch, boots, kit, nil and anything that references extra-, added- or injury-time, if possible.)

You and I haven’t seen eye to eye on much lately.  And, I was starting to worry that your ranks were growing.  I mean, Glenn Beck agrees with you.   And Jim Rome agrees with you too.

I used to try to convince you that you had it all wrong.  I tried to sway you.  I would use statistics and anecdotes that remind you how behind the times you are.

Stories like how well ESPN is doing.  With helpful facts that the US team’s recent win against Algeria was ESPN’s most watched soccer game ever, most watched non-holiday morning telecast ever, the highest watched program of any type on any network for key advertising audiences all day.   They even had 180,000 people listening in online.

I would try to demonstrate the power of interest in the USA v. Algeria game by explaining it created the second most amount of Internet traffic ever.  Of course, it couldn’t top the list.  That high bar was set by the opening of the World Cup.

I might have shared stories of how the end-of-game drama of the USA v Algeria match drastically reduced stock trading on Wall Street.

Heck, I would even spam you full of videos of other Americans in rapturous support of our team from all around the world.

Now I know… none of that matters.  And while we soccer fanatics have won a few of you over, in general, you won’t change.

So, I’m done trying.   No seriously, I’m fully, totally, completely done.

And as they say so often when people realize they need a change:  it’s not you, it’s me.  In fact, it’s not that you won’t change, but I’ve come to realize something else, something very different.

What I realized was, that we don’t need you.

We, the “oddball American soccer lovers,” the immigrant fans, the youth-team leaders and the people playing pickup games on Saturday or after work, we are doing just fine without you.

I mean, it’s not just that we have new cool friends.  Which we do.  (You know, we have the President and Vice President, we have Reggie Bush and OchoCinco, and heck… even the somewhat logically connected Playboy Playmate and Bill Clinton have hopped on the US Soccer bandwagon.

Karissa Shannon getting her mail while in a US Soccer Jacket. (From http://theoriginalwinger.com/)

Bill Clinton and US Captain Carlos Bocanegra in South Africa after the USA victory over Algeria. (From: http://twitpic.com/1zl4j1)

It’s not just that we have a successful domestic league now.   Which we do.

It’s not just that we can see as much soccer from a variety of countries nearly any day of the week, year round.  Which we can.

It’s not just that our kids are playing the game as much or more than ever, and now can have a viable path to a professional career in the sport they love.  Which they do.

It’s all those things, and more.

It’s also that the more I see you, the more you seem irrelevant.  You sound out of touch.   You feel like yesterday’s news.

For those who try to convince me that the “USA will never be a soccer nation.”  I say it already is.

I also note that the nation no longer looks like the (almost always) wonder-bread white guys who are preaching of soccer’s ridiculousness on television.

I believe that the younger generation does indeed know who Ronaldihno and Cristiano Ronaldo are.   (Even if primarily through their PlayStation or Xbox 360.)

The USA, or to potentially be more accurate the collective of people who live here, is already a soccer nation.  Our league might not be as well attended as the NFL.   That’s fine.  But, just like soccer, it’s ours and as far as I can tell, it’s not going anywhere.

So please know that when your sentences start with “you know why soccer will never catch on in America…” I may look like I’m listening, but from that second on, you sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher to me.

Because I’m done.

To me, having you join our parade would be great, but we are marching either way.

And as long as I see Americans with this kind of passion marching through Seattle on their way to a stadium for an MLS Game, as in the above video, or those that sing America the Beautiful, while half-way across the world in a men’s room in a South African stadium during half-time of a World Cup game, as in the below video…

There’s one thing I know, sooner or later, you’ll be marching too.  Or we will just step right over.

Regards,

Bob

U.S.A Beats Australia, But What Did We Learn?

The United States National Team defeated their Australian counterparts 3-to-1 this morning, with Edson Buddle stealing the headlines on the back of his two-goal performance.

The game, though a nice victory, was a bit of a bland appetizer before next week’s main course of the a first-round matchup against England.   A small stadium, poor field and half-throttle play for stretches of the game made it hard to get over excited about today’s victory.

And while I could use my previously favored method of looking at the glass as being either half full or half empty over a number of areas, with a week before the World Cup – where the glass is either over-flowing or shattered – I will instead just poke at a few interesting themes.

  • I’m having trouble deciding what’s more frightening… Oguchi Onyewu starting against England on June 12th or him not starting against England on June 12th.  If he starts, Bob Bradley has more faith in talent and experience than recent competitive game-time or proven recent form.  If Gooch doesn’t start, Jay DeMerit and Clarence Goodson need to play a whole bunch better against England.
  • Do we fall out of love that easily?   I’ve seen some of the post-match analysis from the “usual suspects” and the name that seems missing?  José Francisco Torres.   I’ve not been very impressed by the Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark combination’s ability to close things down,  possess the ball in the midfield or add the creative element so missing from most of our games.  Torres was a pint-sized revelation against Turkey, but didn’t get a sniff of the field today.   I haven’t seen any reports regarding Ricardo Clark’s apparent injury, and I hope he’s fine, but an injury there might force Coach Bradley’s hand a new direction.   (However, it’s not clear that it would tilt him toward Torres over Maurice Edu…)
  • Luckily, US fans can move from man-crush to man-crush fairly easily.   With our Torres love being put on the back burner since he didn’t play today, it’s now Edson Buddle, 24×7.  Hey, two goals will do that.  I’m happy to join the bandwagon and am all for playing forwards who are confident and in a hot-streak.  Oddly the USA appears to have at least two of them, but US Soccer golden-boy Jozy Altidore isn’t one of them.  Time will tell how bad Jozy’s sprained ankle really is, but at this point, I’m more worried about the center of the formation – both in midfield and defense – than who is up front. 
  • Clint Dempsey appears to have a chip on his shoulder.  This is good – as long as he doesn’t get pulled into some silly fouls.   I sure hope Landon Donovan wakes up with a similar chip… just so we don’t leave anything to chance.  Can we start a rumor that David Beckham was up in the stands calling him Landycakes? 
  • Every team needs a player who frustrates them by adding some ingredients the team really needs (like speed) while frequently screwing up the easy (looking) things.   For the USA, this is Robbie Findley.

Today’s win against Australia was a positive step forward.   It was imperfect.  It showed areas of weakness. But it was a win.

England, however, is more than a little better than Australia. Luckily, the USA is more than a little better than it played today.

Have a good week boys, the real game is next.

USA, Revs and Burpo Offer A New Perspective

I would typically sum up a US Men’s National Team game with a glass half-full vs. half-empty review.   Often, I’ll offer thoughts on New England Revolution games as well, focusing on what went right or wrong.  However, this time I’ll be taking a different direction.

Today, it’s all about perspective, both soccer-wise and otherwise.

For the US game, fans could talk about how José Torres was a revelation.  Or how Clint Dempsey can at times appear to coast along, but still come up with a clutch goal out of nowhere.  Or how the rust of inactivity was so thick on some of our players that they appeared not to see each other in midfield for the first 45 minutes.   Or how Robbie Findley, however imperfect, might just belong on this team.

But that isn’t what I am focused on.

The United States vs. Turkey game was a tale of two halves.   To keep it simple, from the US perspective the first half was a complete mess.  The second half was pretty good.  

At the end of the first half, fans are left wondering how badly the USA will be abused by England on July 12th in our first World Cup game.

At the end of the second half, fans are left with hope and excitement that with some more time to gel, a few lineup modifications and some luck, we might have a good tournament.

Quite a change in perspectives 45 minutes can make.

Fans watched the USA’s “best eleven” look very ordinary.  But then, with the addition of some substitutions that fans either didn’t think belonged (Robbie Findley), didn’t think their coach would ever play (José Torres) or thought were riddled by injury/fitness problems (Oguchi Onyewu), we suddenly look like a team to be taken seriously.

Quite a change in perspectives created by a few substitutions.

US fans still wonder how such an up-and-down team will compete against our World Cup group, and especially England, the “world beaters” that they are.   Then we learn that during this very same weekend it took two own-goals for England to beat Japan, a good – but not stellar – team.

All of a sudden, the US chances are put back in perspective, and fans remember that on any given day the USA can beat (or lose to) any given team.

The New England Revolution’s win over the New York Red Bulls also offered lessons in perspective that were bigger, broader and more poignant than those from the US game, even if the soccer-specific ones are a lot less important.

Fans could focus on the unmistakable fact that when Shalrie Joseph is on his game he is one of the best midfielders in MLS.   Fans could worry that despite the presence of a local “rival,” and decent weather, only about 12,000 fans could be bothered to show up at Gillette Stadium.   Much surprise could be found in the idea that a makeshift backline of Pat Phelan and Joseph Niouky actually held things together. Revs fans could rejoice that a much needed victory was finally found and that perhaps the team would start to find its rhythm.   

But toward the end of the first half, a horrific injury to Revolution goalkeeper Preston Burpo made all of those topics seem very much secondary.   There were 22 men on the field who make their living by putting on this athletic show for us that we get to enjoy, talk about, complain about and yes, blog about.

When you watch one of their careers get jeopardized in an instant, obvious and violent (even if accidental) way it changes the way to feel about the connection to “your” team.  When you watch the reaction of some of the injured player’s on-field family react by falling into a sobbing heap, you realize that there’s more than tactics, questionable calls and a few points at stake.

Suddenly, you realize that a weekend full of soccer needs to be put back into perspective. 

Get well soon Preston.

Logic trumps Emotion: The US National Team’s “Provisional 30”

US National Team coach Bob Bradley today announced the 30-man provisional US World Cup team that will head to Princeton, NJ for its pre-World Cup camp.   This is not an easy task and Coach Bradley will inevitably have people pick away at his choices from every conceivable angle.

Choosing this team, and soon having to narrow the list to the 23-man FIFA limit, is a difficult task for any World Cup bound coach – at least as far as media/blogger critiques are concerned.   I do not plan to second guess the Coach . . . but that does not mean I don’t have some opinions on the choices, or on those left out.

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann, Brad Guzan

Thoughts on the goalkeepers: Frankly, this was the position with the least mystery.  The three choices are all capable keepers and probably well ahead of others that follow on the depth chart.   No surprises.

Defenders:  Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector, Jay DeMerit, Clarence Goodson, Jonathan Bornstein, Heath Pearce, Chad Marshall

Thoughts on included defenders:  Hard to say that there are any real surprises here.     Bornstein seems to get more criticism than he deserves, but is a Bradley favorite.    Onyewu is coming back from injury and – if we are honest – didn’t look like a world beater in his pre-season friendly matches with A.C. Milan.   Goodson and Chad Marshall are in a tough spot for making the 23 man limit, since others like Bocanegra and Spector are more versatile across the back line. 

Thoughts on excluded defenders: Edgar Castillo looked like a possibility for a while but was never too likely to bounce Bradley favorite Jonathan Bornstein. (Nor was it clear he should.)   As a New England Revolution fan/watcher, I have a soft spot for Michael Parkhurst and Kevin Alston, but Parkhurst had not done enough to be here and Alston isn’t ready for a World Cup.   (Watch this space though…)

Midfielders:  Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Stuart Holden, Ricardo Clark, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Jose Francisco Torres, Alejandro Bedoya, DaMarcus Beasley, Sacha Kljestan, Robbie Rogers

Thoughts on included midfielders: Donovan, Dempsey, Bradley were obvious choices.  Watching qualifying and Gold Cup games also mean that Holden, Clark, Edu and Feilhaber were all likely choices.   After that, it gets a bit interesting.   Many in the US fan base will be glad to see Torres included, though he’s not a lock for the 23.   Beasley, Rogers, Kljestan and Bedoya are bubble players right now.  Beasley brings experience while Bedoya represents the future.   Rogers is a bit of an enigma, having performed very well for the USA against lower-level competition, but not really looking like a game changer against stronger opponents.  Kljestan is a positive offensive factor, when on form, which is never guaranteed.

Thoughts on excluded midfielders: Generally speaking, there were not huge surprises here.   Kyle Beckerman’s fate was probably sealed when Maurice Edu reached full fitness. 

Freddy Adu:  If you’ve read my work before, you know I have a soft spot for Freddy Adu.  Seeing his pro-club teammate Eddie Johnson make the 30-man cut must be extremely hard on Freddy, who seems to be finding his form to some degree in Greece.   I could argue that there’s more experience in Adu than Bedoya (or Rogers?), despite both showing promise, but that’s from an outsider’s view so I’ll defer to the Coach’s perspective.   

Forwards:  Jozy Altidore, Robbie Findley, Brian Ching, Edson Buddle, Eddie Johnson, Herculez Gomez

My thoughts on included forwards:  Clearly, current-form rules the day.   Buddle, Gomez and (even) Johnson have been scoring and that is clearly the determining factor here.   Jozy was a lock, though his season was more about promise than results.  Ching will need to prove he’s game-ready in camp to make the 23, but there aren’t many other forwards like him available.  Johnson would be a surprise to make the final cut, but that is what the camp is for.

My thoughts on excluded forwards:  This was always going to be the most scrutinized group.

Charlie Davies. Coach Bradley did what he had to do.  The World Cup is not a place for sentimentality.  It is a place for the best team you can assemble – which at forward has a lot to do with form and confidence.   It’s not a popular thing to say in US Soccer circles but ever since that horrible accident took place Charlie was always on the outside looking in. 

Jeff Cunningham and Conor Casey:  Jeff and Conor must be wishing that the World Cup was in 2009 instead of 2010, because they were the hot properties of last year, but haven’t made an impact this year, while others have been shining for their respective leagues or teams. 

Kenny Cooper:  Hindsight is 20/20 for Kenny Cooper, whose pro-club hopping was an over-engineered attempt to make this World Cup team, which failed on a number of levels.   As he watches Edson Buddle (MLS), Herculez Gomez (Mexico) and Eddie Johnson (Greece) prove: it’s not where you play, it’s how you are playing.

Logic trumps Emotion

The exclusion of Charlie Davies will clearly be the main discussion point following this 30-man roster selection.   But clearly Bob Bradley made the decision that he won’t be ready.   That’s logic. 

My wanting Freddy to get another look?  That was more emotional.

Now that the team is beginning to take shape, let’s get back to illogical commentary about the expected results.   How we’ll beat up poor injured England.  (Illogical.)  How if we don’t get far into the tournament Bradley and Sunil Gulati are useless.  (Illogical.)

The next few months are logically going to be an emotional ride. 

Game on.

Freddy and Eddie’s Big Fat Greek Adventure

Freddy Adu scored his first goal this weekend for Aris Salonika in the club’s match vs. Ergotelis in Greece.  Not long ago, as we waited for confirmation of Freddy’s next career move, I wrote “Much Adu About Something?   My default position: don’t give up on Freddy so easily.  

Now that we have our first goal, following a beautiful assist recently to fellow American Eddie Johnson, shall we declare victory? 

Others, like USSoccerDaily, are now writing their own cases for Freddy making the USA Men’s World Cup squad for South Africa.    Ives is asking his readers if Freddy should be called into camp for the Netherlands game.

Despite my stated position of thinking that Freddy has much to offer, it is not time to declare victory for Freddy’s World Cup hopes and he certainly should not start shooting more commercials with Pele.   However, it is a promising start for a player the USA could really use at his top form.   Hopefully this is the first report of many about positive news.

If there is a victory to be declared, and I’ll admit it may be too early for this as well, it may be of the choice of Greece as a home front for these two Americans (Adu and Johnson) who are restarting their stalled international club/country careers.

I’ve watched some games of the Greek league now that Eddie and Freddy are there and seen many more clips of goals and action.   In fact, the videos of this latest game are telling.

Aris Salonika vs. Ergotelis Goals

Freddy’s Goal

Was the Greek league a good choice because it offers the best soccer?   No.  I’m not convinced that the Greek level is much if any better than a good MLS game.   Sometimes the defending is simply comical.  Goalkeepers?  MLS goalies have a new option for international transfers. 

What the soccer does offer is intensity.   Sometimes that intensity proves to magnify the missing level of organization and skill on display.   The soccer is energetic, often frantic.

From a soccer perspective, this may not delight purists but it does offer a cauldron in which skillful players must raise their intensity, think quickly and (hopefully) continue to play with the smarts and skill they possess.   It also appears impossible for a player to “mail it in.”  From my limited time watching Greek soccer, effort appears paramount.    People haven’t often criticized Freddy for a lack of skill, but intensity, effort and heart have been question marks for some.   The Greek league should help sort that out.

But, to limit a discussion about the value of an international league for a growing player soley as a discussion of  the level of soccer played is a bit too narrow.   There are greater circumstances at play which can be as important to a player’s growth.

The intensity in the Greek league does not limit itself to the actual soccer.   The fans, the chanting, the press coverage and the atmosphere are things that are simply not re-creatable today in the USA.   Watch those videos – better LISTEN to those videos – again. 

When Aris scores, the roar of the crowd and the way the fans rush the field barriers is something that tells a player that what they do matters, for all 90 minutes.   And it may be a small thing, but listen again to the VERY end of the short clip showing Freddy’s video.   The clip ends with the stadium announcer breaking through the crowd noise to announce the goal, and starting a call out of “Freddy,” to which the crowd emphatically answers “ADU” in full voice.    Fans that are this into their players will equally expect them to perform.

So what we have here is a league with a level of soccer that isn’t terribly high overall, but that brings intensity to the game on and around the field.  The sometimes lax defending and goalkeeping says to me that there’s an opportunity for a skillful player who can match the surrounding intensity to shine.   But what if that player happens to be a young, potential superstar that can become a critical element in a team whose support will demand he play 100% all the time – and he (or they, sorry Eddie) can rise to the occasion? 

What is there for the taking: regained confidence, increased maturity and the potential to be a standout in a European league.  That sounds like a good situation indeed.  It’s the kind of situation that readies someone for bigger things, bigger pressures and bigger success.  You know, the kind of things that you see at World Cups or top-tier European leagues.

Good luck over there boys.