Forza America – Gooch and Rico Head to Italy

Italy is not a normal destination for US soccer players.   However two Americans are moving over to Serie A in Italy albeit in two very different scenarios.   Oguchi Onyewu has a 3 year contract with Serie A powerhouse A.C. Milan, while Ricardo Clark appears to be set for a move to recently promoted Livorno – (props to Ives for seemingly be quickest to find this gem.)  Livorno were also after Landon Donovan, but don’t appear willing to pay what would be needed for him.

Grant Wahl posted a great write up about everything that Gooch is now exposed to at A.C. Milan.   Gooch is used to European soccer as he was a key part of Standard Liège who has been on top of the Belgian league for the last two years.   My being used to MLS and its bare-bones approach, the idea of Oguchi being “dressed to kill in team-issued Dolce & Gabbana” is somewhat hard to fathom.   A.C. Milan’s history is so deep and well catalogued it seems pointless to try to replicate it here.   So I’ll let A.C. Milan tell its own story.

Livorno is a smaller club, one that has bounced between Serie A and Serie B in the last few years.   But they too are not without a deep history and tradition . . . even if that tradition includes some infamous moments and themes.   John Foot’s incredibly detailed “Winning at All Costs – A Scandalous History of Italian Soccer” does a great job of cataloging some of this history  including the 1967 fan uprising that trashed much of the stadium and had referees trapped in their locker room until late in the evening.   Livorno is also known for having the most left-wing fans in the world and as recently as 2002 had unfurled a banner in honor of Stalin.

So what do these two moves mean in terms of their soccer and their position with the US team?   Ironically, there are many more similarities than differences.

Where they are coming from: Onyewu has been extremely successful in a second tier European league, and Clark is a leading midfielder in MLS.   Frankly, both are going to see a big step up.

Style:  Both players are extremely athletic . . . Onyewu as a monster of a man, Clark who covers acres of space like an angry gazelle.   (No, I don’t know what would make a gazelle angry by the way.)   If both of them make sure to keep and pass the ball as well as they break up plays, there is a chance for success.

US National Team:   Both players would be on the plane if it was leaving for the World Cup today.    Presuming it will be much harder for Onyewu to crack A.C. Milan’s starting lineup than it will be for Ricardo to do so at Livorno, Onyewu will need to make sure he stays fresh.   This will be interesting since both positions do have capable replacements on the US team meaning that both of these players need to stay sharp.

Temperament:  This will be an interesting part of the equation.   Both players have had foul/card issues on the biggest stages (Onyewu giving away a critical penalty against Ghana in the World Cup, Clark getting red-carded at the Confederations Cup and infamously over-reacting and kicking Carlos Ruiz.)   The Italian players will be expert at the art of fouling, diving and winding players up – how these two cope might be as important as anything else.

It appears that Ricardo Clark won’t move until January, but the experiment is already started with Onyewu’s playing with A.C. Milan in the US based “World Football Challenge” and the Germany based “Audi Cup.”   Despite many caveats about familiarity and new surroundings, he needs to do better than what we saw at the World Football Challenge.    (And though I didn’t see the game, he was on the field for some of Bayern Munich’s four goals against A.C. Milan this evening.)

Overall, the addition of some new American blood into Italy’s Serie A is a great statement about American players – and maybe what a discount they are on the world market.

Hopefully we aren’t talking about their moves back down the European ladder in one of the next transfer windows.

“Cero a Cinco” Caps a Long Soccer Weekend

Well, that was quite a weekend of soccer.   My eyes hurt.

“Cero a Cinco”

Surrounded as I am by a large Colombian family of in-laws, I understand and revel in the “Cinco a Cero” (5-0) hysteria that rang down as a high-note of 1994 World Cup Qualifying when Colombia downed Argentina by that score in Buenos Aires.   Any Colombian of the right age will remember that night, or at least remember the hang-over from the partying that ensued.   And why not?

I never expected that today’s Gold Cup final could be the flip side of that for the USA vs. Mexico. Since this wasn’t a World Cup Qualifier, it certainly doesn’t carry the same weight as that Colombian victory . . . but Mexico really needed a victory like this against the US to set them back on the right path.  And I’m sure they are delirious South of the Border.  (Well, or in lots of places North of the border too, like Giants Stadium which looked like an Azteca preview party today.)

On Friday, I acknowledged that we didn’t yet know enough about our USA “B” team and that “. . . it’s Sunday against Mexico for the final where we’ll really learn something.”  Well, lesson learned.

Stepping back . . . a questionable penalty tilted the field toward the US goal and then the flood gates opened. The US team on that field is further away from the best 11 we’d start than the Mexican team was from their best eleven (since it certainly contained some first team starters.) And for good stretches of the match, the US looked as dangerous as Mexico.  At 0-5 though, none of that will matter, nor should it.

There is a bigger picture here, both in terms of the Gold Cup and the US v Mexico rivalry.

Gold Cup: As I noted on Friday, the pressure in the Mexico/Costa Rica Semi-Final was much higher than what the USA faced against Honduras – a representation of the fact that the USA’s group stages overall shouldn’t have been that hard to get through. Reaching the final inflated expectations which were brought down to earth in a hurry today. When we started this competition, everyone acknowledged this was NOT the best eleven for the USA but would provide an excellent growth opportunity and learning experience for a (mostly) young US Squad. Well, this is one lesson the players on that field won’t ever forget.

US v. Mexico: US fans have had it easy for a while. The USA has “owned” Mexico on our soil, beat them at the World Cup and overall had a pretty clear sense of superiority about them recently.  Is that real though? Are we better than Mexico? Probably need to define “better” . . . our best eleven can beat Mexico’s best eleven, we’ve proven that. But be it the National teams or club teams (as evidenced in Superliga, CONCACAF Champions League, etc.), what was proven today is that there remains a pretty serious experience gap after you dig deeper into the roster.

Again, I’ll avoid player ratings here, as there will be too many offering opinions already. I heralded Jay Heaps for his improved play after a rough start . . . if I were clairvoyant, I’d have begged him to take the accolades and run for the hills.  Missed opportunities in the final third and tackles that needed to be all or nothing but missed that mark were shared by many. Risks were inevitable after the team was a down by a couple goals  . . . but the disintegration of the back line screamed for experience. Too bad Jimmy Conrad’s bell was rung against Panama, he might have helped.

The real question is what will happen on August 12th in Mexico City. Can new found confidence push Mexico to leverage the Azteca advantage and romp once more?  Will the USA “first-eleven” feel the need for some “revancha” in Mexico and be even more motivated than they already were?

MLS Games

Funny things happen when the New England Revolotuion can get some of their better players (Shalrie Joseph, Steve Ralston) on the field.   They win.   I have a secret (and perhaps unreasonable) hope that this season has some potential left. Why? Based on no-data to prove this it seems to me that many teams which start out gangbusters tend to run out of luck (injuries) or otherwise lose their way by the playoffs, whereas the teams who work through early season injuries/issues are fresher and more focused come playoff time. Hmmm, perhaps all we need to do is sneak into the playoffs and keep recovering from injuries.

David Beckham played and even shook a fan’s hand, but he didn’t score.  His captain did.  Both were out done by the more than half-field goal by Claudio Lopez.

I didn’t see the Red Bulls / Colorado game, but I didn’t really have to, did I?  RBNY really is THAT bad.  Unfortunate for MLS.   Hysterical for a Revs fan.

World Football Challenge

I struggled to care about these games. How is it possible that some of the best teams in the world are visiting and I struggle to care?  Frankly, it’s sad to me that the crowds are coming out for a pre-season warm up “competition” in such numbers as to suggest they had no other soccer to watch in this country. I thought Taylor Twellman’s (whose team gets maybe a third of today’s crowd) tweet said it all “gosh I wish the stadium filled like this for OUR games be so cool.”   Yes, it would . . .

Taylor also tweeted on the joys of playing on natural grass. Which makes me wonder . . . if it is feasible to install a grass field for some of these one-off games is it really out of the question for MLS to do something for the part of their season that doesn’t conflict with the NFL?

As for the AC Milan / Inter Minal game, the idea that this game was anything like a true “derby” is laughable if I’m being generous. I’ve been to a European derby (Chelsea/Arsenal), a Brazilian Derby (Fluminense/Flamengo — OK, preseason, but still) and actually stood in the last row of Inter’s Ultras at the amazing San Siro.   The intensity of those games is hard to describe.   What happened at Gillette earlier today pre-season warm up with a little extra juice than the others we’ve seen in this tournament.  But not much more.