U.S. crisis at left back? Why did it have to be left back?


What is this, 1998? Or 2004? Or 2008? This disconcerting situation with the U.S. left back position … what a kick in the head!

What’s worst, it’s a kick in the head that we’ve absorbed before.

It’s not just that an injury crisis is cracking the United States at the worst time, leaving the Americans vulnerable when everything is at stake. Jurgen Klinsmann and Co. will be favored Friday and again on Tuesday. But any little stumble could prove fatal to the World Cup qualifying bid – before it even reaches the final round!

Still, it’s more than that. Why did it have to be left back?

That’s been the trouble child position around the U.S. national team for more than a decade. It’s a burr in the boot that has hastened the graying of coaches for 15 years before Klinsmann, the likes of Steve Sampson, Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley.

So, this illness that will keep Fabian Johnson out of Friday’s qualifier in Antigua and Edgar Castillo out of both upcoming matches looks like bad karma biting. What did we do? Why must it be left back again?

Surely the soccer gods cannot still be upset  over the whole David  Regis thing, right? I mean, we shouldn’t have done it. Still, naturalizing the Frenchman just in time for World Cup ’98 was a half-baked idea, but it’s not exactly drowning kittens, now is it?

This is like having a long, dry spell when you’re single. You finally find a girlfriend, and she’s great! … Right up to the minute her company transfers here to Cairo.

(Johnson is the beloved in this scenario, in case you couldn’t figure that out; he’s been quite a find.)

(MORE: U.S. travel notes and a little late news on the left back trouble)

Here is a partial list of left backs through the years who landed in the “Meh” zone, somewhere between “just OK, but fairly underwhelming” to “just plain awful.”  Some, in fairness, were left-footed midfielders or center backs asked to play the position because … well, because of the limping U.S. left back condition, where better options were forever being sought. (Names are in alphabetical order):

  • Jeff Agoos
  • DaMarcus Beasley
  • Gregg Berhalter
  • Jonathan Bornstein
  • Bobby Convey
  • Ramiro Corrales
  • Todd Dunivant
  • Cory Gibbs
  • Jay Heaps
  • Eddie Lewis
  • Zach Loyd
  • Heath Pearce
  • David Regis
  • Jonathan Spector
  • Greg Vanney

That list doesn’t even include Eric Lichaj, who played left back for important Gold Cup matches in 2011. He was pretty adept over that short run, but it wasn’t his best spot. And then along came Johnson (and Timmy Chandler), so further experimentation with Lichaj seemed unnecessary and maybe even redundant.

Nor does it include a couple of one-offs, such as Anthony Wallace.

I wrote this story in 2008. So, it’s funny … although certainly not funny “ha-ha,” as they say. It’s just that, suddenly, so many of these words are relevant once again.

Pique finds solidarity with criticized NBA players

AP Photo/Alberto Saiz
1 Comment

There have been a number f outstanding pieces in The Players’ Tribune since its launch, but few as colorful and entertaining as Thursday’s entry from Gerard Pique.

The Barcelona star center back spilled the beans on any number of funny stories in his post, from Roy Keane’s cell phone anger and Sir Alex Ferguson‘s guiding hand to Lionel Messi’s greatness and more.

[ MORE: Zlatan in MLS an auto success ]

But perhaps most interesting was his take on the grief he’s received for supporting the vote for Catalan independence. Pique points out that he’s been proud to represent the Spanish national team, but won’t veer from his democratic beliefs.

And guess what? Even in Spain, athletes rightly bristle at the “Stick to Sports” crowd.

It’s funny, I noticed some people in America have started telling the NBA players to “just shut up and dribble” when they express their opinions on real problems in society.

It’s ridiculous, no?

It’s the same here in Spain. They say, “Just shut up and play football. It’s all you know.”

Sorry, but I will not just shut up and play. It’s not all I know. There’s a lot more depth to footballers than most people realize, and I think it’s important that we express ourselves and our views.

Given relative health, Zlatan’s success MLS is close to automatic

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The only question is his knee at his age.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is coming to Major League Soccer. Having confirmed his departure from Manchester United, the announcement that the living Swedish legend is joining the LA Galaxy is expecting next week.

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

Some have asked whether he’ll cut muster in the league, to which we point to the lead: Few players have arrived to MLS with as dominant a career as Ibrahimovic, and the Swede would need his knee to fall apart in order to fail in California.

The man’s game isn’t based on speed, but it does require his abnormal power and grace. He scored just once for United in very limited time this season, but don’t forget how dangerous he was against Premier League and Europa League defenses last season.

He scored 28 goals with 10 assists last season, with 17 and 5 coming in league play. He was suspended for three matches and injured for seven, meaning this is a 20-goal Premier League scorer arriving in MLS within a calendar year of doing so.

Try putting his resume in perspective: Didier Drogba was extremely good for Montreal but a half-decade removed from his last double-digit goal PL season (Don’t forget that Drogba bagged 11 in 11 to start life on our shores). Robbie Keane was about the same time removed from his run of 10-plus goal seasons in the Premier League. He was good for LA.

The only risk here is that Ibrahimovic never gets healthy and LA takes a bit of a loss on his salary (one which is at least partially negated by the sheer number of Ibrahimovic Galaxy jerseys sold).

Entering this season, Ibrahimovic had failed to score 15 goals once since 2006. He’a also had a fairly religious assist output (10+ most years). With names like Alessandrini, Kamara, and dos Dos Santos, this should be a stand-up double if not a homer for LA and for MLS.

Plus the vicious looks after teammates miss him badly with a pass, let alone the press conferences and paparazzi hits: This should be a lot of fun.

MLS Weekend Preview: Friedel’s Revs get NYCFC test

Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s an international break, and Major League Soccer is only sorta observing it.

More than half of the league’s clubs will participate on Saturday match days, with several shorthanded by national team duty.

[ MORE: Southgate on racism in football]

Columbus won’t have Zack Steffen and Wil Trapp for a visit from DC United — who is missing Zoltan Steiber, Bruno Miranda, and Oniel Fisher — while the Red Bulls will be without Tyler Adams, Kemar Lawrence, and Michael Murillo for Minnesota United’s visit.

NYCFC won’t have Alexander Ring, Ronald Matarrita, and Rodney Wallace, Portland’s without David Guzman and Andy Polo, and Sporting KC loses Daniel Salloi.

The Whitecaps won’t have center back Kendall Waston, while opponents LA Galaxt are without Ola Kamara.

New England Revolution vs. New York City FC — 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Brad Friedel‘s New England revolution, purposely lower case, is making believers out of its players. It would take a giant step if it could slow the NYCFC juggernaut. The visitors have allowed just one goal in their 3-0 start.

As for the hosts, Friedel has made his mark in a way that mostly makes you wonder what in the world Jay Heaps was doing:.

(Bunbury) pointed to a fine system in the locker room, increased accountability, how Friedel posts the starting XI on game day, and occasional two-a-day training sessions, which never occurred in the forward’s four years under Heaps.

“I think it unifies the team,” Bunbury said. “The broad sense of professionalism, it’s about having respect for each other and making sure you are held accountable in every part of this club.”

Never occurred under Heaps? Woof.

FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers — 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday

FCD had an uninspiring ending to their CONCACAF Champions League dreams, but that’s little compared to the Timbers’ 0-2 start under Gio Savarese. A trip down South isn’t a surefire way to right the ship.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. LA Galaxy — 10 p.m. ET Saturday

A long trip up North is only made worse by a laundry list of injuries for Sigi Schmid’s Galaxy. We’re only listing it amongst our Top Three because an LA win would be wildly impressive given the ‘Caps strong start.


Columbus Crew vs. DC United — 6 p.m. ET Saturday
New York Red Bulls vs. Minnesota United — 7 p.m. ET Saturday
Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting KC — 9 p.m. ET Saturday

Mourinho: “People with brains” understand Man Utd in transition

AP Photo/Armando Franca
Leave a comment

Jose Mourinho’s been having a little fun on his international break, “managing” a team of superstars including Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt in a charity match.

[ MORE: Southgate talks racism in football ]

Speaking CNN as part of a publicity run, Mourinho was asked about Manchester United’s second place campaign and disappointment after dropping out of the UEFA Champions League.

Mourinho reiterated his position that United is a team in transition, and that the season is going along at an acceptable clip.

“I understand the frustration, I understand the sadness of being knocked out in the Champions League, but I don’t understand anything more than that,” Mourinho said to CNN’s Amanda Davies.

United has scored the third-most goals in the Premier League, and allowed the fourth-fewest. It’s drastically reduced its propensity to draw matches, which hurt its table position last season, and has already surpassed last season’s goal total.

Two more wins, 10 goals better differential, and the list goes on but unfortunately also includes crosstown rivals running away with the league and still alive in the UCL.

“Of course in the future we want to have 19 clubs behind us but this is the reality,” said Mourinho. “And the reality is for people with brain, with sense, with common sense, with knowledge of what sports is, we are in a moment of transition. Being in a moment of transition and still manage to do what he did last season and win trophies and to do what we are trying to do this season, which is still trying to win a trophy, and try to be second, because in this moment it’s the only top position that is possible for us to get. I think we are in a good position.”