Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

What risk? Making sense of Schweinsteiger to Chicago in post-DP MLS

Leave a comment

Quick, how old were the best performers in Major League Soccer last season?

Rather than rattle off the players we think were the best, let’s use a couple advanced stats sites to double down (Squawka and WhoScored).

According to the former, the Top Ten “performance scores” were posted by Sebastian Giovinco (29), Osvaldo Alonso (30), David Villa (34), Ignacio Piatti (31), Gio dos Santos (27), Benny Feilhaber (31), Chad Marshall (32), Chris Pontius (29), Walker Zimmerman (23), and Lee Nguyen (29).

As for the latter, you’ll see a lot of the same faces at the top. Giovinco, Alonso, and Piatti remain 1-2-3, but the Top Ten is filled out by Nicolas Lodeiro (28), Sacha Kljestan (31), Michael Bradley (29), Gyasi Zardes (25), Jozy Altidore (27), and Bradley Wright-Phillips (31). Obviously, WhoScored favors the attack.

[ MORE: Cameron pumped for USMNT return ]

For comparison’s sake, the Premier League doesn’t boast a player in its Top Ten over the age of 30, Serie A has two (Dzeko and Fazio), La Liga four (Suarez, Ronaldo, Modric, and Luis), and the Bundesliga one (Robben). And any of those names would thrive in MLS, I imagine.

That’s an awful long preamble to say this: Bastian Schweinsteiger is likely do just fine at Chicago Fire, even in an advanced position.

The rise in young Designated Players in Major League Soccer is no joke, which has directly led to a big mistake amongst many MLS supporters. That is the assumption that older elite players, many who would wrongly earn the league “retirement league” jeers, are going to fail.

Before taking on the idea of Schweinsteiger, it’s important to note that many MLS fans bristle so much at the retirement league gloss that they are quick to lash out when superstar imports begin slowly in MLS. I emphasize “slowly” because stardom is understandably expected given the players’ lofty standards, and poor play is really anything below that standard.

[ MORE: Bellerin talks Barcelona interest ]

Consider:

Frank Lampard began his MLS tenure as a failure because he was hurt to start his tenure at NYCFC; The Chelsea legend got healthy and was as productive as almost any MLS attacking mid last season. In fact, look at NYC’s Top Five in per-game Squawka stats last season… pretty old.

Steven Gerrard is considered even worse because he didn’t put up gaudy offensive numbers. It’s important to note he was still one of LA’s best all-around per-game weapons in 2016 (and that they, too, were older at the top).

Which brings us to Schweinsteiger. I’ve read two well-read commentaries that question the move by two colleagues I respect a great deal: Andy Edwards’ MLS acumen is almost unrivaled, and Joe Prince-Wright has a great feel for our domestic league.

That’s fine, and he may flop. Any player could flop, of course.

Let’s compare Lampard and Schweinsteiger, as far as we can. The former arrived on the shores of MLS directly in which he managed only 989 minutes in league play for Man City, and three seasons since he was counted on for 2,000-plus minutes at Chelsea.

Schweinsteiger hits Chicago having not done much at all this season at United, and a three seasons after breaking that 2,000 mark at Bayern Munich. In theory, the only difference is that Schweinsteiger will need to find fitness. On the flip side, he’s not carrying a year’s worth of battle wounds.

He’s 32, played plenty in Germany’s EURO 2016 campaign, and is three summers removed from going all but nine minutes of four elimination games in winning a World Cup. He’s two seasons removed from a 20-match, 5-goal, 4-assist season as a deep-lying midfielder in the Bundesliga.

I love MLS and Opening Weekend generally signals something special in my mind, but right now the league is about on par with Eredivisie. For a 20-year-old brand, that’s not an insult, and if Schweinsteiger joined PEC Zwolle I’d consider it a savvy move to improve a team and sell a load of uniforms.

There are definite and legitimate questions about how Chicago will fare with him sitting atop holding midfielders Juninho and Dax McCarty. But Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez and coach Veljko Paunovic have had a looooong time to sort out whether the move makes sense for their formation and plan. We’re talking last summer, well before they scooped up both of the aforementioned center mids.

Not to mention this is a one-year, $4.5 million deal that carries an incredibly minimal amount of risk. Chicago has been tabbed as a team that could surprise and make the playoffs. The question isn’t why, or can this work? It’s why wouldn’t you?

Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

[ MORE: Full FIFA-Qatar report leaked? ]

Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

Photo by Lukas Schulze - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images
Leave a comment

SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

[ MORE: USMNT’s 23-man roster questions ]

That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

USMNT Gold Cup 23-man roster leaves some questions

Photo by Joe Petro/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Leave a comment

We have Bruce Arena’s 23-man United States men’s national roster for the Gold Cup, and there are more than a few surprises left out of the bunch.

Often a chance to experiment, those who thought this year’s Gold Cup roster would be one aimed at reclaiming glory with authority may be surprised to see the status quo.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought most of his big guns to the 2015 party — which didn’t go well for Brad Guzan and Co. — but Arena will roll into this summer’s tournament without most of his big names. There’s no Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, nor Jozy Altidore.

Those aren’t huge surprises, though who Arena neglected from his original 40-man short list is a bit of a shock to the system (Players can be called into the mix after the group stage, which is a fairly simple affair for the USMNT to navigate versus Panama, Martinique, and Nicagarua).

Arena is going with Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, and Bill Hamid in a trio that fails to impress. Hamid does have a big crowd of fans who’d like to see him get a chance to assert himself as the future, and hopefully either Johnson or Hamid finds time between the sticks against a serious opponent like Panama. No surprise that Tim Howard and Joe Bendik didn’t leap into the trio (EDIT: This post initially questioned the omission of Jesse Gonzalez, but his one-time switch from Mexico to the USMNT has yet to go through).

We’ll ignore the omission of Danny Williams for the most part considering he was absent from the 40-man list, but he must have said something seriously awful to Arena or someone at U.S. soccer.

The group of forwards leaves little to complain about, as Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer very much deserve their chances to compete for playing time with Sounders star Jordan Morris, but the midfield provides some head-scratching. Gyasi Zardes may be a longtime Arena favorite, but the Galaxy man has been ice cold in MLS. The 25-year-old has a single assist in almost 1000 minutes of play this season, and that came back on April 8. Tommy McNamara has not lighting the league on fire and Chris Pontius and his six assists are 30 years old, so much of the grief should be directed at the 40-man again, but Zardes has to embrace this opportunity. And maybe it’s a way to help the Galaxy and Zardes get a little mojo.

As an aside, Wil Trapp is among leaders in several MLS passing stats, which leads me to believe Arena is going to play Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta a ton and doesn’t see much of a need for Trapp in this tournament, not ever.

Defenders Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector were not rewarded with looks, though Graham Zusi was included in what must be an arm reaching out for USMNT experience. Birnbaum is leading MLS in aerials won per game and Spector is by far Orlando’s top rated player since returning from England. Yes, Spector is 31 but this is about still qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, not the 2022 cycle. Spare a thought for Matt Polster, who has been decent since returning from a knee strain. This is nothing against Zusi, a consummate professional who won’t kill the team by any means and will be an tremendous asset in leadership.

What about you? Any other gripes? Or do you love the bunch?