Thursday, December 5, 2013

2014 FIFA World Cup Draw (Mock Draw)



 With the 2014 FIFA World Cup draw less than 24 hours away, I thought I would have a mock draw of my own to see some of the mind numbing possibilities that may present themselves at 11:30 am EST tomorrow. No life you say?.... maybe ... but I was fortunate enough to avoid the much dreaded "Group of Death."

Wrapping your head around FIFA's plans for dealing with the intricacy of this draw can prove problematic, so I encourage you to ignore the extra rules and just hang on for the ride.....

First nation out of the pot is none other than Italy. (out of pot 4 to be placed with the first South American seed.... like I said ... ignore this.) The first South American seed drawn from "pot x" is Argentina.

Ok, so now our groups are starting to take shape... Group A will have Brazil as A1 as per FIFA and Group B will have Argentina and Italy.

The only trouble now is completing the entire draw without having 3 European nations in the same group or 2 South American nations in the same group. 

Believe it or not, I am pretty sure my little mock draw went smoothly after the whole pot 4, pot 2, and pot x nonsense.

Without further rambling, my FIFA World Cup (mock) draw:

Group A                                                    Group E
Brazil                                                         Belgium
Ivory Coast                                                Ecuador
Honduras                                                   Australia
France                                                        Portugal

Group B                                                     Group F
Argentina                                                    Colombia
Italy                                                            Nigeria
United States                                               Iran
Greece                                                        Netherlands

Group C                                                     Group G
Uruguay                                                      Spain
Cameroon                                                   Algeria
Mexico                                                        Costa Rica
England                                                       Bosnia-Herzegovina

Group D                                                      Group H
Germany                                                      Switzerland
Chile                                                            Ghana
South Korea                                                 Japan
Russia                                                          Croatia

As you can see there are some fascinating match-ups. The United States receives a very tough draw having to match up with 3 of the top 12 teams in FIFA rankings. Group of death or not ... all of these respective teams earned their spot in the World Cup. I would not be surprised to see a few upsets along the way.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the real draw and hopefully we will be talking about how good the United States Men's National Team's chances are in making the knockout round.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

NY Red Bulls sign 3 Key pieces to 2013 Success.

NY Red Bulls Midfielder Eric Alexander

(Harrison, NJ) Today the New York Red Bulls signed three players that were integral in the securing of the Supporters Shield. Eric Alexander, Kosuke Kimura, and Péguy Luyindula were all signed by the club today. Although I was sad to see Brandon Barklage go, these signings are the first steps to maintaining cohesion and locking down key positions within the Red Bulls roster.
      I am excited to see Alexander back for at least another year. Whether he was weaving through midfield or pushed out wide, I felt that he was one of the most consistent and reliable players on the pitch. I felt that even coming off the bench, Alexander always had a chance to impact the game.
      Kimura had a quiet yet effective season. I think Kosuke will find more playing time on the back line providing that he does not have any more head injury concerns going forward. There were plenty of times during the 2013 season that the Red Bulls needed someone to step up in the back line and Kimura did not disappoint.
      Péguy Luyindula was quite the enigma in 2013. Although his play was inspired and showed promise early in the season, finishing was a major problem for Luyindula. Let's face it, you could have sworn there was a brick wall blocking the net every time Péguy was playing forward. Mike Petke solved the puzzle in a big way by dropping Luyindula back to midfield as an attacking link late in the year. This made an immediate difference in the ability to counter-attack and with the play of McCarty, Cahill, Alexander, Sam, and Steele, turned the New York Red Bulls midfield into one of the best in the league.
      Retaining Alexander, Kimura, and Luyindula are solid moves, as was declining the option on David Carney, but the Red Bulls still have some pressing issues heading into the 2014 season. Fabian Espindola and Roy Miller are no where near playing up to potential. I understand the injury bug got to Miller this season, but I always have the feeling that he is one rash challenge or poor decision away from costing the club a game. As for Espindola, he simply takes too many touches. Flashes of brilliance aside, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Andre Akpan are more than capable of taking Espindola's spot up front or on the bench. It seemed that Espindola was lost in the shuffle toward the end of the season and I would much rather see what Wright-Phillips can do.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Keys to USMNT vs Mexico

It is no surprise that USA - Mexico is one of the biggest matches in qualifying once again. Fans and players alike always get fired up for this contest. With Mexico coming off a disastrous loss to Honduras at home and the US dropping a much hyped game to Costa Rica, both teams come into tonight's matchup desperate for a win.


Why are the US desperate for a win? Why are the US one Jermaine Jones turnover away from the panic button? I can understand why Mexico is sweating bullets, sitting precariously close to the bubble with only 3 games remaining. The truth is, the USMNT has never won a WCQ game in Costa Rica.... So it should not come as a shock that they lost on Friday. Mexico has had major problems winning ( even scoring) at home this year, something that is shocking. The USMNT also have a healthy 23-0-1 record at home for qualifying matches, which reminds us that the result in Costa Rica should not have been surprising.

What needs to be done.

The game tonight has a very uncertain air about it. Both teams are portrayed as wounded animals coming off horrific loses. We have already mentioned that although the US had an abominable first 15 minutes in Costa Rica, the result was not necessarily a deviation from the norm. Mexico is a wounded animal, and have every opportunity to drag the US down with them if the ball bounces a certain way tonight.

Weather the Storm

Mexico might just shock everyone and come out firing. Fast pace passing and running off the ball could prove to be too much for a beleaguered US back line. If the US can withstand early pressure and a full onslaught from the start, the back line will be much more poised going into the remainder of the game. If the US concedes early, panic might prove costly.

Score First

Simple right? Score first and take Mexico down a notch. Instill doubt, make them question decisions, and basically hit them where it hurts. Mexico might say all the right things leading up to the game and regarding their new coach, but if they fail to draw first blood..... On the flip side, going down a goal at home (especially if it is early) could have a domino effect on the US. Imagine the uproar if the US comes out flat like they did against Costa Rica... There will be more than a few pits in stomachs if the US concede first.

Slow the game down.

I would love to see the USMNT have Beckerman hold up play and distribute out of the back, hold off Beasley from making runs until late in the half, and give Jones a compass. If the US can control possession and tempo, Mexico will have to chase the ball and may just become stretched enough late in the half for the US to spring Beasley up the flank for some solid service into the box. Until then allow Donovan and Dempsey to work the ball in the final third.

USA 2 - 1 Mexico 

Yes the USMNT is without Bradley, Altidore, Besler, and Cameron, that is fine. Do not forget that since Jurgen Klinnsman has taken over the team, depth has been a huge focus. Time for players that have been waiting in the wings to step up. The Gold Cup was a proving ground for some of these players, now it is time to shine on the big stage. Columbus has been a bastion for the US national team, time to protect the fort.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

USWNT 7 - 0 Mexico : Depth and Destruction

Tuesday night saw the USWNT rout an inexperienced and outmatched Mexican national side at RFK stadium in Washington, DC. The game appeared to have the makings of a decent test, however after Mexico conceded a second and third goal early in the first half, you could see the air rush out of the Mexican attack. The Americans did put on an impressive display in the one-sided affair, regardless of the effort put forth by Mexico after the 30th minute. Goals by Wambach, Leroux (4), Buehler, and Brian sealed a dominant performance by the women's national team.

With Alex Morgan nursing an injury on the bench, Sydney Leroux shared the duties up front with Abby Wambach to start the match. Leroux was a factor from the onset, dominating with her physical play, speed, and finishing skills. There is no doubt that she belongs on this team and even with another newcomer Christen Press not making the trip, the US Women have an overflow of capable forwards. Wambach, Morgan, Leroux, and Press have already proven they can find the net, now head coach Tom Sermanni has to find a way to balance playing time to keep everyone involved. With Leroux up front taking 3 Mexican defenders with her everywhere she went, Wambach was seen coming deeper into the midfield to get the ball and even spotted out wide multiple times.

With notable players absent due to injury or other circumstance (Morgan, Rapinoe, Boxx, Krieger), Sermanni had a chance to bring some fresh faces into camp. The player who caught my eye the most was easily defender Crystal Dunn. With just 6 caps under her belt, Dunn (North Carolina) earned a start and made the most of her opportunity. Confident on the ball, technically skilled enough to get out of trouble, strong on challenges, and good service into the box were all displayed from Dunn within the first half. Mexico never got their offense going enough to sustain pressure on the back line, but I feel that Dunn continues to show growth and will fit into the team even against better opponents.

The USWNT did appear to hold possession better going through the midfield during the match. Backward play, patience, and strong linking from midfield to forward seemed to be a priority even when the game had been put out of reach. I can honestly say that I rarely heard Carli Lloyd's name mentioned during the run of play and the US were still picking the Mexican side apart going forward. This kind of domination and fluent play taking place with a quiet game from Lloyd and no Rapinoe can only mean that the national team is getting deeper and more comfortable with the players coming up through the ranks.

Midfielders Kristie Mewis (FC Kansas City), Heather O'Reilly (Boston Breakers), Erika Tymrak (FC Kansas City - 1st Cap), Lauren Holiday (FC Kansas City.... I'm sensing a theme), along with Lloyd (Western NY) controlled the pace of the game and quickly stepped up to cancel out any thought Mexico had of transitioning play toward the attack. Tymrak and Yael Averbach (on for Lloyd) are clearly cut from the same mold that the USWNT likes for their midfielders; good vision, strong passing skills, and neither are afraid to cut loose a shot from 30 yards. I though Tymrak had a good showing, however Averbach did have a few turnovers playing out of the back because she failed to cross the ball with any pace. If you add Morgan Brian (Virginia -2nd Cap - 1st goal) to the mix this looks like a capable group to take over in the future.

With a 7 - 0 rout there were not many negatives to take away from the match. It does bode well for the future of the USWNT if these young players can continue to break into the elite ranks of the team. Playing time has been at a premium on this squad for years and it seems prudent to incorporate some new faces any time possible. I think Tuesday night was a display for fans and the rest of the world.... look out, the USWNT has found depth and they are not afraid to use it.

Monday, September 2, 2013

2013 Atlantic Cup - New York Red Bulls vs. DC United

Thoughts on the Atlantic Cup

And the NY Red Bulls season going forward


The Atlantic Cup, NY Red Bulls vs. DC United. A series of matches that had been normally tipped towards DC United until recent years, concluded Saturday night in Harrison, NJ. A must win game for the Red Bulls after what one could only call a humiliating defeat at the hands of Chivas USA. For DC United, a chance to salvage some pride from a dismal season while sticking it to their hated Eastern Conference rivals to the north. 

From the onset, and to the shock of many, Thierry Henry began the game on the bench after a midweek spat with coach Mike Petke. Bradley Wright-Phillips got the start along with Tim Cahill, who had been pushed up top in what appeared to be an attempt to spark life into a team that barely showed up for the Chivas USA game. Not a bad move, considering Espindola cannot seem to simplify his game enough for the Red Bulls and Luyindula has had trouble finding the net. 

 Another interesting change in the lineup, with Roy Miller absent, was the addition of David Carney in the Left back position. Carney, who had only seen reserve time so far, was immediately exposed as a week link in a cobbled together back line. DC continued to attack Carney's side and eventually reaped the rewards when a cross from Dwayne De Rosario caught Carney ball watching and allowed Red Bull killer Nick Deleon slot one past Robles to tie the game. I am not a big fan of Roy Miller, but he was sorely missed while watching Carney try to keep up with the game. I would have taken Miller's random lapses in hustle and poor judgement over Carney for this match-up.

The Red Bulls did control most of the first half with promising work put in by perennial sub Lloyd Sam. I thought this was one of Sam's best performances for the Red Bulls. After a few suspect crosses early, Sam found his range and continued to work the ball into dangerous places inside DC United's penalty area. Sam's chip shot/cross goal that Hamid made a mess off set the tone early that the Red Bulls would be on the attack. One thing missing from the attack, was playing though the ever reliable Jonny Steele out wide. With Alexander and Mccarty playing centrally, the Red Bulls chose to filter the ball through Sam instead of Steele. Steele was wide open constantly during the first half, until Carney began to have trouble. Once Steele began playing deeper in order to help Carney, Sam was the only option out wide.

After conceding, the Red Bulls did go back to Steele out wide, who delivered a perfect ball to the head of Cahill. This combination will be vital going forward into the final months of the season. Steele has proven time and time again that he is one of the major keys to the Red Bulls' success. Without good service from the flank, Cahill's aerial prowess is harmless. Without a solid back four, Cahill and Mccarty will be pushed deeper into the defensive end and distribution will have to go wide. If Steele can continue his run of form, the Red Bulls can continue to bounce around at the top of the East.

Luis Robles, not to be outdone by Cahill's crowd pleasing forehead, came up huge for NY once again. A clear penalty and red card (last defender, clear scoring chance, etc) by Sekagaya, forced Robles to come up huge with a PK save on De Rosario. When DC had been on the verge of stealing a point and quite possibly the game, Robles stood up and made a save that seemed to remind the Red Bulls that they desperately needed to secure all 3 points.

 I would have imagined that Petke would have taken Carney out for Olave and pushed Holgersson out wide if Sekagaya was not shown the red card. As is was, Henry for Cahill, Kimura for Barklage (hip), forced Petke to use his final sub on Wright-Phillips for Olave instead. 

Speaking of Barklage, if this injury is serious enough to miss a few games, the Red Bulls will be playing nail biting soccer on the back line. Poor clearances were abundant during the Atlantic Cup match. It was frustrating to watch a decent defensive stop be undone in moments by a poor clearance. DC was given opportunities that could have proven costly if they were able to cash in on a few.

As pleased as I was to see the Red Bulls grab all three points, it does look interesting going forward if the defensive depth of the team is this shallow. If the normal defenders are in, no problem, however there are huge gaps in communication and comfort if the back line is stitched together with fill-ins. Forward looks brighter with Henry, Espindola, and even Cahill as vyeable starting options and Wright-Phillips, Akpan, and Luyindula off the bench. If Espindola would stop taking one to many touches every time he gets within 30 yards of goal, he would be a lock up front.

The Red Bulls needed the win, Petke needed to make a statement by sitting Henry, and Cahill needed to spark the team with a beastly performance upfront. All stars aligned Saturday night and the Red Bulls should feel confidant going forward, but they also need to realize the DC United team they beat is just a shell of the team from last year's playoff round.

-Holding Midfielder

Friday, August 30, 2013

Welcome to The Holding Midfielder

Welcome the The Holding Midfielder. The vision behind this blog is simple. Cover as much soccer related content as possible. Please check back regularly for updates and insight on the beautiful game.