Those Feet, by David Winner

“What we cannot do by sleight we eke out by strength. No more concise definition of English football exists.”

The average American soccer fan is probably more familiar with names like Charlie Adam, Lee Cattermole, and Kevin Nolan than anybody who plays for Athletic Bilbao or Bayer Leverkusen. Nevermind that the former trio are nondescript players on nondescript teams, while Bilbao and Leverkusen will take part in this year’s Champions League. For a variety of reasons, English soccer receives far more attention than its continental counterparts.

For Englishmen of a certain age, this is still a bit strange. The English soccer David Winner is most familiar with was played on muddy pitches, defined by physicality, and of a lesser technical quality than the soccer in Italy and Spain. The modern day popularity and quality of the Premier League is due not to the English, but to the high priced foreign talent. In Those Feet, Winner sets out in part to answer this question: “why don’t the English play sexy football?”

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Tommy Thompson: A Bright Spot in San Jose

The San Jose Earthquakes are in eighth place in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference. With 11 games remaining in the season, it’s not inconceivable that they could erase the 8-point gap between them and the final playoff spot, but things are looking bleak. Their big summer signing, Matias Perez Garcia, scored in his debut, but has since undergone knee surgery. Having long ago exited the US Open Cup, 2014 is looking like a lost season for the Quakes.

Sometimes, however, good things are discovered during lost seasons. Due in part to injuries, the Earthquakes have called on their first-ever homegrown player, Tommy Thompson. The son of Gregg Thompson, who made twelve appearances for the USMNT in the 1980s, Tommy played for the Earthquakes Academy before going to Indiana University, where he was the leading scorer his freshman year. He turned 19 on August 15th, and has gotten his first two MLS starts in San Jose’s last two games. It’s far too early to make bold predictions on his future, but from what he’s shown  so far, the youngster is worth keeping an eye on.

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Thierry Henry: Second-Half Showcase

The New York Red Bulls entered Saturday night with a slim hold on the fifth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Just one point kept them above both the Philadelphia Union and New England Revolution. A home game against the last-place Montreal Impact seemed like a good opportunity for New York to at least maintain their hold on fifth. Despite creating several chances early on, the Red Bulls went into half trailing by a goal. After the break, 36-year-old Thierry Henry took over. What you’re about to see is a 25-minute clinic on putting the ball into dangerous territory. There’s not much I can add to these gifs, so I’ll keep my commentary limited.

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XI: The Weekend of August 24th

photo credit: Calciomercato24 via photopin cc

photo credit: Calciomercato24 via photopin cc

-The slow start continues for Manchester United, as Louis van Gaal’s side managed only a  draw at Sunderland. Robin van Persie returned to action for the first time since the World Cup, but it was Juan Mata who scored the Red Devils’ lone goal. The good news for United is that they’re expected to sign Angel di Maria. The bad news is that he isn’t a defender, might not have a place in van Gaal’s system, and costs about as much as Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas combined.

-The most impressive performance of the weekend came from Tottenham, who demolished QPR—and former manager Harry Redknapp—4-0 on Sunday. QPR’s 3-man back line was constantly under assault in the first half, and Spurs broke through three times before the break. The third might have been the most impressive; Erik Lamela dragged the defense out of position, before hitting Nacer Chadli with a beautiful ball to culminate a 48-pass move.

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Soccer on US TV: 8/22-8/24

Friday, August 22

2:30 PM: Evian vs. Paris Saint-Germain, BeIn Sport

4:30: Atletico Madrid vs. Real Madrid, ESPN3.com, ESPN Deportes

The first leg of the Spanish Super Cup was deemed worthy of television, but ESPN has decided otherwise for the second leg. Atletico managed a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu in the first leg, and so they have the edge heading into the second.

8:30: Morelia vs. Tigres, ESPN Deportes, Azteca America (Spanish)

9:00: FC Dallas vs. Real Salt Lake, NBCSN

RSL just needs a point to go atop the Supporters’ Shield race, but it won’t be easy in Dallas. The hosts have won five of their last six in MLS, and haven’t lost since before the World Cup break.

Saturday, August 23

7:10 AM: Ipswich Town vs. Norwich City, BeIn Sport

7:45: Aston Villa vs. Newcastle United, NBCSN

10:00: Chelsea vs. Leicester City, NBCSN, Mun2

Leicester began their Premier League campaign with a hard-fought draw, but Stamford Bridge is probably too much to ask. Jose Mourinho certainly doesn’t mind that his side’s season begins with two newly-promoted clubs.

12:30 PM: Everton vs. Arsenal, NBC, Mun2

When these two sides met at Goodison Park last season, Everton won 3-0 and seemed to have the edge in the race for the final Champions League spot. But the Toffees stumbled down the stretch, and as usual, Arsenal finished 4th. How important my this match be in this year’s race?

3:00: Sevilla vs. Valencia, BeIn Sport

5:00: Almeria vs. Espanyol, BeIn Sport

6:00: Cruz Azul vs. Queretaro, Univision (Spanish)

6:00: Veracruz vs. Guadalajara, Univision Deportes (Spanish)

8:00: Monterrey vs. Puebla, Univision Deportes (Spanish)

9:00: Pachuca vs. Atlas, Telemundo (Spanish)

10:00: Jaguares vs. Club America, Univision Deportes (Spanish)

Sunday, August 24

8:30 AM: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Queens Park Rangers, CNBC

Spurs needed a stoppage-time winner to deal with West Ham last week, and yesterday came from behind in a Europa League playoff in Cyprus. On Sunday, they have another London derby, this time against their former manager Harry Redknapp and QPR.

11:00: Sunderland vs. Manchester United, NBCSN, Telemundo

United lost the first game of the Louis van Gaal era, last week against Swansea. They’ll be hoping for better against relegation candidates Sunderland.

1:00 PM: Pumas vs. Tijuana, Univision (Spanish)

1:00: Eibar vs. Real Sociedad, BeIn Sport

3:00: Barcelona vs. Elche, BeIn Sport

Barcelona begin their season with a new manager, new talent brought in before the transfer ban, and a highly-priced striker who cannot play until October. Expectations are as high as ever, and they’ll have to come home with more silverware than last season.

5:00: Levante vs. Villareal, BeIn Sport

5:00: Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes

These two rivals meet for the third and final time this season. Some of Portland’s squad made a mid-week trip to Guyana as the club began its first-ever Champions League campaign. Seattle, meanwhile, managed only a draw at home against San Jose on Wednesday. Despite just 4 points from their last five games, the Sounders still hold the best record in MLS. The Timbers will need to finish better than they did against New England as they try to climb into the playoffs.

8:00: San Jose Earthquakes vs. Philadelphia Union, Univision Deportes

 

 

Inverting the Pyramid, by Jonathan Wilson

I remember when, in the early stages of my soccer fandom, I first came across Zonal Marking. At some level, of course I understood that there were tactics and strategy in soccer as with any sport. But to see the game explored from that (top-down) angle was a revelation. Over the years, I’ve spent far too much time going through that site, reading whatever analysis and articles I could find. I owe no small portion of my current understanding of how soccer is played to Zonal Marking.

And so I owe something to Jonathan Wilson. ZM’s bibliography page lists Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid at the top, describing it as “the daddy of all football tactics books.” I just finished reading it, and I can understand that praise.

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The Object of the Game: New England vs. Portland

It is no secret that soccer is a low scoring game. Over the course of 90 minutes, the modern game  And so while goals may be the point of the game, you cannot boil a game down to its goals. There is so much more that takes place than the ball hitting the net, and that is important. Each match has its own flow and shape, and the goals that are scored largely occur within that frame. The majority of possessions, the majority of chances do not result in goals. But the game typically belongs to the side that can create more, better chances. A manager can’t score goals for his team, but he can put his players in the best spaces to do so.

On Saturday night, the Portland Timbers traveled across the country to face the New England Revolution. Both teams find themselves on the outside of the playoff spots in MLS, so both were looking for three points. The game finished 1-1, but that’s an oversimplification of what actually happened. Here’s how that result came to be.
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