Archive for September, 2013

The Absurdness Of The African World Cup Qualifying Draw

This is really nothing though compared to Sunil late night.

This is really nothing though compared to Sunil late night.

Author Steve Fenn is just as perplexed as you…and Bob.

On Monday, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) held the draw for their final round of World Cup Qualification. In the preceding 26 months, the CAF had presided over 144 matches in which these 10 nations had outlasted their 42 continental rivals. Actually, in Tunisia’s case they didn’t entirely outlast them all, because they had apparently been eliminated by Cape Verde days before. But Cape Verde was found guilty of using an ineligible player in that decisive group stage match, so the Tunisians advanced, but without the coach who quit after losing to Cape Verde.


Welcome to Africa, the continent whose World Cup Qualification format makes the FIFA general assembly seem as organized as a German auto factory, and whose qualifying trials make CONCACAF’s guantlet look like a red carpet.

It bears repeating: 144 matches to eliminate 42 countries, and now 5 of the best 10 will emerge from randomness-heavy head-to-heads for a spot in Brazil next June.  CAF…might as well stand for Crazy As F…..

Not even Nelson Mandela could broker this.

Along with the chaos of the coming matches themselves, the draw matching up these teams had an enormous impact on many of these squads World Cup probabilities. ESPNFC maintains a visualization of World Cup Qualification odds driven by their Soccer Power Index (SPI), which was developed by Nate Silver. Based on the difference between their published odds pre-draw and post-draw,  here’s a ranking of the difference that “draw luck,” alone, played in each country’s World Cup odds (with their fantasic nicknames included as an added bonus):



Those 20% swings based on only the draw are larger than you would usually see from the results of an actual qualifying match. Draws often have a great deal of power, but only in Africa are even the best teams subject to their whims at the end of qualification.

The pairings that led to this, with the top seeds on the left:

Ivory Coast – Senegal

Nigeria – Ethiopa

Ghana – Egypt

Algeria – Burkina Faso

Tunisia – Cameroon

Essentially, SPI is saying that Algeria and Tunisia were weak top seeds, and Ethiopia is the weakest of them all, so all of their opponents were lucky. Meanwhile, no one wanted to draw the strongest in their respective pots: Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, and Egypt.

In January of this year, the Blacks Stars tagged Bradley's Egypt squad in a tune-up match in the UAE, 3-0.

In January of this year, the Blacks Stars tagged Bradley’s Egypt squad in a tune-up match in the UAE, 3-0.

The Ghana-Egypt matchup is the deepest cut.

Bob Bradley’s Pharaohs deserved to be a top seed after a perfect 6-0-0 record in qualifying matches under the stoic former United States boss. Their FIFA ranking couldn’t bounce back from the sins of Bradley’s predecessor, though.

Now Bradley gets a shot at… redemption or merely a re-do. If you know Bradley, history is not crossing his mind. That said, it was Ghana who denied Bradley’s US Men’s National Team a trip to the last World Cup’s quarterfinals. Four years earlier, of course, Ghana dealt the final blow also; the Black Stars denying passage out of group play to a US team coached by Bradley’s mentor, Bruce Arena.

Per SPI this matchup is the most even pairing of the 5 CAF head-to-heads. The odds are basically 55/45 favoring Ghana, but Egypt is more than capable of taking it to the Black Stars.

Specific dates have not been announced for any of these CAF matches, yet. US broadcast rights are TBA, too.

The odds for all 10 teams to advance:


Notice that once you get past Nigeria-Ethiopia, every team has a respectable chance here. Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, and Cameroon are favorites in their matchups but, given these SPI odds, there is a 71.9% chance that at least one of them will not make it to Brazil next June. And of course there is a 100% chance that either Egypt or Ghana will miss out on the 2014 World Cup.

(Part II of II) TSG Goes Playground Again: USMNT UberDraft #4

If you missed Part I … well you shouldn’t miss Part I. This is Part II.

And now–before you foot–the counsel for each team would like a word to sway your mouse click/finger swipe.

Prestige Worldwide FC


Manager: Neil Blackmon


GK- Tim Howard, 2013

LB- Eddie Lewis/Carlos Bocanegra, 2005

LCB- Carlos Bocanegra, 2009

RCB- Jay DeMerit/Onyewu, 2009

RB- Michael Parkhurst/Timothy Chandler, 2013

CM- Ricardo Clark, 2009

CM- Jermaine Jones, 2013

LM- DaMarcus Beasley, 2005

RM- Landon Donovan, 2009

FW- Clint Dempsey, 2013

STR- Brian McBride, 2005


MID: Sacha Kljestan, 2009 (see what I did there?)

D MID: Geoff Cameron, 2013

ATTACKING SUB GROUP: Shea, Wondowlowski, Gomez (and there?)

I did exercise options to switch Convey for Beasley 2005 and Kljestan, double-pivot with Michael in rout of Mexico in C-Bus, 09, with Beasley 09 off bench.

Brother, we got this.

Brother, we got this.

Logic:  Now that you’ve seen the teams, Eric Wynalda and Prestige Worldwide FC have only one question: Are you guys gonna invest?

Here’s why you should. First, we have the two best players. Jorge Perea’s boy Clint Dempsey 2013 and GO GO USA 2009. Those two will demand excellence. Throw in Brian McBride 05 and we have the best striker to hold the ball up for those two as well. But your team lacks width (outside of Beasley 05) you say, and your center halves will get beat by Ghana.
The last part was a low blow, and US 2, Spain 0…but the reality is every one of these sides has warts. So with our width and central mids we won’t exactly play total football. Who cares? We can limit our weaknesses with smart substitutions. Let’s be honest: Geoff Cameron is coming in around minute 30 in every game, and Wynalda’s probably giving either Ricardo Clark or Michael Parkhurst (Chandler will miss his flight here, to be sure) a hug. Cameron makes a stout defense even tougher to break down, and we dare you to beat us with crosses into the box. 09 Sacha Kljestan makes our midfield better too. And if all else fails, we’ve got 2013 TIm Howard- so if we dress the opponent up in Man City jerseys, we’ll have the best goalkeeper too.


Oil Money FC


Manager: Eric Giardini

GK – Tim Howard, 2009

LB- Run DMB/Fab Johnson, 2013

LCB- Oguchi Onyewu, 2005

RCB- Eddie Pope/Jimmy Conrad, 2005

RB- Hejduk/Cherundolo, 2005

LM- Clint Dempsey, 2009

CM- Pablo Mastroeni, 2005

CM- Claudio Reyna, 2005

RM- Graham Zusi, 2013

FW- Landon Donovan, 2005

STR- Josmer Altidore, 2013


MID: Eddie Johnson, 2013

D MID: Ben Olsen, 2005

ATTACKING SUB GROUP: Casey, Holden Torres, 2009

Go time.

Go time.

FC Drambuie


Manager: Zack Goldman


GK- Kasey Keller, 2005

LB- BORNSTEIN/Bocanegra, 2009

LCB- Matt Besler, 2013

RCB- Goodson/Gonzalez, 2013

RB- Cherundolo/Spector, 2009

LM- Landon Donovan, 2013

CM- Michael Bradley, 2013

CM- Michael Bradley, 2009

RM- Clint Dempsey, 2005

FW- Charlie Davies, 2009

STR- Jozy Altidore, 2009


MID: Benny Feilhaber, 2009

D MID: Edu, 2009

ATTACKING SUB GROUP: EJ, Taylor Twellman, Josh Wolff, 2005

Two opponents: Lunch and Dinner.

Two opponents: Lunch and Dinner.

Logic:   FC Drambuie is elated with this crop of players, who are deployed in a 4-4-2. Starting in the midfield, the core of this XI, every USMNT fan dreams of a side powered by a pair of Michael Bradley’s at center mid. We’ve got that here, and they are flanked by the dynamic Clint Dempsey of 2005 and the wily vet version of Landycakes who just set the Gold Cup alight.

It is a solid, incisive midfield core that feeds into perhaps the most kinetic and effective forward pairing—short-lived as it was—in recent USMNT history with Charlie Davies and Jozy Altidore of last cycle leading the line. In the back, Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez—green as they may be—form a duo that has grown remarkably and formidably in under a year together. A potential lack of rearguard experience, leadership, and poise at the international level is compensated for with 2009’s Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo, who offer all that in spades, in addition to Kasey Keller, probably the best organizer of a backline in modern USMNT goalkeeping history (AKA the man who made Jimmy Conrad look like Maldini).

Creativity off the bench in Benny Feilhaber (’09), defensive help and set-piece danger from super-sub Maurice Edu (’09), and potential late game heroics from human battering ram/flying squirrel Taylor Twellman ’05 should come in handy as well.

Invest in us.

Now, you. go. vote!

(Part I of II) TSG Goes Playground Again: USMNT UberDraft #4

Jay Damn Emeritus figured into this one. Did he go... #2?! Possible?

Jay Damn Emeritus figured into this one. Did he go… #2?! Possible?

It’s back again.

The TSG USMNT UberDraft.

What the hell is an UberDraft? Basically TSG rounds up a few self-titled “experts” and they take turns picking US players out of pool from different eras.

You, the audience, votes on their stupidity and everyone wins. Got it?

A slight tweak this time. Whereas past UberDrafts pitted just two contestants against one another, this one became a menage’a’draft. Three…THREE…draft capitans vying to document their illogical selections. It’s like six minutes abs and you get the seventh for free and it’s all on file!

Can’t lose.

Now the competitors:

FC Drambuie – Helmsman: Zack Goldman — Goldman is back for more punishment for his 2nd draft. Oxford-educated, SoCal-bred, LA Galaxy-deluded. He’s all yours folks.

Oil Money FC – Helmsman: Eric Giardini — Giardini is a likelong Roma fan who wears shirts a half size smaller than even Totti. Madness. Will he bring the tactical muscle?

Prestige Worldwide FC – Helmsman: Neil Blackmon — Blackmon has a (lay down the) law degree. Will he put it to good use? Also writes at The Yanks Are Coming.

Where will Reyna 2005 "fall?"

Where will Reyna 2005 “fall?”

Okay, here’s how it works for those that are new to this column.  FCD, OMFC & PWFC will be picking from the 2005, 2009 and 2013 USMNT World Cup qualifying roster.

The draft group pairings–like Colt 45 and stale crackers–shake out as follows:

Player Pool

Player Pool

(Note: Draft staged before the entrance of Aron Johannson & John Brooks)

Here’s where a little skill comes.

“You’re” not drafting for the proverbial “best available.”

You’re drafting for the widest talent margin.

For example, say one of the of the pairings was Thierry Henry 2006 vs. Ruud Van Nistelroy 2006 or Darren Bent 2010 vs. Your Mom 2010.

The smart pick would be taking Darren Bent 2010 because everyone knows that Bent is galaxies better than Your Mom compared to Henry being just a few miles better than Van Nistelroy. Make sense?

So this means the draft should go according to the biggest gulf in talent.

Is Tim Howard 2013 much better or worse than Tim Howard 2010?

If not, then a player should use his pick elsewhere. At the end of this whole runaround, the managers will compile their selections and give you the formation they deploy in.

Then you, yes you the fan, get to vote on which team is best.

To the winner, goes nothing. To the loser?! A change in Twitter avatar that will make their mothers cry out in … shame!

Let’s get started before the confusion wears off, shall we?

With the first pick in the 2013-2009-2005 UberDraft




1st Pick: CM Michael Bradley 2013 – FC Drambuie

Logic: FC Drambuie hereby begins this USMNT draft by selecting Michael Bradley (2013) for our first central midfield slot.

In so doing, we go after perhaps the brightest gem on the board-–the most complete player in CONCACAF today, and perhaps one of the best the US has ever produced (certainly has to be considered a top 3 from Princeton, New Jersey).

We also leave our chummy rivals with a choice between the dude who threw away a man advantage against Italy in Kaiserslautern and the guy who holds the second and third worst World Cup performances ever at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium (after Robert Green).

Okay, that’s not really fair… but the biggest gulf on the board between choice A and plans B and C, in our humble opinion… have fun, fellas!



2nd Pick: G Tim Howard (2009) – Oil Money FC 

Logic: Zack! What the heck?! You got the LeBron James of the draft leaving me with the Darko pick. After I took off my Bradley Roma jersey, I’m decided on Tim Howard (2009). I’m starting in the back and taking the keeper who allowed a goal a game in the Hex. Oh, and he won the Golden Gloves at the 2009 Confederations Cup.

Yeah, he’s that good. F U Oliver Kahn. Sorry, that just blurted out.




3rd PickFW Clint Dempsey 2013  – Prestige Worldwide

Logic: 2013 Dempsey is a complete player, mentally and technically.

Before his masterful 2009 Confederations Cup, Dempsey was prone to Steven Gerrard-like inconspicuous absences in internationals. Today, he’s a captain, and for the early stages of 2013, pre-Brian Straus article, he was more or less the only American that could score, period.

His off-ball movements are among the most underrated in the world–he no longer needs to “try stuff” on the ball to influence proceedings–he does it moving dangerously off the ball, creating space for other players on overlaps and in-cuts. It is beyond debate that anything the USMNT achieves in the next calendar year is directly tied to Clint Dempsey. He is the finest player in CONCACAF, and the US heartbeat.

4th Pick: Landon Donovan (2009) – Prestige Worldwide FC

Logic:  Donovan split armband duties with Carlos Bocanegra at the 2009 Confederations Cup, and scored what I think is the most technically perfect goal in the Confederations Cup final against Brazil. He also appeared in every Hexagonal game that year, securing the US’ qualification for the World Cup with a brilliant free kick against Honduras in San Pedro Sula. Sure, he had the shocking penalty in the MLS Cup final– but back then he was easily the leagues best player and won the MVP. And by the end of that year, he was headed to Everton, where his remarkable performance set the stage for the rooftopper against Slovenia, “Goal, Goal, USA” and US soccer immortality…


5th Pick: With security kindly escorting Joe Dumars out of the War RoomOil Money FC selects FW Jozy Altidore (2013)

Logic: Looking at the striking options on the board, the current iteration of Jozy Altidore gives the Tycoonsiders the threat in front of goal that’s needed. Jozy is coming off the most prolific European scoring season by an American ever and seemingly can’t stop scoring for the Red, White, and Blue. Need to select him before Di Canio gets his hands on him though. Too late.



6th Pick: Michael Bradley (2009) – FC Drambuie

Logic: The last trio of great picks have taken a number of FC Drambuie’s preferred options off the board, and left the front office with no choice but to do the unthinkable: Pair Michael Bradley (2013) in central midfield with… Michael Bradley (2009).

The 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign, though Bradley’s first with the full national team, saw an evolution so dramatic, it was worthy of a Pokémon episode.

Bradley was transformed from a kid with more interest in handbags than a Prada store into a man with the poise, deftness of touch, and a controlled grittiness that enabled him to become, in many ways, the new focal point of the USMNT attack by the end of the cycle. Bradley went from being MB90—coined earnestly by fans who believed he was awarded undue amounts of playing time by his father, then US-coach Bob Bradley—into “MB90,” a wholly ironic use of the term to highlight his undeniably indispensable nature to the national outfit.


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The Messi Of Soccer Names: Two-Boys, Banana Yaya, Fred?

Okay, that's ridiculous.

Okay, that’s ridiculous.

When to a Twitter stream and a ridiculously debatable and necessary poll broke out.

Simple. Scientific.

MLS Ratings Drift

Jay Bell on what MLS needs to get some eyeballs

“Give me consistency or give me death.” – The new battle cry of MLS viewers.

MLS - Stretching to get any ratings points...

MLS – Stretching to get any ratings points…

The second half of the 2013 Major League Soccer season has seen the arrival of Clint Dempsey, more homegrown players and more Designated Players – giving every MLS team a DP for the first time in league history. The Los Angeles Galaxy also re-upped with one of the league’s top stars, Omar Gonzalez, and Landon Donovan, still the face of MLS.

The middle third of the season also saw the announcement of the 20th MLS team, New York City FC, with the uber-richness of Manchester City owner, Sheikh Mansour, and the political influence of the New York Yankees. David Beckham and Marcelo Claure were checking out Miami, though news has cooled on that front, and Orlando looks all but certain to secure a spot in MLS when a stadium announcement is finally made.

Despite all of the improvements on and off the field in MLS, more sobering news came this past week to further illuminate the league’s most glaring and substantial problem (yes, even worse than Jorge Vergara, sorry Chivas USA fans): national broadcast ratings.

MLS finished the last two seasons with David Beckham with averages of over 300,000 viewers per match on ESPN broadcasts. NBC Sports Network’s first year of league broadcasts finished with a decent average of 125,000 in 2012. Viewership on ESPN has dropped by 27 percent in 2013 and 20 percent on NBCSN.

It doesn’t take long to figure out why.

ESPN has focused its broadcasts on Sundays this year. There have been 16 MLS games broadcast on Sundays this year that have started at nine different times. There is no one time where an MLS, soccer or random sports fan can say, “I’ll sit down at __ o’clock and watch the MLS game.” Plus, those 16 Sunday games have been spaced out over 28 weeks so far.

It would be incredibly difficult to be any more inconsistent. At least for four straight weeks in September and October we get an MLS game at 9 p.m. eastern time each Sunday.

The most popular international tournaments – World Cup, European Championship, Olympics – are in even-numbered years, leaving MLS without helpful lead-ins this season. All ESPN had was a US-less and Mexico-less Confederations Cup (yes, I know Mexico was physically there, but were they really there?). I doubt Fox’s coverage of the Gold Cup “B” tournament helped ESPN or NBC at all since they mainly scheduled around it.



The drop on NBCSN has bee more disappointing because of the network’s stellar production, frequent advertisements and additional attention to the league, such as MLS 36. Unfortunately, start times have been just as infrequent, ranging from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m.

And what is with the late start times? This isn’t Spain. I love that NBCSN is testing the waters on Friday nights and I know sports viewers are more likely to be up later on Fridays and Saturdays, but 10 of their broadcasts have been at 8 p.m. ET or later. Five of ESPN’s Sunday broadcasts have been at 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. ET. What did we get, about 19 people east of the Mississippi to watch those games?

If Fox Sports 1 decides to broadcast a game between Washington State and USC at 10 p.m. ET, you know they’re not aiming for viewers in New York. Soccer isn’t college football and MLS isn’t the Pac 12. As stellar as attendance and excitement has been for teams on the west coast, MLS needs New York viewers and it needs the east coast.

Then there is congestion. MLS already has to fight against the NFL, college football, NBA, college basketball, MLB, NHL and NASCAR viewing times. It also has to fight against interest for the UEFA Champions League, English Premier League, Liga MX and other leagues and super clubs around the world.

So why is MLS competing against itself and the rest of American soccer? League broadcasts are scheduled at the start of each season with seemingly zero regard for the rest of the MLS schedule, let alone the likes of the US national team, the USWNT, NWSL, NASL and USL Pro.

Take a recent and exciting Saturday match between Seattle and Chicago at CenturyLink Field. The game itself had a great atmosphere and an announced attendance of 38,503. The game began at the same time as two other MLS matches. Two other MLS matches began an hour and a half earlier. That’s roughly 75,000 potential viewers that are at least more likely to add viewers than the general population. Another 20,000 were in Orlando to watch Orlando City win a thrilling USL Pro championship. There’s no telling how many other interested parties from Charlotte and the rest of the country were following that match instead of the lone national broadcast that evening.

It is not possible to schedule broadcasts that will always avoid overlapping with other soccer matches in the US and Canada, but it could definitely be scheduled smarter than it was Saturday night. Those types of situations are also going to be completely unavoidable when all broadcasts are scheduled 10 months ahead of time.

If MLS and its broadcast partners would finally maximize their viewing potential in the current settings, then they would be able to bring in more revenue. That revenue can then be spent in ways to grow the viewership in new ways. The current formula is stagnant at best.

Current ratings on their own would suggest that MLS has little hope to increase the value of its broadcast partnerships when the current contracts expire after the 2014 season, but MLS does have a surprising amount of leverage going into the new round of negotiations.

Mayor Bloomberg is ... sad.

Mayor Bloomberg is … sad.

The league’s power play is the introduction of New York City FC. A club that will play its matches in actual New York City is a boon for MLS, although the amount of time it stays at Yankee Stadium could become detrimental. The league is also guaranteed to be telling network executives that Miami is on its way into the league. Potential teams in Miami and Orlando would get MLS back into Florida and into the southeast (kind of), adding a region of televisions MLS has been largely without for most of its history.

MLS has some leverage with the networks too, but not enough to garner huge increases in the value of those deals.

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Egypt Draws The Black Stars of Ghana In Brazil 2014 Tilt

The road just got steeper.

The road just got steeper.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

Former US manager and current Egypt salvation protagonist Bob Bradley will need to go back to the drawing board against the United States’ World Cup nemesis Ghana to see his Pharaohs through to the World Cup.

The third round of qualifying in CAF is nothing short of nightmarish–a simple home-and-away series for a World Cup berth. Through all the struggles that Egypt has had during Bradley’s term this is second to none perhaps.

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USA v. Mexico: Audio Game Review



Game breakdown in audio form here. About a 30 minute segment. Click here for audio.