Donovan Passes on Loan Deal

And we say, wise move: He’s been playing non-stop for two years, and he looked sluggish down the stretch in MLS this past season.

Another loan move—which would have been his third consecutive winter stint abroad after Bayern Munich in 2009 and Everton in 2010—would have put more mileage on his odometer, ground off more tread from his tires, and potentially, led to a broken part or two. Better to lay that machine up in the garage for the winter. (That automotive metaphor just took over, didn’t it? Sorry about that.)

For more on LD’s decision, check here.

In other Donovan news, he was unsurprisingly named the 2010 U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year yesterday. It was the fourth time Donovan won the Federation’s award.

MLS also tabbed him as their U.S. Player of the Year.

We’ll take it as an opportunity to look at his awesome goal against Slovenia again:

Bradley Calls 24 (Young, MLS-Heavy) Players to January Camp

The first U.S. national team camp of 2011 will convene at the Home Depot Center on January 4, and it will involve a whopping 12 uncapped players, along with six players who have just one appearance for the U.S.

The roster, announced today by head coach Bob Bradley, will train in advance of a January 22 friendly against Chile at the HDC.

Twenty of the 24 players are based in MLS, with one in Scotland (keeper Dominic Cervi of Celtic) and three in Scandinavia.

That last group includes Alejandro Bedoya (Orebro, Sweden), Mikkel Diskerud (Stabaek, Norway), and Ryan Miller (Halmstads, Sweden)—a player we had to Google to learn who he was (again, the Bradley-doesn’t-cast-his-net-wide-enough argument is shown to be hogwash).

Red Bulls rookies Tim Ream and Juan Agudelo were both called in again, and will be joined by first-timers Sean Johnson of Chicago, MLS Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski of San Jose, Anthony Wallace of Colorado, and Eric Alexander of FC Dallas, among others.

We’d wager that Alexander caught Bradley’s attention with this one-goal, one-assist, one-goal-line-save performance against New York back in September:

Here’s the full roster (average age, just over 23):

Goalkeepers: Dominic Cervi (Glasgow Celtic, Scotland), Sean Johnson (Chicago), Matt Pickens (Colorado), Nick Rimando (Salt Lake)

Defenders: A.J. DeLaGarza (Los Angeles), Sean Franklin (Los Angeles), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles), Ugo Ihemelu (Dallas), Zach Loyd (Dallas), Ryan Miller (Halmstads, Sweden), Tim Ream (New York), Anthony Wallace (Colorado), Marvell Wynne (Colorado)

Midfielders: Eric Alexander (Dallas), Alejandro Bedoya (Orebro, Sweden), Sam Cronin (San Jose), Mikkel Diskerud (Stabaek, Norway), Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado), Dax McCarty (D.C.), Brek Shea (Dallas)

Forwards: Juan Agudelo (New York), Justin Braun (Chivas USA), Teal Bunbury (Kansas City), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose)

Best Player in the Premier League This Season? That Would Be Stuart Holden

About two months ago, former Liverpool star Jamie Redknapp called Fulham attacker Clint Dempsey “the best American” ever to play in the Premier League.

Today, readers of the British daily The Guardian saw Redknapp’s praise for Dempsey and raised it for U.S. midfielder Stuart Holden, rating him the best player, period, in the English Premier League this season.

And they didn’t arrive at that designation through a nebulous opinion poll, but rather through the more objective means of their weekly player ratings: Guardian editors analyzed all the match ratings awarded by their readers after each Premier League game this season, and Holden came out with an average mark of 7.4 (out of 10), the highest of any player in the league.

Not too shabby.

Click here for the Guardian story.

PS: And again, we say this right here was the moment Holden started becoming a player worthy of these kinds of accolades.

In Tacit Admission that It Made the Wrong Decision, FIFA Considers Staging Qatar 2022 in Winter

Let’s just jump right in with this gem of a quote from FIFA’s top genius, Sepp Blatter, re the Hades-like temperatures in Qatar (still working on getting a definitive pronunciation on that, btw—‘cutter’ or ‘kuh-TAR’; if you know, let us know in the comments):

“FIFA’s job is to have a World Cup that protects the players so we take note of the recommendations and go through the list of requirements. We will look into this and make the right decision.”

We’re not even sure where to begin addressing this. The head of the world federation is, less than a month after awarding the tournament, already publicly suggesting it might need to be rescheduled due to problems within the newly-awarded host country—namely, it’s too g-d hot.

To do that—to uproot the World Cup from its traditional summer spot and plop it down in the middle of January or February—would require not only that most of the leagues in the world alter their schedules, but also that all World Cup–qualifying formats be re-routed.

Blatter and Co. would have to ask for the cooperation of pretty much the entire globe to pull this off. Either that, or ask them to compete in “air conditioned” venues and training grounds sprinkled around Doha, where it is illegal to work outside at midday in the summertime.

Penalties: Not as Much of a Crapshoot As You Think, v 2.0

Many moons ago, when Backpost was in its infancy, we wrote this post about penalties and all the hidden complexities that go into the apparently simple exercise of one man trying to kick a ball past another from 12 yards.

We quoted from Soccernomics, by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, who wrote, in a fascinating chapter called “The Economist’s Fear of the Penalty Kick,” that “economists revere the penalty as a real-life example of game theory.”

This week, the economists are at it again with the penalty-kick studies. A report from the London School of Economics and Political Science claims that penalty-shootouts are “unfair” because the team kicking first has a 60 percent chance of winning the shootout.

Spearheaded by professor Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, the report claims that the team shooting second is always under psychological pressure of “’lagging behind’ and that that “clearly affects” their performance.

The good professor suggests that FIFA adopt the tie-break system used in tennis, where opponents have two consecutive serves, to make the shootout more fair. In other words, he suggests one team take the first kick, then their opponents take the next two, then they get two, and so on, in an ABBAABBAAB format, as opposed to the current ABABABABAB system, which, the economist argues (after examining 282 shootouts), confers a 20 percent advantage on team A.

You can now look for FIFA to completely ignore these findings.

For more on the report, click here.

Galaxy Snaps Up Angel in MLS Re-Entry Draft

The LA Galaxy made a trade with Houston for the right to pick fifth in today’s Stage 2 of the Re-Entry Draft, then used that spot to grab former Red Bulls striker Juan Pablo Angel. LA sent a future fourth-round SuperDraft selection to the Dynamo in exchange for the pick.

The alltime leading scorer in New York history (61 goals), Angel could now partner with U.S. international Edson Buddle up top in LA, with MLS superstars Landon Donovan and David Beckham supporting them in midfield. (Los Angeles coach Bruce Arena helped bring Angel from Aston Villa to New York when Arena coached the Red Bulls.)

The Galaxy—and all other teams who made selections in today’s event—have seven days to make an offer to the players they’ve picked.

While LA’s surprise selection of Angel caused the biggest waves, there was plenty of other action in Stage 2 of the inaugural Re-Entry Draft: DC United took 33-year-old striker Josh Wolff with the first pick, and Chivas USA picked Wolff’s former teammate in Kansas City, centerback Jimmy Conrad, also 33.

Here’s the complete list of players selected:

Round 1

D.C. United: Josh Wolff

Chivas USA: Jimmy Conrad

New England Revolution: Ryan Cochrane

LA Galaxy: Juan Pablo Ángel

Chicago Fire: Cory Gibbs

Sporting Kansas City: Frankie Hejduk

Seattle Sounders: Chris Seitz

Columbus Crew: Jeff Cunningham

LA Galaxy: Luke Sassano

Colorado Rapids: Tyrone Marshall

Round 2

New England Revolution: Fred

Leading the list of players not selected was former Columbus playmaker Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Former LA midfielder Dema Kovalenko, ex-Toronto defender Nick Garcia, and erstwhile Houston keeper Pat Onstad were also passed over.

Every available player not selected today becomes a free agent who can negotiate with any team on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Yanks In England—Weekend Wrap

American midfielder Stuart Holden was a quality player in Major League Soccer. He joined the Houston Dynamo in 2006, gradually worked his way into a starting role and, by 2009 (his final year in the league), was an MLS Best XI selection.

But you couldn’t say that he ever dominated in the U.S. domestic league, and he was not a starter in either of the Dynamo’s MLS Cup victories, in 2006 and ’07.

So when did he make the leap to his current level? When did he find the form that would make him one of the most important players on a very competitive English Premier League team—a status confirmed by his spectacular game-winning goal for Bolton on Sunday?

If we had to pinpoint it, we’d say right here:

A last-gasp equalizer for the U.S., that was Holden’s second goal in the 2009 Gold Cup, and his performance in that tournament helped him make Bob Bradley’s 2010 World Cup team.

His career at Bolton was dogged by injuries out of the gate last winter, but this season he’s been mostly healthy and usually terrific, nailing down a starting spot in central midfield and scoring two goals in 15 appearances—including Sunday’s chest-trap-and-volley while running at top speed with two defenders on him.

That 88th-minute strike won the game 2-1 for 10-man Bolton, just moments after they’d given up an equalizer to Blackburn.

Elsewhere, Clint Dempsey started, played 90 minutes, and was frequently dangerous (but ultimately goalless) in Fulham’s 0-0 draw with Sunderland. It was Fulham’s 10th tie in 17 games, and they are only clear of the relegation zone via goal difference, tied on points with Wigan at 16.

Eddie Johnson played the last 18 minutes for the Cottagers, and there are reports that Fulham is bidding to bring a third Yank on board, one Landon Donovan.

We shall see.

Donovan’s former loan team, Everton, also played to a scoreless draw, against Wigan, with U.S. keeper Tim Howard making two saves to pick up the shutout.

At Villa Park, American keeper Brad Friedel started and went the distance in the home team’s big 2-1 win over West Bromwich Albion.

Friedel’s American understudy, Brad Guzan, did not leave the bench, but U.S. defender Eric Lichaj got the start for Villa—his first in the Premier League—and played 90 minutes.

Marcus Hahnemann continued in his new role as the No. 2 keeper at Wolverhampton, sitting out his team’s crucial 1-0 win over Birmingham on Sunday.

Jonathan Spector got his third consecutive start in midfield for West Ham, going the distance in a 3-1 loss to Manchester City that left the Hammers alone in last place, three points behind Wolves.

The Sky Blues finished the weekend tied for second place with Arsenal, which lost 1-0 yesterday to top-of-the table Manchester United.

Chelsea sits fourth after a 1-1 draw with fifth-place Tottenham on Sunday, a game in which Didier Drogba both scored on a hammering shot that simply overpowered Spurs keeper Heurelho Gomes (it was right at him)—and had a potentially game-winning penalty saved by that same Gomes.

In sixth place, just one point behind Spurs, are Holden and Bolton.

At St. James’s Park, Newcastle stunned Liverpool 3-1, while at the Britannia Stadium, visiting Blackpool pipped Stoke City 1-0.

Blackpool manager Ian Holloway gets a belated entry into the quote-of-the-year race with this gem after the Tangerines’ game with Man Utd was snowed out on Dec 4:

“One mate was coming over from America and it was going to be his first game of football, or soccer as they call it. Unfortunately we had to take him to Wigan instead.”

Roberto Martinez cannot have been pleased.


One year after losing the NCAA championship on penalties, the Akron Zips returned to the title game and took home the first D-I trophy in school history, downing previously unbeaten Louisville 1-0.

Midfielder Scott Caldwell scored the winning goal in the 79th minute, collecting the rebound of his own shot and driving it into the top of the net over Cardinals keeper Andre Boudreaux.

Louisville nearly equalized several times after Caldwell’s strike, including in the 89th minute, when Aaron Horton’s shot was saved off the line by Akron defender Chad Barson.

Louisville (20-1-3), led by former Akron coach Ken Lolla, was attempting to become the first undefeated champion since Santa Clara in 1989.

On an Akron team that features multiple quality pro prospects, including U.S. Under-20 players Perry Kitchen and Zarek Valentin, Caldwell was an unlikely hero. But it’s a role he’d grown accustomed to during the Zips’ stretch run: Sunday’s winner was his fifth career goal—all of them scored in the past seven games, starting in the Mid-American Conference tournament.

Overall, the game was well played and a decent showcase for college soccer, which, as we touched on in this week’s MLS column (go check it out here), takes its share of criticism in U.S. soccer circles.

Sure, the college game may not be the best breeding ground for future pros, but it’s better than people give it credit for.

If you compared yesterday’s title game with, say, Colchester vs Yeovil Town in England’s League One, well, the college boys may or may not be able to beat their third-division pro counterparts across the pond, but they definitely play a more attractive, skillful brand of soccer.

Beyond that, the college game is growing. Of the millions and millions of youth players in this country, only a relative handful wind up at Bradenton or on the fast-track of an MLS academy team. The rest head for college—an ingrained rite of passage in the U.S.—and they’re producing quality teams in previously undeveloped soccer areas all over the country.

This year’s runner-up, Louisville, is just the most notable example. The Cardinals have a long tradition of basketball glory, yet here they were coming within a couple of missed chances of a national soccer title.

Michigan, which didn’t even have a D-I soccer program until 2000, reached the College Cup this year, narrowly losing to Akron.

Schools like West Virginia, Providence, Maryland–Baltimore County, and Sacramento State won NCAA tournament games this year. Xavier, Bradley, Denver and Coastal Carolina all made the big dance in 2010, along with East Tennessee State, St. Peters, and New Mexico.

No, NCAA soccer is not on par with a pro developmental program, but it’s not a bad alternative for a player who’s not quite ready to go pro at 18—and it’s never been more competitive.

Here is a brief ESPN recap of the game:

Timbers Unveil Official MLS Kits

Yesterday afternoon, in a 64,000-square-foot hangar at the Portland International Airport, the expansion Portland Timbers unveiled their 2011 MLS jerseys.

They chose the hangar as the site for the big reveal because it belongs to Horizon Air, a sister carrier to the Timbers’ jersey sponsor, Alaska Airlines, which, interestingly, is headquartered in Seattle, home to the Timbers’ fierce rivals Sounders FC.

In any event, here they are, ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’:

This one doesn’t do it for us. Maybe it’s that two-tone forest green. It recalls Slovenia and Australia at South Africa 2010—and look how their tournaments shaped up.

That heavy green looks leaden, somehow, like it would slow you down, even if you were speedy midfielder/defender Rodney Wallace.

Now this one is A-OK. The Rose City badge on the chest and Rose City stitching on the back neck are nice touches, as is the thorn stitching dividing the two tones of red, which are much, much easier on the eyes than the junior-high-school greens above.

The team opens a  Timbers retail store in downtown Portland today.

Best of U.S. Soccer 2010

The nominees are in for the 2010 Best of U.S. Soccer Awards, the ninth edition of the Federation’s year-end showcase.

Click here to vote, and check out some interesting videos (behind the scenes with The Daily Show and Lando at Everton were our personal faves.)

There seem to be more nominees than ever before—Best Goal and Best Photo, to name two examples, have 10 contenders each—and there’s a special, World Cup–year category, called Best South Africa Moment.

Best Goal is likely going to Landon Donovan’s follow-up winner against Algeria, but we might give it to Michael Bradley‘s incredible, game-tying finish of Jozy Altidore’s knockdown against Slovenia.

As for that new category, Best South Africa Moment, this, which should have been enough to persuade FIFA on the 2022 World Cup bid, has got to be a lock: