Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Much Ado About Something….USMNT Scheduling Ideas

After 6 months of internet rumors and endless flights in the search for a new USMNT Head Coach, things in the USMNT camp are alive. Bob Bradley was hired as the interim head coach and is setting a different tone with his players. We have 3 matches scheduled and two upcoming tournaments for June and July. The USMNT program is very much back. One should question though, is the program back with a different agenda, or is it back running the game plan as before? Signs are that the same game plan is in effect, but with some new cloths.

The USSF seemed to be very eager to schedule home matches against CONCACAF or less than glamorous opponents. Some seem to think that they do this just to get a quick buck and to inflate the egos of our players. Others think that the USSF does this because they haven’t the opportunity to do anything else. I am one of those people who believe both.

I believe that the USSF is scheduling most of the USMNTs matches based on who they can get to play us, and based on that, they schedule the home games and jump at the chance to get the quick buck. I believe this because I accept that the USA is a mid level national team, at best. We are not in the same level as Brazil, Italy, Germany, Holland, Argentina, or England. We do not have that much marquee power to entice those nations to play us. Furthermore, we don’t have the right global positioning.

If you take a quick look at the FIFA schedule, you will see that Brazil is playing Portugal in London, England. They aren’t playing in Rio or Sao Paulo, nor are they playing in Lisbon or Porto. They are playing in England, because that is where they can play, due to their players are mostly all in Europe and they can command a high fee for playing in another country. Those two countries are on a higher level than the USA is, and we have to accept that when we try and figure out who and where we should be trying to schedule matches with.

Based on this, I have some suggestions on how the USSF should go about trying to schedule the USMNT matches for the rest of 2007, minus the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the Copa America.

FIFA has scheduled nine remaining official dates for either official matches or friendly matches. I suggest that the USSF take advantage of seven of them. Four of these matches would take place overseas and the remaining three would be held in the USA.

FIFA has both June 2nd and 6th scheduled for official match days. The 6th is the start of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, so the USSF will not be scheduling anything other that the Gold Cup for that day, so it is out. As for the 2nd, I suggest a home match in Philadelphia against Paraguay. Paraguay is a Latin American side that provides two primary opportunities. First, they offer a style of play that will be similar to those of our opponents in the Gold Cup, and that will allow our players to get better match practice against that style of play. Second, they are a potential opponent in the Copa America and present a style of play of other potential Copa opponents. As of right now, Paraguay does not have anything listed on the FIFA schedule in the way of matches. This makes me think that they will be available for scheduling. Philadelphia is a good location as it is central to the East Coast Latino communities and is not a city that is hosting a Gold Cup match.

FIFA’s one remaining friendly date this year is August 22nd. As MLS will be in heading for its home stretch and the MLS clubs will still be trying to work their USMNT players back into the fold from losses to Gold Cup and Copa duties, having another USMNT call up probably won’t be that great an idea for a midweek match. Despite that, I believe that the USSF should schedule an away match against Switzerland, maybe in Zurich. Switzerland is one of the co-hosts of the 2008 European Championships and advanced to the 2nd round of the 2006 World Cup, something we failed to do. The biggest thing about this match is that we could use this match as a chance to field an almost all European based side. Maybe bring in a few MLS players, but have guys like Howard, Bradley, Bocanegra, Onyewu, Convey, Spector, DeMerit, Feilhaber, and the rest who are over in Europe get the main start in this match. It still keeps the coaching staff busy and the Euro based players get the time on the field.

FIFA has two more official dates scheduled for September, the 8th and the 12th. I suggest that the USSF use these as two more away matches. After checking the FIFA schedule, I suggest that the USSF attempt to schedule a match with Belgium on the 8th of September, in Brussels. Belgium is off that day, but has a European Qualifier scheduled for the 12th, so they will most likely be looking for a warm up match before their qualifier. Belgium is a good central location among the US players that play in Europe and would pose a good challenge. The USMNT hasn’t played Belgium since 1995, if I am not wrong.

For the second match, I suggest a rematch from the 2006 World Cup, with Ghana in London. Most of Ghana’s players are based in Europe and currently do not have anything scheduled for this date. There is a chance that Ghana will have an African nations Cup qualifier either on this date, or on the 8th, so that would require another opponent. If Ghana is not available, I would suggest trying to arrange another match with another African nation, as we should increase the USMNT exposure to African nations.

For these matches, I recommend the USMNT call in its first team, regardless of MLS or not. FIFA mandates that clubs must release players who are called in for these matches, and MLS should abide by these rules. The impact on MLS might be very small, as this will take place after another transfer window, and we could see one more two more MLS based players move over to Europe.

FIFA has the 13th and 17th scheduled for official match dates, both of which the USSF should schedule match for. The first I suggest would be against South Africa, in Amsterdam or London. The idea is the same as with scheduling Ghana. We need to start playing more of the African nations and if Europe is the best meeting point, then we should both meet in the middle. South Africa, as of right now, does not have a match scheduled, and will most likely be in an African nations Cup qualifier on one of these dates, so if their ANC match is on the 17th, they will need a warm-up as well, and playing in Europe is never a bad idea.

The second date, the 17th, should be a home match. I suggest attempting to schedule Bolivia at Toyota Park in Chicago. Bolivia is a mid-range CONMEBOL nation and should provide a good test, for our MLS players. I suggest that we leave the MLS players in the USA (minus a few) for the first match and that we then leave the Euro based players in Europe for the second match. This way the coaching staff gets to see them all, yet still gets to field different sides. In a perfect world, I would recommend that the full pool of players be called in for every match, but this in not possible right now.

The final two official dates for 2007 are November 17th and 21st. As MLS is holding the MLS Cup in Washington, D.C. on November 18th, having a USMNT match the 17th would be a bad idea. I suggest that the USSF leave this date open and schedule a home match on the 21st against Costa Rica, using MLS players and Euro based players, at Toyota Park in Chicago. The Euro based players need to be released by their clubs and should have plenty of time to travel to Chicago, so this shouldn’t be a problem for them. The MLS based players would be a different story. I would recommend not calling in players from either MLS Cup participant, as they will be a little bit busy up to that Sunday. That leaves the USMNT coach with 11 other clubs to draw players from. That shouldn’t be a problem.

All of these matches are scheduled at FIFA scheduled breaks and the players should be released from their clubs. All of the opponents fit into one or more of the different categories that people have been suggesting for the future matches. We have two CONMEBOL nations (Paraguay & Bolivia), 1 CONCACAF nation (Costa Rica), two UEFA nations (Switzerland & Belgium) and two African nations (Ghana & South Africa). Two of the suggested opponents qualified for the 2006 World Cup, and both advanced to the second round. South Africa are scheduled to host the 2010 World Cup, so playing them would make sense. As it is rumored that we will be involved in a 2008 Copa America, playing two CONMEBOL nations will help towards preparations for that tournament. Costa Rica has always played the USMNT very well and should be a good test. We also need to continue playing against CONCACAF nations, just to keep in touch with our region.

The biggest idea is that I think that these are all matches that the USSF would have no problem getting scheduled. The hardest part might be getting venues lined up for the matches against the African nations in Europe. I still don’t think that stadium scheduling would be that big a problem.

I was disappointed with the build up to the 2006 World Cup and I was upset that the search for Bob took so long. That said, I am actually optimistic that the current path laid out, rumored or not, is one that will help rebuild the USMNT program. The real test will be if we see Denmark and Guatemala on the 2008 schedule. If we see them listed, but as away matches, then I think we are ok. If we see home matches again, then we might need to start asking questions again.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very well thought out. Not bad for a Sun Devil.....

1:58 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

That is what 7 years of collage does for people. :)

2:00 PM  

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