From College to the Pros - The US soccer ladder

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Freddy Adu To Benfica...a Done Deal...

Freddy Adu has left MLS. According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, one of the biggest foregone conclusions of the 2007 MLS season has come true. Before the US U-20 World Cup started, I said that Freddy needed a big performance to renew European interest and his sometimes stunning play in Canada did exactly that. While losing to Austria in the quarterfinals was a disappointment to all American soccer fans, his play showed great promise. In Canada he showed all of the hype was justified.

Freddy Adu entered MLS in 2004 as the league's golden boy. He was 14, skipping most of high school and all of college. His route to professional American soccer was certainly pioneering, however I don't know if any other young Americans will be taken on the same ride in the future. Freddy Adu proved you can be too young for MLS. While there were some step overs, great runs to goal and tremendous free kicks, Freddy never captured the hearts and minds of American sports fans. MLS pitched the 14 year old Wonderkid to America as the league's savior, and when thousands of fans packed MLS stadias around the country and didn't see Pele on the field, they felt disappointed. The Freddy effect was felt by each team in MLS once, it gave all us soccer junkies a nice feeling and then vanished. After Freddy came to Denver I spent the remainder of the season explaining that a 14 year old wouldn't dominate in any soccer league and that we needed to give Freddy time.

Now at 18 years of age, Freddy will get that time. Freddy is transferring to Benfica, a storied Portuguese football club known for developing exciting attacking talents. In Lisbon Freddy will train with players of similar talent, something he didn't get here in the US. Benfica has produced standout players Eusébio (who played soccer in New England I believe and it widely considered Portugal's best ever player), Rui Costa, João Vieira Pinto and Simão Sabrosa among many others. Additionally Benfica is one of Portugal's "Big Three" football clubs, meaning he'll get regular exposure to European football in either the Champions League or UEFA Cup. In those tournaments he'll get to face Inter Milan, Manchester United, Chelsea, Celtic, Barcelona, etc. He will see the best on a regular basis. MLS didn't give him that.

I agree with Ives Galarcep, this move is the best for everyone. MLS gets a reported $2 million fee to invest in other players who can have more of an impact today. Freddy goes to a great club that will help guide his talent, so long as he takes their lessons well. He'll be able to be seen by the rest of Europe. US Soccer knows that their golden boy will be taken care of and given back in better condition then MLS coaches could have prepared him. It is a win, win.

Good luck to you Freddy. I will enjoy reading more about Portuguese football and wearing a Benfica jersey with your name on the back. Knock their socks off over there and earn a starting spot in the lineup, for that is the only way you'll get to Manchester United or Chelsea.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

American Salvatore Zizzo Crosses The Pond...

I don't know what it is about UCLA players and Germany, but another UCLA soccer player has signed a professional contract in Germany...this time with Hannover 96. Sal Zizzo was headed into his junior season at UCLA but will put off finishing school to go after the European soccer dream.

Zizzo was one of my favorites to get a Generation Adidas contract in January 2007 because of his stellar performance at the 2006 College Cup as a sophomore. He and MLS didn't come to terms and it looked like we'd see him playing for a NCAA championship in 2007. However, things chance and it looks like we won't get to see that.

Sal grew up in the US youth set up having played in various international tournaments with the U-18 and U-20 teams. He was an All-American in 2005 before enrolling at UCLA. The Southern California native could be in for a shock moving to Germany. Could we see another Landon Donovan situation?

I am disappointed. Sal is an exciting midfielder/forward who can cause chaos on the right wing. During the recent U-20 World Cup he featured heavily in the US' run to the quarterfinals, but he never was in top form since he was in his off-season. I'm not saying he had a sub-par performance, I'm just saying the professional players on the US team showed better. I'm excited to see what this kid can acomplish as a professional player.

With Sal going to Europe his development should accelerate. He's getting into the professional game at a great age and the German system, known for its discipline and rigor, should help him grow as a player. Look for Zizzo to continue featuring in the US youth setup. He should have a great shot at the 2008 Olympics with the U-23 team.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

FCTP Roundup...7-23-07...

I apologize to my loyal readers for the lack of recent updates. I went on a binge there after vacation and then petered out. The All-Star game didn't help.

...I am going to get back in to the swing of Rookie of the Week now that we are past the ASG break. I will post make ups this week. Ty Harden is going to get an honorable mention for his play against Chelsea on Saturday. Throw an American rookie defender against the like of Drogba, Malouda, Kalou and crew and you're bound to get mistakes, however Harden didn't get burned too badly and he kept that fierce attacking squad at bay. It helped him that Abel Xavier was playing an outstanding game next to him...

...The SUM U-17 Cup wrapped up with DC United taking home the silverware. Congrats to them. DC was one of the earlier MLS clubs putting youth teams out there so I can't say I'm surprised they had the best team. That club just knows how to win. Maybe someday that will wear off on my Rapids. I really hope MLS continues and expands this type of event to all of their age groups. I also hope MLS clubs enter their teams into youth tournaments outside their control, like the Dallas Cup...

The U-20 World Cup wrapped up with Argentina beating the Czech Republic 2-1. As anticipated the best MLS players in the event for the Americans have started to receive interest from around the world. Rumors have both Freddy Adu and Danny Szetela moving abroad. Now is the time for MLS to sell these hot commodities while they're hot and MLS still owns them. If the league waits past this summer there is more of a chance of the player finishing their contract and leaving on a free transfer. Rumors go so far as to say MLS wants $7.5 million for Adu. Yes, you read that correctly. Some European team may be crazy enough to pay that knowing that if he works out they can sell him for double in three years or less. This is how club soccer works around the rest of the world and MLS needs to take advantage. $7.5 million for Adu would be a great return on the league's investment and would help the league sign more designated players or another Juan Toja or ten...

...The second half of the season is upon us. Let's talk about Rookie of the Year. If voting were to happen today, who do you think would win the award? My money is on 2007 #1 draft pick, Maurice Edu. The kid has shown he was worth the #1 pick and has stabilized an expansion franchise. It is hard for rookies to step into the middle of the pitch and show they belong. Edu has done that. Runner up...Adam Cristman...

...Can you believe August is almost here? I can't. That means the college season is coming up quickly while the PDL season is winding down. The PDL playoff picture is firming up. Look for the top college prospects in their summer league. The 2006 Herman Trophy winner, Joseph Lapira, has been playing for the Baton Rouge Capitals but he's only seen action in 6 games. That didn't stop him from scoring 3 goals...

...Most if not all of the major college programs have reported their incoming freshman. Look for an update to the right margin for the different college classes in the upcoming weeks...

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

MLS SUM U-17 Cup...Group Stages Complete...

The group stages of the MLS SUM U-17 Cup wrapped up yesterday. Let's check in and see how the semifinals shaped up.

Group A:
DC United - 7 points
Columbus - 7
RSL - 3
Colorado "A" - 3

Columbus 1 - Colorado "A" 0
DC 4 - SLC 0

Group B:
Kansas City - 7 points
FC Dallas - 6
Chivas - 4
NY Red Bulls - 0

KC 3 - Dallas 2
Chivas 2 - NYRB 1

Group C:
LA Galaxy - 7 points
Houston - 5
Chicago - 4
Colorado "B" - 0

LA 3 - Chicago 0
HOU 5 - Colorado "B" 1

The bold teams won their groups. The best second place team is the Crew, who will play Kansas City in the semifinals. The semifinals will take place tonight, kicking off at 7 pm mountain time. Here are the semifinal matchups:

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Monday, July 16, 2007

US U-18 Men At Pan American Games...

I totally forgot about the Pan American Games in between all of the, Gold Cup, Copa America, U-20 and U-17 World Cup banter. Fortunately for my wife these games aren't on television. The US U-18 men's national team is currently competing in Brazil against soccer teams from the rest of the Americas. In their first match they defeated Venezuela, 2-1. Bolivia and Mexico round out Group A and the US will face them in the coming days.

The U-18 team is always an interesting one because the U-17 and U-20 get all of the hype. However, here we are with a U-18 playing Mexico, Venezuela and possibly Brazil and Argentina down the road. What great experience for these kids. Many of the kids on the roster are top college prospects as well. Let's take a look at the roster.

Kevin Alston - D - Indiana University
Jalil Anibaba - M - Santa Clara
Danny Barrera - M - Rampage FC
Shawn Barry - F - Boca Juniors
Danny Cruz - F - Sereno '89 White
TJ Cyrus - M - Norfolk Academy
Greg Eckhardt - D - Clemson University
Greg Folk - D - UCLA
Omar Gonzalez - F - University of Maryland
Warren Gross - GK - Penn State
Jeremy Hall - M - University of Maryland
Dan Kelly - M/F - Indiana University
Kevin Klasila - GK - Santa Clara University
Marosevic Peri - F - University of Michigan
Stephen McCarthy - M - Santa Clara University
Chance Meyers - D - UCLA
Michael Stephens - M - UCLA

This team has talent. There are All-Americans. There are ESP All*Stars. There are U-17 stars. Don't let the fact that no one talks about them fool you. Some of these kids will end up in MLS and other professional leagues.

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US U-20 Lose In Quarterfinals...Again...

The US U-20 men are making a habit of winning their group and then losing in the next couple rounds. Major League Soccer Talk put together this great history of the US' performance in the U-20 World Cup. They have now accomplished this feat three tournaments in a row.

This is how major tournaments go. They favorites often do well in the group stage and then the effects of many games in a short period of time catch up with them. They run up against an opponent who puts together the perfect tactic to beat them. Luck doesn't shine upon them. Winning a World Cup title takes talent, skill, good coaching and most of all...luck. The US didn't have any luck helping them score goals against Austria this weekend.

I had high hopes. Especially after the US beat Brazil to clinch the group win. When the young nats almost lost to Uruguay my faith was jolted but I convinced myself they would learn from mistakes and come out stronger against Austria. Austria who was clearly an underdog. They hadn't even made it to the final stage of the event in 28 years or something. The US had to win and I was already looking forward to a semifinal match against Spain. Too bad for both the US and Spain that wasn't to be, as it looks like sublime Spain lost to a tough Czech Republic squad.

Uruguay pressed us, didn't let us make good decisions and passes. They kept us from using our most talented players and they almost beat us. Austria came out and did the same thing. But they were able to take it a step further, they broke down our defense and put on incredible offensive pressure getting many shots from right outside the 18 yard box. It is hard to win against a team that plays like that.

I think Austria figured out the biggest weakness on the squad, the defense. Keeper Chris Seitz was hobbling from the first minute and a 50/50 college to professional ratio defensive line was inexperienced and made mistakes. Freddy Adu and Jozy Altidore did what they could to balance the inexperience, but they couldn't do it all.

Until next time my friends. Now our hope for a World Championship rests on the U-17s. Their quest for glory starts on the 20th of August when they take on Tajikistan. On paper the US group is much easier this time around. We play Belgium, Tajikistan and Tunisia before hopefully moving on to the knock out stage.

Thanks to Major League Soccer Talk's research I'll have a new sidebar up and running here today. Enjoy.

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MLS SUM U-17 Cup...

I was not able to attend any of the SUM U-17 games up to this point, but from what I have seen in the comments on my blog and on the event is going very well and there is some good soccer being played. They're even attracting a crowd and keeping rivalries alive. The Rocky Mountain Cup made an appearance at the Colorado "A" - RSL match Saturday, helping the U-17 Rapids to earn a victory.

For those interested in results. Here is how the groups look after each team has played 2 matches.

Group A:
DC United - 4 points
RSL - 3
Colorado "A" - 3
Columbus - 1

Group B:
FC Dallas - 6 points
Kansas City - 4
Chivas - 1
NY Red Bulls - 0

Group C:
Chicago - 4 points
LA Galaxy - 4
Houston - 2
Colorado "B" - 0

The final matches of group play are tonight. The semifinals will be played Wednesday, July 17th. The three group winners will advance to the semifinals, as will the best second place team. Since both groups B & C have the top two teams playing tonight the race is wide open. There are many scenarios in group A as well. I'll try to get updated standings posted as early as I can tomorrow.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

The Young Guys Are Getting It Done In Houston...

Houston got off to a shaky start this season. People questioned their ability to defend the MLS Cup they won in 2006. Those questions are not asked anymore as the Dynamo have gone on a huge winning streak by not losing in nine game and haven't allowed a goal in 605 minutes of play.

Houston won the 2006 MLS Cup based on the strong play of a few veterans like Brian Ching, Pat Onstad and Dwayne De Rosario. This current winning streak is being maintained by young guys getting a chance to play due to a busy national team summer. I knew some clubs would be hurt by the call ups, like my Colorado Rapids have been. I knew in the back of my mind some clubs would benefit from the call ups because the young guns who needed a chance to shine could finally take the field.

Let's take a look at the American college products who are driving Houston to the best record in MLS:

Stuart Holden - Clemson : Holden took a different route to MLS, via South Carolina and then England, having left Clemson early for Sunderland. In 2006 he came back to the US and signed with Houston. So far this season Steewy (as some Houston fan referred to him in the middle of Denver's British Bulldog while Houston was killing the Rapids) has been a one man highlight reel scoring some great goals. He is also creating for Houston from the wings.

Joseph Ngwenya - Coastal Carolina '04 : Ngwenya was picked #3, ahead of Cochrane in 2004, by the LA Galaxy. A couple of recent trades moved Ngwenya around the league and many people saw him as a prospect in decline when he didn't produce a goal in five games for Columbus to start the season. Something about the air in Texas has Ngwenya back on form and he has been able to provide the goals the Dynamo were missing in Dwayne De Rosario's absence. If you haven't seen it yet, make sure you watch the highlights from last night's ESPN Prime Time match to see what creativity and finishing skill Ngwenya possesses. If I had been writing this blog back in 2004, I would have singled out Ngwenya as a future star because when he was playing at Coastal Carolina you could tell he was going places.

Ryan Cochrane - Santa Clara '04 : Cochrane's teammates, Richardo Clark and Nate Jaqua went #2 and #3 in the 2003 MLS draft while he went #5 the following year. A college standout at Santa Clara, Ryan also played in the 2003 U-20 FIFA World Youth Championships in the UAE after having played for many of the lower aged youth teams. This season Cochrane has showed his leadership and ability while helping Houston to the lowest goals against total in the league at the halfway point, 10 goals.

Zach Wells - UCLA '04 : Drafted by the MetroStars in the third round of the 2004 draft, Zach Wells left UCLA a decorated player. He had set the lowest single-season goals against average with a 0.52, he was a First team All-Pac-10 selection, he set a new school record for career saves with 269, he was the College Cup Defensive MVP in 2004 and on and on. All of that success in college got him playing time with the US U-20 team. He has also earned one cap with the senior national team. Wells filled in for Pat Onstad twice this season and he has played well earned a .32 GAA in the two games. Houston must feel secure with Wells as their backup, because we all know Pat Onstand will have to retire one of these days.

Houston has their veterans back for the second half of the season and now they have the problem of how to integrate all the solid veterans with the young up and coming stars. What a problem to have. Last night Brian Ching and DeRo were able to start the game on the bench to get some rest. That kind of depth will carry Houston back into the playoffs this season and with some luck, back to MLS Cup.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Bumpy Pitch is Back...And Going Retro...

You may think I'm writing this blog post just to get some free schwag from the guys over at Bumpy Pitch, but I'm not...I've still got to pay for my schwag! That isn't going to stop me from ordering one of their Denver Dynamo shirts from the old NASL days.

I'm actually writing about Bumpy Pitch for two reasons. One, because I like to support American soccer enterprises. This blog is an American soccer enterprise (remember you can support me by clicking on ad links in the margins and the highlighted text) and I like to see more and more American soccer enterprises popping up. Two, because the guys behind Bumpy Pitch took the path of playing club soccer, college soccer and then playing in the pros. Their "retired" lives involve hip, fashionable apparel for us American soccer freaks. I'm sure they'd love to outfit some foreign football freaks as well.

Ben Hooper, Brian Dunseth and Ace Harrison are the force behind this up and coming soccer themed fashion brand. Ben and Brian have roots going back to youth soccer, growing up through the US Youth National Team set up all the way to the U-23 team that went to the Sydney Olympics, although Brian was the only one to make it to that tournament. Additionally, they played soccer together at Cal State - Fullerton. Ace fits into the mix as the guy behind the designs. He takes the vision and creates art on fabric.

Ben Hooper played at Cal State - Fullerton and then moved on to Fortuna Sittard in Holland. At the time they were in the Eredivisie. Ben played for the reserves and got to practice with current Dutch star Mark Van Bommel. He didn't make the senior squad and decided to start working in the music business. After some time doing that he realized that American soccer fans didn't have any soccer themed fashion aside from replica jerseys. As I have learned from my wife, we soccer people need more then just a good jersey collection to look good.

Brian Dunseth's story is more well known here in the US. He played with Ben at Cal State - Fullerton, then was one of the first MLS Nike Project 40 players in 1997. Brian played for seven MLS clubs in his career (is that a record???) and also played in Sweden for Bodens BK. He and Ben reunited after their playing days to start outfitting the people starved of cool soccer gear.

Head on over to and pick up some gear.

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US U-20s Advance to Quarterfinals...

Last night the US U-20 team looked to be in trouble. In the 73rd minute Uruguay scored a goal, to take the lead 1-0, that capped off a period of time where they looked dominant. In the minutes running up to the Uruguay goal I said to myself, "this is it, it is over." There were many stretches of play where it seemed the US couldn't string two passes together. Where they couldn't find their creative engine, Freddy Adu. Josmer Altidore was out with a knock after being hacked all night long, and he had been the most dangerous American player to that point.

Uruguay played the game right last night. They pressured well. They took the game to the US. They didn't let the US think about passes to make and it forced a lot of errors. I can't even count how many times the US passed to the other team. The US looked like a bunch of amateurs, which is not what they looked like against Brazil.

The starting team was 36% amateur. College players Brian Perk, Julian Valentin, Tony Beltran and Sal Zizzo got the start. Andre Akpan came on for the injured Altidore to bring the college total to five players.

There is an interesting comparison between the professional left starting flank and the right flank. On the left you have pros Athony Wallace & Robbie Rogers, while on the right you have college players Tony Beltran & Sal Zizzo. In my opinion Wallace defended better and Rogers was more dangerous with the ball then their team mates on the other side of the field. Additionally, both Beltran and Zizzo were subbed out of the game. I'm not going to say that the professional players were more talented or more qualified to be there. I am going to say that they were better prepared. The pros are in mid-season shape while the college players haven't played a serious game since the fall of 2006 (yes there is the college spring season, but the NCAA puts a lot of restrictions around practice and playing time in the off-season so it isn't the same as the fall).

Throughout this event the college players have shown they can play, but they've also showed they are not at their peak form. Brian Perk was shaky to start the match and gave up a tough rebound that led to the Uruguay goal. He did improve and we should give him a break since this was his first start in the tournament.

The biggest weakness this American team has is defense. Last night they were shaky and they committed a lot of fouls in dangerous places. They were lucky Uruguay didn't have David Beckham to take the free kicks from right outside the 18. The US will face Austria in the Quarterfinal this Saturday. They had better work on better organization in the back or they will not make it to the Semifinals.

In the World Cup there is always a bit of luck on the side of the eventual champions. Last night the US were lucky Uruguay let up the pressure after their goal, allowing the US more possession and time to create a goal, all be it an own goal. The US dogged a bullet and in the next match they had better control from the start, create good chances early and take a lead into the half. Because next time a squeaker comes around, it could be the other team's lucky day.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

MLS Innagural U-17 Cup...

During my routine check of the Colorado Rapids website today, I was excited to see a press release of the upcoming SUM U-17 Cup. The tournament will be held in the week before the 2007 MLS All*Star game at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. The Champion will be crowned the morning of the ASG. This new event shows a big commitment by MLS teams in their youth program. All MLS fans should be excited by this news.

12 teams will take place in the tournament. The home team Colorado Rapids will field an A & B team, presumably to make the field even and to make up for New England and Toronto FC who have not yet started their youth programs.

Here is the big commitment I refered to earlier:

this tournament is being hosted at no cost to all participants as Soccer United Marketing and participating MLS Teams are covering the costs of player travel, accommodations and other tournament-related expenses.

MLS gets it! For their youth system to be a success it needs to be a system they pay for, not the players. MLS teams need to continue to grow their youth systems and these types of events will no doubt evolve, but this is a great first step. Hopefully in the near future, we'll see MLS youth teams in such prestigious events such as the Dallas Cup and other youth tournaments around the world. It will be exciting to see which MLS youth team comes out on top next Thursday, before the MLS All*Star game.

I don't know how I missed it the first time, but according to MLS Deputy Commissioner Ivan Gazidis the winner of the SUM U-17 tournament will go to "an internationally-renowned youth tournament in Spain."

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

US U-20 Men In the Round of 16...

The US got a favorable draw for the knock out rounds of the U-20 World Cup. The path to the championship starts tomorrow, July 11, against Uruguay. Uruguay is certainly the underdog in the upcoming match as they only won one game, against Jordan, in group play. They tied against Spain and lost to Zambia.

The US has beaten the kings of soccer, Brazil. So any other team they play will certainly be nervous to play the giant killers. Similarly the US will play with new found bravado since they beat the big boys.

To my surprise there could be a rematch of the great group stage game if both Brazil and the US advance to the semi-finals. To do that, Brazil has to beat Spain in the round of 16, which will not be an easy task. Argentina, Poland, Portugal and Mexico are on the other side of the knock out tree and will not be seen until the final, should the US advance.

Things could get exciting this week! With a win over Uruguay I'm sure the US will be full of confidence and ready for anything.

Keep an eye on our college friends on the team. They are getting playing time, however I'm not sure Tony Beltran will get the start next time. He played ok but gave up possession a lot against Brazil. The Coach may want to give someone else a shot. Zizzo and Beltran did link up well together but you could tell they were outclassed by their professional team mates in many cases.

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FCTP Roundup...

Hello faithful FCTP readers. I've been off the grid on a lake in northwestern Minnesota. I was supposed to return on Sunday but some car trouble saw me return late last night. I'm getting all caught up on the news around the soccer world. I was lucky that ESPN bumped the US U-20 match against Brazil up to the real ESPN, so I watched Adu and Altidore take down the mighty South Americans. That was an exciting one! Adu is showing his promise against his peers. I suspect after this tournament MLS will get a serious offer for his services in Europe. Chelsea or another major??? I don't know about that.

I will get back on the Rookie of the Week horse one of these days...hang in there with me...