Julian Valentin’s Column: Thursday, August 7th, 2008

Looking Back & Looking Ahead

Well, we’re looking back at another loss this week.  We lost 3-2 to San Jose on Sunday afternoon at the McAfee Coliseum.  Goals by Arturo Alvarez, Darren Huckerby, Landon Donovan, Edson Buddle, and Ryan Cochrane – in that order.  San Jose is a solid team and they played a good game, taking the result that could have honestly gone either way.  On another day, maybe we get a few different bounces but that’s the nature of the game and credit has to be given to the Quakes.  Things are a bit frustrating right now in Galaxy-land and it’s imperative that we find our winning form again.

Now we’re going into a bye week – lots of time to catch our breath and hit the training field.  We have a full week to prepare for the final chapter of the 2008 Honda Superclassico and we know this is a must-win match.  This one has the makings of being even more wild than usual so make sure to put the match into your schedule for next Thursday.

This Week

Needless to say, we have been training HARD on all aspects of our game this week.  The coaching staff has addressed the things that we need to work on and we have been busting our butts preparing for Chivas.  We’ve done a lot of defensive work in particular with intense small-sided matches to fuel our competitiveness and combativeness.

Off the pitch, it’s been a pretty low-key week and I’m struggling to think of anything that I did worth sharing.  To be honest, I’ve been exhausted after training and haven’t really felt like doing a whole lot.  So, I’ve spent a lot of time posted up on my couch…

I was going to go to the Regeneration Tour (a bunch of 80’s one-hit-wonder-bands including The Human League, Belinda Carlisle, ABC, A Flock of Seagulls, and Naked Eyes) but when it came down to going, I was too tired to spend the night on my feet.  I also didn’t feel like driving all the way up to Universal City.  It would have been cool though…

I spent a lot of time on Facebook this week.  I guess that’s cool – or not…

I played a lot of Sega.  Streets of Rage, NBA Jam, Jungle Strike…

I went out to get frozen yogurt almost every night.  Always with strawberries raspberries, and blackberries…

I also watched a number of games including the Superliga Final, Red Bulls vs. Barcelona, and a couple Champions League qualifiers – thanks to SopCast.  I just wish that the Olympic games weren’t at 2:00 in the morning here.  I need to figure out some sort of solution to watch those.  And NO, I don’t have TiVo…

Yeah, that’s about it…

Around the World

Today I’m going to glance at the Winners and Losers in the English transfer market as of August 6th.  Hopefully this doesn’t help anyone out too much with their American Soccer Reader Fantasy League team.  I’m guaranteeing victory in the league, by the way – and I’ve changed my team from when I gave it a couple weeks ago so don’t think that you can just steal my squad.  Keep in mind there is still plenty of time left in the transfer window for teams to strengthen their squads so hopefully managers of my biggest losers will wise-up and read my column.

Biggest Winners as of 8/6: Tottenham, Sunderland, Liverpool

Any discussion of transfer winners has to start with Tottenham.  There are some mixed reviews of Spurs’ moves out there but I think Juande Ramos has done a fantastic job of building a squad that can compete in Europe.  The upgrades start in the back with goalkeeper Gomes from PSV.  The big, lanky Brazilian will provide more of a dependable presence in the back and if Jonathan Woodgate and Ledley King can stay healthy they will provide a strong partnership to anchor the team.  It will also be interesting to see if Welsh prodigy Gareth Bale can recover from an injury last year to fulfill his potential.  Their midfield will be loaded with marquee signings David Bentley and Luka Modric, as well as Jermaine Jenas, Tom Huddlestone, and Aaron Lennon who all impressed last season and look to continue their strong form.  With the sale of Robbie Keane and the likelihood that Dimitar Berbatov may be on his way out, they will need to sign a marquee forward to seal the deal for a top 4 finish.  Another good defender also couldn’t hurt.

Sunderland managed to stay up last year and they look primed to do it again this year.  They’re a tough team to play at home, in the Stadium of Light, and they’ve made some significant upgrades already.  Roy Keane must have Jaude Ramos on speed dial because Sunderland is picking up all of Spurs’ leftovers.  First is Steed Malbranque.  The Frenchman found himself a surplus at Tottenham but he will be a definite upgrade for the Black Cats who lacked a class attacking midfielder last year.  They’ve also added Finnish midfielder Teemu Tainio (who I admit I don’t know much about).  They signed El-Hadji Diouf from Bolton who will add depth to the strikeforce of Michael Chopra and Kenwayne Jones.  For a team that desperately needed defenders, they’ve made a good start with Pascal Chimbonda, again from Tottenham.  With a couple more defensive signings and another midfielder, this Sunderland side could find themselves sneaking up to mid-table.

American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett opened up their checkbook this transfer season and I feel it will have big rewards for the Reds.  They’ve added Andrea Dossena who is a highly rated Italian defender from Udinese.  Experts say he should slide the left back spot and improve the Liverpool back four that is already quite strong.  Robbie Keane will elevate some of the goal-scoring pressure on Fernando Torres and Rafa Benitez is also excited about his new young French forward David N’Gog.  If they keep Xabi Alonso and add another forward for depth, this team can win some serious hardware this year.

Biggest Losers as of 8/6:  Blackburn, Newcastle, Bolton

The biggest losers so far have been Blackburn.  First year manager Paul Ince has just made a serious of downgrades thus far in the transfer window.  First, they have exchanged long-time goalkeeper and fan-favorite Brad Friedel for erratic Paul Robinson.  David Bentley has been subbed for Chilean Carlos Villanueva and, while I admit I’m not familiar with Villanueva, I’m sure he’s no Bentley and could have a tough time adjusting to the EPL during his one-year loan spell.  Ince acquired Manchester United rising star Danny Simpson for a year loan but the youngster’s impact for the Rovers squad is not guaranteed.  I understand that the club is cash-strapped, but downgrading all over the pitch isn’t necessarily the best way to turn things around.  Ince has done a lot of quick-fix moves so far.

Newcastle is a team that underachieved last year and they have not done enough to improve their squad.  They’ve added Argentinean Jonas Gutierrez from Mallorca and that’s it.  The departure of David Rozenhaul leaves a hole in the back that will need to be filled – some reports say it will be another Argentine, Fabricio Coloccini, to be the man but a deal has yet to be signed.  The Magpies have some work to do.  I say they sign Santiago Munez from East LA.

Bolton barely avoided relegation last year and they somehow still seem content with their squad.  They have place lots of faith in Johan Elmander to be their primary goal scorer and also have signed Ghanaian Riga Mustapha (great name) who is supposed to be a lightning fast winger.  I’m not sold on the Elmander purchase and Mustapha’s potential impact is definitely a big question mark.  Where they really need help is in the back and the only name that I’ve seen them linked with is Danny Shittu from Watford – who got relegated last year.  They need to upgrade or else they will have a replay of campaign.

Q & A

  1. Lets say you end up getting to a country that has a shorter period to gain citizenship (i.e Belgium, Poland, Holland etc..) and you gained citizenship, and somehow didn’t get capped to the USMNT. Would you ever consider playing for another country if you were approached? I know its a big hypothetical, but would you be tempted if a country with a very legitimate shot at qualifying for Euro/World Cup tournament approached you, just curious :). Keep up the good work and Mr. Gullit should wise up and give you a start!

-Greg in Brugge

Greg – Hello and thank you for reading my column all the way in Belgium!  I enjoyed your hypothetical situation – it’s an interesting one.  Saying that, I have such a love for my country, I could never play for another nation.  I’ve grown up in America, played in this country my entire life, and it would be too difficult for me to play for another nation.  For me in particular, I’ve grown up playing in the US Youth National Team system and it would definitely be treasonous to switch sides at this point!  Luckily, US teams typically qualify for the World Cup and are always one of the strongest sides in CONCACAF.  If it were between USA and any other country I would pick the USA.  After all, it’s not like I would be deciding between, say, Malta and France – if that were the situation, it’s a definite no-brainer.

Tell all your Belgian friends about my blog – I’m trying to build up my European fanbase.  Thanks again!

  1. Julian, there are tons of rumors and reports swirling around about pressure being put on Rudd and Mr. Lalas. What do you think is the reason for your guys recent funk? The offense looks great but the defense doesn’t look as solid (they need you!). If you were the manager what would you do. (and yes, I know thats a loaded question) Loving the blog, its nice to get a window into the life of a truly intelligent and witty young American athlete.

-Benjamin

Benjamin – Heavy questions there.  There are definitely lots of rumors out there – I’m familiar with the same ones as everyone else.  I’m not exactly sure what explains our recent funk.  But whatever it is, it’s definitely not a single thing or a single person – it’s more of a collective issue.

Strictly from a player’s perspective, I think that we all need to look within ourselves and identify what we can do personally, to turn things around for the group – understand what role you play for the team and excel in that role.  Right now, for example, my primary role is making sure that I’m pushing the first team in training.  Of course I really want to play but if that’s not my niche right now, I need to realize that, and excel in what my job is.  I need to continue to train hard for the team, push the guys in front of me and make sure that they’re ready for the weekend, all the while attempting to prove that I belong out on the pitch.  Playing well in reserve matches is also big for me.

It’s undeniable that we need to improve things defensively but at the same time, it’s not fair (or even correct criticism) to only blame the “defense”/back four.  Defense is something that the team plays collectively, or shirks collectively.  Defense starts up top and goes all the way back to the goalkeeper so it’s not fair to blame only the back four, as many prefer to do.  As a group, a team of 11 on the pitch, we need to step up our collective defensive efforts and find a fiery mentality about pressing together and getting numbers behind the ball.  As a group of 28 players on the roster, we need to look within ourselves and find another level.  I feel that we have the quality to find our way again, but talent always needs to be coupled with the correct mentality.  I think if we can do those things, we will find our winning ways again.

  1. Hiya Jules, I’m sure you’ve read the reports about the Revs and Dynamo agreeing to share the prize money for the SuperLiga Final. Don “The Don” Garber has since come out and said it wouldn’t be allowed because it violates the Collective Bargain Agreement. What do you think about SuperLiga and the agreement between the clubs?

-Jay S.

Jay S. – First of all, I like the SuperLiga.  I’ve watched a number of the games and the level has been pretty good.  It’s also good to see the rivalries growing between Mexican and American clubs – and sometimes even getting out of control.  Nevertheless, I think the SuperLiga has been a good thing and hope that it continues to grow over the next few years.

In terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and the protest by the clubs, I support their stance and respect their commitment.  Of course, if it does violate the CBA, as Commissioner Garber said, it becomes a problem and will require further conversations between the Player’s Union and the league.  The CBA is something that both the league and Player’s Union agreed to and both sides must uphold.  Regardless of how it all plays out, the players have made their stance clear – they have stated their desire for more say in the allotment of the overall prize money.

And if there was ever a question about final game becoming a meaningless friendly because of the equal money prize, I think that was firmly squashed on Tuesday night.  The game was entertaining to watch as both teams went after each other for 120 minutes plus PKs.

Regardless of what happens with this situation, the sharing of prize money definitely shows how united the players are on the issue and how much we care about making the league better for us players.  It’s definitely a hot issue right now and will be interesting to see how it all pans out.

Thanks to everyone for the quality questions this week.  I also welcome suggestions for my column.  If there’s anything that you want me to write about, please let me know and I will consider it!

That’s all for tonight.  Take care everyone and I’ll be back with more next Thursday.

-jules

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