Julian Valentin’s Column: Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Welcome back everyone.  I hope you enjoy today’s column…

Looking Back & Looking Ahead

Last weekend we drew 2-2 with Real Salt Lake.  With international absences and a number of injuries, this was a good result for us at home and we’re proud of the way that we played.  The first half was a bit rough and we spent a lot of it defending by the skin of our teeth but the coaches made some adjustments at halftime and we played quite well in the second half.  I hope that our fans noticed the effort and determination that we showed to get a point against a good RSL team.  It was a hotly contested, high-flying match that saw goals from Bryan Jordan and Eddie Buddle, as well as Will Johnson and Yura Movsisyan.

Now we hit the road again this weekend to take on the Kansas City Wizards.  Our winless streak has reached unprecedented numbers and it’s a must-win for us with only 7 games remaining.  We’ve tied a number of games recently but we need to start picking up points in 3s.  I said it last week and I’ll reiterate again this week: these ties will be important in November.

This Week

This week has been good.  We’ve been working really hard as usual, with a great deal of focus and intensity.  We’ve worked on possession (using our second goal against RSL as a model), intense small-sided matches, 18 to 18 scrimmaging, and the coaches also split up forwards, midfielders, and defenders to work on position-specific functional work.  The backs worked on movement, shape, clearances, and 1 v. 1 defending.  I had a good week of training and hope to find myself on the reserve bench again this weekend.

Off the pitch, it was a good week.  I had an appearance up in West Covina this week.  One of the major ways that younger players make some extra money is by doing local clinics and appearances.  It usually works like this: ticket sales people from the front office sell ticket packages to local clubs, rec centers, and other organizations.  As a part of the deal, they agree to have players visit, meet the kids, mingle, and sign autographs at an event.  It’s never more than an hour and a half worth of work and we make a pretty nice chunk of change for doing it.  And by work, I mean standing around, signing autographs.  The club also reimburses for gas and meals so I rarely complain.  The appearances give me something to do in the evening and put some ducats in my pocket.

Other than that, I’ve been playing some more Football Manager.  Billy “Tinkerman” English has won the Champions League for Tottenham and he is a legend at White Hart Lane.  The media calls me “Tinkerman” because my tactics are so spot on and every tactical tinker pays off.  For my title defense, I’ve bolstered my squad with Brazilian Wonderkid Renato Augusto from Flamengo, John Obi Mikel from Chelsea, Taye Taiwo from Real Betis, Alessandro Tuia from Lazio, and Fabrice Maumaba from Arsenal – a very comprehensive set of recruits that will help my squad as we attempt to repeat.  For the record, Giuseppe Rossi’s transfer value (my former teammate from Region 1 ODP) went from $14 million to $18.25 million in just one year – what a good buy by Billy English.  I’m currently lining up a bid for Julio Bapista.

To be honest, though, Billy is looking for a new challenge.  If there’s a job opening in Spain or Italy, Billy English will leave Spurs and take it.  I’ll make sure to let you know…

Around the World

I just finished watching the US/Trinidad match.  Unfortunately it was the only WC Qualifier that I’ve caught from today’s full slate but it was definitely a good one for the Red, White, and Blue.

Except for the beginning of the second half, we looked pretty sharp.  Of course the game wasn’t perfect but our movement off the ball was good, our defending was solid and organized, and it could have been a lot more than 2-0 at half.  T&T were a bit disorganized and sluggish defensively but we exposed their errors all over the pitch.  While they caused some problems on set-pieces and counter-attacks, it’s clear that our team is superior technically and tactically.

As I watched the match, I noticed the dramatic difference when it comes to play home and playing away in CONCACAF.  This match was noticeably different than the other two qualifiers so far.  The same can be said anywhere in the world, but I think that things are magnified in CONCACAF due to variations of culture and living conditions.  For example, the average soccer fan might look at our first two results (1-0 against Guatemala and 1-0 against Cuba) and say they are unimpressed by the results but I wholeheartedly disagree.  They were great results.  Sketchy refereeing, brutal hooligans, bad field conditions, hurricane rains and unpredictable weather, and excessive chippy/dirty play are all things that make road games challenging in our region.  Opposing teams try to use those things in their advantage to get a World Cup berth and try to kill the game, so to speak.  Home games much smoother sailing – pristine pitches (excuse the alliteration), home-field calls, Sam’s Army, and, overall, it’s much easier to be the aggressor and set the tone in the match.  Any win on the road is great result and our first two have put us in good shape.

Q & A

  1. What do you enjoy most about playing in the MLS and why?

-Valerie, Akron, OH

Valerie – I think my favorite thing about playing in MLS is being able to play games and train every day…and get paid for it.  I could be out there in the workforce with my English degree, doing some sort of real job but I get to do what I love most.  This isn’t really specific to playing in MLS, more just playing soccer professionally.

  1. There has been a lot of discussion about MLS’s schedule this week, as a player would you prefer a single table? Maybe a Clausura/Apertura setup?

-Greg, LA

Greg – Good question.  Important question.

First of all, I think that it’s imperative that MLS adopt the FIFA calendar.  Not only does it make our league look inferior because we’re one of the ONLY league that does not adhere, but it hurts the quality of the league when players are gone.  Fans have the right to see the top players and when Toronto FC, for example, is missing 9 starters, having to bring in front office staff to fill out the roster, it’s not fair to the fans or the team.

I think that I would like to see a single table – with home and away format.  Again, it would give our league more credibility on the world stage but I also think it would be the fairest way to find the top teams.  It may be nice for those bubble teams but I think it has to change eventually.  With our country, geography makes East and West make sense but I would support a single table.

I’m not familiar enough with the Clausura/Apertura system to comment – I just know the split the season up into two parts…

  1. Jules, I’ve heard tons of rumors about MLS trying to get in on the Copa Libertadores, what is your opinion on this? Good or Bad?

-Shinske, Tokyo, JP

Shinske from Tokyo – Konichiwa!  Thanks for reading my blog!

I think it would be really interesting to see an MLS side in the Copa Libertadores.  I think it could be a good thing.  The differences in style of player are so drastic; it would make for entertaining football.  South American soccer is generally slower and more technical, while the MLS game is a lot quicker and more physical.  That’s why a lot of South American players struggle to adapt to the American game.

The thing about Copa Libertadores, though, is that it’s supposed to be a South American tournament and it might be weird for a team from another continent to impede.  Saying that, I never understood why Mexican teams compete in the tournament because geographically and in the eyes of FIFA, Mexico is in North America.

But overall, I think it could be a good thing for the league to get exposure on that stage.

  1. Is there any other player in the game whos traits you think are very similar to yours? Anyone you’ve modeled your game after?

-Keith S.

Keith S. – I play a lot like John Terry and Carles Puyol.  They are both hard-nosed defenders, tough and brave, who read the game well.  One of the biggest knocks against me is that my speed/agility isn’t the best (something I work on daily), but it’s the same case with Terry and Puyol – people say the same about them.  I try to study their movements of reading the game and making sure that players don’t get in behind them.  They are also strong leaders.

  1. With there being a lack of consistency regarding reserve matches and the well-documented low salary for developmental players, how do you feel about sticking it out in the MLS and Galaxy for that matter? Obviously, playing on a team with players like Donovan, Beckham, and Eddie Lewis is a very worthwhile experience, but does the USL or a smaller European league peak your interest?

– B.P., Los Angeles

B.P. – Great questions.  As I said a few weeks ago, the reserve league is definitely frustrating due to the lack of players, inconsistent games, and difficult conditions.  It’s also no secret that developmental salaries are embarrassing.  Saying that, I’m still very happy and doing surprisingly well financially.  I’m able to train every day with a great group of guys, learn a lot from great coaches and teammates, and I’m confident that I will look back on these things in 10 years and realize how important they were for my development – right now I’m 21 years old (I graduated from college early) and just sort of living the dream right now.  If I’m still in my current position a couple years from now, however, I think that I’d have to reevaluate things.

It’s cool to play with Landon, David, Eddie, and all, but I’m not here just “experience” that.  I’m here to bust my ass, get on the field, and make sure that I can play this game for a long time.

Anyone with serious ambition in the game wants to play in the highest European leagues.  I’m no different and share those dreams but I know that if I’m a reserve player here, I won’t be there any time soon.  Could I go to Europe and play in the Finnish second division?  Probably.  But that would not be the best option – and money has never really motivated me that much because I’m a pretty simple guy.  It’s all about finding the right opportunity at the right time.  Right now, I have an amazing opportunity and I’m making the most of it here in LA.

Good question and I was happy to answer it honestly.

I hope that everyone enjoyed my column for the afternoon.  Make sure to keep your questions coming to Julian@americansoccerreader.com and I’ll see you next week!

-jules

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