every cat only has nine lives

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Fulham v Stoke City - Premier LeagueMaking the jump to Europe and finding success is no easy feat to pull off. Countless Americans have tried, and many of them faltered.

A limited number of players have left our shores and departed for the greener pastures — and paychecks — of the European game and been able to make a good name for themselves. Think Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundulo and Tim Howard, all of whom had great on field success.

For some, however, they see their bright starts fizzle away to obscurity. The first name that comes to mind is a guy like Maurice Edu, who had some monstrous performances for Rangers before devolving into a reserve at Stoke. Others like Adam Lichaj, Clarence Goodson and Jonathan Spector make for similar examples of promising prospects that developed into average careers at best.

Still others oscillate between successes and failures, such as Jozy Altidore is finding out after failing to impress in his time at Villareal, then finding his feet at AZ, and now struggling again at Sunderland.

But for many, it never really clicked in the first place. The best instance of this is Eddie Johnson’s disastrous spell at Fulham.

The margin for whether an American player — and all players moving abroad, for that matter — will end up a flop or a hit is razor thin. The variables that determine that are innumerable. It can range from the situation of the club he is acquired by to the manager(s) he plays under, the culture of the country or even the player’s mental strength. It’s a toss up, really. And a lot of things have to go perfectly for it all to pop off.

So when it was announced this week that Brek Shea would be leaving Stoke City on yet another loan after unsuccessfully securing any meaningful playing time for the Potters, I feared that he might be steadily on his way to joining the long list of American failures in Europe.

And if I’m being completely honest, I was actually concerned Shea might turn out this way back when he first moved to Europe in January of 2013.

However, before we get into why that was a concern, let’s chart his career trajectory a bit. Back in 2011, Shea had just logged an impressive 11 goal, 5 assist campaign for FC Dallas in his fourth season in MLS. He had broken into Klinsmann’s US side and had shown flashes of creativity and excitement in attack. Many were touting him as the brightest light of the new crop of players being ushered into the program. And it was around that time when the European clubs began to circle like vultures. Which made sense given that Shea possesses the exceedingly rare “Three S’s” of size, speed and strength. Ultimately he settled on a trial/training stint with Arsenal, which inspired me to write this piece on how big of a chance it could have proven for him. Things seemed very, very bright for the Texas native.

Unfortunately, no permanent move materialized and he followed that all up with a pretty lackluster — albeit injury-riddled — 2012 back in Dallas. But though his performances slagged, his off field celebrity remained large and social media following continued to ballooned. Some questioned whether all of that contributed to him being a bit distracted and was more concerned with maintaining his image. Yet despite all of that, Stoke City still came calling in January 2013.

And that’s where I started to question whether Brek might be making the wrong move at the wrong time.

Having surgery to remove a bone in his foot and coming off an under performing season in MLS, it might have made more sense to stick it out in Dallas for a bit longer. Doing so might have helped him to regain his fitness and rebuild his confidence. Besides, joining European sides midway through the season is always a difficult task.

At the time, Stoke City were in a bit of a stutter themselves and only picked up a point during the entire month of January under Tony Pulis. Too, Pulis’ Stoke weren’t exactly renown for their attacking acumen. And for both reasons, the manager found himself under increasing pressure from both the fans and boardroom that eventually lead to his departure.

was moving to stoke the wisest of moves for brek?

was moving to stoke the wisest of moves for brek?

As an attacking player whose skills and tactical awareness still needed further honing, Shea’s moving to Stoke to play under Pulis just didn’t make much sense. Furthermore, choosing to go play under a manager who didn’t look like he would be in the job much longer seemed naive — though you could argue he might have thought the club’s poor run of form would give him a chance to break into the side.

The attack-minded Mark Hughes’ arrival at the Britannia Stadium in March might have seemed like a boost to Shea’s chances of success. But given that Hughes has only chosen him twice in the 18 months since then, it’s probably fair to say the Welshman doesn’t exactly fancy what he has to offer.

That said, Hughes hasn’t completely shut him out in the cold. The lanky winger was farmed out at the beginning of the year to Barnsley with the aim of getting him some matches. Although you could also see the move as means of placing Shea in the shop window too. And though he impressed on his debut for Tykes and made eight appearances for them, his loan was cut short and he was sent back to Stoke after a bust up with supporters. Predictably, Hughes didn’t give him a runout once he returned either.

Since, things have remained rather stagnant for Mr. Shea. Without much on-pitch time to sharpen his game since the move to England — and after failing to impress in his appearances in the pre-tournament tune ups — Klinsmann wisely skipped over him for the US’ World Cup squad. A lackluster appearance in the last friendly against the Czech Republic only served to reinforce that decision.

And now he’s gone out on loan again, this time to Championship side Birmingham City. Hughes even went so far as to say he didn’t see the American in his plans for the Potters, though perhaps impressing while on loan might be a way to change the manager’s mind.

But you get the feeling that if he disappoints at St. Andrew’s, Shea’s days in England might just be numbered.

Of course, this might be a bit premature. He’s never quite regained full fitness since moving abroad, and a consistent run of games has helped many a player to find form before. Maybe he’ll find his feet in Birmingham, and use it as a launch pad to greater success across the pond.

You hate to say that Brek Shea is a cat that’s used up eight of his nine lives in just a year and a half playing overseas. But his showings of late haven’t exactly been the kind that would convince you otherwise, and his manager at Stoke isn’t exactly the type to give players bonus chances.

And if that’s the case, he’ll be the latest in a long line of American players that just couldn’t cut the mustard abroad.

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finger pointing

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Sir Alex FergusonThings haven’t gone according to plan in the red half of Manchester the last couple seasons.

Sir Alex Ferguson sealed his legendary career two seasons ago with one last title before sailing off into the sunset that is the Old Trafford’s directors box. From there, the intensity of his gaze seemed to blind and break his hand-picked successor of David Moyes. Despite performing admirably with limited resources at Everton for a decade, Moyes was only able to guide more or less the same side Ferguson had guided to a title just the year before to an unthinkable seventh place finish.

Perhaps that’s a sign that Ferguson was the glue that held things together in that final season. He managed to eke out what might have been just enough to paper over the sizable cracks in the foundation, like an aging Rio Ferdinand and fading Nemanja Vidić, a weak midfield and a complete lack of depth.

Since then though, fans of the Red Devils and much of the punditry has been quick to point a thousand fingers at Moyes and the Glazers for ruining the house that Ferguson built. They provided explanations such as “Moyes wasn’t up for the stress of the job” or the “Glazers aren’t investing in the proper type of talent”.

While the first could very well be true, the second one seems a little far fetched. Looking at 2014 alone, the Glazers have approved the purchases of Juan Mata (£37.5m), Ander Herrera (£28.8m), Luke Shaw (£27m), Marcos Rojo (£16m) and now Di Maria (£63.9m). And that’s not including the £28m they authorized being spent last season on Marouane Fellaini.

So with at least one of those two common complaints now debunked, there could be another theory for explaining United’s demise that nobody seems willing to consider.

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an interview with professional soccer social worker lawrence cann

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Street Soccer USAIt’s not an infrequent occurrence to hear someone describe soccer as their life.

For many that I know — myself included — that’s a fairly accurate statement. I run a soccer website and spend a majority of my free time watching and taking in the beautiful game. My sister and her husband are both college soccer coaches. A fair few of my friends make their livings training and working for youth clubs. And a privileged few of my acquaintances actually pay their bills by playing the beautiful game.

But it’s a rarity that you ever hear someone talk about how soccer has saved their life. Unless, that is, your name is Lawrence Cann.

Lawrence Cann is president and founder of Street Soccer USA, a non-profit that aims to “improve health, education, and employment outcomes for the most disadvantaged Americans by using sports”. Working most frequently with homeless youth and adults, the program currently operates soccer-based programs in sixteen cities around the country.

Probably best known for the team they send to the annual Homeless World Cup, SSUSA’s biggest project every year is actually the domestic Street Soccer USA Cup. At that, all sixteen cities in the program send a representative squad of program participants to take part in a national tournament.

And as it just so happens, the 2014 edition of the Street Soccer USA Cup kicks off this weekend in San Francisco.

So to help get a better understanding of everything that the SSUSA program and their annual big event does to help the disadvantaged across the country, I spoke with the Lawrence Cann to get the low down on how they’ve managed to use soccer as a vehicle for social change.

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an interview with professional goal guardian kofi sarkodie

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Kofi Sarkodie Career ProgressionWhen it comes to interviews, if you look at my track record, it’s pretty clear that I’ll talk to just about anyone from the game of football.

And while I’m more than happy to talk to any player from the professional ranks about their experiences, I have a soft spot in particular for players who hail from the state of Ohio. After all, I’m from Ohio myself. And on top of that, a substantial number of my readers and followers call Ohio home, too. So helping to shed some more light on the lives of those who come from my own backyard seems as much a duty as it does a privilege.

Luckily, Ohio has a pretty deep pool of players that populate MLS rosters. And one of the brightest among those that call the Buckeye state home is Houston Dynamo right back, Kofi Sarkodie. A product of Huber Heights — a suburb of Dayton — Kofi has represented the US at the youth level, won a national championship with the Akron Zips and established himself as one of the league’s best up and coming young defenders.

So with the Dynamo off to a blazing start to the 2014 season, this seemed like the perfect time to talk with Kofi to talk about his younger days here in Ohio, the importance of his close relationships with his soccer-playing brothers, and his career to this point.

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ten words or less #96

Frank Lampard of Manchester City

just one of the cornucopia of stories that came out just this past weekend: frank lampard’s manchester city debut.

As Americans, we’ve reached a weird point in the soccer calendar. Just as we’re getting warmed up to and getting a feel for the European season, we’re getting to “squeaky bum time” in the MLS season with the playoffs just around the corner. And because of that, it sure seems like there’s more news pouring out of the sport than ever. But worry not, WSOTP has been scouring the web to bring you the picks of the litter. So dive into my favorite links from around the world of football from the last week or so, and stay tuned for even more content as the week progresses.

“Spurs are not for sale”, but a bid’s been received. – tottenhamhotspur.com

Joel Campbell has enough time to create a sports website. – sports.bycampbell.com

Robbing the rich and giving it to the… rich. – independent.co.uk

Gothamist get’s Don Garber to dish on all things MLS. – gothamist.com

Lighting up a pitch by capturing power from the players. – cbsnews.com

The 50 best players according to FIFA 15. – theguardian.com

Every USLPRO side pays for playoff travel expenses. – recklesschallenge.net

Don’t expect a soccer specific stadium in Boston anytime soon. – boston.com

Finally an alternative solution to watching Bundesliga in the US. – bundesligafanatic.com

So “Chivas TBD” might take a year or two off. – si.com

 

RESULTS: surveying american soccer fandom

“Who is the American soccer fan?” After a wildly successful “summer of soccer” in the States, that’s the question we were asking ourselves here at WSOTP back at the end of July.

Due to the influx of new fans brought to the game because of the World Cup, the face of the American supporter has changed. Casual fans became impassioned ones, haters became lovers and a whole generation of young sports fans were transformed into lifelong followers of the beautiful game. So to help us paint the most accurate picture of what the new average American soccer fan looks like, we put together an in-depth survey to collect as much data as possible.

In all, a whopping 996 soccer fans from across the country completed the survey for us — far more than what we had hoped for, thanks in large part to our good friends at The Free Beer Movement and several American Outlaws chapters for giving it a little push for us.

We shared some of the results of the survey on the first episode of this season’s WSOTP Podcast back at the beginning of August, but also had promised to release more in-depth results at a later time. That time is now.

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pic of the week 9/2-9/8

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Marseille manager Marcelo Bielsa

Long before he took the manager’s job at Olympique de Marseille, Marcelo Bielsa has always been a man who has spoken his mind. And given his track record of success, he’s entitled to. But sometimes, the man nicknamed “El Loco” — the “crazy one” in English — says a lot more than what his club would prefer. So after the transfer window didn’t go quite to his liking, Bielsa felt it was time to unleash a tirade on club president Vincent Labrune at a recent press conference. And the face of the club press secretary, seen in the background, during said tirade is priceless.

However, after a rough start to life at the Stade Veledrome, El Loco has righted the ship and currently has the French giants sitting fourth in the table after two straight wins. So odds are, they’ll tolerate his little outburst… for now.

WSOTP pod: season 2 episode 4

WSOTP Podcast - Season 2 Episode 4As we ease into the most needless international break of all time — seriously, we’re just three weeks into the European season and a month and a half out from the World Cup — there’s still a mountain of news to talk about from the world of football. And on Episode 4 of this season’s podcast, the guys try to scale it. You’ll find D.J. and Jeremy providing the normal rundown on all the weekend’s EPL action, take a gander at the trashfire that is Toronto FC, and preview the US men’s friendly against the Czech Republic. And they would be remiss to not talk about the closing of the Transfer Window. As such, the guys will assess the major movements around Europe and the Premier League, picking the winners and losers of this latest “silly season”. We’ll also have our weekly Winners and Wankers to pick too.

So grab your favorite headphones and dial yourself in for the latest edition of the Wrong Side of the Pond Podcast.

 

Subscribe to the WSOTP Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher, or search for “Wrong Side of the Pond” in your favorite podcasting app to listen to us on your mobile device!

pic of the week 8/25-9/1

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Alan Irwin Dildo on Transfer Deadline Day

In the long run, despite a record $1.3 billion spent by English Premier League sides during the summer window, yesterday’s Transfer Deadline Day will ultimately be remembered for the almost incomprehensible amount of loan deals hammered out in the dying hours. But even if most moves were loans, we were still treated to the normal imagery of players holding up their new sides’ and grinning for the cameras for so long that their cheeks begin to ache. Too, we got to once again see Harry Redknapp delivering parking lot interviews and dropping quality soundbites. But the most saturated image we were inundated with on Deadline Day — as it has been every year since Sky Sports started ramming it down our throats — is of the grizzled remote reporter standing outside the training ground giving us the minute-by-minute updates on the happenings at clubs around the league.

This season, however, the fans added a little bit more spice to the action. For reasons unknown, the spice added by the fans appeared to be sex toy themed. And in the image above, we see Sky’s Alan Irwin — reporting on Tom Cleverley’s on-again-off-again loan move to Aston Villa — getting a purple “Deadline Day Dildo” in the ear. We’ve got video of it too, just in case you want to take it all in. Elsewhere, a sex doll was tossed at another reporter.

Why sex toys? Who knows. But I laughed on both occasions. Here’s just hoping that supporters continue to up the ante in this January’s window. If they’re in need of ideas in the same genre, perhaps they could hire Wayne Rooney’s famous lady of the night to blow kisses at the camera the entire time.

ten words or less #95

New Tottenham signing Federico Fazio

The much loved — and maligned — summer transfer window will be slamming shut over the weekend, which means we’ll see a bevy of rumors either materialize into reality or fail to come to fruition. And for that reason, supporters around the globe will either be praising the arrivals of new saviors or end up cursing the chairmen for their supposedly penny-pinching ways. Rule number one over the next few days: don’t believe everything you read. Or at bare minimum, be sure to take them with a sizable grain of salt.

So with all of the stress that’s sure to come to pass over the next few days, I’m going to do my best to avoid transfer stories in this latest links round up. Keen observers will notice I did slip one in there, though we can blame its presence on me opting to take a dig at my favorite club’s rival supporters.

In the madness, dont’ forget that there’s also a full slate of European and domestic action on the docket this weekend, too. So there should be more than enough to distract you from dealings of your favorite club.

Sitting in the wrong section requires tremendous restraint. – telegraph.co.uk

My favorite ‘Jermaine Jones to MLS Saga’ reaction. – hottimeinoldtown.com

The last sentence in paragraph one should terrify Arsenal supporters. – si.com

Chris Rolfe needs to join the FFA. – washingtonpost.com

A ranking of every generation of Nike’s Mercurial line. – sneakerreport.com

People will still talk about analytics… it’ll just be commonplace. – 21stclub.com

How exactly does spraying teammates with piss build camaraderie? – kob.com

Puma learns a lesson in internet trolling. – eveningstandard.co.uk

Paul Carr did an increasingly-rare, excellent Reddit AMA. – reddit.com/

WSOTP pod: season 2 episode 3

WSOTP Pond - Season 2 Episode 3

Transfers were on our minds as we recorded the third episode of the season of the WSOTP Podcast. Big names on the move, both domestically and abroad, dominated our conversation this week. And Jeremy and D.J. not only pontificate on the merits of quite a few those big ones, but also on who should and shouldn’t be making some last minute moves before the European window slams shut next week. That being in addition to the usual thoughts on the weekend action in England and America. Too, they once again nominated their Winners and Wankers from the past week and answered some questions from some of our faithful listeners. So grab a drink and saddle up for another edition of your favorite podcast.

Want us to field your questions on a future podcast? Drop us a line at contact[at]wrongsideofthepond[dot]com or send us your tweets using the links at the bottom of the page.

 

Subscribe to the WSOTP Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher, or search for “Wrong Side of the Pond” in your favorite podcasting app to listen to us on your mobile device!

pic of the week 8/18-8/24

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Providence Stadium in Guyana

For many MLS sides, qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League is one of the ultimate goals each season. The competition provides a chance to test themselves against the best sides in the region, play in some of the most storied venues in North and Central America and — if they can actually win the whole shebang, a feat no American club has yet managed — an opportunity to play in the yearly Club World Cup. But it’s important to remember that not every ground and opponent an MLS side might be drawn to face is exactly worth all of the hype.

Take for example Portland Timbers’ first round opponents in this season’s CCL: Guyana’s Alpha United FC. Already an oddity in CONCACAF due to the fact that the country is technically in South America, Guyana is also a country where cricket is the first love. And despite Alpha being the three-time reigning champion of the Guyana National Football League, they play their matches in the Bourda Cricket Ground.

However, the stadium itself didn’t meet CONCACAF standards, and thus they have to play their matches at the newer, larger and more modern Providence Stadium. Which is pretty ironic, considering Portland play their home matches Providence Park. Yet despite the upgrade, it still featured a humongous dirt patch — used as the cricket’s bowling and batting area — smack dab in the middle of the pitch. And as the picture tweeted out by Portland owner Merritt Paulson shows, it made for quite the rough playing surface. Luckily, the Timbers still managed to pull off a 4-1 victory in spite of the sub par surface they were forced to make their CCL debut upon.