The new year is upon us, and there’s plenty to discuss in soccer abroad and at home.
Before getting to your questions, the U.S. men's national team's January camp roster was released on Wednesday afternoon, and there were no real surprises if you read my story from Tuesday. A couple of things: It turns out FC Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez is up in the air on whether he wants to play for the U.S. or Mexico, and he won’t be in the camp as of now.
It’s also good to see Columbus’s Ethan Finlay make his first U.S. camp. Still kind of crazy that MLS Best XI members Benny Feilhaber, Dax McCarty and Matt Hedges are nowhere to be found.
Now, onto The ‘Bag…
Does Arsenal have enough to take the Prem or will they disappoint again?
This is Arsenal we’re talking about, Russ, so it’s possible to answer “yes” to both questions! That said, not only do I believe Arsenal should be the favorite to win its first Premier League title in 12 seasons, but I also think it will actually happen.
This may be due to the rest of the field as much as to the Gunners themselves. Leicester City is running out of gas. Man United isn’t good enough under Louis van Gaal. Tottenham should be able to make a run but is still missing something.
Man City is the real challenger for Arsenal, but you get the feeling City relies too much on moments of high-priced brilliance to bail them out of subpar performances.
As for Arsenal, injuries are always a concern, and lately that has meant Alexis Sánchez, Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky. But Sánchez is expected to be back for Saturday’s FA Cup game against Sunderland, and the fact is that AFC will have fewer injuries than its next Premier League foe, Liverpool, when they meet on Wednesday.
Arsenal is also set to complete the purchase of defensive mid Mohamed El-Neny, 23, from Basel. Can he be part of the answer? Give some credit to former U.S. coach Bob Bradley for recognizing El-Neny’s talent with the Egyptian national team back when he was a teenager in Egypt.
Do you think Jordan Morris comes to MLS or signs with a European club? What are the odds of each?
Before we go any further, let me say I think there’s about an 85% chance that Morris signs with Seattle, which has given him the most lucrative homegrown contract offer in MLS history. In fact, I think the only reason Morris hasn’t already signed with Seattle is that U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has been pushing hard for Morris to sign in Germany instead. That’s why Morris is going to train with Werder Bremen next week.
Can the German club find a way to convince Morris? We’ll see. This is a classic case of American soccer, circa 2016, where what’s in the best interests of MLS isn’t always what Klinsmann would say are his best interests. And that’s not necessarily a problem, it’s just a fact of life.
WTF Peter Nowak?
Where to start? Big congrats to Jonathan Tannenwald of Philly.com for getting the court records of the arbitration case between Nowak and the Philadelphia Union, which fired him in 2012. Allegations under oath included: that Nowak made his players run eight to 10 miles in 80-degree weather without access to water; that Nowak subjected rookies to hazing, even dipping his hand in ice water before spanking them; and that he mocked players for complaining about concussions.
Nowak ended up losing his arbitration case, and it’s fair to say that a guy who won MLS Cup titles as a player (in 1998) and a coach (in 2004) will almost certainly never coach in MLS again.
Will Pep Guardiola’s tactics/style of play be successful in England?
Which Premier League team with a possible opening matches up with Pep’s style best/worst?
The stereotype about the Premier League’s style is that it’s a rough-and-tumble league with a breakneck pace, which is one reason why the arrival of Guardiola next season is so intriguing. But if you look at the success his Bayern Munich teams have had in the Bundesliga, you know that Guardiola isn’t exactly playing tiki-taka these days in Germany.
Long story short: I think he’ll be fine in the PL.
Any team that Guardiola joins in England is going to add players to his liking in the summer, but of all his suitors Man City fits him better with its current set-up than Chelsea or Man United. What would be most interesting to me is if Guardiola surprised people and took the Man United job, because the current roster is in my opinion the least-suited to him of the three clubs.
What is the best football derby you have attended?
For me it’s a tie between a River Plate-Boca Juniors game that I attended in 1995 and a Celtic-Rangers game that I went to in Glasgow in 1999. For the River-Boca game at the Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires, I sat (stood, really) with my Boca fan buddies in the hardcore away section. When Boca scored, I literally got moved with a wave of humanity about four terraces below us. (I was 21 years old, so it was actually a lot of fun.) For Celtic-Rangers at Parkhead, I wore all-black to avoid showing loyalty to either team and sat in the media/VIP section next to Pierre van Hooijdonk, of all people.
Claudio Reyna had signed with Rangers and was becoming the first U.S. player to compete in an Old Firm game, and it so happened that Rangers clinched the title at Celtic’s ground for the first time ever. It was a wild game: Referee Hugh Dallas (the same guy who failed to call the Torsten Frings handball at World Cup 2002) sent off a Celtic player, causing a fan to hit Dallas with a coin that drew blood on his forehead. Then after the game a fan was tragically killed in violence outside the stadium.
How much are clubs with [artificial] turf fields hampered in getting/keeping quality players?
I’ve had one MLS owner with an artificial turf field tell me that he thinks putting in grass would help him land top international players. Having artificial turf hasn’t prevented Seattle from landing Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey or Portland landing Diego Valeri or Orlando City from landing Kaká, but just about everyone I’ve talked to thinks turf is a hindrance on the recruitment front.
Do you think John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin play for U.S. U-23s against Colombia [in March]? Or do they play the WCQs?
My guess is the U.S. will field its best U-23 team possible in the March home-and-home playoff vs. Colombia for an Olympics berth. So that would include Brooks, Yedlin, Morris and Julian Green, among others. I asked Yedlin about it in November, and he said he would do whatever he’s asked by the U.S. staff, adding that he’d love to have the chance to play in the Olympics.
Given how Gold Cup 2015 went and potentially trying to rebuild the roster, what should the goal be for USMNT in Copa America?
I think the goal should be to go as far as possible while still giving some younger guys a real opportunity against top competition. In a sense, you’ll likely never have to worry about Klinsmann giving younger guys a chance in a big tournament. He’s done that in both World Cups that he has coached in (in 2006 and ’14), so I don’t expect Copa América to be any different.