I asked for probing/thoughtful/funny Mailbag questions on anything soccer, and once again you answered the call.
Let’s dive in!
If you could sit and watch a match with one manager and have him walk you through his thought process, who would it be? @brittquinn_pdx
Why are you so sure that it would be a man? I’d love to watch a game with Jill Ellis or Pia Sundhage and get a sense of their thought process. But if I could pick only one manager in world soccer, it would be Pep Guardiola. Based on everything I have read, no manager in the sport puts more quality thought into preparing for a game than Guardiola does. Nor does any elite manager change up his team’s tactics during a game than Guardiola. I want to know what he’s thinking while he’s watching a game. If you want to read a couple good books on Guardiola, I’d suggest Martí Perarnau’s Pep Confidential and Guillem Balagué’s Another Way of Winning.
Who do you like to finish top 4 in the Premier League right now? @ManUtd_INDY
3. Manchester City
4. Manchester United
I have Liverpool and Arsenal failing to finish in the top four. Other than Chelsea winning the league, it’s a tough call on all this, but I do think Man United is going to rally and tap into its raw talent advantage enough in the final stretch of the season to sneak into the Champions League slots.
How many more articles do you need to write before Richard Deitsch puts you on his podcast? @sideburg
Great question! RD and I are cubicle neighbors at SI HQ, and yet he has never had me on his terrific SI Media podcast as he was with SI A-listers like S.L. Price, Tom Verducci, Jack McCallum and Michael Farber, among others (not that I’m counting). Then again, he did host the SI soccer podcast back in the day, and you might still be able to find some of those episodes in the cobwebs of the Internet.
Don’t tell Deitsch, because his head will get even bigger than it already is, but the in-depth interview format on his podcast is what I try to follow in my Planet Fútbol podcast. In an era when soundbites and short-form rule the day, I love doing longer interviews with interesting people and learning new things, and that’s what these interview podcasts can do. Check out Deitsch’s podcast, where he has lately been the Roy Firestone of the medium, getting ESPN personalities to bare their souls. And if you’re interested, give the Planet Fútbol podcast a listen. We’ve had a nice run of interviews with a variety of people, including a rare hour-long one-on-one with U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati this week.
If you can give a "soccer hater" one book to win them over to the sport, what would you give them? @roberthayjr
Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby. You don’t need to know much (anything?) about soccer to enjoy Hornby’s classic, and yet you come away from reading it knowing exactly why he’s so closely tied to Arsenal as part of his identity. I still think it’s a sacrilege that they made a movie version of Fever Pitch about the Boston Red Sox, but it is true that the feelings of fandom Hornby writes about are universal.
What was that player signing chart for MLS, and why are my eyes bleeding after I read it? @dingerc
You would be referring, of course, to Alexander Abnos’s tremendous flowchart that he published this week detailing the labyrinth of conditions when it comes to signing a player for an MLS team. I love how much time and passion Alex put into it, and I love how it communicates a truth about the league in such a compelling way. As Pablo Maurer, aka @MLSist, said on Twitter, Alexander Abnos is an American hero.
Why does anyone think retread Arena will do a better job with the USMNT than Klinsmann? @Jawmo2
Well, judging by your word choice, I take it you don’t think bringing Arena back was a good call. And that’s fine. I do think it’s good to have differences of opinion and not have everyone just accept the same thing. But if you’re going to question the hiring of Arena, you also have to point out a better option in place of him, and I don’t see one given the circumstances.
The U.S. has two huge qualifiers in March and six more in 2017. There is zero time for experimentation, and the stakes—missing the World Cup for the first time since 1986—couldn’t be much higher. Arena has been through this before, and Klinsmann had lost the team. That’s not to say it’s guaranteed that Arena will be successful this time around, but I understand the reasoning. I’m also amused at how many U.S. fans seem to remember 2006 but not 2002 when it comes to Arena.
Do you think Megan Rapinoe will ever regain her form? Will she ever return to the USWNT roster? @VincentSeaton
Rapinoe may have been omitted from Jill Ellis’s U.S. roster this week, but I don’t think she’s done with the national team. It’s clear that Rapinoe has had trouble getting back to a full 100% after her ACL surgery. She clearly wasn’t at 100% during the Olympics, when Ellis brought her in anyway in an episode that reminded me of Arena bringing a not-100% John O’Brien to World Cup 2006. But now that there aren’t any major tournaments until the 2019 World Cup, it makes sense that Ellis would want Rapinoe to focus on doing what it takes to get back to 100%, or as close to it as possible. If she’s fit, Rapinoe still brings skills to the table that very few U.S. players have.
If you could build LAFC around three pretty realistic DP signings, who would you pick and why? @ThatDamnYank
We’ve been hearing talk for a while that LAFC would love to sign Cristiano Ronaldo, and there’s no doubt that he would be the closest thing in MLS to David Beckham signing with LA Galaxy. But I’m not sure Ronaldo is necessarily a realistic signing for 2018 when LAFC debuts.
Two realistic signings for me would be Javier “Chicharito” Hernández and Cesc Fabregas, a couple of stars who have plenty in the tank and could put butts in the seats in LAFC’s fantastic new stadium. For a third DP, though, I’d like to see LAFC sign an up-and-coming South American player, either a forward or a midfielder, much like Atlanta has done with its DP signings. I’d prefer not to see all three DPs coming from European leagues.
Would love to read your critique of Minnesota United as a MLS expansion team so far. @dunord
I love you, Bruce, but let’s wait until a little closer to the season. The last time I wrote something in the ‘Bag about the Loons, I became public enemy No. 1 with some of the nicest people in America!
Who is West Ham's greatest ever right-back? @swishlamb
My friend, you have been asking the same Mailbag question now for the last 12 months. And so today I will answer. West Ham’s greatest right back is Ray Stewart. Great player. Tremendous penalty-taker. Scottish. Also in the discussion: Billy Bonds, who became a manager as well, and John Bond, who made 444 appearances for the club. (Many thanks to my West Ham-following friends—and you know who you are—for the research help!) Your quest is now over, @swishlamb.