This is not a question, but a correction. In your Q&A section, you incorrectly said that Florida State's placekicker is from Croatia. He is, in fact, from Poland. I also thought you might like to know that Sebastian was more than just a good soccer player. He played for Poland's under-16 national team, and had been given an offer to play with a professional club (I think Velez Sarsfield) in Argentina. He obviously turned the offer down to pursue placekicking. He came to the U.S. not that long ago, and he has quite a leg on him.
Paul Kennedy: You're right, Chris. Thanks for setting us straight on that one.
How does FIFA run the World Cup draw? Do they have eight seeds, or is it completely random (e.g -- the USA could get stuck with Brazil, Colombia, and England....wait a minute, I do remember having the first two in '94! Uh oh...)?
Paul Kennedy: As an indication of the problem, it is now (Friday Nov. 28) less than a week before the draw and no formula for seeding the teams or placing the other teams has been determined. As an example: does an African team get seeded? There is great political sentiment to do so -- even though an African team would not meet any of the criteria being considered: performance in last two or three World Cups or current FIFA ranking. You will be able to read more on this subject in the 12/8 (draw preview) and 12/22 (draw coverage) issues of SA. As it is now, there is a chance of the four-team group you outline being drawn. Brazil is already assured of being a No. 1 seed; there will be a second pot for European teams (England didn't qualify for USA '94, so it isn't among the seeded teams as it stands now) and Colombia will be in a third pot with Chile and Paraguay, the other non-seeded South American teams, and other teams to be determined. Of great interest to the U.S. is the issue of being in the third pot with the South Americans or fourth pot with the Asians. If the U.S. goes in "No. 4," it potentially faces a very tough draw. I should add there is potential for a much more reasonable draw: Belgium, a team the U.S. can give a good game, will almost surely be a top-seed; there are several other European teams in the non-seeded pot that the U.S. can play with (eg. Scotland and Norway); only seeded Argentina and Brazil among the South American teams are clearly better than the U.S.; only Nigeria among the African teams would be favored over the U.S.
High Point, NC
Why on earth does Steve Sampson insist on playing Jeff Agoos? True, he more than holds his own in MLS, but international soccer is a whole new ball game. He has cost the U.S. at least 5 points. Why doesn't Sampson try Greg Vanney or Gregg Berhalter?
Duncan Irving: This is a major area of concern. Sampson needs cover in all his defensive areas, but nowhere is the need more pressing than in the flank back positions. Eddie Pope -- a central defender by trade -- holds down the right back slot. Is there no one else? Apparently not. Frankie Hejduk partied his way off the team and Pope is now a mainstay. On the left, we have Jeff Agoos. Players go in and out of form, and Agoos is a good example of this (as is Alexi Lalas in the middle). Sampson has kept faith in him, because of loyalty and in the hope that his confidence returns and also because there aren't that many options. However, players can plateau and I think this may be the case with Agoos. Sampson had Vanney in camp early this year, Berhalter has not figured in his plans thus far. Both will likely get a look in camp. The most likely scenario is that Sampson will look at his existing squad for backup. John Harkes, for example, is a likely candidate but has been markedly reluctant to play as a wide defender. Necessity will likely dictate that he change his way of thinking. Given the choice between playing where the coach tells you or not making the 22, most team members will take the former course of action.
Are there any other players in women's college soccer even near the level of Anne Makinen of Notre Dame and Cindy Parlow of North Carolina? Are these two totally in their own "Player of the Year" category?
Dean Caparaz: The short answer is, no, there aren't, and yes, they are in their own category. That doesn't mean, though, that one of them will automatically win the player of the year awards. (That's another question, though...) However, while Notre Dame's Anne Makinen and North Carolina's Cindy Parlow are at the top of the college game and are respected in the international arena, there are other players who may reach their level of talent in the future. Parlow's teammate Lorrie Fair, who is currently a sophomore defender at UNC, is one of the best all-around players in the college game. She's definitely a better defender than Parlow. In time, given more national team experience, Fair could be one of the best players ever to play in and for the U.S. At UNC, sophomore Laurie Schwoy is another player to watch. The SA Freshman of the Year last year, Schwoy is a dynamic player who can fill the attacking midfield spot or play up front. A few more years of national team experience should also do wonders for Schwoy. UNC also has Tiffany Roberts and Staci Wilson, who were both Olympians along with Parlow, but neither Roberts nor Wilson seem to have the potential to surpass Parlow or Makinen. At Notre Dame, Makinen's teammates Jenny Streiffer, Holly Manthei, Kate Sobrero and Jen Grubb are all national team-caliber players. Streiffer, a sophomore, has the most potential to reach the Makinen-Parlow level. She was an alternate on the U.S. Olympic team and is a dribbling whiz who reminds me of a shorter, less mature Parlow. Grubb, who's also a sophomore, could use more national team experience, like the others, but already has the type of physical game that's needed at the international level and puts her a cut above a lot of college defenders. She may be the top central defender in the college game, though there's also UNC's Nel Fettig to consider. Manthei, who before recently only played as a flank midfielder, and Sobrero, a tenacious marking back, are both great college players. Manthei has a few more U.S. caps than Sobrero, who should get more and should improve accordingly. But neither seems to have what it takes to reach that next level, at least not now. Connecticut's Sara Whalen is at the top of her game in college. She's a great sweeper and a good striker. She has played a lot with the national team within the past year or so and is a solid reserve at the internationl level. But, she's no Parlow or Makinen. Portland's Justi Baumgardt is another top college player with a few national team caps. She's a top playmaker and attacking player in the college ranks. She's not good enough right now to beat out Julie Foudy or Tisha Venturini for a starting spot on the national team, and as a senior, Baumgardt may have less time to develop because of the lack of a women's professional league, but that's another story. When Baumgardt's Portland teammate Regina Holan returns from injury next season, you can probably add Reggie to the "players with potential list."
I am a high school soccer coach, and I have talked to numerous coaches about tactics. The question I have is: when playing against a team that is more skilled than you are, what formation is reccommended and how do you play such a team? The team we are playing uses a 4-4-2, and has an excellent midfield and defense. They are a controlling team, and they move the ball well. Our team only has one strength -- we have an all-conference midfielder who we are playing at the forward position, because when he gets the ball he usually scores. What do you recommend?
Ridge Mahoney: I'd recommend switching conferences, or if that is not feasible, you must honestly evaluate the following options: 1) Do you have defenders quick and experienced enough to match their forwards man-to-man, and do you have a player capable of performing well at sweeper? If so, you can play with four or five in the back, matching your marking backs with their forwards, keeping an extra defender or two back to deal with midfielders or defenders coming through, and relying on the sweeper to clean up. This would mean playing either 4-4-2, or a more defensive variation, a 4-5-1. If their midfield is that good, you should play five in midfield. 2) Does your opponent have a playmaking midfielder who normally dictates the attack? If so, the 4-5-1 could be employed, with one or two defensive midfielders deployed to stop the opposition playmaker. But it's dangerous to mark such a player man-to-man, unless one defensive midfielder pressures him and the other tries to cut off the passing lanes or wins the ball if a teammate gets in a solid tackle. 3) Is the opposition defense somewhat slow, are they poor headers, or is their goalkeeper not adept at catching and punching the ball? Can their outside backs be beaten for speed? If the defense is slow, try to beat them with quick counterattacks when you win possession, or make them chase the ball into the corners to pull them out of position. If their keeper and/or defenders are weak in the air, test them with crosses. If their outside back is slow, put your fastest attacker on that side and get him the ball. If you can scout one of their games, watch what they do on set plays. Corner kicks and free kicks account for nearly one-third of goals at the high school level and above. Facing a more skilled team that moves the ball well places a heavy emphasis on team defense. Players must contest every loose ball, they must support each other by filling passing lanes, and their workrate must be high to keep up with the movement of the ball and the runs of players off the ball. At the high school level, it is very difficult to instruct a team to play an effective zonal defense in the back line. In your case, I'd suggest man-marking the forwards, and pressuring the ball in midfield. But remember pressure does not mean every player chasing the ball blindly; it means a concerted, organized effort. When possession is lost, every player must immediately mark up his assignment, mark space, or fill back toward his own goal. If the opponent's defenders are weak on the ball, they can be pressured, but not at the cost of leaving wide gaps in midfield. Your lone forward will also need to track back, to pick up loose balls and keep the opposition defenders on their toes. I'd also drill your goalkeeper on crosses, through balls, and shots. He will need to be sharp. For the future, work to improve your own players' skills. The ability to trap, control and pass the ball breeds confidence, a valuable characteristic for any team.
San Francisco, CA
While watching El Salvador get steamrolled by the U.S., I couldn't help but notice their skillful and dangerous player Nildelson De Mello. It seems that a player like him (Brazilian-born, Spanish-speaking, and still relatively inexpensive) would be a great acquisiton for an MLS team, most likely in Miami.
Paul Kennedy: The whole issue is what is relative? Toros Neza, De Mello's Mexican club, would probably want $500,000 or more, which MLS is unlikely to pay.