Wednesday, December 30, 2009

12/30/09: Why The Crew Failed To Win The MLS Cup In 2009. What They Can Do To Avoid Burnout In 2010

"Read this great new book Crew fans so you don't hate me in 2010."

The Crew's 2009 late season plummet can be attributed somewhat to what happens to the English International player in regard to congested club soccer, according to the fantastic, new book Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski (passage below). And, could really have more of a correlation and impact when the Crew do double duty in the CONCACAF Champions League in 2010. As the Crew, in 2010, are guarenteed to start out with 38 games just through the 2009/10 CONCACAF Champions League Knockout Round and there 2010/11 CONCACAF Champions League group, when that is combined with the regular MLS season. That 38 games the Crew are guarenteed to play in 2010 (2 against Toluca, 6 against the 10/11 Concacaf Group, plus the 30 game regular season), also could increase to 48 if the the Crew make a run in the 09/10 CONCACAF Knockout Round (which McCullers and company have pointed to as a real aspiration for this club) and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (nary the club aspiration). Then if you add the four games to lift MLS Cup plus the preseason, that is pushing 55-60 games. Then if we do somehow get past the Mexican sides and have the Club World Cup added, we mise well just play soccer all year. So, really, from this passage from Kuper and Szymanski's Soccernomics, all you would have to do is switch a few words to understand the Crew's 2009 demise; as basically our side isn't deep enough yet to deal with congestion (even a little of it):

English players get far more experience in top-level soccer than, say, Croatians or Russians do.

In fact, the English probably get too much of this kind of experience. The Premier League is becoming soccer's NBA, the first global league in this sport's history. So the players earn millions of dollars. So the league is all-consuming, particularly if you play for one of the "Big Four" clubs, as almost all regular English internationals do. The players have to give almost all their energy and concentration in every match. It's a little easier even in Serie A or La Liga, where smaller teams like Siena, Catania, or Santander cannot afford to buy brillant foreigners.

Clearly, an athlete can't peak in every match. If you are running in the Olympics, you plan your season so that you will peak only at the Olympics, and not before. If you play soccer for, say, Croatia and for a club in a smaller league (even the Bundesliga), you can husband your energy so as to peak in big international matches- for instance, when you are playing England at Wembley.

**Switch the above from Croatia to RSL and saving energy for big matches to MLS Cup and you kind of get what the Crew were going through. As by the time the two met for the first round the Crew played 37 games compared to the RSL's 31. With injured players like O'Rourke and Carroll (both requiring offseason surgery) lining up for the Crew.**

By contrast, English players have to try to peak every week for their clubs (the problem the Crew got into the end of the year, especially when they played 7 games in 21 days in September). In no other country do players face as many demanding games a season. No clubs in any other country play as many European games as the English do. Daniele Tognaccini, chief athletics coach at the "Milan Lab," probably the most sophisticated medical outfit in soccer, explains what happens when a player has to play sixty tough games a year. "The performance is not optimal. The risk of injury is very high. We can say the risk of injury during one game, after one week's training, is 10 percent. If you play after two days, the risk rises by 30 to 40 percent. If you are playing four or five games consecutively without the right recovery, the risk of injury is incredible. The probability of having one lesser performance is very high."

Sound like our October & November anyone? After seven games without the right recovery. Sure, Warzycha switched people but often times, some like Moreno got their extra two games with Venezuela.

So when English players play internationally, they start tired, hurt, and without enough focus. Often they cannot raise their game (Crew couldn't lift a finger come November). Harry Redknapp said when he was manager of Portsmouth, "I think England games get in the way of club soccer for the players now. Club soccer is so important, the Champions League and everything with it, that England games become a distraction to them." Moreover, players in the intense Premier League are always getting injured, and their clubs don't give them time to recover. That may be why half of England's regulars couldn't play against Croatia. For some of the same reasons, the US often disappoints in basketball world championships.

In short, if England wanted to do better in international matches, it should export English players to more relaxed leagues, like, for example, Croatia's (Hmm, maybe Beckham is onto something with LA).

So basically the Crew's advantage in about 1 more point of talent compared to most of the rest of MLS is negated at the end of the season because they will be playing 8 more games than most MLS teams from the get go.

So what can the Crew do to remedy this in 2010?
1. Sign your two first rounders, since both will likely be Generation Adidas and therefore won't count against the cap. Try to get the most talented players at the 8th and 12th positions and place them into Elenio and Grendi's roster spots. There likely to be more talented than that duo and hopefully more talented then 16 through 24 on our roster.. If we luck out.

2. Don't pretend that you have 24 players that can step in and do the job. Have 24 players that can step in and do the job. As Warzycha said in 2009, "we do not have backups, we have 24 players." But, really the Crew didn't have 11 other guys just as talented as their starters or a little less so. So they have to..

3. Build a lineup that grinds the most out of the smallish cap space. The Crew believe it or not are doing the right thing by trying to nickle and dime Schelotto. Because every grand saved could bring another player that could actually make Warzycha's 24 players a reality. Because they are going to need 24 players, instead of 15 or 16 that fizzle out from exhaustion after Champions League.

4. The Crew also need a goalscorer or two. The goal scoring by comittee was a lovely little thing in 2008. But, you need a striker that can carry the team on their backs and double the committee scoring load, as there just isn't enough goals to go around with the added games. The Crew should get 20 goals from their midfield and have one striker that can match that.. And then get some spurious goals from Marshall, the defense, and other strikers.

5. And, the fans that are harking for a set lineup like Sigi had, need to realize that was improbable in 2009 (when faced with 7 games in 21 days) and will even be more improbable in 2010 with 38 to likely 45 or 50 (if we are lucky) total games.

So as long as the fans realize that some different lineup looks are part of the added success and the Crew front office realizes that they got to get as much as they can for a little, the whole 24 players that can play, the Crew should be alright in 2010.


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