The Saga of Jurgen Klinsmann, Landon Donovan, and the USMNT

It has been a long road for the United States Men's National Soccer Team. For years struggling to find their place in international soccer play amongst the juggernauts across the globe. Only recently has "futbol" began to catch on in the US and make strides in popularity. This year's squad is even featured in a compelling six-part 30 for 30 series on ESPN leading up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Casual fan interest US soccer is at an all-time high and the upcoming World Cup was set to capture the attention of the nation.

Then head coach Jürgen Klinsmann announced his final 23-man roster on Thursday afternoon, notably leaving off the most decorated US player in the history of the program, Landon Donovan.

Continue reading The Saga of Jurgen Klinsmann, Landon Donovan, and the USMNT

Donovan is a 32 year old veteran of the club with three previous World Cup appearances, 156 international appearances, 57 international goals, and five World Cup goals. Those stats may not mean much to you without a little context.

Consider this, Donovan's five World Cup goals are as many as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Robin van Persie have scored combined. His 156 World Cup appearances would have been the most of any active player in the upcoming World Cup. He would have been third in international goals scored (57) among active players in the upcoming World Cup.

We are not talking about a mid-tier American who has toiled away on the international stage for years and is simply past his prime. We are talking about one of the most accomplished international players in the world. We are talking about a man who is only 32 years old. While slightly older than the preferred age of an elite player, it is far from ancient. Team captain Clint Dempsey is a mere one year younger at 31. Goalie Tim Howard is 34. Midfielder Kyle Beckerman is making his US World Cup debut at…32. Don't tell me that Donovan is too old to contribute to this team, it simply isn't true.

So if not his age, then what? Klinsmann commented: "I just think that the others guys right now are a little bit ahead of him." A little bit ahead of him? That is your reasoning for leaving behind one of the greatest US international players of all time? Because a few of the other guys are a little bit ahead of him?

Klinsmann is obviously not being very transparent about his decision making. This move is quite obviously based on two clear factors.

The first factor is that Klinsmann has held a grudge against Donovan ever since Landon decided to take a brief hiatus from soccer in 2013 after being burned out and briefly contemplated retirement. Klinsmann expressed his displeasure and even singled out Donovan when stating that every player would have to earn their spot on the team and no free passes would be given based on prior performances. Donovan paid the price when he ultimately decided to return four months later and make a final push at one more World Cup run.

Klinsmann left Donovan off the World Cup qualifying roster last June and instead relegated Donovan to the Gold Cup tournament squad. After dominating the Gold Cup, it was assumed that Donovan's spot back on the international team was secure and that his veteran leadership would be relied on heavily for the 2014 World Cup.

While most took Klinsmann's comments as simply trying to motivate Donovan and he wasn't seriously considering leaving Donovan off the final roster, Klinsmann opted instead to string Donovan along for the next year. Klinsmann went so far as to bring him along in the final group of 30 before informing Donovan at the last minute that he was not good enough to make the final cut to 23. There were never had any intentions of bringing Donovan to Brazil. Despite clearly making up his mind a year ago, Klinsmann forced Donovan to apologize and work his tail off to try and prove himself. Donovan took it all in stride, worked hard and performed when called upon. Klinsmann got the last laugh when announcing the final roster and even Jurgen's son, Jonathan, had a good laugh on Twitter at the news of his father cutting Donovan.

The second obvious motivation for Klinsmann is that he recognizes his chances in the Group of Death are slim and with his recent contract extension guaranteeing he will be around for the next World Cup, Klinsmann simply decided to forgo any real attempt at winning now and plan for the future.

While Donovan is left off the roster, 18 year old German-American Julian Green gets a roster spot after a single international appearance with the US team in which he looked more overwhelmed than the next break-out star. Klinsmann had been recruiting Green for months and when Green recently agreed to join the US team, Klinsmann joyfully made room for the youngster on the squad while squeezing out one of the best players this country has ever seen.

Julian Green may eventually blossom into one of the best soccer players in the world, but there is no arguing who would've had a greater influence for the USMNT at the 2014 World Cup when comparing Green and Donovan. Klinsmann is simply looking to get Green some experience in hopes of having a better chance in 2018. This is a shame and should not sit well with the American fan-base. Klinsmann was brought in to win now, not in four years. Granting him a contract extension before the World Cup ever began sealed Donovan's fate and allowed Klinsmann's personal grudges to get in the way of the betterment of the team as a whole.

There is no reasonable argument that can be made to defend Klinsmann's action pertaining to this year's World Cup games. Donovan would have been one of the top two or three best players on the team, yet he's been relegated to his couch because of the ego of a coach who has had his fair share of controversy bouncing around the German circuit before landing on US soil.

It is a shame that Landon Donovan will be kept out of a US record breaking fourth World Cup appearance. His accomplishments are not lost on those who have followed his career and truly know what he means to the USMNT. Here's to Donovan, an international career cut too short, but one that will live on and never be forgotten. There will be no stoppage-time World Cup saving goals from Donovan in 2014, but there will be a missing link in the group's core. I can only hope the rest of the squad is able to continue focusing on the task at hand despite this epic PR distraction their coach has caused a month before kickoff.

I hope Klinsmann knows what he's doing, but I fear he's caught up in his own head.

Is Scott Brooks the Right Fit?

After game five against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the 2014 NBA playoffs, I began preparing for a scathing article demanding Scott Brooks be fired. The Thunder had fallen down 3-2 to the seventh seeded Grizzlies and I was convinced that Brooks was to blame. I was ready to rip him to shreds and pray that Presti would agree that it was time for a change.

Then the Thunder bounced back and destroyed the Grizzlies in games six and seven to advance to the second round. Was Brooks now off the hook? Well, it's a little more complicated than that.

Continue reading Is Scott Brooks the Right Fit?

How could you justify firing a coach that improved his teams winning percentage every single year over the course of his first five seasons in the league? Coming off a finals appearance in 2012, Presti traded away budding star James Harden after failed contract negotiations and all the critics condemned the Thunder organization on the move claiming they would be unable to replicate their success without the sixth man of the year. How did Brooks and the Thunder respond? By improving their win percentage yet again in the 2013 season, even without Harden.

The team was primed for another title run when Westbrook went down in the opening round of the playoffs and the rest is history. With all the back-story out of the way, what does this have to do with Scott Brooks' job?

Well, by looking at the numbers alone, it would appear he's done a fantastic job. That is, until you really begin to look deep and see beyond the numbers on the surface.

Here's the deal, Brooks has the reigning MVP as well as a consensus top 10 player running the point. Has Brooks really done a great job of coaching or have Durant and Westbrook simply been good enough to overcome his coaching deficiencies and win games despite his errors? It's hard to say for certain, but I've tended to lean towards the latter in recent weeks.

One of my biggest complaints is Brooks lack of any sort of semblance of a structured offense. He has simply given to the keys to KD and Westbrook and allowed their brilliant basketball IQ and creativity to flourish into whatever they come up with on the fly. And you know what? The majority of the time it works. The all-star duo play as if they are running the courts during a summer Goodman League game and that's not all as bad as it sounds, but the deficiencies of this game plan really come to the surface during crunch time. With the game on the line and coming out of a time out, you'd expect Brooks to have drawn up his best play. What happens more times than not? You know the drill by now. A forced pass in to Durant, no matter how many defenders draped on him, and a 30-foot prayer heaved up. That's excusable once or twice, but when it happens time and time again, you begin to question if Scott Brooks is really anything more than a cheerleader in a suit walking the sideline.

Durant's freakish athletic talents allow him to take those absurd shots and make them at a higher frequency than most, but that only covers up the real underlying problems. There is no ball movement in the offense. There is no motion. There are very few set plays. Role players jog down the court then sit and watch from the three-point line. They've gotten away with it for so long with increasing levels of success that it's too far gone now for Brooks to change even if he wanted to. Brooks lost the keys to the team and he can't just take them back. He gambled on Durant and Westbrook being able to create their own offense and trust it would be enough. Again, looking at the levels of increased success each season, it's hard to argue with Brooks' train of thought. The problem is, that's not really coaching. That is simply stumbling into the good fortune of having one of the most talented rosters in the league and hoping they can figure it out on their own.

I don't think Brooks is the worst coach in the league by any means. Heck, Erik Spoelstra has won back to back NBA titles and I don't think anyone really believes he does much more than sit back and let LeBron be LeBron. The problem is, the Thunder have the potential to be so much better. With the talent OKC has, you'd have to imagine that coaches would be lining up to interview for the job if it were to come open. Brooks stumbled into a gold-mine as a rookie coach and done the best he's known how, but I just can't ignore the feeling that they are still under-performing with him at the helm. Call me a spoiled fan or whatever you'd like, but with the talent and youth at Brooks' disposal, the Thunder should be piling up the rings.

Would it be fair to can Brooks at this point with his body of work? No, I don't think it would be fair. But life's not fair and the National Basketball Association is a cruel business. I wonder how long Presti will allow Brooks to remain the head coach when I think it's clear he's taken them as far as he can. Brooks reminds me of a young Doug Collins in the late '80s coaching the Chicago Bulls during his first run as an NBA head coach. Collins had a young Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen that dominated the regular season during his three-year run, but never could seem to overcome the Pistons once the playoffs rolled around. A roster loaded with talent, but in need of an elite coach to truly get them over the hump. If only Presti could deliver one final magic trick and find the next Phil Jackson. Who knows how those Bulls teams of the '90s would've done under the leadership of Doug Collins. Would Jordan and Pippen's prime years have been spent dominating the regular season, but continuing to come up just short in the playoffs?

I hope I'm wrong about Scott Brooks, but I can't shake that Doug Collins feeling. Michael Jordan deserved better. Kevin Durant deserves better.

NFL Draft: Top 10 Preview

With the Super Bowl behind us, the NFL Draft is the highlight of most football fans off-season. Yes, the NBA playoffs are upon us and baseball season is in full swing (pun intended), but for NFL news, there's no such thing as an "off-season." The Draft is only a week away and I don't know about you, but I can't wait!

No, my name is not Todd McShay or Mel Kiper, Jr, but as your resident pseudo-expert I feel as if I would be doing you, and this great country, a disservice if I didn't offer up my thoughts on who will go where in this year's draft. This preview is not the picks that I would necessarily make, but what I think will happen. If you're unfamiliar with any of these players, just click on their name to view their highlight film.

With that being said, we welcome in Blake Mills to be the Mel Kiper to my Todd McShay (because I'm better looking, obviously). We will list each selection, showing you Blake's pick and my pick. According to an Adam Schefter tweet, no one can possibly accurately predict the first round of the draft. Well Mr. Schefter, prepare to have your pants blown off… for ten picks.

"With the Number 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans select…"

Continue reading NFL Draft: Top 10 Preview

No. 1  Houston Texans:

BlakeJadeveon Clowney (DE – South Carolina) 
The Texans will have a nasty front with Clowney pairing up with JJ Watt. Clowney has the skills the NFL hasn’t seen, since some say, Reggie White. If, and I mean, IF, Clowney puts forth the effort, he will be a bad man for years to come. No one will run against Houston for a long while. No brainer pick, to me.

CalebJadeveon Clowney (DE – South Carolina) 
​This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. If the Texans hold on to their Number 1 overall pick I think the clear option here is Clowney. The Texans have a glaring need at QB, everyone knows that, but the problem is there just isn't a QB in the draft worth taking with the first pick. Because of this, I think there is a very real possibility they could shop this pick around and sell it to the highest bidder only to select another QB later in the first round. But if the Texans hold on to this pick they'll end up with an elite-level talent in Jadeveon Clowney. Come on, think about it. Clowney on one end of the D-Line, J.J. Watt on the other! Watch out Andrew Luck, your life in the AFC South might be getting rather scary if this pick happens. 

No. 2 – St. Louis Rams:

Blake: Greg Robinson (OT – Auburn)
I hear rumors that the Rams may, in fact, trade this pick away. I can see it happening, but for mock draft’s sake, let’s say they stay put. The signing of Jake Long last offseason has backfired. With a torn ACL and MCL, the Rams will have to find a Left Tackle again. Roger Saffold is a free agent, so they actually need two. Robinson is the best in the draft, easily.

CalebGreg Robinson (OT – Auburn)
This is a very interesting position for the Rams to be in. With Sam Bradford going into his final year of his rookie contract and being plagued with injuries, it's paramount that St. Louis gets him some help. Their two biggest area's of need to help Sam? Offensive line and wide receiver. Sitting in the 2 spot the Rams will have the option to draft two potentially elite athletes at both of those positions, Greg Robinson or Sammy Watkins. Do you try and protect Bradford? Or give him an elite target on the outside? I think the Rams ought to choose to protect him in hopes to keep Sam healthy. When Bradford's been healthy in the past, he's shown signs of being really good. This could be a make-or-break pick for the Rams season.

No. 3 – Jacksonville Jaguars:

BlakeKhalil Mack (LB – Buffalo)
Intriguing pick here, for me. Mack is a small school superstar. This isn’t the sexy pick that Jaguars fans want. BUT, Mack is the type of linebacker a franchise needs to solidify the entire defense. They need a captain. They need a guy who is young, hungry, and has something to prove. Mack, to me, can end up like a Derrick Brooks-esque player. A 12-14 year franchise guy who resurrects an entire city.

Caleb: Khalil Mack (LB – Buffalo)
Jacksonville obviously needs a QB here, but in my mind Khalil Mack is an elite level prospect. I know the guy played for Buffalo and may not have faced the top level talent week after week, but when he did (see Ohio State game) he still dominated. He's got all of the physical attributes you need to succeed at the professional level as well as the instincts that will ensure his success at the next level. I could see the Jags stretching here for a QB, but I think it would behoove them to not take Mack at this spot. The guys a lock to have an immediate impact on the defensive side of the ball, something that can't be said for any QB in the draft for the offensive side. In my opinion, Khalil Mack is just too good to pass up.

No. 4 – Cleveland Browns:

BlakeSammy Watkins (WR – Clemson)
Again, this pick intrigues me. Josh Gordon has proved he’s an NFL Superstar. The Browns need a TON of help, elsewhere. Again, Watkins iseasily the best receiver in this class. He’s got a chance to be a top 5 player in the game in a few years. He possesses it all. Size, speed, athleticism, and hands. Now the browns must pray a quarterback falls to them in the second round, or they trade back up into the first.

Caleb: Sammy Watkins (WR – Clemson)
Browns fans will go nuts if this pick comes in and it's anyone other than Johnny Manziel, but I don't think the Browns are going to spend another top pick on a QB after they've already whiffed on Colt McCoy and Brandon Weeden in years past. Without an elite QB prospect I think the Browns go with Watkins here, setting the stage for a fairly decent QB to be able to come in and have success. Think about it, you put Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron and Sammy Watkins on the field and you could make almost any QB look pretty decent. This won't fix Cleveland's offensive woes, but it should help!

No. 5 – Oakland Raiders:

Blake: Johnny Manziel (QB – Texas A&M)
I know, Al Davis has passed away, but Johnny Football is the biggest name in the draft this year. Not necessarily the best player, but the biggest name. It just seems right to me. Raiders take the sexiest name of the entire class and sit back and watch the rest take place. (Look for a trade here, possibly)

Caleb: Johnny Manziel (QB – Texas A&M)
If Johnny Manziel is still on the board when Oakland picks at No. 5, I think the idea of bringing the "Raider swag" back to Oakland would be too much for them to pass up. Johnny Football is a big enough personality, and a potentially good enough athlete, to put Oakland back on the map. The Raiders just dumped Terrell Pryor because I think they're making room for Johnny Manziel to be the immediate starter. Do I personally think this is a smart move? No, but you can read my last article for my full opinion. However, I do think that the Raiders are just crazy enough to pull the trigger on Johnny Football. 

No. 6 – Atlanta Falcons:

Blake: Jake Matthews (OL – Texas A&M)
What in the world happened to the Falcons this year? I think the injury bug finally hit them in the face. They are fine at skill positions, especially when Jones and White come back healthy in 2014. I think it starts up front on offense. With Greg Robinson gone, the Falcons take the next best lineman, and a guy who can dominate the man in front of him. Matthews will be very good, for a very long time.

Caleb: Jake Matthews (OL – Texas A&M)
I really think that Atlanta will try to move out of the six spot, whether that be moving up to get Clowney or moving down if that's not possible. But for the sake of this mock draft, let's say they stay at six, they're most likely going to take an offensive tackle with this pick. Last season the Falcons couldn't protect Matt Ryan nor could they open any holes for Steven Jackson, when he was healthy. This addition would vastly improve the Falcons offensive efficiency and could put them back on track to be a contender again in 2014.

No. 7 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Blake: Anthony Barr (LB – UCLA)
Lovie Smith takes over the Buccaneers, and everyone knows he’s all about the defensive side of the ball. Personally, I think Barr can be the Rookie of the Year. He’s fast, he’s mean and he can cover. He’s the perfect fit for what Lovie Smith will want to do in Tampa. He can play man, zone or blitz. Barr is a great player, who may deserve to go higher than this.

Caleb: Mike Evans (WR – Texas A&M)
Has there ever been a time in the Draft that three players from the same school are chosen in succession? I don't think so. At least not until now! This pick just makes sense, when I watched Evans at A&M he reminded me of current Buccaneers star WR, Vincent Jackson. And with the new signing of Josh McCown at QB the Bucs could really use another big target for Josh, and Evans fills that role perfectly. With his enormous size and great hands I think Evans would be a nice compliment to this offense as we've already seen McCown have great success with two large targets at WR in Chicago.

No. 8 – Minnesota Vikings: 

Blake: Teddy Bridgewater (QB – Louisville)
This is a panic pick for the Vikings. I honestly don’t know what to expect from them at this point. They may be praying for Manziel to fall, they may be praying for Sammy Watkins. Who knows? I do know that if I’m the Vikings, I’m going away from QB this round, but it’s their highest area of need. I’m not as high on Bortles as everyone else is, but heck, I’ve been wrong more than I’ve been right. I’ll stick with Bridgewater…a guy who may be a complete bust.

Caleb: Blake Bortles (QB – UCF)
​Here is where I disagree with my own projection. Remember, this is not what I would do if I were making the pick, but what I think will happen. The Vikings desperately need a QB. Case and point, the signing of Josh Freeman last year. If they can learn from past mistakes in reaching for Christian Ponder in the 2011 Draft and then starting him way too soon, I think they will be alright with choosing Bortles. But if they try to force him into a starting role in his first season I think they will be right back in this same situation two years from now, needing another franchise QB. 

No. 9 – Buffalo Bills:

Blake: Marquise Lee (WR – USC)
Lee reunited with Robert Woods and all the sudden, the Bills have a great wide receivers core. A lot has been invested in EJ Manuel and now it’s time to put some pieces around him. This is just nearly a perfect fit, adding to a young, dangerous Bills team.

Caleb: Eric Ebron (TE – UNC)
​While the Bills would love to have either Watkins or Evans with this pick, they will both likely be gone. Given the depth of the rest of the WR class I think the Bills go with an elite level TE here. Ebron reminds me of a Jimmy Graham type player, he's tall, slender and fast. He's a match up nightmare in the middle of the field and I think he could play a big role in the Bills offense, potentially developing into a safety net for E.J. Manuel. Sure there are needs on the defensive side of the ball for the Bills, particularly at DE, but if Ebron is sitting here at the ninth spot, I like this pick.

No. 10 – Detroit Lions:

Blake: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S – Alabama)
The Lions can go 3-4 different ways here. Safety, Corner, LB, WR. Yes, WRI think the loss of Louis Delmas this offseason created a MAJOR hole in the safety core for the Lions. Enter, Ha Ha. He’s big, he’s fast, he’s rangy and he’s got a chip on his shoulder. I think this is the perfect scenario for the Lions. He’ll be a pro bowler in a few years.

Caleb: Darqueze Dennard (CB – Michigan State)
This is a purely need selection for the Lions. There are certainly players left at this point with better draft grades, ie Clinton-Dix or C.J. Mosley, but the need for a solid corner back in Detroit at this point out would be enough for the Lions to reach a little here. I wouldn't be surprised if the Lions tried to move down as well.

And there you have it, your first 10 picks of the draft. Deal with that Adam Schefter!