It is a big day if you love the beautiful game today: First, you are seeing the first-ever All Soccer blog entry in the history of Inside Corner. I am sure it will be met with some level of resistance, but I can take it.
But, the 2nd reason for happy soccer time is that today is another chance for our beloved United States of America National Team to get their first ever win in Mexico City (3pm, Telemundo - Channel 39). We seem to have plenty of success on our home soil, but when the US heads south of the border, they have managed just 1 draw in 72 years of matches in Mexico City.
So, I wanted to mark this special day with a soccer chat with my buddy, Bobby Rhine. Chances are if you follow soccer in the area, you are quite familiar with his fine work - which includes well over 200 MLS matches for Dallas and now he is a member of the FC Dallas front office.
We will bounce around various soccer topics, and chances are, we will do this again soon. Enjoy:
Bob: I want to start with US-Mexico. How do you feel about this match given the events of the last several months?
Ramblinrhin: Azteca may be the most difficult place to play any game. I feel as good about this game as I have ever have for an American team playing there. With that said I don't know how likely it is for us to walk away with a point.
Bob: We have 1 draw, 0 wins all-time there. It is stunning how the same 22 guys can get different results based on location. But, the numbers don't lie, do they?
Ramblinrhin: No they don't at all. A former teammate of mine Duilio Davino, played for the Mexican NT and played for Club America. He has said that its the most difficult place to play of anywhere in the world. He has said the earth actually moves while on the field. The US could be in for a tough one.
Ramblinrhin: They must get the first goal to have any chance at all.
Bob: Is there one reason? Or is it merely the combination of all of the elements?
Ramblinrhin: There are many reasons. The first is the altitude 7,200 ft above sea level, and another is the smog.
Bob: 100,000 in green doesn't hurt, either!
Ramblinrhin: Take into account all 105,000 Mexican fans in attendance as well and you've got a pressure cooker. The US team is not flying in until Tuesday night.
Bob: Amazing. How much does the Gold Cup Final matter? We were steamrolled, 5-0, but it surely was not close to our best squad. Does that factor at all?
Ramblinrhin: It matters to the US players that were a part of the game. That is a tough pill to swallow. You had a young, inexperienced international team, and they will be better for it.
Ramblinrhin: I like the way it sets Mexico up to go into the game now a bit overconfident. Which if you are a US fan that is exactly what you want them to be
Bob: for those who aren't totally up to speed, how many players would you guess were on that team versus this version of the national team in Mexico?
Ramblinrhin: The US will have 3 players that played in the Gold Cup final. Ching, Holden, and Marshall.
Ramblinrhin: Mexico may have as many as 5 or 6 players. In Ochoa, Dos Santos, Cela, Torrado to name a few
Bob: Besides pride, how crucial is this match to the two teams? Mexico really needs it to keep the qualifying chances going, right?
Ramblinrhin: This game means more for Mexico at this stage than it does for the US.
Ramblinrhin: However, knowing Bob Bradley mentality he wants nothing more than to go into Azteca and send a string message to the world again.
Bob: I am bothered by the road results for the US so far in Qualifying. Costa Rica and El Salvador were not what we needed.
Ramblinrhin: The performance at CR was awful and the players would admit it. I thouight the surface had a lot to do with it. At ES I thought we did well to get a draw after being 2-0 down. The US showed character in a difficult place to play.
Bob: 5 of the 10 qualifiers are in the bag already, and the US trails Costa Rica. The top 2 are in, and the 3rd team has to go to a playoff with a South American team, right?
Ramblinrhin: The top 3 go in and the 4th team plays a South American NT for the last spot.
Bob: ok. And placing in this group will affect seeding in the World Cup draw, right?
Bob: although in '06, we still got the group of death...
Ramblinrhin: To confirm again the 4th place CONCACAF team will play the 5th place SANT.
Ramblinrhin: Yes, standing in CONCACAF will effect the WC draw next year. We want to get the top seed badly. A WC draw is everything.
Bob: We all know we are better than we were as a National team 20 years ago, but how do we compare with our 2002 team? Are we better than they were?
Ramblinrhin: We are better than our 2002 team b/c we have more depth now than we have ever had before. Look at the recent Gold Cup tournament team. We reached a final with players that only play in MLS. Bob has done a tremendous job of growing our depth. We will have some big names that will not be a part of the US WC team next year.
Bob: Do you think it is time for Landon (Donovan) to give Europe another try? I think the time is perfect for him, and I think he might finally be ready, too.
Ramblinrhin: I fully expect Landon to move in the next transfer window. He is playing as well as he ever has. I know he wants to win with his LA team before leaving. I would expect to see him try another league other than Germany. I'm not sure Bayern was the right fit for him this past offseason. I would expect to see him try England perhaps.
Bob: It seems that might be the next frontier for our guys. Finding the player who is a legit top player in England. A guy who can be called a top 25 player in the premiership. Am I crazy for thinking Landon might still have a chance to be that guy?
Ramblinrhin: The current GM of Arsenal is the former Deputy Commish of MLS. Hmm
Bob: That makes sense.
Ramblinrhin: Not crazy at all to think that about Landon. He is a special player. I believe he is the best field player the US has ever produced. Its time for him to take another challenge.
Bob: What about the Beckham story. where do you fall on this? Are these his last few months in the states?
Ramblinrhin: I would believe this may be it for Becks. He wants to make the England team and he knows that he needs to play at the highest level possible to make the squad. Add all of the travel he would need to fulfill from the US to Europe for those matches as well. It just makes sense. Look for LA to push harder than ever to win right now.
Bob: I must say that although I was impressed when the deal happened, and optimistic about what might develop, I am starting to think the designated player premise to get international names in here is hopelessly flawed and misguided as a plan to grow the league.
Ramblinrhin: There have been recent meetings to change the current format. This year is a massive year for the players. The current CBA is up for negotiation. I don't expect wholesale changes in structure by any means but I would expect for the players to get closer to where they want to be.
Bob: What do you think of the Blanco, Beckham, etc type deals. It is a money grab for them, and it never seems to raise the level of play for any length of time. Isn't the real way to grow it organically with young talent? young talent from the entire western hemisphere, but 35 year olds don't make sense to me...
Ramblinrhin: Yes. I want to see more and more players develop in MLS youth systems and then if they are good enough to sign with and MLS team great or if they have desire to play abroad then the MLS team that developed the player should still have first right to the player. I think the progress of MLS with all of their youth initiatives are entering a whole new ball game.
Bob: Which leads us to Kenny Cooper... His dad seemed to say some things that rang true, too. Why is it easier to pay a washed-up Brazilian than it is to pay a local kid who wants to play here?
Ramblinrhin: I think initially KC Jr did want to stay here, but in the end I believe he wanted to leave for a variety of reasons. I believe he felt that the time to move was now, and he showed his quality in just 17 min. of play on Sunday.
Ramblinrhin: FCD currently has a system in place where there are youth players that will play as professionals whether that is in MLS or another country, but the league needs to make sure they encoourange home grown talent to stay in MLS.
Bob: truly. Is that a good place for him? I obviously want him to play in England, but I certainly don't know my 2nd division in Germany very well.
Ramblinrhin: I think its a very good place for Kenny. I say this b/c in England a lot of folks would want Kenny to be an out and out target man. A target player someone who likes to play with his back to the goal. Brian Ching is the perfect example of a target player. I don't believe Kenny is a true target player. He likes to drift around the field underneath a target player. He has found that at 1860.
Bob: In your opinion, Top 5 American players in the world right now - in order, are?
Ramblinrhin: Tim Howard, Landon Donovan, Gooch Onyewu, Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra
Bob: Wow, Howard #1? Interesting. No Jozy yet, either...
Ramblinrhin: Jozy's stock will continue to rise, but he must show me consistancy. Howard might be a top 3 GK in the world. His own manger at Everton believes so.
Bob: Gooch in Italy. That bid was very surprising to me. The US is progressing, I guess that proves it.
Ramblinrhin: That move was surprising to many. He is a quality defender. Just ask Mexican forwards;) That speaks volumes to the state of US soccer overall. We'll only continue to put players on top teams around the globe. This is just the beginning. You should see the current state of the game even locally here in Dallas. Unreal.
Bob: Let's talk a little FC Dallas. I must tell you, I have been a pretty faithful follower over the last decade, but apathy might be setting in a bit this summer. I need some substance and direction to get my blood flowing again in that direction. Where is this thing going?
Ramblinrhin: We live in one of the hotbeds for all of youth soccer around the US. MLS has had a hand in it for only a yr and a half. Just wait till the first player that was developed by MLS is playing professionally. Its not far off.
Ramblinrhin: I was saying the Crew have not lost in 19 home games. FCD is missing their captain Pablo Ricchetti. If they get a point from this one you will know they have something going. At the end of August you will know the answers to it all.
Bob: Is the foundation in place moving forward? I feel like the coaching-change transition should be done by now, but it sure seems FCD is trying to still figure its roster out on the fly
Ramblinrhin: Schellas has been at FCD for a year now, and I think he needs to continue to get more time. It has been a transition for him as he has tried to get his type of players on the roster. With that said, I expect better and will watch closely down the stretch.
Bob: I hope the direction is found. the stadium is nice, and soccer fandom is growing at a rapid pace in this city. I just wonder if that translates into FCD fans or Manchester United/Chelsea/Liverpool fans - or both, ideally
Ramblinrhin: Soccer has an incredible foothold in Dallas. FCD knows it needs to do a better job of engaging a level of fans, and steps are in place to do so. The best is yet to come.
Bob: Last question: how amazed are you at the growth in media/pop culture of the world game? It isn't odd to see highlights on Sportscenter or on websites anymore of England or Spain or Italy. I cannot believe the explosion, and it has all been sort of underground. 10 years ago, there is nothing close to this.
Ramblinrhin: Underground is exactly right. Fans of the game pay no attention to those in the media that don't want to bother to talk about soccer. I think its interesting to see what kind of adjustments must be made by media outlets to now get people in places that know how to talk about soccer. Its funny soccer to many in the media is the thing that won't go away. Well it isn't at all and in fact it's only beginning. Time to wake up out there
Bob: great job, Bobby. It was fun watching you on the pitch, and I enjoyed our first chat together. Let's do it again.
Ramblinrhin: Anytime Bob. I enjoyed it. It could be a tough year for your Reds.
Bob: Don't worry about Liverpool. We will be fine. Later!