Thursday, June 5, 2008

Interview with Kartik Krishnaiyer

As I mentioned several weeks ago, there is an ongoing commitment from me to make English Soccer Talk better and to make the site grow. I've been working on lining up interviews with several pundits both in this country and in the UK, and a rough plan for a podcast that would debut later on this summer is still on the backburner.

You'll see the first of these interviews a little later in this post. This is the first part of a conversation with my good friend Kartik Krishnaiyer, who you all will remember from his college basketball podcast which I appeared on several times last winter.

Kartik is the co-host of The American Soccer Show along with Dave Denholm, and you can listen to their show weekly on CSRN. Kartik also maintains a blog for CSRN, American Soccer Spot ( He is an expert on all things concerning the US National Team, both at the senior and youth levels, and MLS.

On this site, the main focus is obviously English soccer, but as an American, I have a vested interest in the national team and covered the U-20 World Cup in Canada last summer, in which the US played very impressively, winning their group (beating Brazil 2-1 in the process) and reached the quarterfinals before being eliminated by Austria in extra time.

The senior team has been in the news recently and is two games through a three-match series of friendlies against impressive opposition -- England, Spain, and Argentina. They haven't come away on the right end of the stick thus far and haven't played particularly well in the process, with a 2-0 loss in England at Wembley and a 1-0 loss in Santander, Spain, but are gaining a little bit of credibility around the world by going out and playing some of the world's top nations.

With these results in mind, I asked Kartik specifically about the US National Team and what he sees in the squad and the way it's currently configured. He went to Wembley for the US-England game, so there was no better expert to turn to for first-hand insight and analysis. I also asked him briefly for his pick to win Euro 2008, which starts in less than two days. Here's the first part of our conversation:

After watching the recent friendlies in England and Spain, what were your impressions of the US team in those games and the direction in which they're headed?

"The quality of the US National Team has regressed substantially since the early part of this decade. That's hard to believe when you consider the player pool is deeper than ever, our domestic league, MLS is better than ever and that the game is more popular than ever here in the U.S. But since 2006 we've seen the international retirements of Brian McBride, Claudio Reyna, Eddie Pope and John O'Brien. All four of those players were far superior than the players that replaced them and this has not only affected the quality of the US squad but the style the US has traditionally played. This is something that speaks loudly about player development in the US: we are not at the stage we thought we were in that we are not able to simply replace aging and retired players very easily. That is evidenced by the continued prominent role old veterans Frankie Hejduk, Eddie Lewis and Pablo Mastroeni continue to play in the US setup."

Speaking of that game at Wembley, I know you were there in person to watch. What were your impressions of the new stadium and how was your overall experience in London? As an American, were you frowned upon by the native English fans?

"Wembley is an awesome facility. It's large but still has outstanding sight lines. The facility is easily accessible via the tube and bus. I used the bus to reach the stadium, and returned back to my hotel via the Bakerloo line of the overground and then the tube. As an American it was a difficult night. The English fans were in many cases rude but others were curious about the US team and MLS. Some English fans were actually very interested in specific players in MLS like Rohan Ricketts and Terry Cooke."

Bob Bradley -- He's taken a lot of heat for his team's uninspiring performances over these last couple of weeks. Is he the right man to be leading this team into the World Cup (hopefully) in 2010, or should USSF perhaps look towards a foreign manager?

"I was firmly in Bradley's corner until recently: I felt he did a good job in 2007 of deepening the player pool and giving looks to some players who had been overlooked by Bruce Arena. However in 2008, despite some good results (wins over Sweden and Poland) Bradley has fallen into a pattern of picking the same players albeit in different positions and has reduced Landon Donovan, our best player to a wide midfield position where he sees less of the ball than ever before. Donovan is the key player for the US and passing him over for captain and then reducing his role in the attack was a bad idea. Even worse, Bradley has a clear bias much like Arena did towards players he has coached at the club level."

Heading into the start of World Cup qualifiers this summer, what do you think the starting XI and formation should be for the US? Because Bradley can't seem to settle on one specific way to play or group of players to play with.

"I think the US should play a 4-5-1 or a 4-2-3-1. But Bradley prefers a 4-4-2, which is odd considering the US is one of the few countries that really has never used a 4-4-2 with our national team. We've played a 5-3-2, 3-6-1, 3-5-2, and 4-5-1 respectively in our last four World Cups. The US has traditionally used wide flank play with the likes of Cobi Jones, Eddie Lewis, Frankie Hejduk and others to stimulate our attack, which is why a 4-4-2 never worked for us. The current 4-4-2 utilizing two holding midfielders is a disaster.

Here is my ideal US starting XI (4-5-1):

GK: Howard
RB: Cherdundolo (Hejduk)
CB: Onyewu
CB: Orozco (Bocanegra)
LB: Pearce
DMF: Edu (Mastroeni)
RMF: Dempsey
LMF: Lewis (Beasley)
AMF: Donovan
AMF: Adu
ST: Cooper (Altidore)

For qualifying I think it is critical to take advantage of Eddie Lewis' veteran savvy and his ability to get down the flank despite being 34. I like the idea of starting Michael Orozco who was a key member of San Luis run to the Mexican Clausura playoff semifinals and the US Olympic qualifying team because he is now used to playing in front of tough latin styled crowds . I also like the idea of playing Kenny Cooper a tall target forward up top. The players in parentheses are acceptable replacement starters for the player named."

What do you think the differences were between our U-20 team's success in the U-20 World Cup in Canada last summer and the way our U-21's bowed out woefully in the Toulon Tournament in France just a couple weeks ago?

"The squad. Thanks to MLS' insistence on playing right through international breaks as well as the Mexican League playoffs, a weakened squad was sent to Toulon. That having been said the US has a long history of doing well in U-20 and U-17 World Cups only to see the very same players fade at the U-23 and full international levels. One bright spot from Toulon was the play of Sammy Ochoa whose club in Mexico, Tecos missed the playoffs. Expect to see more Mexican-American players like Ochoa and Orozco who are eligible to play for either nation and who play their club football in Mexico involved in the US player pool going forward."

Who is your pick to win the Euros, and why?

"Germany. They have the most balanced and experienced squad. I like Frings and Schweinsteiger in the midfield as well as Mario Gomez one of the emerging stars of German football in the attack."

So there you go. I'll post the second part of our chat sometime early next week. Kartik makes a lot of good points about the US and the relationship between MLS and USSF, which is in charge of the national teams. From other conversations I've had with him in the past, he and I aren't quite on the same page regarding the senior team, especially on the abilities and performances of Oguchi Onyewu, but we're definitely in the same chapter, if you will, and hope for good things to come from them in the future.


Anonymous said...

Interesting take he has on the situation with the national team.

I had completely forgotten John O'Brien, and yes he is right: that was a big loss.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff. Look forward to the second part.