Thursday, July 21, 2016

Guest TigerBlog - Jim Barlow Is Not Talking About Lacrosse

TigerBlog has an open invitation to anyone who has something to say - even if it isn't about lacrosse. Jim Barlow, the head coach of men's soccer at Princeton, has repeatedly taken TB up on this offer.

This time, Jim gives an update on soccer around the world, from Princeton to the international realm. Don't worry. TB will be back with more lacrosse stuff soon enough.

TB readers may not have picked up on this, but I think TB likes lacrosse. A couple of months ago, after what I perceived to be too many blogs about lacrosse, I gave TB a bit of a hard time about the lack of soccer blogs.

He responded to my ribbing with an open invitation to guest blog about soccer, and so, after much procrastinating, here I am, with a long-overdue, rambling update on all things soccer (actually, this will be more all things men's soccer in an attempt to entice Sean Driscoll to also make a guest TB appearance).

It has been a busy summer of soccer, starting with arguably the biggest upset in sports history when Leicester City won the English Premier League. It was incredible to see Leicester defy the odds -- some had them over 5,000:1 -- with a starting 11, according to The Daily Mail, making just 24.4 million pounds (Manchester City's starters, by comparison, earned 308.8 million).

For a team that barely avoided relegation a year ago, was predicted for relegation in 2016 and played in England's third-tier league just seven years ago, this was truly an unprecedented triumph. Leicester was a breath of fresh air, an overachieving team that was so much greater than the sum of its individual players. Organized, competitive, stingy in defense and explosive in attack, they humbled European giants Manchester City, United, Aresenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool. It was great to see.

Next up were the Copa America Centenario (played in the USA) and the European Championships (since I'm not a big Real Madrid fan, I will skip mentioning the Champions League Final).

Chile repeated as Copa America champions, defeating Argentina in penalties in the final for the second year in a row, while Portugal outlasted France in the European Championship in extra time. Both tournaments had some great matches and some terrible ones.

In the Copa America, you can make the case that the two best teams met in the final, in a rematch of their opening round game (which Argentina won 2-1). In the Euros, favorites Germany and Spain fell in the knockout stages (to France and Italy, respectively), leaving a defensive-minded Portugal staving off waves of French attacks in the final, then stealing the victory on a long-range shot by Eder in extra time. In the Euros, so many goals were scored very late in games, or in extra time.

A colleague of mine theorized that by that time in games, goals were created because "the coaching started to wear off." In other words, tactics, especially defensive tactics, dominated much of the competition, with teams remaining hyper-organized defensively and refusing to commit too many numbers to attack. As games wore on and legs started to tire, players reverted back to their instincts, throwing caution to the wind and attacking, resulting in some wild endings.

The darling of the tournament was Iceland, who won over the support of much of the world with its incredible run to the quarterfinals, tying Portugal and beating England on the way. After qualifying ahead of Holland for the Euros, Iceland - with a registered soccer-player total similar to the state of Rhode Island - borrowed a page from Leicester's recent history and proved that on any given day, anything is possible.

As we prepare for the 2016 college season, I hope our players bring the commitment, desire, and fearlessness that we all observed in Leicester and Iceland this summer.

Speaking of college soccer, some Princeton Soccer alumni remain in the world and US Soccer headlines.

On the international front, former Princeton coach Bob Bradley '80 guided French Ligue 2's Le Havre to a fourth place finish in 2016. With three teams earning promotion, Le Havre missed out on the third spot by the narrowest of margins. Le Havre finished tied in points with third place Metz, and on the final day of the season, Le Havre won 5-0 (while Metz lost 1-0), thus making up a six-goal deficit to finish tied in goal difference. The second tie-breaker was goals for, and Metz finished ahead of Le Havre in that category. One more goal on the final day would have earned Le Havre promotion, and the team hit the post three times that afternoon. After a couple of months off, Le Havre is preparing to make another run at promotion in 2016-17.

On the domestic front, Jesse Marsch '96 is in his second season as head coach for the New York Red Bulls, and, after winning the Supporters' Shield with the best record in MLS last season, Jesse currently has the team in third place in the Eastern Conference. Former Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year Cameron Porter '16, was traded last week from the Montreal Impact to Sporting Kansas City. As Cam returns to action after a devastating knee injury, we wish him all the best in his new city.

Two other Ivy League Players of the Year, Antoine Hoppenot '13 and Thomas Sanner '16, have also been busy. Antoine is currently playing for FC Cincinnati in the USL, while Thomas recently began his professional career with the MLS's Vancouver Whitecaps.

Finally, it is an important time for men's college soccer, as numerous proposals will go before the NCAA that could significantly change the college soccer landscape.

In an effort to decrease time demands in the fall on student athletes, space games out in a more reasonable way, increase class/study time, allow athletes to enjoy other aspects of campus life, and create a better NCAA championship, college soccer coaches are proposing an academic-year season model, spreading the soccer season out over the fall and spring rather than cramming everything into the three-month fall semester.

Recently, the NCAA conducted a time-demand survey, and Division I men's soccer had by far the highest percentage of participants with 92% of coaches and 80% of student athletes participating. On the question, "Do you wish to support reducing the amount of competition by 10%," 97% of coaches and 90% of players said NO.

On the question, "Do you support the same number of competitions spread out over a lengthened season," 92% of coaches and 81% of athletes said YES. Finally, when asked whether they are in favor of a two-semester model, 90% of coaches and 70% of players said YES.

In our current system, too many games are crammed into too short a season, resulting in numerous health and well-being issues. Spreading the season out over the fall and the spring would reduce the number of mid-week contests, allow players an additional day off during the week, give coaches the chance to really develop players, and give the students more time during the week, especially in the fall, to pursue other activities on campus.

There are a number of obstacles/hurdles to overcome for this legislation to become a reality, but it will be interesting to see if it gains momentum over the coming months. Stay tuned.

I'm sure TB thinks that is enough soccer talk for one day. Thanks to TB for giving me the soap box for a little while. Enjoy the rest of the summer, and please visit Myslik Field in Roberts Stadium for some matches this fall!

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