COLUMBUS, OH - JULY 24: Peter Crouch #25 of Stoke City FC signs autographs for fans in the twenty-third row on July 24, 2012 at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
The Most English Team That Ever Englished Comes Faces Sporting KC. One side prepares for the long EPL season while Sporting KC will most likely put forth a reserve laden unit while licking their wounds, both figuratively and literally.
Ahhh, that's what we were looking for; more talented players reenacting 1990's US Soccer. If you are looking for a team to support in England that plays the "beautiful game", this is not it. If you are looking for a team to get results and screw with the big four-five (and for nostalgia's sake Liverpool), you've come to the right place.
They are a team defined by power down the middle of the field and speed on the wings. It suits a team of height like Stoke City to play on the wings and cross to their large strikers or better to get set pieces and try to steal matches. For those of you who doubt my tactical analysis, here's Jonathan Wilson's take:
Jonathan Wilson: Perennial mid-table Premiership teams try - 07.27.10 - SI Vault
Two seasons ago, as a newly promoted club, Stoke City finished 12th in the Premier League. Last season it won two points more and finished 11th, but it would be a stretch to describe that as progress. The Stoke story is a remarkable one, and what manager Tony Pulis has achieved on a net transfer spend of roughly $43 million over two seasons is extraordinary. Already, though, the club is facing the classic difficulty of the overachiever: What next?
Stoke's football is resolutely pragmatic. No neutral would go out of his way to watch highlights from the Britannia Stadium. The arrival of Matthew Etherington and Tuncay Sanli and a decreasing reliance on Rory Delap's long throws suggest a slow move to a more sophisticated form of soccer, but if the message boards and phone-ins are to be believed, even Stoke fans last season were beginning to tire of their side's physicality.
Realistically, though, what is Pulis to do? Compared to the sides above Stoke in the table, he has a modest budget, and with the players available it is hard to imagine how a more expansive approach could be more successful. So he is left to try, slowly, to integrate more creative players without losing the discipline that has kept Stoke safe from relegation for two seasons. It is a hugely difficult balancing act and, barring a sudden injection of cash or the emergence of a crop of gifted teenagers at the club, it is hard to see how Stoke could achieve much more than it has over the past two years. The glum truth is that, given the economics of modern football -- and Portsmouth's decline is a warning to those who may be tempted to overreach -- this is as good as it gets.
Stoke City is that team that shouldn't win, and they don't quite as much as the others do. They've finished 13th (could have finished in eight had cards fallen right) in 2010-11 and 14th in 2011-12, but they've also never been near the relegation battle. By finishing 2nd in the 2011 FA Cup to Manchester City, they even got to taste European competition, getting to the round of 32 in the Europa League.*
*Note: The Europa League is the most convoluted tournament on the planet. There are three qualifying rounds, one playoff round, a group stage, then the 16 advancing teams from the group stage meet the sixteen Champions League losers bracket teams. Eleventy billion teams compete in this tournament which incidentally started last week. (Although, I kid. 202-204 teams have competed in the Europa League, when it's finished.)
Stoke has started strong and faded the past two years. Injuries can be blamed as can the style of play. Whereas their style doesn't really require them to be on the best form early in the year, as other teams coalesce, they seem to be passed by. The best example is Wigan, who finished just two points behind them going the opposite round by ending strong after an abysmal start.
Peter Crouch Is The Only Player You Know; He's Really Tall
This is the awful line any American will be fed. They will tell you about his glory days with the English National Team (Didn't happen) or how he used to star for Liverpool and Tottenham (Kind of, but not really). They will tell you he's really good in the air (duh), and completely ignore that he scores some amazing goals with that clunky frame of his. This will suit you just fine, because really he's Peter Crouch. Don't worry, nobody feels sorry for him living with his image after seeing his girlfriend (now wife) body painted in Sports Illustrated (slightly NSFW) and he's stinking rich.
He does win an amazing amount of headers off goal kicks, which make his keepers look good at passing and him look awful at it. This whole team eats you alive on headers and aerial attacks, but possesses good speed from Jermaine Pennant and Matthew Etherington to beat defenders and supply Crouch.
He may do this which will justify every dollar you paid to see the match.
Watch Robert Huth and the Irish Matt Besler
Stoke brought in two former England National Team center backs to replace Huth, and he has rendered them second rate. While Matthew Upson and Jonathan Woodgate didn't log a full season between them, Huth has been the mainstay of their defense. He also brings a powerful shot to the table, which apparently no one on the Internet likes enough to pirate video of which to demonstrate. You'll have to trust me on this.
Rory Delap is the Irish Matt Besler. Stoke doesn't rely on this nearly as much as they used to or much at all, but Delap used to be one of their main forms of offense and rarely touched the ball otherwise. The link above is a hilariously simple chart showing the disparity between him playing open passing and throwing the ball in.
So let's just say this, there will be eleven guys on the field. 22 legs, 22 arms, most likely all signed to a contract with Sporting KC. In all likelihood, the majority of these players will not be first-teamers and the majority of them will not be regulars in the 18. The problem with putting friendlies is that someone is going to get tired, hurt, or quite possibly break his face. This is not a viable result for a team competing for a title, so let's just pretend for a night that we did put our best foot forward and gave a solid representation of our reserve squad's talent
I really messed up last week, but I also expected us to field a few more starters. With the same lineup expect a 2-0 loss, but if we put a mixture similar to the Columbus Crew's setup, we may put on a show and win one or at least play a boring 0-0 draw in the summer heat. Can't wait for cool air and less sluggish games to come back to Livestrong.