Monday, December 27, 2010

End of Year : Vol. 3 - Team of the Year

I want to give a huge thank you to anyone who reads here. I like writing about football, and I make a big effort to write something that is factually accurate and fun to read. I really believe that football is fun because it is a great game, but also because it is so easy to talk to people around the world about it. Sadly in a country like the US, it isn't as easy, so I write here or drone on and on to my co-writer and get some of this stuff out of my head. I try to be a bit original, and different rather than focusing on the same old stuff you can read at ESPN and Sky Sports. With that in mind, I am going to be a bit conventional and I want to give some individual dap to some of the best on the planet and name my team of the year.


Subs:Hart, Van Der Vaart, Iniesta, Dzeko, Donovan, Schweinsteiger, Ibrahimovic

Valdes-I think he's the better keeper than Casillas. Call me crazy, but I think he is so important to the Barca team when they struggle to score, he always keeps them in it.
Lahm-German captain, and one of the great right backs in the game. Funny that he used to prefer to play left back. None the less, I think he is a great leader and a great defender.
Pique and Puyol-This is a pairing to end all pairings. When you watch Barca play, it is amazing the understanding they have and to see the shape of the defense when Abidal or Alves go tearing down their side is fantastic. Great defenders, and Pique can score with his feet. And I haven't even mentioned how important they are to the Spanish national team.
Baines-Yes. I mean Leighton Baines. He has been in great form this season, and he is one of the few proper left backs who can defend and come forward. He should have been in South Africa. Perhaps even instead of Ashley Cole.
Messi-Best player on the planet. He will also be one of the all time greats when he finishes his career in about a decade or decade in a half.
Xavi-I'd be stupid to forget this man and you could argue that Iniesta could be here instead, but I think Xavi is the focal point of the offense for club and country and he is the best at what he does.
Sneijder-Scary coming forward and a great presence in any midfield. Made sucha difference to the treble winning side Inter, and to his national team, willing them to the final.
Bale-Breakout player of the year. He is the reason I became a Spurs fan several year ago. Now that he is the player he has become, I am so proud to have seen him then. He is fast, tricky, and is the reason Tottenham has gone where they have.
Villa-He was the force that kept Valencia as high in La Liga as they were. He has been a big part in the national team since Euro 2008. He has been fantastic With Barca.
Gyan-The feel good player of the year. He was they key to Ghana going as far as they did without Essien. Now he is tearing up the premier League and gets the credit he deserves.
Mourinho-It's the Special one. And he keeps building that reputation every year.
Hart-Should have been the England number 1 in June. Deservedly, he is now. Was amazing at Birmingham City, and is doing the same for Manchester City now.
Van Der Vaart-Has been great for the national team, but now gets to show his ability at Club level. He has helped to will Spurs to victories and will be a big part as they go forward.
Iniesta-How can I say anything about this guy that hasn't been said. Crucial for club and country and scored the winning goal in the World Cup final.
Dzeko-Amazing player who is getting the respect he deserves. Hopefully he will get the chance to do it at the top level since Wolfsburg is falling off a bit.
Donovan-Spiritual leader of the US team. Deserves so much more, but he has been trapped by MLS.
Schweinsteiger-2nd best passer of the ball only to Xavi. He is one of my favorite players on the planet. His loyalty is amazing.
Ibrahimovic-He has brought AC Milan back to life. That is an amazing feat. Coming back to the national team has also been good for him and the team. He may be a bit of a nutter, but he's a spellbinding player.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

End of Year : Vol. 2 - The EPL and CL

if you've been reading here for a while, you'll know I love to give my opinion, and I make predictions with little worry about how often I'll be wrong. My collaborator here can attest to this. Here's a look back at my views on the EPL and CL.

The Barclay's Premier League
here's what I said before...
20.West Brom

Top 6:
1.Man United
4.Man City

As for the relegation battle, I was really wrong. I still think Wolves will survive and Blackburn will probably go down, but I didn't think West Ham and Wigan would be quite as bad, not to mention Fulham. I think in the end, it'll be
20.West Ham

As for the top 6, I think I am still pretty well on... But admittedly, shortly after the season started, I began telling my co-conspirator that Liverpool wouldn't finish the season in the top 10. As things go on, I think I was definitely on to something there. I still don't think they will be in the top 10 at the end of the season. I actually will keep my top 5 in tact. United still haven't lost, and the Chelsea slide won't last forever. It will take major loses to see Manchester United slide out of first at the end. I think Man City's loss on Monday does make me wonder whether they won't miss out for a second straight year, but at this point, I think I'll stick to my top five.

Champions League
So, looking over my predictions, I got 12 of 16 teams correct. Sadly, only 7 in the correct place in their group. I was reasonably confident Spurs would make it but I never really believed we would win the group. I was right that Arsenal would scrape through, but who thought it would be in second? I knew Bayern and Roma would get through as well as Chelsea and Marseille and United were always going to win their group. I will say this, I am proud to have gotten 12 of 16 right. That's better than I usually do. I took punts on Partizan, Ajax, Bursaspor and Rubin and was wrong. But now we look forward to the knockout stages. Here's how I think it will go...

Roma v Shakhtar Donetsk
Tough one to call in my opinion. This will come down to how Roma handle themselves in Donetsk. I think Shakhtar will pull through this one narrowly.
AC Milan v Tottenham
Tough one for me to call. All my thoughts say that Spurs go through. We have pace, youth, creativity and a will to prove everyone wrong. Milan has experience, and are top of Serie A. I think Spurs move on to the next round though.
Valencia v Schalke
This is going to be a fun tie to watch in my opinion. Schalke has been turning it on in the CL and struggling in the Bundesliga. Valencia are a very good team and I think they will go on as they should have a few players back from injury.
Inter Milan v Bayern Munich
This is the easiest to call. Bayern will get their revenge for May. Inter are awful and just sacked Benitez, and I don't see them turning it around.
Lyon v Real Madrid
This should be a Madrid romp, but Lyon did get the better of them last year. Lyon are a very good team and can handle themselves in defense. I think this will be the most interesting and I think Madrid will finally break the 6 year streak of going out in the first round of the knockouts.
Arsenal v Barcelona
Barca... This will be the most fun to watch as Barca are the best team on the planet right now. Arsenal will not have a chance.
Marseille v Manchester United
I think this will be the upset fixture. I think Marseille will beat United. It will be cagey, but I think Marseille were the worst match up for United as they are good defensively and very good attacking.
Copenhagen v Chelsea
Is this even a possibility? No, Chelsea will make their way to the next round.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

End of Year : Vol. 1 - FIFA

I'm back. This will begin a series of end of year posts.

Today, I want to talk about FIFA. FIFA has been one of the big stories in the ending this year. I think it has become even more clear that FIFA is one of the most corrupt organizations on the planet. The English media made light of the scandalous actions of many of the FIFA executive committee members over the past two decades.

First, I want to discuss the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World cups to Russia and Qatar respectively. At first, I thought Russia was an awful choice. I wanted England because I knew that I would probably be able to go, and hopefully I'd already be living there and since I missed my chance when the Cup was held in the US in 1994 I really want the chance to go again. After some thought, I think Russia is a brilliant choice. I think the Russian FA will need to work diligently to fight racism and the government will have to work to make it a more hospitable locale for visiting fans, but it certainly can work. But with that said, I think the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar is absolutely ridiculous.

The 2022 bid was one that many people, including myself, was a lock to be either the US or Australia. I think there are so many problems with the bid and the actual possibility of running this event there. As for the bid, it seems that it was bought. I can't prove that, but there seemed to be a lot of funny business happening. The most damning point about the bid was that Qatar was the only country to get a negative technical bid. Even with 12 years to work on it, it is crazy to think that everything wrong in the technical bid could be addressed.

As for the post bid silliness, they want to hold the cup in January. Where was that in the bid book? I understand why, but we should have been made aware of that beforehand. I thought they were going to have air conditioned stadiums. Realistically, I could write all day about what is wrong with the Cup being awarded to Qatar now. Maybe in a few years time, I would change my tune, but now, no. Let me just quickly run through my issues with this(or at least the problems I can think of now). Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar. Not a problem for me, but this is a tournament which is supposed to be inclusive. Israel would have to be given special permission to get into the country if they qualify. And believe me. I hope like hell that they do. Alcohol is not allowed in Qatar, and they are going to have to make special amendments to the law to allow it during the World Cup. Women are still second class citizens in the Muslim world. Enough said there. The temperature is 50 degrees centigrade in the summer. This is dangerous not only to the players, but to fans traveling between games to and from their hotels and now they want to move a summer tournament to the winter. Doesn't tradition mean anything? The Cup would be held essentially in one city. Now they want to allow other countries to host some games. Where was that in the bid book? And how can we be sure that neighboring countries would be accepting of the changes that need to be made to run this in their country? The whole modular stadiums thing. It just screams safety hazard to me. I mean, I love and own Ikea furniture, but it is not the most sturdy stuff ever. I would hate to see 60,000 people piled on the contents of an Ikea. Doha has only like one stadium. It just seems silly. There's more, but I'm tired of complaining about this already.

Jack Warner. Seriously, he is one of the most corrupt and abhorrent human beings on the face of the planet. He is a liar, a cheat, and simply a bad person. He was caught selling world cup tickets. I mean, how ridiculous is that? My big worry is that he could get the FIFA presidency if Blatter is ousted. With the people who are in Warner's pockets, as well as those who don't dare oppose him now, imagine him with more power. He could ruin the game with his sin bins or something.

Blatter. I know you want to work on your legacy, but at least be honest about it then. You essentially let several countries(US, England, Spain, Korea, Japan, etc.) was millions of dollars preparing their bids which they had absolutely no chance of winning. You should be ashamed. With the economy in the state it is in everywhere, especially in Spain right now, this was just wrong to give false hope and waste finances. Hopefully we will see the back of you in six months.

Finally, I honestly believe we will see the back of Blatter soon in one way or another. I think that if Blatter remains in May, you will likely see a breakup of FIFA. This is going to be not only through the media and the Football associations, but through governmental action. The blase nature of FIFA which basically believes it is above the law will not stand much longer. FIFA has stepped in to block governments and hold back the game in parts of the world where the government should be at the forefront. This will not last much longer. I'll put my money on that.

More to come over the next couple of days. And with some luck, we'll see the first musings of our newest writer if I can coax him up to the keyboard.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

World Cup Fail

Set Honesty Aside When Dealing with FIFA

Anyone who pays any attention to the wheelings and dealings of FIFA is well aware that it is a cesspool of politics, corruption, and petty would-be dictators. Sure, CONCACAF is worse and even the USSF has had plenty of low moments, but FIFA is ridiculous. Only Sepp Blatter, Jack Warner, and the rest know just how much money they've managed to slide into their bank accounts throughout the bidding process. That said, I'm not certain that FIFA made the wrong choices when selecting the World Cup bids. The U.S. had a good bid, a safe bid that was guaranteed to make FIFA plenty of money with plenty of ready-to-go good venues, a relatively fan-friendly atmosphere, and good logistics. But there was simply no "wow"-factor. Perhaps bringing the World Cup to the U.S. would have helped solidify and accelerate the growth of soccer as a professional sport in one of the, if not the, most important markets in the world. But that is not FIFA's job - that is the USSF's job and MLS' job. Moreover, they are doing a fairly good job of it. MLS is expanding into new markets, DC United is about the closest to a team being "on the rocks" and that is not for lack of fans; ratings for the World Cup were quite good and traveling European teams continue to draw large crowds.

Let's Talk about Russia, That's Less Painful

The English bid, it could be said, was comparable to the U.S. bid. Safe and steady and an eventuality, really. That may piss off Jack Warner, but England is pretty much all set to hold a World Cup. The stadiums are there, the fans are there, and the logistics have been tested regularly by virtue of the EPL and their four slots into the Champions' League. The World Cup will come to England. However, that's partially the problem. There's nothing new or exciting. Many of the traveling fans will have already been to England. The World Cup isn't going to spur much new growth, it will create no new stunning stadiums and new signs of development.
Russia is regaining its strength, influence, and its wealth. Yes, it is ridiculously corrupt. Yes, it has invaded one of its neighbors recently. Yes, the press is under-pressure (unlike, say, England). But the World Cup will be bigger for Russia than it will be for England. The English love football, but for Russia and the Russians this will fit into the narrative of their re-emergence from the dark times of the 1980s and 90s. Russia will spend more money wastefully to make the World Cup a bigger event than England could - not by virtue of wealth but by virtue of an autocratic government combined with a populace that currently wants to show the world that they are back and need to be considered again.
Similarly, I will not complain in the slightest if China is awarded the World Cup in 2026. China, for all its problems, is an amazing country that is amassing wealth and influence. It will put on a hell of a show for the World Cup, FIFA and the rest of us know it (did you see the opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics?).

Iran Will Not Attack the 2022 World Cup Final, Even If It Is the U.S. v. Israel

First of all, stop with the racist and Islamophobic garbage. Right. Now. It's goddamn embarrassing. Will Qatar have to be on alert for crazies? Sure. But keep in mind that Qatar's security forces have less compunction about repressing their own populace than a Western democracy and they will be less fettered by civil liberties when it comes their investigations and detentions. Qatar houses plenty of U.S. military personnel and there aren't car bombs going off every day in Doha.

Arrive by Water Taxi!

There are plenty of questions about the Qatar bid, but they have 12 years to plan and virtually unlimited money to throw at the issue. Because that is what Qatar has promised for the World Cup - an over-funded spectacle. Have you seen the stadiums? Yes, a stadium whose outer-skin appears to be made of plasma televisions is tremendously wasteful - but damn, if it won't create a memorable image. Qatar, like many of it's neighbors, is trying to build itself up as a tourist destination. The accommodations will be top notch. If anything, that should be the greatest fear. A friend in Doha tells me that she either stays in for the night or spends a tremendous amount of money because there are no available cheap options for non-natives and prices will be even higher around the World Cup. Nevertheless, outdoor, but cooled, drinking areas may sound weird and forced, but it also sounds like it could be a fairly impressive feat of engineering, much like the stadiums. FIFA will get to show off amazing visuals, beginning but not ending with the new architecture. It is a new an exciting locale for traveling fans in a country that will do everything that it can to show off for the visitors. Some fans may show some trepidation when it comes to traveling to the Middle East, but the same was said about Africa.

If You're Expecting Failure, Expect Disappointment

Both Russia and Qatar will have amazing World Cups. The countries may not have the most profitable World Cup. Those countries might be better served to spend their money elsewhere, but that is not FIFA's concern. My largest complaint is that FIFA has granted the World Cup to Qatar, one of the countries that refused to play against Israel and forced FIFA to move Israel into UEFA. FIFA slaps down any country whose government interferes with their domestic federation (supposedly), but has missed the opportunity to law down the law that any member nation must at least tacitly accept any other nation that FIFA has accepted into its membership. That annoys me. Sure, now that they have the World Cup, Qatar has said that it will accept the Israeli team, should they qualify, but FIFA had the opportunity to push Qatar for something more permanent. Israel-Palestine is not FIFA's responsibility, but they like to throw their weight around, bully governments, and to enforce their laws, but have chosen not to do so this time.
The U.S. put in a decent bid that may have been successful against Japan or Korea and maybe even Australia, but Qatar was always going to be a tough bid to beat. England probably had a better chance against its UEFA rivals, but could promise nothing other than success and profit and, from the other bids, FIFA can do better. If FIFA ever runs into financial difficulty, it will knocking down the door of the U.S. and England, but until that happens, the Anglos need to find a new way to pitch their countries that make them more appealing. Yes, FIFA is corrupt and the most corrupt countries won their bids, but it is not as outlandish as it sounds.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

MLS Cup 2010

All Four Dallas Fans Must Be Delighted

None of the marquee teams made the MLS Cup final and one of the teams will be sewing on their first MLS Cup star. It's incredibly hard to argue that FC Dallas do not deserve to be there. Well, not that hard. The on-going debate about MLS Cup vs. the Supporters' Shield rages on and thanks to their incredible start, L.A. has not gone home empty-handed. Nevertheless, the Gals collapsed late in the season and seemed incapable of bring their A-game against any opponent other than Seattle. FC Dallas had one hell of a run and has refused to lose games all season. Atiba Harris can go ***** ***** ***** his ***** *** **********ing ******* with a blue ****** *****; I'll still support them as I have to feel they deserve it more.

Speaking of Collapses

Colorado is there too, after squeaking into the playoffs and winning the East. Wow, wasn't the East terrible this year? Columbus collapsed and couldn't hang on to the top spot in the East. The RedBull New York Red Bulls of Harrison, New Jersey had a magnificent turn-around from being the worst team in the league last year (hopefully, DC can repeat the feat next year). Much has been made of RBNYRBHNJ purchase of three designated players. That said, their first, Angel, and a number of non-designated players like Ream and Lindpere were the ones who dragged them to the top. Rafa Marquez (I didn't think I could hate the Pink Cows anymore, but they've pulled it off. What a franchise!) has been fine, as has Henry, but New Jersey wasn't leaning heavily upon them. However, the MetroScum were inconsistent and I would not have predicted them to make it too far in a playoff format.


For my prediction, I'm going to say FC Dallas 2-1. I also think it will be a good game. Both teams have reliable offenses and good strike partnerships - neither really plays on the counter. I expect attacking soccer from them both. Although the game is being played in the frozen tundra of Toronto and the game could slow down if the players become frozen to the turf. The cold may play to Colorado's advantage, but I don't expect it to be too large a factor. So there it is: my prediction. Let's see how much crow I have to eat tomorrow.

"Sporting Kansas City?" Yeah, it's a stupid name. Yeah, it's another name that harkens back to the Old Country (and to Portugal? How obscure - maybe they're trying to appeal to indie kids.) instead of trying to manufacture a new club. But it's better than "the Kansas City Wizards" and certainly better than "the Wiz." I know I follow at team called "United," but I agree with those who argue attempting to link MLS clubs to European giants, if only in name, sells those clubs short. I freely admit that I don't have any great names to recommend, but I would like to see a club take the suffix "S.C." rather than "F.C." if only to be true to our culture and to begin to craft our own identity as a league. But before you go too critical on MLS team for the derivative names, let's not forget that "serious" soccer countries in South America are riddled with teams named the likes of "Everton."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I hate hearing the same old crap....

I just finished watching the Spurs v. Sunderland game, and as a Spurs fan, there are several things I am sick of hearing from the commentators.

Bale was Shutdown
Just because we don't score off of a Bale cross doesn't mean he was shutdown. Tonight, Bale was decent, but I'd argue that he wasn't taking people on because in the Prem, all he does is get kicked when he does that. Nedem Onuoha did not shut him down. He got some good crosses in, but since we gave up early on playing in the center of the park, he didn't have the space to run past them and Sunderland packed the box as soon as he got the ball, so we didn't score that way.

Bentley was from Arsenal
Bentley was at Arsenal at academy level. But he is a Spurs fan, his family are Spurs fans.... We don't care about his weak tie to Arsenal. The reason fans get on his back is because they don't like him because they don't think he's good enough. I am a rare exception, but that's why... not cuz he was a gooner.

Always bringing up Juande Ramos
Please, shut up about Ramos. We're over him, it was two years ago and we're in the Champions League. Don't have anything to say about him.

The only way we get back into the CL is by winning it
We are still right around fourth. Arsenal and City are struggling. Chelsea and United aren't looking great either. We still are in it in the race for fourth again.

Now, this is gonna come off as a bit mad, but why can't we win the Champions League? I don't honestly believe we will, but it's not impossible that we could win it. We beat the European Champions. We can beat Arsenal, Chelsea and City. We are a good team and can beat anyone on our day.

I know we have been a bit disappointing, but we've been Spurs. Consistently inconsistent. Beat a big team, lose to a small one. I honestly hope we can get on a run, but we're not out of either the race for fourth or the Champions League. Stop hating.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Quick Thought

Several months ago, I asked the rhetorical question who DC United's DP, Branko Boskovic, was. The question remains, but it's a bit more existential now. The day that I wrote this, Boskovic captained Montenegro to a nil-nil draw with England at Wembley in their Euro 2012 qualifier. By all accounts, Boskovic has been a valuable contributor to the relatively remarkable start that Montenegro has had to Euro qualifying. DC United supporters remain unconvinced. Any post on a United message board that mentions Boskovic is certain to start a debate: Is Boskovic an average level central midfielder, no more capable of adding to DC's attack than any other United attacker? Or is he a clever passer of the ball with good vision and quick feet who simply doesn't have any talent in front of him with whom to combine?

Boskovic is inexpensive as far as MLS Designated Players go. He may have neither the name nor the talent of the marquee DPs like Henry, Beckham, or Marquez, but he isn't paid as they are either. Nevertheless, he does make nearly double of the next player on the team, but he hasn't led DC to glory.
If his primary talents do lie in passing, then it can be expected that it will take time for him to adjust to the team as his teammates learn to read his passes and he learns to read their movements. Moreover, the attackers in front of him have struggled all year and, to a man, lack speed to really exploit through-balls into space.
Boskovic, for his part, however, has failed to adapt. He has still failed to adapt to the physicality of the league. He is, no doubt, being hacked. But that is an element of the game in MLS. Moreover, the same charge that I leveled against Gallardo, I level against Boskovic - he cannot play the game as he wants it to play in his head. The Austrian Bundesliga may have superior players to Major League Soccer; maybe they are tactically more aware. Boskovic is no longer playing in the Austrian Bundesliga, he's not even playing with a top MLS side. It could be simply that he is an above par player who doesn't have the right skill set for MLS. However, more often he passes to players who are well covered and that's when he doesn't pass it directly to the opposition. I would be less critical if he were getting the ball to his teammates who subsequently lost it. Often he looks par for the United course: he spends too much time of the ball, dribbles into the traffic, and then gives the ball away.

What about next year? A lot of fans seem to think the Boskovic is not worth the money that he is being paid, but it is unlikely that he will stay at a decreased salary. I am tempted to give him the benefit of the doubt; he was tossed into a horrible situation, it took him some time to get match fit, and given all the injuries, he has had no consistency in the starting eleven due to injuries, and frankly, DC does not have the type of talent necessary to be competitive in the league this year. So, I want to see what Boskovic looks like with a rebuilt team and with an offense that was actually designed to incorporate him. Frankly, I still don't know who he is because this year looks too much like an outlier.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Re: Who Needs This Kind of Trouble

Lacking creativity, I thought I would throw in my opinions on the Liverpool debacle.
I believe the claims of xenophobia and terrorism are somewhat over-stated, but not totally out-of-line. But it should be noted that Liverpool are facing the 9 point deduction of a club entering administration, should the sale not go through by, I believe, Wednesday. That's a big deal. Liverpool FC should not be in such a position - it is one of the most well-known clubs in the world and it's eminence is for it's successes, not failures.
Gilette and Hicks, I would argue, have financially run the club into the ground. It was not with malice, neglect, or casual impertinence. Rather, they, and the Glazers, attempted to use accounting and financial techniques often referred to as the Anglo-Saxon model. While such leveraging was not uncommon in England in general, it was not in English sport. The Americans came in intending to make a profit whereas Abramovich and the various Asian billionaires expected to lose money on the venture. As we all know now, the risks of the model were massively under-estimated and relied upon a relatively loose monetary supply and large amounts of credit. That dried up and has spelled disaster for Liverpool and may yet do the same to Manchester United. The same argument can be made for the now infamous "spades in the ground" comment about Liverpool's new stadium. Who can say whether their statement was intended to deceive, but once the financial crisis hit, they (and many others) were simply unable to fund such an undertaking.
However, even before all of this happened there was resistance to Hicks and Gilette and the Glazers. "Xenophobia" may be too broad. There are a variety of foreign owners and they face varying levels of derision. The Americans, however, were a particular insult. That soccer is not our national sport is known far-and-wide in Europe, which led the supporters to doubt their new owners dedication to the club. Their suspicions were further inflamed when the Americans made it clear that they were interested in the profits they believed they could reap. In this case, the American Liberalism (profit is always better than not) came into conflict with the European liberalism (a wariness of companies, businessmen, and the profit-motive). The initial resistance was sheer anti-Americanism. It's ugly, to be sure, but Russians, South-East Asians, and Middle Easterners have all faced anti-Orientalism when they assumed ownership. The Americans, however, made their case poorly and made their situations worse. Hicks and Gilette said that they were unlikely to move money from their American sports teams to their Premiership club, in fact, it was more likely that the opposite would happen. Handling of supporters has been abysmal, replete with gaffes and unvetted comments. When the financial crisis exacerbated the situation and the supporters had legitimate complaints, the Americans were doomed.
But the Kop would be wrong to pin Liverpool's failures on the field on Hicks and Gilette. Rafa Benitez complained that he wasn't supportered financially in the transfer market, but in a time of frenzied buying, Liverpool had a roster that should have made it more than competitive. The fans united behind Benitez because he opposed Hicks and Gilette, but that was deal with the devil, or at least the manager who was, in my opinion, killing the team's performance on the pitch. I have no problem with Hicks and Gilette being ousted - they gambled, they lost. They don't deserve to make a profit on the club because the club really is in financial ruin and it's hard to see how that is anyone's fault but their own. However, that more Americans are lined up to purchase the club is worrying. Liverpool will not have the Aschenputtel effect that Chelsea and the Citizens had to engender support for the new owners. Liverpudlians have unrealistic expectations and will DEMAND their their club routinely contend for the Premier League title and will DEMAND that the club perform on the highest level of European soccer. But there is too much wealth and too many contenders now. As if Tottenham weren't a threat before, the new association with AEG and it's ridiculous levels of capital may move Tottenham to a more permanent place near the top of the table, where it is likely to remain crowded for the foreseeable future. The clock will not roll back and Liverpool's pre-eminence will be harder to maintain than ever.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Who needs this kind of trouble?

Well, I'm back after being AWOL for like two and a half weeks. But here I am to give a quick thought on the biggest news story of the season so far that actually involves football(Sorry Wayne, your off the field antics don't bother me). The insane battle amongst the Liverpool board(including the owners) and the Spirit of Shankly and Hicks and Gillete are coming to an end. Or so it seemed early yesterday. New England Sports Ventures have come in with a bid to take the club from Hicks and Gilette. As of last night/this morning, Hicks is fighting to keep control of the Merseyside club.

I have two questions. First, why would Hick want to keep this club, even in the short term, when the Xenophobic fans are fighting to get rid of him? Second, why would another American want anything to do with a club that is in free fall with fans who have been chanting "Yanks out?" I am sure that most fans could care less about where the owners are from as long as they don't destroy the club, but to be so small minded as to chant xenophobically, is a problem in my mind. There is shared blame in this situation. I think Hicks and Gilette were not prepared for the task at hand with Liverpool, and I believe the fans have carried themselves in an improper fashion as it goes with Burning American flags and making more of a deal about where the owners are from.

I am in a small minority, but I see the Spirit of Shankly as a terrorist organization who has been attempting to intimidate the owners and their business partners into submission. Their internet campaigns against Hicks and Gilette amount to harrassment and their threats against Royal Bank of Scottland are unacceptable. I think everyone needs to step back and look at the overall situation. Hicks needs to find a way out which lets him leave without a ajor loss, but he should lose something from this since he handled this poorly from the start. Spirit of Shankly should make sure to apologize to the club and fans for their inappropriate behavior and look to carry themselves more positively and help the club. Perhaps even launch their own bid to run the club themselves as they see fit. I am a passionate fan, but I think their passion borders on fanaticism of a very negative nature. I don't like Liverpool, but I wish all involved good luck in moving this situation along because no supporter should be this unhappy with their club.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Letter to Brendan: It's Good to Be Donkey-Punched

I'm Probably a Cutter

I said that I probably wouldn't write about DC United again, but last night's loss to LA was a kick to the genitals. The loss to the Crew in the U.S. Open Cup was a kick to the genitals. When they lost again to the Crew a couple days later, it was a kick to the ol' rod-and-tackle. It's good to feel again.
Actually, I'm completely serious. Last night, Brendan sent me a text saying that he was "foolish" enough to believe that DC might actually pull off a win when leading 1-0 in the 80th minute. I respond that I was similarly foolish and we have been watching our team concede goals late all season. Actually, Brendan, that was the emotion talking. You were right to believe. Six weeks ago, you never would have fallen for it because there was no reason to believe it. This time, the team gave us a reason.

Why Brendan Was Right to Believe

What happened last night? Losing last night's game can be chalked up to bad chemistry between Jakovic and Simms. Simms is playing through an injury and has spent large chunks of the season on the bench - that his chemistry might be off is disappointing, but understandable.
Graye then proceeded to completely lose Landon Donovan, who made an excellent run and executed a perfect header that left Perkins with no chance. Wow, a rookie-defender lost the best player in the league who made us pay for it? Shocking.
But the game should have been out of reach for LA, Boskovic and Hernandez both squandered chances. That happens, it's not something to be proud of, but plenty of teams fail to maximize chances (see: Arsenal - Sunderland).

Go back seven weeks or longer. You can't point to "what went wrong" because the team played so poorly, it seemed more a result of inevitability than individual errors.

A lot went right last night. You didn't see the first half, did you? 0-0, but DC United absolutely out-classed LA. That's not to say that LA didn't have chances, but United's attack picked it's way through the LA defense with a lot of creative short passing triangles, good ball-skills, believe it or not, retention of possession, speed (from the wings), and a lot of imagination. Brendan, I'm telling you, there were parts that were positively sexy. LA's chances came from long balls over the top, hoping that Buddle would leave James or Jakovic in the dust, which he could not do. For 75 minutes of that game, DC were the better side and not by a small margin.

That's How We Should Be Losing

This was supposed to be a rebuilding year and we have waited 2/3rds of the season to see signs of life. We have the youngest squad in the league, as we should. Graye isn't in the running for rookie of the year, neither were King or Zayner in their rookie years. However, all of them look like they will be very solid MLS players. Najar is a phenomenon. Jakovic is already, last night's single play not withstanding, one of the best central defenders in the league. Julius James has found his legs, he marked Buddle out of the match last night and has taken good players out of the game all season. Hernandez is improving by leaps and bounds as he adjusts to the league. He needs to work on his strength and balance, but his skill is starting to shine through, he carved out a lot of space last night and he is starting to beat defenders. Tino's entire game has improved, save his shooting. Did you see him dribble through two defenders last night? I expected him to put his head down and try to beat the last one and shoot over the bar. Instead, he looked up and laid the ball off to Hernandez. Boskovic is improving, but the jury is still out on whether he's worth the DP money.
Regardless, that is a pretty good base on which to build and that leaves Pontius and Wallace who are out injured. Even Burch looked pretty good in his couple of games this season. I'm not saying that we're going to run the table next year, but playoffs? Very possible. The year after, if the young guys continue their development, DC will have a very good team. There are still spots that need to be filled, chiefly goal scorer. Still, it's a very good foundation that are finally starting to mesh.

If we had played like this all season, we'd probably have a couple more wins and a lot more ties.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Out of My League

An Outsider's View

Spurs are not my territory, but I try to catch all their games that I can so that I can understand the things that BS is saying to me. I won't pretend to his expertise, but I thought an outsider's view might be interesting. Spurs are a great team to watch too, albeit a frustrating one as well. Spurs play attractive football and create a lot of chances, but they have been lacking any sort of efficiency in front of goal. Here are my early season thoughts.

Gareth Bale. Is. Terrifying.

I may have a man-crush on Gareth Bale. I have yet to see a back who can take Gareth Bale out of the match. The top national sides in the world can thank their gods that Bale was born a bit too far to the west, because Bale added to the English side might actually make England live up to the expectations that their fans set for them. Bale's pace on its own is absolutely excellent, but his acceleration absolutely leaves defenders behind. He also must have joints of steel because the pace at which he cuts is ridiculous. His crosses have amazing accuracy given the pace at which they come in and the pace at which Bale is usually moving. And that jaw-line!
Wait, no, what? The point I was actually making is that I think Tottenham may have the best midfield in the league - the only contenders are Chelsea, I feel, and Chelsea's midfield are just lethal in front of goal - they lack the dynamism and variety of play that Tottenham's midfield bring. The addition of van der Vaart has only added to Tottenham's midfield strength.

The Best and the Worst

Raphael van der Vaart may have been the best pick up in the off-season in the entire league. Certainly, I don't think he's playing at full speed yet, but he's playing in central midfield and that is going to take more adjustment time than, say, a striker. Van der Vaart has shown a few of the moments of skill that are expected from a big signing, but the real difference is that van der Vaart looks like he has come to play and to play for Tottenham. He tracks down the ball when he loses it, he fights for any errant passes that come in from his teammates and he has given opposing d-mids and central defenders fits. As he meshes with Spurs, I expect that he will truly start to look like one of the best Spurs players.
Gallas, on the other hand, has been a disaster. I don't share BS's animosity to Arsenal, though I'm not a fan. Gallas, however, may be too old to play with Spurs and their outside backs' tendency to move forward. Gallas has shown all the trademarks of a center back who can no longer hack it. He has been beaten and missed tackles that have resulted in goals, but the real signs are his constant shirt-tugging and rash challenges. These are symptoms of Gallas' fading pace and ability. Unlike John Terry, Gallas does not get the benefit of the doubt from referees. Moreover, Terry may be a horrendous fouler and "cheat," but he does so effectively - Gallas still fails to win the ball when he fouls a striker.


Which bring me to Spurs needs. The first has not changed. Tottenham need a world-class striker; their profligacy in front of goal screams for one. Defoe is streaky and it remains to be seen how he recovers from his injury. Keane and Crouch, unfortunately, are too unselfish. R.Pav's has the right nose for goal and propensity to shoot, but his particular skill set and preferences do not maximize the balls coming in from the wings (he did score as I wrote that though). I think that if Tottenham can start to score and carry a lead, they will start to truly dominate because the tendency of Bale, Lennon, and van der Vaart to leave defenders in their wake will be magnified when their opponents are over-committed and chasing the game.
Unfortunately, I think Ledley King's limitations are really hurting Spurs defense. King, when he plays, is truly a world-class defender. Unfortunately, I think he needs to spend more time on the bench. Assou-Ekotto, Hutton, Kaboul, and Bale (when he is used as an outside back) love to get forward and this adds to the pressure on the center backs. Spurs always need to have top quality in their central defense and, even before Dawson's injury, Gallas no longer has that quality. It will be difficult for Redknapp to recruit an excellent center back without being able to promise significant playing time; few young players are going to want to play second fiddle to Ledley King. Fortunately, Spurs will have plenty of matches this year and should be able to find a way to split playing time and truly I think they need additional depth at central defense.
I also wouldn't mind seeing Tottenham pick up an enforcer d-mid. I've never been the biggest fan of Huddlestone, but he does have a good shot from distance and is a good outlet and passer of the ball. However, when Tottenham do have the lead, their midfield is designed to go forward and they may not be able to kill off a game in the way a strong side should. An enforcer doesn't really fit Tottenham's style, but one may be a vital addition if they are to take advantage of leads.

The Team to Watch

Spurs are the EPL team to watch - unfortunately for BS. Their football is a lot of fun to watch, but their stuttering start also adds drama. They are never played out of a game, but they have struggled to play lesser sides away. Spurs have everything one could want from a football side and, fortunately for BS, that includes a strong possibility to beat any team they face. I know Redknapp doesn't think his team's best matches Barcelona's best, but I would simply love to see if even the "best" team in the world can shut down Gareth Bale.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

This Weekend in England: Gameweek 4 Edition

Well, I realize I have been slacking, but I'm back to look at an interesting weekend in the EPL. So, like I said, it was an interesting weekend all over the premier league. Let's look at the good, the bad, and the rest.

The Good!
I saw some great things this weekend. I'll start in my club's game. Believe me, considering the result, they'll show up in the later categories too. But I was pleasantly shown a good display from a new player in England in Raphael Van der Vaart. He showed some great creativity and heart in a tough and new league, and considering his lack of playing time in Madrid, he really played well and has added himself to the line of players who have to be considered for every game for Spurs. In the slightly more surprising light, I have one word. Blackpool. What an amazing start for the tangerines. Two wins out of four and they sit proudly in the fourth spot for now. I honestly think it is hard to root against them in any game that is not against yours. They have an entertaining and clever manager, a team that one would imagine would struggle in a game played on paper and a fan base who can't be anything but happy to experience this season. They are playing very well, and I think they were disrespected coming into the season and their keeper Matt Gilks was fantastic against a reasonably good Newcastle side who deserved something from that match yesterday. Next up is Everton. From 3-1 down they managed to scrape a point from one of the two teams that are expected to win the title this year. This is a very talented team and their start is a suprise as I know atleast one pundit who picked Everton to finish third this season. I can't say enough positive things about Everton, and I do think they will pull up their socks and do well as the season goes on. Finally, I want to mention Michael Essien. I felt really bad for him as he has had some bad injury problems over the past few years, but he came out yesterday and showed how good he is and I was really happy to see him get a brace even if it was for Chelsea.I can only imagine how well HGhana could have done with him at the World Cup.

The Bad
I will start this part as I did the last, and talk about Spurs. It was embarassing how little the team seemed to care in the second half yesterday. Yes, they have to travel to Germany this week, but when you are on the field and the clock is ticking, you have to focus and get the three points. Just because we got into the Champions League this season, we are not guaranteed a spot next year. Talking of the Champions League, Manchester United were both sides of the coin yesterday. Good play to get to 3-1 going into injury time, but to give up two late goals that they did was poor. The question becomes whether this actually signals the fall of the Red devils. I'd be lying if I said that I hope not, but I really do think it would be bad for the league and the English game as it would really highlight the problems with the philosophy of English football which is probably facing a major revolution in the next few years. Speaking of problems with the English game, next up is Lee Cattermole. Seriously? First game back and you get sent off again? I have heard people blaming Steve Bruce for not controlling this kid, but I don't know if that's right. He was given the captains armband, I suspect, to get him to calm down, but it seems to have had the wrong effect. Hopefully he uses his brain and recognizes his mistakes, as I think he is a good player. Finally, I want to highlight Liverpool. I was watching this game and I was shocked at the continuing play acting, most notably Milan Jovanovic. I personally am sick of seeing diving in Football, and believe me, I hold Grudges. Gerrard, Busqets, Eduardo, Rooney, Ronaldo and Drogba. These guys have been busted by video. And in this matchup last season at Anfield was another example as David Ngog dived to get a penalty which lead to Birmingham City drawing a game they should have won. I have one thought on the matter. Come on FIFA, tell the FAs to start retroactively punishing the obvious ones. Let players know you want this to stop. Be strong. You make the rules for fuck's sake. Pardon my language, but it is something I really hate.

The Rest
I wasn't really sure how to enter into this conversation as it's a very difficult one to have. But, hard play. Yesterday saw one major injury and almost another. The tackle by Carl Henry on Bobby Zamora yesterday was fair. Let me be clear on my position. I think the tackle itself was good, but the result was poor. I hope Bobby comes back as soon as possible, but it was an accident not a bad tackle. I like the English league because it is more physical. This is a good thing in my opinion, but I hate hearing people cry about the physicality when a player gets hurt. I don't want anyone to get hurt, but in a game that requires players to be active and run, there will be injuries. I would have been distraught today if I read that Modric would be out for four months like Zamora, but I really wouldn't complain if it had been the case. I like the tough gritty nature of the league and as long as it's clean I support the continuance of this nature of play. I hope Fulham fans can agree considering their loss yesterday, but teams like Stoke, Wolves and West Brom are built on this traditional English play style, and I want to see it continue, just cleanly and with as few injuries as possible.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

There's Always Next Year

What Do You Mean There Are Two Months Left?

Well, this season has been somewhere between a disaster and a fiasco and there are still a couple months left. Before the season began, I wrote a post about what I feared might go wrong. Judging by that list, I clearly had no idea how bad D.C. was going to be.

A Disaster and a Fiasco

I honestly did not see D.C. competing for any trophies this year. However, while some D.C. United fans felt that D.C. had downgraded at every position, I did not, and still do not (precisely), agree with that premise. Losing Gomez as central playmaker, even with his reduced skills, was problematic since D.C. did not have an obvious replacement. Also losing Emilio without an obvious replacement meant trouble, but I had railed against Emilio in the previous seasons and thought a change in formation and a new striker would more than make up for his loss. I worried also that Moreno would no longer be productive, but would be skilled enough to earn a first team spot and that certainly happened. While those were among my concerns and they proved accurate, they were just the tip of the iceberg and we were the Titanic. Below is a list of what I did not see coming.

I Call It a "Diasco"
  • Bryan Namoff never recovered and was forced to retire.
  • Santino Quaranta's form did not recover from the end of last year and may have even dipped further.
  • Dejan Jakovic spent considerable time on the bench injured.
  • Rodney Wallace had a season ending injury early in the year.
  • I split my knuckles thrice on a tree outside of RFK.
  • Chris Pontius has been playing injured all season and is out for the rest of it.
  • Pontius and Wallace both suffered sophomore slumps when they did play.
  • Troy Perkins went from a national team consideration to a national joke staple.
  • Ronnie Raccoon took up residence in RFK, furthering its dilapidation.
  • The D.C. offense replaced the striker Luciano Emilio as target man with 16/17-year old rookie-winger Andy Najar, with predictable results.
  • The D.C. offense has been shutout as many times as any team in MLS history and there are still two months to go.
  • D.C. has to struggle not to have the worst league record in MLS history (they're not clear of that dubious honor yet and don't look on pace to do so).
  • D.C. United has generally refused to win on either the Christian or Jewish Sabbath.
  • Danny Allsopp and Adam Christman are the same striker and neither scores.
  • The team has moved closer than ever to a move to Baltimore.
  • The symmetry of Pompey wearing D.C. United jerseys during the friendly is not lost on me.
Who Am I Kidding?

Yes, D.C.'s season is "over." I will still continue to go to all the games and I will be sad to see the season end, if only because I enjoy live soccer. These are also the last few games for D.C. and MLS legend Jaime Moreno. My desire to see him hang up his boots should not be taken for disrespect. His number is on my jersey and I fully recognize that he has given this team and city a great deal, not the least of which is a career-record number of goals. I will be there on 23 October 2010 when Jaime puts on the red-and-black jersey for the last time.
Moreover, there are bright points to this season - Andy Najar is a phenomenal player and Bill Hamid has shown tremendous talent in goal. Tino appears to be gradually emerging from his slump and both Paulo Hernandez and Branko Boskovic have shown promise, if not results yet. Hopefully, there is quiet progress being made on the stadium front and 2011 will not be the last year in D.C. I'm just not sure there is much more to write about D.C. United until the off-season.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I'm in Europe, You're in MLS and You'll Always Be in MLS

What A Wacky World We Live In

I'm not in Europe, that was lie. But then, neither is Landon Donovan and he won't be playing there. Armenia and Azerbaijan are also not in Europe, but they get to play in Euros. Weird.

The Silly Season Goes Red, White, and Blue

The transfer window is now shut; let's look at the big American moves this summer. Sacha Kljestan went to Anderlecht, though not via South Africa. Jonathan Bornstein, on the other hand, went to South Africa and somehow wound up in Mexico. Herc Gomez moved from Puebla to Pachuca, because apparently Pachuca wants to have more U.S. players than most MLS teams. Bocanegra too moved, but only in-country. It looks like Altidore will be playing for Villareal, although that isn't a move so much as not being loaned out this year. I think that about covers it.

Before and after the World Cup, any number of pundits said claimed that Donovan would be going to Spain or England, Michael Bradley probably would be picked up by an EPL club, Bob Bradley would be coaching a Championship side, and Clint Dempsey would not be starting for Fulham, instead following Roy Hodgson to Liverpool.

Well, Dempsey isn't starting at Fulham, but none of the rest of that happened. So what did happen?

No, No, Really, Fabergas Is Happy at Arsenal

First of all, there was surprisingly little movement during the European transfer window. The mass exodus never happened from Anfield and a number of other clubs were reluctant to let their stars go without seeing big bucks (See: Cesc Fabergas). Sure, Robinho and Balotelli moved, but they were all but kicked in the ass on the way out. Athletico Madrid was raided heavily by Barcelona and Manchester City, but those two clubs were virtually the only clubs spending big money this transfer window. Unfortunately, MLS was and is demanding big money for Landon Donovan, their marquee player.

It was not the case that no one wanted Donovan. David Moyes plainly said that he wanted Donovan back, but simply could not afford him. MLS has historically held on to its players for large transfer fees (US$ 10 million for Altidore?!?) and given the inflation in the transfer market, evidence suggests that they were waiting for a big offer for Donovan that never came. I can only assume that Joe Cole found work while Donovan didn't because Cole moved to Anfield on a free transfer. Moreover, as the most recognizable player in U.S. soccer, MLS is probably only looking at large European clubs. It does little for the prestige of the sport if the best U.S. player is plying his trade at West Brom, Malaga, or Lecce.

Michael Bradley's continuing German adventure is a surprise as well. Not only U.S. media outlets were impressed with him (although, I'd think Ives were his agent), but the London Times put him on their list of 10 players who would strike it big based on their World Cup performances. So why is Bradley still at Borussia Moechengladbach? Because he likes polysyllabic words? Treue und Widmung, vielleicht? I have no idea. I'm still trying to puzzle out how Joe Cole isn't in a soup line somewhere.

Joe Cole Should Be Eating a Can of Beans by a Trashcan Fire in London

I think a lot of it comes down to an imbalance in the transfer market as a whole. Spending as a whole dropped dramatically, 22% in the Prem alone and that was bolstered by the cash the Citizens were dropping. Many clubs have serious debt and thus are reducing spending and raising the prices on their marketable players. I still expect that Donovan and Bradley and perhaps some others to get European transfers during the winter or in the next 12 months, if the market calms and re-establishes values for players.

No Americans landed really big deals this summer, it is true. However, Holden secured a spot on Bolton, Altidore finally won a vote of confidence from Villreal, Onyewu. . . well, if nothing else, his offer to play a year for free after missing last year has impressed the Italians with his honesty and dedication (we'll see if he plays), Spector is somehow still playing for West Ham, even Kljestan is doing well at Anderlecht, and the list goes on. The "Americans Abroad" lists from Ives and Goff get longer every year. The U.S. still may not command the prestige or transfer fees that other nations do, but more and more coaches are willing to give Americans a chance and more and more Americans are seizing the opportunity.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

We Want a More Viable Peace Partner In Charge of the USMNT

Four More Years!

Well, B.B. has solidified his hold on the U.S. men's national team. Frankly, I didn't even know he was involved, but I think at some point, we need to have a U.S. citizen running the U.S. program. Plus, he's going to be awfully busy running Israel for the foreseeable future and those up-coming peace negotiations are going to be so time consuming that I just don't know that he'll have enough time to dedicate to our blossoming program. Also, I wasn't a fan of his book, Fighting Terrorism - I thought it was largely political posturing.

What? "Who am . . . ? " Well, Benjamin Netanyahu, of course. You know, "B.B." Who did you think I . . .

Oh. Ooooooh. "Bob Bradley," you say. Well, at least he and Landon Donovan can commiserate about their inability to get a job in England.

Great. Israeli political jokes in a soccer blog. Honestly, why didn't I just go with the more obvious 1984 references? Because I respect your intelligence and worldliness, that's why.

Ow! My Toe!

Do we really think that Bob Bradley is even possibly the biggest stumbling block in front of the the U.S. soccer program? Honestly, I think talent and pedigree are still the greatest impediments. Yes, that is a stumbling block/stubbed toe reference in the section header. This is why I shouldn't be allowed to blog in the morning.

Did anyone read the news about Bob's contract extension and honestly think, "Well, that's it: we're not taking the World Cup home in Brazil"? If so, I salute your optimism and faith in the players to think that he's the one holding them back, but I think you should probably be locked up.

Bob Bradley has plenty of detractors, but it's tough to argue that he hasn't been pretty good for this program. The U.S. program has reached new heights under his leadership, he is complimented by many other coaches - including the Swiss coach who credited Bradley with showing the world how to beat Spain, and the players all seem to like and respect Bradley. Bradley's critics tend to argue that Bradley has had a lot of luck: England was weak this year, as was our group; the U.S. victory over Spain was due to poor Spanish play; Mexico had a bad qualifying run. Maybe, but as the list gets longer it really seems like the team is making their luck. I would also argue that Bradley has helped soccer in the U.S. as a whole; with a team of moderately talented players, he has made them competitive against some of the top sides in the world. That may help "sell" soccer: Few Americans are really looking for the opportunity to see their country thrashed by Brazil, but plenty of sports fans love an underdog story - especially an underdog who makes victory look possible. Lots of fans and pundits like to criticize some of his decisions (I know I do) ranging from tactics to player selection, but in the end, I think his results this far have been pretty good.

The Emmanuel Goldstein Perspective

There's your Orwell joke. Happy? I do view Bob Bradley's contract extension as a missed opportunity for both the USSF and for Bradley himself. Bob Bradley is still reasonably young and, frankly, he is still quite inexperienced. He's coached in the U.S. and . . . that's it. That's great for his familiarity with the U.S. game and players, but if he is going to move on as a coach, he's going to need at least passing knowledge how the game is played, and coached, in the other parts of the world.
As for the USMNT, Bradley has done an excellent job making the U.S. competitive with teams better than the U.S., but has floundered when faced with teams that were weaker or more even with the U.S. team. The vibrant and often-lethal counter-attacking culture that Bradley has instilled in the U.S. team is not effective when opponents are content to draw at zero or refuse to commit too many players forward, fearing the U.S. attack. A new coach brings in fresh ideas and can perhaps teach a team that consistently defeats Mexico to dominate games the way that Mexico does. Such tactics are going to become more necessary as the U.S. talent pool is expanding at what appears to be nearly a geometric-rate. The U.S. isn't going to start thrashing the likes of Argentina or Germany any time soon, but more teams are going to start playing conservatively against the U.S. and that will weaken Bradley's tactics. All that aside, at some point, simply having a fresh perspective is necessary to advance the quality of the team.

Don't Blame Fabio Capello

The coach matters. Somewhat. Let's not exaggerate the impact of these guys though. Fabio Capello simply did not affect the English national team enough to make them play that poorly. The managers get to coach their players a couple of weeks per year. Yes, there can be poor substitutions and poor line-ups, but let us not forget that arguing that different player selection would have been better is counter-factual and should be viewed with healthy skepticism. Ultimately, a coach can be a multiplier at the end of the equation, but the quality of the players and their ability to play together is far more important than the coach, his substitutions, and tactical predispositions. Right now, the rising level of quality in the U.S. player pool is more important than the coach. Re-hiring Bradley is not an aggressive move, but it is a relatively stable one. While the U.S. is still trying to get it's soccer program organized and capable of fully harnessing advantageous demographic shifts and the rise of a domestic division-1 soccer league, a little stability in some part of the program isn't the worst idea. Really, it's a bigger shame that Bradley couldn't find a better job somewhere else.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Blame Game

Holy Crap, We Suck

D.C. United has had an abysmal season, no two ways about that. The coach has been sacked and United stalwart Ben Olsen placed in charge. While criticism of Onalfo may be justified, the fact reamins that United simply is not a good team. Benny Olsen recently celebrated his first win as coach, but the new team is hardly tearing up the league and the recent victory was hardly dominant or attractive.

I was inclined to think that firing Onalfo and promoting Olsen was a savvy move by United's front office. They "did something" about DCU's horrible record and perhaps sought to silence some of the criticism by promoting Ben Olsen. Olsen is in his first year of coaching, he's too green as a coach and everyone knows it, plus the love for Benny is such that if he didn't win a game the rest of the season, there were going to be no calls to put him up on a cross. Plus, there is the hope that Olsen will put a fire into the team that the players seemed to lack this year. However, upon reflection, the FO may have signed their own pink slips.

Players v. Front Office

Curt Onalfo may have been fired too soon. Not just in the sense that I don't really think he had a chance to craft his team, but also politically. The season was a wash already, certainly. However, there are still plenty of games left to lose to enrage the fans that still meander into RFK and Molly Malone's to watch the games. Without the coach to serve as a lightning rod, the fans will direct their anger at either the players or the front office and, at least on, the decision has been made to focus on the front office (truth be told, it's not a new decision; there were "Fire Payne and Kasper" threads right along with the "Fire Onalfo" threads). I question whether that is fair.

Slumps: the Case against the Players

Santino Quaranta and Chris Pontius are slumping terribly. Neither has looked particularly dangerous and both are giving away position far too often. Similarly, before his injury, Rodney Wallace was similarly playing poorly. Granted, he was in a different position, but he claimed that he prefers to play left back. Not slumping, but unexpected was injury-forced retirement of veteran defender and leader, Bryan Namoff. That's four of eleven starters from last year and they were some of the brightest spots of last year - the only other I can think of was Dejan Jakovic, who has been steady (injuries not withstanding). I accept as a given that MLS rosters lack the depth that four starters playing poorly is a pretty serious impediment, one cannot fault the front office for re-signing those players nor their lack of quality this year. There are other players I could point out as well, Simms hasn't had a terrible season, but he has not looked as good as he once did.

The trade for Perkins is more debatable. I was not one of those who said DC gave up too much to get Perkins back. They gave up a lot, certainly, and at the time I didn't understand why the team was so desperate to replace Wicks. I was unaware of Wicks' off-the-field problems and thought his moments of madness would fade as he matured as a player. Nevertheless, Perkins had been MLS goalkeeper of the year, he played well in Norway, and, at the time, was believed to be competing for the third spot goalkeeper spot on the U.S. national team. He seemed the solution to DCU's goalkeeping problems that had plagued the team since Perkins left for Europe. Perkins has been disappointing, however, and has been forced to battle with young academy star, Bill Hamid. I argue, however, that this must be seen as a slump. Giving up so much to Philadelphia was certainly a gamble, but looking at it, it was a relatively safe gamble that has gone freakishly bad; the FO could not have seen it coming.

So Many Shutouts, So Many Seasons: the Case against the Front Office

DC United's offense was in trouble last season and the fans all knew it. Statistically, this seemed untrue: the front office pointed to the relatively highly high ranking that DC held in the league in terms of goals scored. But Emilio was a microcosm of the problem - huge scoring droughts punctuated by multiple goal games kept him high on the scorers' sheet, but was unreflective of how many times he killed the attack. DC seemed unable to score when the games were close - consider all of DC's ties last year. Moreover, with Emilio on his way out and Moreno another year older, DC had no MLS-calibre strikers to look to for goals. The FO's answers were Danny Allsopp and MLS journeyman Adam Christman. Like so many of the acquisitions from the front office, both have been unsuccessful. This is symptom of the larger problem.

The front office hasn't found good offensive players since Emilio and Fred in 2007 and both those players had their best years in 2007. Bringing Gomez back to DC was unimaginative at best - he never regained his top form, but was never the worst player of the field. Franco Niell was a huge bust. Emilio was resigned as a designated player after his first few games of the 2008 season in which he was overweight and played with lackluster effort. Gallardo was a fantastic player, but just wrong for the team - a second year may have been better, but that was not to be. The flying Gonzalo brothers didn't turn out well. Then there was the famous Dyachenko fiasco, exposing him on the expansion draft and then trading a first round draft pick to get him back. An inefficient move for a good player, but Dyachenko never produced. Will Boskovic get better? Don't know, he's been called up for the Montenegrin national team which is probably a good sign, but thus far he hasn't really earned the designated player money that he is making.

But there have been good acquisitions as well. Jakovic stands out. Hernandez looks good, although whether he ever produces remains to be seen. Stephen King looks like a solid investment in the future. I don't know about Zayner; the Crew fans seemed upset that we had snagged him.


That DC is the worst team in the league this year is not necessarily the front office's fault. The player slumps have driven this team into the cellar. However, there is hardly evidence that this team would be top class even with the slumping players performing better. This has gone on for too many years to look at the players. The front office has been unable to acquire the quality of new players to make this team competitive. There have been some fairly huge gaffes and a stunning display of arrogance when questioned about those decisions. On top of all those things, DC United may not exist for much longer, without a stadium. That cannot be placed completely on the front office, but ultimately, it is their responsibility. A tough job to be certain, but it is their job and they have failed to do it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Champions League is upon us...

Oh to be the fan of a team in the Champions League. I am among an elite group of fans who support a club in the UEFA Champions league. And as my Spurs are the new boys, I don't really know how to be, but believe me, if I have learned anything from the Arsenal, Chelsea and United fans, I will be smug at some point. So it was an exciting day for football, as we now know the 32 teams in the group stage of this year's competition and how they are distributed. So here are the groups and how I see them working out at this point.

Group A
Inter Milan
Werder Bremen
Tottenham Hotspur
FC Twente

This is a solid group. Title holders, German top team, English top team, and Dutch champions. It may sound like a silly prediction, but I think this group will come down to how Benitez manages Inter Milan. If he keeps things the same and doesn't tinker too much, which he has been known to do, then they should walk the group. But if he does tinker and things get off kilter, then Inter could struggle through this group as I think any one of these teams could win the group and any could manage second. If I'm honest, I would also say that Werder will be the x-factor. If they can pull the defense together, then they can be a real threat, but if they keep up with their porous defense, then they will struggle worse then spurs through a game on astroturf. In the end, I think it will be Inter to win the group, and Spurs to sneak out in the second spot.

Group B
Hapoel Tel-Aviv

I feel like this is a tougher group to call after first place. Lyon should walk this group especially after Lyon signed Yoaan Gourcuff this week. After my favorites, I think it is between Benfica and Schalke. I think I see it more likely that Schalke will be the ones to follow Lyon. With their addition of Raul to a very decent squad, I think they are going to be able to make it. And though I don't see them doing anything really, I am really pulling for Hapoel Tel-Aviv after the treatment they got in their qualifier against Red Bull Salzburg.

Group C
Manchester United

This is one of two or three really compelling draws for the group stage. Manchester United should be first, but that assumes their form improves and Rooney gets going. Valencia is a decent team, but lost their two best players, so they could well struggle. Rangers are a good team, but after their struggles last year, and the poor quality of the league, I could see them falling again. Finally, Bursaspor are a real wild card. No one really wants to go play there as it will often be an ugly and hostile atmosphere, but that also assumes they can match the quality of the other teams and take advantage of their home matches. In my eyes, I think the best shot to go through would be Rangers, but I think Bursaspor will push through in second.

Group D
FC Copenhagen
Rubin Kazan

I think this is an easier group to call, but not the ones you may think. Barcelona will get first easily, but who else. I think Rubin Kazan will be second. After having experience against both Inter and Barca last year, including a draw at the Nou Camp, I think they can do better this year. Copenhagen and Panathinaikos are good clubs, but I don't think they will pull it off.

Group E
Bayern Munich
AS Roma
CFR Cluj

This is the rare straight forward group. I have no problems picking Bayern and Roma to go through in that order. Both teams are very good and will make short of the unfortunate Basel and Cluj. Congrats on getting this far, but this is the end of the line for those two.

Group F
Spartak Moscow

This is a group that I plan to try to watch the games for. Marsaille, Moscow and Zilina are good teams and I was impressed by Zilina in their qualifier. Chelsea will win this group and when asked, I have already tipped Chelsea and Barca to get to the final. The question here is who is second. I honestly think Marsaille should do it. They are a very good team and as champions they have proved they can win when it counts. I think they will probably make the knockout stage but that may be it for them.

Group G
AC Milan
Real Madrid

I think this will be the trick group. History says Milan and Madrid go though, but I don't think that is true here. I don't think Milan are as good of a team as they think they are. They are aged, and not as skilled as they have been historically. I believe Madrid will get their knockout spot, where they will get knocked out as usual. But I see Ajax making it into the second spot over Milan.

Group H
Shakhtar Donetsk
Partizan Belgrade

Finally... I think we all know Arsenal will scrape through. But the final three are harder to call. All three have earned their spot here. But who makes it? I think I'd pick Partizan Belgrade. Shakhtar is a great team as is Braga, but despite the amazing win over Sevilla, I think these two will fall off and Partizan will make it. Partizan are a good attacking team and did well to beat Anderlecht to their spot and I could see them making that roll keep going.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

This Weekend in England : Gameweek 2 edition

I was thinking of doing my own game week best eleven feature, but I think I will simply do a best of the week and worst of instead. Lets start with the poor side of the weekend.

The Good

This weekend was full of goals and included three 6-0 results. I have a few players in mind but there will be an omission that many would not agree with. In my opinion, there were a couple of standout players. First was Gareth Bale. Two goals, yes. But his pace and ball skills gave such terror to the Stoke defense. And if you haven't seen the two goals, they were so different in that the first was comically hit off his face and the second was one of the most amazing goals I have ever seen. Honorable mention goes to Aaron Lennon as his passes into the goals were good which is fantastic to see since he has not been as scary for opponents as he was last season. Next for me is Didier Drogba. I can hear the cries about Kalou and Anelka, but since Drogba probably could have scored four or five of the six himself, but he selflessly made the killer passes in this match. His goal scoring threat made this so easy for him, but it was a masterclass in striker passing. A little noticed player is Seb Larsson from Birmingham City. He was all over the pitch and was providing some great passes. He is a talented player but I feel like he gets into his own head sometimes and he doesn't look as good in matches many times. But this weekend he looked great. Finally I want to mention the four goalies who stopped penalties this weekend. Jaaskelainen, Foster, Stockdale, and Harper. I just love seeing goalie make penalty saves since more often than not, they don't stop them. Honorable mention of the weekend was the young referee Michael Oliver who i thought was quite good and was strong, which is a major problem with some refs these days.

The Bad

I will start with the entire back four of Blackpool. It was a really poor display and it simply set out to give up six. Or atleast it really seemed like it. Next is the Backline of Wigan. They were disgraceful. I can't say much more there either. John Carew was not good and his penalty was worse this morning. Lastly I want to quickly rant against John Terry. He was por this weekend and I was really angry about his retribution fouls and his horrible posturing in the Chelsea v. Wigan game. He is a reprehensible human being, but I think he is almost as bad on the field. He has no pace, a short temper, and doesn't tackle particularly well. He is literally treading on his reputation from the past years where he was quite good but he is going down hill since the last season.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Boy, those Young Boys are dangerous

Well, my planned posts were ruined by the horrid 28 minute display at the beginning of yesterdays Champions League qualifying playoff between Tottenham and Young Boys. The most obvious things from the game were that Spurs simply underestimated their opponents and the Astroturf pitch had a number of players playing very cautiously to avoid injuries. I applaud Michael Dawson for refusing to simply blame the pitch for the team's poor performance. But what can be done to prevent the disappointment from happening again on Wednesday next week?

I think the first thing is that Ledley King must play in the second leg. Neither Bassong or Dawson were particularly bad, but his experience and calming influence was definitely missed yesterday. Secondly, I think Harry Redknapp must not look to play cautiously. We are a team who needs to come out firing, not play cautiously. We do get burned playing this way from time to time, but we would never have had a chance against Chelsea and Arsenal last season if we didn't. Finally, the player need to step up and use this as a wake up call. Every squad member knows how important this tie is. When they walk out onto the pitch at the Lane, the crowd will give them one last reminder, but it is up to the players to make it happen. Come on you Spurs.

Hopeful lineup:
Lennon-Huddlestone-Modric(if fit)-Dos Santos

Friday, August 13, 2010

Fantasy Football!

The collaborators of this blog play ESPN's EPL Fantasy Soccer. Obviously, we're not sponsored because not many people (if any) read this blog, so I'm not trying to sell anyone on this particular brand. I just thought I should clarify incase someone reading this plays a different version. Having spent way too much time on my team this year (as opposed to last year when I threw a team together a month into the season), I figure it's worth a post.

I am not as well versed in the Premiership as my partner. My only hope against him is that he over-thinks it or half-asses it. And injuries; a few key injuries could set him back. My point is, this is the strategy of someone who watches the EPL, reads the new stories, but reads very little analysis and does even less of his own. The strategies I'm going to talk about are what shaped my team as I began to remove and add players to fit into the salary cap.

Throw away players - With his knowledge, the owner of this blog may take extremely cheap players that he thinks are likely to play actually play and earn him a few points when they play. I was never going to bother with the research for that. I picked some of the main players that I wanted on the team and then picked a few "throw away" players for my subs. In most cases, I hope that these players actually don't play. Defenders are the cheapest players, but if I pick a Blackpool defender who starts, I may well earn -6 points every time Ashley Cole has a day off. I also picked Danny Shittu, because I have a puerile sense of humor.

Youth - Unlike MLS fantasy, I would run out of money very quickly if I took too many top players, but too many cheap players and my score would be negative. So, this year I decided to go a little lower with my mid-priced players. I selected young players who I think show promise and may earn starting spots this year. The Jacks Wilshere and Rodwell are in my midfield as well as Gareth Bale. I had Chico Hernandez, although I dropped him deciding that I don't want two Manchester United forwards (Rooney was too consistent last year to pass up). Of course, if these guys rarely start, their value is going to decrease and it may take a massive realignment of my team to start earning points.

Defense - I spent a lot on starting defenders, Vermaelen and the like. While I almost never captain any of the defenders, last year my defense formed a solid base and gave me consistent points even when I captained a striker who phoned it in that week. I still have Freidel in my net and Richard Dunne, although I worry about Villa without O'Neill. That's why I have Joe Hart as my back-up keeper. If I were to make one recommendation, he is it. Hart may earn the starting spot at Manchester City, but costs only 3.5 million.

Anyway, this strategy will probably last two or three weeks into the season and then I'll start fiddling. After all, I dropped Fabergas and Drogba because they won't play in the opening weeks, but I'll probably want at least one of them eventually. Oh well, even the best battle plan never survives first contact with the enemy.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Premier League in a nutshell

This upcoming Saturday marks the beginning of the 2010/2011 season of the Barclay's Premier League in England. As you would probably imagine, I'm beside myself with excitement. I think I'll simply Summarize my thoughts on each club and give my predictions. I know it will ruin all the mystery of the season, but it'll be worth the read...

Simply said, as I am a Spurs fan, I hope they get relegated. As a person with a brain in the real world, I know just like everyone else they will atleast be in the top six. I honestly think this will be an interesting season for the Arsene Wenger Project. Will Cesc be up to snuff or will his head have been turned too far by Barca? Cesc will be himself probably, but will the changes in the back line be sufficient? Their weakness is the back five. They still, as of today, have Almunia. Gallas is gone and someone who's name I can't pronounce has been signed. I think this weakness could prove their downfall, and if I am completely honest, I see them in fourth place or right around it.

Aston Villa
What horrible timing for O'Neill to leave. I think the first game will tell the story of this season for them. We'll find out just how important Martin O'Neill was and if the players are good enough to step up and do it for the club and it's fans. They won't be relegated, but I am worried for them.

Birmingham City
I am really not sure about them this year. Based on the past season, they should do well. They have some very good players and a very good manager. My question lies with the overall squad. Cameron Jerome did well, but can he do it again, and where is the back up he needs. Larsson is good but will he keep his head on straight all season and keep his place in the team. I love him, but he is a little bit of a headcase with a short fuse. Who will be their goalkeeper? Hart won't be back and I think they owed about five or six places to his play for them. I am concerned that they could end up in the lower end of the table if only for Joe Hart not being there.

This is another team I don't have positive vibes from. They are a mish mash team managed by a mediocre manager who plays horrible football, which is a shame since they actually have some good players. I honestly haven't seen anything to make me think they will be anywhere near the top half of the table.

This team is the feel good story of the year, who is turning into a nightmare. They have been unable to secure the services of two important players from the promotion campaign and have made little noise in the transfer market to prepare for the season. This is even before we talk about the problems with Bloomfield Road which have lead to them having to change their opening match to an away fixture. I really want them to do well and I want to see Ian Holloway on Match of the day, but I am really concerned for them.

Bolton Wanderers
This is a team on the up. Europa League places? I doubt it. But Owen Coyle has made them a better squad. Chong Yong Lee is an exciting player, but Elmander is still a question mark. As long as they keep hold of Cahill and Jaaskelainen, I think they will stay stingy at the back and have a chance to do well.

I hate to say it, but you would imagine losing Deco, Ballack and Belletti would be like adding by subtraction. But losing Joe Cole as well hurts. I like Benayoun, but he is not the be all and end all solution. If it weren't for Essien being back, I would say they would slide a bit, but this is a team that will still occupy a top two spot.

One word. Injuries. If they can avoid them for a while, this will be a solid top half team all season long, but if they can't they may be doomed to suffer midtable mediocrity. I think they can fight for a Europa Leage Spot, but that's about it. great team to watch, but not a top four team yet.

Was it all Hodgson? That is the question for their Season. Good team, but was the manager the one who pushed them to the Europa League final? I suspect yes. Mark Hughes will keep them in midtable. I doubt the cottagers can expect much more. They just need to hold on to Shwarzer and Hangeland and they should be fine

This is the wild card this season. Just like with Fulham, can Roy Hodgeson make a difference? I suspect yes. but is this team too far down the hole? This is a team who should be in the top four and on paper should be in the battle for the title. Do I see this happening? No. I think they will likely be in the top 6six, but not the top four.

Manchester City
What can you say for this team. My word... Trainwreck... I feel like this is the proper term to describe this club. Mark Hughes was getting some cohesion in the side last year and it was derailed by Mancini. The ridiculous spending is a problem as well. It brings in players with big egos, on too much money, who are not going to gel right away. It also shafts core players such as Bellamy and Ireland who look like they will leave. I think this team will be around fourth, but I am not convinced they'll get it.

Manchester United
Top two. enough said. Okay, I'll give you a bit more. I hope Javi Hernandez gets a lot of starts with Wayne Rooney, I think they will be fantastic together and will make this team really make it hard not to get the title. Other than that, I think the stability in the squad, is nothing but help to them and hopefully Cleverly, Gibson and the Da Silva twins will get first team time this year so they can prove themselves and develop.

Newcastle United
I hate to say it but this is a team who will right near the bottom. They are only improved from their last season in the Prem by the fact that they are not shackled by the big money players who were there like Michael Owen. I think they will stay up, but it is going to be an ugly year for the St. James Park faithful.

Stoke City
This is a team that will be midtable. Other than that, I don't have much to say about them. Kenwynne Jones will be a great addition but I don't know that he will bring them up a level.

This is a team I am on the fence about. They showed some class last season and looked a new contender to the European spots, but the loss of Jones makes me wonder which direction they will really be going in.

Tottenham Hotspur
I will keep this brief. I am concerned. I don't see us anywhere near the bottom three spots, but there has been nothing to make me truely think that four competitons won't be a problem by Christmas time. I think if the team manages to avoid injury we can compete on all fronts, but it also means the players have to step it up. Will they? The hell if I know.

West Bromwich Albion
Two words. Going down. The problem is that is what they plan for. They don't really try to come up and stay up. They are trying to be a yoyo team. I hate that the club doesn't seem to have the ambition to stay in the top division.

West Ham United
This club is a strange one. They are a talented side with a number of good players, but it seems like they live off the 66 World Cup win. The team needs to work hard and Avram Grant could be the one to get them back into the top half of the table. I'd hate to see them go down.

Wigan Athletic
Bipolar. I hopw Roberto Martinez fixes some of these problems and gets some consistancy out of these players because they are a good team.

Wolverhampton Wanderers
I hate to say it, but this is another team I am concerned for. There is obviously talent in the squad, but they are a bit of a whipping boy.hopefully they stay up so I can have a bit of banter with my cousin who is a Wolves fan, but Mick McCarthy looks to be holding them back.

20.West Brom

Top 6:
1.Man United
4.Man City