Tuesday, March 30, 2010

One man can't do it all. Or can he?

Annnnd. I'm back. But will Wayne Rooney be back next week? Considering the pictures from this evening of Rooney leaving the Allianz arena, on crutches with his foot in a protective boot, it's questionable. All season long, the question has been can Rooney carry the team on his own. And up until the past few weeks, the answer has been a resounding yes. "Wazza" has been in fine form since August and has done amazing things in keeping Manchester United at the top end of the table in the league and has brought the Carling Cup back to Old Trafford. Unfortunately a somewhat mysterious knee injury and tonight's ankle injury are leaving the Red Devil's title hopes in danger as they head into a big match against Chelsea.

Since Cristiano Ronaldo left for Madrid, there has been an obvious hole in the United squad, which Rooney has nearly filled on his own, but can he keep it together for the run-in to the end of the league season as well as the Champions League, not to mention the World Cup in which most fans and pundits are already saying that England have no chance without him. So who will help Rooney get United to the top? So far, Giggs, Valencia, Nani and Park have had roles, but no one is truely standing next to Rooney heading the lines. So their run in is going to come down, in my opinion, to whether Rooney can stay fit. The same goes for the Champions League. If he is not fit for the return leg after losing to Bayern Munich, it is hard to think that United will overturn the deficit especially considering Robben, Schweinsteiger and others should be back for Munich.

As for June, I can bet I know atleast one USA fan who couldn't be happier to see Rooney struggling with injuries at this point in the season. The fact that Rooney is so crucial to United, we are going to see him play more than Fabio Capello would like. Hopefully he will make it as it would be sad to see him miss any time in the World Cup as good as he has been this season.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Kansas City 4 - 0 D.C. United - Recap

It's a good thing there was a beautiful woman waiting at home for me because the rest of that night was just ugly. I'm actually having a little trouble breaking this game down, not only because it was such a disaster, but because it was the first game of the year and the poor showings were incidents, not yet trends. Nevertheless, there are a few points I'd like to make.

3-Man Defense - This is one of the big obvious ones. It may be that Onalfo felt this was necessary. McTavish, Burch, and Namoff are all injured, while Pena was unavailable having just completed his visa. Maybe Onalfo felt that because he was playing on the ping-pong-table-that-passes-for-that-K.C.-field, he wouldn't need four players in defense. Whatever the reason, Talley joined the team a couple days ago and Wallace started in defense, what? Once last year? Julius James was available, but started on the bench. The disorganization was unbelievable back there and Jakovic did not look like the player from last year.

5-Man Midfield - Really? There were five in the midfield? It was hard to tell since D.C.'s midfield couldn't maintain possession to save its life. Morsink wasn't terrible, he was mostly invisible, but otherwise no worse than any other D.C. player on the pitch. Castillo did not impress me: he was okay, but high-profile signing? I saw little special. Najar is certainly young, but I thought he looked one of the better players out there. I don't think Tino has the skills or mind for central mid. It is too early to make this decision, but he missed a lot of open "wide" players. Not getting the ball out to the wings is impressive on that pitch, considering the lanes on I-395 are wider. Of course, Tino never really had a lot of good passes to make.

No Off-the-Ball Movement - D.C.'s best off-the-ball move came when Tino slapped Smith. Other than that, there was very little movement, few overlapping runs even. There's not a whole lot more to be said about this - without a natural goal-scorer, D.C. is going to have to rely on excellent movement so Tino and Moreno can slide passes through and pick apart the defense. After last night, that seems like a distant hope.

Pontius and Moreno - I have mixed feeling about this partnership. I would love to partner Pontius with a young Moreno - Pontius seems much more skilled and prone to pulling the ball back and looking to pass than to receiving one and immediately looking for an opening to shoot. Pontius did not shoot much last night (no one did, really). Whether they can make their offensive partnership work or not, both, but particularly Pontius, spent way too much time dropping back to defend. Given the defensive frailties, that might be understandable, but neither Moreno nor Pontius has explosive speed - they're going to need to stay further up the pitch if D.C. is going to have a viable counter-attack.

There's plenty more to be said. No one, including Perkins, had a particularly good showing. I'd like to say "There's no where to go but up," however NY/NJ last season has given the lie to that particular saying. The field was miniscule, the defensive roster was drained, and this was the first game of the season - these are the reasons not to despair. The only silver lining though was that the Metro didn't charge me for the trip down to Molly Malone's. And really, that's just another D.C. failure.

Friday, March 26, 2010

ESPN, Martin Tyler, and the World Cup

Everyone has known for a while now that Martin Tyler was going to be doing the play-by-play for ESPN's coverage of the World Cup and if you missed it, there are commercials centering around the fact that he will be.

There has been consternation on the internet that American broadcasters will be limited to commenting from the studio during the breaks. Some bloggers and message boards have chalked ESPN's decision up to Eurocentrism. (No, that doesn't really work, although it is technically correct. Anglophilism. I don't even think that is a word. At any rate.) There is a belief or worry that ESPN put Martin Tyler on because of a prejudice that English soccer announcers are inherently better than U.S. announcers.

I have no idea what went into ESPN's decision, but, other than such a prejudice certainly exists, I see no reason to suspect that distaste for U.S. sportscasters was ESPN's motivation. Martin Tyler is, quite simply, one of the best, if not the best. He is well-respected and has considerable experience in World Cup play-by-play, not to mention soccer play-by-play in general. The U.S. does not have announcers with the experience, nor the quality, nor the eloquence of Martin Tyler. It is arguable whether England has any other announcers of his caliber. ESPN did not pick up a couple of Brits who normally cover the Championship League. ESPN picked, yes, a Brit, but a Brit who covers the biggest, most popular league in the English-speaking world. They picked him because virtually any English-language channel would love to have him cover the World Cup.

They aren't having him do play-by-play for the MLS from studio in London. I wouldn't want him, he's not an American. He doesn't know the cultures of the cities, supporters' groups, or history. There are American announcers for the MLS; they are improving and are not the worst soccer announcers that I have heard. Sometimes the Brits used by Fox Soccer Channel for the matches between weaker teams seem closer to Eugene Levy in Best in Show than they do to Martin Tyler, BBC accents or no. But ESPN's MLS play-by-play commentary is sloppy (As an aside, does Alexi Lalas need a female soccer star in the studio with him? He was ridiculously jittery for some reason). Last night, for the MLS's opening game for 2010, they made numerous references to Philadelphia's match against DC United next week (it is two weeks away), clearly had no idea who Andrew Jacobson was after he took a shot - waiting until they could see his number and name on his jersey, and misidentified players on numerous occasions. All these things happen. I am in no way saying that I would do better. I'm a DC United fan and I doubt that I could pick Andrew Jacobson out of line-up. They are sloppy though. Do British announcers make similar mistakes? Absolutely. The idea or hope is that Martin Tyler will make fewer, having seen so many of these players play previously and having considerable first hand-knowledge of World Cup tournaments past and that he will demonstrate the eloquence that he typically shows that will improve our game experience.

I admit, I am a sucker for some of the British expressions, Tommy Smyth's color commentary (before he jumped his own shark), and the generally more esoteric language used by many British announcers. It can add a sense of exo-cultural experience to watching a soccer game. Certainly, that can be mistaken for "authenticity," or superiority; maybe ESPN did make that mistake, but even if they did, I think they arrived at the right decision for the wrong reasons.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

MLS Preseason Notes

A new CBA has been agreed to and has been analyzed to death and I don't particularly want to add to the discussion; suffice it to say, I think it is an imperfect agreement for a bizarre league in a rare, if not unique, situation and it will suffice. For now. Now let's drop that line and pick up with the MLS season starting in less than a day.

I don't have the time to write a paragraph about each team even if I had done the research, which I haven't. So I'll go with my highlights.

Team to Watch: Seattle Sounders
Unfortunately, there is little reason to think that Seattle will not be a top team this season. The Sounders' inaugural season was impressive, but the quality in the team was not due to some intangible like "beginner's luck." Keller was solid in goal, Ljundberg was creative in the midfield and demonstrated his superior shooting ability when necessary, and Montero was a dynamo up top. Keller and Ljundberg are returning, as is Montero, although he may pick up a transfer to Europe in the summer. Added to these players is Nkufo, a 37 year-old Swiss international striker. Whether or not his age will be a factor and how he handles a transfer to Major League Soccer remains to be seen, but looking forward, he very well may be a considerable addition to the team. The rest of the team looks "acceptable;" the defense and the rest of midfield are unremarkable but are more than capable of handling the level of soccer in the MLS. To make matters worse, Seattle probably has the greatest home advantage in the league - Seattle has sold more season tickets to each game than most other venues will have in overall attendance and Qwest field will be the only turf stadium this year (Yes, Toronto switched to grass). I suggest that we may see a "Fortress Qwest" this year as Seattle will be harder to beat at home than ever and they more than have the quality to pick up plenty of away points.

Biggest Unknown: Philadelphia Union
Really? The expansion team that has never played together is an unknown? I'm a freakin' genius. Nevertheless, the quality, or lack there of, of this team is unclear. Philadelphia has a number of players who have shown promise, but never really matured into the great players that fans and observers thought they could be (Brazilian former-DC United player, Fred, is included, but there are others as well). The fans in Philadelphia have been organized for years and they will rally behind this team. Piotr Nowak is a damn fine coach and has won a trophy nearly every year that he has been a coach. However, this year may be another rarity. Union were not as fortunate as Seattle when it came to the rookie draft, this year was not nearly as deep as the previous. Although Philly got the pick of the litter, it is unlikely that it will have the bevy of young stars with which Seattle emerged. Moreover, I expect Nowak to get performances out of some of his high-potential players, but not all of them. Without significant depth, Union are unlikely to push past the middle of the overall table. That said, with the talent on this team and Nowak's history of cultivating talent, it could be one of the better teams... Both those things said, just looking at the players and their past performances, they could be horrible.

Team Not to Watch: Colorado Rapids
I watch every MLS game I can see and would never advocate, particularly to a potential Rapids fan, actually not watching their home team. I just don't think Colorado will do anything significant, good or bad, this year. Colorado was a mid-table team last year and I see little reason to expect any difference this year. Sure, Conner Casey keeps getting national team call-ups for some reason, but that is only because the U.S. is in the middle of a forward crisis. I should note that Brendan was once beaten by Colorado while playing FIFA 10 because Conner Casey won three straight 50-50 headers, the last one resulting in a goal. So clearly, the programers at EA Sports hold him in higher regard than I do. Nevertheless, he is not enough to drive a team on his own and the rest of the team looks "passable," much like Seattle (in quality only, not in style) without the stars and home environment. Colorado has never successfully connected with local community and, although I have no particular insight into Colorado's locker room, I don't see a natural leader on the team pushing them to be better. Colorado will play the least interesting soccer, with the possible exception of Kansas City, which, after comparing them to the Sounders earlier I should admit, is the complete opposite of Seattle's flowing aggressive style.

Buzz Word for the Year: Parity
Same as last year. I still expect there to be significant parity this year. The league is set up for it, in many ways. If parity is to be broken, I doubt it will be my beloved DC United to do it. More likely, it will be Seattle or the Gals (Galaxy made a couple interesting/Brazilian signings who could put the team above-and-beyond, they still have a tough backline, still have Donovan - at least until the summer, and may have Beckham - if his achilles sews itself back together properly).

Expect a more DC United-centric focus from me after this. The owner of this blog may be able to contain his myriad of opinions about Spurs, but I am less likely to be so constrained concerning the Black-and-Red. Let the games begin! Vamos United.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

D.C. United Off Season Recap or How I Learned to Worry about Everything Simultaneously

The MLS season is drawing near and D.C. United's off-season is coming to a close. It has been a busy time for the Black-and-Red. Numerous events and changes occurred both in the team and with the entity itself. I don't know if one could say that last years roster was "blown-up," but some of the highest paid players and mainstays of the 2009 team are no longer with D.C. Moreover, the environment around the team has changed as well. Because writing actual paragraphs and sentences of all these changes would be longer than my graduate thesis, I have decided to compile a list of my fears and worries which I have placed below:
  • Christian Castillo becomes the new Fred; all flash with disappointing substance.
  • MLS labor negotiations fail and there is no MLS season.
  • Spiders.
  • The team moves to Baltimore.
  • The team moves even further away.
  • Jaime turns out to be to old to be useful but too skilled to be obviously useless.
  • Fish/Sharks/Whales/some of the more aggressive corals.
  • Frustrated with his international career, Troy decides to "phone it in" in the MLS.
  • The Zombie Apocalypse.
  • Why has D.C. left (according to speculation) considerable room under the salary cap?
  • Why was Flo N'Galula released for monetary reasons if plenty of space under the cap exists?
  • A confident Germany.
  • United may intend to pick up a big signing after the World Cup, when prices have peaked.
  • Will Chang bought out his partners and then later went looking for new ones.
  • I am a disappointment to my parents.
  • Without a "10," D.C.'s tradition and style become MLS monotony.
  • My girlfriend is secretly less tolerant of my soccer obsession than she lets on.
  • A large piece of RFK falls on my head.
  • Tino's improvement stagnates.
  • Neither Pontius nor Allsopp prove threatening enough to drive an offense.
  • Strangers.
  • Curt Onalfo turns out to be a mediocre manager from a mediocre club with an affinity for mediocre players.
  • Pontius, Wallace, or Jakovic are picked up by European teams over the summer.
  • Namoff misses a large portion or all of the season, again leaving D.C. weak in defense.
  • The housecat in my lap is thinking about killing and eating me.
  • The Philadelphia Union are not the Red Bulls and D.C. might start losing derbies.
  • D.C. continues to descend into mediocrity.
  • Seattle gets better.
  • My perceived reality is really all a psychotic delusion.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Arsenal: Targets or Frail?

I know what this sounds like. A Spurs fan going off about the Arsenal, but I had a chat with some Arsenal fans following the Stoke game to get their opinions and the ones I spoke with seemed to feel as I did. So here goes.

With the horrific injuries to Eduardo two years ago and Aaron Ramsey last weekend, are the Arsenal targeted as Arsene Wenger inferred, or are they simply a team of small and relatively frail players who are more at risk for serious injuries? It seems that after the horrendous discipline record of the early Wenger Arsenal teams, Arsenal are at minimum, the most obviously picked on team in the Premier League. However, is this because teams are actually out to bully them? Absolutely yes. However are they targeted to be injured? Absolutely not.

There are two reasons why teams go out to bully the Arsenal. One is that the easiest way to ruin Arsenal's flow and gameplay style is to be a bit rough with them. It disrupts their attack and ruins the rhythm which they prefer to play with. The second reason is because they are one of the physically smallest teams in the league. Other than Fabregas and Bendtner, I honestly wouldn't call anyone on that team imposing. Even Gallas and Vermaelen are by no means big. Simply put, they are not hard to push around, so why not do it if you can't match them in skill which most teams can't.

But why does Wenger seem to think that these injuries are happening on purpose? I honestly have no idea why he seems to believe this, but I think I know why it does keep happening to them. Since Arsenal are smaller and quicker, teams push them around and knock them down. Teams aren't trying to hurt them, but on occasion teams simply can't keep up with the pace. You see Aaronn Lennon and Theo Walcott on the ground alot because players can't keep up unless they aren't moving. Obviously I think Lennon is better, but the point stands. So in the case of the Shawcross tackle last weekend, the misfortune that befell Ramsey, is simply because he was a bit too quick and the speed was too much for Stoke City. As I remember, It was a similar issue for Eduardo, Although, I would have been too fast for Taylor, so that doesn't mean much.

So what can be done about this? Well, despite the fact that I in no way want to help the Wanderers from Woolich, there are a few answers. I think they need to bulk up the squad they have already. I know it will slow them down a bit, but I think it would keep them on their feet and give them more presence all over the pitch. Next, whether Wenger buys or grows him, he needs to find a physical striker and a physical midfielder to protect the back four and Fabregas. Add a little bit of physicality to the squad and watch them actually push for the title. So in summary, if you work for Arsenal, do exactly the opposite of what I just suggested.