Monday, February 11, 2008

A note to our loyal reader:

As our loyal reader probably knows, "The Balompie Blog" has been on a leave of absence for a while. Much in the world of football that is worthy of comment has transpired in that time, and, regrettably, we don’t have the time to go back and properly comment on everything. I think we’ll just have to start up again at full stride. If our loyal reader has any specific topics he would like to discuss, then by all means, tip us off with a comment!

To get things rolling again, I’ve added a few short posts. The first is the possibility of a friendly with England…

Bring on Engerland!

Yes, “Soccer by Ives” is reporting that a friendly against “Enger-land” may be in the offing. I hope this indeed comes to pass, as all the pressure would be on England to not lose to those clueless upstart Yanks playing their curious brand of “soccer”. Plus, gotta think we’d be motivated as hell to beat them. Stay tuned for further updates on this story.

Sartorial sidebar

Executive Summary: Blech!

As loyal fans of the US MNT know, we played CONCACAF arch-rival Mexico in a friendly last week in Houston (2-2 draw). One of the smaller storylines was the unveiling of a new jersey. Reminiscent of the royal blue number with white stripes that was featured as a “third alternative” jersey last year, the new kit is mostly white with small horizontal stripes running across it (see pic). What do I think? I think it is putrid, like the play of right back Drew Moor and left back Ramiro Corrales in the Mexico game. Why not stick with the classy (and historical) red strip across a white background? This will not become an addition to my collection of US MNT jerseys.

One-touch takes on US v. Mexico

So, my quick takes on the game?

Both Mexico's goals were the same defender (“Jonny” Magallon) torching Drew “don’t play me no” Moor. They were (head-bashing-ly) identical. So, we can take solace in the hopefully-secure knowledge that these were probably our 3rd or 4th choice right and left backs (left back Ramiro Corrales was also a disaster). They were both simply putrid.

Midfield is still a mess, but it was noteworthy and promising that the midfield seemed to instantly gain poise with the insertion of Benny Feilhaber and Freddy Adu. I'm not saying Benny was perfect, but the difference was stark. It reassured me that Benny really does have a lot to offer despite his nightmare season with Derby County. He badly needs to find a club where he can get some playing time. Against a Mexico, though, he's not outsized and we desperately need his technical skill. I've decided he needs to go to Spain.

I would have liked to have seen Maurice Edu longer, too. I think he is the real deal. But, bottom line: our young guys are not afraid to possess the ball against Mexico, and this is a new development.
And this series could get really, really good in the next five years, b/c the young Mexicans are also a handful (and strangely, a few are fairly likeable). It can only help both sides improve on the world stage.

I'm not sure what to do about our left flank. I thought Bobby Convey would play better, but he was really poor. Brought nothing to the table. Maybe he was having to cover too much for Corrales. But, it probably would be a good idea to try out someone else until DMB recovers (Klijsten maybe? Can he play the left?). Eddie Lewis, sad to say, appears a more productive choice than Convey, and that is troubling.

Jozy Altidore kicked butt as you saw (for an 18-year old). He was giving Marquez fits all night. Notably, for being in preseason form, he held up pretty well over 90. It was also clear that he and Dempsey were not used to working together. Gotta think that will only get better. But know who would pair well with him at the moment? McBride. (Sigh. Why do I even think such things!)

Entertaining game, though. Mexico was a bit lucky to have gotten back into it (lucky, that is, that we started a JV right back), and we were a bit lucky they didn't grab a third goal in the last 25 minutes. So, the result was pretty fair.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Benny sighting....

Actually, make that two Benny Feilhaber 1sightings. After a month of inactivity, Benny not only made the team in Derby's last two EPL matches, but actually entered both games!

After a short 9 minute appearance against Newcastle on December 23, Benny came off the bench and played the entire second half in a 2-1 Boxing Day defeat to Liverpool. The available accounts of the Liverpool game offer little, if any, appraisal of Benny's performance. Nonetheless it is good to see him getting into some matches, and with Derby's current injury woes and the holiday fixture glut that is the EPL, Benny should get more playing time in the coming months, especially since it appears Derby's fate is all but sealed so they might as well figure out what they've got for next year.

Monday, December 10, 2007


'Twas a fine, fine weekend for a Bobby Convey, who appears to be nicely rounding back into form after last year's injury woes. And, mercy, what good timing for the national team, after DMB just went down with (what else?) a serious knee injury.

First, some good karma gets publicized as the public learns of the time Bobby regularly spends at the children's ward at the Royal Berkshire Hospital. Then, Bobby starts in the left midfield (ah, the comfortable left!) against Liverpool, and has an absolute whale of a game. Reading went on to win 3-1. Bobby had one clear assist; and another one-touch pass that led to a PK. He was excellent on the left all day, and had his blistering rocket of a shot from about 20 yards in the first half been about a foot lower (and, thus right smack in the upper right corner), this would have been a career performance. Good for Bobby. And I'm breathing a little easier now regarding our left flank on the national team.

Monday, December 3, 2007

How the mighty have fallen

Okay, maybe Real Betis doesn't count among the ranks of the "mighty", but the Balompie Blog's favorite La Liga team has certainly taken a tumble from the lofty heights it reached as recently as the 2004/05 season

Sitting next-to-last in the league, having lost another coach and without any marquee players, Betis will have quite a struggle just to stay up for another year.

Slurpo-san thinks it all goes back to the ill-fated 2005/06 Champions League season. While Betis managed to knock off Chelsea in Sevilla (a game Slurpo-san and Scott-o attended!!), Betis never really had a chance to move past a loaded group that also included Liverpool. The strain of UCL football for a squad blessed with little depth proved too much as Betis slumped out of the group stage and struggled for the entire La Liga season. Other "small" clubs have suffered similar fates--recall Everton in the Champs League in 2005. That team didn't even make the group stage and then struggled to finish 11th in the EPL. Further evidence that UCL football can be both a blessing and a curse--yes, it brings additional revenue, but unless you have a large and capable squad, you run the risk of being stretched too thin and failing at both, rather than trying to succeed at one.

Here's hoping legendary Betis owner Lopera brings in a solid coach and opens his wallet in January to give the team an infusion of talent that will save them from the drop.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

England's loss is MLS' gain

By now everyone has heard of England's abysmal failure to qualify for Euro 2008. But lost in the shuffle is that while this is a terrible result for English players and the FA, MLS stands to benefit quite nicely.

Had England qualified, David Beckham would almost certainly have made the team unless he was hurt (and if he was hurt he would be useless to MLS anyway). A call-up for Euro 2008 would have deprived MLS of its biggest star for at least 6 weeks during the height of the MLS season.

But now, MLS, Alexei Lalas and Ruud Gullitt can breathe easy knowing their man will be around. Becks has already taken his show on the road to Australia and apparently the Galaxy sold 20,000 jerseys as a result.

So while I'm bummed that England won't be in the tournament, I'm glad that MLS will get a chance to build on this year's momentum, and who knows, maybe even steal a little of Europe's thunder next summer...

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Nelson Mandela Challenge champions!

Well, the nats got the victory in South Africa, and, considering the altitude and the youth in the lineup, that is the most important thing. Plus, I think we affirmatively learned some things from this game, and that is another good reason for playing friendlies. But, alas, the video from this game will certainly not be packaged and sold to fans as a banner moment from our nation’s efforts at the beautiful game.

The good:
-As stated before on Balompie, we love Cherundolo!
-The starting backline looked very solid, against some decent strikers. Even, I admit, Gooch. I think Pearce was even solid (though his weak points seem to be in getting forward and in playing the ball out of the back).
-I think Edu had a good game. Hard to believe this was his second cap. Great assist to boot.
-The homophonous Adu wasn’t great, but showed signs. And those signs are tantalizing. I say keep playing him.

The bad:
-Whither DMB?
-Oh, Benny, we hardly knew ye! Everyone say it together: Feilhaber is not now and looks never to be a viable option for right midfielder.

The ugly:
-Okay, against both Switzerland and South Africa, our midfield was broken. I mean that we had extreme difficulty in maintaining any meaningful possession. We have been able to put together good flashes of attacking soccer, but nothing sustained. This needs to be addressed. Without it, our forwards are stranded. Dempsey was adrift against South Africa. (And think back to the Switzerland game before Adu came in.) If you’re going to play Feilhaber, he has to be in the middle. But given his lack of any playing time at Derby County (which is confoundingly shocking at cellar-dwelling Derby — a separate issue), I don’t think he should be starting. Together, Edu and Bradley just don’t cut it as far as composure or possession is concerned. Maybe Rico Clark should be an option in the middle.

Other thoughts: Might it be time to bring Dempsey back into the midfield fold? Or, maybe give Landon another shot in the center? In what other ways might we produce a lineup with better linkage from back to front? With a healthy Ching, (or Kenny Cooper anyone?), I think I’d like to try Dempsey back at right MF, and Landon in the center. (Throw Adu or Jozy up top with the target man.) Beasley is a lock on the left. And then take your pick for another MF—Bradley, Edu, Mastreoni. I think that gives us a dynamic MF that might do a better job of holding the ball and building dangerous and diversified attacks. Thoughts?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Spanish lesson time! Today's topic: "la gran sensaciĆ³n de la Major Soccer League"

The gist: might Jozy be making the ultimate move soon?

p.s.--don't you just love "Major Soccer League"? Ah, we only wish it were true!

"Game" time! (ba-da-bing!)

I kill myself! Anyway, the picture is the MNT on safari in South Africa. I like the pith helmets. More pics available here.

So, on to the match. Scotto's predicted (though not preferred) starting 11:

Again, this is predicted, not preferred. But I think with our dearth of forwards you might see Adu start up top with Dempsey, and he’d be a little withdrawn, almost as a MF. I just don’t see Jozy getting the start in his first call up (unless he has been a beast in training). I do bet Deuce comes out at 60-70 to make way for Jozy, so he and Freddy can try and rekindle their under-20 magic.

As for the MF, I see Bradley continuing the ill-fated “Benny at right MF” test, and probably also gong with the Bradley-Edu pairing again. I could see Sacha maybe working in there as well instead of Benny. I’d normally say Bradley-Edu is overly defensive, but Bradley has been a beast getting forward in the Dutch league, so maybe not.

On D, I’d prefer to see Pearce or Spector on the left, but we all know that Bob has a man-crush on Bornstein, so it won’t happen. And, with the options in the center, no way Gooch doesn’t start. Sigh.

One big bonus to this lineup: possible announcer confusion with “Edu” and “Adu” both playing. Could be riotous, unless they wisen up and start calling Adu “Freddy.”

And, again, looking at this lineup, is Bradley scouting out our Olympic team for Nowak? Or is it just that we have so many promising youngsters available?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

USA v. South Africa

I know this weekend is the finals of the MLS Cup. But I'm more excited (as I always am) about the national team match, even though it's against an opponent I know practically nothing about.

Match details: Nov. 17 in Johannesburg. Kickoff for the "2007 Nelson Mandela Challenge Cup" is set for 4 p.m. local time (9 a.m. ET), and the match will be broadcast live on Fox Soccer Channel and Galavision. Sweet.

The MNT Blog that U.S. Soccer runs whenever the Nats play is actually pretty interesting this go round. (Good story of Adu running in to a Benfica supporter on an elevator.)
Yet, hands down, the best part of this weekends game? It could mark Jozy Altidore's senior national team debut!!! The time has finally come. Let Jozy's conquering of world football begin.
Player pool:
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Chivas USA), Tim Howard (Everton, England)

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra (Fulham, England), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover, Germany), Dan Califf (Aalborg, Denmark), Oguchi Onyewu (Standard Liege, Belgium), Jonathan Spector (West Ham), Heath Pearce (wherever it is he plays, which I can't recall at the moment).

Midfielders: Freddy Adu (Benfica, Portugal), DaMarcus Beasley (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland), Michael Bradley (Heerenveen, Netherlands), Maurice Edu (Toronto), Benny Feilhaber (Derby, England), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (New York), Clint Dempsey (Fulham, England)
My guess on the starting 11 later in the week, but a decent chance Adu could get a start.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Many apologies from Slurpo-san, who is indeed a big loser for not doing more to keep the blog rolling. I just got back from crappy work-related travel, and leave again today for another few days. I'm sure there is some sort of irony in having to travel on Veteran's Day, a day that is supposed to honor those who served, rather than being able to relax and enjoy the day. but alas, I'm too tired to find the irony.

Anyway--I was going to put this in the comments, but realized I have enough to say to warrant a post.

1MLS playoffs--concur, its a crappy system, but consistent with what America seems to like. MLB, NHL and NBA all play extended regular seasons, but its all about the playoffs--and the same thing (crappy team winning it all) can happen in any of those sports--witness the '06 Cards who won 83 games in the MLB regular season, squeaked into the playoffs and peaked at the right time.

I much prefer the Euro system but it will be a struggle to get that system to generate excitement here. Witness NASCAR's recent change to a 10-race "postseason", or Golf's FEDEX cup. Both are designed to foster interest late in the season when it might otherwise wane because a particularly dominant player/team has a big lead. I certainly don't like the American obsession with do-or-die, winner take all playoffs--especially since they are frequently anti-climactic--but I do understand why its a tough sell in the States. That said, MLS could at least make it a two-legged playoff all the way through until the finals. Why are the semis a "one-off" contest?

2) I'm excited to see if MLS can keep up the momentum with more quality DPs this offseason. Blanco (the neckless wonder), Juan Pablo Angel, Toja and others really improved the quality of play and brought a heretofore lacking attacking flair. As much as I hope the Beckham effect continues, that will largely depend on whether England can miraculously pull out Euro 2008 qualification--if they make it, Becks is gone for at least 2 months midseason, but if not, he'll be here the whole year and the buzz will be fantastic.

3) Derby continues to get whacked (poor Eddie Lewis even racked up an own-goal this weekend) and Bennie can't get a game? if you can't play for the worst EPL team, then something is up. We all know he has the talent, so is it an attitude thing? undisclosed injury?? clash with the coaches???

4) I was not surprised to see Yallop leave, but very surprised to see Gullit hired. I thought Klinsmann would be THE perfect candidate for that job. And yet his name was barely mentioned. I can't help but think that he just flat out doesn't want to coach, and has made it very, very well known. That or every GM/owner has pictures of him and a donkey. Either way, as surprising as Klinsmann unemployment is, the fact that his name isn't even bandied about is a far bigger surprise

5) Watched the ManU-Blackburn game yesterday--while ManU should have added 1-2 more goals against the 10-men Rovers, a win is a win is a win. And how about that Cristiano Ronaldo? Is that kid any good???? Now that he's added top-shelf finishing to his bag of tricks, he's easily one of the 5 best in the world. If Nani can add some direct play and better decision-making to his guile and tricks and we could have a second coming of CR in a few years...
6) Minor League Soccer update--not quite enough for a separate post, but worth noting: I HATE watching soccer games played on fields with football markings. It looks so ridiculous and just highlights the fact that soccer is a 3rd or 4th tier sport, at best, in the US. Its hard to follow the game b/c the marking are confusing and its just bush league. At least New England, on the field they share w/ the Patriots, makes an effort to paint over the markings. But there were no such efforts for the Houston match, played at the UH football stadium. MLS needs soccer only parks!!!

all for now, off to crappy Jax again-


Friday, November 9, 2007

L.A. Galacticos, Weekend Preview, & some Poppies

So, it's offical. The Galaxy have named Ruud Gullit as the flashy successor to Frank Yallop. Will it prove to a good decision? And more specifically, will it prove to be a good decision from a soccer perspective (as opposed to the marketing side of the house)? Count me among the skeptical (and does Beckham strike anyone as someone to build a "total football" squad around?). I think familiarity with the league (and especially its shortcomings and quirks) is important to MLS coaching success. Ruud has no such familiarity. However, we can say with confidence that Gullit will wear that Hugo Boss team suit better than Yallop, and maybe that is what LA is going for. "LA Galaxy--the most ridiculously good-looking team in MLS."

In other MLS news, New England defeated Chicago last night to secure a spot in the MLS Cup final. Will it be Houston or Kansas City joining them? We'll find out Saturday. (And here's hoping it's Houston.)

Across the pond, on a weekend where everyone'll be sporting poppies for Remembrance Day, I'll be watching Fulham take on Liverpool in what promises to be a supremely entertaining game. If it plays to form for the Cottagers this year, Fulham will provide great, lively football only to give away the points at the end (either through a tie or defeat, it matters not).

Mighty big weekend for the big American goalkeepers. Timmy and Everton take on Chelsea, while Friedel looks to have another one of his stupefyingly great days against ManU.

Derby County play West Ham, but its on Sentanta, which I don't get, and Benny is probably, once again, not going to dress, so why watch another team beat the snot out of Derby?

Across the channel in Deutschland, Stuttgart take on FC Bayern. A few years back we would've been assured of a great match, but now probably more a question of how badly Bayern will beat 11th-place Stuttgart (though, in their defense, they've won two in a row). Either way, Ribbery is always worth watching, so this game gets TiVo'd

So, that's it for now. I'll close with "In Flanders Fields" (but let's not even start on the sorry state of Belgian football):

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Humday (Data)Dumpday

Been a while, but, alas, sometimes work interferes with fun (for both Scotto and Slurposan it seems).

Lots to potentially discuss, so we’ll do a bulleted list of topics and let the comments dictate which is the most interesting:

--MLS Playoffs: I wrote earlier that I was coming around to the playoff system. Well, no longer. Now I’m going to attach a few conditions to my endorsement. First, the importance of the MLS Cup should be downplayed or distinguished. I like the idea of an end of year tournament, but the prestige should be attached to the Supporters’ Shield. Why? Because injuries hampered the two best regular-season teams in the playoffs, namely D.C. and Chivas. D.C. was the best team over the course of the long season, and that, I think, is more of an accomplishment than hitting a hot-streak or staying healthy through a three-week playoff tournament. That said, the end of the year tournament can still be held and can still be celebrated (it would be a great double).

--DC going out to Chicago: I attended the game in D.C., and the teams put on a thoroughly entertaining match. The play was generally sloppy but the intensity was high. Chicago took advantage of D.C. defensive lapses, and their victory cannot be said to be unjust. The furious D.C. rally in the second half was a blast to witness, but ultimately came up a hand-ball short (it was the right call). I think had D.C. gained control of the midfield earlier, this could have been a different match. (Or, had their defense not gone awol when it did).

--Houston sounded like the place to be for the second leg of the series with Dallas. Something like 30K showed up to watch this extra-time thriller. That’s what I’m talking about.

--Yallop leaves (resigned from? Fired from?) the Galaxy, and the Red Bulls can Bruce Arena. The first not surprising, the latter definitely surprising. Interesting stories surfacing from NY—like that Arena and Reyna’s relationship had soured early in the season. Anyway, the coaching search for both teams should be interesting to read about.

--Lots of rumblings about D.C. still trying to sign star Juan Sebastian Veron. I look for another couple of solid DP additions for next year, which could make for a great 2008 season.

--European notes: Dempsey scored again on a nice poacher’s goal in a clash with Reading (Bobby saw about 15 minutes of action). What an entertaining match, though. I have to give it to Fulham, they may not be winning many yet, but they make them fun to watch. Meanwhile, over at Derby County, neither Benny Feilhaber nor Eddie Lewis made the squad. Starting to look like Benny’s decision to leave Hamburg for Derby was a bad one. What’s strange is that I can’t find any explanation for why he isn’t getting any playing time. At this rate, he needs to be looking for an exit strategy. Other tidbits: In Champion League action, Adu’s Benfica side lost last night to Celtic (Freddy didn’t make it in), while Rangers and DMB take on mighty Barcelona today (who, incidentally, I saw over the weekend absolutely brutalize Real Betis—to borrow from Ray Hudson’s commentary, it was like Barca were playing against green and white cones on the practice field, rather than Real Betis players).