Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Freddy Adu marca outra vez!

Babel Fish translation from Portugese: Freddy Adu scores again! You can continue to practice your Portugese AND watch his goal and other match highlights from this weekend's 2-1 Benfica victory over Maritimo here (and, incidentally, I love this new U.S. Soccer-run blog that tracks Amis abroad and has great video feeds that certain big-brother-operated filters have yet to block--knock on wood).
Scroll back to the homepage for the same blog and you can get updates on all the other yanks abroad. Note, yet again, that Benny Feilhaber was absent from the Derby County lineup when Derby County submitted meekly to a dominating Everton. I might have to put on the detective cap again. Things are not going well for Benny there, and I can't figure the reason. Considering that (in my opinion) he has not looked bad in his limited appearances, and that Derby is currently stinking up the league, I don't know why he can't crack the first team. Is he carrying an injury? Does Davies not like him? Is he a disaster in training? I think his national form has been decent, so who knows.
And looking ahead, does he stay next year when the Rams are once more duking it out in the Football League Championship? Heck, he'd hopefully get plenty of playing time then. But I vote that he go over to Holland to hang with Michael Bradley.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ray Hudson's delirium celebrated...

In case you haven't come across this site yet, may I recommend spending a few minutes on a blog that currently has the U.S. Soccer blogosphere alight: http://hudsonia.blogspot.com/. Yes, it's a blog dedicated to the hyperbolic ramblings of soccer commentator Ray Hudson. I remember watching the Copa America this summer and figuring he was under the influence of a large dose of the fruit of the coca plant, but having since viewed many more matches on GolTV on which he has commented (commentated?), I now recognize that he is always like that.
A sample? How about Hudson on Riquelme, who has to be his favorite footballer in the world. During the telecast of Argentina's 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Chile last week, Hudson called Riquelme "the greatest footballer in the world," "one of the truly great poets of football," "an artist," "brilliant genius" and even a "big, beautiful strolling zombie." He concluded, "That man, who could have been, should have been a bullfighter, because he is a true matador footballer. The tango man."
Well said. No, wait! What in the wide world of sports is he talking about?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Minor League Soccer strikes again...

What an exciting time for MLS--the playoffs are set, the overall level of play is steadily improving and of course there is the Beckham effect which will be felt even though LA missed the playoffs. So tickets should flying out the door for playoff matches...right?

Apparently that's not the quite the case in Kansas City, where the team has had to resort to the type of promotion typically seen at a minor league baseball game than a big-time sporting event (props to Steve Goff who already put his spin on this one)

"Beginning at 5:30 p.m., vendors will set up inside Arrowhead Stadium with candy and other items for trick-or-treaters courtesy of M&I Bank. Children 12 and under wearing a Halloween costume will enter the match for free with the purchase of an adult ticket and be able to participate in the trick-or-treat festivities. Participants can pick up admission vouchers and trick-or-treat bags at tables located outside Wizards box offices. Children in costumes will also be able to take part in the human tunnel on the field during pregame."

I'm not sure what's worse--having to give away tickets to fill the seats at a playoff game (not even the Arizona D-backs stooped this low when their pitiful fans didn't come out to ballpark for the NLDS/NLCS), or the "human tunnel", which sounds like something from a horror movie, and reminds me of the infamous gauntlet of Tailhook fame.

The MLS Playoffs bracket is set. Let the office pools begin! Or not.

I have never really been a fan of the playoffs in MLS. My feelings regarding the playoff system resembled what I felt about the old MLS penalty shootout used to resolve ties. I didn't like it. It was different from the established European leagues that I follow. (Note: For the record, I also abhorred the old countdown-clock style with no injury time. And the “Tampa Bay Mutiny” as a team name. And, for that matter, the “Miami Fusion,” the “Dallas Burn” etc., etc.)

But, upon some contemplation, a tournament-style competition definitely has its up-sides, and is by no means alien to the world of soccer: we all love the World Cup, the Copa America, and the European Championships, not to mention the Champions’ League and the UEFA Cup. And, with my tickets in hand for D.C.’s first-round game against Chicago, I’m looking forward to a spirited and high-caliber competition. Let the playoffs begin!

I think my real beef with the MLS Playoffs is that too many teams get in. Perhaps this will be less of an issue in 5-10 years, after the planned league expansion. I only hope they do not also expand the playoffs.

Moreover, with the awarding of the Supporters’ Shield to the best regular-season team, there is still some prestige to owning the best record (and I think winning the Shield should be touted more by the league and the media).

So, at the end of the day, the league’s system is growing on me, and I think it has the potential to be a winning format.

This year’s matchups:

Eastern Conference Semifinals:
D.C. United vs. Chicago Fire
New England Revolution vs. NY Red Bulls

Western Conference Semifinals:
Chivas USA v. KC Wizards (née “The Wiz”*)
Houston Dynamo vs. FC Dallas (née “The Burn”*)

My predictions later this week...

* Sometimes seems like the old MLS teams were named after medical symptoms. Especially when the Burn matched up with the Wiz—a concerning pairing that cried out for antibiotics.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Youth is served!

Scotto's Match analysis:
Our starting lineup (and ratings):
GK: Hahnemann (6)
Defense: Cherundolo (6), Boca (7), Gooch (5), and Eddie Lewis (5)
MF: Feilhaber on right (5), Edu (5) and Bradley (6) in the middle, and DMB (5) on the left.
F: Twellman (4) and Deuce (5).

Pearce (for Beasley): (5)
Guzan (for Hahnemann): 5
Califf (for Gooch): 4
Szetela (for Lewis): 5
Adu (for Twellman): 6
Findley (for Demspey): NR

Comments on the starting lineup:
-props for getting Edu in, but it clearly showed that he and Bradley had not previously played together. In fact, our midfield was not a very cohesive unit. Feilhaber started on the right, but was consistently more effective when he was able to work his way into the middle of the park. In their defense, they improved as the match wore on. Edu looked promising, and Bradley ultimately made his mark on both ends of the field with a goal, and some excellent covers in the back.

-The strategy to have an attacking left, with Lewis and DMB, never materialized. The Swiss owned that flank until Pearce came in. Eddie just seemed too out of practice on defense. Positioning was bad, and, rather than taking the game to them, we were exposed. DMB went out early with an ankle knock, but an early sub for a real left back should have happened anyway. Ideally, Lewis would have made way for Pearce, but this worked as well. Lewis was much better in the MF, and Pearce shored up the back.

-the rest of the d played very well. Gooch even effectively shut down the massive Streller, but was well on his way to being thrown out of this match had he not been subbed out at the half. That’s what bugs me about him. He STILL needs to learn to keep his cool better. His reputation has got to be putrid among the refs. He’ll give an elbow here and there, and then he’ll try to draw a yellow by wilting at the slightest contact by the opposing forward. I say he’s still a liability until he learns to control his emotions. So, same ol’, same ol’. Califf was not nearly as solid, but he didn’t have the hot head either. Boca played superbly (almost had a goal to boot), as did Cherundolo. And Dolo was pretty effective when getting into the attack too. I’m sorry, but anyone who doesn’t think he has an absolute lock on right back needs to lay off the hookah pipe.

-Twellman and Deuce were duds together. There was little linkage between our MF and them, so maybe the fault of the MF as well. But the game was crying out for a change up top for us. Probably should’ve happened fifteen minutes earlier. And once Adu came in, the attack seemed to brighten.

-The field was complete crap, btw. No drainage, so it became immensely slick from the rain. Players were sliding all over the place, and couldn’t get any traction. We may have benefited more, though. One or two Swiss attempts misfired because of a slipping plant foot.

Some comments on the subs:
-Pearce didn’t add much to the attack, but our left ceased to be a wide-open avenue of attack for the Swiss once he came in.

-Great debut for Adu. He managed to get involved right away, and I swear his intro had a significant psychological effect on the Swiss. It was as if they believed the hype too. Anyway, Freddy started right up where he left off at the U-20 WC. Surprisingly, he even held his own physically. On his almost goal in the 88th, he did very well to hold off the Swiss defender and get his foot to the ball. Most auspicious. Even more impressive was the free kick he earned. With a towering defender on him as he prepared to receive a long ball, he let the ball fall over his head and used a nifty leg up behind his back to knock the ball down (who else tries this stuff, much less makes it work?) and then drove toward goal where he was chopped down outside the box. Add to that that he might even have earned a PK on one break away where he took a high cleat to the face, and, well, it was about as good a debut for Freddy as he could hope for. Now, let’s hope he builds on that!

-Glad that Szetela got in as well. He looked pretty comfortable, and his driving cross led to the goal.

In sum, a scrappy performance and a fair result against a quality (though slightly fatigued and less than full strength) Swiss side. Most importantly, the young players added spark and earned our goal. Something to grow on.

Man of the match: Bocanegra

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Balompie's In-Game Thoughts

Doing this in real time to see how my in-match predictions play out.

And we're off.
U.S. slow to get into the match, but by the 1/4 hour mark, have worked way into the game.
-We've slowed after the DMB knock (he got a bad cleat to his ankle, and was slow to get up).
-Switzerland attacking almost exclusively down the right. Eddie Lewis is not covering well at left back.
-Pearce coming in for DMB might be a blessing in disguise, with Eddie slotting up to MF.
-Feilhaber so far not showing up on the right in the first 35 min.
-Onyewu off to his usual cardable tricks. Will this be another send-off?
-Field conditions terrible. Will goal come on a slip?
-Could really use some sort of offense. Adu might actually be really useful here.
-42nd--nice pressure, but sloppy. By far our best chance.Great chance off the subsequent corner.

Onyewu on his way out...as usual. One yellow down, one to go.
-Edu growing in presence as the first half progresses.

Much better last fifteen minutes of the first half.

2nd half:
Subs for US starting 2nd half:Guzan in as keeper. Cailiff for who? Gooch I hope. Thanks announcers.Great! Gooch out! Hip! Hip! Good move for foreign relations as he was about to have a throwdwon with Strellar, or whatever his name is.
-Lively start to the 2nd half for the US.
-50th--normally hate short corners, but that should've been a U.S. goal. Cailliff blew the open header.
-52--yellow card to Edu. Unfair. Certainly not card-worthy.
-53--leaky d by the U.S. Lucky that center went through untouched.
-54--saw Adu warming up along with two others. I say Twelman comes out at 60.

-58--Benny looking much better this half.
-59 nice poise by Edu. Definitely growing more comfortable as the match wears on. His first touch much better than our last generation of players
-61--so nice to have Cherundolo back! Easily our best one-on-one defender.

-65--Swiss looking alot more poised. We're lucky they didn't score on this break.
-69--I think we're looking a little wobbly now. Not stringing any passes together, Benny's disappeared again. Swiss looking the more likely to score.
-70--sure enough. Great chance for the Swiss. Another break for us.

Cailiff looks like he's 40.
76--Adu coming in! In for Twellman. Good move. We need a spark.
77--nice first touch by Freddy, wearing #25 by the way.

82--Goof-up by Guzan as he handles outside the box. Will it cost the U.S.?
Well, he makes up for the goof with a good save.

83--U.S. freekcik. Freddy taking the free kick? Well, first, Szetela coming in for Eddie Lewis. That should ensure Freddy takes the kick.
Not a bad cross. Looked like a hand ball to me by the Swiss defender! Will Swiss tv replay it?
Nice scrappy goal!
Nice, driving cross from Szetela! After a nice pass from Edu to switch fields. Scrappy ending, but nice build up.

Now, can they hold on for the victory?
88--Great body control by Freddy! Almost got himself a goal...after good possession by Deuce.

Into stoppage time...
Freddy again making his mark. Draws a nice foul. Let him take the kick!

Adu lines up, and...right to the keeper.

And game. Wow. Boo-birds out en force. Why? Rough crowd.

"I always say that one day I can play over [in the U.S.]. I would love to."

These are the words of the great Thierry Henry, as reported in today's NYTimes. More from the article:
“I think everybody knows I love America,” Henry said late last week in a telephone interview from Clairefontaine, France, where he was training with the national team for qualifying matches for the 2008 European Championship. The French earned a 6-0 victory over the Faroe Islands on Saturday, when Henry tied Michel Platini’s record with his 41st goal for France. They play today against Lithuania.
“I always say that one day I can play over there,” Henry said. “I would love to. But it’s still early. Don’t get me wrong, I just love the U.S. I don’t know why. I love the way you live. I love American sports. For me, it’s a dream to go to training and then see a game of football, basketball, whatever game. For me, New York is the best city in the world.”
Henry is far from anonymous in the United States. He was surrounded by fans last season at Madison Square Garden when he attended a game between the
Knicks and San Antonio, and watched his friend Tony Parker of the Spurs. (He was the best man at Parker’s wedding to the actress Eva Longoria in July.) Now a couple of companies are seeking to exploit Henry’s smart and balanced personality and introduce him to a wider American audience.
Henry is now appearing with
Roger Federer and Tiger Woods in advertisements for Gillette. Henry was unveiled Oct. 3 as a global ambassador for the Tommy Hilfiger Group. What is different, however, is that the proceeds from sales of a limited-edition apparel collection will be donated to Henry’s One 4 All Foundation. Henry also started the Stand Up Speak Up campaign to fight racism in soccer.
Was he surprised that he was recognized at the Garden last year?
“I would love to say yeah, yeah, yeah, I was recognized, it is great,” he said. “But what really surprised me was when I saw
Spike Lee wearing my Arsenal jersey. It blew me away, to be honest. I didn’t know he was into soccer, but I knew he was a Knicks fan.
“Yes, I do get recognized when I’m in the States sometimes, but it’s not like in Europe. In New York and in America, I can be myself, I have no eyes on me. It’s O.K. if I want to buy a slice of pizza, pay the man and sit on a bench. I can go to the cinema and watch a movie, and nobody knows who I am. You don’t know how great that it is.”
Okay, so I guess we can start the "Henry to MLS" watch. I say give him 2-3 more years at Barca before he is really interested. That will also prep the U.S. market for his arrival. His team? Sounds to me like it would be the Red Bulls.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Match Day Approacheth!

Set your recorders, gents, for tomorrow the U.S. MNT takes on mighty Switzerland at at St. Jakob Park in Basel (8:30pm local time; 2:30 pm EST). What do you need to know about Switzerland? Well, in Switzerland, they had brotherly love and 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.*

Our player options:
GOALKEEPERS (4): Brad Guzan (Chivas USA), Marcus Hahnemann (Reading FC), Tally Hall (Esbjerg), Chris Seitz (Real Salt Lake)

DEFENDERS (7): Carlos Bocanegra (Fulham FC), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Dan Califf (Aalborg BK), Jay Demerit (Watford FC), Oguchi Onyewu (Standard de Liege), Heath Pearce (Hansa Rostock), Steve Purdy (1860 Munich) MIDFIELDERS (7): Freddy Adu (SL Benfica), DaMarcus Beasley (Glasgow Rangers), Michael Bradley (SC Heerenveen), Maurice Edu (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Derby County), Eddie Lewis (Derby County), Danny Szetela (Racing Santander)

FORWARDS (5): Clint Dempsey (Fulham FC), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake), Taylor Twellman (New England Revolution), Preston Zimmerman (Hamburger SV), Sal Zizzo (Hannover 96)

My guess at the probable lineup:

* though the screenplay for The Third Man was indeed written by Graham Greene, he noted, in an intro to a printed version I read several years ago, that this semi-famous line was actually authored by Orson Welles.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Very soon he will summon an army great enough to launch an assault upon Middle-Earth...

...or at least upon the NHL's attendance figures.

This dramatic intro for what? Why, an impresisve showing at the gates this weekend in MLS, of course. To wit:

-- 27,000 at Home Depot Center
-- 25,404 at RFK Stadium
-- 22,295 at Gillette Stadium
-- 20,083 at Giants Stadium

Hip! Hip!

And, if LA and Chicago make the playoffs, I think we'll see some outstanding attendance numbers--especially if Becks makes it back from injury.

Friday, October 5, 2007

A breath of fresh air...

Much has been made of Toronto FC's entry into MLS. Could MLS sustain expansion? Would TFC struggle in the same manner as other Canadian teams in US leagues have struggled due to the weakness of the Canadian dollar (that's not a quarter!!) and high taxes? Was the world ready for the collision of the hockey mullet and the euro-mullet?

Well, TFC has certainly struggled on the pitch this season, with a pair of mammoth goalless streaks. But support in the stands has remained strong, and I daresay that Toronto has THE best home crowd and stadium experience in MLS. Of course my opinions are based solely on what I've seen on TV and I've never attended an MLS match. But even on TV the constant chanting and singing (they even have team and player chants!) is clearly audible and the streamers a constant reminder of the crowd's involvement in the game.

Why does TFC have such a great atmosphere? is it the decidedly Euro-cosmpolitan feel fo the city, resulting from a heavy influx of Europeans? is it Canada's English roots? is it the excellent beer, which, to paraphrase a certain Adam Sandler move is "like moonshine"? Regardless, MLS needs more "soccer-specific" venues like Toronto's excellent park and crowds who are esqually nvolved and knowledgeable.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

What Marion Barry and I have in common

Since sending an e-mail to D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty regarding my support for a stadium in D.C. for D.C. United (no response from the mayor's office, for the record), I've been paying attention to local discussions about the issue. A little bakstory first: The District is going to (or already has--not sure which) come into possession of land along the east side of the Anacostia River that was/is federal park land. The land is known as Poplar Point. There's nothing of note there currently.

D.C. United has put forward a plan to develop the land, the centerpiece of the plan being a 27,000-seat soccer stadium. The proposal also offers other retail, restaurant, corporate and residential spaces. The stadium plan actually looks pretty cool.

Well, it now appears convicted felon, former D.C. Mayor, and current Ward 8 Representative on the District Council Marion Barry has now entered the fray, and is strongly in favor of the D.C. United-led proposal. I'll admit that I too am in favor of the proposal. We're two peas in a pod, Barry and I. Seriously, though, Barry's endorsement is curious. Is there good ol' D.C. corruption afoot?


I was out of town this weekend, so have been slow to view the recorded matches from the weekend. Nevertheless, one of the biggest news items for American fans from the weekend surrounds the controversial Clint Dempsey elboy that cracked the cheekbone of England national team captain and Chelsea stalwart John Terry. Read about the match here. Looks like no action will be taken against Dempsey despite protests from Chelsea players that it was an intentional elbow. Glad the league backed Fulham. I concur. Anyway, lost in that confusion was the solid performance put in by Kasey Keller in shutting out Chelsea. That rocks.