Archive for August, 2009

This weekend set up very well for me to watch a lot of excellent soccer and in an attempt to make up for my lack of recent blogging, I figured I would share some thoughts.

Most importantly; Tomorrow aka Monday 8/31 at 2:55 EST on ESPN here in the States, FC Barcelona begins their La Liga title defense against the Asturian side Sporting Gijon.

Gijon, whose narrow escape of relegation was considered a success, should not present much of a challenge. The onus, however, is on Barcelona to not overlook them and recover from their Friday, extra time 1-0 UEFA Supercup victory over Shaktar Donetsk. 2 quick trophies down….the fight for the next 4 is going to be a lot longer.

The defending champions will be with out Messi as he has received special exemption to join the Argentinian National team early in advance of their massive Sept 5th qualifier against Brazil. He will probably be replaced by Friday’s supersub, Pedro.

Iniesta continues to recover from last season’s muscle tear as well and will be out. The pressure on the big money man, Ibrahimovic, is growing as he looks to get on the chart with his new club after a relatively dissapointing (read: goalless) pre-season.

Anyway, if you aren’t working 9-5 at a desk set an alarm…if you’re in a cube, DVR that shit!

Also, Monday AM saw the return of my favorite English language La Liga columnist, Phil Ball.
US National Squad
Last Thursday BB and co released the 24 man roster for the upcoming WCQ; Saturday 9/5 vs El Salvador in Salt Lake City (8PM EST on ESPN Classic) and Wednesday 9/9 vs Trinidad & Tobago in Port of Spain (7PM EST on ESPN Classic).

I’ll take a further look at the games and the implications as it all approaches.

U-20 coach, Thomas Rongen, has named the 21 players he will take to Egypt in late September for the U-20 World Cup. Apparently, continuing on this summer’s theme, ESPN will broadcast all the games in some capacity so I will make an effort to give it some coverage here.

Man Utd/Arsenal
Arsenal continues to look impressive as Arsene Wenger’s faith in this oft-criticized squad seems to be paying off. On the attacking front, Andrei Arshavin seems to be as dangerous as any attacker in the league right now and has a brilliant sense of the goal.

Alas, ManU pulled out a win in a way that only they can, while Wayne Rooney continued his goal a game pace this campaign. For attacking purposes, he must stay healthy for England going into next summer.

Abou Diaby’s awful own goal will surely haunt him for many a night but this is a long season and an early season encounter at Old Trafford isn’t the worst place to give away 3 goals. His overall performance was quite positive and he must put the gaffe behind him.

Even with out Fabregas out there, Wenger’s men seem to be playing the type of football he wants and continue to be the most entertaining EPL team to watch.

In what will probably be Fabregas’s last season at the Emirates, a title challenge would be a joy to watch. The return of Theo Walcott and, eventually, Samir Nasri will make their attacking options almost alarmingly broad and exciting. Also, it’s only a matter of time before Jack Wilshire goes all Federico Macheda on us and instantly endears himself to the Gunner faithful.

After paying vague attention to the first half of the Derby della Madonnina (Inter v AC Milan) but not being at all surprised by the 4-0 final, I took off till this morning’s Everton v Wigan matchup on FSC which was followed by my first chance to catch Juventus this season.

It was good to see Everton get some deserved points this season against a Wigan side that seemed more interested in fouls than anything else (defending, attacking, maintaining possession). I am in favor of defensive soccer but when it takes on the form of constant fouling is when it becomes anti-football. Wigan paid dearly when a well called penalty was won by Jo in the 93′ and finished by Leighton Baines. Gotta shout out Timmy Howard as well, who came up with a massive kick save early in injury time to keep the game 1-1.

The final game of the weekend turned out to be the best one. Juve’s highly anticipated summer signing, the Brazilian Diego, formerly of Werder Bremen, scored his first 2 goals of the season. Both were very well created by himself, finished superbly and showed first hand why the Torino squad wasted no time in signing him after last season. He provides the creativity, playmaking, and finishing that they were missing last season.

Felipe Melo also impressed in his defensive midfield role along with the central defensive pairing of a seemingly reinvigorated Fabio Cannavaro and a much improvied Giorgio Chiellini. No doubt they are both benefiting from Ciro Ferrara’s installment at the helm last June.

Amauri and Vincenzo Iaquinta are playing with a lot of energy up front and are probably inspired by the lack of any sort of structure in the Italian National Team’s forward situation and the subsequent opportunity to win a spot with the Azzuri for next summer’s African trip.

Real Madrid Fire Sale
In an attempt to make some money before the transfer period closes, Real Madrid’s sold multiple players at a loss late last week, both who impressed immediately.

Real sold Wesley Sneijder to Inter Milan late last week for 12 Million Euros less than they bought him for only 2 years prior. He was immediately given the no. 10 shirt and slotted into the starting lineup for this weekend’s Derby. Seijder is what Mourinho was looking for this summer and should be what Inter needed to move beyond Italian dominance and make a European run. If he stays healthy, his creativity and strength in the attacking midfield role will be appreciated by the new strike force; Diego Milito and Eto’o.

Real also went and sold Arjen Robben to Bayern Munich late last week for 2 Million Euros less than they paid for him. The addition of Robben probably gives Bayern the most explosive attacking winger pair in all of Europe and it paid more immediate returns than Seijder, as the half-time substitute scored twice en route to a 3-0 victory. Both have had a history of injury issues but as their “understanding” contributed to both those goals, this signing is huge for a Bayern team who has had trouble finding their way lately.

A dissapointing Bundesliga finish last year and a Barcelona smoking could have resulted in more summer movement but they seem to have faith in their youth products (not always a bad thing). They started roughly this season as well and had trouble finding the net with Ribery not taking part till this weekend. I hope this convinces him to stay in Munich rather than join the Whites in Madrid, because this should make Munich as difficult to defend as anyone in Germany and possibly Europe (and extremely fun to watch…www.goltv.tv).
American – VIDEOS!!!

Can’t forget…the Americans.

Jozy Altidore’s first Hull City goal in the Carling Cup midweek clash against Southend United:

Charlie Davies draws the penalty which results in the only goal of Sochaux’s 1-0 win against Monaco on Saturday:

If you want the full rundown, the “official USMNT blog” has a good one.

Cup of the World Video Special
Someone’s excellent compilation of the top 50 WC goals of all time video as well…courtesy of Sacha Klejstan’s Twitter page:

Interesting choice for number 1 but I guess this compilator values the team work of the Brazilians over the individual brilliance of Maradona.

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For the few of you out there who read this on any sort of a regular basis…I apologize but the kind of work they pay me for has been taking priority. A few noteworthy soccer events involving American’s happened this weekend and I had to share.

First and foremost…congrats to Jozy Altidore on making his EPL debut for Hull City and, impressively, contributing directly to the winner. Here’s the video w/his debut at 3:15:
It’s a great, creative thought/ball from Jozy to set up the winning goal, a side of his game which is there but which Jozy can only benefit from improving further; the thought is only half the battle, the skill to execute is just as vital and more impressive.
Check out 4:50 for a near miss from Altidore as well and 5:55 for another great chance.
A great debut, all the credit in the world to Jozy and most importantly congratulations.
Looking forward to the Aston Villa v Liverpool game this afternoon on ESPN2 in the states, 3PM EST. Liverpool has had two very different showings so far while Villa lost to an impressive Wigan side to start this season after an impressive 08/09 campaign. Anfield will be a tough place for them to get points but they have the offensive firepower to find the net once or twice. Word is that Yossi Benayoun is relishing his starting role and the energy he brings for 90′ is unrivaled, ‘Pool is at their best with him on the field.

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Not going to spend too much time discussing what happened earlier today but just a few quick thoughts for now.

Overall, I think the US looked ok, they came out playing well and took the game right too Mexico. They kept the midfield battle pretty even and looked up to the task for the first 10′. Davies’ goal was very well taken off a very nice move in the midfield from Donovan; great touch and a perfect ball. Davies took it in stride and finished calmly and clinically.

Thats about where the positives ended as right after the goal the US basically decided to pack the back and attempt to hold off Mexico. When the US has gotten up against some of these teams they aren’t supposed to beat, this has been a popular style this summer and they have had trouble with the lead in these games. They must work on improving if they plan on using it further.

Some people are opposed to this style and while it frustruating to watch a team you are rooting for play against this style, it can be an effective way to win the game. See, Chelsea v Barcelona Champions League 2010 Knockout Round, or, 2006 World Cup Champion Italy.

It worked against Spain b/c they were able to play as a team and didn’t get solely defensive until 75′. Against Brazil, they tried to do it for 60′ and gave up 3 2nd half goals. Against Mexico, they seemed to try it for almost 80′ after the goal. They didn’t get more offensive even after Mexico tied it, saying basically…”we would be satisfied with a tie.”

They lost their midfield form when BB pulled Bradley and Clark way deep and parked them directly in front of the CBs. They were totally taken from any possession role either as any time a defender found themselves with the ball it was usually sent almost aimlessly upfield, trying to find a fwd. Even when a fwd was able to win the ball up front they had very little support.

In order to pack the back effectively, you must have players closing down the ball immediately and your CMs should be trying to avoid letting the opposition get close to the box, rather than being parked directly at the top of the semi circle. A series of quick, accurate, and sometimes long passes can result in dangerous attacking chances.

Davies, Altidore, Donovan…have the speed and attacking style to be effective offensive players for this style, Brian Ching does not. Even when he does get up in the air and win a ball, his distribution was off and he had no one coming up to support him.

The introduction of Feilhaber and Holden helped spark some offensive work but BB still had Michael Bradley playing too deep, basically positioning him out of the ability to make any contribution. That ball from Holden which Davies came so close to putting away was brilliant. Their other chances were limited to a few corner kicks.

There were some instances when they were able to push up field, using quality/under control play from the backline but, even then, the proposed solution seemed to be a final long ball into the box. The US was caught standing around too often and had no sense of attacking purpose or form for almost the entire remaining 80′.

The final goal was well taken by Miguel Sabah but the only one with a chance at it was Tim Howard. From that range, it would have been a brilliant albeit not impossible save; it’s tough to say, but thats what you sign up for ‘keep.

We now see why the US is 0-23-1 in the Azteca. It is a difficult and hostile place to play, but the US was in great position early on. They gave it a great effort but unfortunately couldn’t pull out the point they would have been satisfied with.

As I said prior though, this kind of result should not invoke too much hostility towards the team or their progress this summer and prospect moving forward. They have improved and have been in position twice to come up with massive wins. Use the lessons learned to continue that improvement for the next 10.5 months. Also…make sure you qualify.

Others thoughts…

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Overall it’s important to remember that this isn’t the most important match of the year for the US National team. They are in excellent shape in the final stage of qualifying, needing only 2 wins from the final 5 games. Mexico on the other hand, is holding onto the only playoff spot by a single point over El Salvador; a W here is integral to solidifying their spot.
That being said, it will provide an excellent measure, in a summer full of them, of where US Soccer stands in the region and the world right now.
Win and they cap off a summer full of positive results in historical fashion. More importantly it would put them on the verge of qualification and in position to win the hexagonal stage.
A tie would be respectable and proof that Mexico isn’t really 5-0 better than the US.
A loss…esp another one of even multiple goals and, well, I shouldn’t even “publish” that option…..but I try not to be superstitious about these things.
Into the good stuff…
Starting XI:
This is very close to the best 20 the US can put on a plane right now. Of those, I believe the best 11 includes Dempsey as the 2nd striker and Feilhaber as the wide attacking midfielder, however I doubt Bradley goes that route, especially to start. He will probably stick with what worked late in the Confed Cup, although I would like to see him put Davies up front from the get go.
Davies and Altidore from the start would put a lot more pressure on Mexico and forcing the issue would be smart of BB. Mexico absolutely needs to win this game and therefore will be pushing forward from the outset. This should open things up for the US’s dangerous counterattack; an attack that is much more dangerous in that capacity with Davies and Altidore instead of Ching.
This could be more of a 4222 (and is probably more effective that way) but I think BB will start pretty conservatively and ask Dempsey to not get lost up front, letting Donovan be the primary MF->FW connector. This starting option also gives him the ability to bring Feilhaber in early in the 2nd half and push Dempsey forward, especially if they are trailing. Despite my hope that Davies starts, I think Ching will get the nod because of experience and probably gives way between 45′ and 60′ to Davies and his pace that everyone slurps.
In getting down to 17 players, I think BB will leave Holden, Casey, and Bornstein to watch from sidelines.
Who to Watch:
Landon Donovan asserted himself as the leader of this team in the Confederations Cup and needs to use his experience to help the kids stay within themselves tomorrow. Dumb fouls, giveaways, kick and chase, etc will all be detrimental to the team. They must play the game they prepared to play and it will be on Donovan to ensure this happens, at least from the midfield forward.
Donovan should have a chance to shine with his play as well. The counterattack should be in full effect for the US and he is integral to their ability to break in the other direction.
Tim Howard has had a fabulous summer thus far and can cap it off tomorrow. The Mexican attack is very dangerous and Howard will undoubtedly be tested early and often. It will be up to him to ensure that the back line maintains their shape/discipline throughout, and come up with some big saves.
Jay Demerit seems to have helped the US find a LB solution in Carlos Bocanegra by proving himself in the Confed Cup. The time is now for him to make that CB position his for the next year.
Michael Bradley, a CM in the mold of Claudio Reyna, has a ton of talent and potential but the only thing holding him back is his temper. His quality this summer has so far been marred by letting it get the better of him too often. Tomorrow’s atmosphere will be the most hostile he has ever seen, staying on the field is key to both the US’s chances and his personal development.
Jozy Altidore/Charlie Davies…the chances for the US will probably by outnumbered by Mexico, so it will be that much more important to finish those that come up. These two, if healthy, should form the strike pair for the US next summer and this will be a good test for them.
In closing, the US has the quality and form to pull out a win tomorrow. Once the whistle blows though, everything goes out the window and its up to those 11 on the field to play as a unit. Azteca Stadium is one of the most difficult places in the world and this Mexican team is coming together, but the US has the quality and ability to play with anyone in the world for 90 minutes. Do it.
A few others….
US v Mexico TV Station Update:

A brief note on the TV situation for this game. CONCACAF WCQ TV rights are held by domestic broadcasters of the home team, Telemundo in this case. They couldn’t come to an agreement to sell the rights to ESPN in the US, so it will be broadcast in Spanish on Telemundo and in english on Mun2. NBCUniversal announced that Mun2, which is regularly available in only 31 Million Homes nationwide, will be available free to twice that many homes tomorrow, including the following providers; ATT U-Verse TV, Charter, Comcast, DirecTV, Dish Network, and Time Warner Cable. Channels are in parenthesis…

Time Warner (Southern Manhattan) – Telemundo (47), Telemundo HD (747), Mun2 (126)
Cablevision (Southern Westchester) – Telemundo (16), Mun2 (197/227), Telemundo HD (714)
Anywhere else, I am apologize for leaving you out but TVGuide.com is real easy to use. www.TVGuide.com
Also, the WWL (affectionately known as ESPN) is broadcasting their own pre-game show from outside Azteca at 3:30 PM with Bob Ley and Alexi Lalas. A move that is utilized for most major American sporting events they don’t broadcast but this will be the first time they have ever done it with a soccer game which isn’t on their network.

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BB and co. have announced their squad for a short training camp before travelling to Mexico on Tuesday. In all its glorious nature….

GKs: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan
Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein, Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit, Chad Marshall, Oguchi Onyewu, Jonathan Spector
Midfielders: Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Clint Dempsey, Benny Feilhaber, Stuart Holden, Jose Francisco Torres
Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Conor Casey, Brian Ching, Charlie Davies, Landon Donovan
Quick Thoughts:
This will mark many the first trip to the Azteca for a few of the key players out there and how the veterans are able to lead and the young ones cope with the atmosphere will tell a lot about how far this team has really come this summer.

Bocanegra, Onyewu, Donovan, and Dempsey will be counted on to lead while keep an eye on DeMerit, Bradley, Clark, Torres, Altidore and Davies to see how they respond to an atmosphere unlike any other.

The only real surprise inclusion is Chad Marshall, who BB must have liked enough during the Gold Cup to move up to the A squad. It also probably means that Bocanegra will be utilized as the LB and therefore another pure CB was needed. I like this.

It will be key for Michael Bradley to keep his cool in what will surely be the most hostile of environments. He is famous for his temper and will have all his tackles watched closely. He will be integral to the US’s success/failure though and absolutely needs to stay on the field.

Glad to see Holden get a call up and even if he doesn’t get in the game, it will be good experience to train and travel to the Azteca.

With Guzan’s impressive performances during Aston Villa’s preseason, I think everyone can be confident in the GK situation for a long time.

Not sure why BB needs both Conor Casey and Brian Ching as they are basically exactly the same player. Big and slow but willing to work hard. I don’t think either has the pedigree to make an impact in the interational game though. Ching specifically brings WCQ experience but not the necessary skill.

The US is very thin up front, throughout the entire national team system, and will have trouble filling either Davies/Altidore’s shoes should one or both go down with an injury. Even those two are still very very raw and will need to polish themselves in the coming year. Their performance here will be fascinating to watch but shouldn’t torn apart.

I was going to put in my starting 11 + some of my own thoughts here but that can wait until next week when the game is upon us…along with some what to watch fors and maybe a prediction. Stay tuned and get pumped.

Happy Friday!

The World Wide Leader and their obligatory brief call out…

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