Archive for November, 2009


Some unforeseen circumstances prevented me from watching El Classico live on Sunday afternoon but I was able to spend an unusually lovely early Monday morning catching up.

Definitely a big win for Barca to move them back to the top of La Liga, but playing at home this is a game they must take all 3 points from.

Barcelona didn’t look as sharp as their midweek encounter against Inter but I would argue that this Real Madrid team is much stronger. The inclusion of Ibrahimovic around the 50′ seemed to turn things in Barca’s favor slightly and he was able to finish their best chance of the match, further enhancing the genius of Pep. The ball from Dani Alves also must be praised, perfectly weighted and right out of Xavi’s bag; more often than you would like his crosses seem to sail but when he delivers accurately, they are so dangerous. As predicted, Ibra seems to be slightly more suited to Barca’s possession game of short, accurate passing than Eto’o was. Phil Schoen (the American GolTV announcer) noted that Barca is still adjusting to him but it seems a more natural fit in my opinion.

Carles Puyol was definitely deserving of man of the match accolades as he made at least two huge tackles in the second to prevent clear, point blank shots. Victor Valdes also made a huge save on CR9 early on in the game preventing RM from taking an early lead.

Speaking of CR9, in case anyone forgot he is as good as any footballer in the world when completely healthy. Based on last years body of work, Lionel Messi will probably win this year’s Ballon d’or but the difference between the two at this point is almost negligible and will certainly make El Classico the biggest club game on the planet for the foreseeable future.

Barcelona v Real Madrid 11/29/09 Highlights….courtesy of ESPN Deportes via Youtube

For better or worse, while watching any soccer on GolTV you cannot help but take note of the announcing tandem of Phil Schoen and Ray Hudson. Schoen plays the part of the calm play-by-play man while Hudson gets to wax poetic about the brilliance of Lionel Messi.
It is a fascinating tandem and a year ago I would have told you that I didn’t like Schoen (rhymes with Spain) or Hudson. However, GolTV’s penchant to show such a wide variety of La Liga matches seems to have served Schoen well. He posseses a broad knowledge of both the world game and specifically the Spanish league which (I would imagine this stretches to the Brazilian and German leagues which he also must commentate on a weekly basis) allows him to provide some excellent insights into the game which enhance the viewing experience.
Ray Hudson is a character, an english language announcer who has no parallel as no other network would allow for such an animated and opinionated commentator. He is over the top but his passion for the game is constantly on display and despite consistent exaggerations (Ibra 2x the player that Eto’o is? really?!) he makes the broadcasts enjoyable and flavorful. He has also spawned a series of YouTube greatest hits videos….

Zen and the art of watching football commentated by Ray Hudson….

In light of the recent UEFA investigation rooted in Germany; an excellent Q&A from the NYTimes goal blog on match fixing with the journalistic authority.

I am not sure I completely agree with all points he makes but I am always a fan of the alternative/challenging point of view; another Q&A with Simon Kuper, the author of the recently released “Soccernomics”

America!!! – FUCK YEA!

Due to injury, Clint Dempsey got moved up front for Fulham last week v Blackburn and immediately paid dividends….twice motherfuckers.

Original Video – More videos at TinyPic

Please BB, tell me you were paying attention to this! Please.

In other USMNT news, the No Short Corners blog reports that the US will be playing another friendly in the Netherlands on March 3rd. An excellent tune up for South Africa.

Also, can’t forget that Friday at Noon is the draw for next summer. A huge day in the international soccer community as it lays the blueprint for what will be 4 weeks of joy beginning on June 11, 2010.

I might try to live blog it, but a) I have to be “working and b) I am not sure anyone will pay attention. We’ll see though.

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Wednesday’s friendly between the US and Denmark so far down the list of important soccer happenings from this last week that I feel a little stupid even mentioning it. However, we love the USMNT here so I will provide a few notes.

Besides the goal which was gifted to Jeff Cunningham, there were almost 0 positives to take from this. The goal was nicely finished and while Cunningham did seem to be the most likely to score, too often he was muscled off the ball and seems too undersized to participate at that level. I think he would be useful in CONCACAF qualifying but the defensive quality is just too high at the World Cup level for him to be effective.

His partner, Jozy Altidore, seems to be out of form lately and hopefully Phil Brown keeps his faith in him at Hull and he can discover some form and more importantly some ball control over the next few months. Form can change in a flash but touch must be developed.

Spector looked lost in the back and so did Hejduk.

Seems that Castillo was brought on in a left midfield role, a pretty crowded position for the US so not sure that’s his best fit but at least he’s now an “American” for good.

Feilhaber and Bradley both looked good. Benny seems to overthink it sometimes and his teammates aren’t always on the same page but he’s always thinking positively and creatively.

And now moving on…


Everyone probably has some idea of Wednesday’s major news item; Thierry Henry’s blatant handball led directly to the winning goal in the France/Ireland playoff for one of the final UEFA WC spots.

The reaction has been massive and wide-ranging. Absurd suggestions like boycotting all of the companies who Henry endorses or asking him to compensate the FAI for the income they have lost by not qualifying seemed to be the first response. Since then, there has been time for those with a little more credibility to react and personally I think that is where we should look. A quick digest of my favorites…

The famously inflamatory Italian coach of the Irish national team, Giovanni Trappatoni, takes a very well adjust view of it.

Jack Bell of the NYTimes thinks it lends credibility to the 5 referee system currently being tested in the Europa League.

Ireland cited a previous example of FIFA granting a replay of a match between Bahrain and Uzbekistan for much less than a blatant handball.

FIFA issued a brief statement yesterday AM refusing the request and it seems that France’s disagreement with the request was the reason.

An Irish contributor to EPLTalk.com, and Arsenal fan, gives his well rounded view.

A breakdown of Arsene Wenger’s response to the whole thing, also from EPLTalk.com.

The former Ireland star, Roy Keane, believes it was karma for the FAI to be denied a replay. More humorous and personal than anything though.

Personally, I think things like this are part of the game. Is it a bit of a negative on Henry’s resume, sure, but he will be remembered for much more than this. The situation seems to unfold slowly now b/c all the replays are in slow motion but the games move so fast that its hard to believe that it was anything more than the quickest of reactions. He is obviously not proud of it and would prefer to have gone through in a more honorable way but les bleus will be there next summer and Ireland will not.

Having only 3 referees out there make the chance that they will miss something fairly likely. It is hard to blame the referee as the request for them to catch everything, especially at the speed of today’s game, is extremely heavy. Look at the NFL where there are the same amount of players on a similar sized field but 7 total referees. Video replay is very difficult in a sport that prides itself on flow and while it might be the best solution, I think the 5 referee system of the UEFA league has to be the next step. A referee behind the touch line would provide more points of view on play in the box (where most of the controversy occurs) and therefore provide a more accurate decision.

If FIFA is not going to force a replay then they would ensure 5 referees at all games next summer in South Africa or there is the chance that much bigger games will be tainted.

Some US notes…

The mens national team has fallen in the FIFA world rankings. These rankings are pretty irrelevant but it should be noted that Mexico has risen and is now considered, fairly I think, on par with the US.

There is still a chance to get tickets associated with the US Team for the World Cup in South Africa next summer. You have to join some sort of supporters club as part of some effort for US Soccer to raise money but to have another chance at team specific tickets is huge if you plan on going next summer. Definitely worth it.


Wrote this on Saturday morning while watching Liverpool/Man City on ESPN2. Getting these games in HD is awesome.

Liverpool definitely has some problems in the back and is now gotta be focusing on just squeezing into that 4th spot and not losing the extra income that comes with Champions League qualification.

I was impressed by David N’Gog though. Filling Fernando Torres shoes is virtually impossible but he seems to be playing more relaxed now and some excellent solo play in the box directly resulted in their quick equilizer.

Alas, a chance to move into 4th was lost and they continue to battle with Man City, Tottenham, and Aston Villa for that final CL spot.

Costa Rica lost their bid to become CONCACAF’s 4th team in South Africa losing 2-1 on aggregate to Uruguay. They gave up a valuable away goal in a 1-0 loss to Uruguay but could only muster a 1-1 tie on their trip to Uruguay, not enough to move on. When combined with Jonathan Borenstein’s last gasp equalizer in DC last month, it was a crushing way to miss the tournament for the Ticos.

That’s all for now, I will probably chime in with some thoughts on El Classico next weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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It was a rather timid affair that saw the USMNT fall to Slovakia 1-0 on Saturday AM.

The only real surprise was Jonathan Spector getting the central defensive start alongside Carlos Bocanegra. He never looked overmatched and did a much better job of feeding the ball into the midfield than Onyewu usually does. He is not the physical presence that the AC Milan center back is but he seems to be much more comfortable with the ball at his feet and helping the US establish possession.
Due to the nature of the player pool, it was not a huge surprise that BB went with the, up to this point ineffective, midfield pairing of Bradley Jr and Feilhaber. Whereas in the past they seemed to have trouble establishing an understanding, this necessary component of a successful midfield seems to be developing with time. Hopefully BB gives them at least another half together against Denmark.
Individually, Feilhaber displayed some needed (albeit occasionally too much) aggressiveness, and displayed the quality distribution we have come to expect.
Bradley Jr. also looked excellent, producing numerous quality runs forward and winning the ball nicely.
If they aren’t going to employ a traditional defensive midfielder it is important that these are able to pick up that aggressive nature and effective tackling skill.
Robbie Rogers always looked dangerous on the left hand side and provided some excellent service into the middle. My opinion is that he is still too focused on flank and doesn’t venture into the middle enough, but hopefully that comes as he establishes a bit more experience.
Up front, the 4 forwards who got in didn’t impress much. They have do a little more with the ball once they got at their feet or in the air. Jeff Cunningham probably looked the most positive but it’s hard to gather much in a <10 minute appearance
The two outside defenders were polar opposites. Steve Cherundolo showed that he has the experience and skill to provide quality defending on that right side along with a willingness to get forward when appropriate. Jonathan Borenstein on the other hand loves to get forward but got absolutely abused in the back. His touch often deserts him as well and leaves his team rushing back after giving up possession in the offensive half of the field. He did provide some quality service into the box, which is lacking across the board for the US but that LB position is still only a massive ? for this team.
Speaking of which, BB announced his 23 for Denmark on Wednesday and included was the recent Mexican defection….Edgar Castillo. The question now is, does he start?
The 2 other new additions are Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark who saw the Houston Dynamo crash in the MLS semi-finals on Friday night.
WTWF tomorrow….hopefully.

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The USMNT opens up a 2 game European swing tomorrow Morning in Bratislava, Slovakia at 10AM on Fox Soccer Channel.

A few things to watch along with your breakfast tomorrow AM…
Brad Guzan should get the start in net with Tim Howard choosing to remain in the UK. The 25 year old has impressed in limited club duty at Aston Villa and is seemingly the net minder of the future for the states. Would love to see him take control of a back line that needs to find a cohesiveness fast.
The LB and RB positions are obviously up for grabs. Jonathan Spector has found a solid spot in the West Ham defense which should help him improve immensely over the remainder of the season, can he make that RB position on the USMNT his as well? Steve Cherundolo has the experience though and deals with faster players a little better, I would imagine each one gets a start over the next two weeks.
Who slots in next to Carlos Bocanegra in the middle….Chad Marshall will probably get the nod after a successful Gold Cup this summer but how he holds up against European competition will be a solid test of his mettle. There is the possibility that Onyewu will not be back at full fitness by next Summer so the US needs to make sure they are comfortable with other options. It is also worth watching if Bocanegra is able to take charge and provide the leadership that backline needs.
Sacha Kljestan started 2009 with a lot of hype following his hat trick v Sweden. After falling out of favor with BB, he has been called up again. Does he get and shot and if so, does he prove himself to be the offensive mind that the US needs in the midfield.
Dax McCarty, a talented young forward from the FC Dallas seeks his first cap and hopefully BB is able to get him in there to see how he performs against international competition.
Benny Feilhaber seemed to lose his way over the final two qualifiers, seeming to overthink the game when he had the ball. His instincts and touch are unrivaled on the team and it will be interesting to see if he can gain some international confidence with a solid performance…even as a sub.
Robbie Rogers will probably get the start on the left side of the midfield with Donovan staying in LA. Other than Bradley Jr., Donovan, and Dempsey, the midfield slots for next summer are up for grabs. As with McCarty and Kljestan, a spot on that team can come a little closer if someone like Rogers steps up with a quality performance over the next two games. His pace his dangerous but to just get the ball and bolt down the wing is not what a quality winger is made of. Smart passes, creativity, and a directness are all key qualities to look out for in the midfield tomorrow.
Michael Bradley has been on good form for his club side recently and in a change of roles, he’s actually one of the more experienced midfielders in this squad. As always seems to be the case with him, he must keep his composure and remember that this is just a friendly. His intensity is a huge quality but he must harness it.
One must think that Conor Casey and Jozy will start up front but you would have to think that either Jeff Cunningham or Eddie Johnson gets a shot as a sub; probably only 1 makes the 18 for the bench though. Both bring a pace to the field that neither Jozy or Casey can match, so it will be interesting to see if they can harness that into a solid striker performance. A couple quality efforts on net would be a positive sign, along with some good team work with whoever else is left out there. Personally, I still think Dempsey is the best option next summer but let’s not beat a dead horse and let BB experiment some as this is the time to do that.
If I had to predict something, which I hate doing, I would say 2-1 Slovakia with a Jozy goal. But how the hell can anyone really expect to say something like with any shred of credibility, it’s a shot in the dark…I have as good a shot as your sister at predicting the outcome.
Anywho, watch.

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Game week

With the USMNT back in action this weekend @ Slovakia in their first warm-up match since qualifying last month, I thought it would be a good time to get writing again.

First and foremost…the game is this Saturday, 11/14 @ 10 AM EST on Fox Soccer Channel.

It would be a surprise to see this team come out with a win for a few reasons. Slovakia was the automatic qualifier from their group and while most of their players aren’t recognizable to most American soccer fans, they have an excellent showing within the Bundesliga and scattered throughout other Eastern European leagues.
BB has also not brought in his A team, which is understandable and probably for the better. The major omissions include probably the two most valuable national team pieces in Landon Donovan and Tim Howard.
Unfortunately, despite last week’s call up, Edgar Castillo will not make is USMNT debut against Slovakia. Hopefully we will get a chance to see him against Denmark on the 18th.
With Jay Demerit and Oguchi Onyewu still sidelined, it will be interesting to see how the defense reacts.
In light of Charlie Davies’ accident there is a chance for Jeff Cunningham and/or Eddie Johnson to make a splash upon their return to the national team. Both have to be seen as having a chance at spot but will have to earn it. A little disappointed not to see Kenny Cooper on the list but once again, that makes it more likely he’ll get time against Denmark.
I will have a more complete breakdown later this week; seriously this time.
Back to Charlie Davies and his status. Based on some of his teammates tweets in the twitter-verse, and the traditional outlets, he seems to be doing better and is on what will probably be a long road to recovery.
US Soccer has to feel as if there is no shot he participates next summer and they must figure out how to compensate. Personally, I think the best option is pairing Jozy Altidore upfront with Clint Dempsey. Dempsey has shown an eye for goal and his creativity can get a little lost on the wing. He doesn’t have the pace to beat most defenders with pure speed, so why not make him the 2nd striker. His creativity would probably serve Altidore well and Dempsey’s inclination to shoot from outside the area also has to be appreciated. His control is also probably the best of the bunch and that can go a long way in winning penalties, see Fulham v Wigan, 11/8/09.
This was my point of view even before Davies went down so I think it is the logical progression.
There is also enough depth on that right hand side to move Dempsey forward. Pace? Stuart Holden. Control/creativity? Feilhaber.
Random Note…
The original topic for this blog, Marcus Tracy, scored his first goal of the Danish season in a rare start on Saturday. It was his team’s only goal and secured them much needed 3 pts.
With the lack of attacking options for the US, is there a single good reason why he shouldn’t be in the 22 for the Denmark friendly?

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