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Archive for the ‘Highlights’ Category

This was originally going to be a post about the lack of an EPL team in the Champions League final since 2003; however, being a Barcelona fan, I must give due credit to today’s 2-0 result at the Bernabeu. Rather than talk, here are some ghetto highlights…

If anyone had a doubt about the level at which Lionel Messi is playing, there is no longer an argument about him being the best player in the world right now. You could argue that I am just making a statement for the self important reasons of making a statement like that, but it is so easy to say, there should be no illusions about my motive. It’s true, thats it.

Due credit must be given to the team around him with out which this wouldn’t be possible. If I had the resources, I would love to know the % of Messi’s goals which have been assisted by Xavi Hernandez. He served the first one today on a platter and played an inch perfect pass on Pedro’s 2nd half effort to put Barca up 2-0. With out some excellent goal keeping from Iker Casillas, there is no doubt that Lionel could have had an additional 2 goals, both supplied by Xavi.

The game itself was everything it was billed to be, probably only because in my opinion there are fewer things greater than watching Barcelona completely outclass Real Madrid. Carlos Puyol brought his usual ‘reserved only for El Classico’ performance, Pedro continued his breakout season, and it was evident that Real Madrid were frustrated after Messi’s opener.

Credit should also be given to Pique and Milito for anchoring the defense, Keita for being relentlessly active in the midfield, and Dani Alves for providing a right sided attack when Guardiola moves Leo into the middle.

The fact that Real Madrid attempted to spend their way to Barcelona’s level and are already out of Champions League only made it sweeter. Barcelona is now in prime position to win their 2nd La Liga title in a row; 7 games remain and they are up 3 points, leading on the first tiebreaker (head to head record).

Coming less than a week after Messi’s incandescent personal defeat of Arsenal (an obvious overstatement, but more than one website has listed that performance as a perfect 10…video just below) is what has actually put an end to any debate about his current form. His control is immaculate, his time to top speed unmatched, and the overall rythym of his game set him apart from absolutely everyone else out there.  In fact, that statement alone trivializes his game right now.  Enough Slurp?  Ladies and gentlemen, the hilites…

Ever??

The British announcer calls him “the most talented footballer of his generation,” others will make similar statements for various reasons, and there is an argument to be made there.  Personally, I would say that to be considered among the truly great footballers of all time, that  rare tier of 3 or maybe 4 players, he must succeed on the world stage.

He is currently turning himself and Argentina’s success into the main story line during the lead up t0 the upcoming World Cup.  It is a different game though and single elimination can be a doozy for any team.  While failure doesn’t rule him out, it will mean another 4 years until he is afforded the opportunity again.

Others…

A good collection of world reaction to Tuesday’s win from the NYTimes.

A good look at Messi’s status around the World from one of America’s most connected soccer writers.

Champion’s League Final Four

If Barcelona are able to repeat Champions League glory in the May 22nd final in Madrid, it will be the ultimate proverbial icing on the cake of 2 years of beautiful soccer, or cherry on top, or any other food related superlative. They will also be the first ever back to back champions in the “Champions League Era.”

Of course getting there will be very difficult. The upcoming semi-final is against an Inter Milan team which has the class, experience, and determination to stop Barcelona from playing their style. Of course, no one has really been able to effectively do that in a long time.

Eto’o coming back to send Barcelona packing almost seems true before it happens.  He is one of those athletes who elevates his game when he’s convinced he has been slighted or disrespected and the trade of him +43.25 Million Euros is, in my opinion, slightly disrespectful (this is the nature of running a successful professional sports team).

Additionally, Jose Mourinho has provided problems for the Catalans in the past, it should be noted that Barcelona got the better of the group stage battles (0 0 tie in Milan, and a 1 0 victory in the Nou Camp).

Mark it on your Calendar, April 20/28, 2:45 PM EST; second leg in Catalunya.

Donde Esta El Brits?

As stated earlier, up until today the headline from Europe must have been that this is the first time in 7 years that there is no English team in the final four of the Champions League.  While there was the obvious overreaction on the part of the British, this does not a represent a decline in the EPL but rather just the end of a great run of continental football.

In elimination style competitions, even two-leg versions, there are bound to be surprising trends (witness the Big East’s variation from the 2009 NCAA basketball tournament to this year’s version).

It was a brilliant goal from Arjen Robben (one of the deftest signings of last summer) which sent Bayern through to a semi final date with Lyon.  If you haven’t seen it….

While the Inter/Barca semi-final is the marquee matchup, neither of these teams should be counted out in the final. They have both beaten teams which many believe to be better them; Lyon over Madrid in the round of 16 and Bayern outplaying Man Utd in the Quarterfinals.

Lyon has experience in this competition and the confidence that comes with getting to this point. They are willing to sit back and take the goals when the opportunities present themselves. You must be finishing effectively for this to work and Lisandro has spear headed some excellent counter attacking football.

Munich’s attack pairing of Ribery and Robben is as fast and lethal as anything out there. With a goal in each leg vs United, Ivica Olic’s European performances have added that in form striker who can change the game on his own accord.

That is all for now…I continue to want to provide some updates on the USMNT but right now your soccer focus should be on the culmination of the European season over the next 6 weeks.

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It’s a good thing I didn’t write that final preview for the US v Honduras game as it definitely would not have come close to foreshadowing that type of result. Overall it seemed more like Honduras were intimidated at home and the US was able to capitalize when opportunities presented themselves.

I though the inclusion of Stuart Holden worked out pretty well, as he showed flashes down the right hand side and defended pretty. His handball late could have been disastrous but he got lucky. Hopefully he this valuable experience helps him to keep improving. His service from the right is more often than not, exceptional.

Speaking of which, a great ball into Charlie Davies midway through the first half really should have been finished. Improving as a striker means those are the chances that must be taken calmly. Davies didn’t seem to be a threat at any other time although his pace clearly makes opposing defenders nervous.

His striker partner, the surprising inclusion, Conor Casey is the headline stealer as the US secured their 6th World Cup birth in a row. Never a threat with the ball at his feet but who can argue with two goals. The first one is the type I hate as it reinforces that kick and pray type of soccer which is so often associated with Americans. It is rarely effective and Casey got lucky that the Honduran GK was indecisive enough to allow him to get there first. The second goal was the product of a great ball from Donovan but did require a clinical finish; never underestimate the importance of clinical finishing from a striker and this is was Casey brings to the game. He will not create chances on his own but give him a chance and he is excellent at finishing.

Speaking of Landon Donovan, the Man of the Match IMO, for the US. He is the energy and vision going forward and he seems to be embracing the role of offensive leader for this team. As Donovan goes, so goes the US. His free kick, which turned out to be the game winner, was a blast but benefited slightly from more suspect Honduran GK’ing. His celebrations could also use some work, maybe talk to Davies and Altidore about that buddy. Will he get a shot to make a move to Europe in Jan? Does he want to? It might serve him well going into next summer but his form is so good right now that I am not sure you want to make such a drastic move.

Michael Bradley wasn’t present for much of the game but did make some very good runs going forward. He also has a wicked right foot and isn’t afraid to take his chances from outside the box, something you have to like to see.

Jonathan Spector and Jonathan Borenstein both provided some quality going forward, an important part of helping cohesive forward progress, but were definitely suspect in the back. I like the potential that Spector brings but his final ball never seems to be on the mark or direct enough. Borenstein sometimes seems to get lost out there and while I like his desire, he still has a way to go before being a threat.

In the center, Carlos Bocanegra was a beast. He was in position and came up with multiple key blocks. Maybe his role for the US is in the center but only if BB can find a valid solution on the left I think. Edgar Castillo, donde esta?

Oguchi Onyewu didn’t seem to be at his best. From an early turnover followed immediately by a bad foul, his lack of playing time in Milan seems to be hurting. He did get in during Milan’s latest CL debacle so hopefully that is a sign of things to come. His form going into next summer is as important as anyone in the back.

Overall it was an excellent way to guarantee a place next summer and avoided the must-win scenario that wouldn’t be fun for anyone on Wednesday. The next step is putting together a win on Wednesday in DC, guaranteeing first place in the CONCACAF hexagonal stage, and making their case for being in one of the top 2 pools for the WC draw.

For those of you who didn’t get to see any of the game….

US vs Honduras Highlights – 10/10/09

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Spain Vs United States Highlights 6/24

Quick thoughts…
Tim Howard showed why so many consider him one of the top GKs in the Premier League and therefore the world at this time. Quick off his line, aggressive and accurate in the air, and constantly in great position to make big save after big save.
Bocanegra on the left was a brilliant move by BB. It is the best solution at this time as it allows the US to get their best defensive players on the field at once. Onyewu was a stud and as I said has really developed the instincts and mental clarity needed to be a world class Center Back…this should do wonders for this imminent transfer. Borenstein has potential but he doesn’t bring enough offensive ability to justify the defensive dropoff.
Dempsey probably played his best game of the tournament so far but still think that when he’s playing as a striker, even if its slightly deeper than Jozy, is when he’s most effective. It also allows Feilhaber to get on the field, and I can’t recall an American who seems so natural and controlled with the ball at his feet.
Jozy played very well and I hoped that playing against the nation where he plays his club soccer would inspire him to put forth maximum effort and it seemd to do so. His play to get in position for the goal was brilliant and while he got a little lucky with the shot as it was almost right at Casillas, he did have him going the other direction.
Charlie Davies and his speed cause problems for opposing defenses but he needs time to mature and develop a better sense of the where he/his teammates are on the field. Starting him though, and then making that ~60th min change to Feilhaber on the right and Dempsey up front is an option I like though.
Spector has shown a lot this tournament and while I still like Hejduk back there for the time being, the future is bright and clear at the RB position for the US.
While it’s always unfortunate to see someone go down hurt, Bocanegra in this case, I am really happy that Jay Demerit finally got a big chance (READ THIS ARTICLE FROM SI IN ’06). He plays as hard as anyone out there and brings an aggressiveness to this backline that only improves this team.
Landon Donovan has been a sparkplug for this team and hopefully he understands how important he is to this team. Performing in CONCACAF qualifying is one thing but finally he didn’t disappear on a huge stage.
Michael Bradley’s Red Card was absurd….honestly, that was fcking bullshit. The ref had it out for the American’s all night it seemed and that really just confirmed it. Sometimes I think referees from classic soccer nations get upset when the American’s play well and then decide it’s their own job to show them up somehow. It’s a disgrace and hopefully FIFA looks at it and accepts some sort of appeal. He didn’t come in late, with two feet, cleats up, or with any malicious intent…..where’s the red card??? Please….tell me??
GFY Jorge Larrionda from Uruguay
Others thoughts…

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