Monday, November 17, 2008

Bye Bye Bernd?

There is growing talk out of Madrid that Real Madrid coach Bernd Schuster is on the way out. A presser has been called for this evening by Predrag Mijatovic, Real sporting director. There has been reported growing tension between Schuster and the players, although that has been downplayed in the media. What remains to be seen is if 1) he really is leaving and 2) who would they bring in right now. The woes that Real Madrid have experienced this season is not necessarily the manager’s fault, in my mind. I don’t think Real is losing games due to failed strategy and tactical measures. He’s not fielding the wrong lineups. Real has not been playing well at all, and there have been several injuries to key players. Already, Wesley Sneijder and Guti, along with many others, have missed considerable time with injuries, and Ruud van Nistelrooy is out for the season with a knee injury. This has thrown their regular rotation out of wack.

There are no excuses for how they’re playing. Their defense has been hurt, but they have also played lethargic and sloppy, leaving Casillas to look like he’s an average goalkeeper. The midfield has also been banged up, but haven’t gotten the job done. And, as a result, fewer opportunities are being created for the strikers up front, and without Ruud’s height and ability to play in the air, their scoring options have been limited. None of this, however, seems to be Schuster’s fault.

Now, if Bernd has not been playing the right people and has lost the confidence of the locker room, then maybe it’s time to make a change. However, I think you do that in the offseason. Letting go of the coach now is not the answer, and will not help you. The players need to get healthy, they need to be more focused and sharper on both offense and defense. That is the only way that they can play to the caliber necessary to continue in the Champions League and compete for the La Liga title. After the success of the past 2 years in La Liga, it would be a shame for them to fizzle out this year. They also need to make it as far as they can in the Champions League to keep their opportunities to win silverware open. But, firing Schuster just doesn’t do it for me. Hopefully they continue to keep him on and see this season out…but it looks like that may not happen.

UPDATE: Looks like Bernd will remain at the Bernabeu.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Beckham to Milan?

Lots of soccer media channels like ESPN Soccernet and Fox Soccer Channel are reporting that AC Milan is close to a deal with the L.A. Galaxy to bring in David Beckham on loan for the rest of their season. This loan is being done, according to the report, so that Becks can stay match fit for the World Cup Qualifiers for England, and so he can continue to play first-team soccer in the offseason. Fabio Capello, the England manager, has stated that he will not choose anyone that is not playing competitive soccer. With the MLS offseason starting this weekend and next season not starting until April, this is not the time for Becks to be sitting.

If this loan deal to AC Milan goes through, I think it’s a winner for Becks. The underlying question is: has America seen the last of David Beckham? That I’m not so sure. The loan deal would keep Beckham in Milan until June, which means he would miss the first 2 months (at least) of the MLS season. Also, I’m sure if he goes and performs well for Milan (and there’s no doubt in my mind that he will be a great asset), Milan will want to purchase him and keep him there. They definitely have the money to bring him on full-time, as AC is one of Europe’s biggest clubs. Plus, the squad they are trying to develop there could be epic. With Ronaldinho, Kaka, Pato, Gattuso, Dida, Nesta, Zambrotta, Shevchenko, and Pirlo already making up the squad, Beckham could be the missing piece they need, one that will be a force on set pieces, for pace on the right and for serving balls in the box on attacks.

Now, if the loan deal becomes, as many believe it will, a permanent move, then what does this say about Beckham’s time in MLS? Is it a failure? Well, yes and no. It’s yes because they rushed him into playing when he wasn’t ready, and as a result, his play suffered. Also, the chemistry of the Galaxy suffered. They didn’t make the playoffs in either 2007 or this year, when they had a completely healthy Beckham. At the beginning of ’08, they were on fire. He and Landon Donovan were a great combo, adding Edson Buddle to the mix. However, when they had the drama with their GM, Alexi Lalas and their coach, Ruud Gullit, resigning/getting fired the same day, the team just tanked. They went from 1st to dead last by losing some 10-12 games in a row. It’s also yes because it was never about Becks even playing in the mind of MLS. They wanted to trump him around the country like a celebrity. Having 12 of the first 13 games with Beckham be on the road so that every single team could see him play on their pitch was sure stupidity as far as the playing was concerned. I’m sure he felt an obligation to try and play for the tens of thousands of fans that turned out not to see MLS soccer, but see him play. This further injured his ankle, which lead to his terrible stretch of play. It would assuredly be viewed as a 1.5 season-long publicity tour that ended with Beckham returning to Europe to play some competitive soccer.

On the other hand, it can be viewed as a great success for MLS. First, Becks came here and shook up the MLS scene. It became cool to go to MLS games again (not that they ever weren’t cool, but the mentality among casual soccer fans increased). The LA Galaxy are now a worldwide brand…everyone’s heard of them because of Beckham, and you can’t go to a corner of the world without seeing an LA Galaxy jersey with “Beckham 23” on the back. His Galaxy shirt last year was the most popular soccer jersey on earth, and it wasn’t even close. Also, the aforementioned road trip that the Galaxy was subjected to in the first couple months of Beckham’s time here brought fans to MLS stadiums in huge droves. Sellouts everywhere, including 56,000+ at RFK (Beckham’s first MLS game) and over 70,000 at Giants Stadium to see Beckham play the Red Bulls. MLS teams as a whole experienced attendance increases as people were driven by the lure of Beckham and ended up enjoying the product on the field enough to come back. It has attracted other big-name talent to MLS who have made big contributions to their teams, like Luciano Emilio (DC), Juan Pablo Angel (NYRB), and Cuahtemoc Blanco (CHI). Finally, soccer has entered the mainstream sports media. They have always had soccer broadcasts, but now they have it on all the time, which is great for the game.

In the end, this is a great move for Beckham, and it could prove to be a good move for MLS as a whole. You can now start to showcase your talent better and keep the millions of fans around the world that have tuned in to watch because of Beckham and have stayed following the league. Sure, the publicity will take a hit with the departure of the world’s most popular athlete, but the league has to turn this into a positive so that they don’t return to soccer obscurity.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Still In It

DC United kept their MLS Playoff hopes alive last night, securing a 2-1 come-from-behind victory against the New England Revolution in their last home game of the season at RFK. Two goals by Francis Doe, his first two of the season, trumped the 58th minute goal by Taylor Twellman for NE. This win couldn’t come at a more important time for DC, as they hadn’t won a match since the U.S. Open Cup Final on September 3rd (of which I was in attendance) and their first MLS victory since August. More importantly, they are still alive for securing one of the final playoff spots. Here’s how the race looks so far:

Columbus, Chicago and New England have clinched the Eastern Conference slots. Houston and Chivas USA have done the same on the Western side. Real Salt Lake still has a point on FC Dallas for the final Western Conference spot.

Then, there are the two “wildcard” spots. DC right now is in the top spot of that, but they only have one game left. Kansas City, New York, FC Dallas, Colorado and even Toronto and LA have a realistic chance of making it as well, as they both still have 2 games left (this weekend and next weekend). What’s known is this: DC will need to win next weekend. A draw just will not do, unless everyone loses this weekend and next (which is impossible). They need to win and then probably root for a little help from the other teams in the form of some untimely losses.

Next weekend, DC plays at Columbus, a team that clinched the Supporters’ Shield long ago and will probably be resting players for the playoffs. This is a perfect opportunity for United to get a much-needed victory. What’s also good about this is that they are the final game on the schedule next weekend, so they will go into that game knowing exactly what they need to do. So, it’s time to just do it. ¡Vamos , vamos United! ¡Esta noche tenemos que ganar!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

USA-Cuba @ RFK

This past Saturday, the United States took on Cuba in the 4th World Cup Qualifier for both teams. The game took place at RFK Stadium right here in our nation’s capital, so you know I had to be in the building. This game was important for the U.S., as a victory secured their place in the final hexagonal qualifying round that will start next year. And victory was attained in huge fashion, with the U.S. torching Cuba 6-1. The scoring started with DaMarcus Beasley scoring in the 10th minute. He then got his 2nd goal in the 30th minute. Cuba’s Jenzy Muñoz cut the U.S. lead in half shortly thereafter. In the 2nd half, it was all U.S.A., with Cuba being a man down after Colomé was sent off in the 41st minute after attaining his second yellow card. Goals by Landon Donovan, Brian Ching, Jozy Altidore and Oguchi (Gooooooch) Onyewu capped the 6-goal effort.

The players played really well. Notable stars included Beasley (the Man of the Match), Sacha Kljestan, Altidore and Adu, among others. Beasley looks to be back in his old form, and he was all over the place scoring goals. Kljestan had an excellent game. He assisted on two goals, and he was pure gold in the midfield. Altidore and Adu were substitutes in the middle of the 2nd half, and they did not disappoint the raucous crowd of 20,293 who were there to see them. They gave a taste of why the future of USA Soccer may just be the now as well. They were all over the place, their pace was awesome, their chemistry was great, and they both made contributions: Altidore with the goal and Adu assisting Gooch’s goal in stoppage time. Howard was a stalwart, as usual, between the pipes. The lone Cuban goal was a tremendous shot that deserved to go in. But, the U.S. did their job, and now they can play some young talent against Trinidad & Tobago tomorrow night.

The crowd was really into it, so loud and packed that we were shocked that the official attendance number was only 20,293. The entire lower bowl of RFK was full. Sam’s Army was rocking the entire night, and yours truly was smack in the middle of it. There with two of my friends and my friend’s brother, we really had a good time. Now, the U.S. can rest some of its big guns, play some of its younger talent, and use these last 2 group stage qualifiers to prepare for the hexagonals.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Bring MLS To Detroit!

The MLS is starting to accept bids for potential franchises #17 and #18 from a number of different cities. Cities that are rumored to be in the running for a new MLS franchise include Vancouver, Portland, St. Louis, Miami, Montreal, Atlanta, Ottawa and a second New York-area team (more likely in the city). There is one city that I feel needs to be attached to this list very soon: Detroit. Sure, a lot of my desire for a soccer team in the Motor City surround the fact that I’m from the area. That’s no secret. But also, I think that the market is excellent for a top-flight soccer team in Detroit, far surpassing the potential for success that several of the cities mentioned above have.

First, Detroit is an international city, with the metro area including 2 states as well as Canada. We’re talking well over 6 million people. Detroit has a Greektown, a Mexicantown, a huge Polish population, a huge Belgian population, a huge Jewish population and the largest Arab population outside of the Middle East. They also have a lot of German tourists as well as Chinese and Japanese tourists due to the automotive industry. All of them are crazy about soccer. This is not to mention the decently large Asian population across the river in Windsor, Ontario. Soccer really is the world’s game, and in a city that caters to the international community, a soccer team would be great there.

Second, soccer is HUGE in Michigan. I played soccer from about the age of 6 until high school. There are tons of kids that are playing soccer in the Detroit area, with hundreds of soccer moms to tote them around to their various matches. This is a decent fanbase that will come out to games regularly and give them something to strive for. Some of the best soccer players in America have grown up in Michigan. It would be great for some of those players to eventually come full circle and put on the kit of the hometown Detroit team.

Finally, Detroit is a sports-crazy town. We’re crazy about the Red Wings. We’re crazy about our Tigers and Pistons. We’re even crazy about our Lions, even though they haven’t given us much reason to care about them for the last 10-50 years. We are crazy about Michigan and Michigan State football, and we’re absolutely united in our hatred for all things Ohio State and Notre Dame. Other teams that call the Motor City area home also get lots of support, from the Plymouth Whalers (minor league hockey team) to the Michigan Bucks (U-23 soccer team). People who think that an MLS team won’t get the same kind of love that is shown to the other big 4 teams are sorely mistaken.

Luckily, there are a group of fans who agree with me. I am happy to be one of the people involved in the planning talks that has led to the creation of the Motor City Supporters. This group of people is committed to showing the soccer world, as well as those local big-time investors, that MLS in Detroit is a winning combination. The people are great people to talk up soccer, and they’re always looking for people who are also interested in doing what they can to increase interest in a MLS team in the Motor City. Check out their blog for more information by clicking here or looking for the Motor City Supporters link on the right side of this page.

So Don Garber, wake up and realize that the potential for professional soccer in Detroit is off the charts. In tough economic times, one of the only things that never wavers is loyalty. Detroit fans are loyal fans, and I know that with the help of the Motor City Supporters, you’ll never have to worry about the viability of soccer in Detroit. We love MLS, and a Detroit franchise would make me one of the happiest soccer fans in the world.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Real Madrid - Sloppy But Effective

Real Madrid just finished off the UEFA Cup and European Supercup champs FC Zenit St. Petersburg, 2-1. An own goal by Zenit and a 35th-minute goal by Ruud van Nistelrooy proved to be the difference. Now, with half of the Champions League teams through 2 games, Real Madrid is the only one that has a 100% result (or as they say it in America, they've won both their games). Man U, Villareal and Arsenal were also winners today, which was very important for all of them to bounce back from their draws in the first set of round-robin matches.

Real Madrid has looked inconsistent at times so far this season in all competitions. This was based on a slew of injuries to many of their defenders, the sale of out-of-favor Robinho, and the loss of Wesley Sneijder to a knee injury. However, the acquisition of Rafael Van der Vaart has been a great one, as he has really worked his way into the rotation. Ruud and Raul are both playing excellent, and Guti has been great as well. One player that has proven to live up to the hype is Ruben de la Red, a player that has spent a long time in the Real Madrid system. He was on loan last season, but at the end of the season, right before Euro '08, Real Madrid brought him back to make regular first-team appearances, and he hasn't disappointed.

What has disappointed is the erratic play of the back line and (Saint) Iker Casillas. Casillas, in my mind, is the best goalkeeper in the world without question, but he hasn't played like it so far. He has been human the first month or so. He has, however, locked down during the big competitions like the Champions League, but he also needs help. Injuries to the back line has yielded a lot of turnover from match to match. The 4 players that start one game may not even be available the next. That has led to a lot of miscommunication and not enough rhythm from the defenders. What has to happen is for those players to heal and get better so that they can recapture the flow that has eluded them thus far. On offense, the impending return of Sneijder will really help their options on set pieces and with balls from the wings into the 18-yard box. He will also get the #10 shirt that opened up when Robinho left, and in my mind, he is worth the #10.

Real Madrid is still a point out of first in the La Liga table (Villareal holds the top spot), so they are still doing well. Once the rest of the injured team members come back into fitness, look out. The youngsters have received playing time with the veterans, and once everyone's back, I think the team will really start to gel, and the consistency that is Los Blancos will return.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Look Out For Man City

Man City is going to be ridiculous this season. Mark it down. The up-front pairing of Brazilians Robinho and Jo has worked thus far, and I think we're seeing a team that can finish in the Top 4 in the Premiership if they continue on their ways. A 6-0 drubbing of Portsmouth doesn't hurt.

Robinho's one of my favorite players in the world, and I was sorry to see him leave Real Madrid. However, he really has landed in a great situation at Man City, with a new owner that has made a statement by paying 32.5 million pounds for Robinho and will not stop there. Add Shawn Wright-Phillips to the mix, and you got some great talent on a team that couldn't get it done last year with Sven Goren-Ericksson managing.

I think that this is only the start for the team in The Eastlands. The Big 4 (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United) really need to look behind their shoulder...the sky blue and white are coming for them...and I think they're on the verge of starting the shakeup of the annual domination of the Big 4, and they will also inspire other teams to do the same.

Monday, September 15, 2008

UEFA Champions League Is Back!

Tomorrow, the group stage for the UEFA Champions League, probably the greatest international soccer competition outside the World Cup and the European Championships, takes flight, with 8 matches tomorrow and 8 on Wednesday. There are a lot of intriguing matchups tomorrow, including Olympic Marseille hosting Liverpool, Barcelona-Sporting Lisbon, and PSV Eindhoven-Atletico Madrid. On Wednesday, the big one will likely be Man U-Villareal, with Porto-Fenerbache and Juventus-Zenit also being pretty good matchups.

Taking a look at the groups, there are some seriously stacked groups. Looking at Real Madrid, my favorite team in the world, they have to get past a group filled with Zenit, last year's UEFA Cup champion, and Juventus. Inter Milan has to battle with Werder Bremen and Panthiakos. Barcelona, in my mind, may be shocked out of this Champions League with FC Basel and Sporting Lisbon in their group. Celtic, Man U and Villareal will have to battle it out for the top 2 spots in their group. However, in my opinion, the group of death is Group D, with Atletico Madrid, Liverpool, PSV Eindhoven and Marseille.

The key to the group stage for the giants in the field is to start off with the 3 points. You don't want to give the other teams in your group confidence with you drawing or even losing the first game. This has plagued Real in the past, as they have sometimes lost big in their first match and have had to play catch-up the rest of the group stage to barely make it to the knockout stage. Winning the first match takes a lot of pressure off your squad. You can rest some players and get your rotations between Champions League, the domestic league and the domestic cup competitions set. You don't have to overplay your heavy hitters and you can focus on bringing up some of your younger talent to get them some burn in games against international competition. Finally, as in the case of Real and other teams, those heavy hitters who are gone to injury can heal while you have full faith and confidence in the rest of the squad to make do while they're out.

It is indeed great to have Champions League football back in the fold once again. I think tomorrow, ESPN2 is showing Bordeaux-Chelsea at 2:30 and Sporting Lisbon-Barcelona will air at 5:30 (tape delay) on ESPN Classic. Wednesday gives us Bate Borisov-Real Madrid at 5:30 (tape delay) on ESPN Classic and another live game at 2:30 on ESPN2. However, if you want to catch any of the other games online, there are a few websites that stream the games. I would recommend Channel Surfing for your streaming needs. Happy hunting, and HalaMadrid!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

U.S. Thumps T&T, 3-0-0 in Group Play

The U.S. Men's National Team moved to 3-0-0 in the World Cup Qualifying Group Stage with a 3-0 victory against Trinidad & Tobago last Wednesday night in Chicago. Michael Bradley, Clint "Deuce" Dempsey and Brian Ching notched goals as the U.S. recorded its 5th straight World Cup Qualifier shutout (and 6th straight shutout overall). In the process, they outclassed an obviously overmatched T&T team as they now stand way ahead in 1st place of their group with 9 points, with return legs against Cuba (in DC), Guatemala (in Denver) and T&T (in T&T).

What struck me about this game was the performance of a couple of players. One, DaMarcus Beasley is back. His pace was excellent, and he was really aggressive in creating scoring opportunities, culminating in an assist on Dempsey's goal. He was also very capable in working with the other younger players and getting them in the flow of the offense. I'm glad to seem him back to form, and I hope he can continue to work hard and continue to flow with the offense. We definitely need him.

Tim Howard was awesome as usual. At this point, I think he's one of the Top 5 keepers in the entire world. Yes, I said it, the world. The other keepers on that list: Iker Casillas (Spain), Edwin van der Sar (Netherlands), Gianluigi Buffon (Italy), and maybe Dida (Brazil). Let's face it, Tim Howard is playing incredible right now, and he's the man at Everton as well. Honestly, outside of Iker Casillas, there's no one I would have more trust in placing in net than Tim Howard.

Speaking of incredible play, how about Dempsey? 4 goals in 4 games, including the game winner at Cuba. I just hope that he can translate his success on the world stage to doing well at Fulham, because he has the chance there to really dominate and lead that team back into the middle of the EPL pack. He is one of my favorite players on the U.S. team, and as high as his confidence is right now, I hope that he can use his time in the EPL to really develop into a go-to offensive option, whether it be as a striker or as a right attack mid like he's been playing.

Michael Bradley did much better against T&T than the form he has shown over the past few months. Maybe he's burnt out, but what I think he should be doing is focusing on playing well for Borussia Mönchengladbach, his new team.

Finally, as the U.S. seek to all but clinch the group stage in a game next month against Cuba (which I will be attending), I would like to see Bob Bradley bring in some of the younger players to get their feet wet against some quality international competition. Players like Freddy Adu (Monaco), Jozy Altidore (Villareal) and Kenny Cooper (FC Dallas) should be brought in to work their incredible pace into the pool of talent we have on the Men's National Team. These players are our future, but they could very well be worked in now so that come 2010, our roster options will be that much greater. Word Life.

Full Up, My Friends

First off, greetings! I’m glad to welcome you to the newest source for analysis and news of the game called soccer, football or fútbol.

A lot of the coverage will surround my favorite teams, which are as follows: Real Madrid, USA, Spain, and DC United (I follow them living here in the DC area). Among the leagues, I follow the EPL, La Liga and MLS. However, I do keep my eyes glued to news about soccer from around the world, from transfer news to domestic league cups to Champions League to World Cup qualifiers to Americans playing internationally.

Life in 1-1-8 is a tribute to the greatest formation in soccer, the 1-1-8, because sometimes in life you just gotta have 8 forwards. Being aggressive is the key, and my analysis of current soccer news will be just that. In true Word Life fashion, I keep it real but I keep it fair. If some knowledge needs to be dropped, I will do it. But, I hope that this can become a place that I will post regular analysis on what’s going on in the soccer world. So, welcome, but please make sure you knock the dirt off your cleats before you come in. Word Life.