Friday, December 4, 2009

The Draw

It was glitzy, it was glamorous…it had Charlize Theron! The World Cup draw took place today in Cape Town, South Africa, and it left USA fans salivating. First, after placing the seeded teams, they proceeded with slotting the other teams. Here it is:

Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France
Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, S. Korea, Greece
Group C: England, USA, Algeria, Slovenia
Group D: Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana
Group E: Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon
Group F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia
Group G: Brazil, N. Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal
Group H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile

Taking a look at this draw, the US team has to be extremely happy. They have a marquee matchup with England to kick off the World Cup, and they have the two weakest teams in the other pots in Algeria and Slovenia. There is no USMNT fan that wouldn’t take this group in a second. It gives the Nats a great chance to make the second round if they take care of business…get a point against England and win the other 2, they’re easily through.

The best things about the US’s draw is that they have a combined 3 hours of bus riding to get to their 3 matches (2 hours to Rustenberg, 1 hour to Johannesburg), including their final match which will be in their base training city of Pretoria. They also will play in 3 stadiums they visited in the Confederations Cup this past summer. They also have a great draw with their opposing group in the 2nd round, being matched with Group D. Each of the teams in that group (Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana) are beatable. Finally, the heavy hitters of Brazil (#1 in the FIFA rankings), #2 Spain, #3 Netherlands and defending champion Italy are avoided until the World Cup semifinals at the earliest. That is certainly great news.

The “group of death” has got to be Group G, with Brazil, Ivory Coast and Portugal heavy contenders to not only make the 2nd round, but progress far. One of these teams will be heading home after 3 games. Ivory Coast, which was pitted with Argentina and the Netherlands in another group of death in 2006, has to be feeling awful. Germany has a great chance to get through, but their group is filled with decent teams that can make some noise.

Mexico and France got pitted with Uruguay and host country South Africa, a very lucky draw for these two. South Africa will have to fight to continue the streak of the host nation (or nations) making it to at least the 2nd round of every tournament. No doubt, Irish and American fans will be rooting for Uruguay and South Africa to make it to the 2nd round out of this group. Italy also has a fairly easy group with Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia. Spain has a group that should see them easily go to the 2nd round, with Chile, Switzerland and Honduras all battling for 2nd. The Dutch don’t have an easy group with Denmark, Cameroon and Japan in it, and Argentina may have their hands full with South Korea, Nigeria and Greece. What’s certain is that the World Cup will have tons of drama as it always does. What do you all think? Will South Africa make it out of Group A? Will the England/USA matchup prove to be a classic? Who will emerge from the Group of Death? Who has the tools to win it all?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

World Cup Seeds, Pots Determined

Well, the pots for Friday’s World Cup draw have been determined, and while there were a few surprises, all was expected on the American front. First, the seeds, in a departure from previous seedings, was made solely on October’s FIFA rankings, most likely in an effort to punish France for their Hand of Henry goal that sent them to the World Cup over Ireland last month. Under previous seeding criteria, they would have been seeded over the Netherlands, currently #3 in the FIFA rankings and who went through World Cup qualifying with a perfect record. The seeded teams, potted along with host South Africa, are Brazil, Spain, Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Argentina and England.

The pot determination went as expected, which was a downer for USMNT fans. CONCACAF teams were potted with the Asian and Oceania teams, making it very likely that the USA could be in a “group of death” when the draw occurs on Friday. The CAF (Africa) teams (outside of South Africa) were grouped with the non-seeded CONMEBOL (South America) teams. Finally, the non-seeded UEFA teams are in their own pot.

This creates a couple nightmare scenarios for the USA, and gives them only a 1/8 chance of being in South Africa’s group. It also gives them a 5/8 chance of having 2 UEFA teams in their group and a 5/8 chance of having an African team in their group. The ideal scenario would have been for CONCACAF to be paired with CAF, which would have given them a 1/3 chance of getting South Africa’s group (since no two teams from the same confederation outside of Europe can be in the same group) and a 50% chance of getting the 4 lowest seeded teams in the World Cup, the Asian/Oceania teams of Japan, South Korea, North Korea, and New Zealand.

Just for fun, I decided to throw all the teams in the pot and have a mock draw to see what would come up. Again, only a max of 2 UEFA teams can be in the same group, and no other confederation can have 2 teams in the same group. I arranged the groups with South Africa first and then the seeded teams in order of their FIFA rankings. Here’s what I came up with:

Group 1: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, Denmark
Group 2: Brazil, USA, Ivory Coast, Portugal
Group 3: Spain, New Zealand, Chile, Greece
Group 4: Dutch, North Korea, Nigeria, Slovakia
Group 5: Italy, Honduras, Ghana, Switzerland
Group 6: Germany, Japan, Cameroon, France
Group 7: Argentina, Australia, Algeria, Slovenia
Group 8: England, South Korea, Paraguay, Serbia

Umm…damn…our absolute worst-case scenario. We’d have the world’s #1 team, arguably the best African team and arguably the best non-seeded UEFA team in our group. This would absolutely be a group of death, with this group having the current #1, #5, #11 and #16 teams in the world. No other group in this mock draw comes close to having this kind of firepower except for maybe Germany’s group, with Cameroon and France also in their group with Japan. Finally, our archrivals, Mexico, dodge a bullet and be in South Africa’s group.

Let’s hope FIFA gives us a better draw than I did. We shall see this Friday what group we will be in and what teams we will face.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Preview: MLS Cup 2009

The 2009 MLS Cup Playoffs culminate with the final today in Seattle between the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake. This is truly a David vs. Goliath matchup, with Real Salt Lake having backed into the playoffs as the final seed in the Eastern Conference and upsetting the top 2 teams, Columbus and Chicago, in the East on the road. Meanwhile, the Galaxy were the #1 team in the Western Conference, and dispatched of Chivas USA and the Houston Dynamo in the playoffs.

LA enters this match with a few injuries, most notably to the ankle of David Beckham. While Beckham says he will play in the final, he has been receiving injections to the bone bruise in his ankle to help deal with the pain, and he hasn’t practiced much this week. Still, Beckham is a gamer and surely will not miss his chance to play in what could be his only MLS Cup final. Also, with Landon Donovan in top form, the LA Galaxy will be ready for the challenge from the upstart RSL side.

Real Salt Lake is on fire right now, led by the incredible heroics of their keeper, Nick Rimando, in the playoffs, especially the Eastern Conference Final against Chicago. Rimando has been in the MLS Cup before, back in 2004 with DC United, and he provides the experience this young talented team needs to be a formidable matchup to the experienced Galaxy. Kyle Beckerman, the captain, has been excellent in the playoffs and would love nothing more than to cap his breakout season by hoisting the MLS Cup.

In front of over 40,000 fans at Qwest Field in Seattle, this game is sure to be a great finish to what has been an outstanding MLS Playoffs. While both teams have a chance of winning this game, I think that it’s Donovan who proves to be too much for Real Salt Lake in the end. His killer instinct in MLS Cup finals (3 titles in 3 chances with LA and San Jose) will be the difference as he carries LA to the title.
Life in 1-1-8 Prediction: LA Galaxy 3, Real Salt Lake 1.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

USA Friendlies in Slovakia, Denmark

As the last FIFA international fixture window for a while approaches this weekend, the U.S. Men’s National Team heads to Europe for friendlies against Slovakia on November 14th and Denmark on November 18th. Both Slovakia and Denmark have already qualified for the World Cup, along with the U.S., and it should shape up to be great test matches for our players. Bob Bradley earlier announced the roster that will head to Slovakia:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Marcus Hahnemann (Wolverhampton), Troy Perkins (Valerenga)
DEFENDERS (9): Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover), Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City Wizards), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Frankie Hejduk (Columbus Crew), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew), Heath Pearce (FC Dallas), Jonathan Spector (West Ham)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Michael Bradley (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Benny Feilhaber (AGF Aarhus), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Dax McCarty (FC Dallas), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew)
FORWARDS (4): Jozy Altidore (Hull City), Conor Casey (Colorado Rapids), Jeff Cunningham (FC Dallas), Eddie Johnson (Fulham)

Due to the MLS Playoffs, USMNT regulars like Landon Donovan, Stuart Holden, Brian Ching and Ricardo Clark were excused from national duty. Also, a couple of surprises on people not making the roster: Jose Torres and newly switched defender Edgar Castillo. Both were excused due to Mexican league games this weekend, but look for one or both to be called up for the Denmark game next week. I would imagine that since LA plays Houston on Friday in the MLS Western Conference final, either Donovan or a combo of Holden, Ching or Clark will be making the trip to Europe should their team lose.

There was only one person named to the team that really turned heads, and that’s Dax McCarty, a young player for FC Dallas who had a very solid season. Jeff Cunningham, the Golden Boot winner in MLS this season, has earned a call up despite being 33. Eddie Johnson has returned to the national squad after a long layoff. It will be interesting to see if he has regained the magic foot that saw him score 9 goals in his first 8 USMNT caps.

There is still no Maurice Edu or Jermaine Jones, who have been out due to injury. Both of them are due to return soon, and so we will see how they figure into Bob Bradley’s plans later on in the winter. For now, we will see a mix of experience and young players take on solid teams in Slovakia and Denmark on the 14th and 18th.

Monday, November 9, 2009

MLS Cup Playoffs - Fantastic

The MLS Cup Playoffs now have its conference finalists, as Real Salt Lake, Chicago, Houston and the LA Galaxy booked their dates with aggregate wins in their opening round matchups. Real Salt Lake dismissed the 2008 MLS Cup champs Columbus Crew with just their 2nd road victory of the year and a 4:2 aggregate victory over the defending champs. They will travel next to Chicago to face the Fire, who used a 2-0 home victory over the New England Revolution this past weekend to gain a 3:2 aggregate victory. Chicago will be heavily favored in the Eastern Conference final against Real Salt Lake, but RSL is hitting their stride at just the right time, getting hot right at the end of the season to make it to the playoffs and to get past the defending champs.

In the Western Conference, Houston beat first-year upstarts Seattle Sounders at home1-0 yesterday, needed an extra-time golazo from Brian Ching in the 96th minute to move on to the conference finals. They will head to the Home Depot Center to face David Beckham, Landon Donovan and the LA Galaxy, who beat Chivas USA 1-0 yesterday in their “home” match (Chivas USA and the Galaxy share the Home Depot Center), and winning their series 3:2 on aggregate. A penalty kick goal by Donovan proved to be the difference, but it was an otherworldly pass by Becks that helped Mike Magee draw a penalty in the box, setting the stage for Donovan’s winner.

So far, one thing that the MLS Cup Playoffs have been is entertaining. I have seen every game thus far and despite some scoreless draws, there have been lots of offensive chances and some dramatic defensive stops on all sides. MLS has to be happy with these final teams, with the two games to take place in front of raucous crowds in LA and Chicago, with the winner of each game moving on to a sold out Qwest Field in Seattle for the MLS Cup final. While of my original picks, only LA is left, the great thing about predictions is that you get to start over after each round. Right now, my money’s on a LA-Chicago final. RSL is playing very well, but do they have the moxy to win yet again on the road after winning twice all season? My bet is that they fall short. On the other sie, LA-Houston will be a great game, with lots of firepower on both sides. In the end, Donovan proves to be too much for the Houston defense, and LA moves on.

But, that’s why they play the games. We shall find out on Friday who wins between LA and Houston, and then that will be followed on Saturday by RSL-Chicago. Tune in, because the MLS Cup Playoffs are just heating up.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Detroit to Get USL-1 Franchise

Last Wednesday, the United Soccer Leagues First Division (USL-1) announced their future plans from their annual meeting at the Nike Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. For a few weeks, we have heard about divisions between franchises in USL-1, with some teams not happy at the league’s recent takeover by NuRock Holdings. Those teams—Miami FC, the Minnesota Thunder, and the Carolina RailHawks—announced their intention to form their own association, the Team Owners Association (TOA), and start their own league to compete with USL-1. They have received support from other USL teams, like the Vancouver Whitecaps, Montreal Impact, and the 2010 expansion Tampa Bay Rowdies, among others. Well, the USL came with their trump move, holding meetings with 9 teams that will either be in the league next year or in 2011 (Charleston is a part of that group, but were not present at the meeting). Current teams from Austin, Cleveland, New York (expansion team), Puerto Rico, Portland and Rochester were at the meeting. Tampa Bay also had representatives at the meeting, which serves as a huge blow to the TOA. Finally, USL-1 announced its new expansion teams, which certainly turned some heads: Edmonton, Ottawa, Baltimore and Detroit.

The news of a new expansion USL-1 team in Detroit has come as unexpected great news for the great and still-growing soccer community in Michigan. The largest market in the United States without a 1st or 2nd division soccer team (some say the largest in the world) finally will have a team enter the USL-1 ranks in either 2010 or, more likely, 2011. It has certainly been a wild few days since the meeting, with people speculating on where the new Detroit franchise will play, any partnerships they will have, and whether the Michigan Bucks, the PDL team owned by Dan Duggan (who will own the new USL-1 franchise) will be making the move up to USL-1 or whether it will be a completely new team.

While this news had been building for some time since Dan Duggan’s interview on Major League Soccer Talk back in April when he shared his desire to take the Bucks up to USL-1 in 2010 or 2011, this news was certainly a pleasant surprise to Motor City Supporters everywhere. The main question is whether it will indeed be the Bucks making the move or if Duggan will be announcing a partnership with a European team that will serve as the basis of the USL-1 team’s name and brand. That news seems to be coming sooner rather than later. Also, the question of where they will play is also up in the air. Duggan has land next to the Ultimate Soccer Arenas in Pontiac, the current indoor home of the Bucks. He has plans to ultimately build a 7,000 seat stadium right next to the USA that could be expandable in the future should he try to move the team up to MLS. That stadium, unless the plans are already in motion, certainly will not be completed by 2011, which means the team would have to find a caretaker site to play for their first season.

Having a Detroit team in USL will certainly help their exposure by being in such a big market. Along with the Baltimore franchise, rumored to be Crystal Palace USA moving up from USL-2 to the First Division, and the new New York franchise, USL is certainly going after some big media markets. There will be an instant rival for Detroit with the Cleveland City Stars and Montreal (if they return to USL-1), and annual “friendlies” with the Columbus Crew, Chicago Fire and Toronto FC of MLS will certainly bring out the fans for both traditional sports rival cities.

It is certainly exciting times for Detroit soccer fans, and the Motor City Supporters are looking forward to an offseason that will be full of more information about Detroit’s newest team. It’s a great move by USL, one that will eventually pay off in the restructuring of America’s 2nd-tier soccer league.

Monday, October 19, 2009

UEFA World Cup Playoffs Set

In Europe today, 8 teams vying for the final 4 UEFA spots in the 2010 World Cup found out who they were playing in the two-legged ties to take place on November 14th and November 18th. 4 of the teams were seeded as the 4 highest ranked teams according to the FIFA rankings: France, Portugal, Russia and Greece. The other 4 teams, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Ireland, Slovenia and Ukraine, would be paired with the 4 seeded teams. After the draw, the four matchups are: France-Ireland, Portugal-Bosnia, Russia-Slovenia and Greece-Ukraine.

The matchups were not what I was hoping for them, but they leave a very intriguing draw in France-Ireland. The Irish definitely have a team capable of making the World Cup, but they have a very tough task of surviving the French attack of Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka and Karim Benzema. I’m hoping for the Irish to win this draw and get back to the World Cup for the first time since Japan/Korea ’02…but the French attack can be quite deadly, and I think that the Irish will fall in a heartbreaker on away goals.

Portugal-Bosnia is one that I think will be pretty one-sided in favor of the Portuguese. Obviously, whether Cristiano Ronaldo can come back from injury to play in these matches will also be a major factor. If he can come back, send the Portugese through. If he’s out, that creates a hole that the Bosnians could try to expose. Bosnia is a longshot in this one, but if they play like they did earlier in the World Cup qualifying campaign, they will make this closer than people expect.

Russia-Slovenia will be a tough draw for both teams. I hope both teams are prepared to play in the snow, because I think that both ties will be in the cold, frozen tundra. Russia has more talent than Slovenia, but Slovenia has been playing great soccer the entire qualifying campaign. They will have to continue to play great against the Russians. Slovenia is very capable of moving on, and it would be great for the former Yugoslav nation to qualify for the 2nd time in its short history. However, in the end I think Russia’s Andrei Arshavin elevates to another gear, and that gear will be too much for the Slovenians. Russia moves on.

The final one is Greece-Ukraine. The Greeks have been great in competitions lately, including winning Euro 2004 and qualifying for Euro 2008. However, Ukraine has the best player in this tie in Andriy Shevchenko, the former AC Milan and Chelsea striker now playing for Dynamo Kyiv. Shevchenko, if he’s on, will be the one that sends Ukraine through. However, Greece is a formidable opponent, albeit the weakest of the 4 seeded UEFA teams, in my opinion. However, they have a team that plays well together and finds a way to win. My pick, though, is for Ukraine.

So, November 14th and 18th will see some drama in UEFA. My picks to make it to the World Cup are France, Portugal, Russia and Ukraine. However, I hope the Irish can somehow pull it out and beat France. It would be great to see the Irish make the trip to South Africa.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

RFK as National Stadium?

My friend Jeff put me onto a Bill Simmons article on Friday, and while it was just his weekly picks for football and other things in life, there was a particular pick that struck my eye:

RFK STADIUM (-3) over Any Other Soccer Venue
Did you see Wednesday's incredible USA-Costa Rica game? Phenomenal crowd, upper decks hanging over the field, entire sections swaying, tons of history … the whole thing was Estadio Azteca-esque, only without the fluid-throwing. I was lucky enough to stand on that field once with the Hogs for a 2002 column. It's an incredible place. Every seat feels like it's right on top of you. So can't we just make it official? Every big American soccer game should be played in RFK. We need the home-field advantage. Done and done.

That really surprised me, because although the game on Wednesday at RFK (which I attended) was one of the most incredible atmospheres that I had been a part of, the idea of a national stadium has not been thrown around that much. However, it’s a discussion that has picked up over the past few days as the nation looked back on the game and the fan experience. Here in DC, the local chapter of the American Outlaws has wanted to make it so that whenever there’s a big matchup that DC is thrown into the mix because of the incredible atmosphere that results from every match. However, there are other stadiums and parts of the country that have lots of games. Whenever Mexico comes to play in a World Cup qualifier, the game is undoubtedly in Columbus, where we are undefeated and untied. We have never lost in Foxboro either. However, there’s something about having the national team in the nation’s capital that not only has a nice ring to it, but brings out the best in the USMNT supporters.

In most countries, the national stadium for their team is in the capital. In England, it’s Wembley Stadium in London. In France, it’s Stade de France in Paris. In Spain, it’s the famous Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid. On this side of the pond, Mexico almost always plays in Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. Trinidad & Tobago play in their national stadium in Port of Spain, El Salvador plays in San Salvador.

Now, there are some exceptions. Germany plays in Munich a lot, although Munich is not the capital. Costa Rica plays most of their matches in Saprissa and are very tough to play at home. Brazil, while they play a couple games close to the capital of Brasilia, play many games in Rio or Sao Paulo. Canada plays their games in Toronto instead of Ottawa for the most part.

The idea of a national stadium in the United States is something that should be considered, although since our country is so large, not every game would be played there. Some people would say that New York would be considered with the almost-finished Red Bull Arena along with Chicago’s Toyota Park, LA’s Home Depot Center, the soon-to-be-completed stadium in Philly, along with Columbus Crew Stadium and RFK Stadium in DC. RFK is, by far, the biggest of that group, but other than Mexico games in Columbus, the best pro-American crowds have been in games in DC. US Soccer has noticed as well…RFK has held 3 USMNT matches since October 2008. The nation’s capital is easy to get to from any American city, despite its location on the East Coast. Between Dulles, National and Baltimore, there are many options for flights into the area, and just about every major city in America has at least one flight to DC. It makes sense.

Having multiple games in DC at RFK would also be great for DC. Perhaps, with the national team playing more games here, it can be used as an extra incentive package to lump into DC United’s plans to get a new stadium built in the area. You can even call it DC National Stadium or something like that. By making the new stadium a national stadium of sorts, with a capacity of somewhere around 30-35,000, it not only will make a stadium that is loud and intimidating, but also will serve wonders for DC United and their wonderful, rabid fanbase. Finally, it can serve as that intimidating place to play no matter who the opponent is, whether it is Mexico or Trinidad & Tobago. Games will always be well attended, with a crowd at or near capacity and very loud and on top of the action all game. You can throw in the bouncing stands as well, which also serves as a way to distract the opponent and disorient them. Also, with a national stadium in DC, it will be easy for our overseas players to make the trip back for games.

As this debate gains more and more traction, it’s easy to consider DC as a place that more and more games are played. It will also make it even easier if it can get DC a new RFK Stadium that keeps the intense home-field advantage, which is something that will only help the U.S. become more of a force in the world’s game. Regardless, if you are talking about creating a place that no opponent wants to face us in, RFK Stadium, located within our nation’s capital, might be the stadium that U.S. Soccer was looking for all along.

U.S. Qualifies for the World Cup; What Next for the Nats?

I had the pleasure of attending the crazy emotional 2-2 draw between the U.S. and Costa Rica this past Wednesday at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC. As a member of the American Outlaws DC Chapter, it was great to see so many USMNT fans come in from all parts of the country for a game that sealed the U.S.’s place atop the CONCACAF Hexagonal table and was a worldly sendoff for a team that qualified for the World Cup for the 6th consecutive time (’90, ’94, ’98, ’02, ’06, ’10). However, the game came at a price, as the U.S. finish the Hexagonal with several injuries to many stars.

First, the tragic car accident that left forward Charlie Davies in a hospital with a broken femur and broken tibia in his right leg, a fractured left elbow, a lacerated bladder, facial fractures and other internal injuries was a shocking blow to U.S. fans everywhere. The man that we call Chuck Deezy, Davies had a breakout summer and was poised to be inked in as one of our starting strikers in South Africa. However, his injuries in the October 13th crash, which claimed the life of another passenger in the car with Davies, has dashed his South Africa 2010 hopes and leaves his career in doubt, with it being minimum 8-12 months before we see him back on the pitch. The news got worse during the game as Oguchi Onyewu went down with a torn patellar tendon in the 83rd minute of the Costa Rica game. He’s gone for 3-4 months. Jay DeMerit had surgery to repair his cornea after scratching it with his contact lens…he is out for two months. Finally, we are still waiting for Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones, and Clint Dempsey to return from various injuries.

In their absence, the U.S. has had many players step up in big moments. Stu Holden, with his play this summer in the Gold Cup and during the last few World Cup qualifiers, may have solidified his place on the plane to South Africa next summer. Connor Casey and Kenny Cooper can vie to be the extra striker that the U.S. take as well. Edgar Castillo and Jermaine Jones, newly registered as American players, will have a chance to work their way into the talk for the final team. Finally, will we see players like Sacha Kljestan or Freddy Adu or DaMarcus Beasley play their way back onto the team of 23? The next few months will be for coach Bob Bradley to figure out his final team sheet of players that he wants to represent the United States on the world’s biggest stage.

In the meantime, while other teams around the world enter playoffs to decide the final World Cup spots, the U.S. will have a chance to schedule some friendlies to keep their team sharp and to test out new players. Already, the U.S. have scheduled a friendly against Denmark on November 18th in Aarhus. There is talk of another friendly before the one in Denmark, with the U.S. possibly playing Switzerland. Finally, the U.S. plan on playing the Netherlands in Eindhoven next March.

I would like to see the U.S. play a plethora of competition between now and the World Cup. In 2006, the U.S. played 10 friendlies between January 1st and their opening World Cup match against the Czech Republic. I think a similar schedule is in order, but these matches should be against teams that they could see at the World Cup as well as teams that have different playing styles. Finally, teams that would be big draws in the U.S. or high profile matches would be great to see. A list of teams I would love to see us schedule friendlies against, besides the already mentioned Denmark, Switzerland and Netherlands, include Scotland, Croatia, Australia, Ivory Coast, Chile, and one of the huge teams like England, Germany, Spain or Portugal. A game against an Irish team that possibly goes to the World Cup (depending on how they fare in the UEFA qualification playoffs next month) would also be a great addition to the friendly schedule.

The U.S. have qualified, but there is still lots of work to do. It’s a long time between now and June, so it will be interesting to see how individual players develop, how the team as a whole plays against some top-notch competition, and how the year shapes up for the USMNT. One thing is for sure: I hope you like vuvuzelas, because we’re going to be hearing a lot of them next summer. U-S-A.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

REPORT: USL Team Owners Association Met This Week With MLS?

This woud be quite interesting if it took shape. I dunno if this would happen next year, but a 2nd division of MLS is something that they should work towards.

REPORT: USL Team Owners Association Met This Week With MLS?: "

Received by anonymous email:


A few sources have stated that the TOA (Team Owners Association) is meeting with MLS this week and both groups might be trying to make some deal that might create every promotion/relegation lovers wet dream… MLS2.

I was informed the meeting did take place this week but the news has not leaked out for some reason. What was said is unknown.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Thoughts on The Next USMNT Kits

As the World Cup approaches, this time of year is well known among jersey aficionados as the time that nations expecting to compete in the next World Cup, slated to begin in June 2010 in South Africa, to debut their newest kits to the viewing public and millions of fans. Germany has already unveiled their 2010 home kit, and other nations will soon follow.

Here in the U.S., many soccer fans are starting to speculate over what the national team will be sporting in their expected return trip to South Africa. There is huge debate over what the USMNT should sport as their new kits, but growing consensus has been reached that most people would like the USMNT to 1) have some sort of red kit (since that is what the main supporter groups, American Outlaws and Sam’s Army, wear in the stands), and 2) create a kit that can have some identity that can live on in future kits. What this exposé seeks to outline is what could possibly be the next kits, and how these possibilities could create an identity for U.S. fans to rally behind.

In 1950, the U.S. defeated England 1-0 in the World Cup in what some people still consider to be the biggest upset in World Cup history (and the biggest victory in U.S. soccer history). In that game, the U.S. came out in a white kit with a red diagonal sash along the front from right shoulder to left hip. That look has been repeated a couple times recently with the U.S. as a throwback. However, this could possibly be something that we could incorporate as the next kit (picture courtesy of dont_thread_011 of BigSoccer). Some would say that Peru also has the diagonal sash, but Peru also is a longshot every cycle to make the World Cup. Plus, this design has a special place in U.S. soccer due to that 1950 game. This as the home kit could be paired with a red away kit with a blue sash or a navy kit with a white sash. Regardless, I’m of the opinion that the home kit is the most important, and this shirt paired with navy shorts and red or white socks would be a classy kit that could weather the storms of history and become a kit that would identify well with the U.S.

In 2006, the U.S. showed up to Germany with what is by far the most popular set of World Cup kits that we have had. The home kit was white with a vertical red and navy sash on the left side, while the away kit was a navy blue kit with a red and white horizontal sash across the front with space in the middle for the player number. This set of ideas brings that idea back to the table, with the vertical dual-colored sash being the winner (pictures courtesy of EPJr on BigSoccer). With the home kit being white with a navy and red sash with navy shorts and white socks, the away kits could be red with a navy and white sash, navy shorts and white socks. A possible third kit could be navy with a red and white sash, red shorts and white or navy socks. Having multiple options for kits is great, and working in the 3 important, symbolic colors of the U.S. flag is the only way to go about it. While this poster posted a grey kit as a 4th option, I’m not too keen on it. The other ones, however, are sheer class.

The best option, in my opinion, has been saved for last (picture also courtesy of dont_thread_011 of BigSoccer). When Croatia came about in the mid-90s, they came in style with a kit with red and white checkerboards. It was instantly recognizable, and seeing the stands full of Croats in their team’s kit is really a signt to see. Like checkered patterns, there is a particular pattern that is not used on the national team level (at least, none I have found) and would be incredibly perfect for the U.S. That, my friends, is the hoops. While the hoops are made famous by Scottish Premier League legends Celtic FC, bringing the hoops to U.S. kits would create something instantly recognizable around the world. The hoops would be red and white (symbolizing the stripes on the U.S. flag) with navy numbers and would be paired with navy shorts and perhaps red and white hooped socks. The collar could be solid navy blue or nonexistent…I don’t think either way would take away from the mystique of the kit. The away kit could then be solid navy with white or red shorts and navy socks. The hoops, in my mind, would be the best thing to happen to the U.S. kit. Sam’s Army and American Outlaws would form a sea of hoops. Wherever you go, whether it is New York or Tokyo or London, wearing the hoops could only mean one thing: The Yanks are here.

So, U.S. Soccer, take these designs to heart. The goal of this set of kits for the 2010 World Cup should be towards establishing an identity that will live on in future kits. The hoops are there for the taking…be smart and run with them. You will instantly up the intimidation factor of any stadium an opposing team dares enter with Sam’s Army and American Outlaws present.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Open Cup final: DCU vs. Seattle Sounders FC

From DCU's "Behind the Badge" blog, a lead-in to tonight's USOC final between DC United and Seattle Sounders FC. I will be in attendance to take in the festivities and the atmosphere of the oldest competition in American sports. Vamos United!

Open Cup final: DCU vs. Seattle Sounders FC:

Tonight, nothing else matters but the two teams who will face off on the field.

After weeks of build-up, plenty of back-and-forth between Seattle and DC, marketing campaigns, fan stunts, trash talk, and general chatter, tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET, at RFK Stadium, D.C. United will take on Seattle Sounders FC in the U.S. Open Cup final for a chance to win its 13th major trophy. The newcomers from Seattle are hoping to secure their first-ever title as an MLS squad.

This is the fun part, no?

If you're in the DC area, you should be at RFK. If you're outside the area, you can watch the game tonight on Fox Soccer Channel.

There are a ton of story lines to follow, and a ton of articles out there you should read before making your way to RFK's Lot 8 this afternoon (yes, we expect you to skip out early on work). Let's get started:

So, after everything over the last few weeks, what are your expectations for tonight's game? Who do you want to see in the starting lineup? We'll take your score predictions in the comments section below and pick one correct guess to win a 2009 Team Media Guide autographed by the United player of your choice.

See you at RFK.


USL owners threaten to start own league unless they get more say

This is starting to get out of control...more info below about the faction of USL teams that appear to want to break away and form their own league...

USL owners threaten to start own league unless they get more say: "
Bill Beacon of the Canadian Press is reporting that owners of teams in the United Soccer Leagues First Division are prepared to start their own league next season unless they get more say in how USL-1 is managed and run, Montreal Impact president Joey Saputo said Tuesday.

The eight-club Team Owners Association, angry that Nike passed them over last week to sell the league to a corporate owner, NuRock Soccer Holdings, announced they would 'explore other options.'

Saputo said the teams, which include the Vancouver Whitecaps, can still reach agreement with NuRock to have more say in league operations, but if not, they are prepared to play a full schedule in 2010 in their own league.

'I'm not saying we want to own the league, we want to be partners in the league,' he said. 'We want to make decisions on what direction the league needs to go.

'We want to make decisions on competitiveness and marketing. It's what we've been trying to do for the last three or four years.'

The clubs are threatening to pull out just as the Ottawa Fury are looking to join USL-1. Team owner and CEO John Pugh, whose club currently plays in the Premier Development League, announced Tuesday they have applied for a spot in USL-1, likely starting in 2012. Their bid is contingent on the city of Ottawa giving the green light to a proposed new stadium at Lansdowne Park that the Fury would share with a CFL team.

'A dialogue has to start between the new owners and the Team Owners Association,' said Fury owner John Pugh. 'I think people need to give the new ownership an opportunity to show what their vision is for the league.'

USL president Tim Holt declined to comment on the team owners' demands.

'We don't intend to debate the association in the media,' he said. 'We're excited about what we're preparing for the future.'

Saputo was scathing in his criticism of the USL-1.

Unlike other professional sports leagues, it has a corporate owner which collects fees from clubs and decides which teams get in. Saputo said other clubs weren't consulted when franchises were awarded to the Tampa Bay Rowdies and FC New York for next season.

He said the expansion fee has not gone up in 15 years because the league has done little to market itself or raise its profile in the North American market. The league has been left behind by Major League Soccer, even if the gap in talent on the field is not that wide, he added.

'We have no say on the type of owners coming in,' he said. 'No disrespect to (some) other owners, but they don't belong in this league.

'But we have no say. We find out at the last minute that teams are coming in, like the Cleveland Stars. It makes no sense. We want control of our destiny. There's a reason the value of franchises goes up in hockey and baseball and every other sport. It's because the owners are working to bring the value of the league and the teams up. We're the only league that doesn't do that.'

The Impact, in its second season playing out of 13,000-seat Saputo Stadium, leads the league in attendance and media coverage.

Saputo said he had a feeling that Nike, which got the league as part of the package when it acquired Umbro last year, would sell to another private owner rather than to the teams. He was unable to reveal the sale price due to a confidentiality agreement but said it was 'absolute peanuts.'

He said starting a new league would cost about the same, as the teams are already in place.

The members of the TOA include Montreal, Vancouver, Atlanta, Carolina, Miami, Minnesota, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Vancouver. Saputo said other clubs are prepared to join a new league so it would have between eight and 12 clubs.

He declined to discuss what other options the teams had, but in the end, he would prefer to stay in a revamped USL-1 that is controlled by the clubs.

'As bad as a the USL is, it has a brand and if we could just continue to develop the brand, as opposed to starting a new brand, that's something we have to look at,' he said.

He said there was no deadline for a decision on starting a new circuit. He said USL-1 nearly came apart last November, but they had a schedule and 11 teams in place to start the season.

'The league exists because of the teams, not because of the league,' he added. 'I think we have the power. We are united and finally, we've decided to take this strategy of looking at other options.'

Vancouver is to join MLS in 2011 and Montreal is also trying to get in, but the Whitecaps want to maintain a USL presence through a second team based somewhere in British Columbia.

Saputo said both clubs are set to play next season, in USL-1 or in some other framework, but won't abandon the other clubs while working for more power in the league.

NuRock' Bob Hoskins has taken over as chairman of the USL and Alex Papadakis, a former North American Soccer League player, is the new CEO. Nike and Umbro have stayed on as league sponsors.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Altidore's Dream Debut

In case you didn't see this from this past weekend, Jozy Altidore came on in the 60th minute in his debut in the EPL for Hull City against Bolton. 28 seconds later, on his first touch, he sends a sick backwards pass in and claims the assist on Hull's only goal in their 1-0 victory. It doesn't stop there...he had 3 more chances in the next 2 minutes after that goal that just barely missed. Truly a dream debut for the 19-year-old U.S. phenom, and hopefully this is the start of many more Saturdays and Sundays with Jozy in the starting XI in the Premiership.

ESPN Begins Coverage of EPL, La Liga In U.S.

On Saturday, August 15th, the EPL kicked off a new season. However, this season kickoff was at 7:45am here on the East Coast, and it was quite a bit different: it was in HD. Chelsea opened up the season against Hull City, and in the U.S., this game was not on Fox Soccer Channel or Setanta. It was on ESPN2. In light of Setanta’s financial troubles over in England, ESPN was able to pull Setanta’s share of EPL games in a bidding war when the FA revoked Setanta’s contract for failure to pay. That meant, in a deal with Fox Soccer Channel that was struck a mere hours before the first game was to air, that ESPN will have a weekly Saturday game as well as the Monday afternoon game if there is one. This is great because most of the games will be in HD and will allow millions of people who didn’t have FSC to watch a game each Saturday morning.

Not done with their soccer coverage, ESPN then snapped up the rights to a slot of La Liga matches on Sundays, also to be broadcast in HD. This is great for a league that, until this year, was only on GolTV. While GolTV gave great coverage, high profile games with the influx of talent that has come to La Liga will get to take center stage on Sundays. Imagine El Clásico (Real Madrid-Barcelona) on ESPN2 in HD…oooh I can’t wait.

I do hope that ESPN not only shows the big-time teams, like Chelsea or Real or Man U or Barca, but also gets a chance to show off the smaller teams in both leagues. So far, the 3 games shown on ESPN2 have been Chelsea-Hull, Wigan-Man U and Liverpool-Aston Villa. I believe this Saturday will feature Chelsea against recently-promoted Burnley. This is what this is all about: to grow the popularity of the sport through having access to the 2 top leagues in the world, and to showcase those teams in these leagues that don’t normally get the airtime. I hope it succeeds this year, and that ESPN, along with FSC and GolTV, will be able to broadcast more soccer in HD to the masses as this sport grows in this country, and I hope that this leads to better deals with these networks with MLS and USL to grow the domestic leagues as well.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Live In Person For The First Time

On Sunday, August 9th, Real Madrid played DC United in front of 72,000+ people at FedEx Field as part of their U.S. preseason tour. And, for the very first time, I was in the crowd to witness my favorite soccer team play. It was a great moment for me, because the game was a friendly against my second team, DC United. But, I will definitely never forget seeing Los Blancos come out on the field and being in the stands for that electric atmosphere. The final score was 3-0 Real, but DC United didn’t play bad at all. Their defense held Real for most of the game, especially the play of keeper Josh Wicks. Wicks played out of his mind and definitely earned the standing ovation he received from the large crowd.

While there was a lot of white in the stands, the DC fans were large and boisterous as well. It was a tremendous atmosphere for a friendly between the best club team in U.S. history and the greatest club team in soccer history. I was proud to be there, and hopefully my next time seeing Real Madrid live won’t take another 26 years!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cristiano Ronaldo To Real Madrid in WR Big

£80 million = €93.9 million = $130.5 million = C. Ronaldo to Real Madrid. Manchester United accepted this world record bid this morning from Real Madrid, and a deal with the player will be confirmed in the next few days. After 2 years of former Real President Ramón Calderón promising to bring CR7 to the Bernabeu, it has taken Perez just under 2 weeks. In one week, Kaká and C. Ronaldo are both confirmed to be joining Los Galácticos. I’m ecstatic! Who’s next? Already, there are reports of a combination of David Villa and perhaps Raúl Albiol coming. Maicon also wants out of Inter…could we swoop in and get him? After Perez getting C. Ronaldo and Kaká, the two past FIFA World Players of the Year, in a matter of less than a full work week, anything’s possible. This is already shaping up to be a great summer transfer wire for Madridistas everywhere!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Here’s the 23-man roster that is heading to South Africa today for the Confederations Cup. Not a lot of surprises. Maurice Edu, Frankie Hejduk and Brian Ching were omitted from the roster due to injuries, while Pablo Mastroeni, out of favor, also will not make the trip to South Africa.

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa, England), Tim Howard (Everton, England), Luis Robles (Kaiserslautern, Germany)

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes, France), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Danny Califf (Midtjylland, Denmark), Jay DeMerit (Watford, England), Oguchi Onyewu (Standard Liege, Belgium), Heath Pearce (Hansa Rostock, Germany), Jonathan Spector (West Ham, England), Marvell Wynne (Toronto)

Midfielders: Freddy Adu (AS Monaco), DaMarcus Beasley (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland), Michael Bradley (Borussia Moenchengladbach, Germany), Ricardo Clark (Houston), Benny Feilhaber (Aarhus, Denmark), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Jose Francisco Torres (Pachuca, Mexico)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Xerez, Spain), Conor Casey (Colorado), Charlie Davies (Hammarby, Sweden), Clint Dempsey (Fulham, England), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles)

I think this is the first-team lineup I would want to see:


I think my first choice bench players would be DeMerit, Bornstein or Wynne on defense, Beasley and Clark in the midfield, and Davies up front. But, we shall see what Bob Bradley puts on the field for the first match against Italy on June 14th.

Kaká to Real!

It has been reported in several media outlets all over the world that Kaká will officially be announced as the newest Real Madrid signing this evening. He has apparently passed a physical in Brazil and will speak at a press conference in Brazil tonight. He will not be officially introduced in Madrid until June 30, after Brazil has finished at the Confederations Cup.

The first Galactico signing of the new Galactico 2.0 era under new Real prez Florentino Perez, Kaká will definitely fit in well into Pellegrini’s 4-4-2 system. Now that this signing is apparently out of the way, Real can focus on some of the other big signings that are rumored, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Franck Ribery, Xabi Alonso, David Villa and David Silva.

Also, Negredo has been re-bought by Real from Almeria for the bargain price of €5 million. He was sold to Almeria last year with an option to re-buy, and with Negredo finishing 6th in La Liga with scoring last season with 19 goals, it’s great to have him back. While it’s rumored that he is back with Los Galacticos only to be sold off again, possibly in a swap with Xabi Alonso of Liverpool, this 23-year old product of the Real Madrid system should be reconsidered as a major part of the plans, as he has a chance to become a major star.

But, for now, ¡Bienvenidos, Kaká!

Get A Legendary Football Team

Have £100 million lying around in a jar for a rainy day? You can buy Newcastle United! So, dig around for that change, ladies and gentlemen!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Return of the Galacticos

Well, the presidency of Florentino Perez has officially begun (again), and Madridistas are looking forward to seeing what is in store for Los Blancos. Already, the team has announced Manuel Pellegrini, who coached Villareal, as the team’s new coach. Jorge Valdano is the new sporting director and Zinedine Zidane was hired as an advisor to the president.

Perez has been very aggressive in the past in landing the best players in the world and selling millions of Real kits. Players like Ronaldo, Figo, Zidane and Beckham came in with lots of flair, but also each won at least a La Liga title for Real. Who is Perez thinking of bringing in this time? The list is long and dynamic: Cristiano Ronaldo, Ribery, Kaká, David Villa, David Silva, Ibrahimovic, Iniesta, possibly Cazorla, Xabi Alonso, Mata, Tevez, Negredo, Albiol and Maicón. This is a ton of players, but if he gets even half of them this team could really take flight. Ronaldo, Kaká and Ribery are clearly Perez’s top 3 targets, and chances are he can land at least 2 of them. Already there are reports that Kaká will be introduced on Thursday, that Xabi Alonso has already agreed personal terms, and that Ronaldo will eventually come towards the end of the summer. Also, with Valencia’s financial problems and AC Milan’s players reportedly being very upset at the departure of former coach Carlo Ancelotti, maybe some of their players will be ripe for the picking. Beckham in a return, perhaps? Alexandre Pato, the 19-year-old Brazilian striker, who I think is one of the great young strikers in the world? Zambrotta or Nesta on defense? It’s not outside the realm of possibility.

But, to get these players, a lot of the current players will be transferred out. Rumor has it that Perez is willing to let all of the Dutch players save Huntelaar leave (Robben, van Nistelrooy, Sneijder, Drenthe, Van der Vaart). Huntelaar may also leave, as he has been rumored (as told on GolTV) to be headed to Man U in exchange for Carlos Tevez. Perez is also targeting many Spanish players to come in. With La Furia Roja at the top of the world rankings, many of the starters of the #1 team in the world could soon put on the Real Madrid white shirt. Raul, the golden boy of Madrid and the captain, may be relegated to the bench. It is been made clear that the only players guaranteed of staying in the starting 11 next season are Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Lass Diarra, Gonzalo Higuain and Pepe. This would mean that the mentioned Dutch players as well as Javi García, Heinze, Saviola, Mahamadou Diarra, Marcelo, De La Red, Guti, Salgado, Metzelder and even Gago.

In spite of the glitz and glamor that Perez brings to the table, it is clear what the team needs. They need tons of defense. The defense this year let Real down big time, forcing Iker Casillas to make numerous saves. Casillas is, in my mind, the best keeper in the world, but with such a lagging defense, he gets hung out to dry many times. Defense should be key, and I think players like Philip Lahm, Vidic, Clichy, Fabio Grosso, and Maicón should be brought in to shore up the defense. In the midfield, with Lass or Xabi Alonso in the fold, we should definitely find a center attack mid that can direct the offense like Zidane used to do. That player is most likely Kaká. Ronaldo would be brought in as the replacement for Beckham on the right wing, which has been sorely missed since his departure two years ago.

Up front, I love Ruud and Raul and Higuain. But it’s clear that with David Villa or Ibrahimovic possibly coming in, and Huntelaar and Saviola already in the fold, some of them will have to go. Ruud, Saviola and Huntelaar would probably get clipped, with the captain being sent to the bench. Needless to say, Raul and Higuain scored a ton this year, Ruud won the Pichichi in 2007-08, and Huntelaar was hot, scoring 9 goals in his first 8 games.

As for who to keep and get rid of on the current squad, here’s what I think will happen:

Keep – Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Raul, Higuain, Pepe, Lass

50/50 – Metzelder, Marcelo, de la Red, Huntelaar, Miguel Torres, Guti

Loan Out – Gago, Drenthe

Sell/Leave – Salgado, Cannavaro, Saviola, van Nistelrooy, Heinze, Parejo, Faubert (back to West Ham), Van der Vaart, Javi Garcia, Sneijder

Also, here’s my list of who I think should be on Perez’s list to bring in: Kaká, Maicón, Lahm, Ronaldo or Ribery, David Villa, Alexandre Pato, Albiol, Vidic, Fabio Grosso or Mertesacker, Xabi Alonso, David Silva. Again, defense is the key. We shore up our defense, everything else will fall into place.

Almost assuredly, this will be a summer full of transfers for Real Madrid. Lots of players in, lots of players out. Will Perez rebuild Los Galacticos to try and conquer Europe next season? Will he get every player on his list? Will he build a capable defense, something that has been missing the past few seasons? Will he bring in the players necessary to win La Liga, the Copa del Rey and Champions League? Only time will tell.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My EPL Decision

So, it has been a while since I updated…it’s been quite hectic in life the past few weeks. However, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been keeping up with the beautiful game, especially the EPL. First off, congrats to Manchester United on winning the title. They played well this year and it is truly deserved. Since the season is over, it is time for me to make a decision on the EPL team that I will be supporting next season. It was definitely a close call between a couple of teams, but in the end, I let my heart and my gut do the choosing. I think it’s a good one. First, a recap of the teams in the mix:

-Manchester United
-Manchester City
-Newcastle United

After looking at the team’s histories again and comparing the success of the clubs and what I liked and disliked about each, I crossed off Everton, Arsenal and Man U from my list. That left Newcastle, Fulham, Chelsea and Man City. Then, I looked at play. Newcastle being relegated did not cross them off my list, as I had eliminated them from consideration before the final weekend. Their fans are very passionate and they have a rich history in the top flight of English football. Yet, their players played as if they were resigned to making the drop. With about 6 weeks left in the season, when they desperately needed to step up and make some plays to keep their position in the Premiership, they phoned it in. Even on the last day, with Hull’s loss they needed just 1 goal to stay up and send Hull City back to the Championship. They scored…into their own net. That own goal by Duff sent Newcastle packing for life in the 2nd tier next season. It was the players that eliminated Newcastle…lack of heart when they needed it the most.

So now I had 3 teams on my list: Fulham, Chelsea and Man City. I liked everything about these teams, liked their rich past, their wonderful future…but like I said, in the end it came down to my gut and my heart. I like a ton of players on each team, and with Man City’s owners deciding to spend whatever it takes to make them a top-4 squad next year, their future is very bright. However, I have made my decision and I am quite at peace with it. My EPL team is:

In the end, my great friend, a lifelong Chelsea fan, put me on to the team that I liked the most. Following the Blues is something that I feel at home with, and the games I saw with Chelsea were very exciting, win or lose. I found myself, in a similar way that I do with my all-time favorite Real Madrid, riding the wave of excitement and heartbreak with every game. But, come next season, I will be fully following Chelsea Football Club as they try to reclaim the Barclay’s Premiership title.

In the next few weeks, I hope to buy a Chelsea jersey with one of my favorite players in all of English football, Frank Lampard. If I buy a second one ( c’mon you know me), skipper John Terry will get the nod. And I look forward to seeing Chelsea for the first time in person July 24th at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore as they play a preseason tournament game against AC Milan. Come on you Blues!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Champions League Semifinal 2nd Leg

Well, over the course of the next two days, the UEFA Champions League Semifinal 2nd legs will be played, and we will find out who will square off in the Final in Rome on May 27th. Today sees Arsenal try to overcome a 1-0 aggregate deficit against Manchester United at Emirates Stadium, while Wednesday will see an all-square Chelsea and Barcelona face off across town at Stamford Bridge. The first leg at the Camp Nou saw a 0-0 draw between the Blues and the Blaugrana, while a John O’Shea goal is the only tally in the Man U-Arsenal tie.

Once again, there is a chance for an all-England final…but will it be? Will Arsenal be geared on by their fans to overtake Man U, who still have a chance for the double? Will Chelsea beat able to beat Barca, who is fresh from their pounding of my favorite team, Real Madrid, and head back to try for redemption in the Champions League final?

Nothing really left to do except play the matches. In today’s match, I see a 2-1 victory by Arsenal, with Man U moving through on the away goals rule. Tomorrow, I see Chelsea coming up with something magical, winning 3-1 at the Bridge and sending them through to a rematch against Man U in Rome. In less than 30 hours, we will know who will move on for a chance to raise the finest silverware in club football.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Picking An EPL Team: Update

So, my quest to select an EPL team has progressed quite smoothly. I have watched quite a few games involving all the teams that I am considering. I’ve even looked at their histories, former players and (yes) even their kits. After considering all this, I’m set to whittle down the list. Eliminated from consideration are West Ham, Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur. Now, the list consists of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Newcastle, Fulham, Manchester City and Everton.

Some things I will be paying close attention to will be:

-Newcastle’s bid to avoid relegation: Newcastle is having a tough time, and with their remaining schedule, I think they’re in serious trouble. Let’s see how much fight they have left in them, because it would be real sad to see them drop.

-The race for the title is down to Man U, Liverpool and Chelsea, with Man U starting to pull away.

-Chelsea will meet Everton in the FA Cup Final after Chelsea dispatched Arsenal and Everton upset Man U.

-Chelsea, Arsenal and Man U are also 3 of the 4 teams in the semis of the Champions League. With Arsenal and Man U playing each other, the EPL is guaranteed to be represented in Rome for the final.

-Fulham still has an outside shot (although it’s a huge mountain to climb) at getting a place in next year’s UEFA Cup. Currently, Aston Villa and Everton hold those spots.

Well, in a week or so, I will whittle the list down to 4 teams, then 2, with my team being selected before the last game of the regular season. Until then, stay tuned…

Friday, April 10, 2009

Dream Stadium Sites for World Cup '18 or '22

Today, the USSF released a preliminary list of about 70 stadia that could possibly be used if the U.S. won the right to host the World Cup in 2018 or 2022, which they have bid for. The list ranges from old NFL stadiums to new NFL stadiums to iconic college stadiums.

That got me thinking: which stadia would make the cut in my ideal list for another World Cup in the U.S.? Well, let's take a look:

1. Ford Field or Michigan Stadium, Detroit, MI: Michigan Stadium would have to be widened to host a World Cup match, but if it was able, you'd easily have one of the largest attendances ever. Michigan Stadium will once again become the largest stadium in the U.S. in 2010 and the 4th largest in the world that's not a racetrack. To cram 114,000 people into Michigan Stadium for a match would be incredible. If not Michigan Stadium, Ford Field would be a great alternative for the Detroit area. An international city, and a stadium that has a history of hosting big-time events in style (Super Bowl, Final Four, biggest Wrestlemania ever)

2. New Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, TX: This is a no-brainer. The best new stadium out there, "JerryWorld", as some people call it, can seat up to 100,000 for games. It hasn't even opened yet, and the list of major events that will occur in the stadium already runs the length of the Red River. The final would probably be here.

3. New RFK Stadium, Washington, DC: Since FedEx Field's field is too small, unless it is widened, a renovated or rebuilt RFK should host some games. Great atmosphere, great soccer fans, and our nation's capital...can't get better than that.

4. Reliant Stadium, Houston, TX: Hosted several soccer matches and major events (Super Bowl, Final Four). The stadium would be full, and it's one of the world class stadiums in the U.S.

5. Qwest Field, Seattle, WA: Natural grass would have to be laid down for this, but if so, a great place to host a match. Rabid soccer fans up there, and by 2018 or 2022, the Pacific Northwest will be a major hotbed for soccer in this country.

6. Lucas Oil Field, Indianapolis, IN: Another brand new stadium that is earning rave reviews for its game experience. Indianapolis is kind of a random place to have a major event like the World Cup, but it is two hours from Chicago and it's an amazing stadium.

7. Soldier Field, Chicago, IL: Has hosted many soccer matches, and has undergone a major renovation to make it one of the world class stadiums in this country. Plus, it's in Chicago, a great tourist city and a city that can host major events

8. Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA: I think the Rose Bowl would have to undergo major renovations, but if it does, it would probably host a quarterfinal match. Great for the LA area, a great tourist area and also an area that has hosted many a world event, including a World Cup final and 2 Womens World Cup finals.

9. Beaver Stadium, University Park, PA: Beaver of the biggest stadiums and best stadiums in America. 4th biggest stadium in the world (until it is overtaken by Michigan Stadium once again in 2010), and would be extremely loud. It's in the middle of nowhere, but for a fantastic atmosphere, what better place to play than there?

10. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, FL: Again, tremendous atmosphere...some rate it among the best in sports. It would definitely be a great place for people in the south to head to. Close to Tampa, Jacksonville and Orlando, and about 5.5-6 hours from Miami for tons of attractions.

11. University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ: Another new stadium that has hosted many major events, including many soccer matches (a couple U.S.-Mexico matches as well). It would be a great place to have a semifinal match.

12. New Giants Stadium, E. Rutherford, NJ: Will service the NYC area, but also get people traveling to all the major cities in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic corridor...NYC, Philly, DC, Boston. Will be an 80,000 seat stadium that will probably host a quarterfinal or a semifinal match.

13. Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA: See Giants Stadium.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Picking An EPL Team

I’ve been watching the English Premier League for several years, ever since I can remember them coming on TV back in the early 90s. I can remember watching Champions League soccer and seeing the likes of Manchester United, Leeds United, Arsenal and other teams battle on the European stage. Then, as the EPL became bigger and more popular, I started watching it more and more. I love the style of play, I love the passion of the fans and I love the intensity of every match. Over time, despite Real Madrid being my favorite soccer team in the world, the EPL has been my favorite league to watch.

Yet, I have never had a team that I really follow in the EPL. I’ve followed players for the most part. Recently, since one of my great friends is a huge Chelsea fan, I’ve found myself following them a bit. But, I’ve never had a team that I can say is my favorite English team. This year, I’m about to change that.

My goal is to pick a team that will be my English team by the end of this season. Over that time, I’m going to watch as many games as possible, as many teams as possible. I’m going to look at the history of teams, the players and how I think they fit with me, and try to finally settle the debate of who is my English team.

So, here’s a look at the choices that I have. I have whittled down some of the teams. I have no problem cheering for one of the Big 4…of course, I’m a Real Madrid fan. But, I will support a winner for the right reasons, not just because they are good. Again, I’m going off history as well as present, former players as well as current players. The only team in the Big 4 that did not make the cut is Liverpool, because I’ve never really liked them (outside of Steven Gerrard), and despite their fruitful history, they’re just a team I don’t think I can get behind. So, the teams I’m looking at are:

Manchester United
Tottenham Hotspur
Newcastle United
Aston Villa
Manchester City
West Ham United

Like I said, by the end of the season, I will have a team picked. How they’re doing in the league this year is not the only factor, as I said. It’s merely one of the factors. I will update you all on my progress of choosing a team as it occurs.

Real Madrid will always be my favorite team. That will never change. If my new English team will ever face Real Madrid, I hope they catch a whipping. But, it will be cool to tune in to games in the EPL week in and week out and have a team to follow. So, get ready, Premiership. One of your teams will have a new supporter.

The Future of DCU/Choosing A New MLS Team?

The future of DC United’s new stadium deal (and, some think, the future of the team itself in the DC area) is in doubt after lawmakers have questioned a bill covering the new stadium proposal for DC United in Prince George’s County, Maryland. In an email sent to supporters a few weeks ago, DC United President Kevin Payne urged support of the stadium proposal, and indicated that this was the only real possibility left to continue to have a soccer team in the DC area. What this has led supporters (myself included) to believe is that if the stadium deal falls through, the ownership would consider selling the team to a group that would bring DC United to a city (St. Louis being the most popular assumption) that would give a stadium deal to a team. That, combined with shaky attendance numbers at the first two DCU home games this season, has the future of MLS’ most successful franchise in limbo.

Thinking about this the other day, I started asking myself…what would I do if DCU moved to another city? Well, I consulted an article from Bill Simmons entitled “Rules for being a true fan” that lays out ground rules for which team you are supposed to support and when you can enter the free agency of teams. For me, Rule 19 really comes into play. The first thing that people that know me will probably ask is, “You lived in Dallas…you should be a Dallas Burn/FC Dallas fan, per Rule 18.” However, at the time I moved from Dallas, they had not yet started play. In fact, I believe the first game for the Dallas Burn was the weekend after I moved back to Michigan. So, when MLS started, I was technically in Michigan and thus a MLS fan free agent. I didn’t pick a team and just followed MLS in general until I moved to DC a couple years ago. In DC, DC United is my home team…I don’t really pay attention to the Wizards or Nationals or Capitals, and I hate the Redskins (per my days in Dallas). DCU is my home squad. The only team that would usurp them would be if Detroit (my real home) got a franchise (See Simmons Article, Rule 19).

So who would I choose? It would probably be FC Dallas since I used to live there and have a connection with the area. However, besides Detroit, a new franchise in Raleigh/Durham would open up the bidding war for my MLS fandom. The other teams in the league, for some reason, just don’t do it for me either because of my lack of connection to the city or region or that the city is a traditional rival of other teams I like.

But, above all, there’s nothing more I would want than for the new stadium deal to get approved and for DC United to prosper here in the Capital Beltway area for many years to come. I really don’t want them to leave, and I hope the Maryland legislature will make the stadium deal happen. Otherwise, the most successful franchise in American soccer history will be gone, and there will be quite a few MLS fan free agents out there without a team to call their own.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

2009 MLS Season Begins

Today, most of the American sports media will be focused on the opening day of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, but in the Pacific Northwest, another media storm is brewing. Tonight, about 32,000 fans will pack Qwest Field to watch their expansion Seattle Sounders FC play their first-ever game as they take on the New York Red Bulls in the first game of the 2009 MLS season. It is definitely an exciting time for soccer in the Pacific Northwest, with the opening of the Sounders' season as well as the news yesterday that MLS will have an expansion team in Vancouver in 2011. With talk that Portland could become team #18 in MLS (with competition coming from St. Louis), tonight's game is the start of a bright future of soccer up there.

While this game should be plenty exciting, it's unfortunate that it will take place on the opening day of the NCAA Tourney, which is probably the most watched tournament in the world outside of the World Cup and the Euros. However, it will be interesting to see how Seattle plays in their first game. While Freddie Ljungberg, their heralded signing, is not expected to play tonight due to injury, Seattle has a decent looking side, anchored by Kasey Keller in net. Once Ljungberg enters the fold, they could possibly turn some heads with their play.

The MLS season should be a fantastic one, and I'm expecting it to be the best season yet. I will be keeping my eye on this game tonight along with all the basketball there is to offer over this weekend. Welcome to another year of Major League Soccer!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Another CL Fail

Real Madrid, probably the greatest club in the history of soccer/football/fútbol/calcio, suffered one of its biggest defeats in the Champions League yesterday, falling 4-0 to Liverpool at Anfield Park and succumbing to a 5-0 aggregate defeat in the Round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League. This marks the 5th straight year Real has been beaten in the Round of 16, but this was definitely the most crushing defeat of them all. Until the Round of 16 legs rolled around, Real was on a roll, winning 10 games in a row in La Liga until their 1-1 draw last weekend in the Madrid derby against Atlético. Yet, they completely phoned it in against Liverpool in the 2nd leg, one where a couple of goals would have changed the tone of the match. Casillas saved enough shots to know that the score would have been 8-0.

What this signifies is that Real Madrid really needs to shake up their roster in the offseason. Too many players aren't cutting it on the world stage, and Real is a team that expects nothing but the best results on the world stage. Almost everyone on the team yesterday looked lost, save for Lass and Casillas. Shaping up the defensive core is the first step, getting another quality defensive midfielder to be the quarterback, and a playmaking attack midfielder or striker who can make things happen up front. Needless to say, I'm very disappointed in my team and their 2nd round exit, but what they need to do now is focus on doing everything in their power to get the La Liga crown for the 3rd straight year. They're currently 6 points down to archrival Barcelona, and a year without silverware could mean the end for many players and administrators at the Bernabeu.

My team will survive, but it's clear that something's not clicking on the European stage for Real Madrid. It's time to work out those kinks, because I'm never happy with 2nd round exits from the Champions League, much less a performance like the one they phoned in yesterday. They shouldn't be happy either.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Dos A Cero Otra Vez

This is one of the biggest rivalries in the beautiful game they call football, fútbol, calcio or soccer. The United States have owned Mexico on U.S. soil over the past decade, having never lost and only giving up 3 goals. Five times before, the U.S. had notched 2-0 victories over El Tricolores in the U.S. over the past decade. Meanwhile, Mexico still claims to be El Gigantes (The Giants) of CONCACAF, but their Achilles heel has been trying to beat the U.S. in the U.S. Mexico also has this complex that they’re never supposed to lose to the U.S., and every time they lose, they blame the refs or say that they played bad, but it’s never that the U.S. was better on that day. After Wednesday, I think the common rule is that the U.S. is better than Mexico, period.

The site was Columbus, where in the past two World Cup Qualifying rounds in 2001 and 2005, 2-0 victories were recorded by the U.S. over Mexico. The first one, in 2001, was played in such cold conditions that the game is forever known as La Guerra Fría (The Cold War). In 2005, 2-0 became “Dos A Cero” amid much warmer conditions. This game’s weather had a mix of everything: sun and warm temperatures, 60mph wind, torrential rain, thunder, lightning, hail, and cold temperatures later on. But, despite three torrid squalls that dropped pea-sized hail and brought a deluge among the thousands of people tailgating before the game in the Columbus Crew Stadium parking lot, the spirit of this rivalry was never dampened. It was an electric atmosphere, as no one was going to let a bit of weather dull their experience at the most-anticipated game in all of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying.

In the end, the result was the same: DOS A CERO. Two Michael Bradley goals (43’ and 90’+2) made the U.S. jump out to an early lead over their main rivals, with the 2nd goal in stoppage time in the 2nd half sending the majority of the 23,776 fans in attendance into jubilation and a resounding Dos A Cero chant. We also had the familiar dirty play from Mexico captain Rafael Marquez, who was sent off in the 63rd minute after spiking U.S. keeper Tim Howard in the knee when going up for a jump ball in the box. If you remember, Marquez was also sent off in the 2002 World Cup 2nd Round game (once again, a 2-0 U.S. victory).

Several kudos to hand out for the U.S. players. Tim Howard was great in goal, as always. If there’s anyone out there that thinks Tim Howard isn’t on the list of Top 10 keepers in the world, I want to know what other 10 keepers there are on their list. Michael Bradley: 2 goals. Enough said. He played splendidly. I thought Beasley was great on the wings, and he really had great pace, one that Mexico’s defenders had trouble stopping. Donovan was great in the box, with his play on corners setting up the first goal and assisting on the 2nd goal even while being fouled. Gooch was the man in the middle, really played well and stopped just about everything that came his way. Frankie Hejduk played inspired soccer in front of his home fans (he plays for the defending MLS Champion Columbus Crew). He was injured on one play and many of us thought it was serious enough for him to be subbed. However, he stuck it out and really controlled play on the sides. Hejduk is a player that I love sometimes and sometimes I wish he would not be on the pitch. Wednesday night, I had to give him props for that play. He also got slapped after the game by Mexico Assistant Coach Paco Ramirez. Why, no one knows, but I’ll say that Hejduk got the last laugh.

Finally, being in Sam’s Army for it all made the 15 hours of total driving that I had to do worth it. We were loud, we were intimidating, we had fun, we waved flags, and it was a blast to be a part of it. Special shoutout goes to the 8-10 Motor City Supporters who came down for the game. It was great to finally meet all of you, and I look forward to meeting up for more events. For now, DOS A CERO viva otra vez! (2-0 lives again!).

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Milan to offer £4.5 million to keep Becks

The news out of the San Siro is that AC Milan is looking to speak with the agent of David Beckham as well as the LA Galaxy to try and complete a deal to keep Becks with the Rossoneri permanently. Reports are they are prepared to offer £4.5 million to make the loan deal permanent. Now, it’s still unclear whether the Galaxy will accept the deal. There are also reports that while David is keen on staying in Italy, his wife, singer/entertainer Victoria “Posh Spice” Beckham, does not want to move their children to another non-English speaking country. What is clear, however, is that Becks is in good form with Milan, and the way he is playing with them, his chances of making the English team and going to the World Cup in 2010 increase that much more. Everyone had heard the rumors that the loan deal could possibly turn into something more, but now this rumor has legs and it’s running fast. Beckham has an escape clause in his contract that he can exercise after the 2009 MLS season, and if that were to happen, MLS could see its most famous player leave without compensation. It's also unclear how much Milan will have to sweeten the deal to make it so that Becks doesn't lose too much of the money from his lucrative contract he currently has with the Galaxy. We will see if the Galaxy and MLS agree to a transfer fee, but it’s quite possible that we could continue to see Becks in the Red & Black #32 shirt for a long while, possibly the rest of his career.

Monday, January 26, 2009

USA-Sweden Recap

Well, Saturday’s friendly between the United States and Sweden at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA can be summed up in 4 words: The Sacha Kljestan Show. Kljestan scored 3 goals, including an amazing free kick and a penalty kick to record the first hat trick by a U.S. player since Aldo "Buff" Donelli did it 75 years ago in a 3-2 U.S. victory. Sweden sent their B team, with only a couple of players that play regular first-team soccer for the Swedes making the trip. The U.S. team was made up of mostly MLSers, as this was not a FIFA international date, meaning that clubs didn’t have to release the players to play. This was a game for a lot of the younger talent on both sides to get some international experience. But, more importantly, it gave the young Americans confidence as they played well against a very strong side.

Yet, no one gained more confidence than Sacha Kljestan. He actually had left training camp early in the week to fly to Scotland to train with Celtic, then came back in time to record the hat trick against Sweden. I don’t know what they fed him in Scotland, but I hope he brought back the recipe. This was an excellent game for Kljestan, who keeps getting better and better the more he plays, both in MLS and on the international level. He is starting to become one of those players you have to include in your side every time out, which is great. If he can keep this form up, he will have a chance to really help lead the U.S. when they take the field against Mexico in the first World Cup Qualifier in 2 weeks.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009 Goes Live!

Check it out here!

Kaka' Rejects £100 Million Bid From Man City

On Fox Soccer Report early this morning (a rerun from last evening's broadcast), they ended the show with a report that a contingent from Manchester City, led by chief executive Garry Cook, were in Milan last night to offer a bid of £100 million for AC Milan midfielder Kaka', plus personal wages of £250,000 weekly to join City. This bid by City would have broken the world record for highest transfer fee, which currently is the £48 million that Real Madrid paid to get Zinedine Zidane from Juventus in 2001. However, ESPN Soccernet is now reporting that Kaka' has rejected City's bid, saying he wants "to grow old at Milan." Kaka's spokesman, Diogo Kotscho, also indicated that Kaka' would only leave Milan for "a strong side," something that apparently Kaka' does not believe is present at Manchester City.

So far, the new Manchester City under the leadership group from Abu Dhabi has not fared well in the transfer market, besides the shock signing of Robinho for the Premiership record of £32 million on the last day of the 2008 summer transfer window and the signing of Wayne Bridge earlier in the month from Chelsea. There are also rumors that summer signing Jô and fellow Brazilian Elano could be both gone by the end of the January transfer window. Whatever happens, it seems that so far, money has not been able to cure the problems that Man City has had on the pitch thus far this season.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

USL in Detroit?

A new article in Crain’s Detroit Business (login required) highlights how Detroit-area minor league sports franchises are trying to weather the economic storm and operate in the Detroit market. Within that article was a surprising new twist on the front of a potential soccer franchise in Detroit:

“Dan Duggan, who co-owns the Michigan Bucks soccer team in Pontiac, is meeting with investors over the next 90 days as part of a $7 million plan to launch a top-tier Detroit affiliate of the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

That translates into a $2 million investment to start the team, which could be moved from Europe, and to build a $5 million 5,000-seat outdoor stadium.

“I'm willing to do that because it's not about making money,” said Duggan, who is president of sales for Health-Mor Inc. in suburban Cleveland.”

The fact that Duggan is soliciting investors for a new team that will likely play in the First Division of the United Soccer League (or at the very worst, in USL-2) is an encouraging sign for Detroit soccer fans. It would be the first major step to proving the viability of a Detroit team in MLS. Also, the trends over the past couple of years have been that cities that already have USL teams have been more in the mix than cities without teams, with the exception of Philadelphia and Toronto. Dan Duggan, whose Michigan Bucks play in the USL’s Premier Development League, has long tried to solicit investors for a MLS franchise in Detroit, but having a USL team would be great as well. It would be a chance for Detroit fans to build a fanbase while supporting a team in the top level of USL soccer. Detroit is an area that has heavy participation in soccer among all ages, and it has a supporters club that is growing by the day and making noise. The next 3 months will be an important one for a potential USL team in Detroit. We will stay tuned to see what happens.