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.