Friday, July 31, 2009

$200 Million Can't Buy You Victories (Especially Against Juve)

Certainly I had to mention this: today saw Real Madrid and their new galacticos face off against Juventus in the Peace Cup semifinals in Seville. And as the title to this post suggests, all that money can buy you superstars, media attention, and all the hype in the world, but it doesn't buy you victories. End result: Juventus 2-Real Madrid 1.

I know, I know. This is a meaningless pre-season friendly. But it's fun nonetheless, so deal with it.

To make things even better, the first goal of the game was scored by, you guessed it, former-turned-current Juventus defender and ex-Real Madrid man Fabio Cannavaro. I must express a certain affinity for Cannavaro. He was great for the Bianconeri in his previous stint, and as a fellow defender I appreciated him at the full height of his powers reading and dominating the game in leading Italy to the 2006 World Cup title. And for a man of his stature he sure knows how to be an aerial threat.

Ronaldo equalized for Madrid from the spot before Hasan Salihamidzic scored the game winner. It would be nice to see him step up this year because many felt he was a bit of a disappointment last season.

Here's the video.

I would be remiss to not give a shout out to Juve legend Alessandro Del Piero. He once again shone brightly with some beautiful service and he remains influential even as he nears 35 years of age. Oh the memories. Now that I'm reminiscing, a few of his great moments have come at Madrid's expense. Let's take a look!

In fact, we only need to go back to last November when Del Piero stole the show at the Bernabeu with a beautiful brace in a 2-0 win. The Madridistas showed their class in recognizing his performance with a standing ovation as he left the field.

That performance came on the heels of the previous encounter between the two teams in the Champions League group stage, this one in Turin with Del Piero again hitting a wonderful strike to lead Juve to a 2-1 victory.

And for good measure I cannot forget one of my all-time favorite matches, a 3-1 victory in Turin in May of 2003 that overturned a semifinal first leg deficit, resulting in a 4-3 aggregate victory and sending Juve to the Champions League final. Juve ran rampant with great goals by David Trezeguet, Del Piero (there he is again!) and Pavel Nedved before Zinadine Zidane grabbed a late goal to make things interesting. Despite the fact that the Stadio Delle Alpi wasn't always the best stadium for atmosphere, the crowd came through great that night (as it often did on big European nights) and I thoroughly enjoyed the attacking football on display. Check out the highlights:

By the way, Aston Villa also won, beating FC Porto 2-1. Two Americans played a part in that one, with Brad Guzan in goal (stepping in for 2002 World Cup hero Brad Friedel) and Eric Lichaj started at right back. You probably don't know who he is. He signed from UNC after a year and he came up through the Chicago Magic youth club system (they are a very good youth club). The Villains take on Juve in the Peace Cup final on Sunday and I'll be sure to fill you in.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Transfers, Audi Cup, All-Star Game, Oh my!

A variety of things to cover this morning.

Transfers first. Liverpool news reports indicate that Xabi Alonso has handed in his transfer request for a £28 million move to Real Madrid, who are in a fight with Manchester City over who will alter this season's Premier League title race the most. Man City's latest such move, signing Kolo Toure on top of Emmanuel Adebayor, has forced Arsenal to seek a replacement for the defender and striker by offering a one year deal to past-his-prime defensive midfielder and former Arsenal skipper Patrick Vieira. That makes perfect sense. Granted, Arsenal do need someone to keep the youngsters on their toes and remind them of how hard things used to be, walking miles in the snow without boots just to get to some relic called Highbury. One of the players who Wenger hoped to step in and play a key role this year, Tomas Rosicky, may have had a set back in his attempt to return after 18 months on the sideline.

Proving that Inter really made out like bandits in the Ibrahimovic-Eto'o swap, they don't really seem concerned that Alexander Hleb will be moving to Stuttgart on loan rather than to the San Siro.

Staying at the San Siro, AC Milan (more on them in a second) need reinforcements badly, so Wolfsburg striker Edin Dzeko, who netted 26 times while helping his team to the Bundesliga title last season, has declared his desire to move to Milan. However, it doesn't seem like there's much movement on Milan's end.

If you're not tired of reading about Franck Ribery, well here's more! Bayern put a €94 million price tag on the France winger. By setting a market price, the thought now is that if Real is willing to match that price they can get their man, rather than flatly denying that he's moving at all. Chelsea, who have looked strong in preseason, apparently remain in the hunt for Ribery, even though it seems like they're a ways off from meeting Bayern's valuation of the man.

Back to Milan. Yesterday in Munich began the Audi cup, a short tournament pitting Boca Juniors v. Manchester United and AC Milan v. Bayern Munich, with the winners facing off for the championship.

Let's just say AC Milan looks a little bit in disarray.

They are old. They are slow. They have no strikers (would you want to start the season with 19 year old Pato, still an unproven commodity, and 35 year old Pippo Inzaghi?). The defense looks like Swiss cheese. Oguchi Onyewu's move looks worse every time he steps on the field. While he can't be blamed for it all, he hasn't looked great as part of a defense that allowed 3 more goals once he came on. Yesterday the damage was a 4-1 loss in which Milan was thoroughly outclassed, and even the lone goal from Pirlo's free kick was really the result of a goalkeeping blunder.

Here are the full highlights.

Additionally, Man U defeated Boca Juniors 2-1, with Anderson and Antonio Valencia combining to reproduce what used to be done by Cristiano Ronaldo (Anderson scoring from a nice free kick and Valencia opening his account by making a nice burst slightly in from the wing). Man U looked tentative in its overall approach to a degree, which was disappointing, but it's still early.

Here are highlights (including Anderson becoming the 1 millionth person to honor Michael Jackson by celebrating his goal with a patented leg kick).

I also wanted to briefly comment on how impressive the atmosphere seemed at the Allianz Arena. It was a reminder of how great the crowds were for the 2006 World Cup, particular as Germany made its surprising run to the semi-finals. Too bad 2010 will be marred by those damn vuvuzelas.

Finally, last night was the MLS All-Star game, pitting Everton against a team that wasn't really the best of MLS (with some players out or withheld because of injury or their teams playing in the CONCACAF Champions League). The result was a 1-1 tie after 90 minutes, with Everton prevailing in PKs on the back of superstud goalie Tim Howard. Not sure that game means anything at all, other than Stewart Holden apparently brought with him some of the Gold Cup final karma by sending Louis Saha in alone with a wonderful pass for Everton's lone goal, and it's a great sign to see Howard on top of his game ahead of the upcoming clash against Mexico.

Here's video of how not to take penalty kicks.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Other Champions League and a Ref We Can Believe In!

In case you missed it, last night the Champions League kicked off in fervent style!

Oh wait, that was the CONCACAF Champions League, which began with a whimper after DC United drew 1-1 with CD Luis Angel Firpo of El Salvador in one of the poorest games I've ever seen (I would be much more up in arms at wasting my time and money if it wasn't for the fact that this game was included in my season ticket package). With barely 8,000 people there to witness a bunch of reserves play with seemingly no passion or desire, we're reminded of how there is absolutely no depth on MLS teams. Devon McTavish might be Mother Theresa for all I know, but he's no Michael Essien that one, and Greg Janicki showed why he was playing in USL-2 last year. And in a disappointing development, Danny Szetela is very rusty and out of shape. Not too surprising, but it looks like it's going to take him time to find his form.

Many teams, including those from MLS, will take the Champions League seriously. DC United took it seriously last year but just flamed out stupendously. But yesterday it didn't look like DC really cared about this game, plain and simple. DC will likely focus their energies on the MLS season and winning the MLS Cup, as well as the US Open Cup (which would guarantee them a spot in international competition again next year). These competitions are good for MLS sides to test themselves in hostile road environments and to measure up against the more established and richer Mexican clubs. Doing well provides MLS teams a measure of validation and respect that hey, MLS teams while not EPL or La Liga quality are also not third tier teams. Unfortunately performances like last night make it difficult to argue that case.

However, out of last nights ashes arose a phoenix, namely a referee that I am compelled to salute. This is difficult because he wasn't actually a good referee (there's no such thing in CONCACAF) but Paul Enrique Delgadillo Haro did something I've been adamantly yelling at referees to do for a long time - he carded a player for unsportsmanlike overacting and faking an injury!!! Carlos Monteagudo was involved in a play in which some arms got tangled and he was possible lightly tapped on the nose. Apparently he thought Manny Pacquiao was playing for DC as he subsequently fell theatrically and remained lying on the field clutching his face. After being carried off the field on a stretcher, it was only by the dint of his courage and divine intervention that was he able to somehow get up and walk back onto the field and play again. Fortunately for those who hate liars, cheaters and simulators, Mr. Delgadillo Haro didn't appreciate that ish and produced a yellow card to the delight of soccer fans the world over. If video becomes available, no doubt I will post it. In the meantime here are the rest of the highlights if you really care.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Transfer! A Transfer! My Kingdom for a Transfer!

Finally! While the truly dramatic transfers of the season appear to have passed, the doldrums of July have passed and teams are making moves to improve going into the new season. Few teams (barring Chelsea) have made any kind of statement in their preseason matches yet, so the major currency in football news remains the shifting fortunes of teams and players.

You've already heard, and we've already opined on it here, but in case you missed it, Ibrahimovic signed with Barcelona and was presented before 50,000 fans, who apparanetly were ecstatic that their club was fleeced by Inter. Trust me when I say Real Madrid fans are happy too.

Defensive jack-of-all-trades Alvaro Arbeloa returns to Real Madrid, the club that formed him, for 4 million euros.

Keirrison of Palmeiras finally signed for Barcelona and was promptly loaned out to Benfica to cut his teeth in a European league and in European play.

Manchester City continue to singlehandedly disassemble Arsenal while Arsene Wenger sits back and watches. Kolo Toure's signing proves that Manchester City are aware of a thing called "defense" and that Wenger has no understanding that he's literally selling fourth place to all comers (but probably Man City) this offseason. An interesting article on the struggles facing Arsenal next season here. Trust me (again) when I tell you FutbolNation will be covering this topic soon - probably right after Wenger replaces Fabregas with a 12 year old from Madagascar who shows tons of promise.

Spanish international, deadbeat dad (twice!), and all-around low-class greaseball and scumbucket Dani Guiza will likely be moving from Fenerbahce to Lyon after the Turkish side accepted a 12 million euro offer for the striker. To be fair, the ex-Pichichi can put it in the back of the net.

Marseille has picked up Fernando Morientes on a free transfer. Even at 33 "el Moro" is a winner and should be able to help the French side in a limited role.

Tottenham has given up its efforts to sign lanky striker Huntelaar, and instead signed lanky striker Peter Crouch from Portsmouth.

Ahhhh. Well that felt good. Teams are getting better, teams are getting worse, but things are happening. Thank goodness. Want a bit more on the beautiful game?

WSC has a short bit on Argentine coaching legend and Chilean national team coach Marcelo Bielsa. If you've been following CONMEBOL qualifying, you know Chile is in the nascent stages of what could turn out to be a golden generation.

And in case you forgot, Sir Alex Ferguson still really dislikes Real Madrid. But then again, who hasn't Fergie hated at one time or another?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Mexico-USA Around the Web

Ives Galarcep describes the US after the goal as a "tired and overwhelmed mess." Grant Wahl describes the US defense as "worse than jayvee." Jamie Trecker gets the defeat he's been so longing to criticize.

Doug McIntyre says the Mexican psyche has been restored. That is possible, but not yet known. Andrea Canales says the US and Mexico need each other. There's no doubt about that.

Mexico Thrashes USA

Headline says it all really. 5-0. Wow.

What's worse is that it was hard to see that coming. The United States outshot Mexico in the first half, though the play was probably about even, as Mexico often looked enterprising with possession, particularly when they counterattacked with pace. That was perhaps the only omen of the debacle to come.

The Americans even had the first great chance of the second half, when Robbie Rogers found himself behind his defender and managed to bring the ball down with his thigh to his feet. Unfortunately for the US, Rogers thumped the shot over the bar with his preferred left foot. Rogers has to hit the target from there. And frankly, he has to score. The game permanently changed when Jay Heaps fouled Giovani Dos Santos by getting elbowed in the head and then having Santos fall down on top of him. The penalty call was abysmal, no question about it. It's worth wondering if the US did something in their soccer history to upset the referees for all karmic time, like going all Drogba or something. At least Heaps didn't get a red card. Dos Santos after the game said about the penalty: "That's soccer. Afterward, you must still do your job." Coy.

Of course, the awful penalty would not be the story of the game, but rather what happened after. The United States essentially crawled into the fetal position for the remaining 35 minutes, unable to maintain posession, basic defensive responsibilities or even hustle when beat. Mexico scored five goals, but it easily could have been eight or nine. Bob Bradley said after the game that "the area where we didn’t do well enough was our response to the first goal." Take a moment to absorb that quote and rank it in the pantheon of the world's greatest understatements.

Mexico did play champagne football in the second half, to give credit where it's earned. The introduction of Arsenal youngster Carlos Vela completely changed the game, and the precision of the Mexican attack was a joy to watch (at least for the El Tri fans and the neutrals). But the effort level and lack of resilience shown by the Americans was simply unacceptable. The second goal was a direct result of the United States central defenders waiting for an offside flag that was rightfully never coming. From there the rout was on, as the additions of Cooper and Quaranta predictably made no difference.

The United States is not the world's most talented squad, nor will they probably ever be. But American football has come a long way in the last two decades, both because the talent level has been raised, and because the Americans have shown resilience in the face of adversity. Finding a way to draw with Italy a man down. Picking themselves off the dirt and beating Egypt by three goals when all seemed lost. Dispatching an elite Spanish side. Nearly doing the same to Brazil. These are only a few of the most recent examples of an American side persevering against circumstances and superior sides. In this way, the Americans live up to their slogan: Don't Tread on Me. That slogan not only represents America's revolutionary roots, but a simple message to opponents of the USMNT: nothing is going to come easy. Yesterday, against their hated rival, those on the field allowed everything to come easy. And they should be embarassed.

Horrific as yesterday was, it's unclear what the long term implications of this match will be. For the individual American players on the pitch, there is not much good to say. Holden's stock went up for the tournament, and Beckerman's as well, though probably not enough for it to matter at the deepest American position. Rogers regressed throughout the tournament, as did Ching, whose inability to showcase himself as one of the best players on the "C" team was surprising. It would be surprising if Ching started at Estadio Azteca. Overall, the "C" team will remain just that.

More interesting is how this match will affect the confidence of the United States and Mexico. Mexico just won for the first time in the United States since August 1999. Will that matter come next month? Is this the beginning of a turnaround in form for the previously struggling El Tri? Or just a triumph over a depleted side? These questions are interesting to ponder, but unknowable for now. For now, there is just one more question: is it August 12 yet?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hilarity Ensues

You can tell it's been a slow transfer window with lots of untelevised friendlies... but this is funny.

''Arrogance comes in lots of different ways. I think it is daft." - Sir Alex Ferguson on Manchester City's new urban ad campaign.

Check out the Tevez poster here. It is daft. City will advertise their way right out Europe next year with their anticipated 3-2-5 formation.

Friday, July 24, 2009

US Advance Over Honduras; Face Nemesis Mexico Sunday

"B" squad, "C" squad...the United States keeps finding ways to win.

Of course this is CONCACAF, so perhaps that should really be the expectation. The Americans once again were slow to begin the match, and through about 35-40 minutes the run of play was essentially even, with each side having spurts of better possession. But the Americans finished the first half with a barrage of opportunties. Stuart Holden, once again the best player for the US, rifled yet another shot from distance that was tipped over by Escober, the Honduran keeper. Moments later, Brian Ching turned in the box and struck a shot cleanly with his left foot; it looked destined for the net, but was tipped by the recovering defender and grazed the top of the crossbar. Finally, Clarence Goodson, playing for the injured Jimmy Conrad, hammered home a Holden corner to give the Americans the advantage heading to the locker room.

In the second half the United States mostly dominated the play, but were unable to seize a decisive two goal advantage. Honduras was thus able to press for an equalizer at the end, and only failed to do so because Troy Perkins made a crucial save against Carlos Costly. With Honduras in all-out attack mode, the United States finally found the second goal in the eighty-ninth minute when a clever backheel from Ching played Holden in, and Holden found Kenny Cooper for an easy tap-in.

Overall, it was probably the most complete performance the Americans have had in the tournament. That's a particularly impressive fact given that the overall strength of the squad has actually been lessened since the group stage.

Jeff Carlisle compliments a workmanlike performance. Jamie Trecker takes a solid victory as an opportunity to come up with lots of negative things to say. Highlights: Ching and Beckerman had "off nights," Heaps "lumbered around the back line," Pause and Rogers are "lagging badly." Marshall and Heaps are "slow but sensible." Although that last one was a compliment, I guess. Much like Holden, perhaps the best player on the pitch, put in "not a virtouso performance." Not all of those criticisms are wrong of course, especially about Rogers and particularly Pause. But still. Trecker also described how the game was "not attractive" and other than the goals there was "little of note." He understands he's watching the US "C" team and not Brazil, correct?

Next up, Mexico. Who cares if it's not the top rosters. Get out the American flags. Sunday at 3 EST.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Check This Out

As the European club season approaches we start to see some decent preseason games . And with the Gold Cup on, there's some international flavor on TV this weekend too.

Peace Cup 2009 starts tomorrow in Spain, and features some interesting matchups. GolTV will cover the tournament, and while some group games are definitely worth a look, the later rounds should be quite entertaining, and interesting looking towards the season ahead.

The tourney kicks off with Liga de Quito v. Al-Ittihad at 2:30 pm EST, followed up by Sevilla v. Juventus at 4:30 pm. The other participants in this year's version are Real Madrid, Lyon, Aston Villa, Porto, Besiktas, Malaga, Atlante, and Seongnam.

The World Football Challenge standings look like this:

America - 8 / Chelsea - 5 / Inter - 2 / AC Milan - 1

AC Milan plays Chelsea on Friday on ESPN at 8 EST. On Sunday the Milan derbi comes Stateside, and Chelsea and America play the round robin tournament's "final."

Sunday at 3 EST FSC will carry the Gold Cup final live. In a stunning turn of events, the United States will face Mexico.

Defending the Fantasista?

It appears that just over a week after FutbolNation followed the lead of every Spanish daily and announced the Eto'o-Ibra trade, Eto'o has agreed to terms and will be joining Internazionale Milan alongside Hleb and a stack of euros - 45 million to be precise. Meanwhile, Barcelona snag Ibrahimovic. And that's it.

Considering Eto'o is probably the best pure striker on earth right now, it's hard to defend the transfer. Guardiola's explanation that the transfer was based on his "nose" or a "feeling" (uttered in English) seems ludicrous and insulting to the player. Add on to this that the Barcelona press and Barca president Joan Laporta insist on categorizing this trade as inexpensive and completely unlike Real Madrid's acquisitions (it seems including players in the deal demonstrates that well-known Catalan savvy was at play), and I'm laughing hysterically with a twinge of anger.

So, can the transfer be defended in any way? The answer is...shockingly...yes. Especially in Barcelona.

First, a few facts.

The transfer was expensive. Exorbitantly so. Eto'o is being valued at 25 million, perhaps in reference to Manchester City's offer. This, however, is deceiving. Barcelona wanted to get rid of Samuel so much, they'd agreed to accept a lower fee. Plus, this figure was distorted by Barcelona announcing to the world that they wanted to get rid of the leper named Samuel Eto'o at any cost. So Eto'o is probably actually worth somewhere between 30 and 40 million euros - even with his contract expiring next year (and in this summer's market these figures seem conservative, especially in light of Barca buying Eto'o five years ago for 24 million). Throw in 45 million in cash, and Hleb (whose year-long loan is valued unanimously by the Spanish press at 7 million) and you're looking at 82 to 92 million euros for Ibra.

Both players are the same age. Though Zlatan's picked up his goalscoring recently, you can't honestly say both players fare equally well in that department. Eto'o had 30 in the league last year, 4 in Champions League. Ibra had 25 and 1 respectively. Ibra does add a bit of an aerial game lacking in Barcelona, and with Barca's midfield he may get better distribution next year. But that's still eight goals over two competitions. In five years at Barca Eto'o played in 177 games, scoring 121 goals (0.68). In three years at Inter Ibra scored 68 goals in 126 games (0.54).

So both economically and in terms of goalscoring (the true measure of a striker), the deal tilts drastically in favor of the Cameroonian killer and Inter. Throw in that Ibra is often, and rightfully, criticized for his disappearing acts in big games, while Eto'o is likely one of the most clucth players in football today (he scored the first goal in each of Barca's last two Champions League finals) and it looks completely lopsided.

In terms of assists and goals Barcelona will likely tread water next year. And the "Eto'o as miscreant" accusation is somewhat of a red herring. Eto'o was a true professional on the pitch, if not off it. Ibra has a temper too, and has fallen out with Mourinho and Sweden's Lagerback over playing time. Eto'o works harder on defense while Ibra is a more classic striker roaming up top. If anything, Barca may take a step down. So, how again, is the trade defensible?

Simple. Every team has their priorities, and Barca's are rather distinct. Real Madrid has played beautiful and ugly football, but these are just means to and end - winning. Barcelona has never been able to win in any way other than beautifully. And while Eto'o may be more effective, clutch, and hungry then Ibra, the Swede is, at the end of the day "Ibracadabra." A fantasista in the traditional Italian sense of the word.

Creative, full of trickery and deception, Zlatan is quick to see a pass invisible to even the most astute defender. His game thrives off of sleight of foot, misdirection, and beautiful touches. He is a creative midfielder with a striker's finish. And in Barcelona, where style and aestheticism have always come before winning (due to, or in spite of Real's dominance), the Ibra-Eto'o trade somehow makes sense. For Guardiola and Barcelona, they had the best, most attractive team in the world last year - there is nothing left to win, just more beauty to which one can aspire. And with Zlatan in the mix, it may end up that Messi and Henry blend into a more attractive footballing trio.

More potent? Unlikely. Better? Hard to imagine. More clutch. Definitely not. But this is what Barcelona is, and will be. Like it or not. In a sense, I respect the ambition. As a fan, I would find the move unforgivable. Because, at the end of the season, at what cost will the additional heel flicks, no-look passes, stepovers, and roulettes come? Less goals? Less critical plays? A power struggle between Messi and Ibra? At some point, doesn't a team need a direct, go-for-goal scorer? Maybe so, and Barcelona won't have one.

It will be hard to fault Barcelona if they play better and win two titles. It may be hard to fault them if they play better and win even one title, considering their past season was, quite literally, historical. And while after a treble the sensation is "What's left?" The reality is, a top club can never think that the only thing they can add to a team is beauty. The titles are out there, and more are available after a winning season (European SuperCup, Club World Cup, Spanish Supercup).

So, if they win no titles, the beautiful plays may come at a very high price indeed. Especially if a title is lost as Ibra just misses one of those shots Sammie would have ripped into the back of the net. Or Ibra dribbles away an open shot at a critical moment. Then Barca wouldn't have just gotten the worse deal. They would have actively lost on the transfer.

The goal count between these two next year will be an interesting duel. It's hard to imagine Zlatan will score more than Eto'o, but the effects each may have on their teams should be more telling than numbers. In his five years at Barcelona the team never won a league or the Champions League with Eto'o playing less than 30 games domestically or 10 games on the continent. The Camp Nou is paying Inter to take away a legend - the third highest goalscorer in the club's history.

It appears likely that the blaugrana will be sitting and stewing at the end of next season, much like madridistas did after Madrid undervalued Eto'o and sold him to Barcelona. Both Spanish giants have now wrongly overlooked Eto'o, but Barcelona adds insult to injury by overpaying to make the costly mistake.

Do the US Have Shape?

Just a couple quick thoughts on this piece by Jamie Trecker before kickoff.

Trecker's thesis, for those too lazy to click on the link, is that the US-Panama game was horrible to watch (probably overstating it), and the reason is that the United States don't play any "recognizable style" (surely true to a degree). Trecker then continues that this lack of discernable style makes it impossible to evaluate the players out there (another overstatement). And that players not having defined roles likely will cause problems in the future.

Trecker seems to enjoy his role as US soccer critic. Indeed, it would be a nice corrective if the other commentators on US soccer/football (such as those at ESPN, Grant Wahl of SI, etc.) were constantly too optimistic about the home town boys. But that's not really the case. Trecker just seems to always voice the most negative viewpoint on the USMNT. For instance, Trecker described the quality of play in the US-Honduras as "breathtakingly poor". That's no small statement; it's hard to imagine that a team could play worse than "breathtakingly poor", or at least that it could be adequately described as worse than that by the English language. If the United States had actually lost, perhaps new words would have to be invented for Trecker's article. No doubt that the play was poor in the first half, but it wasn't terrible in the second half when the US netted both goals. And that was the "B" squad anyway.

Still, Trecker's point about style isn't without merit. There is no defining US style akin to Dutch total football or the Italian catenaccio, Italian for "winning one-nil". But if part of that is a failure of the coaching staff, another reason is that the United States is young as a footballing nation, or at least as one that's any good.

Besides, diversity in means of attack isn't necessarily a bad thing. The United States rightfully abandoned the long ball against Panama after it was totally ineffective. But a large reason it was ineffective was because most of the service wasn't very good. Should the United States be possession side? The real answer is, sometimes. The United States have good central midfielders in Bradley and Feilhaber (or whoever ends up starting), but they are not Xavi and Iniesta either. Sometimes the United States will have to play over the top and attempt to win the ball deep. Using a combination of both doesn't mean that the Americans lack defined roles.

But regardless, making determinations about a lack of shape when watching this particular American side is folly. This team will struggle to play possession, long ball, or any other style because it's not very talented. After all, this is the United States' "C" team at this point, with the players that returned to Europe after the group stage. This team will take results, any way it can get them.

Time for the Gold Cup semis, assuming the start isn't delayed by lightning at Soldier Field.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Summer of Apprehension for the Reds

Jamie Carragher would like an end to Xabi Alonso transfer saga. It's hard to blame him.

As anyone who remotely follows English football knows, Liverpool have not won a top flight English league championship since 1990. Since then, Manchester United have won 11 league titles and tied the Reds with 18 overall. Last year was the closest Liverpool have come to winning the title since 1990, finishing second in the table for only the third time in that span and only four points adrift of Man U. The current squad, lacking in depth but featuring perhaps the best starting eleven in English football, was thought to be one or two pieces away from reclaiming their place at the top of the table. And with Ronaldo off to Spain, perhaps it was all finally coming together.

But the summer has been consumed by transfer rumors involving Xabi Alonso and Mascherano. The two center midfielders are the heart of everything that Liverpool does. To lose either would be a severe blow, and to lose both would be devastating.

It's hard to rule out either potential departure at his writing. Xabi Alonso seems to discuss how impressed he is with Real Madrid whenever microphones are around. At this point the rumors for Alonso have been in the papers for the entire summer, and it's almost hard to imagine him not leaving, if not before Benitez manages to extract another 5 million euros or so. Mascherano's possible departure has been a bit more under the radar, but Mascherano's agent did his best to drop a match in the gasoline can. His agent claimed that the midfielder is tired of England and wants to move to Spain. At this point, who doesn't. Benitez insists in both cases that the players are staying, though he seems to be more adamant about Mascherano than Alonso.

The other pieces to challenge for the title appear to be in place. Glen Johnson was added to the backline, joining Carragher, Skrtel, Fabio Aurelio, Agger and Arbeloa. If Arbeloa stays, and to an extent even if he doesn't, this team should have very capable defending. That assumes good health, as Skrtel took a knock in Thailand. Likewise, the key up top is to keep Torres healthy; he scored 14 goals in only 20 starts, and the whole lineup must be rearranged when he is absent. With Torres in, Gerrard can play behind him to devastating effect. It seems too obvious to state Gerrard's value, provided he stays out of jail, of course. Kuyt can play a second striker role or over on the right. Reira is able on the left so long as he doesn't have to use his right foot under any circumstances. Benayoun provides depth and versatility. And Pepe Reina is an asset in goal.

But if Mascherano and Alonso both left, it's likely none of that would matter. Obviously Benitez would have to bring in at least one central midfielder, but there would be no one available with the quality of either. Plus any player brought in now would have nowhere near the understanding with Gerrard and Torres. And the internal answers are lacking as well. Gerrard could move back to a true central midfield position, but that reduces his availability to attack. Otherwise Liverpool have Benayoun and Lucas; if Lucas is starting the majority of games, Liverpool are unlikely to top the table at season's end. Frankly, the same is probably true if the Israeli is starting 30+ games in central midfield.

Any other additions, such as Ashley Young, would certainly be a bonus. But the real task for Benitez is to keep the heart of central midfield at Anfield. Will they stay or will they go? The summer of apprehension continues.

US Open Cup Final Set; Other News

So DC United will manage to play the entire US Open Cup tournament from their backyard. They defeated the Rochester Rhinos 2-1 last night at the Maryland Soccerplex, setting up a final against the Seattle Sounders at RFK Stadium on September 2. Back to back Open Cup championships would be nice, and while many people clamor for the Open Cup to be viewed with more importance and glamor among MLS teams and the general US soccer public, it will always be a second tier event. DC's interest began last year largely predicated on earning a slot in an international competition in light of an extremely disappointing regular season. This year DC's Open Cup defense has allowed the team to blend in youngsters without putting a big strain on the team, particularly with no additional travel required. Could a double be looming? DC is certainly a threat this year and while there's a long way to go in the season (even though there's only 11 MLS games left), I'd be surprised to see DC end up empty handed come November.

In Seattle, it's been a pretty good first season as the Sounders look for their first piece of silverware and try to match the Chicago Fire (I hate just typing out the stupid MLS nicknames) as the only expansion teams to win silverware in their inaugural seasons (Chicago won the double that year, defeating a DC United team that might have been the best team in MLS history; the Dynamo also won the MLS Cup in their first season in Houston, but that was a relocated team, not an expansion team). The Sounders have a nice squad with Kasey Keller in goal, Brad Evans, Freddie Ljungberg, rookie Steve Zakuani, and the excellent Fredy Montero. Fulham has shown interest in Montero, and losing the on-loan striker would be a huge blow to Seattle.

In Euro transfer news, apparently not everyone wants to go to Real Madrid - some may actually want to join the reigning European Champions. Amazing more people haven't had that rational thought.

In Italy, recently promoted Livorno has interest in Landon Donovan. Could the US star be on his way to join Gooch in the Serie A? Donovan is clearly nearing the peak of his game, and an attempt at succeeding in Europe is certainly on the horizon, whether its a summer or winter transfer remains to be seen.

Juventus isn't hiding its interest Uruguayan defender Martin Caceres, who currently plays for Barcelona. Olympiakos has also shown some interest in Caceres.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

USA-Mexico in Azteca: History

On the heels of the US Men's National Team's strong showing this summer at the Confederations Cup, and the ongoing success of the "B" team at the Gold Cup, a certain anticipation and fervor is building for the USA-Mexico World Cup qualifier on August 12 at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.

Just because it's fun, let's take a look at some USMNT numbers against Mexico (according to the records on the US Soccer official site):

15-29-11 all-time record dating back to 1934
13-7-8 record since 1990
10-2-2 record in the last 14 meetings
9-0-2 undefeated streak on US soil
1-0 record in World Cup Finals matches (dos-a-cero!)
0-22-1 all-time record on Mexican soil

Hmm, let's take a look at that last record, shall we (or maybe not). Ouch.

Now obviously the old records don't mean much, and even the results of 1998 World Cup qualifiers have little meaning due to the vastly different teams. With that in mind, and in light of the divergent directions the two country's programs have been headed recently, many fans are readying themselves for the first victory on Mexican soil (certainly have heard that before).

Estadio Azteca has long been a house of horrors for the US, with its altitude, the smog, and the searing heat, just a wonderful place to play. Azteca opened in 1966 and the first US match there was a 1-3 loss, with the worst losses being a 1-5 World Cup qualifying loss in 1980 and a 0-4 beating in the 1993 Gold Cup before 120,000 fans. Let's take a closer look at the four most recent matches and see if anything can be gleaned from it:

March 27, 2005 - USA 1-Mexico 2. The last World Cup qualifier in Mexico was also met by anticipation among US fans that this could be the year the Yanks finally break through at the Azteca. The final score does not do justice to the gulf between the teams on the day, as the US simply did not come out to play, particularly in the first half. Starting in his first big road qualifier, Oguchi Onyewu showed some inexperience and lost striker Jared Borgetti, who headed open the scoring after 30 minutes. Naelson doubled the score, and Eddie Lewis got the US back into the game after 59 minutes, but the US never really threatened to find an equalizer. Players that featured on that roster who will likely play important roles this year included Landon Donovan, Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi, Steve Cherundolo, and unused sub Clint Dempsey. Other current fringe players who were there included DaMarcus Beasley and Eddie Johnson. While Brian McBride was able to come off the bench that day, the lack of depth was evident when Bruce Arena's two attacking substitutions in search on an equalizer were Steve Ralston and Pat Noonan.

July 1, 2001 - USA 0-Mexico 1. Coming off a tie in the last WC qualifier at the Azteca, US had some thoughts toward getting another result. However, thorn in the US side Jared Borgetti headed home past Kasey Keller from Alberto Garcia Aspe's free kick for the only goal of the match only 16 minutes in. Keller played well and kept the Mexicans off the board for the rest of the game. This match featured a number of players bridging the 1998 WC debacle to the 2002 WC run (McBride, Tony Sanneh, Earnie Stewart, David Regis, ack, Joe-Max Moore, and that sexy beast and he of the awesome own goal, Jeff Agoos). Many of the key players from the 2002 WC did not play, including youngsters Donovan and Beasley, and veterans Claudio Reyna and John O'Brien (beach soccer superstar!). A young Cherundolo did feature, however.

August 1, 1999 - USA 0-Mexico 1 (OT). In a Confederations Cup semifinal, Mexico needed 97 minutes to break the US resistance. Keller again starred, only to be beaten after an unlucky bounce sent him the wrong way, opening the goal for that theatrical, diving humpback Cuauhtemoc Blanco. Tired US attackers rarely threatened the Mexican goal, playing on only two days rest.

November 2, 1997 - USA 0-Mexico 0. Before an estimated 114,600, the US manages its lone tie on Mexican soil. A team that featured players bridging the squad that broke through to the second round at the 1994 World Cup with 1998 team held its own after injured star Tab Ramos predicted the US could hold out a 0-0 game and go for the tie. With monstrous Brad Friedel playing behind Eddie Pope, Agoos, Alexi Lalas, Cobi Jones, and John Harkes. Jeff Agoos continued to show why he should always be counted on in the big games, receiving a red card.

So what does this history lesson teach us? If nothing else, the US is likely to play it tight, more conservative, keeping the score close, and counter-attacking more than we've seen at the Gold Cup and Confederations Cup. The US will talk about needing to play their game, and trying to score early to take out the crowd and disrupting Mexico's rhythm, but that's been a constant refrain in past, unsuccessful away matches. The game probably won't be a blow-out, as its been 16 years since Mexico scored more than two goals in a game against the US. The US probably won't win without Tim Howard making a few game changing saves. The US probably won't put the Mexican goal under siege, and will need to capitalize on a small number of opportunities. And its very possible that a few key players in the 2010 WC won't even play a role (with Jermaine Jones already heading that list). Mexico appears desperate, changing the mid-week game to a mid-day game to gather any and all advantages playing at the Azteca. While I won't give a more thorough game preview and prediction until closer to game day and with knowledge of the rosters, I can say that the feeling leading up to this match is different, with less hopefulness and more confidence and impudence, and that can only be a good thing in the USA's attempt to break with history.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Beckham Reaction

Ever since Landon Donovan threw David Beckham under the bus (justly or unjustly), Beckham can't seem to stay out of the news. Beckham was targeted Sunday by the diehard LA Galaxy supporters, the LA Riot Squad, during a friendly with AC Milan. Since Beckham had his commitment questioned by Donovan and really doesn't want to play in LA anymore, not hard to understand why he took some heat, though perhaps he wasn't anticipating the ferocity of it. While one can't blame Beckham for wanting to play in Italy at a higher level, one wonders why he came to the United States and the MLS in the first place. Since it seemed to be for primarily off the field reasons, and he (and his wife) haven't conquered America in the way he envisioned, it's really time for him to leave. And despite the stream of publicity that comes from Beckham, the MLS should permit him to do so.

Bruce Arena says that they regret the incident. Members of the LA Riot Squad question Beckham's version of events. Beckham claimed that he invited one fan saying things that weren't "very nice" to shake his hand. At that point one fan climbed down and was ejected. The fan claims Beckham angrily confronted the fan, which certainly appeared to be the case according to the video. But exactly what happened is likely somewhere in between the claims of Beckham and the fans. Regardless, Beckham has no business going over and yelling at fans for being mean to him. He's played in Italy, Spain and England. Surely he's heard worse than from the 300 member LA Riot Squad.

But it appears that Beckham experiment is just about over. He should go back to Italy where he belongs.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

USA Defeat Panama, Advance to Gold Cup Semis

The Americans survived. And in the end that matters above all else. But it was an uneven performance that sent the United States through to the semifinals, 2-1 in extra time.

That's not to say that the result was unjust. The US clearly fielded the better side, outshooting the Panamanians 15 to 5 while creating the superior chances. Kyle Beckerman's goal was cleanly created and beautifully struck, while Blaz Perez's tally at the end of the first half came on a corner scrum after the United States substituted defenders. Brian Ching had goalkeeper Jaime Penedo Cano thoroughly beaten on a first half header, but found the woodwork rather than the net. Stuart Holden likewise had Cano beaten and looked almost certain to score, but his attempt to guide the ball into the far post curled just wide. And though Panama nearly assaulted the referee after the match (more on that in a minute) in protest of the penalty, it was difficult to discern their complaint after Roman Torres' scissor kick to the chest of Kenny Cooper while the ball was at Cooper's feet. Frankly it was the kind of challenge that in recent American history would have seen, say, Michael Bradley sent off without a second thought.

Still, the American play was often unimpressive, particularly in the first half. The defenders in particular seemed to have no interest in playing through the midfield, sending long ball after long ball to Brian Ching warding off two defenders. This line of attack, to the shock of no one, was not particularly effective. Given that Kyle Beckerman has had a very good Gold Cup and has been an effective creator, it was all the more baffling. Disaster then struck at the end of the first half. First Jimmy Conrad bumped heads with a Panamanian defender and had to leave the game with a concussion. Then a dangerous flick header was not cleared by the US defenders, and was easily kicked home from six yards away by Perez.

The goal at the close of the first half seem to wake up the US side, as the United States came out of the locker room with a vengeance. Beckerman's tally came shortly after the half, and it looked certain that the United States would close out the match in the second half. But the second goal never came to pass, and the last ten minutes saw the momentum actually flow both ways. In extra time, the American side firmly reclaimed control and possession, but it was Torres' reckless challenge that eventually provided the opportunity to take the lead. Cooper took the penalty and rattled the inside of the post to provide the winning margin. This is often referred to as a well taken penalty, though I tend to think of it as six inches from missing the target and a total disaster.

Plenty of good and bad for the US after this game. For the second game in a row, with far from their best lineup on the field, the United States showed the character to come from behind. Individually Stuart Holden continues to impress, making good decisions on the ball and putting himself in dangerous positions. He once again cracked a dangerous volley, and it looked to be headed for the back corner before it was deflected from danger. Beckerman also continues to shine in midfield. But Robbie Rogers was individually very disappointing in this game. And it's still painful to watch any United States striker not named Altidore, Ching or Davies. Cooper did earn the penalty (through opposition stupidity) and convert (barely), but otherwise displayed little in the way of on the ball skill or ability to win the ball in the air with purpose.

It's hard not to comment on Panama's class or lack thereof. Clearly Panama intended to play very physical in order to make up for the deficiency in class on the field. The referee, World Cup veteran Benito Archundia, permitted far too much of this nonsense, not calling obvious fouls or meeting obvious cynicism with yellow cards. Worse yet, he awarded a yellow card to Jimmy Conrad during a dead ball exchange when Blas Perez reacted to a minor shove as though he'd been shot. This was par for the course for Perez, a talented player who seems to specialize in diving, arguing with the referee and committing fouls all over the pitch. The circus finally culminated after the final whistle with virtually the entire Panamanian roster attacking the referee and his assistants, including grabbing them and throwing the ball at one of the assistants. Forward Luis Tejada and defender/rugby player Felipe Baloy were each booked during the display, with Baloy getting a red for his second booking. Panama's loss removes them from the competition, and good riddance.

For the US, Honduras is next in the semifinals in Chicago. The depth of the United States will be severely tested. There are no plans at this writing to recall additional players that appeared in the Confederations Cup. And Charlie Davies, Freddy Adu, Steve Cherundolo, Michael Parkhurst and Benny Feilhaber have all been allowed to go back their European clubs. If Jimmy Conrad can't go, he will be replaced on the roster; even if he is replaced, losing Conrad would tax the bank line even further. It's hard to consider the defending champions the Gold Cup favorites with the current roster. Honduras will give the current squad all they can handle, especially now that Davies and Feilhaber are not with the squad. Those two swung the first match against Honduras to the Americans. If the US do get through, they get the winner of the Mexico/Costa Rica match, also on Thursday in Chicago. The Gold Cup semifinals should be very good viewing.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Ibrahimovic/Eto'o Reaction

Barcelona appears to be set to give away one of the best strikers in the world for nothing.

Of course, Samuel Eto'o could leave at the end of next season without a transfer fee anyway, since his contract will expire. But that doesn't mean that he has no value now. At the moment it appears as if he will be included in the deal bringing Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Barcelona. It's not clear at this moment whether the deal is actually done, or whether the sides are still working out the terms. But one report has Ibrahimovic going to Barcelona for 40 million euros, along with Eto'o and former Arsenal midfielder Aleksandr Hleb.

Just so this is clear, in return for their world-class striker, Inter Milan will receive a different world class striker, a potentially useful midfielder and 40 million euros. That's a pretty good deal for Inter.

Of course, because Eto'o is seemingly content to let his contract expire, Inter may only have him for one year. But they still will have gotten paid for Ibrahimovic, and can use that money to come up with a potential replacement after next year. Or perhaps they can convince Eto'o to re-sign. Who knows at this point with enigmatic striker. To be sure, taking on the notoriously difficult Eto'o is a risk, but given the package they are getting (reportedly), it's hard to imagine Inter not taking the chance.

For Barcelona, they've finally gotten rid of Eto'o, which it seemed they were eager to do, despite his second-best La Liga tally of 30 goals last year. And they've replaced him with Ibrahimovic, who led Serie A with 25 goals last year. Eto'o is perhaps a better pure striker than Ibrahimovic, but it's close. But couldn't Barca have bought Ibrahimovic outright for 40 million euros? If they couldn't, how much more money would have been required, and could they have sold Eto'o outright for more than that? Perhaps Inter said they would not make the deal without Eto'o being included, and therefore Barca thought this was the only way they could get a world class Eto'o replacement. If so, well negotiated by Inter. It's just hard to feel that Barca are getting value in this deal. Their eagerness to give away Eto'o appears to have led to a rash decision, with Inter reaping the benefit.

Finally, while lacking the hyperbolic ranting of HalaMadrid, I do agree with his general point. I assume Laporta doesn't think his own signing is imperialist. The market is the market. But the market is also about finding value, and one wonders with the money being thrown around this summer is above what will be required in other years. Perhaps the sellers this summer will be the long-term winners, pocketing the cash now and able to buy during years when Real Madrid and Man City aren't trying to acquire every available player.

Ibra - Early Morning Update

Barcelona's second football daily is also confirming Zlatan Ibrahimovic's move from Inter to Barcelona, same deal, but they're reporting it for an estimated 45 million euros. The two Madrid dailys on ther other hand have limited themselves to assure that Ibra is "very close" or "a step away" from Barcelona. One Madrid daily, however, pegs the price at 35 million euros.

One more question - what's the total price here? In this market what could Eto'o be worth? Manchester City offered between 25 and 35 million euros. And that price appeared to be reduced because Barcelona had basically written the player off completely. So we might estimate that in this market one of Europe's best strikers could have gone for 45 million euros. Plus the cash Barca agreed to pay - so we're looking at a range of 60 million plus Hleb (at the very, very cheapest) to 90 million plus Hleb (at the upper reaches of the deal). This averages out to a 75 million euro purchase, plus a player loan.

For Ibrahimovic? More analysis later, but has Barcelona made the same mistake Real Madrid once made - undervaluing Eto'o? And then made a mistake Real Madrid almost made twice - overvaluing Ibra?

And Barcelona president Laporta spent two weeks lambasting Real Madrid for their signings - what say we now about this signing in today's economic climate? Vulgar? Arrogant? Imperialist? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure Zlatan isn't a Barcelona youth product. But hey -it's Barca right? Can they even do wrong?

Late Night Special - Ibrahimovic to Barcelona

At least one Spanish daily is going the extra mile this morning and confirming Barcelona's signing of Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Inter Milan. Barcelona's main target from the onset of the transfer season, Ibra reportedly moves to Barca for a cool 40 million euros. And the one-year loan of Hleb. Wait for it....

AND Samuel Eto'o, who signs a 65 million euro contract over five years!!!! At thirteen million a season, Eto'o would be making one million more a season than Ibra did in his time at Inter.

So many questions - which team got the better deal? Which team just plain got better? Eto'o or Ibra? Who's rebuilding more effectively in Italy - Juve or Inter? How many of the world's top ten players will play in El Gran Clasico this year? Is the center of power shifting from England to Spain in one summer? Is the Serie A back on the ascent?

Look for these and other questions to be answered on FutbolNation in the coming days. But don't look for the Ibra news on ESPN or FoxSports - because when this post went up, it wasn't there yet.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Thursday's Quick Hits

CONGRATULATIONS ESTUDIANTES!! The men from Argentina took their 0-0 home draw and wrangled a come from behind 2-1 win in Belo Horizonte against favorite Cruzeiro. If history continues, Estudiantes will be playing Barcelona in Japan this December for the Club World Cup. An interesting match indeed.

BOOM! Goes the dynamite. Not really. Looks like Filipe Luis will be staying at Deportivo after all. The asking price of 20 million euros was too much for Barcelona's tastes, and instead they announced the 4.5 million euro (.5 million variable) signing of another Brazilian leftback, Maxwell. That's right, R&B crooner and Columbia Records recording artist Maxwell will be playing for Barcelona next year. With such chart toppers as...oh wait, my bad. Wrong Maxwell. They signed the one from Inter Milan. Generally a leftback, Maxwell Andrade has played left winger, and though he has never been capped by Brazil is a solid replacement for Sylvinho.

Juventus finally completed the deal for Fiorentina and Brazil national team midfielder Felipe Melo. Melo and Diego may make Juve the team to beat in the Serie A this year. 25 million euros, and another player Wenger wanted slips away. Beaten by an old lady no less. Is Arsenal going to move for anyone this offseason? Or do they want to play in the Europa Cup in 2010-11?

Injury or no injury - Ribery will travel with Bayern Munich to their training camp.

In his efforts to grab the Asian market, Florentino Perez is proposing Real Madrid and other Spanish teams play a game at 3 p.m. Spanish time. That's 9 a.m. Eastern time. Not my cup of tea, and a bit contrary to the Spanish schedule. And by not my cup of tea, I mean I borderline hate the idea. But yeah, I'll be getting up.

Who Should Make the USA World Cup Squad?

Excellent find by ArmenoRicanFutbol on the ESPN power rankings for USA players and the World Cup roster. As currently ranked by ESPN, the players are ranked as follows (with higher ranked listed first):

Goalkeeper: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann

Defender: Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Jay DeMerit, Jonathan Spector, Frankie Hejduk, Steve Cherundolo, Danny Califf, Jonathan Bornstein

Midfielder: Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Benny Feilhaber, Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu, DeMarcus Beasley

Forward: Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore, Brian Ching, Charlie Davies, Conor Casey

ArmenoRicanFutbol already took a run at this, and there aren't many areas of disagreement between us. The goalkeeper situation seems mostly settled, other than Troy Perkins maybe making a run at Hahnemann's spot. Honestly, if it ends up mattering who the third goalkeeper is, it's probably a bad omen for the USA's chances.

Defensively, Gooch, Bocanegra, DeMerit, Spector and Cherundolo will all be there. Bornstein will be probably be on the side, since he is the only true left back the US have, but frankly I'd rather he wasn't if there were any other available options. Bornstein's ESPN description is classic; it says "questions remain about his defensive ability." As a defender that's not great. I'm also unimpressed with Califf. I am impressed with how despite his age, Hejduk continues to be resilient and make good decisions from the right back spot. I'll take him over Marshall by a nose. That would leave only seven defenders, but if all goes well, only four or five of them will be playing anyway, with Bornstein and Hejduk providing emergency depth. There are many fewer solid options here than elsewhere on the squad.

In the midfield, Beasley made the ESPN poker rankings cut, I assume not because ESPN thinks he should, but because of Bob Bradley's obvious affinity for him. Beasley shouldn't get anywhere near this team unless it's in a time machine. Otherwise the squad looks good, assuming Jermaine Jones' play matches his reputation. The dropping of Califf and Beasley permits the adding of Rogers and Holden, for reasons described in the other post. Couldn't agree more with those two selections.

Up front, Conor Casey is preposterously on the ESPN squad, which describes him as "not to everyone's tastes." They sadly left out the conclusion of that sentence, "because he's slow and has no touch." He is strong though. If someone is needed to wrestle an ox or something, we'll call Conor Casey. In his place I'll put Freddy, just because I think he could bring something to a game off the bench that no one else on the squad could provide. Hopefully another year of progress (and playing time, please, I'm begging) will do Freddy good.

Szetela to DC United?

In fairly big news by MLS/USA soccer standards, Danny Szetela appears headed for a return to MLS, and with the need to bolster its roster, DC United is the front runner to land him

Szetela began his career with the US residency program and then Columbus Crew. Playing in partnership with current US stalwart Michael Bradley in the US midfield at the 2007 U-20 World Cup, he had a breakout performance with three goals, earning him a tranfer to Racing de Santander in La Liga. He's since been playing on loan at Brescia in Italy's Serie B, where he's somewhat dropped from the broader US player pool consciousness.

I'm excited about the prospect of his return to MLS, and DC United specifically. Any playing time is good for developing young players, and Szetela is only 22 years old. Though DC United has some midfield depth, with players like Clyde Simms and Ben Olsen already playing defensive mid, they would be great professionals to learn the position from. Olsen also has ongoing injury concerns, what with his two decrepit ankles and all.

DC has three open roster spots, and under MLS's stupid and confusing allocation rules has second choice of claiming Szetala after FC Dallas (who does not appear to have interest). Olsen only has so many minutes left in that wild man's body, so hopefully Szetela could be a long-term replacement. It would also give DC United a very nice trio of young players, including Rodney Wallace and Chris Pontius (not to mention Canadian national team player Dejan Jakovic).

While I'm not going to start advocating that he can play himself back into consideration for a World Cup roster spot in light of the depth of US defensive midfielders, his combativeness and range make him a player to watch for the future. He always seemed to play better for the US than with Columbus from what I remember, so hopefully this time around he'll take the next step forward for DC or whichever team claims him.

Here's a video of the US thrashing Poland in the U-20 World Cup, including two goals from Szetela (at the :30 and 3:30 marks).

Transfer Update

It is being reported that Adebayor has passed the medical exam needed to sign with Manchester City. The transfer fee is alleged to be 25 million pounds. I don't know that I've ever actually seen a team play with four strikers, but Manchester City may be on the brink. Oh, and by the way, Adebayor is quite possibly the most overrated striker on planet earth.

Manchester City remains interested in Chelsea skipper John Terry. Rumor in Barcelona has it that Puyol is the second choice. And he might consider a move.

Xabi Alonso may be in white by week's end. For 35 million euros. Seriously. Stop. Now. Think. That's right - Real Madrid need to get rid of players first, don't they? They do? Then what the hell is going on here?

Barcelona seems to be fanning the flames in the past few days.

The UEFA Champions League winners are interested in UEFA Cup Champions Shakhtar Donetsk's centerback Dmytro Chygrynsky.

Villa is expected to begin pressuring Valencia. Probably necessary since Forlan is in Pep Guardiola's sights.

Barcelona may announce the signing of Deportivo la Coruna left wingback Filipe Luis today.

Two anticipated moves from Argentina. Rodrigo Palacio of Boca Juniors has been associated with a move to Europe for going on four years. Well, he's moving to Genoa, of all places. Lyon replaced Benzema with Porto striker Lisandro Lopez. Porto replaces Lopez with Colombian and River Plate striker Radamel Falcao. Both stories here.

Sevilla president Jose Maria Del Nido continues to assert that AC Milan don't have the funds to sign Luis Fabiano assuring that the offers made thus far are worthy of Sevilla B (Sevilla's second division youth team) players.

Briefly, onto international football - Capello is considering calling up Spanish goalkeeper Miguel Almunia to the English national team. The furor in England will be great. But despite the misgivings - do England have a keeper even close to the level of Almunia (Spain's fifth or sixth best keeper no less)?

And finally, FOXSports Espanol will cover the away leg of the Copa Libertadores tonight. Cruzeiro v. Estudiantes. It promises to be exciting and may be worth the trip to a local football pub to watch. Probably the last competitive club game before the start of European leagues.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

USA World Cup Roster

In an interesting new feature, ESPNSoccernet, has created a USA World Cup roster power rankings. The roster ranks players 1-32, with the 23-man squad consisting of eight defenders, eight midfielders, four forwards, and three keepers.

It's hard to argue with the majority of the picks, which are fairly obvious (e.g., Tim Howard as #1 and Landon Donovan as #2, etc.), but a few picks I find questionable. The big ones that stand out are Dan Califf, Connor Casey, and DaMarcus Beasley making the roster. Similarly, I would alter the rankings of some of the players who are on the fringe of the team.

First, it's quite understandable why Beasley is listed as making the cut. Bob Bradley loves him and has shown him a lot of loyalty. However, even Bradley realizes right now that injuries and lack of playing time have made Beasley a shell of his former self. However, if he were to stay healthy for a full season and see some minutes, his inclusion would not be surprising.

Dan Califf is currently listed as the fourth center back (behind Gooch, Bocanegra, and DeMerit). I have never been impressed by Califf and would switch him with Chad Marshall, currently last on the Soccernet list.

Connor Casey, bye bye. No South Africa for you, plain and simple. There's only room for one villainous looking bald guy on the US roster and that spot goes to Marcus Hahnemann. In Casey's place you could add one of four players: Freddy Adu, Stuart Holden, Jose Francisco Torres, or Robbie Rogers. As a matter of fact, to make room for two of the four players I just listed, I'd also drop one of the three right backs listed by Soccernet (three right backs, seriously?). Spector and Cherundolo keep their places, and Frankie Hejduk gets the ax (with thanks for some admirable service in Cherundolo's absence).

If picking right now, I would add Stuart Holden, who adds versatility and a good shot, and Robbie Rogers, one of the few true wingers in the US player pool. Rogers has blistering pace and has shown continuous improvement in his decision making, so he gets the nod over Torres, who must have hit on one of Bob Bradley's daughters or something. Adu can bring that creativity the US is often lacking, but he desperately needs playing time at Benfica or elsewhere. That and I think my girlfriend could probably knock Adu off the ball.

So as of mid-July, here's my take on the US roster (listed by position in order of locks):

Goalkeeper: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann

Defender: Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Jay DeMerit, Jonathan Spector, Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Bornstein, Chad Marshall

Midfielder: Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Benny Feilhaber, Jermaine Jones, Ricardo Clark, Stuart Holden, Robbie Rogers, Maurice Edu

Forward: Jozy Altidore, Brian Ching, Charlie Davies, Freddy Adu

My roster has a few weaknesses. I'm only carrying one true left back, Jonathan Bornstein, who I would not even start assuming Bocanegra will play there. That in turn leaves three center backs, but Maurice Edu can fill in in case of emergency. I really want to see Freddy get some playing time and make the roster, but I can easily replace him with Beasley (if he gets playing time), Torres, or maybe some other up and comer who breaks out in the next year. That leaves only three listed forwards, but keep in mind that Dempsey is regularly pushed up top by Bradley and that Donovan can also play forward. I'm also assuming Jermaine Jones (who I know little about) is as good as advertised and immediately becomes an important player on the team.

What do you think? Can Adu play himself back into the team? Am I missing someone you think will make it (Sacha Kljestan) or is there someone up and coming who will come out of no where (Sal Zizzo, Chris Pontius, Marcus Tracy)?

Tuesday's Buzz

Some quick stories stories from today:

Former Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira may be coming back to the EPL, shockingly to Arsenal's hated rivals Tottenham. And while Real Madrid may have accepted a bid for Klaas Jan Huntelaar from Stuttgart, Spurs appear set to make another bid and would come closer to meeting Huntelaar's wage requirements.

Continuing to be the big newsmaker of the day is Manchester City, first introducing Carlos Tevez, who had some words for Sir Alex, and then confirming that they are in talks with Arsenal over Emmanuel Adebayor. Roque Santa Cruz, Tevez, and Adebayor, while no Henry-Eto'o-Messi trifecta, would certainly be a strong strikeforce. Not to mention that Man City has Robinho, Martin Petrov, Elano, Gareth Barry, Shaun Wright-Phillips, and Stephen Ireland, they are beginning to put together a very solid side with some attacking depth.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Obama Welcomes MLS Champions Columbus Crew to White House

The Footballer-in-Chief (AP photos):

Meeting the Crew:

Tevez to Manchester City

Carlos Tevez will trade the red of Manchester United for the blue of Manchester City. He will sign a five-year contract.

People will mock Man City for throwing money around like Pacman Jones at a strip club, but they will be a force to be reckoned with at some point in the Premier League. Eventually all the talent will add up to something, even if no one knows what quite yet.

Meanwhile, Xabi Alonso has apparently called Rafa Benitez multiple times asking to leave. Norman Hubbard writes that Alonso and Mascherano are vital to Liverpool's chances from his post at ESPN's Obvious Department (though the rest of the article is more useful, to be fair).

CR7 is no more, but MO7 has arrived at Man U. But Sir Alex says otherwise Man U are likely finished in the transfer market, unable to compete with Real Madrid and Man City.

USA Finds Late Equalizer Against Haiti

After keeping a clean sheet for the first two games of the Gold Cup against Grenada and Honduras, the United States threw out a "B" version of an already "B" squad. In case this wasn't clear to the viewers by the mostly unrecognizable names on the pitch (at least by USMNT standards), the FSC announcers were describing early in the telecast how Jay Heaps had turned himself into a "serviceable" defender. It was supposed to be a compliment, if not a particularly glowing one. This description proved to be a bad omen for the United States backline in general and Heaps in particular.

The United States opened the scoring in the sixth minute when Stuart Holden played Davy Arnaud in; Arnaud deftly slid the ball past the keeper. Holden's contributions were far from finished. He was confident on the ball all day and crisp in his distribution, although he occasionally needed to pick up the pace of his play in order to avert pressure. Holden also foreshadowed future events by cracking a shot from distance that was barely touched by the keeper. It was unclear whether that touch kept the ball out, but in any case the ball ricocheted off the crossbar and landed on the wrong side of the goal line.

From then on, reserve goalkeeper Luis Robles and Heaps stole the show, and not in a good way. Robles nearly turned a first half strike, which was directly at him but up, into a goal by trying to catch it and nearly batting it into his own net. Only with an awkward dive back toward his own line did he knock the ball out for a corner. At the start of the second half, Heaps was isolated Haitian forward Leonel Saint-Preux in the right corner, and Saint-Preux made a move towards goal. Heaps did a full 360 and ended up nowhere near the ball nor his man, and looked closer to a Dancing with the Stars audition than a competent defender. Saint-Preux's cross then went directly over Robles three yards off the line, instead finding Vaniel Sirin for an inexcusably uncontested header. Two minutes later, Saint-Preux again gained some space on the right side and tried to play the ball through to himself toward goal. This time Robles and Heaps failed to communicate, and Heaps attempted to clear despite Robles sliding to the ground to collect the ball. Heaps' clearance was poor, and the result was a wonderfully taken side volley by Mones Chery into the back of the net before Robles got back in position.

After unexpectedly finding the lead, Haiti did their best "Chelsea at Camp Nou" and attemped to pack everyone back behind the ball and hold the result. However, they only succeded in doing so until extra time, when a ball stripped from substitute Brian Ching came right to Holden. The resulting strike was cracked from 25 yards and found not woodwork but net. Still, Haiti went through to the quarterfinals with a draw and will no doubt be pleased anyway.

Having completed the group stage, the United States draw Panama in the Gold Cup quarters on Saturday in Philadelphia. Panama has had very little success in their international football history. They did make the final stage of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying for Germany 2006, but finished with a dreadful 2 points in ten matches. They did not qualify for the final stage of World Cup qualifying this year. Probably their most successful international tournament ever was the 2005 Gold Cup, in which they shocked Colombia and played a 0-0 draw with the United States in the final, only to lose on penalties. Obviously the USA are significant favorites to progress.

If the United States does move on, they will face the winner of the Honduras-Canada match. Canada actually won Group A over Costa Rica, and will likely not be pleased to draw a very capable Honduran side as a reward. Costa Rica and Mexico are on the other side of the draw. If all the favorites advance, the Honduras-USA and Mexico-Costa Rica semifinals should make for good viewing.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Falcão Goal

Some of you may have heard of Falcão, a Brazilian futsal player renown for his dribbling skills. He scored a pretty decent goal recently in a 12-0 route of Romania in the Futsal Grand Prix, check it out.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Little More USA-Honduras

ArmenoRican covered a decent amount, but a few more points.

-A repeat, actually, but had to mention Feilhaber. When he came on for Logan Pause it was basically night and day in terms of quality. He definitely belongs in the starting 11 if he holds his current form.

-Freddy Adu continues to tantilize. He has to ability to look world class on the ball. But his inability to make good decisions consistently holds him back. And obviously he doesn't provide the burst of Davies.

-Two teamwide positives from this match: the United States showed the ability to persevere and to make adjustments. Honduras dominated the run of play at the end of the first half. But even before the substitutions which obviously raised the level of quality, the United States regained their composure defensively and regained the majority of possession. Carlos Costly was a total non-factor in the second half.

Next up: Haiti on Saturday. Expect to see a lots of new faces, even for this already weakened US team. And probably a win anyway.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Quick USA-Honduras Thoughts

While not necessarily the most meaningful of games (none of this year's Gold Cup games are really meaningful from a team standpoint), I came away very pleased with the USA-Honduras result for a number of reasons:

-Santino. Santino Quaranta getting his first National Team goal, in front of his hometown, home team crowd at RFK was simply awesome to see. For those who don't know, you can chcek out the Washington Post back story on Santino. Santino, a once-promising 16-year old MLS rookie who showed National Team promise, had his career derailed by injuries and a serious drug-addiction problem that resulted in a three month stay at a rehab facility. He cleaned himself up and DC United took a flier on him, and Santino has been reborn, probably the MVP of the first half of DC United's season, and culminating with his strong performance and goal last night. I absolutely loved it and I couldn't be happier for the guy.

-Feilhaber. He looks like he's back. And that is simply great news for the US. He was clearly a cut above the rest of the players on the field and let's hope he can do the same for his club team this year.

-Davies. Continues to impress, and although he didn't score again, he brings a different type of attacking mentality to the team that most US strikers don't have.

-Pearce. I hate Heath Pearce. His first touch when he pushes forward is usually too far ahead and he can't hit a decent service. Bocanegra better be the answer at left back because picking between Pearce and Jonathan Bornstein is no bueno.