Monday, August 24, 2009

News from Around FutbolNation

Before commenting on some of the weekend's action, some other news percolating around today:

Everton and Manchester City have agreed on a £22m transfer for defender Joleon Lescott, subject to his agreeing to terms with City and passing a medical. City has started strong with a pair of shutout victories, and this move only bolsters their ambition to finish not just into a Champions League spot or better. Additionally, Man City brought in ex-Barca vet Sylvinho to back up Wayne Bridge. Carlos Tevez, for his part, thinks that Sir Alex and Man U are scared of new look Man City.

The biggest surprise of the early EPL season is Burnley, who followed up their upset of Man U with a victory over Everton. Everton on the other hand have looked poor in losing their opening two matches, and it could be a long season for the Toffees. They will hope that the Lescott transfer removes a large distraction that will allow them to move forward, but their squad remains thin and unable to cope with key injuries, as evident by their current play in missing Phil Jagielka and Mikel Arteta.

Arsenal and Tottenham continued very strong starts, and one has to hope that the two can sustain their excellent play and make for an exciting race at the top third of the table. Not to be outdone, Man U responded from their loss to Burnley by putting five past Wigan. Wayne Rooney and Nani in particular looked devastating in the second half, including a beautiful through ball from Nani that set up a delightful finish that opened up Michael Owen's Man U account. You can see the goal below.

The Serie A kicked off with AC Milan and Juventus winning. Diego looked very good for Juventus and I am hopeful for a resurgent season that will see Inter's domestic hegemony come to an end. For their part Inter were held by Bari. And proving there is still some thrilling football left in Italy despite my bleak assessment of the league, Genoa beat Roma 3-2 and Udinese tied Parma 2-2 in two matches highlighting teams that are vital to the healthy balance of the league.

The Bundesliga saw some nice goalscoring action, with Werder Bremen, Hamburger, and Bayer Leverkusen scoring 3, 4 and 5 goals in their respective victories. Bayern Munich lost 2-1, the lone goal being a consolation own goal in the 90th minute. Starting 0-2-1, how long is it before crisis mode hits Bavaria and we hear renewed rumours about Franck Ribery's discontent?

Over in MLS, the amazing happened: the Red Bulls won their third match of the season! I was really hoping for an unprecedented run of futility. Not that beating Dallas is anything special. New York was led to victory by interim manager Richie Williams, who took over for Juan Carlos Osorio, who resigned after being told he was being fired at the end of the season anyway. Ives Galarcep covers how the mismanagement by the Red Bull owners, combined with poor decision making by Osorio and technical director Jeff Agoos, have led the historical bad club to new depths.

This led me to think about the different expectations for MLS coaches than coaches in other leagues around the world, and even in different US sports. In two seasons Osorio was 12-27-13 and he was just 2-16-4 this season. Certainly that record and the on-the-field product would have resulted in a firing much earlier had this been in the EPL or Serie A. Can you imagine any team in England going 13 games without a win and not getting rid of their manager? Juventus fired its coach with two games remaining last season because they were in danger of finishing in third rather than second!

Closer to home for me, DC United continue to show little life this season under Tom Soehn. Under his guidance, DC has finished first in the regular season but flamed out spectactularly in the playoffs, missed the playoffs for the first time in 6 seasons, and are in danger of missing the playoffs again. For the most successful and decorated club in MLS, it's surprising that there isn't more pressure on Soehn. If this were the Redskins or Capitals (Nationals don't count, they have gone through such miserable stretches and it's to be expected) you can bet that the coach would be on the hot seat pending the final results of the season. Certainly there is less pressure in MLS due to the greater inclusiveness of the playoffs, less overall establishment within the community, the recognition that working with a small salary cap limits each team's resources, and general league parity that prevents too many teams from being either too good or too awful. But at the same time, winning is that much more important in MLS because many teams cannot draw viable crowds based on die hard supporters alone and will need successful teams to draw in more fans. Even DC, with the best fan base in MLS prior to recent expansion teams Seattle and Toronto and the fervent crowds at their home fields, is suffering and the dip in play is in many ways responsible for the continued depletion of crowds at RFK. It's sad to show up to games and look around and I see smaller crowds than in the past. I'm not necessarily calling for Soehn to be fired, but his situation and that of Osorio made me wonder about the different expectations in MLS and whether that plays a role in the overall quality of play in the league.

So as not to end on that sour note, check out these highlights from Hull City v. Bolton, including Jozy Altidore's fantastic EPL debut, setting up the game winning goal with his first touches.

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