Sunday, September 30, 2007

Acoustic Blues

I'm practicing my guitar today. That reminded me that I mentioned once to Greg Ryan that I'm learning guitar. The coach plays (I've never heard him myself) guitar, sometimes bringing the instrument along to team events and playing for a while in the background.

I mention this because as much as I disagree with Ryan's choices in certain situations, I like a lot of things about him. He's always been unfailingly polite and articulate to the media. That's a professional courtesy some coaches don't bother with.

This article by the acting executive director of the players' union pretty much takes Ryan and the USSF to task for the USWNT's performance at the Women's World Cup.

The thing that goes unmentioned in the piece is that not being the federation's first choice is par for the course for U.S. soccer coaches. Bruce Arena wasn't the fed's first choice when he took the helm. Neither was Bob Bradley. Bradley was named interim coach first, as was Ryan. Unbeaten records for both men is a big part of what led the federation to name them as permanent coaches.

Ryan led the U.S. team to an impressive Algarve Cup victory in 2005, where they defeated Germany in the final (note how Ryan was praising Solo back then). Like Germany did in this World Cup, the U.S. didn't yield a single goal at that Algarve. That was an impressive accomplishment, and it's not hard to see how that could have convinced Bob Contigulia to hire Ryan. Also, at the time, when I interviewed a few of the players about the appointment, they seemed all for it. Abby Wambach especially emphasized that he knew the players and how they liked to play.

Then Ryan simply didn't lose, and it is hard to ever dismiss a coach who wins all the time.

Besides that detail, I understand the bias in this article is towards the players, but in the defense of Solo that is offered, nothing is said of how her teammates have turned on her. Also, I'm honestly not sure I buy the argument that the fed is responsible for the results of the team. Financially, the support the U.S. players get from the federation is substantial, especially when compared to what other countries' players get.

No, it's not millionare money, but I don't see the U.S. team having to work outside jobs like waitressing, as some on the Australian national team do. The Brazilians would love to have the support from their fed that the U.S. women enjoy. That said, it could always be better.

Obviously, the fed picks the coach, who then picks the players, so I guess the blaming of the fed isn't off completely, but it seems a stretch, especially since the present President didn't pick the coach.

The Great Distraction

Well, I'll be the first to admit that I've gotten caught up in the Hope Solo situation, but ultimately, I do think it's a sideshow that obscures the big picture - which is an important one that needs to be addressed.

Out of respect for our readers' views - what do you think should happen now to the USWNT program? What changes, or not, would you make if you were in charge?

What kind?

"We are women of heart," said Abby Wambach after the win versus Norway.

Then I read this:

• The U.S. players are taking this Hope Solo business seriously. None of her teammates seemed sure if she'd be flying home on the team plane, and none of them seemed to care too much. She's definitely persona non grata, and it's going to take a lot of work for her to regain her teammates' trust.

From the World Cup reports, its clear that Solo apologized. Her teammates know better than anyone how hard she worked and how hurt she was and how emotionally fragile with the memories of her father. Apparently, an apology is not enough.

Exactly what kind of heart is involved here? Stone? Forgiveness? Frozen strawberry slushie?

Me and Bri

AC: I'm really disappointed in you, Bri. I can't believe that you went after Lori Chalupny like that. She's been arguably the best and most productive field player out there for you guys in this tournament. You wouldn't be there in the third-place match if it wasn't for her.

Bri: I didn't go after Lori. I was trying to get the ball. I'm a competitor, just like Lori, and I'm going to go all-out for my team.

AC: Well, that's some klutzy aim you've got there, because you missed the ball completely and laid out a teammate instead. How does it help your team to hurt a teammate?

Bri: It was an accident. It wasn't my intention. I'd never go after a teammate on purpose. My target was the ball.

AC: Scurry injures young teammate - how is that for a headline? All I'm saying is that, in all the years I've played soccer, I've never had a goalkeeper knock me out like that. Are you going to apologize and promise never to do that again?

Bri: What? I mean sure, I'm sorry I hurt Lori, but if I hesitate the next time I need to go out to get the ball, that's going to be a betrayal of myself and the reality of what it means to be a goalkeeper.

AC: We don't need real! We need damage control. All I know is, after what I've seen, I don't want you playing behind me.

Bri: You should be so lucky.

AC: That doesn't sound like an apology. You know that trust takes a while to gain and can be easily lost and then tough to regain. How is Lori going to be able to play with confidence when she might fear getting blindsided by you? I think we need to be free from the distraction that you brought on this team. Don't bother coming to practice or the next game. Also, remember that there's a long list of capable goalkeepers in the U.S. that have never hit Lori during a game.

Marta, Marta, Marta

This probably isn't any consolation to you, Marta, but I suspect Landon Donovan can sympathize with you right now.

Actually, he's probably asleep, so maybe not.

More comparisons

Honestly, the first goal that popped into my head when Blanco scored against Chivas USA on Saturday was this goal he scored against Toluca. I referenced the Pachuca goal because I knew more people would remember it but this one I thought from memory that it was more similar to.

Now that I've seen both again, I think it's the Pachuca golazazazazo that more resembles the Chivas USA golazazazazo.


Hope and Daddy

Hope Solo, ironically, didn't start the Brazil game that the U.S. played back in June because her father died. She didn't start versus Brazil in the World Cup because coach Greg Ryan switched her for the backup goalkeeper, Briana Scurry.

Mini - blog U.S. Norway

I'm working on an article as I watch this match, so my updates won't be as detailed.
Greg Ryan talks about how proud he is of the team coming together (behind him) and uniting (against Solo).
What I think is both ironic and a little cruel is how ESPN is pimping their special Hope Solo feature at halftime. It's obviously going to be about Solo's desire to play well for her father, who passed away. After ESPN's Foudy railled that she wouldn't want Solo in goal if she was a player, that wish has been granted in spades - Solo has been banished completely. It seems calloused to still be cashing in on the controversy by running a special feature on Solo and her dad. She's not playing - why do a piece on how she longed to dedicate her play at the World Cup to her father?

3 - Kristine Lilly with a shot just over the bar. Course, the U.S. started pretty well against Brazil, too, with an early Lilly shot.

6 - Foudy talking about how she hung out with the U.S. team before the match. Ryan spoke of wanting the team to show more composure.

8 - Aly Wagner is in this match. Let's see what a playmaker can do. Marian Dalmy is also in on defense for the injured Kate Markgraf.

11 - Lori Chalupny with a shot. It's high. The U.S. looks less intimidated against Norway.

15 - Foudy is being much less vocal about Ryan's goalkeeping decision - JP brings it up and Foudy declines to comment. Now they're replaying Solo's comments. (and pimping the feature on her dead dad again - this is kind of gross). Foudy keeps quiet again.

16 - Abby down in the box. No call.

17 - Foudy has an opinion again! She thinks Abby deserved the call. Oh, wait, here goes Foudy on "the situation". She says she disagrees with Ryan's decision to switch goalkeepers, but that Solo should not have "gone after" a teammate. She says everyone is speaking negatively of Solo now, instead of criticizing Ryan. Well, Foudy is at least.
Hope apparently told Foudy that she feels shame and regret. Apparently, that's not enough for the team, seeing as they didn't even want her around.

24 - The better of the possession belongs to Norway now. But the U.S. and their direct style don't need much of the ball to be effective.

27 - Corner kick to the U.S. but Wambach can't head it on goal.

28 - Yellow card to Chalupny. Apparently the big announcement for the day is that Bri Scurry wants to remain on the team for the Olympics. Looks like Solo is off the team, so why not?

30 - GOAL US! It wasn't pretty, but it went in. Off a corner kick, Chalupny took an outside shot. Wambach looked like she was trying to get out of the way and she ended up redirecting the shot into the goal.

42 - Oooh, it looked like Norway scored, but it turns out to be offsides. Rightly so, Foudy mentions that Scurry missed her punch out on the would-be goal.

44 - Foudy is saying again that Solo's comments attacked Scurry - JP seems to take a broader view, saying that Solo was probably referring to not living in the past, but Foudy insists it was Scurry-specific. The U.S. nearly scores again, but Nordby makes a good save.

46 - Tina Ellertson is in for Christie Rampone. Foudy reports that the team was united and upset by Solo's comments and decided the team needed to clearly signal that those things should never have been said.

47 - GOAL - U.S. scores again - another scrappy goal in front of the net, off a corner kick. The ball drops down and Wambach pokes it in. She's now only behind Marta in overall goals scored.

51 - S. Gulbrandsen shoots from distance - Scurry stops it.

57 - GOAL Chalupny scores. I guess U.S. fans shouldn't complain, because this is three they've hung on Norway, but this was another semi-lucky deflection scenario.

59 - GOAL O'Reilly scores after Lindsey Tarpley, in as a sub, does the grunt work of the shot and follow, but HAO tucks in the final rebound.

63 - GOAL Gulbrandsen scores a header off a corner. That's been Scurry's weak spot in the past - she has a good air game, not a great one.

89 - Kai comes on for Kristine Lilly. Lilly gives the captain's armband to Scurry.

90 - Tarp nearly gets a goal. I don't know about you, but my feed just switched to the European audio. It was a nice change, actually.

Fulltime. The U.S. wins. Norway had some injured players, but yes, they really did look flat. None of the U.S. goals were stunners, though. The best goal of the game was actually Norway's lone strike.
Hopefully the final will be a better match.

Comparing golazos

In my MLSnet.com match report, I compared Cuauhtemoc Blanco's goal against Chivas USA to this one he scored for America, his final goal for America. What do you think?


Emailtional

Andrea,

I just wanted to write you a note to let you know that I think you've been spot on in your US WWC team commentary both on the blog and on Soccernet.

I especially agree with your comments on their concept of 'unity.' I guess unity to them now means appearing in a press conference the way they did on the field this entire tournament: weak and scared. They (the coach, the players, the USSF) threw away a golden opportunity to make the team seem truly great. They could have said they would stand behind both their player and their coach, poor decisions on and off the field, and that they came to China as a team of 21 and would leave China as a team of 21. But instead I suppose they decided to be a "true friend" to Hope Solo and stab her in the front.

Twice over the past three years, I drove over 600 miles one way to see United States National soccer teams play a match. Once for the men and once for the women. 600 miles for events which last around two hours. 600 miles home. Many of those miles by myself. $80 for each ticket, plus lodging and fuel. All using money I had saved on the budget of a college student and waitress. I didn't regret it for a second. Today I sincerely doubt if I will ever do something like that again.

I didn't have the high and lofty expectations for this team that some had, but it makes me terribly sad to think that I will look back on this World Cup and feel nothing but shame. Maybe that's dramatic, but that's what happens when you care about something this much.

If you hear a faucet running, that's just me trying to get the acrid taste of a team I once loved out of my mouth.

Andrea,
So what do you think of the US mess? Where is hope

when you need it?

I'm not a traditional Christian, but one of the golden
rules comes to mind when thinking about this debacle:

Ryan makes a strange desicion and loses the game.

He is a coach who has 50 unbeaten games under his belt
so you turn the other cheeck and stick by him.

What happens? Hope solo does the opposite and
publicly critizises him and a fellow teammate

So what do you do? You show your maturity and turn
the other cheeck. You smile at Solo's comments and
keep her, a least until the end of the tournament.
Furthermore, bonus for being mature, the controversy
lessens.

What does Ryan do? Exactly the opposite. He kicks
her off the team! Claims that it is an unspoken rule
that US women soccer sticks together. Then what the
heck is he doing then? Hypocrite! Furthermore, the
controversy heightens!

Andrea,

This clown, Hope Solo, not only failed to stick with her team (a team
that has represented this nation and the sport of soccer with grace and
excellence) in criticizing the head coach, Greg Ryan (who's record
speaks for itself). She actually made the ridiculous claim that she would
have made the saves necessary to keep it at a 0-0 tie.

The real joke is the media that acts as if Solo has any leg to stand
upon. I have heard stories about her hurt feelings. I have heard
stories about a woman scurned. This is an American athlete representing our
nation and showing a very high level of disloyalty and selfishness. She
actually does need to toe the company line. This is the USNT!!! This
woman is the worst example of a team player. A goalie is supposed to be
a leader. There is no way that any team can follow this woman.
Michael Vick has a stronger opportunity to return from federal prison and
lead a team than Solo has of leading any group of athletes in a team
sport.

Afterburners

Saturday's Chivas USA-Chicago match lived up to the billing. One of the first things I did when I heard Cuauhtemoc Blanco officially signed Chicago was to see if he'd play at HDC against Chivas USA, and sure enough he had Saturday's game scheduled.

It was a sell out, and that's a first for the club. Well, sorta. Not counting Chivas USA-Galaxy games at HDC, Chivas had drawn more than 20,000 just once in its history, and that game was not too much over 20,000.

There were a lot of Chicago Fire jerseys out there but also quite a few Chivas shirts. I thought it would be like 75-25 in favor of the Blanco shirts but it was pretty even. I did see one poor sap in a Cruz Azul jersey, though. His buddy was wearing America colors though.

Anyway, the match was very entertaining. Between the atmosphere and the controversial plays and clutch goals and overall drama, the game was the kind we hope to see when we show up at the stadium. Like Landon Donovan is so fond of saying, that was a "real" game.

Here are some reaction stories, one with Chicago player quotes and the other with Chivas USA player quotes.

I wrote the latter and I compared it to a playoff game because I heard four players say that the game resembled a postseason match. Plus, the logical choice to finish in fourth in the east right now is Chicago, and if they can finish ahead of Colorado, the Fire will play Chivas USA in the playoffs.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Blanco effect

Ugh. MLS needs to mandate Blanco post-game conferences. The locker room turns into a total scrum around him. I didn't even try to get my recorder in there. Cuauh speaks very softly, too, so that just makes it harder to try to get any quotes.

I did try to interview Wilman Conde, though. He kept saying, "Just a minute." Then he'd sit and talk to the equipment guys. I finally gave up because so many players were leaving while I was waiting. All the other Fire players I talked to were nice, though. Chris Rolfe, Gonzalo Segares, Chris Armas and especially CJ Brown. I don't think I'd interviewed him before, actually.

Despite CJ's tough guy rep, he was very patient with a lot of questions and gave thoughtful answers and observations about how things had changed since Blanco's arrival, on how players had adjusted to their new coach, Osorio, and how it affected the team to give up so many late goals.

Second half - Fire Chivas USA

46 - Ok, they're at it again. Blanco is down holding his ankle. He limps to his feet dramatically. He looks fine now.

49 - Now the rest of the Fire are getting cheers for how long they keep the ball. "Ole's" all around. The Fire had only one shot in the entire first half. It was, of course, Mr. White's goal.

51 - Chope did have two offsides, though. And Conde and Armas got yellows.

53 - Chicago look confident to start the half, but I'm not counting Chivas USA out. They won't want to give up that home streak easily. Blanco feeds Segares, who crosses into the box. It's cleared out for a corner. Blanco gets another corner out of it, and then Galindo knees him going for the ball. Blanco goes down clutching his groin, but Galindo is jumping around like it's an exagerration. It almost looks like the teams are going to scrap, but the ref is on it and gives Galindo a yellow. Razov pulls Galindo away. Aw, Ante the peacemaker. The free kick for Chicago is cleared away, though.

59 - Back to a midfield battle, neither team really with an advantage, but Chivas works a slight counter well for Ante to take a shot near the corner of the box. It's high. He should have put that on frame at least. He had the time when he took it to place it.

61 - Nick Green mentions that Claudio Suarez is looking really active and motivated tonight.

63 - Floyd Franks ready to come in. Preki is looking pissed at the calls Blanco is getting. Chad Barrett is down. He limps off. Franks comes on for Barrett.

66 - It's not going to get the attention Temoc's awesome goal got - but Conde is a beast on defense. He really controls things well there.

66 -The latest Chivas attack has pushed Chicago's line back for a deep free throw.

67 - Some tricky play at the arc by Galindo leads to a shot by Nagamura, but it's deflected.

68 - El Diez, Laurent Merlin, is on for Chivas USA. Nagamura comes off.

69 - Klejestan and Armas started shoving over a free kick. Armas finally backs off. The Fire clear the FK service.

72 - Blanco is such a character. He sarcastically applauds the ref when he is whistled for a foul - than he releases Franks up the sideline, but Franks' first touch is horrid and the ball goes out of bounds. Going the other way, Chivas USA look like they earn a goal when Francisco Mendoza volley's it nearly home, but it hits just off the crossbar.

73 - Blanco runs the ball along the top edge of the box, then lays off for Rolfe, who takes a poor shot. The fans groan. I think they think that Blanco's teammates are wasting some of his gifts.

77 - Chivas USA is having a good run right now, but they can't get a goal out of it. Chicago is doing just enough to keep them at bay.

78 - Blanco gets tripped and this time gets the call. He raises his hands to the sky to thank the heavens. He's funny.
Alex Zotinca is subbed in for Lawson Vaughn. The Fire's free kick is pretty far out and Guzan collects Blanco's service into the box.

80 - Dasan Robinson comes in for 'Chope, who hasn't done much, really.

81 - Galindo gets taken down in the box. He gets legs tangled up with CJ Brown. PK is called and Conde is super-pissed. Suarez takes the penalty kick. He puts it away.

84 - That's another late lead the Fire have let slip away. We'll see if they can hold the draw. Chivas will be pretty happy, though. They don't look like they're going to lose their home unbeaten streak.

85 - Ooh - provocation. Marsch clipped Blanco on the back of the head and Blanco retaliated with a hard shove. Blanco is jawing at the ref and gets a yellow.

86 - Rolfe with a shot that is over the bar by not much. That's better from him.

89 - Clearance by Zotinca falls right to Diego Guttierrez who takes a hard shot it is targeting the goal but Guzan touches it just over with a diving jump. Wow. That was a great save.

90 - The corner gets headed around the top of the arc tantalizingly, but Chivas finally get the ball. The Fire are on the attack again. Rolfe has a bit of space but the shot he takes is horrid - way high. A rebound pushes the ball free and Blanco races for it against Guzan. Guzan wins.
On an attack almost immediately after, Blanco gets the ball. He has space and races into the box. He keeps the ball and keeps going. Zotinca seems to tackle him down from behind and Blanco sprawls. No call. Blanco is furious. The Fire coach, Osorio, is livid. The ref ends up tossing him. Blanco goes to take the corner, complaining the whole way. He deliberately puts the ball outside of the corner kick arc, just to aggravate the ref. It doesn't matter. The corner is clear and the game is over. Fun game if you're a neutral. Incredibly frustrating for everyone else. It's kind of a fair result, though. Both teams had chances.

FIRE vs Chivas USA RB

I am excited for this match. It is a clash of good teams.

The announcer didn't do the rush Galaxy announcement of Chicago's players, but they definately had the monotone down. No matter. The mention of Blanco got a big cheer.

The starting lineups are out on the field. Cuauh looks like his usual glum self. Which probably means he'll have a great game.

Hi everyone! I'm at a sold-out Home Depot Center, and the stands are filled with Chivas and Club America jerseys. It's the clasico!


Ok, I'll admit, there are quite a few Chicago Fire jerseys here. If all of the people wearing them could vote, Cuauh would be winning our newcomer poll handily.

1- Rolfe with an early attack, but can't quite get it to 'Chope

3 - Chivas on the attack - ball into box, for Razov, who shoots. Pickens blocks, but loses the ball. Fire get a lucky bounce and are able to clear.

4 - Crowd cheers every time Blanco gets the ball. They chanted "Temoc" for a bit.

5 - Temoc takes a FK. It's far from goal and Guzan snags it.

7 - the Club America fans aren't sure whether to cheer the good plays made by non-Branco Fire players. They're a little shy about that. They just sent up a hearty boo for a Chivas backpass to Guzan, though.

10 - Galindo with a side shot - saved. It's called back for a free kick, but that's easily cleared. It nearly starts Temoc on a breakaway, but he's stood up.

15 - No team has really had the better of play - Chivas as kept the ball in Fire territory a bit more, perhaps.

17 - Suarez with a rare attacking run. The Fire's counter nearly caught the backline on that buy Jesse Marsch recovers the ball.

20 - Temoc with a nice backheel to Rolfe near the top of the box - Rolfe could have done a bit better with that. He passes back.However, the Fire are attacking more.

21 - Wow, Galindo looked like he scored there. Well, he actually did, but it's called back for a disputable offsides. On the other hand, the Fire stopped playing as soon as the whistle blew, so who knows if they could have prevented the goal.

24 - Yellow card to Jesse Marsch. The free kick is in a good spot for Blanco.

GOAL - Outside the box, about 30 yards from goal. @#*@$(!& Blanco takes a long run up the the ball and freaking slams it past Guzano into the net. WOW. He walloped it right into goal, right past one of the better goalkeepers in the league. NICE.

That'll get Cuauh a few more votes in our poll. He's basically saving the Fire's season here.

28 - Yellow card to Chris Armas. It looked a bit soft to me, but ref Tim Weyland wants to keep this match under control.

30 - Chivas USA are undefeated at home this season, so if this result holds up, it will be a historic match. Of course, Toronto FC had a lead versus DC United earlier today and look how that went.

32 - Yellow to Nagamura - Chivas USA isn't winning the midfield battle as easily as they were when the match started. The Fire look more cohesive and the match is getting chippy as both teams struggle to hold the center of the field.

36 - Bornstein with a nice through ball to Razov that Ante can's quite reach. Blanco gets tripped on the counter for the Fire, and throws a hilarious tantrum when he doesn't get the call. He's banging on his head in frustration while lying on this back on the field.

The ball going the other wasy leads to a yellow card for Wilman Conde and a FK for Chivas USA. It's wasted when a tricky chip from Razov to Kljestan goes awry. Or maybe it was just a really bad kick. Ante looks frustrated.

40 - Long free kick to Chivas USA gets cleared but the rebound falls to Razov? He kicks toward goal it deflects off some players in the way and hits against the crossbar.

43 - Galindo chases a ball into the box and ends up falling over Pickens after the goalkeeper has grabbed the ball.

45 - Chicago haven't exactly controlled the match, but they've done well on the counter and they've disrupted the midfield play that feeds most of the opportunities for Chivas USA. Chivas USA are pushing hard to the equalizer right now, though. They don't get it.

Halftime

Scott French, who has covered the USWNT for some time, is expounding on how horrible a move Greg Ryan's decision to bench Hope Solo was. Scott says Hope was one of the best goalkeepers in the tournament. He says he's glad Julie Foudy is on the air to tell the truth about how Ryan's move wasn't a good one. He thinks she's doing a great job announcing. I tell him that Foudy said on the air that she couldn't believe Hope's comments about Ryan and the allusion to Briana and that Foudy said she wouldn't want Solo in goal behind her if she was on the team. That gives him pause. Then he says, "Well, Julie thinks it was an attack on Briana - what Hope said. I don't believe that, but I can see how some people took it that way. Hope was right, though."

Scott thinks Germany will win the World Cup, by the way.

Train wreck viewing

Honestly, I expect the ratings for the third-place game to climb. There's just too much publicity flying around about the U.S. team for it not to have an effect.

I know that some fans are organizing viewing boycotts due to the way Hope Solo has been banned, but I think more people will want to see how the U.S. team deals with the situation.

Also, I have to call attention to Jackson's piece, because I think it makes so much sense.

Still, part of me is disheartened that the great performance of other nations and their players at the World Cup is now struggling to get any attention with this maelstrom over Greg Ryan's choice and the consequences of it.

The meaning of "unity"

Is it just me that cringes a little when the U.S. coach talks about strong team unity, just before explaining how Hope Solo was excluded from both practice and from even being at the stadium during the Norway game for her comments?

I'm not sure that I see the move to ostracize one of their own as such a shining example of team togetherness. The language of "they support each other, they back each other" is there, but Solo is definitely being shunned.

Admission of guilt

Greg Ryan cops to a lapse in judgment.

``My mistake was not leaving them more in a dual starting role from an earlier period of time,'' Ryan said Saturday. ``I think we needed two kinds of goal keepers in this World Cup.''


At least Ryan admits that he erred in not having Scurry ready or the team and Solo prepared for the possibility of such a move. However, it just seems to compound his mistake of calling for the switch. The bottom line is, Ryan DIDN'T have them in a dual starting role. Scurry didn't have the practice she needed, nor did the defense.

Given that Ryan realized that he hadn't had that preparation set up for Scurry, it's even more inexcusable that he decided to overlook that fact and start her anyway.

It's like me thinking, "Dang, I should have filled up the car with gas - it's empty now and I'm late." Then I try to drive to where I'm going anyway and blame the car and bad luck when it gives out on the road.

You don't correct an error by pretending it doesn't exist and that things will magically be fine anyway.

The soccer folk

See, despite all the commentary from people crawling out of the woodwork to comment on the Solo situation, it's the soccer people viewpoint that I feel is most valid.

I could swear that there are people writing about this event right now who have not seen a women's soccer match this year, or perhaps ever. It's the curse of a non-mainstream sport, especially one that most people associate with kids running around on Saturday.

Soccer folk, however, who have observed the U.S. team through the years, know more about the situation. Here's one of the best takes I've read.

I have to say, though, that I take issue with Beulah's view on a reporter talking to Hope. That's just shooting the messenger.

Official fallout

Well, it has become official. Hope Solo is off the World Cup team for her comments.

I find that sad, but not surprising. Greg Ryan is still the coach, and he could not be happy about what Solo said.

With so much of the spin going in the direction that Solo insulted Briana Scurry, and with Julie Foudy's comments urging that interpretation on, how were Kristine Lilly and Abby Wambach, who were part of that team in 2004 when Scurry saved their butts, supposed to react?

Sure enough, the establishment has closed ranks.

I frankly feel that Solo is off the national team now, but she should see about going to Sweden and playing there. It could be that other coaches might consider her trouble, though. That's a shame, because that's never been her track record at all.

So the goalkeeper best suited to lead the team in the Olympics is probably not even going to make the team, unless a new coach comes along with a fresh perspective and an open mind.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Um, not the same

Just a quick post in response to an email about how Bob Bradley used two goalkeepers in the recent Gold Cup and Copa America. That's true.

However, that's not the same as what Greg Ryan did. In the men's game, all the keepers Bradley picked from were game sharp because they played regularly for their club teams.


It doesn't matter how much one plays in practice, the stress and pressure of games is different. Tim Howard, Kasey Keller and Brad Guzan were prepared for that.

Briana Scurry was not. Nothing can duplicate the environment of an actual match, except playing actual matches.

Playing the cute card

It's pretty depressing to read the emails I've gotten accusing me of letting Hope Solo off the hook for her comments (which they construe as attacking Briana Scurry) because Solo's female and I'm in some sort of solidarity with her because of that. Exactly what do they think Scurry is, then?

A male colleague reported that some of his emails have consisted of "You're sympathizing with a backstabbing harpy because she's cute."

Perhaps we're actually of the opinion that Solo was right because we cover soccer and we have brains?

I've fielded emails today comparing Hope Solo to Michael Vick and Terrell Owens - except in the more negative sense, saying she is worse than either of them.

I think that's crazy. If anything, I think the backlash some people have inflicted on Solo comes from the image many people have of U.S. Soccer as a sport for nice, educated, white females who are "good girls" who never bleat anything controversial or interesting, just go out and play hard, fair and always with honor and pluck.

To a certain extent, it's because many sports reporters know little about soccer, or about women's soccer, other than the smiling images that exploded all over the U.S. in 1999.

However, part of that was a media puffery that wanted to focus on all the bright spots and none of the darker ones.

That's why so many news outlets glossed over Mia Hamm's moodiness, the rumors of eating disorders of some team members, and the fact that the penalty that Scurry saved in 1999 was due to the classic goalkeeper's cheat of coming off the line early. This treatment of the team continued after that "golden generation". Is it any wonder people grew bored with the team? The new generation of players became more plastic and inhuman as they tried to live up to this perfect ideal that never really existed. Pladitudes became the post-game quotes. Anything else was overlooked. Most news media ignored Scurry's own comments about another goalkeeper, Siri Mullinux, when Scurry stated that she would have made the saves Millinux missed in the 2000 Olympic goal medal game. One can argue that she didn't say it right after the game, but I find it even more telling that Scurry mentioned it years after the event. There's no "in the heat of the moment" excuse there. She'd been mulling that for a long time.

One suspects that in order to retain this mythos of the happy, idealistic USWNT, players who dissented or did't conform were left off the squad, like Tiffeny Milbrett, Shannon MacMillain, and Brandi Chastain.

It wasn't their cuteness that made them invisible to many media outlets who could have broadcast their plight - it was the fact that they stepped out of the line and out of the box that many had safely packaged for the U.S. team. "Sour grapes," was the universal dismissal.

It's disappointing for me to hear Foudy, of all people, call Solo out for her honesty and say that she wouldn't want to play in front of her. Foudy was famous for saying all sorts of things, and some of them weren't very nice. She let herself be human and spoke candidly, yet she won't allow the next generation to do the same?

What really baffles me is those who say that Solo was right to criticize Ryan, but not Scurry. The leap of logic to take her comments as a bashing of Scurry could just as easily be made in another direction. Solo could have said exactly what she did with her motivation being a fierce defense of Scurry - who was made to look bad by a desperate coach who wanted poor Scurry to reclaim some long-ago magic despite not having had the preparation time needed to perform at such a top level.

On the first goal, Scurry herself admitted she could have communicated with Leslie Osborne better. On the second goal, her former coach, Tony DiCicco, one of her biggest boosters ever, said, "Bri on her game makes that save." Yet even when there were still eleven players in front of her, Bri wasn't on her game. She couldn't be because time and Solo's own skills had passed her by for the number one spot a goalkeeper needs to man regularly to be sharp.

Ryan wouldn't admit this. It definitely seemed like he doubted his team's skills. He wasn't using their depth. Kristine Lilly said after the Brazil match, "I'm so tired." No freakin' wonder! Ryan wouldn't sub out his other legend and her legs were gone. It wasn't Solo's words that threw the U.S. squad under the bus, it was Ryan's actions. He didn't trust the current version of the team and reached into the past for a savior, regardless of how bad it made that individual look when they simply weren't up to the task.

Heck, this is what I thought when I saw an injured John O'Brien at the last World Cup, or a slowing Claudio Reyna, for that matter. Arena didn't believe in the youth of the squad as he had once before, back in 2002.

Niether did Ryan. How does Lindsey Tarpley go from playing in every Olympic match in 2004 to hardly seeing the field in a World Cup three years later? Did she somehow get worse in the interim?

Perhaps I'm being too hard on some of those writing in, though. Perhaps they simply don't, like Solo said, know the game of soccer. So much depends on team chemistry, especially on defense. Goakeepers direct the defenders and are often the coaches on-field for their squad. Ryan's move superseded all the continuity the team had and sent them a clear message that he didn't believe that the way the squad had worked in all the months leading up to the World Cup was good enough. It was a panic move, and not surprisingly, it caused some panic among the team.

Solo's words to acknowledge this were not an attack on Scurry, her team, or anyone else except the person responsible for making that poor decision. She referenced 2004 not to belittle Scurry's accomplishments (why does she label Scurry as a "big name" if she doesn't respect her?), but to point out the obvious flaw in Ryan's reasoning for the change. It's not 2004.

Marta and Brazil are much better than they were in 2004, and the unified and cohesive defensive effort that Denmark or Australia showed against Brazil was what was needed to defeat them, not some "Hail Mary" move into the past to look for individual brilliance.

Especially from Scurry, who at her age and with little game readiness, could hardly be expected to comply with Ryan's flashback dream. His choice tarnished Scurry's legacy, because more people will remember this match than do the 2004 game. Though Solo was no doubt speaking from her own hurt of being overlooked, her words against Ryan's decision were actually a defense of the entire team and everything they had worked for, including Scurry.

Ole Alain

Alain Nkong stats, since someone asked.

All Saints day

Near the midway point of the Clausura 2007 season, Santos was the worst team in Mexico and on the verge of relegation.

Now, the club is the best team in Mexico hands down. Sure, the playoffs are far away and a lot can change from now to then, but for Santos to even be anywhere near the top of the heap, let alone the superlider, speaks well of the organization.

I thought this statistic was pretty telling. The four semifinalists from the Clausura 2007 season were Pachuca, America, Cruz Azul and Chivas. Check out the scores those teams had against Santos this season:

Santos 2, Cruz Azul 0
Santos 1, Pachuca 0
Santos 2, Chivas 1
Santos 4, America 0

Again with the prophecy

It's funny, because as I wrote this preview article, I was thinking of all the ways the German team could beat Brazil. The article outlines some of that. However, they are my pick to win. I think their time has come. Sometimes a team, somewhere in a tournament, just starts to look both destined and determined.

That's what Brazil is looking like.

Neid on Brazil

I like it when people I respect agree with me. For all those who claim that Brazil would have beaten the U.S. no matter who was in goal, I submit that Germany's coach, Sylvia Neid, recognized that the U.S. team did not play the way they could have and should have.

Now, I'm not saying that Brazil wouldn't have won anyway, but I think to say that putting Scurry into goal helped the team rather than unsettled them is ludicrious.

I also think it's wrong to say that Brazil would have won no matter who was in goal. No one knows that.

Loudy again

Julie Foudy has, in my opinion, really mischaracterized Hope Solo's comments. I don't think Solo attacked Scurry. In fact, I think Solo did nothing more than Foudy did in the broadcast of the game - when Foudy mentioned that it was the wrong decision to switch goalkeepers. Solo can criticize a decision like that and say that she thought she could make the saves without it being an attack on a teammate. It's confidence in her ability and hurt because of the denial of an opportunity that she had earned.

For example, when Foudy questioned the insertion of Tina Ellertson into the match, was she saying that Ellertson wasn't a good defender? No, she was harping on Ryan's decision. To make the leap from that to say that Foudy was attacking Ellertson is basically the one that Foudy makes here about Solo and Scurry.

The point that Solo was making in comparing 2004 to 2007 was obvious - it was to say that over those passing years, she has earned her place and become the starting goalkeeper for a reason. To reverse all that was a mistake. To say that, on current form, she is the best goalkeeper is a perfectly valid statement. To point out Ryan's mistake does not defame Scurry.

On the other hand, this is where it feels a bit like U.S. Soccer is closing ranks. It makes me wish that we had people covering the broadcast who were more objective. Heather Mitts is still on the team. How far will she go in criticizing Ryan when he could hold her playing fate in hand? Foudy is obviously close with many of the U.S team, especially Scurry. She seems to have reacted as if her friend was attacked. I think that's a limited perspective.

Solo is sorry - sorta

She apologizes to Bri - kinda.

Don't you love the Internet?

Ciao

Well, the tradition of the U.S. teams being the demise of Mexican coaches continues. This time, though, it wasn't the UNITED States team doing the honors, but DC UNITED.

Notorious

Infamy is still a type of fame. This morning, I woke up to press all over the world talking about the spectacular fall of the Americans in the World Cup. They didn't just lose. They crashed and burned in flames of controversy. However, this captured the attention of a lot of people (much like the famous bra moment when Chastain clinched).

Frankly, the U.S. team is now a bigger story than the amazingly talented Brazil team that beat them. The American women have finally received the attention they sought. It wasn't for what they hoped for, but it's publicity.

If Ryan had let Solo play, and the defense had been more organized, and a new, fresh-legged forward had scored a goal, the U.S. could have still lost, say 2-1 and it would be a respectable loss that wouldn't have drawn the kind of attention that this story of coach versus goalkeeper has.

Solo's comments blows up the image of the team as "good little girls". Some might say, "good riddance" Others probably liked the angelic angle.

Anyway, here are a few of the stories that I thought were especially interesting on the topic.

What's also notable is that a lot of the outlets covering this story never bother with soccer at all, let alone women's soccer. They would have mentioned a World Cup win, sure, but not covered this story with all the commentary unless something like this happened.

Ryan responds to Solo

Oh, boy. Sure enough, there are repercussions from Hope Solo's statements.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ten epic nights

Chivas now gets you half off of a Morrissey concert.

Any life left?

The Galaxy beat Kansas City 1-0 on Thursday and suddenly the club is not as terrible as they'd been. Two consecutive wins will do that to teams. Six points in a span of five days will also help the club leap in the table.

Now, the Galaxy has 24 points with five games remaining. There are four playoff spots left open. New York and Dallas are all but in, so here are the rest of the teams in the race, how many games they've played and their total points:

Kansas City 27-36
Chicago 26-32
Columbus 26-31
Colorado 26-29
Los Angeles 25-24
RSL26-23
Toronto 25-21

The Galaxy has games at Columbus, at Houston, Toronto, New York and at Chicago remaining, not exactly a slate of easy games. Three road games left on the docket will be hard, given that Thursday's win was their first away from Home Depot Center this year.

However, this is a club that has finished strong the last two seasons. Their record last year down the stretch was very good. And momentum could be on the Galaxy's side here, now with two straight wins and seven points from their last three games.

Do the Galaxy have enough left in the tank to get to the playoffs? Is there reason for Galaxy fans to hope? Or does it not matter because this falls in the way-too-little, way-too-late category?

Galaxy contra KC

La previa

The worst of the worst

Okay, let's see. American soccer coaches have made some grand decisions at the World Cup before, both men and women. But they've also had some boneheaded moves before. So I wanted to see what the readers felt was the worst of the worst.

2007 WWC: Greg Ryan loses faith in his starting goalkeeper, Hope Solo. Having not allowed a goal in 300 minutes during the tournament, Ryan nevertheless pulled the plug on Solo in favor of an aging Briana Scurry. Brazil puts three past Scurry and, just for good measure, and American also gets one over the goal line. Brazil knocks the U.S. out with a commanding 4-0 semifinal win.

2006 World Cup: The USMNT had used the 4-5-1 in really just one important game under Bruce Arena before, and that ended up in a 2-1 loss. Throwing all the work and effort, all the progress and the development the team had had with the two-striker system out the windown, the U.S. took the field against the Czech Republic with a lone striker. It failed miserably as the Czechs looked like the pre-tournament powers many had feared. Ghana and Italy showed just how strong the Czechs were and the U.S. did not recover from its slow start.

1998 World Cup: Veteran players such as Alexi Lalas and Marcelo Balboa had formed the nucleus of the team during World Cup qualifying, when the U.S. pulled out some fantastic results. Lalas did not play one minute in the tournament while Balboa played eight as both were casualties of Sampson's doomed 3-6-1 formation. The U.S. team that went through qualifying and reached the Gold Cup final in 1998 was not allowed to take place as Sampson chose instead to plug in newcomers such as Chad Deering and Brian Maisonneuve into the mix. The U.S. lost all three games.

More on Santos

Here's a story about the doubleheader at the Coliseum on Wednesday. Santos Laguna beat FAS of El Salvador by 2-0 after Marquense of Guatemala and Marathon of Honduras had tied 0-0. Santos then beat Marathon in penalty kicks to win the "tournament."

But like someone had asked earlier the reason for this match, it's pretty much $$$. According to the story, Santos charged $100,000 to participate while the Central American clubs charged $25,000 apiece. It cost the organizers somewhere around $130,000 to rent out the Coliseum. Add that up and the attendance and, according to the story the organizers took a bath.

Ticket prices were between $30-45, which I think scared away people. Why not sell them at $10-25 and have more people show up then jack up the prices like that and draw a small crowd?

Now, the story says there were around 4,000 fans there. Maybe from up above it might have seemed like less and since I was in the stands and (briefly) on the sidelines perhaps it seemed a bit more. I estimated the crowd size to be at least 100,00, and since I've been at all but one of Chivas USA's home games, I know what a crowd of 10,000 looks like.

Anyway, there were quite a lot of Santos supporters there. The FAS contingent stayed on the other side of the stadium which was good because it seemed like there may have been some scraps had they sat closer together.

The worst thing, though, was my camera. I didn't have it with me and the only passes they had were field passes. I went down for about the final five minutes or so on the sidelines and watched a penalty kick shootout from the field, which was a first for me. After it ended, I wanted to talk to the Santos coach, Daniel Guzman, and players so I waited for the shootout to end and approached Guzman myself. I felt like I was at a high school football game for a minute instead of watching the best Mexican soccer team of the Apertura 2007 season.

I had to wait for a minute for Guzman, though, because he was talking to Pablo Montero. That's the TV star Pablo Montero, not to be confused with the soccer star Paolo Montero. Pablo apparently is a big Santos fan and had a jersey signed by the entire team. Don't know if Paolo is into Santos Laguna.

Out of Hope

Hope Solo vented pretty forcefully after the match that the decision by Greg Ryan was "wrong". I think she has an especially valid point that Ryan relied too much on the past. A lot of players should have been subbed more - and the young offensive talent of the team, Tarpley, Kai, etc, should have gotten more of a chance.

Solo should have kept her place. That was a strange and sad gamble.

The Exultant

From my Inbox:

Brazil
,

What a team to watch!
How can you expect to beat Brazil on set plays, or just by lifting the ball in the Brazilian defense area for 90 minutes! Brazil proved today who is the best, not only by this powerful 4X0 result, but with flair, determination to win and unique class! Joga Bonito Style!
I just feel horrible about keeping Solo off the game, I still do not think she could have done anything to stop Brazil from winning, but coach Greg Ryan displayed fear and lack of character about the game when he said that "the Brazilian team plays dirty and is too violent", you could see on his interviews prior to the game, that his main concern about playing Brazil was simple. How do I stop Brazil? ... and he attempted several times to shift the attention away from his team, but how badly he failed! Besides, you can not stop Brazil! You can maybe slow them down, but you can not simply stop them, they are too talented as a team. I hope coach Ryan learns the importance about being humble, keeping his team together (without making such drastic last minute changes on a winning team, while demoralizing and changing the chemistry among his own players) and finnaly, the fact that games such as today's, are won on the field and not in conference rooms!
Today, nobody in this planet could have stopped Magic Marta and her determined-to-win Brazilian class act team, but the US today, looked like a team so desorganized and simple minded on the field that, Brazil was just too good to handle.

DiCicco the coach

Aside from taking the current coach to task, Tony DiCicco is also a coach.

He was named coach of the Boston Breakers of the upcoming women's pro league.

Thus, DiCicco will be a coach when the league starts in '09 - wonder where Greg Ryan will be by then.

Disaster

Ok, the U.S. is playing like I feel. Crappy, crappy. Osborne own-goal, Marta adds the second, then Shannon Boxx got set off, then Christiane just scored - ugh, ugh, ugh.

Oh, well. I'm happy for Brazil, but I'm pretty pissed at Greg Ryan (not personally, he's really a nice guy - but tactically, this was a horrible move). The U.S. defense was the team's chance to win this match. Yanking Hope Solo from goal and putting in Bri Scurry completely undermined them. Their communication wouldn't be as good - it couldn't be - and a player who is not game-sharp is put in an odd position, and the player replaced couldn't possibly feel very forgiving. Yuk.

Foudy can't get over why Ellertson was Ryan's sub. I say - "Does it really matter? This one should be over."

In a way, soccer fans get cheated in this match because of Ryan's move. He said he'd take the blame, and it will duly go to him, but without the distraction, this could have been a great duel.

Or not. Frankly, the U.S. hadn't looked great all tournament long, but they had seemed to be improving.

Then this.

Salt in the wounds of Ryan to have Tony DiCicco second-guessing him. DiCicco isn't piling on, but he is calling out the wrong moves Ryan has made. Rightly so.

Wonder if Bruce Arena would do that - he's called a couple of USMNT games. Bob Bradley and Arena are close, however. Probably not.

I remember a track coach telling me once that for top speed, you have to be able to relax. You need confidence and calm. I think soccer is similar in a sense. Some urgency is good, but really you have to have ice in your veins, and you have to be steady.

Ryan's choice obliterated that for his squad. Without the tension, would Osborne have made such a vital mistake? Boxx, well, the second was questionable, but still, it was such a risk.

I'm not keeping a running blog, because at this point, there isn't any point in the game. The repercussions are the issue here.

GOAL - ok, well, Marta just scored again. Nicely done. I'll be disappointed if this team doesn't beat Germany. It would be terrible to hit their peak here in the semi.

Anyway, back to the effect this game will have. This is the biggest loss the U.S. has ever taken at the World Cup - ever.

GREG RYAN - does he keep his job? He's unbeaten (remember when Bradley was, too?) but the goof of switching goalkeepers has proven such a horrid move that he should be at risk. I don't think the U.S. fed has the guts to make this move, though.

KRISTINE LILLY - Hurts to go out like this - does she finally declare retirement on a rather sour note?

BRIANA SCURRY - How does this loss affect the view of her career? How has it been tarnished by this - and does she finally retire too?

HOPE SOLO - Does she continue to be a good soldier in residency with Ryan after he pulled this? Or does she say, "Screw that." and go back to Sweden to play professionally? It would probably kill her national team career, though. Milbret said that's what happened to her.

WUSA II - World Cup losses affected the WUSA. An Olympic gold is nice, but it's not the World Cup - and the U.S. going out this ugly might really scare a few sponsors and investors away. The delay to wait until 2009 to launch the league was already a bad sign, a "Let's see how the World Cup goes indicator." Oh, wait - worst loss in US women's soccer history. Not good.

Ryan says the goalkeeper move didn't affect the game. I think that's more than wishful thinking. Yes, the early goal was a factor - and so was the Boxx send-off. The announcers aren't buying it, and are also calling Ryan out for the defensive subs in the game.

BRAZIL - Why no subs for a team that is a day short on rest before the final? Can they carry the goods to the final?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

traffic at night sucks

I had to sit for a second but I'm moving now. 80 mph

Anyway the game went well. I had a good chat with Edgar Castillo, New Mexico native who is an up and comer with El Tri.

I will write more about the night later. But one thing that struck me as amusing:

In the second half of the Santos-FAS game, the PA announcer said in Spanish: "your attention, Copa Sudamericana update, in a game played in Washington DC, Chivas 1, DC United 2."

That announcement got a healthy round of applause. Couldn't tell if it was the salvadorans or other cental Americans or Mexicans who cheered, but people cheered.

in the stands

So I am in the stands right now at the LA Coliseum. Santos laguna just happened to be in town so i figured I would come down and talk to some of their players. I have a field pass but im going to take this game in from here. I am like 15 rows up from the 30 yard line. Santos is playing FAS of El Salvador. Not a great match so far. Matias Vuoso already got sent off. Santos is playing their regulars though.

Panchito to El Tri?

Panchito Mendoza is reportedly in the sights of Mexico coach Hugo Sanchez.

The story appeared in Mexican daily Mural on Tuesday. At training, we talked to Panchito Mendoza and Claudio Suarez about the possibility of Mendoza getting the call to the Mexican national team.

This would be a grand accomplishment if it did happen. Mendoza came up through Chivas' youth system but has only played professionally in Major League Soccer. Of course, you can only wonder if Juan Pablo Garcia had stayed here and had continued to perform as he did a year ago if he would be in a similar position. Instead, he's languishing on the bench at Tigres.

Still, Mendoza might be more attractive because of his age. At 22, he can be part of Mexico's Olympic squad next year so this might be with the Olympics in mind.

Only time will tell if Panchito gets the call but Claudio Suarez has spoken highly of Mendoza now and in the past, and if he's got Suarez's stamp of approval, that can only be a good thing.

Not a fan

Don't count Pumas coach Ricardo "Tuca" Ferreti as a fan of the Mexican national team's calendar. Ferreti went off on a rant about the Mexican Soccer Federation and wound up talking about the FMF's insistence on playing friendlies in the United States. Mexico plays Guatemala in L.A. on Oct. 17, but don't expect Tuca to catch the game on TV.

"How does that benefit Mexican soccer? It does not. Of course, playing Brazil is one thing but Guatemala again? Guate-worse? Second-class soccer for our paisanos in the U.S. who pay first-class prices? The Mexican national team is not preparing adequately for the World Cup. Why not go play in Spain? Why not go play in England? Or in South Africa? Or in Africa? Not these damned games who nobody watches except for our poor countrymen who are up there."

No rb - Germany win

Sorry guys, I am fighting a cold and didn't feel like cutting my sleep short. But my prediction held up for Germany versus Norway.

The Norwegians were gamers, from what I've seen of the tape, but Germany was just too strong for them in the end.

I'll do the running blog tomorrow, though, so feel free to chime in here if you're up.

Danny boy

I don't keep close tabs on the Colorado Rapids. I guess if I had insomnia I might watch one of their archived games on MLSnet.com.

Anyway, I recently wondered about Daniel Osorno. I saw him play one game with the Rapids but since they've been out of my sight for a while, I don't remember him distinguishing himself much with Colorado.

I ran across this story on mediotiempo.com about Osorno and how he longs to return to Atlas. Here's part of what he had to say:

"There have been some conversations but we'll see if it happens. Hopefully in December we can talk to see if I can return. There was some talk about a possible return in InterLiga but it all depends on what happens when I go to Guadalajara to visit the club."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

End of an era?

It's hard to maintain dominance for an extended period of time.

Pachuca's run as the best club in Mexico and one of the top clubs in the Western Hemisphere might be starting to crumble as America routed Pachuca 4-1 in the first leg of their Sudamericana series.

Pachuca needs to win by a large margin in Estadio Azteca to have a shot of defending their Sudamericana title.

This should serve as a wake-up call to DC United. Regardless of league form, if you're not careful against a well-prepared and motivated team, this can happen.

Claudio on Cuauhtemoc

Here's a cool audio clip from today that only a few of our readers will be able to enjoy.

Claudio Suarez talked to a couple of us today after Chivas USA training. He talked about Cuauhtemoc Blanco and some games he remembers playing with and against him. It starts with his recollection of the last game he played against him, the second leg of the Apertura 2005 quarterfinals, a match that Tigres won 4-1 in Azteca to steal the aggregate series by a 5-4 count.

It's all in Spanish, of course.

Airport arrival

When Mexican soccer fans that I run into find out that I'm a soccer writer, two questions are commonly asked of me:

- How can I meet Memo Ochoa?
- How can I meet Cuauhtemoc Blanco?

I can't help you on the first one, at least not yet.

But the second one, well, here goes:

Blanco's set to arrive along with his Chicago Fire teammates at LAX on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. on American Airlines flight 55, a nonstop from O'Hare to Los Angeles International.

I guess the last time this happened was in June when I participated in a career day event at a local elementary school (I must admit, my presentation was cooler than the mortgage broker's). I showed a picture I took next to some baby-faced, curly-haired soccer player and it drew some ooooohs and aaaahs. Then the questions began.

Incidentally, I also showed a picture of Landon Donovan to the students. Many of the non-Mexican students did not know who he was, but all the Mexican kids did.

Evasive manuevers

The SuperClasico took place a while ago, but the fallout of the fan trouble still lingers. I'm not convinced the league has a good plan to avoid future situations. If they do, they are keeping it to themselves.

Sudamericana begins

Copa Sudamericana will get underway for participating CONCACAF teams this week. Pachuca and America will play today in Hidalgo and DC United will host Chivas Guadalajara on Wednesday. The winners of the two-leg series will advance to the quarterfinals.

Pachuca are defending champions but have been playing poorly of late. Two consecutive league losses and the absence of goalkeeper Miguel Calero leaves Pachuca vulnerable to America. However, las Aguilas are struggling in league right now and are seven points back of Atlante in Group 2. It should be a good match, however, though Pachuca has the upper hand.

DC United and Chivas already put on some good shows this year. DC fans want some revenge for what happened earlier this year. DC is in much better form now than they were in March while Chivas was playing better then than now. With DC already in the MLS playoffs and sitting comfortably atop the league, I would not be surprised to see DC pull this one off. In fact, I'm expecting DC to win. Chivas is just plain average right now while DC is the class of MLS. There aren't any preseason excuses for either side now.

100 percent guests

This is a pretty good read. Nick Green got Jesse Marsch to write a guest blog on his 100 Percent Soccer blog. Marsch takes the opportunity to write about diving and how much he despises diving. I'm telling you, Marsch continues to gain points in my book because I despise diving as well.

Anyway, Marsch pretty much tells us who he thinks the two biggest divers in the league are; however, I think Paulinho (aka Nagamura) might disagree with his subsequent comment about Brazilians.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Once more

Aw, predictions! It's all a gamble.

Here's some reader reaction I've already picked up.

Ms. Canales,

I rank the remaining teams in this order: Germany, Brazil, US, Norway.

I buy Germany. The US, on the other hand, has not convinced me,
whereas Brazil has. No doubt the US is strong enough to pull it out, with a
little luck; but the cliche that the US "has yet to play it's best
soccer" is getting worn out and annoying. We simply just don't know
what the US' "best soccer" looks like. This may be as good as it gets.

I certainly was not impressed by the US showing against Nigeria in a
game that meant something, and the scoreline against England was
gaudier than it merited (so many defensive gaffes in this World Cup!). And the
way they just fell apart when Wambach was out for just 8 minutes was
disappointing. You'd think the team was Abby + 10. Brazil, on the
other hand, has shown me some soccer, At their worst they still beat
Australia; at their best, they utterly destroyed China.

Who knows? I think it'll come down to Lady Luck and the referee. The
US is a physical team, and if the referee allows that kind of play the
Brazilians may well get frustrated.

I have been reading your articles about the World Cup and I have to tell you that 99% of the times I agreed with you, but not on your last posting about Thursday´s game predictions.
First of all, Brazil had only one fairly bad game against Australia, while the US has not played well at all in the entire competition, but the second half against England. The Brazilian players had a great wake up call against Australia, and based on several interviews with its key players such as Marta, Formiga and Daniele, now it is their time to win. They are very focused and I think it will be very hard for the US to neutralize Brazil´s offensive power. Winning experience is important, but there is always a first time, otherwise, Brazil would always win every title on the men´s side. I think too many people are over rating the US team based on their past victories, but fail to understand how "average" their soccer has been during the competition. On the other side you have Brazil, probably the best team in the entire World Cup, and after only one below average performance, all of the sudden, they are not as hot as before. Sorry but I do not see things the same way you do, since Brazil in my opinion, will finally not only beat the US, but it will once for all, prove to the world that the US is no longer the #1 team in the world as it was in the past. You shall see!
BRAZIL 4 X USA 1
If I am right, you should consider adding my predictions or comments to your next posting!

La Mezcla

Que al fin funciona.

Light Beer Rankings

1. D.C. United (15-6-5). Have most points, scored most goals, have best goal-differential.
2. Chivas USA (14-6-5). Ran record against Eastern Conference foes to 8-2-3 with win over Kansas City.
3. Houston (13-7-6). Could do nothing to prevent Chivas from going into first place; Western Conference fate is out of their hands.
4. New England (13-6-7). Not once but twice blew a lead against New York.
5. Chicago (8-10-8). No team wants a part of Chicago come playoff time.
6. New York (11-10-5). Good job, Grandpa - Doe leads New York back against New England.
7. FC Dallas (12-10-4). Lots of talent but strangely mediocre.
8. Kansas City (10-10-6). Outplayed Chivas USA at Home Depot Center; a rarity this season. Still lost, though.
9. Columbus (7-9-10). Sigi's boys say "Don't give a playoff spot to Chicago just yet."
10. Colorado (7-11-8). Hardest team to figure out; with playoff spot in sight, Rapids lay an egg.
11. Real Salt Lake (5-13-8). Four points from two games; where was this production when it mattered?
12. Los Angeles (5-13-6). See above.
13. Toronto (5-14-6). New-and-improved scoreless streak now at 88 minutes.

Getting used to the grind

LD on FC
"They played three games in a week, and they're exhausted at the end of it. We've been doing that all year. It's kind of interesting, because now we're kind of used to it. I don't think they could find the energy to get back into it."

Aww, missing the dirty deets

"Landon got a yellow for I don't know what," Frank said in the post-game presser.

Landon had a bit of a clue. He'd kicked the ball back into the goal after putting away the second penalty opportunity.

As Yallop pointed out, the referee did the Galaxy no favors by ordering a retake, because since Landon had put away the rebound, it actually gave Dario Sala another chance to save a goal. The pressure was on Landon more than ever.

"I'd have been disappointed if Landon missed it," Frank admitted.

Sala did his best to throw Landon off.

"Sala had some interesting words for me in Spanish," Landon said. "I don't know why he was yelling at me, but after I scored, I wanted to make sure he knew."

That's why there was the emphatic kick.

"I didn't say anything to him. After the first one, after they called it back, he was cursing at me in Spanish. I have no idea why."

And no, Landon wouldn't tell me exactly what Dario said.

Party like a soccer star

Ronaldinho apparently enjoys the night life, perhaps a bit too much.

Q in pain

"Quavas did a pretty good job," assessed Frank Yallop after the match.

Quavas Kirk, or Q, as he's known, was a last-minute replacement after Kelly Gray went down with an injury in the warm-ups.

Thing is, I thought Q started well, but got progressively worse as the game went on.

Considering I'd thought Edson Buddle was playing poorly one night when he was actually struggling to perform with a hamstring injury, I thought I'd ask Q how his foot was doing after the game.

Q has struggled with plantar fascitis all year and his normally cheery face clouded when I brought up the issue.

"Man, it started out feeling ok, and so I could really play, but after a while, it was hurting so bad. I tried to keep going for the team, but it was hard."

He's hoping it heals up well in the offseason. Considering that, I wouldn't expect to see him play the next game at all, because it looks like the effort in this match flared the injury up again.

Statsman

After the Galaxy's first 3-0 loss to Chivas USA, Joe Cannon was grumpy about the goal differential.
"If we'd lost by only one goal, we'd only have to tie the next match to win the SuperClassico," he pointed out.

After beating FC Dallas, 2-1, he brought up goal differential again. "We're no longer the last in the league. We've passed Toronto."

Joe was right, because although the Galaxy are tied on points, the goal differential puts them above Toronto.


"It's the first time this year that we've come from behind to win," Joe also noted.

In contrast, Frank Yallop had a harder time with the Galaxy's history. "I can't tell you the last league game we won." (That would be versus Colorado, 3-0, Frank)

Luis and I joked that Joe has to think about something while the play is on the other end of the field, so that's probably when he reviews the league standings in his head and figures out different scenarios for the points they gain or lose that night.

Ganar es vivir

Antes

Despues

Voted begrudgingly

Okay, so I voted for the Galaxy's MVP and Defender of the Year. I honestly didn't want to because what's the point? They're one of the worst teams in the league. Picking an MVP and especially the top defender was like picking who had done the least amount of damage.

First of all, thanks to everyone who chimed in with their suggestions. I tried to take as much of that into account as possible.

For the MVP, I voted for Landon Donovan first, Chris Klein second and Cobi Jones third. Donovan has been productive and played a big role in three of the Galaxy's five wins - though he was with the USMNT for two wins as well. Klein has been a gamer and a solid contributor since his arrival, though I do still feel that was not a trade the Galaxy should have made. I think they would have benefited more from having a productive Robbie Findley and a versatile Nathan Sturgis around, but that's neither here nor there. Cobi's been effective and also a gamer this year.

I ruled out Joe Cannon because I feel he's had too many poor performances. Yes, he's had some great games as well but the negatives far outweigh the positives this year. And besides, I just have a hard time honoring the goalkeeper of a team that is at minus-13 goal differential for the season and has allowed a league-worst 43 goals.

For that matter, the defender of the year was also a hard choice. I voted for Abel Xavier. Why? He was the last one standing. I ruled out Cannon for the aforementioned reasons. Troy Roberts and Kyle Veris haven't played enough to merit consideration, and neither has Chris Albright. Ante Jazic was sporadic in his own playing time and contributions as well while Quavas Kirk hasnt' done much either. I wasn't going to vote for Ty Harden for anything. I didn't vote for Chris Klein - although I suppose I could have - because although he has played a lot of time at right back his contributions have been for his offense and leadership, not so much his stellar play on the backline. Mike Randolph has done okay but okay doesn't merit consideration for awards.

Xavier was the last man standing. I only voted for him and didn't include a second or third choice.

I actually thought of 2005 when there were options to choose from. That year, I voted for Herculez Gomez for MVP and Todd Dunivant for defender of the year, though I think Landon and Tyrone Marshall won. Not certain, though.

Dallas reacts

I covered the Galaxy-FC Dallas match for the Dallas Morning News as well as the Press-Enterprise and MLSnet.com. I went into FC Dallas' locker room right after the Galaxy post-game presser ended. I missed coach Steve Morrow but then again so did everyone else. He apparently didn't want to talk to anyone.

I scrambled initially. I didn't know who I should talk to. I figured I'd talk to Morrow and then go from there but without Morrow I had to take a moment to figure out who to chat with. I talked with Dax McCarty initially because he scored his first-ever MLS goal in the match and played the whole game. He actually was better than I thought. Sometimes, young guys can wander and not really say a whole lot but Dax was fairly well-spoken. Here's audio of Dax.

I also talked to Arturo Alvarez and Dario Sala. I thought Sala might have been a little sour but he wasn't surly or angry at all. He had some good things to say about Chris Klein, something to the affect of "He's got one of the best shots in the league."

So although Morrow blew us off, I still managed to make something of my visit to FC Dallas' locker room.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Galaxy win for a change

The Galaxy picked up their fifth league win in their 24th match. They now have 21 points and are officially not in last place in the league standings. Toronto have a worse goal-differential.

Still, to have said that this late in the season is just demonstration of how the mighty have fallen. But their 2-1 win over FC Dallas maintains whatever playoff hopes the Galaxy had alive.

With six games left, the Galaxy is 11 points behind Chicago with a game in hand. It'll take a miracle to get anywhere near the Fire but at least these next few games will have a bit of intrigue, however mild it may be.

Here's audio of Frank Yallop after the match.

Preki post-KC

Even with Kansas City playing better, Chivas USA pulled out a 2-1 victory thanks to Ante Razov's clutch late game strike. They also clinched a playoff spot in the process.

Here's audio of Chivas USA coach Preki at the post-game press conference.

Apt

Somehow, I thought of the Galaxy when I saw this.

All-Time Ante

I remember Luis and I recently debating the all-time MLS goals scored mark by Jaime Moreno. Luis pointed out that at the torrid pace Taylor Twellman has been on, he should eclipse the mark rather easily.

I argued that Ante Razov was being overlooked as a contender to overtake Jaime's record in this season alone.

After scoring two goals versus Kansas City, Ante is only one behind Jaime.