Sunday, July 31, 2011

Road Becomes Clearer

On Saturday, the U.S. and CONCACAF all learned their opponents in upcoming World Cup qualifying and just what the road to Brazil 2014 will look like.

Some got a favorable draw while others didn't. And still others were handed a somewhat difficult task.

Group A: United States, Jamaica, (likely) Guatemala, (likely) Haiti.

Not an overly troubling draw for the U.S. Could have been worse. Games at Jamaica and at Guatemala won't be easy and Haiti seems like it could pose some logistical challenges. But I can't imagine the U.S. not gaining nine points against this group.

The U.S. was in Jamaica's semifinal group in 2004 and had Guatemala in their group in 2000. It was a difficult go of it against both those opponents. Guatemala tied the U.S. in Guatemala and a Brian McBride goal helped give the U.S. a late 1-0 win over them here. The U.S. meanwhile needed some late heroics (Brian Ching goal) to help salvage a draw at The Office in Kingston. Not easy playing on the road but still, points are within reach.

Group B: Mexico, Costa Rica, (likely) El Salvador, (likely) Trinidad & Tobago

This is easily the toughest group. All four of these potential group rivals were in the Hexagonal last time around. Mexico is the clear favorite and should have no problems winning... at least, that's what conventional wisdom says. Mexico lost at El Salvador in the Hex last time around, and conventional wisdom would have called for a Mexico victory or a draw at worst.

Still, Mexico should come out on top. The battle for the second spot is intriguing. Costa Rica is the second-strongest side in this group but that doesn't mean anything. Costa Rica will surely have a tough go at it in El Salvador while Trinidad & Tobago is the wild card. They could either be a dangerous side or roll over and die.

Group C: Honduras, Cuba, (likely) Panama, (likely) Canada

Could this be Canada's road to the Hexagonal? The Canadians have not made it into the final six since 1997 despite having some strong talent go through there in the decade-plus since then. Canada should have a slight edge in the weather department as matches in the fall will be quite cool.

Honduras were the lone Hex participants from this group in 2009 and while they wrapped up a World Cup spot, they are also a bit of an inconsistent side as their Gold Cup 2011 form proved. Over six matches, though, Honduras' quality should win out while Canada will have to play stronger than they did in their unsuccessful Gold Cup '11 run as well.

These matches will all take place between June 1 through Oct. 16, 2012.

Change of Heart

Local beat reporter Scott French made the trip up to Vancouver to cover the Galaxy and was rewarded with Landon Donovan's first quotes on the USA coaching change. Kudos to French, a long-time veteran of the soccer scene, for the scoop. 

Donovan's positive reaction to Jurgen Klinsmann's hire didn't surprise me, although he didn't always think so highly of the German coach, however. 

Granted, that story I wrote was back in 2006, but I still remember it clearly as one of the few times I wanted to turn my recorder off and argue with a player. Usually reporters aim to be a fly on the wall, letting players vent, but I was indignant and disappointed with LD's attitude. 

"Seriously?" I wanted to ask him. "You're a forward and an attacking player who has a chance to be coached by one of the greatest scoring threats in the game. He has immersed himself in the American game so much he plays for teams here anonymously, coaches local youth clubs, and talks seriously about how to improve the development pipeline. He's the only German guy I know who seemed to be pulling for the USA to defeat Germany in 2002. His criticisms of USA soccer seem to be incisive, including those of you, by the way."

Donovan's point wasn't really so anti-Klinsmann as it was anti-change, though, but that still seems weak. Change is often difficult, but it's also energizing. The status quo needs to be shaken up at times. S.O.P, or standard operating procedure, can get soggy, old and predictable.

But Donovan's attitude toward Klinsmann changed a lot in 2009, when Klinsmann went out of his way to give Donovan a chance in Europe with one of the greatest teams on the Continent - Bayern Munich. Donovan played pretty well during his short loan, but the Bayern board didn't budge on Klinsmann's request to offer LD a contract. The whole incident contributed to the dismissal of Klinsmann later than season.

Bottom line, a coach who is willing to risk his job over a player believes in that person's potential, and Donovan probably realized that. Plus, he got a chance to play under Klinsmann's coaching at Bayern to to get comfortable with his approach to things. Donovan's praised Klinsmann ever since.

Of course, it doesn't hurt to say good things about the new coach.

To a certain extent, Klinsmann comes into the job during a transition period, one that hasn't been shaping up well for the USA. Donovan and Dempsey, the USA's top players, are older, so the future of the team lies elsewhere. But where?  I'm watching other squads participate in the U20 World Cup, but the USA didn't make that tournament, which is a great stage for young players to prove their mettle. Klinsmann's going to have to find another way to discover and mold the new generation.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Bornstein's Reaction

Bob Bradley had his many detractors for various reasons but one anti-Bradley sentiment centered on his choice of one player - Jonathan Bornstein.

The 2006 MLS Rookie of the Year did well in his initial call-ups to the national team but overall has had an up-and-down time of it with the United States, mostly down. Perhaps the final straw was Bornstein's performance in the Gold Cup, when he came off the bench against Mexico and was beaten repeatedly in El Tri's 4-2 win.

Now that Bradley is gone, Bornstein is gone too - or so the thinking goes. Thus, Bornstein is not exactly thrilled with the change - again, that's the thinking.

What does Bornstein have to say about this?

Bornstein took part in a press conference in Monterrey, Mexico, where Tigres are preparing for a league fixture against Queretaro and according to published reports had this to say:

"Durante cinco años, en ese tiempo ganamos mucho, tuvimos muchos buenos tiempos,. Es muy triste y desafortunado que esto pasara. Pero así es el negocio, esperemos ver el futuro de Estados Unidos, pero los cinco años pasados fueron buenos.

“El futbol de Estados Unidos escogió a Jurgen Klismann para crecer el nivel no sólo de la Selección Mayor, sino también de los Sub 17 y Sub 20, todos. Este es el plan con Klismann y vamos a ver.”

Which translates to...

"For five years we won a lot, had a lot of good times. It's sad and unfortunate that it happened but that's part of the business. We'll see what the future of the United States brings but the last five years have been good.

U.S. Soccer chose Jurgen Klinsmann to grow the level not just of the national team but also of the Under-17s, the Under-20s, all of them. That's Klinsmann's plan and we'll see.

With regards to Jurgen Klinsmann taking charge:

“Vamos a ver, siempre con un nuevo entrenador, siempre hay nuevos jugadores porque él tiene jugadores que a él le gustan y para mí es un comienzo nuevo y tienes que trabajar mucho más para demostrar tus habilidades a un nuevo entrenador y por mi yo voy a tomar la decisión como es."

... which translates to...

"We'll see. Whenever there is a new coach, there are always new players because he has players he likes. For me, this is a new start. You have to work hard to show your abilities to a new coach. For me, I'm taking the decision for what it's worth."

It's Klinsi

It's a bit weird to be writing about Jurgen Klinsmann getting the head coaching job at US Soccer so long after I thought it should happen. 

I thought he should come in after Bruce Arena's tenure, and I thought Arena stayed overlong. When Bradley got the job instead of Klinsmann, well, I thought it was a mistake. Not one that would sink the program, but one that wouldn't move the men's team forward.

It's not just that Bradley hadn't been exposed first-hand to techniques and approaches outside of the USA that constitute top-level soccer. Klinsmann has shown a willingness to think outside the box and shake up the status quo. It's easy for teams to get stale. 

Plus, I've never bought into the thinking that the American player is so fragile that he needs an American coach to understand him better. I've always thought it was about landing a coach who understood the game better and could point players in that direction. 

Klinsmann is in a weird position, coaching-wise. He could be at a number of clubs, even after Bayern Munich canned him. The reason he's not isn't because the offers aren't there. It's for the same reason he turned down the USA position in the first place. He's happy. He can afford to be picky. If things don't line up the way he wants, Klinsmann can pass on an offer. 

The timing of Rongen losing the USA U20 position and Wilmer Cabrera's recent middling U17 results could have given Sunil Gulati the carte blanche from the U.S. Soccer board of directors to hand Klinsmann the keys to the castle in terms of overhauling the US development system. Things could change drastically from top to bottom. 

It was the development system that was the sticking point back when Klinsmann first refused Gulati's offer. 

All that said, I was hoping Marcelo Bielsa would be the pick. It's not that I'm unhappy about Klinsmann, but other coaches offer a number of qualities to the USA post as well. I like how Bielsa's talents line up with what the USA team seems to need.

Bradley's Firing: Winners, Losers

Bob Bradley is gone from the US national team, and with his ouster and impending replacement, the national team figures to undergo change. Certainly this team will be different now that Bradley is gone, with some new faces coming in and some old faces gone.

Who stands to gain from the move? Who may find it difficult to maintain his spot on the team or get back onto the team?


* Maurice Edu. The one spot where the U.S. has true depth is at central midfield. Bradley seemingly has alternated with central midfielders throughout his tenure. Michael Bradley has been the lone automatic starter but at times the same label was given to Ricardo Clark and Jermaine Jones. Edu, however, might be the team's best central midfielder yet his time in the position was limited at best. Edu was solid when he came on during the World Cup but Bradley turned to Clark in the decisive match against Ghana, and Edu was all but passed over by Jones when he debuted for the team in 2010. Edu has his best chance now of locking down a spot on the First XI, a spot that should have been his awhile back.

* Chad Marshall/Heath Pearce/Todd Dunivant/Omar Gonzalez: The US defense is and has been miserable, but that does not mean there aren't any good American defenders. In Marshall, Pearce, Dunivant and Gonzalez, Bradley had four top MLS defenders at his disposal but rarely called on them. I have to believe that a Marshall-Gonzalez pairing flanked by either Dunivant or Pearce on the left would have done better than Goodson-Bocanegra and Bornstein did. Marshall has been the best defender in MLS over the last 5-6 years yet who gets called ahead of him? Tim Ream, who has not even done a fraction of what Marshall has in MLS. And who had a poor showing in the Gold Cup, bad enough to relegate him to the bench? Tim Ream.

* Mexico-based Americans: Jose Francisco Torres, Edgar Castillo, Herculez Gomez... all talents the U.S. can utilize yet none were effectively used by Bradley. Torres and Castillo have seemingly fallen off the map, and while the players haven't logged many minutes with their respective club teams in recent seasons, they were never given a clear chance of winning a spot on the US when they were at the top of their club games. A new set of eyes might feel it's worth a chance to give players who compete in a league that's better than MLS a shot of winning a spot on the national team. There is one obvious exception to this which I'll get into below.


* Jonathan Bornstein: Few could figure out why Bornstein was constantly given playing time when his play with the U.S. did not warrant it. Yes, the left back position is one of need but there have been other options throughout Bradley's tenure but few have gotten so much attention at that position as Bornstein. The former Chivas USA star had his moments with the team but overall his play has been shoddy, highlighted by his disastrous performance in the Gold Cup final last month.

* Sacha Kljestan: Another former Bradley player at Chivas USA, Kljestan also received more play with the US than warranted. Perhaps it was the potential Kljestan showed when Bradley drafted him fifth overall in 2006, or the potential he showed under Bradley that season or in 2007, but with the play Kljestan received it was as if he was being groomed to take over the position on a full-time basis.

* Oguchi Onyewu: "Gooch" was the defender of the future, the rock that would lead the U.S. into the next two World Cups. Then he got hurt. And then he struggled to find his form. Yet Bradley still insisted on keeping the mammoth physical specimen around as he took up a spot on the World Cup team although he was clearly not ready to play, and then took up a spot in the Gold Cup 2011 squad when again he was not ready for action. Onyewu will be fortunate to get another call to the team in 2011.

* Michael Bradley: It's tough to be the coach's son. A lot of the anger and darts tossed Bob Bradley's way hit Michael as well. Michael was in a no-win situation. No matter how well he played, it was never good enough. Michael has scored in some very important games - against Mexico in a 2009 World Cup qualifier (both goals in a 2-0 win); versus Slovenia in the World Cup and against Mexico in the Gold Cup final last month. Yet his goals were never good enough to appease his critics, who wanted both him and his father gone. Now, Michael may very well retain his spot on the team but where he comes up short is in the mental part of the match. His father was sacked, and I have to believe that will affect him. Perhaps not in the long run as much, but he needs to impress the incoming national team coach instantly, and if he's not in the right frame of mind right off the bat, his chance to do so could be done with.

Agree? Disagree? Anyone I left off of either list?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bye Bye, Bob


As much as this move was warranted and as much as many U.S. supporters wanted to see it happen, my first reaction to the news that Bob Bradley had been fired was that.

U.S. Soccer hasn't sacked a coach since 1998, and before that... well, that might as well be ancient history, right?

That stability, for good or bad, was what made the U.S. unique. Keeping coaches in place for a long time, growing the team slowly and getting to where the team wanted to be with a methodical approach to the process. This wasn't Mexico where there's been a revolving door with coaches or really most other national teams, where that seems to be the case.

So when the announcement dropped like an atomic bomb on Thursday afternoon, I was stunned. Not that it happened but that the federation fired its coach.

Was it the right move? I would find it difficult to argue that it was not. I would find it very difficult to buy anybody's argument that this move did not need to happen. It happened for three reasons, to me anyway...

* Results - The U.S. lost the last two Gold Cup finals, by a combined score of 9-2, to Mexico. The one in '09 was atrocious but the one last month cost the U.S. a chance to participate in the 2013 Confederations Cup. Unpardonable.

* Roster choices - Any manager of any national team around the world is faced with this criticism. "For God's sake why wasn't _____ called up to the team??!?!?" I fill in the blank with Chad Marshall, Todd Dunivant, Omar Gonzalez... not coincidentally, those guys are all defenders. To me the biggest problem with Bradley's teams were the defense was like a sieve. He pinned his hopes on Oguchi Onyewu and when Onyewu got hurt and was unable to recover and is still not back to his old self (which incidentally, he was never a dominant defender and was never going to be one, people were just enamored with his size), Bradley was lost. Jay DeMerit, Clarence Goodson, Tim Ream and Carlos Bocanegra were all shuffled in and none could do much to prevent opponents from scoring.

* Bleak Future - I do believe that had Bradley stayed the future would have been bleak. As I wrote in my previous post, take the Gold Cup results against CONCACAF teams - wins over Canada, Guadeloupe, Jamaica and losses to Panama and Mexico - and translate that into the Hexagonal while replacing Guadeloupe with Honduras and Canada or Jamaica with Costa Rica and the U.S. had a realistic chance of not qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. Losing World Cup qualifying matches at home is the best way to not qualify for the World Cup and the U.S. cannot afford to drop points at home.

This move was certainly stunning in the timing of it and that it happened but the reasons behind it were warranted. That goes without saying.

Bradley did a fine job with the U.S. overall though and it's important to recognize that. It was incredibly risky playing without the stars against Mexico in February 2007 but came away with a strong 2-0 win, and the team followed that up with a 2-1 win over El Tri in the Gold Cup final in 2007. The Confederations Cup 2009 run was unexpected while winning the group in the 2010 World Cup was also unexpected and pleasing to U.S. fans.

But it's time to move on. Actually, it was time to move on after the World Cup but moving on now gives renewed hope that the team will regain its stature and composure by the time World Cup qualifying begins in 2012.

Hope. That's something that hasn't been around the team since last summer.

Bob Bradley Firing

Not long ago, someone with a long history with US Soccer was talking to me about Bob Bradley, and about what I thought about him continuing as coach of the men's team.

I answered honestly that I thought it had been a mistake to retain him, but that I didn't see it as an error that U.S. Soccer would rectify. 

"Bradley hasn't done badly enough to warrant firing," I stated. "It's not something the federation usually does. They haven't fired a coach since Steve Sampson in 1998."

Well, today they did just that. 

Specifically, Sunil Gulati fired Bradley.

I'm genuinely surprised, but not shocked. 

The expectations for the U.S. team are higher now, perhaps, than ever, given the investment in the squad. The team hasn't played that well under Bradley this year. 

I can't help but think back to the idea that Bradley seems to have his best success with squads in the early years of his time. With Chicago in 1998, he won MLS Cup in his first year as head coach, in the club's first year of existence. His tenure with the MetroStars was promising at the start, as was his time with Chivas USA. Bradley's beginning with the USA squad was similarly stellar. 
Which it not to say that the USA team ever was horrible, as it's likely no Bradley team is ever that. Yet there are some players who seem to tune out his motivation and philosophies after a while. 

That's human nature. It happens.

The bottom line is, if Clint Dempsey's shot hadn't slipped away from the Algerian goalkeeper at the World Cup last year, and if the rebound hadn't fallen kindly for a trailing Landon Donovan, then there would probably be a new coach of the USA team right now. One's tenure shouldn't come down to one kick, whether in a positive or negative way, no matter how many celebrations that moment set off. 

That's why I argued at the time that Bradley shouldn't stay on the basis of that kick being successful. It was too arbitrary, too close. 

Luis wrote earlier on this blog that Bradley should go. I didn't write a post myself, mostly because it seemed pointless to write about a firing I didn't think it was going to happen. 

Now that the deed is done, I can give a qualified nod to the move. It's the right thing, in my opinion, if the replacement for Bradley is right. 

But that's another blog post, for another day.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dimming All-Stars

I wasn't always anti-All-Star Game.

I remember the first one, and how exciting it was. I seem to remember the first half being much better than the second half, but it was a large crowd at Giants Stadium and I thought it was awesome seeing all the league's stars come together for a game. And you had big stars then like Marco Etcheverry, Carlos Valderrama and Jorge Campos as well as guys like Eddie Pope and seeing all of them play on a team was cool.

Why don't I think like that anymore?

I'm not looking forward to the All-Star Game tonight. I haven't looked forward to an All-Star Game since at least five years. Not sure why.

It seems like tonight would be good and the game will probably be a decent one to watch. Becks vs. ManU... that's a story onto itself, right? And throw in Chicharito and Wayne Rooney and Thierry Henry going up against those guys and, well, that's a lot of starpower there.

It doesn't do it for me, though.

I think it's because I see it as a gimmick. It always was. All-star games in general are, and this league vs. club set-up is a gimmick within a gimmick. An interesting one but still a gimmick. It's supposed to inspire an Us vs. Them mentality, but to me that sets up a no-win situation. If MLS struggles, well what else would you expect from them? If MLS does well, of course it's because the opposing team is in preseason and obviously just going through the motions.

But I also think that there is too much emphasis on this game, with the amount of energy the league goes to, to promote it and to get the word out that this is happening, just seems like misguided attention.

Seattle lost 1-0 at San Francisco of Panama in a CONCACAF Champions League match on Tuesday. That's pretty startling, but at the same time it's not. Seattle is one of the league's best teams this season and to not be able to score against a team from Panama... surely MLS is better than Panama, right? Maybe, but this is typical of MLS teams, to struggle terribly in the CCL.

Yet this situation doesn't change as the league does little to support the teams at this stage of the season. Piling on friendlies to Seattle's slate (Man U a week ago) probably didn't make things any easier for them. Same with the Galaxy, who had to endure two high-profile friendlies in an already crowded time for them just as the team prepares itself for this league and cup challenge.

I suppose that's what does it for me, the amount of attention the league gives, that they make it seem as if this truly is an important game when it's not, when there are other important things that need attention but don't get it (Open Cup for starters). There are still all sorts of areas where the league can make changes for the better, and in some cases some changes that could be made overnight that would instantly upgrade the league (the wretched playoff format for one).

Part of me thinks that I'm being too hard on the league and I should just watch the game as a fan and enjoy watching MLS players in a different set-up. And I may do that when the game starts (if I watch it of course). But still, this is a game that would do well to go away.

For me anyway. I don't know that I'm in the majority. In fact, I don't think I am.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Case For Uruguay

Uruguay have done it and have won Copa America. It may not have come as much of a shock the way the tournament unfolded, with Argentina and Brazil nowhere near the final, but Uruguay still were third-choice at best to win this tournament before it began.

Now that los Charruas have won glory, where does this put them in terms of world rankings?

Now, I don't mean how high they will climb up in the ridiculous FIFA rankings. But rather, where does this place them among the rest of the national teams?

Are they a true world power? Are they in the second tier of nations, strong teams who have some history and talent but not quite in the upper crust? Somewhere in between?

Well, I'd like to think a championship of this caliber would thrust Uruguay back into the first class. Uruguay should be considered a world power, a global elite, now. Certainly they are better than Argentina at this moment and would have more of an argument over Argentina to claim a spot in the Global Elite Club.

It's not every day a nation breaks into such rare air but Uruguay have done it.

They have the recent and current success - World Cup 2010 semifinalists, Copa America 2011 champions.

They have the history - two-time World Cup champions.

They have the world-class players - namely Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan.

This is an elite team. Make no mistake.

Whereas in 2010, some did not give Uruguay as much credit entering the World Cup - Group A looked wide open with Uruguay, Mexico, France, South Africa - but in 2014 Uruguay will clearly be the best team in their group no matter how it turns out.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Man City - Galaxy - Running Blog

Ok, it's an exhibition, but whatever, let's check out the game.

1 - Beckham rolls a leading pass out to Miguel Lopez, but with a vast overestimation of Lopez' speed. 
2 - Man City in the box, but Kirovski pokes it away and somehow gets the call when the ball rolls out. Goal kick. 
4 - Glen Davis on the call, says, "Merrio Baloteli". 
5 - It's sunny in SoCal for this day game but it's actually probably cooler than many parts of the country, because there's an ocean breeze. 
6- Clichy hits his head on a challenge with Hector Jimenez, and Twellman demands he leave the field. Post concussion syndrome will do that to you. 
10 - Beckham, playing central and wearing the armband, is dropping far back in midfield. 
12 - Silva shoots wide on a good build up. 
14 - Davis and Twellman make an argument as to the worth of this game. Basically, it boils down to, "it's better than a reserve game" for young players. Gotta agree with that. 
18 - City fans may be unhappy right now - Micah Richards is down after a PK challenge from Brian Jordan.
20- GOAL! Balotelli stutters and slides the ball past Saunders, who has words with the ref about allowing Balloteli to practically stop before the fake.1-0 Man City
  22 - Lopez into the box, but doesn't pass, Man City counter. 
25 - Manchester City with the better of the play, but unable to crack Galaxy.
29 - Wow. Ballotelli with the ball, dribbles into the box, turns a 180, and tries to backheel a goal. It's wide. Some nerve. Cristman nearly equalizes at the other end, but shoots right to goalkeeper. 
30- SAVE! Saunders turns aside a sizzling Silva shot. 
31 - The announcers are indignant that Ballotelli dared to treat the match as the exhibition it is, and was goofing off, trying to show off. Mancini seems to agree - Ballotelli is getting pulled from the match for James Milner. 
32 - Ballotelli comes off, and as Mancini gets in his face, but the player ignores him and heads to the end of the bench. Sheesh. Bad scene there. 
34 - Davis' point about Beckham conceding the middle of the field by dropping so far back is valid. The Galaxy's shape is all off. 
35 - I can't help but wonder - if Balotelli had scored, would he have been pulled? How far does principle go if the trick move works?
36 - Balotelli has pulled his shirt off and is complaining on the bench to a teammate. 
38 - Balotelli earns his bratty reputation. It's hard work to keep it going, but he puts in the time. 
41- Gotta love how Davis and Twellman aren't giving Beckham a break on his bad positioning. 
44 - Cristman in the box off a sweet pass from Jimenez. Could've done some damage, but couldn't reach the ball.
45 + Balotelli stalks off the field at halftime - doesn't seem like he and Mancini have improved their relationship in this preseason. 
Alexi Lalas calls Balotelli's actions, "a disgrace to the universe". Um, I agree he shouldn't have done it, but a disgrace to the universe? Some little Martian is terribly insulted right now? Or maybe he was trying for a clever pun on the Galaxy. 
46 - Lescott is on for Man City, Perk is on for Saunders, Dunivant, Juninho, Gonzales. Keet is on for Becks. Watch the Galaxy have better midfield play now. 
48 - MC corner gets called back for offside. 
50 - Galaxy do seem more settled in their play.
53 - GOAL! Magee! The Galaxy's 4th goalkeeper scores on a volley kick. Nicely done. 1-1
55 - Galaxy in the box again, Dunny with a shot, but Hart is able to make the save, rebound nearly gets in, but Manchester United finally clear. 
56 - Galaxy corner, misses everybody. 
59 - Man City seems to have woken up. They look more intent on the game now. If Balotelli hadn't been messing around, though, they'd still have a lead. 
61 - The mask of Omar Gonzales doesn't have the ring of The Mask of Monte Cristo, wait, that was the Count of Monte Cristo, and the Man in the Iron Mask. Different books. Anyway, Omar has a plastic mask on to protect his broken nose.
63 - On cue, Omar fires from outside and Hart stops it with his chest, but can't catch it. However, no Galaxy players are able to get the rebound, so Man City clears it.
65 - SWP tries to take on Dunivant, but Dunny handles Dane Richards and Corey Ashe just fine, so he's not scared of fast little guys. Man City do get a corner out of it. 
66 - Jack McBean is on for the Galaxy. Wow, a teenager against the big guys of the EPL. Would be nice if he shows well. 
67 - And he does! McBean gets held, trying to fight his way into the box, and gets a card against Savic. Freekick for the Galaxy. 
68 - Juninho fires into the wall. 
69 - Galaxy going with the McAttack - McBean and Mcgee. Ok, fine, it's Magee. 
72 - The Galaxy showing off their depth a bit in this game. With new players in the second half, with LD and Angel out injured, they're still holding Man City level.
75 - Twellman finally admits he looks like Joe Hart and vice versa. 
76 - McBean earns a corner - if he heads it in, it's a dream debut for him. Ah, no, even big Omar misses the service. 
77 - Vlad the Impaler, I mean, Vladimir Weis, is in for Man City.
79 - Magee is off. He looks upset, but not ok. Not sure what's wrong. McCarty is in, Dustin, not Dax.
80 - If this game does go to penalty kicks, I like the Galaxy's chances, actually. Perk is pretty good with penalties. Very strong reaction keeper. If he was taller, he'd be a starter in MLS. Granted, that hasn't stopped Nick Rimando.
82- John Guidetti is in. He looks like Ty Hardin to me. Big blonde dude, basically. 
84 - Galaxy with a nice little run of play, though they don't get a shot out of it. 
85 - Gonzo heads a cross out of the box well.
86 - Galaxy get a corner. 
87 - Hejduk gets to the clearance and fires it toward goal, but the ball is wide.
89 - One minute left before the penalties, but the announcers can't stop talking about Balotelli, though he's not even on the bench for the second half.
90 - Perk reaction save - I told you so - on Guidetti, who was in point-blank after shoving De La Garza over.
90 + Ha, ha! Even the players forgot, or never knew, about penalties for this game. They started to trade jerseys and the coaches had to get them to stop. 
Dan Keat! Down the middle as Hart dives. 1-0 Galaxy.
Perk can't reach Man City try. 1-1
Birchy hits side netting on Hart. 2-1 Galaxy
Perk reads Weis, but the kick beat his dive. 2-2
Juninho goes the same way - hits the post! 2-2 
Suarez buries in the same direction. 2-3 Man City
Dunivant buries. 3-3
So does Man City - 3-4
Mikey Stevens does the business. 4-4
SAVE! Perk denies Guidetti again! 4-4 
SAVE! McBean rushes his shot and Hart saves it!
SAVE! Perk denies Lescott! 4-4
Omar puts it in - off the hands of Hart, but in 5-4
DeJong fires it it. 5-5
McCarty fires low and hard - 6-5
SWP goes high and into the corner. Perk no chance. 6-6
SAVE! De la Garza - put Hart gets a low hand to it. 6-6 
Hart to finish it off if he can score against his fellow keeper and he fires it past Perk - 7-6
Manchester City wins it!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

World Football Challenge, Be Gone!

Raise your hand if you are tired of these midseason MLS friendlies.

(raises hand)

On Wednesday, there were five of these friendlies and another match that was associated with the so-called World Football Challenge.

Every July, MLS puts the regular-season on the backburner and paves the way for these midsummer friendlies. It's a way for the league to get exposure, to allow the fans to see teams and players they don't normally get the chance to and to allow for MLS players to do the same. At least, that's the load of goods they're trying to sell, but I'm not exactly buying it. The main reason for these friendlies is to generate revenue.

I keep hoping these games will go away, but as long as Manchester United draws 67,000 in Seattle, that won't happen. Sure, the Galaxy drew far less against Real Madrid this year than last (56,000 this year, 89,000 last year) but sadly that had more to do with Carmaggedon and the Coliseum than it did anything else.

Still, these are games that MLS teams face begrudgingly.

For starters, the way they're set up (WFC matches anyway) doesn't benefit MLS teams at all

"Without dwelling on the thing, it’s a lot more difficult – these games, they way they’re set up, the format – for the MLS clubs than it is for the visiting teams because the whole tournament is just set up to accommodate them and their needs," Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said after his team's league match on Wednesday. "Our needs are not addressed at all."

The Galaxy has been placed in a difficult situation. Although they are playing just two friendly games, it's disrupted their schedule. The team traveled to Seattle to play a US Open Cup match on July 13, then had two days to prepare for Real Madrid. A league match followed Wednesday and now Manchester City will come for a visit four days after.

Opposing teams also have the chance to use their entire roster. MLS teams meanwhile typically use more players as well but it's mostly precautionary since there's no reason to add minutes and the chance of injury to key players' legs. That also complicates things.

"It’s worse when an elite club can play more players. It’s not easier – it’s more difficult," Arena said. "When you are down 2-0 at half and you step out on the field over the last two years and Ronaldo is there, I did it one year with Messi coming out when I was in New York and we played Barcelona – if you tell those guys they only have to play 45 minutes, it’s 45 minutes of hell. It’s an advantage to these clubs when they get to play more players because they obviously have better players, deeper players, more quality. It’s difficult."

So does that mean then if you play a regular game that the Galaxy would have fared better than their 4-1 loss? Or that Seattle Sounders would have done better than to lose 7-0 to Manchester United? Not necessarily.

"I’m not betting the house on the fact that if we just played regular rules and if we had only three substitutions, we’re in much better shape," Arena said. "But I’d rather play under those conditions than to see some of the players I saw step on the field in the second half on Saturday at the Coliseum."

Ultimately, however, as long as MLS suits have large attendance figures they can trumpet and parade around to proudly, these games will continue to carve out a deep hole every July.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Crew - LA - Running blog.


1- People in the pressbox are watching tape of Brek Shea's latest goal. Kid's going to earn himself a ticket to Europe in short order if he keeps it up. Corner for the Crew comes to nothing. 
2- Mendoza is down, not sure why. 
3- Well, whatever it is, it's not good. Heinemann is coming in. Donovan cross into the box cut off by Hesmer. 
4 - Heineman is in. 
6 - Galaxy earn a corner, Beckham takes, and it's cleared out.  
8 - Becks with a nice crossfield pass to LD, who loses ball to a persistent Gaven. LD fouls him trying to get the ball back. 
10 - Crew blunting the Galaxy attack pretty well, and on a little possession run of their own. 
12 - Bernado Anor with a hopeful shot from distance. Wide by quite a bit.
16 - Berhalter gets a yellow for a takedown foul on Anor. Saunders catches the freekick.   
19- Corner for the Galaxy leads to a bit of sustained pressure for a while, but then the Crew finally get some breathing room.  
22 - Galaxy are having the better of play, but they seem sluggish. May still be tired from the Real Madrid game. 
23 - Saunders nearly drops and outside shot from Rogers. Woah, butterfingers.  
25 - Another Galaxy corner drops to Hesmer. It's like they're playing catch out there.  
28- Galaxy with puzzling play and lack of cohesion.
30- Angel gets the easiest putaway in his playing history after LD breaks the ankles of two defenders and lays off a sweet pass to him in the box. Of course, cursed as he is this year with crappy form, Angel misses. He's so getting traded, is the buzz in the pressbox.  
31 - Or just plain cut. 
35 - Corner leads to a low outside shot from Franklin, but Hesmer gets down for the save. 
36 - Another Galaxy corner. Becks takes, it drops out to LD, who touches to a more open Berhalter, whose bending shot/cross? misses wide.  
39 - It doesn't help the Galaxy to have so many chances if they can't make good on any of them. After some good interplay between LD and Becks, Becks misses high on the shot.  
 Pushed the wrong button and a bunch of my posts disappeared. 
53 - Galaxy still bossing the run of play, still unable to score. Crew will probably steal this result late. 
56 - Scramble in the box, but the Galaxy still can't poke the ball in.  
59 - Another corner for LA. It's cleared. 
60 - It's really a credit to Omar Gonzalez how toothless the Galaxy are on corners without him. He's on the bench, nursing an injury. 
61 - Another Galaxy corner. 
62  - Off the corner, the Crew get a counter, and it's threatening as Heinemann turns the corner on Franklin, which isn't easy to do, but his cross is mistimed and the Galaxy escape damage.  
64 - Crew corner, Galaxy clear from a Rogers kick that is low. 
65 - Lopez is limping, but he's earned LA a free kick. Becks takes and it's cleared.  
66- AJ with a pretzel move to stop a Crew attack.
68 - Becks earns a foul in a decent spot, and Magee comes in for Lopez. Big cheer for the goalkeeper.
 70 - GOAL! The ball carooms off the wall on the freekick, and Franklin winds up and keeps it low and it skids into the goal. 1-0 Galaxy. Finally, after all their chances. Franklin's first of the season, too. Actually, it's his first MLS goal. He did have a CONCACAF Champions League goal, though, so it's not his first pro goal.
73- Let's see if the Galaxy can finish this game better than the USWNT in the WWC final. 
77 - Galaxy corner #15, I think. It's cleared. Rinse and repeat. 
79 - Looks like a handball by a Crew player, but ref awards the other way, as home fans boo.
80- If anyone is balding less gracefully than Wayne Rooney, it's Eric Gehrig.  
82 - Heinemann knocks down a couple of of bodies in the box like bowling pins, but it's to no avail as the pass bounces through untouched to Saunders.  
83 - Mikey Stevens in for Kirovski 
84 - Heinemann shows off a couple of tricky moves in the box to free himself for the shot, but Saunders makes the low catch.  
85 - Juninho gets a yellow, as both players go down. 
86 - Crew get a corner. Galaxy clear. Saunders saves on a follow shot. 
88 - Crew looking more lively late. 
89 - Former Galaxy player Josh Gardner off for Jeff Cunningham.  
90+ 2 minutes added. Galaxy freekick is retaken after ref marks out distance. Becks gets a yellow for arguing encroachment. 
Becks earns himself a corner off a deflected shot. It's taken short, as they run out the clock. So the short answer is yes, the Galaxy can kill a game better than the USWNT in the WWC final. Not always pretty, but effective.

Monday, July 18, 2011


My article got quite a bit of response, and I've posted a few emails here that are pretty representative overall. 

From M.S.:
C'mon Andrea, everyone knows what a mean and nasty bastard Wynalda is -- he's lucky to still have a job on the air with his bitter criticism of everyone and everything always leaking out all over the place.  And as far as Bradley is concerned, let's face it:  Bradley and Dempsey are the only world class players on the roster.  Their skill and determination stand out against the backdrop of all those others who struggle to even get a game or not get loaned out over there in Europe.  Just take Freddy Adu for example.  What was Bob Bradley thinking?
The guy has to go to a lousy club in Turkey to get playing time.    Anyway . . . it is obviously going to take years to build up a quality roster, and with Michael Bradley doing such yeoman work in the midfield, great
touch, great awareness, his competitive spirit is an advantage, not a handicap.  Nuff said.

From A.F.:
What a bunch of crap. Michael Bradley is the best friggin player on the USMNT. I don't know what games you're watching. The guy goes box to box, starts all the time, never gets subbed. He fights hard, has undervalued offensive and passing skills and never quits! The only reason he's not the captain is the stupid cries of nepotism.
What does Waldo know about playing holding mid? What an arse.

I'd point out that I didn't ever write that Michael Bradley was a bad player in my article. That wasn't the point. In fact, I think Michael is a good player in many ways, but apparently criticizing that one aspect of his personality (his temper) was taken by many to mean I don't think he is any good as a player. That's not the case. 
 Anyway, about half the emails were like the ones above. Others were like the two below.

From C.P.:
Very well written, fair and factual.  As the US public embraces soccer and becomes more educated, closer scrutiny will surely follow.

From B.S.:
Just wanted to compliment you on your reporting vis-a-vis the Bradley-Wynalda incident.  So many in the US soccer media don't seem to be able to report objectively on what goes on.  Thank you and keep it up.  Hopefully more will follow your lead.

 A couple of emails were from people who specifically asked me not to identify them, including one that I've verified is from someone who played for Bob Bradley for years. Below is an excerpt of that email.

 Former Player:
While I found Bradley to be technically knowledgeable about the game, I have never seen a coach suck the life out of a team like that; he took every ounce of joy, not to mention fairness, out of the game.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Paraguay - Brazil Copa America Penalties.

Yes, I'm just in time for the penalties.

Elano is up first. Versus Justo Villar - and DAMN if he doesn't sky it like Carli Lloyd. "Horrible!" gasps the announcer.   
Now Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar faces down Bareto - and  Bareto misses WIDE! Wow. 
Thiago Silva versus Justo Villar, and Justo Villar SAVES the weak low shot.
Estegarriabia nails his shot past Julio Cesar. 1-0 Paraguay. 
Andre Santo misses high! 1-0 Paraguay. Andre Santo looks accusingly at the grass of the penalty spot. 
Rivera makes it 2-0 Paraguay.
Fred jogs up slowly - he misses! High and Wide. All the Brazil PKs missed. 
Not that that's going to make the USWNT feel any better. 
Wow, Argentina and Brazil both out of the Copa America in the quarters. "Inconceivable!" as Fezzig would say. 
Robinho is a little teary in his exit interview, says the team now has to focus on the World Cup in 2014.

Women's World Cup Final - USA v Japan, Running blog commentary

Aw, that was a cute bit on the space station, but maybe that's because I'm a sucker for space travel.
ESPN's Bob Ley calls the USA the favorites, and even a homer like Brandi Chastain has to point out that the USA isn't playing that great. 
Nice background on Pia, because she really is like that, in terms of working song lyrics into actual stuff she says. I like her decision to sit ARod, because Cheney and Rapino have been cool and effective customers. I think Amy sitting back and plotting how to make an impact when she comes on, will be a good idea. 
The highlights of the USA -France semifinal game are well-done, NFL films style - dramatic music and narration. 
US 2 Japan 1
Predictions  coming in via Twitter, and if you're reading now, you can add them in the comments, too.

Um, I'm waiting for a nice video piece on Japan's semifinal win over Sweden, or their epic win over Germany. Still waiting. Be fair in your coverage, ESPN.
Ley is saying "pitch" now, endearing himself to the Eurosnobs, I guess. Foudy makes a good point about how the crowd may give sentimental support to Japan.
Ah, finally, here's Japan's video bit, and I'm teary already. The interviews with Sawa and Miyama, juxtaposed with the terrible tsunami images are touching, and a reminder that reality is so much bigger than sport, but sometimes, sport is a welcome relief from the burden of reality. It's a step back to normal, and joy, for Japan to be able to cheer their players.
The retro 1999 video would be more impactful if they hadn't  trotted out the players or had them on color commentary for the entire tournament. I'm with Hope Solo here, "tired of the comparison".
Ooh, Martin Sheen on the pregame intro commentary. Mr. President, basically, for all the West Wing fans.
Japan are already in their game gear, the USA still have warmup jackets on for the tunnel time before they march out.
Yikes, Ian Darke makes the Japan-Barcelona comparison again. Fine, then, I'm going to compare the USA to Real Madrid, since they're wearing white. It's about as relevant.
One of the little German ballkids looks startled to see the Japan players behind him with heads bowed and eyes closed during their solemn anthem. The USA players sing along to theirs, nicely in tune, for the most part.
Last time I saw Aya Miyama and Christie Rampone on the field together for a championship final, Rampone's team carried the day as Sky Blue defeated the favored LA  Sol, Miyama's team in the first-ever WPS championship.
I worry a bit about Buehler's speed, which isn't great. She risks fouls if she's playing catch-up.
1 - Cheney in the attack, but she doesn't pass to Wambach and her own shot gets blocked. The corner gets cleared by Japan.
2 - Reilly on the attack, but her cross goes awry and out.
4 - Japan has blunted the USA's early attacks and now is doing well at cutting off the USA's sloppy passes.
5- Nerves showing for both teams. Not really a chance since Cheney's.
6 - Wambach with a crappy backpass gives away possession.
7- Krieger, for me, is showing overawe at the moment. Almost all her touches have been poor. She needs to settle down.
9 - Rapino to Cheney - almost - the close redirect misses by less than a foot. Wambach on the next attacks shoots over the bar.
10 - Japan may be zeroing in on the suspect speed of the USA backline. They're playing longball to Ohno.
11- Lloyd with a shot as the ball bounces out, but it's over, though not by much.
12 - Cheney to Rapino - almost again! The close redirect misses. Except for the switch in assister to shooter, it was a similar play.
14- The USA really should have scored on one of their early chances.
16-  Game settling down tactically, but the crowd is restless, wanting to see more chances.
17 - That's interesting. German chancellor Angela Merkel is spending her birthday at the final.
18 - Lloyd may be trying too hard to be the hero. Two shots in a row off-target. Then Rapino has a go from a tough angle. Should have passed to Wambach in the middle.
20 - How does LePelbeit end up shooting? She's never scored for the USA before.
21- Despite the USA's industry and dominance of chances, they have nothing to show for it. Anyone who saw the Japan-Germany game should be worried. 
25 - Another attacking sequence of almost-chances that doesn't come off for the USA.
28 - It's a crafty strategy for the USA to drop back whenever Japan have the ball, forcing the team to look for spaces. Wambach lopes into the counter and strikes the ball well - OFF THE CROSSBAR. shucks.
31- Japan finally unlock the USA backline well, Ando free in the box shoots, but Solo is well-placed for the save.
34- A play like that is all Japan need to hang their hat on for a lead.
35- Cheney header - over the bar. Yikes. Another chance gone.
36- Japan with the ball in the USA end. A set play here for Miyama could be dangerous for the Americans.
38 - Japan have a corner kick - leads to an outside shot over the bar.
39 - Ando in the box again, but Solo picks off her feed.
41 - Japan will be happy to take a draw to the half, while the USA will be frustrated at themselves.
42 - Scrapping in the midfield, Japan have clearly stepped it up a notch before the half. But the USA break open and attack again, but Boxx lets the ball roll just out before hitting her cross.
44- Rampone far into the USA attack, but that doesn't happen, Japan coming the other way gets a cross into Ando, but she can't quite reach it. That was dangerously close for the USA.
45 - Japan on one last attack, with the final shot goes way over.
Now it's halftime and Bob Ley asks if this is the best the USA has played. Well, no. They played better when they scored. 

46- Cheney if off for Morgan, injured ankle. Unfortunate.
49- Morgan hits the post! What a nearly perfect entry that would have been to her joining the fray.
52- Lloyd from a tough angle and Foudy is now taking the USA to task for shot selection and rushing the play in their eagerness for a goal.
53 - Alex Morgan tries to take on three defenders with her limited dribbling skills. It ends predictably.
56 - Japan have a corner, and yet the ball misses everyone in the box and bounces free till the USA clear.
57 - OReilly earns a corner. Japan double-marks Wambach, and clears the service.
60 - Rapino toiling near the corner, but when she loses and then regains the ball, she fires aimlessly from distance for an easy goalkeeper catch.
62 - Sawa with a glorious chip pass to Kinga, but the shot is over the bar.
63 - Japan handled Germany on set pieces, they're doing just fine with Wambach and the USA corner kicks so far.
64 - Ohno is in on goal, called back for offside. Foudy has the guts to call the offside wrong - and it was.  Too bad she couldn't do the same in 2007 for the Greg Ryan call on goalkeeper switching.
65 - The USA with a chance the other way, but Kaihori makes a nice save on Wambach.
66- Nagasato on for Ohno.
67- Now Japan's compact defense is denying USA chances.
68- But the USA's defense is tough, too, holding a line at the box to dispossess the feed into the box.

69 -GOAL!  Rapinoe on the counter feeds Alex Morgan, and with a clear line in front of her, she bears down on goal and fires a low shot into the side netting. 1-0 USA.
71 - Well, Tom Siff did predict Morgan would score the winning goal.
73- Sawa from outside, Solo catches. Japan doesn't want their World Cup dream to die and they're fighting for it.
74 - Set play for the USA, but Kaihori's catch creates a quick Japan counter that Rampone chases down.
76- Japan chasing the equalizer, but also looking a little tired. They may lack the punch to get it.
79 - Miyama tries from distance. Solo collects.
82 - GOAL! Miyama! She got an extra chance when Buehler fell, then tried to clear from the floor, but the ball bounced off Krieger and fell perfectly for Miyama. 1-1
84- Tragic error from Krieger, who should have moved away from the ball as it came towards her, just turned to let it pass and clear, instead of blocking it to the opponent in front of her.
86 - USA with some frenzied play looking for the winner, but the finish is lacking.
87 - Morgan loses the ball in the corner again. She's fast, but she's not that tricky with her feet.
90 - Sakaguchi with a hard low shot, but it's wide.  USA on the counter firing into the box, a chance looks around the corner, but Japan scrape clear.
90+ - OReilly over the bar!
90+- Now Japan with possession, but O'Reilly runs all the way back for a good defensive play.
Extra Time!
I'm with DiCicco that better fitness doesn't mean a win in extra time. For example, the USA in the World Cup versus Ghana in 2010.
92 - USA lively right at the start. Corner kick bounces around, USA collects, feeds Wambach, but not from close and Kaihori collects the header.
93 - Pia, where's Amy Rodriguez?
95- Morgan in the box, keeps the ball, turns, shoots, wide. Good try, though.
97 - Yellow card for Miyama
98- Rodriguez and Cox, warming up for the USA.  Buehler in a footrace makes the play.
100 - OReilly and Wambach nearly combine in the box, but the Japan defense clamps down.
103- GOAL! Morgan shows she can pass, even if she's no dribbling wizard. She nails Abby on the pass, and Wambach doesn't miss from there. 2-1 USA
105 - Siff did predict a 2-1 win.
107 - Japan on the attack, and the USA are sloppy in the box again, but eventually escape.
110- Marayama from distance, but it's wide.
112 -   Bodies down in the box as Solo misses the catch and Lloyd trips with the ball free - and yet the USA somehow escape.
113 - Even unflappably cheerful  Pia looks like her nerves are fried now.
114 - Tobin Heath on for Rapinoe.
115- Heath foolishly dribbles into defenders instead of keeping the ball. Rampone clearance kick after Solo misses the catch when Sawa lofts a ball into the area. Close to disaster again for the USA. Solo is down for a bit.
116 - GOAL! Miyama with a low service, deflects off Wambach, past Solo and it's all even! WOW. 2-2
120- Wambach gets a great ball in the box, but her feet aren't as sure as her head and it's over the bar even though she was in super close.
121 - RED CARD - Iwashuma gets it for a sliding tackle on Alex Morgan just outside the box.
122 - Free kick trick play doesn't come off. Heath tries to follow but her shot is blocked out.
It all comes to this. A still hobbling Hope Solo steps into her net.
Wow, the World Cup melted my computer for a while.
It all went south for the USA in penalty kicks.
Kahori made a great kick save on Boxxy, then Carli Lloyd had a terrible miss high, then Tobin Heath hit a weak low shot that was saved. Solo managed to save one shot and Wambach made her penalty, but when Kamugi stepped up and nailed her shot, it was over.
Japan wins their first Women's World Cup ever. They fought, and fought and never gave up, and in the end, they triumphed. What an excellent tournament. What a crazy game.

Well, well. Yes, the USA should have done better to put chances away, but Japan earned the win by taking the chances they did get. And in fact, the USA got lucky on a few points as well. Anyway, I'm off to see if Brazil chocked on penalties in the Copa America.

Help! Not just anybody

Last night I got to thinking about how collaborative the work of sports journalism often is. Frankly, that's what makes it fun, and I thought I'd take the time to acknowledge some of the people who assist in making sure reporters get the stories they need, with last night as a specific example. 
Stats people, interns who hand out meal tickets, roster and stat sheets, the catering crew and the cleaning crew, all the operations staff, heck, even security, are all part of making an event go smoothly. Plus, it's fun to chat with those who are soccer fans whenever there's any dead time, because they often have a unique perspective on the action.
There was a credential problem when I went to check in at the Coliseum, but since the Galaxy media staff was working the match and knew I was on assignment for MLSsoccer, they produced a new one for me. In the pressbox, reporters caught up and chatted about the Copa America, on display on all the TV screens in the box.  I also caught up with Irene Guiterrez of SUM, who had helped me get interviews from El Tri players at the Gold Cup final. She's going to be in the operations staff in San Diego for the Real Madrid-Chivas match, and I've known her since she was an intern for Chivas USA.
Before the game started, I found out Dave Denholm of ESPN radio wanted to have me as an on-air guest for a few minutes during the match. 
Dave's a great guy who doesn't hold back on his soccer opinions, so of course I agreed. We did our on-air bit towards the end of the match, with him considering Kaka the man of the match for his influential spark in the first half, while I opted for Fabio Coentraeo (Jim Alexander and Luis went for C. Ronaldo). 
After the game, everybody rushed for the mixed zone in tunnel 11. Not wanting to fight the spectator crowds by walking the stadium stairs, I tried a tactic that had worked before, which was exiting the stadium, and going to the top of the tunnel. A media credential usually gets one past the security stationed there, but this time, it didn't happen. Security kept us outside the gate. There was also some kerfluffle when Zach Galifinakis (yes, the actor/comedian) tried to leave via that gate with an escort of four LA Sheriffs. Thinking he was one of the soccer stars, the crowd rushed him, and he was forced back behind the gate, idly kicking a autographed soccer ball around while his personal assistant braved the crowds to go fetch his SUV and drive it up to the gate to collect him and his entourage. 
I wasn't the only media person at the gate. A bunch of reporters had followed me (they won't do that again), and we were now stuck and in danger of missing the press conference and the player mixed zone. Security was completely stubborn, saying that they didn't have clearance to let media in via that entry. Luis had his phone with him and called Patrick Donnelly, the Galaxy chief media dude, to rescue us. He sent Justin Pearson, another Galaxy media guy, over and we finally got inside.
The presser was about to start and the wall of camera guys had their equipment blocking entry. I tried to weave my way through the tripod stands, but tripped. "Only for you, Andrea," said Rodney, the CBS camera guy, helping me to my feet and through to the press space. Once the presser started, Patrick got the media microphone to me so I could ask Mourinho a question. Unfortunately, I didn't have as good luck with any Real Madrid players, who basically treated the media like annoying gnats that needed to be brushed away on their way to the bus. Xabi Alonso was the one player who did stop briefly, making him a hero to the LA press corps. The Galaxy players were more accommodating, but coming from the presser, I couldn't get through the crush of reporters at the mixed zone barricades until almost all of them had passed by. 
Except for Beckham.
Justin assured us Becks would stop for the local press, and waved him over to us. So in the end, we got the quotes we needed to file our stories.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

At the Coliseum

As usual with anything LA, Carmageddon has been overblown. I got here to the stadium so early for the Real Madrid - Galaxy match up that they wouldn't even let me in for half an hour. 
Luis disagrees, but I like the LA Coliseum. Yes, it's a crumbling concrete heap, but that gives it something of a more authentic feel - isn't the real Coliseum a ruin as well? I like the arches at one end, and how there's a VIP picnic section that sometimes gets hit by stray shots. I like the downtown view, how the stadium is close to where I live, and how the catering tends to be tasty, but also free.
Jul 17, 2011
The games played here have been an interesting mixed bag. I've come here for friendlies between Central American countries when I was a stringer for AP, I've covered youth friendlies (USA v Mexico's first U17 World Cup champions sold the place out) and a number of big exhibition games.
There's been random weird stuff at this venue, too. I remember when the sprinklers went off in the middle of a Barcelona match. Then there was the time I led a group of reporters onto the field during the transition period of a Gold Cup double header. One of my fave Coliseum memories was when the VIP party next to the pressbox ended and the caterers let all the reporters eat their fill of the fancy leftovers. I was munching petits fours with Frank Del Apa while we filed our post-game reaction pieces. 
Today's pressbox meal of lasagna was fine, though it seemed a bit off without any garlic bread. I know, I know, real Italians don't eat American-style garlic bread with anything that has tomato sauce, but hey, this is the USA. We overdo everything. 
Anyway, Real Madrid have stepped onto the field for photos with their traveling contingent . They're in shorts and light jackets and tennis shoes. The few fans in the stadium rush over to take photos as well. 
The pressbox just issued a collective groan as Argentina lost in  penalty kicks to Uruguay in the Copa America. Lots of reporters here from Spain rooting for Messi, even if they're here to cover Real Madrid. 
Garlic bread has suddenly appeared, but they won't let me get back in line, because I already used my meal ticket. Sadness.
Real Madrid now run out to the field in their playing gear and a cheer goes up. Probably about 25 thousand in the stadium right now.  
Real Madrid are up by two goals, but but the pressbox internet has so many people online that my computer keeps freezing up. I'll blog postgame.   
Well, it's all over and I filed my stories for They should be up on the site shortly.  
Here's Luis' recap.
Here's my sidebar on Mou, and another one on Real Madrid in general.  
All the cool kids with Iphones were taking pics at the end of the game. I don't have one, so thanks to Jim Alexander of the Riverside Press Enterprise for sending me this picture he took of me.

The End of the Innocence

Billy Witz has a nice piece up about how the USA Women winning the World Cup tomorrow could be bad for the team and the women's program in the long run. 
However, I don't agree with all of it. Yes, I do think the USA is now relying more on athleticism instead of skill to squeeze out wins against teams who have advanced their programs at a faster rate, but I guess I have more faith than Billy in Pia Sundhage. Granted, Billy says Pia has the right temperament for the squad, but doesn't explain beyond that. 
 I think Pia has recognized what are the strengths of the current USA program and tried to work within that context, while at the same time, she has also tried to bring more skill into the USA squad. 
Rapinoe and Cheney, probably among the most skilled players currently on the squad, are Pia's additions to the roster, and she has trusted both to make a difference when it really matters. Wambach is a useful warrior, but Pia proved she can get the team to win without Wambach in the 2008 Olympics. I think Pia's basically overseeing a transition period for the USWNT squad, and yes, she is looking to bring up more skilled youngsters like Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath to the forefront as time and her future contract status allows. Basically, I think Pia's doing a decent job with the talent currently at hand. 
Yet I also think it's a convenient sort of nostalgia to believe that Mia Hamm, Akers, et al, were so amazing as players because the USWNT trampled over the majority of teams in an era when most other women's programs were basically pitiful. The USA women didn't suddenly get less graceful and more brutish - other teams got a heck of a lot better. It happened even before Hamm left, too, which is why the USA didn't make the final in 2003. Even going back to that 1999 victory, it wasn't exactly a sporting vision of the beautiful game in full glory, given that the USA didn't manage a goal from the run of play. 
Basically, what Barcelona and Spain do at their best is very difficult. It's a worthy goal, of course, one destined to usually improve a team's play even if they don't reach it. Japan's improvement can probably largely be based in its pursuit of that model. It's not the only way to play or win, however. It also isn't the best fit for other teams that are talented in different ways. 
Soccer is soccer. What works shouldn't necessarily be condemned for not being pretty enough. While I agree that long-term development of skill will help the USA stay at the top of the increasingly competitive women's game, so will speed, strength, hustle and sheer determination. 
To me, if the USA Women win Sunday, it will in some ways be the most meaningful championship of all, because it has come in a new era of parity and rankings be damned, a dawning awareness that they are not the best by leaps and bounds. It's a real dogfight to be the top dog now, and if and when they are champions, they will have truly earned it over worthy rivals.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Carmaggedon, Soccer-Style

Carmaggedon time has arrived.

In case you don't live anywhere near Southern California, Carmaggedon is the name being thrown around to describe the closure of a 10-mile stretch of the 405 freeway. Luckily, I hardly ever have to drive on the 405, which one person described a while back as "hell reincarnated."

Unfortunately, Carmaggedon has indeed been on my mind, dominating my thoughts of late. The 405 Freeway will shut down from the 10 to 101 freeways. I will have to drive out (at least partially) on the 10 in order to get to the LA Coliseum.

Have I ever mentioned how much I loathe the Coliseum? It's a dump of a stadium and if I never have to go there again, I will not be disappointed. Unfortunately, the Galaxy and Real Madrid thought it wise to play a game there and so I must attend.

Carmaggedon is just another reason this game is a bad idea. I know, I know, this game draws a lot of money, it gives people here the chance to see stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso, Mesut Ozil, etc. play, a chance they don't normally have. It's supposedly good for the game and could help the Galaxy win over some new fans.


Except that this game takes away the focus from what really matters, the regular season, the chase for the playoffs and Supporters' Shield, and the upcoming CONCACAF Champions League. Winning or losing against Real Madrid does not matter but the extra fatigue players exert, possible injuries players could suffer or a possible loss of rhythm.

But the teams deem it important and thus I have to go cover it.

In all honesty, I would rather be at Home Depot Center, in my usual Saturday-night perch. There, Chivas USA will be playing against New York Red Bulls in a match that really matters. New York will try to avenge an earlier loss to Chivas. Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez will try to help New York finally snap out of their months-long slump while Chivas could use the momentum brought on by another victory over New York.

Alas, I won't be there to take it in. I'll be at the Coliseum. At least, I will be if I survive Carmaggedon.

Updated Status

I've realized from a few emails that some readers may not know that I no longer work for I quit over a month ago. I wish my friends there the best of luck, but I didn't want to be there any more. 
Unfortunately, I didn't really didn't have another fulltime soccer writing job lined up, so I've gone back to teaching. Journalism is now a part-time gig for my weekends (which explains partly why the running blogs jump from game to game - I can't control which ones I get to watch anymore). 
Anyway, I want to apologize to any readers who sent me any emails yesterday via It was linked to my old email, which is now disabled and defunct. The link has now been changed and goes to my current email. So if other emails were sent before, I'm not ignoring you - I didn't get them.
I honestly don't know if I'll be able to continue soccer reporting part time, but as long as I can put together stories I think are worthwhile, I'll try to give it a go.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Email on WWC Commentary

Hi AC-  I read your blog and enjoy your media criticisms and was wondering what you thought of their Women's World Cup coverage?
I think it's better than the men for a few simple reasons
1. No Lalas
2. Diciccio- great analyst, just wish they'd allow him more than just a few sentences a game. 
3. Foudy, Chastain, Darke- They all know their stuff, and Darke has much better chemistry with Foudy than he does with the men.  And Foudy actually has critical things to say.   
Japan and France have definitely played the most attractive style of technical and fluid soccer.  Brazil had their moments too.  Speaking of Brazil do you see an underlying anger or fear in their players  Individually they just projected like very unhappy people to me.  Unless that was just their game face. 
Dicicco and Foudy are right about their constant criticism of the US midfield.  Boxx and Lloyd have been very substandard and expect another massacre for the US at midfield against Japan if it's Lloyd and Boxx in the middle.  I expect Pia won't wait as long to make the move this time to Rapinoe at left and Cheney in the middle. 


Thanks for writing, JM. I hope you don't mind that I'm sharing your email with other blog readers. 
I agree with many of your observations, though I can't help wondering if ESPN's coverage would be as comprehensive and enthusiastic if the USA team wasn't contending to the very end. Also, as much as I admire and respect former USA players, especially the ladies of 1999, do we have to have so many of them on the broadcast? Markgraf, Chastain, Foudy, Scurry, etc. it's a bit much, and comes off as jingoistic, too. Frankly, it also still raises the question of how objective these ladies are, since they know many of the players personally. There's insider, and then there's too close to the whole thing. What's funny is I did complain for the men's World Cup coverage that there were so many foreigners commenting who didn't know the USA men's team well at all, and for the WWC, it seems like the the numerous Americans on the commentary can say a lot about team USA, but not that much about the other squads.
ESPN hasn't done justice yet, IMHO, to Japan's story of inspiring their country in the wake of the tsunami disaster. Instead, I keep getting updates on whether Pia's going to start Rapinoe or Cheney. 
Part of me feels like I'm griping about small potatoes, because in the main, the coverage is really excellent. That said, Darke and Foudy don't need to push good chemistry into "wait, I know there's a game on, but let me get the next teasing comment in" territory. If it wasn't for Healey's occasionally completely baffling asides, I'd probably prefer him and Markgraf on the call. 
I think your observations on Brazil are valid, and I feel sorry for their women's team. Germany, as a country, does a nice job supporting both their squads, but I get the feeling Brazil's women feel like they wouldn't get attention in their home country even if they won the WWC six times. I'm also wondering if the reason the women's jersey has the five stars of the WC is because Brazil was too cheap to buy their women's team separate jerseys and just got them small ones of the men's that they had in stock. Seriously, though, Brazil's biggest problem is that they've overdue to win a WWC, and that weighs on them. It's like Spain before they finally won. In some ways, Marta adds to that burden. You have the world's best player, of course you're supposed to win, except it's tougher than that in a team game. 
Japan and France on their best games are so great to watch. Their players are capable of fluid, flowing soccer that really takes the women's game to another level. Both teams have really been a revelation this tournament, and in some ways, I think the great untold story in this WWC is the changing of the guard in Europe (France stepping forward, Norway and Germany left behind) and in Asia ( China falling back while Japan advances). The reasons behind those changes deserve investigation. 
As for the USA midfield, I also agree, though I think Boxxy doesn't get enough credit for how strong her game is when she's had plenty of rest. Lloyd has been disappointing, but watch that all dissipate if she cracks a great shot from outside to win it like she did in the Olympics. It's been Lauren Cheney though, who has really impressed me. The kid who fell just a bit short in youth World Cup and on the college level wants this one badly, and she's worked like crazy to get it. 
It's going to be a difficult match, though. Japan is the team of the tournament in many ways. Their cohesion is amazing, their emotional motivation is unreal, and finally, they know the USA team very well. They know what they have to do to triumph. No surprises. Best team on the day wins. 

Tabloid Journalism?

My latest piece for is up, and while I worked hard to both confirm the story and verify facts with US Soccer itself, I was accused by some in the organization of "tabloid journalism". 

Never mind that what Michael Bradley said was done publicly, even though it was a small group of people.

What bothered me most about the reaction of those from US Soccer who talked to me was the impression that it almost didn't seem to matter that the incident had occurred. That didn't seem to be a problem at all. There was more outrage expressed that I tracked the story down and was writing about it. 

In my opinion, the story was newsworthy, especially once I got confirmation. My biggest concern now is for possible repercussions for both my original source and Eric Wynalda for verifying what took place. 

That shouldn't even be an issue, but it reminds me of the backlash against Hope Solo when she simply told the truth about Greg Ryan's poor choice with the goalkeeping switch in 2007. Some people don't want others to talk about the truth.

Monday, July 11, 2011

USA - Brazil; Reflections

1) To me, the shots of Abby Wambach and Hope Solo hugging it out in triumph after the USA's legendary and improbable win over Brazil yesterday are the most poignant. The two were at odds in the last World Cup, with Wambach one of the harshest critics of Solo's outburst, ignoring the honesty of her statements to lash out at the breaking of the team code. 
Four years later, the teammates have clearly rebuilt trust and appreciation for each other, and the joy in their ecstatic embrace and recognition of each other's heroics was clear for all to see. 

2) It took a win this crazy, this controversial, this flat-out miraculous, for women's soccer to garner the kind of headlines Solo managed in 2007 by daring to question what was clearly a terrible decision by then-coach Greg Ryan. 

3) Credit to Christie Rampone for still having the speed to catch some of the world's best, but Rampone aside, the current lack of swiftness on the USA's backline is worrisome. 
4) The refereeing issues at the Women's World Cup will invariably raise the issue of whether it's a good idea to keep preferring female referees for these matches instead of just appointing the most experienced and accurate officials available, regardless of gender. It's sexist to not make a big issue of mistakes that would horrify fans of the sport in any other context simply because they're made by women and in a women's tournament.

5) Where's the YouTube videos of the fan reaction to Abby Wambach's goal like the ones made after Landon Donovan's goal versus Algeria? Point me to a link if you know.

6) Rachel, Rachel - Rapinoe, that is. I was just remembering Megan's twin sister, herself a great college player until ACL injury issues proved too much to overcome, and how special it must be to watch her little sister (by a few minutes) have her heroic moment in the World Cup, bouncing back from the start of the tournament, where Megan lost her starting spot. The sisters used to also play basketball together, and Megan's pass to Wambach was as close to an alley-oop Hail Mary as one gets in soccer and could one day be remembered along the lines of Lorenzo Charles'  (RIP) game-winning dunk from a Dereck Whittenburg pass in terms of doing for USA women's soccer what that moment did for college basketball.

7) The USA seems to have become the default team for the Germans to cheer for, especially with Kriger, who plays in the country, knocking home the deciding penalty kick to clinch it for the Americans versus Brazil. 

8) Ah, the adrenaline rush of the sport where it's not over until it's really, really over, and then there's still a bit of added injury time. 

9) Shannon Boxx is a beast - never mind the botched first penalty kick. With that in mind, it recalls again how doomed the USA was in 2007 when the red card sent her off versus Brazil. 

10) This seems to be the tournament showcasing how much women's soccer has grown worldwide, which means that it should also be time to finally revise some of those crappy qualification criteria. That the USA was so close to being out of the World Cup tournament, due to one loss, while Germany is now out of the Olympics, is kind of ridiculous. Now that there's more legitimate parity, there needs to be a more fair qualifying system.