Monday, August 6, 2012

Japan - France Women's Olympic Semifinal

A clash of truly tricky and skilled teams! A chance to see some of my favorite creative players in the women's game in action. 

France v Japan, naturally. 

France: Bouhaddi; Renard, Georges, Franco, Bompastor; Soubeyrand, Necib, Bussaglia; Delie, Thomis, Thoney

Japan: Fukumoto; Kinga, Iwashimizu, Kumagai, Sameshima, Sakaguchi, Miyama, Kawasumi, Sawa; Ohno, Ogimi

Japan should take it, but never count the Frenchies out - especially since they can match Japan skill for dribbling skill in team passing.What they lack, however, is that mental toughness and extra confidence that Japan has. 

3 - They've kicked off, and so far, both teams playing pretty cagey. Japan seeing most of the possession. 
5 - And Japan gets off a smooth pass to free a player - but she loses the race to the box as the French goalkeeper comes out. 
7 - Necib with an outside shot and the goalkeeper, Fukumoto, spills it, but it able to gather up the ball, as no French players were near to knock the rebound in. 
9 -Ohno nearly catches up to a long pass, but not quite. She's quick, but not fast, if that makes sense. 
10 -Japan controlling play more now, making ball possession the top priority, frustrating the French.  
 11 - Oui! No, no! How did Necib not shoot? She was in the box with the ball at her feet. No killer instinct there. See Morgan, Alex, for that. Too bad, because Necib is an artist with the ball. Still, the French team need predatory, not pretty, today. They set Necib up well with their passing, but then she dropped the ball with dallying. 
13 - Renard gets a yellow for kicking the pesty Ohno. 
14 - Bompastor with a cross that is enticing, but Japan clear their box nicely. 
17 - Japan still has most of the possession, but France definitely has opportunities to advance.  
19 - It's great to watch the nifty passing of the Japanese players. They're wearing blue, and France are wearing white. 
23 - Still, Japan not really threatening France, who clamp down when the blue shirts get near the box.
27 - Until just then, when Japan was right on the edge of the box, but France swarm in and clear before the shot comes off.  
30 - Thomis is especially shouldering a lot of the defensive work for Japan. 
32 - GOAL! Bouhaddi error! Miyama sends in one of her soaring free kicks and Bouhaddi fluffs it, letting it slip through her fingers. Ogimi takes advantage, as the French defenders seem confused after Bouhaddi's error. Her poke puts the ball in the net. 1-0 Japan leads. 
36 - Ogimi did what Necib did not, taking advantage of the moment, effectively, if not artistically. 
37 - Throw-in for France, leads to Fukumoto punching the ball out of her box, but France unable to follow-up on the chance.  
41 - France, meanwhile, are frustrated, working harder, but putting the final ball long far too often. That makes it easy for Japan.  
43 - Meanwhile, Markgraff, on the commentary with J.P., is frustrated with France's one-dimensional attack. The ball keeps going to Thiney and nobody else. 
45 - Now France has the ball in the box, but the shot by Delie is blocked.  

Halftime! Japan is on their way. 

Markgraff calls out the French for being timid.  

Seriously, NBC? You couldn't make the halftime trivia question remotely related to the sport the fans are actually watching? For those who always wondered, Bangladesh is the  largest country, by population, to never have won an Olympic medal. 

46 - Miyama skies a shot over the bar. She did that a lot while playing for L.A. She's got serious skills, but sometimes would get the yips in front of the goal. 
49 - Miyama is money on freekicks, however. She punts it perfectly to Sakaguchi, who heads it perfectly into the corner in the midst of befuddled French defenders. 2-0 Japan. 
50 - France finally earns their first corner, but it's probably too little, too late. Yes. It leads to two shots by France, but the first is blocked and the second way high and wide. 
52 - Frustrated France is now getting a bit pushy. 
53 - Oooh, a shot by France! Saved, but out for a corner. 
54 - Doesn't lead to a decent shot, though. 
60 - Injury on the field. Japan's 17 limps to the sideline, but she looks fine.  
63 - Another decent chance for France wasted as the shot from Necib goes way high.  
67 - LeSommer goes too high as well. 
68 - Ohno in the box, with some nice cutback moves, but George finally makes the stop. 
69 - Another high shot from France.
71 - Necib in the box - this time she shoots, but  Fukumoto is on it, with no rebound. Nicely done. 
72 - France shooting at everything now, but rather wildly. Japan stoically is weathering the storm.  
76 - GOAL! Until now. LeSommer takes a quick one touch on a Thomis pass and it's all net. 2-1 - Japan still leads, but with a small cushion.  
78 - Penalty! LeSommer draws one from Sakaguchi, the veteran. The French player put on a wily move in the box. 
79 - Captain Bussaglia takes the penalty - yikes! WIDE! France dies a little. So much for the miracle comeback. 
80 - LeSommer with a half-bike in the box - almost a goal as the rebound is barely stopped by Fukumoto.  
82 - Bouhaddi out of the box,  half clears the box. France goes right back o the attack, gets a corner. 
83 - Japan are backed in, but they finally clear it. 
86 - France flailing away, finally without timidity, but still without accuracy, as yet another shot goes high.  
89 - Time is running out for France.  
90 - After France takes another corner, Japan spring an outlet, but the final shot goes off the near post. Japan nearly shut the door. 

Quezalti Alvarado of Mexico is almost ready to blow the final whistle. France is out on one last attack, but Necib's tame shot is an easy catch for Fukumoto. France has a couple of final shots blocked, but finally the whistle peeps. It's over. 

Japan goes to the gold medal match. It's expected, and deserving, but France will rue missed chances for quite a while.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

USA - v North Korea

Here we go. . .

USA: Solo; LePeilbet, Rampone (c), Buehler, O'Hara; O'Reilly, Lloyd, Cheney, Rapinoe; Morgan, Wambach
North Korea: O Chang Ran; Kim Nam Hui, Kim Myong Gum, Choe Un Ju, Ri Ye Gyong; Jon Myong Hwa, Kim Chung Sim (C), Pong Son Hwa; Kim Song Hui, Choe Yong Sim

2 - Megan Rapino with a great run up the wing - leads to an angled shot that's out for a corner kick. Wambach was crying out for the pass before the shot. 
3 - Corner out for another corner before Korea clear. 
4 - Wambach taken down.  
5 - Lloyd to Morgan, who gets a shot off as she's falling, earns a corner.  
6 - "They don't have jukes," says Ben, who is watching the game with me, "even though they're aggressive." He's talking about North Korea
7 - Wambach tries a half-bike and it bounces past the goalkeeper and in! Offside, though.
10 - Ok, I have this to say about Brandi Chastain's commentary - though I don't agree with Solo slamming her on Twitter. Players need to learn to take criticism, and Rachel B. is a big girl. But Chastain is partial to the players she played with or knows personally. Like she just said that Wambach, a master of stealth fouling if there ever was one, a professional for not retaliating to the physical play of the North Koreans.
11 - Actually, that's valid. A pro plays through the pain and then dishes it out at the next opportunity.  
13 - Amy LePeilbet goes down and her defender is shown a yellow for the slide/scissor kick. 
15 - Great passing gets the USA into the box with Morgan against the goalkeeper, and she winds up quickly, shoots, and it's off the post.  Dang that was close. 
17. - Lauren Cheney gets tugged down - and speaking of retaliation, the camera catches her swinging her cleats back into ther opponent.  
20 - Another build up play, but the cross from OHara goes straight to the goalkeeper, OchanRan

22-  The rain is coming down harder. 
24 - This could be a mess - given that the USA hasn't scored yet. They're dominating, but without a goal as insurance, they're vulnerable. 
25 - AND THEN THEY SCORE! WAMBACH!. Morgan races and takes down a long pass, does a great turn on her defender, but instead of shooting, slips the ball through to Wambach, who dinks a simple shot past OchanRan and into the goal. USA 1 - NK 0
27 - Great team play on the goal, though Morgan did the most impressive bit on the job. 
30 - North Korea looking more aggressive now, but to no avail. 
35 - OHara with a nice move to dispossess a Korean player. 
37 - Bored with the game, the commentator is filling the audience in on North Korea's woes with steroids and FIFA. We get it - they're evil and the American girls are angels and doubly deserving of victory for their goodness. 
39 - How did that not go in? Morgan feeds Wambach again, and her sliding shot is off the post via a goalkeeper deflection. OReilly tries to clean it up and poke the ball in, but it's into the side netting.
42 - Lloyd shoots! Too high.  
43 - Corner for the USA, off a free kick after Song Hui Kim given a yellow.  
44 - North Korea work their way out of trouble, all the way back to the USA end. 
45 - Solo calmly catches and quickly gets the ball going the other way, understanding the need to score before the half ends. It would be nice to put the game into safer territory.  
Solo again gets the ball, off a pass - it's probably the third time she's touched the ball all game. 
It's been a nice performance by the USA thus far.

46 - Right back at it, and the USA doing well again. Good balance to their passing and movement.
48 - OReilly fights for the ball, gets it to Wambach, who slows down the play a bit by getting it stuck under her feet, before finally passing to Morgan, who dishes to Tobin Heath, who tries to get too cute with the shot and gets it over the bar in a 1v1 versus the goalkeeper. Keep It Simple, Tobs.
51 - North Korea looking hapless right now. They need to regroup.
53 - Then again, for all the USA passing prowess, it hasn't led to another goal. They've been wasteful.
55 - Lacking a bit of killer instinct, perhaps.
57 - Also, they're not actually creating that many chances. No shots for quite a while.

80 - Oooh! RED CARD - CHOE MI GYONG It was her second yellow.
Cheney is taken down and the free kick is wasted because the ploy with OReilly and Cheney didnt work out.
82 - ARod is on for Cheney.
85 - In a way, it looks harder now for the USA to score - North Korea holding back, pretty much, not trying to score as they did before. 
90 - done! An efficient, if close, victory for the USA.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Not So Money

It's funny, right after I've been going on about how the USA women's soccer team needs to keep things real instead of presenting a plastic image of perfection, an interview with Hope Solo comes out that definitely depicts the players as flesh and blood. 

Be careful what one wishes for, I guess. 

Well, it's really no different than what the guys do - champagne showers are standard for victory moments, and it's easy to drink the fizzy stuff and get wasted.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mighty Megan

I remember when I first started covering women's soccer and another reporter mentioned the girlfriend of a top player. He seemed surprised at my confused look, then calmly explained that a few of the USA women's national team were gay. 

My confusion, though, wasn't because I was surprised that some of the team's players were lesbian. My first thought had been, "Really? Why is anyone hiding someone they love from the public?" 

When I voiced this question out loud, my fellow reporter smiled, "Well, they aren't really hiding. I mean, their teammates know. If you cover the team long enough, you'll see their girlfriends often enough that you'll figure out which players are gay. They just don't really make it obvious to fans or anyone else."

Basically, the world at large was kept in the dark. I'm all for privacy in people's personal lives, but frankly, that's not what has historically happened with the straight members of the USA women's team - or the men's team, for that matter. Engagements are trumpeted and marriages are announced regularly on the official blogs for both squads. 

It's especially the USA women's team has sold to the public an image of themselves as "good girls". I've long thought that it should be more about athletes as real people. 

In doing so, Rapinoe is setting an example not only for some of her fellow teammates, but also for young soccer-playing athletes everywhere to be true to themselves and to who they love. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Goodbye to the Beachy Life?

Apparently, LD is selling out. Or at least, he's listed his residence in Manhattan Beach. This could presage a move to England, or elsewhere across the pond. 

If the choice was yours to make, which team abroad would take LD?


Germany - Italy - Euro Semis

Hey, hey, I'm on time for the whole match today and I'm ready to see some goals in regulation! 

Referee: Stephane Lannoy (France) 

Italy,: Buffon, Balzaretti, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini, Pirlo, Marchisio, Montolivo, De Rossi, Balotelli, Cassano. Subs: Sirigu, Ogbonna, Thiago Motta, Abate, Di Natale, Giaccherini, Borini, Giovinco, Diamanti, Nocerino, De Sanctis. 

 Germany: Neuer, Boateng, Hummels, Badstuber, Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Khedira, Kroos, Ozil, Podolski, Gomez. Subs: Wiese, Gundogan, Schmelzer, Howedes, Schurrle, Klose, Muller, Bender, Mertesacker, Gotze, Reus, Zieler

Apparently both coaches have promised an open, attacking game. Props to the honest coach who says he plans his squad to play defensively and carefully to win.

Time for anthems. For a country who gave the world some of the greatest opera tunes, Italy's anthem is strangely one-note. The players sing it enthusiastically, though.

I have to say, I'll generally root for Germany as long as they have Lahm playing for them.  The little dude is just such a solid player.

Lahm and Buffon read the anti-racist statements before the players all shake hands. At the coin toss, Buffon affectionately cuffs Lahm across the face. Joji Low, the German coach, looks far more casual than Cesare Prandelli, who still has his suit
 jacket on. 

1 - Kickoff! Italy gets first play.Germany breaks it up just as the ball heads into the box. x.
2 - Kroos sends a cross too far into the Germany box.
3 - Germany is less precise than Italy, a Khedira header drops right to Italy, and the linkup almost finds Ballotelli in the box. 
5 - Podolski is fouled, then Germany get the ball in the box and Buffon makes a hash of it, letting the ball go by. Pirlo clears the ball off the line with his knee. 
7 - There's already more going on in this match than in the 100-plus minutes of the semifinal yesterday. 
9 - There's  a long pass that Podolski starts to run for, but thinks better of it, letting Buffon collect.  
10 -  Ozil gets the ball into the box, but then Buffon boots it to safety. 
11 - Khedira with a random shot - might have meant it to be a pass - Buffon collects.  
12 - Sheesh! Buffon dings a cross out of  the way for a corner, but why didn't he grab it? Nervy stuff. 
14 - Germany bearing down on the Italian goal again, keeping the pressure on.  
15 -  Hummels brings down Ballotelli for a FK. 
17 - Italy dig in, and eventually mount an attack of their own, with an outside shot that Neuer dives for.
18 - Cassano tries his luck from there as well. Not really hard shots to save, but they do test the keeper at least slightly.
20 - Ballotelli scores! 1-0 Italy
21 - Cassano with a slick move on the left side of the box centers well. Ballotelli spots the rise and moves behind Badstuber, who doesn't cut the ball off, perhaps worried too much about SuperMario, who has the height on his jump to head the ball in perfectly past a helpless Neuer. Nicely done.
23 - Germany controlling play again, but seem befuddled as to how exactly to create a chance.
25 - Boateng strikes a pass that's too fast for Gomez to control with a header.
27 - Ozil with a low shot that Buffon gets down for. Not too  tough.
28 - Montilivo is all hustle, but there he gets whistled for infringement.
29 - Ozil gets creative again, but a deflection makes the final pass to Gomez go awry.
30 - Kroos shoots wide, but at least he's trying.
31 - Another one really trying is Montilivo, chasing every contestable ball, but he gets whistled again.
32 - Lahm with a poor pass seems to reveal Germany's nerves in this game.  
34 - Then Boateng with a sublime cross, but Barzarelli clears it wonderfully.
35 - Badstuber with defensive heroics in the box as well to deny Montilivo a shot.
36 - Khedira with a sizzling shot, but Buffon dives well to double-palm it away.
36 - Buffon then punches out the corner that follows. 
GOAL! Ballotelli again! A great through ball splits the defense and Ballotelli settles and shoots quickly, pounding the ball into the back of the net. 2-0 Italy.
39 - Did Ballotelli get a yellow card? He clearly took off his shirt to celebrate. Has FIFA rescinded that rule? Ah, no he did get booked.
41 - It's Italy's silky passing, combined with possession dribble moves, that throws Germany off. The Germans are more practical and geometric with their passing. It works well against other teams, but not so much the Italians, who delight in cutting off the angles of Germany's passes.
43 - Cassano is down and looks to be in some pain.
44 - Germany are pushing to pull at least one goal back before the half.
45 - A soft cross caught by Buffon isn't going to do it, though.  Italy pull back and leave Germany wandering around the perimeter of the defenders, unsure of how to attack the crowded area.

Well, well, let's see what Germany are really made of in this next half. Right now, they are made of brittle sugarglass, and they seem a bit shattered by the two goals. They need to be more like marshmallow and bounce back.

46 - Ruess tries his luck, but Buffon controls the low bouncer well.
49 - Lahm going for heroics now, but he's denied as well.
51 - Back and forth for both teams, with Italy creating a half-chance, but no shot.
54 - Ozil's frustration at being unable to keep a ball in bounds seems to capture the mood of Germany right now.
55 - Ozil then puts on a burst of speed, gets into the box, cuts back beautifully, but his team lets him down. There's no shot and Italy recover.
57 - Klose and Bonnucci battle - Klose fails to get a shot off - good defending by Italy.
58 - Cassano comes off, still limping slightly. He gets lots of applause. Diamante is in.
59 - Ballotelli threatens in the box again, forcing Neuer to save.
62 - Reus with a sizzling FK - Buffon knocks it over the bar.  Italy then clear the corner kick.
66 - Diamante tries from way outside, mostly as a reminder to Neuer to not leave his line so much.
67 - Marchisio gets a great through ball into the box, but sends his close shot wide.
69 - Ballotelli is getting boos from the crowd for taking his time getting up after a knock. It is a bit early to be wasting game time.
73 - Muller is in the game now for Boateng, and trying to make an impact.
75 - Marchisio in the box, can pick his spot - and he shoots wide.
77 - The reaction Ballotelli to Marchisio's miss is classic - like he'd never missed before.
80 - There's a lack of ideas for Germany - and now the players are just flailing at shots, like Kroos just now sending one to the heavens.
81 - It's not Italy beating Germany that is surprising. It's that it's looking so easy. 
82 - And DiNatale is free in the box - and he shoots wide. Painful, but it won't change the outcome, likely.
84 - Lahm earns a corner, then gives Buffon a freebie catch with a poor kick.
85 - The announcers are going on and on about how upset the Germany players must be, rather than focusing on what Italy have done well to gain the victory few expected.
86 - Kroos with another desperate shot, but this one also flies over the bar, though it's a bit closer.
88 - Again with the, "This loss by Germany is a big surprise" Well, clearly, Italy were expected to be the chumps here. Which is silly, given their history in the game.
90 - With all the Germans pushed forward, Hummel punts a shot right to Gigi. Would have been a goal if he'd put it anywhere else.  Ozil then goes wide with another shot.
PK! Barzelli hit the ball with his elbow in the box.
Ozil takes, makes! 2-1 Italy.
Neuer is out of the box, at centerfield, heading the ball forward to try to keep German possession. But a Hummels foul turns the ball back to Italy with only seconds left.
Final Freekick. Final whistle.
Italy wins! They will play Spain.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Spain - Portugal Euro Semis Blog

Ok, so I'm late to the party - it's about 25 minutes in. But nothing much has happened yet, with Spain controlling possession, but with only one real chance. Portugal has been tough defending, with Nani sparking here and  there. CRo is lurking, waiting for a chance. 

26 - Herrera and Nani team up for a nice run that puts Portugal in a semi-circle around the goal until Casillas catches a lofted poor cross. 

27 - Handball by Ramos? Might have been, but we're shown no replay - ooh, there it is. Yes, initial ball was taken on his chest, but the bounce does seem to hit his arm slightly. Hmmm. 

28 - Poor clearance by Portugal leads to an Iniesta curling shot - too high, but the game and chances are opening up. 

29 - Interesting that Spain don't have a great record versus Portugal. Some teams are just bogeys for others. 

30 - CR with a shot - wide, but that was the first flash of brilliance. His touch and control set up the chance, even with a defender tight to him.

32 - Spain seem a little sleepy. It's their great possession game that makes them seem a little boring, but it's also a slight tendency to get into a passing rut instead of creating chances. For example, the last chance from Iniesta was really a Portugal mistake. 

35 - Does anyone else think Iniesta should just pull a Jason Statham and shave his head clean? Or does the accountant look that hides a superstar athlete work for him? 

37 - Casillas isn't great with the ball at his feet. Of course, a keeper doesn't have to be, but sometimes there's so little to criticize about the Spanish team . . .

39 - Is anyone feeling less interested in supporting Spain given the reports and fines over racist chants? Just wondered.

43 - I checked out another commentary (the Guardian's, if you must know) and Paul Doyle over there seems to think Portugal is dominating the match and Spain are shaken. Eh, Portugal have looked lively at times, but the possession stats don't lie about who has controlled the ball. 

45 - I'll throw in that the English commentary on this match is dire. Macca has nothing insightful or interesting to offer. "Portugal are definitely in this." I'd switch to  ESPNDeportes, but my cable package doesn't have that. Ian Darke offers this as the game goes to the break at the half - "Bit of a standoff, really."  Well, it's 0-0, so, no kidding, Sherlock.
Halftime - I love how Ballack sounds like the SoccerTerminator. Twellman points out the obvious  - boring Spain is still controlling the match. This goes against the line Bob Ley is trying to sell, which is that Portugal is successfully scaring the scarlet jerseys off Spain. Eh, that's actually a nice image, but I'll save it for when Cesc gets on the field. 

47 - And we're back! Will Portugal's extra rest beat out Spain's deeper bench? 

49 - Portugal with a half-chance, but the cross is cut off, and then CRo can't get a shot off.

50 - Spain with a nice build up, gets and Arbeloa cross, which is out for a corner. That doesn't lead to much, though, as Portugal clear.  

53 - Now Portugal have a corner - they do poorly with it. Subs are warming up for both teams. 

55 - I'll venture to say that the rest deprivation of Spain is overrated. Frankly, with their passing game, they don't run as much as other teams, so their players consequently don't get as tired. 

57 - Another corner for Portugal - Nani is on it. It's still not great.  On the ensuing play, Almeida takes a crack from outside - too high. 

59 - CRo works the one-two with Almeida to get him into the box, but the angle is too severe and Almeida's shot hits side netting.  

60 - Ramos bumps CRo, who goes down in the box. It's not judged a foul, which is fair, but then Busquets gets a yellow for apparently arguing that CRo deserves a yellow for simulation. Eh. I'd be more worked up about the injustice if Busquets didn't have the tendency to be be whiny. 

61 - Jesus Navas is in for Silva.  

63 - Minutes later, a replay of the Ramos-CRo incident.  Eh, slight contact. No biggie. 

64 - Cesc down inside the box, but it's judged a FK outside. Leads to a corner for Spain. 

65 - Portugal defends it stoutly. Spain keep their composure and keep some pressure on the goal. 

67 - I love it when players clean the ball with their jerseys. With shirtless celebrations banned, it's the only chance for a glimpse of the abs.

68 - Xavi with a shot - easy save for the keep. Going the other way, Almeida with a shot - high again. Casillas didn't even have to move.

70 - J. Alba is getting lectured by Portugal players for going to ground after he was kicked - and though the contact was incidental, it's not like it didn't happen at all.

71 - Rui Patricio is spreading the team out before kicking the ball out of the box - the strategy works, CRo gets the ball and earns a FK as Arbeloa clangs into  him in his eagerness to get the ball away. Promising position for CRo.
73 - CRo rifles the shot over the bar. 

74 - Cesc and half the Spanish team seem to be playing up the "we've got no rest or sleep" angle by sporting unshaven scruff.

75. This whole Spain-isBarca-without-Messi line doesn't wash when it comes to Xabi, Casillas, Arbeloa, etc. It's a lazy spin on the game. 

76 - Portugal on the attack, but Nani is trying too hard not to be Almeida, and doesn't go for the goal when he gets the ball. His hesitation and attempt to get the ball to CRo costs the team the chance. Sometimes greed is good (TM Team Gekko).

78 - Darke is trying to play up the drama of a possible shootout. 

79 - Nani and Ramos clash over a header and Nani falls, but takes exception to Ramos' cleats coming to rest on his hip.   .

80 - Nelson Oliviera is in for Almeida.

82 - Navas had the ball for a bit and couldn't seem to decide what to do with it - even in the box. Finally, he tufts a little popped cross right to the grateful Portugal defenders. Rookie nerves, clearly.

83 - CRo earns a freekick. Then there's a handball, so he's even closer to goal now.

84 - CRo stands like B.Bradley, the A-frame intimidation and focus stance. It doesn't work. He kicks his freekick over the bar.

86 - Cesc gets kicked from behind. Yellow on Portugal.

87 - Pedro Rodriguez is on for Xavi.

88 - Iniesta on a run, but he can't read Cesc's mind like he does Messi, and so when he zigs right and passes left, Cesc has gone the other way and the ball blips out to empty grass. Portugal collect and go the other way.

90 - Spain have a FK in the final minute, but Portugal clear and head off quickly, CRo has the ball in the box and HE SHOOTS OVER. The ghost of Almeida is still on the field, clearly. Casillas didn't have to save.

92 - Spain have a corner. It's poor, finds no one, gets sent back to Casillas.

93 - A final yellow comes to Veloso for a late tackle on Alba. Macca yammers on about how he got the ball - and I'm confused, because Veloso didn't touch the ball - he slid into Alba after Alba already poked the ball away. Anyway, that's the end of regulation.

Extra, Extra Time! I want to say that Spain will win, but that would mean I agree with Macca, so I'll call the match for Portugal by default. Nani will win it, if he ever works his way out of CRo's shadow.

93 - I will give credit to Portugal for playing the match on their terms and forcing Spain to be more athletic, which isn't their style. Just now, for the past couple of minutes, they keep getting beaten on headers.

94 - Macca is now grousing about the quiet fans - who might actually just be intently watching the game.

95 - Iniesta is brought down by Moutinho. It's not too threatening, as freekicks go. Then it doesn't help that Alonso kicks it poorly.

95 - Spain with a couple of half-chances, but the pair of shots are cleared or blocked.

97 - Pique with a precise challenge to stop CRo. That was a gamble, going low to block the ball out, but it paid off.

99 - Pepe has been playing like a beast. Portugal have him to thank more than CRo, in this match, at least.

101 - Navas works the give-go with Arbeloa - gets a corner.

102 - Navas tries a shot - gets another corner.

103 - Iniesta tries to be heroic - put the ball through a wall of players. Nothing doing, and he sets up a counter for Portugal.

105 - Spain's young guns, Pedro and Navas, set up a play with some tricky dribbling and Iniesta benefits, but his soft, quick shot is saved by Patricio. Well done, Pat.

106 - Spain have  FK - Ramos lines it up and bullets it - so close, but no net.

108 - 2nd Extra Tiempo. Cesc miffs a pass and is left chasing the Portugal counter. Ramos saves the day by cutting off the cross to CRo.

109 - Cesc, looking for redemption, fires an outside shot. Ball pings off a defender, leaving an easy save for Patricio.

110 - Navas and Arbeloa combine well again - Navas shoots, Patricio saves, but the ball bounces free and Pepe herds it back into Patricio's arms. A few call for backpass violation, but the ref waves play on.

112 - Varela is coming on for Meireles.

114 - Alonso is booked for a late tackle on CRo.  Cesc frees Pedro with a great little pass, but the Portugal defenders swarm him before he can shoot. Corner. Comes to nada.

116 - Darke is on the "Spain will score" express now.

117 - Varela meanwhile, creates a bit of a threat for Portugal going the other way, but the Spanish defenders coolly pass their way out of danger. Then Spain ruin a nice chance of their own with a foolish offside.

118 - Spain earn another corner, courtesty of a hard-working Alba. It's taken short, though, and doesn't threaten.

119 - Pedro charging in the box, doing a nice little Messi imitation with tricky dribbling, until he's down and the ghost of Messi is poof - gone.

120 - Random shot of Fernando Torres looking anxious, but otherwise not affecting the game in any way from the sidelines.

Time is up! Penalties.

Ballack earns my heart forever by somehow getting in the line, something like, "with the nerves, the players are playing with themselves"  into his commentary.

I also love that Darke calls out Macca on PKs, "You didn't take too many of them, did you?"

CRo bumps fists with Casillas as the captains call who goes first. Spain will shoot.

Alonso versus Patricio. It's low to the right - and Patricio saves, diving to his left. 0-0

Casillas saves - going to his right! 0-0.

Iniesta fakes left, shoots right, scores! 1-0

Pepe the Beast is next. He lines far back, but  dinks the shot under the arm of Casillas. 1-1

Pique up now - it's a little weak, but well-placed to the left. 2-1

Wow - a switch, Alves started forward, but then gets called back. Nani comes up - nails it - high to the left corner. 2-2.

Ramos with a fake hard run gets Patricio diving. 3-2. 

Oh, man. Alves. Off the crossbar for Portugal! 3-2

Cesc wins it! Off the post and in. 4-2

CRo never got to shoot.

Oh, well, I guess Macca was right about something. Spain marches on to the Euro final. Clearly, rumors of their demise as a great team have been greatly exagerrated. Ballack goes off on CRo for not shooting earlier. Ley reminds the panel that Spain won. No one seems more suprised than he. Twellman gets in a little snide, "Yeah." all but biting back the "Just like I was saying, they were controlling the game."

The play of the day is Cesc's penalty - which I frankly don't think he intended to cut that close. Nice montage of past Euros show the current USA coach, Klinsmann, holding the trophy high. On PTI, Wilbon is tearing the coach apart for not putting CRo sooner in on the PKs. Kornheiser couldn't care less, and soon, they're on to baseball.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Late Pick: RSL-FCD

Calling my shot here a bit late but had to do it. Gonna go with FC Dallas over RSL. It's kind of a no-brainer to think that RSL would be a favorite but FC Dallas have an 8-0-1 record over RSL at home. That and Fabian Espindola and Jamison Olave are out on red cards. Blas Perez is also out with suspension but I think FC Dallas will be able to overcome that one.

Anyway, we'll be checking in with you later tonight with more thoughts.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Controversy and more from the weekend

One of the most anticipated matchups of the weekend that just went by was the San Jose-Real Salt Lake tilt. It may not have gone the way RSL wanted but the match did indeed live up to the billing - two red cards, four goals, including a stoppage-time winner, and drama throughout was what this game produced.

Unfortunately, it also produced some controversy which I don't quite understand.

Nobody is ever happy with a red card. Players will usually protest no matter what, even if the call seems obvious to anyone watching the game. Still, both of these red cards were textbook calls.

Fabian Espindola went in with a cleats-up two-footed tackle on Sam Cronin. That's pretty blatant. He didn't even seem to protest it too much. The second call was even more apparent and blatant yet that's the one that drew the ire of RSL and other observers.

On the play, Steven Lenhart got loose on a breakaway. Jamison Olave tried to catch up but knocked Lenhart over as the 'Quakes forward got close to the penalty area. Whistle blew, free kick given, red card flashed. It's a fairly straightforward call; Olave denied an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.

Replays... gotta love replays. On replays, Lenhart is reaching behind and grabs Olave's shorts. Perhaps this is where the controversy was ignited.

Well, here's probably the view the match official had:

How is he supposed to see Lenhart grabbing anything? He's not, so why be upset with the call? Not only was the referee or anybody else on the field save for Nick Rimando going to see that, but it was not the cause of the fall. Lenhart was going down regardless of what he did with his hand. Olave was beaten on the play, over-compensate for it and knocked Lenhart down in the process. That Lenhart grabbed anything was inconsequential.

More Controversy

Another call that drew some attention was the penalty kick awarded to Colorado late in their game against the LA Galaxy. Replays showed that there appeared to be minimal contact on the play, certainly not enough to cause Andre Akpan to fall. It looked like Akpan lunged for the ball with his foot and that's what caused him to fall, not contact from any Galaxy player.

Perhaps the situation could have been avoided if the referee would have waited a second or two to blow the whistle. Akpan got up off the ground and started to run back to get in position. No protest, no negative reaction, no nothing, just a failed chance and time to re-position.

A lot of times players make calls by their body language or reactions.

However, one thing that I did not like from that was the Galaxy players' reactions. I understand the nature of the play and how it could have cost the Galaxy the victory but that was absurd. It looked as if almost every Galaxy player took their turn at getting into the referee's face and yelling at him. That's poor sportsmanship and frankly unprofessional. Say what you will about the call or the officiating, but I expect more from players.

Team of the Week

Every week I'm supposed to submit my picks for MLS Team of the Week. It's really difficult to do so because I can't watch every game, and often times players who have strong performances don't score goals or get assists. So going off the score sheet doesn't exactly equate to making the Team of the Week. However, if a player scores the game-winning goal, that's a bit of a stronger case for inclusion.

Having given that brief disclaimer on part of what I go through in selecting this, here's what I submitted after the weekend's games:

G: Josh Saunders, LA Galaxy
D: Steven Beitashour, San Jose
D: Eric Brunner, Portland
D: Aurelien Collin, Sporting KC
D: Gonzalo Segares, Chicago
M: Khari Stephenson, San Jose
M: Lovel Palmer, Portland
M: Eddie Gaven, Columbus
M: Landon Donovan, LA Galaxy
F: Chris Pontius, DC United
F: Reggie Lambe, Toronto FC

Week Seven Rankings

So Sporting KC won't go undefeated after all. Bummer. A 34-0-0 team would have been impressive. Okay, maybe that's impossible but Sporting KC nonetheless appeared headed towards another win before Saturday's game at Portland and came away empty-handed for the first time in 2012.

That was not enough to knock them off their perch. After all, they are still the best team in the league and did come away with three points from their quick swing through Cascadia.

Here's how I see the MLS teams through seven weeks of the season:
1. Sporting KC: So they're human after all, even if they dealt themselves the lethal blow.
2. San Jose: Red cards helped in win over RSL but San Jose are in top form.
3. Seattle: A week off to recharge and rediscover their attack
4. Real Salt Lake: Espindola put them in a huge hole
5. Chicago: Yeah, it was against lowly Toronto but that was an encouraging road showing
6. Houston: Ching-Bruin combination deadly once more; this is a developing force
7. New York: Terrible showing; was Marquez absence that damaging?
8. LA Galaxy: Saunders PK save helps Galaxy continue on road to recovery
9. DC United: Attack is silent one match, deadly the next
10. Vancouver: Recovered well from midweek loss to have post another clean sheet
11. Colorado: Nearly got a gift draw; still, this team's got some issues that need resolving
12. FC Dallas: Hartman's absence wasn't reason enough for loss; where was the attack?
13. Chivas USA: Is this 1-0 home loss trend someone's idea of a bad joke?
14. New England: Huge test coming up at Red Bull Arena
15. Portland: So the Timbers can hold on to leads
16. Philadelphia: Not a bad result at HDC at all; boring team but it might work
17. Columbus: Offense wakes up just in time to see the defense suffer
18. Montreal: A road point! Hey, anything on the road for them deserves an exclamation mark
19. Toronto FC: As bad as season has gone, firing Winter will only make it worse

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Week Seven Picks

My picks for this weekend's games! I cant say I have the most confidence in them but here you go....

Toronto FC vs Chicago

Can anything go right for Toronto? So far, in league play nothing has gone right. The team was ineffective against Chivas USA at home a week ago, but you figure that something will go in their favor at some point soon, right? Chicago meanwhile got Chris Rolfe back and the one-time Fire standout will have the chance to add punch to the Fire attack once more. He could take the field in this one. Chicago are a better team than Toronto but luck has to smile at some point on Toronto. Look for a draw.

Columbus vs Houston

If Columbus aren't the most boring team in MLS, than they definitely are in the top two. The Crew look lost offensively and while they have the standout that is Chad Marshall anchoring the back, his supporting cast isn't quite as effective. Houston meanwhile could exploit those problems, but the Dynamo have their own issues to solve. Can they be more consistent and dangerous going forward? Do they even want to do that? Houston have three goals in four games yet have seven points to their credit. Set pieces could be key for both teams, though. Look for set-piece goals to cancel each other out as Columbus and Houston draw.

Colorado vs LA Galaxy

The Galaxy did not flip a switch in beating Portland a week ago. They didn't. Sure, they won but it took a late goal to do so; David Beckham's late tally was icing on the cake but the result was most definitely not a convincing one. Still, this team is slowly starting to believe in itself once more and if David Junior Lopes can continue playing in strong form then the Rapids will be in trouble. Still, this match is at home and Colorado were rather unfortunate to leave Seattle with zero points. Colorado have the talent and ability to compete for a top spot but the team will need time for that to happen. This one ends in a draw.

Vancouver vs FC Dallas

Good news - Vancouver scored on Sporting KC! Bad news - that goal matter not as KC routed the 'Caps by 3-1. Still, that result can be dismissed since it was against the high-flying top team in MLS. Vancouver's progress will be measured against teams that they can compete with, such as FC Dallas, who have been up and down this season. FC Dallas enter on an upswing after having scored a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Montreal on the weekend. But their inconsistency will hurt them as they'll go on a downturn in this one. Vancouver takes full points.

Chivas USA vs Philadelphia

Chivas USA are one of the least-respected clubs in MLS. Granted, they've not shown much of anything over the last two years to warrant respect but this team, this squad assembled by Robin Fraser can and will contend. Oswaldo Minda has been a monster while Juan Pablo Angel could return and would give Chivas USA the consistent scoring threat the team needs in order to truly make a run at the playoffs. Philadelphia meanwhile will come in and hope to keep the game ugly and walk away with at least a point. Chivas USA won't yield much to the Union's punchless attack though. Look for Chivas USA to win.

Portland vs Sporting KC

The bottom hasn't fallen out on Portland but it will here pretty soon. This is a team that has scored the first goal in games against Real Salt Lake, Chivas USA and the Galaxy and have exactly zero points to show for that. Opponents have the confidence that they can and will find the back of the net no matter the situation. Sporting KC likely won't need a late tally in this matchup. One possible danger spot for the visitors though is the wide play of Khalif Alhassan/Eric Alexander/Franck Songo'o. Sporting KC likes to make it difficult in the middle but if Portland can get their wide game going, they could put the high-flyers from Kansas on the defensive. But they won't. Sporting KC win this.

San Jose vs Real Salt Lake

Real Salt Lake were expected to contend for the conference title but San Jose were not, yet both sides are up there and look poised to remain there throughout the season. San Jose looked very comfortable in breaking down New York's defense and showed considerable poise in coming back (twice) against the Red Bulls. RSL meanwhile have proven to be vulnerable. While RSL have the weapons to take down any team in MLS, San Jose will win this one.

DC United vs New York

DC did not win on Wednesday against Montreal which means they have a good chance of winning this match. DC have not won consecutive matches in some two years but since they enter the match with a draw, a win is possible. New York though do not care about statistics or trends or anything. Thierry Henry is on fine form and so is Kenny Cooper. While the defense could use some fine-tuning, this team is strong and could break it open at anytime. Look for the Red Bulls to take three points in this one.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Midweek Picks: Can KC Remain Perfect?

Midweek action means more games to pick. Here's what I got for Wednesday night's games.

DC United vs Montreal

Poor Montreal. The expansion Impact have had some success on the road, having had leads in their games at New York and FC Dallas. But leads of 2-1 and 1-0 in amounted to losses, by 5-2 and 2-1. Their success has yet to yield any points and in fact raises doubts over their abilities to pull out results. Montreal is going to struggle all season long, as most expansion teams have done since RSL and Chivas joined the league in 2005. Those struggles will continue at RFK Stadium. DC United has done well to generate more of an attack. If Chris Pontius and Maicon Santos can continue putting balls in the back of the net, this DC team will be heard before the year is out. DC wins comfortably.

Vancouver vs Sporting KC

At some points, Sporting KC will have to drop some points, right? My concern for this game is that. On the field, Sporting KC should win. They're playing excellent soccer, having given up hardly anything. Teams barely can get shots off against them. The Galaxy had zero shots on goal while RSL had a shot in the 88th minute or so, as KC beat each Western rival by 1-0. Now on the road, can KC continue their defensive dominance? Vancouver have the weapons to do so, with Eric Hassli and Sebastien Le Toux up top. I'm tempted to say that KC will put up their stone wall once more and come away with three points but I'm also unsure whether any team can start off with seven consecutive wins. I think KC will be their usual dominant defensive self but will come away with a hard-fought draw, possibly a nil-nil affair.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Diving Away

Diving is a blemish on the game, plain and simple. It's a difficult issue though because so many players dive yet those same players would say that there's no part of diving in the game.

The bad thing is, diving works. Players dive and continue to dive because it helps them get calls.

Now, this isn't something new of course. As this video points out, diving has been going on for quite some time now. It's not an epidemic that began recently, which only makes diving more troublesome and more difficult to stamp out.

This video clip is a great bit of commentary and analysis. It's about 15 minutes long but well worth it.

Gary Neville gives his thoughts on diving and is pretty much spot on.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Week Six Rankings

My power rankings for the week. No-brainers for the first and last spots, everything else around the league is up for grabs.

1. Sporting KC. Six of six. Unstoppable. Have to be considered favorites to run away with Supporters' Shield.
2. San Jose. Responded to New York, twice. Salinas injury could be tough to overcome.
3. Real Salt Lake. Can't fault them for getting run over by Sporting KC.
4. Seattle. Finally scored. Sounders can go on woeful scoring droughts, strange considering their talent.
5. New York. Marquez.... what. was. that?
6. Chicago. We love the Chris Rolfe signing.
7. Houston. If Will Bruin can consistently find the back of the net, Houston will be tough to take down.
8. FC Dallas. They like to save it late, don't they?
9. Chivas USA. Nine points out of nine on the road - no fluke here.
10. Colorado. Survived Mullan's first trip to Seattle; no points but no brawl either.
11. LA Galaxy. A win, yes, but there were still holes in Galaxy's performance.
12. DC United. Maicon Santos is flourishing alongside Dwayne De Rosario.
13. Vancouver. Massive tests as Sporting KC and FC Dallas visit this week.
14. New England. Makings are there for decent side but can't give up late goals.
15. Philadelphia. Is it possible to not feel good after a win?
16. Columbus. Talk about punchless.
17. Portland. Is it time to question whether John Spencer is the right man for the job?
18. Montreal. Couldn't hold on to a road lead with handlebars.
19. Toronto FC. Abysmal. Rock bottom continues to be deeper than we all thought.

Video Review, On Your Side

There's been much debate over the MLS Disciplinary Committee's usage of video to go back and slap players with fines and suspensions.

Now, it's possible that many of these same critics will not only praise this system but will be glad it's in place.

Rafael Marquez got away with a horrible act of violence in New York's 2-2 draw with San Jose on Saturday. Marquez... well, look for yourself.

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

It's pretty bad. He wraps up Salinas, drags him down and for good measure kicks him in the head. Salinas broke his clavicle on the play and a key figure from San Jose's impressive early start is now gone.

Marquez deserves a lengthy ban. As if the Committee needs any reminding, Marquez began the season by serving a two-match ban for shenanigans he created after the Galaxy and Red Bulls played the first leg of their playoff series last year. I think a 3-5 match will be given, and I think five would be fair.

Anyway, without this recent rash of retroactive suspensions, not sure what sort of action would have been taken. I do believe this would have gone punished in some form or another but because the Discipline Committee is now quick to slap suspensions on players, this one should be pretty simple and straightforward.

And hopefully the criticisms over the use of the Discipline Committee and their suspensions will be quelled.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Galaxy-Portland Notes

Some leftover things from Galaxy training and more thoughts on the Galaxy-Timbers match.

Davey’s Arrival

David Junior Lopes joined the club earlier in the week to help try and solve the Galaxy’s defensive woes. The deal is a stop-gap measure. That much seemed apparent when it went down – after all, if any MLS team is relying on another team’s fourth-choice center back as a player who will step in and make a difference, then that team’s in trouble.

Galaxy coach Bruce Arena also pulled the trigger on the deal because of Leonardo’s prognosis. Originally, the young Brazilian was supposed to have been back by this time of the season but instead it’s not happened. Leonardo only returned to training this week – he’d been out at practices but had not participated in much with his teammates.

“We’re a little behind with Leonardo coming back. Our plan was that he was going to be ready in March and he’s going to need a little more time,” Arena said. “He just started training. He’s trained this week with the team, which is the first time and that’s good. He’s close to being in the full swing of things but he’s going to need more time. He really suffered a devastating injury.”

The Galaxy aren’t pinning any real hopes on Lopes, at least, not any hopes beyond the near future. Down the road, whether it’s this season, next or beyond, the Galaxy have some high hopes on Leonardo.

“There was a lot there and his initial rehab in Brazil didn’t go as well as expected. He had to have another surgery here in November for some scar tissue. He’s been behind a little bit. In the case of Leo, he’s 22 and he’s a player that if he gets back to where he was we’ve got a good young center back in the league. We have him under contract.”

As for Lopes…

“Sometimes you’ve got to do things for the long term,” Arena said. “I think Lopes is a solution for the short term.”

Match Importance

How big is this match for the LA Galaxy?

Days before the Sporting KC match, I asked Bruce Arena and Todd Dunivant about whether that match was a must-win or not. They both said no, although Dunivant conceded that there was some urgency in it.

On Thursday, Arena, Landon Donovan and David Beckham all brought up the need to win, to beat Portland. This match is definitely a must-win.

“This is a game we need to win,” Donovan said. “We’re home against a team that’s now around us at the bottom of the table and this is a game we need to win, period.”

Arena was asked if it was time to hit the panic button.

“It’s like the president who’s got the black bag close, if you’ve got to send off the missiles and stuff, we’ve got it ready in case we have to do it too. It’s time for us to start winning, no question about it. Is it the panic button? No, but we’ve got to win games,” Arena said.

Certainly this match presents a strong opportunity to pick up three points. Portland have plenty of issues of their own, having blown two leads at in their last two home games. With four points thus far this season, the Timbers are suffering through their own confidence issues.

But Portland won’t be a walkover win either.

“They’ve not changed a ton in the offseason,” Donovan said when asked what he knew about Portland. “I know they brought in [Kris] Boyd who gives them a bit of a different look up front. John Spencer I think is a great coach and he’s always got them motivated and ready to go. At the end of last year they put a good licking on us up in Portland. We know they’re a team that will come in here thinking they can get something out of the game.”

Flank Play

If Portland are to compete in the match and have a chance to win, the Timbers will have to dominate the flanks. And with the way the Galaxy’s season has gone, that may not be too tough a challenge.

Khalif Alhassan and Franck Songo’o have the pace to get behind the Galaxy’s defense and have the skill to do something once they find themselves in space. If the speedy duo can get service in to Kris Boyd, the Timbers will have their chances.

Throw Darlington Nagbe into the mix and the Galaxy’s defense will have their hands full.

“Alhassan was a pleasant surprise to them last year and I think he’s continued to play well this year. Songo’o we don’t know a ton about yet but I think Darlington Nagbe is a really good player and when you combine those three athletic and unpredictable players with a guy who is predictable in front of goal in Boyd it makes them difficult. They’re a dangerous team. There’s a number of teams in this league who have dangerous attacks and this is one of them so we’ve got to make sure we’re ready.”

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Week Six Picks

Another weekend of games is upon us. This time around, there are two rather intriguing matchups pitting the top teams in each conference against each other and the second-place teams in each conference against each other as well.

I opted to take one home side and one away side in those games.

The rest of the games... well I had to provide some thoughts and picks as well on those.

Philadelphia vs Columbus

Philadelphia have been pretty terrible this season. The Union have had problems scoring goals, having put just two goals in four games and there's not much hope for a scoring outburst in sight. Luckily Columbus is no offensive power either. This match could feature no goals, certainly no more than one goal per side. Well, if any side scores more than one it could be Columbus given Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath's struggles. But more than likely this one finishes in a draw.

New England vs DC United

Shalrie Joseph is out for New England and that could be a big blow for the hosts. Joseph has, as per usual, been a key figure of this Revolution side. Without Joseph - and the club will also be down Benny Feilhaber - the midfield is lacking a leader and linchpin. But so far, New England's midfield has done well collectively. DC United meanwhile have been decent the last three outings with two scoreless draws and a rout over FC Dallas in that span. This one should be a defensive struggle and will wind up a draw.

Seattle vs Colorado

Finally, Brian Mullan will visit Seattle. This one will not turn out pretty at all. No matter how much he has apologized and no matter how much Seattle coaches and management plead against it, there will be massive hate hurled Mullan's way, and for good measure, after the unpardonable tackle he laid out on Steve Zakuani last year. How much of an affect this has on the game remains to be seen but I doubt the Sounders let their fans down in this one. Seattle wins.

Toronto FC vs Chivas USA

Opposites will collide in Ontario when a surging team visits a sinking one. Toronto FC have been downright terrible this season so far, at least in league play. No wins through four games is not really shocking considering it's Toronto FC who is struggling but there is no excuse for such a poor start. Torsten Frings is now seemingly recovered enough to perhaps play a role in this match but whether that is desperation or whether Frings has actually gotten over his injury remains to be seen. Chivas USA meanwhile have won both of their road outings and don't give up much defensively. Chivas will kick the dog while it's down. Look for Chivas to win.

New York vs San Jose

On any other weekend, this would indeed be the game of the week. You've got three of the top goal scorers this season in Thierry Henry, Kenny Cooper and Chris Wondolowski. You've got a high-profile team against one that's not quite as much, which would make for a good contrast in the lead-up. And, oh yeah, these teams are pretty good. But another game steals the spotlight this week. Still, the Red Bulls have plenty to gun for with or without the attention, and while San Jose has been tough, getting a win from Red Bull Arena against the red-hot Red Bulls is too tall a task, especially without Steven Lenhart or Alan Gordon. New York wins.

FC Dallas vs Montreal

FC Dallas have been all over the place this year. They've beaten the Red Bulls and New England but were done in by Sporting KC and blown out by DC United. Playing against an expansion team still trying to find their own way will be a boost, even if Montreal are coming off a strong win of their own. Ricardo Villar is out and just another walking wounded but FC Dallas have enough to get past Montreal. FC Dallas grab all three points.

Sporting KC vs Real Salt Lake

A preview of MLS Cup? Perhaps but even if these teams fizzle out by the end of the year, right now these are the two best teams in MLS bar none. Sporting KC have been playing strong defensively, and even though their attacking prowess gets the publicity it's the defense that has been the key to their success. KC have allowed just one goal in five games and did not face a shot on goal from the Galaxy last week. RSL though are battle-tested and have played big games before. RSL also have shown the ability to claw back into games when all hope is lost (their win at Portland a few weeks back shows that). Sporting KC have yet to taste defeat but they will in this one. Real Salt Lake will win.

LA Galaxy vs Portland

The two most disappointing teams in the league face off against one another. If this game were played in a video game it would be great. Players would play to their ratings which would make for an entertaining match. Instead players are not stripped of their confidence, and that confidence - or lack thereof - has brought down both clubs this season. Certainly each team is good enough on paper to have gotten more points this season. Portland though seem to be in a more difficult situation. They are on the road where they've struggled ever since they joined MLS and they are facing a talented team bent on turning things around. Look for the Galaxy to win.

Chicago vs Houston

It's hard to believe that the last time Houston played a match was on March 23. But that's what the situation is as Houston finally return to action. Chicago have not been too much better off in the anti-rust department as the Fire have only played three games as have Houston. Rust may be a factor but Cory Gibbs' injury may not be. Even though Gibbs is out for several months, Arne Friedrich should slide right into central defense. The former German international should help a defense that was already solid and should provide a strong presence in the back. Houston will test the new-look Fire backline but the Fire will be up for the challenge. Chicago will win this match.

Galaxy Thoughts

Random thoughts as I head out to LA Galaxy training today

* If David Junior Lopes works out, he could really give the Galaxy some flexibility. Part of the problem for the Galaxy is that certain players have to play in certain positions. Last year, Sean Franklin was able to play in the midfield sometimes while AJ De La Garza could play in middle, out wide or take a breather for a game or two. That is a luxury thus far this year as there is nobody to entrust right back to aside from Franklin... and he's not doing that hot either back there. Lopes in the middle could free up Franklin to move to the midfield as a potential Lopes-Meyer or Lopes-Leonardo pairing may do well there.

* Yes, I'm trying to see the optimistic person's point-of-view from the Lopes-Cardozo trade. Not really feeling it though. My guess is they ease him in this weekend but that they will want him to push for a starting spot by next weekend, the April 21 game at Colorado. Bruce Arena told me last year "When you bring in a player you expect him to produce right away."

* Edson Buddle has been "just okay" according to Bruce Arena. This is a far cry from the amazing things many felt Buddle and Robbie Keane would be able to accomplish together. It's fallen off pretty badly that by the fifth game of the season many are clamoring for Chad Barrett to start. I'm in that camp, not because I think Barrett is better than Buddle but because there needs to be shakeup and since Buddle isn't scoring or playing well, start there.

* If you do bench Buddle though does that send an even greater blow to his confidence? And does it disrupt whatever rhythm he has going on? He's not the kind of player to bring in off the bench and expect much from. He's just not. He's better from the start. My guess is that Arena sticks with Buddle this weekend, and if he cannot score against a susceptible defense, then maybe he sits in Colorado.

* If I'm looking at players who have underperformed, I'm also looking Juninho's way.

* And Franklin.

* And De La Garza.

* And.... um, we could go on and on.

* It's not time to start panicking yet as there are still quite a bit of points to contest but the Galaxy needs to start winning games. The team has always said they hold themselves to a higher standard, so playing well but not winning (which they have yet to do this year) or playing with an improved effort from last game but not winning is not good enough. Wins and points are necessary. Good performances with one or zero points are useless.

* One thing I've been kicking around... did last year's team have so much success and cast such a giant shadow that these players are performing poorly because they are trying to match that success? Yes, Omar Gonzalez's absence is a huge one but the team's lack of confidence is what's been so troubling. This team wilts under the pressure, time and again. Teams have killed them from the flanks and torn apart their defense and the shoulders sag right after - heck, they are sagging before that happens. Something's definintely amiss in the confidence department.

East vs West; First Look

The Western Conference is the best-est conference.

Yup, that's what I had proclaimed before the start of the season. And I wasn't alone. I mean, the West had the Galaxy, Seattle, Real Salt Lake as three teams who could have finished 1-2-3 in the Supporters Shield with a balanced schedule. Then FC Dallas and Colorado were solid, Portland was improved, San Jose and Vancouver too and then there's Chivas USA.

The Eastern Conference meanwhile had Sporting KC and Houston who were decent and the rest of the conference was wretched.

Maybe that's a little bit of an exaggeration on some parts, but not much.

So heading into the sixth weekend of games this season, how has the East and the West fared against one another?

There have been 26 interconference matchups thus far. Western teams have won 14 of these, Eastern teams have taken nine while there have been three draws.

What does this mean? Not a whole lot right now. Like any stat, it can be skewed one way or another. For instance, how many of those games were at the west team vs. the east team, how many of the matchups favored one conference (Sporting KC is 3-0 vs west teams) or the other (Toronto FC and Montreal have combined for four losses vs west teams).

It's all still very early but I will say one thing. It's not a surprise that Western teams have more wins than their Eastern counterparts, even if it is early.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

League Got Joseph Ban Right

Shalrie Joseph was the latest victim of the MLS Disciplinary Committee. On Tuesday he was slapped with a one-match ban for an incident during Thursday's 1-0 loss to FC Dallas. On the play, Joseph went into a tackle from behind, toppled Ricardo Villar and was booked for doing so.

Not good enough, the committee decided and in essence decided that the play was worthy of a red card. Had he gotten a red card originally of course this probably would not have happened. But he didn't and now we're debating the merits of this suspension. At least, there seems to be quite a bit of debate out there.

I can't say I disagree with the findings, though. For several reasons.

For starters, that was a harsh tackle. It was from behind, reckless and the kind that can cause serious damage. Last season, some similarly awful challenges cost Steve Zakuani and Javier Morales quite a bit of pain and grief. The league is rightly trying to do something about it, and if players continue to committ such foolish challenges they will be punished, whether it's on the field or in instances such as these that Joseph finds himself.

Now, it may seem as if this undermines the officiating and that it shows some sort of disrespect to the officials. Effectively, the committee is saying that the call was not good enough, that it was flat wrong, and then they went ahead and corrected it. Well, what I would say to that is this - since when has the media, fans and players shown any sort of collective support or respect of the officials? Watch any MLS game and at one point or another you will see players swarming around the official after a call, protesting a call, demanding the call be changed, barking at, yelling at, all but hitting the official. Fans in the stands or on various social media outlets will voice their displeasure of the officiating and stories are written about how certain calls affected matches. All of that undermines the officials and goes on consistently, and yet now it's an issue?

If anything, this sends a message to the officials that there needs to be stiffer penalties during games so that this does not have to happen again. It's a way of helping the match officials, not hurting them or undermining them. The league wants certain things punished more, wants to eradicate certain things from games and one way of correcting and eliminating these behaviors is by actively helping the match officials stamp it out in games. In other words, this Joseph decision isn't just a one-off thing. It's not that this tackle was bad and it should be punished; it's that this tackle was bad and these kinds of tackles are unwanted in MLS matches and players need to know that in one form or another.

Also, Villar is out for at least one match with a mid-foot sprain. According to reports, Villar's injury is a week-by-week injury but if nothing else it's a setback since Villar had scored twice and was becoming an important player for FC Dallas.

Now, here's the play in question from various angles:

That's a harsh tackle. It should have been a red card, plain and simple.

And next time, it will be.

Chivas Slowly Turning Heads

Admit it. You thought Chivas USA were crap. That's okay, you were probably in good company.

Chivas USA were given about as much hope of making the playoffs as a mule would be in winning the Kentucky Derby, but this red-and-white mule could turn out to be a thoroughbred, one few saw coming.

Chivas USA is not having a tremendous season quite yet. They are 0-3 at home, having lost all three home games by the same hard-luck 1-0 score. But where they've found success and where they have started turning some heads is on the road. A 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake was shocking and to prove that was no fluke the club came from behind to beat Portland 2-1 on the weekend.

Bad teams don't get those kinds of road results, not a clean sheet against a team that rarely loses at home and a comeback win over another side who was supposed to be better than Chivas.

Now, I'm not hailing Chivas as the second-coming of Barcelona. Don't get me wrong, this team has some issues that need to be worked out. The attack needs to be much more dangerous and the team must see games through particularly at home. All three goals they've yielded at home have come in the second half.

But the hope is there. It's there within the team and now those outside the team can see things coming to fruition.

I dedicated my Wednesday PE column to Chivas USA but for some reason it's not linked online. I'll share with you some of what Fraser told me:

On earning respect and if he feels the road results have helped the club gain some respect: Earning respect is an ongoing process. Perhaps we had a little respect from Salt Lake, perhaps we got a little more respect from Portland but at the end of the day earning respect is a never-ending process.

On how feels the process has been and is going: It’s understood that turning this franchise around was going to take time and we feel we are taking steps towards that. It’s a long process. In some instances you get quite fortunate and it’s a quick process but for the most part it’s a long, hard process and there’s no easy route to being good.

On how comfortable he feels in his position now compared to last year: I’ve felt pretty comfortable last year knowing what we were trying to do and what we were trying to accomplish. This year there is a different feeling, a feeling more of expectations. We’ve been here a year long, brought in a few players and have high expectations for ourselves.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lopes Deal Smacks Of Desperation

Is this what desperation looks like?

The LA Galaxy traded a promising young talent in Paolo Cardozo for a guy who is a big physical specimen in David Junior Lopes.

Cardozo may not have had much on-the-field success with the Galaxy but the youngster has a decent upside. He could flourish for Chivas quickly as Robin Fraser likely won't have the type of clamps on him that Galaxy coach Bruce Arena did.

In Lopes though the Galaxy get a guy who has a good center back body but is a liability. He played just eight games with Chivas last year but made no great impact. He did not play in any games this season as Chivas opted for a starting duo of Rauwshan McKenzie and Heath Pearce in central defense. Newcomer John Valencia, who was supposed to come in and contend for a starting center back spot, has yet to make his league debut because the McKenzie-Pearce pairing has been solid. This made Lopes expendable.

Arena also hopes that Lopes can help stop the bleeding in the back. The Galaxy have played six games and have allowed 12 goals. Tommy Meyer and Andrew Boyens have each started three and neither has been strong enough to snatch that starting spot for good. The next option in central defense was Sean Franklin - at least until Leonardo is healthy - unless Arena was willing to put Bryan Gaul in there, and Gaul has only played center back since the start of training camp.

This lack of presence in the middle of course prompted the move. Had either Boyens or Meyer found true success in the backline, this trade probably would not have happened. Instead, Boyens/Meyer have not been good enough to keep opponents from scoring consistently.

Thus, the deal. But Lopes won't help the Galaxy defense much, unless Arena is somehow able to tap into Lopes' tremendous physical stature. Until then, the Galaxy defense may be up to its old tricks once more.

Monday, April 9, 2012

How Slow A Start Is This?

The Galaxy are off to a terrible start to the 2012 season. No matter how you spin it, this team is underperforming, at least based on the expectations that were placed on them heading into the season. The three losses speak for themselves.

Is it time to panic? Do Galaxy fans need to start riots and turning cars over in anger? Or do they need to step off the ledge, take a deep breath and relax?

That last part is up for debate of course, but one thing to consider is just how starts to other seasons have gone. Technically this is not the worst start to a Galaxy season, but you have to put an asterisk (and I did) next to seasons with shootouts because that skews the wins and losses and points. Since MLS did away with shootouts in the 2000 season then, the Galaxy have had no fewer than three points after four games. In fact, this is the third time the Galaxy have three points after four games since 2000.

Anyway, here you go so you can compare and draw whatever conclusions you want. I included notable accomplishments (Supporters' Shield, MLS Cup appearance) after each season. I don't consider making the playoffs a notable accomplishment since in 2003 and 2004 for instance eight out of the league's 10 teams made the playoffs. Not impressive.

2012: 3 points, 1-3-0 (LWLL); 5 gf, 8 ga

2011: 7 points, 2-1-1 (WTLW); 4 gf, 5 ga. Won SS, MLS Cup

2010: 12 points, 4-0-0 (WWWW); 7 gf, 1 ga. Won SS

2009: 3 points, 0-1-3 (TLTT); 5 gf, 6 ga. MLS Cup finalists

2008: 4 points, 1-2-1 (LWLT); 6 gf, 9 ga

2007: 4 points, 1-2-1 (TLWL); 6 gf, 6 ga

2006: 4 points, 1-2-1 (LTWL); 3 gf, 4 ga

2005: 9 points, 3-1-0 (LWWW); 8 gf, 5 ga. Won MLS Cup

2004: 8 points, 2-0-2 (WTTW); 7 gf, 4 ga

2003: 3 points, 0-1-3 (TTTL); 3 gf, 4 ga

2002: 8 points, 2-0-2 (WWTT); 6 gf, 4 ga. Won SS, MLS Cup

2001: 6 points, 2-2-0 (LLWW); 7 gf, 7 ga. MLS Cup finalists

2000: 8 points, 2-0-2 (WWTT); 10 gf, 5 ga

*1999: 2 points, 2-2 (WWLL); 5 gf, 5 ga. MLS Cup finalists

*1998: 10 points, 3-1 (WWWW); 11 gf, 7 ga. Won SS

*1997: 3 points, 3-1 (LLLW); 5 gf, 9 ga

*1996: 12 points, 4-0 (WWWW); 9 gf, 4 ga. MLS Cup finalists