Monday, December 31, 2007

Golazo del ano for Mexico

Mexico scored plenty of goals in Hugo Sanchez's first year in charge, 38 of them in fact. Several games featured more than a handful of goals, including the 6-0 crushing of Paraguay in Copa America and 4-2 and 4-0 wins over Ecuador and Iran, respectively.

The one goal that stands out from the rest wasn't necessarily the most important goal Mexico scored in 2007, though it certainly is one of them.

Nery Castillo played his first national team game for Mexico in 2007 and he might play for a decade more and not score a goal like this one. The goal was set up by a nice cross from Juan Carlos Cacho but Castillo took care of the rest. A deft flick and a timely finish and Mexico was well on its way to beating Brazil by 2-0 in the Copa America opener.

Last scoop of the year

Chivas USA defender Jonathan Bornstein was left off the US camp roster but with good reason. A club source just told me that he had ankle surgery about a week or two ago and he's expected back and healthy sometime around the start of training camp or so.

That will keep Bornstein from playing for the US against Sweden on Jan. 19 at Home Depot Center and against Mexico on Feb. 6 in Houston.

USMNT camp

Here's the list. Keep in mind that quite a few of the European leagues are still in session, so those players aren't available if they're first team possibilities.

With Bornstein out, Ramiro Corrales and Todd Dunivant have a chance to impress Bob Bradley at left back. Both have had a national team hiatus - with Corrales being out much longer than Dunny.

Jeremiah White gets his first call for the USMNT, coming in as one of the forwards from Scandinavia. Josmer Altidore, another forward, is the youngest player in camp. It's a measure of his improvement and importance that he's here instead of at the U-23 camp Peter Nowak is running.

In that vein, Maurice Edu is one of the exciting prospects in midfiield for the US, and joins Rico Clark, recovered from his offseason surgery, in that group.

The January camp is usually the longest national team camp of the year, which gives the coaches the chance not only to recondition players, but also to assess new talent and possibilities.

Jeremiah White, Zach Wells, Eddie Robinson, Matt Pickens, Will Hesmer, and Clarence Goodson have yet to earn their first caps, but it's a good bet some can reach that milestone with an impressive camp performance.

Any prophets want to name names? Who will earn a first cap? Any guesses among that bunch as to who might earn a start for that first cap?

Soccer Player of the Year

I can't argue with the Daily Breeze picking David Beckham as their LA Sports Person of the Year. I remember reading an article in 2005 by the writer of this piece, Kevin Modesti, where he bemoaned the city's lack of titles recently, even though the Galaxy had just won their second MLS championship. He didn't mention the team probably because he never even thought of them. I never saw him in the pressbox at the Home Depot Center until Beckham came along. So Becks has had a major impact in things like that.

I'm partial, however, to what is actually accomplished on the field, in addition to the off-field impact. I think I'd put Cuauhtemoc Blanco as king of the hill for 2007. He played well for three teams, Mexico's national squad, Club America for half the year, and the Chicago Fire for the final part of the MLS season. In my latest article, I cover some of the ways his arrival had an impact.

Beckham couldn't manage to do that because of his injuries.

Who else but Cuauh could generate production of the combo ClubAmerica/Fire jersey? Who else could get little Mexican soccer shops all over the U.S. to stock an MLS jersey? Beckham's isn't in half the ones I stop by, but Blanco's always is. A whole different set of people talked to me about MLS after Blanco signed than when Beckham signed. Most importantly, because Blanco played, they watched games, they came to games, and they started talking about the teams and the players themselves (even if it was to bemoan Chad Barrett's finishing -although, I remember one guy saying with a wink to his Central American friend, "Barrett al menos sera mejor que 'Chope") That's the sort of change in behavior that could never take place when people were dismissing MLS out of hand. Blanco triggered that.

I was still a bit skeptical of how real it was until I saw it first hand. For all their laidback reputation, LA sports crowds are fairly loyal - I've never seen a stadium erupt like the HDC did when Blanco scored for the Fire against Chivas USA.

Closing out the year

A couple more Solo mentions.

US: Best goal of 2007

In a year that started off with Landon Donovan scoring a penalty against Denmark and culminated with Steve Cherundolo scoring at South Africa, the United States national team scored quite a few goals in 2007. There were 29 goals scored in between Donovan's PK and Cherundolo's match winner.

Of all the 31 goals the US scored this year, though, some stood out from the rest. While Donovan's scoring run during the Gold Cup was historic, it wasn't exactly stirring. After all, PKs are PKs, whether they are emotional or not.

Really, there were a few goals that stood out. Donovan's breakaway to put the nail in the coffin in the United States' 2-0 win against Mexico in Arizona in February was memorable. So was his strike against Ecuador in March... the third goal. Goals 1 and 2 were nice but 3 was a beauty.

But easily the best goal of the year for the U.S. was Benny Feilhaber's goal against Mexico on June 24. Feilhaber's volley wasn't just a wonderfully executed strike, it was an emotional match winner in the best rivalry this region has to offer. And it came in the confederation championship. When you think of it in those terms, it's one of the top goals the U.S. has scored in the last 10 years.

Anyway, here's the goal for you to re-live.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

TFC tops in Canada

After TFC played the Galaxy late in the year, Todd Dunivant was signing autographs for a few fans while reporters passed by on the way to the locker rooms for interviews. Todd, bedsides being one of the top left backs in the league, is bright and articulate. That's why back in his Galaxy days he was always a favorite of the local press (pre-Beckham reporters, we call ourselves) and a few of us stopped to say hello and ask him what life was like with the Canadian club.

Todd greeted Scott French, Llew Llewellyn and I with remarkable cheerfulness considering his club was dead last in the league. We soon found out that the ardent fanbase at BMO field goes a long way to warding off despair.

"They're incredible," Todd said. "They never give up on us. We've been through so much this year with injuries and changes. They've been there each step of the way and they keep cheering. I've never seen anything like it."

After what Todd said, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that they're even getting out the vote during the offseason.

Hope Solo makes the list

Solo made the important roster list for the Four Nations Cup. She has also made it onto a few other lists lately.

Funny that Solo made
this year-end Seattle list, but the new Seattle MLS team did not.

Solo also made this list.

And this one.

Hope also made the list in Australia, which surprised me until I realized there are a heck of a lot of Americans on their list - is no one doing anything dumb in the Outback?

There always has to be the sportswriter-who-doesn't-know-soccer-chiming-in list.

The "Finally, a non-standard answer!" list.


Saturday, December 29, 2007

David's take on Hope

Although he doesn't mention Solo by name, English goalkeeper David James gives his opinion on part of her situation.

At any moment. . .

A friend and I watch Bear Grylls on the Discovery Channel (Man vs Wild) now and again. Though we agree that Bear is cute and his program interesting, we also think he's a bit dramatic, especially when he references the danger of whatever it is that he's doing, always including statistics on how many people have died doing something similar.

"I could die at any moment!" has become a catchphrase for us now, and we'll say it mockingly before something mundane, such as when we're crossing the street.

The truth is that sometimes, death does come that quickly, even in the beautiful game.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

InterLiga officials

Let the complaining begin!

The officials were announced for each game of InterLiga save the finals. Every year, it seems as if participating teams always find things to complain about and complaints about the officiating are often at the top of the list. To the participating teams, all of these officials will be no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing officials (okay, sorry there, got carried away Holes-style). Really, the officials are in a no-win situation. Some of these officials are decent MLS refs, some are terrible but to the Mexican teams an MLS ref is seemingly a terrible referee, regardless of who he is.

I will say that I hope the Cruz Azul-Pumas game here at HDC is not one that the official has a hand in deciding. That's the match (and the ref) that scares me.

Here are the details, straight from the press release.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008
Group B: Monterrey vs. Pumas (19:00) – Pizza Hut Park (Dallas, Texas)Referee – Ricardo Salazar
Group B: Cruz Azul vs. San Luis (21:30) – Pizza Hut Park (Dallas, Texas) Referee– Baldomero Toledo

Thursday, January 3, 2008
Group A: Toluca vs. Atlas (19:00) – Robertson Stadium (Houston, Texas)Referee– Terry W. Vaughn
Group A: Morelia vs. América (21:30) – Robertson Stadium (Houston, Texas) Referee– Arkadiusz Prus

Saturday, January 5, 2008
Group B: Cruz Azul vs. Monterrey (19:00) – Robertson Stadium (Houston, Texas) Referee- Jorge Gonzalez
Group B: San Luis vs Pumas (21:30) - Robertson Stadium (Houston, Texas)Referee – Jair Marrufo

Sunday, January 6, 2008
Group A: Club América vs. Toluca (16:00) – Pizza Hut Park (Dallas, Texas)Referee – Kevin Stott
Group A: Atlas vs. Morelia (18:30) - Pizza Hut Park (Dallas, Texas)Referee – Mark Geiger

Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Group B: Monterrey vs. San Luis (18:00) - The Home Depot Center (Carson, California)Referee– Abiodun Okulaja
Group B: Pumas vs. Cruz Azul (20:15) - The Home Depot Center (Carson, California)Referee – Michael Kennedy

Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Group A: Toluca vs. Morelia (18:00) - The Home Depot Center (Carson, California)Referee – Tim Weyland
Group A: Atlas vs. Club América (20:15) – The Home Depot Center (Carson, California) Referee – Brian Hall


The Beeb gets down with the Queen and Becks.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A merry little (late) Christmas

This year I downsized the gift glut. I focused more on keeping my sanity, spending quality time with family and appreciating the little things. I found a couple of projects I thought were interesting and worth a donation.

Anyway, as 2008 approaches, the inevitable "look back" impulse strikes. Luis and I started this blog almost exactly a year ago and there's no way we could have predicted half the things that ended up becoming topics here.

Hopefully, we've given readers a glimpse of what the soccer world looks like from our viewpoint, and I hope the perspective is an enlightening one.

Any suggestions for what the soccer story of the year was? I'm curious to see if there will be a range of opinions or an obvious consensus on this one.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

I just wanted to wish everyone out there a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season. I appreciate everything our beloved readers have done for us this year in supporting this blog and our writing efforts elsewhere.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Shrugging big shoulders

Chicago fans may still be fuming that Juan Carlos Osorio has moved on to New York so quickly. To a certain extent, there might be a little deja vu going on, seeing as how Bob Bradley was a beloved Chicago coach who jilted the team for New York as well.

Bradley had the courtesy to lead the Fire to a title first, but in some ways, his move was more wrenching because of that.

Chicago fans have to feel a bit like the local girl who is loyal to her guy, but gets dumped as soon as he does anything noteworthy and gets attention from the big-city floozie.

Ah well, the consolation Fire fans may take is that if history holds true, Osorio is in for nothing but pain and heartache with New York.

As for the Fire, a dream coaching candidate may not be on the immediate horizon. The club has to know that Denis Hamlett won't stay an assistant forever. I especially don't see him taking orders from another coach making that jump - meaning that if the Fire bring in Paul Mariner, I don't expect Hamlett to stay.

Apparently, Jesse Marsch's name has been connected to the opening, though there's no evidence of an interview yet. Marsch had a productive season with Chivas USA (gaining notoriety with this incident).

I've thought Marsch would make an excellent coach for some time, and he actually has more experience than one might think, because he's earned the USSF license. If Marsch takes the job, it won't be because he needs to give up his playing career, but that the Fire post is simply too good to pass up.

The most successful teams in MLS are usually noted for their continuity. The candidate who views Chicago as that special someone they'd love to stay with for a good while would be an ideal pick.

Jared in stripes

Jared Borgetti went north after all, just not that far north.

Instead of heading to Major League Soccer, Jared Borgetti joined Monterrey of the Mexican first division. Although Borgetti already said he hoped to lead the league in goals, he's well past his sell-by date. In 1998, when Borgetti's best days were in front of him perhaps he could have lived up to those lofty aspirations. But time has caught up to Borgetti quickly.

Monterrey's biggest offseason acquisition, however, is not Borgetti but rather Robert de Pinho, who used to play for Atlas... and about a dozen other clubs. De Pinho left Atlas for PSV Eindhoven, later went to Real Betis and moved to Al-Ittihad, which coincidentally was Borgetti's former club. With Humberto Suazo an option up top, I don't think Borgetti will even see the field much except as a late-game substitute.

There was some buzz about Borgetti joining MLS and either going to Kansas City or Colorado. That he did not is nobody's loss. Borgetti is a relic, not a capable player. He's a shadow of his old self, which frankly was not that great to begin with. Yes, he's scored a ton of goals but he's not limber and doesn't play defense. He relies heavily on service and doesn't create many chances on his own.

Worse, his surly attitude can be cancerous. I think the moment I lost some respect for Borgetti was when he was with Pachuca in 2005. Pachuca were playing Chivas in a Copa Libertadores match. It was the second round and Pachuca were at Chivas and needed a win in the second leg to advance to the quarterfinals. Pachuca had gotten Jose Cardozo as a reinforcement and that apparently did not sit well with Borgetti. It got even worse for him when Cardozo started over Borgetti, who sat on the bench and fumed. In the second half, coach Jose Luis Trejo was going to make a substitution and called for Borgetti who just walked slowly toward his boss. Trejo asked Borgetti if he would go in the game. Borgetti looked at the field with a spacey look in his eyes and shook his head and said no. Trejo immediately motioned for another player to go in and Borgetti went and sat back down.

While he's scored the most-ever goals for the Mexican national team, Borgetti is not exactly a player I'd want on my team. He's a nice enough guy - though he blew all the media off after Mexico's 1-1 tie with Italy in the 2002 World Cup - but nice doesn't translate into "quality soccer player," which Borgetti is most certainly not.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Things we won't see in '08

Well, we'll probably see Frank Yallop, but not in a Galaxy uniform. The old Galaxy logo has also officially become vintage gear.

Also, Galaxy media dude David Beltran is leaving to take on a job with with the team's biggest fan, LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Actually, he's not the Galaxy's biggest fan, despite what this picture shows.

"My name is Nery"

Not a lot of Mexican national team players speak English.

Yes, I know. That's a shocking revelation.

But it represents more than just where the players hail from and their upbringing. It shows the average Mexican international and their lack of experience abroad, though it is something that is quickly changing.

Still, over the years Mexican internationals have played domestically in overwhelming numbers. Up until 18 months ago, the number of Mexicans abroad for several years was pretty much one - Rafael Marquez. After the 2006 World Cup, European clubs wised up and gave players contracts. Some worked out (Carlos Salcido), some didn't (Kikin Fonseca). But nonetheless the doors continued opening and now other players are crossing the Atlantic (most notably Andres Guardado).

While they are in their new lands, chances are the players will become bilingual. It just makes sense - if you are going to work in Germany and live in Germany, you may as well speak German. So now for every country save Spain where Mexicans go, perhaps they will pick up the local language.

Yet for all the inroads Mexicans have made, El Typical Tri player still hasn't gotten a shot at England. Perhaps Jared Borgetti ruined it for Mexicans, with his ill-fated stint with Bolton.

Now another Mexican comes along and finally has the chance to fix whatever mess Borgetti left. Nery Castillo is property of Manchester City now, albeit on a loan basis. How he'll do remains to be seen but my guess is he'll do just fine. Castillo isn't exactly your typical tri player, though. Hardly, actually. He was born in Mexico, moved to Uruguay when he was young, came up with a Uruguayan club and went off to Greece where he found success.

Now, I have no idea how many languages Castillo speaks. My guess is two - Spanish and Greek. Maybe somewhere along the line he picked up another language or three. But if English isn't one of them, perhaps in a year's time he'll speak English fluently.

He'd join some select company among his international teammates.

It used to be you could count on one hand the number of regular Mexican national team players who spoke English. A couple of reporter friends joked that at the 1998 World Cup they always chased down Luis Garcia because he spoke English. My buddies didn't know it then apparently but Francisco Palencia also speaks English fluently and has since he was young.

Gerardo Torrado speaks English, but he is pretty temperamental and many times won't answer in English. Incidentally, temperamental is a nice way of saying he's an asshole.

Rafael Marquez also speaks English and he tends to be pretty talkative.

Pavel Pardo speaks pretty good English. It's broken English, of course, but he strings together sentences just fine. I was impressed because I wouldn't have thought he knew the language.

Paco Palencia, though, probably speaks the language the best of all those minus Garcia. Haven't ever heard him talk. Moises Munoz of Morelia also speaks English pretty good. He lived here, in Redwood City, Calif., from fourth grade through middle school. But these last two probably have seen their last days with El Tri so it'll only do my English-speaking colleagues good to track them down during InterLiga.

There are probably some more Mexican internationals who could read this blog entry just fine that I don't know about. Potentially Nery Castillo could be among them.

So why is it important and significant if Nery Castillo speaks English? If he is able to communicate with the English-speaking media both here in the US and in England, more people would become familiar with him through reading stories on him or watching interviews with him. And with the rivalry that exists between the US and Mexico, it would be great if Mexico's best players spoke English.

The US's best player, Landon Donovan, speaks Spanish and he's hounded by Spanish-speaking media. If similar circumstances were reversed and English-speaking media in the US approached Castillo and Marquez with the same tenacity as their Spanish-speaking colleagues, there'd be much more intrigue and drama surrounding US-Mexico games than there already is.

Are the French coming?

Lyon is probably the most well-known and successful French team of all time. But is that enough for the U.S.? Do they draw fans here?

Anyway, a source (an agent working for the club) told me that he was negotiating to bring the team to Los Angeles for a friendly, perhaps against Chivas USA.

He was discouraged, though, by the apathy toward the idea in general. It's true that friendlies in the U.S. have tended towards really big clubs like Chelsea, Real Madrid, Milan, or Barcelona, but Lyon is a quality club.

I wonder whether any of our readers would be excited to see Lyon in action here.

Ryan on rules

Greg Ryan looks back on the World Cup.

I wonder what team meal Hope missed? Breakfast? Dinner? Is every meal one that is accounted for by the team - no eating any meals with family, etc? I mean, pro teams have rules all the time that if you miss practice, or a team meeting, or are late, you get benched. If the same applies to a team meal, then Hope shouldn't have been surprised to be benched. On the other hand, Ryan himself says that one incident like that wouldn't get a player benched. Later on, though, he seems to imply that Hope stayed out late more than once. He doesn't mention curfew violations, though, so perhaps the team didn't have a curfew at all, or Ryan was told later by some players that Hope violated it without getting caught. Or perhaps her late nights were simple insomnia?

Just from watching the goalkeepers perform in practice for Pia, I am pretty astounded to read that Hope was ever letting in three times as many shots as Briana.

I find it a bit curious that Ryan mentions the youth of the team when one of my criticisms of his coaching would be that he underused many of the young players on the World Cup team. Wagner, I can understand perhaps, because of her injury, but to hardly play Tarpley, for example, seemed a poor choice.

Ryan does make a great point about his team's record, but I do think he overlooks how badly the World Cup made him look. I'm not sure this article improves that.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hope thinks about it

Here's Zeigler's article about Solo. His article starts with the answer to a question I asked - "What was the worst part of the entire experience for you?" When she talked to me, Hope stammered slightly, then sighed and told me she couldn't be sure.

By the time Zeigler talked to her, I think Hope had figured it out.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Young Tri in LA

The Mexican national team has always been a big draw in SoCal. I remember when Mexico and South Africa played in the 2005 Gold Cup at Home Depot Center. That was one of the most hectic times I remember at HDC. The traffic outside the stadium was crazy and I parked very far away. I missed the first five minutes of the game because of the traffic and crowd and the like.

But in March, we'll find out of the young Mexican national team will have the same appeal as the senior team. Mexico's Under-23 team will compete at Home Depot Center in March as El Tri will try and qualify for the 2008 Summer Olympics. The group will also include Canada, Haiti and Guatemala. The top two teams will advance to the all-important semifinal round in Nashville, Tenn. and the semifinal winners will reach the Olympics.

El sub-23 Tri could feature Giovani Dos Santos and Carlos Vela but it may not. Mexico officials have grumbled about the possible absences of these two Spanish-based players. Still, without the starpower Gio and Vela bring, the young Tri should have plenty of support.

Doubleheader dates at HDC will be on March 12, 14 and 16, a Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Will they be sellouts? I doubt it, but I think there will some decent-sized crowds. I think the young Tri will draw more fans for each of their three games than the US senior side when it plays Sweden on Jan. 19. I know, I'm going out on a big limb there.

Cults of personality

A reader left a comment asking about the personal styles of the national team coaches, in terms of how that affected training.

I thought about it for a while, and came up with a few observations.

Bob Bradley is all business. I've never seen or heard him crack a joke during practice. He's intense, and that filters down to his players. They focus because he always demands concentration. Funny has a place - off the field.

Bruce Arena had more of a jokester turn. He'd call out things to players, usually a humorous insult or observation of some kind. It would lighten things up a bit for players, and I think it also served as a sort of bonding ritual - to get razzed by Bruce. That seemed to encourage players to do that to each other as well. It seems to me that players walking off the field after training with Bruce were always kidding each other more than they are now.

I remember when Bob Holtzman, another reporter, was working on a Bradley story soon after Bob had gotten the interim post. He asked players to give an example of Bob telling a joke or funny story.

Every player he talked to said yes, Bob did have a sense of humor that he occasionally displayed, but not a single one could think of a joke he'd told.

Another quirk I remember about Bradley, something I don't recall Arena doing, is that Bradley stands in goal sometimes during scrimmages or shooting drills. No, he doesn't play goalkeeper. He stands in the goal, perhaps to watch the shooting form of players from there. I'm not sure if the viewing angle is different than standing safely behind the goal. Anyway, I never remember Arena doing that, though he in fact was once a goalkeeper.

In general, though, what I've observed about a lot of soccer practices is that no matter who is in charge, they run through a lot of the same stuff. Small-sided scrimmages, skill work, shooting drills, etc.

Overall, though, I think the Bradley Era may differ from the Arena one partly because of circumstance. Expectations have really grown for the national team. The 2006 World Cup was a disappointment because fans wanted so much more. The entire squad was going to have a higher level of pressure under Bradley, and consequently, a more serious tone, because of the feeling that people care about the team now, that results matter. So it wasn't just Bradley that contributed to a more somber tone.

Arena and his players rode the high of 2002 for a while (perhaps for far too long, considering how Arena clung to some instrumental players from that time, like Reyna and O'Brien).

What I've observed is that even good coaches have styles that sometimes mesh better with some players than with others. The spark that they bring to a national team, however, can settle into a routine after a while. Inspiration is a tricky thing - what worked once often won't work again, simply because it worked before. A type of ennui can set in.

I think Bruce stayed Bruce, but wasn't as effective doing exactly what had worked before as time went on. That's why I believe that Bob shouldn't stay on as national team coach even if the U.S. performs well in 2010. I hope he takes the initiative to move on of his own volition.

There are reasons why national teams around the world, including the most successful ones, change coaches so often. Clubs are different, obviously, with a number of leaders lasting for years and years. With a national team, though, one needs constant fresh ideas, tactics, evaluations and the ability to energize players quickly.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Guessing games

I asked Landon Donovan at the end of the season how the team would adjust to the potential loss of Chris Albright or Joe Cannon.

The reason I asked was that I'd been mulling potential offseason changes and it struck me that Joe and Chris would be attractive trade bait and that the Galaxy might be willing to make a deal on them for a few reasons.

1) Both are proven commodities, at or near the top of their position at the MLS level, so teams would have added incentive to actually deal something solid for those players.

2) Their salaries are large enough that unloading them would give the Galaxy salary cap wiggle room for new players.

3) Younger, cheaper players are already on the team who can play their position - if not as well, then adequately (Cronin for Cannon and Randolph or Klein for Albright).

With that in mind, I figured there was a good chance one or the other, or both, would be gone.

Landon looked a little pained at my question. Chris and Joe are both good friends of his. But he gave his honest answer (I'm saving it for if and when the trade goes through).

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Things learned from the tour

Well, it apparently is possible to convert rugby fans, at least for a day, but more then ever, the Galaxy players feel the pressure to make the buzz about something more solid.

Pretty much everybody involved with the team has something similar to prove at this point - that it's not empty hype - but they all have to wait till next year to prove it in meaningful competition.

Captain K

Peter Nowak is obviously following my advice, naming Sacha Kljestan U23 captain for the China games.

Move on.USWNT

O.K, it's not an actual website, just what I gauged to be the general mood of the WNT.

What if, though, the media continue to make a fuss about the World Cup controversy? Will the public hold the incident against the team?

"I would think the public has to move on if they realize that we’ve all moved on," said Hope Solo.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Joe Cool

A report out of DC says LA goalkeeper Joe Cannon is headed their way. I'm not surprised. I ran into Joe the last time I was at the Home Depot Center and got curious when he avoided questions about his future with the Galaxy. Joe's usually pretty forthcoming. Another source didn't say where Joe was headed, but that's when I figured something was in the works.

Media musings

The day Pia Sundhage opened her first camp as the U.S. women's national team's new coach, I thought I was the only media member there. Then the team's press officer called me over to a different area to conduct player interviews and I realized Billy Witz was also at the practice.

We talked a bit about how it seemed that women's soccer had become big news for a short while, but somehow, that hadn't lasted to generate much press interest on how the team was doing now.

I also talked briefly to the team's security officer. "It's nothing like the days of Mia - wow, the screaming in those days was incredible," he told me.

I'm sure that in some ways, the players might welcome a break from some of the negative publicity they received for a while, but there's a flip side to the media moving on to other stories.


When colts dream by the sea.

Resort champs

Many Americans visit Mexico each year, but it's often to places like Acapulco, Cancun and Cabo San Lucas. I've frequented only one real resort city, Mazatlan, and once you get away from the Zona Dorada you pretty much see the real Mexico, well, the one I prefer anyway. Many times, these resort cities don't represent what Mexico is all about. You have to go away from the touristy areas to experience that. I'd suggest a trip to Guanajuato or Morelia/Quiroga/Patzcuaro to get a taste of Mexico.

Soccer and resort cities also don't often mix. If you take a trip to Acapulco, for instance, and want to see a first division soccer game, you're out of luck. That's been the case for years.

Except for now, you have options. Not only does Cancun feature top-flight futbol, their team is pretty good. Champions in fact.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Hat trick hero

Impressive scoring total for a defensive midfielder. Perhaps it's time for Bob to start becoming known as Michael Bradley's father?

Made in China

Or rather, trying to make the Olympic team by impressing on an early trip to China.

Not good enough for the Rapids

One of the storylines I've followed with interest from the Apertura 2007 season was the play of Alain Nkong. The Cameroonian was deemed unworthy of continuing with the Rapids and tried his luck in Mexico. He latched on with Atlante and was one of the last players signed prior to the start of the season.

Not only did Nkong earn playing time, he was an important part of the championship puzzle as Atlante won the league for the first time since 1993. looked at the champions, player by player, from the starters down to the bench players. Here's what they had to say about the former Rapids player.

Atlante had a lethal weapon who stepped onto the field when the battle was on its way toward culminating. The African Alain Nkong, a strong forward with exceptional speed and explosiveness and very persistent - he agreed to terms at nearly the final hour - but he wound up as an icon for the Cancun fans. He started eight games but his most important contributions were in the 13 games he appeared as a substitute in which he helped spark the Atlante offense as he took the ball with speed throughout the field. He scored four goals.

¡Campeones del Apertura 2007!

Atlante are the kings of Mexico. Los Potros Hierros, or the Iron Colts, beat Pumas UNAM on Sunday by 2-1 to win the Mexican league title. It's the club's first title since 1993 and, as far as I could tell, the first major soccer trophy the city of Cancun has laid claim to. Atlante relocated from Mexico City to Cancun prior to the start of the season.

Though they aren't a headlining club, Atlante earned their championship and proved to be the best team in Mexico this season. Atlante knocked off a strong Cruz Azul club in the quarterfinals, beat one of the best defensive clubs in Chivas in the semifinals and finished off its successful playoff run by beating the hottest team in Mexico and the giant-slayers of Pumas, who had beaten top seed Santos and second-seeded Toluca in the first two rounds.

Atlante may have caught lightning in the bottle this season. Newcomer Giancarlo Maldonado was magnificent as he shredded opposing defenses and the club's newfound dedication to defense paid off. Also, the move to Cancun helped energize the club. Whether or not Atlante can sustain its high level of play in the Clausura 2008 season remains to be seen but for now the club is the reigning monarchs of Mexico.

Sunday, December 9, 2007


Trojans win it all.

Pia speaks

Sorry there isn't much video - it's hard to hold the camera steady and ask questions and record questions at the same time. My little digital recorder is just at the bottom of the frame. Pia's response was describing her coaching style a bit.

It looks like Hope is still in darkness, but nothing metaphorical is meant by that - it's just my digital camera doesn't get great shots at night over any distance.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Pia in charge

Pia Sundhage's first day of training camp featured a mix of veterans and some young hopefuls. Who can name the players shown? The person whose back is to the camera, center, is Pia.

You gotta have heart

I asked Arturo Alvarez what precipitated his dynamic season this year at FC Dallas.

I think I’d have to say it was self-confidence. I think that was what was kind of lacking in the few years before. I think this year, I went in there and got the chance to start and I took advantage of it. I think that what helped me the most was that I was really confident. Every time I’d get the ball I’d go at people and know my strengths. Obviously, I worked hard and it paid off.

I also asked about his reputation as an outstanding practice player who would get hesitant in actual games, "What'd you do this season, pretend every game was really practice?"

Pretty much. In practice, I would just go out there and have fun. I guess in that transition from practice to the games, for some reason I was scared to do the things that I could do and would just come naturally. But this past year, that just opened up and I’m looking forward to that opening up even more and hopefully next year I’ll have and even better year than this past year. Confidence is the most important thing for a soccer player. Obviously, the coaches and the other players, you’ve got to have a good friendship with them, but I think confidence is the main thing.

USvsBrazil running blog

This is going to be intermittent, since I'm multitasking, but the under U17 U.S. team is playing Brazil in the Nike Friendlies.

Starting U.S. lineup: Earl Edwards

Estanilao Arevalo Jared Watts Perry Kitchen

Joe Gyau Marlon Duran

Jack McInerney Carlos Martinez

Charles Renken

Stefan Jerome

In the first five minutes, the U.S. started well, but Brazil found their stride pretty quickly.

Ten minutes later, it's still mostly Brazil, but the U.S. has kept the South Americans off the board even while playing less than their best. Duran has been impressive. Charles Renken a bit jittery.

18- Joeseph Gyau to
McInerney whose low shot is on target, but saved. He was sliding to put in the shot, and didn't get a lot of power from it.
28- GOAL! US. Gyau with a looping pass to Martinez and the little winger jumps for it, catching it on the side of his foot for a volley. Nice, nice.
32- The US is playing a man down as Arrevalo is out because of an injury. He took an knee in the head during a tackle.
35- Arrevalo is out again, this time stretchered off. Tyler Polak is coming in for him.
38- Matteaus of Brazil with a shot in the box that barely goes wide.
39- Now Brazil has a player down. Felipe.
45- FK for the U.S. Duran takes it, puts it wide.
Wilmer Cabrerra could really put an exclamation point on his start as U.S. U17 coach with a win over Brazil. The U.S. stared fast, then struggled a bit, then settled down to the back and forth physical play of the match. Renken looked overwhelmed at the start, but increased in confidence as the match went on.
2nd half
47- This is a fast-paced match in the heat - the players are going to be knackered afterwards.
48- Cutinho of Brazil is simply awesome. He's created almost every chance for the Brazilians.
50- Gyau earns a free kick - it eventually leads to a shot opportunity for Renken - Brazil saves.
51- Renken is only 13 - I interviewed him for an article last year when he was twelve. He's the nicest guy, from Zambia and adopted by Americans.
53- Mauricio fouls Renken, coming down on Renken's ankle after the ball is already passed. Bad foul, gets a yellow, could have gotten a red. Renken stretchered off. He rolled the ankle pretty bad.
57- Renken, like Arevalo earlier, comes back in, but let's see if he lasts. He's on the ground, trying to stretch the ankle out right now. Edson Lemus is coming in for Renken, who looks to be cramping in addition to the ankle difficulty.
60- Watts thumps a long free kick to
McInerney, who earns a free kick, but Brazil counter quickly and get a shot off that goes wide.
62- Wellington charges for a ball right into Edwards, who is remarkably calm holding the ball in the crash.
64- The U.S. is scrambling. Renken's possession skills are missed. The U.S. is havng trouble holding the ball.
66-Coutinho sets up another shot with an assist after losing a couple of defenders, but Edwards saves it. Martinez has dropped back to defend.
67- Another save from Edwards.
68- Shot of Bob Bradley and U20 coach Thomas Rongen watching the game - guess who was doing all the talking? If you picked Rongen, you'd be wrong.
70- Dogged defending from the U.S. is frustrating Brazil, but they may be wearing the Americans down.
71- Danilo with an outside shot. The U.S. will give up that shot all day - Edwards has time to save it.
McInerney goes off for Jaime Gutierrez.
75- Eran gets a yellow - Jerome fouled him, but Eran then shoved him.
76- Dangerous Brazil freekick. Fernando lines it up. He fired toward goal, but Edwards saves it. Edwards is so well positioned that it looks like every shot is being hit towards him - the benefit of early preparation.
80- PK! GOAL! Jerome battles near the corner of the box and Venesius goes down and ends up falling on the ball, handling it. Jerome slams it home. 2-0 U.S. lead.
82- Brazil is out of position on free throw. The ref blows the whistle on it and the Brazilian coach flips out about it. U.S. get possession. Brazil look upset, just like their coach. This isn't going to help their play.
84- Brazil has a freekick, Edwards claims the service.
86- Brazil tried to throw in from the sideline again. The ref whistles it again. It's true that a lot of teams cheat forward on throws, but Brazil is taking it even further. Carvalho twofoots Duran, who was quietly playing very solid. Shoving breaks out, even as the ref shows Carvalho a yellow. Matteaus is shown a red. I think he punched someone, but I'm not positive.
89- Duran is down for a while, stretchered off. The refs are trying to get Matteaus to leave the bench area. There really isn't a locker room for him to go to. The coach is arguing. Finally, Matteaus goes behind the bench. That's pretty silly of Brazil. An assistant coach could have walked him back to the players' tent. I'm sure they also know the FIFA red card rule is that you have to leave the field area completely.
90+ Andrew Craven on for Jerome. Everybody on the U.S. team defending. Oooh, a header from Brazil off a nice cross. It's wide.
Dangerous Brazil freekick - just outside the box. This is a test for Edwards. Jefferson takes it. It hists the wall. Watts regains his composure and clears. The finals whistle blows. Fans (and a lot of residency teammates) storm the field in celebration. A Brazilian player gets a late red card - I guess he pushed a U.S. player who was celebrating or something.
It's a big win for the U.S.

Friday, December 7, 2007

U23 update

The U23 team will be leaving for China at around midnight tonight. One person who won't be going with the team is Nathan Sturgis. He's suffered a calf injury.

Coach Peter Nowak still hasn't decided on a captain for the squad, although he mentioned something I'd forgotten - Sacha Kljestan captained the U23 squad the last time the age group got together for a short trip to Japan.

But Nowak seemed impressed at the overseas experience of some of the players now on the squad, pointing out how the pressure of the soccer-obsessed atmosphere over there forced greater consistency in their performances. So he might end up picking someone like Charlie Davies.

USC vs UCLA running blog

It's the women's NCAA semifinal and the UCLA women are making another deep foray into the tournament they have never won. They are the only number one seed left in the competition, and they are facing their crosstown rivals for a chance at the title.
It's scoreless in the first half right now. Sorry I'm late picking this up. USC's defense has held off the Bruins thus far.
UCLA is no doubt the favorite, and they're putting pressure on USC, but these teams always play close matches, even if UCLA has dominated the recent rivalry in terms of results.
15- Val Henderson out to grab a cross to kill a USC counter.
19- Shot from Lauren Cheney from distance - wide, but not by too much.
20- Corner for UCLA - Danesha Adams takes it, gets cleared for UCLA throw, bad pass by UCLA kills that attack.
21- Chance for USC, ball over the top for Amy Rodriguez gets headed by UCLA defender to Henderson but not far enough. Rodriguez nearly beats her defender to ball before Henderson grabs it. Rodriguez wants a penalty for defender grabbing her, but she's not going to get it.
23- UCLA on a counter serves up a ball for Kara Lang. She gets a header off, but nothing doing - it's wide.
25- USC takes off on a counter, UCLA seems to have trouble adjusting to that. They look so intent on offense that they seem a bit on their heels when they have to defend.
26- Kristina Larsen with an outside shot - on frame and low, giving the goalkeeper time to get down. Not sure UCLA should settle for outside shots.
27- Ball booted by Henderson over the endline. Service needs to be sharper to have a chance of penetrating USC's defense.
29- Lauren Wilmoth with a great cross to Danesha Adams in front of goal. Adams with a volleyed redirect misses the goal - ouch! Great chance lost.
30- Christina DiMartino with another outside shot for UCLA - it's wide. It wasn't a bad shot, but I think more runs need to be made closer to goal.
33- Just as I criticize UCLA, they have a great attacking sequence with tons of pressure on the USC defense. DiMartino jukes a defender in the box to get a shot off that Olsen dives to save.
35- Cheney gets the ball at top of box, turns and shoots, but it's straight to Olsen.
37- GOAL! Cheney doesn't make the same mistake twice. She gets the ball from Larsen, then turns against her defender, breaking into space, stutter steps to confuse another pair of defenders running to provide cover, heads into the box and cuts her shot into the corner away from Olsen. Great goal.
39- USC wins a FK - it has a decent chance, Kasey Johnson gets a head on it - Henderson is off her line, but makes an overhead catch to make the save.
42- UCLA has definitely taken their foot off the gas. They haven't shot the ball since the goal - oops, spoke too soon - Cheney just launched one from outside. High.
It was pretty much all UCLA, though USC looked dangerous in their counter opportunities. If USC had kept it scoreless to the half, I'd have given them the edge in the match anyway, despite the shot disparity for UCLA. The Bruins would have probably been really frustrated after so many chances came to nothing. The ghosts of the past College Cup failures would have probably made them jittery. Cheney actually scored on one of the most difficult chances in the entire match.
Second half
46- FK in the early going for SC, Sandoval is on target and Henderson just punches it over, the corner kick leads to a shot that knocks the wind out of Adams. The free throw leads to a redirected USC shot from a difficult angle that Henderson saves.
48- SC with great fighting spirit in the second half, showing that they can do more than defend. UCLA is getting manhandled, actually, and need to regain focus. They're getting beaten to the loose balls on pure hustle. USC is a really fit team.
49- Olsen out for a high ball against Adams as UCLA finally gets into USC territory this half.
51- UCLA with better rhythm, Cheney mishits the final pass.
55- Rodriguez spins free for a shot from a ways out, but it's wide.
57- Larsen lays ball back for Cheney, but it's not a great angle on the shot and Olsen saves it well.
58- USC with a free kick, hard and on target. Henderson can't catch it, so she tips it over for a corner. Sandoval takes - it clears everyone for a deep UCLA free throw.
60- Barnes steals from a USC player and hits a hard knuckler that Olsen barely puts over the bar. UCLA is called for a foul on the ensuing corner.
62- DiMartino is down, looks like an injury of some kind. Alma Playle comes into the match. Last week, I was at the Takashi Murakami exhibit at the Geffen Contemporary Museum here in LA and Alma was there checking out the show. I didn't talk to her, but it had to be her or her twin.
65- Corner for USC, but Henderson catches the service.
67- GOAL! USC. Sandoval with good service to Rodriguez, who beats her defender and slots it home low below a diving Henderson. A slight defensive gaffe by UCLA, and Rodriguez made them pay. UCLA was perhaps pushing a bit too hard to put the game away and got caught on an excellent counter. It's a new game now.
Game resumes after a timeout. I see this going to a golden goal. UCLA has won one of those already, but I'm not sure they have an advantage here. USC seems really fit. They're moving with a lot of confidence now. UCLA could be dealing with a few ghosts now.
69- USC content to let UCLA try to figure out how they're dealing with the situation now. They know their counter-game plan, and they're sticking to it. They're going to make it difficult for UCLA to score (the UCLA goal was harder-earned than USC's) and they're going to counter when they get their chances.
74- GOAL! USC. Off a corner, Johnson battles for it and then it drops for Rodriguez, who kicks a nice half-turn shot into the upper corner. No chance for Henderson.
76- UCLA freekick taken by Barnes, but Olsen catches it pretty easily.
77- Teams have a habit of breaking their duck against UCLA when it matters. Portland beat them for the first time in the final, now USC is looking to beat UCLA for the first time in over a decade here in the semifinal. UCLA looks tired. USC looks tough.
79- Cheney passes to Wilmoth for a chance, but Wilmoth puts it over the bar.
81- Oooh, close for UCLA, Cheney through-ball for Lang, but Olsen comes out to smother. Wow - Lang was in free on goal, but couldn't quite reach the ball before Olsen blocked it.
83- UCLA looks skittish now. USC is calm, giving up space to UCLA, but not chances.
87- Free kick for UCLA is in a good spot - Yikes - Cheney hits it way high. Bad.
89- Seconds left in the game USC looks good - it's almost over, USC in the corner. Clock ticks down! It's over. UCLA is out.
Wow, UCLA got a lead but let USC back into the game and that was that. Since Florida State won versus Notre Dame, the NCAA champion will be a first-time-ever champion.

JPG to Jaguares

"Loquito" is off to another club, the second since he left Chivas USA at the end of 2006.

Meanwhile, "Paco" Palencia is in the Mexican league final - sort of. He didn't play for Pumas versus Atlante in the first leg.

The coaches' table

Coach Cobi - it's a bit of a switch for players who had Cobi Jones on board the Galaxy for so long as a teammate.

Chris Klein, however, thought the transition would be hardest on Cobi.

"It’s different for us and it’s different for him. He probably has to make more of an adjustment than we do. We go out and we hang out with mostly the same guys as we did before, but now Cobi has to sit at the coaches' table and evaluate players from a different perspective. I’ve dealt with this type of thing before, being a veteran in this league and having players move into the coaching ranks. From what I’ve seen, I think the adjustment is a bit more difficult for the player turned coach than it is for the existing players."

Chris Albright, though, pointed out that Cobi was getting help from someone who had been there - new coach Ruud Gullit.

"It’s going to be an interesting dynamic between him and the guys – having gone from being a player to now obviously the assistant coach. He’s handled it well. Coach Gullit has helped to make that transition easier on Cobi. He’s been very understanding of the dynamic between him and the players, bringing him along and helping him understand what he wants as a head coach. Cobi being the veteran that he is, and with Coach Gullit being as understanding as he is, the change has gone easier than maybe people would expect."

Beckham broken rib?

OK, so the tabloid press say David Beckham broke a rib while playing Sydney FC. They even have a quote from him about it.

Yet he soldiered on playing the next match in Wellington. Now, of course, a broken rib isn't like playing on an injured ankle, but still painful.

Working on an article about the tour, I decided to check with the Galaxy about David's injury. Here's the response I got from the Galaxy's press officer via email: David did not suffer any broken ribs. He had an X-Ray but it turned out negative.

Who to believe? I decided to take the reference to the ribs out of my article, since I couldn't find any other verification of the report. A lot of articles mentioned the ribs, but they all seemed to be quoting bits of the same article, even though they didn't all credit it.

Becks says on his blog that he bruised his rib.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Not so happy campers

Normally a call-up to a national team camp is a great thing, and the chance to impress new coach Pia Sundhage before the Olympics is an amazing thing. But for some players, there has to be a twinge of disappointment.
Certain players called into Sundhage's mini-camp probably expected to be in the NCAA College Cup right now. Tobin Heath, Yael Averbuch and Casey Nogueira of UNC, for example, won't be defending the title they won last year.
Angie Woznuk of Portland certainly did everything she could to keep Portland from going out versus UCLA in overtime, but to no avail.
All the World Cup goalkeepers are on the roster. Heather Mitts is back from her ACL injury. A number of veterans - such as Wambach, Boxx, Rampone and Markgraf return as well. Conspicuous by her absence is Kristine Lilly. I'm not sure if she's decided to retire, though. It could be Pia doesn't have to see her because she's such a known entitity.
Or she could have an excuse to miss the camp like Stephanie Lopez, who is getting married this month.

The Olympic motto

"Swifter, Higher, Stronger."

A new dimension

The tall and the short of the U23 team.

Chris Seitz is a big guy - he's 6'4. Incidently, this makes him taller than every forward in the U.S. national team pool. However, it only ties him with another young goalkeeper, Brad Guzan. Oguchi Onyewu is also the same height.

Mike Randolph, on the other hand, is the littlest guy in the current Olympic team camp. He's 5'7. I'm assuming Peter Nowak, who is the same size himself, won't hold that against him. Besides, Mike is fast.

So is Marvell Wynne. So is Robbie Findley.

I feel like I'm one of the few people who can actually recall Jozy Altidore being shorter than 6 feet. That was back in his U17 national team days, when he was fifteen. By the time he'd entered the MLS combine at sixteen, Jozy had hit six feet, though his player bio took a bit of time to update that fact. Now, at 18, Jozy is 6'1, but the biggest change I noted interviewing him this time was how much muscle he'd packed on since I last chatted with him. He's built like a tank. It probably helps him a lot battling for position near the box.

With the majority of the squad in camp at over six feet, and while there have always been athletic standouts in U.S. teams, I have to say that the trend is probably increasing. Bigger, stronger, faster.

But Nowak didn't emphasize any of those things when I talked to him about what he was looking for to impress him at the U23 camp. He spoke about skill instead.

"It’s how they play as a team. The way of soccer, the way of imagination, creativity."

Monday, December 3, 2007

Captain Olympics

While I was waiting to interview the U23 coach, I asked a U.S. soccer official if Nowak had named a captain for the U23 squad yet. Apparently, he has not. Unlike the days when Claudio Reyna was inevitably the captain every time he played, Bob Bradley has rotated the responsibility. Nowak is likewise taking a wait-and-see tack.

My pick for the armband would be Sacha Kljestan. The Chivas USA midfielder has got all the requisite attributes of talent and the intangibles like leadership skills and common sense. He communicates well with his teammates and he knows the Bradley system backwards and forwards.

Though Jesse Marsch is not the captain of Chivas USA, he's mentored Kljestan in many ways, and a better role model for hard work, dedication and team play can't be found. Most of all, Marsch is a great example of someone who can be a coach's assistant on the field, leading by their actions.

I'm not saying Kljestan is a Marsch-mini (especially since in raw talent, he leaves his mentor behind), but he's picked up enough from him that I think his maturity reflects that.

Kljestan has senior team experience, played in college and with other youth national teams - there basically isn't anyone on the roster who can't relate to him in some way. That's important, because it's good for a captain to know where others are coming from.

Nowak made it clear, though, that this training camp will be where players will prove themselves. Sacha, or whoever is named captain, will have to earn it. The games are crucial too, because that's the real test of performance under pressure. I may think Sacha is the pick on paper, but someone else could step up to stake their own claim to that honor.

Fire the soccer blogger

Yes, I went to the U-23 practice on Sunday, the first official day of training. I interviewed Peter Nowak, Jozy Altidore and Mike Randolph. Look for an article soon on the U.S. Soccer Player's site.

"Where are the photos of training, Andrea?" I can imagine our eager readers asking. I actually took my little camera to training, but I forgot the batteries.

And no, there won't be photos of training today, either. I've been working different hours, so I can't go to training in the mornings like I once did.

Euro trivia

I'm writing a column on Euro 2008 for the PE and came across an interesting tidbit. Only one of the 16 participating nations has gotten out of the first round in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups as well as Euro 2004.

Can you name that country?

Hint: it's not England.

Mexican league... yawn... finalists

Although I follow the league closely, I can't say I'm excited for this season's final. Atlante and Pumas will meet twice this week to decide the Mexican league champion. Atlante knocked Chivas out of the playoffs after a 1-1 aggregate result while Pumas knocked off the superlider Santos by a 5-4 aggregate score.

Pumas is among the more popular clubs in Mexico but they've not played like a top team until recently. Atlante, well, they are not a traditional power at all. Their last title was in 1993, when they were led by Ricardo Lavolpe.

I think Pumas will win their sixth league title. Atlante is solid defensively but Pumas is hot right now. And after surviving Sunday's game in Santos, a game they lost 4-2, their confidence should be sky high.

Tab named NY coach

In our SIDELINE VIEWS poll, that is. Mr. Metrostars had a disappointing history with the club, due largely to a host of injuries, but there's still apparently a groundswell of genuine affection for the guy (or a lot of DC United fans voting and hoping Tab's management would mirror his playing career).

I suspect though, that part of the logic would be that Tab, in many ways, is still affiliated as being a true New York team guy. Bruce Arena might have the New Jersey accent, but his success came in Virginia and DC. Bob Bradley was a Chicago Fire pioneer. Even though it was often for worse than for better, Tab was New York from the start. That mattered to him, and it probably matters to some fans as well.

It also doesn't hurt that he was probably one of the most skillful U.S players in history. It was great to watch him play. Before I was old enough to develop a reporter's objectivity about game situations, I nursed a deep and abiding antipathy for Leonardo. The Brazilian player aimed a vicious elbow at Tab in the 1994 World Cup that should have earned a straight red. Ramos suffered a skull fracture.

During that match on Spanish television, the announcers were indignant. They'd been praising Tab all game long because he was displaying some inspired moves that day. They called him by his full name, "Tabare", emphasizing the third syllable with enthusiasm whenever he did well.

Unfortunately, that high point and the subsequent injury was an apt metaphor for much of Tab's career.

Once more into the breach

Cobi Jones made what will probably be his last appearance in a Galaxy uniform on foreign soil, coming on as a sub after Clint Mathis suffered a slight injury versus Wellington Phoenix.

I found out from a Galaxy staffer prior to the trip that the traveling roster was so depleted by injuries, that new assistant coach Cobi had agreed to stand by if needed.

Even the possibility of such a move surprised Pete Vagenas.

"That’s the first I’ve heard of it," Pete told me when I mentioned the option. "But he’s out of shape now. At his age, if you’re not training every day, you’re in trouble."

It wasn't that Pete didn't think Cobi could still be effective.

"I started the whole 'One more year thing'", said Pete, (referring to the campaign for Cobi to stay on a little longer as a player. It fizzled when Cobi accepted the coaching position instead.)

Pete was happy for Cobi, but also admitted he was a little torn about losing the winger as a teammate. "I’m a grown man, but sometimes when I don’t know how to handle certain situations, he’s someone that to this day I confide in. I couldn’t possibly have any more respect for him."

It's a little sad, perhaps, that New Zealand fans probably had little understanding of the significance of Cobi stepping on to the field one last time. On the other hand, it seems only fitting that the guy who scrapped and hustled for the Galaxy year after year answered the call one more time when his team needed him.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Wellington/Galaxy goals

Sydney-Galaxy goals

Galaxy smother Phoenix

Four goals, though Wellington went up early.

Arsenal steals first leg

America attacked ferociously and scored two goals. Arsenal did a lot of defending and scored three. Thus, Arsenal heads home with a 3-2 edge in the Copa Sudamericana final after Friday's pulsating first leg.

Here are the highlights, where you'll see America give away many chances and Arsenal take advantage of three dead ball situations aided by America mistakes.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Animo America?

It seems like it's an annual thing now, which I guess it is. What's the saying about twice being a coincidence and three times a pattern or something?

Anyway, for the third year running a Mexican team has reached the final of the Copa Sudamericana. Pumas lost to Boca Juniors on '05 and Pachuca beat Colo Colo in '06. Now, it's America's turn to go against a South American giant... um, well, okay, a South American lightweight. I'm guessing a few people think America is playing an English club.

America will play Arsenal de Sarandi tonight in the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final. Tonight's game is in Azteca and Wednesday's return leg is in Argentina.

When this has come up before, I wonder what other fans do. For instance, when Cruz Azul reached the 2001 Copa Libertadores final, it seemed like there were suddenly a lot of Cruz Azul supporters. I think that Cruz Azul gained a lot of attention and a lot of support from non-Cruz Azul fans because they were a Mexican club and were competing against a South American team in an historic event.

Now, that novelty has worn off. But the fact that a Mexican club will meet a South American team in the tourney final has not changed. So is there a feeling of support among non-America fans simply because they are from Mexico?

I would guess not. Any Chivas fan worth his/her salt is not going to support America under any circumstances, and if they do then you've got to question their mental sanity. Pumas fans, well, Tenoch and Julio summed it up best with their "Puto el que le vaya al America" mandate. I think Cruz Azul fans too would not necessarily pull for America.

But those teams have bitter rivalries with America. What about fans of Morelia or Tigres, who don't necessarily have America on their hate lists? What about Atlante fans, Tecos fans (El Guero and the five other UAG supporters) or Santos fans?

Honestly, I think that there is still an element of Mexican fans who would put country before club and support America. There are others who would not be upset if a Mexican club won Sudamericana (especially at the expense of an Argentine team) and there are others who will root hard against America. I wonder, though, which of those categories has more fans.

WARNING *** thin-skinned MLS fans might want to stop reading here ***

I guess this is one area where MLS and Mexico differ. I'm guessing if it was an MLS team, be it Houston, New England, New York or L.A., most MLS fans would get behind that club, whether they pull for that team during the season or not.

If you ask me where I stand on the topic, I think America fans should root for America and non-America fans should not. How would an America win benefit Monterrey? How did Pachuca's win last year benefit the rest of the 17 teams? I'd say the same thing if DC would have made it this far.

What's good for the goose isn't necessarily good for the gander.

Bummer for Bease

DaMarcus Beasley is done for the year. After hurting his knee in a Champions League match on Tuesday, Beasley will have surgery and will likely miss the remainder of the SPL season.

How does this affect his standing on the USMNT? In the first half of next year, Beasley probably won't play any role on it. He'll miss the Mexico game on Feb. 6 and whatever other friendlies the US schedules afterward. He could be healthy by the June qualifiers, though the US won't need him to get past Barbados/Dominica. He should be healthy by the fall and could see action in the semifinal qualifying round which starts in August.

Obviously, this is a much bigger blow for his club career. Beasley went through some tough times before settling in with Rangers and was faring well for himself. Though he won't be starting from zero once he gets back, he's going to fight another uphill battle to establish himself whenever his knee allows him to play again.

En fuego

Chivas USA lost to Fresno 3-1 on Thursday night. Don't have lineups, though I do know Lawson Vaughn played since he was in the picture accompanying the story from the Fresno Bee.

Not sure if Jesse Marsch played. I hope he got the night off to watch his beloved Packers go down in flames in Dallas. That would have been better than playing a meaningless game in Fresno. It's kind of ironic that Marsch played for so long in Soldier Field being the big Packers fan that he is.

Perfect Pumas

When the InterLiga calendar came out, I was excited that Pumas UNAM would finally be a part of the tournament. Since I began covering the tournament in 2005, Pumas hasn't been a part of the field because of their league results, both good and bad.

Now, though, they may again evade InterLiga once again. Pumas destroyed Santos by 3-0 on Thursday in the first leg of their semifinal series. Pumas need only to avoid a three-goal loss to advance to the finals, where they'd face the Chivas-Atlante survivor.

Pumas upset Toluca in the quarterfinals with a win-at-home-tie-on-the-road formula that they'll try to follow up with on Sunday in Torreon. Pumas, though, wasn't content with settling for just a win. They wanted to take care of business at home, which they did.

All season long, Pumas hasn't been one of the flashier clubs. They certainly weren't as flashy as Santos or Toluca but now they are poised to return to the final for the first time since Hugo Sanchez guided Pumas to consecutive league titles in 2004.

Pumas, incidentally, would qualify for the CONCACAF Champions Cup by winning the Mexican league and thus would be ineligible to participate in Copa Libertadores, for which InterLiga serves as a qualifying tournament. No Libertadores, no InterLiga. Nimodo.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Subjective judgment

All the Houston Dynamo fans who screamed at the injustice of Khano Smith's "headbutt" in the MLS final - take a moment to think back to Nate Jaqua's elbow in the Western Conference final. Both were fouls that I thought deserved a red. Not surprisingly, I didn't get any emails from Houston fans about how the refs missed the call on Jaqua - they were fine with that one.
Basically, that's the way I feel about the outcry over the DP grandfathering of players making DP money before the DP rule. It's funny to think that so many people grouse about how cheap MLS can be, but then want rules enforced to punish the clubs that were willing to spend money.
What I also find amusing is those who say that MLS should have just instituted the grandfathering rule permanantly from the start.
Well, the reality is that if the guys ran MLS had that much foresight, the league would be further along. Because they're not infallible prophets, they didn't make a decision without first seeing how the designated players would actually affect the league. Instead, what they did was give themselves a one-year window to see whether or not having a DP and a DP-like player would give teams too much of an advantage.
They soon discovered that in MLS, the whole is more important than the DP parts. No teams with DP players made it to the final. Teams are often better off with players who are slightly second-tier, at least as far as the national team level, because then they won't be missing as much time from their teams.
Yet for the league to say that DP players don't matter would be foolish. The fact is, MLS received more attention this year than any other in its existence because of players like Blanco, Beckham and Angel. If team owners had hesitated in going after those players because it might mean disrupting the chemistry a squad had because of perhaps being forced to give up stars they already had, the league, fans, and other players themselves would suffer for it. Increased exposure is good for everybody in MLS - well, except for perhaps the refs, because it just seems to make more people complain about them.
That doesn't mean that I was really in favor of the grandfathering extension. I was hoping the league would add another DP slot to everyone in the league. Chivas USA could have made good use of that. I understand, though, that it might be premature to add a DP when so many teams haven't even made use of the one they have.
Anyway, I asked Landon about it, and had to give credit that he immediately recognized his own impartiality.

"I’m probably biased. It’s hard to say, under one set of rules, you go get a player and then all of a sudden you can’t have that player unless you trade something away for him. I don’t think that’s a good thing to do to teams. The teams that went out and got players shouldn’t be punished. I think it was the right thing to do. I’m sure that other teams may not agree."

Also, I got confirmation from a Galaxy official that Landon does indeed have a no-trade clause in his contract. It's also likely that Landon isn't the only one in MLS with such a stipulation.

Pan-Pacific Championship

Yes, it's in Hawaii. What a perfect excuse to go, no? Unfortunately, it's probably a no-go. Anyway, here are more deets.
Major League Soccer (USA), the J.League (Japan) and the Hyundai A-League (Australia) today announced an unprecedented and innovative partnership in the creation of a new international soccer tournament to be hosted in Honolulu, Hawaii: the Pan-Pacific Championship (PPC), which will crown the top club from the Asian and North American soccer confederations.
The four teams to participate in the 2008 tournament are: reigning MLS Cup champion Houston Dynamo and Haleiwa, Hawaii native Brian Ching; the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup Champion Gamba Osaka, with 19-year-old Japanese sensation Michihiro Yasuda and J.League star Yasuhito Endo; the 2007 SuperLiga finalists Los Angeles Galaxy, whose international roster includes English superstar David Beckham and perennial MLS all-star Landon Donovan; and a club to qualify from the Hyundai A-League Final Series, which concludes in February 2008 ahead of the Pan-Pacific Championship.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A-league versus MLS

Sydney FC won, but there's nothing about the Galaxy going down to nine men in the AP article. The Galaxy blog has more details.

Five alive

In many ways, this upcoming two-week stretch will be a unique one in Mexico.

The Apertura season is down to four teams as Santos will play Pumas and Chivas will meet Atlante in the Liguilla semifinals. But those aren't the only clubs alive in the quest for glory. Club America will play Arsenal de Sarandi of Argentina in the Copa Sudamericana final.

It's not every week that a Mexican club has the opportunity to capture South American glory. Of course, it's happened three years running now in this tournament as Pumas and Pachuca reached the Sudamericana final in 2005 and 2006 respectively.

At least one Mexican club will add to its mantle in the coming weeks. My money's on Santos simply because how dominant they have been all season long. But I also think that America has a great chance of walking away with international glory. Arsenal is a strong opponent - their 2-1 win over Boca Juniors on Sunday and run to the Sudamericana final will attest to that. But America should have as motivation the chance to claim its first-ever South American championship.

Planning ahead

With the announcement of the recent World Cup qualifying draw, the USMNT learned its upcoming path to the 2009 Hexagonal and ultimately the 2010 World Cup.

But what was also learned should benefit Major League Soccer as well. Whether it actually translates into a beneficial scenario to the fans is another thing, but given the league's track record it probably will mean more logjams ahead for the American soccer fan.

The US will open with either Barbados or Dominica on matchdays in June with specifics to be determined. But the semifinal round will be played on the following days:

Wednesday, Aug. 20
Saturday, Sept. 6
Wednesday, Sept. 10
Saturday, Oct. 11
Wednesday, Oct. 15
Sunday, Nov. 19

While the MLS schedule won't be announced until sometime in late January or February, whoever makes up the league schedule should go ahead and avoid scheduling games on those specific days.

Shutting down for entire weekends, especially in September and October, is probably out of the question. But for sure MLS can avoid scheduling midweek games in August, September and October. While that won't prevent MLS teams from losing key players to the national team, it would at least let fans follow the international game without having to ignore the domestic product.

For years, MLS has done nearly everything wrong when planning its calendar with accordance to the international fixture dates and international tournaments. How MLS can continue to play during the World Cup is beyond me. MLS commish Don Garber told us before the 2006 season that the league wouldn't play through the 2010 World Cup. I'm going to hold him accountable for those words when the World Cup comes around next time.

Anyway, the US has now a series of important dates spread out over the latter part of 2008. It's not the federation's responsibility to try and avoid scheduling games that would conflict with the league. It's the other way around, and typically other countries just shut down. Again, the league would likely never consider simply not scheduling dates on weekends in during the season. The least they could do is to not schedule any games on USMNT matchdays.

And while we're on the topic, here's the calendar for Hexagonal matchdays in 2009:

Wednesday, Feb. 11
Saturday, March 28
Wednesday, April 1
Saturday, June 6
Wednesday, June 10
Wednesday, Aug. 19
Saturday, Sept. 5
Wednesday, Sept. 9
Saturday, Oct. 10
Wednesday, Oct. 14

There you have the matchdays. No excuses, MLS.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Presto change-o

I was mildly relieved that Preston Burpo was not snatched up by San Jose in last week's expansion draft. Now, I'm scratching my head trying to figure out why Chivas was so quick to ship him out of town.

Preston Burpo is now with San Jose after the expansion team dealt its fourth-round SuperDraft pick next year to Chivas in exchange for the 35-year-old goalkeeper. With Brad Guzan linked to a move abroad, it seemed like Burpo was a valuable player to keep around. Now, if Guzan does make a move to Europe, Justin Myers and Sam Reynolds are next in line to play the position.

Surely Burpo is more valuable than a fourth-rounder. Chivas struck gold in 2006 when taking Jonathan Bornstein in the fourth round but more often than not fourth-round picks struggle for playing time and are non-factors with their teams.

Either Chivas is certain that Brad Guzan is not going anywhere next year or they have other plans to fill the goalkeeping position.

As far as San Jose goes, now Frank Yallop need not worry about a starting goalkeeper. Burpo is a solid goalie and will provide some grit back there. He knows Jason Hernandez and will have an instant connection with one of his central defenders. And Yallop can go out and get a young goalkeeper and groom him if he pleases or he could choose to focus his attention on other positions. Another upshot is that Burpo used to play for Seattle for so long the Sounders might be interested in bringing him back when they join MLS in 2009 and might give up more than the fourth-rounder San Jose did to get Burpo from Chivas. Yeah, Kasey Keller and Seattle have been linked for years but Burpo nonetheless was a popular Sounder for many years.