Thursday, December 30, 2010

Qatar 2022 in the Winter?

Happy Holidays to all!

As the winter break continues and football is on hold in most places until after the New Year, the news from the world of Jedi soccer is about the latest in the Qatar 2022 World Cup saga.  I am sure everyone will be completely surprised (Not!) to know that FIFA President Sepp Blatter, England coach Fabio Capella, and the international players union, have all endorsed the idea of holding the Qatar 2022 World Cup in the winter, in order to avoid the searing heat of the Arabian peninsula.

I am totally sympathetic to the players union desire not to have to play in the heat.  But I must also say that the fact the players want to move the event to the winter, is a clear expression of no confidence in the Qatari plan to 'air condition' their stadiums.  After all, you can't air condition an entire country.  The players don't want to roll the dice on unproven technology, and who can blame them?

But the fact that Sepp Blatter is now advocating a Winter World Cup, really burns.  The whole Qatari bid was based on the concept of air conditioning the venues.  Those were the conditions that FIFA accepted the Qatari bid.

If they 'move the goalposts' now (as they say in American football), then it is tantamount to saying that the original bid was flawed.

In which case: Why didn't they give it to the USA, which was a totally superior bid?

Which is, of course, my whole point.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Qatar Jersey Deal Stinks

The last week of Jedi soccer has been quite interesting.  Yesterday our heroes were uncharacteristically held to a goaless draw in the Copa del Rey (King's Cup) competition by Athletic Bilbao, despite throwing everything at the stubborn Basque side but the kitchen sink.  Even so, despite this tied score, Barca remains at the top of La Liga, because just four days ago the Blaugrana totally clobbered city rivals Espanyol by the score of 5 - 1, opening a 5 point lead over rivals Real Madrid in La Liga standings.  So, things couldn't be better right now for Barcelona on the pitch, and in the league standings.

However... there is trouble brewing over the recently announced jersey sponsorship deal with the Qatar Foundation.  According to Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv, Israeli "diplomats had been sent to Barcelona to try to persuade the club to back out of the five-year deal it signed eight days ago.  The fresh controversy follows claims made by Spanish paper El Mundo 10 days ago that the Qatar Foundation had given money to extremist cleric Yusuf al Qaradawi, an advocate of terrorism, wife beating and anti-Semitism."

Of course, rabid anti-semites will jump on this to say its all Israeli lies; but frankly I have more faith in the Israeli sensitivity to terrorist connections, than I do in the current management of Barcelona to NOT jump on dirty money.

Need I remind anyone that the Qatar Foundation is a wholly owned enterprise of the Qatari Royal family?

Added to the litany of worker abuses in Qatar, this pretty much seals the deal in my case.  Our beloved Club is being purchased by a country with a history of abusing its workers and, apparently, funding terrorism.

In a related development, according to, "Barcelona's shirt sponsorship deal with the Qatar Foundation will reportedly allow the Catalans to launch fresh bids next summer for Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas and Liverpool striker Fernando Torres."

Fabregas is Catalan and it would be wonderful to have him playing for Barca.  Fernando Torres would also be a splendid addition to the Club.  Perhaps we can simply assemble the entire Spanish National Team and dress them in the Blaugrana, then unleash them on Europe as "FC Barcelona."  We are not far from that right now.

However, in my opinion, Barcelona is doing splendidly right now without Fabregas and Torres.  It would be great to have them but we don't need them.  FC Barcelona is kicking ass and taking names all over Europe right now, they are currently the best professional football team on the planet.  We are so rich with talent that we can actually pass on these two talented players and it won't hurt the club's performance on the pitch.

We don't need them.  Especially at the price of selling our soul and the socially responsible traditions of this great club.

Kill this smelly jersey deal, I say.  If we must sell the jersey... sell it to someone else.  ANYONE other than the Qatar Foundation.  This is all becoming a very ugly business.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Barca Sells The Jersey!

It has happened: FC Barcelona, the last bastion of commercial-free jersey wear in the world of professional football, has sold advertising on the cherished Blaugrana, and Barcelona has succumed to the allure of capital and the dictates of economics. 

In an announcement that is barely a few hours old, today team officials announced a five year deal to sport the emblem of the Qatar Foundation on the jersey (noooo!!!), worth more than 200 million US Dollars.  The team has announced that it will receive $20 million for the remainder of the current season, plus an additional $40 million for the next five seasons each, plus up to $7 million in bonuses for any titles won. The Qatar Foundation, founded in 1995, is a non-profit organization whose purpose is "to bolster education, science and development" in the nation and surrounding regions.

The Qatar Foundation!

I knew Pep Guardiola was supporting the Qatar 2022 bid (I'm sure a nice paycheck went with that), but I could not believe that it would lead to the sale of the Blaugrana to Qatar.  For the first time in the 110 year history of FC Barcelona, the club has sold its jersey to the highest bidder.  According to team officials, a new jersey incorporating both the Qatar Foundation logo and the UNICEF logo is under design by Nike, but supposedly if the new design is not visually appealing, the UNICEF logo takes precedence.  We can only hope.

I am really devastated by this news.  Barcelona is supposed to be "Mes Que un Club!"  Is this not the club that was once (and still is) a bastion of Republicanism in Spain?  The heroic Workers Team, instead of stuffy aristocratic Real Madrid?  Barcelona, selling the jersey?  Unbelievable!

I recognize that despire their spectacular on-field success, Barcelona is struggling financially.  The club posted a loss of 79.6 million euros last season -- their first in seven years -- and they have debts of 442 million euros.  I get it.  But surely there are other ways of raising the capital, other than selling the blaugrana.  Raise ticket prices or something.  Raise club memberships.  There are other ways.

And I'm not the only one who feels this way.  According to ESPN and AFP news, "Johan Cruyff, the great Dutch Master and Barcelona legend, has roundly denounced the deal.  Cruyff said that by signing the deal, Barcelona whose slogan is "mes que un club" (more than a club), had become "just another club."

"Socially we've made a bad deal," said Cruyff, who is currently coach of the Catalan national team. "There are other solutions rather than sullying the jersey."

In his weekly column El Periodico de Catalunya , he remarked: "We are a unique club in the world, no one has kept their jersey intact throughout their history, yet have remained as competitive as they come.

"We have sold this uniqueness for about six per cent of our budget. I understand that we are currently losing more than we are earning. However, by selling the shirt it shows me that we are not being creative, and that we have become vulgar."

"If things are so bad," continued Cruyff, "then we should cut out the deal we have with UNICEF, and all the values it represents, because we pay them to carry the logo on our shirts."

Wow.  Thank you, Johan Cruyff.  Surely there is a better way to make up about six percent of the budget?

I'm not going to stop supporting Barcelona because of this.  At least the UNICEF logo will take priority.  But Cruyff is right: this is a boner move and a betrayal of the club's principles.  I hope the fans let them know how much they dissaprove of this move.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Barca Bombs Basques 5 - 0

Same story, different day.  The last time a team with the word 'Real' showed up at Camp Nou, it was Barcelona over Real Madrid 5 - Nil.  Yesterday, Real Sociedad came to play, and the result was the same: 5 - Nil.  Its seems that Barcelona has a visceral reaction to the word 'Royal,' no?

Taking the field just hours after Real Madrid momentarily captured the top spot in La Liga with their 3 - 1 win over listless Real Zaragoza, Barcelona opened the scoring at the nine minute mark with a perfectly centered ball from Pedro to David Villa, who fired home the opening score.  Just a few minutes later, Pedro again set up another score with a determined near-post drive that he dished off to Andres Iniesta at the last moment, catching Sociedad goalkeeper Claudio Bravo out of position.  Iniesta put the ball in the back of the net and just like that, it was 2 - 0. 

The scoring continued just after the second half re-start, with a characteristically beautiful one-two drive by Dani Alves and Lionel Messi, finishing with a characteristically beautiful goal by Messi Wan Kenobi.  Soon the overmatched and overworked Sociedad defense began to break down, suffering Death by Tiki-Taka.  Messi Wan Kenobi scored a second beautiful solo goal in the 85th minute, and then Barca substitute Bojan nailed the coffin closed just before full time with a final insult-to-injury goal.

Only 15 games into the season, and Barcelona has already scored 46 goals and conceded only 8.  WOW.  And our hero Messi Wan Kenobi has 17 goals already this season, only one goal behind That Annoying Portuguese Fellow Who Plays for Madrid. 

And so the Blaugrana remain on top of La Liga standings, chased two points back by 'The Evil Empire' AKA 'Real Madrid.'  It seems they are not accepting their recent 5 - 0 dismissal by Barca.  We shall have to spank them a second time, I fear.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Barca over Rubin Kazan 2 - 0

Barcelona's midweek victory over Russian side Rubin Kazan in Champion's League play, has made clear that the Catalan giants are yet again on track for another brace of trophies this season.  What was especially insipiring about Barca's win over Rubin Kazan, was that both goals came from second team rookies Andreu Fontas and Victor Vazquez, showing not just the quality of Barca's first team, but also the depth of the whole squad.  Given that Rubin Kazan has been a thorn in Barca's side the last few seasons of Champion's League play, this win is all the sweeter.  Barcelona now advances from the Group Stage of Champions League play to the knockout stage, having won all their matches and Group 'D' as well, with 14 points.  The knockout stage of play begins in early February 2012.

Tommorrow Barca returns to La Liga play against newly-promoted Real Sociedad, up this season from the Segunda Division.  The Basque side knows that the last time a team with the word 'Real' in its name visited Camp Nou, they left after a humiliating 5 - Nil dismissal.  Although not as talented as Real Madrid, look for Real Sociedad to be more prepared for the Catalan Tiki-Taka.  Even so, Barca will triumph, 3 - Nil.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What is Tiki-Taka?


December 30th marked the utter humiliation and destruction of Florentino Pérez’s New Galacticos at the Camp Nou. It was the greatest defeat ever suffered by José Mourihno as a manager and marks the largest margin that Madrid have been defeated by their Catalan rivals in this decade.

There are some questions that still remain: Were Pep Guardiola’s men actually five goals better than their Madrid adversaries or was it that the “tiki-taka” that La Blagurana are so proficient in was too much for the Master Tactician and his team to cope with?

What is tiki-taka? Tiki-taka is a style of play coined and popularized by Spanish commentator Andrés Montes. According to Wikipedia, tiki-taka is a style of play "characterized by short passing and movement, working the ball through various channels, and maintaining possession."

This style originated under Dutch and Barcelona Johan Cruyff's tenure as manager of Barcelona and continued with Guardiola’s predecessors, Dutch coaches Louis Van Gaal and Frank Rijkaard.

As demonstrated in the recently played El Clàsico, the continuous passing and holding of the ball is such a devastating tactic because it does not require you to switch from offense to defense because you are always in possession of the ball.

The match statistics speak for themselves a staggering 67 percent for Barca while Madrid held the ball for a measly 33 percent. Suffocating the opposition's hopes of scoring by having such high possession was the aim of the home team. From the blow of the first whistle, you could have seen the how much of a disarray the Madrid team was in.

Any structured plan implemented by Mourihno came crumbling down as five white uniforms came running after the ball at any given time. This opened up space in the midfield for  the wizardry of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta to work their magic.  Possession, domination and clinical finishing ripped apart the defensive quartet of Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Ricardo Carvlho and Marcelo. Deficiencies in Madrid’s defense were uncovered, especially in the full back positions, as they weren’t able to stop the flood of goals by Xavi, Pedro, David Villa and Jeffrén Suárez...

This “blow out” suffered by the hands of Real Madrid was due in part by three of the world's best players and Fifa Ballon d'or finalists Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Lionel Messi.  Their vision and extraordinary technical skill on the field has made them one of the most formidable midfield combination in world football today.

Beating the other team down with impossible telepathic passes and mind-boggling plays was pure poetry in motion and there was no tactic that José Mourinho could have implemented that could of prevented this impending defeat.

Tiki-taka is not supposed to out-muscle opponents, it is a tactical art form associated with flair, creativity and is used to monopolize the ball and move it in intricate patterns and baffle opponents as it did in this latest edition of El Clàsico.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Golden Trial Balloons

Today's news in the world of Jedi Soccer is about trial baloons.  Our first tidbit comes from the Land of Rumour: according to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Argentine soccer legend Maradonna is planning a visit to Iran with an eye towards accepting an offer to coach the Iranian national soccer team.  If this is true (and remember, Ahmadinejad has a history of transparent lies), then it would seem that the Argentine soccer great will do anything for enough money.  Worryingly, Maradonna has done or said nothing to discourage the speculation surrounding his alleged pending visit to Iran.

Why Maradonna would even think about working for this disgusting regime is unfathomable.  Perhaps the Iranian's have developed a new process for snorting uranium.  We shall have to see.

Meanwhile, in an altogether more positive development, today FIFA announced its short list of candidates for the Ballon d'Or (Golden Ball) & FIFA Player of the Year award.  On the list are no less than three Barca players: Lionel Messi (again, of course), and also Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez. 

This is only the second time that three players from a single team have been nominated for the same award-- the last time this happened was in 1989 when AC Milan was in its glory days.  This year will also be the first time that the French Golden Ball award and the Player of the Year award are merged and given as a single trophy.  Although he deserves it, Messi Wan Kenobi was last year's Player of the Year winner, and so it is unlikely he will be voted the award twice in a row.  However, both Xavi and Iniesta are deserving candidates, given their prowess with Barca and their successful World Cup campaign.  Having never received the award before, Xavi is probably the odds-on favorite.

So there you have today's trial ballons: Maradona to coach Iran, and Xavi Hernandez for FIFA Player of the Year.  Too bad there isn't an award for 'Biggest Sellout," because I know at least one former great player who is a candidate for that award too, depending on who he decides to take his paycheck from.  We shall see.

Friday, December 3, 2010

More Bitching About Qatar

Now that another 24 hours has passed since the news that FIFA has selected Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup, more details are beginning to emerge.  And as the details are coming out, the decision to go with Qatar seems even more incomprehensible.

First, I serve up this: FIFA's internal survey of the Qatar bid, was classified as 'High Risk' AFTER the FIFA inspectors had visited Qatar.  And yet despite the 'High Risk' classification of the Qatar bid, they got the nod anyway.

Second, FIFA's internal reports also indicated that an American-hosted World Cup-- with all of our sports infrastructure already in place, and the extensive media assets across North America-- would likely result in the most profitable World Cup ever held.  But still Qatar got the bid.

Third, we now learn that a HUGE part of Qatar's bid was based on the concept of modular, pre-fabricated air-conditioned stadiums, to be strategically placed around the Connecticut-sized country for the event.  This is TOTALLY UNPROVEN TECHNOLOGY and yet FIFA is betting their Flagship Event that Qatar can actually pull this off, even though they have never hosted a world-class sporting event EVER.

How is this going to work, really?  I mean, are we going to see England vs. Argentina being held in Modular Stadium C-3 at the 38 Kilometer marker outside of some little desert settlement of perhaps 30,000 people?  It's beginning to look that way.  Make sure the air conditioning in the rental car you got in Doha is working smoothly.

And then there is this, from the Associated Press:

"Qatar, with a population of 841,000, has not only never hosted a World Cup but not even played in one. FIFA inspectors who toured the country, which is half the size of Israel and slightly smaller than Connecticut, cautioned that the intense heat in summer, when the tournament will be played, posed a potential health risk for players and fans.

Qatar allayed the fears of some — but not all — FIFA voters by promising that stadiums, training venues and areas for fans to party will be cooled with solar-powered air conditioning. But it has yet to be proven that the technology will work on such a broad scale, which prompted the American on FIFA's committee, Chuck Blazer, to quip: "I don't see how you can air-condition an entire country."

"Air-conditioning an entire country."  Indeed.  You can air-condition a stadium (maybe!), but you can't air-condition the Middle East in July.  Prepare for massive visitor bitching about the heat.  And what happens if Israel qualifies for this now-scheduled middle east world cup?  Think they might have a go at it?  Not a crazy thought; the Israeli leagues are good and getting better.  If you want a security nightmare, just wait 'till it's Israel vs. Iran in Qatar 2022.  Will Qatar really work with Israeli security to ensure the safety of the team, if the Israelis qualify?  Is it unreasonable to assume that some religious loonies on the Arabian peninsula might not think this is a great chance to do Allah's work by doing you-know-what to the drunken Infidels on our sacred land?  Oy gevalt, my head hurts thinking about it.  This is the sort of thing that makes this choice by FIFA a self-assessed 'High Risk' selection.

Given all that and plus the social and religious restrictions in Qatar that will certainly rub against western social mores, and I must predict that this could be one of the worst-attended World Cup events ever.  Maybe it would be better simply to plan not to go at all.

Look, I know that Sepp Blatter wanted to bring the World Cup to new lands.  I actually support that.  So OK, you chose Russia.  Wonderful.  The Russians at least have thrown this kind of Really Big Sports Party before, so I have confidence they can do it.  Good pick.  Mission Accomplished-- that is new ground for FIFA.  There-- you've brought the World Cup to a new country.  Congratulations.

But Qatar?  Really?  Having already picked Russia as your "new country," to follow that up with Qatar really looks like FIFA is dissing the USSF.  Given the overwhelming strength of the American bid to host the World Cup, and all of the dramatic negatives associated with Qatar's bid, and I can only conclude this:

Sepp Blatter & FIFA would rather send the world to the high desert in mid-July to play in modular pre-fabricated stadiums near little desert villages, rather than give the Americans another shot at this event.

I'm sorry, but this looks like an expensive and yet petty display of anti-Americanism by the FIFA bid selection committee.  Someone please prove me wrong.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

FIFA Taps Qatar for 2022 Cup

Today's announcement by FIFA boss Sepp Blatter has finally ended the American bid to host the World Cup once again, in 2022.  By vote of the World Cup organizing committee, the 2018 World Cup will go to Russia-- which I think is a good choice-- and the 2022 World Cup goes to Qatar, which I think is a terrible choice.

Why is awarding the bid to Qatar such a bad idea?  Let me count the ways:

1.  Qatar is ranked # 113 in the world rankings-- the lowest any host nation has ever been ranked, at the time they were awarded the World Cup.  Basically, they have no soccer tradition; almost every other country in the Middle East, including Israel, has a more fully developed soccer tradition than Qatar does.  This win by Qatar gives hope to Futbol powerhouses like Fiji and the Seychelles, that one day they too can host the World Cup.

2.  Qatar is really small!  About the size of Connecticut.  The US Air Force could cover the whole place with outdoor carpeting in less than 24 hours.  When FIFA awarded the World Cup to Japan and Korea, it was as a joint bid and both of these countries are significantly larger than Qatar, and they still had to work hard to make it work.  Same for South Africa.  But Qatar?  There is ONLY ONE CITY in the whole country-- Doha.  The bid would make more sense if it was co-hosted by the nearby United Arab Emirates (UAE), which would instantly add the large cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai to the mix.  That would make more sense.  But no-- it seems to be all Qatar.  Look for state-of-the-art football stadiums to be built in the middle of the desert, near smallish desert settlements surrounded only by hot sand, camels and vast parking lots.

3.  The country is REALLY hot!  It's a desert, for crying out loud!  Temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius are not unheard of.  Allegedly, Qatar has plans in their bid to ensure that vast air-conditioning systems are installed in the World Cup stadiums; but considering that none of this infrastructure has been built yet, I think that FIFA is totally rolling the dice on having The Most Unpleasant World Cup Ever.  If that happens, it will also be the World Cup with the lowest attendance as well.

4.  Qatar is in the Middle East.  To state it plainly: VISITING TARGETS.  The security at this World Cup is going to be a nightmare.  Sure, the citizens of Qatar are fairly modern and progressive people; but who else from the Middle East will be visiting?

Furthermore... although the Persian Gulf countries have a more progressive reputation than the rest of the Middle East, it is also true that their social mores are more... restrictive than, say, Brazil.  Women are not even allowed to bare their shoulders in public.  So what happens when all those people from other countries want to Par-Tay, World Cup style, according to their own traditions and mores?  Is this the part where we see Qatari police go nuts and lock up Brazilian women because of bare shoulders or a tit that accidentally popped out of a blouse while she was cheering?  What about the English lads who want a pint after the match?  Or the Spaniards swilling Sangria after La Furia Roja wins?  Oh yeah, this is either going to be the most repressive World Cup ever... or it will disgust the rest of the pious Middle East, if Qatar lightens up a bit on the social mores for the Cup.  Either way, someone is going to be unhappy.

I understand why FIFA gave it to Qatar-- they want to award the Middle East for the growth of soccer there, and encourage its further development in the Middle East.  Given this basic motive, choosing one of the Gulf states was really the only option-- places like Saudi Arabia or Syria are out of the question (multiply all the concerns above x 3), and anyway they did not bid.  Further, Qatar is the richest nation on earth, on a per-capita basis.  So they have the money to spend on building oodles of stadiums, which is necessary for a successful bid.  Before this is over, Qatar will have more soccer stadiums than cities of over 40,000 people.

So, to me this looks like a square-peg / round-hole situation.  Qatar is too small, too hot, too restrictive, and too Middle East, to host this event with the degree of internationalism it deserves.  The decision to give the 2018 games to Russia is comprehensible-- the Russians have the size and the soccer tradition and the money to do a fine job.  They've hosted the Olympic games before, quite successfully.  No concerns there. 


I appreciate FIFA's committment to "spreading the wealth," but this was ridiculous. 

This is the worst Host nation selection in the history of the World Cup.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

DC United Taps Olsen

In one of the most surprising developments in American professional soccer recently, this past weekend DC United formally named interim coach and former United standout Ben Olsen, as the team's newest head coach.  This is now the seventh head coach in the history of DC United and, more tellingly, United's third head coach in less than a full calendar year.  Ben Olsen now becomes the youngest head coach in the history of Major League Soccer.

I didn't think that Olsen was ready for the job and I have said as much in previous posts.  He is without a doubt a real fan favorite, and he is clearly popular with the team; but he was thrust into the role of being the caretaker of a train wreck season that was not of his own making, and that is trying even for experienced coaches, much less a rookie coach.  More to the point, over the last several months DC United President Kevin Payne has stated on many occassions, that Olsen was just the interim coach and that he was not ready for the job.

So... what changed?  First, negotiations with coach Lucien Favre, the former boss of Hertha Berlin in the Budesliga, completely broke down.  Then negotiations with coach Caleb Porter from the University of Akron also broke down... and suddenly, United was without a leading candidate.  As the team has continued to search for a new head coach, all the liabilities that currently plague the franchise kicked in to sour interest from potential candidates:  no stadium deal in the works, no franchise player now that Moreno has retired; no clear committment on the team's part to spend the money to turn this around; and a recent history of expensive trades that have failed to produce on the field.  Given all these negatives, its no surprise that United had a hard time finding a world-class coach who was interested.

And that is truly pitiful, because there was a time, not so long ago, when almost ANY American soccer coach, and a great many European coaches as well, would have lept at a chance to coach DC United, the most successful soccer franchise in North America.  Oh, how the mighty have fallen. 

And so... Ben Olsen gets the job by default.  The team has publicly made the right noises about how he was the best choice, how he knows DC United better than any outsider, how the players like and respect him, etc. and so forth.  All true, I suppose.

But this much is clear: Olsen has a HUGE task ahead of him, trying to turn this team around.  Without a stadium deal, without a franchise player, without a fat budget for talent acquisition, and working for a team ownership and front office that is proving itself to be rather inept at managing a sports franchise.

And THAT is the real problem here.  Good luck to Ben Olsen.  I like him, and if he succeeds I'll happily eat my words.  But what I really think, is that the people running the franchise, are not football people-- William Chang is a successful venture capitalist with a proven eye for funding promising new tech companies, but I do not think either that or his Harvard education, necessarily prepares him to oversee a football operation.  It makes me pine for the days when the franchise was run by the Anschutz Entertainment Group.  At least we were winning when Anschutz ran the franchise.

Anyway, maybe I'm wrong about the inept front office too; but if so, someone please prove me wrong by winning

So, Good Luck coach... I've had my doubts, but now that you have the job, I'll be pulling for you.  And since all the fans really do like you, you'll probably get the benefit of the doubt if things go south next season.  But lets hope that it does not come to that.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Barca Eviscerates Real 5 - 0

Merry Christmas everyone!  Here in the land of Jedi Soccer, joy and satisfaction are the order of the moment, as we bask in tonight's glorious victory of Barcelona FC over arch-rivals Real Madrid by the astonishing and deeply satisfying score of 5 - 0 in El Clasico, the World's Most Important Soccer Derby.  Coming on the heels of Barca's 8-0 annihilation of Almeria last week, we have now witnessded these Jedi Knights of Football score no less than 13 goals in the last two matches, without giving up a single opposing goal, a true football Tour de Force.

The scoring began at the 10 minute mark with Xavi Hernandez scoring from a pretty Andres Iniesta though ball.  Seven minutes later, Barcelona made it 2-0 when David Villa placed the ball in the six-yard box. Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas uncharacteristically failed to deal with it, and Pedro had an easy finish.  After this, Real Madrid settled down and produced a few chances, most notably a free kick by Cristiano Ronaldo going wide of the post.  And that was it for the first half.

Madrid Manager Jose Mourinho substituted Lassana Diarra for Mesut Ozil to begin the second half, in an attempt to jam the midfield and stop Lionel Messi, but the change had no effect as Barca continued to dominate possession with their patented fluent "Total Football" style of play.  In the 59th minute, Barcelona made it 3–0 with a beautifully placed pass by Messi, in-between Real's defenders Pepe and Carvalho. Barca srtiker David Villa beat the offside trap and slammed the ball in the net in stylish fashion.  Minutes later Messi and Villa linked up again with the latter outpacing the defense before he calmly slipping the ball through Casillas's legs to make it 4–0.  A final 'Insult to Injury' goal was scored in stoppage time when Barca substitute Jeffren Suarez chipped the ball into the net to end the scoring and the match with a Triumphe Deluxe for Barcelona. And Messi Wan Kenobi didn't even score.  He didn't have to.

Barcelona now moves into La Liga's top spot with 34 points, ahead of Real Madrid who remain in second place on 32 points. Trailing a further five points back of Real is Villarreal on 27 points.

Is there football club anywhere on the planet, that can match the power, skill and beauty of FC Barcelona at the present moment?  All things must fade, most especially championship-calibre sports teams; but for now, these are Days of Glory for FC Barcelona and its followers.

It's More Than a Club.  It's Jedi Soccer. Barca Rules.

Mes Que un Derby

Well, here it is:  El Clásico-- Barcelona vs. Real Madrid.  Tonight, Monday November 29, 2010.  Surely in the history of Association Football, there is no other match anywhere that surpasses the intensity of this annual rivalry.  (OK: Liverpool vs. Manchester United, maybe).  But just as Barcelona's club nickname is "Mes Que un Club" (More than a Club), so too can El Clásico be understood as More Than a Derby.  How so?  Let us count the ways...

1. Madrid and Barcelona are the two largest cities in Spain.  There is hence a regional rivalry between these two teams.

2.  Between them, Madrid and Barcelona have amassed no less than 141 football trophies (73 for Real Madrid and 68 for Barcelona).  The next closest team-trophy-total is Atletico Bilbao with 32.  No one else in Spanish soccer even comes close.  There is hence a professional rivalry between these two teams.

3.  From its inception, FC Barcelona has always been associated with Catalan nationalism, which makes it a favorite team of everyone in Spain who opposes Spanish hegemony.  Conversely, Real Madrid is the go-to side of most Castilian's and those who support the central government generally, and hence a vehicle for the expression of Spanish nationalism.    There is hence a national rivalry between the supporters of these two teams

4.  From its inception, FC Barcelona has also always been a people's team, inasmuch as the team's supporters have always generally been working people with socialist sympathies, who once supported the old Republic before the the coming of Francisco Franco and the Spanish Civil War.  Conversely, Real Madrid--with the word 'Royal' (Real) in its name-- has been the team supported by Spanish Monarchists and Francophiles generally.  There is hence a political rivalry between the supporters of these two teams.  Author Phil Ball, the author of Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football, calls the El Clásico "a re-enactment of the Spanish Civil War". 

5.  This year's edition of El Clásico features virtually all of the starts of the 2010 World Cup Champion Spanish National Team.  These guys all know each other quite well, so there is hence a personal rivalry between the players of these two teams.

6.  Finally:  Speaking of personal rivalries, the two stars of the match are (of course) Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, arguably the two greatest players in the game today.

The two largest cities... the two teams with the most trophies... Catalan nationalism vs. Spanish nationalism... The Socialists vs. the Monarchists... the Republicans vs. the Francoists... two teams full of World Cup veterans and former teamates... and oh yeah, Ronaldo vs. Messi on top of everything else.

How big is El Clásico?  According to Wikipedia, a 2007 survey by the Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas determined that Real Madrid was the team with the largest following in Spain. Thirty-two percent of the Spanish population supported Real Madrid, while twenty-five percent supported Barcelona. (In third place came Valencia CF, who were supported by five percent).  Barcelona in turn is more popular in Europe than Madrid. According to a survey made by the German research agency Sport+Markt in 2010, Barcelona has approximately 57,8 million fans around Europe, while Real Madrid has 31,3 million fans.

You can bet that many millions of people worldwide will be tuning in to the match later today.

With so much nuance going on in the background of this 'simple' sporting event, its no wonder the Spanish call this "The Classic."  This is clearly no ordinary sporting event.

Yeah, this is probably the biggest regular sports rivalry in the world.  Don't miss it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Portugal 4 - Spain 0

Yesterday's slew of international "friendly" matches (which don't count towards international standings), produced a few surprises.  Most significantly, the friendly between World Champions Spain and Portugal, resulted in an unexpected thrashing of the Spanish in Lisbon 4-Nil.  Portugal winning the match is not so suprising-- the Portuguese side is actually quite strong-- but the score.... ah, that hurts.  With six Barcelona starters on the pitch, Spain was once again disproportionately represented by the Blaugrana.

But with Messi off doing duty with the Argentine national side, the Barca players seem to have lost the magic with their other Spanish teamates, that was so much in evidence during the World Cup.  The resulting thumping by Portugal was well deserved, with the Portuguese goals generally scored at the finish of strong runs and good ball control.  Luckily for Spain, this match does not count, aside from some momentary Iberian bragging rights for the Portuguese.  This was the worst defeat by a Spanish national team since 1963.

In other "Friendly Match" news, Argentina defeated Brazil 1-0 in a match played in Qatar in the United Arab Emirates.  Our hero Messi Wan Kenobi provided the last-minute heroics, (and I mean in the 91st minute, stoppage time), outrunning three Brazilian defenders while passing give-and-go with Ezequiel Lavezzi, then firing a perfectly placed ball that found its way through Victor's net in slow motion for the only score of the match. 

So, to summarize Barca's day in International Friendlies: Messi wins for Argentina, but six of his teamates were unable to prevent a Portuguese rout of the World Champions.  For the Barcelona players, this sorry outcome is likely to be reflected in their play this weekend against La Liga bottom-feeders Almeria.  Look for a bloodbath, as the Blaugrana will have something to prove.

Finally, I would also like to note the victory of Team USA over South Africa down in Pretoria on Wednesday as well.  For this friendly match, coach Bob Bradley decided to give the younger players some match time, keeping his first team off the pitch for the most part.  Despite steady attacking pressure from South Africa the whole match, Coach Bradley's young players did not dissapoint him.  Brad Guzan filled in at keeper for Tim Howard and turned in a very credible goaltending performance, while New York Red Bull youth Academy graduate Juan Agudelo hammered a shot off the crossbar which ricocheted into the net, for the game winning score.  At age 17, Agudelo has now become the youngest player to ever score a goal for the United States in international competition, a nice footnote to this match.

Nevertheless... "Friendlies" don't count.  Right.  At least, not in the standings.  But you can rest assured that come this weekend, the players from the various teams who lost yesterday, will be just a bit more hungry than they would be otherwise.

Almeria better be ready.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Barca Takes La Liga Lead

Yesterday our beloved Barca FC defeated La Liga rivals Villareal 3 - 1, lifting them two points above arch-rivals Real Madrid at the top of the Spanish League standings.  David Villa opened the scoring when he gathered in a beautiful pass from Andrés Iniesta and cooly put it in the back of the net, for Barca's first score.  Villareal striker Nilmar evened the score for the Yellow Submarine a short time later, with a lovely run through the Barca defense, ricocheting a shot off the post to even the score. 

But after the break, Messi Wan Kenobi scored twice to put the Blaugrana on top for good.  It was a typically workmanlike (if not brilliant) day of football for Barcelona, and it put Barcelona on top of the league, where they belong.

Meanwhile... in an intriguing related development, Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo is hinting that he would be open to returning to Manchester United and the Premier League in the future.  According to UK Metro News, "The Portuguese international joined Real Madrid from United in a world-record £80million move in 2008 after one of the most protracted transfer sagas in football history.  But despite creating bad blood between Old Trafford supremo Sir Alex Ferguson and his counterparts in the Spanish capital, the fiasco of Ronaldo's departure from England has not put him off a possible return.  And the powerful winger has set tongues a-wagging in the north-west by refusing to rule out what would be a sensational return to the Premier League.

He said:  'To be honest, I miss the Premier League a lot.  Of course I have good memories about Manchester.  I have good friends there and I miss them a lot, so you never know.'

Wow.  We can only hope.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Barca too much for Getafe

Excerpts from The Bleacher Report, November 8, 2010, by Rael Mason:

"Fifteen minutes. A quarter hour of brilliance between the 20th and 35th minutes was all it took for Barcelona to score two, have another two disallowed and remind the world that when they’re on song, there’s no team that play football quite like them.

That 15-minute master class from Barca put them 2-0 up at the break through Lionel Messi and David Villa, before a defensive error let in Pedro for a third. Getafe got back into the game through a Manu penalty that also saw Gerard Pique dismissed, which was followed by a flurry of chances at both ends. The dismissal of Getafe’s Derek Boateng evened the numbers as Barca held out fairly comfortably to secure a 3-1 victory.

Barca began the game knowing that a win would take them back to the top of La Liga and put the pressure on Real Madrid, who were set to face city rivals Atletico later in the evening. They also knew that with their title rivals in such imperious recent form, they couldn’t afford to slip up.

The win took Barcelona temporarily top on 25 points from their 10 games, though Madrid’s subsequent 2-0 win over Atletico took them back above Barca on 26 points. Villarreal remain in third on 23 points after their 4-1 thrashing of Athletic Bilbao, while this defeat for Getafe saw them drop down to 11th place on 13 points.

Next up for Barca in the league is the visit of Villarreal to Camp Nou next weekend, a game that could prove to be vital for both sides’ title hopes and one Barca will have to play without the presence of the influential Pique."

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Najar MLS Rookie of the Year

At last!  Something positive to report about DC United!  Having endured a perfectly dreadful season, today DC United fans woke up to the news that the league has named United newcomer Andy Najar as the MLS Rookie of the year, beating out Red Bulls defender Tim Ream, and Philadelphia Union forward Danny Mwanga for the honor.  At the age of 17, Andy Najar is now officially the youngest player in the 15 year history of the MLS, to win the award.  The last time that a player from DC United won the award was in 1998, when current United interim head coach Ben Olsen was given the honor.

The young man has an interesting background.  A Honduran immigrant, Andy Najar is a product of DC United's youth academy, where his precocious talent was spotted.  When he was offered a professional contract before he was even out of High School, young Najar sensibly took the money, dropped out of Edison High School, and turned professional with United.  (According to The Washington Post, Najar is working with a private tutor to obtain his High School GED equivalency).

According to United General Manager Dave Kasper, "We knew in preseason that we had a special player.  We weren't sure if he would become a starter quickly, but when he got a shot early, he ran with it."

This award, coming on top of United naming Najar as their Most Valuable Player of the Year on Monday, has clearly marked young Andy Najar as a player to watch in the future.  Beyond his modest statistics, Najar exhibited an  unpredictable style that tormented defenders. With blinding footwork and deceptive moves, he opened space for himself in the attack.  Against the Houston Dynamo late in the season, Najar made a superb shifting run across the penalty area that produced a goal, a taste of things to come, we hope.

Najar has been quoted as saying that the award is "exciting for me, it's exciting for the club and our academy.  This year has been hard for the club, so it is great to have this award, but our focus is on getting better next season."

Rumor has it that United will be shipping Najar overseas to either England or Spain, to further burnish his skills, before United's training camp reopens in January.  Najar is also expected to receive a pay raise (not including bonuses), on top of his current $59,000 salary.

Not bad money, for a 17 year old kid.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Barca and UNICEF

A reprint of, "Barca take the moral high road," from The Guardian (UK) September 13, 2006, by staff writer Paolo Bandini:

"Fair play to Barcelona.

For over a century club bosses stubbornly resisted the march of time and capitalism to keep their team strip sponsor-free, at a time when every other club from football's upper echelons right down to your average Sunday League side had given in to financial expediency. To be fair this may have profited them, with their logo-free red-and-blue-striped tops taking on something of an iconic status worldwide, and it was always assumed that when they did eventually sell out they would be all set to command unparelleled sums for the taking of their sponsorship virginity.

Instead, quite without warning, Barcelona's top brass have gone in a very different direction. Last Thursday, president Joan Laporta signed up to a five-year collaborative agreement with UNICEF that will see Barcelona not only sport the children's charity's banner on its shirts, which they did for the first time yesterday night against Levski Sofia, but also contribute just over £1m to its humanitarian projects each year. Obviously that sort of money is barely going to register a dent in the club's finances, but if you take into account how much they could have made from selling to a conventional sponsor (surely even more than Juventus's £15m-a-year deal with Tamoil), the decision is staggering.

"For the first time in our more than 107 years of history, our main soccer team will wear an emblem on the front of its shirt," said Laporta at a UNICEF executive committee meeting.  "It will not be the brand name of a corporation. It will not be a commercial to promote some kind of business. It will be the logo of 'UNICEF'. Through UNICEF, we, the people of FC Barcelona, the people of 'Barça', are very proud to donate our shirt to the children of the world who are our present, but especially are our future."

The conspiracy theorists will paint this as just another cynical marketing ploy by a club that is doing a fine job of casting itself as 'everybody's second favourite team', but with the sort of popularity and worldwide appeal they already had, I find that argument hard to swallow. Barcelona's squeaky-clean image has been overstated at times and I don't doubt for a second that they have been guilty of as much gamesmanship and underhand tactics on the pitch as any other team, but after constant reminders of the greed in football over recent weeks, let's give some credit where it's due to a team that's giving something back, even if only a little."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Messi vs. Ronaldo

It's coming.  El Clasico.  Clash of the Titans, twice a year.  And for this match, with only one point currently separating defending champions FC Barcelona and their arch-rivals Real Madrid, the stakes are higher than usual.

As we anticipate the coming derby, the focus will naturally be on each team's respective superstar.  And that means Lional Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the two greatest stars in football today.  What a matchup!  Fans live for this sort of encounter.

So the question has to be asked: which of these two stars is the better player?  Call me partisan, but here are four reasons why Messi Wan Kenobi is the better player:

1.  Messi is the better team player.  Let's face it-- they can both be a bit selfish, but Ronaldo's glory-lust is a bit more transparent, while Messi will just as readily dish off to a teamate, than take the shot himself.  People like to see their champions share the glory.

2.  Messi is both younger and yet more mature.  Two years younger than his great rival, Lionel Messi has already reached the same heights of international stardom, with more steam left in his legs.  Yet despite the age difference, Messi seems the more mature figure--see ' team player,' above.

3.  Messi seems more determined.  To state it plainly: Ronaldo is a diver.  He has taken so many transparently fake dives on the pitch, perhaps he should try out for the Portuguese national dive team and make it official.  Conversely, Messi will take a hit on his smallish frame before he goes down, trying to the last to keep a play going.  His obvious determination is admirable.

4.  Messi has a better attitude.  How many times have we seen Ronaldo pitch one of his patented temper tantrums about some play or another?  He's always arguing with the referee or crying about something or just generally throwing a temper tantrum.  Now ask yourself-- how often do you see Lionel Messi carrying on like that?  Not nearly so often.  He never stops before a match is over, his head is never down, and the only time he attracts attention to himself, is when the ball is at his feet. 

It is undeniably true that Cristiano Ronaldo is a huge, huge talent.  Everyone knows it.  And yet that is the problem, because Ronaldo knows it too, so he acts like everyone owes him something.  Basically, the man is a Football Prima Donna.  And yet, despite fundamentally similar talents and a similar level of professional success, Lionel Messi seems not to have fallen into the same ego traps, at least as far as we can tell from his behavior both on and off the pitch.  No one reaches this level of professional sports without having developed a considerable ego; but Lionel Messi seems to hide it better than Cristiano Ronaldo, and hence comes off as a more likeable figure and a better teamate. 

They have a word for this: Character.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Barca Routs Sevilla, 5-0

Saturday night's Spanish league matchup of Barcelona vs. Sevilla turned out to be a complete rout.  The match, held in Barcelona at Camp Nou, was a total showcase of Barca Football at its best, and the Blaugrana had complete control of this match from start to finish.  In just the 4th minute of play, Messi Wan Kenobi opened the scoring when he drilled a mishandled ball underneath Sevilla goalkeeper Varas for the first score.  And then it got worse for Sevilla.  In the 24th minute, Messi dished off a beautiful ball to David Villa, who drilled a left-footed shot into the top corner for a 2-Nil lead.  This match was clearly under control from the start.

Then, to add insult to injury, in the 45th minute Sevilla defender Konko was booked for his second Yellow card of the night, when he brought down Pedro after he pushed the ball through Konko's legs.  Down to ten men, Sevilla was in trouble and the rout was on.  In the 53rd minute, Barca scored a silly goal when Sevilla defender Romaric tried to head the ball back to Varas.  The head-pass fell well short and Danny Alves was on the spot to make them pay, looping the ball over the Keeper for a hugely embaressing goal for Sevilla.  In the 64th minute, Messi Wan Kenobi scored his second goal of the night, an aggressive flat-out charge on the goal that left the defense guessing left and right which way he would go, finishing off the confused Sevilla defenders with a sublime low-skimming shot on goal from 20 yeards out that punched into the bottom corner of the net.  The final score of the night was in the 90th minute, when Messi, Luna, Busquets and Villa combined on a false run into the box that set up a back-pass to Villa, who fired another low-skimming shot that also found the bottom corner of the net, for his second goal.  With two goals by Messi, two by Villa, and one by Alves, this result was even more impressive than last year's 4-0 result against Sevilla at Camp Nou.

This victorious effort by Barcelona can only be described as breathtaking.  According to The Guardian (UK) sportswriter Jacob Steinberg, "Incredibly, the current Barcelona side is even better than the 2006 version... For the last two years, Barcelona have been the team to watch: fluent and mysterious in equal measure, with the exquisite partnership of Xavi and Andres Iniesta supporting the sublime skills of Messi in attack."  This was well said. 

But not every side is going to roll over for mighty Barcelona.  It is worth remembering that the only major dissapointment Barca has had the last few years, was the 3-2 loss in last year's Champion's League match against Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan.  Possibly the best coaching manager in professional football today, Jose 'The Special One' Mourinho has coached Benefica, Porto, Chelsea, Internazionale... and now, Real Madrid.  A talented manager with hugely talented players like Cristiano Ronaldo, right now Mourinho has Real Madrid peaking and hungry.

And they are on a collision course with mighty Barcelona, their arch-rivals.  'El Clasico,' the greatest football Derby in the world, FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, is on November 28th at Camp Nou.  The winner will likely take the league championship.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

K-League Profile: Ilhwa Chunma FC

As we wait about for Barca's match later today against Sevilla FC, perhaps we can use this time for Jedi Soccer to visit the K-League and profile their best club, as we have already done with the J-League Kashima Antlers.  When speaking about the dominant side in Korean football, the team to watch is Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma FC.  The story of this club is also the story of professional football in Korea.

First established in 1983 as the Korean Super League with only five clubs, in 1998 the Korean professional soccer league was reformed and renamed as the K-League, and has expanded to 15 teams.  The story of professional soccer in Korea has largely been about the migration of clubs from the urban centers into the provinces, in some cases coerced migration by the Korea Football Association (KFA).  The driving force behind this migration, and behind the growth of soccer in Korea, was the 2002 FIFA World Cup, which was co-hosted by Japan and Korea.  During the bidding process for hosting the World Cup, the KFA recognized that for Korea to win the bid, it would be necessary to build soccer-specific stadiums nationwide, and for those stadiums to eventually host professional clubs.  Because until that time (the early 1990's) professional soccer in Korea had been largely confined to the major urban areas, the KFA embarked on a policy that may be called 'provincialization,' the systematic relocation of clubs out of the big urban areas and across the country.

The history of Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma FC reflects this policy.  Established in 1989 as Seoul Ilhwa Chunma FC, the team's badge has always been the flying stallion (chunma), a creature from Korean mythology.  From the start, this club has attracted some controversy, because it is owned by Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church.  In the heated religious atmosphere of contemporary Korea, this has been enough for Korean Christian Evangelicals to boycot the team.  Despite this, the club has been successful from its inception, winning supporters and championships in 1993, 1994, and 1995. 

In the midst of this winning streak, the KFA forcibly evicted the club from its facilities in Seoul, and forced it to relocate to Cheonan, becoming the Cheonan Ilhwa Chuma FC.  This forced relocation was followed by a few years near the bottom of the league standings, leading the club to relocate once more in 1999, this time voluntarily to the city of Seongnam.  Here, the club has prospered, winning four more leauge titles in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2006.  With seven league titles to its credit (as reflected by the 7 stars in the club's crest), Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma FC (or just Ilhwa Chunma to its fans), has established itself as the dominant team in Korean soccer.

Ilhwa Chunma has been succesful without as much reliance on foreign talent as some other Asian clubs, such as the Kashima Antlers in the J-League.  Although there has been foreign talent on the team, Ilhwa Chunma (and most Korean soccer clubs) have done a good job developing home-grown Korean talent, a fact reflected by the growing prowess of Korea's national teams.  Moreover, despite the brusing growth pains of the K-League, the 'provincializaton' policy of the KFA has proven to be a success. Today the K-League is arguably the strongest soccer league in Asia, based on the results of the Asian Champions League competition, which has been won by Korean sides 8 times, more than any other Asian nation.

The K-League is currently the oldest professional soccer league in Asia, and Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma is its most storied franchise.  But the real news is this:  soccer has totally caught on in Korea.  Thanks to the KFA's sometimes-forceful policies, today the Beautiful Game is quite popular in South Korea.  And that is welcome news for any true football fan.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

One More Tribute for Jaime Moreno

By Frank Giase, The Star-Ledger:

"Pick any big name from the 15-year history of Major League Soccer. Now think of who has meant the most to the league.  Carlos Valderrama? Marco Etcheverry? Landon Donovan? Nope. Not even close.

The most important player in the history of the league played his final game Saturday night, and if every player who comes along now doesn’t pay respect toward the trail blazed by Jaime Moreno, then he is not seeing the big picture.

Moreno was there from the start, a 22-year-old kid who was struggling to get playing time at Middlesbrough and who signed with D.C. United in 1996, Major League Soccer’s inaugural season. Moreno, playing for coach Bruce Arena, teammed with Etcheverry, John Harkes, Jeff Agoos, Raul Diaz Arce and Eddie Pope and D.C. United immediately become the most dominant team in the league. D.C. United, in their black kit, was the villain every other team geared up to knock off, a team that could play with finesse or physicality — and beat you either way.

D.C. appeared in the first four MLS Cups, winning three. Eventually, the stars moved on or retired, except for Moreno, who continued to score goals and win games.

Except for the 2003 season, when he played 11 games with the MetroStars in an injury-filled season, he spent his entire career in Washington. And in 2004, when he went back to D.C., he had a career-high 14 assists when the team won its fourth MLS Cup.

He will retire as the league’s all-time leading scorer with 133 goals, although FC Dallas’ Jeff Cunningham, with 132, will surpass him next season. And his 102 career assists make him the only person in league history with triple digits in both categories. But that’s just the statistical side of it.

“There’s been very few people, perhaps none other, who have done as well for our league and for the sport of soccer in our country,” MLS commissioner Don Garber told the RFK Stadium crowd Saturday night.

As the 36-year-old Moreno walked off the field to a standing ovation with eight minutes to play, Toronto’s Dwayne De Rosario, who won MLS Cups with Houston in 2006 and 2007, embraced him.

“I just thanked him for what he’s done in this league,” De Rosario said. “Guys like that put the league on the map. Guys like that made players from Europe and players from all over the world be attracted to this league.”

MLS is different now. No player of Moreno’s talents will likely spend a 15-year career here, although we can hope the league will become strong enough in the future for that to happen.

And if it does, those players can thank those who helped build the league and were there through the tough times, and they should begin with Jaime Moreno."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Moreno Retires, Messi Wins

This past Saturday, two really important events happened in the world of Jedi Soccer: Barca's 2-Nil triumph over Zaragoza in La Liga play; and Jaime Moreno's final match and final career goal for DC United.  Normally Barca news takes priority over what DC United is up to, but I think today is an exception.

In the last match of this dreadful Season from Hell, DC United hero Jaime Moreno, United's Ultimate Champion, stepped up to the penalty spot in the 48th minute against FC Toronto to take a shot and score the final goal of his fabulous and illustrious career.  A deafening crescendo of cheers rose up from the spectators when he put the ball in the net, including from MLS Commissioner Don Garber and former United teamates John Harkes, Eddie Pope and Marco Etcheverry.  Sadly, as-per-normal in this ugly, ugly season, DC United promptly gave up the lead again and ended up losing to the Canadian side 3-2, in an otherwise forgettable match.

So ends the brilliant football career of Jaime Moreno, Champion.  Mercifully, the season is over for DC United, but its clear that no one will hold this season against Moreno.  He will be fondly remembered for his many other contributions.

Meanwhile... on the other side of the Atlantic, FC Barcelona paid a visit to La Liga rivals Zaragoza this past Saturday.  In yet another stunning display of football virtuosity, Messi Wan Kenobi found the back of the net twice, posting all the scoring that Barca would need to stay in the race to defend their league championship.  Including his two recent goals against Kobenhavn in Champion's League play, Lionel Messi has now scored 4 goals in 2 games.  Lionel Messi is truly the dominant football player of this generation.

Lionel Messi and Jaime Moreno: two champions.  I'm really going to miss seeing Moreno in the all-black, but at least Messi will be still be around for a few more years to entertain us, hopefully wearing the blue and red.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Barca Over Kobenhavn 2-0

With characteristically beautiful goals in the 19th and the 92d minute by Messi Wan Kenobi, yesterday FC Barcelona dismissed Danish league Champions FC Kobenhavn, 2-Nil to take first place in Group 'D' of the Champions League competition.  With solid defense work from the back line Abidal, Pique, Puyol and Alves, Barca was able to move the ball about freely, allowing the front line of Iniesta, Villa and Messi to shoot on goal.  Goals in the 32d minute by Villa and in the 38th minute by Messi were dissallowed for being offsides, but this reflects the offensive duress that Kobenhavn was under, and the final score could easily have been much more lopsided.

With 7 points in Group 'D' play, Barcelona is now well positioned to win their group and advance to the next round of play.  However, because Kobenhavn finished the group stage in second place with 6 points, Barcelona will face them again on November 2d in Parken Stadion, Copenhaven.  Assuming Barca displays the same fine defense work and offensive coordination, the outcome should be the same and Barcelona should advance once more in this year's Champions League play.

Barcelona's next match is this Saturday, October 23rd when they visit Zaragoza.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Barca 2-1 Valencia

In a classic "tale of two halves," on Saturday FC Barcelona came from behind to defeat Valencia 2-1.  In the first half of play, Valencia trotted out a mid-field dominance strategy that effectively stunted Barca's vaunted ball-control offense, denying Xavi and Iniesta any room to work their magic.  Frustrated and looking for a clue, Barca looked flat when in the 38th minuted, Valencia star Pablo caught Pique and Alves out of position, leading to a goal and a 1-nil lead for Valencia.  Valencia's mid-field control in the first half was exceptional, and it was only sheer luck that prevented a second Valencia goal in the 40th minute, when Valdes made a desperate save to keep the score close.

It would be interesting to know what Pep Guardiola told his side during the half, because Barca came out after the break and looked like the all-dominant Blaugrana side we all know and love.  Xavi and Iniesta re-asserted control over the midfield, which almost immediately produced results.  In the 47th minute Xavi played one-two with Iniesta and then calmly slotted the ball past Valencia goalkeeper Cesar for the equalizer, and after that the floodgates opened.  Barca posted shots on goal in the 55th and 59th minutes, and then in the 63rd minute Puyol slammed a header home from a cross by Xavi to put Barca up, 2-1.  In the 65th minute Messi Wan Kenobi had a brilliant shot somehow saved by the defense, and then in the 94th minute he collected a chest ball and put it home, but was ruled offsides.  And that finished the scoring, to give Barca a much-needed and well-deserved come-from-behind win, thus keeping their title defence in La Liga alive and well.

Barca's next match is this coming Wendesday October 20th, when they return to Champion's Leage play against FC Kobenhavn.  If they can win this match-- and they should-- Barca will advance to the next round of play in the Champions Leage.  And thanks to this result against Valencia, Barca is also alive and well in La Liga competition.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

J-League Profile: Kashima Antlers

As we wait for Barca to take on Valencia later today, and for DC United's dreadful Season From Hell to finally end, it might be fun to take a detour to the Land of the Rising Sun and look at the Kashima Antlers, the top club in the J-League.  Since its inception in 1993, the Japan League has emerged as one of the top association football leagues in the world, with an impressive number of foreign stars playing on Japanese teams, and the steady growth of native Japanese soccer talent.  Over the 17 year history of the J-League, the top team in the J-League has consistently been the Kashima Antlers.

Named after a pun on the word 'Kashima,' which means 'Deer Island,' since 1993 the Kashima Antlers have won pretty much everything there is to win in the world of Japanese soccer.  The Antlers have been J-League Champions an astonishing 7 times ( 1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2007, 2008, 2009).  They have won the Emporer's Cup competition three times (1997, 2000, 2007); the J-League Cup three times in 1997, 2000, 2007 (open to clubs from all levels); and the Xerox Super Cup match between the J-League and Emporer's Cup champions no less than 5 times, in 1997, 1998, 1999, 2009, 2010.  With an astonishing total of 18 championships in 17 years, the Kashima Antlers may be the most successful soccer team in the world, that nobody in the west knows anything about.

Why has Kashima been so successful?  I believe it has to do with the strong ties between Kashima and Brazilian soccer.  Although like all Japanese teams Kashima is required to field a majority of Japanese players, the Antlers have also built a strong recruiting relationship with developmental clubs in Brazil, leading to an unusually high number of Brazilians playing in Japan.  Brazilian luminaries such as Zico, Leonardo, Bismarck, Bebeto, and current players Marquinhos and Gilton, have all played for this team, among many others.  The result has been the inculcation of the Brazilian "beautiful game" style of play, which has come to characterize the play of the Kashima Antlers.  Now that Zico is the head coach of the Japanese national team, the Kashima-Brazilian style has also come to characterize the Japanese national team (the 'Blue Samurai'), similar to the way that Johan Cryuff brought the Dutch style of 'Total Footbal' to FC Barcelona and, hence, the Spanish national team.

In my estimation the quality of play in the J-League is at least as good as in the American MLS, which means it is totally worth watching.  The top clubs in the J-League, such as the Kashima Antlers, are clearly world-class sides which can compete anywhere.  Maybe one day some of these Japanese teams will come to play against the best that the MLS has to offer.  I would totally buy a ticket to see DC United against the Kashima Antlers, for example.

Considering how badly United is playing this season, right now I'd have to pick Kashima to win that match.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Thank You Jaime Moreno...

Two weeks from today, on Saturday October 23rd, MLS legend Jaime Moreno will make his final appearance for DC United, the club he has played most of his career with.  With only weeks remaining in the career of one of the premier players in the history of the MLS, it is not too early to begin heaping the accolades on Sr. Moreno, which he has so richly earned:

Item:  Jaime Moreno is the all-time MLS scoring leader, having surpassed Dallas Burn star Jason Kreis on August 22, 2007 with a goal against Red Bull New York.  With two weeks left in his career, his career goal tally stands at an astonishing 134 goals.

Item:  On April 17, 2009, Moreno became the first MLS player ever to reach the mark of 100 goals and 100 assists when he assisted on a Ben Olsen stoppage time goal.

Item:  In 1994 Jaime Moreno became the first Bolivian to play in the English Premier League, when he signed for FC Middlesbrough.

Item:  Jaime Moreno won the 1997 MLS Cup MVP trophy.

Item:  Moreno is a seven-time MLS All-Star: 1997, 1998, 1999, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2010.

Item:  As a regular on the Bolivian national team, Jaime Moreno played in the 1994 FIFA World Cup, and in the Copa America in 1997, scoring goals against Paraguay, the United States, Columbia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Peru in international competition.

Item:  Jaime Moreno was a team leader and instrumental in FOUR DC United MLS championships, in 1996, 1997, 1999, and 2004.  He was there for every one of our triumphs.

Item:  Moreno is a two-time US Open Cup champion, in 1996 & 2008

Item:  Moreno helped United win the CONCACAF Champions Cup in 1998.

Item:  In 2005 Jaime Moreno was named to the MLS All-Time Best XI team, even before his illustrious career was over.

Over his illustrious 18-year career, Jaime Moreno has spent 14 years with DC United (with three at FC Middlesbrough in the Premier League, and one year with the MLS MetroStars, now Red Bull New York).  DC United has been Jaime Moreno's home for most of his career.  He will always be remembered as a DC United man.

According to DC United President Kevin Payne, Jaime Moreno is "Arguably the greatest player in the history of Major League Soccer."  I agree.

Moreno has announced his intention to return to his native Boliva, but he also has a standing offer from DC United to come back and work for the club.  It is a beautiful gesture and perhaps Sr. Moreno will accept the offer.  We can only hope.

So, with a sense of gratitude for the championships and the memories, and deep appreciation for his many football accomplishments, I say, "Thank you Jaime Moreno."  You were the best, and you will be missed. 

Players like this are never easily replaced.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Barca 1-1 Mallorca

For the second time in two weeks Barca has delivered a tied match at a home game, this time against Spanish league rival Mallorca, thus missing the chance to post three points in La Liga standings.  Adding insult to injury is the fact that Barca consistently dominated play throughout the match, scoring first in the 21st minute on a give-and-go through Messi-Alves-Pedro-Messi, who finished beautifully to put Barca ahead.  Unfortunately, despite dominating possession and shots on goal, in the 42d minute Barca's usually-solid defense broke down, allowing Mallorca defenseman Emilio Nsue Lopez to sweep through six Barca defenders enroute to a beautiful header that equalized the score.

Although Barca once again dominated play in the second half, the Blaugrana were unable to find the magic against a Mallorca side that played defensive football, leading to the final tied score.  For Mallorca, a tied score at Camp Nou is a good result, but for Barca it is not, leaving them 4 points under first-place Valencia and behind Real Madrid in league standings.  Last week's tied score with Rubin Kazan was less damaging than this outcome-- Barcelona now cannot afford to miss any chance for points in La Liga, if they want to play for the league championship.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Barca 1-1 Rubin Kazan

With a first-half penalty goal and a smothering 5-4-1 defensive effort that shut down Barca for most of the match, Russian side Rubin Kazan appeared to be headed for an unexpected win until David Villa converted a penalty kick in the second period to equalize the score.  Barca played better after that, but still missed opportunities in the 62d minute, when Danny Alves wasted a chance after brilliantly intercepting a back pass to the goalkeeper; and again in the 71st minute when Messi Wan Kenobi had a shot blocked; and then again in the 87th minute when a powerful header by Martins came off the post.  Barca's last chance was a misdirected header in the 89th minute by Bojan Krkic, and that ended the match, Barca finishing 1-1 against Rubin Kazan.

Even so, this is not a bad result for Barca.  This was clearly going to be the toughest match of the Champions League group phase for Barca, so this outcome allows Barca to stay in the running for the next round of competition-- currently FC Kobenhavn is first in Group D with 6 points, and Barca second with 4.  Despite their strong showing, Rubin Kazan still has only 1 point in Group D, so Barca is in good position to advance.  Moreover, the come-from-behind outcome against a side that was playing defensive football showed some strong character.  Frankly, Barca's fearsome reputation is sure to lead other teams to adopt the 5-4-1 defensive clam against the Blaugrana, so Barca fans can probably expect to see more of this kind of tactic in the future.  It is the price of success.

Barca returns to league play on Sunday October 3d against Real Mallorca, and their next Champions League match is on Wednesday October 20th at Camp Nou, against group leader FC Kobenhavn.  If Barca can shut down Kobenhavn's Senegalese sensation Dame N'Doye, Barca will win Group D and advance to the Round of 16 in Champion's League play.

It will be fun to watch.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What's Wrong With DC United?

Despite being the most decorated team in the league, and despite sustaining a fairly high level of match attendance, DC United has fallen on hard times.  Beginning with the fact that the veteran core of the championship teams of the past are now either retired or on the verge of doing so, the inexorable mathematics of sports has generated the miserable results that United has endured lately.  Compounding this trajectory were several bad personnel decisions, which have contributed to the current debacle.  As of the date of this post, DC United has the worst record in the MLS.
Starting in goal and moving forward, United hasn’t has a decent goalkeeper since 2006 Goalkeeper of the Year Troy Perkins left the team in 2007.  In a bid to replace him, United sent MLS Defender of the year Bobby Boswell to Houston for keeper Zach Wells, whose subsequent performance betrayed which club got the better deal.  Louis Crayton’s backup performance in goal was adequate until his injury, but the play of journeyman Josh Wicks and rookie Milos Kocic has been at best a holding measure.  Josh Wicks in particular has anger control issues that have cost the team both red and yellow cards in the past, so for now, United has no real ‘franchise’ goalkeeper.
DC United’s back line is also in disarray.  A rotating cast comprised of Carey Talley, Devon McTavish and Clyde Simms has been deployed at right back, mostly because of the injury of Bryan Namoff, with Dejan Jakovic and Juan Manuel Pena in the middle.  Only Rodney Wallace has been a steady presence at left back.  United clearly needs to stabilize this situation.
In the midfield, the retirement of steady veteran Ben Olsen has clearly hurt the club.  Clyde Simms is a fine defending midfielder but the club clearly needs the offensive creativity that Olsen brought to the pitch.  Julius James has shown flashes of brilliance this year, but the Trinidad & Tobago midfielder has yet to hit his full professional stride.  If and when he does, United will finally have someone to fill Olsen’s boots, but not yet.
On the attack, the loss of Brazilian star Fred, team goal leader Luciano Emilio, and also Christian Gomez, has reduced the team’s offensive firepower.  Using Santino Quaranta in the midfield role takes him out of the right wing spot where he seems to play best, which puts the offensive load squarely on veteran Jaime Moreno.  Although Moreno is one of the greatest players in the history of the MLS, asking him at the end of his illustrious career to carry this load is unconscionable, and anyway at his age the careful management of his playing minutes will necessarily mitigate his scoring.  It’s a crying shame to see a champion like Moreno having to endure this grief.
As for the teams coaching, I don’t know if interim head coach Ben Olsen is the right man for the job.  His long and successful career with United makes him a sentimental favorite for replacing dismissed coach Curt Onalfo, but United’s troubles are so deep right now, that this is hardly the ideal place for a rookie coach.  I fear we need a more experienced hand at the tiller just now.
As a final consideration, it may be worth noting that the team has not done very well since concluding the Volkswagen sponsorship deal.  Seeing United on the pitch with the VW logo blazoned on their jersey, somehow makes the team feel different than the side that wore the old three-stripe black jerseys and won all those championships.  Though it may be illogical, I wonder if there is not some visual-psychological aspect to the change that is affecting the team.  I vote for bringing back the three stripe jersey of the champions, and losing the VW logo, or at least making it waaay smaller.
Despite all this grim news, not all is lost.  Chris Pontius may not be an ideal striker but his versatility is much appreciated, and Salvadoran Cristian Castillo is a genuine talent who can light things up for United once he hits his stride.  If United can settle the goalkeeping position and the back line, players like Wallace, Simms, James, Quaranta and Pontius will have time to gel as a unit.  Ad to this the promising crop of up-and-coming developmental talent, particularly young Andy Najar, and the resulting picture has a distinct aura of hope.
Will DC United eventually return to its rightful place as the premier team in the league?  I think it will, but it might take a few seasons to turn this ship around.  The first big step will be in selecting the right new head coach to lead the team.  Let’s hope management chooses wisely.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Barca Downs Atletico, Messi Injured


"Barcelona put their poor recent record at the Vicente Calderon behind them to end Atletico Madrid's 100% start to the Primera Division season - but there was an injury scare for Lionel Messi.

Barça had lost their three previous league visits to Atletico's home 2-1, 4-3 and 4-2 but they deservedly earned all three points on this occasion thanks to first-half goals from Messi and Gerard Pique. Atletico had managed to equalise through Raul Garcia but they can have few complaints about the result and finished the game with 10 men when defender Tomas Ujfalusi was sent off late on following a challenge on Messi.

Messi was carried off on a stretcher after that to be replaced by Bojan Krkic and Barça will be keeping their fingers crossed the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year has not suffered a serious injury. The result means Atletico, having started the season superbly with a UEFA Super Cup win over Inter Milan and back-to-back league victories, have now lost twice in four days following Thursday's UEFA Europa League defeat against Aris.

For Barça though it was another impressive performance following their 5-1 midweek UEFA Champions League mauling of Panathinaikos, and gets them back on track in La Liga after their shock 2-0 home defeat to Hercules last weekend."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Barca Dismisses Panathinaikos 5-1

Coming right after the shocking loss to Hercules in Premier League play last week, Barca's opening match of this years Champion's League campaign was a critical test that the Blaugrana were determined not to lose.  After surviving an initial barrage of shots on goal by the Catalan side, playing on their home turf at Camp Nou, Panathinaikos struck first with a brilliant goal by Govou in the 20th minute, and that was the highlight for the Greeks.  Just two minutes later, Messi wan Kenobi struck on a lovely through ball from Xavi Hernandez for the equalizer, followed by a goal from David Villa.  Messi wan Kenobi found the back of the net a second time before the half, giving Barca a 3-1 advantage, which was sealed with finishing goals by teamates B. Krkic and D. Alves.  Overall, Barca unleashed no less than 28 shots on goal and dominated possession an astonishing 86 %.

Barca is thus off to a smashing start to the UEFA Champions Leage campaign.  Their next Champion's League match is on October 20 against Russian side Rubin Kazan, which will be a greater threat than Panathinaikos was.  Last year Barca was surprisingly defeated in Champion's League play by the Russian team, so this year they will be looking for revenge.  The fact that Rubin Kazan lost their opening match to Danish champions FC Kobenhavn should be encouraging for Barca fans, perhaps indicating that the Russian team has slipped a bit since last year.

Meanwhile, on Saturday its back to League play for Barca, as they go on the road against Atletico Madrid, sure to be one of their more difficult matches of the season.  After last week's loss to Hercules, Barca can't afford to drop any points,but if they play like they did against Panathinaikos, all should be well.

"Everyone knows Barcelona, and everyone is amazed by their team, by the football they play, so there's not much more to say there. They are very strong and after losing a game they are even stronger."  Panathinaikos Coach Nikos Nioplias

Monday, September 13, 2010

Barca Back to Champions League

Now that the World Cup is over, the Next Big Thing in international association Football gets cranked up:  the UEFA Champions League.  According to Didier Deschamps, "Without doubt or hesitation, this is the most beautiful of all competitions."  For those of you who are not familiar with UEFA, it stands for the Union of European Football Associations, and is comprised of the national soccer associations of pretty much every European country, plus also Turkey and Israel.  The Champions Leage, as the name suggests, is a tournament comprised of the National Champions of each member Federation and also the second-place and sometimes third-place finishers from the strongest European leagues.  As a consequence, the UEFA Champions League competition is one of the most-watched sporting events not only in Europe, but around the world.

Not surprisingly, FC Barcelona returns once more to the Champions League, beginning competition tommorrow (Tuesday September 14) with an opening-round match against Greek side Panathinaikos.  With three UEFA Champions League titles to its credit, Barsa is among those elite Eurpoean clubs who have previously won this tournament.  Currently Barsa is two championships away from the five-title requirement established by UEFA, for League winners to keep the trophy (after which a new trophy is commissioned).  In the 50 year history of UEFA, only Real Madrid, AC Milan and Liverpool have achieved this lofty distinction.

This year's tournament features no less than six clubs who are new to this competiton:  Eredivisie Champions FC Twente from the Netherlands; Tottenham Hotspur from England; Hapoel Tel Aviv from Israel; SC Braga from Portugal; MSK Zilina from Slovakia; and Bursapor from Turkey.  I think its great to have more "fresh blood" in this competion--so often, it seems like the same clubs are in the tournament. 

This year, Barsa is in Group 'D' along with FC Rubin Kazan from Russia, Panathinaikos, and FC Kobenhavn from Denmark.  I predict that Barsa will sweep the group stage and advance to the round of 16.  After that... we shall see.

So good luck to Barsa!  The UEFA Champions League Final for this year (2010-2011) will be Saturday, May 28 2011 at Wembley Stadium in London.  Go Barsa!!!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Return of the NASL

Well, its official--the name of the old North American Soccer League has been resurrected by a new group of investors and soccer entrepreneurs, hoping to capitalize on the illustrious name of the old league.  The rebirth of the NASL began when FC Miami, a Division 1 side in the United Soccer League (USL), formally filed two trademark claims on the NASL name, in coorperation with the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Crystal Palace Baltimore of the USL.  Not surprisingly, the parent United Soccer Leagues cited contractual obligations requiring these clubs to play their final USL season, resulting in this years bizarre, compromise First Division playoffs, with two divisions labled 'USL' and 'NASL' respectively.  This one-season affair will soon be over and, beginning next year, something new will emerge in Division 1 soccer in America: two competing Division 1 leagues.

It might be helpful at this point to review the 'American Soccer Pyramid' of leagues.  The whole is presided over (more or less) by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), beneath which Major League Soccer (MLS) is the top level of professional soccer in the United States.  Beneath the MLS, however, there are also regional First Division professional leagues which, until now, have been voluntarily organized under the USL umbrella.  The secession of Miami FC, Tampa, Baltimore, and several other teams from the USL, while apparently perfectly legal, is going to dramatically alter the landscape of American professional soccer, hopefully for the better.

The USL has two problems:  (1) no promotion or relegation system with the MLS; and (2) the USL has never generated any sustained excitement.  This should not be a surprise-- the MLS, with greater resources, struggles to keep up the excitement-- but still, this is a problem.  The reborn NASL should have better luck in the excitement category, with several of the teams carrying names from old NASL sides which at the least should generate some nostalgia dollars. 

But nostalgia will only take you so far.  I can easily see the new NASL staking out the mens First Division role of the USL over the next few years, leaving the USL as the vehicle for women's and U-20 soccer in the United States.  (Not that the USL will roll over for that outcome, but it's not a result that would surprise me).  The reborn NASL potentially has huge marketing advantages over the USL. 

But here is the rub: there is no promotion or relegation system with the MLS, which limits the growth potential of the NASL.  So while it will be great to have some of the old club names back (some of them, such as the Vancouver Whitecaps, San Jose Earthquakes, and Portland Timbers, are already in MLS), its also going to be frustrating to have team names like the Tampa Bay Rowdies-- once NASL league champions-- permanently relegated to Division 1 status.

And what happens if and when the New York Cosmos are reborn as an NASL side? How weird is it going to be, having the most storied franchise name in American soccer history... as a permanent Division 1 side?

Of course, the whole reason this situation came into being, is because the old NASL spent itself into oblivion.  Bringing Pele, Beckenbauer, Best, Muller and Cruyff to this side of the pond, didn't come cheap.  The new MLS corrected this fault by making the teams at least partially league-owned, the better to control expenses.  By and large this system has worked, and American professional soccer has prospered.  I'm not saying we should change this.

So I don't know how this will all shake out in the next few years, but it will be fun to watch.  I'm thinking that a promotion or relegation system is the ticket, with the NASL as the Division 1 league, feeding its top 1 or 2 teams into MLS and accepting 1 or 2 MLS relegation sides, and the USL filling its destined role as the league for womens soccer and U-20.  This would give Division 1 teams with storied names, a clear route to the top.  Of course, how to reconcile movement and control issues between a league-centric organization like the MLS, and an owner-centric organization like the new NASL, I can't say; but perhaps the new guiding hands behind the NASL will wisely and consciously decide to emulate the MLS model, thus rendering their operation more compatible with the senior league.

So, best of luck to the new NASL.  I've also read that Miami FC, in tribute to the deep sympathies for the Strikers name in South Florida, will begin playing next season as the South Florida Strikers.  If so, the return of Strikers Soccer to South Florida, will certainly please me very much.  Perhaps I'll write about their fortunes.

Whats next... 'Welcome Back, Kotter?'

Thursday, September 2, 2010

What is 'Jedi Soccer?'

Welcome to Jedi Soccer!

This is the personal Soccer fan-blog of Ernest 'Ernie' Lissabet, and I'm glad you are here.  In the coming weeks and months, I plan to build this blog site into a shrine to The Beautiful Game in general, and specifically to those teams and leagues in which I have a personal interest.  The name 'Jedi Soccer' was inspired by GOL TV color commentator Ray Hudson, who has strangely (and I do mean strangely) been a constant presence throughout my life as a soccer fan, first with the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers when I was a boy, then as the Head Coach of DC United, and now as a match commentator on the only American television station that consistently broadcasts games from overseas.  His outrageous, over-the-top color commentary will be a regular topic discussed here, as well as my own commentary about the sides I care most about:

FC Barcelona-- "Mes que un Club."  The greatest team in the world, and be off with your talk of Manchester United or Real Madrid;

DC United-- Despite their current wretched state, DC United is still the most successful club in MLS history, with 4 league championships, 2 US Open Cup championships, 1 CONCACAF Champions Cup, and 1 Inter-America Cup championship.  I live in the Washington DC metropolitan area and United is my MLS team;

The Yanks-- I am an American and I support the US National Soccer Team.  We will keep up with the progress of Bob Bradley's boys as we head into the campaign towards Brasil 2014;

La Furia Roja-- At last, the Spanish are the reigning World Champions, with a side that is among the finest in the history of Soccer.  As a descendant of Spaniards (via Cuba) on both sides of my family, the success of The Red Fury gives me great pleasure, so we will track the the fortunes of the new Spanish Empire;

The 'J' League and the 'K' League:  By now it is well known that the professional leagues of both Japan and Korea are generating World Cup caliber sides.  Some of the most interesting soccer in the world is being played now in East Asia, so we'll have some fun with Asian soccer;

The Fort Lauderdale Strikers-- Finally, this blog will also be an ongoing tribute to the now long-defunct Ft. Lauderdale Strikers of the old North America Soccer League (NASL), the team and the leauge of my boyhood which first hooked me into an appreciation of The Beautiful Game.

Ray Hudson... Barcelona... United... The Yanks... The Red Fury... Asian soccer...and the old NASL Strikers, these are the things we will write about here at Jedi Soccer.  I hope this blog will be informative, funny and entertaining, and I hope you check back frequently for a fresh perspective on the latest soccer news worldwide.

See you on the pitch.