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.