Saturday, April 30, 2011

United Crushed, but Strikers Tie and Battery Wins

Still basking in the glow of this weeks El Clasico victory over Real Madrid, yesterday was a mixed day in the world of Jedi Soccer as local side DC United was decisively crushed, with the day being redeemed only the Division II sides we follow.  For DC United, the once-and-future champions of Major League Soccer, it was a dismal day against the Houston Dynamo as 21 year old rooke Will Bruin emerged from obscurity in the 4th minute, to score the first of a hat trick of goals for his side.  With a second in the 39th minute, his third in the 59th minute, and a final insult-to-injury goal by Cam Weaver in the 63rd minute, Houston scored four goals in a fine showing.  United's lone goal was provided by Marc Burch in the 39th minute.  DC United has now lost three of its last five matches.

Moving on from this debacle, our Fort Lauderdale Strikers battled to a 2 - 2 tie against the Puerto Rico Islanders in NASL action, letting three valuable points from a road win slip away in the closing seconds.  In the 36th minute Strikers forward Aaron Wheeler was fouled in the box, leading to Eduardo Coudet's third straight goal on a penatly kick in as many games.  In the 75th minute, the Islanders evened up with a pretty header shot by Nicholas Adderly, setting up the dramatic final minute of the game.  In the 89th minute, Strikers substitute Scott Gordon slotted home a shot to the lower right corner of the goal, and the Strikers pulled ahead, only to surrender the win just moments after the restart, with Gregory Richardon's breakway run and shot on goal after the restart.

The sole Jedi Soccer victory of the day was from the Charleston Battery, who defeated the Evangelical Eagles (that is, the Charlotte Eagles) with a dramatic come-from-behing 2 - 1 victory.  Charlotte forward Josh Kish opened the scoring the 21st minute for the Eagles, but after that Battery Keeper Keith Wiggans recorded five saves, including a point-blank shot on goal.  And then the tide shifted and it was the Battery firing all the salvoes.  In the 31st minute Charleston's Gambian forward Seedy Bah scored from a Battery corner kick to tie, and then in stoppage time the Battery was rewarded a free kick just outside the box, leading to Nicki Patterson's superb Bend-it-Like-Beckham shot around the Charlotte wall for the game winner.  This was a fine display of football character for the Battery, and the win brings them to second place in the USL-PRO American Division.

The Battery returns to action tonight against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, while the Strikers next show is on May 7th at Minnesota.  DC United's next up is Wednesday May 7th against the Seattle Sounders FC.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Jedi Messi Slays Real Madrid

In the first leg of this year's Champion's League semi-finals, and the third meeting between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona in less than three weeks, yesterday the Blaugrana avenged their Copa Del Rey loss to Real Madrid last week by humiliating the Royalists 2 - 0 in front of their home fans at the Santiago Bernabeu.

It was a wonderful outcome for Barcelona fans, full of incredible moments and images:  Madrid defender Pepe sent off in the 61st minute for a brutal challenge on Dani Alves that clipped the Barca man in the ankle and literally sent him spinning 360 degrees in the air, before a full-body slam onto the turf; Madrid boss Jose Mourinho also sent off for his mocking, sarcastic applause of the Referee's actions, leaving him stranded in the stands behind an orange bar gate that  ironically resembled prison bars, frantically scribbling notes to this assistants; and above all, two more magical goals by the sublime Messi Wan Kenobi, Jedi Knight of Football, giving FC Barcelona a clear advantage heading into their final encounter with Real Madrid in the second and final leg of the Champions League Semi-Finals.

For the fifth match in a row, and the third El Clasico under Jose Mourinho, Real Madrid again found itself down to ten men against the talented Catalans.  With a man advantage, it was only a matter of time until Barca found the back of then net.  In the 76th minute Barca substitute Ibrahim Afellay sent a beautiful cross from the right wing touch-line, which Lionel Messi met in mid-air immediately in front of the Madrid goal with a right-footed one-touch punch that sent the ball in for Barcelona's first goal.  Then, in the 86th minute, Messi singlehandedly carried the ball from mid field, weaving his way through the Madrid defense in an amazing display of ball control and attacking prowess, beating the entire Madrid defense by himself  before slotting the ball past Iker Casillas with a wide shot that rolled past the Madrid Keeper's outstreched hands, for the second goal of the night. 

After the match, Madrid boss Jose Mourinho went on a public rant, accusing UEFA of blatant favoritism for Barcelona, saying (among other delusional statements):  "I don't know if it's the UNICEF publicity or the friendship of Villar at UEFA, where he is vice president, I don't know if it's because they are so nice, but they have got great power. The rest of us have no chance."

Given this unfounded verbal provocation, today FC Barcelona has released the following club statement: 

"Barca's legal department will study the declarations made by Jose Mourinho following his team's 0-2 defeat at the Bernabeu on Wednesday night to determine whether to refer them to UEFA.  In the post match press conference, Jose Mourinho severely criticized the referee Herr Stark and insinuated that UEFA treated Barca favorably. The club's legal department are now studying whether to take his remarks to the UEFA disciplinary Commission."

In related news, FIFA Presidential candidate Bin Hammam also weighed in on the controversy, saying "It is up to Jose Mourinho what he thinks. But I believe the game was excellent and, from what I hear, a very entertaining game."  Asked if there was a conspiracy from referees, or governing bodies, in favour of Barcelona, Bin Hammam replied: "Not at this level of competition, no. I don't think so."

It is clear to this fan that (1) Pepe's ejection for spinning Alves around in the air was completely justified; (2) Mourinho's mocking of the referee was also an actionable offense under the rules of Association Football; (3) Mourinho's post-game rant was deleusional, unjustified, and an indication of the clear frustration he has over being bested time and again by FC Barcelona, the Greatest Football Team on the Planet. 

Madrid now travel's to Camp Nou for the final leg of the Semi-Finals with a huge, two-goal handicap.  Unless Madrid can produce a miracle in front of the Barca faithful-- not very likely-- then it is beginning to look like it will be FC Barcelona against Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League final this year, in a repeat of the 2009 final.

As for Real Madrid, they can enjoy their Copa del Rey victory from last week, because it is beginning to look like it is the only joy they will get from El Clasico this year, as FC Barcelona is now undisputedly on-track to claim both the Spanish League Championship, as well as the European Championship.

Trophies pending.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

United Ousted from Open Cup

From SB Nation at
by Jordan Ruby

'D.C. United has been eliminated from contention for the U.S. Open Cup after falling to the New England Revolution 3-2 in a qualifier on Tuesday. They fell behind 3-0 early after some uninspired play in the early part of this game. Two goals from Branko Boskovic helped bring them back into contention, but they were ultimately unable to close the gap.

According to Steven Goff of the Washington Post, D.C. United coach Ben Olsen isn't ready to take any moral victories away from a game with so many implications:

"The energy and fight toward the end was great and exciting, but the good teams don’t have to do that," Coach Ben Olsen said. "The good teams put all that energy and passion early in the game so you don’t have to end up fighting to get a result."

The Revolution did not field very many of their starters because they have a league game on Friday against Houston.'

Monday, April 25, 2011

Strikers Win, Battery Loses

In Division II professional soccer this past weekend our Jedi Soccer sides enjoyed mixed success, with our beloved Fort Lauderdale Strikers winning 2 - 1 over the horribly named Atlanta Silverbacks, while the Charleston Battery gave up two goals to the surging Richmond Kickers to surrender a 2 - 1 victory to the Virginia side. 

In NASL action, the Strikers visited Atlanta, who have chosen to name their team after the forest gorilla, a species that everyone knows is indigenous to northern Georgia (Not ! ).  Despite an energetic but uncoordinated opening by the Silverbacks, first blood fell to the Strikers in the 14th minute when forward Martin Nunez scored his first goal of the season with a chipped shot over Atlanta Keeper Felipe Quintero's head to open the scoring.  However, only two minutes later Mexican international Mario Perez leveled the score with a thunderous volley that sailed past Strikers Keeper Nic Platter, resulting in a deadlock that lasted the rest of the game.  Despite outshooting the Strikers 17 - 8, the dreadfully named Silverbacks could not pull ahead, and endured the pain of seeing a late header goal by Emsad Zahirovic dissallowed for offsides, which kept the score level.  In the final minute of regular time, Strikers substitute Yoximar Granado was fouled in the box by Atlanta defenseman Tyler Ruthven, setting up the game-winning PK by Eduardo Coudet, who sailed the ball into the net just under the crossbar for the victory.  This victory gives the Strikers their first win of the season, bringing them to 1 - 1 - 1 and a middle-of-the-pack three point position in the league standings. Attendance for the match was just over 3,000 spectators.

Meanwhile, in USL-PRO league action, the Charleston Battery lost its first game of the season to the Richmond Kickers, who came from behind to claim the victory.  Battery forward Levi Coleman opened the scoring and put the Battery ahead in the 15th minute with a thumping header off a pretty cross by Cole Peverley, but thereafter the match shifted to Richmond's favor.  In the 61st minute Richmond forward David Bulow powered a header past Battery Keeper Keith Wiggans to level the score; then the game-winner came in stoppage time as Richmond winger Shaka Bangura bounced a shot off the post and into the net to seal the resurgent victory for the Kickers.  With this loss the Battery falls to 2 - 1 - 0 on the season, with a middle-of-the-pack six point position in the USL-PRO league American Division.  The match was played before approximately 1,800 fans in Richmond's City Stadium. 

The Battery next heads to Charlotte this Friday for another match against the Evangelical Eagles (I mean, the Charlotte Eagles), while the Strikers will visit the Estadio Juan Ramon Louobriel in Bayamon PR to play against the Puerto Rico Islanders in their season home opener.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Messi Nets 50th, But United is Crushed by Red Bulls

Yesterday FC Barcelona recovered from its mid-week loss in the Copa del Rey tournament final, by defeating La Liga opponents Osasuna 2 - 0 at Camp Nou to maintain an eight point lead over Copa winners Real Madrid in the race for the Spanish League championship.  Choosing to rest most of the first team during this pause in the current El Clasico series with Madrid (with the two Champions League encounters between them still pending), Coach Pep Guardiola's lineup included first team striker David Villa, who finally ended his 11 game goal drought with a strike in the 23rd minute that put Barca ahead after Osasuna came out looking dangerously strong against Barca's second team.  Later Guardiola substituted Lionel Messi for Villa, who proceeded to give Barca another goal in the 87th minute for Barca's second goal of the night, and his 50th goal of the season.  The amazing Messi Wan Kenobi has now become the first player in Spanish League history to score 50 goals in one season, 31 of them in La Liga competiton.

But the big news was the end of David 'El Guaje' Villa's goal drought.  Brought in to replace the towering but immobile Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who in turn had been brought in to replace long-lost goal-scoring machine Samuel Eto'o, Villa has managed to post 21 goals this season--very close to the kind of numbers that Ibrahimovic posted.  Both Villa and Ibrahimovic each cost Barca over 100 million Euros to sign, but neither has measured up to the brilliant standards of Samuel Eto'o.  Still, despite the similar scoring numbers, it is clear that El Guaje is a more versatile striker than Ibrahimovic was, so Barca fans everywhere are hoping this drought-ending goal puts things right with Villa and he resumes performing again at the level of play everyone knows he is capable of, especially with two more El Clasico matches looming.

Meanwhile, here in America local side DC United was crushed at RFK Stadium by the New York Red Bulls, only five days after an inspiring 3 - 0 away victory over FC Toronto.  French legend and former Barcelona star Thierry Henry netted two goals, Joel Lindpere got one in the 76th minute, and rising US National team star Juan Agudelo put one in during injury time as well, to wrap up a thorough 4 - 0 crushing of DC United before the home fans.  United hero Charlie Davies was held scoreless for the first time in five matches, and the only celebration of the evening was the polite applause United fans gave Thierry Henry when he was substituted out of the match late in the game.

After the game, United Coach Ben Olsen said, "It’s a tough night for us.  We fouled up a couple plays that cost us. They’re a good team and if you make mistakes, they have guys who know how to punish you.  This is a process, and right now, they’re a better team than we are.  Are they 4-0 better than us?  I don’t think so, but on the night, I suppose they were."

United's next match is on Tuesday against the New England Revolution in a US Open Cup qualifier at the Maryland SoccerPlex.  Barca's next match is on Wednesday April 27th at the Santiago Bernabeu in the first leg of the UEFA Champion's League Semi-Final matches, and will be without the services of defenseman Adriano, who is probably done for the season from the hamstring injury suffered in the Copa del Rey against Madrid.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Getafe Team Dubai ?

In yet another sign of the increasing penetration of Spanish league soccer by wealthy middle eastern princes and companies, recently the Royal Emirates Group of Dubai announced the purchase of Spanish League side Getafe for the sum of 90 million euros.  The team is allegedly going to be re-branded at 'Getafe Team Dubai' under which name it will compete in La Liga beginning next season.

This is hardly the first instance of middle eastern involvement in European soccer.  Readers of this blog are aware of how much I heartily dislike the FC Barcelona / Qatar Foundation sponsorship deal announced earlier this season.  Beginning in a few months time, Barca will begin playing with the words 'Qatar Foundation' blazoned across the front of the jersey, replacing the morally sensible UNICEF logo currently on the kit, with the morally questionable Qatar Foundation logo.  I do not want to go over the reasons again why I dislike it; I refer readers to my earlier posts about the Qatar Foundation deal for a more detailed explanation of the reasons for my resistance to the new jersey.

And its not just Getafe and Barca who seem to be climbing into bed with various middle eastern princes and companies.  Last year Malaga was sold to the Qatari Royal family, for example.  And this trend is hardly limited to Spanish soccer-- the English Premier League also has sides owned by middle eastern interests:  Fulham is owned by Egyptian businessman Mohamed al Fayed, and Manchester City is owned by an Abu Dhabi consortium led by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.

(In all fairness, hardly any Premier League sides are still owned by Englishmen, with team ownership largely being held by a variety of Russian, Indian, Chinese, and American investors).

By and large I don't have a problem with this except when the new owners displace existing team traditions, such as renaming a Spanish side 'Team Dubai.'  That, I have a problem with.  With that kind of team name, it no longer feels like Spanish soccer.  How about 'Tottenham Team Thailand?'  Or 'DC United of Arabia?'  It just feels wrong.

Soccer leagues are by and large for-profit organizations.  In a commercial world where profits are obviously more important than pretty much everything, these kind of things are going to happen.  So long as the new owners don't start imposing their own culture on the team and the city it represents, then fine.  But the minute they begin to superimpose their culture on local football traditions, they have lost the legitimate support of local fans of that side, in my opinion, and the fans should make their displeasure known.

'Getafe Team Dubai' is a horrible name for a Spanish football team, and the Barca - Qatar Foundation deal is hardly any better.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Madrid Wins Copa Ugly

Today Real Madrid defeated FC Barcelona in the Copa del Rey (King's Cup) tournament final, with an ugly second-half display of anti-football defensive tactics that regrettably paid off for Jose Mourinho's Galacticos, winning the tournament final with the marginal score of 1 - Nil.

As in the match last Saturday, Real Madrid played a very aggressive first half which saw reserve Barcelona goalkeeper Jose Pinto beat by Cristiano Ronaldo in the 12th minute; but fortunately Barcelona defenseman Mascherano hacked the ball away to save the goal.  Late in the half, Madrid fullback Alvaro Arbeloa stomped on David Villa and was lucky not to have been show the red card straightaway for his ugly tackle, which would have (and should have) completely changed the complexion of the match.  In the 35th minute, Pinto made a fine save of another ominous shot by Ronaldo, but was again out of position just before the half when a shot by Real's Brazilian  forward Pepe rang off the crossbar, allowing Barca to go into the half with a tied score.

The tide shifted after the break.  Barcelona dominated the second half in typical style, as Real Madrid totally abandoned any pretense at beautiful football in favor of jamming the box with seven and sometimes even eight players, making it very difficult for Barca to score.  Despite these ugly anti-football tactics, Pedro still managed to fire a shot just wide of goal, Lionel Messi sailed a shot over the crossbar, and in turn was almost perfectly set up by Dani Alves as well.  In the 68th minute, David Villa momentarily appeared to have broken his dry spell of goals with a fine running strike that sailed past Iker Casillas, but he was ruled offsides and the goal was dissallowed.  Thus the match ended at full time with the score 0 - 0, sending the final into a mandatory overtime.

Barca continued to dominate possession in overtime, but it was the infuriatingly talented Cristiano Ronaldo who broke the tied score.  In the 102d minute Angel di Maria sent a beautiful cross from the wing on a rare Madrid counter-attack, which Cristiano Ronaldo met in the air, slamming a thunderous header past Pinto to the back of the net which gave Real a 1 goal lead in overtime.  With a slender lead to protect and the clock to run out, Madrid again reverted to jamming the box with defensive players, and thus the match ended, giving Real Madrid its first trophy of consequence in Jose Mourinho's tenure as coach.  This match was also the first time Pep Guardiola has lost a finals match since taking over as Barcelona's Manager in 2008, bringing him to six finals victories against only one defeat in finals play over the last three years.  An impressive record indeed.

Thus Barca's hopes for another Treble of Championships (Liga-Copa-Champions League) come to an end.  However, with the Spanish League championship all but wrapped up, FC Barcelona still has a fine chance to win the Champion's League tournament, which would give the Catalan's two major trophies this season, a fine achievement.  Barca returns to La Liga competition this upcoming Saturday with a home match at Camp Nou against Osasuna, followed by a return to El Clasico against Real Madrid on April 27th at the Santiago Bernabeu in the first leg of an away-and-home Champion's League final series.  Real Madrid will have to return to Camp Nou on May 3rd for the second leg of the series, and the final El Clasico match of this season.  I can't wait.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Strikers Tie, Battery Wins

This past weekend saw some fine Division II professional soccer being played in both the NASL and the USL-PRO leagues.  In NASL action, our beloved reborn Fort Lauderdale Strikers played to a 1 - 1 tie at Lockhart Stadium against the NSC Minnesota Stars in front of 4,400 fans.  Minnesota broke the 0 - 0 tied score in the 61st minute with a headed goal from Devin Del Do off a  free kick, but plenty of action occured before that moment.  After staving off a barrage of shots on goal by Minnesota in the 39th minute, the Strikers almost scored on a Martin Nunez cross that Brian Arguez punched over the crossbar.  Then, in the 87th minute, Eduardo Coudet fired a beautiful strike that missed the right post by inches.  With only 30 seconds left in regular time, Strikers midfield Brian Shriver was brought down in the box, setting up Eduardo Coudet's penatly kick goal and the final result of the game.

After the match, Strikers coach Daryl Shore said, "We felt that we were better tonight, soccer wise.  We were frustrated that we weren’t up a couple goals at halftime, but we have to keep fighting and we’ll get better. They made some great saves, but tonight we created great chances and as long as you have create chances, the goals will come.”

Meanwhile, in USL-PRO league action, the Charleston Battery travelled to Dayton Ohio to face the Dayton Dutch Lions, newly promoted from the USL Division III and hence the newest professional side in North America.  Established in 2009, the Lions are owned by former Eredivisie player Erik Tammer, hence the Dutch team identification.  Playing at the Miami Valley South Stadium before a sparsely attended total of just over 1,000 spectators, the Lions season opener was a struggle against the more talented Charleston side.  The first half was a balanced, scoreless affair, but in the 46th minute, just moments after the re-start, the Battery drew first blood when Nicki Patterson scored on a rebound after Lions keeper Jesper Leerdam mishandled his initial shot, putting the Battery up by one.  Then, a Patterson free kick in the 58th minute was put away by Colin Falvey, opening the Battery's lead to two.  In the 65th minute, Lion's forward Kolby LaCrone put a goal in to make it close, but the Lions could not find the equalizer and hence the Charleston Battery go to 2 - 0 - 0 on the young season.

Next up for these two Second Division sides are a pair of away games.  This upcoming Saturday the Strikers travel to Atlanta to play the absurdly-named Atlanta Silverbacks, while on Saturday Charleston travels to Richmond for an away match against the American Division-leading Richmond Kickers.  Check back here next week for an update of both matches.

Monday, April 18, 2011

United Slams Toronto 3 - 0

This past weekend DC United earned its first road win of the MLS season, with a resounding 3 - 0 victory in Toronto at BMO Field before a stunned crowd of TFC faithful.  The scoring began just five minutes into regulation, when United midfielder Chris Pontius dribbled into the box alone and fired a low percentage but on-target shot that beat the difficult angle, giving United a one goal lead.  Five minutes later, Josh Wolff fired a shot that was not handled Toronto's keeper, allowing Charlie Davies to punch in the loose ball, giving United a two goal lead only ten minutes into play.

The demoralized crowd was silenced by the early reversal, and on the pitch Toronto became increasingly frustrated.  Just after the halftime re-start, Toronto defender Ty Harden was shown a red card for scissoring down Chris Pontius as he broke clear of the Toronto defense, leaving his side to play with only ten men.  With a man advantage, United inevitably found the net again in the 73rd minute with another fine goal from Chris Pontius, who drove into the box alone then reversed direction to beat the lone defender and cap the evening's scoring.

Chris Pontius showed us some quality football this weekend and demonstrated why he is one of United's best players.  And only four games into the season, United's Charlie Davies leads the league with five goals scored.  Time will tell if this win was a fluke or the beginning of a winning trend, but the signs are hopeful that perhaps Coach Ben Olsen has stabilized the lineup and some chemistry is building on the team.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Messi v Ronaldo 1 - 1

FC Barcelona all but wrapped up a third straight La Liga title today with a 1 - 1 draw in Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, in the first of four Clasico matches against their arch rivals.  Real Madrid displayed great determination for much of the first half of the game, but as always Barca had the reserve firepower to score.  In the 53rd minute, Madrid defender Raul Albiol was sent off for wrapping both of his arms around David Villa's neck in the box, a very bad move that gave Messi wan Kenobi his 30th goal of the season, and left Real down one man.

Madrid gamely fought back, most exceptionally displayed by the hustling Marcello who drew the late penalty against Dani Alves, a gift which Cristiano Ronaldo exploited as surely as Messi had earlier, tying the score at 1 - 1.  Down one man, Madrid was fortunate to survive several late Barsa surges, and even mounted a few attacks of their own.  In the end it was not enough, and thus the series begins with a tied score.

Some people are already saying it saved Madrid's honor.  But I think it presages doom for Madrid.  The new Galacticos clearly made an all-out effort today, very disciplined and determined, yet they still came agonizingly close to defeat.  This is their best effort, at home, against their historical nemesis?

What happens when the series move on to other, less-friendly venues?

Yes, I think Real Madrid is in very big trouble.  Visca Barca !

Friday, April 15, 2011

United's Academy Pays Off

With a whole day remaining before the first of four epic 'Clasico' matches between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid to write about, today is a good day to get caught up on important recent club news at DC United.  And no recent club news is more encouraging than the announcement last month that United legend Jaime Moreno was becoming United's Youth Academy Technical Training Coach.  In other words, our very own MLS scoring legend, is going to help teach our young developmental players, how to score goals and lots of them.  And that is very, very good news for DC United indeed.

Moreno is joining United's Academy at a moment when the program is really beginning to pay off for the club.  This past Saturday, April 9th, DC United quietly made MLS history when it became the first professional American soccer club to field three homegrown players on the pitch at the same time-- 2010 MLS Rookie of the year Andy Najar (Alexandria Virginia); goalkeeper Bill Hamid (Annandale Virginia); and defenseman Ethan White (Kensington Maryland).  (Although Najar is a Honduran national, he was discovered by United and brought into the Academy while he was still in High School at TC Williams in Alexandria, the same school of the movie 'Remember the Titans' fame).

With more than 32 Academy graduates who have gone on play collegiate soccer, plus one graduate, Samir Badr, who signed with FC Porto in Portugal, DC United's developmental program is starting to blossom.  Given the success that many European sides have historically enjoyed with their developmental programs (Barca's benchmark La Masia academy comes to mind), it is super-encouraging to see United's developmental efforts start to show up on the pitch wearing our kit.  Now that Sr. Moreno is back showing the talented young Academy students How It's Done, I expect that in the future we will start to see more DC United Academy graduates on the pitch across the MLS and at RFK.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Deluge Cometh


'With just two days to go, the anticipation for the world’s biggest game, El Clasico, couldn’t be higher. After both sides, FC Barcelona & Real Madrid have defeated their respective opponents (Shakhtar Donetsk & Tottenham Hotspurs) in the knock-out stages of the UEFA Champions League, Saturday’s match will be the first of four Clasico’s within the span of 18 days.

The exit of Shakhtar Donetsk and Tottenham Hotspurs means that not only will the UEFA Champions League semi-final be an all-Spanish affair, but two mouth-watering Clasico encounters over two legs in their battle for European supremacy.

One Clasico creates a media-frenzy; now imagine four within a couple of weeks. Furthermore, these Clasico’s have a direct impact on all three competitions (La Liga, the Copa del Rey & the Champions League).

The Merengue head into Saturday’s La Liga clash with an eight-point deficit against their eternal rivals, FC Barcelona. Neither a draw nor defeat is an acceptable result if Real Madrid is to end the Blaugrana’s stranglehold on the Primera Division.

Having witnessed FC Barcelona accumulating the treble just two years ago, the Spanish capital club is just as motivated as any side to match this achievement.

Nevertheless, FC Barcelona own treble hopes are still very much alive. And although the Blaugrana have to travel to the most hostile of environments, the Santiago Bernabeu, they presumably hold the psychological advantage over their archrivals, having won all their encounters since Pep Guardiola’s appointment.

In Jose Mourinho, however, Pep Guardiola & FC Barcelona will have to face one the finest managers, some even go as far and champion the self-proclaimed "Special One" the greatest manager of them all.

Since this year is almost devoid of major football tournaments bar the Copa America, the Clasico’s and the UEFA Champions League final can be considered THE highlights of 2011.'

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Imperial Messi Over Shaktar

With a goal late in the first half at the Donbass Arena by the incomporable Lionel Messi, AKA 'Messi Wan Kenobi' here at Jedi Soccer, FC Barcelona retired Russian side Shaktar Donetsk to advance in Champions League competition.  Barcelona will now face Real Madrid in the semi-final matches, unless the Galacticos completely choke later today in their match against English side Tottenham Hotspur.

With a 5 - 1 goal advantage over Shaktar, it was a foregone conclusion that Barca would advance; but even so, Shaktar mounted a ferocious attack on the Barcelona goal early in the match, determined to erase the deficit.  But Barca weathered the storm and eventually, inevitably, the tide shifted, leading to Messi's game-winning goal.

But the real news here is not Barcelona's victory, but the continued brilliance of Lionel Messi this season, in both Spanish League and Champions League competition.  Messi's goal at the Donbass brought him to the incredible, record-shattering total of 48 goals in one season  This is now officially the highest goal tally of any Barcelona player in a single season-- and there are still over six weeks remaining in the season.


And it doesn't end there.  With nine goals already in Champions League competition this season, Messi appears primed not only to recapture the Champions League 'Golden Boot' award-- which he won in 2009 with 9 goals, and again last year with 8-- but also to surpass Ruud Van Nistlerooy's previous Champions' League record of 12 goals.  Who will wager against Lionel Messi surpassing Nistlerooy's total enroute to his third consecutive Golden Boot award?  Not me.

According to Paul Macdonald at,

'Van Gol' remains the man to beat, but Messi is incessant this season, and given the fact that he was desperate to play in what was effectively a dead rubber against Shaktar, with Barca holding a 5 - 1 advantage from the first leg, highlights his desire to continue to push the boundaries of excellence, and also hints at a hugely competitive streak that stretches beyong the quest for team success.'

If you love soccer, and you are not paying attention to what is going on at FC Barcelona this season, you are missing one of the most historic seasons in the history of professional futbol.

Enjoy the ride.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Jedi Soccer Adopts Battery

I've decided to adopt the Charleston Battery as a team that Jedi Soccer will follow.

I've been looking at the Batterry for a few years now and, overall, I like what I see.  The Charleston Battery is clearly one of the most successful Division II professional soccer teams in North America, and currently I do not have a side in the USL-PRO division that I am tracking, so I've settled upon the Battery as the USL side I will follow.

This hasn't been easy for me.  I am a fan of DC United, which the Battery regards as their main rival for the Carolina Cup each year, and to be candid, I don't really like the state of South Carolina very much.  It's mostly a place I drive through at high speed on my way to Florida, something like the east coast version of 'flyover country.'  I will always care more about the Division II Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the NASL, for example, than I ever will about the Charleston Battery.

But the Battery is a class act, a cut above most Division II sides in organization and professionalism.  Established in 1993, the team has won three championships: the USISL Pro League in 1996, the USL A-League in 2003, and the final season of the USL Second Division in 2010.  They are also the owners of the first soccer-specific stadium built in the United States, the 5,100 seat Blackbaud Stadium, modeled on Division II English soccer stadiums, and even featuring an on-site pub called 'The Three Lions," presumably after the English national team and presumably because the team owner, Tony Bakker, is an Englishman.  Coached by two-time USL Manager of the year Mike Anhaeuser, himself a former Battery player, Charleston seems to consistently field a quality product year after year, giving the appearance of being the classiest team of the USL-PRO league.  They even have a well-organized supporters group, The Regiment, which turns out supporters for every home match.  The overall package is impressive.  This looks like a fun club to follow!

So, I hereby designate the Charleston Battery, as an official 'Jedi Soccer' football team. 

This past weekend, the Battery won their season opener against the Christian Evangelically-themed Charlotte Eagles.  The only goal of the game came when Charlotte defender Mark Bloom deflected the ball into his own goal in the midst of a confused melee in the box, following a cross from Jamaican forward Dane Kelley, which gave the Battery their season-opening win.

Not very inspiring, but a win is a win.  I look forward to writing future Jedi-Soccer headlines such as, "Charleston Battery Shells Christians" and other funny and delightful stories.  Check in here at Jedi Soccer weekly for the latest news and match reports for the Charleston Battery.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Barca Wins and United Ties, but Strikers lose Home Debut

It has been a busy weekend here at Jedi Soccer.

Not surprisingly, FC Barcelona won its match against La Liga bottom-dwellers Almeria, but were compelled to come-from-behind to secure the win.  After a scoreless first half which saw Barca players Bojan Krkic and Javier Mascherano each collect a yellow card, just five minutes into the second period Almeria shocked the home crowd at Camp Nou when Miguel Perez-Roldan, AKA 'Corona,' took a pretty pass from Pablo Daniel Piatti and fired home a strike that momentarily silenced the Barca faithful, and sent a wake-up call to their opponents.  However, three minutes later Barca received a penalty shot which Messi Wan Kenobi dutifully put into the net to even the score.  At the 64th minute Messi passed off to Brazilian teamate Thiago Alcantara do Nascimento, who fired home Barca's second score of the night; and then two minutes into stoppage time Messi again found the back of the net for a final goal moments before the wistle, giving Barca a comfortable 3-1 come-from-behind victory. 

Next up for FC Barcelona: Real Madrid twice in four days, first in La Liga competition on April 16th in the second round of 'El Clasico,' and then again on April 20th in the final match of the Copa Del Rey at the Santiago Bernabeau in Madrid.  And still in the wings-- yet another probable encounter with Real Madrid in UEFA Champions League play, assuming Barca advances past Shaktar Donetsk after the second round of their series at the Donbass in the Ukraine.  All in all, Barca is looking at four encounters with their arch-rivals this season.

Meanwhile... across the Atlantic, DC United and MLS superteam LA Galaxy played to a 1 - 1 draw before a highly energized home crowd at RFK Stadium in Washington.  In the 14th minute Galaxy superstar David Beckham sent a beautiful corner kick into the box that was met by Galaxy forward Mike Magee, who headed the ball past United keeper Bill Hamid to open the scoring.  Up one goal, the Galaxy did a good job controlling the tempo of the match thereafter, but surprisingly did not push very hard for a second goal.  Second half substitutes Charlie Davies and Andy Najar brought a renewed sense of urgency to the pitch for United; but a red card for Santino Quaranta in the 84th minute left United shorthanded and apparently headed for defeat.  However, five minutes later in the closing moments of the match, United forward Charlie Davies made a run into the box and was fouled by Omar Gonzalez, allowing Davies to slot home the equalizer on a penalty kick, and that was the match, 1 - 1 and a point in the standings for both teams.  Overall this was a very well played match before a packed house of fans, and a good example of MLS quality at its best.

Finally, the new Fort Lauderdale Strikers opened their 2011 campaign with their home pitch debut at Lockhart Stadium on Saturday against Edmonton FC, in front of an announced crowd of 6,402 fans, not bad for a second division side.  Dressed out in their new yellow-and-red-hooped jerseys, reminiscent of the kit worn by the original Strikers, the reborn Strikers scored their first-ever goal in the 48th minute, when Argentine Eduardo Coudet sent a beautiful corner kick into the box that was headed in by Martyn Lancaster to give the Strikers a 1 - 0 lead.  However, Edmonton goals in the 55th minute by Shaun Saiko, and in the 70th minute by substitute Daniel Antoniuk, put the visitors ahead for good.  Despite two beautiful headed shots on goal by Striker Paulinho Le Petit late in the match, the Strikers ended their debut with a loss. Even so, the match was well attended and could easily have gone the Strikers way, so hope and optimism for the Strikers NASL season are the order of the day.

A fine weekend of football.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Barca Stuns Shaktar 5 - 1

Yesterday FC Barcelona virtually ensured a semi-final showdown against Real Madrid in UEFA Champions League competition, with their scintillating 5 - 1 victory over Russian champions Shaktar Donetsk at Camp Nou.  Although the match itself was lopsided, going into this match there were real questions for
Barca.  In the past Shaktar Donetsk has defeated Barca in Champions League play, ensuring that Coach Pep Guardiola would not be looking past this match.  Fortunately the team was ready.

The fireworks began only two minutes past kickoff, when a through pass by Lionel Messi was deflected to the feet of Andres Iniesta, who calmly slotted home the ball for the opening score.  Despite the terrible start, Shaktar gamely fought back, exposing weaknesses in the Barcelona defense caused by the extended absence of Barca defensive maestro Carles Puyol; but fortunately the goalkeeping by Victor Valdes prevented any scoring.  In the 34th minute Danny Alves took a beautiful curving pass from Iniesta ahead of Shaktor keeper Pyatov for the second score, and then in the 53rd minute saw Gerard Pique score on a corner kick, to put the game out of reach for the visitors. 

Shaktar enjoyed a moment of hope in the 60th minute when Yaroslav Rakytskyy took a free kick on his shin that went into the goal; but just 60 seconds later Messi Wan Kenobi dashed through the Shaktar defense drawing defenders, before dishing off to Seydou Keita at the last moment, who calmly punched the ball into the roof of the net for Barca's fourth score.  A minute later the incomprable Lionel Messi had a goal dissallowed by an offsides call, but no matter-- in the 86th minute Alves sent a low cross to an open Xavi Hernandez, who ended the scoring for the evening.

And so Barca now takes a surely-decisive four goal advantage to the Donbass Arena for the second leg of this series.  Given Real Madrid's 4 - 0 drubbing yesterday of English side Tottenham Hotspur, it will be FC Barcelona vs Real Madrid in the Semi-Final leg of this years UEFA Champions League, barring a complete meltdown by either the Spaniards or Catalans in the second leg against Shaktar or Hotspur.  This gives Barca yet another chance to thrash Real Madrid this season and prove--in case anyone is still wondering-- what is the best professional soccer team in the world right now.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Return of the Jedi ?

It seems I am not the only person who has begun to think of FC Barcelona as if they were 'Star Wars' Jedi knights.

On Sunday Adi-Oula Sebastian, a guest columnist at The Bleacher Report, published an article titled 'FC Barcelona: The Empire Crumbles, Could This be the Return of the Jedi?'  As anyone who has visited this blog knows, I've been saying that for quite some time now.  After the wonderful outcome of this past weekend's matches in La Liga play, Sebastian was moved to compare Barca to Jedi knights:

'Real Madrid, defeated? Could it be true?

Ready to remove the person from my friends’ list, I double checked, because one doesn’t get a Culé’s hopes up like that.

It was true. The Empire was defeated, at the Santiago Bernabeu of all places.  For once, I’ve read something interesting on Facebook.

It appears as if the dark Sith lord, Florentino Perez and his storm troopers, cannot prevent the inevitable, a third consecutive championship for FC Barcelona. Even the acquisition of Darth Vader aka Jose Mourinho didn’t bring the desired results, yet.

Ever since Florentino Perez ordered the construction of a second, more expensive Death Star aka the Galacticos 2.0, he still remains on the losing side, for now. Of course, Darth Vader (Jose Mourinho) is a little short on offensive weapons. The Empire's most recognized soldier, Darth Maul (Cristiano Ronaldo--yeah I know he didn’t even make it to the horrible sequel), is currently unavailable, as is Bobba Fett (Karim Benzema).

Nevertheless, there still remains a silver lining for both, the Dark Sith lord and Darth Vader. At the very least, they can still claim two major trophies, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League— in Merengue language: La Decima.

What stands in between winning these much coveted trophies, the Jedi Knight (I’m a diehard Barca fan after all).  Even though Lionel Messi (I’m not exactly sure who he is, either Luke Skywalker or Han Solo but judging by his girl, Gerard Pique is the latter) has been a little off his best lately. I’m sure Obi Wan Kenobi (Pep Guardiola) can once again guide his way. With Master Yoda (Johan Cryuff) retreating to his chosen exile, Amsterdam, someone has to uphold his principles.

It remains to be seen whether the Empire strikes back, but for now, FC Barcelona seem to have the upper hand in the ongoing battle.'

Well, that was a fun article.  Of course, I totally agree with Mr. Sebastian, but I must say that Lionel Messi is not either Luke Skywalker or Han Solo, he is his own unique Jedi persona:

He is Messi Wan Kenobi.  Welcome to Jedi Soccer.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

United Struggling 3 Games In

Three games into the MLS season and I'm afraid the early signs for DC United are not encouraging.  Standing at 1 - 2 on the win-loss chart, United stands only above the last-place Houston Dynamo in the Eastern Conference in early season going.

The concern here is the early manifestation of a makeshift defense.  In the match on Sunday against MLS champion Colorado Rapids, three of the four starting back spots were populated by the second team, while at the same time Simms, Davies, Najar and Ngwenya were all absent from the starting lineup.  Only the presence of Quaranta and Pontius gave any gravitas to the team on the pitch, despite the addition of talented young Brettschneider.  Weird.

As Washington Post match diarist Jeff Maurer commented, "Somehow, United have turned over eight spots in the starting lineup in less time than it takes for a gallon of milk to go bad."

The result?  Makeshift defense vs. reigning MLS champions = getting crushed 4 - 1.

The killer wasn't that Colorado scored first, it was the thrilling equalizer in the 69th minute when Korb sent a long cross in, that found Tino all alone at the back post, who dutifully slammed the shot in for the equalizer... and then, moments after the re-start, surrendering a go-ahead goal to Colorado when Onstad was caught out of position.  All of the air came out of United's sails at that moment.  Colorodo scored additional practice goals in the 80th and 92d minutes before the deflated team was mercifully permitted to leave the pitch.

It may be time to reconsider the formation.  The 4-4-2 using wingers to attack does not appear to be generating much firepower.  Try something else, a change is called for.  Stabilize the back line and get our best back out on the pitch, and keep them healthy.  If we can do this, there is plenty of time still to rechart our course.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Big Weekend for Barca

With a 1 - Nil victory over Villareal, coupled with the shocking home loss of Real Madrid to Sporting Gijon on Friday, FC Barcelona advanced into a command position to defend their Spanish League championship this past weekend.  Barcelona now has an eight-point lead over Real Madrid, with only eight games remaining in the regular season.  It's looking grim for Real Madrid's chances to overtake Barca.

This match was especially noteworthy for the wide use of Barca's deep bench, as Pep Guardiola took a deliberate risk in resting some his key players for important pending matches.  Suspended playmaker Xavi took a rest, as did Lionel Messi until the second half, when he came in a s a substitute.  Ibrahim Afellay and Thiago each won a start, and Victor Valdes filled in as team Captain for Carles Puyol.

Despite the close score, Barca dominated.  Villareal managed only three shots on goal the whole match, which Valdes efficiently closed down.  Barca's patented tiki-taka telepathic ball-control style of play was perhaps not quite as telepathic as usual, but even so they still scored in the 67th minute.  Gerard Pique took a crossed ball from Sergio Busquets on the wing, and fired the ball into the goal from close range, and that was the match. 

After the match, Pep Guardiola issued the obligatory cautionary note of premature celebration, saying that "If we think we are champions already, we’ll lose the league.  If we see ourselves as champions with an eight point lead and eight games still to play- we can only lose it.”  As you say, coach.

Later this week Barca returns to Champions League play, when they host Ukrainian side Shaktar Donetsk at Camp Nou for the first leg of the quarter-finals of the tournament.  Barca then return to La Liga play next weekend against bottom-feeing Almeria, and after that a series of encounters with Real Madrid awaits, starting with the next edition of El Clasico on April 17th and possibly extending into semi-final play of the Champions League.  Barca will be busy the net few weeks.