Wednesday, June 29, 2011

US Women's Team Strikes North Korea Like Lightning

In the opening match of the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup for the US National Women's Soccer Team, our side defeated North Korea 2 - 0 to commence their campaign with a solid win.  Goals by unexpectred starter Lauren Cheney in the 54th minute, and by defender Rachel Buehler in the 76th minute, were enough to carry the American women past a talented, young and agressive North Korean team.

After the match, North Korean manager Kwang Min Kim attributed the loss to the fact that the Korean players had been struck by lightning.  As reported in the Ghana News, Kwang Min Kim said,

"When we stayed in Pyongyang during training our players were hit by lightning, and more than five of them were hospitalised.  Some stayed in hospital and then came to Germany later than the rest of us. The goalkeeper and the four defenders were most affected, and some midfielders as well. The physicians said the players were not capable of participating in the tournament.  But World Cup football is the most important and significant event for a footballer, so they don't want to think about anything but football.

"The fact that they played could be called abnormal, the result of very strong will." reported the BBC.

Given the secretive nature of the North Koreans, we may never know if this is true or not. The players aren't allowed to speak to the press, their training sessions are protected by security guards and closed to outsiders, and their public appearances regularly get canceled. Plus, it is curious that Kim only mentioned this freak occurrence after his team lost.

If it is true, a lightning strike that injured four defenders and disrupted their training could explain why their back line seemed to fall apart in the second half after holding the U.S. scoreless in the first. But even if it's not true, it's still a tremendous excuse that others might now try in everyday life.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Weekend Report

In addition to the CONCACAF Gold Cup final, this past weekend also saw MLS, NASL and USL-PRO league action involving all three US-based Jedi Soccer sides.

In MLS action, DC United managed to post a 2 - 2 tie with the Houston Dynamo.  The first score was in the 31st minute, when United took the lead from a Dax McCarty-Josh Wolff-Chris Pontius sequence, with Pontius finishing with a blast that sailed past a sprawling Tally Hall.  Unfortunately, 10 minutes later Houston tied it up with a Penatly Kick awarded when United Keeper Bill Hamid accidentally caught Houston's Brian Ching's foot in the box.

For much fo the rest of the match Houston dominated, but United held on and managed to post another goal in the 83rd minute, when Andy Najar danced past Houston defender Colin Clark for the score.  Regrettably, Houson posted the equalizer five minutes later, when Brian Ching took a crossed ball from the wing and put it away to even things up.  And that was the match, a 2 - 2 draw for DC United.

In NASL action, our beloved Fort Lauderdale Strikers managed also posted a draw for the weekend, a 1 - 1 affair agaisnt the Puerto Rico Islanders, despite a generally poor performance overall.  Puerto Rico scored first in the 65th minute off a header from Jonathon Fana, the first goal allowed by Strikers Keeper  Matt Glaeser in 309 minutes of play.  But in the 79th minute, the Strikers evened things up with a goal from Martin Nunez off a beautiful crossed ball from Cristian Arrieta.  Nunez, the shortest player on the team, calmly put away the header and that was the match, 1 - 1.  Despite allowing in a goal, the Strikers Matt Glaeser was named the NASL player of the week.

Fort Lauderdale's next opponent is Tampa Bay FC, AKA 'the team that should be named the Rowdies,' in the re-start of the interstate rivalry that was rescheduled from a rain out earlier this season.  Fort Lauderdale has announced a sold out stadium for the match, it should be a good show.

The final Jedi Soccer action of the weekend was in the USL-PRO league, where the Charleston Battery incredibly played two consecutive matches in two days.  Against the Wilmington Hammerheads on Friday night, the Battery was crisp, scoring two goals enroute to a nice road win; but the three hour bus ride back to Charleston was obviously not enough rest, as the next day they fell to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.  Just 6 minutes into the match, Jason Yeisley punded a shot off the crossbar, which was rebounded into the net by the unmarked Matt Tuttle.  Then, in the 64th minute the Riverhounds forward Harada collected the ball just outside of the box, quickly turning and firing for the winning goal.

This outcome is not surprising; having a team play two matches in two days is unreasonable and I cannot help but wonder how this unusual scheduling came  to pass.  But at least the Battery won their match against the Hammerheads.

DC United is now 4-5-6 on the season, in fifth place in the MLS Eastern Conference.

The Fort Lauderdale Strikers are now 3-7-2 on the season, and in 5th place in the league.

The Charleston Battery's weekend campaign brings them 7-6-3 for the season, and third place in the USL-PRO American Division.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Mexico Crushes USA 4 - 2

Despite limping into the Gold Cup final with Mexico, the US National Soccer Team took a surprising 2 - 0 early in the match, only to suffer a relentless Mexican onslaught of four unanswered goals enroute to a 4 - 2 humiliation before 93,000 mostly-Mexican sympathizers yesterday in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final at the Rose Bowl in Padadena California.

A beautiful corner kick from Freddy Adu let Michael Bradley glance in a header in the 8th minute, and in the 23rd minute Landon Donavon finished a pretty through ball from Clint Dempsey to put the United States up 2 - 0.  For a moment the United States was in complete control of the game and enroute to a famous victory over their CONCACAF arch-rivals from south of the border.

But the famous victory went to Mexico, beginning in the 29th minute when Pablo Barerra struck a pass from Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez to put Mexico back in the game.  Minutes later Andres Guardado tapped in the ball aftera confused melee in front of the American goal, and suddenly the score was tied.  In the 50th minute Barerra stuck an incredibly skillfull shot with the outside of his right boot, swerving the ball into the goal for the third score of the night, and the Americas were now in retreat, looking confused and disorganized.  The clincher came in the 76th minute when Giovani dos Santos brilliantly controlled the ball away from US goalkeeper Tim Howard, dancing away past two defenders before chipping in a perfectly touched ball past the despairing lunge of defenders, for Mexico's final score of the night.

What a performance by Mexico, and what a dissapointment for the US!  I have prayed for the American's to get into the habit of scoring first, so when at last the team handsomely obliged my hopes, they reveal themselves to be unable to defend against world-class talent.  And that's what Mexico has right now, with Chicharito, Guardado, Barrera and dos Santos together comprising a new 'golden age' for Mexican football.  It looks like Mexico may be set to dominate CONCACAF for the next several years.

On our side, 'the usual suspects' delivered--  Donovan, Dempsey, and Bradley.  And the good news from this tournament was the re-emergence of onetime child phenomenon Freddy Adu.  Now 22 and seasoned from the dissapointments that come from high expectations coupled with a sense of entitlement, this older and wiser version of Adu seems capable of (at last!) fulfilling all the hopes DC United once had for him.  He has probably played his way into a berth on the US National Team for the next few years.

But the rest of the team just wasn't there.  Carlos Bocanegra was showing his age (35), and it's now clear that the US cannot play defense very well in the absence of Steve Cherundolo (also 35), and that is unacceptable.  We can't be that utterly dependant on one guy's presence on the pitch, and anyway our best defensemen are near retirement. 

So whats next?  It's pretty clear now that the US has lots of decent talent in the midfield.  But on defense we have age and talent issues, and we are still not an attacking team.  The upshot has been Bradley's bunker-and-counter attack strategy, which worked well enough to get us to the final.  But even though they fell behind, the Mexican's did not abandon their attacking style of soccer, which revealed the weaknesses of the American side on either end of the pitch.

This match has shown us the future: Mexican dominance in CONCACAF for the next several years, while the American program retools. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

US to Gold Cup Final

On Wednesday night the US National Soccer team outplayed a dogged Panamanian side to avenge their earlier loss and advance to the Gold Cup final against Mexico, the third time in a row that the two CONCACAF giants will meet for the final.

With Panama clearly adopting a circle-the-wagons strategy, it too a while for the US to break them down but it finally happened in the 77th minute when Landon Donovan and Freddy Adu together fed Clint Dempsey in front of the goal, who left-foot punched in the only score of the night.  It was enough, and now the United States advances to the final.

For the second match in a row, Bob Bradley has elected to use Landon Donovan off the bench instead of a starting role, and it seems to be working out.  For his part, Landon Donovan has characteristically expressed a 'whatever-is-best-for-the-team' meantality, accepting this new role for him.  This is why it is easy to respect this player so much.

Now comes Mexico, later tonight.  The 2009 5 - 0 thrasing at the hands of the Mexicans will surely be on the teams mind tonight, but lets hope not too much

Monday, June 20, 2011

Big Weekend for Jedi Soccer

This past Fathers Day weekend was all good news here in the land of Jedi Soccer, as all of the sides we follow either won or at least tied their respective matches.

First and foremost, the US National Team has finally delivered the kind of dominant performance we all knew they could, but were worried they wouldn't.  The hero of the match was Jermaine Jones, whose hustling performance both defensively and offensively was a real pleasure to see.  His hard work-ing performance in the midfield gave the US possession dominance, and set up Jones to blast a long-range shot that gave the USA a 1 goal lead.  Jones also managed to have a red card drawn on Jamaican defender Jermaine Taylor in the 67th minute, giving the US a one man advantage.  Then, in the 80th minute Juan Agudelo sent a perfect pass to Clint Dempsey, who put away the game-winning goal for the United States.  It was a dominant performance by the US national team, and we are glad to see they have found their mojo again.  Next up is Panama, the same side that defeated the USA just eight days ago.  If this team shows up for that match, Panama will be in trouble.

Moving on to the MLS, DC United tied the ridiculously-named Real Salt Lake ('Royal Salt Lake?'  Really?), 1 - 1.  RSL took the lead in the 39th minute on a converted penatly kick from Fabian Espindola, but DC United 's Charlie Davies returned the favor in the 85th minute when he was taken down in the box by RSL defender Chris Wingert.  This brings Charlie Davies to 7 goals so far this season, and DC United to 4-5-5 and a middle-of-the-pack 5th place standing in the MLS eastern conference. 

In NASL action, our beloved Fort Lauderdale Strikers posted a 0 - 0 draw against the MLS-bound Montreal Impact, another team with a silly name (which should be 'Olympique Montreal').  The really odd thing about the Impact this season, is that they have hardly played like a side about to be advanced to the MLS next season ('promoted' is the wrong word as they did not earn it on the pitch but in the boardroom instead).  Sitting in 7th place in an 8 team league, the Impact was desperate for a win, but they didn't get it against Fort Lauderdale.  To their credit, the Impact dominated the Strikers and missed several good chances to score a goal, but the other side of the ledger was the Strikers dogged defense.  This outcome drops the Strikers to 3-6-2 for the season and 5th place overall; but it is worse for the Impact, whose less-than-inspiring performance this season, calls into question their readiness to play in the MLS.  From my perspective, the Impact is playing like a side that should be relegated to the USL-PRO league, and not promoted to the MLS.  It's more evidence of the crying need for a promotion-and-relegation system in North American soccer, if you ask me. 

Finally, we come to the USL-PRO league, whose Charleston Battery posted a 1 - 0 victory over the Dayton Dutch Lions, the newest team in the league.  Levi Coleman scored late for the Battery in the 77th minute to give them the win, advancing the team to 6-5-3 for this season, and drawing them to within one point of third place Antigua Barracuda FC in the USL-PRO National Division.  This was a good outcome for a classy little soccer franchise.

Overall, it was a good weekend in the land of Jedi Soccer, more especially because the US National Team has finally found its rythym.  All they need to do now, is ride this rythym all the way to the Gold Cup.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

USA Edges Guadalupe 1 - 0

On Tuesday night the US Natrional Soccer team edged Guadalupe 1 - 0 to advance in th CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament, thereby averting elimination from the tournament had they lost the match.

But despite this win, it is now very clear that this team is simply not clikcing on all cylinders.  The sole score of the night came in the 9th minute when Jozy Altidore unleashed a cannon shot on goal from outside the box, giving the Americans the only sciore of the night.  It was a terrific goal.

Unfortunately, it reminds us that there has been precious little goal production from Altidore until now.  This was a weird match-- on one level, the US absolutely dominated Guadalupe, outshooting them 21 - 5.  But on another level, it was painful to see, over and over, our inability to finish off scoring chances.  Landon Donovan seemed listless and failed to finish his chances, and neither did Michael BradleyClint Dempsey, Britain's favorite Texan, failed to convert any of his five chances.  Despite dominating Guadalupe, we just could not score.

And so there it is: given our history of giving up a goal before waking up and playing football, and then the recent rout by Spain and the loss to Panama and now this almost-comical performance, and its clear that the US national team has scoring problems.

So now the USA advances in the tournament.  Well that at least is good news.  However, the outcome of this tournament is now less important, than resolving the painfully obviousl scoring problems this team has shown the last few years.

We need a world-class striker up front.  Or two.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Panama Stuns USA 2 -1

On Saturday the US national soccer team lost in first round play of the CONCACAF Gold Cup for the first time ever, losing 2 - 1 to Panama.  It was the first time the United States has ever lost a Gold Cup first round match, in 26 previously unbeaten matches.

After the humiliating 4 - 0 loss to Spain earlier this month, US goalkeeper Tim Howard promised the team would do better in the Gold Cup.  Well, the Gold Cup tournament is here, and its not any better.  Despite an early win against Canada, the US loss to Panama is potentially disastrous not only for our Gold Cup chances, but for Coach Bradley's career as well.

As reported in the Los Angeles Times,

"First-half goals by Luis Tejada and Gabriel Gomez sparked the Central Americans to their first victory against the U.S., which lost in group play in the Gold Cup for the first time.

The win assures Panama of a berth in the quarterfinals for the fourth consecutive tournament. The U.S.... plays winless Guadeloupe in its final Group C game Tuesday at Kansas City, Kan., and is almost certain to advance as well."

The part about the US advancing may be a bit optimistic.  True, Guadalupe is winless in this tournament; but their side is actually comprised of French league veterans (Guadalupe is French territory), so it would be deulsional to think Guadalupe is a soft target.  They have professionals on their team.

Panama scored both of their goals (one on a Penalty Kick) before the US, in typical fashion, finally woke up and played football.  As we have now seen so many times before, once the team is in a hole, the Americans play with a furious intensity that sometimes brings them from behind.  On Saturday Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, and Clint Dempsey all missed scoring chances, leaving it to relative US newcomer Clarence Goodson to score the American's only goal.  It was not enough, and the Panamanians chalked up a historic win for their program.

Is this the end of Bob Bradley's run with the US National Team?  Not yet--there is still the chance of a win against Guadalupe tonight.  If they win, they advance and this debacle will be forgotten, at least until the next time we are forced to play from behind.  But if they draw aginst Guadalupe, they will need Canada to defeat Panama to advance.  And if they lose, they are out of the tournament.

And if that happens, the calls for Coach Bradley's head will be loud enough to hear in my living room.  Although under Coach Bradley the US national team has exceeded all of the objectives specified in his contract, the way that the team has done so, has been downright unhealthy.  The defense is spotty, and the team never seems to realize they are on the pitch, until the other guys score first.  The subsequent furious heroics are fun to watch but no way to win a tournament.  We can't go on this way. 

We need a better defense, and we need to start scoring first.  Bradley needs to make this happen starting tonight, and then make it stick.  Or get out of the way for another Coach who will fix our obvious scoring problems.

Monday, June 13, 2011

United and the Battery Lose, but Strikers Win Big

For the fourth time this season, DC United has surrendered four goals enroute to another humiliating dissapointment and defeat.  Despite United's recent victories, their losses are becoming spectacular crash-and-burn episodes, and Saturday's performance against the San Jose Earthquakes is a typical example.  Although United went into the half tied with San Jose, in the second half the wheels came off, as United's young defensive line fell apart and the Earthquake's Steven Lenhart posted a hat trick of goals, plus an assist to teamate Chris Wondolowski for the fourth goal.  All in all it was a humiliating performance by United, made worse by being at home in front of the United faithful.

It was a similar story for Jedi Soccer's chosen division 3 side, the Charleston Battery.  Playing in Pennsylvania aginst the oddly-named Harrisburg City Islanders (the Puerto Rico Islanders is a name I can understand... but the Harrisburg City Islanders?), the Battery failed to score any goals enroute to a 1-Nil defeat.  This defeat drops the Battery to fourth place in the USL-PRO league American Division standings.

The sole joy for the weekend in the land of Jedi Soccer, came from our beloved reborn Fort Lauderdale Strikers, who downed the NSC Minnesota Stars 3-0.  As with United's match this weekend, the first half was scoreless, but in the second half the Strikers lit up the scoreboard at Lockhart Stadium.  Early in the half the Strikers winger Yoximar Granado made a run down the sideline, cutting into the box to receive the ball and send it into the net for the first score of the evening.  In the 64th minute substitute Brian Shriver came on the pitch and just 30 seconds later he received a pass from Cristian Arrieta on his chest, which he then volleyed into the net for the second goal of the night.  Then, in the 77th minute, Strikers defender Lance Laing was shown a straight red card for a two-footed tackle, leaving the Strikers a man down and in danger of letting the Stars back into the match; but in the 87th minute the victory was sealed when Abe Thompson and Brian Shriver combined for a brilliant short-handed goal, the first short-handed goal this season for the Strikers I believe.  With that, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers move to fourth place in the NASL, behind only Carolina, Minnesota and Edmonton in the league standings.

I admire the Charleston Battery but I am not so emotionally invested in them, that a loss hurts too much.  But the 4-0 thumping of DC United at RFK stadium is a painful outcome, rendered bearable only by the Strikers consolation win.  Many thanks to the Strikers for salvaging some happy news from an otherwise dreadful weekend of soccer.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Less Than a Club?

Today is a sad day in the land of Jedi Soccer, because FC Barcelona, 'More than a Club," has announced that it is reducing spending to support its vaunted amataeur athletic programs from 10 % of the club's total budget, to about 5 %.  This is roughly equivalent to about 33 million dollars US.

Despite winning the Spanish League and the Champions League this past season, FC Barcelona is still losing money.  Bloomberg Business Week reports that Barca is running a deficit of about $63.5 million dollars annually, so the decision to cut funding to amateur programs by 5 % represents about half of the club's deficit.
"Barca can't continue to lose money," Barcelona vice president Javier Faus said Wednesday. "If Mascherano takes a pay cut to come to play for Barca and if we almost lost Dani Alves, why shouldn't we ask the minority sports teams to make a sacrifice?"

And so there it is: FC Barcelona is first and foremost a professional soccer team and that remains priority number 1.  And therefore this news means that Barcelona's amateur baseball program-- a program that has an 80 year history !-- is now being completely eliminated from the list of sports supported by the club.  Players cast adrift.  The other amateur programs-- indoor soccer, basketball, field hockey, volleyball, rugby, skating, handball, and both ice hockey and roller hockey, will all have their budgets fractionally reduced and will be limited to competition in Catalonia to reduce travel expenses.  This excludes all of the best Spanish and European competition for Barcelona in a wide range of sports.

"It is a real shame, especially from the stance that this was more than a club, being multi-sport and giving back to the community" said Barcelona pitcher and Chicago native Jason Friedman.  "Personally, the hardest part is that I think a lot of the kids are going to have to stop playing."

Thanks for supporting Barcelona, Jason.  I hope they are covering your flight back to Chicago.

What I don't like about this--aside from the human cost and loss of club traditions-- is that the club only recently moved to constrict eligibility for club membership, which reduced a  substantial revenue stream right there.  It's the same question I had about the Qatar deal-- is this really the only solution? 

By way of an epitaph, I must note that Barcelona's baseball program has won three Spanish championships, and only recently won back-to-back European baseball championships in 2007 and 2008.  The team's current record is 22-2 with 10 games left to play, before Barca's talented and successful 80 year old baseball program passes out of existence.  Rest in Peace.

Today, Barca is Less of a Club.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Strikers Win First Home Match

On Saturday the Fort Lauderdale Strikers earned their first home victory with a 3 - 2 upset of the Puerto Rico Islanders, the defending league chanmpions from last season's strange USL-NASL combined league.  The Strikers struck first in the 11th minute on a free kick from 25 yards out, taken by 'Chaco' Coudet, who sent the ball into the box where it was volleyed by Jean Philippe Peguero.  Islanders Keeper Ray Burse made the save but the Strikers Abe Thompson was johnny-on-the-spot, putting away the rebound for the first goal of the match.

Then, in the 37th minute, Islanders captain Noah Delgado received a straight red card for a rough tackle on Strikers midfielder Toni Stahl, leaving the Islanders a man down. Forced to play shorthanded, the Islanders came out on the attack for the second half, and to their credit they got the equalizer in the 63rd minute, with Nick Adderly scoring off a rebound from a diving fingertip save by Strikers Keeper Matt Glaeser.  Then, astonishingly, the Islanders took the lead from another short-handed goal in the 66th minute by substitute Jonathan Faña, who put away a nice cross from winger David Foley.  To everyone's amazement, at this point the Islanders were winning a short-handed match on the road, and displaying championship form.

But there was too much time remaining for the Islanders to bury their lead.  In the 80th minute, Chaco Coudet sent a free kick into the box, where former Islanders player Cristian Arrieta headed home the goal to make the score 2-2; and then in the 88th minute, with time running out, David Santamaria dribbled into the Islanders defense and laid off the ball to Jean Phillipe Peguero, who got past the Keeper and finished the goal with a left-footed shot, bringing the score to 3-2 for the Strikers first home win.

A home win against a defending champion is always a good thing, but the Strikers allowed a short-handed team to come from behind and take the lead, forcing the last-minute heroics of Arrieta and Peguero to save the team.  Commenting on the game after full-time, Strikers Coach Daryl Shore said, "After going into halftime up a goal, we didn’t do the things we needed to do to keep the lead. However, we showed great composure coming from behind and winning the game. The crowd was outstanding and contributed to our comeback."

Composure against a short-handed side seems to me to be a basic requirement of professional football.  I'm quite pleased that the Strikers won this match; but the next time we are up one man on the opposing team, I'd sure like to see the Strikers put them away and not let them back into the match.  The Strikers next game is at home on Saturday, June 11th at 7:30 pm against the NSC Minnesota Stars.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Spain Routs USA 4 - 0

Yesterday's international 'friendly' match between the United States and defending World Cup champion Spain, ended in a total rout of the United States as the Spanish cruised to a 4 - 0 victory over the Americans at Gillete Stadium in Foxborough, Massachussetts.  Overall, the Americans were outplayed, out-hustled, out-shot and out-scored.

Both teams were without their usual starting lineup.  Spain was without Barcelona defenseman Carles Puyol, who is recovering from knee surgery, as well as the brilliant but exhausted Xavi Hernandez who is also recovering form the gruelling Spanish league season.  Andres Iniesta, Pedro Rodriguez and Iker Casillas were all on the bench for this match, but even so 7 of the 11 starting players for Spain-- the Spanish bench, for the most part--were still either from FC Barcelona or Real Madrid.

Similarly, the USA also played without some of its best players.  Landon Donovan, aka 'Captain America' was unable to play due to an undisclosed illness, and Carlos Bocanegra was also not in uniform.  Oddly, neither Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, or Steve Chernundolo were in the starting lineup despite being suited up, and only made it onto the pitch in the second half as substitutes.

But by then, the match was already over, as the Spanish scored three goals in the space of 13 minutes in the first half.  Santi Cazorla, Alvaro Negredo, and Fernando Torres all scored, leaving US goalkeeper Tim Howard pounding his hips in obvious frustration.  In the second half, Spain put the match away when Santi Cazorla scored his second goal of the match off a beautiful mid-field pass from Xabi Alonso, culminating an effort that saw Spain outshoot the United States 20 - 6, with a fifth goal dissallowed for offsides.  It was a complete domination of the American side.

After the match, Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque said, "I think we dominated, but we are also aware that they had important players who did not play."  Given that this match was essentially a proving ground for the second team for each side, I find his comments both kind and amusing.  Presumably, the USA would have done better against the Spanish second team had Donovan, Dempsey and Bradley all started; but would the result have been any different if the match was between the first team for both sides?  I don't think so.

US Coach Bob Bradley's comments after the match were also rather explanatory in nature.  "We choose always to take these kinds of challenges, play these kinds of teams, because we feel it's the best way to improve," Bradley said. "Look, when you challenge yourselves against the best teams, you have to accept that this is the way it's going to be sometimes."

But perhaps the most concise after-match comments were from US goalkeeper Tim Howard, who simply said, "We got our butts kicked," Howard said, adding, with a smile: "If we win the Gold Cup in a couple of weeks, nobody will remember this."

Indeed.  Next up for the US National Team is the CONCACAF Gold Cup.  Lets hope our first team shows up for that tournament, and not the lineup that was so thoroughly routed yesterday.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

DC United Ties Galaxy

Last night the Los Angeles Galaxy extended its streak of unbeaten games to seven, but were only able to do so after a 0 - 0 tied outcome against visiting side DC United.  Astonishingly, this result brings DC United up to third place in the MLS Eastern Conference standings (4-4-4 on the season), despite having only won four matches outright so far this season.

Although the legendary David Beckham started last night for the Galaxy, team playmaker Landon Donovan (AKA 'Captain America') was absent for national team duty.  His absence was obvious, as an otherwise over-manned DC United made a match of it.  United striker Charlie Davies nearly won it outright for United in the 81st when he completely outflanked Galaxy Keeper Josh Saunders, but then proceeded to miss a wide open goal to the right, leaving the score tied.  The missed shot probably cost United three points for the win, but a tied score on an away match against David Beckham and the Galaxy is a good result on any day.

After the match, Davies commented on his missed shot. "It's unfortunate. I think we should have left with three points tonight," Davies said. "On another day, I finish that chance and we're leaving here 1-0."  On the other side of the pitch, former DC United Coach Bruice Arena agreed with Davie's assessment, saying of the Galaxy's performance, "We just did not have a good performance as a team.  The fact that we got a point out of this was maybe a miracle."

DC United's next outing is against the San Jose Earthquakes at home in RFK Stadium, Saturday June 11.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Blatter Re-elected FIFA Prez

This past Wednesday FIFA President Sepp Blatter was re-elected to his office in an uncontested election that left the controversial chief executive of soccer's governing body, in charge for four more years.

It is a crying shame to have to shift our attention from the glorious spectacle of FC Barcelona winning the Champions League on the pitch, to having to deal with the scandalous machinations of Blatter and FIFA off the pitch.  There was a time when I thought Sepp Blatter was good for football, with this mantra of bringing the World Cup to new countries and all.  I was quite concerned when South Africa was announced as a host, but I was wrong and it came off beautifully.

However, I'm afraid that I must draw the line at the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.  From the day it was announced, the award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar smelled fishy and was regarded even by FIFA's executive committee as 'High-Risk.  The reason why Blatter's re-election was uncontested, was because Mr. Mohammed bin Hammad of Qatar, the President of the Asian Football Confederation, was disqualified at the last minute due to a corruption investigation launched by CONCACAF General Secretary Chuck Blazer, regarding bribery and vote-selling for the FIFA Presidency and the 2022 World Cup Qatar bid as well.  Coupled with the English FA President David Bernstein's principled stand against the Qatar 2022 award and the ongoing smell of corruption at FIFA, the result was the re-election of the most roundly disliked figure in International Football today.  Thus has Sepp Blatter astonishingly retained control of the helm of Football's worldwide governing body.

Despite Blatter's claim that the Qatar 2022 World Cup award was "not touched" by the Blazer investigation or Bernstein's opposition, and despite Qatar's furious rejection of any corruption allegations (were they going to admit it, do you think?), the visible facts are quite damning: Qatar, holding the Presidency of the Asian Footbal Confederation, was awarded the World Cup amid allegations of corruption and vote-swapping, leading to Hammad's subsequent disqualification from candidacy for the FIFA Presidency for vote-buying, and the re-election of the scandalous Sepp Blatter.  It all looks very irregular.

Meanwhile, in Australia Senator Nick Xenophon iurged the Government to demand that FIFA reimburse Australia the $45.6 million dollars they spent on their 2022 World Cup bid, since it is now painfully clear that the vote was fixed and Australia never had a chance.  This seems quite reasonable to me, since the presumption of any bid committee is that they will compete on a level plaing field, which it clearly was not.  Since the vote was fixed, the money was wasted, so I think FIFA should pay Australia back.  I also think the USSF should do the same if the Qatar 2022 World Cup award is not voted on again.

Under Sepp Blatter's administration, FIFA has become a morass of collusion, corruption and insider deals.  The 'beautiful game' deserves so much better than what we are getting from this crew, and the sport is ill-served by these insider deals and acts of collusion under Sepp Blatter's administration.  Sepp Blatter needs to go, and the Qatar 2022 World Cup award should be re-called and voted on once again.  Immediately.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

United Wins, Strikers Tie

After all the wonderful buzz and glow of FC Barcelona's scintillating victory over Manchester United in the Champions League final this past weekend, we now return to the less poetic realities of American soccer.  Mercifully, this past weekend our beloved DC United snapped the Portland Timbers home winning streak 3 - 2, while our favorite Division 2 side Fort Lauderdale Strikers took one point in the standings from a 0 - 0 away tied match against the Montreal Impact.  It was a dramatic outcome for the weekend, given the immensity of the Jedi Soccer match happening across the pond at Wembley Stadium.

United showed up in Portland already banged up from the early season.  Charlie Davies had a hamstring, and Josh Wolff a strained groin; Goalkeeper Steve Cronin was home with his wife expecting a baby, and former Timbers player Dax McCarty was sidelined with injuries.  Despite these limitations, United struck first in the 13th minute, when Chris Pontius launched a beautiful long volley from the left sideline into the box, where Brett Brettschneider received it and flicked it over to a crashing Perry Kitchen, who calmy punched in the first score of the night.  Just before the half, a goal by the Timbers was dissallowed for offsides, allowing United to take an uncharacteristic lead into halftime on the road.

The Timbers came out of the half on the attack, placing Bill Hamid under great pressure.  Cooper's header goal for Portland in the early half was again dissallowed for offsides, and United dodged another bullet.  Then, in the 60th minute an extraordinary series of events took place, when Cooper was dragged down by Dejan Jakovic in the box, leading to customary Penatly Kick for naughty behavior.  Astonishingly, Bill Hamid made two consecutive saves but each time was ruled by the Referee to have come off his line early, leading to a third try for Portland which was taken by Jewsbury, much to Cooper's frustration.  As the saying goes, 'third time's the charm' and Portland finally pulled even of DC United.

But in the 75th minute, Timbers defenseman Chara was called for a handball in the box, and Chris Pontius calmly scored for DC United on his first try without any additional chances, giving United the lead.  Ten minutes later the game was sealed when United substitute Josh Wolff made a daring and successful solo run into the Timbers defense, giving United the go-ahead goal that sealed the match.  So ended a dramatic and ultimately successful road foray for DC United, who continue to run hot-and-cold this season.  If they can simply stay hot for the next few matches, it would be so much better.

In NASL action, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers were also on the road at Montreal against the Impact.  The match was an exercise in mutual respect, as each side seemed to be playing in fear of their opponents and hence not generating much sustained offense.  Each team blew a point-blank shot during the game-- Idriss Ech Chergui hit the Strikers crossbar for Montreal in the 48th minute, while in the 71st minute Strikers forward Martin Nunez sailed his point-blank shot over the crossbar, and that was the match highlight reel.  Still, a point in the standings from a scoreless tie on the road is not a bad outcome for the Strikers, placing them just ahead of Montreal, third from the bottom of the league standings.  The Fort Lauderdale Strikers have the dubious distinction of having tied more matches (five) than any other NASL side this season.  Change three of those five ties into wins, and the Strikers would be in third place in the league and in the hunt.