Thursday, October 20, 2011

United Chokes, but Strikers Advance to NASL Finals

This past Saturday, in a stunning display of mental collapse, DC United gave a match away to the visiting Chicago Fire in the final moments of the game, in a contest that was attended by the present writer.  Entering the match with their playoff hopes still alive despite a three game losing streak, United and the Fire played to a spiritless 0 - 0 draw after 89 minutes of play.  Then, in the closing moments of play, United was awarded a PK in the 90th minute, which Dwayne De Rosario duly converted, and for a moment the United faithful present at RFK were able to celebrate an apparent victory that was only moments away.  Unfortunately, stoppage time remained, during which United infuriatingly surrendered two consecutive goals in short order to give away the match, 2-1, before a stunned crowd of United fans.  Never has this writer witnessed the mood of a stadium swing so quickly from celebration to despair.  Astonishingly, despite this outrageous outcome, DC United still has a slim chance to make the playoffs if they win and the New York Red Bulls lose to the Philadelphia Union this upcoming weekend, an outcome that is surely unexpected and undeserved.  DC United's 2011 campaign is now mercifully drawing to a close.

But the best story of the weekend was in the NASL.  Our beloved Fort Lauderdale Strikers cinderella playoff run continued, as the Strikers dismissed the Puerto Rico Islanders 2-1 on the strength of two goals from Brian Shriver.  Winning the away-and-home series on an aggregate score of 5-2, the fourth-seeded Strikers now advance to the NASL championship final series with the sixth-seeded NSC Minnesota Stars, another improbable finalist.  Despite their respective .500 seasons, the Strikers and the Stars have defeated the two most dominant teams of the league this past season, the Puerto Rico Islanders and the Carolina Railhawks in order to reach the inaugural championship series of the new NASL.  The two-game series will be decided beginning this upcoming weekend on Saturday the 22d of October in Minnesota, with the final match of the season played on Saturday october 29 in Lockhart Stadium to decide the 2011 NASL champion.  Go Red and Yellow!

Finally, it is seldom that my weekly FC Barcelona report comes last in this column, but for once DC United's stunning ineptitude and the Strikers magical playoff run seems momentarily more momentous that Barcelona's steady and victorious professionalism.  This past Saturday Barca cooly downed Racing Santander 3 - 0 before 80,000 fans at Camp Nou on the strength of two goals from Messi wan Kenobi and Xavi to reclaim first place in the Spanish League standings.  Then, last night Barca defeated a very talented Viktoria Plzen, with no less than six Czech team national starters in the lineup, on the strength of goals from Andres Iniesta and David Villa, thereby tying AC Milan for first place in Group 'H' of the competiton.  Holding first place in both ther Spanish League campaign and the 2012 Champions League tournament, FC Barcelona is--as susal--on track for another brilliant and historical season. 

Visca el Barca!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Barca & Strikers Score 3 Each

With a 3-0 victory over Racing Santander this past weekend and goals by Pedro, Messi, and Iniesta, FC Barcelona has climbed into first place in La Liga and appears to be well on track towards yet another Spanish League championship in the early season.  So this week, we will instead focus on the surprising Fort Lauderdale Strikers instead, who appear to have hit their stride in the postseason and are now just one victory away from appearing in the NASL Cup final.

As reported in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel,

"The Fort Lauderdale Strikers have a leg up on the Puerto Rico Islanders after the first game of their NASL semifinals on Saturday.

Goals by Martin Nunez, Walter Restrepo and Brian Shriver helped lead the Strikers to a 3-1 victory over the Islanders in Puerto Rico. It was the Islanders' first loss at home this season.

The Strikers, who have eight goals in two playoff games, can advance to the league finals with a tie or even a loss by one goal in the second leg of the home-and-home series on Oct. 15 at Lockhart Stadium.

After the Islanders cut the Strikers' lead to 2-1 in the 85th minute, Shriver scored in stoppage time on a Mike Palacio assist.

The Strikers took the lead in the 49th minute on Nunez's goal on an assist from Lance Laing. They made it 2-0 in the 82nd minute on Restrepo's unassisted goal."

The Fort Lauderdale Strikers have chosen the best possible time to hit their stride and are now clearly living up to their moniker.  This win over the Islanders-- who until the playoffs started were clearly the class of the NASL-- proves the Fort Lauderdale can win it all. 

Go Strikers!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Barca Wins, Strikers Run Wild

This past weekend was a happy one here in teh land of Jedi Soccer, as FC Barcelona squeaked past Sporting Gijon in La Liga, while the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, my sole remaining domestic side with a chance for a championship, absolutely crushed FC Edmonton 5 - 0.

As posted by CNN sports,

"Barcelona went top of La Liga with an unimpressive 1-0 win at bottom side Sporting Gijon Sunday.
The reigning Spanish and European champions could not supply their usual brand of free flowing attacking football against obdurate opponents who belied the form which has seen them pick up only one point this season.

With top scorer Lionel Messi well-shackled, Barca's only goal came after 12 minutes through a deflected shot by Adriano and they struggled to add to their tally.

Eric Abidal went off injured after the break to add to Barcelona's defensive problems with neither Carlos Puyol or Gerard Pique starting.

Midfielder Cesc Fabregas is also sidelined for up to three weeks through injury."

Despite this unimpressive showing, Barca now stands in first place in La Liga standings, one point ahead of Derby rivals Real Madrid.  Visca el Barca!

Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers picked an excellent time to break out perhaps their best performance of the year, in the first round of the NASL playoffs.  According to SB Nation:

"From the opening kickoff the Strikers pinned Edmonton back and didn't let up. The Edmonton midfield was utterly overwhelmed with only NASL all-star team choice Shaun Saiko looking even remotely competitive. Edmonton's defense managed to fend off a few chances but for the most part it was down to 39-year-old goalkeeper Rein Baart to keep Edmonton alive. Throughout most of the first half he made a number of agile stops before his inconsistency showed; Baart allowed a frankly ugly Brian Shriver in first half stoppage time. In the second half, Edmonton showed only glimpses of quality and mostly let Fort Lauderdale do as they pleased, resulting in four more goals and a 5-0 romp...

Credit is due to Fort Lauderdale, who recognized their advantage and ruthlessly exploited it. After Baart's weak goal the Strikers kept up the attack in the second half; Shriver banged in another and Abe Thompson bagged a hat trick as Baart flailed helplessly. The taunts of the Fort Lauderdale fans to the defeated Eddies came in loud and clear and the referee blowing his whistle had the air of a mercy killing."

Next up for the Strikers are the Puerto Rico Islanders in Puerto Rico, which should be a tough match.  Next up for Barca is Racing Santander on October 16 in La Liga play.