Friday, December 30, 2005

US Captain Claudio Reyna out with ankle fracture

In a blow to both the US National team and Manchester City, a CT scan has reviled a fracture of a small bone in the back of Claudio Reyna's right ankle. This comes just a month after he missed four matches due to ankle and knee problems.

"The original injury happened in the Arsenal game," Reyna is quoted on the Manchester City web site. "It has been really sore and it didn't feel right. I could not train through the week and I was just trying to get through games. A CT scan revealed there's a break and now I'll proceed with having surgery on Friday. Luckily, the doctor is one of the leading guys in Europe and I'm happy to be seeing him and getting the problem cleared up."

This latest injury should keep Reyna out for 6-8 weeks.

US Coach Bruce Arena must be watching Reyna's status closely. Reyna is not in the best shape of his life, but he does bring a great deal of talent and experience to the midfield. If he is unable to recover from this injury or if another injury comes his way, it is hard to imagine him being ready for Germany. A US team without his on field guidance will be a very different team indeed.

That said, this injury does come far enough out that Reyna could make a full recovery. Let's all hope that happens.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Could it be Houston Republic FC?

Post updated below

Word around the MLS rumor mill is that the new name of the Houston team will be Houston Republic FC.

As the story goes, a bike messenger made a delivery to MLS headquarters and noticed the new name and logo. He then snapped some pictures of it with his cell phone (one pictured above).

I have no clue if this is true, but it does seem a little strange. Why would a bike messenger be in a room with a big logo marked "NOT FOR RELEASE"? Usually a messenger drops things at the front desk. Does it make sense that this would be in such an obvious place? Also, does it make sense that someone could get off a handful of pictures without someone else noticing (phones do make that camera 'snap' noise)? Finally, the images seem to be of higher resolution then you would expect from a cell phone (I say this without seeing the originals).

It also seems odd that they would decide on a name before the whole "name the team" thing happened. Perhaps this is just one of a few names they are going to put out there.

You can find more images over at

If this is the new name, it's not bad. I like the inclusion of the 1836 (year of Texas's independence from Mexico), but I really wonder why there is a train on the shield. I don't think Houston was a huge train hub and I don't understand the semi-circle train track. Also, there is a trademark label yet I can find no trademark listed for the name with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. There is the chance that it has been filed, but not approved, however, if that is true, it seems even stranger that this poster would be anywhere near a public space.

Maybe I am over analyzing this. If it turns out to be true, I will look the fool (not the first time). Let the waiting begin.

Update: Yes, it was a fake. Here is the the hoaxster telling his tale. For more on the real Houston name, click here.


Best of US Soccer Awards

US Soccer announced their Best of 2005 Soccer Awards yesterday. No big surprises on the list. Basically, if there was an entry having to do with the September 3rd match against Mexico, it won. Also, if there was a vote on a store, the Chicago offering took it (it's almost like US Soccer resides in the Windy City). Here are the results (winner in bold):

Best U.S. Atmosphere:
U.S. MNT 2, Mexico 0 @ Crew Stadium (Sept. 3) 23.9 %
U.S. MNT 1, England 2 @ Soldier Field (May 28) 20.8 %
U.S. WNT 7, Ukraine 0 @ Merlo Field (July 10) 15.6 %

Best Audio Podcast:
Bruce Arena Speaks Candidly 27%
Remembering Guerra Fria 17.4 %
Eddie Lewis in England 17.3 %

Best All Access video:
Highlights of USA vs. Mexico (Sept. 3) 33.9%
Snowball Fight 20.4%
Blood Work 15.4%

Best Picture:
Kasey Keller's Superman Save 28.1%
Tiffeny Milbrett Soaring to 100 11.3 %
U.S. MNT In Anticipation 9.8 %

Best Performance (Team):
U.S. MNT 2, Mexico 0 (Sept. 3) 37.6%
U.S. WNT 1, Germany 0 (March 15) 16.7%
U-21 WNT 4, Norway 1 (July 26) 14.1%

Best Soccer Store:
Chicago Soccer (Chicago, Ill.) 57.6%
Soccer Post (San Diego, Calif.) 7.2%
Soccer USA (Austin, Texas) 6.4%

Best Performance (Player):
Oguchi Onyewu vs. Mexico (Sept. 3) 14.8%
DaMarcus Beasley vs. Mexico (Sept. 3) 14.6%
Kasey Keller vs. Costa Rica (June 4) 14.1%

Best Goal:
Tiffeny Milbrett vs. Ukraine (July 10) 15.2%
Landon Donovan vs. Costa Rica (June 4) 9.8%
Landon Donovan vs. Cuba (July 7) 9.4%

Best Goal Celebration:
DaMarcus Beasley vs. Mexico (Sept. 3 31.4%
Tiffeny Milbrett's 100th Goal (July 10) 18.6%
U.S. MNT Win Gold Cup (July 24) 18%

Best Assist:
Landon Donovan vs. Guatemala (March 30) 23.5%
Aly Wagner vs. Germany (March 15) 22.1%
Claudio Reyna vs. Mexico (Sept. 3) 17%

Best Soccer Bar:
Ginger's Ale House (Chicago, Ill.) 54.9%
The Globe (Chicago, Ill.) 7.7%
Nevada Smith's (New York, N.Y.) 6.7%

Like I said above, no big surprises. However, I am thrilled that Tiffeny Milbrett got goal of the year. That was an outstanding goal for Tiffeny and for soccer. A wonder pass followed by a great pop over the top of the goalie.

I'm also happy that Landon Donovan got the assist of the year. That little backheel to Eddie Johnson was just beautiful.

You can view all the videos and pictures or listen to the podcast here.

Maybe US Soccer will start up a blog next year and then we could all vote for best blog entry of the year. I'm hoping it will be, something like, US Men Shock the World by Winning Group E or maybe, Seven Hour Parade for Men's National Team as They Return Home With the Cup! A boy can dream can't he?


Maradona plays great game then gets arrested

Last night, the hand of god Diego Maradona played his first mach since his major health scare of 18 months ago.

The event was 'The Friends of Zico' match where new and former greats like Maradona Bebeto, Jorginho, Marcio Santos and Leonardo played against young Brazilian professionals. Maradona played for 68-minutes and showed moments of his former self. The 3000 spectators roared whenever he got the ball.

However, this morning he was arrested at the Rio airport for creating a disturbance. "Maradona allegedly argued with airport workers and then with authorities in one of the airport's VIP room, upset that the flight wasn't held for him. The former Argentina star allegedly tried to force his way on board, prompting airport workers to call authorities. A door at the VIP room was broken in the incident, and Maradona allegedly said he was going to pay for the damage, Melo said."

Authorities say that he will be released and should be back home in Argentina later today.

It's great to see someone turn their life around as much as Maradona has, but it is a shame that the whole airport incident happened. Whatever the reason behind this outburst might be, it is not good enough.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

US Women Called to Camp

Much like their male counterparts, the US Women have been called to camp in January. U.S. head coach Greg Ryan selected 28 players for the January 3-9 training session.

This camp is a warm up for the Four Nations Tournament in China. That event will take place Jan 18-22.

The roster includes vets like Christie Welsh, Abby Wambach, Kristine Lilly and Danielle Fotopoulos as well as four uncapped players. Those players are Megan Rapinoe, Stacey Tullock, Kendall Fletcher and India Trotter. Tullock trained with the team in 2004 and 2005, but the other three are brand new to the senor squad.

Here is the full roster:

GOALKEEPERS (4): Nicole Barnhart, Jenni Branam, Briana Scurry, Hope Solo

DEFENDERS (8): Lori Chalupny, Kendall Fletcher, Tina Frimpong, Amy LePeilbet, Stephanie Lopez, Heather Mitts, Jill Oakes, Christie Rampone

MIDFIELDERS (9): Shannon Boxx, Carli Lloyd, Kristine Lilly, Marci Miller, Leslie Osborne, Lindsay Tarpley, Stacey Tullock, Aly Wagner, Angie Woznuk

FORWARDS (7): Danielle Fotopoulos, Tiffeny Milbrett, Heather O’Reilly, Megan Rapinoe, India Trotter, Abby Wambach, Christie Welsh

This camp will take place at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California.


US to face Poland on March 1

It looks like Poland will be the opponent for the US in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on March 1. This will be the first of 2 matches in Germany during March. On the 22nd they will face Germany in Dortmund.

During the 2002 World Cup, Poland beat the US 3-1 in their group match, so the US will look for some revenge. This will be an extremely important match for the red, white and blue. It will give them a chance to get a win on European soil as well as allow some measurement for the progress made in the last four years.

The Bruce likes to pooh-pooh talk about some sort of European curse on the team, but until they get a win over there, it's going to keep coming up.

As a little extra bonus, this match will be played on the same field as the US's June 17th game against Italy.

Saudi Arabia Fire Coach

With just seven months to go till the World Cup, Saudi Arabia decided to fire their coach. They say this was due to the team’s poor performance in the West Asian Games. Saudi Arabia lost to Iraq in the semi-finals and Iran in the third place match.

Coach Gabriel Calderon has been replaced with Brazilian Marcos Paqueta. Calderon lead the team on an impressive qualifying run that saw the side go 12 matches without a defeated. They also beat South Korea (one of the top Asian teams) in both the home and away meeting.

The Saudis are in Group G with Spain, Ukraine and Tunisia. This is a group in which they might be able to make some noise. It seems very short sided to fire a guy due one bad tournament. In all, they played four matches in the West Asian Games. They won their first and then lost the next three. To freak out over this seems a bit much especially when you look at their much harder qualifying round.

Paqueta has a very difficult task ahead of him. To come into a system seven months before the big show is difficult. I think this move weakens Saudi Arabia's chances of moving out of the group phase in Germany.

Paqueta coached Al Hilal to the Saudi league and cup double last season and is former Brazilian U20 and U17 coach.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Bruce Arena announces roster for January training camp

Bruce Arena announced the 30 players who will make up the first US training camp of 2006. As expected, the list is all most all domestic players. The camp starts on January 4th.

Here is the full list:

GOALKEEPERS (4) – Brad Guzan (Chivas USA), Kevin Hartman (Los Angeles Galaxy), Matt Reis (New England Revolution), Jonny Walker (Columbus Crew)

DEFENDERS (8) – Chris Albright (Los Angeles Galaxy), Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City Wizards), Todd Dunivant (Los Angeles Galaxy), Frankie Hejduk (Columbus Crew), Ugo Ihemelu (Los Angeles Galaxy), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew), Heath Pearce (FC Nordsjælland), Eddie Pope (Real Salt Lake)

MIDFIELDERS (12) –Freddy Adu (D.C. United), Brian Carroll (D.C. United), Ricardo Clark (Houston), Clint Dempsey (New England Revolution), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Justin Mapp (Chicago Fire), Kyle Martino (Columbus Crew), Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado Rapids), Pat Noonan (New England Revolution), Ben Olsen (D.C. United), Santino Quaranta (D.C. United), Steve Ralston (New England Revolution)

FORWARDS (6) – Brian Ching (Houston MLS), Nate Jaqua (Chicago Fire), Eddie Johnson (FC Dallas), Chris Rolfe (Chicago Fire),
Taylor Twellman (New England Revolution), Josh Wolff (Kansas City Wizards)

Heath Pearce will be there (the only non-US based player on the list) due to the Danish League taking winter break. Good to see the two Eddies on the list (Pope and Johnson who is coming back after lots of injury time). First timers include Brad Guzan, Freddy Adu, Todd Dunivant, Ugo Ihemelu and Nate Jaqua. I'm happy to see Jaqua getting a go at things. He netted 7 in 18 matches for the Fire. He's a long, long shot for Germany at best, but he might be someone to watch for 2010.

No real big surprises. Arena is obviously using this camp to keep the MLS guys in shape. It really is a who's who of the league. One thing, it is kind of odd to see Houston listed as a team.

If you are looking for the actual US World Cup roster, look here.

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US misses 5th place in FIFA rankings by 1 point

What is it with the US missing things by one point? First they miss a seeded spot in Germany by 1 point now they miss out on a four-way tie for 5th place in the December FIFA rankings by 1 point. It does make one wonder. Anyway, there was very little action on most of the list due to a lack of games being played. So here is the top 20

Pos - Team - Pts - (Nov Rank)
1 Brazil 840 (1)
2 Czech Republic 796 (2)
3 Netherlands 791 (3)
4 Argentina 772 (4)
5 Mexico 768 (7)
5 Spain 768 (6)
5 France 768 (5)
8 USA 767 (8)
9 England 757 (9)
10 Portugal 754 (10)

11 Turkey 748 (11)
12 Italy 741 (12)
13 Denmark 733 (13)
14 Sweden 732 (14)
15 Japan 715 (15)
16 Germany 708 (16)
16 Greece 708 (17)
18 Uruguay 706 (18)
19 Iran 703 (19)
20 Croatia 701 (20)

Not a lot of action going on. Mexico moved up from 8th to a tie for 5th, but they have the same number of points from last month. Both France and Spain lost points. The US gained a point but stayed in 8th place. Other then that, nothing much changes.

When we look at the full list, there were some big gains. Ethiopia moved up 16 places to 112th, Rwanda jumped 17 rankings to 89th and the big winner of the list is Iraq who shot up 20 spots to 54th place.

On the other side of the big moves we have the British Virgin Islands slipping down 8 to 171, Oman who fell 12 places to 91st and Qatar who flopped down 14 spots to 95th.

None of the rankings for America's World Cup group changed. The Czech are 2nd, US 8th, Italy 12th and Ghana 50th. One interesting note, Trinidad & Tobago moved up 1 spot to tie Ghana for 50th place.

The January rankings should look similar to these.


Monday, December 19, 2005

Kasey Keller and US Soccer

US Goalkeeper Kasey Keller (pictured in his younger and hairier days) has seen a lot in his 15 years in Europe. But one of the biggest things he has noticed is the respect that the sport now shows US players.

"The change has been massive for Americans, but there is still a long ways to go," Keller said. "We're breaking down a lot of stereotypes. The football people know, but you still get a lot of that from non-football people."

The best way to break stereotypes is by your actions, and Keller's have been very good. He is currently "rated second in the league among goalkeepers, ahead of the likes of Bayern Munich's Oliver Kahn, a two-time world goalie of the year."

It is no secret that the US need a fantastic run by Keller if they are to do anything in Germany. He is having a good season so far, but there is always the injury fear. If he went down, the Bruce would have a difficult time picking his team back up.

Anyway, it is great to see Keller getting the respect that he deserves. The fact that it helps future US players is just a little extra whip cream on top.

US Soccer and Players reach a deal

US Soccer in the players' union (USNSTPA) reached a collective bargaining agreement through 2010. Earlier this year the two sides agreed to a no-strike, no-lockout deal, but that was set to expire at the end of the month.

No hard details were given, but it is safe to say that both sides gave a little. I'm also guessing there are large bonuses built in for success in the World Cup.

A spokesman for USNSTPA said, “The Players are pleased that they will continue to prepare for the 2006 World Cup with an agreement in place that benefits both sides. We hope this agreement will be the first step in bringing together the millions of individuals and many organizations that support soccer in the United States to work to advance our sport."

US Soccer President Dr. S. Robert Contiguglia is happy to have a deal. "We are pleased to have reached an agreement with the U.S. National Soccer Players' Association on a collective bargaining agreement through the 2010 FIFA World Cup. We have been confident throughout this process that an amicable agreement would be reached that would positively address the desires of both parties, and that is what we have accomplished together. Our focus now, as it has always been, is to move forward and continue our preparation for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany."

In January of this year, the lack of a deal forced Bruce Arena to use lower level players in his first training camp. Thankfully the no-strike deal was made in time to get the stars back to practice before any qualifiers were played. With this new agreement out of the way, the team can now focus exclusively on next June.

Friday, December 16, 2005

So what did we learn at the Houston Press Conference?

Not very much. The biggest news was the official notice that the team will play at Robertson Stadium on the University of Houston campus. The stadium went through a major renovation in 1998. It can hold about 32,000, but I'm guessing MLS will limit it to 26,000 or so for their matches (they limited the 32,000 seat Spartan Stadium to 26,525 in 1997). As you can see in the pictures linked above, the fans will be very close to the action.

This is a good start for the team (actually the similarities to Spartan Stadium are a bit nutty, but who's to say), but soon enough they will need to find a permanent home. In this search, they did get some support form the local paper.

Some other news from the press conference, the team will start play the first weekend in April, you can order season tickets now and there will be a team-naming contest for the franchise. More information will come soon via their web site.


Australia to start at the bottom in Asia

Australia might be gearing up for the World Cup, but that doesn't mean so much for Asia's biggest soccer tourniment. The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) annoucned the four pots for the 2007 Asian Cup and unlike the World Cup, rankings are used for placement in the four pots. Australia has been placed in the final pot.

An AFC spokesman explained that pot placement is based on the result of the last Asian Cup (in this case 2004). Since Australia didn't play in that cup (as they were not a member of the AFC), they have no record so to Pot D they go.

So what should be the easiest pot now has a bit of a shark swiming around in it.

Here are the pots.

Pot A - Japan, Iran, China, Bahrain, Uzbekistan, Jordan
Pot B - South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar
Pot C - United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Singapore, Hong Kong
Pot D - Australia, Palestine, Sri Lanka, Chinese Taipei, Pakistan/Bangladesh, India

The draw will take place on January 4, 2006. Also note that Pakistan and Bangladesh had their playoff series delayed due to the devastating earthquake that hit the region in October. They will play their matches on Dec. 21 and 25th.

Champions League Knockout Draw

The draw is over and there is one big rematch from last year. Chelsea will have to see Barcelona off if they want to advance to the quarterfinals. Last year Barcelona won the first match 2-1, but Chelsea came storming back at home with a 4-2 result that put them through.

Here is a list of the full draw:

Chelsea v Barcelona
Real Madrid v Arsenal
Werder Bremen v Juventus
Bayern Munich v AC Milan

PSV Eindhoven v Lyon
Ajax v Inter Milan
Benfica v Liverpool
Rangers v Villarreal

A few other pairings of interest to me are Bayern - AC Milan, Ajax - Inter Milan and Rangers - Villarreal. I think Bayern and AC Milan are very evenly matched, so this series should be very hard fought. Ajax and Inter Milan both seem to be 'below the radar' teams this year. I think the winner will have a good shot of getting to the final four. The Rangers are thrilled to be in the knockout phase, but they are one of the weaker of the final 16. Villarreal is one of the remaining sides I could see them beating. However, much like Ajax and Inter Milan, few seem worried about either of these two.

The first match will be played on Feb 21/22 and the second on March 7/8.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Earthquakes Moving to Houston

Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber made it official, the San Jose Earthquakes are moving to Houston. The team’s owners, Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), are attracted to the city due to size and ethnic diversity.

In a bit of good news, the team might be gone, but they are not taking the name, logo or colors with them. Also, the city has signed a letter of intent with the hopes of attracting a MLS expansion team, perhaps as early as 2007.

"It is our intent to return to San Jose as early as possible," Garber said.

This is what most people figured would happen. AEG was not willing to loose money for another year while the City of San Jose could not make things happen in such a short time. It will be interesting to see how the team formerly known as the Earthquake does next year. With just four months to get everything up and running, it is going to be difficult. One good thing they have going for them is their talent. Still, chaos more often then not hurts teams in the end.

Now we all get to guess at the new name. How about the Houston Californians?

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Houston gets the 'Quakes?

Today is the MLS deadline for a decision on the location of the Earthquakes for the 2006 season. Since the talks on a new soccer stadium have collapsed in San Jose, it is looking very much like Texas is about to have an intra-state rivalry.

A Houston TV station reported that the city's mayor and sports authority have set a news conference for Friday with soccer being the most likely topic. Still, a spokesman for 'Quakes owner AEG says no final decision has been made.

There has been talk of a possible move to near by Santa Clara, but the mayor said on Wednesday, "We haven't heard anything from the involved parties'' in the past three days.

It looks like Houston is about to get the club. If they do move, I hope the Earthquake name stays in San Jose. Perhaps the Soccer Silicon Valley group could still work on getting a stadium deal. If they have more then 2 weeks to figure it all out, it might just happen. Then the MLS could place a future 'expansion' team back in the area.

I'm sure this move will be meet with some anger and sadness as San Jose was home to the first ever MLS match on April 6, 1996. San Jose won that outing 1-0 against DC United. Eric Wynalda got the first MLS goal in the 88th minute for the San Jose Clash.

However, this move opens up the fourth largest city in the US to the MLS. Let's hope, for the sake of pro-soccer in the US, that they can make something of it in their new home.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

US to play Germany in Dortmund

It's official; the US will play Germany in Germany on March 22, 2006, at 2 pm ET. This will be a great test for the US ahead of the World Cup. By mid-March, the final team should be just about fully in focus. If they can go into the most hostile of environments and play well, it will be a great indication of where they stand.

"As we experienced in the preparation for the 2002 World Cup, the chance to play in the host country before the tournament will be an invaluable experience for our team," said coach Bruce Arena.

Hopefully we will soon discover who the US will play during their March 1 friendly. This game is to take place in Europe, but no team has been announced. Paging Holland.

FC Dallas still want Ruiz

FC Dallas really wants to re-sign Carlos Ruiz (pictured), but there are some problems. MLS hold 50% of his rights while his former club, Municipal in Guatemala, hold the other 50%. This means that they have been paying part of his salary even while he has been playing for the MLS. Why would they do this? They will get a big check from a transfer fee to a Mexican or European club.

With the next transfer window not due to open till January, Municipal is in no hurry to finalize a deal with MLS. This leaves FC Dallas in a tough spot. Ruiz is one of the players they build their whole team around. If they don't get him back, then they will have to scramble to shuffle their lineup around.

Another problem for FCD is his salary. If he returns, he is sure to add $280,000 to the team’s salary costs. Since Eddie Johnson is also at that mark, a huge portion (31%) of their salary would go to these two players.

This the logistic problems FCD must face, but there is another issue that I think is more important, Ruiz's playing level. He played in just 19 of their 32 matches (he was away for international duty for some of them) and netted 11 goals off 63 shots. Yes, these are good stats, but I still think they are below his talent level.

It seemed to me that he became unhappy with his situation back in July and played accordingly (much like Johnston, when he wasn't injured). I know he would rather play in a bigger league then the MLS, most people do, but to play below your talent doesn't seem like the smartest way of getting there.

If Dallas does get him back, I hope he drops the ego and plays full force every time he steps on the pitch. If he does that, Municipal has a better chance of getting rich of his move to a bigger league.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Fascism, Match Fixing and Brazilian Money Laundering

Rome’s Lazio player Piero Di Canio gave a fascist salute to his teams fans during a match and is not ashamed of doing it. This is not that much of a shocker as he also has fascists’ symbols tattooed on his arms. Italian Maccabi Federation, asked Rome’s Jewish community to consider taking legal action against Di Canio. Di Canio said that it would be "serious" if action was taken against him. He was fined $12,000 for a similar display in January.

Vietnam police are looking into claims that members of their national team were involved in match fixing during this month's Southeast Asian Games in the Philippines. Police are questioning four players in this matter. Vietnam got to the championship match, but lost to Thailand 3-0.

Brazilian authorities are investigation national soccer team manager, Carlos Alberto Parreira, for possible money laundering and tax evasion, because links to sports entrepreneurs Reinaldo Pitta and Alexandre Martins, local press said on Tuesday. According to Tuesday's Extra, a Brazilian daily, Parreira brought money into Brazil illegally, and used it to buy property, in a scheme organized by the two businessmen, who represented Ronaldo El Fenomeno, a soccer forward. This could be a big distraction for the team as they prepare for Germany.

Talks to keep Earthquakes in San Jose collapse

News for San Jose soccer fans is not very good. TV station KESQ is reporting that city officials have backed away from the soccer stadium deal due to "disagreements over how to finance the deal."

Since the owners of the Sharks were only interested in buying the team if a stadium deal could be reached, this should kill off that option paving the way for Anschutz Entertainment Group to move the team to Houston.

The MLS has given them to Thursday to announce their decision for next year's home.

Update: Been out of the loop for the last couple day and didn't realize this was a bit of old news.

Wizards to stay in Kansas City

Let all the Wizard fans start celebrating as their team will play at least one more year in KC.

Owner Lamar Hunt announced that the team will stay, but is still looking for a local group to purchase them. He also hopes that future owners will build a soccer-specific stadium.

"Within the past week we've gotten a substantial offer to purchase the team," Hunt said at a news conference. "We were not able to accept that offer, because there were some conditions we didn't find acceptable. The group interested in purchasing the team wanted to be sure there was a soccer-specific stadium here before they closed the deal."

Season tickets will go on sale very soon.

With KC's situation figured out, that leaves San Jose as the lone hold out in the possible move column. For San Jose, a decision must be made soon. I'm guessing that within the next week, news will break on that situation.

I'm glad to see that the Hunt's are willing to stick it out another year; I just hope a few more fans actually show up. If you live in KC and like having a team, you need to go to a few games. It is a lot easier to find a buyer when you can show interest in the product.


2006 Carolina Challenge Cup

The USL's Charleston Battery will host their third Carolina Challenge Cup next March 18-25. The preseason tournament will feature the Battery along with MLS's DC United, San Jose Earthquakes and MetroStars.

This is a fun warm-up event that allows South Carolina to witness some good soccer as well as boost the notoriety of the Battery ahead of their season. It's also good to see the two biggest soccer leagues in the states working together. These are the things that help grow the sport.

Ghana wants Adu

The country of Ghana wants Freddy Adu for their side. Since Adu was born in Ghana and he has yet to play in any non-youth match for the US, this is possible (actually, even if he plays in a friendly for the senior squad it is still possible).

The coach of Ghana's Black Stars said, "We have decided to contact Adu to ask him to decide whether he would like to play for Ghana or the United States. In the coming days, he will be contacted by the football association."

So why now? Could this be some gamesmanship by Ghana ahead of their World Cup match with the US? I find it hard to believe that Adu would surrender his US chances even for greater playing time over the next couple years.

That said, Adu has not been secrete about wanting to play in Germany next year and his chances of getting there with the red, white and blue are slim at best. If he looks at the short term, this would be the better option, but long term, I think the US will give him more.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Draw is Over, Let the Speculation Begin

I hope your World Cup draw festivities were as fun and wonderful as mine. But now that all the merriment is out of the way, let's take a look at what happened.

Here are the groups.

Group A: Germany, Costa Rica, Poland, Ecuador

Group B: England, Paraguay, Trinidad & Tobago, Sweden

Group C: Argentina, Ivory Coast, Serbia & Montenegro, Holland

Group D: Mexico, Iran, Angola, Portugal

Group E: Italy, Ghana, USA, Czech Republic

Group F: Brazil, Croatia, Australia, Japan

Group G: France, Switzerland, South Korea, Togo

Group H: Spain, Ukraine, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia

Germany got a relatively friendly draw, however, I'm sure the police are a little concerned about facing Poland. The Germans should be able to get past all three of these teams. Costa Rica could surprise, but Poland or Ecuador have better chances.

England has to be happy with their group. England beat Paraguay 4-0 earlier this year in a friendly, so they should be on mark to do it again in Germany. Sweden is an obvious pick for second place in this group, but if their offense fails, Paraguay might just push by them. Trinidad & Tobago are my sentimental favorites, but it is hard to imagine them getting out of this group.

Argentina find themselves right back in a 'group of death.' I thought that any group that got the Netherlands would get the 'death' notice, so this is not a huge surprise. I expect these two to move on, but I would not be shocked to see one of them miss out.

Mexico found themselves in a good group, but they will need to watch out for Portugal and a shock from Iran. Angola will need luck to run their way if they are to have any hope. All and all, I think Portugal is going to win this group with Mexico fighting it out for second.

Italy and the other 'group of death.' I know most folks are looking at group C as the death group, but I think E can make a strong case for such a name. Italy is a team that is underappreciated by most non-European media while the USA is underappreciated by everyone (except for hardcore US fans). It's going to take amazing defense to shut down the Czechs and a strong midfield to cool the Italians, but I think the US might just be able to do that. Yes, this is a hard group for America (almost a worst case scenario), but it is also a group that could earn us a great deal of respect. It will be difficult, but I think it can happen. Italy and the Czechs are the favorites, but it is not the difficult to see one of them being replaced by the USA.

Brazil should be able to make it out of their group, but they do have three good opponents in Croatia, Australia and Japan. I think Croatia is going to have the hardest time in this group, but Japan will need to figure out their scoring problems if they want to get to the knockout phase. As far as Australia, this is a perfect fit for them. They will fall to Brazil, but they can beat both the other teams (but will they be able to do it?).

France is a team that I think will have trouble in Germany, but thanks to this draw, they should get out of their group. South Korea should also be thrilled with this outcome, as they are better then the Swiss most of the time. That said, if the Swiss can figure out their backline, they might not get rolled. For Togo, it will be great to be there, but I don't think they should book a month long stay.

Luck has a new name and it is Spain. There are no easy games in a World Cup, but this is the easiest group. Spain should be able to pull it together long enough to see off a couple of these sides, but this group really could go any which way. I could see Ukraine, Tunisia or Saudi Arabia going on a run just long enough to get one of the top two spots or I could see them dropping games like crazy. Spain is the favorite, but that might cause them to under prepare.

There you have my first bit of speculation. I'm sure I will change my mind about 182 times between now and the start of the cup, but for now, this is what I think.

Friday, December 09, 2005

At long last, it's World Cup Draw Day!

Last night I'm sure many a soccer fan dreamt of Heidi Klum. Who knew that one supermodel would ever hold so much of the world's hopes in her hands. In just a few hours, Madam Klum will begin the draw as 350 million look on. The good news is you do not have to wait till then to hear about how bad the ceremony was thanks to Australia's Herald Sun. In a story posted 3 hours ago (or 5 hours before the ceremony begins), Tom Smithies talks about how overblown the whole event was. Way to build credibility.

Anyway, enough of the press bashing, let's all enjoy this day. In just a few hours we will know where all teams will play and which group will be labeled the 'group of death.' The odds are any group with the Netherlands in it will be labeled in such a way. This will lead to six months (182 days to be exact) of speculation and preparations. Think of all the fun soccer arguments you will have between now and June 9th. Awesome.

As far as coaches, 31 of the 32 national chiefs will be at the event. Argentina's coach Jose Pekerman will be absent due to personal reasons. US coach Bruce Arena is hoping to use this event to schedule at least one friendly in Europe.

So enjoy this day and all that it brings us. It will be four more years till this much excitement comes our way again.

If you are in the US, ESPN2 will show the draw live at 3pm EST. You can also 'tune' in on your computer. Just click on over to FIFA's 2006 site or checkout ESPN's live cast.

If you are looking for some information on how this draw should proceed, take a look here.

Let's look at World Cup Pot D

Good old Pot D. This pot is made up of Asia and CONCACAF teams. And the teams are: Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago and USA. So let's look at the tiers.

First Tier
Japan, South Korea, USA

Japan comes into the cup having had some unexpected rough spots along the way (they had a lot of trouble with North Korea). Still, they have a great midfield thanks to Europe-based Hidetoshi Nakata, Shunsuke Nakamura and Shinji Ono, and domestic star Mitsuo Ogasawara. Their big problem is their lack of scorers. Masashi Oguro gives them something, but he is not the biggest of threats. If they can start finding net, they will be strong.

South Korea did not win their group, but I think they come in as the strongest side from Asia. However, much like Japan, their big problem is their inability to get goals. They do have some good options in attacking midfielder Park Ji-Sung or forwards Jung-Hwan, Cha Du-Ri and Lee Dong-Gook. Still, none of them constantly clicked during qualifying. Their saving grace has been the man between the posts, Lee Woon-Jae. He made some wonderful saves that kept South Korea in matches. If they can get some offense, they should present some challenges to their opposition.

The USA arrive in Germany with their best team ever. I know that is not saying a lot for US soccer, but it still says something. This is a team with real talent in players like Brian McBride, Claudio Reyna, DaMarcus Beasley, Landon Donovan, Oguchi Onyewu, Eddie Pope and Kasey Keller, amongst others. These players are found all over the field. Still, the US has some problems with their backline and need a lot of help guarding with set pieces. Then there is their problem with European soil. It just seems to be a curse on them. If they can fix some of these problems and maybe win a friendly or two in Europe, they might just repeat or improve upon 2002.

One thing about all three of these teams, unlike 2002, opponents will not look past them. Last Cup, these were three of the biggest surprises, but you can only be a surprise once. Teams, or at least the smart ones, will come out in full force when playing against them.

Second Tier
Costa Rica, Iran

Costa Rica are a little under the radar right now, but only a foolish team would write them off as an easy mark. This will be Paulo Wanchope's final Cup and he wants to go out strong. Wanchope is a goal-scorer through and through. Combine that with the pace and service of Hernan Medford, the defense of Gilberto Martinez and the goal stopping ability of Luis Gabelo Conejo and you have a good squad. Still, the Ticos did have some problems during qualifying. A lot of them went away when 2002 coach Alexandre Guimaraes returned in April, but they could resurface at any time. If Medford is slowed, it will be hard for Costa Rica to get victories. Yet this is a team that almost always finds a way to get 2 or more goals, so heaven help an opponent with bad defense.

Iran will send their best team ever to the finals. Striker Vahid Hashemian (who plays in Germany) is dangerous with the ball, yet still has trouble getting it between the posts. Mehdi Mahdavika and Asia’s player of the year Ali Karimi join him in the midfield. With these players, you would expect a lot, yet they only scored 7 goals in their 6 final qualifiers. The fact that they won four of those outings is proof that they have some solid defense, but it is also a danger. If a team sneaks in a goal, it will be difficult for Iran to win. However, Greece shown what defense can do for a team in Euro 2004, so if Iran stays solid, they will be a threat.

Third Tier
Saudi Arabia, Trinidad & Tobago

Saudi Arabia is a much better team then they were in 2002 (I know, that's not saying much). They have a really interesting attacking duo with Sami Al Jaber and Yasser Al Qahtani. Al Jaber is the 34-year-old vet while Al Qahtani is in his early 20's and the best paid Saudi in soccer. Al Jaber got three goals in their six final qualifiers, proving that his age is not going to slow him down. Scoring is wonderful, but they also get things down at the other end. They only conceded one goal and that was in their first group match back in February. Interestingly enough, their backline is mainly filled with 'no-names.' I think a lot of folks will underestimate Saudi Arabia, which might just lead to a win.

Trinidad & Tobago are a fun team. The fact that they even got to the playoff series with Bahrain is testament to the capabilities this team possesses. This is a team that after 6 of their 10 matches, only had 4 points and then went 3-0-1 to end up with 13 points and fourth place. Their big name is Dwight Yorke. The former Man United star always seems to find a way to get more out of his fellow players then they should have. Christopher Birchall is also capable of finding the net. However, the Soca Warriors still have to worry about their backline. They are prone to miscues and sloppy clearances, two things that can end a World Cup run early. But if they can clean some of that up, there might just be some extra celebrating happening in Port of Spain come next June.

Pot D is has a lot of strong yet vulnerable teams in it. None of them stand out as a major threat, yet just about all of them could become one. They all have problems in their game that could lead to embarrassing outcomes, yet they also have the ability to play above themselves. I would expect 2-3 teams from this pot to make it out of the group stage, but I would not be overly surprised if only 1 or as many as 4 moved on.

So there you have my look at all four pots. Again, the tiers from pot to pot are not equal, I'm just ranking teams relative to their pots. Feel free to look at my rankings for Pots A, B and C as well as information on how today's World Cup draw should work.

Let's look at World Cup Pot C plus something Special

Pot C is the European pot. It includes Croatia, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and Ukraine. The only other European team, Serbia and Montenegro, is in a separate "special" pot. However, I am going to include them in this tier ranking because it just makes sense to me. So let's look at some tiers.

Tier One
The Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Serbia and Montenegro

The Netherlands is an easy choice for the first tier. With talent like Ruud van Nistelrooy, Edwin van der Sar and captain Phillip Cocu among others, they are a team no one wants to face. They had a fantastic qualifying run that saw them only surrender three goals in 12 matches. It is hard to see them not advancing out of the group phase.

The Czech Republic is example number one for the strength of the Netherlands. These two were in the same qualifying group. If the Czechs were in any other group, they would not have wound up in the playoff with Norway. Anyway, if there is one thing the Czechs know how to do its score goals. They netted 37 in their 14 games and scored 3 or more goals in 7 matches. Jan Koller had a lot to do with the goals, but he had plenty of help, however they need Pavel Nedved to come out of retirement for the playoffs. Whenever a team needs someone to come out of retirement for them to play well, that means they have a weakness. However, the Czechs should have enough talent to overcome this minor shortcoming.

Serbia and Montenegro may be the lowest FIFA ranked European team to make the World Cup, but they still had a fantastic qualifying run. In 10 matches they only conceded 1 goal. Now it is true that they were not up against the hardest of groups, but that is still an impressive fact. Keeper Dragoslav Jevric and captain Mladen Krstajic make up one of the best backlines in the sport. However, they do have one big problem, they have trouble scoring goals (they only got 16 in qualifiers and 5 of those came in one match). If teams do find a way to sneak in a goal or two, Serbia and Montenegro will have a hard time playing catch up. Anything short of that and S&M is going to get you.

Tier Two
Poland, Portugal, Sweden

Poland had a better qualifying run then most people thought they would. They only lost two games and both of those were to England. This shows the problem for Poland, winning the big matches. To do so, they will need their strinking pair of Maciej Zurawski and Tomas Frankowski to come out hot if they want to advance. They will also need to do something to tighten up their midfield.

Portugal has coach Luiz Felipe Scolari in charge. He took Brazil to victory in 2002, but I think he will have a harder time in 2006. Luis Figo came back from retirement to help his side out. As I stated before, I'm always a little concerned when teams need this kind of help, but in this situation, I don't think it is as bad. Portugal had a good qualifying stage with the exception of their games with Liechtenstein. How did these little guys put the hurt on Portugal? They went right at their midfield. It was surprising how easy it was for them to disrupt Portugal's game. Still, they are flying high and should have a good cup.

Sweden used their traditional 4-4-2 formation to have a very successful qualifying stage. Their defense was paramount and only gave up 4 goals in the 10 matches. On offense, forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic got 8 goals during the process. Now they did score 30, but 13 of them came in their two matches against Malta. Still they are a force. Teams will have to figure out their defense to get past these guys.

Tier Three
Croatia, Switzerland, Ukraine

Croatia actually beat Sweden to win their group, however, they had some problems with lower level teams like Malta and Bulgaria that makes one wonder about their abilities. They have a solid three-man midfield and a good attacking force in Darijo Srna and Marko Babic. Still, if teams like Malta can figure out ways of disrupt their attack, others should be able to as well.

Switzerland is an improving team, but they still have problems on defense. Keeper Pascal Zuberbuhler is good, but his backline often leaves holes. They have a decent midfield thanks in large part to Raphael Wicky and Alexander Frei has shown some good work at finding goal. Games against the Swiss will not be easy, but they also should not be that hard. That said, they did beat a good Turkish side to get here, so they might surprise.

Ukraine shocked everyone by being the first European team to qualify (excluding Germany). They were strong in their group thanks to the goal scoring of Andriy Shevchenko. However, that might also be seen as a bad thing. Shevchenko was their scorer. Yes he had help from Shakhtar Donetsk, Andriy Vorobey and Andrey Voronin, but still, if a team can stop him, they will be close to stopping Ukraine. Expect some surprises from this side, but that might not be enough to see them through.

So there are the tiers for Pot C and the Special Pot. There are a lot of good sides here and I expect to see anywhere from 3 to 5 make it past the group stage.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Let's look at World Cup Pot B

So I've looked over Pot A, why not take a look at Pot B. This is the African, South American and Oceania pot. The teams are Australia, Angola, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo, Tunisia, Ecuador and Paraguay. Just like with Pot A, I'm going to break these into three tiers. These tiers are only related to the teams in this group. Their ranking has nothing to do with the teams’ tier ranking in Pot A. Enough of the explaining, let’s get to the tiers.

First Tier
Ecuador, Paraguay

Ecuador made their way to only their second finals thanks to a nice blend of new and experienced players. However, one of the biggest things to happen during this run was the unity shown by the soccer fans, press as well as past and present soccer officials. With everyone working together, Ecuador might just step out of the long South American shadow cast by Brazil and Argentina.

Paraguay needs striker Roque Santa Cruz to recover from his knee operation. He should be able to play again in April, but that will only give him two months to recoup. If Cruz cannot make it to the Cup, either Salvador Cabanas or veteran Jose Cardozo will probably replace him. Both are good options, but Cruz would still be better. They also have to worry about their defense, which gave up 4 or more goals in 5 of their 18 qualifying matches. However, when they hold their own in front of goal, teams a hard pressed to get more then one. A good backline will equal a good time in Germany for Paraguay.

Second Tier
Australia, Ivory Coast, Tunisia

Australia in the second tier? The last time they were in the cup, John Lennon had just become a father for the second time. The inexperience will hurt them, however a lot of their players see action in Europe plus they have a great coach in Guus Hiddink. In addition, the country has gone soccer crazy since they clinched a spot. All that excitement is going to help a team. However, they still have a lot of work to do as was shown in the Confederations Cup. If they can tighten up their defense and get some high quality friendlies before the Cup, they should do all right.

Ivory Coast has a great chance of stepping into the shoes of 2002 Senegal. They have a strong strike force with Chelsea's Didier Drogba and Aruna Dindane. They also have solid defense thanks to Aruna Dindane and Cyrille Domoraud. However, they did lose both their group matches against Cameroon, the strongest ranked team in Africa (but they did beat Egypt in both outings). If the can figure out how to get past the bigger fish, the Elephants will have some fun times in Germany

Tunisia has seen three finals, but only have one win to their name (against Mexico in their first match in 1978). This is their third straight finals, so they have some experience and they have a good striker with Francileudo Santos. Still, Tunisia just never seems to click in tournaments, be they World Cup or African. If they have a good showing in their first match, they have a chance of moving on.

Third Tier
Angola, Ghana, Togo

Angola got to their first finals thanks in large part to captain Akwa. It was one of his strikes that saw Angola beat Nigeria, which lead to Angola advancing even through they tied on points in the group. They also have a good coach in 'Professor' Luis Oliveira Goncalves. Still, they have a tendency to only score one goal a game. This is great as long as your defense is constant, but if it does fail, they will as well. They have a chance, but only having one big star, Akwa, on the team, is always dangerous. Shut him down and the team might be shut down.

Ghana is a young team, but they are very disciplined thanks to coach Ratomir Dujkovic. They have been excellent in keeping goals out of their net. In 12 matches, they only surrendered 4 goals while averaging 2 goals of their own per match. Those are great stats till you look at their group. Three of the other five teams were extremely week sides. Still they won the ones they needed to against South Africa and Democratic Republic of Congo. To advance, they need their defense to hold strong and for their youngsters to keep it together. These are two hard things to do at a World Cup.

Togo need a fantastic run by Emmanuel Sheyi Adebayor if they want to remember this finals as anything other then their first appearance. He scored 11 of his sides 20 goals. This is wonderful, but also worrisome. If teams shut Adebayor down, Togo really doesn't have anywhere else to go. Still, this is a side took care of all teams in their group including favorites Senegal. If they can keep Adebayor free, they might be a surprise.

So there is the second pot. Again, the tiers in this pot are in no way related to the tiers in the first pot. I am only looking at the eight teams that make up pot two. Sadly, I think only two off these teams will make it out of the group phase. However, if there is to be a Cinderella team in 2006, this will probably be the pot from which it comes.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Let's look at World Cup Pot A

The pots for Friday's draw have been decided and now I want to look at how the teams in each pot stack up against one another. Pot A is all about the seeded teams. These teams are Germany, Brazil, Argentina, England, France, Italy, Mexico and Spain. All of these teams are somewhere between good and great, but even among the "best" of the finalists, some are better then other. So let's break these eight teams down to three tiers.

First Tier
Brazil, England

Brazil is an easy choice for first tier. They have great depth in both their forwards and midfielders (proof of this is the fact the Ronaldo is not guaranteed a spot). However, they are still a little lacking in their defense. If a team can shut down their rhythm up front, Brazil will have a hard time responding. Short of massive injuries to their stars, Brazil is the team to beat in 2006.

England has their best team in 40 years. With Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen clicking, plus a solid defense in line, they have a chance. However, David Beckham's role in everything still seems a little lost. If they can figure that out, they should have a good run.

Second Tier
Germany, Italy, Argentina

If Germany were not the hosts, I would have placed them in the third tier. They are a good team, but they a young. Also, Oliver Kahn's status as number 1 keeper is still up in the air. This is causing a great deal of confusion in front of goal. This pain is only added to with all their recent failures against top European clubs. The 2002 Euro experience weights heavy on this side (they crashed out without winning a single match). Still, they have some good talent and they are playing on home soil. It is good to note that no host team has ever failed to get out of the group stage. Germany is beatable, but it will still be a struggle.

Italy is one of those teams in World Cups that always has high hopes going in but usually ends up leaving thanks to penalty kicks (they lost in '90, '94 & '98 thanks to pks). They have some great talent in Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta, Gianluca Zambrotta and Francesco Totti, but the question is will they be able to get past the demons of years gone by to make it happen this year. I have a feeling they will click, but even when clicking, this side can fail. If a team can tie up their midfield the way Scotland did back in September, Italy will be in trouble.

Argentina is a side with tons of quality players but that might be causing the problem. José Pekerman has not really indicated any of the players that will make the final squad. This caused them to lose their last three qualifiers as well as last month's match against England. If Pekerman can actually put together a final lineup soon, they will have enough time to prepare for next summer. However, if these questions are not solved, they might face a repeat of 2002.

Third Tier
France, Mexico, Spain

France was looking very poor before they brought back Zinedine Zidane. With him in the lineup, they recovered and sailed to victory in their group. However, it is always dangerous to count on older players to save your team. With injuries coming more and more to him, his abilities will shrink. That said, they do have Thierry Henry to pick up some of the slack. If both of these two are in stride, their team will have a good run. However, if one goes down, it might just take the team with them.

Mexico is a team that has some real talent, but has a constant problem with chocking in the big games. As was shown during their qualifying run, they have trouble away from home. This said, they do have the ability to frustrate teams with their passing skill. They should make it out of their group, but they will have a hard time making it much further.

Spain is in the third tier for three reasons. First, they had lots of trouble during qualifying. Had they draw Switzerland in the playoffs, I don't know if they would be in the cup. Second, they recently lost midfielder Xavi Hernandez. His absence leaves questions in the middle. Finally, much like Mexico, they always seem to choke in the big matches. All that said, they do have it in them to make a solid run and should make it out of the group.

There are the three tiers of Pot A. I want to stress that all eight of them teams have it in them to do very well, just some are better then others. I would be surprised if any of these teams did not make it out of their groups, but some will have a little harder time doing it.

Champions League Round 6 - Day 2 - Wrap

The group stage is over. Here are the results from today:

Club Brugge 1-1 Bayern Munich
Rapid Vienna 1-3 Juventus
Arsenal 0 - 0 Ajax
Sparta Prague 0 - 0 FC Thun

Udinese 0 - 2 Barcelona
Werder Bremen 5-1 Panathinaikos
Benfica 2-1 Man Utd
Villarreal 1 - 0 Lille

The big news is Manchester United failed to reach the knockout phase. That is bad enough, but by finishing last in their group, United also missed out on the Uefa Cup. This is going to cause some money issues for the Red Devils, as the Champions League was a major income source. On the flip side, Benfica is thrilled to be moving on. In the same group, Villarreal got the win against Lille to continue forward.

In Group C, Werder Bremen won big against Panathinaikos to lock up second place for them. Udinese had Barcelona tied up for till the final five minutes of the match, but then Barca did what they do so much, pulled out the victory.

All the other matches were just show matches since Groups A & B had already been decided.

Here are the tables:

Group A
1 Juventus 15
2 Bayern Munich 13
3 Club Brugge 7
4 Rapid Vienna 0

Group B
1 Arsenal 16
2 Ajax 11
3 FC Thun 4
4 Sparta Prague 2

Group C
1 Barcelona 16
2 Werder Bremen 7
3 Udinese 7
4 Panathinaikos 4

Group D
1 Villarreal 10
2 Benfica 8
3 Lille 6
4 Man Utd 6

Champions League Round 6 - Day 2 - Live

Club Brugge 1-1 Bayern Munich FT
Rapid Vienna 1-3 Juventus FT
Arsenal 0 - 0 Ajax FT
Sparta Prague 0 - 0 FC Thun FT

Udinese 0 - 2 Barcelona FT
Werder Bremen 5-1 Panathinaikos FT
Benfica 2-1 Man Utd FT
Villarreal 1 - 0 Lille FT

Update 8: Benfica win. Man U is out of the Champions league.

Update 7: Barcelona get a second.

Update 6: Ezquerro puts Barcelona ahead and Udinese out of the knockout round. Frings adds a 5th for Bremen.

Update 5: Could the era of Man U be about to end. Only a couple minutes left. If the loose, a large source of income will go with them.

Update 4: Petras gets a red card for Sparta.

Update 3: Udinese is playing for the tie. If they tie, they go to the knockout round. Benfica still have Man U under control. Man U is having real trouble on the counter attacks.

Update 2: Man U almost gave up a second goal on a counter attack. They are fighting hard for the win, but don't seem to be able to get the numbers forward.

Update: Guayre gets the goal for Villarreal to put them up.

Coming into this a little late, but here are the scores. Man U is in big trouble.

How will the World Cup draw work? Update

Last Thursday I speculated on the way this year's World Cup draw would work. I had to guess at the way the pots would be allotted, but now that we know exactly what pots hold what teams, I want to update it.

The biggest rule to remember about the draw is that no teams from the same confederation can be in the same group, except for teams from Europe who are allowed, at most, 2 teams per group.

So how will this draw work? There are four pots (actually five, but I'll get to that in a moment). The teams in Pot One are the seeded team. FIFA has decided that these teams are Germany, Brazil, Argentina, England, France, Italy, Mexico and Spain.

Germany has already been placed into Group A and Brazil has already been placed into Group F. The other six teams will then be drawn into the other six groups. This will be done in one of two ways.

Either they will go alphabetically and do a blind draw for Group B, C, D, etc. or they will have a second pot containing the remaining group names. If they do the latter, it would go something like this. They will reach into Pot One and pull a name (like England) and then reach into the other pot containing group names (Group E). Either way, these eight seeded teams will get the first spot in each of the 8 groups.

They will then move on to Pot Two. The teams in this pot are Australia, Angola, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo, Tunisia, Ecuador and Paraguay.

The first thing to notice is that there are 2 South American teams in this pot. These 2 teams cannot end up in the same group as Brazil or Argentina. The other 6 teams in this pot can end up in any group since they are from confederations without seeded teams. Chances are they will bring back the pot that contains the names of the groups. They will remove the group names that contain Brazil and Argentina. They will then only place the 2 South American teams into the pot. They will pull out a team from Pot Two and a group name from the other pot. Once they have placed these 2 teams, the will return the name of Brazil's and Argentina's group to the group pot. They will then draw the other 6 teams from Pot Two into the remaining 6 groups.

At this point, all eight groups will have 2 teams.

Then comes Pot Three. This is the European pot. The teams in this pot are Croatia, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and Ukraine.

Since each group is allowed up to 2 European teams in it, there are no rules limiting which group will get which teams from this pot. So they will do a straight blind draw. Again, they might just go through the groups alphabetically or they may use the team pot and the group pot. Either way, each group will get a team from this pot.

Now all eight groups will have 3 teams and five of the groups will have 2 European teams.

This brings us to the "special pot." This pot contains just one country’s name, Serbia & Montenegro. Since groups can only have a maximum of 2 European sides in them, Serbia & Montenegro will have to end up in a group that does not have a seeded European team. This means they will be in a group with either Brazil, Argentina or Mexico. They will place Serbia & Montenegro into one pot and the three group names into a second pot. They will then draw Serbia & Montenegro out of the special pot and a group name out of the group pot.

At this point, seven groups will have 3 teams while one group (either Brazil, Argentina or Mexico's group) will have 4 teams.

That brings us to our final pot. Pot Four contains Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago and USA.

There are two ways this draw could go. If Serbia & Montenegro draw into Mexico's group, then there are no restrictions on where the 7 teams from Pot Four can go. This would allow a full blind draw with all 7 teams placed into the pot and the remaining seven group names will be placed in the group pot. They will then draw a team and a group name till the remaining seven groups are filled.

However, if Serbia & Montenegro draw into Brazil or Argentina's group, the restriction of two teams from the same confederation comes into play. Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago and USA cannot draw into Mexico's group so there will need to be a limited draw of these three teams. They will place these 3 into Pot Four while the six possible group names will be placed into the group pot. They will then draw a team and a group.

Once these 3 teams have been drawn into groups, they will add the other 4 teams to Pot Four. They will also add Mexico's group name to the group pot. They will then draw the remaining 4 teams into the remaining 4 groups.

At this point, all 8 groups will have 4 teams. The World Cup will the be set.

So does that make sense?

I'm happy to say that in my post from a week ago I got most of the pots correct. I even guessed that there was a chance that COCACAF might end up in the same pot as the Asian Confederation. However, I thought that would be the third pot instead of the fourth. Still, happy for me.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

So the USA is not seeded; It's okay

I have noticed on various blogs and other related soccer sites that a lot of US fans are upset over the team not getting seeded. Let me just say, it is all going to be okay. It would have been great if we were one of the top group teams, but just because we are not, does not mean that we are set to fail. Also, if we had got a seed, it doesn't mean that we will have an easy ride.

Let's say the numbers had gone just right and the US had got in instead of Italy or Argentina. We still could have drawn a group with Paraguay (or Argentina), the Netherlands and Japan. That would be a difficult group. In our current position, we could end up with Spain, Angola and Ukraine. These are good sides, but they are also three teams we should beat.

The fact is there are no easy World Cup games. A seeding is nice as it means you won't have to see Brazil in the group stage, but beyond that, it doesn't say much.

There is also an advantage to having a big dog like Brazil or England in your group. Just as the odds are against you in beating them, they are also against the other teams in your group. That means that you just have to take care of the other two sides and then you are in. Also, big teams seem to bring out the best in their opponents. Even a defeat can spur a team on during their other matches.

All and all, the US is a good team and should do well next summer. So don't worry about the seeding because there is nothing we can do about it now.

Champions League Round 6 - Day 1 - Wrap

The final round of the Champions League is now half way over. Here are the results:

AC Milan 3 - 2 Schalke 04
PSV Eindhoven 1 - 0 Fenerbahce
Lyon 1 - 1 Rosenborg
Olympiakos 1 - 1 Real Madrid

Chelsea 0 - 0 Liverpool
Real Betis 0 - 1 Anderlecht
Artmedia Petrzalka 0 - 0 FC Porto
Rangers 1 - 1 Inter Milan

I think the biggest stories of all these results are the ones from Group H. The Rangers got an equalizer in the 38th thanks to Peter Lovenkrands. However, a tie would not be enough if Artmedia or Porto won. Luck went the way of the Scotts as that game resulted in a sharing of the points. This marks the first time any Scottish team has advanced past the group phase.

In other news, Liverpool battled hard to walk out with a point, and the group's top spot, form Chelsea. How ever, Chelsea had some great luck when Michael Essien went unpunished for a high tackle on Didi Hamann. He should have been tossed from the game, but ended up with not even a warning.

Real Madrid looked a little stale in their match with Olympiacos, but that is no surprise as they were already through the group phase.

PSV got the result they needed but also got some help from AC Milan. With Schalke failing, PSV was able to move into second place and a place in the knockout phase.

Here is the way the tables ended up in Groups E-H:

Group E Table
1 AC Milan 11
2 PSV 10
3 Schalke 04 8
4 Fenerbahce 4

Group F Table
1 Lyon 16
2 Real Madrid 10
3 Rosenborg 4
4 Olympiacos 4

Group G Table
1 Liverpool 12
2 Chelsea 11
3 Real Betis 7
4 Anderlecht 3

Group H Table
1 Inter Milan 13
2 Rangers 7
3 Artmedia Bratislava 6
4 FC Porto 5

How will the World Cup affect MLS?

Today's big news is the release of the World Cup pots, but there is some other news that will have a real impact on our domestic league. FIFA ruled that any player selected to play in the finals will not be allowed to play any other competitive match after May 15, the deadline for the announcement of the finalists' 23-man squads. The only exception is for players involved with the Champions League final to be held in Paris on May 17th.

For most leagues in the world, this is not a problem, but May will be the second month of MLS's 11th season. MLS has not released their schedule for next year yet, but they have mentioned a slow period during the cup. I'm going to guess that will mean a game a week per team at most. However, this new date adds three weeks to the period where players on national teams will be absent, which is too long of a time for a relaxed schedule. Also, seeing that national players are normally the stars of their respective teams, this is a long time to go without the big names being around.

I think this is the correct decision by FIFA. In 2002, it was obvious that a lot of the European based players were dragging during their matches. People need time to recover from the strain of a season. However, I do worry what this will do for MLS. Will they be able to build a strong season when about two months of it will be played without the best players?

We Know the World Cup Pots

FIFA has let us know who us know what pot each of the 32 teams are in. They based the seeds on the last two World Cups and world rankings over the past three years. The point total for each of the top eight looked like this. Brazil 64 points, England 51, Spain 50, Germany 48, Mexico 47, France 46 and Argentina and Italy tied at 44 points. The US was next with 43 points. So very close. The Netherlands ened up with 38.

The final draw happens on Firday.

Here are the pots:

Pot one

Pot two
Ivory Coast

Pot three
Czech Republic

Pot four
Saudi Arabia
South Korea
Costa Rica
Trinidad & Tobago
Sebria & Montenegro

Monday, December 05, 2005

FIFA Says No to 'Smartball'

There will be no 'smartball' technology to assist referees during the 2006 World Cup. FIFA general secretary Urs Linsi said of the ball, "We consider the technology is not yet ready."

The Smartball contains a microchip that sends up radio signals when the ball crosses the touchline. The signal is picket up by various antennae placed around the pitch. A computer then alerts the referee by sending a message to their watch. The whole process takes under a second.

This system was used in the FIFA Under-17 world championship in September and was to be used in this month's World Club Championship in Japan, but FIFA felt like there was still too little data to bring this into use for the biggest soccer event in the world.

I am not surprised by FIFA's decision. People hate it when a ref makes a bad call, but if a computer made a mistake around the goal, I think it would piss folks off even more. That said, I would be surprised if this is the last World Cup without some sort of smart technology. This sort of technology is only getting better and more reliable. I'm sure the EPL or some other major European league will adopt it soon. Once it is seen to be good enough for the top leagues, it will be good enough for FIFA.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

J League results - 3 December - The Season is Over

At the start of the day, five teams had a shot at the trophy. Four of them would end up with a win while one team saw their victory slip away in the final minutes of play.

The five teams were Cerezo Osaka, Gamba Osaka, Urawa Reds, Kashima Antlers and JEF United. If Cerezo won against FC Tokyo, they got the championship. And that is exactly what it looked like was going to happen.

In just the third minute they were up by a goal. Tokyo responded in the 20th to tie it back up. Cerezo was awarded a penalty kick in the 38th, but the keeper was able to make the stop. Just after the break, Cerezo scored a second and that is where the game stood going into the final moments. The home side supporters was going crazy thinking that they were about to see their club take it all, but fate has this way of laughing at sports fans that celebrate early. From a crowded box, Tokyo's Yasayuki Konno ripped a shot into goal to tie the match at 2. A few moments later, the final whistle blew.

The Gamba fans that made the trip to Kawasaki erupted with joy when hearing of the goal. Their side had just won their only their second match in seven games. These 3 points gave them the league.

In the other matches, Urawa had a very impressive 4-0 win over Albirex Niigata to reach second place for the second year in a row. Kashima Antlers also won by four while JEF United eked out a 2-1 victory against Nagoya Grampus Eight.

The top five look like this:
Pos - Team - Pts
1 Gamba Osaka 60
2 Urawa Reds 59
3 Kashima Antlers 59
4 JEF United 59
5 Cerezo Osaka 59

Due to goal difference, Cerezo drop from first to fifth.

Here is the rest of the table:
Pos - Team - Pts
6 Jubilo Iwata 51
7 Sanfrecce Hiroshima 50
8 Kawasaki Frontale 50
9 Yokohama F・Marinos 48
10 F.C.Tokyo 47 34

11 Oita Trinita 43
12 Albirex Niigata 42
13 Omiya Ardija 41
14 Nagoya Grampus Eight 39
15 Shimizu S-Pulse 39

16 Kashiwa Reysol 35 34
17 Tokyo Verdy 1969 30
18 Vissel Kobe 21

Friday, December 02, 2005

J League Final Weekend Preview

Tomorrow might just be the most exciting day ever for the Japanese League. With one match left, five teams have a chance to to capture the trophy.

Here are the top 5 standings
Team - Pts
1. Cerezo Osaka 58
2. Gamba Osaka 57
3. Urawa Reds 56
4. Kashima Antlers 56
5. JEF United 56

Cerezo are the only team in control of their own destiny. With a win, it doesn't matter what happens anywhere else. The good news for them is that they should be able to come out on top. However, should they fail, Gamba might be able to salvage their season. They have only managed 3 points over their last six outings and since they will be without their top scorer for the finally, odds are against them.

The other three teams need a lot to go their way. The one with the best shot due to opponent and goal difference is the Urawa Reds. Last year they finished in second place, which is the most likely outcome this year as well. However, they still have an outside chance at the hardware. I actually think they have a better chance then Gamba.

It wasn't that long ago that the Antlers were on top of everything, but then came all the injuries. The fact that they are still in the race shows how good of a club they are. For United, they need a lot to go their way, but they should be able to get the needed 3 points from their game. If it is a wacky day in Japan, it might just happen.

Some Pain for Spain

The nation of Spain and FC Barcelona got some bad news today. Midfielder Xavi Hernandez (pictured) was injured during a team practice and will be out for six months. Xavi tour knee ligaments during training on Friday when he collided with a teammate. This is a big lose for Barcelona as Xavi served many good balls to Ronaldinho. They had been on a great roll that took them to first place, but this could greatly disrupt their success. This might allow Real, if they can deal with their own injury issues, and a few other clubs a chance to move up.

For Spain, they will now need to find someone to control their middle. If they want to reverse their habit of underperforming in World Cups, they will need to figure out this issue fast.

US Men's Team to Play Canada and Japan

The US preparations for Germany are coming into sharper focus with the announcement of two more warm up matches. The first outing will take place on January 22nd against Canada in San Diego. The already scheduled match against Norway will follow on the 29th.

They will then play Japan on Feb. 10 in San Francisco. During the month of March they will have two matches in Europe. The first is planned for March 1, against a yet to be named opponent. They will then play Germany in Germany on March 22. Chances are they will add 3-5 more matches before the cup actually starts. I'm guessing that once the World Cup draw happens, they will try to schedule some games against their fellow group members. I'm also guessing that they will try to play as many matches as possible in Europe.

The January games will mainly involve domestic-based players, as European clubs are not required to release their players on these dates. This should give the MLS hopefuls a few more chances to impress the Bruce.

No offense to Canada, but this game should end up going the US's way, allowing them to increase their confidence. It is always good to start a run at home, but the big test will come in March when they start playing overseas. The US still has problems on the road and for whatever reasons these reasons only seem to grow when they are on European soil. If they are going to challenge in Germany, they will need to enter the cup with some recent wins on the continent. If they cannot get the results in some friendlys, they will have a huge mental block to overcome and that is something no team wants to deal with.

Hans Westerhof to Coach Chivas Guadalajara Again

I'm not sure why I missed this announcement a few days ago, but former Chivas USA and Chivas Guadalajara coach Hans Westerhof has been hired back at Chivas Guadalajara. On Monday I talked about the possibility of Westerhof going back to Guadalajara, but I pooh-poohed it. My main reason was the way things ended up for Chivas USA. However, one alert reader, El Tesoro, pointed out that Guadalajara fans would probably look more at what Westerhof did the first time he was with their club then what he did up North. He was dead on and I thank him for his post.

Next year should be an interesting one for the Chivas organization as they now have proven coaches leading both their American and Mexican sides. Could 2006 be the Year of the Goats?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

How will the World Cup draw work?

I wrote this post before FIFA annouced the pots on Dec 6. For an update, click here.

With just 8 days to go before we all find out who will play whom and where, there are still some questions about how the draw will work. However, the only thing we know for sure are what 32 teams will be in the draw and that it will happen on Friday, December 9th, in Leipzig, Germany, at 8:15pm local time (2:15pm EST). I guess we also know that they will draw 8 groups of 4.

We do not know who will be seeded nor we do not know how other non-seeded pots will be made up. FIFA could wait to announce this till the start of the actual draw. However, we can look back on the draw for the 2002 World Cup in Japan & Korea. Since that draw was very similar to the 1998 draw in France (the first time 32 teams competed), it is a great guide for what to expect next week.

In 2002, there were four pots. The first pot was made up of the seeded teams. These teams were France (previous WC champ), Japan (host), South Korea (host), Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Germany & Spain.

The second pot was made up of the 11 remaining European teams.

The third pot was made up of the 2 remaining Asian and 3 remaining South American teams.

The fourth pot was made up of the 5 African and 3 CONCACAF teams.

For the group draw (Groups A-H), France was placed in Group A as the returning champion. South Korea and Japan were placed in groups that would play in their home countries. The other five spots were random draws.

Once all the top spots in the groups were filled, they turned to the second pot. A team was drawn at random for each of the eight groups. The three remaining European teams were then drawn into one of the four groups that did not already have two European teams (these were the groups with Japan, S. Korea, Argentina and Brazil). I seem to recall that they used FIFA rankings to decided which of these three groups would get a second European team, but I could be wrong with that. All I know is that Brazil was the only team of the four that did not have a second European team in their group.

So after the second pot 5 groups had 2 teams while 3 groups had 3 teams. They then drew the five teams from the third pot into the 5 groups that only had 2 teams. However, since Brazil was one of these groups, they could not draw a South American team (only Europe can have two teams from their confederation in a group). This required one of the two Asian teams to draw into Brazil's group.

With the third pot done, all 8 groups now had 3 teams.

Since no African or CONCACAF teams were seeded, they were able to do a blind draw without restrictions from the fourth pot.

This finished out the draw.

So if they use a similar model for 2006, it would look a bit like this.

First pot - eight seeded teams. If they use the same formula for the seeding, the first pot will be Germany (host), Brazil, Spain, Argentina, England, France, Mexico & Italy. Note that the returning champs no longer get an automatic seed.

Second pot - remaining 9 European teams
Ukraine, Netherlands, Poland, Croatia, Portugal, Sweden, Serbia and Montenegro, Switzerland, Czech Republic

Third pot - 4 Asian teams, 2 remaining South American teams and, I'm guessing, the only Oceania team.
Japan, Iran, Korea Republic, Saudi Arabia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Australia

Fourth pot - 5 African teams and 3 remaining CONCACAF teams.
Angola, Cote d'Ivoire, Togo, Ghana, Tunisia, USA, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago

Germany is going to be the top seed in Group A and it is rumored that Brazil will end up on top of Group F (these two spots play their three group matches in the largest stadiums). The top spots in the other six groups will be random draw.

Each group should then get a European team from the second pot. The remaining team will be placed in one of the three groups with non-European top spots (Brazil, Argentina or Mexico). If they use FIFA rankings, Mexico will get the second European team.

With the second pot over, 7 groups would have 2 teams while 1 (Mexico) would have 3 teams.

The third pot would draw into those 7 remaining groups, but neither the Brazil nor Argentina group could get one of the South American teams. That means they will have an Asian team in their group.

With the third pot over, all 8 groups would have 3 teams.

The fourth pot would draw into the final spot in each group, but Mexico's group could not get one of the 3 CONCACAF teams.

So if this formula is used, what does that mean for the USA? It means that they will be in a group with 2 European sides unless they are in the group with Brazil or Argentina (same can be said about Costa Rica or Trinidad and Tobago).

FIFA might decide to use some draw model that looks nothing like this. They could also choose to use a different seeding method, thus changing the makeup of the first pot. However, I think the odds of that are slim. They would have to spend time explaining why they made the changes and any team that did not get a seed that would have under the old system would be a bit upset.

Still, I could see them changing the dynamics of the third and fourth pots. I could see the third pot being made up of the Asian and remaining CONCACAF sides while the fourth pot got Africa, Oceania and the remaining South Americans, but even that seems unlikely.


Another Complaint Over World Cup Ticketing

The Federation of German Consumer Organisations (GCO) has filed a complaint against the method used to sell tickets for the 2006 World Cup. This marks the third complaint filed against FIFA concerning ticketing this year.

This latest complaint is due to the way people have to pay for tickets. In case you don't know, fans have been able to submit for a blind ticket draw, but they have to pre-pay all the tickets they request. So I could make a request for 2 tickets for 5 matches (even though I will not know who is playing in them till Dec 9th) and my credit card will be charged for the price of the 10 tickets, plus a 5-euro non-refundable fee. However, I am not guaranteed these tickets. FIFA will let me know later if I got these tickets. If I do not get the tickets for 3 matches, they will refund my credit card the cost of those 6 tickets.

The problem is, I will not know till February if I got these tickets. So unless I pay off the full balance on my credit card, I will have to pay interest on the money FIFA took out in November. A German member of the European parliament's Liberals group described this practice as such: "It can't be that fans are forced to provide an interest-free loan to the organizer without getting anything in return.''

Personally, I looked at buying blind tickets, but I decided not to specifically for this reason. I didn't want to have a large debt sitting on my card earning interest. Keep in mind that you also have to pay for the most expensive tickets for each match even if you are later awarded cheaper tickets (they do refund the difference). Since these tickets are about $120 each, that adds up fast.

Hopefully something will happen, but I think it's going to be a bit late. By the way, an earlier complaint resulted in requiring FIFA to make tickets available in local currencies. At first, all ticket sales were in euros, causing people outside of the 12 counties that use the euro to pay fees to convert their money. Now people in England can pay with pounds while Americans can pay with dollars. This was a smart move.

Keller is US national team's Player of the Year

Kasey Keller (pictured) scored more votes then Landon Donovan or DaMarcus Beasley to win his second Honda US Player of the Year award. He won his first trophy in 1999.

Keller played in 14 games for the US side this year earning nine wins with eight shutouts. The US won this year's Gold Cup due in large part to Keller's work between the posts. His abilities also served the team well during their run through World Cup Qualifiers. Keller celebrated his 36th birthday just this past Tuesday.

The vote for the award was made up of 206 sports journalists nationwide. Keller received 344 points in the voting. Donovan came in second with 329 while Beasley's total stood at 270. You might remember that I ran a poll a month ago asking who should win the award. The race for first place was very evenly divided between Keller and Beasley, with Beasley edging Keller out by 1 vote. Donovan came in a distant third.

Keller, who plays in Germany, took a 14-hour flight to accept the award in Los Angeles. When he received the award he said, "This probably will be the last time you see me up here." He then smiled and added, "And maybe not."