Friday, June 30, 2006

Quater-finals: Day 2

After a day that saw Germany beat a tired Argentina on penalty kicks only to see emotion get the best of the teams afterwards and Italy finally winning an important game without some help from the refs, we get the Saturday match-ups.

England vs. Portugal
ABC - 11am ET

I'll just say it, England have played the worse soccer of all the 8 quarterfinalists (Italy would be 7th), yet somehow they keep finding ways to win. The good news from them, Gary Neville and Frank Lampard are back from their injuries. In addition, Portugal has listed Cristiano Ronaldo as questionable (although I think he will end up starting, but will be subbed out) and they will be without Costinha and Deco after the card happy Holland game.

All this should add up to a happy ending for England, but the problem is their team has been piss poor this whole cup. Yet all the ingredients are there for this to be their brake out match, but will it happen?

Portugal's best plan of attack would be a defensive one for the first third. Get the English fans whistling at their own team and then turnout the all out push. Luck has gone England's way, but luck can only last so long (unless you are Brazil).

Still, I think one unexpected player will step-up for England and make a big play, thus allowing their side to move along.

Prediction: England 2-1 Portugal

Brazil vs. France
ESPN - 3pm ET

One could make a great argument that Zinedine Zidane reached his best play during the 1998 final against Brazil, so it is only fitting that his wonderful career brings him back up against his South American foes. Sadly for Zidane, I think 2006 will be very different then '98.

France was amazing against Spain, but that was their only good game so far. For Brazil, they have not looked great, but even a so-so Brazil team is a really good team. The big question is will Robinho play. He suffered a thigh injury prior to the Ghana match and missed the game, but he was able to practice with the team the last couple days.

If France wants any chance of knocking out the favorites, they will need Thierry Henry to provide a high-powered second offensive strike force and Frank Ribery needs to continue the show he started against Spain.

Still, Brazil is king and I don't think France has what it takes to dethrone them. It will be a good match and will be tight, but France will go home.

Prediction: Brazil 3-1 France

Donovan wasn't prepared

Landon says the words that we all new to be true, "for whatever reason, I wasn't prepared."

Okay, he admits it; he was not ready for Germany 2006, good first step. So how does he explain his performance?

"I didn't get the ball in places where I needed to, and when I did I felt like I hadn't touched it in 15 minutes, and I was thinking I better not do something stupid, instead of being aggressive."

I suppose one of those stupid things would have taking the clear shot against Ghana instead of passing into a crowded area 6 yards in front of goal. Okay, I'm not over that one yet.

He also seems a little angry over the way people are talking about the team. "Now it's 'Everybody sucks' and we're the worst players in the world. It's not like this World Cup was that much different. A few things went our way in 2002 that didn't this time. That's soccer."

The thing that he seems to miss is people calling for blood when their team fails is a big part of soccer. Is the US team the worst team in the world? Hell no. Does every player suck? Double hell no. But should fans be disappointed by the result? Oh yes, and that is a good thing. People only get angry if they care.

Something I read in 2002 really sticks out to me now. The writer, who I think wrote for the Guardian in London, said that the success of that year did not prove the US to be a soccer nation. However, if they fail in 2006 and their is an uproar over the play of the squad and a call for the coach's head, then the world will know that the US has arrived. I guess we are there.

Anyway, like it or not, there will be a constant story running through US soccer over the next four years, will Donovan recover? The good news for Landon is he can start right away.

With the LA Galaxy stinking up the MLS in Chivas USA 2005 fashion, they are in need of a hero. If he returns this team to good times, he will have proved something.

One of the images that follows Donovan around is that of a spoiled child. If things get too rough, he cuts and runs. Now he has a chance to change this image. He is currently standing at the lowest point in his career and the way he reacts to it will tell what kind of man he is.

"My goal is to go out and go right at people, and if I lose the ball dribbling, so what? My guess is I'll be a better player for playing that way."

Now let's see if he can live up to those words.


Thursday, June 29, 2006

Quater-finals: Day 1

It seems like forever since a game was played, but after a two-day break, we finally get some action on the pitch.

Germany vs. Argentina
ESPN -11am ET

This might just be the most interesting game of the whole World Cup as these two teams have been playing the best soccer of the tournament. With the exception of the game against Mexico, Argentina has been fantastic, while Germany just keeps getting better.

Germany will probably field the same starting lineup as the Sweden match since Klinsmann has only made one non-injury related change to the lineup over the last three weeks. For Argentina, Luis Gonzalez will be back from his groin injury giving the side an additional offensive push.

With the fans overwhelming backing the home side, Argentina will need to come out and make a statement early. If they can take the crowd out of it, they will win, otherwise, Deutschland will again celebrate.

Prediction: Germany 2-1 Argentina

Italy vs. Ukraine
ESPN - 2pm ET

With Marco Materazzi out due to suspension and Alessandro Nesta still recovering, Italy will be hurting on defense, but with striker Andriy Voronin out because of a thigh injury, will the Ukraine, and Shevchenko, be able to take advantage of this?

The Italians have to hope their striking force is clicking as the Ukraine get Vyacheslav Svidersky and Andriy Rusol are back from suspension on defense. Look for Alberto Gilardino and Luca Toni to be backed up by an attacking Francesco Totti.

Ukraine will give the Italians a scare, but in the end, Italy will go through. The big question is will they need some help from the ref to make it happen.

Italy 1-0 Ukraine

World Cup News - June 29

It's been a little while since I've done one of these, but here I go again.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter has called out England as a boring team saying, "I'm delighted that teams are playing offensively. One exception is the English, who appeared in the second round with just a single striker. This isn't the kind of offensive football you expect from a contender for the World Cup title."

However, Blatter had kinder words for the countries from Asia after none of them made it into the second round. "It's not a good thing for Asian football and I find it a shame, but I consider it to be an accident."

The Germans are starting to forget how much they hate coach Juergen Klinsmann after the team has played some of the best soccer of the whole tournament, however, at least one German thinks that the soccer has been the worse part of this Cup.

Brazil has come under some fire for not playing very interesting soccer so far, but Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira explains that they will win first and play beautiful second. If what they have done to date is ugly, I can only hope the US will play that ugly in 2010.

Graham Poll, the English referee who blundered by booking Croatian defender Josip Simunic three times, has announced that he will no longer ref international matches.

The success of Australia has helped grow the game in the land down under as they have send a 10-15% increase in the number of registered players.

The German job market has got a bounce from the finals with unemployment dropping .3% to 10.5%. However, that number is expected to climb next month once Cup mascot Goleo VI is laid off.

Finally, South Africa is kicking into high gear to get everything ready for 2010. In addition, the emblem of the next Cup will be unveiled in Berlin on July 7th. Hopefully Goleo VI will be nowhere near it.


Landon not going to Europe

Just yesterday, the MLS took issue with US national coach Bruce Arena's statement that players should get to Europe as soon as possible to improve their game. However, one player that does not feel such a move is needed is Landon Donovan saying, "I wouldn't say never but I'm not going anywhere for a while."

He went on to point out that it was not just US based players that failed at the World Cup. "There are a lot of European players on our national team and on other national teams that have not played well in this World Cup."

Donovan has a good point with this. Just because a player is in Europe does not mean he is going to have a good international career (there is even a train of thought that says it would actually be worse for the national team, but more on that later). However, when you look at the overwhelming majority of the standout players in the Cup, they play in Europe.

So Donovan is staying in America. This could be a very good move for him because I think he needs to decide if he really wants to play this game anymore. Over the last 9 months, the sparkle and flare has gone out of his performance. Is it due to nerves or is it that after beating Mexico and dragging LA to the MLS and US Open Cup titles, he feels he has accomplished enough?

Whatever the reason, Landon, needs to step up his game or else his spot on the national team should be called into question (much less being named captain). A lot of players go through tough spots, but there are also many who look to be great when they are young, only to be washed up by 26. I do hope that Donovan is just at a difficult point and not another Clint Mathis.

By the way, another reason he might be staying in America, I don't think the offers are flowing in after his performance in Germany.

Okay, that's Donovan, what about the European players actually hurting the national team argument. Basically, the thought process is if you have players in Europe and America, then you seldom are able to get the team together for a full squad camp. We saw this in January when MLS players got together for a camp, but the European players could not come. If a team does not play together, it is difficult to get in sync. If more players were from the US league, it would be easier for them to play together.

I don't really agree with that, but that it is the other side of the coin.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Five potential replacements for Arena

Via the Contra Costa Times, Soccer America Magazine puts up a list of five possible replacements for Arena should his contract not be renewed in December.

1. Juergen Klinsmann - German national coach
2. Frank Yallop - Los Angeles Galaxy coach
3. Bob Bradley - Chivas USA coach
4. Sigi Schmid - Columbus Crew coach
5. Guus Hiddink - Current Australian coach

A good list, however their number five has already signed on to coach Russia through 2010.

Of the other four, I would think Bob Bradley would have the inside track if they were looking for someone who is similar to Bruce but not Bruce (Bradley was an assistant coach for Arena in U of Virginia, DCU and on the national team).

Klinsmann would be the most interesting of choices and might help figure out the offensive problems the team faces.

Yallop was great with San Jose, he looked alright when he coached Canada, but let's see how he does with LA before giving him any big nod.

Then there is Schmid. Just about any place he has coached (UCLA, LA, the U-20 US team), he has been very impressive. A lot of the players know him already, so the comfort level should be there. This could result in a very good fit.

All that said, I think the odds of Bruce staying are better then him leaving, so this list might just be for talking points.


MLS vs. Bruce Arena

After the US flopped out of the World Cup, Bruce Arena pointed to Major League Soccer as one of the reasons we did not get a better result, saying, "the way for us to get our players to get better is: We do need to get more of our younger talented players in Europe."

This is not the first time Arena has complained about the MLS. In the past he has pointed out how a majority of the season means nothing and that the games lack intensity, among other things.

However, MLS commissioner Don Garber has not taken Bruce's latest comments sitting down. "If I were him I'd take a deep breath and think about what I say before I criticize anyone in American soccer."

MLS deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidiswent a step further. "The temptation after a disappointing World Cup is to come up with knee-jerk reactions and explanations," Gazidis said. "It has the beauty of simplicity. The inconvenient fact is there is not a shred of evidence to support it."

After the poor performance on '06, it is obvious that there are problems with the American game. I agree with Arena that MLS games are too often lacking in intensity and creativity, however I also think the Bruce made some poor coaching decisions. All and all, there is plenty of blame to go around.

The fact is, the product on the MLS pitch in 2006 is better then what it was in 2002, but it is still far from anything found in the big leagues of Europe. If we want to continue to raise the level of the game in the US, we need to get more young players playing, more fans in the seats and better pay all around.

If you are a fan of the US national team and do not support the MLS (be it by watching the matches on TV or attending a game or two a season), then you are only making it harder for our team to perform on the international stage.

Still, I agree with Arena that we need players like Johnson, Donovan, Twellman, Adu and Dempsey to get into (or back into) the European leagues (this was actually one of the first things I said after the Ghana match). The hard fact is that is where the best soccer in the world is played and if we want our players to achieve their best, they need to play the best. Perhaps in 10-years, the MLS will be on level with some of the best in Europe (don't laugh, if you look at the money situation and the number of potential fans in the US, it very much could happen), but as of right now, Europe is where they need to go.

So for now, let's just call 2006 a step back that exposes the problems in American soccer.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

No Mo Mo Jo

In a move that surprised none, but still should not have been made, Red Bull New York (or New York Red Bull) dismissed Mo Johnston (pictured) as head coach today. Assistant coach Richie Williams will take over the coaching duties.

A few weeks ago, I applauded the firing of Sam Sampson in LA; however, I think firing Johnston is a bad move by New York. Unlike Sampson, Mo was not in charge for all of last year (he took over for their final few matches after Bob Bradley was fired). Also, unlike LA, New York's team is not that great. Finally, it's not like New York is in dead man’s territory. They are only 2 points behind New England for the fourth spot in the East and they have a game in hand.

I actually think it speaks volumes about Mo's abilities that he has been able to get so many points out of such a sad team.

Still, since the Bulls moved into New York, they have been looking for a reason to get rid of Mo and bring in their own guy. It will be interesting to see whom they end up dropping into the position.

It must be hard being an Italian fan

After watching last night's Australia-Italy match, I've come to the conclusion that it must be very difficult to be a fan of Italia. I mean to cheer for a team that needs so much assistance from the refs to win games must be very frustrating.

A lot has been said about the refs this World Cup (and I will have more to say about it in a bit), but the call for the penalty kick last night was perhaps the most disturbing. I know, after the Netherlands-Portugal mockery, it is hard to say there is something more disturbing, but the ref knew that his call in last night's game would decided the game. I know, there was a chance of a miss on the pk, but there was a much better chance of a goal.

Now, I'm not saying that refs should not make calls that will decide a game, but in the final seconds of a match, there should be no questions about the call and that was not the case last night. The Aussie went down for the ball, missed it and the Italian player. The Italian then took a step and tripped over the other player. This might be a foul and might not. When you are in the final seconds of stoppage time and you are in the box, a good ref would not call a foul unless it was definitely a foul.

When you combine last night's game with the calls from the US game, you start to notice how much Italy gets by with a little help from the refs.

Yes, I know, Italy was down a man last night on a call that should have been more yellow then red, but that took place much earlier in the match and allowed Italy a chance to recover. The call last night was nothing short of Medina Luis handing Italy a ticket to the final 8.

The sad thing is, I think Italy had a great chance to earn the ticket on their own in overtime, but now they have yet another gift from the refs hanging over their squad (not that they or their fans are complaining).

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

And to Germany I go

With the better part of 24-hours having pasted since the let down of the first match, I can now say that I am cautiously optimistic. Perhaps it is just me hoping for something or the fact that in a few hours I'll be jumping on a plane to take me to Germany, but I think this could end up making it out of group play with a two game winning streak.

The Italian match has now become must win and after watching them play Ghana, I feel confident that we will win as I think Italy showed some weaknesses. Get a result from that one and then take a run at Ghana (a good team, but one we will beat) and we go through.

I think the big question for Saturday's match is the US midfield (specifically the right side). If the holes can be filled and a few more balls can find their way up to McBride, Donovan, Johnson or whoever is up top, then we have a game. On defense, I think they will settle and come out much more even. When the Gooch got that yellow card in the first 4 minutes, it threw him off, which lead to the first goal, which lead to his overall poor game. Against Italy, he should not have such distractions.

Anyway, I'll try to update from the ground in Germany. Enjoy the games.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Well that was a bit of a disaster

There is no way around it; this was a real bad day for US soccer. The team played without energy, creativity and, surprisingly, determination. All over the field, players were missing their runs and looking completely lost; Brian McBride was AWOL up top, Landon Donovan was lost somewhere in midfield and the Gooch was scared. It was an ugly match.

They were able to keep possession of the ball, but I would have preferred to see them give it up more if they actually made some runs at goal. The Czechs are a team you can tear out over the course of 90-minutes, but you have to make them give chase. No one was doing things that would have forced the Czechs to race down field.

The lone player that I think looked ready to play was Eddie Johnson. He came on the pitch with the same charge he had in their third send off match. He was willing to take shoots and made some runs at the defense. His ability on the day stood in sharp contrast to what I saw out of McBride. At least three times in the first half, balls were sent into the middle of the box for the US, but McBride was not there. Instead, he was hanging back outside the area. I've never seen him play like that before.

You know, I was a person who defended the team when some started spitting 'we are doomed' talk. Perhaps I was wrong to do so. The team that played today under the banner of the red, white and blue was far worse then the one that fell to Morocco a few weeks ago.

Still, hope springs eternal. I have yet to watch the Italy-Ghana match (I needed some time away from the game), so I'm not sure how difficult our task is, but I'm guessing it will not be easy. Teams that lose their first match do not have a good record of moving on to the next round, but there is still a chance. If Arena is the coach we all know him to be, he will turn the men around and get this game out of their head, as they need to come out on Saturday hungry.

They need to go for goal (this is a problem I've been talking about for a long time). Kasey Keller did not have a great day, but even if he had, no goals make it hard to win.

On Saturday we truly see what our team has. Forget rankings, forget the Gold Cup, forget Mexico, it is now a fight for survival.


On a non-game related note, there has been talk on the soccer blogs of late about Alex Lalas being a sellout. I'm not sure how each of us defines that, but I have to had it to him for his after match comments on ESPN's World Cup Live. When Foudy, Wynalda and Davis started saying that this is an inexperienced US World Cup team and that explains their play, Lalas called them on it and said that during the pre-game they were talking about all the experience on this squad and that 11-players were back from 2002.

I don't know if that changes any perceptions of the red head, but it was nice to hear.


US starting lineup for the Czech Republic

According to Match Tracker, here is the line up for today's match:

GK - Kasey Keller
D - Steve Cherundolo
D - Oguchi Onyewu
D - Eddie Lewis
D - Eddie Pope
M - Pablo Mastroeni
M - Claudio Reyna
M - Bobby Convey
M - DaMarcus Beasley
M - Landon Donovan
F - Brian McBride

Looks like there will only be one up top with Donovan providing some backup support.


11 signs you've gone US Soccer crazy

1. You can't decide if Kasey Keller has the reactions of a cat or if your cat has the reactions of Kasey Keller

2. You thought about not paying the cable bill just so you could by a special edition "US send-off" jersey. The only reason you did pay the cable bill was so you could watch more soccer matches.

3. Even though you've seen it 40 or more times, you still watch the Gatorade 'Whole New Ballgame' commercial every time it comes on.

4. You wear face paint even when watching the match at home.

5. You wear face paint even when 'watching' the match on match-tracker at work.

6. You have at least two of Bruce Arena's press conferences currently downloaded onto you iPod.

7. You have nicknamed something important (pet, car, girl/boyfriend) 'The Gooch.'

8. Whenever you hear someone talking about Mexico, your first though is '2-0.'

9. You keep submitting Clint Dempsey's “Don’t Tread” video to Total Request Live.

10. When you hear there has been an accident on the traffic report, your first thought is 'Dear God, I hope John O'Brien wasn't hurt.'

11. When you called into work sick today, you thought about claiming it as a religious holiday.

I hope this helps you pass away the final hours before the US start their run.


Sunday, June 11, 2006

What could 2006 mean for US soccer?

With the US just 12-hours away from starting their World Cup trip, I’m wondering what their time in Germany could mean for soccer in America. What happens in the worse or best case scenario. Worse case would see the US go home after their 3 group matches, having not scored a single goal or earned a point. Best case, they go on a 7-game winning streak that seems them not only dominate their group but also beat Germany, England and Brazil on their way to holding the great trophy.

What would happen to Major League Soccer?
In 2002, many said that if the US fell bad, MLS might just fall with them. That was an easy guess to make because the team had just lost 2 teams, only had one team with a stadium and every team was in the red. However, now you have four stadiums (with 5 teams playing in them), they are adding a team next year (who will come in with a stadium) and at least one team, and maybe three will see the black.

So the difference between best and worse might just mean a few extra folks coming through the gates. How many? Well in 2002, average attendance per match* increased over 2001 by 900 per match (5.7%). However, in 1998 MLS saw a 300 (2.1%) person per match drop over 1997. That said the MLS saw their biggest increase in attendance between 2000 and 2001 when attendance went up by about 1200 (8.8%) people per match. Perhaps the World Cup results mean little when it comes to the MLS.

What about youth participation?
I cannot locate good numbers for recent years, so I will need to look at some older trends. When one looks at the number of high school students playing soccer between 1987 and 1997, you see that soccer almost doubled their numbers from 280,000 to 550,000. During the same period, basketball went from 900,000 to 1,000,000; football went from 900,000 to 920,000; and baseball went from 400,000 to 425,000.

Why did soccer see such a jump? Could it be that the US qualifying for the 1990 and then host the 1994 World Cup raised the profile of the game and made it an attractive game for young athletes to play? If so, could a bad tournament decrease the interest of those in high school?

How about general perception?
Those who are not fans of US soccer still see the national team as the 1998 joke that it was. If the team fell out in disgrace, it would not matter to most people because they are not expecting much. Yes, they would be able to say, “I knew the sucked” (if they say anything at all) and then not think about it again till 2010, and there would probably be a few people who came in during the excitement of 2002 that would walk away, but a flop would just mean four more years of waiting.

However, if the US won it all, how could people say that the team is anything but amazing? The idea of the squad being a nothing on the world stage would be forever erased (although there would be those who say it was a fluke). In addition, it might help soccer teams in the MLS and USL get more local assistance when it comes to building stadiums or increase youth playing fields or other such thing. It would also see an increase in the number of US players being invited to play for good European teams.

The biggest danger of the best-case scenario would be going too far too fast. I don’t really think this is a good enough reason not to cheer for the best, but there is the possibility that people would not pay any more attention to it then they already do. If that were to happen, perhaps nothing could bring soccer into the mainstream of the US sport’s world.

A good place to look for an example of best case is hockey. In 1980, the miracle on ice took place. When the US hockey team beat the Soviet Union and then went on to take the gold, they captured the attention of the entire country (even outside of the traditional Great Lakes area). This did not see a huge burst in support for hockey in the country right away, but the numbers did grow. The NHL was able to make use of this growth in the 1990s when the expanded their league to such spots as Dallas, San Jose and Nashville. One can argue that their expansion was done poorly, which it was, but it’s not too far of a stretch to say that the great result in 1980 helped set the stage for what came a decade later.

So what might this World Cup end up meaning to US soccer? I don’t think that question will be answered anytime soon. A worse case might just slow the development the game for a few years, while a best case could give it that extra push to truly move it into the realm of the big four (NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL), but with all odds we will not see the full realization of the 2006 results for a decade.

*MLS average attendance per match
1996: 17,406
1997: 14,619
1998: 14,312
1999: 14,282
2000: 13,756
2001: 14,961
2002: 15,821
2003: 14,899


Friday, June 09, 2006

How important is a team's first World Cup match?

If you are like me, you had no problem waking up this morning. Who knows, maybe your first though was something like, "it's finally here." So with the first kick happening not months, days or hours, but minutes from now, I thought it would be interesting to look to past World Cups to figure out the importance of a team's first cup match when it comes to possible advancement to the knockout phase.

In 2002, the World Cup was made up of 32 teams with 16 advancing. Of the 16 that advanced, 11 won their first game while 5 tied. None lost their opening match. Also, only 1 team that won their first match did not advance (Ecuador). Winning the opener did not lock you in, but it sure gave you a good start as 92% of opening match winners moved on.

World Cup 1998 saw the first use of the 32 teams with 16 advancing format. Interestingly enough, a defeat didn't kill you like it did four years later. Of the 16 that advanced, 8 won their opener, 4 tied and 4 lost (Brazil, Denmark, Nigeria, Croatia). As far as teams that won their first match but did not move on, there were 3 (Morocco, Spain, Jamaica). That means 73% of opening match winners moved on. Interestingly enough, all 4 of those who lost, were defeated by the other team from their group that advanced.

The World Cup in 1994 saw the last use of the 24 teams with 16 advancing format. With fewer teams in the mix, it gave team better odds of getting to phase 2. Anyway, of the 16 advancing, 7 won their opener, 5 tied and 4 lost (USA, Argentina, Switzerland, Belgium). There were 2 teams that won their first but did not advance (Colombia, Russia), giving winning teams a 78% advancement rate.

The last Cup I'm going to look at is 1990, which was played under the 24 teams, 16 advance method. Of the 16, 7 won, 6 tied and 3 lost (Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Cameroon). Just like in 1994, 2 teams won their opener only to go home after group play (Austria, Soviet Union), putting the win and move on rate at 78%.

So what conclusions should one draw from this? Obviously winning the first match puts you in a much better position, however 1998 showed that a defeat can be overcome. That said, as I noted, all 4 teams that lost, fell to the other team that advanced from their group. If you look at those four teams, they were very good. Three of them made it to the quarter-finals (Brazil, Denmark, Croatia) with Brazil taking second place and Croatia coming in third. One could say that unless you are a top-level team, a defeat dooms you.

Still, with such little data to go on (this will only be the third 32 team World Cup), one cannot make any hard conclusion. Perhaps 2006 will buck 2002's trend and allow more forgiveness of opening match failure, however, Cup history does not suggest this will happen. If your team fails to get a point in their first, you might want to delay sending out the invitations to your World Cup Championship viewing party.


World Cup Phase 1 Predictions

With the World Cup kicking off in just a couple hours here are my predictions for the first phase.

Group A
Germany, Costa Rica, Poland, Ecuador

How will the group play out?
Germany will take first place, but one of these teams will get a tie out of them. Costa Rica will surprise a lot of people when they manage a second place finish while Poland's fans will go home empty handed as another finals sees them exiting in the first phase. As far as Ecuador, they will get a point, but without the advantage of altitude, they will not have much success.

Best match of the group
Germany vs. Poland (14 June) - neighbors fighting is always fun to watch

Teams advancing
Me - Germany, Costa Rica
Wife - Germany, Poland

Group B
England, Paraguay, Trinidad and Tobago, Sweden

How will the group play out?
England is not yet at full force, but they have been gifted a relatively easy group. They should be able to win all three, but Sweden might pull of a tie as they are the biggest competition for England. Paraguay has an outside chance, but they are too weak in the midfield to move out of the group. T&T is the team all people hope moves on, but these first timers with only one big player is bound to go home after three matches.

Best match of the group
England vs. Sweden (20 June) - Winner should take the group

Teams advancing
Me - England, Sweden
Wife - England, Sweden

Group C
Argentina, Côte d'Ivoire, Serbia and Montenegro, Netherlands

How will the group play out?
This is one of the two 'Groups of Death' in the finals as any team could move along. Argentina is always good, and normally get out of their group, but they often under perform after that. Côte d'Ivoire is probably the best African team in Germany. but they will be hard pressed to get more then a couple points. Serbia and Montenegro had a good run in qualifying, but should be the 'easiest' team in the group. The Netherlands have all the makings of a big team in 2006 and with fans pouring in from next door, they should be able to make it out of the group in first place.

Best match of the group
Argentina vs. Netherlands (21 June) - Their styles are different enough to make for very interesting play

Teams advancing
Me - Netherlands, Argentina
Wife - Argentina, Netherlands

Group D
Mexico, Iran, Angola, Portugal

How will the group play out?
Mexico was lucky to get a seed and even luckier to get this group as they match up well against all of them. Expect them to tie or lose one game. Iran is much better then 2002, but with all the political crap swirling around them, they might be distracted. It is great to see Angola in the Cup, but they are not of quality to walk away with more then a point. Portugal is always underperforming, but since they are playing on Europe, they should be able to get out of the group.

Best match of the group
Iran vs. Portugal (17 June) - This should be the battle for second place.

Teams advancing
Me - Mexico, Portugal
Wife - Mexico, Portugal

Group E
Italy, Ghana, USA, Czech Republic

How will the group play out?
Here is the second 'Group of Death'. This might also be called the group of goalkeepers as USA, Czech R and Italy have three of the best keepers in the tournament. Italy has the hype, but they also have a rash of injuries and the scandal back home. If they come out weak, their fans will turn on them. Ghana will surprise someone in this group as they are the forgotten and they are too good to be tossed aside. USA brings a healthy team, yet one that is still a bit of a second though to most of the soccer world. Their hardest fight will be getting goals, but if Eddie Johnson or Donovan can start finding the net, they will shock the world. The Czechs missed their best chance in 2002 as they are now an old squad. With all there injuries and their slower speed, it will be difficult for them to live up to their ranking.

Best match of the group
USA vs. Italy (17 June)- Could this be the meeting of new vs. old soccer power? Should decide the group, however all matches will be good.

Teams advancing
Me - USA, Italy
Wife - USA, Czech Republic

Group F
Brazil, Croatia, Australia, Japan

How will the group play out?
Brazil will win this group, but one of the three teams will give them a scare. Croatia's strength is their defense. If a team can crack that just once, they should get a tie, twice and they will win. Australia is happy to be here, but with Guus Hiddink, he might be able to pull this team through to the next round. Japan has not looked that great of late, but they always have the chance of beating teams with their speed. I think this will be the only group that does not see a European team move through.

Best match of the group
Australia vs. Japan (12 June) - They are now confederation mates, so this should be the start of a great rivalry.

Teams advancing
Me - Brazil, Japan
Wife - Brazil, Japan

Group G
France, Switzerland, Korea Republic, Togo

How will the group play out?
France is old and breaking down. They should be able to get out of the group, but they will take a knock. Switzerland had to fight France in the qualifying rounds and just like then, they will come in second here. South Korea had their moment in '02, but they team has a difficult time stringing together passes, so they will fall. Togo might pull off a surprise, but with all odds, it will be three and out.

Best match of the group
France vs. Switzerland (13 June) - These two know each other, so it will either be a snore or ultimate excitement.

Teams advancing
Me - France, Switzerland
Wife - France, Switzerland

Group H
Spain, Ukraine, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia

How will the group play out?
Can Spain actually perform in a World Cup? If they can't do it in this group, they never will. Ukraine looked good in qualifying, but they only have one offensive threat in Andriy Shevchenko. Tunisia are having injury problems, meaning their all ready difficult task just became near impossible. Saudi Arabia will do better then '02, but not good enough to move along.

Best match of the group
Spain vs. Ukraine (14 June) - This game will set the tone for the group.

Teams advancing
Me - Spain, Ukraine
Wife - Spain, Ukraine


MLS Week 11 Predictions - World Cup weekend one

Just going to be quick about this with no talk. Here are mine and the wife's picks for this weekend.

Colorado Rapids vs. Real Salt Lake
Me: Rapids 1-2 RSL
Wife: Rapids 2-1 RSL

Columbus Crew vs. KC Wizards
New York Red Bulls vs. Houston Dynamo
Me: Crew 1-1 KC, NY 2-2 Houston
Wife: Crew 1-3 KC, NY 2-1 Houston

FC Dallas vs. Chivas USA
Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution
LA Galaxy vs. DC United
Me: FCD 2-0 Chivas, Fire 1-0 NE, LA 0-3 DC
Wife: FCD 3-1 Chivas, Fire 1-1 NE, LA 0-2 DC

Thursday, June 08, 2006

MLS Week 11 Predictions - Thursday

Wondering what to do to pass the hours before the Cup starts tomorrow? Why not watch a soccer match.

The battle for LA known as the Súper Clásico sees its second version tonight and ESPN2 will broadcast it live.

LA Galaxy vs. Chivas USA
Thursday - 10:00pm ET
Rasio: LA: CASH 1700am, KMXE 830am (Spanish - Galaxy), KTNQ 1020am (Spanish - Chivas)

The Galaxy comes into this match riding a 6 game losing streak and a hard week of shakeups. New coach Frank Yallop will have had about 30-hours to meet his new team. On the other side of the ball, Chivas is on a two game roll and currently sit above LA by 3 points in the Western table.

The Galaxy has had nothing going right for a while now, but first games for coaches have this habit of causing poor teams to over perform. Call it trying to impress the new guy and some other kind of psychological boost, but that is the normal order of things. For the Goats, if they can get an early goal and control the first 20-minutes of the game, they might just be able to counter-act this new coach magic.

Chivas should win this game as they have been able to get both good offensive and defensive performances on the pitch, but can they actually do it against LA? If they do, it will be their first win over the Galaxy.

Me: LA 1-1 Chivas
Wife: LA 2-0 Chivas

Michael Ballack out of opener for Germany

Germany will have to do their best against Costa Rica without star midfielder Michael Ballack as he has been ruled out of their first match.

Ballack is out due to an injury to his right calf.

"The most important thing for us is that he gets healthy again as quickly as possible," Germany coach Juergen Klinsmann said.

Ballack denied reports that he waited too long to get his injury checked by doctors, therefore making it worse.

Ballack joins England's Wayne Rooney, Italy's Gianluca Zambrotta, Gennaro Gattuso and Alessandro Nesta and France's Djibril Cisse, as high quality players who are either fully or partially out of the cup.

On the passing of Sampson

The LA Galaxy fired Sam Sampson (pictured on left) this week and replaced him with former San Jose coach Frank Yallop.

At a third of the way through the season, the Galaxy find themselves the worse team in the league with a lowly 7 points from 11 games. They are also the team with the fewest goals scored and the most goals allowed.

Yet even with this record, should Sampson have been fired? I think it was very justified, but a couple other people who are much smarter then I in the way of the soccer ball do not. Because I love blogging about the post of other bloggers, I want to comment on this.

D over at DCenters argues that LA General Manager Alexi Lalas (pictured on right) has lost all public credibility because he stated that he had no plans to get rid of Sampson anytime soon. He goes on to say that this loss of credibility will spill over to the workplace because how can anyone in the organization take him at his word if he has broken it so many times in the past.

My thoughts on these two things are simple. The public statements are like all public statements, worth less then the time it takes to read them. Have you ever heard any professional manager say that if the coach doesn’t win this game then he is gone? It just doesn’t happen that way. This is not exclusive to the sporting word, just look at the government. How many times have officials been given complete support one day just to see them retire to ‘spend more time with the family’ the next day (paging Michael Brown)?

As far as the private statements, I don’t have a clue what Lalas said to Sampson when they were alone, but any professional coach that sees his championship team in the basement a third of the way through the season has to realize that they are in trouble. Unless Lalas recently told Sampson directly that he was safe, then I don’t think there is a credibility gap.

Let’s look at the other argument, presented by Quarter Volley that Sampson had earned more time thanks to winning the double last year. Also, that the lack of Landon Donovan to World Cup duty should have been taken into greater consideration. Winning the double was fantastic and I don’t want to take anything away from that, but LA did it because Donovan had something to prove and, as Bruce’s Belly points out, MLS teams fell to pieces last year.

As far as the Donovan being gone, as Quarter Volley points out in his defense of Sampson, Golden Boy was there for the first two defeats of their current slide. He was also there on April 22nd when LA lost at home to a horrible Columbus Crew side. But all that doesn’t really matter because Sampson has known Landon would be away since September 3, 2005, the night the US clinched their spot in Germany.

Just to put that in perspective, if a woman got pregnant that night, she just had her baby. If human life can come into existence during that time, Sampson should have been able to develop a team that would work without Donovan. The fact that he did not speaks to why he needed to go.

I’m all for giving coaches and players a chance to rebound, but a six game slide that sees your team go almost 10 hours without scoring a goal, well that’s a bit much (especially after a 2-2-1 start). Hopefully this will not set off a chain reaction as the new person at the top of the ‘bye-bye’ list is Mo Johnson. Mo deserves more then 9 games* to turn around a team that hasn’t done anything in 10-years.

* I’m not counting the games from 2005 because they were so late in the season that Mo had to work within an already created situation.

Could Cuauhtémoc Blanco join Houston Dynamo?

When Cuauhtémoc Blanco was left off the Mexican national team for this year's World Cup, fans marches on the team's offices in protest. Blanco is a very talented player, but his way of carrying himself is, let's just say, lacking in humility.

Now we come to find out that Blanco has held meetings with Dynamo president Oliver Luck. Although Luck is quick to note that no decision has been made, he does say, "He still has tremendous talent, and playing in MLS with its improvement is appealing to him."

Could MLS be about to get Blanco?

He doesn't have the media power of a Beckham or Ronaldo, but this would still be a huge move for the league. Now if this would be a good or bad move depends on his play once he arrives.

If he comes to the states just to finish up his career, then it will be a bust. However, if he comes to test himself one last time before he hangs up his cleats; if he comes to push his teammates to the limit while forcing the opposition to stop him; if he comes looking to make his name in the English language market, then it will be worth it.

Blanco, like all great players, has the ability to reshape a league, but does he have the determination and desire to do it?

To be clear, Blanco is still under contract with Club América till January of '07, so this is not likely to happen soon. Also, Luck does not seem to be racing into anything, even it would probably mean a large increase in ticket sales to fans of Mexican soccer (and there are a number of them in Houston).

MLS teams are not just looking for big names to attract attention, they are also looking for people who will bring something to the team. As the article points out, past Mexican stars Carlos Hermosillo and Luis Hernandez did not do much during their time in the league, so one must approach with caution.

Blanco could easily become a defining figure in our league with thousands showing up to cheer or boo his every touch of the ball, but I still wonder how long his interest would hold before he grew tired of the situation.


MLS Week 10 Power Ratings

Now that we are about a third of the way into the season, one or two games will not cause huge shifts in the ratings. Still, this past week of play did see some movement so here is the list:

1. DC United (last week - 2) - Winning three games in a 8-day period is always a good sign. They looked tired for the last match, but still did enough on defense to frustrate New England and get the win.

2. FC Dallas (1) - A good question is what happened to the come from behind spirit on Saturday. A better question, why did they even need to come from behind when they were playing Columbus? Still, even great teams have bad nights. Could this have just been a bump or is FCD going to have another mid-season slide like last year?

3. Houston Dynamo (4) - With all the problems they have had in their midfield and their lack of striking force, it is only appropriate that a defender got the winning goal over the weekend. Finding ways of winning games, even against poor opposition, when your team is less then 100% is always a good thing.

4. Chicago Fire (3) - Did the road trip finally catch up with the fire over the last two weeks? They looked sluggish and lacking in skill in Salt Lake, but they have till the 11th to regroup before their first home game of the year. What version of the Fire will appear then?

5. Kansas City Wizards (5) - The one goal Wizards managed to get one goal over the weekend and that was off a pk. If their offense doesn't click soon, they will be dropping fast.

6. Columbus Crew (7) - Where did this Crew team come from? They were connecting passes, playing smart in the midfield and had a goalie that could actually stop shots. A big win in Dallas could change their season.

7. New England Revolution (6) - The Revs cannot blend themselves into something tasty. For a couple weeks they showed that they had talent, but you put a strong defense in front of them and they fail to mix.

8. Real Salt Lake (9) - Real keeps getting better every week (to be fair, they really could not have got worse). Their defense is talking and their offense is scoring. Granted, their offense is mainly one guy, but one guy is one more then they had a month ago.

9. Colorado Rapids (8) - Did the Rapids manage to string together more then 3 passes in any one attack? Yes, Chivas had luck on their side, but Colorado just looking like a deflated doll.

10. Chivas USA (11) - As said above, the goats got lucky more then once, but luck did not score all 4 goals. Chivas was able to bring both a good offensive and decent defensive showing to the same match for the first time all season. If they keep this up, they have a chance at making it out of the basement in the West.

11. New York Red Bull (10) - The team that ties got a tie. New York would be in horrible shape if it wasn't for goaltender Tony Meola. Meola has come up with so many great saves this year that the Reds forgettable offense can actually get them a point.

12. Los Angeles Galaxy (12) - So they did not break the longest single season record for no goals, but that doesn't mean they looked good doing it. This team is a mess, but new coaches have a way of altering things, so look for movement soon.

This will probably be the last list for a few weeks as World Cup fever will cripple my MLS watching experience.

How does the World Cup work?

With the increase in media coverage over the past few days, I have seen an up tick in traffic. Since some of the folks hitting this blog might be a little green to soccer, I thought I would take a moment to answer a basic question I’ve heard asked a few times (by that I mean people searching google for the information).

How does the World Cup work?

There are 32-national teams in the 2006 World Cup. There are two phases in the World Cup. Phase 1 is the group phase while Phase 2 is the knockout phase.

Phase 1 – Group phase

The 32-teams have been divided into 8 groups of four teams each. These groups are labeled A-H.

All four teams in each group play each other once. Think of this as the regular season in basketball or baseball. Teams are award 3-points for a win and 1-point for a tie.

The two teams with the most points are the end of the group phase move on to the second phase. (see example below)

Phase 2 – Knockout phase

The knockout phase contains the top 2 teams from each of the 8 groups. These teams are seeded and then play a winner take all playoff. This is just like college basketball’s NCAA Championship or the American football playoffs.

In knockout games, there obviously cannot be any ties. If a game is tied after the 90-minutes of regular time, two 15-minute overtime periods will be played. Both overtime periods will be played even if a team scores a goal (there is no golden goal).

If the game is still tied after the extra 30-minutes, it moves to penalty kicks. Each team will take 5-shots. If one team gets more of these 5 then the other, they win. If they are tied after 5 shots, the game goes to a one shot system. If one team misses a shot while the other makes it, the game is over.

The 16 teams go down to 8 then to 4 then to the championship (there is also a third place game played by the teams who lost in the final 4). The winner of the championship game wins the cup.

I hope this helps explain how all this works.

Here is an example of the group phase:

Group A – Germany, Costa Rica, Poland, Ecuador.
Germany 3-1 Costa Rica (Germany gets 3 points)
Poland 2-0 Ecuador (Poland gets 3 points)

Costa Rica 1-1 Ecuador (both teams get 1 point)
Germany 2-0 Poland (Germany gets 3 points)

Costa Rica 2-2 Poland (both teams get 1 point)
Germany 1-1 Ecuador (both teams get 1 point)

Final Group table
Germany – 7points
Poland – 4 points
Costa Rica – 2 points
Ecuador – 2 points

Germany and Poland move on to the second phase.

If teams are tied on points, then you look at who won the game between the two tied teams. If neither team won, then you look at goal difference (number of goals they scored minus the number of goals other teams scored against them). The team with the best goal difference advances. If they are still tied, the team the scored the most goals during all of their group play advances.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Injury woes continue for Italy

Italy is already dealing with the injuries to defender Gianluca Zambrotta (out for their first match and maybe more) and central defender Alessandro Nesta (might be out for one or more matches), but their day got a little worse today when midfielder Gennaro Gattuso (pictured) was ruled out of their first two matches (Ghana and USA).

Gattuso picked up an injury during the May 30th friendly with Switzerland. He exacerbated it in training and it now appears to be "a deep lesion of the left calf muscle," said team doctor Enrico Castellacci.

Zambrotta and Nesta were blows to the team, but Gattuso is a big part of the Italian engine in midfield. Without him controlling the tempo of the game and being the playmaker, Italy is nowhere near as tough.

The team's coach Marcello Lippi has ruled out bringing in a player to replace Gattuso as he is too important to the team.

With Francesco Totti still struggling to get back into full fitness, this team is in a bad place right now. Still, Totti was able to make a bit of a joke over the whole situation when he was asked about his thoughts on all the injuries, "It's certainly not the team we would have liked to start with. The way things look, I could be the fittest."

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

World Cup News - June 6

In a little under 72-hours the hopes and dreams of people the world over will be answered, at least for a moment, when the World Cup gets underway. However, three days is a long time to go with nothing to read, so here is some World Cup news for you.

Paraguay's striker Jose Cardozo is out of his nation's squad due to an injury he received during Saturday's friendly against Bavaria. He will be replaced with Dante Lopez who plays with Genoa.

Italy is having some injury problems as defender Gianluca Zambrotta has been ruled out of their first match against Ghana and central defender Alessandro Nesta might be out as well after aggravating an old adductor muscle injury in Friday's 0-0 friendly draw with Ukraine.

Serbia and Montenegro's bit of nepotism came to an end as defender Dusan Petkovic dropped out of the squad after the media back home became enraged that his father and team coach named him to replace injured Lecce striker Mirko Vucinic.

Germany captain Michael Ballack feels good about his chances of recovering from a calf injury in time to play in the tournament opener on Friday. By the way, German coach Juergen Klinsmann thinks the home field advantage will lead his side to the championship.

U.S. captain Claudio Reyna is fully fit and ready to lead the red, white and blue to victory against the Czech Republic on Monday.

Brazil's Ronaldo has resumed practicing after having to come off of a weekend friendly due to blisters on his feet.

The French are doing their best to ruin their chances before a single ball is kicked as a major goalkeeper controversy has broken out in camp.

South Korean players will each see a 500 million won ($528,000 us) bonus if they bring home the cup. For the record, they do have to win it, not just steal away with it to Korea.

Yet another goalkeeper has given the new World Cup ball a thumbs down as England's Paul Robinson says it is "more like one used for water-polo." Anyone know what Kasey Keller thinks of the ball?

Refs plan on handing out more cards this time around for dangerous fouls such as striking with the elbow and punish athletes for faking fouls or intentionally delaying games. There goes Italy's playbook.

Brazil's coach Carlos Alberto Parreira thinks Ronaldinho will have a wonderful World Cup. In other breaking news, Parreira also explained that the sky is blue.

England, Iran and Brazil arrived in Germany yesterday, but today saw the arrival of 323 police officers from 13 European countries. These officers will patrol jointly with their German colleagues to help prevent hooliganism. Foreign officers helping patrol Germany without a war having to be fought, what a great idea.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is being very cautious when it comes to guessing the economic impact hosting the games will have on her country. She also did not mention how much of the economic boost will be due to the sex trade.

The country as a whole is trying to brace for the influx of travelers, even ones they might not want, however some in Nuremberg only now seem to realize that they will host a few of the matches.

Supermodel Claudia Schiffer is draping her body in nothing but the German flag to try and convince her Germany countrymen to wave flags at the matches. This is all part of Germany's 'Land of Ideas' campaign that is trying to remake the image of the country. Says Schiffer, "I hope within Germany we can make it cool that we can wear a German flag and not be embarrassed about it."

It turns out Munich has more to offer in the world of food then just beer.

A beer brewer in the UK has developed World Cup Fever beer which uses a mixture of lager, Munich and extra pale malts. By the way, the UK will also see one of the most technologically advanced networks ever developed used to make sure their beer keeps flowing.

Everyone's favorite FIFA boss Sepp Blatter denies that the World Cup has become over commercialized. His comments are brought to you by Anheuser-Busch, Vodafone and the McDonalds, home of the McBavarian burger.

If you are looking for a quick history of the men's World Cup since 1930, here is one from the Gulf Times.

It's over and the Czech Republic has won the 2006 FIFA World Cup or so says Electronic Arts, maker of the video game 2006 FIFA World Cup. They played it and here are the stats:

World Champion: Czech Republic
World Cup Final: Czech Republic 2 Brazil 1
1st team to be eliminated: Ecuador
Golden Shoe winner: Milan Baros, Czech Republic (7 goals)
Golden Ball winner: Pavel Nedved, Czech Republic

How did the USA do? "They managed wins over Italy (3-2) and Ghana (2-0) and tied the Czech Republic (2-2) in the difficult Group E before its luck ran out against the powerful Brazilian side in the Round of 16." I guess we will know on Monday if you can trust a video game to predict the future.

Finally, just a reminder that we have another World Cup coming up next year as the women get their chance to shine in China. Blatter said that tournament might be the best ever.

Only 3 days till kickoff...

Studio 90

If the handful of newspaper articles about the US men’s team is not enough to keep you satisfied, don't worry; US Soccer has got you covered with Studio 90. This daily web show from Germany gives you interviews with players, training highlights, tastes of Germany and a great overall feel of what the men are going through to prepare for the Cup.

The four episodes that have gone live so far are 10-15 minutes each and each gives you a bit of information you might not otherwise know. So far we have found out why the Gooch got in his famous stare down, Steve Cherundolo thinks Germans seldom look on the bright side of life and Carlos Bocanegra loves the OC.

I must hand it to US Soccer, this is an outstanding addition to the build up. They know that people will be looking for more information then just what is on the pages of USA Today and they are providing that. The great thing about this is it is actually interesting. It gives players a chance to share their feelings on their play (for example Bocanegra was unhappy with his past year in Fulham) as well as showing people what it is like being in the middle of a World Cup storm.

That is not to say that it is perfect (host Neil Buethe doesn't seem to wear a mic during the interview segments, thus you hear him slapping his legs a lot and there is no index page listing what was on which day), but it is something worth watching.

Actually, this is very much in line with the sort of thing I was talking about soon after Apple lunched their video iPod. Give people interesting content and you will grow your fan base. Maybe MLS could learn a lesson from this and put on their own weekly version of Studio 90.

Do yourself a favor and take a 15-minute break from work to give Studio 90 a viewing (link will contains audio and video).

By the way, the extra time segment from Monday’s show proves that Claudio Reyna was on the pitch for the friendly against Angola (unless they give the captain's armband to bench warmers).


Monday, June 05, 2006

MLS Week 10 Recap or Dallas really lost to the Crew?

What an interesting weekend for the MLS. There was only one big surprise, but what a surprise it was. Here are the recaps.

DC United 1-0 New England Revolution

The Revs lost Pat Noonan early due to a problem with his right hamstring. As if that wasn't bad enough, just as Noonan's sub came on, United got the lone goal of the match in a very questionable fashion. Christian Gomez sent a ball into Jaime Moreno, who was wide open behind the New England backline, but did he get there in a fair manner or did DC get lucky? For what it is worth, I think Moreno was offside, but still, NE should not of allowed the goal. Moreno beat Revs keeper Matt Reis, but the ball was slowly passing in front of the open goal when defender Michael Parkhurst ran up on it. He had a second in which to clear the ball and he should have. The goal should not have counted anyway, but Parkhurst still should have saved it off the line.

The rest of the game was mainly a United affair. What limited chances New England did have, Troy Perkins was able to keep out of the net for DC. The big question I have is when will Adu start finding net with some of his shots. He had a couple good ones on Saturday, but just could not get his name on the scoring sheet.

We can look at this one as a lucky win, but I think that if Moreno's goal had not been allowed, DC would have made some better chances later on, thus they would have won anyway.

FC Dallas 1-2 Columbus Crew

I guess the train wrecks don't run on time in Dallas as they somehow found a way to lose to a team that is, on a good day, half as talented as they are. Not only that, but the reason the Crew won was due to the goalkeeping effort of MLS first timer Noah Palmer. Palmer blocked at least three shots that should have been goals. On the other side, Dallas keeper Dario Sala got unlucky when Leonard Bisaku headed a free kick shot off the crossbar into an open goal. Sala had made a great dive at the first shot, but was on the ground and could not reach Bisaku's fallow through. Then came what just might have been the best MLS goal of the weekend when Ritchie Kotschau weaved his way through 4 or 5 defenders to get the Crew's second goal. Carlos Ruiz had a really nice goal in stoppage time to try and pull his side within striking distance, but there was just not enough seconds left to make it happen.

Houston Dynamo 2-1 LA Galaxy

Yes, LA finally scored, however they could not make the better of two other wonderful chances. Houston went up early thanks to Dwayne De Rosario making LA defender Marcelo Saragosa pay for his mistake of not clearing the ball out when he had the chance. DDR had Saragosa going every way except his way, thus allowing him to take a hard shot that easily beat Kevin Hartman. However, LA didn't give up and just before halftime Todd Dunivant launched a perfect high cross into the box that John Wolyniec found with his head after jumping over two defenders to give LA their first goal in 525-minutes (missing the Real Salt Lake recorded by 32-minutes). This goal gave the Galaxy some life, but they could not finish their chances. Then Houston proved how deadly they could be on corner kicks when Eddie Robinson got on the end of a Brad Davis center to give the home team the win.

LA looked much better then they have in a long time, but they are still a long way from their 2005 forum.

KC Wizards 1-1 New York Red Bull

The Wizards were lucky to get this tie as their pk was actually given for a tackle happening just outside the box. The Wizards had many other opportunities, but New York's Tony Meola was always able to come up with the save. But I'm getting ahead of myself. New York's goal had good flair to it as Mark Lisi sent it across the face of goal where Steve Jolley was just able to get his head on, sending to Steve Jolley who hammered it at goal. But before the ball could find the net, KC's goalkeeper Bo Oshoniyi was able to bat it out, only to see his right foot kick it back in. I'm a little surprised he was not awarded an own goal for his work. KC was able to pull even off a 58th minute penalty kick that should have only been a free kick right outside the box.

KC continues to look flat while New York is the team of ties, although they looked much better in the midfield during this outing.

Real Salt Lake 3-1 Chicago Fire

You think anyone in Salt Lake misses Clint Mathis? Jeff Cunningham put in the performance of a lifetime on Saturday night, as he was the one-man force that leveled the Fire. Real's first goal was a Cunningham slider across the face of goal and into net. Their second found a wide open Dasan Robinson who knocked it in. Too bad for Robinson that he plays for Chicago. Their final goal was a long chip shot that sailed into goal. Chicago did tie it up after the first goal thanks to a long bomb blast by Brian Plotkin.

Real looked confident on the pitch. They might not be a top container, but they are no longer a laugh. For the Fire, it is a bad ending to an otherwise good long road trip.

Chivas USA 4-1 Colorado Rapids

Luck finally went Chivas USA's way as their first goal was an own goal by Mike Petke and their second goal saw Ante Razov start about 5 yards offside. However, their last two goals were nothing but good style and smooth playing. The Rapids lone goal was thanks to a failure of the Goats backline. Jacob Peterson was toying it around in the box while two Chivas defenders were kicking at it, but they could not clear it away. Peterson was able to poke it over to Dedi Ben Dayan who got his second goal in 4 days.

All and all, this was an even match with Chivas making the better of their chances. Both teams showed some midfield and defensive problems. Chivas must now figure out how to continuously get goals as 8 of their 14 have come in just 2 of their 8 matches.

As far as the prediction center goes, this weekend was not kind to the wife as she went 1-4 while I went 3-3. Still, she is in the lead for the season 27-32 vs. 26-33.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Giant US jersey attacks Hartford, Connecticut

I want to thank reader Sherri Weiss for making my day by sending me the image above. The oversized US jersey hung on the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford from May 27-30. It's made of heavy nylon and measures 80 feet across and 71 feet tall.

I do not know why it was hanging up there, but is fantastic to see something like this and I hope it gives you a smile as well.

By the way, number 6 is Steve Cherundolo.

Thank you again Sherri.


Friday, June 02, 2006

The US are in Germany

The US men touched down in Germany today to begin what we all hope will be a long stay in Hamburg. They were greeted at the airport by a band, a red carpet and many reporters. Soon after arriving at their hotel, Bruce Arena, Claudio Reyna and Steve Cherundolo held a press conference where the Bruce had a few good lines.

When a German reporter asked, "Mr. Arena, why are you having your team practicing this afternoon already after this long flight? Do you think it's not yet in shape?"

Arena did what he does so well and gave a response with enough sarcasm to make any teenager drop their jaw in awe.

We don't know what we're doing. We figured we'd come here and maybe practice a couple of times before the opening game. You think there's something wrong with that too?

Why not? Just go out and break a sweat a little bit. Get the travel out of them. Try to get their bodies adjusted to the new time zone. I don't know. I thought it was an interesting concept, to practice, but perhaps I'm wrong.

He had plenty of other good nuggets of joy, as you can read here or listen to here.

It will be so much fun to watch how the German press reacts to Arena during the tournament.


MLS Week 10 Predictions

This first weekend in June sees all 12 teams in action on Saturday, however none of them will air on ESPN2. But fear not as the whole lot of games can be seen on MLStv.

DC United vs. New England Revolution
7:30pm ET
TV: Direct Kick (DK), MLStv
Radio: WMET 1160am, WACA 1540am (Spanish); Boston - WEEI 850am

New England got some spark last weekend when they switched to the 4-4-2, but will coach Steve Nicol stay with it and even if he does, will it be enough to fend off a dominant United side? It seems every player wears the black and red is pitching in as seen by the results of Wednesday night. The team scored 4 goals plus Columbus put in an own goal. Four different players scored the four goals with 2 others getting assists. So with a club as put together as DC, how do you beat them? The only way I think the Revs could walk away with points is speed. This will be the third match in 8 days for United and come the second half, some of those legs are bound to be hurting. If New England can hold United in the first 45 and then play smart and fast in the second, they might just surprise. Still, it will be hard for DC to let one go at home.

Me: DC 2-1 NE
Wife: DC 1-2 NE

FC Dallas vs. Columbus Crew
8:30pm ET
TV: DK, MLStv, Ohio News Network
Radio: Dallas - KXEB 910am, KFCD 990am (Spanish), San Antonio - KTXX 103.5fm, Austin - KOKE 1600am; Columbus 105.7fm

If you like watching train wrecks, this should be one for the ages. On one side you have a team that just got blown to pieces, playing a mere 72 hours after said defeat with a very under qualified goaltender. On the other side, you have a team that has added a sturdy defense to their outstanding offense who is rested and trying hard to add even more points to their conference lead. If Dallas walks away with anything less then an easy 3 points, then they got cocky. The big question is can Carlos Ruiz score in a sixth straight game.

Me: FCD 3-0 Crew
Wife: FCD 2-0 Crew

Houston Dynamo vs. LA Galaxy
8:30pm ET
TV: DK, HDNet, MLStv
Radio: Houston - Concierto 850am (Spanish) & 101.7fm (Spanish); LA - KMPC 1540am, KTNQ 1020am (Spanish), Radio Korea 1230am (Korean)

LA heads off to the San Jose of Texas to meet the Dynamo for the first time in club history and a game that is a must win for the club. To say LA comes limping into this match is an offense to all those who limp. A better wording would be "LA comes flat lining to Houston" as this team has shown no signs of life for many matches. Still, this will be no easy day on the pitch for Houston as they are a side without Brian Ching (World Cup) or Adrian Serioux (injury) and Dwyane De Rosario is less then perfect. One thing that might break for the Galaxy is that many players are looking at this as a return to the Southern California rivalry. Since the last time LA looked decent was against their LA rivals Chivas, maybe the little extra push will do them well. Still the big question is can they score in the first 77 minutes. If they do not, they will have beat Real Salt Lake for the longest time between goals in MLS history.

Me: Houston 2-1 LA (LA will score before the 77th)
Wife: Houston 1-3 LA (LA will score in the first 15 minutes)

KC Wizards vs. Red Bull New York
8:30pm ET
Radio: New York - WADO 1280am (Spanish)

Kansas City is looking mighty bad these days as their offense has dried up and their backline is forgettable. The loss at home last week against United showed that this club cannot currently claim to be any sort of a real threat to the best in the East. However, Red Bull is not the best of the East. After looking okay for 3 games, they saw their defense collapse in the final 15-minutes of last Saturday’s game. It is actions like this that give KC a great shot at getting full points. The secrete to this game is two goals. With the exception of the Chivas game a few weeks back, New York has not scored more then 1 goal since their opening tie against DC. KC is not doing much better as their last multi-goal game was the second week of the season, but the Wizards have managed to find ways to win 1-0. If either team can get net twice, they will win.

Me: KC 2-1 NY
Wife: KC 2-1 NY

Real Salt Lake vs. Chicago Fire
9:00pm ET
Radio: Salt Lake - KALL 700am, KSGO 1600am (Spanish) Chicago - WRTO 1200am (Spanish)

At long last the Chicago Fire's road trip is coming to its final stop. For the Fire, they are starting to show problems up top while Real is finding itself. With Justin Mapp still out for Chicago, Chris Rolfe needs to adapt as his play and work more from the midfield. Over in Salt Lake, they have put together a strong backline ever since Pope went off to US duty. I'm not suggesting that Pope is the problem, I'm just saying that without him around, defenders had to make things happen by themselves. Combine this with the offensive explosion lead by Jeff Cunningham and you have a team that can compete with anyone. With Chicago more focused on next week, Real should be able to get 3 more points.

Me: RSL 2-1 Chicago
Wife: RSL 2-0 Chicago

Chivas USA vs. Colorado Rapids
10:00pm ET
Radio: LA - KTNQ 1020am (Spanish)

Chivas were able to get a lackluster win last week at home against a fading Chicago club, but the Rapids will not be so easy. Chivas has talent on both offense and defense, but they never bring both to the same match. The Rapids have made a habit of taking apart incomplete teams of late. The unsure place for both teams is between the nets as Chivas's Preston Burpo looks to play only his second MLS game while the Rapids' Bouna Coundoul has only manned the posts four times. If strikers don't take ever chance to test these unknowns, they are foolish. That said, Colorado looks a lot less foolish to me then Chivas.

Me: Chivas 0-2 Colorado
Wife: Chivas 1-2 Colorado

Thursday, June 01, 2006

MLS Injury Report - Week 10

Another week and another injury report. The two teams getting hit hardest this weeks are Chicago and Columbus. For the Fire, Justin Mapp is official on their out list (I believe he was added late last Friday) as Diego Gurierrez. They have been a big part of the Fire's midfield and brought some good experience to the team. With them out, it is going to be hard to hold the young team together. It doesn't help that another player with a few seasons of experience was also added in Tony Sanneh.

Then there is the keeperless Crew. They have five goaltenders listed on their official roster and four of them are out. With Frankie Hejduk also out and Rusty Pierce questionable, the defensive portion of the team is seriously hurting.

New England keeps cycling through their injury list as it appears every time someone comes off another is added. Pat Noonan is fully of the list, but defensive-midfielder James Riley is out.

LA's hopes of turning things around took yet another hit with Cobi Jones out due to a foot sprain.

Here is the full injury list:

Eastern Conference

OUT: DF Jim Curtin (R foot fracture); MF Diego Gutierrez (R hamstring strain); MF Justin Mapp (facial fracture); DF Tony Sanneh (R hamstring strain)
QUESTIONABLE: DF C.J. Brown (neck sprain)

OUT: GK Jonny Walker (lower back), DF Jed Zayner (L knee ACL); GK Bill Gaudette (R broken hand); MF Danny Szetela (L foot fracture); DF Frankie Hejduk (R knee ACL); GK Andy Gruenebaum (R broken hand); GK Jon Busch (R knee ACL)
QUESTIONABLE: DF Rusty Pierce (L hamstring strain)

OUT: MF Santino Quaranta (R hamstring strain)
DOUBTFUL: MF Justin Moose (hamstring strain)
QUESTIONABLE: DF Brandon Prideaux (MCL sprain)
PROBABLE: FW Jamil Walker (hamstring strain)


OUT: DF Marshall Leonard (L Achilles tendon repair); DF James Riley (R ankle peroneal strain)
DOUBTFUL: MF Khano Smith (L knee surgery); MF Leandro De Oliveira (R knee sprain)
QUESTIONABLE: MF Daniel Hernandez (L ankle sprain); MF Jani Galik (R hamstring strain)
PROBABLE: MF Ryan Latham (abdominal strain); FW Willie Sims (R gluteal strain)

QUESTIONABLE: DF Carlos Mendes (R posterior tibial tendon contusion)

Western Conference

OUT: MF Ramón Ramírez (L knee sprain), MF Mike Muñoz (R ankle tendonitis), DF Esteban Arias (concussion)

DOUBTFUL: GK Matt Jordan (lower back); FW Nicolas Hernandez (R hamstring strain)
PROBABLE: GK Joe Cannon (R groin strain); DF Aitor Karanka (R ankle strain)

OUT: FW Abe Thompson (L foot stress fracture); GK Jeff Cassar (R quadriceps tear)

OUT: MF Aaron Lanes (R fifth metatarsal fracture); DF Adrian Serioux (L big toe fracture)
DOUBTFUL: DF Kevin Goldthwaite (R ankle sprain)
QUESTIONABLE: MF Brad Davis (L knee MCL sprain)

OUT: MF Cobi Jones (R foot sprain); MF Guillermo Gonzalez (L hamstring strain)
QUESTIONABLE: MF Peter Vagenas (R quadriceps strain)

OUT: DF Paul Broome (L ankle internal derangement); MF Seth Trembly (L knee ACL tear)
QUESTIONABLE: DF Kevin Novak (R hand fracture)
PROBABLE: DF Danny Torres (L popliteal strain); MF Kenny Cutler (L rib contusion)

Italy scandal worse than feared

It's hard to believe, but the man recently appointed to head the Italian soccer federation thinks the ongoing scandal is even worse then he thought it would be.

"I didn't expect to find such a serious situation,'' Rossi told the ANSA news agency Thursday. "I thought it was much more circumscribed.''

It seems obvious that the top Italian league is going to take some big hits, but the question on everyone's mind is will the Italian national team get dragged into their nation's dirty business?

Rossi does not think it will and that the team will be able to stay focused on the World Cup, but what else would the head of the Italian soccer federation say?

With just a little over a week till Italy kicks off their run against Ghana, changes are no players will be disqualified. However, comments like this from Rossi can only increase the pressure from the press on the team as they finish their preparations.

MLS Week 10 Recap - Midweek

What a night for DC United as Jaime Moreno got his 100th goal (watch it here - lunches windows media player) and they blow the crap out of the Crew. The 5-1 final score kind of sums up how one sided this game was.

For the Crew, they did well in the first half, but DC was able to break them down in the second. Once Ezra Hendrickson knocked in an own goal off a corner kick, Columbus lost faith. Then there was the issue of the keeper. Dan Popik is obviously not ready for prime time, but the Crew have no other options. His foul that lead to the Moreno penalty kick was a perfect example of how green he is as the ref could have gone with a red card. Popik knows his team doesn't have another goalie hiding somewhere, so to commit such a foul in the 7th minute is just stupid.

For United, this victory was the result of the whole team working together all over the pitch. Their defense is looking sharp again and their midfield is just a handful. The work on their fourth goal was fabulous. Smart passing and great pressure all lead up to the Aleck Eskandarian strike.

United are now tied with FC Dallas as the top team in MLS.

DC United 5-1 Columbus Crew

Unlike the United game, Colorado's 1-0 victory over LA does not reflect how much the Rapids dominated this game. If Colorado had a little better offense, this would have been a rout. The first 30-minutes or so saw nothing but chance after chance for the Rapids, with most of the attack being lead by Dedi Ben Dayan. He was taking some good shots, but just missing the target till the 33rd minute when he was able to get a boot on Terry Cooke corner kick and send it into goal.

The rest of the match was either midfield play or attacks by the Rapids till the final few minutes when LA finally put together some offense, but what little strength the Galaxy showed was too late.

For LA, it was yet another bad night. They have now gone 480 minutes without a goal and they might beat the all time MLS record this weekend if they do not score by the 77th minute. Also, defender Kyle Veris went down in the 52nd minute after over extending his right ankle. With their offense the way it is, the last thing LA needs is more bad news on defense.

Colorado Rapids 1-0 LA Galaxy