Friday, March 30, 2007

Clint is a Bull, FCD wants an Argentine and Johnson to Boca?

Clint Mathis has been traded from Colorado to New York, in a move that could only make people think, "the Red Bulls couldn't find any other forward."

New York has been looking for help up front during the whole of the off-season. This search sparked many rumors on who might be coming in as a designated player, but in the end, Mathis was what they got.

Last year Mathis had his moments, but they were very few in number and often punctuated by stupid fouls that resulted in cards. That Bruce Arena is turning to him to guide their offensive attack has to worry the Red Bull faithful.

Mathis is due to join the team in Charleston, South Carolina today and is likely to mark his return to New York (he played for the MetroStars from 2000-03) on April 7 when they play Columbus.

Meanwhile, down in the oil palace known as Dallas, it looks like FCD is about to fill the hole in their midfield caused by the trade of Richard Mulrooney. Argentine Pablo Ricchetti is all but on the team, now they just need to work out some details with his visa. They expect this to take a couple weeks, but coach Steve Morrow is hoping he will be available for their April 7 opener against Real Salt Lake.

Ricchetti brings something special to the middle of the pitch for Dallas. His ability to read the game and his great touch will give the side more offensive options and should help take some pressure off their defense. And let's be honest, anything that takes pressure off their defense is pure gold.

Finally, as pointed out by reading 'Pitch to Pub', it looks like Boca Juniors are interested in Eddie Johnson.

Now that article is in Spanish and although my language skills are not great, it seems that chairman Mauricio Macri wants to get EJ for next season. If I recall my international soccer schedule correctly, that would mean a move during the August transfer window.

Johnson is one of MLS's stars, however the last two years have seen him collapse. As difficult as it would be for the league and Kansas City to let him go, they really should give him the chance, if he wants it. Sometimes players need to get completely out of their element to rework themselves. So far, his time back in MLS since his 2005 injury has not resulted in a reawakening of his play. If the next few months of MLS play do not sort him out, then, for the betterment of his future, he should go elsewhere.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Virginia Beach Mariners dropped from USL

United Soccer Leagues announced that USL-First Division team Virginia Beach Mariners has been dropped from the league and will not be replaced in time for the 2007 season.

The reason behind this move is a recent ownership dispute that has left the club with no money. They have been trying to find investors over the last ten days, but have not received a firm commitment.

Over the off season, the team hired former FC Dallas coach Colin Clarke.

All players have been released and are free to sign with other clubs.

This is a shame, as it seemed the club was finally coming together after some bad years. It would have been fun to see if Clarke could continue his winning ways in the USL.

Anyway, this means the first division will be made up of twelve teams including new sides the California Victory and Carolina RailHawks. With the reduction in teams, I wonder if they will also reduce the number of playoff spots (they expanded the number from 6 to 8, but they made this decision before the Mariners and Toronto Lynx left the division).

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US 0-0 Guatemala - Review and player grades

Well that was a bit disappointing. All credit to Guatemala, they did what they setout to do and they did it well. They proved, yet again, that the US is bad in games were they have to work quickly in tight situations. One and two touch soccer is not our strong point and never has been. However, now that we are one of the big dogs of CONCACAF, we are going to need to change that or keep getting the same result as last night. That said, for the most part, everyone had a good performance, they just couldn't finish (as seen by the about 80 minutes when the ball was under US control). Anyway, here are the player grades:

Starting Lineup
Kasey Keller (GK) - Didn't have a lot to do on the night, but did a good job organizing the backline. I like his quick release style, but he still over kicks the ball way too often. Grade: B

Frank Simek (D) - A good first night on the job for Simek. He was instrumental in getting a lot of the plays started. B

Jay DeMerit (D) - Another good debut. His work rate was great. Wonderful at positioning himself to stop the play. B

Jimmy Conrad (D) - Better then Sunday, but he still let Carlos Ruiz get loose on a corner kick. When a team only really has one offensive option, you need to stick to him on corners. Still, he was very productive overall, especially with his long balls and shut Ruiz down for the rest of the night. B

Jonathan Spector (D) - He made a few key stops that made the rest of the defense's job easier and man does he know how to force a team offside. B-

Clint Dempsey (M) - The Deuce grew during the match and once Cooper came in and the field shuffled, he was in a much better position. He was busy forcing himself in the box and almost got on the end of more then a few balls. I really loved it when he exchanged words with the Guatemalan keeper late in the game for time wasting. He started playing mind games, just which he did it earlier. A-

Benny Feilhaber (M) - Feilhaber is making a name for himself. Not as amazing as Sunday, but with a flooded midfield, he did a fine job of keeping the ball moving. B-

Michael Bradley (M) - He can play in tight situations and he, much like Feilhaber, kept the ball moving. Still, he needs to work on his passes. B

Justin Mapp (M) - Wow, he took over parts of this game. He was the only player to make multiple long runs and cut his way through the defensive line. Now he just needs to work on his centering. If he had got a couple of those crosses off a little quicker, the game would not have ended 0-0. A

Landon Donovan (F/M) - Landon is not a forward. He was lost up there. Watching him try and use his head was just painful and why did he keep going into the center of the pitch? Once he shifted, he got much better, but he needs to improve his corner kicks. B-

Eddie Johnson (F) - Everyone wanted last night to be Eddie's night, but it just wasn't to be. He had a couple good chances and he even took the shots, but they were both to the keeper. He could have had a few more good chances, but his first touch was usually not a good one. C

Kenny Cooper 59' (F) - His addition took the wait off Donovan and opened up the field. He worked outside, great thing, but he still doesn't seem to use his size enough to force problems for the defense. A little more physical play could go a long way. B

Brian Mullan 67' (M) - His addition allowed Dempsey to attack further. That said, he didn't seem to move around the field enough to open up passing lanes. B-

Wade Barrett 74' (D/M) - In his few minutes, he didn't really get called on much. B-

Other Grade
ESPN2 - More coverage of the game with better explanations of who the players are and what lies ahead for the US team. Would have liked to hear them talk more about the Gold Cup (especially since tickets went on sale today), but I guess since they will not carry those games, they don’t care much about them. B

Bob Bradley - His hands were tied a bit due to the late scratches of Twellman and Beasley, but he should have found some way to move Donovan back quicker. The fact that the team came out after halftime with the same plan of attack as they had in the first half, makes me wonder. C+

Guatemalan team - The did a great job clogging up the field and accomplished more of their goals then the US did. However, they showed a real lack of class with all the 'injuries' late in the match. I know, Italy won a World Cup using this strategy, but it still makes for crappy soccer. B+

Refs - Was it just me or did other people think Jorge Larrionda was on the pitch last night? (For those who might not remember, Larrionda was the ref for our Italian World Cup match.) Our player is on he ground and gets the ball kicked into his chest repeatedly while being surrounded by Guatemalan players and the call is a hand ball against the US? Meanwhile, Guatemalans are diving all over the pitch and getting free kicks because of it? Then there was the obvious time wasting, yet Benito Archundia did nothing. And what about when Guatemalan coach Luis Suarez was interfering with a US throw in? No card, just a talking to by the fourth official? Makes no sense. F

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

US v Guatemala starting lineup

US MNT vs. Guatemala
Tonight, 9pm ET

The starting lineup for tonight's US match is out and here it is:

GK: Kasey Keller
D: Jonathan Spector, Jimmy Conrad, Jay DeMerit, Frank Simek
M: Clint Dempsey, Benny Feihaber, Michael Bradley, Justin Mapp
F: Eddie Johnson, Landon Donovan

Both DeMerit and Simek are getting their first caps.

My guess was way off in the middle and I got both forwards wrong. I'm surprised that Mapp got the start over Beasley, but it is fully justified. Bees came to life towards the end of his time in Sunday's match, but overall, it was not a good afternoon for him. Giving Mapp a chance is a great move by Bob Bradley.

I'm a little surprised that Cooper did not get a start, but I guess Bob wants to see if Johnson can continue to improve with Donovan as his partner and with Michael Bradley and Feihaber giving him support.

Here is Guatemala's lineup:
GK: Ricardo Trigueno
D: Pable Melgar, Henry Medina, Gustavo Cabrera, Claudio Albizuris
M: Jose Contreras, Carlos Figueroa, Freddy Thompson, Carlos Quinonez, Leonel Noriega
F: Carlos Ruiz

Not unexpected for Guatemala. Ruiz will have a difficult task ahead of him tonight.

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Does England have the buyer's remorse?

With the Steve McClaren hire looking worse and worse by the minute (as I write this, England and Andorra are tied 0-0 at half time), it looks like some in the English press are looking at Guus Hiddink as the man to save their 2010 World Cup hopes.

The funny thing is Hiddink was interested in the England job last year, but the FA wanted to hire an Englishman.

Hiddink was overlooked by the Football Association after he expressed interest in the vacancy left by Sven-Goran Eriksson and reacted by becoming manager of Russia, who sit three points clear of McClaren's team and whose two matches against England on September 12 and October 17 will go a long way to determining Group E.

Don't take this as a knock against McClaren or England (although it really should be), but if you have a chance at getting Hiddink and you pass it up for someone with no international experience, well you deserve what you get.

One bit of bad news, if Hiddink has to pick between England and the US (I don't even know if this is an option), I'm guessing he would go English.

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US v Guatemala - Preview & what players need to perform

US MNT vs. Guatemala
Tonight, 9pm ET

The US Men see action again tonight in Frisco 'Just North of Dallas', Texas, as they take on Guatemala. Bob Bradley has already released five players, and with Heath Pearce now out due to a bruised foot bone, his roster is looking a little thin. Actually, there are 18 guys available, so everyone except for goalkeeper Brad Guzan will probably get some playing time.

At least that is the way it should be.

With Guatemala being a little less then a top tier team, Bradley should use this match to explore as many options as he can. Try moving some players around and seeing what pairings work better then others. No place else is this more relevant then in the backline.

With two of the likely Gold Cup starters already sent back to their clubs (Onyewu & Bocanegra), it is time to find their backups. This means Jay DeMerit and Frank Simek should see some good minutes.

The other place to watch is up top. With Ching gone back to Houston, Taylor Twellman & Kenny Cooper have their chance to push for a Gold Cup spot. Twellman has been playing second fiddle to Ching for a while now. If he hopes to grab that first spot ahead of this summer's tournaments, he'll need to show why tonight.

My prediction: US 3-1 Guatemala

So what players need to perform most tonight? I've broken them into three categories.

High Pressure
Taylor Twellman (F) - As stated above, Twellman is in Ching's shadow. If he wants to step out from there, he needs to start doing something tonight.

Kasey Keller (GK) - Just seven months ago, he was the man, but with the team now looking more towards 2010, he needs to prove that he still has it and will continue to have it. Also, with the possibility of not having a club after this season, he needs to show well.

Wade Barrett (D) - Left fullback is a good position to try and capture on this squad, but he will only get a few minutes to make something happen (I'm guessing second half sub).

Eddie Johnson (F) - He is getting better, but the US needs a true striker. If Johnson is afraid to shoot or too quick to get ride of the ball, he will not fit that roll. He needs to show that he is continuing to improve.

Jay DeMerit (D) - With his club team in serious trouble, DeMerit needs to make the most of his debut. Who knows, some good games with the national team might lead him to a bigger club then Watford, but he won't get those minutes if he doesn't prove strong in center back.

Frank Simek (D) - Much like DeMerit, Simek needs to prove that he belongs on this team and do so in his debut. He'll need to use his speed and physical play to stand out.

DaMarcus Beasley (M) - Beasley needs to show that the last 15-minutes on Sunday are more his style then the first hour.

Medium Pressure
Landon Donovan (M/F) - With his hat trick and all around great play on Sunday, he has a bit of a breather till the summer, but there is still that question of consistency.

Kenny Cooper (F) - He's big and talented, but he doesn't throw his weight around much. I put him in medium because I think he's chance of making the summer rosters still has more to do with others performing poorly. That said, if he had a breakout game, the lists could change.

Kyle Beckerman (M) - Busy midfield means little chance for Beckerman as far as this summer goes, still he can move up the ranks of those on the bubble.

Michael Bradley (M) - The game changed on Sunday when Bradley stepped onto the pitch. His ability to make other players better makes him a great weapon. Combine him with Feihaber and oh this could be good.

Benny Feilhaber (M) - Finally he got his moment and he made it happen. As noted above, him and M Bradley really hit it off, however he was looking solid even before Michael came in as a sub. Now he needs to prove that he is not a one game wonder.

Brad Guzan (GK) - With Matt Reis not yet certified as the MLS based national team keeper, Guzan has an opening to work his way into the spot. However, I'm guessing he will not get any time during the game, so hopefully he had a good camp.

Jonathan Spector (D) - Good showing against Ecuador (even if only for 10-minutes) takes some of the pressure off, but the options for the backline are growing, so he shouldn't get that comfortable.

Justin Mapp (M) - His few minutes on Sunday were weak, but he has lots of talent, as anyone who has watch the MLS can tell you. Even with a large number of midfielders available, Mapp is normally ranked somewhat high. Tonight he needs to show that he should be one of the top 8 Americans in the position.

Brian Mullan (M) - Unlike his Dynamo teammate and fellow late roster add Wade Barrett, Mullan isn't playing a position with few other options. Mullan will see little time, but should use those minutes to prove he should be called in for another camp.

Low Pressure
Clint Dempsey (M) - Questions are starting to be asked concerning his play over the last couple matches, but with his mind more on making the first team at Fulham, which should come soon, these matters are easily explained away.

Steve Cherundolo (D) - Has a great clam about him. I'm a little surprised Bradley didn't send him home.

Jimmy Conrad (D) - Hot against Mexico, very mild against Ecuador, still as long as he is healthy, he is on the team.

Now for my guess at a starting lineup:
F: Cooper, Twellman
M: Beasley, Feilhaber, Donovan, Dempsey
D: DeMerit, Conrad, Spector, Simek
GK: Keller

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MLS looking at Portland

MLS Commissioner Don Garber was in Portland yesterday to explore the possibility of granting the city an expansion team.

During a tour of PGE Park, home of the USL First Division Portland Timbers, Garber said it was "pretty cool" however added "But I haven't even gone so far as to see if it's the best option or only option." He specifically pointed to the stadiums NeXturf surface as a problem.

Garber says MLS is committed to bringing a team to the Northwest by 2010, however it has not come close to deciding a location (ie, Seattle or Portland).

The league has quietly been discussing that possibility for at least six months with an investment group Garber declined to identify. The investors first envisioned Seattle as the locale for an expansion franchise, then in the past three to four months added Portland as another viable option, he said.

Portland has a great history of supporting soccer and would find an instant fan base, I just wonder how this affect the Timbers. It would be a shame to see them hit by this (since it sounds like the investment group is looking at either Seattle or Portland, it doesn't seem like the team would be promoted to top flight action). Then again, perhaps this could be the beginning of a strong working relationship between MLS and USL clubs.

I still think St. Louis and San Jose need teams first, but Portland would be a great third spot.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

DCenters leading the way again

I've got to hand it to DCenters, they really know how to support a team. Not only do they give excellent player and club information, but they are now working on improving the experience fans coming out to RFK for the first time.

New Fan's Guide: The idea was apparently interesting to United's marketing folks, but they were talking about hiring a writer or perhaps finding a template to tweak. I think we can do one better. So here's what I say: We write our own orientation guide. Yeah, us. Just a few pages, covering things on where and how to buy tickets, what to wear to the game, what to look for during the game, and what to do after the game if you want to see more. I figure we can make our own document and turn it over to United. Am I saying they'll use it? Nope, I have no guarantee on that whatsoever. Hell, we may give them something and they could decide it is useless. Or they may decide its useful, but want to do their own revisions. But I figure, as fans, we know a lot about what potential new fans might need to know, so we should do it.

It might not sound like much, but it really could be. A guide for new fans by the old guard would help bring the newbie’s into the community. This is something that needs to improve in the MLS and at the national team level.

Kudos to all over at DCenters for taking this on. Perhaps it will start a movement of blogs all around the league. If so, the tough question becomes who will write the guide for the Wizards.

By the way, right after I saw this, I clicked on over to the Kin of Fish's link to the new ESPN MLS commercials. Talk about making me smile.

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Ching sent home

US coach Bob Bradley has sent Brian 'Boot to the face' Ching back to his club in time for him to suit up against USL First-Division side the Charleston Battery in an exhibition match and the Dynamo girls go crazy

With Ching out of camp, Taylor Twellman should earn a starting spot and Kenny Cooper should get some substitution time.

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Gold Cup tickets on sale Thursday

If you want to see the best that CONCACAF has to offer in person, you can purchase your tickets starting this Thursday (29 March) at 11am ET via Ticketmaster.

Tickets for all games in Boston (Foxboro), Houston, LA, Miami, New York (New Jersey) and Chicago will be available. Prices will range from $20-$75 (from what I can tell).

If you are a Chicago Fire season ticket holder, you can already purchase tickets for the semifinals (21 June) and finals (24 June). Also, I see there is some pre-sale password for the Houston matches (13 & 17 June), however, I cannot find any information on who can get that password.

Just as a quick reminder, the US plays their first two group matches in LA (7 & 9 June) and their final group B game in Boston (12 June). With all odds, they will also play their first knockout game in Boston (16 June), however, if they come in second in their group (not likely, but could happen), they will be in Houston (17 June).

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Rev's Joe Franchino taking indefinite leave

New England Revolution defender/midfielder and former captain Joe Franchino has left the club indefinitely.

The Revolution front office said it was for personal matters and further declared that, "this is the only statement the team will issue regarding this matter."

Speculation focuses on an incident last week when he was taken into custody after an incident with his car at a Foxboro Comfort Inn.

Between this and the recent grumblings by Shalrie Joseph about the team being in disarray, one has to wonder what is happening to the club.

Could all these signs point to a breakdown of the club, which has been pretty successful, at least on the pitch, for the last five years?

By the way, Celtic might still be interesting in trading for Joseph.

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Coming soon to a theater near you, the story of Pele

Fresh on the heals of such great movies as Bend It Like Beckham, Goal! The Dream Begins and Ladybugs, Hollywood is developing a movie about the life of Pele.

Pele's life is ripe for cinematic treatment. He reportedly was responsible for a 48-hour ceasefire during a civil war in Nigeria so that people could watch him play. He was declared a national treasure by the government of Brazil.

Hopefully they will deal with all sides of Pele's life or else this will just be a clip show. Don't get me wrong, I like Pele, but good bio picks show everything, not just the glamour.


2010 will transform South Africa; will locals get tickets?

South Africa's World Cup chief executive Danny Jordaan has said that the finals will transform the country into a better place.
"When there are water shortages in Polokwane, I must answer what is going to happen to 2010; when there are power outages [in the Western Cape], I must answer what is going to happen to 2010; now there are questions about what is going to happen to Mugabe and I must answer what is going to happen to 2010," said Jordaan.

He said that although it is not always easy, he is glad to answer the questions.

"Post-2010 South Africa must be significantly better than pre-2010 South Africa," Jordaan said.

That said, there is one question he is sick of answering, "Will FIFA move the cup?"

He insists that South Africa has met the requirements for starting construction on stadiums (the last of the five new grounds will begin work on Friday) and that 2010 is already the "highest revenue earner in World Cup history."

Now attention seems to be turning to the additional 30,000 hotel rooms the country will need to host officials, the media and fans.

But what about the local population, will they have a chance to see a match or two? There will be reduced prices over what was seen in Germany, but some fear the number of tickets available just won't be enough. Of the three million total tickets, South Africans will get one million of them.

It does seem that stadium construction is moving along a bit more then it was a short time ago, but 55,000 hotel rooms sounds like a low number to me. I must admit that I don't have any background in predicting this sort of thing, but with at least 300,000 fans and thousands of media folks and officials and it does seem a bit low.

Hopefully with a third of the tickets, South Africans will get a chance to see some good games. It would be a shame if all they got out of it come July 2010 was the sight of a bunch of travelers walking into their new stadiums.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Just a great headline

I know this story is a few days old, but I love the headline.

Oh the pictures it does bring to mind.


Bradley releases Howard, Onyewu, Bocanegra and Carroll

Bob Bradley released Everton's Tim Howard, Newcastle's Oguchi Onyewu, Fulham's Carlos Bocanegra and DC United's Brian Carroll from the US training camp, freeing them all to return to their clubs. Although US fans heading to Dallas for Wednesday's match with Guatemala will miss their chance to see at least three of these players, it is a smart move on Bradley's part.

All three of the European's gave a full 90-minutes on Sunday and all three are starters for their teams. Bradley could have kept them, but with two big competitions coming up in the summer, releasing them a few days early is a good way to build up good will with the clubs.

The reason behind Carroll's exit is DC's big match next Wednesday in Mexico against Chivas de Guadalajara in the CONCACAF Champions Cup semifinals. United is going to have their hands full and every additional day they have to train as a full unit makes it a little easier on them.

Here is the new roster list for Wednesday's game:
GK (2) – Brad Guzan (Chivas USA), Kasey Keller (Borussia Moenchengladbach)

D (7) – Wade Barrett (Houston Dynamo), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City Wizards), Jay DeMerit (Watford FC), Heath Pearce (FC Nordsjælland), Frank Simek (Sheffield Wednesday), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United)

M (6) – DaMarcus Beasley (Manchester City), Michael Bradley (SC Heerenveen), Clint Dempsey (Fulham FC), Benny Feilhaber (Hamburger SV), Justin Mapp (Chicago Fire), Brian Mullan (Houston Dynamo), Kyle Beckerman (Colorado Rapids)

F (5) – Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo), Kenny Cooper (FC Dallas), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Eddie Johnson (Kansas City Wizards), Taylor Twellman (New England Revolution)

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One rotation short of a full revolution

FIFA boss Sepp Blatter has hinted that the World Cup rotation, in place since 2002, could end one federation short of a full revolution in 2014. The federation that gets the shaft, CONCACAF.

Now lets see if CONCACAF president Jack Warner can actually do something about this or maybe he'll be to busy helping his son pay off the $1 million he owes SOS Children's Villages "for selling tickets at inflated prices during last year's World Cup."

Here is the list of other items the FIFA executive committee decided:
• gave permission for Toronto FC to compete in Major League Soccer and Bermuda Hogges in the United Soccer League.

• rescheduled the 2008 FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup in Chile from Aug. 28-Sept. 14 to Dec. 30, 2008-Jan. 12, 2009.

• lengthened the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa by one day to June 14-28, with the tournament to be played in Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, Pretoria and Rustenberg.

• introduced a qualifying playoff between the Oceania champion and the Japanese champion at this year's FIFA Club World Cup in Japan.

• awarded television rights for the 2014 World Cup to the European Broadcasting Union and ARD/ZDF in Germany.

• ratified the emergency committee's decision to lift the suspension of Kenya.

• decided the FIFA Congress in May will vote on whether to make Montenegro the 208th member.

• scheduled the 2008 FIFA Congress from May 28-30 in Sydney, Australia.

The approval of Toronto FC to play in the US league was expected, but it will be interesting to see if any clubs in smaller European countries try and attach themselves to bigger leagues next door. I'm sure there are a few that would like to, but FIFA will probably resist.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

US 3-1 Ecuador: Player grades

There is no doubt about it, Landon Donovan had his best performance in years today in Tampa Bay. Sparked on by a desire to move past his World Cup woes, he showed why so many people swear by his talent. However, he was not the only American to walk the pitch, so lets take a look at how each one performed.

Tim Howard (GK) - He made a few good saves and one major one early on, however, he didn't organize his backline as much as he could have. His ability to stop balls is strong, however, he needs to work on leadership. Grade: B

Carlos Bocanegra (D) - Okay, I was not impressed with any of the starting four defenders as they all suffered from a lack of organization (the Ecuador goal was due to a complete failure by all of them). With more playing time this will improve. As far as Carlos, he did settle, but he never seemed calm. Grade: C+

Steve Cherundolo (D) - Steve seemed to center himself before the rest of the backline, but still was lacking. He did deliver some good balls during the second half, but all and all, not that great. Grade: B-

Jimmy Conrad (D) - After the gifted performance against Mexico, I was hoping for better. He wasn't forcing turnovers, nor was he making smart runs into the other half. He still has good talent, but the twinkle was missing today. Grade: C+

Oguchi Onyewu (D) - He wasn't using his size to intimidate Ecuador. I've never seen him beat so many times by his mark. The good news is he focused in the second half and did add a threat on dead balls, but it never fully gelled. Grade: C+

Clint Dempsey (M) - Where was he? The only time he seemed to be on the ball was when he was running it into the corner. Also, his passes were just a mess. He seems to be more focus on club then country, which is fine for now, but let's hope he will reemerge come Gold Cup time. Grade: D

Benny Feilhaber (M) - A very good debut for Benny. He missed some passes early on, but he made some corrections and worked out some good feeds to Donovan and others. He was a little slow to track back at points, but still a solid first show. Grade: B+

DaMarcus Beasley (M) - He is getting better, but it has not all returned. He gave away a few too many balls and misses a number of passes, but he was able to put together a strong 15-minute run in the second half. Grade: B-

Landon Donovan (M/F) - Anytime you get a hat trick you've had a good game, but what added to this was his ability to complete passes. For the majority of the first 45-minutes, he was the only American out there that did such a thing consistently. He was a leader all over the place and best of all, was not afraid to take the shot. Now the question becomes can he do this in games that matter? Grade: A+

Eddie Johnson (F) - His abilities are returning, but his confidence on the shot is still nowhere to be found. He was able to pressure Ecuador's backline and was so close to breaking free a number of times, but he just could not realize it. Still, this is far better then where he was. Now he needs to lean to take the shot. Grade: B-

Brian Ching (F) - Ching is willing to do anything to get his team ahead, even if it means breaking a piece of his head. Obviously he is trying to take over the 'bloody during every match' roll the Brian McBride once held. Still, he was missing for a large chunk of the first half. Grade: B+

Michael Bradley (M - 46') - Bradley came in and turned he dynamic of the match. He was feeding balls perfectly and forcing holes all over Ecuador's half and he even made some quick moves to save the defense. A great outing, but he still has a little maturing to do. Who knows if his dad will continue to be with the national team, but Michael sure will be. Grade: A

Taylor Twellman (F - 73') - By the time Twellman got on, the US was not in much of an offensive mood, still he could have worked harder are forcing some chances. He did track back to help steal the ball in mid-field a few times, but without much to work with, he didn't have much to do. Grade: B-

Jonathan Spector (D - 80') - He was only in for 10-minutes and by then Ecuador was slowing, but he was a great example of what can be done on defense. Grade: B

Brian Mullan (M - 80') - Just like Spector, not in for long, and didn't really have much to do with the game. Grade: B-

Justin Mapp (M - 83') - He saw little playing time, but just about ever touch he had resulted in Ecuador stealing the ball. I'm sure if he had more time, he would have settled, but a late sub needs to come in and work fast. Grade: C+

Brian Carroll (M - 91') - He was on just a minute, but what a minute. Okay, I think he touched the ball once and all went okay. Grade: Not enough to judge

Subs not used
Kasey Keller (GK) - The big man will probably get a turn on Wednesday night in Dallas. It will be interesting to see what he can do with the backline.

Other grades
ESPN - There was some good coverage at times, but how often is Dave O'Brien going to talk about sports other then soccer? Okay, we get it, the Gooch is built like an American football player, time to move on. I don't care if you've got a graphic, let's talk about the game happening in front of us. Or, if not that, how he is doing with his new club. Also, I know you are not broadcasting the Gold Cup, but why not take a few minutes to explain what it is. I know, it's more fun to talk about the Yankees playing next door, but you are a soccer announcer today. Thankfully Bruce Arena smacked him down a number of times and refocused the conversation on the game.

Eric Wynalda's halftime segment could develop into something really interesting. Make it a bit more rapid fire (like the Euro 2008 update) and a casual fan could catch up with everything they've missed. A great idea would be to continue issuing a red card to Oswaldo Sánchez for his discussing play. That said, what was up with the yellow to Lalas? He gave Cobi Jones a press conference and put him all over the Galaxy website last week, does Wynalda really think Lalas is not giving Cobi his due?

One last thing, did anyone else think that a number of the camera angles were 'blown out' (especially during the first half). It seemed like the close ups on Ecuador's side of the pitch were overly bright. Grade: B-

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US-Ecuador starting lineups

US vs. Ecuador
12 noon ET, Today

The starting lineups have been released and it looks like Bradley is bringing together the core of last year's World Cup mixed with a few 'new' folks.

Here is the lineup:
GK - Tim Howard
D - Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo, Jimmy Conrad, Oguchi Onyewu
M - Clint Dempsey, Benny Feihaber, DaMarcus Beasley
F - Eddie Johnson, Landon Donovan, Brian Ching

A quick lineup of who needs to prove the most:
Lots to prove
Benny Feihaber - First cap so he needs to prove he can handle himself, he will see much more national team time.
DaMarcus Beasley - Real bad year that has seen him lose his brilliance. If he doesn't start rebuilding soon, he might not see many more camps.
Brian Ching - Can he really do it outside of MLS?
Eddie Johnson - Same problem Eddie has had for almost 2-years, he is missing that killer touch he once had. If it returns, so will all the praise because who doesn't like Johnson?

A bit to prove
Tim Howard - With Keller saying he still wants to be the number one, he needs to prove that he is the better, and younger, option.
Landon Donovan - Okay, he had a good performance against Mexico, but he needs to show that he is not a one team player.
Jimmy Conrad - Much like Donovan, he needs to prove that his strong game against Mexico had more to do with talent then a rivalry.

Little to prove
Oguchi Onyewu - However, if he wants to be considered for the captain's armband, he needs to show his leadership capabilities.
Carlos Bocanegra - Having a good year with Fulham, and is all but a US nat lock
Steve Cherundolo - Still an important part of Hannover 96, and will have a US spot till he fails.
Clint Dempsey - He has star status. His game against Mexico was not that great, but with more training time, ie less jet lag, he should be able to be the player we all know him to be.

Now what about the Ecuador lineup?

Here it is:
GK - Rorys Aragon
D - Ivan Hurtado, Ulises De La Cruz, Segundo Caicedo, Giovanny Espinoza, Neicer Reasco
M - Edison Mendez, Luis Valencia, Luis Caicedo
F - Felipe Caicedo, Carlos Tenorio

With all the defense in play, this will force the US strikers to do something they are not good at, act fast on the ball in the box (think back to the World Cup send off match against Morocco). If Johnson, Ching, Donovan and anyone else want to make a name today, they are going to need great first touches with wonderful, quick, reaction shots.

Prediction: US 2-1 Ecuador

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Toronto FC reveal their jersey

LA was not the only team to display their new jersey today as Toronto FC showed off their first ever kit and shirt sponsor. The winning sponsor for the Canadian side is Bank of Montreal or BMO.

As far as the jersey itself, Toronto joins Chicago, Dallas and Salt Lake in having a mainly red colored shirt. It might not be the most original of designs, but it does look good.

No word on the amount BMO paid for the shirt deal but it is probably in the same area of the $4-5 million Real Salt Lake got for their five-year deal.

BMO is also the naming sponsor of the new soccer stadium in which Toronto will play.

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San Jose Earthquakes find more investors and land to develop

Yesterday saw a great deal of movement in relation to brining a pro soccer team back to San Jose. First off, San Jose City Hall sources say "owners of the San Jose Sharks had reached a deal with developer Lew Wolff to become investors in a future Earthquakes team." However, "Sharks president Greg Jamison did not respond to a call for comment."

But that was just the warm up, as it seems Wolff has identified some undervalued industrial land that he wants to develop into more valuable housing. He will then use that money to finance the resurrection of the Earthquakes.

However, he needs to convince the city to rezone the area for residential usage. This may cause a problem as "job-producing land creates money for the city, while housing creates the need for more costly services." Since the city already has about half a billion dollars in backlogged repair work, it might be a bad time to add houses that will increase demand for services.

Still, Mayor Chuck Reed has not ruled out anything.

Which brings us to the stadium deal. Wolff and San Jose State have yet to finalize a deal with the main hang up being revenue distribution. With the new stadium expected to cost between $80-100m, Wolff will need the rezoning to make it happen, so this hang up might be in part due to him waiting to see if he can get the land deal done.

With the city worried about moving more land over to the residential side of things, it might be difficult for this to happen. Adding to the questions surrounding all this is the city's resistance to releasing the actual proposal. All this secretive stuff is what caused, in part, to the fiasco that blew up in Salt Lake. In my view, if you have a final proposal ready, and Wolff must as he has submitted it to the city, then make it public. Let people talk about it or else everyone will think they are getting hosed.

That being said, this is more positive forward momentum for those hoping to see top-flight soccer back in the Bay area.

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LA Galaxy get Herbalife

The LA Galaxy, also known as Beckaxy, have found their shirt sponsor. And the winner is global nutrition, direct-selling company Herbalife. The deal is for five-years.

The financial number was not released other then to say it is a multimillion deal. That said, the Real Salt Lake shirt deal with XanGo is worth $4-5 million for four years. Since LA has a lot more history, a larger market, stronger attendance numbers and some guy named Beckham, chances are the value is a lot more. It will be interesting to see if a number is leaked, but if I had to guess, I would say $15-20m.

Just to put that in perspective, Chelsea recently got about $95m for a five-year deal with Samsung while Man U got $110m for four years with Vodafone.

So how did Herbalife team up with the AEG owned Galaxy?

From the press release:

Herbalife first became a sponsor of AEG-owned and operated events in 2005. The Herbalife name will appear in conjunction with the team name on all official team wear and replica jerseys and other select team merchandise. The agreement also makes Herbalife the official sponsor of all international and exhibition games; provides it with increased media exposure, including television commercials and radio spots; exposure on the 110, 10, 405 and 91 freeways; and Web presence and sponsorship of Los Angeles Galaxy grass roots and community programs.

All and all, good news for LA and the MLS. By the way, the image above is just my little creation and is not anything official.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

US Men get new jersy - Time to take a survey

This Sunday the US men will wear their third kit jersey as they try tackle Ecuador in Tampa. The new kit is royal blue with white pin stripes and, as the press release says, "is another example of Nike's worldwide commitment to providing players with garments that are both comfortable and technically advanced."

All and all, it's not that bad, although the US soccer logo seems a little big and its gold edge looks a bit off against the blue.

If you want to pick up one of these gems, you can do so at the US Soccer store.

Also, if you have an opinion of the US Soccer website, they want to hear it. This survey just deals with the foundation’s online presence, so if you have a few ideas on how they can improve their net appearance, go ahead and take it.

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Keller still wants to be King

Unlike Brian McBride, Eddie Pope and Claudio Reyna, Kasey Keller has no interest in retiring from international soccer. Instead, the man whose first cap for the senior team came on February 4, 1990 says he wants to be the US's number one goalkeeper in South Africa, when he will be 40 years-old.

This seems to setup a bit of a showdown with 28-year-old Tim Howard as he was believed to be the man to take over the top spot. But Keller insists he still has something in him and that his reflexes have not declined.

"'I'm still waiting for that to happen, and hopefully I've got a few more years left in me before I fall off the cliff."

Bob Bradley says he will keep an open mind when it comes to Keller and added that he is impressed that Kasey is willing to come to camp to compete in order to earn the spot.

"I think we're fortunate to have a number of very, very good goalkeepers," said Bradley. "Kasey has been a mainstay for the US, and I believe that his performances at Borussia Mönchengladbach continue to show that he's playing at a high level. Timmy has benefited from going to Everton. He's playing really well this year."

If Keller is still it top form, he would be a wonderful addition to the team in 2010. His years of experience, including four previous world cups, could bring a great calm and respect to America's backline. However, if there are any questions at all about his quality of play, Howard is a wonderful 'backup'.

My only wish is that we had such a great battle for every position on the team.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

2007 Gold Cup Schedule

The draw is done and the games are set for this summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup. The first match kicks off on June 6 with Costa Rica playing Canada in Miami and concludes on the 24th in Chicago.

Here are the groups:

Group A
Costa Rica

Group B
Trinidad & Tobago
El Salvador

Group C

All times local
Group A will play all their group matches in Miami at the Orange Bowl. All games will air on Galavision in Spanish.
June 6 - 7pm Costa Rica v Canada, 9pm Guadeloupe v Haiti
June 9 - 7pm Canada v Guadeloupe, 9pm Haiti v Costa Rica
June 11 - 7pm Costa Rica v Guadeloupe, 9pm Haiti v Canada

Group B plays their first two matches in LA at the Home Depot Center and their final match in Boston at Gillette Stadium. All games will air on Telefutura in Spanish. US matches will also air in English on the Fox Soccer Channel.
June 7 - 6pm USA v Guatemala, 8pm El Salvador v Trinidad & Tobago
June 9 - 12pm Guatemala v El Salvador, 2pm Trinidad & Tobago v USA
June 12 - 7pm USA v El Salvador, 9pm Trinidad & Tobago v Guatemala

Group C has their first two matches in New York at Giants Stadium and their final match in Houston at Reliant. Games with either air on Galavision (G), Univision (U) or Telefutura (T) in Spanish
June 8 - 7pm Panama v Honduras (G), 9pm Mexico v Cuba (U)
June 10 - 4pm Honduras v Mexico (U), 6pm Panama v Cuba (G)
June 13 - 7pm Cuba v Honduras (T), 9pm Mexico v Panama (U)

The winner of Group A will play the second place team out of Group B on June 16 in Boston at 1pm and the winner of Group B will play the better third place team from Groups A or C.

The other set of quarterfinal games take place on June 17th in Houston with the best of Group C playing the better third place team from Groups A or B at 2pm and the second place Group C team playing the second place Group A team at 5pm.

Both semifinal matches will take place on June 21 in Chicago with the final happening on June 24th at 2pm.

Here is the city list along with the playoff games:
June 16 - Quarterfinal 1 - 1pm Canada (A1) v Guatemala (B2) (Telefutra)
June 16 - Quarterfinal 2 - 4pm USA (B1) v Panama (C3) (Fox Soccer & Univision)

June 17 - Quarterfinal 3 - 2pm Honduras (C1) v Guadeloupe (A3) (Univision)
June 17 - Quarterfinal 4 - 5pm Mexico (C2) v Costa Rica (A2) (Telefutra)

Semifinals - Final
June 21 - Semifinal 1 - 6pm Canada v USA (Telefutra, Fox Soccer Channel)
June 21 - Semifinal 2 - 9pm Guadeloupe v Mexico (Univision)
June 24 - Final - 2pm USA v Mexico (Fox Soccer Channel, Univision)

The US should be able to make it out of their group without much fuss, however look for Trinidad & Tobago and Guatemala to give them more trouble them they want. Mexico should also have a pretty clear shot in Group C. Group A will probably come down to Costa Rica and Canada. Smart money would look at Costa Rica, however Canada is developing.

Interesting to note that as long as the US and Mexico take one of the top two spots in their group, there is no way they could play each other till the final. Also, interesting to note that there is no third place match. I'm guessing that with the Copa starting so soon after this game, neither the US or Mexico wanted to risk playing a meaningless game if they failed to reach the final.

No word yet on tickets.
For tickets, look here.

You can find a downloadable schedule here. A little warning, there is a video on the page that plays automatically.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

American night at the Champions' Cup

Just like our Mexican neighbors, America got to celebrate both of their teams advancing in the Champions' Cup. For the first time since 2000 and the first time since the format became a home-away series, both US based teams have made it out of their initial quarterfinal round.

DC had the easier task going into the night, but their backline tried to make it as difficult as possible. There seemed to be a great deal of confusion going on in front of goal for United. Lucky for them, they had some amazing offense up top to counter such problems. They walked out with a 3-2 win on the night and a 7-3 win on aggregate, allowing the over 8,000 fans to have a good ride home.

Houston, who just over a week earlier looked more like a high school team then defending MLS champions, showed what a difference a week can make. Gone was the absorb strategy and pathetic passing. Instead, the team seemed interesting in proving to the 4,300 fans in Aggie Land that they know how to play this game. There was a little weakness at start, but once Paul Dalglish got the aggregate tying goal, it felt like blood in the water. Houston just drove to the net again and again. Had it not been for some great efforts by Puntarenas FC goalkeeper Shane Orio, it could have been a washout.

Even though the match was going Houston's way, they could not find a second goal till Brian Ching came in off the bench in the 71st. For anyone who wonders how important Ching is to the Dynamo, the answer came in just four minutes. Ching was able to get a great head on a corner kick that forced Orio to make a diving save. However, Orio only pushed the ball enough to cause it to hit the goal post, which allowed Kelly Gray to take an easy rebound shot for the series winner. Ching again had a chance on goal off a rebound later in the match, however the ref called the play dead even though Orio reached out and tripped Ching in a final attempt to stop the goal.

A much better showing by the Dynamo, however, they still have trouble giving up free kicks in dangerous areas. Puntarenas almost made them pay late, but luck went a good way for Houston. They should not count on as much when they face Pachuca CF in the semifinals.

Both DC United and Houston Dynamo will host the first leg of the semifinals. Houston will welcome Pachuca CF to town (yes, the game will be played in Houston) on March 14 while CD Guadalajara will travel to the nation's capital on the 15th to play United.

Congratulations to both DC and Houston. Now lets hope they can do us proud and make it an all American final.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Mexican night at the Champions' Cup

Two of the four quarterfinal Champions' Cup series have been decided and in both the team from Mexico came out on top.

Deportivo Marquense was hoping home pitch advantage would allow them to overcome a two goal aggregate deficit, however Pachuca CF put that idea to rest early when they went ahead in the 16th minute. Being down three goals was way too much for the team from Guatemala to overcome, meaning Pachuca advances to face the winner of the Houston-Puntarenas series.

The other match of the night saw CD Guadalajara recover just fine from their surprise defeat in Trinidad & Tobago. W Connection was hoping to hold their 1 goal aggregate advantage or at least force penalty kicks, but the final result was never in any real danger. Guadalajara was dominating on the ball. When Sergio Santana got his and the clubs second goal of the night in the 46th, W Connection's fate was sealed. The Mexicans would add one more in the 74th, giving them a 4:2 win on aggregate and earning them a date with DC United (unless CD Olimpia plays the greatest game ever tonight).

Congratulations to the two Mexican clubs. Now I just hope they will each get to face a MLS side in the semifinals.


Blatter - 2018 World Cup should go to CONCACAF

Sepp Blatter spoke the words that no European wanted to hear and he did so right before meeting with British Treasury Minister Gordon Brown.

"We have decided in the FIFA executive committee that rotation will be installed, and we have made rotation until and including 2014. The executive committee must take a decision whether the rotation should include all the confederations, in which case the 2018 World Cup should be in CONCACAF."

However, he also opened the door to the possible idea of considering both North and South America to be one group. If that were the case, 2014 would be the year for the Americas and Asia might get 2018.

I would guess that either of these scenarios would be hard for most European fans to digest. Also, could Blatter also be suggesting that if CONCACAF gets 2018, Asia could get 2022? That would mean Europe would not host the finals for 20-years. Is this really a possibility?

If 2014 is to be an Americans World Cup, then FIFA needs to make this decision quick to allow the US and Mexico time to come up with a plan (the decision will be made in November). I would guess it is a bit late for either country to really put something great together, but at least they would have a chance.

That said, if 2018 is awarded to CONCACAF, it will be the US's to lose. Mexico would probably make a play for it, but they would be hard pressed to pull it away. Their big advantage might be pointing the popularity of the sport in the two countries, but that didn't keep the finals out of the US in 1994, so it probably would not work in 2018.

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