Copa America – US Men’s National Team Ready to Swim with the Sharks

The United States Men’s National team has always had a regional dilemma.  On one hand, affiliation with the CONCACAF qualifying region has allowed the USMNT to take advantage of inferior opponents and advance to six consecutive World Cups.  On the other, the US really only has one quality rival – Mexico – and the overall level of competition doesn’t adequately prepare the team to compete against the world’s best.

Recent news suggests the United States is making progress towards a logical solution – taking advantage of the super competitive neighbors to the south.  Reports state the United States is in discussions to host CONMEBOL’s 2016 Copa America Centenario – a special 100 year anniversary celebration of South America’s premier international competition.  Negotiations are ongoing, but the proposal itself (briefly reported as “finalized”) is exciting. [Read more…]

Why Losing is Good for Manchester City

In March of this year, Manchester City, on top of the Premier League, was doing the impossible.  Inundated with talent, bolstered by wealthy owners, Manchester’s other club had turned rival Premier League juggernauts into sympathy cases.  Chelsea couldn’t outspend City, Arsenal had become its feeder club, Liverpool a punchline.  Even Alex Ferguson couldn’t come up with a solution, with comparably meager financial resources at his disposal.  City was unassailable, too talented, too deep.  The club’s financial advantage had reduced the Premier League Season to a coronation.  Fans of competitive balance in sports were resigned to the inevitable. [Read more…]

John Terry – Bulletproof

I’d love to sit in on one of John Terry’s pregame speeches.  See him at work on the practice field, in the locker room.  Because John Terry must be one inspiring son of a bitch.  If you played word association in English soccer, “captain” would immediately evoke an image of a pale, sneering John Terry.  He’s worn the armband for Chelsea since 2004; England for five of the last six years.  And his ongoing run as Chelsea’s captain is certainly a head scratcher. [Read more…]

Final Thoughts – International Break – US Men’s National Team

Club soccer returned this weekend after last week’s break for World Cup qualifying.  Rather than focus too much on the action in MLS and abroad, let’s wrap things up with the US Men’s National Team as it enters a four-month hiatus before the final round of CONCACAF qualifying begins this winter.

The biggest story in American soccer two weeks ago was the omission of Jozy Altidore from roster for the United States’ final two games in the third round of CONCACAF qualifying – games in which the USMNT needed a result to advance.  Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision was widely criticized within the US Soccer community (media, supporters) for a couple reasons.  First, Altidore has been a fixture on the team for years, so it was simply strange to see a roster without his name on it.  Secondly, despite poor showings in recent international appearances, Altidore’s form has been excellent in the early portion of this club season.  Playing for the Dutch club AZ Alkmaar, Altidore opened the season with eight goals in as many games, compared to fifteen goals all of last season.  Klinsmann, who has espoused a philosophy of club form influencing national team selection, was not persuaded by Altidore’s production.  Furthermore, Klinsmann opted to pass over Chris Wondolowksi, far and away the top scorer in Major League Soccer. [Read more…]

That’ll Do, Klins: USA defeats Guatemala 3-1, Advances to Hex

Never a doubt.  After a lot of hand wringing last week about Jurgen Klinsmann’s roster decisions, specifically the omission of Jozy Altidore, USA took six points from six and advanced to the fourth and final round of qualifying for World Cup 2014.  After defeating Antigua and Barbuda on Friday night, Klinsmann’s team only needed a draw at home against Guatemala to advance.  What they got instead was a 3-1 victory, and an attacking performance that should inspire confidence going forward.

There was a sense of calm heading into this game despite the United States needing a result to advance.  If disaster was going to strike, Friday felt like the night.  Battling the worst team in the group, away, in a driving storm on a muddy field, USA needed an injury time winner from Eddie Johnson to secure three points.  Disaster averted; Klinsmann’s experimental attacking unit came through.  Barely.  All they had to do tonight was play to a draw against an inferior opponent, on a pristine field in front of American fans.  And for about five minutes everything went according to plan. [Read more…]

TOG Field Trip – Camp Nou – Barcelona

I left for a recent trip to Barcelona with one specific priority for the week beyond the obligatory boozing – to visit Camp Nou, home of Futbol Club Barcelona.  Unfortunately the team itself wasn’t in town, as our trip was a couple weeks prior to the start of the new season.  The club was in Paris for a preseason match.  The next best thing to catching a game was to visit the stadium itself, the first major European soccer stadium I’ve ever seen.  Hell, the first major soccer stadium I’ve ever seen, anywhere.  Red Bull Arena and the various NFL stadiums that host friendlies up and down the East Coast of the United States don’t exactly rate internationally.  Fortunately, Camp Nou was a doozy, and the club has put together a nice “Experience” for fans who are passing through town and can’t catch an actual game.  [Read more…]

Chelsea defeats Bayern Munich to win the Champions League Final

Chelsea defeated Bayern Munich in the Champion League Final yesterday to win the club’s first-ever European Cup.  Didier Drogba scored the winner as Chelsea took the shootout 4-3 after extra-time concluded in a 1-1 draw.  The victory is an incredible accomplishment for a team that was in disarray in early March when manager Andre Villas-Boas was fired.  The club regained its footing under interim manager Roberto di Matteo, winning the FA Cup earlier this month and following up with their greatest ever achievement yesterday in Munich.  The Champions League was the only competition where success had eluded Chelsea since Roman Abramovich bought the team in 2003.  The game was a thrilling conclusion to a memorable European club season, and a perfect ending – on penalties – for Chelsea, making up for their disastrous loss in Moscow four years ago. [Read more…]

Weekend Wrap – Thrilling Finish to the Premier League Season, Red Bulls Keep Rolling

Words won’t suffice in describing the final day of the 2011-12 Premier League season.  If you weren’t tuned for the final forty-five minutes around the league Sunday, you missed a genuinely unique, utterly captivating sequence of events, a finale that will be referenced for decades to come.  That noted we have to say something about what occurred Sunday morning.  The final hour was so chaotic and unpredictable that it’s actually funny to glance at the final standings now and notice that nothing significant has changed from yesterday.  Manchester City is still on top by virtue of a +8 goal differential, but even on points with second place Manchester United.  Arsenal, Tottenham and Newcastle round out the top five.  Everton finished ahead of Liverpool.  Queens Park Rangers survived and Bolton is headed to the Championship next season.  The table was scattered throughout the morning, teams moving up and down minute by minute, go ahead goal here, an equalizer there.  All the pieces up in the air, shocking storylines coming together, then order restored suddenly just before the final whistle of the season, with each major piece falling back into its original place.  [Read more…]

Premier League Finale – Everything up for Grabs on the Final Day in England

The 2011-2012 Premier League season wraps up tomorrow morning, and fortunately for fans every significant position on the table is still in doubt.  When play kicks off at 10AM eastern time the league title will be on the line, as well as tickets to the Champions League, Europa League and one last ticket to the Championship via relegation.  Let’s take a look at what’s on the line in each segment of the table. [Read more…]

Weekend Wrap – FA Cup Final, Battle of Manchester and a New York Red Bulls Victory

It was a full weekend of soccer as the European club season winds down and Major League Soccer season ramps up.  The action began early on Saturday, Cinco de Mayo, with the FA Cup Final.  The weekend’s results allow us to start finalizing the story for England’s major clubs.  In England, it was a good weekend to be wearing Blue – Red, not so much.  Chelsea captured its first trophy of the 2011-12 campaign while Manchester City moved one step closer to its first ever Premier League Title.  Locally, the New York Red Bulls made the most of their first game without Thierry Henry, defeating the Los Angeles Galaxy 1-0 in front of a capacity crowd at the Home Depot Center. [Read more…]