Recap of MLS Week 22 – Pushing towards the playoffs

Fan

So as this was the opening weekend of the EPL, I did not watch any MLS matches this weekend.  It was a busy weekend as it sat and I could not find time to get through all of the matches.  I have watched some, but I am going to stick to a brief recap on the weekend’s action.  As for the normal predictions review included with this post, I am planning a new predictions review post that will cover both the MLS weekend picks and the EPL picks into one.  Also, starting with MLS Week 23 fixtures, there will be a change to how the games are picked so lookout for that.  Enough babbling by me though, so let’s get on to the action.

Toronto FC  2 – 0  DC United

With Toronto’s recent struggles I had not expected this result, but TFC righted their ship this week and got back on track with an important win against Conference rivals DC United.  Dwayne De Rosario would put TFC up in the 30th to take TFC in at the half up 1-0.  TFC was not finished yet though, as O’Brian White netted for TFC in the 66th to put TFC up 2-0 and secure the home win.  DC will be in action this week in the CONCACAF CL so look for them, TFC bowed out of the CCL in the preliminary rounds, so now I am looking for them to get back on track in the league.

New York Red Bulls  0 – 2  Chivas USA

Chivas pulled it off in the Big Apple!  Having not scored a goal and seeing their strong start to the season resemble Hull City’s EPL start last season, Chivas have gotten themselves back on track.  What better a side to do it against than the NYRB, a side who has the leagues worst record and do not look to improve on it any time in the near future.  Chivas would end their scoring drought early on in the match through Maykel Galindo in the 14th and in the 90th with Eduardo Lillingston.  These goals were crucial to Chivas USA, who have been through a very rough patch of late and needed an easy match to gain back some confidence.  There will be hope for Chivas yet this season as they start their ascent back up the table while New York Red Bulls continue to anchor themselves to the bottom.

Columbus  2 – 0  FC Dallas

I do not know what to say about this match.  As a Dallas supporter I feel I should rail against the ref who made a poor call that led to Columbus’ first goal, but as someone who writes about the sport and who knows the team in question, I think no matter what the ref did or did not call Dallas needed to score and didn’t.  Columbus got their first goal on a header from Marshall in the 10th through a corner earned by a poor call.  Dallas pressured Columbus throughout the match though, looking dangerous at times but lacking the finishing touch.  Columbus would shut the door on Dallas though in the 87th when substitute Eddie Gaven came on and weaved his way through the Dallas defense before beating Dario Sala, to give the Crew a 2-0 victory.  Columbus continues to get the results although I do think their play is less than stellar of late, and Dallas needs to keep on going and score some more goals.  The playoffs are a far off option for Dallas still, but results like this one are not going to help them get any closer to those coveted playoff spots come the end of the season.

Real Salt Lake  0 – 0  Houston Dynamo

I thought for sure Houston would take this match, but that would not be the case on this night as both teams failed to find the back of the net.  The only real stat of interest in this one for me was the fact that both sides finished with 10 men as Houston’s Andrew Hainault managed two yellows in the first half, to be sent off in the 36th, and RSL’s Clint Mathis followed suit by picking up his second yellow in the 45th.  This tells me one of two things about this match.  Either the match was poorly called, which is the most likely case in MLS, or the players did not heed the refs early cards as warning enough.  Either way, there is no reason to have sent off two players in the first half.  I might have to go back and watch this one later to see what really happened.

Los Angeles  0 – 2  Seattle Sounders FC

Looks like the Sounders have bounced back when you look at the score line, but I doubt that was the whole story in this one, as two players were sent off for the Galaxy in the match and one for Seattle, and Landon Donovan did not enter the match for the Galaxy until the second half while recovering from his bout with the H1N1 virus.  Now after looking at the stats in this match I am definitely planning to go back and look at the tape to see what happened, but David Beckham was the first sent off in the 17th minute, with Seattle’s Tyrone Marshall following in the 76th and Galaxy’s Eddie Lewis departing in the 79th.  Only Marshall’s was for two yellows, as both Galaxy players were issued straight reds by the official.  Missing a healthy Donovan did not help the Galaxy and going down to 9 men in the end did them no favors either.  Seattle did manage to find the finishing touch again in this one though as Steve Zakuani netted in the 22nd and Fredy Montero found the net in the 54th.  Since I did not watch the match I will not pass judgment on Seattle, but I do not think the new side is out of the woods yet, as winning against a weakened side does not convince anyone that you have gotten back in your stride.  Next weekend’s result will probably be the result that fans should concern themselves with concerning Seattle, and LA should be alright as this could just be a little bump on the final stretch of the season.

Kansas City  0 – 2  Chicago

Mike Banner scored his first goal for Chicago!  That was the headline I saw referring to this match.  Kansas City is in dire straits at the moment, following the sacking of their coach and their lack of results of late, but I was surprised to see Chicago win this one by 2.  No McBride and no Blanco did not look good for Chicago coming into this one, but I am guessing through sheer grit, the Fire pulled it out.  Rolfe provided the goal that Chicago would need in the 13th and Banner did net for his first time in a Fire uniform in the 89th.  I am guessing Chicago’s defense was great as usual in this one.  The only other thing that happened of note was the sending off of Kansas City’s Zoltan Hercegfalvi in the 86th.  It had no real effect on the match for sure, but Kansas City is not looking like they will improve anytime soon.

So there you have it.  MLS Week 22 is now in the books and a few teams will now be looking forward to their group stages in the CONCACAF Champions League.  This will be a busy week for a few sides and many writers, but look for my predictions with a new twist to be up in the next day or so for Week 23.  I now have a few matches to catch up on to better understand what the outcome was, but that is nothing new in MLS, as there are always strange occurrences.  My prediction wrap up should be posted before long, but as the UEFA CL is starting up along with mid-week matches in the EPL, it will be another busy week in the world of soccer.

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Filed under Chicago Fire, Chivas USA, Columbus Crew, CONCACAF CL, DC United, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, Kansas City Wizards, Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS, New York Red Bulls, Real Salt Lake, Seattle Sounders FC, Toronto FC

EPL Week 1 – 6 road wins, 4 home wins, and 1 upset

CHELSEA V HULL CITY, PREMIER LEAGUE

The Premier League season kicked off with a foggy start for some, mainly us Americans who had to wake bright and early to catch the opening match between Chelsea and Hull City.  It would go on to become an interesting weekend in which we found out a lot about what to expect this season, and though you might want to write a few sides off already, do not judge so quickly.  I only missed two matches this weekend, Stoke City v Burnley and Bolton v Sunderland, though many of the rest were watched at a later date during a busy weekend.  Here is what I saw and expect going forward.

Chelsea  2 – 1 Hull City

This match was entertaining from start to finish, having many Chelsea fans on the edge of their seats throughout after Hull’s new boy Stephen Hunt started off the scoring in the 28th.  Chelsea were not rattled and never looked like they would lose this match though, unless they failed to find the back of the net, which would also not happen.  A rejuvenated Didier Drogba would lead Chelsea to their opening win this season as he netted in the 37th and 90th to give the Blues the victory they were expecting on the opening weekend though; the 90th minute GWG was a beauty though as Drogba trying to cross the ball to the backpost actually chipped Hull’s keeper and found the net for the win.  Hull played Chelsea hard throughout though and actually deserved a point from this one in my opinion.  Do not write Hull off yet though as many of us have, including myself, because if their new signings come together and they can find the net consistently, they could be a side to be reckoned with this term as they fight to stay in the top flight.

Portsmouth  0 – 1 Fulham

I watched this match at a later time on the DVR and found myself fast forwarding to keep interested.  Aside from the Zamora goal in the 13th, the match had a lot of back and forth play and neither side looked to be able to hold possession for long.  Portsmouth looked like they would equalize many times throughout, but whether it was by luck or just poor finishing; they never quite found the final touch needed.  Fulham have added depth and should continue to improve as the season moves on, but Pompey looks to be in for a long season that could very well find them fighting for their lives in the end.  It was a hard match to watch, but I doubt anyone expected a different result in this one.

Wolves v West Ham

Another match watched from the DVR a day later.  I was actually looking forward to seeing Wolves play and was excited SETANTA decided to give us a free weekend as I cannot seem to bring myself to pay for the channel monthly.  Now do not pass judgment on Wolves by this one game because they had their moments.  They are this season’s West Brom of the promoted sides, bringing up what looks to be the strongest of the 3 teams, but did not show it on the weekend.  If the shots had found the net for Wolves this game could have very well have been a draw, but as it stands, they were unable to score in their first outing.  Both sides controlled the match for lengthy spells of time, but it was the Hammers in the end who found the net in each half to earn the 3 points.  Noble would send a strike from outside the 18 in the 22nd for the Hammers, and in the 69th Matthew Upson would send a header past the Wolves’ keeper from a corner to seal up the victory.  Wolves can do nothing but improve from here, and I would expect nothing less now that the opening day jitters should be out of their system.  West Ham on the other hand.  Well just look for them in the middle of the table and they should not be hard to find throughout the season.

Blackburn  0 – 2  Manchester City

I had to step out so I watched this match today, as I was just as curious as everyone else about the new Manchester side.  All the new big names for City would see the pitch in this one, except Roque Santa Cruz, who was not even on the bench.  City would make one substitution bringing on Tevez for Robinho, giving Tevez around 20 minutes to run around as he likes to do, but he really contributed very little as had Robinho who he replaced.  Adebayor would open up his account with City by scoring in the 3rd minute and old boy Stephen Ireland would finish out the match in the 90th with his own.  Blackburn just lacked the luck needed and the final ball to even the match up though, as City gave them many opportunities throughout the match.  City should improve as the season moves on and the players find their connections with each other, but do not look for Blackburn to have an easy season, as lack of a quality attack could lead to a poor finish this term.

Bolton  0 – 1  Sunderland

I did not get to catch this match, but I have to say I thought it was going to end in a draw.  Neither one of these sides looked to have the strength to take this match.  New boy Darren Bent found the net early on though, giving new manager Steve Bruce his first win with the Black Cats.  I have no further judgment to pass on these sides at the moment, but it does not look as if Sunderland will have the hardships many have predicted for the season, and we know Bolton will find a way as always to stick around.

Aston Villa  0 – 2  Wigan

I am not sure many could say they predicted this outcome when looking at the Week 1 fixtures, but if you did you most undoubtedly were a Wigan fan.  Coming off the Peace Cup victory, Villa looked to have a decent side coming in to the new season, and a depleted Wigan side with a new coach should have been no problem for them; but it was.  Villa’s defense was poor throughout this match and they never managed to link up properly to get themselves in position to score.  Ashley Young would try to take over the match for Villa, but his efforts would fall short as he never managed to keep his head up long enough to get anyone else involved, most times picking himself up off the ground after an attempt to draw a foul.  Wigan would surprise though as Hugo Rodallega launched a beauty into the net around the 30th; one that will most likely be up for goal of the week.  Finishing off the Villains would be Wigan winger Jason Koumas, who would find his way past Friedel from a tight angle to all but seal the match for the Latics in the 56th.  Wigan could impress this season, though many people did not and do not think they have the squad to compete throughout the season.  Villa should bounce back though, but now we know how badly the loss of Barry and a cohesive defense have affected the side.

Stoke City  2 – 0  Burnley

I was not able to catch this match, but it looks like a rough start that will not get any smoother for Burnley, as they face Manchester United next week.  Letting in a goal from Stoke defensemen, Ryan Shawcross in the 19th and Stephen Jordan’s own goal in the 33rd, all but sealed the fate for Burnley in this opening round.  I am looking forward to seeing the side play, and Stoke have started on the right foot to avoid relegation again this season.

Everton  1 – 6  Arsenal

Now if you had told me there would be a 6-1 score line in the first week, this would not have been the match I would have picked.  Maybe Chelsea could put up that many on Hull or the attacking train of Manchester City could have pulled in and dropped off half a dozen goals at the Riverside, but not against Everton, a team who pushed the top four last season and was thought to do so again this season.  Also, coming into the season, who thought Arsenal would ever be a side linked with a 6 goal performance?  Definitely not me, and I bet not you either.

Everton would come out competitive for the first 20 minutes, actually controlling much of the play, when Denilson launched a rocket to beat Howard and start off the scoring frenzy.  Now most would think that knowing Arsenal, they might tack on one or two more by the end of the match, not today though as they added two more by half time.  New boy Vermaelen would find the net in the 37th and William Gallas would finish out the half with a goal in the 41st, strangely enough these still aren’t the names you would expect to see on the score sheet.

Arsenal would not rest though, scoring 3 minutes into the second half through Cesc Fabregas to make it 4-0 early on.  Everton would hold Arsenal off for a bit after the 4th, but Arsenal were not done yet as Fabregas added another in the 70th and Eduardo would come off the bench to add his own in the 89th, making it 6-0 to Arsenal.  You would think that we would be done now as I did, but we were not.  Everton, though beaten throughout the match, never gave up, and Louis Saha would put them on the scoreboard in the 90th to finish out the match 6-1.  If you were an Everton fan I cannot imagine your thoughts after this one, but I do not think it can get much worse.  Everything went wrong for Everton on the day, but they should bounce back and have another strong season.  Arsenal on the other hand showed that they can score, and in bunches.  They are hungry for silverware this season and if they continue with this kind of form there is no reason they will not see any coming back to the Emirates.  Both sides should be interesting to watch the rest of the way though.

Manchester United  1 – 0  Birmingham City

Birmingham does not beat United, nor have they ever if what I have been able to find is true, and today would be no different.  Most people tuned into this match to see how United would be without Ronaldo, and I would think they would not be surprised to see that they are not doing so well.  I will say this though, United always start slow and I would not write them off quite yet.  Birmingham put on a good performance today and showed that they should be a side that can come away with some victories this season.  Rooney managed to find the net in the 34th to put United up with the only goal they would need today, and though the side is a bit injured at the moment, they got their point.  Opponents should look out for Birmingham though as their new boy Benitez looks dangerous and could prove challenging for opposing defenses in the future.  Look for City to bounce back and start to pick up some results as this season progresses, they should be able to beat out some of the other troubled teams this term to keep a place in the Prem in the end.

Tottenham  2 – 1  Liverpool

This was my major pick for the week.  Many people have talked about Spurs this summer, but most have really just poked fun at them, never really considering them contenders of any sort.  Liverpool helped matters some today though by just playing awful.  I am not sure they knew how bad the loss of a link up player like Alonso would be, but if the performance against Spurs was any indication, Benitez needs to get a replacement in fast.  Scoring for Spurs was Assou-Ekotto in the 44th from an awesome rebound from a free kick and ex Newcastle player Sebastian Bassong in the 59th to seal the deal.  Spurs would give Liverpool hope though as Liverpool picked up a penalty when Spurs’ keeper Gomes took down Glen Johnson in the 55th, resulting in a PK from Gerrard that evened the match up for 3 minutes.  Liverpool could be in trouble if they do not get going soon, missing points they need if they plan on challenging for the title this season, but I do not see them finding their 20th this season.

So to close out I would have to say it was a good weekend.  ESPN started us out bright and early to kick off the season and FSC brought the weekend to a close with a great match, showing the first real upset of the season.  I am already looking forward to the midweek matches and only hope some of these sides can get things going in the right direction.  I am going to give out a Player of the Week rating to one player each round this season, and I think this weeks is obvious as Didier Drogba has come back from his sulk and dragged his team to victory in Week 1.  So let us all get ready now as the next round is literally right around the corner.

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Filed under Birmingham City, Blackburn, Bolton, Burnley, Chelsea, EPL, Hull City, Portsmouth, Stoke, Sunderland, Tottenham, Uncategorized, West Ham, Wigan, Wolves

What you should expect this weekend in the EPL…

Soccer ball in stadium

So today is just another day right?  Wrong!  Today is the day before the kickoff of the new Premier League season and you all should be ripe with anticipation for it.  Compared to American sports the EPL has a very short off season, but an off season filled with transfer rumors that leave us fans foaming at the mouth for the new season to start.  I have posted my predictions, entered my fantasy leagues, and previewed every team from 1-20 for the coming season, now I ask you, what have you done?  Are you ready for the season to kick off?  So to help get some of you off to the start of the season I am going to do a quick, or what I hope is quick anyways, preview of the opening weekends action.  I posted 5 matches to look out for this weekend already, so I will start there and give a brief bit of attention to those that are left.

To start out the weekend, and this is not one of my five, Chelsea will be welcoming Hull City to Stamford Bridge.  Now you may ask why I should watch this match.  I give you two reasons right here.  1) Chelsea has looked stellar in the preseason friendlies and is looking to recapture glory by unseating Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United.  2) Jozy Altidore has joined Hull City.  Now I know some of us hope that Chelsea do not dethrone United, me being one of them, but Chelsea look tough and are the only likely candidates this round.  Also, some may be saying, why should we care about Hull City?  Well the most likely answer is that if you are reading the crap I sling here then you are most likely American, and should care what one of the future stars of our national side is up to.  Jozy is new to England and this will be his big test.  Hull are more than likely going to be relegated at the end of season, but who could possibly miss the opening match of the new season?  Unless it happens to not be televised, this is looking more and more likely as we are waiting on word from ESPN about a possible airing of the match.

Back to my matches to catch this weekend is Aston Villa taking on Wigan Athletic.  Seems a boring match when you look at it, but Wigan are going to look completely different this season than last and Villa will be missing a key ingredient too.  Wigan lost a lot in the off season with Antonio Valencia departing to Manchester United and manager Steve Bruce stepping aside to take the Sunderland job, but the Latics have brought in new manager Roberto Martinez and promised him a full 3 seasons.  Does this mean Wigan will fold this season and rebuild through the Championship?  It is likely to happen, but Martinez will want to prove his salt as manager and try to keep the boys up in only his 3rd season at the helm of a club.  Now Villa looked good in the preseason I was able to see, winning the Peace Cup over Juventus and bringing in some more young English talent.  They will be without their former Captain Gareth Barry, who has opted to move to Manchester City for a large payday, but will they really miss him?  I would like to think a player such as Barry would not disrupt this side going into the new season.  O’Neil has managed to hold on to many key players on the squad and they should again have a good start to their season.

Moving to much greener pastures at Manchester City this off season, but does money spent buy you a winning side?  I do not think they will crack the top four this season but an opening round trip to Blackburn should not worry them much.  This match will finally show the fans the new look of City, but with manager Mark Hughes sitting near the top of the sack list, a victory against a mid table side such as Blackburn will not be his saving grace.  City can come out and win 6-0 as they did at times last season, but unless their form evens out and they get results regularly, look for Hughes to be gone sometime this season.  It should be an interesting watch this weekend though as City rolls out the big guns.

I have predicted there will be two upsets this weekend of the big four.  The first will be by Everton, as they welcome Arsene Wenger and his young Arsenal side to Goodison for an early season showdown.  Everton have been pushing to get into the top four and this could be their opening shot of the season if they can manage to keep their proverbial foot on the throat of the Gunners throughout.  Arsenal have lost more than they think with Adebayor and Toure leaving in the off season, and a weak defense aside, it does not look promising that a side that has struggled to score at times in the past will prove themselves any stronger this season.  David Moyes will work his genius for cash strapped Everton as always, but this could be the final chapter for Wenger at the Emirates.  Look out for this match as it promises to be entertaining if nothing else.

The other upset on the weekend looks to happen at White Hart Lane.  Tottenham will welcome in the weakened Liverpool on the opening weekend and fans will finally find out how much Liverpool have been hurt by their recent losses.  Alonso is off to Madrid and Gerrard looks to be out injured for the opener, so where is the play going to come from?  I do not trust the likes of Lucas or Benayoun to lead a midfield, and neither should LFC supporters.  This will be a hard one to swallow for the Reds, but look for Spurs to come out and give them a game.  Nobody is really talking about Spurs to loudly this offseason, and honestly that could help them.  They have the talent in their stables and if Harry Houdini can get it right, they should be able to capture three points early, putting them way above their starting point in the last term.  This should be a telling match on the side of both teams, letting fans in on what we have not seen during the offseason.

My 5th match to look at this weekend was the Manchester United versus Birmingham City match.  Now United should be able to take this match with ease, but that is not why I put them in this slot.  This will be a first look for most at the new United, post Ronaldo era.  Can they recapture the title this season, and who will step up to provide the spark that Ronaldo gave the side?  I think I know, but I have not heard his name mentioned yet this off season.  United fans look out for Anderson this season.  He is still young, but with the aging midfielders around him, he should be able to shine this term.  Luckily with the choices at keeper limited that there is a strong defense, but the keeper situation will need to be solved shortly if United are to keep up without dropping too far behind.  Birmingham City will also be interesting to watch, though they should not win this match.  They have brought in quite a few new faces in the off season, with high hopes of succeeding in the EPL this time around.  I think they might just have enough if they can get points where they should and not drop points against teams around them in the table.  It will be a telling match though, as we see a newly promoted against United with a new face.

Other notables to look at will be Steve Bruce’s opening match with Sunderland at the Reebok.  Will he be able to make it work for the Black Cats this season, and will Bolton continue to show just enough to find themselves safe at the end of the season, or will one of these two sides be fighting it out in the relegation zone come the end of the season?  I picked this match to be a draw and I honestly think it will be a physical match from both sides as they try and scrap for the win.

West Ham will find themselves against last season’s Championship winners Wolves in the first round, and though I have faith in the Hammers to find themselves mid table as always at the end of the season, I do not see them getting out of this one with full points.  It should be an interesting match, as we see what the new boys can do against the Hammers, but West Ham are not known for their scoring prowess, therefore making it hard for them to get enough to leave with more than a draw.  Both of these sides should be fun to watch this season.  Wolves could very well do as Stoke City did last season and finish near the middle of the table, or they could fail horribly as West Brom did and find themselves fighting for their lives week in and week out, lets hope they stay true to form as one of the top sides coming up.  West Ham on the other hand always seems to find their spot early and maintain.  Zola will be in his first full season with the side, and things are looking up for the Hammers.  They are always entertaining to watch and should provide nothing less this season either.

Will Portsmouth be sold or not?  That has been the question all summer long at the club.  Dropping the side to almost bare bones is going to make it tough to have enough fight to stay up this season and Pompey will most likely find themselves battling week in and week out for precious points.  Fulham on the other hand have stocked the cabinets this off season ahead of their European campaign.  Fulham should take this away win at Portsmouth easily, but at times the side tends to struggle on the scoring end of things.  If nothing else the action will be entertaining to watch.  Portsmouth will look like a train wreck from the start and Fulham should take charge and hopefully find their scoring touch early on.  Lets just hope as American fans that we get a chance to see Dempsey reclaim his form and Eddie Johnson actually grace the pitch for a bit, even if he happens to come on late as a sub.  This match should give Fulham what could be called an extra preseason match to get some of their new faces out on the pitch ahead of a tough schedule that is coming for the side.

And to finish it off a side that shocked the Premiership last season, and the new boys, and I do mean boys.  Stoke City will be welcoming in promoted side Burnley on opening weekend, and look to maintain the form they finished off the season with last term.  Burnley will be entertaining to watch as their manager has done it with youth like Wenger, but will they have the bottle to do it against Premier League sides all season?  This match should be entertaining with the young boys and the Delap throw ins, but in the end look for Stoke to take it at the KC Stadium to start off their second campaign in the top flight.  Should Stoke manage to stay up again, and I think they will, there will be many pundits who predicted them to finish dead last in their first season that will still be shaking their heads.  Stoke are entertaining to watch and I am hoping Burnley does not disappoint either as I am looking forward to this opening round matchup.

So there it is.  Try to get some sleep tonight.  I know we are all excited and on the edge of our seats.  Now it is time to look out for something amazing to happen as the magic of the new season fills the air.  Make sure all of your predictions are in and your fantasy sides chosen, and get ready to sit back and watch the stories unfold.

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Filed under Birmingham City, Blackburn, Bolton, Burnley, Chelsea, EPL, Hull City, Portsmouth, Stoke, Sunderland, Tottenham, Uncategorized, West Ham, Wigan, Wolves

The H1N1 virus hits the USMNT

Sweden v USA

They say that playing a match at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City is tough, but following Wednesday’s match between the USMNT and Mexico at the Azteca, a breaking news story has surfaced.

Landon Donovan, who most USMNT supporters would consider the team’s best player, has contracted the H1N1 flu virus.  In an article posted on SI.com, soccer writer Grant Wahl is reporting that the USMNT star has tested positive for the virus. (Wahl’s article)

While the news most American sports fans will wake up to is the fact that Michael Vick has now signed with the Philadelphia Eagles after his two year stint in prison for his connection to a dog fighting ring, Donovan will only receive the back page stories.  What is the American media coming to when we no longer care about our stars who do right and play through the tough times, but instead focus on those who break the rules and receive a mere slap on the hand for doing so?  Vick, while he will be taunted and picketed against by various organizations this season, will be rewarded for his athleticism.  Donovan on the other hand, will be pushed to the back pages and none will be the wiser about his struggles in a tough match for the USMNT.

So I guess what I am trying to say is that we need to wake up.  We should not be giving attention to a player like Vick.  Donovan struggled throughout the match Wednesday, and while he thought it was just from the altitude, smog, and heat; it was actually something much more.  Donovan did not contract the virus while in Mexico, but here in the US where he was tested on Sunday.  Normally one of the most influential players on the pitch for the US, Donovan only managed an assist on Wednesday early in the match before looking sluggish and out of sorts to the viewing public.

Donovan has not said whether he will play this weekend or not, but one thing is for sure.  If he feels up to it and is allowed to play, he will be on the pitch captaining his team.  This has come at a poor time for Donovan as his current run of form has been brilliant the past few months, having netted in his last three MLS matches to help pull the Galaxy towards the top of the Western Conference.  This could hurt the Galaxy in the short term, and though I am not always the staunchest Donovan supporter, I do wish him well.  He has class and has come to show what it means to put your team before yourself.  So while you are reading your Michael Vick stories in the morning flip to the back and try to catch a glimpse at the blurb they give Donovan for his performance in a match for his country, during which he was obviously struggling.

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Filed under CONCACAF, International Football, Los Angeles Galaxy, Mexico, MLS, Uncategorized, USMNT, World Cup

Opening Weekend – A Look Forward and Predictions for Week 1 of the EPL Season

Chelsea FC v Inter Milan

So we are moving closer to the opening of the “Real Football” season and I can honestly say I am nothing but excited.  Will United win a 4th straight?  Will Hull avoid the drop again this season?  Does money buy success in Manchester?  And who wins the sack race this season?  All entertaining questions, and I know everyone has their own set and I know I could add many more, but what is the point right now when we are about to see it start to play itself out?  So in keeping with the times I am going to throw out my weekend predictions for the opening round of the EPL season.  Now hopefully this goes better than my MLS predictions, as a league of parity does not help in the prediction game.  So to start it off here is week one followed by a few words on why I picked what I did.  Keep following and feel free to bust my chops when I am wrong or you think I am way off.

**winners in bold, lack of bold represents a draw

Chelsea v  Hull City

Aston Villa v  Wigan

Blackburn  v  Manchester City

Bolton  v  Sunderland

Portsmouth  v  Fulham

Stoke City v  Burnley

Wolves  v  West Ham

Everton v  Arsenal

Manchester United v  Birmingham

Tottenham v  Liverpool

There are a few close ones this week and I believe at least one upset of the big four in the opening weekend.  Chelsea should walk right through Hull on the opening weekend, coming off a successful preseason compared to Hulls to little to late offseason signings.  Villa should make it easily past Wigan on the opening weekend with the Latics getting used to a more slimmed down roster that lacks quite a bit of experience.  Blackburn will be the first victims of cash happy City this season as City take down Blackburn in the end.  Bolton will play tough at home as always but I see Sunderland getting a goal in this one and drawing with Bolton at the Reebok.  Portsmouth will fall week one to Fulham.  This could be the beginning of a long season for Portsmouth, but Fulham will struggle and barely pull out 3 points in this one.  Stoke City will start with the young boys from Burnley and while I do not feel Stoke are a dominant side in the EPL, they are strong at home and will serve the young kids their first defeat of the new season.  Newly promoted Wolves will welcome West Ham to the Molineaux Stadium on the opening weekend and receive their first point with a draw against Zola’s Hammers.  Everton will come out strong and healthy in the first weekend of the season and shock the struggling Arsenal by taking all three points at Goodison.  United are known to start off slow but I am not sure we cannot expect anymore than three points on opening weekend as Birmingham travel to Old Trafford to take on the Champions, will be a new look for United but Birmingham do not have a chance in this one.  White Hart Lane looks to be housing a strong side this season, and with Gerrard possibly missing and Alonso now out, Liverpool look ripe for the picking on the opening weekend.

So there is a look at the opening weekend’s schedule and here are 5 matches to look out for this weekend.  Check out the list and enjoy a good weekend of football, as I know I will.

  • Aston Villa  v  Wigan – A new look at Villa without Barry and Wigan’s new boss with an almost completely new side.
  • Blackburn  v  Man City – Does money buy success?  Everyone will have an eye on City this weekend.
  • Everton  v  Arsenal – Do Everton look to unseat Arsenal in the top 4, starting on opening weekend?
  • Manchester United  v  Birmingham – How is the new look United?  Can they do it without Ronaldo?
  • Tottenham  v  Liverpool – Are Tottenham the dark horse this season?  How will Liverpool cope with their offseason personnel losses?

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Filed under Birmingham City, Blackburn, Bolton, Burnley, Chelsea, EPL, Hull City, Portsmouth, Stoke, Sunderland, Tottenham, Uncategorized, West Ham, Wigan, Wolves

EPL Preview – Hull and Burnley

Premier League: Hull Survive Despite Losing To United

Hull

Starting into their Premiership season last term, the Tigers were out and running quick, looking to finish well into the top half of the table and even challenge for Europe.  Though this was the case early, the rest of the season for Hull saw them fail miserably at times and have difficulty against all opponents, avoiding relegation by one full point on the final day of the season.  The Tigers have had a lot to do this summer to repair the ship and add players in the right places to help keep them afloat again this season.  Most are predicting Hull to not have such a wonderful sophomore season, and I am no different, as I have pegged them to finish 19th.  Manager Phil Brown is leading the sack race in the preseason and the additions to the side have been slow going as Hull have just really brought in some new signings in the past week.  All this said though, I still do not see a promising outcome for the Tigers this season.

Key Additions: Steven Mouyokolo (Boulogne), Seyi Olofinjana (Stoke), Jozy Altidore (loan from Villareal), Stephen Hunt (Reading), Kamel Ghilas (Celta Vigo)

Loss: Samuel Ricketts (Bolton)

There are still rumors of Hull signing Real Madrid starlet Negredo, but as with other sides in the Premiership who have interest in the youngster, I will believe it when I see it.  The only additions that have any sort of experience at this level are Olofinjana with Stoke and Hunt from his time with Reading.  These two are the older of the signings, both just short of 30, so look for them to provide some veteran leadership on the squad going forward.  Mouyokolo is unproven at this level, having come from a lower division French side, but look for him to show in the Tiger’s defense this term.  Ghilas and Altidore both ply their trade up top and Hull will be looking for the two youngsters to produce and produce early as one of the Tiger’s weaknesses last season was production from their forwards.  Unless Brown gets sacked early enough for a decent manager to come in and turn the club around I do not see my prediction in any danger.  Hull will meet relegation this season, but how they do it will be the interesting part to watch.

Sports News - January 14, 2009

Burnley

Premiership new boys Burnley have a lot on their plate this term.  Having come through the playoff to gain promotion, the side is no stranger to hard roads, but does a hard road in the Championship prepare them well enough for the Premier League?  I think not, although I have come to wonder if maybe this side might do a bit better than I originally predicted.  Manager Owen Coyle has managed to make his boys work, having played spoiler to a few Premier League sides in last season’s FA Cup and Carling Cup, before bowing out in the end of both to Premiership sides.  The Clarets will be looking to hang on in the Premiership at the first asking, but the road is going to be hard and the hill to climb out of the relegation zone will be steep.  I know I have predicted them dead last, but look for this young side to show some promise, if for nothing else but the future of the club.  Coyle has brought a few new faces into the club without losing much, so there should not be many changes in what was a decent Championship side last season.

Key Additions: Fernando Guerrero Vasquez (loan from Independiente del Valle), Richard Eckersley (Manchester United), Brian Easton (Hamilton), David Edgar (Newcastle United), Steven Fletcher (Hibernian)

The only loss the side suffered was a loan of Alexander MacDonald to Falkirk in Scotland.  Vasquez is another young talent for Coyle, coming out of Real Madrid’s youth system.  He should provide some in the attack, though he looks slight and maybe not physical enough for the English game.  Fletcher is the other front man the Clarets have brought in this offseason, and though he is young he has seen some time in Scotland and should be ready for a bit more physicality up top than Vasquez will be at the start.  Bolstering up the defense was the key this offseason though, having brought in 3 defenders out of the 5 total transfers negotiated.  Coyle has made this side work for him in the Championship, but the lack of age could either prove genius or costly, and I for one am betting on costly at the moment.  Coyle is not Wenger and Burnley hardly have the youth talent of an Arsenal, but being young and determined can have its advantages too.  If nothing else Burnley should be an entertaining side to watch this season, though I will not be expecting to seem them around more than the one season before the drop back down.

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Filed under Burnley, EPL, Hull City, Uncategorized

Disappointment and Defeat at the Azteca

MEX SOC DOS SANTOS

Being blocked all week has not been fun but today’s match has unblocked me and I actually had to wait a bit before writing this so it would be readable for any and all ages who may be reading. So first off I have to say I was disappointed but not totally disappointed at the same time.  Does not make much sense I know, but going into this how much were we the USMNT fans actually expecting?  I know I expected to see a tough match that would produce some great moments, and I think for the most part we got that out of this match.  I would also say I expected much more than I got in the form of entertainment from the TV broadcast of this match.  But let us get into it now as there is no need to delay the inevitable story on how the USMNT has yet again failed to produce in Mexico. Well the score line was 2-1, so right off, Guardado was wrong and we did not lose 3-0.  The match gave all USMNT fans hope early as they did not look to be affected by the altitude, smog, or stage they were playing on.  Charlie Davies did not disappoint but did not come on as a sub as most fans would have expected either, netting from a one on one with the Mexican keeper Ochoa on a ball played into space by Donovan in the 9th minute, putting the USMNT up 1 and taking the crowd out of the match for the moment.  Now this goal should have been a great thing since Davies is only the 4th player to net for the USMNT in a match in Mexico, but it would prove to not be any more important than a future stat or trivia question as the match went on.  I can see it now, “Who was the 4th American to score a goal on Mexican soil?”  It will be a question we will all know the answer to but one we would rather not think about.

Mexico v USA - FIFA World Cup Qualifier

With fans thinking the USMNT might finally be in the driver’s seat during a match in Mexico, we all sat back and breathed a sigh of relief to see the side score.  Not a good thing at all since the team decided to do that as well for the majority of the rest of the match.  All I have to say is one goal is not enough and if the players thought that they accomplished something by scoring in Mexico then they are wrong.  I did not go into this expecting us to win but after scoring early there is no need to pack it in and play 9 and 10 behind the ball, basically closing up shop.  The boys basically gave the Mexicans the ball and said, “Here if you can penetrate the defense then you can have the match!”  Now I know many of you think this is not true and that the boys played hard and all that but I tell you to, “Wake up!”  After scoring the boys played horribly and put on possibly one of the worst performances I have seen out of them to date.  The most unlikely person to net would manage a shot from around 25-30 yards out that would stay up just long enough to beat Howard, but there was no pressure at all.  The goal was a beauty and one that I am sure Mexican fans will remember for awhile, since barely ten minutes had past from the opening goal by the USMNT.  The boys would continue to pack it in and try to counter on into the second half to their demise again as poor defense and lack of pressure left Aguirre’s super sub Miguel Sabah open in the box to poke a shot over Howard that would propel the Mexicans to a much needed victory.

MEX SOC RIOT

Now aside from the poor performance by the USMNT, the officiating was atrocious!  Having complained enough to have the referee who had previously tossed Aguirre from the Gold Cup, the Mexicans would find a new sucker in Roberto Moreno Salazar from Panama.  Now a ref missing a call here and there is one thing, but the amount of calls this ref missed, his crew got wrong, or he just decided not to call was appalling.  I am not saying the ref and his crew are cheats or anything but in a match that was physical from the start it is questionable that the only cards given in the first half were to the Americans, and not just any Americans but 3 of the starting back 4 for the USMNT.  This is no excuse for the poor performance but you would think after Donovan being pulled down after beating a defender twice would result in something, and tripping Steve Cherundolo, who is not the fastest, would lead to something.  As it happened though the Mexicans would not receive any cards until a scuffle in the 75th minute when Davies was down on the pitch with cramps and Nery Castillo decided to drag Davies up off the pitch by his head along with 2 other Mexicans in order to get in a quick corner.  The ensuing scuffle would earn the USMNT’s Benny Feilhaber and Mexico’s Gerardo Torrado yellows for an altercation that took place after Feilhaber stepped in to protect his teammate and Torrado went for Benny’s throat.  Not class by either side, but honestly with all of Mexico’s posturing and flopping about on the turf they of all sides have no right to touch a downed opponent.  All in all it was a poor performance by the Panamanian crew and I would hope not to see them in an officiating capacity for a USMNT match anywhere in the near future, though I am sure the Mexicans will be saying a few prayers that Salazar and crew are at every match of theirs throughout the rest of qualifying.

Mexico v USA - FIFA World Cup Qualifier

As an American I know some people see us as racist or closed minded when it comes to cultural aspects of other countries and all but I honestly do not want to ever have to watch another match put on by mun2 or any other related channel when watching the USMNT.  After all the hype and press that this match garnered leading up to the English language broadcast, the best the channel could do was bring in Tom Schoen and Marcelo Balboa to commentate.  The broadcast was one of the worst I have watched as they obviously did not know their details and could not even correctly pronounce half the names right that they were talking about.  I hate to admit it but I was actually thinking that it would not have been such a bad thing to have to listen to Alexi announces the match.  I know that bad right?  After listening to that I am actually looking forward to MLS announcers as well as some of the others who I normally do not prefer to listen to.

Mexico v USA - FIFA World Cup Qualifier

It was a poor match but one in which the USMNT did not get a fair shake in my opinion.  The Mexican fans proved their worth again as they tossed cups of beer and other things at Donovan when he was taking a corner to try and tie the match up.  Come on people can you not have any class when leading a match?  Do you have to go out and make yourselves and your country look classless at every opportunity?  In the end I can console myself with the fact that no matter what happens the rest of the day, the USMNT is still above Mexico and in no imminent danger of missing out on the World Cup.  The road will be a bit tougher but we will be stronger for it and managed a better result than most were expecting, so El Salvador lookout as the USMNT will be out to recapture those points in the next match.

And here is a brief performance grade on the USMNT players who graced the pitch today.

Howard – Not a bad match for Howard but it was his first loss to Mexico and his defense did him no favors in the end.

Cherundolo – Gave a concerted effort on both ends.  Not spectacular but I do not think anyone can argue that Spector would have done a much better job in this match.

Onyewu – An early yellow hampered Gooch’s play but he played hard throughout and saved the US on many occasions.

DeMerit – Still showing as a good option in the back, though an early yellow hampered how aggressive he could be for much of the match.

Bocanegra – Looks to have wrapped up the LB spot at the moment but was caught out on both goals and looked to be struggling at times.

Donovan – Played a decent first half but disappeared in the second half.  Needs to step up his play and give a full 90 if this team is going to be successful.

Clark – Did not hear much about Clark until his exit, but not hearing a holding midfielders name means he was not screwing up.  I was surprised to see him on the pitch after his recent club schedule but he did his job in the middle as always.

Bradley – Supposed to be the second holding midfielder but everyone thinks he needs to get involved in the attack.  He played solid in the middle but never looked dangerous going forward.

Dempsey – I was completely unimpressed with Dempsey’s effort and performance on the day.  He looked tired and disinterested until he moved up top, and honestly if he is not going to produce unless he is up top, then bring him off the bench as a forward.

Ching – I cannot say anything bad about Ching as the front men did not receive much service throughout the match, but he did not look to be too dangerous on the day, minus one header over the crossbar.

Davies – He scored a goal and tried to be involved until he exited the match.  I am still not convinced he should be starting though as his pace would be more helpful after the other side are tired.

Feilhaber – Aside from his yellow card the match, Benny was a non factor during his time on the pitch today.

Holden – Holden had his moments on the day and would be a good replacement if Dempsey cannot get it together sometime soon.  He managed to find spots when everyone else looked defeated and made an impact on the right side after he entered the match.

Altidore – Not much to say about Jozy as he did not get much time or service, but he will be an asset going forward to the World Cup.

And to close it all out, “Who is going to learn to clear the ball out of the back without sending it right back to the opponent?”  The play from the back was awful all match long and there is no excuse for it at all.  Cards and poor officiating have nothing to do with being able to find a mate on the pitch to dish the ball to.  The boys looked like a bunch of school kids out there seeing how far they could boot the ball down the pitch at points, not impressive at all, and it did not help get the Mexicans out of the final third all match.  So now it is time to write this one off and look forward, good to see my block is now gone and I have something to say again.

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Filed under CONCACAF, International Football, Mexico, USMNT