Monday, November 21, 2011

Watching the Premier League as a neutral, and early observations.

For anyone that doesn't know already (and if you don't, where have you been?), I am a big Manchester United fan. While United is always my main focus, I have watched the league with a little bit more of a neutral standpoint in regards to all non-United games. Also, my fiance is a Liverpool fan so I have watched more of their games this season than I may have in the past. Before this season, anytime that Chelsea, Liverpool, City, Arsenal, or Tottenham played, I wanted them to lose because they are all title rivals (to an extent). While that is still the case in most situations, I try not to make judgements or picks based on my United bias. We are nearly a third of the way through the season and I have made five observations:

1) City are for real - At the moment, City sit at the top of the league by 5 points, with a +31 goal differential. They won at Old Trafford by 6-2 and won at White Hart Lane, 5-1. I do not believe this form will continue throughout the season, but if they can get through the next month without any major scars (see further note), they could be in pole position for the title at the beginning of the new year.  

2) Chelsea need to clear house - So far this season, Chelsea have played three important games: @ United, Home to Arsenal and Home to Liverpool. They lost all three of those games by a combined score of 10-5. They are too slow in the back with Terry, Ivanovic and David Luiz, and too slow in the midfield with Mikel, Lampard and Malouda. Even with an attack of Drogba, Anelka and Torres (none of which are on form), if you concede 10 goals in three games to your rivals, it is going to be hard to get anything out of those games. The following players are 29 or over: Anelka, Drogba, Cole, Lampard, Malouda, Terry, Alex, Bosingwa, Essien, and Ferreira. You cannot have that many core players on the backside of their careers, and expect to compete for silverware.

3) Both Liverpool and Tottenham will make the Champions League - While I did pick Liverpool to finish in the top 4 in my preseason picks, I thought Spurs would finish 5th or 6th (Pre-season Predictions). Liverpool and Spurs are tied on points for fourth with Chelsea and Arsenal (22 points), but Spurs have 2 games in hand. I believe the title will come down to City or United, but the next two spots will be occupied by Liverpool and Spurs. Liverpool have played United at home, Arsenal away, and Chelsea away this season. In those three games, they have got 7 points (in contrast to Chelsea's 0 and Arsenal's 3 against the same schedule). These two teams also don't have the Champions League to detract them from focusing on the Top 4 spots, and as seen in the past with Arsenal and Chelsea, the toll that the Champions League can take on a team at the end of the season is high. 

4) United have steadied the ship since their defeat to City - Following their 6-2 derby day defeat at home to City, many people questioned whether United could regain form and fight for that title. However since that game, United has won 5 in a row, without conceding a goal. As is the case with City, the next month will show if United can close the gap on the top of the table. The Christmas period (5 games in 16 days time) is a tough period for every team, and history tells us that whoever is at the top of the table at the New Year, has a high likelihood of winning the title in May. 

5) Arsenal are on the up, but it won't last...and say goodbye to RvP - Since Arsenal got thrashed by United, they have also set their sails in the right direction. They've managed to climb back into a fourth place tie on points, and found themselves at the top of their Champions League group. Robin van Persie has shown himself to be a lethal striker and has saved the Arsenal on many occasions this season, since taking over the armband. They are beginning to get back a lot of their injured players, but I'd be surprised to see this form continue. As history shows us, Arsenal struggles in the second half of the season, and this year will be no different. I wouldn't be surprised to see RvP come up with another injury, as he always seems to do, and if he is able to last til the end of the year without one, he will want to go to another team. Especially if Arsenal come up without any silverware this year, there is very little chance for Arsenal to keep RvP from going to a team that can win trophies, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him off to Chelsea or Milan. 

I didn't mention Newcastle, and while they have had a great year to this point, this next month will likely be very tough for them, and will struggle to keep form in the elite group of the Premier League. They will likely be fighting for that last Europa League spot. 

As I've mentioned, the next month or so will be very crucial in the title race, as well as the other races that are shaping out in Europe. Here are the schedules for the top 6 (excluding Newcastle): 

Manchester City: 
Nov 22 - @ Napoli (Champions League)
Nov 27 - @ Liverpool 
Nov 29 - @ Arsenal (Carling Cup)
Dec 3 - vs Norwich City
Dec 7 - vs Bayern Munich (Champions League)
Dec 12 - @ Chelsea 
Dec 18 - vs Arsenal
Dec 21 - vs Stoke City
Dec 26 - @ West Bromwich Albion
Jan 1 - @ Sunderland
Jan 3 - vs Liverpool

Manchester United: 
Nov 22 - vs Benefica (Champions League)
Nov 26 - vs Newcastle
Nov 30 - vs Crystal Palace (Carling Cup)
Dec 3 - @ Aston Villa
Dec 7 - @ FC Basel (Champions League)
Dec 10 -  vs Wolverhampton Wanderers
Dec 18 - @ Queens Park Rangers
Dec 21 - @ Fulham
Dec 26 - vs Wigan
Dec 31 - @ Newcastle
Jan 4 - vs Bolton

Nov 23 - @ Bayer Leverkusen (Champions League)
Nov 26 - vs Wolverhampton Wanderers
Nov 29 - vs Liverpool (Carling Cup)
Dec 3 - @ Newcastle
Dec 6 - vs Valencia (Champions League)
Dec 12 - vs Manchester City 
Dec 17 - @ Wigan
Dec 22 - @ Tottenham
Dec 26 - vs Fulham
Dec 31 - vs Aston Villa
Jan 2 - @ Wolverhampton Wanderers

Nov 21 - vs Aston Villa
Nov 26 - @ West Bromwich Albion
Nov 30 - vs PAOK Salonika (Europa League)
Dec 3 - vs Bolton
Dec 11 - @ Stoke City
Dec 15 - @ Shamrock (Europa League)
Dec 18 - vs Sunderland
Dec 22 - vs Chelsea
Dec 27 - @ Norwich City
Dec 31 - @ Swansea City
Jan 3 - vs West Bromwich Albion

Nov 27 - vs Manchester City
Nov 29 - @ Chelsea (Carling Cup)
Dec 5 - @ Fulham
Dec 10 - vs Queens Park Rangers
Dec 18 - @ Aston Villa
Dec 21 - @ Wigan
Dec 26 - vs Blackburn Rovers
Dec 30 - vs Newcastle
Jan 3 - @ Manchester City

Nov 23 - vs Borussia Dortmund (Champions League)
Nov 26 - vs Fulham
Nov 29 - vs Manchester City (Carling Cup)
Dec 3 - @ Wigan
Dec 6 - @ Olympiakos (Champions League)
Dec 10 - vs Everton
Dec 18 - @ Manchester City
Dec 21 - @ Aston Villa
Dec 26 - vs Wolverhampton Wanderers
Dec 31 - vs Queens Park Rangers
Jan 2 - @ Fulham

This is the best time of the year to be a soccer fan. There is so much to watch, so get comfortable on those early mornings, and get ready for some great soccer. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Why Seattle's Open Cup win is good for RSL...

Last night, Seattle beat Chicago in the Open Cup Final, 2-0. With this win, Seattle claimed their 3rd straight Open Cup, and qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League, beginning summer 2012. The Open Cup is one of 5 ways for an MLS team to qualify for the Champions League. The following are all the possible ways to qualify:
  1. MLS Supporters' Shield winner
  2. US Open Cup winner
  3. MLS Cup winner
  4. MLS Cup runner-up
  5. For Canadian teams: The winner of the Canadian Championship (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver)

In the past, RSL has qualified for Champions League by winning the 2009 MLS Cup. This year, it seems that the Galaxy will win the Supporters' Shield, and Seattle has now claimed the Open Cup spot. Should one of the league's teams qualify in more than one spot (say the Galaxy, or Seattle, reach the MLS Cup or even win it, they would occupy more than one spot), there is a determining factor for selecting another team that will take that spot. By the rules, it says, "Should the same team qualify multiple times and/or should a Canadian team occupy one or more of the MLS qualifying places, then the American MLS team(s) with the best regular season records not otherwise qualified will be entered.".

Looking ahead at the playoffs, and barring any major collapses, LA will likely be the #1 seed from the West, and then Seattle will be the #2, with RSL coming in at #3. LA will play against the lowest seed that comes from the wild card games, and will be favored to go through to at least the Conference Final. Let's just say there is a very high probability of LA getting to at least that point. In the other matchup of the Western Conference, Seattle and RSL will sure be a great battle, but the winner will then face LA for a chance to get to the MLS Cup. Should RSL win both of those potential matchups, and reach the MLS Cup, they will qualify for the Champions League. However, if they drop either matchup, Seattle or LA, then they will not directly qualify. But, with Seattle and LA already qualified, the MLS Cup final qualifying spot (either the winner or runner up) would then fall to the "American MLS team with the best regular season record not otherwise qualified." In this case, that would be RSL, as we have not only the third best record in the Western Conference, but the third best record overall.

That is why it is important that we finish out these last few games on a high note. Regardless of if we cannot catch LA for the Supporters' Shield, or even Seattle for the #2 seed, our current position is important to qualifying for the Champions League.

And that is why, for one night only, I wanted the Sounders to win a game. And they did. The rest is in our own hands.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Premier League 2011-2012 Predictions...and some other picks too...

IT'S FINALLY HERE!!! After a long summer of boring football, the European season is about to kickoff (and some leagues even kicked off last weekend). The Premier League starts this weekend, and in the next few weeks, Serie A and La Liga will follow. While City will try to take the title away from United, and the regular challengers like Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool attempt to do the same, there will be lots to play for this season in England. On a European front, Barcelona look to continue not only their dominance in Spain, but also their dominance of Europe. They will be yet another team that will try and be the first to win back to back European Cups since Milan won it in 1989 and 1990, and looking to be the first to do it since it changed to the new Champions League format. Here are my predictions for the upcoming season:

Premier League

Champions: Manchester United. They are too strong this season for the rest of England. While they went out and picked up a few key signings this summer (David De Gea, Ashley Young, Phil Jones), most of their rivals stayed with their current squads, when they could have brought in a few big names. United's depth will be very important as they look to claim their 20th top flight title.

Champions League Spots (2nd, 3rd, 4th): Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool. It will be a fight at the end of the season for that 4th spot between Liverpool and Arsenal, but as in many past years, Arsenal will struggle down the stretch and this year will miss out on the Champions League. Liverpool will get back to the Champions League for the first time since the 2008-09 season.

Relegated (18th, 19th, 20th): Blackburn, Norwich City, QPR. Premier League new boys, QPR, will finish last by quite a few points, but Blackburn and Norwich will also fall in the late stages of the league as Swansea, Wigan and Wolves will beat them out for the last few spots in the league.

FA Cup (finalist): Manchester United (Chelsea).

Carling Cup (finalist) : Manchester City (Arsenal)

Champions League (finalist): Manchester United (Real Madrid) - further predictions to come when the group stages are finalized, and knockout matchups are announced later in the year.

For those that know I am a United fan, you may think these picks are very ambitious. However, I have a good feeling United will be gunning for the competitions more than the Premier League this season. Having not won the FA Cup since 2004, and losing in the Champions League Final last year, United will look to achieve glory. Could the Treble be on again? I think so.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Donovan's goal vs Wambach's goal (and the '99 US Women's team)

Over the last couple days, since the great US comeback against Brazil, I've been in discussion with a couple friends (@ben_wagner and @prestonvjohnson) about the comparisons between Landon Donovan's game winning goal against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup, and Abby Wambach's equalizing goal against Brazil in the 2011 Women's World Cup.

For those of you who don't remember, I will give a quick synopsis of the Donovan situation. The US needed to win their last group game against Algeria, and they would go through to the knockout stages of the World Cup (and with a little help from England, they could clinch first in the group). The game was 0-0 going into the 90th minute, then this happened:

England then went on to beat Slovenia, which gave us top spot in the group on goals scored. We moved on to the round of 16 to face Ghana, where we were knocked out of the World Cup, when we lost 2-1.

Just two days ago, the US Women's team faced Brazil in the quarterfinals of the Women's World Cup. After taking an early 1-0 lead, the US went down a man, and then later, down a goal. They faced elimination, just as the men faced a year before. The game approached the end of the second period of extra time and then this happened:

Wambach's goal marked an unbelievable comeback by the US side, but sent the game only to penalties. Hope Solo became the hero again as she made a big save on one of the Brazilian spotkicks, allowing the US to finish off Brazil and advance to the semifinals of the tournament.

I think it is impossible to say one goal is more dramatic than the other, because each had it's individual elements. Also, I am partly biased because I was in attendance as Donovan put his goal past the Algerian keeper. I know what happened in that stand after the goal went in, and that was beyond any feeling I've ever experienced for a sporting event in my life (even better than the '99 Final, which I attended as well). However, when you look at the significance of each goal, I feel that Donovan's goal played a bigger part.

1) What did each of those goals give their respective teams?
          US Men: Donovan's goal ended the game and locked 1st place in the group, something that the US Men's National Team had never done before in their history. 
          US Women: Wambach's goal equalized the quarterfinal, and sent the game to penalties, where one Hope Solo save, and 5 nicely taken penalties, sent the US to the semifinals (a place the US has achieved in every single Women's World Cup to date)

2) Without each goal, where would both teams have stood (ST and LT)?
          US Men: Eliminated from the tournament in the group stage, after being near locks to make the knockout round, but not favored to do much after that (ST). Bob Bradley had a lot of pressure to do well in this tournament, and he would have likely been fired. Players like Donovan, Bocanegra, Onyewu, Howard, DeMerit would have been questioned and possibly slowly weeded out as "too old" or "not good enough" for the National Team on a big stage (LT).
          US Women: Eliminated from the tournament in the quarterfinals, for the first time in World Cup history  (ST). But they lost 4 years prior to Brazil, in the semifinals, so it wouldn't have been that big of a shock had Brazil won. The US team has a fairly young team, and I doubt their coach would have got much backlash, seeing the poor officiating that occurred against Brazil. Germany, 2 time defending champions, and hosts, had already been upset, so the US loss wouldn't have even been close to the loss of the Germans (LT).

3) In comparison to historical events, where did these goals put the respective teams? 
          US Men: The US Men have never won a World Cup, and since 1954 (when the tournament expanded to 16 teams) the US hasn't made it past the quarterfinals. On a world stage, the US doesn't match up with many teams, and is consistently ranked somewhere between 10-25. Not that FIFA rankings are the only determining factor, but based on that alone, any knockout round appearance has to be seen as a positive for the US, and this was only the 3rd time in the last 5 World Cups that the US made it past the group stages.
          US Women: The US Women have never been knocked out of the World Cup before the semifinals, and they have won the entire tournament on two previous occasions (1991 and 1999). We all know the dramatics of '99: hosting the tournament for the first time, selling out big stadiums around the country, the Final vs China at the Rose Bowl, and winning in penalties. The US/China game in 1999 got a 13.3 Neilsen Rating, where the US/Brazil game got a 2.6 rating. While the dramatics may have been close to equalizing the 1999 Final, the significance and importance of the US/Brazil game to the American public is nowhere close to the game in 1999.

While many people argue that the goal by Abby Wambach is a bigger goal than the one scored by Landon Donovan, it is nothing new to the US team. They are the #1 ranked team in the world, and were second favorites to win the tournament (behind Germany). They had to face a tougher team like Brazil because of their group stage slip ups, but they were still favored to beat Brazil. Although they made it more difficult on themselves than hoped, they got the expected result. Donovan's goal reached marks for the Men's National Team that had never been achieved before. The historical significance and importance to that team outweighs that of the Wambach goal.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Problems with the Open Cup

RSL played in the 3rd round of the Open Cup last night against the Wilmington Hammerheads and got a comfortable 2-0 victory to advance to the last 8 in the tournament. This could be the best chance that RSL has to make it back into the Champions League next season, as a team's depth is often tested, and RSL has often showed they are very deep and talented throughout the squad.

While the Open Cup is the longest standing tournament in the United States, I feel there are a few flaws with it's format.

1) All Professional teams should automatically qualify for the tournament. I feel like this is somewhat the equivalent to England's FA Cup, in which any team can qualify, even from the amateur club level. And in this case, 8 teams do qualify from that level. But if they can qualify, why can not every team ahead of them, automatically be in it? I understand that there would be a few more rounds that would need to be added, but if they start it in March or April, they would have plenty of time to include all professional teams (MLS, USL, PDL, NPSL) and add a few amateur teams as well. RSL is fortunate enough to qualify based on the previous year's results, but if I was a player on Chivas, or even Toronto, I'd feel ripped off that these lower division teams qualify but we have no chance to do so because we had a bad season, in MLS.

2) There should be an open draw after each round. The first round should start with all the non-MLS teams and then the 3rd or 4th round start including all MLS teams. While this is somewhat the case, in that MLS teams join in the 3rd round of the tournament, an open draw, like the FA Cup, should occur after each round that doesn't necessarily give the "higher ranked" teams automatic home field advantage. Last night there were 8 games, all of which gave the MLS team the home field advantage. In 7 of the 8 matches, the MLS team won, and the one exception was Columbus, who played down a man for the last 25 minutes of their matchup against Richmond. I feel like the home field advantage was a key factor in those matchups. Also, in the current format, all MLS teams are separated until at least the quarterfinals. An open draw could plot two MLS teams against each other earlier in the tournament, forcing managers to decide whether they play their starters, or they give them rest and gamble with a weakened side in the tournament. This would also create some early excitement in the tournament, whereas right now, it was almost a sure thing that all MLS sides would advance. This would play into some smaller team's favor and you could see a PDL team go to the semifinals or even win the whole thing, but instead they have to get through 4 MLS teams to do so.

3) Lastly, the Final should be played at a neutral site, or at least a predetermined site. Whether it is a scheduled rotation, or the same field every year, I think it is unfair to determine who hosts the tournament based on a "ranking system". Play the game at the Home Depot Center, Red Bull Arena, Pizza Hut Park, or even Rio Tinto Stadium. As long as it is mentioned before, I feel like it is much more fair. Last year, the Sounders defended their title against the Crew, AT HOME. Of course, if you have 35,000 fans screaming for you, it is going to be tough. At least at a neutral ground, both teams have an equal right to buy tickets, and support their team in the Final.

Here's to hoping RSL can put together 3 more strong performances and get 3 more victories on their way to win their first Open Cup.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Is revenge on tap for Saturday's matchup at the Rose Bowl?

Red Sox vs Yankees. Duke vs North Carolina. Lakers vs Celtics. BYU vs Utah. There are a long list of rivalries in this country that draw media attention every time occur. Most of them happen at least once a year, and in some cases, like with Red Sox/Yankees, can happen 18 times in one year. However, the US National Team only plays Mexico about once per year, if that, and in my opinion, this rivalry is greater than all others in this country.

I don't know where to start with the history of this matchup. From Landon Donovan urinating on Mexico's training fields, to the US triumph over Mexico in the Round of 16 at the 2002 World Cup, to the many battles at Estadio Azteca, these matches never seem to have a dull moment. The last time we were matched up in the Gold Cup was in the 2009 Final, when Mexico absolutely embarrassed the US, 5-0, in New Jersey. The US team looks to exact revenge this Saturday at the Rose Bowl, and book a place in the 2013 Confederations Cup.

8 days ago, the US were facing elimination before a must-win matchup vs Guadaloupe, while Mexico had trounced the likes of Costa Rica, Cuba and El Salvador by an aggregate score of 14-1. At that point, most people saw Mexico as runaway favorites in this tournament. Since then, the US has run off fairly comfortable victories over Guadaloupe, Jamaica and Panama (all while not conceding a goal) to reach the Final. Mexico, on the other hand, struggled to beat Guatemala (2-1) and Honduras (2-0, in extra time). While Mexico are still likely favorites for Saturday, it is much closer than what was seen just over a week ago.

While there are many things that the US has to do right on Saturday, three factors stand out to me:

1) The US must have a good start and keep Mexico scoreless in the first half - Bob Bradley's teams have been known for giving up early chances in matches, and while Howard has saved them on many occasions, an early goal for Mexico could all but put the US team away. This game will be played at the Rose Bowl, and while it is in the US, I wouldn't be surprised to see at least 75% of the stadium filled with the green and black from Mexico. An early goal would send the crowd into a craze, and it would be hard to fight back against the Mexican team, as well as the majority crowd, to win the game.

2) The US back line needs to play better than they have all tournament - While the likes of Bocanegra, Goodson, Lichaj and Cherundolo have played fairly well the entire tournament, they have yet to come up against a strikeforce like Chicharito, Dos Santos, De Nigris, and Guardado. There will be chances in this game, and the creativity of the front line for Mexico will open up the US defense, but we need to minimize those chances, especially the dangerous ones. Howard needs to direct this back line with a strong voice to eliminate any confusion that the front running Mexican side will create. A few classic Tim Howard saves won't hurt, and likely he will be called upon to make them.

3) The US cannot waste their chances in front of goal - We have seen some high quality misses this tournament from Dempsey, Jones and other US players as well. The Mexico defenders are not as good as their front line, and chances will be made by the US going forward, whether it comes right through the middle, or crosses coming in from the wings. However, we cannot afford any big misses, and have to take our chances. Agudelo will likely start alone up top, with Dempsey and Donovan supporting him, and their combination play will create the chances, and hopefully we have got all of our big misses out of our systems.

I think this game calls for goals with Mexico's lethal strikeforce and a weakened back line for Mexico. While a lot could happen, I think this game will go to extra time at 1-1, and then the US will snatch a winner through Landon Donovan. 2-1 to the Yanks.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Will the Jazz fall for Jimmermania?

This week, many NBA teams are holding their last player workouts for top prospects before next week's NBA Draft. Many people have said that this draft is much "weaker" compared to previous years. The only big names, according to NBA experts, are Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams. After that, it's hard to see any player being much of an immediate impact. However, by far the biggest story of the Draft season has been Collegiate Player of the Year, Jimmer Fredette. While many critics said that Jimmer didn't have what it takes to succeed in the NBA, most thought that he would fall somewhere from late lottery to mid first round.

Over the last couple weeks, Jimmer has made stops in Indiana (15), New York (17), Sacramento (7), and Phoenix (13), and finishing up today with Utah (3 and 12). With lots of hype surrounding each workout, Jimmer is reported to have excelled in each city. His athleticism, defensive capabilities and work ethic were just some of the things that seemed to impress GMs and head coaches along the way. While his draft position will likely be in that 12-17 range, he could go earlier, depending on trades made, who is selected before him and who is still on the board.

While I don't follow the NBA that closely, I am naturally a Jazz fan. And while I would love Jimmer to be drafted by Utah, his performances are not the biggest factor in the Jazz' decision to draft him with that 12th pick. Most importantly for Jimmer's possible future in Utah, is what the Jazz do with the 3rd pick. While ESPN's Chad Ford still has the Jazz taking former Kentucky PG, Brandon Knight, there has been a lot of talk recently about taking Enes Kanter, the 19 year old, 6'11'' center, from Turkey. If you know anything about the Jazz, it is that we are terrible inside, and that a big man that can rebound and score is something that would come in handy. Whether Kanter is proven enough to take at #3, that is a different discussion but I think it is worth the risk. The Jazz don't necessarily need to use their top pick at PG with Devin Harris still set to be a starter next season.

If the Jazz do pick Knight at 3, there is no chance for Jimmer to be drafted by the Jazz at 12. However, if Kanter is the Jazz' guy, I think Jimmer will be the pick, unless Sacramento takes him over Kemba at 7, or if someone trades up and takes him before the 12th pick. However, if he is still on the table then, the Jazz will take him.

Since Sloan and D-Will left the Jazz last season, the fan base in Utah has thinned out dramatically. I love the way Millsap plays, and Hayward looks to be a future star, but there isn't much that get fans excited right now in Utah, especially since our record was atrocious after Sloan and D-Will left. After all the hype about "Jimmermania" in Provo this year, and really all over Utah, Jimmer would be a perfect way for the Jazz organization to rebuild that excitement for their club. Whether he turns out to be an All-Star or just sits the bench for 5 years is another debate (mostly between BYU and Utah fans). The Jazz need a scorer and I think Jimmer could fill in at both the point as well as the shooting guard position. He will never be as electrifying as he was at the Y, and even he knows that. But he won't be demanded of that at the Jazz. He can be a steady scorer off the bench, and if things go well, could become a regular starter for a team that really only has room to improve. With young players like Hayward, Favors and Evans, as well as more experienced guys like Millsap, Harris and Jefferson, Jimmer could become a solid piece to turn this franchise, that since Jordan knocked down in 1998, has struggled to become a Western Conference powerhouse.

I don't think that Jimmer alone will turn this franchise from a lottery team to a powerhouse in the West, but I do feel like he would fit in nicely with our system. Over time, even if it is 3 or 4 years away, this Jazz team could be making runs to the Finals, like in the late 90's. In a weak draft, there is no reason not to take a chance on a local star that has the ability and desire to become a star on the national stage, in the best league in the world.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mediocrity Isn't Good Enough

The US National Team lost for the first time ever in group play at the Gold Cup when they were defeated by the powerhouse that is Panama, on Saturday night. The 2-1 loss is more than just the result, and I believe it marks the end of the Bob Bradley reign as manager of the National team.

If we look back at the last year, we have had the highs of drawing with England in the World Cup, and that great last minute goal by Donovan against Algeria. However, we have also had the lows of losing to Ghana in the round of 16 at the World Cup, and more recently, getting obliterated by Spain and then this loss to Panama. On the surface, you may just think that we are going through a rough patch but that we will get back to the "greatness" that our team was once in South Africa. But how good were we really in South Africa?

We entered the tournament ranked #14 in the world, with the rest of our group ranked as follows: England (8), Slovenia (25), and Algeria (30). While we started the tournament with a good result against the English side, many will argue that we were lucky to get one point. Next up was Slovenia, which we managed a draw against, having to fight back from a 2-0 first half deficit. While we had a goal disallowed that would have given us the 3 points, a draw was probably a fair result. Last up in the group stages was Algeria, a match that we could have easily lost after giving Algeria a few good looks at goal. Yet, Landon Donovan put us into the knockout stages with his dramatic winner in injury time. We won the group, something that no American side has ever done before. But with the under achieving England side, was this that big of a surprise? No. Had LD10 not scored that goal, not only would we have not won the group, but we wouldn't have advanced. Technically, the top 16 teams should advance in the tournament and we were 11 out of 32. Then came Ghana, the 32nd ranked team in the world, and 24 out of 32 (not to mention they didn't even have their best player, Michael Essien). We were beaten all over the field by Ghana, from the start and didn't have enough to beat them as we lost in overtime. So we left the tournament, much earlier than most Americans had hoped, but to me, I wasn't surprised.

We were far from great, and I would say we were very average in the tournament. While most Americans will remember the tournament for Donovan's goal, on the bigger scale, we underachieved. And I blame Bradley's tactics for this.

Going forward, I saw a lot of bright spots in the team, and while the games have been mostly friendlies since the World Cup, the US scheduled games against Brazil, Poland, Columbia, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Spain. Add the two Gold Cup matches against Canada and Panama and their record has been 2-4-4 (our only two wins to come against South Africa and Canada). These games were an opportunity for Bradley to feature the talent in the American pool combined with the natural leaders already in the team. But we have faltered.

Bradley has yet to pick a team, let alone an entire 23 man squad that I have been satisfied with. His use of players that don't have any business being near the national team (Rogers, Kljestan, Wondo) in big Cup games is embarrassing. His exclusion of Bunbury and Davies from the squad altogether is ridiculous. Davies and Bunbury both had started the 2011 MLS season on a high and this was a perfect opportunity for Bradley to give them a shot on the big stage in the Gold Cup. But he passed on them. He also has included Tim Ream and Clarence Goodson straightaway in the starting lineup, while leaving Onyewu and Bornstein on the bench and shifting Bocanegra out to a wide position, where he has clearly been exposed. I don't know why he still plays Dempsey wide in the midfield, when Dempsey has proven himself as a goalscorer up top in the Premier League.

One other thing I find upsetting is the attitude of the team. Why does it often take us going a goal down to realize that the game has started? I read a stat from Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl this morning which compared Bradley to former boss Bruce Arena, "Win % in ALL official games as USA coach: Bradley .670 Arena .674. % of games USA allowed the 1st goal: Bradley 39% Arena 26%. Win % in official HOME games as USA coach: Bradley .870 Arena .861. % of home games USA allowed the 1st goal: Bradley 30% Arena 8%." People often criticize Arena for the amount of control he demanded as manager of the team. But the last stat is really what stands out to me. In nearly one-third of all our home games, we concede first. That is unacceptable. I credit that to poor lineup choices by Bradley, as well as the attitude that he obviously is not instilling to the team as they take the pitch. Arena didn't make those mistakes.

Going forward, the US need to look somewhere else. While I believe Jason Kreis will be a future manager of the National Team, he still has a little bit of work to do for that position, but I believe if he keeps on the right track, he is in line for the 2018 World Cup. Klinsmann is the name I want right now. Apparently we were all but signed on Klinsmann to take over after the World Cup, but didn't want to give him full control of the team, and youth development. That is a terrible job by the USSF to not give him the job. If no one was paying attention in 2006, Klinsmann took his Germany side to the semifinals as a host country. We also forget that the all controlling Bruce Arena took the Americans to their best ever finish in the World Cup in 2002, taking us to the quarterfinals where we controversially lost 1-0 to the Germans. We need a big name to take over the team and build a new attitude with the boys.

I believe we will recover a bit from this Panama loss to beat Guadalupe and make it to the knockout round of the Gold Cup, but that doesn't solve our long term problems with this team. If we are to win the Gold Cup, we will have to go through Mexico, who right now, look like one of the most powerful teams in the world. At this rate, I'd rather go out before we had to face them and get embarrassed like did 2 years ago. And on a bigger stage, if we want to challenge for the 2014 World Cup, we have a long way to go, and why not make the changes now so that we can have time to adjust before World Cup qualifying begins.

But I'll always stick by my country, through thick and thin. Don't tread on me.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Downright Ugly Performance

Following their 2-0 victory against the Vancouver Whitecaps, RSL began a 2 game road trip with stops in Columbus on Wednesday night and Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon. With many players gone due to Gold Cup assignments (Sabo, Alvarez, Johnson) and still some players out with injury (Paolo Jr, Morales), this trip seemed to be a good time for RSL to prove they have the depth that is necessary to succeed in this league.

Wednesday marked a rematch of the CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinals that took place earlier this year. In that matchup, the game in Columbus was very cold and snowy, and both teams fought with the elements, as well as a frozen pitch, and battled to a 0-0 draw. This time around, the temperature was about 85 degrees, with a humidity level of 80% (at kickoff). There was much talk about how RSL would deal with the heat, having only had 3 days of full rest since their last game. Whether it was the weather, or the short week, or likely a combination of both, RSL didn't seem up to it for the 90 minutes.

Salt Lake came out firing in the first 15 minutes, and was able to get an early goal from Jamison Olave, off a corner. It was a bit of a sloppy goal, but they all count the same. I would have like to see RSL push forward at this point and get another goal before halftime, in order to have that chance to close up shop in the second half and get the points. However, after the goal, RSL couldn't seem to play with the tenacity and precision that they normally do so. Our midfielders were making careless passes, which led to a few chances on the break for the Crew, none of which they could capitalize from. Our forwards were not getting much support from the midfield behind them, and ended up trying to take on a few Columbus players on their own, which usually ended in long shots or lost possession up front. Although we didn't play our best in the first half, luckily Columbus didn't either and the half ended 1-0 to the good.

The second half was just as bad as the last 30 minutes of the first half. RSL could not keep possession of the ball, and the Crew looked to press on for the equalizing goal. After another giveaway in the midfield, the Crew broke into the box, yet Olave seemed to make a good tackle to stop the attack. The ball was not cleared, and Josh Meram took a touch past Olave, only to draw a foul and a penalty. There was a bit of a debate on the penalty, but in my honest opinion, I didn't see anything wrong with the call. While Olave didn't get much of Meram, he got plenty to constitute a foul. After a little bit of a debate between Chad Marshall, Jeff Cunningham and Andres Mendoza about who was going to take the kick, Mendoza drilled it in the top corner. At this point, I had a bad feeling about the rest of the game, and as it would show, the Crew would later get the winner on a deflected shot by Josh Gardner.

The loss is the obvious talking point of this game, but one thing I found very interesting were the substitutions by RSL in the second half. Although we were not playing our greatest football in the second half, as I have previously mentioned, I found it interesting that we brought on Gil in the 60th minute. I know we have this big game on Saturday as well, and maybe Kreis wanted to preserve some of the guys, as much as he could, for the game against the Union. We weren't playing great, but we also seemed to be comfortable on the defensive side of the ball. Pulling out Nelson Gonzalez, and then only 6 minutes later taking out Colleen Warner, for Luis Gil and Andy Williams seemed like a big miss to me. Had the scoreline been 1-1 or even 1-0 down, I think those subs would have been productive, but those two players aren't great defensive players, and that is maybe what we needed on the pitch. Then, having brought on Robbie Russell for Jean Alexandre at 1-1, there were no subs to be made after the Crew scored the winner.

Overall, we didn't deserve the 3 points and I don't think we even deserved 1 point based on our performance. Some of the small things seem to be catching up with us with our depleted squad. However, I will always stick by our team and our manager so hopefully this will give us a little kick for Saturday's game against the Union. I'm Salt Lake 'til I die...

Friday, June 3, 2011

"All Good Things Must Come To An End...."

4-0-0 in league play. Top of the table. 2-2 aggregate in the Champions League Final coming home to the RioT. A trip to the Club World Cup just 90 minutes away. Unbeaten at home in what seemed like an eternity. It could not have been a better start to the season for RSL, and many analysts were already calling this team, "The Best MLS team of All Time". Then the unthinkable happened.

RSL lost 1-0 to Monterrey in the second leg of the Final. In a game that truly demonstrated the "smash and grab" aspect of soccer, RSL dominated possession but could not find the net. Monterrey did not have many chances but all they needed was the one. Naturally, after such a high, we all knew there was going to be a let down, and RSL had to travel to Portland to take on the Timbers just 3 days later. In what ended up being a game that was very similar to that of the Champions League Final, RSL again lost 1-0. It was time for RSL to figure out their problems and get back on the right track, and there was no better way to do so but against Chivas at home, the following week.

Chivas had been struggling a bit, and looked very susceptible to concede lots of goals. It got even worse for RSL, when Javier Morales, arguably the best player in the league, went down with a horrific ankle injury, in the first half against Chivas. Although RSL ended up getting the win, with a late goal from Will Johnson, this game really seemed like a loss. How would RSL respond to losing their best player to a scary injury, likely to sideline him for the remainder of the regular season? Since that game, RSL has two 0-0 ties (vs Houston, @ Dallas) and a 2-1 loss (vs Seattle). Their only goal came at the very end of their home defeat to Seattle last weekend.

It is obvious that our goal scoring has been down this year, as well as our creativity in the midfield since Morales went out with injury. However, I feel like the biggest hindrance to our success at the moment, is the home unbeaten streak, which was halted by Seattle with that 2-1 loss. You can say what you want about our "fortress" that is the RioT and how great we play there. But I would much rather our team go for a few games and take a loss or two, if it means picking up 3 points in 4 or 5 other games, than sit back and preserve a draw. We set the record for longest unbeaten streak in the league back at the tail end of last season, and I understand that we struggled a bit to get past the record, but once we get by that, it shouldn't be giving us trouble anymore. We should be able to play that free flowing game that put us in the positions we were just about 6 weeks ago. Let's drop the "fortress" tag to the RioT, let's quit the promotional videos, and let's start to get the points we need to get back on top of the league.

One other thing, let's give our young kids a shot. If you know me, you know I am one of Bomma's biggest fans, and I always thought Grabavoy and Johnson were key to our successful run back in 2009. However, all 3 of them need to be given some time off to calm themselves and regroup after that first part of the season. They have had a lot of pressure to fill the void of Morales but have struggled to do so. We have the deepest team in the MLS, and now it is time to show it. Let's bring on Warner, Gonzalez and Gil in our game this weekend against a struggling Whitecaps side. I think Beckerman has done extremely well so far in his typical holding midfield position, and I think his experience will help these young players excel. Look what these guys did just last week against Seattle: Gonzalez came on late and scored a goal, and Gil looked extremely confident for the 6 or 7 minutes he was on the pitch. Gil recently returned from National Team duty, and was said to be "the best player on the pitch for both matches" by the head coach. This weekend is the perfect opportunity to play Gil up the middle with Warner on one side, and Gonzalez on the other.

RSL fans, there is no need to panic. Yes, we are 12 points back of the league leading LA Galaxy, but we also have 6 games in hand (they have played 15 and we have only played 9). We may not get all 18 points out of those 6 games, but I wouldn't be surprised it we get at least 12. There is still 25 games left in the season, and with the Open Cup to start this summer, there are potentially some great achievements still in store for RSL in 2011.

I'm Salt Lake 'til I die...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Champions League Final Preview - Manchester United

After a long season in Europe, we've had many teams reach new heights, as we saw Manchester City claim the FA Cup in England for their first trophy in 35 years and saw Lille win the French title for the first time in over 50 years. We also saw some teams return to familiar successes, as Milan triumphed in Italy once again for the 18th time, but for the first since 2004. Yet, there is still one game to be played that will be a defining game in the history for the season, and the two clubs involved.

The Champions League Final. The best of the best. The biggest game in world sport. Not only is it bigger than any Super Bowl, but it also is filled with more stars than a World Cup Final. Wembley Stadium will have the attention of those all around the world as Manchester United take on Barcelona this Saturday. Two teams, both looking to leave their imprint on history, will fight it out in what could be the most anticipated final in recent memory.

Manchester United overtook Liverpool as the most successful English club in history, with their 19th English league title. They held off the title charges of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City to do so. They did so with the help of the golden boot winner that only started 4 games in the league after Christmas, a £7 million scoring machine, a 40 year old goalkeeper and a midfield maestro in his 20th year with the first team. Yet, they feel like the biggest achievement is yet to come this season. This is how I see the team coming out:


Edwin Van der Sar - He will be playing his last game in a United jersey, as the 40 year old Dutchman is set to retire following this season. He has been one of United's best players this season, making saves that goalkeepers can only dream about. He has been the rock at the back of the United defense all season. Dealing with family issues off the field has been a concern to Edwin, as his wife has struggled with illness, yet he has been able to succeed beyond imagination to help United to the Champions League Final. He will be key to United's success at Wembley, and will do all he can to keep the likes of the Barcelona greats out of the United net.


Rafael da Silva - I think Rafael should start as United's right back, if he is fit enough to do so. He has shut down the likes of Torres, Anelka, Bale and Van der Vaart in England all season, and I don't see any reason why he wouldn't add Villa or Messi to that list. He is a very quick player and has gained the experience this year to solidify this position for years to come.

Nemanja Vidic - If it weren't for Messi and Ronaldo's unbelievable scoring records this season, I would say Vidic should be World Player of the Year. He has taken the armband this season for United, and been unbelievable this season in that role. He has been more calm than in previous seasons, but still has the desire and strength at the back to give any forward a rough go. He also has the ability to score off of set plays as demonstrated in his winning goal vs Chelsea this season.

Rio Ferdinand - Although Rio has been criticized over the last couple years for being injury plagued or not good enough to play for United anymore, he has re-established himself in this team for the big games and I expect he and Vidic to be strong at the back together. His desire is demonstrated all over the back line and he is a great leader in this team.

Patrice Evra - In my opinion, Patrice is the best left back in the world. No one has the pace that he does to get up with the midfielders but also defend with the ability the he does. His crossing ability will be important and although Barcelona do not have many weak links, their right back position, has not been the best this season. It will be important that once United win the ball, Evra get involved in the attack to create chances for those up front.


Antonio Valencia - Many thought Valencia's season could be over when he suffered severe ligament damage and a fractured ankle and was forced into immediate surgery to repair those injuries. However, he recovered very quickly and has been a much needed spark to United's end of season form. His crossing ability is unmatched in England, and he has the pace to beat any defender in a foot race. He also has the mentality and focus to defend, when needed, and this is the area in which I feel he gets the nod over Nani to start at Wembley.

Michael Carrick - Probably the most criticized United player since he was bought from Tottenham a few years back, Carrick has had by far his best season in a United shirt. His passing ability, but also his ability to plug up the middle will be very important against Barcelona. I expect him to play much more of a defending role in the midfield to stop the progress of Xavi and Iniesta, as well as their connections with Messi, Pedro and Villa up top. With the help of the two center backs, Carrick will be one of United's most important players on Saturday.

Ryan Giggs  - What is there to say about a guy that has played 20 years for the United first team? A guy that has won a record 12 Premier League titles, and yet was one of the best players in England, again. He may be the greatest ever to play in a United shirt. Nearly 900 appearances, and he is still going strong. His experience will be needed out on the pitch against Barcelona. He will look to win the ball off the Barcelona midfield, but as chances may be limited, he will combine with Rooney and the other United midfielders to take advantage of any Barcelona slip ups. His pace, at age 37, is remarkable and he will play a key role as he looks for his 3rd European Cup.

Ji-Sung Park - The energizer bunny of the team, Park seems to be running for 90 minutes, and never gets tired. His performance against Chelsea in the league, just two weeks ago, will be seen as one of the best in his career. He was always involved in tackles around the pitch, the first to the ball in nearly every circumstance and his ability to make some unbelievable passes was also shown, as United took the points that day. If they want to do the same against Barcelona, United will look to Park to get into the Barcelona midfield and disrupt Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets as they look to break down the United midfield. Park's energy will be important but he has also been known to score some big time goals in recent years (Liverpool, AC Milan, Arsenal, Chelsea) and could prove to have the decisive touch, come Saturday night.


Wayne Rooney - After a very slow start to the season, and the controversy about whether he would stay or go, to Manchester City of all teams, Rooney has found the form that United has been searching for, to help this team to the Final. Rio Ferdinand recently said, "We won the league the day that Rooney signed his new contract." He is so vital to this team, and although he has been a striker in the past, Wayne has found a new role in the team as somewhat of a withdrawn forward. I see him playing this same role on Saturday, in attempt to plug the Barcelona midfield as much as possible, but also as a quick link going forward with the United midfield, as soon as they win the ball.

Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez - Having been signed from Chivas for a whopping £7 million last summer, Chicharito was seen as a player to play much of this season in the Reserve team, hoping to adapt to England and the style of this game, with the chance of playing a few games. However, he has burst onto the scene in flying form and has 20 goals in all competitions. His finishing ability is second to none at the club and seems to have a nose for goal that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer once possessed for the club. At only 22 years, he has a long way to go, but this game is by far the biggest of his career. His humility and love for the team has set him on the right path at this great club. Puyol and Pique will have a hard time keeping him under wraps at Wembley.

The Bench:

Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Owen, Thomas Kuszczak, Chris Smalling, Nani, Paul Scholes, Anderson - I see a very attack oriented bench in case we have to chase the game late on against Barcelona. Those not included that may be on the bench come Saturday are Fabio da Silva, Darren Fletcher, Johnny Evans, or John O'Shea.

The Manager:

Sir Alex Ferguson - There is not much to say about Sir Alex, that hasn't been said somewhere else. But, he is the greatest manager of all time. Over 35 trophies with United, including 2 European Cups (1999, 2008). He is the master of getting the best out of a team. Many people have said that this United team "is the worst United team in recent memory," or that they "lack the firepower to win anything." Well, they won the record 19th title, and they are in the European Cup Final. Most of this can be attributed to the manager. There are none better than him, and he will have the tough task of fielding a team against this Barcelona side, "possibly the greatest football team of all time."

What an occasion it will be on Saturday, at Wembley. Manchester United, looking to claim the European Cup for the 4th time, 42 years after they did so at Wembley with the likes of Best, Charlton and Law. This United side looks to go down in the record books.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Champions League Returns!!!! The Knockout Stages!!!

So today marks the first knockout matches of the Champions League. They are two-legged ties, each team with the chance to play at home. UEFA has spread out the games a little bit more this year, opting to play this round with 2 games a day for 2 weeks, then have the return legs on the same schedule. Here are my predictions (my picks in bold):

Tottenham vs AC Milan
Valencia vs Schalke
Arsenal vs Barcelona
Roma vs Shaktar Donetsk
Copenhagen vs Chelsea
Lyon vs Real Madrid
Inter Milan vs Bayern Munich
Marseille vs Manchester United

I don't see too many upsets in this round. I think Barca will struggle more with Arsenal than most people think. I will pick a 4-3 aggregate score for that tie, but Barcelona to go through.

I think AC Milan will "upset" Tottenham, but really this shouldn't be considered an upset. Milan got second in the group, but I think they will batter Spurs at home today and then hold on in the second leg at White Hart Lane.

Some of the other ties that are interesting are Roma vs Shaktar and Lyon vs Real Madrid. Especially since Madrid was knocked out of the CL in this stage for the last 6 seasons, and last year at this stage by Lyon. Hopefully CR7 can carry his team into the next round.

Inter Milan and Bayern Munich is a rematch of last year's final but I don't see Inter having too much trouble with this. I will say 4-2 over the two legs, and expect Eto'o to play a big role.

I obviously hope Manchester United don't have any trouble, but its important that they (and Chelsea in their tie) have a solid performance in the first leg on the road, to guarantee their move into the last 8.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I Know the Score - January 15/16

After going a measly +15 in my last week of IKTS, another weekend brings another chance to gain some ground on the rest of my league. For the predictions this week, I have the following:

Chelsea 3 Blackburn 1 (Banker)
Manchester City 2 Wolves 1
Stoke City 1 Bolton 2
West Brom 1 Blackpool 1
Wigan 1 Fulham 1
West Ham 2 Arsenal 1

Birmingham 2 Aston Villa 2
Sunderland 2 Newcastle 0
Liverpool 2 Everton 1
Tottenham 1 Manchester United 3 (Insurance)

To throw in a few extra games I will make my picks for the NFL Divisional Round:

Baltimore Ravens 13 Pittsburgh Steelers 24
Green Bay Packers 27 Atlanta Falcons 21

Seattle Seahawks 17 Chicago Bears 31
New York Jets 13 New England Patriots 28

Until next week....

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I Know the Score - January 4-5, 2011

So I decided to start posting my picks from I Know the Score for each premier league game to show how good (or bad) I do each week. For those of you that don't know what I Know the Score is, it's a free prediction game on that you pick the score of each game and get points based on how your prediction matches up against the actual score. Here is how the scoring works:

Correct Score: 30 points
Correct Draw: 20 points
Correct Goal Difference: 15 points
Correct Outcome: 10 points
Wrong Outcome: -10 points

You also have a banker bonus that you can place on any game that gives you either a x2 or x3 multiplier, depending on the difficulty of the pick. However, this can hurt you if you make a wrong pick, and you can get as much as -30 on a game if you pick the banker and get it wrong, but can also get as much as +90 if you pick the banker and get it right. There is also an insurance marker that protects you from any negative points on a match if you were to pick it wrong. Here are my picks for Gameweek 22:

Tuesday, February 4th

Blackpool 2 Birmingham 1
Fulham 1 West Brom 1
Manchester United 3 Stoke City 0 (Banker x2)

Wednesday, February 5th

Arsenal 2 Manchester City 2
Aston Villa 1 Sunderland 2
Newcastle 2 West Ham 0
Wolves 1 Chelsea 1 (Insurance)
Blackburn 1 Liverpool 1
Bolton 2 Wigan 0
Everton 1 Tottenham 1

So far, I am +310 on the season, which is about mid-table in both of the leagues (having missed the first two weeks of the season). Until next gameweek...