Monday, March 31, 2014

Liverpool are going to win the league...

Stop fighting me on this, Liverpool fans. Stop analyzing. Let some stat jockey apply the science at a later date. Let the computer-generated player-rating algobots fight over who should have won the league. Liverpool might never win that argument, but who cares? Liverpool are going to win the league, even if they shouldn't.

Yes, the silken flanked Man City Galacticos should have left us in the dust long ago. Thank you for the lager-spittle heavy lecture on that point, Captain Analysis. Yes, Eden Hazard and Oscar should be dancing a Pasodoble on Steven Gerrard's career grave right around now. Brilliant, Professor Zanussi. I never said Liverpool were the favorites. I just said we were going to win.

I'm not going to draw specious parallels to the lopsided odds ahead of the battle of Stalingrad here, other than to say that Luis Suarez, on current form, could probably have beaten both sides in that conflict -- at the same time. I'm not making one of those reverse-psychology arguments, saying we're the underdogs so therefore we have less pressure, making us some kind of Gladwellian favourites. There are no underdogs at this point in the season. Giantkillers win the FA Cup. Giants win the league.

This is the Internet, where everybody turns into a persnickety debate judge. So I need some "evidence" to back up my "argument" or it will be "invalid." (I'd like to see some of these Internet hard men go down the local in Toxteth and start blithering about Steven Gerrard's pass-completion rate...I'm sure they would learn a new appreciation for a "strong argument.")

OK, let me lay this out on an airplane streamer. I believe Liverpool are going to win the league because...this is what winning the league feels like.

Don't forget, I am a veteran of the 1989 - 90 campaign. And I'm not talking about checking in with a couple of minute-by-minute game reports between texts here. I'm talking about sitting down in front of the telly and watching games all the way through, several times over the course of that campaign. I'm talking about 90 minutes of sheer hell. I'm talking about pulling out the middle pages of Shoot magazine with  my bare hands, and singlehandedly pinning a poster of the 1988 - 89 league champion team on the wall. I would have to check with my mum, but I may have even nicked myself with a Shoot staple during that operation.  As I said, I am a veteran so I know what winning the league feels like. It doesn't feel like you think it feels when you're watching Manchester United do it. From a distance, it looks like all you have to do is sit there, and watch your team score a lot against a wide range of opposition. And wince occasionally when Rooney misses a sitter. That's not the way it feels. This is the way it feels.

It's watching your whole team wobbling like someone who has just been put on a bicycle for the first time against Sunderland at home, looking like they're going to throw the whole season away until, somehow, they cling on for a 2-1 victory. It's teams like Crystal Palace popping up out of the basement to dance all over one of the favourites the day they looked like they'd run away with it. It's basket cases like Arsenal pulling themselves together to break the other favourite's stride. It's your brain turning into a little calculator that runs through every permutation of every game, and every game in hand, and then throws them all out when some crazy result comes in that wasn't even in your wildest scenario. It's people who probably would have been bit-player nobodies in another setting, people like Jordan Henderson or Craig Johnston or Ray Houghton, suddenly dribbling like cherubs and hammering in goals like Thor.

You probably think when Liverpool ran out on the last day of the 1985 to 86 season to take on then-lowly Chelsea that all the fans half-expected Kenny Dalglish to top off his first year as player manager by scoring the only goal. Rather, the assumption was that Chelsea would beat us 10-0, and that Everton would take the title from under our noses. You are convinced your team will throw it all always think some other team could or would or should knock them off the top. This is what it feels like: it feels like shit until the final whistle in the final game. And then you start worrying about next season.

Teams have personalities. If the premiership run-in were a match on the local green, Man City would be the new kid with the shiny white boots, blowing everybody away with the way he juggles the ball on his heels during the warmup, and then fluffing a simple pass as soon as the game kicks off. Chelsea would be the lad who has reportedly had trials with "the pros," scores a couple of peaches early on, then throws a tantrum when he's dispossessed by a five-year old girl, and never regains his composure. Liverpool is the lad whose runners have almost eroded away because he hasn't left the green all summer, the lad who scores goals as naturally as fish swim.

Liverpool are going to win the league.

-Rob Curran

Loyalty finally taking a back seat in U.S. soccer?

U.S. fans have long debated credentials of Martin Vasquez

Martin Vasquez was let go as manager of Chivas USA following a disastrous campaign in 2010 for allegedly refusing to demote an assistant. Obviously, the Goats' record was enough to justify his firing and should have been enough to warrant that change but local reports that claimed his loyalty cost him his job raised a few eyebrows.

That sense of allegiance has gripped U.S. soccer for years. As supporters of the game here have grown more sophisticated, so too have their demanding voices, particularly in the Jurgen Klinsmann era.

When Vasquez was plucked from a healthy number of candidates to be Klinsy's assistant manager, debates ensued, most notably at his experience. But by all accounts, it appears that Klinsmann was moved by Vasquez's reading of the game, of his connections to Mexican soccer and his overall demeanor. But was that enough to warrant a position with the German as he made the move to Bayern Munich for 2008-2009?

Vasquez himself admitted he was surprised by the move, according to an interview he provided to ESPN last year, initially believing Klinsmann would take on an MLS role, given the German's residency in southern California. He even said he asked Klinsmann if he was sure about hiring him.

The charismatic German would have none of it. He wanted Vasquez as part of his staff because he didn't want anyone there that's "done it already" and mostly was attracted to Vasquez's hunger and ambitious need for learning the game at a new level.

That's what has bothered some U.S. fans for years. Vasquez, for all his quiet but hard-working personality has shown, wasn't the tactical wingman that was needed in this new era of American soccer. Klinsmann was courted for years by U.S. soccer but some noted that it was his name and experience that was more in line with their desire than his actual resume on the field. Sure, he previously managed the German side on home soil to what any other country would deem a success--a semifinal appearance at the 2006 World Cup--as well as his stint with Bayern Munich.

But Klinsy has been seen more as a charmer, a go-getter and motivator. Philipp Lahm ripped him and Vasquez in his biography, astonishingly claiming players were left scrambling to address tactical moves prior to some matches while Klinsmann's staff only focused on fitness and nutrition.

The same accusations were regurgitated in a Sporting News article a year ago that quoted some U.S. national team players anonymously, and all of whom worried about Klinsmann's training methods. But the articulate and smiling Klinsmann brushed those claims off, indicating that it was part of the changes the program was undergoing. The U.S. went on to qualify for Brazil at the top of the table.

Supporters now have to digest a major move with only a few months to go before the tournament in Brazil. Whether or not these moves were made in advance of Brazil or for the longer-term (Klinsmann inked an extension with U.S. soccer) is up for debate at the moment. Loyalty has taken a back seat and the fans are watching and waiting to pounce, if need be.

-Tio Pelotas

Slick U.S. soccer announces coaching changes on Sunday afternoon

Martin Vasquez reassigned, Tab Ramos tapped to staff

Legend Berti Vogts named as special advisor

Tab Ramos, who was serving as under-20 manager for the U.S. national team, was promoted to Jurgen Klinsmann's staff with the senior national team, while longtime Klinsy protogee was reassigned within the federation pyramid, the U.S. Soccer federation announced late Sunday afternoon.

Also appointed as special advisor to Klinsmann's staff was the legendary Berti Vogts, who will be tasked with developing training plans and scouting. Vogts managed Klinsmann when the Germans lifted the European championship in 1996.

It's a massive move with only a few months ahead of the World Cup--and also a puzzling one--as the news made minor tremors within the U.S. soccer scene since the announcement took place on a Sunday with a full slate of matches stretching from South America to Mexico and MLS.

Any other country would have exploded with speculations, harsh commentaries and confusion but the U.S. soccer journalism bubble should and will have more in-depth analysis as the news is assimilated.

-Tio Pelotas

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Are West Ham fans right to boo their own team?

Sam Allardyce was confused that West Ham fans booed despite a 2-1 win over Hull City that should mean the Hammers stay in the Premier League another year, but should he be that surprised that the fans vented their anger?

No. (That's the simple answer).

And here's why...

Yes, fans pay a lot of money to see the game and want to be entertained. No one really wants to be entertained if their team still loses, but we're willing to accept this every now and then. But ultimately they want to see passion, effort and progress.

West Ham fans have seen none of that this year. Allardyce blamed injuries and suspensions at the start of the season, and to some extent he was proved right when he won Manager of the Month for February after 4 straight wins. But even in those 4 wins, West Ham have played some terrible football all season and really look like they have no idea how to break a team down.

Banging long balls to Andy Carroll or Carlton Cole and hoping Kevin Nolan gets the scraps isn't what West Ham fans want to see - and no it's nothing to do with the Academy, Bobby Moore and winning the World Cup - it's not what any fan wants to see. A full back smashing the ball upfield to a target man is an option if you're trying to mix it up, but it shouldn't be the first option.

West Ham have wingers who can't beat a man and get to the byline, which means they just lump balls into the box when they get a chance hoping for a second chance opportunity. James Collins, James Tomkins and Winston Reid can defend, they just have no idea what to do with the ball when they get it, hence more long straight balls.

And this is why fans boo the team, and especially Allardyce. He recruits players that can only really play this way. He hasn't improved the team he set up to get back into the Premier League. When Ravel Morrison looked like he may provide some spark of creativity, he was shipped off to QPR. Youth team players have no chance under Allardyce as he seems to just bothered about staying up, not improving.

And I think that's why he gets booed. No one wants to just stay up playing the way Allardyce wants West Ham (and Bolton and Newcastle before that) to play.

They want to see exciting players, good football and passion. None of these were evident last night (or any night for the last few seasons) as they struggled to beat 10-man Hull, who frankly deserved all 3 points.

Yes, West Ham should be in the Premier League next year, but unless Big Sam can convince the owners he is making progress they may have a new manager.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

NYC FC: How You Like Them Yaya Toures

A missed chance to be United?

My father likes to joke that he’s cousins with Manchester City Football Club owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan. 

Those who know anything about Arabic know that a) his first name is Mansour and our last name is Mansoor, which would preclude any real relation; and b) Mansour/Mansoor is like the Smith of the Arab world, it’s an incredibly common name that spans nearly every region in the Middle East and North Africa.

Despite a lack of filial or any other genealogical connection, my father still roots for the Citizens despite my howls of protest as a die-hard Arsenal supporter. 

“Did you see Yaya Toure’s penalty? So calm and professional. Why can’t Arsenal sign players like that?” he’ll ask, not with any malice. He just likes watching me rend my Invincibles-era scarf. 

So it’s with mixed emotions that I find myself looking forward to Sheikh Mansour’s newest venture, NYC FC, modeled in part on their Premier League cousins, MCFC. There are only two problems: I hate the name and I hate orange piping in the badge. 

It’s the former that contributor Tio Pelotas took issue with when I suggested the name should be NYC United. He protested that it’d be trolling MCFC supporters, who hate no one and nothing more than the damned United, the Red Devils, ManYoo, etc. But I contended that the name NYC United would fit better for a couple of reasons. 

First, they’re the team of the five boroughs of New York City, uniting the disparate fan bases and natural enemies among the citizens of different parts of the city. Yes, we’re one big, happy city, but we generally sneer at each other based on where we live and where we’re from. There’s like a cascade of snobbery, with Manhattanites looking down on those in the outer boroughs; the Brooklyn hipsters insisting on how much cooler they are than the sold-out, soulless “city” people and the passé denizens from Queens; the natural, baseball-born rivals between Queens and the Bronx; and generally no one really cares about Staten Island anyway.

But a city united behind one sports team, that’d be novel, not seen since the city as a whole loved the Knicks in the early 1990s, a fleeting time when we could all call one team ours. Now with the Brooklyn Nets, that’ll never happen again. 

But NYC FC name just lacks that sense of togetherness. It can’t really convey that they’re the only real soccer team (sorry New York/Jersey Red Bulls/Metrostars or whoever you are now) that represents us. 

And they’ll already say united on their shirts. If the main sponsor is Etihad Airlines, like the Citizens, NYC FC’s shirts will be emblazoned with the word Etihad, which means united in Arabic. Citizens fans will just have to accept that their cousins are from the same family but have a different last name. Even if it reminds them of their main rivals.

And who the hell likes their family anyway? As the old Arab proverb goes, unity means many people working together as if they are all one person.

As for the orange piping? It reminds me of the Mets and Knicks. Who wants to emulate those two franchises? Since the Yankees own a stake in the team, I’m surprised they didn’t push for pinstripes. Now that would have made a statement.

Oh, and my father won’t be supporting NYC FC. My parents live in Orlando and are looking forward to their adopted hometown Orlando City joining the MLS in 2015.

I can’t wait until NYC FC raids their ranks and I get to ask my father how he likes them Yaya Toures. 

- Adam Manzor

Better hope his Mum's not washing the kit!

I've watched this a few times and still can't work out what he's doing!

Grass stains on that white kit won't be good, but at least you got the throw (and didn't make yourself look like an idiot!)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Just an average Clasico!

Where do you start when trying to summarize El Clasiso?

Goals, controversial penalties, the usual Sergio Ramos red card, another Messi hat-trick, more broken records? It had it all.

Ronaldo and Ramos are already complaining about the refereeing, and I hope that doesn't become the focus of the debate, but you feel it may actually aid Real, who will now feel like everyone is against them and spur them on to the title. The decisions weren't horrible, they just happen at such speed, and the referee only gets one look. He could have done with some help from his assistants, but you have to applaud the fact he was brace enough to make the big decisions. Yes, we'd love him to be right every time, but calling for technology to intervene is stupid - and an argument that's not even worth having. Even with 10 replays, it's hard to know if Cristiano was fouled outside, if the foul continued inside, if it a red card etc. The beauty of the game is the human element - so enough of that discussion.

Messi is a beast, he's so cool under pressure. Ronaldo too is on another level - he didn't have his best game, but every time he gets on the ball the excitement level builds. Bale and Neymar on the other hand aren't at that level yet. The Welshman looked a little out of his depth. Angel Di Maria took the game to Barca in a way that Bale should be doing. If Karim Benzema could have converted more than 2 of the changes Di Maria made for him then Real would have been out of sight.

Neymar prefers a broken game I think. He preys on 1 on 1 match-ups and the ability to utilize the open spaces in behind. Barca play so slow that those opportunities don't always arise in the big games. Teams now let Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas try and pass them to death, knowing that they just need to contain Messi and they'll be ok (ok, no one can contain him, but they at least know the game plan!).

And so with Barca not really able to break Madrid down, it was left for one man to do it. Sergio Ramos. 19 red cards in La Liga, 180 yellows - impressive. But time and again he finds himself in positions he shouldn't be in. He's a fantastic player on some levels, but he commits reckless fouls and often finds himself as the last man. Foul there and quite often the red will follow. And he can't help himself. He just about nicked Neymar, but ultimately, he had no idea where the Brazilian was, and that's why he had to foul.

If Ramos stays on, Real win in my opinion. They were the better team, but Messi was the difference. Nothing phases him (apart from an Argentina shirt). The La Liga title is wide open again - and as much as we complain about Barca and Real meeting too often these days, there probably aren't two other teams in Europe that could have created the excitement of yesterday's game.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Tight at the top, but Arsenal are done if they lose

If Arsenal lost at Chelsea, you have to think they are out of the title race. They would be 7 points behind with 8 games left - yes they have a game in hand, but they'd probably have to win all 8 to even have a chance of finishing above Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City. They could finish 2nd, but overcoming all 3 rivals at this point will be tough anyway.

Arsene Wenger is desperate to end the trophy drought, but the FA Cup is looking like the more realistic option. And perhaps that is what Arsenal have lacked - options. Giroud has been out of form, and Walcott out injured - without them (or Ramsey's goals from midfield), Arsenal have struggled. I am just not sure they have enough options to mix it up should they go behind. But here's a game that they have to go for it if they go behind. There is really nothing to lose if they go down 2-0, 3-0 or 5-0 - some pride maybe, but Spurs, Everton and Manchester United aren't catching them for 4th.

As for Chelsea, a draw isn't terrible, but they are still in Europe and will be confident of progressing against PSG in the quarterfinals of the Champions League - although why anyone is confident of beating a team with Zlatan in is beyond me. Chelsea are getting old and slow at the back, but they have more than enough going forward to exploit some of Arsenal's weaknesses (and yes, I do mean Mikel Arteta in the defensive midfield role).

Manchester City have a tough week coming up, with United and then Arsenal to come - failing to beat Fulham should mean they don't win the league. Fulham have been awful all season, and City should be beating them 4-0 or more.

Liverpool have to win away at Cardiff and home to Sunderland in midweek if they are to realistically compete. Two of the league's bottom three have to be dispatched if Brendan Rodgers' team expect to win the title.

It's an interesting weekend at the top - no one can afford to lose, but if Arsenal do, we may be down to a 3 horse race. If any of the others lose (and Arsenal don't) they have to be right in the mix. The top is getting as interesting as the bottom - and I'm willing to hear all schoolboy jokes on that!

MLS sides improve internationally despite latest setback

Latest, stinging defeats will serve a purpose, provide experience

There won't be any cheerleading here after the latest debacle this week following Major League Soccer's elimination of its last three contending sides in CONCACAF's Champions League play.

However, can we take a breather and a step back to recall just a few short years ago the comedic displays the league endured against Mexican teams that looked little interested when the region's continental format was renovated to rival that of its UEFA Champions League and CONMEBOL's Copa Libertadores cousins?

It's been reiterated here and in other sites and blogs that the league is growing by leaps and bounds, yes. Its growth in such a short time is to be commended and supporters of this league--including us here--continue to believe that going forward, MLS competition is advancing at a rapid pace, more so than expected.

But, understandably, fans, skeptics and the Don (that is, commissioner Don Garber) continue to be baffled, frustrated and disillusioned at MLS' play in international competition. On the other hand, international level is not only a step up, it's a giant leap into competitiveness that most players in the growing league aren't too accustomed to just yet. Landon Donovan is. Robbie Keane is. Graham Zusi is.

The majority need more of this week's games under their belt. It's a different scene in Tijuana, San Jose and Panama City than northern California and Utah. The hostilities, rapid pace of play and mind games are just some factors to endure but the experience is worth it all.

Mexican sides are justifiably arrogant when partaking in competition against their MLS brethren. And why shouldn't they be? They're a rich league, save for a few deadbeat clubs, have a history of good overall football in its structure and develop class players; only Brazil and Argentina can match what Mexico's league displays if it boils down to pay and competition. 

But the gap between Mexico and U.S. leagues' play can't last forever. Sure, the salary cap here constrains depth a bit, the scheduling of these tournament stages are a bit stagnant and, yes, maybe sometimes luck plays a dirty trick on us. So what's the point here? MLS sides can compete on an international level although the scorelines don't reflect that yet. Some pieces of the puzzle have yet to be completed. It's only a while back that Mexico's sides were toying with MLS sides in previous Champions League versions, sending out reserves and more interested in competing in Libertadores.

Football is cyclical. Football provides payback. Football gives hope.

Just ask the 2002 U.S. national World Cup team.

-Tio Pelotas

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Just how good (or bad) is MLS?

Let me start this discussion with this.... this article is not meant to criticize MLS, just discuss how it compares with other leagues. It's not a case of liking one and hating another - it's all football, just there are just different qualities in different leagues.

People say the Premier League is the most exciting league, that Serie A is the most technical, but that La Liga has the best individual players - and you can't forget the the Bundesliga had both last year's Champions League finalists, and boasts a team that has gone 50 games unbeaten in the league. But there is no consensus on which league is the best - essentially as it's a game of opinions, and that's usually why we all enjoy discussing it.

I don't think there's much of an argument to say that the New York Red Bulls (last season's winner of the Supporter's Shield for the best record in the MLS) or Sporting Kansas City (the MLS Cup winners) could compete in the European Champions League, but I wonder how and where they would fit-in when compared to regular league teams.

If you look at the players, there are stars like Thierry Henry, Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan etc, that could probably still get into any team ranked 4-10 in any European League (like a Tottenham, Real Sociedad or Sanit-Etienne), but probably no one in MLS that could get into the starting XI for a Barcelona, Chelsea or Juventus. But that's why they are the strongest teams in Europe - they have the resources and prestige of being the best of the best. There are good teams and players in Brazil, Russia, Mexico etc, but the best players want to be at those top teams competing for the top trophies.

But how does MLS fare against the mid-range teams in the top leagues? Seattle v Toronto had a crowd of almost 40,00, with US, English and Brazilian internationals on show - but it also had Djimi Traore! It's hard to even argue that you'd prefer to watch Sunderland v Crystal Palace or Elche v Real Betis than seeing that MLS game.

Unfortunately though, there are not enough games of that quality (yet) and much of the league has very average players who aren't improving the game in the US. Why the Red Bulls would sign Bradley Wright-Phillips (and Luke Rogers before him) from the lower reaches of the Championship in England rather than try and develop an American player is beyond me. It's nothing personal against those players, but they aren't adding anything to the league here - Jermain Defoe is, Tim Cahill has, Robbie Keane has. Getting good foreign players helps, developing home-grown talent helps the league and the National team.

And that's where I think MLS struggles to compete, and why it is perceived to be of a lower quality than the European leagues. There's no doubt the top talent is in Europe, but while MLS continues to take players that didn't really do much in Europe, then it will be viewed as lower quality league or a place to go to retire.

The league is growing and developing, but I think every team in MLS would finish in the bottom 3 of the EPL, La Liga or Serie A over a full 38 game season. At the moment, it's a league that has a few too many aging foreigners, not enough trust in youth and is technically a bit behind on coaching and tactics.

But the key thing to remember is that MLS is improving every year and is already great to watch. It may not be quite up to the top club standard in the world, but it's getting there.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Bet he can't do that again....

Even Zlatan dug this sexy goal

Yes, the Jordanian Premier League isn't one of the top competitions in the world but this goal was:

Syrian striker, Motaz Salhani, gave his side, Al-Wahdat, the three points against home side Al-Ramtha but also gave the world a glimpse into how adults can still get giddy over a lucky but absurdly-superb goal.

Good on ya, son!

-Tio Pelotas

Friday, March 14, 2014

Sounders welcome TFC, Union look to build on Week 1 draw

Red Bulls open up at home, Earthquakes hope new signings spark Wondo

The suddenly-glamorous Toronto FC will open up their MLS campaign tomorrow and what better place to introduce the league to Englishman Jermain Defoe and Brazilian Julio Cesar than to the confinements of Seattle's kingdom of loud.

Sure, the turf won't be easy to adjust to--or even like--but Toronto's newly-acquired employees will be impressed by the boisterous enthusiasm for football. Of course, MLS vet Dwayne DeRosario--embarking on his return yet again to this hometown club--and Michael Bradley most likely will have advised the new recruits on not only to the best-attended park in the league but also on the athleticism displayed throughout MLS. Thierry Henry has already attested to this.

Bradley vs Clint Dempsey in front of a packed house. Who would have thought this just a couple of years ago?

Seattle took three points on a last-minute goal by unlikely hero Chad Barrett in its home win last week over defending champions Sporting Kansas City. The affair was what one would expect to be for a first match of a 34-game tournament--scrappy and hesitant until the latter stages of the match.

About 175 miles further south, the Philadelphia Union deployed their shiny new weapons in Argentine Cristian Maidana and Maurice Edu as well as Vincent Nogueira to patrol the midfield. And they looked good in doing so only to be doomed by a last-second goal by Portland Timbers. The Union will surely contend for a playoff spot and--dare we say it--a possible Shield? Maybe a move or two away from that though!

First, the Union welcome a demoralized New England Revolution side that was blanked 0-4 in Houston to the Dynamo last week.

Further up the New Jersey Turnpike, the New York Red Bulls will look to forget its 1-4 walloping to the Whitecaps in Vancouver last week and hope to kick off its defense of its Supporters Shield in style as they host Colorado Rapids. If it ain't broke, why fix it? But in RB's case, it needed a little tweaking. It did not appear to do the trick initially as Harrison's heroes were sliced and diced and thrown away with yesterday's recycling although the Canadians weren't too shabby themselves as they quickly took control of the match after RB sought to do the same early on.

The apparent antidote is a young Rapids team that haven't won at Red Bull Arena's gotta be years now. Although they have some good youth talent on its side, the Rapids' speed won't be enough to off Red Bulls as they need to respond to last week's debacle immediately.

Another home-opened to watch out for is San Jose Earthquakes' tilt in welcoming Real Salt Lake. The Californians made some interesting acquisitions in the offseason in Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi and grabbed Yannick Djalo from Portuguese football on loan. Chris Wondolowski is going to need all the help he can get after a top season in 2012 saw him notch 27 goals before his 2013 production fell to just 11 goals. What kind of possession play will San Jose head into now with these new players? Don't forget about Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart. Should be a good mix of touch and physicality.

In other matches: the Dynamo host Montreal Impact, Kansas City celebrates last year's championship with fans before taking on FC Dallas while the Chicago Fire visit the Timbers and Chivas USA takes on the Whitecaps.

-Tio Pelotas

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Why don't more teams 'go for it'?

Arsenal and Manchester City can have few complaints when they see they are not in the final 8 of the Champions League. Yes, there were bad decisions, penalties, red cards and chances missed, but neither team really went for it in the second leg.

You're 2-0 down on aggregate away from home against the biggest teams in Europe, and you don't change the game plan. Both Arsenal and City started with one up front and flooded the midfield. It has worked for them domestically, but they have better players than 80% of the teams in the Premier League. Man for man they can just about compete with Bayern and Barca, but at some point you have to mix it up.

Arsene Wenger and Manuel Pellegrini seemed to be want to keep it at 0-0 in the first half, with neither English team really pushing forward. In all honesty, both were lucky to be scoreless at half-time.

But if the plan (and it's worked) is to keep it at 2-0 overall with 45 minutes left, you then have to go for it. Bring another attacker on at the break, change the system, gamble.

Losing the tie over 2 legs isn't the worst thing in the world, but losing without ever really trying to win is pointless. City had more changes than Arsenal, and at least rolled the dice with 30 minutes left. Arsenal don't really have the squad (or strikers) to do it, but this is why their managers are paid the big bucks - or is that just my opinion?

And who cares if you lose 3-1, 4-1, 5-1 or 6-1? You're out of the tournament regardless, and maybe grabbing that first goal puts the cat among the pigeons and ruffles a few feathers. You're not brave, heroic or valiant losers for hanging on for a draw after losing the first leg... you're just losers.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Is it just Pardew? Or time for a change?

Alan Pardew has been given a 7 game ban and fined for headbutting David Meyler. Seems fair, but it also opens the discussion on how we can prevent another incident like this happening.

Should the benches be so close together? Should the fourth official have to act as a policeman to keep managers and substitutes apart? Should we follow the lead of other sports? Or should we write all this off as another Pardew moment?

The tradition of teams coming out of the tunnel together, opposing managers shaking hands and settling in before kick-off for been around a while, but what does it actually achieve? Managers, coaches, substitutes and pretty much anyone on the staff are sat within earshot (and touching distance) of each other and are then forced down a narrow tunnel at half-time and full-time with tempers flaring and passion boiling over.

These 40 men (22 players, 14 subs, managers, physios etc.) are usually separated by a fourth official, who frankly has the worst job in sports. He gets the injury time wrong (depending on who you ask), gets abused for decisions he didn't make and is forced to act as a policeman for grown men who just want to shout abuse at opposition players/coaches and managers.

Football is not rugby and we don't have the respect and common decency that we need, but maybe the governing bodies also need to look at the situation. Keep the benches further apart, let an official upstairs do the injury time, don't allow TV replays on the bench, and limit the staff to just substitutes, a physio and the manager.

Stadiums are not set-up like American football or baseball to have teams on the opposite sides of the pitch, but maybe they need to look at bigger distances between the technical areas, and punishments for infringements.

Pardew may not get a $100,000 fine for assaulting someone on the street, but he may have faced some jail time if it wasn't on a football field. Things that seem to pass on the soccer field trickle down to amateur football and are simply unacceptable. Passion is one thing, but violent assaults are another. How to you tell a fan not to do something so stupid if your manager is doing it?

Players and managers have to set a better example, but maybe it's time the governing bodies stepped in to take some proactive action, rather than wait for another (maybe worse) Pardew-type incident.

Monday, March 10, 2014

'Too much gayness' for Martin Samuel

Sorry for the picture, but wanted to give you a face to go with the name.

Martin Samuel works for the Daily Mail, he's meant to be a football journalist, but some how manages to get his views on anything and everything into the paper. He's meant to be anyalyzing what the FA might do should a player come out, and how they would hypothetically mess it up. I am confused as to the point of the article, but it's the quote that threw me.

Here are his words (and the link), I'm still trying to work out the response...

The straight establishment wants a pet gay project only for their benefit. They want the unique selling point of football’s first gay icon to be marketed and exploited to the full. 

If 30 footballers came out as gay as one in a massive show of communal pride, it would be a disaster. 

Too much gayness. A flooded market. What are we going to do with all these queens? It is the lone gay that is sought, the saleable gay, the memorable face of the gay game and, by definition, of our marvellous, tolerant football community, too. It’s still all about us really. That and the money.

-Martin Samuel

I don't enjoy reading what this guy has to say on football, and have no idea how his editors allow him write about anything else. I'm lost for words.

Does Arsene Wenger have to win the FA Cup now?

Yes, I know this is from last year's final!
No one expected Wigan to beat Manchester City in the FA Cup again - and this one was even at the Etihad in front of City's 'faithful' (many of whom were seen leaving with 10 mins left - I hope they missed it when Aguero scored the goal that won the league).

Once the semi-final draw was made, everyone presumed it would be Arsenal v City to basically decide the trophy - a repeat of a small team winning just wasn't possible, was it?

But now it's Arsenal v Wigan and Hull v Sheffield United. No glamour ties, but a huge amount of pressure on Arsene Wenger. Lose to Man City in the semi-final and it's somewhat acceptable. Lose to Wigan or Hull/Sheff United and there could be calls for Wenger to go.

Arsenal haven't won a trophy in a long time (it's all relative, but still a long time for them). The League looks to be gone this year, and I don't see them coming back from 2 down against Bayern Munich.

But the FA Cup is a real trophy - more so than the League Cup - and represents a great chance for Wenger to win something. He hasn't won anything since 2005, so it's about time.

You can't see Arsenal failing to win it from here, but Wigan deserve their shot at defending the trophy, and Hull are playing reasonably well - although no one wants to see Steve Bruce win anything.

No pressure Arsene, but fail again here and there really can't be anymore excuses.

Rimando, Vancouver put in class performances

Philly, Chivas USA among sides to spring surprises

Real Salt Lake's Nick Rimando was pure class, the New York Red Bulls were not and Chivas USA's offseason novela didn't affect them on the pitch in MLS' opening weekend.

Rimando reminded folks why he can't be discounted in his side's 0-1 win over the L.A. Galaxy as he stopped Robbie Keane's injury-time kick from the spot although the Irishman didn't do himself any favors with a hesitant swing coupled with a kick that wasn't his usual-potent self. The Utah side will again be a consistent force this campaign as they yet again return with the core of a team that has been a success for several seasons, albeit without their managerial weapon in Jason Kreis, who took off for New York City FC.

In Vancouver, the New York Red Bulls were confident and talking everything about defending their Supporters Shield trophy but were dealt a dose of reality of how difficult that process will be as the Whitecaps--enjoying a newfound chemistry with several new signings and a new manager in Welshman Carl Robinson--tore apart the Red Bulls in a 4-1 walloping, thanks to two goals by Scottish striker Kenny Miller and one by its new designated player in Pedro Morales, the stylish Chilean that should make Vancouver fans quickly forget about last year's 20-goal Brazilian marksman Camilo.

Chivas USA, the red-headed stepchild of the league for years and which was sold to the league recently, have added pieces to its puzzle that could get the lameduck franchise a playoff ticket for the first time since 2009. (We assume lameduck since the Chivas USA experiment brought forward by Chivas Guadalajara mastermind Jorge Vergara appears to be shortlived as the league hopes to obtain an ownership group that keeps the team in L.A. under a new umbrella name.) Its 3-2 win over Chicago Fire was a grinding decision that the side would have lost in past seasons. A 14-player turnover that includes former Mexican international Adolfo 'Bofo' Bautista and Mauro Rosales along with returning players in Carlos Bocanegra and the smooth Dan Kennedy in net can bring a surprise element to the league before what is expected to be a full-on rebranding (we hope!).

In other matches, DC United's own makeover looked out of sync as they fell 0-3 to Columbus Crew with Federico Higuain (Gonzalo's older brother) netting two and Costa Rican Jairo Arrieta opening up sequences. FC Dallas opened up its campaign with a 3-2 decision over Montreal Impact, Houston Dynamo blanked New England Revolution 4-0 and Portland Timbers needed a final-play goal by Argentine Gaston Fernandez to equalize its match at home against a much-improved Philadelphia Union that should give the East favorites a run for their money. The first match of the season saw Seattle Sounders also tie with a last-minute play at home with defending champions Sporting Kansas City.

-Tio Pelotas

Friday, March 7, 2014

MLS riding continued momentum

MLS enters 19th season with optimism for future generations

Opening day! Are you ready for some futbol? MLS, it's fan-tastic!

See what we did there?

Major League Soccer continues to ride momentum as it opens its 19th season this weekend and seemingly appears to grow more and more in stature but not quite as the Big 3 sports have just yet.

Any perceived negativity towards the state of soccer here in the U.S., however, is brushed aside as soccer's participatory status in this country among youth continues to produce healthy numbers in recreational and advanced levels.

The problem, however, has been the lack of continued development by the U.S. ladder in structuring potential players as they mature both mentally and physically. Countless cases of trying out for other sports in high school or beyond have reached high numbers as athletes had idols to look up to in the National Football League, National Basketball Association or Major League Baseball along with its riches and fame.

As of now, MLS is proving to be a hot commodity though with growing supporters groups, more sponsorship deals and soccer-specific stadiums sprucing up in downtown cities with investors lining up for a crack at ownership. The league continues to attract foreign talent and has provided a respectable push for homegrown players as well.

But television ratings prove otherwise. The miniscule numbers for watching MLS continues to baffle league officials despite negotiating decent packages with networks. The participatory aspect of soccer in America has always been strong but how do we translate that into spectatorship?

MLS stadiums, for the most part, have been full, averaging formidable gate receipts that places it among the top leagues in the world. More and more kids are wearing their favorite jerseys on the street, whether it be MLS or international. Pubs are welcoming supporters groups all over the country from MLS to the lower divisions.

So what's missing here?

Part of the answer is Michael Bradley. No, he's not going to get TV numbers to skyrocket alone but the fact that he decided to come back to MLS and forego several more years in Europe is. The New Jersey native even said it in his presser upon being introduced to Toronto FC's faithful this past offseason--he's here to continue to push the game into the mainstream and show tomorrow's stars that our league can pay and play.

The television ratings are soul-crushing but the pace that MLS has grown in the past two decades gives it ammunition to continue to fight and plan for years ahead. We owe that to our future national-team players.

-Tio Pelotas

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A breakdown of what QPR were paying players

You may have seen that QPR paid 78 million pounds in wages last year, which was more than Borussia Dortmund - but let that sink in for a minute.... that's well over $100 million dollars, and by well over, I actually mean $130 million.

Think about that for a second. I'll do this in pounds, but it's more than half again if you want the dollar conversion (1=1.65, but this isn't a maths or currency website!).

Let's say there is a squad of 30 players (most of who were very average players at QPR last year) each earning an average of 50,000 pounds a week.

That's 50,000 x 30 players x 52 weeks of the year.

That totals 78 million pounds.

Are you kidding me?

Not one of those players was worth 50,000 pounds a week - $80,000 a week is more than what the majority of MLS players earn in a year. And most of them couldn't have been worse than Armand Traore, Jose Bosingwa, Bobby Zamora or Stephane Mbia.

Looking at that whole squad from 2012/13, maybe Loic Remy and Julio Cesar (possibly Chris Samba) could expect more than 50,000 a week, but none of the others could. And the fact is QPR paid 30 players an AVERAGE of 50 grand. There are only 25 players on that list too (although I bet they paid for Joey Barton and Djibril Cisse to go on loan).

I am guessing the most a ticket can be at Loftus Road is 50 quid, so if a fan goes to 20 home games (19 league, 1 cup) then that's 1000 pounds from the average punter. A programme, beer and pie maybe, but not much more. Do the maths, or don't. It takes 50 fans a whole season to pay one player's wages for a week. 50 fans a SEASON, for 1 PLAYER for 1 WEEK!

TV and sponsorship may pay almost all the bills these days, but it's no surprise QPR are 177 million pounds in debt.

They won't be the only ones to go broke if this stupidity continues.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Klinsmann needs to develop a plan

A 2-0 defeat to Ukraine in a friendly 3 months before the World Cup in Brazil isn’t an awful result. A loss is never great, but at this stage Jurgen Klinsmann should be looking to develop more of a game plan.

The US are solid at the back (as long as John Brooks doesn't play again), but lack a natural ball player. But they’re not alone in that respect – central defenders who can bring the ball out and pick a pass are few and far between.

Tim Howard is a very good goalkeeper, he's prone to the occasional error, but it's his kicking leaves a lot to be desired and that’s partly where the problem lies. 

Because the full-backs are not getting the ball quickly, Howard and his defenders are forced into playing long balls up to Jozy Altidore, who really doesn’t have much support even if he wins the initial header. Clint Dempsey looked rusty, and that’s ok, but there need to be other options other than Deuce.

Jermaine Jones and Sacha Kljestan don’t offer even half of what Michael Bradley does – but the lack of alternatives right now is a little concerning. There is good energy and commitment in the midfield engine room, but not a lot else.  

This leads to lots of short passes in meaningless areas, and a dependence on the long ball and break downs in play rather than having a solid strategy to create chances.

There was no one on the bench that Klinsmann could convincingly turn to if a goal was needed. It took 87 minutes before the US managed a shot on target - that says a lot. 

Yes, Landon Donovan is out and Aron Johannsson isn’t quite up to speed with the team yet, but the US needs some pace and creativity. These players don’t grow on trees and every team, club or national, is desperate for them. But the weak CONCACAF qualifying group, and friendly games like this are a chance to experiment.

Klinsy will get a chance to look at his domestic-based players in next month's friendly against Mexico in Arizona and perhaps a few more friendlies, including one scheduled for Red Bull Arena sometime shortly before the tournament.

Unfortunately, a subdued loss to an average Ukraine team won’t tell Jurgen very much. He might know more about what (and who) not to go with, but it’s highly unlikely he knows his best XI, let alone what XI will start against Ghana in Natal on June 16.

Armenia know the next step won't be easy

Armenia enters 2014 with its highest FIFA ranking since its inception to the governing body, but one has to wonder what this truly means for Armenian football. Though happy with a climb in the rankings from the mid 100s just a few years ago, can Armenia really consider itself an imposing opponent on the world stage?

Two impressive rounds of qualifying (Euro 2012 & WC 2014), the latest including a 4-0 win in Copenhagen over Denmark, has brought this small nation footballing respectability. With this impressive form, UEFA Champions League runner-up Borussia Dortmund spent a hefty sum of 22 million Euros on Henrikh Mkhitaryan - arguably the best footballer Armenia has ever produced.

But respectability isn't the only thing Armenians want. They are yet to qualify for the Euros or World Cup after becoming an independent state in 1991 and playing first international match in October 1992. They want to play on the big stage, but getting there isn't going to be easy.

Armenia's newest challenge sees them placed in a group with Portugal, Serbia, Denmark (again) and Albania for qualification for the 2016 European Championships. It is hard to see Armenia advancing to the "Big Show" in France, and with that comes more questions about FIFA's ranking system - How much worth is there in Armenia being ranked number 30 in the world when it has yet to qualify for a major tournament?

Today, this small nation of 3 million residents (but with a diaspora of 27 million) lost 2-0 to Russia in a friendly. A win would have helped Armenia further climb FIFA's ranking system, but is this a true indicator of how a nation compares to others? Portugal, Serbia and Denmark are all ahead of Armenia in the rankings (and France are joining the group just for fun as they qualify as hosts). Despite the tournament expanding to 24 teams, finishing in the top 2 looks like a huge ask. No group is easy, but FIFA seems to think the system gives everyone a shot. 

Sepp Blatter certainly thinks so, and with that said it is a surprise that Jack Warner hasn't gotten Trinidad and Tobago in the top 10, or a place at the Euros!!!

All Armenians know is that they'll have to do it the hard way again.  

-Aris Alpian

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The size of Jan Molby, the touch of Emile Heskey!

Is bonus money the way to go?

The FA may be asking Vincent Tan to explain his bonus offer , but maybe the Cardiff owner has a point - even if he has no idea what he is doing or saying most of the time.

Premier League players (more than most other leagues) are getting paid ridiculous amounts of money to play and not necessarily perform. Wayne Rooney is reportedly getting 300,000 pounds a week for the next 5 years, and what does he have to do for it? Nothing. I'm sure there is some legal language in there that says he has to play in 50% of games or show up for training, but what incentive is there for him to really do well now?

Yes, it gives other players the incentive to do well and hopefully get a contract even half as big as Wayne's, but shouldn't players have to work a little harder for their money?

These players do get appearance bonuses, goal bonuses, clean sheets, assists, and other add-ons, but shouldn't they be made to work a little harder for the basic money they earn?

The Cardiff players can't solely be blamed for them being bottom of the league, but they should shoulder some more of the blame, and you have to hit them where it hurts - in the wallet. Because there is no loyalty to teams anymore, players jump ship as soon as the going gets tough. Maybe they should be forced to stay a season if the team is relegated, or forfit some of their pay - I know it would never happen, but clubs can't fire players for underachieving.

I don't know a solution, but Vincent Tan does at least open the discussion. Players should have to work a little harder for their money - especially as someone like Wayne Rooney now wakes up every morning 15,000 pounds richer - because that's what he earns every night while sleeping.