Friday, April 25, 2014

RSL only unbeaten team left, Sounders back home

Earthquakes, Chivas USA look for points, Impact visit Philly

Seven rounds gone and Real Salt Lake remains the sole undefeated side, just three points out of the Western Conference summit along with Seattle as FC Dallas enjoys the top overall record early on in the campaign.

Colorado, Vancouver and L.A. Galaxy aren't far off but a negative streak could complicate matters.

In the East, the familiarity of a tightening top-half sets in as Kansas City, Columbus and New York all sit in comfortable settings for now but Toronto, D.C. United, New England and Philadelphia give chase and have the capacities to do so.

Here are some games to look out for:

Colorado at Seattle, 4pm Sat. -- April has been kind to the Sounders as they accumulated seven points this month, all on the road (Portland, Dallas & Chivas USA). Now they come home for a three-match homestand in front of one of the best crowds in the world. But the Rapids also possess the visitors mystique as they took six points at Vancouver and Toronto and have also produced a backline that's produced three shutouts so far.

Philadelphia at Montreal, 4pm Sat. -- Montreal sits in the cellar of the East and need points fast to calm supporters and not let the season slip out of their hands. Panic? Not yet. They now move back home to intimate Saputo Stadium where fans are right on top of the action, compared with the massive Olympic stadium. Philly knows about intensity from the crowd as Union games are packed with rabid fans, as a team in Philly should be. This will be the first match that the two opposing forwards--Jack McInerney and Andrew Wenger--play each other since the sides swapped them in a trade last month.

Chivas USA at San Jose, 10:30pm Sat. -- Injuries plague the Goonies' firepower as Chris Wondolowski is isolated up top with target man Alan Gordon being questionable and Steven Lenhart out for another week or so. Other depth players are out through suspension and injuries as well, making it difficult for the Earthquakes to get their first win. And along comes the Goats, whose striker Erick Torres has more goals than San Jose altogether this year. 

Other matches:

Dallas at D.C. United -- Won't be huge, but Ben Olsen's side can make a statement if it takes three points against a talented Dallas team.

New York at Columbus -- Although the Crew is winless this month, their three wins in March has helped settle nerves, just as Michael Parkhurst has settled down the backline.

Kansas City at New England -- The Revs face a sturdy test when they host the attack-minded defending champions. New England have not allowed a goal at home this year. And they've welcome back Shalrie Joseph.
Vancouver at Salt Lake -- Veteran goalkeeper has a chance to equal the league's shutout record at 112, currently held by the now-retired Kevin Hartman.

Portland at Houston -- The Dynamo got spanked in Red Bull Arena this week; the Timbers are winless. Will be a nervy start to the match.

-Tio Pelotas

Would Liverpool take a point?

It's not their style right now, but Liverpool should be content to take the draw at home to Chelsea on Sunday. They will beat Newcastle at home on the last day, and although away to Crystal Palace is tougher than many would have expected, you'd have to think Liverpool should win there too.

Not that Brendan Rodgers should play for the draw. Do that and they'll lose - players just don't know how to play for a draw from the start of a game. If it's 1-1 with 10 minutes left, fine, shut up shop. But Liverpool are top and are playing fantastic football - they need to stick with what they know best.

Plus, if Jose Mourinho plays a weaker team, you have to get after them. Mark Schwarzer is 41, he can only dive so many times before he breaks a hip!

Then there's the other end of the spectrum. Sunderland at home to Cardiff. The visitors may take a point, but Sunderland need all three. Games are running out and while it's hard to see Norwich or Aston Villa getting many more points, they do already have points on the board.

No one can win the League this weekend, and no on can go down, but don't take your eyes of the games this weekend - unless you were going to watch Stoke v Tottenham. It will probably end up 5-4, but no one will care.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Is there a favorite in the Champions League?

Real Madrid are 1-0 up, but there are few of us who think Bayern won't score at least once in the second leg.

Chelsea are very hard to watch, but Jose Mourinho knows how to win the Champions League, and he got exactly what he wanted from the first leg.

So are the teams that were away from home in a better position than the Madrid clubs? Or is it all still very even?

Real surprised Bayern with their counterattacking approach in the first leg, but with Ronaldo at 50% and Bale sick, maybe Ancelotti did the right thing. They soaked up the pressure really well and Bayern didn't have many great chances. Gotze has one and Muller another, but they were late on once Real had to reshuffle after Pepe's injury. Cristiano had a great chance to make it 2-0, and I feel they may rue that miss. Bayern won't be as blunt again in attack at home, and one goal there could bring three. They may have to score 3 though as Bayern's defense was brutally exposed by the pace of Ronaldo, Bale and Di Maria - and you have to think they'll try and exploit that again.

It's hard to discuss the Atletico Madrid v Chelsea game without wanting to fall asleep. Chelsea played 6 at the back for most of the game and limited Atletico to deep crosses to the back post where Terry and Cahill bossed Diego Costa. Chelsea offered nothing going forward, and may as well not have played Fernando Torres up front. He gets a lot of criticism, but was so isolated he must have wondered if Jose was just hanging him out to dry. But having kept the clean sheet away, the impetus will be on Chelsea to attack at home. I don't think they will unless Eden Hazard plays. Atletico are very dangerous on the counter, but Mourinho's set-up showed that they don't have that many ideas if you get lots of men behind the ball. Expect more of the same with one goal settling the tie.

So to answer my own question, no there isn't a favorite. I predict the overall winner coming from the Real Madrid/Bayern Munich tie, but I can't even pick a winner of either semi-final.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Marquez sent off for Mr. Miyagi-inspired kick

Mexican captain gets straight red as Leon bows out of Libertadores

Rafael Marquez immediately apologized on his official Twitter account for the above recklessness against Bolivian international Juan Carlos Arce following its match in the Round of 16 stage of the Copa Libertadores.

With about 15 minutes left and the match leveled at 1-1, the Mexican captain made it difficult for his Club Leon side as he was directly sent off for the challenge. The former New York Red Bulls defender did not even protest the decision as he walked off the pitch.

The 3-3 aggregate allowed Bolivar to advance onto the quarterfinals, only the fourth time the Bolivian side has done so in its history but Leon had plenty of chances and kept up with the South Americans in the skies of La Paz.

-Tio Pelotas

Red Bulls need to be pushovers

No revenge, only 3 points needed, as RBNY hosts Houston tonight

Mike Petke humbly took the blame for the Red Bulls' early form that saw them winless through six matches before its 2-1 win at Red Bull Arena last Wednesday over the Philadelphia Union. But surely his players are having none of that.

You sensed the grittiness and hard work that Thierry Henry & Co. displayed in their first victory last week as players walked off the pitch, with Henry limping and Tim Cahill huffing and puffing more so than usual. However, there was relief as the increasingly-versatile Eric Alexander produced an intelligent and quiet yet effective display on the field.

Now the Houston Dynamo roll into town--a team that New York has had success against during the regular season here in nearby Harrison, N.J. and in Texas. The Dynamo have problems of their own, starting out slow once again and scrambling to get back on track much like the Red Bulls are. On the other hand, this is a script that supporters have seen from Houston. Even Henry knows it as he watched the Dynamo's goalless draw in Philadelphia, a game that he feels Houston should have put away.

It doesn't matter that the Dynamo stole a 2-1 win in the second leg of last year's playoff series at Red Bull Arena that eliminated New York, stinging the team and supporters alike. Right now what matters is a win at home for Petke and his side, a result that could kickstart a positive streak in this year's campaign. The playoff loss as well as its Supporters Shield is in the past; their main focus is turning around early-season woes.

That will take focus, commitment and maybe some bullying. New York will be missing some pieces tonight but have the depth to control proceedings, especially against a demoralized Dynamo side that have lost three in a row before its goalless draw in Philly. Houston will be missing a key piece in defense that the Red Bulls can look to exploit.

It's still early in the season but the sole game in MLS tonight will be watched by many. A win by either would catapult them higher up in the Eastern Conference table. 

-Tio Pelotas

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Intriguing match set to kick off in La Paz

Bolivar hosts Mexico's Leon in Round of 16, second-leg match

Cant' recall the last time two Bolivian clubs have advanced past the group stage in Copa Libertadores but here they are with a chance to continue their paths onto the quarterfinals.

Bolivar and The Strongest, two rivals that are close to making some history and give Bolivian football some much-needed signs of optimism, are in favorable positions and have looked decent in the initial phases. Bolivar had the much tougher group and, more impressively, topped the table, while The Strongest relied on its home-match streak to advance.

Tonight, Bolivar hosts Mexico's Leon, captained by Rafael Marquez. The first leg in Mexico ended in a 2-2 draw but Leon can't be discounted. They eliminated Brazil's Flamengo at the famed Maracana on the last day of group play.

Also taken into consideration is the fact that the Bolivians have not lost since its initial match in Ecuador to Emelec 2-1.

Plus, these sides met in the group stage; Leon snatched a point in La Paz and Bolivar stole a win in Mexico.

It's an intriguing match and it's too bad not many know about it. But Geezer will keep you posted.

-Tio Pelotas

Who should Manchester United turn to?

So David Moyes didn't even make it a full season, but was allowed to spend huge sums on Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini. More than anything, he seemed a little out of his depth - but it was going to be an impossible job to follow Fergie (unless another Class of '92 magically appeared).

But he's gone, and the only discussion now is who will replace him.

Ryan Giggs has the interim job, and has all his coaching badges. He wouldn't be a terrible choice, but I always feel that it's better not to coach players you have played with - at least in the last couple of seasons. They still have a relationship with you as a player, and you want them to ultimately to respect you as the boss.

Pep Guardiola is an option, but only if he wins everything with Bayern and feels he has nothing to prove there. There is talk that the establishment at the German club don't like his style of play, but I don't see him taking on a project like Manchester United.

The argument still stands that any manager will have to rebuild at Old Trafford. And here's why I don't think bringing in an older coach like Louis van Gaal makes sense.

United need to find a new identity, one that doesn't include Ferguson, Scholes, Giggs etc. The success they enjoyed over the last 20 years was based on the emergence of those youth team players - and let's be honest, it's highly unlikely to happen again in the next 25 years.

Hence, it's a longer term project. Chelsea and Manchester City are the big boys in England now - Liverpool may join them, but United and Arsenal face a battle to get back to the top.

Perhaps that was the thinking with Moyes - but he just didn't handle the transition well at all. Changing manager every season or two won't bring success, but they still need a manger and squad that will be able to compete at the top every year.

I doubt they could poach another Everton manager, but Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers are the type of young, progressive coaches United should go for.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Ajax lit up by minnows in Dutch Cup final

PEC Zwolle lift first trophy in first final in 37 years

It was over in a little over a half hour when Dutch giants Ajax spectacularly were down 4-1 on its way to a 5-1 defeat.

But the images that will be remembered is former Manchester United netminder Edwin van der Sar pleading with his Amsterdam side's supporters to stop the fireworks as Ajax endured the goalfest. Play had to be delayed, officials debated whether to stop the match and the rest of the stadium's fans were shellshocked at the proceedings on the field.

In the end, it was the minnows that won by a heavy scoreline to lift its first major honor in the club's history. This is what football is all about.

-Tio Pelotas

Manchester United need to rebuild - with or without Moyes

Twitter is buzzing about Manchester United sacking David Moyes in the very near future, maybe even today.

Does it make sense? There are 4 games left and nothing to play for, so it makes even less sense than when we debated this in January.

Manchester United need a complete overhaul - whether David Moyes gets to do that, or someone else does, there's no denying it needs to be done.

Moyes may have been out of his depth this season, but look at who he is working with. People can say these are the same players that won the league last season, but they're not. They are older, less motivated and less talented than last year.

There is no Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs knows he's done, and Namanja Vidic and Patrice Evra are on their way out of the club.  Then there's Robin van Persie - he got 30 goals last year, but has only started 22 games this season. Wayne Rooney has been injured, while Juan Mata and Marouane Fellani aren't short term solutions, and haven't really adapted at all yet.

Don't get me wrong, David Moyes has to shoulder some of the blame. He seems tactically naive, unable to motivate the players and has had some bad luck along the way. But he needs a chance to shape his own team. He would have to get rid of Ashley Young, Nani, (maybe) Tom Cleverly and Javier Hernandez (along with Rio, Vidic and Evra). And even if Moyes doesn't get the opportunity to do that, whoever comes in will have to.

Fergie's Manchester United are no more - complete change is needed. There's really no denying it needs to be done.

Sacking Moyes now makes no sense - but the big decision is whether to let him or someone new try and rebuild a squad that hasn't been motivated all season, and probably have no European football at all to look forward to.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Barcelona need to evolve, not completely change

Barcelona take on Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey final today, and it's a coin toss over who wins the trophy. But win or lose, it's probably about time for some changes at the Catalan club. It's time for them to tweak their style, but perhaps with new players rather than a complete ideology overhaul.

The success of the Pep Guardiola era seems a long time ago. They are out of the Champions League, sit 4 points behind Atletico Madrid with 5 games left in La Liga and are still reeling from the Neymar tax scandel and 14 month transfer ban on players under 18.

But let's ignore the off the field issues and look at the team, and where they need to improve if they are going to challenge teams like Real Madrid and Bayern Munich for domestic and European honors.

Victor Valdes is done. It's a sad end to a great career with Barca, but there has always been a feeling that they could have improved in that area. Valdes is a very good 'keeper, but he's not in the top 5 in the world - he's barely in the top 5 Spanish goalies with Casillas, De Gea and Reina all arguably ahead of him. Who do they need? Maybe Thibaut Courtais from Atletico, but his parent club Chelsea are unlikely to let that happen. Or David De Gea from Manchester United - that could happen with United out of next year's Champions League.

Carlos Puyol is also retiring, and Javier Mascherano is just not a center-back.  Marc Bantra is decent, but not the man to help Gerard Pique lead that back 4 yet. Vincent Kompany is the man, but Manchester City won't sell him. Maybe Mats Hummels from Borussia Dortmund would make sense, but they probably need two defenders unless they can convert Sergio Busquets into a defender. Jordi Alba is quality, but Dani Alves is pushing on a little, so a full-back is needed too.

In midfield, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas and Busquets are all top players, but maybe a box-to-box type guy with a little more dynamism is needed - they probably don't regret selling Yaya Toure, but they'd love to have him back.

Barca need to cash in on players like Alex Song and Alexis Sanchez in order to strengthen in other areas. They produce a load of top quality youngsters, but players like Cristian Tello and Gerard Deulofeu need to establish themselves in the first team soon, or risk becoming bench players.

Tello has slipped down the pecking order after Neymar's arrival
I'm not going to mention Lionel Messi or Neymar. The team will be built around those two for the next 5 years - and they could beat most teams (especially in La Liga) on their own. But Barca do need to build again or risk falling behind. Maybe another striker like Roberto Soldado would give them another option up front - and Spurs would probably let him go after a miserable first season in England.

Barca need to change. The tika taka style is not dead, it just needs to evolve in order for them to compete for every trophy (which they expect to do) - maybe with a new coach, but definitely with 3-4 new additions.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Palace, You Really Got Me Now, You Got Me So I Don’t Know What I’m Doing

Geography should dictate sports allegiances. Unless you’re from Alaska or your dad is playing professionally somewhere out of town, I’ve always believed the team near your house is the team you root for and you never, ever stray. Exclamation point.

But as my infatuation for the non-American football grew last year, I faced a quandary. As much as I adhere to the strict guidelines of geography, and as entertaining as this thing called Major League Soccer can be, the product on the pitch isn't good enough to sustain me. Tim Cahill can score four seconds into a game and it won't matter: My heart won't ever be into the New York Red Bulls.

Once NBC locked up its lavish TV contract to ping top-flight English football to U.S. televisions and computers, my quandary became simpler and didn’t involve geography: Which Premier League team would I pick?

Manchester United was immediately eliminated, because when you root for the New York Yankees, you can't root for another New York Yankees. I quickly tossed out other favorites like Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and especially Tottenham, as I didn't want to be the rookie at the bar denying the charges of bandwagon jumping when I still couldn't identify an offside without a slow-motion replay.

Then it came to me that the purest entry into Premier League fandom was to pick one of the three promoted teams. Eventually I settled on a team with a long absence from the top flight and a history of financial insolvency, one that needed a dramatic injury time penalty to secure the third promotion spot from the Championship last year - Crystal Palace. I realized most people didn't give them much of a chance to stay up, but that would be the fun of it, right?

Then the season started, and the losses piled up, and it became quickly evident that a team with zero goal-scoring problems in the lower league had the tendency to score zero goals in the higher one. It didn't help that their most prolific scorer from the prior campaign was still out injured, and their second most prolific was wallowing on the Man U bench. I’d invite friends out to bars to watch early, and the games would be over early.

Through the losing, I worried my allegiance would fade. I wasn't born rooting for these guys. I wasn't sure they'd pass the same litmus test that my beloved but flawed New York Knicks passed the time I saw them play basketball against the now-local Brooklyn Nets. It never even crossed my mind that I’d desert the Knicks.

With Palace, it did cross my mind. I did think of leaving. Would I stay with them if they got relegated and their games weren’t on TV anymore? The early losing led to a managerial change, and while they picked up a few wins, they stayed in the drop zone and subconsciously, I gave them until the New Year to keep me.

But deeper in my subconscious, I found myself getting to know the players: I wondered why they’d always pick the speedy Cameron Jerome as striker, even though he was the clumsiest finisher I've seen in the entire league. Why weren't they playing young and talented Dwight Gayle more often? Was defender Joel Ward really happy with his sudden move to midfield? Did Glenn Murray just Tweet that he’s coming back from his knee injury soon??!! I was starting to care about this team from South London like they played right around the corner.

On Boxing Day, Gayle curled in an injury-time beauty from just outside the box to break a 0-0 tie at Aston Villa, and I screamed in joy. A poor quality game had, to me, become the most thrilling and beautiful match in the history of sport(s). Something was happening. I wasn’t going to relegate them for New Year’s.

Out of the drop zone but close enough where it was still a real possibility, Palace took the pitch at Selhurst Park three Saturdays ago to play Chelsea. In my wildest fantasy, the Eagles would somehow coax a draw out of the first-place team, en route to barely surviving relegation.

But early in the second half of a 0-0 game, Chelsea captain John Terry headed the ball into his own goal while trying to head it out of harm’s way. My phone lit up with texts. “Palace leads,” said one. “Holy shit,” said another. I watched on my phone as the final seconds of injury time ticked off and Selhurst Park lost its shit. I had chills. This was my team doing this. My boys.

Two weeks ago, Palace played its most thorough game of the year, winning 3-0 away at Cardiff and getting to 34 points for the season. Another win this weekend over Villa took them just three points shy of the magical 40-point barrier that usually marks staying up, but things look good. 

Palace has me by the balls and I’d follow them to the Championship and, God forbid, I’d follow them to League One if I had to. All I know is that it's far more exciting than watching this year's Knicks - and you get to drink at 10am!

- Joe Checkler
Follow him at @JoeCheckler

Saturday, April 12, 2014

'Sup with Grown Ass Man?

EJ can do himself a favor with crack performance vs RBNY 

The great thing about Eddie Johnson is his Don't F*ck with Me demeanor. Those things don't get taught on the pitch.

But through the first several matches of the 2014 campaign, not only are DC United supporters getting worried, his performance has U.S. fans biting their nails ahead of Jurgen Klinsmann's decision to nail down his final squad for Brazil come June.

It's easy to question his work rate from the couch but EJ is probably as frustrated as us. Probably even more so. It's a World Cup year. He just signed for United for a hefty contract that he felt was deserved back in Seattle with the Sounders. Grown Ass Man knows he's a target by a growing sophisticated fan base that's calling for maturity and professionalism.

EJ just turned 30. His time is winding down with the national team. How does he want to be remembered?

Saturday's clasico against the New York Red Bulls will serve as the perfect opportunity to leave any doubts back in the hallways of RFK Stadium (along with the raccoons, rats and Lord knows what else!). His wrongfully-called offside goal in the recent friendly against Mexico gave fans ammunition--mostly hope--for optimism about EJ and recollections of his feats with the national team years earlier.

But Johnson is his only enemy at the moment. Will he seize the last remaining opportunities presented to him by taking all of his experience from a young hot shot to a growing player to what is now a veteran presence for a side that's slowly leaving behind its dynasty memories? EJ has a chance to do something big, starting with Saturday's match that United supporters circle on their calenders annually.

-Tio Pelotas

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bella free kick

Andrea Pirlo marks another perfect beauty, leaves GK motionless

Today's free kick by the Italian legend in the quarterfinal tie between Juventus and Lyon in the Europa League almost makes us forget about the intensity of yesterday's Champions League games involving Atletico Madrid-Barcelona and Bayern Munich-Manchester United. Such class.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

It wasn't just Jose who got a little excited!

Fair play to Chelsea, and especially Jose Mourinho.

He threw on extra strikers and put PSG under pressure, proving that more teams should go for it earlier in the game. Jose put Demba Ba on with 25 mins plus stoppage time to go, and then Fernando Torres with 10 left. PSG should have won the tie when Cavani was through on goal, but at that point Chelsea were making all the running.

Mourinho is now 8-0 in Champions League semi-finals, and Chelsea are in the competition's last 4 for the 7th time in the last 11 years.

Tell that to David Speedie, John Bumstead and Kerry Dixon.

Maybe they'll get as excited as the players did last night!!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

English Football Didn’t Start in 1992

History is a good thing, but it's just that, history

Manchester City haven't always been as fashionable as they are now.

Hi. My names's Ash.
"Hi Ash!"
And, um...
"It's okay, we're all friends here, take your time."

Thanks. I'm, um, a football supporter and I, uh... [clears throat] I don't... I don't support a team in the Premier League.

A hush descends on the room, there are a few quizzical looks, a couple of sad nods and shakes of the head and even one quiet but audible gasp.

Yes, friends, this is what it often feels like to support a "lower" league team. You are an aberration. You're fooling yourself, You must have a Prem team, you simply must! How do you even live?!

It's hard not to hate football almost as much as I love it because of precisely this kind of fandom.

Like Sloan once sang, "It's not the band I hate, it's their fans."

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to watch all kinds of football. I'd be lying if I didn't say I appreciate and often enjoy a hard fought game in the top tier or the You-don't-have-to-be-Champions League. But it's the superiority complex of many fans, the attitude that my opinion cannot count because I don't support a 'proper' team. Because I don't deck myself out in every possible combination of club clothing at any given moment. Because the team I support had the temerity to have their heyday before the Premier League juggernaut really got going. (Often conveniently ignoring the fact that that applies to their team too). Because I happen to think that, in comparison to truly world class players, objectively, your star player and man-crush isn't that good and it's not because the national team manager is "playing them out of position." Because it can't possibly be that without the absurdly talented (and equally absurdly expensive) foreign import there to make your hero look good, he frequently fails on the biggest stage. Because at some point, the World Cup - the biggest stage - became overshadowed by club football.

And because I've never stopped supporting the team I grew up following; from dizzying never-again-attainable-heights and mind-numbing, soul-scarring lows. Instead, presumably, of keeping half an eye on them and hitching my wagon to the latest crop of fancy-dan, stepover merchants. Convincing myself that the Man Citys and Uniteds of this world are and have always been 'our' rivals, instead of the Countys and Albions.

The thing is, rightly or wrongly, I think your opinions are just as suspect for precisely the same reasons.
As I've mentioned, football did not start in 1992. Many clubs had success before this time, some of that number have had some since.

But the lopsided way some fans harp on about history is often perplexing. It's no good glorying in the exploits of Wolves or Forest or Leeds. The majority of their success came pre-Premier League and they're not a part of it now. An important distinction from, say, Liverpool who've had some success since the League's foundation but who would have seen winning the Football League Cup as the least of their achievements 25-30 years ago.

I'm not usually one for anecdotal evidence, but bear with me just this once. I was lucky enough to live in Nottingham in 1979/80. Most of the kids I went to school with followed Liverpool. You'd think it impossible that a club with so much history and success, not to mention  unbridled enthusiasm from the media would have fans that genuinely feel they are somehow underdogs and that the football establishment is out to get them but, they're out there, I've met some of them. Like I said, it's very hard not to hate football sometimes. Having history is often a good thing but it's just that, history. For all the success and trophies, it can often be a millstone around supporters necks. They struggle to reconcile with the mediocrity (or worse) of the present and so the club can never realign itself to the new football reality and be as good as they remember it.
That reality for the vast majority of clubs is either find a very rich owner with no desire to make money from the club but still happy to throw vast sums at it or be content with mid-table obscurity and the occasional tilt at a domestic trophy.

Success or failure can often be relative but year-in, year-out, fans of "unfashionable" clubs get bombarded with hyperbole about how terrible it was that a 'big' club missed out on Europe. It's hardly comparable with relegation or administration but you'd think they were cakewalks compared to missing out on all that
m̶o̶n̶e̶y quality football.

And the 'big' club moniker is bandied around in ever more perplexing ways. There's no solid definition. Amount of fans? Trophies? Richest owners? Man City have three stars on their crest because it looks more 'continental', not because of European success. Forget Wolves or Leeds or even Forest being considered big clubs, the new football hierarchy would exclude old giants like Ajax and Celtic.

I think a lot of the blame, if that's the right word, can be partially attributed to the creation of the Premier League and most to the media. Now armchair fans across the globe are not only treated to seeing their team every time they play but are also bombarded with facts and figures and hyperbole that strains credulity and makes a run-of-the-mill wet Wednesday night mid-table clash seem like the World Cup Final. It's no wonder there's no sense of proportion. And then we all get to do it again next week.

I can genuinely remember a time when fans would get behind any English club that got into Europe. Not hardcore support or changing allegiances but just hoping for a good show from one of our own. The football landscape has changed so irrevocably that i find myself actively wishing for some 'home' clubs to be knocked out just to get their fans and the media to shut up for a bit.

It's because of this constant coverage, the belief that certain teams are untouchable or the evergreen 'to good to go down' (tell that to Rangers, Pompey, Leeds, Charlton, etc.) that nothing matters as much, that history is only relevant when it's your club, that records only count post-1992 or since the creation if the Champions League, that spending incredible amounts of money on fair-to-middling players is somehow acceptable, that getting into the top four is an achievement on par with winning... anything at all.

It's because of these things that I'll watch top flight football but I'm sometimes glad the team I follow isn't a part of it.

"But the skill, the showmanship, you don't see that in the lower leagues."
You mean showboating? [clears throat]

"Well I bet you don't see goals as good."
I'll take that bet.

"It can't be exciting with nothing to play for."
Wrong and wrong.

-Ash Hawthorne

(Ash is a guest writer for the Geezer; he is the author of the Miserable Batsteward blog and you can follow him @VieuxPoissons.)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Change at the top is good for everyone

Everton smashed Arsenal this weekend, and it was refreshing to see. Not because I want to see Arsenal suffer, but because the league can get stale if the same teams dominate every year.

It's the same reason it's great to see Manchester United struggle. It's about time their fans saw an average team, a manager who is struggling to pick his best side, and (most likely) a year without a trophy.

If you support anyone but United or Arsenal, you can probably remember a time when your team was rubbish, and sneaking a 1-0 away win against a team in the bottom 3 was a great result. Arsenal, Manchester United (and the more recent versions - Manchester City and Chelsea) have expected to beat teams like West Brom, Stoke, West Ham and Aston Villa for years. There were surprise results for those teams against the big boys, but they were becoming few and far between.

And there's where it can get boring and repetitive.

If you can predict the top 2 ever year, it's not a great spectacle. If you have 5 or 6 teams competing for the Champions League places, then you engage so many more fans.

City and Chelsea have a lot of money to make sure they are up at the top, but Liverpool and Everton have really crashed the party this year, and many think that Tottenham should have done the same.

It's great for the health of the game in England. United and Arsenal will come again, but eating some humble pie for a season or three will help them refresh their approach. They may not be able to attract the big stars without Champions League football, but that poses new questions and the search for solutions.

Football is an ever-evolving game and we need a shake-up every now and then. Relegation and promotion between the leagues helps, but the teams at the very top need to be reminded that their won't dominate forever - and fans of smaller, less-successful teams will enjoy every minute of seeing the Uniteds and Arsenals of this world struggle.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Is Jack Wilshere's career over?

Of course it's not, but he may he's lucky to have had a son called Archie and a daughter named Delilah by age 22, because he's unlikely to have more after this tackle!

*and on second look it seems it may have caught him in the thigh, but who knows, some people have all the luck!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Who will join Real in the last 4 of the Champions League?

Real Madrid are 99% in the semi-finals after their 3-0 win in the first-leg against Borussia Dortmund, but who will join them in the last 4?

It's a sign of the times that Manchester United's draw at home against Bayern Munich is seen as 'valiant' and 'brave'. Yes, they are playing the best team in Europe who are also the defending champions, but you're in the last 8 of Europe's top competition for a reason. Geezer predicts United won't make the last 4 as they are celebrating a draw at Old Trafford. You have been there before, act like it. United won the Premier League last year - they seem to have forgotten that.

Conceding in the last minute to make it 3-1 makes Chelsea's task a lot harder, but they may make it due to Zlatan's hamstring injury. Jose Mourinho's teams are fantastic at home, but they will have to go for it early and may be helped that PSG don't look great at the back. Neither do Chelsea though, and Lucus Moura's pace will cause John Terry and Gary Cahill a lot of problems. Petr Cech has too many mistakes in him these days too, so Chelsea will probably have to score at least 3 because PSG will get one at Stamford Bridge. Jose will say something about being a 3-legged chihuahua too, and there's only so much of that one can take.

Barcelona v Atletico Madrid is very tough to call. Barcelona have the experience and Lionel Messi, but they have no defenders. With Pique out, Puyol out and Victor Valdes injured too, they will need to score at least twice, as I can't see them keeping Atletico out and, hence, advancing on away goals. Barca thrive on pressure though, so don't be surprised if they boss Atletico at the Vincente Calderon.

So it's Real, Bayern, PSG and Atletico for me. Or Chelsea and Barcelona. Put your house on it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Geezer of the Day - Carlos Bocanegra

Football Geezer remembers Boca as int'l career seems to have ended

One name that's slipped under the radar as a key MLS signing over the past year was former national-team captain Carlos Bocanegra to Chivas USA.

The southern California native has been a key man in the U.S. backline for more than a decade, most notably when the Americans bested Spain in the 2009 Confederations Cup semifinals.

'Boca' started out with Chicago Fire before being picked up by Fulham. He went on with Rennes, St. Etienne, Rangers and Racing Santander before coming home to ink with the Goats.

Although Wednesday's U.S.-Mexico friendly will be made up of league players on both sides, Bocanegra was left out of the tilt by Jurgen Klinsmann, who's apparently decided that Father Time has caught up with Bocanegra.

The two-time MLS Defender of the Year doesn't sound bitter or frustrated that he isn't being given a chance to formally close out his international career--at 110 caps--but instead gives thanks when interviewed and is grateful he's been blessed with a career that's spanned all over the world.

-Tio Pelotas