We dream of football and the world is full of dreams

Monday, February 25, 2008

Bad Challenges

Okay, so for those of you who follow soccer (why else would you be reading this blog?), this past weekend came with a sad note. Brazilian-born Croat Eduardo da Silva suffered a potentially career-ending injury (triple fracture) in a match between his team (Arsenal) and Birmingham (not Alabama!). Following this came death threats for the culprit Martin Taylor, Wenger's arguments that Taylor "has no place in the pitch," and that teams have been trying to "break Arsenal" all season long. Some have rallied to support Taylor against the backlash he's receiving from all angles. Now, after looking at the repeat I would say that it was definitely intentional, as in I'm-fouling-you-so-you-can't-score kind of way, but not at all in a I'm-breaking-your-leg-because-my-coach-told-me-to manner. Earlier this year I saw highlights from a UEFA Cup (Champion's League qualy maybe?) match between a Portuguese side against some other European opponent. The match was clearly over for the Portuguese team but the defender intentionally lifted his leg in a stomping fashion and drove it into an opposing player. The foul led to no serious consequences for the foulee but the man in question was given a heavy fine and was banned for several matches.
So what should Taylor get? Suspension, yes. A fine? Not really. The manner in which the tackle came is very standard (although its end result wasn't) and if we're going to fine people for this then we might as well all play wearing full armor made of synthetic materials that allow your body to bend every which way you want. Case in point, soccer is as much a contact sport as basketball, rugby, and even football is. Fouls are given in all these games at varying degrees. You are forewarned that stepping into the big stage may cost you your health at any point in the 90 minute window of a game. I will not pass judgment on this and I do not take enjoyment in another man's pain. I'm personally well aware of the ramifications that certain injuries to the human body can have. I can only hope that 21st century medicine (and money) will be able to help Eduardo get back on the field but I hope the footballing community can come to a consensus on this and realize that fouls happen in every game and people often get hurt, and sometimes incidents occur with no foul to claim responsibility for a potentially career-ending injury (i.e. Ronaldo's recent injury). Players should be careful, yes, but not at the expense of the moment, and for that matter, the game. My best wishes to Eduardo and his family and I hope he gets well soon. He's a master at what he does and makes the game pleasing to the eye. And for Taylor, my apologies, this will be tough on you for the rest of your career. We know you're sorry and for some, at least, sometimes that's all that counts.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

True All-American team

As MLS grows through expansions, international tournaments and designated (Beckham) players, I feel a new kind of team should emerge. From my experience there exist club teams in Mexico and Ecuador, and I expect this to be true in many other leagues, whose roster includes only players of national descent. So why not have an MLS team with the same premise? Chivas Guadalahara (Mexico) and El Nacional (Ecuador) are teams that have enjoyed great success in the past and are regarded as some of the most important teams in their respective leagues as well as the world as a whole. Indeed, these teams wind up exporting some of the most prominent names in both countries. In the case of Ecuador, for example, El Nacional produced Luis Antonio Valencia (Wigan Athletic), Felix Borja (FSV Mainz) and Segundo Castillo (Red Star Belgrade, also linked with a possible move to Juventus of Turin). But beyond fostering stellar players, a team that is based on national players adds a flair of pride in one's own country and style of play. Currently, Houston sits as the team closest to an all-American team. Out of its roster only Tony Craig (England, GK), Stuart Holden (Scotland, but went to High School in the US and is part of the U-23s), and Canadians Dwayne DeRosario and Pat Onstad were not born in the States. And yet this is a team that has gained international experience and respect, not to mention winning the MLS for the past two years. So I say let's have Houston as an all-national team. Maybe DeRo and Onstad can stay since Canada barely counts as a separate entity these days. In the future maybe the Dynamo can add marquee American players to its roster (i.e. Donovan, Mathis, and others that haven't fared well in Europe). Sometimes players just don't do well outside of their home country, so why not keep them here in a team based on American players? Other places where this may work include Columbus, Kansas City and New England. But recently it has become evident that those markets are in dire need of a designated player. Houston has enjoyed a great fan base and prospects for the future include a potential soccer-specific stadium. So let's keep it in the family. Let's keep it American. Let's have Kinnear continue with his current work. This is an idea worth exploring that could bring a whole new level to this ever-changing league.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Afterthoughts: USA vs. Mexico

What a game indeed. Except.... where was our midfield? Our attacking midfield was spotty at best last night. Michael Bradley was nullified by the Mexican defensive midfield and Landon Donovan seldom saw the ball (although we did see some flashes of brilliance). Bobby Convey did not look sharp enough to have started and I would have put Beasly in if he had been available. I don't feel Lewis was the answer either. I think Edu should have started further back from the midfield in the center ahead of the back four. Ricardo Clark had a good game but this sector of the field requires some work. It could be that some of our Europe-based players had too little time to rest after seeing action over the weekend; such was the case for Dempsey. He was absent from play except for the goal that did not count. I still don't feel he should be a forward but at this point we have no real company for Altidore. The defense had some gaping holes around the middle when it came time for set pieces. More experience is needed in that part of the field and Conrad could have filled that role. Speed was the key point that Bradley suggested to be lacking in the US team. I feel the same, although more dominant flanks in our defense should be addressed as well. I concur with the need for a tighter central defense...Gooch needs to step up if he wants to keep playing. Up top Altidore was anything short of perfect... Opportunistic, with presence, and most of all with passion. Getting a yellow card was exactly what he needed. It showed his strength and poise when confronted with an important game like this. We can only expect more fantasy play from him in the future and it is my hope that he can move on to top-flight European club team during the summer transfer window (Real, are you listening?).
Company up front for him is sorely needed and although I'm not sure about EJ playing alongside, I think it may be worth a try.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Ecuador's coach woes

As I read through the various internet outlets of Ecuador soccer I find myself saddened by the fact that we still lack a coach and, to complicate matters further, did not participating in Wednesday's FIFA date. I shudder at the thought of facing June's World Cup Qualifier without an established coach and at least 3 friendly games under our belt. The latest news is that former coach Hernan Dario "EL Bolillo" Gomez might take up the helm as soon as this week. Don't get me wrong... he was a great coach, alive with excitement and unafraid of playing outside the confines of the Atahualpa. And yet it seems as though our cycle of Colombian coaches has come to an end. Last year's defeats during the Copa America, international FIFA dates, and the all important qualifiers showed the limitations of this style of play and the evidence of its outdated nature. Losing at home to Venezuela at the beginning of qualifiers was anything short of a catastrophe. We can only hope that the result can be reversed by winning on their turf. The coach filling in the void currently (Sixto Vizuete) did an exemplary job with the U-18s and enjoyed a wonderful 5-1 thrashing of Peru in November for the 4th WCQ date. I feel he should keep the job a little longer, get some experience with a couple of friendlies and then evaluate where he stands in terms of the future of the national team. In any case, we should move forward and away from Colombian-style coaching and thus begin a new cycle that could take advantage of the considerable international experience of our veteran players and up and coming attackers like Caicedo and Benitez. The midfield needs a little more work but Mendez, Valencia and Ayovi are a good place to start. As for our defense... this is the most dangerous, most important part of our team. Where in the past we were known for great defensive players the likes of De La Cruz and Ivan Hurtado, these players are beginning to show their age and there should be a more cohesive group of players. New blood may be what's needed in this front. We'll leave that up to the next manager.

Monday, February 4, 2008

US - Mexico

So here's our big test. What do you think will happen on Wednesday? A trouncing of our rivals? A trouncing by our rivals? A tie? History reminds us that all trends have a breaking point. Perhaps this is the Mexican team's long awaited turn for a win in US soil. The again when was the last time Argentina beat Brazil in Brazil and vice versa. We must weigh all variables here in order to make a correct prediction. I'm confident in our abilities and I think we can pull it off. Yes, we'll be playing "away" again (it's Houston!) but we'll have a good amount of supporters as well. The real test is in the Azteca. So... cast your vote on my new poll and go USA!!!