Monday, March 31, 2008
Okay, so I usually don't dwell on Mexican soccer but this being a blog that covers the state of the beautiful game around the world, I had to give my thoughts. As some of you faithful readers may know (as well as those from outside the Carolinas), the Mexican national team has had its share of debacles in the past 16 months: not beating the US team on US soil (duh), not winning the CONCACAF Gold Cup and thus not participating in 2009's Confederations Cup, and lately and more blatantly not making it to the Beijing Olympics this coming August. So who's to blame? Hugo Sanchez Marquez, some say, and today their word was heard and the "Pentapichichi," and former Real Madrid player and arguably best Mexican player that ever graced the field, was no longer the coach of the Mexican national team. Did he deserve it? From my humble opinion, yes. Maybe he wasn't ready for the national stage or maybe he simply wasn't suited for that type of soccer coaching. Some in the business blame his demeanor towards the media and the players themselves for his eventual downfall. So what does make a good coach? Is it the medium (club, country), the niche (collegiate, professional), the support system? Look at the LA Galaxy. Now there's a team that not even the biggest signing in MLS history (Becks) nor the attacking prowess of the Donovan-Ruiz combo nor the "sexy football" signing of the legend Rudd Gullit as head coach can save. The team's downfall lies within its uppermost reaches; the fault lies with the general manager, one Alexi Lalas that at one point made the world turn their head to look at a US side that was able to contain the eventual champions Brazil to one goal in the round of 16. But this isn't the same Lalas. His message got lost in the fields and he and other officials in the team have succumbed to the other important(?) aspect of the game...money.
And such was the case with Hugo Sanchez as well. When it all boiled down this afternoon and the Mexican club team owners (the owners!!!) got together to decide the fate of the national team, it was the losses that an absence from the Olympics and the Confederations cup had incurred in the Televisa economy of the Mexican nation. They claimed that there could not be another catastrophe in which Mexico did not make it to the world cup, and to some extent they were correct. But let's rewind... they chose Sanchez as their man because of the economics involved (annoying car insurance ads with Hugo Sanchez aside) and they got rid of him because of it also. Sometimes in the learning curve we must fail before we learn and this applies to all sports. I don't like the way the media scapegoated Sanchez and branded him a short-circuited individual that "needs professional help." Where were you when he took Mexico to the quarter finals in 86 or on those illustrious years at The Real Madrid? The fault here lies with the management and to some extent with the players. Yes, I said the players. It's true--and I've stated it more than once now--that there is a current upswing in play in the CONCACAF, but in the end these are professional players in a marquee league, a league that spends the most cash in the Americas. At some point you have to wonder how the players can't be blamed just as much as the coach. My advise: choose younger players, give them a younger coach, and treat it as a separate entity. It's worked well in other countries and it should work well in a soccer-developed nation like Mexico. And as for the coaches? Well, Jesus Ramirez should get a shot for now. Let's have the coaches go through the entire process and grow up with their teams. It's worked elsewhere: Argentina (Peckerman), Domenech (France), Vizuete (Ecuador), Bradley (USA).
Thursday, March 27, 2008
As promised in a previous blog: the relative minnows of the CONCACAF region may no longer be so. I'm speaking, of course, about our Central American neighbors. More specifically, Honduras, Guatemala, and Panama. Costa Rica seems to be falling out of the spotlight after almost two decades of ruling in the top three (behind US and Mexico). "Behind" is a relative word here since in 1990 they went through to the round of 16 at the expense of Sweeden and Scotland. Those were the days of "el Conejo" (the rabbit) on goal. I can't say I remember much else from their appearance at that world cup since I was more interested In Germany and Cameroon. And yes, they missed out on '94 and '98 but that doesn't mean they weren't a dominant team. Jamaica and its "Reggae Boyz" lit things up in 1998 and T&T capitalized on its England-based contingent for their appearance in Germany two years ago. Still, note that we're speaking of Caribbean teams and not the lower part of the CONCACAF contingent, which has different systems and styles of play. Caribbean teams aside (this time around I doubt they'll make it too far), the "other" UNCAF teams are looking much more impressive. From their younglins beating out the titans of the region in the Olympic Qualifiers (Guatemala shocked Mexico and Honduras won the tournament against an undermanned US side), to their increased presence across the pond and in more competitive leagues in the Americas, we're looking at a much tighter race for the 3.5 spots our conference can stake a claim on for South Africa. I'm not ready to say that the US and Mexico won't make it to the next world soccer celebration, but their road there will be much tougher this time around. Take Honduras for example. Just recently they beat both Colombia and Ecuador in warm-up games with clear dominance. Suazo (Inter Milan) and Palacios (Wigan Athletic) and former MetroStar Amado Guevara made their presence felt in those games. I have serious doubts that the North American teams will have it easy when they visit Tegucigalpa or even when they face the "catrachos" at home. Guatemala is another toss-up. They have shown an ability to produce significant upsets (Mexico comes to mind). With "El primitivo" (yes, he looks the part) Maradriaga at the helm and the goal-scoring prowess of Carlos "el pescadito" Ruiz, they look to continue vying for a spot in the top 4 of the region. Last but certainly not least is a Panamenian side that continues to evolve into a potential contender. The "canaleros" pulled a few interesting upsets in the past couple of years, and with a presence in the Colombian national league their experience can only add to their increased capabilities. So, in terms of what I alluded to in a recent blog: it's not that we (north Americans) are that bad, it's that they are that good. I'd be surprised if Honduras doesn't take one of the top 3 spots in the region. The last half-spot could go to Costa Rica if they are able to step their game up or to Canada if they capitalize on their new pool of experienced players. Still, don't count Guatemala and Panama out. These should be fun games to watch (thanks, ESPN Deportes). Let the qualifiers begin.
Monday, March 24, 2008
No, that's not a typo... MLSrumors is a website (actually a blog) on mlsrumors.blogspot.com (as with my own blog). It started up last summer as the league became more of a household name around the world (thanks, Beckham) and it gave details on rumored player transfers, coaching changes, and soccer-specific stadiums among others. So why do I like it? Well, to start, I visit it religiously several times a day along with the more "official" sites such as Steve Goff's at the Washington Post and ESPN's Ives Galarcep. The website has broken news on players such as Marcelo Gallardo and "el piojo" Lopez coming to the league and Eddie Johnson's departure as well as Philadelphia and Seattle getting new teams. It also keeps us up to date on the league's inner workings (that no one wants to talk about) and its relationship with other tournaments (e.g. Libertadores). Who doesn't want to know about these things (non-soccer lovers aside)? And the best part is that it has grown so much since its inception. Just recently they posted that they had reached more than a million hits from people worldwide and you can track their visits on their hit tracker visual (which I have, incidentally) and that they were the highest ranking website of its kind. Newer websites such as mlsrumors.net have sprung up recently but they pale in comparison to the legions of people that submit potential news/rumors related to the league (myself included). In fact, they have published at least 4 of the 8 rumors that I sent their way. Most of these concern Ecuador-MLS moves and tidbits from XM Deportivo. So what else does this new website have to offer? Well, considering the amount of followers/rumors, I'd say that more fans of the game are taking the league seriously in the post Beckham rule era. Tracking of the superstar has eased up considerably since his numerous injuries and the LA galacticos plain sucking last season, but following other stars such as Jozy Altidore and Brad Guzan are making headlines worldwide. In addition, the new influx of "brand name" players to the league, which includes Chicago's Blanco, has elevated the level on the pitch and this has registered with the media in this country (inside its own niche, of course) as well as internationally. This has also translated into elevated play internationally, with the United States gaining important wins outside of the country and other CONCACAF teams becoming more competitive (just look at the U23s... Mexico eliminated and Honduras and Canada looking impressive). Point is, more people want to know what's going on with the league and its immediate surroundings. The league isn't providing enough information and the more respected sources of sports news (i.e. ESPN and Fox) aren't quite getting it. So this blog has stepped in, revitalized interest and spurred an array of mirror sites to whet the appetites of soccer fans like yours truly. That's why I like MLSrumors.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Surprise surprise. The Cuban national team has lost seven of their 18-man roster for the current CONCACAF Olympic Games qualifiers and itwo days later faced their Honduran counterparts with 10 men on the field (their 11th had been ejected in the prior game). So why all the fuss? Well, politics aside, the situation made the qualifiers very complicated in an unnecessary way. At one point you had the possibility of the team having to forfeit its games, which would given Honduras and Panama an unfair advantage of 3 points and 3 goals in favor. The US would be left with 1 point in what was increasingly being recognized as an unfair situation. Then there is the matter that the morning after the defectors left the Cuban camp, when the CONCACAF delegations got together to discuss the situation, the US contingent was nowhere to be found. I heard on XM Deportivo that the other delegations felt the US organization was up to its "looking-over-the-shoulder" ways in reference to the other (smaller) national teams. I must be fair to say that they also mentioned the FMF (Mexicans) opted for the same kind of gesture. In any case, the predicament at hand did not seem to influence USF directly, nor was any decisive action taken. Instead, the match with Honduras was allowed to proceed. In the end, however, Cuba's sports debauchery (in personal terms I can't blame the players) did not affect the final standings in group A. CONCACAF was able to go past this incident and will at least have it as a reminder/example for the future. In simple terms I don't think the Cuban team should have allowed to remain in the competition since this was detrimental to the players themselves. This is not a club tournament where we can easily scapegoat investors and technical directors and coaches alike. This was a competition with young players looking to show their capabilities in Beijing. And now we see that our final four are Honduras, Guatemala and the USA/Canada portion of the CONCACAF. Interesting. In terms of the USA having a lackluster showing and the incredible failure of the Mexican team to even get past the group stage, we're left with this question.... Regarding other teams (i.e. not USA or Mexico), are they that good or are we that bad? We'll get back to that question in the next blog.
Monday, March 3, 2008
A little backtracking to my place of birth--Ecuador, that is. So, when we left the picture last year our then coach Luis Fernando Suarez had left the team further in the trenches by losing at home to the worst possible team in the conference--Venezuela-- and then going down by goleadas to Brazil and Paraguay. He should have gotten the picture after the Copa America when teams from around the region had figured out the Colombian's style of play and we saw nothing but failures, especially at the goalkeeping position. A quick exit a-la-Bolillo should have happened. In any case, we were left with no coach 3 days prior to the next WCQ match against arch rivals Peru. So who came to the rescue? By default, and with no other means, Chiriboga (president of FEF) resorted to the successful youth teams coach Sixto Vizuete. This happened only after repeatedly tempting former coach Hernan Dario "el Bolillo" Gomez that declined the offer due to a "serious divergence of thoughts" on his arrival. I personally feel that the large majority of Ecuador fans and a lot of the officials at the FEF felt the same way.
I feel that there is a serious lack of defensive play in the current team and the new generation isn't as solid as the previous one. Long are the days of De la Cruz, Hurtado, "la sombra" Espinoza, and Neicer Reasco. All of these players are currently still playing but their age, lack of participation in respective clubs, and lack of speed have mounted to exacerbate the current situation. Maybe this time around we may actually call on Jose Valencia from Willem II in Holland. Guagua is another player worth noting.
What Vizuete has been successful at doing is the development of younger players and he promises to inject some positive energy into the senior team as well as some young faces. There are a few non-believers out there but I think it's an Ecuadorean's turn to be at the helm of the national team. Some of the comments by a sector of the media arguing that the cycle of Colombian coaches might be over is well argued. At some point, players need to be injected with a new attitude and a new vision. This holds true for teams such as USA and England, where Arena's and Ericksson's cycles had to come to an end when they both came empty handed during the 2006 World Cup campaigns.
I have to admit that I don't have very high hopes of reaching 2010 this time around. I was pleasantly surprise with Ecuador's 2006 WCQ campaign as well as their appearance in Germany (Beckham kicked us out!). Maybe I'm wrong this time too ;) We're definitely off to a great start with Vizuete. Nothing's better than rolling over Peru 5-1.