Monday, June 30, 2008
Call it premonition. Call it due date. Call it glory. Call it Iberian. When in mid-May I was asked whom I thought would be the likely winner for Euro 2008 I innocently answered Spain or Portugal. I was going for my Iberian roots and had a fool's hope for those teams, especially Spain. I was hoping it wouldn't be France or Italy or Germany.
When it came time to decide I went with Spain because they have an amazing team from the backline to the forwards. Casillas is a top notch goalkeeper and surely has surpassed Buffon to be the reigning number 1. Puyol has the mastery at the back with years of experience and a knack for frustrating forwards. Capdevila and Sergio Ramos always clean up their act by moving forward and stealing the scene from the attacking line while Marchena is quite but effective. Marcos Senna stole the scene more than once in the tournament and silenced critics and fans alike that questioned his allegiance and place in the team for being Brazilian-born. Silva did a nice job cleaning up the messes in the midfield and put together a good number of tikitaka plays. Xavi is a master of the midfield and proved it by snatching a key goal against Russia while Iniesta proved why he's in one of football's most prodigious teams (FCB). Fernando Torres pulled a Zinedine Zidane (not the headbut) and scored in the final when he was most needed (ZIdane scored twice in the 98 final after not scoring once in any game prior to that). David Villa made soccer look pretty and proved why when I played the simulated final on Wii all the scores came from him. Alas, he got injured and had to miss the final. Xavi (Shabby for the spanish-impaired) Alonso came in when necessary as did Guiza, both acting admirably and timely.
Loew's Germany is a very strong, very aggressive, very dominant and physical side that rekindled the Germany of old with the play of old with Ballack and Shweinsteiger. After having competed in 5 finals and won 3 most were siding with history to crown them champs. Klose and Podolski (both Polish, I might add) were the only other bright stars and only at certain points in different games. The rest of the bunch had good games but they did not light it up on the pitch, save for Lahm against Turkey. Feel free to disagree with me here. I was a German fan for a very long time and still cheer for them against most opponents. The Spaniards saw past the history and the 12th man and looked at the flesh and bone of the German players on the pitch at Wien. That is why Spain won. They convinced themselves that they could.
Sore losers? France is an aging side and Ribery and Co. need to regroup if they want to make it to South Africa. This should be the end of the line for Vieira, Anelka, Thuram, Makalele, among others. Henry still has a couple more years in him so don't count him out yet.
Italy was dreadful except against France. Their style of play tends to be boring to me and many other critics out there.
Holland payed the price for peaking too early and Russia dismantled Van Basten's program. Practice makes perfect and this side can handle most teams out there.
Portugal was a letdown. It's defense needs a lot of help because Deco, Cristiano Ronaldo and their attacking crew can't win a game if the other team can breeze through their defense.
Turkey showed amazing courage and had me cheering and chanting for them in every game. Keep up the good work. Same goes to Russia. Maybe the killer instinct of the Soviet predecessors can be resurrected and we can stop attributing USSR's success to players from the Ukraine and other soviet states.
Speaking of... Ukraine/Poland is next in 2012. The mini world cup (minus Brazil and Argentina) awaits its next chapter. As I say to people out there... when it comes time for Euro, all bets are off. That's why only two teams have won it more than once (Germany and France) and why teams like Greece and Denmark can claim the crown at times. Now it's world cup qualifying time. Let the games begin!
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Germany, eternal favorites in every tournament. Present in 5 Euro finals (including this one). Winners in 3. World Cup champs in 1954 (Switzerland), 1974 (West Germany) and 1990 (Italia). Michael Ballack, Bastian Schweinsteifer, Luksa Podolski, Philipp Lahm, Miroslav Klose and Co. have one of the more formidable sides that Deutchland has had in recent history. This side could have won it all in 2006 but fell short due to the lack of talent that has now been replenished. Expect fast-paced football, pinpoint passing, great long balls and plenty of headers from the Germans. They have a history of winning and playing in finals.
Spain's got my heart, however. Winners only in 1964 when they hosted the tournament and always seemingly overflowing with talent from their stellar clubs (Barca, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Villareal, Deportivo La Coruna), Spain tended to fall short time and time again. Only England can match them in disappointments, but at least the English won their own World Cup in 1966. Spain failed to do so in '84. But this time around they got past their quarterfinal jinxes and that just may have done the trick for them. Today they looked impressive next to Russia, always looking to score, always with plenty of flair behind the ball and always sticking to their game. Expect beautiful possession of the ball, sublime passes and individual fantasy from the likes of Fernando Torres, Xavi, Iniesta, David Villa, Guiza and Cesc Fabregas.
I say it again.... Two teams. Both with head coaches. Playing the game of football. This will prove to be a great game!
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Finalists in the CONMEBOL's Copa Libertadores de America (much older than the Champions League). Liga beat Fluminense of Rio, Brazil by the score of 4-2 tonight at a sold out Casa Blanca in Quito. You can catch the second leg on Fox Sports en Espanol or various other outlets online. Game's next Wednesday at Rio's famed Maracana stadium. These are the games for the future stars of the Champions League.
But who's Liga? For those not familiar with South America's teams, that's Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito. In short, Quito's university league team. Founded in 1930, it is one of the traditional Ecuador club teams. They've won the league title in 1969, 1974, 1975, 1990, 1998, 1999, 2003, Apertura 2005 and 2007. This is their first time in history at a continent-wide event and only Barcelona de Guayaquil has been to the final before (1990, 1998) but only managed 3 losses and 1 tie. Liga's already making history and also turning more than one head to the equator-bound side.
Truth be told, Liga's not really my team. I'm an Emelec fan and will always be but I still enjoy seeing my fellow Ecuadoreans perform well at the international level. Currently, Liga boasts players such as Jairo Campos, Agustin Delgado, Claudio Bieler, Joffre Guerron, Jose Fransisco Cevallos, among others. Delgado is the legendary goleador that scored in most of the historical wins for the national side. Others that have come up through Liga's ranks include Neicer Reasco (Sao Paulo), Giovani "La sombra" Espinoza (Cruzeiro), Ulises de la Cruz (Hibernian/Aston Villa/Reading), Joffre Guerron (recently acquired by Getafe of Spain), "Pepe Pancho" Cevallos (Barcelona SC, Once Caldas).
The fight will be difficult next week and I would have liked to see the score remain at 4-1 as it was at the half. Fluminense will need to score 3 to secure the title. No easy feat, but they are Brazilian and jogo bonito is what they do. For now, and unless you're a Flu fan let's enjoy the result and leave history to decide which team is the greatest on this side of the hemisphere. .... Now if only Ecuador could perform like this. I leave you with some highlights.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
I've also seen a lot of information regarding Philly and Seattle potentially increasing the total turnout numbers. There's been back-and-forth animosity between TFC followers and those that oppose having Canadian teams in the league and I must admit I find this saddening. I would love to see more Canadian teams in the league. I would put both Vancouver and Montreal and have the remaining two spots for a 20 team league come from places such as New York, Miami, Atlanta or St. Louis. But why Canada? More exposure, more experience, more money, that's why. Exposure for the game in North America, experience for a whole new generation of players that will grow up always having a soccer league and always aspiring to be a part of it. This will elevate the level of play in CONCACAF for sure.
But back to the stats. I'm including a new piece below of the relative attendance for all games in which Becks and crew have played. Clearly Becks overflows stadiums and Blanco fills them up to more than 80% as well. Gallardo enjoys the faithful DC followers while Lopez regularly plays at the smaller CAB venue in KC, thus filling the stadium. This may not represent much unless we look at Angel. I might venture to say that if both Gallardo and Lopez played for NYRB then their numbers would be closer to Angel's.
Monday, June 23, 2008
Deservingly so for some, unfortunate and sad for others. Italy belongs to the first category while Holland would be my pick for the second. Italy played with much of its anti-football of old that scraped into world cup finals in the past and only rarely showed the form generated by their club sides. This refers to constant fouling, retention of the ball, low scoring and a general focus on defense. Only against France did Italy show enough resilience. Romania deserved better but Buffon showed why he's the world's top 'keeper by stopping Mutu's PK. For once I agree with Jamie Trecker on the general form exhibited in this game and why so many Americans just don't like soccer. It was slow, it was boring, it was low scoring and ties ties ties (to quote Homer Simpson). It was a game akin to those in the 1980s and 1990s and even more so to the famously slow paced anti-football of England 1966 (England's only ever win in a questionable game).
I'd also have to agree that Italy's play was much like that of Greece in 2004 with their low-scoring and ultra defensive mindset that was enough to get them through to the final and an eventual win. I never liked Greece or the way they played and I'm glad they were revealed for what they really are--a poor team that won with defense, a good (albeit boring) coach and also a bit of luck.
Spain is also to blame for the game yesterday. Their congestion of the midfield prevented the ball from getting to Torres and David Villa with enough frequency and pace to make life difficult for Buffon. They were, like the Italians, playing not to lose. But, as luck and a bit of redemption would have it, Spain got through their June 22nd jinx and we hope that they can bring the flair back to the game against a resurgent Russia (they won the earlier match 4-1). Guss Hidink might have its opponents well studied at this point and we cannot rule out another stellar Arshavin performance that will surely make his stock rise. An incredibble shocker it was to see them beat the Netherlands. So many of us out there had a special place in our heart for the clock-work orange. Sometimes flair and early form just aren't enough if you underestimate your opponents and overestimate yourself/
And on the other hand we have Germany and Turkey. I loved the Turkey game. I actually cheered more at the end of that match than I did when the US beat Mexico at the Gold Cup. But their side is depleted due to injury and suspension. Germany has the tools to make it past the Turks and only a real miracle will save the Ottomans this time.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
After what was almost a miracle Sunday night in Buenos Aires and a disappointing tie by Argentina in the last second, today's match at the Atahualpa in Quito against Colombia was nothing more than another letdown akin to the Ecuador of old in the 1980s and 1990s that almost made it to the world cup. What's to blame? Not Sixto, not yet. Perhaps it was a mistake to take out "el Pato" Urrutia at halftime (that fault would lie with Sixto), but perhaps it was just an offense that's lacking a killer instinct--someone to partner up with Benitez. Caicedo may have worked but was brought in too late in the match. We were missing Jairo Campos, Ulises de la Cruz and Edison Mendez, but that should not be a defining factor, not when Ecuador now boasts Valencia (Wigan Athletic), Guerron (Getafe), Castillo (Red Star Belgrade) and even Caicedo (Man City). But then again Colombia also had its own legion of players abroad.
It's a miracle that we didn't lose, for the Colombians were just as close to opening the score as we were, especially considering the penalty not sanctioned by the game official. True, maybe Mendez could have made a difference given his track record at the Atahualpa and perhaps having Kaviedes in the game could have added that missing spice to the game. Perhaps it's the Liga de Quito hangover from some of the players and perhaps that team's tying record (all ties in the last 4 games to take them to the Libertadores final).
Let's play the numbers game. At this point in the last two qualifiers (2002 and 2006) the team had accrued 7 points out of 6 games. Mentioned here are the home games. For the 2002 qualifiers Ecuador won the home opener against Venezuela, beat Peru and then was tied at home by Colombia. For the 2006 tournament Ecuador beat Venezuela, tied Peru at home and then beat Colombia. Note that I have not mentioned the away games to Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina (the toughest matches). All those games were lost, albeit not by the punishing scores in the present round of qualifiers (0-5 to Brazil and 1-5 to Paraguay). Back to the numbers. So far this time around Ecuador has one tie, one loss and one win at home. That's 4 points out of a possible 9 at home. Thankfully the Ecuador of old showed up Sunday night and almost won the game in Argentina... so that's another point. So far we have 5 points in 6 games, 2 points behind what we've had in the past. So what's at stake? Well, I seriously doubt the team can make it to South Africa. It's time to pass on the 1.5 spots to other teams since Paraguay plus the eternal South Americans (Brazil and Argentina) are all but assured of the top 3 spots. I'd like to see Venezuela in it for once and finally make it to the biggest date in all of soccer. Chile would be my other pick but I may be picking with my heart here. Still, the road to South Africa is long and there are still 12 more games in the calendar. Winning the remainder of the home games (18 points) and rescuing a couple of ties and maybe a win away could bring about another miracle. We hope and pray and this time it may not be enough, but in soccer there are no absolutes and it's possible that one or two new stars may make the difference.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
I admit that some of the figures do appear a bit inflated at this time but this surpassing of MLS capacity is largely due to moving venues for San Jose (see image below) from Buck Shaw to McAfee for the LA Galaxy game and New England's Brazil crowd (see week 11's posting). The two peaks for San Jose represent the two games played at McAfee so far this year. All in all, conference and league averages were higher than normal and some team averages such as NE skyrocketed out of the cellar and into (ehem) normalcy.
Monday, June 16, 2008
Call it sexy football. Call it total football. Kuyt, Robben, Van Nistelroy and company are providing us with the total football that journalists agree should have gotten the "clock-work orange" two world cups in 1974 and 1978 (losing to hosts West Germany and Argentina respectively).
This, however, is the football that the men in orange have shown in Euro 2008. 6 different players have scored the fantasy goals against the previous world cup finalists Italy and France. What more of a statement can you make. This surely is the total football from Ruud Gullit and Marco Van Basten that won the 1988 Euro (check out the design on their retro jerseys... yikes!). Every goal has been a piece of pure genious, thus honoring the 1970s and 1980s Holland heroes. As the group stage dust settles the quarter finals will begin and the Netherlands will be facing either Sweden or Russia, both formidable opponents but without the pedigree of Italy and France. At this point we can expect nothing but fireworks from the orange. Tomorrow's game against Romania only has meaning for the goths and the world cup finalists. Van Basten will rest his top players and both Italy and France face elimination with a Romania win or if all games end in ties.
But why is total football sexy football too? That's Master Gullit's term for enhancing the beautiful game with good plays and lots of scoring. Take a look at his Galaxy. The LA team currently boasts two of the top scorers in Donovan and Buddle (9 and 8 respectively) with Beckham scoring 4 and Gordon snatching 3; not to mention that the "little fish" Ruiz hasn't gotten to play as much due to injury. It certainly is unfortunate that the galaxians didn't have Gullit as their manager last year to carry the "Beckham circus" into the high-scoring land that Americans so love to be in. Cheers, Holland! Enjoy the '88 highlights below.
Friday, June 13, 2008
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
*I don't like teams moving. It's sad for the fans.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Champions fall. Heroes rise. Hosts retreat. Status quo? If Greece's win in 2004 was a break from the status quo (France in Holland/Belgium 2000, Germany in England 1996) and the rise of a new European power, albeit defensive in nature a-la-Italia, then this Euro's initial results point to a return of the great super powers--Spain, Holland, Portugal, Germany, Sweden. Sure, Italy fell to Holland and France was held to a draw. Still, there's a reason for a group of death and normalcy is never quite completely so . Still, clear dominance has been felt. Spain was a treat to watch--David Villa made it look as simple as it is on my Wii. Germany showed why they are a superpower. Portugal flaunted Pepe, Ricardo Carvalho, Deco and Ronaldo, among others, showing no signs of slowing down. Then there's the Netherlands... Van Nistelroy and Kuyt made us dream of the great team captained by Ruud Gullit and Marco Van Basten (the second goal was pure fantasy and worthy of VB). Oh, and sorry I left them out of my poll...still, that's why I left an option for "other."
I was dissapointed with France but not so much by Italy. The azzurri are missing some key players for this contest and their age is beginning to show. France is in limbo without head-butting Zidane. The talent's there but Ribery really needs to step up. Henry's return might be what they need.
Tomorrow's another day. I get to semi-enjoy the games through peer2peer connections at work (don't tell anyone) and will be looking forward to seeing what Portugal can do against the feisty Czechs. I leave you with Van Basten's beauty:
Monday, June 9, 2008
Picture is worth a thousand words. Howard and the defense shut down another Argentina attack.
Call it a miracle. Call it revenge. Call it awesome. Call it justified. Whatever you call it, yesterday's game between the US national team and Argentina before a sell-out crowd at Giants Stadium was nothing short of spectacular. Sure, 0-0 was the tie, but the play was amazing from both sides. The number 1 team in the world showed just that in the first half. They can easily dominate CONCACAF competition (they beat Mexico 4-1 last week), Messi can tear it up wherever he goes and Cruz and Mascherano light it up elsewhere. Their defense is as strong as their offense, as they proved throughout the game. But in front of them was a US side aching to redeem itself after two losses in Europe against top competitors in the form of England and Spain. I'd like to think of these games as a gradual evolution.
Act 1: Game 1 vs England was a learning process bathed in the everlasting light of football's cradle-Wembley. The US side looked lost and confused and downright outplayed by a limited English side that was unable to star in this summer's Euro competition. Stage fright got the most of them and Bocanegra failed to deliver and Adu only had limited time on the pitch.
Act 2: Spain proved to be a worthy competitor with astar-studded offense but the United States showed competence and a stifling defense that cut down the final plays from the spaniards. Johnson got very close to a historical goal. It was not to be. Xavi scored in a fantasy play and the game justly ended with the Spanish as victors. Others out there in the media repudiated our national team and downplayed its performance as a failed attempt. Still, others like Ives Galarcep and Steve Goff gave our team credit for a game well played albeit still not without fault.
Act 3: Evolution is a tricky process, for as the first game portrayed a CONCACAF side reminiscent of the 1980s and game 2 showed improvement akin to that in the 1990s, then game 3 showed why the US made it to the quarter finals in 2002. The defense was there, the offense created chances, and the play was worthy . Heath Pearce crippled many an Argentine attack and Tim Howard showed why he's one of the top players in the US. Onyewu held his own and Cherundolo fed plenty of balls. Califf, Bradley, and Dempsey also held their own. Donovan reiterated why he was performing in his 100th cap for the national team and Dempsey and Beasley un-rusted themselves and drew plenty of fouls. Adu again showed what he has promised all along and why he should be a permanent starter in any team he plays for. Edu, Mastroeni (red card?) and Kljestan also held their own, as did Lewis and DeMerrit. That was the kind of team I hoped and had faith we still had. Barring any difficulties in the next round of qualifying we should have a strong team for the last qualifying round and areas to work with for the Confederations Cup and South Africa 2010.
I hope we get to see more of Adu, Altidore, Kenny Cooper and Robbie Rogers in the mix for the next couple of games against Barbados. Maybe Jimmy Conrad should be in the mix too.
That's it from me for now. MLS stats on their way later in the week.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Just recently Trecker has posted highly negative chronicles on the national team's games against England and Spain, and lukewarm previews on the recent matches (the game against Argentina is this Sunday on ESPNClassic), as well as comments on LA's form during their first match.
I must say I disagree with Trecker on a lot of fronts. He may come from a renowned soccer journalism background (his father Jerry Trecker was an editor and sportswriter at the Hartford Courant for almost 40 years; he was among the first writers at an American daily to cover soccer regularly) and covering the sport with 5 TVs plugged into five different satellite dishes and anough knowledge of Spanish, German, Italian, and French to follow the sport from multidimensional angles, but his treatment of national players is sometimes ridiculous. We want to see the sport and the league grow in this country and although some negatives must be divulged along the way as a result of progress, it is also important to keep focused on what we should do to elevate the game in this country. He reminds me most of my uncle Mauro Velasquez, also a renowned figure in soccer journalism in Ecuador and most of the Spanish-speaking world (he has featured in several times on Spain's "Don Balon" magazine). Velasquez was often opinionated and extremely negative of Ecuador soccer, even during its recent surge onto the world scene.
But back to Trecker... Please take a breather, bud. Give us a hint of how the game can be improved. Give us positives about the league and the game. A man with such wealth of information should not constrict himself to the dark side of the sport. Yes, the US team looked horrible against England and yes, the MLS is not what soccer purists want. But recognize this... the US played a great game yesterday that only lost pace in the second half due to the absence of Adu and the unfortunate lack of play from Wolff. The MLS is still a work in progress and classic soccer league organization complete with relegation, salary caps and scheduling is still a few years away when the dust of league genesis settles.
I don't agree when he says that "life has more disappointments than anything else." Our triumphs eclipse all other things. What do we remember Maradona for most of all? Two things... Mexico 1986, quarter finals, Argentina 2 - England 1: His "hand of God" goal and the most beautiful play in World Cup history for the second goal.
Don't cheat us with the negatives... give us good. Soccer has come too far in this country to throw it all away with a few simple words.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Multiple sources (Spanish papers, Washington Post's Steve Goff, New York red Bulls, ESPN's Ives Galarcep) are confirming the sale of up-and-coming MLS starlet Josimer "Jozy" Altidore to none other than Spanish La Liga giants Villareal. Villareal have just sold Martin Caceres to Barcelona for $16 million, thus enhancing their chances of landing the US international. The "Yellow Submarine" (as they like to call themselves) will then lend Jozy out to fellow La Liga side Recreativo de Huelva (they narrowly escaped relegation). This is also a good move for Jozy since he's bound to see more playing time for a lower tier team before he's ready for the big scene. Similar transactions have occurred in the past between these two teams. Such was the case with Ecuador's creative midfielder Antonio Valencia, who just recently helped Wigan Athletic of England escape relegation. Recreativo helped Valencia (who was also acquired first by Villareal) hoist himself to stardom and propelled him to the undisputed best soccer league in the world, the EPL.
Much has been said about Jozy's performance of late and his prospects for the future. I've seen a lot of criticism from the US soccer media (ESPN and FSC mainly) about how they've seen his commitments to the team diminish, about how he shouldn't let things get to his head (Adu style), and that his days may be numbered. Rubbish, I say.
First, Adu is a wonderful player. I would rank him up there with Dempsey and Bradley and McBride. He has speed, intelligence and great skill with the ball. Sometimes he seems to be a play ahead of his teammates and this may be causing some of the problems that critics have consistently voiced. Such was the case in last week's friendly against England. Hopefully he will start against Spain and Argentina, especially considering the depleted midfield without the likes of Landon Donovan and the drop in performance from other players in that position (i.e. Ricardo Clark).
Second, there comes a time in a player's life where he must weigh the consequences of things such as fatigue and injury during his play if his future may lie in a more profitable market or even for national team play. I can't argue with taking it easy if you know a transfer is imminent. I admit that when i saw the kid play in a recent game against my local USL team (The Railhawks) he showed hints of brilliance but kept a small profile for the most part. then again, let's look at some numbers: last season he scored 7 goals for NYRB while also being away for the U-20 competition. 4 goals in the U-20s. This season, with 9 matches so far he has 3 goals (Juan Pablo Angel, with 19 goals last season, hasn't fared well either and NYRB isn't exactly lighting it up this season anyhow). Jozy also scored in February's 2-2 match against always-tough Mexico in Houston.
Transfer for this kid has been pending ever since his performance at the U-20s. He attracted interest from Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, among others. Reading FC (recently relegated to the Coca Cola Championship) had offered $8 million in December but MLS turned the offer down. They've been asking for $10 million, which also happens to be the largest figure ever for an MLS player (Dempsey went to Fulham for $4 million). Clearly, this major European power sees great future in this youngster and has offered $8 million plus further considerations that bring the total to $10 million.
Jozy Forecast: Becomes a regular starter for Recreativo by mid season, 9 goals. Gets sold to a mid-table team in the EPL, i.e. Portsmouth, Man City, etc by the start of the 2009-2010 season. Becomes a permanent starter for the US national team this fall and starts at the 2010 World Cup.
Monday, June 2, 2008
Well, well. Look at what our friend from north of the border has done. They still lost to Brazil, yes, but they made the game closer than the 5 time world champs would have liked and looked far more impressive in style and play than the Americans looked at any point during their visit to Wembley. If it wasn't for Serioux serious error or De Guzman's errant back pass, Canada might have come away with an important tie. De Guzman's long shot was nothing short of spectacular (just check out the video) and their ability with the ball both defensively and offensively is enough to have Mexico, Honduras and Jamaica worried ahead of their (presumptive) "cuadrangular" later this summer and into the fall for the initiation of the penultimate phase of CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers. I would be very concerned if I was Bob Bradley that this team could go on to the last round of qualifiers (the US should make it, we hope, through the following phase). Here's why: 1.) attacking speed, 2.) similar style of play, 3.) lots of MLS players, 4.) brand new fan base and stadium.