We dream of football and the world is full of dreams

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Landon Donovan scores his first for Everton

What do we make of the most successful and dominant US Soccer player of all time? Should he stay in MLS for the rest of his career? Should he stay in England?

Today, Donovan may have answered this two-part question with one sweet shot. He scored his first competitive goal in the English Premier League for Everton in a match against Sunderland. Earlier this month, Donovan had remarked on how much he liked it in the EPL and how he would be looking at his future options in the coming weeks. Let's remind ourselves that he just re-signed with MLS and the Galaxy for a further three years. If Everton were to excercise the option to buy him, it would cost them as least as much as Jozy ($10 million).

Is Donovan worth it? Put simply... yes. To a team like Everton and a league like the EPL, he's definitely worth it. He's a proven goal-scorer, has great work ethic, accomplished internationally (42 goals for the US and 121 caps) and in MLS (64 goals). Bruce Arena was quoted a few minutes ago as saying that he would be back on March 15th. Could we see another Galaxy Superstar saga like last year's Beckham fiasco with AC Milan? Wasn't Donovan criticizing Becks for his actions?

How the world turns... right? Enjoy the goal below.

<a href="http://msn.foxsports.com/video?vid=ec66a8a2-b8d1-49e2-bd09-9942e002320f&from=IV2_en-us_foxsports_articles" target="_new" title="PL Highlights: Everton/Sunderland">Video: PL Highlights: Everton/Sunderland</a>

Sunday, January 24, 2010

US vs Honduras: Bad start in a World Cup year

Yes, those were not the starters. Yes, there was an ejection 17 minutes into the game that also led to Honduras' first goal. No, this isn't how World Cup preparation starts, not at home and certainly not against a "weaker" foe. Let's not forget that this group of players has been training for almost three weeks.

So what does this 1-3 loss mean? For one, it's our defense. If last summer during the Gold Cup we fielded reserve players that fell apart in the final match against Mexico (0-5, by the way) then last night we saw just how shallow our group of players is. Of all defenders on the pitch yesterday, only Goodson showed he could play in the World Cup. Conrad failed horribly early in the game and was rightfully ejected. Marshall looked weak in the central defense and didn't make a case for himself. Bornstein once again disappeared and continued his tendency for streaky game.

Of the midfield only Feilhaber can be considered a potential starter or sub in South Africa. But still, Rogers and Kljestan are possible selections by Bob Bradley as substitutes. Beckerman once again failed to make an impression. Up top, Robbie Findley looked lonely following Conrad's ejection. Casey couldn't do much when subbed in.

Let's remember who isn't playing: Holden, Donovan, Dempsey, Howard, Bocanegra, Onyewu, DeMerrit, Jozy, Davies, Clark, Beasley, Edu. Also, let's remember who may not be in full capacity for the tournament: Davies, Onyewu, Dempsey. Davies could be replaced by Donovan or Dempsey up top, but if those players remain in the midfield, our chances drop to Casey, Cunningham, Findley, Pontius(?). Dempsey is tough to replace since he brings flashes of glory (3 goals in the Confederations Cup, two game-clinchers). Still, Holden or Beasley (if in form) may be able to cover for him. Onyewu's absence is a bit more dangerous. The AC Milan central defender is a key figure with Bocanegra and right now only DeMerrit may be able to cover for him.

And what about Jermaine Jones? He's still injured, but if injuries continue to plague the national team, then his chances may be rising. At this point, if Adu and Eddie Johnson do a good job in Greece, we could start counting on them in the 23-man squad.

Last night was a rough start. A rocky beginning for a make-or-break year in US Soccer. Let's see if the team is able to rebound from this game against El Salvador in Tampa next month (again with all-MLS players). And then, let's hope our first team (with European players) can do a good job versus Holland in Amsterdam on March 3.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

MLS Superdraft: An American Institution

Among the many idiosyncrasies of MLS is their "superdraft" of collegiate players. As I alluded to on an earlier post, College soccer is unique in all the world due to its scope and niche. The draft adds another layer of complexity and uniqueness to the game of soccer in this country and its league, MLS. To recap for futbol fans out there unaccustomed to "drafts," it is a system that allows for the "weaker" teams that finished with the worst records the preceding season to "catch up" to the better teams by drafting the top prospects from college leagues and younger (Adu & Altidore).

I view the draft as link between mainstream American sports and the game of footbal/soccer/futbol. It has more weight in this country because of the way the league is set up (no promotion/relegation) and restrictions on player contracts, salary caps and youth development. It's true that the number one draft pick doesn't always deliver as he did in College, but the same holds true for any sport. The more influential standouts in MLS drafts have been Brian McBride and Maurice Edu. Both had international stature and both delivered on the field. Others like Freddy Adu and Marvell Wynne haven't impressed much, although both are young and still full of possibilities.

The draft is also a strange mix between foreign players and domestic talent to replenish the league after trades to foreign markets and/or lower divisions (USL). Some of them continue on to being US international stars like Marcus Tracy and Jozy Altidore. Some choose to represent their own countries like Bakary Soumare and Alejandro Moreno. Is it so different from major European team scouting both domestically and abroad?

It is true that there is also the "spring" and "fall" transfer windows in MLS and that major international signings supersede the Superdraft. It is also true that without the draft things would be much messier when looking to allocate Collegiate players. After all, this is not a league based on youth development. Colleges and universities provide the majority of the young talent in the league.

So what do we have this year? Another strong class. Last year, Marcus Tracy and Mike Grella decided to skip MLS. This year, Mwanga, McInerney, Duka and Opara are all staying. Is MLS gaining ground on foreign markets? Yes, in a way. Top prospects usually find it hard to see the pitch abroad (just ask Adu, Grella or even Altidore). Here, they get the playing time they deserve and the minutes on the field that propels them to more prestigious leagues and teams.

The Philadelphia Union will be happy with their new number 10. Maybe they won't need a designated player. Tony Tchani, from the NCAA final, will play in New York. Ike Opara, eventual senior national-teamer, is headed to San Jose. Teal Bunbury becomes the first son of a former MLS player and joins the same team as his father--Kansas City. Okugo and McInerney, US youth squad standouts, join Mwanga at the Union. Dilly Duka has been shipped to Columbus and Blair Gavin (another star of the NCAA final) was chosen by Martin Vasquez and Chivas USA. Many more were chosen today that I will not dwell on. Sometimes the lesser-known tend to be sleepers that turn into bona fide stars. Jozy Altidore, for example, was a round two pick.

We have much to look forward to this season in MLS. The Union has set up a potentially-dominant, young squad that could rival 2009's Seattle Sounders. We will also be keeping tabs on potential national team players...especially during a World Cup year.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

African Lessons: The Cup of Nations

Africa is perhaps one of the richest and fastest-growing sources of footballers in the world. Just to name a few past and present stars Oman Biyik, Roger Milla, Michael Essien, George Weah, Makanaki, Didier Drogba, Solomon Kalou, Yaya Toure, Keita, Adebayor, the list goes on. Africa's tournament, however, lags far behind that of other confederations.

To start, the tournament takes place once every two years and always in the boreal winter and outside FIFA dates. Just like Concacaf's second Gold Cup tournament (one in 2009 won by Mexico with few starters from any of the teams actually playing), this one holds very little value internationally. The tournament has been a tale of dynasties, from Ghanaian rule early in the competition's history (1960s), to the Cameroonian domination in the 1980s and the awakening of the Nigerians in the 1990s as well as South Africa's entry and win in 1996. Recently, Egypt has won the tournament for two straight competitions. This, despite the fact that the "Pharaos" have not qualified for the World Cup since Italia '90.

This year's tournament, held the year of the World Cup, collected all the well-known players (even when snow delayed Essien's passage to Angola) for a final apetizer prior to this summer's ecumenical event. Angola is a proud nation marred by political strife and terrorism. The unfortunate incident with Togo's national team (including Adebayor) was due to a dispute with the state of Cabinda (separated from the main Angola by a strip of DR Congo). I will not discuss politics here. It was a terrible tragedy to see people's lives lost to something preventable. A Ghanaian colleague of mine commented on how this looks so bad for the continent ahead of the World Cup. I said yes... and no. It's not Angola hosting, it's South Africa... and South Africa has proven it can be done--just rewind to last summer's Confederations Cup or catch Clint Eastwood's latest film release.

It has been a tournament full of surprises on the pitch so far. Angola, the hosts, were humiliated by Mali as Keita's team came back to tie it 4-4 after being 4-0 until the 79th minute. Algeria (USA's rival in their World Cup group) were humiliated by lowly Malawi by the score of 3-0. The plight of qualifiers doesn't end there: Egypt demolished Nigeria 3-1 and giants Ivory Coast were held 0-0 by Burkina-Faso. Where's the love?

Indeed, only Cameroon and Ghana remain unscathed, if only because they have not played yet. Of the African nations qualified for this summer's tournament, only the "Indomitable Lions" and the "Black Stars" can say they are truly ready for the world to play them... for just a few more hours. I heard it remarked contless times in the soccer media today. Do we (Latin Americans & USA) have much to fear from these teams? Things sure change when it comes to the World Cup. Nothing is ever set. I've seen Algeria play and they can do a certain degree of damage. Let's not forget that this is Zidane's roots, we're talking about. I can also see Drogba scoring on Julio Cesar and swerving around Lucio any day of the week. Lessons to be learned, yes, from Africa to the rest of the world. The Africans came to play... and this time the ball's on their court.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

World Cup Memories: Uruguay

La Celeste. Enough said. Yes, these days Concacaf teams were hoping to land this South American team in their group. Yes, they haven't made much noise since 1970. But still, they were the original World Cup champions in 1930 against Argentina. They are also the only ones to win a major tournament in Brazil. That was 1950, the first World Cup after World War II and the final was in Rio de Janeiro at the famed Maracana stadium. It ended 2-1 in favor of the Uruguayans, silencing a football nation that would have to wait another 8 years before its first title. Added to two World Cups are 14 Copa America titles and a 4th place in 1997 Confederations Cup. They last won a major tournament in 1995, which they hosted and won on penalty kicks against Brazil.

Outside of its constant battles versus Brazil and Argentina in games that are usually "clasicos," Uruguayan football is much more about harsh defensive tactics and clogging of the midfield. Their club teams include Penarol, Nacional, River Plate (the other one), among others. The "Charruas" these days are in the constant mix of mid-table South American teams. If it had not been for a miraculous penalty in Quito, it may be Ecuador or Costa Rica we are talking about here.

Uruguay participated in Mexico '86 but I only remember that they were there and not much else. The team lost to Denmark in the group stage and tied both Scotland and eventual-finalists Germany. A date with eventual-champions Argentina ended their run. I remember them in Italia '90 when Fonseca and Bengoechea were playing. Then there's the Uruguayan master... Enzo Francescoli. For that World Cup, I had a booklet that included all the players for all the teams and Uruguay happened to have some legible names for a then-11-year-old. On that World Cup, they squeezed into the round of 16 as 3rd place simply because at that point wins still counted for only 2 points (instead of 3 today). Their group included Spain (group winners), Belgium and South Korea. They tied Spain, lost to Belgium and won against the Koreans. Hosts Italy were too much in the round of 16; they lost 2-0.

Uruguay would go on to to miss both USA '94 and France '98. They would make a comeback in 2002 after winning the playoff against OFC's Australia (incidentally, they lost this match for the 2006 tournament). Uruguay landed in the group of death: Senegal, France and Denmark. Although Senegal were newcomers, they exploded onto the scene with their shock-win against then-champions France. They would actually go on to tie the Senegalese and also France, forcing a must-win for the defending champions on their last match. The game against the Danes was fantastic (this was their opening match) but their game versus Senegal was a hard-fought 3-3 battle that nearly ended the African team's chances of reaching the ground of 16. Very cool goal by Forlan.

In 2010 they are in the group with Mexico, South Africa and once again with France. There's no surprise team unless South Africa realizes they must win as hosts. Mexico and France are known foes. Uruguay boasts Diego Forlan of Atletico Madrid along with Sebastian Abreu of Botafogo, Eguren and Godin of Villarreal, Caceres of Juventus, Luis Suarez of Ajax and Diego Lugano of Fenerbahce. It's a wealth of talent and a credit to being in the tournament. Most of their players play abroad and are well-known throughout the world. I can see them sneaking into the round of 16 if Mexico doesn't deliver or even if France crashes out early once more.

I leave you with goals from the 2002 game with Senegal. Enjoy.