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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

In and out: Inter vs Barcelona

Inter to the final. Barcelona goes home. Not many predicted this outcome... but should we be so surprised? It was Jose "The Special One" Mourinho at the helm for Inter. Always a masterful tactician, sneaky when required and brilliant when the pressure is on. This game was also about familiar foes with different styles. Eto'o was once with Barca but got traded for Ibrahimovic. Ibra was powerless thanks to a stout Italian defense. Eto'o had the fortune, although without a goal, of having wide open lanes for counters. It was also Lucio versus Dani Alves, Sneijder versus Messi, Xavi versus Cambiasso. The list goes on.

Inter defended like a true Italian team. Add to that Mourinho's specialty of dealing with superclubs and you have the perfect recipe at the perfect time. Oh, we're forgetting that Inter lost 1-0 even though they lost Thiago Motta. Not an easy outcome against the best striking force in the planet.

There's another side to this coin. Barcelona is feeling the weight of high-level competitions and the burden of being champions in all three (La Liga, Copa del Rey, Champions League). They were also missing Iniesta, a game-changer any given Sunday. Couple this with the very real fact that most of Europe has had an eye on Barca throughout the past year and broken through Guardiola's scheme on more than one occasion (Rubin comes to mind, plus their elimination from the Copa).

Internazionale of Milan are no pushovers, though. They have Julio Cesar as their net-minder, Lucio, Motta, Zanetti, Samuel, Maicon, Cambiasso and Chivu all defending Italian-style. Milito and Eto'o are some of the world's best. Oh, and Sneijder... often overlooked but with a style that makes him a dark horse for best player at this summer's World Cup.

So now we have no Spanish teams or English teams (the better leagues in the world). Instead it's Italy vs Germany. Defense versus midfield. Inter have not won the title since 1965 and haven't been to a final since 1972; Bayern Munich hasn't done it since 2001. They never me in a final.

Special One 1 - Rest of the World 0. Halftime. Let's see what happens in the Bernabeu on May 22. A great warm-up for south Africa.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

MLS 2009 Attendance stats week 5

A quick update on Week 5 attendance. Yes, numbers were lower this week. Why, you ask? People failed to show up to New York's best new stadium--Red Bull Arena. Only 64% full. And Chicago? Well, let's just say a bit more than half as much as opening day. More of the same for Dallas, and, inexplicably, on national television. Not a good way to get casual fans to watch the game. Colorado is also meandering around the half-full mark. Too bad, my experience at the stadium was such a treat. Also, take into account no DC, TFC, Seattle or Philly to boost final numbers.

Another way to look at this is a partial view of total attendance for each team relative to one another for each conference. Not much can be said at this point since some teams have only played once. Still, New York, DC, Seattle and LA all show strong numbers.

Friday, April 23, 2010

MLS 2009 Attendance stats week 4

MLS attendance for week 4 has been updated. Notice the entrance of TFC, always sold out, now increasing seating by 1,000+ seats. Dallas is the weakest marked by far, while SJ drew an underwhelming crowd of less than 10K at a barely 10K stadium. New York also fell, although there's a rumor fans show up at the Meadowlands instead. Week 5 sees New York against a new nearby rival--Philadelphia. Should be interesting to watch.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

World Cup Memories: Slovenia

Unlike Algeria, I actually do have some experience/memories with Slovenia. The Slovenians actually made it to Korea/Japan 2002 although their stay was short and forgettable. Still, this time around the Slovenians are pitted against my home country--USA, and they deserve another look.

Korea/Japan 2002 was the only instance in which Slovenia made it to the World Cup. They were also surprise qualifiers for the 2000 Euro. The Slovenia FA is relatively young, having sprouted from the breakup of Yugoslavia early in the 1990s. In 2002, they were pitted against Spain, South Africa and Paraguay. Their opening game against Spain was almost a total blowout until they scored late in the second half and fell by 3-1. In their next game, they faced South Africa and fell by the minimum of 1-0. In perhaps their most interesting match, the Slovenians went ahead against Paraguay before the South Americans roared back with three unanswered scores in the second half. At the same time, South Africa was falling to Spain by 3-2. This mix of scores ensured that Chilavert's team would pass on to the round of 16 on goal differential, as they were tied with South Africa in points.

What's next for Slovenia? The US, England and Algeria. Considering the fact that they eliminated mighty Russia in the Uefa playoffs, it is conceivable that they have the material to handle US and Algeria, with England being a less likely source of points.

Be ready to see some important players in action for Slovenia: Hadanovic (Udinese), Bostjan Cesar of Grenoble, youngster Krhin (currently with Inter Milan), Novakovic (Koln),

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Special One returns: Inter vs Barcelona

Who would have thought it, right? Inter 3 - Barcelona 1. The Special One (Joze Mourinho) did. Remember that he was once assistant coach to Pep Guardiola. Also remember that he's a masterful tactician. Milito's strength, along with Eto'o's explosiveness add depth to Snejider's play. Throw in Lucio, Julio Cesar, Zanetti and company and you have a team capable that may just de-throne the unbeatable Barca. Winning the Champions League would only further cement Mourinho's legacy, especially knowing that he's about to leave Italy (Real Madrid, we're looking in your direction).

Messi was quiet today. Inter's midfiled was able to pull that off. There was plenty of attack left but Iniesta's absence could have influenced the outcome of the match. Sure, Milito was offsides in the second goal. But who cares? Now we have a do-or-die game in Barcelona next week.

Oh, and before I quit... did you notice how many Italians were on the starting team for Inter? Answer: zero. Sure Baloteli came on in the second half... but he's only Italian by choice. At least Barca had Valdes, Xavi, Puyol, Pique, Pedrito and Busquets.

Monday, April 12, 2010

MLS 2010 Attendance stats week 3

Welcome to the Union...actually, more like "Welcome, Union." Watch out, Seattle... another team is selling out 35,000 seats for an MLS match. Well, that is until June, when the Philadelphia Union will move out of Lincoln Financial Field and into their brand new PPL Park in Chester, PA. Their soccer-specific stadium holds 18,500, but that's okay, because it's better to have a full soccer park than to play in a cavernous American football stadium (New England) or a shared baseball field (Kansas City). PS: KC will get their own stadium so this is temporary and better than Arrowhead.

Back to the stats. MLS and their new website has made it harder to get actual attendance numbers, but I was able to find them through other sources. The East is the big winner this week thanks to Philly. Dallas disappointed once more but at least came out of the 4-digits. RSL and Chicago opened at home with sold-out stadiums (20K each). Relative to last year, New England, Columbus and San Jose show losses but we can expect this to change as more games are played. TFC has yet to open at home this season. They will open on Thursday. Enjoy the figures (right column).

Friday, April 9, 2010

World Cup Memories: Algeria

Algeria is more of a history lesson for me, as well as a way to prepare for what they could mean for the US national team. The Desert Foxes were in two World Cups (1982, 1986) during their golden age. I admit to having little to no memory of their time in Mexico '86. As always as a child I rooted for the underdogs, and something tells me I was probably going for them too.

Algeria's play impressed in 1982. They defeated West Germany in a shock match. It followed that Austria and Germany needed a specific result (a 1-2 goal win by the Germans) to see them both through. This was in the days that wins counted for only two points and when final group matches were held at different times (today all final group matches are simultaneous). The Germanic countries ended with their preferred result and Algeria left the tournament.

In Mexico, Algeria didn't have as much luck and was able to get only a draw against Northern Ireland. Spain and Brazil were too much. The Desert Foxes haven't made it to a World Cup since then. But wait, isn't Zidane's family from Algeria? Oh, current French superstar, Karim Benzema is also an Algerian decscendant... Coincidence? It comes down to the reach of the French Empire, no? But that's politics and I'm not brave enough for it.

What's ahead? Slovenia (knocked out mighty Russia), England (always favorites), and the wild card, USA. If there's anything to say about the foxes is their resilience... they knocked out African champions Egypt after a heated home-and-away playoff that wound up tied and later settled at a neutral site--Sudan (not to mention the violence and hatred involved). Expect them to battle for second place in this very level field if we don't count England. This group is wide open, especially if Bradley's bunch pulls out another 1998/2006. Some stars to watch out for include Bougherra (Rangers), Belhadj (Portsmouth), Mansouri (Lorient), Matmour (Moenchengladbach), Ziani (Wolfsburg), Djebbour (AEK).

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Empire crumbling: Premier league out of Champions League

Today, Arjen Robben's clincher was more than just a thing of beauty. It also signifies a break from the domination of the English Premier League in Uefa's Champions League. Why is this so? Time for a change or a symptom of something more? Maybe a bit of both.

It is said that the top clubs reside in England and that this is where the top players earn their living... Really? I don't see Messi playing for Liverpool, Diego Milito lining up for Everton, Ribery starting for Chelsea, Cristiano Ronaldo scoring for Manchester United, David Villa scoring for Arsenal.

Is it too much competition within the EPL? You can argue for that. Spain is a two-horse race. Italy belongs to Inter, Bayern Munich still rules Germany, and Lyon, well, let's just say their place in football is nothing short of a monopoly in France.

You can make an argument for Rooney's injury and the loss of Ronaldo, even that Arsenal and Wenger would never get past Messi and the Justice League that is Barcelona. For whatever reason, it is now wide open. Four teams from four different countries... and none from England. Messi may have the upper hand, but The Special One and Milito + Sneijder, Robben-Ribery-Muller, Delgado-Toulalan may also have a say.

Should be fun to watch.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Messi, the artist

Messi 4 - Arsenal 1. I saw three out of four goals using just the internet, but it was enough to capture his magic.

It suffices to say that the world press has united behind calling Lionel Messi the best player of his generation... indeed of this quarter of a century. Sure, there's Zidane, Ronaldo, Romario, Cristiano Ronaldo, Baggio, Rooney... but do they make a difference week in and week out, consistently and with goals and build of play? Reminds us of Maradona? Maybe, but Messi scores more goals... at least with his club. Maradona had a 0.37 goals/match with the national team, Messi's ratio is 0.30. His touch is magic, his presence unpredictable, his passes millimetric, his finishing unmatched. Perhaps 2010 is the year he becomes a legend with Argentina. Now all he needs is a team that can support him... can Diego pull it off?

In case you missed it:

Monday, April 5, 2010

MLS 2010 Attendance stats week 2

Week 2 served to show if Colorado, DC and Houston would attract fans to opening day. We'd like to argue that DCU and the Dynamo did well in this respect. Colorado could have done better (2/3 full). Granted, the atmosphere at Commerce City was vibrant and plenty of fans on my side of the stands.

Seattle once again marks the difference. LA is drawing decent crowds, especially for its match versus Chivas. Still, you'd expect a sold-out venue for a derby game. Next week is Philly's turn, as well as New England, Chicago and champs Real Salt Lake.

Plots are on right hand column.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Colorado Rapids Home Opener: The live experience

Today's match between the Colorado Rapids and the Chicago Fire was my first experience at a competitive MLS match. I am a soccer fan. It runs in my blood and exhilarates me to watch. When I have a chance to experience the game live it is that much more special. Perhaps this is because I've been relatively deprived of high-level futbol throughout my adult life. As a kid born in Ecuador and having stayed there until the 6th grade, it was difficult to find a steady futbol mentor. Living in New Orleans and then North Carolina the rest of my life limited me to NASL and USL action only. A handful of Barcelona(EC)-Emelec clasicos, a US World Cup Qualifier and interspersed MLS-USL preseason action account for my experience of the game at actual stadiums.

To start, I'd like to compliment the team on a superb field and impeccable stadium (Dick's Sporting Goods Park). The pitch looked amazing and could be described as a soft green carpet. The seats were comfortable, close to the field and spacious. The new "Supporters Terrace" adds a bit of European flair to the fan base. My colleague (and ticket buyer) is a footy fan and a former River Rats fan club member. It was a joy to cheer along with her as well as my significant other and other company in attendance.

The stadium was a good 63% full today. Not optimum but decent and it sure felt like a packed house on my side of the stands. The opposite end had more empty seats. It's also nice to note the game's very much a family sport in this nation. I was reminded of this when I saw two girls (7 or 8) sitting together watching the game... one with a yellow jersey with the name "Brazil" above the number 10 and the other with a mini Manchester United jersey and Rooney's name.

The game for me, as always, was also much more about the players. I followed Conor Casey intently for most of the match as well as Marvell Wynne. Casey was often dangerous but with limited service from midfield. A stronger number 10 is needed and the incoming Claudio Lopez may just do the trick. I can see Casey's name being included in South Africa if Ching is unable to make it due to his recent injury. Casey is a good target forward (just watch the US-Honduras game from last October) and he can dribble with style. Wynne also showed his class--and his flaw. Poor decisions when pushed to the limit (his foul on Nyarko produced Chicago's equalizer). Excellent marking when needed. He was the reference point for the Rapids' defense and saved his team on 5 or 6 occasions.

Today's game left me wanting more. My stay in the Denver area is about to expire and this was the only match I could attend. I'm looking forward to next season, however, since my future home will be the state of Oregon. They will have a new expansion team, the Portland Timbers, and I plan to attend many more games. Indeed, it will be a pleasure (and relief) to finally have a home side to root for.