We dream of football and the world is full of dreams

Thursday, May 30, 2013

More learning pains: USA loses to Belgium in friendly

Photo credit: AP

The game started slow enough this evening in Cleveland, a town not known for soccer. A defensive mistake by Geoff Cameron and Omar Gonzalez allowed Mirallas to put a sublime touch on the ball to get it over Howard for the first of the game at just 6 minutes. It looked like a rout.

Team USA had a hard time for most of the first half hour with Belgium controlling most of the possession. Fellaini, Kompany, Lukaku, Dembele and Defour made it look simple and Klinsmann had to scramble for answers. Enter Geoff Cameron in the proverbial set piece and goal for the US. Sadly, Jozy Altidore was never able to establish himself in this match and he was subbed again at halftime, continuing his scoring drought that goes back to November 2011.

The first half ended better for the United States with good play out of Beasley and Jermaine Jones and Zusi and Dempsey waiting to pounce. The second half also started well with Brad Guzan in goal until Omar Gonzalez committed a terrible mistake in lightly touching the ball away while moving towards the USA. The Belgians pounced and Benteke was gifted a perfect ball that he just tapped in. From there, the Americans tried to pull back but the real Belgian team showed up. Great goals by Fellaini and another by Benteke in highlight-worthy moments.

Why are these learning pains? For one is the continuously evolving/revolving back line. Klinsmann went with Cameron at right back, where he plays for Stoke City, Beasley as left back and Goodson and Gonzalez in the middle. Goodson brings experience but he showed slow and disconnected. Indeed, everyone seemed disconnected from Omar Gonzalez, even Omar himself with Belgium's second goal. Cameron is clearly not meant for right back and that position should go to Chandler or Lichaj. Parkhurst has not been in action so he probably should not play at that position.

DaMarcus Beasley had another stellar match tonight. Maybe not so much because of his defense, although he held his own against a superior side. No, it was the dribbling around players like Vermaelen and Mirallas and unleashing his speed down the flank that allowed for plays that ultimately led to Dempsey's PK late in the match. It might be a good idea to have Fabian Johnson and Beasley control the left side for now. They can both play the wing and defend well. Ironically, it's the middle and the right that trouble Klinsmann. Not long ago we had countless talks about the problem at left back and how we were stacked elsewhere.

If the US is to build around Gonzalez as a fulcrum then Gonzalez will first need to clear his head and understand that he is the captain of the defense. Second would be moving Cameron to the middle where he excelled and won his place with the national team and earned his passport to Europe. This should be the start and perhaps we'll see something to that effect in the game versus Germany coming up this Sunday.

The rest of the team had a pretty muted match. Attacks came from Beasley and Jones with Dempsey and Altidore/Johnson/Boyd providing the final attempt. Clearly there was something or someone missing. One can make the case for both Michael Bradley and, yes, Landon Donovan.

Player ratings:

Subs: Guzan (5), Johnson (6), Boyd (5), Holden (5), Evans (N/A), Besler (N/A)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Out and Forward: Robbie Rogers returns to soccer

Photo credit: ESPN

Robbie Rogers, Men's national team standout  and former Columbus Crew and Leeds United player returned to action last night with the LA Galaxy in a game versus the Seattle Sounders. Scarcely three months ago, Rogers shocked the American soccer scene when he announced early retirement at the age of 26 and revealed to the world that he was gay.

Soon after coming out and having returned to America after a one-year stint in English soccer, Rogers was training with the LA Galaxy. It became clear to the soccer media that there was a possibility for Rogers to return to the field in MLS but questions still remained, specifically with his rights being owned by the Chicago Fire.

Just this past week it was announced that Rogers had been signed by the Galaxy following a trade that sent Mike Magee to Chicago. It is worth remembering that Magee is LA's current top scorer and also a clutch player for them in the post-season for the past 4 years.

But Robbie Rogers stole the show in his debut not necessarily with his play--he needs time to be match fit. Instead, Rogers became the first gay pro-athlete in any sport actively participating in competition. In a time when gay marriage is gaining significant traction in many parts of the country and it has become mainstream for the great majority of young people, Rogers' adventure is all the more significant.

We now celebrate Robbie Rogers' accomplishments on the field and off. He is the young winger Bruce Arena has been looking for his team to provide width and enable Keane, Donovan, Zardes and Villarreal room to move. He is also a trailblazer for the LGBT community and society as a whole. We are all one people, friends, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts, cousins and grandparents. We are humanity and are free to love whomever we desire, for that is our purpose in life and it makes us eternal.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Germany Rising: Bayern Munich wins the Champions League 2013

Photo credit: Reuters

As the curtains closed on another magical iteration of the UEFA Champions League, it was two German teams on the pitch: Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich. No Italian team, nor Spanish, nor English, French, Dutch or even Portuguese. Just German. And the way they got here, scoring 4 goals on perennial candidates Barcelona and Real Madrid in their home matches, just added to the accomplishment.

This isn't the first time two teams from one country reach the final. The same happened in 2008 with the Chelsea - Manchester United final in Moscow. Back then it was another tribute to the most expensive, most followed, and most emulated league: The English Premier League. Not so much anymore. Its champions went down early even United faltered near the end. Clearly, fate has looked another direction for choice.

Enter the Bundesliga. With perpetual contenders--and global brand--Bayern Munich, it might be easy to dismiss this league as not competitive. Not true. Aside from Dortmund and Munich exchanging wins during the recent decade, other standout performances abound: the 2008-2009 season was won by Wolfsburg, Stuttgart in 2006-2007 and Werder Bremen 2003-2004.

But today it was a different story on the pitch. Bayern Munich had the global influence, the impetus, the fans, the explosiveness of Mandzukich, Ribery, Robben, Muller, Schweinsteiger. In a match that was back and forth at times, it was always clear the clad in red had the upper hand, the swift passes, the intricate movements. The score might have been much more emphatic if it hadn't been for Dortmund's goalkeeper Weidenfeller and defender Neven Subotic. 

Although Lewandowski got close and Gundogan scored the equalizer, it always seemed clear that Munich had the upper hand in the attack. So when the ball came to Arjen Robben's foot and he controlled it, gauged its direction and tapped it into the net near the end of the game, it all became clear. This was the Dutch master's night and an appropriate sendoff for coach Jupp Heynckes. 

This night was an ode to German football. If 2010 showed how the national team was stacked with talent and power in Muller, Ozil, Khedira, Boateng, and recent years have brought us Mario Gomez, Gundogan, Schurrle, then surely destiny is welcoming them to a new sphere. The Germans may have faltered at the World Cup and Euro, but its club teams have now reached the pinnacle of soccer and allowed for the next phase in the development of this team: an international tournament.

Germany may have had its previous empires mired by tragedy and greed, solace and misfortune. For a people trying every day so hard to perpetuate their pride, despite their trials in history, the sport of soccer can offer a new perspective. Here they are kings, there are no guns or bombs or dictators or emperors. No on faults them for their achievements but instead emulate their style and development. For the German people there is just one truth: the love of the sport, the love of German football.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

New York's second MLS team arrives

Photo credit: MLS

New York City FC will be MLS's 20th, and most expensive franchise. After 17 years of trying, the league finally achieved their goal: a second team in the New York metro area. Instead of dwelling on details better covered in other pages, I will instead devote this post to the significance of the club and what it may mean for the league and players in this country.

The New York area is home to around 19 million people. Just driving through there you get a sense of the enormity of the population, not to mention its worldly inhabitants. You can hear a dozen languages at every street corner. Thus, New York acquired multiple teams in every sport, including big names like the Giants and Jets in American football and the Yankees and Mets in Major League Baseball. So why should soccer be any different?

At one point it was thought that the New York Cosmos would come back to the big scene. What with the inclusion of Pele as a backer and managing by Giovanni Savarese and Carlos Llamosa. But Dom Garber and MLS directives were very good at keeping the secret about who would build the team, what it's brand would be and where they would play.

Enter Manchester City and the New York Yankees. Suddenly a big name in soccer and a major brand in world sport enter the scene and establish the team. Significant, because although other squads have "training" sessions with big teams (Real Madrid with Real Salt Lake), and Chivas Guadalajara might consider Goats USA to be their satellite team, adding a European squad and the Yankees is much more impressive. The cost alone, at $100 million, benefits the league and players and sets the stage for even more greatness in the American soccer scene.

So how do we take this latest step in MLS? The league has proven that it has what it takes to build new teams and followers. One must only look at the Pacific Northwest, the Canadian teams, the new stadiums being built and the crop of homegrown players and big name stars. A second New York team adds a subway derby, a cross-town rivalry better than Chivas-Galaxy ever was. In fact, Chivas might re-brand and/or move out of the city. In reality, capitalizing on the Mexican population and the biggest brand in Liga MX wasn't enough to maintain attention or build a bigger fan base. New York FC must learn from this. They should have their own stadium and bring big name players. And maybe, just maybe, Red Bull Arena and the NYCFC stadium might sell out every match the way the Sounders and Timbers do.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Frank Lampard: Legend and History

Photo credit: The Telegraph

As we watched the Aston Villa versus Chelsea match this Saturday morning many of us wondered about the future of players on this Chelsea team. With the certain exit of Rafa Benitez as coach and a possible return from the Special One, Jose Mourinho, it was clear that there would be a certain change in the team. This includes Frank Lampard, the cornerstone of this squad for the last twelve years.

Many of us have memories of his plays and goals, from fans to rivals, coaches and fellow players, one constant remained: absolute talent. His clutch goals always came at the right time and in the most remarkable manners. At the end of the game, the end of the first half, the middle of a certain loss. Lampard fought through his relegation to the bench as coaches like Ancelloti, Villas-Boas and Rafa Benitez came and went. He sat out from the national team while Steven Gerrard took his spot. In reality, they are similarly gifted individuals in the same position on the pitch.

Lampard had arguably his best years under Jose Mourinho and whispers about the great Portuguese's comeback make us feel that Lampard will stick around at Stamford Bridge. It is certain, however, that with his contract ending this summer and his unwillingness to sign a contract as of yet, that he might be on his way out. And where would he go? MLS, possibly to the Galaxy to take over David Beckham's old spot.

Whatever Lamps' future holds for him, he has cemented his place in English football lore. He became Chelsea Football Club's all time leading scorer with his brace today, and by doing so he also made sure the team will be in the Uefa Champions League next year. There he continued to build on his legacy and history continued to be written. A player and a legend. A gentleman and a star. Frank Lampard will always be a constant reminder of football's greatest position: the playmaker.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Legend Ends: Sir Alex Ferguson

Photo credit: London News

Few coaches in the world have ever been like Sir Alex Ferguson, the Scottish manager of the legendary English club Manchester United.  13 Premier League titles, 5 F.A. Cups, 3 League Cups, 2 UEFA Champions Leagues and 1 FIFA Club World Cup. Instead of going through his accomplishments, I will simply state my memories of this legend.

Back in the 1990s, when I didn't know much about European soccer, his Manchester United defeated Bayern Munich in the final minutes of the 1999 Champions League. I remember his yelling on the side lines and his tactical changes that won the team this coveted title. I also learned about his close relationship with England (and the world's) darling player: David Beckham. It was difficult not to picture them together even when Becks played for England. Beckham owed this manager his style and fame and the way he transformed the soccer world.

As my love of soccer got more attuned, I began to realize Ferguson's stature in the game. Never quiet, always searching for the next star and forever making sure the team played well until the last minute. There were games in which they were losing or tying until the very end but the team always found a way to score and save the match.

In the recent decade, Ferguson brought us Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Antonio Valencia, Dimitar Berbatov, Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand and Chicharito Hernandez, among others that I hope not to insult. These were impact players that became their own legends playing under Sir Alex.

Finally, I'd like to mention his courage, steadiness and love of the game. he knew when to talk and when his talk needed to be out there even at the detriment of his position. We will never forget his portrayal on Special1TV with Jose Mourinho, or for that fact, the many matches the two coaches played against each other. Master and Apprentice, friend and foe the same. 

Sir Alex Ferguson changed the meaning of soccer not with a sudden impact but with longevity, a desire to break barriers in the game, his tutelage of important players, and his presence on the world stage. We will miss you.