Saturday, January 24, 2009

USA v. Sweden Friendly Liveblog

"Let me tell you about Sweden, only country where the clouds are interesting."

"Too much time to think, too little to do."

"It's all quiet on the Eastern front."

It's a meaningless very important friendly between a mishmash of fringe American and Swedish players! We sure do love US Soccer here, so why not join me for a liveblog after the jump? YIPPEE!

Here's what we know: The U.S. plays Mexico in an important World Cup Qualifier on February 11th, but practically none of the players who will be in that match will be playing tonight. Similarly, most of the Swedish regulars won't be playing today. So, it's basically the U.S. C Team versus the Swedish C Team. Oh, and the game takes place in California, so no ogling at Swedish fans in the stands. Still with me?

You see, I've got a cold and have basically been on the couch the past few days, so why not try (my best) to follow along with this game? If nothing else let's have a nice chat in the comments, shall we? And, worst case, we can each have ourselves a nice nap.

I'll be back closer to 8:00pm EST with starting lineups and whatnot.

Pregame: Yup, I'm back and rearing to go. The storyline tonight is whether some of the younger and fringe players can earn their way into Bob Bradley's good graces. Otherwise, well... Cops is on Fox, and I believe there's a Time Life infomercial featuring the Bowzer on another channel. The Bowzer hasn't really aged well.

Your starting lineups...

USMT: Troy Perkins, Marvell Wynne, Michael Parkhurst, Danny Califf (captain), Jonathan Bornstein, John Thorrington, Sacha Kljestan, Ricardo Clark, Robbie Rogers, Charlie Davies, Brian Ching

Let me tell you about Sweden: Johan Dahlin, Markus Jonsson, Marcus Lindberg, Max von Schlebrügge, Adam Johansson, Daniel Andersson (captain), Andreas Dahl, Gustav Svensson, Samuel Holmén, Daniel Nannskog, Mikael Dahlberg.

Oh look, FSC sprung to send Bretos to the match! And there are literally dozens of people in the stands to see the game.

Oops, I left out Kljestan up in the lineup. You were paying attention and noticed that, didn't you?

Bob Bradley is being interviewed outside his hotel, and he's wearing his U.S. Soccer uniform. I bet he sleeps in that uniform.

Speaking of sleep, Bob Bradley speaking puts me to sleep.

Uh... so, I hope that Kljestan signs with Celtic, that would be cool. 13 more minutes till this game starts. The anticipation is killing me, and just in time is a kind of creepy interview with USWT coach Pia Sundhage.

I'm taking this opportunity to express my hatred of the constant Proactiv ads on FSC.

Shots of the stands... I wonder what kind of person shows up to a US v. Sweden friendly at the Home Depot Center?

Poor Brian Ching, always a USMT bridesmaid, never a bride.

And the players are coming out on the pitch... but first more commercials. I'm betting there will be at least one for Proactiv.

Yay I win, it's a Proactiv ad. If there were a FSC bingo board, than Proactiv would be the free space.

Okay, after 35 minutes of exciting buildup, it's the... coin toss and handshakes. We're getting closer to the game starting. I have chills running down my spine.

Mark Rogondino has a face that belongs on Mount Rushmore. He's craggy.

Kickoff: Sweden gets it going and pass it back to their defenders before punting it up the field. Promising start.

2: So far, the young Americans are showing their talent at kicking the ball out of play.

4: Landon Donovan is the Peyton Manning of US Soccer. Discuss.

6: Christopher Sullivan suggests that Larsson should come to MLS. Yeah I see that happening. USMT putting some pressure outside the Swedish goal. There looks to be an early goal in this one.

10: More shaky defending by the Swedes. Their back four would make Arsenal proud. On the other end, Sweden earn a corner kick that Kljestan heads away.

13: Marvel Wynne with a nice run down the right and corner. And Thorrington makes a good tackle. Color Bob Bradley.... impressed. Otherwise, just a lot of running around.

14: I think Sullivan just compared Kljestan to Pirlo? Wha?

17: GOAL! 1-0 USA! Hello Celtic, you paying attention? Kljestan scores a beautiful curling freekick.

18: And Bretos compares Kljestan to Lampard and Ballack. Who's next? Cristiano Ronaldo? Torres? Fabregas? Kaka?

22: More running around, a few late tackles by the Swedes that the ref lets go, and the U.S. is pressing for a second. Oh and a plug for Fox Football Fone In. I bet in real life Steven Cohen yells at people all the time, like when he orders coffee at Starbucks... "I want A TALL LATTE!! WITH SKIM!!"

27: Andersson takes out Kljestan with a flick of his foot and earns a deserved yellow card. Dirty, dirty Swedes!

30: And now some sloppy end-to-end play, capped by Wynne winning a ball down the right for a throw-in. Like almost all of the American defenders, Wynne would be top notch if only he were around 3-4 inches taller.

33: Robbie Rogers finally does something useful by earning a freekick, that's taken by Kljestan again but redirected for a corner that's eventually cleared.

36: Wynne makes a nice play that results in a US breakaway that comes to nothing. Sweden must've really left their decent players at home. They look pretty crap.

39: Another great play by the Americans, who maintain possession until Wynne makes a run and is taken down for a penalty that...

40: GOAL (penalty) 2-0! Kljestan easily converts. The nice thing about that goal was the Americans finally showed some concerted ball control, something that's been lacking in 99% of the MLS matches I've seen. If the next generation of Americans can finally learn basic ball control skills, maybe the USMT finally will become relevant (there, I said it).

44: Sweden cross into the box but no one is there to meet it. Meanwhile, Bretos and Sullivan are waxing nostalgic about the Swedish leagues. Halftime is almost here, and I have a feeling I'm the last one still watching!

45: With one minute of extra time, Ching earns a freekick around 15 yards out that Robbie Rogers kicks straight into the wall. US up 2-0. I'll be back for the second half, assuming I don't fall asleep.

Halftime: Even Bretos just admitted that this is a boring game. 'Nuff said. Between more Proactiv ads, they ran that It Starts Here ad. I'm a fan of that one.

46: And they're off... Kenny Cooper is on for Charlie Davies.

47: Someone forgot to tell the Swedes the game started again. They let Klejstan cut through their defense before giving up a corner, which is just barely cleared off the line.

50: Although it's still all the Americans, who are maintaining control but can't quite manage to finish, the Swedes manage to kick the ball around at the other end before giving up a goal kick. So far just more kicking about. I will say I like the way that Thorrington plays: he's everywhere and is willing to give up his body (which is what you'd hope for from a 29-year-old journeyman earning his fourth cap).

54: Sweden can't manage to keep the ball in play, and the U.S. are just slightly better.

56: And Thorrington takes a presumptuous shot from 30 yards out that's well wide. So much for him playing within himself.

60: Let me tell you about Sweden, only country where the clouds are interesting, big brother says it's place to go, too much time to think too little to do. Yellow card to Danny Califf on a very late challenge.

61: Chris Rolfe on for Thorrington. Sweden makes a sub too, not that it really matters. Bretos says that the US will be fielding a top team for the Confederations Cup. Great.

68: Well, this game has descended into tedium. Sweden almost get an open play on goal but the American defenders close. That's about the most exciting thing that's happened in a while. Oh, and Kenny Cooper kicked the ball into a defender.

69: Rolfe does his best Gerrard impression and kicks the ball into the stands behind the net. Brian Carroll on for Rogers.

73: Shambolic defending leads to a freekick just outside the box. But Kljestan can't get the hattrick, he kicks the ball straight at the goalkeeper.

74: GOAL SWEDEN! 2-1. Nice cross and bad defending by Bornstein gives Nannskog a classy header.

75: GOAL USA! 3-1. Kljestan hattrick! Set up beautifully by Brian Ching, who uses his body to control the ball and set up Kljestan. That should help his standing with Celtic.

76: Oof Sweden get a shot on goal to almost pull one back. Eddie Gaven on for Brian Ching, who had a good game. I just wonder if Brian Ching can ever manage to play as well when it isn't against lower competition. Just askin'.

79: Kljestan goes for a fourth, but it's blocked by a defender. Chris Wingert on for Bornstein.

82: And we're back to shambolic play. Lots of bodies flying and no concerted possession by either side.

82: Ihemelu for Parkhurst. And FSC has some stupid fact about how Kljestan is only the second player to score his first three national team goals via a hattrick.

86: I have no idea who some of these American subs are and, by the way they're playing, I think I now know why.

87: Ihemulu clears a soft shot off the line. Things are a bit ragged now.

89: GOAL SWEDEN. 3-2. Right on cue. Another good cross, more poor defending, another good header. Swedish subs are outplaying the American subs.

90: Long distance strike by the Americans, and now it's back into the American half before the ref calls a free kick. Three minutes of extra time for the U.S. to kill off.

92: Oh Kenny Cooper. He has a breakaway and only the goalie to beat, but drags it wide and doesn't have the speed or the skill to get past the keeper. It's end to end at the, uh, end.

FULL TIME. USA 3, SWEDEN 2. Pretty much what you would expect. Poor game, Sacha Kljestan was the star, Brian Ching and Marvel Wynne both played well, and most of the American fringe players deserve to remain on the fringe. Thanks for wasting a perfectly good Saturday evening with me!

Read more on "USA v. Sweden Friendly Liveblog"...

FA Cup Liveblog: Manchester United v. Spurs

Grim and grimmer.

It's been a rough week, but what better way to recuperate than on the couch with a few beers and two EPL teams clashing in the FA Cup? Well, they're both likely fielding youngsters, so I guess it could be a bit better.

For example, I'd prefer seeing some top league action this weekend, much like Precious Roy outlined below. He's got some good ideas, that man. Should Sepp fall prey to syphilis, I think I know who I'd nominate to replace him.

But I digress.

It's FA Cup! Fourth Round! Old Trafford! Sir Alex Ferguson! 'Arry!

Come 1-0 with me after the jump. Believe me, Torquay v. Coventry was just the beginning.

Man Utd: Foster, O'Shea, Neville, Vidic, Fabio Da Silva, Welbeck, Carrick, Scholes, Ronaldo, Berbatov, Tevez.
Subs: Kuszczak, Giggs, Tosic, Fletcher, Possebon, Chester, Eckersley.

Tottenham: Alnwick, Gunter, Corluka, Dawson, Assou-Ekotto, Bentley, Huddlestone, Zokora, Bale, Modric, Pavlyuchenko.
Subs: Gomes, Gilberto, Giovani, Taarabt, Defoe, Rocha, Dervite.

Fresh off his howler in the Carling Cup, young Ben Alnwick gets another chance to prove that he knows how to play goalkeeper. In front of him, a relatively full-strength XI, although the absence of Wonder Striker Darren Bent means they're severely weakened up front. Ah, who am I kidding? They'd be better served with Titus Bramble up front.

The presence of Gareth Bale surely foretells doom, although it's nice to see 'Arry live up to his dishonest reputation: all that talk about fielding the "weakest team I can possibly find" was bollocks, wasn't it? He's having a go, and like always, he's looking to steal a win. He won't do that with the suddenly-crap Bentley in the lineup.

Meanwhile, Fergie's bait-and-switch from the Derby fixture sees some first-teamers sprinkled amid a slew of players I've never heard of. The young Brazilian Fabio gets his first-team debut, so good for him, I reckon. Carlos must be feeling the love at getting a run-out in yet another meaningless fixture. He's got the morose Bulgarian up top for company, while the bench is littered with children, and Dennis Eckersley?

Off we go.

1 min: Bentley does what he does best, taking possession in midfield and running left to right across the pitch before dribbling it out of play. Carrick was happy to shepherd him on his merry way, and 'Arry surely wonders why on earth any manager would pay as much for him as Ramos did.

3 mins: Early "pressure" (and I use that term loosely) for Spurs, with Bentley winning a corner-that-wasn't-really-a-corner under pressure from young Fabio. Bale swings it to the far post, but after some header tennis, it ends up safely in Ben Foster's arms.

5 mins: GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL... my oh my. It's that useless Russian striker! Lords-a-leaping. A weak cross gets half-heartedly cleared by Fabio only as far as Huddlestone, and his delicate cross into the thick of the box finds Pavlyuchenko's head and he helps it on its way, glancing it just inside the far post. Foster barely moved, and Vidic was fast asleep in coming across. Soft defending from Man United, and as a Liverpool fan, I take mild solace from it. Here's hoping this carries over to the league. Nice cross by Tubblestone for that one. Manchester United 0, Spurs 1

8 mins: There's a buzz in the air as the United fans try to sing their team back into it. The Reds don't look like they've woken up yet, or maybe they're hung over from that shaky midweek performance. It's typical United at the mo, passing it around rather aimlessly while Spurs look to have shown us their gameplan: get those crosses in and hope for the best.

11 mins: Scholes goes the aerial route, lofting a long ball forward that Assou-Ekotto can only head into Berbatov's path, but the Bulgarian drags his shot from the edge of the box and it was always going wide. Better luck next time, tosser.

15 mins: United are beginning to assert some authority over the midfield, but the final pass forward isn't quite working yet. Then young Danny Welbeck attempts to relieve Assou-Ekotto of his leg below the ankle via a late tackle/stomp, but he's unsuccessful.

17 mins: Better from United as Fabio intercepts a pass and releases Berbatov down the middle. He finds O'Shea wide but the final cross is awful and the danger subsides for now.

A few seconds later, Carlos Tevez makes the case to Fergie for more playing time with a fizzing shot from 20 yards that cracks off the crossbar with Alnwick beaten. Spurs can't sit back for 70 minutes, if they were planning on it.

19 mins: Ronaldo finds out that the step-over is a privilege, not a right. Six of them at the edge of the box before two Spurs defenders promptly relieve him of possession.

20 mins: Tottenham defend like statues! Welbeck receives the ball wide right, cuts all the way in, plays a one-two with Tevez(?) and skips through two more tackles. Clean through on goal, he dallies on the ball for a second and Chris Gunter slides in at the last second to block a sure equalizer. Spurs are showing exactly why taking an early lead at Old Trafford isn't always a good thing.

Scholes blazes a shot from 25 yards over the bar, and a minute later, Ronaldo does the same. Surely it's just a matter of time before they equalize, right?

22 mins: A mazy run-and-cross by Fabio down the left falls to Tevez in the middle, and his reflex shot requires a brilliant save from Alnwick to keep Spurs' advantage. United are just murdering Spurs down the left wing. I blame David Bentley.

24 mins: Can Gareth Bale defend? Acres of room behind him for Welbeck to sneak forward and deliver a dangerous cross into the six-yard-box, one that Corluka thumps out for another United corner. The pressure on the Spurs' backline is relentless at the moment.

25 mins: Scratch that, United are murdering Spurs down both wings. Scholes finds Welbeck wide right again, but his pass to John O'Shea is promptly wasted and Spurs clear their lines again.

You know how I know Fabio is Brazilian? Because he's great on the ball and he knows how to foul. He shoves Gunter to the floor for the easiest free-kick decision in history. Bentley loops it in but O'Shea clears, and then from the other wing, Bale crosses for Pavs but Foster comes 15 yards off his line to collect. It's the first thing he's had to do since picking the ball out of the net 20 minutes ago.

Gareth Bale is a team of one. A 30 yard run into traffic on the M6 would have been more useful.

32 mins: Welbeck tries to emulate Maradona's 2nd goal against England in the '86 World Cup, picking up the ball well wide on the right and dribbling his way in towards goal. However, after turning Assou-Ekotto inside-out a few times, he finally loses possession. He's good on the ball, but this is Spurs he's playing against! He can't just walk the ball into the net! (Or can he?)

34 mins: For such a big fella, Huddlestone isn't very imposing on the pitch. He lets Tevez ghost by him with nary a nudge or hip-check, and Carlos' run ends when Bale deflects his cross out for a corner.

GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL, and it's Huddlestone again! Showing why he's not good at football once more (as if we didn't see it less than 30 seconds prior... defensive midfielders need to be able to defend, you know), a rehearsed Man U corner comes to Scholes at the edge of the box. He rifles the ball low and hard through the crowd, and it deflects off Huddlestone's heel and into the back of the net. Poor Tom. Manchester United 1, Spurs 1

36 mins: GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL, and Fergie can rejoice! Dimitar Berbatov demonstrates his worth with a nicely-taken goal. It's two former Spurs players doing the damage; Carrick floats a wonderful long ball right into Dimitar's path, and with a mile of space between Dawson and Corluka (you can bet 'Arry is going to have words at half-time), he controls the ball perfectly and smacks the ball past Foster into the bottom left corner. Wonderful goal from a team I absolutely hate. Manchester United 2, Spurs 1

41 mins: How will Spurs respond? Perhaps they need to begin their response by locating Luka Modric, a guy who's touched the ball maybe thrice in this first-half. When their most enterprising player thus far is named David Bentley, there's trouble afoot.

43 mins: Not good from Spurs, although arguably they've performed better in 43 minutes than they did in 118 against Burnley the other night. Bale tries to break the offside trap, but fails miserably. Where o where is Darren Bent?!?!!?

A Modric sighting! He gets possession and with room to run, although his cross to Pavlyuchenko never makes it. United make easy work of the clearance. They've made easy work of everything thus far. Painful.

45 mins + 1: Blow the bloody whistle already. United knock the ball from side-to-side like they're on the training ground while Spurs chase possession half-heartedly.

HALF TIME: Manchester United 2, Spurs 1

And now, a video of Dimitar Berbatov being interviewed by children:

47 mins: Giovani is on for Spurs, replacing the absentee midfielder Luka Modric. Bentley swings in a decent deep cross from the right. Foster leaves it, Vidic leaves it, O'Shea leaves it, but Bale doesn't! He sneaks around the back and catches it on the volley, but it's off his shin and nowhere near the target.

49 mins: Huddlestone does play defender for just a second, blocking off Ronaldo's low cutback after a decent run down the left. Man U waste the corner.

52 mins: United turn on the speed with Tevez again gearing the attack in the middle. He sets Welbeck loose down the right, but Danny boy thunders the cross well into the stands.

54 mins: Fabio knackers his ankle, requiring a substitution. It's another tiny Ginger in the form/shape of Richard Eckersley. I'm assuming this is his first-team debut? O'Shea moves to left-back, proving that inconsistency can be two-footed, and Eckersley takes his spot at right-back.

57 mins: United switch off a bit and give Spurs some time on the ball. Nice of 'em, really. Bale gets free down the left and rockets a cross from one wing to the other. Bentley meets it on the right of the box and is able to unleash a wicked volley, full of power and swerve, but it's miles wide. Still, mildly encouraging for 'Arry and Spurs, although if David is looking to replicate his freakish long-range effort from that 4-4 Arsenal game, he'll have to do better than that. According to conventional wisdom, lightning, and speculative volleys, don't strike twice.

60 mins: The thug in Vidic escapes for a second, as he follows up a poor first-touch with a clumsy lunge into Giovani's legs after losing possession. He gets a yellow card for his efforts.

65 mins: It's Bentley again! Well, almost. Nice counter-attack by Spurs sparked by Giovani down the middle. He finds Gunter wide right, and his cutback sets up nicely for Bentley, but his shot loses some pace via a deflection and ends up in Foster's stomach.

67 mins: Ronaldo's pulling a bit of a Modric at the moment, looking rather quiet out on the left wing. He does get a bit of a run at Gunter, cutting inside and shooting early for the near post, but Alnwick parries it and Corluka clears.

Spurs have a chance! They're subbing out Gareth Bale! On comes Adel Taarabt in his stead.

70 mins: If 'Arry thinks his team aren't really interested, he'll be certain of that now. Bentley's cross is cleared straight up into the sky by Neville, and not a single Spurs player thinks to go after it. It exits orbit, bounces, spends what seems like an eternity in the air before Foster finally comes out to collect. Dire.

71 mins: Ronaldo gets a bit of room up front and forces a good save from Alnwick, briefly waking up the Old Trafford crowd.

The boredom is broken by some substitutions: United remove Ronaldo and give a debut to the New Ronaldo, Goran Tosic, while 'Arry begins to quiet the conspiracy theories that he has no interest in winning by throwing Jermain Defoe on the pitch for a 20-minute runabout. However, he takes off Bentley in the process, arguably Spurs' brightest star this afternoon, so it's all relative.

76 mins: Eckersley wins a free kick for his troubles after wrong-footing Taarabt on the right. Spurs don't clear effectively, giving both Scholes and Carrick a chance to shoot from the top of the box. Scholes' effort was blocked by Zokora/Zokora's stomach, and Carrick tries to bend it round and over the top, succeeding only in giving someone a closer look at the ball in the proverbial Row ZZ.

80 mins: Tevez tries to inspire something in a one-two with Welbeck, but the return from Carlos to Danny ends up in Alnwick's grasp. Poor final ball, summing up the frustration and misfiring of the entire second half for both teams. Absolute rubbish, thus far. I've seen Chelsea-Liverpool EPL games with more gusto and excitement than this.

82 mins: The only player on the pitch with energy levels above that of a heroin addict is Carlos Tevez. There is no Spurs player he will not chase, no loose ball he will not pursue at full speed. Still, one man can't do it all. Spurs win a corner thanks to Vidic. Will something finally happen? Taarabt to take...

... and it's cleared with ease. Huddlestone jogs over to collect the loose ball and attempts to give it back to Taarabt some 40 yards cross-field, but it's out for a United throw. Not good, Tom. Not good.

83 mins: Assou-Ekotto gets free down the left and cuts it back for Giovani, but from a tight angle, he can only volley over the bar. Frustrating stuff.

84 mins: A Spurs equalizer would be nice, but remember: that means we'd have a replay and another 90 minutes of this passionless shite to endure in a couple of weeks, this time at White Hart Lane. That might be a good thing.

86 mins: Welbeck picks up a knock in his attempt to get on the end of a Carlos Tevez pass, and he's subbed off, limping down the tunnel to mild applause. Darren Fletcher replaces him.

So many players haven't justified the ticket price today: Ronaldo, Berbatov (despite the goal), Pavlyuchenko (again, despite the goal), Scholes, Modric, Huddlestone. Tevez and Bentley have given it some effort though. Still, you know Fergie's not putting Carlos ahead of Dimitar or Wayne in that regular first-team XI.

89 mins: Tireless, Tevez attempts to put the game beyond doubt, but he can't do it all himself. Tosic plays a clever chip over the top but Carlos doesn't get to it in time, and Spurs scramble clear.

Four minutes of added time before we can all get on with our lives.

90 mins + 1: If you think Spurs might actually go down this season, I wouldn't disagree at this point. They chase possession against a United side that's only 50% interested in winning, and yet every single time they get it, they immediately give it back. It's Taarabt's turn to receive the ball on the right, jog forward 20 paces before "crossing" right to Gary Neville. Pavlyuchenko could take a nap at the edge of the area if he wanted to. After all, it's not like any of these passes will ever actually make it to him.

90 mins + 3: Last chance saloon as Zokora wins a free-kick. He lofts it into the box towards no-one in particular, and United clear with ease. John O'Shea hoofs it out of play, and 'Arry is bemused once again. What are the odds that he's quietly faxing out his resume when Daniel Levy's out to lunch?

Taarabt shows a flicker of life on the right wing, but Tosic is up to the challenge. Again Taarabt has a go at beating Tosic, and he does, but his cross is a grass-cutter and ends up out for another throw. Another shallow cross and Taarabt, seemingly a magnet for the ball, shoots into a crowd of red shirts. It deflects off Scholes (though I'm not sure he knew much about it) and the Spurs players all appeal frantically for a handball in the area, not because they actually believe it hit their hand, but more because they feel like that's what a player on a desperate team should do at that moment in time. No whistle from ref Walton, and seconds later, he blows for full-time.

Easily the worst half of football I've seen in a long time.

FULL TIME: Manchester United 2, Spurs 1

Ladies and gents, Tottenham are a dire, dire football team. They're awful. Any combination of half-hearted, disinterested players doesn't matter. Any XI they put out yields the same result: 60 seconds of competent football lost amid 89 minutes of passionless ineptitude.

I didn't actually think this relegation zone flirtation would last, but after the performances they've given in the last week, it makes complete and total sense. They're terrible. I feel bad for them. They could actually go down.

Meanwhile, United amble into the 5th Round, keeping the absurd dream of a Quadruple alive. Of course they won't manage it, but it irritates me greatly that they even have an outside chance of making it happen.

That's it for today. Maybe another liveblog tomorrow for Liverpool/Everton (and the potential murder of Tim Cahill), but DEFINITELY ANOTHER LIVEBLOG TONIGHT as Spectator will cover that US/Sweden encounter. After all, we didn't finish as the 4th Best US Soccer Blog without this kind of unbeatable USMNT/USWNT/MLS coverage.

Join us tonight for that, and in the meantime, try to drink the memory of this FA Cup tie out of your brain. It's the only way.

Read more on "FA Cup Liveblog: Manchester United v. Spurs"...

An Open Letter For An Open Thread

Dear English Premier League,

Hi, how are you? Just want to start out by saying, nice job. Not that I'm certain it has anything to do with something you've done, but the league this year has been awesome, especially in the bottom half of the table.

It's late January and there are only five points separating 10 teams from the drop. The bottom of the table is almost better than the top right now. I'm a total advocate for relegation in American sports just for that reason, but this isn't about our leagues as much as it is about yours.

See, we play football too. Only we use this oblong thing and we throw it around, and there's really not much "foot" involved in it at all. It's kind of a stupid name. But it's huge over here. It dominates the sports landscape in ways which defy explanation.

I mean they televise the fucking draft. And people watch it.

Our professional football (the National Football League) is having its championship next week. You've probably heard of it, it's called the Super Bowl. We like to pretend that the whole world watches it, but I can't fathom many people in, say, Ouagoudougou getting up in the middle of the night to take in a game that they don't even really understand.

Anyway, the way the whole NFL thing works is a bit like the World Cup. There's a kind of group stage—only this one last 17 weeks—followed by a knock out round. Now between the semi-finals and the final, the Super Bowl, they take 14 days off. Yes, there is actually a full off week to help build the hype or some shit like that. Or maybe give people a chance to reconnect with their families after 20 weeks of neglect. I don't know.

But that off week is this week. That means there's not a single fucking thing happening in American professional sports this week. Nothing.

Okay, maybe some college basketball, but seeing how 64 teams will get a shot to compete for that championship, this weekend's games are not really of consequence. It's not like a home loss at this point can cost you a title the way that a home loss and three dropped points to, oh, Stupid Fucking Bolton would.

To the point though, there are hundreds of thousands of men who have a pretty ingrained routine—put on a shirt with another grown man's name on the back of it, go to the bar a little before noon, start drinking and yell at television sets showing large men playing a game—who suddenly have this interrupted for one week. A little lifestyle hiccup if you will.

So, my suggestion (by way of a question) is: Why the fuck aren't you exploiting this hiccup?

This shouldn't be an FA Cup weekend. It's a great competition and all, but there should be Premier League fixtures today and Sunday. And among them should be matches between the Big 4—Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool. Either do one a day, or even better, a double header on Sunday. That's the day that's already sacred to NFL fans.

Match those four teams up against one another (although might I suggest avoiding Liverpool v. Chelsea as those affairs have been a bit dull as of late) and promoting the hell out of it in the US. "While you're waiting for you're football, watch the world's football" or some shit like that. Push the kicks to late afternoon or early evening over there so that the starts coincide with what would be an NFL game kick over here. Sponsor watching parties at bars. Give away shit to get people out. I don't care what you actually do to market it, just do something.

The opportunity is there—again: there is nothing going on in sports this weekend, but there are millions of sports fans with 20-something weeks of conditioning to go watch sports—you should take advantage of it.

America is a huge market. If not in terms of size—certainly there are 3 times as many people on the sub-continent—at least in terms of dollars. And it is warming to soccer. The last World Cup, European Championship, and Champions League Final all exceeded ratings expectations over here.

Americans will gladly watch something when it's played at the highest level. And what's going on in Barcelona not withstanding, the English Premier League (suck it, Barlcays) is the highest level of league soccer in the world. Shit, even Wigan is pretty good this season.

So to recap: this is the bye week between the conference finals and the Super Bowl in the NFL. There is a lull in the America sports calendar that is just waiting to be filled, you, the EPL should fill it with your best—Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester United; Fabregas, Essien, Torres, Ronaldo.

There's my suggestion. It's yours to do with what you will. But you'd be stupid not to take it.

Hugs and kisses,
Precious Roy

Read more on "An Open Letter For An Open Thread"...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Backpasses: Ghost, I tell ya

Are Manchester United and Tottenham conspiring to make sure of no replay? [The Spoiler]
Landon scores two against Mainz. Ol' Lando is Bayern's top scorer during the friendlies [The Offside Rules]
Abramovich is suing Sunday Times for libel [Rescinded Red]
Ives handicaps the MLS expansion race [Soccernet]

Club mourns former player, holds minute of silence. Imagine the embarrassment when he shows up alive [Fox Soccer]

Read more on "Friday Backpasses: Ghost, I tell ya"...

Quick Throw: The English/Arab Premier League.

One of the Arab businessmen involved with the take over of Man City has revealed he is looking at another take-over. Chelsea. Dr Sulaiman al-Fahim is part of a consortium considering a bid for the South London club. Conflict of interests? Aren't there rules against having major interests in two EPL teams? There should be! And what's with the Arab invasion? First Man City, then Liverpool, and now Chelsea? If you ask me, rich Arab folks have just decided to leave the card table and play poker in the Premier League.

Read more on "Quick Throw: The English/Arab Premier League."...

Total Football? Total Failure! Dutch Courage Lacking At Southampton

I warned you Saints fans... I told you in July. I greeted Jan Poortvliet's pledge of 'total football' with a deep sigh and a hearty laugh. This is the Championship people! 6 months later total football at St Mary's has been total disaster. Today Jan Poortvliet resigned as manager of Southampton. That's the clubs nice way of saying that they propped the door open and booted the useless Dutchman into the street. Poortvliet leaves Southampton second from the bottom of the table with just one win at home all season. But never fear Saints fans, you are in safe hands. Mark Wotte takes overs. Wotte was assistant to Poortvliet but has plenty of experience... in Dutch football.

Wotte has coached and managed at no less than SEVENTEEN clubs and he is only 48. He actually stayed at one club (ADO Den Haag) for a whole TWO years. This ones got staying power for sure. Saints fans must be livid this evening. As if they haven't got enough to worry about with their dire financial situation and board room struggles. Wotte way to go...Actually, I shouldn't mock Wotte and Southampton, that's just bad karma. Southampton may stink worse than the pungent smell of a rotting corpse at home but they have actually won 5 games on the road. The kind of record expected of a play-off team, and with Wotte and his Saints coming to Norwich next Tuesday I should not be tempting fate.

How long Wotte lasts at Southampton is anyones guess but a quick look at his resume would suggest he has anywhere between 2 weeks and a year.


Poortvliet is at the top, Wotte on the right.

Read more on "Total Football? Total Failure! Dutch Courage Lacking At Southampton"...

Midfield Delight

If you didn't already believe that professional athletes are living your dreams, Nives Celzijus will make you a believer. Nives is the beautiful wife and former Playboy model of out of work Croatian defender Dino Drpic. (Do a Google Image Search of Nives when you get home.)

In a recent spot on a Serbian talk show, Nives revealed (NSFW pic in the story) she helped Dino live out a fantasy of his when she let him get stuck in at the Dinamo Zagreb midfield circle. Nives was so nice she even let him keep the lights on after he had arranged with the proper people for that to occur. No word if Afternoon Delight was playing on the PA system.

Unfortunately, Dino is no longer with Dinamo Zagreb reportedly because of gambling issues. Naturally he wants to come to the EPL and play with his countryman, Luka Modric, at Tottenham.

This isn't Dino's first time in the English media spotlight though. Last summer when Madeleine McCann was abducted, some British tourists tried to snatch Dino and Nives' child believing the boy to be Madeleine.

Read more on "Midfield Delight"...

Gerrard Faces The Gallows

Not really, but Steven Gerrard went to court today to face his first courtroom reckoning for the nightclub affray from last month. Captain Fantastic then connected on a 30 yard volley that beat the judge to the upper ninety and all of Liverpool (except the blue part) rejoiced.

Actually, he just pleaded not guilty.

[Photo: The Guardian]

Read more on "Gerrard Faces The Gallows"...

Quick Throw: Liverpool To Get Arab Sugar Daddy?

The BBC is reporting that Tom Hicks is in talks with Kuwait Businessman Nasser Al-Kharafi. Could Al-Kharafi turn Liverpool into a billion dollar super club? Will he bid 100 million for Kaka? Will he sell Arab robes with liver birds on them in the club shop? Stay tuned folks. Apparently even in this depressing economic climate, Arab businessmen are prepared to play fantasy football. Why can't these people have serious ambitions and buy a decent club like Norwich City?

Read more on "Quick Throw: Liverpool To Get Arab Sugar Daddy?"...

Premier League Tech Battle Heats Up Part 2

The EPL is stepping up its battle against internet pirates...ARRR!!! But, it appears the league may be facing a more sinister internal enemy, a virus attacking it from the inside if you will, the pubs of England.

The publicans apparently have been using pirated broadcast decoders imported from Greece to broadcast oversees games. But, the pub owners argue the decoders are not illegal and protected by European Free Trade laws as they were purchased legitimately in Greece and imported to the UK.

If the pubs prevail, some believe this will undermine the system wherein the pubs have to pay Setanta and Sky to broadcast the games.

Let's just hope the pubs prevail.

Read more on "Premier League Tech Battle Heats Up Part 2"...

Premier League Battle Over Technology Heats Up Part 1

The internet has been the ultimate invention for two things: porn and free stuff. These two things go together well. But, for soccer fans in the US, the internet has been a godsend permitting us to see matches all over the world that we would never have the opportunity to watch because of the diaspora of soccer broadcasts in America. EPL American broadcasts are divided between FSC, Gol and Setanta and the attendant costs of getting just one of these channels. Other major European leagues are similarly split up between the various channels which often are not all carried by a cable carrier.

Thankfully, the internet has permitted the probably illegal practice of streaming these game feeds. There are a number of these sights and new ones are always popping up. So, now I'm able to wake up early Saturday morning and catch a match, which I couldn't do three years ago.

The EPL believes these streaming (piracy) sites are harming its revenue by siphoning off viewers from the parties paying good money for the EPL broadcast rights. This argument is not without merit, but it can also be argued that these sites are actually expanding the market to eyes that wouldn't normally watch these matches.

Who is correct? Probably a mixture of both.

Regardless, the EPL believes it risks losing its business like the music industry and has begun a war against these streaming sites. It's a multi-pronged attack, much like the RIAA assault on ISPs and lobbying of governments.

Frankly, it will likely be a losing battle because the internet will always be a step ahead. An innovation further than law. What the EPL needs to do is figure out how to co-opt this streaming technology and utilize it as a revenue stream. If it can develop more reliable and better quality streams at a cost for viewers it would be much more likely to come out ahead on this matter.

Read more on "Premier League Battle Over Technology Heats Up Part 1"...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thursday Backpasses: Seriously, he needs to play

After jumping through the necessary hoops, KC Wizards start physical work on new stadium site [SBI]
Jimmy Conrad interviewed on Facebook. Hey, we have a Facebook page. Go join [The Offside Rules]
Tom Hicks has entered talks with a Kuwaiti billionaire [Guardian]
WAGs no longer need working brains. Is there another joke here? [Daily Mail]

Is Citeh pursuing Drogba? [The Sun]
An informative graphic of Citeh's targets this January. PDF alert [Guardian]
Arsenal to beam highlights straight to PSPs in Emirates. If that's not enough for you, go to the article to see how many anti-soccer biases you can find [Gizmodo]
Hot rumor: Seattle Sounders FC's first opponent will be Chelsea [The Beautiful Game]

Nicklas Bendtner turned down a possible move to Hoffenheim. Why would Arsenal sell their one in-form goal scorer anyway? [Guardian]

Read more on "Thursday Backpasses: Seriously, he needs to play"...

In Canada Brain Damaged Cops Beat Up Other Parents at Soccer Matches

Tempting to think that a story that starts with the sentence, "A Hamilton police officer who punched a man at her child's soccer game could face a temporary demotion under the Police Services Act," has pretty much topped out.

But no, there are Canadians involved and apparently at least one of them is on a mission to be every bit as awful as an over-involved American parent. Yes, America our monopoly on shitty parenting vis a vis child athletics is coming to a cruel end at the hands of one Wendy Bromfield.

This story gets a little dense (either that or Canadian names all sound the same) but the incident dates back to August of 2006.

Bromfield was attending her child's soccer match. At the match, Bromfield complained to the ref that a player on the rival team was "roughhousing" and the ref subsequently ejected that player. Apparently "roughhousing" is a straight red in Canadaian U13 girls soccer.

After the match a teammate of the ejected girl approached Bromfield and called her a narc and hateful bitch for getting her friend ejected.

Okay, that's probably embellished with colorful language but Bromfield does claim that "the child spat at her and used several expletives." So Bromfield grabbed the expectorant child and brought her to the coach. That's when she got into a melee with that child's father.

That's not even the best part. Bromfield does face a possible demotion and reduction in pay at the police force when she returns to work. And she hasn't worked since May 2004—yes, that's four and a half years (and predates the incident in question by two of them)—as a result of a motorcycle accident. "That collision left her with a host of injuries, including a ruptured bladder, a broken pelvis, a broken spine and several crushed vertebrae and brain damage."

Hey, when you nationalize healthcare, recovery times go up a skosh. But repeating, in Canada brain damaged cops do indeed beat up other parents at soccer matches, little girls' matches at that.

Read more on "In Canada Brain Damaged Cops Beat Up Other Parents at Soccer Matches"...

UF Quick Throw: Bullard on the move?

Sky Sports News has just reported that Fulham have accepted a bid of £5 million from Hull City for Jimmy Bullard. Details (well, links) as they appear on the interwebs.

Requisite linkage. Who would have guessed it would be from Sky Sports?

Read more on "UF Quick Throw: Bullard on the move?"...

Geordie Fight Club.

What happens when two footballers who don't like each other want to settle their differences? Well if you are Charles N'Zogbia and Andy Carroll, you find a location far away from the training ground and beat the living s**t out of each other.

According to the Sun newspaper the two have been unable to settle the matter that saw them fight during a reserve game at Carlisle. They fought on the pitch, in the dressing room AND in the car park. Now apparently, the two will seek to meet at a secret location to participate in a bout of underground fisty cuffs. Maybe they can get Joey Barton to film it?

The Sun's secret source claims...

“This one is getting out of hand. Neither Andy nor Charles will back down. For the club to say it was handbags and a run-of-the-mill argument is nonsense.They are still at it with each other and want to sort it out properly without any of the other players being able to pull them apart.”

So what on earth can they be feuding about? Leave suggestions in the comments below.


Read more on "Geordie Fight Club."...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Wednesday Backpasses: Tonight did not turn out like I thought it would

Tonight's post is brought to you by the letter L and the number 54.

Edu says US Soccer screwed up Adu [Tribal Football]
Stuart Attwell, the ref who awarded the phantom goal earlier this season, makes another odd decision [101 Great Goals]
In honor of Kaka, 10 top transfer snubs. The way Citeh are going, we'll need a new list in another week [The Spoiler]

Newcastle players no longer wait for games to fight each other [Guardian]
Parrot imitates ref's whistle at match. Hilarity probably ensued, but this article won't tell you that [Telegraph]
The Daily Mail has no time for pretty-boy footballers. Or David Bentley [Daily Mail]

MLS is in a tizzy because of the spin given to ESPN dropping Thursday night games [LA Times]
Hope they don't see this then. Some FSC EPL matches draw five times MLS' numbers [Soccer America]

Read more on "Wednesday Backpasses: Tonight did not turn out like I thought it would"...

No Experience? No Problem.

A new era has begun at my beloved Norwich City today. City legend Bryan Gunn has been handed the managerial reigns and he's bringing former City midfielder Ian Crook AND former manager John Deehan along for the ride. Bigus is happy at the decision as Gunny is a top bloke, but I also laid money on at 5-1 Monday evening. Get in!

Norwich needed a manager who understands the club. Period. After the catastrophic misadventures of Peter Grant and Glenn Roeder, it was important that a popular man was handed the keys to the castle. A man who has the fans and players respect.

Gunn's lack of managerial experience is a risk for sure, but it's a risk worth taking. Gunn has been at the club 22 years in many different capacities. He has worked in the marketing department, as a goalkeeping coach, a club liason and scout under Glenn Roeder and as a match day host at the Gunn Club which is housed in the Barclay Stand of Norwich's Carrow Road stadium. While he lacks experience as a manager, he has more than enough passion for Norwich City to compensate. You see, Bryan Gunn is Mr Norwich City. He has even been the Sheriff of Norwich.

If last Saturday's performance is anything to go by then we are in for a treat. Happy players score goals. Norwich spanked Barnsley in Gunny's first game in charge (as caretaker) and the players were lining up to score, literally. The last goal saw David Bell chip a cross into the middle of the box from the right to be greeted by 3 players banging into each other to head home. A sight that has not been witnessed at Carrow Road for a long time. The players obvioulsy like Gunny and want to play for him, something they had not been so keen to do under Roeder. Apart from throwing them under the bus in public, Roeder's players didn't look like a team who played for each other. Anyone who has taken an interest in the club recently will have noticed miserable fans, miserable players, miserable results and a miserable league position. Something dramatic needed to change and that included the 'type' of manager who would eventually replace Roeder.

He's got no hair but we don't care. Bryan, Bryan Gunn.

Well change has come, and much like here in the U.S with President Obama, the new man is very popular. Gunn will be joined in his new job by other popular figures. Ian Crook and John Deehan. Former manager Deehan had recently been scouting for Birmingham City and his new position will see him in the role of Chief Scout at Carrow Road. His vast experience and knowledge of current players will be invaluable. City legend Ian 'Chippy' Crook also joins as a first team coach. Chippy was a fantastic footballer and one of the best passers of the game during his era. He featured (along with Gunn) during a very successful time for the Club in the early 90's. A time when John Deehan was also at the club as assistant to Mike Walker, as City embarked on that amazing UEFA Cup run that saw them beat the mighty Bayern Munich at the Olympic Stadium. Crook will fly in from Australia where he has been managing and coaching since 99.

Chippy's back after 10 years down under.

The 3 'Norwich men' boast 982 appearances for City between them and truly love the club. They will need to. Norwich are currently flirting with relegation and will need Gunn, Crook and Deehan to guide them away from the drop zone sharpish. It's a tough job that Paul Ince, Aidy Boothroyd and Ian Dowie all wanted. The difference between those candidates and Gunn is that Bryan loves the club enough to give it everything he has. After the last two disasterous years the club needs stability, not the surprises and change that come with a man from outside. When Glenn Roeder arrived, he swept through the club like a tornado, sacking staff and treating players and fans with a lack of respect. He even elbowed the kit man! A fella who every one loved and had been at the club for over a decade. Roeder also did serious damage to the close-knit relationship the club and it's supporters share. To risk that again with Ince or Dowie was not an option.

City have the right man for the job now. He will need help from his experienced coaches, but if Gunny's infectious enthusiasm for Norwich City does not get this team winning, then the efforts of another man certainly wont. Norwich currently has some very good players who are underachieving. Some of them may need some love and others may need a friendly kick in the butt. Either way Gunn has been around the club long enough to know which it is. Gunny played 478 times for Norwich, he screamed at his defence as a keeper and watched the team in front of him play at the highest level. 478 games, yellow and green blood and a deep seated passion to see Norwich City Football Club succeed is experience enough for me.

Good luck Gunny.


Read more on "No Experience? No Problem."...

The Good, The Bad, The WTF

Rules are made to be broken. Promises too. I'm not sure which one of these I'm really breaking, maybe it's just tradition. Either way, I'm celebrating Bryan Gunn's appointment as Norwich City manager (meaning that Calderwood remains safe for now) by doing two things I had privately said I would not: revisiting a team I had already done, and picking on keeper's shirts again. Oh well, at least the repeat offenders tag gets another run out.

Circa 1995, this is the very same shirt Bryan Gunn wore while (unsuccesfully) attempting to keep the Canaries in the Prem. How do I know that? Because of the other picture on the same page.

Hey, guess what? You can even own this very same shirt for just south of 50 bucks. I can imagine no better way to celebrate getting rid of Roeder and installing a rather popular guy to take over than buying a replica of said popular guy's ugly-ass shirt. Whisky, maybe, but it would have to be the good stuff.

Back to the shirt itself. Why were Norwich so ugly in the '90s? Besides the kit linked to above, there's a whole host of ugly shirts from the era here. Ouch, ouch, ouch. I can't even begin to formulate an actual argument against this shirt. It's there. It exists. You make fun of it.

Perhaps a designer at Mitre was especially fond of Picasso's blue period, yet not talented enough to pull off an homage. After all, the guy was working as a kit designer at Mitre. Not exactly the top of the mountain, if you get my drift. Of course, any job at Mitre, even the one that produces this dreck, is infinitely better than me sitting in my living room making fun of things on tha intarwebs.

In other news, I need a new job. Any leads out there?

Read more on "The Good, The Bad, The WTF"...

Liverpool (supporters) Are Coming!

The enterprising young lads above, Scousers all, may have made the trip from Liverpool to Paris after running out of targets at home.

It seems that while former Blue and current PSG "star" Claude Makelele was off fighting the good fight against the dynamo that is FC Sochaux-Montbeliard, someone made off with his property. It appears that some jewelry was stolen from inside the house, but even more importantly the thieves absconded with his Porsche and his Mercedes!

Clearly the nasty habit of Liverpool supporters robbing footballers has spread to the continent. I mean, it had to be the English, right?

Read more on "Liverpool (supporters) Are Coming!"...

UF Quick Throw: Old Trafford needs its own hospital

They may have edged past Derby County last night, but not without paying a price as seven players picked up injuries, three of 'em serious. Am I wrong in wishing they'd picked up more?

[Guardian Sport]

Read more on "UF Quick Throw: Old Trafford needs its own hospital"...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tuesday Backpasses: I'm just cold

Bryan Gunn has a posse. I joined. Anything to keep Calderwood for now [The Spoiler]
You think your rec league ref was bad? [Off The Post]
GIF madness. This mashup of Zaki's shocking weekend miss is mesmerizing [101 Great Goals]
Is this the next Liverpool away shirt? [EPL Talk]

Soccernet compiles the will-get-you-arrested-in-England anti-Sol chants [Soccernet]
SGE making fans and team members angry for selecting naturalized Mexicans [Guardian]
Don't mess with Texas. Coach gets stabbed in fight over ref's call [Lufkin Daily News]
Gretna 2008, somehow not named the Phoenix, win their first trophy [Edinburgh News]

The Times explains how Masal Bugduv made their 50 to watch list [Times Online]

Read more on "Tuesday Backpasses: I'm just cold"...

Yes We Can Open Thread

You'll have to forgive us. Between the MLK holiday yesterday, Obama's inauguration today and the Liverpool contingent still being curled up in the fetal position due to that Tim Cahill goal (making Cahill only the second Evertonian to score three goals at Anfield), things are a little slow in these parts.

But, the football must go on!

Today there are a smattering of midweek fixtures, the biggest of which is the return leg of Man U's Carling Cup draw against Derby. Man U are flying at the moment (sorry again, Liverpool), but the Red Devils still find themselves a goal down after Derby deservedly won 1-0 in the first leg. How many reserves will the Sir Alex Ferguson Experience send out in this one? Will Derby pull off the big upset?*

Also on the slate is the replay of the FA Cup match between Doncaster and Cheltenham, with the winner getting Aston Villa on Saturday. And, slightly down the tables, my beloved Exeter City take on Dag & Red as they try to get back on track and into the League Two promotion playoffs.

But enough of my yakking.... Why don't you have your say in the comment?

*The correct answers are five and no.

Read more on "Yes We Can Open Thread"...

Scotland Wrap Up

This past weekend saw the every team play their 22nd game of the season. Since that marks the point where every team has played each of its opponents both home and away, it seems like a good time to give you an update on the happenings in the SPL. Spoiler alert: Celtic and Rangers are top, and no team looks like catching them.

Team (Points; Goal Differential)

1. Celtic (51; +25)
Celtic lead the table, though it's not for lack of trying not to. The title looked all but wrapped up two days after Christmas. That day, Celtic had traveled to Rangers and come away 1-0 winners. The win put Celtic seven points ahead of their main title rivals. Since, though, Celtic have pulled one points out of two matches against Dundee United (1-1) at home and Aberdeen away (2-4). Their form seems to have seriously fallen off since the calendar clicked over. There is good news for Celtic. No matter how many times he flaps at crosses, Artur Boruc is better than Mark Brown. Today, the news of a feared long layoff was scuppered. So there's that.

2. Rangers (49; +33)
Things are suddenly looking up around Ibrox. From mid-November into mid-December, this team looked like they were going to fall off from the title challenge, because of consistently losing points on the road. During that time, Rangers lost at Hearts, while drawing both Dundee United and Motherwell. Throw in that rather devastating loss to Celtic, and the team looked done. Since the Celtic loss, the team has a couple of wins, unfortunately, they cannot be called quality wins, since Falkirk and Inverness sit 11th and 12th, respectively, in the table. Throw in the probability that the team will be selling off a portion of their bench, and this looks like a false dawn for Rangers. Still, momentum does some strange things to teams. Maybe a depleted Rangers squad can continue to ride this nice wave they are on.

3. Aberdeen (36; +5)
How's that for a gap? Even if Aberdeen had four games in hand, they could not catch up to the team ahead of them. Yuck. The short winter days in Aberdeen must seem pretty sunny to the club's fans right now. They are the form team of the SPL. Six out of seven wins overall, and six for the last six at home. Not bad for a team that started off 0-1-4 at home and was bottom of the table in October. Aberdeen's next game will be at home against Rangers. This marks the first time Aberdeen have hosted the Old Firm in back to back games since 1976. The dark clouds on the horizon are not to be ignored. Jimmy Calderwood has been mentioned by a couple of teams who are interested in him, Norwich and Utrecht. He says there has been no contact, but we'll see how long that holds.

4. Dundee United (35; +4)
Recipients of this week's What The Hell? Award, Dundee United took a 0-4 thumping at home at the hands of Motherwell on Sunday. That game was over by haltime, and the same could possibly be said of United's season. The Terrors are 1-3-1 in their last five. Although two of those matches were draws against the Old Firm, there must be some concern at Tannadice over the sudden loss of form. A month ago, this team looked fairly strong in fourth, now they seem shaky in the same position. All is well, though, as long as the team maintains a Top 6 position for 11 more matches.

5. Heart of Midlothian (35; 0)
Hearts are very much an up and down team of late. Nice away draws (Celtic) are tempered by an inability to score. Until Saturday's match against Kilmarnock, Hearts had been held scoreless in four straight SPL matches. The team is holding on, for now, on the strength of a wonderful run in November, when they won five straight league matches. Another team that looks to hold on to a Top 6 poition right now, and not much more.

6. Hibernian (30; 0)
Another maddeningly inconsistent mid-table team. Last month saw Hibs both beat Celtic and lose to Kilmarnock at home. They are strong enough to challenge for a European spot, though it's tough to say whether the support will be there. Attendances seem to be dropping at Easter Road as of late.

Motherwell (27; -6)
Kilmarnock (26; -8)
Saint Mirren (25; -8)
Nothing unexpected here.

10. Hamilton Academicals (23; -16)
Out of nowhere come the other form team of the SPL. Rooted to the bottom of the table only a month ago, Hamilton have won three out of four to drag themselves out of the basement. Now news comes out that Kenny Deuchar, unfairly relegated to the bench in Salt Lake City, has signed with the club. I'll go ahead and say that this is pretty big for the club. They had no real established striker before, and now they get one hungry to re-prove himself.

11. Falkirk (18; -11)
One draw in their last five sees them left one point ahead of:

12. Inverness Caledonian Thistle (17; -18)
The season started out so wonderfully for the Highlands club. They had their first ever win over Aberdeen to celebrate. Unfortunately, that was a long time ago. More currently, the club have lost seen straight and, following Saturday's loss to Hamilton, fired their manager. Not good times in the just-barely-a-city, then.

Finally, it is not too premature to go back and see what I predicted at the start of the season and compare, is it?

1. Celtic-Spot on so far.
2. Rangers-Ditto.
3. Dundee United-Close. I'll definitely take the swap with
4. Aberdeen-'Mon the Dons!
5. Hibs-Once again, just one off.
6. Falkirk-Oops. Guess this is not the year Falkirk break into the Top 6.
7. Kilmarnock-One off again.
8. Motherwell-Switched with Killie.
9. Hearts-Financial meltdown has not come yet, though not for lack of trying.
10. St. Mirren-Close, but no cigar.
11. Inverness CT-Look worse than they are
12. Hamilton-Hey, I'm surprised.

Read more on "Scotland Wrap Up"...

UF Quick Throw: How to leave training camp early and panic people

So Robinho goes missing from the Citeh training camp in Tenerife, but don't worry folks, it was planned! (The "planned" part being the swift damage control, of course).

Citeh are the EPL's best soap opera. Will they sign a player for double what they're worth? Will they botch another audacious, 100m Euro bid for a superstar?

Tune in tomorrow to find out!

[BBC Sport]

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Dispatches from the Relegation Zone: Mrs. Redknapp Edition

It may be time for a new strike partner for Jermain Defoe

Prose simply cannot do this justice. With apologies to Frank O'Hara:

Am I to become profligate as if I were Darren Bent? Or impracticable
as if I were Welsh?

Each time a Spurs player is knocked off the ball it makes me feel more contemptuous
(and how the same names keep recurring on that interminable
list!), but one of these days there’ll be no Premier League football left with
which to venture forth...

I am the least difficult of men. All I want is a striker who can stick home a header from A HALF-YARD OUT!!

Alas, Harry Redknapp is not one to confront emergency with a meditation. We'd say Harry is a bit more direct than that. He says things like, "My missus could have scored that one!"... and "I was out of my seat to celebrate and David James was waiting to pick the ball out of the net." He says, "I'd send Gareth Bale back to Southampton with a laverbread in return and call it a huge boost considering!" Actually, he didn't say that last part. We'd have liked it if he did.

What else would we like?
Big ups to Bigus on the photoshop

As Spurs supporters (not fans, the only thing I'm fanatical about this moment is never seeing Gareth Bale at left back ever again... let this Dark Night pass!) yes, yes, the supporters-- what we'd like is some competence.

The team is obviously flawed. There's more balance at Bellevue. More depth in my bathtub. But that doesn't excuse utter ineptitude. And that's why Bent's disaster cuts so deep. It's not that a more talented striker would have been more likely to score. It's that an even significantly lesser player would have been no less disappointed with the miss.

This is the story of the Tottenham team. It is a story of individuals failing to do their jobs. In New York, men are landing passenger jets on water. At White Hart Lane, they couldn't head a football into the Thames.


At Wigan, one week before. This is the team our beloved Harry picked to take on the surging Latics:


Corluka --- Dawson --- Woodgate --- Bale


Zokora --- O'Hara


Pavlyuchenko --- Defoe

Now, here is a verse from the Radiohead song, "Morning Bell."

The lights are on but nobody's home
Everybody wants to be a
The lights are on but nobody's home
Everybody wants to be a singer
Walking walking walking...

Please compare these two bits of poetry-- a teamsheet is a bit like poetry, no? Like ee Cummings maybe. Now tell me, of the above, which is more reasonable? I'd have to say honestly, truly, the Radiohead lyrics make more sense.***

Surely there is a fix. UF's resident Spurs supporter Phil and I bang on about it whenever the subject appears. The menu reads as such: defensive midfield player, new striker, cover in defense, and a backup keeper the manager will use if his starting keeper is crippled on the field of the play. If the Palacios deals goes down, and it's looking good, the midfield would be vastly improved. If he were a hockey player, they'd say of the Honduran, "He finishes his checks." (Not to be confused with the rest of the lot, who just endorse theirs...)

Palacios could be our new age Edgar Davids. Kinda. The Carrick void remains. And will. The left back spot is a gaping hole. I'd try Zokora there. He's a ferocious defender-- a center back in his French league days-- and he's never disappointed when called on to shut down a particular player. Lord knows he can make runs. Let Zokora have a go at left back. Shuffle the three centerbacks. If Bale plays, it's as a winger, though I and everyone else, manager included, prefer O'Hara. Jenas/Huddlestone and Palacios in the middle of the park. Lennon on the wing. Defoe and Mrs. Redknapp up top.


***Though you might also say themes of disenchantment and futility run deep in both.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Monday Backpasses: Back to work!

Old, but timely. Obama watches his daughter play soccer. Can't those kids gets some 'Merican jerseys? [Soccer Training Info]
Longest soccer match EVAR [Philstar]
Bobby Convey to come take Huckerby's spot? [The Beautiful Game]
Gilberto Silva shows how to take an effective, though unbelievable, dive [101 Great Goals]

The 09/10 Manchester United shirt will look something quite like this [EPL Talk]

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Ligue 1 Weekend Review

This weekend was full of unsuprising results and relatively boring football, which is actually quite a change of pace for this season of Ligue 1. The result of the week goes to Lille, who ended the 19-match unbeaten streak of Rennes.

Saturday, January 17th:

Grenoble 0-2 Lyon - Considering that Grenoble have only scored 3 goals since October, it was not surprising that they were unable to find the back of the net in this match. Lyon completely dominated, starting things off in the 9th minute when Grenoble GK Wimbee did well to save an excellent Juninho free-kick. In just the 15th minute Benzema sent in a low cross to the far post and Ederson tapped it in to open the scoring. Grenoble's first opportunity didn't come until almost half-time, with a Feghouli free-kick well-saved by Lyon GK Lloris. The second half was more Lyon pressure, with Wimbee saving a header from Boumsong in the 55th minute before being beaten by Delgado in the 65th minute. Nearing the end of the match Toulalan hit the bar for Lyon, and Ravet was unable to pull back 1 goal for Grenoble when he sent his shot inches over the bar.

Lorient 1-1 Valenciennes - There was a lot of back-and-forth in this match, with Lorient starting off the pressure on a Vahirua free-kick which was headed by Ciani straight towards Valenciennes GK Penneteau. His club responded in the 27th minute when Danic sent a corner into the box for Darcheville to head home to put Valenciennes up 1-0. Just minutes later Penneteau was called upon to make an excellent double-save on Obertan, and Lorient finally equalized in the 43rd minute when Ciani headed home a corner. Just after half-time Amalfitano forced Penneteau into yet another save, and Darcheville was unable to put Valenciennes in front when he hit the post. The only other decent opportunity came in the 82nd minute when Valenciennes once again failed to capitalize, with Tiena putting his shot just wide of the post.

Marseille 2-0 Le Havre - Le Havre, having lost 6 in a row, looked completely listless against the southern club although they did manage 4 shots on goal. Samassa missed an early chance for L'OM and they had to wait until the 25th minute for their goal, with Cheyrou stealing a poor pass out of the defense and playing Valbuena through on goal. A short time later Zenden forced Le Havre GK Revault into a wonderful save, just tipping the shot over the crossbar. Le Havre had their first good chance in the 47th minute, with Dieuze sending his header just wide. They were made to pay in the 60th minute when a Ziani free-kick found Zubar for the easy header to make it 2-0. Marseille kept up the pressure until the end of the match, with Valbuena pushing his shot just wide and Samassa hitting the bar. L'OM's new signing Brandao came on as a substitute in the 71st minute but had nothing to show for his time on the pitch.

Nice 2-0 Auxerre - In the type of match that soccer-haters point to as fodder for their ridiculous arguments (seriously, if you can't sleep tonight, watch this match), Auxerre committed 20 fouls and only got 1 shot on goal. Not surprisingly, they have now lost 6 of their last 7 matches. Auxerre's only chance came early when Oliech sent in a volley which was easily stopped by Nice GK Ospina. Modeste then applied pressure for Nice, with a shot saved by Auxerre GK Sorin in the 35th minute and a shot that went just wide in the 36th minute. The first goal came in the 50th minute when a Hellebuyck corner came in to Remy, who needed 2 chances to finish the goal. Remy should have had a brace in the 86th minute but hit the post, and Nice got their second in stoppage time when a Diakit cross found Bamogo completely uncovered.

Saint-Etienne 1-1 Le Mans - Despite being far outshot, committing 19 fouls, and having only 33% of the possession, Le Mans managed to squeak out 1 point for the draw almost at the death. Saint-Etienne started well immediately, with Ilan forcing a save from Le Mans GK Pele in the 3rd minute, and then hitting a shot just wide in the 24th minute. Just one minute later Gomis sent in a well-timed header that Pele did well to save. The GK was called into action once again right before the half when he saved a well-struck Dernis free-kick. The second half started much as the first half did, with Ilan taking another well-struck shot, this time hitting the crossbar. The club finally broke through in the 54th minute when Gomis got onto the end of another Dernis free-kick to put Saint-Etienne up 1-0. They forced 2 more saves from Pele, with Ilan striking in the 55th minute and Matsui in the 70th minute. Le Mans managed to steal the point in the 87th minute Gervinho sent through a brilliant pass for Helstad to head home, and they could have taken all 3 points 2 minutes later when Gervinho hit the post.

Toulouse 3-0 Nancy - The final scoreline is extremely flattering to Toulouse, as their only legitimate goals came in the final 10 minutes of the match. Still, the club has only 1 loss in their past 9 matches and they continue to pressure those above them in the table. Each club had only 1 decent opportunity in the first half, with Toulouse GK Carrasso saving a Gavanon free-kick in the 7th minute and Nancy GK Bracigliano stopping Braate in the 18th minute. The opening goal came in first-half stoppage time when Nancy defender Luiz attempted a clearance which wound up under his own crossbar for the OG (Luiz also received a yellow card in the 30th minute for a tackle which injured Toulouse captain Didot, but we don't give out awards to OG-scorers). The rest of the match devolved quickly into Route 1 football, but Toulouse snuck a 2nd goal in the 81st minute through a brilliant solo effort by Ligue 1-leading scorer Gignac. The prolific striker then turned distributor in the 88th minute, sending in a wonderful cross for Paulo Cesar to finish.

Nantes 1-2 Bordeaux - Bordeaux has won 5 matches in a row to continue their harassment of Ligue 1 leaders Lyon, although their victory in this match may have been due to some irregularities in time-keeping (not really; dear ESPN, if Nantes have 44% of the possession, it is not mathematically possible for Bordeaux to have 57% of the possession). Les Bleus "savior" Gourcuff sent in a shot just wide in the 5th minute as a signal of intent, and headed home a Tremoulinas cross in the 11th minute to open the scoring for Bordeaux. In the 20th minute Gourcuff struck an excellent free-kick which forced an even better save from Nantes GK Alonzo. Bordeaux should have doubled their lead in the 30th minute but Wendell's header was cleared off the line by Moullec. Nantes had their 1st good chance in the 37th minute, but De Freitas sent his header over the bar. The club continued their push at the start of the second half, with Bekamenga sending a shot just wide in the 60th minute, and N'Daw striking a similar shot just 1 minute later. But it was Bordeaux that got the next goal when Nantes GK Alonzo made a critical error in judgement on a Wendell corner, allowing Chamakh to head the ball home into an open goal (and giving Chamakh this week's "Goal-scorer to get carded award" as he received a YC in the 42nd minute). Nantes managed their goal on a similar error by Bordeaux GK Rame on a free-kick from Capoue, allowing Djordjevic to send the ball home in the 89th minute.

Sunday, January 18th:

Caen 2-2 Monaco - Faltering Monaco watched Caen score 2 goals (on their only 2 shots on goal) in the final 20 minutes to steal 1 point from this match. Seube had the first chance of the match for Caen in the 4th minute but put his shot over the bar. Monaco capitalized just 2 minutes later with a wonderful solo effort from Pino, who just missed a brace in the 16th minute with a free-kick that went wide. In the 24th minute an excellent Mollo cross found Alonso for Monaco's 2nd goal. The second half saw increased pressure from Caen, with Seube forcing a save from Monaco GK Thuram in the 59th minute. Gomis hit the crossbar soon after, and Caen broke through in the 73rd minute when Savidan headed home a cross from Khalfallah. Monaco still looked to have the 3 points in head until the 2nd minute of stoppage time when Deroin found Nivet in front of the net for the equalizer. Freddy Adu watch: Not even on the bench. Dear Freddy, perhaps you should consider other options.
Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 Sochaux - PSG kept pace with the clubs ahead of them in the table with a surprisingly difficult win against Sochaux. In the 1st minute Rothen latched onto the end of a long throw from Ceara but put his shot over the crossbar. Shortly after Luyindula was well-saved (twice) by Sochaux GK Gavanon. Luyindula's day would get worse, as a scuffed shot from Sessegnon landed at his feet and he missed a wide-open net. In first-half stoppage time Perquis fouled Rothen in the box, and emerging star Hoarau slotted home the PK to give PSG the lead. Just after the start of the second half Sverkos gave Sochaux the equalizer off a quick counter-attack. Luyindula made up for his earlier miss in the 63rd minute when he was found at the far post by Armand flicking on Rothen's corner, and put in the match-winner. Sochaux had a final chance to equalize, but Santos' 20-yard volley was well-saved by PSG GK Landreau.

Lille 1-0 Rennes - In an extremely exciting match Lille pressured the Rennes defense for a solid 90 minutes and finally put an end to the latter club's unbeaten streak. In the 12th minute Frau put his header on frame but it was stopped by Rennes GK Douchez. Rennes got their best chance of the match a few minutes later when Pagis sent in a cross for Sow to head home, but Lille GK Malicki made a brilliant save to tip the shot onto the crossbar and Sow's follow-up header was cleared off the line by Debuchy. In the 25th minute Frau sent in a difficult shot which Douchez fumbled, but the GK was able to swat the ball away at the last second. The pressure continued with a shot from Debuchy in the 35th minute, but his header was wide and he had to leave the match after being injured in a poor challenge from Sow. The second half was more of the same, as Bastos shot just over the crossbar in the 50th minute and Frau forced Douchez into yet another save a few minutes later. The goal finally came in the 75th minute when Favergue's shot deflected off Rennes defender Hansson and past an exhausted Douchez.

So, after matchday 21 the top of the table looks like this: (1) Lyon, with 42 points on a 12-6-3 record and a +13 goal differential; (2) Bordeaux, with 41 points on a 12-5-4 record and a +17 goal differential; (3) Marseille, with 38 points on a 10-8-3 and a +13 goal differential; and (4) Rennes, with 37 points on a 9-10-2 record and a +11 goal differential.

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The Merseyside Derby Open Thread

The Red and Blue Scouse face off in the Merseyside Derby, and the Liverpudlians at UF are nervous about their chances today. How will things go when the Reds and Toffees get it on? Join us below the jump for an open thread and match commentary (by you).

Liverpool start with:
Reina, Carragher, Skrtel, Hyypia, Aurelio, Gerrard, Alonso, Riera, Kuyt, Torres, Keane.
Subs: Cavalieri, Dossena, Benayoun, Arbeloa, Babel, Mascherano, Lucas.

Everton start with:
Howard, Hibbert, Lescott, Jagielka, Baines, Osman, Arteta, Neville, Pienaar, Cahill, Anichebe.
Subs: Nash, Van der Meyde, Castillo, Rodwell, Jutkiewicz, Gosling, Kissock.
Sadly, the afro puff of Fellaini will be missing today as he is under suspension for an accumulation of yellow cards.

Your match today will be incompetently reffed by Howard Webb.

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