Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Winter Doldrums

What does the US soccer fan do for the next few months until important matches start up again? Well, there’s the EPL and other European leagues to follow. The FIFA World Club Championship gets going soon. The NCAA tournament’s second round will be played today, though honestly with its bizzaro substitution rules, the college game leaves me a bit clammy. The World Cup draw is on December 9th, which will offer a shot in the arm. While I’m not down on all the rules regarding pots, seeds, etc., a dream draw for the US could be: Czech Rep., Ukraine, Togo, U.S. Like-wise, a horror draw might look like: Argentina, Italy, Switzerland, U.S. Let’s hope for the former.

While the final wasn’t a thing of beauty, congrats to the LA Galaxy and their fans for winning the MLS Cup & the double. Check out the MLS Pictures production on FSC to see how the Gals battered Twellman, Noonan & Co. into submission. I hope that Adidas steps up & produces more of MLS Pictures in ’06. Here’s to the Soca Warriors as well for qualifying for their first-ever World Cup finals. It’s a little strange, though, that CONCACAF will be sending the same amount of teams as South America and Asia. Trinidad will benefit not only significantly from the influx of cash for reaching Germany, but the global exposure for the island nation will certainly increase tourism revenues there over the next few years.

2005: A Look Back
What a fantastic year for soccer in the US. Here’s a calendar-style look at some big matches in 2005. There are many more than didn’t make the list, but I hope these bring back great memories.

Jan 12-16: The US U-20s sweep through qualifying for the World Youth Championship with a 10-1 aggregate in three matches.

Feb 9: Eddies Johnson & Lewis kick-off the Hex with a 2-1 road win vs. Trinidad.

Mar 9: Clint Mathis scores his probable last goal for the US in a 3-0 spanking of Colombia in Fullerton. Across the continent, DC beats Harbour View in the CCC, 2-1 in Germantown, MD. KC ties Saprissa 0-0 at Arrowhead.

Mar 16: DC wins their road CCC tie with Harbour View, 2-1.

Mar 17: KC gives up a goal in injury time, then falls in OT at Saprissa to lose their CCC tie.

Mar 27: The US is flat in a 2-1 loss to Mexico at the Azteca. Lewis gets the US goal.

Mar 30: The Yanks rebound by beating Guatemala, 2-0 in Birmingham, AL on goals by Eddie Johnson & Ralston.

Apr 2: The MLS season kicks off: the Metros and RSL chase a ball around Giants stadium in a monsoon. The match ends 0-0.

Apr 6: DC draws Mexico’s UNAM Pumas 1-1 at RFK in the CCC Semis.

Apr 12 -16: The US U-17s go 2-0-1 in CONCACAF qualifying to reach the final tournament.

Apr 13: Pumas decimate DC, 5-0 in Mexico City to end the defending MLS Champs’ CCC dreams.

May 28: Clint Dempsey gets only US goal in a 2-1 loss to England at Soldier Field.

May 31: Michael Owen scores a hat trick, upstaging David Beckham in England’s 3-2 win over Colombia at Giants Stadium. In the nightcap, Amado Guevara curls in the game winner in extra time to give the Metros a 2-1 win over Chicago.

Jun 4: Salt Lake celebrates its first USMNT match as the Nats beat down Costa Rica 3-0. Donovan (2) and McBride are the goal scorers.

Jun 8: What a difference a year makes in Panama City. The Yanks win at Panama 3-0 behind goals from Bocanegra, Donovan, and McBride.

Jun 11-21: the US U-20s make some noise at the World Youth Championship in Holland by beating eventual champion Argentina 1-0, drawing Germany 0-0, and beating Egypt 1-0 to win its group. In the round of 16 vs. Italy, the Gnats take a 1-0 halftime lead, then get drubbed in the second half and crash out, 3-1.

Jul 7-24: The Gold Cup. The US barnstorms the country with a second-string squad, beating Cuba 4-1 and Canada 2-0 in Seattle, drawing Costa Rica 0-0 and beating Jamaica 3-1 in Foxboro. In the semis at Giants Stadium, the US goes down a goal to Honduras, then gets goals from John O’Brien and Oguchi Oneywu in the last five minutes to win 2-1. After 120 of scoreless soccer vs. Panama in the final, Brad Davis scores the decisive penalty kick to give the US its 3rd Gold Cup Championship.

Jul 18: Real Madrid beats LA 2-0 at Carson.

Jul 27: AC Milan beats Chicago 3-1 at Soldier Field.

Jul 28: DC United’s Bobby Boswell scores early against Chelsea at FedEx Field, but the EPL champs come back to win, 2-1.

Jul 30: The MLS All-stars beat Fulham 4-1 in Columbus.

Aug 3: The Metros crash out of the US Open Cup, 3-1 at Rochester.

Aug 6: Pizza Hut Park opens in Frisco, TX. Youri Djorkaeff and Carlos Ruiz each score twice in a 2-2 draw.

Aug 17: The US gets a first-minute goal by Brian McBride, but can’t score again in a dominating but frustrating 1-0 win vs. Trinidad in E. Hartford, CT.

Aug 23: The MLS “Select XI” is defeated by Real Madrid 5-0 at the Bernabeu.

Aug 29: Tab Ramos, Marcela Balboa, and John Harkes are inducted into the US Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, NY.

Sep 3: Steve Ralston and DaMarcus Beasley score to give the US a 2-0 win over Mexico in Columbus. The win qualifies the US for their fifth straight World Cup.

Sep 7: In a meaningless game for the US, the Yanks draw at Guatemala City, 0-0

Sep 13: Jamil Walker scores in the 81st minute to give DC a 1-1 draw in their Copa Sudamericana opener vs. Chile’s U. Catolica at RFK.

Sep 17-26: At the U-17 World Championships in Peru, the US beats N. Korea 3-2, Italy 3-1, and draws Cote d’Iviore to win its group. The Mini-nats fall in the quarterfinals 2-0 to Holland.

Sep 22: DC United takes a 2-0 lead at U. Catolica, then give up three successive goals, the last in the 86th minute, to lose 4-3 on aggregate to the Chileans. U. Catolica is currently preparing to face Boca Juniors in the Copa Sudamericana’s semifinals.

Sep 28: Herculez Gomez scores the only goal of the game, giving LA the US Open Cup over FC Dallas.

Oct 3: The US B-team is beat 3-0 at Costa Rica.

Oct 12: The US finishes World Cup qualifying atop the Hexagonal for the first time after beating Panama 2-0 at Foxboro.

Oct 16: The MetroStars win at Chivas USA in the final match of the MLS regular season to qualify for the playoffs.

Oct 21: DC ties Chicago 0-0 at Soldier Field to open the MLS playoffs.

Oct 22: MetroStars beat New England 1-0 at Giants Stadium, Colorado and FC Dallas play to a scoreless draw.

Oct 23: LA beats San Jose 3-1 to take a commanding lead in their playoff series.

Oct 29: Host New England goes down 2-0 aggregate to the Metros, then scores three unanswered goals to advance to the Eastern Conf. Finals. Colorado beats FC Dallas in penalty kicks, and LA’s 1-1 draw at San Jose lifts the Galaxy to the next round.

Oct 30: Chicago obliterates DC 4-0 at RFK to end United’s repeat hopes.

Nov 5: Donovan’s two goals send LA to the MLS Cup.

Nov 6: Dempsey punches New England’s ticket to Frisco with an early goal.

Nov 12: Josh Wolff scored in the US’ 1-1 draw vs. Scotland at Glasgow.

Nov 13: Pando Ramirez delivers LA its second MLS Cup.

Quite a year, huh? Well, 2006 should be even better with LA and NE in the CCC, Hopefully more Copa Sudamericana, a possible MLS-MFL showdown, Bridgeview’s opening, and a quaint little tourney in Germany. Lots to look forward to.

The Kin of Fish will slow down a bit during the off-season, but please come back to visit every once in a while for updates. I’ve got an RSS feed as well, so you’ll know when new updates are posted. Check it out.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Big Weekend

There’s a lot going on in the soccer world the weekend besides the two matches most American fans care about. Ten national squads, including CONCACAF’s Trindad & Tobago, will be facing off in the first legs of their World Cup Qualifying playoffs. The Soca Warriors will be facing Bahrain at home on Saturday, in an attempt to reach their first-ever World Cup Finals. A Trinidad berth would also mark the first time that the US’ home region would have four representatives in the final tournament. Best of luck to them. There are some compelling friendly match-ups outside of the Quallies, though. European powers France and Germany face off in Paris, and England and Argentina continue their storied rivalry in Geneva. Holland takes on Italy in Amsterdam, S. Korea plays Sweden in Seoul, and Mexico takes on Chile in Monterrey.

It’s Crap!
For US fans, however, Saturday offers a chance to see some up-and-coming stars when the Nats visit Glasgow for a match against Scotland (11am ET, FSC). Despite the Yanks’ lofty FIFA ranking, don’t look for the Americans, who have a gaping hole in midfield, to dominate the Scots, who finished third in their WC qualifying group behind Italy and Norway. With injuries to first-team players McBride, Reyna, Donovan, and O’Brien, look for the US to lineup like this:

Keller – Spector, Oneywu, Bocanegra, Berhalter – Beasley, Zavagnin, Olsen, Gaven – Ching, Wolff

I don’t know enough about the Tartans to guess what they’ll bring, but without the regular starters mentioned above, and with Bruce’s record on European soil, it’s hard to be optimistic about a US victory.

The Grand Final
MLS says it’s sold all the seats at Pizza Hut Park for Sunday’s MLS Cup match (3:30pm ET, ABC), but I can’t imagine all attendees will be in their seats at game time, which should mean an ugly picture for the folks watching at home at ABC. The product on the field, however, should be far from ugly. Both the Revs and Galaxy put on good shows, and Sunday should be no different. In my mind, the Gals will have no answer for the Revs’ Shalrie Joseph, who some think was as deserving of the league MVP award than recipient and teammate Taylor Twellman. Joseph and the always-reliable Steve Ralston will run the attack-mided show for the Revs, constantly feeding Twellman, Pat Noonan, and Clint Dempsey good chances. The unsung Revs defense will handle Landon Donovan and Herculez Gomez, and the Revs win their first MLS title, 3-1. Hopefully we won’t see Revs owner Robert Kraft trying to moonwalk with the Silver Rothie after the match.

Don’t forget Don Garberleone’s 2:30 ET chat today on MLSNet. Not sure when to expect the Toronto announcement, but it should come Sunday's match. Enjoy, and here’s the total weekend TV picture (times ET).

Saturday, Nov. 12
11:00am: INTL: Scotland – USA, FSC
3:00pm: WCQ: Uruguay – Australia, GOL
2:00pm: INTL: UAE – Brazil, TELE
4:00pm: INTL: France – Germany, TELE
5:00pm: WCQ: Spain – Slovakia, GOL
5:30pm: WCQ: Trinidad – Bahrain, FSC
7:00pm: GUA: Comunicaciones – Municipal, GOL
9:00pm: COL: America – Junior, GOL

Sunday, Nov. 13
12noon: NCAA: MAAC Final, ESPNU
12noon: NCAA: Big Ten Final, CSTV
1:00pm: BRA, Ponte Preta – Flamengo, GOL
1:00pm: EXH: Mexico XI – Mexico U-17 XI, TELE
2:00pm: ARG: Boca Juniors – Colon, FSC
2:00pm: NCAA: Conference USA Final, CSTV
3:30pm: MLS CUP 2005: New England – Los Angeles, ABC
3:30pm: EXH: Mexico ’94 – Mexico ’98, TELE
3:30pm: PER: Cienciano – Universitario, GOL
5:30pm: COL: Once Caldas – Deportivo Cali, GOL
7:30pm: ELS: LA Firpo – San Salvador, GOL

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

2002 Redux

The MLS Conference Finals went almost as The Kin of Fish predicted them (see previous post), as New England will face Los Angeles at the Deep Dish this Sunday for the Silver Rothie. For all the talk about the MLS dynasty that is DC United, the Gals have shown amazing consistency in the league’s first decade, reaching the final match in 1996, 1999, 2001, 2002 (winner), and now in 2005. This LA team looks a lot different from the one that beat New England at Foxboro in ’02, however. That team was led by MLS MVP and Golden Boot winner Carlos Ruiz, who scored 24 of LA’s 44 goals that season, and of course, the golden goal that delivered the Galaxy their only MLS Cup title. This year’s LA team also scored 44 goals, but the role of Ruiz (now in Dallas, or somewhere else) was played by the two-headed monster of Landon Donovan (12g) and Herculez Gomez (11g). LA benefited from a 5-2-1 late-season spurt (including the US Open Cup title), which generated the momentum to beat Supporters’ Shield winner San Jose and Colorado and reach the MLS final.

The Revs’ 2002 squad won the Eastern Conference in the regular season, albeit with a losing (12-14-2) record. The Revs that year (as this year) were led top point-getter Taylor Twellman, but the addition of national-teamers-in training Clint Dempsey (10g), Pat Noonan (8g), and Grenidadian Shalrie Joseph (6g) since 2002 gives the Revs more offensive weapons than LA. I’ll hold my prediction until later in the week, but I am in the Northeast…

Solo Toronto?
Jack Bell reports that the Canadian Club may be the only new entry to MLS in 2007, giving the league an unlucky (or lucky, if you think that way) 13 clubs for the season after next. Apparently none of the other expansion candidates (Milwaukee, Philly, Houston, Cleveland, St. Louis) will be ready to go in the next 18 months. Says Ivan Gazidis in the piece, “We want to get the right stadium, owner and market and will continue to be conservative.” Considering the lack of chatter over the future of Kansas City and San Jose, it appears that MLS’ little growth spurt may be slowing down. Personally, I don’t think it’s a big deal going with an odd number of teams. Other nuggets from Bell’s weekly article:

  • MLS will once again play a light schedule during next summer’s World Cup
  • MLS re-examines the much-derided playoff format each and every year
  • Bora Milutinovic’s name is in consideration for the Metros’ coaching spot (blech!)

Power Players
The excellent Steve Davis of the Dallas Morning News names the ten most powerful people in US Soccer:
10: John Skipper, SVP/GM, ESPN
9: Ivan Gazidis
8: Richard Motzkin, Agent
7: Lamar Hunt
6: Landon Donovan
5: Dan Flynn, US Soccer Secretary General
4: Sunil Gulati
3: Phil Anschutz
2: Don Garber
1: Bruce Arena

Friday, November 04, 2005

Final Four

Look for New England, buoyed by their terrific second half vs. the MetroStars, to pounce on Chicago early in their Eastern Conference Final match on Sunday. Though the Revs will be without Marshall Leonard and Khano Smith, Chicago will miss Chris Armas’ veteran leadership more. I see a 2-1 New England win, with Twellman and Noonan finding the net for the homestanding Revs, while Chris Rolfe will score for the Fire, earning him a serious look at Bruce Arena's first 2006 training camp.

Out West, look for Landon Donovan to lead LA back to the MLS Cup with a 1-0 OT win at Invesco over the Rapids. Colorado has big holes to fill with Alan Nkong’s suspension and Nat Borchers’ ankle sprain, and Jovan Kirovski is hardly the cure for the Rapids. Despite LA’s inability to win on the road this season, the Gals will have tons of confidence after their takedown of the Quakes in the first round. Joe Cannon will deny Herculez Gomez early and often, but Donovan will score in extra time to send LA to their first league championship match since 2002.

Love to fans of the Quakes who have really showed something this season despite uncertainty of the club’s future. Now AEG is saying there’s only a 50/50 shot of the club staying in the Bay Area next year. If the team does pick up sticks, it’ll be a crying shame that the fans weren’t able to give a proper goodbye to the two-time league champs and this season’s Supporters’ Shield Winner. It’s not a charity, here, folks, put perhaps it’s time for some of the big money floating around in Silicon Valley to step up and keep on of the league’s most successful franchises put. Big discussion going on at BigSoccer about it.

Soccer on the Tube
Here’s what’s on this weekend. All times ET. Enjoy.

Saturday, Nov. 5
7:30am: EPL: Aston Villa-Liverpool, FSC
10:00am: GER: Schalke-Duisberg, FSC
12noon: EPL: Portsmouth-Wigan, FSC
12noon: ESP: Real Sociedad, Osasuna, GOL
2:00pm: URU: Penarol-Danubio, GOL
2:30pm: ITA: Lazio-Inter, FSC
4:00pm: ESP: Villareal-Valencia, GOL
4:00pm: MEX: Toluca-Dorados, GALA
5:00pm: EPL: Newcastle-Birmingham, FSC
6:00pm: MEX: Monterrey-Veracruz, GALA
7:30pm: PER: Sporting Cristal-Universitario, GOL
9:00pm: MLS: Western final, Colorado-LA Galaxy, FSC, HDNet
9:30pm: ITA: Empoli-Reggina, GOL
10:00pm: MEX: Atlas-Chivas, TELE

Sunday, Nov. 6
9:00am: ITA: Cagliari-Treviso, FSC
9:00am: ITA: AC Milan-Udinese, GOL
11:00am: ESP: Sevilla-Atletico Madrid, GOL
1:00pm: EPL: Everton-Middlesbrough, FSC
1:00pm: ESP: Real Madrid-Real Zaragoza, GOL
1:00pm: MEX: Pumas-Atlante, UNI
3:00pm: MLS: Eastern final, New England-Chicago, ESPN2
3:00pm: ECU: Olmedo-Aucas, GOL
3:00pm: FRA: Paris St. Germain-Monaco, FSC
3:00pm: MEX: San Luis-Monterrey, GALA
5:00pm: COL: Nacional-Junior, GOL
5:00pm: ENG: FA Cup: Chasetown-Oldham, FSC
6:00pm: MEX: Club America-Cruz Azul, TELE
7:00pm: ELS: LA Firpo-FAS, GOL
9 :30pm: BRA:Corinthians-Santos, GOL
11:00pm: ARG: Newell’s Old Boys-Rosario Central, FSC

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Das Rights, Baby!

By now I’m sure you’ve seen the news that the Mouse House networks have won the English-language US television rights for the eight-year World Cup cycle between the 2007 Women’s championship and the 2014 Men’s World Cup. Glad to see that the “mini World Cup” Confederation Cups are included. Hope that means that the Disney nets will actually televise those matches instead of driving soccer fans to hunt them down to watch in spanish on Telefutura. As for MLS rights past '06, the announcement gave quite a clue:

"Garber said MLS anticipates securing rights fees."
Now that’s news. Keep in mind that ESPN recently offered to go halfsies with the NHL on their latest deal, after men playing poker attracted more viewers than hockey during the NHL lockout. Since MLS rights remain visible only under a microscope, I wonder what Garber thinks he can get, half-off entrĂ©e coupons at the ESPN Zone in Anaheim? Perhaps the new expansion club will have impact coercing a rights fee from TV networks. A team in a major market like Houston will go a long way in terms of expanding MLS’ national footprint, and potential ratings, especially since the Toronto club won’t add any US-based television homes. We'll know more about that next weekend at MLS Cup, when the league is supposed to formally announce Toronto & (active) club #14. Stay tuned, indeed.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Blank Stares

One franchise had won nearly half of its league’s titles. Another was hoping for some late-season mojo to take it’s first-ever crown. Both DC United and the MetroStars had reasons to feel good heading into the second legs of their first-round playoff series last weekend. DC was returning to RFK stadium after a scoreless draw with the Chicago Fire. Metro had a one-goal lead heading to Gillette Stadium to take on New England. Metro took a lead early in the second half on yet another key goal by Youri Djorkaeff, upping its aggregate lead to two-nil. Signs were pointing to an epic Eastern Conference final. Then… the clearly talented Revs took command, scoring three times in the series’ last twenty-two minutes to dash the Metros’ hopes. In fashion typical of Rev-Metro clashes this year, a late goal decided the outcome. Rev Khano Smith’s 83rd-minute shot eluded Metro keeper Tony Meola, sending New England to the conference finals this Sunday versus… not DC United, but the Chicago Fire. DC had looked dangerous down the stretch, and the Freddy Flap notwithstanding, looked to be better than Chicago. However, the Fire surprised themselves, DC, and 20,000+ ravenous United fans at RFK by scoring three incredible first-half goals en route to a 4-0 rout of the defending champs. To add insult, key United midfielder Christian Gomez was red-carded in the second half after spitting on a Fire opponent.

The Western Conference semifinals were no more predictable, as 3rd seeded Colorado earned home-field advantage for the Western final by besting host FC Dallas 5-4 in penalty kicks at the conclusion of 120 minutes of tied-up soccer. Supporters’ Shield winner San Jose, who had lost only four matches all season, couldn’t solve chief rival LA in a 4-2 aggregate loss.

There were plenty of blank stares to go around this weekend as three favored clubs fell in the playoffs’ first round. However, these playoffs demonstrate why sports are so popular; they're the ultimate reality series: no one has any idea how they’ll turn out. Of course, other leagues offer more in the way of home-field advantage than MLS, so upsets like CHI-DC, COL-FCD, and LA-SJ are more likely. However, I prefer the current setup to the "best-of-three" or "first-to-five" playoff formats of the past. The current setup gives fans of all playoff teams the hope that their club can lift the Silver Rothie, and that’s a great thing.

Thanks to the Metros
Here’s a personal thank-you to the MetroStars organization for making the last third of the MLS season a great rollercoaster ride. Whether you like or hate Bob Bradley, it’s obvious that Alexi Lalas did the MetroNation a service by jettisoning the former coach when things got dicey down the stretch. Promoted coach Mo Johnston did a fantastic job motivating the team to a 3-1-1 record in the regular season and playoffs, and while the club came up short in frustrating manner, anything after the 1-0 win over the Revs at home was gravy. Hopefully the red-haired suit will do the right thing and give MoJo the keys for the 2006 season & beyond.

US Soccer has done well by getting the November 12th match at Scotland televised on Fox Soccer Channel at 11am ET. Hopefully they’ll do US fans one better by picking up some European feed & saving us from Mr. Bretos & company's blathering on and on about nothing in particular. Il Bruce will select his roster after this weekend’s matches.

Ch-ch-check it Out
Adam Spangler has a great interview with Landon Donovan on his This is American Soccer Blog. Nice job!