Monthly Archives: August 2009

Premiership Matchday 4: Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal

Wayne Rooney celebrates his penalty kick goal v. Arsenal (Getty Images)

Wayne Rooney celebrates his penalty kick goal v. Arsenal (Getty Images)

Boy, am I glad I decided to get Fox Soccer Channel today or else I would’ve missed a doozy of a match. It was today, at Old Trafford, that Manchester United came from behind to defeat Arsenal by a score of 2-1.

First things first: Andrei Arshavin’s goal was amazing. One of the best I’ve seen since Cristiano Ronaldo’s 40-yarder against Porto in last year’s Champion’s League. Arshavin really is living up to the hype he created at Euro 2008 and he’s proving to be one of Arsène Wnger’s best pick-ups. Ryan Giggs set up both of Red Devil goals. First, a beautiful pass led Wayne Rooney into the box where he was tripped up by Manuel Almunia and awarded a penalty kick. Rooney coolly slotted that kick home. The second goal was a Giggs corner that went in off an Arsenal defender. How embarrassing for him.

Now, the match was exciting. It had up and down action that reminded me of a hockey game; I can’t imagine how drained the midfielders were after it was all over; Arsenal dominated the first half while United dominated the second. If it wasn’t beautiful football it was very entertaining football. It illustrated perfectly why people will get up at an ungodly hour to watch the Premiership.

With all that said, the end was marred by 2 things:

1. There were 5 minutes of added time. How the hell did that happen?

2. Wenger was tossed after he kicked a water bottle in front of the Gunner bench. In my opinion, the kick affected nothing and simply indicated frustration (a goal had just been called back on an offside call [the call was correct]). It was unnecessary intervention by the Fourth Official.

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Champion’s League draw

The Champion's League Trophy

The Champion's League Trophy

So today we had the Champion’s League Group State Draw. Looks to me that Group A is the Group of Death while Arsenal, in Group H have an easy road to the Round of 16. Here are the groups:

Group A: Bayern Munich, Bordeaux, Juventus, Maccabi Haifa.

Group B: Besiktas, CSKA Moscow, Manchester United, Vfb Wolfsburg.

Group C: AC Milan, Real Madrid, Marseille, FC Zurich.

Group D: Atlético Madrid, APOEL, Chelsea, FC Porto.

Group E: Debreceni, Fiorentina, Liverpool, Lyon.

Group F: Barcelona, Dynamo Kiev, Inter Milan, FC Rubin Kazan.

Group G: Rangers FC, Sevilla, Vfb Stuttgart, Unirea Urziceni.

Group H: Arsenal, AZ Alkmaar, Olympiakos, Standard Liège.

The complete schedule can be found here.

Anyone else want to weigh in with thoughts on the draw?

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MLS should buy USL

Don Garber, MLS Commish

Don Garber, MLS Commish

News broke a couple of days ago that Nike has put its 100% ownership of USL up for sale. MLS should buy the leagues – USL-1 and USL-2 (not to mention the other 4 leagues that are under the umbrella) – and turn them into full-on developmental leagues, which would benefit everyone in North America.

Of course, as Jack Bell reported, MLS has firmly denied that it will buy USL. “We recently evaluated the opportunity to purchase the U.S.L., but elected to not submit a bid for the league,” Dan Courtemanche, a senior vice president for marketing and communications at MLS, said in an e-mail to Goff. That’s poor business sense.

MLS apparently doesn’t realize that it can’t exist without feeder leagues. It might think that the NCAA will provide enough talent (perhaps true: it works for the NFL) or that because it’s called MLS it will be a young player’s first choice (most definitely not true: the best players target Europe from an early age). Add to those concerns the stringent salary cap, low starting salaries, and severe roster restrictions and you have a top-flight league that could really use a place to develop talent. That is not to say that MLS is a bad league; I’m just saying that it hasn’t changed like I thought it would by this point.

Another perspective is offered by Gareth Wheeler. He believes MLS should buy USL in order to implement a full-scale promotion/relegation system. While that is an admirable idea, it will never fly in North America, not when new owners have paid $30 million and more to have a team in MLS. Promotion and relegation are simply not part of the North American sports culture and, while I would love to see it, I can’t see it happening.

If MLS really wants to become a cartel on the order of Major League Baseball, it needs a developmental system. USL offers that. MLS needs to buy USL, even though it won’t. Although that might be a good thing for the North American soccer fan: a competing league might force MLS to re-think some of its policies

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Chad Ochocinco: soccer player

Chad Ochocinco

Chad Ochocinco

In pre-season NFL game on 20 August 2009, Chad Ochocinco (neé Johnson) morphed into a kicker. He booted a 61-yeard kickoff (which is as far Stephen Gostkowski, the Patriots All-Pro kicker, kicked his kickoff) and an extra point. Sure, as the great Peter King notes,”lots of NFL players can walk off the street and kick an extra point.” But how many can boot a kickoff that far?

The answer lies in Ochocinco’s background as a soccer player in Miami, FL. “Soccer’s my first love,” Ochocino said to King. “I only gave it up my freshman year in high school because it was time to get serious about football as a career.”

Imagine Ochocinco as a striker on the US National Team. He’s a bigger, more powerful Jozy Altidore. I don’t think Ochocino would have any trouble succeeding in Europe, even against the biggest and most talented center-backs.

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Real Madrid’s transfer policies

Was Arjen Robben really worth 36 million?

Was Arjen Robben really worth €36 million?

I enjoyed this article’s analysis of Real Madrid’s changes. It’s interesting that from 2006-2008, the team imported a grand total of six Dutch players, presumably in the hopes of creating some sort of Total Football team. Then again, since the six players had very defined roles, perhaps I’m completely off-base.

But that’s not the point. The point is that when Florentino Pérez returned to power earlier this year, he brought with him the Galáctico idea of team-building. On the one hand, it’s easy to draw a line between buying up the Dutch national team and buying the brightest stars in the soccer sky. On the other hand, it’s really not that different when you take into account team goals and economics.

To me, it’s perfectly understandable that Real would target Dutch players: the Dutch national team was one of the best in Europe from 2004-2008. It had several world-class talents, especially in the attacking third of the pitch. In the end, Real spent €36 million for Arjen Robben and €27 million each for Wesley Sneijder and Klass-Jan Huntelaar, which is a not insignificant chunk of money. Based on economics, it’s hard to say, with a straight face, that Real were ever responsible spenders.

Florentino Pérez, of course, took that to another level this past summer. In spending €80 million on Cristiano Ronaldo and €59 million on Kaká, Real broke the world transfer record not once but twice. And then we have to take into account Raúl Albiol and Karim Benzema, neither of which came cheap. On the surface, then Real Madrid was setting a new bar for reckless spending. But was it really a new bar?

Aside from the higher prices, I think not. If Ronaldo is worth €80 million, there is no way Robben is worth €36 million because the former is significantly better than the latter (not to mention that he stays on the pitch a lot longer, too). So the Galáctico theory of team-building never really left the Real Madrid offices; it was just rebranded for a time as a Total Football-ish theory of team-building.

Real Madrid’s status demands that it spend money to maintain that status; that’s an economic reality. It’s the way it spent the money that has changed not how much money was spent. It’s important to remember that, no matter what the world economy is doing (excepting, of course, a crash on par with the Great Depression), the big clubs will, in all likelihood spend to maintain their status.

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Premiership Matchday 3: Manchester United 5-0 Wigan

Michael Owen scores his first goal for Manchester United v. Wigan (Getty Images)

Michael Owen scores his first goal for Manchester United v. Wigan on 22 August 2009 (Getty Images)

What probably happened at halftime of Manchester United’s 5-0 thrashing at Wigan. At halftime, the score was 0-0.

In the locker room, Sir Alex Ferguson paces back and forth in front of his players. Despite several changes from the Burnley game, the squad still looks tentative, like it’s trying to find its way. And failing, to a degree. What Sir Alex wants is the team to play like it can. So, as he walks down the tunnel to the locker room, he thinks about what to say.

I imagine there was a lot of gum-chomping but not a lot of yelling. Sir Alex is past the fire-and-brimstone phase of his career, at least with the players. It’s quite a different story with the media, though.

For this edition of the Red Devils, it’s really more about playing up to, or slightly beyond, one’s ability. They can’t rely on Cristiano Ronaldo’s sublime ability or his somewhat unique ability to put the lesser teams to the sword. That’s why it was particularly pleasing to see Luis Antonio Valencia’s cross go in off Wayne Rooney’s head. And to see Dimitar Berbatov’s laconic expression change to unadulterated joy. And to see Nani recover from an absolutely terrible free kick to put in a candidate for goal of the week.

In the end, like the Burnley game, there really wasn’t a lot to take from this. Sure, the second half was a joy to behold but it was only a half. Although, to be honest, I think it was excellent preparation for the game versus Arsenal on Saturday.

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Premiership Matchday 2: Manchester United 0-1 Burnley

Holy crap. I’ve spent the last two days in a state of shock but, in truth, Burnley deserved their win because they did what all teams are supposed to do: make their chances count. Manchester United failed to do that, thus losing the game.

So, what’s the fallout? Immediately: the media will howl and there will be much sturm und drang. Long-term: not a lot. Burnley got a win and 3 valuable points. Manchester United failed to beat a minnow, which could cost them if the title race comes down to 3 points or more. The best thing to do is accept what happened, resolve never to let it happen again, and move on. I realize that with everyone and their brother having an opinion (yes, I’m aware of the irony), that will be difficult. But my point is that this is the 2nd game in a 38-game season. Move on and keep winning.

Highlights (sorry about the annoying ads):

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