Wayne Rooney scores v. Birmingham (Tom Purslow)
A vastly different Manchester United squad managed to beat Birmingham by a score of 1-0 today on the first weekend of Premiership actions. It was Wayne Rooney’s goal at 34 minutes that proved the match-winner.
UPDATE: 20 August 2009: Added highlights.
Everton 1-6 Arsenal (Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Something that’s been kicking around in my head, esp. when it comes to Mexico, is soccer as foreign policy initiative. Andrés Martínez wrote an interesting article examining it which is well worth a read.
Luis Bueno figures that Mexico’s two wins in a row have given it back its swagger when it comes to playing the US. While I won’t go that far, I will say that Mexico is looking much better now that Giovani dos Santos has decided to become a quality player again. I’m seeing shades of Nicolas Cage in dos Santos: he’s great when he wants to be but he rarely wants to be. I hope dos Santos starts doing crazy things with his hair.
Jozy Altidore’s move to Hull City FC has been delayed because of work permit issues. What the fudge? He’s played enough national team games so the permit should be a formality at this point. Get on with it, British Home Office!
The Premiership is back! The Premiership is back! And either Arsenal is really good or Everton is really bad. Tim Howard isn’t nearly that bad so I’m going to call this a tremendously off day.
Charlie Davies scored two goals for Sochaux. Keep it rollin’, Charlie!
Some Manchester United fans are still upset at the Glazers. Can’t we all just move on? It’s not like the Glazers have run the club into the ground.
Charlie Davies v. Mexico (Luis Acosta/AFP/Getty Images)
I suppose it’s not a uniquely American trait, the intensive self-analysis and self-criticism. I suppose that the Mexican capacity for self-criticism – and any country where soccer is king, really – is more than even that of the United States. But there’s something about US soccer writers.
Take this story, for example. Once again, it boils down to the US taking that mythical next step. I’ve been reading that since 2006, though it probably existed before that. The argument is simple: the US is, and has been, the best team in CONCACAF for a number of years. Therefore, it should show that by, for example, qualifying easily for the 2010 World Cup. Except the problem is that Mexico has the best players.
This article blames inconsistency. I can respect that even though it offers no solutions. We need to be pro-active at this point. Why is the team so inconsistent? What’s the key factor that allows a team to get blown out by Costa Rica yet lead Brazil at half-time?
The easy excuse is fitness: this player or that player isn’t fully fit, something I heard a lot on Wednesday on Mun2. I don’t think it’s that. Every player on both teams was coming off a full summer of soccer. Another easy excuse is the coach. Bob Bradley’s job is safe; he won’t be fired. What someone needs to do it convince him to employ tactics similar to those of the first 15 minutes against Mexico for a longer period of time.
I think, at this point, the US needs to push the envelope. I’d like to see them come out in September and take the game to their opponents. I don’t want to see the passivity that led to early goals in the last 3 World Cup Qualifiers (I’m including Wednesday, when Castro scored at 19 minutes).
Above all, the team can’t get complacent. Instilling an attacking, aggressive mentality will prevent that.
Isreal Castro scored a very impressive goal v. the US on 12 August 2009
To its credit, Mexico defended its home turf today, defeating the United States 2-1 in World Cup Qualifying.
To his credit, Bob Bradley took my advice and attacked early. He got the goal he wanted but the United States couldn’t hold the lead.
To their credit, the Mexican attackers did their job: holding possession and creating chances, using their home-field advantage, especially the altitude, to the fullest extent. I was impressed with Andrés Guardado, who backed up his pre-match words (sorta), and Giovani dos Santos, who built on his Gold Cup performance. Surely the Tottenham bosses have noticed now.
The first half was very entertaining with 2 good goals. I liked how the US played because they did what they had to do: go for the early goal. And they got it. Sadly, 10 minutes later they got beat by an outstanding shot which showed me that Mexico didn’t abandon their gameplan. That was a key moment.
The second half was less impressive. Fatigue set in and wise substitutions by Javier Aguirre set Miguel Sabah up to score Mexico’s second goal, a strike made by Juárez’s excellent run past Landon Donovan. All in all, it was an impressive performance by the home side.
Quick notes: the refereeing was awful again: it lacked consistency, which showed, again, that CONCACAF referees aren’t very good … the coverage by Mun2 was good for a first effort; relentlessly promoting their programs was par for the course but very annoying in the end.
Tomorrow, on 12 August, the US will take on Mexico in Estadio Azteca (4pm on Telemundo and Mun2) in what amounts to a crucial World Cup Qualifier for both teams. The US is currently in second place with 10 points (2 behind leaders Costa Rica) while Mexico is in 4th place with only 6 points from 5 games. Suffice it to say that Mexico does have something to prove.
Despite the 5-0 Gold Cup Final win, Mexico is under more pressure because they’re in that precarious 4th position (the team in 4th has to play the CONMEBOL 5th-place finisher to get into the World Cup; incidentally, Costa Rica is taking on Honduras in a battle of first v. third, which means there could be a lot of movement in the standings tomorrow; but I digress).
Mexico is riding a wave of confidence. Look at Andrés Guardado’s ill-advised statements the other day: “Of course we will win, 3-0,” Guardado said. “We have players of high quality and you can see that the team has prepared well, now there is only the question of showing it on the field on Wednesday.” Confidence is good; deliberately inflaming your opponent isn’t very smart, though.
The US has something to prove, too. In no particular order, they need to prove that they can play well and win at Azteca and they need to prove the it was the Gold Cup, rather than the Confederations Cup, that was the fluke. It’s also important that the US doesn’t backslide into the form of previous World Cup Qualifiers (i.e. allowing a goal or two in the first 15 minutes).
If Bob Bradley is smart, he’ll take the game to Mexico and try to take the crowd out of the game while scoring first. I know why Mexico plays its most important games at Azteca: a massive crowd and a high altitude. Add to that Mexico’s skill and you can see why they rarely lose there. Mexico will play their game and look run the US out of the stadium. In all likelihood, they will be successful, even though Rafael Márquez is out with a hamstring injury.
I’m not going to predict a final score but I think it will be a close game. I also think Mexico will win and throw the CONCACAF qualifiers into a glorious mess.
Ian Watmore, FA Chief
Well, there’s a shock, eh?
According to the AP, FA Chief Executive Ian Watmore opposes UEFA’s planned restrictions on club spending limits. Michel Platini wants to impose limits tied to club incomes in an effort to reign in spending, which drew Watmore’s ire. Even the EU is considering the possibility of a pan-European financial regulator for sport. In reality, the EU is probably the only body that can impose any sort of limit, given that UEFA’s member leagues are all over the continent.
I was very skeptical about FC Barcelona’s Joan Laporta’s idle salary cap speculation for a reason: I don’t see why the big clubs would go along with it. Now it’s apparent that the big leagues likely wouldn’t go along with it, either. I envision a minor war of words between UEFA and the big leagues (England, Spain, Italy) and then quietly fading. I honestly don’t see how a pan-European transfer cap/salary cap can work, given the existing laws.
Would the EU really re-write their laws for big-time soccer? I think that’s the next question.
Cristiano Ronaldo scores v. TFC (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)
We’ll start over at SI.com, where The Limey has their Premiership season preview. They predict the top 4 will be Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. I agree that Chelsea is probably the best team in the Premiership this year, esp. given how they looked on their US tour. I’m not convinced that Arsenal will be in the top 4, though I’m unconvinced that Manchester City will put everything together soon enough. Fergie agrees with me.
Real Madrid crushed Toronto FC 5-1 in a friendly on Friday night, a result that is only a surprise to those who are idiots. On the negative side, TFC got run out of the park. On the positive side, they got run out of the park by a vastly superior team and they looked far, far better than they did against Puerto Rico last week. That’s pretty much par for the course for Toronto sports: play to the level of your competition.
Michael Owen was left out of the England squad. The folks at F365 were somewhat surprised by that. I am not, mainly because Capello’s policy is to not select players who aren’t fit. A good run of form for Manchester United will put him back in consideration, methinks.
In sad news, Espanyol captain Daniel Jarque died of heart failure. He was 26 years old. RIP, Daniel.